Apps I Live By

Investors Wanted These M'sian Founders To Launch & Monetise Their App ASAP—But NOPE

In a startup ecosystem that pushes for scaling fast, a tech startup named Ombré decided to go against the curve by taking two long years to properly launch their product.

Don’t get me wrong; the product has already been in the market since April 2016. When we wrote about them last July, Ombré was able to engage 1000 users onto its then-iOS only app, but it has finally been deemed suitable for a launch last week.

The reason? They’ve finally been able to develop a fully-fledged version of the app after their seed round investment.

“Early this year we had the impression that we didn’t need funds—just hire interns from local universities and grow organically,” said Imran Sheik, founder of Ombré.

“Although we don’t have a high burn rate, our company’s growth was so slow. After the closing of our seed investment this July, circumstances improved drastically.”

“We finally have an in-house tech team, and we have solid funds to do early commercialisation. Because of this improvement, the software is ready to be launched,” said Imran.

Ombré is a Malaysian startup that wants to solve one of our biggest problems every morning: what to wear?

The Ombré app curates and presents clothes to users that suit them based on their height, skintone and body shape—for both for men and women. But what stood out to me personally is the ability to match the clothes that you already own.

It was all about turning something subjective—like fashion—into mathematics, a message that won them investment from Cradle to develop the prototype. This was the prototype that they released in the market last year.

In our interview with Imran, he stated that “some of the investors we pitched to disagreed” about their decision to push the launch back for so long.

But the team wanted to make sure that the platform achieved a minimum standard before officially launching it.

Minimum standard means building an autonomous system the team calls Cicero.

Calling it their A.I. system, Cicero exists on what is known as the convolutional neural network—a machine learning network inspired by biological processes that has successfully been used to analyse visual images.

In this case, Cicero uses deep learning to crawl clothes from fashion e-commerce sources, and automatically tags them in the Ombré system based on their users’ physical traits.

Before Cicero’s completion, a poor human being had to sit down and manually input all of the clothes into the app—a process that usually took 20 minutes per piece. Now, the team can onboard 500 clothes in the same amount of time.

While this is a backend process that wouldn’t usually impact users, we can still look to seeing more products, and a new user interface—which we can imagine will help Ombré grow and scale as well.

They’ve also tweaked the match feature to allow use of illustrations—instead of what is already available on the market. 

Screenshots of the Ombré app.

“The reason of this decision is to make sure there is always a match result,” said Imran. “In the previous version, the suggestion will depend on vendor’s availability.”

For example, perhaps a combo would be matching a pair of grey pants with a green shirt. But previously, the result might not be shown on the app if their vendors did not have that item. With illustrations, the team hopes that users will always get suggestions, no matter what they’re wearing.

The team observed that users spent more time on the match feature, which matches existing clothes, rather than the explore feature.

“This proves our assumption that our users use the app to solve their indecisiveness in pairing clothes. That’s why we improve the feature to use illustrations as the default photo of a garment. That way, the suggestion has way more variety thus increasing the suggestion’s quality.”

Some of the investors Ombré pitched to said, “It’s better to focus on monetisation rather than building the A.I. system,” according to Imran.

But they didn’t follow that advice, because:

  • Building the A.I. system means that they have more clothes, which will lead to a better user experience
  • Better user experience means higher retention and referrals—lowering cost of acquisition
  • This leads to higher traction, which will then finally be time to focus on monetisation.

“Focusing on shopping before the A.I. means we will be just another fashion marketplace that is already highly saturated,” said Imran.

“The thing about most startups now is their software is mostly a medium to connect to their actual product, making sure that the customers get their clothes,” said Imran.

“It’s okay if the website is not good at the onset, as long as the customers can get their product.”

Imran thinks that Ombré offers a different solution because their app is the product.

“Launching our app when it’s not ready is just like launching an e-commerce business when they cannot deliver products to customers.”

With this vision in mind, the team realised that finding the right investor is crucial. Their long journey led them to two angel investors 4 months ago that understood their vision, who co-invested along with Khazanah.

Ombré’s new UI / Image Cerdit: Ombré

They are also not blind to the chatter. 

“We were also criticised by some mentors for waiting too long to launch our product,” said Imran.

“They said there will never be a perfect time. We understand the impracticality of waiting for perfection, but we also see the danger of launching an unusable product.”

“Products are not just perfect and imperfect.  There are more degrees than just those two.”

Now, the team sees creating demand as their biggest challenge. Fashion is a trillion dollar industry, but there is still a gap between shopping for clothes, and shopping for the right clothes. So Imran sees Ombré as an early adopter to the market.

But the team has a big vision for the platform that took them so long to create. 

Image Credit: Ombré

“Our future plan for Ombré is to make a SaaS model that uses the same backend system,” said Imran.

“This means Ombré can be plugged in to fashion e-commerce stores. Users can browse our partners’ website, and they can know whether the clothes that they wanna buy on the website suits their physical traits.”

They also have plans to bring their app to more developed countries, “as long as the products featured in our app are from e-commerce stores that deliver to the respective countries”.

And after taking that long to launch it, it’ll be nice to see these plans come to fruition.

Ombré is available on both Google Play Store and Apple iTunes Store.

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