Just five years ago, Sharon Bui and Kate Steadman started out with $250 in a joint Wells Fargo bank account and a dream to get their business off the ground and help sorority girls have dresses that actually fit.
Their chances seemed pretty slim. Both 19 when they started their business, and with just a few dollars in the bank account, most odds were against them.
“We bootstrapped for three years,” Bui said.
But with a unique idea that caught the eye of some, and a once in a lifetime opportunity to team with a couple of multi-millioniare business people, they’ve transformed their business to a near million-dollar company.
“Anything is possible, as cliche as it sounds,” Bui, 24, said. “It doesn’t take a lot to be successful.”
That was the message Bui and her business partner, Steadman, who run Frill, relayed to more than 150 local business women at a luncheon last Wednesday at the Grand Marquis Ballroom in Garner.
Frill designs dresses for sororities to fit the women they are designed for.
Once a year, the Garner Chamber of Commerce Hosts its “Garner Women in Business” luncheon. Women in nearly every profession were there. There were policewomen, women business owners, women in local government, CEOs, and many others.
Amy White, the founder of Community of Hope, started the event in 2008, said Neal Padgett, president of the Garner Chamber of Commerce.
“She saw the need for women to have an event specifically for women and to get to know each other in the business world,” he said. “We want to give the ladies an opportunity to hear from a successful woman in business, so they can hear motivational speakers and give them a chance to network with other businesswomen.”
Bui and Steadman served as the keynote speakers.
“They were such an inspirational story that they achieved so much at such a young age and they just realized a need in the market place and just pursued it and didn’t give up until they found a place in the business world,” he said.
Padgett said this year’s event was the second highest in attendance.
Bui and Steadman shared their story of how they got started, talked about their struggles as a business and shared some encouraging words for other businesswomen. They answered a few questions from the audience and gave some advice.
Steadman gave two tips.
Stay specific to your customer base and to make sure you stand out from the people around you, she said.
“Make sure you’re always taking that next step,” Steadman said. “Whatever other people are doing, make sure you’re going above and beyond. Because not only will it help you get further, but it will help other people recognize you.”
At the end of the event, they took a group selfie.
Becoming a success
Bui was a sorority girl herself at N.C. State, tired of falling out of her dresses. She was majoring in fashion textile management with a concentration in brand management and marketing.
At the same time, her friend, Kate Steadman, was studying advertising and fashion at Appalachian State University. Bui had worked with Steadman at an internship a few years prior, and they had always joked about starting a business together.
One day, while still in college the two decided to do it. They started Frill, an online custom-dress company specializing in the sorority and bridal market, working out of their parent’s home.
They hired a few seamstresses and dressed five sororities the first year.
Sororities would try out their dresses send in their sizes and Frill would fix them up specially made for them to wear at events.
The second year they dressed 18 sororities and did about $150,000 in sales. They earned enough money to open an office in Garner.
Then the two sent in an audition tape to be on the Emmy Award winning reality television show, Shark Tank.
The producers liked their tape and a few months later they were standing in front of four multi-millionaires and a billionaire, pitching their company to the sharks. And in March they appeared on national television pitching their company to five successful businessman and women.
Three of the five sharks bit and ultimately the two women partnered with Kevin O’Leary and Barbara Corcoran, who now own 30 percent of the company. Since partnering with the successful entrepreneurs, the two have more than tripled their earnings since their second year.