What do you get when you take two female lawyers, a pair of hot gloves and an umbrella you can’t loose? A big WoW, that’s what!
I was lucky enough to persuade the very talented and extraordinarily busy founders of Women of Wearables (WoW), Michelle Hua and Marija Butkovic, to answer a whole bunch of questions, including what to do if you’ve got a fabulous idea for wearable tech but don’t know where to start. Here’s what they said…
Q: So, before you started your own wearable tech businesses you were both working as lawyers, is that how you met?
MH: No, we met through Ada’s list, a UK based platform that connects women in tech through an online forum. I connected with Marija but we didn’t actually meet until a year later at the Wearable Tech Show in London, where we were inseparable for two days. WoW was born shortly after and we’ve recently had our one-year anniversary!
I started Made With Glove in 2014, after resigning as a solicitor working for the Western Australian Government. It was during a trip to Prague in -21 degrees that I had the idea for my heated gloves. Entering and winning a wearable tech hackathon inspired me to learn about the wearable tech industry. Running the business and developing a product requires me to wear many hats. Having a legal background is really useful because I am trained to foresee risks before they occur. Everywhere I turn there is a legal issue, so that’s good but it can be bad, too – sometimes I just need to get on with developing the product.
MB: I was a corporate lawyer for eight years before becoming an entrepreneur, so my transition to tech has been quite gradual. I was thrilled when I met Michelle, as two years ago it was very hard to find women in this industry. In 2014, I moved to London and co-founded Kisha Smart Umbrella, a wearable tech business behind the world’s first smart, fashionable umbrella.
I instantly fell in love with wearable tech. It’s an industry that has huge potential to beautifully merge aesthetics with technology to enhance our daily lives. But while working on Kisha, I realised how the industry suffers from a lack of women, not only female founders, but also product and UX designers, smart textile designers and entrepreneurs in general.
Q: Can you define ‘wearable tech’, what type of products does it include?
Wearable tech is the use of sensors and electronics embedded into clothing and accessories. Traditionally, you’d find it in health, military, sports and fashion, however, we are now starting to see a wider range of industries using wearable tech, such as the animal and pet industry, as well as banking. Examples of wearable tech products are smartwatches, fitness trackers, Google glasses, smart fashion accessories, smart pacifiers, smart breastfeeding pumps – these are all devices/hardware. And we’ll start to see more companies developing smart garments, like the Levis commuter jacket.
Q: What sparked the idea for WoW?
When we met in 2016, we discussed the many challenges of being women in the wearable tech industry. It became clear to us the challenges we faced were most likely being faced by other female founders, too. It’s not easy being a woman in tech and it’s even harder to be a woman in wearable tech and IoT (Internet of Things), as this industry is even more male-dominated. The main challenge for us was finding other women building female-focussed products. So we decided to start Women of Wearables – the first organisation in the world that supports, connects and inspires women in the wearable tech space.
Q: What does WoW offer?
Our main goal is to create world’s biggest community of women in wearable tech, not only female founders, but also product designers, UX designers, female app developers and smart textile designers. This community will not only become an amazing talent pool, but will serve as a source of inspiration for all those women who would want to pursue a career in the tech industry. WoW is free to join and offers regular meet-ups and events in London to educate, inform and connect. Interviews with female founders and co-founders who share their stories through our WoW blog and at our events. We also promote them and their products through all of our social media channels and weekly newsletter.
Education is one of the key things we want to focus on, as we believe it is crucial to teach young girls about technology in a more creative and fun way. So we run workshops to teach girls and young women how to make their own wearables, as well as online masterclasses to educate the wider community, corporates and educational institutions and students about wearable tech. And, although we are a women-in-tech organisation, we welcome everyone into our community as participants and speakers.
Q: Generally speaking, what issues do you think women in tech face, that men do not?
Access to funding – most investors are men. Then support, mentorship, not having enough female role models, gender pay gap, conscious and unconscious biases. There have been many stories where there are two people in a meeting, one is a man and the other is a woman; usually the man is being spoken to, when the woman is the more appropriate person to direct the question to. Also, many women, including us when we began, constantly fight the imposter syndrome; underestimating your experience and expertise, always questioning yourself.
Q: What specific qualities do you think women can bring to tech?
Women bring different perspectives to a team when developing and designing products, and when men design a product for women, they often don’t include women in their teams. This results in a greater focus on the tech features rather than its purpose. When companies embed their ‘things’ with too many sensors, it’s indicative that the focus is solely on gathering big data. I question whether a customer really needs 10 different charts, recording everything from sleeping patterns to steps? While big data is important, the user experience should be at the forefront of the design process. One of the female founders in our community, Hadeel Ayoub, is building an amazing product – a data glove wired with sensors to translate sign language hand gestures to text and speech. Her product has gained global awards in innovation and artificial intelligence. For us, she is a great example of an inventor who has never lost sight of the ‘why’.
Q: Can you give an example of a product that could only have been designed by a woman?
Of course. With more and more women waiting longer to have children, fertility has become an increasing concern. One of our #WoWwomen, Lea von Bidder, is co-founder and CEO of Ava Science, the first ever cycle-tracking wearable that uses new technology to detect a woman’s fertile window. Also, Dr Elina Berglund, co-founder of Natural Cycles, the fertility app which allows women to help prevent, plan and monitor pregnancies. Natural Cycles is the world’s first and only app to be certified as a contraception and has been shown in clinical studies to be similarly effective as the contraceptive pill. The app has over 200,000 users in 161 countries. While we are sure men understand the importance of these issues, only a woman can fully identify with them.
Q: Years ago, I had an idea for wearable tech in horse-riding but I found the whole thing just too scary. What advice would you offer anyone out there that has a bright idea but is feeling the same as I did?
- Do your research and see who else is building something similar and if there really is a need for your product. Market research is one of the most important things in the life of a business and should be done before you build any product(s). It’s equally important to do your research while building your product and carefully listen to your customers and monitor market trends.
- Building hardware is expensive, so try to find a way to build your MVP (minimal viable product) without external funding, if possible.
- Try to find a technical co-founder that will have adequate knowledge and more importantly, be as passionate about your idea as you are.
- Patience is key when building products because your idea could take months or even years to develop.
- Find a mentor and track down key players in the industry who can guide you.
WoW is free to join and currently has 6000+ members, in 20+ countries. If you’d like to say hello to Michelle or Marija and find out more about their community of smart women, click on the links below.