Adam Torres and Kimberly Carney discuss scaling a technology startup.
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What does it take to scale a fashion, beauty and home decor tech startup? Let’s find out! In this episode, Adam Torres and Kimberly Carney, Founder & CEO at The Wires, explore what it takes to scale a tech startup and Kimberly’s new book, Mission Matters: World’s Leading Entrepreneurs Reveal Their Top Tips To Success (Business Leaders Vol. 9).
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About Kimberly Cartner:
Kimberly Carney is Founder and CEO of The Wires, an innovative 2-sided marketplace home to Fashwire and its sister platform GlossWire. With over 20 years of experience in marketing for wireless and tech companies and 15 years leading in the multi-brand retail space, Kimberly is at the perfect intersection to feel the pulse of the fashion, beauty, tech and commerce landscape.
About The Wires
The Wires has three high-growth B2B2C platforms: FashWire, GlossWire and CasaWire. The company is redefining the way fashion, beauty and furniture brands interact with consumers by giving its customers a truly frictionless interactive experience through real-time digital engagement. All three platforms are two-sided marketplaces with a mission to reframe the fashion, beauty and furniture industries by leveraging technology to provide consumers an opportunity to discover and shop worldwide brands while delivering critical real-time feedback to its partnering brands. Through its market-leading apps and web-based platforms, The Wires customers can shop a curated edit of over 75,000 products, sourced from more than 750 global emerging and established brands. The company is backed by a range of all-star private angel investors in the beauty, fashion, retail and tech spaces.
Full Unedited Transcript
Hey, I’d like to welcome you to another episode of Mission Matters. My name is Adam Torres, and if you’d like to apply to be a guest in the show, just head on over to mission matters.com and click on Be Our Guest to Apply. All right, so today is a very, Special episode. We’re welcoming back. Kimberly Kearney onto the show.
Who I am proud to announce is an, is finally a published author in our bestselling business leaders book series. We finally, we’ve been working on this book for a long time and I’m thrilled to get it out there and and to promote it with Kimberly. And I got another big announcement we’ll get to, which is I, no, I have to start with this.
This is a big deal. So fashion group internationals, Entrepreneur of the year. I realize that you, you just received that word recently, Kimberly. Hey, first welcome back, but I couldn’t even, I had to get that out first. Welcome I did last week. It was such an honor to not only be part of their event, but to be recognized for my path as an entrepreneur.
Oh, your Path as an entrepreneur and you are on fire. We’re gonna talk about today, the wires and really what you’ve done to grow and scale. And I know three, three different brands under there. Three apps in the App Store. We’re gonna, we’re gonna break these down, but I know you’re known but the company’s overall known as the Wires.
So excited to get into that. Of course, we’re gonna talk about the book and really the journey of startup to c e o was the title of your, of what you wrote. But before we get into all that, we’ll start this episode the way that we. Start them all with our mission matters minute, so you know the drill.
We at Mission Matters, we amplify stories for entrepreneurs, executives, and experts. That’s our mission. Kimberly, what mission matters to you? Mission to make an impact across our perspective industries. It’s very important to me that we’re continuing to innovate and make an impact. Yeah, it’s great having you on and love bringing mission-based entrepreneurs on the line to show, you know, why they do what they do and how they do it, and really what we can all learn from that.
So first off, I just have to circle back to this Entrepreneur of the Year award. So how do you feel, Abby? Tell me a little bit more about the night. You know what’s crazy is back when I first opened a store, I went to my first fashion group, international event in New York and it was a big deal to even get invited cause there were celebrities there and, and I remember watching the award ceremony thinking what I wonder what it would be like to be a rising star.
And then in 2020 when we were just fast wire, FWI won new re the Rising Star War for New Retail concept. And it was really exciting to be. Part of that. And then we continued to grow our business to beauty and then followed that with Home and Decor with Costa Wire. Mm-hmm. And Fashion Group International has always been a great partner for us.
You know, we support their events, we support, I’ve been on their podcasts. It’s just really exciting. And a new surprise is they asked me to join their board of directors. So I’m officially on the Board of Fashion Group International. Oh my gosh. Congratulations. What an amazing story. And I mean, I, I’ve known you for, for a bit now and I know you work hard as, as a founder and, and as a C E O.
