Fashion app Mallzee is shaking up both the high street and the global tech sector. And when it comes to the fast moving world of online fashion, founder and CEO Cally Russell is a man on a mission.
Cally Russell couldn’t find the perfect pair of black jeans. So he did what any self-respecting tech entrepreneur would do, and launched his own innovative, free personal shopping app in 2013. This year he hopes to welcome the app’s one millionth user.
That rapid growth wouldn’t have been possible without the help and assistance of Scottish Enterprise (SE), he says.
“From day one, the support we’ve had from SE has been fundamental to our success. The support it provides – investment, introductions, advice – is vital. Both on the tech side of the business, and the financial side, SE has helped us from the off, and continue to do so.”
‘Tinder for shopping’
Mallzee brings together fashion brands from over 150 big name manufacturers and retailers, allowing its users to flick through, bookmark, and buy items direct from their mobile phone or tablet. Often referred to as ‘Tinder for shopping’, users flick right for ‘like’ or left for ‘discard’.
Even better, and here comes the clever part, the site also allows you to get your friends’ opinions on any potential purchase before you buy. There are also complex algorithms crunching away behind the scenes, generating fashion recommendations based on your previous purchasing habits. Smarter still, if your friends don’t like your fashion choices, the app will block the ‘buy’ button, saving you from fashion shame.
Bright spark is now a hot favourite
The firm began life as part of the Entrepreneurial Spark initiative, the not-for-profit business incubator and accelerator programme backed by Scots business tycoons Sir Willie Haughey and Sir Tom Hunter. Most recently, Mallzee has secured a further £2.5 million in investment with the help of the Scottish Investment Bank.
Cally had previously turned down a £75,000 investment from Peter Jones on the BBC programme Dragons’ Den, feeling that Jones wanted too much of the business at too low a capital valuation.
“I’m glad I walked from the deal,” he says. “Peter Jones gave me the confidence to aim high. He said we could be a £100 million business and we’re well on the way to proving him right.”
Key investors now include Skyscanner CEO Gareth Williams, and the Royal Mail Group, who both see huge potential in the business. Other investors include the SIB, Par Equity, Laurence Marlor (Rental Cars) and Rob Dobson (Actix).
"Choice abounds but shoppers and retailers want technology to help them make sense of the market. The team at Mallzee have made significant progress to date and this investment will provide a runway for the business in its next stage of growth and development," says Paul Munn, director at Par Equity.
Fashion app is making global waves
Many of the introductions I’ve had in the industry came via my SE account manager. He’s great at pointing us in the right direction, and keeping us aware of industry developments and opportunities.
Cally Russell, founder and CEO of Mallzee
Mallzee isn’t Cally’s first business venture. The politics and international relations graduate began his professional life in PR, before setting up on his own to launch and run his own student magazine.
“A lot of people have helped us along the way,” he says, “and without the support of Entrepreneurial Spark and Scottish Enterprise we wouldn’t have got to this stage – I’ll always be indebted to them.”
Cally, who says he wants “to change the way the world shops” adds:
“The amount of money being spent on clothes online is increasing 15% every year and the ecommerce boom is showing no signs of slowing down.
“We’ve already seen a huge number of sign-ups from abroad and are confident that we can create a global business from right here in Scotland.”
Cally is well on his way to doing just that - the company is now the biggest non-retailer shopping app in the UK, with Yahoo calling it “one of the six apps that will change the way we shop forever”.
Scotland’s supportive tech community
The Dunoon-born entrepreneur has also won personal praise, with the app’s success in America seeing US business ‘bible’ Forbes naming him one of their “30 under 30 in Europe” – a watch list of young innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders who are transforming sectors including business, technology, finance, media, culture and entertainment.
Based in Edinburgh’s ‘Silicon Triangle’, Mallzee very much feels part of an innovative and creative tech community, says Cally.
“The tech sector in Scotland is relatively small, but very supportive. We know most of the big players and can rely on them for help and advice. Not only do they, and SE, cheer us on when we’re doing well, they also sometimes tell us where we’re going wrong. That sort of advice from people who have already gone through the growing pains of a young business is invaluable.
“We try to play our part in that feedback process, regularly staging social events where the Scottish tech community can gather to hear guest speakers and swap ideas.
“We also try to help the next generation of coders and developers. We currently have four development interns working with us.
“We’ve also had help from Scottish Development International, and their team of GlobalScots.
“It doesn’t seem to matter where you go in the world of business, you always seem to bump into a fellow Scot, and most are delighted to offer advice or a helping hand.
“Scotland, I feel, needs to make more of these global connections - we need to be less backwards and a bit more gallus. We’ve got great tech skills in Scotland, and we need to get out there and shout about them. The digital market is a global market.
“Scotland right now is a great place for tech start-ups. There’s some great success stories, like Skyscanner and FreeAgent. Those guys are so open and willing to share their stories on how they got there.”
Big ambitions for business
With Malzee adding six-figure sign-ups every quarter, Cally and his 30-strong, multinational team are now busy refining the app, looking to recruit more retailers and extend Mallzee’s offering.
“As well as finding new and innovative ways to work with retailers, within the next year we hope to almost treble our user base. I see lots of opportunities,” says Cally.
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