Interview with Wes Schroll, CEO of Fetch Rewards, the Insight Innovation Competition winner at IIeX Atlanta.
The Insight Innovation Competition continues to be the funnel for innovative start-ups that are making an impact in the insights industry. Past winners are all making their mark in transforming the industry by supporting new business models and methods that create differentiated insights. Past winners include:
And now the most recent winner, Fetch Rewards, is joining this fantastic group.
Fetch Rewards was a “Wild Card” selection to present at the live judging round of the Insight Innovation Competition at IIeX in Atlanta last month, going up against an amazing group of finalists that included OpinionsApp, EyeSee, SWAY, Dataga.me, and Metametrix.
They presented in front of an august panel of judges comprised of JD Deitch (Ipsos), Tanya Franklin (Lowes), Ryan Patel (Pinkberry), Kay Iwaisako (Ricoh Ventures), Andrew Reid (Vision Critical), and Jeff Krentz (WPP). Using a 10-point scale for each category, judges rated each presentation on:
- Originality of concept
- Presentation quality
- Market potential
- Ease of Implementation
The end result? Fetch Rewards was the clear winner and took home a check for $25,000 to add to their already impressive investment haul.
So what’s the big deal?
In essence, Fetch has built a model to own the value chain between retailers, manufacturers and consumers by empowering the consumers in the store to make the experience easier. Everything from shopping lists to coupons/deals and checkout can be managed through their platform. And that means they are effectively a single-source solution at the consumer level for shopper data. To make it even cooler, research is part of their DNA and the ability to not just access aggregated data but to target consumers for surveys and ethnographic studies as well as to engage in marketing programs are all part of the platform.
The potential for disruption on multiple fronts is simply huge.
Here is an excerpt from Fetch Rewards competition entry (you really should read the whole thing to appreciate the opportunity!):
We are innovating how shoppers, brands, and retailers interact and engage in the in-store environment by driving value to all three constituents through our smartphone app and patent-pending hardware at POS. Fetch Rewards is a grocery shopping smartphone app that incentivizes users to shop by scanning every item in the store in return for savings and virtual cash back. Since every action in-store is captured on our platform, we give brands a deep and granular look at exactly what the shoppers are doing in-store, what they buy, in what order they buy them, whether they abandon products and why, how much time they spend in-store, and more. Our unique solutions allow brands to not only learn about shopper behavior, but also influence their path through store with our hyper-targeted, personalized deals given to shoppers based on their purchase behavior. This level of in-store insight is extremely hard to capture, given that existing solutions often involve in-store intercepts that bias behavior, or send you on missions in-store that take shoppers away from their usual routine. We have an end-to-end platform that truly captures the actions taken in-store.
I had the chance to chat with CEO Wes Schroll about their plans and am sharing that with you today to add more depth to the story. I had originally intended this to be a video interview, but due to a technical glitch we’ve transcribed the interview below. It’s informal, insightful, and chock full of great information about how Fetch is going to disrupt shopper insights forever, so enjoy!
Fetch Rewards CEO Wes Schroll with a Fetch user
Lenny: I am here today with the very special guest, Wes Schroll from Fetch Rewards, the winner of the latest Insight Innovation competition in Atlanta, with a heavy duty bunch of competitors but Fetch Rewards blew away the competition. Wes is going to tell us a little bit about what they’re doing and why they won, so Wes, welcome!
Wes: Thank you so much Lenny for having me here today, I’m excited to tell you a little bit more about it.
Lenny: So tell us about Fetch Awards for people who were not there and didn’t get a chance to experience what you guys are doing first hand.
Wes: Yeah absolutely, so at Fetch Awards we have actually created a mobile application that’s completely free for any customer to use, its available on any IOS or Android device, and it works at any of the grocery stores we have partnered with. From a customer’s perspective once they download the app it will take them to their home screen and look at all types of different coupons or deals that are available to them, on top of any sales the store is already offering. But really for us the bread and butter is the actual instore experience of the application that we’ve enabled by partnering with these different grocers. So when the customer actually pulls up the application and hits the “shop now” button, it’s going to pull up the camera for them, and they’ll be able to pull up the barcodes and scan any items that they are wanting to buy. Now every time they scan the item it’s actually going to look through our database of coupons and if there are any coupons that are relevant or actually could be applied on the product, it will let the customer know instantaneously so we can guarantee them it’s the cheapest way of shopping at that store.
