Digital Innovators: Q&A with Metail founder and CEO Tom Adeyoola

 
Tom Adeyoola
Technology is used to help online shoppers find the right fit. (Source: Metail)

Metail is a retail company which makes fashion fit for all by digitising every garment for every body.

Last year Metail was identified as one of 50 of the freshest and most inspiring digital companies using technology and innovation to shake up their sectors in our Digital Innovators Power List. Following a public vote and after careful consideration by supporting partners and judges, it was named as one of the top 10 Digital Innovators. Later this year two of these companies will be identified as a "life changer" or a "market transformer".

Founder and CEO Tom Adeyoola tells us his long-term vision for the company and gives us insight into why it's one of the UK's leading digital innovators.

Talk me through the business. What sparked the idea? How do you compete with other players/what sets you apart?

At Metail our goal is to make clothing fit for all by digitising every garment for every body to try on and see how they fit. The inspiration came from a combination of two things: the challenges my (now) wife found in finding great fitting clothes both in-store and online and also seeing how the potential of computer vision could be applied, after visiting Professor Roberto Cipolla at Cambridge University, who has been an important collaborator, advisor and supporter for me ever since. My belief has and continues to be that by allowing users to easily create a relatable 3D version of themselves with which to virtually try on clothes, we can radically improve the shopping experience from a convenience and fun perspective, whilst also helping to improve the efficiency and reduce the waste in the whole supply chain by enabling the industry to make the right clothes for the right people. Our focus on digitising garments and people sets us apart from everyone else in the industry aiming to solve the clothing fit problem. Whilst there is a competitor in USA and another in China, neither are able to digitise clothing as fast, cheap or at the same scalable rate as Metail and neither have cracked the ability to generate fully personalised 3D models. Through the speed and ease of the experience, we have an unparalleled capability to generate data on the size and shape of consumers and how they interact with clothing on which we can apply our AI technology to create a virtual consumer experience and garment creation improvements.

How has your company grown in the past few years? What are the most crucial things you have done to grow it?

The last few years we have focused on product development and research and development (R&D). This year we are now focusing strongly on relationships with some key retail partners, who are in the top 10 global fashion online retailers. It's an exciting year for us. Since our Series A funding round in 2014 we have doubled our staff, which includes 14 PhDs, maintaining our focus on core technology and intellectual property (IP), which is what I have always believed is the only way to maintain an edge over American and Chinese competitors who have the luxury of large domestic markets and therefore an ability to raise more money. We have kept our eye on market and technology trends and grown our expertise, for example in the areas of data and AI and developed our product accordingly. As a consequence of these developments, we also have been granted nine patents and have maintained an innovation lead in all core areas. At the same time, a key learning for me has been that you need to follow your market. The market is global and we've found that that early adopters of our technology, the countries that are investing in consumer experience growth, are all in Asia. With a global focus from day one, we've been able to react, whereas the alternative of being only UK focused would have ended the business.

Where do you hope to be in a year/two years? What is your long-term vision for the business?

Our global ambitions, as mentioned earlier, are big and as such we won't be finished until my wife is using Metail for all her clothing needs. But seriously, I'd love to get to a point where everyone across the globe is using a MeModel (what we call the 3D body models you create) to engage with fashion and clothing. Furthermore, I foresee that through the use of MeModels and the datasets generated that we could help accelerate the transition of the industry towards made-to-measure just-in-time manufactured clothing. This is inevitable. Music and TV through the likes of Spotify and Netflix show the way in terms of all the great things that will happen for the consumer experience through the digitisation we are driving and on the manufacturing side, you only have to look at the fact that 40 per cent of physical books bought through Amazon are printed on-demand to see the potential that is to come.

How do you see the state of the market in which your business operates? What are the biggest challenges you will face in the coming years and how do you hope to overcome them?

The industry is going through massive turbulence at the moment driven by an accelerating transition away from traditional retailers and towards consumer-focused technology businesses. Traditional retailers have too much real estate, are over-leveraged with debt and burdened by legacy systems, talent and structures. Born digital organisations, on the other hand, have been able to focus purely on the consumer and have the data capabilities to understand and react to them in real-time. We've found the new global e-tailer giants have consequently become our early adopters, especially as they are attacking a growing middle-class market. The challenge for us over the coming years is how we will manage to service these mega corporations from the UK. We will need to quickly assimilate local knowledge and consumer understanding. It's the exciting challenge we wanted when we started this company.

How important is innovation to your business? How do you engender a culture of forward thinking and creativity with your staff?

Innovation is everything for us. I firmly believe that the UK traditionally suffers from the disadvantage in tech of neither being big enough to just focus on the domestic market, like USA and China, nor being small enough to be forced to think globally day one like Israel and Sweden. However, we have some of the best global talent and world-class academic institutions, so we can win on tech through our IP and by out-innovating the competition. We've got strong collaborative relationships with Cambridge University, which is where our tech team are based, and Portsmouth University. Our focus on innovation has also seen us feature in the top 10 of the UK intellectual property league (IP100) the last two years running. Innovation is core to our DNA, part of our values and how we think. I believe in subsidiarity and consequently, we aim to engender the autonomy and capability for teams to go after and find the ways to solve complex problems in ways that take our business forward. We push a lot of cross presentation and teaching to pass expertise around the business and foster active learning through a £1k training budget and eight days training for all to ensure that employees have the tools they need to innovate at all levels.

What is it about your company that makes it one of the UK’s leading digital innovators?

We're global leaders in what we do because we aim to generate a transformational global impact that really will change the world for the better.

Look out for the next Q&A with digi.me, another top 10 Digital Innovator, on 1 February 2018.

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