I recently saw a headline which has been a question I’ve been asking myself for quite some time. “When Will Fashion Tech Just Be Fashion?" ran on TechCrunch in May, and the article that followed discussed how ‘Fashion Tech’ involves a deeper understanding of consumer behavior. Since retail is ‘broken’, some private labels that assert themselves as straddling this line of fashion & tech claim to be flipping the traditional sales model on it’s head by creating online experiences where they can sell their goods at lower price points and with a better over-all experience.
We too are building a fashion label. Our company, Orley, is a startup in every sense of the word. We consider every dollar we spend and how to best use the funds at our disposal. We believe that our product is unique in it’s design and quality, which is oftentimes about as disruptive as one can come to expect from an upstart label. Because our quality is so high, and our prices reflect that, it is important for us to be placed in stores that cater to a certain type of customer. Even for us to disrupt this sales channel by selling directly through our website, this is not so revolutionary that the business model itself is flipped on it’s head.
For this reason I am continually confounded by the ability for other private labels to convince customers and investors that their business is disruptive to the industry simply by their refusal to sell in traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
Take for example a company like Warby Parker, which is essentially a private-label line of eyewear that has a valuation of $100mm. What is amazing is the way they have branded themselves as a tech startup with no discernible tech aspect about their business. They claim to be disrupting the traditional sales model by circumventing the brick-and-mortar stores to sell instead through their own website at discounted prices, but this week they announced that they would be opening a store of their own. Are they not directly conceding to the industry that they had claimed to have sidestepped?
Everlane is another example and they are a private label which sells “luxury basics under $100”. Their website only carries their own label and so to increase brand awareness they have recently held in-store events in New York where people can shop for their goods in person. The only non-traditional thing about this retail model is that it exists for a few hours before reverting back to the web. When it becomes apparent that their business showed strong growth from that single event, will they not decide that a store is the right way to maintain those sales over time?
Non-Traditional Retail does not imply a thwarting of the retail industry. It reflects an understanding that those experiences that you give your customer need to carry added value outside of the goods that they will be buying. I have no doubt that this is the kind of experience that savvy startups such as Warby Parker and Everlane both would create for their customers.
When it comes down to it, I am impressed with the ways in which both of these labels have created a great product and built a customer base around it. I still at times remain unclear as to what is so disruptive about their businesses that differentiates them from the dozens of other fashion startups I have come across, but I suppose that it is to their credit that they have been able to position themselves as being so disruptive to a generally stagnant industry. Because really, if you are not being disruptive in some capacity, then what is the point?
I wrote earlier about the future of education startups and how each one plays a different role depending on the types of classes that they offer. On the heels of that post, General Assembly, a co-working space and entrepreneurship school in New York announced that they closed a round of financing with investors such as Jeff Bezos, Yuri Milner, and Alexis Ohanian. The round was not that big - about 4.25 million, but while it may seem that the investment was made with the classes in mind, this was clearly a play to mine the high quality of students that use the space.
I’ve attended their classes and I’ve been to see some of the company’s that work out of the GA space. While it is a really nice facility, the classroom and classes themselves do not seem to be nicer than those offered anywhere else. The classrooms are pretty bare bones. What is different though is both the content that offered and more importantly, the people who are attending these classes. Not only do these classes provide very specific technical skills, they also offer networking opportunities with a field of students that is fairly homogenous in the quality of its intellectual diversity.
With this investment and the board seats that go along with it, these investors have bought access to some of the top engineers and entrepreneurs in New York. Had they the opportunity to just mine the CS Lab at Harvard I’m sure they would have taken it but this seems easier, and for 4.25 million, a steal. Should they want to, Amazon will be able to flood GA with their own products, giving the students the opportunity to become native hackers of those platforms.
I think this says a lot about the quality of students that use an educational platform. While it is obviously important, and in most cases the priority, learning networks that span across the widest range of people to ensure a diversity of ideas aren’t always the most successful, and their will always be the institutions such as General Assembly that operate on an elite level and in which case just the opposite is true.
I have been interested in alternative-education for a long time. This is an industry that especially at the moment is exploding with brilliant people reexamining the idea of what it means to receive a formal education and how we can find new ways to offer such a thing to our students who are failed by the current system. These ideas hold a number of different monikers including hacking-education, open-source education, and in many instances, private for-profit education. In conjunction with my own formal college education I have also taken classes through many different outlets, all of whom identify with one or many of these different labels.
While as an acknowledgement there are people like Peter Thiel who are trying to completely turn the notion of how our society views education on its head, I am going to stick more to the more traditional approaches that seek to provide an alternative education but with classes and instructors, be them online or in-person.
