Flextock is a YC-backed e-commerce fulfillment provider for Africa and the Middle East

When merchants launch their e-commerce businesses, they can easily manage the end-to-end operations in the early stages. But as they begin to grow, managing their own operations, from warehousing and logistics to delivery and cash collection, can become difficult. This can prevent them from scaling effectively despite having a steady inflow of demand.

Now, there’s a need to offload some of this workload. This is where e-commerce fulfillment services come in handy.

Today, Flextock, one such company providing this service to businesses and consumers in Egypt, is announcing that it is part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2021 batch. Founded by Mohamed Mossaad and Enas Siam in September 2020, the Egyptian company launched in stealth this January.

According to COO Siam, the founders noticed that as e-commerce activities in the Middle East and North African regions accelerated due to the pandemic, merchants were left overwhelmed with the volume of orders they received.

“We saw it as an opportunity to build a tech-enabled platform to be able to help anyone that wanted to grow their own independent brand or store,” she told TechCrunch. “We wanted them to focus on their products and marketing while leaving the supply chain and logistics bit to us, which we do through our end-to-end proprietary software.”

Mossaad, the company’s CEO, describes Flextock as a tech-enabled fulfillment provider. When merchants sign up to the platform, they send their products to one of the company’s fulfillment centers. Flextock takes the whole catalog and tags the products for tracking purposes. Then, integration is made between Flextock and any online store they use, be it Shopify, WooCommerce, Wix and Odoo, among others

As orders are made, Flextock packages and ships the products from the fulfillment center to the customers. Flextock doesn’t own any delivery vehicles, so to achieve this, the company partners with existing logistics companies in Egypt. This model has helped the startup to create a marketplace for different last-mile delivery companies in the country.

Image Credits: Flextock

There’s also a dashboard for these merchants to track each order, get more visibility into their shipping process and know how well their products sell.

Flextock makes money on a per-order basis. That means the merchants on the platform pay a flat fee that changes with respect to the volume of products moved.

Mossaad says that since the company beta launched in January with more than 20 businesses, it has been growing 50% week on week. It has also completed over 300,000 orders across 28 cities in the country.

According to the CEO, Flextock is the first end-to-end fulfillment service in Egypt. And in a market that will likely see more competition in the next couple of years, Mossaad thinks Flextock has the opportunity to become the market leader.

Behind this rationale is that the six-month-old startup is backed by Y Combinator and has also raised $850,000 which is just the first part of its million-dollar pre-seed round that will close sometime this year.

“We were able to very quickly get the acceptance of YC given the size of the opportunity we are focused on. We believe that commerce is expected to change in the Middle East and Africa, and Flextock is going to be at the forefront of powering this next generation of commerce,” he said.

The founders combine a wealth of corporate experience and a strong track record of scaling tech startups in the MENA region.

L-R: Mohamed Mossaad (CEO) and Enas Siam (COO)

Siam started her career managing supply operations at Nestle across the Middle East and North Africa. Later, she became the General Manager of Careem Bus, a mass-transit service and Uber subsidiary, where she helped build the product from scratch and grew it to 150,000 monthly rides in a year.

Mossaad, on the other hand, has worked on multiple turnarounds across different African countries during his time at Bain & Company. He joined Egyptian online food delivery platform, Elmenus, as Chief Strategy Officer. He helped scale the company’s revenues 5x in less than a year and was instrumental to its $8 million Series B round.

The CEO says Flextock has its sights on other African and Middle Eastern markets — specifically Saudi Arabia — and the plan is to provide its services to over 1 million businesses in these regions over the next decade.

“We are on a mission to enable more than 1 million merchants in Africa and the Middle East to sell online without carrying out the hassle of running their own operations. We are well-positioned to do that, and hopefully, we will be able to achieve that in a record time.”

#africa, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #egypt, #logistics, #middle-east, #startups, #tc


Atlanta startups have another venture fund to tap as Silicon Road Ventures closes on $31 million

Atlanta startups can now add another name to their rolodexes of venture firms operating out of the Big Peach with the close of Silicon Road Ventures new $31 million fund.

Silicon Road invests across the U.S. from its base in Atlanta, the firm said with a focus on e-commerce, retail, and consumer packaged goods.

The firm said it’s focused on in-store retail and technology for shoppers, the multi-channel commerce world, supply chain and logistics technologies and financial technologies and payments.

Founded two years ago, the fund invested in ten startups over the course of 2020 and is targeting another twenty for its first fund.

The firm hopes that entrepreneurs find its “corporate connect” program to be a key differentiator, which relies on founder and managing partner Sid Mookerji’s experience in e-commerce, retail and consumer packaged goods to link corporations to relevant startups and research, according to a statement.

Silicon Road is already working with the upstart retail chain Citizen Supply, which provides a highly curated marketplace to showcase new consumer brands.

Mookerji previously founded Software Paradigms International Group, which was one of the first retail IT companies offering a suite of products designed to optimize omni-channel strategies. The company’s clients included Macy’s, Walmart, Carrefour, and NAPA.

Joining Mookerji is managing director and partner, Ross Kimbel, a former co-founder of Be Curious Partners and a global director of innovation and entrepreneurship at The Coca-Cola Company. curated engagements between portfolio companies and major retailers and brands.

The company’s current portfolio includesPerchToucan AIWeStockSoftWear AutomationPatronPull LogicTurnSymTrainEveryware, and Wripple.

#atlanta, #carrefour, #co-founder, #e-commerce, #entrepreneurship, #macys, #managing-partner, #private-equity, #retail, #retailers, #startup-company, #supermarkets, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #united-states, #walmart


Want to Buy a Scrunchie Mask? Great. But Forget About That N95.

Scientists are urging Americans to upgrade their face coverings. But Amazon, Google and Facebook restrict the sale of medical-grade masks. Critics say the rules are outdated.

#amazon-com-inc, #e-commerce, #facebook-inc, #google-inc, #masks, #online-advertising, #protective-clothing-and-gear, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization


Jumia co-CEO Jeremy Hodara talks African e-commerce, and his company’s path to profitability

This month, African e-commerce giant Jumia released its second full-year financials for Q4 and its fiscal year 2020. The results were mixed — active customers and gross profit increased, while orders and gross merchandise volume (GMV) fell.

A particular feature that has troubled the company since its inception in 2012 was also present, namely persistent adjusted EBITDA and operating losses. However, those metrics fell year over year, and the company, in a statement, said that it had demonstrated “meaningful progress on our path to profitability.”

The unevenness of Jumia’s business is also reflected in how its share price performed in the past year. In March 2020, the company hit rock bottom and traded at an all-time low of $2.15 after facing fraud allegations. But it hit an all-time high of $69.89 almost a year later this February. 

With the release of its financials, two things were top of TechCrunch’s mind: What made Jumia’s value swell by more than 3,000 percent in the last year, and will the e-commerce player’s unending losses end anytime soon?

I spoke with Jumia co-CEO Jeremy Hodara to get his insights on these two questions and on issues that have faced the company in the past.

Talking profitability with Jumia

This interview has edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: This time last year, Jumia was trading between $2 and $4. Now it’s within $40 to $50. What do you think has been the driving factor behind this?

Jeremy Hodara: What I think is really important about the stock rise is two things. First, in general, the world realized that there was a big paradigm shift in e-commerce and that e-commerce was the way to go for the future. This is something you can look at for every e-commerce company in the past 12 to 18 months. The second thing that happened is that we at Jumia have been very clear about the opportunities e-commerce represents in Africa. E-commerce is a real problem of access to consumption and has a strong value proposition to those who necessarily don’t fancy brick-and-mortar stores in Africa.

What we never really have proven is that you can build a profitable e-commerce business. However, I think that will change soon because what we’ve done quarter after quarter is to be disciplined to bring clarity that we’re going after a profitable business model and profitable growth. And as people understood and saw what we were doing, it also gave them more confidence about how exciting this opportunity is. In my opinion, what happened in the last 12 months was the combination of people understanding how important e-commerce is worldwide. Secondly, Jumia brought proof points that it was building a sustainable and profitable business model.

Would you say Andrew Left’s reversal in October and his decision to take long positions at Jumia also affected the share price?

Not really. Like I said earlier, I think it had to do with the story of e-commerce change for the future. That didn’t start in October; it started months before. Also, we being disciplined quarter after quarter to build what’s right started months before, so I can’t really comment if his decision affected our share price or if an investor’s negative or positive comments would change market sentiment towards our stock.

You’ve talked about how Jumia is trying to build a profitable business. But how’s it going to do that if the company reports losses quarter after quarter and year after year?

I think we’re on the right path, considering that our EBITDA losses reduced by 47 percent last quarter, and we’ll be trying to do so every quarter. We want to go about it by improving the efficiency of the business and opening new avenues for growth.

The most exciting thing about e-commerce is that first, you build large assets for your own use, but it becomes relevant for other stakeholders over time. For us, we have an application and website with very engaged visitors, and we’re exploring having third-party advertisers who place ads on the platform.

Our logistics service is also another way. We’re building tools and technology to equip our logistics partners and help them become more productive. This drives our costs per delivery down and is the type of benefit that comes with scaling. So I think there’s a path to profitability by opening the assets we’ve built for ourselves to benefit our ecosystem.

Jumia’s expenses dropped last year, but revenue also dropped despite a little increase in customer base. Aren’t those worrying signs?

On the revenue side, here’s how we should look at it. When you’re a marketplace, your revenue is the commission that you make from a transaction. So if you’re a seller on Jumia and sell something that costs $100 and your commission is 10 percent, your revenue inside the P&L of Jumia will be $10. If I buy a product from you at $90 and sell it to my consumer for $100, I’ll record $100 as the revenue.

That’s the insurance from the financial pinpoint between what you call the third-party and the first-party model. At the first-party model, you record as the revenue the value of the product. At the marketplace, you only record the commission. Jumia has, give or take, 10 percent of its business as the first-party model and 90 percent as the marketplace model. But that percentage changed over time, and when it did, you can see how the revenue went down.

So we don’t base our profitability on revenue. What is the right KPI for us is the gross profit as it shows the monetization of Jumia. It has been growing quarter after quarter, this time by 12% percent. Our active consumers growing 12 percent from 6.1 million in Q4 2019 to 6.8 million in Q4 2020 shows a disciplined growth towards profitability.

If there’s indeed a path to profitability, why did Jumia investors — Rocket Internet and MTN — exit the company? And does that put pressure on the company?

Oh, not at all. The fact that Jumia was able to gain support from the companies was a blessing, and they’ve come a long way with us. But like any investor after six to nine years, I think it was time for them to decide to leave the company, and I’ll say the company was lucky to have had them along our side from the beginning. Well, I can’t say for them, but for myself, I don’t think one can say that their leaving after so many years is a sign of distrust in our ability to become profitable.

One of the positives of your financials was JumiaPay. Does it tie into Jumia’s journey to being profitable?

JumiaPay is an amazing opportunity for us. Once you have a great commerce platform, you have a fantastic opportunity to build a great payments solution for your consumers. We can see that consumers are adopting it very fast, and I think this is because the platform also gives them access to other digital services where they top up their phone, pay bills and get loans. Also, it is a great payment method for consumers who want to prepay for services. And when you prepay for products, you make logistics more efficient and have more sales.

