Behind the turnaround that netted Vinted €50 million

It was May 2016 when Thomas Plantenga got the call.

He was living in New York and working on projects with Fabrice Grinda — the co-founder of classified juggernaut OLX and the founder of FJ Labs. Plantenga had worked with Grinda on expanding OLX and was ready for the next challenge — which came in the form of the used clothing marketplace, Vinted.

The invitation came from Insight Venture Partners and it was an offer to help work with one of their portfolio companies — a former high flyer that had fallen on hard times.

“They sold me on the story,” said Plantenga on a call from Vilnius, Lithuania, where he moved to take the reins at the used clothing startup.

“The business was completely burning down and I was hanging out with them,” said Plantenga. “In those five weeks I connected with both the co-founders and wrote a very aggressive plan of how to completely change things and really change the direction… I said ‘fuck it.’ If you’re going to be betting everything and everyone on this… let’s stick around.” 

Plantenga proposed severe austerity measures for the used clothing exchange. The company shuttered its offices in San Francisco, London, Munich and Paris, and slashed headcount from 240 to 150 and automated the processes of content moderation.

There was a strategic shift in product development, as well. The company focused on trust and safety between buyers and sellers and concentrated on two core markets: Germany and France. And, as Milda Mitkute, the company’s co-founder, told Forbes in an article earlier this year, the company shifted from a mandatory sales fee to a free product with additional paid services (like promotional marketing on the platform for sellers). Between January and December 2017, Vinted processed $360 million in sales.

The turnaround not only saved the company but had investors come knocking at the door. Last week, Sprints Capital led the €50 million financing that also included Burda Media and Insight Venture Partners (along with Grinda’s FJ Labs).

“Insight and Accel had the investment written-off to zero and did not expect it to come back,” said Plantenga. What came next was the biggest investment round ever for a Lithuanian startup.

“We started this whole turnaround with something like $14 million in the bank account and we closed the round when we had $10 million of cash,” Plantenga said. Before the weekend the company saw $2 million in sales in a single day. “It was close to zero a little more than two years ago,” said Plantenga.

As a sign of the faith the company has in management, Plantenga said that even though the ownership stake of the founders and executive team has fallen below 50 percent, they still maintain control over the company and the board.

Used clothes may not sound like much of a business, but in Europe, Vinted thinks that roughly $500 billion worth of clothing changes hands across the continent every year.

With so much money on the table, it’s little wonder that Vinted has attracted competition. Companies like Depop, which raised $20 million in January to pursue its own expansion plans for global domination of the used clothing market, are putting their own spin on the marketplace for used clothes.

And the two companies have very different approaches to their market.

“Depop is very smart in branding and positioning themselves as a cool brand that sells cool clothing,” said Plantenga. “And we’re just selling everybody’s clothes. We don’t care whether it’s cool. We just want people to sell their clothes.”

But both companies are on the edge of what Plantenga sees as a massive shift in consumer behavior.

“If we see the super trends of people wanting not to waste and being careful of how they pressure the environment, and all these super trends are becoming a thing,” said Plantenga. “We are hooking in on those super trends. I came from the classified space where you build a horizontal and you monetize cars and real estate, and fashion was a thing that was kind of nice to have. I stuck around because of my own belief that this is something really big.”