Pando

Subscription commerce: Making lemmings out of lemmingade

By Sarah Lacy , written on September 13, 2016

From The Press Freedom Desk

I doubt this is an actual “need.”

But if anyone “needs” more reason to believe that ol’ line about venture capitalists being like lemmings, CB Insights is here from you.

Remember a few months ago when everyone believed that traditional retail-goods-based ecommerce was basically the most fucked category in the world? When even mobile commerce companies like Poshmark which don’t touch inventory had to knuckle down and cut costs ahead of the broader market to ensure their success? When minor layoffs at Birchbox and an “inside round” touched off speculation that the company had to just be fucked because…. Well, ecommerce.

Not just ecommerce….Subscription commerce.

OK, subscription commerce may not be quite as bad as trends like flash sales or daily deals. But Beachmint, ShoeDazzle and the raft of copycats certainly made subscription commerce look about as lasting as the latest mobile gaming fad.

And hey-- best case-- your subscription commerce company survives, but can it ever really make much money? Trunk Club-- which sold for $350 million after raising just $20 and still had nearly half of that in the bank-- was considered a generous ecommerce 2.0 exit after all. While an excellent return, many big-boy-pants VCs may sniff that if that’s the best case scenario the many risks of ecommerce just aren’t worth their time or dollars.

And then, Dollar Shave Club sold for $1 billion to Unilever. Then “failing” Jet sold for $3 billion to Wal-Mart. Honest is said to be selling, and those two deals are giving some hope that could be another sexy outcome; meantime JustFab is said to be prepping for an IPO.

Suddenly ecommerce VCs who never abandoned the category like Aileen Lee and Kirsten Green (who was lucky enough to be in both Jet and DSC and said missing Honest was one of her biggest regrets) were being lavished with fawning profiles by publications who ignored them before.

Indeed, Lee and Green were highlighted in a recent study that showed that what few female GPs exist in venture capital on average outperform the men in the industry. This despite women in venture capital overwhelmingly being relegated to jobs where making a huge return is typically harder; namely: Corporate venture capital, healthcare and medical devices, and ecommerce.

Well, right on cue, subscription commerce is a funding ghetto no more! From CB Insights:

Subscription e-commerce startups attracted 19 funding rounds in Q2’16, up from 12 the prior quarter and 9 in Q4’15. Q2’16 also tied Q3’15 for peak deal volume, however total funding came in well below that quarter’s total.

Quarterly funding increased to $98M, driven by a $60M Series C to BarkBox. “Geek gear” subscription service Loot Crate earned the second-largest deal in Q2’16 with its $19M Series A, followed by an $11M Series A to Shanghai flower service FlowerPlus.

This is a notable jump from Q1’16, when the largest deal was a $3M seed round to Lola, a subscription tampon service.

Quarterly funding peaked in Q3’15, powered by large deals to several of the sector’s most well-funded companies...Q3’15 saw a $100M Series B toIpsy, a $100M Series D to The Honest Company, and a $76M Series C to Harry’s.

No other company raised more than $10M that quarter, illustrating a concentration of dollars at the top.

First off: That’s how venture capital works right? You back up the truck in an arbitrary category after other people have made money?

Second off: Ok, even in a bubble who funded monthly tampon delivery? Who is that for? Lazy people with too much cash who are too embarrased to add tampons to their existing Instacart, Safeway.com or Postmates order?

Like most of this venture capital “shake out” that isn’t meaningfully happening, more money is going into a few winners. Maybe it’s momentum or zero interest rates or some companies that genuinely deserve it. Who knows? But it’s good news for entrepreneurs in a category that was oversold because of horrific discipline of others.

As TrunkClub’s Brian Spaly said at Pandoland “I think it’s so lame when people blame the economy and the headwinds.” Plenty of great entrepreneurs build great companies in screwed categories. This is why you always tell the press you bet on people not the idea or the sector, remember?