The Best Time to build Sourceeasy is now…

Till very recently, offline businesses were insulated from technology advances. No matter how many tweets, or how many tech blog articles talk about Singularities, AI, Oculus, Drones, Buy Buttons, and suchlike, traditional, offline businesses have often functioned independent or even despite advances in technology.

But a lot of trends are penetrating even behaviors in these offline, old, fragmented, disjointed, seemingly disorganized businesses.

And Sourceeasy would like to postulate that we’re at the cusp of 3 very interesting and powerful trends that will make us succeed where numerous others have failed before.

Trend 1:

Growth of Venture-backed / Indigenous Vertical Private Label Brands across the world:

As Dave McClure has mentioned countless times quite eloquently (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkyAlxxUw5g ) , the times have changed for internet startups: 

- Building a product is easy with many Infrastructure Plug n Play Systems like AWS, Wordpress, Tumblr, Heroku, New Relic, Intercom, Mailchimp, etc.

- Scaling a product using Social Networks is easier than ever on the back of massive platforms like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and on App Stores like Apple (iOS) and Google (Android)

- As Sam Gerstenzag says here (http://a16z.com/2014/07/30/the-happy-demise-of-the-10x-engineer/ ), the day when a non-programmer can build, operate and scale a tech startup is not far off.

To add to this, the concept of Startups is incredibly appealing to many current employees of large companies who can reimagine what the consumer is looking for, especially in the Apparel business where design, style and a sense of fit is so important to creating a distinctive brand image. 

Designers, Merchandisers, and past employees from Gap, Inc, and many other large retailers are increasingly moving out to set up their own brands. The number of startup fashion brands is exploding in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and its being powered by internet-driven distribution systems. And VCs are recognizing this.

Jay Deng describes why Fashion is the next big thing in VC: http://www.businessoffashion.com/2014/05/op-ed-fashion-next-big-thing-venture-capital.html 

This trend has created a number of vertical brands. Those brands, however, will be competing in the real world with top retailers whose prices can be really compelling — with a great brand promise. And they need to do this with their smaller volumes.

Trend 2:

Apparel Retail and Product Assortments are changing irrevocably across the world:

Worldwide, Apparel retailers have been grappling with their ability to accept the new trends and innovative product assortment strategies that Fast Fashion Brands like Zara, H&M, and Forever21 and online brands like Jackthreads, Everlane, and Bonobo’s have brought to retail sales.


Rather than do 2 collections 6 months apart, (see why JC Penney and Sears are struggling: http://www.businessinsider.com/zaras-genius-business-model-2013-3 )stores like Forever21 and Zara choose to offer a far larger number of SKUs and update their stores twice a week globally.

Zara does an average of 12 -14,000 styles a year — (http://www.harbott.com/2011/03/03/analysing-zaras-business-model/ )That’s approximately 250 styles a week. They also manufacture an average of 600 units per style of fast fashion styles that are inspired by High Fashion Trends that they track globally. 

Online retailers like Bonobo’s, Everlane and Jackthreads buy direct from factories, add a single margin (not layers of margins across the supply chain), and offer their customers compelling advantages such as better fit, greater style, lower prices with better 

Large retailers like Gap, Inc have reacted to these changes proactively (http://www.coresolutions.com/speed-to-market-key-to-gaps-turnaround/ ) by initiating supply chain rationalizations like Fabric Platforming, Vendor Stocked Inventory, reimagining product assortments and trying to bring down turn times to under 8 weeks.

Premier private label manufacturers like MAS Holdings have initiated new fast fashion mass manufacturing programs like “RAPID” where they processed in excess of 25 Millions Units for their global clients. The average number of units per order / SKU was under 2000 pcs. The time from order to store was under 3 weeks. 

But what about retailers, brands, stores who cannot commit yearly volumes, do not have the large resources to invest in vertical agile manufacturing units? 

What about retailers who want to do 500,000 units a year? Or 50,000 units a year? How do they get agile? 

Trend 3:

Mobile Data, Mobile Adoption is driving behavior changes in the developing world:

Benedict Evans shared a brilliant seminal slide PPT on how Mobile is destroying PC scale and share here: http://www.slideshare.net/bge20/2013-11-mobile-eating-the-world 

In developing countries, most people are educated, can read / write English, but yet are intimidated by Desktops and the idea of using a Keyboard and a Mouse. 

