Tech Updates

What tech CEOs can learn from high fashion icon François Kress

Did you know François Kress is speaking at TNW Conference this summer? Check out the full list of speakers here.

Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Bulgari, Prada, Carolina Herrera, Miu Miu. This might sound like a bar from a standard rap song, but it’s actually a list of companies where François Kress has held leadership positions in his long career in the luxury industry. Then, an unexpected but welcome opportunity presented itself.

“I was really suffering from luxury fashion fatigue, and decided to move on and start this project,” he tells TNW over Zoom.

At the invitation of a friendly venture capitalist, Kress joined Feelmore labs as co-founder and  CEO, to develop a unique, category-defining type of wearable: Cove. It’s a wearable device that relies on the science of neurostimulation, sending specific vibrations to specific sensors behind your ears to “help you feel calm and emotionally balanced,” according to the website.

Curious about his switch from high fashion (“There was a time I had two secretaries and obviously a driver and everything”) to high tech (“Now I have to change the toilet paper at the office myself”), and what experience he took along with him, we spoke to Kress from his apartment in New York about the lessons tech can learn from the most luxurious of luxury brands on the planet.

Dressed in a casual navy blue long-sleeve with perfectly coiffed silver-gray hair and thick-rimmed glasses, it’s easier to see Kress managing Fendi than a high-tech wearable company. But looks, in this case, are deceiving.

Kress’ background, before being recruited by Bernard Arnault of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy), was in theoretical physics, with a special interest in topology — hardcore math describing complex dynamic geometric problems.

“For me, it was like going back, because after high school I studied intense theoretical stuff for 8 years.”

Move slow, do things well

During his career in luxury, Kress was sucked into tech when he was offered a board position at a biopharmaceutical company, and was surprised by the fast pace of tech companies.

“Coming from big luxury groups, which have hundreds of years of history and where everything is very slow and very careful, to this fast-paced biotech world and startups and VC money was a shock.”

After meeting some VCs through his board position, he agreed to co-found Feelmore Labs, where he could finally bring together his experience in rigorous science from his science degrees, and dedication to craftsmanship from his career in luxury. This also allowed him to bypass some long-held beliefs about the pace of business that many founders face

“Just put an MVP on the market. Even if it’s crappy, you know, you will learn as you iterate,” he says was something he’d hear often. “But I was very determined not to get rushed, or half-bake the technology for the sake of this kind of iterative process.”

Listen to your customers less

The iterative process couldn’t be more removed from the process in high-end fashion and luxury, Kress tells us.

“It’s the opposite of what you hear in luxury and fashion, at least at the top end of those products. There, it’s ‘don’t listen to your customers, they don’t know what they want.’ If you ask customers what they want to see on the runway, you will always see the same black dress coming out of every workshop. So for me, that was a complete shift.”