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Sippin' & Shippin'

Episode 44: Blazing a trail in e-commerce, entrepreneurship, and beyond

Sippin' & Shippin'
Sippin' & Shippin'
Episode 44: Blazing a trail in e-commerce, entrepreneurship, and beyond
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Tanya Phipps|July 21st, 2023

On this episode of Sippin’ & Shippin’, we’re featuring the highly distinguished and award-winning NJ Falk, who is currently the managing partner of Athletic Propulsion Labs. NJ has indeed been blazing a trail in the e-commerce luxury brand and fashion circuit for quite some time now. Not only as a serial entrepreneur, but also as a fashion brand expert and style trendsetter, collaborating with iconic brands like Louis Vuitton, Fendi and more. So, it was such an honor to have NJ on the show to share her professional insights and experiences with the e-commerce community, especially for those following a similar path. We learn of Falk’s passion for mentoring and investing, that led her to be a co-founder of the Forward Female, specifically created to empower the next generation of women entrepreneurs. We discuss why it’s important for ambitious leaders to always be “a part of the conversation” and how to stay ahead of the curve in this business. We had a blast speaking with NJ, scooping up all the incredible gems she dropped for successful peak planning, major lessons learned and so much more. Prepare to not only be inspired, but blown away by the actionable insights left behind, for personal and professional growth combined. Tune-in today!

Timestamps:

2:54     NJ’s background

5:30     The explosion of female entrepreneurs in e-commerce

8:27     Get to networking!

11:24   Trending e-commerce challenges & strategies to mitigate ahead of time

14:13   E-commerce success is a balance between business & creativity

16:55   The key to successful forecasting is a mix of both art and science

20:57   Being intentional about who you are in business

26:42   A leader empowers others

29:38   What NJ wouldn’t say…

Transcript

Brian Weinstein: Welcome everybody to Sippin’ & Shippin’. I’m your host Brian Weinstein. We’ll be kicking it here every other Friday, quenching your thirst for an insider’s take to enhance your customer experience. So grab your drink of choice, kick back. It’s Sippin’ and Shippin’ time. All right, welcome everybody to another episode of Sippin’ & Shippin’. I am your host Brian Weinstein, and it is that every other week. So I have by my side, as you would expect her to be Caitlin Postel.

Caitlin Postel: Brian, How are you today?

Brian Weinstein: I am doing well. I am doing well. We are in the throes of summer, which I’m enjoying except it has not been the nicest of weather since that happened.

Caitlin Postel: But it’s all good. Looking forward to the rest of the summer and most importantly, looking forward to our special guest today. I’m excited.

Brian Weinstein: NJ Falk. Welcome.

NJ Falk: Thank you Brian and Caitlin, I’m so happy to be joining you and ready for some Sippin’ and Shippin’.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah, exactly, exactly. Oh, if it was only happy hour, not that’s stopped me before.

NJ Falk: [inaudible 00:01:02] my coffee.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah, I have my green tea. We’re bringing it back.

Brian Weinstein: Fantastic. So for those of you had that have not had the pleasure of meeting NJ, she is, I mean, just about touches so many different aspects of business. Award-winning journalist, serial entrepreneur, a mentor-preneur, which I really love. Been involved-

NJ Falk: I turned my trademark.

Caitlin Postel: It’s trademark. Exactly. It’s trademarked, Brian.

Brian Weinstein: It’s incredible. It’s so genius because I’ve hit a stage in my career where I’m so much into mentoring. It’s such a perfect word and I know we’re going to hear more about that from you in a little bit. But let me just give a little bit more background. So NJ is the managing partner at Athletic Propulsion Labs contributor of Forbes Magazine, I guess the founder of Forward Female. I guess I’ll use that to-

NJ Falk: Co-founder.

Brian Weinstein: Co-founder. Co-founder.

NJ Falk: There’s three of us.

Brian Weinstein: That’s awesome. Do you know what? Let’s start there because for Women’s History Month, we’ve had some great episodes, we’ve got some tremendous leaders. Logistics is very late in the space for us in our side of the fence. It was very late in the space to bring in more and more female leadership. I’ve been very proud in our particular group that we have a lot of strong female leaders. As a girl dad, I think having more and more female leaders is super important. Tell us a little bit about this Forward Female organization.

NJ Falk: I would absolutely love to. First, I just want to backtrack a little bit and say my whole focus as I’ve entered this incredible stage in my career is about focusing on emerging luxury fashion, lifestyle and direct to consumer brands, APl, which is our incredible athletic footwear, men’s and women’s athletic footwear company that sits at the intersection of luxury and performance embodies that as well. Then several years ago with my two co-founders, Priscilla Presley and Lauren Cheek, we founded The Forward Female. That really came out of this idea that women who are emerging entrepreneurs needed a network and support. The three of us could come together and bring together this wonderful new experience where we had coaching, one-on-one coaching, also a creative agency to support that.

