Apple is opening a store in downtown LA’s nearly 100-year-old Tower Theatre

This Thursday, Apple will mark the opening of a new store in downtown Los Angeles. The space occupies the newly renovated Tower Theatre, which opened in DTLA’s Broadway Theater District in 1927. Among other milestones, the 900-seat theater was the first in LA to be wired for the talkies, hosting a premier of “The Jazz Singer” that same year. Not for nothing, it was also the first theater in the city with air conditioning.

Apple Tower Theatre is actually the company’s 26th store in greater LA. Obviously, though, moving into a 94-year-old theater takes a fair bit more work than, say, a shopping mall. The store has been in the works for a number of years, owing in part to having to work with the city to restore a space that had been declared a landmark.

Image Credits: Apple

Interestingly, an LA Times article back in 2018 noted that the space, “may also serve as a declaration that Apple intends to compete as a major Hollywood content creator.” In hindsight, fair enough. Apple TV+ launched late the following year.

The theater has actually been largely unoccupied since 1988, which clearly meant even more work had to go into shining up the walls and making the grand old theater presentable for that modern retail vibe — not to mention a seismic upgrade to help make it more earthquake proof.

The company also notes that it took care to maintain some of the space’s more iconic elements.

Image Credits: Apple

“Apple Tower Theatre anchors the corner of Eighth Street and Broadway, where visitors will immediately recognize the fully restored clock tower, recreated Broadway marquee, clean terra cotta exterior, and renovated historic blade sign,” Apple writes. “After walking through the Broadway doors, guests enter the monumental lobby inspired by Charles Garnier’s Paris Opera House, featuring a grand arched stairway with bronze handrails flanked by marble Corinthian columns.”

The store’s opening also marks the launch of Apple’s new Creative Studios initiative. The LA store and a location in Beijing will be the first to get the program. In its initial form, it will run between eight and 12 weeks, providing a group of mentors from the creative arts.

Image Credits: Apple

“Creativity and access to education are core values for Apple, so we are absolutely thrilled to kick off today at Apple Creative Studios in Los Angeles and Beijing and to bring this meaningful program to several more cities this year,” SVP Deirdre O’Brien said in a press release. “Building on our long history of using stores as a venue to host local artists to educate and inspire, Creative Studios is one more way we’re providing free arts education to those who need it most.”

Last week, Google launched its first retail store in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. The Apple Tower Theatre location opens at 10 a.m. local time on Thursday, June 24. The company says it’s employing nearly 100 to keep the store running.

 

#apple, #apple-store, #ecommerce, #los-angeles, #retail

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Why Amazon should pay attention to Shein

Amazon commands a vast, dominating empire in the world of e-commerce. While its marketplace has proved a boon for businesses trying to get off the ground, many of the more successful companies are now looking beyond the e-commerce giant’s fences, spurred by a desire to compete on their own terms.

This trend has mushroomed as online shopping burgeoned over the past five years. Businesses such as mattress maker Casper, men’s personal care brands Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club, footwear and apparel makers Allbirds and Zaful, gadget store Banggood, and power-bank maker Anker are just a few of the multitude of brands that choose to leverage their own web stores, social media presence and supply chains to build their business and identity without having a marketplace like Amazon get in the way.

Every investor and e-commerce exporter we spoke with noted the genius of Shein’s supply chain management.

Shein, an online-only apparel store that sells the latest in fashion at very affordable prices, is a shining example of this trend. It’s a rage among budget-conscious young adults across Europe, Asia and the Americas: The app was downloaded 14 million times in the United States in March, according to Apptopia, and currently dominates the shopping category in app stores in over 50 countries.

Its success is proof of its belief in bringing the latest trends to the masses as quickly as it can. In the past couple of decades, brands like Zara, H&M and Forever 21 earned themselves the “fast fashion” moniker when they turned the tables on global behemoths such as Gap and Calvin Klein by drastically shortening lead times — the time it takes for clothing to reach the store floor from the designer’s desk.

Shein takes this fast fashion mindset one step further: While brands like Zara and H&M take about three to four weeks to bring clothing from the ramp to the store, Shein uses a combination of real-time customer and predictive analytics, hyperaware fashion designers and an extremely quick and agile supply chain based in China to bring the latest fashion trends from Instagram, Facebook, Reddit and TikTok to its online store in just a week or two.

