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SuitCase -Startup Summer

In October SuitCase won the Vitesse Awards 2016 in Vitesse 3. This interview took place before that event.

Men who don’t like shopping and think it's a total waste of time, or just have no idea what to wear. It sounds like a consistent problem. SuitCase provides the answer.

You can create an account on their website and answers a number of questions about your clothing style, favorite brands and sizes. A couple of days later, you get a phone call from your personal stylist. He will ask you some additional questions as a kind of an intake. Later you’ll receive the perfect outfits within your budget and taste right on your doorstep free from shipping charges.

Inside your SuitCase you’ll find pre-styled clothes. For example a buttoned up shirt, covered with a jersey and a blazer. Your stylist also adds a personal note why he picked these outfits. You get seven days to decide which pieces you like and want to keep. You can return the remaining clothes. Afterwards, you only pay for those clothes you chose at the same prices as in the regular shops.

What an idea! And a serious gap in the market, so it seems. We all know the man who shambles around in the shopping streets on a Saturday afternoon, obliged and apathetically, after his wife.

Founder Anthony De Wit came up with the idea when his boss remarked that he dressed too casual for his job. He worked as a consultant in a big company and had to look like he was worth his price. However, he felt like the current way of shopping wasn’t his cup of tea. He didn’t like shopping and looking online for clothes took too much time. On top of that he had no clue which style suited him best. He would like to shop online without wasting time and would benefit from tips about the right outfit. And like that his research into available concepts started. In America there already existed a kind of SuitCase that went bankrupt after three years, but got successfully relaunched after a take-over. So his idea was market-proof and as a bonus he could learn from their mistakes. “My first barrier was to convince the salesmen of various fashion brands of my concept”, De Wit says, “The market is kind of old-fashioned and the regular salesperson is very critical of the way his brands will be sold. It’s a long negotiation process.” Currently SuitCase is three years operational and profitable. The customers are also very loyal. The stylist is a single point of contact and guides you through all your future purchases. This seems to be the key success factor. Unfortunately for women that loathe shopping and really would benefit from a personal stylist, SuitCase is currently a men clothing-only company man.

In the early days the founders started their business in an attic, but it became too small very quickly, so they needed to move to a building in the center of Antwerp. A floor in the same building as their investors. SuitCase had the luxury of being able to choose between several investors. They picked the one with the best fit. “Don’t say yes to soon”, De Wit recommends, “An investor is a very important person who will be part of your company for a long time. A good understanding is key.” How did they convince those investors? “Be passionate about your product! Investors like the combination of solving a problem, filling a gap in the market and an enthusiastic management team”, says De Wit.

He matured his idea for a long time, did profound research and tested the market. As a next step he entered, with his SuitCase-idea, an entrepreneurship competition. His idea didn’t win, but one member of the jury wanted to help them financially. And that got the ball rolling.

Nowadays incubators are springing up everywhere. Each and everyone often with their own action plan. De Wit is not convinced that every startup benefits from the same steps or grows at the same speed. “Incubators can offer you good advice and can provide you with a good social network. All the rest is up to you, with every bump in the road or setback.” If he could start over he would do things differently, learn from his mistakes. He thinks everyone can become an entrepreneur, as long as you do it for the right reasons and with a good mindset. Getting really rich, really fast doesn’t quite cut it. The urge of solving a problem and act on it, does.

De Wit quit his job in a corporate company to found a startup. “Yes, I had security, a good benefit plan and a job with prestige. I had doubts about leaving it all behind, but the desire to change is often the engine to get your idea going. Now I make my own decisions, I choose the path we’re heading up and if something comes up I take a risk for my own account.”  

Since a couple of months, De Wit left the operational part of SuitCase up to his team. He teaches, councils startups and helps them with their business plans or keeps them from making the same mistakes he made. He doesn’t exclude the fact that one day he might join a startup again, but only if he can relate to the product, sees the potential and gets along with the founders.

The combination of his academic background and the experience of starting his own startup is essential for a good mentorship, he thinks.

To wrap up this interview De Wit would like to give some advice. “It's far more easy to make an existing idea better than to conquer the world with a new one. Take Coolblue for example, it shaped the online retail landscape without changing something in the core of the business. Also, listen to feedback! Understand the current problem, with a little help from others."

ext: Kim Cnudde