The formula of the right fit: Trulaske alumna launches new platform to help online customers, retailers
By Stephen Schmidt
Carlanda McKinney, BS BA ’09, wanted to say yes to the dress — a floral dress, to be exact — but fate had other ideas.
“The weather was turning, but it was still warm enough to wear dresses. I had these boots and it was going to be a perfect fall outfit,” McKinney said of the dress she purchased online in October of 2019.
Knowing that finding the right fit through online retail is not always an exact science, McKinney bought the size that the vendor’s guide recommended based on her clothing sizes and preferences, as well as the next size up. Neither fit — and it had nothing to do with size, rather the “seams didn’t hit in the right places.”
“Statistically, one of those should have worked, but neither of them did,” McKinney said. “And so that was the spark that said, ‘OK, what went wrong here? Why didn't this process work?’”
At the time, McKinney worked as a senior solution designer for Cerner Corporation, based out of its Kansas City, Missouri, offices — where it was her job, among other responsibilities, to identify problems and bottlenecks for the health information company.
“Every issue starts somewhere, whether that's a bad line of code or a bad process,” McKinney said.
Getting up to code
After the dress situation, she was determined to get to the heart of the issue. The possible solution turned into her current enterprise, Bodify.io, an online company and platform she founded that same month as a way to make an online fit more of a sure thing that extended beyond standard size guides.
Eventually, McKinney decided to leave her job at Cerner in Sept. 2020 after nearly nine years to focus all of her attention on Bodify.
The app works by having a shopper upload both a front-facing and side-facing photo, creating a large set of high-level measurements and other data points that correspond with a “constant codifying of brand data” on the system’s back end, McKinney said.
Bodify hopes to do a soft launch later this year to a closed group of testers and retailers of women’s jeans. In one pair of jeans, data points can include dye content, inseam and pocket size. Bodify’s algorithm then takes all those data points, creates a match and suggests the brands that make the jeans that will fit the shopper the best.
As McKinney and her development team receive feedback from the test group, they will tweak the algorithm. Bodify will also buy the “perfect jeans” for those who supply feedback, she said.
At some point, McKinney envisions Bodify making recommendations for 80% of clothing types for both women and men, except for swimwear and formal wear.
Bodify currently has a list of 30 retailers interested in taking part in the program — interested in the possibility of fewer returns, more satisfied customers and less profit shrinking. In addition, Bodify has a shopper waitlist that grows by the day.
"We didn't officially open our shopper waitlist until fall,” McKinney said, “Pretty quickly, we got about 100 signups. We're now approaching 1,000 shoppers who say, 'I need this. Please help me.’”
Although she does not write code herself, McKinney wrote the requirements for Bodify’s initial platform and created a detailed mockup of what it would look like. After applying for a $20,000 grant with Digital Sandbox KC for startups in the metro area, she started building out her development team consisting of five people, plus two interns and a software architect.
McKinney successfully applied for two business accelerator programs, including a $70,000 investment as part of membership in the first cohort of a group called Act Tulsa, based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. As such, she has been splitting her time between her office in Overland Park, Kansas, and Tulsa. In addition, McKinney was named a cohort member of FourthWave, an accelerator based out of Sacramento, California, with the mission of helping female-led technology startups find their footing.
Bodify will also benefit from McKinney being named a fellow of 2022 Pipeline Entrepreneurs, an organization run out of the Kansas City area focused on helping Midwest-based startups. This is done through a one-year fellowship that consists of taking part in various modules geared toward applying strategies to commonly faced issues.
“The coolest thing is everything the facilitators talk about in that program can apply to all of our companies, and we're all in very different fields,” McKinney said. “It’s a program that helps grow your business and create immensely valuable networks.”
‘Your launch pad’
McKinney grew up on the Kansas side of Kansas City in a family that was buoyed by the spirit of entrepreneurship. Her father ran his own business as a mechanic. Her mother stayed at home but would also do a multitude of other things to help the family’s finances.
"Most of the people I was raised by and around didn't have traditional jobs,” said McKinney, who would go on to earn her MBA with a focus in entrepreneurship and marketing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2011. “They worked for themselves, or they did consulting in some way. So I never grew up wanting that clock-in clock-out type of situation."
After choosing to go to Mizzou, she said that she gravitated toward the Trulaske College of Business because of how open-ended and flexible a business degree can be when applied to the real world.
When she arrived at Trulaske, McKinney was inspired by the planning of Cornell Hall itself. Even though the building opened in 2002, it gradually created the needed classroom space on the bottom floor to address the anticipated enrollment growth of the college.
“I thought that was so forward-thinking and amazing,” she said. “And I think that helped me to start looking at things in that way in terms of planning for growth."
While in Cornell Hall, McKinney would often visit the staff in the admissions office and strike up conversations with whoever was available to talk at the time.
“I felt like I had a community of capable adults because, at the time, I didn't feel like a capable adult,” she said.
Darius Whitaker, BS BA ’11, M Ed ’15, met McKinney in the summer of 2008 when they worked as counselors at the Trulaske Business Academy. He was a rising sophomore and she was a senior.
“Carlanda was very welcoming and easy to work with,” said Whitaker, a diversity, equity and inclusion program manager at The Ohio State University. “As an upperclassman, she was always willing to share her experience and how to navigate the business school as another Black person. She connected me with student organizations and the resources the college had to offer.”
Whitaker added that McKinney was “someone you would want to know.”
“She is well-connected and ambitious,” he said. “She is willing to do whatever it takes to reach her goals, no matter the obstacle. She is also willing to assist others in whatever they need. She enjoys building relationships and meeting new people.”
Before the Trulaske commencement ceremony in Dec. 2008 — in which she would give a commencement speech to her fellow graduates — McKinney filled her time at Mizzou with countless memories.
Those memories include taking an international business course while studying abroad in Portugal and Spain. They also include hanging out with friends and enjoying Marty’s seasoned wings at The Heidelberg.
Still, as much as she treasured her time at Mizzou, she always thought about something that Clarence Wine, the former director of the Vasey Academy, told her. She still does.
"People always say, ‘College is the best time of your life.’ He was one of the only people who told me, ‘College is not the best time of your life. It is one of them, but this should be your launchpad. Your life should go uphill from here, so set your groundwork.’”
McKinney, who is a Vasey alumna, has spoken to academy students through various in-person and virtual events since she graduated from Mizzou. This past fall, McKinney started to interact with the students on a more regular basis — talking in particular about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
Established in 1997, the Vasey Academy provides opportunities for students from underrepresented groups to access a variety of mentoring experiences to help both grow their professional networks and bolster their overall business savvy. Erika Aaron, the director of inclusion, diversity and equity at Trulaske and academy director, said that eight former Vasey students have spoken to the current academy students in this spring semester alone.
“I truly enjoy being in a position to share some things with the students that would have been valuable for me to have known at the time I was a student,” McKinney said of her overall experiences in working as an academy mentor.
“I try to stress to them to build your network and lean on people. So many of the ‘wins’ in my professional journey have come from my network, but your network cannot help you if it doesn’t know you, or if you never ask for help.”
McKinney said that help can come in many forms, including referrals, recommendation letters and introductions.
“Why build a network,” she said, “if you never leverage it?”