When Serina Bird signed up to be an industry partner in The Australian National University (ANU) TechLauncher program, she was in the process of realising an ambition to build an online shopping community where people of all shapes and sizes could sell and buy second-hand, fashionable clothing.
“I wanted somewhere that was vibrant, fun and more about style than about having a perfect body,” said Serina. “I wanted it to be a bit like the treasure-seeking fun of being in an op shop, but accessible on your phone or computer.”
The idea sprang from a clothes swap party she held for her birthday where she was left with a lot of good clothing that no longer suited in style or shape. At the time, she had a weekly News Corp column called ‘The Savvy Shopper’, and was writing an article about flipping second-hand clothing. She looked at online shopping and found that there wasn’t a community that resonated with her. “I’ve never felt so old and fuddy-duddy in my life,” said Serina. “It was very much Gen Z platform, little midriff tops and mini-skirts and a lot of influencers modelling their own clothes and none of the brands that I liked.”
So, she decided to build her own using a Wordpress template and an off-the-shelf theme. Not having had a great deal of experience in the e-commerce space, Serina realised that the financial model she’d used wasn’t quite right. After acting on a recommendation to engage someone to develop a custom-built site, she turned to an overseas web developer to bring The Joyful Fashionista to life. It was a decision that she would later regret.
“Timelines went out and costs went out,” said Serina. “And once the website was actually launched, it was just unusable. They custom-built it in angular language, which was more complex than I needed for my eCommerce site - but I didn’t know that at the time. There were also two major security flaws. One was that it was open to SQL injection. The other was that you could just do backslash users and you could see details of the people who’d registered on the site.”
It was while Serina was in the midst of this expensive, time-sinking and ultimately unproductive agreement with her overseas vendor, that she found TechLauncher.
“I was speaking on a panel and mentioned that I was developing Fashionista and Priscilla [the supporting convenor of the TechLauncher program] suggested that I should apply,” she said. “I knew a little bit about the program. I knew other people who had been on it, and I’d been told that it was very competitive and so I didn’t really think I had much of a chance.” But apply she did, and in 2021 she began working with a team to develop a game to integrate into the site once it was up and running.
The team of six students were all based in China and brought to the project a good understanding of the Chinese e-commerce trade and gamification. Their knowledge and technical skills also matched by a commitment to work professionally with their client to deliver a solution. This meant that Serina not only got a well-designed addition to her website, she also got a sense of what a positive partnership with a development team could look like, regardless of geography.
“We had weekly meetings and the team were sharing things with me in Google Drive, in Git Hub and they did a really nice handover,” said Serina. “ANU TechLauncher was incredibly valuable, perhaps not for the reason they thought they were. “It gave me a framework for what is industry best-practice. That really helped to give me the confidence to push back on the other web developer and say, ‘Look, what you’re doing is not right’.”
Serina did push back, but was ultimately back at square one and decided again to create her own site using a Wordpress platform with plugins. While the site worked well, it needed a few fixes, and that’s when she turned to TechLauncher for a second time.
“I was a bit embarrassed to apply a second time after having had this huge disaster,” she said. “But a number of the students were carrying on. There were five who were carrying on, they really wanted to work with me again, which was such an honour.”
The students did a complete audit of the site, identified some fixes and developed tutorials and instructional videos giving them valuable practical exposure to working with a client in a real-world context.
“It ended up being very empowering,” said Serina. It’s really reaffirmed my commitment to this project because it would have been very easy for me to have given up on Fashionista, especially after the problems. But, I’m now more committed than ever.”
By partnering in the TechLauncher program, Serina not only found solutions to improve her ecommerce business, but a renewed confidence in bringing great tech ideas to life.
Learn more about the ANU TechLauncher program
About Serina Bird
Serina is a former diplomat, turned writer, podcaster, money coach and tech entrepreneur who has made a business out of living a life of frugality built on a philosophy of living simply, stylishly and sustainably. She is the author of The Joyful Frugalista and is currently working on her third book about establishing an e-commerce business.
Serina is also the founder of the Joyful Business Club which supports women, and men who want to support women in business, and is passionate about dispelling the myth that women don’t do tech.