By Carolyn Fikke and Tracey Riese, Managing Directors at Golden SeedsAugust 18, 2020
Pulling together a complete, polished look can be a challenge — whether you’re shopping for an outfit or furnishing a room. Fed up with purchases that didn’t work, Michelle Bacharach longed for expert advice that would elevate her wardrobe and décor from ho-hum to a homerun. From 2010 to 2016, while working full time in product management and digital marketing, she pondered solutions that would enable retailers to provide the guidance customers craved without breaking the bank. The result: FindMine, an artificially intelligent-driven content creation engine that acts as a personal stylist. By harnessing machine learning and deep data mining, FindMine gives brands, such as BCBG, The Shopping Channel and Adidas a scalable, cost-effective way to satisfy customers, boost sales and increase profits.
Michelle recently spoke with Carolyn Fikke and Tracey Riese of Golden Seeds, who led the due diligence team for this investment, about the inspiration for FindMine, its evolution and the reasons it’s succeeding. She also offered some surprising advice to would-be entrepreneurs.
CF/TR: Tell us about the origins of FindMine.
MB: I always found it frustrating when I bought a skirt that sat in the closet because it didn’t go with any of my tops, or a couch that clashed with the lamps and rug in my living room. I’m not a fashion expert or an interior designer, so I didn’t know how to make those products look good after I purchased them. I wanted retailers to help me, but eventually I realized they don’t have the resources to give millions of customers advice on all of the products they carry. After obsessing over it for six years, I figured out how to use artificial intelligence (AI) to provide expert guidance in a scalable way that doesn’t demand more resources and involve astronomical costs, and in 2016, FindMine launched.
CF/TR: What market need are you solving and how does your approach differ from others trying to address this need?
MB: FindMine automates and scales content creation so that 95% of a retailer’s products come with guidance on how to “Complete the Look.” We do the same thing a merchandiser does dressing a store mannequin with coordinated pieces and accessories. Those complete outfits sell out quickly because shoppers don’t want things in isolation.
The staff doesn’t have to do any of the work, so merchandising teams experience a time savings of 99%. It’s scalable and cost-effective, with clients experiencing a 2 – 10% increase in total digital revenue. And, our AI-generated looks have been proven to be indistinguishable from those done by human experts. Our approach is very different from personalization or a recommendation engine, which simply holds a mirror up to the consumer without adding expertise or a point of view. If you’re shopping for a couch, for instance, you might see a bunch of other couches, or if you’re browsing through black skirts, you’ll just get more of the same. “Complete the Look” offers expert guidance from the brand’s unique point of view. The brand isn’t commoditized, and the retailer builds trust with customers.
CF/TR: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them?
MB: At first I thought of this as a consumer problem that needed a direct-to-consumer solution, but there were issues with that model. We would have had to raise a lot of money, which wasn’t the right approach for a first-time entrepreneur. But the biggest challenge was trying to solve the problem with limited resources. Eventually I realized retailers have a much larger problem than consumers. Once we focused on the B2B approach, it all came together. We never had to pivot, because we anticipated the challenges before we launched. It took several years to get there, but I’m glad we did that exploration in advance while we were earning income working for other companies.
CF/TR: What’s coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?
MB: We built our product as an API (application programming interface) for retailers to create content on the fly. Many use it in emails, on landing pages and product pages, and in chats. But our clients are always asking if they can use FindMine for other tasks and we’re encouraging them. It expands usage, our revenue goes up and we’re becoming stickier with that brand.
For example, let’s say you call a retailer’s help line to find out what bathroom trim lines fit certain valves. The call center agents are limited by their knowledge, which often varies, as well as the resources available to them. They usually go to a knowledge base, but somebody has to create that content. Some of our customers are now using our API to create that knowledge-base suggestion, so agents can be more productive and the customer receives more consistent service.
CF/TR: What advice do you have for early-stage founders?
MB: This may sound strange but I often tell would-be entrepreneurs: If you’re thinking about starting a company, don’t do it. The reason I give this advice is that I spent years thinking about FindMine, because I couldn’t shake the idea and get rid of this obsession. You need that kind of passion and staying power. If you can heed my advice and forget about your idea, it’s not meant to be. If you can’t help yourself, then do it. A lot of people glamorize entrepreneurship, but it isn’t all that glamorous.
CF/TR: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds and its network.
MB: We had conversations with Golden Seeds for about three years before they invested in us. They took the time to become familiar with us and gave great advice. During those few years, we raised other financing, initially from friends and family, and developed a clear idea of what we were going after and how we wanted to use funds. We were much more interesting to investors at that point, and Golden Seeds invested in our third round. I like the fact that it’s a network of experts with diverse perspectives, not like a traditional VC firm with a smaller partnership. When we reach out, our questions don’t go just to one point of contact, but to multiple ears, and that’s really valuable.
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