Harpreet Gill is the CEO/Founder of DressMe.com, a fashion-focused web & mobile app that helps consumers locate fashion stores, brands and products.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity of speaking with him, we spoke about some of the difficulties he faced starting and growing the business, raising finance and getting traction.
Who was your inspiration growing and why?
Primarily, my parents, family and people I’ve worked with, so colleagues and ex bosses. I am from a working class background and my parents taught me to be honest, hard working, punctual, disciplined etc. – a great foundation for anyone really. You have to work hard to achieve success in any field, regardless. As I’ve grown older I’ve experienced this first hand and my parents have always reminded me along the way.
So how did you initially get into business? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I grew up in and around the textiles industry through the extended family business. I particularly remember the 80’s and early 90’s when fashion and the textiles industry grew and prospered in Britain. Then came the manufacturing decline and I recall how my uncles restructured and got into importing. One of my uncle’s from east London was particularly inspirational. He was great at spotting the next best trend and willing to venture outside his comfort zone. He’s still in the game, and one of the very few guys who are doing well; so I guess growing up within the industry has subconsciously lead me down this path and I still really enjoy it. I think they call it Karma :O)
So tell me about DressMe and how the idea came about?
Bit cliché, but it all ties back to my days in the family business. In my school holidays on market stalls in and around London and the south coast. People would come in all the time asking for new stock and when new lines were due in. I guess this is where the first “seed” was planted. How could we tell people that new ranges were in stock or we’d gone on sale and certain lines had been discounted?
In early 2000 I was fortunate to work on the UK’s first mobile/WAP platform with Ericsson and Nokia. I started to see the potential of web mobility, and although the technology wasn’t quite ready, the concept was very exciting and I felt it was just a matter of time before it would go mainstream.
In 2008 I was looking to buy my wife a watch for her 30th birthday so used Google to find the physical stores that stocked the brand I was looking for, the results were pretty poor. I stated looking into this problem and realized that retailers were focusing more on their websites than using the web to promote their physical presence. That’s where I thought, “how can we help consumers find the physical location of fashion stores, brands and products using a simple search tool”, and that’s when DressMe was conceived.
What is Dressme and how does it work?
DressMe is a fashion-focused web & mobile app that helps consumers locate fashion stores, brands and products. Basically, you tell it the type of product or fashion brand you’re looking for and it tells you the nearest place to find it. At the same time it provides fashion retailers with a cost-effective opportunity to turn online search into in-store visits.
What difficulties did you face during the startup phase?
DressMe is a disruptive business model and when we started the business in 2010 people were very skeptical of whether it would work. Therefore finding innovative fashion brands to work and partner with was very challenging.
At the same time financing and building the technology to demonstrate our concept was tricky, but we were fortunate enough to find a few early adopters, which helped us shape the first version of the site.
How did you initially get traction for the business?
We needed an early pilot partner, so we drew up a list of potential fashion brands and ended up signing five all at once. This gave up a solid insight into the problems faced by fashion retailers and confirmed that we were solving a real life issue faced by retailers; how to drive consumers into physical stores cost effectively.
What is your business model?
Good question! We’ve been working around several revenue models of which one is a clear favorite. You’ll have to ask me next month what it is though, sorry.
What are the most crucial things that you’ve done to grow your business?
We’ve stuck very close to our core focus of turning online search into in-store footfall. We strongly believe that despite the growth of online sales, there is huge demand from consumers who want to buy clothing and footwear in-store and offline.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
Very slightly yes, but nothing major. We’ve tested certain things and if they haven’t lined with our strategy then we’ve dropped them. We’re still focused on helping consumers find the physical location of fashion stores and providing a cost effective channel for retailers to use.
Raising investment is always a hot topic, how have you been able to fund the business?
My co-founder and I financed the first 18 – 24 months; we then sought angel investment. I spent 6 weeks putting together the financials and investor deck in preparation to meet with angels. One night I was invited to a 40th birthday party and I got chatting to an old friend, 2 weeks later I met him to present the idea and 10 minutes later we’d struck a deal. The next round will definitely be trickier as we’re targeting VC’s but it’s a fantastic learning curve.
What tips can you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise investment for their startups?
There are so many things to think about. Be clear about how much you want to raise and whether the amount is best suited for an angel investor or VC. To get off the ground quickly, maybe family and friends are the best option. It’s also important to think about the amount of equity you’re willing to part with and the future impact that will have. Personally, it was an area I didn’t have much experience in, so I found people who could help me. I also read a lot about it through VC’s blogs, which are great to get free advice.
What has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Signing our very first client and seeing the DressMe.com site go live. Things move so fast here so highlights keep being superseded.
What can we be expecting from you in 2012?
If we can achieve what we’ve achieved in the 1st part of the year then I will be happy but I am aiming much higher.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1 - Do something you love and feel passionate about
2 - Focus on solving real life problems; people will pay you to relieve pain
3 - Most importantly, keep it simple, and then make it even simpler