Photo: “It’s a learning experience, it takes a lot of reading books, attending seminars and just connecting with people
in order to learn how to get over the humps,” says Sarah Juma, co-founder and CEO of StyleID, on her first experience as an entrepreneur.
Ever have that moment where you realize that you spend way too much time watching TV?
Sarah Juma did – and today, she proved it is possible to turn all that tube watching into something productive, with the launch of StyleID.
“StyleID is a mobile app that helps fans find items that they see on TV,” says Juma, the company’s co-founder and CEO, who is part of the Google for Entrepreneurs program at the Communitech Hub.
The idea came to her after multiple hours spent knee-deep in Google’s search engine, looking for the exact outfit she had seen on the TV show she had just watched.
“I worked a lot in film production and film is what really guides people in the fashion world,” says Juma, who moved to Toronto after attending the University of Waterloo, and landing a job behind the scenes at MuchMusic.
“I guess my love transferred from entertainment to more ‘technical entertainment’,” she says.
Since the music industry wasn’t exactly thriving and there were no opportunities to move up, “I decided that I was going out on my own, [to] forge my own path and try and create something,” she says.
That’s easier said than done when you’re a non-technical person. But, after waiting a full year and doing a lot of research, Juma decided to give it a shot.
“The first place that I came was Communitech at the Techtoberfest event, just to check it out and see what’s available,” she says, adding, “I’m a non-technical person so it was a really scary world for me…and everybody was really friendly.”
She learned about how Communitech could help during one of the event’s breakout sessions “the day after I signed up,” she says, reflecting on that first experience back in 2012.
Juma has not been walking the entrepreneurial runway alone, but has been making her idea a reality with co-founder Rachel Nicole.
To share her experience as a woman in tech, she recently responded to Google’s Diversity report in the Globe and Mail.
There are positives and negatives to being a woman and “there is definitely some change that can happen, but like I said, Communitech has been a really great support system,” she says.
Technical talent is often a challenge for most startups, but an even bigger one for one focused on fashion, since most developers are male.
“Because it’s about fashion – it’s more female focused – finding a developer who could stomach looking at shoes, or talking about fashion aspects, is hard,” says Juma, who was lucky to find one.
The StyleID app is now available on BlackBerry and Android. It allows you to look up an episode from among 21 different TV shows and find exact pieces a character wore, then gives you an opportunity to buy it online or share it through your social channels.
Juma says the key is to find the exact piece, to achieve the same look and feel as seen on your favourite character.
She puts her background in media and entertainment to good use by emailing costume designers and getting them to identify items seen on episodes as soon as they are broadcast.
“Costume designers rarely get recognized for the work they do and how they do it, and it is them who shape the whole industry,” she says. “Eight months ago, they were putting these items on the characters, and today when it’s aired, it looks so relevant, fresh and new.”
It’s been a whirlwind for Juma and her co-founder, who are headed to Los Angeles and New York to connect with costume and fashion designers.
“We’re only starting with 21 shows, but we’re eventually going to be moving into movies and music videos, and the furniture and the paint colours that you see,” she says.
She says her time with the Google for Entrepreneurs program at the Hub, which is drawing to a close, “gave me access to some great entrepreneurs who I could connect with, and these are honestly relationships that I will keep for the rest of my life.”
A year and a half after she started off on a new path into fashion and tech, Juma offers some advice based on what she’s learned.
“Stick to your plan; obviously you have to pivot when you need to, but you’re an entrepreneur and it’s about creating your own path. And what worked for one company may not work for you, so you really have to trust your gut and go with it.”