Raissa Gerona doesn’t have a degree in business or fashion design. That didn’t stop her in any way from being a key player in building the empire that is now Revolve. As Chief Brand Officer, she saw the potential of Instagram as a platform for business from the very beginning. She had a hunch that traveling the world with influential people would be a brilliant way to showcase the clothes the company was producing. She came to the US from the Philippines when she was 7. She didn’t speak English. Her journey is one of the most inspirational success stories we’ve ever heard. She described it best herself as “poppin’ off since high school”. Every seemingly random skill, passion and job she had led her to where she is today-a kingpin in a company that just went public, the face of a brand that thousands look up to, an adoring mom, a ball of energy and a forever friend. She is something truly out of this world.
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Raissa Gerona: The Super Nova
Raissa Gerona came and sat down with me and I’m so grateful. She is one of my oldest friends. I force her to say that I’m her fourth sister in her family and she humors me. We used to own a business together, but that was before she became the Chief Brand Officer of a tiny little company called Revolve, which went public. She is a force. She started as an immigrant from the Philippines when she was seven and then all the steps and stops and jobs she had in between led to her position at Revolve. She’s the warmest, most accomplished, smartest, most energetic and fun human being I’ve ever met. I hope you enjoy this episode with Raissa Gerona.
Raissa, I’m dying right now that you’re here and thank you for coming. You won the Woman of the Year Award. To me and your millions of followers on Instagram and anywhere else, you’re a big deal. I also have had a front-row seat to your rise. It’s a fascinating story because of you. Let’s start with you coming here from the Philippines when you were seven. You are three sisters.
I’m the middle child of three. Melissa is my older sister and Jelly is my little sister and we’re all four years apart.
Your parents planned that well.
Yes, because my dad was like, “I wanted to make sure that one child finishes college before the next one entered.” He’s very strategic, the opposite of me. We all moved here. My dad moved here first until he gets his life in order and then, my sisters and my mom and I moved here two years or so after.
Did you speak English?
Barely and it was very traumatizing.
Did you have to go straight to school and figured it out?
Exactly. I was in first grade because they held me back. They told my dad, “She’s seven and she’s supposed to be in second grade, but because she’s coming from a different country, English is not her first language.” It was tough because all the kids were mean and they made fun of me because I had an accent.
Were there other Filipino kids in your class?
I don’t remember. I remember, after a few days of going to school, coming home being super sad about not being able to speak English. I told my parents and they were like, “Moving forward, we’re only speaking English.”
Did they speak English?
Yeah, they spoke English fine. What happened is now I don’t speak Tagalog very well because we only spoke English.
It is traumatizing, especially when you have to learn quickly like that, which kids are amazing because they can do that quickly.
Everything was so new and being the new kid in school, I’m sure with everyone else no matter where you come from, you want to fit in. Moving was weird. I don’t remember the whole thing but very distinct parts of it. I remember the first full day being in America. We landed at night. We went into Ralphs or whatever it was. I see how they scan the items. I was like, “This is the future.”
I also know a story from your family history. Didn’t you guys play grocery store all the time? Didn’t you always insist on being the scanner?
I was the cashier and I was like, “Jel, you’re the bagger.” It made such a huge impression on me because it was so different from where we came from. Also, on the same day, I remember we went to the Bank of America and my dad used the ATM. I was like, “In America, cash comes out of the machine.” I didn’t know all the backend that it was his own money.
You grew up in the Valley. Did you start there and grow up in the same area?
No, when we moved to America, we lived in Silver Lake before it was super cool. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment and it was my grandma’s cousin, but we call her grandma, my aunt, who was my mom’s sister and then the five of us. The seven of us live together for at least a year or two, then my parents bought a house in Sun Valley, which is in the Valley. That’s where we grew up and they still live there, but that was it.
Your parents are true immigrants’ success story and the three of you are continuing it along.
It’s so insane being an immigrant and seeing what my parents had to do. I couldn’t even imagine now moving your entire family, learning a language and providing for three kids. It’s mind-blowing to me and it’s happening every single day still. They laugh about how it was so much easier before because even just to get a green card and the whole process is still so crazy to me. It was significantly easier then than it is now. It was huge if not one of the most important lessons in my life, seeing them move and make this incredible life for the three of us. Knowing how much work they had to do to provide has been a guiding light in my life and in my career.
I’ve never seen anyone work the way you do because I used to call you R-Star. That was my little nickname for you. It’s a great one but I feel like it doesn’t pack a punch. It’s more like R-Asteroid, but it doesn’t have a good ring to it. I’m going to have to think about what I can call you to upgrade from a star. You grew up in the Valley, you went to high school, then you went to UC Irvine. You have a big life in your very young years.
