Intouch is masterminding a revolution in retail

30 Oct 2017

From left: Intouch founders Dr Sameh Abdalla, Doychin Doychev and Tim Arits. Image: Yohei Ishikawa

Our Start-up of the Week, Intouch, helps retailers to build the store of the future by digitising the in-store experience.

“Our solutions help close the gap between the offline and online world by innovating with in-store tech, AI, machine learning and big data,” explained Intouch COO and co-founder, Tim Arits.

“Our differentiating factor is that Intouch puts customer identity acquisition (data) at the centre of all services and solutions, allowing retailers to answer the ‘who’ question for every data point captured.”

‘In simple terms, we turn common questions like “Does this product contain peanuts?” into data goldmines for retailers’

Arits said the objective is to penetrate the $2.3bn global retail market, one of the hottest areas, ripe for innovation.

The founders

Intouch has three founders: Dr Sameh Abdalla (CEO), Doychin Doychev (CTO) and Arits.

Prior to Intouch, Abdalla worked for five years at University College Dublin (UCD) where he lectured and researched the fields of robotics, data mining and digital forensics. Before that, he also worked at Lille University of Science and Technology; Orascom Telecom in the Middle East and Asia (now Orange Telecom); and the R&D division of Siemens Communications in Milan, Italy.

CTO Doychin Doychev pursued a master’s degree in recommender systems and big data analytics at UCD and graduated in the field of computer science. During his undergraduate education, he became part of the IBM Extreme Blue programme, during which he filed two joint patents. Prior to that, he published an academic paper on information retrieval, which he presented at the TREC World Wide Conference in 2011.

Arits obtained his master’s in marketing in the Netherlands, after which he joined Google for a period of three years. He held various roles in sales and product and was selected by Google for “leadership excellence”. After three years at the company, having built up a wealth of sales, marketing and strategy skills, he decided to pursue his ambition to be an entrepreneur and left Google to co-found Bundly, a self-updating contact management app to uniquely receive updates from friends and family.

The technology

Intouch is masterminding a revolution in retail

Dr Sameh Abdalla and Tim Arits at SuperValu in Lucan. The company is trialling its technology with Musgrave Group with a view to rolling it out nationwide, pending the outcome of the trial. Image: Intouch

“We turn in-store shopper tasks, such as loyalty programme registration and in-store customer services (allergy, pre-orders etc), into digital experiences that save time and frustration.

“In simple terms, we turn common questions like ‘Does this product contain peanuts?’ into data goldmines for retailers.

“We do that by using recent advances in human computer interaction (HCI) combined with state-of-the-art hardware, natural language processing and big data to make offline retailers future-proof.

“It allows retailers to unlock magical customer experiences while creating unique competitive advantages based on customer data.”

Arits said the ultimate goal of Intouch is to bring the benefits of online services into the offline world.

“The world’s most valuable companies – Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple – have one thing in common: they capture data during every single customer interaction to learn more about their customers. This data is then used to optimise their services, creating a virtual, never-ending data/sales loop.

“Intouch help physical retailers fix data waste that is happening during in-store customer interactions, so they can create magical customer experiences, serve customers quicker and more efficient – similar to how online giants do it.”

This system is alive

Arits said that Intouch’s solutions have been up and running in live environments since the summer.

“It has been exciting times for the team. Our technology is beating expectations since the day we deployed it and we hope to expand soon to more locations to serve more shoppers with our in-store improvements.

“On top of that, several retailers from the US and Middle East have showed interest in Intouch’s technology, creating exciting opportunities abroad. Ireland is an interesting market, but American retailers have 50 times as many retail outlets compared to Irish retailers.

“At the moment, we are focusing our efforts on generating stable, long-term recurrent revenue by expanding our sales efforts. The company can sustain itself in Ireland on projected revenue, however, expanding our operations internationally costs lots of money and we are considering raising money soon.”

Currently, Intouch only employs the three founders and one part-time financial assistant.

“Going live with the largest Irish retailer while at the same time expanding to the US and Middle East, with only four people, has proven to be a challenge. Long hours and working weekends are part of the weekly routine. Although the team is expected to expand soon to keep up with the market demand, there doesn’t seem to be an end to the long hours and weekend for next foreseeable future.”

Start-ups are driving the future

Despite the challenges, Arits believes start-ups are the way ahead.

“Many large companies are unable to work agile and lean. The benefits and roles of start-ups to drive innovation have never been so prominent. We are excited to be part of the start-up ecosystem.

“On top of that, we are excited to work with many other founders that are pursuing their dreams. We were amazed, however, to find out that an Irish company had recently exited to Amazon, without hearing about it from the community. For this reason, we are convinced that there is a lot of hidden talent.”

Arits’s advice for other founders is to stay the course, no matter what setbacks happen.

“Success might not always be clearly visible but if you have something you believe in, keep going, no matter what. Intouch had times where things looked dark but, by being persistent and working hard, we have overcome any dark time so far.

“Our advice is to celebrate any achievement, no matter how little, so that, during the darker times, you know why you are doing what you love.

“Never give up, no matter what! The book The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz helped us a lot.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years