Ben Evans describes this here: 

 http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2014/7/21/leverage 

This is the reason you’ll see specially hired Accountants and Typists who type and enter information sitting at computers. Job Applications like these are commonplace in India:

Companies like Li & Fung, SAP, and other companies have tried to create and implement ERP systems to streamline the disorganized rabble of apparel manufacturing in the SMB and the small scale sectors. 

They’ve met with limited success — Only highly organized integrated vertical units have been able to adopt these platforms with only some efficiency.

The core reason for this is that the entire supply chain follows a “Record, Store, Deliver, Report” system for information, where each function is by a separate person.

Usually, the Field Operative gathers the information on paper (Recording)

He then hands this info over to this Supervisor who either stores or acts on it (Stores)

The supervisor then delivers this data to the Merchandiser / Typist who then enters the data into the software / update and emails the customer / agents (Delivers)

This email / data is then reviewed by the CEO / Owner of the factory at his leisure (Report).

But every single person who has a tablet PC to check Facebook / Twitter / to read the Newspaper, or to chat with his friends is already using a Mobile device in his real life.

Almost every single feature phone will probably convert into a Smartphone at some point in the next 3-5 years.

When this happens, it becomes very easy to create Business Logic driven software systems that create objective to-do lists that then direct the Field Operative to point, click, shoot and enter backing data on the spot (geo location recorded) and then immediately submit this report on the spot using Mobile Data to the cloud. This cuts the entire “Record, Store, Deliver, Report” cycle down to “Record, Report” and happens concurrently in the course of the day’s work. 

No Additional Effort is necessary to transfer or communicate the information because it’s auto-shared on the connected cloud. 

No Additional paperwork is needed, because the information is live across devices and everyone can see it / edit it and share it with their customers.

If you can close the information loop instantly on recording the data, it speeds up the entire feedback loop, enhances efficiency and adds yards of agility to the process. 

But this is not the only reason we’re excited about Sourceeasy. 

The 3 big Technology innovations that have become ubiquitous and commonplace are:

- SaaS

- Social

- Mobile

Several “unicorn” companies — Salesforce, AWS, Heroku, Workday, Facebook. Twitter, Uber, Snapchat, and many other products have demonstrated the power of:

- SaaS: Platforming Software to enable access with a login and a password.

- Social: Sharing photos, messages and collaborating in real time with social proof.

- Mobile: Accessing and working on mission-critical data and systems anytime, anywhere.

Initially, most SaaS products were built around the idea of a single function — ERP, CRM, WebHosting, Accounting, Productivity.

Later, Social connected our lives with our friends, colleagues, and trusted connections through Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter.

Mobile further enhances this connect, while enabling transactions as well using specific geo location tools, ease of tracking and strong technical advances in responsive web design.

Sourceeasy uses the best features of these 3 technologies to create the core of a strong multi-platform working experience that is seamless, elegant and simple:

SaaS:

  • One Version — Easily Upgradeable
  • Zero License Costs — Amortised by Manufacturing Contracts.
  • Central Repository of Product Templates, Vendor SKUs, Fabrics, Trims.
  • Central Storage of CADs, Product Specs, Updates, Comments, and Messages.

Social:

  • Collaborating on Products, Templates and Sample Discussions in real time.
  • Sharing images of work progress, issues, clarifications from the factory.
  • Social Proof: Noone is anonymous any more.
  • Walled Garden: Invite trusted colleagues and vendors to collaborate / share.
  • Internal messaging tools to communicate across geographies.

Mobile:

  • Geolocation / TimeStamp on every update to ensure authentic information.
  • Tracking of goods and services if mobile-enabled. 
  • Review, Record and Report Information from anywhere, anytime.
  • Feedback on clarifications in real time.

What this does for us is it takes software standard systems, lets us configure plug n play infrastructures (pushr, google apps, AWS, Heroku, Angular, Laravel, Rails, etc) and build out beautifully effective software that we can use to automate real world businesses.

There is hardly a product that does not leverage technology in some way that has not made money.

