Kieran O’Neill might be a fashion entrepreneur, but he grew up hating clothes shopping. “I was a normal guy, I wanted to dress well,” says the 30-year-old from Winchester. “But I found the overall experience of buying clothes pretty frustrating.” O’Neill decided the problem was worth solving. In 2012, he founded Thread, a startup that would bring together stylists with algorithms to suggest clothes that customers might actually want. The company won a place on Silicon Valley’s prestigious Y Combinator seed accelerator program, and Thread subsequently raised a total of $16.32m (£12.8m) in venture capital.
Here’s how it works: users give Thread information about their preferred brands, looks, budget and sizes. In return, they receive a weekly page of recommendations – edited by a human stylist – which improves over time as the computer learns the nuances of the client’s tastes. See something you like? A couple of clicks and it’s yours. Today, Thread is improving the wardrobes of around half a million customers, O’Neill among them. “It’s worked,” he says. “I don’t have to go shopping now and I have great clothes.”
In summer 2017, Braun partnered with O’Neill to share his journey and find out what matters to him. Afterall, the brands share a mission: to utilise technology in a way that helps people effortlessly look and feel their best.
Thread’s success was a function of O’Neill’s life philosophy. He has a keen sense of mortality, and this has led him to structure everything he does around what matters to him. “For me, those are: giving everything at work and trying to create a company that is truly excellent, and then personally enjoying the time I have on this earth with my friends and family – exploring, and travelling and seeing the world.” All of that starts with his morning grooming and meditation rituals, allowing him to feel ready when it counts.
In addition to shaving and preparing for what matters, O’Neill has developed a morning meditation routine that helps him prioritise tasks for the day ahead. “In meditation I can focus on what matters by freeing up my mind to not dwell on the negative things – to not feel stresses much.”
O’Neill has long known the pressures of entrepreneurialism. Having learned to code in order to build games and funny cartoons (“I thought they were funny at least!”), he started his first company, a video sharing platform called HolyLemon.com, at 15 years old. “My main aim was just to build something cool,” he says. “It was not meant to be a company but became one by accident, and it grew to half a million people a day using it within a few months.” With great numbers came great responsibility: when O’Neill was 18, Disney sued him for copyright infringement. He has learned, however, that it’s vital to find the positives in a bad situation. “Ultimately, I cherish what happened and see it as a learning experience.” He eventually sold the site to Carl Page, brother of Google’s Larry, for $1.25m (£986,750).
Thread is a business on an altogether grander scale, but O’Neill believes that it’s crucial that he remains engaged with the minutiae. “Quality,” he says, “is the details done right.” The challenge is to focus attention on the details that matter most. One of those is recruitment. “I probably spend 40 percent of my time every week hiring,” he says. Another is setting the right office culture. “We have a very open environment where anyone can join a meeting if you see it on the agenda, you can jump into any email chain because all emails are open, and therefore you get some of the most leftfield suggestions from people that end up being amazing.”
O’Neill is just as disciplined about setting aside evenings for friends and family. “If you’re working all the time, you lose perspective. So I need time away from the business to be able to re-charge and get that perspective back. I see my wife everyday and friends maybe twice a week.”
It helps him get through the tough moments that inevitably come with entrepreneurship. “Having those friends around who you can share with, and halve the problem, is essential to staying sane in this business.”
Living to the full, however, is not just about diary management – it’s also about being present in each moment. “When you’re an entrepreneur, your mind is constantly working, so you can spend your life walking around and not really seeing anything. So it’s been a real push of mine to really be present for each moment and relationship.” Take commuting: rather than mindlessly checking his phone, O’Neill prefers to listen to a podcast so that he learns something on the way into work. “Presence for me is about enjoying moments,” he says. “You could be quick and fast and very reactive, and you’ll wake up when you’re 70 and realise, ‘Actually where did life go?’”
For more, see Braun.uk