Tag: retail

12 May 2017

Lokesh Sikaria: On the Keys to Achieving Success as a Start-Up

801023

Moneta Ventures is an investor in Engage3’s Series B round of financing. Their mission is to identify and accelerate the growth of the most innovative companies in California’s capital region. 

Lokesh Sikaria, managing partner at Moneta Ventures, commented in a recent press release, “Engage3’s management team has a great record in the retail space. Their demonstrated domain expertise combined with current customer traction, the technology platform they have already built, and the product roadmap makes a very compelling investment thesis.”

Prior to his work with Moneta, he was the Founder and CEO of Sparta Consulting, a global IT consulting firm, and grew Sparta to more than $100 million in revenue in just five years. A Berkeley graduate with an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science degree, Sikaria was sent to work on a project at Intel by his first job with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

He greatly enjoyed working in Folsom and the ecosystem he found there, so he decided to stay and cultivate his industry within the region. We decided to sit down with him and understand his personal and professional motivations and what he believes are keys to success when starting a business.

What does it take for a company like Sparta Consulting to grow from 0 to 125 million in revenue?

Well, a lot of money. That’s when we realized that the ecosystem for that kind of growth just wasn’t here, in the greater Sacramento area. We knew we wanted to be the ones to start a fund here and focus on investing because we knew that there were other companies just like us, who were doing well in their business plan and growth but didn’t have the necessary funding. So I think the secret to building up a business is to have access to capital, a reasonable space and strong teams. I like to quote Ben Franklin, who said that “we must all hang together or we will all hang separately.” And I think the mindset of a team should be that we’re all in this together.

What traits do you look for when you hire someone for a team?

Evaluating how people react in adversity is the key. How do your team members react when things aren’t going according to plan? As a start-up you can almost be certain that things will not go according to plan, and when that happens, do your partners quit? That to me, is the defining criteria of the team.

In what ways, other than revenue, did Sparta see a lot of success and growth?

The key thing with Sparta was to let our employees participate in our success or failure. We let our employees invest in the company at the same price that we invested at, so by the time Sparta was sold, I held 20% of the company and the remaining 80% was owned by other employees. What’s really special is that when Sparta sold, for every 1 dollar invested we made $4.93 with around a 65% return per year. And I think we made 15 millionaires out of the process. For a lot of the families and employees with us, this was very special.

Do you have a thesis for how to make your investments or a criterion for choosing companies to invest in?

We have three filters that companies that are pitched to us must go through. From the onset, we knew we wanted to deploy at least 70% of capital in the greater Sacramento region. We all came from a tech background, so we wanted to invest in tech companies first and then slowly expand to other areas of investment such as healthcare or Ag-tech. We also focus on companies that are within half a million in revenue to 5 million in revenue. And we do this because when you focus on companies when they’re in the initial stages, it’s a lot more fun and interactive and rewarding to participate with them rather than when they become big corporations.

How have you persevered through some of your most difficult challenges while running Sparta Consulting?

As an entrepreneur, you have to be mentally prepared for the challenges and have the ability to withstand them. I was fortunate to have a very supportive management team around me and that made all the difference at Sparta. Not only I but several of my management team mortgaged their homes to keep the company going from an investment standpoint.
 
How do you spot companies that have promise of success?
Good management teams; growing revenue (at least $500K revenue run-rate annually); In sectors and areas that are seeing increasing demand; Founders with significant skin in the game;

What’s the best way for a start-up or a growing company to get your attention?

I suggest that the first step is to have your ducks in a row. Make sure you know who you’re selling to from a customer standpoint. You should ideally have a few customers already, have some beta customers, and at least a minimum viable product. Then the best way to approach Moneta Ventures is to reach out to Sabya Das, Associate Partner at Moneta, or apply on our website.

One of our challenges when assessing companies is that since there are 4 of us the business, the volume becomes very significant. We looked at 440 companies total to get to the 20 companies that were selected in Fund 1 and Fund 2 over a three and half year period. So it is competitive and it is challenging, but it doesn’t mean that just because we aren’t interested, that you’re not going to be successful.

Do you have advice for start-ups who are just entering the world of planning and creating their vision on what the process looks like?

There needs to be a balance between the planning and the execution. We want entrepreneurs to focus only on one or two things out of the 50 million ideas they might have, and then pursue them wholeheartedly. You’ve got to plan your actions and decide which idea you will pursue. In general, if you spread yourself too thin, it’s a problem. There will be obstacles and offsets. But you have to continue and give it it’s due before deciding to call it quits. That balance is key.

There’s an analogy in marketing that I think really captures the idea. What you want do is fire bullets, and then where you succeed, you want to fire cannons there. That’s the right mindset. Get to the ideas that hit, and when you know this is the right place, go at it with cannons.

What do you enjoy about being a VC?

I really enjoy the cyclical nature of it and seeing the successes come out of our investments and coming right back to us. We’ve created this foundation of providing each other value and working with each other as a team by sharing successes. The fun part is to be able to see the success come out and how that success feeds right back. What you do comes right back to you.

Sikaria spoke at the Startup Grind Sacramento event this month and shared these insights and experiences with the attendees of the event. Watch his full presentation here!

