Today, I'm excited to announce Pietra.
Pietra is a marketplace that connects the world's best jewelers and jewelry designers with people looking to create their own custom fine jewelry. Whether you're in the market for a diamond engagement ring, or want to work with a designer to create a unique pair of earrings to celebrate a special moment in your life, Pietra can make it happen.
Our founding team combines the brightest minds in technology — leaders from Uber, Google, and Microsoft — with forward-thinking executives from iconic fashion companies to push the $200B+ diamond and fine jewelry industry into the digital era.
Leading our seed round is the world-renowned firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z). Alongside a16z, we've partnered with many cultural and business leaders, including Michael Ovitz, Joan Smalls, Scooter Braun, Robert Downey Jr.'s Downey Ventures, Will Smith's Dreamers Fund, and the Cultural Leadership Fund.
Also joining the investor group are Uber alumni William Barnes and Josh Mohrer, Anthony Schiller from Greenbay Ventures, Ramtin Naimi from Abstract Ventures, and Shana Fisher from Third Kind Venture Capital.
On a more personal note, I'm beyond thrilled to be, once again, working with Andrew Chen, a former colleague from Uber and general partner at a16z. He also happens to be one of the global thought leaders in marketplaces. We're pumped to be welcomed into the a16z family and look forward to building a future where Pietra brings transparency, security, and joy to an archaic industry.
Check it out, you can download it in the app store now.
Tectonic shifts in luxury or, Preparing for the next generation of buyer
Those who know me know that I'm a long-time sneaker and streetwear enthusiast and will do whatever it takes to make sure I get my hands on the latest drop. Last year, it became obvious to me that there were three tectonic shifts happening in the luxury and streetwear and as I dug in, realized were even more pronounced for higher ticket items like jewelry:
- The next generation of shoppers are digital nativesand they have a different relationship to creators than our parents ever did to their favorite brand.
- People want personalized experiences and to feel a part of the creative process. Mass produced off-the-shelf items just aren't that appealing anymore.
- The next generation of luxury shoppers expect online experiences to be better than in-person experiences. From discovering a new brand on Instagram, to connecting with personal shoppers on WhatsApp, the new luxury consumer expects technology to enhance and not just enable.
The industry of diamonds and fine jewelry is very late to adapt. It's estimated that only 5% of jewelry is sold online today. Think about that for a minute. It actually makes sense — the best places in the world to shop for jewelry are a handful of known consumer brands and fashion websites that probably have a small "jewelry" category. It's like how shoes was a subcategory on fashion websites more than a decade ago. Jewelry is an industry that deserves its own ecosystem and one that is begging for a technology-powered revolution.
So we asked ourselves: what if we created a curated, managed diamond and fine jewelry marketplace where jewelers and jewelry designers can reach the next generation of shoppers and also deliver personalized, high-touch consumer experiences?
Changing the diamond industry or, Now everyone knows a guy
There's a reason people still ask their friends if they "know a guy". It's usually to get a perceived favorable price on a diamond or to source a rare stone. How is this still a thing in 2019? Well, it's because the diamond industry, to this day, remains one of the most fragmented and opaque industries on earth. The buyer usually doesn't know where to start, let alone compare different options to maximize his or her value. What's worse, the online experience for buying an expensive piece of jewelry — like a diamond engagement ring — is awful. It's the same experience whether you're buying a $319 diamond or a $319,000 diamond. Identical stock photos fill up a 3×3 grid in an experience that is optimized for speed, not quality. At the very least, it's safer than walking into a diamond district with a bag full of cash to pay a jeweler.
Earlier this year, one of my friends was looking for a diamond engagement ring. Like most people I talked to, he discussed ideas with his girlfriend. They wanted something unique to symbolize their love — not something from the mall. His girlfriend had sent him a few inspirational photos based on things she'd seen and told him not to "go rogue on my ring". So he asked around, "Does anyone know a guy?" My other friend said his hairdresser might be able to hook him up. We laughed and noted how funny it was that the most expensive purchase of my friend's life at the time could be done through his friend's hairdresser's "guy" (he didn't end up going that route).
What your significant other means when they say "don't go rogue on my ring". Pro tip: just ask her!
