Mahmoud Gao, founder of Mr. Draper, speaks to My Startup World about the inspiration behind embarking on a unique styling venture exclusively for men while highlighting the challenges faced.
How did you choose the name Mr. Draper and what was your inspiration behind this venture?
“Mr.” was an obvious choice since it refers exclusively to men. However, finalizing “Draper” took some time. “Draper” topped the suggestions list and it resonated well with our concept as well. It was later that we discovered the character Don Draper (Mr. Draper from Mad Men) and are happy about the association.
How would you describe Mr. Draper and how was this idea welcomed in the launch phase?
Mr. Draper is an online styling service that uses data and technology to deliver a personalized shopping experience. Our unique offering and branding garnered a lot of attention at launch from some of the biggest names such as CNN, sky news, Esquire, etc. We were overwhelmed with all the initial responses.
How did you raise the capital to fund this venture and what kind of challenges did you encounter raising those funds?
We secured the first round of external funding in 2017 through a group of angels. The majority of the funding came from VC’s who were not associated with the “fashion space”. We highlighted the technology, which is the back bone of this venture, to showcase the unparalleled, personalized shopping experience, Mr. Draper intends to offer.
Can you share the roadblock’s that you faced initially and how did you overcome them?
The first major hurdle was to make the customer understand how Mr.Draper works in the real world. We shared the real experiences of actual people who used our service to communicate how this concept works.
The next one was getting the banks to agree to give us tokenization (saving the card details for future billing) capabilities. This required a lot of persistence on our part but finally convinced them of our potential. We eventually rolled out this feature which is otherwise available to only big hotel chains and car rentals.
How did your business evolve over the years and how have you managed to keep the enterprise both sustainable and profitable?
We keep talking to our customers and try to understand what they think. Using their feedback, we adjust pricing, add brands to our portfolio, and bolt on additional services. This led to having a majority of our revenues being generated by our existing customers. This helps us be less reliant on marketing and allowed us to grow sustainably.
Fashion is a style statement, how does your process work once you have the basic information from the customer?
Once we have the customer’s information, our algorithm then goes to work and starts to recommend outfits that our stylists review. The stylists then edit the outfits with any additional information they have and enhance it further with their ideas. When this is done the dress will be sent to the customer. Costumers can try on the clothes for 3 days and can retain what they like and return the rest. Customers can share feedback on each product helping us customize further.
How do you rope in brands to work with you and currently how many brands are working with you?
Our unique proposition helps brands get:
• Access to customers who’ve previously had no visibility to their brand.
• Access to product feedback data from customers about their preferences. This feedback is something that eludes them otherwise.
When we roped in anchor brands like Ralph Lauren or Lacoste, we parlay their strengths to get other brands on board. We are currently working with 25 brands.
COVID-19 has been a game-changer for everyone, how did it impact Mr. Draper and what steps you took to sustain and carry forward?
With people not going out, being stylish was the last thing on their agenda. Thus, we started focusing a lot more on casual and leisure wear. We also focused our resources and energy on upgrading our tech and building a basic online shop and our “at-home” custom made clothing service.
With work from home culture gaining pace, how do you see men’s fashion shaping up in the post covid era?
We’re seeing more of a mixed work environment; where people are working home, the office and out of shared desks/workspaces and coffee shops. Mr. Draper, as always, will use data to guide its merchandising efforts and adjust as needed.
Please share with us your plans to expand Mr. Draper into new segments, markets?
We intend to be the market leaders in the apparel personalization space through offerings on and offline across the region for men’s, women’s and kids.
Where would you see Mr. Draper in the next 12-18 months?
We’re starting our expansion into KSA as we speak and hope to be on the ground by early next year. This will be followed by an expansion into another vertical.
What advice would you like to offer to the budding entrepreneurs and what should they remember always when they are getting ready to take off with their startup?
According to me, figuring out one’s innermost passion at the earliest is the key to one’s success. The earlier you figure that more are your chances of success. Once you figure out your interest, invest all you have in mastering every facet of it. Once your interest becomes your passion, it ceases to be a mere job. Success and money will naturally follow. We spend 8-12 hours a day working – which is more than 50% of your day, why spend it on something other than, what you love?