A law school graduate by the age of 21, it was already obvious that Marie-Philip Simard was driven, goal-oriented, and competitive. But after spending a few years as a successful lawyer, she realized she craved the freedom and creativity of entrepreneurship, and left her comfortable job to strike out on her own.
“I studied the law at the Université de Montréal, did the bar, and then I joined as an associate at a big law firm. I was working there for a couple of years, liking it, but there was not a lot of flexibility to create. You were pretty much told what to do every day, your calendar was controlled by someone else. So that was a bit hard, especially if you had the entrepreneur vibe. I decided to quit the law firm.”
Marie-Philip had worked with startups as the VP Innovation with the Young Chamber of Commerce, and was involved with the startup program in her time at Fasken Martineau. And she was convinced that entrepreneurship was something she could excel at. She didn’t have a fully formed idea, but she knew that she wanted to give it a try. So she enrolled in the Founder Institute Montreal chapter.
“When I decided to quit the law firm, I joined the Founder Institute with no idea. At first I wanted to create some kind of crazy 3D shopping mall with VR. It was not necessarily a crazy idea, just not something that was really possible. But I was always coming back to the clothing business. And while I had been working as a lawyer I realized that my clothing was very expensive. Because I was a girl, because I was a lawyer, I needed to spend a lot of my budget on clothing. I had heard about companies in the US that were renting clothes and dresses for special occasions, and that was very interesting to me. But personally, my need was more on a monthly basis, a two week basis to have new clothes. I needed things that were, not necessarily the trendiest, but I always needed new things to wear.”
She developed the concept for Chic Marie, a monthly subscription service for new clothing while in the Founder Institute and decided to launch officially after the program ended.
“I started with friends, family, and fools, ‘the three f’s’, when I launched. Because it’s really hard to get money when you launch a company. That could have happened five years ago, but now, with just an idea, it’s hard to get money from investors. So I used my own money, I received a couple of grants, we won a couple of prizes, we got a couple of loans. With that we were able to buy the first inventory. And then we did a seed round about two months ago.”
And while her family was nervous at the thought of her giving up a six figure salary to risk it with her own venture, the risk has paid off.
I know that what I’m doing, I can see the results. When I was a lawyer I was told what to do and I would do it and it would effect a good result. But that was not my decision. Now I get to make all the decisions, with marketing, with cash, with investors, with publicity, with everything. And I see the result. If it’s a bad decision I need to live with it. And if it’s a good decision I can be happy.
“This is what I like the most about being an entrepreneur. You get to live with and make pretty much all the decisions. Unless you have a team that you can really rely on and they are making their own decisions and living with it.”
But one of the most noticeable changes has also been the lack of women in tech compared to in law.
“When I was doing my law degree, we were 2/3 women, and men were in the minority. When you go in a big law firm, of course there are less partners that are women, but there are a lot of women in the cabinet. So I didn’t necessarily feel the difference.”
I’m seeing it every day since I’m in the tech world. Positively and negatively. I guess we expect something of women, and entrepreneurship is really a boys’ club. This is the way it is. We can complain about it, we can try to do something about it, but right now this is the way it is. So as women we need to work harder to make our place, we need to work harder, a lot harder, to get funding. We need to work harder to be taken seriously.
I have a consumer product for women, and a lot of investors are guys. So it’s sometimes problematic because they don’t see the point. It’s a different approach. I need to show more financials and I need to show more metrics for a guy than I would for girls. I’m not going to lie, sometimes it’s really not that nice. Just because you have boobs you need to work harder. And yes, it is annoying sometimes, but this is what it is. I know a lot of women entrepreneurs in tech who are trying hard. And I think this is getting better and better. And the more we see women in tech having big companies and having raised big money, I think it’s going to get better and better for the next generation.”
And now that Chic Marie is three years old, Marie-Philip has enjoyed the opportunity to mentor young companies and new founders.
“You really see the other way around. I really like doing intros to people I know and helping when they’re at the funding level. And I know a few people in the tech scene who are also like that. So there’s a genuine feeling of wanting to help each other. What I like in Montreal is that if one company succeeds, then everybody is happy about it. There’s not so much competition that we’re sad or frustrated if there’s another startup that’s going really well. I feel we are really proud when there is any sort of success coming from here.”
Chic Marie is offering a free 10-day trial all summer for anyone who wants to try the service, and if you invite a friend you’ll receive $25.