Founder & Director at Etoile Collective
This is a story of a side hustle turn empire. It’s also a lesson in jumping in and growing through experience, as Michelle Hu is a walking advertisement for never giving up.
Born and bred in Melbourne, Michelle’s parents immigrated to Australia in 1990 and she believes “were courageous enough to be the changemakers for their descendants” therefore allowing Michelle and her brother to have many opportunities.
Michelle’s #careerstory is one that will have you ditching the weekend in favour of work. Seriously, she is that inspirational. This interview is full of advice and tips for any girl that notices that entrepreneur spirit within in but needs a a sign to start the journey.
I can’t thank Michelle enough for her time, and courage and for pathing the way with her incredible brand Etoile Collective.
Let’s dive in…
Where did you grow up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
Born and bred in Melbourne, Victoria! I grew up with my brother Elwin as the 1st generation of immigrant parents. To me, my parents truly embody the spirit of entrepreneurialism – moving from China to Australia in 1990, they couldn’t speak a word of English but pretty much did whatever they were capable of and found a way to make a living to put a roof over our heads. I am eternally grateful that they were courageous enough to be the changemakers for their descendants and allowed my brother and I to have so many opportunities. I 100%, without a doubt in my mind get my work ethic and no-room-for-failure mentality from them.
When you were a young what did you want to be when you grew up?
Before the spell my parents cast on me, I remember having a passion for what I now know as marketing, customer acquisition and problem solving. I spent a lot of my time on a platform called IMVU (similar to Sims) where I became a Developer and taught myself Photoshop to create and sell avatar clothing for IMVU credits, which turned into real money. I wasn’t awesome and definitely hacked my way through Photoshop. But I really enjoyed it.
After I was hypnotised: A lawyer.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to Ruyton Girls’ School in Kew. We had quite small (~70 student) cohorts which I absolutely loved. I had a really solid group of friends that are still my best friends to this day. Up until year 10, I remember being quite a problematic student. At home – things were chaotic as my brother fell into a really dark place mentally. And this manifested in me doing rebellious things (like ripping up exams and throwing a hissy fit lol). Nevertheless, to the surprise of my parents who tried to bring me to my senses on multiple occasions and failed), I pulled myself out just in time with the help of some really amazing teachers and friends (shoutout to Mrs. Guggenheimer).
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
I cannot say that I owe my previous nor current job to the subjects I chose in VCE! I wish we had a new business or entrepreneurship subject in high school – I probably would have figured our earlier on that I loved working on consumer goods business.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
Not any meaningful ones that I wanted to pursue as a career. I did work experience at the Lort Smith Animal Hospital (I do love dogs however)!
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I did a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne with majors in Economics and Finance. Most of my subjects were quite hardcore economics / finance as they weren’t electives. However, in the 1 ‘freedom’ subject we had, as my intentions were always to go on to do the Juris Doctor, I did Principles of Business Law which I actually really enjoyed!
At Uni, I also did 2 exchanges which I could not recommend highly enough and are some of the best memories I have. In my second year, I went to the University of Southern California and in my third year, London School of Economics.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights?
So the law thing didn’t go to plan. And I (for better or worse) kickstarted my career at a global investment bank in their Mergers & Acquisitions department.
Highlights? Having meetings with C-Suite executives at ASX listed companies, working with super switched on, very commercial-thinking individuals and having my butt kicked for low attention to detail – a skill that I find so invaluable now! And of course, our 4 week training program in New York.
Lowlights? Burning the midnight oil on more occasions than I’d like. In the month before I started at Citi, I managed to kickstart Etoile Collective – my eCommerce brand for beauty enthusiasts. Fortunately, this grew exponentially during my years at Citi and it didn’t take long for me to realise that I LOVED working on that. So when it was time (October 2018), I took the leap of faith and have not looked back!
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
With a huge love for all things skincare, makeup and beauty (albeit a very messy collection), Etoile was born back in 2016. I then have my selfless mum to thank for being the heartbeat of the business and keeping it afloat whilst I was still working full-time.
Then, with a high enough degree of risk tolerance, I was able to turn Etoile into my full-time job.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
I probably have a different answer for this everyday. Today, I’d say the most difficult thing is being a solo Founder. Not having someone to constantly bounce ideas off means you’re in your own head a lot and you mightn’t be able to explore ideas that lie in your blind spots.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
My morning routine is a WIP so let’s skip over that. I aim to get into work by about 8:45am where I’ll quickly bulk dispatch the prior night’s orders. I’ve chosen to keep our fulfilment in-house and we are an extremely lean team which means I am yet to automate a few tasks that I think I shouldn’t be doing! I’ll then get to my emails and action or reply to the high-priority ones.
Two other things I always do every morning: Head onto Stamped to read the latest customer reviews that have come in and scan Zendesk (customer emails) to get a gauge of customer sentiment and assess whether we can make any structural changes to improve customer experience. The rest of my day usually involves organising, creating and executing content across all our platforms, speaking to manufacturers, working on new product development and as of lately, hiring and recruitment.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
I can’t pinpoint one person exactly. However, I love listening to podcasts or reading about individuals who have forged their own unconventional path. A bonus if they’re in eCommerce!
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Find doors to open yourself – My all-time favourite (and overused) quote is “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. A little anecdote – after my 2 years at Citi, I wanted to give Venture Capital a go but couldn’t commit to a full-time role as I was worried I’d feel stuck in another job I wasn’t passionate about again. So I dug through my network and found an intro to Nick Crocker, General Partner at Blackbird Ventures to ask for an internship. A few (nervous) catch-ups later, an internship was secured. Since then, Nick has become an incredible mentor who is so ridiculously generous with his time, network and wisdom. Do something that you think you could wake up to 5 years from now, and still be excited about – A natural curiosity to the industry you’re in means you’ll able to navigate problems faster, think like your customer, and put in the extra work because, well, you love it!
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Websites: etoilecollective.com.au/ – duh! But on a serious note, I love trolling the internet for websites with a great UI and UX experience. So at the moment, I am loving: thepangaia.com, glossier.com/ and casper.com/
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: @etoilecollective @shityoushouldcareabout
- Favourite Podcast: How I Built This, Shameless, Masters of Scale, Perpetual Traffic and Wild Hearts.
- Favourite Netflix/Stan/ Series: Homeland – Seriously, I have been living under a rock. How on earth has it taken me 9 years to find this series!
- Who is your mentor? (This can be a person you follow for advice, or an IRL person). I have a few unofficial mentors in the eCom space. Almost all of them have been a generous and warm introduction by Nick Crocker who is truly devoted to the mission of Blackbird – to supercharge ambitious.
- Founders Favourite all time book/s: Atomic Habits, Mindset, Shoe Dog.
- Favourite App that you use every day: Google Analytics.