QUICK CHIC WI T H A COU­PLE OF CLICKS

Start up vet­eran Juli­ette Gimenez's new project, Goxip, uses the lastest in im­age recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy to open up Asian on­line fash­ion shop­ping. In­vestors are tak­ing no­tice.

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Feature • View - STORY CH­ERYL ARCIBAL

Meet­ing Goxip founder and CEO Juli­ette Gimenez for the first time, you'd be for­given for think­ing that like many mil­len­ni­als, she'd be the very def­i­ni­tion of chill. But once she starts talk­ing, you re­alise that she is a woman on a mis­sion: chill is the last word you should as­so­ciate with her.

Dressed in her favoured plain tee, cuffed jeans, and white sneak­ers, Gimenez's laid­back vibe be­gins and ends there. This is ob­vi­ous in the way she moved from one job to an­other, and joined fast-grow­ing star­tups, and fi­nally start­ing her own ven­ture, which in a year of oper­a­tion has earned a rev­enue

the in­vest­ments of the likes of a daugh­ter of a Malaysian bil­lion­aire and a pop­u­lar Chi­nese app.

There are two con­flict­ing re­ports about how the idea of start­ing Goxip, an on­line shop­ping ser­vice that uses im­age recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy to help buy­ers find the items they're look­ing for, came to her. One says she was look­ing for Tay­lor Swift's boots, and an­other says they were Jes­sica Alba's.

“They were Jes­sica Alba's,” she says. “I re­ally like her style and what she wears, and wow, if I could dress like her that would be nice. But in mag­a­zines, it's al­ways the ex­pen­sive items that are be­ing tagged.”

Gimenez says she found it in­con­ve­nient to look for the item in sim­i­lar style on the web­site of fast fash­ion brands or even on Asos, and thought some­one had to do some­thing about it.

“That was the be­gin­ning of Goxip,” she says. That was in 2016, when she was based in Bangkok and work­ing for Cdis­count, an ecom­merce plat­form launched in 2014.

Gimenez, who was born in France and raised in Hong Kong to a French-span­ish dad and a Hongkonger mom, and ma­jored in economics in a UK univer­sity, first

worked as an in­vest­ment banker, a ca­reer path that many of her friends took too.

“Af­ter a few years, I felt that it was not me and that it was not some­thing that I could do for­ever and so I came back to Hong Kong,” she says.

Once back in Hong Kong, she took a job man­ag­ing Caffe Habitu, a lo­cal cof­fee chain, and it was where she learned how to man­age a busi­ness – from mar­ket­ing to op­er­a­tions, to un­der­stand­ing the end con­sumer ex­pe­ri­ence. Un­like her time in in­vest­ment bank­ing, she was hav­ing fun.

“The busi­ness was very hec­tic. When cus­tomers had com­plaints, you un­der­stood that the food was not hot enough, or the cof­fee was not good enough. It was re­ally, re­ally fun,” she says. Soon the cof­fee chain grew from two branches to four, and then to six.

“That was re­ally one of the best times of my life,” Gimenez says, and from then on it was one busi­ness ven­ture to an­other.

Next up was Ubuy­ibuy, a plat­form of­fer­ing dis­counts to cus­tomers and a ven­ture she started with her friends. It was even­tu­ally ac­quired by Groupon, but she stayed on as VP.

In 2011 she moved to Liv­ing­so­cial, an­other plat­form of­fer­ing dis­counts to buy­ers, and as di­rec­tor of sales, she trav­elled ex­ten­sively, over­see­ing the group's busi­ness in five coun­tries – South Ko­rea, Thai­land, Philip­pines, In­done­sia, and Malaysia.

It was where, Gimenez says, she learned the im­por­tance of a karaoke ses­sion in bond­ing with her staff. Mostly her staff would sing, and she would dance and drink, be­cause, she says, she doesn't sing well.

And af­ter two years in Liv­ing­so­cial, she was ap­pointed di­rec­tor of e-com­merce at Big C Su­per­center, where she worked from 2013 to 2016, and which she

de­scribes as an ex­cit­ing time as it was when Thais were be­gin­ning to use smart­phones and mo­bile in­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion was grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially.

The idea for a lux­ury/high­end fash­ion ecom­merce plat­form per­haps be­gan to take shape when Gimenez was with Cdis­count, as she found that brands were re­luc­tant to join their site even when they were get­ting a lot of traf­fic and they had a base of a few mil­lion users.

“Most of them said to me, ‘hey, Juli­ette, we re­ally like you as a per­son, but the site is quite ugly'. So with us and our com­peti­tors, there's a def­i­nite dis­con­nect and we were not get­ting the high-end mar­ket be­cause brands did not want to put their prod­ucts next to in­fant for­mu­las or di­a­pers,” she says.

It was, Gimenez says, a missed op­por­tu­nity for the plat­form and the lux­ury brands, as South­east Asians were be­com­ing fash­ion­able, thanks to the in­flu­ence of Ko­rean pop stars, and spend­ing on lux­ury items was ris­ing.

When Goxip first started out, the site was merely ag­gre­gat­ing con­tent from 50 or so celebrity mag­a­zines from all over the world, thus its name. Gimenez says they were pop­u­lar among Face­book users in the Philip­pines be­cause of celebrity news. Goxip had im­agere­cog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy then, but the pic­ture was not ideal, she says.

In 2016, Gimenez says she joined Break­through HK at the RISE con­fer­ence be­cause she wanted to find out if oth­ers would also like her idea be­hind Goxip. Un­like other ecom­merce sites, Goxip also al­lows buy­ers to up­load im­ages of their de­sired items and then list their matches and their price tags. In a gist, Gimenez says, it's snap, shop, wear.

