Start-up Interview: are Ruling the World with Robots

Joint winner of the Pitch-preneur session during our Darwinian Business event last week, Heikki Haldre of talks to The NextWomen about 'Ruling the World with Robots' , iron lady of their team - Maarja Kruusmaa and the value of having a great team behind your venture.

Heikki Haldre and Maarja Kruusmaa

1. What is and how will it change my life? is a Virtual Fitting Room for online clothing retailers. It lets online shoppers see how different sizes of clothing will look on their body.

We hope that it will help to increase sales to people who would not otherwise buy clothes without trying them first, and in turn will decrease returns, the majority of which are due to poor fit.

If the premises are correct, this dramatic step will solve the single main problem the online clothing retail business has today – no fitting room.

2. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

When creating a virtual fitting room for online clothing retailers, I was jokingly telling people that once I had a dream “to rule the world with robots”. While the whole concept is based on bio-robotics research in Estonia, we will, perchance, rule a bit of the fashion world.

I am a serial entrepreneur with experience in corporate financial consulting and internet logistics business, and partner in a little chain boutique promoting young fashion designers in Estonia and Latvia.

The technical development is led by Maarja Kruusmaa, PhD, who heads the Centre of Bio-robotics at Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia. Maarja is an iron lady with a black belt in karate, and yet probably one of the few top level scientists in Estonia to have had her own TV show.

3. How did you come up with the idea?

I’m a strong proponent of a great team – this is how great ideas grow into amazing ideas, and it’s very true for We believe that the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

4. Who is in the team?

While we are still looking for great advisors on apparel eCommerce and business development, we have the best minds from science: Paul Pällin with an innovation management and clothing manufacturing background, and Alvo Aabloo, PhD, expert on Intelligent Materials. The team has mathematicians, engineers and IT-specialists working round-the-clock.

5. You already have €1.3million of funding?  How long did it take to achieve, and how did you go about finding it?

The financing is a mix between European Union science research grants, VC and private equity. While EU grants take notoriously long to get approval for, the private funding was closed in just one month.

6. I guess this means the recession hasn’t affected your business model?

Only 7% of clothing is sold on the internet today, in comparison, nearly 50% of computers and books are sold on internet. Yet, this year, clothing is the biggest online sales category with $26bn of online sales. The biggest issue that can grow the online clothing sales is cracking the fit issue. The second problem – touching and feeling the fabric – we cannot resolve today, but there are haptics technologies which are being developed to resolve this soon.

7. How does make a revenue for your customers?

The Virtual Fitting Room is a SaaS model with easy installation for the retailers. It increases the conversion rate and sales, and slashes the operating costs of a retailer by significantly reducing the returns (which often get back to the sales cycle after the season has ended). The revenue model makes sure the retailers get the most return for their investment.

8. Where do you see in a year’s time? would like to replace the unhelpful “size chart”, currently used by online clothing retailers. Everyone should be able to use a fitting room and get perfectly fitting clothes when ordering on the internet.

We are pursuing other applications, including those for military, space tech, and made-to-measure clothes at mass-manufactured prices.

9. What single piece of advice would you give to someone thinking about starting an online business?

Go to events like TheNextWomen, OpenCoffee, TechCrunch. Meet likeminded people and don’t be afraid of letting everyone know your plans. The feedback that you’ll be receiving is invaluable and the team that you’ll be building makes your great idea fly. Don’t be afraid of anyone taking your idea away from you, rather it’s everyone who’ll be contributing to it, making it far better.

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