Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Angela Pan is the Founder and CEO of Ashley Chloe, Inc., established in 2014. Headquartered in San Francisco, Ashley Chloe, Inc., is a wireless audio company that designs high-quality lifestyle accessories. Its brand portfolio includes Ashley Chloe, offering beautiful technology for the modern lifestyle, and Rowkin, true wireless headphones at an affordable price point. Angela is passionate about creating lifestyle brands that will break the notion that technology and fashion must be separate categories. Her past experience working with entrepreneurs and start-ups as a principal at Haxis Labs continues to inspire her goal of true equality and diversity in the creative workplace today. She holds a B.M. in Business, Logistics and Supply Chain Management from the University of South Australia.
What is the idea behind Ashley Chloe brand and how did you come up with it?
My goal is to lead a revolution in fashion and tech simultaneously. I want to open the doors to a unique space that allows function and form to blend together. Looking at the consumer electronics market, I saw that no brands were focusing primarily on women. Many brands in consumer electronics targeted male users, but solutions for women to enhance personal use cases weren’t as prevalent. I created Ashley Chloe to bridge the gap between fashion and technology in this space with a particular focus on the needs of women today. Design is the DNA of the Ashley Chloe brand and it continues to be at the forefront of each consumer electronics product we create.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
One day when my husband and I were washing dishes and listening to music, we were inspired with an idea that later led us to create Ashley Chloe. A call came in during our dishwashing and with wet hands we struggled to turn off the music and answer the phone. At that moment, we thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have Bluetooth headphones instantly accessible from your wrist?” This idea of instant access paired with the ability to switch from listening to music and making phone calls seamlessly led to our first flagship product, the Helix Cuff. We founded the company in November 2014. In three and a half years, we’ve gone from 4 team members to 20.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
It’s taken us three and a half years to go from the concept stage to now ranked as the #5 product in the true wireless headphone category. Building a business and a product at the same time is a long, challenging journey. We had to make sure that the product was fit for the market’s needs, develop a team that understood our vision, cultivate domain knowledge, differentiate from large competitors in the market, and provide the best customer support to ensure an exceptional user experience.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Entering the hardware arena was a major feat. Managing the inventory, cash flow, and customer channel of a hardware startup was particularly difficult. Every product requires significant capital for tooling, manufacturing, and production. Inventory must be carefully managed to ensure cash flow runs positively. The lifetime cycle for building a product from concept to ready to launch takes an average of more than a year and a half at minimum. However, the market continues to change quickly. You have to watch the market closely and make changes fast to meet market needs. At today’s pace, we need to move fast and change fast.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
I feel my biggest achievement is leveraging such a lean team. At many organizations, putting out a new product requires upwards of 50 people. We’ve developed a much smaller team with the expertise to build innovative audio products. Our team has created the smallest truly wireless Bluetooth headphones in the space after facing numerous engineering challenges to overcome the form factor challenge.
That leads us to this year: 2017 has been quite the adventure. Our team doubled, we launched in Best Buy, revenue grew 150%, our brand ranked #5 in the true wireless headphones category alongside Samsung, Bose, Jabra and even Apple. There are a lot of competitors in the audio industry and it’s my hope that consumers will be able to recognize our brand because of its aesthetic value. We are constantly working to bridge the gap between fashion and technology as we target a female market and also broaden our reach with a sub-brand that reaches a wider adventure-centered market. Our team ensures that our products are able to leap across markets and provide an excellent experience in every use case.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
In the beginning, the biggest challenge I encountered as a woman in the hardware industry was understanding the language. Speaking to engineers and manufacturers required speaking a different language to communicate the domain requirement. With my past experience working with a tech and hardware portfolio company, I knew the technology platform well enough to start conversations that would lead to desired outcomes.
As the only woman in meetings with all-male manufacture partners and engineers, I know I stand out. But I’ve learned to ask questions about what I don’t understand. I’m not embarrassed to ask questions that help me understand the truth of the matter. Asking questions is what leads us to solutions.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Women in technology have been greatly underestimated. In 2012, 3.1% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering were earned by women according to the National Girls Collaborative Project. In the workforce, women make up 15% of engineers and 25% of computer and mathematical sciences. Compared to the female population, this disparity is alarming. It’s been important for me as a founder of a tech company to share my voice as a woman in Silicon Valley. I know that no matter what background you’re coming from, you can enter into the tech field. There’s always a chance you could succeed as long as you’re carrying passion and determination.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
As a female entrepreneur, don’t be afraid to start something you don’t know everything about. I failed twice in previous experiences as an entrepreneur, however, I look at that as really valuable experiences and knowledge to apply to the next adventure. As a Founder and CEO, you will always run into decisions you’ve never had to make before. Even today, I face new issues and decisions almost on a daily basis. My advice is to apply the best knowledge you have, seek advice from your network, hire experts, and make your own judgements in the end.
Make sure you have the independent thinking to judge issues and make the best decision for the company. Although you may have the best experts from the industry to provide feedback and suggestions, the best person to understand the challenge is the founder. There is no standard formula that applies to all. Getting yourself ready to learn day by day and applying the best knowledge to each obstacle are the keys to be successful in your career.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and fashion tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
As the fashion tech industry progresses, we’re looking ahead at a number of exciting advancements. We foresee more personalization capabilities to change appearance, design, and technological features of wearable tech products to individual preferences. We still have a way to go on the creation of smart materials, but we can see innovative materials really changing the design direction. At the core of fashion tech is this idea of making fashion more functional and we foresee that trend continuing to grow in the near future. Finally, as more attention turns to the wearable tech space, fashionable convenience tech will become more accessible for consumers.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and fashion tech?
I’m grateful to be surrounded by many inspiring women in wearable tech and fashion tech. Christina d'Avignon, the Founder of Ringly, immediately comes to mind. I admire how she works with a lean team and still achieves so much. Coming from the same space, I can see how much hard work it was to build each of their products. She’s been a great inspiration to me.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and learning from Angela Ahrendts, current VP of Retail for Apple. It is truly inspiring the way she describes running Apple Retail from a fashion background. At Apple, many people questioned how she could run a hardware business without a tech background. While Apple is a hardware company, Angela saw that Apple is also a people company. She has continued to grow the retail division by envisioning the retail store as a piece of hardware and the staff in the store as software. This vision has helped her design the best retail environment for Apple products and the best service for customers. Angela is a visionary, yet humble woman who kindly shares her knowledge and mentorship.
Jen Rubio and Stephanie Korey, the Founders of Away Luggage, have completely transformed the luggage industry. In everything that they create you can see a product and brand that’s impeccably tied to travel. With the launch of four retail locations, these amazing women prove that they’re more than capable of bringing their vision to life.
LinkedIn: Ashley Chloe
Vimeo: Ashley Chloe
Facebook: Ashley Chloe
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.