Getting Vertical

Long on Brand Driven Startups

In our first two years at Coolhouse Labs we have purposefully invested broadly in companies across multiple verticals. We have always focused on the team first and foremost. We believe in investing in talent and giving that talent the resources and the guidance they need to build an awesome company.

However, if you twisted my arm there are a couple of verticals we have more interest in than others. One in particular has peaked our interest over the last two years, and aligns well with our network of mentors, investors, and alumni.

We are long on brand driven startups.

Here are the four things that we are looking for in a brand driven company.

Authentic founders who are deeply passionate and have a reverence for craftsmanship and artistry
Aspirational products that create moments of joy and have a self expressive benefit for the user
Innovative use of technology, services, or media to deliver that product to market
High price point and potential for vertical integration

Case Study: TRNK

TRNK was founded by two extremely talented entrepreneurs Tariq and Nick. These guys earned their stripes working for iconic brands like Armani and JCrew, as well as hot e-commerce startups like GILT. Until they ran into a problem while shopping for their home. There was no place online that specifically catered to the male home. It was all frilly pillows, and floral prints.

So they set out to become the “new voice of modern male living.”

Online home retail is booming. The market is projected to be as large as $29 billion by 2017. Men are increasingly becoming key decision makers for the home, and yet the traditional home retailers still think the modern male shopper looks like Homer Simpson when he is more like…

Tariq and Nick have seen first hand of the pitfalls of the flash sales business traditional online e-commerce “race to the bottom” (ie., and the challenges. So they have set out to build authentic relationships with their customers, built slowly over time by curating great products and creating interactive content. Great aspirational content to give guys context on how to craft the style of their home. It is a long play that we believe sets them apart in the crowded home furnishings market. It doesn’t hurt that they are incredibly talented both as content creators and product curators.

While we love their brand play, we think the way they are delivering their product is really smart. They have created what we think is the future of online retail.

Content + Commerce

They have been able to deliver great content that drives purchases and conversions specifically for a grossly underserved male online home furnishings shopper.

TRNK understands the modern male consumer. They have tapped into two powerful consumer forces: aspiration and self expressive benefit.

“[Investing in my home] makes me feel like I’m actually evolving from being the post-college bachelor. It makes me feel more like an adult.” TRNK customer — 28 Male

Some days I see TRNK as a media company that monetizes its content by selling products, and some days I see them as retailer that uses content to build relationships with their users and ultimately convert them into paying customers. In reality they are hybrid of both.

Their future lies in their ability to build off of the work they have done so far and vertically integrate.

Over the past year, they have curated their products from craftsmen all over the world. Spending hours identifying and securing products that fit their point of view and delight their customers. But over the next 18 months they will be rolling out TRNK branded products. They will own every part of the process from production to distribution.

This is where building their brand and relationship with their customer over time will really pay off. As with everything they do they are carefully crafting how they roll out products to the site. It’s a careful calculus that takes a long term view vs. short term profits.

“TRNK is the big one that kinda sparked my interest [in design]. I almost trust you guys more for taste than other retailers because you have really awesome stuff. I feel like it’s a place where I can go, not get totally lost or be wrong.” TRNK customer — 27 Male

Last and not least, By controlling the end to end process they are capturing more upside. Selling directly to customers who love you is a great place to be.

TRNK is primed for incredible growth in 2015 and beyond (stay tuned for more news on that front). Their focus on building their brand, and their innoavative approach to mixing content and commerce have put them on a strong foundation for success.

As you can tell we here at Coolhouse Labs are big fans of TRNK. We’ve even invested in another company just like it — Fountain Greetings.

Are you a brand driven company that is looking to get off the ground? We’d love to meet you.

Talk to us