When Anil Aggarwal and Jonathan Weiner first launched Money 20/20, the idea was to gather the tech industry community and help foster a dialogue based on changes in consumer behavior that was due to the growth of e-commerce, among other factors.
The first event drew several hundred stakeholders, and has now grown to more than 10,000 — and includes many so-called industry disruptors that are affecting change. With Shoptalk, set for May 16 to 18 in Las Vegas, the initial idea is similar. Aggarwal is convening retailers who can share, network and collaborate as a way to address a shift in consumer shopping behavior that is forcing companies to re-imagine how business is done.
To date, Shoptalk has more than 165 speakers scheduled, which includes more than 100 chief executive officers. Companies and brands represented included Abercrombie & Fitch, Ashley Stewart, Best Buy, Cole Haan, Dunkin’ Brands, Express, Foot Locker, Kohl’s, Luxottica, Macy’s, Mondelēz International, Neiman Marcus, New York & Co., Sears, Target, Under Armour and Westfield, among others.
Aggarwal said many “disruptive startups in commerce” are also confirmed to attend and speak, which include American Giant, Casper, Curbside, Deliv, Dollar Shave Club, Enjoy, Jack Threads, Jet.com, Modiface, Poshmark, Postmates and Rent the Runway, among others.
Here, Aggarwal discusses the origins and importance of convening an industry community as well as what it means to be a market disruptor.
WWD: You have a reputation as a “serial entrepreneur” who’s had many successes in disruptive tech and consumer payments. What turned your attention to retail and what are you looking to achieve in this space?
Anil Aggarwal: My time as a venture-backed tech entrepreneur as well as at Google and Money 20/20 put me at the forefront of a dialogue about the evolution of how consumers discover, shop and buy almost all products, services and experiences. This is a quickly emerging and comprehensive “commerce” conversation, and the current retail, e-commerce and other fragmented industry discussions need to catch up to it to address the needs of consumers who increasingly want commerce to be more informed, engaged and frictionless.
This commerce conversation encompasses conventional technologies and business models as well as a vast array of newer ones, such as innovations in on-demand services, value chain consolidation, product curation, delivery and the sharing economy and marketplaces to name just a few, many of which are being brought to market by venture-backed startups and other nontraditional stakeholders.
In 2011 — as the ceo of a FinTech company I later sold to Google — I realized that fundamental shifts in consumer payments were imminent because of the evolution of commerce. Based on that thesis, I founded an event called Money 20/20 to help develop an entirely new community and dialogue for the consumer payments industry. Just four years later, Money 20/20 became the world’s largest payments event by almost two-times with over 10,000 attendees, including more than 1,000 ceo’s – it’s an event that’s loved and has almost a cultlike following.
In 2015, I started Shoptalk to help build the community of commerce innovators just as Money 20/20 helped build the community of consumer payments innovators premised on commerce.
WWD: With Shoptalk, you set out to bring together leaders from multiple key areas of commerce, including retail, start-ups, disruptive technology and the investment community. Why do these players need to be part of a single conversation and what will they accomplish by coming together?
A.A.: The basic definition of a “consumer” has changed. So the conversation needs to change — that’s the all-inclusive commerce narrative and framework we’re helping create.
Whether because they’re now always connected or a multitude of other reasons, consumers’ behaviors, preferences and expectations have evolved from even a handful of years ago. Every company selling every product, service or experience is working toward meeting the needs of these new consumers. Some companies — mainly established retailers and brands — are evolving their current businesses to meet consumer needs with initiatives like omnichannel, while others — mainly start-ups — are working from this new baseline consumer to offer a wide range of innovative products, services and experiences.
It seems so obvious that these shouldn’t be siloed dialogues as they are today, but one comprehensive conversation. And the conversation should also include tech companies, Internet companies and the investment community to a far greater degree than it currently does since they’re also helping shape the future of commerce.
Shoptalk is groundbreaking and unique because it’s the only event to bring all of these key commerce stakeholders together — not only to learn from each other, but also to partner on product development, distribution and much more. Our history of creating events that have community building at the foundation tells us that with a single and comprehensive conversation, this group will find their way to many valuable partnerships over time.
WWD: As a ceo who has launched and led several disruptive companies, what are some of the qualities of disruptive leaders that make them different and successful in today’s business environment
A.A.: We clearly now live in a world of rapid development and constant change. Though a company might drive some of this change internally, it typically occurs outside of an organization. And since the impacts of these changes are felt only somewhat in the short-term but far more in the medium- to long-term, it can be easy for leaders to wait rather than act. That’s becoming a big risk these days because catching up is getting harder to do and, over time, an organization will inevitably lose opportunities to others.
I believe that while today’s leaders need to commit to their visions and deliver on the expectations of Wall Street or their investors, they also need to be fully vested in cultures of learning that enable good judgments on tough decisions. That might seem obvious, but I come across a lot of companies that simply aren’t doing this yet. Disruptive leaders recognize that one of the most effective ways to do this is to invest in exceptional, high-potential individuals at many levels of their organizations.
In my experience, it’s those exceptional individuals who make all the difference — they stay well informed and figure out viable answers to hard questions, and it’s them who we consistently see as early adopters of new industry-wide initiatives like Money 20/20 and Shoptalk.