SPOTLIGHT ON HEIDI ZAK, DUKE ALUMNA
APRIL 12, 2017 | BY EKIM BUYUK AND MARIELLE RODGERS
Heidi Zak is the co-founder of ThirdLove. Prior to ThirdLove, Zak cut her teeth in retail at Aeropostale where she quickly rose to Director of the retail giant, launching and running the International Division, before moving over to marketing at Google. Zak holds an undergraduate degree in Economics from Duke University and an MBA from MIT Sloan. In her free time she loves spending time with her two kids, breaking a sweat in bootcamp class, and cooking with ingredients from San Francisco's farmers markets.
What has been your favorite part about building ThirdLove?
Having a vision and building something from nothing is incredibly rewarding. What started as an idea — helping women find a better-fitting bra from the comfort of their own home — is now a thriving business, one we’re touching millions of women across the country.
My proudest accomplishment is creating our 24/7 Classic T-shirt Bra. Hearing directly from our customers how much they love it and how it’s so comfortable they fall asleep in it makes it all worth it.
What inspired you to co-found a business?
ThirdLove was founded to solve a problem that every woman faces — bra shopping. A few years ago, it was time for me to go bra shopping and refresh my lingerie drawer, and as usual I was dreading it. I disliked the entire process — finding time to drive to a store, getting “fitted”, trying on a ton of bras to find one that fit, and then having the bra fall apart after just a few washes.
I thought to myself, there has to be a better way to do this. With my background in technology and retail, I knew I could find a way to use technology to solve the fit issues many women experience, and a way to design beautiful, high-quality bras that actually fit real women’s bodies.
How has your role within the company evolved over time?
At first, Dave (my husband and ThirdLove’s Co-Founder) and I were doing everything ourselves. Now, we’re a team of 50+ members in our new San Francisco headquarters, and hiring rapidly, giving me more time to focus on recruiting and managing the best people and setting overall strategy.
As we’ve grown and added to our team, we’ve chosen to focus on hiring people who are smarter than us — it’s all about building a strong, passionate and engaged team around you. You should spend your time on parts of the business that are your core strengths, and fill in your team with others who bring different perspective or skills to the table. It’s a constant balance of wanting to be involved in everything, but knowing I can’t be — and that’s okay.
What is the most difficult obstacle you have faced in your career?
One of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make was leaving Google to start ThirdLove. Google was a fantastic company, with super smart people, great benefits and was an incredibly stable job. I loved it — but I was too comfortable. And, I believe that to get into leadership positions you have to make yourself uncomfortable. So, I quit my well-paying job to start my own company. Being a leader is rewarding, exciting and stressful — all in the course of an average day.
What advice would you have for those interested in starting their own companies someday?
Be tenacious and don’t take “no” for an answer. When I was at MIT Sloan, I wanted to get a job in retail for the summer, but no retail companies came to campus and there were very few retail companies that even took summer MBA interns. But I knew that I had to get retail experience that summer to have a chance at a great full-time offer after school, so I put together a list of the top 20 companies in NYC that I was interested in, sent my resumes to each, and cold-called each company one-by-one until I got the answer I wanted. I was connected with the SVP of New Business Development at Aeropostale, eventually securing a summer internship and then a full-time job a year later.
What do you miss most about being a Duke undergraduate?
I miss being surrounded my friends all the time. Having someone to study with or hang out with was only a few steps away in the next dorm room. To this day my closest 6 girlfriends are all from Duke, and one was even in the same freshman dorm (Randolph!). Now we’re bi-coastal with most living in the NYC area and the others in California.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully running a multi-billion dollar women’s specialty retailer - ThirdLove!
MORE ABOUT THIRDLOVE
ThirdLove is an innovative bra and underwear brand that believes fit should come first. In addition to offering signature ½-cupTM sizes to provide a more precise fit, ThirdLove has developed a FitFinder™ that empowers a woman to find her best size and style from home. By using real women’s measurements in their design process, ThirdLove is able to consider the unique needs of diverse body sizes and shapes and deliver on its mission to create bras that fit real women. To learn more, visit www.thirdlove.com.