The spectrum of alternative-education providers is huge but I like to separate them by whether or not they offer state-accredited certifications or degrees. Programs that do are those such as Altius Education, or The University of Phoenix, which is owned by The Apollo Group. Apollo owns a number of different online degree and certification programs at both the high school and college levels. Along similar lines are training companies like New Horizons which are also in most cases state-accredited and thus follow similar restrictions in what they can and cannot offer their students. Students generally go through these programs to attain technical degrees, oftentimes in lieu of a standard 4-year college degree. These classes are often quite expensive and student aid is both available and generally used to pay for them.
On the other end of this spectrum are programs which run classes that advertise themselves as providing ‘personal growth’, thus allowing themselves to function outside of the state and federal education laws. It is this area that is exploding right now as entrepreneurs develop ways in which to provide students who can’t afford tuition or books with the tools to learn.
Companies like Khan Academy are leading this field in providing open-source education. And Youtube as well provides an adequate learning environment for the student who is willing to sift through thousands of videos to find one that addresses their specific questions. As Albert Wenger of USV said in his own blog post:
"It will be possible to learn almost anything from materials found online. But there is a big missing link and that is motivation. It is the desire to want to learn something in the first place. Instilling that desire is still best accomplished in person by a teacher who is passionate about his or her subject.”
On this note, the education marketplace in which students can discover the subjects that appeal to them through direct interaction with teachers is even more appealing. I’m very interested in Skillshare which just received a substantial investment from both Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital. Led by the team of Mike Karnjanaprakorn and Malcolm Ong, two guys with extremely impressive backgrounds in the startup world, Skillshare is poised to grow rapidly.
Skillshare stands out as it is the first peer-to-peer marketplace within the alternative-education space. While it acts in a similar function as Airbnb, I think this model allows it to have the freedom to become anything and everything to both students and educators. Though similar marketplaces existed beforehand such as The Learning Annex which received huge promotions through its celebrity educators, never before was the barrier to entry so low in that anybody could offer their skills to teach others something new.
Though the students (at least at the moment) will not be able to receive certifications or accredations from these classes, I know from personal experience in attending such a wide variety of classes that the market for people looking for these experiences that offer ‘personal growth’ is growing rapidly. With the decline in value of the actual degree itself, people now are looking to learn exactly what they want in the modality that they want, be it in a classroom, online, with a private instructor, and so on.
At the moment Skillshare is still mostly made up of the early tech adopters and subsequently classes of the same nature, but this will no doubt change quickly. There is huge potential for so many types of cultural classes to take place and those ‘meetups’ among likeminded individuals will soon become educational events in which there is much more to learn than just the names and occupations of the people in the same room. Be it an art class, film class, music class, or anything that comes to mind, as these classes break outside of their own walls and begin to take advantage of unconventional venues around the city, Skillshare will be seen as a leader in providing educational experiences for the curious and hungry individual.
The Learning Annex capitalized on the notion of education as an event with their personal growth seminars. This catapulted their business to $120 million per year in revenue. Skillshare has removed the barrier to entry and given any person who desires the ability to create these educational events or “experiences”. Their business is poised to take off with limitless potential.
And, if you haven’t had a chance to see it, watch their excellent video that really shows off what Skillshare is about.
This title is the former name of the now-simplified ‘Dining’ section of the New York Times but I thought it seemed appropriate. I’ve become so accustomed to checking-in and connecting with the restaurants while I’m physically there, through tips or specials, that it has made me think about similar ways to do so while ordering delivery. This might be an issue of limited-appeal in that it may very well only apply to New Yorkers but it seems as if there should be a way to fill this hole in the market. This idea would not be about the check-in and does not seem to fit into Foursquare’s business model but I think that there is a way to enter this space from a differant angle. Seamless could go after this market with no problem (seamlessly?), but I’d like to see someone like Dinevore try to capitalize on this as well, the idea that people can connect with their favorite restaurants regardless of whether or not they are physically there. I really like the Dinevore service and though it is obvious that they need to pivot from their original model that Foursquare has now encroached upon, I think there are many ways for them to differentiate themselves and continue to grow. This of course might be an interesting place to start.
I’m making a conscientious effort to make this blog more about the writing and content that I create myself whether it is about me or about other people. That being said, I follow hundreds of other tumblogs and want to share that content as well. In an effort not to drown out the things that I am working on, I will be reblogging all content from other sources over to my other tumblr site, Them Apples. There is not much there yet but I’m sure it will fill up quickly. Feel free to check it out.
