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Inspiring Female Founder Spotlight: Elena Volkova

Elena Volkova is Co-Founder and CEO of Style DNA, an AI personal stylist app. The Style DNA app encompasses all aspects of personal styling, wardrobe management and shopping assistance, guiding users through discovering what colours, patterns and fabrics would best suit them.

Four years ago, Elena stepped down from a senior role working with e-commerce companies to pursue her dream: making previously unaffordable image consulting and personal shopping services available to anyone, anywhere and at any time. Thus, she created Style DNA, an AI-powered pocket stylist that encompasses all manner of personal styling, shopping assistance and wardrobe management services, to better empower millions of people around the world to look amazing and achieve their goals.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

I am the Co-Founder and CEO of Style DNA, an AI personal stylist app that combines state-of-the-art AI technology with the expertise of image consultants. Our aim is to help users decode their Style DNA, by discovering what colours, patterns and fabrics would best fit them, as well as supporting them to optimise their existing wardrobe and assisting them in making informed shopping and item matching choices, which reflect their uniqueness.

Being passionate, a true perfectionist and problem solver to my core, I put all my energy and time into it. I love nothing more than diving deep into the details. After graduating with honours from school, college and achieving an MBA, I never stopped learning. I am curious by nature and always hungry to develop more, as well as try new things.

Over the years, I’ve held senior executive positions in e-commerce companies, focusing on strategy and finance. I used to write and speak in the ‘language’ of charts and formulas. The organic blend between my knowledge of automation, finance, accounting, reporting, standardisation, and my personal qualities helped a lot to succeed with this new and complex technology project — Style DNA — the idea of which came to me when I was immersed, as usual, in my work.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

Style DNA was born at the intersection of two different types of experiences I went through.

Throughout my career, I understood how certain outfits made me feel more confident during business meetings. On the other hand, there was that constant struggle to find items of clothing that were guaranteed to look great on me, while at the same time fitting the ones I already had in my wardrobe.

So I embarked on a quest, trying to find an image consultant who could help me choose clothes, as well as optimise my existing wardrobe. After spending lots of time on finding one, I waited over two weeks for an appointment. Then I spent $100 for the seasonal colour analysis — which uses your skin tone, eye colour and natural hair shade to work out the best colour palette for you — and I got just a list of my colours. No other insights, additional information or recommendations, which was not only unhelpful, but also frustrating.

This is when I thought — how great would it be if I could take a selfie, get my colour palette, then have millions of clothing items available online sorted according to my colour palette, style, and body type?

This is how Style DNA came to life.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

I am a firm believer in building healthy companies and sustainable business models. So, my approach for the first stage of the business was to invest my money in the project until I got the first MVP version of the app, which I could show live to demonstrate how the AI personal stylist works.

It took almost one year of testing various hypotheses, surveys, research, and two complete redesigns of the application. Then, after receiving a positive unit economy, we started investing in growth and we’re now looking to consolidate and further develop the company.

What are the key successes?

There are two things that go hand in hand — seeing the app live and ‘in action’, which was a ‘dream come true’ kind of moment for me, and the excitement of seeing our user base grow exponentially from one month to the next! This fuels our determination and efforts to further improve the app, as well as develop new features.

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

The main challenge was in replicating the work of professional image consultants with the help of artificial intelligence. As we’ve found, ‘unique’ standards in the image consulting practice don’t really exist. Someone works according to the system of the four seasons, someone else has 12 colour types as a guide, and another has the system of ‘I feel and see it this way’. In order to ‘train’ artificial intelligence, it is important to try avoiding subjective judgement. So I spent two years of my life studying all Image consulting techniques and methods to choose those that best corresponded with the users’ needs, as well as the capabilities of AI.

What are your plans now/for the future?

We are constantly working on simpler and more understandable user navigation within the app. We are also focused on improving the accuracy of the recognition of neural networks, as well as connecting to more retailers to cover the needs and demands of customers.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

Leaving a well-established career and going forward as an entrepreneur, to meet an unknown future, is equally challenging and scary. But it can be even more exciting and rewarding. If you have an idea, leave fear aside and follow it!

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

Every person and company is different and there is no set recipe. But from my own experience, the following has certainly helped me to achieve success.

  • Be prepared to work 24/7 for several years.
  • Try to understand the smallest details of the business, because the devil is always in the details.
  • Learn what you don’t know. It’s essential that you can understand as many aspects of your business as possible to simplify communications with the wider team and drive efficiency. For example, I’ve spent a great deal of time on digital marketing in order to work best with specialists in that area.

Who are the people who inspire you the most and why?

There are many amazing people who’ve inspired me — one of them being Coco Chanel, for bringing her own style into fashion and perpetuating it for decades.

What are your favourite inspirational/motivational quotes?

‘Fashion passes, style remains.’

 Elena Volkova, Founder and CEO of Style DNA.

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