Summary of Episode
#59. Marina Martianova joins Ethan to discuss her innovative web3 digital fashion startup, Seamm, a startup that produces virtual replicas of physical fashions to be utilized in the metaverse, in tandem with fashion houses. The pair chat about the future of the metaverse, refining an investor pitch, and building Seamm as a two-sided marketplace.
About the Guest:
Marina Martianova is the founder of Seamm, a web3 startup that brings tangible fashions to the metaverse. Marina is a serial entrepreneur, launching her first successful startup, Candice, at the age of 21 and growing to an over $1 million run rate. The venture was exited in 2022.
Podcast Episode Notes
What is Seamm? [1:55]
Marina defines the Metaverse [3:16]
Marina explores the problem Seamm solves. [5:02]
Marina explains how consumers and fashion brands utilize Seamm. [6:36]
Will the metaverse experience expansive growth? Marina gives her perspective [11:24]
Marina reminisces on the path she took to gain a successful funding seed round of $1.7 million. [13:28]
How to overcome the challenge of receiving funding for your web3 startup [21:27]
Marina shares web3 trends every entrepreneur should be looking out for. [24:54]
Marina’s #1 piece of advice for early-stage entrepreneurs [26:20]
How to connect to Marina and Seamm online [29:13]
Full Interview Transcript
Ethan Peyton: Hey everybody and welcome to the Startup Savant podcast. I'm your host, Ethan, and this is a show about the stories, challenges and triumphs of fast scaling startups and the founders who run them.
Our guest on the show today is Marina Martianova. Marina is the founder and CEO of Seamm, a company that creates digital twins of real world fashion collections for virtual worlds. Marina recently led Seamm through a seed round of $1.7 million.
This was long after the crypto crash and quite a bit of time from when we were hearing about the metaverse in the news every day. Seamm doesn't stop at the digital. They are working with real world fashion brands to bring several other benefits to those companies and their customers. Before Seamm, she founded a company called Candice, a natural dessert company that distributed their product to more than 1,400 locations around the world.
And in 2020, she was able to successfully exit that company to make way for her work on Seamm. All right, we're gonna get a lot more from Marina, but in a moment. All right, we're gonna get a lot more from Marina in a moment, but before that, If you've been listening to the pod for a while, take a second to leave us a review on Apple podcasts. We're setting a goal to get 100 reviews by episode 100. And if you do leave a review, thank you for your help.
All right, without any further interruption, let's welcome Marina Martianova to the show. Marina, how's it going today?
Marina Martianova: Hi, thank you so much for such a great introduction. I am doing good, how are you?
Ethan Peyton: I'm doing great. It's almost sunny here in beautiful Ann Arbor and I hear that you have lots of sun where you're at. Is that true?
Marina Martianova: It is true, I'm actually in Barcelona and it's amazing here right now because the spring is already here and it's very sunny so I love it and I highly recommend coming.
Ethan Peyton: All right, well, I'm getting on a plane after here and heading straight there. So we will see how that works out. All right, let's jump into this. Can you tell us what is Seamm?
Marina Martianova: Well, you did a pretty good introduction, but basically Seamm is the company that works both with fashion brands and consumers. And we created digital twins for real world fashion collections to be used in video games and metaverses, as well as to be like a marketing tool or a way of communication for consumers with fashion brands.
Ethan Peyton: All right, so this product, you are creating a digital match for a physical product that a fashion company has created. Is that correct?
Marina Martianova: Let's just make it more simple.
Ethan Peyton: Let’s do it.
Marina Martianova: So imagine you came to your favorite store. Name any brand. And in this store, you purchase sneakers. And the sneakers have a QR code on them that you can scan with our app, and you get the 3D copy of the exact sneakers you got that also can be transferred to, for example, Decentraland. So if you play the Central End, you can have it instantly in your account. And with those sneakers, 3D sneakers in your app, favorite brand, announcements of new collections and basically anything that comes to their mind in terms of marketing. So I hope this example helps. It should be more easy to understand.
Ethan Peyton: It absolutely does. Can you tell us what is Decentraland?
Marina Martianova: Decentraland is a metaverse. Yeah, a simple answer is like that. It's a metaverse.
Ethan Peyton: All right. So is that a…I know there's multiple different definitions of metaverse and some are games and some are not, and some are, you know, digital worlds that you can use like a VR headset to walk through. What is the kind of extent of the metaverse that Decentraland is?
