Economy Health, Wellness & Biotech Retail and Direct To Consumer

Home Stuff You Never Thought You Needed Remains Viable Startup Category

Bed Bath & Beyond may be shuttering, but the vision it sold of a manicured, functional and up-to-date home, lives on.

Over its five-decade history, the retailer was a big contributor to the societal meme that a considerable portion of our paycheck ought to be devoted to the continuous improvement of our living spaces. Its shelves and catalogs were a testament to the notion that every household item — from toilet roll holder to mattress cover — was worthy of rigorous comparison shopping.

These days, much of that decor- and gadget-centric shopaholism has shifted to more competitive online offerings. But the core consumer appetites the retailer helped stoke — for things like smart garbage bins, movement-adapting mattresses, and bean-to-cup automated espresso machines — remains vigorous as always.

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Startup founders continue to take these wants quite seriously. And while home decor and gadgetry has never been a mainstay of the venture capital business, there are always a few companies in the space that score some funding.

Household names

Arguably, modern life would look rather different had some of these ventures never managed to scale. iRobot, maker of the Roomba robot vacuums that are the scourge of dust mites and house pets, sucked up $30 million in venture funding in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And Keurig, a startup inspired by its founder’s distaste of old, stale office coffee, owed some of its early development to seed funding secured in the 1990s.

In recent years, startup investors have been shying away from big rounds for consumer products and electronics companies. They’ve also sustained some major losses on prior deals. This includes the oft-mocked Juicero, a startup that raised $118 million but went bust following reports that its $400 juicing machines performed no better than a person mushing its fruit and veggie packets by hand.

Today, startups should probably expect more rigorous diligence. That may be one reason we aren’t seeing a lot of deals getting done.

Even so, an analysis of Crunchbase data unearthed a decent cohort of recently funded startups with housewares and kitchen gadgetry. Below, we put together a sample list of 10 funded in the past couple years that have collectively raised over $377 million.

If I were to pick a rising star on this list, it would be Mill, a startup selling a $33 monthly subscription for a “food-shrinking, de-stinking” kitchen bin and food waste pick-up service. The San Bruno, California-based company has reportedly raised more than $100 million from backers including Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Energy Impact Partners.

Not just a cup of Joe

Coffee drinkers also have a few emerging names to follow. Spinn, which has raised over $44 million to date, employs “centrifugal brewing” and precision grinding in its $800 machines, which churn out custom-crafted espressos, filter coffees and cold brews. Terra Kaffe, meanwhile, has secured $15 million for its automatic bean-to-cup espresso maker.

Others are eyeing the bedroom. This included Brooklinen, maker of upscale bedding and towels, and Bryte, a developer of smart mattresses aimed at providing more restorative sleep.

Then there’s Aura Frames, maker of smart picture frames whose product could go in any room. The New York startup has raised over $40 million in equity funding to date.

The nice thing about the business of marketing a functional and beautiful home is that the minute you sell something, it opens up fresh demand for something else. Every gadget needs a place to put it, creating a potential customer for new, smart storage. Buying a new mattress invariably means also buying sheets and pillows too.

Seems we’re never really done spending. Or shopping. For home goods retailers, that’s just the way they like it.

Photo by Fabio Bracht on Unsplash

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