A favorite of next-generation fashion brands such as Warby Parker and Stitch Fix, product lifecycle management platform Backbone PLM aims to fill a “huge blind spot” in the way physical goods are made.
The newcomer is aiming to be the Slack of the fashion world, aided by an $8 million Series A funding round. In five years, Slack, the workplace messaging and collaboration service, has grown to a more than $5 billion valuation, thanks in part to its ability to organize employee communications and workflow.
Backbone PLM is a cloud-based “product lifecycle management” platform for creative design teams to work together on the process of designing and manufacturing a physical product, across devices and geographies. The software can support communication on elements such as a company’s design iterations (including “version control,” meaning there is less confusion on which design is the most recent and accurate), factory processes, samples and purchase orders.
Co-founder and CEO Matthew Klein said his aim is for global design teams to be able move away from using multiple separate apps, programs and spreadsheets when the “go-to-market” race pace is at an all-out sprint. He adds that Backbone, which was founded in 2014 and is based in Boulder, Colorado, differs from other currently available offerings in part because it doesn’t require downloads, it allows custom product naming without writing code, and it has a modern design rather than an interface that was created 10 or 20 years ago.
Klein got a “bird’s eye view” of the challenges facing apparel brands after his years running large-scale trade shows like Magic and Project.
“I saw the economic climate change in front of my eyes, as a wave of digital native companies, and direct-to-consumer and subscription businesses took off,” he said. “If you go to [retail industry conferences] Shoptalk and NRF, you see a lot of innovation after the product is made — in e-commerce or customer acquisition — but there’s a huge blind spot in innovation in ways that a product is made.”
Meanwhile, his brother, Andrew Klein, who was a designer at Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, was looking for a better way for brands to make products, because the systems he was using were “not fun” to use as a daily active user. “They were old and cumbersome, and server-based, and IT-heavy,” he said.
This all planted the seed for Backbone, of which Andrew Klein is also a co-founder and COO. Clients include Stitch Fix, Warby Parker, Outdoor Voices, Chubbies and Allbirds.
Klein said data on current customers shows that brands need fewer revisions and have more correct information earlier in the design process, meaning designs are ready to be manufactured sooner than they normally would. Menswear platform Nifty Genius, for example, is able to get to Nordstrom buyers a season in advance, Klein said.
A Backbone screenshot
The funding round was led by Signal Peak Ventures, which invests in retail-tech firm TrueFit and cloud-based startups. Signal Peak Ventures managing director Brandon Tidwell sayid consumer goods companies have been in “desperate need” of something automated and scalable in the design, development and production process. “We quickly recognized Backbone PLM as a necessary and proven productivity tool that shortens lead times and increases profitability for companies,” he said.
With the new funding, Backbone plans to attract more next-generation companies that make consumer products, especially in apparel, accessories, home and lifestyle — in addition to “traditional” companies that have been around longer than direct-to-consumer brands.
Klein said that the accessibility of e-commerce makes it harder for both new and heritage brands to stand out. “With companies like Shopify that have made it ‘plug and play’ to sell a product, the barriers to entry are lower than ever,” Klein said. “We are living in an entrepreneurial culture, and every day on social media there’s a new product launch, and every vertical is disrupted on a daily basis.”
Thus, he said, the customer prioritizes purchase decisions based on convenience and speed: How fast can a brand ship it, what is the return policy, and how many new products is the brand creating?
In the coming months, Backbone is also planning to launch a vendor portal to support manufactures and suppliers, as well as factory matchmaking. It also plans “Backbone Light” for freelancers, educators and the crowd-funding market.
“Our goal is to power the next 25,000 growth-stage companies — whether you’re coming up with the idea in your dorm room, or you’re a brand like Outdoor Voice or Chubbies,” Klein says.