The story of a startup, digital @lululemon

I’ve had the incredible opportunity to be a key player in growing the lululemon brand digitally (in the startup world, you may call it a “growth hacker”)—from leading social media, to all channels off of lululemon, to online customer service, mobile, emerging product development, new concept strategy, (digital) business development, and different areas in between.  It’s been an amazing whirlwind and a journey, and I want to share a bit of my story in seeing us go from a startup up… to well, the opposite. I have had many people ask me how I came to lululemon, and I’m telling this story from a personal perspective to share just a few of the lessons I learned along the way:

Persistence Goes a Long Way 

I discovered lululemon from my investment club at the University of Michigan. As an avid yogi since I was 12 (did wonders for my dance practice), it was immediately job love at first sight. I knew I wanted to work at this incredible company. Sometimes, in life the best things and decisions are gut feelings.

I sent an email through the “contact” portal on (sans ecommerce) inquiring about internships. They wrote back to say they had no such roles (hey, the company was small at this point). One book that inspired me was “Pour Your Heart Into It”, which emphasized to start and learn at the point where the money is exchanged. So, I decided to start in the store and help open the Somerset location. I worked there for 4 months, and learned every aspect of the store from merch to cash to what people really wanted from the product. Knowing and understanding your guest is the most important part of building great strategies.

It was clear that there were endless possibilities to bridge the gap between technology and the in-store lululemon experience. So, I wrote an email with a vision and ideas on ways we could get there, and sent it to everyone I had met from our head office. Always, I repeat always, go outside of your comfort zone to be proactive in the right way, to speak your mind, and create value (write one gutsy email/message a day).
On Carolyn Coles’ first day (the pioneer of digital at lululemon), she came across my email, and brought me on board as the second person to focus on building online community and our brand (so much gratitude, Carolyn!).

Stay agile

We were a startup, and even as we got bigger our mentality stayed in “startup mode”.  We had Carolyn, Alana (blog and SEO), Ronnh (design), and Chuck (developer).  Our budget was almost non-existant, and we created so many amazing things out of nothing— from taking our own photos to writing copy/blog posts to doing whatever it took to grow the brand in authentic ways. I worked from Michigan for those first two years 40+ hours a week (while in school), helping to build a brand that we both believed in so much. I’d fly to Vancouver (on my own dime), and Carolyn and I would work feverishly through the night on everything from implementing product reviews to creating the framework for stores on social media to helping to create the future of ecommerce.

Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness

As the company started to really take off and digital played a bigger role, we wore a lot of different hats. I led social media (at the time, anything off of ie online PR, social, partnerships, and anything interactive on the site), and built out an amazing team to lead it.  I managed the online team at the GEC (guest education center) through multiple ecommerce launches, and then moved into “innovation” (strategy/product development/biz dev). I never waited for opportunity to come, I went after it— we all did. We were autonomous–we had the freedom to imagine and create. This is what makes lululemon an incredible culture.  Roles and titles were always in flux, it never mattered— you could create impact anywhere if you took it upon yourself to do it. The best and most successful things we did were the ones when we didn’t ask for permission, we moved fast, thought strategically about it, and then asked for permission later.

The best journeys are never a straight path

There were days we literally worked for 4 days straight ie in Vegas we actually didn’t leave our hotel room for a week and ate pizza breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We painted visions that were challenging to execute, and we worked endlessly with different teams and third-parties to patch technology, ideas, and concepts together to create something even better. Much of this work hasn’t even launched yet- stay tuned.

Like working on anything great, there were road bumps. It wasn’t a straight line. Innovation and growth isn’t easy, and if it were, we wouldn’t have been playing big enough. There were a million things we didn’t know, but instead we focused on the things we did know and the places we believed we could shift. We pushed to amplify culture, purposefully disrupt, and create change— in every aspect of the company. Innovation is what YOU make of it, and I believe you should make the most out of all opportunities.

Looking back at it, we were swimming against the current. Personally and in work, we were taking challenges. It was a gift that I was even able to work in Canada— as I had to prove to the Canadian government that I was the most qualified, over any Canadians, in my role to move. My friends thought I was crazy, under the circumstances, to work at lululemon and move to Vancouver— I went for it and I did it. It was tough, like the time I wasn’t allowed to leave the country during the holidays (I was guilty of eating Mac and Cheese for Christmas, awful) or trying to convince a lawyer for 4 months to even take my case (note, age does matter in the legal system). Here, I really learned that relentless positive persistence, combined with intuition, is a force to be reckoned with. There are no rewards, without risks.

From leading mobile strategy to working on international strategy to creating new “digital startups” within the organization— we were pushing ahead in new territories. We shifted the mindset that “creating components for people to live happier and healthier lives” was more than just black stretchy pants.  This took time, enrollment, and strong doses of determination for what the brand was capable of. Relationships were the key here. With relationships, anything can happen and process becomes secondary.

Lastly, celebrate!

With all of this said, sometimes in life we don’t celebrate enough how far we’ve come. We focus on the future, but today, I want to show and say how very proud I am of our team and what we have created.  Celebrate progress, celebrate people, and celebrate the things to come.

5 thoughts on “The story of a startup, digital @lululemon

  1. Big things often have small beginnings (per pinterest)… so inspiring! Persistence *always* pays off. Keep on rocking lululemon digital… you’re doing fantastic work.

  2. Kristina,

    I don’t know how I came to follow you on Twitter (and then today to click through and discover your blog) but I am so glad I did!

    Your post tells a tale familiar to all of us during the last 5 years who’ve embraced the potential of online technology to disrupt – and revolutionize – the way we do things.

    It’s awesome that lululemon gave you the latitude to think big, and a big congrats to you on proving the worth of your ideas to them. That, undoubtedly, is the hardest part.

    I worked for a literal start-up where we did the exact same things – vetted the market for the latest technologies and then worked tirelessly, endlessly to create a new product, from scratch.

    The ride was amazing, the amount we learned was tremendous and being a part of that wave of tech believers, at the very beginning was life-changing.

    Best of luck in your future endeavors!


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