The Robin Report Innovators Network introduces you to startups with novel solutions that improve the performance and profitability of retail and brand operations. Our first four Innovators have engineered actionable systems to streamline retail in everything from contract management and fit to employee accountabilities and shared data platforms. With the thousands of startups that have a hope and a dream, our Innovators are providing relevant solutions throughout the industry.
Why Start Up?
With so many startups in the retail-tech arena, it’s enlightening to hear what inspired our entrepreneurs to found their companies. Karthik Bettadapura,CEO of DataWeave (headquartered in Seattle with the engineering team in Bangalore, India) says he was an accidental entrepreneur, adding, “I never imagined being one. I was always interested in how significant business problems can easily be solved by harnessing data. My passion of building large-scale data analytics systems drove me to create a technology platform that derives meaningful insights, which can be used by businesses for strategic decision-making by harnessing unstructured and noisy data from the web.” The result? DataWeave is a comprehensive suite of SaaS solutions including pricing intelligence, assortment analytics, brand protection, digital shelf analytics and Data-as-a-Service solutions.
Both Donna North and Sarah McVittie, co-founders of Dressipi (headquartered in London) are on their second startup. They were inspired by their own negative consumer experiences of buying clothes online, a process that seemed to be stuck in the 1990s. Confronted by too much choice and not enough inspiration or customer service, they realized that a better use of fashion-specific data could deliver a sea-change in personalized experiences that could drive profitable growth for retailers. Their solution is Dressipi. They believe that “affecting real change in the fashion industry requires an end-to-end solution. Dressipi’s unique approach is identifying what data is required, how that data needs to be applied and its advanced AI and machine learning capabilities.”
There is a wake of startups that have developed ingenious tech innovations that are in search of a solution. The real proof in any business is what customers say about the solution.
Martin Rand, co-founder of Pactum (based in Mountainview, California) is a pragmatic innovator, explaining “After yet another tough international negotiation full of cultural differences in cognitive biases I started researching if technology could help. My partners and I decided to set up Pactum since we realized that all of value creation is based on negotiations and global corporations have thousands upon thousands of low spend contracts on order renewal for years losing money as a result.” He adds, AI technology has been used in retail to improve sales, inventory, and labor forecasting as well as leveraging customer data and transactions to create personalized shopping experiences at scale. Think Amazon. Pactum extends the capabilities of AI enabling the negotiation of routine contracts that largely get neglected. He unpacked “significant value lurking in the thousands upon thousands of cookie cutter and auto-renewed merchandise deals and indirect procurement contracts that people physically can’t get to.”
Julian Mills, founder and CEO of Quorso (based in London) says when he was working with large retailers at McKinsey, he saw a disconnect between insight and action causing issues for both management and employees. He adds, management was struggling to understand explicitly what was happening on the frontline in order to make informed business decisions. At the same time, store teams had no way of tracking or measuring the impact of their efforts. He found that stores were losing about eight percent of sales annually from the intelligence gaps. He founded Quorso to help retailers with a full-circle solution to crunch and simplify data into three top-priority daily actions, help stores to execute these actions, and then track the impact and automatically scale what works.
Why It Works
There is a wake of startups that have developed ingenious tech innovations that are in search of a solution. The real proof in any business is what customers say about the solution. Does it work? Rand offers, “At first our clients say that negotiating with a machine is impossible. When one of our customers saw the results, they were cheering and clapping and saying this is a game changer. We negotiated supplier deals from $100,000 to $1Million optimizing each contract for the vendor creating new value in the process. They were amazed that we were able to set up Pactum in their system in only four months.”
At Dressippi, North and McVittie have some high-profile success stories. Insights & CRM Director at LK Bennett says, “Being able to use and drive things out from proven product attributes and linking them to customers enable you to understand what might work outside of their core categories.” And “Dressipi understands that fashion is different from other ecommerce categories. They’ve taken the time to understand how our business works and the best way to deliver profitable growth,” according to head of ecommerce at River Island.
“DataWeave has provided our team with important data to support our ecommerce business. We find great value in the out of stock, price leadership, and category analytics,” according to Lynne Roth, Application Optimization Manager at Sauder. And client Adidas adds, “With DataWeave we were able to assess in real-time, how the market and environment was regarding prices. Our challenge was to try to be constantly aligned with the most representative competitors, not to be the cheaper ones, but to be competitive.”
