Podcast 215: Nitin Mantani, CEO PredictSpring | It's About Transparency And Convenience
Bob Phibbs interviewed Nitin Mantani, CEO PredictSpring while attending ShopTalk19. Nitin talked about his early days at Google Shopping, how Amazon has mastered commodity commerce, and online customer fatigue.
Tell me something good about retail
Nitin Mantani, CEO PredictSpring: It's About Transparency And Convenience
Bob: Thanks for joining me this week. I am speaking to Nitin Mangtani, with PredictSpring, and welcome.
Nitin: Thank you. Thanks for having me. It's really nice of you to have me here.
Bob: Absolutely. Well I always like to start off...So you're big in retail. You've done an awful lot of things in retail. We'll get to that in a minute, but how'd you start out in retail?
Nitin: That's a great question you ask, Bob, and sitting here at the Shoptalk floor, I see all these amazing retailer friends. My personal experience actually goes back when I was around 8 years old, and my family business...one of my uncle's had a big grocery store, so CPG was my first experience in retail.
Bob: Okay. So you probably learned how to clean up and all that kind of stuff too.
Nitin: Whether you're in a retail business or a restaurant business or anything, there is always the good thing and there's always the hard work. So, yes.
Bob: Yes. But see, I always think... It's all about execution in retail. See, to me, it's like you can hear people tell us all kinds of things that they do in their stores, but all that matters when I walk in your store, are you executing it or you just telling me that, right?
Nitin: It's a combination. I always give the story to everyone. If you go back 34 years, you would go to a neighborhood store, like picture a small town where you have one neighborhood store where you can buy backpacks, stationery, lunch boxes, and a few other things, right? Obviously the owner, so it's a single person store, right, he would personally know every single person, right, because there's only so many people who go to that neighborhood store.
Execution is absolutely important. You're right, but it's also about the experience, right, which is this person will greet you, this person will exactly know your purchase history. This person would know your price sensitivity, your likes and dislikes, and that's kind of the experience... When we think about today, that neighborhood store perhaps now is a chain of a thousand stores. And instead of that 200 or 300 customers this store is serving, these are 2 to 3 million, or in some cases 20 to 30 million customers. So how do you take that experience and kind of scale it up by three or four orders of magnitude?
Bob: Well, that brings us to your company now, to PredictSpring. So what do you do? Why did you found it and what does it do?
Nitin: Great segue. Thank you. So PredictSpring, our philosophy and mission from day one has been how do you rethink mobile and broadly digital experience, both in store and online? How do you bring some of those core tenets of personalization, execution, simplicity that was existent in that corner store philosophy, how do you bring it to the modern world?
So at PredictSpring, we have kind of simplified this entire thing using technology... My background, I was at Google for many years before I started PredictSpring in 2013. So we brought a lot of the tenets that we learned at Google, and Google is an amazing consumer company. So they think a lot about the consumer. And there are two main product offerings we offer. We have built a modern point of sale system to digitalize the in-store experience, and then we have built a native mobile app platform to bring the best of mobile in the hands of consumers.
Bob: Well, you've also developed a mobile app for the associates too, right, in the store?
Nitin: That's correct. That's correct.
Bob: And so how does that differ than the app for the consumer?
Nitin: The way we think about associate and consumer, they are two sides of the same coin, and the lines are blurry, right? So if you go to the Nike store, right, in New York, they have built this entire experience where you can use the app as a consumer and you can basically shop around the store using the app, including you can do a full checkout.
But there are times where you might need help from an associate, right? So you're looking at a pair of shoes, but it's not available in the size, so you can request a different color or size and the associate gets a notification and they bring the shoe to you. Or you're trying to do a checkout and you want to pay cash, right? And so now, you need an associate's help.
So that's why we have built these technology stacks, which have a lot of commonality between them. The difference is in some ways, the store associate has a superuser view because they can look at any customer versus the customer is self-service...
Bob: And any product, right? And any product, open it up to anybody.
Nitin: That's right. They can look at all the stores. But even that, if it is not confidential, there's nothing stopping us to let the customer do that in self-service too, right? So if I'm scanning a product...
Bob: It's about transparency, right?
