Welcome to the innovation hub, a series celebrating the extraordinary companies that span across the entire San Diego region. From software to healthcare tech, retail tech, precision medicine, electronics, AI, cybersecurity, manufacturing and more, this series takes a deeper dive into the innovative industries that make up the collaborative culture of this diverse ecosystem.
By Fred Grier
Imagine a digital, cashless society where you never have to worry about carrying a wallet or physical money again. With retail technology concepts like Amazon Go being introduced in recent years, we are now seeing retailers offer a frictionless check-out service.
Meet Chris Pisano and Aaron Mann, co-founders of San Diego-based startup Turnaround, who are helping make this cashless society a dream come true. What originally started out as an augmented reality project during Mann’s undergrad years at the University of Illinois led to him later teaming up with his roommate Pisano to leverage this innovative technology to tackle a much bigger problem, specifically in the retail business. Turnaround is a mobile software application that offers a revolutionary checkout solution for retailers that provides customers a seamless payment method that allows them to be more efficient and get on with their day, faster.
We chatted with Pisano and Mann about their entrepreneurial journey and their experience starting up in the San Diego tech ecosystem.
Year Founded: June 2018
Headcount: 2 full-time employees
Headquartered: UTC, La Jolla
Technology: Unlike tradition white label technology that requires store remodeling or hardware integration, turnaround leverages an inventory database integration software.
Turnaround App: Currently available for download on iOS devices, the mobile app provides customers a walk-in and walk-out experience, allowing them to purchase up to three items via their phone.
Unique Features: When asked how the app benefits retailers, Pisano explained, “One of the things that’s very interesting about our software is that we’re the only third-party system that ties physical transactions to an email address. Also, our app offers a continuous item count of anything that gets purchased in the store, which can be very valuable for monitoring inventory and loss prevention.”
“What we handle really well is taking database input from the store inventories, syncing the info with our database, and returning to the stores an efficient list of purchase amounts, payment receipts, etc. We use AWS, Google cloud platform, and Node,” he added.
The Need: Mann and Pisano explain why now is the perfect time for Turnaround, especially since several retailers, including Cruizers, Family Express, Enmarket, and 7-Eleven, are implementing similar retail technology.
“The reality is, many stores are essentially afraid of being left in the dust by Amazon Go; so that’s why we want to offer retailers a cheaper and more deployable approach to compete with giants such as Amazon,” Mann explained. “We want to offer customers a buy-it-now cashless option, which allows store owners to significantly increase purchasing ability and help widen their per-second transaction pipeline.
Competitive Advantage: When asked about Turnaround’s competitive edge, the co-founders both responded confidently.
“Companies like Amazon spend millions of dollars on hardware costs, building a completely new floor, whereas our first sale with UC San Diego required zero remodeling to implement our self-checkout method,” Pisano said.
Mann added, “Currently there are three tiers of companies, all which are taking this hardware installation approach. In comparison, we cut straight to the point. Our software is easily deployable, cost-effective, and eliminates that extra step of building something completely new.”
Target Customers: Turnaround is targeting high through-put, high-traffic, convenience stores. Pisano added, “However, our technology works for any retail, including malls and apparel.”
Competitive Landscape: Currently, the competitive landscape includes companies who are attempting to solve the problem with tons of sensors and cameras and other phone-based competitors including OyaPayGo and Swiftshopper, which leverages QR code technology and target different markets.
Funding: The self-funded startup has not raised any funds to date. As they continue to develop their most valuable product, the team shared they want to grow their user base at UC San Diego Sunshine Market before raising their seed round from investors.
Advisors & Mentors: Turnaround is currently looking for specialized expertise in retail and sales as they progress in their growth stage. When asked if the team has sought out mentors, Pisano responded, “We have attended many VC roundtable events where they received very organic support and advice but we have not explicitly sought out mentors per se.”
“We’ve definitely had individuals who helped us tackle some problems and answer questions but we haven’t had any real advisors guide us through the scope of the process; at the moment I would say we are looking for someone with experience in marketing,” said Mann.
Entrepreneurial Advice: “Make sure it’s a real problem. Be really critical about yourself on how you’re solving the problem and what realistically other ways people might do it,” Pisano said.
Mann added, “Build the product. You need to be able to make the product. Without making the product first, everything else to waste the time.”
SD Tech Ecosystem: The founders provided their two cents on why they chose San Diego as their ideal startup community. “We chose San Diego because the cost of living was low enough that we could support ourselves, and the connections in California provides valuable opportunities,” Pisano said.
To build on that, Mann added, “What I like most about San Diego is that it kind of accepts that it’s not Silicon Valley or doesn’t try to be Silicon Valley 2.0; San Diego is not the easiest place to raise funding, but the city knows it’s weaknesses and leverages what it does well.”