Lot 18, the troubled New York-based wine sales marketplace, has booted another batch of staffers. AllThingsD broke the news that the company laid off 25 employees this morning, cutting approximately 35 percent of its staff. This brings the total employees to 46, about half as many as it boasted just a year ago.
The flash sales wine site has had numerous strategic stumbles under founder Philip James. In December 2011, the site expanded into European markets, but pulled out of the U.K. in July, after just seven months. There was also the acquisition of the French competitor Vinobest and attempts to get into experiences. But last January, 15 percent of employees were handed a pink slip, followed by 11 layoffs in June and six more in July.
A spokesperson for the company confirmed to Betabeat that the layoffs were related to a strategic pivot toward direct response under CEO Jay Sung, who replaced former CEO Kevin Fortuna this past December. The spokesperson said Mr. James is still with Lot18; he will be charge of what a source close to the company called Lot18′s “hail mary” pass: selling wines through a subscription model.
“The point being from the beginning they were trying to build an interesting high-end brand and now it’s like, ‘We just need to get users, we don’t care who the fuck they are,’” said the source, who added, “Jay Sung, a direct marketing guy, is now running the company, which tells you exactly what you need to know. Any pretense of higher-end lifestyle stuff is going by the wayside.”
The spokesperson also confirmed that the layoffs were related to the existing flash sales business, which will continue on. “Everyone built [flash sales] up to the place where it can run with lower burn,” he said, noting that Mr. Sung chose the remaining staffers “because he believes in their ability to fit in with the new subscription model and support flash sales.” Mr. Sung also told ATD that Lot18 needs “to resource according to our new business model and operate the existing business more efficiently with considerably less burn.”
Lot18 is going after the market currently dominated by industry veterans like Global Wine Company and Direct Wines, which run The New York Times Wine Club and a wine club for The Wall Street Journal, respectively. “If you look at the $30 billion to $40 billion wine market, the vast majority are not at that high end,” said the Lot18 spokesperson. The company needs to look for customers “who can’t afford $50 for a Cabernet, but can afford a $15 Cabernet.”
Our source said it wasn’t yet “game over,” for the startup. “If Lot18 can put better wines in front of people on a club basis, they can justify an exit or acquisition, that would end up making their investors happy.” Bottoms up?