As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Eve Ackerley and Carolyn Horner. They are the co-founders of Jenzy, a mobile app that makes it easy to buy perfectly fitting shoes for young kids online.Eve leads Jenzy’s tech team and was named one of Total Retail’s 2018 Game Changers. After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2013, she moved to rural Yunnan, China and taught English at a public elementary school for two years. Carolyn heads all marketing and operations efforts for the Philly-based startup. A 2014 graduate of Cornell University, Carolyn studied Government and was an All-American goalie for the Varsity Field Hockey team. After graduation, she moved the Yunnan Province where to met her co-founder, Eve.
(Below, “EA” stands for for Eve Ackerley and “CH” for Carolyn Horner.)
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
CH: Eve and I first bonded over our frustration with online shopping when teaching abroad in rural China.
Living in such a remote place had a few challenges like returning things bought online, particularly because the nearest post office was a thirty minute trek away. One day after having to return yet another pair of shoes, Eve remarked that there should be a simpler way to size and shop for shoes and it should probably involve your phone.
It was this initial app idea that was swirling in our heads when we returned to the U.S. We started doing some initial market research and put the question out to all of our friends and family on Facebook. We asked, “Which do you hate shopping for more: your shoes or your kids’ shoes?” The answer was unanimous: shopping for kid shoes is the worst.
Young kids grow quickly, many shoe stores, such as Stride Rite and local boutiques, have closed their physical locations, and when shopping online, it’s difficult to know what size to buy. We knew we had identified a gap in the market. We had also found a passionate demographic — parents — that were searching for a solution and excited about the idea we had proposed.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
CH: Since Day 1, parents have been a key part of Jenzy. We have had countless conversations with moms and dads, and organized multiple beta tests to fully understand the main pain points when kid shoe shopping as well as test our solution.
During our first year of developing Jenzy, you could often find Eve and I at parks around Philly, indoor playgrounds, or even “babysitting for beta testing.” That campaign was so successful that we’ve kept up the tradition of offering free babysitting in exchange for observing parents use the app with their children. Afterwards, they go on a date night while we watch the kids — it keeps our Friday nights booked!
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
EA: Every twenty years there’s a new development in retail.
In 1980, it was the “sit and fit” experience. Parents took their kids to the local shoe store to have their feet measured and get fit in shoes. Over the past five years, many physical shoe stores have closed, leaving parents without a place to go to get their kids’ feet properly sized.
Then in the 2000s, this was replaced with “guess and click.” People started making shoe purchases online, however, they were often left guessing the best size to buy or buying multiple sizes and returning what didn’t fit.
In 2020, we believe the trend will be personalization — a “shoe concierge.” Jenzy’s service revolves around curation and helping parents find not only the perfect fit, but the best shoe for their child’s development. Furthermore, we will leverage our data to predict a child’s footwear needs each season, thereby eliminating all decision making from the kid shoe shopping process.
How do you think this will change the world?
CH: Jenzy is tackling a problem that all busy parents face: shopping for kid shoes. Through our app, Jenzy makes online shoe buying easy and convenient, and ensures that young children get the right fit in the right shoe every time. We want to empower parents with young kids — like our sisters and brother-in-laws — by permanently taking one thing off their to-do list.
We know that 30% of children’s footwear bought online is returned and 70% of kids are wearing shoes that don’t fit. Jenzy aims to increase customer confidence when shopping online, and to reduce or even eliminate returns due to poor fit.
Our long-term goal is to create a sustainable business model that could define the future of e-commerce. With the industry average for returns in e-commerce at 30%, large companies like Amazon and Zappos who do a billion-plus dollars in shoe sales every year, are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on returns.
Jenzy’s data-driven shopping experience can reduce the carbon footprint of traditional e-commerce companies and eliminate spending on unnecessary processes (i.e. returns).
EA: To size with Jenzy, a parent needs download our app and take one photo of their child’s foot. Their photo is then reviewed by a Jenzy team member to calculate their foot measurements. The child’s measurements are then used to fit them in the correct size shoe. This photo is necessary to bring the “sit and fit” experience to a parent’s phone.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
CH: Two and a half years ago, I was in California visiting my sister and her two daughters. Being the cool aunt that I am, I decided to take them back-to-school shoe shopping.
I should have known by how quickly my sister agreed to let me go, that it was going to be a disaster. It began by both girls insisting that they knew their shoe size and me countering them that they didn’t. Then, I was tasked with wrangling their feet into that strange metal contraption. Every shoe they tried on was too itchy, too pink, or not pink enough. I left the store unsure if the shoes actually fit, how durable they were, and most importantly, if they were good for my nieces’ overall foot health.
After that incident, I called Eve. Like we mentioned earlier on, the two of us had just spent the previous two years living and teaching English in rural China. One of the business ideas we had thrown around was an app that could be used to size your feet and make online shoe shopping easier. On that phone call I said, “We should pursue this idea, but start small — as in kid shoe small.”
