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Fashion Concierge’s Journey at FARFETCH

By Carlos Manuel
Carlos Manuel
Fascinated by science and hoping technology will bring the best for humanity. Proud owner of Nike's sprinter spikes.
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Fashion Concierge’s Journey at FARFETCH
How a Small Tech Startup was Acquired by a Billion-dollar Company and the Lessons Learned with its Integration

You may have already heard of Fashion Concierge. It is both the name of our team and the very special service that we have built. What you might not know is that this team originated outside of Farfetch as an independent company. It was only at the end of 2017 that Farfetch acquired the Fashion Concierge business, which was both a fantastic milestone and reason for great pride among those of us who worked hard to create an innovative product within the Luxury Tech world.

The Fashion Concierge team runs an e-commerce solution, sourcing luxury items on behalf of Farfetch Private Client consumers. The goal is to answer requests for luxury products that are unavailable on the Farfetch marketplace, to locate them anywhere in the world and deliver them to the customer. It is one of Farfetch’s powerful tools in its ever-growing range of technological innovations that enhances our vision of being THE Global Platform for Luxury. It is the very definition of our company value "Amaze Customers”. It elevates the Personal Shopping experience with its market knowledge, global network of suppliers and technological excellence.

This service is currently available to all Farfetch Stylists globally, who in turn represent Private Clients who each have their own personal, diversified and exquisite tastes. To successfully fulfil our Private Clients’ desires for just about any high-end item imaginable, we have a Luxury Specialists team - experts with deep proficiency in the luxury world. We empower them with our innovative technology.

It is truly an unrivalled service. But don’t take it from me, take it from the experts at Drapers that chose Fashion Concierge for their prestigious Award for Best Innovation in Fashion Retail in 2018. 

Our Tech team is based in our Braga office, with luxury specialists and logistics officers spread through most of the other Farfetch offices around the world.

From Startup to [Unicorn]

From its humble inception in 2017 as a tiny startup to the current day as part of Farfetch, we have lived through many different and exciting phases. Becoming an integral part of a tech powerhouse does not happen overnight, especially when merging two very distinct businesses, processes and technology platforms. In this article, I’ll explain the journey to Fashion Concierge’s successful integration with Farfetch. 

The Tech team started by doubling its size, adding a few much-needed engineers to its roster: some to further develop the software products and others to manage its quality. We also introduced an Engineering Manager to take the reins of our products, freeing up our Head of Operations to completely focus on what he does best. Resizing our team also had the advantage of bringing in more diverse work experience to the group. But it also introduced many new changes to a team that had been working together for some years.

Next, we had to tackle our processes. While we were already following Agile methodologies (who isn’t nowadays?), our original team often struggled with frequent and unexpected change requests. Many of our new hires came from formal software houses, and they brought a culture of more formalized release timings, assignment of responsibilities, and discipline around what to include or not in each version release. We added small tweaks on a Kanban-like workflow already in action, which improved our ability to deliver complex features consistently while still making room to deal with technical debt. We hired a Project Manager, who helped us refine our collective Agile practices, and after 6 months we had established the processes which are still in place today.

We then tackled a deeper integration with Farfetch’s tools and knowledge base. After the project completed its high-level review, one of my first assignments was to document it in the company’s Confluence pages. At this point, Fashion Concierge really started to pop up in Farfetch’s internal systems. This, in turn, led to some natural curiosity from colleagues outside our team. Integrating our code repositories came next, and soon we were a proud fully-fledged F-Tech team.

Our technology alignment with Farfetch, on the other hand, was a more challenging matter. At its core, Farfetch builds most of its platform systems in a .NET stack, while at Fashion Concierge we‘ve developed our products with a Java stack. This major difference only accounts for the framework level. We also employed a different database system and cloud provider. To support technical and operational efficiencies across many contributing engineers, Farfetch invested in a massive infrastructure and release pipeline that, while broad enough to work with a multitude of technology stacks, most strongly supported its core stack. Migrating what we had to this infrastructure was a challenging matter. On the flip side, exposing Farfetch to a diversity of technology stacks enriches the company with both knowledge and a wider array of solutions for today’s highly competitive and ever-evolving business world.

