Selene Cruz created a popular line of bags designed to organize laptops and chargers, but she found that she couldn’t grow her company to the next stage without moving from online-only to old-fashioned retail.
“It was a natural transition,” Cruz says. “I wanted to get a storefront and my customers were asking for it, but unfortunately in San Francisco it is too expensive for me to even afford physical space on my own.”
Cruz’s frustration led her to found Re:Store, one of the first startups to secure funding through Female Founder Office Hours, a new mentorship program led by a group of women in venture capital. Sequoia Capital’s Jess Lee, one of the VCs behind the program, led the venture capital firm’s investment in Re:Store in the startup’s $1.7 million pre-seed round.
Re:Store will allow small brands—think Instagram-friendly independent designers—to pay a monthly fee to sell their products in a shared storefront. Along with the storefront, Re:Store will offer brands inventory services and a co-working space.
“It’s easier than ever to become a brand, making your own stuff and selling it online,” Lee says. “But brands end up hitting a wall. At some point, you want to see, feel, and touch products.”
Re:Store’s retail space will serve as a hub for up to 60 indie brands, bringing devoted Instagram followers to a shared space where they can see their favorite designs in person and find new brands they might like. Founders who sign up for co-working will be scattered throughout the space, allowing them to interact with customers who come by.
Like WeWork, Re:Store will be the one signing long-term leases—the most prohibitive part of retail, which keeps many online brands from making the jump. While some brands could eventually launch full-fledged stores of their own, others are very small designers that only carry one or two items and won’t ever need their own physical space.
Re:Store will also furnish the space, hire associates to work in the stores, and do the marketing to attract customers. As for the vibe of the space, Cruz calls it “Glossier meets Reformation.”
Brands will pay $350 a month and give up 20% of their sales to sell in Re:Store’s space. For $550 a month, they get a co-working spot and for $850 a month they get inventory services, including managing their stock and fulfillment—a problem Cruz was also familiar with from having her Archer Brighton bags take over her apartment.
Cruz and Lee expect most of the brands signing up for Re:Store to be in the lifestyle, fashion, beauty, and home spaces. The best fits are brands that have been in business for at least four years with more than 10,000 followers online—bringing their own fans to the space with them.
Re:Store’s $1.7 million included contributions from the early-stage firm 122West Ventures and Ruchi Sanghvi of South Park Commons Venture Capital.
Cruz’s mentor through Female Founder Office Hours was Audrey Gelman of The Wing—another startup bringing Instagram vibes into physical spaces. Gelman advised Cruz, Cruz said, on how to convince tech investors to back—and not undervalue—companies with a focus on the physical world.
Cruz is finalizing Re:Store’s first location near Union Square in San Francisco. After San Francisco opens, Lee sees potential for Re:Store in cities across the country and around the world.
Lee says that she’d heard about similar ideas before, but was struck by Cruz’s own experience as a founder who would have used this product. Cruz started working on Re:Store a year ago, when she developed a makeshift shared shopping experience for small brands in her apartment.
Female Founder Office Hours has facilitated more than 30 checks to a handful of startups over the past three months. Cruz received 41 investor introductions through the program and closed her pre-seed round in just over a month after getting involved.
“You go on Shopify, you’re in business in one day,” Cruz says. “We wanted to replicate the ease of online to offline experiences.”