Soon after, I was on a plane down to LA to move in with Eve and her parents. After three months, we had a minimum viable product (Jenzy 1.0), one brand partnership, and a company name inspired by Generation Z (Jenzy).
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
EA: Jenzy offers parents a fun and convenient way to size and shop for kid shoes, but like all new technologies, there is a learning curve for adoption.
To use Jenzy, parents need to download our app and take one photo of their child’s foot — maybe an odd task for some! Through that one photo, Jenzy accurately calculates a child’s foot measurements and then recommends the best sizes by brand on our e-commerce store.
For us, widespread adoption means changing the way parents think about sizing and shopping for kid shoes. We aren’t just selling a new product; we are promoting the ideas that proper fit is possible through technology and kid shoe shopping can be easy!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Co-founder relationships are a marriage Find a co-founder that complements you and prioritize your relationship. Julie Rice, the Co-Founder of SoulCycle, said on a recent episode of How I Built This, “We really felt like the success of SoulCycle was a real combination of the two of us and so Elizabeth found us a business therapist coach.”
- Pick three You cannot prioritize everything in your life, but you can prioritize three things. As an entrepreneur, your business and your co-founder will be two of the three. Sheryl Sandberg calls it “ruthless prioritization.”
- Always get enough sleep Eating ramen and not sleeping isn’t the way to stay in the game. Arianna Huffington makes the argument for the power of a good night’s sleep or “sleeping your way to the top!” Carolyn and I always make sure health is one of our top three priorities (so now we’re down to zero!).
- Take actions in 10X quantities To reach your goals, you have to do more than you had planned to do. Grant Cardone writes in The 10X Rule, “Success cannot be achieved by ‘normal’ levels of thoughts and actions.” You must increase your actions by a factor of ten.
- Find people who get it If you are laying the bricks for a brick and mortar store and someone asks, “Why no sales?” they may not be the right fit for your team.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
CH: Develop your interests and your passions. Our CTO has completed hundreds of skydives while one of our digital marketers is a sci-fi guru. Both are highly experienced in their respective fields, but one of the reasons I love working with them is they have super cool interests outside of work.
In first conversations with new hires, Eve and I look for people with this type of energy. Neither one of us is eager to go skydiving, but seeing our CTO’s deep passion for the sport suggests he could have a similar enthusiasm and energy for Jenzy. In our experience, people with passions bring dynamism, creativity, and a great work ethic to a team.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
EA: Companies that are pushing the boundaries for how people work and live.
In July 2017, Carolyn and I joined WeWork. We see WeWork or other co-working spaces like The Wing as the new place to build your network. We rely on this community and space to meet potential partners, host beta tests for our startup, as well as attend events we’re interested in personally and professionally.
As an entrepreneur, WeWork has changed my perspective on what “a place to work” means. I’m really interested in other companies that force us to reevaluate our definitions of “a place to live,” “a place to stay,” “a place to learn,” etc.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
EA: Carolyn and my working style is organized, communicative, and detail-oriented or O.C.D. for short. When building our team, we look for people who are O.C.D. (inspired by Nick Bayer’s, Saxbys CEO, philosophy!).
We firmly believe in having a clearly defined framework for team collaboration including things such as communication channels or document access so there is only “one source of truth.”
Our next priority is communicating the vision for Jenzy through our milestone goals. With every app development sprint or any new marketing campaign, we ensure every team member understands why we are taking such efforts and what a “win” looks like.
Lastly, we look for team members who are detail-oriented. Carolyn and I are involved with many aspects of the business and oversee our respective teams, however, we greatly depend on team members to do their best work without direct supervision. We continually benefit by giving our team space and independence to make decisions for the best way to proceed.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
CH: As first-time founders, our success mindset is rooted in our confidence and curiosity. Eve and I have always been confident in each other, the team we’ve built, and the problem we’re solving. We are also confident enough to admit when we’ve made a mistake or we don’t know the answer to a question — which is often!
That’s where the curiosity kicks in. We spend a majority of our day asking questions — to our customers, our team members, as well as our mentors. The constant desire to learn, listen, and understand the root of the problem should be second nature to any entrepreneur. Only then can you and your team craft a better solution.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
Jenzy is an e-commerce platform powered by innovative sizing technology that makes it easy to buy the right size shoes for young kids online. Through one photo, Jenzy calculates a child’s foot measurements and then recommends the best size in the twenty-two brands on our e-commerce store.
We know that 30% of children’s footwear bought online is returned and 70% of kids are wearing shoes that don’t fit. Our mobile app makes kid shoe shopping convenient, curated, and (dare we say) fun! Jenzy increases customer confidence when shopping online and decreases — even eliminates — returns due to fit.
Our aim is to completely disrupt the $200B global kid shoe industry and build a business that empowers all of the busy parents it serves.
We are halfway through our seed round. Please reach out to [email protected] to learn more!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.