How She Got There: Leona Vasserman & Monica Phromsavanh, Co-Founders of ModaBox

Name: Leona Vasserman

Job Title and Description: Head of Operations/Co-Founder at ModaBox

College Name/Major: F.I.T./International Trade & Marketing Communications


Instagram Handle: @LEONAVASSERMAN


Name: Monica Phromsavanh

Job Title and Description: CEO/Founder of ModaBox

College Name/Major: The School of Life


Instagram Handle: @MMODABOX


What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Leona Vasserman: There’s no typical day at ModaBox. From shipping to web functionality, we’re constantly busy ironing out the kinks as a growing business. I answer most of our customer inquiries myself. There’s always a new challenge that needs solving, so I do a lot of impromptu brainstorming with the team.

Monica Phromsavanh: As the founder and CEO of a startup, my job is to do any and everything to make sure operations are running smoothly by managing our growing team and networking with strategic partners. I’m really happy to say that there’s no such thing as a “typical day” at ModaBox. There’s always someone new to meet or a new solution that needs to be executed. 


What is the best part of your job?

LV: The fact that I get to learn something new everyday. Working in a startup environment pushes your creativity to new levels since you constantly have to solve problems you never knew could even exist in the first place. It keeps things exciting!

MP: The best part of my job is meeting amazing and inspiring entrepreneurs. Running a startup isn’t easy, but it’s really rewarding and fun when you have a network of supporters on the same journey. 


What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?


​LV: My first experience in fashion was an internship with our CEO, Monica, when I was a senior in high school. A good friend of mine was going to a pop-up fashion show by Richie Rich and invited me along, knowing my interest in fashion. I was introduced to Monica and nervously asked her if she was hiring interns. To my surprise she invited me to interview the very next day. At the time she had just started her very first business representing emerging designers. After staying up all night typing up my first-ever resume (googling samples for hours), I went in with no expectations. She hired me on the spot and we’ve been on this journey ever since.

MP: My first entry-level job was at an apparel wholesaler in Buenos Aires when I was 14. (I was born and raised in Argentina.) I was young and hungry; I saw a sign in the window, walked into the shop and got the job. 


What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?

​LV: There is way more behind fashion than meets the eye. There would be no brands, no stores and no e-commerce if the business behind it all wasn’t running smoothly. The fashion that we enjoy in our daily lives comes from long hours of creativity, strategy and hard work.

MP: The importance of marketing and product-market fit. Fashion is a universal language, but in business, you have to focus on one type of market and be great at it. As much as I would love to serve every woman, from a business perspective, it’s not the most effective way to succeed – especially in the fashion industry. 


Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?

​LV: Definitely Monica. I’ve learned countless lessons from her on how to be a strong woman in both business and in life.

MP: I have met so many valuable people on my journey, but I can confidently say that our technical co-founder Daniel has been an angel both literally and figuratively. From the moment I started my first business – which I couldn’t have done without his help and support – until today, he’s been a great mentor. I believe I earned his trust early on and ever since he has had unwavering faith in me. Plus, I couldn’t ask for a better team who motivate me to work harder and smarter everyday. 


What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

​LV: At one point I had a lot going on; I was taking seven classes while working three full days a week and was also doing some freelance graphic design work on the side. I started treating work as an hourly commitment and forgot that I was truly passionate about what I was doing. I realized I was overworking myself and it affected every aspect of my life. I learned that it’s okay to not excel at everything at once [and] to instead focus on being great in the most important area of your life first – and it’s okay to just be good at everything else.

MP: My first retail business, a brick and mortar store in Manhattan’s Limelight building, grew very rapidly from a 90 square-foot kiosk and a team of one,to a 4,000 square-foot store with a team of 30. One of my biggest mistakes was letting go of our culture and not proactively managing the work environment. Great team members started leaving and it was no longer a fun place to work. I’m happy to say that the experience taught me one of my biggest lessons and at ModaBox we constantly work on creating a work environment where people matter and happiness is key. 


What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

​LV: Being asked to become a co-founder at ModaBox. I was like, ‘Who? Me?’ But with some encouragement, I realized that I helped build a lot of what you see on the site today. Over a year ago, Monica and I slaved over a rough copy of what our site would look like on the floor of her living room – using Powerpoint. Today we’re shipping hundreds of ModaBoxes to women across the US. Like Steve Jobs said, the dots only connect looking back – but we still have a long way to go.

MP: There have been so many moments that I’m truly grateful for. I never thought that an ordinary girl like me, who grew up in a refugee camp in Argentina, would be running her second business in one of the most amazing cities in the world. 


What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

​LV: Startup jobs are not an eight-hours-a-day commitment. I look for team members who are open to grow, learn and hustle.  

MP: I look for grit and hunger to learn. I truly believe that people with a lot of talent but no willingness to work hard have nothing compared to those who are willing to go above and beyond in everything they do.


What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

​LV: I’m not sure that I’m qualified to give hardcore advice, so I’m going to paraphrase Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo: Always do something you’re a little not ready to do – I don’t think I was ever ready for any of the great accomplishments I’m most proud of today. 

MP: It won’t be easy; nothing worthwhile is. Good things take time, and it all boils down to persistence and resilience. Make sure you pick a career that you’re truly passionate about so when things get rough you won’t give up.


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