Series W talks to Ambika Singh, Ali Driesman, Aileen Hagerman and Kevin Turner, co-founders of Armoire.
Armoire is pioneering ‘wardrobe-as-a-service.’ We offer our customer an endless stream of high-end clothes to rent, which we personalize to her style and fit preferences using machine learning algorithms. With door-to-door pickup and delivery on her schedule, we conveniently provide the quality and variety of clothing that her busy life demands for less than the price of her gym membership.
How did you develop the idea for Armoire?
The idea for Armoire came out of our own frustrations with shopping and hunting for clothes. We were tired of consistently peering into our overflowing closets and asking ourselves “why do I have nothing to wear?!” – and we realized that many of our friends and professional women (or bossladies as we like to call them now) felt the same way. There is a clear need for variety in women’s wardrobes without the cost, clutter and most importantly time investment. Rental made sense to us – but not the way current services were doing it. So, we set out to solve this with Armoire.
How did you make the decision to take the plunge and start your own company?
You can only make so many powerpoints before it’s time to dive in headfirst. We had a few gentle nudges and reminders of this from professors and entrepreneurs, but Armoire became real when a friend had a simple request to borrow a dress for an event. We realized we had to start somewhere and this was day 1. We bought 4 items, set up a website and officially coined her our first Armoire customer (shout out to our friend AND customer Kristen McNelis).
How did you fund the business? What do you spend most of your funds on? Knowing what you know now about how to raise and spend funds, what would you have done differently?
We were very fortunate to be accepted into MIT’s Delta V Accelerator program this summer – this helped us dive right into the operations and execution before formally raising a round. As part of the program, we received $20k of equity free financing, which we started to put to good use from day 1. Every time we on-board a new customer, we need to buy new clothes for her. So this money helped us continuously grow the business and revenue, as we continued to learn and validate our model. We are currently raising our first round of funding, so we are still learning in this arena – and open to introductions to interested investors!
What has been your greatest WFIO (we’re f*****, it’s over) moment so far?
We came out of a successful board meeting and we were feeling on top of the world and unstoppable. However, the entire team had been away from our computers screens for just 60 minutes. In that (relatively) short time period, we had an influx of customers requesting to return their clothes. We simply did not have the inventory on hand to cover the simultaneous requests, and moved into triage mode, ordering online and paying for overnight delivery, and rushing to brick and mortar to purchase.
This instantaneous transition from perceived superhuman greatness to pure crisis was a humbling (and great learning) experience. While we didn’t think it was all going to end, the emotional rollercoaster we were on that day definitely reminded us that we need to be agile and roll with the punches (and never get too caught up in the victories that you take your eye off the ball).
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
Any time we receive positive feedback from our customers, it is a rush of excitement that doesn’t get old. We’re still at the stage of pinching ourselves that we’re actually doing this and it’s real. So anytime a customer tells us about how Armoire saves her precious time in her busy day, or how she loves all the compliments she’s getting or variety in her wardrobe, or her new ability to be daring with her outfits and the increased confidence she feels, we can’t help but smile and get a burst of energy (and motivation) to keep making our customers happy.
What resources have been most helpful to you in starting up?
Having mentors and advisors with incredible experience who have been through the mill before and are willing to help is an invaluable resource. While our team has all had experience in different fields and industries, it is amazing to get outside perspective, guidance and access to additional resources. We lucked out with a great group of mentors – people in the fashion/tech industry, data scientists, and some of the pioneers in the rental space.
Tell us about the relationships you have formed with vendors? Tell us about how you’ve learned about your customer base?
The vendor/partner relationships that we are currently building are dedicated to mutual value and ensuring that our customers get the best experience. We have a strong relationship with a dry cleaning service for very competitive rates as continue to scale. Additionally, we’re working with both established and up and coming designers to ensure we have amazing pieces in our collection.
And listening/learning from our customers is a top priority for everyone at Armoire. This means establishing consistent feedback touchpoints throughout the end-to-end process, or bike messengering clothes to our Boston customers so that we can hear the details of their Armoire experience…every stitch, nook and cranny of it.
What is your favorite Armoire piece? Favorite piece to send to others?
The best part of Armoire is that there are new favorites all the time. With a rotating, constantly expanding inventory set, we fall in love with pieces, and new pieces, and then new pieces every day and every week.
If you could give an aspiring entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
It’s an emotional rollercoster and you better be ready for it.