Pando

From the mouth of a dead unicorn: Bradford Shellhammer talks about the last days of Fab and being enlightened

By Dennis Keohane , written on June 17, 2015

From The News Desk

Bradford Shellhammer, the CEO and co-founder of e-commerce design site Bezar, was the perfect speaker to kick off day two of Pandoland 2015.

He was admittedly hungover and a bit-raspy voiced from an epic karaoke session in downtown Nashville last night as he discussed design and building his current startup with Pando's Sarah Lacy. Almost as if they were discussing Voldemort, Shellhammer and Lacy occasionally alluded to his previous endeavor, Fab.com, while avoiding saying the company's name aloud.

"When he's talking about 'last time,'" Lacy finally said, "he means Fab, which I think is the first dead unicorn."

"That's so sad," Shellhammer responded, "A dead unicorn. Not Fab, but the visual of dead unicorn is so upsetting to me."

As Lacy explained, "Fab has become the poster child people talk about when they talk about excesses." The company raised $336 million in funding, with a valuation over $1 billion, but fell hard after some departures of key employees -- including Shellhammer who was the company's chief creative officer -- and a business model that hemorrhaged money. Last fall, Fab was acquired by PCH International for $15 million, a shocking amount based on the valuation that investors had previously given the company.

"Some things worked, and some things don't," Shellhammer said about Fab. "It didn't become what other people and we thought it was going to become."

"I don't walk around with this cloud over may head, saying, 'God, I wish things could have been different," he added. "I walk around enlightened now, but it took awhile to get there."

So what did Shellhammer do after leaving Fab?

It was very cliche. I went and sat on a beach for three weeks. It was a punch in the gut, almost like a breakup almost. But then you emerge from that a much stronger person. And I realized a lot about myself, and about what actually satisfies me and makes me happy as human being, even though my job is to sell things to the world, is not about consumption,it's not about the things you collect, it's not about money, it's not about power, it's not about being on stage or on the cover of a magazine. It's all about the connections with people. Being on top of the world and all that going away, I went from being real pp

It was in the moment of people leaving me alone that I realized the things that are important in life are my connections to other people, to my friends.

Yeah, Fab is a case study in every business school now, but my life has changed because of it, so I have nothing but positive feelings about the experience. Lacy then said that among investors there was a lot of opinions that what happened to Fab was self-inflicted. "When did it start veering from being something everyone loved," she asked. "Was it that e-commerce is so hard?"

"The lessons learned were that retail businesses take a lot longer than some other business to build," Shellhammer said. "It's a big ask to ask for people's money, especially for a trinket or a ceramic vase. It takes time to gain that trust."

Shellhammer added, "Maybe there's not an appetite among some in the venture community to give these things time to grow."

He also said that they started Bezar because there are still people who appreciate design and want products from "the world of designers who have this surplus of products that they can't get into people's hands."

[photo by Geoffrey Ellis]