Everybody loves to find a good deal on unique apparel sold at local boutiques, but picking through sales bins can be time-consuming and arduous. That’s why Garmentory wants to reduce the hassle of bargain hunting and take the boutique shopping experience online.
The Seattle-based startup, founded in 2013, features a large collection of sale items from a marketplace of curated boutiques. Customers browse online and if they like a piece, Garmentory allows them to make an offer. If the boutique accepts, it ships the item to the customer for free.
“Garmentory aims to bring the curated selection and personal experience of brick-and-mortar boutique shopping to the world of e-commerce and help boutique fashion businesses thrive in a competitive industry,” said CEO Sunil Gowda. “In turn for the customer, Garmentory provides an opportunity to discover emerging designers, shop hard to find labels and support independent boutiques — all in one place.”
Gowda, a developer who’s worked for Microsoft, Expedia, and Zillow, co-founded Garmentory with Adele Tetangco, a veteran of the boutique fashion industry. With their combined expertise they were able to bootstrap and raise seed funding before they were accepted into the Techstars Seattle 2014 class.
We caught up with Gowda for this installment of Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “At Garmentory, you can shop sales from boutiques and designers from across the U.S. and Canada all in one place.”
Inspiration hit us when: “Working together on a mobile application for an emerging fashion designer back in 2009, Adele and I saw the potential of technology as a tool for independent and boutique fashion business. We were inspired to create Garmentory as a unique e-commerce platform to help us access a market well beyond our neighborhood and connect consumers to beautiful clothing and accessories only found in small boutiques.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “All of the above. We bootstrapped the business initially until we were confident that we were solving real problems for both boutiques and consumers. We had overwhelmingly positive feedback. We had a good foothold with the concept, so then we raised a small seed round via Founder’s Co-op to help our ideas on how to accelerate our growth. Some of those tests are showing positive results, which is exciting, but there’s so much more we want to do. We are currently in the midst of adding to that seed round from angel investors in the Seattle area. Sometime next year, we plan to seek VC funding to take everything to the next level.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We believe it’s not the sauce itself that makes the difference. It’s having the right ingredients for that sauce. We have a great team in place, a viable business model, a beautiful platform, a way to connect customers to unique products created by talented designers, and a growing network of partner boutiques that do all of the hard work of identifying trends and emerging designers. Finally, we have a passion for supporting these boutique businesses. Our secret sauce has a lot of ingredients, and a lot of heart.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Since we started out wanting to help boutiques and designers, we decided that the key was to not only offer them a cool concept, but a solution to a real problem. We identified a particularly strong pain point on the supplier side — moving their unsold inventory — and our solution to help solve that meant that we had a lot of boutiques interested in coming on board before we even had the first sale. Plus, we made it easy for them. They don’t have to do anything different on their side to get started.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We’ve learned a lot along the way, but if we had to pick one, it would be the timing of switching from bootstrapping to seed investment. We wish we had made the switch sooner. We could have done so much already!”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Jobs, for his uncompromising commitment to making everything perfect for the consumer — from the packaging to every pixel on the device. We’re inspired by his belief that if you build a great product that consumers love, success will find its way to you.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “Customers all across the U.S. and Canada talk about us as being not only a key member of the independent boutique and designer community, but as a catalyst and a platform for support. We want the Garmentory brand to be known for celebrating that industry. When customers feel we have done a good job at that, and tell their friends about it, we know the first part of our mission is complete.”
Rivals should fear us because: “We do our homework.”
We are truly unique because: “There isn’t anyone doing what we’re doing, how we’re doing it. But also because we have built our own thriving community already. From the members of our team, to the great boutique and designer partners participating on Garmentory now, our community just continues to grow.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Signing up boutiques to participate before we had any customers.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Building a startup takes grit. Grit is persevering despite temporary setbacks and other phases where you feel you are not making any progress. A small minority of businesses experience rapid growth trajectories within their first year. Most successful startups need a few years to build their first version of the product, establish a small base of customers who are delighted with your product, and continue to refine based on their feedback and other usage patterns that you observe before they see widespread adoption and success. Having the patience to last that long and continued hard work to make your business the best it can be takes grit.”
Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the 10 startup companies participating in the TechStars Seattle incubator in the lead up to the Demo Day pitch event and launch party on Nov. 6.