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Kyle Vucko: Dressed for success

The CEO of Indochino has taken an idea hatched while taking commerce courses in university and converted it into a venture that generates tens of millions of dollars in annual sales
Indochino CEO Kyle Vucko, 29, came up with the idea of selling suits online in mid-2006: “we could go public. It's all on the table but it's still early. Going public requires a certain level of scale that we're not at yet”

Kyle Vucko pecks away at a laptop computer at his workstation at the end of a long narrow table that he shares with many of his online suit-selling company's Vancouver staff.    

Without the luxury of a private office, the Indochino CEO works amid the clamour coming not only from his own staff but also from nearby Port Metro Vancouver workers and railcars mere feet away from the window at his back.

“I like the hustle and bustle going on at the port,” said Vucko, who has just turned 29. “It helps motivate me.”

The 11,000-square-foot head office, in the part of East Vancouver that hipsters have started to call Railtown (east of Gastown and bounded north-south by the railyards and Alexander Street, and east-west by Heatley and Columbia avenues) provides clues to how Vucko has been able to take the idea of selling suits on the Internet and convert it into a venture generating at least tens of millions of dollars in revenue, although he will not disclose the exact amount.

Vucko's success has come not only from passion and a willingness to seek sage advice but also from being careful with money, according to B.C. e-commerce whiz and early Indochino investor Hannes Blum, who built the used-book online venture AbeBooks before selling it in 2008 to for what was speculated to be about $100 million.

Indeed, Indochino's out-of-the-way location has the advantage of having a lower lease rate than would be expected in more prominent pedestrian-friendly parts of Vancouver. Another hint of thriftiness comes from the wall between the office's 1,500-square-foot public showroom and an employee lunchroom.

It was created by Vancouver's Molo and is made out of a firm paper that makes it collapsible, moveable and less expensive than drywall.

Vucko opened his Vancouver showroom in June and a new one in Toronto on August 1.

“My sense is that we'll have showrooms in every major market in North America before too long,” he told Business in Vancouver. “I'm excited about learning where things go.”

His loose plan for future showrooms is to open in centres such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco and then other cities with sizable populations.

He is not sure whether the step after that will be to open in smaller North American cities such as Victoria or to expand across the world by opening showrooms in London, Berlin or Sydney.

“That's something we'll figure out in the next six to 12 months,” he said.

Vucko was a University of Victoria (UVic) commerce student in 2006 when he and fellow classmate Heikal Gani hatched the idea to have Chinese tailors sew made-to-order suits for people to buy online.

He convinced his professors to allow him to take a few weeks out of his semester to visit Hong Kong and Shanghai to research the idea.

Friends, on exchanges in those Asian cities, allowed Vucko to sleep on their couches.

Within a couple of years he had landed $300,000 from investors such as former Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO) president Jeff Mallett.

Subsequent financing rounds have brought in a total of $18 million and a raft of experienced, retail-savvy investors such as Tom Stemberg, whose Highland Capital Partners was an early investor in Lululemon Athletica Inc.

Joining Mallett, Stemberg, Vucko and Gani on Indochino's six-member board are Scott Jacobson, who heads Seattle's Madrona Venture Group, and Christoph Braun, who heads Munich's Acton Capital Partners and was an early investor in AbeBooks.

“We could go public. It's all on the table but it's still early,” Vucko said. “Going public requires a certain level of scale that we're not at yet.”

Small investors include people such as National Basketball Association star Steve Nash, successful serial angel investor Boris Wertz and former president of the Premier's Technology Council Eric Jordan.

Vucko would like investment from other high-net-worth individuals, although the capital would have to come from someone who can also add wisdom, he said.

“At this stage of the company, we're pretty selective,” he said. “We have a bias for smart money. There's lots of money to be had but, from Day 1, my goal has always been to look for the smartest guy in the room who I can get access to and then connect with him.”

Bringing in these new investors has whittled Vucko's stake in the company to between 10% and 25%.

Fellow technology entrepreneurs who do not have any direct interest in Indochino, such as Mobify CEO Igor Faletski, believe Vucko's strengths include confidence, attention to detail and a willingness to adapt to trends.

Faletski met Vucko in 2009 at an event in Gastown and has visited Indochino offices through the years. He noted that Vucko's willingness to open bricks-and-mortar showrooms is an example of his ability to adapt to e-commerce trends.

“Kyle is really a business person,” Faletski said. “He wants to have more design skills because that's something that is not as strong right now as his business knowledge.”

Outside of work, Vucko spends as much time as possible with his Victoria-based fiancée, Amelia Warren. Born in Port Coquitlam, Vucko grew up in Victoria and first met Warren when the two attended the private Glenlyon Norfolk School.

His popularity and willingness to be involved in school activities helped get him elected as the school's “head boy,” which is like being the class president.

At UVic, he continued in leadership roles, including the presidency of the university's commerce students' society.

He still needs to complete four courses in order to obtain his commerce degree, however, and he has been in continuing contact with the university to see what arrangements can be made.

“I'd like my degree to be done because I like completing things,” he said. “The reason I didn't complete the degree is that the things I would have been learning in class, I was learning in real time. I'd connected with Hannes and other people who had ‘been there and done that.'

“I could take problems and work through them with some really experienced people. I felt I was going from one growth track to another.”