To mark International Women's Day we're launching our new year-long interview series with women who inspire our founder & CEO, Marisa.
Marisa is our very own inspiring link, from age eight seeking gemstones on Portobello Market to building Missoma as it is today. Yep, we're in awe too.
First up in our series, Marisa sat down with co-owner of Asia's leading marketing agency and all-round powerhouse, Chloé Reuter, (and her Shanghai street-dog, Daisy) to discover her unmissable advice about leading with kindness, grit, and beating the horrible boss cycle.
What's the secret to starting your own global business? For Chloé, it's all about kindness (and a little naivety). Chloé set up her own communications agency in Shanghai in 2010. In ten years it became one of the leading partners to Luxury brands in China. Chloé sold the majority of her company to Gusto Collective in 2020, becoming a partner in the brand tech company. With offices in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo and London, the company is spearheading innovation for luxury brands in the Metaverse.
“I love meeting women who are crazy enough to start-up businesses” she tells Marisa. “I think a little naivety is the key to success there. I always joke that if I’d have known how difficult it would’ve been, I would never have done it.” How does she feel about being part of the ‘female founder’ club? “Women that are overly ambitious are often criticized. I’m very proud to be ambitious.” Her drive and determination have paid off tremendously, but it’s her values that have set her apart from her corporate peers. “Leadership with kindness is fundamental to our business.” More on that later.
Try your best and be nice. Be kind, there are so many issues in the world and so many bigger things than what we’re dealing with on a daily basis.
- Chloé Reuter
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did Chloé get her start? Well, she’s always been enamored with the APAC region. After growing up in Hong Kong, she split her education between Durham in England, and Beijing, learning both Mandarin and Japanese (talk about an overachiever). Today, she’s back-and-forth between London and Shanghai after a 20-year stint in the latter. “I’ve had a love affair with China since I was about 15,” she says. “There’s no other place I wish I’d built a business in.”
Why is that does she think? “Being a woman in China and an entrepreneur, the sky’s the limit,” she says. “I always say the future is happening in Shanghai today. Your mind will be blown when you see what’s happening with brands and retail concepts and innovation.”
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“The secret to entrepreneurship is how quickly you can recover from a mistake. It all comes down to grit.”
- Chloé Reuter
Chloé is transparent about the challenges of creating a business that’s based on people, rather than products. Identifying and recruiting talent is vital for their success. “As the business evolves — and it has to evolve, or it dies — we have to bring in different talent and that’s always tricky.”
We all have bad stories of bad workplaces (luckily, not at Missoma); but it was this cycle of negativity and ‘bad bosses’ that Chloé wanted to break. “I won’t put up with bad behavior. I think life is too short.” She’s a huge proponent for treating people how you want to be treated. “Every day we can make a difference. Acknowledge people on the street, in restaurants. If we all did that, the world would be a better place.”
Leading with kindness has become even more important for Chloé since the start of the pandemic. Many of Chloé’s employees faced a two-month lockdown in China where people were not allowed to leave their apartments at all. In response, Gusto Collective set up an employee happiness scheme with a hotline manned by licensed professionals for those struggling. “Everyone’s dealing with stuff,” Chloe says. “And we might not know anything about it. I worry about young people.” For Chloé, the people who work for her are just that — people first.
How does she hire in the first place? “Hire those people who have aligned values but are smarter than you.” Does she have any titbits of advice we can take away as inspiration for our next interview? Her recipe for the perfect candidate, she says, is “passion, curiosity, and kindness. The rest you can learn.” She also recommends people think outside of the box. “Whenever I meet potential candidates that’re going the extra mile, they’re connecting on LinkedIn, they’re sharing stuff with me, they’re not going through the traditional HR route.” It’s that passion in people that inspires her, no matter what field they’re in. “I have so many meetings, coffees and lunches with people who maybe are completely unrelated to what I’m doing. I’m always curious about people’s stories.”
What other advice does she have for future entrepreneurs? “The secret to entrepreneurship is how quickly can you recover from a mistake. It all comes down to grit.” Another secret she has is one you’ve probably heard before: go to bed early and get up early. Wellness is key. “Everyone has stress and challenges in their lives, but how do you manage it? Running a business is a whole other level of stress” she says. Although when life gets in the way, she loves a power nap. “I literally go down for 15 minutes and then I’m refreshed.” Watch out while we push for nap pods for Missoma HQ.
While health and happiness are one priority for leading a successful company, above that is her family. “Business is really hard work, and you need to have that village around you” she says. With professional and personal duties, how does she manage to balance everything? “I’m very good at outsourcing” she laughs. After a prolonged separation due to the pandemic’s restrictions (one of the hardest times of her life), she’s more grateful for her husband and children than ever before. “You can’t have it all. But my mother once told me very wisely it’s not about the quantity of time [you spend with your kids] it’s about the quality. When I’m home I make sure I’m fully present.” World domination, it seems, needs downtime and a strong support network.
As we wrap up our conversation, we can’t help but wonder whether in such a saturated world there’s room for more businesses to be founded? “There is always space for a great business that’s going to come and disrupt.” And will Chloé continue in the role she’s carved out for herself? “I’m really happy with the role I have right now, and it’s always changing. I can focus on the vision of the business and thought leadership.” The next stop for Gusto Collective is the metaverse, and we can’t wait to see what else Chloé achieves. We think we can safely say it pays to be kind.
Each woman we've interviewed for our ‘Inspiring Links’ series has picked out the jewelry that makes them feel empowered. For the month of March we'll be giving 15% of proceeds from our edit to the Prince's Trust Change A Girl's Life campaign.