Outfittery, a Berlin-based personal online shopping service for men that is creating lots of buzz in the market, aims to win over reluctant male shoppers. Its tagline? “We take the pain out of shopping.”
The male shopper fills out an online questionnaire that is followed up with a phone call from his “personal stylist.” After that chat, the stylist mails the customer two to three outfits of “high-quality casual wear” from brands that include Tommy Hilfiger, Gant and Levi’s, with a hand-written letter. Anna Alex, co-founder and co-managing director of Outfittery,(pictured on Informilo’s home page) calls it the “love letter.” No shipping fee is added to the cost of the clothing. The customer keeps what he wants and sends back the rest at no extra charge.
If the customer needs something new later he can reach out to his stylist, who will also be in touch from time to time. There is no subscription or minimum amount that must be bought. The service is available in Germany, Austria and Switzerland (the website is only in German) with plans to expand to other European countries, including the UK, in the next year.
The company earlier this year raised a reported $1.1 million from Mangrove Capital Partners, RI Digital Ventures, Investitionsbank Berlinwith existing investors Holtzbrinck Venturesand High-Tech Gründerfonds also participating in the round. Maybe it is because venture capitalists, who are mostly male and always pressed for time, recognize the service as solving a valid pain point. “Many of our investors are also customers and we think that is a very good sign,” says Alex, who is in charge of product and operations. The company is scaling fast, “so we are just at the point where we could make use of television advertising.”
At the NOAH Conference, an annual event in London which this year is expected to attract around 2,000 people, the Berlin-based start-up and six others got the chance to pitch in front of seven judges. The prize? A share of €7 million in free television advertising in Germany.
SevenVentures Pitch Day, sponsored by SevenVentures, the venture arm of ProSiebenSat.1 Media, is directed at start-ups that want to expand in Germany; it will be held on November 14th. The first-place winner will receive €4 million in advertising time on the channels owned by ProSiebenSat.1 Media; second prize is €2 million in advertising, with €1 million going to the start-up in third-place. This is the second year the pitch event has been held at NOAH Conference.
“Last year the jury members gave the start-ups a hard time with lots of difficult questions about their business plans and growth prospects and we expect it to be the same this year,” says Thomas Offner, a senior investment manager at SevenVentures and the founder of several start-ups.
Each of the seven start-upsl showed a short video and then will be grilled by the six industry experts on the jury. The contest was broadcast live online with the audience functioning as a seventh judge; the audience voted through an app, on the SevenVentures Pitch Day Facebook page or on the SevenVentures website. The company that got the most votes from the public won a separate prize — a €30,000 package of consulting services including public relations.
This year’s jurors were: Philipp Freise, a partner at KKR and the head of the firm’s European Media Industry team; Philippe Botteri a partner at Accel Partners; Rainer Maerkle, a partner at Holtzbrinck Ventures; and three well-known serial entrepreneurs turned investors: Christophe Maire, Brent Hoberman and Fabrice Grinda.
One-year old Azimo, the third place winner at NOAH, allows people to send money abroad via its website or a smartphone app (for iOS and Android) at prices that undercut more traditional ways to send money.
Sending £500 from Britain to South Africa would cost £40 at a Barclays branch, £25.90 through Western Union and £5 with Azimo, says Michael Kent, CEO and founder of Azimo. (The actual cost using Barclays and Western Union will depend on several factors and could actually be much less.) Azimo keeps its fee down by not having any physical shops.
London-based Azimo has raised just over £1 million and Kent, who will be making the company pitch at the SevenVentures contest, says the company is looking for further investment so it can scale up its activities. The company spends “a six-figure sum” annually on advertising with most of that directed to digital media, though Kent says the company has recently begun to test using traditional media such as television.
Building name recognition will be particularly important for Azimo, which is operating in a crowded field that includes traditional banks such as Barclays with its Pingit service.
If checkrobin.comhas its way, there will be fewer cars with half-empty trunks travelling around Europe and a little less carbon dioxide in the air.
Vienna-based checkrobin.comis an online platform that matches those on the move in their car with people who need to ship something quickly. The two sides agree on the main terms through the company’s website with final details discussed either on the phone or with text messages. The driver can earn as much as €30 with checkrobin.comgetting a commission and providing insurance for the shipped items.
