The Story of Outfittery: How Two Women Disrupted the Men’s Clothing Industry
"In ten years I want to look back at how men used to shop for clothes and laugh.”
I’m halfway in a phone call with Julia Bösch, CEO and Co-Founder of Outfittery, when she throws me this highly quotable one-liner. Looking down at my shirt I realize that I'm one of the guys she'd be laughing at.
As someone who actually enjoys doing his own shopping, I've always been skeptical towards business concepts that take over this part of the experience. But Outfittery, a personal shopping service for men’s clothing, is doing more than well.
Kicking off in 2012, Julia and her partner Anna have built their company into one of Europe’s prime protagonists of online curated shopping. They've grown to over 250 employees and expanded sales from Germany to Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden and Denmark.
From my call with Julia, however, I learn that I'm not the only disbeliever out there. Along the way they’ve had to deal with a plethora of negative sounds: "… this is too much of a niche product… it will never work!"
Luckily, they stayed true to their ideas, capabilities, and vision for the future of eCommerce. "Always be optimistic. Don’t let others tell you what will and won't work."
Inspiration in the Land of Opportunity
Of crucial importance for the roots of Outfittery was Julia's student exchange spent at Colombia Business School, New York. “I saw many of my fellow students start a business straight out of college. The entire experience was very inspiring, and I guess it brought me into a certain mindset.”
The Big Apple is also where the idea for a curated shopping website started to grow. Personal shopping assistants are much more common in America than they are in Germany. “I learned from one of my university friends that he had pimped his entire wardrobe in a single session. For this service alone he had spent over $100 per hour. That got me thinking.”
Back in Germany, Julia landed a job at Zalando, where she grew to lead the company’s internationalization. Around this time she got in contact with Anna, who was working for Rocket Internet on common projects with Zalando. Out of their cooperation grew a strong friendship, which was reinforced by their mutual ambition to start a company.
“We realized that we’d make quite a killer team”, says Julia. “For a few months we would meet in our own time to brainstorm on ideas. We agreed on the online personal shopping service for men’s clothing, because it was a development we had both picked up on at Zalando and Rocket Internet, and one that we both believed in.”
In 2012 they took the first step by founding Outfittery. They weren’t the first entering the market with a shopping service concept, but their professional execution would make them the most successful.
Dress for Success
The experiences at Zalando and Rocket Internet helped in setting up a professional website, despite the little resources. “In the early days we kind of did everything ourselves: we designed the website, came up with a logo, brought the word out with marketing and PR, and we were also the ones giving the actual style advice.”
A key for their quick rise was taking the product for testing on the market right away. “Better than wasting time with the perfect set up”, Julia explains, “is to go out there and let customers tell you in what direction to proceed.”
Their experience in performance marketing helped in gaining a good amount of traction fast. So much so that their two-woman show couldn't support their growth for long; more people were needed.
Contacts with investors and venture capitalists – built up at Rocket Internet and Zalando – were especially helpful in securing the required capital. Over the course of several investment rounds, Outfittery secured millions in funding. With the latest round in spring this year, the company obtained a staggering 20 Million Dollars.
One common mistake Julia sees in young companies is getting too little experience on board in the early days. “Many people start their career in a startup, it's their first job. But to avoid painful mistakes you should have your key positions filled with people who know what they are doing.”
That they got people on the team with a deep understanding of eCommerce is reflected in their website’s visitor onboarding process. It picks off with a simple "Let's Go" button. An assessment of your personal style is made by letting you answer a number of easy, image-based questions. You are only asked to register a few clicks later, right before entering your sizes and measurements.
At this point you have invested some time, are motivated by the pictures of stylish people, and actually want to get your tailored style advice (even me). So you sign up, finish the process, book a slot for a telephone call with your personal stylist, and wait for the box with suggestions. A simple and smooth onboarding process that can be appreciated by anyone with an affection for eCommerce.
Watch the Trends, Ride the Waves
When Julia and Anna started out, their business model wasn’t proven yet. But the sceptics never got a hold of them: “The problem with regular online shopping is the overwhelming amount of items. Which of the 10.000 white shirts is the right one for me? This isn’t only tiring, it's also very time consuming. That’s where the personal shopping service fits in –it's the future of ecommerce.”