Women in Tech: Diana Gaertner and Claudia Wagner
Before we dive into your game-changing platform Ubooker. Please tell me about your journey into the modelling industry.
Claudia: My journey started when I was about 17-18 years old. I was spotted by a scout from Elite Models in Germany at a McDonalds while there after school with a friend of mine. He was impressed with my height and overall image and proposed modelling to me as a career path. Of course, I was very excited about it, it was the age of the supermodel and I was in awe that one day, I could be one. I later went home and told my parents, unfortunately they were not as excited as me, their priority was to ensure that I finished school. The plan was for me to go to medical school, so they didn’t like the modelling idea at all. We agreed that I had to finish school first, when I was 19 I could take six months to go to Paris because at the time I had a contract to see if it was something that I liked and could make a living out of.
They took me to Paris and luckily enough I was booked for work pretty much immediately, so things worked out very well. My career lasted about 20 years, it was a long ride, which is very rare these days for models. Today they tend to have a shorter career span compared to my generation.
Diana: I also started modelling when I was 19, right after school. I was discovered in a very traditional way by a scout while in Paris, about a year and a half before finishing school. I remember I was with a group of friends and someone came up to me and wanted to talk about modelling. In the end, I said I’d give it some thought as I was leaving for Germany the following day. I took a card and later did some research and realized that it was a credible agency and you know what, it was Paris, the city of fashion, so I needed to take that seriously. And I did! I went back and did some test shoots and the agency took me on. I waited until I had finished school and then later moved to Paris.
Today I guess it is quite different, models go to the agency instead. I grew my portfolio the traditional way starting with the runway shows, then magazines, later moving from Paris to New York, Milan, London and the process carried on from there. I was living between Paris and New York for over 10 years while modelling.
Do you believe that your extensive experience in the industry made you the perfect duo to bring about such a change?
Claudia: For sure, I believe that when you want to do something new, you first realise that there is something wrong with the system, that there is room for improvement. In the case of Diana and I, maybe the fact that we both started a little bit later; we both finished our education and we were very self-aware. Maybe it also has a lot to do with our parents and their constant reminders to question everything and never sit and wait for things to happen. Even in a job like modelling where a lot of the time you depend on other people, like your agent, clients or all the creatives who have something to say about you, there are still certain things you can do to be prepared. It is like being an entrepreneur, we didn’t just do a job and that’s it. I would see each client and asked them what they wanted, who their target audience was and how they liked communicating with agencies. So, even though I was working I tried to understand all the parts in the industry, and it was later that I realised that things worked in a very old-fashioned way. Eileen Ford started Ford Models in 1946, the birth of the traditional model agency system some would say, yet bizarrely hasn’t really changed much in this time.
The world has been evolving, we buy our clothes online, yet the modelling booking process has remained the same. At one point, Diana and I sat down and discussed the idea of Ubooker and initially we wondered if we were crazy to think that we could do this. But, with the way things were happening, we felt it was time for innovation to take on the modelling industry and if anyone could do it, we could. We know our industry inside out and we have extensive experience. We know all the pain points that everyone has, so we are working to solve them.
Diana: I feel as though it gave us a great advantage. It brought about a lot of authenticity when we were onboarding models and clients on Ubooker. Claudia and I have witnessed the changes in the industry from analog to digital photography, and the increase in content production, which has exploded over the last few years. Clients are producing more than ever before, from Instagram to weekly online campaigns and daily shoots, which accumulate to well over what we would usually see in a year.
While this revolution was happening on one side, on the other side not much had happened. We were wondering why there wasn’t something new that met the needs of the clients and models while still being efficient and cost effective.
Tell me about Ubooker – how does it work?
Claudia: Ubooker is an online platform that connects models and clients, focusing on the tech side of things rather than being a traditional modelling agency. We are a hybrid platform that goes beyond just connecting models and clients. We do the vetting process, selecting only professional models and clients to ensure that we have the right environment to produce great work for all parties involved. Our support also goes as far as helping models to negotiate their royalties and working alongside clients should they need our help. In most cases our clients don’t need our help, but should they, we are here to do that.
Diana: It’s a very straight forward process, that allows anyone who would like to register as a model to do so online. They upload their profile and send us some of their professional work. We verify them and check whether they have working experience because we only take professional models at the moment.
