After about 11 years in athletic wear retail, Monte Keleher decided to fix a pain point the industry had been experiencing for years. Keleher also decided the Treasure Valley would be a good place to do that, for an ecosystem with a talent pool and good scalability. His expectations were beyond exceeded.
“At the end of the day, if you’ve got a great business, you should be able to do it just about anywhere if you work hard enough at it,” Keleher said. “We definitely thought, and were told that (the Boise area) is up and coming, both in the talent pool and tech and just the vision. We like the values, so we took the jump and the leap. But then when we got here, it went well beyond our expectations of talent pool and (being) business friendly.”
Today, Fitted is expanding product offerings, growing its staff and raising seed funding for innovative technology that better connects retailers to each other, the brands they sell and their customers. Fitted, in the midst of raising $3.4 million in seed funding, just launched “the first ever b2b marketplace for retailers to access other retailers’ inventory,” as of May 2021.
Whereas traditionally retailers buy their products directly from the manufacturer and or the brands, “we’re able to create an ecosystem of retailers and brands, but specifically in this case retailers, and make them into a network where they can actually buy and sell amongst one another,” Keleher said, saving time and solving common shipping and sourcing issues. This can be done completely digitally, or with an in-store element.
Fitted launched January 2020 with four employees — Keleher is the CEO. Now, Fitted is up to nearly 30 employees. As the COVID-19 pandemic was putting pressure on retailers, Fitted started by offering a “turnkey ecommerce solution for, you know, retailers to reach their consumers.”
“Fitted determines the future of retail; we really do believe that,” Keleher said, “and, essentially, it starts with giving small to medium, even large businesses, the ability to predict where consumers are going and make sure they have the tools to meet them there. Ultimately by predicting what consumers want, we can determine exactly what they want in the future, and tell them where to go. We want to change the values of shoppers and consumers back to being focused on supporting their local businesses. We want to bring that back.”
Boise Entrepreneur Week, Built in Idaho and Trailhead enjoyed chatting with Keleher about where Fitted is headed, and Keleher’s experience as a startup entrepreneur.
“We just want to thank the local investment community — the founder of Kount, the founder of AppDetex, T-sheets, Clearwater Analytics, Capital Eleven, Vynyl, Trolley House — they all invested in Fitted and that’s a pretty cool story,” Keleher said. “We want to build something super special and bring an incredible outcome for those local investors.”
How would you describe how Fitted was conceived and how it came to be?
“When you are a retailer, there’s so many instances where you need a certain product or a certain color or size, whatever it is, and it’s out in the market, but the brands are completely out of stock. By sourcing all inventory on a single solution, a single platform, you truly are able to say, ‘If it’s in the country, we’re gonna make sure our customers can get it,’ the first time they come in, rather than having to do these long searches or go to three or four different retailers or websites; now it guarantees that no matter where they go, whoever they decide to support, they’re going to be able to have access to everything out there.”
What did you do before Fitted?
“I opened up a run specialty store in the Bay Area, San Francisco. I owned and operated a few different specialty shops where I learned, essentially, everything not to do, as well as pain points of retail, both digitally and in-store, and that’s what we’re trying to solve, and more than retail — small business.”
What inspired you to go the entrepreneur route?
“Life excites me. I want to move on and fast and I guess I’ve just always wanted to do exciting things and to be part of a team, and to be able to kind of choose that team and have people who want to do great things. I don’t think I ever said I wanted to be an entrepreneur; I guess I said when I was younger ‘I want to ‘own a business,’ whatever that means. But it’s really just wanting to hammer and drive forward and a lot of times you just find yourself becoming an entrepreneur because of those positions you put yourself in.”
What’s gone well so far?
“My wife has been incredible, and puts up with crazy hours and an absolute madman that loves what I do, loves my family more obviously. I can’t stand the term work life balance. … If you’re passionate about something you should go at it 100% of the time, and when you’re there, you should be 110% in, whether you’re with your family, or you’re doing what you love. So what’s gone well is we have an incredible team that is passionate about what we’re trying to and going to achieve.”
What are some challenges that you have had to overcome and what advice would you like to share for anyone who might be going through such a similar challenge?
