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.
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