E-commerce has been on the rise for over a decade. These days, the initial connection between customer and brand is likely to occur online, via websites or advertisements on social media. With the evolution of digital marketing, it continues to be a driving force in the world of retail and is expected to rise even higher after the Coronavirus pandemic has passed.
One of the biggest challenges with buying clothes online is knowing what size to purchase. With no standard sizing in the industry, each brand must develop its own set of measurements. Customers therefore tend to buy multiple sizes, just to send back the pieces that don’t fit; creating an enormous amount of returns and leaving a huge impact on the environment. Size Me Up offers a tailor-made solution for online retailers to tackle this issue – and save some serious cash in the process – using their latest widget.
The Size Me Up software uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to produce accurate body measurements using photos of the customer. Because it’s a very simple tool with no hardware requirements, anyone can use it with the help of a smartphone. What’s in it for you? No returns and no headaches, just the assurance that the clothes you buy will definitely fit. It’s a win for the customer, a win for the retailer and a win for the environment.
Trendeavour talks to Svilen Valentine, CEO and co-founder of Size Me Up about their newly developed SaaS product, the challenges they’ve faced along the way and their future plans.
Tell us a bit about your background, your team, and your product.
My background is mainly sales and project/account management. I did my undergraduate studies at Cal Poly in California, then moved to Edinburgh, where my sister lives, to do an MBA in Entrepreneurship. I founded Size Me Up three years ago with Yanko Slavov (co-founder and COO), whose background is similar to mine, but more focused on IT. We bring a variety of skills to the table, but we make the decisions together which seems to work quite well. Our third founding partner is Stoyan Nikolov, who is our CTO. When we first started it was only me and Yanko and we were looking for a developer to work with us. We interviewed quite a few people, but since it was a very new technology at the time, most developers we spoke to thought it would take a 10-15 person team to develop what we wanted to do. Stoyan just graduated at the time with a computer science degree, but he was very motivated and he thought we could do this with a small team. So he joined us, and we started working on the solution.
We got a grant from Scottish Enterprise about a year and a half ago now, so we could hire some additional developers. We now have two engineers to support Stoyan, In the past we’ve worked with a few consultants, including a project consultant, and had a computer vision/image processing PhD consult for us. We also have a few more key people that we work with, such as our full time accountant, we have legal advisors, such as an expert in GDPR and a legal adviser company we work with.
Our product creates accurate body measurements from photos. According to our research, fit accounts for 50-70% of returns, and we want to make sure that the customers are not returning anything, at least not due to sizing issues, as it really impacts the environment.
The first prototype was very rough, using a very different technology to our final product we have now. It was only working about 50% of the time, it was inconsistent, but we were able to prove the concept – as we were extracting measurements from photos – and we could potentially make this work. We did research and development for about a year, and with a new technology we managed to achieve 100% consistency and about 95% accuracy, which is a massive improvement from where we started.
According to our research, fit accounts for 50-70% of returns, and we want to make sure that the customers are not returning anything, at least not due to sizing issues, as it really impacts the environment.
How did the idea come about? How long have you been working on this project?
Yanko and I go back awhile, we’ve been friends even before we started working together. About three years ago we encountered a problem when trying to buy a suit online for an interview one of us had lined up. We were shocked at the complexity of measuring yourself when trying to buy something that is a bit more tailored. You get a guide, but you have to get yourself a tape measure, and people just don’t know how to measure themselves. Most people just stop after taking a couple of measurements thinking they don’t have the time to do this. It just takes a lot of time and effort. This is when the idea of trying to use images occurred to us. We spent the first six months researching to see how we can actually solve this issue. We spoke to experts in this field; computer scientists and mathematicians to decide whether it’s even possible to do this. There were some similar initiatives back then, but not quite the way we wanted to make this work.
