Corporate veteran, cowgirl and online entrepreneur
"Fear is usually the biggest killer of dreams."
Jane was climbing the corporate ladder in the tech world when things took an unexpected turn. As Jane puts it, she fell in love with a cowboy.
A sheep farmer in Australia’s Cooma mountains, to be precise.
So Jane packed up and moved to what felt at the time like the middle of nowhere. She had to reimagine what kind of life she’d build. But she “learned from Charles Darwin about adapting to change”.
“This might actually work”
Business was a natural consideration. Growing up with many entrepreneurial role models in her life, including her father, Jane had always imagined she’d be in charge of her own destiny one day.
She purchased a physical store that sold an eclectic array of items including hats, cowboy boots, saddlery and women’s clothes. The latter accounted for 60% of the business, so Jane “literally fell into fashion”.
But Jane was still inspired by the Internet, and had in mind an online store.
Back in the early 2000s, though, e-commerce was still young in Australia, and naysayers claimed people would “never buy jeans off the web” from a company they’d never heard of.
Undeterred, Jane pursued her hunch. It took her two years to build her website from scratch, over long nights with a uni student in Canberra. Birdsnest went live in 2008.
When the first orders came in, she realised this might actually work.
Birdsnest now stocks over 250 Australian female fashion brands and employs over 110 locals, mostly women, in Jane’s small country town of 6,500.
Part of the fast lane. Living in the slow lane.
Birdsnest started out as Jane’s way to “be part of the fast lane while living in the slow lane”. As “Big Bird”, she strikes an elegant balance between being professional and personable with her team of “birds”.
In hiring staff, attitude trumps formal qualifications in a company that values a strong internal culture. “I always do the final interview before anyone joins,” she says. “Probably less than 10% of our team has tertiary education,” but their performance is top-notch.
And it seems to work; Birdsnest was recognised for Best Customer Service 2015 in Australia’s annual Online Retail Industry Awards.
Culture is also a key element of Birdsnest’s success in a competitive online fashion industry. Jane’s approach is “understanding our customer and how we can solve her needs better than anyone else”. On Birdsnest’s website, women can view items not only by size, colour or collection as on other sites, but also by occasion, body shape and personality (think “yummy mummy” or “career girl”).
And to this day, every single package sent out is wrapped lovingly in tissue paper and accompanied by fun stickers and a handwritten note.
“Most of us feel like we’re winging it”
By her own admission, Jane is not a natural risk-taker. “Fear is usually the biggest killer of dreams,” she says, recalling moments of self-doubt. She overcame this by surrounding herself with people who believed in her, like her family.
While she is proud of Birdsnest’s success, Jane firmly believes other women can achieve what she has, too. “Most of us feel like we’re winging it,” she admits. “There’s no instruction book for this. But it doesn’t take a genius to do this stuff either.”
And in terms of growing the business, she takes a simple approach. “We just do one thing different every day, and I feel grateful we’ve been able to do so much this way”, she says. What will not change, though, is the continued focus on her customers: “We want to continue to surprise her”.
Sure and steady, Birdsnest has spread its wings.