Bradford Shellhammer is a serial entrepreneur, an accidental musician, and now a promoter of independent design brands.
On Thursday, Shellhammer gave his new, seven-month-old e-commerce business a makeover. Bezar, whose name is a play on both "bizarre" and "bazaar," will now let vetted designers create profiles--called Storefronts--to sell their wares online. Bezar will take care of the shipping, logistics, and customer service. Think of it like Etsy, but slightly more elite. Or Shopify, but (he hopes) more lucrative for the retailers.
"People don't realize how hard e-commerce is, because you have to get people to come," Shellhammer says. He insists that what sets Bezar apart is his own prestige in the design marketplace.
In business terms, Shellhammer is best known by his previous company, Fab.com. A gay social network-turned flash sales giant, Fab had raised more than $300 million in venture capital, for a $1 billion valuation. Things took a turn for the worse, though, when it ditched the flash model, and too eagerly sought expansion into Europe. Fab was acquired by PCH, an Irish hardware manufacturer, for just $15 million in March of this year.
As for Shellhammer's second venture, so far so good. Bezar, which first launched in March, raised $2.25 million in seed funding. It also partnered with more than 600 designers, bringing in revenue through flash sales. He says that membership has more than doubled since July, with sales growing by 30 percent each month.
The site retails items like framed artwork, "statement" necklaces, and throw pillows, for example. Price points range from about $30 to $4,000 (the average is $55.) To do business with Bezar, designers must be cherry-picked by Shellhammer or one of his personal "design scouts."
The new portal launches with about 100 designers, and more than 5,000 products. By the end of 2015, Shellhammer projects that 1,000 businesses will be integrated with Bezar.
He doesn't see the move as being any major shift, though, or one that resembles Fab.
"Pivot is the wrong word, but it is a big difference from what I've done before," he explains. "[Flash] only quenches the thirst of one type of consumer, an emotional, spontaneous person." Now, he aims to target a broader demographic: The twenty- something "urban professional."
By building out a support network for entrepreneurs--and shouldering the brunt of their back-end expenses--Shellhammer is confident that he'll be able to drive more customers to the website. Bezar takes a cut of the designers' sales stemming from the site. While he wouldn't disclose that figure, he concedes that it's higher than Etsy and Amazon.
Bezar is facing stiff competition. Just this month, Amazon launched its own platform for small businesses, which could steal some of Etsy's craft market share. Then there are companies like Shopify, Squarespace, and Tictail--the latter of which raised $22 million in a July funding round.
Still, Shellhammer sees his business as catering to a different, forgotten clientele. He claims that most of Bezar's partners have Shopify accounts, for instance, but are seeing little-to-no business there.
"The aesthetic part of our business, and being invite-only, is really important for us," he adds. "The designers that we work with feel like they don't fit in the mix of other e-commerce platforms."
Corrections and amplifications: An earlier version of this story inaccurately noted the number of designers Bezar works with. The company has a relationship with 600 designers at present.