Being drafted into the WNBA doesn’t show up on many resumes. Reaching such an elite level of athleticism takes weeks, months, even years of continuous full-court drills, rigorous workouts, and unfaltering mental agility. In essence, being at the top takes a lot of hard work. For Kate Endress, giving 100 percent comes natural. “I definitely think part of being a hard worker is innate,” Endress says. “I think most of it is due to family and values that are instilled at a very young age; my entire family is a family of hard workers.”
Although her brush with the professional women’s basketball league was a short one in 2005, it’s one of several impressive accolades attached to the 29-year-old’s name in a quick Google search. Most recently, Endress has joined the big leagues in the business world as the CEO and co-founder of virtual fitting site Ditto.com, which allows customers to capture video of their face to digitally try on eyeglasses. Launched this past April, the new company head has been busy finding an operations site, hiring customer service employees, and acquiring top-of-the-line eyewear brands including Ray-Ban, Hackett London, and Persol for her online store.
Raised in Evansville, the 2001 Memorial High School graduate received a bachelor’s in entrepreneurship from Ball State University, where she played basketball for the Cardinals all four years, receiving both the Mid-American Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Year and the Indiana’s NCAA Woman of the Year her senior year, as well as four MAC West Division Player of the Week awards. Endress doubled as an academic, graduating summa cum laude in 2005 with a business plan already underway. Sort of.
For her senior honors thesis, Endress developed her first business plan for an Internet-based recruiting database, HooplaRecuriting.com, where high school basketball players (girls and boys) could post game films and stats for college coaches to view with a purchased subscription. That was when Endress says she first fell in love with entrepreneurship. “After I did that project, I pretty well knew that I wanted a career in start-ups,” she says. Her plans to pursue that start-up were halted when she was drafted into the WNBA post-graduation. After a short stint with the Connecticut Sun, Endress went to New York City for two years as an investment banking analyst at Citi, followed by another two years as a private equity associate at Wind Point Partners in Chicago.
Endress continued her education at Stanford University from 2009-2011, receiving a master’s in business. “I went to Stanford with the goal of starting an e-commerce business while in school,” says Endress. “I spent the first year ideating, researching, and talking to potential customers.” From there, Endress began searching for knowledgeable creatives who could help set her plans in motion, adding Sergey Surkov, a former software engineer with Google, and Dmitry Kornilov, a former software engineer at Nokia, to her team. As co-founders, the trio spent nearly a year working out of Kornilov’s apartment developing the business, which is essentially an Internet site with a virtual mirror that uses video technology to show an accurate fitting of both optical frames and sunglasses in a 180-degree motion, called a Ditto.
“Sergey and Dmitry were focused on the virtual fitting technology and I spent my time working on the business plan and starting to talk to designer brands,” says Endress. “After we had what was a solid business plan, a few verbal commitments from brands, and the start of the fitting technology, we officially incorporated in April 2011. Somewhere in there I managed to finish my degree at Stanford.”
Although the company is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., near Stanford, Endress wanted a centrally-located operations site. To her amusement, all signs pointed home.
Recently retired from Crescent Plastics, where he was the vice president and general manager, Thom Endress jumped at the offer to help his daughter research a Midwest site for her business. “Many of the designer frame manufacturers inventory their products in the Midwest,” Kate Endress says. “We set the criteria to find a location that made sense from a shipping/logistics standpoint, was near a world-class lens laboratory, and had a strong workforce.” After researching and talking with many lens laboratories, including several in Cincinnati and Louisville, Ky., both father and daughter agreed that Evansville’s Singer Optical Co. Inc., the oldest independent, family-owned wholesale optical laboratory in Indiana, was the ideal fit, boasting the highest of customer service marks in the industry.
Seeing the potential to create a meaningful operation in Evansville, as well as an opportunity to leverage his existing relationships with local businesses, Thom came out of retirement to run Ditto’s Evansville office. “Evansville’s central location allows prompt and cost-effective shipping for the distribution of Ditto products to anywhere throughout the U.S.,” says Endress. “When glasses are ordered from the Ditto site, the designer frames are drop-shipped into the Singer Optical location where the Rx prescription is fulfilled and then assembled into the designer eyewear frames.”
So far, there are 19 employees working for the virtual company, six of whom work in customer service and operations at the Evansville location, consisting of graduates from the University of Evansville, the University of Southern Indiana, Indiana University, and Purdue University. “As the company grows its e-commerce presence, it is anticipated that there will be significant growth,” Endress says. “What we’re trying to do is have a customer service representative for every 3,000 products sold.”
Create your own Ditto at www.ditto.com.