Instrumental to Google Play and Audible's evolution - now Chia-Lin is coming after retail as an influential founder

Roya Sabeti, Founder Stilobox (20).png

This week we're excited to share the story of Chia-Lin Simmons CEO of LookyLoo, an AI-Powered social commerce company that focuses on helping women discover and purchase clothing that fit and make them feel confident.

A former Googler she pawned her 24-karat gold jewels she inherited from her mother and sold some of her Google stock to launch her new startup.

She was named on HuffPo as one of “27 Women In Tech You Need To Follow On Twitter

In her free time, she founded the #bindersproject, which helps connect women tech founders with global funders looking to accelerate female founded startups.

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS LOOKYLOO SOLVING?

Women are not always finding the right clothes that make them feel confident. Many women only where 80% of their clothes 1 to 3 times, sales conversion online for apparel is less than 10% and returns are high at 30-50%. Women are having a harder time finding clothes that is a fit and make them feel confident. Technology today just isn’t working. Many fit companies (created by men) are focused on getting the numerical “fit” right. But Look Confidence™ is more than just fit. It’s about size, shape and validation.

 This is where LookyLoo comes in. LookyLoo is an AI-Powered Social Commerce platform that helps women discover clothing that fit and they can feel confident in. Our patent pending AI (named Lucy!) is one of the first real female AI - conceptualized, built and trained by women. LookyLoo's Lucy's algorithm is a “multithreaded” algorithm - we weave together user (understanding users shapes, preferences, conscious / unconscious biases, location, etc) and styling (what is preferred look among a predictive and unpredicted cohort groups, what is considered something that "looks good", etc.) algorithms to provide insight and recommendations.

We provide recommendation that is user aware, location aware, cohort/demographic aware and a community of “native influencers” who are real women of all beautiful sizes and shapes to help make decisions on what to buy. The more the community posts and votes, the smarter Lucy gets for the individual consumer as well as help to inform brands on what to manufacture and sale.

WHAT DID THOSE FIRST STEPS LOOK/FEEL LIKE? (FOR EXAMPLE: THE FIRST 6 MONTHS)

We spent a lot of time trying to understand how women shop today and why there was such high rates of returns and low rates of conversions. Those had real economic consequences - more than $250M annually. We looked at consumer purchasing habits - how much people were buying, returning and what they were doing. We realized they had a high rate of desire to be social, to get help in decision making, which was a pattern and data that validated our hypothesis on the social experience of shopping.

We then set forth on creating the first rules around the algorithm and what it needed to do.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THUS FAR?

 The lack of fear for ambiguity. I have been working in emerging technology since the 1990’s, always defining and building bleeding edge technology that I would then have to market and explain to the consumer. I have always been able to forge forward despite the lack of data and in fact am able to embrace the ambiguity as an opportunity to develop amazing products and technology. It is one of the major reasons I am successful as a tech executive and one the main reasons that I love and thrive in the technology industry.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

There has been so many failures along with the successes. One of my favorite failures is the work I did on the RedHelicopter Baby Monitor in 2016. We saw amazing technology, a marketplace of tech savvy parents coming online, interest in bio measurements and forged ahead to try to build a better baby monitor. Currently, medical science has access to the healthy heart rates of millions of adults in aggregate through the use of connected watches and health monitor products. But in the area of infant heart health, there are relatively less data. We spoke with researchers at the Mayo and Cleveland institute on this topic and was excited about making an impact in being able to track in aggregate millions of points of data on healthy infant heart and breath rate data for research.

We were excited about the data possibilities and of doing greater good but neglected the fundamental issue of price point requirements in the marketplace and switch costs. To build the amazing product we wanted to provide to parents, our BOM was too high to make it a good retail alternative for parents. Would it be worth purchasing our amazing device at $500 MSRP or feel a little less secure but purchase a monitor at $150 MSRP? Being fast moving tech folks, we build a relatively fast MVP and started speaking with and interviewing consumers. They loved the product and the idea of the product, but fundamentally was OK with feeling less happy to save a lot of money on a relatively less robust product.

We realized we had forgotten in our excitement that it was not enough to love the data and built an amazing product but that the consumer price concerns are important factors to consider in B2C hardware.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

I believe being a good leader is about several basic principles:

  1. Listen: always listen to the concerns of the team, both what they are saying and what they are not saying

  2. Servant leader: your job as a leader is to help clear the path for success for your team. It’s the way to maximize everyone’s impact

  3. Stretch: We all need challenges. I want to find the best person for the job that I have. But we all need to feel like we’re learning and stretching. So I need to provide stretch products that is not impossible but amazing opportunities for my employees to learn and shine

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

I have a personal advisory board rather than a mentor. Much like companies that need a board with variety of skill sets and viewpoints to ensure a company’s success, a personal advisory board acts much in the same way. I assemble a group of different people to whom I reach out for feedback and advise when I need them in a variety of different scenarios. I often will pose the same questions to all of them, giving me a variety of viewpoints. These individuals are often senior to me, further in their career, and some are peers. They are often very different from each other in operational expertise, experience and sometimes industries. It provides me with an opportunity to look at problems from a multitude of different ways when I’m stuck on a problem.

To find them, they are often active members of my working life and I have worked with them a some point in my career. Some I reach back out to after years to reconnect and bring them back into my world. Some are already active members of my actual corporate advisory board.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Everyone, not just women, should be unafraid to take on challenges and risks in their career to foster leadership skills. The ability to face uncertainty, challenges is a wonderful way to build skills of resilience which is a much needed skill for leaders.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

I unplug completely from the internet for a few hours and read a book. I also love to spend my unplugged time with my daughter and husband to play boardgames. It’s a nice break from the email, IM, documents, etc that are constantly flowing in.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

For work: “It’s not a field of dreams people! Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come.” this is my own quote because I have spent a lifetime in the tech industry explaining to people why marketing is so important to the product we’re building.

Personal: “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” from the Dalai Lama.

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

I’m usually juggling a few books at the same time. I usually read one fiction and one non-fiction at the same time. Here’s what I’m reading now at the same time:

Fiction: I am re-reading “Winds of War” by Herman Wouk. Scary but the raise of Hitler in the 1930s in this fictional work have strange parallels to the world we live in now 

Non-Fiction: “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while and it feels like the right time to read about an inspiring leader who’s able to bring very different people together towards a larger mission.

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?

Absolutely, I have imposter syndrome and more frequently than I like. It’s surprising how many accomplished women I know that suffer from this. I got advice from a very accomplished friend and senior executive on writing down what she was feeling about when she’s hit with Imposter Syndrome and being able to see it written down has helped me get it out of my head and challenge the negative voices. I also find being able to channel a more confident person to be helpful.

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

Don’t be afraid to try and to fail. You can’t succeed without it.

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

I would love to see more women step into investment roles and change our industry. I would like to ask women to step up and invest in each other - invest time, money. We can’t change the problems we’re seeing in the tech industry or other male dominant industry if we don’t stand up for each other, take real action instead of talk about it. Start small, work your way into doing more.

This article originally ran in the Stilobox newsletter, Sign up here.