I went to UC Irvine and I studied Poli Sci and I had a fun, active, very crazy young high school life. By the time I got to college, I feel like I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I was hyper-focused on trying to graduate early. I was like, “I got to get out of here.” I don’t know why. I just wanted to.
I feel that your Karma, your destiny had big things ahead of you. You’ve got to get stuff done.
It happened because I went to school for three years and a quarter and then I went to study abroad because I was done.
For the last part of your senior year, you were in Italy. You were frolicking in Italy and at the time you were thinking that you were going to go be a lawyer. Was that your own want or did your parents want that from you?
It was definitely my own want and then highly encouraged by my parents. When I was in high school I did a lot of speech and debate and I did student body stuff, but it makes sense. I was the class president for two years. It was in junior and senior high school. I was also the homecoming queen and prom queen. I always like to add that in because I’ve been popping off since high school.
I don’t think most people can’t say they were homecoming queen, prom queen, president of their class and did speech and debate. There may be one of the four, but not usually all.
When I think about my life and the direction that I was going, it makes sense why I have this job now.
All the little things have led to this path and it makes perfect sense now. You’re in Italy and you are going to be a lawyer.
I was very into being a lawyer because I was very into speech and debate. I went to a debate camp for two summers at SC. I was super into it. I didn’t do any sports, unlike my little sister who did everything, but I did nothing. I was like, “I’m going to debate,” like a weirdo. I felt like it was the natural thing for me to be a lawyer because all my eggs were in that basket.
It’s a skill that I don’t think most people get to even hone. Maybe later they do, but I feel that kids who are on the debate team in school, it’s an incredible thing to be able to get up and make a sound and intelligent argument on the spot.
I think back and all these skills I felt were very random at the time, now It feels like, “That makes sense.” Being able to speak in public is huge and something that I want to continue to work on even now. Public speaking and being able to close deals and do presentations, these are all the things that I do now in my job.
I want to ask you so many questions about that because you don’t just do it well, you’re like, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m going to figure it out.” It’s always extraordinary. I think that you have real superpowers.
Maybe the whole figuring it out definitely stems from my parents, because that they had to figure it out. Seeing that at a young age made a huge impression and impact on me. During studying abroad in college, I was nineteen at the time and I decided I don’t want to be a lawyer. I’m totally kidding myself. I don’t want to go to law school and going to law school was going to be expensive. I remember calling my parents and letting them know like, “I think I want to defer. I don’t want to go to law school immediately.” They were super devastated.
Meanwhile, you’re in Italy eating gelato and dating boys and you’re like, “I don’t think I want to be a lawyer.” Are they worried that you’re not serious?A secret to success is to do and have everything in moderation. Click To Tweet
They’re like, “What are you thinking? Why are you thinking about this? You need to think about it.” I was like, “What’s the big deal?”
Had you already been accepted?
Only one school, but it doesn’t matter. It was going to be fine.
Have you taken the LSAT?
Yeah, everything, which was also very stressful in itself.
Did you score well on the LSAT?
I scored okay. I knew I wasn’t getting into UCLA or NYU. I didn’t even apply to any of those schools, but my parents were like, “Think about this.” My dad’s famous line was like, “We invested in you and this is not going anywhere.” Ultimately, they didn’t have a choice. My dad did say when I came back, “If you don’t want to go to law school, I’m not paying for any of your crap.” I was like, “What am I going to do? I’m screwed,” and I didn’t want to move back home. Who does after that? I’m living on my own for the last four years. I was like, “I have to figure out how to pay for my life.” After college and after graduating, I went to Thailand for six weeks just messing around with my friends. While I was there, I was applying to all these random jobs because I knew I had to get a job. I had no option. When I came back, I started interviewing and then I got a random sales job. That’s how I paid for my life.
That sales job is random and it made no sense, but now it makes absolute sense. You sold uniforms, right?
It’s a service. It was not just uniforms. It was uniforms that had to get picked up and washed. That was the service that the company I worked for was providing. It’s called G&K. If you imagine, the companies that wear uniforms are in the automobile industry, mechanics, UPS, these types of companies. I was 21 years old and I was like, “I have to sell uniforms, fine. Who cares?” I was getting paid $20,000 as the base salary, maybe even less like $18,000. They were like, “You get a commission if you close deals.” I was like, “Okay,” and also my dad was in sales. He did pharmaceutical sales. I was like, “I understand his concept.” This was a job that made such a huge impact on my life because it was almost training me to be a baby entrepreneur. You work and you close deals, you make much more money. It was very cut and dry.
