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Internet of Things Store Opens in Silicon Valley

Palo Alto, Calif., is now home to the first 'Internet of Things' brick and mortar store, b8ta.

by Jason Green, Palo Alto Daily News, Calif. / December 11, 2015
b8ta will be a store dedicated to showcasing IoT products. Twitter/b8ta
b8ta will be a store dedicated to showcasing IoT products.Twitter/b8ta

(TNS) -- It was around this time last year Vibhu Norby says he got the idea for the first brick-and-mortar retailer dedicated to the "Internet of Things."

Norby was doing his holiday shopping at all the "usual stores" but finding little he was interested in purchasing.

"I found myself incredibly bored and disinterested by the selection versus what I was finding online, which was all this innovation -- amazing companies, a lot of them out of Palo Alto, making incredible, physical products," he said. "But none of those were inside stores."

Norby wanted to know why. Conversations with fellow Nest employees revealed the root of the problem: Cost.

"Today, technology companies can get started in a garage for nothing," he said. "You can create hardware products for virtually nothing, but getting them deployed is really expensive and really hard."

Thus, b8ta, was born. The uniquely named store -- founded by Norby and Nest alums Nick Mann, William Mintun and Phillip Raub -- opens today at 516 Bryant St. in downtown Palo Alto.

The store puts the kind of products Norby found himself looking for last year on display in a way that allows customers to try them out before buying. Information, including real-time price comparisons, are displayed on tablets and clerks are on hand to answer any questions.

The approach saves companies from having to raise the vast amounts of capital needed to get their products into traditional stores, said Raub, b8ta's chief marketing officer and head of retail.

"It reduces some of the barriers to entry for makers, but what it also does is provide a better customer experience," he said. "There's no high-pressure sales. It really is for customers to come in and for us to provide them with a great experience. It's a hands-on trial."

Norby said b8ta's business model centers on a subscription service for companies that sign up to be part of the store. Through it, they can change pricing on the fly and even see how customers are interacting with their products.

"A lot of times, companies don't know how to price their products," said Raub. "They don't necessarily understand what the market potential is and we're providing that opportunity."

Of the 50 or so products b8ta carries, about 30 percent are exclusive to the store, including the Gi Flybike, Oura Ring and Skylock.

"This is the only place in the world you can come and try before you buy," said Norby.

The decision to open b8ta in downtown Palo Alto was based on the city's reputation for being the "innovation hub of the world," Norby said. But while it has yet to incubate a retailer that went on to do "incredible things," he expects that to change.

"We feel like what we're doing," Norby said, "is building that infrastructure that has been missing from retail for the last 1,000 years."

©2015 the Palo Alto Daily News (Menlo Park, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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