Meet Style Arcade's Trailblazing Techie: co-CTO Brent Maxwell

AS WRITTEN BY ALISON STEPHENSON

After navigating an extremely rare degree in psychology and IT, climbing the leadership ladder and running engineering teams for leading global tech firms, Brent Maxwell has found himself in "start-up heaven" building his first company.

When it comes to the tech, software and engineering space, Maxwell, co-founder and co-chief technology officer of Style Arcade, is as widely accomplished as they come.

Behind the Screens (and Scenes!)

Few men in the tech world are known for their love of fashion (some even famously wear the same thing every day to avoid extra “decisions”) but not Maxwell, who is almost an exception to the stereotyped fashion rule of the modern tech enthusiast.

Who needs designer threads when you're with this beauty?

"I always loved fashion and I spent way too much on luxury designer wear in my early twenties, all of my Accenture money was spent on Dior, Givenchy and YSL,” he confesses. "And then I met my wife ten years ago and all of my fashion spending stopped at that point because she had a much more conservative view on fashion than I did. These days I dress very simply and that’s largely a reflection of my wife's influence" he jokes.

Three years as a Solutions Architect at Amazon, a role as Director of Information Systems at the Iconic and key roles at Accenture have seen him develop technical expertise as diverse as it is deep.

Oh and that's after he cut his teeth travelling the world, running labs and training doctors and neurologists on how to administer psychometric tests to evaluate the health of the brain. Did I mention he also found time for a few cameos in big name reality TV shows and films as well?

"It was kick ass,” he says of his brief foray into TV and film, “I had long hair and got on Queer Eye for a Straight Guy because I was appropriately nerdy at that point. I was also in The Matrix as an extra, I was Agent Smith's clone number 6, so that was a really fun phase."

Cameos aside and despite his varied achievements, the one thing that eluded the passionate technologist and executive leader for a long time in his career was an original idea of his own. A real tangible problem to solve.

"I always wished I had an idea for business" he recalls, "because I ran engineering teams for other people, I always thought 'wouldn't it be great if I had something I could really own.'"

I always thought 'wouldn't it be great if I had something I could really own.'"

Travelling the world with the Missus
Long hair, don't care ;)

But lucky for him - and the major fashion brands that now benefit from Style Arcade's game changing tech - his friend and eventual co-founder Michaela Wessels did.

Wessels, a fashion merchandise buying & planning leader, with over 15 year of global retail experience knew there was an opportunity to innovate the industry through technology. Her very talented teams were drowning under paperwork and the manual workload, making them unable to apply strategic decision making which is so crucial in a fast paced industry like fashion.

With a great level of respect and friendship that she and Maxwell had built over the years, naturally she turned to him to propose they tackle this venture together.

He promised her anything could be solved with technology. A promise that changed both their lives.

“Michaela and I are different in that she was an innovator and a self-starter from when she was very young and I was very motivated but didn’t have her creativity about where to place my contribution to make the biggest impact . I never saw myself as an entrepreneur."

Enter the Entrepreneur

Having grown up in a part of Sydney where an entrepreneur was a "rich kid that lacked dedication for a real job and inherited something and was willing to coin toss it on some random app," Maxwell had never entertained the idea of embarking on that journey himself.

"Entrepreneurial to me meant pretentious. I didn’t really know anyone like Michaela who was a real (entrepreneur), in the truest sense, where it wasn't about what anyone else thinks or just making an app for the sake of it. She had hustled and worked hard and already been successful in an actual career, she was obviously a gun and I had huge respect for her."

Together, they had both the ingenuity and the skills - and the unique and coveted position of a world-first software concept - to make the idea he had always longed for a reality.

Over the course of a year, the pair spent weekends and nights and any available time they had away from their full-time jobs working on the software.

"We iterated for ages, I wrote the first prototype and I’m not a programmer so it was terrible, it was a semi-functional mock-up but we put some of the scaffolding in place,” he says.

"I worked with an engineer to get it to the point where we could sell it."

Back in the day - Michaela, Brent & Priyanka.

Wessels was working at The Iconic at the time (Maxwell joined her there as Head of Data and Intelligence) and sell it they did, to Australia's largest online fashion retailer, no less.

"It was so good," he recalls of the moment The Iconic signed on the dotted line and starting not only using, but relying on the product to streamline their sales, "it was like 'ah cool, this looks like this is valuable, we were right'”.

An all too familiar conversation with a colleague who got a bit too jolly at an end-of-year function reiterated that they were truly on to something.

“I remember at one of The Iconic Christmas parties one of the buyers coming up to me after a good few drinks and saying 'Brent, I can’t tell you… you’re the best, you’ve changed my life, I love Style Arcade so much!' and it was like 'wow'”.

The pair had officially found themselves in the start-up sweet spot that now constitutes their tech nirvana.

"We're in start-up heaven because we've got a bit of a balance between hacker and start-up ethos but with tenured career professionals in the company.

We've got this sweet spot between having everything humming along nicely like a finely tuned system and also pushing it and hacking it and seeing how quickly we can push the limits on building useful features for customers.

So having that nice dynamic of kind people and being able to create your own culture is really cool, you’re not just falling into someone else's dynamic, you get to choose how things play out."

From that aforementioned dinner in 2014 - the one that Maxwell describes as the "moment of truth" - things played out better than the pair could have imagined.

Brent is also Fur Daddy to Style Arcade's mascot, Ninja #cutestdogEVER

Wessels went full time with the business three years ago, bringing on board their 3rd co-founder, coding genius Tristan Hoy shortly after. Maxwell then followed 18 months ago, leaving a "big deal" job at Amazon that was as high pressure as it was high paying to run the business. His time with the tech giant gave him the contacts, know-how and the funds to feed the beast until it was the right time to join Style Arcade full-time.

Only a few years down the line from that leap of faith, Style Arcade now has a team of ten working from their headquarters in Surry Hills.

"I was over the moon when Michaela decided to pull that trigger and go full time because that was the point where I knew we were building a company. Because it was her idea I was never going to take the initiative to get behind it and push it myself, I was so excited to follow her lead."

Maxwell's Big Moment of Truth

More than comfortable in the sartorial software world he now finds himself in, of all the highs the team have experienced over the years - from taking the leap to launch a start-up, signing Australia's largest fashion e-retailer The Iconic as their first customer, wins with some of Australia's biggest fashion labels who now rely on their product for the success of their business - Maxwell smiles when he recalls the biggest 'aha' moment.

"You set up a bank account thinking 'ooh it would be good to have this handy just in case, maybe, one day, some money might flow in...' and that bank account was open for a long time before the first customer came along. And then every month they pay for it over and over and you know it’s useful to them.

 

That’s the wonderful thing about software as a service, they aren’t going to keep paying for it if they don’t find it useful, so there’s no luck to it. If they pay for the second and third and fourth month it’s got to be valuable. That was a big moment of truth."

"... If they pay for the second and third and fourth month it’s got to be valuable. That was a big moment of truth."

But the thing that excites him most now that the books are well and truly balanced and the business is thriving is bringing Style Arcade to a massive, international audience.

"We've built this product and we've got an amazing range of customers but it’s still just Australia and New Zealand, and there are so many fashion retailers around the world that could benefit from it."

"We're in that phase of learning how to bring business in, it’s almost like we've done the hardest part of the product development, we just need to figure out how to get more companies knowing that they can basically hit a switch and get eight per cent more profit. It’s hard to argue with."

"Its growth," he reiterates, "because there’s a big world of people out there that need help and don’t know that there’s an easy thing that could solve that for them. And we want to help."

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