Editor’s Note: TechCrunch columnist Semil Shah currently works at Votizen and is based in Palo Alto. You can follow him on Twitter @semil
“In the Studio” approaches springtime by welcoming a city college dropout who went on to found and sell a mobile network startup, began investing that windfall in some of today’s hottest e-commerce companies, and after a stint in fashion for Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, has now co-founded a new web startup focused on building a community around beauty.
Nils Johnson is a hard guy to hunt down. While he’s a seed investor in some of today’s hottest early-stage brands, such as Wantful, Everlane, Warby Parker, Orchestra, and Airtime, among others, Johnson keeps a very low profile relative to the celebrity we see all around us. He’s rarely out at industry events, he doesn’t blog (though he should), and barely uses Twitter. Despite this, nearly every e-commerce founder angles to score a meeting with him in the hopes of landing a seed check with his name on it.
This began to change last week, however, after Britney Spears was spotted at Johnson’s new startup, Beautylish. Over the past 18 months, there’s been an increasing incidence of web entrepreneurs heading down to Tinsel Town, and of Hollywood celebrities making their way to Silicon Valley and New York City to invest in, promote, and scout hot new startups. Whether it’s Shoedazzle, Mobli, or something related to another celebrity with a big social media footprint, new consumer technologies and applications provide attractive, direct-to-consumer branding and distribution opportunities too ripe for the savviest celebrity markers to miss.
In this conversation, Johnson discusses these trends with the precision of someone who has been following the space from within for years. We talk about the connection between e-commerce, the Valley, New York, and Hollywood, as well as external pressures on physical retail and how that is forcing entrepreneurs online to experiment with new business models. Johnson also discusses the challenges and opportunities about creating entirely new brands online, how to nail customer acquisition, the importance of branding, and trends around holding inventory versus manufacturing supply in a vertically-integrated manner.
If you’re an e-commerce founder, thinking of starting a new company in the space, or investing in e-commerce at the later stages, Johnson’s insights on this topic are not to be missed. E-commerce is certainly a hot category, but when you spend time with Johnson, you start to understand how long he’s been thinking about these trends, markets, and opportunities. And while he’s certainly enjoyed success on the investment side, Beautylish could present Johnson with his breakout hit as CEO.