How Skupos Has “Connected the Dots” in the Fragmented Convenience Retail Scene
San Francisco startup Skupos was founded in 2016 by Jake Bolling, Mike Glassman, and Linh Nguyen in an effort to harness data to create a frictionless connection between millions of people and the products they need. Operating as a two-sided retail distribution software company, this startup offers real time inventory, automated purchasing, sales, ordering, and operational intelligence to C-store operators.
The Opportunity from Data Science Base
One of the Skupos’s co-founders – Bolling was studying finance and Chinese at the University of Colorado, Boulder when he dropped out with only three credits left to complete his degree. Several years ago, this man owned a consumer-packaged goods company distributing to the convenience retail industry when he realized he had a problem: he was operating blindly without true data on how his product was performing.
As he met with other industry cohorts, he learned that this problem spanned far beyond his own organization and into Fortune 100 brands alike. A complete void of data existed on product placement, pricing, and consumer behavior across the entire c-store industry. Bolling and Glassman had a thesis that the “cool CPG products” would hit turmoil, and the duo began purchasing distressed CPG (consumer packaged goods) products, hence the red gas can ownership, paving their trail to the convenience store market.
And that was how Skupos was founded.
Since 2016, Skupos has served as the only platform to fully connect the convenience retail value chain. Skupos sits at the point of sale across a network of tens of thousands of retailers, focusing primarily on independents and small chains.
In the early days of Skupos, they arrived, along with third cofounder Linh Nguyen, at their San Francisco office around 5 a.m. PST to cold call retailers around the country, beginning the day with East Coast companies and ending the day with West Coast ones. Ultimately, their first sale was in the middle—to Pier 23 in Au Gres, Michigan.
Their effort paid off. Today, they have more than 20 different distributor partners across the country. “At first it was a lot of us calling them. Now it’s a lot of inbound the brands want to work with us,” says Bolling. “They want to understand what’s happening in the channel.”
“There are a lot of exciting problems to tackle from a data science standpoint,” said Bolling.
Skupos and Its Great Growth
Skupos works by integrating with retailers’ POS systems—their cash registers—copying the transaction files back to Skupos technology and using machine learning to deliver results to both the retailers and brands, like Unilever, whose products are being purchased. Currently, they deliver insights on 6 million transactions per day.
The company is young and growing rapidly. When Bolling made the Retail & Ecommerce Forbes Under 30 list in November of 2018, the company was just under two years old and had raised $10.9 million.
In 2019, Skupos announced that it raised $26 million in Series B funding – Insight Partners led this round. And Unilever Ventures also participated in this round along with Tao Capital and prior backers Toba Capital, Dynamo Ventures, and Loup Ventures. Including this round, Skupos has raised $37 million in venture capital.
“Skupos has become a data hub for the convenience retail industry, and we look forward to working together to create value and efficiency for retailers, distributors, and brands in order to best achieve their desired results.” – said Jonathan Rosenbaum, Vice President at Insight Partners. “
“As we continue to grow the Skupos network, we’re thrilled to be bringing on the dual expertise of Insight and Unilever Ventures,” says Bolling.
The funding round was used for ongoing product development and strategic expansion. Plus, the company had a focus on leveraging transaction data to innovate new revenue-driving strategies for its customers in the convenience retail industry.
“We have the beauty of 7,000 very active customers—the largest brands in the world—who are giving us constant product feedback. We’re operating in a very data-driven environment, and that’s what we develop around,” says Bolling about the company’s growth. Now Skupos powers data strategy for many Fortune 500 brands and drives positive business outcomes from previously inaccessible data. Plus, it remains dedicated to developing cutting-edge tools for continuing to drive the industry forward.
Skupos’s revenue largely comes from retailers and CPG giants like Unilever who relied before Skupos on secret shoppers and glorified guesswork in the form of Nielsen-esque data to assess the success of their products in these highly trafficked and often independently operated stores.
This platform continues to grow at double-digit rates every month, with a wide range of customers. While some Skupos retailers operate chains of several hundred stores, 58% of Skupos locations belong to independent owners with 5 or fewer stores. “Even though Skupos has already connected about 6% of the U.S. market, there are still many more stores to bring on to the Skupos data platform,” said Zachary Kimball, VP of Strategy and Growth. “That means a huge opportunity to help more retailers across the country adopt innovative technology.”
Skupos continues to build out its platform capabilities. For c-stores in particular, Skupos has focused on new analytics and reporting. Skupos also continues to expand supply-chain solutions to support DSD and wholesale order automation. And in May, Skupos announced the release of Skupos Engage, a platform which allows retailers and CPG brands to deliver brand-funded discounts to consumers directly at the point of sale.
“We have a lot of work on our hands with over 9,200 stores, but we are excited to continue providing value to the convenience retail ecosystem,” said Lauren Denault, VP of Customer Experience. “Our team is dedicated to informing our c-store customers with data so they can focus on their operations and drive profit for their businesses.”
