{{ item.title }} {{ item.title }}

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your working history?

My name is Dominic Dinardo and I'm the CEO of Aforza. My career history is interesting in that in 2002, I joined a little known company - it only had about 50 employees worldwide at that time, called Salesforce.com. I was one of the very first people in Europe to bring the power of the Cloud and CRM On-Demand (as it was known back then) to the market. So, back in 2002, I was doing a technical job - I was a Sales Engineer. It's funny because back then nobody had really heard of the Cloud. The Internet was from a business perspective, quite new. People were just learning to book holidays using the internet, but that was about it.

We would go into meetings with prospects and explain that we had this product called Salesforce.com and people would say “You want me to put my data across the Internet on this service? Are you crazy?” But it wasn't crazy, it turned out that it was a really smart thing to do - it was a better technology, it was a better solution and business model. It was highly adopted by users and history shows that the company became a massive success. I had a great time in Salesforce. I was there for more than a decade and by the time I left I was managing all of the Sales Engineers (the job that I had started in), worldwide. I was part of Marc Benioff's ‘President’s Committee’ management team. That's where I feel that I metaphorically “grew up” and learned how to do business in the Cloud.

side note: read more about Marc Benioff and Salesforce in his new book “Trailblazer” here.

I was very fortunate as from there, I joined another great company called Veeva Systems. Veeva was really interesting because that's there that I learned about the power of Industry Cloud, that’s cloud computing for a specific vertical. Veeva was built completely on Salesforce but they specialised in applications for life sciences and pharmaceutical companies - it was hugely successful. It was founded in 2007 and twelve years later in 2019, Veeva is worth about $25 billion. The concept of taking the power of the Cloud and making it specific to a particular industry had resulted in a really successful company.

The founders of Veeva had found a model that works and were confident about doing it again, so in 2014 they then founded a company called Vlocity and I was brought in as the first employee & leader for Europe. Again, we were hugely successful in Industry Cloud building vertical applications - primarily for the telecommunications and energy industries. We did that for another four and a half years and it was during that time that I thought - I can do this myself! I understood the model and I had a long time ambition to grow my own company, and that’s how we got here.

Was there a light bulb moment when you thought; ‘I'm going to found Aforza’?

There wasn’t a light bulb moment - it was more akin to a dimmer switch, you know one of those dials you twist to make things gradually brighter. In about 2004, I worked on a project in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I worked with a company called Nestlé which is the biggest consumer goods company in the world - 400,000 plus employees. We were looking at how they did a process called Retail Execution. I went into supermarkets and small groceries stores around Kuala Lumpur following sales guys who are running between vans, bringing products in and out, trying to make notes and place orders and we were looking at how to automate that.

I'll be honest with you, at that time I was thinking if we put any kind of mobile device in the hands of this guy, we’re just going to slow him down - the guy was a whirlwind! I’ll never forget it. He was probably putting on a performance for the visitors but it was phenomenal. I got to thinking, why are they doing this from scratch every time? Why are they not using automation? This was back in the early 2000s and this is when the dimmer switch started, this is when the concept for Aforza started trickling along in the back of my mind.

As I went into Industry Cloud and vertical computing, I realised that in the Consumer Goods market, like the Nestlé example, that use case just wasn't being serviced properly yet. I started to study the market and discovered that there are a lot of horizontal enterprise software vendors on the Consumer Goods market. The largest vendor today is SAP who have got about 14-15% of the market. Then there's a whole stream of others like Microsoft, Adobe, Salesforce and so forth, however, approximately 50% of the market is served by this other major vendor called ‘Other’, which of course is a way of aggregating thousands of niche companies.

There are thousands and thousands of niche vendors serving Consumer Goods in lots of little discrete areas. The Consumer Goods market is absolutely huge - it's one of the biggest industries in the world and it's something everybody needs. We all need to eat and go to the supermarket and buy things off the shelf, it’s an industry that’s continually growing. It was then that I thought to myself, where is the vendor that is targeting Consumer Goods as a whole? Not from a niche perspective but to holistically serve the entire industry. Over time, all these experiences came together and I saw that nobody was doing it and importantly, nobody was doing it in the Cloud so I decided that I wanted to build a Cloud software to serve this target market.

