#BEYOUROWN MEETS MARIJA BUTKOVIC
Marija Butkovic, is joining this week’s #BEYOUROWN. Marija, a co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella – a wearable tech startup designing world’s smartest fashion tech umbrella, and Women of Wearables – an initiative which aims to support, connect and empower women in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT and VR/AR. She is a member of Tech London Advocates – organisation aiming to support technology startups in finding new investment, new talent and achieving high growth.
In 2013 and 2014 Marija has collaborated with Seedcamp, one of London’s most well knows accelerator, as their legal advisor and startup mentor. She currently works with many startup accelerators and incubators in London and worldwide on delivering help and advice as mentor and advisor. As PR strategist and journalist Marija works with world’s leading tech and business magazines and portals, and as digital marketing strategist she also mentors startups and advises clients in wearable tech and IoT space. Prior to working in wearables and tech industry, Marija was a corporate lawyer and consultant for legal trade journals. Marija holds a BSc in Law and has also graduated from Startup Institute.
How does your day start and how does it finish?
My day usually starts around 7am when I immediately jump out of bed and check emails and social media. If I’m running on an early meeting with a client then I’ll probably postpone that for later when I get in the office.
Besides having my own projects – Women of Wearables and Kisha smart umbrella, I also freelance as a digital marketer, so depending on a day, I might spend the first half of the day in my client’s office. If not, I’m working on our WoW office in Whitechapel.
During the course of the day, I have numerous calls and check emails from partners, clients and of course my co-founders from both businesses. I try to spend two days actively working which means to meetings or events.
In the evening I might go to an event that’s related to my business or I’ll just go home and spend some time preparing dinner for me and my husband. I love to end my day with something that’s not related to my business because it rests my brain and sparks new ideas.
You launched in 2014 is that correct? What has been the hardest challenge you have had to overcome?
My cofounders and I launched Kisha smart umbrella in 2014. Kisha is a windproof, high-quality umbrella you cannot lose due to the connection between your phone and beacon inside the umbrella, which is using Bluetooth technology. Prior to Kisha, I was a corporate lawyer in Croatia, as well as startup mentor in one of the Croatian startup incubators and tech journalist. After moving to London in 2014 I started freelancing as digital marketing and PR strategist for different clients, together with running Kisha. This year my co-founder Michelle Hua and I launched Women of Wearables, a community for women in wearable tech, IoT and fashion tech industries.
My hardest challenges were:
Adjust not only to the different country but also different cultural and business background in the UK, compared to Croatia
Generating income whilst developing my products/startups and doing many things at the same time, which means I had to be (and I still have to be) incredibly organised
Switch from legal to marketing industry and acquire completely different mindset in a short period of time
Learning to say “no” to many opportunities along the way, because you have to pick your battles because at the end of the day everyone has the same amount of hours in the day.
How did you know there was a market for your product?
For Kisha, we knew there is a market because we ourselves and many people we knew constantly kept losing their umbrellas or their umbrellas broke in the strong wind due to poor quality. We got small pre-seed investment in 2014 which was enough to build a prototype and first few hundreds of units. After we sold everything we had in only a few months, we realised there is a much bigger market for our product. We currently ship worldwide and are looking for distributors.
For Women of Wearables, I knew there was a market for it because I had been in the industry for 2 years and knew a handful of women. They all wanted visibility, advice, mentorship, funding, etc. On the other side, I knew there is a big problem with women in tech in general, and I decided I wanted to help fill the gap. One of the goals for WoW is also to get more young girls interested in wearables and STEM sciences in general because we think it’s crucial to start as early as possible and teach them what it actually means if they decide to go down that path.
What is on the horizon for 2017?
For Kisha, our aim is to focus on product development and build a new collection of our umbrellas.
For WoW, we aim to confirm our strategic partnerships, sponsors and funding to run events and wearable tech workshops in London and Manchester. We also aim to build our community of WoW women not only in the UK but also globally.
How will you manage expansion and business growth?
For Kisha, it’s quite interesting, since we already have teams in two countries. It has its challenges, but so far so good. Growth primarily depends on available resources, but we currently have around 10 people in our team, and most of the work is also done in Croatia where our manufacturer is based. Communication and organisation are key here. With WoW, I’ve been very fortunate that my cofounder Michelle is as equally organised and focused as I am, which makes things so much easier.
What is are the crucial keys to developing a successful start-up?
Find the right co-founder for me it’s I find it similar to finding a spouse, he or she can help you make anything possible or impossible. Then I would say bootstrap everything, and raise money in later stages at better valuation but only if you really have to. Next, I would say to focus on few things only and then lastly is to never give up.
How much market research did you go into the industry prior to launching?
A lot. And it’s a neverending process. We made a lot of research prior to launching Kisha in order to see who are key players in this industry, because in 2014 terms “smart umbrella” or “fashion tech” was still very new. They still are, but the industry is changing constantly and you have to keep an eye open on new things that are coming.
WoW is happening now, and prior to launching in March this year we had to do our homework and find out who are similar organisations and companies that are focusing on solving this problem in wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT and VR/AR. We are in the process of building our website, gathering content, forming strategic partnerships and interviewing WoW women across the world. Since March, we have been overwhelmed by the support and interest that WoW has generated. It actually made us realise there are more women in these industries than we initially thought, they just never got the visibility they deserve.
The tech industry is male-dominated, how do you stand your ground to have your voice?
I learned a lot about how to get visibility in general through my PR work for my own companies. The key thing is to speak to right people. Find industry influencers and connect with them. Trying to find as many women in wearable tech space as possible helped, too. Speaking at conferences and taking part in panel discussions not only about being a woman in tech but also sharing my knowledge about the trends in the wearable tech industry allowed me to become influencer myself. Also, being interviewed by journalists and industry colleagues helped with the visibility of Kisha and WoW. It’s a process and it takes time, but anyone can do it. You just have to stay focused and be persistent.
What advice do you have for our #BEYOUROWN members about overcoming barriers faced in business?
Never give up! It takes time and persistence and some luck to build a successful business, but your time will come. Remember that overnight success usually comes after ten years. Stay positive. Learn to say no and always try to have work-life balance. It’s crucial, otherwise, you’ll get burned out. Surround yourself with positive like-minded people, they will empower you and give you strength when it gets tough.
Twitter: @MarijaButkovic @GetKisha @Women_Wearables