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Wayfair’s founders achieve billionaire status

Steve Conine (left) and Niraj Shah cofounded Wayfair.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File 2014/Globe Staff

SAN FRANCISCO —The once-frugal founders of Wayfair Inc. have become billionaires after a revenue surge helped the online retailer’s value rise to a record.

Investors embracing the Boston company’s expansion strategy pushed the stock to a record high last week, giving cofounders Niraj Shah and Steve Conine a net worth of $1.37 billion each, as of noon Wednesday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Together, they hold 40 percent and nearly all voting rights for the online seller of sofas, beds, and a wide variety of other home furnishings — a reflection of the thrifty approach they pursued for almost a decade as they spurned outside capital.


“I probably spent three years bugging Niraj to take my money,” said Alex Finkelstein, a venture capitalist at Spark Capital who led a $165 million investment round in 2011 and served on Wayfair’s board until 2015. “They built the company to an incredible scale without raising money.”

Shah, 43, and Conine, 44, declined to comment.

Wayfair shares have more than doubled this year, the best performance, by far, in the 97-company S&P Retail Select Industry Index, which includes The stock closed at $75.41 Wednesday, up 1.2 percent.

Shah and Conine, who met at Cornell University and studied engineering, founded Wayfair in 2002 and stitched together a network of more than 250 stand-alone websites, including and Almost a decade later, they began to consolidate the sites and set out to build brand awareness. To pay for it, they raised $351 million in venture funding in 2011 and about $283 million in an initial public offering three years later.

Wayfair’s revenue more than quintupled from 2012 to 2016, to about $3.38 billion, while its net loss more than doubled from 2015 to $194.4 million as the company increased spending on advertising, infrastructure, and international expansion.


Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg predict Wayfair will post additional losses this year and next before approaching break-even in 2019.

The quest for revenue has produced a vocal cohort of skeptics who question whether Wayfair’s business model can ever result in profits.

Bearish bets on the company account for 24 percent of the publicly traded float, making it the 145th-most-shorted stock in the Russell 2000 Index.

Citron Research’s Andrew Left argues that the retailer is simply buying growth. “They are showing no path toward profitability whatsoever,” he said.

Left also suggested that Jeff Bezos’s may enter the market, and Furniture Today reported in April that the online retail giant may change its furniture-selling platform so that stores can offer custom delivery services at different prices.

“Amazon could be a big threat and might easily take away shoppers, as anybody who’d shop on Wayfair is likely already an Amazon customer,” said Seema Shah, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “Bezos is a threat to everybody.”

Shah and Conine, who have more than 95 percent of their personal fortunes tied to Wayfair, remain undaunted, arguing that the furniture category is protected from Amazon’s advance.

“We are pretty bullish that the investments we’ve been making are working,” Shah said on a May 9 conference call with analysts. “There’s still a lot of those gains ahead of us.”