The Startup Magazine recently featured two of the FUND Conference Top 3 Exhibitor winners, Happenstance, and Digs. We’ve saved the best for last. The top startup at this year’s FUND Conference in Chicago, Illinois was Balodana, a fashion purchasing platform disrupting the women’s e-commerce fashion industry.
The event presenter, FUND, is a national connector of entrepreneurs, VCs, angel investors, and industry experts with a focus on deal flow and making connections. The FUND Conference brings together over 100 startups to present their early-stage products and pitches in front of hundreds of investors and industry leaders.
The startups ranked most highly by investors and startup enthusiasts in terms of scalability and longevity received votes on how well they connected with investors. Balodana was the top vote getter!
Here is their story…
Describe the Balodana product/service in 10 words or less
E-commerce fashion marketplace for women, 100% made to your measurements.
Excellent. Give us a little more detail about what Balodana does?
Balodana enables women to shop on one site for hundreds of diverse styles that will be made exactly to their body measurements. This experience will be as easy as traditional e-commerce. We curate and aggregate a collection of talented made-to-measure designer brands who showcase their garments in our integrated marketplace platform. Balodana provides store hosting and marketing as well as support services such as concierge customer service and style advice to ensure a superb customer experience. We’re “Amazon for made-to-measure”!
What inspired you to start Balodana?
I started Balodana after experiencing a post-menopause fashion crisis. My body changed, but not my personality or desire to look powerful and confident. I was struggling mightily with my retail options, which ranged from ill-fitting to frumpy. (I work in technology where the dress code is relaxed, but an executive woman my age can wear neither a hoodie nor a stuffy suit.)
Then in 2016 I found a dressmaker in Romania who created fashion-forward designs that were made to measure, and the light bulb went off! I started researching, talking to every woman I know, and all were experiencing my same dilemma and were thrilled at the idea of getting well-priced, custom made clothing from a variety of well-curated designers. I traveled around recruiting a fantastic starting lineup of designer partners to build their stores on the Balodana marketplace, and I left my CMO job in March 2018 to build the prototype and the business.
It’s been an incredible journey so far, and very gratifying to talk with bespoke manufacturers around the world and in the US who want to help us bring back the dressmaker, and make women feel confident and stylish at any age (and with any body type).
If it’s such a great idea, why hasn’t anyone tried to make something like this before?
First of all, a few companies have tried similar ideas in the past – but they’ve all approached it from different angles, and typically have targeted a much younger buyer or a specific type of clothing. Etsy is probably the marketplace that has succeeded best at it, but their offerings are all over the map – you get lost pretty quickly in their 1.9M stores amongst people selling hand-knitted cat sweaters.
Second, this is really complex stuff! Women’s bodies are diverse, and their fashion needs are much more complicated than men’s, so it’s a challenge to scale and to get it right. The market for men’s custom tailored garments exceeds $650M, and we believe there’s a significant untapped potential in the women’s market. The technology is finally catching up to the need, and the next few years will bring big changes. Recently, Japanese billionaire (and new bff of Elon Musk) Yusaku Maezawa introduced the ZoZoSuit which uses a bodysuit to measure you and connect directly with their production facilities for custom made jeans and T-shirts.
The beauty of our marketplace model is that we can transform our “competition” into partners in ways that Amazon and Etsy can’t. We maintain a centralized profile and customer support system that makes it simple for customers to start with Balodana when buying any kind of custom clothing.
How is Balodana impacting the world/your clients?
For women in the US, shopping is quite a frustrating experience. Despite literally millions of items to buy, we are not happy campers – the body fit is confusing, non-standard and frustrating. In fact, 49% of women say they have challenges finding clothes to fit – and our market validation survey indicates it rises to 75% in women over 35 (our primary target audience).
Additionally, the garment industry is widely considered to be one of the top polluters in the world, and is frequently in violation of fair labor practices. Balodana addresses all of the above by making women happy: we make beautiful clothes that are guaranteed to fit you, one garment at a time.
Has going through the process of trying to raise capital impacted your vision and strategy for your business? If so, how?
Anticipating the challenges of due diligence helped me to crystallize our tech development strategy and the sales strategy, and guided our financial planning. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from our advisers and potential investors, which has been instrumental in everything from selecting payment systems to vetting potential partners.
What is the most important thing prospective investors should know about your company?
1. We have a very large serviceable obtainable market – estimated at over $1B no matter whether you’re calculating bottoms-up from the spend of the 56 million women in our target audience, or top-down if you segment the $90B women’s apparel market in the US. And that’s just the domestic market – we have plans for expanding to Canada and UK after we build our market here.
2. This is my third time founding a company. I have over 20 years of experience building online solutions and digital marketing campaigns, and have served in both executive management and board roles for companies. I love being a pioneer, and I love tech – I even have a patent! As an outsider to the garment industry, I have a fresh perspective and very little “baggage” in approaching the issue of solving women’s fashion woes – my approach is to use data plus an obsessive focus on the customer experience, then test and measure my way to perfection.
3. We bootstrapped our minimum lovable product and it will launch in December 2018 with eight brands, plus we have more partners in the pipeline. Our tech future includes integration of 3D body scanning to expedite measurement, plus making our platform more easily plug-n-play for merchants who already have storefronts.
Fantastic points. Good luck and thank you, Balodana.
- Founder: Dana Todd
HQ Location: Chicago, Illinois
Company Facebook URL: https://www.facebook.com/balodanafashion
Company Twitter URL: https://twitter.com/balodanafashion
Company LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/company/balodana