This woman entrepreneur is changing online shopping experience with ‘millimetre accuracy’
India’s Silicon Valley Bengaluru has the dubious distinction of having highly congested roads. People of the city joke about how one can get most work done during their commute across the city.
Kavita Jha, who worked as an engineer at Ramyam Labs, spent nearly five hours every day on road. She says the city’s traffic affected her personal life.
“Due to paucity of time, I invariably ended up doing unplanned online shopping for my daughter. Most of the time the products I purchased didn’t meet my expectations, resulting in returning the products, not to speak of the distress and logistics nightmare that came along with it. The products would either be different in colour, texture, or quality from what was displayed online,” she recalls.
However, this was not a unique experience as according to one estimate 25 to 40 percent of fashion-related purchases online are returned.
This served as an impetus for Kavita to navigate the online ecommerce market and drove her to launch KiksAR, a Virtual Try-On (VTO) platform for fashion retail in 2018. She was joined by her colleague Kiran Lakkapragada as co-founder.
Launched after six months of research, the SAAS startup leverages technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) to enhance online shopping experience. The platform, Kavita says, was built by intersecting four disciplines; AI, Gaming, 3D, and full stack development.
Backed by angel investors, the startup is over 50-member strong who are called “Kikers.”
Navigating virtual shopping
The platform provides seamless real-time and markerless (where an application can display 3D content without prior knowledge of the user’s environment) service across platforms and devices including desktops, laptops, and Android and iPhone smartphones.
At present, it offers VTO solutions in categories like eyewear, jewellery, makeup, and accessories like masks, hijabs, turbans, and scarves. It plans to launch more options for watches, apparel, and shoes.
The duo claims to have improved the experience by adding fashion advisory and fitment suggestions with its patented recommendation algorithms. For every product for sale, KiksAR develops a 3D twin for more accurate representation.
Operating on a B2B model, the clients are required to pay one-time set-up fee to catalogue digital twins of their SKUs, followed by recurring monthly fee based on number of active SKUs.
At the same time, KiksAR generates AR-tag which can be used by brands across their inhouse and third-party digital commerce platforms. The brick and mortar store experiences are enhanced with applications on devices like Android and IOS tablets or Windows desktops.
Serving more than 30 ecommerce companies and over 110 stores globally, some of its India-based clients include Titan Eye Plus, Essilor, Coolwinks, Specsmakers, Vision Rx Labs, GKB, and YuBingo, among others.
After COVID-19 pandemic broke out, when people were advised to maintain social distancing and most businesses emphasised on contactless operation, Virtual Try-On adoption increased by several folds.
“With people becoming increasingly wary of touching things, our contactless solutions saw a surge in demand and gained more than 20 customers in the last four months,” Kavita shares.
So far, it has clocked Rs 2 crore in FY 2021 and plans to reach a turnover of more than Rs 10 crore for the fiscal year. The startup is working on creating the world’s largest 3D catalogue cloud for Virtual Try-Ons in the next two years and is also planning to launch VTO for clothing and apparel for both instore and online as well.
The homegrown brand is competing with the likes of StyleDotMe, Modaka, FocuzAR in India and Fittingbox, Dittio, Banuba, Modi-Face, YouCam, and Wannaby in the international market. However, Kavita believes KiksAR’s attention to fitment with “millimetre accuracy” is a major differentiator.
“Our styling and fitment advisory with auto-contour for face and body shape and size detection is key. We have already filed three patents and are working towards filing another one,” she adds.
COVID-19 and other challenges
Kavita says creating something new from scratch was bound to be challenging. This included finding the right team, execution of plans, and the time-consuming work of building a nascent technology stack. Finding product-market fit was another challenge.
“We are one of the early movers in AR and the technology was totally new. So, there was no one to guide us and we had to learn everything ourselves. One needs to patiently train people while they build products as per the business roadmap,” she adds. However, Kavita believes she is fortunate not to face any gender bias in her entrepreneurial journey.
While KiksAR has not suffered in terms of business during the pandemic, Kavita says the prolonged period of social distancing has affected employees. “They have become sceptical about everything which is a big challenge to overcome. This requires frequent handling of people’s emotions and feelings. No one had ever planned for this. Hence, every day is a challenge,” she says, adding that they have been trying different ways to help the employees overcome psychological stress.
A startup native
An MBA graduate from Pune University, Kavita does not come from a business family. However, her professional journey includes working in two startups where she was among the founding members or an early employee.
A technology enthusiast, she has looked after product development and building entire technology stack from scratch. In her previous role as the Vice President of Engineering at Ramyam Labs, Kavita played an instrumental role in acquisition of the startup by German Conglomerate, Bertelsmann’s Arvato CRM division.
At the same time, her co-founder and serial entrepreneur Kiran specialises in sales and marketing and both have known each other for the last 16 years. The two have helped in closing several global deals worth over $30 million as colleagues before starting KiksAR.
(Edited by Javed Gaihlot)
Edited by Javed Gaihlot