This article originally appeared on Techstars.
Brands of all sizes are drowning in data, without an efficient way to put it to work. New York City startup Unioncrate is transforming the CPG industry with its AI-powered Integrated Business Planning platform that enables brands to plan, execute, and pivot supply chain strategies at the click of a button.
Founders Shastri Mahadeo and James Amable met at a Techstars Startup Weekend and went through the Techstars Internet of Things Accelerator in 2016.
Empty supermarket shelves, full shopping carts, worried shoppers. It feels like only yesterday that the COVID-19 pandemic sparked international panic; skyrocketed consumer demand for toilet paper, beans, and other shelf-stable and essential items; and threw the world of retail, eCommerce, and supply chain into disarray.
The numbers from this period are staggering. According to Nielsen, for the two weeks ended March 21, 2020, U.S. Consumer Packaged Goods sales increased by $8.5 billion from the two weeks prior. To put this spike in perspective, online sales were 90% higher and in-store sales were 40% higher compared to the same two-week period in 2019.
This unprecedented demand was only further exacerbated by the outmoded demand planning and forecasting methods used by the majority of CPG companies. Most brands calculate future demand by relying on past sales performance, oversimplified historical consumption data, and manual analysis methods. All of these elements were far too unreliable in 2020, a most surreal year, and they have been for years.
“The pandemic was a wake-up call for brands,” Shastri says. “The need for one-click data analysis for planning, insights that are actually actionable, and the ability to shift strategies confidently and on the fly was pressing long before COVID-19 arrived.”
Unioncrate solves for this — and then some.
Unioncrate’s Integrated Business Planning (IBP) platform is what Shastri describes as a “central decision-making ecosystem, basically a digital brain for your supply chain” for CPG companies. “Our goal is to free brands from pesky, harmful inefficiencies like inaccurate forecasts, snail-like manual processes, and far too much wasted capital that could otherwise be invested in growth initiatives.”
Unioncrate’s team of engineers and CPG veterans understand the incredible value that applied AI and automation can have on a brand’s supply chain and overall business functions. Its main demand planning capabilities are its forecasts, which are built from the SKU-level up and therefore enable Unioncrate to provide deep granularity into a product’s performance at the click of a button.
Underneath the hood, Unioncrate’s algorithms are constantly transforming raw data into actionable insights, which companies can then apply across their supply chain. For example, if there was a gap between a past forecast and actual sales, Unioncrate automatically identifies—and ranks—the factors that likely contributed to the performance error, such as a supply issue. Conducting a retroactive study with a goal of understanding the same inventory gap would take a team much, much, much longer to identify, let alone strategize against.
Though there are some processes that are best left for machines, the interactivity of human and artificial intelligence is a vital aspect of the Unioncrate platform. For example, there’s essential information that only salespeople are privy to, such as atypical one-time occurrences like a humongous non-seasonable order from a big-box retailer. Unioncrate enables its clients’ sales teams to collaborate with other departments (like finance, supply, and logistics) by manually adjusting the forecast Unioncrate generated, based on any one-time occurence, supply issue, new promotion, or distribution gain. All of these inputs automatically update all applicable forecasts top to bottom, from total company to item by warehouse.
Today, Unioncrate—named a Cloud 100 Rising Star by Forbes magazine—is giving brands unified data, total visibility into their supply chain, greater planning accuracy, cross-departmental alignment, and the tools to act fast when consumer behavior inevitably changes.
Unioncrate CEO and Cofounder Shastri Mahadeo described the company’s founding in 2016 as “a happy accident.” As Shastri recently explained on the Techstars Founder Rising podcast, he had been struggling at the time to predict demand for his specialty tea brand.
Shastri soon discovered this was a common supply chain management problem with widespread industry need. So, he headed to a Startup Weekend in New York City on the hunt for a developer to help.
“There I was at Startup Weekend, not knowing a single soul, when a guy walked in and asked me where the bathroom was,” Shastri says. “As one does, I pointed him in the right direction. We had a pretty casual conversation (after the bathroom) about why we were both there. His name was James Amable.”
“I thought nothing of it at that moment. Today, he’s my cofounder and the CTO of Unioncrate.”
Startup Weekend not only brought together the founders of Unioncrate but connected them with Techstars Managing Director Jenny Fielding. Shastri described this meeting as a “game-changer” as Jenny suggested the young startup apply for the inaugural Techstars Internet of Things Accelerator in 2016.
“James and I had identified a problem that needed solving and we had begun to create a promising solution, but there was a lot we didn’t know,” Shastri says.
“During the Techstars program we learned a lot about focus: We decided to specifically solve the demand planning problems CPG companies face today.”
The startup continues to grow from strength to strength in line with this mission. Last year, Unioncrate raised $9M in Series A funding, bringing total funding to more than $13M with investors including Gradient (Google) Ventures, Susa Ventures, Laconia Capital, Founders Fund, and other notable angels. This year, it’s aiming for a Series B.
The team has expanded to more than 30 employees and currently works with customers that range from high-growth brands to large enterprises.
“We‘re a team of supply chain veterans, data scientists, and technology rebels with a common mission: to create the supply chain of the future,” Shastri says.
Unioncrate is an AI-powered Supply Chain Planning Platform that gives CPG brands the technology they need to compete and win in a rapidly changing consumer landscape. Our automated demand and supply forecasts deliver unmatched accuracy, collaborative visibility, and actionable intelligence, simplifying a manual-heavy process and slashing hours from your week.