Give a girl the correct footwear and she can conquer the world
I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes, I had one thousand and sixty
As entrepreneurs who experienced the first wave of the Internet, we regularly recognize ideas from the creative ferment of the late ‘90s being pitched to us in a new form by today’s entrepreneurs. The newest member of the Andreessen Horowitz family, however, is reinventing a concept pioneered by a 1920s startup—and doing so with dazzling success. (Read yesterday’s post about old ideas made new again.)
A Jazz Age Startup
Back in 1926, an economist and advertising man named Harry Scherman and two co-founders established the Book of the Month Club. Convinced that bookstores were not catering well to a rapidly-growing and geographically dispersed American middle class with an insatiable desire for literature, these 1920s entrepreneurs offered readers a revolutionary mail-order subscription book service. Subscribers agreed to purchase a book recommended by the club every month, with no title costing more than three dollars. If a customer didn’t like that month’s selection, they could swap it for an alternate title from the club’s list.
Scherman pioneered several remarkable innovations that contributed dramatically to the club’s remarkable success. First, he built the club’s brand as a definitive arbiter of quality and taste. The “Book of the Month” was chosen by an expert Selecting Committee made up of five famous writers and critics—the literary celebrities of the day. Being published in a club-branded edition as a “Book of the Month Club Selection” was enough to propel a previously unknown author to mass popularity. Second, he applied the principle of “negative response”, in which subscribers would automatically receive a book every month unless they proactively opted out. Finally, he tapped into consumers’ love of serendipity: Club members would eagerly anticipate the arrival of each month’s new selection, chosen for them by the “curators” of the Selection Committee.
Scherman’s subscription book business brought millions of affordable, quality titles to a subscriber base of over half a million households by mid-century, and spawned hundreds of mail-order subscription successors throughout the twentieth-century, from Oprah’s Book Club to clubs for CDs and DVDs. In a sign of a truly great idea, however, Scherman’s concepts are also the basis for an amazing new twenty-first century ecommerce business.
From Jazz to Sole—Introducing ShoeDazzle
I’m proud that Andreessen Horowitz is leading a $40 million growth investment in a company that’s leveraging the Internet to reinvent the fashion business in the same way that Scherman used the postal system to reinvent the book business. The company is ShoeDazzle, and, while the business is women’s shoes and accessories and many of the concepts are new, the parallels to the Book of the Month Club and its brilliant execution are remarkable.
Every new ShoeDazzle member (now more than 3 million strong!) first takes an engaging 3-minute “style quiz” that allows the company’s stylists to create a monthly selection of shoes and accessories personalized to her individual style profile. She then receives an email invitation to a personal online “showroom” based on her style profile, with a new selection on the first day of every month. She chooses her favorite item (or items) for a standard $39.95, and receives them in a beautiful package within days. She can request an alternate selection, or skip one or more months if she chooses, so the service is highly flexible.
Like Scherman with bookstores, ShoeDazzle’s founder and CEO Brian Lee realized that traditional e-commerce sites offering women’s fashion were missing the point.
Observing the pleasure his wife took from visiting a favorite boutique to buy her latest pair of shoes, Brian and his team set out to recreate and even improve upon that deeply satisfying shopping experience on the Web:
- They recognized that many women go shopping because they enjoy it, so they focused on making the experience fun and entertaining rather than purely functional.
- They used the concept of personal stylists to replicate the trust that women feel when they visit their favorite store.
- Like Scherman with his committee of famous authors and critics, Brian recognized the influence of celebrities on women’s fashion choices, enlisting Kim Kardashian as his co-founder and recruiting an ever-growing roster of additional celebrities as stylists and sponsors.
- Like their 1920s counterparts, Brian and his team realized the appeal of serendipity and anticipation. ShoeDazzle members await the first of the month with its new selection with the same avid excitement Book of the Month Club members must have felt as they awaited the mailman with their latest monthly title. Unlike their Jazz Age predecessors, they can share their experience of opening the box with the whole world.
- Whereas the closest those 1920s entrepreneurs got to social networks was probably local book–reading clubs, the ShoeDazzle team has been able to leverage Facebook in a truly impressive way to create a truly remarkable social shopping experience and an extraordinary community of almost a million enthusiastic fans.
- Like Scherman, Brian and team understood the importance of brand, and brand all their products with a ShoeDazzle name that stands for exciting, affordable, quality fashion products, curated by experts and backed by extraordinary customer service.
Transforming the way fashion products are marketed and sold
From Valpak to Groupon, from the Full Service Network to the Internet, from Excite to Google, from the Book of The Month Club to ShoeDazzle—the story of the technology business is often a story of old ideas made new again. Like their illustrious predecessors, Brian Lee and his team have taken a great old idea, added some brilliant new ideas of their own, put it all into Twain’s “mental kaleidoscope”, and come up with a “new and curious combination” they call ShoeDazzle. The result is a new and genuinely exciting approach to ecommerce that is transforming the way fashion products are marketed and sold.
We’re proud to be associated with the ShoeDazzle team, and we can’t wait to see where they take it from here.