NJ Falk: Individuals like myself, who so many young women and actually any age group are reaching out to for advice that we could bring this experience through our networking events, our coaching, and what I do with other brands like Modern Picnic or DeMarson, where I literally get on the phone with the founders, the CEOs, the senior team every two weeks, go through key issues and really have this discussion about what are the priorities, what are issues that need to be solved and how can we do this together? I get to benefit from that as well because I hear what they’re doing and get that knowledge and I get to do a knowledge transference as well.

NJ Falk: So it’s really exciting. I think the other thing that I get to bring to the table as, Brian and Caitlin, you know this, I am so deep in the e-commerce space and was actually honored to be one of yacht post’s, amazing women in e-commerce last year, that I get to talk about this whole direct to consumer experience and the supply chain logistics and channel, which has been so challenging and such an interesting experience as we’ve been through the pandemic came out of it. Everybody talked about everything from the Port of Los Angeles to inventory.

Brian Weinstein: Exactly. NJ, it’s interesting. I’m going to take a step back here because you must have seen this, obviously, you’ve seen this in our space, amount of female entrepreneurs. The growth of the female entrepreneurs over the last, even 10 years is just so incredible. The numbers, the sheer numbers, and I guess it’s just the opportunities. I would like to say also it’s probably a result of strong female leadership from starting in the early nineties all the way up that has spawned, I would say there’s probably no greater group of growth than where we are right now, female entrepreneurs, especially in the e-commerce space.

NJ Falk: I absolutely agree with that. It is so funny. This morning, my phone is filled with text messages from other incredible dynamic women. One who’s sharing with me just now, she just invested in an AI platform, another one that’s talking about an idea in fitness and apparel. I think what so many of us have learned is one, how important it is that we support each other because we have all this knowledge or we’re seeking knowledge. By sharing this, we can support each other and help each other grow and expand. It’s a skill that’s been burgeoning and improving over the past two decades and it’s become cross-generational. That’s what I love about it is that we’re talking to everybody across every generation. So we’re getting the knowledge from the Z’s and the millennials and we’re getting the boomers and the X’s talking to each other and saying, “What can we do together and how can we be better?”

NJ Falk: I love that. For me, I love the opportunity that I’m now getting this enormous ability to give back in so many different ways. That’s why I like working with all these different brands, meeting all these people. Brian, you know this and Caitlin knows this, I’m out there at some of the conferences, the fireside chats, and I’m getting to do these kinds of outreaches and I always talk about the importance of networking, that you literally bring your network with you your entire life and you can’t be stagnant or passive about that. You have to continually being network. You also, it’s so important to have manners, follow up and keep communicating with everybody. Brian, I think you know that I do that, but you do that so well too. And so does Caitlin.

Caitlin Postel: Well, thank you. Well, I love the concept of the Forward Female. Meeting you in person was so fantastic and it’s so authentic. It shows in just engagement with you, NJ and I loved, and what really was super valuable to me was that cross-generational knowledge. I’m glad that you brought it up. I think there’s so much that other folks can learn from each other, whether just that what they’re bringing to the table. It’s something that Eva had brought up, Eva DeCheco is our VP of operations during our women’s month. So I guess I ask you, how does someone get involved in Forward Female? How do folks get in the mix to be able to tap into this tremendous value that you’re bringing to the market?

NJ Falk: That’s such a great question. We do a few things, which are really fun and exciting. One thing is, once a month we have these networking events where they’re usually held somewhere in Los Angeles. We’ve been in Northern California. We go to different locations and usually, they’re someplace where it’s a member of our Forward Female community and they’re hosting the event. And then myself, Priscilla and Lauren are there. We do fun things to get to know each other, including Networking Bingo where you have to … It’s speed networking where we create this event and everyone starts introducing each other and they have to ask each other questions. Then we have actually a prize. We also have, when you join our community, we have these meetings twice a week where you can have the group and be together and share your issues, training sessions and learn about everything from branding to leadership, you name it.

