Setting aside some time, and being quite strict about it, to do practical validation on your ideas is valuable. The world of employment will always be there for you.
Obsessed with technology, entrepreneurship and products that actually work. He has been writing code since 13 years old on whatever computer he could get his hands on. Studied Business Management and decided to pursue his dream in Manchester, UK to write code and build products that people wanted to use. As a product manager, he led the team that launched the first ever version of iPlayer Radio on Web and then moved to Microsoft to lead the Skype on Windows 8 teams, XBOX and Microsoft Surface Hub. He also headed up Photobox’s eCommerce team, leading top of funnel acquisition and retention initiatives, with a focus on unit economics.
Machine learning has always been his passion, with his first ever foray at it being the use of ML in behavioural economics to model independent agents in artificial economies. He doesn’t believe that top-down economic modelling of markets works and struggles to understand why we still use out of date models to understand economies. Built the first Deep Learning stack of Intelistyle. He founded Intelistyle with lots of love (blood, sweat and tears were also involved), hoping to help everyone dress better and scale the personal styling market to make it accessible to everyone. He occasionally takes a break to cook great food and do some yoga.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Way too often, I’d open my wardrobe and despite it being full of clothes, I got the feeling he had nothing to wear. I quickly found out that I wasn’t alone. M&S found that it takes people on average 15 minutes to decide what to wear each morning with the average closet containing 152 items. This begs the question of why do so many of us, wake up in the morning to a wardrobe full of clothes, but are completely uninspired by it?
Quite often I’d go shopping only to find out, when I got back home, that the shirt that I bought looked great at the time but I have nothing to wear it with. That would either result in a return, increasing costs for retailers or even worse, it would end up sitting in my wardrobe gathering dust. Roughly 1 in 3 items in the average wardrobe go unworn resulting in a monumental waste. So I started thinking that there must be a better way to do this. I soon found out I wasn’t the only one that thinks like that. Research shows that 1 in 2 adults in the UK alone are looking for inspiration on how to use or renew their wardrobe and the idea of getting free personalized style advice at the press of a button really appealed to me.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The very first thing every morning is to go through the latest developments in the fashion industry. A great way to get inspired and kick start the day. I then review our metrics dashboard to keep track of progress on our acquisition and pipeline metrics. Our daily team standup follows, to make sure we’re aligned, transparent and clear on our goals for the day. A typical day involves working with customers, assessing and reviewing our strategy as new information from experiments we run becomes available. I often like to turn off all notifications at certain times of the day, clear my desktop, hide away and focus on one particular task. I also find incredibly productive to work late in the evening, when all the hustle and bustle of the day has faded away.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Before you start writing any code, you have to gauge demand. I’ve found surveys and questionnaires to be pretty inaccurate ways to do that. Finding someone willing to pay for what you’re offering is key. Even if you have to do things that don’t scale. Find that first customer. You then have to write code. Lots of it.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Artificial Intelligence has captured my imagination since I was 13 years old. The idea that you can build a piece of software that can learn a domain, process or behaviour on its own, is just mesmerising. The progress in the space is quicker that one could ever imagine and I think a lot of that is down to the openness of the community. New academic papers, alongside code to reproduce the results, get published on a daily basis. Compare that to the manufacturing industry in its heyday. The progress was a lot slower due to the lack of willingness to share, trade secrets and patents.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I like to finish things. It’s very easy to get carried away by new ideas that you want to explore, start a million things and finish nothing. Especially when working at a startup there is so much to do, so much freedom to go and explore, yet no-one else is there to finish what you started. When you don’t finish things, you’re really just wasting time and energy. So asking myself why I decided to spend time on something, understanding the expected outcome and actually finishing the work, is crucial.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Talk less, act more. We often fall into the trap of talking about our ideas way too much. What we should all be doing instead is validating them. Setting aside some time, and being quite strict about it, to do practical validation on your ideas is valuable. The world of employment will always be there for you. Going after a project that really excites you is the most exhilarating feeling you could have. Learning is the most valuable activity you could engage in. Don’t be afraid to fail. It sounds obvious now, but it might not be that obvious for a lot of us, starting out and being conditioned by school and social environment that failing is a scary experience.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
We should use reconstruction techniques to augment the experience we offer to visitors in Archeological sites as opposed to insisting in “purity” and religiously leaving everything in the state it was found. Their purpose should be to offer an immersive learning experience to the current generation. People learn a lot more from a reconstructed experience that engages their visual and auditory system.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
You can never validate enough. It’s easy to validate once and think you’re done. You need to validate every step of the way. Your idea, you user experience, your client personas, your distribution channels, your messaging, your product, your pricing. Entrepreneurship is a series of validation experiments. It’s key to continuously do that as a number of elements will shift as you progress, so the validation you did back then might not be relevant any more.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Press and talking at various events is a great way to gain early traction, inspire users and potential clients and get feedback on your vision. Seek publications, conferences, meetups and events that are relevant to your business. Meet and network. Start small, build great relationships and offer your network genuine value. You’ll be surprised with the results.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When we started we focused a lot on understanding the problem space but what we didn’t know was that our understanding of the industry dynamics was limited. Talking to people with experience in the space helped us understand the business models, insider trends and needs in a lot more detail. Finding mentors with deep industry experience has been invaluable in accelerating our growth and getting us moving in the right direction.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
The bakery market in the UK is ripe for disruption. If you look at Southern Europe, Canada, France, every neighborhood has an incredible bakery shop that does beautiful bread, bread byproducts and deserts. The bakery market in the UK is dominated by supermarkets selling some pretty uninspired bread. Even “high end” supermarkets fall short compared to what you’d find in a random neighborhood in Greece. On the other hand, actual bakeries have bread products that might have been suitable for the 60s but maybe not today. The know-how exists, the unit economics are well understood and demand is proven. Why not take a model that works elsewhere, make it relevant to today’s channels and consumption patterns and introduce it to a new market. Blitz-scale to win the market and create barriers to entry.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
We spent $100 running social ads on facebook to understand our CAC. That was the best insight we ever got on our strategy and gave us an entirely new perspective on product-market fit and the business model we should pursue to build a profitable business.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Do not disturb mode on my iPhone. Use it. Turn those notifications off.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Traction: How any startup can achieve explosive customer growth, by Gabriel Weinberg, Justin Mares
A lot of us come into the startup world from an engineering or product management background. It is incredibly important to understand that you can build the right product but still have little growth. Starting marketing after you build the product can be detrimental to your business. Marketing your product while (or even before) you build it creates a virtuous circle of feedback for your product but also helps you identify your target persona and the channels that you need to reach that customer. The typical user persona work that is used in user research, is a great starting point, but way too shallow. Doing marketing early on, allows you to pinpoint the exact content and channels that work for your customers, validate demand and create a much more accurate understanding of who those customer segments are.
What is your favorite quote?
Nelson Mandela’s “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
When we started with Intelistyle we were met with a lot of scepticism from investors, people in the industry, customers. After our proof of concept got out the door, that scepticism turned to excitement.
- Don’t wait until the product is built before you start marketing. Marketing while building the product helps you build a more solid product strategy, define needs, persona, channels and relevant content.
- Focus. Finish what you started. Be disciplined with your time. Achieve your goals one at a time as opposed to spreading yourself too thin.
- Find mentors from within the industry you’re looking to work on. 5 minutes of you listening, might save you a few months of work.
- Approach entrepreneurship as a never-ending series of experiments. What you learned back then, might not be valid now. You never stop learning and that’s why it’s so much fun.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.