I clearly have no respect for sleep and relaxation because the first three things I did after my last exam for the semester was binge watch some anime, go to work and jump right into a three-day long hackathon. For the uninformed, a hackathon is typically an event in which programmers and others involved in software development collaborate on a project. This is usually about solving a problem armed with technology and imagination. As this is my first hackathon, I can’t really comment on what is the norm, but I’d make an educated guess that Fash Hack is pretty unique in the way that it’s a lot more inclusive of the types of people who attend.
FashHack is a weekend long business building competition that synthesises the fashion and tech industries together for the first time in Australia. The brainchild of Victoria Lai and team, FashHack is start-up focused, not product focused. This translates into the provision of exclusive mentorship and guidance from some of the top leaders in the fashion, tech and start-up industries to help bring any start-up idea to life. Participants come from a wide array of industries, from fashion to design, tech and business with the intention to collaborate and compete to solve some of the toughest challenges in the fashion and retail industries. On the last day participants will pitch, prototype and validate their ideas in front of an industry panel of judges.
Attending the launch at FishBurners in the previous week gave a taste as to the wide diversity of participants that we would see at the actual hackathon. The emcees made a joke about for a tech event it had some of the highest numbers of well-dressed people, not least because of the equal parts beauty and brains panelists for the night. In the hot seats that evening we had Ben Moir, (Founder of Wearable Experiments) Jessica Wilson, (Founder of Stashd App) Daniel Kjellsson, (Co-Founder of Sydney Stockholm), and Rita Salib, (Retail Brand Manager at International Fashion Brands, formerly Brand Manager for Michael Kors Australia). Prior to hearing about Fash Hack, I hadn’t really thought much of how technology can disruptive the fashion space, besides the obvious examples of ASOS, The iconic and whatever clothing box subscription service you’ve heard of. So it was really eye-opening to be introduced to the people above who had already carved out businesses for themselves that were built right at the crossroads of fashion meeting technology.
— Samantha Low (@samanthawxlow) June 11, 2015
One of my favourite things about attending interesting talks and events is being able to go trigger-happy with quote bites from the presentation. Some might think it’s distracting but it actually helps me remember the content after the fact. Including hashtags also makes it easy for other people interested in the event to find you and vice versa, I’ve e-met a lot of great people this way. Yours truly actually walked away with a Her Fashion Box prize for a best tweet question for the judges during the Q&A ession. But nifty freebies aside, it was definitely a cool moment getting some direct feedback on my question from Kjellsson of Sydney Stockholm. I asked this because I’d lately grown more and more skeptical of the role of influencers in any capacity although I understood the appeal of pretty bloggers and pretty photos on Instagram. Aside from the fact that questions on bloggers and influencers were most relevant to him, it definitely felt like there was some kind of cosmic connection here purely because what were the odds of me meeting a startup Swede here after spending six months in Sweden last year? Overall it was a really great event to kick off interest in participating the actual hackathon. I only wish I stuck around longer to meet people who may have been my potential group members but at that time I still had two exams to study for with university finals. The next Friday night marked the official start of Fash Hack.
On the first level of Fishburners, the room was gradually heating up as hordes of people began piling in. And who wouldn’t, if nothing else there was incredibly tasty food coordinated by YouChews, an up and coming catering website. As the weekend progressed I began to be most thankful, not for mentors or other resources but the fact that I could eat three meals a day that didn’t consist of pizza and soft drink. #Blessed4YouChews
We began with the lightning pitches, 30 seconds of speaking to everyone to prove that you have an idea worth pursuing. Ideas then get voted and the top few are selected afterwards. Following that, participants will then opt to join whichever idea they were most inspired by and will work with that team for the next few days. The emcees made sure to stress on the fact that the constant for the weekend would be your teammates as ideas were basically expected to change within minutes of discussion. That ideas and solutions can and must be fluid to adapt and that a good team can make or break any business were probably the two best pieces of advice I’d picked up over the weekend. I ended up pitching an idea for a Kickstart-esque platform for emerging designers to obtain demand before putting their pieces in production. My goal for the weekend was to build my soft skills, in this case I wanted public speaking/pitching practice more than I was convinced about my idea. I guess think of that what you will, because [spoiler] our team didn’t place in the finals. So perhaps I lacked the true drive and determination to actually launch a business because I was focusing more on self-development. This was in stark contrast to a lot of the other pitches that sounded very well developed and other participants who truly wanted to make their startup a sustainable venture.
The voting process wasn’t the smoothest, it involved sticking post-its on a washable wall where the ideas had been written. Except the post-its were constantly falling off as the wall wasn’t adhesive, which made you kind of wonder if the top chosen were really the top chosen or were just lucky that the voting strips hadn’t fallen off yet. It was pure luck that mine made it across and I had the pleasure of Sam Nejat, June and Jignesh’s company as my team for next few days. We had one speaker for the night which was the amazing Phil Morle of Pollenizer. I’d heard good things about him before which was validated by his talk, he’s truly a great speaker! After that we’re shuffled into both level 1 and the basement to begin hacking.
Almost immediately the incredible line-up of mentors began to descend upon us, helping us to unpack our ideas. Truth be told, my pitch idea was thrown out within minutes of discussing as we found out one of the mentors was already involved in his own company that was purporting to do almost the exact same thing (so much for research on my part). By 11 pm bump out time, we had an iteration of the original idea and a second idea which we were still tossing up between. By the late morning of Day 2 as we were still pivoting, pivoting in what felt like circles.
