As I write this, news is breaking that Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, is stepping down from the company he built. His story is just one example of many about people who had wacky ideas and built internet empires out of them. There’s Tina Engler, who may have invented the concept of the erotic ebook. In 2000, long before Fifty Shades of Grey and Amazon’s Kindle, Engler was selling her dirty romance stories online as PDFs from her website, Elora’s Cave. At it’s height, she was netting $10 million per year.
There’s also Harry Knowles, the founder of the ultimate movie site, Ain’t It Cool. Possibly the first of it’s kind, Knowles’ reviews and articles captured Hollywood’s attention in the late 90s and by 2005, his website was generating close to three-quarters of a million dollars in advertising sales annually.
And then there’s Sophia Marlowe, the subject of the Netflix original series Girl Boss. Loosely based on actual events (REAL loose, we’re reminded at the start of each episode with a tongue in cheek slice of sexual innuendo), Marlowe stumbles upon a rare leather jacket in a San Francisco thrift store in 2006, buys it for $9 and flips it on Ebay for an obscene amount of cash. Sensing money in the bank, she sets out on weekly thrift store and estate sale jaunts, buying vintage clothing cheap and reselling it for enough profit that she eventually quits her day job and becomes a full-time seller. Marlowe certainly wasn’t the first to do this. As the show portrays events, Ebay was full of vintage clothing re-sellers in the mid 2000s (probably still is) and competition was cutthroat. What makes Marlowe different, it seems, was her approach to the merchandise. She doesn’t view the clothing as works of art, defines ‘vintage’ a bit more broadly than others, and doesn’t take an ostentatious approach with her customers as many of her competitors do. It’s this flip attitude and her success with it that raises the ire of her competitors, who eventually team up to have her kicked off of Ebay in hysterical live enactments of internet message forums. Seriously, kudos to the writers on this!
If you’re a re-seller yourself, you know being suspended from the third party site that processes your orders can be a death knell and Sophia almost gives up. Inspiration strikes, though, and she launches a website where her customers quickly return. Cha-ching!
While critics argue over whether Girl Boss makes a feminist statement or just portrays millennial narcissists in a positive light, they’re missing the entertainment factor of the show – a sometimes sexy, always empowering rags to riches tale of a young woman who runs with an idea and succeeds. Joined by a rogues gallery of co-workers, friends and foes, Sophia must navigate the choppy waters of being a twenty-something while launching her business. It’s a fun setup, and works most of the time. Even though Sophia’s schtick gets old quickly, especially if you’re binge watching, the series is ultimately addictive.
“I just need to figure out a way to grow up without becoming a boring adult,” she says in the first episode to an older woman sitting next to her on a park bench in San Francisco.
“It’s hard to believe you’re the future. Thank God I’ll be dead,” the woman replies, obviously forgetting what it felt like to be young and aimless.
Whether you love Girl Boss, hate it, or occupy some space in between as I do, you’ll likely agree with show creator Kay Cannon. “Girlboss at its core, regardless of gender, is a show about being the boss of your own life.”