Nitin: It's transparency and it's productivity and it's convenience. I can just scan a pair of shoes and I go, "You guys don't have size 9 in your store." Why even bother the associate? I got that answer already, right? Then my decision thinking is okay, do I look for a different pair of shoe? Do I look for a different color? Or do I press a button and say, "Are there stores nearby which has this color and size?" And that should be all self-service. It will reduce a lot of back and forth.
Bob: So with you starting at Google Shopping now, if I remember correctly, when you started, there were zero retailers on Google Shopping?
Nitin: I think to be fair, there were maybe a dozen or so.
Bob: A dozen.
Nitin: A dozen. So early, early days. This is when we were still evolving that product.
Bob: When was that, in the '80s? Was that '90s?
Nitin: Well, Google is a very young company in that sense. No. This is 2000s. So we really ramped the product around 2006 and 2007. It's funny how time flies. That's 15 years ago now. And fast forward today, obviously, it's been six years since I left Google, but I hear there are now hundreds and thousands of retailers and brands on that platform, and it's global. And so it's great to see how...
Bob: What was it like trying to convince somebody to join you on Google Shopping? Did people think that was not a thing or it was too much work? Or what would have been the dialogue because it was totally trust in Google, right? If it had been somebody else, it probably would have been harder, but there was a certain amount of satisfaction and brand trust that you had from it being Google, right?
Nitin: It was. And it kind of depends. So if you're too big, right, without naming names, you didn't want to participate in Google because you're like, "Well, what does Google know about shopping? I'm going to just not even participate in Google's ecosystem, right?" So that was that objection. And as Amazon kept becoming bigger and bigger, those objections went away. So a lot of the kind of traditional big box retailers were initially reluctant to give Google their feeds and participate. They realized that if they want to win, they need a better technology stack and Google is not their enemy. Amazon is the enemy, right? But it wasn't as straightforward in the early days.
Bob: Because it probably didn't recognize the challenge.
Nitin: Challenges like what they're facing and internalizing that their real competition is Amazon.
Bob: Yes, yes. Well, what do you think the challenge is now for most retailers? Is it all still going to be around Amazon? Is it still some version of Amazon? They're going to kill us all. Is it a function of consumers? It seemed like consumers are continuing to move... If I hear anything here at Shoptalk, it's everybody talking about just trying to keep up with how fast the consumer is moving. I don't know if the consumer is moving or is it the technology that's moving?
Nitin: I think it's both. So there are multiple things. Amazon has obviously done phenomenally well in the last 20 years or so, the growth of e-comm and just led the whole thing. There are a lot of positives and there are a lot of things to watch out, kind of the way I think about it. And also, the story is different when you're a retailer versus a brand, right? So if you're like a big box retailer selling hundreds of brands versus you are like a Cole Haan or one of the vertically integrated brands, right?
The thing about Amazon is anything which is commodity commerce, they have essentially just mastered that art, right? So if you know what you want and you want it that they have mastered the art, the only players who kind of play at that scale would be people like Walmart and Target, right, because it's just a scale game at that level. But the commerce is a much bigger pie and most people don't realize, right? It's massive. It's not just the Amazon, Walmart, and Target because Walmart and Target were there even before Amazon, or Sears was there but then specialty retail happened.
So I think this idea of one, big, massive retailer or online retailer or a marketplace kind of having a good chunk of the retail is not new. It's been true for decades and the names change, but still, there is like 60%, sometimes 70% of the retail that happens outside that two or three big players in the market, which is true so too. I think the biggest opportunity for brands is how do you break the logjam from this commodity commerce to an experiential commerce and build that relation with a consumer?
I'm also hearing for the first time in the last maybe six months or a year, there's a little bit of a consumer fatigue finally, right? People have a little bit of that negative connotation with Amazon. They don't want Amazon...
Bob: I don't need everything.
Nitin: Yes. Actually, there's almost this feeling where I don't want to go to Amazon, which by the way, in the last 20 years, that was never heard of. It was all about, "I love Amazon. It's easy. It's simple." And finally people are like, "No. Actually, I want to go to this retailer. I want to directly shop from this brand and not try to go to Amazon for every single thing."
