Daina Burnes of ‘Bold Metrics’: “Keeping a balance leads to better quality work”

As a Founder, you don’t need to work all day and night and on weekends. Keeping a balance leads to better quality work. Burnout is a real thing, and it can take a real toll not just on you but on your company, your team, and your clients. Keeping a healthy work-life balance is important, and […]

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As a Founder, you don’t need to work all day and night and on weekends. Keeping a balance leads to better quality work.

Burnout is a real thing, and it can take a real toll not just on you but on your company, your team, and your clients. Keeping a healthy work-life balance is important, and even more challenging in current times during this pandemic. A natural inclination to be constantly working can be an easy trap to fall into, but the energy to continue at that pace can lead to poor work quality and burnout.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Daina Burnes, Founder and CEO of Bold Metrics, Inc (BMI), the leading AI-driven retail fit technology company headquartered in San Francisco, California. Bold Metrics uses AI to empower apparel brands to reduce returns, boost conversions, and improve sustainability. A trailblazer in the field of AI and retail innovation, Daina brings more than a decade of experience in growing and developing technology companies focused on harnessing and processing data.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have always been a student of numbers, naturally drawn toward math and science in school. An Engineer by training, I pursued academic research for a number of years during my undergraduate and graduate careers at different institutions including University of Toronto, MIT, and UCLA. I am a published author in multiple leading research journals and have patented technology in the field of optics and computer vision, having led cross-institutional research initiatives in biophysics and optical imaging at MIT and UCLA before co-founding Bold Metrics.

During these years, I became increasingly interested in starting a company. I come from a family of Master Tailors, who ran Tailor shops in Eastern Europe and Canada. Inspired by the family craft, I considered some of the challenges that the apparel industry has today as it transitions into a digital world. With apparel return rates being the highest compared to any other industry online, it was clear there was a real opportunity to make an impact. I paired my background in data science with my family background in tailoring to approach solving some of these problems. To solve the problem of sizing and fit, a tailor starts by capturing the body measurements of their customer. I realized that old-world tailoring methods could be revolutionized to align with eCommerce, specifically by leveraging advancements in AI and Machine Learning. We started building machine learning and mathematical algorithms to make it possible for shoppers to find their best size, without a measuring tape, by accurately predicting body measurements using just a few simple inputs. We soon realized the incredible opportunity in front of us — helping the apparel industry unlock the power of body data.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

At Bold Metrics, we have created a robust AI technology that accurately predicts body measurements simply by having a shopper answer to survey questions, all things that people readily know about themselves and don’t require a measuring tape. We were the first company to hit the market with a fully algorithmic AI-based approach to predict body measurements. We intentionally designed the technology to predict measurements based on easy survey questions as opposed to requiring the user to upload full-body photographs, as that approach is hindered with a high barrier-to-entry to engage with a sizing tool, has many privacy concerns, and the accuracy is easily compromised by human error. Over recent years, new start-up technologies have arrived in the market with this photo-based approach to capture measurements. We have been in countless head-to-head accuracy studies comparing our technology to these approaches, in addition to being compared to Master Tailors and 3D body scanners as the source of truth. Seeing our technology come in significantly more accurate, precise and reproducible than photo-based measuring systems, with comparable results to that of a Master Tailor has always captivated my interest and excitement in the technology we are building.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One funny story that comes to mind is some of the hustling we did, and still do, when exhibiting at big trade shows. I recall one time we forgot to pack the bracket that attaches the TV display to the TV stand, and we found out the night before the show started. This led to an epic mission of engineering a solution, with the help of the handy people at Home Depot drilling holes into a custom-made bracket to fasten to the TV stand, we were able to save the day. It was pretty funny to find ourselves at 9PM rushing around Los Angeles trying to customize a metal bracket and then hoping, once we put it all together, it worked, but it did, and we were ready to rock the next morning.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It is true that the path to success is helped paved by others aiding us along the way. We attribute a lot of our continued success to our investors that have shown us support through thick and through thin along our journey. One investor in particular, Braden Pollock, has been particularly instrumental in his continued support over the years. We are so grateful for his input when we are facing challenging problems that we’re working on and his positive attitude in the face of what sometimes feels like insurmountable obstacles. Additionally, as the path for a startup is not always a straight line, having backing from an investor that stands with you in the difficult times in addition to celebrating the good times is unquestionably important and valuable.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

The lack of VC funding for female-led companies is a core part of the problem that women face. The data clearly shows that female-led companies don’t attract anywhere near the level of funding that their male counterparts do. One very striking report from Fortune stated that 2019 was a historic year with the most amount of money going into female-led companies than ever before, representing 2.8% of the total funding for the year. All of the money raised by female-led companies in 2019 was still less than the amount raised by one company, WeWork. It begs the question, how many companies backed by female founders are getting started, but never reaching the stage of raising venture financing? Clearly, this data demonstrates the need for more interest from VCs in supporting female-led companies.


