It’s tough to wow Masayoshi Son with a bargain, but during a meeting this spring, Brandless left the SoftBank Group chief executive officer a bit flabbergasted. Yes, the startup’s founders assured the billionaire, every product he picked up from the table, from the extra-virgin olive oil to the carbon-steel eyelash curler, was just $3. The trick: It’s all store brand, and there’s no alternative. The site will sell only one kind of toothpaste, or coaster, or tree-free toilet paper. Hope you like it!
Inspired by Japan’s Muji, Brandless Inc. keeps things simple. It sells about 300 items on its website, all generic household staples, mostly for $3 a pop. Despite the understated packaging, the merchandise includes a reasonably wide range of upscale-sounding products (organic pasta sauce, nontoxic dish soap, gluten-free veggie chips) that usually cost less than their equivalents on Amazon and elsewhere. Going head-to-head with Amazon.com Inc. may sound like a suicide mission, but Brandless’s pitch was enough to win over Son. On July 31, Brandless announced that SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund had invested $240 million; the deal values Brandless at a little over $500 million. Chief Executive Officer Tina Sharkey says she doesn’t see Amazon as a direct competitor. “Amazon is the everything store,” she says. “We’re a highly curated collection.”