#amazon, #apparel, #apps, #asia, #china, #direct-to-consumer, #direct-to-consumer-brands, #e-commerce, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ec-news-analysis, #ecommerce, #shein, #startups

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Chinese sellers on Amazon in hot demand by VCs and e-commerce roll-ups

Chinese merchants selling on Amazon are having a moment. The scruffy exporters are used to roaming about suburban factory areas and dealing with constant cash flow strain, but suddenly they find themselves having coffee with top Chinese venture capital firms and investment representatives from internet giants, who come with big checks to hunt down the next Shein or Anker. While VCs can provide the money for them to scale quickly, many lack the expertise to help on the strategic side.

This is where brand aggregators can put their retail know-how to work. Also called roll-ups, these companies go around acquiring promising e-commmerce brands for operational synergies. After taking off in the United States, Europe, and lately Southeast Asia, it has also quietly landed in China, where traditional white-label manufacturers are trying to move up the value chain and establish their own brand presence.

The latest roll-up to enter China is Berlin Brands Group (BBG), which aims to buy “dozens of” brands in the country over the next few years, its founder and CEO Peter Chaljawski told TechCrunch. This will significantly boost the German company’s existing portfolio of 14 brands.

The move came on the back of BBG’s $240 million funding raised from debt and its announcement to commit $300 million on its balance sheet to buying up companies. The firm opted for debt in part because it has been profitable since its inception. The recent funding won’t be its last round and it may use other financial instruments in the future, said the founder.

Chaljawski doesn’t see VC and corporate investors as direct competitors in the hunt for brands. “There are tens of thousands of sellers in China that generate significant revenue on Amazon. I think the VC money applies to some of them, and the roll-up model applies also to only some of them. But ‘some’ is a very, very big number.”

BBG is no stranger to China. The 15-year-old company has been relying on Chinese manufacturers to make its kitchenware, gardening tools, sports gear and other home appliances, with 90% of its products still made in the country today. For the new brand buy-out initiative, it’s hiring dozens of staff in Shenzhen, which Chalijawski dubbed the “Silicon Valley of Amazon,” referring to the southern city’s key role in global export, manufacturing, and increasingly, design.

Amazon alternative

BBG hopes to offer a new way for Chinese consumer products to scale in Europe and the U.S. beyond being an anonymous brand on Amazon. Sellers may want to break free of the American behemoth to seize more control over consumer data, but building a direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand is no small feat.

Many merchants that are good at operating Amazon third-party businesses lack the infrastructure to go beyond Amazon, like an in-house logistics system, said the founder. In Europe, BBG manages 120,000 square meters of fulfillment centers, allowing it to shed dependence on Amazon.

Chinese brands may also want to find Amazon alternatives in Europe, where the e-commerce landscape is a lot more fragmented than that in the U.S, noted Chaljawski.

“If you look at the U.S., Amazon is dominant. If you look at Europe, Amazon only has 10% of the market share of online retail. So 90% is beyond Amazon. In the Netherlands, you have platforms like Bol. In Poland, you have Allegro, and in France, you have other dominant players.”

To bridge the gap for international brands targeting Europe, BBG operates close to 20 D2C web stores in major European countries, aside from selling on Amazon. Its sales growth in the U.S. has also been in full steam. Currently, over 60% of the firm’s revenues come from non-Amazon channels.

BBG is already in advanced negotiations with “some brands” in China but cannot disclose their names at this stage.

#amazon, #asia, #berlin-brands-group, #brand, #china, #consumer-products, #e-commerce, #e-commerce-aggregator, #ecommerce, #europe, #manufacturing, #online-retail, #online-shopping, #retailers, #roll-ups, #shenzhen, #tc

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How to land the top spot in Google search with featured snippets in 2021

Search is changing. Most search engines now don’t just bring up a page of 10 search results and two ads at the top when you type in a query. Instead, Google search queries can bring up a whole range of results, and sometimes answer your questions without you ever having to click through to a page.

Take, for example, a search like this: “how many days until halloween.”

Example of a featured snippet

A featured snippet counting down the days to Halloween. Image Credits: Ryan Sammy

You can see that instead of displaying the top result right away, Google answers the question for you in a rich snippet. It also gives you related search queries featuring countdowns for other holidays. On the right is a knowledge panel from Wikipedia about Halloween, and below that, you’ll see the featured snippets section. These snippets will expand when clicked with answers for related questions.

Featured snippets are collections of sentences or words that Google pulls directly from a webpage relevant to the search query.

Finally, after these answers to your queries and any related questions, you get to the first result. At this point, do you even need to visit the website?

Google search is not what it used to be. We all want to be No. 1 on the search results page, but these days, getting to that position isn’t enough. It might be worth your while to instead go after the top featured snippet position.

What’s a featured snippet?

