Kicking off Season Two of The CEO Story, I have Paula Silinger who is the CEO/Founder of the online retail fashion company RICKETY RACK – incorporated in Los Angeles in 2010. Over the last decade, her company appeared in Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, and InStyle magazines. Alongside this, Paula has done commercials for GoDaddy and has YouTube interviews with diverse LA media groups. Her philosophy is that “luck” is simply preparation meeting opportunity and that absolutely no woman is exempt from life-affirming success.

With weekly podcasts released, “The CEO Story” takes a deep dive into the success (and sometimes pitfalls) of being your own boss! We encourage each and every individual to candidly share their stories to help other entrepreneurs understand the highs and lows that come with the journey. As always be sure to check out more of our podcast episodes

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Transcript 

Kc Chohan 0:00
Okay.
All right. And welcome to the episode of the C E O story with Paula Silinger CEO Of rickety Rack Paula. Thank you
so much for taking the time to join us today. We’re going to dig into your background and your amazing story of
immigration all the way through to grow in your own business, the ups and downs that have gone along the way. But
before we start, we’d just like to say a quick thank you to Together, CFO, for being a great sponsor of our show.
And helping us to produce some good content that’s going to help impact thousands of people. So if you or anyone,
you know, has any tax liabilities over $200,000, please click the link below and go check them out. You can do a
free tax calculator to see how much you can save on your taxes. So if that’s anyone over $200,000 in taxes, go
check out Together, CFO. And thank you. Together CFO, but now more importantly, back to our main stage. Paula, how
are you doing?
Paula Silinger 7:20
I’m doing well. Thanks for having me.
Kc Chohan 7:22
No, thank you for taking the time to join us. We’ve got some amazing nuggets of information to share today, so I
want to jump into it. So do you want to tell us a little bit about Rickety Rack and how you guys started and what
you guys do? And then we’ll, we’ll, we’ll go backwards and then we’ll make our way to today.
Paula Silinger 7:40
Yeah. So Rickety Rack, an e-commerce company. And fashion destination for women. It’s been profitable since day
one. Generated over a million dollars in sales in its first 24 months. And yeah. Yeah, it’s been a great ride. I
have customers in over 50 countries. I’ve dressed women for the red carpet. Bridesmaids for weddings, girls for
homecoming and prom and everything in between. So yeah, I’m looking forward to sharing all my wild stories with
you.
Kc Chohan 8:13
Yeah. So. So it’s really good to kind of get a little deeper and you see people in that highest moments and
they’re feeling fantastic and emotions are running great. So you get a really good connection with people. So
that’s really good, but. If we go back to the beginning. How did you come up with a concept and the idea of
starting this business and why did you pick this specific niche?
Paula Silinger 8:37
Oh, yes. So I have been selling fashion online. Originally, I went to school for journalism and gender studies. So
it wasn’t the plan to start a fashion business. So I graduated from the London school of economics. This was 2007
and was applying for interns ships at the United nations and women’s rights magazines. So I get a call from Ms.
Magazine in Los Angeles, and they want me to go and work for them. And that’s a huge deal, you know, Gloria
Steinem and co-founded the magazine. They celebrated their first anniversary on a boat with John Lennon and Yoko
Ono. So it was like a huge deal. I flew to LA actually drove it away with all my belongings and.
Started working for them, but it was an unpaid intern as most internships are for nonprofits. And so I had to make
some money and just kind of became an opportunist out of necessity. Basically, they had a room full of books
there. And they said, we’re done reviewing these books. You can do whatever you want with them. So a couple of
weeks passed. Nobody’s doing anything with the books I had just sold my dad’s records on Amazon. So I took the
books and put them on Amazon and made $14,000. Oh, wow. Yeah, I can do something now. Finally, I could get my own
apartment. I had been living with really weird people who were doing like naked yoga. So. I know that for you.
There’s some very weird.
Kc Chohan 10:13
People here.
Paula Silinger 10:14
Yeah. So I got my own place and was doing really well selling clothing on eBay at the time. But eBay has. I mean,
they have like AI bots, artificial, intelligent robots that basically. Scan their site. Look for patterns. Look
for duplicate listings, remove the listings. I had my own original content. I had original photos descriptions.
