Why We Don’t Need Another Fashion App.

Dear bright brains who drive the fashion startup community,

Please stop coding for a moment and ask yourself why? Why are you adding another sharing feature to the “highly curated set of most repined looks by street style taste makers with above average Klout score?”

My answer to you is: We don’t need this. We don’t need a “new way” to browse thousands of spring dresses in every possible price range. We don’t need a one-click option to spam our entire community with a photo of a product we love, but will never buy. We don’t need a better filing system to help organize our virtual closet.

This has nothing to do with defining our personal style, finding perfectly fitted clothes or feeling better about ourselves. It has to do with wasting our time on purposeless browsing and tagging that creates voids in our mind, because we constantly focus on things we can’t have in real life, yet they look so attainable on our mobile phones.

I’m sure one day, 20 years from now, we will look back at ourselves and our useless apps and feel sorry for misunderstanding the true meaning of technology. The fact is it was originally developed to enhance our quality of life- automobiles made us into fast moving super-humans. And computers allowed us to store more memory than our brain could possibly handle. That was true progress.

Does your fashion app make me a super-human? Probably not. Most likely it makes me feel like a self-conscious loser who can’t even properly fit into the clothes I can’t afford anyway.

And just because you can develop it in three months in a trendy startup incubator run by rich people, it doesn’t mean it should exist. What happened to the whole concept of identifying a “problem” and solving it? What happened to the idea of asking yourself “How can I bring more value to every person who is consuming fashion?”

“Curating” products isn’t solving any problem; it’s just a new, better sounding word for “promoting”. Solving a problem would be helping businesses operate more efficiently, making people feel better about themselves, helping them to evaluate fashion investments, and assisting people in managing their life overall.

Can your app do that?..

Coming up in 2011: Fashion 2.0 Books!

I’ve been playing with an idea to write a book for a while now, since I’ve been getting great responses to my posts here and on Mashable, not to mention countless emails asking for advice on anything from entrepreneurship to how to turn blogging into business. As much as I love receiving those, they are time consuming to answer, and can’t be as comprehensive as a full guide.

Finally one day in December I woke up with a clear vision and a plan: series of guide books for aspiring fashion entrepreneurs, titled Fashion 2.0. Each guide will be focusing on a different area of the fashion business online – blogging, social media, e-commerce, financing, entrepreneurship – and offers practical and up-to-date advice on how to successfully build your fashion dreams online – whether you are a blogger, designer or developer.

In the spirit of new era, I decided not to go the “traditional” publishing route, but will be self-publishing them using one of the online platforms. This way I will have full control over the project and can get the books out much faster. The plan is to release the first guide by mid May 2011 – my 35th birthday, and this weekend I already finished outlining the chapters, writing intros and bullet points for each, which makes me very energized for the rest!

A side note to all of you who ever thought about writing a book – the reason I was able to finally move forward with this big and demanding project, is because I decided to divide it in my mind into few small pieces and build realistic timeline – i.e. about 3-4 months of work, 30,000 words, 125 pages, about 1 page per day, which sounded realistic considering I blog on a daily basis anyway. Suddenly fitting a book into my busy life didn’t look so impossible. Another realization helped me make my mind was the fact I didn’t need to depend on a publishing house to make my books a reality. It’s amazing to see how new tools democratize the publishing world and allow us to be in charge of our own dreams.

So I’m off to the races and couldn’t be more excited! Will keep you posted on the progress, meanwhile enjoy occasional thoughts here on the blog, as I will be saving deeper insight for the books. Thanks again for your support in the past year, which allowed me to define my path in a clearer way. Cheers to the most fulfilling 2011 for all of us!

The Business Of Blogging: How To Play The Game Without Losing Your Style, Part 2.

It’s been exactly a year since I posted The Business Of Blogging: How To Play The Game Without Losing Your Style, and it looks like now the post is even more relevant, as the subject of blogger/brand relationships keeps coming up.

After reading the excellent post by PR Couture’s Crosby I couldn’t agree more with the concept of bloggers burnout by the constant brand collaborations, but also had to recognize the fact that because the space is so new, there is no guide or book advising bloggers how to strategize their careers in the long term.

Having spent the last 4 years blogging, I saw my peers go from just passionate fashion lovers to brand ambassadors and writers who earn six figures for their craft. The last 2 years as the founder of Style Coalition I spent helping bloggers to monetize their craft, whether it’s via ad campaigns on their properties we run in partnership with ELLE and HFMUS, or via sponsored campaign opportunities like the American Living campaign we produced in the summer. I’ve seen it from both sides and have to admit as much as there is brand responsibility to make sure they pick the right people to work with without damaging the brand image, it’s a blogger responsibility to consider every opportunity from both ethical, image and value perspectives.

