“Inside yourself, you have all you need to succeed – to unlock your potential you must keep putting in the work and trusting your path will make itself known, even if you have no idea where you’re headed!”
– Dana Todd, Founder and CEO of Balodana
I know Dana for many years and I was so happy to meet her personally in Bucharest last year, where we hit it off in the first minutes! Her amazing energy, strength, drive, inspiration and creativity are easily to recognize and I remember I said at some point: “There is something in you that reminds me of Meryl Streep! I feel like I am having dinner with Meryl!” She laughed and said: “Did you know that I’ve wanted to be an actress?” Oh, my! Now we have even more in common!
This just adds an extra layer to her amazing magnetic personality and her work in the last years from being Chief Marketing Officer for Aftermath, chairperson for SEMPO, co-founder of SiteLab and many other startups and ideas. Dana was at the wheels when online marketing was born and she influenced the whole course of it! In Bucharest it was the first time when she spoke about a brand new idea… Months later, the idea became reality, thus the story begins…
You have just launched an innovative platform focused on made-to-measure fashion. Tell us more about “Balodana” and what inspired you to bring it to life?
Dana: I built Balodana to solve my own problems, and research led me to discover that I wasn’t alone: my frustration finding clothes that fit was shared by nearly half of US women, and 75% of women who are over age 35. The US fashion pipeline sources almost entirely from China now, and the business pressure to make more profits is driving down the quality – which exacerbates the way clothes fit. Even if you have a so-called “perfect body” it’s not easy to find true options in retail or ecommerce shopping, and for those of us who wear a size 12 or higher it’s ridiculous. Almost everything is coming from the same factories. You can now buy a dress for $5 in the US! But of course it falls apart quickly, and it won’t fit you well in most cases. I honestly didn’t know I had a choice in how to buy clothes, until I found Teyxo and it blew my mind!
I thought custom made clothes were expensive and were primarily relegated to business suits or formal wear. I had no idea I could buy cute fashions that were made to measure, and I was so inspired by it that I started a company to share the thrill with others. I even wrote an article about how emotionally impacted I was from the experience. I was so grateful to Lara Popa, the founder of Teyxo. When I met with her in Bucharest, I literally scribbled my business plan on a cocktail napkin and she absolutely got it! Not only that, she agreed to be my first designer in the marketplace! It has been a whirlwind ever since. We now have 8 committed partners and adding more each month.
Did your background in tech and internet marketing, launching and co-founding several startups made things easier for you in creating “Balodana” or as any new beginning, there is always a big challenge?
Dana: I’ve been building enterprise websites since 1996, so I had a lot of experience with the tech side of things and also doing digital marketing. It’s different when it’s your own business, though – particularly since I’ve got ALL my skin in this game. It is easier for me than most people, I think, because I knew exactly how to roll the project out and work with a development team towards an aggressive budget and timeline. I was fortunate to find a customizable solution from a partner, so we were able to reduce costs and speed things up a bit, so we’ve been able to focus more on creating truly novel aspects of our technology rather than the basics. Building a marketplace is quite different than a single store, there’s far more complexity in everything from the front end to the back office. But all that is fun stuff for me, I love building tech. My biggest stresses have actually been in trying to get all the other pieces together: finding talented dressmakers who have mastered “e-spoke” tailoring via the internet, legal work, selecting payment providers and other vendors, etc. It’s challenging because we have a very small team.
How do you think technology will influence e-commerce in the following years?
Dana: I’m so excited about the technology, I feel like we’re right on the cusp of some amazing breakthroughs right now that can improve the fashion industry. However, most of the innovation for on-demand and made-to-measure clothing is happening on the front end or in limited systems so we still have some work to do. For example, Amazon has patented an on-demand clothing manufacturing process but it’s likely going to be limited to standard sizes and a small number of products that can be encoded on the back end. Zozotown, a huge Japanese fashion brand, has created a very cool “Zozosuit” that is a sensor-covered bodysuit to take your measurements, but thus far it only works for their clothes and only for two garment types (jeans and Tshirt). The real innovation will happen when we have created an ecosystem that helps us connect the back-end manufacturing operations to the front-end customer data, and then open it up for more participation by all types of companies and creatives. (Think Salesforce for fashion.) Doing this will not just make women happier with their clothing but should also help reduce waste and environmental impacts. Our current approach of just making tons of cheap clothing, dumping it in stores and then to the landfills, is seriously impacting our planet.
