Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Karen Whelan is CEO of Bellafit, creating beautiful jewellery for fitness trackers. She is also working at a leading technology company based in Luxembourg, having just recently returned from 5 years in Shenzhen, China, working in product development, online marketing and international logistics.
What is the idea behind Bellafit and how did you come up with it?
Bellafit is all about merging style and fitness. I received a fitness tracker as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago. I loved it and was super proud to show it off, as if I was making a personal statement about my commitment to my fitness goals but in the end, it really just didn't work with my personal style and more and more it was ending up in the back of a drawer. And so the idea for Bellafit was born.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
Bellafit started two and a half years ago. Bellafit is nothing without the superstars on the team. Carlos Martin, Chief Advisor (Director of Manufacturing at Lime Lab PCH) is one of my best friends and one of the greatest minds working in hardware and ideation today. Bellafit would be nothing without him. Angie Kim Chief Designer (ex IDEO, and creator of AYK) is the genius behind the design of Bellafit. Julien Morel, Engineering Advisor (and my darling husband and Nuclear Engineer) is relentless when it comes to enforcing deadlines and monitoring suppliers and finally Marie Martin, (Strategist, Critic, Aesthetic Advisor). Marie is an integral force on our team. She helps us to maintain focus and casts a very valuable critical eye over everything we do.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
I've been trying to make my way in entrepreneurial terms of entrepreneurship since I can remember and before. My parents recently reminded me that as a child when people asked me what I want to be when I grew, my answer was always "the boss". I started my first business venture in 2013 selling white labelled wine accessories online, where I learned a lot about eCommerce and online marketing.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The biggest obstacle has always been myself and the fact that for a long time, I waited to act on any ideas that I had. I was always waiting for the timing to be perfect. That combined with a lack of self-confidence to make something great happen meant I spent a few years uncertain about my future. I spent 2 weeks hiking in Nepal in October 2013 and managed to get some amazing clarity about why I was unimpressed with myself. It was because I was always planning and never doing. I decided to change that.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Getting featured in Women of Wearables :-)
And running an awesome Kickstarter campaign.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
Given that we are focusing on accessorizing wearables, a huge challenge is keeping up with the changes in the market so that our product remains current. In general, I think being a female entrepreneur is a huge advantage in wearable technology. The community of women is relatively small and the scope for collaboration with other awesome women is relatively wide. It's vital for us to have a lot of input / feedback from super smart women in this industry, given that our product is very design focused. Tech is male dominated. And guys tend to get more geeky excited about this industry. So it can be difficult to reach the right target market. Connecting with women in this industry via awesome platforms like WoW is vital.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Being CEO of Bellafit is a passion. But I also work as an eCommerce Strategist in a leading global technology company where I am constantly exposed to some of the smartest minds working in this industry, both male and female. Our team is at it's most vibrant when we're all in one room bouncing ideas off one another, arguing, creating, building. And in our team of 8, we are 50/50 split between men and women. Because of the colour of our conversations, we're able to challenge and innovate. Without this contribution from a variety of different perspectives, our team would be much less interesting. Movements like #WomenInTech ensure that global tech leaders are consistently challenged to guarantee the most diverse of environments and I think we all benefit from this.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
JUST START. Start now. It's good to plan but consider the planning as part of starting and while in the planning phase, get other tasks done aswell, like setting up an email account, writing a one-pager about your USP. Tell a trusted friend about your new business. Before you know it, you're an active entrepreneur! Just start!
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?
I see different trends, some of them already starting. First of all, making products with less “techie” appearance, getting blended with real fashion.
1 to 1 customization. We don’t want to have the same product that everybody else and we are looking for ways to get a unique product
Technology is going to be embedded in garments in terms of connectivity and functionality, where we will have “real” wearables. It's already starting but today is rather gimmicky! The potential is huge.
Also, some of the big players on the industry will move towards real health and wellness tracking with more accurate and capable sensors. Not just step counting.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and fashion tech?
1. Christina Mercando, Ringly
2. Kate Unsworth, Vinaya
3. Rebecca Minkoff, Rebecca Minkoff
Linkedin: Karen Whelan
Youtube: The Bellafit
Instagram: The Bellafit
Pinterest: The Bellafit
Facebook: The Bellafit
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, co-founder of Women of Wearables and 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.