Walmart has acquired Portland, Ore.-based Small Society, a mobile application development firm that has created apps for the 2008 Obama campaign, Starbucks, Zipcar, Amazon.com, Whole Foods, Live Nation and others. It’s one of a number of high-profile recent acquisitions of small startups as Walmart builds out its Mobile Labs with a team of developers. Walmart believes it can create mobile apps that radically change how shopping both in and outside of stores is experienced.
Walmart’s Mobile Labs have been bolstered by recent acquisitions of Kosmix, OneRiot and Grabble and its hiring of former Yahoo technical standards community leader Eran Hammer-Lahav, all led by power-nerds Ben Galbraith and Dion Almaer.
Perspective on the most recent acquisition can be read via several links out from Small Society CEO Raven Zachary’s blog. Zachary is now a twice-exited entrepreneur, having previously sold a small analyst firm to a larger firm. He is also a community leader beyond his own company, having organized iOS DevCamps, among other events. (Disclosure: I also consider Zachary a personal friend.)
Hammer-Lahav joined Walmart’s Mobile Labs in November as a senior architect focused on the Web services layer of the company’s new mobile platform after years as an engineering manager on Wall Street and then at Yahoo working on standards that enable application data mashups.
About Walmart’s plans for mobile, Hammer-Lahav said the company is “focused on building amazing apps for all the major platforms that are not just mobile catalogs or lite versions of the Web store, but change the way customers interact with the brand; from organizing your shopping list based on where the items are in the store you just walked into, to giving you more shopping options while at the store, to highlighting promotions and reviews as you drive through the aisles.”
Speaking from his own perspective alone at the outset of his new job, Hammer-Lahav articulated the following vision for what mobile could make possible.
“There are so many trivial features that it is amazing we don’t have yet. Like knowing how much money the shopping cart is going to cost you before you check out; like standing in front of 10 different kind of canned beans and reading reviews or getting the ‘people who bought other stuff in your cart like this brand.’ Opening an app and choosing ‘roasted chicken’ and getting all the ingredients added to your list, or alternatively, showing you how much it will cost to just buy it prepared. Or telling you how much ketchup you probably have left at home based on your past shopping history, since no one has the time to check everything before they go to the store. That’s without even thinking about this much – just based on my own retail pain. Getting to build stuff like that for 140 million weekly shoppers is mind blowing.”
With Hammer-Lahav managing the back-end of data and now Small Society building the front end applications, such vision could change not just the way mobile phone users experience Walmart, but how mobile users experience the world in general and what they expect their mobile devices to be capable of.