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Virtual Fitting Room Startup Metail Raises Further $12M — Shunning UK VC Money Along The Way

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“To be brutally honest, I’m not enamoured with the UK VC scene and don’t rate it very much if at all from a technology business success perspective,” says Tom Adeyoola, co-founder and CEO of Metail. “The big UK tech business successes weren’t founded on VC money.”

His company, which offers virtual fitting room tech to major clothes retailers so that customers can ‘try on’ clothes online, has just closed a further $12 million in funding, adding to the previous $8 million raised since being founded in 2008.

Whilst I know money has poured into funds this year, I still don’t see the operational partner talent Tom Adeyoola
Perhaps unsurprisingly — given Adeyoola’s refreshingly outspoken views on European venture capital and the type of business Metail is in — the lead investor in this new round is TAL Apparel of Hong Kong-based TAL Group, a global leader in garment manufacturing and responsible for making 1 in 6 men’s dress shirts, apparently. In other words, the London and Cambridge, UK startup has shunned VC money in favour of a strategic investor (and under rather favourable terms, I gather).

“If you look for the biggest tech and internet related companies that got to AIM or the FTSE 250 in recent years you won’t see traditional VC as a major factor in any of their histories,” adds Adeyoola, citing the examples of ASOS, Abcam, Monitise, Blinkx, and Perform Group. This, he says, contrasts with a “perceived phenomenon” driven by the mindshare VCs have over marketing, PR and events.

“Index alone has 16 companies in the government endorsed Future Fifty programme for taking companies to flotation, which was judged by a panel full of VC including Index. If nothing else it is a sign of a non-competitive investment market at Series A level and whilst I know money has poured into funds this year, I still don’t see the operational partner talent.”

As an example, Adeyoola recalls a meeting he had with one of the larger UK VCs. During the discussion he was told that he should change Metail’s go-to-market strategy to focus on online designer fashion retailer Net-a-porter. The problem was the VC in question hadn’t even heard of Next, the UK’s largest clothing retailer.

“The VCs I have liked, who think strategically about the world, have operational contacts and mentorship capabilities, have all come from Scandinavia, west coast USA and the Far East. You need to go where the smart money is and I’ve managed to deliver a big stratetgic investor in TAL Group from Hong Kong… They buy into our long-term vision, can help the business particularly with reference to garment sizing and our eventual launch into menswear, are in it for the long-term.”

That long-term vision, says Adeyoola, is for Metail to become the ‘Google of sizing and shape’. That’s because the startup’s 3D visualisation technology, which enables a clothes shopper to upload a photo and dial in a few basic measurements to create a virtual representation of themselves known as a ‘MeModel’, also creates a lot of data. In addition, a user only has to create a MeModel once as it’s portable across supporting sites.

Explains Adeyoola: “We want everyone to have their own MeModel to use in any clothing related experience to improve and enhance it. If they do, then we will be custodian of the world’s size and shape dataset, like Facebook is of the world’s social graph, and become the Google of sizing and shape through being the access channel for users to quickly and easily find and get recommended clothes that they will like and which will look good on them.”

The next stage of that strategy, and where today’s injection of fresh capital comes into play, is to focus on mobile. This will include Metail building a consumer-facing app of its own, a departure from simply powering the virtual fitting room offerings of partner retailers, such as Tesco, Warehouse, Shop Direct, House of Holland, Zalando and Dafiti.

“I can’t really tell you what the mobile app will look like quite yet, as it is going to be a breakthrough unique browsing experience that we are patenting and which will be ripe for mimicry,” says Adeyoola. “Suffice it to say that it revolves around the strengths of Metail, i.e. being able to browse and view garments and whole outfits on MeModels, scrolling through current trends and what other people like you right now are trying on.”

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