In the wake of rumors it was running out of money, design-centered shopping portal Bezar is being scooped up by a slightly higher-end competitor, AHAlife. It's been less than a year of running Bezar for serial entrepreneur Bradford Shellhammer, who co-founded of flash-sale flame-out Fab.com.
AHAlife is a curated online shop for unique luxury products, such as a handmade anatomical heart vase from a Portland artisan ($450), or a wooden watch case from Spain ($350). Founded in 2011 by Shauna Mei and Sachin Devand, the company has found success internationally, with a presence in 200 countries. It has grown slowly and somewhat steadily over the past five years. It went public last year on the Australian stock market.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it seems the Bezar brand will be absorbed into AHAlife. Some Bezar staffers are moving over to AHAlife's office in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. (Bezar had fewer than ten staffers.)
Shellhammer said Tuesday that he'd been exploring options for an acquisition or a fresh funding round for his New York City-based online shopping portal since summer. The site, billed as "where people who design special things connect with people who desire special things" never gained the sort of traction he and his investors hoped for. Despite Shellhammer's efforts to promote the site as a highbrow indie marketplace, it was pretty simple to see it as a sort of Fab 2.0.
"It's crowded out there. Consumers are fickle. And I'm not going to lie about that: It's hard," Shellhammer said over the phone Tuesday morning, noting that it's not just flash-sale sites, but rather all online commerce that's tricky in the Age of Amazon. "It's hard to get noticed, to get customers to buy, and to trust you."
Bezar launched in March of last year as a designer marketplace. It was an online shopping site featuring an updated look and feel for the sort of flash sales that defined online retail of the past decade. Only: They weren't really all that different. They simply had different monikers: Instead of "flash sales," Bezar called them daily pop-up shops. And instead of mass-marketed stuff made in China, it featured independent designers, who were allowed to curate their own online storefronts within Bezar.
"It's a shame that flash has become something that's faddish," Shellhammer said. "As a consumer I really like seeing new product every day."
It raised $2.25 million from a broad slate of seed investors, including Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Sherpa Ventures, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, and fellow entrepreneurs such as Andy Dunn, who founded Bonobos, and Scott Kurnit, who founded About.com.
But any efforts to raise more funding seems to have foundered. (Or at least the funding offers proved less compelling than the acquisition.) Flash sales and their e-commerce like have proven tough to scale as businesses. One King's Lane recently is rumored to be setting up for a fire sale. And recently Gilt Groupe, the father of so many flash sale sites, sold for just a quarter of its former $1 billion valuation.
Shellhammer and Mei have been friendly since he was working on building Fab.com, and she was launching AHAlife. This year, once funding was running out for Bezar, Shellhammer took her out to a drink.
"It started off as two friends having whiskey in a bar; now it's a strategic decision to consolidate the brands. Why do it separately when it's hard enough!" Shellhammer says. "We are aligned on vision, on personality, and on aesthetics."