When Brooklyn Decker and Whitney Casey, CEO and founder of Finery, the new online platform that's been described by users as "the Clueless closet on steroids," took the C&C stage at SXSW last Sunday, they broke down the realities of being women in tech.
Alas, truth bombs are kind of Decker's MO. Of her friend and the company's Chief Design Officer, Casey told the Austin audience, "There is always one girlfriend in everyone’s life who will tell them the truth and that is Brooklyn Decker."
“It’s brutal,” chimed in the actor. “But it’s the truth.”
A former anchor who has won two Emmys and is a published author, Casey said she's had plenty of bad ideas before Finery. And when it came to bringing the idea to Decker, she came armed with a Powerpoint presentation. “Yes," she said, "for my own friend, because I knew she would want to know.” Decker did. (It worked.)
What unfolded, power point by power point, was a service that might revolutionize the way women shop and dress. With patent pending technology that harvests data that already exists online, Finery skips over the manual labor part of an creating an online closet. At its simplest Finery culls through your email (and thereby every purchase you've ever made) and loads it into a virtual closet.
“There’s all sorts of software to manage your finances, your travel, your music, but we found the millennial women will spend more than 250-300,000 dollars on clothes in their lifetime," shared Casey. "So why isn’t there something to manage your wardrobe that’s not analog? Some sort of tech that could find anything you’ve ever purchased and put into a wardrobe?” Therein is the meat of Finery, the world's first wardrobe operating system, and the reason Brooklyn came onboard.
But making a career shift is difficult for anyone-- let alone someone doing it under the public microscope.
"Modeling to acting is the most cliché transition one can make," Decker shared about her first career switch. "The biggest challenge is that you’re making big mistakes on a pretty big stage. You don’t have the luxury of making mistakes in private or on a small scale." But in a way it prepared her for this next role. "It would be silly or ignorant of me to say that it hasn’t opened a ton of doors, but people are instantly skeptical and people instantly doubt you. I certainly don’t come from a tech background. You have to work that much harder and find women who are willing to help you along the way and teach you-- teach you how to pitch to a VC, for instance, because how does one learn how to do that?" the Austin-based actor asked.
It's something they did, first going the traditional $ route— approaching VCs.
"It did not go well," said Casey. "One asked us to set him up on a date. So we decided to go with angel investors-- they are all women." Women like Miroslava Duma and Decker herself who is an investor in the company. “Also,” added the author, “because they wanted 30 percent of the company.”
"Luckily with women in technology— it’s an incredibly supportive environment," said Decker. "Without those women I wouldn’t have been able to make the transition.” Beta users include Man Repeller Leandra Medine and Lauren Santo Domingo.
Casey told the crowd that figuring out your bottom line when you’re first starting is all about looking into the future. “You have think about the company when it is wildly successfully,” shared the CEO. “Look at what 20 percent of that success means. You also need to think about your employees. As a startup you’re not going to be able to hire the people that you want without giving them equity. And as a startup you want everybody there to have equity because when things do go wrong you can look at them at say, ’This is your company too.' That’s our mantra. Everybody who enters is part of Finery. And the more you give to a VC the less you have to recruit really great talent. The more you keep giving away, the less your employees are gonna get. You always have to be thinking about your employees first.”
"It was disheartening to realize the kind of things I needed to do to get into these VCs,” shared Casey. “Calling a friend of a friend of a friend… what if I didn’t have those friends? It should be a meritocracy. Money should be available for every good idea out there. I found that was not the case.”
Even the connections Brooklyn and Whitney did have, didn't mean they'd it was a shoo-in. Sometimes they would't even open the Finery deck.
“I have this crazy thing that everyone should have called MixMax. I know when you open my email and I know when you’ve opened up a link,” said Casey. This service gave the pair a competitive edge when walking into pitch meetings-- they knew if they had to start at the beginning or if they could launch into why Finery is different and why it will be successful. Their other bit of advice? Decker told the C&C crowd, “Be incredibly well-researched on the market that you’re entering. Understand it so well and it will help you prepare for any meeting.”
“You have to sit back listen. And then do your own spiel. Know every single one of your competitors so you know your value add,” said Casey. “Your value prop[ostion] is the most important.”
Despite the uphill VC climb, neither women were deterred. In fact, Decker told the crowd that she's been invigorated by the community of women she's encountered.
“Coming from the Hollywood side of things I have never seen a more supportive bunch of women than I have seen in tech. They really do come together. It’s difficult as a young female, but you can do it.”
Decker brought up tech investor Jesse Draper of Halogen Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund focused on female founded consumer technologies. “She has no skin in our game, but as a female in technology she wanted to introduce us to other people. That’s what women are doing. When she [Draper] invests in a company, she tells them once you’re successful you must invest in other female-run, female-founded companies. That’s a really strong choice. And it’s a place we want to get with our company.”
“Look we can’t all be founders, we can’t all have money to invest," Casey elaborated. "But we can all buy from women, use products that women make, and then we will all be successful.” She also told the crowd: "If I were a young woman right now I would learn how to code." Simple, but truthful advice. 94% of tech startups are male. It's up to us to change it.
“Women are successful because they support each other,” added Decker, who also gave attendees some pertinent info. Not everyone has access to capital or app developers, but the actress explained, “There are now apps to help you build apps. They provide a standard map. It won’t be super innovative but it will show proof of concept. Also, in all of these big cities there are development bootcamps now. The whole point is to give people jobs. If you have a startup idea and you’re far enough along, I highly recommend tapping into that resource.”
As for who Finery wants to tap? Casey wants the average woman who wears 10% of what's in her closet. Decker got a little more specific. “I don’t want to be a total cliché, but Beyonce,” the Chief Design Officer said about her dream user. “She has so many events, has her kid, two more on the way. She’s our user, she’s our girl.”