You were incentivized to sell that.
I only had to go into the office once a week on Mondays when we had sales meetings. The rest of the time you’re supposed to be out in the field. It also gave me a glimpse of having some type of schedule or lack of. If I wanted to mess around and do nothing, I didn’t do anything. I quickly realized that I’m not going to make any money sitting on my butt at home doing nothing. I have to go out there and literally knock on doors and cold call.
How did you do in that job?
I did amazing, but in the first six months, I was a total loser.
It took you six months to figure it out.
Yeah, because I was like, “This is the best job ever.” You go into the office one time. You get a paycheck for $100 a week and you do nothing. I was like, “This is so great,” and I just have to tell my boss I did appointments. After that, I was like, “This is dumb. I have to go and close deals.” The moment that clicked, I was like, “I’m going to go for it.” I just went and started building up my account list and closing deals and stuff like that. That first year I was not the regional salesperson.
We have a debate club, public speaking, now we have selling uniforms, learning how to deal with accounts and close deals.
I was learning how to manage my time and schedule and knowing that fundamental lesson of if you don’t work, you’re not going to make any money. There are no easy paychecks. I got to get out there. I learned that at a young age.
The uniform thing is ironic when it comes to you because you have such an incredible sense of style. You always have since the moment I met you before you were Raissa Gerona on Instagram. You were the best dressed every time you walked into the room. Everybody wanted to wear what you’re wearing or where you got it. When I met you, you had already finished Stellar Clothing, which is where you would go to all the vintage places and you would repurpose.
During this time at G&K, I would have free time. For instance, if I only had three appointments that day, I had all this free time to do whatever. When you’re young you also have so much energy. I would be in these random cities and no offense to anybody who lives in or from these cities, but like Montevallo. I would go to the vintage stores and the thrift stores because it wasn’t like in West Hollywood. I would start buying all this stuff and they would have things for $0.50, $0.25, $1 like the most random things. After a while, I have so much stuff. I can’t keep all of this stuff.
I thought of selling it on eBay and that started to go well. I started to think I can probably do a side business because I had a lot of flexibility at G&K. That’s how Stellar Clothing was born, which was my first company where I sold vintage, but I also repurpose vintage things. When I say repurpose, it’s like making a skirt shorter, cut off the sleeves on a dress, nothing too crazy. This was 2006. That’s how that started and that started taking off. That’s when I was inspired to start my own brand and that was Brigid Cattis.
That’s when I met you. Maybe you were just finishing up with Stellar. I think we met in 2006 at The Bar Method. You started Brigid Cattis and somebody invested in you, Damien’s parents, which I love. The story was that they said, “Show us a business plan.” You had no idea how to do a business plan.
I was like, “It would be cool if I did this hobby that I was doing and made it a full brand where I would resell or remake vintage clothing to make super cute, more modern type pieces.” I figured out how to write a business plan. I presented it to them and they invested in me. At that point, I quit G&K and focused all my energy into Brigid Cattis. Brigid Cattis was sold on Revolve and a bunch of other boutiques like on Shopbop, which still exist. That’s how I became familiar with Revolve. I’d never heard of it, except I knew it was this online retailer. It was one of the first of its kind. At that point, online shopping was still new. This was probably 2007, 2008. That’s how I first met Candace and Michael who ultimately became my business partner.
It was Michael, Candace, Mitch and you. You were the four. Candace Lee was a buyer and she liked Brigid Cattis and she brought you in. Raissa and I were partners with one other girl at the same time that this is all going down. We owned the Bar Method Studio together. It was wonderful for me to be partners with you, but for you, things were getting thick.
At that point, it didn’t feel like it, but when the recession hit, I ran out of money and so I had to close down Brigid Cattis. Thankfully, I’d met Michael and Candace already at that time. Michael was like, “We should do a brand together,” and that’s how Lovers + Friends was born. That was probably the middle of 2009 or end of 2009.
I still have clothes from the first season, and I loved it. The rest is history from that point forward, Revolve, you started Lovers + Friends, but then there have been so many other lines since then.
We still have Lovers + Friends and then we launched two other brands, Tularosa and NBD. At that point, Revolve, the company as a whole was like, “We think that this is a great idea to have our own brands and sell it on the site.” They then acquired Lovers + Friends as a company in 2014.
Revolve went public and you built this empire from the ground up with incredible people.
I’m just a very tiny slither. It takes a whole village for sure. There are so many people that are involved in making it such a huge success.
You transitioned because when you first started, you were the designer and you were designing everything. You don’t have a degree in business and I know you don’t have a degree in fashion. You are designing all the clothes. You learned how to do tech packs. Is that what it’s called?
