Minted is a design platform whose mission it is to bring the best in independent design to consumers everywhere. The company’s art, stationery, and textiles products have reached over 75 million homes worldwide. Since launch in 2007, the company has expanded to serve consumers in new categories including wall art, textiles, digital content and home decor, as well as serve major retailers and consumer products brands with data-backed design through licensing and wholesale partnerships.
When Mariam Naficy co-founded the first online cosmetics retailer, Eve.com, her journey as one of America’s most successful female entrepreneurs began. In building her first major company, the Stanford business school grad and early pioneer of e-commerce also lay the groundwork for Minted, the crowdsourced design marketplace she launched in 2007, which sources and sells creative content such as art, home décor and stationery directly to consumers on a global scale. With Minted’s community of artists and designers now located in all 50 states and 100+ countries, the company continues to expand to provide original content to a wider audience. Minted raised $208M in Series E funding in 2018 from venture capital partners led by Permira, who is in a Limited Partnership with Bryant Stibel. This venture partnership kicked off the growing strategic relationship between Minted and Bryant Stibel, which Naficy says has “added actual value” from the start.
CEO & Founder, Minted
Q: What is your relationship with the Bryant Stibel team, and can you describe how it began?
A: My relationship with Bryant Stibel began last year when Permira invested in Minted and I believe Bryant Stibel is in an LP with Permira and therefore became an investor with Minted. I quickly got to know Jeff Stibel during the due diligence process and have been working with him since.
Q: Having worked with investors over the years, what do you find valuable in the partnership between Permira and Bryant Stibel?
A: I think what’s really nice is that we met Permira first and they introduced us to Bryant Stibel, so it was kind of a nice way to get a lot of diversity in the partners and people we get to call on. Through our partnership, we get to work with Bryant Stibel, which has incredible industry expertise in entertainment, in sports and in certain direct-to-consumer models. Then on the other end, we have Permira, which has had a lot of different kinds of consumer internet experience. Putting those two groups together gives us a more diverse group of people to call on. So, that’s I guess how I would describe it. We get more for our time and we get more for the investment in terms of knowledge and the diversity of backgrounds and experiences. Permira and Bryant Stibel work very well together.
Q: What do you look for in people when you are considering making them part of the Minted team or the company journey?
A: Number one, I look for ethics – a high moral standard. Number two I would say a real “I’ve got your back” mentality where the VC firm treats you like a true partner in good times and in bad. Particularly with VCs, I do a reference check with other entrepreneurs to find out: “How does this person behave when things have been bad?” That’s the number one question I think entrepreneurs often ask each other – we want to know what this person or group was like when times were tough, because everybody can be pretty happy and pretty great when when things are good. I think the other thing is probably relevant industry experience and connections as well as an information flow that is superior to the information you would get from you know other firms and other partners.
Q: How has working with Bryant Stibel differed than working with others?
A: I think what’s different with Bryant Stibel is that Jeff is a repeat entrepreneur himself and he’s walked in the shoes of the operator, scaling companies multiple times. I think he has an instinct for understanding how he can add immediate value to me as a CEO. Bryant Stibel is very operationally focused, meaning that they can add actual value and they’re very much getting engaged with solving transactional and other issues versus acting in a purely advisory capacity. While other VC firms tend to act more in an advisory capacity, Bryant Stibel can provide advice while also leveraging their network of contacts to actually deliver changes and operational results for you at your request. That’s been a huge difference. I would say they are a little bit more hands-on and operational when you need it than I guess a standard VC firm.
Q: Being a serial entrepreneur yourself, how do you think the Bryant Stibel partners’ past experience as operators inform their current strategies and support?
A: Jeff’s experience actually implementing and understanding the pace at which some of these things move for a growing company – which can sometimes be extraordinarily fast and sometimes be extremely slow – gives him a very pragmatic approach to understanding what we can expect to do and how he can help us accept certain things or push them harder. I would say he views companies in a very realistic manner given his previous experience. For Minted, I am specifically thinking about how he helped us in negotiating with a potential strategic partner. As an operator, Jeff understood the level of difficulty we would face in getting the deal we wanted with this partner. He understood the reality of how fast or slow a strategic partner would move and what would have to be done in terms of where to introduce us and how to actually achieve what we want to do. Then when the negotiation went back and forth, Jeff kept checking in to be helpful and to see how we’re doing. When the final proposal came in from that strategic partner, he assessed it and gave us some pretty pragmatic advice, which was that we were probably going to have to cave on a few things to be able to make a deal with this partner. I think if it were another VC firm who didn’t have that direct experience in the entertainment industry, they might have been a little bit less realistic and said that we shouldn’t give up these rights specifically. I think Jeff was accurate in his assessment and it was just really helpful; it helped us cut to the chase and right now we’re moving into the contract phase, so all is looking very good. I think it all comes from just a lot of operating experience, a lot of transactional and deal experience, and business development experience that he’s had, which has been superbly helpful to us at Minted.
Q: What qualities in your mind does an entrepreneur embody?
