Things really aren't looking good for Bezar
If the world were more like me, Donald Trump would be safely confined to reality TV, Tshirts would never be sold with sleeves, and Bradford Shellhammer would be having a way better 2016.
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Shellhammer's aesthetic—and I was in the days when he was considered Fab’s “secret sauce” and adore the even more elevated but still quirky aesthetic of his ecommerce do-over Bezar.
Or rather, adored, it seems.
Earlier this month, Jason DelRay broke the news that Bezar was running perilously low on cash and would likely be shutting down. Shellhammer didn’t comment to Re/Code, or subsequently when I reached out to him.
I should note that every startup is “running out of cash” until it’s profitable. Uber is technically “running out of cash.” Elon Musk famously was six weeks away from missing payroll once upon a time. Bezar is still up and it’s not over until it’s over.
But certainly a more worrying sign of something has emerged: No more daily emails featuring Bezar’s pop up shops. The last pop up shop email was 12 days ago, and those shops are still current on the site now. On January 18, an uncharacteristic email promoting a new wine brand went out. But that’s been it. I know because I used to eagerly await my daily mid-morning window shopping.
A pivot or a cockroach-like slimmed down version of Bezar may be in the offing. Shellhammer is a resourceful guy. It’s never over until the founder gives up. But sadly it is even more confirmation that etailing may be an even worse business than content.
Like a content site, Fab, Bezar and other retailers like NastyGal, Bonobos, its Ayr women’s line have a voice and a point of view. They are focused on building brands that stand for something, that people feel a deep connection and trust with, just like a content site. Only e-tailers deal in physical goods. We only have to produce words.
And increasingly, investors are as impatient with eTail as they are with content. I use that outdated 1990s phrase “eTail” because increasingly “ecommerce” is becoming dominated by modern mobile commerce companies like Uber and Airbnb. It’s the retail, merchant part of ecommerce that is having such a hard time.
Even when it appears to do well. Consider NastyGal. Once a high flying darling, growth has stalled, founder Sophia Amorusa has stepped down as CEO and last I heard, they were stabilized but certainly not the highflier they once were. Fab was one of the first unicorns to fall from grace, seeming to do no wrong until it cratered. Gilt finally found an exit, after decades in the “IPO pipeline.”
Shellhammer was seemingly going to do everything different this time. He wasn’t going to raise too much money for one, and focus on transactions that were as close to break even as possible. But in a business like eTail, that balance is like threading a tiny, tiny needle.
It’s the great lie of serial entrepreneurship. You rush back into it thinking you’ve cracked it this time. You know what not to do now. You can do everything the same—if you succeeded last time—or everything different—if you failed—and still be no closer to success. Because each company, each point in the market, and each attempt is different. You are different each time. I could tell you right now, what I shouldn’t have done over the last four years. But having seen this movie over and over again, I’m not naïve enough to believe I could build a content company any better the second time.
It all boils down to time in the end.
I have no doubt there are millions of people who would love Shellhammer’s quirky aesthetic. I’m not that much of an original, for one. All of my Christmas gifts were bought on Bezar, and I out-gifted nearly everyone I know, if I may humblebrag.
My sixteen-year-old nephew? Bionic drone bird. Paul? Vintage 1970s Sagittarius poster. My 21-year-old niece who’d spent the fall living with me in San Francisco? A gorgeous quilt where the just off-color stitching mimicked the streets of the city. My brother? A vintage traveling bar kit. My sister and her husband? Porcelain mugs from which animals emerged as you sip your coffee. My sisters-in-law? A beautifully woven hammock for their backyard.
And it was Bezar that gave me the idea of Eli, Evie, and I traveling back on Christmas Eve across the country in head-to-toe, matching Japanese reindeer onesies. Pro tip single moms: No one is annoyed at anything your toddlers do when they do it dressed as reindeer on Christmas Eve.
Every person on my list was delighted by something I found on that site. “Where did you get this?” “Bezar.” Of course, I had to always explain what Bezar was. Should they have spent more on marketing leading into the holidays? Less? You can argue both.
But time is the crusher when it comes to building a brand. Something we know all too well at Pando. The only thing that matters is surviving to get more fans tomorrow and the next day and the next day.
I hope Bezar has more life in it than it seems.