ALI GALGANO // CHARM & CHAIN
Charm & Chain is an e-commerce retailer of women’s designer fashion jewelry. The company was founded in November 2008 by Ali Galgano, who saw that access to stylish, well-made, and affordable designer jewelry was lacking on the Internet. Their mission is to elevate, define, and expand the role of jewelry in the modern woman’s expression of personal style. Follow Charm & Chain on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Was there a moment in your life when the lightbulb went off and you just knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur and start your online jewelry store?
Definitely. That moment happened for me in 2007 when I realized how unhappy I was working in financial services and was determined to pursue a more creative career path. I was spending a lot of time exploring New York City and was constantly struck by the unparalleled selection of unique fashion jewelry I was seeing on the streets, in vintage stores and at specialty boutiques like Henri Bendel. In attempting to hunt down these incredible finds online, I quickly realized that no one was selling jewelry like this on the web.
I decided that bringing established designers online was a tremendous opportunity that would also lay the foundation to introduce new designers I was coming across. I soon quit my job and enrolled in gemology school at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) where I sought to become expert in jewelry and to begin building relationships in the jewelry and fashion worlds.
How did you come up with the name Charm & Chain?
As a lifelong lover of jewelry, I have a tremendous appreciation for the process of turning elements into wearable statements. The name Charm & Chain comes from the notion of jewelry broken down to its essential elements. Jewelry is connected by chain and embellished with its own unique charm. I also love how the ampersand we use in our logo resembles a piece of jewelry.
Once you knew you wanted to launch Charm & Chain what steps did you take to make that a reality?
As I was attending the GIA I started thinking about how I would fill the void of fashion jewelry on the web. It was clear that I needed a mix of styles and designers, but also that the selection needed to be highly curated and, to some extent, reflect my own taste. I began hunting for designers, building relationships with them, and familiarizing myself with their pieces so that when the online boutique was ready, I’d have the best collection ready to go.
Meanwhile, I began selecting partners to help me support the areas of the business that I wasn’t experienced in – technology, design, inventory management, photography, PR, etc. In some cases I hired freelancers, in other cases firms, but I knew that I needed a broad set of skill sets and experience at my disposal and tried to put together the best team I could to bring my vision to life.
Equally important to me was surrounding myself with people who had deep experience in startups, e-commerce businesses, fashion, etc. Some of these people became advisors and mentors, while others became investors. Either way, I knew that many people had been successful in these areas before and I was eager to learn from them and try to avoid the mistakes many first-time entrepreneurs make.
I wrote a business plan and built a financial model to validate the opportunity, but it was clear to me from the beginning what I wanted to build. I knew that it was a big opportunity so we mostly got right to work building the site, selecting designers, and rushing to get a first version of the store up before the holiday season.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
Every day presents a new lesson. Being an entrepreneur is not as glamorous as it’s sometimes made out to be. You’re both the CEO and the janitor and nothing happens unless you make it happen. It’s critically important to work with the right people who share your vision and passion and who are going to put their heart into it the way you intend to.
What has surprised you about owning your own business?
It’s hard to be your own boss. Sometimes you want to just sneak in to the office, stare at Facebook for an hour and pretend you’re doing work — then you realize you’re hiding from yourself! In those moments it’s really hard to motivate yourself and push through, but if you do it’s very rewarding. It’s like going to the gym.
Do you have a daily routine or rituals you do?
I make an effort to not check my email until I leave my apartment, otherwise everything gets slowed down. I attempt to exercise in some way every day—it gives me a sense of accomplishment that carries me through my day, not to mention more energy and less stress. Recently I’ve tried to also incorporate meditation into my life. I’m still very much a beginner, but it’s a great tool to clear one’s mind, even if it’s as simple as taking a five minute break to just close your eyes and take 20-30 deep breaths.
What hardships have you had along the way?
There have been plenty, but one thing that comes to mind specifically is that it can be difficult to work in a space where I’ve developed so many personal relationships. That can become complicated when things aren’t working out on the business side. For example, there are so many designers I’ve come to love as friends but sometimes their work isn’t resonating with our customer and we need to make a change to our working relationship. Those conversations are tough but I’ve been lucky to have the personal relationships continue even after our professional relationship has concluded. Beyond the challenges of mixing friendship and business we’ve, of course, run into many of the growing pains that any earlier stage company does. The best problems are when we can’t keep up with demand for a piece or need to make a change to our operations to support the growth of our business. We’ve been fortunate to run into these growing pains!
What do you wish you would have known going into this?
How fast technology moves! It’s certainly challenging to keep up with all the developments in e-commerce, technology and social media while also concentrating on your own core business. I wish I had known how important Instagram & Pinterest were going to be to Charm & Chain for selling product—I would’ve hopped on the train a lot sooner!
What have you found works for you as far as organizing your business and time?
I’ve tried every to-do list management system in the world and nothing seems to work better than a notebook and a pen. I try to start off my day by making a list of at least three things I’d like to accomplish in the day. I also pick one night a week where I’m going to work late—I’m a night person and I find myself being the most productive after hours.
Highlight of your career so far?
Being invited by Town & Country to go to Italy as part of a small group representing American jewelry stores. It was an all-expenses paid trip where we got to visit the best jewelry designers in Italy, experience the best of Italian cuisine and interact with other buyers and editors. It was an educational yet extremely fun trip, and I was so honored to have built a business that such an esteemed publication deemed worthy of representing the American jewelry market.
Looking back, what would you do differently?
As with any entrepreneur, I’m sure there are many things I’d do differently in terms of starting the business. Everything is clear in hindsight so I try to take these lessons with me but also not dwell on mistakes I’ve made.
Best advice you’ve been given? Any advice that you’d give other entrepreneurs?
You have to focus on what’s important and not just on what’s urgent. There are always a million things to do, but knowing what projects are really critical to focus on can make all the difference.
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