(Chris Devlin) #1

127


FORTUNE.COM // JUNE .1 .19


The skeptics contend that Wayfair has no
path to profitability and all the revenue
growth is only decreasing the likelihood of
a best-possible outcome: acquisition by, say,
Amazon.
Somehow the share price, while definite-
ly volatile, has proved relatively resilient.
So much so that those shorting the stock
have lost a collective $1.07 billion over the
past year, per a February report by S3 Ana-
lytics. The stock took a drubbing after the
company’s first quarter earning announce-
ment, then got swept up in a broad market
selloff over tariffs, but was still up more
than 50% year to date as Fortune went to
press. It helps that Shah and Conine seem
to have the trust of institutional buyers.
Wayfair’s top 10 shareholders, including
Fidelity, Janus, JPMorgan, Vanguard,
and BlackRock, own 42 million shares, or
roughly 70% of the float. Which means the
smart money, at least for the time being, is
buying and holding the Wayfair vision.
But there are two types of newcomers
to the Fortune 500. Those, like Payless


Cashways, which popped onto the list in 1995 only to disappear
a few years later. Or those, like Amazon, which debut near the
bottom (it crept in at No. 492 in 2002) and steadily ascend the
ranks, changing, navigating, and evolving as they grow.
The question is, which kind of company is Wayfair?

I


T’S LUNCHTIME in Wayfair’s Copley Square cafeteria in
downtown Boston. Shah is holding forth on his vision
for the company’s future over a chicken pesto Parme-
san sandwich in the midst of a near monoculture of
twentysomethings. He explains that the total addressable market
for home goods—including furniture and just about every-
thing else for your home—in the U.S. and Europe represents an
$800 billion opportunity. Wayfair is currently capturing about
1%. He wants the rest.
Asked how he intends to make that happen, he launches a
narrative stream, each word racing to stay ahead of the one
behind it. Sentences arrange into fully formed, highly articulate
paragraphs. It’s clear he’s done this before. Maybe a thousand
times. But the repetition hasn’t dampened his excitement. Far
from it. Here’s the gist.
The typical experience of buying home goods is awful. There
are no real brands. Product discovery is difficult, and even when
consumers know what they’re looking for, they don’t know how
to ask for it. As with fashion, people buy home goods to reflect