On top of that, it will keep track of the running total and let them know exactly how much they are spending before they get to the checkout lane. We really focus on putting the information and the power in the customer’s hand as they go through out that shopping experience. They’re able to add every item in the store that they could possibly want and when they are ready to check out they will head up to the front end. There will be a single barcode on the customer’s phone, we will have some light integration that’s done on the front end lanes that make them fetch enabled. They will show that barcode to the cashier and transfer that information over into the point-of-sales system. The customer is then able to complete the transaction as they normally do with paying. It’s a quick speedy transaction as well on the grocers end, but that customers essentially getting out of there in twenty to thirty percent of the time on average that they would have normally taken to go through.
Lenny: So how did you get the idea for the concept of this app?
Wes: When I was in school I went to the University of Wisconsin Madison and I was going from my freshman year over to my sophomore year, as most typically do, and for the first time in my life I was moving out of a dorm and into an apartment. For some reason I wanted to go see as many different grocers as I could. I went to Walmart, Target, some higher end grocery stores, and some local grocery stores. I was just trying to figure out what store I really wanted to shop at. No matter what the store was, there were the same fundamental issues and pain points across every one of these retailers that added up to me understanding why the experience just sucked in general. And it would be anything from not knowing what my running total was, and being a college student budgeting was a big issue, to not understanding why the checkout process had to be so convoluted. Why are you putting everything into the cart just to take it out and put it on a conveyor belt, have it scanned, and then put into a bag to be put back into the cart where it came from in the first place? That didn’t seem to be very logical.
Finally I think it was Target that actually had the audacity to print me off coupons for items that I absolutely would have bought while being in the store but they did it after the fact and I would lose those coupons by the time I would return back to the store. The whole process seemed so frustrating that I figured every single person has such a smart piece of technology in their pocket with the phones that they now have, why can’t we utilize that technology to really be able to enhance the experience of being a customer. So that’s kind of where we started it off at and grew the company ever since then, competing in business plan competitions very early on across the US to get our first seed capital and hire a team. Two years later we’ve grown, we’re still here in Madison, Wisconsin with about thirty four people full time. Now were just focused on the expansion of our retail partner network so we can make this available to as many customers as possible.
Lenny: That’s a great story. So, tell me about that expansion. Where are you now? What chains, what stores? What geography?
Wes: About two months ago we just finished up the beta side of the testing we have been doing. We got into about ten stores across different retail banners, some were independent, some were chains, and we worked with those retailers to test out the entire process from start to finish. We got really lucky in that our first partner, which later happened to be bought out by SpartanNash, were actually kind enough when we went into the store to tell us to not focus on making them more money or any additional benefits that our app could derive for that retailer, rather they told us to build the best user experience that we could possibly build because they believed in the long run that would be what would drive true loyalty to their store. The first year of development when we were really trying to figure out “what is our product and how will customers adapt it?” we really tried to focus one hundred percent on the customer experience; we didn’t care if it was going to increase basket size for retailers or increase through put unless that helped the customer. In the end, those were both byproducts of the platform that we created. Overall, we accomplished what we initially set out to do.
You were asking about the development of our sales channels; we have over thirty stores signed right now, mostly kind of independents. Through the rest of this year were going to move forward with over a hundred stores which are signed and ready to go with the Fetch platform, and were hoping that we will be able to do about ten times that next year to get up to a thousand retailers, which we absolutely believe is doable even with some of the larger chains that we are working with right now. Just that represents a hundred different stores alone, so we are well on our way of being able to achieve those numbers (which are actually fairly conservative numbers in my opinion.)
Lenny: That’s fantastic! Now, different retailers so it’s not just grocery? The application works across FMCG, CPG, etc?
Wes: So right now we initially decided to focus on grocery, because if you think about the one thing that everyone is doing on a weekly basis, grocery shopping is the only form of shopping that everyone is doing. We wanted to start there, be razor-sharp focused and make sure we had something that people wanted. Next year absolutely I think you will start to see us not only in grocery stores but in other auxiliary verticals that will complement the grocery presence that we have. So being able to use the Fetch application for that experience in a grocery store but then also being able to use it at the Ace Hardware next door or the Petco up the street, those type of stores. It would then be a great program for the customer, because they wouldn’t be running into the whole loyalty card program where they open up their wallet and have seven different loyalty cards when you can use the Fetch application across all these different retailers.