What sets Aforza apart from the competition?

There are a number of things that sets Aforza completely apart from the competition. Let me boil it down to three key things.

  • Intelligence - the use of artificial intelligence
  • Completeness - the end-to-end view
  • Everywhere - highly mobile applications

Intelligence, specifically Artificial Intelligence is going to change the way we live our lives. It's creeping in all the time and like all-pervasive changes, many of us probably don't even realise it's happening, but it is happening all of the time. AI & Machine Learning is happening constantly, every time we touch the Internet as an end-user we experience it in every recommendation we receive. In the Consumer Goods industry, in particular, there are lots of things you can do to automate and predict many processes. Where did my field team go? What's the most productive routes on a given day taking into consideration time, temperature and location? What would be the perfect order for that store? Why can't it be predicted? All of this can be predicted. All of it.

We're working with academic institutions to create high levels of predictability about what a person should buy at any given time. Beyond that, you can then correlate that with a lot of things such as the introduction of new products for which there's no history for, so nobody knows how it's going to sell. We can take all of this, consolidate it and bring a high degree of value-based automation to these people. Our technology lets Users interact with these predictions, they can flag when they disagree with it; this will develop trust and confidence, the model is always adapting and improving. We think it's going to make a massive difference.

The second part of this is completeness. I’ve mentioned that in the market there are thousands of niche vendors however Consumer Goods companies strive for interconnectedness. When you build promotions and product ideas, the guys in HQ want that feedback loop with the field. If you've got one guy in HQ and 20,000 people in the field, there's kind of a scaling issue around how that's going to work.

What you want ideally is Trade Promotion Management solutions pre-integrated with Retail Execution solutions. We want communication, we want to flow the data back and forth, things like customer satisfaction issues, disputes and returns, all this stuff can be integrated at the appropriate level and be made to flow continuously. We believe that goes all the way through to things like Digital Asset Management right down to labels, marketing gondolas or any other merchandise needed in the store. All of this can be interlinked to give an overall picture.

This complete vision will take us some time - I acknowledge that, but we have a view of how to do it and leveraging the power of the Cloud for the interconnected of this is going to be a differentiating possibility. An organisation that has Aforza with the complete vision will operate significantly better than one that does not.

The fun part of the formula is ‘Everywhere’. In the 21st century, much of the younger generation are very fortunate to have lived in a mobile world so they don't know any different. But the funny thing is, the mobile applications that we've seen in the field are quite old fashioned and they typically are client-server oriented. This is the kind of technology that was designed in the 1990s, to be honest. What we're doing is leveraging the power of the Cloud - very modern applications and we’ve found that our technology lets you get the full mobility, offline capabilities and the ability to do all the things that in Consumer Goods, you just have to do. Our offline capabilities are particularly unique. The ability to sync seamlessly with the Cloud - not this client-server paradigm gives you a lot of technical advantages.

The other thing that we see in the future along the lines of everywhere is ‘everybody’. Something that's happened in the last 10 years is that we've seen the birth of the gig economy. If people can become Uber drivers in five minutes, why can't you become someone who can do a store order or a very simple survey in five minutes? We see the ability to get extended reach into the hands of our customers so that they can go beyond their traditional employee bases. This is something that we think could be a big differentiating ability looking into the future. If you put everywhere and everybody into the formula with the completeness and AI, you've got an extremely differentiated proposition to the competition.

Why did you choose Salesforce and Google Cloud Platform as Technology Partners?

Salesforce is the greatest CRM platform in the world. It’s a platform that myself and my co-founders know intimately well and if you’re going to build a company in this economy and be taken seriously, in my opinion, it would not be good professional judgment to go anywhere else. The scalability and the options we have with it are tremendous. Furthermore, Salesforce is launching a Consumer Goods Cloud which we think this is really important and helpful. There's a lot of core baseline functionality you're going to get from Salesforce as we are taking their data model and expanding it. We started the company in April and part of the reason why we could go so fast was that all this fundamental stuff was readily available to us. We're moving into all sorts of areas such as invoices, pricing rules and so forth. We really think that's a huge step forward as we come to market. Our product is going GA in December.

