What the NFT? VC David Pakman dumbs down the digital collectibles frenzy and why it’s taking off now

Non-fungible tokens have been around for two years, but these NFTs, one-of-one digital items on the Ethereum and other blockchains, are suddenly becoming a more popular way to collect visual art, primarily, whether it’s an animated cat or an NBA clip or virtual furniture.

“Suddenly” is hardly an overstatement. According to the outlet Cointelegraph, during the second half of last year, $9 million worth of NFT goods sold to buyers; during one 24-hour window earlier this week, $60 million worth of digital goods were sold.

What’s going on? A thorough New York Times piece on the trend earlier this week likely fueled new interest, along with a separate piece in Esquire about the artist Beeple, a Wisconsin dad whose digital drawings, which he has created every single day for the last 13 years, began selling like hotcakes in December. If you need evidence of a tipping point (and it is ample right now), consider that the work of Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, was just made available through Christie’s. It’s the venerable auction house’s first sale of exclusively digital work.

To better understand the market and why it’s blowing up in real time, we talked this week with David Pakman, a former internet entrepreneur who joined the venture firm Venrock a dozen years ago and began tracking Bitcoin soon after, even mining the cryptocurrency at his Bay Area home beginning in 2015. (“People would come over and see racks of computers, and it was like, ‘It’s sort of hard to explain.'”)

Perhaps it’s no surprise that he also became convinced early on of the promise of NFTs, persuading Venrock to lead the $15 million Series A round for a young startup, Dapper Labs, when its primary offering was CryptoKitties, limited-edition digital cats that can be bought and bred with cryptocurrency.

While the concept baffled some at the time, Pakman has long seen the day when Dapper’s offerings will be far more extensive, and indeed, a recent Dapper deal with the NBA to sell collectible highlight clips has already attracted so much interest in Dapper that it is reportedly right now raising $250 million in new funding at a post-money valuation of $2 billion. While Pakman declined to confirm or correct that figure, but he did answer our other questions in a chat that’s been edited here for length and clarity.

TC: David, dumb things down for us. Why is the world so gung-ho about NFTs right now?

DP: One of the biggest problems with crypto — the reason it scares so many people — is it uses all these really esoteric terms to explain very basic concepts, so let’s just keep it really simple. About 40% of humans collect things — baseball cards, shoes, artwork, wine. And there’s a whole bunch of psychological reasons why. Some people have a need to complete a set. Some people do it for investment reasons. Some people want an heirloom to pass down. But we could only collect things in the real world because digital collectibles were too easy to copy.

Then the blockchain came around and [it allowed us to] make digital collectibles immutable, with a record of who owns what that you can’t really copy. You can screenshot it, but you don’t really own the digital collectible, and you won’t be able to do anything with that screenshot. You won’t be able to to sell it or trade it. The proof is in the blockchain. So I was a believer that crypto-based collectibles could be really big and actually could be the thing that takes crypto mainstream and gets the normals into participating in crypto — and that’s exactly what’s happening now.

TC: You mentioned a lot of reasons that people collect items, but one you didn’t mention is status. Assuming that’s your motivation, how do you show off what you’ve amassed online? 

DP: You’re right that one of the other reasons why we collect is to show it off status, but I would actually argue it’s much easier to show off our collections in the digital world. If I’m a car collector, the only way you’re going to see my cars is to come over to the garage. Only a certain number of people can do that. But online, we can display our digital collections. NBA Top Shop, for example, makes it very easy for you to show off your moments. Everyone has a page and there’s an app that’s coming and you can just show it off to anyone in your app, and you can post it to your social networks. And it’s actually really easy to show off how big or exciting your collection is.

TC: It was back in October that Dapper rolled out these video moments, which you buy almost like a Pokemon set in that you’re buying a pack and know you’ll get something “good” but don’t know what. But while almost half it sales have come in through the last week. Why?

DP: There’s only about maybe 30,000 or 40,000 people playing right now. It’s growing 50% or 100% a day. But the growth has been completely organic. The game is actually still in beta, so we haven’t been doing any marketing other than posting some stuff on Twitter. There hasn’t been attempt to market this and get a lot of players [talking about it] because we’re still working the bugs out, and there are a lot of bugs still to be worked out.

But a couple NBA players have seen this and gotten excited about their own moments [on social media]. And there’s maybe a little bit of machismo going on where, ‘Hey, I want my moment to trade for a higher price.’ But I also think it’s the normals who are playing this. All you need to play is a credit card, and something like 65% of the people playing have never owned or traded in crypto before. So I think the thesis that crypto collectibles could be the thing that brings mainstream users into crypto is playing out before our eyes.

TC: How does Dapper get paid?

DP: We get 5% of secondary sales and 100% minus the cost of the transaction on primary sales. Of course, we have a relationship with the NBA, which collects some of that, too. But that’s the basic economics of how the system works.

TC: Does the NBA have a minimum that it has to be paid every year, and then above and beyond that it receives a cut of the action?

DP: I don’t think the company has gone public with the exact economic terms of their relationships with the NBA and the Players Association. But obviously the NBA is the IP owner, and the teams and the players have economic participation in this, which is good, because they’re the ones that are creating the intellectual property here.

But a lot of the appreciation of these moments — if you get one in a pack and you sell it for a higher price — 95% of that appreciation goes to the owner. So it’s very similar to baseball cards, but now IP owners can participate through the life of the product in the downstream economic activity of their intellectual property, which I think is super appealing whether you’re the NBA or someone like Disney, who’s been in the IP licensing business for decades.

And it’s not just major IP where this NFT space is happening. It’s individual creators, musicians, digital artists who could create a piece of digital art, make only five copies of it, and auction it off. They too can collect a little bit each time their works sell in the future.

TC: Regarding NBA Top Shot specifically, prices range massively in terms of what people are paying for the same limited-edition clip. Why?

DP: There are two reasons. One is that like scarce items, lower numbers are worth more than higher numbers, so if there’s a very particular LeBron moment, and they made 500 [copies] of them, and I own number one, and you own number 399, the marketplace is ascribing a higher value to the lower numbers, which is very typical of limited-edition collector pieces. It’s sort of a funny concept. But it is a very human concept.

The other thing is that over time there has been more and more demand to get into this game, so people are willing to pay higher and higher prices. That’s why there’s been a lot of price appreciation for these moments over time.

TC: You mentioned that some of the esoteric language around crypto scares people, but so does the fact that 20% of the world’s bitcoin is permanently inaccessible to its owners, including because of forgotten passwords. Is that a risk with these digital items, which you are essentially storing in a digital locker or wallet?

