Innovation in retail returns. One founder uses technology to fight fraud.

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"The most rewarding part of entrepreneurship is building something from nothing. The process of coming up with an idea and bringing it to life creates a certain kind of excitement that keeps me up at night.” - Barbara Jones, Founder of Freeing Returns

E-commerce has successfully made shopping from the couch a reality, but what it hasn’t done is bring the ease of the entire experience full circle. Have you ever lost countless dollars opting out of returns simply so you could ‘save’ time not having to repackage, label, and wait in line to ship the product back? Freeing Returns co-founder, Barbara Jones, is determined to ease the burden of returns for consumers, while mitigating fraud for retailers.

Q. What is Freeing Returns?
Freeing returns is a merchandise returns platform for retailers. Think about all the time you’ve spent standing in line in an attempt to return your items back to a store. It's a hassle for you, an even bigger hassle for them, and a lot of fraud happens in that process. We’re building a platform that provides a streamlined, personalized return process for consumers and retailers.

Q. How does Freeing Returns work?
Consumers will have a mobile app where they can prepare items to ship back and skip the line to drop them off because the shipping company has already processed your return. The shipping company pulls your return up on the app, selects the item, and clicks a button so you can get your money back. We're also currently working on an Uber integration so you don’t even have to take it back to the store, someone will come pick up your return and take it to the store for you.  The process is a lot easier on the consumer side, and in the background we’re working on fraud detection, fraud prevention, and gathering analytics for the retailers.

Q. What was the inspiration behind starting Freeing Returns?
My co-founder Charlotte and I are both point of sale architects. I actually worked for a startup in Austin, Texas that was bought by Oracle in 2004, where we were building a point of sale (POS) system. The POS is where the returns come in and that's usually where problems arise. Being in this business, I worked with a large number of retailers who were trying to find ways to mitigate fraud during their returns process. It finally dawned on me that there wasn’t a solution out there that could solve this problem. That's when my co-founder and I decided we needed to build something ourselves.

Q. What has been the most rewarding piece of building the company?
The most rewarding part of entrepreneurship is building something from nothing. The process of coming up with an idea and bringing it to life creates a certain kind of excitement that keeps me up at night.

Q. What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a company?
Do your customer discovery first. We didn’t do it initially and had to pivot after building all kinds of stuff that eventually got thrown out. Secondly, you've got to be passionate about it. The road ahead isn’t going to be easy. If you're not passionate about it then nobody else is going to get excited about it either. Lastly, save up about six months of money if you're thinking about quitting your job and going gung-ho. If you do get money, it won’t come in as quickly as you think it will.

Q. What has been the benefit of having a co-founder to share the roller coaster journey with?
Charlotte recently told me that she was at one of the lowest points in her life when we went to a Hackathon that ultimately led to us launching our company. I had no idea. We ended up winning the whole thing and that made her realize the potential she had to create and do so much more. For her, the passion came from building something that people really want and having someone like that who you can experience the highs and lows with has been great.

Q. Where are you in the process?
We have the platform built and we've integrated it with some of the largest POS systems in the market. Oracle's system is used by over 60-70% of retailers and we are completely integrated with that solution. We have our first early adopter who is testing it out in Ohio and we're looking to bring on more.

Q. Why Did You Want to Join Babson’s WIN Lab accelerator?
The WIN Lab has a great reputation. We talked to some other accelerator programs and even they had great things to say about it. We love the fact that it's centered on women. That's a big thing for us. WIN Lab is also one of the longer programs. Usually accelerator programs last 3 months and WIN Lab is 5 months. Looking at some of the sponsors and the people that are involved with WIN, we thought it would be a good program for us to learn and have some time to really make sure we're ready to build this company as big as we want to scale it.

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