Startup Story #16: How to thrive in a male-dominated startup world w/ Antonia Maiwald & Lena Koschek
Updated: Jan 31, 2019
"If you look at the audience and it's all males with suits blue, grey or black and aged between 35 and 60 - we were like 'unicorns' there." - Quote of the founder, Lena Koschek.
In this episode, we are looking at fashion startup myProfashional and the story of how its founder Antonia Maiwald came up with the idea when she saw how shoppers were frustrated and did not get the assistance they were looking for. A few years later she was then joined by her co-founder Lena Koschek to build a platform that connects stylists, fashion bloggers and influencers aka “profashionals” with frustrated shoppers offering expert advice while they purchase their clothes.
In this episode you’ll learn:
Who Antonia Maiwald and Lena Koschek are and what myProfashional is [00:01:34]
How being an entrepreneur and having a full-time job looks like [00:03:27]
How to find the typical shopper [00:05:33]
How they gathered the data to identify different types of personas [00:10:26]
Who the “profashional” is [00:13:47]
How they achieved retention and made sure customers continue to work on the platform [00:20:02]
How they developed their payment system [00:25:52]
“First bookings” and their plan to grow that number [00:34:08]
What the biggest challenges and learnings that its founders had [00:38:58]
What is most difficult in finding investors [00:47:28]
How they track the investment phase [00:50:37]
What the things they would do differently are [00:52:07]
Their hopes for the future of fashion tech [00:53:17]
How myProfashional started
Back in 2017, Antonia Maiwald’s startup myProfashional emerged from the idea when she saw shoppers in stores who were frustrated and did not get the help when shopping. Thinking that there were many “profashionals” out in the world who loved to share their passion in fashion while making money out of it, they thought about connecting the two. Joining Antonia is Lena Koschek who has a background in marketing communications, and each with their own distinct skills, together they grew myProfashional into what it is today.
The target customer
It’s not just the so-called “fashion losers” but anyone who loves to go shopping and are just frustrated by the options or the overwhelming choices around them. In speaking with different groups of shoppers, they have identified the following target personas: the efficient shopper, the occasional shopper, the follower (and the influencer), the gift giver, and the tourist. By doing basic research and studying consumer behavior through street surveys and setting targets, their assumptions were confirmed on what makes a shopper buy or book a service.
Finding the “profashional”
Using the exact same analysis, they defined three targets of who the “profashional” is—the proper educated stylists who had their own platforms, the influencer/blogger, and the passionate enthusiasts. There is no right or wrong when it comes to fashion but these three groups are able to be there and guide somebody in making fashion choices. myProfashional carefully selects these talented profashionals through a meticulous process of background checking, looking at the way of how they describe themselves, having an onboarding call or even as far as a face-to-face meetup to determine how they can provide that positive shopping experience.
Maintaining a good relationship
To achieve retention in using the platform, myProfashional gives an added value or incentive to its users or their suppliers. They have an integrated trip tracker where when a shopper books and enters their credit card details and at that time, the profashional keeps the time running until the end of the trip and immediately gets the payment once the “stop” button making it easy for them to (A) get paid the exact amount of time spent and (B) having no cash problems. No burden of tracking the time or payment hazards becomes a motive for the profashional to use their platform. They are also able to get ratings/reviews once the trip ends that can help them in boosting their sales. Getting inspiration from Uber and using the concept of peer-to-peer made their platform a success where they are able to keep the profashional engaged and committed. They also do not impose any maximum or minimum time, leaving the profashional to define their level of expertise.
Creating the team
To develop the business, they collaborated with and onboarded two more nearshore partners (who is as committed as them and on the same page) to join the team to help with the functional specifications and make a business analysis case. A discovery phase of three months was invested to determine who the customer and what his need is and the benefits he expects to get—an automatic payment. So this led to make a flow that is as easy as possible with the help of the other people in the team to bring it to life. These partners have helped them find the solutions to the challenges and problems that they were able to properly phrase at the end of the discovery phase.
The 15 experts that they have on the platform have quite a reach on social media and their goal is to leverage that and keep them engaged so that they constantly share and spread the word. This in turn multiplies any kind of marketing, which may not be as easy it sounds as it comes with a price no matter how small. With that comes a lot of competition so you have to make sure that you keep them excited and are constantly top-of-mind for them. But that is only just one marketing channel. They use Instagram where people browse through to look for inspiration, and connect with other industry players as well.
Tougher times and finding their place
The first big challenge they had was finding the right production partner which is no easy feat. Investing time into making a product that lacks quality would really suck. But luckily, Antonia and Lena managed to overcome it. The second big challenge was in the investor space and pitching all the time in front of an audience that is not familiar with the fashion industry and the influencer scene. They have found that they had to be very careful about educating their investors and that being two female founders, they had to convince them an extra notch in a male-dominated startup world. But even so, they turned that into an opportunity to stand out and made it their winning factor, introduce themselves and make their case. They learned that they had to be bold and really stand up for themselves in order to make it in this business world.
The right investor
It's a challenge to screen from the variety of investors that is out there. They had to make a list and determine who is the most relevant and why. Secondly, they had to find that sweet spot on how they were going to introduce themselves and make themselves relevant for them. Making follow-ups, keeping track of the communication, and being clear on what they wanted from who and why does take a lot of time, yet they had to keep motivated even though they were selling the same story and getting a “no”. This was something that they had to be really aware of even from the start, that they were going to be told “no” more times than “yes”, which any human being hates. They knew that they had to work under an umbrella of uncertainty yet they still kept believing; and working with a team has helped a lot in finding the absolute answer to this question.
The key tools
Aside from Excel and Google Sheets, they receive support from other startups as well. This has helped them organize whom they’ve talked to, what the outcome was, etc. Having a lead list among a million other things is crucial for project management.
What they could have done differently was finding a second opinion on what the lean way to start was and save money along the way. Somebody on the team who could determine how much is too much to spend and what is just enough.
They are definitely hopeful and optimistic for the future of the fashion tech industry, especially if their business model works that is scaling and getting traction, as long as they can find somebody soon that supports their idea of making their platform a smart tool to make shoppers happy and create satisfaction for the customer.
Link to the startup:
Jack Ma at Hong Kong University: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWlvNfkNdeQ
The Family Association, success factors of being an entrepreneur in Europe: https://www.thefamily.co