Lenny: Well something that’s becoming pertinent is the question: would you function as the “super loyalty card” across all these different retailers?
Wes: Well there absolutely is a reason why we branded as Fetch Rewards when we work with most retailers and sometimes it is that retailer powered by Fetch Rewards, but we like that idea that in order for a player to win in this space in what we’re trying to do here that we really need to be branded as a third party. Take Kayak.com for example, which is what I use to book all my travel. I’ve ran into the issue with Southwest Airlines. Southwest is a great airline, I love flying Southwest, but it isn’t a part of Kayak anymore, so I don’t fly Southwest anymore. But the power to be able to compile all of these other airlines and to be able to search across all of them, or even Uber where you can go to a new city and already know how that application works and be able to get to a car and get to where you need to go. That familiarity is what is going to trump because that’s what the customers are asking for. That’s what we think that we can provide.
Lenny: Well let’s talk more about the insight competition. Arguably I would say that the massive potential in the type of data you’re collecting is almost a byproduct of your solution. So what attracted you to figuring out a way in the Insight Innovation competition and what are your thoughts around your role within that category?
Wes: Yeah we have definitely identified that for us the end goal is getting to a scale of having enough users in our database where the data that we have is going to be a compelling asset that no one else in the industry is going to have and can really be used to glean insight into a number of different areas and we know we can absolutely get there. So for us insight is an area that is up and coming. As you mentioned and as I’ve been talking about, our initial focus was to hone in on the customer experience and growing our footprint but all of that has the byproduct of some really powerful data sets. So for us right now some of the things that were really trying to do is focusing on that and collecting the right information and processing it correctly and making sure that the system that were building is one that can solve a lot of problems.Big retailers need to see where that is we are going now as we move upward. For example we work with Craft Hind which has one of their employees in our office two days a week full time, who were just working with to understand what other areas we can continue to innovate around and that the insights that were throwing off of our platform will be able to solve questions that they have never actually been able to answer before. We have other partners that we’re working with right now like Clorox, Kimberley Clarke, and Wrigley who are all providing the same guidance and help while we pilot our program to make sure were building something in the long run that is really going to be able to benefit all three parties on our platform.
Lenny: So you are pretty disruptive to the current status quo; scanner data, being captured by the retailer, and then being resold to Nielsen or an IRI. Arguably you will be saying “Too bad, we will get more data.” Have you been approached by one of those companies yet? They haven’t said “Hey wait, what are you guys doing over here?” Would you partner with one of those companies? What’s your vision a few years down the road when you have a thousand retailers, millions of customers, recording all of their transactions throughout the day? That’s huge!
Wes: So I’m not sure of the perspective from an IRI or Nielsen that they have taken notice of what we’re doing yet, and that’s great for us because we have always been trying to stay under the radar until recently when we have started to come out of the woodworks.
Lenny: Well I think they will now! Cats out of the bag buddy.
Wes: Well I think it’s actually good timing for the cat to be out of the bag because we are looking to partner with some of these leaders because this is a model that is designed to disrupt a number of different companies that work off of this industry and feed off of this industry, with scanner data being one of those main components. And as we have the power to scale up the data set and we have the granularity of it, we don’t even need quite as large of a sample size as they would need. One of the biggest defensive barriers that they have is their data size but that’s taken down just by the fact that we have better data. I think that that is really going to lead the disruption there, and that’s where we really view ourselves as the middleman between the brands and the retailers. The retailers are really drowning in all of this data that they have and not really knowing what to do with it or how to process it. And then you have brands on the other side who are trying to get more of that data and comparing different stores.
We’re trying to package that in a way to brands so they can make actual decisions off of it in a more meaningful way; retailers benefit right away because someone else who has more of the bandwidth and processing power will be able to make the decisions that will help their location quickly. So we want to view ourselves as saving the middleman. Now there will be a bunch of other auxiliary areas that we don’t tap into and that were looking to partner with other players in the industry to tackle these areas so that is something that we are certainly open to and will be looking forward towards those conversations. We know that this going to be disruptive, we are convinced of it, so we aren’t looking to hide, we want to get the best partners out there and figure out a way to be disruptive faster.