NJ Falk: We had our first small conference where we actually took you through a whole incredible workbook exercise to talk you through all the things you need to think about when you’re doing your startup or you’ve already started up what you haven’t thought about. So we bring all of these kinds of interactive tools and all kinds of creative templates and communities together. So you’re having this sense of support and we have a lot of fun with it. We even have at our networking events, you can spin a wheel, win certain types of prizes to interact. So, it’s really kind of fun. Everybody also loves this and they build and meet new people. And that’s part of this whole concept of carrying your network for your life and you bring it forward and it gets bigger and bigger, which helps support you and also, these exercises about what you do and don’t know and how to get better at what you’re doing. So, it’s two things.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah, that’s awesome. Let me ask you, right now, we talked about this knowledge transfer and everything, you get to learn from some of the entrepreneurs and then get to share some experiences and things. What are some of the top challenges that you’re seeing for just entrepreneurs as a whole when you’re speaking with them? What are some of their biggest calls, like call-outs, maybe specifically to the time period that we’re in right now as well?

NJ Falk: What we’re seeing right now is all these incredible women have these great ideas and we’re trying to help them. They’re looking for the guidance to how to hone that idea. What is their niche within the marketplace? What is the gap that they’re filling? Then, how can they market that effectively grow their brand and also financially manage the brand in a responsible way? We’re also seeing we’re in a time where raising money has become increasingly more challenging. So, how do you create that great pitch? How do you tell your story? I talk about this a lot and I think I’ve talked about it with you, Brian and Caitlin, about how important it is to be a storyteller and learn to sell. Brian, you could probably talk about how important selling is. You have to be able to engage people, gain their support, and you have to tell your story well. I think we do that so beautifully at APL, and I think we do that so well at the Forward Female.

NJ Falk: We know our brands, we know what they represent. We stay very true to the story and where we sit in the marketplace. Look at APL, we have pioneered luxury performance in the men’s and women’s athletic footwear. Whatever we produce, it’s across the board and we exemplify that in all of our marketing, all of our messaging. At the end of the day, it comes down to the product and our product exemplifies that. We’re the same way with the Forward Female. We’re talking about how we’re supporting an important group and giving them the skills they need and having this intimate one-on-one dialogue or also in a group environment.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah, I-

Caitlin Postel: [inaudible 00:13:54] a great.

NJ Falk: Modern picnic, which is one of the brands I’m a strategic advisor for. I love that it’s all about, we’ve reinvented the lunchbox with our products and it’s really that simple, but that complicated.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah.

Caitlin Postel: For sure. I think it’s a great segue into just you as an overall thinker. I know I’ve heard you describe yourself as left minded, right brained. You were winner of Yotpo’s amazing woman in e-commerce. You were a Webby award-winner for blonde and brunette. So bringing together that, but also a crazy good forecaster. So taking the left brain being creative, right brain, I don’t know which one does which, but you do it all. How do you find that balance and how do you bring that forward to these businesses that you impact?

NJ Falk: I love that. Another great question. Well, I started my career in the creative sector, graduate of NYU, the film school, worked as a film editor, went to a big branding firm, went back for my MBA and one of the key things I found is I love everything creative. I love being strategic. I want to be involved in these ideas that move the business forward. But I also realized that I needed to understand all the finances, the business aspect, because great creative also has to be balanced with a good sense of business and how to move the business forward and manage it responsibly. So a lot of times, and I’ve talked about this with Brian and he knows this, I do a lot of the forecasting and we talk about … We go from, “Oh my God, we have this great product, we’re launching and our four seasons at APL and everything we’re doing. But okay, what is the amount of inventory coming into the warehouse? What are the projections for those Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays?” I usually do it almost a year in advance.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah.

NJ Falk: So, I’m thinking about it and adjusting it, and I’m putting those things on my list, and I use this word over and over again. I marinate about things, especially if I don’t know what to do. I will call up a Brian and say, “This is what’s happening. What do you think?” I ask for input and guidance and research all the time. I’m saying, “What are you seeing? What’s going on? What’s what’s happening in the industry?” Then the other thing I do, which we’ve talked about is I’m such a list person and I’m always prioritizing and working my list, the A list, the B list. I think I told you the term for it. Now, I’m suddenly, I think I’m forgetting my own-

Caitlin Postel: Strategy? Do it now, do it later.

Brian Weinstein: You know what? I’ll give you a second to think about that for NJ, but I want to go back to that because we have so many younger companies that come in and say, “Oh, we can’t give you a daily forecast. We don’t understand.” I’m like, “No, no. You can.” There’s an art and a science to it. I love the expression of marinating on it. You need to first put something out into the universe out of your own brain, whether it’s a guesstimate, an educated guess, whether it’s just completely throwing stuff at the wall, but then start to hone it and fine tune it as you start to move forward. It’s interesting that you have that process and that it goes that far in advance. Up to a year is crazy, but I like that whole process. It allows you time to think it through and at least it gives you a starting point.

