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What is great about receiving a NO is having the opportunity to understand why it was a NO and make it a YES in the future!

Nina Briance, Founder &CEO at Cult Mia

Can you tell us more about Cult Mia and what inspired you to start your business and begin the journey as an entrepreneur?

Since as far back as I can remember, I’ve always had a love for fashion but it was always a side-focus as I worked in finance and at the UN. It actually wasn’t until I studied for my MBA that I found a way to turn my true passion into a career, after a stint at luxury fashion platform, Moda Operandi. 

I took a stab at my first start up idea at 19 when I was in university. It was a food delivery company that connected Palo Alto restaurants with hungry Stanford students. While my co-founder and I were never able to grow Food2Campus to a viable scale, I realised early on that what I found most exciting and rewarding was building something from the ground up.

I had studied International Relations at Stanford, so for my first job, I was naturally attracted to the United Nations’ International Trade Centre, where I joined the Women & Trade team. Our mission was to support female entrepreneurs in the least developed countries to scale their microenterprises. Ranging from Peruvian jewellers to Kenyan coffee farmers, who built start-ups against all odds of poverty and violence, I too felt empowered and inspired to start my own business. But I knew that I needed to develop essential skills that would enable me to lead, grow, and scale a startup to an exciting scale.

This is why a vast part of my career was spent in investment banking at UBS and private banking at Goldman Sachs. I transitioned to fashion by joining Moda Operandi’s New York office, where I had a strategic role working in improving and innovating the e-commerce experience, and then shifting to business development in London, where I sat in the Global Sales team and had exposure to cross-functional growth initiatives, including structuring Moda’s first customer loyalty program.

I completed my MBA at the London Business School while working at Moda Operandi. I developed Cult Mia during business school as part of the Launchpad accelerator program. It was exciting to see that Cult Mia was handpicked by VCs and awarded the first prize in LBS’ 2019 Launchpad program. We were then selected as one of the ten businesses to join LBS’ Incubator Programme 2019-2020. The support and excitement around Cult Mia gave me the confidence to build the business full time post MBA – fast forward four years, we’re now your go-to destination for values-driven and independent luxury fashion. 

What has been the biggest opportunity and challenge you have faced as a business?

The online luxury fashion market has experienced significant expansion (in particular during the pandemic), alongside a significant change in customer expectations. When I launched the business in 2019, the challenge facing incumbent online luxury platforms was that the product and service expectations of the luxury consumers were changing at a pace that they are struggling to adapt to. I saw an opportunity to focus the business on the millennial and Gen Z consumer segment and focus on building a new era of luxury built on the shift in no longer wanting generic status symbols and widespread brands. Millennial and Gen Z luxury shoppers were becoming starved for unique fashion, underpinned by the right values. It is too hard and too time consuming for customers to discover, access and vet these types of brands. They need a platform that will do that for them – enters Cult Mia. Finding the right balance between high commercial growth targets as a business and keeping our values-driven agenda at the forefront has been simultaneously the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge as the business has come to scale.

What is one rule of success that you standby in your journey as an entrepreneur?  

A shared mission is the key to a united, passionate and high performing team. 

Networking is a hugely important tool when it comes to building a business, how do you approach building a network and connections? 

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of numerous female founder groups, whether informal channels (WhatsApp groups) or formal setups (including Stanford Women’s Network). Tapping into small pockets of like-minded people on those who are on a similar trajectory  has unlocked vast networks for me throughout this founding journey. 

What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs starting, growing, and scaling a business. 

Don’t be afraid of receiving a NO. Throughout your journey, you will come across all types of stakeholders that push back on your business, whether it is investors who decide to not back you or clients who are hesitant to transact with you.

What is great about receiving a NO is having the opportunity to understand why it was a NO and make it a YES in the future.

What do you most like about the Invest in Women Hub and how important is access to resources and information when building a business. 

I think that the resources Invest in Women Hub put forward balance the playing field in particular for female founders who do not come from commercial / financial backgrounds. This can be a knowledge gap that inhibits businesses from growing to their full potential and at many times an intimidating area to level up in. I also believe that the inspirational narratives that come through Invest in Women Hub move the needle in ways that perhaps are less measurable, but equally important when it comes to the confidence and resilience needed throughout the building journey!

What’s next for Cult Mia?

We closed our seed investment round in October 2023. We raised an oversubscribed £2.5M round that has given us ample runway to scale the business in the most efficient and sustainable manner. We see growth in every direction: you can expect regional expansion, product category development and new B2B service offerings.

What are your top tips for female entrepreneurs out there preparing for investment?

Have as many people in the ecosystem hear your pitch and feed in their questions. Many times it is externals who pull out your USPs that are more difficult for you to verbalise when you are stuck in the weeds of the business. 

Start conversations before you make the financial ask. Building relationships early goes a long way and saves time when it comes to the actual raise. 

While it is difficult given the number of priorities founders try to balance, condense the fundraising period and give it your full attention. This will create more fomo amongst investors and give your time back to actually building your business in the medium run. Fundraising and managing the business over an extended period by nature will impact your business performance (and your brain space!).

How important is it to find the right investor when securing funding?

Very – investors will be part of your long term journey. Due diligence your investors the same way that they are conducting due diligence on your business. It should be your decision as well, rather than a last resort.

When it comes to pitching, what are the most important elements that contribute to a good pitch?

A less is more approach when it comes to slides. It’s harder to put together a slide with less text and fewer graphics, but this is key to getting your key messages across in a digestible way. 

Delivery should not be neglected alongside content. The way in which you present your business can inspire investors to want to back you specifically on your journey, in addition to believing in the business.

What is a piece of advice that you have for female entrepreneurs entering the world of funding? 

Spend time in making the right target list of investors for your specific business and look for warm intros.