Meet the Addison Startup Helping Wal‑Mart, Mercedes Transform Shopping

Spacee's technology is a deviceless mixed reality using projectors, motion sensing cameras, and cloud computing to digitally impose an experience on top of real world items.

Spacee

Wal-Mart is debuting new simulated reality technology that was developed by an Addison startup called Spacee.

The deviceless mixed reality uses projectors, motion sensing cameras, and cloud computing to digitally impose an experience on top of real world items. And when fingers move on the space, the projection reacts to it.  

Spacee CEO and co-founder Skip Howard said the technology will be rolled out in Wal-Mart stores nationwide by late 2017 or early 2018.

Spacee CEO and co-founder Skip Howard. [Photo: Chase Mardis]

Spacee CEO and co-founder Skip Howard. [Photo: Chase Mardis]

“There’s no glasses, no mobile devices, no tablets, no helmets. Nothing. It’s real life. It’s called frictionless visual retail.”
SKIP HOWARD 

Instead of setting up displays with real Google Nest thermostats, mobile devices, or computers, which can be stolen or damaged, Spacee’s technology projects the experience digitally on top of 3-D-printed replicas that cost pennies.

The seamless experience is identical to interacting with the real devices, quickly educating the customer on how they work without theft concerns.

“They didn’t have any shrink,” Howard said. “We replaced all the real devices with simulated reality. This is a platform for people to explore what the device feels like.”

Unlike augmented or virtual reality, the user doesn’t need any hardware — the projector, camera, and computer are all tucked away in the ceiling.  

“There’s no glasses, no mobile devices, no tablets, no helmets. Nothing. It’s real life. It’s called frictionless visual retail,” Howard said.

Spacee debuted at Wal-Mart’s store of the future in Tomball outside Houston earlier this year and got the attention of Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon, who made a testimonial video on Facebook.

“This is the future of shopping,” McMillon said in the video. “You’re going to see digital and physical merge together in a way that’s going to be simple and easy for customers.”

“This is the future of shopping.” 
DOUG McMILLON

For Wal-Mart, Spacee is simulating connected home devices from both Google and Apple. The experience shows customers how they can control their thermostat, doorbell, garage door, alarm, smoke detector, and lights all from their mobile device. They can get a quick tutorial or go deeper to see what the devices do and how they interact.

“It’s all about empowering these customers with the information so that they can make an educated purchase knowing how far they want to go with connecting their home,” said Marc Gilpin, co-founder and chief operating officer for Spacee.

GROWING IN THE FAST LANE

Spacee started as a scrappy startup in 2013 and didn’t sell anything until 2015. That year, it had one customer and $50,000 in sales. The next year, sales shot up 400 percent with six customers.

Spacee

Spacee leadership: Skip Howard, Larry McNutt, and Marc Gilpin. [Photo: Chase Mardis]

The first half of 2017 has seen rapid growth with multiple Fortune 50 companies and four multinational strategic partnerships. So far, sales are up 500 percent over last year.

Spacee has enjoyed this success without the help of investors.

“We’re self-funded. We ended up turning down investment,” Howard said. “This way we can control everything. And I mean everything. If someone comes and asks us if we want to work with us we can just say yes. We don’t have to ask anyone.”

Getting an endorsement from the CEO of the world’s largest retailer was a proud moment for Howard and his team of three full-time and three part-time employees. The startup rents space at the Addison TreeHouse but said its real offices are inside American Airlines planes because they travel so much.

It’s no wonder with clients like Mercedes Benz, Wal-Mart and others. Plus partnerships with companies such as Intel, NEC, and Panasonic. Between the stores, the demos, and the conferences, the technology is going global.

Spacee

At Mercedes Benz of Plano, Spacee simulated a driving experience allowing drivers to sit inside a real car and steer it along various road courses. [Photo: Chase Mardis]

Spacee just made the “Top 100 Most Disruptive Companies in the World in 2017” list by Disruptor Daily joining the likes of Tesla and other tech companies.

This fall, the technology will debut at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons. Spacee also showed off its work at the Mercedes Benz exhibit at the New York International Auto Show in April.  

Like at the Wal-Mart stores, Spacee uses its projection technology to make the Mercedes car into a touch screen. When people touch the hood, they can interact with it.

Closer to home, Spacee built a virtual reality experience at Mercedes Benz of Plano off the Dallas North Tollway. Here, the startup simulated a driving experience allowing drivers to sit inside a real car and steer it along various road courses.

Spacee just made the “Top 100 Most Disruptive Companies in the World in 2017” list by Disruptor Daily joining the likes of Tesla and other tech companies.  

A SECRET WEAPON AGAINST E-COMMERCE

Spacee’s simulated technology could also be imposed on glass storefronts, making them interactive for a relatively cheap price.

Using Spacee’s technology could actually be cheaper than developing a store app, Howard said. And younger shoppers are more likely to interact with something if they don’t have to download yet another app to their own mobile device, he said.

The user interface was built in Google Chrome so it’s open sourced, meaning anyone can use it. That way, companies can adopt the technology and have their own people, or a marketing firm, create content.

“Our tech plays perfectly into physical retail. Getting people really cool, unique experiences, but blending media and products together.”
SKIP HOWARD 

Spacee can also create the content for you and control it through the cloud, making it easy to update or change the simulation.

Brick and mortar stores are desperate for ways to draw shoppers inside as they compete with e-commerce.

“Amazon is eating the world. That’s not a secret. It’s the boogeyman of every single retailer out there,” Howard said. “How are you going to compete with something that’s so easy, great customer service that’s super cheap? Our tech plays perfectly into physical retail. Getting people really cool, unique experiences, but blending media and products together.”


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