On the up Hunter Ruthven · 10 November 2015
Custom: The personalised fashion platform led by a former Google exec
While entrepreneurship is something that should be encouraged at any stage of a person’s career, there is a lot to be said for having a bit of corporate experience behind you. For Max Madile, he’s using seven years at Google as a sound base for his new company. Tackling what he describes as the current “inadequate and cluttered online fashion search experience”, Custom takes the form of a personalised search engine providing a service tailored to an individual’s vitals. Alongside fellow co-founders Andy Weir and Robin Wong, and charged with some helpful angel investment, Madile sees big potential for his business in a world which is increasingly turning to online when it comes to shopping. We found out why by sitting down with him. (1) Who are you and what’s your business? Were a team of technology geeks who spotted a gap in the market for a truly personal online fashion experience. I worked at Google for seven years and my co-founders ran their own design agency. Together weve built Custom, a personalised search engine for people who like to buy fashion online. Our starting point is the individual we aim to return items that are relevant only to the individual shopper, reflecting their tastes, style and brand preferences. You can search across almost half a million items of clothing, across 4, 000+ brands and find what you’re looking for available in your size, location and style in the fewest clicks possible. The more brands and products you “like” or discard as you search, the more the system learns about your style and can make better suggestions. (2) What was the inspiration for the company? It started with me trying to buy my wife a winter coat. There were endless different retailers and brands to search through, many of which only had tiny images of the coats or “tick box” filters to help narrow down my options. Then when I did find something suitable it was out of stock. It was pretty time consuming and frustrating. With my Google background, I immediately started thinking that technology must be able to make the process more personalised, relevant and organised. It seemed there was a gap in the market for an aggregated, seamless experience which reflected individual style, the brands you love and your price bracket. I believed in its potential so much that I quit working at Google to launch Custom with my co-founders. (3) How do you make money? We’re a consumer platform, so there are lots of potential ways that we can monetise in the future. Weve just launched, so right now our focus is on reaching, engaging and retaining our target audience. We believe our greatest strength is our ability to understand each individual user and provide them with relevant products. Over time, this understanding will also drive our biggest opportunity, namely offering highly targeted ad formats to brands and retailers. (4) What makes you different and why should people take notice? If there’s one industry that should be getting personalisation right it’s fashion, yet most online fashion retailers take a “one-size-fits-all” approach. It doesnt matter who searches for something, you get the same answer regardless of your tastes. Even companies that provide a bespoke service tend to put people in categories, or push products that earn them higher margins. Consequently it’s more of a jumble sale for the masses than a personal catwalk. Weve flipped this model on its head by putting the person first. Essentially every shopper has their own personal search algorithm as the technology learns from their searches, specifically what they like, dislike and click on. Weve also put a big emphasis on a visual, magazine-like format where the item of clothing takes centre stage. (5) What was key in terms of getting started, and what does the next year have in store? Getting the right team in place was crucial. Building a search algorithm that will learn from every person that uses it and yet be simple to use required finding the best engineers in the business. We were lucky enough to have personal connections that referred us to great talents and within a few months we were ready to go. Next year we are planning to hire more developers to build a personal discovery feed and improved search functionality. Above all we want to focus on adding more and more relevancy. Ultimately, our aim is to create a shop just for you where the rails always reflect who you are. (6) What’s your biggest achievement to date? Opening Custom to the general public was a big moment for us. All the hard work, planning, coding and coffee-fuelled nights were worth it when we went live to great feedback. it’s one thing believing in your own idea and your own product, it’s another entirely when others validate that for you.
ABOUT THE EXPERTHunter Ruthven
Hunter Ruthven was previously editor of Business Advice. He was also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs.