Over a year and a half ago, a startup by the name of Wim was gobbled up by Walmart’s Store No.8. At the time it seemed like an unusual pick-up for the retail giant’s innovation arm for a few reasons:
- Wim made a home frozen yogurt machine. I suspected then and suspect now that Walmart has no intentions of getting into the fro-yo business.
- Wim had just told the world about their machine and had lots of early buzz.
- Store No. 8’s portfolio of stealthy projects is largely focused on the reinvention of retail. The Wim team was decidedly consumer hardware and food product focused.
However, while the deal seemed something of an outlier, that didn’t mean the combination of the two wouldn’t lead to something really interesting.
But what exactly?
At the time of the acquisition, there were very few clues other than a statement in the Walmart press release about the deal that said Wim had “created some of the most thoughtfully-designed home devices on the market and we’re excited to bring that experience and fresh perspective to Store No 8.” Since that time, the company has remained mum about what exactly Project Franklin is about, but there have been some small signals emanating from the group’s hiring activity that could point to what their up to.
Here are a few:
Project Franklin Will Produce Lots of Consumer Data: From what I can tell, Project Franklin’s product will be be a consumer product that spits out lots of consumer data. This signal comes from a job posting for a data scientist from earlier this year for Project Franklin that told applicants that the chosen candidate would “join our founding team as the first Data Scientist who will play a crucial role in helping us build a consumer product rooted in data analysis.”
Project Franklin Will Have Its Own Brand: Another clue suggests the product will also have its own new consumer-facing brand. This posting for a Growth Marketing Lead says Project Franklin’s product will be “a brand-new brand (get it!) and you will be responsible for working collaboratively with our operations, design and product team to think about the role that branding and marketing will play in launch and, eventually, the super growth of the brand.”
Project Franklin’s Product Will Be a Service. Or, at the very least, be a consumer product with a significant service component. A posting tells prospective candidates for a Director of Operations position that they will “drive the operations playbook on how to deliver a consumer-focused, technology-backed service to millions of customers across the country.”
Project Franklin Will Be E-Commerce-Centric. A posting for a Senior Software Engineer says they will need to “Iterate rapidly to build a next-generation e-commerce product.”
Project Franklin Is Tied To Specific Markets. This clue comes from a position for a Director of Operations (City Launcher) that says the new hire will “play a central role in the launch of our first market.” After this first market, however, Project Franklin will move quickly to other markets. From the posting: “This launch will bring new, cutting edge technology to market before we quickly scale to more of Walmart’s expansive stores network.”
This last clue is particularly interesting since Franklin is e-commerce focused. This tells me that whatever the product ultimately is, it likely will facilitate or enhance local deliveries from different Walmart stores or warehouses.
Beyond that, do these clues tell us what Project Franklin will be? Not really. In fact, I have to commend whoever’s job it is at Store No. 8 to write cryptic job postings, because they are very good at what they do.
Still, we have enough information to suggest a few potential scenarios:
First, I think the product could be something of an answer to Amazon Alexa, in particular the home commerce and data-gathering aspects of Alexa. What form this might take is hard to predict, but the collective hints within the job listings suggest Franklin could be a consumer oriented product that has high-consumer engagement that also results in the consumer ordering lots of stuff from Walmart.
In other words, something like Alexa.
I should say here that by suggesting Franklin could be an Alexa-ish platform for home commerce, I am not suggesting it will be a voice assistant or interface. In fact, while it could be, I don’t expect it has to to be.
Instead, I suspect it will be more like Alexa in a meta-sense, in that it will provide customers value through a product that makes their life easier (“hey, I can use my voice to get information, control my smart home or order things!”), but the larger benefit of Alexa for Amazon (and its brand partners) is all the data gathered and the ability for consumers to order products completely friction-free. This is something Walmart currently doesn’t have while Amazon (and Google) does.
I also think there’s a good chance this service product could be manifested in a form of consumer hardware. I have no other clue to base this one other than the Wim team was creating a hardware product.
Also, whatever Franklin becomes, it could have a heavy food focus. That could simply involve food delivery, or it could be something more. This suspicion is fed by the hiring of Jeff de Picciotto late last year, someone who was originally with Wim but left and came back. De Picciotto led CPG product development for the Momofuku restaurant chain of David Chang fame.
Granted, all of this is a whole lot of speculation about a project that could take a bunch of different forms. But, for all the reasons I’ve named above – that Walmart has big plans for Project Franklin, that they plan to launch a potentially important new brand, that it looks like a platform that could touch millions of consumers – it looks like something worth speculating about.
And, hopefully, we should know soon. Whatever Project Franklin will be, it looks like its unveiling is imminent if the group’s increased hiring activity of go-to-market types is any indication.