If you are lucky enough to live on the east coast, you probably know about or have attended a Third Wave Fashion event. Recently, the New York based company visited the west coast - stopping by Los Angeles and San Francisco on a mission to spread fashion tech love, demonstrating their expertise when it comes to building and creating fashion tech startups. Helping to bridge the gap between technology and fashion from coast to coast is Third Wave Fashion founder Liza Kindred. With years of experience in both industries, Liza has provided a forum and community for fashion tech startups to connect with like-minded brands and investors for successful, long-term relationships and flourishing businesses.
You have extensive experience in fashion and technology.What was the spark that made you want to launch Third Wave Fashion?
I am in love with fashion, but let’s face it: the fashion world has historically been very tech un-savvy. My goal was to learn as much as I could about the technology world, and to bring it back to fashion.
My first business was a clothing boutique and my second was an open source software company that I grew from the two co-founders to a multi-million dollar business. On the side, I spent a lot of time consulting for and mentoring small business owners in both worlds. Third Wave Fashion is like the Venn diagram of my professional life!
What is the mission/purpose of TWF?
We help fashion tech startups kick more ass! And, we help investors and brands find the best fashion tech startups. We track over 500 fashion tech companies, hold sell-out meetups, act as a home office for startups, mentor entrepreneurs, educate brands, inform investors, make introductions, write reports, and generally do whatever it takes to help our clients be successful.
You recently held a couple of meetups on the West Coast. What are some of the highlights?
Our Los Angeles meetup was hosted by StartEngine and we had a panel full of fashion tech rockstars. MJ Eng, co-founder at ShoeDazzle; Alisa Gould Simon, co-founder at Pose; David Oh, Director of Acquisitions at Beachmint and Dan Murillo, founder of Little Black Bag were all on hand. FABCounsel co-produced that event with us, and it was standing room only. Don’t let anyone tell you that there is no fashion tech scene in LA! At this event, we spoke a lot about celebrity partnerships and developing the long-term relationships that lead to funding.
In San Francisco, we had two of the co-founders of Poshmark, Manish Chandra and Tracy Sun, who also co-produced the event with us, along with Enrico Beltramini, a former advisor to The Gucci Group and founder of the Fashion Technology Accelerator in San Jose. Ligaya Tichy, Head of Brand at Threadflip, rounded out our smart panel, which was hosted by Zappos Labs. At this event, we talked a lot about the importance of branding and communities to the sell-out crowd of 150 people. Both meetups were packed with amazing people.
What differences have you observed in the fashion technology/startup
community on the East vs. West Coast?
First of all, both coasts are full of smart, hard-working, beautiful people. I was personally quite blown away by all of the smart (and nice) people that we got to meet.
The scene in Los Angeles is not as big as San Francisco or New York, but they have some big wins. In LA, they benefit from the proximity to celebrities and to the TV + movie industries, but don’t benefit from a strong development community or have many investors. At the LA meetup, we noticed that even though we had some amazing entrepreneurs mingling, not many people approached our panelists.
In San Francisco, panelists were swamped at the event; we see the same thing here in NYC. We didn’t have a lot of people posting to social media in LA, but we did notice a lot of people taking notes. In SF, we could barely keep up with all of the social media; we were overwhelmed in a good way. SF has a strong tech community and a huge portion of the investor community. However, our SF friends aren’t close to fashion brands or publishers the way that we are here in NYC.
When we embarked on our West Coast Tour, we wanted to get a better understanding of what the fashion tech scene was like for our friends over there on the left. We left with a better understanding, but also with a strong interest in continuing to forge relationships between all three cities, for our mutual benefit. In the spirit of the rising tide lifting all ships, you’ll see us back in California soon!
What are some of the major challenges facing fashion startups today?
Fashion tech is an exciting niche to work in, but it can be very difficult to navigate both worlds at the same time. For entrepreneurs that come from fashion, the tech world can be a murky, scary, and expensive landscape to navigate. Many technical founders know little about the fashion world - many think that the four fashion seasons are spring, summer, fall, and winter. Throw in the need for business savvy and the lack of understanding on behalf of a lot of investors, and this can be a tough world.
However, the opportunities are really exciting! I believe that what’s happening in fashion tech today is going to change the way that people buy things across the board. We have a lot of interest in this world - from press, investors, and most importantly, from consumers. There are a lot of huge markets within fashion, and tech offers many exciting ways to cater to savvy consumers.
When should a fashion/tech startup start thinking about PR?
Social media should start the moment you decide on your business - in fact, which name spaces are available may even help you decide on your company name. Even if you won’t be launching for a year, you can develop your voice and your fan base starting now.
Erica Cerulo, Co-Founder of Of a Kind, told a story at one of our meetups about how they had over 11,000 followers on Tumblr before they even launched their official business. By building an active fan base on Tumblr, they had thousands of built in fans when they launched their commerce site.
For traditional PR, your launch is going to be your golden egg of press coverage. You’ll have other events or occasions worth writing about, but journalists love telling their readers about the latest new sites. Keep that in mind and plan wisely. When we help startups with PR, we always try to craft a story about where they sit in the saturated landscape of fashion tech startups, and what makes their story compelling to readers.
What are the pros and cons when it comes to securing outside investment help?
It’s a little confusing to me why so many entrepreneurs go through the difficult process of quitting their day jobs and launching their own business, then immediately start looking for new bosses: investors. A company with a giant potential market that is showing solid traction and is ready for a phase of accelerated growth is ready to think about strategic investors. Most of the entrepreneurs that we talk to are not.
Outside investment typically makes everything happen faster: customer acquisition, press, success, failure. It’s better to make as many mistakes as you can while you are small, that way you’ve got them out of the way when you start to grow.
Consider all sources of funding: angle, seed, friends-and-family, self-funding, bootstrapping, loans, penny pinching - and determine which one is really right for you. And remember: one excellent form of funding is getting your business to profitability as quickly as possible.
The pros to outside investment are money to grow, of course, and hopefully the advice and connections that come from the right strategic investors. You can get a lot of people on your team and create some buzz along the way. The cons are that you lose some measure of control over your company and have to answer to at least one person (likely many). Expectations also change - the focus on growth becomes huge, and by nature of the relationship, you have to spend time on investor relations.
One last thing to note: just because a company is not interesting to investors does not mean that it is not a good company. There are plenty of great businesses out there that aren’t appropriate for a 10-30x exit, which is what many investors are looking for.
What are 3 must-haves for a company before even thinking about looking for investors?
Some kind of demonstrated traction (preferably including a launched product, actual users and revenue), a well-rounded team, and a Zen outlook: you’re going to get a lot of rejection.