DP: It’s a complex topic,  but I will say that Dapper has tried to build this in a way where that won’t happen, where there’s effectively some type of password recovery process for people who are storing their moments in Dapper’s wallet.

You will be able to take your moments away from Dapper’s account and put it into other accounts, where you may be on your own in terms of password recovery.

TC: Why is it a complex topic?

DP: There are people who believe that even though centralized account storage is convenient for users, it’s somehow can be distrustful — that the company could de-platform you or turn your account off. And in the crypto world, there’s almost a religious ferocity about making sure that no one can de-platform you, that the things that you buy — your cryptocurrencies or your NFTs. Long term, Dapper supports that. You’ll be able to take your moments anywhere you want. But today, our customers don’t have to worry about that I-lost-my-password-and-I’ll-never-get-my-moments-again problem.

How to land startup funding from Brookfield Asset Management, which manages $600 billion in assets

There are big investment firms, and then there are big investment firms. Brookfield Asset Management, the Toronto-based 122-year-old outfit whose current market cap is $63 billion and that oversees $600 billion in assets, clearly falls into the latter camp. Think real estate, infrastructure, renewable power, private equity, and credit. If it falls into a defined asset class, Brookfield probably has it in its portfolio.

That’s also true of venture capital, though venture is new enough to Brookfield that founders who might like its capital are still getting the memo. Indeed, it was a little less than four years ago that Brookfield Technology Partners began investing off the company’s balance sheet and soon after recruited Josh Raffaelli — a Stanford MBA who cut his teeth as a principal with Draper Fisher Jurvetson, then spent another five years with Silver Lake — to lead the practice.

Its existence came as a surprise to him, actually. “I’ve been a tech investor in Silicon Valley,” says Raffaelli. “My entire professional career has been in a 15-minute drive from the house I grew up in. And I had never heard about Brookfield before they started this practice because it’s in businesses. It’s in real estate. It has done things that are not generally tech-enabled.”

Not until fairly recently, that is. Raffaelli and his 11-person team have not only made dozens of bets since then, but they’re currently investing out of a pool of capital that features third party capital in addition to that of Brookfield — which is a first. As for what they are looking for, the idea is help Brookfield reimagine how its many office towers, malls and other real estate might be used or developed or leased or insured. It’s to make Brookfield smarter, better prepared, and more profitable. In return, the startups get industry expertise and a major customer in Brookfield

 

To date, its bets have varied widely, as with Armis, an IoT startup focused on unmanaged device security; Loanpal, a point-of-sale payment platform for solar and other home efficiency products; and Carbon Health, a primary care company that blends real-world and virtual visits. “”We’re getting our themes effectively from the Brookfield ecosystem,” Raffaelli says.

Pulling back the curtain a bit more, Raffaelli says his team writes checks from $25 million to $50 million dollars and that they look for companies with $10 million in revenue that are seeing top-line year-over-year growth of more than 100%. In terms of pacing, they jump into roughly one new deal per quarter.

The fund is also independent and has its own custom committee, but that the committee is made up of the senior managing partners from each line of Brookfield’s businesses. (“These are the people that actually help us translate our investment themes that we’re generating here,” Raffaelli notes.)

To highlight how the operation works, Raffaelli points to Latch, a smart access software business that announced last month that it’s using a blank-check company backed by the real estate giant Tishman Speyer to become publicly traded. Brookfield owns roughly 70,000 multifamily units in North America, “so we have a lot of doors that need a lot of locks,” Raffaelli says. Latch, of course, is not the only smart access lock out there, so Brookfield ran “what was almost like a mini [proposal process], reaching out to all different companies in the market to understand how they compete,” he says.

It was a “six-month exercise,” but ultimately, his group led Latch’s Series B round in 2018 and since then, Brookfield was bought about 7,000 blocks from the business. It’s a meaningful difference, considering that when Brookfield first invested, the company had less than $20 million in bookings and those 7,000 locks have since brought in an additional $10 million to $15 million in revenue, Raffaelli says. “When we buy a lot of things at that stage of a company,” he adds, “we’re meaningfully enhancing their trajectory.”

It’s not a foolproof strategy, doubling down. If Latch’s locks turned out to be lemons (they haven’t), Brookfield would be out a big check along with that capital expenditure. It’s why Brookfield takes its time, says Raffaelli, adding that if he has done his job right, his team is involved with a company well before it is raising a round and shown already that it is a “strategic partner that has another lever.”

Either way, Raffaelli says that while the commercial real estate market has been hard hit by the pandemic, it has, counterintuitively, been a productive time for his group given the stronger incentive it has given the real estate world to adopt tech tools faster. Among the bets about which Raffaelli sounds most excited right now is VTS, for example, a leasing and asset management platform that can show properties remotely, and Deliverr, an e-commerce fulfillment startup that Raffaelli describes as “Amazon Prime for everybody else.”

In fact, Raffaelli convincingly argues that while the use case for a lot of real estate is changing,  the so-called built world remains Brookfield’s strongest competitive advantage given the size of its footprint.  The way he sees it, its options going forward are plentiful. “You’re looking at retail locations becoming ghost kitchens; you’re looking at retail locations turning into distribution and logistics facilities. We can turn physical locations into healthcare sites for [our portfolio company] Carbon Health, and our mall locations into locations for urgent care and primary care clinics for testing and vaccinations.”

It will never be a completely seamless transition. Brookfield has to be “thoughtful” given the pandemic and its devastating impacts, too. But Raffaelli comes across as excited in conversation nonetheless. The idea of turning physical real estate into a “mechanism for change within technology businesses,” adds Raffaelli, is a “very powerful place to be.”

Meet Smash Ventures, the low-flying outfit that has quietly funded Epic Games among others

When in 2018, Smash Ventures showed up as an investor in a $1.25 billion round for Epic Games — reportedly the largest ever investment in a video game company at the time — it was the first time many had heard of the investing outfit.

When the brand showed up again last summer in an even bigger round for Epic — last August, the games giant announced $1.78 billion in fresh funding at a post-money equity valuation of $17.3 billion — a diner near Epic’s Cary, North Carolina headquarters that sells “smash waffles” started getting calls from reporters, says Eric Garland, who used to lead venture and growth deals for The Walt Disney Company after selling his company, BigChampagne, to Live Nation in 2011.

“Some reporters really turned over rocks,” he says.