Marina Martianova: Technically it is a space where you can come in with your friends or just come and meet new people being completely virtual where also you might find your favorite brands doing events. So actually there are a lot of things going on there. So yeah, I would say that my definition of metaverse is when you have A communication with other real people and B you have more content so like you are not very limited to what a gameplay has to offer to you. So when you have like this creativity, when you have different events happening, and when you have actual people I would say this is the metaverse and then it doesn't matter it's web3, web2 like all of those buzzwords but this is my own definition though.
Ethan Peyton: Okay, gotcha. Well, it's good to have, yeah, it's really good to have your definition. Like I said, I know there are a lot of definitions, so it's good to know what we're working with today. And I think, if I'm correct, Decentraland is something that you can get into in a VR headset, is that correct?
Marina Martianova: You can actually just get with your computer.
Ethan Peyton: Oh, fantastic. OK.
Marina Martianova: Yeah, so it's simpler. It's even easier. You don't have to own any kind of like tech except for just computers.
Ethan Peyton: Okay, fantastic, fantastic. All right, so what is the problem that is actually being solved with Seamm and the work that you all are doing? I mean, we had our metaverse, I mean, our avatars, I'm assuming were already dressed in the metaverse, and these fashion brands in the real world are already creating clothing and accessories that people can wear. So what is the actual problem that's being solved here?
Marina Martianova: Let's divide it into two parts because one is for fashion brands. They are seeking for a better way to connect with the existing customers, meaning that they want to know more on… and it might sound creepy, but they really want to know more on their preferences or how much fan they are of their brands. And they want to connect in a new way, meaning not using SMS or emails, but also having something more creative. That is playing video games already and that is hanging out in the digital space and they need to enter that space because it's like where the audience is sitting and these people are getting older and older and they're buying more and more products from those fashion brands.
Ethan Peyton: Okay.
Marina Martianova: And for people it's about self-expression, so… meaning that if I own a Louis Vuitton bag, I'm not able to show it to my friends in the virtual world that I'm owning this bag, right? And it is meaning… I cannot identify myself really well. I cannot express myself really well. Maybe Louis Vuitton is a part of who I am, for example.
Ethan Peyton: Okay. All right, so for these customers that you are seeing coming in here and purchasing these items, do you think that most of them are coming to purchase the real world item and they're getting the digital copy with it? Or do you think that most of them are coming to purchase the digital copy and then getting the real world item as kind of the secondary thing? Like which are you seeing is the more wanted thing.
Marina Martianova: That's a very good question. I think to a normal consumer, it's still the real thing, meaning something to wear in real life. But we see more and more use cases where people value digital items over the physical ones. And we see use cases in the fashion industry where companies are giving, selling, for example, NFTs, and then they're giving something physical in addition to it. So I would say it's two different audiences. Of course, the first one will prevail, always because we're people who need to wear something, right? But the second part also exists and it's becoming more and more popular, especially among Gen Z, which is like again a buzzword right now, but that's true.
Ethan Peyton: Gotcha, yeah, it seems like we are as a culture, as a society, kind of putting ourselves more into the digital space and maybe even slightly less, especially over these last few years, less in the physical world and kind of replacing our physical selves with our digital selves a little bit. So it totally makes sense to me that to express yourself where you are, that you would have to have the option to have the things that represent who you want to be viewed as in whatever world you are spending the time in. And you know, we've already seen large brands, large fashion brands like Gucci, Balenciaga, Prada take interest in having their products in the digital world. What do you think the major drive behind this is? Is it just as what you said, only getting those new customers, or is there something else, something different that makes these companies want to be represented in the digital world?
Marina Martianova: I think it's all combined. They just see that it's necessary. For example, the collaboration Balenciaga did with Fortnite, which is, some people call it the metaverse, other people call it just a video game. But what they did there is that they see there is a huge audience that already wears Balenciaga. And like, why aren't they having skins of Balenciaga in the game, right? So I think it's both to connect with the people who already are like fans of the brand and get the new audience, but also to try it out, because it's inevitable that fashion has to go into the digital space, because even us right now, we're talking like I'm looking at the screen, right? I don't see you in person. And it's also some part that digital fashion might take over because it was a bit different format. I would have to wear something here, right? It was, it was not just a camera. So I think they are testing out things and trying to get the sense of like the best form of entering the space as well as like finding the most successful use cases for now and for later.
