How a chance meeting between strangers in the New York subway led to COSIGN, a social-retailing app that capitalizes on some of the hottest online trends.

COSIGN, a company aimed at fashion influencers and the people who want to buy what they’re wearing, can trace its inception to a chance encounter five years ago on a subway platform in New York City.

“I was walking up the stairs and felt a tap on my shoulder,” recalls Esosa Ighodaro. A Brooklyn native who worked in retail banking at the time, she was wearing an olive sweater dress, a purple puffer coat and brown suede boots.

“I like your outfit,” said a man who turned out to be Abiodun Johnson, a technologist. These two then strangers—destined to become business partners—struck up a conversation around their mutual interest in clothes and accessories and agreed to stay in touch.

Today, they’re the Co-Chief Executives of COSIGN, a company with a mobile app that lets people tag the items they’re wearing in photos on Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites, and links their followers directly to retail websites where they can buy the same (or very similar) items.

Building a Solution to a Problem

“My interest came out of watching a TV commercial and seeing a pair of red shoes that I wanted, but not knowing what brand they were or where to buy them,” Johnson recalls. “It occurred to me that there is always a problem of seeing a product that you want and not knowing how to purchase it.”

Ighodaro felt the same way about a certain yellow dress she saw on a social media app. “I was an avid shopper—clothes, shoes and bags,” she says. “I could constantly be looking for the coolest, latest thing and I would mostly see it on social media.” Neither had ever seen an easy way to track down and purchase the items they admired.  

Retailers and designers are eager for consumers to discover their products and buy them, the COSIGN partners point out, but a lot of fragmentation exists online between figuring out what a particular item is and being able to buy it. Their idea was to streamline the discovery and shopping process. Their slogan, “Make your photos shoppable,” reflects the benefits COSIGN provides to shoppers as well as to bloggers and other social media influencers, who can easily engage with their followers and monetize their postings. 

The company now has some 1,200 retailers signed on to its platform, including big names like Nordstrom, Macy’s, Kenneth Cole, Saks and Bloomingdale’s. COSIGN—which is slang for “endorse”—gets a commission on business it drives to retailers’ websites, and it shares those commissions in varying amounts with the user who tagged the image.

COSIGN sees many avenues for potential growth. “Affiliate marketing is an enormous business worldwide, and it can be a whole lot bigger if we let more people into it,” Ighodaro says.

Relationships and Access

True to their social media roots, COSIGN’s two leaders learned about the Multicultural Innovation Lab on Facebook late last year and were intrigued. “As entrepreneurs, developing relationships and gaining access to key shareholders is critical, and Morgan Stanley has helped make that happen for us,” Ighodaro says. “They really want to help us and see us grow.” 

Ighodaro agreed and described running a start-up as a learning process. “The more you understand your business model and your stakeholders, the better you can grow your business,” she says. “As entrepreneurs, developing relationships and gaining access to key shareholders is critical, and Morgan Stanley has helped make that happen for us.”

“The breadth and depth of Morgan Stanley is massive,” she adds. “If you were a kid in a candy store, what would you do? They really want to help you and see you grow.”

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