Then on the other side, we have clients that subscribe to the website and are also verified, as we need to make sure that they are also credible and a genuine long-standing company. Once both are verified, the client can publish a job, requesting a specific look and the models can then respond to the jobs that they would like to do. Sometimes jobs are based on location and clients will send out a request for models who are based there to shoot for that specific campaign. Ubooker also has a brilliant filter system, which allows clients to be more specific, allowing models to choose a job that fits their location and description easier.
Models can also communicate directly with the client, which is quite new, as usually, models would not have the opportunity to communicate with the client. We make sure that the models can see every request and that they can accept or decline.
Although it is a system that works well on its own, we are always right there to make sure that everything runs smoothly.
Who is your target audience?
Claudia: We have two sets of users, which consists of the client and the models. We are not limited to who our client is, though we do make a great match with e-commerce clients who shoot daily and with several models each day. Our industry has changed so much, that before we would usually have around two campaigns per year and they were highly paid. Compare that to now with the rise of e-commerce, people need new content all the time, so as a consequence of that the day rate has dropped for the models.
Do you remember when Linda Evangelista wouldn’t get out of bed for under $10,000?
Well, today it’s closer to $1000 for e-commerce. Thereby, we make a lot of sense to target e-commerce clients, because if a company needs to shoot five or six models a day, every day of the year they will benefit from Ubooker, which charges significantly less than a traditional agency with savings up to £30%.
Diana: We have both the professional models and e-commerce clients as our target audience. It is usually businesses who need to shoot models every day, for instance, big platforms like Net-a-Porter who tend to shoot every day, while repeating the same models. Ubooker makes it cheaper and faster for platforms like this because they can book models today and start shooting tomorrow.
From fashion to tech – what was that transition like for you?
Claudia: I would say it was an interesting journey for me, going from fashion to tech as they are both entities on opposite sides of the spectrum. With fashion being kind of unpredictable and creative, you can go to sleep and something you worked on yesterday is completely different today because ultimately there are no rules. Whereas, with tech there are a lot of rules you need to follow.
It was also a little bit nerve-wracking in the beginning because when Diana and I decided that we were going for it we didn’t have any experience in tech. I mean I was still at the stage where I would lock myself out of my google account, so it was a bit intimidating.
That’s why it was important that we found the right team and luckily, we found Andrea Lossoour CTO at the beginning of the process. He was very patient and worked with us to pull the logic side of things together. I remember the first meeting, I was so nervous because I just didn’t know if we could do this, but from then to now I have learnt so much and have to say that I prefer tech to fashion. Simply because I really like when things follow rules, it was predictable and I like that. Looking back now I do miss the days when we had to sit together and work through all the kinks and map out how the platform was going to work. It was difficult, but also very satisfying now that I can look back at the processes we had to go through.
Diana: There was one step in-between for me, I decided to place modelling on hold and went to study interior design. That’s when I became aware of various programmes and software’s like 3D planning and photoshop, introducing me to the world of tech. I became fascinated with programming and how amazing it was to see coding come to life with something like 3D printing. Coupling this with fashion was an easy choice after that and I have enjoyed building Ubooker with Claudia, especially those initial days of building the back-end.
Your business model disrupts an old age system. How has your target audience responded so far?
Claudia: The models, they love it. With the old system, they had so many set-backs, with the main one being that they were always the ones doing the job, but the last to be paid. For context, some countries would pay 50% commission and models would receive the rest 3 months later. So, to have the opportunity to reach clients worldwide on Ubooker, and have 90% in their pockets, 7-10 days after completing their job is a gamechanger.
This is why tech is such an amazing addition to our lives if used well. A lot of people are worried that it will take away their jobs or that it will take over one day, but we use it to serve us. It can be fantastic and it can make our lives easier, allowing us to spend less time working and more time with our families, so I see it as a great benefit.
From our clients, they are happy because they see a lot of financial savings here. Yet, as you disrupt you also step on a few toes along the way. We have noticed that there are alliances between the traditional agencies and other companies across many years, so if I speak to the CEO or the CFO of a company and detail what were are offering, they are all onboard. But, when it comes to those in management, where it isn't their interesting to save any money, they will pay more attention to the relationship they may have with a traditional agency regardless of the savings.
Diana: They have been very open with us as we are addressing a lot of the issues that they’re facing, like the production costs and repetitive booking process. I mean, if you have to book 30 models through an agency, it will take up some time due to the coordination that’s required to process each model. But, with Ubooker it’s a simpler and faster process, so when they give us a try, they are usually very happy and come back time and time again.
If you know your audience and you’re addressing the right issue, they become very curious about what you’re doing and once you prove that you truly can solve their problem, you will retain a strong client base.
