Ahead of travelling to the US in September to kick off its Series A funding round, Melbourne-based startup Brauz has closed its second seed round with $1m to get its personalised retail app to market. Founder and CEO Lee Hardham gave Dynamic Business a progress report on the Brauz app, which had its beta launch in March. He also spoke about what it will take for bricks-and-mortar retailers to flourish in the Amazon era and why he is actively looking outside Australia for investors.
DB: What is the elevator pitch for Brauz?
Hardham: Brauz is a marketplace for physical retail stores that blends physical, digital and virtual retail into a seamless personalised experience for shoppers. Brauz connects shoppers to brands in local brick and mortar stores, through mobile centric technologies like VR and beacons, the Brauz app allows customers to discover brands based on the ones they already love, and enables them to follow a product independent of a store, and find it wherever they may be.
DB: How has the retail sector responded?
Hardham: We’ve been blessed with the results we’ve had since our app arrived on the App Store in Beta Mode. The retailers that jumped on-board have provided amazing feedback, has helped us prioritise and develop milestones for the full release in September. For instance, Nikos Psaltopoulos, Head of Sales & Innovation, Brand Collective has said that ‘Brauz is one of the most exciting innovations in the retail space in many years and presents retailers a David & Goliath opportunity’.
What’s really resonating with the stores and brands we’re talking to is the simplicity of integrating Brauz into their store experience and the affordability of our solution. We take existing content from stores and brands, transform it into engaging content within the physical, digital and virtual space and personalise offerings based on individual shopping behaviour.
There’s no doubt we’re on the right track in taking physical retail stores to the cutting edge of technology. What retailers and shoppers can expect from Brauz in September is a marketplace that provides a truly personalised shopping experience that will bring customers back into their physical retail stores. As part of the launch, we’re partnering with a number of big brands who see Brauz as a unique opportunity to support their stockists and physical stores.
DB: What pain point are you addressing?
Hardham: I think the catalyst for our growth will be the coming of Amazon into the Australian market, which has forced retailers to look toward technology that will make their store a part of their customers shopping journey in the future. We believe the Brauz platform can support the Australian retail sector by promoting the importance of a physical presence in an increasingly digitally-connected world.
The future of retail lies in the physical store with a blend of online and virtual. This has been demonstrated by Amazon increasing its physical store presence (with Amazon Go and the recent Whole Foods deal). The tides of retail are changing and those who don’t adapt fall risk to being washed away, it just so happens we’ve built the right board to enjoy the ride.
DB: How will you use your seed capital?
Hardham: The primary focus of the 2nd seed round is to help us bring our products, services and technology to the market. The capital, which came from our existing angel investors and brings out total funding to $2.25m, will assist as we transition from heavy tech development into market execution. The strategy was to limit the raise now so we can enter the US startup scene with a proven model that will provide a solid business valuation backing our Series A.
DB: Why is the US the focus of your Series A round?
Hardham: Our solution has been designed for rapid global growth and solves a challenging global problem. It makes sense to take our business to the global stage and events like Disrupt San Francisco, Shop.org and Retail Global provide the perfect stage for us to pitch to the right investors. We’re looking for strategic tech investors with proven success in global startup solutions.
We’re not necessarily concerned whether investors come from the US or Australia but the investment pool for retail technology is much larger in the US so with the timing of Brauz’s release, Amazon coming into the Australian market and urgency for physical retail stores to evolve their shopping experience – we find ourselves in the perfect position to present our solution on the global stage.
DB: What are your ambitions for Brauz?
Hardham: Brauz has built a healthy marketplace for retailers by providing them with the right technology, including applications, portals, VR, and beacons. By 2020, we plan to have 20,000 blended experience stores, compared to Amazon’s 2020 goal of 2000 stores globally.