Sample-sale website Gilt Groupe doesn’t have tons of technical problems, but there was one very memorable time that the site came as close as it could to crashing, founder and chief merchandising officer Alexandra Wilkis Wilson recalled while speaking on a panel discussion at Deutsche Bank’s Women on Wall Street conference at the Sheraton last night. And that was the first time the site sold Christian Louboutin shoes about a year and a half ago. Wilson said she had worked very hard to get the brand, which she described as “very conservative in a lot of their thinking,” to sell on Gilt. They managed to wrangle a few thousand pairs for a flash sale, and had no idea that the response would be as overwhelming as it was.
If you remember trying to shop this sale, and felt like a fool for not getting anything, know that 45,000 women tried to by a single pair of Loubs at one time. This sounds like something that would thrill the woman running the company, but no: Wilson cited the story as one of the biggest mistakes she’s made in her professional life. The anguish women felt shopping the sale was devastating to her and her partner and co-founder Alexis Maybank. “Alexis and I personally felt like we had failed our customers,” Wison told the packed auditorium. So after fielding complaints from depressed and frustrated shoppers, Wilson and Maybank came up with a solution: to hold another Loub sale, but make it private so that only the folks who complained by e-mail or some other way could shop it and have another chance at purchasing a pair of Loubs for the discounted price of $300 for flats and pumps to about $500 or $600 for boots. “The people who got the shoes were very happy,” Wilson, a woman who clearly understands the joy a pair of shoes can bring to a person’s life, remembered fondly.
Strategies like this are what’s helped turned Gilt into the very rapidly growing company it is today. Having begun with two buyers, Wilson said that last week Gilt hired its 500th employee. The site, which works with upwards of 1,000 brands, is also a friend of Apple computers, which invited them over “in extreme secrecy” to talk about the iPad before the device launched, so that Gilt could be one of the lucky companies to launch its iPad app with the product. If you want to work for Gilt, Wilson says she hires people “who have a fire in their belly, a passion, a lot of joie de vivre,” along with a stellar résumé and will work, enthusiastically, more than a nine-to-five workday, which pretty much all Gilt employees do. As does most anyone with a career in this city.