Ethan Peyton: That makes sense. So when you're reaching out to these fashion companies, when you are, I mean, I'm assuming that there's outbound sales calls that you have to make to these different fashion companies. Are you finding that these folks are aware of this digital movement to have things in the digital world? Are they taking like five calls a day from people just like you who wanna put their clothes into the metaverse? Or do you find that you are more often having to explain what the metaverse is and what the benefit to their brand is to put their stuff into digital.
Marina Martianova: I would say the usual case is that they know about the space in general, where they're like, please tell us more, like educate us on like what we should do. This is like the most common thing. Although sometimes we see fashion brands that know what exactly they want from that space. So meaning for example, they say, “Hey, we want to be in video games. We want to have this collection out. We want to have digital twins.” So they're being super straightforward and educated. But more often it's just us having the conversation and what makes better sense for their brand strategy to do at this specific point of time.
Ethan Peyton: What do you see evolving in this sector? I mean, where do you see, we're starting to see the beginnings of these metaverses, whether they be the video games or something deeper. And we're starting to see these, just like what we said, these brands that are putting their stuff into the metaverses. But where do you think we're going to be in the next two, three, four years?
Marina Martianova: We discussed this question a lot with the Instituto Marangoni when I was giving a lecture to the students that are just learning the fashion industry and they asked me this question and the thing the honest answer is we don't know yet. So we know that digital fashion is going to be there and maybe in three or four years it is not going to change bar. So it's not like all of us suddenly are going to wear VR headphones or what's it called like a VR thing? normal life with it completely and like suddenly everything is going to change. No, but most likely not. And we will see very, very not steep, very slow evolution, of the space towards more and more content. But eventually we don't know what's going to win. So we don't know which metaverse is going to win. We don't know which digital fashion company is going to win. How, what is going to be like, right? digital assets or is going to be just the copies of our like real life items. So we don't know and that's the beauty.
Ethan Peyton: So yeah, we're gonna get into, you mentioned something specific of these different metaverses and the fact that we don't have one out-and-away winner, and I don't think that we will have one out-and-away winner of which metaverse is the metaverse. Obviously, we're seeing Decentraland, we've got all sorts of other things. We're gonna get a little bit more into that here in a little bit, because I've got some questions for you. But I wanna jump into funding and investment. So in 2022, you all took a seed round of $1.7 million, I think it was. So congratulations on that. That's awesome.
Marina Martianova: Thank you.
Ethan Peyton: So in some other interviews that we found in research, you've mentioned that there's one specific investor that really saw your vision and helped to make Seamm a reality. Can you tell us about that relationship?
Marina Martianova: Yeah, it's called, the investor is called the Lydian Group and it's basically a conglomerate of different companies that are all innovation focused, I would put it this way. So yeah, this is like the major investor and those are the people who believed in our company.
Ethan Peyton: All right, and can you tell us how you initially got connected with this investor that ended up funding your round?
Marina Martianova: Yeah, it was pretty random to be honest. I just, it was like a shared event with our friends who are founders. And I was just introduced with no specific topic or agenda whatsoever. So we were just like, we had a conversation for 20 minutes without sharing anything about the startups. So yeah, it was quite random.
Ethan Peyton: Okay, so this was a warm introduction at an event from another group of friends that you had that were also founders. Where did you meet these founders? Do you just have a group of people that you run around with all the time that happen to be founders? Or how did you get connected with these founders?
Marina Martianova: No, actually, because I also had my startup before, you tend to meet a lot of founders anyways. So meeting on different events or for example, in New York city, there are several groups where founders just connect. And it just happens naturally. And then by one founder, you get introduced to another founder, you become friends. So that's how you grow your network. I wouldn't even say I'm doing it on purpose. I just love those people in general and they're my friends. So that's how I get to know the majority of them.
Ethan Peyton: So is that something that you would recommend to other founders is to be going to these events and meeting people and growing, not necessarily just your professional network, but also your kind of friend network through these events?
Marina Martianova: Exactly, and I think it works much better when you meet people not because you want to like have them in your network for some specific reason or like to use them in a bad or good way like I think it's better just to connect with people and in general they have the same interests as you do because you're both founders. You have similar issues. You have similar things that motivate you. So absolutely I would recommend to connect with people Because they're just like-minded and you probably love them.
Ethan Peyton: All right, so let's go back to the initial meeting with those investors. What was in your pitch that got these investors to really see your vision and wanna move forward with it?