The other technology platform we've chosen is Google Cloud Platform (GCP). This one is really interesting and we actually went through a very thorough technical and reference evaluation of the platform. We initially considered some other platforms but we interviewed five CTO’s and had their own engineers evaluate it and today, in October 2019, I can tell you the best platform to build AI capabilities on is GCP. This is the conclusive feedback from our own evaluation and actually from the work that we’ve been doing with it. I’m really pleased because we’ve actually proven out the integration between GCP and Salesforce already with our products. It's really been a good choice.

One of the things that we've done very quickly and has validated our decision is the ability to do near real-time syncing from Salesforce to a GCP native architecture. For those listening to this who wonder why that matters, this is hugely valuable for a number of reasons. When you're able to get the data from your field team into Salesforce and then very quickly copy it across to GCP, you are able to do some serious number crunching and this is when the magic of all that AI and ML is going to work in that environment. We've actually done that and even as we speak today, I'm aware that our engineers have just built out the recommendations engine which are pushing recommendations, after all that number-crunching straight back into the Salesforce environment.

In summary, we've got this beautiful architecture where we're leveraging the strength of two of the world's best Cloud platforms. What we want to do is make sure that we are building the best possible solution for the Consumer Goods industry and if we can stand on the shoulders of two computing giants to do that, it's a good thing.

Why did you choose the Consumer Goods Industry?

We chose the Consumer Goods Industry for a number of reasons. First of all, I think it's underserved. Second of all, I think that particularly in the Cloud technology world it's really underserved. It's an industry that touches everybody in the world and when we started the company, we wanted to build a great company, we wanted to be good to employees, we wanted to be great for our customers and partners - basically, we wanted to look after all of our stakeholders. And an important stakeholder is society in general. Our applications will help consumer goods companies not only sell more but also reduce waste, we’re able to promote products that have less plastics in the packaging and so forth.

Frankly, we just think it makes great business sense to target this market. It's also a market where we can bring technology that's actually going to improve our society in general and that's something that if you speak to Aforza employees, you'll find is a common value that we all share. It's really important to us.

Aforza is a Pledge 1% organisation. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

I learned this from Salesforce and Marc Benioff's example. Very early on, he committed the company to this ethos. Right from the word go, Aforza is going to donate 1% of its product and 1% of its time to the Pledge 1% organisation. This means that even at this early stage, we’re hosting activities such as a beach cleans to help combat plastic pollution - our first was in Ogmore-by-Sea, October 2019. We would like to do activities related to reducing pollution, cleaning our environment and becoming good global citizens in general.

The United Nations General Assembly has a number of sustainable development goals and we strongly believe that where appropriate, we should support all these aims. It's our objective to give back as employees into our society and to work with our customers and partner with them as they try to do the same.

In my experience, when I meet executives in our customer base and beyond, I don't come across people who are eco-terrorists trying to destroy the world. Most people I meet want to do the right thing. They may have pre-existing businesses and pre-existing challenges but they're all on different journeys and whether they're trying to do it quickly or in a methodical way, I feel it's our job to help them achieve the goals for all of our wellbeing and our children's wellbeing too.

As well as helping reduce plastic pollution and waste, what other challenges are Aforza trying to solve?

Our objective is to help Consumer Goods companies operate in the 21st century. Today, the routes to market are challenged by the big e-commerce disrupters like Amazon, Alibaba (there are many others) and those companies are interacting with wholesalers and distributors, not just end consumers. More than 90% of everything that is bought and sold happens on the high street; we want to help Consumer Goods companies get the level of feedback and profiling with their field distribution that Amazon gets by digitally profiling their customers. We'll help them compete in the channel. Not only the channel, but also with their brand management. 25 years ago, the way you controlled a brand was to put adverts on TV and newsprint but today almost everybody in the world has a mobile phone. In fact, by June of this year (2019), 1.6 billion new smartphones had been sold. That means everybody is a publisher and everyone can talk about your brand if they want to on whatever channel. That may be completely ignored or might be seen by millions of people, either way, brand disruption is going on and we're going to help make sure that brands are presented in the best way possible in the high street on that shelf.