What is the greatest risk that you’ve ever taken?
Dana: I’d have to say that making Balodana is the biggest risk so far in my professional life. But I’m comfortable with risk in my life more than most people, I think. We have a saying in the USA, No risk, no reward. And I’ve found that while sometimes I get burned, there’s always a good outcome from taking a risk. Even if you fail, you learn something new.
“Allowing yourself to be vulnerable isn’t just an act of trust, it builds growth for both parties.”
– Dana Todd
What inspires you?
Dana: I always try to read leadership insights about business people – particularly women – in order to set my sights higher and see how these leaders think. I started reading Fortune Magazine when I was only 30 years old! It helped me get comfortable with business language, sparked ideas, and gave me an understanding that everyone’s path to the top is different. On a more personal level, I have an incredibly generous group of friends, mentors and professional advisors who are not afraid to share their insights deeply and also to give me honest feedback when I ask. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable isn’t just an act of trust, it builds growth for both parties. I also have a strong connection to my spiritual growth. Making time and clearing the mind to receive divine inspiration is one of the few disciplines I practice. I hate going to the gym, but I practice my spiritual exercises consistently!
If you could have a drink with anyone in this world – dead or alive – who would you choose and why?
Dana: Oh wow, the list is so long. Today, I’d pick Angela Merkel. She seems like she’d be a really complex personality, and I’d love to understand what it’s like running one of the world’s most powerful countries. Plus, I’ll bet she’s hilarious after a few beers.
Who is your fashion icon?
Dana: I’m currently madly in love with Isabella Rossellini as a style icon. I’ve always loved her as an actress but watching her recently on a new Hulu show called Shut Eye, I can’t get enough of her costumes! They are elegant and ethnic-inspired, and so comfy looking. If you search her style history, you’ll see she’s always been a sophisticated dresser who really knows how to look amazing day or night.
How do you see women nowadays in relationship with their body and their confidence?
Dana: So much has been written in the press about body image and how even the littlest of girls is aware – and often shamed by – their body and how it “measures up” to peers and society. I’d like to think it will change soon, and we are seeing more women with curves embracing their bodies and wearing clothes that aren’t big baggy tents, and talking about body confidence. But I think we have a long way to go. We judge women by their bodies, their skin, hair, sexuality, their voices – the list goes on, sadly. I believe it starts with us women first: we can’t expect men not to judge us if we are being our own worst enemies, tearing each other and ourselves down. I do think that the world is having more positive conversations and learning to use more careful language in describing girls and women.
What advice would you offer to a little girl who wants to become a leader?
Dana: Do the thing that terrifies you, but trust your gut to know what things (and people) really deserve your energy. Inside yourself, you have all you need to succeed – to unlock your potential you must keep putting in the work and trusting your path will make itself known, even if you have no idea where you’re headed!
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Dana: Breathe underwater like AquaMan. I am an avid scuba diver and it would be so amazing to ditch the tanks so I can walk around underwater and see the sights for hours. It’s the most incredible place to be on our planet, I think.
Thank you for your amazing inspiration! While Dana was doing this interview for us, she was also participating in the FUND Conference in Chicago presenting the brand new Balodana. She competed with 100 startups and reached the first 10! She could hear her heartbeats go wilder and wilder that day! One more pitch to go to convince the audience!
It’s so beautiful to explore the story of her new idea – from a scribbling on a cocktail napkin one night in Bucharest to winning the FUND Conference in Chicago just one year later! This is a story of success and I am thrilled to be part of the brand new marketplace Balodana!
Explore now BALODANA