So you deserve it. Like it’s great and I’m, I’m excited to see and continue to watch your journey and success. But I, I don’t wanna assume so that the show’s grown quite a bit and I don’t wanna assume all of our new listeners maybe caught some of our previous work today, Kimberly. So maybe just give an overview and kind of a breakdown of the wires.
Ware’s platforms are both, or they’re all three, two-sided marketplace. So we are b2b, a data hub for the brands to help them see what’s resonating with consumers to help them make better production decisions and sell for full price. And really, we wanna reduce waste and help these brands sell their products just by getting discovered on our platform, on our B2C side.
We’re consumer driven, where we have this immersive swipe vote voting where, swipe left if you like it, swipe right if you don’t. Very tender esque. Yes. And we give that data back to the brands. So it’s exciting for consumers cuz they get to come in and they get to be an influencer and they get to have a say in what’s resonating with them and it we build that incredible community.
Yeah. And, and one of the things that you have really built is a community. And maybe just to get, go a little bit further, I, I do wanna spend some time on the book to build out this story. The title again, of what you wrote was Journey of a Startup, c e o. So you talk about starting the wires, you talked about maybe some of your, your background as well in the music tech industry.
Maybe give us a little bit more about your background, how you got interested in entrepreneurship. After college I took a job at at and t Wireless and back in the day they were focused on the technology T D M A for the cell phone. Mm-hmm. So I was part of their marketing team and I traveled the world actually building conferences and events, and my keynote speakers were people like Nelson Mandela and Wow.
You know, different industry leaders around the world and it was a great career for me to really understand marketing events, conferences, and really get an idea of really where I wanted to be. And the technology was what really fascinated me the most. After I was really ready to stop traveling so much, I found a job in the music industry called Discover Music, and I became their head of marketing and we were.
Back in the day, we were the technology on Amazon where you could actually play the song sample. Mm-hmm. And it was really great. And I remember going to my CEO and saying, so what’s my marketing budget? You know, you come from at and t where you’ve got a big marketing budget and you go to a startup and you’re lucky if you can cash your paycheck, you know, the following week.
And he’s like, zero. And I’m like, oh, okay. I can be creative. So I actually, billboard was really big at the time and so I was able to get this on Billboard and I worked with the Amazon account back when Amazon was still small. Mm-hmm. And Really, it was a great, you know, career for me in the music tech industry.
Mm-hmm. I still think we would’ve been iTunes had we not got sued by the labels. But we ended up selling to a company in Seattle and then I went on to have two kids. Mm-hmm. And after my second, I really wanted to get back into marketing and mm-hmm. Started my own marketing company and a boutique hired me.
And I had to go on a buying trip with her. And I remember walking into the showroom and you just, I get butterflies to this day when I walk into a showroom. So I opened a store because I thought, how hard can it be? And I learned that retail is not easy. So, but 15 years later, I had a very successful store.
But during that time, I really saw the problem where, Smaller brands wanted to be in my store and I would, you know, spend a couple thousand dollars to have them in and they wouldn’t sell as well next to like Theory and Diane V, first of all, and all these main brands. Mm-hmm. And I felt bad for them, and I started listening to their stories about how, how much they had to pay to exhibit, how much it cost to be in bigger retailers and yeah.
You know, I thought there’s gotta be a platform where everybody can sit together that’s low cost and a solution to really help the consumer, help the consumer find the brand and really give that brand exposure to the to the consumer. And that is where we came up, where I came up with fwi. So, wow. And we, we launched in 2000.
The idea started around 2015, but mm-hmm. You, you know, you go through some startup pains. Mm-hmm. And I found my developer in 2017 and he’s still our development partner today and a shareholder in the company. And we. We launched in 2018 with fwi. Wow. We had about 25 brands and the bigger affiliates told me I’d never get brands.
Mm-hmm. So we took a team, went to the shows. I hired someone from the industry and we are now over 450 brands from about 45 countries and maybe even 50 countries now. So it was great. And when the, we, we were about 200 when the pandemic hit and the pandemic really. Proved our concept when retail shut down.
So many brands that had said no to us reached back out and they wanted to be on the platform. So during that year of 2020, not only did we have incredible press, but we grew our brand, brand base, I think to about 300 that year. And then my team came to me and said, we should do beauty. And I was like, yeah, no.
