February 6, 2014

MBF Profiles: Rohan Deuskar

If you've ever imagined having your entire wardrobe laid out in front of you then maybe a digital closet is just what you've been missing. This is where Stylitics comes in to help you plan, share, get advice, and even receive recommendations on what to wear. Basically, it's a way to dress smarter and have all your clothes in one place so you can assess what you are wearing and how much. Sure, there may be other apps out there that are similar, but not one appeals to both consumers and retailers. That's why today we'd like to introduce you to Rohan Deuskar, CEO and Co-Founder of this closet platform that combines social, virtual, and insightful aspects to your everyday style.

MBF: Please tell us a bit about your background. How did your digital closet concept come about? What are the thoughts behind it?

Rohan Deuskar: I grew up in India, but have lived in the Middle East, Africa, Chicago, Philadelphia and briefly Seattle as well. I came to the U.S. for undergrad at Northwestern University when I was 18. After school I helped grow a mobile marketing company from 5 to about 100 people over 5 years. After that, I went to the Wharton School of Business for my MBA. It was during that time that the idea for Stylitics came together.

photo via Stylitics

Stylitics is the confluence of my personal need as a consumer and a major need in the fashion industry.
Stylitics was born from my frustration that although like most people I was spending a decent amount of money and time on buying clothes and deciding what to wear, my closet was still one of the most inefficient parts of my life. I’d wear only 20% of my stuff, I’d forget what I owned, and I’d buy duplicates of clothes I already owned. It struck me that the closet was one of those central experiences in people’s lives that is still completely analog and tied to one physical location. I realized that if you had a digital version of your closet – essentially all your clothing data in one place online – then you could unlock an amazing set of new capabilities. Imagine putting together packing lists on the go, or tracking stats like cost per wear of each item, or getting online outfit advice from your friend or a digital stylist.

And not only would consumers be better off, but with the user’s permission brands and retailers could see what people are wearing and buying in real-time, for the first time. That means better and more personal recommendations, more targeted offers, and better insights.

MBF: How can retailers and consumers who upload their closet profit from Stylitics?

Rohan Deuskar: Stylitics was designed as the essential toolkit for decision-makers in the fashion industry – sort of a Bloomberg terminal for fashion. People working to drive the business of fashion, whether through merchandising or marketing or other roles, are asked to make business critical decisions with very little useful information. Our insights platform gives these decision-makers a real-time view into where else their customers are shopping, what they are buying, and how they are styling it. This information has never been available at scale, even with expensive surveys and focus groups. It is saving businesses thousands of dollars and dozens of hours each month and helping to improve conversion and sales across a number of categories.

photo via Stylitics

MBF: Who are your competitors? Do you know of any other companies using a type of application like this?

Rohan Deuskar: Our data comes from our large panel of tens of thousands of consumers who share their purchases and outfits on our platform. There are other “digital closets” out there, but Stylitics is both the market leader as well as the only one designed to provide insights to both consumers and retailers. Our biggest hurdle is simply market education. Retailers and brands still think that surveys and focus groups are the only way to understand customers and their preferences. It’s taken a while to demonstrate the value of real-time data, for a fraction of the price.

MBF: You want Stylitics to be the new normal in the near future? How do you envision this happening?

Rohan Deuskar: Less than a decade ago, most people would have laughed at the idea that Americans would spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year buying shoes, dresses, and even diamond rings online. Connecting the store to the power and reach of web and mobile has unlocked a huge number of benefits for both consumers and businesses. Similarly, the closet is decision-central. It is the heart of the purchase decision and the consumer’s style and preferences. Connecting the closet to web and mobile – as Stylitics has done – is unlocking a whole new world of benefits – better recommendations and offers, digital stylists, outfit advice from friends online, and much more.

Over 100,000 people have hosted their clothing purchases and closets on Stylitics and we hope to cross 1M by this time next year. So far, the process of building your closet involves selecting from our catalog of 30M items or taking your own product photos. Starting in mid 2014, consumers will be able to download their purchases from dozens of top retailers instantly – which will really drive adoption. Retailers are behind this and consumer want it. We believe that in 5 years, digital closets will be as common as Facebook profiles!

photo via Stylitics

MBF: Initially Stylitics was launched as a digital closet only. What are the product developments over the last 3 years integrating data and data analytics? Please give us an example.

