The founder of ShelfLife learned that things don’t always go as planned
A startup begins like an idea, a conjecture. Maybe the founder sees a pain point and thinks he can solve it with a little technology and change an industry, but things don’t always go quite as planned. That’s what ShelfLife founder Lillian Cartwright discovered when she launched her startup. When the economy turned and venture capital dried up last year, Cartwright was forced to shut down her business, take the painful lessons she learned, and move on with whatever comes next.
However, when she started, Cartwright believed the beverage industry was ripe for digital transformation. While in graduate school at Harvard a few years ago, she came up with the idea of starting a hard seltzer business. She soon learned that finding the ingredients was more difficult than she imagined, and she began to envision a business, a two-sided marketplace where companies could find ingredients, negotiate a price, and invoice and pay — all in one convenient place.
It sounds like an idea that an industry mired in paper and manual processes would embrace, but Carwright would find that she might have moved a little too fast, especially on the accounting side of the business.
When you think about digital transformation, you quickly forget that lengthy manual processes are difficult to change. For a startup targeting an industry that is still mired in phone calls, faxes, email and paper invoices, even if digital is more efficient, even if it can save money and time, it’s not always easy to break through stuck business workflows. change.
“I had a hard time understanding the supplier landscape, figuring out who would supply our juice concentrate, citric acid, cans, labels – everything. Talking to other brands about what some of their issues were, I started to realize that there was an opportunity to open up this process and bring more transparency into it,” Cartwright told gotechbusiness.com+.
Around the same time Cartwright was struggling with her seltzer business idea, she had a summer job at Bessemer Venture Partners, looking at e-commerce markets. Without really knowing it at the time, she laid the groundwork for her startup idea.
The company launched in February 2020 just as the pandemic broke out, perhaps a portent of things to come. But early on, everything looked rosy: She managed to raise more than $300,000. She used that money to find a more technical co-founder. She eventually teamed up with John Cline, an experienced engineering executive, who had stints at eBay, Blue Apron, and Google before joining Cartwright to help build ShelfLife.
So far, so good
With Cline in the fold, they began building the platform. The following year, she raised another $2.7 million. The platform started to come together. The future looked bright.