Big Data Makes the World Better, One Bra at a Time
Big data is supposed to solve big problems for businesses. And it can. It's just that sometimes the goals are more... zaftig than lofty. That's what True&Co is finding, as it employs large-scale data analysis on its customers to perfect online bra fitting.
You might remember reading about CEO and co-founder Michelle Lam starting the company in her apartment. "I actually found bra-fitting to be a problem for myself," Lam says. "I was trapped in a fitting room for about two hours. I thought these bras could use some improvement." She has company; Nordstrom's claims that 80 percent of women wear the wrong bra size.
Instead of trusting shop clerks who might or might not know what they are doing, True&Co thinks that a combination of self-reported data from hundreds of thousands of consumers and some serious number crunching and algorithmic design can do for most women what the intimate apparel industry has apparently been unable to do. Here's a very clear example of a company using big data in a very smart way.
The Complicated Business of Finding a Bra That Fits
First things first: This has been no easy project. "A bra has 20 different components and each must be an exact fit to make the garment fit the way it's supposed to," Lam says. "Not only that, there are 30 plus sizes we carry today. From a SKU complexity view, it was incredibly complicated."
Visitors to the site take a few minutes to fill out a quiz about bra fit. "By the time we were designing the collection, we had 200,000 women giving us this data about their bodies," says Lam. "We also had very specific fit feedback on the bras they were buying from True&Co." The result was a feedback loop that allows the company to further refine its recommendations and methods. The company's CTO was the former head of engineering for the DVD division at Netflix--someone who understands the practical issues of big customer data and sifting through it to understand patterns of preferences.
"We take the feedback, look for patterns in it, and feed it back to the product design process," Lam says. So far, the company claims to have identified 6,000 distinct body types and several types of bra silhouettes.
A smart move. Not only does the company collect a mass of information that would have been otherwise unavailable, but customers become the data collectors working for free in hopes of greater comfort when they're out and about. Sounds like a great way to build a strong business and avoid going bust.
True&Co has raised $6 million to date from investors including Crosslink Capital, Vegas TechFund, FundersClub, First Round Capital, and angel investor Pejman Nozad, according to CrunchBase.
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.