Vladimir Radojevic is excited about the evolution of artificial intelligence.
The co-founder and chief executive of Dubai-based fashion technology start-up Dresos believes the advancement of technology will help his start-up to thrive and keep pace with the times.
“I have been in the industry for nearly two decades, working for large brands and retailers … what I always found mind-boggling was that retailers sit with so much data and do so little to create a personalised shopping experience,” he says.
“AI-powered retail solutions are enabling online retailers to make highly accurate and data-driven decisions, whereby automated services offer the customer a better and personalised shopping experience.”
He believes shoppers will benefit from AI because it will improve their overall experience, making its seamless and personalised while enhancing customer support with chatbots and providing the latest product updates.
“Retailers in the region are slow to change but still open to new technologies – and this is where we see our big opportunity,” Mr Radojevic says.
Dresos wants to ensure customers shop for their clothes in the simplest way possible, while putting an emphasis on personalisation – and AI plays a key role.
The process is simple: On its website – the service is currently unavailable on an app – users can take a short three-minute quiz to select their style preferences and a stylist will then get in touch.
A Dresos box with some selected clothes, which matches the answers to the earlier quiz and personally bought by the stylist, comes within 48 hours, free of charge. Users have three days to choose from and pay for the clothes that were sent, with the rest returned.
And it is because of this strategy that Dresos has attracted a good subscriber base. It now has more than 5,000 registered users, with “a lot” of them returning to the site for two reasons – convenience and personalisation, Mr Radojevic says.
“But our real focus now lies on how we use and integrate technology into our operations and our service offering. As part of this, we are also having initial conversations with retailers to offer our solution of AI product recommendation across their network,” he says.
AI has advanced so much and has huge potential to make shopping personalised and very scalable for retailers.
“We are now finalising real-time outfit solutions whereby customers will be able to generate hundreds of outfits in real-time and select what they wish to buy," Mr Radojevic says.
The average order value on Dresos is about Dh1,400 ($381), with the biggest purchase around Dh12,000, Mr Radojevic says. The start-up's network includes brands such as Levi's, DKNY, Oakley, Skechers, New Era and Sacoor Brothers.
Dresos has so far received $285,000 in investment from family, friends and the founders themselves.
It is currently in the process of raising $500,000 in a bridge funding – or short-term financing used by companies ahead of expected income or larger financing rounds – on Eureeca, a Dubai-based equity crowdfunding platform.
Part of the proceeds from the Eureeca round will be set aside for customer acquisition, with a target of 20,000 users by 2024, Mr Radojevic says.
The investment is also intended to boost the development of the company's technology products, marketing and operations, including the recruitment of additional people in these departments.
The funding has so far been modest but it plays into the strategy of Dresos. Mr Radojevic believes in keeping a business self-sustaining as far as possible without relying on money from venture capital funds.
“Focus on business angels, family offices and friends as your biggest supporters,” he says.
Angel investors are those who typically provide early stage funding in exchange for equity in the company.
“Investors in the region are risk-averse and they are looking for start-ups in a growth stage with significant revenue and traction in terms of customers and month-on-month growth.”
Looking ahead, the company is preparing to enter its next “big market”, Saudi Arabia. Dresos is planning to launch its services in the kingdom by the fourth quarter of 2024, Mr Radojevic says.
“Our regional expansion depends on how quickly we manage to raise funds. The overall sentiment for investments has been down for the past one year and still is,” he says.
Start-ups have been facing a challenging situation over the past year.
In the Mena region, the number of deals and the value of financing for start-ups fell in the first half of 2023 amid global economic uncertainty and geopolitical headwinds, start-up data platform Magnitt said in its latest half-year report this month.
Mena start-ups raised more than $1 billion through 193 deals, with the region’s venture capital ecosystem registering a 42 per cent retreat in funding levels and a 49 per cent decline in the number of transactions closed to 193, it shows.
“Access to investments for early stage start-ups is rather limited in terms of number of deals and amounts raised,” Mr Radojevic says.
However, a silver lining is that e-commerce and retail are among the top targets for venture capital financing, alongside financial technology, the Magnitt study shows.
Mega financing deals in FinTech and e-commerce boosted their weighting in the overall venture financing ecosystem, accounting for about 80 per cent of the total funding in the region during the first six months of the year, it said.
“The region's e-commerce market is growing,” Mr Radojevic says.
“Considering this, consumers will start using more online [options] for shopping as it gives a lot of convenience in terms of time-saving and [the fact that] retailers are offering a better customer experience when it comes to engaging with consumers, deliveries and easy payment options.”
Q&A with Vladimir Radojevic, co-founder and chief executive of Dresos
You set up Dresos during the year of the pandemic. How different would it have been if you started it now?
It would have been easier if I started now. In 2020, there was a sense of uncertainty about the future and, therefore, investments. Leaving a corporate job with a stable income was a huge decision. Personally, I don’t believe in right or wrong timings though. I believe one should follow one’s passion and wake up every morning doing what they love. I can say that about myself.
However, this is not to say that entrepreneurial life is easy. It is the biggest decision they might have to take in their life. Prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. It is a long-winded journey and requires thick skin and deep pockets. You need to be both financially and mentally ready for the journey and have the full support of your partner, family and friends.
What is the biggest misconception about the online retail industry?
That it will gradually takeover most of the business from more traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. I personally believe this will never happen, and that malls will remain part of our social DNA.
At the same time, this increasing competition will force more traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to introduce more innovative products, services and experiences to win and retain customers.
Many local retailers are increasingly focused on putting in place a strong omnichannel strategy where shoppers will be able to interact with products and services online and shop offline – and vice versa – without compromising their shopping experience.
Do you believe AI is becoming too powerful, and would it really replace human jobs in the sector?
I believe AI is here to stay and it will help us to do many things better and faster. AI will partially replace some low-skilled jobs but that should be an incentive for everyone to upskill and reap the real benefits of the AI revolution.
What do you do in your free time?
Over the last several years, I have found my passion outside start-up life in CrossFit. High intensity workouts help me balance the stress levels and improve my health. Morning workouts are the best way to start the day and I often feel guilty when I skip some of the sessions because I found a good excuse to do it.
What is your advice to budding entrepreneurs?
Speak to your customers as much as you can. Ask them questions and request feedback. Most importantly, listen to what they have to say. Get yourself out there and deliver your products or service and connect with them as much as you can as they will give you the most valuable information on what you have to change in your business. In the end, they are the only KPI [key performance indicator] that really matters.