Yesterday I completed my first startup investment of the year in a company called VillageLuxe.
Founded in New York City by a dear friend of mine Julia Gudish Krieger, VillageLuxe operates in the sharing economy and aims to be ‘the Airbnb for high-end fashion’, as Forbes magazine put it in a recent article. Very simply VillageLuxe allows you to rent out your closet to utilise ‘spare capacity’ much like Airbnb does with your apartment; and conversely as a renter to open you up to a whole new world of possibilities without having to fork out the full purchase price.
Aside of the obvious reason of operating in the sharing economy for which I feel very passionately about having ran PeoplePerHour for a good decade now, I invested in VillageLuxe for the following reasons:
- I believe in Julia, the founder, blindly. She’s a Harvard grad who started off in Venture Capital and so she’s clearly of high intellect and has seen many businesses succeed and fail. Although she’s young and has a lot to learn, her energy, drive, passion and magnetism will definitely be assets that help her plough through inevitable roadblocks.
- Julia has managed to attract some great people early on in building her team. Especially in a place like New York with so many startups fighting over talent, a founder’s ability to both identify and woo them in is a key ingredient of success. If shows good judge of talent to start off, but equally important, persuasion, grit, tenacity and charisma.
- Great PR: in its relatively short existence VillageLuxe has managed to generate some impressive PR coverage and get the brand out there amongst influencers. Putting money behind organic marketing is always a safer bet than paying to generate traction – and the latter can be very dangerous as could make the founders bask in the sunlight of fake growth that never sticks. This was also our story at PeoplePerHour – PR was our key jump-starter of growth in the early days.
- Downside limitation: even if it doesn’t become the Airbnb of high-end fashion, as a platform businesses it can be very capital efficient (if VCs don’t push you to do stupid things) and so can reach profitability relatively easily and high Return On Capital ratios. The challenge is to resist over-expanding beyond a point of no return in pursuit of the big dream.
- It’s a business i can help and contribute with my experience of building a successful marketplace, so that makes the investment all the more meaningful to me. What’s more i would greatly enjoy working with Julia: she’s smart but not a ‘know-it-all’; she’s thoughtful, has humility and listens; attributes which i rate higher than raw intelligence in the path to success.
- The market cannot NOT grow: again the key question (much like a VC would ask on Day1) is how big the market for sharing one’s closet will become. Maybe it will be a huge phenomenon like Airbnb or Uber, but, lets face it: it doesn’t have to be be at that level to make a successful business. The way i see it it’s highly unlikely that it won’t grow from where it is today: it just makes sense in every way that matters to the consumer: price, diversity, ease of use. And that will only increase as more people get online and get more web savvy which again cannot NOT happen over time.
Last but not least – maybe i can rent some stuff myself and become a little more fashionable 🙂
Julia – wishing you every success, I know you’ll do great and look forward to the journey ahead!