Born out of a passion for fashion, luxury and good deals (we’re right there with you!), French entrepreneurs, and husband and wife duo, Delphine Lefay and Diego Dultzin Lacoste started OnTheList. The members-only concept is where flash sales meet high-end lifestyle brands for a unique shopping experience. Now in their fourth year since the launch, they have a huge 7,000 sq. ft. showroom in Central, over 150,000 members, and countless brands on the roster. We decided to catch up with the couple to find out how it all started and how they’re doing now.
Name: Delphine Lefay and Diego Dultzin Lacoste
Profession: Co-founder & CEO / Co-founder & CFO
Industry: Retail and e-commerce
Start up since: January 2016
Tell us about your business. What do you do?
OnTheList is a pioneering concept of members-only flash sales, offering members exclusive access to luxury brands at discounted prices, for a limited number of days. Members are invited by an e-mailed barcode to a specific location for the 3- or 4-day event. The company offers brands a sustainable option to clear past-season merchandise; turning old inventory into opportunity whilst simultaneously paving an additional channel to a wider consumer market.
What’s behind the name, OnTheList?
It’s all about the concept of community and exclusivity. As our Flash Sales are for members only, the company name of OnTheList is linked to it. You need to register as a member to enter the in-store or online flash sales, so [in other words, you need to] officially get “On The List”.
Tell me about your best and worst day at work?
Our best day was back in 3 August 2016 when we had our 13th pop-up of Dr Martens Flash Sales. The company website crashed at midnight because too many people were trying to register as an OnTheList member. Then on the morning of the pop-up, there was a long queue with thousands of members waiting outside for the store to open. That was the first time, but not the only time. But it did prove that our business model would succeed!
During the working life, there is a mixture of good and bad news. And sometimes the bad news dominates. But so far (touch wood) we don’t have a day that we would consider as the worst day as we haven’t had any horrible news. On the contrary, we always see the opportunities in every crisis.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
We enjoy a social life beyond social media. The support, the encouragement and the inspiration that we get from friends means a lot to us. So we like meeting friends when we’re not at work — for food, for drinks, and just to be around them.
We are both quite outgoing people, Diego likes playing golf and I enjoy horse riding and yoga, whenever we have time. We also like hiking in Hong Kong and travelling around the world; our last trip was to South Africa during Chinese New Year. However, as we are always together, we often talk about work even when we’re not at work!
Looking back now, what would you have done differently?
Every step counts and we’ve taken each step as a lesson to learn from which ultimately brought us here. — to where we are now. But looking back at the potential of OnTheList, if we had chance to do it differently, we would probably have sped up the development, and made it faster. For instance, we still had our previous jobs in the beginning, so to do it differently — we would’ve quit earlier in order to focus on the business instead. Also, we took another 9 months of pop-ups in Hong Kong before we decided to settle down in a permanent showroom in Central. If we could do it again, we would not waited that long. However, there’s nothing 100% right or wrong, and we will never know what would’ve really have happened after these considerable steps.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start up?
- Just do it! Never wait until it’s perfect, or otherwise you will never get started.
- Then test it, test again and keep on testing.
- Talk about it to people around you — with as many people as possible. Their feedback will help shape your ideas for the better. You will also get inspiration every time you are presenting it.
- Don’t be afraid of people stealing your idea, the chance is very low! One can steal ideas but no one can steal execution or passion.
As a child, what did you aspire to be?
Delphine: Lots of different jobs! Every six months I had a new aspiration.
Diego: I aspired to be an inventor. Like my great grandpa, René Lacoste [the French tennis player who also invented the tennis ball machine, steel tennis racket and is known worldwide as the creator of the Lacoste tennis shirt].
What has been your biggest hurdle, and how did you overcome it?
Generally speaking, working as a couple is amazing but it’s not easy every day. Everyone has his or her own way of doing things; mutual respect, communication, understanding and cooperation are key in this kind of partnership.
In terms of business, finding the first permanent showroom was one of the challenges for us. As OnTheList is quite a new retail concept in Asia and most of the landlords in Hong Kong don’t accept our business model of both retail and events. In the end, it took a lot of time to find this showroom in Central. And even then, we needed to pay 3 months deposit in cash, so we had to raise some funds from friends and family.
Why did you start up in Hong Kong?
We were already working in fashion retail in Hong Kong. We had some problems with our stock and looking for a solution that can help us liquidate the stock, but we couldn’t find any here. That’s why we decided to launch OnTheList. Also, Hong Kong is a dynamic city with strong growth prospects and it provides easy and welcoming business factors for a new start up company. The most difficult thing is the rent.
What are your goals for 2020? And in the near future?
We are always working, looking to move and progress forward in order to manage and motivate our teams as young entrepreneurs. So we try to keep on learning; through reading, training, listening to podcasts. We love it, so it’s always a pleasure to try to be a better manager.
The direction for 2020 is to develop and consolidate our 3 permanent showrooms: Taipei, Singapore and Shanghai. And to pop up in other Chinese cities, too.
Another goal is to develop our e-commerce business in Hong Kong, and then launch it in Singapore, Taiwan and China.
How do you define success? Do you consider yourself being successful?
“Success” for us is a mix of personal and professional success. If we cannot find a balance between them, then we don’t consider ourselves successful. So far, professionally speaking we are proud of what we have built in four years because it has been based on honesty and trusted relationships with our partners, team, and suppliers. We believe that we have built strong foundations. Personally speaking, we have found a successfully good balance between work and personal life.