It’s Monday morning, you’re on your way to work. You reach your favorite cafe to grab your morning latte, but there’s a line of people snaking out the door. This is going to take a while. Or is it?
An employee emerges from the cafe holding a takeout bag, greets you by your name and hands you your coffee. Astonished gazes from the coffee line follow you, as you thank the employee and continue on your way.
This is the future that Silicon Valley startup Curbside, acquired by the Rakuten Group earlier this month, wants to make reality. It’s an exciting mix of online-to-offline, mobile commerce and same-day delivery, with a strong focus on empowering small businesses to take advantage of new technologies.
On his first visit to share the vision with Rakuten employees at a recent all-hands at Americas regional headquarters in the Bay Area, co-founder and CEO Jaron Waldman said “The physical world that we grew up in was very separate from e-commerce but we like to think that mobile commerce is going to become the dominant way that people order things in the future.”
Curbside enables customers to make purchases from physical stores through their mobile devices before they actually reach the store. Merchants are alerted when the customer is about to arrive, so that they can have the purchased item ready to go as the customer walks in. In addition to quick-service restaurants, Curbside also partners with retail clients such as CVS and Nordstrom.
“We’re working with some very large brands, and their mobile commerce programs are exploding,” explained Waldman. “They’re making big investments in hooking up their stores and their restaurants to be available for same-day commerce.”
But according to Waldman, Curbside also has a vision for empowering small and medium size businesses.
“Smaller merchants — quick-serve restaurants, physical stores — they tend not to have big technology teams to help build these solutions in the right way,” continued Waldman. “We think that smaller merchants need an end to end platform to connect their stores, and that’s something we’ve been building towards.”
For the team at Curbside, the synergies with Rakuten were obvious. “We realized quickly that we saw the world in a lot of the same ways and there were a lot of opportunities to work together,” Waldman said. “Our competitors don’t have the same attitude of empowerment… we think we’ve found a like-minded outlook in the Rakuten family, because Rakuten has always been about empowering merchants through technology and helping them get online.”
Another thing setting Curbside apart from the competition is its cutting-edge geolocation tech. The company’s ARRIVE platform uses anonymized location data and machine learning to predict what time the customer will reach the store, down to the minute.
“We have location technology that is best in class,” explains Waldman. “If merchants want a six-minute alert before the customer comes to the store, we can give them that notification.”
And Waldman isn’t the only one excited about the technology. “Geolocation data is going to be critical in the future,” predicted CEO Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani at Rakuten’s weekly all-hands meeting in Tokyo. “Curbside provides access to the most state-of-the-art geolocation technology available.”
By becoming part of the Rakuten family, the Curbside team’s capacity for expansion into new areas will expand considerably.
“We’re really excited about everything that’s going on in Rakuten — across fintech, e-commerce, Rakuten Marketing, Ebates,” says Waldman. “We were absolutely blown away by the depth of the ecosystem in Japan.”
With so much potential for new businesses on the horizon, Waldman is enthusiastic about the future. “We couldn’t have found a better partner.”