If the Shoe Fits ...
Featured clockwise are Breck Fresen, Nick End, and Matt Wilkinson. (Photo by Terry Clark.)
Ever ordered amazing shoes online, just to send back the ill-fitting pair days later?
Matt Wilkinson (E'06), Nick End (E'06), and Breck Fresen (CS'09) — the co-founders of Shoefitr — have the solution.
"It's a very wasteful thing," said Wilkinson, a former Carnegie Mellon University soccer player. "Not only are returns frustrating to the consumer and extremely expensive to the retailer, but they create a huge lack of confidence in purchasing online."
End and Fresen could relate. As members of the cross country and track teams, they would put in 80 miles a week and literally felt the pain of a bad-fitting shoe.
While developing a scanning application for podiatric patients at a small 3-D imaging company, Wilkinson had an idea.
Soon, the friends were developing technology that could compare the internal dimensions of shoes.
End would scan shoes in the back of a retail store in Rochester. Fresen worked on development in Chicago. Wilkinson would analyze data outside New York City.
And Shoefitr — a web application that compares the scans of shoes to find the right fit — was born.
By January 2010, the trio was ready to devote all their time to Shoefitr. They chose Pittsburgh and the AlphaLab program at the urging of entrepreneur Matt Humphreys (CS'07, TPR'08), who played soccer with Wilkinson.
They received additional CMU help from mechanical engineering professors Kenji Shimada and Paul Steif, whom they credit with being a sounding board for ideas and problem-solving.
By mid-year, Shoefitr launched its product on the online running powerhouse RunningWarehouse.com.
If consumers type in their favorite shoe, they can get a size and model recommendation for the closest fit. They can also see a 3-D graphic depicting exactly where and how much it will vary.
"The response has been overwhelmingly positive," said Wilkinson. "We get dozens of comments per day about how awesome this is. We're already seeing a 25 percent increase in conversion rates and reduction in returns of about 20 percent."
The company recently won three startup competitions. And Wilkinson notes the company has a number of significant pilot programs with large online retailers in the works.
Eager to get in on the action, both retailers and manufacturers are sending in shoes to be scanned.
"It gets pretty crazy at times," Wilkinson laughs. "We can't even walk around our office because there are just boxes and boxes of shoes everywhere."
The team members credit CMU with giving them a foothold — so to speak.
"The broad range of knowledge and overall problem-solving skills that we learned have really shaped us and allowed us to pursue something special," said Wilkinson. "A lot of people find our idea refreshing because we're solving a real-world problem."
To current students, he added, "Do as much networking as you can because there are so many intelligent people at CMU. You may be surprised at how beneficial they're going to be."