Enhancing the Online Shopping Experience
Kwok said ZILIO might not have happened at all if it weren’t for his entrepreneurial bent, for which he credits his upbringing. “My dad's always been in business, [and] maybe I wanted to be like him,” he said. “I've always been interested in the hustle, the business hustle, entrepreneurship, that kind of mindset side of things. But, I've also been a massive daydreamer since day one.”
He thought up the idea for ZILIO when he was a young man shopping online for a suitable outfit to wear to a party. As he searched in vain, he thought, what if you could dress yourself in something like a 3D video game? He brought up the idea during an innovation class in college, but it flopped with his fellow students.
Undeterred, he mentioned it to his best friend. At the time, they were both working in fashion retail. They soon realized that everyone who shopped for clothes online had the same problem: it was very difficult, if not impossible, to tell exactly how clothes would look on their particular bodies. The two set out to create a solution, and ZILIO was born.
Developing 3D Virtual Dressing Rooms
Kwok noted that shopping for clothes online is currently like “rolling the dice” when it comes to sizing. “No one has any idea how anything's going to fit unless you really know the brand well,” he said. ZILIO’s platform lets you see exactly how clothes will fit your body using your own 3D avatar that you customize with your measurements. The platform directly plugs into online fashion stores that have partnered with ZILIO, so the overall shopping experience – including “trying on” the clothes, is seamless.
Uncertainty around sizing and fit when buying clothes online “is kind of a double-edged sword,” he said. “For shoppers, obviously you get a really bad experience. Most people don't shop [for clothes] online because they want to avoid the hassle of returning things. But on the business side of things [it] is like a trillion-dollar problem. Online fashion stores [are] bleeding through the profit margins because of this.” He believes ZILIO will “open the floodgates” of online clothes shopping by solving the problem of size and fit once and for all.
Kwok said the most challenging moment in his journey with ZILIO came about three years in, after the company had signed fashion labels, developed a prototype, and attracted investors. At that point, their first investor – who had promised a considerable amount of money – was late with the funds. So late, in fact, that soon ZILIO only had two weeks of operating funds left. And then, the investor called and pulled out of the deal completely.
“We almost failed before we started,” Kwok said. “I was going through my entire Facebook list, my phone contacts. I was looking to sell my car. I was trying to do anything … It was like being inside a pressure cooker.” Trying to hold it together so the company didn’t go bankrupt, Kwok almost lost it completely. “That was the worst moment in life,” he said. “I didn't know what I was going to do.” Fortunately, his family provided a financial cushion so the company could stay afloat.
If almost running out of money was his worst moment, helping people to see his vision for the company was his best. “I think we’ve had a lot of success in getting people to buy into the journey and to believe in us,” he said, noting that ZILIO has attracted “a lot of really successful ex-founders and mentors.” He noted that the company is in the top 20 of 1,500 fashion technology startups to participate in a Milan, Italy-based bootcamp backed by the likes of Prada, Armani, and Valentino.
Kwok’s next goal is to keep building out his network of fashion partners. “We want to turn ZILIO into an online shopping platform that will connect the online shoppers to the fashion brands that we're partnered up with, with ZILIO's virtual fitting room embedded in all those brands for the shops to use,” he said.
His biggest piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs is to “leave your ego at the door” and “show up as a white belt every day.” In other words, don’t assume from the start that you know how to run a company. “If you make decisions based on those assumptions, you might run into a wall or a costly mistake and lead your startup down the wrong path,” he said. “So consume as much content from your role models or from ex-founders or other experienced people as you can. Try to find whatever piece of goodness you can get out of them that you can see yourself adopting. Be very coachable.”