Disruptive Tech For The Fashion & Retail World | A Q&A With ASOS Ventures' Daniel Bobroff

11 January 2018

The founder and former Investment Director of ASOS Ventures, Daniel Bobroff now runs Coded Futures - disruptive tech for the fashion and retail world - and has pioneered advertising in video games and developed best-selling games.

As an experienced and fascinating speaker, Daniel offers key insights into the future of retail, technology and fashion customers. We interviewed him to find out more!

Hi Daniel, tell us - what was the inspiration behind ASOS Ventures?

The inspiration behind ASOS Ventures was insuring the future for a fast moving, rapidly growing business which has moved significantly away from the entrepreneurial-run experience it once was, and to provide an opportunity for the business to have access to a whole array of technologies and talents.

Faced with the impending impact of mobile commerce (2013), the emerging question was what were the other "monsters coming over the hill".

For ASOS, already known as a disruptive trailblazer within fashion, the goal was to offer a collaborative face to the next generation of highly disruptive FashionTech businesses; to gain intelligence around emerging tech trends and be able to fill technology capabilities; to support internal teams with awareness of new tech developments and assist with / stimulate their own innovative thinking (intrapreneurs); and to support and benefit from a shared journey with the best tech entrepreneurs who were at the cutting edge of reimagining the digital fashion customer of the future.

How does retail/fashion sit differently to other verticals and what consumers increasingly value?

Fashion as a category benefits from a very different customer experience from most, driven largely by its desirability factor. It is the suspension of disbelief that we define as our "style" which makes it a bedfellow of entertainment. As such, digital can be an enabler in delivering an experience as much, if not more, than just efficiency. This is further enhanced by the relationship consumers increasingly have with their mobile devices. But in this journey, retailers are very much at the start.

Storytelling (around products) has always been a core skill of the world's best retailers. With a move to digital, we are now challenged to put the customer at the heart of the stories we tell; to give them an active role, and to make the stories about them but to do so at scale. This interactive storytelling powered by digital capabilities such as personalisation, data and visualisation (to name but a few) is a strange new world for many retailers - one in which creative technology fused with sophisticated code will determine tomorrow's winners. Is the future of fashion, couture or code?

Despite the incredible growth of online sales for most retailers, physical sales continue to dominate. However, in-store experiences have changed little and lag online in many respects. Imagining the new customer experience in-store powered by digital is now urgent. The very role of the store is challenged. Despite a lot of focus in this omnichannel world, much work is still to be done, even to give us a reason to visit a store.

What are your tips for retailers looking to use technology effectively going forward?

  • Collaborate - because retailers now recognise that it is impossible to develop everything in-house and that they now sit in a vibrant ecosystem. How effectively they collaborate is key.
  • Be Nimble - because there is no linear path to success in many of these emerging technology superpowers and an imperative is the ability to test and learn.
  • Be Brave - because on the path to success, the first step for many of these technologies will be failure. But failure brings with it learning and it is this learning that is our unit of progress.
  • Cross-functional teams - retailers must move away from a siloed approach to encourage the positive tensions that emerge from different stakeholder viewpoints and thereby improves the ability to identify actionable as opposed to vanity metrics.
  • Gamify - retailers need to move their thinking from a task-based design philosophy where the objective is efficiency and minimising friction to a human-focused design philosophy where the objective is a compelling customer experience that encourages repeat usage and virality.

Speaking of which, you were behind the concept of in-game advertising - how did come about and, subsequently, disrupt the industry?

From a quirky idea that was initially rejected by advertisers, publishers, developers, some gamers and even the authorities ("Aren't games dangerous? Are you just encouraging kids to eat more sugar and not be active when they should be running in the park?"), it has found its place in the world and grown to become a $6B marketplace. My belief then, and remains, that the brand should be integrated thereby adding value to the gamers experience. This was one of the first examples of what we now recognise as interactive advertising.

Today, we have games that are designed and built for their potential to capture advertising budgets. A far cry from those early days. I am humbled to have been the pioneer (pretty much the sole practitioner for much of the 90's) and to sell the very first dollar. Quite a journey!

How do you use your speaking to contribute your advertising perspective and retail experience?

I see public speaking as an opportunity to give back. I’ve got an unusual journey and being able to share that journey makes me feel like I’m contributing.

You play a game because of how it makes you feel, and being able to share some of those experiences and learnings – from an advertising and creative design perspective across to the retail experience that I’ve been gaining over the last few years - is valuable and helpful for others.

And for companies struggling to think about how to use technology – I see that as a key part of what I do and I’m spending a lot of time to hone my public speaking. All the work I’ve been doing in that area is to improve my abilities. We are cynical about being told about data and facts – but we’re all a sucker for a story. So that’s one of the areas I’ve been looking at – how do you craft your message and learnings into a story that audiences can act upon and change their behavior as a result, because that’s one of the hardest things to do. I try to deliver that through systems and bitesize chunks that audiences can actually do something with, and I hope that will become an ever-increasing part of what I do.

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