A native of Monrovia, Liberia, Ella has sought to combine her interests in fashion, business and philanthropy with the goal of creating a community oriented marketplace that highlights style, encourages sustainable development and drives social impact. I-ELLA.com is an innovative, fashion-forward, charitable online marketplace where members can buy, sell, borrow and swap the last must-haves in fashion while donating to a social venture. For her efforts, Ella has been named one of Inc. Magazine’s ‘11 Leaders to Watch in 2011.’
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: I am the founder of I-ELLA.com, described by many as the ‘Fashion insider’s eBay. ’For as long as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed creating and starting things. Whether it was drawing, writing or leading a student organization, the joy of creating, has always been a part of me. Had it been up to me, I would have studied 18th century English Literature and Creative Writing at a small liberal arts school in Ohio, but I am African and has many African children know, there are really only three academic paths approved of by the African parent – Doctor, Lawyer or Engineer. I received my B.S. in Engineering from The Ohio State University and MBA degrees conferred from both Columbia Business School and London Business School. After spending some time in ‘Corporate America’ at Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, Arthur Andersen and a few years on Wall Street, a chance meeting led me to the funding of I-ELLA. I-ELLA evolved from 1.) A personal desire to create (entrepreneurship has always been my calling). 2.) A love of fashion and 3.) A commitment to social responsibility.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?
A: Maximize your bartering opportunities, surround yourself by respected advisors that can “make things happen,” plan…feverishly and in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, “never, never, never give up”.
Q: I love the quote “the bigger the vision, the smaller the first step”. Right now, what is the big vision you have for your career?
A: To make I-ELLA a habit for millions of women. That we see recycling our closets and shopping the closets of other women while supporting social causes as a natural course of our everyday lives.
Q: Can you share a story of how networking led to a great success?
A: A private dinner ultimately led to the original funding of I-ELLA. I strongly believe in putting your ideas and passion out into the universe with the hopes that it lands on the right ear (and heart).
Q: Who has been your greatest mentor(s)?
A: I don’t have any formal mentors at the moment and can only look back at my two mentors in undergrad and throughout my summer internship. Their lessons still ring true.
1.) Keep a folder of small accomplishments to remind yourself of your own potential. I save all the emails and notes from members sharing their personal stories and words of encouragement.
2.) Teach, even if you yourself haven’t mastered that subject. Sounds crazy, but it does work. The Dean of my Engineering School would encourage students to tutor as a way of helping themselves better understand a given subject.
3.) Integrity is everything.
Q: Is there an example in your life of a time when others were against you or your dream, yet you persevered?
A: I’d like to think I’m living that moment now. Entrepreneurship is not easy. At all. The highs and lows are incredibly close. Perseverance for me stems from an unfettered belief in the potential of I-ELLA.
Q: What are you most passionate about, and how do you incorporate it into your career or everyday life?
A: I love to create and ‘start something.’ At I-ELLA, everyday we create and launch new ideas. It’s an intoxicating feeling to have a vision, execute and see people gravitate to this thing you’ve created.
ON Taking Risk
Q: Usually reaching something great or grand in life requires taking a risk. What has been your greatest risk so far and how was it rewarding?
A: Launching I-ELLA was a bit of a risk. It is my first venture and we launched during a touchy economic climate. With the difficulties and complete unpredictability of being an entrepreneur, comes joy and learning like no other. It’s been an experience of a lifetime.
ON Giving Back
Q: What cause(s) have you chosen to support and why does it resonate with you?
A: 10% of every transaction fee on I-ELLA is directed to charity. To date we’ve supported numerous charities including Free Arts NYC, Rally for Kids with Cancer, FACE Africa and more. Giving back should be the mandate for every business.
Q: Who are your favorite designers?
A: Ha! Tough questions. My style is very ‘schizophrenic.’ I love the clean wearable basics of EVER, classics by Lanvin and Chanel, 3.1 Phillip Lim… to name a few.
Q: What’s your best buy ever?
A: A pair of Christian Louboutin Black Patent Pumps for $250 on I-ELLA.
Q: Which book(s) has had the most significant impact on your life and why?
A: The Psychology of Influence by Robert Cialdini, fantastic marketing book; The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, hauntingly beautiful; The Goal by E.M. Goldbratt, excellent study in continuous improvement; and The Secret, may seem cheesy, but the book does work—visualization is everything.