To kick off our first People of Asuwere of 2020, we caught up with William Chomley, an inspirational Asuwere member who has recently made headlines with an impressive Series A funding round for his company IMAGR.
This latest round of investment by the Toshiba TEC (a Toshiba subsidiary) helped bring them to a $14million raise and is a great leap forward in launching what is set to be a world first product later this year with ‘Smartcart’. Smartcart, an automated checkout solution brings artificial intelligence to the supermarket so you can completely skip the checkout. You place your goods into the cart as normal which sends the data to an app on your phone with a running total which is automatically billed to your card when you leave the store.
And it’s all been developed right here in NZ.
At Asuwere we are all about trying to make life easier, so we’ve been following Wills progress with great interest and we're stoked to get a sneak preview of the Smartcart in action.
Check out how IMAGR came to be, the challenges he's faced and what drives Will as a founder.
- What led you to start IMAGR?
I started a company 2015, called IN2GO, because I kept getting stuck in line at the supermarket below my finance job. I thought that if I turned carts into checkouts, I could get out of the supermarket quicker. The customer experience was the same, grab a cart, shop without barcode scanning and leave. My business partner and I both agreed to quit, I walked in and resigned, and she called me to say she couldn’t do it. That company failed two months later. I still believed in the concept and found a new way to achieve the same result, it was then I came across AI. It took 2 years to get funding, and I think that it was the constant refinement of my pitch, and idea that got us that lucky break.
- IMAGR has developed world-leading AI technology with Smartcart. Is this something you've had a previous interest or experience in?
I have no experience in software or hardware, which I think is a positive. Sometimes having too much domain experience can lead you to talk yourself out of certain approaches to a problem. We sponsor a portion of our engineering team who have moved themselves and their families to New Zealand to work at IMAGR, thankfully they have experience in AI. Since I started IMAGR, I have learnt enough and I am fascinated by it. Couldn’t write a line of code to save myself... but I understand how it works (well, our solution that is).
- What have been some of the hardest challenges you have faced along the way?
When I first started IMAGR I was rejected by over 200 venture firms and high networth individuals in my quest to get angel funding for IMAGR. Most told me it was impossible, that I couldn’t do it. The first ones that invested were 203 and were here in NZ in November 2016 – that’s when I moved back home from Sydney. But by and large we face really difficult challenges every day, both internally (like growing and scaling our team and its incredible culture) and externally (like losing customers, trying to grow the company off-shore).
- What are your main drivers to keep going?
I'm the dumbest in this office, without a doubt. So my ability to come to work every day and learn is an amazing driver. I think I also have a responsibility to my team to ensure I'm driven every day so that they can succeed. So I would say in summary I'm driven by my team, to see them succeed and to watch them change an industry globally.
- What made Japan a key target for expansion?
Japan is our target market for a number of reasons. The first is that it has an ageing population, which makes staffing their supermarkets extremely hard, to the stage where some convenience chains are no longer 24 hours purely because they can't get the staff. The next is that it’s the second largest retail market in the world, with Japanese consumers supermarket shopping between 3-5 times per week. Finally they are moving towards a digitalised payment economy. All of these lend their hands to our product no longer being a want, but a need.
- Splitting your time between Japan and New Zealand, how do you maintain a good routine whilst constantly on the move?
I’m surrounded by an incredible team, so they help me out a lot wherever I am. That means we have set times we talk to ensure we are all aligned in the business. For me personally, it comes down to exercise daily.
- How do you like to unwind?
I like to play tennis before work, read, see friends, but to be fair I don’t really feel like I need to unwind from what I do because I love it.
- How does Asuwere suit your lifestyle?
I am one week on and one week off in Japan at the moment, so I have no time to shop. When I am not at work or travelling, shopping is the last thing I want to be doing. Having clothes get delivered every month means I don’t need to think about it.
Cheers for your time Will, very much looking forward to giving Smartcart a try in the coming months, such an impressive operation.
As you were.