The Finer Things
By Katherine Cox
When actress Brooklyn Decker and journalist Whitney Casey came up with their idea for Finery, an app that organizes your wardrobe, they knew their idea would address a real pain point for modern women that no one else was discussing.
“Women spend more money on their clothing than they'll spend on their education over their lifetime, which is a pretty shocking statistic,” Brooklyn says, “and yet there's nothing out there to help us manage it.”
The app detects wardrobe-related purchases and organizes your online clothing orders for you, entering new items into your “closet”, and keeping track of return deadlines, sale notifications, and wishlist items. The app goes even further and provides you with styling tips based on your closet as well, which was a feature Whitney and Brooklyn say was added due to customer feedback.
“It was an unexpected turn in the road for us,” Brooklyn says. “We set out for Finery to be a productivity tool to help women manage their inventory, the stuff that they have. But a lot of women don't [just] want to see their stuff; they want be told how to put it together.”
Finery went through a redesign at that point, and now, beyond just listing what clothing women own, the app, launching in May, includes styling tips to help women use the clothes that they already have.
Listening to their user base and being able to update their goals on that feedback is part of what makes the company work. In fact, it’s the basis of their product development.
“We listen to our users a lot,” says Whitney. “We legitimately call them on the phone. That's really the way to get down to brass tacks.” The duo says this feedback keeps them honest about whether or not Finery is doing what they set out for it to do, which is solve a problem for women.
They also listened to a round of venture capitalists before building the app, to get more perspective on what possible pitfalls they could prepare for and build around.
“Venture capitalists have seen everything,” Whitney says. “So they'll say, ‘There was [already] something like this,’ and they'll give you all the competitor data. They also tell you how you're going to fail eight times over. They give you great ideas because they're some of the brightest minds in the business.”
In fact, one venture capitalist gave them the idea to have a return reminders feature.
Whitney explains: “A woman from AVP who shops online all the time said, ‘You know, I really wish you would just tell me when I need to return things.’ All of these companies vary in policies anywhere from a week to a month for returns. This woman said, ‘I just want a reminder of hey, you have seven days left until you need to return this or you no longer get your money back.’”
They say it’s now one of Finery’s stickiest features.
While they knew Finery was a great and unique idea, they soon found that getting the app into production was not a straightforward affair. As simple as it may seem to design an app that takes the data from emailed receipts and turns it into a wardrobe, there were several more steps involved than they expected.
“When we asked, ‘Why doesn't this exist?’ That's why,” says Whitney. “It's not easy to do.”
For example, the app has to take into account differing taxonomies and receipt compositions between different retailers, such as shortened descriptions for colors or sizes.
“They’re all like fingerprints,” says Brooklyn. “They have a DNA of their own.”
According to Whitney, any given retailer may change their receipt composition four times a year. In order to keep up with these changes, the app would have to integrate with hundreds of retailers. They knew it was possible because they were already using apps like TripIt and Slice, both of which collect data from email receipts to manage travel itineraries and track packages, respectively.
Today, after two years of development, they have a patented MVP that keeps track of users’ clothing purchases in real time, and automatically adds them to a digital wardrobe. And they know the app is bound to change even further.
“We thought it would take a lot less time to make,” Whitney says. “But in this case, it's still a work in progress. It's evolving.”
It took a year to develop Finery before launch, and both founders say it took an external push by a journalist wanting to do an exclusive on their company to get them to put the product out into the world.
The founders decided to do a private launch in the beginning, in an attempt to start out small. They needed a test group, and they also wanted to know if their product was what people really wanted or needed.
“We don't have to promote it but let's launch it,” Brooklyn says was their line of thinking. “Because the only way we can grow is by listening to that user feedback.”
In spite of their attempt at a small launch, Brooklyn did post the original start on her Instagram feed. The reaction from her many followers caused the site to come close to crashing. It was a moment they both knew could stop everything. But the influx of customers in that push provided them with valuable input to help them develop the app.
"[We told ourselves], ‘This isn't going to be the final product, but we can't just keep iterating here in our little bubble,’” Whitney says. “‘We’ve got to put it out there, and it's gonna be flawed, and we’ve got to ask for forgiveness and improve.’”
While they both had experience in media -- Brooklyn as an actress and Whitney as a journalist -- neither entrepreneur had experience in product design or software coding. But thanks to their careers, both women had strong networks. Whitney was able to tap a product designer she’d worked with previously who had created a news app. From there, the team grew.
“We started hiring engineers, and now our team is 17, which is a lot,” says Whitney.
To manage that team and keep ideas flowing, they rely extensively on collaborative platforms, especially Slack. The flexible means of collaboration is particularly necessary to both founders, as Brooklyn has to travel to the West Coast for her acting. Both founders believe that working out of the office gives them fresh perspectives on problems.
“I would say Founders should try not to [work in an] office together,” Whitney says. Being apart provides a fresh perspective and reduces redundancy in problems, and allows the founders to solve these problems more creatively. “You solve problems from a totally different perspective.”
In fact, they encourage their team members to work from elsewhere, specifically on Wednesdays.
“We do Work from Anywhere Wednesdays,” Whitney explains. “We find the best code is pushed on Wednesdays and the freshest ideas.”
They also have Slack Lash Thursdays, which means no one is allowed to use Slack on Thursdays. This encourages more collaborative, inclusive communication to get ideas flowing.
Regarding advice for new entrepreneurs, Brooklyn and Whitney say you should do your research before launching a new product.
“Research the market first,” Brooklyn says. “Do a ton of research. See if it exists. If it doesn't, is it because many things have failed before and there's just not a market for it?”
They also agree that having a co-founder is a great idea to ensure someone has your back but is also able to provide you with valuable feedback and get you out of your own head.
“When you think [stuff] is hitting the fan, you have a partner there who can ground you,” says Brooklyn. “To be able to have someone to bring you back down and say, ‘It's good, we can do this. Here's a solution.’ I think that's really, really healthy. It helps keep you on track.”
“She’s my sanity check, and that is so immeasurable,” Whitney says of Brooklyn.
One big piece of advice they offer is to find a successful entrepreneur who can have your back to make an introduction to venture capitalists, mainly if they have made money for those possible investors themselves.
“You will get your foot in the door so much faster,” Brooklyn says. For Finery, Jennifer Hyman, CEO of Rent the Runway, [Jen Rubio and Stephanie Korey], the co-founders of Away, and Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin at The Skimm all played an important role. “All women, all female founders,” Brooklyn says. “They were like, ‘I'll make an introduction for you. I'll tell you how I did my pitch. I'll send you my deck.’" This kind of support can make all the difference.
They’re not just the founders of Finery; they’re also customers. In fact, Brooklyn says the app has reduced her spending on clothes.
“I buy redundantly,” she explains. “I love a black blazer, I love a long black skirt, and I have several of them. I forget that I have them because they're sitting in the back of my closet collecting dust. But when I can see it all, on Finery, right in front of me, I'm like, ‘ ‘Oh wait, I don’t need to buy another black blazer’.”
Instead, she says, she can buy something she wouldn’t usually buy, or wear something she forgot she owned.
Whitney even developed a new shopping rule for herself, which she can only implement thanks to the app: “I don’t buy anything unless I can put it in three outfits.”
To get your closet digitized, you can download The Finery through the Android and Apple app stores. You can also follow @yourfinery on Instagram to learn more.