Stephen Dodge is a Richmond native, self-professed endless supply of energy and founder of Regulr, a technology platform that creates better in-person retail experiences. Stephen has a rich retail and tech sales background and is a naturally inquisitive and hard-working person. When he’s not working too-long hours, Stephen loves playing tennis and even has a Roger Federer tattoo. In our conversation, Stephen shared his thoughts on entrepreneurship and how technology can create better human experiences and communities.
Q: What does Regulr do in a nutshell?
A: Regulr essentially incorporates the benefits a customer gets from shopping online into the brick and mortar retail experience.
Today, there is no way of leveraging data in the real world across businesses and brands. Salespersons have no way of understanding each customer and their unique history when they walk in the door. They can’t greet them by name, they can’t offer product suggestions based on their buying history or personal preferences, and they have no way of knowing how a customer prefers to be treated. Regulr creates a way for business staff and customers to develop better relationships through the power of technology, which is what technology should be about. Technology should help us to embrace human experience, not just be a means of creating mindless convenience, like many of today’s technologies.
Regulr is a two-sided platform, purposefully designed to bridge the gap between the customer and retail staff. There is a mobile app that consumers use to create what Regulr calls a “Passport to Personalization”, think of it as a universal shopper profile. There, users can upload info like their name, profile picture, and interests with the idea later on you can connect your online shopping or social media data into your profile as well so you can get tailored experiences and accurate product recommendations in-store as well as a more tailored experience within the app itself and online. Users can receive recommendations of places to check out amongst a network of retailers or even events nearby tailored to them when travelling. They can even indicate how they prefer to be treated when they visit a retail store and once they are within the doors as they have an easy to use tool that acts like a remote control that can tell staff when they need assistance, what they want, pay when they are ready, and tell staff Do Not Disturb. They may choose to be recognized and assisted or left unbothered. On the other side of the app, retail staff are notified of the customer’s preferences on their Point of Sale system or device of choice and can then provide the perfect customer experience. The retail app integrates with their POS system and leverages that existing customer data from the moment a customer walks in the doors rather than at the end of a transaction.
Q: What inspired you to start this company?
A: The idea came largely from my experience working for Nordstrom. Nordstrom is exceptional with their customer service model. Each employee is expected to go above and beyond for each customer and take thorough notes, over time creating a large dataset that can be utilized at any Nordstrom location. But Nordstrom didn’t use any of this information in real time on the sales floor. “As a salesperson, this was very frustrating to me. That info could have helped me so much in my customer interactions. Instead Nordstrom used it to build call logs, which felt disingenuous and misaligned with their customer service model.”
I knew there had to be a better way. There hasn’t been much innovation in retail over the past two decades, which is a huge problem – not just for business but for communities. When brick and mortar fall away, there goes your communities. I saw it here in Richmond. All we had for a while was VCU. Thankfully now retail is making a comeback. I hope Regulr is a platform that can bring humans together and create more inclusive and engaging communities.
Q: I’ll bet it’s been unique to try to roll this our amidst the pandemic when retail has been affected so heavily. Has that been the case?
We were getting to roll out when COVID hit, so we had to take a step back. However, it gave us the to create a new project, Distance, which is an app that provides real-time friendly reminders to maintain good social distance. The app vibrates or alarms when the user is within six feet of someone else. We are currently working to get nonprofit and government approval for widespread use but companies can use the app internally at this point.
Q: What’s your favorite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: Personally I’ve always wanted to run a company. I like that I can do things my own way. I like the idea of testing my own assumptions and trying out different models and ideas. To me, that’s what entrepreneurship is; It’s going out there and getting a beating until you can prove or disprove your own ideas. I enjoy that. It’s not as rewarding as other career routes. In the corporate world, a big win can mean a raise, a promotion, recognition… A big win in the entrepreneurship world can be as simple as a reply to email. It takes humility and commitment.
Q: Do you have any mentors or role models who have inspired you while you have been building your business?
A: Luke and Brandon, two of my co-founders who were willing to go on this journey with me. Both helped me flesh out my ideas and pivot early. Each has tremendous amounts of entrepreneurial experience. Both have had major success as well as failures and have been willing to share their learnings with me.
And of course, Roger Federer is my idol. The way he carries himself, the way he has created this ridiculous brand for himself, who he is as a person outside of tennis… People adore him.
Q: Any advice for entrepreneurs?
A: Take what people tell you will or won’t work at face value as it’s great to get feedback from others and their learnings or experiences but if you have a vision you need to test it before you shut down the idea because someone told you it will or won’t work. Lots of people will tell you your ideas won’t work too so get used to that but atleast test those assumptions quickly. Create a minimum viable experiment. You never know where it can go.
Another learning I’ve gained from RIoT is to use your time wisely. Networking is good but can have a big snowball effect. Don’t take calls or meetings unless there is shared value there so do your LinkedIn stalking to ensure there is value to the time spent networking and connecting with someone as everyone always loves talking and connecting you with others; it can lead to a lot of time consumed with little value in output.