And Mills says, “Here are their words not ours: ‘Hands down the platform is exceptional…?the science is better than anything we have done…and the user-friendliness is outstanding. A tool for every manager to use while on the store floor,'” Stuart Edwards, Store Manager, Marks & Spencer.
The Innovators are game changers, reshaping how retail will be operated in the future. Mills envisions Quorso’s core principles – Agile, Simple, Human – as the fundamental mindset retailers need to adopt to stay ahead right now. Not surprisingly, Rand believes “The shift to online is here to stay. This of course puts an additional pressure on margins because of wider assortment requirements, returns etc. Retailers will have two manage an ever-growing number of suppliers with fewer resources. This calls for automation.”
Bettadapura takes an analytical long view, “The pandemic accelerated ecommerce by five years. This has pushed brands and retailers to focus on adapting and accelerating to the new world. The good news for consumers is that digital platforms, unlike brick-and-mortar stores, provide them the ease of comparison. This will put tremendous pressure on retailers and brands to stay ahead of their competition. To optimize sales, it will be critical to analyze how markets and competitors respond and to understand how products are being represented and sold online. The need for data-driven decision making will become indispensable for businesses to have an edge over their competitors.”
McVittie and North echo the impact of the rapid rate of acceleration in the retail industry, “The last year has seen huge transformation in our industry. Survival requires a nimbleness and authenticity like never before. The last nine months have accelerated trends that were happening anyway and exposed some of the weaknesses in the way retailers do business. We expect some key changes including an explosion of creativity; change driven by sustainability; acceleration towards 50 percent digital revenue across the board; enhanced personalization throughout the customer journey and an emergence of new customer experiences driven by AI.”
From the Trenches
Sustaining any retail business today is a rigorous challenge. The burnout or even flameout of startups is legendary. What do our Innovators advise to remain resilient, focused and successful? Bettadapura says, “As a founder, one should be prepared for a long and relentless journey which will oscillate between high and low moments. Strive for a fine balance between unit economics and growth, invest in people and focus on building the right team early on.” Rand advises, “Don’t focus on incremental improvements. There are plenty of opportunities for step change improvements. Especially now when the gap between the novelty of AI and the conservatism of large corporations offers an opportunity.” McVittie and North add, “Do what you believe in. Hire amazing people to work with you to deliver your vision. Focus on the metrics that matter and make sure you take the time to state the problem before you solve it.” Mills has the final word:” It’s the biggest challenge and most fun you can ever have!”
About The Innovators
DataWeave is a leading digital commerce analytics platform providing sales optimization solutions to global omnichannel retailers, consumer brands and marketplaces in a rapidly evolving digital commerce landscape. The company’s comprehensive suite of SaaS solutions is comprised of tools including pricing intelligence, digital shelf analytics, assortment analytics, data-as-a-service solutions and brand protection.
Dressipi is the leading independently verified Revenue Optimization Platform for fashion retailers. The platform transforms the way fashion retailers engage with their customers while helping create more efficient supply chains. By using fashion-specific machine learning and AI, it gives retailers the tools to offer deeper, entirely personalized customer experiences and make data-driven buying and merchandising decisions. The combination of selling smarter and using insight to buy and market better gives retailers the profitability they need to invest in creating an even better future for themselves and their customers.
Pactum is an AI-powered negotiations platform that brings a 360-degree, holistic and automated approach to the negotiation process for both procurement and merchandise contracts at global retail companies. The platform’s ability to conduct simultaneous negotiations and extract value from thousands of suppliers enables a retailer to unlock millions of dollars of free cash flow at speed. Deployments are seamless and typically take two months without heavy demands on business resources. Pactum has a no-risk pricing model tied to customer success.
Quorso’s agile management platform is revolutionizing store operations. Store management has been tough at the best of times, but today on average 8% of sales and 9% of labor costs are being “leaked” because of store-specific issues. Working with some of the US and UK’s largest, most forward-thinking retailers, we’re helping them respond faster to changing priorities, customers and markets; simplify their store ops into three daily next-best actions; and make work more humane, engaging and fun for everyone.