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A watercooler moment with… Donna North

on Monday, 10 June 2013. Posted in Snapshots, Interviews

Donna North, co-founder of Dressipi, the free fashion advice and recommendation service for women

A watercooler moment with… Donna North

In a nutshell, what does Dressipi do?

It helps women find the best clothes and accessories based on their lifestyle and their preferences as much as on their body shape and what will suit them. Essentially it is about giving women the confidence to shop better, as opposed to following what everybody else is wearing.

Where did the idea come from?

Both my co-founder Sarah and I have technology backgrounds. We could see that as more retailers were going online, you just had more and more choice and no one was really helping you navigate that choice. Even though we were confident when we were buying clothes and spending a reasonable amount of money, we weren’t necessarily buying clothes that suited us. Being technologists, we understood that the technology available at the time was just about sufficient to start solving that problem. 

When did you start up?

2010

How is it going so far?

There are two sides to the business: we have the retail-partnership side and our direct consumer service: dressipi.com. With the retailers, we licence a sub-set of our technology to them which allows their consumers to do a personal edit of that particular retailer’s inventory. We have got three of our major partners live – Boden, Brand Alley and M&S – and another five currently in build so that side of the business is going well. On dressipi.com, we see month-on-month growth and have probably got about 350,000 people using it at the moment. So we are on track, and bearing in mind people have to sign up and give us a lot of information to get the best out of the service, we are pretty happy with the number of people that are using it.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

Fashion is very emotional – it is how brands sell their clothes and it is also how most women make their shopping and dressing decisions. Technology obviously doesn’t lend itself particularly well to capturing emotion so that has been our biggest challenge, but we understood that from the outset. Therefore, every time we hire a technologist or developer, we also hire a human stylist. We pair those two together and what that means is we capture that human insight that we wouldn’t have done by taking a pure technology approach. The stylist looks at the output and clarifies that if they were doing the same thing on a one-on-one basis, they would essentially get the same result.

What’s the best decision you’ve made to-date?

The biggest decision was definitely doing our retail partnership deals. It is very difficult to run a B2B business and a B2C business alongside each other particularly if you have a small team, as we do. So it is very important that we are very singular with our focus. But we knew that our technology is algorithm-based which means that it gets smarter the more people using it and also the more diverse those people are. So we structured all our retail-partnership deals so we could get vast volumes of people through the algorithm faster than if we were doing our own customer growth. It was a big decision to make because we knew we had to run two businesses in parallel, and it has not been easy, but it is definitely the best decision we have made.

Where will the business be in 12 months’ time?

We will fulfil our next partnerships and work with those partners on an in-store connection between the online offering and the in-store multi-channel offering. After that we are rolling out a big feature centred on outfits. Together, they’re two big pieces of functionality that will allow people to carry their fashion-fingerprint Dressipi experience with them regardless of where they’re shopping. It will mean that the retail partners and ourselves will genuinely be able to have a daily dialogue with our members whether they are shopping or actually dressing in the morning. 

If you had one piece of advice for entrepreneurs, what would it be?

People get hung up so much on the idea when actually it is all about the execution. I would say keep focused, don’t get distracted, and definitely do something that you are passionate about, because you live and breathe it 15 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week. If you are not passionate about it, you are not going to get through it. And make decisions quickly – it is very easy to get stuck like a rabbit in the headlights but actually just making a decision and moving the business forward is really important. 

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