For months we’ve been hearing reports of ShoeDazzle shopping itself. Across dozens of conversations with investors, founders, bankers, and other people in the know, we’ve heard everything from “the investors want out” to “the company is simply testing the waters before it raises another round of capital.” We’ve heard about a wide range of potential suitors too.
A deal doesn’t seem imminent according to our sources, and may take the form of a strategic investment instead. But this much is true: now that Brian Lee has stopped the bleeding, everyone is trying to figure out what kind of future the once-scorching fast fashion shoe etailer has. Both the LA ecosystem and the subscription commerce industry that got its early proof points from ShoeDazzle are watching closely.
Several strategic acquirers including Aldo Shoes and Home Shopping Network (HSN) have indicated their interest in acquiring ShoeDazzle, our sources say. The biggest advantage from this type of deal would be the additional infrastructure and scale provided by a large strategic. An established legacy retailer could directly address several of the biggest obstacles to a younger company like ShoeDazzle, including costs related to customer acquisition, fulfillment, and merchandise returns. On the downside, there are culture and integration concerns to consider.
We also heard of a wild-card private equity rollup proposal involving ShoeDazzle, at least two other domestic and international companies in the space, and $150 million or so to make it all happen. With ShoeDazzle being the most established company in this rumored deal and itself being on shaky ground, the notion of integrating additional teams, brands, markets, and so on was apparently too much to make this one doable and this option has apparently been shelved.
The remaining option is an acquisition by another ecommerce player, most likely JustFab. We’ve heard that similar talks between the two companies have occurred on multiple occasions in the past, and now the timing could finally be right. Even though the two subscription shoe companies are crosstown rivals with a healthy distaste for one another, a deal makes the most sense out of all possible transactions. Not only is JustFab healthy enough and well enough capitalized to complete the deal – it crossed a $100 million revenue run rate late last year and raised a whopping $76 million in July – but it would presumably be the only deal that would give Lee the freedom to exit and focus full time on his other startup, The Honest Company. Lee, however, denies that running both companies is unsustainable.
The combined JustFab+ShoeDazzle would likely see a significant reduction in its customer acquisition costs. There would also be savings in terms of reducing duplicate overhead and through increased order volumes. Whether JustFab would keep the ShoeDazzle brand alive and target different demographics, or absorb the brand and members is less clear. Our sources say that if a deal between JustFab and ShoeDazzle is going to happen, expect it to close in the next 60 to 90 days.
Negotiations – and we use that term loosely – have been taking place at valuations between $50 million to $100 million, according to some sources, while others put the numbers higher. The range could vary significantly depending on the nature of the acquirer and the structure of the eventual transaction. Either way, it’s likely to fall short of the $240 million valuation ShoeDazzle garnered in its last round of financing, a $40 million Series C in May 2011. It wouldn’t be the outcome that ShoeDazzle’s founders and investors – not to mention the LA ecosystem – anticipated just 18 months ago when everyone thought they had a massive winner on their hands. But a deal in the near term may actually represent the best possible outcome, given the options that remain. But regardless of expectations, nine figure exits don’t grow on trees and it’s tough to write one off as an outright failure.
None of this should be overly surprising, given the challenges the company has faced, and for the most part, survived in the last 12 months, as well as the challenges that still lay ahead in a brutally competitive market. For a while, the Brian Lee-founded company was the highest-profile startup in Los Angeles, raising $66 million dollars from leading VCs and generating revenue and user growth curves that resembled a Mt. Everest peak. Then Lee Left, and his successor, Bill Strauss, launched an ill-advised business model change which all but killed the hot company. Revenue and membership fell sharply, and talent began to run for the exits.
According to both Lee and industry observers, ShoeDazzle has stabilized considerably he and founding president MJ Eng returned to the company in November. The company is not growing at anywhere near the rate it once was, if at all, but it’s no longer hemorrhaging users, revenue, or cash like it was at the end of the Strauss era either. The company’s currently the solid number two in the market according to our sources, with less revenue than JustFab and but significantly more than its nearest challenger BeachMint.
During our recent fireside chat with Brian Lee, he denied looking for an exit – both personally and for the company – and made a case for why he still sees a billion dollar opportunity ahead of ShoeDazzle. But this is what CEOs do. Lee acknowledged that the company would need to raise additional funding to grow and complete the turnaround, a daunting task in today’s ecommerce-phobic market, particularly for a struggling company that raised its last round at a $240 million valuation.
It’s never easy to know when to pull the ripcord and look for an exit. This is even more so when you’re a prominent and very public founder who’s staked their reputation to the success of a company. Brian Lee is nothing if not competitive and prideful in all the ways you want a founder to be. He’s absolutely not looking for an easy way out, but at the same time, if he thinks now is the right time for an exit, don’t expect him to hang on out of sentimentality. With the search and subsequent negotiations already dragging on for more than six months, if a transaction is coming it shouldn’t be long now.
