Some people have been asking, "Travis, where did you (and Hizook) disappear to?" Well... I'm taking a prolonged (but ultimately temporary) hiatus from robotics to co-found a new, YCombinator-funded web startup: Lollipuff.com -- an online auction site dedicated exclusively to women's designer clothes and accessories, where every item is authenticated by a team of experts. Surprised? Frankly, I am too. I'll explain more down below... but since this is a robotics website, I figure I have to talk about robotics too. So really, this is two blog posts in one: (1) looking at the intersection of fashion and robotics, and (2) a description of my latest endeavors.
The most common "fashion robots" I could find were robotic mannequins. The various offerings seek to either (a) create motion to draw attention, (b) track shoppers, or (c) help online shoppers determine how a garment would fit before they buy. I'm not sure how these businesses are doing fundamentally, but they're interesting none the less.
The D+Ropop from Eager is made up of recycled cardboard and 8 servo motors actuating the shoulders, neck, and arms. At $5500, and weighing only 13 lbs, it's the most affordable and green of its class. Obviously, it's a relatively low-payload solution, but it should be capable of continuously modeling 24 hours a day!
The "Palette" robot from Flower Robotics is yet another mannequin challenging the old ways of marketing. Its $50,000 price tag will get you a sleek modern mannequin that moves its arms and head upon detecting a possible audience. This robot has already been used for quite some time in Japan, displaying clothing and jewelry.
Classic Hiroshi Ishiguro. The talking and singing Geminoid F ($110,000) can produce 65 different facial expressions and has been featured in a Tokyo department store window display. The Geminoid F uses rubberized material for the skin, 12 pneumatic actuators, and a Kinect system for facial recognition. This allows for human-like interaction between real humans and robots that look human.
This last creation differs from all of the above. The company hails from Estonia, unlike all the others that are from Japan. Though it acts as a mannequin like the rest, it also tackles a very common problem: buying clothing that fits online.
How is this done? The Fits.me robot provides about 2,000 different permutations or body types. With high resolution, high speed photography, each permutation is photographed. With measurements supplied from the customer, it provides information on how the clothing item will fit without actually physically trying on the garment. Fits.me hopes to increase online sales and reduce returns.
TL;DR: My wife enjoys high-end fashion and is an expert online "authenticator" for a few select brands. She got really sick of girls getting scammed by counterfeits on eBay (for some brands, >50% are fakes), so she started an online auction site dedicated to authentic high-end designer goods. I offered to help, and Lollipuff was born. We got accepted into YCombinator, and now Lollipuff is consuming all of my time.
What is Lollipuff?
Lollipuff is an online auction site (sorta like eBay) exclusively for designer clothes and accessories. Every item is authenticated by a team of experts so that no fakes ever appear on the site. Users buy and sell new or lightly-used items directly to each other, which results in amazing prices (up to 90% off retail). Currently, Lollipuff focuses on just three brands: Chanel (the hottest bags), Christian Louboutin (the hottest shoes), and Herve Leger (the hottest dresses).
I'm gonna be honest... This whole endeavor is a bit outside my comfort zone. But I do know one thing: my wife looks great wearing these things.
How did I get involved...?
Well, the last 3-4 months have been a whirlwind.
Lollipuff formed as an outgrowth of my wife's personal fashion blog. Actually, she is trained as an electrical engineer and was working as a regional sales director for an electrical power company... but she started a small blog focusing on her favorite dresses: Herve Leger. Over time, she built up a reputation as an expert online "authenticator." Her readers asked to buy and sell direct through the blog rather than dealing with fakes on eBay. My wife obliged, and the transactions started rolling in. She tracked everything via email and Excel... which worked fine for a while, but became tedious and resulted in a wait list of up to 3-months for sellers.
I offered to help automate things... and it was off to the races. We submitted an application to YCombinator's Winter 2013 class (YC W13) and were admitted! When an opportunity like this comes along... you jump! You see, YC is the world's preeminent startup accelerator. You might recognize their startup community (Hacker News) or some of their alums: Reddit, DropBox, AirBnB, Scribd, Heroku, Twitch.tv (Justin.tv), Disqus, etc.
Fast-forward 3 months... and Lollipuff just publicly lauched on TechCrunch! It's currently growing in both users and revenues at >10% week-over-week and is already nearing "ramen profitability."
Why not eBay?
For some brands, >50% of items listed on eBay are counterfeit. For example, in a recent survey of Herve Leger dresses sold on eBay, greater than 60% were fake! Knowing that, would YOU buy a $3000 “Chanel” on eBay!? No way!
My working theory: eBay is fundamentally tailored to selling low-dollar items (sub-$50). eBay is great for things like pez dispensers and broken laser pointers, but not so great for high-end luxury goods. Counterfeit items, inaccurate descriptions, insufficient photo evidence, photos culled from the net, reused photos from old listings, etc. all frequently lead to eBay disputes, which negatively impact everyone involved. Lollipuff uses a unique, patent-pending process for authentication that combines automated software with expert human authenticators to solve all of these problems so that you can buy high-end designer clothing and accessories without fear.
Many Thanks & Asking for a favor...
I'm not going to name names (since they don't want attention), but some robotics folks were instrumental in our YCombinator application process. Thank you! It was really helpful. I'll certainly try to pay it forward. If you're doing a robotics startup and applying to YC, please let me know. I can't promise to recommend you... but if the idea and team are sound, I'll definitely help you out.
As for the favor... now that Lollipuff's website is fairly solid, I'm being tasked with more-and-more marketing activities. For those who know me, I'm (1) not very fashionable and (2) a nerdy roboticist. I could use some help. If you know any journalists (bonus points if they're in fashion or style), an introduction would be greatly appreciated. I'd definitely owe you one...
One more thing: Hizook is NOT going away.
I will continue to write about robotics on Hizook. In fact, sitting on the front lines of the startup world in Silicon Valley, I'll probably have some really key insights into the burgeoning robotics startup industry on the west coast.