And another seller came along and wanted to sell the same product. Stole my images, stole my descriptions. The Ebay box came along and flagged both of our listings and removed both of our accounts. So the algorithm.
Kc Chohan 10:57
Robin, I got
Paula Silinger 10:58
locked out of the account. I mean primary source of income gone. So I called customer service and it’s like
talking to robots, you know, there.
Kc Chohan 11:09
Yeah.
Paula Silinger 11:10
Reading off of the template. Like there’s no way to regain access. So. That was an important turning point back
then you could sell clothing on eBay. You. You could sell it on Craigslist. If you were lucky or you could sell it
on your own website, it’s not like today where you have all these platforms. Oh, gosh, March.
Exactly. So I decided I was going to do both. I was going to sell clothing on Craigslist in the meantime for some
fast cash. And then I was going to build my website in the meantime. So I committed myself to doing nothing else.
That building a site. It was the year, 2011. I locked myself in my apartment and the entire year I coded the site,
I developed it and I drew a social media presence. Kind of
Kc Chohan 12:00
no background in any of this, right.
Paula Silinger 12:03
I mean, I had taken coding courses and like programming classes in college, you know, but.
Yeah, and they didn’t have like website builders. Like they do today, you know, they give you. Yeah. Yeah. Raj
where you had to add like advanced CSS and JavaScript and HTML on your own code and they get, look. Shoppable
almost so. That’s what I did, you know, and I was very, very, very fortunate because in the year, 2011, you had
the social media giant Pinterest being developed. And this site. Created like a new wave of sharing online. So you
had like Facebook and all the other social media. Apps that were mostly text-based. You know, and Pinterest came
along and it was a visual organization of people’s likes. And so they were sharing their favorite recipes,
hairstyles, products from pages.
Kc Chohan 13:01
And then what I used to use Pinterest for. I still do today. I’m sure it was still in there. But I’ve used to
create vision boards for myself and just. Images of like things that I aspire to. And
Paula Silinger 13:16
easy to understand, too, that led to the success of the company I need to do. When in two years they went from
zero to like a $1.5 billion valuation. I know people on the site went from spending 10 minutes on it to an hour
and a half. Daily average. So I didn’t even know about Pinterest. I was just shutting my apartment, building my
site and the way I found out that I was getting all of this free traffic to my site through it. Was early 2012. I
wake up and open my laptop and I have 300 new order notices in my email. And I have been getting a few orders here
and there from retaining my eBay customers.
But three. 300 new orders like overnight. And then tracing where these customers were coming from was pretty easy.
They were all writing. I found you on Pinterest. They were super excited and they were all ordering the same
dress. So I said, why. Everyone ordering the same item. And it’s because my item had been reshared 20,000 times
overnight. So it was like a viral pin.
Kc Chohan 14:24
So, did you initially put that on Pinterest or was that someone else.
Paula Silinger 14:28
I had no idea what Pinterest was. So when I got all of these emails and, and. Orders. I kind of backtracked into.
The whole technology. I just myself with it and saw that they had like a saved. This pin feature that everybody
was using and
Kc Chohan 14:48
bookmark, right.
Paula Silinger 14:49
Boom. I need this, you know, and of course after that I developed a business account with them, but. Yeah, I was
completely unaware of their presence until like I was flooded with. With orders. So
Kc Chohan 15:04
amazing. So let me just recap that. Initially you were on. EBITDA a hundred percent. Great. I was selling,
growing, doing really well. Someone came along and hijacked you.
Paula Silinger 15:18
Yeah.
Kc Chohan 15:19
Customer service through your boat out rather than actually doing the right amount of due diligence and figuring
out what was going on.
Paula Silinger 15:26
Right.
Kc Chohan 15:26
And the moral of that story is don’t have all your eggs in one basket. Pinterest. Amazon Shopify, wherever it is.
