Hearing about Shoefitr during the presentations at AlphaLab’s Demo Day left me not only impressed but wanting to know more. I got in touch with CEO and COO Matt Wilkinson (who founded Shoefitr along with Nick End and Breck Fresen) for an interview to talk shoes, startups, and Pittsburgh.
Did you and your co-founders know you wanted to start a business, or did the idea to start Shoefitr evolve from the problem you saw that exists in online shoe sales?
We had each previously attempted our own respective ventures prior to Shoefitr so we are entrepreneurial and always looking for opportunities. With that said, Shoefitr was started from a problem we experienced first-hand when trying to buy shoes online. Although we knew it would be a challenge, we felt strongly that we had the technical experience and background to find a solution. Its not magic, there is a reason somebody fits better in a certain shoe than others, and there just had to be a good way to capture fit without trying on a shoe.
How did you find out about AlphaLab, and did it benefit you?
We heard about Alphalab through a friend/entrepreneur from Carnegie Mellon, Matt Humphrey, who is on the advisor board at Alphalab. The Alphalab experience has been extremely valuable. The mentoring and resources were crucial in getting us to the next stage but most importantly being accepted into the program gave us that extra push from working part-time on Shoefitr to going fulltime.
How did you balance growing your business while maintaining outside employment?
We had been working on Shoefitr part-time for over a year, including a complete revamping of our approach. We had mitigated as much risk as possible before quitting our previous jobs and going full-time.
For now, Shoefitr is integrated into affiliate sites, such as Running Warehouse. You mentioned during Demo Day that Shoefitr would like to build into “a comparative fitting site where consumers can search by fit before purchasing through an affiliate network.” Can you elaborate?
Shoefitr will be integrated into retailer’s websites, but at some point, it might make sense to reach customers through a fit-centric comparative shopping site as well where Shoefitr can drive more traffic to retailers. We think that there could be a demand for a site like this because 35% of shoppers first visit comparative pricing sites prior to purchasing; however, our market research shows that fit is a bigger concern than price when it comes to buying shoes online. Our vision is to create a comparative shopping site where customers can search by fit and price.
Has Shoefitr received funding?
Outside of Alphalab, Shoefitr has been self-funded and will be looking for funding in the future when the time is right.
If/when you expand to other markets beyond athletic shoes, will the technology be able to detect other possible fit problems? What do you see those being?
Our approach and most of our software will not change when moving to new footwear verticals; however, different types of footwear may require different fitting algorithms and measurements for our recommendation engine. For example, high heels will obviously require us to look into heel heights. Discovering exactly what those are will require some more research, user testing, and also understanding the shopping/fitting behavior of those consumers.
Where are you planning to move your operations after AlphaLab?
Shoefitr will keep its operations in Pittsburgh, and we are currently exploring our options for office space around the city.
How do you and your co-founders come to be in Pittsburgh? What do you like about it in general and for startups in particular?
The 3 of us are all from different places, Breck grew up outside Chicago, Nick came from Milwaukee, and I am from New Jersey but all came to Pittsburgh to attend Carnegie Mellon. We all really enjoy Pittsburgh. Breck’s favorite spot is the Pretzel Shop across from the Alphalabs where he can be found eating for most meals. Nick and I enjoy Double Wide, their TV Dinners are awesome. Nick and Breck like running in Shenley Park and head there almost daily. Pittsburgh is a very start-up friendly city. We have friends working on startups in the valley and there are just so many out there that it’s hard to find people who want to help you. In Pittsburgh everyone is excited about all the new companies and willing to help.
How did Nick become a professionally sponsored runner?
Nick and Breck both ran cross country and track at CMU and Nick continued afterwards. He start runnning marathons last year and after a fast one in Boston he applied for a small sponsorship with Saucony. He really likes their shoes and gear. He runs daily and every month or so enters a big race. On most days he convinces Breck and I to run with him which I always regret as I am in no condition to keep up with them.
Last question, do you have a favorite startup company in Pittsburgh?
Our favorite Pittburgh startup is DeviceKnit. They introduced us to a bar that has 10 cent wings so it was the perfect place for all of us to hang out and talk about startups.
Editors Note: Shoefitr has also just won a global pitch competition. Check out the Alphalab blog for video of the winning pitch!