Feature Story

Hopper: A story about how Cisco's CHILL made a startup

by Stephanie Chan

Hopper: A story about how Cisco's CHILL made a startup

Jonathan Taylor on how his startup is changing B2B delivery of IT equipment.

Jonathan Taylor had Amazon on his mind while heading to the CHILL Lab last spring. The event, called Cisco Hyperinnovation Living Lab (CHILL), is a 48-hour program that brings together customers, partners, and Cisco executives to collaborate on industry-shaping innovation. In this case, it was all about "securing the digitized supply chain powered by blockchain". The opulent backdrop of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco served as inspiration for co-creating new and better solutions for common industry pain points.

Taylor was not a novice to the idea of transformation. The serial entrepreneur had been a founder of Tropo—the communications applications platform—which Cisco acquired in 2015.

"I've stayed in close contact with the people that I worked with during the acquisition of Tropo, plus those on the Tropo team that are now at Cisco," says Taylor. "It was during a lunch with Jason Goecke (vice president and general manager of Cognitive Collaboration and Spark Platform at Cisco) that we started talking about blockchain and the idea of me participating in CHILL."

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From the chat with Goecke, Taylor soon met CHILL founder Kate O'Keeffe, who brought Taylor on board to collaborate with partners including GE, DB Schenker, Intel, and Citi. It was during the 48-hour Lab last May that Taylor's thoughts about Amazon and business transformation began to crystalize. And with multiple rounds of testing and feedback from end users, the concept began to take shape.

"It was something that I was thinking about before we came into CHILL," says Taylor, "I had been researching the "Amazon-ification" of everything; effectively all markets are moving towards an Amazon-like customer experience. During CHILL we learned some interesting things about ways that we could specifically help companies like Cisco, Intel, Citi, and other folks that were on my team."

The idea that Taylor and his group came up with to help enterprise companies was Hopper—a startup that makes shopping for IT equipment easy, seamless, and secure. Hopper answers enterprise concerns about security, authenticity, services, and last mile delivery (the movement of goods from a transportation hub to its final destination). It provides a B2B marketplace for companies to buy the tech they need.

"At the CHILL event, we were exploring how companies like Cisco could take advantage of improvements in last mile delivery," says Taylor, "We thought, what if there were an Amazon-like experience for the end user? But one where all of the fulfillment, integration, and professional services were delivered by partners, just as they are today. Basically, we wanted to make a convenient and rapid purchase and delivery service that lays on top of and integrates with this existing go-to-market strategy. This line of questioning was what lead to Hopper."

In a blog post, O'Keeffe says that Cisco and DB Schenker see the potential of Hopper to reshape the current delivery ecosystem, so both are supporting the startup in its incubation stage.

Only six months after the CHILL event, Taylor presented the first Hopper demo at a startup demo day in November 2017—and Taylor plans to do much more with Hopper in the near future. The company is currently in its proto-startup stage, a time spent evolving and testing prototypes and researching the marketplace to make sure the company can become a viable business. Once this process is complete, Taylor plans to finalize a founding team, some of which he says will include participants from the CHILL Lab, and then go to get their first round of funding.

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"The CHILL process has been a phenomenal way to accelerate a startup, especially a startup that is looking to sell in an enterprise and B2B space," says Taylor. "That has been a really great experience—not only the event, but the things we've done with Cisco and CHILL since then. We have calls every couple of months and go over the lessons we've learned and the products we've made. We get feedback from that team about how what we're doing can be helpful to their businesses or to their partners' businesses. It's an opportunity to take advantage of the experience of Cisco and the network of the companies they brought together."

For Taylor and the enterprises that participated in the CHILL event, Hopper is a three-way win—a startup well on its way to launch, an elegant go-to-market solution for participating companies, and an investment opportunity with a huge potential payoff.