Make sure you always have some backups in play. So, yeah. If the worst case scenario happens, you don’t have to
start from scratch. And ultimately, I think if you said that you controlled some of those client relationships
directly as well,
Paula Silinger 15:51
Which also helps. So
Kc Chohan 15:53
one of the things. That we used to do when we did a bit of e-commerce back in the days was dropping some personal
card. Of some kind. Into the pocket so that they could get on your own subscription list or newsletter or
something along those lines to build that direct relationship. So. That definitely makes a lot of sense, but the
second thing was. There’s the miss still be many big platforms that you don’t know about that could just change
your business overnight.
Paula Silinger 16:21
Yeah. And I was so thankful for Craigslist because that’s actually how I met a sports illustrated swimsuit model
who ended up being the cover girl for my website.
Kc Chohan 16:31
Wow.
Paula Silinger 16:32
So I had groups of people showing up to. My clothes. And then one girl shows up. And I recognized her right away.
I had seen her on a show called project runway.
Kc Chohan 16:43
Oh, yeah.
Paula Silinger 16:44
Her name though. She was a model on the show. So she came in and tried on. These designer dresses that I had and
took them with her. And when she was giving me her credit card to pay for all of that, it said, Melissa HARO. I
said no way we’re on project runway. She’s like, yeah, she very humble, nicest girl in the world today. She’s a
successful real estate agent. So that networking was priceless and. Who could have known through Craigslist.
Kc Chohan 17:16
Yeah. One of the shitty websites out there.
Does connect people. And it’s back to the point at which, you know, if you’ve got these platforms that you know
about, but there’s so many things out there that just searching and putting the time and effort into figuring out
what platform or what. Next thing can help you elevate. One of my mentors says you’re 15 minutes away from having
way too much business. You just got to do the activity to get into that 15 minutes on. And that’s a great story of
overnight kind of hitting. The home run. So how did you then. Expand your Pinterest profile. I’m assuming after
you had all this business come through that.
Paula Silinger 17:58
Yeah. Yeah. So I was continuing to build a social media presence, not only on Pinterest, but. Facebook as well.
That’s another funny story. In 2011, Facebook had some real traction like today it’s just advertisement,
advertisement, and you can’t even like. You know, find your content. It seems. But back then, it’s like, You had
the traction. And I remember the. The famous celebrity back then was Justin Bieber. And anytime he made a code.
You add tens of thousands of girls just in his feet.
Kc Chohan 18:32
It was like
Paula Silinger 18:34
fate. So I would just copy and paste paste paste. Pace. My website link. Anytime he did a post. He posted once a
day. And so every time I posted the link, I would get an immediate, like 300, 400, 500 likes. Mike company,
Facebook page. So, I mean, in a day you could just get thousands of free likes, you know, and through word of
mouth. And a lot of these girls ended up being customers. Grow it just organically.
Kc Chohan 19:06
Those are really good. There’s obviously a lot of advancements since those days on all social media platforms. But
I think the key takeaway I’m hearing is you’ve got to do the work. Like if you. That if you weren’t monitoring.
Celebrity or whoever the target audience is. And then doing the copy in person. It’s a simple task, but often gets
overlooked to put in that amount of effort and work consistently. It’s easy to do that once or twice, but if you
can do that dedicated day on the month on. The thing is those small steps ultimately lead to those big wins. It’s
kind of like an avalanche, you know, these. A little pieces of snow or little, little efforts, you know, all of a
sudden, like,
Paula Silinger 19:48
Accumulate and lead to something really fantastic. So I mean, to anyone who’s listening and wanting to start
something of their own, it’s really those small steps that are the most significant
Kc Chohan 19:59
because the small steps. Compounded become big steps.
Paula Silinger 20:04
So, yeah, that’s really important. So
Kc Chohan 20:06
you mentioned earlier that you turned seven figures within the first year and you were profitable pretty much
straight out the bat.
Paula Silinger 20:13
Yeah. Can you
Kc Chohan 20:14
share some tips around that? Because so many times, especially now with the crazy. VC well that we’re in, you see
so many companies that will go get a $10 million fund and never really turn a profit until you have five, if ever.
And that really scares me to some degree, cause they’re just traded on multiples and not have a tangible business,
but for the people out there that actually want some tangible advice to grow a business that they can scale. Can
you share what you did to kind of make sure you’re efficient? Through scaling through the sizes from zero. All the
way up to multiple seven figures.
