Earlier today, a number of outlets reported on a new, San Francisco-based startup that is making it easy for women to turn their used clothing into cold hard cash. The reason: the 11-month-old company, Twice, just raised $4.6 million from seemingly everyone who is anyone in the world of seed-stage finance, including IA Ventures, Felicis Ventures, and SV Angel.
Interestingly, today’s press reports and those written previously about the company have referred to the founders, Noah Ready-Campbell and Calvin Young, as ex-Googlers, despite that Ready-Campbell worked for Google for less than four months and Young spent less than six months at the search giant.
What does it mean, aside from that the duo smartly capitalized on the Google brand when soliciting investors? Maybe nothing, though if I were among the hiring managers at Google, I’d probably be worrying about other employees looking to do the same in this market.
My conversation today with Ready-Campbell about Google and about his new company follows. Our chat has been edited for length.
People keep referring you and Calvin as ex-Googlers, though both of you were at the company for surprisingly short stints between late 2010 and early 2011. What happened?
Well, when I joined, I was an [associate product manager], so it’s a pretty small group; it’s a two-year program and I went through 13 interviews to get the job. At the same time, I knew my long-term plan was to start a company; I had friends who were starting companies. And when I got [to Google], I realized I wasn’t learning stuff that was directly applicable to startups. Then Calvin and I became friends, moved in together, and after hacking stuff on nights and weekends, we realized [we should start a company].
You raised money from numerous high-profile investors. Do you think you could have done the same without Google on your resume?
Google [employs] some of the smartest people in the world and some of the smartest people in tech and you meet a lot of great people. And if Calvin and I hadn’t met, we wouldn’t be here today.
You two must represent one of Google’s biggest nightmares.
Well, they try to hire people with an entrepreneurial spirit, and I think they recognize that if they hire those people, a lot of them will go off and start companies.
Okay, so tell me more about Twice. I know you buy women’s used clothing for a third of what you expect to charge for it, that you ship anything over $49 for free and that returns are free for 30 days. How do you vet what you’re going to sell at the site?
If you want to send in clothing, you enter in the type of clothing — skirt, blouse — then brand, and we give you a price range based on those two data points. Then, once you send it in, we evaluate it for condition; it can’t have any stains or pilling or anything like that. After we have the garment in hand, we make an offer price. Almost everyone accepts our offer. Giving people money for their clothing gets them over the psychological hump of giving away things they’ve spent money on.
It’s interesting that you don’t ask for a photo in advance. Why not?
For us, the value we provide is convenience. If you’re cleaning out your closet and want to get rid of 20 pieces of clothing, it’d be a pain to photograph each of them. We think one of our biggest advantages is that we make it as convenient as possible for someone to sell their unwanted clothing.
Many companies that seem very straightforward, like yours, have serious logistical issues to overcome. What are some of yours, and where are you in the process?
Operationally, what we do is extremely complicated. If you look at what we’ve been developing – our custom software to process inventory on the back end – if you looked at the code base, you’d see twice as much code for those internal processes than the external website. We do all the photographs, we have our own inventory management systems and image processing systems and as far as we know, our costs are less than any third-party logistics provider. In fact, our costs are maybe 25 percent that of our nearest competitor, and the time it takes us to process a piece of clothing is much shorter. We get three professional photographs per garment in roughly three minutes; a typical [retail] site might [spend] 20 minutes doing the same.
You list 8,500 items. Are you intentionally limiting the number of items for sale?
For us, it’s not about limiting the number. It’s more about merchandising and making sure the right garment finds the right customer.
You don’t do much to promote the items, I noticed. At least, there’s very little copy to accompany them.
What sells clothing isn’t the text; it’s the photographs. We realized that more [copy] doesn’t increase conversions. Shopping should be a visual, fun experience, so we’ve limited text and we’re focused instead on high resolution photographs.
I’m guessing you’ll expand into other markets?
Women’s secondhand clothing is a huge market and that’s our focus for now. It’s a big, complicated market and there’s a lot for us to improve on. But yes, eventually we want to expand into [used] accessories, jewelry, shoes, and handbags.
Is that how you’ll deploy your new funding?
We do plan to invest aggressively over the next 24 months, including by building up the team. Right now, we have about 20 employees, but a lot of them are part-time employees who are right now focused on photographing and measuring the clothes. Going forward, we’re looking to hire engineers and designers.
You won’t sell everything you list. What happens to it afterward? Off to Africa?
We’re in a partnership with Goodwill here in San Francisco, so items that we can’t accept or that don’t sell get donated to Goodwill. We want to be able to give something back and it’s working out really well for us.
Image: Photo of Young and Ready-Campbell (on right) courtesy of Twice.