When Jeff Chen (CEO & Co-Founder) and Andy Eow (CTO & Co-Founder) met on their first day at MIT in 2008, they were determined to build something exceptional. The two graduate students shared a passion for computer vision, 3D scanning, and a desire to change the world. Our Director of Marketing recently sat down with Jeff and Andy to ask some burning questions about NetVirta’s origin story.
I can’t believe you met on your first day at MIT! What inspired you to start NetVirta?
Andy: I guess the fates were aligned that day! I had a concentration in 3D medical imaging and Jeff was focused on optics and 2D imaging, but we were both really interested in computer vision and deep learning. We knew we wanted to build something that used 3D scanning, but initially weren’t sure what that would be. We saw the potential for this kind of technology to address the returns problem in the fashion industry, but my 3D medical imaging background ultimately led us to serve the medical industry first.
Jeff: We had a friend who was an orthotics practitioner, and he was blown away by our early 3D scanning prototype. He told us that our technology was critically needed in the orthotics & prosthetics industry, so we pressed full steam ahead with the prototype. Before long, we achieved FDA Class II clearance and medical practitioners across the globe started using our smartphone app for cranial remolding, prosthetic limbs and more.
How did the technology you developed add value in the medical industry?
Jeff: Previously, in order to capture the shape of a patient's body to make a custom-fit orthotic or prosthetic, a practitioner would either use a laser scanning machine (which costs about $100,000) or plaster casting (which isn’t very accurate). The average clinic, however, couldn’t afford to spend $100K on a laser scanner, and struggled to provide quality services to patients as a result. Practitioners were eager to adopt our technology, because our smartphone app also achieves medical grade accuracy, but at a fraction of the cost. Our app is now used by thousands of practitioners every year in over 13 countries to make the entire scanning and manufacturing workflow much easier, giving patients widespread access to quality care.
So how did you make the transition from the medical market into fashion?
Jeff: We always believed our technology could help solve sizing issues in the fashion industry. The market wasn’t quite ready back in 2013, so we focused on serving the medical industry first, which helped us perfect our scanning accuracy. When we felt the fashion market was ready (around 2020), we expanded our technology capabilities to include consumer friendly foot and full body scanning. These core capabilities, coupled with fashion fit know-how and recommendation algorithm expertise, enabled us to recommend apparel and footwear size with a high degree of precision.
One major difference between the medical and fashion industries is that in medical, only trained experts were using our technology. In fashion, on the other hand, everyday customers would need to scan themselves at home without the help of a trained professional. Therefore, we had to make our scanning experience intuitive and easy for anyone to use. Now, we have a complete solution that is both accurate and incredibly user-friendly. Our concept has been proven by partnerships with major fashion brands, and now we're focused on scaling our efforts within the fashion industry.
That brings me to my next question… what makes Verifyt different from competitors?
Jeff: Industry proven accuracy, ease of use, and completeness, to put it simply. We are the only smartphone 3D scanning solution that has been proven across multiple industries for many years – starting with the medical industry in 2013, then the sports equipment industry in 2017, and now the fashion industry. Ours is the world’s only FDA Class II cleared smartphone technology for 3D body scanning, which means our size recommendation capabilities are the best in the market. Additionally, we are the only fit technology company that offers both full body and foot scanning solutions, so we can provide accurate size recommendations for virtually any fashion product. Not to mention the process is extremely intuitive, only takes 2 minutes, and doesn’t require a depth sensor phone camera like other scanning technologies.
You mentioned wanting to make an impact on the world and solve problems. How does the Verifyt solution do that?
Jeff: Our solution addresses problems in 3 categories: fashion brands, online shoppers and the planet. From a brand’s perspective, the benefits are clear – fashion brands and retailers have average return rates anywhere between 10% and 36%, with average conversion rates around 1.5%. Our technology reduces returns and increases conversions, which drastically improves both bottom and top-line revenue for our brand partners.
Andy: For shoppers, we can address the issue of size uncertainty – feeling confident about fit before placing an online order allows for a much more pleasant experience. I think everyone can agree that returns are a hassle, and Verifyt™ can help eliminate most returns that are due to fit. This will save shoppers money in the long run as well, since brands often build the cost of returns into their prices. Lastly, reducing returns helps the planet by decreasing carbon emissions from shipping and ensuring fewer items end up in landfills from excess inventory.
What would you say to skeptics who have concerns about disrupting the user journey when online shopping to complete a 3D scan? What makes you think this will be widely adopted?
Jeff: We believe there is a general misconception around this topic, and here’s why. Only shoppers with concerns about sizing will interact with our service, and shoppers who already know their size will simply shop as usual. For the vast majority of shoppers, taking 2 minutes to complete a scan is a no-brainer to avoid a trip to the post office every time they make an online purchase and the product doesn’t fit. Finding the correct size in apparel and footwear is a ubiquitous challenge that our solution can solve for billions of people.
Today, consumers are much more open to high tech solutions for their everyday problems. One of our major brand partners ran a focus group to test the use of our Verifyt® solution and discovered that shoppers were not at all deterred by scanning themselves before completing purchase. In fact, participants asked how soon it would be available!
What is your fondest memory from the past 14 years building the company?
Jeff: Oh, there are quite a few, it’s hard to pick just one! Perhaps the time our medical product was used to help a young handicapped girl (pro bono) by fabricating a helmet that could fit her head shape for the first time. That was a really cool moment for me.
Andy: I’d have to agree with Jeff on that one. Her life changed because of our technology, and that was incredibly humbling. It put everything in perspective for me and was a wonderful reminder of why we set out to build NetVirta in the first place.
What are you most excited about for the future of NetVirta?
Jeff: As brands continue to adopt our solution, we will be able to revolutionize the shopping experience and solve the fit problem across countless industries – custom clothing, casual footwear, military gear, ski boots, and much more. Without disclosing too much, the development of web3 has also opened up lots of exciting opportunities for us. We’re exploring personalized digital avatars, NFTs and other applications of the Verifyt® solution for the metaverse. Stay tuned to see what’s next!