If you count its unintentional year in beta, The Yes is just eight months old.
Retail veteran Julie Bornstein planned to launch the fashion e-commerce platform, which she describes as “a new way to shop,” in March 2020 — but then Covid-19 hit. So, she waited two months and introduced the company in May, just before George Floyd was killed and “the world got even more complicated.” As with companies across categories, the plan- and priority-shifting news The Yes faced in the year, and the following year, didn’t stop there.
“We operated in what felt like a beta timeframe,” Bornstein said on the latest Glossy Podcast. “We ended up using that year to just improve the experience, onboard more brands, learn [what] our users liked and improve so many things. We decided we needed to launch web, [in addition to an app], which we did.”
The Yes’s big differentiator among fashion marketplaces is the personalized experience it provides shoppers, largely based on individual products they like or dislike via a voluntary click of “Yes” or “No.” Bornstein realized the potential for such a platform while holding C-suite positions at Stitch Fix (COO) and Sephora (CMO and chief digital officer).
It’s worth noting that The Yes rolled out a rewards program dubbed “Yes Funds” on Tuesday, which Bornstein teased during the mid-December podcast recording: “I helped launch Beauty Insider at Sephora, so I’m a big fan of interesting programs that reward your best customer,” she said.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
On providing a standout customer experience:
“The relationship we build with a customer is around offering the best mix of products, the best assortment from high to low. It’s rare, if not unheard of, to see a lot of these brands together… [Part of that] is about just guaranteeing that we’re offering the best price. Most of the time, it’s a non-issue, because the brands are pretty good about protecting price integrity. But we don’t want customers to feel like they have to worry about checking every last site to see if they’re getting the best price. So we have technology that helps us with that. And then [it’s about] making the checkout experience super seamless — Apple Pays is core, and we’re doing additional things. And then, we’re [providing much] communication to the customer around where the package is — we do really fun text notifications [stating] your package is on its way or it should be at your door. We put a little personality into it. So there are all of those basic core e-commerce things that you just need to have to make a great customer experience. And then, for us, the sort of icing [on the cake] is the personalization and the ability to have one-to-one communication after that. That happens not only through the site and the app, but also through emails. So if you’ve Yes’ed a product and you haven’t yet bought it, and then it goes on sale, we let you know. Or if a brand you like has a new drop of new products, we let you know. And so we’re able to make the communication with a customer so much more relevant and actually really helpful, which is our goal.”
“I definitely took a pretty ambitious approach to fundraising. I have watched so many companies raise too little money and go out of business because they couldn’t get traction, even though the idea was really good — because everything costs more and takes longer than you expect. And so when I started, I spent some time with some engineers assessing what I thought it would take to build the product, and then kind of doubled that. We ended up raising $10 million to start, as our seed round. And I went straight to [Forerunner Ventures’] Kirsten Green, who I’d followed for years and admired, and told her what I was doing… She was one of the co-leads, along with Tony Florence at NEA. And since then, we’ve raised a total of $40 million. And we will continue to raise, because this is an expensive endeavor; it takes a huge amount of technology, and engineers are not cheap. And it takes time. The reality is that you can’t launch a great personalization experience without a lot of brands, or else it doesn’t really work for the customer. So we needed to get all of the brands teed up and the system working, and now we just have so many things we want to do to make the experience better. [There are] more brands we want to add, and [there’s] more we want to do with the brands we have. So, we have a lot in front of us. If you’re going to build something that’s really big and industry-changing, it’s not for the faint of heart, and it definitely is expensive.”
On attracting tech talent:
“The overlap between great engineers and people interested in fashion is very low… One of the reasons I started this business is because I felt like I’d worked so closely in tech and so closely in fashion, that I was one of the few people who understood what good looked like in both… What we’ve been able to do is hire amazing engineers, because the problems we’re trying to solve are really interesting and they’re really hard. [Among] the engineers that work on our team, I would say that only two or three would tell you that they’re interested in fashion. But what they’re really interested in is building an industry-changing platform, in building the future of shopping — we think of ourselves as really changing the way shopping works online. And it is fashion, to start, because it’s a really challenging category, but [the technology] could be applied to other categories. And they’re also really interested in AI and applied AI. So, artificial intelligence can do all these interesting things in the medical field and in the entertainment field — we’ve seen it, with all of these social media and media companies. But no one has really applied it to commerce yet, in a core way. And so that, in and of itself, is really interesting. And so, [because of that] we’ve been able to hook really strong engineers — [and also] because we have strong talent in-house, and talent attracts talent.”