Swipe right if you like. Swipe left if you don’t. Stylect, a shoe shopping app for iOS, has a Tinder-esque UI, underpinned by its own recommendation engine, to help women find and purchase the perfect pair of shoes. If you have déjà vu, you are not alone.
A ton of ‘Tinder for X’ apps have sprung up over the last year, with the ‘swipe right, swipe left’ model — a User Interface Stylect co-founder Giacomo Summa describes as “addictive” — proving popular with users and investors alike.
To that end, the UK startup and graduate of Oxygen accelerator has closed a £290,000 seed round led by London’s Forward Partners (now headed up by well-known VC Nic Brisbourne), bringing total raised by the company to £320,000.
“When Tinder came along, we thought that applying its addictive UX to mobile e-commerce and shoes in particular could allow for a disruptive way to discover products on mobile,” says Summa, who prior to starting up Stylect was a director at Rocket Internet’s Dafiti, the Brazilian e-commerce fashion site which started off by selling women shoes.
“I was very intrigued at how much passion there was for shoes and that planted the idea to eventually do something in the space,” he explains.
After moving to London to work for accelerator Techstars, helping startups with biz development, he teamed up with co-founder Hadi Laasi who was also working at the accelerator as a “hackstar” (“a brilliant developer, a great designer, a UX star”). After deciding that they wanted to start a mobile venture together, Stylect was born.
The pair then built a web-based prototype, which is still live, to “test the assumption that users would have liked this UX for shopping purposes”.
Early metrics showed users were swiping more than 44 shoes on average and returning to the prototype site to buy products on their wishlist. “We realized we were onto something,” says Summa.
In October 2013, Summa and Laasi joined the UK’s Oxygen accelerator where they found their third co-founder, Darius Jankauskas, an iOS developer from Lithuania. The team launched the first version of the iOS Stylect app in mid-November last year.
In its first few months, the startup says users have made about 20 million swipes, with the average user swiping over 400 shoes with some swiping over 10,000. Apparently one user has swiped more than 43,000 shoes in just a few days of using the app. Summa describes ‘swiping’ as the new ‘liking’.
Stylect features over 50,000 shoes from leading retailers and uses an affiliate model to generate revenue. Whenever a user makes a purchase, the startup gets a kick-back from the retailer.
The app also learns from each swipe, and uses what Stylect describes as a “social clustering algorithm” to recommend shoes based on user preferences. In addition, whenever a shoe that’s been liked by a user goes on sale, Stylect will send a notification to that user.
“As we get more and more data about our customers, we will keep on improving our product recommendations,” says Summa. “Since we know how our users feel about every single shoe they see, we can make very effective recommendations, allowing users to discover products they love and that would otherwise struggle to discover.”
Finally, I asked Summa about his experience at Rocket Internet, the Germany-based startup factory run by the infamous Samwer bothers. “There are certain things that Rocket doesn’t teach you, such as starting a business having no money whatsoever,” he says, noting that entrepreneurs at the incubator are always well-funded. However, what you do learn is how important execution is in business.
“I learnt that an idea is nothing without great execution and that was a fundamental notion to build Stylect. We are always extremely open about what we are building, knowing that ultimately what’s gonna matter is how well and fast we execute on our vision to improve mobile e-commerce and allow women to find their perfect shoes.
“Another thing Rocket is amazing at is to turn you into a better manager. When you are 25 and on day one on the job you can lead a team of several people, you learn skills that traditional graduate jobs just can’t teach you.”