RTIH talks startup life, NRF 2021, the coronavirus outbreak and omnichannel challenges with Surefront head honcho Dr. Luke Wang.
RTIH: TELL US ABOUT SUREFRONT
LW: Surefront enables retailers and suppliers to easily collaborate on merchandising and product development between internal teams and external partners through a centralised platform termed unified collaboration management.
Available 24/7, even when you work from home, our patented technology streamlines the entire merchandising workflow, accelerates speed to market, and replaces decades old tools like emails, spreadsheets and PDF attachments.
Surefront has many breakthrough features to represent the next generation of Master Data Management (MDM), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Product Information Management (PIM), and Digital Asset Management (DAM).
RTIH: WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND SETTING THE COMPANY UP?
LW: Surefront was inspired by how the Bloomberg Terminal revolutionized the financial services industry.
B2B retail is a $2+ trillion giant industry, but there were no tailored tools between retailers (buyers) and suppliers (sales), who are from different entities, each having their own technology platforms.
The common denominator between them has been Microsoft Office - Outlook for emails, and Excel for product quotations and orders. Their collaboration in the forms of communications and data is buried in various email threads and attachments, which are difficult and sometimes impossible to keep track of.
I recognized this problem while operating my own wholesale business as a supplier. I decided to develop unified collaboration technology, a Bloomberg Terminal for the retail industry.
RTIH: WHAT HAS BEEN THE INDUSTRY REACTION THUS FAR?
LW: Thus far, extremely positive. We’ve had two years with various retailers and suppliers piloting our platform, and we just launched at NRF.
Beyond garnering valuable feedback from these partners, we’ve also been flooded with positive results; we’ve had reports of a 20% boost in daily productivity for our users.
Beyond that, both retailers and suppliers have found enormous value in digitizing into a central catalog, moving out of Excel and email for merchandising and product development, and using our platform for product syndication that would otherwise have taken dozens of emails to achieve for a single product.
Unlike communication platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams, Surefront is the only collaboration and communication platform that allows users to collaborate on an actual product and/or catalog.
Previous platforms act as simple chat and text tools that only allow you to share an attachment, not actually collaborate within that document. Attendees whom we have demoed for at NRF have been blown away by that concept.
RTIH: WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE/SETBACK?
LW: We created Surefront to solve a variety of pain points including: the absolute reliance of merchandising teams on email, PDF and Excel to complete transactions.
The disconnect of Product Lifecycle Management tools between product development teams and their external suppliers; and the complete inability of any retail organization to collaborate on a product within the product page.
In order to solve these pain points, we had to create a few million lines of code and spend four years in development.
So, the challenge is creating a unique collaboration platform the retail industry has never seen that increases productivity rates by more than 20% per user. In fact, our beta users achieved far higher productivity rates than that.
RTIH: WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING THE OMNICHANNEL RETAIL SECTOR RIGHT NOW?
LW: Collaboration between retailers and suppliers has always been the biggest challenge. Retailers and suppliers are allies.
They have one shared mission - getting the right product, at the right price and at the right time. However, the industry is being severely disrupted by the pandemic.
There has been a drastic change in consumer behavior. For example, in-store purchases shifting to online purchases; apparel purchases shifting to home improvement purchases.
In addition, the retail industry is facing unprecedented logistics challenges, overstock at the beginning of the pandemic and now understock due to the reduction of production during the pandemic.
The key solution to these challenges is to improve retailer-supplier collaboration so they can react together swiftly in a synchronized manner to meet consumer demand.
We are determined to solve this problem by providing the best collaboration technology for the industry
RTIH: WHAT'S THE BEST QUESTION ABOUT YOUR COMPANY OR THE MARKET ASKED OF YOU RECENTLY BY A.) AN INVESTOR AND B.) A CUSTOMER?
LW: “Where do I sign up?!” No, but really, probably the repeated questions we get asking, “How does this compare with software currently on the market?”
The unique features we outlined above, which allow users to collaborate on actual products and/or catalogues are heavily patented features that don’t exist in any other software.
We don’t just make communication easier, we make business faster. Systems like Slack don’t go far enough in helping business communications as they simply replace email by separating communication into subgroups and topics.
They still function largely like email with the need for sharing attachments like PDFs and Excel sheets.
Not only do we replace email, we replace the entire Microsoft Suite and consolidate all merchandising functions on a single collaboration platform.
RTIH: WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE FROM SUREFRONT OVER THE NEXT 12 MONTHS?
LW: With the interest we have seen thus far at NRF (and within our successful pilots), we expect to see heavy adoption within the retail industry over the next 12 months.
We are now in talks with numerous Fortune 500 companies in the space that are looking to adopt new technologies that solve a myriad of new business pain points created by Covid.
From addressing the inability to do business transactions in person, to eliminating the difficulty of collaborating on product samples, our platform is on the pulse of what the industry needs in the post-pandemic frontier.
We expect many of these Covid ripple effects to last with businesses as they rapidly try to solve these ongoing challenges. Fortunately, Surefront does just that.