Melissa Shin Mash, WG'12, Co-Founder, Dagne Dover
Melissa Shin Mash, WG’12, working at Coach and Deepa Gandhi, WG’13, at Club Monaco, were both already successful in the fashion industry. Yet they knew two things: They wanted to create something of their own; and they believed that attending Wharton would enable them to do it. Melissa explains how they created Dagne Dover, a company producing a line of sophisticated, organized handbags that make you feel ready for anything.
What was your path to Wharton?
I never thought I would go to business school. I thought I could learn everything I needed to know about starting a business through work experience and hands-on learning. But when I looked at successful entrepreneurs in New York City, I realized how helpful an MBA was, especially for people like me who hadn’t had formal business training. After seeing such talent at Warby Parker and Diapers.com come out of Wharton’s entrepreneurial community, and after learning about the Jay Baker Retailing Center, I realized it was the only business school I was interested in going to.
You and Deepa didn’t know each other before Wharton?
We did, since 2007. I was at Coach in New York managing brick-and-mortar and e-commerce wholesale accounts. Then, I was in London in charge of turning around Coach’s first U.K. location. Deepa was a merchandise planner at Club Monaco. It’s funny. Because we had successful careers in retail and knew each other prior, people sometimes ask us, “Couldn’t you two have just started this on your own without business school?” We tell them, “It’s not just about being talented and being able to create something — people have to have a reason to listen to us!” People pay a lot more attention, because we have formal business training from a top school, and the Wharton community supporting us.
How has Wharton helped you create Dagne Dover?
While I was at Wharton, I researched designers in the New York area and discovered Jessy Dover, an award-winning handbag designer from Parsons. Then I re-connected with Deepa when she joined one of my first focus groups. Both were passionate about the vision and purpose of this brand and we had complementary retail backgrounds. While we worked on the business, we surveyed and focus-grouped over 1,000 women and men from the Wharton network and beyond. We also did a marketing independent study with Professor David Bell, took a pricing class, and went on the global modular course in China for supply chain and operations. These things directly impacted the Dagne Dover business and were the ideal complement to our previous work in the industry.
Then Dagne Dover gained some credibility by winning the Wharton Venture Award, a $10,000 award that is given to five student-run companies each year. It was also the first MBA company to receive an investment from the Dorm Room Fund.
What keeps you going?
Our customers! Our customers are so enthusiastic about our products. It changes their lives. The fact that a girl can go home, and she knows where her keys are instead of being stressed in front of her apartment building late at night, is huge. The fact that she knows she didn’t leave her wallet at work, because it’s always in her wallet pocket, is great. The fact that her tech isn’t going to get ruined, because her water bottle has a pocket that makes it stand upright and not spill over. And these are just some of the handbag problems that women face every day. We ask our customers a lot about their opinions. We want them to know that they’re being heard, and we’re going to give them what they want!
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
Find partners with complementary skill sets to expand your business’s bandwidth. It reduces ambiguity about who ought to work on what part of the business.
Prove that you have a market fit before you sink a bunch of money into anything.
Stop trying to think of the idea and just live your life, acutely aware of what’s broken in your daily routine. If something isn’t working for you, it’s likely not working for millions of other people, too. That’s an opportunity.