Sales remind me of the fraud issues in 2019 when some J-Force team members engaged in improper sales practices. What is Jumia doing to avoid situations like that?

It’s a lesson we’ve learnt, and we have put in the right compliance, the right internal control team to resolve such situations. I’ll say one of the reasons why we’re becoming one of the most professional organizations in Africa is because we now have these systems in place.

As an African company, how is Jumia addressing concerns around diversity, especially at top positions?

I think what’s really African with Jumia is who we are serving, our African sellers, our African consumers and our African team. In Nigeria, Juliet Anammah, who was the CEO of Jumia Nigeria, is now the chairperson of Jumia Group. I don’t know what constitutes an African or a non-African company, but what I can tell you is that our team is African, our consumers are African, and we’re selling on the continent every day. I think that’s what should make sense to our ecosystem.

#africa, #e-commerce, #earnings, #ecommerce, #jumia, #tc


Singapore-based Raena gets $9M Series A for its pivot to skincare and beauty-focused social commerce

A photo of social commerce startup Raena’s team. From left to right: chief operating officer Guo Xing Lim, chief executive officer Sreejita Deb and chief commercial officer Widelia Liu

Raena’s team, from left to right: chief operating officer Guo Xing Lim, chief executive officer Sreejita Deb and chief commercial officer Widelia Liu

Raena was founded in 2019 to create personal care brands with top social media influencers. After several launches, however, the Singapore-based startup quickly noticed an interesting trend: customers were ordering batches of products from Raena every week and reselling them on social media and e-commerce platforms like Shopee and Tokopedia. Last year, the company decided to focus on those sellers, and pivoted to social commerce.

Today Raena announced it has raised a Series A of $9 million, co-led by Alpha Wave Incubation and Alpha JWC Ventures, with participation from AC Ventures and returning investors Beenext, Beenos and Strive. Its last funding announcement was a $1.82 million seed round announced in July 2019.

After interviewing people who were setting up online stores with products from Raena, the company’s team realized that sellers’ earnings potential was capped because they were paying retail prices for their inventory.

They also saw that the even though new C2C retail models, like social commerce, are gaining popularity, the beauty industry’s supply chain hasn’t kept up. Sellers usually need to order minimum quantities, which makes it harder for people to start their own businesses, Raena co-founder Sreejita Deb told TechCrunch,

“Basically, you have to block your capital upfront. It’s difficult for individual sellers or micro-enterpreneurs to work with the old supply chain and categories like beauty,” she said.

Raena decided to pivot to serve those entrepreneurs. The company provides a catalog that includes mostly Japanese and Korean skincare and beauty brands. For those brands, Raena represents a way to enter new markets like Indonesia, which the startup estimates has $20 billion market opportunity.

Raena resellers, who are mostly women between 18 to 34-years-old in Indonesia and Malaysia, pick what items they want to feature on their social media accounts. Most use TikTok or Instagram for promotion, and set up online stores on Shopee or Tokopedia. But they don’t have to carry inventory. When somebody buys a product from a Raena reseller, the reseller orders it from Raena, which ships it directly to the customer.

This drop-shipping model means resellers make higher margins. Since they don’t have to carry inventory, it also dramatically lowers the barrier to launching a small business. Even though Raena’s pivot to social commerce coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, Deb said it grew its revenue 50 times between January and December 2020. The platform now has more than 1,500 resellers, and claims a 60% seller retention rate after six months on the platform.

She attributes Raena’s growth to several factors, including the increase in online shopping during lockdowns and people looking for ways to earn additional income during the pandemic. While forced to stay at home, many people also began spending more time online, especially on the social media platforms that Raena resellers use.

Raena also benefited from its focus on skincare. Even though many retail categories, including color cosmetics, took a hit, skincare products proved resilient.

“We saw skincare had higher margins, and there are certain markets that are experts at formulating and producing skincare products, and demand for those products in other parts of the world,” she said, adding, “we’ve continued being a skincare company and because that is a category we had insight into, it was our first entry point into this social selling model as well. 90% of our sales are skincare. Our top-selling products are serums, toners, essences, which makes a lot of sense because people are in their homes and have more time to dedicate to their skincare routines.”

Social commerce, which allows people to earn a side income (or even a full-time income), by promoting products through social media, has taken off in several Asian markets. In China, for example, Pinduoduo has become a formidable rival to Alibaba through its group-selling model and focus on fresh produce. In India, Meesho resellers promote products through social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.

Social commerce is also gaining traction in Southeast Asia, with gross merchandise value growing threefold during the first half of 2020, according to iKala.

Deb said one of the ways Raena is different from other social commerce companies is that most of its resellers are selling to customers they don’t know, instead of focusing on family and friends. Many already had TikTok or Instagram profiles focused on beauty and skincare, and had developed reputations for being knowledgeable about products.

As Raena develops, it plans to hire a tech team to build tools that will simplify the process of managing orders and also strike deals directly with manufacturers to increase profit margins for resellers. The funding will be used to increase its team from 15 to over 100 over the next three months, and it plans to enter more Southeast Asian markets.

#asia, #e-commerce, #indonesia, #malaysia, #personal-care, #raena, #singapore, #skincare, #social-commerce, #southeast-asia, #tc


You’ve Heard of Ghost Kitchens. Meet the Ghost Franchises.

Virtual food brands, often driven by real celebrities, are rapidly spreading across the country. Do they help or hurt independent restaurants?

#delivery-services, #doordash-mobile-app, #e-commerce, #fast-food-industry, #franchises, #grubhub-inc, #mobile-applications, #mrbeast-burger-mobile-app, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #restaurants, #virtual-dining-concepts-llc


What Happens When a Publisher Becomes a Megapublisher?

The merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster has the potential to touch every part of the industry, including how much authors get paid and how bookstores are run.

#amazon-com-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #bertelsmann-ag, #book-trade-and-publishing, #books-and-literature, #e-commerce, #mergers-acquisitions-and-divestitures, #penguin-random-house, #simonschuster-inc, #writing-and-writers


Marc Benioff and this panel of judges will decide who gets one seat on the first all-civilian spaceflight

SpaceX’s first all-civilian human spaceflight mission, which will carry four passengers to orbit using a Crew Dragon capsule later this year if all goes to plan, will include one passenger selected by a panel of judges weighing the submissions of entrepreneurs. The panel will include Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Fast Company Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Mehta, YouTuber Mark Rober and Bar Rescue TV host Jon Taffer. It may seem like an eclectic bunch, but there is some reason to the madness.

This seat is one of four on the ride – the first belongs to contest and mission sponsor Jared Isaacman, the founder of Shift4 Payments and a billionaire who has opted to spend a not insignificant chunk of money funding the flight. The second, Isaacman revealed earlier this week, will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital employee and cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux.

That leaves two more seats, and they’re being decided by two separate contests. One is open to anyone who is a U.S. citizen and who makes a donation to St. Jude via the ongoing charitable contribution drive. The other will be decided by this panel of judges, and will be chosen from a pool of applicants who have build stores on Shift4’s Shift4Shop e-commerce platform.

That’s right: This absurdly expensive and pioneering mission to space is also a growth marketing campaign for Isaacman’s Shopify competitor. But to be fair, the store of the winning entrant doesn’t have to be news – existing customers can also apply and are eligible.

The stated criteria for deciding the winner is “a business owner or entrepreneur the exhibits ingenuity, innovation and determination” so in other words it could be just about anybody. I’m extremely curious to see what Benioff, Mehta, Rober (also a former NASA JPL engineer in addition to a YouTuber) and Taffer come up with between them as a winner.

The Inspiration4 mission is currently set to fly in the fourth quarter of 2021, and mission specifics including total duration and target orbit are yet to be determined.

#aerospace, #benioff, #ceo, #e-commerce, #editor-in-chief, #entrepreneur, #founder, #salesforce, #shopify, #space, #spacex, #tc, #television-in-the-united-states, #united-states


#Interview – Nike kopiert Schuh-Startup! – “Eine bessere Bestätigung können wir uns kaum vorstellen”

Das junge Unternehmen bendys setzt auf Schuhe, die jeder anziehen kann ohne sich bücken zu müssen. “Wir arbeiten seit inzwischen fast 20 Jahren an den bendys – angefangen bei meiner Diplomarbeit. Das Unternehmen dazu haben wir aber erst Mitte letzten Jahres gegründet. Das fängt gerade an, sich mit Leben zu füllen – coronabedingt leider langsamer als erhofft”, erzählt Max Neumeyer, der das Unternehmen gemeinsam mit Heinz Gerd Brammen führt.

Der Schuhgigant Nike stellte kürzlich einen Schuh vor, der wie der verschollene Zwilling von bendys aussieht. “Natürlich waren wir erstmal baff, als das Produkt vorgestellt wurde. Da schwang schon etwas Sorge mit, aber auch viel Neugier. Denn uns wurde schnell klar, dass uns durch Nike ganz neue Möglichkeiten eröffnet werden. Eine bessere Bestätigung unseres Geschäftsmodells können wir uns kaum vorstellen”, sagt Neumeyer.

Im Interview mit deutsche-startups.de spricht der bendys-Macher außerdem über Experimente, Lieferprobleme und Schuhfertigung.

Wie würdest Du Deiner Großmutter bendys erklären?
Das ist einfach: “Oma, Dein Enkel verkauft jetzt Schuhe und Du musst Dich nie wieder bücken, wenn Du Schuhe anziehen willst!”

Hat sich Euer Konzept, Euer Geschäftsmodell, in den vergangenen Jahren irgendwie verändert?
Ja – und zwar sehr deutlich: Statt unser Patent des “hands-free-entry”-Schuhs an andere Firmen zu verkaufen oder an Lizenzpartner zu vermitteln, sind wir selber zum Hersteller geworden. Und als Hersteller verlassen wir gerade den Bereich Kleinstserien und produzieren erstmals größere Mengen. In der Entwicklungsphase hin zur Serienreife haben wir versucht, für unser Erfindung vertriebsstarke Partner zu finden. In den Gesprächen, die wir geführt haben, tauchte immer wieder die Frage auf: „Kann man bendys auch erfolgreich verkaufen?“ Wir fanden das etwas sonderbar – schließlich kannten unsere Gesprächspartner ihre Zielgruppe und den Schuhmarkt ja viel besser. Wir mussten feststellen, dass die Schuhbranche sehr konservativ und der Markt hart umkämpft ist. Dort gibt es wenig Spielraum für Experimente. So wurde uns klar, dass wir bendys selber am Markt etablieren und dabei auch als Hersteller auftreten müssen. Erste Versuche mit reinem Direktvertrieb im Modebereich haben wir schnell wieder beendet. Es fehlte – bisher – schlicht die Marktpräsenz, um ein komplett neues Schuhkonzept in der Breite bekannt zu machen. Wir mussten lernen, unsere Zielgruppe viel klarer zu definieren, um sie besser ansprechen zu können. Jetzt sprechen wir Menschen an, für die bendys mehr sind als nur ein modisches Gimmick. In unserer Gesellschaft gibt es viele Menschen, für die das An- und Ausziehen von festen Schuhen aufgrund von vorübergehenden oder chronischen Erkrankungen nur noch schwer oder gar nicht mehr machbar ist. Dieser Zielgruppe Mobilität und Unabhängigkeit anbieten zu können ist unser Ziel. Im Handel richten wir uns Orthopädieschuhmacher und Schuhhäuser mit Bequemschuhabteilung. Erste Kooperationen gibt es bereits.

