Let's Talk Shop Brings Together Diverse Voices in Retail and Commerce

Updated: Apr 13, 2018

It’s not every day you get to host an event combining diverse investor, entrepreneur, and industry leader perspectives from both coasts on retail and commerce, but last Thursday, we got the chance to do that, and we couldn’t be happier with how it went.

On April 5 in Boston, Merkatus Partners hosted its first-ever panel discussion, focused on the challenges and potential growth from building strategic partnerships. Bringing together a diverse group of panelists, representing the the perspective of an established retail brand, an early stage startup, and an investor, sparked an engaging conversation and stories of their paths to partnerships with technology partners, retailers, investors and retail industry thought leaders.

Liz Powers, founder and Chief Happiness Officer of ArtLifting, talked about how she and her core team pivoted from B2C to B2B sales and began building partnerships with Leesa, West Elm, FedEx, Starbucks, and others to enable the ArtLifting community’s growth. Liz highlighted how she built West Coast investor relationships to drive better pricing for her early stage funding rounds.

Prakash Muppirala, President and CTO of Restoration Hardware, discussed partnering with commerce technology providers, and how fast integration architectures are key to successful partnerships in an ever-changing retail market. Prakash highlighted his partnerships with AR/VR app developers to enable his company to effectively “bring the showroom home,” allowing customers to place full 3D renderings of products in their own home, and how that would change the retail experience. The discussion evolved into how some local players like Wayfair are also investing heavily in this space.

Matt Nichols, Partner at Commerce Ventures, discussed Commerce VC’s partnership with Shoptalk on the new ShopTalk fund and how it helps enable dealflow on a broader scale. Matt also reminded the audience to be aware of the investment and company cultural contexts of the West Coast and East Coast, and that the differences go far beyond the stereotypes of “risk happy” vs. “risk averse” going from West to East.

Andy Freedman, moderator and Managing Partner at Merkatus Partners, wrapped the discussion with a look into the future, where all the panelists seem to be aligned on the “buy” shift in the industry, powered by Walmart’s acquisition talks with Humana and Pillpack, among others. They also agreed that they don’t see the Amazon HQ coming to Boston, with Prakash predicting that Amazon would choose Virginia. The audience had their own share of questions for the panel, several of which were about Amazon disrupting traditional retail. The panelists acknowledged that Amazon holds a great deal of power in retail and commerce, but as Liz pointed out, B2B partnership models - tech or otherwise, especially ones with a clear social strategy and/or an articulated, well-designed consumer experience - would help retailers and retail tech compete against them.

We’d like to thank our panelists, Prakash, Matt, and Liz, for their participation. This is just the first of many such events we’re planning, and we’d love to hear your feedback, ideas for future topics, and suggestions of speakers for upcoming Let’s Talk Shop events. Email us at to let us know more.

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