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Getting products into the hands of real fans – Our investment in EQL

Published on
April 12, 2022
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We were lucky to meet EQL’s founders – Andrew, Patrick and James – right at the start of their journey. They were frustrated sneaker fans trying to build a product to solve a problem: they could no longer get their hands on the products they loved whenever there was an exclusive product launch.

When we talk about what we look for in early-stage startups, these guys are the textbook case study. We’re hyped to be partnering with the team, alongside Insight Partners and an impressive lineup of angel investors including Sam Krooenburg, Founder of A Cloud Guru and Harry Stebbings of 20VC. 

Hype: a commerce megatrend

The global streetwear market is worth a whopping $185 billion in sales. In high-fashion, exclusivity is driven by premium-pricing, but in streetwear, it’s driven by scarce supply. When a streetwear brand drops a new product, chaos ensues no matter how they do it:

  • Offline: Fans queue up at all hours, or pay others to line up for them. Depending on how much stock has been allocated to the store, many miss out.
  • Online: Fans stay up until midnight to madly click through to the checkout, only for the site to then crash or get beaten to it by a bot. 

It doesn’t really matter which retailer is the intermediary, the poor experience lands on the brand. Whether it’s tech failings or retail disarray, you end up with backlash from disgruntled customers, of which hype fans are the loudest. 

Hype drops are a megatrend that today’s ecommerce platforms weren’t designed for. Ecommerce-as-a-service is commoditised, whereas Hype is a specialisation that requires continuous investment across big data, anti-bot verification and traffic scale. 

This is where EQL comes into its own as a pure-play, fit-for-purpose solution for hype drops. EQL provides the surface area and tools to manage hype commerce.   

Real problems require deep technology

When we took a look at the rigour behind EQL’s infrastructure, there were many similarities to what we see in a cybersecurity company. They share the technical challenges of verification to stay ahead of the bots and scammers while also handling large spikes in traffic. No surprises here – it’s the product nous you’d expect from ex-Google software engineers. 

We were not only impressed by the product and opportunity – the team also came to us with some very early proof points of traction in the sneaker market. They’d managed 46 product-launch hype sales and already signed on a key retailer as a partner. 

Their early-traction and vision got us thinking: sneakers are just the start. We could see how you could apply EQL’s infrastructure and ecosystem to any exclusive product from event tickets, clothing and social commerce. 

Fair launches for real fans

While it’s become trendy to market yourself as opening up access to once exclusive spaces if you’re not actually doing the work to democratise that access, what’s the point? Earlier this year, Nike’s CEO John Donahoe acknowledged that their consumer’s confidence was faltering in an internal meeting, with the sentiment being only a privileged few can get the sneakers they want at their original retail price. 

With many sneakerheads disillusioned and thinking that the game is essentially rigged, EQL’s leading the way when it comes to fairness. They’ve created “Run Fair”, a trademarked stamp that certifies a product launch is run fairly. When a customer sees this on a launch page, they can trust that the retailer is acting in their best interests.

It’s never too early to talk to AirTree

We have known Andrew, Patrick and James since they were full-time Googlers with a passion for sneakers. We’ve been blown away both by what they have built and much more so by what they could achieve. We’re delighted to fund them to pursue their dream of building an iconic company in the hype commerce space.

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