How is your product different from other, similar types of products on the market that tackle the same issue? (e.g. 3D scanners)
The main difference between our product and the competitors’ is that our main concern was to address every unique shopper, as opposed to putting them into buckets. Most companies create a number of profiles (let’s say 20), and they put their customers into one of these, which will never give the same accurate results that taking individual measurements does. Other companies that can provide unique measurement use hardware, such as body scanners, which would be difficult to use for online retailers, so that’s a limitation. On the other hand, everyone’s got access to a smart phone.
Is your company bootstrapped or did you manage to get investment?
We are bootstrapped, but we’ve managed to secure some loans and grants along the way which has enabled us to keep going. We have approached a few VC’s – been turned away a few times – but we have learnt a lot from these experiences. The first time we approached a VC we found out we had quite a lot of loopholes, and they also asked us to find some customers and come back. So we went and found some customers, but we would now like to get to the point where we are self-sustained and not dependant on VC funding. We’d like to scale the business without these type of investments, although this is proving to be difficult, especially with the new technology we’ve been working with.
As a start-up your stake/ownership in the company is your ‘gold dust’, your currency that you trade for everything. But you have to be careful about who you give that gold dust to. From the beginning we wanted to make sure that the control of Size Me Up stays with us, and we don’t give away any portion of the company.
How did you start promoting your product? Do you use any specific platforms to grow your business?
We were spinning our wheels, not getting any traction in the beginning, because we didn’t know who to target or how to position our product. Now that we have managed to identify that, we are getting a lot more traction. In the beginning it was trial and error; we tried different methods and channels. We started with Twitter and Facebook promotions that were very unsuccessful. We were getting all these clicks on the campaigns, but nothing happened after that. Then we took a step back and identified that our target market is more B2B, because it’s really the retailer that benefits from our product. So now we are using LinkedIn and a sales/marketing agency in London for lead generation. We also go to events – tech and retail events – to get noticed by larger retailers, and develop personal relationships with them.
What are the main lessons you have learned since starting Size Me Up?
- Make sure you surround yourself with a resource network. Establishing a network like this will really drive your business forward.
- As a start-up you get feedback from a variety of sources. People give you their opinion left, right and centre, but oftentimes their feedback is based on a limited amount of information. So the hard part is to decide what feedback to take forward. So keep your eyes on the goal and don’t let them deter you.
- In a start-up there will always be something that doesn’t work. You feel like quitting all the time. What I think sets companies that succeed apart from those that don’t is that when something doesn’t work, something difficult comes their way, they push forward, they keep solving the problems. You will have issues all the time, but it’s about recognising them for what they are, solving them and moving past them. Persistence pays dividends.
What are your future plans?
Currently the customer has to upload a full size front and a full size side image, along with their height. We then tie the body measurements to the sizing chart of each clothing brand. We would like to simplify this process, so that they wouldn’t have to input their height – the system will automatically recognise it. Perhaps in the future, they wouldn’t even have to upload images. The system would instead be able to detect one’s measurements from the photos they post on their social media channels.
We’ve also started building an interactive dashboard for retailers which allows them to not only see the measurements of their customers, but will also enable them to gain insights in to the purchase history of their customers; provide them with analytics on who their early adopters are, understand their size preferences, and provide information on other issues related to sizing. They can then go back to their supply chain to make changes in such a way that it matches the profile of their customers. As we aggregate more data, the software becomes more and more intelligent in terms of recommendations, and that data becomes very valuable to retailers and their supply chain. Data is a currency and a valuable resource for companies, because you can predict habits, you can predict behaviour. You have a better understanding of your customer using data.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs that are just starting out?
Think about your long term plan. Think about what you want to accomplish in the next 6 months, 1 year, 15 years, where you actually want to get to, and have a vision for what you want to create. It is really important to set goals for yourself and follow up on those goals. Otherwise you’re not making progress and your business will be nothing more than a side project.
Designer. Founder of Trendeavour. Fashion & retail specialist by day, content creator & digital marketing geek by night. Coffee and instagram addict. Crazy about her dog.