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Industry Partner Interview: Farfetch

Cipriano Sousa is Chief technology officer (CTO) at Farfetch, a leading online retail platform which mission is to be the global technology platform for luxury fashion. In 2018 the company, which is the first Portuguese Unicorn company, became one of CMU Portugal Program Industry Affiliates.
Currently, the digital fashion marketplace founded by José Neves offers selections from over 1000 brands, boutiques and department stores worldwide and has websites in 15 local languages. Being a global technology platform makes crucial to invest in areas such AI, machine learning or big data so, according to Cipriano de Sousa, partnerships like the one with CMU Portugal are “a match made in heaven”.

  1. Farfetch is an online luxury fashion platform with a strong ICT/Engineering focus. How are areas such as machine learning or big data considered and managed within the company?

I believe that machine learning or big data, but also artificial intelligence, augmented reality, automation or blockchain, are quickly making their way into the retail industry. The retail industry is facing a paradigm shift in how its customers select and purchase goods and retailers need to adapt to this consumer change with greater digital services, while, at the same time, rethinking how they use physical stores.

Through Farfetch’s business unit Store of the Future, we have developed, and continue to evolve, a suite of connected in-store technologies to provide a digitally enabled, personalized physical shopping experience. We are now already testing some features in our Browns East store in London and last year we announced an exclusive innovation partnership with CHANEL. Ownership of Browns (since 2015) enables us to understand the luxury fashion ecosystem through the lens of a boutique.

  1. Since the CMU Portugal Program is mainly focused in ICT related areas, what are your main expectations for this partnership?

Carnegie Mellon University is a reference in the investigation of Information and Communication Technologies, so I believe it makes every sense for Farfetch to be a technology company partner with such an honourable and reputable institution. I hope we can work together building activities that bring the academia closer to professionals. I think this is an extraordinary time for Farfetch, living its chapter two after such an amazing first chapter that culminated with the company’s IPO in New York. Carnegie Mellon shares this revolutionary culture we have, it’s a diverse and inclusive community, like Farfetch, and they’ve made it their mission to create a transformative community, impacting society through research, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. It’s a match made in heaven and, ultimately, I expect this partnership to be one more step towards knowledge and innovation for both institutions.

  1. How do you envision that a stronger partnership with academia can help Farfetch reach its goals?

Farfetch has a very strong connection to universities in general, whether it’s by participating in conferences in educational institutions, for example, or by simply opening the doors of our offices to the student community, allowing them to visit us and to learn a little about the company and the business. It’s important not just because we want to be close to our community, but also because we are a global company and we’re constantly looking for great, talented people who might want to work with us. Since day one we’re trying to build a successful business, of course, but it’s our goal to build a fantastic place to work, where people feel genuinely happy, with a fantastic culture, one that people recognize themselves in. A strong partnership with academia will help us convey this message, while at the same time putting us closer to the community that we want to engage. Great people build great businesses.

  1. How does specialized training in ICT fit into your HR strategy?

Recruiting is challenging, no matter the field, but it’s common knowledge that ICT is one of the most required fields. It’s a challenge not only to recruit, but also to keep talent. Of course, we’re always looking for the most talented, most specialized people. However, we have to be aware that besides all the skills a particular role might demand, it’s important to tick all the other boxes to make sure the candidate is the perfect fit for the role, and that Farfetch is the right company for that person. It’s a process of mutual knowledge that we respect greatly. At Farfetch, we try to satisfy the demands of each role while respecting the culture of the company and the candidate’s profile.

  1. How would you shortly (one word/sentence) describe the Engineering strategy at Farfetch?

Farfetch’s employee brand ethos fits perfectly here: do what’s never been done.