Lenny: So some would say, you are potentially one of the world’s largest single-source panels. You have to get there, but I see no reason why you wouldn’t expect to have around two million consumers on board within the next two years. That’s a fairly reasonable proposition. And at that level, when you start collecting not just shopping data but profile data, behavioral data. You start linking that to their Facebook profiles of all of their likes and dislikes that are recorded there, or asking questions. I think you’re asking questions now so you’re looking towards building that single-source asset that’s kind of omni channel in nature driven by behavior. Is that correct?
Wes: Absolutely, I think you hit the nail on the head there. I think one of the key differences that will differentiate us from any other source out there is that we may have this all-in-one panel set, but not a single one of those customers would view themselves as being a part of a panel. They are using the application because of the intrinsic values that drives them anyways so you’re illuminating that bias of those people who are going to be predisposed to wanting to partake in a panelist session. I think that’s why a lot of our brand partners are getting onboard and are wanting to work with us.
For the consumer the appeal is the ability to go to your local hardware store, or pet food store down the street, use the Fetch points, get your rewards, you’re your coupons, and check out faster through this application and really start to build a profile out of a life of shopping for that customer and really a life of shopping out of brick and mortar which otherwise doesn’t exist.
Lenny: That’s pretty inspiring man. We have picked some real winners over the last few years through this competition, but you are up near the top. Absolutely with the possibility of what you bring to the table. Which is of course a tendency for any of these winners, but it’s broad with the goals that you’ve set. It’s pretty amazing.
Wes: Yeah upfront I think we definitely understand that what we’re trying to do is very ambitious. However, the industry is coming to a point where every industry is going to be disrupted by this big data movement. Grocery is one of the ones where it is just starting to happen to and we can really be at the forefront of that and really lead that and bring in an age where you look forward to grocery shopping and from the customer’s perspective things will only get better because the companies will really like what we are trying to do. We understand that it is a long road ahead of us but we are excited for the challenge and I can’t be thankful enough for the amazing team that we have here and as we continue to grow and get close to nearly double the number of employees we have now. These people are innovative, they’re outgoing, they think outside of the box and they are not going to take no for an answer. They want to be a part of something that is game changing, and that is what we have surrounded ourselves with here. I don’t sit here and think that I have anything to do with the innovation that is going to come from this company, that is really a kudos to the people that we have working here, that’s going to be something that we continually focus on as we move forward, “How do we invite insightful people who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo and go out there and try to do something different?”
Lenny: Very cool. With all of the shark attacks this year at the beaches, I have actually halfway convinced my family to go to Wisconsin for vacation, so maybe we will swing by Madison and barge in and say hello to some of these guys.
Wes: Ha, yeah do it! I don’t think many people expect a company like this to come out of the Midwest, let alone Wisconsin. We’re lucky enough to have an incredible talent pool here in Madison; we have Amazon and Google offices here, we have epic healthcare dominating the healthcare space right now, continually bringing in new talent. Madison is definitely growing. I think it also gives us a more level mindset; we aren’t focused on building a database of three million users at the expense of our corporate partners like some of our West Coast counterparts would be doing. Were more focused on building a sustainable model that can actually drive real value, not just how many users can we get and then we will figure out a way to create value later. We take a fundamentally different approach to it, you won’t see as much viral growth but you will see continual sustainable growth that I think is what you need to change an industry that has been so set in its ways for so long. Having our Midwest roots has really been helpful with that.
Lenny: I would not disagree, I think you’re right. If you were in Silicon Valley you would probably be under a lot of pressure to do some things differently. And obviously you have gotten investment so that hasn’t hurt you, not being in San Francisco.
Wes: Yeah it can sometimes be a bit more challenging. Again, if you have a good idea and a great time you can find funding anywhere. People are willing to get behind good ideas that are disruptive and I do not see truth in the fact that you need to be in a certain geographic location to be successful. You just need to be excited to come to work every day and believe in what you and your team are doing.
Lenny: I think we are going to hear a lot more from you as the years go by. We absolutely will over the next few months because part of the winnings of the competition is that you have space at any of the upcoming IIeX events so we look forward to hearing from you on the stage as things progress. Once you’re in our orbit, you can’t escape. It’s like a black hole. You’re stuck here.
Anyway Wes this was great, congratulations on all of your success, congratulations on a great idea, and congratulations on winning. We look forward to hearing from you again.
Wes: Well Lenny thank you again. I really appreciate it and look forward to being back out there in a couple of months!