Shilla Kim-Parker, whose mission is to make second-hand shopping more modern, accessible and popular with the average consumer, is the CEO and co-founder of Thrilling. With a diverse background in business including investment banking at JPMorgan, strategy and business development at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and, most recently, Chief of Staff for the Disney/ABC Television Group, Shilla is bringing her passion for social impact, business and the arts to Thrilling, a fast-growing technology and logistics company bringing second-hand stores online, for the first time.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
SKP: The ability to create something out of nothing and provide value to a community that had been previously unrealized.
How did your company come to be?
SKP: Thrilling has been a lifetime in the making. I grew up in New York City shopping secondhand and developed a passion for the ‘thrill of the hunt.’ I have had an extremely nonlinear career – and throughout all the twists and turns, I continued to feed my love of secondhand, while growing increasingly alarmed by the massive amount of environmental harm and waste inherent in the apparel industry. I realized we could do our part by leveraging technology to bring vintage stores online – thereby making secondhand clothes more easily accessible to more people around the world, while supporting local business owners.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
SKP: We are a very relationship-oriented business. Much of the work we did with stores pre-COVID we did in person. We had team members visit the stores, talk to the owners, and help them onboard their inventory online. Since COVID, we had to dramatically shift how we conducted business. For the safety of our store owners and our team members, we no longer send people out in person but have invested in digital tools to do much the same work. Since many stores now rely solely on online sales for revenue, it became even more important that we do everything possible to continue to onboard new stores in new territories, as well as upload as much inventory as possible online. We now have 145 stores across 30 cities, and our inventory grows every month by 20%.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
SKP: Darkest moment was when the pandemic hit the US, and it was uncertain what the future meant for our small business store partners. Our partners are mostly mom and pop shops who know exactly how many sales they have to hit every month in order to pay their rent. Proudest moment was when we banded together as a community to help each other out as much as possible. We at Thrilling dropped our commission to zero for the first two months of the pandemic so that every dollar of every sale would go back to our store partners. We held video calls for our store partners with experts such as real estate lawyers on how to negotiate with your corporate landlord. We exchanged information on sources of emergency funding. We also launched a fundraiser (which is still live at shopthrilling.com/SaveVintage) where we raised $11,000 and counting for our stores. While we are not through the tunnel yet, the commitment we all have to each other gives me great hope for the future.
How is your company changing the landscape?
SKP: There are more secondhand stores across the US than there are Starbucks and McDonalds combined – and yet 99% of these stores are completely offline. We are helping these stores go online, many for the very first time, while also allowing shoppers across the US and around the globe to shop and search for the very best vintage. Our hope is that we bolster the vintage small business community, while making vintage shopping a habit for every consumer on earth.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
SKP: This is hard to answer as we are still in many ways in the beginning of our journey. Right now, I mostly feel gratitude for the people who have decided to join us in this venture or who have supported us along the way.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
SKP: I think about my grandparents who, in the 1940s, started the first black owned business (a dry cleaners) in a small town in North Carolina. They faced daily threats of violence, harassment and intimidation from their white neighbors and the police, and yet – they survived and thrived for nearly 50 years. I think about how they had to find the courage and hope to grow their family and their business, despite their day to day reality often feeling so bleak. I take great inspiration in, and summon strength from, their example.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
SKP: Our overarching goal is to change how people think of shopping for apparel. We want people to search for secondhand options first, before heading to the mall. It is on us to make our offering as compelling, robust, relevant and delightful as possible in order to disrupt and permanently change shopping habits.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
SKP: I have two young sons, 1 and 4 years old. I am constantly having to challenge, evolve and loosen my expectations around what their day looks like, and what it means to parent especially while working from home. We are grappling with the idea of homeschooling my older child this coming school year, a proposition that seemed unthinkable just a few months ago. Just like most parents, I struggle with fundamental questions like – am I doing enough for them? Are we making the right choices every day? And more mundane questions like – are they getting too much screen time? I am sure we don’t always get it right, but we provide a very loving home, and we just try to do our best on every other count.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
SKP: Share your vision, and the progress the company is making, as much as possible. Often people are taking risks to join an early stage venture, and it helps keep motivation and engagement high if they’re in the loop about what you’re thinking, where the company is heading, and how the company is doing.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
SKP: I haven’t set an alarm clock in nearly five years because my kids wake me up every morning around 6am. Usually it’s my 4 year old waltzing into my bedroom announcing “it’s morning! Time to wake up!” I do a quick check on my phone for any urgent messages overnight, then my husband and I brush their teeth, get them dressed, and make breakfast. I cherish these 45 minutes as I get to spend some quality time before disappearing into work for the next few hours. I very optimistically bought an indoor bike several months ago, with the hopes that I would get up before the kids and ride every morning – mostly it’s been a very useful place to throw clothes.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
SKP: Knowing that 1) what we do can make a difference to sustaining the livelihood of small mom and pop shops, and 2) time is running out on our ability to halt or reverse the damage we are doing to the environment
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
SK: I am a mid-career, mom of two, Black and Asian woman. I stand on the shoulders of giants, and if Thrilling is successful in the long-run, I hope it will allow others to stand on mine.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
SKP: Nevertheless, she persisted.
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