It all starts with this old proverb: A picture is worth a thousand words. Jiwon Hong is the co-founder of a unique AI-powered fashion recommendation engine aptly named, YesPlz, for a polite response of satisfied customers and as the biggest fan of Parks and Recreation*. YesPlz is a B2B service platform that uses a proprietary machine-learning algorithm to find you the exact fit and style you are looking for with just a few clicks at your favorite online fashion stores.
Q: How did you come up with the visual search interface?
J: I worked as a product manager for SmartTV at Samsung Electronics and particularly enjoyed working on search and recommendation of the products. I wanted to design my own program that recommended on the product of my interest. so I left Samsung and jumped into the startup world. The first company I started made search and recommendations for gourmet condiments but unfortunately, it did not see the light. I ameliorated the business model and performed extensive market research and spent over 2,000 hours interviewing users to understand what attributes truly mattered when shopping online.
Q: Is there a particular reason you are in the apparel sector?
J: For some, shopping is a hobby. For others, it’s a task. Love it or hate it, we all have to shop at some point. I turned to fashion because it is the most popular online shopping category and I felt the time and energy spent while in-store shopping became a luxury, which I am sure is shared with many who are busy with work or have children and going in-store is just not a viable option. Our innovative visual searching technology helps customers to discover their favorite styles four times more likely than traditional search and recommendation engines, eliminating the time wasted scrolling through irrelevant items. What this means for our B2B clients is their sales revenue can go up by 15% at the least since more people are spending time on buying rather than searching. Additionally, because our recommendations are based on style, not brands, customers can discover unfamiliar brands too
Q: It must have been difficult starting your own business, especially after seeing your first company fall. What would you say was the biggest challenge starting YesPlz?
J: I didn’t see the closing of my first startup as a failure. It was a stepping stone for starting YesPlz. The most difficult thing for me in starting a business was staying fit. When you are at a startup, a typical 9-5 work hours do not apply, so keeping up with my physical energy level has been extremely challenging. I wish I could buy HP potions to immediately up physical stamina to get back to work again as you can in a game.
Q: As a founder of a startup, you must have met so many people and had to introduce you and the company over and over. Simple Steps is starting a series of workshops on self-introduction in April. Can you share a few tips on how to introduce yourself?
J: Pitching for a startup is quite different than introducing yourself. It has to be super simple and quick. Like a movie teaser to grasp the attention in a few seconds. You can use a similar approach to get the attention first by starting with a catchy phrase that describes what you do best (your current position or most prominent position) and add your biggest achievements from those positions to build your own story. Also being confident plays a huge role when you are presenting yourself.
Q: What is your envision for the company? Do you have any near term goals to achieve that?
J: My envision for the company is to democratize the marketplace. To do that, I am working on building my own Avengers team to scale the business. Currently, we only have 5 team staff members, so I am looking for experienced full-stack/back-end engineers and UX researchers to join the team. I am actively searching and my goal is to meet over a hundred candidates to find the one! I hired two amazing fashion data analysts through Simple Steps and cannot thank them enough for this opportunity to work with great talents.
Q: Can you share your experience with hiring talents through Simple Steps?
J: Simple Steps understood the qualities of candidates I was looking for which is often hard to communicate with a hiring firm. The candidates from Simple Steps were highly experienced and all had trustworthy qualities. Ultimately the candidates with the most relevant job experience and a good cultural fit were hired, and they have been a huge asset to YesPlz since. The hiring process is time-consuming and for a startup, time is everything. Simple Steps made sure that my time was not wasted interviewing anyone who is not qualified.
Q: You must have interviewed many candidates hiring for YesPlz. Do you have any advice on interviewing for our community members?
J: I open the interview with me asking the candidate if they have any questions about the company. This way, I can learn if the candidate did, in fact, do the research prior to the interview and gain insight into their knowledge and interest of the company. So make sure to read the company’s website thoroughly and present yourself along the lines with the company’s mission and work culture. For example, YesPlz’s work culture is “Respect, be respectful”. Knowing your stuff and having the experience is necessary to be respected and respect others. It is also super helpful if you have the work experience related to the position you are applying for. If you don’t have work experience, make one. Create a project on your own or hire a team from Upwork or other similar resources and make something. It doesn’t have to be a real product or a job, but leading your own project is going to show the employer that you have integrity, willing to take chances and make things happen.
YesPlz partnered with one of the top three fashion powerhouse websites in Korea. YesPlz’s recommendation engine has been integrated and more search and recommendation applications will be launched in a few months. Meanwhile, you can try out YesPlz’s innovative technology here (https://yesplz.us/) and learn more about YesPlz here (https://yesplz.ai/). Jiwon works remotely at home alongside her co-founder, Sukjae Cho, who is also her husband. She enjoys spending time and working with him and says their teamwork is nearly perfect.
*Parks and Recreation is an American politically satirical sitcom featuring Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari, which Ansari’s confident but sarcastic character, Tom Haverford, often says, “Yes, please.”
Interview date: March 25, 2020
Written by Kat Choi