Tips For Female-Dominated Startups In A Male-Dominated Industry

95415025_eb32546a6c_o

By Erin Flynn (Founder, Righting Style)

As soon as people hear the “F-word,” it’s as if the sentences that follow turn into a foreign language unknown to man. I’m not talking about the F-word that rhymes with a certain feathery, orange-billed animal. In fact, that potty-mouth version is probably more socially accepted than the “F-word” I’m imagining.

I am talking about the F-word that ironically rhymes with passion: Fashion.

Anytime I mention the word fashion, I’ve found that I must immediately defend my intelligence and throw in business lines here and there peppered with such words and phrases as “algorithms” and “multiple different verticals.” Otherwise, I’ve lost my audience for the next three minutes as they tune me out to download a new app on their smartphone.

Despite what some may think, you don’t have to wear pink designer clothes, resemble Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, or say the word “like” between every sentence to build a fashion startup. If that was the case, the fashion industry would have kicked me out soon after they discovered that I played Division II college basketball or ritually shop at Target.

After attending New York Fashion Week for the third year in a row, I can tell you it’s clearer to me now than ever before that the world of fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry with just as many tech opportunities as any other business. This can be accomplished wearing stilettos or a Justin Beiber startup hoodie – complete with headphones.

The challenges of using the “F-word” or any other word associated with an overtly female-dominated industry is being able to engage your audience whether they’re wearing a Hugo Boss suit or Converse sneakers.

In other words, it’s relating your idea to a male-dominated startup community in a way that bridges the gap between Dockers and Christian Louboutins, both equally important.

Back in November, I had the opportunity to interview Jenny Fleiss, the co-founder and President of a successful and venture-funded fashion startup Rent The Runway. They used the lean startup approach by learning from their target consumers as early as possible. For example, they bought special occasion dresses from department stores and tested the idea of whether college girls would be interested in renting them before ever developing the site.

Another success in the fashion industry that might not necessarily stick out as your typical tech startup is Refinery29. While some often forget that content sites are just as much as a startup as the next, they took the same lean startup approach that has led them to be a successful and well known startup thus far. Their unique idea of localizing your content and where you shop has now grown to multiple different cities along with adding an e-commerce component to their website. Each of these startup companies took strategic initiatives to grow into full-fledged companies. These initiatives were based off of the ability to generate actionable insights from data mining along with the ability to turn those insights into informed business decisions.

Here are 3 tips for closing the gap between female-dominated startups in a male-dominated industry:

If you wear pink, own it. There’s nothing wrong with looking feminine in the world of black. First impressions are everything but confidence out shines the color of your blazer nine times out of ten. Wearing pink doesn’t make you less intelligent, just like wearing blue doesn’t give you more testosterone. Looking professional is key. Lose the sparkles.

Give them an angle. Whether you’re pitching to venture capitalists or talking to someone at a local meet-up, if they can’t relate to fashion or whatever your startup may be, relate it to something they would know – such as startups, sports or video games. Have these scenarios hidden in your back pocket ready to use at any given moment. Using schema in conversation, by providing a basis in which someone relates to the events he or she experiences, is something every entrepreneur should practice. Figure out the person. Find out what he or she likes, and relate your idea based on their interests. Being able to differentiate your product from those currently on the market is important no matter what the industry.

Back it up! The most important part in pitching your startup is being able to report the problem, state your solution, and back it up. This is something even a man wearing pleated pants and a St. John’s Bay polo can understand. Mobile may be hot right now but if you have a service/product you can’t back up, it’s not going to be any easier to raise capital or gain consumers. Showing the scalability of a product/service into multiple different verticals will be hugely important when it comes to pitching and asking for financial backing. Make sure you know your numbers and give them the facts they can’t resist that cross all industry boundaries.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Erin Flynn is the Founder of Righting Style, a new “fashion democracy” (otherwise known as the love triangle for bloggers, readers, and brands). She is a blogger, entrepreneur, and sweet tea addict. After running her own fashion blog, Reality Chic, for over two years she got to experience the ins and outs of what it truly means to be a blogger.