Archive for the ‘Home Depot’ tag
ShoppinPal.com smart phone app from Fermyon, Inc. improves the brick and mortar retail shopping experience for both buyers and sellers
Fermyon, Inc. is the company behind the impressive ShoppinPal smart phone application that improves the retail brick and mortar retail shopping experience for both buyers and sellers.
Retailers complain about people treating their physical stores as free showrooms for consumers to touch and evaluate items they will then actually buy online, frequently from giant Amazon. The retailer I suspect feels cheated by these people since they received something valuable, but didn’t make a purchase from the store to compensate the store for their efforts.
Consumers like mobile shopping apps like the one Amazon gives its customers. Smart phone shopping apps let people look up specifications and customer reviews to help them make smarter purchasing decisions. I don’t see shopping apps disappearing, since they offer such compelling value to consumers.
Retailers with physical stores could of course create their own smart phone applications that mimic those from huge online merchants, but it’s mostly larger chain stores that do, because writing a shopping application is difficult and costly.
That’s where ShoppinPal comes in.
ShoppinPal is a service that retailers pay money for — 3% of sales for retailers with over USD $5,000 in monthly ShoppinPal sales, or $49.00 + 3% of sales for retailers that sell less than $5,000 a month through ShoppinPal. This strikes me as assertive pricing, but if it works, Fermyon will be in a position arguably even better than Visa and Mastercard, because Fermyon is not taking any fraud or refusal to pay risk that I can see. On the other hand, no small retailer could hope to deploy a system like ShoppinPal by developing the system itself, and showrooming is a looming problem that likely is motivating retailers to take defensive action.
Shoppers use the service for free.
The retailer gets access to a custom branded application its customers can install on their own phones. In addition, the retailer gets access to an online management console that shows what customers are buying, among many other statistics. Since buyers provide their email address when they install the smart phone app, the store can easily send them custom messages.
For example, if a potential buyer uses the smart phone app to add several items to their ‘wish list’ the store will know about that and can gently remind the potential buyer to return to the store to buy the items. Buyers can be especially enticed to return by being sent discount codes that buyers can use to receive the items at a lower price. Buyers can even opt to have the items delivered to them, offering the convenience of online shopping to the offline world.
I like ShoppinPal. The small team of two co-founders and three staff have put together an offering that appears to come from a larger entity that has raised far more than the modest USD $120,000 in outside capital that Fermyon has taken in.
Buyer engagement potentially starts moments after walking through the door of a shop. One can ‘check in’ to the ShoppinPal app, like one ‘checks in’ on Facebook. The check in alerts store management that the buyer was present.
Next the customer can use the camera on their smart phone to scan the bar code on items they are interested in. The app recognizes the bar code and pulls up that product. The app can, at the option of the retailer, show customers recommendations for other items they may like in their store.
For new retailers, the ShoppinPal cloud based software taps into the retailers’ point of sale cash register system and reviews the receipts for the prior six months of sales. The software sees that people purchased certain items during the same transaction, and uses that set data to recommend that future purchasers also consider such grouped purchases.
CTO Singhal asked current retailers using their system to try the recommendation engine, and those queried marveled at how the recommendations matched with their memory of what many past customers had bought together.
The ShoppinPal app and the website are both beautiful – spare, elegant and clean. The management console is by Mixpanel, a separate company ShoppinPal pays to provide that service.
Sellers can add various incentives for shoppers to buy more items. For example, a discount can be applied after a certain number of purchases. Thus, a coffee shop could automate the ‘buy 10, get 1 free’ paper punch card that still is in use, and was in use at the tea shop where I met with Singhal and Subramanian.
That tea shop in fact allowed customers to store their paper cards in a physical file system on the counter out for the public to access. I marveled the tea shop would put such sensitive information out on public display, because a competitor could surreptitiously copy down a list of the shop’s best and most loyal customers. With quality video cameras in every smart phone, someone could just pretend they were looking for their card while capturing video of every card the thief perused. An electronic loyalty system like that included in ShoppinPal reduces the risk a customer list can fall into the hands of an outsider or an employee that should not have that information.
Inside ShoppinPal, there is not only a wish list, but a gift registry, which should encourage others to buy at a retailer the others may not even be aware of when the items are added to the registry.