However, when you can use that technology as a lever to disrupt centuries-old markets, that generate healthy monthly cash flows, create strong profits and can be automated using intuitive, easy-to-use software, you’re sitting on a Billion Dollar Opportunity.

Thanks,

Pranay

Building a Rigidly Flexible Culture.

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Sourceasy has been a chain linked company since Day One. Rigid values coupled by flexible attitudes.

Sourceasy has 11 employees across 4 locations in India, and 2 employees in 1 location in USA. Moving forward, we’ll be adding 3 more to our team across 1 additional location in USA, and 3 more in 1 additional location in India. We’ll have decision makers in each location, who will be empowered to take operational calls at the right time and push the business forward. Our hierarchy is loosely coupled around rigid values. Customer success is paramount. Our relentless focus on productivity is complemented by our laidback attitude to work culture - Work from home, work from wherever.. Just get the work done.

Sourceasy’s platform is being built around an architecture that communicates using internal API calls between 4 different systems. Our systems are loosely coupled to ensure greater flexibility, speed and reliability. We’re able to scale up at a moments notice. Because we’re dealing with confidential, really valuable client data, we’re rigid about safety and data security, but we’re flexible about communication within the systems and have the coupling between servers to recover quickly. 

Our focus on a flexible adaptable seamless software experience is contrasted by our rigid need for Strong Customer Security, a great infrastructure, and robust processing.

Sourceasy’s vendors and customers are built around open, transparent, honest relationships. Our customers are offered unparalleled flexibility, both in terms of designs, and in terms of order quantities. Our vendors are offered great value in terms of capacity, price and scale. We are not beholden to any single vendor so we can rapidly shift business, scale up to meet demand, and/or scale back in case of lower demand.

We’re rigid on quality standards, vendor compliance, and have stern views on pilferage, bribery and design plagiarism, our supply chain is also loosely coupled to client demand and does not incur expensive fixed overheads.

Rigid values create our structure, but Flexible processes help us mould and adapt that structure to an ever changing business.

Thanks,

Pranay

Building a Global Apparel Manufacturing “Full Stack” Startup.

The co-founding team of Sourceasy (Now SourceEasy), met with a leading Indian Angel Investor today to discuss our business.

When we explained that we’re a “Full Stack Apparel Manufacturing” startup, he was intrigued by the term “Full Stack”. While this term seems to intuitively fit our business, we felt this needed some more explanation.

The term started with Marc Andreessen’s blog post at the Wall Streeet Journal about “Software eating the world” in 2011.

This described the rise of companies that chose to use software, technology and platforms not just to become marketplaces or listing directories, but to control the *ENTIRE* Customer Experience.

They chose to create vendors that delivered services and products under controlled conditions, either digitally or physically, and ensured that the customer received the desired experience rather than just pass the customer on to third parties these companies had NO CONTROL over.

In the true sense of the word, Sourceasy is a global company. We’re headquartered in New York, and yet all our products are manufactured, quality checked, and shipped from across the world - We manufacture in India and are setting up manufacturing in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, Costa Rica and South Africa.

Our sales, our ops and finance are based in New York, but our coding, our development, and all our technology is built in Bangalore, in Hyderabad.

Andreessen’s article could be applied to companies like Uber, like Amazon, like Bonobos, like Square, like Fitbit, like Airbnb, like HomeJoy, like Nest chose to work on problems that are offline, hard, real world problems. Problems that software never could work with.

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But with mobile data, GPS, new OS’es like iOS and Android, New platforms like Facebook, with Analytics, with AWS and with tools and enabling technologies that help us replicate user behavior using Software, We can use software, the cloud and web tools to create amazingly elegant, scalable and usable solutions to streamline, solve and process real world problems.

Jeff Lawson delivered an amazing talk at the 500 Startups UnSexy Conference in 2013 - He says that We are All Software People. We carry a super computer in our pocket in the form of a cell phone. We use sensors to gather data, and actuators to spit out results and solutions through software that sits in the cloud, is intelligent, is SaaS and can be upgraded several times a day. 

Sourceasy is an UnSexy Company. We generate cashflow, we create revenue and we earn a profit on each transaction. Unit economics mirror real world businesses. We are not just a single point of software that has no relationship to the real world flow of information. We are innervating the entire supply chain of apparel manufacturing with both forward and backward integration. We are using Mobile data to re-create the entire production flow that creates apparel.