Strategies to Build A Thriving and Sustainable Business
In addition to impressive external achievements, Skupos also well-recognized for its fabulous working culture. Specifically, early this year, this San Francisco startup earned a place on the Best Places to Work list in Colorado and the Best Midsize Companies to Work For list in San Francisco, rewarded by Built In. The annual awards include companies of all sizes, from startups to the enterprise, nationally and in the eight largest tech markets.
“We are thrilled to receive the recognition as a Best Place to Work in both San Francisco and Denver,” says Bolling. “At Skupos, we’re striving to build an inclusive culture and provide our employees benefits that allow them to do their best work. We’re excited to continue building a thriving and sustainable business we can all be proud of.”
This title was recognized based on an algorithm, using company data about compensation, benefits, and cultural programs. To reflect the attributes candidates are searching, this year’s program weighted criteria more heavily, like remote opportunities and programs for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“These companies raise the bar for cultural excellence and the ability to adapt to meet changing needs of employees,” says Sheridan Orr, Chief Marketing Officer, Built In. “The 2021 winners show a commitment not just to creating meaningful cultures but to delivering talent needs as they change in a dynamic landscape.”
Indeed, to break through the convenience store industry and effect real, lasting change, Skupos empowered a workforce that is creative, agile, experimental, and cross-functional. What’s more, employees at Skupos are encouraged to transition to bold new roles and allowed the freedom to pursue ideas that lead to major leaps in both career and company growth.
“One thing you might be noticing,” said Jamie Stevens, the company’s director of people, “is that Skupos is a runway.”
#1. Promoting Collaboration and Bonding
This company culture is all about working hard and having fun. The Skupos’s office itself is designed to encourage collaboration and socialization: there are no cubicles or offices, even for the CEO. People there have a ping-pong table that is actually used on a daily basis. Besides, they do a ton of activities together outside of work: from happy hours to company picnics and sporting events, they all really love to spend time with each other outside of work. One major event is the annual off-site: both the Denver and San Francisco offices went out to Santa Cruz on a two-day trip — which was considered as “a unique bonding experience” by employees.
“We have a family atmosphere and culture, so we make it a point for everyone to really get to know each other.” said Samantha Felice, HR Coordinator.
This is extremely important for the growth of the company because its employees feel supported and cared about. They feel like there is a more personal connection with everyone in the company and their leadership. That creates trust and loyalty like nothing else.
#2. Valuing Education and Growth
The employee at Skupos have always been encouraged by team leads to explore their professional goals, including getting Salesforce certifications. These certifications take a lot of effort in terms of learning and studying, but the leaders are fully willing support their team – they play as great mentors to guide their employees through the process. Skupos also demonstrated their support by sending its team to Dreamforce, the annual Salesforce conference, where they will expand their knowledge and take certification exams.
Besides, this company also caters lunch every Friday in the Denver office as well as the San Francisco office. This allows all the employees to have lunch together and share insights into their departments and other initiatives that are going on. This also helps them to meet new people working in other areas of the company. They discussed their goals together, and they’re both actively working on getting prepared for the development.
#3. Helping Work-Life Balance
Skupos allows its team to have flexible time off, which is different than every other company with typical accumulated PTO. This gives its employees the ability to work remote and take time off. This means that the employees may take over some work for another employee when they go on vacation, and then they will do it for us in return.
It allows the whole team to have a good work-life balance and solves the problem of burnout. It also creates an incredible environment for teamwork, which is super important in the success of any startup company.
“I’ve never seen employees so productive, successful and happy. I believe this system of flexible time off is what gives us all a healthy work-life balance.” – said Felice.
Rebrand & New Website: An Outstanding Step
In January this year, Skupos announces a new website and a rebrand in support of the company’s continued expansion and to solidify its reputation as the go-to industry resource.
The updates pave the way for Skupos to communicate how the company is transforming convenience retail through uniting a previously fragmented market and creating revenue-generating opportunities for stores and CPG companies alike. Skupos’ platform connects CPG companies to thousands of independent convenience stores and small chains across the country, enabling fully managed promotions and insightful sales analytics.
“Skupos has made strides over the past year in connecting our expanding retailer base to a growing ecosystem of CPG organizations,” says Christine Shriver, Skupos’ VP of Marketing. “The brand and website transformation reflect our evolving business, technological advances, and the value we add in driving revenue for both sides of this marketplace.”
Skupos’ new website is designed to evolve the user paths of both retailers and brands so each can find the content specific to their needs as well as to increase the site’s traffic and conversions. The rebrand highlights Skupos’ approachable, sophisticated, and bold identity, and will be featured throughout the company’s marketing materials and dynamic product platform.
“As our business grows and we move from build mode to scale mode, we’re now better positioned than ever to be what our customers need us to be,” says Bolling. “That’s an achievement we can now effectively tell in our brand story and reinforces our reputation as a progressive partner and leader in this industry.”
The Bottom Lines
From its offices in San Francisco and Denver, Skupos is performing as a game-changing platform in convenience retail industry when enabling brands to create direct connections to their c-store customers and understand how consumers engage with their products. Taking focus on data analytics in and appropriate strategies, this San Francisco startup is showing mass potential to expand.