Pietra now has a global network of high-quality, hand-picked jewelers from all over the world that respond to requests for diamond engagement rings. We hope to bring transparency, security, and ease to an industry that's needed this for many years. We even recommend the best diamond for you based on your price range and preferences. The jewelers and jewelry designers on the Pietra network have expertise in design, sourcing, and diamond fundamentals — everything you'd want before making such an important purchase. Once you decide to match, Pietra will open up a collaborative experience where you can share ideas, negotiate price, and securely pay. Pietra manages all the details behind the scenes. From taking deposits on behalf of jewelers, to holding money in escrow until the jeweler delivers the finished product to the user, Pietra's team supports the buyer every step of the way.
Custom fine jewelry or, Enabling personalization at scale
The more research we did the more we realized that people love the idea of a personalized or custom designed piece — especially if they could co-design with a knowledgable professional. Custom designed pieces hold a deeper meaning because no one in the world is wearing the same thing. When we talked to jewelry businesses, they were seeing the same trend: a huge portion of their business is moving towards custom jewelry. And yet, nothing really existed that made it easy to co-design their own jewelry with a professional.
We're happy to announce that alongside engagement rings, you will also be able to use Pietra to connect with a jewelry designer to create any piece of jewelry. Finally, you can bring your ideas to life. From necklaces to earrings to bracelets, match with a designer to create the perfect piece for any occasion.
Andrew Chen & a16z in the house or, Our funding story
In early 2018, I had a (semi) functioning prototype of the marketplace with a handful of hand-picked jewelers signed up. One afternoon I called up one my ex-Uber colleagues, Andrew Chen, who's a general partner at a16z to chat about how I could turn this into a real business. For those of you who don't know Andrew Chen, check out his blog which has 700+ essays on growth, metrics, and marketplaces — he's been cited by Wired, NYTimes, and WSJ. He ran rider growth at Uber and is one of the world's foremost thought leaders on marketplaces. We worked alongside each other at Uber so I've seen him in action. He can think strategically and knows how to get things done. Naturally, he was my first phone call, and over a cup of coffee I convinced myself that this was a big idea worth pursuing. I was pumped.
Andreessen Horowitz needs no introduction. They've backed many of the most successful marketplaces on the planet, including Instacart, Airbnb, and Lyft. The firm has authored some of the most influential and seminal essays about marketplaces, including one of my favorites: What's Next For Marketplace Startups? It wasn't too long after we pitched that we heard the good news. A16z agreed to lead our seed round, and shortly after, we brought on prominent strategic investors and advisors to make this dream a reality.
How the pitch went down…
In December 2018, alongside Ashley Bryan, Jaden Levitt, and Pan Pan, I met with Andrew at the a16z offices. We gave their team the pitch: we're a new type of marketplace that would connect buyers to jewelers and jewelry designers for the purpose of creating custom jewelry. The best engineers in the world would team up with longtime luxury eCommerce and fashion execs to change an entire $200B+ industry.
I never thought we'd get to pitch at a16z. It was amazing. We pitched at 11am and Andrew called me back at 5pm with the verdict. Ashley, Jaden, and I waited at Rosewood, a nearby restaurant, for the call. We tried pretty hard not to look like nervous people eating to pass the time but we most certainly failed. The staff at Rosewood must see this type of thing often because they let us sit at the restaurant for 4 hours while we waited for a callback.
At 5pm Andrew called me to come back into the office. I was ecstatic when he told me that a16z would lead the round. I flew to LA the next day because Andrew was attending a conference, and in between events we hammered out a deal. Halfway through Bob Iger's fireside chat with Marc, Andrew sent me a term sheet from his phone. I was in the front row so I couldn't stand up and fist pump like Tiger, but you bet I was on the inside.
Our team or, The hustlers
From left to right: Noelle, Jaden, Ronak, Leigh, Pan, Ashley
To say I'm excited for this team to run at full speed is an understatement.
Ashley Bryan, the ex CMO of Moda Operandi and all-around boss, is leading our marketing and branding efforts. Pan Pan, my longtime engineering counterpart from Uber, is leading technology. Jaden Levitt, who founded a consulting firm specializing in creative businesses, is leading operations alongside Leigh Evenson. Our first (badass) engineer, Noelle, joins us from Google to lead Web Engineering & Product.
We're excited to launch our marketplace and for the future we're helping to build. If you love the idea, the complexity of creating a marketplace, or just like to build really cool shopping experiences, come join us!