The term “Full Stack” was actually finally originally coined by Chris Dixon in this blog post on his blog in March 2014. He describes the difference between Vertically Integrated and Full Stack in the comments, and I quote:

I don’t think it’s vertically integrated in the classic sense. This isn’t oil company buying supplier. It’s a tech company building the complete experience including non tech parts. The end result looks more like a company that we wouldn’t call vertically integrated. E.g. Uber competes with taxi companies but I don’t think we’d call taxi companies vertically integrated.”

Sourceasy uses external vendors, does not own factories. Yet, we take on the liability of quality from our customer, and we take full responsibility for the production quality upfront.

We use technology to create the order, to negotiate price, to update comments, to track visibility through the manufacturing life cycle. We use software to control the operations and we report status to our customer transparently.

But we use our network of trusted vendors to produce the apparel, control the quality, at the right price to ship on time.

We also have offline operations to control this experience as well that uses software to report their progress.

We use technology to invoice our customer, and to monitor and resolve disputes.

There is no clear boundary where our offline operations commence and where our online technology ends. Its all interwoven into a hundred different moving parts.

And in the end it’s an execution game. Domain knowledge, embedded industry connections, driving adoption of software with great UX, and making big pain points magically go away for our customers.

Thats “Full Stack”. And Sourceasy is building this for the Global Market.

Many Thanks,

Pranay

What the Private Beta of Sourceasy will let you do

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Dear Users,

Since we asked you to sign up for Private Beta Access, we’ve received 139 signups. For a B2B textiles manufacturing service, that’s a lot. 

We thank you for being curious. 

During this time we’ve been busy. With our first limited beta release, we have a few specific objectives in mind:

The TECH PACK is the Atomic Unit of the Sourceasy Web App.

A Tech Pack is the information document for a style. All the specifications, the construction, the decorations, the colors, the packing and the accessories / trims are described in this document. 

We will build every single aspect of our application, our business, our communication, our coordination and our messaging around the Tech Pack.

In many cases, portions of this techpack may be invisible to the customer. This is because we’ll be setting up templates with pre-filled parts of the template with inputs that are standardised so it takes the guesswork out of creating an order. 

At www.sourceasy.us we’ve created a 2 page checkout for your promotional / startup / event Tees / Hoodies requirements - Those are pre-filled tech packs that need the minimum basic input to complete your custom apparel order.

The Customer can control how advanced their designs can be.

Sourceasy is designed to be inclusive. not rigid. We welcome and work with veteran designers, experienced buyers and merchandisers, professional manufacturers, fashion experts, and high fashion gurus. 

But we also work with first time fashion designers; niche eCommerce brands; startup brands; startup founders who need apparel; event managers who need Tees on the fly; Hotel Operators / QSR managers who need to order uniforms. And they are not sophisticated apparel buyers. Yet, their production will need a tech pack as well.

So our product lets you fill and complete the tech pack to the best of your abilities. We’ll complete the rest and ensure your garments fit well. And are built to conform to international standards. 

You can build as many enquiries as you want.

Tinkering with a design idea? Trying to finalise your line? Need to build your line in stages? Designing from inspiration?

Sourceasy lets you build your techpack in stages, in parts, as and when you’re comfortable. If you need help, hit the “Help Me” button. We’ll reach out and proactively help you complete the tech pack.

We’re here to understand your business. And help you manufacture clothing in a sustainable, easy, cost effective manner. 

We’re not perfect. We seek your feedback

If something’s broken, or not working, please tell us. Yell at us. Get angry with us. Offer us brutally honest feedback. We’ll do everything we can to resolve the issues. To delight you.

I look forward to welcoming you to our platform. 

Very Soon. Thanks for your patience.

- Pranay Srinivasan

.

Sourceasy is looking for a Head of Operations / Support in India

sourceasy is looking for Head of Operations / Support, India - based in Mumbai / Delhi.

Must haves: 
- Strong Supply Chain / Operations Experience. Textile Experience a plus. 
- Reasonable Knowledge of Clothing, Apparel and Textiles. 
- Ability to work in a uncertain working environment. 
- Unprecedented ability to cut through bullshit. 
- Should be Customer’s Stakeholder in the business. That means taking no excuses.