Marina Martianova: I think it was pretty bad. Because at that time, we actually… We pivoted since that time because we were discussing more like digital fashion at its core without connecting with like real, real world. The only connection that we had, I had in my mind was the authentication feature. Basically, we still have it, right? So the QR code is connected to the serial number, and you can authenticate each item you get. But I didn't have the idea so refined. I think that the spark that was caused by my pitch was just because it's very innovative. You can definitely see that a lot is going on in the gaming industry and the metaverse industry and the investors knew about it. They knew that there was still some space for a company that's going to make it in that digital fashion space. It was pretty bad, but the conversation started and here we are.
Ethan Peyton: So did they help you to kind of establish your vision and kind of move you in this pivot, or was that something that you came to on your own and then you came back to them and said, “hey, I've expanded this idea, I've expanded this concept into what it is now,” and then they were interested. Was it you driving or were they kind of… having quite a bit of input?
Marina Martianova: I think initially we just had a lot of conversations with actual fashion brands during our journey in the very beginning. So we figured out that we can refine the idea, but it was always back and forth with the investors. So they were giving me some ideas, I was giving the ideas back and we were just, it was a discussion more than just like, “hey, this is what we're going to build. Period.” and still is so.
Ethan Peyton: Gotcha. So it obviously worked. You got your seed round. You're working through that. Do you know if you will be taking on any additional funding in the future?
Marina Martianova: I really hope that we will in the future because it means we're growing.
Ethan Peyton: Do you know, it sounds like maybe that's not something you're thinking about right now. It sounds like maybe you're kind of in the building phase, in the trenches. Does that sound more accurate?
Marina Martianova: Yeah, I would say we're in the building phase as well as in the working phase where we have actual customers and We have the product that's launched which is very important So we are it's like the process of refining it adding more features, but also like making it go out there and be already a product that people are being are using on a daily basis.
Ethan Peyton: So when you're making these calls to… I know we already talked a little bit about whether or not you're having to explain the metaverse or all that, but what do these phone calls look like when you're reaching out to brands? Is it you that's still picking up the phone or do you have a sales team that's picking up the phone and calling them? And then once you get on the phone, what does this kind of pitch to the brands look like?
Marina Martianova: Great question. It's both. So we have a business development team that's working on new leads and generating new leads. But I'm also taking calls since I think it's very important to hear the feedback. And we're still also refining the idea together with brands. So I'm on the calls as well. And the pitch, basically our key idea is to get a sense of what they're looking for in terms of their brand strategy. It's always different. It's never the same. And once we understand that, we just introduce the product in that way that might benefit their brand strategy.
So I can just give you several examples if that helps. For example, a brand tells us, look, we know that our consumers are gamers and they really want to have this in this specific video game. And this is one use case scenario. And then we think of like, we can give them multiple ways of basically making the strategy happen. Or in some other cases, we hear that we want to give additional value to our consumers. We want to connect with them better because we are tired of using SMS. And we just need to give additional value. And it's another thing. So I always try to refine the pitch towards the goal that they have because we can help in many situations.
Ethan Peyton: So when you're speaking with these investors, I'm assuming that you're hearing about, you know, some other things that they're into or their kind of ideas about investing in this space versus that space. Are you seeing funding, maybe not necessarily for your business specifically, but for other businesses in the Web3 or Metaverse spaces, are you seeing funding for them being more difficult to get than it used to be? Or do you think that it's kind of coming back?
Marina Martianova: I think it is coming back. There are just investors. It's like mostly black and white. I don't want to say it's black and white, but one sec, sorry. Technically, there are investors that believe in Web3 space, and they haven't stopped investing. Maybe they did a small pause, or they were more cautious about their investments at some point, but they keep doing that. And there are just some investors that think that this industry is just not for them, And same thing for the food industry, right? When I had a food startup, I don't know, Sequoia would probably tell me, you are not in the portfolio company
Ethan Peyton: Right.
Marina Martianova: …for me because we just don't invest in that space. So it's all about finding the right profile of the investor.
Ethan Peyton: So besides that, besides finding the right investors to take on your type of business, do you have any, what do you think that founders can take away from your experience to overcome the challenge of getting an investment for their Web3 or Metaverse company?
