Jill Ramsey has turned to e-commerce empire building, using her years of online experience at Macy’s, Walmart and eBay to build-up social media-based brands with some business savvy.
And she got a running start at it last year when, after leaving her post as chief product and digital officer at Macy’s, she quietly joined private equity-backed Excelerate Brands as chief executive officer and took over a portfolio that already included Princess Polly, Petal & Pup and Rebdolls.
Now Ramsey is ramping up with a new name for the firm — A.k.a. Brands — and is pounding the pavement around the world, looking for hot next-gen brands to add to the portfolio and supercharge.
It’s a move bringing Ramsey squarely into the new and next, where brands move quickly and are still scaling, in contrast to the more mature establishment names that she said are having trouble keeping up with the light-speed consumer changes.
“I just don’t see that they have the speed and agility to move and go where the consumer’s going,” she said of the established players. “These smaller brands are so much more nimble.”
For instance, Ramsey said the fast-moving set is figuring out the audio-based social network Clubhouse while the mainstream still grapples with TikTok. The social media-born companies are also much more ready to share the brand building with consumers.
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“It’s about control and editorial control and the older, more mature brands are so used to the older notion of controlling every component of [the brand image],” she said. “These young brands are all about authenticity and that close relationship with the consumer.”
Sometimes that means using content generated by the broader world.
“These young brands, [their online presence] looks like an Instagram feed, it feels like an Instagram feed,” she said. “They’re curating influencer content and customer content. The controlled, more mature brands, they would never relinquish that.”
Despite that ability to connect, young brands often struggle with the next step, shipping and covering all the logistical and financial needs of their growing businesses.
And that’s where Ramsey is setting herself up to step in, linking brands with platforms like Shopify, securing warehouse capacity, building up working capital and inventory and then replenishing goods as they sell.
A.k.a. is looking to buy control of brands that are born online and have built sales of $20 million or more and need some help getting to the next level.
The idea is to keep the businesses in the portfolio independent, allowing for a smooth exit when conditions warrant, while also fostering a certain level of collaboration, with each operation learning from the others.
Ramsey is currently in Australia, connecting with Princess Polly and Petal & Pup and looking for new brands to buy.
“Australia is a great prospecting market,” she said, noting that brands that have established themselves there can translate well to the U.S. “It’s a great way to find a proven brand and really bring it to a market that’s 10-times larger.”
A.k.a.’s two brands from Australia are making that transition now.
Princess Polly was founded in 2010 by Wez and Eirin Bryett and is rated as one of the fastest growing brands for women between 16 and 25 in the U.S. market.
Petal & Pup was founded in 2014 by Tiffany Henry and led by Philip Scarff and made its U.S. move in 2019, targeting consumers ranging from 24 and 40.
New York-based Rebdolls was founded by Grisel Paula and caters to a diverse range of plus-sized women.
To help build these brands and any new names that are added, Ramsey has put together a team of veterans who include Jack Calandra, former chief financial officer and executive vice president at Tailored Brands; Michael Trembley, who also worked at Macy’s and Walmart; Jonathan Harvey, former vice president of human resources at Fashion Nova, and John Gonneville, who helped establish the company as a senior associate at Summit Partners.
San Francisco-based A.k.a. is still backed by Summit, which manages more than $23 billion with a focus on growth equity, fixed income and public equity.
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