Sophia Amoruso knows a thing or two about failure. Her e-commerce fashion company, Nasty Gal, went bankrupt in 2016 right around the same time she had a Netflix show, a bestselling book, and was on the cover of Forbes magazine, based on her singular success as a self-described Girl Boss and one of America’s richest self-made women.
In a recent interview with Alex Blumberg, on the new podcast series Without Fail, she provides a rare level of candor and humility about the startup crash and burn experience. She also illustrates a powerful symbol of her fall from grace: buying a Porsche when she should have stuck with a Nissan.
Early in the e-commerce wave, Amoruso built a profitable business selling vintage clothes she sourced from thrift stores at a markup, a lucrative side hustle she began on eBay in 2006. After she transitioned the sales from eBay to her own platform, she managed to bootstrap a profitable business with annual revenue of $28 million dollars. ”I didn’t need to raise venture capital,” she tells Blumberg. But of course, Silicon Valley cash came knocking, and she did.
At the time, she drove a Nissan Murano, a car she bought after finding modest yet sustainable success with her Nasty Gal business. But after accepting investments from VCs, she found herself with a company valued at $350 million, and became fabulously wealthy.
“That was the life changing moment—I became a millionaire at 28 or 27. …I paid off my mom’s mortgage—that was the first thing I did—and I bought a Porsche … As far as the Porsche goes, the fucking Nissan [felt better]. You will never experience what it’s like to put down 10 grand for a car—I saved and saved and saved to put down ten grand on a used car—and have a low payment. I’ll never experience that again.”
Amoruso goes on to explain what happened after the Porsche upgrade and the venture capital hit the bank account.
“I hired C-level people. We licked our finger, put it in the air and were like ‘$28 million well next year well do $128 million—just round it up by 100 million dollars.’ I trusted a lot of people, I was very naive … We wanted to grow by 100 million dollars so we hired a 100 people in a year. It became full on the Tower of Babel.”
Though she doesn’t directly say it, Amoruso’s switch from a Nissan to a Porsche is an allegory of sorts in the era of Silicon Valley fairy tales that quickly become nightmares. Building a steady, reliable Nissan of a business may not get you on the cover of Forbes, but a running flashy Porsche of an enterprise doesn’t mean you’ve built anything of value, either.