LONDON, United Kingdom — Today, BoF can exclusively reveal that London-based startup ASAP54 has raised a total of $3 million from e.ventures, Ceyuan Ventures and Novel TMT, as well as Trends Media Group, Carmen Busquets, James Bilefield, Frederic Court and others. The funding is being used to support the development of its fashion search and discovery app, which leverages a blend of image recognition technology, crowdsourcing and human stylists to help users find and buy fashion products they like.
I really believe that omni-channel is the future and people will be taking pictures offline and shopping online, and taking pictures online and shopping offline.
It was the frustration of wasting three hours searching the web for a particular pair of vintage Chanel frames which she had seen offline that first inspired Daniela Cecílio — formerly the chief operating officer of online fashion marketplace Farfetch, founded by her husband José Neves — to launch ASAP54. An avid online shopper, Cecílio envisioned a mobile app that could identify, source and let people purchase the products they encountered — on blogs, social media and in the physical world around them — avoiding the cumbersome process of searching endlessly by keywords or tags and smoothing the path from inspiration to transaction.
“I get inspired by Instagram, fashion blogs, [but] most of them don’t give you enough information,” Cecílio told BoF. “It was always very hard because you would Google, and Google would come up with the worst results. Nothing compared with what you were searching for. I use Polyvore, I use Shopstyle, but no one is focusing on something proper for the fashion industry.”
ASAP54 uses sophisticated visual recognition technology to analyse images uploaded by users — either taken in the wild, or sourced online — to produce a list of associated product recommendations. Users can further refine these results by product category, price range and other criteria. “For everything that couldn’t be matched by the computer, we created bespoke pieces of technology on top of the main technology. So for shoes, for instance, we’ve looked at what is more important when someone is searching for shoes, the texture or the colour? That’s how we’ve refined the technology for fashion,” said Cecílio.
“I’m a heavy user of pretty much all social networks and search engines and what I felt is, if the system doesn’t work, you’re left with no options,” continued Cecílio. “So the idea was, always, we don’t want to disappoint any users,” she explained. As such, if users don’t like the search results they are served, they can crowdsource suggestions from other users, or send their query to a human fashion expert, who will then scour the company's database for five additional recommendations within 24 hours.
The service lets users purchase recommended products directly from over 150 retailers, including Net-a-Porter, Barneys, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Topshop, and Forever 21, earning a commission on sales.
The app is set to launch on February 28th in the US, Europe and Brazil, then roll out to other geographies, such as the Middle East and China, where it could launch as early as September.
Richard Chen, a partner at Beijing-based venture capital firm Ceyuan Ventures, believes ASAP54 has great potential in China, where mobile penetration is high. “The future of technology is mobile, not PC,” he said. “More and more Chinese are shopping online. However, to search these fashion items on mobile is a nightmare. We do not have the graphic search technology like the one ASAP54 has. We believe [the combination of] ASAP54 and China’s 600 million mobile users (still growing) will create endless possibility.”
“My main intention is to really change the way that people interact with fashion,” said Cecílio. “I really believe that omni-channel is the future and people will be taking pictures offline and shopping online, and taking pictures online and shopping offline. There isn’t really a search engine or social application that has cracked that, so I think my aim is to solve that problem. It’s to bridge the gap between what you see and what you shop,” she continued.
“If we want something, we should be able to find it!”