In an age in which technology and data acquisition seem more important than ever, how do retail stores stay alive without the technology their online counterparts possess?
This is what Zach Goldstein, ’02, founder and CEO of Thanx, wants to provide to retail businesses: a form of customer data analysis that is simple for both the consumer and the merchant.
However, Goldstein never planned on becoming an entrepreneur or even working in the business world. He originally went to Dartmouth College seeking a career in journalism after his success as Octagon co-editor-in-chief, leading the paper to a Pacemaker win.
“(The Octagon) was where I developed a passion for journalism which continued on at Dartmouth where I was executive editor of (the campus newspaper),” Goldstein said.
However, after college Goldstein found a job as an intern at a consulting firm. While working, he said, he realized there were things that interested him other than journalism.
“(My career choice) could have easily broken the other way had I interned for a newspaper and loved it,” Goldstein said. “But from a business standpoint (journalism) has become a brutal industry with how much the papers are struggling.”
After a few years in the business world, Goldstein said he decided to solidify his career by earning an MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He said he did this with the belief that he would return to consulting once he was done with his studies.
However, the problems he saw many businesses face while he consulted were still in his mind until 2011, when he had the idea for Thanx: a program that provides real customer data to businesses and offers a simpler loyalty system for their customers.
Goldstein said Thanx is a program to help businesses build data-driven relationships directly with the customers.
“Merchants that have Thanx can, for instance, instantly identify when a formerly loyal customer has stopped coming and and reach out to them with a personalized offer,” Goldstein said. “We’re able to reactivate nearly 50 percent of lost customers.”
Goldstein says this helps small businesses as it’s much easier to bring back existing customers than it is to attract new ones. He said that most customers don’t stop coming because they don’t like the product but simply because it is out of mind. All they need is a nudge to bring them back in.
“I had been working with a lot of big brand businesses who struggled to understand which products their revenue was coming from,” Goldstein said. “Data is key to businesses these days, and most merchants we target simply don’t have that data.”
After an early development phase, the program released as a limited, closed test program in late 2012.
According to Goldstein, the program really reached its potential when the app could use the users’ credit card information.
“Our breakthrough was striking deals with the credit card companies,” Goldstein said. “It allowed us to make credit cards into loyalty cards, so you don’t have to do anything but pay and leave, which to me makes for a really good experience for both the merchants and the customers.”
Currently, Thanx has around 60 employees, ranging from engineers to designers to marketers. Goldstein predicts that the company will grow to about 100 employees in the next six months.
“It’s been a difficult battle where we’ve had to raise about $25 million over three rounds of financing,” Goldstein said. “But now we’re pretty glad to be growing quite fast, employee by employee, and being able to bring success to our consumers.”
Yet Goldstein thinks the platform can grow to incorporate still more features.
“I don’t think there will be other apps, but we plan on doing as much as we can to provide the most data for the merchants,” Goldstein said. “The customer experience will always be simple, whether through the app or through the ever-growing technology of Apple Wallet.”
With $4 trillion in the retail market, Goldstein said he believes this software is extremely important for retail businesses to keep up with their online competitors.
“We have only scratched the surface of that vision where companies can have this data,” Goldstein said. “When you see online companies with plenty of data buying retail business, with Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, it becomes even more important for these retail stores to have the same data.”
Throughout the process, Goldstein says he doesn’t focus on the end goal, such as selling the company or the software, but he plans on continuing to fulfill his vision: providing accurate data to retail stores so they can compete with the ever-growing online market.
“As the company grows, I only wish I could’ve built the technology 12 months earlier!” Goldstein said.
—By Mehdi Lacombe