We just made an interview with Heikki Haldre, the co-founder and CEO of fits.me. After a busy week and his speach at the Drapers Fashion Summit (London) he took some time to answer our interview-questions. With his young company fits.me, wich is based in Tallinn (Estonia), he solves a huge problem for online-shopping: The lack of a fitting room in internet shops. Not only are retailers struggling to convince customers to buy without ability to try clothes first, they get 1-in-4 clothes back – mostly all because the customer received the wrong size. Because apparel goes quickly out of fashion, returns are the biggest cost for online retailers. Fits.me provides the significant increase in sales for internet clothing retailers, and reduces the retailers’ costs, by reducing returns.
EU-Startups.com: Please tell us something about the start of fits.me and the technology behind it.
Heikki Haldre: “It’s impossible to create the robots, shape-shifting to thousands of shapes and sizes that define a human,” declared the scientists in the early days of Fits.me. Then they did it. The technology, based on bio-robotics, that gives Fits.me the ability to show how clothes fit the real people, took finding the right team and smart scientists. The founders’ background in apparel, technology, e-commerce, and most importantly – being stubborn not to listen to naysayers – helped us through the early days. For any tech entrepreneur – creating something never done before – it’s important not to listen to those who say how it cannot be done. It is also important to listen to these people carefully, as they provide the most valuable expertise what problems need to be solved.
EU-Startups.com: How did you finance the startup-phase of fits.me?
Heikki Haldre: Self-funding and smaller European Union research grants helped us to the point that we could prove that the idea worked. After the initial proof, it was fairly easy to get the angel and venture capital backing. Recession certainly helped to get the angels. During the times when the economy fluctuates, the risks to any investment are high – however potential returns from a tech startup are much higher compared to anything else. Hence, the tech startups with great ideas have it slightly easier to find funding when the economy faces many unknowns.
EU-Startups.com: What were the main stumbling blocks of your first year as an entrepreneur?
Heikki Haldre: I’ve created and sold five companies prior to Fits.me, I’ve also been to five universities. While both have been important, I would not trade for anything the experience from starting a company before. If there’s one advice to give to other starting entrepreneurs – tell about your idea to everyone who cares to listen. Don’t be afraid of someone stealing it – after all great ideas only exist because of the great team, including yourself. Use their advice to build your idea to something much bigger than you’d been able to do by yourself. In Europe, apply for programs like Springboard.com, certainly Seedcamp. The mentorship you’ll receive will make a big change how your company evolves.
EU-Startups.com: Looking back, what would you do differently in the startup-stage?
Heikki Haldre: Someone asked me what were the mistakes we did with Fits.me. My answer – none. It’s true that Fits.me has changed its business model completely since start, but this is not necessarily a mistake. It’s a learning curve, unless you remain too stubborn not to notice the need for a change. A potential threat to any idea is over-engineering. Go put it live, even when it’s still an early prototype – the things you learn from the users help to design the product quicker and better. Probably we could have saved precious months off making Fits.me if we had seen it like this from the beginning.
EU-Startups.com: What makes fits.me unique or better as other services out there?
Heikki Haldre: A fitting room in a clothing shop is not only about getting the right size. Customers can see how different items look together (stylistic function), they can touch the fabric, etc. However, these functions are easy to quantify – the main reason (60%) customers return clothes bought online is because of the wrong size. Because of personal preferences of how tight the clothes should be, there is really no substitute to showing how clothes fit. This is the reason why size recommendation or size charts do not work. Fits.me Virtual Fitting Room focuses on letting people get the right size and does it well. Other technologies have focused more on stylistic function.
EU-Startups.com: Where do you like to see your business (fits.me) in 3 years?
Heikki Haldre: As technology evolves to replicate the real life shopping experience, the sales of clothes shift to internet. By the year 2018, some 1-in-4 clothing shops face closing – it’s already happening with bookshops. The tech cooking in Fits.me’s labs, and partnerships with other technologies, will give customers amazing online shopping experience.
EU-Startups.com: What would you do for a living, if you had not started a business?
Heikki Haldre: Simple. I would have started another business.
EU-Startups.com: What was your worst business idea yet?
Heikki Haldre: Fits.me! Looking back at the time when it was in its first iteration, it was just horrible. It’s amazing how the idea has evolved over this time.
EU-Startups.com: What are your thoughts on the startup-scene within the European Union: Do you think it will ever become competitive in relation to the US-scene?
Heikki Haldre: Here’s an issue – Europe, in general, is not supportive of startups. You need rather thick skin to escape from the initial negativism, but this is not the real problem. The real problem is that in Europe most criticism simply states that your idea will never work. In the US they tell you *why* it will never work. It does not apply, of course, to all of Europe, or all the US. However, this difference perhaps can be overcome by encouraging entrepreneurship, and creating more incubator and mentorship programs. However, because of the diversity of ideas in Europe, often better access to connect ideas across different cultures, industries, and experiences, the next great idea will be from Europe.