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Sean Percival and his wife, Laurie, are known in the L.A. tech scene for being a particularly stylish couple.
So of course, when the couple welcomed their first child, the world expected the child to, you know, live up to the family standard. But there was a slight roadblock.
“Laurie had a lot of trouble just finding simple, solid-colored clothes without some kind of horrible logo on it,” said the Percival patriarch during a phone conversation.
“She likes putting outfits together herself, and here was a huge gap in the market.”
Percival, who had previously worked at MySpace and who was itching to get back into the e-commerce space, saw his wife’s stress and frustrations with trying to maintain basic baby-fashion essentials as an opportunity for entrepreneurship.
Kids, especially the youngest of youngsters, go through clothes at a breakneck pace; while some subscription commerce sites might be a stretch, this vertical was one that truly did call for a constantly refreshed supply of basics, from solid tees to tasteful onesies.
Percival’s solution is Wittlebee, a service that lets busy parents fill out a size and style profile and, for $40 per month, get a monthly delivery of a box of clothes that will (likely) work for their kid and their needs.
Wittlebee is the third startup this month from new Los Angeles incubator Science. The incubator is headed up by Mike Jones, former MySpace CEO who said he loved working with Percival during his days with the social network. The first Science startup to launch was Eventup, headed by Tony Adam, also a former MySpacer and friend to Jones; Eventup’s site went live just a week ago.
Percival said Wittlebee’s boxes provide a pleasing variety of choices with an American Apparel-like simplicity. Items are chosen based on the parent’s choices in color and style, with consideration for the child’s personality (e.g., a “diva” would probably get different pieces than would be delivered to a “messy” kid).
These are separates that are intended to work together for good, and best of all, it comes without the nightmare of dragging a toddler through a department store.
“The retail experience around kids’ clothes is really bad,” Percival said. “The racks are a mess; the teenage associate doesn’t know how to help a mom; and there are often no dressing rooms. And the biggest issue is companies put a huge markup on everything.”
To get started with an initial list of a few hundred beta customers, Percival shopped clearance items and overstock, building subscription boxes around the pieces he found. Nowadays, being in a major manufacturing and distribution hub for fashion, the Wittlebee team is making wholesale buys. Soon, the startup hopes to start producing its own label, as well.
Ultimately, Percival said, the boxes will include a mix of big-brand items, boutique finds, and Wittlebee-only private label pieces.
“Every mom thinks of their child differently,” Percival continued. “‘My daughter has really long legs; my son is husky; this brand doesn’t work for him.’ It’s hard to get items that fit correctly.” So, Wittlebee will include intelligent recommendations that take into account the discrepancies between sizes produced by different brands.
Eventually, Percival hopes to not just send out new clothes but to do intake for old clothes, too. “I want to create a system where we give a return envelope when we send a box and then we donate the clothes to a local charity,” he said.
Currently, Wittlebee’s stock cuts off at around age five; soon, the range will extend to around 12 years old.
One of the most interesting parts of Wittlebee, especially from an entrepreneurial perspective, is its customer service. Noting that we live in “an Amazon world” where fast shipments and great service are expected, even for scrappy startup, Percival said the service had its first growing pains within the first couple months of beta testing.
To take care of his customers better, Percival hired a few stay-at-home mom Wittlebee members as customer service reps. This army of moms is armed with Grasshopper and Olark, which Percival uses to direct customer service calls and issues.
So when current customers call Wittlebee, he said, “They’re calling people who are intimately familiar with our system and how it works. It’s not some call center in India; it feels more natural. They have a personal connection with us at every step of the way.”
Percival, who is expecting another little one to join his family soon, is also thinking about another high-turnover vertical for kids: books.
“I have a strong affinity for kids’ books,” he told us, “and I’m thinking about ways to reinvent the book club.”