How April Underwood is saving small retailers from Amazon

  • April Underwood, the previous Google, Twitter, and Slack govt turned angel investor, determined to change into a first-time founder throughout the pandemic. 
  • Her startup, Native Laboratory, helps recreate the expertise of strolling via a city’s enterprise district, buying at its distinctive retail shops.
  • She envisions it as a approach of serving to small companies compete towards an ecommerce big like Amazon.
  • Apparently, regardless of her huge community, the primary worker Underwood employed for her startup was a stranger she met on Twitter.
  • Go to Enterprise Insider’s homepage for extra tales.

April Underwood, the previous Google, Twitter, and Slack govt turned angel investor, determined it was time to start out her first firm in Might, 4 weeks after her 40th birthday.

One of the best ways to explain the corporate, Native Laboratory, is a hyper-local Amazon meets hand-crafted and curated merchandise from the neighborhood.

As a resident of San Anselmo, a tight-knit small city about 20 miles north of San Francisco, Underwood observed companies struggling to remain alive throughout the California shelter-in-place order in mid-March.

“Sadly, it is out of a horrible necessity, however I believe finally it is lengthy overdue for us to determine find out how to serve these retailers in a approach the place they will actually be a part of the trendy digital age,” Underwood informed Enterprise Insider. “They cannot do all of it on their very own.”

Her concept was to create an e-commerce website the place shoppers can store native from completely different neighborhood retail shops.

“We’re at this second in time the place folks need to store native, they need options to Amazon, and particularly, they need to assist the companies in their very own group,” she stated.

Brett Rounsaville, Head of Merchant Operations at Local Laboratory Corp.

Brett Rounsaville, Head of Service provider Operations at Native Laboratory Corp., selecting up spices from Oaktown Spice in Oakland, California.

April Underwood/Native Laboratory Corp.

To get the corporate off the bottom, Underwood may have reached into her deep community of tech engineers, product designers, and different gifted colleagues from her days at Google, Twitter, or Slack. As an alternative, she began a dialog with a stranger on Twitter and determined to rent him as her first worker.

The stranger she met, Brett Rounsaville, is a former Disney theme park designer. Previous to assembly Underwood on-line, he stated he was “homeless on function,” sleeping in bus stations and couch-surfing for 2 years as a part of a self-made video sequence.

Through the first few weeks after the lockdown, Rounsaville tried to purchase a birthday current for his daughter at a neighborhood toy retailer solely to search out out the shop was shut down because of the pandemic. As an Oakland resident, Rounsaville ended up ordering the reward on Amazon.

“I felt like a jerk,” he informed Enterprise Insider, describing the guilt he felt contributing to the worldwide e-commerce big as an alternative of his area people. He set off to create a web based retailer that includes native retailers in Oakland.

The timing was good. Having simply launched her personal startup, Underwood was searching for a neighborhood to kick off a pilot program. Rounsaville already had a imaginative and prescient for what he needed to do in Oakland. They began to share concepts over direct messages on Twitter. After a number of weeks, Underwood supplied him a job to be head of service provider operations at her new startup.

In September, they launched the web site “Maintain Oakland Alive,” an e-commerce website that includes greater than 30,000 curated merchandise from 40 collaborating retailers within the Oakland space. Clients can add objects from a number of shops right into a single buying cart, and may count on their order to be delivered, at no cost, inside one to 4 days. Earlier than they joined this system, 15% of the shops who participated in “Maintain Oakland Alive” had no on-line gross sales, Underwood stated.

Though Underwood managed giant groups in her former roles, as a brand new startup founder, she’s rolling up her sleeves to do the grunt work of her younger enterprise. Her workplace is full of dozens of containers and objects from the retailers.

In between taking investor calls, she is packaging jars of cumin from Oaktown Spice Store or hoodies from the retailer Oaklandish to assist fulfill prospects’ vacation orders. 

Underwood is recruiting extra assist as quick as she will, including six full-time staff, together with Ben Matasar, one in every of Twitter’s first software program engineers. She declined to touch upon how a lot she has raised to date for her new startup, however did point out that there are traders concerned.

The enterprise mannequin is seemingly sound. Within the first 9 weeks after the September launch, the Oakland group reached $25,000 in gross merchandise worth (GMV), or the full worth of the products bought on its website. She expects to succeed in $100,000 in GMV earlier than the tip of the 12 months. It has been a balancing act between thrilling progress and having sufficient assist readily available to deal with the enterprise.

“We have been proper on that razor’s fringe of consolation stage in Oakland as a result of it has exceeded our expectations,” stated Underwood. 

As for launching a startup throughout a pandemic, Underwood stated not having to make common journeys all the way down to Sand Hill Street for one-on-one conferences has helped. Sand Hill is a 5.6 mile stretch of street in Palo Alto, California, the place a lot of the A-list enterprise capital corporations are positioned. With the lockdown, traders have moved from in-person pitch conferences to Zoom.

“That is a tremendous time to construct and it is by no means been simpler to focus as a founder with fewer distractions,” she stated.

After Oakland, Underwood will lengthen this system to different neighborhoods within the Bay Space, and ultimately, plans to develop it nationwide when journey resumes once more in a submit pandemic future. She declined to say what particular cities are on her goal checklist, however listed “a density of independently owned retail retailers” and “hometown pleasure,” as a few of her deciding elements.

April Underwood

April Underwood, Slack’s Vice President of Product, talks throughout the enterprise messaging firm’s occasion in San Francisco


Underwood is well-known in Silicon Valley for her early profession as an govt constructing product groups at tech corporations during the last decade, in addition to her position in #Angels, a company launched by a gaggle of high feminine angel traders in 2015. She first moved to San Francisco in 2005 from Texas the place she acquired an undergraduate enterprise diploma from the College of Texas at Austin. In faculty, she taught herself find out how to code.

One in all her first jobs in tech was at Google the place she managed content material acquisition and monetization packages for merchandise similar to Blogger. At Twitter, she helped scale the corporate from 150 to 4,000 staff and labored on the earliest model of the tweet button. Her final gig in a product position was at Slack, the place she was the corporate’s first chief product officer and broadly thought-about to be the second-in-command to CEO Stewart Butterfield.

In 2019, Underwood stunned the tech world and left her secure job at Slack, which was a fast-growing tech startup on the time valued at $7 billion, 5 months earlier than its IPO. (Earlier this month, Slack was bought to Salesforce in a $27.7 billion megadeal.)

In a Medium submit saying her transfer, Underwood stated, “Let me get straight to it: I’ve made the choice — maybe the largest in my profession — to give attention to investing.”

In her years of investing, Underwood has backed over 150 corporations with #Angels. In March, she joined Apparent Ventures, the VC agency based by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams. As a enterprise associate, April spends her time advising different founders on find out how to scale their startups.

She now finds herself making use of that data in her personal profession as a first-time founder. “Do not maintain onto something too tightly,” she stated was one of many classes she has realized. At Twitter and Slack, they’d “hearth themselves” from completely different jobs quite a bit, which means each single particular person on a group was anticipated to be adaptable to modifications of their job description, she defined.

Referring to the choice to start out an organization after her fortieth birthday, Underwood stated she considers 40 as the brand new 24 in Silicon Valley. Regardless that, she says, there’s a lot folklore concerning the 24-year-old founder, she’s having a variety of conversations with ladies deciding to change into founders later in life.

“This might have been my 40-year disaster,” she jokes, “but it surely’s a very good one which I am actually enthusiastic about and we’re having a variety of enjoyable.”


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