Jenny Griffiths describes herself as a “visual search obsessed software engineer turned entrepreneur who specializes in turning crazy ideas and gut reactions into products.”
So she isn’t your typical CEO.
In fact, the business world was so alien to her in the early days of her first company, Snap Fashion, that she would constantly find herself in meetings scribbling “Google what this means” into her notebook.
Fashioning visual search
Snap Fashion, born out of Jenny’s university thesis (“content based image retrieval system for fashion”) allows its users to take a photo of the look they love and search with it, returning either the exact item or similar items from over hundreds of thousands of items available in stores and online.
Snap Fashion has now morphed into Snap Technology, a visual search technology platform taking content and imagery and turning them into online product leads. Officially up and running for five years, Snap Technology users now take 100,000 “snaps” a week despite the company still only employing 15 people.
As a computer science student at University of Bristol, Jenny wanted to focus on animation, with an end goal of working for Pixar. Her studies introduced her to the concept of Computer Vision – teaching a computer how to understand image data.
According to Jenny, she never saw herself pursuing a path of entrepreneurship; that was something that happened to other people, somewhere in Silicon Valley. But she could code, had the model from her thesis, and used her flatmates as her original beta testers. What she took to investors to raise seed money didn’t cost her a penny.
Snap Fashion was funded almost straight away in 2011 by Innovate UK. Following that initial funding, she was thrust into the venture capital (VC) world, where she estimates she must have received about 150 rejections.
However, rather than take each rejection personally, Jenny saw each as a learning opportunity. And while she said she believes overt discrimination towards female entrepreneurs is quite rare, she recognizes a massive gender bias in VC, with only approximately 6 percent of funding going to female-led companies at Series A level. (Snap Technology itself has recently gone through Series A.)
The long game
Snap Fashion was the first, but there is now a proliferation of fashion-based apps. Jenny says she admits she sometimes wishes Snap Fashion was the second out of the gates. That she has “messed up along the way” and would have liked to have been a competitor looking over and knowing what pitfalls to avoid.
Although there have been opportunities to exit, she’s determined to continue to build Snap Technology, rejecting partnerships and branding that just weren’t a good fit. She would like to build on her technology platform and roll it out as widely as possible. Jenny’s aim is to replicate “Google it” with “I’ll just snap it.”
To spread the brand, she is looking at partnerships, including one recently signed with Westfield in addition to the one with Time Inc. via Series A funding.
In her handful of years as a successful entrepreneur, Jenny has earned a lengthy list of recognitions, including E&Y’s Future 50 Entrepreneur, Computer Weekly’s 23rd Most Influential Woman in UK IT, a Cisco British Innovation Gateway (BIG) Awards, the British Council’s Creative Entrepreneur of the Year, and Forbes 30 Under 30.
Jenny has also traveled to Iceland with former Prime Minister David Cameron and was honored with a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) honor for services to digital innovation in the fashion industry.
No surprise her office nickname is the “geek-chic CEO.”
Watch the highlights of a lively discussion with Jenny, covering fashion, future planning, the advantages of mentorship and the importance of following your gut instincts:
Watch the full discussion: Snap Fashion: Visual search technology (33:23)
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About the series
Thomson Reuters Labs™ partners with Cass Business School to bring you EntrepreneursTalk@Cass in London. These interview-based evening events feature founders of successful start-ups from London and take place at Cass Business School. EntrepreneursTalk@Cass are designed to inspire students, entrepreneurs and anyone interested in tech.
The talks are hosted by Axel Threlfall, Editor-at-Large, Reuters. Prior correspondent experiences include: Reuters TV, Wired UK, CTV News, and CBC Undercurrents.