15 Mar 2017
ci-pic_172_88d08c2114a41bccb864711d4686c4f5b58873ac

Competitive Intelligence 101

The Sherlock Holmes of Retail

The phrase “competitive intelligence” is tossed around among competitive retailers and pricing strategists looking to grow revenue and expand their reach. Formally defined, competitive intelligence is the act of defining, gathering, analyzing and distributing intelligence about products, customers and competitors in order to make strategic decisions.

But what this really sounds like is a socially and legally acceptable form of spying. Companies that use competitive intelligence methods are putting on their black ski masks and waiting in stakeout vans with binoculars, ready to observe and analyze their competitors every movement.

This kind of “spying” is actually one of the oldest forms of ensuring market competition and drives the system of exchange that our livelihoods depend on. A basic study of economics tells us that markets are sustained by simple supply and demand models. When the demand for new Legend of Zelda video game increases, Nintendo is smart enough to increase their prices and the quantity that they supply to legions of insatiable gamers.

Profitable choices and strategic pricing is dependent on looking at external factors and the ecosystem of markets around you. Companies who want to thrive in a competitive environment know that they have to study two major areas: their customers and their competition. The two share a magnetic-like attraction, linking them together and linking the success of the company with their push and pull.

But to simplify things even more, let’s take a look at the classic lemonade stand example. Sally spends her summer vacations selling lemonade for 2 dollars a cup and expects about 15 sympathetic parents to visit her stand and buy a daily cup. When another lemonade stand opens up across the street, Sally notices her customers waning.

Infuriated, she grabs a recording device, her binoculars and heat-resistant trench coat and hovers around her competitor’s stand only to discover that the other lemonade stand sells lemonade for 75 cents a cup.

Now armed with this information, Sally can re-re-price her lemonade at 75 cents or less and make an informed and strategic move to stay the queen of lemonade sales.

Retailers like Sally want information about the prices that their competitors are charging, so they’ll be able to assess their own prices and make adjustments accordingly. By expanding the scope of our lemonade example to include the millions of industries and retailers with a diverse range of products and services, it’s safe to say that we’re getting a little closer to the heart of competitive intelligence as it exists in the real-world marketplace today.

The (C)ompetitive (I)ntelligence spy tool kit can be broken down into a strategic four-step method:

  1. Plan. Companies need to crack open their laptops and begin their Google stalking. In other words, retailers need to have a plan for what information they feel will benefit them. If retailers are asking the right questions, they’re asking about their competitor’s mission and history or their competitor’s target customers. They’re asking about which products are being priced at what cost and what special feature of that product attracts customers. They’re asking about promotions and advertisements.

 

  1. Collect Data. Retailers accumulate information by utilizing competitive intelligence programs or platforms. CI tools like MissionControl address the largest questions retailers might have about how to be successfully competitive with their pricing strategies and promotions. MissionControl is just one of the many innovative technologies out there that retailers are latching onto. There are hundreds of free and private programs that help companies analyze features of their competitors such as Quantcast, Knowledge360 or CIRADAR.

 

  1. Analyze the Data. Put your smartest and brightest to work extracting information that can be beneficial to understanding your own business in relation to the other markets. Alternatively, there are companies out there like Engage3 that collect the data and help set strategy with advanced analytics and insights. For Sally, it was figuring out that 75 cents would steal the neighborhood moms away from her stand.

 

  1. Make Changes. Implementing new pricing strategies, promotional programs or re-evaluating inventory are some of the many ways retailers then act on the data they’ve acquired. Sally quickly made the change and started pricing her lemonade at 50 cents. It worked like a charm.

 

Using competitive intelligence is like being the Sherlock Holmes of retail, and it is amongst one of the fastest growing business strategies of the 21st century. As long as there are Sally’s in the world competing against other lemonade stands, competitive intelligence will continue to play an important role in the social and economic foundations of the retail industry.

18 Feb 2017
walmart to go

Shopping Revolutions: The Future of Grocery Stores

Drive Through Supermarkets? A Revolution in Grocery Retail

Traditional grocery stores are phasing out and rapidly losing appeal to the 21st century shopper. With millennials at the height of their rule and a growing shift towards online and instant shopping, the existence of the list-making and cart-pushing shopper is moving towards extinction.

According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the greatest change in U.S. food shopping behavior is the extent to which food shoppers now rely on non-supermarkets as a source of grocery supplies. Long gone are the days when you opened your fridge, made a shopping list of necessary items and spent the morning cruising through the aisles of the closest and most cost-effective grocery store.

The changing mindset of the average consumer who demands an easier, faster and more convenient shopping experience has forced several industries to adapt. Conventional supermarkets are not as appealing in a world with a diverse amount of shopping options, and major retailers are actually starting to feel the pressure to adapt and meet a new set of needs.

From smaller store formats to online shopping, big grocers are wiping the beads of sweat off their foreheads and largely divorcing the “traditional” store formats.

