TechStars, Lies & Videotape

by melanie_io

I had high hopes for the TechStars series on Bloomberg. Finally, my mom would know what I do all day! Throughout the four or so months that Bloomberg followed us, we were assured that they were shooting a documentary. “It’s Bloomberg, not Bravo” the producers told us. “Don’t worry, we aren’t using any audio from your private mentor meetings, we just need the footage for B-roll and filler.” “We want to show the real story, nothing will be fabricated.” And I fell for it. Every time a producer or cameraman egged me on, asking me to say certain lines, or do an interview when totally exhausted, I believed they were asking me because they were looking out for me. Yeah, right.

But more than that, what could have been an honest story about the ups and downs of entrepreneurial life, was instead manipulated into some unrecognizable reality TV show with fabricated drama, outrageous caricatures of the founders, and the forced element of competition between the teams.

In just the three episodes that have aired thus far, it has become clear that Bloomberg had a character in mind for each of us – and edited footage according to the story they choose. I happened to get it the worst in Episode 3, but I’m sure another victim will emerge in future episodes.

You can catch-up on all the episodes here: TechStars TV

But I posted the real story below.

(1) The meeting we had with Be&D in their showroom in Episode 2 was shot as if we are pitching them, and they turned us down. That is 100% untrue. Be&D had been a vendor of ours for months, we had already placed a $10,000 order with them for SS11, and we were there to simply place our Pre-Fall 11 order. We ended up talking some strategy with them while there, as well. This was in the very beginning of the program in January, we had not pivoted or changed our idea at all yet (as the footage implies) but we were exploring offering a secondary data product to our vendors. An idea to which Be&D was very receptive, even giving us great ideas for the types of data that would be useful to them. It’s also implied that we were asking them for some kind of discount in buying their goods (similar to what Gilt does when buying overstock). This is also a manipulation: we never, ever asked a vendor for a discount. Being such a new company, we knew we were in no position to negotiate terms with brands.

(2) In Episode 3, when Jana is brought into the picture, it is edited as if we ignored all of our mentors advice to hire a gaming expert, and instead hired a buyer. Also, 100% untrue. Jana had been working with us for 8 months at that point, and had been instrumental in getting 15 of the 17 brands we had, on board. Yes, she may have been a bit difficult, but that’s fashion. Ask any retailer, small or large, and I guarantee you that they will tell you their buyer is the most instrumental person in their business. Even stores like Bergdorf Goodman (that only has 1 store) employ a team of about a dozen buyers. It is critical to the success of any retailer. Jana, ultimately, was not that person for us. And I was overjoyed when one of our mentors, Adam Ludwin of RRE, introduced us to Lily Kwong about a month later. Lily became the buyer at ToVieFor, and was solely responsible for getting Lanvin, Proenza Schouler, and Dior on board – brands, mind you, that do not sell to Gilt, Rue La La, Ideeli, HauteLook, or RentTheRunway, hell, Lanvin doesn’t even sell to Moda Operandi. To somehow imply that we had no brands on board is crazy. That was the entire reason we pivoted, and got the industry support of the CFDA, so as to move from smaller vendors, like Be&D, to brands like Lanvin, which we knew would drive an incredible amount of traffic.

(3) Um, LinkedIn for fashion?? What?? TOTALLY. JUST. MADE. UP. THAT. SHIT. I have never, ever put the words “LinkedIn” and “fashion” in the same sentence when referring to a business idea (which is why they do not have footage of me saying it).

There was a 3-day period where we were playing around with an enterprise SaaS solution for the fashion industry. We were wandering in the desert, and definitely were having an identity crisis. And it was probably a bad decision on my part to let the sweet siren song of a new idea seduce me. All the back-and-forth whiplash was bad for team morale. And I’m sure the Davids thought I was crazy. But to take the tiny sliver of footage they have of this and put it next to the footage from Coterie (the trade-show we went to almost a month later) is just manipulation by the producers.

Which brings me to…

(4) Coterie. The largest accessories trade-show in New York. It’s like fashion week for accessory buyers. Coterie took place near the end of February. We had already decided on a direction for ToVieFor, had full mock-ups of the new site done, and were full speed ahead on development. Vendors LOVED the new idea, which focused a lot less on discounts. We got 3 huge brands on board that day: DVF, Rebecca Minkoff, and BCBG. I did a 45-minute interview about how well Coterie went for us that season, and how happy I was to finally be moving away from our “identity crisis” and having a focused direction. Yes, Jana was being a pain in the ass that day, and that was shortly before I let her go. But to focus only on Jana, and not on the awesome success of that day is just disingenuous.

I have no idea what is in store for me (or my friends at Immersive, Homefield, Nestio, OnSwipe, or Veri) next week, but I can only hope that the blatant lies and manipulation of our story was only a short-term misjudgment…