In her unconventional career, Ambika Singh has seen startups from all sides — the good, the bad and the ugly. That's why she knew what it would take to start her own company, Armoire: a clothing rental service. Singh believes all women should feel excited about what they wear, no matter who they are. She's used this passion for equal access to fuel her fast-growing company — even when the going gets tough.
We spoke to Singh about her career journey and the moves she made to get to her CEO spot. Then, we talked about the practical side of starting your own company (Singh has chased mail trucks in heels, people!), the most important part of networking and, of course, Singh's shopping addictions. Hint: she sees more value in renting.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Ambika Singh
CEO of Armoire
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
I’m from Seattle. I went to college in New Hampshire at Dartmouth — pretty much as far away from Seattle as you can get. I really missed Seattle, so I came back as an intern at Microsoft twice, which was really different from what I was studying. At the time, I was a history major with a concentration in Asian studies. I wrote my thesis about micro-finance in India, so landing at Microsoft was not a straight line.
My first startup experience was less than the big success it was expected to be. We had about 17 people a year in, and then the company laid off 14 of the 17, in my perception, overnight. It was really blindsiding for me. Looking back, it was professionally the most devastating thing that had happened to me up to that point. However, though the first day was bad, the second day was better, and by three weeks later, I started to pick myself up and walk away. I learned that even the worst case is okay. I realized this would not break me, and there would be another thing. I think it's really important to give business and career risks the right framing.
In my next startup experience, I actually ended up with Rover, where I saw the other side of startups — an idea that really works. When it works, it’s awesome. We built a team and it took on a soul of its own very quickly. I was itchy to have more ownership over what we were doing, though, so I decided to go to business school so that I could get the skills I felt were necessary to start my own thing.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
I'm proud of Armoire. It's driven by my motivation to provide access to a ‘dream’ closet to far more people than the limited number of women this luxury is currently available to. I am deeply inspired by the idea of equal access, and believe every woman should get the same skip in her step from debuting her stylish looks — regardless of the physical space in her closet, the time she has to expend or her existing fashion IQ. Our mission is to provide "Armoire for All."
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
Everything is a challenge at a startup. Really. 50% of what I’m doing every day I’ve never done before. Specifically, some of our biggest challenges in the earliest stages of Armoire were really logistical. My two team members and I packed all of the boxes ourselves. We lived and worked in an apartment that was disorganized and full of clothes. I cannot tell you how many mail trucks I have chased down in heels. We got to know the mailman very well. I learned very quickly that overcoming challenges comes down to people’s ingenuity and their talents. That’s why it’s so important to have a strong team around you.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
Our COO, Melissa Lehman. She is the best parter I could ask for — fearless, organized (I am not) and deeply passionate.
What do you do when you're not working?
Spend time with my people. Preferably outside. Preferably with wine.
If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
The Obamas. I know that's two people, but I'm a rule breaker.
Lightning Round: What is your karaoke song?
"A Whole New World" (only as a duet).
Lightning Round: What is your favorite movie?
Lightning Round: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
The Lonely Planet book about the island so I could learn about the terrain, animals and any past history!
Lightning Round: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
I don't buy a lot of stuff — only things I can't rent. If I won the lottery, I would take all of my people to the most amazing sunny island somewhere. Open door policy to come and go for a month, transportation provided. After the month, I'd go back to running Armoire!
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
Invest deeply in the people in your life who you find interesting and inspiring. Spend your time with them, share your ideas and help them where you can. These people will become your network.
Why do you love where you work?
The people are the best part of Armoire. I am lucky to spend my days (and evenings!) with a group of [mostly] boss ladies who I am constantly inspired by.