Garland knows this, he says, because he co-founded Smash Ventures with Evan Richter, a former member of Disney’s corporate strategy and business development team (and who, before that, was an investor at Insight Partners).

The pair say they weren’t trying to duck the press after striking out on their own a few years ago; they were mostly just trying to get their firm off the ground, which they’ve seemingly done and then some. First, there’s the newly closed $75 million debut fund from strategic partners and notable investors like Kevin Mayer, the former CEO of TikTok and the former Disney executive; Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull; and journalist Willow Bay, who is now dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Yet it’s just a small piece of what they have assembled.

Indeed, at a time when money is more of a commodity than ever and can be accessed easily by many founders, Smash has a few tricks up its sleeve, Richter and Garland suggest.

One thing to know, for example, is that the two apparently have little trouble spinning up side vehicles when they wedge their way into an interesting deal. While they got to know Epic Games through Disney (it made an investment in the company in 2017 when Epic took part in its accelerator program), when they persuaded founder Tim Sweeney to take a bigger check from Smash Ventures in 2018, they were able to package together “several hundred million dollars” from their LPs for a stake in the business.

They also “flexed up” with the help of their limited partners to put a separate $200 million into others of its handful of portfolio companies. These include DraftKings, before it went public through a blank-check company last year; the footwear, apparel and accessory brand Nobull; the men’s grooming company Manscaped; and India’s biggest e-learning startup, Byju’s.

Disney — one of the world’s most powerful brands —  is a common thread throughout. In addition to inviting Epic into its accelerator program, Disney began work on an education app with Byju’s back in 2018 and it owned 6% of DraftKings when it went public last year.

Mayer, the former Disney exec who more recently began launching special purpose acquisition vehicles, credits Richter and Garland with finding “a lot of really cool companies like Epic” while inside Disney, saying he has “been supporting them ever since, because I think they’re great.”

Underscoring the strength of that former Disney network — another apparent advantage here — Mayer says that in addition to being a limited partner, he will sometimes “try and talk to their CEOs, give strategic advice, and talk about exits and M&A with some of their portfolio companies.” (Catmull, who was the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios after Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, was also pulled in to help seal the Epic deal, says Garland.)

As for whether Smash’s dealings have irritated current execs at Disney — it isn’t hard to imagine the entertainment giant would have liked a bigger stake in Epic — Garland says no, adding that, “Outside of its accelerator, Disney is not generally in the venture business.”

In the meantime, Smash also says it’s getting into deals by helping companies tell stories to their respective, captive audiences. As Richter explains it, “The leading consumer software and internet businesses are building massive, and dedicated, user bases, and media, whether it’s a Travis Scott experience within Epic Games, or an IP collaboration between Marvel or Disney [and Byju’s], or whether it’s doing something with the UFC [which last year partnered with Manscaped], can be an incredible way to keep and grow a user base.”

The firm certainly appears to spend a lot of time with its portfolio companies on these efforts. While Smash wrote its first check in 2018, it has just five portfolio companies to date, and it plans only to invest in 10 to 12 companies altogether with that $75 million pool of capital, writing checks as small as $5 million to $10 million, with the ability to write far larger checks when the opportunity arises and its LP network says yes to it.

It’s because the firm is on the hunt now for that next big thing that Smash is suddenly going public with its efforts, Richter suggests. Not that a lot of public speaking is in the partners’ future, seemingly. “We like to stay focused,” Garland says. “We make a lot of noise for our portfolio companies, but we are ourselves very heads down.”

Eat this, exercise now; new personalized software predicts and helps prevents blood sugar spikes

Not everyone has Type 2 diabetes, the disease that causes chronically high blood sugar levels, but many do. Around 9% of Americans are afflicted, and another 30% are at risk of developing it.

Enter software by January AI, a four-year-old, subscription-based startup that in November began providing personalized nutritional and activity-related suggestions to its customers based on a combination of food-related data the company has quietly amassed over three years, and each person’s unique profile, which is gleaned over that individuals’s first four days of using the software.

Why the need for personalization? Because believe it or not, people can react very differently to every single food, from rice to salad dressing.

The tech may sound mundane but it’s eye-opening and potentially live-saving, promises cofounder and CEO Nosheen Hashemi and her cofounder, Michael Snyder, a genetics professor at Stanford who has focused on diabetes and pre-diabetes for years.

Investors like the idea, too. Felicis Ventures just led a $21 million Series A investment in the company, joined by HAND Capital and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. (Earlier investors include Jerry Yang’s Ame Cloud Ventures, SignalFire, YouTube cofounder Steve Chen, and Sunshine cofounder Marissa Mayer, among others.) Says Felicis founder Aydin Senkut, “While other companies have made headway in understanding biometric sensor data—from heart rate and glucose monitors, for example—January AI has made progress in analyzing and predicting the effects of food consumption itself [which is] key to addressing chronic disease.”

To learn more, we talked this afternoon with Hashemi and Snyder. Below is part of our chat, edited for length and clarity.

TC: What have you built?

NH: We’ve built a multiomic platform where we take data from different sources and predict people’s glycemic response, allowing them to consider their choices before they make them. We pull in data from heart rate monitors and continuous glucose monitors and a 1,000-person clinical study and an atlas of 16 million foods for which, using machine learning, we have derived nutritional values and created nutritional labeling [that didn’t exist previously].

[The idea is to] predict for [customers] what their glycemic response is going to be to any food in our database after just four days of training. They don’t actually have to eat the food to know whether they should eat it or not; our product tells them what their response is going to be.

TC: So glucose monitoring existed previously, but this is predictive. Why is this important?

NH: We want to bring the joy back to eating and remove the guilt. We can predict, for example, how long you’d have to walk after eating any food in our database in order to keep your blood sugar at the right level. Knowing what “is” isn’t enough; we want to tell you what to do about it. If you’re thinking about fried chicken and a shake, we can tell you: you’re going to have to walk 46 minutes afterward to maintain a healthy [blood sugar] range. Would you like to do the uptime for that? No? Then maybe [eat the chicken and shake] on a Saturday.

TC: This is subscription software that works with other wearables and that costs $488 for three months.

NH: That’s retail price, but we have an introductory offer of $288.

TC: Are you at all concerned that people will use the product, get a sense of what they could be doing differently, then end their subscription?

NH: No. Pregnancy changes [one’s profile], age changes it. People travel and they aren’t always eating the same things. . .

MS: I’ve been wearing [continuous glucose monitoring] wearables for seven years and I still learn stuff. You suddenly realize that every time you eat white rice, you spike through the roof, for example. That’s true for many people. But we are also offering a year-long subscription soon because we do know that people slip sometimes [only to be reminded] later that these boosters are very valuable.

