How This Founder Turned a Major Problem Into 2.4 Million in Funding

How Many of You Have Done the Denim Wiggle?

The jump. The suck and shimmy. Even if you make it into your jeans, it still sucks to have to suck it in. And ordering denim online? Forget it. Without knowing how a certain brand fits you, their respective cuts and rises, it’s almost impossible to tell exactly how the pair you ordered will look on your body. Let's just agree: the return rate on online denim purchases is high.  

Until now. Fitcode is a simple answer to a complicated problem. Co-founded by former model Rian Buckley, Fitcode is a fashion data company that walks women through a quick series of 5 questions about their shape. It then displays denim options that would work best based on the users answers, providing denim recommendations from brands like Paige and Citizens for Humanity. Fitcode doesn’t carry product, but works with brands to amplify their customers and increase sales. “We integrate onto partner sites," the CEO explains. "We don’t need measurements, we don’t need body scans, we don’t need anything like that.” The company is focused on fit, not size.

As a former model it’s an answer to a problem Buckley witnessed firsthand. “I was young on set,” the co-founder shares, “and people don’t really talk to you. They think you’re just a model, but it gave me an unbelievable platform to listen. So while I stood on set and I would listen to these clients complain about the problems they were facing with e-commerce and the business going online and how customers don’t know how to shop online.” She says listening to the issues at hand is “what kept me sane for a while.” She also used it to her advantage. “People don’t notice you when you’re the model,” she says. For her that meant, “I could get a lot of information. I could discover a lot of problems and therefore I could create a lot of solutions.”

Three years, $2.3M in funding, and 95,000 users (and counting) later, Buckley is running an innovative startup that’s using technology to solve real problems for some of the denim industry’s biggest brands.

“We have a 94% quiz completion rate on partners sites," Buckley notes. "Which proves people are actively looking for a solution. Normal online surveys are anywhere from 8-9% completion rate and Fitcode is 94%. So women love the solution and want to be told which jeans to buy and want it to be easier.” She’s excited to report that Fitcode users are converting at “at least 4 times the rate a normal customer would convert." Which means, "They are trusting the product, they are returning exponentially less, and it’s just been successful for all of our partners.” And for women. Buckley is determined to take the pain out of the online shopping process. 

While the modeling world might not have taken the CEO seriously, she says the industry prepared her to run a company. We're talking thick skin. “I founded this company when I was 25 and we launched when I was 26. I had never worked in tech. I had never run a business and now suddenly I was the CEO of a technology company. And the foundation for that came from modeling because I was so used to being undervalued and overlooked.” That and Buckley had total confidence that she could solve the denim problem. “You know,” she adds, “my mom used to always say, ‘Be like water off the duck.’ Whatever people are saying just keep charging ahead. Let it roll off and charge ahead.”

It also taught her to take criticism. “When you’re looking for investment or looking to scale, people always criticize,” she says. “Because it’s the easiest thing to do— they can point out the places where you’re failing and use those things against you." Unlike the modeling world, where the criticisms she faced about her looks were things she couldn't change, in business she feels "empowered" by them. With Fitcode she explains, "the things you’re criticizing me for I can actually make a change. I can change my decisions.” 

Like many other women in tech, being undermined has been a part of her journey. “Women in technology,” Buckley says, “are so underserved and we are always overlooked. It is one of those fields where it’s really male-focused and male driven. I think people underestimate women repeatedly.”

"People underestimate women repeatedly.”

She wasn't deterred, even when she found herself explaining her product to a room of men. “I’ll use an example from a big retailer I had a meeting with, not for investment but for partnership," she says. "I walked into this meeting as a 27-year-old woman who had a lot of experience in the fashion industry and understood the problem of women’s denim fit pretty intimately. And I sat across the table from 11 men. I was the only woman in the room and I had these men explain to me how to get women into jeans that fit and why their solution was better than the one I was bringing to the table. And it was so clear to me in that moment why companies are failing online. Because they have a bunch of men trying to solve a problem for women.”

"It was so clear to me in that moment why companies are failing online. Because they have a bunch of men trying to solve a problem for women.”

She says the next step for retailers is to expand their plus-size business. “There is a huge underserved market of plus-size women. And plus-size women, they’re just women too. But brands don’t think about them that way. What they’re missing is that this is just a woman who wants jeans that fit.” Fitcode's mission includes empowering all body types. She also had another goal. One she met. 

Though she raised funding, Buckley says, “My goal all along was to see how little investment I could take to see how quickly I could get cashflow positive. That was a really powerful thing I was able to do. Especially as a woman CEO you have to do things differently because people are always going to come in with a little bit of doubt. That is just the fact of the matter. Now, if I can walk into the room and say I don’t need your money, I make my own money. That is the power."

photo credit: Photography for Fitcode by @tawnieakman