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Word-of-mouth begins with friends in the right places

Written by Sarah McVittie on Tuesday, 07 October 2014. Posted in Start-up Diaries

Recommendations only come about after some serious face-to-face at the start and making good on your business promise

Word-of-mouth begins with friends in the right places

It’s all go here at Dressipi HQ. We’re in the process of bringing in some big retailers as new clients so the team has been hard at work implementing them in time for autumn and winter. 

In those rare moments when we get to think about something other than the job, it all feels a far cry from what it was like a couple of years ago. Back then we had only just begun our new strategy of selling Dressipi as a B2B service for retailers and our biggest challenge was finding and then getting in front of the people who were able to take our recommendation projects forward. We had a lot to prove because, while we were sitting on a lot of really rich, interesting data, our technology was relatively young and had been developed with consumers in mind not businesses.

The result was that, for months, Donna and I felt as though we were stalking a group of people who felt like the most elusive group in the fashion industry. We had to prove Dressipi’s credentials as a service that might solve intractable problems such as high returns or abandonment. And the best way we knew to do that was to make ourselves ubiquitous. We spent our evenings going to events to mix with the right people and hustled for meetings. We sent emails and made phone calls to the people who organised key industry events and got ourselves speaking lots and making panel appearances. Every chance we got we put ourselves out there.

It was this initial push that got us into the retailers who became our first customers. Landing them was crucial as it helped us get out of the chicken-and-egg situation that new businesses often find themselves in: having a really good idea but no opportunity to refine it into an actual business. These relationships taught us a lot of very valuable lessons about how recommendation worked in the real world. But it also made us a few friends that proved just as useful along the way.

This brings me to another key moment for Dressipi: when Sir Stuart Rose came on board as our chair at the end of 2012. Operationally it changed very little but the news sent a very important signal to the rest of the industry. We suddenly became the business that had attracted the attentions of one of the UK’s most successful retail executives. It opened doors but it was still up to us to convert that interest into something more tangible.

In a highly networked space like fashion retail, it was important to get ourselves out there and publicly position ourselves as a hot new business. Yet it was more important to get a reputation as a business that delivered behind the scenes. Since those first few customers, most of our new business deals have come in because of recommendations. You can never predict how or when these referrals will come in but it’s important to remember that they’re actually the culmination of lots of hard work. For example, I know we got one of our big new contracts because a client has been sharing the results they’ve been getting through Dressipi with the rest of their group. That happened because we built a good relationship with our key client by delivering on our promises.

One of the clichés of business is that it isn’t what you know but who you know. Our experience has told us that it’s important to make friends but it’s actually what you do for the people you know that really matters. 

About the Author

Sarah McVittie

Sarah McVittie

McVittie is one half of the talented team behind Dressipi, the fashion tech startup that's stirring up the world of retail. McVittie and co-founder Donna Kelly evenly balance each other out, with product- and detail-focused Kelly packing the corporate capability and McVittie bringing the start-up skills with her sales and shareholding expertise.

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