Marina Martianova: I would say it's the same for any company. You just need to make sure that you really get on well with those people. You understand each other. You have the same expectations because expectations matter a lot. And sometimes people think that they're being understood, but it's not the case. And yeah, I think it really has to be the right people, this is what matters the most. And they have to be professional investors, ideally. Because in multiple cases, startups raise funds from angels that are not professional or friends, and this can turn into a great case, but also into a very bad case. So you have to be sure that if you take money from someone, like you know that this is most likely going to work out well.
Ethan Peyton: What's your thought behind the professional investor? What are the disadvantages of using investor funds from an angel or friends and family or something like that?
Marina Martianova: It just has its specifics. So if you take money from people who are not really professional investors, you have to, you have to like sit down and say, “Hey, this is what I'm going to build. I'm not sure it's going to work out. This is my plan. Those are my projections. I will be updating you at a nice amount, for example, like once a quarter.” So you have to be very specific on the expectations. And if this person says yes, and you agree that this is something that you both are willing to take a risk on then it's perfect. I think that it also works and in many cases, I would say that probably not none of VCs but the majority of funds would not invest in you in the very beginning so you have to go to angels, but angels also can be professional or not professional.
Ethan Peyton: All right, what are some trends that you're seeing in either the fashion industry or the web three world that new entrepreneurs could and should be taking advantage of?
Marina Martianova: It's definitely a connection to the real world. We see more and more that fashion brands stopped launching just simple NFTs with no value behind them, meaning either giving some physical objects, like I don't know, hoodies or whatever. There were multiple cases, or giving access to events or like some private clubs, but it has to have some value behind it. And most likely this value will be connected to the real world. And I think you really should consider this. We see that the companies, the campaigns that are not taking this into account are not successful, mostly anymore.
Ethan Peyton: That makes sense.
Marina Martianova: But also you have to, I think that it's very important to just keep tracking the industry and be ready to pivot at any point, because the industry is not set in stone yet. We don't know the winners. are going to do in the next year or so. You have to be always like, you have to always monitor the news and the trends, but I guess it works for any industry.
Ethan Peyton: All right.
Marina Martianova: So it should be always like that. Yeah.
Ethan Peyton: What is your number one piece of advice for early stage entrepreneurs?
Marina Martianova: Keep working on your mindset, meaning that you should always expand what seems to be possible for you. You should always expand the ways you think about the world, the questions that you ask yourself and you ask other people. Just be proactive in terms of growing your mindset, because it's always like this. Because it's all in your head, first of all, and then it goes to reality. And you translate that to your team and to your customers. So you have to work on the way you think about this world. This is the most important thing. And then yeah, be very wise in terms of choosing your investors, in terms of choosing your team. This I guess is I'm curious what other founders tell you what is like the most common thing?
Ethan Peyton: You know, it really depends. There's a lot of people that say that you have to just have a high pain tolerance. Some people come on and say that, you know, businesses are people and that you have to, you have to have the right team, you have to build the right team, you have to have the right customers, you have to know, you know, who instead of just what. And then some people come on and say that things, you know, like product market fit product founder fit or problem founder fit, I guess is the way that they mention that, are the number one thing and that you've got to, that you've got to make sure that all of those things are right so that you set yourself up for success. But that is, it's really different. It's really different for the different entrepreneurs that come on and this is one of my favorite questions and that's why we ask it every time because the breadth of answers that we get, ever have completely exact matching overlapping answers. So I really love asking this question.
Marina Martianova: These are good answers. I agree with them. But to me still, the most important thing is just to expand your mind and to be able to think out of the box, to question things. Because if you don't ask questions, then you just simply have an answer and then you just work in the same direction and you keep making the same mistakes and you keep just doing what you used to do a long time ago. So you always have to develop.
Ethan Peyton: I agree, having the right questions is just as important, if not more important than having the right answers. So thank you for that. Thank you for that advice. All right, last question before we wrap up. Where can people connect with you online and how can our listeners support Seam?
Marina Martianova: They can connect with me personally on LinkedIn, which is I guess the most common answer But also with our team on social meeting Instagram Twitter LinkedIn they can always visit our website Shoot an email through our website Yeah, that should be enough
Ethan Peyton: Yep, we can definitely get a hold of you there. So we are gonna put all of those links, all of those profiles, everything that we've heard today in the show notes. Folks, you can find that over at startupsavant.com slash podcast. But that is going to be a wrap for this episode. Marina, thank you for coming on. This has been so much fun.