Paula Silinger 20:53
Yeah. I don’t know if it was because I was living in a really small apartment at the time and I didn’t have a lot
of storage space, but the last thing I wanted to do was accumulate a lot of inventory and have a lot of overhead.
So I came with a, up with a very kind of unique strategy.
In the same way, kind of drop shipping works, but doing it myself and only ordering products. Once the customer
has made an order themselves. So I made a great connection with the wholesale suppliers and in the fashion
district in LA, and they had a great. Website with product images of all these up and coming samples. So I was
able to transfer those to my site. And test the response of each of those products. You know, most people, they
would go to like trade shows and they would order these like massive quantities of what they thought or what they
predicted would sell. And it was based off of maybe runway shows, runway fashion. Market trends just really kind
of, you know, it wasn’t solid science and as a consequence, they ended up with too much inventory. So. Also, I
lived like a hop and a skip away from my suppliers. I could get in my car and be there in five minutes and bring
the inventory back and ship all of my orders same day. So it wasn’t very risky. It wasn’t like I would. Be getting
orders for inventory. I didn’t have and have the issue shipping that. So. That actually appealed to investors who
approached me afterwards. They wanted to acquire a little bit of my company. They really liked this kind of new
approach because it wasn’t being really used by anybody and they knew.
Kc Chohan 22:45
Let me just kind of digest that. A smaller chunks for the people listening, because you said a couple of grit
things. That one is dropshipping. And let me just explain what drop shipping is for the people who don’t get it is
where you take an order for something, and then you go buy it later and then ship it so effectively your cashflow
cycle is positive, straight away because you’re receiving, let’s just say $10 for a t-shirt. And then you go in
and buy that stem t-shirt for five and you’re shipping it for one. So you’ve got your profit straight away. Before
the transaction, before you do anything. So that’s really good. And like you said, investors like that, cause it’s
cashflow positive, straight away rather than having to wait a period of time. So that does not surprise me, that
people like that model. And that’s changed a lot as well. But secondly, you said logistics. So you could still
provide that level of service that people really like when we used to Amazon, same day or next day shipping. And
you get that really nice feeling when you’ve ordered something. And then again, when it shows up, so you could
also provide that service where if someone’s drop shipping from China, as an example, you’re going to be waiting
weeks. If not months for that product to arrive. So you’re hitting many different lists of. Benefits for the
client now.
Paula Silinger 24:02
Yeah, absolutely. And speaking of. Extreme kind of growth. You. I had watched a major clothing website that was
very similar to mine. Taken a lot of funding from investors. And just shoot up and experience this explosive
growth and it actually led to them filing for bankruptcy. So there were a lot of important lessons to learn. Just
watching my competition. And that is another solid piece of advice for people who. You know, really want to kind
of just be successful and avoid a lot of the pitfalls from people who are doing it before then. Or alongside them.
Kc Chohan 24:47
Yeah. What are the other things that you mentioned is you would kind of not going off your own gut feeling? Or
what you thought, but you would actually say, oh, he has 10 samples. Let’s see. Which one or two of these actually
perform well. And then double down on that. Style or brand or whatever. The item was as opposed to place in the
big Alta. A thousand units of hops that you think you’re pretty cool, but didn’t actually sell. So
Paula Silinger 25:16
it’s also a good strategy because especially in today’s market where there’s just saturation everywhere,
everyone’s offering everything. Customers will really indicate what they can’t find. And that could just be your
niche. You know, they will indicate where you should go, what direction you should take. So,
Kc Chohan 25:37
how do you encourage that indication? Because we’ve gotten a little bit. Further down the lines, but I think it’s
a really good point. So if you’ve got a client base and you think they like. This yellow hat.
What are you doing to engage them in saying, actually we don’t like the yellow hot, we like a green hot or
whatever that is. In order to get that. Community built all that kind of feedback from clients.
Paula Silinger 26:02
Yeah. And my cases, I just flew with a, I mean, My sequin party dress is actually ended up being my niche. For
some reason, a lot of other sites were an offering that they were doing more casual looks. And so I began this
full. Marketing strategy with being kind of like fashion that was a cut above or a step above like the ordinary
basics you found at shopping malls and retail stores.