- Be able to juggle Sourcing, Sales, Customers, Vendors and keep everyone happy.

- Support and Operations are the heart of our business operation. Owning the customer experience is imperative.

- Reasonably Tech Savvy: Run correspondence with customers, close deals, engage them during problems, source information from vendors, rigorously follow up for updates, diligently update status for customers.
- Resolve Disputes Amicably.

We offer decent survival salary, equity options and generous commissions. Yes, even to Support and Operations.
Write to pranay@sourceasy.co 
Thanks, 
Pranay

The reason we charge for sample development

A question we get asked a lot by designers is:

"Do you charge for sample development?"

Our Reply: Yes, we do.

The next question usually is:

"Why?"

The reason we charge for sample development, especially for custom made styles is because:

We need to develop patterns,and grade them; We need to source special fabrics, engage a cutting supervisor; We need to sew and finish a high quality sample, get it shipped to you; We need to work on the comments, feedback, and work on 1 iteration. 

All this takes a lot of effort. and time. and money. 

This is why we request a sample development fee.

Our sample fees are refunded on an order of $5000 or more in the ordered style.

Best Regards,

Pranay

Choosing an apparel vendor

The largest impediment to setting up a smooth, well-oiled sourcing supply chain for your brand is establishing a trustworthy relationship with a supplier.

No matter how awesome your styles are, how brilliant your fabrics are, and how ingenious your twist on apparel is, until you can find a sustainable, scalable, quality-conscious apparel manufacturer, your journey will be riddled with frustration.

Here are a few pointers to look for when choosing a vendor:

1. Scale of operation: If the supplier is a large factory, there is NO WAY in hell he will work with 24-48 units minimums. Worse still, if you’ve reached him through a trusted referral that he values, he will be polite to you, but will be chafing on the inside. All he’s thinking is “How do I get myself out of this entire situation so I dont have to produce these qtys but be nice without alienating my existing customer?”

2. Education / Experience: No supplier / factory is a miracle worker. Murphy’s law was built for the apparel business. No matter how huge your infrastructure is, it is tough to completely avoid quality errors, production delays, and potential technical roadblocks. The key to working through these with minimum stress is to verify if your supplier has a relevant Textiles Education and / or has significant experience in manufacturing apparel. If he has the chops, while communicating the problem to you, he’ll also suggest a few solutions.

3. Styles in production: If the factory / vendor is used to producing Women’s Underwear, asking them to produce a Womens Blazer or a Beach Dress is hara-kiri. Some apparel styles demand a technical focus, a strong attention to detail and specialised machinery. Verify if the factory has produced similar items before, before you ask them to produce the items. Often times, if the factory has not produced the item before, they’ll mis-quote you and end up not meeting their commitments.

4. Local presence / Financial Reciprocity: If the factory / vendor is overseas, stay cognizant of the financial risks associated with producing overseas. If you’re starting out, and are unsure of their capabilities, err on the side of caution. Start out with smaller qtys to test their abilities, and to secure your investment. Recourse with overseas vendors is almost non existent. If he ships you a substandard product, you’d be hard pressed to file a claim for refund on quality standards. Its too subjective to win off.

Best Regards,

Pranay

The Hard Part about Designing a Product by a Non Engineer

While sketching out the innards of the Sourceasy Sourcing Web App with Chirag (Sourceasy CTO - Follow him on twitter here), I realised the following is true of a Domain Expert building a software application:

1. What’s clear in your head is not necessarily clear on paper.

2. Expecting complex functions to be simplified needs a strong tech understanding.

3. Detailing outcomes is not necessarily cognizant of input difficulties.

4. Small nuances can potentially create major roadblocks.

5. Checks and balances create inter dependencies that can unravel with the crash of a single system.

6. Modular design is utopian. One can aspire though.

7. When the UX and the Customer Experience drives your roadmap, more often than not, you’ll end up picking holes in comfortable theories.

8. Asking questions is easier than finding answers.

9. A/B Testing is not for apps. It is for front end pages. Be clear about what you want as a function.

10. Create backdoors to scale / modify / adapt to change.

Best Regards,

Pranay