I first met Jess last year when we sat on a panel together to discuss the intersection of fashion and technology. I loved her passion and was really taken by her story. From starting her first business at 16, to being told by a careers advisor that “she didn’t have it in her” to work in fashion, and then to go on and launch Stashd at age 22 – a globally successful fashion app that’s shaking up the m-commerce world.
Stashd has been downloaded in 86 countries since launching on the App Store just over a year ago.
The app uses a Tinder-style swipe — right to put it in your virtual wardrobe, left to trash it — pushing randomly selected items to users from a bank of 100,000 products.
Net-A-Porter was the first label to offer their products through Stashd (talk about winning from day one!) and now more than 3000 brands, including online giant ASOS, are on board.
We spoke about what it’s like to grow a fashion tech company from the ground up, the persistence and hard work that’s required, the hustle!, and the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you.
Gaby: So Jess, tell us a little about your background…Where did you grow up? What did you study? What was your first job?
Jess: I grew up on a small farm in Karangi, just outside of Coffs Harbour. I moved to Sydney to study business and events management with the intent to produce runway shows. Not long into my course I dropped out after a career advisor told me I ‘didn’t have it in me’ to have a career in the fashion industry!
My first job was at 14. I wasn’t legally allowed to work but wanted to be able to make my own money so I got a job at a local 5Star supermarket in Coffs Harbour, they paid me in cash. Two years later I started my first business – running formal after parties, 16ths and 18ths for school students using the farmland I grew up on as a venue (after much convincing of my parents!).
G: How did you get started with Stashd?
J: I was working in production at Australian and New York fashion weeks (I got there eventually, no thanks to that careers advisor!) and noticed a shift in the seating plans over 2-3 years. Online was moving forward, bricks and mortar and print was moving back and the rise of the online influencers was underway, with bloggers increasingly given celebrity status. I had the insight to be able to look at the industry from a different perspective. I was also much younger than a large amount of my co-workers, so I saw the changes as an opportunity to innovate.
Not having a tech background (at all!!) I decided I needed to learn … so at 21 I booked a one-way ticket to Silicon Valley. Without knowing a single person in the Valley I spent all my savings on a hostel for two weeks and networked. I met people from Yahoo, Facebook, Google, and got an insight into what was happening in the tech industry.
I then moved back to Sydney. I still wasn’t sure about what I was going to do – but knew the industry I wanted to be in – fashion tech. SO…I moved into a tech co-working space called Fishburners to continue to learn from people who knew what I didn’t know. It was there that I met my tech co-founder. We came up with the idea for Stashd and had the app built in six weeks.
G: How would you describe your average day? Does it exist for you?
I’d like to say I have an average day, but I don’t! I’m at the office from about 8:30am until around 8pm. Depending on what we’re doing my hours increase…I never ever seem to be able to leave before 8pm!
In terms of what’s ‘average work’ we tend to go through waves, depending on what the current focus is on. At the moment we are launching new stores onto Stashd so I spend a large portion of my time pitching, negotiating and generating hype around launching new clients. That involves liaising between marketing activations with each store and communicating with tech teams to integrate the feeds into the app. We’re also negotiating a TV contract so I’m liaising between Stashd App and Stashd TV teams frequently throughout the day.
Other ‘waves’ might mean being heavily focused on the development of a new product or feature, or traveling for fashion weeks, or shooting a segment for the show.
It’s always changing!
J: What advice would you give someone trying to do what you do?
- Surround yourself with people who know about an aspect of the business that you don’t. If it’s an app and you aren’t technical, get yourself a technical co-founder and continue to actively learn from that person about how things work – technically – so you gain more of an understanding of the business as a whole.
- Find Mentors. Find mentors who have been in your shoes and have done what you are trying to do. Take their advice – and learn from their mistakes so that your path might be a little easier! Make sure you completely trust the people you let in to your business and they will become great friends and your biggest supporters. You really need those kinds of experienced friends to support you through the mental roller coaster that your life becomes!
- Trust yourself. Try not to be overwhelmed by the different opinions you will have thrown at you – listen to yourself and what you want to do and take others opinions as ‘data points’. Use your overall vision for the company to filter the data and then trust that you know how to use all the details to make your own way there.
