Halebury’s Female Founders blog series celebrating International Women’s Day: Sarah McVittie and Donna North, Co-Founders of Dressipi
In honour of International Women’s Day, Chairwoman and Founder of Halebury Janvi Patel interviews female entrepreneurs she has met and been inspired by in her journey as a successful female entrepreneur. In this piece, Janvi interviews Sarah McVittie and Donna North, Co-Founders of Dressipi, a leading fashion personalisation technology business.
When did you launch Dressipi?
We launched our first service in November 2011. Dressipi was born out of our own frustration with online shopping. We felt there was too much choice, too little time and not enough knowledge to make good shopping and dressing decisions. No one was genuinely servicing the customer by a) delivering a perfect edit of the season’s clothes – in real time, and b) serving up customer’s best styles and outfits.
What does Dressipi do?
Dressipi is a leading fashion personalisation technology business, revolutionising how women shop and dress. Dressipi enables retailers to deliver true personalisation to their customers, increasing sales, decreasing returns and improving customer engagement and loyalty. It is a data-centric business that owns a comprehensive and unrivalled view of how millions of women shop and dress across retailers.
Whether on Dressipi.com or via our retail partners, customers create their own Fashion Fingerprint® and we then serve up the best possible products and outfits for each and every customer. We offer every woman access to their own digital stylist, and retailers the opportunity to transform their personalisation strategy.
How has the business grown? Has this been in line with expectations?
The business has grown by over 100% year on year and this continues to be our expectation for 2015. The overall growth in terms of customers is also in line with our original expectations. The business model has changed a bit from our original plan as we have introduced a B2B side to the business as well as the B2C strategy.
Our vision for Dressipi is to build a service where every woman has a Fashion Fingerprint® and that that Fashion Fingerprint® is truly portable, helping them with every shopping and dressing decision to ensure they always feel confident in what they wear and how they look and what they buy. This core vision has not changed since we started but obviously (as with all start-ups) our route to get there has evolved as we have understood more about the customer’s needs!
What does your ‘standard’ working day consist of (if there is such a thing!)
With a small start-up that is very capital efficient, there is definitely no such thing as a ‘standard’ working day, but by and large we focus on separate areas of the business and try to split our time to maximise growth and efficiency. Donna focuses on the product development and partner launches and I focus on new business, PR and the data side of things. We both share responsibility for client account management and liaising with our shareholders and other key stakeholders.
What, or who, has been your biggest inspiration?
Sarah: One of my greatest inspirations was my grandfather, not necessarily from an entrepreneurial point of view but certainly from a work ethic point of view. He was without doubt the most time-less, class-less and principled person I have ever known. My parents have also been an inspiration to me, always encouraging me to do what I enjoy and to never give up! From a work perspective, I’d say that our Chairman (Stuart Rose) has been pretty inspirational. He is a true believer in hard graft and always puts the customer at the heart of a decision, 2 principles that I have definitely taken on board.
Donna: So many people from all walks of life – I am inspired by anyone who has an aspiration to make a change for themselves or others and has the tenacity and determination to find a way to do it. I am also inspired by everyone who retains their values and authenticity as they progress through life.
What role does technology play in your life? What couldn’t you be without?
Sarah: Technology is an important part of my life and, as much as I’d like this not to be the case, I do find my phone pretty handy! I also have a small baby so it is definitely helpful for all the more mundane things in life (grocery shopping, sorting out travel, etc). And there are certain things that I love being able to access like the radio, audio books, fitness lessons and my emails! But increasingly I try to spend a bit more time without technology and more proper quality time with my husband and my son.
Donna: Without a doubt Sonos and Spotify are the two services I use every day. And Dressipi of course!
If you could go back in time and tell your former self lessons you have since learned that could save time/angst/money in your entrepreneurial career, what would the first lesson be?
Sarah: Here are a few key things that I have learnt:
1. Make sure your business really needs investment, raising capital is hard work and very time consuming – make sure you have explored all other avenues first.
2. When it comes to investment, make sure you really understand who you are pitching to – do as much due diligence on investors as they do on you. At the early stages you need smart investors who add real value. Talk to other companies they have invested in, make sure there are no nasty surprises around the corner.
3. Make sure you get a good team. At early stages, hiring the wrong people is costly on all fronts.
4. Learn to listen. This helps with all aspects of selling (regardless of whether you are selling to new clients, investors, new employees etc), watch what aspects of your business excite different people and adapt your focus accordingly – empathy is key.
5. Make sure you communicate well with everyone: your colleagues, shareholders and clients. Regardless of whether the news is good or bad, taking the time to communicate well will save a whole host of issues in the long run.
6. Don’t get disheartened – retain your passion and belief. Don’t give up.
Donna: Every lesson along the way has been valuable, so I wouldn’t want to go back in time and not experience them. The one lesson that is standout is hire well and don’t hire average. The team, ultimately, is the group of people that drive your values and business.
What was the biggest challenge when you started Dressipi?
Sarah & Donna: Working out whether it was technically possible to build what we wanted (we ended up seeing many specialists who confirmed that it had never been done before but that in theory it should be possible!). It has definitely been much harder than we thought but we are making good progress. It was also a challenge to then find the right technical team.
What change/support would you like to see introduced to support/encourage female entrepreneurs?
Sarah: Personally, I don’t think there is anything specific to females, but I do encourage politicians to ensure there are the right policies in place to encourage small businesses like us building very new innovative technology in the high-growth tech space. EIS and SEIS are great to encourage people to take the risk of investing in businesses like ours. R&D tax credits are great and also recognise that there are companies like us doing and building very difficult things, but hopefully creating real value as we eventually get it all to work. It is also important to maintain schemes like the EMI scheme, this lets companies like ours recruit some of the best talent but means we can give valuable options/equity to staff rather than having to compete with the likes of Google/Facebook in terms of salaries.
Donna: Generally females don’t convey the outward facing characteristics stereotypically associated with an entrepreneur. But they do have an equal amount of experience, aptitude, tenacity and determination – and we all know the stats about successful businesses with women at the helm. Events and the media actively seeking a broader range of speakers, interviewees and success stories would help shift the stereotype – encouraging more females to step forward and potentially shifting the perception of what a potentially successful entrepreneur looks like.