From fashion apps to app democratization: Catching up with Velocity alumnus Rob Rosario

Over a year ago, Insider Louisville followed up with one of the first alumni of the Velocity Indiana startup accelerator program, Rob Rosario of Steel Fashion. His startup focused on helping men dress better through an Apple iOS app that examined what was in one’s closet, then made styling and purchasing suggestions as needed thanks to its digital algorithm.

At the time, Rosario said Steel Fashion would be just one of the many solutions and companies that would help shape and define men’s fashion and style within the next couple of years. The startup was approaching its fifth anniversary at that point.

Six months later, this was the last message issued by Steel Fashion:

Steel Fashion 30 April 2014 Announcement

What happened? Allow Rosario to explain:

We’ve stumbled across a concept: app indexing, which is merging the unconnected app world to the Internet, or into search engines. We’ve been working on that concept and looking to what it could do.

Based off of that, we built some APIs, and (have) just been testing the hypotheses, how reliable is it, and is it really going to work. That eventually led us to a conclusion that the app market is underserved and disconnected.

What if we could solve two problems: shorten the knowledge gap when it comes to the app market; and also give some type of posting and theme solution for consumers or businesses or anybody that’s interested in entering into the app market.

Twixxies Dashboard

Twixxies Dashboard

The app indexing concept — Twixxies — would empower users by democratizing app development. The concept merges content management systems — like WordPress and Drupal — with fully managed servers such as those operated by Rackspace to provide clients the tools needed to create an app, all without needing to know what’s under the bonnet. In short: Open an account, choose a theme that works best for your needs, and publish the results for your customers to download onto their smartphone of choice.

But what exactly is a “Twixxies”? Rosario — who co-founded the company with a silent partner who also serves as Twixxies’ CTO — says they wanted a name that would be easy to find and about technology. Then it was a matter of seeing if the URL was available and securing it for the concept.

Before being shelved, Rosario said Steel Fashion “saw really good feedback from users,” with the market for what the solution offered still headed toward the destination forecasted when interviewed this time last year thanks to investor dollars.

However, “all of the solutions started looking the same,” he said. “We weren’t the very first in the market — we’re one of the earliest — but everybody’s solutions started looking (exactly the) same: take photos of clothes in an iOS application, and chat with stylists or users.”

Rosario explained that with Steel Fashion, there wasn’t much control with the model, as it depended upon mass adoption, market penetration and monetization through commission fees, as well as the requisite of current links to products the Steel algorithm obtained. The startup would have needed to be on par with Facebook or Twitter as far as the user base was concerned in order to generate “a small amount of revenue.”

However, there may be a future for Steel Fashion, but not in a form that would be recognizable to those who first saw the concept at Velocity Indiana two summers ago:

Twixxies' app product list

Twixxies’ app product list

“We built a recommendation engine that worked really well. It’s possible that there’s (an) application for that, whether it be for all of these apps and businesses trying to get into that market, or for the retailers themselves. For example, a script plug-in where they can have a recommendation engine for looks or items that the people have. That’s something that we thought is possible.”

The recommendation engine and most of Steel Fashion’s raison d’être weren’t transferrable into Twixxies, as the two startups solve completely different problems, according to Rosario. Thus, everything was built from scratch.

Yet, the lean process and methodology used with Steel did transfer into Twixxies, helping the co-founders cycle through executable ideas in a week, discarding those that would take too long to implement.

Regarding funding, Rosario says Twixxies is listed with Angel List with the aim of raising a small round of $250,000 in capital. He adds that the main focus is on the product and the clients who use it, with no plans to “aggressively look for funding” until the app indexer’s growth rate reaches the “minimum goal” marked on their roadmap:

Twixxies' app theme

Twixxies’ app theme

“Seeking investors takes an enormous amount of energy. We will seek investment when we’ve built a great product, have revenue and steady growth,” he says.

“Our ideal investor would be an inbound lead. This type of investor is generally active, experienced in your specific market and looking for opportunities.”

On the subject of Louisville — once in consideration as the home base for Steel Fashion — Rosario says he hasn’t visited the River City since Insider Louisville last spoke with him, though he does keep tabs through social media and, of course, our online publication to see who the new startup kids entering Velocity are; the Hot Dozen are also on his watch list.

Speaking of Velocity, he offered his praise on the direction the accelerator recently took with its focus on food and beverage startups, citing its location and network in the “perfect move” toward that industry.

Regarding individual startups, he found SpotDy’s use of math algorithms to crunch big data in the cloud to be interesting, and noted how well both soccer ball company Soccer Sidekick and motorcycle brake module producer GearBrake were doing.

Now five months into his own new project, Rosario is working with a handful of businesses in a small beta test, with the grand opening looking to be anywhere from a year to two years from now. The main focus at this time is on slow growth, learning the pain points of their clients, and “making sure the solution is scalable” before a full launch can be set in stone.

As for said clients, he acknowledged all were retailers, and named two specifically: Misala,  a husband-and-wife duo in Taipei specializing in handmade wares; and Vanessa Gade, an American jeweler based in San Francisco. The two named clients have 15 stores each, placing them betwixt the small and medium-size business models. The remaining three were not named, Rosario stating they were in the early phases of the beta test.

“It’s much easier with this type of business model because it’s a fast solution,” he said. “It’s fairly easy. You just figure out their problems, and you create a platform for it. If you solve the problem good enough, they’re willing to pay for it. It’s working out pretty well.”