You’re out shopping. You take a picture of a top you like. You WhatsApp it to your friends for advice. But what if no one answers in time?
Sophia Matveeva, who graduated with an Executive MBA from Chicago Booth in 2016, has developed a new fashion app with this issue in mind.
On one hand, Style Counsel is a connected personal stylist – users can get immediate feedback on their outfits from fashion bloggers, industry pros, and a community of fellow fashionistas.
On the other, it’s a big data-crunching platform where high street brands can access a cutting-edge analytics platform and get unique insight into consumer behaviour.
It all started at Chicago Booth. Sophia, who began her career in PR, only applied to Chicago Booth for her MBA.
From Chicago Booth’s Executive MBA campus in London, Sophia took her business idea through the school’s New Venture Challenge startup accelerator – ranked among the best startup accelerators in the US and the birthplace of multi-million-dollar success stories like Grubhub and Braintree.
How did the idea to start Style Counsel come about?
My phone was always inundated with my girlfriends taking photos of clothes when they went shopping, posting in our chat groups, and asking for advice. The trouble is, we’re all busy professional women, who can never respond in time when our friends are out shopping.
I then saw research saying that over 80% of millennial women use their mobile while shopping and a lot of that is to get peer review of what to buy. I thought that if we could create a channel to improve the user experience and give immediate quality feedback, we could have a platform where women discuss what to wear and buy – a holy grail for retailers.
Where are you at right now with your business? What do you hope to achieve?
We have a great user app on the Apple app store and have built the first version of the retail analytics platform. Our user base is growing fast and engagement is high, which is encouraging because it took a lot of hard work to get here.
My immediate priority is to raise our seed round of $500k to invest in product, marketing and monetization. In the longer term, we are growing a channel which people around the world can use to decide what to wear and buy – this is a huge opportunity.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Chicago Booth?
Chicago Booth was the only MBA program I applied to because it was the only place I genuinely wanted to study at. Of course, the fact that it is consistently ranked as global number one by The Economist and other rankings helps, but that was not the main reason.
I had previously studied at the University of Chicago for part of my undergraduate degree and absolutely fell in love with the merciless intellectual rigour of the school. At the college, as at the business school, no argument can survive without evidence and no assertion goes untested. It’s fun, if you like intellectual wrestling!
What advice do you have for MBAs looking to start their own business?
Get as much done and tested while you are studying. Your professors and classmates are incredible resources, so use them while you can. It will be much harder to do so once you graduate and everyone disperses.
Any good business school will have an excellent alumni pool, so use that to the max. Look for people in the industry you want to start the business in, look for successful entrepreneurs and look for people whose companies did not succeed. Some of the best lessons I’ve learned have been from founders of companies that did not make it, so don’t just stick to the positive test cases.
Would you be where you are today without the Chicago Booth MBA?
I honestly don’t think so. Chicago Booth was the birthplace of Style Counsel – a company that has taken my career to a new level, introduced me to some of the smartest people in the consumer tech industry and got selected for the Cannes Lions Start-Up program this year.
Going through the path of MBA and the New Venture Challenge accelerator was a great start. Not only did we get the skills and mentorship we needed, we also got social proof and a network, which helped us raise the first round of funding and launch a product people like.