NJ Falk: It’s so true. The other thing is, I’m not shy about asking for help. Brian knows I’ve called him up, I’ve emailed him. I do this with other people and I’m like, I want to know what’s happening in the overall environment. What are some of the trends happening? How would that apply to APL or the Forward Female or the other brands that I’m working with and advising? What do those trends mean? They may or may not be applicable, but when you get that information, you get to incorporate it into the work. Like I said, marinate on it or see if it’s applicable. So I do that all the time. I’m constantly looking for the data. I also apply the data to the creative process where I apply it to the copy that’s being written for SMS or email campaigns and what we’re doing.

NJ Falk: What does it mean in terms of the cadence? We’ve talked about the cadence of big events that everyone participates and other brands participate in Black Friday, Cyber Monday. What are the timing of the SMS, the emails, how does that change from year to year? What are the projections and predictions for holiday ’21 versus ’22 versus ’23, and now we’re going into 2024. Doesn’t mean those predictions are 100% spot on, but what do you need to apply to your own brand and what is the significance of that? So, I’m constantly reaching out for information and knowledge from other people. I’m not saying I have it all. I’m saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m a gatherer. How do I gather that?”

Brian Weinstein: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly.

Caitlin Postel: Sounds like a lot of-

NJ Falk: Oops.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah, no, go ahead. Go. Come on, keep it coming.

NJ Falk: [inaudible 00:20:00] backtracking. It’s my distraction list.

Caitlin Postel: Oh, distraction list. There you go. Yeah, move them aside. Do it later.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah.

NJ Falk: So anything that’s distracting, all those little things and all the things that come up in your emails that are not at the top of the list, I write that down, that’s my due later. I get back to those. I constantly work the priorities first and then get back to the others. I also do really big projects and break them down into three or four big projects per quarter and concentrate on those, get those done, move on to the next group. I’m not shy about telling people, I will work on that project second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter. I think you have to be really transparent about those things.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah, it sounds like a lot of intentionality around knowledge seeking and breaking it down those cycles. I love that. Asking questions to drive conversation. I think that’s when a lot of hurdles are overcome is by having those conversations. When I think of you, NJ if you haven’t met NJ in person, it definitely resonates her presence in the luxury space. I think that to bring a brand from basic to luxury, there has to be intentionality. So how are you bringing that to the brands that you support to elevate them into being able to be presented and to really resonate with this luxury market?

NJ Falk: That’s such a great question. I mean, I really-

Brian Weinstein: NJ, you can see why I made her my co-host, right? She asks these questions and they just come out and I’m like, “She’s talking about intentionality and all this is great stuff.”

Caitlin Postel: It’s NJ, you know. You know it’s true.

Brian Weinstein: Yes.

Caitlin Postel: There’s something. Because you don’t just deal with basic brands. Anything that you’re tied to, it’s elevated and there’s something to be said about that. You’re not just doing this arbitrarily. Maybe it is the 90-day cycle, maybe it’s taking small bites and really focusing on that. I don’t know. I think there’s something to be said about that. I think too far ahead, I think.

NJ Falk: No. I love this question because one, I think I’m true to myself in that. I always work with brands and resonate with brands that are elevated because that’s something that I’ve sought out. Maybe it’s because I’ve been lucky enough from the beginning of my career to work with incredible global brands from working at American Express, MGM, Universal Studios being fashion always resonating with me. I love fashion and I get the privilege to work with other brands on events and collaborate with everyone from Louis Vuitton to Fendi. So, those kinds of elevated brands are in my DNA. So I try to stick in many ways with what I know and love because I’ve been passionate about that. It’s something that came actually for my mother being a graduate of Parson School of Design, very involved in that world.

NJ Falk: So, it was something that was part of my DNA from the beginning. I am intentional, I’d say I concentrate on what I think I’m good at and where I have go to war skills versus taking on things where I’m not maybe an expert in a particular area because I’m not, and maybe I shouldn’t be dabbling in that, but I keep trying to learn new things and be associated with new brands. I am very intentional and thoughtful about everything that I do. But again, I’m always wanting to learn new things.

Caitlin Postel: I love that.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah. It’s so important. Look, one of the reasons that I love that I think Caitlin and I talk about why we love doing the podcast is we get exposed and we have conversations with so many different people, subject matter experts in different areas, and you’re learning things, and it’s so important not only for just knowledge share, but even for your own personal growth. What you just touched on, this distraction list, I get pulled in a lot of different directions, and I’ve been this way for a long time. I try to eat the elephant in one bite, and it’s very difficult. For you, you’re like, you’re talking about with luxury brands, you have to have time where you’re just focused because the details are so particular that if you’re not paying attention to it, then you’re doing a disservice to the brand.