[Brian Lee and ShoeDazzle lead investor Andreessen Horowitz declined to comment for this story. Andreessen Horowitz partners Marc Andreessen, Jeff Jordan, and Chris Dixon are individual investors in PandoDaily.]
Two years of stealth and $11M in VC later, EdgeSpring launches a data analytics platform for the average man
It’s not everyday that you hear of a company manages to quietly raise two venture rounds from A-list investors while spending two years developing its technology in stealth mode. But that is exactly the story behind big data analytics and business insights (BI) startup EdgeSpring, which today publicly launched its product and announced $11 million in Seed and Series A funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) and Lightspeed Venture Partners.
Founded by former Salesforce, IBM and Oracle execs, EdgeSpring is among a new class of BI solution that eliminates the need for expensive and bottleneck-inducing IT and data-scientists to manage requests from everyday business users. Rather, the company offers the lamen a next-gen search-based solution that relies on artificial intelligence, compression technology, and schema–free visualizations to anticipate the questions a user may ask and then deliver actionable responses in near real-time. The aim is to make it possible for the marketing or finance exec to draw insights from data of any size or structure.
“From day one, our vision was to democratize information access in the enterprise,” EdgeSpring founder and CEO Vijay Chakravarthy says.
EdgeSpring is available as a cloud-based or on-premise solution. The platform offers integrations with SQL, Hive, salesforce.com, and other data sources, making it relatively straightforward to import large volumes of data from across a business.
It seems that every company has collected massive amounts of data about its business, a situation that’s only accelerating with the rapidly declining cost of data storage and the parallel increase in new data being created. The issue becomes how to make value of these mountains of information. When the data set grows beyond the size that can be reasonably be managed through spreadsheets, charts, and manual queries – something that is no longer realistic for all but the smallest and most unsophisticated businesses – companies turn to BI tools that can bridge the speed and scale gap.
As Lightspeed managing director Ravi Mhatre wrote recently:
I believe that to harness the power of this data revolution and gain a competitive edge, companies need to be able to do more than create and query their big data stores. They need to focus on making this big data fast, intuitive and easy to manipulate in new and interesting ways.
While the term “big data” is arguably overhyped, the innovation that many companies in this category are driving is real. A 2012 IDC research report on the business analytics software industry indicated that the market grew 14.1 percent in 2011 and should reach $50.7 billion in gross sales by 2016. EdgeSpring is part of this revolution, but is certainly not alone. Other exciting companies include Qliktech, Tableau, and Chiliad among dozens of others.
Since introducing its product into private beta several months ago, the company has added numerous enterprise customers including AppSense, Demandbase, Docusign, Equinix, Lithium, Netflix, Pandora, SpruceMedia, and Xactly, among others.
In addition to its commercial product, EdgeSpring has also been developing a Crunchbase visualization, CrunchEdge, as a public demo of its platform’s capabilities. CrunchEdge will be available at the beginning of June, allowing users to analyze and manipulate the startup and venture capital data according to various visualizations, filters, and associations. Having demoed the product, I can confidently say that it will add a level of clarity and insight never before available, and could dramatically impact the way that investors, entrepreneurs, and even journalists look at the startup ecosystem.
With the constant introduction of new and more powerful analytics tools, the value of business data is growing by the day. EdgeSpring has come out of its stealth period with an novel product and an equally impressive list of investors and early customers. In a competitive market, the company now faces the challenge of both selling enterprise customers on its value and keeping up with the fierce competition within the category.
Given the recent fervor over Bitcoins, it’s unsurprising to see several dedicate investment vehicles spring up to support startups in the virtual currency ecosystem. A few months we revealed that Adam Draper’s Boost VC accelerator would be making a big bet on Bitcoin, dedicating half of its upcoming 15 company accelerator class to category.
Today, Draper announced that he has assembled a “Boost Bitcoin Fund” which will offer $50,000 of follow-on funding to the accelerator’s Bitcoin companies in the form of a capped convertible note – in addition to the $18,000 equity investment they receive the upon acceptance into the accelerator. The fund is backed by Lightspeed Venture Partners, Rothenberg Ventures, SecondMarket founder Barry Silbert’s The Bitcoin Opportunity Fund, and Beluga co-founder Ben Davenport. According to Draper, each of these investors have already invested in the Bitcoin ecosystem and “established themselves as thought leaders in the alternative currency space.”
“I think we’re at the beginning stages of the digital currency revolution,” Draper says. “Bitcoin may not be the be-all-end-all of digital currencies, but it has the best shot at being the first global currency. If the first chapter was infrastructure, including mining and exchanges – which made it possible to hold Bitcoin as an asset – the second chapter is now about mechanisms of transfer and security – which make Bitcoin more like a true currency. These are the areas we’re focused on investing in.”