ShoppinPal communicates via application programming interfaces to two point of sale cash register systems — Lightspeed Retail and Vend. ShoppinPal hands off to the cash register the precision task of calculating sales tax, sidestepping a thorny problem, since there are thousands of sales tax jurisdictions.
As a customer walks around a store, as they pick up items and place them in their physical shopping cart or basket, they can click ‘add to cart’ within the mobile app. This gives a running total of their planned purchases, and when the customer is ready to pay, they can buy directly from the app, which will display a receipt on screen the customer can show to store staff as they pass through the exit.
This pay within the app feature over time will let retailers hire fewer checkout clerks. The pay within the app feature can be turned off by the retailer that prefers customers visit a cash register to physically run their credit cards through a credit card terminal.
Whether the purchase is paid for in app or at a retailer’s register, the ShoppinPal management console keeps track of all the buyers’ purchases, and makes the purchase history available to the customer, which in my mind is a great perk for the customer. When I shop at Lowes and HomeDepot, I use their loyalty cards mostly because their systems email me a copy of my receipt within minutes after a purchase, which makes my life easier at income tax time.
The sexiest feature of the mobile app is a feature that adds fun to getting a discount. Instead of just writing out ‘you get a discount’ the app presents a silvery gray patch that looks just like the silvery patches covering the digits on lottery tickets. You have to ‘scratch off’ the patch with your finger, and as you rub the screen with your finger, the silvery ‘material’ under your finger vanishes. The effect was startlingly captivating such that I believe a tiny company could be formed just to advance this feature inside other unrelated products from other companies.
ShoppinPal is still an early stage venture. The company was incorporated in January, 2011, but work didn’t really accelerate until CEO Subramanian completed his MBA in June, 2012, last year.
Fermyon has signed up four customers, all via resellers that have agreed to carry their product. I view it as a positive sign that resellers are promoting their product while the company is still so young, for resellers have to be particularly careful to not damage their reputations.
ShoppinPal’s customers are Harney & Sons in New York City, Heartfelt in San Francisco, Isha USA in Tennessee and Marthas Vineyard Glassworks in Massachussets, all in the United States. The Isha implementation is the most demanding, because the organization runs events that draw about 1,000 people twenty times or so per year, so the transaction volumes spike tremendously during events and subside the rest of the year.
I live in San Francisco, so I decided to install the ShoppinPal app on my Apple iPhone 5 and visit Fermyon’s customer Heartfelt, a charming and totally adorable gift shop in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. This single store business doesn’t sell items that people are likely to evaluate and then order online from a giant website. But the Heartfelt is the kind of place that I think could benefit from the loyalty, gift registry and wish list features in ShoppinPal. The store also I suspect prides itself on having just the right gift, as there appear to be over 10,000 different items for sale inside this small store. As I was browsing around, I found half a dozen items I wanted to buy, and I am not even looking for gifts right now.
As soon as you check in, a horizontal red line starts sweeping up and down the phone display. The indicates the phone is looking for a bar code to recognize. I created a video of the ShoppinPal experience from checking in to just before payment. I have embedded the video into this post. The video is a bit shaky because I had to hold my large camera in one hand, and operate the app with my other hand, and since the phone was so close, the depth of field was shallow. But the video does show faithfully what the app does.
As soon as the app finds a bar code, it goes into search mode where it’s communicating with the cash register computer to find the item. This takes about two to six seconds. Then the item shows up in your shopping cart. From there it is confusing what to do next, since there is no ‘checkout’ or ‘buy now’ button. Instead, to continue shopping, you are to press the button in the upper left labeled ‘heartfelt,’ the name of the store. This should be labeled ‘back’ or ‘continue shopping.’ There is a button in the upper right called ‘cart.’ I didn’t try that button, but I assume that button takes you to the shopping cart from where one can checkout.
I scratched off the panel as invited, and I got a 10% discount. I was given the chance to pay via credit card or PayPal, the payment service from auction giant EBay. I bought a lightweight wallet made from Tyvek, and I paid via PayPal. The process was quick and efficient, but my receipt listed my discount as $0.00 even though the 10% discount had been correctly applied to the total. I understand that ShoppinPal was only recently installed at Heartfelt, so I expect there to be small glitches to be worked out. For such an early stage yet ambitious application, ShoppinPal performed well.
