Deena Varshavskaya talks retail, mobile, and empowerment

November 13, 2013, 9:44 PM UTC

FORTUNE — Deena Varshavskaya, the 33-year-old founder and CEO of Wanelo (“wah-nee-loh,” from Want, Need, Love), started her social commerce site in 2010. Originally from Siberia, Varshavskaya attended Cornell University but left two classes short of graduating to launch her first web startup. Varshavskaya was recently named as one of the 15 up-and-comers to keep an eye on in Vanity Fair’s Next Establishment list and was featured as one of the 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs by Goldman Sachs. As a participant in Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference, Varshavskaya gave us her thoughts on exciting tech sectors, living a balanced life, and the merits and flaws of schooling.

1. What companies do you admire? Why?

I admire Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN) for their ability to continuously reinvent themselves before it appears necessary to external observers. Netflix, for example, launched online video streaming [in 2007] even though they could have easily rested on the laurels of their DVD business.

2. What technology sector excites you most?

Retail and mobile. This is the golden intersection. Retail is so absurdly primitive and so ripe for disruption. Shhh … 

3. Is business school necessary for entrepreneurs?

Absolutely not. Entrepreneurship is really hard. The people who succeed are those who want to build something so much that they don’t care for permission. Naturally, people talk about business school as a way to learn, but the truth is that nothing can prepare you for the challenges you’ll face while building a company. You just have to be ready for endless problem-solving and endless personal growth.

MORE: Why your teen loves Wanelo

4. What is the best advice you ever received?

The best advice I ever receive is the kind that makes me feel empowered. My dad was the first empowering presence in my life. He always encouraged me to think bigger and to feel that I can do anything I want to. Entrepreneurship is deeply personal, and that means zeroing in on your own strengths. Advisors who understand that and remind me to focus on my strengths are my best friends.

5. What is your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement is finding a way to express myself through my work and through the company I’m building.

6. What is one characteristic that every leader should possess?

Every leader should possess the ability to imagine a greater future and to dare going after it. The power of simply aiming big and doing what you said you would is phenomenal.

7. What is one goal that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?

My goal is to build an awesome, massive company that helps people (both the customers and the team building it) find and fulfill their greatest potential.

8. What do you do to live a balanced life?

I like to treat my work, life, and play as an integrated whole. I don’t like compartmentalizing things. I also believe in doing things with integrity and authenticity. This keeps my life simple, balanced, and aligned to who I am. Examples of this include working on something I truly believe in for the long term, being authentic in my work relationships and interactions, as well as wearing really crazy things to work. For the latter, fashion is very personal and very helpful to me in finding the work and play alignment I look for!

9. Describe an ideal day.

An ideal start is Pilates in the morning and then a day full of building, collaborating, movement, and surprises. After work, dinner with friends, and then some relaxing Wanelo time before going to bed. 

10. What was the most important thing you learned in school?

Life is full of situations in which other people create all sorts of requirements for you and make it seem like there’s no other way. Traditional education is full of that. When I went to college, my main goal was to find my big passion in life, so I took every class imaginable, from computer science to biochemistry to fine art — all looking for that passion. What I found instead was that I needed to create my own path. That’s why I ended up leaving college without graduating.