Marissa Swanson spent 9 years of her life studying and practicing architecture. Next, she decided to move into the startup ecosystem and won the Women Who Code Hackathon. As a winner, she received a year membership at the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC). Now she has developed and tested an MVP for TOSS, a personal styling application that uses your existing wardrobe to curate outfits based on weather and event type.
Behind the Scenes
Roshawnna: Hi, I'm Dr. Roshawnna Novellus, host of Startup Funding and producer of the EnrichHER Initiative. We have another awesome entrepreneur today, Marissa with Toss, and I can't wait to hear all about what she's doing and how she's positively impacting the City of Atlanta. Marissa, can you tell us more about Toss and how the idea came about?
I started getting into the entrepreneurial scene and going to meetups and different events, talking to people about the idea. Slowly but surely, people recommended me here and there. A lot of people got excited about it. It's a personal styling application. It uses what you own, based on event type and weather. Who wouldn't love that?
Everyone I met was like, "You need to do this. Go do this. Go do that," recommending me for different incubators and spaces to just check out. One female I met, a developer, told me to do a hackathon. I did the Women Who Code hackathon. It was the most incredible experience. It definitely made me feel like I belonged and I fit in in the community of the tech and startup scene. I went through that whole weekend. I was on a team of seven complete strangers. We ended up winning, which was really cool, super validating in the sense of I need to do this. I haven't really looked back.
Roshawnna: Any advice for working with strangers that could help propel you?
Marissa: Actually, all of the women that were there, it was their first hackathon, too, that was on the team. We were all in the same boat. The idea was around the social impact issue and helping newcomers, immigrants and refugees coming to the United States. It was an issue that everyone can understand and wanted to help out. We wanted to win so we obviously all got together and didn't have an issue. It was the most seamless and collaborative process you could ever imagine for some of the women, over 48 hours, trying to develop something out of nothing.
Marissa: It was so cool. It was like have an open mind and respect people's opinions and go from there.
Roshawnna: Yeah. I wish we could get together and solve all kinds of issues.
Marissa: All the world's problems.
Roshawnna: Now your platform is based on AI, right?
Marissa: Um-hmm (affirmative).
Roshawnna: Tell me a little bit more about that.
Marissa: Okay. The idea of the more you interact with the app, the more you swipe through outfits that you like or don't like, the machine learning algorithm behind the scenes learns to not recommend those things for you again. The more you use it, the better it gets and the more it's personalized to you. It lends to the personal styling aspect.
Roshawnna: What I use is the number of compliments I receive. This outfit, in particular, I was walking around and Fox News said, "Can we interview you for the Fox Fashion?" I was like, "Really?" I'll put that outfit in more rotation. Is there any way to add external feedback into the platform?
Marissa: I'm working on more of a social aspect, so more catered to your closest friends. If you're friends call you up and say, "What are you wearing tonight," you could post to the event and all your friends can see what you're wearing, comment, and be like, "Okay, well, you're not wearing that cute leather jacket. Can I borrow it?"
Marissa: "I know you have it." Yeah, some sort of inoperating system and they can go from there.
Roshawnna: What are the most exciting things that you're working on right now?
Marissa: We just wrapped up MVP, so we have a clickable prototype, which is really fun to just show people now. I've been talking about it for a couple of years. Now it's like, "This is what I want it to look like." Right now, I'm aggressively pursuing the financial model.
Marissa: I'm a member of ATDC. I've been going there. One of the prizes from the Women Who Code hackathon was a year membership. I've been using that and going through customer discovery. I've been taking classes for a while so the next tract is financial literacy. They help you build out your five-year financial model and that's really over my head.
I'm actually having a working session with a couple of friends tonight. One is a CPA, a good friend. He's going to help and another is a strategic financial manager for a startup here in Atlanta, both numbers guys from different ends of the spectrum. I'm buying some pizza and beer and we're going to hash some stuff out. Then classes start March 1st.
Roshawnna: Perfect. I know you just finished your MVP and you're working on your finances so what does success look like after you get all this?
Marissa: What I want Toss to be is this lifestyle and this brand that people embrace and accept and they share the stories of how the app gave them an outfit. They went into an interview or a date or ran a 5K in this cute workout outfit and they felt awesome. I want to hear those stories. I want to hear the success behind the people that have experienced personal success through the app. That's what success will feel like to me.
Roshawnna: Right. If people feel awesome, they're more confident and they're able to go after their goals, so it's a whole life upgrade, right?
Marissa: Um-hmm (affirmative).
Roshawnna: How is this positively impacting Atlanta?
Marissa: Through a little bit of what I've been doing and people have been needing, I've seen such uprise of this startup scene in Atlanta, the Silicon Valley of the South. I want to be at the forefront of that. I want to be a contributing player and be a resource that people can come to and be like, "You did this. How did you do it? How can you help me?" That's what I want to bring to Atlanta.
Roshawnna: Great. What is one thing, or you could say more than one, that the listeners/viewers can do right now to support your success?
Marissa: Throughout this process, the social impact or I guess equity in terms of the people I've met, I've seen this become the most valuable. The more people I'm introduced to and get to meet and steer me in the right direction to the next right person is really what I'm looking to get out of it in the near future, people that can help me and say, "I know somebody who loves fashion and technology and could connect you with the right people." That's ultimately what I need right now.
Roshawnna: Great, all about the connections that work and leveraging that.
Roshawnna: One other thing. You said that you've been working on this for a couple of years. Can you talk to how you've been able to persevere and stick with it?
Marissa: Persevering just by going to different events and meeting some awesome people that are passionate, it really fuels your fire to move forward. The more I talk about it to close friends and family, the more that holds me accountable. Then I have this grander purpose to not disappoint just myself but all these other people that are cheering for me and the other women out there that are starting their own companies and breaking into the tech scene.
Roshawnna: Right, and ADTC has such a great collaboration system and education system. I know that all of that is helping you on your path to be successful. Well, Marissa, thank you so much for being a part of this episode and I wish you the most luck and success in your business.
Marissa: Thank you so much.
She grew up in Iowa, the heartland of America, but knew she needed to be in a bigger city to pursue her dreams. After many difficult discussions with friends and family, she uprooted her life and moved to Atlanta, a place where she saw an immense amount of opportunity - and less snow! From there she started attending as many meet-ups, lectures, workshops and networking events in the tech scene. One female developer recommended Marissa to participate in a Hackathon to test her skills as a product manager. She signed up for the Women Who Code Hackathon knowing no one, joined an awesome team of designers and developers and walked away with first place! It was a very validating experience, giving her that sense of belonging in the tech scene.
One of the prizes from the Hackathon was a year membership at the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC). Nearly every week since September, she has been attending classes on a variety of topics. She recently graduated from the Customer Discovery course where she has developed and tested an MVP for TOSS. Her next steps are finishing out the educate level through Financial Literacy and then joining the Accelerate Level. She has a team of developers and one designer helping part-time but is looking for more developers to join the team, it's a bonus, but not a requirement, if you're passionate about fashion and technology!