The word today that Walmart is in talks with Jet.com to buy the Amazon competitor rocked the online retail world. Because just a few months ago, Jet's founder, Marc Lore, was talking about building a long-lasting company that would, over time, wildly exceed its whopping prelaunch valuation of $600 million.

The Wall Street Journal reported the talks of an acquisition Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter. A source told the Journal the potential deal, which may or may not go through, would value Jet.com at $3 billion.

Looking back just a few months, it all seemed pretty unlikely. Lore seemed hell-bent on building something truly huge in e-commerce, which had just taken some major blows. Remember that both hyper-promising online retail upstarts Gilt Groupe and One King's Lane sold for small fractions of their prior valuations within the past two years.

Back in March, he told me: "I don't even think about Amazon on a day-to-day basis," he said. "I basically see an opportunity to create a really large business over time in an online ecommerce market that's $3 billion today but growing to a trillion dollars over the next 10 years."

Lore also talked a big game about building a company he--and his employees at its headquarters in Hoboken, New Jersey--loved. He told me back before the company even launched to the public that he'd chosen three core values for Jet staffers to hold dear: work transparently, play fairly, and trust explicitly. 

Most unique perhaps is transparency. "We are completely transparent with our compensation system, so everyone knows what everyone on their level makes," he explained. "After the board meeting, we will give the entire board presentation to the whole company. We are transparent about financing, valuation, and number of shares outstanding. And we believe that's super empowering."

It's hard to see how that attention to culture would square with selling to a giant multinational corporation. Seems that might just clash slightly with the potential suitor's prior PR nightmares over worker health care and political scuffles over minimum wage regulations. 

Still, Lore is no stranger to selling massive online retailers to even larger retailers. Before founding 1800Diapers--which would become Diapers.com--and selling that to Amazon for $545 million, he'd created a sport-card collecting site called ThePit.com, and sold that to Topps.

Perhaps he just can't help himself.

Or perhaps the $3 billion valuation that source floated was just too enticing to pass up.  

Published on: Aug 3, 2016