As you might imagine, ShoppinPal has big dreams and has had sales meetings with huge brands that are household names throughout the US. I suspect that after they build their credibility with smaller retailers for the following months that they will land a national retailer.
ShoppinPal participated in 2012 in the Silicon Valley Bank Seed Showcase, a pitch event to investors for Silicon Valley Bank clients. Silicon Valley Bank is widely considered one of the most important banks in Silicon Valley for startups that aspire to or have raised venture capital investment. You can watch CEO Subramanian pitch on stage and then watch him later that day be interviewed by Carrie Walsh, Managing Director II, ESG, Silicon Valley Bank.
I could find no direct competitors to Fermyon.
The closest offering appears to be CardFree, which automates via a smart phone app some of the tasks that ShoppinPal automates, like payment and loyalty. But CardFree omits the ability to scan the barcode of products to bring up specifications and Amazon.com like product recommendations, two of the most compelling features of ShoppinPal, in my mind.
Another company that does part of what ShoppinPal does is CardStar from Constant Contact. CardStar appears to be a smart phone app just for storing and using loyalty cards from multiple retailers, so your physical wallet doesn’t burst from storing too many physical cards, like mine is threatening to do.
Another loyalty card company is BellyCard, which appears to be similar to CardStar.
Finally, there is a smart phone payment app called AisleBuyer, which lets in store purchasers pay via their smart phone. This company was acquired by Intuit in 2012.
The company’s name Fermyon is a play on the particle physics term Fermion. The definition of the Fermion is better left to the article on Wikipedia I just referenced.
I took the picture of Subramanian and Singhal that accompanies this post with my Canon 5D Mark II camera, my Canon 50mm f:2.5 macro lens and my Paul C. Buff Einstein studio flash unit.
The location of the photograph is the Skydeck accelerator run by University of California Berkeley. Jeff Burton is the Executive Director of Skydeck, and Burton encourages me to write about the UC Berkeley affiliated companies that the accelerator houses in its exceptionally glorious 10,000+ square feet of penthouse office space. If you look out the window in the center of the picture, you will see the clock tower that serves as the focal point of the UC Berkeley campus. ShoppinPal is headquartered at Skydeck, but this is not an indicator that the team is reckless with its finances. To the contrary, it’s an indicator that the team is careful with its money since the company’s office space is provided for free by the University of California, from where Subramanian earned his Masters of Business Administration graduate degree. Skydeck gives free office space to only the companies it deems most likely to succeed.
I became aware of Subramanian over the last year because we both attend monthly Cal Founders meetings, which are designed to help founders and mentors be more successful in business. Subramanian and I are more acquaintances than friends since we’ve only met and spoken a handful of times. He learned of this blog and asked if I would write about his venture, and I agreed because I had become intrigued when he had introduced his company during the roundtable discussions at Cal Founders meetings. I disclose the circumstances of how we met to deflect any appearance of bias due to my already knowing Subramanian.
On Thursday, April 26, 2012, I attended the Berkeley Startup Competition Final Awards Ceremony at the Anderson Auditorium on the campus of The Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. Here is the PDF format file of the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition Final Awards Ceremony program booklet that was handed out at the final awards ceremony.
There are many people mentioned in the booklet, like the Co-Chairs for the 2012 competition, Nick Nascioli, Adam Sterling and Tom VanLangen, as well as Lester Center Executive Director Andre Marquis and Haas School of Business Dean Richard Lyons.
I most recently wrote about the announcement of the finalists for this competition, which happened two days earlier, on April 24, 2012.
Calcula Technologies won the Grand Prize and the Life Sciences Track for their clever system that vacuums kidney stones out of a patient’s urethra in just ten seconds. According to the team’s presentation, doctors today let stones pass from the body naturally and often quite painfully unless they are larger than 10mm in diameter. Patients today are often in such agony that they visit the emergency room, which racks up hundreds of millions of dollars in charges per year. For the sub 10mm stones, doctors just write prescriptions for narcotic pain killers and send the patients home with the stones still on their excruciating slow path out.
In the future, when and if Calcula gets their system approved by regulators, patients could have a catheter inserted into their urethra and the stone could be sucked out in seconds, presumably at great relief to the patient. This work could be done at the office of a urologist, without surgery, and the Calcula team said there is already a prized and lucrative reimbursement code in existence in the insurance industry, so if they build this system, they will be able to get paid and make a profit. I can understand why Calcula Technologies won the grand prize. Kidney stones are no fun, I’ve heard, and this system seems very appealing. The team showed a video of a fake kidney stone being sucked out of a pig’s urethra in just 10 seconds. It was very impressive and very memorable.
Kloudless, Inc. won first place in the Information Technologies and Web Track. I am going to be interviewing Kloudless, so I’ll save my remarks for another blog post.
Like Calcula, Back to the Roots (2935 Adeline Street, Oakland California 94608 USA) won two awards. First, they won the Products and Services Track, and then, thanks to real time votes from the audience and viewers of a live stream on the Internet, they won the Peoples’ Choice Award.
I have written about Back to the Roots twice before.
I have one of their products at my house right now. It works.
Back to the Roots collects used coffee grounds from coffee houses like Peet’s Coffee and mixes it with a ‘secret sauce.’ The combination is boxed up and sold at over 1,000 stores in the United States, including at Home Depot and Whole Foods Market. A consumer buys the cardboard box and partly opens it, exposing the insides. The consumer then mists the contents of the box with water using an included spray bottle. After ten days of twice daily misting, the consumer harvests a bountiful crop of oyster mushrooms that have grown directly out of the side of the box. Once one side has been used up, the consumer opens the other side to repeat the growing cycle for a second harvest.
That story has been told thousands of times, including on the CBS Evening News, an influential national newscast in the United States.
During their public presentation, the Back to the Roots team disclosed future plans that I find fascinating. Since this event was public and was streamed live to the Internet, I feel that it’s OK to write about what I learned, as there were no statements that anything said was to be considered secret.
The box contents will soon include vegetable plant seeds, and the rest of the box and liner will be biodegradable. Currently, the box is lined with what looks like conventional plastic. My box is from November, 2011, so things today may be different. In the future, or perhaps even already, the box will be lined with either nothing or something else that’s biodegradable. Perhaps what looks like conventional plastic to me is really biodegradable plastic, like some plastic trash bags are made of.
Why do this?
Once the box is biodegradable and contains vegetable seeds, that means that after the two mushroom harvests the box can be planted in dirt for ’round three’ of production — vegetables. The mushrooms came from the waste stream from coffee houses. The round three vegetable garden will come from the waste stream of the mushroom garden.
This is beautiful.
What’s coming down the road from Back to the Roots?
I am overjoyed to report the answer may be affordable aquaponics kits.
Aquaponics is food production gardening enhanced by growing edible fish in symbiosis with vegetable plants. Both parts of the system are made more productive by the presence of the other half. Fish poop gets converted by bacteria into rich fertilizer. The fish grow faster because the plants keep the fish tank cleaner. It’s a great growing system that I feel should take over the world on such a scale that every person has their own system at home.
I am too busy in life to advance this dream, but the team at Back to the Roots has time and energy and market traction, so I think they would be ideal to push aquaponics to a large audience. I am so excited about this that I have already offered to tell the company everything I know about aquaponics free of charge to encourage them to get this to market.
I suspect they plan to start with small, under USD $100 demonstration kits. This in my mind is the way to start.
I bought my startup supplies for my aquaponics system from The Aquaponics Source. This online retailer sells complete systems, but the price is too high for people to buy casually, at over USD $1,000. I believe a profitable sub $100 kit could be sold, as what’s required is similar to what’s inside a Mr. Coffee brand coffee maker — two water containers, a pump, a heater and some electronics to coordinate the steps. I can get a nice computerized Mr. Coffee coffee maker for about USD $25 from Amazon, so even in the smaller quantities a demonstration aquaponics system would sell in initially, I think it can be done.
I love advising startup companies, and I would particularly like to advise about aquaponics, even though I know relatively little about the subject, since I’ve only built one demonstration system so far. My system was a modest success for I grew the largest and sweetest tomatoes I have ever eaten.
HARBO Technologies won First Place in the Energy and Cleantech track. I introduced myself to co-founder Boaz Ur and mentor John Matthesen after the conclusion of the event. The company is working on something I find impressive and interesting. I have made arrangements to interview the team, so I will hold my remarks until after that interview.
My friends at Modify Industries took home a USD $1,000 prize for coming in second place in the Products and Services Track. This outcome was inevitable, and I predicted it accurately the moment I saw Modify was competing with Back to the Roots. Back to the Roots simply has had much more commercial success so far. While Modify has sold between 10,000 and 100,000 watches to such companies as Google and Hewlett Packard, they haven’t yet cracked the retail store market, and they haven’t been on the evening television news. It’s rare for a company to be so far along like Back to the Roots, but still be eligible to compete in the Berkeley Startup Competition. In all other years where there was a Products and Services Track, Modify probably would have won that track. I pay attention to these things because I was a judge for this competition for the eight years through 2011. This year I mentored the team University Gateway, which did not make it to the finals since Modify and Back to the Roots filled up the Products and Services Track.
Modify gave an impressive and bold presentation, where they outlined a dream for their enterprise far bigger than time pieces. They probably adjusted their pitch to compete with Back to the Roots. But they forgot to show their product in action amid all the grand dream spinning. How so? They forgot to personally show the audience how to change a watch element from one silicone strap to another. This is worth showing at every pitch for it’s compelling and like nothing I’ve seen in the watch business. No tools, no training — 10 seconds and you have an all new look.
Finally, I want to give some space to my friend and fellow photographer Bruce Cook. I’ve known Cook since nearly the inception of The Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. He’s a fixture at all sizable Lester Center events. He has his own photography business, Bruce Cook Photography, and is not a University of California employee. I can’t recall there ever being a different photographer for a Lester Center event. The picture above is of Cook standing under the video light in Anderson Auditorium. The picture below is of Cook taking a picture during the networking hour in the Bank of America Forum, the large gathering area just outside of the Anderson Auditorium. Cook took the picture above of Dean Lyons speaking to the audience. Thank you Bruce!
If The Lester Center is reading this, may I suggest that you contact Cook and work out a deal where his vast library of photographs of Lester Center events over the last twenty years can find a permanent home on the Lester Center website and in the University library system. Cook has photographed some of the most important figures of our time, and the tremendous majority, over 99%, of his photographs have not been published. I think these photographs should also be published on Facebook so that it’s easy to crowd source the identification of the people in the pictures, via the Facebook tagging system. Once the faces are tagged, then the captions on the Lester Center website can be updated to reflect the identities of those pictured.
Why do this?
The Lester Center and its events are documenting history. It’s that simple. Bruce Cook has a treasure trove of historic pictures that few have ever seen.
As an added bonus, publishing and captioning Cook’s 100,000+ pictures will boost traffic to The Lester Center’s website, as people search on Google and similar sites for the many luminaries Cook has photographed. The search engine optimization benefits to posting these pictures will probably overshadow every other single project you could undertake.
This is my idea alone.
Cook did not plant this, suggest this or hint at this.
I’ve been thinking about this for years now, and here seems like a fine place to promote the idea.
I believe I have shared this suggestion with Jerry Engel when he was Executive Director of The Lester Center, but that was only in passing at a hectic Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, not a written proposal such as this one.
Please consider this official advice, and let me know when I can blog about the happy news. Thank you.
I introduced myself to all the finalist teams except AdrenaRX. I believe the members from that team departed before I had a chance to find them.
I offered each of the eight finalist teams except for Modify and Back to the Roots the opportunity to be interviewed by me for a future blog entry. Two of the teams have contacted me to schedule an interview. Four teams have not yet contacted me.
I know the Modify and Back to the Roots founders, so I did not offer to interview them. This was not meant as a snub — I simply forgot to offer in my excitement of congratulating them. Both teams are doing so well they don’t need my blog coverage, but if they would like more in depth stories, I am happy to meet with them. Just send me a message. I am on Facebook and easy to reach. I have turned on the ‘subscribe’ feature, so everyone reading this is invited to subscribe to me on Facebook. You may also sign up with your email address to receive updates to this blog, in the upper right corner of this page.
All the pictures I presented above except for the one by Bruce Cook are also on my Facebook page in this album. If you know these people, particularly the people in the shots with the giant checks, please tag them on Facebook so I can update the captions here with the names. All my pictures on Facebook are public, so if you tag someone there, I consider those names to be public, and on that basis I will update the captions here.
The sponsors for the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition include:
There were possibly other individual sponsors. No individual level sponsors were listed in official materials this year, a departure from past years.
The Executive Committee for the 2012 Berkeley Startup Competition:
Judging & Sponsorship
Marketing & Events
Mentorship & Events