Nike hat kürzlich einen Schuh vorgestellt, der ziemlich nach eurem Konzept aussieht. Wie fühlt es sich an, von einem solchen Giganten kopiert zu werden?
Natürlich waren wir erstmal baff, als das Produkt vorgestellt wurde. Da schwang schon etwas Sorge mit, aber auch viel Neugier. Denn uns wurde schnell klar, dass uns durch Nike ganz neue Möglichkeiten eröffnet werden. Eine bessere Bestätigung unseres Geschäftsmodells können wir uns kaum vorstellen. Mit einem unbekannten Produkt ohne Vorbild steht man als kleines Startup vor einer großen Marketing-Aufgabe. Wir sehen in dem Produkt von Nike eine Art Türöffner. Die typische Händlerfrage „Kann man bendys auch verkaufen?“ werden wir vermutlich seltener hören – und vielleicht häufiger offene Türen einrennen. Jetzt ist es spannend zu sehen, wie ähnlich die Kommunikation am Markt aussieht. Beispielsweise verwendet Nike ebenfalls das etwas sperrige und sehr technische Wort “bistabil”. Da wurde uns klar – offensichtlich ist unsere Kommunikation nicht so falsch. Gestalterisch spricht Nike ohnehin eine ganz andere Zielgruppe an. Wir denken daher, dass wir von Nikes Engagement nur profitieren können. Schließlich gilt: Wer kopiert wird, hat Erfolg.

Die Corona-Krise traf die Startup-Szene zuletzt teilweise hart. Wie habt ihr die Auswirkungen gespürt?
Einen guten Teil der Krisenzeit konnten wir nutzen, um uns in Ruhe mit unserer Zielgruppe und dem Produkt zu beschäftigen. Da hat uns Corona vergleichsweise wenig gestört. Aktuell haben wir – so wie viele – mit Corona bedingten Lieferproblemen zu kämpfen. Auch die Ansprache des Handels oder geplante Messeauftritte ruhen natürlich aktuell.

Wie ist überhaupt die Idee zu bendys entstanden?
Die erste Auseinandersetzung mit “freihändig anzuziehenden Schuhen” erfolgte bereits in meinem Studium als Industrie-Designer. Das Thema hat mich dann nicht mehr losgelassen. Die Idee, ein Unternehmen zu gründen, entstand dann erst mit Heinz Gerd Brammen, einem Experten in Sachen Schuhfertigung. Ohne dessen Know How und Einsatz gäbe es die bendys GmbH nicht.

Wie hat sich bendys seit der Gründung entwickelt?
Wir arbeiten seit inzwischen fast 20 Jahren an den bendys – angefangen bei meiner Diplomarbeit. Das Unternehmen dazu haben wir aber erst Mitte letzten Jahres gegründet. Das fängt gerade an, sich mit Leben zu füllen – coronabedingt leider langsamer als erhofft.

Nun aber einmal Butter bei die Fische: Wie groß ist bendys inzwischen?
Auf dem Papier sind wir nur zu zweit. Zum Glück haben wir aber im Umfeld viele Profis aus den verschiedensten Bereichen die uns beraten und auch mal mit anpacken. Solange wir auf Ware warten, versuchen wir die Struktur schlank zu halten. Die Liste der Vorbestellungen und Anfragen stimmen uns aber optimistisch.

Wo steht bendys in einem Jahr?
Wenn alles läuft wie geplant, dann gibt es in einem Jahr eine Händlerstruktur, so dass Kunden bendys in Ihrer Nähe probetragen können. Auch unser bisher sehr schlankes Produktprogramm ist dann größer. Schuhe sind modische Produkte. Da kommt man um eine gewisse Auswahl nicht herum. Die wollen wir gerne bieten, sobald unsere Stückzahlen das zulassen.

Reden wir zudem noch über Köln. Wenn es um Startups in Deutschland geht, richtet sich der Blick sofort nach Berlin. Was spricht für Köln als Startup-Standort?
Wenn es um Schuhe geht, schenken sich die beiden Standorte nicht viel – fachlich wären wir in der alten Schuhstadt Pirmasens vermutlich am besten aufgehoben. Vertrieblich ist die Lage ein echter Vorteil. Mit Düsseldorf, Bonn und dem Ruhrgebiet wohnen Millionen Menschen in direkter Umgebung.

Was fehlt in Köln noch?
Die “Digitalstadt Köln” hat für ein Startup im produzierenden Gewerbe, vergleichsweise wenig zu bieten. Da hatten wir nie das Gefühl besondere Unterstützung zu erfahren.

Zum Schluss hast Du drei Wünsche frei: Was wünscht Du Dir für den Startup-Standort Köln?
Mehr breite Fuß und Radwege. Niedrigere Mieten wären natürlich schön. Und das man nicht drei Monate auf eine Steuernummer warten muss.

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): bendys

#aktuell, #bendys, #e-commerce, #interview, #koln, #reloaded


3D model provider CGTrader raises $9.5M Series B led by Evli Growth Partners

3D model provider CGTrader, has raised $9.5M in a Series B funding led by Finnish VC fund Evli Growth Partners, alongside previous investors Karma Ventures and LVV Group. Ex-Rovio CEO Mikael Hed also invested and joins as Board Chairman. We first covered the Vilnius-based company when it raised 200,000 euro from Practica Capital.

Founded in 2011 by 3D designer Marius Kalytis (now COO), CGTrader has become a signifiant 3D content provider – it even claims to be the world’s largest. In its marketplace are 1.1M 3D models and 3.5M 3D designers, service 370,000 businesses including Nike, Microsoft, Made.com, Crate & Barrel, and Staples.

Unlike photos, 3D models can also be used to create both static images as well as AR experiences, so that users can see how a product might fit in their home. The company is also looking to invest in automating 3D modeling, QA, and asset management processes with AI. 

Dalia Lasaite, CEO and co-founder of CGTrader said in a statement: “3D models are not only widely used in professional 3D industries, but have become a more convenient and cost-effective way of generating amazing product visuals for e-commerce as well. With our ARsenal enterprise platform, it is up to ten times cheaper to produce photorealistic 3D visuals that are indistinguishable from photographs.”

CGTrader now plans to consolidate its position and further develop its platform.

The company competes with TurboSquid (which was recently acquired for $75 million by Shutterstock) and Threekit.

#3d, #3d-modeling, #arsenal, #artificial-intelligence, #ceo, #cgtrader, #computer-graphics, #coo, #crate-barrel, #designer, #e-commerce, #europe, #graphics, #image-processing, #karma-ventures, #made-com, #microsoft, #nike, #practica-capital, #rovio, #shutterstock, #staples, #tc, #visual-effects


Second crew member of first all-civilian SpaceX mission revealed

SpaceX is now in the business of flying people to space, and if all goes to plan, it’ll be the first to provide a trip for a crew made up entirely of private space tourists later this year. Now, we know who will join billionaire and Shift4Payments founder Jason Isaacman on that trip – St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital employee, and former patient Hayley Arceneaux.

Arceneaux was already selected by Isaacman to be one of the four members of the crew for the mission aboard a SpaceX Dragon, which will include a flight to an unspecified orbit for a trip likely spanning a few days when it launches. The billionaire tipped that he “already knew” who he’d picked to represent St. Jude during a press call when the trip was originally announced earlier this year, but noted that he was saving the reveal.

Isaacman is running a months-long campaign around ‘Inspiration4,’ which is what he has named the flight. The remaining two seats will be given to winners chosen from two separate ongoing competitions: One pool includes anyone who makes a donation to St. Jude during the course of a fundraising campaign attached to the launch, and the other will be selected from entrepreneurs who build an online store on Shift4’s newly launched e-commerce platform.

As AP reports, Arceneaux is a bone cancer survivor who joined St. Jude last year as a physician assistant. She’s record a number of firsts and records when she gets to space on the upcoming flight, including becoming the youngest American ever in space at just 29, and also becoming the first to enter space with a prosthetic in place – she has an artificial knee and a rod in her thighs bone due to the bone cancer she was treated for at St. Jude when she was 10.

Isaacman is footing the entire bill for the SpaceX launch – including covering the tax obligations of the other winners selected for the St. Jude seats on the mission. He has also committed to donating $100 million to the hospital from his own funds, in addition to whatever is raised through the public donation drive that will be used to select one of the other crew members.

#aerospace, #e-commerce, #outer-space, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc


Ella Emhoff Makes a Small Collection of Knitwear

The second daughter turned model released a five-piece collection. Only one of each item was made.

#design, #e-commerce, #emhoff-ella, #fashion-and-apparel, #knitting-and-knit-goods, #parsons-the-new-school-for-design, #shopping-centers-and-malls, #textiles


Pipe17 closes $8M to connect a range of e-commerce tools without any code required

This morning Pipe17, a software startup focused on the e-commerce market, announced that it has closed $8 million in funding.

Pipe17’s service helps smaller e-commerce merchants connect their digital tools, without the need to code. With the startup’s service, e-commerce operations that may lack an in-house IT function can quickly connect their selling platform to shipping, or point-of-sale data to their ERP.

The venture arm of a large logistics investor GLP, GLP Capital Partners led the round.

Pipe17 co-founders Mo Afshar and Dave Shaffer told TechCrunch in an interview that the idea for their startup came from examining the e-commerce market, noting the energy to be found concerning selling platforms, and the comparative dearth of software to help get e-commerce tools to work together; Shopify and BigCommerce and Shippo are just fine, but if you can’t code you might wind up schlepping data from one platform to the next to keep your e-commerce operation humming.

So they built Pipe17 to fill in the gap.

According to Afshar, Pipe17 wants to simplify operations for e-commerce merchants through the lens of connection; the pair of co-founders believe that easy cross-compatibility is the key missing ingredient in the modern-day e-commerce software stack, likening the current e-commerce maket to the IT and datacenter worlds before the advent of Splunk and Datadog.

The prevailing view in the e-commerce industry, the co-founders explained, is that to fix a problem e-commerce players should purchase another application. Pipe17 thinks that most ecommerce companies probably have enough tooling, and that they instead need to get their existing tooling to communicate.

What’s neat about the startup is that it’s building something that we might call no-code-no-code, or no-code to a higher degree. Instead of offering a interface for non-developers to visually map out connections between different software services, it has pre-built what might need to be mapped. Just pick the two e-commerce services you want to link, and Pipe17 will connect them for you in an intelligent manner. For folks who find any sort of coding hard (which probably describes a lot of indie online store operators), the method could be an attractive pitch.

The startup’s customer target are sellers doing single-digit millions to nine-figures in year sales.

Why did Pipe17 raise capital now? The co-founders said that there are only so many chances to simplify a large market, akin to what Plaid and Twilio did for their own niches, so taking on funds now made sense. In Afshar’s view, e-commerce operations is going to be simply massive. Given the growth in digital selling that we saw last year, it’s a perspective that is hard to dispute.

