When Bianca Gates created the slipper startup Birdies, she imagined her customers wearing her slippers exclusively indoors--to entertain friends and family at home while still looking stylish. 

It was only after she poached her first employee, Adriana Kwicinski, from Williams-Sonoma that she realized Birdies could become so much more.

Last summer, Gates and Kwicinski surveyed thousands of customers and asked how they're wearing their Birdies. The survey showed that 75 percent of customers were wearing them outside of the house rather than just inside, as Gates had intended. When Gates saw the data, she panicked. But Kwicinski broke down the data and showed her it actually means 75 percent of their customers loved Birdies so much they want to wear them everywhere--not just indoors.

"It took a young, strong person to show me that there are many ways of looking at data," Gates says in a new Inc. video. "Sometimes you have to go with the bigger number and what consumers are telling you and not just go with your personal passion."

After the survey, Birdies pivoted from branding its shoes as just indoor slippers to promoting them as "a stylish flat that's also a slipper." After that, business exploded. In three months, Birdies raised $8 million in its Series A round. As Birdies continues to grow and more roles need to be filled, Gates refuses to look at resumes. Instead, she wants to see how passionate potential hires are about learning and building something from scratch.

"Just being focused on somebody's resume is not enough. At a startup, it really comes down to the heart and soul of the person. That is something that doesn't come across in a resume."

Gates knows that Kwicinski took a leap of faith by leaving her job at Williams-Sonoma to be the first hire in a brand-new startup. But from the very first day, they were a team. 

"In many ways, she is an employee. On the other hand, she was like my co-pilot in this journey in retail," Gates says. "I think the trust developed early on because we were helping each other, we were in this together, and we weren't going to let each other down."

Published on: Aug 9, 2019