How I Got My Job: Jennie, Sarah & Grace McGinn, Founders Of OPSH
Irish sisters Jennie, Grace and Sarah McGinn, tell us how they set up their up and coming fashion brand, and share their tips for budding business owners.
Names: Jennie McGinn, Sarah McGinn, Grace McGinn
Ages: 31, 29, 25
Tell us about OPSH. Where did the idea come from and how did you go about setting it up?
Way back when we were running our fashion blog What Will I Wear Today, there was a flashbulb moment when we realised it was time to progress the hobby into a business. We sat around our apartment in Christchurch (we lived together at the time) and started brainstorming about the “perfect” shopping experience. Imagine arriving at a destination where everything you saw was tailored to your exact tastes – the retailers, the clothes, the news – and you could shop as quickly and as easily as you could on Amazon? We took our ideas to an accelerator programme called Launchpad and built out the first version of our idea – Prowlster. We ran Prowlster for a year, but we knew there was a bigger opportunity and so we began working on Opsh immediately after Prowlster was acquired (by media agency Sweatshop). Opsh is still a work-in-progress, but the core of Opsh is speed, simplicity and personalisation.
How long has it been running now?
Our first birthday is actually coming up at the end of October! And we launched into the UK this September. We’ve been working on the platform for about two years – and prior to Opsh, we ran a lifestyle magazine called Prowlster – so it feels like we have been working on this for years and years and years…
How many people work for you?
We have grown from six staff at the start of the year to 15 staff. We’ll be recruiting again in the New Year, so it’s a pretty fast-moving year for Opsh.
Was the process of setting up hard?
The hardest thing we’ve ever done. We got a crash-course in building a start-up company via the NDRC LaunchPad programme, but everything else has been a learn-by-doing process. It was like learning a whole new language and the pressure was intense and all-consuming. I’d like to say it’s a little easier four years on, but it’s just a different type of pressure!
How long did it take?
We’re still technically not “there” yet so…
Tell us about the first couple of months?
The first couple of months were exciting and terrifying. Exciting because we were learning so much, so quickly – but equally terrifying as there was so much to learn. We were figuring out our roles, what to invest in, who to hire, what advice to take. Surrounding yourself with the “right” people is crucial – there are a lot of shysters out there who are too ready to swoop in on impressionable young start-ups.
Tell us a bit about you and your sisters and your strengths when it comes to OPSH?
We genuinely couldn’t imagine being in business with anyone else. It’s definitely a strain on personal relationships so we have to be very diligent about separating “personal” time and “business” time. Business demands a huge sacrifice on family, so even though 90% of our time together is spent in business-mode, we’re all in it together. The three of us have different skill-sets & styles, but the same ambitions. I’m the CEO and look after fundraising, business development and sales. Sarah is Head of Marketing and drives the digital and traditional marketing agenda. Grace is Head of Product and manages the product build, design and the technical team.
It was a bumpy road at the start, as we were all trying to figure out how the hell we run a business and there’ll always be times when we have differences of opinion. However, we’re a tight unit at this stage. And we have an extremely loyal & hard-working team around us, which is absolutely key.
Have you always had a keen eye for fashion?
We’ve always had an appreciation for fashion – yes. However we always considered ourselves insider-outsiders – we don’t actually come from a fashion-industry background. We just really, really like shopping – does that constitute a skill?
Personally, what are your favourite brands and how would you describe your personal style?
Running a business is surprisingly unglamourous and all of us wish we had more time to invest in our work attire; but sometimes functionality has to win. We all have different styles though – Grace is very minimal and loves Zara and Whistles, I love colour and print, My go-to is River Island. Sarah is more edgy and loves Urban Outfitters. We also love Irish designers, including Chupi, Merle O’Grady, Danielle Romeril – My wedding dress was designed by Sorcha O’Raghaillaigh.
What are the positives and negatives of working with family?
Positives – supporting each other and sharing the highs
Negatives – sacrificing personal relationships for professional…and of course, going through the lows!
What does your work life consist of on a daily basis?
Meetings, meetings and more meetings. We start the morning with a team stand-up to get briefed on all live projects. Then we might section off into different meetings across the product, marketing and sales. We might carve out some time to dissect Made in Chelsea (very important team bonding) and in between all that there’s a huge amount of terribly unsexy legal and accounting work to do!
Have you experienced any set backs?
We originally had a lot of people telling us “no” – no it won’t work, no-one will pay for it, no-one will use it, you won’t be able to convince retailers to get on board, no-one will invest in you. That negativity is very challenging as sometimes the only thing you have as an entrepreneur is optimism. We used those set-backs to fuel us and ultimately, it made us more ambitious.
What’s the best part of OPSH?
We’re 100% committed to the needs of a shopper – we put the shopper at the heart of all our planning. Our shoppers have been very patient with us as they wait for some of these services to be delivered (the pace of technology is never as quick as your ideas!) but I think it’s this commitment that entices people – we’re genuinely trying to create something that is faster, easier and simpler to shop from.
How would you describe your brand?
Opsh is about giving control back to the shopper. You decide what retailers you want to see, what products you want to see – you decide how and when you want to shop. Our mantra is that we are online shoppers building a product for online shoppers – so we try to put that customer experience at the heart of everything we do.
You’re doing something that no other Irish site is doing, how does that feel?
It feels liberating – we persevered when people told us it wouldn’t work. It can also feel terrifying as there is no rulebook to follow. However, we’re all about taking the road less travelled.
What’s the best part of your job?
Seeing our staff grow, getting industry validation and having the ability to do things “differently”.
What advice would you give to other Irish women hoping to start-up a new business?
Research – research funding opportunities, the marketplace, evolutions in technology. Get all your ducks lined up before you make the leap – but don’t be afraid to make the leap. Plug yourself into lots of networks to make sure you have a support network as peer-to-peer learning is invaluable. Have a vision and hold on to it!