TC: How does it work practically? Say I’m at a restaurant and I’m in the mood for pizza but I don’t know which one to order.

NH: You can compare curve over curve to see which is healthier. You can see how much you’ll have to walk [depending on the toppings].

TC: Do I need to speak all of these toppings into my smart phone?

NH: January scans barcodes, it also understands photos. It also has manual entry, and it takes voice [commands].

TC: Are you doing anything else with this massive food database that you’ve aggregated and that you’re enriching with your own data? 

NH: We will definitely not sell personal information.

TC: Not even aggregated data? Because it does sound like a useful database . . .

MS: We’re not 23andMe; that’s really not the goal.

TC: You mentioned that rice can cause someone’s blood sugar to soar, which is surprising. What are some of the things that might surprise people about what your software can show them? 

NH: The way people’s glycemic response is so different, not just between by Connie and Mike, but also for Connie and Connie. If you eat nine days in a row, your glycemic response could be different each of those nine days because of how much you slept or how much thinking you did the day before or how much fiber was in your body and whether you ate before bedtime.

Activity before eating and activity after eating is important. Fiber is important. It’s the most under overlooked intervention in the American diet. Our ancestral diets featured 150 grams of fiber a day; the average American diet today includes 15 grams of fiber. A lot of health issues can be traced to a lack of fiber.

TC: It seems like coaching would be helpful in concert with your app. Is there a coaching component?

NH: We don’t offer a coaching component today, but we’re in talks with several coaching solutions as we speak, to be the AI partner to them.

TC: Who else are you partnering with? Healthcare companies? Employers that can offer this as a benefit?

NH: We are selling to direct to consumers, but we’ve already had a pharma customer for two years. Pharma companies are very interested in working with us because we are able to use lifestyle as a biomarker. We essentially give them [anonymized] visibility into someone’s lifestyle for a period of two weeks or however long they want to run the program for so they can gain insights as to whether the therapeutic is working because of the person’s lifestyle or in spite of a person’s lifestyle. Pharma companies are very interested in working with us because they can potentially get answers in a trial phase faster and even reduce the number of subjects they need.

So we’re excited about pharma. We are also very interested in working with employers, with coaching solutions, and ultimately, with payers [like insurance companies].

As the SPAC frenzy continues, questions surface about how much the market can absorb

Another week and the biggest story in a sea of big stories continues to center on SPACs, these blank-check companies that raise capital through IPOs expressly to acquire a privately held company and take it public. But some industry watchers as starting to wonder: Is this party just getting started, with more early guests still trickling in? Have we reached the party’s peak, with the music still thumping? Or did someone just quietly barf in the corner, a sure indicator that it’s time to grab one’s coat?

It certainly feels like things are in full swing. Just today, B Capital, the venture firm cofounded by Facebook cofounder Eduardo Saverin, registered plans to raise a $300 million SPAC. Mike Cagney, the fintech entrepreneur who founded SoFI and more recently founded Figure, a fintech company in both the home equity and blockchain space, raised $250 million for his SPAC. Even Michael Dell has made the leap, with his family office registering plans this afternoon to raise a $500 million blank-check company.

Altogether, according to Renaissance Capital, 16 blank-check companies raised $3.4 billion this week, and new filers continue to flood into the IPO pipeline, with 45 SPACs submitting initial filings this week (compared with 10 traditional IPO filings). Perhaps it’s no wonder that we’re starting to see headlines like one in Yahoo News just yesterday titled, “Why some SPAC investors may get burned.”

Interestingly, such headlines could help puncture the SPAC bubble. So argues INSEAD professor Ivana Naumovska in a new Harvard Business Review piece that’s ominously titled, “The SPAC Bubble is About to Burst.”

Naumovska points to research showing that when more people adopt a practice, it will become increasingly widespread due to growing awareness and legitimacy. (See Clubhouse.) But when it comes to something that’s more controversial — which it could be argued that SPACs are — outsider concern and skepticism also grows as the practice becomes more widely used. Thus are born headlines like that one in Yahoo Finance.

Naumovska has studied this phenomenon before, focusing on earlier reverse mergers that, as she notes, “surged in the mid-2000s, outnumbering IPOs in some years, and peaked in 2010, before falling off a cliff in 2011.” She says she and fellow researchers collected a plethora of data on the use of reverse mergers and market responses to them, including how the media evaluated such vehicles. Of the 267 articles published between 2001 and 2012, she says, 6 were positive, 148 were neutral, 113 were negative.

Notably and unsurprisingly, the negative articles grew as the number of reverse merger transactions involving firms with relatively low reputations increased. The same thing happens whenever the “IPO window” is open. Great companies go public, then good companies, then half-baked companies that think they might just blend in with the others. Except that the media picks up on these companies, as do regulators, and with investors, regulators, and the media feeding off one another’s cues, the party typically comes to a screeching halt.

Anecdotally, much more of the coverage around SPACs right now remains positive to neutral. If business reporters are privately skeptical of SPACs, they are reserving judgment, possibly because save for some highly concerning cases —  like when the electric truck startup Nikola was accused of fraud — there isn’t much to criticize yet.

That’s partly because these things appeared so abruptly that public shareholders are still trying to understand them.

The argument that most investors have for creating a SPAC — which is that a lot of so-called unicorn companies are ready to be publicly traded — also resonates, particularly given how bloated the private market has become.

Further, because many of the SPACs raised over the last six months or so have yet to announce their targets (they have two years from the time they raise funds from investors to zero in on a company or else have they have give back those IPO proceeds).

In the meantime, some of the SPACs that critics have long expected would begin to unravel have not, like Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company that kicked off SPAC mania when it went public in the fall of 2019.  Sir Richard Branson founded the company in 2004 in order to fly passengers on suborbital trips to space. Even after putting off plans yet again to attempt a rocket-powered flight to suborbital space last week, its shares — which more than doubled in anticipation of the event — remain in the figurative stratosphere. (The company is currently valued at $12 billion.)

Other offerings haven’t gone quite as smoothly. Clover Health, a health insurance company that, like Virgin Galactic, was taken public via a SPAC organized by famed investor Chamath Palihapitiya, is “facing a confluence of existential threats” to its business, as observed in a lengthy story by Forbes, with “The Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and influential short-sellers  all digging into Clover’s business practices, including how the company incentivizes doctors and patients to buy its insurance and use its technology.”

