Will Hench and his brother, Andrew Hench, founded ThreadLab to make shopping less of a pain for men by using data science. I actually first met them in 2013 when we (the founders of Maderight) were still building our own clothing brand -- ThreadLab was one of our first stockists! On to the interview with Will:
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in Marblehead, MA and graduated from Harvard and NYU Stern. I have always been working on start-ups and launching small businesses since college. We wrote the original plan for ThreadLab in 2008 while taking Retail Operations at Stern. I had done a SaaS start up for retail visual merchandising and knew that retail and apparel had a lot of archaic legacy systems and it was operationally challenging. We finally launched it out of our guest room in Jersey City in 2012 and then out of my brother's house in Brighton, MA. I'm currently living in Jersey City, NJ with my wife and two boys, ages 6 and 2. I love spending time with my family and working with my teammates at ThreadLab. When I have free time I'll try to catch a soccer game or get out on the links with friends.
Tell us about ThreadLab
ThreadLab is an online clothing service designed to solve fit for guys who hate the labor intensive process of shopping. It initially started as a data science project to determine if we could classify and describe clothing with a data model. Could we determine if an article of clothing would fit a customer without even trying it on. ThreadLab uses data analytics and an artificial neural network to solve the wide variation of fit and size across the hundreds of online menswear brands that exist. Our process involves measuring every item we carry and storing anywhere from 5 to 15 measurement data points for each product category. We then crunch the numbers and use machine learning to help find clothes that fit. We create an online experience that simplifies the process to minimize effort and maximize results. We recently launched a program called PerfectFit that allows a user to sign up, enter the clothing brands, sizes, fits and the clothing measurements that work best for him for each product category and we'll only send him products with similar measurements. ThreadLab customers can spend less time and get a better result in terms of quality and fit, all at affordable price points from a wide range of awesome brands.
Your target customer is a man that hates shopping. Would you fall under that category?
Definitely. I always hated the process and the major issue I couldn't understand was how items listed with the same stated size and fit never fit the way you'd expect and you'd have to try on so many articles of clothing to figure out what to purchase. Online has it's benefits over in-store, but you'd end up returning so many items - it still seemed really inefficient. I get bored and frustrated in a store in about 10 minutes. When I used to try to shop for new clothing, I would buy a lot of clothing all at once, try to get it done as quickly as possible, spend too much money and end up with a lot of clothes that didn't really fit that well and were pretty low quality. So we built ThreadLab to solve a lot of these problems for the regular guy who didn't want to spend a lot of money or time on a personal shopper, but needed an easier way to get the job done well for the wardrobe essentials.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I usually get up at 5am and work on any ThreadLab projects that I can focus on solo. At 8:30am I'll help get the kids to school and drop the wife at work. I try to work out every day for 45mins. Then I get on Slack at 10am to work with my team with our high priority product development, marketing and customer service related issues or projects. Lately we've been working on our pitch deck and seed funding round. I also like to spend an hour or two every day talking to customers, handling emails and getting feedback. We do a few conference calls each week as a team but I try to keep my days meetings free. I try to be done by 4 or 5pm so I can see the kids. Then I'll work off my phone until about 9 or 10pm and try to get to bed early.
What’s it like to start a company with your brother, Andrew Hench?
I feel lucky to be able to have started ThreadLab with Andrew - we worked together on a few projects previously and we get along really well. It's nice because we can be brutally honest with each other and quickly get to solutions on things without having to worry about hurting each other's feelings. When you completely trust and admire your co-founder you can iterate quickly because there's no time wasted second guessing each other or trying to sugar coat things. We share the same values and mission so even when we disagree on certain aspects of the business it's pretty easy to work through them, solve the problem, and move forward. We own our mistakes and we know that this isn't just about making money. We are trying to enjoy every moment we get to work on ThreadLab together. Our business is all about creating an amazing experience, making life easy, keeping things simple and doing the right thing for our customers, our partners and our teammates.
What is the biggest challenge of owning your own business?
I think trying to stay even keeled is one of the most challenging aspects. Some days everything is working perfectly and you're on top of the world. Other days you're dealing with so many issues it can be overwhelming. I think we do a great job as a team to keep things in perspective and keep everyone positive about our mission of making our customers' lives easier and delivering an amazing experience.
What was the biggest mistake you made and what did you learn from it?
I think we've learned the hard way that most things cannot be outsourced at an early stage. There's a lot of over promising and under delivering. We've tried using outside companies a couple times to help with different aspects of our business and looking back we can say it was a mistake. We've realized that we are better off keeping everything in-house if we want to ensure quality and get real results.
Any favorite brands?
There are so many quality brands out there. I'm not at all interested in fashion trends - but I love the founders' stories and the manufacturing process and "how it works" part of these clothing brands. A lot of them have an awesome mission behind them as well - Ten Thousand, Rhone, Pact Apparel, Pistol Lake, PX, Mizzen & Main, Suburban RIOT, Ministry of Supply, Everlane, Jumper Threads, Bread & Boxers, Maderight (!) and Something Strong are some brands that I really like.
Any final parting words?
If anyone out there is launching a new brand please reach out to us at ThreadLab - we are constantly looking for new interesting brands to introduce to our customer base. Also if you're looking to test out an easier way to find clothing that fits, sign up here and test out ThreadLab PerfectFit.
If you have questions you'd like us to ask in future interviews, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.