Yes, tech packs. Mine was so junior and so bad. That’s an ongoing theme. It’s trying to figure it out.
You’re not designing anymore, right?
No, when Lovers + Friends was officially acquired, Mitch and Michael were like, “You should just focus on marketing,” because that was the other part of the job that I was doing at Lovers + Friends. I started to work with bloggers and all this other stuff. I was so upset about it. I was like, “What? I’m such a good designer. I want to be a designer.” Now I’m so happy I’m not a designer. I could never do it.
It’s like another public speaking, sales and designing onto the next thing. When Revolve started to happen and you were still just working so hard. You weren’t making tons of money at the time. I remember you’re talking about Instagram and I didn’t get it. I’m like, “Whatever. That’s weird. I don’t understand it.” You knew from the get-go. You saw a big picture of what it could do. Did you at the time?
I just felt like it was a great platform for people to see photos quickly and get inspiration. It was a way better version of a magazine, catalog or whatever. There were a lot of things that I wanted to try and thankfully, Michael and then Mike, who’s also the co-founder of co-CEO of Revolve, were very open to trying a lot of these things. Making that bet ultimately paid off.
I’m sure with many other people, you’re one of the faces of the brand. You’re a joint influencer.
No, don’t say that. I hate it when people say that.Social media is the new version of having a magazine or billboard. Click To Tweet
I won’t say that, but you’re a personal influencer to me. Another thing that Revolve does and I feel that this was your brainchild, is you go all over the world and you take incredible people with you, bloggers, models, actors, influencers. You essentially go on these wonderful trips together, which I know are super hard work, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s a constant party. You saw that as a great business idea before most people did.
I said for the first time at this luncheon that I was talking, I feel like I invented Revolve. First of all, I know I created the hashtag, but it’s the concept because I remember making my deck and presenting it to Michael and being like, “This is the idea that I have.” The thought was like, “When I go on vacation with my friends or in general, people do it all the time even when Kodak was a brand that was alive. It was like when you go on vacation, you take photos with your family and your friends. That’s also when you want to look the cutest. That’s when you buy the best outfits because you’re going to take photos.” I took that concept because that’s what my friends and I did when we were traveling. That was the other thing too that was made a huge impact on my life while studying abroad. Every summer after that, even when I was working at G&K, we would go to Europe or Thailand or whatever and we would take pictures all day and put it up on Friendster. That’s what my friends and I did. I want to be able to do that and show the clothes in the most authentic and real way and let’s try it.
Have a blast doing it because it’s the selling of the fantasy, which is what any sales business is about, but it looks great. Everybody wants to look cute when they go on their trip, “I want to buy everything.” I have questions. When you became a real public figure on Instagram with your check, I’m sure it’s exciting. On the one hand, are people mean? I’m sure there are trolls.
There are some, but they’re very far and few in between, which is nice. If anything, I feel like people are way more supportive and they have a lot of questions. There are so many questions I get, but I always get this balanced question and I’m so not balanced. Also, I get questions on what I’m wearing and all this stuff. Usually, it’s like, “How do you balance this? What do you eat?”
People want to know your secrets.
I’m like, “I just ate ramen for lunch.” The secret is everything in moderation. It’s the same as 50 years ago.
People want your life hacks.
I don’t have that many.
Are you ever on a trip and you’re in a bad mood, you’re tired and you don’t feel like doing the party?
All the time and then I just do it because that’s also at the end of the day, my job. That’s hard sometimes when I want to be alone or I don’t feel like partying.
The alone thing, I would find that hard because you’re with people and you have to be on all the time.
I’ve said this for the last few years, I’ve become more of like an introvert, even though I’m not because I have to be so social and I’ve had to be so social for many years of constantly talking and sharing and entertaining all the time. It’s exhausting. Now, I don’t want to talk about anything. I just want to be quiet and it’s hard.
You do it and it’s your job.
I’m not complaining either.
You didn’t sound like you’re complaining. I specifically asked you because everybody has down days and now you have a child too and she’s one and a half.
I feel the best and I love her. Her name is Dylan Ren. She is amazing. It’s so hard, but it gives me the most joy in life. It’s true what they say. Honestly, I didn’t know if I ever wanted to have kids. This has been such an eye-opening and life-changing experience in every single way. It’s true that it’s a love like you’ve never experienced before.
I agree it is like nothing else. You’re an amazing sister, friend, daughter, co-worker. All the things that have come at you from writing a business plan to opening a studio, to figuring out a tech pack, to then transitioning to marketing. I know from you that the process of going public was rigorous and exhausting.