“Until checkrobin.comit was almost impossible, or at least uneconomical, to realize same-day delivery outside urban areas,” says Hannes Jagerhofer, the company’s CEO and co-founder. “Using commuters to facilitate the transport, our platform is able to change this and by that, tap into a new, highly-attractive market.”
checkrobin.com, which is a year old and has so far been funded exclusively by Jagerhofer and his two co-founders, offers its service only in Austria, although it plans to expand into Germany next year. Winning a portion of the SevenVentures prize would help provide the funds to build name recognition as part of that expansion.
“Our product has the potential to change an entire industry by providing simple, flexible and reliable same-day delivery while benefiting the environment,” says Jagerhofer, checkrobin.com’s pitchman at the SevenVentures Pitch Day.
Munich-based EYEGLASS24, winner of the People’s Choice award at NOAH, sells Swiss-made lenses for eyeglasses online and through the post.
Customers pick out their lenses at EYEGLASS24’s website, send in their new or old eyeglass frames and then get them back with the new lenses, usually in a few days. The savings can be as much as 80% compared with a traditional optician, says Jascha Chong Luna, CEO and founder of EYEGLASS24 and the person tasked with making the company’s case in front of the jurors.
“We combine two strong markets — the increasing e-commerce-market and the market of 40 million Germans with glasses,” says Luna, who estimates that more than 15,000 people get new eyeglasses every day in Germany. “Our business model corresponds to the German zeitgeist of repairing instead of consuming and buying anew.”
EYEGLASS24 just closed its first round of financing (Luna would not give details). Germany is also home to Mister Spex, a German e-commerce site specialized in the sale of glasses, sunglasses and contact lenses which earlier this year raised €16 million in private equity funding. EYEGLASS24’s differentiator is it only replaces the lenses and does not sell frames.
GetYourGuide, the first prize winner of the contest at NOAH, lets the users of its website and app (for iOS and Android) book guided tours, diving lessons, cooking classes, canal cruises and any number of other activities, allowing them to avoid sellouts, lines and the need to pay in cash upon arrival. The company promises users they will pay the best local prices and pledges to refund the difference if a cheaper price is found.
Zurich-based GetYourGuide sells tickets for attractions across the globe charging suppliers — which include travel agents, hotels and tourism boards — a commission. It has a multi-million-euro budget for paid search, but has not yet invested in other channels such as television.
“Over the past two years we have built a significant consumer base by investing heavily in search engine marketing and we now believe it is time to make the next step and start building a brand in Germany, our key territory,” says Johannes Reck, CEO and co-founder of GetYourGuide, who will argue the company’s case on November 14. “The SevenVentures prize would be a fantastic opportunity to start doing so.”
GetYourGuide, founded in 2008, has received more than $16 million in funding, including $14 million at the beginning of this year from Spark Capital and Highland Capital Partners Europe.
Munich-based tado°, a system for controlling heating remotely through a smartphone app for iOS and Android, claims to save typical families about 25% on their yearly heating bills, ended up winning second prize at NOAH.
The app is free, but to get started users must buy the small box that controls home heating for €299 or rent it for €8.25 a month. The box connects to the heating system and communicates with the smartphone, which sends information, including the user’s whereabouts, using the phone’s GPS.
The company has raised $4 million in capital from Target Partners and Shortcut Ventures including $2 million in September. The next fundraising process will begin at the end of the first quarter next year, says Chief Marketing Officer Leopold von Bismarck.
“Gola” means circle, or the world, in Hindi and “my gola” aims to give you the power to see the world the way you wish, says Anshuman Bapna, mygola’s CEO, co-founder and SevenVentures pitchman.
Mygola, in fact, has raised $2.6 million, including $1.5 million last month, with a business plan based on helping people see the world. The company has a huge database of itineraries gathered from newspapers and guidebooks that it calls on to help users come up with their own customizable vacation plan. The site, which covers more than 20,000 destinations around the world, then helps by making bookings.
Winning a slice of the SevenVentures prize would help mygola grow in Europe, says Bapna, who has an MBA from Stanford, co-founded and sold his first start-up while studying as an undergrad in Bombay, and spent time working on Google’s strategic partnerships team.
“It’s no surprise that Europe is our most popular destination, however Europe, particularly Germany, is also turning out to be one of the largest sources of travelers for us,” says Bapna. “As a company that straddles U.S. and India, we’ve managed to cobble together a good user base and partnerships in North American and Asia. However, we’re still struggling with making our presence felt in Europe.”
The $5,000 mygola budgets each month for advertising is unlikely to change that, but a victory at NOAH just might.