We’re excited to introduce the newest Partner to join Interplay, Phuong Ireland. Phuong will be leading the Interplay Incubator and working directly with its portcos. Instead of laying out some general facts about Phuong, we did a Q&A to get to know her a bit better. Without further ado, introducing Phuong Ireland!
- Can you give a quick overview of your previous experience?
I spent the earlier part of my career at big consumer brands – Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, American Eagle Outfitters – working my way up through a range of merchandising, strategy, and new business development roles. I ran big established businesses as well as launched and scaled new businesses. I then went on to a start-up media brand called Some Spider Studios, where I launched an e-commerce business, a marketplace and an affiliate vertical. Most recently, I founded an investor backed fashion company called Wknd Nation. The brand was built around the idea of empowering women to feel comfortable in their own skin, with loungewear pieces that were designed to be styled up or down and worn for all aspects of life, not just at home. We built an e-commerce business as well as stores in Meatpacking and Soho. Shopify actually filmed a spotlight on the brand. If you're interested in learning more, this is the first part of it on YouTube.
- Why did you decide to join Interplay and lead the Incubator? What excites you about the opportunity?
I’m a builder. I’ve always been. I loved building Wknd Nation over the past few years. I learned so much (and made a lot of mistakes) and am excited to support other entrepreneurs on their journey through the Incubator. I chose Interplay because I was really impressed with the team and the culture that you’ve built.
- You just started and are getting settled in, but do you have any thoughts so far as to how you’re going to bring your own personal flavor to the Incubator?
I love the idea of continuing to bring in more diversity into the Incubator. I mean this in all aspects -- industry, stage, geography, founder profile, etc. I’d like to support even more female and minority-owned companies as these founders often face unique challenges that lead to their under-representation in the start-up community.
- Since you’re an entrepreneur yourself, what are some of the biggest challenges that founders face early on? Any recommendations for strategies to implement in order to avoid or deal with those challenges?
One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face is how to choose the right partners. I mean this in all aspects but especially with regards to co-founders, team members and investors. When you don’t have the budget to hire or are in desperate need of funding, it’s tempting to just work with anyone. These relationships end up being one of the biggest “make-or-break” factors for companies and it’s essential that founders do their homework. With regards to team/co-founders, think about partners who not only complement your skills set, but also your personality and work style. For example, if you’re an extreme introvert, it might make sense to find a co-founder who is more of an extrovert to create balance. To an extent, the same is true for investors. Entrepreneurs should look at the gaps in their business and their team skills set and work with investors that can help bridge these. Investors are partners and people, not just money. Founders should ask themselves:
- Are we aligned on growth expectations?
- Do they believe in my mission?
- Do I like them? Will I work well with them?
- Are there any areas that you feel strongly about and can we expect any thought leadership on said topics?
I’m passionate about the consumer space, e-commerce (and all the elements that power it from tech to logistics to digital marketing) and entrepreneurship. What these spaces have in common is that they’re all about people and their relationships – with each other, with brands and products, and with their businesses, etc. I love trying to get inside people’s minds and figuring out what drives them. I’m very interested in providing thought leadership on this.
- Alright, on to some fun questions. What’s the most memorable work trip you’ve been on?
At a previous company, we often went on shopping trips to get inspired. My favorite one was taken on the company jet, first to Marrakech to do a deep dive on oud (a popular fragrance ingredient) and to explore the spice markets. Then onto Barcelona to study the marketplaces and Gaudi architecture and last to Paris to see the Dior exhibit and shop on the Champs-Elyees and Galaries LaFayette.
I have a lot of stories from these trips, including a trip to the Berkshires, for inspiration for our holiday collection. We visited the home of a Johnson & Johnson heir to study her sleigh collection. She had over 100 sleighs, some that were hundreds of years old. We stayed at a haunted hotel (for inspiration) and I captured a ghost on my iPhone. I still have it if anyone wants to see.
- Where is your happy place?
Our family has a place in Lake Placid, NY. I love sunsets on the dock in the summer and building fires in the winter when it's -30 degrees and you can’t be outside for more than 10 minutes or you’ll get frostbite.
- Lightning round:
- Favorite park in NYC: Washington Square Park
- Favorite musician/band (or at least someone who’s in your top 10): Dua Lipa
- Last book you read: The Glass Hotel
- Last movie you watched: Old (Not recommended!)
- Last movie you saw in the theaters: Paw Patrol 2 (Highly recommend)
- Favorite meal: I’m Vietnamese so my favorite meal is pho, a noodle soup that can be made with chicken or beef. I’ll make it for the team sometime!