Fashion forward

Tech-enabled shopping software taking Texas by storm

This digital shopping assistant relocated to Texas last year to focus on the business-friendly market. Courtesy of ModeSens

Former Microsoft engineer Brian Li wanted to help his wife, Jing Leng, a personal shopper, make smart purchases for her clients seeking luxury clothing. The couple found it impractical and time consuming to sift through multiple websites in search of clothing that was the best fit.

Li, now CEO of ModeSens, was inspired in 2015 to develop a personal shopping tool. The name comes from rearranging the French phrase "sens de la mode," which means "fashion sense."

"It started out as something that Brian worked on in his free time. But after they started using it, they realized that other people would find it useful," says Krystle Craycraft, CMO of ModeSens. "Another resource like this does not exist. We are the only company that aggregates information at the product level, presenting information to consumers in a way that is easy to navigate, and all in one place."

Since launching in 2015 in Seattle, the company relocated to Texas last year. Now, headquartered in Dallas, the company is building a large pool of users in major cities throughout Texas. ModeSens sees a growing connection with Houston in terms of customers and fashion retailers.

Li moved the business "because Texas is a good place to do business," Craycraft says. "Many businesses are following the trend of moving to Texas because of the great climate to do business in. We love Texas."

ModeSens, using its database of information, gives luxury fashion shoppers important information about products as they search, making for a more efficient, satisfying purchase. For a given item, ModeSens provides members a list of retailers who have the item in stock, the price comparison across retailers, available colors, designer information, product reviews, special promotions, and more.

You can download the free app, create a free account, and start saving on luxury goods by searching the site or scanning barcodes in the store. As ModeSens specializes in luxury goods, they partner with almost 200 brands such as Neiman Marcus, SAKS, Gucci, Dolce & Gobana, Lane Crawford and other premier designers.

"We connect with clients through several different affiliate networks as well as direct partnerships," says Craycraft. ModeSens partners exclusively with high-end retailers, filling a specific niche for the first time.

Leng, serving as the Fashion Director at ModeSens, works with these retail partners, curating content and promoting their products in a way that helps customers buy confidently.

"The customer is the focus of ModeSens; getting them what they need to make an informed decision is our top priority," says Craycraft. "Other fashion shopping platforms show products from Forever 21 all the way up to luxury brands, but for our customers looking for luxury products, a lot of those stores are just not relevant to them. Sorting through them becomes tedious."

ModeSens puts the answers to at customers' questions at their fingertips, once signed up with a free membership.

With the brand-new release of the barcode scanning feature, customers can have access to the same comparative information while physically in a store, as well as online.

"This is a total game-changer in the industry; there is no one else doing this," says Craycraft.

Using the app, shoppers simply scan the barcode of any of the many retailers who are partnered with ModeSens, revealing detailed information that can guide their purchase.

ModeSens is building an online community of luxury shoppers that can collaborate to find exactly what they are looking for in an authentic way. Through the website, members can upload pictures of the products that they have acquired, write reviews, provide helpful information to others, and ask questions.

"We want this to be a place where anyone can share their thoughts, and photos without feeling too intimidated to contribute," Craycraft says.

When it comes to venture capital invested in the first quarter of 2019, Houston raked in less than 10 percent of what Austin reported, but the state as a whole has seen an increase, according to Crunchbase. Getty Images

While the state marked significant growth in first quarter venture capital investments year over year, Houston fell far behind its Texas sister cities. Houston startups received just 10 percent of what Austin startups reported, and Houston lost its lead it's had on Dallas for two quarters, according to Crunchbase data.

Texas had a reported $790.4 million in Q1, per Crunchbase, which is up from Q4 2018's $530.6 million as well as being up year over year from $587.2 million in Q1 of 2018. The number of deals for the state was cut almost by half — 64 Q1 2019 deals compared to 118 in Q1 of 2018 — "indicating larger investment sizes as the state's startup market continues to mature," according to Crunchbase's Mary Ann Azevedo.

Meanwhile in Houston, the city's startups received $44.7 million of that reported investment last quarter, which is down from the $121.4 million reported in Q4 2018. Austin raked in $493.8 million — more than 10 times that of Houston — and Dallas reported $245.4 million, which more than doubles what they reported for Q4 of 2018.

Houston lost its lead it had on Dallas for the past two quarters. In Q4 of 2018, Houston outdid Dallas with $121 million in venture capital investment, according to Crunchbase. Before that, Houston crushed Dallas in the third quarter too with $138.8 million compared to Dallas' $38.1 million. That quarter was when Houston came close to Austin's VC funding.

The largest deal in Houston was for biotech startup, Solugen, which closed its $13 million Series A in March, Cruncbase reported, and Y Combinator contributed to the round.

The Crunchbase report mentioned a few huge deals that tipped the scale this time around for Austin and Dallas. Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics closed a $150 million Series E round in February. In Austin, Disco — a company founded in Houston but relocated to Austin — closed a $83 million Series E round, and Austin's Billd drew in $60 million in a Series A.

Houston's cut shrinks

Houston's piece of the Texas VC pie continues to shrink. In Q3 2018, the city had a third of the funds and, in Q4, had over 20 percent.Via Crunchbase News

Dallas is back at No. 2

Dallas came back with a vengeance after being outdone by Houston for the past two quarters.Via Crunchbase News