Rohan Deuskar: Actually, Stylitics has always been designed to drive analytics as well. It’s right in the name – Style + Analytics.

From day 1, we have believed that the data in the closet can help consumers shop better and dress better, but also can help retailers and brands design and market better to their consumers. We are part of a generation of companies that are using consumer data to provide new experiences for users and new capabilities for marketers. Others include Mint, Fitbit, Runkeeper, and other data-driven lifestyle platforms.

MBF: What was most successful marketing tool for you in retrospect?

Rohan Deuskar: We have done a number of marketing promotions, from partnerships with the CFDA to promotions on over 50 campuses. Frankly, the most successful tool has been word of mouth. Over 80,000 people have joined Stylitics after being referred by a friend.

We don’t think that the best users come from social media. During one week in 2012, Kim Kardashian, Nicole Richie, and a number of other celebrities and designers tweeted about Stylitics – to a combined 35M people. To our surprise, that drove only a few thousand signups, about what we get in a good week with no marketing.

photo via Stylitics

MBF: What does the future hold? Can you talk about your new developments?

Rohan Deuskar: On the consumer side, the priority for the year is to make it seamless and instantaneous to download your purchases instantly. On top of that, we are launching offers, recommendations, stylist services, and a number of other consumer benefits. And the app will remain free!

On the analytics side, I believe we can have 50 of the top 100 retailers using our insights dashboard by the end of the year. Our new analytics dashboard was designed in conjunction with some of the world’s leading brands. We think it can have a major impact on sales in 2014.

MBF: What is the biggest challenge you encounter to take the company forward?

Rohan Deuskar: At the moment, it is market education. There is a lot of inertia in the fashion industry. A lot of companies still believe they know their customers, when actually what they know is the 5-10% of purchases they are buying from that specific retailer. It will take us a while to get the market to buy into the idea that they can perform better by getting the full view of the market – in a sense, the customer’s entire closet and shopping bag.

That said, the change is happening a few retailers and brands at a time. The marketplace has too many new entrants and too much change for companies to claim for much longer that they don’t need better customer data. Luckily, the cost of good data and good analytics has come down. For example, our customer insights platform costs the same for a year as one traditional customer survey!

MBF: Do you see a growing engagement for men in the future?

Rohan Deuskar: Definitely. We already have a few thousand men on our platform, but that will increase as we make it much easier to build your closet. It’s a cliché, but most men are looking for practical advice on how to upgrade their style, without having to follow the latest trends. If we do a good job with personalized recommendations and stylists, I think we can make a big impact for men.

photo via Stylitics

MBF: What would you say your biggest accomplishment has been thus far?

Rohan Deuskar: Until very recently, our new iPhone app was the #1 free fashion app in the App Store. That’s pretty amazing since a) this is very obviously an analytics and organization tool and b) we spent no money on marketing the app. It tells us that consumers are willing to share their data if you are transparent with them and give them value in return. We consider this a major accomplishment – ahead of sales or building our ambassador program or winning awards – because it has proved that the consumer is willing to be a part of the personalization and marketing effort, if you give them enough benefit. This has big implications for the future of retail!

MBF: Our MBF Profiles ends with a questionnaire that follows in the footsteps of Proust's Questionnaire and American TV show host James Lipton's "10 Questions."

MBF: Your favorite swear word?

Rohan Deuskar: Damnit!

MBF: Your least favorite word?

Rohan Deuskar: “Whatever.” Can’t stand apathy.

MBF: Your favorite word?

Rohan Deuskar: “Goodnight.” Sleep is precious.

MBF: What turns you on?

Rohan Deuskar: That exciting moment when you realize you are onto something big and it is about to hit you.

MBF: And of course, what turns you off?

Rohan Deuskar: Drama. Can’t watch it. Can’t live it. There are better things to do.

MBF: What sound do you love?

Rohan Deuskar: An Indian Sitar.

MBF: If you could pick any profession – what might you be?

Rohan Deuskar: Other than my own, perhaps a movie director or a short story writer.

MBF: If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?

Rohan Deuskar: On an episode of ‘Whose Line is It Anyway’ in the 1990s.

MBF: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Rohan Deuskar: “I like your work.”

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