My best friends and I are constantly asking each other for fashion advice. “You have to help me pick out something to wear” is not an unusual request. However, we’re scattered in different time zones, making it impossible to judge an outfit in person. So many times we’ve been standing in our closets and wanted an opinion. Having a trusted friend to tell you that your outfit is perfect for a meeting with your boss or that your tie does not match your suit can give anyone more confidence and pride in their appearance.
Melanie Shaul (B.S. CS ’15) and Ali Sipher know the feeling. Friends for over 15 years, they would text photos of their outfits to each other every morning when they were high school and ask for feedback. The ritual continued even after they graduated and Sipher went to Northwestern University and Shaul to USC Viterbi.
When Sipher’s brothers suggested going beyond texting and creating an app that would allow users to upload pictures of their outfits, comment and share information about where they had bought them, the women discovered that similar apps already existed. But their research revealed a gap in the market: None of the apps allowed users to receive feedback exclusively from the people whose opinions they actually wanted — their friends and family.
In July 2014, Shaul and Sipher were accepted into USC Viterbi’s Startup Garage with their idea for Wauw — which stands for “What Are You Wearing.” The Wauw app allows users to upload a selfie and share it with friends, who vote thumbs-up, thumbs-down or maybe on the featured outfit and leave a comment. If you’re in a hurry — say, you’ve got to leave soon for work — there’s a countdown feature, giving users a time limit on replying. Once time is up, the image is erased, ensuring the sender does not get feedback after she has already made a decision.
I tried Wauw myself: One day I had a meeting at work followed by a date with my fiancé. I wanted my friends’ advice about what to wear. Getting dressed that morning, I picked out an outfit — yellow skirt, blue top, and black high-heeled boots. I snapped a selfie, set the timer for 15 minutes, and shared it with my friend Lisa.
Lisa clicked “maybe” and commented, “I like the skirt, but I don’t think the top matches.” I tried a new combination, took another selfie and asked for an opinion. “That’s better!” Lisa said, asking if I had a necklace that matched the skirt. The accessorizing continued from there. We used to do this through text, but Wauw was faster and offered a more enjoyable way to communicate.
While living and working halfway across the country from each other, Shaul and Sipher gained admission into the Viterbi Startup Garage, a sixmonth venture incubator that provides participants with the funding, resources and mentors to launch their company. The Startup Garage is the only incubator in Southern California to focus its support on companies led by engineers.
“If we hadn’t gotten into the Garage, we would not still be around,” Sipher said. “It was great to be around a group of other people with the same lifestyle.”
The women have ambitious plans for Wauw, including seeking partnerships with retailers, encouraging consumers to use Wauw in store fitting rooms and collecting data on the items that receive a majority of likes — and allowing retailers to see what their customers like and ultimately purchase. Shaul and Sipher are also working on ways to make the app even more engaging, including a split-screen photo option allowing users to present two outfit combinations to friends.
Shaul and Sipher are passionate about inspiring girls to lead their own startups. They have a growing number of high school interns — “currently 10 and counting,” Sipher said — who help with market research and act as community managers and liaisons to target the 13 to 17 year-old demographic. The pair has also reached out to local Northern California high schools, encouraging teens to start business with their friends. Said Shaul: “We want to inspire girls to start companies together!”