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Mark Stauber: “Leverage your location as a competitive advantage”

Overall, the most exciting ideas we have seen in retail since the start of the pandemic are those initiatives that utilize contactless digital offerings in store and at home that meet the customer at each step along the way. Jido’s collaboration with IKEA brought an award-winning in-store app that enabled customers to quickly pull up product […]

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Overall, the most exciting ideas we have seen in retail since the start of the pandemic are those initiatives that utilize contactless digital offerings in store and at home that meet the customer at each step along the way.

Jido’s collaboration with IKEA brought an award-winning in-store app that enabled customers to quickly pull up product information, try out thousands of product options using AR, and complete their purchase all using their own personal device. There is no need to wait on a line, find a salesperson, or even take out a credit card. Fast, convenient and contactless.

Target did an amazing job of shifting resources and ramping up all touchpoints, i.e. 2-day delivery, same-day delivery, in-store pickup, and self checkout. This strategy has been in lock step with their shift to smaller store formats distributed throughout urban areas, as well as their recent acquisition of Shipt.


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Stauber, co-founder and CEO of Jido, a startup enabling retailers to create contactless, physical-to-digital shopping experiences by offering an intelligent camera that customers use in store on their own personal device. Mark holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees from Stanford University, where he studied robotics as part of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. Mark is the recipient of multiple academic awards, including the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and the Stanford Graduate Fellowship.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I met my co-founder Jae when we were both getting our Phds at the Stanford AI Lab. We were part of the same robotics group. I was more hardware focused and Jae was full on deep learning. In particular, Jae’s work was focused on teaching robots how to understand and interact with human environments.

After discovering how much smarter Jae was than me, I spent many years trying to convince Jae to work with me. We eventually joined forces in Jido with a mission to give consumer devices, like smartphones, the ability to understand and interpret their surroundings in the same way Jae had been teaching robots.

Since founding Jido we’ve focused on physical retail as a space where connecting consumer devices to a customer’s context can dramatically improve the convenience and engagement while shopping.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

After Jae and I finished at Stanford we both moved back to New York City and chose to to hack on Jido with no concrete end game. Both our families were like…”umm, so what were those 5 years for if you aren’t gonna get jobs?”

A few months later, we were at a meetup and at the end of the meetup everybody had a chance to pitch what they were working on in under 1 minute. I hadn’t prepared anything but in that moment I stood up and pitched. Sure enough, we were swarmed with people wanting to learn more and we got our first investment offer that night.

We didn’t end up taking that investment, but we did sit down after that night and formulated the trajectory that we are on today. I remember that night as my first example of simply putting yourself out there, even if you don’t feel ready or it may be uncomfortable.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

One of the hardest things about testing augmented reality or computer vision is that you need to walk around pointing your phone at the real world, as there is not a simulator on your computer for this. Early on we were working out of our office in Harlem and would frequent the stores in the neighborhood for impromptu testing.

Sure enough, we got kicked out of all the stores, who (very reasonably) did not like us walking around looking like we were filming everything and everybody. We learned very quickly that the correct user experience for AR or camera-based apps needs to consider the users surroundings, including the social cues that go with it.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We recently launched an in-store app with IKEA that is live in Japan, as seen here. The Jido app provides product search and purchase all through a customer’s phone using its camera. Since launching the Jido app in Japan, we have been working to offer similar functionality to local grocery or hardware stores.

We believe that once a consumer is able to discover products in their own neighborhood, they will forego online sites like Amazon for their neighborhood store to get the items and complete their purchase simply by using their phone. No interaction is needed. All of a sudden, your phone makes your corner store more convenient than waiting on a 2-day delivery from Amazon. It also helps small businesses and is cleaner for the environment.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Find team members that have more energy than you. Every new person on your team is an opportunity to add to your collective support structure to help ride out all the hills and valleys along your journey.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I did my undergraduate in Physics at a small university in New York that did not have any sort of Engineering department or any real facilities for students. At the time, I didn’t know I liked “engineering” but I did like to create things; woodworking, painting, podcasts, you name it.

I ended up befriending the technician in our physics lab who basically granted me full access to the shop where he assembled the experiments for classes. It was there that I started to experiment with hardware, electronics and eventually robots. He has since passed, but I will never forget how his kindness allowed me to pursue my curiosities!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In some sense, we measure our success by how much goodness we bring to the world. The changes we have seen in retail due to COVID has meant that our work towards creating safe, practical solutions allows employees and businesses to rapidly adapt and grow, all while attempting to ensure the safety of all employees and shoppers alike. We are still just getting started on this front, but this goal is what drives our work!

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Overall, the most exciting ideas we have seen in retail since the start of the pandemic are those initiatives that utilize contactless digital offerings in store and at home that meet the customer at each step along the way.

Jido’s collaboration with IKEA brought an award-winning in-store app that enabled customers to quickly pull up product information, try out thousands of product options using AR, and complete their purchase all using their own personal device (video). There is no need to wait on a line, find a salesperson, or even take out a credit card. Fast, convenient and contactless.

Target did an amazing job of shifting resources and ramping up all touchpoints, i.e. 2-day delivery, same-day delivery, in-store pickup, and self checkout. This strategy has been in lock step with their shift to smaller store formats distributed throughout urban areas, as well as their recent acquisition of Shipt.

Just as interesting is how rapidly some small retailers have been able to adapt in ways that will last far beyond the pandemic. A few examples:

  • Withfriends is a company that offers a subscription-based loyalty program for small businesses that allows their customers to support them with monthly donations. This model has worked extremely well during these challenging times for stores with a loyal and local customer base.
  • The food industry is also undergoing a HUGE contactless revolution, utilizing apps such as SnackPassor even developing their own, to allow for ordering ahead, digital queueing and digital payments. Overnight it’s like every restaurant has put up a big “order here” QR code on their door.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

Retail will continue to bifurcate into the categories of extreme convenience and extreme experience. To that end, malls will get bigger and more elaborate, and stores will get leaner and more distributed in small chunks of retail zones/ strip malls, as well as one-stop shops. We will also see new types of storefronts open for pure convenience, almost like a distribution center with a door.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

For years stores have been told that they are helpless in the fight against Amazon, but all along they have a key competitive advantage that Amazon is yet to capture: they are already down your block, or within driving distance, and you don’t have to wait a day or two for an item. Local stores’ ability to capitalize on their location has simply been held back due to their lack of discoverability and convenience. We are working on some exciting things to address this. Just imagine if you can find out what is in stock in stores around you and get it with the ease of a tap. This is how local commerce should work and will work. Amazon should be terrified.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Leverage your location as a competitive advantage, both via your ability to intimately understand and interface with your customer, as well as the opportunity to provide convenience at every step of the way. Be there for your customers when it comes to support, returns, and removing all the possible friction points along the purchasing and ownership process. In that sense, you are not competing simply on price, you are competing by establishing a customer-centric brand that provides quality product people want with a joyful purchasing journey.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Support your local business. Simple as that.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Follow me on LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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