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Mobile Applications

Snap Fashion: Why Coding Doesn't Have to Be Geeky

Kathryn Cave catches up with Jenny Griffiths at Cisco’s innovation hub, IDEALondon, to talk about being a female entrepreneur, why coding isn’t geeky and what’s next for the first fashion search engine…

What about a fashion search engine? It makes perfect sense, yet someone has to build these things and let’s face it most coders are male and just wouldn’t be bothered. That’s where Jenny Griffiths, CEO and Founder of Snap Fashion, an app which does just that, enters the picture.

 “I first had the idea for Snap while I was at university,” she tells me when I catch up with her in one of the rather fun, circular glass meeting rooms at IDEALondon. “It has always been in my head that fashion is such a visual thing and it is hard to explain what gets you excited about it.”

“[In real life] we’re searching using our eyes [but online] we’re searching using words and it doesn’t really add up. I studied computer science [and] I thought it would be quite a fun final year project,” she continues. “I took a fair bit of mocking… because I was one of the few girls on my course.”  

There is something very candid, down to earth and quietly likeable about Griffiths, especially when you consider she was selected as one of the 25 most influential women in IT last year by Computer Weekly and is still well under 30. “I ended up making it work which surprised a fair few people, including myself,” she continues.

“[Then] as part of my course we forced to enter a business competition [which] I ended up winning. And that was the point at which I thought maybe I should actually do something with Snap rather than just having it as a project because I really enjoyed it…”

“[The problem was] I didn’t quite have the guts to do it properly, so I worked as a project manager for a couple of years, but I was doing Snap on my evenings and weekends [and] I was getting pretty obsessed by it. Then I won funding from the Technology Strategy Board, which let me give up my job.”

But it was after winning the BIG Awards last year (organised by Cisco) that really transformed things.  “It made our profile change overnight,” she explained. “We’d been completely undercover for three years… then we were suddenly in the Evening Standard. I was on the train home and I was reading over someone’s shoulder and I saw my own face.”

This recognition has seen Griffiths move here, into Cisco’s brand new innovation hub based in Tech City. “We got to the stage where we wanted to be surrounded by other start-ups and get that culture.  It is very social [and it is] really useful what they [Cisco] have done because we’re working in similar industries, so we’re sharing contacts, but we’re not competitors, by any stretch of the imagination so you don’t feel like you have to hold back.”

The designers of the space have conspicuously tried to push the creative angle with ivy on the inside walls, green mood lighting and glass meeting rooms, like this one, which has what looks like fake grass on the floor.

“I’m always a big fan of saying coding isn’t geeky,” says Griffiths “there is a lot of coming up with the idea, concept and context on the algorithm you’re about to write [along with] really underrated skills that I never realised existed when I did computer science, like user experience design.  It’s something you don’t really think about until you have to run your own business. [But] you end up throwing round a couple of ideas [and] it is the most fun bit.”

The media is full of stories about the hard time women have in IT and our own research presented some pretty damning finding.  However, Griffiths take the opposite view: “I didn’t come across any friction on my course. [And] even when I worked for a big defence engineering firm, which is really male dominated, once you have people’s trust… they judge you on your abilities rather than gender.”

 “I’d say entrepreneurship is very different. Entrepreneurship is more male-dominated than engineering, which really shocked me - I thought it would be the other way round.”

“What do you think the reason for this is?” I ask: “It is a very risky thing,” she replies. “In tech entrepreneurship finding a woman who can code who then starts a business is fairly niche. You’re really whittling it down further…”

“I’ve found I stand out more,” rather than finding it harder she explains. “You can walk into a room and most people know who I am because I’m the girl who runs a company. It definitely works to your advantage, but there are some moments you wish you didn’t have to answer those questions.”

“And if you meet another female engineer, you’re friends for life,” she laughs.

At present the app is UK only but it will be launching in Singapore shortly. “We’re expanding in a very British way,” she tells me. “Different markets want different things [and] we’re tackling the different markets slowly. [Eventually] we want to expand into Europe, and the US would be very exciting. We’re [currently] gauging how advanced eCommerce is in different countries - you have to pick how you want to scale.” 

The global potential in this particular app does seem incredible, especially when you consider just how many people are joining the online community each day and when you factor in the capacity of eCommerce. Singles’ Day in China recently saw $5.7bn transacted in 24 hours, who knows how much Cyber Monday will bring in next week… and only time will tell the true possibility for a visual fashion search engine.

 

Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect

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