Linda Franco, Co-Founder, MACHINA: Making Cutting Edge Tech Wearable!
We love this interview! Adriana Galue meets Mexican fashion-tech entrepreneur Linda Franco as part of The NextWomen LATAM Theme.
Linda Franco is the Co-Founder & Business Lead at MACHINA, a fashionable, functional and adaptable Wearable Technology Company based out of Mexico City.
Linda graduated in strategic marketing and design from Centro de Diseño, in Mexico City. Before MACHINA, Linda co-founded The Gyzu Experiment, a web design and development firm.
Adriana spoke to Linda about how she merged her life's two passions and turned them into a business; about the challenges she's faced in the fashion-tech world; and how she shocked UK fashion designer Thomas Pink!
AG: Please tell me a little bit about your background
LF: I studied marketing and strategic design in Mexico City. My thesis paper was based on fashion trends. My two passions, which I have been working on since I was 20 years old, are fashion and technology. My first startup was called The Gyzu Experiment. The startup was a web design, new media and development firm.
Simultaneously, I ran a program called “Plan de Escape”, a collection of fashion and design workshops created to rehabilitate male inmates placed in a prison for committing violent crimes.
After working in The Gyzu Experiment and Plan de Escape, I wanted to do something that combined both experiences. This is how MACHINA was born.
AG: How did you come up with the idea for MACHINA and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?
LF: I’ve been working with my boyfriend in all the previously mentioned startups. He is a fashion designer. I’ve always been his trend hunter. Initially, we created a product where we incorporated a radio into a jacket. This jacket with a hidden radio embedded in it transmitted irregular content (also created by us).
English fashion designer Thomas Pink took a look at the project. He was shocked by the concept. Realizing that the concept constituted an illegal broadcast, we stopped.
We asked ourselves: “what if we could create a functional clothing line with technology embedded into it?” We knew that many designers and creatives such as Hussein Chalayan had already begun to integrate technology into clothing. The issue was that clothing had never been functional.
The idea took off when we realized that wearable technology was mostly made from the engineer’s perspective and not from the designer’s perspective. This made the clothing bulky, uncomfortable and not serviceable. In the summer of 2011, we applied to the Wayra Accelerator. We won the USD $50K price by only pitching the idea.
AG: What makes your company different from your competitors?
LF:There are a few companies who are dedicating their lives to wearable technology. These companies have developed both revolutionary and innovative products leaving people in awe (including myself). We are the first wearable technology company making products which are wearable, fashionable, functional and adaptable.
MACHINA creates wearable products by seamlessly integrating fashion and technology. We provide the user with wearable technology that is invisible, functional, and intuitive.
We accomplish this by using flexible electronics, an elaborate integration process, and an evidence-based design and testing process that begins by thoroughly understanding the use cases for technology. We combine our understanding of technology with a deep understanding of the fashion industry. We also license our solutions to established retailers in order to help them integrate their clothing with technology.
AG: What is your business model?
LF:Our business model has three important components:
Create technologies, integrate them completely in both clothing and accessories, and beta test them. We create a minimum viable product (MVP) after an intense process of beta testing.
We place our products in specialized retailers in order to both test the MVPs and gain exposure. We then make the appropriate changes. We always create a small quantity of products to sell in concept stores and obtain feedback from our users. Once we see how our technology behaves in the market place, we gather data and come out with a more robust version of the technology.
Once we have a robust technology and a full understanding of how and when to integrate it into the production process, we license and sell the technology to companies who are interested in it.
By working this way, we can eliminate most of the overhead associated with distribution. Our limited production gives us the advantage of being able to test out the products, ride the positive PR wave, and not spend too much cash flow on it. Licensing allows us to have significant sales without a large investment in production.
AG: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?
LF: Mark Twain used to say “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”. Throughout the years, I have worked with many people. I’ve heard all sorts of promises.
In the end, 90% of words don’t come to fruition. I find it extremely important that my team members make things happen. I don’t care for excuses.
I look for perseverance. It is very important to never give up even in worst of times.
