Review by Kellie Burke
By Invitation Only chronicles the creation of the Gilt Groupe, an online designer sample sale website that started out focusing on women’s fashion and has expanded into a multi-million dollar business. Alexis and Alexandra (as they refer to themselves in the book) went to Harvard Business School together, and then worked in different fields post-graduation. As Alexis honed her business skills working for companies like eBay, Alexandra struggled to make a dent in the fashion industry by working for luxury brands. Both dissatisfied with their careers, they took the leap to work together to take a passion of theirs (sample sale shopping) and turn it into a lucrative business.
Gilt has drastically changed the online shopping world, with many similar sites popping up to sell great products at lower prices for a limited time. In order to receive these deals you have to be invited through email by a friend, giving the site an air of exclusivity. While today Gilt has grown to the point where all you need to do is give your email address to sign up, this invite-only marking scheme gave Gilt some buzz and publicity. Other sites like Facebook or Pinterest have done the same, but as Alexis and Alexandra point out frequently in their book, Gilt succeeded especially because they were always at the cusp of these new ideas.
Alexis and Alexandra not only tell their story but give out plenty of advice that can be applied to any new business. They recognize that part of their success story is their timing: similar sites were in the works but they pushed up their timeline to launch ahead of them. As best friends deciding to work together they had to make some big decisions before they even started, like stating who would be in charge. All of this advice is sprinkled throughout the chapters in forms of checklists that can be easily referenced later.
By Invitation Only is at once a fascinating success story, a glimpse into the fashion industry, and a tool for future business leaders. These two women had an Ivy League education and thousands of contacts that helped them start their business, but they also were savvy in using these advantages. This behind the scenes look at how a successful business actually gets off the ground will not only inspire but also make you feel that your own professional goals may actually be a possibility someday.