Founder of the pioneering Women of Wearables initiative and co-creator of the Kisha smart umbrella, Marija Butkovic knows a thing or two about cool, life-enhancing tech. As a member of the Women of Wearables collective ourselves, we caught up with Marija to discover how ladies are making serious waves in the technology arena.
COULD YOU EXPLAIN THE CONCEPT BEHIND WOMEN OF WEARABLES AND WHY YOU DECIDED TO FOUND IT?
“Women of Wearables is an organisation that supports, connects and inspires women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, VR, AR and STEM in general. Our mission is to encourage more women and diverse teams to participate in building hardware and software products as designers, product managers and developers or to be founders of their own companies, which will create more jobs for women in STEM.
WoW currently has a growing community of female founders, products and UX designers, developers, smart textile designers, executives and managers in more than 20 countries. We went from a small group of three ladies to a community of more than 10k+ members worldwide in a matter of a year just from word of mouth, and since setting up a website and hosting events it has continued to grow.
I experienced so many challenges during my entrepreneurial journey—lack of women, lack of trust in women as founders, and a general lack of support when it comes to women in this specific industry. This is precisely the reason why I co-founded WoW.”
ARE YOU INSPIRED BY THE AMOUNT OF FEMALE-LED WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY BRANDS THAT ARE APPEARING?
“Absolutely. I think the future for women in wearable tech and fashion tech shines brighter than ever. Never before have there been so many amazing technological advancements and so many amazing female founders in this industry. Isn’t that wonderful? I’m constantly empowered by the amazing women we have in the WoW community who are working on ground-breaking ideas and projects that have the potential to change the world, like Ava, a fertility tracker bracelet and BrightSign, a smart glove that helps people suffering speech difficulties communicate. Wearable technology definitely holds real potential when it comes encouraging young women into tech and creative careers.”
HOW DO YOU SEE THE WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY PROGRESSING?
“We need more investments in female-led businesses in this space, but let’s not underestimate the power of network. I’ve seen so many great collaborations lately in this space, and so much support coming from both men and women.
When it comes to women and STEM, I would say it’s crucial to start with their education as soon as possible. When they are over 20, it’s almost too late. We have to teach young girls that tech can be fun and interesting and that it shouldn’t be reserved only for men. We need more role models, which is exactly what WoW tries to do—give our female community visibility and recognition.”
HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED ANY DIFFICULTIES OR CHALLENGES WITH WOMEN OF WEARABLES AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
“I would say that every early-stage business goes through the same set of challenges, starting from assembling the right team, to fundraising or finding the right business model, to promoting and raising awareness about your brand. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredible people as my team members in both businesses, and without them it wouldn’t be possible to stand where I’m standing now. Growing our community of customers in Kisha, the smart umbrella company I co-founded, and community of women (and men!) in Women of Wearables, is also something I see and value every single day. Our community is our biggest asset.”
FOR YOU, WHAT QUALITIES MAKE A WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY GARMENT OR GADGET SUCCESSFUL?
“Solving a problem and fitting into our everyday style or lifestyle. Also, less is more. Don’t over-pack your product with too many sensors. Keep it simple.”
YOU WERE PREVIOUSLY A CORPORATE LAWYER, HOW EASY WAS THE TRANSITION INTO SUPPORTING TECHNOLOGY START-UPS?
“My transition to tech has been gradual. I first started mentoring start-ups and writing for tech and business media titles before I decided to quit my day job and pursue my career in tech. I don’t know if it was serendipity or just a combination of circumstances, but in 2014 I moved to London and co-founded Kisha Smart Umbrella, a wearable tech business with five of my friends and co-founders. I instantly fell in love with wearable tech, an industry that has great potential of beautifully merging the visual with tech, and to enhance our daily lives at the same time. I also decided to direct my efforts to digital marketing and PR, and at that point I knew my real passion was supporting, creating and building communities.
My experience as a co-founder of Kisha helped me realise just how difficult it can be for women in the tech world, which is still very male-dominated. I also started running marketing and social media workshops where I teach other start-up founders and freelancers how to do their marketing on a budget. I’m always surprised to see how people think it’s complicated to do your own marketing and promotion. It’s not, it’s actually pretty easy, you just have to be consistent.
It’s not easy to completely change your career as I did, but it’s perfectly doable. Trust what your gut tells you and focus on something you are really passionate about. Find out what are hard skills you can use in the industry you like (in my case, that’s wearable tech) and build on that. Remember to always learn from more experienced people and mentors, but believe in yourself; you have already achieved more than you think.”
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANY FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS CONSIDERING TURNING THEIR IDEAS INTO A MARKETABLE PRODUCT?
“ALWAYS do your research and see who else is building something similar, and if there’s really a need for your product. Market research is one of the most important things in a life of a business, and should be done before you build any product. It’s equally important to do your research even later and always carefully listen to your customers and monitor market trends. Personally, I’m not a big fan of business plans, especially not for very early stage businesses. The reason for that is mainly because when you’re building a start-up things change every week, not to mention every quarter or year. Plans change, outcomes change, which means your numbers and projections will change, too. But, there must be some vision and roadmap, that’s for sure.
Always think about five main things: who are you building your product for, what problem you’re trying to solve (and iterate if needed), what are alternative ways of funding instead of giving your precious equity to an investor, how soon can you build your product or a new feature with the least money possible, and most importantly, how will you sell your product (or what’s your business model).
Social media could also have a lot of influence on the success of a start-up. Every business will find it quite hard to exist and create brand awareness without presence on social media channels. Not every channel is equally important and can bring the same value to every business, but you should be present on at least on one main social media channel like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. It all depends on your product and target audience, of course, but be aware that social media is one of the best and cheapest ways of promoting your start-up. Start as early as possible, even if you don’t have a product yet. Build your community, so that once you launch you have someone to talk to and someone to notify about your product. This is something I always teach when I’m running my marketing workshops.”
WHAT FEMALES INSPIRE YOU?
“A lot of my female colleagues here in London are my inspiration. In general, I’m always inspired by everyday ‘ordinary’ women who has achieved so much as mothers and business women and still have time for friends and themselves, yet don’t have a whole army of support behind them. I never got the chance to have a mentor myself, but I learned a lot from people I mentored and met along my professional journey. In a city like London you meet amazing people almost every day and some of them really inspire me in my everyday life and work.”
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS UNIQUE AND SPECIAL ABOUT EMEL AND ARIS?
“The smart coats’ multi purpose nature, meaning you can wear it throughout the year, saving money and time, while always looking good and well dressed. I’m a minimalist myself, so anything that can reduce the amount of space I use is always welcome in my wardrobe. Also, who wouldn’t want to wear a self-heating coat? It’s like you live in a Blade Runner movie!”
Image © Kornelije Sajler
This interview was originally published on EMEL + ARIS blog.