According to Shums Kassam (EngSci 1T5), a U of T Engineering degree equips students with many valuable things, but a solid fashion sense isn’t necessarily one of them.
Two things, among others, that Kassam claims he has gained from his engineering degree are both the competencies to build a digital personal stylist app called Blynk, as well as the connections that inspired him to launch it into a business, which is already seeing success on the market.
Kassam and fellow Blynk co-founder Jaclyn Ling designed their business around an app that combines user style preferences, instant purchases and the addictive swipe-right, swipe-left format.
“Through a Tinder-like interface, users swipe through inspiration photos – left to dislike, right to like,” said Kassam. “Blynk learns users’ style preferences and recommends a full outfit that users can buy based on what they like. Users also have the ability to build and share outfits, and even request outfits from fashion stylists – all for free.”
The duo developed Blynk both through U of T Engineering’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery and as part of the Next 36 entrepreneurship development program, co-founded by U of T’s Ajay Agrawal.
Since going through the Next 36, Kassam and Ling launched Blynk to great market and media interest, including features in Toronto Life, Global TV, the Globe and Mail and more. Kassam says the attention has been driven largely by the company’s entrepreneurial drive, as they’ve already pitched at industry showcases and even won a $100,000 investment for top spot in the International Startup Festival competition.
“Blynk’s vision is to provide free and accessible fashion advice to everyone,” he said, “through a simple, fun and addicting platform. An average personal stylist costs over $100 an hour. Blynk replicates this value for free, anytime and anywhere.”
Kassam spoke with U of T News about what’s next for the growing company.
It all started with a wardrobe problem
SK: Jaclyn and I arrived at this startup idea when she took me shopping early in December and gave me style suggestions. My confidence improved, and I really liked dressing better. We started working on Blynk in early April – developing it on Android while finishing up exams at school. Since then the startup has been going well. We won $100,000 from the International Startup festival and have had over 8,000 downloads while the app has been only out for about two months.
An app empowering fashion fans and fashion-challenged alike
SK: Blynk is for a variety of people – for someone like myself, I use Blynk because it helps me find products that I like and helps me define my own style. However, Blynk is also for fashion enthusiasts who want inspiration, or to share their love of fashion with others by posting content. Essentially, Blynk is for those who want to improve their style or those who enjoy expressing their style.
Blynk taps into the fashion blog community
SK: The fashion photos [featured on Blynk] come from different bloggers. We have partnered with a few fashion posts to upload content. In a newer version of Blynk [coming out within the next few weeks], users can upload their own content and, if approved, the content will be put in the feed. We are also planning, and already are starting, to partner with professional stylists. We continue to approve more stylists to our app.
Profits driven by users and vendors
SK: Many retail stores have contacted us because of interest in native advertising and in affiliate programs, where we can make a commission.
The real reason a fashion-challenged engineer devotes his time to a styling app
SK: I have a real passion for entrepreneurship – I see so much value in it, because it is a way to provide jobs and improve economic growth, while also trying to disrupt systems.