With startup True&Co, big data meets bra shopping

Technology has helped bring about a retail shift that now means I can buy my consumer goods without ever leaving my house, my husband’s shaving gear without ever thinking about it and now, thanks to True&Co, my bras without ever having a lady in a department store wrap a tape measure around my chest. I love the Internet.
True&Co, which debuts Wednesday at the D10 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., is using predictive modeling and a simple online questionnaire to help women find their perfect bra. Backed by $2 million from First Round Capital, SoftTech VC, Aileen Lee, Softbank Capital and former LinkedIn executive Ellen Levy, the startup was formed last year by two women who wanted to take the discomfort and questions out of buying intimate apparel. To use the service, a woman goes online, answers about five questions about her current bra and fit, and then is presented with a page of results.
From those results she chooses three to purchase and the site chooses two. All bras cost $45 and any and all can be returned if the recipient isn’t satisfied with them. So far customers have tended to keep three out of the five bras. The site refines the customer’s profile based on the bras she keeps so later shopping trips to True&Co yield even better results. It’s a model and experience similar to buying eyeglasses at Warby Parker.
The founders pitch this as a big data story, but it’s really a story about several trends converging. First is the comfort most folks have with buying things online and now taking that comfort to the next level–personalization. There’s also a sourcing component here that is a pretty powerful statement on how the web makes niche products available to a new audience. True&Co is finding a plethora of bras from boutique companies around the world and making them accessible to the wider public.
And finally there’s the big data element — only it’s not really about the size of the data, but about the ability to analyze data cheaply that’s notable. Aarthi Ramamurthy, head of product and co-founder of True&Co, who was a former product manager at Microsoft (s msft) and Netflix (s nflx), explains that the secret to the service is three different predictive models combined.
The first helps determine what bra would best fit a woman by asking her a series of questions about her current size, how her bra feels and how she thinks it looks. Another predictive model compares how different bra manufacturers’ sizes differ and normalizes the woman’s ideal size across the different brands. The third recommends actual bras.
So while the data sets themselves aren’t large, True&Co is taking advantage of the cheaper processing and ability to analyze a customer’s data quickly, as well as advances in recommendation algorithms to offer a new retail experience. The plan is to continue refining the quiz and predictive models to ensure customers are even more likely to keep their chosen bras as well as to add options for customers who are looking for a specific bra.
Over time the site plans to add matching panties and branch into other types of clothing. Swimsuits seem like a natural fit, as do jeans. In the meantime, I’m going to see if Netflix-style recommendations can offer me a better bra. I’ll let you know.