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Allbirds secures $100M series E funding, 'This is just scratching the surface': CEO

Allbirds CEO Joey Zwillinger joins Yahoo Finance’s Zack Guzman to discuss the sustainable footwear-maker’s $100 million in Series E funding round, and the company’s plans for the future.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Right now I want to chat a new funding round, more than $100 million Series E being raised here by Allbirds, the shoe company out there that is up-ending the sneaker biz, out here with its very fancy wool shoes, best known for its $95 Wool Runner. The company has now expanded beyond shoes to include socks and an underwear line as well. And here to discuss that new round with us is the Co-CEO of Allbirds Joey Zwillinger joins us now.

And Joey, it's good to be chatting with you. I mean, congrats on the new round here. I mean, what is this money--

JOEY ZWILLINGER: Thank you.

ZACK GUZMAN: --going to be used for? Because when we talk about the sneaker biz, obviously, you guys have been hot right now when we think about the changing trends in sustainability there on that front. So talk to me about where the opportunity is, if it's to grow that consumer that you've done so well with, or if you're looking outside at maybe to bring some new people on, like me.

JOEY ZWILLINGER: Yeah, unfortunately, very few people know about us relatively. So we-- we have such a long-- a long road that we got to travel down to make sure that more people know about the products and why we make the products. And a big part of the funding round was to be able to continue to invest in what we think we do best.

And you call this a shoe company. We've actually never really thought of ourselves as a shoe company, albeit that is a predominant-- that is the majority of what we sell today. But really, we like to go back to the basic fibers and the basic molecules that make a product great and do things a little bit differently.

So from Merino wool, when we started with that, to our Tree line that's a little more breezy in the summer to a sugar-cane waste stream that makes a sole on the bottom of the shoe, super hard developments, and they take a long time and a lot of money. So a big portion of the funds that we're raising here are to continue to dive deep into the natural material innovation. And that-- you know, that even goes to the farming processes, and we're big on regenerative ag for our wool product line, and we're working on a lot of different ways to tackle what we think is the existential threat of our generation being climate change and trying to do our part to story tell within the footwear and fashion industry.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, the other interesting thing, too, I think to note here, obviously, you guys have raised now about $200 million since you guys were founded back in 2016. "Wall Street Journal" says an evaluation now of $1.7 billion. Not sure if you want to comment on that. But when you look at what you might be using that money to, as well, not just the products as you're discussing them, but also getting them into the hands of customers. You guys are building out brick and mortar stores. You now have 21 stores globally.

So talk to me about why that's so important, because we have noticed a trend here for a lot of these direct-to-consumer brands to start that way, and then shift into brick and mortar, which seems strange from the outside looking in, since it seems like that's a key to kind of disrupting the market, in your case shoes when you first started. So talk to me about why you want to shift back into brick and mortar where a lot of your competitors already have been.

JOEY ZWILLINGER: Yeah, it's a great question and a little counterintuitive. You know, and your setup is right. You know, most people are thinking about retail shrinking, e-commerce coming in and really destroying the physical retail experience. And for some segments within retail that's absolutely true.

I think when you're selling other people's goods and your value that you're creating is through other-- is through merchandising, or curation of products or service, department store is a great example of that. Those are really struggling. But if you have a product that people really covet and they want because it's different, and there's been real R&D that's gone into the production of that product, people want to come and touch and feel it.

And we-- we like to think that our retail is a really great experience, in fact, in a lot of ways, much better for discovery than our digital platforms. So we're definitely doubling down. We have a lot of the money earmarked from this round to go into new brick and mortar development.

And also, that's not just in the US. You know, we're in-- we're in places like China. We're in Japan. We're across Europe. We're in North America. So this is a real global endeavor for us. And you know, building the infrastructure for that to reach the 2 and 1/2 billion people around the world that we can reach through our digital platform and couple that with brick and mortar, that's where the magic happens, and that is an expensive and a long-term endeavor.

And when we're really focused on the impact aspect of that from the environmental perspective, it's doubly hard. And so this is what just-- it's a long journey we're on. And unfortunately, that takes a bunch of money to invest in it, and that's why we've-- we've had to go back to the well and meet with these great investors that are backing us for the long run.

ZACK GUZMAN: When you talk about the core demo here, too, obviously, there are a few companies out there that are trying to, I guess, copy what you've been doing here, at least in the design of the shoe, maybe not so much on the B corp side or the sustainability side. But I mean, you guys publish your carbon footprint metrics on each shoe on your site too. You can kind of talk about it that way as a scorecard for what people are buying and a way to measure the sustainability impact here.

When you talk about that, though, what-- how does that connecting with your core customer here relative to, you know, someone who might be looking for a shoe that could get it from a Nike or an Adidas out there? And how do you try and steal maybe their customers away? Where do you see that growth boiling down to? Is it-- how does it work, in your mind?

JOEY ZWILLINGER: Yeah, at the base level, I think consumers want to do the right thing. And-- and sustainability, if you ask 10 people on the street, you're going to get 10 different answers for what that means to them. And so for us, we need to connect it to what we believe is the most important aspect of sustainability that we can have an impact on. And you know, our belief is that if-- if climate change continues to warm the planet, the beating heart of the planet will stop beating, and that is an existential problem for our species. So we want to focus on that.

And so then to connect that to educate consumers on what a carbon footprint is and how that contributes to pollution and global warming, that, for us, is a great connection point to where you can now go on and you can-- you can choose between products. You can choose for price, quality. You can choose between style. And you can choose between the carbon impact on the planet. And that's just like, you know, calories on the back of a food label.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah.

JOEY ZWILLINGER: You get to make choices that are much more informed in this, because we're giving transparency and accountability to this.

ZACK GUZMAN: And real quick before I let you go, just because it sounded like there was a lot of demand for this round in terms of when you were out fundraising, what does it look like for where you go from here? Obviously, you guys are a four-year company. We've seen a lot of companies coming out now in 2020 IPO'ing before, I guess, the window closes potentially, depending on what happens here. What's the timeline in your mind for maybe potentially going that route as well? Or are you happy staying private for longer?

JOEY ZWILLINGER: I mean, look, we just got-- dipped our toes into, so to speak, into a little bit of athletic performance, a little bit of apparel with the underwear and socks that you mentioned at the top of the segment, and this is just scratching the surface. So our product engine is just getting rolling now. We're making such great stuff.

How we translate to great financials from that is going to be in the execution. Our view is that we should be an independent company, and we're building a company that has everything you need to be successful as a public company. And that's probably the logical outcome for where we go, given that-- given that we took money from people who do expect it back, and expect multiples of it.

ZACK GUZMAN: All right, there you go. Joey Zwillinger, Allbirds CEO. Appreciate you taking the time, and congrats on the new round.

JOEY ZWILLINGER: Thanks so much.