Matt Gorniak Of Threekit: The Future Of Retail In The Post Pandemic World
An Interview With Orlando Zayas
I need to see how they fit in my environment, not your store.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Gorniak.
Matt Gorniak is CEO of Threekit, 3D and augmented reality visualization software for products. He leads the company by building effective go-to-market strategies, teams, and partnerships. Prior to Threekit, he served as Chief Revenue Officer and is the co-founder of G2, a leading marketplace for business software reviews that has raised over $100 million. He also held global sales leadership positions at Steelbrick and BigMachines, cloud Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) platforms that were acquired by Salesforce and Oracle, respectively.
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 share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Over the course of my career, there have been multiple interesting stories or forks in the road which in hindsight were defining but didn’t seem that way at the time. One major one was bumping into Godard Abel, who at the time was a CEO of a start-up which was pivoting from being a marketplace to a CPQ solution. The rest is history, but at the time I didn’t know this would lead to myself and Godard becoming business partners in multiple companies and building technology together for the next 20 years.
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?
At G2, we had this theory early on that if we make insights and data available for a fee, buyers would purchase it to make better decisions. Tim Handorf, one of our co-founders, dared us to figure this out, which was actually inspirational and funny. He said he wouldn’t cut his hair until we sold the first report. Energized by a competitive challenge, we generated the offer, put it on the web, and developed a way to purchase it. My memory is fuzzy, but I think initially it was $4,999 for the report. A month passed and not a single purchase. Then, we dropped the price to around $1,999 with the same results. Then, we cut it back to $99. I think this went on for about six months, until Tim’s hair became unruly. We finally sold one report, so Tim went for a much-needed haircut. We don’t know for sure who bought the report , as the user was anonymous, but we are pretty sure it was his wife.
In hindsight, asking buyers to pay for information was already proven what the market didn’t want. Tripadvisor and Yelp weren’t charging, so it was a painful but funny lesson.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Threekit is fascinating because there is this world of digital twins happening right before our eyes. Some call it the Metaverse. But fundamentally it’s a tectonic shift which is similar to what we have seen in other areas and companies which make tangible products. They will have to quickly engage and master this new way of doing things or they’ll get left behind. This is the same conversation we had surrounding the Internet itself in the 1990s. ”Hey Bob, that thing, the Internet… Do you think we need a website?”
One of the immediate benefits is that we can design and purchase products while reducing a massive amount of waste; waste in producing items that no one might buy and items which often get returned.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
This is a very real and difficult topic. I would say, embrace and enjoy the journey. My sense is that many misinterpret this as having fun on the journey. Sure, there are times when you are having fun but most of the time you’re embracing the uphill climb to the peak. There is no shortcut and it’s a choice to make it to the top.
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?
There were many people along the way who did small things for me, which ended up being helpful. There were also times that I connected with someone and our energies aligned. Again, Godard Abel comes to mind. He was the CEO of BigMachines. His way of leading from the front by doing and at the same time mentoring and sharing information was amazing. I learned so much by osmosis in regards to all aspects of building a company which is pure wisdom.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As an immigrant coming to the United States at the age of 17, my “job” was to find a job and start a traditional career. And, I did, until a friend joined an IT company called EMC. It was one of the hottest companies on the planet and he gave me insight into that world; a world filled with energy, building, and endless opportunity. It was not a world I was aware of from our dinner table where my father was a very hard working tool and die maker and my mother cleaned homes. But this was a world where I wanted to belong and once I set my mind on it the rest is history. My passion is meeting with college students from universities with a diverse and large first-born immigration student body to help them uncover a career in software and SaaS. When I ask in meetings how many are aware of technology company careers, very few hands go up. The kids just don’t talk about it at home, just like we didn’t at our house.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. 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?
Incorporate digital to extend the physical store. One example of this is the endless aisle whereby the physical collection in the store is augmented with the full assortment digitally. Furniture, for instance, where customers want to go to the store to get up close and personal and then jump on a tablet to explore what could be thousands of options for that model. This combination yields a much better experience because brands can’t build a showroom big enough to house their entire product portfolios.
Another one is digital-first products. Many times new product options or collections are discussed, but it’s unclear what the demand will be and it’s hard to know what to stock up in the showroom. Retailers can release digital-first products, which aren’t manufactured yet. If someone wants to buy something they see online, it can be made on-demand or as a new product offering. This allows retailers and brands to experiment with demand. If there is a lot of demand for a specific option, then data-driven decisions can be made, to manufacture and stock up the stores with a hot new item.
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?
Yes, they will for sure exist but they will have to redefine themselves around unique experiences. If the vision for a store is to show the same products that you can find at a number of other stores, a commodity experience, then, yes, that vision is in trouble. But if your retail experience turns into teaching, sharing, and a personal and fun experience, then it will thrive. Eataly comes to mind. You walk through various stations and learn, smell, enjoy, and get inspired, as if you are walking through a real-world Italian market and along the way you purchase products..
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?
See experience above.
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?
My sense is that there is nothing new in up and comers providing cheaper goods. The differentiation is in innovation and experience. So, yes, if the products sold are total commodities then that may be a challenge.
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.
Know your customer. Tell me things I would like when I enter the store. For example, if I purchased something online, suggest something in the store which I would also like. If I want to learn how to make pasta, for instance, offer that up online and then show me where I can find the items in the store or just ship them to me. Give me choices that are beyond what’s on the shelf (the endless aisle). Make your website the full product catalogue. Don’t give me just a subset of all that you can make. Offer me a cashless checkout. Let me walk out of the store (Uber experience) without hassles. Let me take your products home with AR/VR. I need to see how they fit in my environment, not your store.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Reduce product returns. There isn’t a big discussion around the fact that returning products is so bad in so many ways, including the detrimental effects it has on our environment.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!