Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Vilija Buteniene is a serial entrepreneur and has co-founded three IT companies. Her experience and strength lay in converting a new idea into a business, development of new partnerships and processes that are critical for a company to grow. She successfully sold her shares of Simplanova, the IT company she co-founded in 2013 and which has been one of the fastest growing IT companies in Lithuania a couple of years later after its establishment.
Together with a co-founder Igne Butene, Vilija soon spied a gap in the market for customer experience/engagement and maneuvered herself into a new angle of business. In 2017 Vilija and Igne privately funded Huedash, a fashion tech startup that offers a customer engagement tool for brands. As the Co-Founder and CEO of Huedash, she took it on a mission to enable people to share highly relatable and authentic visual stories, because everyone is influencer.
Vilija holds a BA in Business Management and Marketing, and MBA in Strategic Organizational Management.
How did you get into fashion tech?
If you’re a passionate online shopper for fashion, you can easily notice new ways of improving this journey. While following all-stars influencers, models, I have realised that it had become more difficult to find a more relatable and more authentic view, shared by “real” people. I am a strong believer that everyone is an influencer. Stories told by customers are more relevant to other customers. We all come in all different shapes and sizes. Fashion comes in many different tastes and guises. Trust and authenticity are at the core of how influence works. At the end of the day the emotional connection is what matters. There is still no substitute for the human connection, and technologies help us to explore and produce innovative ways of enhanced shopping and consuming in general. My co-founder and I want to shape the way we are shopping for fashion products today, and that’s why we started our fashion tech startup, Huedash.
What is the idea behind Huedash and how did you come up with it? When did you start with that business, how did you start and do you have other members in your team?
We were confident we can enable people to share their powerful and influential stories, to turn from customers into active promoters of their favourite brands. Since Huedash users own the products they are promoting, their recommendations a lot more authentic and relatable. Huedash works as a mobile app and a website where people shop from peer photos, create their own shoppable posts and earn rewards for promoting their recent purchases, and redeem them for new products. We also see the power of crowd-styling as one of the solutions to extend the life cycle of clothes as customers can find more new ideas to wear the same item longer. We’ve started with 3 people and brought more industry professionals along the way. Currently we’re 5 of us, serial-entrepreneurs, industry-professionals and software engineers with a diverse experience in e-commerce, fashion retail and international companies.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
We’ve been working on this project for 2 years now. It has been such an incredible journey so far! We’ve met so many great people in the industry, explored so many amazing fashion brands in the UK and joined the FashTech Pioneer programme by the Centre for Fashion Enterprise for further mentoring and strategic guidance. The Huedash app is available on app stores, and our website will be launched soon.
We’ve also developed partnerships with independent fashion brands in the UK: from streetwear and accessories to luxury swimwear, from emerging to well established ones.
It has taken time for us to explore the needs of customers as well as brands and as a startup we’re still learning. Everyday we’re on a mission to give an opportunity to share influential, authentic and relatable content.
What was the biggest obstacle?
I think, a clear focus. From our early users, first brands on board we’ve got so many insights, suggestions and requests, and including our own ideas on new features it had become unmanageable – where do we need to start, which one is our priority? – these were the questions we needed to ask before each task.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur in the fashion tech, you must be in the know of changes in customer engagement and preferences, as it’s a very fast paced industry. You have only eight seconds to capture anyone's attention, right? So you must get ready and get real. These times nobody has time to waste on the long journey from discovery to purchase as they browse and shop on mobile devices while on their routine trip to the gym or a favourite restaurant. They want relevant content, they want more transparency and trust in the existing influencer marketing activities and they want recommendations by ‘real’ people. Working on this is one of the most difficult and exciting, and rewarding activities every entrepreneur could ask for!
Having pitched our startup in multiple events, I’ve realised that most often I am among 10-30% women of overall presenters. I think it would be better to change this in order to bring more investments to women-led businesses. Women are less likely than men to pursue entrepreneurship at every stage of the startup journey, when they come to raise money from VCs, a disproportionate percentage of money invested goes to all male founding teams. Women entrepreneurs should take more risks, dream bigger and work on more innovative business ideas that can scale enormously.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
We’ve developed integrations with independent fashion brands in the UK that want to improve their customer engagement rate via our tool: Aftershock, Aerosoul, Wellcoda, Mannix Knight, Afina London, c.cartel, Horfa, TwentyFour Fashion, Menestho, Mondo Magna, Camarades, Afterwork, Kandor. All combined they offer about 2,000 products for customer-ambassadors to choose from.
Our team has grown from 2 co-founders to 5 who have brought in-depth knowledge and wide experience in fashion e-commerce, marketing strategy in luxury and fashion markets, mobile technologies. We've launched our tool to app stores and have made first sales (yay!).
What are your projects you are currently working on?
We’re very excited about an upcoming website version of our app. It will give our users even more possibilities to explore new fashion brands and share their inspiring content with others.
On partnerships side, we’re actively on-boarding new customers-ambassadors to share their relevant content. We’re also looking forward to partnering with brands & agencies that engage with branding & customer engagement strategies and are looking for having a trusted tool to design their campaigns and future analytics. Exciting times, and our team is thrilled about upcoming announcements.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Yes, absolutely! In tech accelerators, female founded businesses are still in the minority. Just 17% of people working in the UK technology industry are women. I am a supporter of the #WomenInTech movement as I am sure that collectively we can take proactive steps to encourage more diversity within the male dominated tech startup environment. There are so many women whose backgrounds, education let them take up leadership roles in tech business but they choose not to. So the movements like this one empowers, connects and supports women.
Great initiatives such as Next Tech Girls inspire girls in education to become tomorrow's women in technology, providing school girls with meaningful tech work experience.
The situation is changing for better and more good practices are present at large corporations as well as smaller companies. More women are taking roles in tech companies but there are still too many gender stereotypes and the lack of role models. Good news is that we are all responsible for this and can contribute to a better future.
What will be the key trends in the fashion tech and wearable tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
We will see more multi channel platforms of the future of marketing with a solid database for future analytics, business intelligence and machine learning.
We can expect blurring lines between physical shops and digital shopping platforms.
We will also have more projects that enable more relatable and transparent influencer marketing activities, providing transparent rewarding system.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Start a big-vision business, question the comfortable choices and take risks to create a cool business you’d envy yourself.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in fashion tech and / or wearable tech?
Zoe Partridge, a Founder of Wear the Walk
Kirsty Emery-Laws, a Co-Founder and Chief Customer Success Officer at Unmade
Natalie Massenet, a Founder of Net-a-Porter
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.