Thinking like a start-up: Three clever tech innovations

Launching a business is always a high-risk move, particularly in the current market. But for some start-ups using innovative technology can be their secret weapon in standing out. Essential Retail takes a look at three clever innovations from start-ups which are thinking about solutions to problems differently. 

1. Cool customers

Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren, chief exec of food waste app Karma, launched the company’s one-stop smart fridge in Sweden last year. It now has 20 fridges live, with plans to roll-out another 100 in Sweden in the next few months. A further two are planned to launch in London in the New Year. (Its restaurant app is already available in the UK, which connects people with restaurants offering surplus meals at a discount).

Wholesalers have a log-in and can drop off food surplus in the fridges during their delivery routes, which are available in a number of locations including shopping centres. The food then appears on the app, which users can buy and unlock via a QR code and then scan the item’s barcode with their phone to verify they’ve picked the right item. 

“The Karma fridge has [also] been instrumental in creating more surplus sold in grocery stores in Sweden,” he adds. Not least because the in-store fridges create additional shelf space for stores, who can then have more inventory on display. Karma now has 1 million customers and is being used by 6,700 retailers and claims to have saved 750 tonnes of food.

The company built the smart fridge technology itself. “We tried to use existing technology as much as possible – so think of it as piecing together several different pieces of innovation into one coherent solution.”

It partnered with Swedish appliance company Electrolux for the fridge and used Q-Locks bluetooth-enabled locks. “We were then able to build the software that ties it all together. So when someone buys something form Karma, we can reserve that item and the fridge understands what’s available through very easy sensor technology. 

“It becomes a complex innovation by combining a bunch of simple innovations,” he says. “We're excited to bring this technology to London in 2020.”

2. App-etite for growth

For Matt Connelly, founder of dry cleaning app ihateironing, investment in the firm’s custom-built software is key to its growth plans. 

ihateironing currently works with 60 dry cleaners in a number cities, acting as their tech partner, he says. It has around 10,000 orders a month and 6,000 regular customers. 

The customer downloads the app, entering the collection and delivery time and its algorithm assesses which partner is most suitable in terms of proximity, capacity and performance. 

“That order is then delegated to one of the partners who will use it as a control system for all its orders.”  If an item arrives damaged, the dry cleaner can take a picture on receipt and upload it to the app to minimise disputes. Afterwards, it amalgamates data on customer service and sends feedback to the dry cleaner. 

“Our system will tell us, for example, that a good dry cleaner will damage an item of clothing maybe once every 300 orders… We are able to drill down quite tightly to understand where problems occur.” 

The next step is to introduce AI. “We’ve built this module that asseses which dry cleaner is the most appropriate for a new customer’s order… at the moment that is driven by logic into the algorithm. What we’d like to look at is putting an AI function to better understand the level of capacity, so it can assign orders [more effectively].” 

By building on the technology and expanding into new regions via more partnerships, Connelly believes the company could increase its sales ten-fold over the next three years.

3. Coining it

Meanwhile Samanah Duran, founder of Critics Clothing, believes integrating cryptocurrency could boost brand loyalty. The company has about 20,000 customers and manufactures its clothing on demand.

“Me, myself and our investment team all use cryptocurrency. A lot of our community use it,” she says.

“Cryptocurrency has this aloof feeling, where no one really knows where the money is coming from. It is very in-fashion and on-trend.” She says the company will make certain designs available only for customer who use this method of payment. “So it’ll have that elusive but exclusive feel.”

For Duran the technology itself can also be a useful way to sell and market products.

The failure rate remains high for start-ups: 60% don’t make it past five years. But for those who make the right bet on innovation, the rewards can be significant.

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