Founderoo caught up with Sylvie to find out about the social site she started with her sister and her husband, changing the way women shop for plus size clothing.
This is a remarkable founder story and shows how working with passion and a real purpose can make a massive difference in people's lives.
Sylvie, what's your backstory?
I'm originally from the UK, where I studied marketing and management before moving into marketing roles across various industries.
In 2015, my now-husband (James) and I actually set up a matcha green tea e-commerce business called Eatcleantea.
We had some success with Eatcleantea, but it eventually failed due to cash flow problems and the fact so much education was required around matcha at the time.
Matcha was kind of up and coming and not super popular with English tea drinkers.
Although the business didn't work out, it accelerated both my and James' skills. It gave us a good foundation for starting Insyze.
We moved to Sydney in 2017 and were instantly blown away by the magic of this beautiful harbour city. My sister Danielle (who we do the business with) is still in the UK, but we're very close and speak all the time.
Tell us what your company does?
Insyze is a plus size fashion app designed to make women of all sizes feel confident.
Inspiring confidence in women is the biggest 'Why' behind our business. In this case, it's confidence in your body - even if society is telling you that big bodies are not attractive.
Insyze is an inclusive, positive space and community for plus size people online.
How did you come up with the idea?
The creation of Insyze may never have happened had it not been for a personal event that affected my sister from a young age. Danielle was diagnosed with a brain tumour at seven years old.
Thankfully, Danielle made it through and has had the all-clear for 20 years plus from the brain tumour. As part of a long recovery, her treatment included hormone therapy to counteract early puberty, which caused her to gain weight.
She has always struggled with body image and finds it hard to get clothes she loves in her size.
I remember reading a news report about how plus-size consumers were a growing market in the UK and asking my sister about her thoughts on the plus-size fashion industry.
She told me she found it very hard to shop for clothes she liked and always felt marginalised by brands.
We did a survey, asking an initial batch of 400 plus size women what they thought of the current shopping options for plus size fashion.
Their answers then inspired us to design a solution that:
- Gives plus size women style inspiration that's tailored to them.
- Lets women feel confident in their bodies.
- Makes it easy to find beautiful clothes in their size.
- Connects them with other plus-size people and forms a plus-size community.
How did you come up with the name of the business?
We actually came up with the name over a steak dinner!
We wanted a unique word that would make getting a URL easy (and cheap). We also wanted it to have some sort of meaning behind it.
I know this sounds odd, but at the time, I felt like all the coolest brands were using the letter 'y' instead of an 'i' - so Insyze is basically a version of the word 'In size' - (which riffs on 'In Your Size').
The URL wasn't taken, and it was a short snappy, one-syllable word that looked good from a design standpoint AND had some sort of meaning - so we snapped it up!
Naming is hard, but your brand name is just your name and will be accepted after a while. I think the fewer syllables in a name, the better. That's my tip!
How did you go about building the business?
We wanted an MVP, and luckily James is a developer.
On evenings and weekends James built a basic website that aggregated lots of other plus size brands' clothing items. We signed up to affiliate websites, and so it was all legit.
It took ages because James was working on it as a passion project, but at the end of the day, all it cost us was his time and a little bit towards servers.
All the while, I was building an audience on Instagram and email. I was also maintaining a blog on the website that drove organic traffic to us.
We then raised a friends and family round of investment, which enabled us to realise our broader goals of creating a social community app.
After creating a profile, the Insyze algorithm serves each user personalised recommendations in the home feed of items from different brands, which a user can then shop or save in their Collections.
Users can also explore other users on the platform and follow their 'Collections' and 'Outfit Share' posts.
What did you need to do for the launch?
We never really 'launched' in the sense of some great big announcement or party.
We iterated over time and released new versions of the website after using focus groups and 'wine and watch' parties to literally hover over friends' shoulders while browsing and trying to shop on the site.
We used Facebook ads to drive sign-ups and a Facebook group and Instagram to create a community.
We're currently working on creating a network effect so that more and more of our sign-ups come from referrals and friend invites!
How have you grown the business?
We've now had over 15,000 sign-ups and are about to release the native app, so hopefully, we'll get some downloads too!
Our aim is to get to 100k by the end of 2021… ambitious but a good goal to have.
We don't want to go for a serious funding round until we have at least 100k users. We don't think VCs will want to hear about us until we can show real traction and high traffic.
What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?
Investing in Facebook ads to drive email subscribers through giveaways. I always intended those email subscribers to sign up for an account, but our open rates for those email lists are low.
I think many people give bogus email addresses for giveaways, and you'll always be seen as spammy.
Quality is definitely better than quantity for the community - so although I want to get to 100k users - I'd much rather only get to 25k if they all use it regularly.
What’s your biggest selling product?
Using our extensive data, we have just launched a plus-size clothing brand of our own, danimariethelabel.com designed to address all our users' (aged 30-55) concerns with plus size dresses. We plan to launch more brands in the future.
We don't plan to let third party advertisers create ads as other social media networks do. However, we do offer campaigns for brands that align with our values.
What day to day digital tools do you use?
Lucky Orange (for heatmaps and web visit recordings),
What book has been a great inspiration to you as a founder?
Anything you read, watch or listen to that help's you run your business?
What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?
Double down on what's working and sack off what's not.
Be prepared to pivot.
Constantly ask for user feedback.
Don't take things personally.
What keeps you up at night regarding your business?
I currently work as a marketing consultant on a freelance basis whilst running Insyze.
More often than not, it's client work that keeps me up at night rather than Insyze!
What's the biggest surprise you've had as a founder
There have been good and bad surprises.
Good: That people actually use Insyze and LOVE it. This is so gratifying. I feel like I'm making a positive impact on people.
A bad surprise is that, unfortunately, some people in your life might not be very supportive of your business goals or just don't get it.
The flip side of this is that I now surround myself with driven and entrepreneurial people, which I love and find super inspiring. So everything works out the way it should do!
Have you ever felt like quitting, if so why?
No, but I've definitely had burn out.
I never want to work for someone else again, so this just has to work!!!
What quote(s) do you live by?
"Comparison is the thief of joy"
- Franklin Roosevelt.
In a few words what does it mean to be the founder of a business?
It is a crazy roller coaster of emotions and challenges, all underpinned by this unshakable feeling that you're onto something amazing.