Tommy Hilfiger, the clothing brand, wanted to accelerate the months-long cycle of fashion show to cash register.
The company envisioned a smartphone app that would let fans buy the same clothes worn by models like Gigi Haddad as they went down the catwalks in the big annual shows in New York, Los Angeles, London, and Milan.
To build that app, TommyNow Snap, Hilfiger turned to a Philadelphia firm, Slyce. That company, formerly based in Canada, immigrated to Philly last year, following its 2015 purchase of SnipSnap, a Center City firm. SnipSnap's founder, Ted Mann, experimented with moving coupon images and bar codes on the cloud-based note program Evernote, then developed a digital camera-based retail-identification system that landed Neiman Marcus as an early customer.
Slyce paid $1 million for SnipSnap and promised up to $5.5 million in future incentive payments (which were later paid). When it bought SnipSnap, Slyce was a publicly traded tech holding company controlled by the family that previously owned K-Tel, a music retailer familiar to people who remember greatest-hits record album ads on late-night 1970s TV. Slyce put Mann, a 1999 Penn grad who had earlier worked in digital advertising for newspaper publisher Gannett Co., in charge of its consumer apps division. The deal enabled SnipSnap to pay off an initial investment by the state-backed Ben Franklin Technology Partners.
Buoyed by $45 million from an initial public offering, Slyce then acquired Pounce, an Israeli catalog image-recognition app, and Drivetrain Agency, which was developing mobile apps. According to Mann, by January 2017 his division "was the profitable part of the company, so the board asked me to take over the whole thing." He agreed to be CEO on condition that the company move back to his old base, Philadelphia. The company worked with Washington-based Anzu Partners to buy out the remaining public investors and recapitalize Slyce's app assets.
"Very quickly, we signed a ton of retailers," Mann recounts. "Neiman Marcus remains a customer. We have Home Depot, Abercrombie & Fitch, Bed Bath & Beyond, Macy's, JCPenney. We work with every major department store in the U.S. and most big-box retailers. Download the Home Depot app, go into the camera mode, that's us. When you see a camera icon in a retail app, that's almost always us.
"We build the technology. We also do bar code scanning and catalog scanning. Image recognition is the coolest piece, you can take a picture of any product in a photo and match it to the retailer. Our competitors don't have many customers." An exception is online giant Amazon, which uses its own camera tech.
Slyce employs 60, more than half of those in Philly with others at an R&D center in Nova Scotia. Mann has added Philly talent, including Adam Turkelson as chief technical officer. "Adam is a rock star in this world: computer-vision machine learning," Mann told me. Turkelson was one of the first engineers at Neat Co. (formerly NeatReceipts), the Philadelphia-based payment-records scanning firm backed by Edison Ventures.
The TommyNow Snap app that Slyce made for Hilfiger was named Mobile Solution of the Year last month at the 13th annual Retail Systems Awards in London, by judges from Marks & Spencer and other big British retailers. "That brand came back from near death — massive transformation," says Mann.
"They had this dramatic shift in their go-to-market strategy. They made it immediately profitable, right off the runway. See now, buy now. They didn't used to have an easy way to do that with a mobile device. People don't take a computer to a fashion show. So the asked us to make an app built around the camera and visible search."