Currently, only about 1 in 4 employees in the tech industry identifies as a woman. So what does it take to create a successful career as a woman in tech? In this interview series called Women in Tech, we spoke to successful leaders in the tech industry to share stories and insights about what they did to lead flourishing careers. We also discuss the steps needed to create a great tech product. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elle Chavez.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
For as long as I can remember I have been wedding obsessed with dreams to one day become a wedding planner. As a hobby, I would cut through wedding magazines and create scrapbooks of different wedding designs. When I got engaged my senior year of college, I knew I wanted my wedding to be sustainable, but also practical, which resulted in the fear of buying wedding decor as I knew, and I knew it would end up sitting in my garage for years to come. However, the alternative was overpriced rentals that would be worn out and give me limits on what I could choose from. I searched for weeks for a website or app that I could buy used, or as we like to call it at The Wedding Swap, pre-celebrated. I was quickly brought to the realization that this platform simply did not exist, despite the major need in the industry. Immediately I knew this was how I wanted to begin my career in the industry, pitched the idea to two women I knew I wanted to go into business with, rounded up a few investors, and began building The Wedding Swap App with the help of our app developers.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I vividly remember sitting at our dining room table and receiving the notice that our trademark application had been denied due to a mistake in our application. A mistake that cost us a few thousand dollars. We had hoped to be able to do without a lawyer for this portion of the business setup, simply to save on some additional upfront costs. There are people who do what they do for a reason, it is okay to ask for help and although it might cost a few more dollars upfront, it can be worth it in the long run!
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
Oh man, there have been so many highs and lows. The biggest thing that comes to my mind is when I woke up to a text from our Content Creator, Sarah Coleman saying that our social media accounts were blowing up. I was so excited, but I had no idea what was going on. We did some digging and came to find out that one of our Tik- Toks went viral, having over 1.7 million views overnight, and in return, people were reposting us, and writing article features including the popular platform, PopSugar. I would say it was a huge career-defining moment for my team. All our hard work paid off, and because of that instance, our user activity went up close to 80% and we gained thousands of new followers on our social accounts.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My business partner, Micah, and I developed the app with a team out of the Ukraine. Once the app was close to being developed, we brought on our amazing content creator, Sarah. I remember because of the time change in the Ukraine, Micah and I would set our alarms for 4:30 am, hop on a call with our team overseas to discuss user and platform issues, then would pack up and head to our college classes. We would be in classes all day, then come home and work on the app again. Those were long days. I wouldn’t say we ever considered giving up because that’s just not in our blood, but there were a few crying sessions because we were so passionate about this and wanted to just help the wedding industry. Those were long and hard but worth it days.
We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address? How does your company help people?
The problem in the wedding industry is that you can pay thousands for a wedding dress, florals, or decorations and then you have nothing to do with it all after your wedding is over. We wanted to create a sustainable app where brides can go on our platform and buy and sell used wedding items. In our world, we call it “pre-celebrated” because those items were literally used just for a few hours, sometimes even still having the tags on them. So, we wanted to create a safe way for brides to buy and sell their wedding items, and save money for their big day, then make back that money after their big day. Our payment method is super secure, you never come in contact with the buyer or seller, and it's free to set up an account with our app!
If someone wants to lead a great company and create great products, what is the most important quality that person should have, and what habits or behaviors would you suggest for honing that particular quality?
My biggest advice is that you must have a well-rounded team. My team all has their strengths, and they complement each other so well. For example, I am an art history major, so I have an extremely keen eye for detail. In developing the app, I would focus on the design aspect and making it aesthetically pleasing. My business partner, Micah, has a communications degree, so she is great at speaking to our customers and making the app “marketable.” Our content creator, Sarah, is a professional wedding photographer, so she knows what brides like and need to buy, as well as knows how to generate social media content. We all make up the perfect team.
Let’s talk about teams. What’s a team management strategy or framework that you’ve found to be exceptionally useful for the product development process?
I hate to even give everyone titles because everyone puts in their work. The team management strategy I have found to be useful is that there is no hierarchy, everyone is free to express their concerns and opinions. We have found that as equal partners, we work best that way.
When you think of the strongest team you’ve ever worked with, why do you think the team worked so well together, and can you recall an anecdote that illustrates the dynamic?
I honestly think of my team now. When I asked Sarah and Micah to join The Wedding Swap App, we knew of each other but were not close friends. Now they are like my sisters. Our strengths and weaknesses compliment each other so well and since we’ve been through it together since the very beginning, we all just have a gratitude for where the company is at now and just respect each other so much.
If you had only one software tool in your arsenal, what would it be, why, and what other tools do you consider to be mission-critical?
Oh man, since our app is available in the apple app store, we work closely with Apple. I would also say Twilio or SendGrid are our saving grace when keeping the platform up and running. Most of the tech problems are easy fixes within those software tools because we have increased user usage, etc.
Let’s talk about downtime. What’s your go-to practice or ritual for preventing burnout?
We all love to spend time with our husbands. I have a little girl on the way, so my way I turn off work is shopping for her nursery with my husband or sending the girls my Pinterest boards for her nursery. Micah has two dogs, so she and her husband love to go on walks outside. Sarah loves being creative, so she goes to her studio and creates content. Because we are in this industry, there really are no days off for us. But if we see that one of us is working too much, we tell them to shut their phone off and spend time with their husband. We try to hold each other accountable for that work-life balance.
Based on your experience, what are your “5 Steps Needed to Create Great Tech Products”?
1 . Find a great team. I truly believe you cannot create a great tech product without a rockstar team. When I need help with something or need someone to bounce ideas off, I know I have my team that I can rely on. Building an app is hard work, and I could have never done it on my own.
2 . Don’t forget the reason why you are doing it. So many people lose sight of their vision and passion because of how hard it can be. Let’s be real, technology never works right. You never know. But with your main goal in mind and knowing if you can create this, you will help so many people, that makes it so much easier.
3 . Take your time. Don’t rush the product. Building technology takes time, and the more time and detail you put into it, the better in the long run itll be and the less problems you will have.
4 . Customer service is everything. Don’t lose sight of your customers and what they want. If they are frustrated with your technology, your job is to help them and make their lives easier.
5 . Never think your work is done. There are always updates needing to be made, and just because you may have launched your product, doesn’t mean the hard work is over. Constantly strive for ways to improve and make the process easier for your customers.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
It is very hard to find other women like me in tech. It is such a male dominated field, but I believe women can do just as much. I think it is awesome that you all are featuring women in tech because they deserve to be featured more often. I think more recognition in helping others realize that there are so many women in this field, they just aren’t highlighted as much is key.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I would love to have a private meal with someone from the Dotdash Meredith publishing family. They own multiple magazine outlets and I admire their work. I think our company would be a great fit for most of their publications.
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