Two years ago, Lillian Cartwright teamed up with some fellow Harvard Business School students to launch a new spiked seltzer brand called Astrid. Despite all the tools that make launching a D2C brand easier than it’s ever been, the team ran into complications when it came to securing raw materials.
This piece of the supply chain is still stuck in the past, according to Cartwright, who explained that most of it is still based around trade shows, powered by referrals and personal connections and plenty of phone calls.
That’s when the idea for ShelfLife was born. The company, cofounded by Cartwright and John Cline, is aiming to build a directory and marketplace of raw material suppliers based on what brands actually, specifically need, allowing them to secure quotes quickly.
The current system is set up to benefit the large incumbent CPG brands, but the industry is shifting. Craft beverages, in particular, are growing in popularity and the pandemic encouraged consumers to buy more bottled, box, and canned goods online.
In fact, Cartwright says that 50 food and beverage brands are launched every single day. But the small, new brands don’t have an easy way to procure materials. For Cartwright and Astrid, it was so complicated that it led her and her team to abandon the project.
“I instead took that experience kind of ran with it,” said Cartwright. “There are thousands of other people that want to launch brands in the food and beverage space. There are no resources when it comes to supply chain. There’s something there, and this entire space is going to end up digitizing in the very near term.”
In beta, ShelfLife charges a small fee for use of the software, and is manually procuring supplier quotes on behalf of brands. The funding will, in part, go towards automating that process as much as possible to scale on both the brand and supplier side.
One of the challenges of that is that not all suppliers love the idea of being compared to one another, all on one page. Cartwright argues that the shifting landscape of the industry means that lead generation around new brands is growing in importance, and a trend that suppliers should get ahead of.
Eventually, Cartwright wants to shift the ShelfLife business model to a commission structure that would come out of the budget suppliers usually reserve for field sales reps. The company also wants to build products around financing for the brands, as many suppliers require upfront payment, which can be taxing on a small brand.
The funding round was co-led by Switch Ventures and Kindred Ventures, with participation from NextView Ventures, Ben Zises (SuperAngel.vc), Ilia Papas (former CTO of Blue Apron), and Elena Donio (former President of SAP Concur) among others.