The future is here, and it here to stay: Meghna Saraogi, Co-founder, StyleDotMe
With job losses and economic pitfalls ahead of us, several industries have been forced to take the digital route to sustain themselves. Today, the COVID-19 outbreak has paved the way for online space, something that Meghna Saraogi had only imagined back in the day when she thought about StyleDotMe.
A graphic designer by profession, Meghna's vision to transform the retail shopping experience began to gain momentum in 2018. But the outbreak has further emphasised the need to move to a digital world.
Growing up in a tier-two city, Meghna had always been anxious about her appearance and she'd often sought for a second opinion. Despite not having a team or a background in tech, Meghna decided to make a leap towards StyleDotMe when the project began to conceptualise.
After working in a small co-working space by herself, she finally met Akhil, her co-founder, who joined hands with her to create MirrAr.
With a vision that always told her to go big and have a problem-solving attitude, StyleDotMe made space for itself in a market which was initially reluctant to change.
Could you tell us about your journey to styledotme?
A: My whole vision was to enhance the shopping experience of users, that is when I started styledotme, with the entire purpose of making women more confident about themselves, to be able to get instant help from their friends, family, when they're deciding what to wear or how do they look. I received my first round of funding from Angel network, even when I did not have a team. That step was like a milestone because when you're building a tech company, people are always looking out for a tech co-founder. I began working from a small co-working space, and it was pretty annoying to work by myself -- because you don't have anyone to discuss with!
But that is when I met Akhil, who is now the co-founder and a major techie. Akhil had started coding from the age of 10, and at the age of 15, he sold a company in US$ 100,000. Initially, he was hesitant, but then he understood the vision that I had of how we could revolutionalise the shopping experience. That's how we started building our theme.
But within a year we realised that the idea was great, but it was too early for the Indian market at least. A lot of people thought we would give up and shut down. I think persistence is the key. We realised very early that augmented reality is the future, imagine having to try things without having to try the real pieces. It was convenient and allowed people to make easy decisions.
So I was in Indore, and I had gone with my mom to shop for jewellery. I realised that everyone who had to show us more designs than what they already had would show them to us in a catalogue. And I used to think, how do I understand how it is going to look on me? That's when I realised how about having jewellery in augmented reality. Jewellery is a very capital intensive industry, for a jeweller to expand, whether it is stores or inventory is a huge challenge.
Our product, based on the same, is called MirrAR. Especially during COVID-19, I feel like the time has come that the real value of it can be identified and people are looking at it. MirrAR is an AR tech where people can try on jewellery without actually wearing it. Earlier it used to work only on iPad wherein you can load your entire inventory and anyone who comes in front of the camera, and touches on any jewellery can try it.
That was a very experiential, new and innovative for people. Tanishq took this technology to Bridal Asia in Mumbai, and two airports in the country (Bangalore and Delhi), had designated experience zones -- a room designed in Victorian style -- beautifully done -- where people could try their entire diamond collection without any money. That was the point where we realised where we've made it. Then we got invited to JCK Las Vegas exhibition, the biggest exhibition in the world. We featured in their innovations zone.
Could you tell us a little bit about the challenges that you faced while setting up?
A: When you have a zeal and vision to build the world's largest tech company without even knowing coding is definitely challenging! But I have always lived with an attitude where if you want to get things done, you have to find your way. Finding a team was the challenge, plus being a single founder and a woman -- people think that it was completely impossible for you. The truth is, while people think being a woman could pull you down, I would take it as an advantage. Even after I built a team, changing the mindset was a huge challenge. It wasn't the challenge of starting up, because starting up is in itself a challenge when you're doing it alone, but then when you find a team, you have to figure out how to market it, how to train them.
Reaching out to people fearlessly, asking for help, being vulnerable, being a hustler -- all of that at every stage was challenging. But it all boils down to the fact that you want to keep going at it, and not give up.
How is StyleDotMe dealing with the current outbreak?
A: We are all working from home. Even when a client calls us to them, we tell them that you may be open, but we're working from home. We're also running a campaign called 'Contactless Tryon', in which we promote the idea of contactless during the lockdown. After this, we're all going to be scared.
Jewellers will also be apprehensive because a lot of people will be trying on the jewellery. There's no way to sanitise jewellery because the alcohol in it causes it to erode and makes the polish come off. Augmented reality will be very important for all these businesses after the lockdown lifts. Because they'll be able to show and make people try on jewellery virtually. I think that the mindset has changed in the last two months, and now I feel as though the future has arrived. I would have earlier anticipated it to come two years later, but I think we're there now.
How do you think technology will shape the future? What is the post-corona world looking for you?
A: I think technology is going to be the most important part of everyone's life. Whether it is education, payment, retail -- anything. Things will no longer be stoppable because we're in the era of tech. There's no turning back. Because this is more convenient, it also saves time, and it is going to give more returns. I think people will adopt it in their day to day life. Contactless is definitely the future; there are a lot of companies who are focussing on AR and VR. Brands have begun giving training to their employees through a VR. AR and VR are definitely going to take over the world.
Where will we see StyleDotMe in this future?
A: As I mentioned, now we're going to be omnichannel. Our next step will see us getting into multiple categories. Jewellery was our first category, eyewear and glasses is something that we've already built a demo for. Our bigger goal and vision is again to revolutionalise the retail shopping experience. We're going to figure out a way also to do apparel because it is extremely complicated. Currently, we're doing something that can be viewed on a consumer's phone. Apparel is something that can't be viewed, from top to bottom, on the phone. So we're looking at a magic mirror or something that is a whole new process. We're looking at trying out everything that a person can see on themselves using augmented reality.
What message would you like to give those who are thinking of starting up, especially during this time of crisis?
A: I think this is the best time to start up. In fact, I'd go on to say that starting up in India right now is an excellent idea because the government has come up with several new initiatives for the public. It's the best time to start for India, from India, and make a product that could go global. During COVID-19, people should study and make themselves aware of how things are going to move forward in future. So rather than starting up something that is more physical, everyone should focus on something that is a hundred per cent digital. Pick an industry, and focus on something that can scale quickly and solve a real problem. I don't think people should start up something for the sake of starting up. They should get into it knowing that they're in for the long haul. Because having a start-up may seem cool, but every single day is extremely challenging.