Madison Startup Markable Gains Investors As It Makes Its Mark On The Fashion World

By Judy Newman
The Wisconsin State Journal

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Joy Tang, a graduate of MIT who won a gold medal in China’s Math Olympics at 16 is now taking the fashion tech world by storm. Her company Markable has created an app that allows anyone who sees any (fashion) that catches their eye to take a photo and then the app will show users where they can buy similar fashions.

The Wisconsin State Journal

Being smart and being stylish don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Joy Tang is evidence of that.

Tang is co-founder and CEO of Markable, a Madison startup that lets people shop for the clothing they see and admire right on the spot, via their iPhones. And it is getting noticed by some prestigious style-makers, including New York Fashion Week. (An Android version is still being developed.)

Markable has received $1.9 million from investors, led by Cheetah Mobile, a leading app development company.

“I’m a girl who loves fashion,” said Tang, 31, a native of China.

But that’s not how Tang got her start in the business world. Mathematics was the driver for that.

Tang won a gold medal in China’s Math Olympics at age 16, and after earning a Bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), landed a job writing software for a high-frequency financial trading firm in Chicago.

“I had eight really big computer screens at my desk,” said Tang, admitting that she devoted one to social media, including Facebook and Instagram. “I saw a lot of colorful fashion photos from bloggers and wondered there they got those pieces.”

So in 2014, she switched from finance to fashion and began building a database of clothing and accessories.

“We currently have 40 million to 50 million products in our database. We have 800 brands and are now actively adding more luxury brands,” Tang said.

“Anyone who sees any (fashion) that catches their eye can take a photo. (Using the Markable app,) we can show you where to buy similar fashions,” she said. The purchases can be made through Markable.

The goal is to try to predict what shoppers are looking for and match it with similar products, said Tang.

She said major advances in deep learning in 2015 helped realize Markable’s concept.

Deep learning is a type of artificial intelligence. Its software “tries to mimic the activity in layers of neurons in the neocortex, the wrinkly 80 percent of the brain where thinking occurs,” explains an article in the MIT Technology Review.

When a customer makes a purchase through the app, Markable gets a commission, ranging from 5 percent to 25 percent. Launched in May 2016, Markable already has seen sales of about $20,000, Tang said.

A second app is being finalized for high-end customers. Markable VIP will be an “exclusive platform” for Fashion Weeks in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Paris, Tang said. The startup has scored front-row seats at the shows, she said.

“The database is only for luxury brands. They are pre-ordered products not even on the shelf yet,” she said.

People who attend the Fashion Week style shows will be able to take a photo of a style they see a model wearing on the runway and order it through Markable. “It’s not going to get to you until several months later but you will be one of the first persons on the planet to get it,” Tang said.

The company has 11 full-time employees, five of them in Madison at the 100State co-working community, 30 W. Mifflin St.; that is Markable’s business office, Tang said.

The technology office, opened in July, is in Chicago’s West Loop.

Markable got an early boost from participating in the UstartX accelerator program in Menlo Park, California in late 2015. Tang was introduced to investors in China, where Cheetah Mobile is based, and expanded her visibility by appearing on a Shark Tank-like TV program in China, called “I am Unicorn.
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Tang came to Madison when her husband, a neurosurgery resident, landed a position at UW Hospital.

Madison entrepreneurs are more supportive and collaborative than than those in the highly competitive Silicon Valley, Tang said. “I like the attitude in the Midwest better; I just have to be myself.”

Tang said she plans to use the new funds to hire more staff to improve Markable’s algorithms and expand its database. “I just want to be No. 1 in fashion recognition,” she said.

Tang said running Markable has made her “a lot more mature and humble,” as she has had to learn to adapt to new challenges. But it’s also fed her fashion appetite.

“I definitely have better taste in clothes now,” she said.

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