Alexandra Wilson, Alexis Maybank, Kevin Ryan, Dwight Merriman, Michael Bryzek
Gilt Groupe was a high-profile flash sales website and was initially inspired by a wildly successful French website, Vente-Privée (VP—private sale in English). The VP website hosted flash sales each morning at 7:00am, when invited bidders clamored to purchase luxury goods. At a business breakfast in Paris, the absence of a senior executive was casually explained to Kevin Ryan by the fact that a private sale was in process, so naturally the individual wouldn’t be attending the meeting. We reasoned that any service which could so quickly become part of the fabric of French life was surely likely to succeed in the US as well.
At that time, the US had a $20 billion luxury market, along with a $400 billion “masstige” market of retailer, accessories and jewelry—effectively a downward extension of luxury brands, more affordable to the general consumer. The US market for “event-driven shopping” was still a wide-open space, with only one credible entrant, a site named Woot, focused on consumer electronics.
In May 2007, we quickly assembled a team that consisted of then young computer scientists, Mike Bryzek and Phong Nguyen (both of whom have gone on to launch two new companies). That summer, we then brought on Alexis Maybank as COO and later CEO. The team launched its first online flash sale in November 2007
That sale proved to be a runaway success, as did subsequent sales. Maybank hired a small team and propelled the company to a $5 million Series A fundraising late that year, led by Matrix Partners. The business went on to book over $25 million of sales in 2008, its first full year of trading, against an initial plan of $5M.