NJ Falk: Absolutely. Details I didn’t … This is like a famous saying and I’ll get it wrong, but so much of the beauty is in the details. I know that’s not the correct saying, but being willing and able to drill down into all the details and think through things is critical. When you think about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, at APL, we have a massive matrix of how we do everything for those critical days. We talk about as a team, those details over and over again and we’re thoughtful. I also talk about, I’ll say it now, the power of the team. It’s the power of the team coming together and everybody bringing different skills that makes a brand and a company even more powerful because different people bring different things to the table and have different skill sets, and that’s so powerful.

NJ Falk: The other thing I always talk about is I want to be part of the conversation. I think that’s how my career really started and took off and why I’m constantly re-educating myself and learning new skills is the world is always changing around us. If we don’t embrace that change and follow it and be part of it, then you’re going to be left behind. I always say, I want to be part of the conversation. Brian and Caitlin, you know I feel that way. I love being part of the dialogue of whatever’s going on. I’m curious. I’m always curious.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah, for sure. I think it’s the devils and the details, which I don’t love that. I want to think of it in a less demonic way, but how do you empower people, whether it’s Forward Female or folks that are on your staff at APL, how do you empower folks to join the conversation if they’re lacking that confidence?

NJ Falk: The process to me is about bringing people together, having short communications with people, usually in a group environment, and then giving people responsibility to do the task and working with them while they’re doing the tasks so they get better. You get better. Allowing people some of the freedom to do these things. Also, sometimes making a mistake is the biggest learning lesson of all. I certainly can think about plenty of times I didn’t quite get it right and my mentors gave me important feedback that I’ve never forgotten. One of the companies I was at, and I never forgot this happened, and it happened where we were doing a massive advertising program and we had this system where everybody had to sign off on it. Actually, we have this system where everybody looked at this campaign and then it went live. We actually put out a campaign and it included, and I’m not saying what company. The CEO signed off on it, everybody signed off on it. Guess what we forgot? We forgot a response mechanism. So I wondered why, “Oh my God, we didn’t get any sales.”

Caitlin Postel: Oops.

NJ Falk: Everybody got it wrong. From that, I developed this sheet that checked off as, “Is there an email? Is there a URL? Is there a phone number? Is there a whatever?” I attached it so that everyone could look for all these things and multiple eyes could be on it. I also learned that every time we were putting something out, I was going to dial that number and double check it. I was going to do all these things, and I never forgot that. Even as a group with everybody looking at it, we forgot something. I never forgot that lesson. I think, so we also learn from the right things, and we also learn from, “Oh my gosh, you need to double down on the details.” So maybe we’ll use double down on details instead of double the devils and the details.

Caitlin Postel: Yeah, here’s little PTSD there because it seemed like the devil was involved in that one. For sure.

NJ Falk: For sure.

Brian Weinstein: So, I will say the one thing that NJ is leaving out, and for those that haven’t met NJ, the minute I see NJ, I smile. She is a ball of positivity. She comes to you, she’s happy. You have great ideas and you’re extremely approachable. I think if you’re creating that, joining the conversation and encouraging and empowering people, you as a leader of your organizations that you’re involved with, that’s had a degree of success, you’re still extremely approachable. That makes it easy and encourages people to come join the conversation. So I wanted to say that because I knew you were going to say that about yourself, but I do feel that way.

Caitlin Postel: I love that.

NJ Falk: I’m so touched. Thank you so much. It’s like the ultimate compliment. Thank you. Thank you.

Brian Weinstein: You’re very welcome. Well, NJ, we really appreciate you coming on. This has been fantastic. We are looking forward. You’ve been a tremendous partner to us, and you’re really having a positive effect with through these organizations, and it’s something that you should definitely be proud of.

NJ Falk: Thank you so much. First of all, I just really appreciate this opportunity and this is the perfect example of how we actually talk to each other and share ideas all the time and dialogue with each other. Everyone should take that into their own work environment and just sit down with other people and share ideas. That’s how everything just gets better and better. You push the envelope, the company gets better, you personally get better, and you get to lead a more interesting, fascinating life. I feel always pinch myself and say, I feel really lucky to have these opportunities. Thank you.

Brian Weinstein: Yeah, absolutely. No, greatly appreciate it. Thanks, NJ Falk for coming on today. Caitlin, take us out.

Caitlin Postel: Sure. Thank you, NJ. Thank you everyone for tuning in. Make sure you join the conversation every other Friday at sippinandshippin.com or on your favorite podcast platform. Thank you everybody.

Brian Weinstein: Thank you.

NJ Falk: Thank you.

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