To commemorate Inc.’s 40th anniversary, we’re matching 40 aspiring founders with 40 experienced mentors for; the Founders Project. Our mentor in this issue, Sarah LaFleur, was once a recent Harvard graduate and jet- setting associate at a private quity firm who worked on luxury goods deals. She
always felt underwhelmed by her clothing options—but
of course she would be: LaFleur was raised by a mother
who sported Parisian suits and worked in fashion.
So LaFleur ditched the cosseted world of private equity to
channel her enmity for “frumpy pantsuits” into the women’s
workwear startup M.M.LaFleur. Named after her mother,
M.M.LaFleur puts Japanese and Italian fabrics in the hands of
pedigreed designers to create tailored women’s suits and separates. The direct-to-consumer brand launched in New York
City in 2013, but found its groove a year later with the Bento
Box—a customized, try-at-home sampler of chic. In three short
years, the company rocketed from about $300,000 in sales to
$22.5 million, making M.M.LaFleur No. 43 on our 2017 list of
the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. The
company is still expanding rapidly, with revenue estimated at
more than $70 million in 2018.
LaFleur’s mentee, Michelle DeLoach, lived far from any
fashion capital, but she doesn’t lack for style—or entrepreneurial drive. She graduated from Texas State University in
San Marcos, Texas, as a sorority sister without much use for
her communications degree. But her mother was a talented
seamstress, and, like LaFleur’s, imbued her daughter with a
love for fashion. DeLoach kicked around in department store
sales for a while before stepping out on her own to sell customized dresses, door-to-door, to women at Lone Star college
sororities. After she landed six group-sales orders totaling
$35,000, her Austin-based startup, Revelry, was born.
As DeLoach’s business matured with her customers, so did
her product. Revelry moved into bridal wear by sourcing
better-quality fabrics to design light and flow-y bridesmaid
dresses and bridal gowns that women can try on at home.
That pivot brought her $3.8 million in sales in 2018 and the
No. 326 spot on this year’s list.
But this founder, who made her first sales in person,
needed guidance on executing a more aggressive digital
marketing strategy. DeLoach was eager to work with our Inc.
500 alum—and who could blame her, given that LaFleur has
increased her company’s sales 50-fold in the past five years?
What follows is an edited excerpt from the first conversation
of their six-month-long mentoring relationship.