(Clover has rebutted the allegations, but it is still facing at least three class-action lawsuits that have been filed over the company’s failure to disclose ahead of its IPO that the DOJ was investigating the company.)

“I don’t get it,” said skeptic Steve Jurvetson last month in conversation with this editor of the SPAC frenzy. The veteran venture capitalist, who sits on the board of SpaceX, said there are “some good companies [being taken public]. Don’t get me wrong; they aren’t all fraudulent.” But many are “early-stage venture companies,” he noted, “and they don’t need to meet the forecasting requirements that the SEC normally requires of an IPO, so [SPAC sponsors are] specifically looking for companies that don’t have any operating numbers to show [because they] can make any forecasts they want . . .That’s the whole racket.”

If many agree with Jurvetson, they hesitate to say so publicly. Ed Sim of Boldstart Ventures in New York is one of few VCs in recent months who to say outright, when asked, that they aren’t considering raising a SPAC at any point. “I have zero interest in that honestly,” says Sim. “You can come back to me if you see my name or Boldstart [affiliated] with a SPAC two years from now,” he adds, laughing.

Many more investors stress that it’s all about who is sponsoring what.

During a call yesterday with Kevin Mayer, the former Disney exec and, briefly, the CEO of the social network TikTok, he noted that there are “many fewer public companies now than there were 10 years ago, so there is a need for supplying another way to go public.”

Mayer has a vested interest in promoting the safety and efficacy of SPACs. Just yesterday, along with former Disney colleague Tom Staggs, he registered plans for a second a SPAC, after it was announced earlier this month that their first SPAC will be used to take public the digital fitness specialist Beachbody Company.

Still, Mayer argued that not every SPAC should be judged by the same yardstick. “Do I think it’s overdone? Sure, everyone and their brother is now getting to a SPAC, so yeah, that does seem a bit ridiculous. But I think . . . the wheat will be separated from the chaff very, very soon.”

It might have to happen if SPACs are to endure. Working against SPAC sponsors already are numbers that are starting to trickle in and that don’t look so great.

Late last week, Bloomberg Law reported that based on its analysis of the companies that went public as a result of a merger with a SPAC dating back to Jan. 1, 2019, and for which at least one month of post-merger performance data is available, 14 out of 24 (or 60%) reported a depreciation in value as of one month following the completion of the merger, and one-third of the companies reported a year-to-date depreciation in value.

The number of securities lawsuits filed by SPAC stockholders post-merger is also on the rise, noted the outlet.

Certainly, SPACs — more recently heralded as a lasting fix for a broken IPO market — could still prove durable rather than vehicles whose demise will come as the quality of offerings invariably sinks.

In the meantime, given the rate at which SPACs are being formed, as well as the some of the companies in their sights — some of them still in the prototype phase — the question of whether this phenomenon is sustainable is one that more are beginning to ask.

As for Professor Naumovska, she thinks she knows the answer already.

Onboard says it can help SaaS companies bring new their customers up to speed faster and better

While companies have embraced the offerings of software-as-a-service companies with growing vigor, getting those new offerings to work in a seamless way from the outset isn’t so easy, with some business customers feeling forgotten as soon as the digital ink dries.

Enter Onboard, a 10-month-old, startup that aims to help SaaS businesses delight those new customers instead of turning them off.

The company was cofounded by CEO Jeff Epstein, who previously launched the referral marketing and affiliate marketing software company Ambassador, which sold in 2018, eight years after it was founded.

Terms of the sale to West Corporation — now Intrado — were never disclosed, but Epstein says it was a “good outcome” for shareholders. (Ambassador was sold again last month to a small Seattle company.)

As for how Onboard works, Epstein makes the process sound straightforward. “You determine the variables of your customer segment, because different plan types might mean that companies need to do something different.” (They could use an API or some code snippet, for example.) After that, Onboard works with the SaaS company to create a global task list with requirements it has hopefully gleaned from the sales process, and helps it create a kind of dynamic, drop-down task list with assignees and due dates and alerts and notifications.

It’s largely a self-service product that make accountability more transparent, ultimately, though Epstein describes the onboarding process as a “shared responsibility” between his company and its customers. He also says his nascent startup is already working on building out a more sophisticated notification layer with automated nudges that are helpful yet not obnoxious.

The five-person company is not charging its dozens of beta customers right now. It wants to get the product right before it shifts into revenue gear, says Epstein. The plan eventually is to charge the types of customers it is chasing — mid-size companies — hundreds of dollars of month, plus a per-person-per-month fee. (“We not be enterprise-y in any way,” says Epstein of the company’s plan to eschew long contracts.)

Onboard is not without competitors. On the contrary, a lot of upstarts have sprung up around this problematic slice of the enterprise universe. That it’s an aggravating period for many new customers was brought to Epstein’s attention by one of his cofounders, William Stevenson, who spent four years as Ambassador’s VP of customer success, where like a lot of people in his position at other companies, he was trying to make do with a less-than-ideal patchwork of offerings, sometimes from Monday or Asana or Basecamp or Google Docs.

It was the same problem that Jonathon Triest of Ludlow Ventures — whose firm quietly led a $1.25 million seed round for Onboard in late summer, joined by Zelkova Ventures and Detroit Venture Partners — says he know well.

“Over and over again, throughout our portfolio, especially in B2B SaaS sales,” Ludlow says, he has heard about companies “forced to piece together solutions or use tools not made for them.”

The question is whether Onboard can gain a foothold faster than some of its other rivals, and unsurprisingly, Epstein believes his team has what it takes to get started. (A third founder, Matt Majewski, more recently left Ambassador to help the company gain momentum.)

Epstein’s resume is helping, too, he says. As a founder in Detroit who sold a company, he’s known to local investors and then some. (“We were able to be a big fish in a small pond,” he says.)

Epstein also says that investors realize there’s “an opportunity generally in the space,” adding that “partners [from venture firms] have been calling– not associates — and they are coming through third-party connections on LinkedIn in some cases.”

He has “obviously raised a bit of money” in the past, Epstein says, but he hasn’t seen anything quite like this before. “It’s weird,” he adds, “but cool.”

01 Advisors, the venture firm of Dick Costolo and Adam Bain, has closed fund two with $325 million

Dick Costolo and Adam Bain, renowned early Twitter execs who served as company’s CEO and its chief operating officer, respectively, have quietly closed a second venture fund just one-and-a-half years after disclosing they’d secured $135 million for a debut fund under their firm, 01 Advisors.

According to an SEC filing, they wrapped up their second fund late last week with $325 million in capital commitments from 81 investors.

