Aila: Enabling & Ennobling Brick-And-Mortar Retail

I’m wary of (although undoubtedly guilty of using) the term “disruptive” and the phrase “disruptive innovation.” Building great technology-driven companies (both B2B and B2C) revolves around the creation of enabling, empowering experiences – not disruptive ones.

In that vein, today we announced our investment in a new portfolio company, Aila Technologies (fka Padloc). Sold to brick-and-mortar retailers, Aila’s devices transform Apple’s mobile products into powerful retail tools by adding proprietary imaging technology and store-ready design. Aila thus enables a set of retailers to better engage with its customers. We love the B2B2C duality present, melding the best of the consumer and enterprise worlds. Aila creates moments of delight for the consumer – it’s really a powerful experience to scan a barcode using the Aila devices and have it register faster and at greater distances than seen with existing scanners. At the same time, Aila also creates a powerful and strategic solution for the retailers – for example, the transformation of the deli service in a grocery center by enabling a digital, real-time checkout.

Aila is thus, in its own way, changing the in-store experience and it’s doing so by coupling hardware and software prowess. Initially an enclosures company (known as Padloc), Aila has evolved from securing pieces of hardware to bringing them to life as functional and well-designed mobile devices (e.g., price scanners, interactive kiosks, etc). It reminds us that while brick-and-mortar retail is undergoing a massive transformation, it will not die out. I daresay there will still be a large, vibrant industry revolving around the in-store experience (rather than the in-store catalog) and it’s time we give that notion the dignity it deserves.

Although Aila is young, we’ve already created some really interesting technology and experiential expertise around integrating with large retailers. We offer best-in-class performance and best-in-class design, which, in turn, has attracted attention from industry partners. One such emergent, potent partnership involves Apple and IBM; Apple has been keen to build presence in enterprise verticals (such as retail), and has partnered with IBM to do so. Aila would make a great partner to Apple/IBM as it is, in essence, the glue that allows the retailers, Apple (its device ecosystem), and IBM (its enterprise apps) to all work together without compromising quality in design, quality in manufacturing, quality in execution, and quality in service.

We’re excited about all of these themes – enabling large companies, B2B2C duality, hardware/software hybrid, emerging enterprise partnerships, and manufacturing quality – and thus, we’re excited about Aila!