  • https://fortune.com/2020/03/02/female-founders-got-more-funding-than-ever-in-2019-but-still-less-than-wework-took-in/

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

While 2019 was a landmark year for funding female-founded companies, it was also a banner year for women in VC, with a 37% increase from the previous year according to data from Pitchbook. This is great, but 65% of VC firms don’t have a single female partner or GP, so we still have a long way to go to get more female representation on the other side of the table. Of course, this is also not the complete solution, as having female representation in VC doesn’t necessarily correlate directly with funding dollars flowing to female-led companies.


  • https://medium.com/allraise/more-women-became-vc-partners-than-ever-before-in-2019-39cc6cb86955

In addition to more female representation in VC, investors can also work on being more self-aware of unconscious bias that may take place when being pitched. According to research by Dana Kanze published in Harvard Business Review in 2017, female founders get asked different questions by VCs, directly affecting how much funding they raise compared to their male counterparts. In her research, Dana shows that investors tend to ask preventative, risk-averse questions to female founders, leading to defensive responses. Questions directed toward male founders tended toward more promotional questioning, giving a natural inclination toward promotional responses that put the company’s prospects in a more encouraging light.


  • https://hbr.org/2017/06/male-and-female-entrepreneurs-get-asked-different-questions-by-vcs-and-it-affects-how-much-funding-they-get

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Despite the uphill battle ahead of any founder and particular challenges facing female founders, it is still important that women continue to start businesses. As we continue to found companies and build a critical mass of female-led businesses, we will continue to change this balance, setting a domino effect and creating new expectations for future female founders.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?

Related to the challenges that female-led companies have in raising capital, one common myth that should be debunked is that in order for a company to be successful, it requires huge funding and raising a Series A, B, C, etc.. There are so many very successful companies that are bootstrapped or raised a modest amount of financing from angel investors and smaller VC funds to get started. They grow their businesses by growth hacking, building up a meaningful following on their blogs or social media, and/or finding alternative funding sources like bank loans. Often we equate business success with capital raise, but many companies opt to grow strong revenue-producing businesses without taking the venture route, and it’s important to recognize this as a very viable path.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Successful entrepreneurs have one specific trait that is shared among them — and that is persistence. An investor once shared with me a simple yet powerful concept — there is one commonality shared among every successful company — and that is that they are still in business. In startups, many decisions are made under conditions of uncertainty, as the road to building a successful business is never straightforward or easy. Persistence is the key element that pulls a long-standing successful business through the keyhole.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Hire for culture fit, not just talent or skill

The importance of company culture can’t be overstated. You can have the most qualified and talented team, but if they don’t have the personal elements that meld with your company culture and values, this can hinder progress in more ways than you could imagine.

2. Build relationship with investors

Keep an open line of communications with potential investors, keeping them up-to-date on your progress. Investors often invest in lines, not dots, meaning that being able to observe your progress over time can help build trust and rapport, so when it does come time to raise your next round you have established relationships. The same goes for keeping your current investors in the loop on your progress, whether on a weekly, monthly or quarterly cadence, establishing an ongoing narrative to update your current investors is equally as important.

3. As a Founder, you don’t need to work all day and night and on weekends. Keeping a balance leads to better quality work

Burnout is a real thing, and it can take a real toll not just on you but on your company, your team, and your clients. Keeping a healthy work-life balance is important, and even more challenging in current times during this pandemic. A natural inclination to be constantly working can be an easy trap to fall into, but the energy to continue at that pace can lead to poor work quality and burnout.

4. Be mindful about the advice you take

Everyone loves to give advice, but it’s important to take a step back and evaluate what advice you want to take. We went through the Techstars Accelerator in our early days and had mentor meetings on a daily basis with tons of advice being shared — sometimes valuable, sometimes conflicting. Trust your gut and know that you will likely know what is right for your business.

5. Build a customer advisory board

We learned rather later on in the life of our company the value of building an advisory board composed of your clients or people from the industry that you would sell to. This advice is relevant for B2B SaaS companies, where the product you sell is often a technology-oriented product. Having your ear to the ground on how your customers are thinking about the problem space you are in is incredibly important to gaining insight into how your product fits into this ecosystem.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

In life in general, I want to make an impact in the world through the work that I do. I’m really motivated to create new technology and drive innovation through technology development. I hope in some way that through the companies that I start and the technologies that we create, we can make the world a better place.

Apparel products have the highest return rates in the retail industry, with an average of 30% of online purchases being returned, mainly due to consumer sizing uncertainty. This ultimately has a huge impact on the carbon footprint of that brand and the overall sustainability of a company. We must do better and adopt more sustainable practices moving forward. At Bold Metrics, scalable 3D body measurement capture holds the solution to the issue of returns. We see a future where customer body data and AI aid consumer purchases in-store and online. The accuracy of our AI-driven body measurement predictions is reproducibility proven to be as accurate as a Master Tailor. We’re also proud to have a major impact on reducing return rates for our clients, with an average apparel return rate reduction of 32%.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The apparel industry is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to environmental impact. I would love to see apparel retailers and brands put more focus on achieving improved sustainability practices. There are a breadth of technology solutions that tackle many pillars of environmental sustainability, and with these solutions, retailers have the power to dramatically change the impact they have on the environment.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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