Every great entrepreneur has a comeback story. Lance Stokes is working on his.
Stokes had a big success with Lauren James Enterprises. He and his wife, Lauren Wilkins, founded the women’s apparel and lifestyle brand in Fayetteville in 2013.
Lauren James — named after Lauren and part of the couple’s first son’s name, Lofton James — was known mainly for its T-shirts, dresses and swimwear. Though primarily an online retailer, retailers throughout the U.S. also sold the products.
Success came quickly. In August 2017, New York-based Inc. magazine recognized Lauren James as the fastest-growing company in Arkansas. The business had revenue of $13.2 million in 2016, according to Inc., a three-year increase of 6,010%.
In addition to its location on Dickson Street, Lauren James also had corporate stores in Texas in Plano and Southlake.
Shortly after that, however, the success began crumbling. First Security Bank filed suit against Lauren James in June 2018, alleging default on a $500,000 loan it made to the company the previous year. Stokes and Wilkins admitted to being in default but disputed the amount.
In August 2018, an entity called LJ Apparel LLC bought the assets of Lauren James through a foreclosure sale. First Security contested the deal as a “sham” foreclosure. The bank claimed LJ Apparel was an insider of Lauren James set up solely as an attempt to supersede First Security’s lien on the inventory. That would allow Lauren James to avoid default and continue operations as a new entity.
Lauren James said LJ Apparel was a valid third-party investor with no affiliation to the company or its owners.
After several more months of legal wrangling, the bank ultimately settled its lawsuit against Lauren James and LJ Apparel. According to court filings, the parties entered into a confidential settlement and release agreement in February. The suit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it can’t be brought back before the court.
“It was a tough situation that we tried to manage as best and as gracefully as we could,” Stokes, 31, said in a recent interview. “That’s all you can do. And you move on to the next opportunity.”
For Stokes, that opportunity is Bundl Technologies, a startup he launched earlier this year with co-founder Collin Sanders, a serial entrepreneur who also has Fayetteville roots.
Stokes and Sanders are getting Bundl off the ground while living in Florida. For the next couple of months, though, they’ll primarily be in Georgia as one of 10 startups chosen for the 2019 class of the Techstars Atlanta business accelerator. Officials announced the cohort in July after culling more than 350 applications. The program culminates with a demo day in October.
Bundl is a community-driven marketplace and platform for children’s and baby resale apparel and accessories. The technology launched for beta testing in late July.
“We help moms and parents build their resale business through our technology and introduce them to a network of buyers,” Stokes said. “We have an open-ended buyers’ side and a closed sellers’ network.”
Stokes said resale boutiques and consignment stores are also a good fit to use the technology. Bundl has seven employees.
“We’re hiring and raising money and moving quickly,” Stokes said. “We’re excited about being in the Techstars program.”
Sanders, a University of Arkansas graduate, said the first 1,000 sellers on the marketplace would have no transaction fees for their first 250 transactions. After that, Bundl’s business model is to take 10% of the deal while others take 20-40% of the transaction.
Stokes and Sanders agree the ultimate goal is to emerge from the Techstars program and relocate Bundl to Northwest Arkansas by the start of 2020. Sanders said Techstars’ combination of networking, exposure and mentoring are invaluable to the company.
Right now, Sanders said the company is seeking $500,000 of pre-seed investment on a business valuation of $8 million.
Stokes added that his wife is also working on a startup but did not elaborate with specifics.
“It’s not apparel, but it is a very mom-centric product,” he said.