The niche that Pipe17 wants to fill has more than one player. While the startups themselves might quibble about just how much competitive space they share, Y Combinator-backed Alloy recently raised $4 million to build a no-code e-commerce automation service. Which is related to what Pipe17 does. It will be interesting to see if they wind up in competition, and, if so, who comes out on top.

#alloy, #automation, #bigcommerce, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #fundings-exits, #shopify, #startups, #tc


How Car Collecting Powered Through the Pandemic

The virus hastened the rise of online sales, as connoisseurs of vintage vehicles found more time to spend with their socially distanced hobby.

#antique-and-classic-cars, #auctions, #automobiles, #collectors-and-collections, #e-commerce, #nonnenberg-randy, #quarantine-life-and-culture


How to Buy a Real N95 Mask Online

Fakes and little-known brands still abound, even as health officials have advised us to up our mask game. Here’s what to do.

#amazon-com-inc, #consumer-reviews, #content-type-service, #coronavirus-risks-and-safety-concerns, #counterfeit-merchandise, #e-commerce, #masks, #protective-clothing-and-gear


New York Sues Amazon, Saying It Inadequately Protected Workers From Covid-19

The case focuses on two of the company’s facilities in New York.

#amazon-com-inc, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #e-commerce, #james-letitia, #labor-and-jobs, #new-york-state, #suits-and-litigation-civil, #workplace-hazards-and-violations


Valoreo closes on $50M to roll up LatAm e-commerce brands

A new breed of startups is acquiring and growing small but promising third-party merchants, and building out their own economies of scale.

And while there are a number of such startups based in the U.S. and Europe, none had emerged in the Latin American market. Until now.

Valoreo, a Mexico City-based acquirer of e-commerce businesses, announced Tuesday that it has raised $50 million of equity and debt financing in a seed funding round.

The dollar amount is large for a seed round by any standards, but most certainly ranks among the highest ever raised by a Latin American startup — further evidence of increased investor interest in the region’s burgeoning venture scene

Upper90, FJ Labs, Angel Ventures, Presight Capital and a slew of angel investors participated in the round. Those angels included David Geisen, head of Mercado Libre Mexico; BEA Systems’ co-founder Alfred Chuang; and Tushar Ahluwalia, founder of Razor Group, a European marketplace aggregator, among others.

Founded in late 2020, Valoreo aims to invest in, operate and scale e-commerce brands as part of its self-described mission “to bring better products at more affordable prices” to the Latin American consumer.

“We were substantially oversubscribed and were therefore able to select investors that not only provide capital, but also additional know-how in key areas,” said co-founder Alex Gruell.

Valoreo joins the growing number of startups focused on rolling up e-commerce brands.

The company’s model is similar to that of Thrasio — which just raised another $750 million–  and Perch in the U.S. But Valoreo says its approach has been tailored to “the specific needs of the Latin American market and is specifically focused on the Latin American end customer.”

Another new company in the space called Branded recently launched its own roll-up business on $150 million in funding. Others in the space include Berlin Brands Group, SellerX, Heyday and Heroes.

But as my colleague Ingrid Lunden points out, “the feverish pace of fundraising in the area of FBA roll-ups feels very much like a bubble in the market — not least because none of these still-young companies have yet to prove that the strategy to buy up and consolidate these sellers is a useful and profitable one.”

How it works

Valoreo (which the company says is an extension of the Spanish word “valor,” meaning to add value), acquires merchants that operate their own brands and primarily sell on online marketplaces such as Mercado Libre, Amazon and Linio. The company targets brands that offer “category-leading products” and which it believes have “significant growth potential.” It also develops brands in-house to offer a broader selection of products to the end customer.

Like Thrasio, Valoreo says it’s able to help entrepreneurs who may lack the resources and access to capital to take their businesses to the next level.

Co-founder and co-CEO Stefan Florea says the company takes less than five weeks typically from its initial contact with a seller to a final payout. 

Then, the acquired and developed brands are integrated into the company’s consolidated holding. By tapping its team of “specialists” in areas such as digital marketing and supply chain management, it claims to be able to help these brands “reach new heights” while giving the entrepreneurs behind the companies “an attractive exit,” or partial exit in some cases.

We have different structures, always taking into account the personal objectives of the seller,” Stefan Florea added.

Generally Valoreo acquires the majority of the business, with the purchase price typically being a combination of an upfront cash payment and a profit share component so sellers can still earn money.

Looking ahead, Valoreo plans to use its new capital mostly to acquire and develop “interesting” brands, as well as build out its current team of 10 while expanding its infrastructure and operations.

The company is currently focused on the Mexican and Brazilian markets, but is planning its expansion into other Latin American countries where it has strong local support systems, such as Colombia, according to co-founder Martin Florea.

Our mission is to be a pan-Latin American player providing value to the entire region,” Martin Florea said. “Latin America in general and Mexico in particular are in a distinct situation which provides phenomenal opportunities for e-commerce merchants on the one hand but also presents particular challenges on the other hand.”

Those challenges, according to Martin Florea, include limited access to growth capital, a lack of specialized expertise in certain areas (such as supply chain management), limited opportunities to sell their business and pursue new ventures, as well as operational burdens and the lack of capacities to expand into new countries and marketplaces.

Valoreo emphasizes it is not out to compete with Mercado Libre, Amazon and other regional marketplaces but instead wants to partner with them.

“Without these platforms, this opportunity would not exist,” Martin Florea said.

Hernán Fernández, founder and managing partner of Angel Ventures, believes Valoreo “will add a lot of value” to the Latin American e-commerce landscape, which is experiencing both market growth and the fragmentation of the seller space.

Jüsto co-founder and CEO (and Valoreo investor) Ricardo Weder notes that the e-commerce market is at an inflection point in Latin America. According to eMarketer, the region was the fastest-growing e-commerce market in the world in 2020, with 37% year over year growth. However, it is a much more fragmented and crowded market compared to other regions, such as the United States.

This, Valoreo believes, provides an opportunity for consolidation.

“There are still many consumers that are not aware of the great variety of outstanding local brands that sell innovative products on marketplaces online,” Stefan Florea said. “In the U.S. or Europe e-commerce is the new way of shopping, offering an even greater range of products and brands than offline shopping. We firmly believe it will not take long until end-customers in Mexico and across Latin America discover all the benefits that e-commerce offers.”

#amazon, #angel-ventures, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #latin-america, #mercadolibre, #mexico, #mexico-city, #online-marketplace, #online-marketplaces, #recent-funding, #ricardo-weder, #startups, #thrasio, #valoreo


With a reported deal in the wings for Joby Aviation, electric aircraft soars to $10B business

One year after nabbing $590 million from investors led by Toyota, and a few months after picking up Uber’s flying taxi businessJoby Aviation is reportedly in talks to go public in a SPAC deal that would value the electric plane manufacturer at nearly $5.7 billion.

News of a potential deal comes on the heels of another big SPAC transaction in electric planes, for Archer Aviation. If the Financial Times‘ reporting is accurate, then that would mean that the two will soon be publicly traded at a total value approaching $10 billion.

It’s a heady time for startups making vehicles powered by anything other than hydrocarbons, and the SPAC wave has hit it hard.

Electric car companies Arrival, Canoo, ChargePoint, Fisker, Lordstown Motors, Proterra and The Lion Electric Company are some of the companies that have merged with SPACs — or announced plans to — in the past year.

Now it appears that any company that has anything to do with the electrification of any mode of transportation is going to get waved onto the runway for a public listing through a special purpose acquisition company vehicle — a wildly popular route at the moment for companies that might find traditional IPO listings more challenging to carry out but would rather not stay in startup mode when it comes to fundraising.

The investment group reportedly taking Joby to the moon! out to public markets is led by the billionaire tech entrepreneurs and investors Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, and Mark Pincus, who launched the casual gaming company, Zynga.

Together the two men had formed Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company, earlier in 2020. The shell company went public and raised $690 million to make a deal.

Any transaction for Joby would be a win for the company’s backers including Toyota, Baillie Gifford, Intel Capital, JetBlue Technology Ventures (the investment arm of the US-based airline), and Uber, which invested $125 million into Joby.

Joby has a prototype that has already taken 600 flights, but has yet to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. And the success of any transaction between the company and Hoffman and Pincus’ SPAC group is far from a sure thing, as the FT noted.

The deal would require an additional capital infusion into the SPAC that the two men established, and without that extra cash, all bets are off. Indeed, that is probably one reason why anyone is reading about this now.

Alternatively powered transportation vehicles of all stripes and covering all modes of travel are the rage right now among the public investment crowd. Part of that is due to rising pressure among institutional investors to find companies with an environmental, sustainability, and good governance thesis that they can invest in, and part of that is due to tailwinds coming from government regulations pushing for the decarbonization of fleets in a bid to curb global warming.

The environmental impact is one chief reason that United chief executive Scott Kirby cited when speaking about his company’s $1 billion purchase order from the electric plane company that actually announced it would be pursuing a public offering through a SPAC earlier this week.

“By working with Archer, United is showing the aviation industry that now is the time to embrace cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation,” Kirby said. “With the right technology, we can curb the impact aircraft have on the planet, but we have to identify the next generation of companies who will make this a reality early and find ways to help them get off the ground.”

It’s also an investment in a possible new business line that could eventually shuttle United passengers to and from an airport, as TechCrunch reported earlier. United projected that a trip in one of Archer’s eVTOL aircraft could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50% per passenger traveling between Hollywood and Los Angeles International Airport.

The agreement to go public and the order from United Airlines comes less than a year after Archer Aviation came out of stealth. Archer was co-founded in 2018 by Adam Goldstein and Brett Adcock, who sold their software-as-a-service company Vettery to The Adecco Group for more than $100 million. The company’s primary backer was Marc Lore, who sold his company Jet.com to Walmart in 2016 for $3.3 billion. Lore was Walmart’s e-commerce chief until January.

For any SPAC investors or venture capitalists worried that they’re now left out of the EV plane investment bonanza, take heart! There’s still the German tech developer, Lilium. And if an investor is interested in supersonic travel, there’s always Boom.

#adam-goldstein, #airline, #baillie-gifford, #canoo, #chargepoint, #co-founder, #corporate-finance, #e-commerce, #economy, #evtol, #federal-aviation-administration, #finance, #fisker, #intel-capital, #investment, #jet-com, #jetblue-technology-ventures, #joby, #joby-aviation, #lilium, #linkedin, #lordstown-motors, #marc-lore, #mark-pincus, #private-equity, #proterra, #reid-hoffman, #reinvent-technology-partners, #software-as-a-service, #spacs, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #tc, #the-adecco-group, #the-financial-times, #toyota, #transportation, #uber, #united-airlines, #vettery, #walmart, #zynga


Maisonette is becoming a go-to brand for fashion-conscious families; here’s how

Maisonette, a four-year-old, New York-based company has aimed from the outset to become a one-stop curated shop for everything a family might need for their young children.

