Julia Lam is an early Facebooker, serial entrepreneur, and now the Founder and CEO of Tara&Co, a company that re-imagines products for women on-the-go. Their first product, The Tracy 2-in-1 bag, is a stylish and convertible bag that launched in November 2017 and is named after tech diversity advocate Tracy Chou.
Previously, she was the Co-founder and CEO of a venture-backed innovative trip technology company, Bucket, which sold in 2016.
Prior to joining the startup foray, Julia was an early Facebook employee (2007-2011) where she led and worked on many high impact developer marketing initiatives including the Facebook Developer Garage program, the original Facebook Connect (Login with Facebook) partner team, Facebook Presence, the f8 Developer Conference, and fbFund, Facebook’s $10 MM fund which funded >50 small teams including Lyft, Taskrabbit (acq. by Ikea) and Wildfire (acq. by Google).
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I joined Facebook early, when it was 200 people, and worked with a lot of startups, helping them to imagine building social media into the core of their product. I was at Facebook for 4.5 years until it grew to 2500 people and saw a lot of the startups I worked with grow up into many of the companies we know today.
These included companies like Lyft, which we worked with when it was 2 people, Taskrabbit when it was a single founder, and companies like Airbnb and Dropbox when they had just a handful of employees. When you work with entrepreneurs long enough, you start wondering if you should be on the other side, so I eventually left for the startup world!
I got the idea for Tara&Co when I was fundraising for my last company. I was running around from meeting to meeting, to social event, and back to meeting. Since I was in tech, I had my laptop and my life in this cute little shoulder bag, but my shoulder was hurting and I was tipping over in my heels.
I thought to myself, there’s got to be a better way. I searched high and low in the market for something that was professional, beautiful, protected my devices, and also had distributed weight when I needed it. I couldn’t find anything, so I eventually created Tara&Co and the Tracy 2-in-1 bag for industrious women everywhere.
Tell us about your business.
At Tara&Co, we re-imagine products for women on-the-go. Our goal is to bring fashion and function together and solve problems for working professionals.
Our first product is The Tracy 2-in-1 bag which is a stylish and convertible bag. There were two specific problems that we were trying to solve with the bag:
- The idea of feeling sleek and elegant when you wanted it, but having distributed weight when you needed it.
- The idea of bags within bags.
Why do you need two separate bags when you can just have one?
The Tracy 2-in-1 bag can be worn 3-ways (shoulder bag, backpack, cross body), fits up to a 13” laptop, and has a flap that turns into a zip-off clutch. We launched officially in November 2017 with >$110k in pre-sales and have been featured in Brit + Co, Techcrunch, and LA Fashion Magazine and sold out in just a few short months!
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Yes! In celebration of Women’s History month, we’ve partnered with four amazing innovative companies (Ashley Chloe, LXMI and True Gault) to host a “Who Inspires You” giveaway that starts TODAY at www.taraand.co/whoinspiresyou.
To enter, you can nominate someone in your life who inspires you and tell us why. It’s a great way to recognize the powerful women in your life.
At the end of the 7-day contest, on March 29th, we’ll pick one raffle winner and both the nominee and the person nominating will share the prize pack from us and our partners, containing ~$1k worth of really cool products for dynamic women. They’ll get prizes like Tara&Co’s Tracy 2-in-1 bag, the Ashley Chloe Helix Cuff, True Gault’s customizable shoes, LXMIs luscious skin crème, and we’ll share the winning team’s story.
We want to hear to hear about the women that inspire you in your life!
- BA from UCLA in Communication Studies. Graduated Cum Laude.
- Early Facebook (2007 – 2011)
- 35 under 35 for Rising Travel Stars by PhoCusWright 2015.
- Raised ~$1 MM and sold last startup, Bucket, in travel technology in 2016
- Ascend Rising Star Award 2018
Where is your business based?
San Francisco, CA.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
It’s really important to understand your market, so I ran a bunch of surveys online and did a lot of in-person research with what I considered “women on-the-go.” Women that had dynamic lifestyles were my target market, so I went directly to them and asked what bags they wore today, what brands they liked, where their products fell short, and what they carried. Then I hired a designer with over 10 years of experience and we used the data as our guide to build what eventually became the Tracy 2-in-1 bag.
Our first prototype was built within 6 weeks and we designed a spot for everything that the majority of our interviewees said they carried each day. We also played with a few different methods to make the bag convertible while also incorporating a separate smaller bag (now the clutch) that was built in, so you didn’t have to carry two. It was quite an adventure!
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Word of mouth and Facebook have been the best for us. Our customers always tell us how they get so many compliments about the bag from their friends and, in turn, a lot of their friends get one. Facebook posts and like-minded Facebook groups have also helped us find women who love the bag.
The great thing about our product is that women who want it always tell us, “I’ve been looking for a bag like this!” so it’s really about getting in front of more women like that.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
When is there not a challenge? That’s part of the fun! Building a bag with the kind of aesthetic we want – but functionality we need – has been a big challenge. We want to be “Coach meets REI.” The bag needs to sit well in 3-ways PLUS turn into two bags that look good separately or together. That’s not easy! We literally have a mechanical engineer on our team that looks at things and tests things.
How did you overcome these challenges?
We were really thoughtful in our design and kept prototyping, building, testing and re-testing things. Any product is going to have trade-offs, so you just have to stay laser-focused on what the product is you’re trying to build and what trade-offs make sense.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
It makes me smile every time a customer tells me they love our product, so that helps. I also have a great set of other entrepreneur friends that understand the ups and downs of life as an entrepreneur. They pick me up when I’m down and they’re my cheerleaders when I need it. In turn, I do the same for them.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
Most bags are not convertible at all, and when they are it can take up to 10 minutes to convert. We try to make conversion easy – you pull one way and it’s a shoulder bag, you pull another way and it’s a backpack. Another thing is that our flap turns into a second bag, a clutch!
People have described this as magical and love it. You can take a smaller bag to dinner, drinks etc. and don’t have to lug around a huge bag containing your laptop and your life when it’s not necessary.
Lastly, we’re just a really nice bag. The leather is soft and beautiful, and most people that wear it as a backpack say they’ve been looking for a “professional backpack” for a while now. The product is quite unique.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
As a founder, you’re the only person the company can’t survive without, so do whatever you need to be in the best mindset to run your company. As a leader, you always want to be working, but sometimes the best thing for your company is sleep, exercise, or just taking a walk to clear your head. At the end of the day, the best “you” will be the best for your company.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Startups are hard, like, really hard, so it’s important to build yourself the right frameworks, people, and support. I say:
- Find yourself a mentor.
- Find a problem you’re really excited to solve because you’ll have to work on it a long time to make a dent.
- Fail fast and remember everyone else is figuring it out too. If things don’t go your way, the only thing you can do is learn and move forward.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
Quora is always a good tool for broader business questions. I’d also suggest joining a vetted startup community to whom you can ask more targeted questions if you don’t have your own. I hear good things about YC, and I’ve been lucky to have my ex-Facebook startup community.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I was re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” recently. I love his philosophy of 10,000 hours of practice will make you world-class in any field. It’s a good thing to keep in mind as entrepreneurs, as you’re often dealing with the unknown.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
We’re currently starting to work and partner with a lot of amazing women’s groups to get the Tracy 2-in-1 bag in their hands. We’re also focusing on our second line, also focused on fashion and function bags that solve problems. We love early user testers, so we welcome user testers to help give us early feedback for our next line!
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
Instagram @lovetaraandco @julialam
Website www.taraand.co, http://www.igg.me/at/tara
Hashtags #styleforyourlife #lovetaraandco #femalefounder