Moran Nir: Mixing Art, Technology, Crowdsourcing & Shoes!

Moran Nir is Co-Founder & CEO of FunkKIt and a guest lecturer on Entrepreneurship at classes and events, most recently at Global Entrepreneurship Week at MIT Forum.

FunkKit is a community-based company that combines art, technology and footwear to produce customized skins for sneakers. These skins are similar to skins for laptops, iPods and cellphones but are made of high-end material and technology. 

FunkKit works with designers around the world to produce a constant stream of new, unique designs for their product. The designers and artists submit their designs which are then voted by rest of the community. FunkKit provides an opportunity for designers to showcase their artwork on a platform striving to lead a new category of expression in global apparel. 

FunkKit Stickers-for-Sneakers are currently distributed online and off in a diverse spectrum of retails stores, mall stands and as promotional campaigns, offering companies to make their own brand designs.

We spoke to Moran about her thoughts on today's young entrepreneurs; why the Israeli army is a good training ground for launching a business; and why FunkKit keeps her awake at night!

You worked in 2 Israeli startups before founding FunkKit. What lessons did you learn whilst working with the startups and then go on to apply to launching your own business?

I gained confidence and further understanding of what being an entrepreneur really means. I learned a lot about community, crowd sourcing, and creative thinking, as well as being patient but at the same time demanding. The work alongside leading experts exposed me to diverse ways to overcome challenges that may emerge. I credit to them many of the things I implement in FunkKit. 

You are a guest lecturer in Entrepreneurship events. As someone who deals with young Entrepreneurs, the innovators of tomorrow, how do you feel about the future of Entrepreneurship? Is there an even gender split in your classes?

Today's youth are fast thinkers, they are not afraid and they are more technology oriented. They're constantly searching for ways to express them-selves and initiate.

Many young entrepreneurship programs are established in the last couple of years encouraging even more young independent thinkers and innovators.   

Although, the Young Entrepreneur class at mid-school or my Computer Science class at University has more boys than girls, I feel that this is changing and each year more women are making the step towards being an entrepreneur.  For example on last year's GEW event at MIT forum Israel, I had the privilege to take part in an all women panel, with Roni Ros - founder and CEO of Panorama, sold to Microsoft in the 90s, one of the first communicated exits in Israel, Galit Zuckerman, CEO, Medasense Biometrics,  a medical device company that develops a pain monitoring device, and Rim Yunis, co-founder and CEO of Alpha Omega, who built the company with her husband in order to both help those suffering from Parkinson and to supply job opportunities for Arab engineers, all very inspiriting women. 

Another great example, specifically in Israel, is the army. It's a wonderful opportunity for women to gain confidence and leadership skills, as it's mandatory for women to serve in the army. It's emboldening to see that even in this asserted organization, you can see a significant progress towards opening doors for women to new roles, such as programmers, combat positions, and even women combat pilots. 

The changing role of women in the Israeli military seems to influence attitudes towards women in Israeli society at large. 

Do you think that attitudes towards female entrepreneurs are changing?

Definitely yes, today more and more women are embracing entrepreneurship as a lifestyle and the more they do, the more we all benefit from it. New programs, forums and meet-ups are established to encourage women to initiate and take action and more companies occupy women in key roles. I personally think that we still have a way to go, yet I'm proud of the process that has already started in the past couple of years.

Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

  • Take action, sometimes the decision to become an entrepreneur is not less hard than actually being an entrepreneur.  
  • Raise and use money wisely.
  • Network. Don't be afraid to talk to people about your idea or venture, you never know who can and will assist you.
  • Learn as much as you can about your chosen field, knowledge is power!
  • Know yourself. Know your strengths and weakness, know what is missing and search for those characteristics in your partner, worker, or investor.
  • Don't wait for the perfect time, as it never is the perfect time.

Have you come across any other exciting startups recently and what is it about them that appeal to you?