That plan appears to be working. Today, the company — which launched with preppy young children’s apparel and has steadily built out categories that include home decor, home furniture, toys, gear, and accessories — says it doubled its number of customers last year and tripled its revenue. Indeed, even as COVID could have crimped its style — sale of children’s dress-up clothes slowed for a time — its DIY and STEM toy sales shot up 1,400%.

Though the company keeps its sales numbers private, its growth is interesting, particularly given the unabated growth of Amazon, which became the nation’s leading apparel retailer somewhere around the end of 2018.

Seemingly, much of Maisonette’s traction owes to the trust it has built with customers, who see its offerings as high-end yet accessible relative to the many high-end fashion brands that are also increasingly focused on the children’s market, like Gucci and Burberry.

Specifically, the 75-person company has a merchandising team that prides itself on working with independent brands and surfacing items that are hard to find elsewhere.

Maisonette also launched its own apparel line roughly 30 months ago called Maison Me. Focused around “elevated basics” at a more reasonable price point, the line, made in China, is seeing brisk sales to families who buy items time and again as their kids outgrow or wear holes in them, says the company.

It helps that Maisonette’s founders have an eye for what’s chic. Cofounder Sylvana Ward Durrett and Luisana Mendoza Roccia met at Vogue magazine, where Durrett spent 15 years, joining the staff straight from Princeton and becoming its director of events (work that earned her a high profile in fashion circles). Roccia joined straight from Georgetown the same year, 2003, and left as the magazine’s accessories editor in 2008.

For those who might be curious, their former boss, Anna Wintour, is a champion of theirs. Yet they also have some other powerful advocates, including NEA investor Tony Florence, a kind of e-commerce whisperer who has also led previous investments on behalf of his firm in Jet, Goop, and Casper.

NEA is an investor in Maisonette, as is Thrive Capital and the growth-stage venture firm G Squared, which just today announced it led a $30 million round in the company that brings its total funding to $50 million.

Another ally is Marissa Mayer, who first met Durrett back in 2009 when Mayer was still known as Google’s first female engineer its most fashionable executive. Not only has their friendship endured — Mayer says she named one of her twin daughters Sylvana because she adored the name — but Mayer is on the board of Maisonette, where she has presumably helped refine its data strategy, including around an inherent advantage that the company enjoys: its very young customers.

“One of the things that’s really helpful when it comes to data and e-commerce is when you can capture people at a particular life stage,” Mayer explains. “It’s why people liked wedding registries. You get married, then you have children and [the retailer] can follow the children’s ages and start anticipating that customer’s needs and what they’re going to want two years from now.”

In terms of “predictable supply chain, for inventory selection, for just being able to meet that moment, having insight into those stages is really important and helpful,” she says. It can also be very lucrative for Maisonette as it continues to build out its business, notes Mayer,

Certainly, much is working in the company’s favor already. To Mayer’s point, Roccia says that more than half of Maisonette’s sales last year came from repeat customers. More, it already has an audience of more than 800,000 people who either receive emails from the company or follow its social media channels. (Maisonette also features a healthy dose of content at its site.)

Unlike some e-commerce businesses, Maisonette is asset-lite, too. Though it has opened a handful of pop-up stores previously and was contemplating a bigger move into retail (“that’s now on pause,” says Durrett), the company doesn’t have warehouses to manage. Instead, items are shipped directly to customers from the various retailers featured at its site.

Perhaps most meaningful of all, the company is competing in what is a massive and growing market. In the U.S. alone, the children’s apparel market is estimated to be $34 billion. Meanwhile, the children’s market is $630 billion globally. While Maisonette is selling to U.S. customers alone right now, it plans to use some of that new funding to move into international markets, says Roccia, who has been living in Milan with her own four children during the pandemic, while Durrett began working out Maisonette’s mostly empty Brooklyn headquarters in January to create a bit of space from her three.

Indeed, on a Zoom call from their far-flung locations, they talk at length about parents needing to create new space to work from home right now, as well as to update rooms for kids attending virtual school. While no one asked for a global shutdown, home decor is a “category that has picked up due to the Covid effect,” notes Roccia.

Asked what other trends the two are tracking — for example, Maisonette features the mommy-and-me clothing pairings that have become big business in recent years — Roccia says that even with the world shut down, it remains a “huge” trend. “It started with holiday pajamas — that was kind of the catalyst to this whole movement — and now swimwear and just casual dressing has become a pretty big piece of the business, too.”

As for what Durrett has noticed, she laughs. “Llamas are big. We sell a llama music player that we had to bring back on the site several times over the holidays.” Also “rainbows and unicorns. As cliche as it sounds, we literally can’t keep them in stock.”

Unicorns, she adds, “are a thing.”

#e-commerce, #fashion, #marissa-mayer, #nea, #tc, #thrive-capital, #tony-florence, #venture-capital, #vogue


EV charging stations, biofuels, the hydrogen transition and chemicals are pillars of Shell’s climate plan

Royal Dutch Shell Group, one of the largest publicly traded oil producers in the world, just laid out its plan for how the company will survive in a zero-emission, climate conscious world.

It’s a plan that rests on five main pillars that include the massive rollout of electric vehicle charging stations; a greater emphasis on lubricants, chemicals, and biofuels; the development of a significantly larger renewable energy generation portfolio and carbon offset plan; and the continued development of hydrogen and natural gas assets while slashing oil production by 1% to 2% per year and investing heavily in carbon capture and storage.

These four large categories cut across the company’s business operations and represent one of the most comprehensive (if high level) plans from a major oil company on how to keep their industry from becoming the next victim of the transition to low emission (and eventually) zero emission energy and power sources (I’m looking at you, coal industry).

“Our accelerated strategy will drive down carbon emissions and will deliver value for our shareholders, our customers and wider society,” said Royal Dutch Shell Chief Executive Officer, Ben van Beurden, in a statement.

To keep those shareholders from abandoning ship, the company also committed to slashing costs and boosting its dividend per share by around 4% per year. That means giving money back to investors that might have been spent on expensive oil and gas exploration operations. The company also committed too pay down its debt and make its payouts to shareholders 20% to 30% of its cash flow from operations. That’s… very generous.

gas vs electric vehicles

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

The Plan

Shell is a massive business with more than 1 million commercial and industrial customers and about 30 million customers coming to its 46,000 retail service stations daily, according to the company’s own estimates. The company organized its thinking around what it sees as growth opportunities, energy transition opportunities, and then the gradual obsolescence of its upstream drilling and petroleum production operations.

In what it sees as areas for growth, Shell intends to invest around $5 billion to $6 billion to its initiatives including the development of 500,000 electric vehicle charging locations by 2025 (up from 60,000 today) and an attendant boost in retail and service locations to facilitate charging.

The company also said it would be investing heavily in the expansion of biofuels and renewable energy generation and carbon offsets. The company wants to generate 560 terawatt hours a year by 2030, which is double the amount of electricity it generates today. Expect to see Shell operate as an independent power producer that will provide renewable energy generation as a service to an expected 15 million retail and commercial customers.

Finally the company sees the hydrogen economy as another area where it can grow.

In places where Shell already has assets that can be transitioned to the low carbon economy, the company’s going to be doubling down on its bets. That means zero emission natural gas production and a trebling down on chemicals manufacturing (watch out Dow and BASF). That means more recycling as well, as the company intends to process 1 million tons of plastic waste to produce circular chemicals.

Upstream, which was the heart of the oil and gas business for years, the company said it would “focus on value over volume” in a statement. What that means in practice is looking for easier, low cost wells to drill (something that points to the continued importance of the Middle East in the oil economy for the foreseeable future). The company expects to reduce its oil production by around 1% to 2% per year. And the company’s going to be investing in carbon capture and storage to the tune of 25 million tons per year through projects like the Quest CCS development in Canada, Norway’s Northern Lights project, and the Porthos project n the Netherlands.

“We must give our customers the products and services they want and need – products that have the lowest environmental impact,” van Beurden said in a statement.”At the same time, we will use our established strengths to build on our competitive portfolio as we make the transition to be a net-zero emissions business in step with society.”

Money or finance green pattern with dollar banknotes. Banking, cashback, payment, e-commerce. Vector background.

Money talk

For the company to survive in a world where revenues from its main business are cut, it’s also going to be keeping operating expenses down and will be looking to sell off big chunks of the business that no longer make sense.

That means expenses of no more than $35 billion per year and sales of around $4 billion per year to keep those dividends and cash to investors flowing.

“Over time the balance of capital spending will shift towards the businesses in the Growth pillar, attracting around half of the additional capital spend,” the company said. “Cash flow will follow the same trend and in the long term will become less exposed to oil and gas prices, with a stronger link to broader economic growth.”

Shell set targets for reducing its carbon intensity as part of the pay that’s going to all of the company’s staff and those targets are… eye opening. It’s looking at reductions in carbon intensity of 6-8% by 2023, 20% by 2030, 45% by 2035 and 100% by 2050, using a baseline of 2016 as its benchmark.

The company said that its own carbon emissions peaked in 2018 at 1.7 giga-tons per year and its oil production peaked in 2019.

The context

Shell’s not taking these steps because it wants to, necessarily. The writing is on the wall that unless something dramatic is done to stop fossil fuel pollution and climate change, the world faces serious consequences.

A study released earlier this week indicated that air pollution from fossil fuels killed 18% of the world’s population. That means burning fossil fuels is almost as deadly as cancer, according to the study from researchers led by Harvard University.

Beyond the human toll directly tied to fossil fuels, there’s the huge cost of climate change, which the U.S. estimated could cost $500 billion per year by 2090 unless steps are taken to reverse course.

#air-pollution, #articles, #basf, #biofuels, #canada, #chemicals, #chief-executive-officer, #e-commerce, #electricity, #energy, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #harvard-university, #middle-east, #netherlands, #norway, #oil, #oil-and-gas, #renewable-energy, #tc, #united-states


Thrasio raises $750M more in equity for its Amazon roll-up play

The Amazon Marketplace roll-up play is well and truly underway. In the latest development, Thrasio — one of the biggest and earliest movers in the market to consolidate third-party sellers on the platform, with the promise to provide better economies of scale to manage and grow those businesses — announced that it has raised another $750 million at a valuation that is likely to be over $3.75 billion.

The funding is being led by existing backers Oaktree and Advent, and it includes participation from previous unnamed investors. (That list of equity backers has included Peak6, Western Technology Investment, and Jason Finger, the co-founder of one of the early players in food delivery startups, Seamless.)

Thrasio said it will be using the money to continue its rapid pace of buying up more third-party sellers in the “Amazon FBA ecosystem”, a reference to smaller merchants that sell and distribute their products using the “Fulfilment By Amazon” service from the e-commerce giant.

“Thrasio continues its exceptional growth,” said Joshua Silberstein, who co-founded and co-leads the company with Carlos Cashman. “Over the past two months, we’ve been acquiring $1.5 million in revenue per day.” Those are his italics. “Thrasio is now closing two or three deals every week.”

Thrasio to date has acquired nearly 100 FBA businesses says that it reached that number by way of evaluating 6,000 possible companies and 14,000 “category-leading products.”

Six thousand may sound like a big number, but one estimate puts the number of third-party sellers on Amazon at around 5 million, a number that appears to be growing exponentially at the moment, with more than 1 million sellers joining the platform last year.

