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5 things this Houston-born entrepreneur learned from launching a biz during a pandemic

Annabel Fowler Gatto launched her women's workwear company ahead of the pandemic. Here's how it went. Photo via Pexels

I realized a huge problem professional women were facing, and I launched a company to address it. But then, a pandemic hit.

Eight out of 10 women say they're frustrated and unsupported by traditional workwear brands and their offerings. For many, quality women's workwear means hefty price tags for clothes than, often, have unflattering silhouettes and difficult-to-maintain pieces. It's not a great experience.

Enter Suitably, a professional womenswear brand that offers seasonless staples—all machine washable and under $100. We launched in February 2020 with sky-high momentum. Then, six weeks later, COVID-19 shut down offices worldwide. Overnight, we saw a dip in traffic and the launch momentum slow. But we kept going — reinventing, reimaging, and engineering new ways to serve our customers during a pandemic who were, suddenly, working and interviewing from home. And, now, we're coming out the other side, a stronger, more dynamic and more customer-centric brand than ever. Here's what I learned from launching a workwear brand in a pandemic.

#1 — Be what your customers want and need 

Suitably isn't solely about fashion — it's about helping women be the best versions of themselves, personally and professionally. When COVID-19 struck, that need amplified among our core audience. From our interactions and proactive outreach we heard them loud and clear — they need help, support and guidance now.

We immediately shifted our focus from promoting the collection to doing everything we could to help our community. I made myself available for virtual coffee sessions and hosted over 100 of them during the pandemic. Next, we partnered with a good friend — a psychologist — and churned out free resources on everything from staying positive in a crisis to professional advice, life hacks and everything related to Zoom, from how to dress for a Zoom meeting in every industry to basic Zoom etiquette. The groundswell was immediate and powerful — women craved this information and this connection.

#2 — Be a voice for change

Weeks into the shutdowns when the global workforce was isolated and sweatpants-clad, we launched our next campaign, #GetUpGetDressed. So many women had shared their stories and told us they could barely get out of bed in the morning let alone get dressed and get motivated.

By encouraging women to #GetUpGetDressed — and to share their work-from-home style with Suitably's community — we knew we were doing more than promoting style. We were powering them to shake off the stress and fear, put on something that made them feel good and connect with other women in the Suitably community. Hundreds of women participated and the positive feedback we received was unparallelled. With that, our social footprint grew even more.

#3 — Be careful whose advice you take

Despite the positivity from our community, we still had the naysayers — people eager to share their unsolicited commentary on what we should be doing. The general consensus? Shut down or pivot Suitably ASAP — that a business like ours would likely never be relevant again. We were told to make "Zoom tops." We were told to explore athleisure and masks. We were told to wait for a vaccine then start over — to abandon everything we'd done, the brand equity we worked so hard to build and achieved or pause until the "world is normal".

The reality? None of those people were part of Suitably — and, like us, none of them knew how to navigate a global pandemic. Even so, it would have been easy to fall in line and let a knee-jerk moment of panic destroy everything we'd built. But, instead, we took a breath, took a beat and promised to drown out the noise and the negativity so we could move the business forward, putting the needs of our community first.

#4 — Be confident in yourself

Without the noise we were better able to reassess where we were and what came next — to go back to our roots and to the customer listening we'd been doing for the last few months and use that to set a new course. We knew there was light out there somewhere, and that if we just kept moving towards it, we'd find success.

Admittedly, that was hard sometimes. Even though I knew we had our finger on the pulse of our customers' wants and needs, every day brought a new learning. Despite the chaos, we pushed ahead, following our customers' lead. By the end of June, we had significant data to show that many women in our community, especially those outside of the tri-state area, were returning to the workplace or shopping in anticipation of returning to the workplace. We started to get customer chat's every day asking when new products would be launched, when our restock for sold out pieces was going to occur and we knew it was time to ramp Suitably 100 percent back up.

#5 — Be there for every step of the journey

While the customer journey is rarely linear, the pandemic brought new levels of uncertainty and disconnect. Based on the success of our support and engagement initiatives, we continued to follow our audience on their path — a path that, for many, led right back to the office. We immediately ramped up our messaging, with an eye on helping women get ready to go back — and to feel confident and ready for action the minute they walked through the office doors.

Because of the foundation we'd laid during those first few months — a foundation anchored in trust, understanding and support — our audience leaned in, ready to take that next step into the Suitably experience. Quickly, we were just about back to where we were before COVID-19, not just providing actionable content and a friendly ear but, also, amazing wardrobe pieces that made her feel empowered whether she was back in the office of working from home.

No one knows how to navigate a pandemic — but we all know how to build relationships. That, ultimately, was our strategy. And that, ultimately, is what helped us steer Suitably through the peak of the crisis so we could come out the other side a better, stronger, more dynamic brand than I ever could have imagined with a loyal audience who knows we're truly committed to them and to their success.

