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Founders File: Italic, A New Market Democratizing Luxury
Here, Italic founder Jeremy Cai explains his vision and the company's evolution.
Courtesy of Italic.
By Erika Veurink
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5 minute read

81% of consumers will make at least one direct-to-consumer (DTC) purchase over the next 5 years. That number is an understatement for an entire generation raised on Allbirds sneakers and Warby Parker glasses. DTC has evolved from fad to movement, and is now cemented as a veritable norm when it comes to business that benefits both consumer and seller.

For Italic, DTC’s basic tenets of lower prices and higher quality are more than a starting point — they’re an ethos strong enough to support a growing business. The brand’s core belief, since its 2018 founding, that “people are happier, healthier, and more fulfilled when they can afford to live well,” has been the basis for a product assortment ranging from pet care to fine jewelry.

Backed by $50 million from top VCs and 100+ founders from the likes of Coinbase and Figma, Italic is the leading consumer-to-manufacturer (C2M) brand in the U.S. Jeremy Cai, Italic’s founder, gets manufacturing. “My parents are immigrants who moved to the US with $500 and were able to build a successful business. They have always been my inspiration,” he told The Org. Their business? A decades-old manufacturing operation producing industrial parts. Hardly the cashmere slippers and Ritz Carlton sheets Cai is working on today, but there’s something to be said for his innate sense of process. Creating luxury goods without a markup or a brand name at Italic comes naturally to Cai, who even compartmentalizes his days for maximized time-saving and minimal distraction.

A day in the life of a CEO

Cai sees his daily operations as split into categories—allowing for ebb and flow based on the cadence of the day. First, there’s operating reviews and calibration. “Italic relies upon multiple teams being aligned and working together in order for the business to work,” he said. Monitoring key areas of operation means ensuring that “every part of our business is making progress against our mission and relentlessly executing every day of every week.”

Service culture, “everything we do is to improve the lives of our customers, our merchants, and our team,” defines Cai, and is the day’s second category. Practically, this involves talent development, feedback frameworks and building new tools and products.

The final category, recruiting, comes down to spending time with candidates on roles across the organization. 90 employees and growing, Italic is hiring with intention. “I believe it is on the founder and the leadership team to be the standard bearer of our values, and there is nothing that affects our culture more than those joining the team,” Cai said.

Reinventing the membership model

In 2018, Italic cost $120 annually for access to the site. These membership dues were easily justified by savings, but without brand recognition, Italic struggled. The company lowered the cost, most recently to $60 annually, until Italic did away with a members-only access plan.

“As our product portfolio and customer base have grown, having an open shopping model means more customers can experience Italic and, with more customers, we have more leverage to bring on additional merchants, launch new products, and lower our prices even further,” Cai explained.

Hiring? Hand-pick your dream candidates.

Meet top-tier talent within days, not months. Guaranteed.

  • Get meetings with qualified candidates booked directly on your calendar
  • Save 20+ hours per week while interviewing a steady stream of top talent
  • Speed up your hiring efforts while showing off your company culture

Learn more

Exclusivity isn’t entirely dead. Italic Bold, an upgraded take on the membership model, offers an improved shopping experience dotted with the chance to earn credits for $60 annually. Upon registration, $120 in Italic Credit (dolled out at $30 per quarter) is earned, as well as early access to the latest products and a concierge service.

The future of Italic

Italic’s future is open to all. Raising $37 million in a series B round, there are three areas of focused growth Cai is zeroing in on. Hiring top talent, continuing to develop Italic’s “in-house portfolio of technology and fulfillment options so we can bring on and better serve new types of merchants and customers” and explaining the product assortment are his top priorities.

Cai chalks the company’s success when it comes to scaling remotely to “excellent leaders and assigning clear ownership and accountability.” The work of creating great physical products demands in-office work. Building a team and creating an inspired, collaborative workplace, comes down to values, according to Cai.

“There are two types of startups: those where values are just words on a wall, and those where values are an integral part of decision-making,” he shared. “I am not saying one is better than the other, as both can work, but I prefer the latter.”

Founders File Q&A

If you could give yourself advice before starting Italic, what would you say?

I’d tell myself to build a strong relationship and spend as much time with early customers as possible. Keep a constant pulse on how they’re reacting with the changes you’re making. Everything you’re doing is for them and don’t ever lose sight of that, even with as tempting as “business” work may be.

What's been your guiding ethos when it comes to building the best team possible at Italic?

There is a time for potential and there is a time for wisdom. In the early days of a startup, speed is everything and having the experience of seasoned industry experts saves a lot of time. As you scale, investing into ambitious, high potential individuals lets you keep your organization fresh with new ideas and to prevent slowing down.

Hiring? Hand-pick your dream candidates.

Meet top-tier talent within days, not months. Guaranteed.

  • Get meetings with qualified candidates booked directly on your calendar
  • Save 20+ hours per week while interviewing a steady stream of top talent
  • Speed up your hiring efforts while showing off your company culture

Learn more

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