This Week in Startups: Shoefitr – Just The Right Size for Online Retail

This Week in Startups: Shoefitr – Just The Right Size for Online Retail

Last July, during the Global TWiST meetup (#65) Shoefitr took top honors, they beat out some tough competition in particular Yoocasa. I was recently able to connect with Nick and Matt two of the founders and I thought this might be a good time to see what they’ve been up to. If you don’t remember they use 3D technology to take the pain out of sizing the right shoe when purchasing online..

Here’s the Q&A:

Can you describe Shoefitr for those who don’t know? Shoefitr is an application that shows how a shoe will fit by using 3D scanning technology to compare the internal dimensions of shoes.

Catch me up-to-date since your call-in? We signed an agreement with Running Warehouse and have been tracking the launch closely, looking at metrics and user feedback. So far a large portion of Running Warehouse shoppers use the application and 90% of the users find the recommendation helpful. Which is great because the user demographics for Running Warehouse is very informed and knowledgeable in their shoe selections because the site caters to experienced runners. We don’t publish specific metrics but we significantly increase conversion rates and are reducing returns.

What are the users saying about Shoefitr? Here’s just a few comments we’ve received:

“The ability to tell where it will fit looser or tighter without having to try it on is BRILLIANT!”

“The best and most complete shoe fitting advice on the web.”

“Super cool stuff, only thing better would be to have the shoe in my hand.”

“All the reviews said order 1/2 size up. I will follow this recommendation instead.”

“Love being able to compare the toe box fit”

Who is on your team and what do they do? There are 3 founders and we all went to Carnegie Mellon University. Matt Wilkinson, Breck Fresen and I (Nick End) were college athlete’s. Breck and I ran Cross-Country and Track and Matt played Soccer so we know the pain of poor fitting footwear. Matt and I are mechanical engineers and Breck has a degree in Computer Science. Like most startups we all wear multiple hats but primarily I handle customer relationships, Matt handles operations, and Breck handles software development. There are currently 6 people on our team.

So how did you get started? We all graduated and were working in the corporate world but were all still in touch. We came up with the idea from our bad experiences buying footwear online and our knowledge of 3D imaging and software development. Matt bought a 3D scanner and modified it. I worked out an agreement with a running store that allowed me to scan shoes after work. Matt compiled data while Breck was writing code to get the prototype up and running. It took about a year to get a good prototype. Once that was complete we applied to AlphaLab and we all left our corporate jobs and went full time in Jan. 2010.

Is AlphaLab a mentor based incubator? Yes, it’s very similar to a Y Combinator and Techstars, you get small funding, give small equity and they hold weekly presentations about things you know are important and some you never thought were important. For example we listened to a presentation about open source software that was eye opening. Our relationship to the AlphaLab team is still tight to this day and we meet regularly. But are now working with their parent company Innovation Works (a non-profit venture capital firm) that invests in tech companies in the Pittsburgh area.

So you don’t need funding? Not at the moment, we just closed a round with them. However, there may be other financing needs as we continue to grow the business.

Do you have any other agreements in the works? Yes, we are talking to many other online retailers one even said “ You have put your finger on one of the last great impediments to online retail”. So retailers are feeling the pain of online returns and we even have manufacturers like Mizuno, Brooks and several others sending us shoes to be scanned. We also will be providing Running Times Magazine with fitting data for their shoe review issue coming out in April.

How do you continue to get shoes to scan, do you still rely on that shoe store relationship? No, it’s a combination of retailers like Running Warehouse sending us shoes and manufacturers sending us shoes directly.

How many shoes have you scanned? Hundreds of shoes including over 600 different running shoe models

Do you account for shoe stretch? Yes, we do take the material stretch into consideration. We measure the stretch when the shoe is under weight which is a baseline new shoe. The way we view older shoes is each person breaks a shoe down in a particular way and other shoes will break down the same way. At some point the shoe you currently wear was new and if you like that shoe after it has worn down then you will like a shoe that fits similarly when new.

Are you branching out beyond running shoes? That’s the goal. Our next step is to move into general athletic shoes and then into dress shoes and women’s high heels are the ultimate goal.

I think you said your business model is Cost Per Action (CPA) based is that still the case? We started out that way but are changing things a bit. At first it seemed like clients wanted a CPA model but we have learned that some larger retailers want to accurately forecast their costs ahead of time so we are also offering a subscription model which allows them to control their cost a bit more.

The Shoefitr app currently only gives one recommendation will we see more in the future? Yes, the way the current application works is you find a shoe you want to buy and Shoefitr gives a fit recommendation. Version 2 will take your current shoe and give a handful of recommendations of shoes that fit similarly.

Are there any lessons you have learned that you didn’t expect? When you create a completely new product for a market place, trying to define your customer can be difficult. Is it the end user or a business. We also have to do a lot of educating the retailers and while Shoefitr is easy to understand we can’t reference another company or technology. We can’t say we are a better SAP or a better airline because no one else does what we do.

We have also learned that the B2B space is difficult because all the companies we work with have priorities and if our product isn’t on their competitors site it’s tough to move up on the priority list. It’s tough to be patient as a startup.

As many of you know I know longer do follow-ups for TWiST but this was one that Jason promised under my watch and I’m glad I was able to get it done.  I’d like to thank Jason and Mark for letting me run this guest post.

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