A robotic future for retail grocery, finally.

Angular Ventures
Angular Ventures
Published in
7 min readMar 19, 2024

--

Why we invested in Finally
Gil Dibner & David Peterson

We’re thrilled to announce our investment in Finally, an Israeli company building an end-to-end platform to manage store-level robotic fulfillment centers for grocery e-commerce.

Anatomy of an unlikely venture investment

We first met the Finally team over a year ago, but under a different name. They contacted us as they were considering expanding their nearly fully automated grocery store (called SuperDuper…great name for a grocery store, right?) from the suburbs of Tel Aviv to the suburbs of Boston and beyond. Their business plan (which they emailed us in advance) called for raising a massive round and rapidly scaling out a consumer-facing retail operation across New England. This plan — obviously — fell far outside of our mandate as a tech-oriented B2B fund. On the other hand, the team was so impressive and their insights on the grocery retail space were so deep that we took several calls. As we dug deeper and deeper into the business, it became apparent that the founders were truly extraordinary. Ultimately, however, we couldn’t convince ourselves that the plan to build a consumer-facing grocery brand made enough sense or could fall within our mandate. We parted ways and planned to keep in touch.

Six months later, they reached out to us again. “We took your feedback to heart,” they said and proceeded to outline how their thinking had evolved since we last met and what they had done about it. What we encountered was the same incredible people with a completely different — and far better plan. SuperDuper now had pivoted to selling their robotic fulfillment software platform to other retailers directly and, after just a few months, already had some of the largest players in the world knocking down their door. They provided us with a list of more than half a dozen top grocery brands across the US, UK, and Europe — all of which were in advanced discussions with them. On top of that, they had identified and recruited as advisors two of the leading retail grocery and robotics operators in the US — offering them significant equity in the business to help them navigate the new market. We asked about their existing grocery store. “We’ve already found a buyer and have agreed to sell it.” Their pivot was not just in their slides. They were already deeply engaged in executing their new vertical enterprise software strategy.

That got our attention.

So over the next few weeks, we dug in. We spent a lot more time with the team, spoke with grocery experts, operators, and prospective customers, and slowly became convinced that (1) making e-commerce work for grocery retailers is a multi-billion dollar problem, (2) it’s unsolved for a whole variety of reasons, and (3) SuperDuper may have finally figured out how to do it.

Post investment, we’ve worked with the team on their early GTM efforts, connected them with relevant sales advice, and encouraged them to undertake a rebranding effort, which led to the new name (Finally) and website. They have, indeed, sold their existing robotic supermarket business to a local chain, but you can see a video of it in operation (fulfilling real orders) on their website. They also kept their original office space, a platform perched right over the robots which whiz around on the floor below as the Finally team codes.

Our investment thesis.

Finally’s opportunity emerges from two dynamics dominating the grocery industry:

  1. E-commerce is taking over grocery (a trend only accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic)
  2. Grocery stores can’t do e-commerce profitably

Grocery is a massive industry ($700B+ per year in the US alone). Every year, e-commerce eats a larger share of grocery purchase volume. And every year, grocery stores continue to lose money on those orders. It’s a slow-moving disaster, and grocery players have invested billions of dollars trying to solve this problem to no avail.

A history of failure. Generally, retailers have taken two approaches to solving the e-commerce problem, neither of which works particularly well.

  • On one end of the spectrum, there’s the “centralized” approach, best exemplified by Ocado. Ocado is an online grocery with just seven fulfillment centers to serve the entirety of the UK’s 67 million people. These fulfillment centers are wonders of robotics technology. The problem is that these fulfillment centers require massive upfront investment ($100M+ per facility) and are in the middle of nowhere (how do you deliver orders to the far-reaches of the UK profitably?). It’s a model that can work, but the scale required is huge. And it doesn’t make much sense for retailers that have an existing real estate portfolio. In addition, Ocado-style facilities are rigidly designed and centralized, meaning that any breakdown in the facility shuts down the entire operation. Consequently, Ocado has yet to make a profit and most observers suspect that it never will.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the “hands-off” approach, typified by a company like Instacart. In this model, the retail chains aren’t involved in capturing the value or driving efficiency. Instacart shoppers are deployed to shop (referred to as “picking”) in stores manually. But this isn’t ideal. One of the main issues is stockouts. Instacart doesn’t know what’s on the shelves, so customers, inevitably, order things that are out of stock. This leads to orders with missing items or imperfect replacements, both of which reflect poorly on the retailer, even though there’s nothing they could have done about it. In addition, the presence of increasing numbers of “Instacart pickers” within the retail environment degrades the shopping experience for traditional customers, which ends up driving more people online, perpetuating the cycle and driving more pain for retailers. In the Instacart model, grocery stores are effectively providing a free distribution platform that another company is leveraging — something that is clearly unsustainable.

Enter Finally. Finally has figured out a third path — a robotic “store fulfillment center” or SFC — which has been designed specifically to serve the needs of existing grocery stores entering the omnichannel era.

Finally’s disruptive approach is based on a few key insights:

  • First, if the fulfillment center is close enough to the end customer, last mile delivery is a solved problem. Thankfully, a grocery retailer’s existing real estate portfolio has been carefully optimized for proximity to customers. Finally’s key insight is that grocery retailers have already invested billions of dollars building out completely optimized networks of store locations (i.e. distribution centers), not to mention strong brands with consumers. If only they could figure out some way to fit a super efficient fulfillment center into an existing store footprint in a way that allowed the store to continue to serve walk-in customers…
  • Second, the answer isn’t hardware, it’s software. Since Kiva was bought by Amazon in 2012, 150 vendors have popped up selling essentially identical AGV and AMR robotic systems. Costs have plummeted, as a result. And yet retailers still can’t make a profit. It’s not about the robots, it’s about how you use them. Crucially, Finally does not manufacture any hardware at all and is completely agnostic to which robotic systems are used to enable its SFC to operate.
  • Third, for Finally to work in any store, no matter the footprint or staff skill set, the solution must be comprehensive. Order management, warehouse management, warehouse control and execution, inventory management, product/pricing catalog, transport management. Finally has built it all. And their system can work with any off-the-shelf robotics system, as well as seamlessly integrate with the retailer’s existing ERP, EDI and GS1.
  • Fourth, Finally understands that this is ultimately a real estate arbitrage. Grocers only need to devote a small fraction of a retail locations footprint to enable a Finally SFC. The result is (1) far more efficient use of store footprint, (2) ability to repurpose some of the store footprint to other uses (like a sushi shop or a pharmacy), (3) the ability to continue to serve walk-in customers with a better experience, and (4) new online grocery capabilities enabled by Finally.

The result is a complete end-to-end software and hardware solution that can fit on a small footprint, requires only a few junior employees to operate, and can fulfill orders profitably each and every time.

Lastly, as with any investment, a big part of our thesis with Finally is the team. We’re big fans of vertical software because of the leverage founders can get on their domain expertise. But it’s not every day you meet a team as committed to understanding an industry before trying to sell into it as the Finally team. (It’s no small feat to start your own grocery store, let alone one that was growing and shockingly profitable!). The result is a team with unique, hard-won insights about an old, slow-moving, and tech-averse industry that is in desperate need of technological innovation…just the type of tough market we love to invest in!

We believe Finally has a shot at becoming the software layer for the omnichannel era of grocery and we’re incredibly excited to partner with Avi, Lenny, Or and the entire Finally team on this journey!

--

--

Angular Ventures
Angular Ventures

Angular Ventures is a specialist first-check venture capital firm committed to founders redefining global markets.