Dirty Lemon parent Iris Nova will fund and distribute third-party beverages

Iris Nova, the Coca-Cola-backed startup that creates Dirty Lemon beverages, is announcing plans to spend $100 million over the next three to five years to expand its offerings.

Founder and CEO Zak Normandin said the money will go towards launching new beverage brands developed internally at Iris Nova, as well as investing in beverages created by other companies, which will then distributed via the Iris Nova platform.

“This is the way for us to compete with the bigger beverage companies,” Normandin said.

He added that he’s open to working with startups taking advantage of the shift away from “high calorie, high sugar beverages” as well as established beverage companies. Either way, they’ll get access to the Iris Nova platform, which allows them to accept orders via text message, and to distribute their beverages next-day or same-day to every major U.S. market.

Normandin said that by linking the investment and the platform partnership, Iris Nova is forcing itself to be “highly selective” about which beverages will be part of the portfolio.

He also said the company won’t work with directly competing products — for example, he won’t partner with two different coconut water brands, but he would work with a coconut water brand and a sparkling water brand. In exchange, the brands have to commit to using Iris Nova as their only e-commerce platform, aside from Amazon.

Although Normandin brought up The Coca-Cola Company several times as a point of comparison (“I think that if Coke were to start today, it would do things exactly the way we are”), he also emphasized that he isn’t trying to turn Iris Nova itself into a consumer brand. There will be advantages for consumers who order across the Iris Nova portfolio — namely, they won’t have to reenter their payment and shipping information — but Normandin said, “I don’t think there will ever be an Iris Nova marketplace.”

The company said it will start adding new beverages to the platform on July 1. The goal, Normandin said, is to introduce 12 brands by the end of the year. He isn’t sure what the internal-external mix will be, but he said the company has already made two external investments, while also having few beverage brands of its own ready to go, including the Tres Limón line of nonalcholic aperitifs.

“What we think is that billion-dollar brands will not exist in the future,” he said. “I have no specific loyalty to Dirty Lemon as a brand. Our goal is to meet the needs of consumers right now. Eventually, if it goes away, that’s fine — we’ll create new selections for that same consumer group.”

A beverage company bought — and shuttered — the Poncho weather app

They say you can’t predict the weather. Acquisitions are often the same way. If you had told me yesterday, for instance, that adorable weather app Poncho was about be acquired and effectively shuttered by a direct-to-consumer beverage company, I’d have told you that’s about as plausible as a cat who’s also a meteorologist.

And yet, here we are. Dirty Lemon, a high-end drink maker that sells products through text message for ~$10 a pop, has purchased the beloved app. The company confirmed the acquisition in a press release that contains the following buzzwordy quote from CEO Zak Normandin: “This partnership advances our vision to build a frictionless conversational platform by expanding our technological capabilities as an organization.”

Well, yeah, obviously.

Poncho was a bit more straight forward in describing what all of this means for the fate of the app. “It means no more weather…forecasts,” reads the note on the company’s front page. “Obvi there will still be weather, duh lol. And I hope you think of me every time you look at it, unless it’s nasty weather in which case pls think of a competitor weather service instead.”

As far as what this means for Poncho itself, the company’s CEO Sam Mandel will be serving as an adviser for Dirty Lemon, and the rest of the team will be folded into its parent company. The employees will work to help improve the drink company’s SMS-based sales model.

Mandel tells Fast Company that the service ultimately wasn’t able to monetize its product, in spite of raising $2 million courtesy of an appearance on Planet of the Apps last year. “We weren’t able to achieve critical mass,” he says. “It’s been a challenge […] to build a product that was independently compelling.”

The same, apparently, can’t be said for Dirty Lemon’s pricey beverage business.

Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet just launched a venture firm

In 2015, the fashion world was abuzz when Natalie Massenet, who founded the highly disruptive e-commerce fashion company Net-a-Porter, suddenly exited the scene weeks before a merger was sealed between NAP, as it is called, and Yoox, an Italy-based discount fashion e-tailer and e-commerce services company.

According to an exposé written soon afterward, Massenet left because she didn’t have much say in the matter. Luxury industry giant Compagnie Financière Richemont, which acquired a majority stake in Net-a-Porter back in 2010, didn’t give her one despite that Massenet thought the deal undervalued NAP. (In January, Richemont spent more than $3 billion acquiring the shares of the combined company that it didn’t already own.)

Fast-forward three years and Massenet is back and in a role where she has plenty of say in a lot of things: as a venture capitalist. Indeed, today, she’s taking the wraps off her year-old firm, Imaginary Ventures, which she co-founded early last year with investor Nick Brown, and that just closed on $75 million in capital commitments for its debut fund.

The idea behind the vehicle is to back early-stage opportunities at the intersection of retail and technology in both Europe, where Massenet is based and the U.S., where Brown spent the last six years working as a partner at 14W, a New York-based venture firm that focuses on consumer tech in the fashion and e-commerce sectors.

Among Brown’s deals: the shoe company Allbirds and the eyewear company Warby Parker. Others of 14W’s many bets include Reformation, Moda Operandi, Goop, The RealReal, Maple, Lola and Outdoor Voices.

“Nick and I have been good friends for a long time, and would spend hours discussing our shared view of the consumer retail space, and where the industry was headed,” Massenet tells us of how the two came together. “It was during an initial conversation over lunch that the idea for Imaginary started to come together: let’s build a fund focused on early-stage businesses obsessed with the consumer, and help create the global retail brands and platforms of the future.”

“At 14W,” Brown adds, “I felt that the rapid changes we were seeing in retail were only just beginning. Investors, entrepreneurs and the industry were only just beginning to understand how quickly these businesses could scale.”

Certainly, the pair isn’t wasting any time. Among their 11 companies to which the fund has already written checks is the cosmetics company Glossier, the clothing company Everlane and the meal kit company Daily Harvest. All three outfits are also in the portfolio of 14W, a firm that was founded in 2010 by Alex Zubillaga, a former EVP at Warner Music Group.

As for what size checks they are willing to write, they won’t say, partly because they don’t want to box themselves in, says Brown. “Most of our investments will be early to mid-stage, but we would never confine ourselves to a strict bracket given the potential for opportunities at other stages.”

As for whether, given her own experience, Massenet might well think it’s better as an investor to stay out of a startup’s way, she says she doesn’t.

“When I started Net-a-Porter, I was lucky enough to have extraordinary angel investors and mentors giving me much-needed funding and advice along my journey, and it is a privilege to be able to return the favor with Imaginary and the transferable skill set I’ve developed throughout my career,” she says.

In fact, she says that she and Brown will be “very hands-on” when it comes to their portfolio companies, with an eye toward supporting a “new generation of entrepreneurs challenging the status quo across every vertical.”

If you’re curious about Imaginary’s LPs, Massenet and Brown say they come from both sides of the Atlantic and that they include billionaire mall owner Rick Caruso and Matches Fashion’s co-founders and joint chairmen Tom and Ruth Chapman.