Why Everyone From Will Smith to Francois-Henri Pinault Is Investing in The Fancy

Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that social discovery/e-commerce site The Fancy had been valued at $600 million and that American Express and actor Will Smith had come on board as investors. The Fancy has yet to officially confirm the news, but there's no doubt that now is an important time for the four-year-old site. We spoke with founder and CEO Joseph Einhorn about what The Fancy is, how it's grown so quickly, the importance of having Kering's Francois-Henri Pinault on board, why Zara is one of his biggest inspirations, and more.
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Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that social discovery/e-commerce site The Fancy had been valued at $600 million and that American Express and actor Will Smith had come on board as investors. The Fancy has yet to officially confirm the news, but there's no doubt that now is an important time for the four-year-old site. We spoke with founder and CEO Joseph Einhorn about what The Fancy is, how it's grown so quickly, the importance of having Kering's Francois-Henri Pinault on board, why Zara is one of his biggest inspirations, and more.
Joseph Einhorn in a custom diamond necklace in the shape of The Fancy's logo

Joseph Einhorn in a custom diamond necklace in the shape of The Fancy's logo

Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that social discovery/e-commerce site The Fancy had been valued at $600 million and that American Express and actor Will Smith had come on board as investors.

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The Fancy is basically a platform where you can browse cool stuff that people find and post in an aesthetically appealing way. You can 'Fancy' it, which is essentially liking it--and the more something is Fancied, the more visible it becomes on the site. You can also purchase everything posted to the site and checkout without leaving The Fancy and they'll ship it anywhere in the world. "Our thing is: No matter where you are in the world, no matter what language you speak, no matter what device you use, if you see something that you 'Fancy,' meaning you see something cool, you add it to your cart all in one place and you buy it and get it in a box from us," Einhorn explained.

Thus, it does more than the typical Pinteresty platform because you can purchase, and the e-commerce concept is more modern than other e-commerce sites because the inventory is user-generated.

As you can probably imagine, while the concept may be be super simple for the shopper, that makes things extremely complicated for the company, as it essentially requires them to make everything available to everyone, everywhere at all times. "We operate the most chaotic shop that has ever existed," says Einhorn. So, why do they do it?

For one, Einhorn feels that by shipping to more countries in more languages, they're tapping into a huge international market "Half of our business and half of our users are outside the USA and outside of the USA everybody is young, has a mobile device and wants to shop this way and they're crazy underserved. Nobody does anything for them. I grew up when the USA was the center of everything and that’s not really happening anymore."

Another reason is customer service. "Third parties will never treat your customer the way you would treat your customer, because they don’t have that attachment to them." And finally, they don't want to share the data they get regarding what people are interested in and willing to spend money on. "We think we have a really special data set that no one else has and we don’t want to share that and have that reverse engineered. We have this great signal of what millions of people Fancy, what’s something they would spend money on, so we didn’t think it was practical to share that information."

But how does someone in Budapest Fancy some Phillip Lim jacket online and then have it at their door less than a week later?

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They use predictive analysis everyday to predict the amount and location of the demand for any given item on the site. "We have a signal for number of Fancies and when it was Fancied, and we have a signal for the location and we have predictive analytics to figure out, is this worth us getting inventory so that we can ship it to our customers really, really fast?" So if an item gets Fancied a lot, they'll spread a little inventory around the places it gets Fancied, but not so much that they have excess inventory. The company's international average from order to receiving is seven days.

Of course, when you're doing that much guessing, a little excess inventory is inevitable. The solution: Late last year, The Fancy launched a subscription box service where for $39/month you get a box containing items that a whole lot of people Fancied--just didn't necessarily buy. So chances are it's pretty cool stuff.

Which is one of the less tangible aspects of The Fancy's appeal, to me at least. I know 'well-curated' is an overused term in a lot of design industries, but The Fancy just kind of is. Everything on there is just really cool--or at least unique. It's the kind of stuff I wouldn't necessarily know how to find otherwise (because I'm not really that cool). "People talk about trendsetters versus trend followers and everybody’s important when it comes to shopping, but I think we have a very special concentration of trendsetters," says Einhorn.

While fashion isn't the focus of The Fancy, it makes up a big part of the site's content because it's a big part of what its users happen to be interested in. "There’s something about fashion that kind of ties everything together lifestyle-wise," says Einhorn. And that's where Kering and Francois-Henri Pinault come in. Einhorn explains why having high-end brands on board is important:

"If you think about what we’re trying to do, you’ll understand why it’s really important that we have a luxury group involved. If you think about a complete marketplace, you have to have the top of the brand pyramid because if you don’t it’s impossible to work your way from the bottom up. Gucci and [other high-end] brands--they’re never going to work with Amazon or Gilt or Groupon because it's all brand-degrading. Internet has been a dirty word in luxury because that just goes against everything they try to do and for us to have them on as a sort of anchor for the high-end [is important]."

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While Einhorn acknowledges the importance of luxury fashion brands, one of his biggest inspirations, business-wise, is Spanish fast fashion giant Zara. "Their thing is to figure out what everybody wants and get it to them faster than anybody," a concept that Einhorn understandably sees as in line with The Fancy's. "I guess they do knockoffs or whatever...but they’re high quality. They have been really great at selling a lot of things." Fortunately, Einhorn does not plan on selling knock-offs or producing in Bangladesh. "We want to have a company with the corporate principles of Zara but multi-brand instead of a house brand."

As for what the future holds for the Fancy, Einhorn says they're simply focusing on mobile (which comprises over half of their users), adding new customers, and improving shipping, logistics and customer service to "ultimately turn new customers into repeat customers."

And then there's the big picture. In addition to Zara, Einhorn also admires the scope of online stores like iTunes and Google Play--while neither really sells physical products, both have hundreds of millions of credit cards on file. "Ultimately, what I think is at stake is becoming the app store or Google Play of physical goods. "If we can become everybody’s favorite shop, it’s a radical thing."