In the post-corona virus era, one of the industries that is undoubtedly incorporating advanced technologies at a much faster speed than ever before is Fashion. Thanks to AI and computer vision powered tools, a new and engaging experience is being born for both retailers and consumers. One of the players in this league is Pixyle.ai, a North Macedonian startup founded in 2017, which provides AI-powered image recognition software for a better shopping experience.

Founded by Svetlana Kordumova, who combined her passion for technology and fashion with her desire to innovate and solve real problems, this startup is helping the industry reshape its look.

Svetlana is a PhD holder in Multimedia and Artificial Intelligence, a part-time university professor, and an entrepreneur. We had the pleasure to talk to her and find out more about how her startup is changing the shopping experience, her views on the current and future industry and work trends, as well as her work-life balance. 

Hi Svetlana, thank you for joining us! To start with, could you tell us your story? What got you into entrepreneurship?

What attracted me to get into entrepreneurship is most probably the energy and the dynamic that this profession brings. I’m a person that always wants to explore new things, who loves working in teams and creating new innovative products. Innovation is the reason that I did my PhD in AI at the University in Amsterdam, and my willingness to work on products that solve real problems is why I founded Pixyle.ai. 

AI has always been my passion, and now we live in an era where the AI technologies are advanced to a level where they can make smart decisions, improve our everyday life experiences, help us in our everyday work, automate many tasks we had to do repeatedly by ourselves before, and improve businesses altogether. It’s a shame to keep this technology only in scientific papers. So I set myself a big challenge to combine AI with my other passion – fashion, and build a product that will make an impact on the fashion industry.

Could you tell us what is Pixyle.ai all about?

Pixyle.ai provides AI-powered image recognition software for fashion retailers that enables them to provide a better shopping experience for their customers. With our Visual AI software, they can automate time-consuming catalogue management processes, improve efficiency and shorten their time-to-market. How do we achieve this? Pixyle.ai has developed an intelligent system that can understand fashion in images. Our AI technology can localize where in the image a fashion item appears (a dress, jeans or shoes, etc.) and in addition to that, it can also tell you the details of that fashion item (like color, pattern, length, sleeves type, neckline type etc.) We took this technology, and packed it in three solutions: Automatic Tagging (to provide better filter and product discovery); Visual Search (to search for products with any image); and, Similar Recommendations (to show visually similar items of what customers are looking for).

Pixyle.ai is a B2B SaaS company. Our visual AI technology integrates seamlessly within any e-commerce platform, and it is built on top of powerful deep learning models. 

How is computer vision transforming the fashion industry? And, what’s the role that Pixyle.ai is playing in the overall process?

Fashion is all about visuals. Even if you try to describe a dress with words, it won’t be the same as seeing a picture of it.

We humans can recognize what is in an image just with a glimpse of it. And although this might seem like an easy task, actually 60% of our brain is used to process visual signals. Now imagine a computer being able to recognize images just as we do. Computer vision is all about this, making computers understand images. And creating AI systems that can understand fashion in images, can have a big impact on the industry. For example, for many people online shopping can be frustrating. You’re just browsing and browsing, and can’t find what you’re looking for. Computer Vision AI systems can help find the products you want, in a fraction of the time that you’d normally be searching. It can bring back fun in online shopping!

The e-commerce customer experience is now completely driven with AI solutions, like online site navigation and search, targeted marketing, personalized offers, size and fit recommendation, style recommendation, analytics and many more. And here is where Pixyle.ai brings value and makes a difference. By using Computer Vision and AI, we take image pixels and we automatically generate semantic data from them, which is crucial for e-commerce stores to run successfully. Data is the new oil, and now imagine data being generated automatically with AI from images only. The insights and analytics this data can bring are useful for any fashion business to make smart decisions, improve and grow.

What trends have you seen emerging in online shopping since the crisis with the coronavirus has begun?

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the fashion industry is completely moving online and becoming digital. Even for those who were questioning whether to go online, now there is no question at all. 

How do you see AI changing your sector in the future? What new trends should we expect to see emerging?

Going completely online brings a vast number of challenges for fashion retailers in the complete value chain, from design, production, wholesale, and online sales. These challenges are also an inspiration for new innovative digital products. Clothes are now being designed with pixels, and they can only exist in the digital world. This shortens the time for sample design, and makes the design process more sustainable without any waste of materials. Now you can dress up digitally, and see how the style you choose will look on you with Augmented Reality. The wholesale process is moving completely digital, with digital showrooms on screens. 

Apart from being a founder and CEO of Pixyle.ai, you are a part-time university assistant professor and have a family. What’s your secret sauce for maintaining a life-work balance? What advice would you give to other founders?

My advice would be not to put any limits to yourself, and just go for what you want to do, but very importantly, to make a realistic plan and set the right expectations. See what you can do, what you will need help in, and plan things together with your team and personally with your family. Support is very important, and I could not have done anything without the people around me. There will be many bumps in the road, and asking for help is ok, and it’s very much needed. 

Life is a constant compromise between all that’s on our to-do list, and what works best for me – a continuous prioritization of those to-dos. There is always something that can wait, and something that needs to be done first.

With many startups going fully remote right now, ‘remote work’ is believed to be the future of work. What’s your current practice and do you plan to stay remote after the pandemic?

I must say that I am very happy with how the complete team of Pixyle.ai adapted to working remotely. We were up and running from day 2. We have daily meetings, and team members are working together on online calls throughout the whole day. I’m happy to see that the team spirit and the closeness we had in the office is still there, only online.

I believe once things are more settled, moving to the office or working remotely will be a decision that we will make together as a team. We’ll see what everyone’s preference is, and if they feel more comfortable staying home they can, if they want to come to the office that is also fine, or it can be a mix from the two. The practice showed that working from home is also as effective as being physically present in the office, so it’s definitely an option. What we will for sure come back to the office is for our Friday after work drinks. We all miss being with each other and hanging out.

What is it like to start a startup in North Macedonia? Would you recommend the country to foreign founders and why?

Having a startup in North Macedonia I would say is as challenging as in any other place. It requires a lot of work, adjustments, listening to your market, choosing the right accelerator for your business, forming the right team, finding the best advisors, pivoting in a pandemic, runway, investments, and many other things. And with everything being online these days, I would say it doesn’t even matter where you are. What is very important, is to choose the right startup accelerator for your industry and target market, taking the location into account then, because connections for your target market are very important.

From my experience, I am very happy with the team, there are a lot of smart and bright people in North Macedonia, the culture is very positive, people are open, and we have a very nice working atmosphere. The startup community and support in North Macedonia is also growing, and people are sharing experiences, so I would definitely recommend North Macedonia as a good place for startups.