“Hire the Smartest Person you Can, Not the Best Person For The Job” 5 Wisdom Nuggets from Whitney Casey CEO of FINERY.com

Whitney Casey with Finery co-founder (and model/actress) Brooklyn Decker
“So many roles shift when you are at a startup that the job you hired for could now be a different role, so hiring the smartest person works because they can pivot skills along with the needs and goals of the company.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Whitney Casey, the founder and CEO of FINERY.com, the first automated virtual closet platform. She works in NYC with a stellar team of brainiacs who have created the technology that is revolutionizing the way women interact with their wardrobes. The site, which launched in March, counts fashion influencers and entrepreneurs such as Miroslava Duma, Lauren Santo Domingo, and Leandra Medine among its users. Look for Finery in the app store too.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

My backstory starts in high school, when I was one of the top volleyball recruits in the country. I ended up going to a university with a highly competitive top-ten program, only to then injure my ankle freshman year. I realized I wouldn’t be able to compete at the highest level so I transferred to UVA, where I could still play and get a full ride in a less competitive league. I went from a fully-funded program including fifteen women’s scholarships to the last placed team in the ACC. I realized that there weren’t enough scholarships for women there, nor was the program even fully abiding by Title IX regulations, and I started fighting for our team to have the same opportunities as the men’s teams.

Fast forward — I’d been working in media for twenty years as an anchor at major news networks, a live talk show host producing all female-centered content, a media specialist for Bill Clinton, and even a best-selling author… then I decided to give tech entrepreneurship of all things a try! The idea was born when my friend Brooklyn Decker and I were lamenting that we had our banking on our phones, our calendars, our emails, our music, travel, and yet, we had to be standing in our closets to get dressed or pack or decide what to wear. We realized that we could come up with a tech solution to this — and the rest is history.

Personally, being a tech entrepreneur motivates me to inspire other women just as I demanded our equal opportunities as a college athlete. I want my story to be out there so women see that they too can create technology — even with ZERO experience! — that will better their lives and solve their everyday problems. I want them to know that if they have an idea, they have to go for it.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?

We couldn’t afford to buy the domain FINERY.com when we first started, so we made it FFINERY.com like ssense. com which is pronounced “essence”…but umm… not the same. Hahaha one of our most important investors Miroslava Duma, a heavy hitter in the fashion tech space, has this beautiful European accent, but whenever we would talk about the company she would always call it “F” (pause) FINERY… so it was like — in her cool sweet little beautiful accent — she was saying #%*! FINERY! So we decided to spend the major cash and bought the rights to drop the extra F… and go with the real word FINERY — ffinally! Hahaha.

So what does your company do?

Our company has built technology that finds all of your e-commerce purchases and uploads them to an online Wardrobe completely automatically, with zero manual work on behalf of the user. We are giving women the ability to look through their closet while they’re in the carpool line or on the subway, so they can plan what they’re going to wear that night or pack for the weekend. We also help them shop smarter by sending them sale notifications on wish list items, and reminders when return windows on new purchases are expiring. Next we’re using machine learning to dress our users so they’ll have outfits styled for them using their real clothes. The technology here is the star because it’s incredibly complex and hard to build — but for the user, we want this to be a productivity tool that serves them like Spotify, Mint, or TripIt. Saving women time and money is at the core of our product and is what our company is most passionate about.

What makes your business stand out? Can you share a story?

Our business stands out because we are the only one approaching this space — the connected closet — with technology. There have been many attempts at the virtual wardrobe, but they’ve all been analog and require users to manually upload photos of their clothes. Ours stands out because it gives users a visual inventory of their wardrobes without that daunting amount of work. I think the most important thing, though, is that we prioritize helping our user above all else. This is how we’ve connected with women and gained their trust. I was speaking with one of our most active users and asked her why she only uses her Wardrobe but hasn’t started using her Wish list (universal wish list is a core functionality of our site). She opened up and told me that she actually had had a shopping problem and now uses FINERY to remind her of what she already owns and find new ways to wear it. Hearing that was extremely rewarding. User empathy sets us apart.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I hope that I’ve brought goodness to the world by creating more opportunities for women! I want them to see my background and know that they can start something totally new too and succeed at it. If being 43 is good for anything, it’s experience and connections made along the way, and that’s definitely something I try to share — whenever I meet another entrepreneur I feel it’s my responsibility to help them myself or by finding the person who can. Ultimately I plan to bring goodness to the world by having a billion dollar exit so people are clawing at the chance to invest in other females. Muahahhaa.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I Started my Business” and why.

  1. At WeWork — no one works. It is just a spot full of one to two-person offices, most of which remain unoccupied most days.You want to surround yourself with teams bigger than you that are buzzing when you are small. So, better to take a crammed spot where all the action is than to get your own spot in an uninspiring, somewhat dormant space. You will need inspiration at every turn because the road is long and hard.
  2. When you first think “I should fire this person” it is too late and you already waited too long. Have more conviction to shut things down when you first know they aren’t working — if things start out a little off or broken, it will never get better, only worse.
  3. Don’t check your gut feelings about an employee. Check references.
  4. Hire the smartest person you can, not the best person for the job. So many roles shift when you are at a startup that the job you hired for could now be a different role, so hiring the smartest person works because they can pivot skills along with the needs and goals of the company.
  5. Avoid the dreaded — #SLACKLASH . What is slacklash? The backlash that taking away communication between humans causes because they are sitting right next to each other and NOT talking — just slacking (a tool used in offices to send messages and docs etc). We have started to have a requirement that on Thursdays Slack is banned from our office ;) we will see how long we can maintain the #slackban, but for now it is working.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

DJ Khaled, because every #humblebrag should actually start with his phrase — “and another one.” Bruce Springsteen, because I live by his quote in The Defiant Ones where he says that to tackle new frontiers you have to surround yourself with people who believe in the big vision. Marissa Mayer who I’ve already been stalking via a mutual connection so putting it in HuffPo is new levels. Sadly she will not be reading this, but Grace Hopper. First female computer scientist, champion of women in tech, and — perhaps her greatest legacy — namesake for our Live Chat customer service rep. And Elon Musk because um he’s everything.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!