Another aspect of this is how your offers are perceived. We all know the ‘buy one, get one free’ offer and we love it if it means we’re going to get 50% off. However, today’s consumer is a lot more discerning. Only this week, my wife made some lovely breaded chicken escalopes and she paid more than five pounds for the organic free range chicken breast. I thought that was expensive but my wife would rather spend that rather than buying a cheaper alternative because you want it to taste good and you want to know that the animal's been treated ethically. I don't think she's alone in that thought process, many of us would prefer not to buy our vegetables wrapped in 10 tons of plastic and we don't like to hear that animals are being mistreated. I think that the proposition put on the shelf has evolved.

In summary, it's about controlling the channel. Amazon, Alibaba and others are doing eCommerce, wholesalers and distributors, not just the end consumer and eventually direct to the retailer. It's about your brand. It's not just about newsprint and TV - remember everyone is a publisher. Lastly, it's about the proposition on the shelf and all those things ultimately impact the value of the company. Two good examples are Kraft Heinz and Kylie Jenner Cosmetics. Kraft Heinz are a great company - a merge of two massive names but it's had its market capitalisation basically halved in recent years, compare that to Kylie Jenner Cosmetics Company where the valuation has gone from zero to about a billion dollars in about five years. So, to answer your question, we feel that the Aforza products help with all these challenges and assist these companies into the 21st century.

What excites you most about Aforza’s proposition right now and what’s planned for the future?

Right now we can put in the hands of any company in the world a fully mobile Retail Execution engine that uses AI to predict the products that should be placed. It looks great, it performs fast and we have support for lots of sophisticated pricing rules which we get operating penny perfectly in sub-second response time. It’s phenomenal. In the very near future, we expect to evolve this to recommended ordering with full-blown AI. Longer-term, we will be doing everything from Digital Asset Management to Dispute Management, Trade Promotion Management and so forth - we'll have the complete vision.

I'm thrilled to be doing this job, I love building companies and I’ve done it now for quite some time. I love that feeling when you have the core team and everyone is in it together and we're going to go out there and change the world by building a great product. It's thoroughly exciting.

What's next for Aforza in the coming years?

Aforza will release the products I’ve been describing and we're going to forge deeper partnerships with Salesforce and Google as we go to market. We are going to grow the company and if we follow a similar pattern to other predecessors and become equally as successful, Aforza could be as many as one thousand people in five years. I'm really looking forward to that day and as we work towards it, we will always stay true to our values which are Trust, Customer Success, Innovative Growth. And, our fourth value is Human which goes back to the philanthropic and societal benefits we want to enact.

What feedback have you received so far?

We went to market as we built the product so we’ve actually done more than twenty MVP style demos. We’ve also run webinars with many customers and in regards to feedback, the word that is often used is ‘excited’. Whenever we talk to people who've been working in this area, some of them for many decades, they are excited by what we're doing and we get all sorts of interesting responses from; Can I have a job? When is this going to be available?

One of the things that really stuck in my mind was an incredible piece of feedback and a real aha moment for me was when we did a demo to the CEO of a $100 million chips, nuts and crisps business. He took one look at it, saw the product recommendations and his immediate feedback was; ‘I can boost sales by 10-15%’. He told us that when he introduces new products, if he stresses to sell the new product, the sales team will eventually just sell the new product and stop selling the old one. He said that he needs them to be prompted and challenged every time that they're doing this as he obviously can't always be there in these sales calls. His feedback was fantastic and really important to us. We really value the recommendation engine that we’ve built in from day one.

Naturally, we've received lots of tips in relation to adding features because this is the first version of the product. We've found tremendous value from the bits and bobs that we missed as we went along and had to build in. In years to come when we write The Memoirs of Aforza, I think we will see even clearer that getting the product out to customers so early and getting that feedback loop brought great value right from day one. It's really rewarding when you give someone a demo and they get really excited, the validation loop and comments about the product being great has really motivated me and the team. A common piece of feedback that we’ve been stunned with is, ‘how did you get this product to market so fast?’.

I would encourage anyone who is reading or listening to this to have a look at the demo. There are literally thousands of different rules firing, but you wouldn't know it because it goes so quickly. It's incredible.