I look for innovators and creatives who enjoy a breadth of knowledge in many fields and have at least one area of expertise. These types of people are the ones who send shockwaves through an organization as they bring in big ideas from the outside.
I look for strong moral values.
AG: Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them?
Our early adopters were hackers, geeks, gamers, designers and alternative young men ages 18 to 30.
It has been very hard to attract them because most of them are people who are not into fashion or even into buying clothes from a specific brand.
Another difficult task has been finding and reaching out to early adopters who have heard about wearable technology and are not afraid of investing in the concept, product and brand. These trendsetters are also the people who dare to wear the product when it still hasn’t exploded just yet.
The wearable technology market has grown into a $1.5 billion USD up to today. By 2016, the wearable technology market will range between $10 and 22 billion USD (according to IMS research).
AG: Who are your customers and partners now?
After months of working in a B2C business model, we noticed that we were making a mistake by only targeting men with high purchasing power.
Our target consumer has now changed to include millennials, given that they are highly connected via the Internet, social media, MP3 players and mobile phones.
We like to call our customers digital athletes. They are the type of people who live among the four pillars of digital culture:
Machina is currently partnered with Telefonica, Movistar and Wayra.
AG: What is your marketing strategy and what has been the most effective source of new customers so far?
LF: We have always known that our target market is in Asia, Europe and some cities of the USA. Living in Mexico City at the moment, we have used this opportunity to beta test our products locally.
AG: What is next for your company?
We will be launching Machina in Japan at the end of this year. This move is really important considering that one of our strongest target markets is in Asia.
We are also in negotiations to start selling our line in USA specialized retail stores.
After two years of intensive work with our multidisciplinary team, MACHINA will have two fully developed technologies perfectly integrated into clothing. This will give us the opportunity to integrate our technology into different product lines.
AG: Have you come across any other exciting startups recently and what is it about them that appeals to you?
LF: Podemos Progresar, founded by Fernando Orta in 2010 is a startup that aims to solve the many different issues around poverty in Mexico. Podemos Progresar has the mission to create products and services that change people’s lives by establishing an economic and a social center for most of Mexico’s marginalized states. This is an idea that goes beyond mere microfinance.
AG: Do you have any role models or mentors?
LF: My boyfriend and business partner Angelo. I know it sounds cheesy but since we first started dating five years ago, he has been a true inspiration to me and has taken a very important role in shaping the person I am today.
We founded our first startup together after only one month of dating. MACHINA is our third company together.
Business has been a very important factor in our life together. He encourages me to become a better person every day. He has taught me to be patient and tolerant. As an entrepreneur, one has to be an achiever and a believer. One has to have clear goals and make them happen. For the last 25 years, I haven’t had a better role model.
AG: Do you lie awake at night sometimes thinking about the company? What aspects of it specifically keep you awake?
LF: Production. It has been very difficult to integrate two different concepts and convert them into one: Fashion + Technology = Wearable Technology. Producing wearable technology is a tremendous challenge that keeps me up at night.
Having proper quality control, procuring the right materials, integrating technology in an invisible way and being able to dress the final user without creating any catastrophe is a constant pressure.
Last but not least, cash flow is a very stress full point. I just try to stay focused on increasing sales.
AG: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?
LF: The process of integrating technology into clothing. It is difficult to quickly learn how to establish an optimal quality control over the process. It was hard at first to know where to start. Designing the correct beta test was also very challenging.
From the production side, it takes a lot of time to research and understand today’s social digital problems. It is also complex to understand material procurement and supply chain in general.
The most difficult element of them all is being a fashion and tech startup at the same time. Most investors do not want to invest in hardware. Because of this, our focus since the beginning of 2013 has been to increase sales.
The translation of this interview from Spanish was undertaken by Adriana Galue, who takes 100% responsibility for its accuracy.
Based in Boulder, CO Adriana Galue, started working with web startups following a career in Neuroscience. She is truly passionate about technology and entrepreneurship. In addition to owning a consulting company, Adriana teaches seminars in entrepreneurship applied to technology in several South American universities. For more information about Adriana, see her profile.
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