We talked to Sarah Neill, founder & CEO at Mys Tyler, about ladies’ fashion and this is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sarah Neill: I’m Australian but had been living in New York for the past decade up until December 2019 when I moved back to Sydney to work on Mys Tyler. I was sad to leave New York, but when COVID turned the world upside down a few months later, and New York, in particular, took a really hard hit. I was blessed to be close to my family, and also living in Australia, which as an isolated island with very strict quarantine lockdowns, has been relatively untouched. This has meant we have been able to return to life as normal much sooner than many other places around the world.
I still have many friends in the US that are living nomadic lives, and feeling unsettled and trying to navigate the current normal. A number of my friends have had COVID but fortunately, no one has been too badly affected by the virus.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Mys Tyler.
Sarah Neill: I started my career in marketing, and have always been interested in the psychology of people. How we feel, what we think, what we are looking for. This was helpful in marketing to be able to communicate a product or service’s benefits. Over time, becoming more curious about people’s problems and gaps led me to start thinking about the innovation of products and services, and creating solutions that didn’t already exist. That led me into the world of startups, and eventually to start Mys Tyler.
How does Mys Tyler innovate?
Sarah Neill: Fashion is the largest B2C e-commerce segment in the world, it’s huge! And yet it’s got a lot of issues. From a user perspective, fashion has traditionally been aspirational and not accessible for most. This has led to many women feeling intimidated by the world of fashion – and not feeling represented when they look at advertisements or even on social media. On the flip side, the industry is grappling with really high return rates of shoes and clothes (which translates into a huge economic and environmental cost). We are the first social-commerce platform that allows women to see body-relevant fashion content. Our mobile app allows women to enter some key body data – height, size, shape, coloring so that our Fit algorithm can match them with fashion contributors who look similar. This means that when they see clothes, they are seeing them on a similar body and have a better idea of what will fit, and how to style it. Not only is this a more empowering and accessible experience, but we hope to significantly reduce return rates. We think it’s the combination of technology and human recommendations that makes Mys Tyler so powerful.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Sarah Neill: When I left my corporate job and started Mys Tyler, I knew I was leaving my New York lifestyle behind. Getting a startup off the ground requires creating something with very limited resources, anything you have available goes into the business – time, energy, money. So I knew it was going to mean less travel, shopping and socializing, and a lot more work. So for me, COVID aligned with the startup. Meetings shifted to zoom, cutting travel costs, working from home meant no office expense, and while unfortunately, many businesses struggled, it meant that there was amazing talent available and willing to take more risk by stepping into a startup than they might otherwise have done.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Sarah Neill: Hiring for a startup is really tough. Until you become profitable, you are using funds that you’ve raised to pay people. And that’s got a limited runway. While the plan is to raise more, or ramp up revenue to keep extending that runway, the reality is that many startups don’t succeed. I choose to be really transparent with people I bring on about how much cash is in the bank and what our plans are. That way, the people who join see the potential, but also can manage the risks. The second challenge is that your needs are always changing in a startup. You don’t need to be perfect at anything, but you need to be creating everything, and then working to improve on a daily basis. So sometimes, you can bring someone on to set things up, and then that skill set is no longer needed (as urgently as something else) as it’s now automated in some way. So the critical thing to hire is someone that is adaptable and willing to plug gaps and be a generalist.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Sarah Neill: The women that use Mys Tyler tend to be really active on Instagram. We use Instagram as a way to communicate with our base, and in return, that’s where they feel most comfortable reaching us. We do also have email support, but that may be 10% of our total interactions. We started using Zendesk, but realized after 6 weeks we’d set it up wrong and not a single person had received a response in all that time. We struggled to find the issue and ultimately shifted to Intercom. I’ve used Zendesk in the past and it’s great, but for some reason, we got stuck and starting fresh worked for us.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Sarah Neill: We’ve been lucky to receive an Australian NSW government grant called the MVP grant, which came at a time when we were running low on funds. This type of grant can really help hit the milestones you need to attract seed capital, so they are critical to supporting the startup ecosystem.
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