Growing up, Rodney Williams always yearned to see technologists, creatives and world-changers who looked like him. A would-be innovator himself, he recalls his less-than-ideal childhood environment in Baltimore as a credit towards forcing him to think outside the box and inspiring his ingenuity.
This outside the box thinking would work in his favor as he would go on to co-found LISNR, a data-over-audio software company based in Cincinnati. LISNR develops technology that can be used to power transactions from short-range, making his technology the perfect tool for retail customers.
Over the past three years, Target has helped startup companies like LISNR through its growing portfolio of accelerator programming. The portfolio of programs includes their U.S.-based Retail Tech Accelerator, Target Takeoff, Target Incubator, and the India-based Target Accelerator Program, which focuses on Bangalore-based startups.
Targeted teamed up with German retailer METRO AG — one of the world’s largest wholesalers and food specialists — for The METRO Target Retail Accelerator, Certified by Techstars program earlier this year. Through the accelerator, Target taught selected startups, how to scale their businesses while also providing access to resources and mentorship.
Several factors, including a midwest thrift, does Rodney credit with the many of his company’s successes.
“You’re not going to raise as much as you would in larger markets, but you’re going to spend better,” said Williams. “We approach the business in a different way. We had the mindset that we had a lot to do with a lot less [resources] than everybody else.”
A graduate of West Virginia and Howard University, Williams spent several years mastering his corporate career at industry giants Lockheed Martin and Proctor and Gamble. But, he was bored and felt like his brain was capable of tackling far more complex challenges. His story is not unlike those of other modern startup founders. He left a cushy position at Proctor and Gamble, depleted his savings, and accumulated over $100,000 in credit card debt in pursuit of his dreams.
Although he didn’t study engineering in college, he reminds entrepreneurs that college is about mastering the learning process. New life experiences require people to evolve and adapt and knowing how to learn and adapt is critical to navigating these experiences effectively. As far as getting started, he advises dream chasers to believe in their idea and put it out into the world confidently.
“Just go for it, take risks,” he said. “Those are the types of people that tend to change the world — the type of people that think they can.”
Top retailers are continuously looking to streamline and simplify the checkout experience. The future of the in-store shopping experience involves letting customers pay for items from anywhere in the store. LISNR gives a secure option for retailers and customers to conduct authenticated transactions with each other using encrypted credit card numbers that minimize card-not present processing fees. This solution also eliminates the need for expensive hardware implementation and maintenance. LISNR does this by using inaudible tones to authenticate shoppers and safely process payments.
“The reason that LISNR still exists is that we continue to learn, we continue to grow and we continue to innovate,” said Williams.
Looking to learn the Retail ropes like Rodney? Come meet the Target team, Rodney and fellow founders Niambi, Pholk, Jamika, Rosen Skincare and Calvin, Scotch Porter at the AfroTech Entrepreneurship Lounge powered by Target.
Head to the Target accelerators site and let them know when you’ll be stopping by mentioning AfroTech.