The size of the opportunity, plus the Amazon-proven promise of economy of scale in the world of e-commerce, are likely two reasons why we have seen so many startups emerging looking to roll them up.

Thrasio’s $750 million fundraise is an all-equity venture round. Based on its $3 billion valuation in January (when it closed a debt round of $500 million), this latest cash injection appears to be coming in at a $3.75 billion valuation, but quite possibly more.

“Quite possibly more” because the news comes at a particularly overheated time in this specific area of e-commerce.

Thrasio’s news came out yesterday afternoon, only hours after we reported on a new rival called Branded, which launched its own roll-up business on $150 million in funding and with a critical detail: one of the “co-founders” is the deep-pocketed European VC firm Target Global.

And that comes on the heels of others in this space — they include, in addition to Thrasio and Branded, Berlin Brands Group, SellerXHeydayHeroesPerch and more — collectively raising or committing from their own balance sheets well over $1 billion in aid of their own efforts to buy up small but promising third-party merchants.

For its part, Thrasio notes that the funding was raised quickly and diluted existing shareholders by 11.1%, and that it has now raised $1.75 in equity and debt.

We have asked Thrasio to confirm its valuation and will update as we learn more.

Thrasio products do not carry any kind of Thrasio branding. But I’m guessing that as Thrasio and its rivals look for a better edge and aim to give the impression of more quality (rather than the fly-by-night feeling that some of these sellers have today), we may see more of that coming out.

Brands that it owns include Vybe Percussion deep tissue massage gun, Circadian Optics bright light therapy lamps, and skincare products from Sdara Skincare, Thrasio said.

In the competition for the best of these, Thrasio claims its marketing and analytics can help these newcomers “compete with top household name labels, quickly becoming the trusted items that consumers turn to for their everyday needs.”

The feverish pace of fundraising in the area of FBA roll-ups feels very much like a bubble in the market — not least because none of these still-young companies have yet to prove that the strategy to buy up and consolidate these sellers is a useful and profitable one.

(The only one that has stated that it is profitable, Berlin Brands Group, has done so on its existing business model, which has involved building a variety of third-party sellers from the ground up itself, not buying up others, with whatever legacy baggage they may carry, good or bad.)

Thrasio is very much in the go-big-or-go-home stage of scaling with funding, and in its favor, although it’s only three years old (founded in 2018), that age has made it one of the oldest and more proven in this current wave.

“In ten years, omnichannel retail will be the backbone of the entire consumer products ecosystem – but today, it’s still in its genesis. Every day, the very fabric of this market is twisting as it continues to evolve,” said Cashman in a statement. “Our balance sheet isn’t built to win yesterday’s battles – it is designed to pursue the accelerating opportunities that accompany these kinds of seismic changes in an industry.”

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #roll-ups, #thrasio


Shopify expands its payment option, Shop Pay, to its merchants on Facebook and Instagram

Shopify announced this morning it’s partnered with Facebook to expand its payment option, Shop Pay, to all Shopify merchants selling across both Facebook and Instagram. This is the first time Shop Pay will be made available outside of Shopify’s own platform, and represents a significant expansion for the e-commerce platform’s payments technology.

The company tells TechCrunch Shop Pay will first become available to all Shopify merchants using checkout on Instagram in the U.S., and will then be rolled out to Facebook in the weeks that follow.

Prior to this launch, Facebook’s platform has been one of Shopify’s most popular sales and marketing channels for merchants, Shopify says. At the beginning of the pandemic last year (March through April 2020), marketing on Facebook and Instagram via Shopify’s channel integration saw 36% growth in monthly active users, and that trend continues to rise.

Today, Shop Pay’s payment option is used by a number of top direct-to-consumer and newer brands, including Allbirds, Kith, Beyond Yoga, Kylie Cosmetics, Jonathan Adler, Loeffler Randall, Blueland and others. Over 40 million buyers now regularly use Shop Pay at these merchants and others on Shopify’s platform to complete their purchases.

Image Credits: Shopify

Through the course of 2020, Shop Pay helped buyers complete 137 million orders. And by the end of the year, Shop Pay had facilitated nearly $20 billion in cumulative GMV since its launch in 2017. Through its carbon offsetting feature, this also represented 75,000 tons of carbon emissions.

In addition to the carbon offsets, Shopify claims Shop Pay on its own platform is 70% faster with a conversion rate that’s 1.72x higher than a typical checkout. It also includes order tracking and management, which, to date, have tracked over 430 million orders across over 450 million miles.

Once available on Instagram, consumers will be able to find tagged products from Shopify merchants in the app, then add them to their in-app cart. At checkout, they can then select Shop Pay as their preferred payment option from among credit card, debit card, and PayPal. The consumer will receive a confirmation code to their phone, then enter the code to complete the order without leaving Instagram. A similar experience will be available on Facebook.

These orders can also be tracked via Shopify’s Shop app, the same as those processed on Shopify itself.

Image Credits: Shopify

“People are embracing social platforms not only for connection, but for commerce,” said Carl Rivera, General Manager of Shop, in a statement. “Making Shop Pay available outside of Shopify for the first time means even more shoppers can use the fastest and best checkout on the Internet. And there’s more to come; we’ll continue to work with Facebook to bring a number of Shopify services and products to these platforms to make social selling so much better.”

This is not the first third-party payment option integrated into Facebook’s shopping platforms, as PayPal is also accepted. But it is a notable addition, given how heavily Facebook has pushed its own “shops” platform, which encourages merchants to sell and transact within its own apps — an even more critical source of revenue now that Apple’s privacy changes will impact Facebook’s ads business to the tune of billions of dollars. But likely, working with a third-party like Shopify is allowing the company to spin up a new revenue stream.

Shopify, however, declined to discuss its financial arrangement with Facebook.

Shopify isn’t limiting itself to Facebook in an effort to expand its e-commerce business. Last fall, it also partnered with TikTok on social commerce, allowing merchants to publish their marketing ads directly to the video platform.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #facebook, #fintech, #instagram, #merchants, #payments, #shopify, #shopping, #shops, #tc


Clubhouse is now blocked in China after a brief uncensored period

Thousands of Chinese users suddenly found themselves unable to access Clubhouse on early Monday evening as the country prepared to start the week-long Lunar New Year holiday. Inside WeChat groups, Clubhouse users rushed to report the situation and help each other with ways to get back onto the red hot live audio app.

Audio drop-in startup Clubhouse was rapidly gaining steam in China, attracting a bevy of users early on to conversations on a wide range of topics. The app seemed likely to meet the fate of other U.S.-based apps and services, however – namely, a ban – and as of Monday, that indeed what Clubhouse faces, as confirmed by TechCrunch. Clubhouse is no longer available to users in China, and is unlikely to return given how much the app’s model would have to change to comply with Chinese internet regulation.

Notice received by users in China when trying to access Clubhouse as of Monday.

Clubhouse has faced criticism at home in the U.S. for its lack of effective moderation and abuse-prevention practices, so it’s hardly a surprise that it has fallen afoul of China’s rather more strict enforcement of measures designed to stifle the spread information the government deems inappropriate for discussion. The app was also not officially available via Apple’s China App Store, though access to it and its audio rooms was, before today, freely available without use of a VPN provided a user had the app installed on their device.

As Clubhouse was not listed on the Chinese App Store, so it’s unclear how many people from mainland China were on the platform. A room discussing the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen protest, a taboo topic in China, reached the maximum number of participants at 5,000 on Friday. Some users are reporting inside WeChat groups that they can no longer receive verification codes at their Chinese phone numbers, which could provide additional clues to the level of blockage. Users in China used their Chinese phone numbers to sign up for Clubhouse, and those are linked to their real ID in the country, which means there are potential risks for those who registered.

In the past two weeks, Clubhouse soared in popularity within a few communities in mainland China, including people in startups, investment, academic, or those with overseas background. Many of them were aware the app wouldn’t last long in China given free and often political debates frequented the platform. Clubhouse rooms titled “How long will Clubhouse last in China” and “Have you been invited to have tea for using Clubhouse?” attracted big crowds. “Having tea” is a euphemism for being taken away for interrogation by the police.

As TechCrunch noted on Saturday, Clubhouse’s early success prior to this shutdown has already prompted the creation of a number of homegrown alternatives designed around drop-in audio networking. Clubhouse’s popularity in China, however, may be difficult to replicate for any of these similar efforts – for the same reasons the original app itself is now inaccessible within the country.



With a Great Firewall circumvention tool like a virtual private network (VPN), some users on mainland China managed to regain access to Clubhouse.

We will update with more information about the ban….

#app-store, #apple-inc, #apps, #asia, #china, #e-commerce, #ios, #itunes, #operating-systems, #software, #tc, #united-states, #vpn


Why these co-founders turned their sustainability podcast into a VC-backed business

When Laura Wittig and Liza Moiseeva met as guests on a podcast about sustainable fashion, they jibed so well together that they began one of their own: Good Together. Their show’s goal was to provide listeners with a place to learn how to be eco-conscious consumers, but with baby steps.

Wittig thinks the non-judgmental environment (one that doesn’t knock on a consumer for not being zero-waste overnight) is the show’s biggest differentiator. “Then, people were emailing us and asking how they can be on our journey beyond being a listener,” Wittig said. Now, over a year after launching the show, the co-hosts are turning validation from listeners into the blueprint for a standalone business: Brightly.

Brightly is a curated platform that sells vetted eco-friendly goods and shares tips about conscious consumerism. While the startup is launching with more than 200 products from eco-friendly brands, such as Sheets & Giggles and Juice Beauty, the long-term vision is to start their own commerce brand of Brightly-branded products. The starting lineup will include two to four products in the home space.

To get those products out by the holiday season, Brightly tells TechCrunch that it has raised $1 million in venture funding from investors, including Tacoma Venture Fund, Keeler Investments, Odile Roujol (a FAB Ventures backer and former L’Oréal CEO) and Female Founder’s Alliance.

The funding caps off a busy 12 months for Brightly. The startup has gone through Snap’s Yellow accelerator, an in-house effort from the social media company that began in 2018. As part of the program Snap invests $150,000 in each Yellow startup for an equity stake. The company also did Ready Set Raise, an equity-free accelerator put on by Female Founders Alliance, in the fall.

With new funding, Brightly is seeking to take a Glossier-style approach to become the next big brand in commerce: gather a community by recommending great products, then turn the strategy on its head and make your superfans buy in-house products under the same brand.

“We have access to a community of women who are beating our door down to shop directly with us and have exclusive products made for them,” Wittig said.

Brightly wants to be more than a “boring storefront” one could quickly whip up on Shopify or Amazon, Wittig says.

The company’s curation process, which every product goes through before being listed on the platform, is extensive. The startup makes sure that every product is created with sustainable and ethical supply chain processes and sustainable material. The team also interviews every brand’s founders to understand the genesis of any product that lives on the Brightly platform. The co-founders also weigh the durability and longevity of products, adopting what Wittig sees as a “Wirecutter approach.”

“It’s more like, ‘why would we pick an ethically produced leather handbag over something that might be made not from leather but wouldn’t last too long necessarily,’ ” she said. “These are the conversations we have with our audience, because the term eco-friendly is very much our grayscale.”

