When the storied venture firm Sequoia likes a deal, it will sometimes not only lead one of its financing rounds but fund it exclusively — no matter how that impacts earlier investors. Given the firm’s powerful brand, it’s hard to complain (too much), even if it means that earlier backers see their stakes diluted.
Such looks to be the case with Dolls Kill, an eight-year-old, San Francisco-based online boutique for “misfits” and “miss legits,” that began selling platform shoes and other club-type clothing and has apparently grown like a weed, alongside the festivals that its customers attend, from Burning Man to Coachella.
The company has just raised $40 million in Series B funding from Sequoia, and when we talked yesterday with co-founder and CEO Bobby Farahi about the deal — which brings Dolls Kill’s funding to roughly $60 million — he said there was “no room” for earlier backers, including the consumer-focused venture firm Maveron.
He quickly added that the company’s board members — specifically Maveron partner Jason Stoffer, along with former Hot Topic CEO Betsy McLaughlin — have been instrumental in helping the company “think through growth while maintaining authenticity.”
It’s easy to appreciate enthusiasm around the brand, which employs around 400 people, has retail stores in both San Francisco and LA and sells its own clothes under an array of different labels, as well as sells the clothing of third parties whose aesthetic happens to fit that of Dolls Kill at any particular moment in time.
As says Farahi, “Right now there’s a resurgence in ’90s fashion, but in another year, we could move on to other third-party brands that we believe will resonate with our customers.”
Farahi doesn’t break out how much of the company’s clothing is made by the startup itself — in China and the U.S., among other “international” locations, according to Farahi. He shies from sharing many metrics at all, in fact. But the company, whose counter-culture approach began at the fringes of society, has seemingly gone mainstream as young shoppers increasingly ditch logos and look to express who they are through what Farahi calls their “inner IDGF.”
Adds Farahi, “The macro world changed a lot to give us a lot of tailwinds.”
Dolls Kill also has — for now, at least — a deep connection to its customers, thanks partly to its creative approach. When the company told its three million Instagram followers earlier this year that it would drive an ice cream truck filled with a particular combat boot called the Billionaire Bling Boot to dozens of U.S. cities, customers “four blocks long” waited in line to buy them, says Farahi.
In another inventive twist, it opened its LA location — which looks more like a nightclub — to shoppers at midnight on Black Friday and it stayed open the following 24 hours.
Sequoia — which reached out to the company directly — told Farahi that it had looked at a lot of fashion brands and “they said we believe you’re the next generation-defining brand, the way The Gap was in the ’80s,” recounts Farahi. “I think they see the company not just as a brand but also a movement.”
Certainly, Sequoia’s Alfred Lin — who as Zappos’s COO helped grow the company into the giant that Amazon acquired in 2009 — understands such things, given the famously strong early emphasis at Zappos on company culture and growing while remaining true to its early employees and customers.
As for the name Dolls Kill, the brand was the idea of Farahi’s wife and co-founder Shoddy Lynn, who liked the “dichotomous words, one very soft and one very hard,” says Fahari, explaining that while “the brand is very girly, these girls aren’t taking shit from anybody.”
Also, adds Farahi, “The domain was available.”