Over here at Seeing i-to-i, we’re excited to kick off the New Year with a new Friday series of posts meant to highlight the work, ideas, and achievements of incredible women—be it here at home, on the world stage, or on a college campus somewhere across the USA. We’ve met some incredible women while doing this blog and we can’t wait to share with you all that they’ve been up to.
This week, we’re spotlighting the work of fsense, a fashion startup cofounded by Dilani, Danny, and Poornima. They are building an online fashion network that allows users and stylists to create looks using a Pinterest style pin-board system and request style help from stylists. As long as you have a good eye for fashion, you can be a stylist on fsense!
Below you will find our interview with fsense’s Poornima and Dilani. Enjoy!
I&I: What are your backgrounds?
Dilani: It might sound strange but I have always had an interest in both physics and fashion. I completed my undergrad in
Australia at Monash University doing Physics and Electrical Engineering. Now I am in my final year at Harvard where I am pursuing a PhD in theoretical particle physics.
Poornima: I have always been interested in technical fields, and currently work as a product development engineer for Saint Gobain. I studied theoretical mathematics and environmental economics at UC Berkeley and then finished a Master of Engineering degree in Materials Science & Engineering at Boston University.
I&I: What challenges do you face as an entrepreneur?
Dilani: The main challenge for me is the pace, and juggling a startup with finishing my PhD. We also have to make sure we communicate well among the three of us so there are a large number of emails that get exchanged. Still, it’s exciting to work with a great team of people who is just as dedicated as you are to seeing the idea flourish.
Poornima: Starting a company is different in that you have to wear all hats and play all positions. Challenges also lie in the fact that you have to come up with several full-proof strategies to have your business succeed–this is difficult to do for any business, but especially a startup. You also don’t have someone spot-checking your every move to tell you if you are doing it right.
I&I: What’s it like to do a fashion startup without having any formal background in fashion or business?
Dilani: There are pros and cons. Running a startup is very different from running a business at least in the early stages. We don’t have to worry about revenue or making projections, and many of the principles that apply to large businesses just don’t work for startups. For us, it’s all about building a great product and getting other people excited about it. The pros of not having a business or fashion background is that I can think outside the box and my technical background definitely helps me see patterns and solve problems. Having said that, I do spend a lot of time reading fashion blogs, shopping online and thinking about style.
Poornima: I have had some exposure to both, actually. I worked for BCBG as an undergrad and have always loved being fashionable. As for business, I have a lot of coursework experience, and most of the internships I did over summers were in consulting and/or business. That being said, I think that having a variety of skills is useful in any startup and it’s definitely not necessary to have any particular background to join one.
I&I: What do you have to say to women who are worried about choosing the “wrong” academic path now and wonder about their ability to pivot in career decisions later on?
Dilani: My guide to figuring out if I am doing the right thing is seeing if I feel excited to start work and learn new things at my job every morning when I wake up. Pivoting is not easy and you might have to take a few steps back to learn some of the basics, but it can definitely be done and often your ability to view things from a different perspective can be a huge advantage. If you are going to pivot, be strategic about it. Try to find natural pivot points like the end of your undergrad or the end of your PhD. Make sure you have a solid plan B.
Poornima: I would tell them that there is nothing like the “wrong” path, and I am a perfect example of it. I spend a lot of time working on fsense, which is a sign that this is what I am meant to do. Just because I studied science or math does not mean that I have to do that for the rest of my life. I really think it’s important to explore options and various fields.