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THE STYLE SERIES: A Gen Z entrepreneur created an interactive shopping app that's like 'Tinder for outfits.' Here's how she did it.

Madison Semarjian 1

  • Twenty-two-year-old Madison Semarjian launched her shopping app Mada earlier this year.
  • Semarjian came up with the idea in 2015 when she was a freshman at Boston College. Struggling to find an outfit to wear on a first date, she decided to create something that would help her and others find exactly what they need for a given occasion.
  • The app officially launched in January with over 4 million product offerings and 2,600 store partners, including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, and Macy's
  • In an interview with Business Insider, Semarjian spoke about her career path, from being an English major to a tech entrepreneur.
  • This is part of Business Insider's "The Style Series" highlighting fashion entrepreneurs and businesses across the globe. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, 22-year-old Madison Semarjian was born into a family of entrepreneurs — and she didn't wait long to follow that path herself.

Semarjian came up with the idea for a personalized shopping and style app that combines artificial intelligence and patent-pending technology to help users choose outfits in 2015, after she struggled to find a date night outfit. At the time, she was an undergraduate English major at Boston College.

Collaborating with computer engineers and data scientists to bring her idea to life, Semarjian created Mada, which officially launched in January with over 4 million product options and 2,600 retail partners, including Macy's, Bloomingdales, and Nordstrom.

In an interview with Business Insider, Semarjian talks about the future of retail and being a young entrepreneur in tech.

"I was going on a first date, and I was freaking out because I didn't know what to wear."

[Even with existing] online shopping, I saw that there were so many options out there but I felt very limited with [the] sites I was going to — that nothing quite had what I was looking for. So, I figured I might as well combine the act of looking for outfits with needing help getting ready, and then having everything you want very curated for you, personally, but also have a discovery portion [allowing users to find new looks].

MADA APP

"Before I even started with the tech side, I did a deep dive into psychological studies." 

[I wanted] to try and figure out why people get dressed the way they do and why they shop the way that they do, and what that desire is when they're putting together an outfit or when they're making purchases. We really wanted to cater to the individual more so than demographics.

We wanted to take into account the customer's body type, how confident she feels one day versus the next. So we created a style quiz that asks 10 different questions, and based on that, we have an onboarding experience where we take into account [consumer] behavior. 

"We wanted to go off the way that people interacted with the app more so than what they told us."

I found some developers that helped me build a prototype. It took a good two and a half or three years. I remember I used to cold email brands all the time — I must have sent about 700 cold emails, trying to get brands to join us. Then one of my [college] advisors was like, 'Madison, just focus on building a really good app, and then the brands will follow.'

MADA APP

"I shifted all my attention to technology."

I hired some really good data scientists. Then, I hired a marketplace expert to become our lead developer. And when I switched our focus to the technology and created a really awesome platform, brands just started coming to us. We went from three brands to 2,600 in a year.

I went to the Shoptalk Conference in Las Vegas to meet face-to-face with a lot of retailers, and I think that really helps. It's hard to [arrange partnerships] over the phone.

MADA APP

"It took a really, really long time to get funding."

I have some private angel investors at the moment. I thought it was going to be a quick process, [but] it took a good two years to get what we needed [in funding to get us] at least through 2021.

Being an English major, I'm very much into creativity. In poetry class, it was very 'follow your intuition,' but when I went for money, it was a lot of 'here's the cold hard facts.'

I decided to do what I do best: sell more of the vision of how we're going to empower women and the story behind Mada to show that the numbers will eventually be there. That's when I really was able to close the deal and get the money we needed.

MADA APP

"I feel like one day we woke up and we had 4 million products on the app, [but] that's not really the case."

We ran into a lot of issues [early on], because a lot of retailers and small brands were a little wary about having a connection with us. No one quite knew how [Mada] worked. So we decided to tap into the affiliate market and what's already there to build this universal marketplace. As we brought on retailers, the brands the retailers already had followed suit.

It was about finding a few of the really big clients ... I started sending cold emails, reaching out from the top down. The first brand meeting I ever had was because I sent a cold email to Federico Marchetti [the chairman and CEO of the parent company that owns the multibrand online luxury retailers Yoox and Net-a-Porter] and he connected me with the right people. 

MADA APP

"We're very focused on the quality of the clothes."

When the customer gets their package, we want to make sure that it's actually what they're ordering. And so we make sure that the clothes are of good quality, and [that] they're shipped well.

The main priority was enabling a good customer experience ... Because ultimately, [the app is] all about the shopping experience. That's why people come to us — to have the experience, not just to simply find [and buy] a product.

MADA APP

"We are grateful that we've been able to work through the recent roadblocks and also help drive sales for our [brick-and-mortar] retail partners that temporarily needed to close their doors [due to coronavirus shutdowns]."

Looking ahead, we want to offer our retailers and brand partners the opportunity to understand the customer better based on interactions with the app that we are seeing … Also, we are looking at ways to help our customers connect. We just implemented a share feature, so while you can't browse through the racks at Nordstrom on a Saturday with your friends [while social-distancing], you can still share your favorite Mada looks with your friends over social media.

SEE ALSO: The Style Series: Jennifer Aniston and Selena Gomez both partnered with this luxury retailer that helps underprivileged girls all around the world

DON'T MISS: The Style Series: Twitter's preeminent black fashion historian on 'white nepotism' in the industry — and the urgency of recognizing black America's impact on luxury

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