Local e-business joins global effort to boost economy

Photo Courtesy Of La Grande Dame

Catherine Wood Hill, right, co-owner of La Grande Dame in Los Altos Hills, adjusts the online boutique’s latest maxi-dress on a model.

While a slowing global economy pushes entrepreneurial hopefuls to alternate career paths, one former Forbes magazine columnist intends to counter the trend by improving prospects for 1 million startups around the world, including one company in Los Altos Hills.

Introduced in January, Sramana Mitra’s “One Million by One Million” initiative hinges on the belief that the success of even the smallest entrepreneurs can contribute to alleviating America’s economic woes through job creation. 1M/1M, which already has reached 4,000 companies, aims to resolve the country’s money problems by helping 1 million entrepreneurs reach $1 million in revenue – the most precarious step – by 2020.

“ I don’t believe in large masses of government jobs, because our government is neck-deep in debt,” said Mitra, a strategy consultant in Silicon Valley since 1994. “The only kind of job creation that can be relied on is through entrepreneurship – people taking destiny in their own hands.”

But Mitra, former CEO of three companies and strategy consultant for 80-plus others, said novice businesses often fold because they fail to do enough market research in their eagerness to profit immediately. 1M/1M provides companies with tips on “crafting” companies – establishing and connecting with strong consumer bases – and a chance to meet with a handful of angel investors, who can offer the initial capital startups need.

Although any company – even beyond the $1 million mark – can access the methodology and resources online (, only those with “validated customer feedback, business models and pricing models” qualify for investor introductions.

Mitra selected local plus-size, designer e-boutique La Grande Dame and introduced mother-daughter owners Michelle Wood and Catherine Wood Hill, Los Altos Hills residents, to investors last April. The startup already has offers from at least five investors.

“We believe that they’re going after a business opportunity that is real,” Mitra said.

Opened April 2009, La Grande Dame offers styles with a professional bent for size-14-plus women between 30 and 55 – a rare find in the fashion industry, where plus sizes range from six to eight, and larger designs are frequently much less flattering.

Hill, a former public relations agent, came to Mitra with a clientele of several thousand and the goal to expand. Mitra helped the company narrow marketing strategies to pockets with the highest demand for their services, largely decreasing marketing costs.

But Hill said their expansion plans do not include a brick-and-mortar location, at least not for a while. The pair want to maintain full control over their company, which discourages them from accepting investor funding. Income, however, is not a problem. In fact, both the mother-daughter duo and Mitra expect La Grande Dame to earn $1 million well before 2020.

La Grande Dame’s immediate plans focus on adding to its customer list, especially in the Bay Area, where, Hill said, “there’s a big stigma about plus sizes.” The founders started reversing such notions by hosting get-togethers for potential consumers in Los Altos, events they hope to continue.

“These women need to know that they deserve to be beautiful,” Wood said.

Featured La Grande Dame designers include Anna Scholz, Marina Rinaldi and Tadashi, and prices range from $30 to more than $200 for the most luxurious items of clothing.

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