Applications for Boost VC’s second class close on June 1 and the class will begin on June 24. Draper and company have only accepted two of a planned five to seven Bitcoin-related startups, which will participate alongside an additional eight non-bitcoin startups.
The idea of a follow-on fund was initially introduced by Y Combinator, when it partnered with Ron Conway and Yuri Milner to provide $150,000 to every graduating company through The Start Fund – which has since been replaced by an $80,000 commitment from YC VC. The concept has been emulated by others, including Los Angeles’ Launchpad LA which now offers companies a $50,000 follow-on from its own balance sheet. On the whole, the additional capital lengthens the runway for these young startups, and should theoretically allow them to focus on more company building rather than fundraising for much of their accelerator period.
The last half year has been a tumultuous one for the Bitcoin ecosystem. First, we watched as the currency’s value and its reach exploded. Quickly, the hackers and naysayers came out in full force, leading to several security breaches in critical ecosystem infrastructure, a few panicked post-speculative sell-offs, and a general uncertainty about the future of the digital currency.
If anything, the roller-coaster ride has injected a measure of realism into the discussion surrounding Bitcoin, but in no way has it extinguished the investor and entrepreneur interest in the ecosystem.
Last, Bitcoin wallet startup CoinBase raised $5 million from Union Square Ventures and others in the virtual currency ecosystem’s largest financing to date. This weekend, the San Jose Convention Center will host the second annual Bitcoin 2013: The Future of Payment conference. A quick glance at the Lightspeed Venture Partners blog shows six of the last eight articles posted (over a six week period) have been Bitcoin-related. And in addition to today’s launch of both Boost Bitcoin Fund and Liberty Village Ventures, the ecosystem already has multiple dedicated investment vehicles including today’s Bitcoin Venture Capital and Bitcoin denominated Ultima hedge fund, and others.
The verdict on Bitcoin won’t be written for some time, but if recent activity is any indication, the success or failure of the ecosystem will not be driven by a shortage of attention from the early stage investment committee. Whether that proves to be a good thing for investor returns is less easy to predict.
The quantified self movement and the wearable computing devices that make this type self-measurement possible have reached full blown fad status. Dozens upon dozens of companies have introduced hardware and software solutions to measure the quantity of our movement and the quality of our sleep. What we have yet to see from a mass-market consumer product is anything that measures our brain activity.
That changes today with the introduction of Melon, an EEG (electroencephalography) powered headband and accompanying mobile app (iOS only, initially) that allows wearers to measure, understand, and improve their mental focus. The company has launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking to raise $100,000 to complete the first “large-scale production run of the headband and finalize and launch the app.”
The first 100 backers to donate $79 will receive a Melon headband in their choice of color, while late adopters will have to pay $99 for a standard band, or $159 for a custom engraved model. $1,000 gets up to five generous backers dinner with the founders and a choice of all available Melon head band configurations.
When I first heard the Melon pitch – a one minute teaser to a room of over a hundred onlookers – I was skeptical to say the least. But after spending time with the company’s founders and demoing the product, I’m singing a far different tune. It’s still too early to predict whether Melon will be a winner, but I am now certain that the category of mental performance monitoring and optimization will play a prominent role in all of our futures.
Originally founded in Boston under the name Axio, the company now known as Melon is a member of the current class of Santa Monica’s Launchpad LA accelerator. Melon first debuted its product concept last summer and was able to raise $150,000 in angel funding from a group of individual investors, including Avid and Wildfire founder Bill Warner, to complete prototype development. The company will take in up to $100,000 in additional funding through Launchpad prior to its Kickstarter campaign or seeking any additional Seed financing.
Melon’s three founders include two cognitive and computer science experts – Arye Barnehama and Laura Berman, who studied together at Pamona College – and an electrical engineering expert, with a focus on measurement devices – Janus Ternullo. The company has also partnered with consumer EEG technology leader NeuroSky to implement its signal amplification and filtering.
The goal of the platform is to combine these technologies and areas of study into an easy to use product that allows consumers to better understand themselves and the factors that affect their mental performance. In new age yoga-speak – wow I’m sure that was offensive – this is known as “mindfulness.” For techies, it comes down to “lifehacking.”
By measuring brainwave activity in the prefrontal cortex while the user completes specific tasks, such as practicing yoga, listening to a particular genre of music, or deep breathing, the app tracks changes in mental performance. The app can also alert the user to a loss of focus during a period of prolonged activity. Over time, the goal is that users gain an understanding of the particular tricks that are personally most effective and design their routines to achieve greater productivity and happiness.
