Having a 'weirdly long back' turned out to be an asset
An international team and an international outlook: Fitbay has the pattern for a perfect fit
It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention and, for Christian Wylonis, the CEO of the Danish startup Fitbay, this was the case. “I’m 188cm tall, which is just above average in Denmark, but I have a weirdly long back! So shirts and t-shirts would always be too short for me,” he revealed.
This is how, in the summer of 2012, the idea behind Fitbay started to take form. “I had one or two brands that fitted me. I looked for services to discover clothes appropriate for my size, but with no luck,” he continued.
“The more I talked to people, the more I realised what a huge problem it is, especially for women, who differ even more than men in body shape. That’s when I began to look for people to develop the idea with me.”
Wylonis began to put together a team. He told me that they all have something in common. “We are all Danish, but we have a very international profile,” he said.
Wylonis’s brother Philip is the head of marketing. The brothers are Danish and grew up in Copenhagen, but their father is from the USA and they went across the pond for their university studies.
“Andreas Jarbøl, our CTO (head of technology), studied at DTU. His parents are Danish, but he grew up in Luxembourg,” he continued.
“Michael Wolthers Nielsen, the company’s head of product, is half-British and half-Danish. And Troels Christensen, the lead front-end developer, also has an international background.”
The Wylonis brothers and Christensen have known each other since childhood and attended Copenhagen International School together.
Flying the nest
Wylonis has an impressive CV from before his Fitbay days. “I took my bachelor’s at Dartmouth and my master’s at Harvard,” he revealed.
“After completing my studies, I worked as a management consultant for four years at McKinsey. I then worked for a year at the venture capital fund Creandum in Stockholm, investing in startups. This was a great opportunity to get into the startup scene. I invested in a lot of Danish startups: for example the wine app Vivino and the auto repair service Auto Butler.”
“But I had the idea and the team for my own startup. I said to Creandum: ‘I need to pursue my own dream.’ So I moved back to Denmark.”
Things then began to develop fast. “Over a period of four months we developed our prototype, which was ready by November last year,” he said.
“We talked to potential investors and had an angel round. Among those who invested were Jesper Buch, the founder of Just Eat, and Creandum. We raised $350,000, which allowed us to take on some employees.”
“Three months ago we launched our closed beta version, meaning that you had to have an invite to use it. Our user base was growing by 40 percent every week, over 150 percent every month. From my experience in venture capital, I knew that the timing was right for a larger round of investment.”
“Two months ago, I moved to New York and pitched to potential investors. We had a seed round and secured investment of $2 million from Steadfast Venture Capital and Creandum.”
“In the future, we are planning to hire more people, both in Denmark and in the US. We have our product and technology team in Denmark and our marketing in New York. We will continue to try to build as good a product as possible, and our goal is that by next summer we will have 1 million users.”
Capital gains on shares-comparison of statuory rates (as at 1 July 2012) source: OECD
High capital gains tax is holding Denmark back, claims Fribay's CEO, Christian Wylonis
Do it in Denmark?
Having experience on both sides of the Øresund, and the Atlantic, Wylonis is able to see the Danish startup scene from an international perspective. “Denmark is a good place for startups, but unfortunately Stockholm is a long way ahead of Copenhagen,” he said.
“Denmark is a great place to start a business because there are a lot of highly-skilled people. Also, a lot of the risk associated with a startup is alleviated because there is a strong social safety net. But things could be better. Capital gains tax is extremely high in Denmark [See graph], causing some not to want to launch their own startup in Denmark. A lot decide to go to London or Stockholm.”
“The market in Stockholm started maturing a lot earlier. It has a lot of successes, including Spotify and Skype, which are now worth billions of dollars. But Denmark is catching up and seeing some big successes, like Just Eat, which just went public in London.”
Time will tell if Fitbay one day tops the list of Danish success stories. If the shirt fits, it will wear it.