We’ve reached out to the firm and hope to share more soon. In the meantime, its strategy appears to center around more concentrated bets in both the consumer and enterprise spheres — and those checks are being written both early and later in a company’s trajectory, judging by some of the companies to announce the firm’s involvement most recently.

Among these recipients is Literati, a nearly five-year-old, Austin, Tex.-based book club subscription service that raised $40 million in Series B funding in January led by Felicis Ventures; Tipalti, a 10-year-old, Israel-based company that develops automation software for global payments and raised $150 million in Series E funding at a $2 billion valuation back in October (01 Advisors joined as a follow-on investor); and SpotOn Transact, a startup that offers payments and other enterprise software and that raised $50 million in Series B funding last year led by 01 Advisors. (Worth noting: the company raised a $60 million Series C round just six months later. DST Global led that next round, with participation from 01 Advisors and others.)

In fact, numerous of the outfit’s investments have hit the gas during the pandemic, including the San Francisco-based mental health and wellness platform Modern Health, which last week announced $74 million in Series D funding just a few months after announcing $51 million Series C funding. The startup, reportedly now valued at $1.17 billion, has raised roughly $170 million to date; 01 Advisors has joined the last two rounds.

01 Advisors has itself largely remained the same size since it publicly launched in August 2019, years after Costolo and Bain had begun investing in startups on an individual and joint basis.

In addition to Costolo and Bain and Dave Rivinus, who spent four years in corporate development and finance at Twitter and is also a founding partner of the firm, Kelly Kovacs is a partner at the firm. Kovacs was Costolo’s chief of staff at Twitter before joining Color Genomics in a similar capacity, then founding her own startup meant to empower executive assistants. She joined 01 Advisors full time in 2018.

Jenny Pater is meanwhile the firm’s operations manager.

01 Advisors did recently list a position for a senior associate.

Costolo, who great up in Troy, Michigan, found himself in the headlines in October when he fired off an incendiary tweet about the decision of Coinbase founder and CEO Brian Armstrong publicly discouraged employee activism and political discussions at work, a stance that drove at least 60 employees to take a severance package offered to them afterward.

While some business leaders were quick to praise Armstrong, Costolo wasn’t shy about hiding his disgust over Armstrong’s position. “Me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business are going to be the first people lined up against the wall and shot in the revolution,” he tweeted. “I’ll happily provide video commentary.”

Bain, a long-suffering Browns fan (like this native Clevelander), has meanwhile been busy, too. In addition to scouting for startups, he now sits on the public company boards of both the real estate tech outfit Opendoor and the space tourism company Virgin Galactic.

01 Advisors served as a co-sponsor of the SPAC that took Opendoor public, along with investor Chamath Palihapitiya. Palihapitiya also spun up the blank-check company that took public Virgin Galactic and the company invited Bain to be a director as that merger was coming together.

Earlier bets by the pair — as angel investors — include the corporate travel site TripActions and the connected fitness startup Tonal.

Tony Florence, the low-flying head of NEA’s tech practice, on the art of building household brands

Tony Florence isn’t as well known to the public as other top investors like Bill Gurley or Marc Andreessen, but he’s someone who founders with SaaS and especially marketplace e-commerce companies know — or should. He’s responsible for the global tech investing activities for NEA, one of the world’s biggest venture firms in terms of assets under management (it closed its newest fund with $3.6 billion last year).

Florence has also been involved with a long list of e-commerce brands to break through, including Jet, Gilt, Goop, Casper, Letgo, and Moda Operandi.

It’s because we talked earlier this week with one of his newest e-commerce bets, Maisonette, that we wanted to ask him about brand building more than a year into a pandemic that has changed the world in both fleeting and permanent ways. We wound up talking about how customer acquisition has changed; what he thinks of the growing number of companies trying to roll up third-party sellers on Amazon; and how upstarts can maintain momentum when even younger companies become a shiny new fascination for customers.

Note: one topic that he couldn’t and wouldn’t comment on is the future of one famed founder who Florence has backed twice, Marc Lore, who stepped down from Walmart last month to begin building what he recently told Vox is a multi-decade project to build “a city of the future” supported by “a reformed version of capitalism.”

Part of our chat with Florence, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows:

TC: You’ve funded a number of very different businesses that have managed to grow even as Amazon has eaten up more of the retail market. Is there any sector or vertical you wouldn’t back because of the company?

TF: You have to be thoughtful about Amazon. I wouldn’t say there’s one particular area that you either can ignore or feel like you’re completely comfortable and open to, given the scale of their platform. At the same time, there are founding principles and fundamentals that we think about as they relate to companies being able to compete and operate successfully.

TC: And these are what? You’ve backed Marc Lore, Philip Krim (of Casper), Sylvana and Luisana of Maisonette. Do they have something in common?

TF:  Sometimes [founders] come at the problem organically; they’re living it [and want to solve it]. Other times, somebody like Marc sees a business opportunity and just attacks it. But there are commonalities. These are folks who are very customer centric, who are focused on good, fundamental unit economics, and who are obsessive about their people, their teams. It takes a village to build a young successful company, and all of those founders you mentioned are great at recruiting world-class people. There’s a sense of vision and mission and culture.

When you wake up and decide to do something, the majority of people you talk to just want to tell you the reasons why it can’t work, so it also takes a certain [wherewithal] to have such conviction around what you’re doing that you’re kind of all in on it, and you’re going to break through no matter what.

TC: Maisonette was going to open a brick-and-mortar store but put a pin in that plan because of COVID. Will we go back to seeing direct-to-consumer brands opening real-world locations when this is over? Has the pandemic permanently changed that calculation?

TF: Leading up to the pandemic, a lot of the young DTC companies that were direct-to-consumer brands, and even the traditional e-commerce marketplaces, were experimenting with offline. Some of it was out of necessity, frankly. Sometimes [customer acquisition costs] became so expensive that it was actually cheaper for them to go offline. In other cases, it was done because the customer wanted that closed loop experience, as with [mattress maker] Casper.

A lot of companies [opened these stores] in a contained way it worked really well. It’s very accretive financially to the overall business contribution, margin wise. It was accretive for the overall customer experience. And in many cases, it didn’t cannibalize anything. It just expanded the [total addressable market].

We’re spending a lot of time right now continuing to think through what are the permanent changes that are going to come out of the pandemic, but I would say the omnichannel model has really has started to take shape and succeed if you look at big retailers like Walmart and Target, so I think there will be an omnichannel dynamic to many of these companies that we’re talking about. Also, over the last 12 months, the cost of acquisition and the efficacy of marketing has swung back in the favor of these young companies. It’s improved to a point where we don’t really even need to think about offline.

