Updated: May 28
Everett Berry specializes in retail therapy. But you probably won’t catch him on long shopping trips loaded down with bags. He’s more interested in how you shop, or more specifically, his technology is. Berry’s company, Perceive Inc., pairs camera technology with artificial intelligence to analyze frontline work and improve customer experiences. Three years after its launch, the company now is much more than just a rescue for retail. Berry sat down with The Startup Ladies to detail Perceive’s launch, unique focus, where the company has its sights set next.
What is Perceive Inc.?
Perceive makes camera software to help frontline teams succeed. Our technology helps retail sales teams, LEAN process engineers, and security professionals automate the least productive parts of their jobs. The cameras capture and analyze events to improve employee effectiveness and customer experiences. The Perceive Vision Engine can measure traffic, analyze customer-employee interactions, speed investigations, find patterns for efficiency, and create security and safety alerts. I started the company because I’ve always believed that cameras are this unexplored data source with great potential for positive impact.
How is Perceive combatting the challenges of brick-and-mortar retail?
Brick and mortar is a massively misunderstood space. Our thesis is the closer consumers get to a warehouse, the worse off they are. So, how is a generic big box store with products as far as the eye can see any different than a warehouse? These stores are in danger because the buying experience truly is better online. The brick and mortar we see succeeding focuses on experience, uniqueness, and personalization. Those stores are surviving and thriving. Perceive’s product helps retail stores ensure that every customer that walks in gets an awesome experience.
How have you funded such a technologically advanced business idea?
We launched with a $225,000 Phase I National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grant in 2016 to fund R&D for our software and hardware. We received a two-year $750,000 Phase II SBIR grant in 2017 to continue our progress. To close out 2018, we received our first venture capital investment from the Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund for $20,000.
This blend of funding makes a lot of sense. VC’s are going to raise an eyebrow at difficult technology. That’s where the NSF comes in. Once you have something ready for the market, like we do, the NSF takes a step back. From there, great investor partners help you get to explosive growth. The market for business camera software is ripe for one dominant company. That’s what we’re shooting for.
The market for business camera software is ripe for one dominant company. That’s what we’re shooting for.
What has been Perceive’s most difficult challenge and how have you overcome it?
Our most difficult challenge is balancing research progress with business goals. I’ve learned the hard way when it comes to research not to stick a stake in the ground and say, “We’re going to do this by this date.” A more subtle and flexible approach is required. At the same time, we have customers demanding features and investors demanding progress. While nice problems to have, that interplay is the biggest internal challenge I think about day in, day out.
What’s been a significant aha moment?
I had an almost life-changing conversation with a successful entrepreneur and investor. That person described the concept of “high early adopter coefficient.” It’s someone who, besides being willing to try new technology, also has been first in the mix on other new technologies. They’re the people always searching for the latest and greatest, even if it comes with a few bugs. They have the scars to show from it but haven’t lost their excitement for discovering something new. I try to sniff those people out when I’m selling Perceive because I agree they make the best first customers.
What have been valuable resources for getting Perceive off the ground?
I like Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One. It helped me think bigger. I try to tune into Katrina Lake, founder of Stitch Fix. She’s taken an impenetrable space of finding great styles and applied data science to it. We’re applying that same thinking to frontline teams with Perceive. I also follow Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures, who spotted the direct-to-consumer model before most others. She has this rock-solid framework for thinking about retail. There is so much entrepreneurial content out there. I make it a hobby to know my verticals and consume voraciously in those areas.
What’s important for pursuing a business using artificial intelligence?
Pay attention to the research. I spend a portion of time each week reading papers (okay, sometimes I cheat and read blog post summaries). Adrian Colyer’s The Morning Paper is a great one. The field is moving so incredibly fast that you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re not tangentially aware of what’s happening. I think AI is an area in which it’s appropriate to “skate to where the puck is going.”
How have you turned negative feedback into learning opportunities to build Perceive?
For a long time, people told me they didn’t understand what we did. It’s been a heck of a journey to get to a place where everyone is nodding along in meetings. One thing we’ve learned is partners are key. Our partners help us understand precisely how each of our features translate into value for clients. For better or worse, I think explaining the company and aligning our value propositions are still where we have the farthest to go. Meeting with customers and getting into their minds helps a lot.
How has location impacted your business?
Perceive launched at the Purdue Foundry, where we had access to a world-renowned higher education institution, premier scholars and a supportive research-to-commercialization ecosystem. We recently expanded to a second location at the Indiana IoT Lab in Fishers, Indiana. I cannot say enough good things about Executive Director Jason Pennington, CEO John Wechsler, and the other good folks at the Indiana IoT Lab. They’ve embraced our vision, we’ve embraced theirs, and it’s led to some connections that I cannot imagine making otherwise. In fact, we’ve scored significant customer meetings directly through the IoT Lab. We’ve also partnered with Qumulex, a camera integrator, with offices right next to ours. It makes collaboration easy. Sometimes our office feels like the center of action in Indiana hardware.
How has The Startup Ladies helped you?
Personally, it’s helped me get out of my shell. I like to code. I like to get into the weeds. I have a bit of trouble expressing myself sometimes. I can feel The Startup Ladies beginning to change that. Kristen Cooper has been an inspiration. Watching her has given me confidence to go beyond what’s comfortable. She told this amazing, quite personal story during the second Startup Study Hall I attended, and I was just entranced. I joined The Startup Ladies that night. Afterword I thought, “Jeez, how can I connect with people that way?” It’s obvious how that skill helps in business. I’ve been practicing and trying to learn ever since.
What’s ahead for Perceive?
I think this year we’re going to establish a real business. The technology is ready. I’m taking several customer meetings and learning about other businesses’ problems. We’re amazed how often camera software is the solution. In five years, Perceive's software is going to run millions of cameras. Everything is lined up. It’s just a matter of execution for us as a team.