“Everything’s a challenge in life right? I think not being an engineer myself. What I’ve learned about software is … you can dream up anything and say ‘Let’s do it’ and tell people and sell people on it, and then you have to remember that you got to code it. And I think it’s been hard, truly understanding timelines and how much to put out. You have to be so adamant about what you’re doing now with that future in mind constantly.”
How did you overcome your lack of software understanding?
“I wouldn’t say overcome, I wouldn’t even call it acceptance; I still get jacked up and yell and get excited and set ridiculous timelines that don’t make sense, but I think it’s understanding, listening to the engineers. I love listening to them; I mean it’s like listening to aliens, but just understanding more and more of the lift that they have to do and what’s required.”
In addition to an existing talent pool, what are some other resources in the entrepreneurial realm that have helped you grow and expand Fitted?
“Trailhead definitely helped us connect with investors, local mentors, as well as just give us the lay of the land. I highly recommend them to any startup.”
What would you want to make sure other potential entrepreneurs know?
“Always listen, but you have to have a constant open mind. But you have to be ferociously passionate and confident, and willing to stand by your belief. What I mean by that is, there’s a lot of times where investors, mentors or (anyone) will tell you ‘slow down, focus your thinking;’ you need to absolutely have this one part of your brain (that is) open; you should be (asking), ‘Am I doing something different? Do I need to do something different? Am I doing something, not wrong, but do I need to alter?’ There’s a half of your brain, where, at all costs, you’re going to take the world. And, you know, when people tell you to slow down, you say, ‘Oh yeah, absolutely.’ And all it does for that other half of your brain is make you go faster. I do think it’s so important if you truly know what you’re going after, to never let that be derailed by no matter who tells you. Most investors — and they’re fantastic — (but) they’re always going to have a slightly different motive than you, unless your motive is purely financial. Keeping the true reason why you’re doing this, and the true outcome of it, is what’s going to build some of the greatest companies in the world; not just, you know, a quick sale.”
Did a particular experience kind of underscore that for you?
“No; luckily I have incredible business partners and I have an incredible team where they’re kind of the opposite of me; I’m up in the clouds and they’re making sure that we actually go the right direction. I challenge … you know you better, feel so passionate, and and and so good about the direction you’re going because it is your livelihood and it’s your life and you’re going to make sacrifices to do this right, so you better at the end of the day, believe in it no matter what anyone says.”
How do you balance keeping that passion fueled while being open to advice and different understanding?
“Making sure that it exists, because it’s so important. If you drive blind and you tell yourself you’re 100% right, you’re screwed. You’ve got to be open, when you’re driving a million miles per hour, to at least reading the signs that you’re passing, and the warnings, and that means so that you can veer left or right, right before you come up on a rock that you don’t see, but if someone was yelling at you about it, it’s going to make for a better experience, Everyone’s going to have tons to advise on and to tell you about and you need to take bits and pieces, but always keep your story.”
What are some other recent successes or accomplishments or plans you would like to share?
“We’re working with over 150 national partners, which is exciting; 80+ global brands. And in our network we have over 10 million units of inventory that we’re kind of moving around and giving retailers access to. Shu’s Running Company is actually part of our network, a good partner of ours. So far we’ve helped a lot of small businesses survive during COVID, and we’re really proud of our team for making that happen.”
Is there a point where you’re going to look at implementing what you’ve done at Fitted for other types of retail?
“Yes, absolutely. We’re focused on athletic specialty because that’s my expertise and that’s my relationships. What we’re building is very applicable, if not universal to retail, especially specialty retail. We have plans to scale into other verticals within this year and next pretty quickly.”
How as a business were you able to accommodate the demand for your growth?
“At first, to be honest, we buckled down; we assumed that we wouldn’t raise any money during the pandemic; we kind of bootstrapped and went all in, I mean, day and night. It was a lot of fun. Then, because investors realized ‘Wow, these guys and gals are really on to something,’ we did a small pre-seed round in June, and then we did our official seed round.
Will you be seeking more capital anytime soon?
“We will have to see. We’re in a very good cash position right now, but we are going after an extremely exciting opportunity and a very big one.”
So stay posted, am I right?