When it was first announced in 2018, Material Bank was grandly ambitious in scale and slightly quirky in the details. Order a sample by midnight, have it arrive at your desk the next morning, all for free? Impressive. Robots perform some of the fulfillment? Why not! Four short years later, founder and CEO Adam Sandow’s creation is no quixotic pipe dream: Material Bank has ballooned to include roughly 500 participating brands and 100,000 users, and has raised more than $325 million. To put the funding in perspective, two years ago fabric giant Robert Allen Duralee was sold out of bankruptcy for just shy of $20 million—meaning that with his venture-backed war chest, Sandow could have bought 17 RAD Groups and still had some spending money left over.
Not that he’d want to. As Sandow makes clear in this week’s episode of The Business of Home Podcast, he’s not looking to get into manufacturing. The goal, he says, is not to disrupt his customers (brands pay to be listed on the platform and to send out samples), but to give them the tools they need to keep growing while avoiding the broader disruption of the internet age. “My sole goal with this business is to make sure that Material Bank brands take market share,” Sandow tells host Dennis Scully. “The capital we’ve raised is going to build the next generation of digital tools that I think people are going to be astounded by.”
To that end, Material Bank has been on not only a fundraising kick but an acquisition spree, snapping up product information company Amber Engine and marketplace and e-commerce software provider Clippings. The broader goal, says Sandow, is to stack capabilities to the point that Material Bank is a must-have tool kit for modern times. “The average designer goes home and has all these incredible tools to book their trips, order their food, do anything in their life—press a button, and everything happens,” he says. “They can’t come to work and go back to 1962. Every company, not just us, has to think about the future. And the future of our industry is going to dramatically change.”
Though Material Bank has grown considerably, it has thus far been focused on the commercial side of the design business. For residential brands, the platform’s economics present real challenges—in both affording the cost of being listed and sending out expensive samples to a vast pool of users. Sandow says he’s well aware of the issue and planning on launching a “sister site” to Material Bank with a slightly different business model that will be more tailored to residential-leaning brands. The platform will also be open to consumers, who will be able to purchase samples.
Whether the new site will lure the big names and buzzy boutiques of the residential design world remains to be seen in the months ahead. But Sandow is betting that, as digital adoption continually increases across all sectors of the industry, the choice will eventually become clear. “I think that it’s going to be very hard—if we can build the digital tools to search for [materials], to visualize them online, to get the physical sample overnight—for brands to go, ‘You know, we just don’t want to do that. We just want to make you come to our showroom.’ … What we know is that companies that have friction are going to lose.”
Homepage photo: Courtesy of Material Bank