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All of the Cool-Kid Brands Are Using This PLM, Which Just Raised $8 Million

Expect to hear a lot more about Backbone PLM.

The cloud-based product design and collaboration platform used by some of the world’s hottest emerging brands will fuel the next stage of growth with $8 million in Series A funding led by Signal Peak Ventures and including Grotech Ventures, Spider Capital, Novel TMT Ventures, Beanstalk Ventures, Brainchild Holdings and Peterson Ventures.

Counting Kith, Parachute Home, Warby Parker, Allbirds, Stitch Fix and Outdoor Voices among its 100-plus clients, the Boulder, Colo.-based company launched in 2014 to address the needs of direct-to-consumer startups struggling to efficiently bring products to market. Between 75 percent and 80 percent of current clients are apparel, footwear and accessories brands, said co-founder and CEO Matthew Klein.

The trade show veteran witnessed firsthand the need for a new method of managing product development. During his experience running the men’s wear shows for EKN International and managing sales for the Project global trade show, Klein saw brands’ “challenges getting product to trade shows and to market,” he told Sourcing Journal. “There were horror stories about lost orders, products coming in late—and that’s where the lightbulb went off for me that there needed to be a solution for these growing companies.”

Observing the misalignment between a “crowded enterprise-level” PLM space and the “tidal wave of new middle-market consumer goods companies that are becoming the norm,” Klein set out to build a PLM that could keep up with the needs of fast-moving young brands.

Indeed, digital innovators are disrupting the market at lighting speed. “The customer demand right now is convenience over brand loyalty,” Klein explained. “When I was growing up I wore Perry Ellis or Gap or Nike or whatever brand that I related to, and that was my brand and that’s all I wore. Now with the democratization in e-comm and how easy it is sell a product, I turn on my social media every day and there’s a new next-gen company selling a product.”

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With an eye to the requirements of these next-gen newbies, Backbone features a user-based admin on the backend that allows for easy changes to things like nomenclature, metadata, and the taxonomy of how the brands sets up their classifications, division and season, Klein explained, without any coding required. That means brands can greenlight Backbone in just weeks instead of the traditional implementation timeframe that can stretch to 18 months.

System users can create custom fields at summary page of every product, and component records can be built as required. “There’s so much flexibility in how you report information,” Klein said, noting that Backbone lacks “the rigidness of classic PLM.”

Brands onboarding with a Backbone subscription get the “white glove, hands-on” experience, including data migration, implementation, retraining and support. While most new brands opt for the “gold standard” turnkey approach, Klein said a quick review of tech packs may warrant the creation of customized fields to accommodate the business’ products and workflow.

Backbone typically works directly with design and product development teams, and to a lesser extent with IT. With roughly 70 percent of clients using Netsuite ERP, Backbone recently signed a partnership with the popular enterprise software platform and is in the midst of integrating with two systems, Klein said.

With Shopify integrated as an e-commerce partner, Backbone plans to integrate with AIMS 360, SAP V1, Stitch Labs and other enterprise platform going forward. “We’re an open API,” Klein said. “The goal is to integrate with as many third-party solutions as our customers require.”

With weekly client check-ins, Backbone takes customer feedback to heart. Wearing the hats of brother, co-founder and COO, former Polo Ralph Lauren designer Andrew, who also did a men’s wear stint with Tommy Hilfiger, serves as chief product officer and knows the pain points first hand, Klein noted. “He allows us to take that information and run with it so client feedback is very important for choosing what we build in our product roadmap.”

Backbone will allocate the $8 million injection to execute on new features directly stemming from client demand. Those include production-level features like item master, Klein explained, and launching the first retail ledger for brands to wrangle aspects of the business such as time and action, request for quotation, and vendor management. On top of that, brands want to see a deeper level of insights in reporting, he said, beyond the line plans, component utilization reports or “any of the information living on the summary page of the product record.”

Backbone’s vision also includes establishing a vendor portal that will support manufacturers, suppliers, agents and other stakeholders on the production side of the supply chain. From there, Klein said, the next step would be facilitating factory matchmaking and sourcing opportunities, and perhaps even processing payments processing for the products made via Backbone.

The company’s also planning a lite version of Backbone designed for education. Klein said his team is in talks with universities and is gearing up for an official announcement in 2019.

“Our goal is to service education, passion projects, side projects, freelancers—all the way into middle market and small enterprises,” Klein said. “We want to create a global community of makers and factories.”

With all of the “time-saving hacks” built into the platform, brands often have “an aha! moment” upon getting access to all of their product data in one centralized location, Klein pointed out. That stems largely from the way many small, startup brands tend to operate at the onset, with what Klein refers to as a “duct-tape workflow”: a hodge-podge of myriad applications patched together within the tech stack, maybe Airtable, Smartsheet or Google Docs.

“We show them how we can make data relational in our database, how they can reuse and recycle data that they can’t do in that other type of tech stack,” Klein added.

Backbone’s ambitions seem to be just as bold as the brands using its platform. “The goal is to be future of product development and design and power the next 25,000 growth-stage companies building products, whether that’s a brand who was coming up with the idea in their Harvard dorm room, or a middle-market company that’s growing, or a traditional brand that wants to modernize their process.”

In fact, Backbone has attracted the likes of Opening Ceremony and Johnny Was, contemporary brands that have been in the market for more like 10 years versus 10 months. “We’re definitely seeing more contact with those kinds of brands,” Klein said.

“We pay tremendous respect to the incumbents who have built out this space for the last 20+ years,” he continued. “It’s just understanding what brands need today, how fast they’re moving and delivering on that ROI that has been our focus.”

As the “new kids on the block,” Backbone has its sights sets on catering to the $10-million to $200-million mid-market newcomers, all the way up for $750-million small enterprises. “We’re just really excited about what’s happening in consumer goods and retail and we really want to be a part of the movement and the change,” Klein concluded.