The Future of Brands
As a kid growing up in Chicago, I learned from my parents how the decisions we make affect our future. My mom, an Indian immigrant, came to America at the age of 20, sending money back home to a dying father she never got to see again. My dad met my mom and asked her to marry him, inviting them both into a cross-cultural marriage that neither were prepared for.
I have come to an odd belief, which is that we don’t make decisions so much as the decisions make us. The goal of a decision isn’t just to find the path forward, but to become someone entirely different than who we might have been as a function of the path we take.
Graduating business school, I had $150,000 of debt. An investment firm offered me a steady job, but it didn’t feel right. It was 2007 in Silicon Valley and I dreamed of starting an internet company.
It is an amazing and counterintuitive serendipity of life that I found the internet company I was looking for in a better-fitting pair of men’s pants. We wanted to deliver more personalized fit and customer service than had ever been seen before in menswear.
Bonobos was born.
Ten years ago, our unique insight was that the future of vertical retail would be digital at its core. We architected our entire strategy around that founding idea. It started with our customer service Ninjas. It continued with the invention of the Guideshop, an experiential retail store built on 1-to-1 service. We are now exploring the ways our technology stack can drive more customer intimacy and delight than has previously been seen in our industry. Undergirding it all is a first principle: you can’t build a digital brand customers love without creating a company that employees love as well.
We now see digital consumer brands emerging in every corner of the retail ecosystem.
The Bonobos blueprint is emerging everywhere.
Our company exists as a series of contrarian decisions.
Making better fitting pants. Really? Selling them on the internet. Really? Raising venture capital for a retail company. Really? Making clothing stores with no clothing to take home. Really?
Selling to Walmart. Really?
Today we announce a bold decision that bets our future on taking our core capability in building a brand in the digital age and spreading it across a wider ecosystem. We have signed a deal with Walmart where they will acquire Bonobos for $310 million after the closing of the transaction.
When the idea first presented itself, my immediate thought was no way. At the time we began discussions a couple months ago, we were an inch from signing another deal that would have kept us on an independent path.
So why do this?
When Walmart acquired Jet, I realized the world is now changing even faster than I thought.
Marc Lore has been a mentor of mine for a long time. He taught me how to hire people and how to do the hardest thing in business, which is to make a great culture. I believe Marc is the most innovative and ambitious e-commerce entrepreneur on the planet.
When we sat down and started talking in the context of Walmart x Jet x Bonobos, my mind exploded. Even more so than I realized, Marc and I have a mind meld on how brands and platforms will develop in this rapidly changing environment.
Marc is the best in the world at building upstart third-party brand e-commerce properties. He and I will now leverage our combined know-how and, with the biggest company in the world behind us, take on creating the leading vertical e-commerce platform.
This journey begins with two brands I’ve known for a long time: Bonobos and ModCloth. Since its founding, I’ve been friends with ModCloth’s cofounders, and many of its executives and investors. I have long imagined we would one day belong under one roof with that brand as a force in the future of apparel.
Now we do.
The first decade at Bonobos was all about us. Our second will remain about us. With our model proven, we now want to become the market leader in all of premium menswear. We also have a new mandate. We will be extending what we have learned to a wider ecosystem that we have helped create and come to love.
As we walk onto this bigger stage, we will have to be both more humble and more aggressive at the same time.
This is gonna be fun.