How Tulip Retail pivoted to meet the changing needs of retailers

Ali Asaria, CEO of Tulip Retail

Founded: 2013
Sector: enterprise
Services: Momentum

CEO Ali Asaria had developed a winning strategy. But when the pandemic upended retail, he turned to his advisors at MaRS Momentum to refine Tulip’s product offering for the new reality.

When serial entrepreneur Ali Asaria was deciding what to do after selling his first startup, Well.ca, he polled big-name retailers to find out their pain points. One unexpected challenge? Black books. The notebooks, in which sales associates jot down contact information and shopping preferences of valuable customers, are one of the largest drivers of sales for luxury retailers. The problem is when these employees leave — and take their notes with them. No wonder many companies were wanting to digitize these records. So, Asaria and his team built software that would do exactly that, quickly attracting such luxury retailers as Kate Spade, Michael Kors and Coach. By the end of 2019, Tulip Retail was all-in on in-store shopping.

Then COVID hit. The pandemic presented both a risk and an opportunity for Tulip. Faced with a radically transformed retail landscape, Asaria and his team needed to pivot — and quickly.

The Challenge: “We were so low on cash when COVID struck that I don’t think we would have survived had it not been through the support of MaRS,” Asaria says. Tulip is one of the more than 60 dynamic, high-growth companies in the Momentum program, funded in part by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). And so Ali had a direct line to Momentum’s executives in residence. Dennis Ensing, chief venture advisor at MaRS and one of Asaria’s mentors in the Momentum program, helped him navigate different avenues of funding, advocated for him behind the scenes and identified two emergency funds.

Ensing was also there to help Asaria capitalize on new business opportunities. Suddenly, corporations realized software that wasn’t designed with the internet in mind wouldn’t be able to keep up with their changing needs — like allowing their associates to make sales from home using their phones or tablets. The Tulip team realized there would be demand for a fully-integrated system. They just needed help to realize that idea.

The Strategy: Ensing and other MaRS advisors ran workshops with Tulip’s executive team to rebuild the company from the ground up, this time around a product that incorporates clienteling, point of sale and other tools, so that retailers can use one piece of software to run their entire stores.

“Our strategic sessions were focused on go-to-market strategy,” Asaria says. “The MaRS mentors have a lot of experience in that area, so a big part of rebuilding our strategy was thinking about how we’re going to sell in this new world. We literally rebuilt that with the MaRS team.”

The Impact: Tulip’s pivot worked: the company has expanded its customer base outside of the luxury sector, landing new clients such as Purolator, Indigo and Hudson’s Bay. And, in August 2021, Asaria raised U.S.$100 million in Series C funding led by New York–based venture capital firm Insight Partners. Asaria is now looking to grow Tulip’s workforce, acquire companies and expand aggressively in new regional markets, particularly in Asia.

Asaria says none of these things could have happened without Momentum.

“One of the biggest things Momentum did for us was just being a cheerleader when we were asking for support when things were the toughest,” he says. “That’s how we were able to turn the business around completely.”

MaRS Momentum program works with executives of high-growth Canadian companies to accelerate the path to hitting $100 million in revenue. It receives support from Find out more here.