Caroline Walerud wants you to forget your shoe size. Or, at least, to forget that number you’ve been reeling off to salespeople for years, like a U.S. 9, or a European 40. It’s likely that it isn’t quite right anyway, given the complex anatomical structure of our feet and the inconsistent sizing used by footwear brands.
“Half of women regularly buy shoes that don’t fit,” says the 25-year-old, who is a member of the first ever Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list.
Walerud’s company, Stockholm-based Volumental, aims to solve this problem. Since 2012, the Cambridge University neuroscience graduate has been working alongside her three cofounders — computer vision experts — to build technology that uses 3D scanning to ensure a perfect fit.
Volumental’s hardware includes a platform that looks not unlike a high-tech scale (see below). All a shoe shopper has to do is stand on it, and depth cameras take a 3D, volumetric scan of each foot. The company’s software, which includes Intel and Microsoft technology, captures data points including arch length and ball width that a shoe retailer would find it tough to measure accurately using traditional tools.
The 3D scan is instantly displayed on a tablet, allowing a shoe salesperson to make recommendations for each customer. He or she will be able to tell a shopper which shoes in its existing inventory will fit. Volumental’s first big U.S. partnership, with high-end chain Nordstrom, was announced on Monday.
The company already has scanners on the ground in Japan, where they’re being used to develop a consumer app for shoe recommendations. Volumental’s technology is also being used to make bespoke shoes, with Swedish brand Falchenberg and German outfit Scarosso both creating customized Italian leather shoes based on 3D imaging.
Walerud has raised some $5 million to date, including backing from venture capital firms and the Swedish government.
As it rolls its technology out in the U.S., Volumental is simultaneously growing its second business: face scanning for opticians and eyewear brands. The company’s scanners provide an accurate, 3D topography of the face, aiming to ensure glasses fit perfectly. The optician is able to make micro-adjustments based on measurements of, say, temple length or nasal bridge, showing a customer the resulting look on one of Volumental’s tablets in real-time.
Volumental has partnered with German manufacturer Mykita, which sells its fashionable optical glasses and sunglasses in over 80 countries.
Walerud has won all manner of awards since cofounding the company. She was named ‘#1 Super Talent of the Year’ by Swedish business weekly Veckans Affärer in 2013, at age 23. Previous winners have included billionaire Spotify founder Daniel Ek.
Before Volumental, Walerud worked briefly with a satellite image analysis startup. But she was an entrepreneur long before that. During summers as a teenager, she baked and sold homemade bread in the Swedish resort area of Kungshamn. “This taught me the fundamentals of business: pricing strategy, customer targeting and cash flow management,” she notes on her LinkedIn page, adding: “Immediate profitability with over 80% margin.”