My Start-up ‘Glow Up’
After 9 weeks of Techstars I feel like Khloe Kardashian revealing my ‘revenge body’ after being called the ‘fat sister’ all of my life…glowed up. In case you have not heard the phrase ‘glow up’, it is used by millennials and means “to go from the bottom to the top to the point of disbelief. An incredible transformation.” Starting a vending machine company in 2012 when no one was talking about the industry, I definitely felt like the outcast and the most un-sexy start-up in a world of apps (Kim), bots (Kourtney), AR/VR (Kendall) and AI (Kylie).
The Kardashian references stop here.
When the Solutions Vending team moved to Los Angeles in July to be a part of the inaugural Techstars LA accelerator program I was not out to get revenge on anyone, but I was ready to emerge from the shadows and experience an incredible transformation. We are now past the middle mark of the program and I am proud that we made more progress on our hardware, product road-map, and go-to-market strategy in the first 6 weeks of the program than we had in the past 6 months. Being a part of Techstars has given us the fuel and momentum to “Do More Faster”…now I understand why that phrase is a staple in the community.
The glow up is real.
When we started the Techstars program we were still deep into our discovery progress working to identify who our first customers would be and exploring the best way to introduce our software solution to the market. Although we started as a hardware company in 2012, we were debating if we should even continue to work with hardware at all.
The future of retail is in creating engaging and interactive experiences for the consumer while delivering a product in real time. Self service kiosks are popping up everywhere from airports, restaurants, and grocery stores. In fact, a recent study shows that 75% of customers have a better experience if they can self-serve at the point of sale. Thanks to the feedback of 70+ Techstars mentors, the guidance of our advisors and the Techstars team we expanded our total addressable market to include not only vending machines, but the overall self-service kiosk industry.
Our mission at SVI is to make self retail smarter and cooler. We have developed a software solution that can be integrated into point of sales kiosks as an API or into new smart retail machines to allow them to collect data from and about their customer. We do this by using a point-of-sale (POS) touch screen and camera combined with anonymized facial recognition to collect customer demographic data (age, gender), engagement, emotions, calculate conversion rates, deliver targeted content and advertising, collect leads, and measure it all against sales data. Our software analyzes the data collected and shoots it to the cloud to deliver real time updates to our customer dashboard. This is where they manage their business, monitor sales data, inventory levels, CRM, and more. Before you start worrying about ‘Big Brother’ and privacy…don’t. In case you have been living under a rock, cameras are everywhere we go. Apple just released an iPhone that you can only open with your face, Clear is scanning retinas at airports across the country, and as of last week you can buy a bucket of chicken with only your smile in China. By the way, you carry a tracking device with a camera and microphone everywhere that you go (your cell phone). Welcome to 2017.
The opinion against building our own hardware was strong in the beginning of Techstars, the popular advice in week 1–3 was to go to market as an API integration only and forget about hardware. “Hardware scares investors, it is too capital intensive.””Software alone can scale faster.” “Do not spend all of the company runway on building hardware.” Yes, I get it, agreed. I listened to the advice, it was all true. Software is the solution…BUT I had to find a way to get people to think outside of the box (literally) to understand the power of our software. In order help brands, consumers, and investors understand an optimal use case for the software…they must experience the magic in real life.
The last major shift in retail came with the introduction of e-commerce 40 years ago. That industry now generates $400 billion a year in revenue in the United States. 43% of online sales are owned by Amazon, followed by major players like eBay and Walmart. Around 50% of all online businesses make up 3% of the total revenue, at an average of $1.5M per year. These small to medium sized companies typically do not have a brick and mortar location. Many of them use Shopify or another platform that gives them an abundance of customer data, analytics, leads, real-time and predictive analytics, conversion rate optimization, and e-commerce merchandising.
Online stores are killing it, but guess what? E-commerce only accounted for 8% of the total retail sales in the U.S. in 2016. Yes, people still like to shop in stores. Sorry to break it to you but retail is NOT dead…over 80% of customer purchasing decisions are still made in store and point of sale ads increase sales by 30%. Retail is changing, and so are customer preferences, they expect more out of brands.
“Consumers become quickly accustomed to innovations, so e-commerce retailers will need to continuously explore new tech that delivers convenience, comfort, and exceptional experiences.” — Miljana Mitic
So what do brands do when they want to sell direct to customers and they don’t have a brick and mortar location? They host a ‘pop up shop’…a short-term, temporary retail event that is “here today, gone tomorrow”. Annually, pop up shops generate over $10 billion for the retail industry.
The PopCom Kiosk by Solutions Vending is what happened when e-commerce met pop-up shops and they had an offspring (isn’t she cute?)
The PopCom Kiosk brings the e-commerce experience to the real world. It’s the Shopify for kiosks and vending with the immediate delivery of Amazon for the small to medium sized companies. This is the first market we are targeting.
We have the wizardry of hardware with the economics of software.
Who else is doing this? No one exactly like us. The self service retail industry is projected to reach $37.8 billion by 2020, a lot of innovation is needed to drive it forward. I am confident in our unique value proposition, solid I.P. and ability to scale rapidly in the market. Shout out to the start-ups who are raising capital, gaining press and traction and validating the need for innovation in retail and vending: Vengo, Byte, Gimme Vending, Happy Returns, Flexible and Bodega (who was a hot topic on Twitter this week). These companies can be competitors or strategic partners, I believe it will be the latter.
I use these posts as an opportunity to share my recent successes and challenges, seek feedback and help when needed. Here is what we are looking for now:
- We are currently hiring technical and sales talent to work with us. Click here to read more about the SVI team, our company culture and refer amazing people who want to change the world with us.
- We are seeking innovative brands to join our pilot for the PopCome Kiosk.
- We are extending our current note and bringing a few more investors into our round. We are looking to work with investors who are familiar with retail and e-commerce, have contacts with brands and experiential marketing agencies, and are willing to provide mentorship and advice to help us.
- Please post comments, feedback, share and TAG others on this post, that will help asks 1–3 move a lot quicker!
I love to move fast, but being a part of the Techstars program allowed us the time and support that we needed to slow down in order deeply analyze everything about the business, and ourselves. Our Techstars Demo Day is October 10 — I am excited that our first product will be ready, tested and deploying in the market when I hit the stage.You know what they say about a slingshot and growth…”sometimes we need to move backwards before we can move forward”. Well, it is time to release and let this fly….all the way up.
Thanks for reading!