Got an idea for a company you’d like to start? Don’t feel like you have to have EVERYTHING figured out before you get going. But at the same time, make sure you have a basic understanding of your business and a very specific idea of who your customer is. These are the lessons that Founder and CEO of Modern Citizen Jessica C. Lee has picked up along the way.
Jessica used her early career experience in magazines and fashion as a stepping stone to starting her own online shopping destination, Modern Citizen. We catch up with Jessica to learn how she made this transition, what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur (hint: a LOT of iced coffee), and how she defines her personal style.
Where did the idea for Modern Citizen come from and how did you go about creating a company?
Modern Citizen is an online shopping destination made for the urban, elegant modern woman. Every month, we present a curated collection of our own brand of clothing and accessories that reflect current global trends.
The company was born out of my interest in offering something I felt was missing in the marketplace—sophisticated, urban elegance with a distinctive edge, but at an accessible price point. I wanted to elevate the taste level of fast fashion for modern women who have diverse personal styles and a strong sense of individuality.
Did you have any entrepreneurial experience before Modern Citizen? What do you think it takes to make it as an entrepreneur?
I always knew I wanted to start my own business, so I made sure that each step in my career would lead me to this place—from interning at a fashion magazine to learning the ins and outs of the retail industry and corporate world. Each experience led me to where I am today.
Being an entrepreneur requires focus, drive, enthusiasm, and a certain measure of confidence. You have to believe in yourself against all odds, and ultimately trust your gut.
What is a typical day like for you?
Lots of email, the gym (on a good day), and probably a few too many iced coffees. Work-wise, every day is different and presents a new challenge, which is equally exhausting and exciting.
What drew you to your current profession? Which skills, education, and experience were necessary to get you there?
I’ve always been fascinated by building a brand online, and I spent most of my early career at Gap Inc. focusing on e-commerce. It was my time there that really shaped the necessary skills and experience to start Modern Citizen.
What was your college major? How does it relate to your career path?
Communication with a focus in Marketing. A few classes in particular really focused on learning how to create a profile of a specific customer, and understanding everything about that person—from their age and location, to occupation and psychographic traits.
The emphasis was on the importance of always mapping your product or message back to a specific person, and ensuring you were servicing them and their needs well. Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a bodega around the block, knowing and understanding your customer is paramount to any successful business.
What are your favorite things about your job? Which aspects would you change if you could?
I love the idea of building a brand that resonates with a group of people—one that really represents who they are today and aspirationally who they’d like to become. I love that women can physically wear our products, and in them be the best version of themselves.
As an entrepreneur, you’re lucky in that you get to do a little bit of everything. While I’m looking forward to the future of the company and the changes that will bring, I’m enjoying every step along the way.
What advice would you give to college students interested in pursuing a career path similar to yours?
Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers right away. Sheer action will get you on the right track to where you want to be and you’re never too young to start. Make moves!
What’s your style philosophy?
I believe in buying really signature, striking pieces that you can mix-and-match effortlessly with more foundational items like what we offer at Modern Citizen. With our products, we strive to offer clothes that are cool and wearable, but still very chic. We always want to include an interesting element paired back to something classic.
What’s your favorite piece on Modern Citizen at the moment?
Garden Party Shift Dress—for a woman on the go, it’s the perfect piece to take you from desk to dinner.
Homework time! Jessica talks about the importance of knowing your customer. This is true even if you’re not starting a company. For example, if you’re applying for jobs, you can think of your potential employer as your “customer.” How can you learn more about them? How can you adjust your applications so that they’re tailored to a very specific “customer”?
Photos courtesy of Modern Citizen