In 2015, the fashion world was abuzz when Natalie Massenet, who founded the highly disruptive e-commerce fashion company Net-a-Porter, suddenly exited the scene weeks before a merger was sealed between NAP, as it is called, and Yoox, an Italy-based discount fashion e-tailer and e-commerce services company.
According to an exposé written soon afterward, Massenet left because she didn’t have much say in the matter. Luxury industry giant Compagnie Financière Richemont, which acquired a majority stake in Net-a-Porter back in 2010, didn’t give her one despite that Massenet thought the deal undervalued NAP. (In January, Richemont spent more than $3 billion acquiring the shares of the combined company that it didn’t already own.)
Fast-forward three years and Massenet is back and in a role where she has plenty of say in a lot of things: as a venture capitalist. Indeed, today, she’s taking the wraps off her new firm, Imaginary Ventures, which she co-founded early last year with investor Nick Brown, and that just closed on $75 million in capital commitments for its debut fund.
The idea behind the vehicle is to back early-stage opportunities at the intersection of retail and technology in both Europe, where Massenet is based and the U.S., where Brown spent the last six years working as a partner at 14W, a New York-based venture firm that focuses on consumer tech in the fashion and e-commerce sectors.
Among Brown’s deals: the shoe company Allbirds and the eyewear company Warby Parker. Others of 14W’s many bets include Reformation, Moda Operandi, Goop, The RealReal, Maple, Lola and Outdoor Voices.
“Nick and I have been good friends for a long time, and would spend hours discussing our shared view of the consumer retail space, and where the industry was headed,” Massenet tells us of how the two came together. “It was during an initial conversation over lunch that the idea for Imaginary started to come together: let’s build a fund focused on early-stage businesses obsessed with the consumer, and help create the global retail brands and platforms of the future.”
“At 14W,” Brown adds, “I felt that the rapid changes we were seeing in retail were only just beginning. Investors, entrepreneurs and the industry were only just beginning to understand how quickly these businesses could scale.”
Certainly, the pair isn’t wasting any time. Among their 11 companies to which the fund has already written checks is the cosmetics company Glossier, the clothing company Everlane and the meal kit company Daily Harvest. All three outfits are also in the portfolio of 14W, a firm that was founded in 2010 by Alex Zubillaga, a former EVP at Warner Music Group.
As for what size checks they are willing to write, they won’t say, partly because they don’t want to box themselves in, says Brown. “Most of our investments will be early to mid-stage, but we would never confine ourselves to a strict bracket given the potential for opportunities at other stages.”
As for whether, given her own experience, Massenet might well think it’s better as an investor to stay out of a startup’s way, she says she doesn’t.
“When I started Net-a-Porter, I was lucky enough to have extraordinary angel investors and mentors giving me much-needed funding and advice along my journey,” she says. “It is a privilege to be able to return the favor with Imaginary and the transferable skill set I’ve developed throughout my career.”
In fact, she says that she and Brown will be “very hands-on” when it comes to their portfolio companies, with an eye toward supporting a “new generation of entrepreneurs challenging the status quo across every vertical.”
If you’re curious about Imaginary’s LPs, Massenet and Brown say they come from both sides of the Atlantic and that they include billionaire mall owner Rick Caruso and Matches Fashion’s co-founders and joint chairmen Tom and Ruth Chapman.