The Secret Chord that Pleased the Lord

Arfallujah
April 23, 2021

"...brands launch like this the fourth, the fifth, the sweaty balls and stinky pits" — The Arfa strategy in song.

Changing your mind in public. That’s what big pivots are all about. The tech world is filled with notable pivots: Airbnb, YouTube, Netflix. Rarely have we seen the deodorant-to-software pivot.

“To make real value at some point you've got to walk away from something that's worth something,” says Henry Davis, former COO of Glossier, now the founder of Chord.

Davis’ previous brand incubator, Arfa, became Chord last month, and Henry joined us on the podcast to chat about their big pivot from physical products to headless eCom platform. To hear them tell the story, Arfa wasn’t necessarily unsuccessful; they just saw the software stack they had built to power the eCom side of the business as having a chance at a larger impact. In Henry’s words:

Fundamentally, I think every business ends up having to walk away from something valuable to pursue something else they believe can be more impactful. And that's what happened for us.

Arfa’s first brand, HIKI, was made, and I quote, “by and for people courageous enough to tell us about their butt sweat.” The world needs more discourse and less butt-sweat, so we were very here for it. But does the world need another eCom platform? Eclipse Ventures sure thinks so, as they just led an $18M Series A for the new software company. The Chord team has work cut out for them, too, as the software world is becoming less monolithic-ecosystem-of-point-solutions and more API-driven.

While the pivot ensures the future of at least part of what Arfa had built, it bums us out to see their larger vision pack up and move to a Florida retirement community. That vision was covered in detail when we featured Arfa at #4 in our “Amazon Prime Challengers” category in our Spring 2020 Nine by Nine report. They rated highly due to their approach to building brands: through discourse and community, something Brian has written about extensively in two pieces — #070 Phenomenological Brands and #080 Rethinking Brand Power Structures — both of which reference Arfa directly and indirectly.

Chord’s change of mind comes with a change of go-to-market. Henry’s background has proven he knows how to speak to the consumer, but early-stage eCommerce platforms have to find product-market-DEVELOPER-fit. Developers still hold the keys to the kingdom in platform adoption, after all, despite what the no-code bros tell you. Chord will have to attract devs, and ecosystem partners into its orbit; all while selling the product to the merchant.

Once Chord is successful, they’ll be faced with a familiar dilemma that all platforms face: how to pivot again from developer-and-community-centric to fueling growth at the expense of partner and developer ecosystem, and that’s where our most recent essay picks up. 

Read more about the erosive effects of the eCom Platform Ecosystem in our newest report: #081: The Rising Tide and The Erosive Effects of Digital Platforms.

—Phillip


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