Improve efficiency; for example, if a customer desires a product that is not currently in the inventory, the customer can order onsite and have it shipped to their home overnight.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Pereira, CEO of Alfi.
Paul Pereira, a serial entrepreneur in the fields of AI, biotech and telecom. He is also the Founder and CEO of Alfi, a digital OOH platform powered by AI. Alfi utilizes computer vision with proprietary machine learning algorithms to sense human behavior and characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, and the emotions of the person physically standing in front of the digital screen, performing with high levels of accuracy of real-time metrics.
Pereira has previously served as CEO and Executive Director at major companies in the United States, European Union, Middle East, Asia, and Caribbean Islands. Recent leadership positions include Group CEO of Alton Worldwide, CEO and Executive Chairman at Danimer Scientific, and partner at the private equity firm PV Cala. Pereira is also the Founder & CVA of Fantastic Oceans, a non-profit aiming to prevent plastic pollution in the oceans through education and awareness in school programs and coastal communities.
Pereira holds a Doctorate of Business Administration from the International School of Management in Paris in conjunction with St. John’s University in New York. He also studied Chemistry at Ridley College and McGill University in Canada and Mechanical Engineering at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University. Pereira served as Professor of Strategic Management and International Business at ISM and ISEG Paris, where he won an Excellence in Teaching Award in 2010.
Pereira, a native of Trinidad, played a meaningful role in modern business development for the Caribbean with expansive and future-focused business endeavors, including the deregulation of the 40-year-old Cable and Wireless telecom monopoly, the first established ISP in the Caribbean and the development of trade relations with Cuba. A major highlight includes his leadership in building the “Kids Off The Streets” program to train youth in Internet technology.
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 share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
This is a very interesting question. I was in the Middle East in the early 2000s, tasked with restructuring a major Telecom Company. Upon flying into one of our offices in Baghdad, the plane took a sudden nosedive. Thinking we were going to crash, I was scared half to death — but upon looking at my colleagues around me, everyone was completely calm. It turns out the pilot employed the landing strategy to avoid being shot down. This served as a quick study of how precarious business can be in some regions of the world and how cultural consciousness /sensitivity must be globally competitive.
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?
Once, while working as the CEO of the Caribbean arm of a large conglomerate in the automotive sector, I listened to my sales manager’s request to construct a wall in his office. I had my construction team, who upgraded my service department for Mitsubishi and Honda. Without notifying my Chairman of the conglomerate, I proceeded to build my sales manager a new wall. One day while I wasn’t in the office, the company chairman saw that a new wall had been raised and appalled, proceeding to tear it down using an ax!
I had not communicated to him that I planned to erect a new wall. That instance proved the value of thorough — and frequent — communication among team members for the best business results, and it’s a lesson I’ve carried with me throughout my career subsequently.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
I am the founder of Alfi, which we recently IPO’d and which, with the debate about internet and data privacy raging on, is a solution for many of the challenges advertisers face today. It’s a first-of-its-kind AI adtech company for digital out-of-home displays, from billboards to kiosks to the TVs in ridesharing. It’s a proprietary platform that recognizes who is viewing a digital OOH ad and serves content based on the viewer’s physical profile — with complete anonymity. You can call this the new Outernet!
Powered by machine learning, Alfi uses computer vision to anonymously determine user characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, and the emotions of the person physically standing in front of the digital screen. This means brands only pay for views that were seen by a human. Unlike traditional cookies, Alfi never follows a user after an active session and does not collect facial images, names, email addresses, or phone numbers, ensuring all interactions are CCPA, GDPR, and HIPPA compliant. And unlike static, traditional DOOH advertising media providers, Alfi only charges brands for ads viewed by real people standing in front of the display, which means engagement and performance are finally measurable in the DOOH.
