25 Jun 2021

A Q+A with Syrup, the Company Striving to Transform Retail Inventory Management


by Dorian Salinas

Ferdinand Stockmann (MBA 2021) and James Theuerkauf (MBA 2021)

With fast fashion not showing any sign of slowing down, one company is looking to help retailers make informed inventory decisions through machine learning models. Syrup, founded by James Theuerkauf (MBA 2021) and Ferdinand Stockmann (MBA 2021), was established through the Rock Summer Fellows program at Harvard Business School (HBS). We chatted with Theuerkauf and Stockmann about Syrup, their entrepreneurial journey, and what they hope to achieve.

What inspired you to start Syrup?

Theuerkauf: I’m dismayed by overproduction and excess inventory in retail. You could fill 20,000 football stadiums with the textiles that are wasted every year. In apparel and fashion retail alone it’s a $250 billion problem annually. There is so much potential here to improve brands’ and retailers’ bottom line, while making one of the world’s most polluting industries more sustainable.

Stockmann: I’m convinced that the machine learning revolution will revolutionize data-reliant processes and I wanted to be at the forefront of that revolution. When I met James in my first year at HBS we couldn’t stop speaking about how we could apply data science to inventory in retail. That is when the idea for Syrup was born!

What does Syrup Tech mean—how did you settle on it for a company name?

Stockmann: Inventory decision-making is both an art and a science. We wanted to bring together the art performed by exceptional buyers and merchandisers (the syrup) with the science of advanced machine learning performed by us (the tech). The combination makes us who we are: Syrup Tech.

Theuerkauf: And we make the technology light and fun for our customers—like syrup!

Where do you see Syrup in five years?

Theuerkauf: Our aim is to become the machine-learning decision-support engine for inventory decisions in retail. I see Syrup’s data science powering risk-reduction and optimized profits across the system. I want Syrup to be a product loved by customers, which drives profitability, deepens omni-channel, and empowers sustainability.

Stockmann: I also see Syrup as being a place where extraordinary people thrive. We’re building a team of gifted people who are united by a joint mission and thoroughly enjoy working together.

What HBS resources have helped you throughout your entrepreneurial journey?

Stockmann: HBS has been incredible. We started Syrup last year as part of the Rock Summer Fellows acceleration program. We did an independent project with our advisor, Senior Lecturer Stig Leschly, which was incredibly useful on growing our team. The FIELD courses were a fantastic catalyst for our fundraising efforts. Faculty have also been extremely supportive and have helped us problem-solve and brainstorm.

Theuerkauf: I would also like to highlight the friendships we’ve made with other incredible founders in our year and their ventures: Capchase, Minimum.eco, Tango, Mudango, Qanlex, Shelly Xu Design, Prequel, True Footage, Concord Materials, etc. It’s a group of extraordinary people. They make us dream big and motivate us to hustle like we’ve never hustled before in our lives.

What has been the hardest part of starting a company?

Theuerkauf: I started a business with some of my closest friends. It’s such a privilege to start and scale a company with people I care so deeply about, but it’s also challenging when work takes over the friendship. We’re still working on putting Syrup to the side when we go for a run on Saturdays!

Stockmann: Everything about starting a company is really hard. But I find that surrounding ourselves with a team of awesome people (employees, partners, advisors, investors, and customers) makes every day worth it.

What has been your biggest success with Syrup so far?

Stockmann: Our pilot results have been encouraging. We saw an increase of over 50 percent sell-through on full-priced items during pilots with our first beta customers. It showed that our algorithms really work!

Theuerkauf: I’m thrilled we managed to bring together an amazing group of employees, advisers, and backers who believe deeply in us and in the work we’re doing—and who don’t shy away from jumping on the phone with us late at night to solve some pressing problems. It’s a privilege to have such a great team.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Theuerkauf: Fall in love with a problem. If you use this as your guiding principle, you’ll create something that the world really needs.

Stockmann: Go out and actually do something. At HBS, we’re so good at analyzing, assessing, and making plans; but as an entrepreneur you need to build something. Go out there, get some customers, and build something they want.

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