While other freshman at Boston College were socializing at frat parties and local bars, Madison Semarjian, an English major with a penchant for poetry, was writing a business plan for the smartphone shopping app Mada, which she described as the Tinder for complete looks.
Semarjian, who calls herself a business-minded creative, assembled a team of data scientists and computer engineers, and approached retailers about joining Mada, which combines artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide users with a personalized experience. Nordstrom and Macy’s got on board, along with 2,600 smaller specialty stores and brands such as Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James.
Semarjian, who is now 22, submitted Mada to Apple for inclusion in the App Store, and learned last week that it was accepted. Mada launched with 4 million product options presented as outfits with coordinating accessories such as handbags, shoes and jewelry. Consumers can opt to buy the entire look or as many items as they want.
Semarjian said she got the idea for Mada during her first year at BC, when she tried to put together an outfit for a first date. Struggling to find a look she felt good about, her roommate said, “‘Which outfit will make you feel most like you?'” Semarjian said.
Recognizing that her wardrobe might be lacking, she visited digital shopping sites that claimed to have customized services, but they fell short; Semarjian said the platforms didn’t understand her unique style and individuality.
“I believed there was a way to use technology to enhance the digital shopping experience and boost a woman’s confidence when she got dressed,” she said, adding that Mada offers “a high-low shopping experience with universal checkout.”
Unlike some digital styling services, Mada doesn’t recommend products based on consumer segmentation or group demographics. Rathe, the app leverages patent-pending technology to analyze a customer’s style preferences and interaction with the app for a higher level of personalization.
“I wanted to have a human touch and partnered with a group of stylists,” Semarjian said, noting that Jenna Igneri, Joiee Thorpe and Britta Briscoe are among the stylists working with the app.
Mada begins with a 10-question style quiz. A custom styling option where users swipe right to like, or left to reject, recommends outfits based on their profile. If a user wishes to shop the featured outfits portal, trending items — rather than user-targeted selections — will flow into their feed. As a user engages more with Mada, the app will learn about her preferences and give better suggestions.
“We took a psychological deep dive into how people get dressed,” Semarjian said. “We have a data scientist. We target things such as what’s the person’s tolerance for risk.”
The app handles checkout and captures consumers’ information before handing the sale over to the retailer or brand to fulfill the order. Mada earns a commission for every product sold. Semarjian hopes to open additional revenue streams, including carrying advertising in the featured styles section, and possibly licensing the software in the future. Data science will be leveraged with the sharing of non-personal information to grow relationships with partners.
Semarjian leaned into advice from Ingrid Milman, E.l.f. Beauty’s head of digital, and RxBar chief marketing officer Victor Lee, who sit on Mada’s board, as well as Jason Feifer, editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur Media. Trish Donnelly, chief executive officer of Urban Outfitters, helped her realize the potential of the data portion of Mada. To figure out how to sell luxury brands alongside everyday brands, Semarjian said she “picked the brain of a Gucci executive.”
“Retail is in a very tricky spot right now,” she said. “This is really going to solve a lot of customer issues.”
Semarjian has her sights on an increasingly large piece of the apparel pie. With the women’s app up and running, “I’m actually working on a men’s version and I have brands on board,” she said, adding that she’s funded through 2021 by angel investors. “I’m exploring venture capital firms,” she added. “I’m also open to bringing on partners.”