The investors don’t want you to do another vertical, you know? Yeah. It’ll work. I don’t know. But fashion’s not hard enough. Right? Exactly. I got no tech. I know. Fashion. I don’t, I don’t, I, I don’t like change. And they they convinced me, we got our developer involved and he agreed we should do it, and we launched.
Gloss Wire in 2021 with about 50 brands that we built behind the scenes based on the traction of fwi. And now we’re over 300 brands on Gloss Wire. Mm. From probably about 26, 27 countries. Mm-hmm. And then Cas Wire was actually an idea before the pandemic, but when the pandemic hit, we decided to hold off.
Mm-hmm. It. You know, again, the team thought we should do home decor, so we were lucky enough to get Amanda Smith from selling Sunset to join our advisory board to advise us, and that was really incredible cuz we were really able to build out. Home and decor in a way that’s a little bit different than beauty and fashion.
Mm-hmm. In fact, we have some really exciting things we’re gonna launch with our AI for like shop the room. Mm. And, but we launched Costa Wire in December, 2022 and we’re about a hundred brands right now. Yeah. And you know, it’ll, it’s, we’re building it, you know, slowly but surely. And it’s been great though.
It launched at number two in the app store and, you know, and now it’s continues. We’re continuing to grow it. So that’s really the story of the wires. Yeah. And and I’m gonna pick a, a couple pieces of this apart and definitely some of the things of, you know, what you attribute to some of the success that you’ve had with these brands.
But before we get into this piece I wanna go back to the early days a little bit. And this is, this is a question I like to ask to, to, you know, founders who are really getting traction in their brand. To kind of take a, a step back for a moment, because there’s some people that have watched this that are maybe younger or, or I should say earlier in their entrepreneurial career.
If you could go back and tell that, let’s just say that Kimberly, that was just getting started in, in the fashion niche and, and starting with that retail store, if you could give her some advice on maybe what’s on the road ahead what kind of things would you tell her? You can’t do it yourself, number one, you can’t do it yourself.
Yeah. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to, it’s okay to pivot. Mm-hmm. And it’s really important to surround yourself with industry leaders who are experts in their fields, who know more than you do. We, as you know, as individuals, we don’t know everything. I know where I excel. I know what I’m great at, and I know where I don’t.
And I think really bringing this, the best thing I ever did was bring in this an amazing group and advisory board in the early days that continues to change and grow through today. Mm-hmm. And reaching out when I need help because it’s okay to ask for help. Nine times out of 10 people wanna help. They want you to succeed.
And if you don’t do it, then. You still get, you get to know anyway. Mm-hmm. So really just really be, you know, let your team, and let your advisors, and even your investors, let them be a part of the community. Mm-hmm. Because transparency is important as well as getting that expert advice that you cannot come up with on your own.
Always. Yeah. And so one of the things that you’ve great advice by the way, and one of the things that you, you, you talk about as you tell your story is you’re like, yeah, I didn’t wanna necessarily do that, but yeah, we did it, right? Our team, like when it comes to launching the second brand, then the third brand as, as a founder, like how do you, how do you kind of know when it’s like, yeah, I don’t necessarily like change or wanna do that new thing, but but yeah, we’re gonna do that.
Like, how do you know? Have you met my team? Amazing. Yes. Yes. Actually I have met some of them. I was at the wire event. They don’t No. For an They’re amazing. Yeah. They don’t take no for an answer very well. You know, I, I really just, I really just weighed the pros and the cons and I seek that advice. I, I did reach out to a couple investors mm-hmm.
And got their opinion. I, you know, My technology partner who on Hamza, who is really my lifeline in this company, you know, really getting his input’s important because, you know, their team’s the one that has to carry this through with us. Mm-hmm. And, you know, and then my incredible team, they just, they, they’re just as passionate about this company as I am.
And I don’t know that you always get that in a company. And and, and I really just think that, Just trust in your instinct. Just trust in your instinct, trusting their instinct, and just the community you’ve built. And when enough people believe in it, then. Even if I’m not a hundred percent sure, you know that, you know it will work.
