The LDV Vision Summit, with its mixture of passionate visual tech entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers, professors, journalists, and investors is right around the corner (May22-23). As a sneak peek and respecting our now well-established tradition, we touched base with some of the scheduled speakers. The biggest challenge for online clothing retailers is not letting customers try before they buy. Not anymore, if Forma Technologies has its say… Benjamin Chiang, CEO, and co-founder agreed to sit down and tell us more about his company:
– A little about you, what is your background?
Most recently, I was at Uber where I grew the China business from $0 to $500M in revenue as General Manager. My background is a mix of product, operations, finance, and engineering, probably in that order. I am fascinated by transformations (more specifically: urban transportation, the rise of China, fluid workforce, and the digital world’s impact on self-identity) which can be extremely positive or catastrophic, and. I want to nudge these transformations towards the positive end of the spectrum. Find me on LinkedIn!
– What is Forma Technology? What does it solve?
Forma is building photorealistic avatars that are a dynamic and deeply personal form for people’s online identity. Through Forma’s computer vision and graphics technology, users can instantly create a flexible visual identity from a single photo of themselves. – just as records and CDs are a crude approximation of your musical taste in the age of Spotify, your clothes can be nuanced and varied in the age of Forma.
Today, Forma users can actually see themselves in an outfit before deciding to buy on e-commerce sites through our free Shopify integration (live merchant here, video of shopper experience here); you users can also try outfits in our iOS app, where soon you will be able to star in a movie, video game, TV show, YouTube clip, billboard ad, VR/AR, etc.
– Not being able to try clothes on is the number one source of expensive returns for online apparel stores. Have you solved it?
Shoppers expect to be able to try on an outfit on in the offline world before buying. – with Forma, we expect shoppers are able to demand the same criteria online. They will be able to see how a style or color looks on their own body and decide if they can pull it off, addressing the ‘I look nothing like your model’ problem. We see that a significant portion of returns are because the customer’s expectation of the item seen online does not align with how the item looks once received doesn’t like the look.
Many returns are because of sizing/fit. Some survey-based products have gained a lot of traction recently which shows there is a strong need from sellers and shoppers to address sizing/fit, but Forma is currently working on a solution with visualizations that are only possible with recent breakthroughs in computer vision; we believe a visual solution will both be easier as well as more effective for customers than a survey-based solution..
– Only one photo per product is needed and it will work on any photo. Without revealing any trade secret, can you explain how you do it? What is the technology behind?
The beauty of Forma is how scalable it is: Merchants can just install our free Shopify app, and with one click we can automatically process their products directly from their existing product photos. – No engineers, re-shooting models, green screens, Photoshop, or special hardware required. For the curious, here’s a video showing the onboarding process.
We are able to do this by pushing the boundaries of a combination of technologies that are possible only recently because of breakthroughs in AI methods as well as hardware (cost of GPU computation dropping drastically). The key differentiators of our technology are that we are instant, photorealistic, and robust – the last point is critical to note because academia’s purpose is to push the boundaries of technology by showing a couple of cases that work. However, bringing something that works in a few cherry-picked cases to widespread production-level quality is also very difficult to execute.
– What is the business model? Are you planning to deliver an app for everyone to use or offer a SaaS, API for business to integrate?
Our near-term focus is on improving our technology foundation (image quality, speed, and robustness). That said, we will be exploring business models such as a freemium SaaS model in the near term and in the long term we would like to explore a marketplace for digital clothing (e.g., you can buy a digital suit from Tom Ford or a random art student that you can wear to play Fortnite).
– How do you measure success with Forma? Numbers of images uploaded? sales conversion?
Internally, we track the percentage% of users who share or save an image, which we have found to be the ultimate indicator that a user is happy with our product, and is a very good predictor for the likelihood that they will come back.
For merchants, the no-brainer is engagement time, where we are seeing an average customer spend 8 minutes on a merchant’s website if they interact with Forma (case study here). Merchants are also telling us that Forma has a big impact on increasing page views (both new and existing customers) and conversion rates while, and also simultaneously reducing return rates – but those are harder for us to track perfectly.
An offline shopper who tries on an item will spend more time in the store and therefore increase the probability of a purchase. Online shoppers who use Forma spend more time on a site, increase page views and, just like the offline customer trying on items in a store, these online customers demonstrate an increase in the probability of purchase.
Merchants are very pleased with the results, and honestly, it isn’t that surprising when you think about the offline corollary, a customer who tries something on will spend a lot more time in the store is also much more likely to buy!
-Beyond clothing, where you see/predict other applications to your technology?
We are going to be focused on clothing for the foreseeable future, although this expands beyond e-commerce into broader media/entertainment movies and games (e.g., when Avengers comes out a new superhero movie comes out, anybody can be their favorite superhero character). We will also address the many requests for clothing and accessories more broadly such as bags, shoes, jewelry, hats, etc.
– What do you look forward to the most from the LDV Vision Summit?
I was at the LDV Vision Summit last year and I loved to see interesting applications of computer vision technology; there are so many wide-ranging and impactful applications and it feels like we are in the first inning. It feels a bit like when my dad brought home a computer in the early ’90s or connected us to the internet with those AOL coasters in the mid-’90s – lots of excitement and potential that brings out the collective power of a bunch of curious people trying new things!
– What would you like to see Forma Technology offer that technology cannot yet deliver?
We want everybody on the planet to be able to look at themselves and explore different looks that they cannot are unable to access in the offline world due to restrictions in, whether it’s because of money, time, awareness, or even societal pressure. People wear different clothes because visual identity is extremely personal, and it changes every day. We believe, so you should be able to see yourself in leather pants, bikinis, superhero costumes, and catwalk high fashion before getting out of bed!
Kaptur is a proud sponsor of the LDV Vision Summit.
Kaptur community gets 40% off tickets with code KAPTUR.
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.