We at a16z believe we are seeing the “creative destruction” of traditional physical retailers by their online competitors. At a high level, this is happening for two reasons. First, e-commerce companies are substantially advantaged in terms of cost structures, particularly in areas like real estate, labor and inventory. Second, we believe that we’re seeing an explosion in innovation among online retailers that we refer to as “e-commerce 2.0“—where companies are innovating across numerous dimensions including sourcing, curation, distribution models and social marketing.
- They are participating in a very attractive market: the beauty category. The market is huge, with global sales estimated at $160 billion, and we believe it’s ripe for disruption by online competition. Offline beauty moves slowly and is expensive. Brands are distributed largely through department stores, where the brands must rent real estate, hire staff and fill the space with inventory. Product refreshes typically happen twice a year, and retailers demand the brands support their products with large marketing campaigns. Online beauty competitors are freed from these costs and constraints of their offline rivals. Julep sources their own products and their ability to deliver new product constantly help them stay current with fashion trends. And their direct-to-consumer relationships help them largely avoid the very expensive offline channel costs.
- Julep is run by a very determined team. Founder and CEO Jane Park and Chief Experience Officer and COO Kate MacDonald started the business by operating four nail polish parlors in the Seattle area to get hands-on customer knowledge and feedback. They managed to secure physical distribution through Sephora and QVC for their early stage company to help establish their brand. They are well along the way in building out a vibrant Web presence. Jane and Kate are completely driven to develop a world-class beauty brand.
- They have developed a very innovative business model, selling both subscriptions and a la carte product side-by-side. This is hard to do. Typically, many people won’t sign up for the commitment of a subscription if the same product is available without that commitment. But Julep provides meaningful discounts on their products through the subscription channel relative to a la carte pricing, providing an incentive for women to delight themselves with their monthly Julep care package.
The company is off to a very strong start. The products are great—as my 18-year-old daughter Ali tells me constantly. Part of my diligence was bringing her home a care package of Julep products—I was a very popular father that evening! Their brand is out-sized to the stage of the business. For example, they were selected as one of Oprah’s “Favorite Things” of 2012, a highly coveted endorsement for any brand. As a result, their growth trajectory has been extremely impressive.
Julep is a perfect example of an e-commerce 2.0 retailer:
- They source their own product, which allows them to offer consumers strong value while retaining attractive margins.
- They carefully curate the product assortment in their monthly subscriptions, tailoring them to the different style preferences of their customers.
- They adroitly leverage the subscription business model.
- They empower their passionate community of users to spread their enthusiasm through social channels, helping to build their brand and customer base.
We believe the next generation of great retail brands will be built online, and we believe Julep is well on their way to becoming one of these brands.
I’m also delighted to announce that Spencer Rascoff will join the Julep board. Spencer is CEO of Seattle-based Zillow, one of the largest Internet real estate businesses. I first met him when I served on the board of Hotwire, an Internet travel business that Spencer co-founded. He is an experienced, extremely talented Internet executive and a very good guy. We’re delighted to have the benefit of his talents at Julep.