Fashioning an entrepreneurial future

In their first Start-Up Diary for Elite Business, co-founder of fashion recommendation site Dressipi, Sarah McVittie, explains how she and her fellow co-founder Donna Kelly got things off the ground

Fashioning an entrepreneurial future

Donna and I started Dressipi in 2010 as a way of solving a problem most women will be familiar with – the daily struggle of finding something to wear.

Back then I’d just sold my first start-up, the SMS Q&A service Texperts, and was looking for a new challenge, while Donna had a high-powered corporate job leading the digital media team for IMG, the sports and media business. We’d wanted to work together on a new venture for ages, but it was only when we got talking about how maddening and intimidating we found shopping for clothes, especially online, that the idea for Dressipi was born. 

I was out in New York at the time and remember going into a really trendy boutique in the West Village. The sales assistant looked at me in absolute horror and quickly banished me to the changing rooms. He then proceeded to bring me five outfits, none of which I would have picked myself but all of which looked amazing. I promptly bought all five and loved wearing them. This guy didn’t even know me, yet he could take one look at me and know exactly what would look great. It made me realise that there might just be a science to sexy. Technology was now at a point that it was likely to be good enough to deliver a really good service for customers. 

If you meet Donna and I together, you’ll see instantly we have very different ideas of style. But we both had the same problem when clothes shopping online. With millions of garments to choose from across thousands of retailers, we never seemed to find anything we liked. Every retailer was pushing products but there was no one genuinely servicing the consumer to help them work out what suited them, their wardrobe and their budget. And when, by some miracle, we did find a dress or pair of jeans that looked perfect in the photos, when it arrived we usually found it either didn’t fit us or – even worse – didn’t suit us one bit.

We knew then that women everywhere must be crying out for a recommendation service that applied some of the data and technical innovations that excited us so much as technologists to solving the problem of finding the perfect dress. And so we created Dressipi (the recipe for getting dressed, geddit?), a service which makes personalised style recommendations for each user on the basis of what we called their ‘fashion fingerprint’. We called it that because we knew from the start that a woman’s sense of style is just like her fingerprint – a unique thing that combines her size, body shape, personal taste and favourite brands. 

Two years on from our beta-launch in November 2011, Dressipi has changed beyond recognition. Not least because the business we created to change shopping for consumers is now a business that sells services to major retailers. This happened after we realised that a problem for a consumer, like returning an unsuitable garment, also represented a cost or lost opportunity to a retailer. So we began to develop a recommendation service that could ‘plug in’ to a retailer’s website and help their customers while allowing them to improve metrics like average basket size, returns rates and conversion rates. Dressipi for the enterprise was born – a service that’s now in use or on trial with businesses like M&S, eBay, BrandAlley and many more.

Offering a broader solution for the consumer also opens up new revenue models. Our B2C business is funded through some affiliate fees from purchases and we increasingly see media partnerships and branded content filling the gap. A third way is to look at what your business does, and think whether it might have an enterprise use. Does the technology and service you’ve created solve a business problem – and can its effects be measured? If so, you have the beginnings of an enterprise model. What you need to do next, however, is make it work. 

Sarah McVittie
Sarah McVittie

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