So
Kc Chohan 26:29
you’re having a good differentiator and kind of doubling down on that.
Paula Silinger 26:33
Yeah. Yeah.
Kc Chohan 26:36
I think that makes perfect sense. And then the next thing that I had to talk to you about was kind of the
immigrant mindset and kind of. The way that I know your family obviously came from. The Czech Republic to America.
How did that impact you and kind of give you a drive to, to achieve something?
Paula Silinger 26:54
I mean, it takes an insane amount of resourcefulness and discipline to make that sort of a leap to put it into
perspective. This was 1980 communist Czechoslovakia. And my parents had family and friends and my dad had a
master’s degree. They’re already established very comfortable. But it’s a communist regime, you know, they want to
leave and start a better life, make a better life for their family. So, I mean, they sold like a speaker and a.
Stereo and the records and put like $600 into a little secret pocket or the carry on. Because you couldn’t leave
with luggage. So they had to just make up a story that they were going skiing in France for the weekend and apply
for separate pieces on board, like train separately. So, you know, they were confronted just to put it in a
perspective how crazy this was by an officer who squeezes the toothpaste. Out of the tubes and says, where are you
guys going? Unfortunately, he didn’t see the, the money that they had. Stashed in the pocket. And they said, we’re
going skiing in France for the weekend. And somehow. This. This past the test and they ended up in Paris and in
Paris, they said, you can’t go to America. Yeah. You have to prove that you’re not spies for the government, you
know, because they’re from almost the Eastern block and. Yeah. You know, you have to take classes and learn
English and. Apply for sponsorships. So, you know, fast forward nine months and they make it to America and. Going
back to the resourcefulness that, that took, that was ingrained in me. That was a core value. It was like I had
like an extra set of eyes everywhere. I went to look for opportunities and really utilize my environment. To
benefit basically.
Kc Chohan 28:52
That’s really important because you know, there’s, there’s a few things that I always cycled back to and that’s
drive and passion. You can’t really put that in anyone. They either have that, or they don’t have that. And if you
grow up around, you know, a big change, I obviously had a similar, so not obviously not as drastic as, as your
families, but moving from Europe to America, starting a fresh. Even though we speak the same language. The culture
is very different here. So I could only imagine how much more difficult it is when you’re coming here with
nothing, no language, very little money when you’ve literally got to build the American dream. And it’s so true
that it does exist. And for the right people that are willing to put in the work and the effort. We’re both prime
examples of that.
Paula Silinger 29:38
Yeah. My mom’s half brother hijacked an airplane to leave the country. I mean, there’s like a whole week. TD a
page about it. And I mean, think about that for a second. Think about the country you’re in right now. I mean, are
you willing to hijack an airplane to leave the country? And it’s not like. There are just so many privileges and
opportunities we have around us that a lot of people. Maybe aren’t aware of. Because they haven’t had that
struggle in their life. And as an example, when I came to LA, I was blown away by the wholesale district in Los
Angeles. You know, it sits 25 miles above the port of Los Angeles, which is that’s America’s port that’s where,
you know, a big chunk of the cargo.
Kc Chohan 30:24
As the busiest part in the world. Right. Oh, sorry in America, at least. Yeah.
Paula Silinger 30:27
Yeah, it’s America’s port. And when I showed up to this passion district, I’ll never forget that day. It was like
the missing piece of my puzzle. Like I’ve found my suppliers. They’re all here. I have all the other pieces of the
puzzle. This is it. And I snapped it in a place. And. It was just weird though, because people who were born and
raised in Los Angeles. It was like, they either didn’t know about the wholesale district or they knew about it and
they didn’t think it was a big deal. And that blew my mind.
Kc Chohan 31:00
You know, I want to add something to that. And I wake up and I have kind of a very strict, modern, modern routine.
The first thing that I always think off is gratitude. What am I grateful for today? And kind of being in the
moment and being present and visualizing and things like that. Like before I meditate even, but a lot of that.
Goes back to we think differently because we grew up in different environments. Whereas the majority of people
that were already here before it’s already there. Norm here. So it’s how do you get out of your own way? And
discover what’s right on your doorstep, all virtually right on your doorstep. So you can Excel to those next
levels, whether that’s through networks and resources or whether it’s physically. Jumping in a car or a bus and
going five miles down the road and figuring out the pieces of the puzzle that ultimately can help connect
everything together.
