Congratulations, Andy + team Bonobos!
Without equivocation or caveat, I want to wish a sincere congratulations to Andy Dunn and the entire Bonobos team for a successful acquisition by the Walmart and Jet teams.
There has been some hubbub and bemoaning about the change to a company with many intensely loyal customers. From my interactions with Andy, I think these are misplaced. He is not a CEO for hire placed into a company by an investor to shepherd to an exit — he started the company and built the culture from the ground up. For all the misgivings about Walmart as a company, it’s clear with Mark Lore in the driver’s seat and great new talent joining the leadership ranks, exciting things lie ahead, including perhaps a meaningful influence on how the parent company conducts business.
More importantly, I think those complaints miss a fundamental point that deserves celebration and recognition: Andy navigated a startup to a truly successful exit through multiple fundraises, tumultuous economic times, and a dramatically changing retail landscape. Bonobos raised around $130 million over a decade and transformed the retail industry, practically birthing an entire new movement: the Digitally Native Vertical Brand. A positive return on investment for all investors is, unequivocally, a success. Most startups go out of business entirely, or sell for a fraction of total funds raised. Just about everyone reading this will know of Gilt Groupe’s high flying success — though they raised $270MM and sold for $250MM, a fraction of their once achieved $1B+ valuation.
It’s hard to imagine how different starting Mizzen+Main would have been were it not for the trail that Andy and Bonobos blazed. Most trailblazers end up with arrows in their backs or in a trash heap, completely shut down or broken apart and sold for parts. Bonobos lives on with the founder still in charge, commitments to its customers to stay true to its model and values, and a chance to change a retail behemoth from the inside.
I hope those jumping to conclusions or swearing off ever doing business with Bonobos again allow the change to actually occur before exercising such tremendously harsh judgment. Things could stay the same, get better, or slide backwards. Let it happen first! I say this somewhat selfishly as well as I know Mizzen+Main might do something down the road that some people don’t initially agree with. Like Bonobos, however, I know we’ll always listen to our customers and work to do right by them. Without our customers, we don’t exist.
Customer reservations or complaints are one thing. I’m dismayed at the level of criticism from others in the e-commerce space and am reminded of this quote from Teddy Roosevelt. Not many have walked in similar shoes. You may disagree with the move, but I think folks in the industry would be wise to reserve too harsh of criticism.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. — Teddy Roosevelt
As Andy has said, e-Commerce is a Bear. Building any business is tremendously difficult. Navigating it to a successful exit (put most simply: for more than you raised is the lowest bar of success), is even harder. Once you raise capital, some form of exit is required. That’s just how it works. You can be acquired by a strategic investor. You can go public. Or another investor can come in and guide towards more growth and delay the first two options. Exits are not a bad thing when done right and if the leadership and new ownership maintain or enhance what made the company great to begin with. As we’ve only just raised our first round of institutional capital, we are in a fundamentally different stage, years away from an exit even being a possibility. Surveying the landscape of DNVB’s, some already shutting down, our focus is on building the best company we can. We’ve learned a great deal in Bonobos’ wake.
Congratulations, Andy Dunn and team. As a Founder who has benefited tremendously from what you’ve built, I’m excited to see what’s next on your path.