Today’s NY Times notes that subscriptions are all the rage in ecommerce. It features three of our portfolio companies. Alex Zhardanovsky, cofounder of Petflow*, and Azoogle before that, is one of the people interviewed:
But he had an idea to build the business by taking a different approach to sales. While selling online ads, he had seen other companies, like Netflix, persuade consumers to lock in monthly fees for repeat orders. Those companies, he believed, were generally more successful and thus bought more of his ads. For his new business, Mr. Zhardanovsky’s plan was to sell dog food on a subscription basis. He figured that other pet owners had experienced the same frustrations keeping the food stocked and might be willing to sign up for a monthly delivery service as well. “Dogs never stop needing to eat,” he said….
In its first month, July 2010, the company shipped about 60 orders; by January of this year, that number had leapt to 27,000. In 2011, PetFlow exceeded $13 million in revenue — with 60 percent of its sales coming on a subscription basis — and it projects revenue will exceed $30 million this year. “I’ve come to appreciate,” Mr. Zhardanovsky said, “that subscription models are, in so many ways, the holy grail of business.”
Brian Lee, cofounder of Shoedazzle* with Kim Khardashian, is also quoted:
“A subscription model allows you to establish long-term relationships with customers as opposed to selling them one pair of shoes and hoping they come back,” said Mr. Lee, who also was a founder of LegalZoom. It was his experience at LegalZoom, a legal-document business based on single transactions, that prompted Mr. Lee to look for recurring revenue: “I wanted to start a business where you didn’t have to worry as much about whether the customer would come back.” The idea of using a subscription model to sell shoes came to him, he said, after he realized how many shoes his wife was buying on a regular basis.
The Times also notes where the subscription model works best:
Given the experiences of companies like PetFlow, ShoeDazzle and BabbaCo, it is tempting to wonder why not every company is trying a subscription model. And, in fact, Brian Lee, the founder of ShoeDazzle, said he frequently heard pitches from entrepreneurs who wanted to create the ShoeDazzle of wine or underwear or some other product. “I think subscription models work best in two instances,” he said. “Where the product is a necessity or when it’s an absolute passion. It stops making sense when you try to do something like a tree-of-the-month club, which doesn’t fit either of those categories.”
Taking his own advice, Mr. Lee recently founded another subscription-based business, this one with Jessica Alba, the actress. It is called the Honest Company*, and it ships diapers and other baby products.
We’re proud to be backing such great companies and entrepreneurs.
* Lightspeed Portfolio Companies