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From the drawing board to the catwalk
My co-founder and I had been pursing the idea of our startup for about a year and a half, both leaving senior design positions in the advertising industry because we had “an itch we wanted to scratch”.The prototype or blueprint had become somewhat of a phenomenon in New York, leading us on a roller coaster ride which we clung to white knuckled, stubbornly refusing to get off.
It started with a post written in the tech blog Mashable “How To Follow Fashion Week Online”. This was basically a curated list of various VIP attendees and their relevant social media accounts where they would be posting live coverage. To us, coming from the digital advertising world this hardly constituted the online experience of fashion week, so, we sought to take up the challenge. Myself, a Brit, sat in the deep dark depths of Oslo Norway, and Marius, a Norwegian, sat in boardshorts in Los Angeles eating cereal with a fork.
Over one sleep deprived month in January 2012, working remotely from our respective cities, we conceptualised, designed and launched facesofNYFW.com just in time for Autumn Winter season, beginning in New York City February 5. What we hadn’t accounted for, or had the luxury to test, was the sheer amount of attention the site would attract. Just three days in we were booted off our server provider because it was pulling down all their customers’ sites! Faces Of NYFW eventually got back on its feet, hosted on tougher servers. By the end of the intensive eight days we’d managed to eyeball curate just short of 80,000 fashion week moments shared across Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram, republishing around 5000 of the very best covering: front row, backstage , streetstyle and after party. Proof-of-concept complete and honoured “site of the day” on Awwwards.com we began planning how to get our asses across the pond for the following season in September.
First version of Faces Of NYFW.com for AW/12
One thing I’ve learned over the past 15 months is to never ever limit yourself by your reservations. Thinking big, acting big and with conviction is infectious, and for every hundred “no’s” there is eventually a “yeah okay” to which you need to play your best poker face and you’ll end in places one never thought possible.
New York, New York!
Six months later, Sep 6 we were standing on a rooftop terrace overlooking Manhattan in Times Square co-hosting a huge Fashion’s Night Out party with over 400 guests and a celebrity host committee. Faces of NYFW was projected in the space, encouraging guests to snap photos and share their moment live to the walls. We also hustled a pop-up office smack bang in the centre of the fashion distinct where we co-hosted a VIP fashion blogger lounge allowing Tumblr’s chosen stars and a flock of stylists and journalists to hangout and share their stories. Through Marius’s extensive network we were joined by a group of cutting-edge fashion photographers who provided us exclusive backstage coverage. By the end of the week, together with our small team of interns we had curated over 200,000 fashion week moments and published around 7000 of the best. Faces Of NYFW was crowned “top digital innovations at fashion week”.
Faces Of NYFW party for Fashion’s Night Out, Times Square
Interviews at Faces Of NYFW VIP Fashion Blogger Lounge
Faces Of NYFW had yet to see a profit partly due to the fact that for all the glitz at fashion week there’s more people working for publicity i.e. for free, than for dollars. However, our reputation over just two seasons had begun to accrue serious interest with fashion icons and celebs including Victoria Beckham, Calvin Klein, DKNY, Michael Kors, Jeremy Scott, The Blonds and many many more, sharing the love to their millions of followers.
We had been following ways to monetize through sponsorship and although this generated a string of leads the amount of hours versus potential payoff was clearly disproportional. We envisioned the concept way beyond banner ads or becoming yet another digital boutique. Faces Of NYFW had become a brand, the site conjured true engagement with its audience (the average time on site was 7 minutes!) and this concept could be applied to many, many brands the world over. By December 2012 I had a crater in my savings and Marius had no further credit cards to max out. Still, the rush of seeing something self-initiated from our grubby basements, turn heads in the oh-so-elitist world of fashion had us hooked, our vision still clear and we couldn’t bring ourselves to stop.
We knew that going forwards there needed to be an entity behind this project; a startup.
Starting the startup
Socius; meaning “to follow, or, to share” was conceived in January 2013.
The manifesto: Socius will allow any brand to easily create beautiful and engaging social hubs, combining their own original content with the best of what their fans are saying in real-time across all social media.
A rough landing page was finalised and we threw ourselves headlong into yet another eyeball reddening eight days of non-stop curation with Faces Of NYFW Autumn Winter 13. Our plan was to use Faces Of NYFW as a launchpad to propel awareness of Socius to an array of early adopters and creative influencers.
Despite not being economically able to be in NYC this time around, we wanted to have some offline presence so we printed off a bunch calling cards for our photographers to dish out. On day four one of these cards was picked up by none other than the worlds No.1 super model; Cara Delevingne! By the end of the eight days we had over sixty shots of the cards with top models, iconic designers and celebs. In addition, our hashtag #FONYFW finally became adopted as a way to get a head above the crowd and the Socius mailbox sported enquiries from global brands asking to make their very own FacesOfNYFW-inspired sites. This gave a great indication of the need, but in order to scale, we had to pivot from an agency business model towards software-as-a-service (Saas).
Cara by Faces Of NYFW photographer Crystal Schreiner
Without sufficient funds to invest into necessary development we began corresponding with interested brands and events with the idea to land a few bespoke jobs which we would reinvest the revenue into the Socius SaaS build. However, it was not only hard cash we needed but expert advice and business mentoring . After spending some days in Berlin for tech conference HyBerlin, I stumbled across Axel Springer’s new accelerator program; “Axel Springer Plug And Play”.
Sink or swim
August 20, Marius and I were sitting in the Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles typing nonchalantly to Mercedes Benz USA’s NYC agency, who had gotten in touch, typically last minute, asking after Faces Of NYFW sponsorship opportunities. Several weeks earlier we had reluctantly decided that we wouldn’t run Faces Of NYFW this September in order to take on some landlord-pleasing freelance jobs whilst we applied for various accelerators across the globe. The emails piled up and with our aura of indifference from not “needing” to run we kept up the talks. First came the news from Axel Springer inviting us to pitch in Berlin Sep 4, (shit!) then from Mercedes Benz USA who wished to buy a Faces Of NYFW Spring Summer 14 sponsorship package meaning we’d need to fly immediately back to the states to be in NYC Sep 5 for fashion week. Hoooly shiiiit!
At this point we were already junkies of our idea. I flew out Monday 3; LA ✈ Denver ✈ Frankfurt ✈ Berlin. Sixteen hours later I’m hauled up in a hotel room in cloudy east Berlin drafting the pitch. Four hours of shuteye, pitch in-front of fourteen pairs of eyes at the Axel Springer Plug & Play boardroom, ten minute Q&A, Shake hands, jump in a taxi back to the airport, board the next flight to NYC, collect baggage, check voicemail; “you’ve been accepted into the Axel Springer Plug and Play accelerator program starting Oct 7, now go get yourself a beer!” Cabbed it to our Airbnb, hi-fived Marius and a whiskey salut, finalised the Spring Summer 14 design and the week’s arrangements at 4am, cat nap and straight into a week long non-stop fix curating in realtime the 400,000 images and videos of the circus that is New York Fashion Week.
It’s been a ride and it has only just begun; our full international team of four is based out of Berlin for the next 3 months.