You wait ages for foot-scanning startups to help with the tricky fit issue that troubles online shoe shopping and then two come along at once: Launching today in time for Black Friday sprees is Xesto -- which, like Neatsy, which we wrote about earlier today, also makes use of the iPhone's TrueDepth camera to generate individual 3D foot models for shoe size recommendations.
The Canadian startup hasn't always been focused on feet. It has a long-standing research collaboration with the University of Toronto, alma mater of its CEO and co-founder Sophie Howe (its other co-founder and chief scientist, Afiny Akdemir, is also pursuing a Math PhD there) -- and was actually founded back in 2015 to explore business ideas in human computer interaction.
But Howe tells us it moved into mobile sizing shortly after the 2017 launch of the iPhone X -- which added a 3D depth camera to Apple's smartphone. Since then Apple has added the sensor to additional iPhone models, pushing it within reach of a larger swathe of iOS users. So you can see why startups are spying a virtual fit opportunity here.
"This summer I had an aha! moment when my boyfriend saw a pair of fancy shoes on a deep discount online and thought they would be a great gift. He couldn't remember my foot length at the time, and knew I didn't own that brand so he couldn't have gone through my closet to find my size," says Howe. "I realized in that moment shoes as gifts are uncommon because they're so hard to get correct because of size, and no one likes returning and exchanging gifts. When I've bought shoes for him in the past, I've had to ruin the surprise by calling him -- and I'm not the only one. I realized in talking with friends this was a feature they all wanted without even knowing it... Shoes have such a cult status in wardrobes and it is time to unlock their gifting potential!"
Howe slid into this TechCrunch writer's DMs with the eye-catching claim that Xesto's foot-scanning technology is more accurate than Neatsy's -- sending a Xesto scan of her foot compared to Neatsy's measure of it to back up the boast. (Aka: "We are under 1.5 mm accuracy. We compared against Neatsy right now and they are about 1.5 cm off of the true size of the app," as she put it.)
Another big difference is Xesto isn't selling any shoes itself. Nor is it interested in just sneakers; it's shoe-type agnostic. If you can put it on your feet it wants to help you find the right fit, is the idea.
Right now the app is focused on the foot-scanning process and the resulting 3D foot models -- showing shoppers their feet in a 3D point cloud view, another photorealistic view as well as providing granular foot measurements.
There's also a neat feature that lets you share your foot scans so, for example, a person who doesn't have their own depth-sensing iPhone could ask to borrow a friend's to capture and takeaway scans of their own feet.
Helping people who want to be bought (correctly fitting) shoes as gifts is the main reason they've added foot-scan sharing, per Howe -- who notes shoppers can create and store multiple foot profiles on an account "for ease of group shopping".
"Xesto is solving two problems: Buying shoes [online] for yourself, and buying shoes for someone else," she tells TechCrunch. "Problem 1: When you buy shoes online, you might be unfamiliar with your size in the brand or model. If you've never bought from a brand before, it is very risky to make a purchase because there is very limited context in selecting your size. With many brands you translate your size yourself.
"Problem 2: People don't only buy shoes for themselves. We enable gift and family purchasing (within a household or remote!) by sharing profiles."
Xesto is doing its size predictions based on comparing a user's (<1.5mm accurate) foot measurements to brands' official sizing guidelines -- with more than 150 shoe brands currently supported.
Howe says it plans to incorporate customer feedback into these predictions -- including by analyzing online reviews where people tend to specify if a particular shoe size is larger or smaller than expected. So it's hoping to be able to keep honing the model's accuracy.
"What we do is remove the uncertainty of finding your size by taking your 3D foot dimensions and correlate that to the brands sizes (or shoe model, if we have them)," she says. "We use the brands size guides and customer feedback to make the size recommendations. We have over 150 brands currently supported and are continuously adding more brands and models. We also recommend if you have extra wide feet you read reviews to see if you need to size up (until we have all that data robustly gathered)."
Asked about the competitive landscape, given all this foot-scanning action, Howe admits there's a number of approaches trying to help with virtual shoe fit -- such as comparative brand sizing recommendations or even foot scanning with pieces of paper. But she argues Xesto has an edge because of the high level of detail of its 3D scans -- and on account of its social sharing feature. Aka this is an app to make foot scans you can send your bestie for shopping keepsies.
"What we do that is unique is only use 3D depth data and computer vision to create a 3D scan of the foot with under 1.5mm accuracy (unmatched as far as we've seen) in only a few minutes," she argues. "We don't ask you any information about your feet, or to use a reference object. We make size recommendations based on your feet alone, then let you share them seamlessly with loved ones. Size sharing is a unique feature we haven't seen in the sizing space that we're incredibly excited about (not only because we will get more shoes as gifts :D)."
Xesto's iOS app is free for shoppers to download. It's also entirely free to create and share your foot scan in glorious 3D point cloud -- and will remain so according to Howe. The team's monetization plan is focused on building out partnerships with retailers, which is on the slate for 2021.
"Right now we're not taking any revenue but next year we will be announcing partnerships where we work directly within brands ecosystems," she says, adding: "[We wanted to offer] the app to customers in time for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season. In 2021, we are launching some exciting initiatives in partnership with brands. But the app will always be free for shoppers!"
Since being founded around five years ago, Howe says Xesto has raised a pre-seed round from angel investors and secured national advanced research grants, as well as taking in some revenue over its lifetime. The team has one patent granted and one pending for their technologies, she adds.