The founder and CEO of Linda’s Stuff explains how she made millions selling used clothes and accessories online.
Linda Lightman ’87, a former labor and employment attorney, returned to Brooklyn Law School in December for the first time in more than 25 years to share her expertise as a fashion and technology entrepreneur. She spoke with students participating in Business Boot Camp, an intensive winter session course sponsored by Deloitte Financial Advisory Services in collaboration with Brooklyn Law faculty. The program, which was featured in The New York Times last year, aims to teach lawyers how to think like businesspeople by exposing them to accounting principles, financial statements, asset valuations, and other corporate basics. Boot Camp students also hear from innovative leaders like Lightman and network with other distinguished alumni. Dean Nick Allard interviewed Lightman in a packed Moot Court Room about the secrets to her success. In 2001, the Philadelphia-based entrepreneur created what is now eBay’s leading luxury consignment retailer, generating more than $25 million per year and sustaining a 99.5 percent positive feedback rating from customers. During their conversation, excerpted below, Lightman shared her insights on how to be successful by doing what you love.
How did your career begin?
When I graduated college in 1984, traditional success meant becoming a doctor or an attorney. Science was not my thing, so I went to law school. And I loved it. Brooklyn Law School helped prepare me for the success that I have now. It also prepared me for the New York bar exam, which I passed the first time I took it. I initially thought I’d become a public interest attorney because I had an incredible experience working at the NOW Legal Defense Fund while I was a law student. But as graduation approached, I got an offer with a higher salary from a large law firm called Jackson Lewis, so I took it and became a labor and employment attorney. Working at Jackson Lewis was a great experience for me—I liked the job and I met my husband, who at the time was also practicing law, but at another firm. We just celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary and continue to work together today. Soon after we got married, we moved to Philadelphia and I joined a local law firm, but I wasn’t happy. I was more passionate about fashion designers, particularly vintage pieces, than my work as an attorney. When I was a lawyer, I’d sometimes say I was in the library doing research, but really I was shopping.
So when did you get the idea for your retail company, Linda’s Stuff?
I left the legal field to raise my two children, and I worked part time for my husband, who had a business as a wholesale distributor. During one Christmas break, about 15 years ago, my kids wanted to sell their video games. We went to a local video game store, and they offered my kids $5 for games that we paid $50 for, which didn’t seem fair. My son said, ‘let’s put them on eBay.’ So we did, and that’s how Linda’s Stuff began. We figured out how to post the video games on eBay, which was a relatively new company, and the games sold for close to what my kids originally paid. Eventually, the supply of games that my kids were willing to part with ran out, but I was hooked on the idea of selling things online. I decided to put my own designer clothes that I didn’t want anymore on eBay, which I previously would have brought to a local consignment store. I wasn’t particularly computer savvy at the time, but my kids helped me, and my clothes sold. Most of my friends from law school still lived in New York. I had college friends who lived in Connecticut and California. As they heard about what I was doing, they started sending me their stuff to sell too. To keep momentum going, I created a UPS account, and told people I’d send UPS to pick up their things for free. Soon enough, people started sending me their stuff in droves, and I had to hire people to help me with the volume. I went online and I put ads up at the local college, and I started hiring. Today, the global resale business accounts for more than $34 billion a year. It’s chic to buy on consignment and to sell your stuff, especially in our sweet spot, which is luxury and designer goods. It just makes my head spin to think that I’ve contributed, even in a small way, to the industry’s massive growth.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
I’m very competitive and very driven. I’ll never do something halfway. If you give me something to do, even if it’s as simple as untangling a knot in a necklace, I will make sure that it’s done, and I won’t leave until I finish the job.
What was one of the largest challenges you faced with the business?
Space has always been a challenge. We started the company out of our house, and we grew to have about 14 employees working there before we moved to an office in 2006. We first moved to a 5,000-square-foot warehouse space, and I remember thinking we’d never outgrow it. But two years ago, we moved to a 58,000-square-foot office. This time, we hired a lawyer who made a deal to get us the right of first refusal to the contiguous space. That was smart—because after just a year, we expanded to 72,000. Six months ago, we moved to 93,000 square feet.
What do you look for when you hire an attorney?
Confidence. I also respect a lawyer who is articulate, and who can admit it when he or she doesn’t know something. No one knows everything, and I respect the honesty of saying, ‘I’ll have to get back to you about that.’
When did you recognize your own success?
When my husband said he wanted to quit his job to work with me, I felt pretty proud of what I had accomplished. We started drawing up contracts and we hired an accountant to look over everything. We developed a process by which we were going to pay our clients, we hired bookkeepers, a customer service team, professional photographers, and a warehouse manager. Today, we employ 110 people and I still own 100 percent of the business. I built it with pure sweat equity, no venture capital.