G: A lot of people in today’s world think of app developers, coders, digital entrepreneurs as superstars making billions. But it’s a bucket load of hard work, isn’t it…?
J: Haha, do they?! It is SO much work. Behind every piece of good news or new feature launch is an incredible amount of work. You really need a huge amount of persistence, unwavering faith in your vision and hustle to bring an idea into the world, and to then generate traction on that idea.
On the positive side, we are in the digital age, where valuations for a good idea or proven concept are in the millions – and have the ability to be ranked in the billions. So as the founder of tech start up you have the ability to raise millions of dollars to scale. Tech is the new oil investment and coders are the new rock stars. Times are changing!
G: Do you introduce yourself as en Entrepreneur? What makes someone an entrepreneur?
J: I introduce myself as the founder of a fashion tech company. I think the term entrepreneur has been thrown around a tad loosely of late, and has become a bit of a buzzword.
Being an entrepreneur to me is seeing the present as it is and having the ability to see opportunities or ‘dots’ that others may not see – then having the courage, tenacity and hustle to connect the dots to create a yet-to-be-conceived future that is better than the present.
G: How has the company changed since you started?
J: At it’s core Stashd has kept true to the original vision, although our method to get there has changed many times … Changes in alignments, store partnerships, price points, marketing initiatives, staff etc. It’s continual testing and failing and iterating. Continuing to speak to our users in a way that resonates with them and be a platform retailers want to use to break into the m-commerce space.
G: How have you grown it? Do you have a huge team?
J: We’ve been able to stay lean by bringing talented people in to the team – people who are able to think big and execute. Tech is a multi faceted domain, and at this stage we can’t execute everything internally. So we make sure that everyone we hire has the ability to project manage outsourced contracts or is connected to a network of people who can solve the issue for us.
We don’t have a huge team. Our business model allows us to stock over 4,000 brands and not touch a single product, so we have cut out the logistics nightmare. We are made up of tech, marketing and data scientists. Relatively lean – but soon to double if not triple our staff in the next 6-12 months.
G: What do you love most about working in fashion?
J: I’ve always been captivated by creative expression and having the ability to do things differently. Fashion excites me because it’s always changing.
I am fascinated with how people express ‘this is who I am’ and ‘this is what I stand for’ through what they wear, how they act, what brands they align themselves with and, ultimately, the life they choose to create for themselves.
G: Can you talk about the power of great product photos in today’s fashion landscape?
J: Great product photos are like the best shop front windows – digitized. If you present a product in a synthetically pleasing way the odds of shoppers clicking through or purchasing that product are far higher. It’s learning how to speak to consumers in a new landscape: Omni channel (e-commerce, m-commerce, digital advertising, social…). Your photos ARE your brand. They create relationships, which ultimately convert to sales.
With Stashd all our product images are either white or light grey. We have created a standard look and feel so that we offer our users a streamlined experience. All products are shot by the stores themselves (we don’t shoot for them) and need to adhere to our product image guidelines. If our guidelines aren’t met, we don’t upload them. We need to ensure that our customer experience is always spot on – and exceptional photos are integral to that.
G: Is this the life you’d imagined yourself living?
J: Since I was 15 years old I haven’t been afraid of taking risks. I know that about myself. Leading ‘this life’ is still a bit of a pinch me moment at times. Although having said that, every decision and opportunity has been something I’ve acted on with intent …so I guess I’ve created what I’m living. If you’d told me five years ago I would be the founder of a tech company I would have laughed in your face! And so would have my careers advisor. Thankfully I didn’t listen to her…
G: Female Entrepreneur. What does it mean to you?
J: In my mind being a female entrepreneur should not be as topical as what it is. Just because I’m a female and running a business people throw stereotypes left, right and centre.
Absolutely we need female role models for young girls to aspire to. There is 100% no reason why a woman can’t run a successful business as well as, or better, than a man. But I think we need to readjust the conversation… it’s not men vs. women but business vs. business. Gender should be irrelevant. Let’s just focus on getting more women in the entrepreneurial game!
G: Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
J: Gosh… overseas somewhere running Stashd, iterating with new technologies as they’re introduced … I couldn’t tell you exactly…! Definitely leading the m-commerce space and maybe v-commerce space too 😉
I’d like to see myself as an investor in people, as opposed to businesses. People who have strong visions and entrepreneurialism in their DNA.