Earlier today at Disrupt, Kirsten Green, founder of the early-stage, San Francisco-based venture firm Forerunner Ventures, sat down for a quick conversation about her work. Green has become one of the most sought-after e-commerce investors in the country, thanks to bets on companies like Jet.com and Bonobos (both sold to Walmart), Dollar Shave Club (sold to Unilever), as well as numerous popular, standalone brands like Warby Parker and Glossier.
Certainly, her job — funding and helping to grow new, compelling new brands — isn’t as easy as it looks from the outside, despite ongoing disruption to traditional retailers. She noted, for example, that Forerunner is approached by 175 to 200 e-commerce outfits every month, yet last year it made six investments and just nine this year. (There’s “a lot of editing down,” she noted.)
Green also has to manage overlap in her portfolio on occasion, sharing that she has so far navigated potential minefields by talking with her CEOs, though such conversations aren’t always easy.
It “comes down to communication, respecting people and being thoughtful about things,” said Green, adding that she has had “situations where I’ve had that conversation with a founder and we have not agreed” on the threat a potential rival has posed. She said that in one specific instance, she pushed forward with a new deal and, as she’d expected, the companies veered off in different and non-competitive directions. She said the situation ultimately strengthened her relationship with that founder but called cases of overlap in her industry “just life.”
While Green was onstage, we also asked her about Bodega, a San Francisco-based startup founded by ex-Googlers whose nascent business — creating five-foot-wide pantry boxes, filling them with non-perishable items and installing them in gyms and elsewhere — created a firestorm when it launched publicly last week, with many calling its concept insensitive and obtuse. A Fast Company profile reporting that the team wants to “make mom and pop corner store’s obsolete,” understandably aggravated many who are already worried about the growing wealth disparity between the “haves” in tech and the much larger majority of “have-nots.”
“Certainly, that was a devastating launch for the team,” said Green. “It was not the narrative that they wanted, nor did they think it was the narrative that was consistent with their goals and intentions.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Green defended the deal, arguing the team is simply addressing a trend sparked 20 years ago by the launch of Amazon and that has led today to consumers who “want what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and where they want it.”
Explained Green, “Last-mile efficiencies is a big trend. It’s something that consumers have demonstrated that they want and existing businesses are trying to figure out and new businesses are rising up to [address].”
Regarding Bodega, she suggested the idea isn’t to replace corner stores but more or less provide a vastly improved vending machine experience by providing easy access to everyday items to people like college students and apartment dwellers — as well as to make it easier for its customers to track what’s popular, what’s not and how often certain items need to be replenished.
“I think it’s an interesting take on last-mile delivery,” she said. “I don’t think it’s ever going to be practical for someone to drive around and hand-deliver your toothpaste, so how else do we make that an easy experience that’s readily accessible?”
You might check out our sit-down below, particularly if you run or work for an e-commerce company. Green had lots of instructive advice, including on the waning power of celebrity endorsements, the power of offline retail, and why expensive catalogs can still make sense.