Kyle Vucko helped turn Indochino into a retailing phenomenon, but now he’s learning to get “comfortable with ambiguity”
Kyle Vucko went from having a “100 per cent consumed mental bandwidth” as CEO of the 200-employee-strong company he started nearly a decade ago to a completely blank schedule—and it’s clearly suiting him just fine.
Just 30, the wunderkind co-founder of Vancouver-headquartered Indochino—the omni-commerce apparel company that recently landed a $42-million investment from China-based garment manufacturer Dayang Group—left the company late last year to be “comfortable with ambiguity for a while.” Today, while contemplating a few undisclosed offers, consulting and remaining an investor and advisor to Indochino, the 2014 BCBusiness 30 Under 30 award winner is also musing about a writing career, including sharing his entrepreneurial path via books and the speaker circuit.
Vucko journalled daily over his nine years at Indochino, which he co-founded with fellow University of Victoria student Heikal Gani (who left the company two years ago to launch Sugarmat, a Montreal-based custom yoga mat company). The students (Vucko was studying business; Gani, political science) had struggled to find a good-looking suit within their price bracket so they launched their online made-to-measure ones at a fraction of the cost of custom-made suits. “The experience of a founder—going from one customer to 100,000—is unique, and mine has been rich with learning,” Vucko says over soup and a sandwich at Vancouver’s Giovane Café. “Many organizations don’t ever get to this point at all—it’s been a wild evolution.”
Although the original business plan prescribed selling the company within two years, Vucko explains leaving his “baby” last year wasn’t easy. “It felt like walking away from a rocket ship,” he says of the company, whose backers have included Hannes Blum (former CEO of Abebooks and a mentor of Vucko’s at UVic), Steve Nash and Yahoo’s former president and COO, Jeff Mallett. “Of course, I was nervous at first, and it was difficult to let go of something that’s been such an important part of my life.”
But timing, Vucko explains, was everything. “It’s like a highway, and you can’t leave at any time—you have to wait for an off-ramp,” he says, adding that he also felt his core skill set and the organization’s needs were shifting. “This was a very clear time to go. We have a new CEO”—Internet/retail veteran Drew Green—“the company is well-funded, and we’re doing well.” Indochino is scaling up for a potential one million customers by 2020 while expanding into bricks-and-mortar locations, including Boston and New York City.
Now back in his native North Saanich, Vucko says that his recent marriage to childhood friend Amelia Warren, CEO at Victorian Epicure Inc., spurred him to make family life a priority. At Indochino, he had spent much time commuting to Shanghai, where its suits are manufactured. “I’m thoroughly enjoying island life. For me, it is less about what I am walking away from than what new opportunities I am opening up to.”
Among the passions he’s indulging in his newfound free time: reading “weird” sci-fi stories that involve possible technological advances, such as quantum mechanics, or a vision for society in, say, 10,000 years where people have become machines.
“You have to have a head space for it, so it’s difficult when you’re exhausted after a long week, but when you do, it’s so mind expanding,” he says. “One of the things that attracted me to Indochino, in retrospect, was pushing boundaries—trying to do things differently or better—so there is always an element of looking forward that definitely jazzes me.”
Three things about Kyle Vucko1. Vucko is obsessed with good posture and is a regular at Fitness Table in Yaletown, where people are positioned on tables on various inclines and work their core in a range of movements. After developing back and hip issues, he says it’s “one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
2. His father is a multi-unit Wendy’s franchisee on the Island, and as a teen Vucko underwent the chain’s management training. “I picked up the lingo—I was told by early investors I had a level of understanding that some people just don’t.”
3. He dropped out of UVic in his final year. “I always felt you were learning for a job, not a degree, but UVic was great because it had this amazing mentor program and gave me unbelievable amounts of research and better access to data than I have today.”