Episode #1429 Denise Lee: How A Triathlon Inspired Activewear Brand Alala

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Denise Lee and Jenna reflect on her parents giving her the courage to start Alala, how early mentors helped her launch the brand and her best advice for asking people for help. We walk through how focusing on momentum empowers us to navigate uncertain situations and be active decision-makers as well as making the critical mindset shift of truly acknowledging when we have done great work rather than solely focusing on improvement. We also talk about the practice that helps Denise maintain perspective, the importance of making time to dream big dreams and think of all of the great things that can happen to you while also being grateful for and celebrating the things that already have.


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Denise Lee

Founder of Alala View Full Profile

Key Learnings And Highlights

  • On recognizing and exercising our strength: “When I started Alala, there was a little bit of fear and even embarrassment. I was just a normal person who had a normal job, who was I to all the sudden say: I’m going to start this brand and it’s going to be great. It was a little bit of a learning curve for me to even comfortably vocalize: ‘Yes, I quit my job. Yes, I’m going to start a new business. Yes, it’s going to be activewear.’ It’s a process of learning and being more comfortable with yourself through this journey. There are still times when I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t know how we have come so far, but I do think that self reflection, looking back, and giving yourself the permission to say that you did a good job really helps. No matter what other people tell you, the most important person to tell you that you are doing a good job and that you have had some success on this journey is yourself.” 
  • On truly acknowledging great work: “We always say that it was 99% great and focus on the 1% that wasn’t great. I think that is a really unproductive outlook and is something that I am trying to change about myself and the way I look at my business and the world in general…There is a lot of power in allowing yourself to acknowledge that you did a good job.”   
  • On maintaining momentum: “I am a big believer in momentum. The moment you stop moving forward it’s so hard to get back up and keep going. One of the ways I try to tackle self-doubt and questions is to be open and admit that you don’t know everything. I’ve done that this the whole entire process. You admit that you don’t know and you go and find someone who might be willing to tell you how to do it. You just have to be self-aware and comfortable enough with yourself that you can admit that there is something you don’t know and go out and find the answer. That’s where people trip up. They want to get a 100% answer when in reality no one person is going to tell you how to do everything to get why you want. The fun is moving through that challenge and peeling back the layers of the thing that you don’t know. Finally, you’re going to get there and it’s going to be awesome. You can’t let those challenges stop you in your tracks. Whether it is a small step or a big step, you have to keep going. Especially being an entrepreneur, there are so many things you aren’t going to know. And, so many things you don’t know you aren’t going to know until they come across your path. I see people get paralyzed by all of that uncertainty and unknown but it really is important to keep going and just take those little steps.” 
  • On avoiding decision fatigue: “Chris Burch always said: ‘It’s better to make a quick bad decision than a slow good one.’ That also goes back to momentum. You’re never going to know 100% what the right decision is. Sometimes, if you spend too much time thinking about it you’ll never get to a decision. A lot of it is trusting your gut and that what you think will be best for the business will be. I try to make quick decisions most of the time. That’s how I avoid decision-fatigue. Just keeping moving forward and learning. Whether it was or wasn’t a good decision, think about how you can improve next time versus laboring over every single one so intensely…You can sit for days and months convincing yourself that you have 11 pros and 9 cons so you should keep working with a person. Sometimes, after you make a decision to part ways, I have always looked back and wished I did that six months ago. Those turning points can take a lot out of you if you don’t make the right moves.” 
  • On bootstrapping: “I know everything about every single person’s role in this company. I have done everything and I know down to the dollar where all my money is and what we are spending it on. One of the challenges when you grow very quickly, and you have venture funding, is that you might lose control and you might lose visibility into what is really going on in your business. I’m super grateful that we have been able to be self funded for the last five years and that I have really been able to get a great insight into how my business is running and the challenges and the opportunities that we have.” 
  • On asking for early guidance: “When I started Alala I did a lot of informational meetings with people that I knew professionally through working for Chris. I had no shame. I called all of them up and told them I was starting my own business and was interested in learning more about their role when they worked for Chris, how they got there, and learning about what they did. There are so many people who gave me their time, advice and contacts in that first learning phase that really helped me along the way. They were happy to cheer me on. I’m very grateful for it…One piece of advice when you are asking people for help is: Be specific about what you want to talk to them about. It shows that you have thought about it and you respect their time. It also helps them tailor their discussion around that topic so they know how to help you better.” 
  • On acknowledging the journey: “It’s important to keep in mind that nobody’s story is perfect. Nobody goes from success to success to success. Even the titans of industries have gone through periods where they doubted themselves or thought they were going to fail.” 
  • On gaining perspective: “I try to go to sleep early and wake up early. I feel like my mind is very clear in the morning and that is when I take stock of my business from a more macro level as well as for myself like: How am I feeling? Have I been feeling down the last couple of days? How do I get back to a better place? Am I feeling very optimistic about this? Or is my stomach churning about it? I take the mornings to think about those things and I feel like that clarity of mind when I first wake up helps me guide myself to where I need to go next.” 
  • On dreaming: “I try to be super organized in terms of my business so I have a really good idea of what is going on. I have a good idea of where we want to go in the next six months and year, so that planning process and allowing yourself to ideate and dream about where you want to be in 18 months or 5 years is a really important thing to allow yourself to dream and work towards that big dream. That helps you lay the foundation to where you want to go. A lot of people get so caught up in the moment of what is going on now that they have trouble thinking further in the future and they don’t allow themselves to think about the good things that can happen to them…It’s something that I have allowed myself to do more and more now that I have the confidence of having done this for a few years. You can see the path a little better. I do think that it is important to have those big goals. Even if you don’t get 100% of the way there it still guides your way.” 
  • On gratitude: “The whole journey has been amazing. When I hired my first employee, it was amazing that somebody wanted to come and work for this little company. And, when we hired the second one, that was amazing too. When Nordstrom wants to put you in 20 stores, that’s amazing too. I feel like I have been on the path that I have seen for myself this whole time but every little win and every little surprise along the way has been so wonderful. I’m so super grateful for every one of them because it’s a tough world out there and it’s super competitive. Yes, we do work hard, but I do think that all of the little wins are so important to be celebrated. They are surprising to me sometimes and I’m very grateful for where we are today.”