Last summer, Kevin Fortuna left the wine sale startup, Lot18, that he and Philip James started. Today, Philip James announced his departure from the New York company as well.
For the past few months, James has been helping Lot18's new CEO, Jay Sung, get up and running. The pair have made a number of strategic decisions about the direction of the company, which have included more lay-offs, acquiring Tasting Room, and shuttering verticals that weren't working.
Lot18 suffered a number of growing pains that stemmed from harsh, state-by-state regulations surrounding alcohol, particularly in New York. And like many e-commerce companies, Lot18 used a discount model to acquire customers, spending an unsustainable amount on marketing.
Philipe James climbing Mount Everest in 2003
But there's still money in the bank from the massive $30 million Series C round Lot18 raised, and James feels he's left Sung in good shape to figure the business model out.
"Having hired and worked alongside Jay for the past year, I am pleased to say that the company is in great hands," James says. "Jay is an excellent executive and I've always been a fan of how he thinks. I'm now focused on what's coming next for me, and for that I'm excited, and a little nervous."
Up next for the three-time entrepreneur: a two-month bike ride throughout Siberia as part of a 12-month bike ride around the world. James is a fan of extreme sports. He has climbed Mount Everest and sailed across the Atlantic.
Here's the email James just sent to his team:
Friday marks my last day as an employee at Lot18. But without spoiling the ending, I’ll still be around, both in my role as a director on the board and as a consultant.
Obviously, things have progressed since the original conversation with Kevin when I said, “I have an idea that involves selling wine online,” and it’s been an eventful three years with many highs and lows. But ultimately, I wanted to leave you all with the following.
I was taught that it’s a leader’s job to do three things:
- Hire and retain talent
What can I say here? You guys are the killer team. From Jay on down, I’m proud to be a part of this organization. From our wine expertise to our tech chops to the marketing group that joined a year ago, I’d put us up against any company out there.
- Set company strategy
Ignoring the overhyped word “pivot,” Lot18 has evolved considerably since it first began offering US wines via flash sale. From centralizing shipping to improving customer service to leveraging an incredibly complex network in order to provide international wines (and to ensure the customer could receive wines from different producers in the same box), we’ve forged new paths, raised hackles and worked hard to delight our members. More recently, the acquisition of Tasting Room and the acquisition of retail licenses prove that we’re thinking on our feet, we’re nimble and we’re ready to adapt to changing regulations and customer demand.
- Ensure the company has money in the bank
We did a great job raising money through the A, B and C rounds. But most importantly, when most companies are raising money every year, we’re 18 months out from our last fundraising round and still have plenty of capital in the bank. The recent, difficult but necessary, decisions have further strengthened our position here.
Those three things, important as they are, live within an all-encompassing rule many of you know that I tend to work and play by, which is, “Leave something in a better state than you found it.” Not only do I believe this is the case with the company, but it’s the adage that’s guiding the somewhat unusual – yet appropriate – plan I have next.
As you know, I spend a lot of time outdoors, and have undertaken some major expeditions in the past. Starting in June, I’ll be riding my motorcycle around the world in order to raise money for Wine to Water ( http://winetowater.org/ ), a charity that supports water projects in 15 countries around the world.
The support of water- and famine-focused charities has been in Lot18’s blood since day one. From Kevin’s continued involvement in Concern Worldwide to Lot18’s support of Charity: Water, I, and we, have cared about helping those most in need.
I’ll travel west, first across the United States and into Canada. From there I’ll ship my bike to Russia, ride across Siberia during its brief summer, cross Central Asia and the Celestial Mountains, then enter Eastern Europe. After a brief recovery there, I’ll head south to Tangiers and across the Sahara before I follow the west coast of Africa down to Cape Town. This will be an incredibly hard journey covering close to 50,000 kilometers (or more than 30,000 miles to many of you), covering over 50 countries. I’ll visit some of the most desolate and destitute areas of the world to raise awareness for and assist in providing the aid these places require, but also to inform and inspire me on one or more of the entrepreneurial endeavors I hope to take on after my journey.
You’ll be able to follow me at my expedition blog wineandwater.org , and on that page you can donate to Wine to Water as well. 100% of all proceeds raised will go directly to Wine to Water. Please know that as little as $0.10 can provide clean water to one person for a year. It’s easy to make a difference, and I hope that in this way you can share in the excitement of this journey.
I have so many friends at Lot18, and I’m ever so keen to see how each of you grows over the coming years.
Onward and thank you all,
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