Fashion Concierge Today

It seems like just a few weeks ago that we were all in a tiny office at the edge of Braga with barely enough space for one more person. And yet, two years later, our tech team has grown from five people to eleven, we’ve moved to a top-notch office with more than 100 F-Tech Farfetchers, and our project codebase has more than quadrupled in size. We have celebrated a new milestone every year: we won a Drapers Award, sold the highest valued item at Farfetch each year, and we broke our millionaire monthly sales record several times. And we did this all by successfully empowering the specialised human knowledge of our Luxury Specialists with technology to offer a super-premium personal shopping experience for our Private Clients.

Our team was the first to move in and celebrate the opening of our Braga office, which stands proudly in the south of the city facing the centre in the distance - a recognisable postcard for the company. We have started working closer with Farfetch Private Client services and now serve as their Technology arm, empowering the reach of their stylists with an ever-evolving product, carefully tailored to maximise their personal shopping efficiency.

Fashion Concierge is now a proud F-Tech team bound by the same values, working closely with our stakeholders. We have a dedicated hour in the company’s onboarding week, where we have the opportunity to introduce our team to every new joiner that comes to work at Farfetch in Portugal. 

We are a use case and proof that absorbing startups into a big company is a delicate matter, but it can be a fruitful one. Farfetch has given us the resources we needed to step up our business, and in return, we have provided a service that brings pride to our company and amazes our customers. Our technology has been integrated within Farfetch and we now walk the same corridors as our peers, fueling the growth of a more diverse ecosystem that endows Farfetch with the tech excellence that we are all proud of.

How you might apply our lessons

Acquiring and integrating new companies is a matter that, sooner or later, most big enterprises will have to deal with. In today’s global market, the survival and growth of a business strongly depends on constantly adapting in order to overcome the challenges of tomorrow. Companies as big as Farfetch must either develop new solutions to gain the competitive edge and/or integrate existing, creative ones into its roster.

Merging an established company is a complex matter. But when the subject is a technological startup, this adds another layer of complexity. Fashion Concierge’s journey into Farfetch is one such story. It also pinpoints some valuable lessons for any company seeking growth through acquisition. In summary, here is my list of  worthy considerations that we learned from our experience:
  1. Hire judiciously. A startup is a wonderful place to try out innovative business ideas with little compromise but is it also a very chaotic one. If you are integrating one into your well-established company, you are going to need the right people to make process adjustments. In Fashion Concierge’s case, we brought in people with prior experience in the enterprise world. They had a similar mindset to Farfetch, but they didn’t have any company bias. They knew how to preserve what Fashion Concierge was already doing well while also introducing the enterprise-grade processes Farfetch needed to guarantee alignment with the company standards for scale and reliability.
  2. Embrace your new employees’ unique skillset. When acquiring a company, you are also bringing in new employees. They are an asset of different experiences you can learn from and apply to your own company. Fashion Concierge brought people working with different technology stacks and different creative approaches to problem-solving with limited resources. In a billion-dollar enterprise, they proved invaluable for tackling some problems in a frugal and inventive way. 
  3. Be prepared to make technological changes in your company. You probably think that your company is ready to accommodate new technology stacks easily. You are probably wrong. Big tech companies craft many unique tools and often believe that their technology is flexible enough to accommodate any new settlers without a problem. This is unlikely. CI/CD (Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment) pipelines often fail because a specific case was not accounted for your framework. Technological alignment works both ways in a successful company integration. While they should ultimately comply with company standards, those standards may need to change to support your new business unit as a first-class citizen. Consider introducing new initiatives in your existing teams’ roadmaps to adapt your internal systems. It will save you countless hours in future development and will significantly improve the new team’s agility and morale. It also better prepares your company for another potential future acquisition.
Fashion Concierge’s path into Farfetch was a long journey that required experience, creativity, tech know-how, patience and some empirical knowledge. It is also a success case and a source of great pride between both acquisition and acquirer. Over two fantastic years later, Fashion Concierge has become another great point of evidence of Farfetch becoming the Platform for Luxury.
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