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'A Decade of Realising Dreams' Series (Ep 3)

Episode 3: Andrew Zhu from Shenzhen TOZI Technology Company Limited

The Seven-year ‘Roller Coaster Ride’ Behind the AI-powered App that Takes Body Measurements for Online Tailors

七年研發AI技術 拍照取人體呎寸 便利網購訂製行業

The only way to overcome the fear of riding roller coasters is to keep riding them! Face up to pressure and anxiety with the right attitude and concentrate on solving the problem instead of burying yourself in worries.

如何克服坐過山車?就是要不斷坐吧!以正確的態度去看待壓力和焦慮。

Andrew ZHU 朱帥印

Founder, Shenzhen TOZI Technology Company Limited

深圳市圖郅創新科技有限公司創辦人

www.emtailor.com

Andrew Zhu Shuaiyin, a Sichuan native, took us to the House of Innovation and began to ably demonstrate on a tablet the result of a seven-year research with his team. Incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into the fashion universe, Andrew’s mobile app takes precise body measurements of the user by just taking a few photos. Online retailers and tailors are set to benefit from the app’s data collecting power.

來自四川的朱帥印(Andrew)與我們走到「理大創新館」,在平版電腦前熟練示範著他跟團隊研究七年的成果——將人工智能結合時裝,用戶開啟應用程式後拍數張照片,程式就能精確量度出身體各部分的呎寸,有助網購及訂製服裝的行業收集數據。

In the past years, Andrew has been immersed in the studio day and night to tackle the uncertainties in marketing the product and obstacles scattered along the path of entrepreneurship. But he never has a moment of doubt. ‘I’m very confident as the product has been proven theoretically feasible, and the more problems I encounter the more I want to work it out. Overtime work is my pastime.’

回望過去,Andrew在工作室沒日沒夜埋首,面對產品於市場上各種未知的結果,加上創業路途往往充滿阻礙,他毫不猶豫地說:「產品在學術理論上是可行的,所以很有信心;而我愈看見困難就愈想不停工作,OT於我就是娛樂。」

Andrew, 33, the Bachelor’s degree holder in computer engineering from Mainland China came to Hong Kong in 2010 to pursue a Master study. At first glance, his choice of the Institute of Textile and Clothing (ITC) at PolyU may look like a misfit. ‘On open day, I talked to ITC’s professors and found that they were interested in researching the AI technology. So, I decided to join.’ Andrew added that in order to make AI technology available to everyone, the direction of AI research could no longer stay at the academic level. It must be tied up with the practical application in daily life.

33歲的Andrew於內地本科修畢計算機工程後,於2010年來港進修研究碩士,卻選擇了理紡織及服裝學系(ITC),「那時候開放日跟ITC 的教授傾談,發現他們有興趣研究人工智能,所以就決定加入了。」Andrew補充,人工智能科技的研究方向不能再停留於學術層面,而是要與日常生活結合,才能令技術「落地」。

Trial and Error Pays Off

不斷失敗 不斷嘗試

Andrew and his team, altogether four people, kick-started an in-depth study in hope of coming up with an AI solution for the industry operators to solve the problem of overstocking. This pursuit took them seven full years. ‘The theory has been proven for its feasibility, so I’m never too worried. But when it comes to practical operation, we have to go through relentless trials and errors.’ For example, the original image recognition feature only worked on photos with users wearing tights in front of plain backgrounds, which obviously would work against the behaviour and habits of consumers. And these were just the tip of an iceberg in the R&D process. Andrew said the team spent about four years optimising the application, ‘In addition to problem solving, we have incorporated new ideas to make it easier to use.’

Andrew及團隊一共四人就此深入研究,希望以人工智能的方式便利行業經營者,解決存貨過多的問題,但一埋首就花上整整七年的時間。「理論上已驗證過可行性,所以不會太擔心,但如何實際操作起來,當中就要不斷嘗試及不斷失敗。」他舉例,起初的圖像識別功能只能應用在較乾淨的背景,用戶也需要穿上緊身衣來拍照,可這並不符合消費者的行為及習慣。這些問題只是研發過程中的冰山一角,Andrew說團隊大約用了四年時間,不斷改進應用程式。「除了解決問題,我們還一直加入新的想法讓它更易使用。」

By 2015, when smartphones became a necessity and the technology was ripe to go live, Andrew and his team officially launched the product in the market, allowing consumers to take their own measurements for online shopping. They have since successfully cooperated with different apparel powerhouses and taken the technology to the international market. ‘A Japanese brand offering tailor-made clothing had seen high staff recruitment and training costs. Our technology has effectively reduced their expenses,’ added Andrew.

2015年,智能手機於社會上已相當普及,加上研發的技術成熟,Andrew及團隊將產品正式推出市場,讓消費者可以自行量度呎寸,方便網購。現時,他們已成功跟不同的大型服裝品牌合作,將技術推向國際市場。Andrew補充說:「有家日本品牌以銷售訂製服裝為主,但聘請及培訓員工的時間及成本相當高,我們的技術則能有效減省成本。」

Seven years of hard work has paid off. ‘There is still a long way to go,’ Andrew said with a modest smile. He explained that they still have to continuously improve on the product quality, as well as data security and stability issues. ‘This is our first product and we will expand our product range. Gym customers, for instance, may want to track their own data. There are still many potential products to develop.’