We’re based in Miami and Denver, with a significant presence in the UK and Northern Ireland. The global company currently running a pilot project with fashion giant American Eagle, Hammersmith Malls, Belfast International Airport has signed a contract with Alfi, and NEOH Brazil recently awarded Alfi with a DOOH pilot program for airports in Brazil after an exhaustive global search. I’m proud to say that Alfi delivers the right content to the right person at the right moment in time while respecting privacy and utilizing no cookies.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The best advice is if your work is your hobby then you never have to work a day in your life. I’m a bit of a workaholic myself, but it’s because I wake up every day eager to do what I do, eager to grow the company, eager to expand and bring new ideas to the table. Sometimes I work 14-hour days, so I am perhaps not the best model for work-life balance, but if I can give any advice, find a job that feels more like your hobby than work, and if you are as fortunate as I am, then you’ll never work a day in your life.
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?
My wife, Rachel, is a constant source of inspiration and strength for me. She’s been by my side for over 32 years. She deserves the utmost credit here for being a sounding board for me personally and professionally and is by far one of the biggest contributors within the company Alfi (even though she’s unpaid). She even came up with the name of the company and designed the ALFI logo. Like me, she’s a workaholic, and her passion sometimes has her in our office nights and weekends to make sure we are positioned for success.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe that giving people the tools to succeed should be an evergreen goal of all types of organizations. In most of my roles at various companies over the years, I’ve been tasked with adding shareholder value and creating value for their customers — but most importantly, I’ve helped to create jobs and train employees to be successful. Creating jobs and training people to have the new skill sets set them up to create their own wealth and has been incredibly rewarding. Give a man a fish, and he will return but give a man the tools to fish, and he will never spend a day in his life asking for food.
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 a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
With the acceleration of direct-to-consumer brands and online ordering during the pandemic, we see retail outlets pick up on some tools that made companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook successful — capturing big data and consumer behavior. Online, which consists mainly of cookies that follow you around the internet and are privacy-invasive, can be very disturbing. But what Alfi brings to the table is the ability for brands to serve relevant ads to consumers in-person, driving sales and relevance without capturing their personal information. I believe that this type of anonymous yet hyper-targeted advertising is the future of the industry, which is why I founded Alfi.
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?
Stores will absolutely continue to exist — the ability to experience a product in person, see it, touch, and feel it will never go away. However, retailers will have to tailor their experience to target the individual to draw people in and echo the type of custom. This could come in several forms, but ultimately, it’s about creating a VIP experience for those who walk in the door.
We’re going to see a lot of transformation of the retail experience using data and computer vision. Ultimately, these advancements could create a user experience that surpasses that of online buying. Imagine walking into a store and having your buying preferences immediately served to a salesperson, who can help point you in the right direction or recommend the best product. Incidentally, software platforms like Alfi can help with this by identifying a person’s physical characteristics — anonymously — such as age, gender, clothing choices, etc. — and create a unique in-store experience accordingly.
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?
This transformation is evolving rapidly. Big data capture is the new “oil.” Retailers have started to adopt new models to the Digital out-of-home experience. We are going to see a marriage between the divide between the Internet and the Outernet.
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 much cheaper prices than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
In order to stay competitive, retailers need to know their customers, know their preferences, capture data, and finally, interact with them. Respect privacy and ethically deliver relevant content. Only by providing a high level of customization and convenience can brick-and-mortar retailers stay competitive with the big technology companies and retailers.
Based on your experience and success, what are the four most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
Taking one of our customers, American Eagle Outfitters, as an example (we’re refining what retail looks like in their stores), there are a few benchmarks to keep in mind:
- Engage the customer using data
- Foster excitement by customizing the experience by a consumer
- Improve efficiency; for example, if a customer desires a product that is not currently in the inventory, the customer can order onsite and have it shipped to their home overnight.
- Improve customer experience: For example, with a custom concierge that recognizes who is walking into the store, and curating products and serving a custom user journey accordingly.
- Increase SALES!
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. 🙂
One of the issues I’m passionate about, apart from my work, is ocean conservation. Years ago, I started a nonprofit called Fantastic Oceans, an organization that seeks to raise awareness of our global waste management challenge. We offer multiple outreach programs providing education to coastal communities about the conscious consumption of plastic to preserve marine life and our oceans. Oceans are a huge part of the global ecosystem, and it is imperative that we protect them.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!