Oh..my list is long, this is why Israel is called the "Startup Nation".
In a nutshell, two interesting and useful startups are: Bizzabo , a company founded by classmates from the Zell Entrepreneurship Program*, which helps professionals discover new business opportunities at meet-ups and conferences and enables event organizers to engage more effectively with their attendees. This is an exceptional tool for networking.

Another great startup I met at one of my lectures is IL Couture. IL Couture was founded by two women with a great passion for fashion, who wanted to take their experience in marketing and sales and help the young Israeli designers (women too), while promoting Israel through its fashion. IL Couture is an online fashion platform that bridges the gap between talented young designers with no resources to market themselves, and customers worldwide who are looking for unique and unusual fashion.

How did you come up with the idea for FunkKit and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

A few years ago I was shopping for sneakers with my friend in London. For the protocol, this friend of mine has a fetish for hats and every single hat holds a matching outfit.  He came out with six pairs of Adidas sneakers all the same model yet in different colors, each pair fitting a different hat.

At that moment, just like in cartoons, eureka! The light bulb went on, and I started checking patents and other product alternatives in the market.  

A while later, I attended the Efi Arazi School of Computer Science, and majored in Entrepreneurship in the Zell program (Sam Zell) at IDC Herzliya, Israel. During my second year of studies I took part in Ayla Matalon's Entrepreneurship class, Ms. Matalon is the Executive Director of the MIT Enterprise Forum in Israel and has 15 years of experience in high-tech and venture capital. During my last year I joined the prestigious ZELL program led by another impressive woman, Ms. Liat Aaronson.  In both years I continued working on FunkKit; Market research, prototype, product development and business plan, and a few months after graduation we raised seed money and started operations in large scale.

Have you produced any of the designs submitted via your website? Tell us about your experience with this crowdsourcing section of your site.

Of course, who can resist FunkKit and say no.

I produced a few designs, but our designers' art-work is so much better and phenomenal than mine, that I love using their designs and change them on a regular basis. 

It's important for me to say, that without our community, FunkKit just wouldn't be the same.

From step one, we put all efforts to encourage and reward our community designers. Similar to Threadless, FunkKit’s designs are based on a community of designers and artists who submit their designs which are then voted by rest of the community. Each designer is granted a profile page where they can share their design thoughts and general details, including how people can contact them directly. We offer occasional design contest, visit art academies and introduce FunkKit to designers worldwide.

Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?

My first tradeshow with FunkKit! I had so many sleepless nights before and during the trade-show. I was extremely excited and the adrenaline was pumping for days. We met people from all around the world who were looking for new fun and exciting products to bring back to their countries and the reactions were amazing, it was the best proof of concept I could dream of, we received so many inquires offering potential collaborations, which we could hardly believe. The trade-show was overwhelming and full of excitement.

What is next for your FunkKit? Do you have plans to expand internationally? Which countries and when?

We plan to continue growing and expanding worldwide, while establishing new collaborations with leading designers, promotion companies, and brands.  

FunkKit Stickers-for-Sneakers are currently distributed online and in a variety of retail stores, mall stands, and promotional campaigns in Japan, Korea, Israel, Brazil, Taiwan and New Zealand. These past weeks, we are working on expanding to select stores in Europe and the United States.

What advice would you give to founders looking to expand globally?

Do research: check the market, culture, people, timing, and finally, if all is good, focus on your goal and do everything you can to achieve it.

Do you lie awake at night sometimes thinking about your company, FunkKit?

Almost every night :)

Being an entrepreneur means sleepless nights, whether it’s from working 24/7 or the fact that your brain never stops thinking. We tend to joke and say: "sleep is for the weak" :-)

This has and still is an amazing entrepreneurial journey; with highs and lows, and most importantly with extraordinary people and new experiences. You find yourself so pumped with adrenaline that you simply forget to sleep.

Zell Entrepreneurship program is comprised of 20 entrepreneurs, who aspire to work in an entrepreneurial organization or to start their own business. The program provides a platform for the development of a business venture from concept to launch.

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