The Fabulous Fab – Startup Inspiration

Fab.com has been making a lot of press lately – crazy growth (1 million users in less than 6 months!), new funding with amazing investors, accomplished new hires and bold hiring statements. I’m over the deals and flash sales phenomena but I love Fab. Over on Quora, people ask questions along the lines of “How is Fab different from One Kings Lane” or “What is so special about yet another deals site?” Clearly none of them have actually used Fab.

If it isn’t obvious already, I am a highly satisfied and besotted Fab.com user. I thought it would be interesting to dissect their success from a consumer and also an investor perspective.

Fab attributes their uniqueness and success to three factors:

  1. A laser-like focus on design. From the design aesthetic of Fab.com’s website and mobile applications, to the products that are featured for sale, to the end-to-end customer experience, Fab.com is all about good design.
  2. Social commerce. More than 50% of Fab.com’s 1.2 million members have come from social sharing.
  3. Innovation. We build all of our own technology and we endeavor to be the world’s pioneer in integrating social and commerce features to enhance the product discovery process.

Usually company “philosophy” is gussied-up copy but the above description is actually spot on. Here’s my take on what they do well:

  • Innovative product curation: RIVR (Random Intermittent Reinforcement Variable) baby. Variety and unpredictability keep you coming back for more. They feature such fun, fresh and different things everyday that you keep coming back for more. From slate cheeseboards to themed USB sticks, cheap to expensive, useful to delightful – their product universe seems endless and it’s growing every day. They also experiment with the traditional daily deals format – longer term sales or “pop-up shops,” for example, focusing on partnerships with other design experts (Fast Company), product themes (T-shirts and magazines) and unique takes (Modernist Holiday Decor).
  • End-to-end design aesthetic: They actually walk the talk. From their website to their quirky mobile app to their absolutely fabulous product curation and discovery process, they’ve designed a great product and a great company it seems. Their customer service isn’t Zappos-level yet but it is getting there.
  • Focus on discovery/inspiration vs. sales: The items they sell, the way they market and their product feature choices all emphasize long term design discovery over immediate sales. Like something but don’t want to buy it? Put it in your design profile — a Pinterest meets Tumblr. E-commerce sites usually have this feature but deal sites don’t because of one-off inventory. Clearly Fab doesn’t want to limit itself to being a design storefront and this pays off with increased product engagement.
  • Emphasis on product quality: They limit user invitations “to maintain exceptional prices” which I think translates into maintaining product quality and profitable pricing for the sellers a.k.a. “don’t pull a Groupon.” Most of their deals are sold out but controlling number of viewers and items sold helps prevent cupcake horror stories, Groupon-style.
  • Listen to customers: Little details show they observe, analyze and tweak. Items that are sold out within moments of going on sale reappear later for the disappointed throngs of people who missed out (Still no Holstee Manifesto poster though!). Their product delivery has been a little sluggish and so for the holidays, they have a “Holiday Gift Guarantee” which ensures that products you order get delivered on time to sit under the Christmas tree. To set realistic customer expectations, they’ve sold the same product as two different items – holiday time delivery and Post X-mas Delivery.

From an investor’s perspective, the combination of traction and a seasoned founding team is a double win. The fact that the “design” bandwagon stretches out to comprise the entire e-commerce universe doesn’t hurt at all. And investors are also paying up for this:

“We are constantly pushing the envelope at the intersection of social + commerce + content. What you see from us today is just the start.

Fab’s traction and design expertise gives it a dedicated fan base to pull more daring (and should I say, fabulous?) social commerce experiments. Given that customers already view their newsletters as a design magazine, getting into the content business officially isn’t much of a stretch. If the future of the web is moving from the social graph to an interest graph, Fab could own the “design” interest graph. Which is worthwhile since “design” is nebulous enough to encompass anything well-designed while commanding a premium. Jeff Jordon, partner at Andreessen Horowitz, wrote a post listing out reasons why they invested in Fab. He lists pretty much the same reasons.

“[Fab] is as close to addicting as anything I’ve ever experienced in e-commerce.”

Jeff, I have to wholeheartedly agree.

Fab’s clearly-stated goal is:

“We want people to LOVE Fab and to think of Fab as the most creative and innovative force in design.”

People do love Fab. Fab curates and delivers some of the most creative and innovative products in design and makes it readily accessible. Distribution combined with curation is pure gold and that makes Fab a “culturally important” and potent force in design. Not bad for a 6-month old startup.

So kudos Fab.com. When my (yet-to-be-founded) startup grows up, I want it to be just like you!

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