Archetypes, the biggest NYC startup you've never heard of, completely unravels

By Erin Griffith , written on October 3, 2013

From The News Desk

Archetypes (formerly is the biggest New York startup you've never heard of. Well, it was anyways. Today the company laid off the vast majority of its staffers. The company cut 30 employees, leaving around 10 to maintain its site. 

It's a bizarre story that flew under the radar of the New York tech scene. There are piles of capital, high profile execs and bankers, a bankruptcy filing, a fraud accusation, models, three redesigns, and couture dolls. Yes, dolls.

Formed in 2011, Archetypes calls itself multimedia lifestyle company. It raised $19 million in funding and secured heavyweight executives like Cristina Carlino, founder of the beauty brand Philosophy, who is the company's executive chairman. Michael Mendenhall, former CMO of HP, is its CEO. Lisa Gabor, a founding editor of InStyle magazine and Fuse magazine, is Archetypes' Editor-in-Chief. Bernd Beetz, former CEO of beauty conglomerate Coty, is on the company's board of directors. Former Goldman Sachs banker Andy Spellman is billed as a co-founder, along with David Lipman, who ran the 86-year-old modeling and talent agency Lipman.

Archetype's primary backer was a company called Revolate Holdings, which bills itself as a marketing services and private investment company. Lipman, Spellman, and Mendenhall all count themselves among Revolate's executives. Barclays CEO Bob Diamond is one of its investors, according to the New York Post.

Certainly venture capital firms are becoming more service-oriented in nature, but Revolate's "fundamentally unique model" of blending an agency with a venture arm seems to have failed. Revolate's services arm includes the Lipman agency, which abruptly shut down last week and filed for Chapter 7 liquidation. The bankruptcy filing listed creditors such as Christian Dior and Ford Models, the New York Post reported. Harry Winston had sued the agency for fraud, claiming that $1 million that the jeweler had given Lipman for advertisements had been funneled to Revolate. Separately, Spellman left Revolate and has put his $5.5 million home on the market.

Now, with major layoffs, Archetypes may be experiencing the effects of Revolate's meltdown. The company had been in business for two years, and redesigned itself three times, but never exited beta-mode. Rumors circulated among staffers that Cristina Carlino had been paying salaries out of her own pocket for the past two weeks.

Archetypes provided the following statement to PandoDaily:

The Archetypes board decided to take a series of significant and necessary cost-cutting steps, including lay-offs, to modify the business in order to preserve the vision for the Company. 
Despite laying off the majority of its staff, and turmoil with its financial backer, Archetypes plans to stay in business with a bare-bones staff. Archetypes will use freelance contracts for some staffers to finish existing projects like the upcoming Archetypes app.  I've heard mixed reports on whether Carlino and Mendenhall will remain involved with the company.

Archetypes will keep one curious position intact, though. Andrew Yang, an artist who makes couture dolls for fashion houses, will remain employed with Archetypes in his role as a creative director. He is apparently developing a show for the company called "Arch Angels," in which Archetypes' characters go boarding school together, one former staffer said.

Archetypes launched its third redesign several weeks ago. It's goal is to be a destination for content, commerce and community. A personality quiz tells users which "archetype" they are and serves content and shop-able items based on it. Archetypes "helps people better answer the questions, 'Who am I?' and 'What is relevant to me?' through the lens of archetypes," according to the company. The plans for monetization were not clear, though content marketing or affiliate fees from third party commerce sites seemed most likely.

Archetypes operated without much fanfare in New York's tech and media communities, with the exception of landing on Time Inc.'s 10 NYC 2013 Startups to Watch list.

The site had attracted somewhere in the ballpark of 100,000 registered users, according to former staffers, but they weren't told by management how many of the users had ever returned.

[Image via Wikimedia commons]