Ten startups looking to redefine the future of Commerce

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Week 1. Monday, 9am.

R/GA San Francisco opens its doors to the 10 companies that have been chosen for the Connected Commerce Accelerator in partnership with Westfield Labs. Slowly, our new tenants start coming in, one by one, unpacking their backpacks, MacBooks and chargers on the desks that have been recently arranged for the program.

All of a sudden, our quiet little office in South Park starts to transform into a vibrant ––and not-so-quiet-anymore–– environment, full of talented folks who are willing to reinvent the way we think about retail and commerce for the connected age. Ten startups are joining the program this week, and each startup is bringing on average 4 people to work full-time at the R/GA San Francisco office in South Park. That’s 40 new people filling the second floor of our building with energy, movement and enthusiasm.

A bit of context for the folks who are not in San Francisco: the South Park neighborhood has been known for being the home to some of the most creative and innovative companies in the Tech industry — including Twitter, Wired Magazine, Adaptive Path and Blogger (in its pre-Google phase). A quick walk outside the R/GA office or a stop at one of the coffee shops nearby is enough for a visitor to notice how the neighborhood lives and breathes innovation every day.

Well, it’s not any different this time around.

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The Connected Commerce Accelerator is a partnership between R/GA Ventures and Westfield Labs – and the products and services offered by the program participants showcase the broad range of possibilities for advancing the retail and commerce industries in the connected age.

Beginning this week, all companies will have access to resources from R/GA and Westfield Labs for the duration of the program, as well as input and collaboration from program partners that are global leaders in the commerce space, including Macy’s, Shopify Plus, Bank of America Merchant Services, Verizon, and Walmart. The program will emphasize opportunities for business development, pilots, and partnerships with the program partners and their networks, and will enable the companies to develop and launch new business models that will disrupt the status quo and reimagine the future of commerce.

But why commerce?

Shopping malls have seen more popular days. But since the vast majority of retail purchases continue to take place in brick-and-mortar stores, there is still a lot of opportunity for innovation there.

The companies that are now part of the program have been carefully selected amongst hundreds of applicants to provide a holistic view into the shopping journey — from messaging bots, to visual recognition and connected experience technologies, to innovations in fulfillment, returns, and staff training.

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Here’s an overview of what our new tenants have been working on:

  • Agent Q provides the AI to automate natural language user interactions through chatbots, product search, and customer service.
  • AxleHire provides same-day delivery services for e-commerce and brick and mortar retailers that demand reliability and exceptional customer service.
  • Clarifai is an artificial intelligence company that excels in visual recognition, solving real-world problems for businesses and developers alike.
  • Cordial enables retail and publisher brands to deliver highly personalized messages, while tracking digital behavior across connected
    devices, web, purchase events and signals for IoT.
  • Darkstore is an on-demand logistics platform that converts underutilized brick-and-mortar spaces into local fulfillment centers, allowing e-commerce brands to store inventory, have orders fulfilled, and connect to same-day delivery providers.
  • Happy Returns is a technology, logistics and service company building a network of Return Bars where online shoppers can return items in-person for an immediate refund, eliminating the hassle and wait of returns by mail.
  • Myagi is an online training platform that makes it easy for retailers and brands to create, manage, deliver and measure customer service, product and sales training for their front line teams.
  • Oak Labs believes the future of retail will be software-driven. Starting with an interactive fitting room mirror that enables customer requests, lighting changes, and checkout, Oak is building the ultimate intelligent store platform.
  • Percolata uses sensor and sales data in physical retail stores to optimize sales teams.
  • Reply.ai is an end-to-end solution to build, manage, optimize, and scale chat bots across all major messaging platforms.
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Moving into a new home

But what about the startup teams? How do they feel about moving their operations to a completely new place for the next couple months?

“For night owls like myself, the timezone difference has been challenging. Our base of operations is NY, and we have a big part of our team in Spain, so our mornings are hectic.” – Pablo Pera, from Reply.ai

Reply.ai has moved part of their team from New York to San Francisco for the Accelerator program — which makes the experience quite more challenging from an operations standpoint. Pablo is always the first to arrive at the R/GA office every morning, and one of the last ones to leave.

“…at the same time, we are sitting next to the incredibly talented team at R/GA, and they are all willing to help. We are getting super valuable advice on topics that range all the way from pricing strategies to UX.” — Pablo Pera.

R/GA has a dedicated program management team helping make that transition as seamless as possible for the startups, though.

Program managers, producers and other support team members are working hard to make sure the startups have everything they need from a logistics standpoint. From having the right equipment, to boosting the office wi-fi speed, to having fruits and snacks available in the middle of the afternoon after long work sessions with the R/GA team – the program team is working hard to remove all the friction, so startups can really focus on the work.

“First, nothing beats being able to sit and learn from the other companies in the program as well as the mentors. Second, we already have quite a few customers on the west coast that we’re able to connect with in person while we’re here. Thirdly, getting outside of our NYC office helps us to think more expansively about the business (lifting our heads up from the day to day stuff).” – David Blanke, from Clarifai

The R/GA team also benefits a lot from having a new perspective on things. The program is on its first week and there are great interactions happening between the R/GA creative team and the startups.

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Join us on this journey

Over the next couple weeks, the R/GA team will share an inside perspective on one of the most exciting accelerator programs in the industry –– learnings, process, backstage photos, and a bit of the successes and failures that come with guiding, influencing and transforming startups in the connected age. We couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity, and it’s only fair that we share part of this journey with the broader community of designers, technologists and startups out there.

You can follow our new posts and articles on Twitter, by following our Medium Publication, or by following R/GA on any of its social channels (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin).

We hope you enjoy the ride.

Written by

Designer at Work & Co, Founder of UX Collective — http://twitter.com/fabriciot

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