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B8ta’s CEO, Vibhu Norby, Takes on Tech Retail

A few years ago a software engineer developed an innovative new product but was frustrated hearing the phrase, “This is how retailing works” and being told why he couldn’t use technology to simplify the way products sold at retail. The product was Nest and the software engineer was Vibhu Norby, who is now CEO of B8ta (pronounced “beta”). He has developed a new type of retail concept he co-founded in 2015 with former Nest executives William Mintun, COO, and Phillip Raub, CMO.

They decided it was time to provide better solutions to small and large companies launching new products and looking for more control over their brands. “The transactional nature of a company selling a product to a retailer and a retailer marking it up – without the manufacturer having any visibility or control of the marketing of their products at retail – doesn’t make sense in today’s world,” says Raub.

The Strategy

So B8ta developed a data and software business model using brick-and-mortar locations to give consumers the ability to touch, feel and play with new innovative tech products. And get your head around this: B8ta doesn’t make money on the products it sells. This is a subscription-based operation that has four brick-and-mortar stores and departments in one major chain so far. B8ta’s locations include its original 1,400 square foot location in Palo Alto, CA. Its stores range in size from 2,000 to 2,400 square feet in Santa Monica, Seattle and its newest store in Austin, which opened in May. A San Francisco outlet is opening this summer and Lowe’s SmartSpot, which focuses on smart home products, also uses B8ta technology.

B8ta CEO Vibhu Norby

The suppliers – which B8ta calls “makers” – keep 100 percent of the money on every sale. B8ta charges for in-store space and services. “A maker will pay for a display where they can test pricing, different types of marketing messages and upload content [for their devices], which we provide through an easy-to-use portal,” says Raub.

Products are shipped to B8ta and manufacturer representatives “are required to train our team as part of the ongoing process. We have a highly knowledgeable staff that can describe the attributes of the products,” Raub notes. “For makers it is a learning curve and an opportunity to understand if their products are priced properly and if the content on their displays is resonating with customers. We feel invested in making them successful by coming in and learning what’s working and what is not,” Raub explains.

The four main categories that B8ta sells at its stores are described as “Sense, Home, Play and Move.” B8ta carries up to 120 different products from 200 suppliers. Raub says, “If you have a new product you are eligible.” The company’s experience with Lowe’s SmartSpot departments has been “very open because they were very nimble to get products and utilize our technology, so they were up and running quickly.” The first Lowe’s SmartSpots opened in Livermore, Burbank and Aliso Viejo, CA, last November.

B8ta is also working “to change the retail mentality to make it less transactional and more of a partner mentality,” Raub says. “All the talk of brick-and-mortar dying is a little overblown. B8ta’s products are not commodity based, but are unique items that you want to see, touch and feel. You have to have that discovery [at a store] and try these products. They are all out of the box, nothing is in packaging or behind glass. That is part of the experience.”

That experience may give new life to brick-and-mortar stores, for B8ta and for those retailers who decide to partner with the company.

Steve Smith