It’s funny, I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about wearable technology and startups. I have written a lot about it in my old blog, in fact, my masters thesis was the Life Dress and tech couture. Yet, I had resigned myself to stay purely in the conceptual or artistic space rather than construct a piece to have the robustness of consumer products. The process of creating a market ready piece of wearable technology is no small barrier, considering clothing is easily dirtied and not easily cleaned without damaging the technology.
Yet, the fashion technology startup scene seems to be booming. In its 2012 Fashion Tech Industry Report, Helium Magazine announced that $1.6 billion of venture capital has been invested in Fashion Tech companies in the last calendar year. So having a fashion tech startup may not be as daunting as it seems.
One very good point made by Carrie Mantha on her post about fashion tech is that entrepreneurs can’t wait around for a technical cofounder anymore. If you find one, you are lucky. As a tech professional, I can verify that there is so much demand by employers of every ilk that a solid developer has too many options to be bothered with starting a business just for a small cut of equity. It’s a cop out. The last place I worked at they were constantly trying to hire tech professionals but were not willing to pay the salaries expected for the skill levels they needed. When I finally figured that out and left, they wound up replacing me with a developer they imported from Madrid.
Unless your hypothetical cofounder is getting a good amount of money upfront along with that equity or they are running the show altogether, their time is worth too much to just jump on to your or someone else’s fledgling idea. It does not make business sense to leave a high paying job for a cut of hypothetical potential profit, the realization of which is managed by someone you do not already share a history of trust and respect. Frankly, if you find a random technical cofounder who would just sign on without substantial incentives, then they probably lack the business logic that you are going to need in the early lean days of any startup.
So, the classic statement holds true: having a good idea just isn’t good enough. You have to act on it. Don’t say you have a startup but your waiting for a technical cofounder to build the product. What you have there is a pitch deck. Today, “acting on it” includes having the skills to actually implement the code for you minimal viable product (MVP). Once you have your MVP, by all means, buy a team that can build out the ultimate vision, but you need money for that.
That being said, there is an important point of divergence that a lot of people miss when talking about Fashion Tech: Fashion businesses enabled by tech or fashion products embedding technology. I ran several FashionCamps in NYC several years ago and this divergence came up a lot. Most people talk about Fashion Tech in the former sense: eCommerce sights employing machine algorithms and flash sale economic models or business models of bespoke design employing 3D scanners for perfect fit. These are awesome, they make the traditional market exciting and more dynamic. Yet, in my opinion, at least, these aren’t as potentially ground breaking as the latter branch of divergence: wearable technology.
Wearable technology employs circuitry, new materials, and other technical breakthroughs into the clothing and accessories themselves. Think: light up sneakers or Jimmy Choo’s light up pumps. This means that the clothes themselves can become reactive or even interactive. And this is where I eat my words because building an MVP website is relative child’s play compared to building a consumer ready purse that requires a password to open it. Here is where technical fluency pays off in spades and the learning curve is much higher. This is the land of electrical and mechanical engineers and circuits that, if poorly made, could electrocute the wearers. The liability and complexity is massive.
This is not to say that the knowledge to build wearable technology is locked away in some ivory tower. In fact, ivory towers such as MIT has been very open with their open source Media Lab projects and themaker movement has a pretty healthy niche of wearable technology hobbyists. Check out NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications site for some handy beginner tutorials. So maybe it isn’t all that hard afterall.