Bulletin — Sell IRL in a Snap

This is the first post in a series I’m calling “Breakdowns,” where I attempt to dissect and analyze private technology companies I find interesting.

Company Overview

Bulletin provides a flexible experience for brands looking to sell their products in physical retail stores. The company was founded in early 2016 by Alana Branston (CEO) and Ali Kriegsman (COO). The founders met at Contently, where they were both sales executives. Notation Capital and Y Combinator are both investors at an undisclosed amount, and the company has 8 employees according to their website. I assume some of the investment has been debt financing for the leases. The company initially started as an online magazine and e-commerce site for emerging brands and artists. Yet, they pivoted into focusing on providing DTC, online, and smaller brands physical spaces where they could test their products, offer seasonal goods, and experiment in new markets. So far, Bulletin continues to operate their online market, and has three spaces available in the greater NYC area — Williamsburg, Soho, and a market in Brooklyn.

Core Offering

Traditionally, getting into physical retail is difficult for small companies, especially when they just want to test their product and have a small batch of inventory. Bulletin claims they have an expedited process that consists of an application that gets reviewed quickly. It remains to be seen how this will work at scale. Part of the application value proposition is speed; Bulletin says that they can get a product in stores in 5 days or less. This is an impressive turnaround time for physical retail. Additionally, they provide a seller dashboard for real time sales data, product feedback, and inventory management.

Bulletin profiles their designers on their website, and it looks like they mostly pull in apparel brands, household items, and artwork. The target end user is young, urban millennials in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and San Francisco who still make purchases offline. Bulletin uses their social media presence (especially Instagram) to stir up leads and bring people in.

As the company evolves, it will be critical to see it expand beyond New York City and bring a vertical touch to some of its stores. For example, Bulletin Sports or Bulletin Kids.

Market

Bulletin operates in two markets. Their online store sits in the highly competitive third-party seller market, facing the likes of Etsy, e-Bay, and Amazon Handmade. Etsy has started to struggle in recent years, and their market cap is $1.24B. However, Bulletin also functions in the pop-up store space, as it offers a transient retail experience for sellers. Estimates vary on the size of the pop up shops’ TAM, but one projection from 2015 listed $10B in sales (Link).

One market driver that goes against Bulletin’s growth is that retail is continuing to shift to online and mobile and moving away from physical. Yet, Bulletin’s investors have conviction that Bulletin provides a differentiated enough channel for e-commerce through its transient nature (Link). Additionally, Bulletin operates variably from other technology companies in the fact that its largest overhead goes into commercial leases and marketing spend.

Competition

Bulletin faces competition from startup b8ta a retail store designed for trying and buying new tech products based in San Francisco. b8ta is trying to bring the ‘Apple Store’ distribution experience for all consumer electronics products. B8ta has raised a total of $11.5M (which is likely more than Bulletin has raised) from Khosla Ventures, Eniac Ventures, and a handful of other firms and individuals.

While Bulletin tends to focus on apparel, artwork, and household items, b8ta emphasizes consumer electronics. The companies are similar in their core offerings to sellers — an easy process to get into retail and analytics.

Key Risks

The biggest challenges I see for Bulletin are market size as a venture backed investment and scalability. How many small, independent sellers are out there and are consumers willing to buy their products? Additionally, as inbound interest increases from sellers, can Bulletin automate the processes to get them in the door at their stores? Will they start facing the same logjam issues large retailers face in terms of getting items in the door at scale?

What’s Needed

For a venture firm to invest in Bulletin’s Series A, the following things should be proven out:

  • Is Bulletin generating a higher revenue per square foot than other third-party retailers?
  • Can they successfully expand to markets outside of NYC? It looks like Los Angeles and Portland are on their radar.
  • Can they partner with any big property owners to expedite the lease process for them and get better rates?
  • Will Bulletin bring in any big brands? From their Instagram, it looks like they sold a line of Svedka Vodka, but can they convince other companies that align with their brand and personality?

In general, I’m bullish on the founding team (Alana + Ali) as well, as they spent time together at their last company, which is always a plus. From the social feed, it looks as if they are passionate and intent about building their business and their mission to empower creatives. Part of the obstacle is opening up and creating a market, which will require relentless execution.

I hope you enjoyed the post! If you are an investor and would like to see a detailed analysis of a company involving financials, metrics, and cohorts, please reach out at aashaysanghvi[at]gmail.com to discuss.
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