Jenny Griffiths’ Snap Fashion app uses AI to let you shop from Instagram and favourite style photos! Find out more about her tech startup career journey.
Software engineer turned entrepreneur Jenny Griffiths has created Snap Tech to change the way people shop by combining visual search with fashion. Using AI, the company’s Snap Fashion app allows shoppers to find the clothes they like based on a photo taken on the street, from the internet or in a magazine. The app then searches through more than a million items of clothing before providing instant results.
Her work has seen her receive an MBE for services to digital innovation in the fashion industry and she was on Forbes’s Europe and the World Top 50 Women in Tech 2018 lists.
The Government is putting the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution through the modern Industrial Strategy.
I moved into my career so I could…
Change the way the world searches. I’ve always had a wild inventor side to me, so when I came up with the idea for Snap Tech, letting people search and shop from images rather than words, I knew that it was something I needed to do.
Did you go straight from education to founding your startup? Or did you try a day job first?
Like most entrepreneurs, my career journey has been pretty unorthodox. It’s one of those careers that anyone can do, as it’s all about your motivation rather than a certain path that you need to take.
I studied Computer Science at the University of Bristol, which is when I first had the idea for Snap Tech. After I graduated I worked as a Programme Manager at a large engineering company, managing engineering R&D projects which was great fun.
However, I couldn’t stop thinking about my business idea, so I worked on it on evenings and weekends. Finally, in 2011, I found that I had more work that I could cope with in my spare time, so I quit the day job and started my business. I was really lucky to have the support of my family, who put up with me moving back home and not earning any money – it’s tough the first few years!
Since then I’ve really worked on building both my company and the career, making sure I learn on the job. I’ve surrounded myself with mentors and other super-smart startup founders, so that we can share stories and learn from each other.
What qualifications do you need? Do you need a degree?
Anyone can start a company if they have the motivation, drive, and are really in love the idea and the mission of the company that they’re going to build.
For a deep technology startup like mine, obviously a technical grounding is a must. If you’re starting a technology company, a technology degree like Computer Science will really stand you in good stead.
If you have a technical idea but not the technical background, you’ve always got the option of finding a technical co-founder.
Did you CV help you stand out from the crowd?
At the beginning my CV didn’t really matter, as I was starting my own thing. However, building your CV and credibility actually matters a lot when you’re building your own company. When you’re looking to land business or raise investment, people look at the founder as much as they look at the company.
I’ve won a number of awards over the years which have really bolstered my CV. The two I’m most proud of were being awarded an MBE for Services to Innovation in 2015, and winning the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Silver Medal in 2019. I also take on interesting roles outside my day job, as an investment advisor for the University of Bristol’s investment fund, and an advisor to their computer science department too.
What kinds of things do you do as CEO of a tech startup?
My official job role is CEO, but running a startup, I’d say that I do a lot of odd jobs. You wear a lot of different hats, and not one day is the same. I view my job as driving innovation, creating jobs, and keeping the lights on. Consequently I do a lot of work with the tech team, sales meetings, investor meetings, and strategy work for ensuring the growth of the company.
My absolute favourite work is product planning – sitting in a room with my headphones on, working out what our future products are going to be and how we’re going to make them a reality. That’s when I get to let my wild inventor side out.
What are the perks of setting up your own business?
My biggest perk is getting to work with the team. It sounds cheesy, but when you start a company you’re in full control of who you surround yourself with. I’m lucky to have the most talented engineers and all-round lovely people on my team.
We always take an hour for lunch every day and hang out chatting in the park, or get really competitive playing computer games at lunch. No matter how hard the day is or how many meetings I have, that hour with the team at lunch is a proper perk.
There are some really fun perks along the way too. I’ve had dinners in Windsor Castle, picked up my award from Buckingham Palace, travelled to Iceland in a private jet to represent UK startups, and even went to Brazil with the British Council. I have to pinch myself when these things happen, but I also think that’s great that young people, and young women in particular, are able to see that anything’s possible in business and technology, and that the landscape is changing there.
What does a typical working day look like? Start with breakfast!
I like to get into the office early to get a head start on the day before the whole team get in (if I’ve been virtuous I’ve already begun planning when I’ve been for a swim in the morning). I like to clear my inbox and plan for the day ahead.
When everyone’s in the office, we have a standup at 9.30am. This is the full team running through what they’re doing today and if they need help on anything.
DID YOU KNOW? A ‘standup’ meeting is when people at work stand around in a circle to have a quick meeting. Because everyone is standing up, no-one wants to take too long to chat or gossip, so standup meetings are often quick and to the point!
During the day I’ll do everything from technical planning meetings, computer vision engineering meetings, speaking to investors, introducing our ideas to new potential customers, or sitting down with existing clients to talk about what we’re up to next. I’d say about 75% of the time I’m in meetings, but I love the product and what we do, so it’s always fun to be talking to people about all of the different aspects of the business. I just have to be very good at switching context quickly, talking about tech one minute and finance the next!
We’ll all sit down together as a team at lunch. At the moment we’re obsessed by a computer game called Towerfall, so we’ll all blow off steam playing games for a bit, clearing our heads for the afternoon.
My day finishes when my to do list does, so I’m normally at events in the evening, or having calls with customers in the United States. However, I also make sure that I schedule downtime for the evening at least a couple of times a week, playing the drums, going to the gym, or playing softball.
The bigger picture: Why are AI careers and tech startups important?
The motivation of changing the way the world searches really is what gets me out of bed in the morning if I’m a little tired or have a crammed day ahead!
I believe that people in my kinds of role, creating technology companies, are responsible for driving innovation and consequently what society looks like in the future. It’s on us to create great things, and make sure that we’re considering every social aspect in these developments too, not just the technology or the revenue models.
It’s why it’s particularly exciting being in AI at the moment, and why I’m so strong on my views around data security and where the world’s heading on that.
Why should young people think about getting into technology?
You will learn so much by getting into this industry. When you start a company, especially a high growth technology company, you’re learning every single day. You also have to continually push yourself out of your comfort zone, so you end up mastering skills that you’ve never dreamt of. I’m a massive introvert who now enjoys public speaking, for instance.
Finally, you get to have a say on the future. You have the opportunity to become a role model for other young people and show what’s possible, you get to create technologies that might define a generation. To me, there’s no other industry that offers opportunities as exciting as that.