Jet.com was only the beginning.
After snapping up a series of small online retailers, Wal-Mart said Monday that it is launching an innovation hub to identify the ideas, people and technologies that will drive the future of retail.
Called Store No 8, the Silicon Valley-based team will invest in and partner with entrepreneurs, early-stage start-ups, venture capitalists, and academics. The stand-alone “incubator” will focus on areas including robots, virtual and augmented reality, and artificial intelligence.
Store No 8 will be led Wal-Mart’s G. Seth Beal and Jet.com’s Katie Finnegan.
Marc Lore, Jet’s founder and the president and CEO of Wal-Mart eCommerce U.S., announced the initiative at the ShopTalk conference in Las Vegas.
The launch of Wal-Mart’s investment arm is just the latest sign of its growing e-commerce ambitions. It follows the acquisitions of several specialty online retailers, including the purchase of ModCloth last week. Prior to purchasing the women’s fashion site, Wal-Mart acquired outdoor goods company Moosejaw and Shoebuy.
With each of those acquisitions, Wal-Mart is giving the CEOs responsibility not only for their websites but for their specific category across the organization, Lore said.
“That empowerment, I think, is the difference,” Lore said.
He would know firsthand. Wal-Mart’s $3.3 billion purchase of Jet.com raised some eyebrows last year, as many questioned how Jet’s startup culture would jibe with Wal-Mart’s corporate structure.
Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon repeatedly said he would give Lore the power to run Jet on his terms — which now comes with the added responsibility of spearheading the company’s entire U.S. eCommerce operations.
Wal-Mart has carried that attitude of empowerment into all of its subsequent acquisitions, Lore said.
“It means everything, especially to an entrepreneur,” Lore said. He added that he’s “been on the other side of it, too,” when an acquisition “wasn’t as empowering.”
Prior to Jet, Lore co-founded Quidsi, the parent of Diapers.com. Amazon purchased that company in 2010, leading to a fallout between Lore and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
When Lore thought about what it meant to sell Jet — which could have meant offering small pieces to venture capitalists along the way — a partnership with Wal-Mart meant he could accelerate his vision faster, he said.
And while he admitted that his Hoboken, New Jersey-based team was at first a bit hesitant to team up with Wal-Mart, they’re now “fired up and having fun.”
“The culture hasn’t changed a bit,” he said.