24. January 2013–
Fashion blogging and finder app Views recently hit beta mode, allowing users to trawl through wares stocked at nearby retail stores. Think of it as a Pinterest meets Fancy but with offline love. Backed by German angel investors Christophe Maire and Simon Schaefer, the Views team of five is working toward an expected App Store launch within the coming weeks.
Berlin-based cofounders Dario Galbiati Alborghetti, 24, and Hermann Frank, 26, chat about their mission to bridge the online and offline shopping world, Frank's pivotal move from his former startup Fashionism, and how awkward silences brought the two together...
Standing out from the fashion app crowd
Part blog, wishlist and offline shop locator, Views is an image-based app that allows you to collect and share galleries of items to pin-pointing the exact location of the item's store via a map.
“The app lets you find all the stores in your area. You can then browse through collections online before visiting them offline” says Frank. The photos on the app are professionally curated, with upcoming plans to let users snap and upload their own.
Its main point of difference from the much-hyped Fancy – backed by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey – is its offline shopping experience: “Offline retail stores won't fail because you still need the experience of trying clothes on,” says Alborghetti.
“The idea is that we want to achieve a bridge between the best of offline with the best of online. So, online you discover things easily, and offline you can get it immediately and try before you buy. It's this mix of experiences that'll help keep the fashion industry sustainable,” he adds.
“We're targeting more independent boutiques at the moment,” says Frank. “If you Google the top 20 stores in Berlin, about 17 of them are on Views already.”
“We went into stores to get to know what they need and so on. We wanted to build a model where we can remotely launch in a city without a sales voice,” says Alborghetti.
The days of Fashionism
Before the idea of Views was born, Frank co-founded the now-defunct fashion discovery platform Fashionism. The app drew a keen following before launching into private beta in February last year, but soon fell into paralysis over lack of funding and internal issues. The experience – arming Frank for Views in what he describes as a “more holistic approach to the market”.
“It was a very good experience and I learned a lot from it. In the end I got attention from people who invested and when that happened we changed the name because we didn't want to get stuck with just fashion, we wanted something that would give us more flexibility in the future. It's fashion right now but it's working well and we've got an amazing new team around it.”
When Alborghetti met Frank
It was a pre-conference lull that pushed the then lone strangers into meeting back in September, 2011. “We were at the Advance Conference in Cologne and I was the first one there because of an early flight. Dario was the second one in, and we just got talking in the lobby and ended up spending the day together,” said Frank. “Months later, Dario called to say 'hey I'm moving to Berlin' [he was residing in France at the time]... and we ended up becoming flatmates.”
“One night over beer and whisky we got talking about our business vision, and his was the same as mine. That's when we started decided to work on Views together,” says Alborghetti.
Catwalking the industry
For now, Frank and Alborghetti are keeping their business model hush-hush, but there's no doubt they're hitting a potentially lucrative market. The fashion industry is believed to make over $400bn a year, “but at the same time the industry is so conservative,” says Alborghetti.
“It's driven by people who are more artistic than business-minded. It’s on the edge of a revolution because it's about mixing offline with online thinking, but on the other side - when you think of all these big brands – they're based on offline retailing. They're not going to die but they have to adapt somehow. It's very dynamic and it's an insane opportunity for mixing in this type of online element.”
“The retail industry's just waiting to be disrupted, says Frank. “It's still somewhat stuck in the 1990's. You go into stores and they're still using excel spreads,” he laughs.
So has there been reluctance from retailers to create an online-mobile presence? The pair says that encouraging stores to break old economy habits have proved easier than first anticipated: “I thought there’d be less acceptance of technology in Berlin than say New York, so we were surprised that they’re really seeing mobile as the future for helping to drive traffic to their store,” says Alborghetti.
And as for plans ahead - the app is only available in Berlin for now, but work’s underway to expand city by city. “We want the experience in each city to be properly curated with just the highest quality items,” says Frank. “In a year’s time it’ll be in more than one continent that’s for sure."
Photo credit: flickr user zitona