📦Nerds Lament: Subscription Box Company Goes BK📦

We’re old enough to remember when subscription boxes were all the rage. The e-commerce trend became so explosive that the Washington Post estimated in 2014 that there were anywhere between 400 and 600 different subscription box services out there. We reckon that — given the the arguably-successful-because-it-got-to-an-IPO-but-then-atrocious-public-foray by Blue Apron Inc. ($APRN) — the number today is on the lower end of the range (if not even lower) as many businesses failed to prove out the business model and manage shipping expense.

And so it was only a matter of time before one of them declared bankruptcy.

Earlier this morning, Loot Crate Inc., a Los Angeles-based subscription service which provides monthly boxes of geek- and gaming-related merchandise (“Comic-con in a box,” including toys, clothing, books and comics tied to big pop culture and geek franchises) filed for bankruptcy in the District of Delaware.* According to a press release, the company intends to use the chapter 11 process to effectuate a 363 sale of substantially all of its assets to a newly-formed buyer, Loot Crate Acquisition LLC. The company secured a $10mm DIP credit facility to fund the cases from Money Chest LLC, an investor in the business. The company started in 2012.

Speaking of investors in the business, this one got a $18.5mm round of venture financingfrom the likes of Upfront VenturesSterling.VC (the venture arm of Sterling Equities, the owner of the New York Mets), and Downey Ventures, the venture arm of none other than Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr. At one point, this investment appeared to be a smashing success: the company reportedly had over 600k subscribers and more than $100mm in annualized revenue. It delivered to 35 countries. Inc Magazine ranked it #1 on its “Fastest Growing Private Companies” listDeloitte had it listed first in its 2016 Technology Fast 500 Winners list. Loot Crate must have had one kicka$$ PR person!

But life comes at you fast.

By 2018, the wheels were already coming off. Mark Suster, a well-known and prolific VC from Upfront Ventures, stepped off the board along with two other directors. The company hired Dendera Advisory LLC, a boutique merchant bank, for a capital raise.** As we pointed out in early ‘18, apparently nobody was willing to put a new equity check into this thing, despite all of the accolades. Of course, allegations of sexual harassment don’t exactly help. Ultimately, the company had no choice but to go the debt route: in August 2018, it secured $23mm in new financing from Atalaya Capital Management LP. Per the company announcement:

This financing, led by Atalaya Capital Management LP ("Atalaya") and supported by several new investors (including longstanding commercial partners, NECA and Bioworld Merchandising), will enable Loot Crate to bolster its existing subscription lines and improve the overall customer experience, while also enabling new product launches, growth in new product lines and the establishment of new distribution channels.

Shortly thereafter, it began selling its boxes on Amazon Inc. ($AMZN). When a DTC e-commerce business suddenly starts relying on Amazon for distribution and relinquishes control of the customer relationship, one has to start to wonder. 🤔

And, so, now it is basically being sold for parts. Per the company announcement:

"During the sale process we will have the financial resources to purchase the goods and services necessary to fulfill our Looters' needs and continue the high-quality service and support they have come to expect from the Loot Crate team," Mr. Davis said.

That’s a pretty curious statement considering the Better Business Bureau opened an investigation into the company back in late 2018. Per the BBB website:

According to BBB files, consumers allege not receiving the purchases they paid for. Furthermore consumers allege not being able to get a response with the details of their orders or refunds. On September 4, 2018 the BBB contacted the company in regards to our concerns about the amount and pattern of complaints we have received. On October 30, 2018 the company responded stating "Loot Crate implemented a Shipping Status page to resolve any issues with delays here: http://loot.cr/shippingstatus[.]

In fact, go on Twitter and you’ll see a lot of recent complaints:

High quality service, huh? Riiiiiiight. These angry customers are likely to learn the definition of “unsecured creditor.”

Good luck getting those refunds, folks. The purchase price obviously won’t clear the $23mm in debt which means that general unsecured creditors (i.e., customers, among other groups) and equity investors will be wiped out.***

Sadly, this is another tale about a once-high-flying startup that apparently got too close to the sun. And, unfortunately, a number of people will lose their jobs as a result.

Market froth has helped a number of these companies survive. When things do eventually turn, we will, unfortunately, see a lot more companies that once featured prominently in rankings and magazine covers fall by the wayside.

*We previously wrote about Loot Crate here, back in February 2018.

**Dendera, while not a well-known firm in restructuring circles, has been making its presence known in recent chapter 11 filings; it apparently had a role in Eastern Mountain Sports and Energy XXI.

***The full details of the bankruptcy filing aren’t out yet but this seems like a pretty obvious result.

Direct-to-Consumer Retail Gets Big Funding

Away, Hims & Parachute All Get Growth Capital

This week was a big financing week for startups. In addition to the Pillpack purchase noted above, there was a ton of action in the direct-to-consumer consumer products space that should definitely have incumbents concerned.

Away, the NY-based “thoughtful” startup that makes travel products that “solve real travel problems” raised $50mm in fresh Series C funding from prior investors Forerunner Ventures, Global Founders Capital and Comcast Ventures. The company intends to use the funds to tap into global markets, expand its product line and continue its clicks-to-bricks initiative with six new retail stores in the second half of 2018. The company recently moved its headquarters within New York City in part thanks to a $4mm Empire State Development performance-based tax credit through the Excelsior Jobs Program.

Hims, the one-year old SF-based company that sells men’s prescription hair and sex products, raised $50mm in Series B-2 funding at a $400mm post-money valuation. Investors include IVP, Founders Fund, Cavu Venture Partners, Thrive Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Forerunner Ventures (notice a pattern here?), and SV Angel.

Earlier this year, beauty products maker Glossier raised $52mm in Series C funding (and subsequently added Katrina Lake from Stitch Fix to its board of directors), shaving company Harry’s raised $112mm in Series D funding, and athleisure brand Outdoor Voices raised $32mm.

But, wait. There’s more: here, there are a variety of startups going after your kitchenware and your bed. Parachute announced this week that it raised $30 million in Series C funding led by H.I.G. Growth Partners. Other investors include Upfront Ventures, Susa Ventures, Suffolk Equity, JAWS Ventures, Grace Beauty Capital and Daher Capital. With three stores currently, the company intends to take the funding to, like Away, expand its clicks-to-bricks plan with 20 more locations in the next 2 years.

Meanwhile, mattress e-tailer Purple is (strangely) doubling-down on its relationship with Steinhoff-owned Mattress Firm, the struggling bed B&M retailer. The tie-up now includes Mattress Firm locations in Sacramento, Austin, DC, Chicago and SF. We hope Purple has baked in bankruptcy protections into its deal agreements so that there’s not question as to ownership.

If you don’t think all of this has incumbent CPG executives worried, you’re not paying close enough attention.

Not to mention the private equity bros:

More from Ryan Caldbeck’s interesting thread here.

Slight tangent: note that nowhere is there any mention of disruption from consumer product subscription boxes.