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I would like to add to my initial post few more tips, which are focusing on extending your “shelf life” as a fashion or style blogger:

1. Tip #1 on my list is still learning to say NO. Exercise it, enjoy it and never regret. There are multiple reasons why a polite NO is a great answer: a) it sends the message that you are actually considering every offer for what it’s worth and don’t jump on every opportunity. It makes you more special. b) In many cases there will be better offer coming.

2. Learn to separate brands you love with brands you want to do business with. It works just like in dating – you don’t want to necessarily marry the “hottest guy on the block”, you want to get into relationships with someone you can trust, you have similar values with, etc. Why it’s important? A) Because most of the “cool” brands we tend to love have zero budget for blogs. They either don’t need to pay for marketing, because they produce enough news to get your coverage, or they simply can’t afford any marketing. B) Because if you want to focus on a long term career, it’s better to start building relationships with more established brands that are classic. Which brings me to the next point.

3. Aim for a long term relationships rather than a quick seasonal campaign. It’s a basic business principal. Few reasons to ask for a commitment (or at least plan for commitment. See how it’s similar to dating again?) a) It’s much more cost effective to have long term relationships and not waste more time on getting a new client/ campaign. 2) it doesn’t dilute your personal brand, as you are working with the same company.

4. Learn to separate your own brand (personality) from your blog (media property). Some opportunities might be your personal endorsements featured on your Facebook, twitter, brand’s own properties, and some could be more appropriate to be featured as an advertorial post on your blog. That way your face is not necessarily always attached to the promotion.

5. When you attach your face to a brand or a campaign, think how it represents who you are as a blogger and whether it a) might make you lose credibility with your audience; especially if the brand isn’t directly resonate with your blog focus, b) might close some doors for you in the future. For example, once you work with a mass brand you might eliminate the possibility to work with a luxury brand in the future, and the opposite.

6. Make sure you are in a good company. We are seeing more and more brands using several bloggers or personalities for their campaigns, rather than just working with one. It’s OK to ask who else is participating in the promotion so you can make sure you are in the right company.

7. Develop your business persona. You might hop around the city and take your photos in silly outfits most of the time, but when it comes to business you better step it up. Knowing basic contract rules, legal responsibilities and having professional communication skills will separate you from the crowd and make brands want to work with you again. If you want to be taken seriously, talk seriously. There is no excuse to not knowing basic business and legal terms in the world where everything is google-able. If you are in blogging for business, you better develop your business style, just like you develop your personal one.

As always, you are welcome to share your feedback via Comments or tweets @yuliz

Startup Lessons: Envy.

This is another post in my Startup Lessons series, where I share a (very) personal insight on not only running a company but on “running” my own life – setting goals and achieving them.

Looking back to when I began my entrepreneurial path 4 years ago by launching My It Things (the first user-generated online fashion magazine), I must admit I spent a lot of time (or more than I should have) on researching and analyzing my competition, and sometimes feeling envy. Sometimes I couldn’t explain why site X gets more traffic than our site – “users envy”– although we had better quality content, prettier design and lots of fun contests going on. Then there was “features envy” – every time a competitor would release a new feature, we would jump to develop something similar, or simply get frustrated that we can’t afford to do it right now. We would get “buzz envy” on every big press feature our competitors would be mentioned at (“How come we weren’t quoted in this article??”). And maybe the biggest of them all – “money envy”. Every time someone in our space would raise a round of financing, I would think how is company X better than ours and ask myself why I failed to raise the same (note: besides a nice sum we raised early from angel investors, we failed to attract institutional round. Blame it on the post recession year (2008), or on the lack of VCs interest in the fashion space back then, but it’s still a fact).

At some point, through my personal development and few unpleasant lessons that happened on the way, I started realizing that those feelings of envy are hurting my company and my ability to move forward. While being aware of your competition is definitely a must for any company, there is a fine line between being aware and reacting with the feelings of envy. It took a while to analyze those feelings, break them to pieces and get rid of each piece separately, so I could move on to my next venture without any “baggage”. I found those feelings of envy being dangerous from multiple reasons:

When you envy someone you focus your energy on glorifying the other person or company, and criticizing yourself. Let’s break it into two parts and think about each. The first one basically says that you spend significant amount of time, energy and focus on thinking that competitor X rocks. By doing that, you are basically helping them to rock even more. Wouldn’t you want to direct this energy into your own company instead? Now the most amusing part for me was realizing that when I envy someone I basically criticize myself at the same time. It literally means that I think competitor X is better/ smarter/ luckier than I am. Why would I direct such negative energy towards myself and my company? The answer for many of us lays back in the past – perhaps if you were raised as over-achiever (as I was), or your parents doubted your every move? Whatever it is, get rid of it ASAP, because it will hurt more as you grow, and your company grows.

