Jane Bernacca is a self-professed shoe fanatic, and her husband knows she is in good company.
“I started research on it and I saw that shoes is the No. 1 desire among women — 92 percent of women love shoes,” said Walter Bernacca.
Walter, a serial entrepreneur in music and entertainment, started to consider entrepreneurial concepts around this target market and couldn’t help but notice how expensive celebrity-favored styles often are, including a pair in New York for $3,500. “I love music and use Shazam. What if we could recognize shoes like music? What if we could find similar styles for less money?”
Shoes Dsire, co-founded by the Bernaccas of Aventura, is a dynamic social commerce tool that combines cutting-edge visual search technology with crowdsourcing to provide a faster and more personalized experience for shoe shoppers. The startup won third place in the 2016 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge Community Track, which attracted 122 qualified entries.
The Brazilian-born Bernaccas have been involved in a number of startups and businesses together over the years. Walter co-founded Saloote, a social music company, and created Ana Gourmet, a food app for Ana Maria Braga, the Brazilian Oprah, among many other endeavors. But now, “100 percent of our focus is Shoes Dsire — it’s our passion,” he said.
Development of the free Shoes Dsire iPhone app straddled two fronts. Image recognition needed to be powerful, so users could snap a picture of shoes they like and learn where they can buy the same shoe or similar shoes for less money. In addition, the Bernaccas have been concentrating on building their database of shoe designers for the image recognition, as well as for search discovery. Not that the road to Shoes Dsire (www.shoesdsire.com) has been all sure-footed.
“The first prototype wasn’t very good, and we had to do it again. It took us time to find a good engineer that specializes in image recognition and then we found our expert, Ankit Sharma,” said Jane, a former developer and system analyst. Sharma is Shoes Dsire’s chief technology officer and a partner.
“We never stop working to make Shoes Dsire better. We see by users that they come back, they post the shoes, they comment. Shoes Dsire is not just to search but it’s a community of women who really love shoes; they want to share ‘this is comfortable, this is not, I got this on sale, it matches this outfit.’ It’s all this — women love to share. We want women to really have fun and find their dream shoes.”
Charlotte Berrios is a shoe lover and a frequent user of the Shoes Dsire app. The Fort Lauderdale resident has used the app to snap a photo of shoes she saw at the Oscars on TV, find them and buy a similar and more affordable pair, and she has used the app to easily find shoes based on color and type for a particular event (Berrios, with more than 100 pairs of shoes, prefers wedges and sandals). She said some of her friends are also Shoes Dsire users, so they use the app to dish about their favorite topic and share footwear finds.
“I always want what the celebrities are wearing, but a cheaper alternative,” Berrios said. “You can buy straight from the app, that’s the best part — you don’t have to go searching all over the place.”
As the Bernaccas prepare to scale up Shoes Dsire, initially introduced at South By Southwest in Austin in 2015, the app’s downloads continue to grow. Its more than 15,000 active users (96 percent are women) are a loyal lot. On average they spend 3 1/2 minutes on the site, and more than half of them return within 24 hours, the Bernaccas said. The top four markets for the app so far are New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Houston.
Later this month, Shoes Dsire plans to release a new version of the app, which includes more powerful texture and color recognition, meaning Berrios will have even more to choose from. The new version will also sport a new look and logo created by a Miami artist, Jean Pierre Rousselet. Shoes Dsire not only makes money from sales through the site and in-app advertising and promotions, but it is developing its business-to-business revenue model and plans to white-label its tool for brands to use on their websites.
To start building a database, a friend in the shoe industry helped the Bernaccas with some key introductions to manufacturers and designers, but now they contact them themselves, meet them at trade shows or even find them through social media. The Bernaccas like to feature small manufacturers; for instance they are proud to include Mia and Ilene Berg from South Florida.
“People may not know them, but they get to know them through the app. And we search everywhere. Taylor Says in California is an artist and an amazing shoe designer, and I own a pair of her shoes,” said Jane, who keeps her personal collection in clear protective boxes so they last. Jane wouldn’t disclose how many shoes she owns — “I am afraid to count.”
Shoes Dsire is a team of eight, including five engineers. The Bernaccas plan to launch a Latin American version of the app that would feature local designers and inventory.
“Through Shoes Dsire we met so many great people who have helped us get to where we are right now. Now we are looking for a business partner that can help us move faster,” said Walter. They have raised $1.1 million in angel funding and are seeking to raise another $2 million for the next three years to expand the market, hire more engineers to keep improving the image recognition technology, and release an Android version of the app this year.
After all, there’s a $62 billion footwear market out there of women like Jane.