Was it always on the cards to go into entrepreneurship?
Claudia: I don’t think so, for me, no. It’s something that sort of just happened I would say. Yet, once I was sure it was the path I wanted to go down with Diana, I realised that I had a lot of transferable experience from my modelling days. When I was told no, which happened a lot as a model, I would always ask “why not?” or “can I try again?”, so I sort of developed this persistent attitude towards my work.
Though being an entrepreneur can be tricky and comes with a lot of responsibility, we had this idea and wanted to bring it to life. Also at the time, our then CEO Nicola, who is also my husband was a very good push for us, because he believed in us and Ubooker well before we had even begun. He made me realise that we would probably regret it if we didn’t do it at the time we did, because someone else would have certainly done it, for sure.
Diana: I think entrepreneurship is a natural thing, you have it or you don’t. As a model you’re an entrepreneur, in most cases, you just have to approach it like that; being disciplined, focused and consistent. I believe that both entrepreneurialism and being a model requires that you are adventurous and open to new experiences and challenges, so I feel as though I have always been an entrepreneur in that light.
How are you balancing the dynamics of business and daily life?
Claudia: I have to say it is the most difficult aspect of being an entrepreneur for me. When we were building Ubooker I was pregnant, so having my baby and then Ubooker as a baby was a challenge. Especially when it's your company, there are crazy working hours. We are located in London but operate worldwide, so on some days we would have an issue pop up in the middle of the night in New York for instance, and we have to get it resolved as soon as possible.
It was hard going at some points, especially as I had a couple of health concerns, so I had to realize that it’s not about the hours that I’m sat in the office, it’s about efficiency. This forced me to created a balance that included time for myself. I know when I’m having my yoga lesson, when I take time to meditate or have my massage and I stick to that. I also disconnect from everything and put my phone and laptop away, without worrying about whether things are running smoothly or not. It’s easy for me to push away the worries because I have a team that I put my trust in.
Diana: I find that what is important is that when you work, you focus on work. You immerse yourself into that particular time that you’ve given yourself to complete any work you may have. But, when you take time off you give it the same amount of energy. Whether it's reading a book, sports or taking a walk, give each task the time it needs so you can benefit from it.
You have to take time out it’s the best way to clear your head.
If you could say one thing to fellow female tech entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Claudia: Don’t be afraid, that’s my best advice.
When we first got serious about launching Ubooker and we were having conversations about what we wanted to bring to market, a lot of people were negative about the idea. They were highlighting the possible backlash we may receive and what could go wrong. I learned early on that disruption was an uphill climb and it was never going to be easy, but even with all the doubts, I made up my mind that I can do anything and whatever I don’t know as yet, I can learn it.
Just don’t get overwhelmed by fear. Acknowledge things that make you feel nervous or afraid and tell yourself that you can do it, and if you don’t know-how, you can learn.
Diana: I think women are very good at networking, reaching out and communicating with each other, so my best advice is to do more of that. It’s important to network to build a support system, which can help in surprising ways. There is nothing like talking a problem out with someone who understands what you’re going through and what you’re trying to build, so don’t be shy about making those connections.
What challenges have you both faced so for that’s made you stronger as business owners?
Claudia: Rejection was a big challenge for me. Though I was 19 when I got started as a model, I still found it hard to handle hearing no. Although everyone told me not to take it personally, it was hard not to, it felt very personal hearing comments about my hips, height or other features on my body. But, over time I feel as though all those rejections made me the persistent entrepreneur that I can today.
Diana: In all fairness, every day is a challenge and what makes me stronger is the knowledge that I have the opportunity to try, and I can do my best each time I have a go at it. And not everyone needs to like you either, that’s fine. Just focus on what your goal is and keep chipping away at it. I also find that having Claudia with me has helped a lot, so when one of us has a bad day, we encourage and motivate each other to keep going, so I feel as though I grow stronger every day.
What should we be looking out for over the coming year from Ubooker?
Claudia: Right now we are working on mastering what we do. It is very important to tackle the modelling aspect of Ubooker. It is what we know and we have to continue working to perfect it. In the future, we would like to be the platform that allows companies in fashion and beauty to find talent. We aim to implement AI to make it easier for clients to select the right talent for their campaigns.
Diana: For the coming year we will continue to grow Ubooker and solidify our position. We want to get to a position where we are the first company clients think of when they want to run campaigns and models sign up to when they want to book jobs. That’s the goal and as we become a staple in the industry we would then focus on expansion.