TC: I know it had become expensive to acquire customers digitally because it was so crowded out there. Did it become less crowded?

TF: There were very few platforms that these companies could use pre pandemic that weren’t oversaturated . . . it was just very competitive, and that would bid up the cost of acquisition. In the last 12 months, you’ve seen big parts of that market go away. With airlines and financial services and a lot of the spend going way down, it’s become a lot cheaper for companies to market digitally.

TC: Still, it feels at times that it’s hard to maintain a brand’s momentum over time; there’s always some new outfit nipping at its heels. How does a brand itself fresh and relevant in 2021?

TF: There’s a hits dynamic — a fad dynamic — in the consumer space, so that’s always a challenge. You [compete by] continually reinventing and adding [to your offerings]. You see that in social categories, you see that in marketplaces [where they add] managed services and other components [like] payments, and you clearly see it in the way some of the direct-to-consumer companies continue to add new products to the mix.

You focus on the core aspects of your brand and its mission and vision and make sure that the customers really feel that. There’s a community dynamic that has really occurred the last four or five years around e-commerce companies. Glossier is a great example of a company that built a great community around a core set of product offerings, and that has really propelled that company beyond its core customer customer base.

There’s also a contextual commerce opportunity. Goop is a great example this; Gwyneth [Paltrow] brilliantly came up with [an effective way] to merge content and commerce, and that’s something a lot of companies in the commerce space have started to invest in.

TC: Content, community and not necessarily speed, so focusing on what Amazon does not. Can I ask: do you think Amazon needs to be reigned in?

TF: If you’re competing with them [in the] cloud market or a commerce market, they’re a very formidable competitor, and you got to take them very, very seriously. They’re at a scale that’s just incredibly impressive. But I do think you’re seeing a lot of innovation around the edges and companies finding areas that Amazon maybe can’t focus on or isn’t focusing on.

TC: What do you think of these Amazon Marketplace roll-ups that we’re seeing? There’s been at least a half of dozen of them that already, including Thrasio, which announced $750 million this week. All are raising money hand over first.

TF: We haven’t made an investment in the area, though we’re watching very closely. It can be a very capital intensive strategy to execute on because you’re buying brands and then bringing them onto the platform to consolidate and grow, but there’s just an enormous long tail to the e-commerce space and this is an opportunity to consolidate that.

TC: Like, an infinite opportunity? How many roll-ups can the market support?

TFL I do think that we’ll see a handful of these companies get to decent scale. The question will be whether you’ve got more of an arbitrage going on [by] buying companies and generating synergies or there’s some fundamental bigger breakthrough. If you could use AI [and] machine learning to understand how to better serve customers and think about customer acquisition a little bit better, that would be really interesting. If there are real economies of scale to the supply chains [or] baseline infrastructure, that would certainly be interesting.

It’s early on. It remains to be seen how this is gonna play out.

Pictured above, left to right: NEA’s global managing director, Scott Sandell, and Florence, who is the head of global tech investing activities at NEA and who works alongside Mohamad Makhzoumi, who oversees the firm’s healthcare practice.

Newly funded Maisonette is becoming a go-to brand for fashion-conscious families; here’s how

Maisonette, a four-year-old, New York-based company has aimed from the outset to become a one-stop curated shop for everything a family might need for their young children.

That plan appears to be working. Today, the company — which launched with preppy young children’s apparel and has steadily built out categories that include home decor, home furniture, toys, gear, and accessories — says it doubled its number of customers last year and tripled its revenue. Indeed, even as COVID could have crimped its style — sales of children’s dress-up clothes slowed for a time — its DIY and STEM toy sales shot up 1,400%.

Though the company keeps its sales numbers private, its growth is interesting, particularly given the unabated growth of Amazon, which became the nation’s leading apparel retailer somewhere around the end of 2018.

Seemingly, much of Maisonette’s traction owes to the trust it has built with customers, who see its offerings as high-end yet accessible relative to the many high-end fashion brands that are also increasingly focused on the children’s market, like Gucci and Burberry.

Specifically, the 75-person company has a merchandising team that prides itself on working with independent brands and surfacing items that are hard to find elsewhere.

Maisonette also launched its own apparel line roughly 30 months ago called Maison Me. Focused around “elevated basics” at a more reasonable price point, the line, made in China, is seeing brisk sales to families who buy items time and again as their kids outgrow or wear holes in them, says the company.

It helps that Maisonette’s founders have an eye for what’s chic. Cofounder Sylvana Ward Durrett and Luisana Mendoza Roccia met at Vogue magazine, where Durrett spent 15 years, joining the staff straight from Princeton and becoming its director of events (work that earned her a high profile in fashion circles). Roccia joined straight from Georgetown the same year, 2003, and left as the magazine’s accessories editor in 2008.

For those who might be curious, their former boss, Anna Wintour, is a champion of theirs. Yet they also have some other powerful advocates, including NEA investor Tony Florence, a kind of e-commerce whisperer who has also led previous investments on behalf of his firm in Jet, Goop, and Casper.

NEA is an investor in Maisonette, as is Thrive Capital and the growth-stage venture firm G Squared, which just today announced it led a $30 million round in the company that brings its total funding to $50 million.

Another ally is Marissa Mayer, who first met Durrett back in 2009 when Mayer was still known as Google’s first female engineer its most fashionable executive. Not only has their friendship endured — Mayer says she named one of her twin daughters Sylvana because she adored the name — but Mayer is on the board of Maisonette, where she has presumably helped refine its data strategy, including around an inherent advantage that the company enjoys: its very young customers.

“One of the things that’s really helpful when it comes to data and e-commerce is when you can capture people at a particular life stage,” Mayer explains. “It’s why people liked wedding registries. You get married, then you have children and [the retailer] can follow the children’s ages and start anticipating that customer’s needs and what they’re going to want two years from now.”

In terms of “predictable supply chain, for inventory selection, for just being able to meet that moment, having insight into those stages is really important and helpful,” she says. It can also be very lucrative for Maisonette as it continues to build out its business, notes Mayer,

Certainly, much is working in the company’s favor already. To Mayer’s point, Roccia says that more than half of Maisonette’s sales last year came from repeat customers. More, it already has an audience of more than 800,000 people who either receive emails from the company or follow its social media channels. (Maisonette also features a healthy dose of content at its site.)

