The Skubana Story: Spicy Sichuan to Exit
Yesterday, a Defy portfolio company, Skubana, announced its successful acquisition by 3PL Central and its partner, Mainsail Partners. While it serves as a meaningful exit for Defy and the founders of Skubana, Chad Rubin and DJ Kunovac, the team will remain to build a next-generation end-to-end commerce platform that combines 3PL’s warehouse management system (WMS) with Skubana’s industry-leading inventory management and eCommerce operations platform. Post-merger, customers, and partners will be able to increase efficiencies, communicate across platforms and deliver products seamlessly to consumers. This represents a true win for every piece of the commerce ecosystem.
Our story with Skubana began with our Defy Sage, Brian Lee. I have been incredibly lucky to call Brian a friend and partner for more than 10 years. Our relationship started when I led the ‘A’ round for The Honest Company where Brian was the CEO and co-founder with Jessica Alba, Christoper Gavigan (another Defy CEO), and Sean Marsh. Brian’s history in eCommerce is deep, having founded and been CEO of LegalZoom, ShoeDazzle (with his amazing wife, Mira), and Art of Sport (with the one and only, Kobe Bryant). We were lucky that Brian joined Defy as a Sage and partner at the inception of the firm. He is also the co-founder of BAM Ventures which made the first equity investment in Skubana. Brian called and told me about a team that lived and breathed eCommerce because they had a customer perspective. In fact, the CEO, Chad Rubin, once sold vacuums online directly to consumers to understand what the customer needed. He partnered with his friend DJ to found Skubana in 2014 and like any ‘overnight success,’ the company was acquired 7 years later to complete the vision of an end-to-end commerce platform that truly serves the needs of everyone who isn’t Amazon.
We got to know Chad and DJ over the spiciest Sichuan lunch I have ever had in midtown Manhattan. The two partners were different but complementary. They loved their customers and their customers loved them. They cared about the communities of small and midsize online retailers; they sold software by hosting online lunch-and-learn events and sharing best practices. Their passion led us to lead their Series A round and invited some great friends to join, including Fabrice Grinda/FJ Labs and Allison and Jason/Advancit team. At Defy, we love finding partners to join us in deals so we have more local feet on the ground and great minds and helpful hands around the table.We know this isn’t always the case in venture — but we value the trade-off for partners who truly add value.
Like all startups, during the 21 months that we were invested in Skubana, we weren’t always dealt a winning hand. There were the constant challenges our smaller customers faced from big players and as we moved upmarket, we had a lot of features and product development to complete to win deals. Chad and DJ were always up to the challenge. They also hired well around them. I remember a Board meeting discussion when we had a new focus on sales and our go-to-market strategy and instead of hiring from outside, the amazing Cindy Yuk, stepped up and ran revenue operations and led our growth strategy.
The company was humming and then came Covid…it is easy to forget the scary early days and the hard decisions teams like Skubana had to make. We negotiated out of our lease and trimmed staff. It was unclear a year ago (wow — how time flies) if eCommerce would thrive and succeed with warehouses shut down, planes grounded and ships not delivering goods. It is times like these where, as investors, we can only be supportive and appreciate entrepreneurs like Chad. He kept the ship tight and focused. He drove lead gen and filled gaps in operations. DJ kept coding and driving the product. Cindy and her team kept selling. In retrospect, it seems obvious that the industry would prosper, and Skubana did. They grew 80 percent year over year and began capturing market share when many of their competitors disappeared. They had always had interest from a myriad of buyers but when 3PL Central approached them, it was an easy decision to fulfill the mission of Skubana as a critical piece of a larger platform.
In the world of venture capital, ‘when to exit’ is never clear. We could have raised capital for Skubana at higher prices and gone long — something all VCs want. Defy announced only two weeks ago, another significant exit by another SaaS software company, Securly, where we could have done the same. In each case, our firm believes in listening to the entrepreneurs and teams. Our desire is to maximize our returns for our LPs but also to serve as true partners for our entrepreneurs, and if for a variety of reasons they feel like a liquidity event is the best for stakeholders, we listen. Sometimes an early exit is the right thing to do for everyone involved and it’s especially exciting when it’s a strong outcome like these two deals.
Our entire firm wants to thank Chad, DJ, Cindy, and the whole Skubana team for building an amazing company and being awesome partners. We know you will continue to flourish with 3PL and Mainsail as you continue your entrepreneurial journey. We look forward to partnering with you in the years ahead as you will always be part of the Defy family. A special thanks also to our partner and Defy Sage, Brian Lee, our co-investors, and all of the customers who made Skubana successful. We continue to believe in eCommerce and the infrastructure that supports it, and we look forward to continuing to invest in great entrepreneurs in the space. If you ever have an interest in joining us for a spicy Sichuan lunch, let our team at Defy know.
Neil and the Defy Team