If nothing else, it will measure just how fast that little hamster in your brain is running and how various inputs affect his mood. In addition to tracking brain activity, the Melon mobile app provides games and other visualization tools to train optimum neural performance. (The company’s demo video gives a good sense of both the hardware and mobile app.)
Melon isn’t stopping at just launching its headband and mobile app. Rather, the company’s Kickstarter campaign invites creative individuals to “become Melon developers” and build on top of its platform. The company will provide developers access to an iOS SDK, focus data, raw EEG data, proprietary mental state algorithms, and the device’s bluetooth radio.
Compared to crude early prototypes, the current iteration of the Melon headband is downright sexy. Having demoed the product, I can say that the lightweight yet sturdy rubber and neoprene construction is impressive given that it was created by a small three person team on a limited budget. The minimalist device – which comes in white and black, with customizable color bands and in sizes small, medium, and large – contains several small electrodes, a bluetooth radio, and a micro-USB port for charging and developer integration. The device will operate for eight hours between charges
While the concept of strapping a series of sensors to one’s head may seem too futuristic and awkward for most, the actual appearance of the device could be described as athletic and hip. It’s certainly far less obnoxious than Google’s cyborg glasses that have sent the Internet into a frenzy over the last year. Taking a look at this Israeli EEG headset used for detecting strokes and this Belgian version aimed at epilepsy detection and it becomes clear that Melon deserves a design award.
There’s no arguing that the quantified self movement has some serious momentum. But that said, it’s still the domain of tech early adopters, performance-minded athletes, and other power users. For Melon and all other tech within the category to gain mass market adoption, the platforms need to extend beyond the novelty of accessing personal behavior and performance data, and into the realm of providing actionable advice on how to benefit from such knowledge.
Melon takes the first steps toward this Holy Grail, but has a ways to go before you’re likely to see the devices on the heads of grocery store shoppers and boardroom executives. The company’s Kickstarter campaign will offer initial funding, yes, but more importantly it will offer the opportunity to gather consumer feedback and measure interest, both of which should inform future product development and marketing efforts.
I am confident that we are headed toward a future in which every action, conscious and subconscious alike, is recorded, measured, and analyzed by the various sensors and systems surrounding us. That future may still be a number of years out, and Melon may or may not still be around to capitalize on it, but they company is a trailblazer nonetheless. I’ll tip my headband to them, once it comes in the mail.
If you haven’t heard of 12-year-old infrastructure as a service company Dyn, it’s because the company has quietly bootstrapped itself from Manchester, New Hampshire for the majority of its existence. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the company last fall raised a $38 million Series A (North Bridge Venture Partners led the deal). Dyn’s infrastructure as a service product powers the managed DNS, traffic management, email deliver and reporting for four million users that range from enterprise to small businesses and individuals.
Even though Dyn got its start in 2001, the company’s growth didn’t really kick growth into high gear until 2009, when Kyle York joined as Chief Revenue Officer. That year, the company did $3 million in revenue. In 2012, it did $30 million. This year the company is on track to do around $50 million in sales. Dyn has grown to 200 employees in New Hampshire and 30 outside of it. The company has also acquired five companies since 2010 — EveryDNS, EditDNS, SendLabs, TZO and Verleo. Today it announces another acquisition of a company. This one it knows well.
Today Dyn announced the acquisition of Trendslide, a data aggregation tool built for iOS devices which Nathaniel Mott profiled last year. The company was actually developed inside Dyn before it was spun out. Dyn’s CTO Cory von Wallenstein and other Dyn execs invested $100,000 in Trendslide when it spun out, York sat on the company’s board.
Dyn’s decision to repurchase a company that it could have just kept in-house all along seems a bit silly — sortof like when Twitter got into a bidding war over Tweetdeck, a company that built tools onto its own platform. But Trendslide, when it spun out, was focused in a different area. The company had gone after opportunities in the sales and marketing industries rather than Infrastructure as a service.
Dyn realized that its clients wanted its clients to have access to their realtime monitoring dashboards on their mobile devices. It wasn’t apparent that Trendslide’s mobile sales and marketing tools would fill that hole until investors pointed it out, York said. Dyn could have built the capabilities as well, but acquiring Trendslide’s technology and repurposing it would be much faster. The deal terms weren’t disclosed. Ron Martin, CEO of Trendslide, called the deal “the sensible move.”
Infrastructure as a service is a nuts-and-bolts category of tech companies that’s benefitted from the proliferation of software in every industry. As is clear when Amazon’s cloud services go down and it feels like half of the Internet has disappeared, uptime is as important with consumer-facing services as it is with enterprises. With Dyn’s acquisition of Trendslide, the company’s four million clients will now be able to monitor their web properties from mobile devices.