Joanna Coles adds to corporate roles by joining tech rental start-up

Hardware rental start-up Grover has brought in former magazine executive Joanna Coles to chair its board, as it plans a rapid expansion of its consumer electronics subscription service fuelled by a new $330mn fundraising.

Coles, who spent 12 years with publisher Hearst and was the former editor of women’s lifestyle magazine Cosmopolitan, has lately transitioned into a new career in dealmaking and corporate governance. She leads several special purpose acquisition companies — or Spacs — and now sits on the boards of several companies including social media group Snap and speaker maker Sonos.

Her move to Berlin-based Grover was revealed alongside an announcement that it had raised $110mn in equity and $220mn in debt from investors such as sustainability-focused Energy Impact Partners, Fasanara Capital and Korelya Capital.

Grover offers laptops and mobile phones on flexible monthly subscriptions, which it argues will extend the life of everyday tech as products are refurbished and leased out to other customers once a contract ends.

But competition in the sector is fierce and a growing number of retailers are experimenting with subscription-based services to build longer-lasting relationships with consumers. According to Bloomberg, Apple is working on plans to extend its monthly subscription model for iCloud storage or Apple Music to hardware such as the iPhone.

Coles said that Grover and Apple were “great partners”, but added: “Most people globally don’t actually use Apple . . . there’s a company out there called Microsoft and there’s also [Alphabet-owned] Android.”

“Grover feels very bullish about its multi-brand strategy,” she said.

Coles has become the focus of corporate attention after becoming the chief executive of four Spacs — Northern Star Acquisition Co I, II, III and IV — but has seen little success in dealmaking with the entities.

A $4.7bn acquisition for Apex Clearing, a group that seeks to cash in on the boom in amateur investing, collapsed as it failed to get clearance from the US Securities and Exchange Commission despite eight months of trying.

The only one of Coles’ blank cheque companies that has managed to complete a merger did so with a dog toy subscription service called Bark, which calls itself “the leading global brand for dogs”. Bark’s share price has fallen by almost half in the past six months.

The other three Spacs are still searching for acquisition targets and have until early next year to find them. Coles would not comment on her record with the blank cheque companies.

Grover, which has 450 employees, said the fresh funds would be used to boost subscribers in existing markets such as Spain, the US and Germany. Annual recurring revenues more than doubled to €140mn in 2021, according to Grover, which is so far only profitable in its home country.

​​Michael Cassau, Grover’s founder and chief executive, called tech rentals a “worldwide societal shift” and said the company he founded in 2015 held a “frontrunner position”.

Additional reporting by Philip Stafford in London