My favorite type of applications are those that assist in alleviating some sort of problem. Uber falls into this category and it is an app that I have used a lot - probably too much, and definitely more than I can afford. Every time I can’t get a taxi now my first thought is to get an Uber car and I’ve generally not had to wait very long. During those 90 degree days in July I was really thankful for Uber. Even though I really love the product there are some features that I feel like are absolutely necessary to add. When I had a driver who simply got lost and drove in circles I had wished there was a way to contact an Uber customer support person from within the app. I see no reason why any online services shouldn’t provide direct access to customer support through every step of the way. I thought about this a lot with Uber. I’ve only had a few rides that were sub-par but each time I wanted to contact support while I was in the car before getting hit with an often times exorbitant bill and had no way to do so. After the fact they were always a pleasure to deal with and would give me credits for more rides, but I couldn’t help but feel that during the ride I was more or less at the mercy of the driver. I think Uber is in a unique situation to not only expedite the process of getting a car service but ensuring that each ride goes as smoothly as possible. This follows for all other types of mobile service apps as well. Having that immediate customer support connection is imperative and will only help people to recognize the value of your business.
I’ve owned an iPad for over a year and it doesn’t go unnoticed that I own zero magazine apps. I have made the mistake of downloading a few individual issues from time to time but they quickly have been deleted. I began to think about this and also the evolution of this bizarre form of media after reading the article about the troubles that the digital division of Conde Nast was facing. (Conde Nast Is Experiencing Technical Difficulties, New York Observer)
I like a lot of Conde Nast’s offerings. The New Yorker is great, I’ll usually buy GQ, and I think that Adam Rapoport has done a great job redesigning Bon Appetit. Rarely though do I ever visit their websites (I do keep RSS feeds of their respective blogs, though I’m not sure that counts) - which begs the question, why would I ever want to read their magazines on my iPad?
I really think I’ve done a better job of taking the magazines digital than Conde Nast has ever been able to. I’ve made twitter lists for each magazine that I follow which include all of the editors at that publication. I have a New Yorker list, a B.A. list, a GQ list, and so on. Instead of loading up a poorly designed digital issue of a magazine I like, I open up a twitter list that has those people in the midst of discussions that are infinitely more relevant and of-the-moment than what I would get in their respective magazines.
People think that creating an interactive magazine means having the articles be shareable or embedded with digital content, but this notion has always confused me as there is no way for the conversation to flow in both directions. Discussions aren’t formed within these magazines. The digital magazine remains a closed platform.
It is unnecessary to overload the page with some crazy flash video or touch-screen features. The best designed articles would be those where the authors of each article can see the comments being made by the readers everywhere and they can comment back and create a dialogue that leaves the page.
I would rather read the tweets of a magazine editor than ever buy the iPad version of their magazine. I think that right there is the overriding point that people miss. The articles are edited so many times over that they lose a humanness that is captured in an off-the-cuff tweet.
Whoever is designing the next iteration of a major magazine should think about not only including the editors twitter accounts alongside their names within the masthead but also provide the authors twitter feed alongside the article being read, with the option to reach out to them directly.
Publishers will start to realize this quickly and that magazines will not be built as downloadable apps but instead as HTML 5 files that are accessible instantaneously and with more functionality.
I find the current offerings of digital magazines to be completely missing the point and until then I’m satisfied with the twitter lists that I’ve built for myself.
I’ve been pushing myself to start writing more frequently and have found one of the biggest obstacles I face has been deciding on an appropriate name for my site. I’ve thought a lot about names of not only blogs but also websites, books, and just names in general. With the intention of creating a more fully formed blog that transcends the repository of infrequent photo postings that ‘My Boy Is Wicked Smart’ has been in the past, I felt like the first thing to do was to find a name that felt appropriate without feeling like it was trying too hard to be something that it’s not. After a while spent thinking about different names I realized I was sitting on the perfect choice the whole time.
'My Boy Is Wicked Smart' reflects exactly what I want this blog to become. Hopefully it is less about me and more about other people who I find smart, interesting, and worth giving extra attention to in this space.
It’s hard to keep a blog, and even more so to allow it to formulate its own identity when in the beginning everything that I bring to it is so steeped in what I have been reading up to this point.
I hope to write about products - good products and well designed products. Not only the ones that I like, but the ones that I think can be better. I will try to keep the posts simple and let the writing and ideas speak for themselves.
Hopefully there will be ideas here that will appeal to people enough to take a moment to read, comment, and discuss.
The origin of the title is presented below: