The inaugural Techstars Retail Class

3 Trends Changing Retail

This summer, I have had the opportunity to work as a Mentor with Techstars’s Retail program at Target (I know those guys!!), and I’ve been really impressed and excited by the teams working there this summer. Two weeks ago I participated in “Mentor Madness” and met with all of the startups in the program. A list of all of the companies is at the end of my post; you should check them out! After the experience, I took a step back to identify trends that emerged and some of the common problems teams are solving within retail. The main things I identified were:

  1. Experiential Retail. Millennials (everyone’s favorite demographic) are notorious for seeking out experiences over things when they have a chance to spend. Increasingly, established retailers and startups combat this by investing in products and software that allow them to enhance or augment the retail experience to make it more fun, unique and memorable. Blueprint, itsbyu, MakerBloks, MakersKit, and Spruce all fit into this trend.
  2. Democratization of Services. As Amazon grows and casts its shadow over the retail industry, everyone is pressured to keep up by developing their own comparable suite of supporting software and products. But realistically, companies don’t have the ability to develop tools on their own to compete with Amazon’s native software and ecosystem of capabilities. This is where startups come in. Increasingly, companies emerge with verticalized specializations at different points in the retail chain, allowing them to build deep expertise in a small area and sell it as a software or service license to give smaller competitors access to a level of expertise similar to what Amazon can develop in-house. HPA portco Shipbob is a great example of this. Among this year’s Techstars companies Addstructure, Branch, and Nexosis are developing similar vertical specializations.
  3. Personalization. The idea of personalized service and experience has always been at the heart of the elusive “Omnichannel” retail experience (which, if we’re being honest, no one has perfected). But software developments and connectivity between online and offline continues to evolve and move forward. Recent advancements in AI and Machine Learning, as well as messaging and communication software, are primed to help draw out crucial insights in retail customer data that will help to move this evolution forward and improve a retailer’s ability to speak intelligently and distinctly to every customer. Branch and Spruce are good examples of companies facilitating the next step forward in the world of Omnichannel retail.

It will be interesting to see what early-stage companies step in to ride these trends and grow to be a success. After meeting with them a few weeks ago, I’m hoping some of them are in this year’s Techstars Retail program. It’s early for all of them, but they’re off to a good start. You can learn more about them below.

  • AddStructure: AddStructure helps consumers discover products across any retail search channel (organic, on-site, mobile, voice, chatbot) using their own unique voice.
  • Blueprint Registry: Blueprint Registry is a life-event driven marketplace based on your home’s blueprint — shop or register for products from a variety of retailers in one native platform.
  • Branch Messenger: Branch Messenger helps retailers reduce employee absences and increase productivity by improving company-wide communication.
  • Good and Gather: Good and Gather is a packaged good where transparency and responsibility meet: it replaces traditional food labels with clear lists of ingredients.
  • Inspectorio: Inspectorio is reinventing the way quality inspections are performed. Using a mobile-first platform and machine learning to help retailers verify supplier compliances and bring transparency to their supply chains.
  • itsbyu: Itsbyu is the do-it-yourself wedding flower kit company; make your own wedding flowers and save up to 80%.
  • MakerBloks: MakerBloks is a dual play experience that combines electronic building blocks with digital activity books.
  • MakersKit: Makerskit inspires creativity with online and in-store experiences paired with fun DIY kits and artisanally made goods sold in over six-thousand stores.
  • Nexosis: Nexosis provides retailers an automated machine learning platform enabling better data driven decisions.
  • Revolar: Revolar’s wearable technology only has one job: keeping you and your family safe.
  • Spruce: Spruce has built a technology driven, customer focused barber+clothing retail experience that is unlike anything else in the industry.

VC @Touchdown_VC. Formerly @HydeParkAngels, @Target. 2x @UChicago grad. Don’t judge me for anything I write here, unless you think it’s good.

VC @Touchdown_VC. Formerly @HydeParkAngels, @Target. 2x @UChicago grad. Don’t judge me for anything I write here, unless you think it’s good.