In a fit of democracy, we decided to simply vote between the two and start actually planning on how we would go about it. The most important part of Fash Hack’s hackathon is getting validation for your idea. Not only is this weighted the highest amongst all the other criteria, it completely makes sense that you shouldn’t be creating solutions to problems that don’t exist. We were strongly encouraged to leave Fishburners to get some real world opinions so the four of us split up into two groups, with one making a beeline for the Glebe markets to speak to designers and the other to Surry Hills to find some niche boutique retailers. Our idea at this point had evolved into a type of middle man service to get emerging designer products out onto the market.
As important as I thought it was that we get off our asses and take a walk, I’m not convinced that was the best way to get feedback. Sam Nejat and I found a grand total of 3 designers to speak to at the Glebe markets because as it turns out, the majority of the stalls there were either retailing factory manufactured clothing or second-hand goods. Jignesh and June had struck out as well as most independent stores are shut on a weekend. Through deploying some swift messages on Facebook and via e-mail we were able to get feedback far more efficiently by just reaching out to friends and friends of friends who turned out to be designers. I am now totally convinced that everyone is at most two degrees of separation away from one. In contrast, retailers were a lot harder to get a hold of and we never ended up really resolving this problem bar June speaking to one of her retailer friends back in Malaysia which is certainly not enough to prove that this idea could work. Throughout the Saturday we were also graced by three other guest speakers, Alice Howard-Vyse who spoke on the principles of UX, Michael Eales who expounded on the business model and value proposition design and Pete Cooper who gave us Pitching 101.
— Samantha Low (@samanthawxlow) June 19, 2015
We even got some extra feedback from Alice, catching her on her way out after her presentation. This again iterates how helpful, kind and generous all speakers, mentors and coordinators were with sharing their knowledge.
Day 3 came all too quickly. Three days in a row of late nights, early mornings and lots of grinding at the problem in between had definitely worn me out. There were a couple of frustrating concerns that had been recurring during the weekend which at times made it feel like I had committed myself to 40 hours of “group work” aka the worst invention to come out from university. I had always known this about myself but it was never more prominent than that weekend how vocal I am about stress when I am stressed. It’s something I really like to work on and something I am grateful that my team tolerated. On the flipside I still work well or perhaps even better under stress so we managed to get our pitching slides in to Fernando, something I was totally convinced at the time was not even going to happen!
Pitching itself was pretty nerve-wracking. I grew up as a tremendously shy child and was only thanks to opportunities like debating that I was able to find my voice. I’d like to think I am pretty adequate if I know my content well but as the previous paragraph might have indicated, we were just horribly mismanaged for time towards the end and I was just trying to cram as much as I could into short-term memory.
— David Peller (@pellerpost) June 21, 2015
Wonderful Jignesh offered to pitch with me at the 11th hour, even though the original plan was always for me to do it alone. It’s also great to be able to tag team the tough questions that the judges asked us post-pitch.
For judges we had Garry Visontay (Sydney Seed Fund), Cath Rogers (AirTree Ventures), Justin Cudmore (Australian Fashion Chamber, Marque Lawyers), Courtney Miller (Australian Fashion Chamber), and again, Pete Cooper (iCentral.Co) and Jessica Wilson (Stashd). It definitely felt very “real” having actual investors on the judging panel and I felt a kindred spirit almost in seeing a lawyer be on the list as well. It’s a question I’d like to explore in a later blog post perhaps, the role of a typically stuffy, hierarchical and “heavy” law firm in lean start-ups.
We were the fourth group to pitch and once we were done, there were still lots of teams that hadn’t gone yet so the overall pitching process took quite awhile. You don’t really realise how many people are still here hacking because we’re all split up onto two different floors and you don’t have much time to interact with other people. Everyone seemed really cool so it’s a shame I didn’t really get to meet them outside some of the mealtimes.
And speaking of mealtimes, YouChews definitely saved the best for last, the final dinner was my favourite meal to date. I kind of wish I could just order smaller meals with them because all of this stuff tastes thousands of times better than anything on Menulog.
Winners! Team Cur8 came third place, for their app which makes outfit suggestions based on what you have in your wardrobe. I’d been speaking to Maeva throughout the week to gain some insight as she is also a fellow law student/law graduate but has turned to other career paths.
In second place is Verdict, whose app helps Year 12 students with the absolute hell of organising formal dresses and making sure no one wears the same dress. The St George Girls formal in 2010 had four girls wearing the exact same dress in the same colour from Forcast so I’m sure there is a huge space for this app. And props for creativity too!
Finally first place was team Face Up who is creating YouTube but for make up and also monetising views by closely aligning it with the purchase decision. I think YouTube is already enabling something similar to this called TrueViews where you’re somehow able to purchase a product that you have just watched in a beauty tutorial or make up haul video. Face Up gave an incredible pitch, showing their start-up journey which initially began as an idea for Uber but with make up artists. The fact tha they had already gotten a world renown Youtube make up guru onboard with Face Up in a short span of a weekend just demonstrates how incredibly good at hustling they are. The whole “building a business in two days when it usually takes two years” really resonated with me at this point.
So that was the weekend at Fash Hack for me. Incredibly exhausting, character building, and I may have had to pull too many late nights following that due to other commitments and the fact that I had to travel soon after (I’m actually writing this at KLIA in Malaysia right now), but it was all worth it. There are way too many takeaways to mention in this conclusion and way too many people to thank for the ongoing support and the opportunities both being able to participate and the ones I know lay ahead in front of me. I think Fash Hack was the perfect first hackathon for me to be part of and I doubt it’ll be my last. The thing I loved most about that weekend was just being surrounded by such positive energy that was just rearing to change the world.
All photographs courtesy of Fash Hack Australia/Audrey Jean-Baptiste