Google has Google Ventures, Intel has Intel Capital and believe it or not, 7-Eleven has a venture capital arm, too — 7-Ventures.
Of course, that raises the question: Just what sorts of things is the Slurpee maker backing? Bigger Big Gulps? Hotter heat lamps? More tempting pizzas?
Thankfully, I had the chance to find out Thursday, as I interviewed Michael Debnar, the VP of 7-Ventures and one of the leaders of the convenience store’s overall digital efforts.
It turns out food technology is indeed one area where the company is investing. But it is also looking at new ways to interact with customers as well as ways to take advantage of its biggest asset — its 8,500 stores across the United States. The company sees itself not just as a place to get a hot dog or nachos, but potentially as the first or last mile for all manner of commerce.
Already, 7-Eleven has been home to Amazon lockers where customers can get packages delivered. It is also exploring whether to open up its store inventory to some of the many delivery services that are out there.
“It could be as soon as six months,” Debnar said during our onstage interview at the GrowthBeat conference in San Francisco.
In addition to learning about 7-Eleven’s venture effort, I also had the chance to get an answer to a burning question: Why did 7-Eleven pull the plug so quickly on the Diet Coke Slurpee it introduced to some fanfare earlier this year? As I suspected, it was not due to lack of demand.
“The diet drinks just don’t want to freeze,” Debnar said. While it worked in 7-Eleven labs under ideal conditions, the experience in stores just didn’t cut it and the flavor was quickly axed. “It’s a surprisingly hard problem.”
For more, here’s a video interview I did with Debnar after our onstage chat at the conference: