How The Challenge Of Finding The Right Shoe Size Launched This Woman's Company
But for years, insufficient solutions have led to high rates of return and unnecessary costs. In fact, U.S. retailers report a return rate of between 20% and 40% for online sales, with poor fit cited as the number one reason. This translates into hundreds of millions spent on processing returns.
Traditionally, kids grew up getting sized for shoes at a local store. We probably all remember having to sit or stand quietly and without moving while someone at Stride Rite or the corner boutique measured our feet using one of those sliding contraptions.
But that era is long gone, and the old school “sit and fit” method of buying children’s shoes has been replaced by “guess and click” for most parents. This is usually done by parents spending on many brands and multiple sizes then returning the wrong fits, or by buying and returning a sequence of shoes. Either way - it’s a pain.
Eve Ackerley and Carolyn Horner are first-time entrepreneurs with a common sense approach to solving this problem. Their company Jenzy matches a child’s foot measurements with the proper shoe size using an app and a framework called the “Known Reference Model.” It’s a simple approach: parents take one photo of their child’s foot next to a standard size reference item such as a Costco card or library card. Jenzy then sizes the child’s foot in relation to the reference item, and provides a measurement within +/- 4mm, less than half of a child’s shoe size.
Generally, fit technologies for adult shoes require multiple photos and scans to find a shoe size. Jenzy can do this in one step, using its proprietary technology to match for fit by normalizing all the variances across the brands and styles in their inventory. It cannot account for kids growing out of shoes, but it provides for room to grow and effectively takes the guesswork out of finding the right size shoe the first time.
Ackerley and Horner first bonded over their shared frustration with online shopping when they lived abroad teaching English in rural Yunnan, China. Living in such a remote place had many challenges, including the return of anything bought online - their nearest post office was 30 minutes away. They knew that returns had to be a frustration shared by many, and they began to plot an app-based solution for better sizing.
Their initial market research put the question out to all of their friends and family on Facebook: “Which do you hate shopping for more: your shoes or your kids’ shoes?” The answer was unanimous; kid shoe shopping is time-consuming and frustrating. With kids’ feet growing rapidly, a declining number of physical stores with knowledgeable shoe-fitting experts, and sizing variability among and within brands, there was an enormous gap in the market. And parents were passionately searching for a solution.
Neither Ackerley nor Horner followed a technology-centered path to their current role as startup entrepreneurs. Instead, both pursued liberal arts majors in college on their way to teaching English. But their problem-solving approach to a demonstrable market need and e-commerce shortfall led them to a tech-optimized solution.
In their day-to-day roles, the two divide and conquer. Horner handles operations as well as brand partnerships, deciding which shoes will be onboarded into Jenzy’s sizing database and e-commerce site. Ackerley manages the technical side of the app, focused on optimizing the user experience. Neither envisioned technology would be such a big part of their careers, but they’ve created a network of mentors in both tech and retail to help them navigate the learning curve. They attribute their success to their willingness to be coached and a determination to learn from their mistakes the first time.
Both Ackerley and Horner are adamant that the world of startup founders, entrepreneurs and investors has room for more women - even those who share their nontechnical background. They believe in a woman's ability to recognize and create innovation within new areas that would normally be overlooked by males. They point to their early frustration constantly pitching Jenzy to men of all ages who just didn’t get the concept. While moms immediately embraced the frustration of kids’ shoe shopping and the benefits of Jenzy.
It’s this ability to empathize with a wide range of customers that makes diversity so important for a company’s ability to be competitive. The experience of Jenzy shows it’s just as important to have that connection throughout a startup’s lifecycle and ecosystem - from idea to testing to investment and eventual scale. Having more diverse sets of people engaged will lead to finding and exploiting more gaps and opportunities in the market - ones that might be overlooked by others.