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Fitcode team, back row from left to right: Andre Bautista, technology lead and developer; Jon Culver; Rian Buckley, co-founder and CEO; Lauren Unger; Katie Greff, UX designer; Cari Culver, partner success manager. Front row from left to right: Stephanie Chacharon, director of marketing, and Steve Doliov. Not pictured: Cooper Cain, software developer. (Fitcode Photo)

Rian Buckley is arguably a pretty good candidate for helping people find jeans that fit. After all, the 30-year-old former model provided the legs that displayed jeans in ads for Nordstrom, Tommy Bahama and others.

“I had a front-row seat behind the scenes of the fashion industry, being clipped and pinned to fit into jeans that were supposedly my size,” Buckley said. She combined that experience with the knowledge that roughly half of online clothing purchases are returned — most frequently due to a bad fit — and decided to launch the clothing startup Fitcode.

Founded in 2015, Fitcode provides shoppers with a short quiz to figure out their body type, which then guides them to better-fitting denim wear. The startup has 250,000 users of its jeans-matching tool.

The company, which is based east of Seattle in Kirkland, charges a flat, monthly fee to brands that use the product on their sites. Fitcode has raised $3.1 million, and the eight-person business is opening a new funding round starting in July.

“It’s an interesting space to be in,” said CEO Buckley. “Everyone is trying to solve this [fit] problem. You can imagine how this is affecting their margins.”

Fitcode is up against some formidable competition.

This week Amazon announced that all shoppers now have access to a service that lets you order three to eight clothing items, keep them for a week for free, and then return what you don’t want and pay for what you do. The retail behemoth has launched numerous apparel initiatives, including a patent on technology that creates a blended-reality display that puts your image into virtual clothes in a virtual setting; Outfit Picker, which selects outfits that best suit you; and last year news leaked that the retail giant was secretly building a team to work on the challenge of helping shoppers find clothes that fit.

Before moving to its flat-rate pricing model, Fitcode offered its product for six months as a revenue share. They found that sales increased 300 percent when customers used their tool, Buckley said. Now she’s getting ready to expand Fitcode’s sizing tool into women’s tops and dresses early next year. She would also like to add retail companies to their customer base.

“It’s been a steep learning curve,” Buckley said about the startup experience. “But I’m passionate about the product and passionate about the space.”

We caught up with Buckley for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Rian Buckley, co-founder and CEO of shopping startup Fitcode. (Fitcode Photo)

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We take the overwhelming experience of trying to purchase clothes online and simplify it: Answer five questions (no measurements needed!) and Fitcode will highlight which items will flatter you and what size to buy on retail websites.

Inspiration hit us when: I found out that nearly half of all clothing bought online is returned, and a poor fit is the number one reason why. There had to be a better way.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Angel, and soon VC. Angel investment gave us the ability to create a product that allowed us to test and perfect while still being technically sound enough to integrate on major retail websites. We were able to move quickly, be scrappy and build at speeds bigger companies couldn’t compete with.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our high-touch, high-tech approach to solving the online fit problem. It takes a lot of smart technology, but also a lot of hands-on research to accurately recommend items to customers and give them the confidence to purchase online.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Separating our mission from our vision. We built Fitcode to solve the online fit problem, but started by focusing just on denim. By being the experts at getting customers in the right jeans the first time, we’ve created a loyal following. Fitcode can now expand to more apparel categories after getting over the first main hurdle: consumer trust.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: I focused too little on sales and too much on product our first year. It’s easy to get swept up into the excitement of building a game-changing technology, but if you don’t start selling on day one, you’re already behind.

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: Melinda Gates, because she understands it isn’t only socially responsible to invest in women, it’s financially responsible as well.

Our favorite team-building activity is: Board meetings, on the paddle board! We work at Carillon Point on the Kirkland waterfront on Lake Washington, and can be found paddling together on a giant 10-person paddle board during the summer.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: A tenacity to learn, a passion for creative thinking and a steadiness of spirit. Startups are not for the faint of heart.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Don’t believe your own hype or your own nightmare.

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