Y Combinator, the famed Silicon Valley startup incubator, hosted a solid number of fashion tech startups in its most recent batch. Below is a roundup the eight companies, ranked in terms of their impact on the industry. Plenty to think about here.
Hingeto is the most interesting fashion tech company in this batch because it enables everything I wrote about in A data-driven blueprint for building a fashion brand.
Now you have a brand and a general price point figured out, maybe more. Next you need to test out different products and more specific price points. Find some product shots that look similar to what yours would be and throw them up on the site. Use Optimizely to partition visitors to land on different pages with different price points for the same product.
Test demand for different sizes, what colors people want, what they would pay for shipping, what return policies they are comfortable with, what shipping times are suitable and so on.
What's amazing is that you have not developed or produced a single physical item at this point, which means you haven't sunk thousands of dollars into something that might not work. These are all just tests. The potential customer doesn't know they are tests, but your risk is so low right now because you're just messing with Squarespace and Optimizely.
Hingeto allows brands to A/B test products with minimal risk. This is a classic example of custom, high-end tools getting standardized and opening up to a wider market. A/B testing product, offering referral programs and customer accounts is a huge asset for brands that no longer have to build this tech themselves. This is another step towards the unbundling of Kickstarter.
There's one problem, however. According to TechCrunch's report from YC's demo day:
It works a lot like Kickstarter but for established brands, and Higeto earns 15%. The team already worked with tons of brands sell clothes with their previous business, and they’re helping clients increase sales by 20%.
If Hingeto increases sales by 20%, but then charges 15% of sales, that leaves the brand with only a 5% revenue increase from sales. That doesn't seem like enough for the brand to justify the implementation, and it makes Hingeto seem greedy. The best products exist on an win-win incentive structure, which reward the seller when the buyer wins. But the win has to be significant. Yes, at scale, 5% is a large increase in sales, but Hingeto's 15% commission seems excessive. I'm not saying their tools aren't available; quite the opposite. But they need to rethink their business model, or figure out a way to increase gross sales for a brand above 20%. Or make an appeal on cash flow. Right now, their business model seems unaligned with the immense potential of their offering.
Function of Beauty
Function of Beauty offers customized shampoo and conditioner based off of a customer's hair type. A quick survey results in a specific formula for a given hair type, of which there are apparently 450 million different possible variations. The price point is about two to three times as much as a generic, drugstore brand, but about half the price of the equivalent from Aesop. The price point is intriguing, especially for a product that gets used up quickly. The depth of customization as well as the product being free of "parabens, sulfates, phthalates, GMOs, and triclosan" will likely yield some loyal followers. The biggest question is if there is a middle in this market. Do people just want cheap or expensive, or are they okay falling in the middle? Regardless, it will be interesting to follow this company as they likely vertically integrate up the rest of the beauty stack.
Focal Systems puts phones on shopping carts and uses a GPS to track their wareabouts, help customers navigate the store, and sell them targeted ads. It's an interesting approach, given the decreasing cost of handsets, and since it doesn't require the user to download any app. It just works. Although this is more for department stores and grocery stores, where physical shopping carts are widely used, there's definitely potential given the low friction for the customer and the upside for the retailer.
Queuehop is the latest entrant to the self checkout game. Retailers place RFID tags on clothing, customers download their app and then checkout themselves. The hope is to allow customers to skip long checkout lines. Unfortunately, this whole process introduces a ton of friction to the shopping experience. The customer has to shop for her clothes, grab the tag on each one, download the app, make an account, attach a credit card, scan each item and then find a bag and then leave the store. This is simply too much work for the customer. I'm also troubled by the expectation that many retailers will let payment and discovery happen on a centralized app that they don't control (the Queuehop app). For the retailer, implementing this system likely requires investing in new tagging and payment infrastructure, which always brings large switching costs.
But most importantly, this experience creates more work for the customer, even if checkout lines are long. I'm much more interested in something like Skip, which uses a similar technology but actually improves the shopping experience by eliminating the need for an app or any checkout action by the customer. With Skip, a customer just puts items in her cart, and the RFID tag adds the item to the bill. When the customer is done shopping, she can just walk out of the store and is instantly charged. Much less friction!
Restocks brings the legions of Supreme bots to the mainstream. Streetwear nerds often use bots to nab new products faster than the guy next to them. Restock aims to widen the use of bots and notifications around new products. The app will likely do well among the clothing obsessed men that fill Supreme's coffers. But I'm curious if this would translate for women, and what design considerations would need to change to make it work. That's the bigger market.
Georgette Packaging lowers the barrier for companies to make really nice packaging. Right now they seem to be focused on baked goods packaging, but you probably could use them for anything. Good packaging doesn't come cheap, with designers and sometimes consultants involved to get it right. Lowering the barrier and price is always welcomed. It will be interesting to see how they grow and what sizes and use cases they move into.
Lynks is a service for Egyptians to order US products through. It shows the customer all of the fees upfront and guarantees there won't be any additional fees after the order is placed. Lynks is intriguing for a few reasons. First, this opens up US businesses to a whole new market, which never hurts, especially as domestic ecommerce companies are looking abroad for more business (see: Amazon, Wish). Second, transparency is important yet hard to come by for international ordering, with the uncertainty of excessive fees well after placing an order. If the model works in Egypt, the transparency play could scale to other countries.
Flex Receipts is another entrant into the receipt remarketing game. A customer buys something, and then Flex recommends more products the person would like. This space is rather dull, but if it works it works. It would be more interesting to try and eliminate the receipt all together, and treat the experience as more of a fluid process, not one that starts and stops.