Carolyn Horner (l) and Eve Ackerley (r), co-founders, Jenzy

Game Changers: Eve Ackerley and Carolyn Horner, Co-Founders, Jenzy

By: Caitlin Sullivan

This interview is featured in Total Retail’s fourth annual Game Changers report. (Total Retail is a sister brand of Women in Retail Leadership Circle.) The Game Changers report highlights entrepreneurs and startup businesses that are disrupting the traditional retail industry, whether it be through digital innovation, unique product, enhancements to the supply chain, or in a multitude of other ways. Jenzy is an e-commerce app that uses proprietary fit technology to make kid’s shoe shopping a whole lot easier for parents and guardians. Founded a by a pair of former school teachers, Eve Ackerley and Carolyn Horner, Jenzy’s long-term goal is to create a sustainable business model that leverages a data-driven shopping experience to reduce consumers’ carbon footprint and saves brands from spending on unnecessary processes (e.g., product returns). For the full interview with Eve and Carolyn, as well as profiles of the other Game Changers, download the report today!

Total Retail: What was the white space in the market that you identified, and how do you believe your company can address it?
Eve Ackerley: On average, young kids grow a half a shoe size every two months to four months, which means shoe shopping is often on a parent’s to-do list! However, there are few stores accessible that offer shoe-fitting experts. And if purchasing online, sizing variability between brands and even within brands makes it difficult to determine which size to buy. As a result of all of this, 70 percent of kids are wearing shoes that don’t fit, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Jenzy was designed specifically for sizing a young child’s foot, and only requires one photo to accurately capture their foot measurements. The Jenzy app makes it easy to buy perfectly fitting shoes for young children without leaving home.

TR: What was the “aha moment” when you realized you might have a successful business?
Carolyn Horner: We spent countless weekends at the park testing each new version of the Jenzy app with parents. The first time we hosted a “foot sizing event” at the park, we were dubious that parents would show up.

To our surprise, we had 20 parents come out! Moreover, the moms who came all had kids who were first walkers, which was the first indication of who our target demographic might be. Many of these moms were buying kid shoes for the first time and knew wearing proper footwear is important, but struggled to find sizing help. Eve and I knew we had identified our “early adopters” who would be there to help us create the perfect sizing solution.

TR: How are you planning to scale your business?
EA: We envision Jenzy becoming a personalized subscription model for kid’s shoe shopping, where the app is able to use data and machine learning to forecast a child’s footwear needs by season, as well as their projected foot growth. Our aim is to eliminate decision making in the kid’s shoe shopping process. After wrapping up our first month in the App Store, we had 800 downloads, which is awesome, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

TR: Can you tell us about a successful initiative your company launched in the last year?
EA: Almost the entire past year was spent beta testing Jenzy and getting the app to output a child’s foot size within +/- 4mm, which is less than half of a child’s shoe size. Designing this sizing process required hundreds of iterations and beta tests.

Additionally, many people think the app outputs the child’s measurement and, poof, you’re done. In reality, there’s also a lot of work that goes into creating a back-end database of shoe measurements. This data has become the basis of our sizing algorithm. So when a child is measured through our app, we immediately know that they will be a size 9 U.S. in one shoe and a 9.5 or 10 U.S. in another.

Our sizing technology and e-commerce platform is aimed at increasing customer confidence while shopping, and reducing or even eliminating returns due to fit.

TR: What are your goals for the business in 2018-2019?
CH: Over the next six months we will continue building brand awareness as well as planning marketing campaigns for the holiday and spring shoe buying seasons. To expand our potential audience, we want to roll out Jenzy on a new platform (Android or a web version). We will also be expanding our local team as we increase operations, and are starting to raise a round of funding later this year.

TR: What types of retail technology are you watching closely and/or thinking of implementing?
EA: We’re inspired by companies like Stitch Fix that leverage data to create a personalized and convenient shopping experience for their customers. We’re excited to start implementing these types of smart recommendations into our e-commerce store.

TR: Can you share the technologies and service providers in your technology stack?
EA: To host our website and e-commerce store, we use Shopify. Our app is built on React Native and supported by services including GitHub, Mixpanel, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to track app analytics and performance. Lastly, Slack is a must for internal communication!

TR: What is your hiring strategy?
CH: Eve and I are first-time entrepreneurs, and there was (and still is) a lot we don’t know. Our go-to strategy is to find mentors or hire people who are experts in their fields, and then ask them as many questions as possible so we can continually be learning. We’re always looking for people who naturally collaborate, teach, learn and challenge us. This is the best way to either validate or make our ideas better.

TR: Tell us about your leadership style.
CH: As former teachers, Eve and I learned the importance of clear and thoughtful communication. The two of us are conscious of how we spend each minute of our day and we give that same respect to everyone we work with. Therefore, we try to lead by example by preparing for every meeting, whether it’s with a mentor or an intern, encouraging note-taking and setting expectations on eliminating distractions (OK, maybe you can’t take the “teacher” out of us!).

TR: What’s your forecast for the retail industry in 2019? What should retailers be preparing their businesses for?
EA: U.S. retailers report a return rate of approximately 30 percent for online sales, with poor fit cited as the No. 1 reason. Processing returns is costly. Jenzy’s long-term goal is to create a sustainable business model that leverages a data-driven shopping experience to reduce our carbon footprint and eliminate spending on unnecessary processes (e.g., returns).

A great example of how fit technology and e-commerce is evolving is the new Apple ARKit that was released in June. Retailers should be thinking of how to leverage this technology to increase customer confidence while shopping (and increase sales conversion rates), as well as eliminate returns due to poor fit.

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