A: Well personally I think of entrepreneurship as twofold. In my case, you’re creating products that consumers love, but you also have to create a business model that is successful, so you’re creating actually two things at the same time. You can create a lot of products that people love but just will never be a profitable business, or you can create something that’s profitable but consumers don’t want it. I think you kind of have to have both. So entrepreneurship is actually finding a great product but also one that could scale up as a very large, successful business. I think you have to have a certain amount of vision persistence to be successful in launching a business. An entrepreneur has to be comfortable with the initial risk taking that is subsequently followed by trying to minimize risk as much as possible once you’ve landed on something. You have to try to actually close down the risk. One sort of misunderstanding with entrepreneurs is that they’re constantly seeking risk, when actually much of the time a great entrepreneur is actually trying to lessen risks. An entrepreneur is also somebody who can convince and persuade other people to follow them on the journey. That can be done in many different styles and different ways, but they’ve got to be able to get other people to get excited about their vision and follow them, otherwise they won’t be successful. Then lastly, I think to some degree they have to not care too much about what other people think about them because they will get constant rejection.
Q: Has the Bryant Stibel team added value to Minted in your work with them and where can you see them adding value as your work continues?
A: Yes, I think that they have added tremendous value. Keep in mind we’ve only been working together for I want to say about nine months maximum right now, so it’s very early in the relationship. So far, they’ve just jumped in right away and provided the biggest amount of help, which is getting this deal. Assuming that closes, we move on to the sports leagues next – that will be huge value add. Minted fundamentally is a new form of content studio. We produce design content through this scalable crowdsourcing mechanism that creates great independent art and design at scale. Moving forward with Bryant Stibel, I think they will be really smart and experienced helping us navigate how we manage the content archive we built through potentially multiple categories and multiple brands. So that’s probably the next area – just thinking about continuing to monetize all the design content we have.
I highly value the fact that Bryant Stibel has an understanding of how entertainment or content technology and direct to consumer marketing all sit together and the team sits at a great intersection point and therefore are some of the few like the rarest people. They are people that I feel like I can actually relate to in my journey, which straddles the tech world and more of the content world. They too are sitting at that intersection, which is extraordinarily helpful to me.
Q: As the leader of multiple female-ran companies, what unique value do you think women bring into entrepreneurship, C-suite teams, and venture capital?
A: For the vast majority of consumer spending in the U.S., the purchase decisions are made by women. As a result, I believe women can often identify fantastic gaps in what’s available on the market for consumers. So, I think just being able to relate to this vast purchasing power is super important and unique. Honestly, with Minted, for example, we’re selling to something like 80 to 90 percent female consumers. Minted was all based on a very cherished belief that consumers would want better design; that they care a lot about being unique and expressing their unique selves. I think that’s rooted in my own personal buying behavior and experiences as a shopper, which I’m not sure I would have had otherwise. I think that one of the very unique things you can leverage as a female entrepreneur is the unique perspective that’s brought within the consumer’s perspective. The other area that women bring strength is in representing employees and community members who are female. By understanding their perspective and their struggles and what typically is hard for them, it helps you best represent that half of your employee base or that half of the community. In our case, actually more than half of our employees are women and more than half of our community are women as well. Because of that, it’s quite critical to make sure that we are fully understanding our female employees and female community members’ life experiences to bring an empathetic and sympathetic approach to how we manage the company, how we think about their work-life balance, and really their everyday work experience. Those are some of the things I think women bring to the to the boardroom.
Q: With Minted being a platform built in which individuals can achieve their own success by partnering with you, how do you think the Bryant Stibel platform enables individual companies to achieve their vision of success?
A: I think the fundamental most important thing that Bryant Stibel understands is the idea and the value inherent in the design community itself. They value the content that builds Minted and they really understand that it is differentiated. I believe that Bryant Stibel values the designers who create with Minted and the community we’ve created. Their strategy emanates from those shared values. I really feel like they understand and agree on the value of how Minted has designed our community and how we treat designers respectfully and maintain our community health regardless of how much we expand. So that’s one important thing, is just we have that shared value. Bryant Stibel really helps by thinking creatively about where the design and the content can be leveraged to benefit which brands. For example, they really have thought creatively about how Minted assets can help the strategic partner we are talking with offer goods of its own featuring its own archive and heritage and bring it together with Minted’s great global community. Bryant Stibel has helped us strategize how to bring those forces together to create fantastic commerce opportunities for the strategic partner. So that’s an example of how they’re thinking about where the value is at Minted, what the value is, and how to how to creatively deploy it to create revenue for both the partner and Minted.
Q: Is there anything that Bryant Stibel understands about consumer internet models that has been helpful for Minted?
A: I would say they understand direct to consumer marketing superbly well due to their actual operating experience and their knowledge rivals that of any e-commerce or consumer net investor in San Francisco or really globally. I think their knowledge is superb. I would say they have a really strong command over direct to consumer, customer acquisition, marketing, lifetime value generation, and really all the internet consumer economics.
Q: What do you see as your ultimate goal for Minted?
A: I think of Minted as a design platform and design destination that is a multi-brand, multi-category public portfolio that powers not just the Minted brand, but now other retailers, brands and other companies and brands in terms of design. Minted is all connected together by a community of artists and designers who are independent people that really want to bring the best quality work to consumers everywhere. So really our mission is to bring the work of the best emerging independent artists and designers of the world to consumers everywhere. That’s the real business model, which is multi-brand and multi-category.