It’s one of the hardest things in my career that I’ve ever done.
This is what you told me. You said it was called the roadshow. You had to go on the road. You take that show on the road and you’re public speaking, you debate and use your sales history. You have to look amazing, which you always do. You had to get up and you had to impress a bunch of bankers.
Jenny, you got it. You nailed it. Also investors, but yes.
How long is that process?
It was ten days total. It was grueling and also you want to do a good job because you ultimately want to make sure that people invest in the company and they believe in the company. You’re carrying out Michael and Mike’s dreams and also all these people that work at the company, and mine. It was such a huge honor.
Didn’t many people ask for you because you weren’t going to go on the road at one point and then you thought you would be a good addition?
I think that that’s how it played out. I’m so glad that I got to go because I do think what we do on the brand marketing side, social media influencers, even though we’ve been doing it for a decade, it’s so new to these people. I’m glad that I got to go and explain to people what I do every single day and how much fun it is and how different it is from what they know. It became an educational process because I’m just telling them, “This is what I do. Here’s what an influencer is. This is how we count this thing to be successful and this is why we have a party.” It’s just explaining.
Wasn’t there a person that worked for the company back at some point who told you that this was a terrible idea? This was an awful plan. You were crazy to spend company money going around the world vacationing and that wasn’t going to happen.
In some ways, a lot of people still maybe think that because there are also investors that didn’t end up investing. I’m sure that people are always thinking like, “Is this a fad? Is this going to go away?” People don’t understand or can’t wrap their heads around it. It’s also like if you spend enough time on social media, you will be influenced. I don’t care if it’s on clothes, on what wine you’re drinking, what stroller you need to get for the next baby or whatever, you’re going to be influenced whether that’s on Instagram or Facebook or whatever social media you partake in. I think it’s the new version of having a magazine or a billboard or whatever.
Aside from the hard work you do on your career, you work so hard on yourself. You exercise all the time. You’re very healthy. You’re big on therapy, which is life-changing. You’re constantly always trying to be better, do better and you’re amazing.
I’m just trying all the time. I realized that six years ago when I started doing therapy, you were the one who gave me this quote. You were the first person that said to me, “On a plane, you’ve got to put on your mask first before you help anybody else.” That has been an ongoing theme for me and has served true and right because I do think taking care of yourself first and knowing what makes you happy makes everything else in your life much easier to do, whether that’s managing a team or relationship with your husband or partner or being a mom or a dad. I try to live by that motto of checking in with myself and making sure I’m good because I know everything else will fall into place after.
I find it very admirable, the way that you go at things and you’re going to figure it out. You told me one time, I don’t know who it was, but part of the Revolve team. They said something to you. I don’t know what they said to you, but you said, “Pass me the ball.” They may be frustrated with something and you were like, “I got this. I am going to do it.” You can stand up and public speak and convince a room full of investment bankers that this is a company that is going to be amazing to invest in. I’m obsessed. You guys need to see her. She’s wearing hot pink pants and a tiny bra top. It would fit my doll. She’s also wearing giant chandelier earrings. She came straight from winning Woman of the Year Award where her sister told me that she hadn’t written a speech. Everyone else at this award ceremony had wonderful speeches, got up and gave great speeches and that she wrote her’s off the cuff in a quick break.
I usually will freestyle, but I felt like I should write something because all these other people were so prepared and plus you’re Woman of the Year. I was like, “Okay, I got to make a good speech.” I’m super honored to come in here and talk to you, my sister. I’m so happy and I’m also very happy for you because I’ve seen so many different Jenny’s in the best way. You’re constantly evolving and working on yourself and finding your passion. I think it’s super inspiring and incredible. Congrats on the show and thank you for having me.
Thank you for coming. The last thing I’m going to say is that you do have one of those personalities that when it shines on you, it feels like you’re basking in the sun. I get it and I understand why you are where you are and I love you.
I’m going to cry. I love you too. Thank you.
About Raissa Gerona
Raissa Gerona doesn’t have a degree in business or fashion design. That didn’t stop her in any way from being a key player in building the empire that is now Revolve. As Chief Brand Officer, she saw the potential of Instagram as a platform for business from the very beginning. She had a hunch that traveling the world with influential people would be a brilliant way to showcase the clothes the company was producing. She came to the US from the Philippines when she was 7. She didn’t speak English.
Her journey is one of the most inspirational success stories we’ve ever heard. She described it best herself as “poppin’ off since high school”. Every seemingly random skill, passion and job she had led her to where she is today-a kingpin in a company that just went public, the face of a brand that thousands look up to, an adoring mom, a ball of energy and a forever friend. She is something truly out of this world.