I’m not afraid to take chances. I’m not. I’m a risk taker by nature. So let’s go, let’s do this. That’s our theme in the company. Let’s go. Oh, that’s awesome. So you actually, as another thing you mentioned is you actually had growth in the pandemic. So, you know, you, you, so maybe some of those brands that weren’t you know, as, as readily available to be on the platform, things like that they, you know, are now turning and looking for a solution.
You’re there, you had a great. Brand a great product. So then they, they were on board. Now, right now, just for context, for everybody that’s listening or into this, into the future or watching this in the future, we’re recording this in May of 2023 where we’re live you know, there’s gonna be some more changes going on in the economy and otherwise, and, you know, some people are going to maybe ease up and, you know, lift their foot off that gas.
Pedal a little. Some are gonna maybe accelerate, some will stay even. How do you, what kind of things would you say as we’re going into the next, let’s just say phase of the economy or what the next thing’s gonna be after the pandemic? And I say the next thing, by the way, cuz there’s always something.
Always something. But what’s the next thing for you? Like, how, how would you navigate that? You know, I think. We, I’ve been smart in keeping us a small team. Yeah. And I think that has been important for not only bottom line, but this is a mighty team. Yeah. And to, to navigate it with them. It doesn’t feel like I have to navigate anything.
Yeah. I, I, we can do this as a team. We can navigate through any economy and we, like I said, we have an incredible team of advisors. We have incredible investors that believe in us and this company, a thousand percent. So knowing that, I feel like we can navigate through anything. Yeah. Yeah, that’s great. But, but it doesn’t, but it doesn’t say that you can’t predict.
And what we’re seeing in this economy now, and to your point, is we’re seeing layoffs in the bigger tech companies. We’re seeing companies close, we’re seeing banks collapse, and we can’t predict that. Yeah. So my attitude is tomorrow’s a new day. Yes. We push forward. Yeah. And what about like, so we’ve been talking a lot about obviously the business side of it, but maybe from, from the brand perspective a bit, because I think you have just an extremely unique vantage point based on the quantity of brands, the quality of brands, the variation of brands, both, and in all three niches and spaces.
By the way. H how are you seeing maybe some of them kind of approach this, this next phase of the economy? Our brands are fantastic. Yeah. I’m really seeing a lot of social posts and really seeing through Instagram and Pinterest and really seeing our brands use those social integr. Mm-hmm. Those social tools to facilitate their brands forward.
What’s so great about social media is you get a broader a audience. Mm-hmm And it works for us. It works for our brands. And our brands are also getting innovative. They’re coming up with new products, they’re, their marketing campaigns are phenomenal. It’s really exciting to see what not only our brands are doing, but what the community at large is from, whether it’s celebrities to our brands, to influencers.
It’s, it’s exciting to watch, whether it’s TikTok, Instagram, or Pinterest. Yeah. And, and one of the secret sauces, and, and I’m saying this because a, at least from my perspective as I, as I’ve watched you and observed and the wires is when you use the word community, you mean it, like I see it, I see the community around the products from, whether it’s the brand side, whether it’s obviously the people using the apps, all these things.
Like what is that word? Or that, like how do you approach that community question? How do you approach community building from your perspective? I, community building to me, is all about collaboration and partnership. Mm-hmm. You know, our brands, we c we continuously call our brands, our brand partners and we, we.
We showcase them on our Instagram. We highlight their backgrounds, we highlight the founders in our lives, and we do these fast talks or beauty talks, or even CAA talks now to really show the community who the brands are, what drives them, and mm-hmm. Give them that visibility they might not have. Yeah. And now for a like for a company like yours, which is a technology company or, or ours, which is a media company sometimes that concept of building a community like it wasn’t always done, right?
So if you’re thinking about like your, your app in an app store, there’s not necessarily a community behind it or that component. So I know there’s some others. So I believe you’re extremely innovative in what you’re doing and the fact that you’re even approaching it from that. Community mindset. For the maybe other tech entrepreneurs out there who haven’t approached the, like, like their business or their, you know, their app or whatever it is, right.
From that community like perspective, what kind of things would you tell them or tips would you give them on just community building if they haven’t really gone down that route? I think one thing that we did with we’re a paid app and mm-hmm. Part of the reason we are a paid app is because we get to donate to philanthropic causes by doing a dollar download with our apps, and we highlight a new charity each month.