Image Credits: Brightly

More than 250,000 people come to Brightly, either through their app or website, every day, according to Wittig. The startup monetizes largely through brand partnerships and getting those users in front of paid products.

Image Credits: Brightly

The monetization strategy is similar to what you might find a podcast use: affiliate links or product placement mid-episode. But while the co-founders are relying on this strategy right now, they see the opportunity to create their own e-commerce company as larger and more lucrative.

“The billion-dollar opportunity is not with that,” Wittig said. “The value will be going direct commerce and selling our picks of ethical sustainable goods.”

Marking the transition from podcasting about eco-friendly goods to creating them in-house is a strong pivot. The co-founders consider creating a distribution commerce channel to be a larger opportunity and likely more lucrative than the podcasting business.

Beyond creating a line of their own products, Brightly is thinking about how to partner with white-label sustainable products. Another option, Wittig said, is to partner with big corporations to get products on their shelves with colors and customization for Brightly. An example of an ideal partnership would be Reformation’s recent partnership with Blueland.

Wittig declined to share more details on how they plan to win, but likened the strategy to that of Goop or Glossier, two companies that started with content arms and drew their community into a commerce platform.

“It’s not going to be a Thrive Market where there are hundreds and thousands of sustainable goods on there. It’s going to be much more curated,” she said.

COVID-19 has helped the startup further validate the need for a platform that unites a conscious consumer community.

“We are all so aware of the purchasing power we have,” she said. “As consumers we go out and support small businesses by getting coffee on the go. But before, we did not think twice about getting everything from Amazon.”

The conversation with investors hasn’t been as simple, the co-founder said. Investors continue to be “hands off” about community-based platforms because they are unsure it will work. Wittig says that many bearish investors have placed bets on singular direct-to-consumer brands, such as Away or Blueland.

“Those investors know the rising costs of customer acquisition, and see what happens when you don’t have a community that surrounds our business,” she said.

Brightly is betting that the future of commerce brands has to start with a go-to-market, and then bring in the end-product, instead of the other way. The end goal here for Brightly is attracting, and generating excitement from, Gen Z and millennial shoppers. To do so, Wittig says that Brightly is experimenting with ways to implement socialization aspects into the shopping experience.

Leslie Feinzaig, the founder of Female Founders Alliance, said that what’s special about Brightly is that it “demonstrated demand before building for it.”

“I think a lot of people today could build software to connect people and sell things, but very few people could get thousands of fanatical followers to actually engage with each other and make that software useful,” Feinzaig said. “Brightly built that community with matchsticks and tape.”

#e-commerce, #eco-friendly, #ecommerce, #funding, #podcasts, #recent-funding, #startups, #sustainability


Venmo to gain crypto, budgeting, savings, and Honey integrations this year

The Venmo mobile payments app is going to look very different in 2021 as it inches closer to neobank territory with expansions into budgeting, saving, and cryptocurrency, said Venmo parent company PayPal, during its fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday. The company also plans to put its $4 billion Honey acquisition to work by integrating its suite of shopping tools into the Venmo app, including merchant offers, deals, price tracking and wish lists.

PayPal already signaled its intentions to bring cryptocurrencies to Venmo. The company entered the crypto market last November by adding support for buying, holding, and selling cryptocurrencies in the U.S. through a partnership with the regulated crypto services provider, Paxos Trust Company. At the time, PayPal noted it would bring a similar feature set to its Venmo app during 2021.

That time frame is still on track, PayPal confirmed during its earnings call with investors.

The company said, in the next few months, Venmo users will gain the ability to buy, hold and sell crypto inside the Venmo mobile app, along with other “investment alternatives.” (This statement refers to PayPal’s work with central banks who are developing their own digital currencies on the blockchain.)

Other changes to Venmo make the app sound as if it’s becoming more of a neobank competitor.

For example, PayPal said it will work with its financial industry partners this year to introduce features like budgeting and saving tools as well as bill pay options inside PayPal — additions that are common to modern-day mobile banking apps.

On Venmo, the forthcoming savings feature will look similar to PayPal’s existing PayPal Cash Plus account, where it partners with financial institutions to provide FDIC pass-through insurance. Today, funds held in the Cash Plus account are eligible for this insurance only if customers also have a PayPal Cash Card debit card, have enrolled in Direct Deposit, or have established Goals in their Cash Plus account. Venmo now has the pieces in place to offer the same.

Another change includes the Honey integration, which PayPal has been promising for some time. Now, the company is offering more details around what those integrations will look like. It said the plan is to integrate Honey’s features into both its PayPal and Venmo platforms in the first half of 2021 — including Honey’s wish list, price monitoring tools, deals, coupons and rewards.

This integration will allow merchants to target specific demographics of PayPal and Venmo customers with personalized offers and discounts, thanks to PayPal’s two-sided marketplace. In other words, the company will attempt to capture the consumer in the earlier stages of the shopping process, when they’re browsing for deals, looking up prices, or searching for specific products. Honey’s shopping tools could point them to a matching deal, and then the customer could complete the checkout process using the Venmo app. 

These new tools will arrive at a time when the pandemic has forced more commerce to shift online, as retail stores and other in-person retail opportunities declined due to store closures and government lockdowns. Plus, some people today now just prefer to shop online because they no longer feel safe in physical retail stores where basic safety measures like mask-wearing and social distancing aren’t enforced.

This broader acceleration of e-commerce and “contactless” payments also helped PayPal to add 1.4 million new merchants in the quarter. It now has 29 million merchants across its platform, who interact with now nearly 350 million consumers.

Meanwhile, Venmo’s total payment volume grew 60% year-over-year to $47 billion, and its customer base grew 32%, ending just shy of 70 million accounts. The company expects its revenues will approach $900 million in 2021.

Venmo credit card

Image Credits: Venmo

Venmo has been rapidly expanding beyond being just a payments app. In recent months, it has launched its first credit card, which will be 100% rolled out by month-end, as well as QR codes for in-store shopping, business profiles, and cash-checking features that arrived just in time to handle customers’ stimulus checks.

But Venmo doesn’t aim to be a full neobank — at least not yet. Instead, it imagines itself as more of a “digital wallet” of sorts.

“Today’s digital reality is rapidly accelerating the need for a digital wallet that encompasses payments, financial services and shopping,” explained PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, speaking to investors. “This year, our digital wallet will change more than it has ever changed before, significantly increasing its functionality within a single, integrated and beautifully designed app that should meaningfully increase consumer engagement,” he said.

As Venmo’s new features roll out, PayPal expects the app’s usage and payment volume to grow.

“I think we are going to see….a real bend in the historic rate of engagement. And it’s going to be all around that super app functionality in that digital wallet, moving well beyond just payments,” Schulman said.

Correction, 2/4/21, 1 pm et —  Schulman’s note about bill pay was referencing a launch inside PayPal’s app in 2021. It was mentioned alongside other forthcoming Venmo features, which led to some confusion. We’ve now corrected this. 

#digital-currency, #e-commerce, #finance, #financial-services, #mobile-banking, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #online-shopping, #paypal, #venmo


How Andy Jassy, Amazon’s Next C.E.O., Was a ‘Brain Double’ for Jeff Bezos

Mr. Jassy, who will become Amazon’s chief this summer, has spent more than two decades absorbing lessons from Mr. Bezos.

#amazon-com-inc, #appointments-and-executive-changes, #bezos-jeffrey-p, #cloud-computing, #computers-and-the-internet, #e-commerce, #executives-and-management-theory, #facial-recognition-software, #jassy-andrew-r, #labor-and-jobs


Techstars Los Angeles names Matt Kozlov as its new managing director

Techstars Los Angeles, the local Los Angeles-focused branch of the global accelerator network, has named Matt Kozlov as its new managing director.

Kozlov, a longtime Techstars network fixture, has previously served as the head of the organization’s healthcare accelerator through a partnership with Cedars-Sinai and as the head of the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator, which was focused on space and aerospace startups.

Now, Kozlov turns his attention to the Los Angeles ecosystem broadly.

“I’m humbled to have the opportunity each day to support incredible founders who are solving some of humanity’s greatest challenges,” said Kozlov, in a statement. “As I begin this new role, my goal is to continue to leverage my experience to help generate opportunities for future Techstars LA companies to make meaningful, long-term impact.”

Kozlov’s appointment comes as the Los Angeles tech ecosystem is having something of a moment. As the diaspora out of Silicon Valley continues, the Southern California tech world has proven to be a tempting landing pad during the COVID-19 pandemic. And remote work means that Los Angeles could be a fixture for more investors looking to escape the Bay.

Beyond Southern California’s coastal appeal is a vibrant technology ecosystem that encompasses enterprise software, financial services, healthcare, aerospace and defense, robotics, ecommerce and social media. It’s the home of social networking favorites Snap and TikTok’s U.S. base of operations and SpaceX’s significant presence has born a number of talented hardware and engineering startups.

LA is truly having a moment and Kozlov’s experience with some of the less-well-known corners of the city’s tech ecosystem could be a boon for the Techstars program.

“I’m thrilled by the selection of Matt as the new Managing Director for Techstars LA,” said Anna Barber, former Managing Director, Techstars LA, who stepped down from the role in November to join venture firm M13 as Partner, in a statement. “He is a talented investor and longstanding leader in LA’s Techstars community, and has been an essential and valued mentor for the program for the past four years. He embodies the Techstars values of #givefirst and I have every confidence that he is the right leader to continue building on what we’ve established in the LA community.”

Collectively, the 40 alumni companies who have participated in Techstars Los Angeles accelerator program have raised over $126 million and have a combined market cap of $328.6 million.

“Techstars LA plays a critical role in the Los Angeles tech ecosystem as the premier startup accelerator, providing valuable mentorship and funding for dozens of companies a year,” said Spencer Rascoff, Chair of dot.LA and Los Angeles angel investor. “I’m very excited that Matt will be the new Managing Director of Techstars LA. He brings extensive experience in healthcare and aerospace investing and has been an incredible mentor and leader to the companies of the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator over the last several years.”


#aerospace, #anna-barber, #chair, #david-cohen, #e-commerce, #enterprise-software, #financial-services, #head, #healthcare, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #m13, #matt-kozlov, #mentorships, #premier, #sinai, #social-media, #spacex, #spencer-rascoff, #startup-accelerator, #tc, #techstars, #united-states


As Jeff Bezos Takes Off, Meet His Earthbound Successor

His loyal lieutenant will take Amazon’s helm as the company faces ever-growing scrutiny.

#amazon-com-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #bezos-jeffrey-p, #cook-timothy-d, #e-commerce, #facial-recognition-software, #jassy-andrew-r


Embedded finance startup Banxware raises €4M seed

Embedded finance — the idea of offering financial products where customers are already congregating via white label solutions and APIs – isn’t an entirely new concept. In fact, in one form or another, such as point of sale credit, the concept has existed for years and long before Silicon Valley venture capital firm and media company (ha!) Andreessen Horowitz made it a thing. However, fuelled by cloud technology and a plethora of new fintech and Banking-as-a-Service startups, there is no doubt the embedded finance trend is accelerating.