“We just tried to see if we could win any prices, and val­i­date our prod­uct. Founders like their own stuff, but I wanted to see if oth­ers

like our stuff too, and the re­sult was re­ally good,” Gimenez says.

Ap­par­ently the judges liked her idea too, and Goxip beat 19 other star­tups to win US$120,000 in host­ing credit from Soft­layer. Soon af­ter­wards, Goxip se­cured its seed fund­ing when Chry­seis Tan, daugh­ter of Malaysian bil­lion­aire Vin­cent Tan, in­vested US$1.62 mil­lion in May 2016.

Gimenez re­calls re­ceiv­ing an email “out of the blue” from Vin­cent's in­vest­ment as­sis­tant, and af­ter fly­ing her in to Kuala Lumpur, she made a pre­sen­ta­tion to him, and af­ter an hour, the Tans de­cided to in­vest in Goxip.

“I was su­per ner­vous [be­cause] he's a bil­lion­aire and the rich­est man I've ever met in my life ... It was a very great op­por­tu­nity to meet some­one so suc­cess­ful and then within about an hour, he de­cided to put in the money, and then we shook hands, and we got the deal straight away. Then we went to din­ner,” she says with a laugh.

Af­ter se­cur­ing the seed fund­ing, the next hur­dle for Goxip was con­vinc­ing lux­ury brands to sell their wares on the site. But af­ter get­ting the first mer­chan­diser, Match­es­fash­ion, a Uk-based re­tailer that car­ries brands such as Ba­len­ci­aga, Gucci, and Dolce & Gab­bana, pitch­ing to other re­tail­ers be­came eas­ier.

Gimenez says Goxip's value is that buy­ers don't usu­ally look for the ex­act item, but they want some­thing of the same style, and when they find the item, they look for the cheap­est one. And with Goxip's “large data­base' – 500 mer­chants with 37,000 brands and six mil­lion prod­ucts – she says they are help­ing buy­ers find the prod­uct they're look­ing for.

In­deed, there is value in im­age recog­ni­tion as a way to en­hance cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence, says Av­inash Sachdeva of re­search and con­sult­ing firm Frost & Sul­li­van.

“Some of the e-com­merce play­ers have been try­ing to in­te­grate the tech­nol­ogy; how­ever it will take some more time to come to main­stream e-com­merce. Lever­ag­ing AI, this has abil­ity to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the over­all time to shop, thereby boost­ing the over­all sales con­ver­sion rates,” Sachdeva said in an email in­ter­view.

And for im­age recog­ni­tion to work, a site has to have a large data­base to match the buyer's cri­te­ria, and mer­chants, which nor­mally have be­tween 20,000 and 50,000 prod­ucts on their site, would be no match for Goxip, Gimenez says.

Presently, other e-com­merce sites that of­fer vis­ual search tools are Asos and Pin­ter­est, which launched the fea­ture through their apps in Au­gust and Novem­ber 2017, re­spec­tively. In Goxip's case, the tool is also avail­able on its web­site.

Nielsen notes that as China's e-com­merce con­tin­ues to see healthy growth, small niche play­ers have been adopt­ing unique busi­ness strate­gies to serve cus­tomer groups that are not be­ing served by main­stream plat­forms.

"The de­vel­op­ment of tech­nol­ogy plays an im­por­tant role in e-com­merce, yet it's not a de­ter­min­ing fac­tor. The chal­lenge for re­tail­ers mainly lies in defin­ing a proper use case for th­ese tech­nolo­gies that will help make shop­ping eas­ier for con­sumers and im­prove op­er­a­tional ef­fi­ciency," says Tommy Hong, vice-pres­i­dent and head of E-tailer Ver­ti­cal of Nielsen China.

When Goxip was able to get Har­rods to join the site, Gimenez says she fi­nally felt they made it. And her next big goal is to get Gucci as a di­rect seller on Goxip.

“I like the brand,” she says of Gucci. “A few years ago, they changed their de­signer, and the brand has a new look, and they're not very tra­di­tional any­more, which is cool and that is why those in their late 20s and early 30s like the brand now.”

In Fe­bru­ary, Goxip se­cured ad­di­tional fund­ing, US$5 mil­lion, from a group of in­vestors in­clud­ing Chi­nese beauty fil­ter app Meitu, Stan­ley Ho's daugh­ter Sab­rina Ho, and Tan. The fund­ing will be used for Goxip's launch to Thai­land in April, and its in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing cam­paign, to be called Re­ward­snap, in the se­cond quar­ter of the year.

Goxip, Juli­ette says, is sign­ing so­cial in­flu­encers to join the pro­gram, which will con­nect in­flu­encers to the brands so in­flu­encers will be able to pick up any prod­uct and tag their In­sta­gram and Face­book posts.

“It's an in­vite-only pro­gram, so we'll have 20 to 30 in­flu­encers, and we are look­ing for in­flu­encers who typ­i­cally have at least 100,000 fol­low­ers,” she says. “The brands love it be­cause they also iden­tify this a great chan­nel for them. Teenagers th­ese days are look­ing to what in­flu­encers are wear­ing, that's the celebrity power.”

“SO WITH US AND OUR COM­PETI­TORS, THERE'S A DEF­I­NITE DIS­CON­NECT AND WE WERE NOT GET­TING THE HIGH-END MAR­KET BE­CAUSE BRANDS DID NOT WANT TO PUT THEIR PROD­UCTS NEXT TO IN­FANT FOR­MU­LAS OR DI­A­PERS.” –Juli­ette Gimenez

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