INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
FutureProof Retail President Di Di Chan Shares How to Lead a New Retail Technology Industry
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Di Di Chan: We are doing well, thanks for asking. We are lucky to be healthy and adapting to the new normal by focusing on what we are grateful for and what we have to give. I hope you and your family are doing well too.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded FutureProof Retail?
Di Di Chan: I’m a curious and creative person who wants to learn new things. Curiosity led me to create a lot of my adventures in life and work. Before FutureProof Retail, I founded an event planning business and an education consultancy company.
With FutureProof, I met my partner Will Hogben in a philosophy club and instantly bonded over the value of time. We both want to maximize human potential by removing friction in time. On a trip together, I wanted to buy a bottle of water before our plane ride, but the lines were too long, we didn’t have cash on us, and our plane was about to leave. Thirsty and frustrated, I complained, “speaking of friction in time, we should solve waiting in line.” He replied, “I can make an app for that.” My partner (and our core tech team) are geniuses that have been making award-winning apps since the launch of the App Store, so naturally, I challenged him to “prove it.” He made a prototype in one weekend. I researched the retail technology market and realized we have an opportunity to lead a new industry. We launched our company in Dec 2013, recruited our first group of dream teammates by spring 2014, and have been working on “future-proofing” retail ever since.
How does FutureProof Retail innovate?
Di Di Chan: The best way to innovate in retail technology is to listen and respond to what retailers need. Technology is just a tool for retailers; it will never outshine the retailers’ actual businesses. Our mobile checkout platform is the leading frictionless checkout solution today because we listen better. We are responding to the problems retailers need to solve now (e.g., clean touch-free checkouts, faster throughputs, personalized offers, digital customer service) with a proven solution that is easy to integrate, affordable to implement, and can appreciate with time (e.g., our SASS service includes relevant future upgrades in response to retailers and their shopper’s feedbacks).
It’s not enough to just innovate with the technology; we are also leading the industry with new business practices. We are the first company in our space that’s fully transparent with our pricing model and offer zero lock-ins. Our philosophy drives us (here are our business values and intentions). We work with students, support the open-source community, and work with an ecosystem of best-in-class partners to bring a truly frictionless experience to the retailers we serve.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Di Di Chan: On the one hand, we are lucky to be able to grow with some of our clients. For example, in the grocery space, we already reached 10% adoption before COVID, surpassing e-commerce adoption results. Since COVID, we’ve surpassed 30% adoption! The response to COVID made our solution even more relevant in offering a clean touch-free checkout option for retailers and their shoppers.
On the other hand, we also feel the pain and struggle with many other retailers that have their stores completely disrupted. For example, we joined the New York Fashion Tech Lab and planned to grow and expand into the fashion vertical this year. Fashion has been hit pretty hard by the pandemic, so naturally, many in-store operations and services have been suspended too.
It’s a humbling experience that reminds us how much luck plays a role in success. We cope by being grateful for our blessings and also contribute whenever we can. For example, we donated our solution to retailers during the first lockdown, so stores can quickly roll out a hygienic no-touch checkout option. We continue to listen to what retailers need to adapt to a new normal and prepare technology and company to be a reliable service provider when they are ready to update their stores.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Di Di Chan: All the time, it’s part of living a curious life. Even though there’ll always be difficult choices to deal with, they do get easier with practice. A positive takeaway is that there’s always a lot more to learn. One thing that helps me most with difficult choices is to be able to fall back on our philosophy and values as guidance- choose in a way that minimizes harm, maximizes good, and prioritizes the value of time.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you protect yourself and FutureProof Retail in the future?
Di Di Chan: The best thing about myself and my team is our brains, so I prioritize protecting our minds most. For example, I created a “mind health” channel in our slack workspace to share information and strategies to keep us healthy. I also try to share more funny and positive news too.
I’ve been struggling a lot with anxiety this year. It makes sense, with a global pandemic as well as natural and social conflicts, 2020 is a pretty stressful year. The way I deal with stress and anxiety is similar to how I deal with most problems: learn more about it, test different solutions till something works, and share what I learned so more brains could help verify or add better solutions and suggestions too.
In my investigation of anxiety, I find many answers by focusing on how the brain works with emotions. Some cool things I’ve learned so far include discovering the emotional wheel to identify feelings better, a scientific study on where emotions are felt in the body, and how anxiety is an automatic response to (both real and anticipated) fear. Besides the long term improvements of eating healthier, exercising, and making sure the brain gets enough other positive inputs to process (instead of just fear triggering inputs), some quick tricks that have helped me to calm down pretty quickly include washing my face in cold water, listening to music, eating cashews, and trying one of the “grounding” techniques on buddy mind coach.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Di Di Chan: It is necessary to have competitors to indicate a maturing market. We now have POS players offering their versions of mobile checkout, a handful of in-house solutions coming to market, and a colorful start-up scene with a few long time players and much more new competition entering our space pretty much every year since 2017.
We’ve been around seven years already, we are committed and here to lead. Anyone that’s been in retail technology long enough knows that this is a marathon industry with really long sales cycles. Time, reputation, and results matter a lot more in this industry than just a fancy sales pitch. The teams that stick around will eventually become friendly colleagues with mutual respect, rather than novice competitors wasting time focused on fighting each other. Since we are one of the original leaders that started today’s new online-to-offline frictionless checkout industry, our plan is just to keep on creating rules of “the game.” We plan on leading our industry positively and sustainably. We are happy to welcome more colleagues, share best practices, and enable all of us to contribute to growing a new generation of sustainable retail technology that truly “futureproofs” retail.
Your final thoughts?
Di Di Chan: Retail is a people’s business. The goods, technology, services will always be secondary to the people running the show. Prioritize people, and the profit will be rewarding and sustainable.
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