Despite losing a co-founder, how this woman entrepreneur went ahead with building an AI startup
Close friends Sakshi Chhapolia and Ankit Kumar were handling a very important wedding duty for their friend — getting her wedding trousseau (lehenga) from Delhi’s Chandni Chowk market.
While most brides would do the wedding shopping themselves, in this case, it was a last-minute rush.
“She had ordered a lehenga in advance online, but when it arrived, she realised it didn’t fit her perfectly. And, the day she was supposed to go to Chandi Chowk, she fell sick. So Ankit and I went to the shopkeeper still wondering how we would get the right fit,” Sakshi shares with HerStory.
Sakshi and Ankit
To their relief, the shopkeeper had a hack. With a picture of their friend, the shopkeeper was able to give the perfect fitting lehenga. The duo realised that this would be an issue both in the online and offline world.
“It is a loop where most businesses face losses and return of products. It was then we thought of Aaiena,” says Sakshi.
The duo launched the startup in Delhi-NCR in 2018, which provides customers with accurate size — using an AI, AR-based body measurement sizing software in just four simple steps — without the physical presence of the customers.
“We staunchly believe in our tagline “THINK LIKE A USER.” Hence, the working of Aaiena is made completely hassle-free and user-friendly that gives the exact body measurement with just four inputs of height, weight, front, and a side photo. We have designed our algorithm, where users will get their product size recommendations as we want to give a solution based on numbers rather than predictions,” Sakshi explains.
Dealing with sudden tragedy
It took the friends-duo around 1.5 years to build Aaiena with an accuracy rate of 95 percent. However, tragedy struck when Ankit passed away in early 2021 just before the product could be launched. Sharing her experience, Sakshi says,
“It was a harrowing time for me. To be honest, the thought did cross my mind of shutting the whole thing, but I kept moving ahead. When Ankit was with me, and when we would talk to vendors and people in the market, they would talk and address him, they didn’t acknowledge me. Now suddenly, they realised that they had to deal with a woman. And many simply didn’t take me seriously. From snide remarks to people suddenly pulling back orders — I saw it all in those few months.”
However, Sakshi had to carry on as the duo had quit their lucrative government career paths, and this had to mean something.
An electrical engineer, Ankit was an ISRO scientist with a background of GATE AIR 47, while Sakshi had cleared her UPSC and was awarded an NCSC junior scientist position.
“In middle-class families like ours, getting a government job is still a big deal. So when we quit our career paths to startup, there was enough resistance. I knew I had to carry on. The team Ankit and I had built together helped and gave me the courage I needed,” she says.
The startup’s CTO Ashish Goyal has six years of experience as a researcher and software developer from UiA Norway with a background in CSE from BML Munjal University.
Its tech lead, Mohit Kumar, has AI and AR experience, while Baijant Chaudhary, Aaeina’s sales lead, has 17 years of experience in the same field.
While Sakshi cannot speak much of the product as it is patent-pending, she says the contactless product is a complete solution for not just the apparel sector but also emphasises health and fitness.
“We are also working on a virtual trial product that works for the merchandise section of the apparel sector. Besides, we have closely observed that many customers face numerous issues while using the competitor's virtual trial room. One of them comes in the form of inputting details multiple times. This hectic process becomes problematic. Also, many times the customers are not getting accurate body measurements. All this sums up the customer’s problems that they are already facing,” Sakshi explains.
Market and model
According to GlobeNewswire, the global virtual fitting room (VFR) market is projected to reach $9.99 billion by 2027, exhibiting a CAGR of 20.1 percent.
Some of the players in this space include WearFits, Virtooal, WearFits, and Magic Mirror. Aaeina follows both B2B and B2C model. In fact, it has raised an undisclosed pre-Series A investment.
The startup’s basic plan starts at Rs 5,000 per month. Sakshi says its key clients include ecommerce platforms, retailers, brands, fashion designers, and even fitness enthusiasts.
“We have planned our revenue model in a way that our clients can earn a minimum of Rs 5000 a month in contactless form during the COVID-19 lockdown,” adds Sakshi.
“I always believe ‘impossible is nothing but a paradox.’ Currently, due to the impact of lockdown on business, Aaeina has emerged as a necessity for the global market to provide a contactless solution. Therefore, we are planning to expand in the global markets of the Middle East and South-East Asia,” says Sakshi.
Advising all women entrepreneurs, she says, “If you strongly believe in yourself, irrespective of the circumstances, you will be able to achieve it. Don’t be docile to give in to excuses, always try to find the way out. And, I personally believe that to grow, you need to have the right attitude of acceptance and learning.”