With an education in mathematics and business, and a professional background in corporate advertising, Joanna Track took a huge leap of faith when she set out to forge an entirely new career path in the digital landscape. In 2004, Track launched the popular trend-spotting lifestyle guide sweetspot.ca and, after only a couple of years, developed a partnership with Rogers Digital Media, which acquired the site in full by the end of 2010.
Her latest venture, eLUXE.ca - an online shopping destination that brings global brands to Canadian consumers - has not only attracted a devoted clientele, but also a staff made up of Toronto's fashion industry heavy-hitters, including FASHION magazine's current fashion editor-at-large, Susie Sheffman. The Genteel spoke with Track about fostering a strong team, balancing work with a busy personal life, and how aspiring entrepreneurs should begin building their own businesses.
|Joanna on a walk with her son Teddy.
Charlotte Herrold: Your professional background is quite varied - did you always know you wanted to be involved in fashion to some extent?
Joanna Track: I worked in retail early in my career, but then went off on a career path that was more marketing-related. I always had a passion for fashion and retail, and after wrapping up with Sweetspot, I noticed another gap in the Canadian market place, whereby there weren't a lot of options for women to buy higher-end products online. And that was how the idea for eLUXE was born.
CH: How does your education relate to what you're doing now?
JT: When I tell you my background, you'll think it has nothing to do with what I'm doing now - but I actually think it really does. I did my undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of Western Ontario and then I did an MBA in the Schulich School of Business at York University.
My family always intended that I would go into finance, but I worked for a summer at Merrill Lynch on the trading floor and I realised I didn't like the environment and I didn't love the subject matter. But the MBA helps me now in terms of having basic business skills, which are still relevant in fashion. It taught me to hire the right people, such as Susie Sheffman, who is such a visionary. And the mathematics background helps me break down problems in a very logical way.
CH: Sweetspot.ca was the first of its kind in many ways, especially in Toronto. How did you come up with the concept?
JT: During my advertising career I was living in New York, where I got introduced to dailycandy.com, and I just thought it was so amazing, especially for someone who was new to the city - it kept me in the know. Then when I moved back to Toronto there was nothing like it, which is hard to believe now. So I came up with my own version of that concept. I was surprised by how fast it grew. I thought it would take five years before it got any traction, but it was popular right way and within two years, Rogers was interested.
CH: At what point did you decide it was time to leave Sweetspot.ca and move on to a new venture?
JT: The deal I made with Rogers was that they would fully own the company by the end of 2010. I knew that when that happened I would move on. I didn't decide to be an entrepreneur to then go and become an employee for Rogers. It's not in my nature.
CH: eLUXE.ca was also novel for Canadians, who formerly had to rely on American shopping sites. Was the concept created out of a need to fill that void?
JT: I always joke that I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel. I'm not Mark Zuckerberg. I saw what worked in other countries and thought Canadians deserved to have it too. I looked at the best in class, like Net-a-porter.com and Shopbop.com, and created a unique experience for Canadians. We're really merging a magazine with a store.
CH: How did you go about building the brand so quickly?
JT: I had the advantage of being able to leverage the Sweetspot name. That carried a lot of weight and got us a lot of buzz. And then hiring people like Susie [Sheffman] and Jordan Porter [formerly FASHION's market editor], we continued to build on that buzz. We got a lot of media exposure without spending a lot of money on it.
But our customers are our best advocates. Every time someone tries us, they love us. Just not everybody knows us yet.
CH: So, is your focus moving forward to simply spread awareness as much as possible?
JT: Yes, over the next 12 months you'll start to see us in more places - anything from inserts in magazines and newspapers to more digital programs and maybe even sponsoring high-level fashion events.
|Joanna Track. Photograph courtesy of eluxe.ca.|
CH: What do you love most about your job now?
JT: I love that we're creating a new brand, taking an idea and bringing to life something that people get to know and become attached to.
But then I equally love building a team, finding the right people and mentoring them. At Sweetspot, Ashleigh McKenna started as my intern and within eight years became the general manager. That was not only a huge accomplishment for her, but also for me, because I had believed in her and was able to take her all the way.
I now have a handful of people from Sweetspot who are here with me at eLUXE, as well as new people who started about a year ago and are growing with the company.
CH: How do you balance all of this with your personal life?
JT: I get up very early and go to the gym around six. Then I spend time with my three-year-old, Teddy. I try to get to office by 9:30am and then most of my day consists of jumping from meeting to meeting. I'm a huge lunch person - I can't miss lunch - so I try to combine business with pleasure. I'm pretty good about leaving the office before five, so I can spend time with Teddy again. Then after eight, I get back on the phone and the computer and play catch-up on all my communications from the day.
It's definitely challenging, but most of the challenge is in our heads. Sometimes I feel like I'm running around a lot, and I just need to be more present in the moment. For example, I'll be at work and thinking about things I need to do with Teddy, or I'm at home and giving him a bath and thinking about what I have to do at work. So I just strive to be present in each moment.
CH: What advice would you offer to other entrepreneurial women?
JT: You have to figure out what your motivation is and why you want to do it and then build your company around that. A lot of people want to build a business to get rich quickly, and that's totally fine, but it's going to require a certain amount of time and effort. Other people want to build their own business so they will have more flexibility, for example, to stay home with the kids. And that type of business is not going to grow as quickly. You have to know in your head what the real reason you're starting this business is. Just be honest with yourself and build something that works to the advantage of your personal needs.
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