Michael Wang didn’t grow up in Central Jersey determined to save brick-and-mortar retail stores.
In fact, he’ll be the first one to tell you he doesn’t have any retail background at all.
But he does have an entrepreneurial spirit — it’s in his family’s DNA.
And he does have an understanding of the value, application and potential uses of the Internet of Things — he’s taught courses on it at Columbia Business School.
And, seeing his presentation at the latest Demo Day for the latest cohort at Newark Venture Partners earlier this week, those attributes may be enough to create one of the solutions the retail industry needs to survive in the future.
Wang showed the audience of entrepreneurs and investors at Audible’s Innovation Cathedral in Newark how SIRL — Search in Real Life — can bring best practices from e-commerce into the brick-and-mortar world.
SIRL’s success, he said, is using precise GPS tracking to measure how consumers act inside of stores.
“What made e-commerce so powerful?” he asked the audience, then answered the question.
“Online retailers can track what products shoppers looked at, how long they looked at them, what they bought and what they did not buy. And all that translates to a richer, stickier shopping experience for the consumer. And more money for the retailer.”
Wang pointed out that 85 percent of all shopping still occurs in physical stores — but without tracking technology.
“These stores have very little insight into who’s shopping their stores and how they’re shopping,” he said. “SIRL is an integrated solution combining our precise indoor GPS with the retailers’ existing shopper app and point of sales database to create a richer shopping experience for the consumer and a first-of-its-kind analytics dashboard for the retailer.”
This type of new-age out-of-the-box thinking is the type of company Newark Venture Partners is looking for, NVP Labs Director Allison Williams said.
It’s why SIRL was one of nine companies that made the cutdown from more than 2,000 applications to be in this spring’s cohort.
SIRL, and the eight other companies, set up shop in the Audible building, where they received one-on-one training in all aspects of marketing and development.
Williams, who started, sold and worked at numerous startups before coming the NVP in 2018, said she knows the support these companies receive can make a difference.
“I know that we’re offering something incredibly unique,” she said. “I know as a founder there are so many things you don’t know, so many questions you don’t have the answers to.
“Some of the mistakes that I made and some of the things that I had to teach myself I can now apply to the founders and increase their chances of success, help them grow faster.”
It’s the type of guidance Wang was looking for when he started SIRL in 2017.
He said his company is in the third year of a well-defined three-year start.
The first year was all research and development, he said.
“We needed to make this technology work,” he said. “The accuracy was hard to achieve. Most of technology out there is 10- to 15-feet accuracy. So, it’s telling you that you are in this sector or not, but not exactly where you are standing. You need greater accuracy to deliver some really useful and interesting value.”
The second year involved brining in Vaughn Roller, an expert in the retail space, as the chief business officer.
“We decided to focus on a particular sector, food markets, and bring it into market,” Wang said. “That helped us land our first paid proof of concept.
The third year, Wang said, is all about scaling.
“That’s why we joined NVP,” he said. “We have a product, we have some leads and we’re looking to scale.”
Demo Day, of course, always comes with an ask.
For Wang and SIRL, it was a call for investors looking to get in on their request for $3 million in funding, which Wang says will give them an 18-month runway to grow.
Wang said he’s already raised half that amount — and he not only is confident he’ll get the rest, but that his product has a long shelf life. In fact, one of his earlier investors are the owners of the first chain where SIRL is being used: Westside Market in New York City.
Wang told the audience there already are 10,000 grocery stores that have the technology to use his product right now.
And he told ROI-NJ the product can go so much further than the market.
“If you think about the places we can service: Warehouses, factories, sports arenas, hospitals, office buildings, you name it,” he said. “We just started off at a very focused sector, which happened to be retail.
“But, what I recognized is that, with IOT, just knowing where things are is a very foundational thing that is very hard to achieve.”
Wang said he’s wanted to be any entrepreneur since he was 14 years old. It came from watching his father — who is on his executive team — work at Bell Labs.
Like all the other members of his cohort, Wang feels he has the entrepreneurial product that is needed in the marketplace.
Williams feels NVP can help SIRL and other reach their goals.
“I’ve been in their shoes; I know how hard it is,” she said. “I know what adding value looks like. That’s why we focus so much on execution support.
“Don’t put me in a classroom to talk about some generic topic; it’s just going to waste my time. I know that as a former founder. We don’t do any of that. It’s all one-on-one customized support according to our founders’ needs.”