Frank Faricy of XGen AI On The Future Of Retail In The Post Pandemic World
An Interview With Orlando Zayas
I believe one of the most important lessons is to understand that ecommerce is not going anywhere. There should be a great focus online regardless of how successful in person stores are. We’ve seen some brands that consider their ecommerce store equivalent to one of their 500–1000 retail stores. That approach needs to stop. If the world today continues as it has in the last year and a half with the pandemic and the transition to digital, then brands need to look at current trends and recognize that your online store needs to be a major focus.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank Faricy.
With a background in mission-critical IT integrations, audio system engineering, and team management, Frank carved out his career by designing, integrating and deploying mission-critical systems for A-level live broadcasts and international tours. He then moved onto e-commerce consulting and ecosystem optimization for many years, focusing on breaking the boundaries of optimization on Amazon. His R&D path led him to establish high-level principles of how (algorithmically) retail could be optimized to maximum effectiveness. This R&D focused around products of unknown brand and little to no traction to truly understand what causes organic engagement as a stand-alone element both from the minds of the consumers and the minds of the machines that ranked and placed these products.
His work in cosmetics led to aggressive sales growth and these products taking rank amongst the top 10 best selling products in US e-commerce for their category, building stable and organic sales. After launching and managing two prior companies focused around e-commerce and IT, Frank moved on to found XGen in 2017, bringing his R&D principles to life with the aid of cutting edge AI. His mission statement is to predict consumer needs and wants through the use of deeply integrated AI, delivering truly engaging personalized experiences to a segment of one. His goal was to have the consumer retail experience be personally tailored to each individual, creating organic traction without add saturation, returning the world of retail back to “service” and “experience” through a customer-centric methodology.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It started when my sister was working on her own cosmetics brand online and I was helping her. As time went on, I began to notice certain consistencies with the website and sales. That curiosity led me to wonder what would happen if you were able to optimize the ecommerce experience really proficiently for every individual. In essence, what if there was an engine that could track the correlations I was picking up on occasionally, except it would be done every second of every day. That would be the ultimate approach to getting the best performance out of ecommerce. That’s how the whole idea started.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most interesting story for me was a realization I had after developing the product. When I started XGen, I had very little knowledge about the industry. I had rapidly ramped up this concept of a product, and I had an idea of where I thought the industry should be, but it wasn’t gauged against competitors at the time. It was based on where I assumed the industry was. Only after we built our system did we look into products that are already out there and when presenting XGen’s solution, people would give me blank stares. No one knew what I was talking about. As I began to better understand the industry and my competitors, I realized that no one understood what I was talking about because the technology I was pitching had essentially surpassed the industry by about 5 years. So, it was really interesting to dream up this approach and apply it to a real-world business problem. It made me realize that when you innovate, think about what the best solution for the environment is. Go for the maximum efficiency of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
When I first started XGen, I met with a major brand during the very early stages of our product. We weren’t ready to onboard customers, but I was being very ambitious. I decided to write to the CEO of this monstrous company, expecting no response. Then, 24 hours later, we were meeting with their entire innovation team. Throughout the course of a couple meetings, their team was taking notes 24/7, but there was never any engagement. I eventually realized that the team I met with was just there to take ideas for their own brand. We didn’t meet with the commercial team, but I was just so eager to have an opportunity with this brand that I didn’t really look into who exactly I was speaking with. I would recommend talking to customers as quickly as possible.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Yes. We are working on two massive projects. One of them has the possibility to shift the entire concept of data and privacy. As a big proponent of data privacy and data protection. We’ve come up with a solution that has its roots in the AI domain and machine learning and it has the potential to give power back to brands in regards to their audience and how they communicate to them. It’s huge. I can’t say anything more, but we’re very excited.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think feeling “burned out” comes from failing to accomplish something, which then makes you feel discouraged as if you’re performing poorly on a team. The best way to ensure you can accomplish things is to compartmentalize your schedule into concise sections of the day. That way, you can work a bit on everything and make progress on all items. Even if you can’t accomplish the full task, the ball is moving in the right direction. That said, ultimately, you have to have a strong interest in what you’re doing. If your work doesn’t excite you, it’s probably not the best place to be.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would say the person I’m most grateful for is my Dad. He’s a civil engineer, and one of the smartest people I know. He always went about solving problems by applying some sort of mathematical approach to them and finding the solution. I see myself doing that all the time in my own life. Being able to step away from a situation, think about a proper solution, and applying it has helped me in so many situations.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At XGen, we are constantly focused on how to best protect consumers’ data. We strive to give power back to brands while also protecting the customer’s data. We want to allow brands to access their customers’ information without huge conglomerates intervening.
It makes me happy to look at some of the small brands that we’re serving and seeing the impact we are having on their ecommerce initiatives. That to me, is huge. We are bringing a technology that is so advanced to brands in a way that is incredibly accessible.
The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
As a result of the pandemic, there has been a huge shift towards digital. We are seeing many companies explore unique ways to shift to digital. For example, companies utilize things like WhatsApp and chat based cross sell tools. But all of these different features can get overwhelming, especially for small or medium sized companies. It’s important that before you add additional features to get your platform running properly, brands make sure to iron out the features that are just fun to have and focus on the performance of the website first foremost and then go from there.
In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?
My answer to that is I hope so. I wouldn’t like seeing a world where no one is connected. I think personal connection is very valuable. Technology and civilization go through waves of different modes of connection. Right now, we are definitely online more than we have been in the past. But, technology is always evolving and society shifts as well, so who knows what we will see in the future.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Sure. In general, I believe one of the most important lessons is to understand that ecommerce is not going anywhere. There should be a great focus online regardless of how successful in person stores are. We’ve seen some brands that consider their ecommerce store equivalent to one of their 500–1000 retail stores. That approach needs to stop. If the world today continues as it has in the last year and a half with the pandemic and the transition to digital, then brands need to look at current trends and recognize that your online store needs to be a major focus.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Amazon is not about product innovation. It’s about matching an existing search term demand. People who sell on Amazon build a product to match Amazon demand. A model like this gives rise to brands that are not concerned with the quality of the product. If I was to say one thing about Amazon, the quality of their products generally is not good. That to me is a sign of degradation in commerce and product development. So, my advice to retailers and e-commerce companies is to continue to curate and emphasize the great quality of your products. Amazon cannot compete with this. I do not think Amazon will take over the entire market. They’ve proven that they can’t do that in certain sectors.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
First, it’s important to personalize the ecommerce experience for each user. The more personalized you can make the experience to that individual, the better results you’ll get. Second, surround yourself with the best possible team. If you’ve got a team that is constantly trying to make data driven decisions to improve your product, that’s great. Third, it’s important to make sure your team is using correct testing to make those data driven decisions. The purpose of being data driven is to understand what the customer wants. If you are using machine learning to render outputs, you are acting off consumer needs. Another important thing is it’s important not to be feature crazy. Chat boxes and surveys are great, but you have to ask the question, “Does the customer want that?” Finally, the overall site experience in terms of performance and speed. You must ensure that this is up to the proper standards.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would create a movement that puts the control of consumer data and the ownership of it entirely in their hands.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Visit us at XGen.ai and follow us on LinkedIn
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!