Here are the top 3 ways large-scale grocers are innovating to win back their customers:

1. Convenient Store Formats

Large grocers have been creating smaller, easily-navigable versions of their mother stores with the format of a typical convenience store. Connected to gas stations, the idea is to create a quick and easy shopping experience for consumers who are bound to stop for a bite to eat as they wait for their tanks to fill up.

This past month, Walmart has been a huge player in the game and unveiled their newest convenient store, a “C-Store,” in Rogers, Arkansas. The 25,000 square foot building offers a hot food bar with quick to-go meals such as paninis, nachos, hot dogs and sausages. The new store offers a similar format to that of a classic 7-11 with coolers of beers, sodas and other beverages as well as aisles stocked with grocery staples: milk, eggs, frozen meals and pizza. Walmart has experimented with this type of store in the past in Crowley, Texas and other regions in Arkansas.

Kroger, one of the world’s largest grocery retailers, also opened up their version of a C-Store in College Station, Texas last year. Their take on the smaller store format features 16 gasoline pumps, convenient merchandise and a barrage of coffee and fountain beverages. If the goal is to make act of grocery shopping convenient at a variety of locations, then these grocers are hitting the target. Filling up gas will now become part of the same errand as grocery shopping.

2. “Grocerants”

Most grocery stores like Safeway, Whole Foods and Raley’s design their deli and hot meals sections to be an easy, sit-down spot for hungry customers to munch on a quick meal. There’s never been anything particularly attractive about the food options in these delis, so grocery stores have decided to switch their focus and hone in with full force on revamping and glamorizing these in-store eateries.

Meet the newest revolution in dining experiences: the grocerant. It’s a hopeful attempt at creating a hybrid between grocery shopping and fine dining by picking high-end restaurants or restaurants with name recognition and incorporating them into the store layout.

The supermarket chain Hy-Vee has a Market Grille Restaurant in over 20 of their stores. A Whole Foods in New York City has a Yuji Ramen inside their store. A Gateway Market in Iowa even has a beer program, where consumers can fill up pints from the in-store bar and shop with a beer in hand.

If the idea is to attract customers back into stores by offering them tasty, well-known dining options, the food has to be tempting enough to get them to sit down to a meal. Grocers figure that customers are probably more inclined to use the time before enjoying their meal or after the calorie boost to shop for products.

Grocers will be able to yield a better experience for the shopper if the shopper can save on time and money and consolidate their day’s errands, like eating, into a one-stop shopping excursion.

3. Online Services

Technological innovations have been one of the most dynamic tools for shopping evolutions. Making a shopping list? There’s an app for that. Comparing prices between similar items? There’s an app for that. Need groceries delivered? There’s even an app for that.

Over the last few years, grocers like Safeway, Raley’s, Costco and Wholefoods have begun utilizing online shopping platforms and delivery systems with the aid of tools such as Instacart or Google Express. These kinds of services completely remove the need for consumers to set foot in a grocery store.

Amazon is the Stephen Curry of grocery innovators, as Amazon has made huge strides in emerging into the grocery retail market with Amazon Grocery, Amazon Pantry and their newest technological revolution, Amazon Go.

Amazon Go is Amazon’s first physical grocery store and has the format of a traditional store but promises the convenience of online shopping. They reel in customers with the tag, “No lines, no checkout- just grab and go!” Customers walk in, scan their phones over a sensor that detects their account within the Amazon app, grab whichever food items they want off the shelves and simply walk out of the store when they’re finished. Amazon’s “Just Walk Out Technology” uses sensor fusion and computer vision to identify the item that was put in the physical cart and adds it to the virtual cart on the app. The Amazon account is later charged and sent a receipt.

The first store opened up in downtown Seattle, and Amazon is eager to announce additional locations for their new stores in the next few months.

Grocers have had to become more creative, strategic and innovative in the way they market to consumers and grow relationships. With ideas such as grocerants and Amazon Go already taking off in earnest, there’s no predicting the upcoming innovations and evolutions grocery retailers will be fighting to bring to the table.

Photo Courtesy: CSNews

08 Feb 2017

Bob Ramsey on Online Retail, Amazon Competition and more

BobRamseyChief Operating Officer Bob Ramsey has had over thirty years of experience working in the retail industry. He currently manages pricing strategy and operations at Bailey’s, an internet retailer based in Woodland, CA that specializes in a unique assortment of professional outdoor work gear and equipment. Bailey’s pricing strategy isn’t to charge customers at the cheapest price, but rather to create a relationship between the consumer, product and price that eliminates price as being the decision-making factor for purchases. Bob says Bailey’s “will be profitable and will make money, regardless of the prices it charges.”

Bailey’s has a dynamic relationship with competitive intelligence, as the retailer’s niche marketplace doesn’t have as much access to competitive data as larger grocery retailers. Bailey’s collects most of their customer data through their shipping procedures and by accessing and watching their Amazon sales. The internet retailer thrives on being able to differentiate from Amazon by printing in-mail ads and having convenient shipping processes. Bailey’s will also be the first customer of Engage3’s new “personalized promotions” platform, and Bob hopes to work with Engage3 to expand customer relationships.

To learn more about Bailey’s online platform, Bob’s experiences in pricing strategy, and Bailey’s relationship with Engage3, check out Bob’s full interview.