Last night, I attended the first ever Future of Fashion: Emerging Startup Series at Projective Spaces and co-hosted by Fashion Digital Daily. Whew! What a mouthful.
I’m happy to see more fashion tech events popping up, and have set a goal for myself to attend at least one such event per week. As a founder, I think it’s easy to get stuck in the “in the garage” mentality, where I’m so focused on developing my own business that I forget an entire ecosystem of new companies exists. Aside from the importance of networking with others in the same boat, riding the same tumultuous waters of trying to start a business, I also realize how important it is that I sit in on others’ pitches and demos. I just completed my first Friends + Family (+Fools) pitch one week ago, and thought it went extremely well. However, after attending two events since then, I have already re-shaped my deck and edited my pitch twice since. I know I need to be careful not to over-edit, but seeing other founders’ strengths, weaknesses and flow while pitching will ultimately make me better at it.
Last night, five fashion startups pitched to a panel of three. I took some notes and jotted down some of the feedback, as well as a piece of advice I received when briefly pitching one of the panelists after the demos had wrapped. The demo-ers included Listly, Kaleidoscope, The Cools, Bespoke Post, Carrie Hammer, and the panel was made up of Faran Krentcil, digital director NYLON Magazine, Steve Schlafman, principal, Lerer Ventures and Christina Rinaldi, creative director, Prima Creative.
Before I bless (or bore) you with notes, I had one main observation: where were the founders? Three of the five startups were presented by the founders themselves, but the other two were presented by “representatives.” While these reps definitely did a great job, I want to see the person who started the company! I want the guy/woman who had the brilliant idea, stays up at night thinking about the user experience, and who punches walls when negative user feedback makes its way into an email inbox. No one else can replace the excitement, passion and emotion that a founder has when pitching. It’s just not the same. And I could change my mind at some point, but as of today, I am way too big of a control freak to NOT pitch my own business, even if it does need improvement.
Anyway, notes, quotes, takeaways:
- CONTENT + COMMERCE: “If you don’t have a content strategy, you’re going to be left in the dust.” ~ Steve Schlafman’s advice. He stressed the importance of context; what is inspiring about a look? Why is it relevant? Why does it matter? Faran Krentcil also mentioned that users should always have the option of knowing the source of whatever it is in the image; if there’s a street style look, where did the person in the photo actually get these items? Something to keep in mind for my own biz.
- WORDS CAN BE (SELF-DESTRUCTIVE WEAPONS): One of the presenters used the word “pretty good” and said “sometimes this doesn’t work” when demo-ing his product. Schlafman made the point that even if your product is lacking in some way during a demo (which it is apt to be), you better make the audience believe it’s not a problem, and that it’s f-ing awesome.
- KNOW THY USER: This is something very close to my heart, as cheesy as it sounds. But the companies who know their users well (Fab.com, GILT, Shopbop, etc) are successful in almost every effort (contests, partnerships, sales, etc) because it always comes back down to their core customer. Christina Rinaldi also stressed the importance of a seamless branding experience across sharing platforms: “Every single aspect of design should reflect the ideal customer.” And Schlafman also asked the presenter: “When you go to bed at night and dream of the ideal customer, who is it?” And then Krentcil said this: “You can’t absolutely love your product until you love who you’re building it for.” Important stuff.
- “If I were a PR person or a publicist, what would I say about your product?”
- Rinaldi asked one of the presenters if vanity URLs were a part of their future (think “thepartafterdotcom” on your Facebook profile’s link.)
- USABILITY, YO: I got my MA in Journalism, so I’m used to being asked “Why should I/do I care?” As a founder, a similar question needs to be asked every single step of the way: “How is this useful?” Schlafman questioned one of the presenters on the “utility” of the service. Why is this important to the user? What can the user actually DO with this? How is this helping him or her, or solving his or her problem? That’s one of my biggest observations about some of the startups that have emerged in the fashion/shopping/style space. The idea might be rad, but what is the product actually doing for its users, or how is it feeding into his/her desires? Instagram didn’t necessarily solve a problem for anyone, but it sure as hell fed our desire to have our creativity seen and liked.
Was overall a great event. At the end, I pitched Faran, and she told me I need to focus in on my true value proposition, which could be one of two things: building the next/better/best ShopStyle for women on the hunt for something specific, or build a place where women can discover really cool, mostly American-based brands, designers and stores based on their style inspiration I know exactly what it is, but need to revise my elevator pitch.