The latest company to declare its hand is Berlin-based Banxware, which offers embedded finance in the form of loans for SMEs, in partnership with marketplaces, payments providers, and others. It launched in December and today is disclosing that it has raised €4 million in seed funding.

Leading the round is Force over Mass, and VR Ventures. They are joined by HTGF, and private investors in banking, payment and e-commerce.

Banxware says it will use the investment to develop and grow its embedded white label financial services offering, and expand its team. In addition to lending, the startup will also soon offer card-based products and other financial services.

Banxware’s tech and infrastructure enables any company to offer loans and other banking services to SME customers. The idea is to act as the link between banks (lenders), digital platforms, and merchants. Banks get access to hard to reach SME customers. Platforms, such as online marketplaces, can up-sell financial products beyond their core offering. And merchants benefit from speedy access to working capital.

“SMEs have a hard time to access capital when needed, especially when they are less than three years old or do not have the most pristine credit history,” explains co-founder and CEO Jens Röhrborn. “On top of this, loan applications, i.e. loan decisions and loan payout, still take several weeks in most cases.

“More and more sellers and merchants are using digital platforms through which they sell their products or process their digital payments. By using the recent historic data on these merchants provided by the platforms, we can lend against their future revenues”.

This has seen Banxware build an instant lending tool that includes AML and KYC compliance, and a scoring engine that analyzes historic platform data and data from third party providers, such as account information providers and external scoring services. The promise is an instant loan decision and loan payout, “all in less than 15 minutes”.

“On the lending side, we work with both balance sheet lenders and lending vehicles with whom we pre-agree on lending terms and loan decision criteria and on whose behalf we execute the loan decision,” says Röhrborn. “Merchants repay their loan in such a way that platforms subtract a certain percentage of the future merchant payouts”.

Röhrborn says the company’s instant lending tool is “only the beginning” and that Banxware will develop additional embedded financial services and expand internationally.

Meanwhile, the German fintech currently generates revenue by charging a one time fee for each loan that is processed through its platform and via a one off customization fee.

#banking, #banxware, #berlin, #cloud-technology, #credit, #e-commerce, #embedded-finance, #europe, #financial-services, #fundings-exits, #loans, #media, #online-marketplaces, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital


Jeff Bezos to Step Down as Amazon Chief Executive

Andy Jassy, the chief of Amazon’s cloud computing division, will become chief executive, while Mr. Bezos, the company’s founder, will become executive chairman.

#amazon-com-inc, #appointments-and-executive-changes, #bezos-jeffrey-p, #e-commerce, #jassy-andrew-r


After pulling in around $80 million last year in revenue, LA’s StackCommerce is acquired by TPG’s Integrated Media Company

The Los Angeles-based commerce and content platform StackCommerce has been acquired by the Integrated Media Company, a holding company set up by the massive private equity fund, TPG, to acquire new media businesses.

StackCommerce’s affiliate buying platform has distributed more than $175 million on its platform by going directly to merchants. Through its platform publishers can make between 15% to 20% of gross compared with 5% on an affiliate marketing site. Stackcommerce takes 30% to 40% of the transaction, according to a person with knowledge of the company’s operations.

As a part of Integrated Media, StackCommerce will join properties like Fandom and Goal.com. With the firepower of TPG behind the combined entity, Integrated Media could bolt on other media companies and then monetize them using the sales engine developed by StackCommerce.

“Josh and the team at Stack have already built a large and important company in the e-commerce ecosystem with almost no outside investment,” said Andy Doyle, Operations Director at TPG. “And yet we’re still in the early stages of the market’s evolution. We feel fortunate to partner with a team that has such deep expertise in commerce and technology. We look forward to supporting Stack’s rapid growth as it serves more publishers and influencers and provides an even better shopping experience for audiences.”

It’s a business that’s been incredibly profitable for the Los Angeles company, which raised $1 million from the LA-based accelerator and incubator, Amplify and a few angel investors. That $1 million round took the company to a business that employed around 90 people and was generating $80 million in revenue in 2020, according to a person familiar with the company.

StackCommerce has partnered with over 1,000 publishers and 5,000 brands including CNN, CNET, Verizon Media, Hearst, Mashable, NY Post, TMZ, MarketWatch, and more, according to a statement.

“We founded StackCommerce nearly a decade ago to reimagine affiliate commerce for publishers by enabling them to own the customer data and user experience top to bottom. We’ve been pioneering the commerce and content space ever since, helping publishers to build and scale this new revenue stream at a higher rate and with access to content creation services, user acquisition, and more,” said Josh Payne, the founder and chief executive of StackCommerce, in a statement. “Today is not just an important day for Stack, but for the future of shoppable content. TPG’s in-depth media expertise will make for a brighter future for our partners through further investment in our industry-leading commerce tools and services.”

StackCommerce was advised by investment bank CG Petsky Prunier, part of the Canaccord Genuity Group. Cooley LLP acted as legal advisor to StackCommerce.


#cnet, #companies, #cooley-llp, #e-commerce, #hearst, #josh-payne, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #mashable, #media, #stackcommerce, #tc, #tmz, #tpg, #verizon-media


Alloy raises $4M to build out its e-commerce automation service

Alloy Automation, a startup that was part of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 cohort, announced today that it has closed $5 million across two rounds, the most recent of which brought $4 million to the company in October of 2020.

The new funds were raised at a $16 million pre-money, $20 million post-money valuation, Alloy told TechCrunch.

The company’s latest fundraising was led by Bain Capital Ventures and Abstract, with participation from Color Capital, BoxGroup and a collection of individual investors, including Shippo’s Laura Behrens Wu.

TechCrunch spoke with co-founders Sara Du, CEO, and Gregg Mojica, CTO, about the round, their market and their experience in Y Combinator.

Du, a Harvard dropout, and Mojicam, who skipped college altogether, met after the former emailed the latter about speaking at an open-source conference. The event didn’t end up happening, but the pair stayed in touch. Du wound up running a small streetwear store, interested in automation and app-connecting tools like Zapier, which she found to be too simple, and MuleSoft, which she described as very expensive. Out of a desire for something in between that would let her connect apps, Alloy Automation was eventually born.

After a launch on Product Hunt in 2019 offering “complex automation made easy, and with no code,” Bryant Chou, a founder at WebFlow, put money into the company. Alloy was looking to build prosumer automation tooling and now it had material backing.

The startup then went through Y Combinator the next year, sharpened its focus to the e-commerce market and, as it has just announced, attracted millions more from a cadre of investors.

The shift to focus on e-commerce from a broader toolset came from customer pull, the co-founders said. After starting out with a number of integrations for Twilio, HubSpot and other services, the team, toward the end of their time in Y Combinator, noticed places in the e-commerce world into which their product fit neatly. Alloy’s tech was being used by Shopify and BigCommerce customers, helping make e-commerce a fertile area for the company, its co-founders said.

Alloy’s tech helps e-commerce players link services to help automate their shipping, marketing, analytics and other tasks. One example that Du provided TechCrunch was customers using Alloy to connect SMS functionality to fulfillment tools. Doing so might allow small e-commerce companies to automatically text customers when their order ships, for example.

During Y Combinator, the pair said that they might have been the youngest set of founders in their batch. But despite being what they described as not the hottest company in the batch, they skipped the accelerator’s well-known demo day, having already raised capital.

Du said that it’s not generally encouraged to skip demo day. But as Alloy has gone on to raise even more capital, the decision seems to have worked out for the company. The founders also cited a desire to stay in stealth as part of their reasoning for skipping the investor confab, telling TechCrunch that they wanted to stay quiet and build until they “really [had] something.”

Alloy’s $4 million round came from a relationship that started when the startup had shown off its tech on Product Hunt. Bain had contacted the startup then, stayed in touch, and later did due diligence on it by talking about Alloy with e-commerce startups in its own portfolio.

Why $4 million? Per its founders, Alloy had barely dug into its original $1 million round when it raised more, but as the pair want to build out their go-to-market efforts, the capital made sense.

The founders said they intend to raise a Series A for Alloy, but that their current capital could float them for two or three years; their startup is a COVID baby, they joked, and after having some investors pull out of their pre-seed round, Alloy is conservative with its capital.

Finally, let’s talk growth. Per the pair, Q4 2020 was good for Alloy. That’s not surprising, as they serve e-commerce companies, firms that love holiday-boosted fourth-quarters. The founders told TechCrunch that during the fourth quarter, their in-house Slack channel set up to note payments, signups and other positive occurrences went off chronically.

The team today is the co-founders, three engineers, a designer and a marketer, spread across four time zones, with workers in America, India and the Philippines. Alloy intends to hire sales staff, new engineers and a customer success denizen.

Alloy’s software costs from $200 to $1,000 per month or more, depending on need. Let’s see how far it can scale on its new capital base.

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What Is GameStop, the Company, Really Worth? Does It Matter?

The frenzy for the troubled retailer’s stock has been a headscratcher for the analysts who try to determine a company’s value.

#company-reports, #computer-and-video-games, #computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #e-commerce, #gamestop-corporation, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #shopping-and-retail, #short-selling, #stocks-and-bonds, #united-states


Storetasker revamps its Shopify developer marketplace

Storetasker is an online marketplace focused on connecting Shopify merchants with developers and other experts who can help grow their business.

The product is now owned by the startup previously known as Lorem. Co-founder and COO Charlie Fogarty explained that while Lorem originally had a broader mission of connecting small businesses and developers, “We realized that Shopify and e-commerce was by far our best customer segment … so we basically acquired our main competitor, Storetasker, and merged the two business” under the Storetasker name.

The acquisition (which included the Storetasker product and expert network, but not the team) actually took place last year, and Fogarty said, “We’ve spent the last 10 months basically rebuilding the product from the ground up. We’ve taken years of learning and combined it into a rebrand, a new product and a new end-to-end customer experience.”

The core proposition is still the same, however. A Shopify merchant should be able to visit Storetasker, describe their project in simple terms and then within a few hours, Storetasker will match them up with one of the experts in the network, who they can work with directly.

Storetasker has already been used by more than 30,000 brands on Shopify, including Boll & Branch, Chubbies, Aisle, Alpha Industries, Truff Hot Sauce and Branch Furniture. Fogarty said the average project size is just $300 and usually involves adding custom designs and unique features to a Shopify store.

Storetasker screenshot

Image Credits: Storetasker

You could use a general marketplace like Upwork or Fiverr to find a freelance developer, but where Storetasker has conducted more than 5,000 interviews to vet its talent and picks the right expert for each customer, Fogarty said that on other platforms, “You have to sift through unvetted talent … The hiring burden is placed on the brand.”

Plus, he noted that brands can use Storetasker for more than development help — they also use it to find experts on conversion and “all the different aspects of e-commerce.”

In addition to the new product, Storetasker is also announcing that it raised $3.2 million in Series A funding last year from Flybridge, Founder Collective, and FJ Labs.

Looking ahead, Fogarty said he sees plenty of room to grow while remaining focused on the Shopify ecosystem. After all, there are more than 1 million stores on the platform, with $200 billion in total sales to date.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #fj-labs, #lorem, #shopify, #startups, #tc