Unlike some e-commerce businesses, Maisonette is asset-lite, too. Though it has opened a handful of pop-up stores previously and was contemplating a bigger move into retail (“that’s now on pause,” says Durrett), the company doesn’t have warehouses to manage. Instead, items are shipped directly to customers from the various retailers featured at its site.

Perhaps most meaningful of all, the company is competing in what is a massive and growing market. In the U.S. alone, the children’s apparel market is estimated to be $34 billion. Meanwhile, the children’s market is $630 billion globally. While Maisonette is selling to U.S. customers alone right now, it plans to use some of that new funding to move into international markets, says Roccia, who has been living in Milan with her own four children during the pandemic, while Durrett began working out Maisonette’s mostly empty Brooklyn headquarters in January to create a bit of space from her three.

Indeed, on a Zoom call from their far-flung locations, they talk at length about parents needing to create new space to work from home right now, as well as to update rooms for kids attending virtual school. While no one asked for a global shutdown, home decor is a “category that has picked up due to the Covid effect,” notes Roccia.

Asked what other trends the two are tracking — for example, Maisonette features the mommy-and-me clothing pairings that have become big business in recent years — Roccia says that even with the world shut down, it remains a “huge” trend. “It started with holiday pajamas — that was kind of the catalyst to this whole movement — and now swimwear and just casual dressing has become a pretty big piece of the business, too.”

As for what Durrett has noticed, she laughs. “Llamas are big. We sell a llama music player that we had to bring back on the site several times over the holidays.” Also “rainbows and unicorns. As cliche as it sounds, we literally can’t keep them in stock.”

Unicorns, she adds, “are a thing.”

Newly funded Maisonette is becoming a go-to brand for fashion-conscious families; here’s how

Maisonette, a four-year-old, New York-based company has aimed from the outset to become a one-stop curated shop for everything a family might need for their young children.

That plan appears to be working. Today, the company — which launched with preppy young children’s apparel and has steadily built out categories that include home decor, home furniture, toys, gear, and accessories — says it doubled its number of customers last year and tripled its revenue. Indeed, even as COVID could have crimped its style — sales of children’s dress-up clothes slowed for a time — its DIY and STEM toy sales shot up 1,400%.

Though the company keeps its sales numbers private, its growth is interesting, particularly given the unabated growth of Amazon, which became the nation’s leading apparel retailer somewhere around the end of 2018.

Seemingly, much of Maisonette’s traction owes to the trust it has built with customers, who see its offerings as high-end yet accessible relative to the many high-end fashion brands that are also increasingly focused on the children’s market, like Gucci and Burberry.

Specifically, the 75-person company has a merchandising team that prides itself on working with independent brands and surfacing items that are hard to find elsewhere.

Maisonette also launched its own apparel line roughly 30 months ago called Maison Me. Focused around “elevated basics” at a more reasonable price point, the line, made in China, is seeing brisk sales to families who buy items time and again as their kids outgrow or wear holes in them, says the company.

It helps that Maisonette’s founders have an eye for what’s chic. Cofounder Sylvana Ward Durrett and Luisana Mendoza Roccia met at Vogue magazine, where Durrett spent 15 years, joining the staff straight from Princeton and becoming its director of events (work that earned her a high profile in fashion circles). Roccia joined straight from Georgetown the same year, 2003, and left as the magazine’s accessories editor in 2008.

For those who might be curious, their former boss, Anna Wintour, is a champion of theirs. Yet they also have some other powerful advocates, including NEA investor Tony Florence, a kind of e-commerce whisperer who has also led previous investments on behalf of his firm in Jet, Goop, and Casper.

NEA is an investor in Maisonette, as is Thrive Capital and the growth-stage venture firm G Squared, which just today announced it led a $30 million round in the company that brings its total funding to $50 million.

Another ally is Marissa Mayer, who first met Durrett back in 2009 when Mayer was still known as Google’s first female engineer its most fashionable executive. Not only has their friendship endured — Mayer says she named one of her twin daughters Sylvana because she adored the name — but Mayer is on the board of Maisonette, where she has presumably helped refine its data strategy, including around an inherent advantage that the company enjoys: its very young customers.

“One of the things that’s really helpful when it comes to data and e-commerce is when you can capture people at a particular life stage,” Mayer explains. “It’s why people liked wedding registries. You get married, then you have children and [the retailer] can follow the children’s ages and start anticipating that customer’s needs and what they’re going to want two years from now.”

In terms of “predictable supply chain, for inventory selection, for just being able to meet that moment, having insight into those stages is really important and helpful,” she says. It can also be very lucrative for Maisonette as it continues to build out its business, notes Mayer,

Certainly, much is working in the company’s favor already. To Mayer’s point, Roccia says that more than half of Maisonette’s sales last year came from repeat customers. More, it already has an audience of more than 800,000 people who either receive emails from the company or follow its social media channels. (Maisonette also features a healthy dose of content at its site.)

Unlike some e-commerce businesses, Maisonette is asset-lite, too. Though it has opened a handful of pop-up stores previously and was contemplating a bigger move into retail (“that’s now on pause,” says Durrett), the company doesn’t have warehouses to manage. Instead, items are shipped directly to customers from the various retailers featured at its site.

Perhaps most meaningful of all, the company is competing in what is a massive and growing market. In the U.S. alone, the children’s apparel market is estimated to be $34 billion. Meanwhile, the children’s market is $630 billion globally. While Maisonette is selling to U.S. customers alone right now, it plans to use some of that new funding to move into international markets, says Roccia, who has been living in Milan with her own four children during the pandemic, while Durrett began working out Maisonette’s mostly empty Brooklyn headquarters in January to create a bit of space from her three.

Indeed, on a Zoom call from their far-flung locations, they talk at length about parents needing to create new space to work from home right now, as well as to update rooms for kids attending virtual school. While no one asked for a global shutdown, home decor is a “category that has picked up due to the Covid effect,” notes Roccia.

Asked what other trends the two are tracking — for example, Maisonette features the mommy-and-me clothing pairings that have become big business in recent years — Roccia says that even with the world shut down, it remains a “huge” trend. “It started with holiday pajamas — that was kind of the catalyst to this whole movement — and now swimwear and just casual dressing has become a pretty big piece of the business, too.”

As for what Durrett has noticed, she laughs. “Llamas are big. We sell a llama music player that we had to bring back on the site several times over the holidays.” Also “rainbows and unicorns. As cliche as it sounds, we literally can’t keep them in stock.”

Unicorns, she adds, “are a thing.”