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Upsides and Downsides: A Conversation on Fashion Technology and Startup Life

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Rick Yu TG3D Studio

We talked to Rick Yu, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at TG3D Studio on how to lead the way into the Digital Fashion Revolution and here is what he said about it.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Rick Yu: We are lucky to be in Taiwan, where life is normal. We still come to work every day. And thanks to videoconferencing, we’re able to conduct business mostly as usual, but without flying to meet with our customers.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded TG3D Studio.

Rick Yu: TG3D Studio was founded in 2015, but the idea began much earlier as the brainchild of our CEO, Paul Lee. Paul has over 40 years of experience in the apparel industry and knows the ins and outs of fashion—not just the design side, but also fabrics and manufacturing. He started his own brand, Braxton Jeans, which I still remember seeing on shelves when I was growing up in the States and grew the business to the point where he had 200 franchise stores in China.

Paul had long believed that the fashion industry needed to adopt more and newer technologies. So he started looking into body scanners since he thought that the biggest knowledge gap the industry had was in understanding consumers’ body shapes and the distribution of sizes in the population. This was around 2010 when body scanners still cost a fortune.

At the time, I was working at PrimeSense, and Paul was my customer; he wanted to purchase our depth sensors for his body-scanning project. Then, in 2013, PrimeSense got acquired by Apple. (By the way, the infrared technology that powers Face ID on your iPhone is based on what we developed at PrimeSense, and we use basically the same infrared technology in TG3D Studio’s Scanatic™ 360 Body Scanner.)

Paul started telling me about his idea to bring a digital revolution to the fashion industry. I thought it was interesting, so I signed on. I also invited our Chief Product Officer, Jac Hsieh, who at the time was working at Yahoo! and had been my customer earlier in his career, to come on board as our third co-founder.

How does TG3D Studio innovate? 

Rick Yu: Usually, we start by identifying needs or gaps in the market. Then we come up with several possible solutions to address them, but before we roll up our sleeves for implementation, we do user research. We make sure to find real users and interview them to get their insights before we get too far down a path.

Then, during the development process, we continue to do lots of user research as we go through several iterations of a product. We ask users to try out prototypes and give feedback before we launch a product.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?

Rick Yu: On one hand, the pandemic led to the halting of many deals in the first half of 2020. We’ve adapted by participating actively in virtual events, increasing our digital marketing activities, and offering programs to lower the threshold for businesses to jump on board and adopt our technology.

And on the other hand, the pandemic has also introduced a lot of new opportunities because the fashion industry has finally woken up to the need to use digital tools. Instead of delaying the inevitable, fashion businesses are now willing to look into new technologies and take a more proactive approach. The New York Times recently ran a great article on this topic, focusing on London tailor shops: To Survive the Pandemic, Savile Row Cuts a Bespoke Strategy.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Rick Yu: The most difficult choices we have encountered relate to the constant need to re-prioritize projects. That sometimes means having to tell some customers that a feature they have been long waiting for will need to be delayed. We have great technology and people, but resources are limited no matter how big your company is. We often need to restrain ourselves from expanding the product portfolio and features to force ourselves to focus more on things that can generate revenue more quickly share synergies with existing products.

How do you deal with stress and anxiety?

Rick Yu: Entrepreneurs need to be able to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty. That’s one skill that I’ve developed in the last decade involving myself in startups.

PrimeSense was a startup, and at the time, their strategy was constantly changing. There was ambiguity in our roles and responsibilities, and we employees had to think at a higher level, with more of a goal-oriented mindset, rather than just following orders. You had to ask, “What are you trying to achieve?” And then you proactively involved yourself in whatever it took to achieve it, rather than waiting for the company to define your role.

The same goes here at TG3D Studio. We put on many hats: sales, marketing, sometimes even technical support, shipping, and even R&D. But at the end of the day, we’re trying to remove all the obstacles for a customer to fully adopt our solutions.

With any new technology that you’re trying to sell into established businesses, there’s a lot of uncertainties. You can have all these great discussions with a potential client, and then all of a sudden, you receive a call: “Sorry, we had a budget freeze.” Or “Sorry, we found somebody better.” You never know what will happen tomorrow, so all you can do is focus on doing your best right now. And even if things don’t work out, you reflect on yourself and see what could have been improved, but don’t beat yourself up for it because this kind of thing happens over and over.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Rick Yu: There’s competition for each of the individual solutions that we offer. In 3D CAD solutions, our Scanatic™ DC Suite software competes with CLO 3D and Browzwear. In body scanning, where we offer our Scanatic™ 360 Body Scanner, fashion businesses can also select Size Stream or TC2, or any number of mobile-app-based solutions (it seems like a new app pops up about every other week). And then in fabric scanning, customers can choose between our Scanatic™ Nuno Fabric Scanner and Vizoo.

But we’re not exactly competing with any one of these alternatives, because at the end of the day, we are more of a platform play rather than focusing on one individual product or service. Our goal is to offer a complete and holistic yet flexible solution. What I mean is that we can serve as an apparel company’s one-stop-shop for 3D digital technology. Yet, we’re also an open platform, so that even if you’re using some of our competitors’ products, those products will be able to connect to our platform. For example, we have worked with CLO to make sure that our Scanatic™ Nuno Fabric Scanner is compatible with their 3D fashion design software. That way, designers who are already using CLO but need a scanning solution to digitize their fabrics can come to us and adopt Nuno.

Your final thoughts?

Rick Yu: For those of you out there who aspire to take the entrepreneurial path, you need to focus not only on the success stories but also look at the down-sides (which unfortunately are much more likely than many of the up-sides). After thinking through the good and the bad, you need to assess your current life status and personality. Are you ready to give things up and able to take on the risks? Are you cut out to take roller coaster rides both financially and emotionally?

Your website?

https://www.tg3ds.com/

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