An interview with Sophia Matveeva, Co-Founder & CEO of Style Counsel

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Ever wondered if a clothing combo looks great, or is just plain … plain? Sophia Matveeva has come up with an app to help; Style Counsel. Simply take a snap of what you’re wearing and send the picture to the Style Counsel community, who’ll then share their expert opinions. We caught up with Sophia to chat about the app, and what it’s like running her own company.

Tell us about your business

I run Style Counsel, it is an app where users can get immediate feedback on their outfits from stylists, fashion bloggers and other users. If you’re not sure what to wear to a job interview or if those jeans are a good fit, just take a photo and ask our community a question. You will get feedback from stylists in London, New York, Paris, LA and Sydney to name just a few.

I started the company while I was doing my MBA at Chicago Booth last year. As my friends were going to take high flying corporate jobs, I decided to give start-up life a go. I thought I would always regret it if I did not pursue this idea.

Was there a ‘lightbulb moment’?

My phone was inundated with my girlfriends taking photos of clothes when they shop and asking for advice. The trouble is, in our chat groups, we are all busy professional women, who could never respond in time when our friends were shopping. I then saw research saying that 82% of millennials use mobile while shopping and a lot of that is to get peer review of what to buy. I thought that if we can create a channel to improve the user experience and give immediate quality feedback, we can have a platform where people discuss what to wear and buy – a holy grail for brands.

Describe your normal day

My tasks are split between two main pillars: marketing and operations. We have a great CTO who supervises the development team, so I can spend my time on the business side. Most days involve communicating with our users and investors, either in person, through the app or through our social channels. We grow stronger with feedback from our stakeholders, so communicating with them is critical.

Were there any pain points when starting up?

Yes! I have a media background, which is why I intuitively thought of creating a channel to discuss what to wear and buy. However, creating it from scratch was a huge challenge. I needed to learn how to raise funds from investors, gather a development team and work with them to create a product. Each of these steps was new to me, but I like steep learning curves!

What’s been the high point so far?

Being selected for the Start Up program at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity! It is the Oscars of the advertising industry and I was so proud that just a year after we founded the company we were one of the start-ups the industry pros are watching. When I saw our brand overlooking Cannes from the top of the Grand Hotel, I couldn’t believe my eyes!

Have there been any low points?

I think there are low points for any entrepreneur. They come from having to constantly make decisions in an uncertain environment and the sheer volume of work. Sometimes the amount we have to do seems overwhelming and that can feel discouraging. I’ve learnt to accept that we cannot do everything and as long as you get your company’s unique skill right, the other fires can burn.

Did you get any support along the way?

Absolutely! It is impossible to do this without any support. We have a great advisory board and our investors are also well connected smart people who guide the company as we grow.

While at business school, we were in the New Venture Challenge, (#4 US accelerator), which also helped Grubhub and Braintree launch. Having gone through a top accelerator right at the start of our journey was a really great boost. Not only did we get the skills and mentorship we needed, we also got social proof and a network, which helped us raise the first round of funding and launch a product people like.

What is the best thing about being your own boss?

Following a vision I believe in and selecting a team of people that I am proud to call my colleagues.

Has life changed since starting Style Counsel?

Of course! When I worked in “normal jobs” I had a clearer separation of life and work. I even switched off my phone sometimes! Now my life is my work and it is a total obsession.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting up?

Firstly, you have to ask yourself whether this is what you really want. Running a start-up is a very difficult job and your commitment is constantly tested. If you do not believe in what you are doing, you will simply get tired and give up.

Secondly, prepare yourself and research the market before you jump in. I worked in relevant jobs for years before I started Style Counsel, and then used business school to improve my knowledge and network to prepare for entrepreneurship.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to build a company that the world uses to decide what to wear and buy. The question of what to wear is universal and is repeated every day – I think this is a huge opportunity.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew in the beginning?

I wish I knew that I was born to do this from the start, because then I would not have been so nervous. This is the most difficult and stressful job I have ever had, but it is also the most enjoyable and the one where I have had the best results.

Are there are any particular qualities needed to be an entrepreneur, and what are they?

Yes: resilience and resourcefulness. You will have very limited resources, so you need to be creative and get up after every punch.

What helps you wind down in your spare time?

Reading fiction and exercise, especially running in the park.

A big thank you to Sophia for taking the time to talk with us.

Interested in finding out more about Style Counsel?

And most importantly, don’t forget to download the Style Counsel app!

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Mathew Aitken

is Head of Content at Made Simple Group. This entails overseeing MadeSimple’s blogs (five in all!) and any other content we happen to be producing. In his spare time Mathew is an avid film-goer, TV-watcher and Tottenham Hotspur-endurer.
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