BuzzFeed Wants to Sell You Stuff
Two years ago, Ben Kaufman, then-CEO of well-funded consumer product startup Quirky, delivered one of the most awkward, and candid, on-stage interviews I’ve ever witnessed at Fortune’s annual Brainstorm Tech conference. Quirky was in meltdown mode at the time. But instead of trying to spin the situation into a positive, Kaufman, then 28, clearly articulated where Quirky had gone wrong, admitting that the company’s mission, a platform to bring people’s inventions to market, had failed. The biggest reason for the failure, he said, was, “because of the traditional bounds of brick and mortar retail.”
A few weeks later, he stepped down as CEO of the company. Not long after that, Quirky went bankrupt.
Kaufman went under the radar but continued to work on e-commerce projects. He recruited a few ex-Quirky people to his new company, called Scroll, and began dabbling. He built Thrice.com, a site that sells emoji-themed pool floats. He opened Auxilary, an agency that consults with brands on product design. Alongside Ricky Van Veen, Sriram Krishnan and Aaron Dignan, he created Homesick Candles, a site that sells scented candles that smell like different U.S. states. “We target people who are homesick and we sell a lot of candles. It’s very simple,” Kaufman says. (His co-founders have since taken other jobs: Van Veen is now Head of Global Creative Strategy at Facebook, Krishnan is a group product manager at Snapchat, and Dignan has a management consultancy called The Ready.)
Along the way, Kaufman met with BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti to discuss the ways the e-commerce industry might evolve. “Ben was trying to create this idea of products that inspire people, that they want to share, that gives them a way to connect with their friends, and it was a BuzzFeed-y way of thinking about commerce,” Peretti tells Fortune. “We met him and it was like, ‘Whoa, we are thinking about really similar things.’”
In October, BuzzFeed quietly acquired Scroll. The companies did not disclose the deal value.
For the past three weeks, Kaufman has been leading a team of 10 called BuzzFeed Product Lab. Their mandate is to experiment independently with all forms of commerce until they find a formula that works. It’s early days. The company wasn’t planning to reveal the commerce initiative until next year.
Read the rest of this article at Fortune.com for details about BuzzFeed’s brick-and-mortar retail store, the Tasty Cookbook, a product called the Fondoodler, and an e-commerce site whose name would likely force this newsletter into your spam folders.
Related: BuzzFeed is poised to raise $200 million in new funding at a valuation that’s unchanged from its last round, according to a Delaware COB filing revealed on Friday afternoon. Recode previously reported on this round, noting it’ll be an inside round led by existing investor NBCUniversal.
Harry Weller, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, died suddenly on Saturday at the age of 46. A nationally recognized venture capitalist, Weller made Forbes’ “Midas List” for the past nine years. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
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