Bob: Which is funny because we're here at Shoptalk, and one of the big signs as you come to registration is AWS Services. It runs most of the retailers' sites.
Nitin: I think that's an interesting question. And we'll see how the story evolves, whether AWS at some point spins off or continues to remain part of the Amazon umbrella. Look, competition and... This has also been true for decades where in the technology industry, there are collaborations between departments of the same company and then heavy competition across departments, like Apple sourcing components from Samsung while also competing heavily on the end product, which is iPhone versus the Samsung devices, right? This is not a new thing.
And personally, my philosophy is, look, if you're a brand or a retailer, you have choice, right? It's not just AWS. Google Cloud is a very mature product and it's growing phenomenally, but so is Microsoft Azure is growing, right? So you have three big players today who are offering you cloud, and Salesforce is an amazing platform too, and they have built this entire platform where a lot of customers, my customers, are using Salesforce Commerce Cloud. So they're not using the bare metal cloud, but they're using a more complete infrastructure that Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, and Marketing Cloud provides, right? So that's a very high order of value add to a retailer or brand. Instead of spending years building everything from scratch, they can go directly to Salesforce and benefit from it, right?
Bob: And all the tools are built into it.
Nitin: Tools are built in, they are highly customizable, right? So I do think the choice is there. And I think people will find the best price, best value, and decide what's right for them.
Bob: Yes. Good. So one thing I ask is when you get overworked or you get confused or something, what do you do to get your focus back?
Nitin: As a leader, I always say that the model leader is very much of a serving role, right? You're serving your team, your customers, your partners, your investors, and you need to truly have that giving mentality, and you need to do it because you truly enjoy what you do. There's nothing else. And sometimes it is taxing, it's emotionally draining. It's you know like constantly as a leader...And it's true not just with me but my leadership team too. Anybody who is a leader or has aspirations to lead, I think the first quality is can you serve your team, and you need to have that mindset.
And so personally, what I do, there are maybe a couple of things which help me. One is my family. They always help me. They ground me in a good way, and they always bring a perspective, my kids and my wife. So that's a big part of my way of kind of disconnecting and spending time with the family. A couple of other things that I enjoy, I actually enjoy shopping. So that's not work for me. A lot of times, I would go to a store and I would spend half an hour or even an hour and buy things and shop.
Bob: Discover something. Yes.
Nitin: Discover something new which I wouldn't normally or on my mobile phone. And then on the personal side, there's one activity which I absolutely love is I'm a road biker. On the weekends, I would go out and we're lucky in California, we have amazing weather, and so I would go out and do my 25-mile, 50-mile rides.
Bob: Nice. Road biking. I wouldn't have thought that of you. That's good. Well, tell me something good about retail. What's your take? What's one thing that you could tell me good about retail?
Nitin: I think in the first time I feel a combination of retailers really rethinking the experience like they are taking technology and direct to consumer at the forefront of the thinking, right? If you look at most of the brands, for them, the biggest selling channel was wholesale. They never sold direct to consumer, right? So it's the first time all these brands are thinking direct to consumer, and they're thinking what an experience means, like what does it mean to have that connection? Which I think will serve them for years to come. That mind shift wasn't there and finally, it's there. The second thing, as I said, there is clearly an Amazon fatigue out there, which I think is a good thing. It will create a more balanced ecosystem than a lopsided ecosystem.
Bob: Yes. Personally, I think someone is going to have to break up Amazon. I just don't think, as it gets bigger... We broke up AT&T for less. Just all the ways it will be able to be part of our life. And at Shoptalk here, what's your take? What's the mood? It sounds like it's optimistic to me, but what do you think?
Nitin: It's very bullish and very optimistic. We had amazing meetings this morning with several of our partners, and we were demonstrating our modern POS product. This is a product where we are live in more than 500 stores now. It's really amazing, as we are showing this demonstration and getting feedback from customers, just the level of energy and the level of openness to adopt the right technology, technology not just for the sake of technology, but technology for the right commercial use and the right customer experience. I think there's a lot of that pragmatism and there is kind of a sense of urgency, which is very healthy and positive.
Bob: I would agree. Well, thanks very much for being with me today, Nitin, and I appreciate it.