Why Did Fab.com Collapse So Quickly?

Image courtesy of greenplasticamy

Fab was a company that you might remember seeing ads for everywhere around 2012, including TV commercials. It’s that heavy spending on marketing that helped doom the company, along with rapid expansion and other problems. The site still exists under new owners, but the company that started it was once a startup worth $1 billion. Two years later, it was dead. What happened?

Today, in an article and a podcast, Bloomberg Technology eulogizes Fab and tries to draw lessons for other startups from its brief and fabulous existence. The company may have survived if it hadn’t expanded so quickly, including acquiring copycat sites in England and in Germany, and spending cash at an unsustainable rate.

Fab started as a gay-focused social network called Fabulous. One feature on the site, the “Big Gay Deal of the Day,” stood out as a possible way forward when the site wasn’t really thriving. The Fab e-commerce site grew out of that idea of highly curated deals, and the company grew quickly, with the enviable problem that it struggled to keep up with the demand.

The problem turned out to be sustaining that level of growth. Early customers were very loyal and kept coming back, so the company spent tens of millions of dollars on marketing. The problem with that was that the new customers weren’t as loyal: they took part in one flash sale, then didn’t come back.

Shortly after the company received more investment and was valued at more than $1 billion in 2013, co-founder and CEO Jason Goldberg was interviewed on Bloomberg’s TV network and shared his ambitions for the company. He named what were then the four largest e-commerce companies in the world, each worth more than $10 billion — Amazon, Rakuten, Alibaba, and eBay. ”We think Fab has a legitimate chance of becoming the fifth one,” he told the anchors.

Maybe it could have. Unfortunately, there was someone else from Bloomberg was waiting to talk to him: reporter Sarah Frier, who had been talking to former employees about the company’s problematic culture, the recent departure of executives, and its failure to meet its revenue targets. The story ran, and Goldberg disputed the facts in this article in a point-by-point blog post, but now admits that the company was in trouble at the time. Waves of layoffs hit. Not that Goldberg would admit in public that things weren’t going well.

A few months after this Tweet, the company was down to 25 employees, and less than a year later, it sold for a reported $15 million to a private equity firm. If you’re keeping track, that was less than two years after investors valued the company at $1 billion.

Goldberg is now working on a messaging app called Pepo, and says that he learned a lot from the catastrophic failure of Fab. “I’ve experienced a real sort of humility from the colossal failure that was Fab,” he told the Bloomberg reporters. “I’m still working my way, personally, through it.”

He says that he feels that he failed Fab’s investors and employees. Or is that more spin as he prepares to launch yet another startup?

[Jason Goldberg’s] Response to Bloomberg’s Article [Medium]

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