When you envy someone you think they chose a better path, therefore you are being distracted from your own. Are you familiar with “could have/ should have”? Yes, you could have released that feature before your competition and win the race. Or not… Here is the thing – each one of us has our own path, our own circumstances and conditions. We progress based on our inner clock, not on someone else’s. Some people become millionaires at their 20s and then they go through different life lessons, and some never do, yet they die accomplished. Many times I felt startup companies have an expected path, and if you don’t progress according to the “rules”, you are a failure. What do I mean by that? You are expected to develop a product idea, find a perfect co-founder, raise seed round, launch on TechCrunch, get tons of users, raise another round, re-launch on TechCrunch, get an acquisition offer from some established company, consider that offer publicly by having The Business Insider weighing in for you on whether you should take it or not, make an exit, take a year long vacation somewhere far away in Asia, and get ready for your second venture. While I’ve seen many company founders following this path and achieving success and recognition, this path is very rigid and not suitable for everyone. Sometimes it feels like it’s the only way to go, which eliminates lots of other ways to achieve the same.

Speaking from a personal experience, I never followed “the path”, and despite that after years of trying it “my own way” found myself actually running a profitable startup company in NYC. I even stopped using the word “startup” in recent conversations, now I simply say a “company” when referring to Style Coalition. It was never mentioned in TechCrunch, yet we managed to strike a business deal with one of the top publishing companies in the world. I don’t know if this would have happened if I followed the “rules” and took the “official” path to success.

So next time you find yourself with the feelings of envy towards anyone’s path, their press buzz, their traffic, their money or anything else you don’t have, try to analyze those feelings and if any of these points are very important to you to have as well, set a plan on how to achieve them, instead of chasing someone elses success.

That’s perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned as an entrepreneur in the last few years. NYC startups scene is a crowded space, very competitive and somewhat distracting when it comes to business goals. While I love the community and the people, sometimes I feel the hype around certain companies gives all of us a false hope. At the end of the day you have to focus on your own company, and build it your way, even if this way goes against any startup 101 rules you ever read on Fred Wilson’s blog.

As always, you are welcome to share your feedback, experiences (and envies) via comments or tweets @yuliz.

Startup Lessons: Looking For The Signs.

This is another post in my Startup Lessons series, where I share a (very) personal insight on not only running my company but on “running” my own life – setting goals and achieving them. I found that one of the hardest things about running your own venture is decision making. There is no boss/parent/superior who tells you what’s right and what’s wrong at any given moment. Of course you might have investors, advisors, clients or users whose opinion should be considered, but at the end of the day you are the driving force behind your business.

You might have a 5 year plan based on yours or others’ previous experiences and try to execute precisely based on that plan, but we all know that big success requires flexibility, out of the box thinking and most importantly risk taking. Risk taking might not be part of that 5 year plan. Risk taking is usually a spontaneous decision made as a response to newly created conditions or situation. It holds rewards, but sometimes requires putting everything you’ve done on the table.

When you face a moment like this, after weighing in other opinions, using logic, powering the intellect and expertise the only thing you can do is rely on your own intuition. In addition, you can look for the positive external signs. When you are on the right path, fulfilling your destiny and doing what you really love, things will usually start coming together almost on their own. This doesn’t mean they will come easily, but after a certain amount of effort you will start seeing positive signs of a progress.

During my entrepreneurial career in the past few years I experienced it multiple times, and each time I got positive signs that kept me going in the chosen direction. Whether it was an unexpected press feature, sudden revenue or simply a thankful feedback from someone – these affirmations guided me on the risky path.

The signs helped me at the moments when I wanted to quit (and there were several). At those moments I waited for the positive signs so I could restore my beliefs and keep going. This tactic always worked, and usually the signs showed even bigger. I also learned to let go when positive signs didn’t show. I just stopped pushing at that certain direction and surely enough a new path or new solution usually opened up right after.

Those signs are like the road signs that guide a driver behind the wheel to make sure the journey is going in the right direction. Knowing there is a “slippery road” or “rest area” ahead allows you to navigate properly on this journey. Just as the road signs, these signs are mostly located on the side of the road, so the best thing you can do is be alert and pay attention.

Next time you plan a risky move see how the universe reacts first to your decision – are things starting to come together or do you experience resistance? If so, most chances there is a better thing waiting for you. One thing is sure – if you start seeing positive signs and affirmations, go full force and never look back.

As always, you are welcome to share your comments, experiences (and signs) via comments or tweets @yuliz.