The story behind Affinity

As this is Affinity’s first post, I think it is only appropriate to share the story of how Affinity came to be. But to really tell that story honestly and completely, we’ll have to travel back in time a bit – to the very early 2000s – and recount a story that very few people who know me today have ever heard...

When I was 15 years old, my future was super clear to me. I was going to be a fashion designer. A great one at that. Obviously.

By some feat of persuasion, I convinced my mother that dropping out of high school to study fashion was a reasonable idea.

I promptly enrolled in the fashion program at Academy of Art University in San Francisco and started my Monday/Wednesday adventures in the “big city.” I had platinum blonde hair, wore all black and had a ridiculous vintage, circular suitcase I carried around instead of a backpack. I was a proper art student, and boy did I think I was cool.

All started off well, but one day about 9 months in when I was sitting in my “fashion business” class listening to my teacher explain some basic math, I had a couple big realizations.

The first was that I needed more of an analytical challenge. I loved the creativity of art school, but I was missing those really tough analytical problems that hurt your brain and keep you up at night. I thought about the path I was going down and it was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to be challenged enough in the way I wanted to be challenged.

The second was that I was far from being the most creatively talented person in the class. Perhaps more alarming, I knew that even the most talented person was going to have a tough time making it in the fashion industry. All this brought me to the logical conclusion that if I continued down this path, my future prospects were probably pretty bleak.

So, right then and there it clicked for me. I’m not the creative person. I’m the analytical person who has a strong creative side. And that was actually my strength, my unique value proposition and (in some way or another) my future career.

Fast forward to today and that major insight has become my guiding philosophy. At every step along the way, I’ve pursued the opportunities that challenge, stimulate and utilize both the creative and analytical sides of my brain. This philosophy guided me through college (where I took art classes alongside my economics coursework), landed me in my first job (at a mass-customization fashion startup), enabled me to discover a space I’m super passionate about (fashion/tech), and ultimately led me to a product management job at Google where I got to build exploratory shopping products (like Boutiques.com and Google Catalogs) at the intersection of fashion and tech.

But after three years at Google, both my creative and analytical sides were itching for a new challenge. And one specific area particularly had my curiosity: fashion and personalization.

I had watched several research teams work on this problem over the years and felt their approaches didn’t quite make sense for fashion and the results left something to be desired. I looked at the personalization that was happening in the music and movie space and was frustrated that there wasn’t anything nearly as compelling in fashion. It was clear to me that there was a big opportunity, and it seemed like the perfect kind of problem for a hybrid analytical/creative person to tackle.

So I quit my job. But first I decided to take a much needed sabbatical to travel, recharge and contemplate my future. At the end, I came back to my trusted philosophy and decided to follow it to the most major analytical and creative challenge I’ve pursued thus far – starting a fashion/tech company.

This past year – getting Affinity to the private beta launch – was one of the most difficult and exciting years to date. I had to brush up on statistics, teach myself how to code, deconstruct the psyche of the female shopper and review more dresses than one could think humanly possible – but we finally have the start of a product I feel very proud of.

At this point, who knows what the future may bring. But my philosophy hasn’t lead me astray thus far, so I’ll stick with it. With any luck, this time next year we’ll be writing another post about how Affinity’s analytic and creative approach has led us through fundraising, user growth and, most important, building a product that people really love.

Cross your fingers for us!

- Abby
Founder & CEO of Affinity