七年的努力終見成果,Andrew靦腆地微笑說:「前面有更長的路要走吧。」他解釋,他們需要不斷改善產品質素,還有產品的數據安全、使用穩定性等問題。「這是我們的首個產品,之後還會研發出延伸產品,例如健身室的客戶希望追蹤自己的數據,還有很多產品需要研發。」

Mobile app ‘YIHU’ takes precise body measurements of the user by just taking a few photos.

用戶開啟應用程式「衣呼」後拍數張照片,程式就能精確量度出身體各部分的呎寸。

Getting Used to Roller Coaster Rides

「要習慣坐過山車」

When it comes to the company's future developments, Andrew was eager to share his vision on the many possibilities. He admitted, however, the company had struggled with problems in the industry chain during the initial stage. ‘In the case of tailor-made clothing, consumers might not be able to accept such change. As for the supply chain, when tailor-made service becomes available online, the sudden influx of orders might create a lot of troubles if order fulfilment depends only on tailors.’ Andrew pointed out the team have spent a lot of time communicating with clients to build confidence and carry on the partnership. Since its establishment in 2017, the company has received several angel investments of approximately HK$20 million in addition to the HK$1.2million funding support from PolyU , which is a testament to the confidence of the investors in the prospect of the company.

每當談到公司的發展,Andrew總是滔滔不絕地細數不同的可能性。然而,他坦言公司在起步階段曾面對行業產業鏈的問題。「以訂製服裝為例,消費者有機會未能接受這種改變,其次在供應鏈方面,訂製服裝放到互聯網上,一下子會有很多訂單,單靠師傅來做的話就會產生很多問題。」Andrew說,團隊花了很多時間跟客戶溝通,建立信心才能繼續合作。而公司於2017年成立以來,除了理大累積資助的港幣124萬外,已獲得接近港幣2,000萬元的天使投資,足以證明投資者對公司前景充滿信心。

After graduating with a PhD in 2017, Andrew had not settled for a stable job and life of a typical office worker. He instead embarked on the strenuous path of entrepreneurship that felt like a roller coaster ride. ‘I believe all entrepreneurs share the same feeling - sometimes you are extremely confident, but sometimes you feel extremely abased.’ The mood swings have taught Andrew to have better control of his emotions and deal with various crises as if it were just another day. ‘The only way to overcome the fear of riding roller coasters is to keep riding them! Face up to pressure and anxiety with the right attitude and concentrate on solving the problem instead of burying yourself in worries,’ he said.

2017年博士畢業後,Andrew沒有找份較為安穩的工作,當個平凡的「打工仔」,偏偏選擇踏上充滿挑戰的創業路途,他自言心情如同過山車一般大起大落:「我相信創業的人都會有同感,有時極度自信,但有時極度自卑。然而,Andrew在過程中學懂了調釋情緒,以平常心去面對各種危機。「如何克服坐過山車?就是要不斷坐吧!以正確的態度去看待壓力和焦慮。」

Embrace the Boundless World

創業如《海闊天空》

Starting from a four-member R&D team, the firm has grown into a team of 18 members with Andrew holding a managerial role. Unlike product development, corporate management requires a whole different kind of expertise. Andrew, inexperienced for the new role, had to learn about the relevant theories from books and keep evaluating his decisions by listening to different opinions, as such rectifying his mistakes right away. ‘I’ve been refining my management skills all the time – I used to look into even the tiniest matter when there were new members joining the company, but now I’m trusting the team and hands-off most of the time. I think that’s a stage that every manager has to go through.’

由四人的研發小組開始,現時公司已發展成18人的團隊,Andrew也成為了管理人員。跟產品研發不同,企業管理又是另一學問,Andrew起初沒有這些經驗,從書本上學習理論外,亦不斷聽取多方意見審視自己的決定,同時立即改正自身的錯誤,「我的管理技巧也是在不斷變化——以前有新成員加入,我會事無大小都跟進,但現在會信任團隊,放手較多,這個是管理者必經的階段吧。」

From the academic research, application of the theory for practical use to product launch, Andrew said the adventure with his team echoes with the classic Cantopop song Under a Vast Sky (《海闊天空》). ‘This journey has broadened my own universe. My personality has evolved as the company develops. My horizons are getting wider. As we received help, I have discovered many beautiful people and things. The more you explore in the field, the more you see and learn from this boundless world, just like the song Under a Vast Sky,’ he said.

Andrew跟團隊從學術研究,到實踐理論,再推出產品,他形容整個過程就像經典金曲《海闊天空》一樣,「這個過程讓我見識很多,例如公司跟自己的性格轉變,視野變得愈來愈闊,一路上得到多方支持及幫助,發現有很多美好的人和事,身歷其境就像《海闊天空》。」

 

 

 

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