And that builds a whole new community because, you know, we’re sharing, we’re speaking about the, the charity or the, you know, philanthropic organization that supports social causes. And then they’re sharing us and then we’re capturing that community that drives that, where their personal values get behind charitable organizations.
And I think it’s so important to be able to do that. And I’m super proud of that with our community. Hmm. How do you look? When, when we’re talking about community, I mean, you have different layers because you have obviously the, the brand partners, right? You have the, the, the community that’s using the app, of course.
Speaking on the, for the brand partners maybe a little bit longer here. How do you look at who’s going to or kind of evaluator decide who’s gonna be a good brand partner, really a good fit for the platform? It’s super important to us that they have, you know, a social following mm-hmm. That they’ve been in business for a year or two.
That they obviously need to have a commerce program, a commerce site, because we direct, we’re direct to consumer and we lead the consumer to their e-commerce site to purchase the product. Really, it comes down to we like to look at luxury brands. Niche brands up and coming founders. We are, it’s super important to us to really recognize everyone who has a beauty product that is relevant to the beauty industry.
Yeah. And so as you continue to add brand partners, as you continue to scale, you know, all three including Casa Wire what’s, actually, before I go there maybe a little bit of an update at Casa Wire. I haven’t, I’ve, I’ve this is our first time talking in a long time, like how’s everything going on that side of things?
I know you’re rocking and rolling on, on the other two, but how’s Casa Wire going? Ware’s. Great. You know, we launched in December as a soft launch. We really needed to get it out there to get community feedback so we could really learn and understand what the home and decor market wanted. Mm-hmm. So we really did have to take a step back in February to really evaluate how to push forward.
Mm-hmm. We, we’ve highlighted decor as the main. Product that we want on the app. Mm-hmm. And we are bringing emerging brands on. Mm. So it’s great. But in the behind the scenes right now we’re developing shop the room through AI technology through our partner. Oh, what’s the, what, what can you tell me about that?
You know, I love breaking a story here. What, what can you tell me? I won’t go too far, but gimme a little hint. Just, you know, it, it’s very similar to like, you walk into a store and you can shop the store. So this will be virtual and you’ll be able to shop the room and shop product directly from the room it’s in.
Oh, that’s gonna be fun. I can’t wait to see the, I’m super excited and we have some exciting stuff with fast wear and glassware coming up too in the same area with our, with AI and ar. Oh, do Doell Doell well shop the floor for, you know, FWI and then Glass Wire I cannot talk about yet. Okay. All right. I know I gotta next, next podcast.
Okay. You know, I gotta get what I can get from you, Kimberly, while you have Well, I have you on the line. It’s okay. Oh, well. Well, Kimberly first off, I am thrilled and excited to continue promoting this book with you. Well, for all the audience, everybody watching, like we’ll have links of course, in the show notes, all that good stuff, so you can pick up a copy.
So definitely want you to do that. But Kimberly, if people are interested in learning more about the platform, I mean, of course they can download from the app store, but just in general, how do people get involved with, with the community and really connect with the wires and the brands? You can download the apps on iOS, on at the App Store and Google Play.
So fwi, gloss Wire, and Casa Wire. And we also have websites as well. Our social handles are at fwi, at Gloss Wire Beauty and at Swire Home. We’d love to have you follow us. Join us and download the app. Fantastic, and we’ll put all that information in the show notes. So again, our, our, our audience can just click on the links and, and download the apps.
And speaking of the audience, if this is your first time with Mission Matters or engaging with the platform, we’re all about bringing on business owners, entrepreneurs and executives, and having them share their mission. The reason behind their mission, you know, why they do what they do and what really gets them fired up to go out into the marketplace and make a difference.
If that’s the type of content that sounds interesting or fun or exciting to you, we welcome you hit that subscribe button because we have many more mission-based individuals coming up on the line, and we don’t want you to miss a thing. And Kimberly, really as always, it’s a pleasure working with you. I’m looking forward to the next time we get to do this.
But thank you again for coming on the show. And by the way, congrats again on. Entrepreneur of the year. Come on. And joining the board too. I didn’t know that piece of it. You’re, you’re, you’re on fire and I’m so happy to support you and to get the message out. Thank you so much for having me. It’s a gr it’s a pleasure and I really love working with you and your team.