Paula Silinger 31:59
Yeah. And, you know, you always hear comfort zones kill, and it sounds so cliche, but it’s so true because one of
the main things my parents really liked. About America is how comfortable and how convenient everything is here.
That’s. I mean a big reason why they came here, you know, to make a better life. But. At the same time, you know,
you see people getting into their comfort zones and it makes sense because in order to survive, like safety meant
survival. You. You know, when you look at our evolution, safety, men’s survival, but surviving. Isn’t the same
thing as the living, you know, and
Kc Chohan 32:38
zones Carol. I love that I’m going to use that one. Definitely.
Yeah. You got to keep pushing yourself and keep getting better every single day. As long as you’re improving by 1%
on the person you were yesterday. You’ll eventually get to, to a good level of success and whatever success means
to you because everybody gauges themselves differently and success means something completely different for
everyone. But if we just pivot back to your business for a minute, what do you see as the future trends coming up
within the next six months to a year? And how you planning on scaling your company to the next level?
Paula Silinger 33:15
It’s amazing how much people care about sustainability today and it’s appropriate, you know, look at the state of
our planet and. Actually, you know, I was wanting to implement and.
Partner with this organization called 1% for the planet, because I found out that only 3% of philanthropy is
towards the environment, which just was amazing to me, you know? So.
Yeah. The sustainability thing is where we’re headed. That’s the future. And I feel like Amazon’s the giant now,
and it’s just kind of like taken over everything. I mean. Even for me, like it. Became very convenient. You know,
this last holiday season, when I couldn’t be with the people I loved. You know, just to order everything in van,
like it showed up to their doorstep in an hour. And when you have that level of convenience, you know, it’s hard
to compete with that, but I do feel like. People, you know, we’ll, we’ll kind of see through, you know, that level
of just dominance in the market and how many negatives or cons come with that. And a big con would be, you know,
kind of like a disregard for the products and how they’re made and, you know, Also the workers, you know, when you
mentioned Amazon, We can talk
Kc Chohan 34:38
specifically about some of the cases where. The trying to unionize and not being successful and the work and that
people really hard to the point of which
Paula Silinger 34:49
the
Kc Chohan 34:49
collapsing up their warehouses and being rushed to hospitals and not allowed to take breaks. So. The human side of
it becomes more strained because they put these, like you said, it delivered within an hour or the next day. And
now they’re starting to drool on delivery and kind of all of these efficiencies because we, as the end consumer
want things like instantly right away. But the strain that, that puts on the logistical side of things to deliver
that in a such an efficient way, actually will eventually put people out of a job because robots will be doing it
so much more efficient. Efficiently, can we start seeing that with Alibaba and the way they run their operations
in China? But I think. The younger generation, definitely more. Eco-friendly more people. I focused on the prior
generations where like, compared to the boomers, like the gen. The, the gen Z and the gen X are all getting more
and more progressive in that way. Even down to shoes. The last pair of shoes that I bought were on running 3d
design, sustainable shoes. And it’s like, It is really. The future trends. So I definitely agree with you on that.
Paula Silinger 36:04
The key question that emerges is at what costs. At what cost. Do we have all of this, you know, putting carbon in
the air, for example, at what cost. The environment.
Kc Chohan 36:19
Yeah. And then you get all of these carbon neutral initiatives and the powders convention. And a lot of it is not
even worth the paper it’s written on when you really dig into it and read what they say. So. I definitely,
definitely agree with you on that. So, I want to thank you Paula, for your time. And where can people reach out to
you and get to know more about you and your company?
Paula Silinger 36:41
Yeah. Every social media platform at, or slash policy. If you want to look into the company ad or slash rickety
rack.
Kc Chohan 36:50
Fantastic. And we’ll put the links down below, remember to hit the like button and subscribe and hit that
notification bell as well. And if you stuck around this long, You can hit the button up here or the button up here
for some mall interviews similar to this. And remember. Ricky rack.com. That’s. That’s the place to go. To get
your stuff. Thank you.
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