If I asked you to describe a web developer you would probably go straight to the Mark Zuckerberg archetype of the nerdy guy in a hoody and New Balance sneakers. Right? But coder Chloé Watts is the complete opposite. First of all, you’re more likely to find her dressed in a midi skirt and leopard print flats. And she’s carved out a niche with her web development company, chloédigital, providing premium tech support for fashion bloggers around the world.
I started working with Chloé and her talented team of “fashion technologists” this year, and I’m constantly inspired by her knowledge, enthusiasm and boundless energy. She is one seriously cool chick! So I was thrilled when she agreed to share her story for the My 9 to 5 series. Prepare to be amazed…
When did you first start learning to code?
I learnt how to code when I was 16. It was the Myspace era and you had to do a tiny bit of coding to make your profile look nice. I used to have so much fun editing the HTML to change the colours and backgrounds. This was around the time when JoJo was really cool, and she had a song called “Let It Rain”, so I had rain falling down from my profile whilst her song played in the background. I was just a silly teenager having a good time, but it got me hooked on coding.
Then I started setting myself bigger projects, and I decided to build a website. I would find a website I liked, look at their page source and go through the HTML line-by-line to try and understand what it meant. Which, looking back, is completely insane! But ten years ago you couldn’t turn to Google or YouTube for coding advice, so if you got stuck you had to ask for help on a forum. I’d get into so much trouble with my mum for printing out coding tutorials that were about 50-pages long!
What did you study at university?
No one ever mentioned coding when I was applying for university. So I studied TV and Radio. But on the first day I found out there was a sister course called Video and New Media – and “new media” back then meant web design. I was so dumbfounded that you could actually code at university!
On the first day I asked if I could change my course, and they said no because it was over subscribed. But I was persistent so eventually they let me pull up a chair at the back. However, everything they taught over those three years I had already taught myself. That’s not to say that I was a super whizz kid, of course, but the course was very basic.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I worked for a few companies after I graduated. In my first job I built websites for a company that owned some of the top nightclubs in London. I didn’t really know what I was doing – the coding was terrible and there were so many bugs – but it was a big learning curve. Then I went to work in an agency, because I wanted to make friends with other web developers.
However, people always thought I worked on the creative side because of the way I looked and dressed. And it was only then, when I was 23, that I realised there weren’t many female coders. Out of an agency of 100 web developers I was one of five women.
How did you come up with the idea for chloédigital?
I got fired from the agency because the company was being purchased, and anyone still in their probation period was let go. So I decided I would start my own business. At first I was building websites for stylists, bloggers… anyone who would hire me, basically. Whenever bloggers fond out I was a developer they would freak out and start telling me about all the technical problems they were having. So last December I decided to start focusing specifically on fashion bloggers, offering 24-hour tech support and advice.
I stayed up all night making the chloédigital website. And as soon as the sun came up I launched it. I was freaking out, wondering if anyone would want to pay $99 a month for tech support, but almost every blogger I spoke to was like, “Where do I sign up?”
SHOP CHLOÉ’S STYLE
What does your typical day at chloédigital look like?
I check my emails straight away, even though I know you’re not supposed to do that when you’re still in bed. But I do. I star all of the emails I need to address that day and then make myself a coffee. Once I’ve showered I head into my home office and log into a program called Slack. It’s a really cool resource – it’s like Skype, but for teams, so you can speak to multiple people at once and share files.
There are now six people in the chloédigital team, and we’re all spread out across the world, from Brazil to Ohio to London. Everybody is in a different time zone, so they log on throughout the day and start working on the tasks that have been sent into the help desk.
I spend a lot of time taking calls with clients or bloggers we’re hoping to sign up to the service. I like to do things that are strategic and help the business. You could be like, “Oh I own my own business” and use it as an excuse to go to parties every day, but that’s a waste of time when you could be getting two new clients on board instead.
How do you unwind after a tough day?
I think it’s important to take regular breaks throughout the day, because the job comes with such a high stress level. Especially as you’re helping other people and have to take on their stress too if something goes wrong. So I’ll watch an episode of Modern Family or Orange is the New Black – something funny that doesn’t require a lot of concentration. Or I’ll listen to a podcast if I need to feel inspired and stop procrastinating.
What’s the coolest thing about your job?
Ultimately it’s the whole point of our general manifesto, which is about empowering millennial women. That to me is everything, because the majority of the people on our books are twenty-something girls like me. So I feel empowered when they feel empowered.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?
To be honest, I think the biggest challenge has been myself. Running your own business when you’re so young, with no one to tell you when you’re doing things right or wrong, is difficult. You just have to try and then hope for the best. And eventually you start to learn from your mistakes.
I’m actually thinking about starting an email series about what’s it’s like to be an entrepreneur at 26, because young girls look at Instagram and everything seems so glamorous, but that’s not the reality. You get a certain perception of someone because they’ve got 3 million followers and they’re sitting on a table with a big designer at an event, but when you actually know them you realise they’re exactly the same as you. They have the same fears and worries.
Which other women working in the industry inspire you?
I think Katherine Power and Hillary Kerr, who founded Who What Wear, are so inspiring. They definitely found a gap online and they were one of the first in the game. They’ve been going for over 10 years now, and they’re bigger and better than ever. It’s so important to have staying power; anyone can start a blog, but if you have the staying power then that’s something completely different.
And, finally, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
You know how mums sometimes come out with these one-liners and you’re like, “Mum, that was so good!” Well, my mum once said to me, “You only fail when you stop trying.” And I think that’s so true. We all have such speedy mentalities these days, so if we want something we expect to see results fast. Some things might take longer than you first predicted, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to happen.
It’s like the inspirational Starbucks story… Howard Schultz had his business proposal rejected over 200 times. But he didn’t give up. Back then everyone thought his idea was so stupid, and now everyone goes to Starbucks!
And you can catch up on the previous My 9 to 5 interviews here >>