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Romanian startup founder Ciprian Dudulea started his entrepreneurial journey when he was in high school. Fast-forward five years, at 24, he is an investor, a CEO, and wants to change how people shop online. This is the story of how one member of Generation Z aims to shape the future of fashion tech and e-commerce.
“Our philosophy is that an item has the highest chance of being purchased when it is in the hands of the customer, not when we show it in the feed. Our inventory is always in transition to clients and back to us. We try to keep our warehouse as empty as possible,” Dudulea explained about his startup, The Outfit, a fashion-tech personal shopper combining algorithms and stylists to deliver the right products to customers.
A customer’s journey
Ciprian Dudulea’s journey began as a customer because neither he nor his friends were purchasing clothes online. They would rather go to a shopping mall and try them on first. “That is pretty strange because we have Revolut, we have a lot of apps, we are digital natives if you want to use that buzzword,” he adds.
He believes his generation is willing to give up on owning things. “I don’t want to own a car, a phone, a laptop, or a house as long as I can rent them. I don’t see the value in having your money locked in material things,” he said.
How did The Outfit shape up
This is how The Outfit co-founders, Ciprian Dudulea as CEO, Horia Stupu, and Serban Buliga concluded that there must be another way of discovering clothes that fit well. So, they combined algorithms and data science with the know-how of personal shoppers. They tested the product on 500 respondents, developed an MVP in November 2020, and launched the platform in March 2021.
Four months later, their first €300K investment round was finalized. “With this pre-seed round, we are going to invest in technology, marketing, and the operations team. We want to learn as fast as possible, grow in Romania, and prepare the seed round at the end of this year,” Dudulea shared the first phase of the plan before they try to scale internationally.
The platform was initially targeted at men, but in the first month, they had around 150 orders, over 70% of which came from women. So, they decided to focus on women in the first two years. “Our main focus is to make sure we understand our clients’ needs and provide enough value with our service,” Dudulea declared.
The fashion stylists tech solution
The Outfit uses the input of a personal stylist to understand what the customer wants, and tech to automate things that used to take a lot of time, like choosing the right sizes or colors. “Using only stylists is not scalable, you would waste time and all the algorithms are not precise enough to deliver value. The mix between them is the key to personalize the fashion industry at the moment,” Dudulea explained.
The Outfit platform collects data about customers’ preferences based on an onboarding questionnaire of around 40 questions. The user places an order, pays an initial fee of around 10 euros as a guarantee, and then receives a box with five items.
Once in possession of the items, a customer has three days to decide which products to keep or to return. Then, they have to offer feedback on every item, details about the fit, the material, and the price. The CEO says this is a mandatory step, because “the more you buy and offer feedback, the more accurate your profile is, and the stylists will know what to recommend.”
The return is part of the business model. The customer schedules a pickup on the platform and waits for the courier. Then, the final fee is calculated and the initial sum deducted.
Fashion tech in Romania
E-commerce in Romania has been showing signs of accelerated growth, especially during the pandemic, as Sandu Babasan, co-founder and CEO of Saas e-commerce platform Blugento, shared with The Recursive in a previous interview.“The average sum spent on online shopping in 2020 grew by 41% in comparison to 2019. Among the categories that had a +100% evolution from 2019 are catering, books and magazines, pet products, and fast-moving consumer goods,” he said.
Yet, when it comes to fashion tech, only a few startups are tackling the niche. While on the B2B side there is Sustainibli, a platform where ecosystem players can socialize and solve sustainable fashion initiatives; on the B2C side, there are The Outfit and RE-COLLECTIONS.
RE-COLLECTIONS is a Romanian startup launched in 2020 that aims to provide women with a real-time matching between the products they want and their body’s shape. At the beginning of this year, the project received its first investment of €100K and aims to use it to scale internationally in 2022. The startups’ co-founder and CEO, Adriana Ancuta, is also known for the circular economy company, Garderoba Infinita.
From founder to investor
Ciprian Dudulea’s entrepreneurial background began in high school when he used to sell vitamins and health supplements but developed in the Entrepreneurship Academy. He entered the Academy because he wanted to learn from field experts and business people. Sergiu Negut, co-founder, CFO, and COO of FintechOS, was one of his mentors.
“I think the Academy helped me with the right context. When you start a business, it is mandatory to have the right mindset about the market that you want to approach, and the problem that you are trying to solve. I learned from professors who are entrepreneurs with experience in scaling and selling their businesses,” Dudulea said.
While at the Academy, he developed his first business, a digital marketing agency, called difrnt, with one of The Outfit’s co-founders, Horia Stupu, also an EA alumnus. “We have been working with a lot of companies and startups, helping them grow their online revenues, not only with digital campaigns but also with product growth and customer acquisition, because it is way more complicated than just placing a banner online,” he shared.
Now, Dudulea wants not only to run startups but to invest in them, and even build a fund. “I think I should be close and invest in the things that I understand. Crypto or the trade market might sound appealing, but I know that I am not good at them, so I prefer to stay away”, he explains.
His first role as an investor is in Flip, a Romanian startup that aims to transform people buying and selling second-hand devices. Dudulea mentioned that he met one of the co-founders, George Moroianu, at the EA and decided to invest half of the digital marketing agency’s profit in the refurbished phones vertical. “It was not necessarily about the ROI of this investment, but rather to be involved in all the steps of investing in a company. It was also a learning experience for me,” he added.