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Born and raised in Houston, Annabel Fowler Gatto is the co-founder and CEO of New York-based Suitably.

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Building Houston

 
 

These fast-growing companies have new personnel announcements to share. Photos courtesy

Three Houston startups have new hires they're excited about.

From new board members to c-level execs, here's who's moving and shaking in Houston innovation.

GoExpedi names senior vice president of sales

Michael Hanes will focus on sales at fast-growing GoExpedi. Photo courtesy of GoExpedi

E-commerce and supply chain company, GoExpedi, which is focused on transforming procurement for industrial and energy maintenance, repair and operations, has announced named a new executive.

Michael Hanes has been onboarded as senior vice president of sales. Hanes has over 20 years of experience in startups and emerging technologies. Most recently, Hanes worked at Heart Rhythm Society as its director of corporate relations.

"There are very few leaders that have the same level of sales experience and the diverse industry background as Michael. He is an outstanding addition to our team, as he's already started to build fruitful relationships with customers and partners, who are embracing change through the adoption of our interactive intelligence platforms," says Tim Neal, GoExpedi CEO, in a news release.

"Michael has also begun establishing a strong rapport with all of our sales leaders across the country, helping to further sharpen our processes and accelerate the growth of our already robust sales pipeline," Neal continues. "He will be instrumental for the expansion of our customer base and overall success."

Last fall, GoExpedi raised $25 million in a series C investment round in order to keep up with growth and demand.

"I am thrilled to join GoExpedi. What Tim and his team have built in just a few short years is nothing short of remarkable," says Hanes in the release. "Driving the sale of a truly innovative technology -- with the support of a deeply talented team of sales professionals -- is an amazing position to be in.

"I look forward to introducing fresh perspectives and bringing energy to further enhance our sales processes and market presence and accelerate the company's already fast-paced growth trajectory."

The Postage announces new board of directors member

Former startup CFO and venture capital adviser is joining a Houston tech company's board. Photo via liveoakvp.com

Lynn Atchison has joined the board of directors for Houston tech company The Postage, a full-service digital platform and mobile app for afterlife planning.

Based in Austin, Atchison most recently served as CFO at Khoros (née Spredfast) and also previously worked at HomeAway Inc. as CFO as well. She currently serves on other tech boards, such as Absolute Software, Bumble, Q2 Technologies and Convey, as well as being an advisory partner at LiveOak Venture Partners.

"As evidenced by her impressive experience, Lynn thrives when working with transformational and fast-growing companies, making The Postage a perfect fit," says Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage. "She has scaled operations, driven growth and improved profitability for companies in all lifecycle stages. We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Lynn to The Postage team."

The Postage launched last fall as a way to help simplify afterlife planning. Cisek was inspired to create her tech solution after she lost three family members back to back. This month, the company announced its new app.

During her time at HomeAway, Atchison oversaw more than 20 acquisitions and global expansions before the company went public in 2011 before being acquired by Expedia in 2015 for $3.9 billion.

"Throughout my career, I've worked with companies that redefined and established markets, ultimately becoming leaders in their respective industries, which is what I hope to do at The Postage," said Atchison. "Addressing the challenges associated with end-of-life planning is an exciting opportunity that I can personally relate to. I recently experienced a loss in my family, and I know there is something special about this idea. The Postage creates security of all users by ensuring that their families are taken care of after they pass."

Innowatts appoints new c-level exec

Energy software expert Jeff Wright has joined the globally expanding Innowatts. Photo courtesy of Innowatts

As Houston-based Innowatts continues its global expansion — most recently opening its European Union headquarters in Cork, Ireland, the energy software-as-a-service company has named a new member to its C suite.

Jeff Wright has been named the chief revenue officer of Innowatts. to drive continued expansion in the U.S. and also accelerate its growth globally. Wright was previously the global vice president of GE Digital's Grid Solutions business unit. During his tenure, GE's market position climbed from the No. 5 to No. 1 for its energy control room related software, according to a news release.

"Jeff's career can be summarized as 'Energy Meets Technology,'" says Innowatts CEO Siddhartha Sachdeva in the release. "As Innowatts business and global reach expands, we are grateful to have Jeff joining the company. He is a true energy tech leader who has second-to-none domain expertise across a diverse set of utility functions and operating units."

Wright will lead all aspects of the company's go-to-market initiatives and oversee global sales efforts and marketing channels.

"My passion to help companies disrupt and transform the utility industry aligns squarely with Innowatts' mission," says Wright in the release. "Innowatts is transforming the way energy providers will leverage data and AI to operate. Playing a pivotal role in the growth of the company coupled with driving the resilient and sustainable energy solutions of the future is a career opportunity that I am excited and passionate about. I'm truly delighted to be part of the Innowatts leadership team."

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