Featured snippets are collections of sentences or words that Google pulls directly from a webpage relevant to the search query. These snippets are displayed right below the search box and are meant to answer search queries quickly. The snippets can appear in the form of lists, how-to steps, tables, short paragraph boxes and other formats.

#advertising-tech, #ahrefs, #column, #digital-marketing, #ec-column, #ec-how-to, #ec-marketing-tech, #ecommerce, #featured-snippet-optimization, #featured-snippets, #google-search, #search-engine-optimization, #search-results, #seo

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India proposes tougher e-commerce rules to address ‘widespread cheating’ complaints

India proposed on Monday banning flash sales on e-commerce platforms and preventing their affiliate entities from being listed as sellers as the South Asian market looks to further tighten rules that could hurt the future prospects of Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart in the world’s second largest market.

The proposal, unveiled by India’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs on Monday evening, comes at a time when brick-and-mortar retailers in India have ramped up their complaints to raise concerns about the what they allege as unfair practices employed by Amazon and Flipkart as they expand their operations in the country.

In its proposal, India’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs said that e-commerce firms should not be allowed to hold flash sales that are very popular during festive season in the country. During flash sales, which are akin to Amazon’s Prime Day, e-commerce firms see some of their biggest spikes in customer orders as brands offer heavy discounts on their products.

“Certain e-commerce entities are engaging in limiting consumer choice by indulging in ‘back to back’ or ‘flash’ sales wherein one seller selling on platform does not carry any inventory or order fulfilment capability but merely places a ‘flash or back to back’ order with another seller controlled by platform. This prevents a level playing field and ultimately limits customer choice and increases prices,” the ministry said in a statement.

As it has done with its recent IT rules, India is also proposing that e-commerce firms appoint Chief Compliance Officer, a nodal contact person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies, officers to ensure compliance to their orders and Resident Grievance Officer for redressing of the grievances of the consumers on the e-commerce platform.

“This would ensure effective compliance with the provisions of the Act and Rules and also strengthen the grievance redressal mechanism on e-commerce entities,” the ministry said.

Amazon said it was reviewing the proposed policies while Flipkart had no immediate comment.

In a court hearing on Monday, a Flipkart lawyer said the company sees nothing wrong in offering to cut charges for sellers on its platform if they lower product prices.

The ministry said it is making the proposal, for which it plans to seek industry feedback over the next 15 days, after receiving “several complaints against widespread cheating and unfair trade practices being observed in e-commerce ecosystem.”

Additionally, the new proposal asks e-commerce firms to introduce a mechanism to identify goods on their platforms based on country of origin and suggest alternatives to “ensure fair opportunity to domestic goods.”

The announcement comes at a time when Flipkart is in talks to raise as much as $3 billion and explore the public markets. Both Amazon and Flipkart are also the subject of an ongoing antitrust probe in India.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #india, #walmart

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A look inside Google’s first store, opening in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood tomorrow

There have been plenty of pop-ups over the years, but tomorrow Google’s first store opens in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood. The brick and mortar model finds the company joining peers like Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and even Amazon, all of whom have a retail presence in Manhattan, including several just around the corner from Google’s new digs.

The new space, which opens tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. local time, fills 5,000 square feet of selling space in Google’s big, pricey West Side real estate investment. The retail location was previously occupied by a Post Office and Starbucks, which vacated the premises once their leases expired under their new corporate landlord.

Image Credits: Photos courtesy of Google and Paul Warchol

The store’s layout is designed to be experiential, highlighting the company’s growing hardware portfolio along with select third-party partners. Essentially it’s a way for the company to get Pixel phones, Home offerings, Stadia, WearOS and the newest addition to the hardware portfolio, Fitbit devices, in front of tourists and locals.

“We really used the pop-ups over the last several years to get a better sense of what are customer expectations for what we can uniquely deliver at Google,” VP Jason Rosenthal said during a press preview week. We’ve taken learnings from our 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 pop-ups and really fed that learning into what we’re opening[…] in Chelsea.”

Due to pandemic restrictions, the preview was virtual. And while it’s open to the public this week, the company will be maintaining the standard safety precautions, as the city deals with (knock on wood) the tail end of the pandemic.

And while COVID-19 almost certainly slowed the planned opening, Google promises that things will be in full force starting tomorrow. This follows several weeks of piloting, wherein the store’s 50 or so staffers were put through their paces, while the company put the finishing touches on the experience. Prior to this, Google built a full-size store mockup in a hangar space in Mountain View to test out ideas.

Image Credits: Google and Paul Warchol

In addition to product screens and dioramas lining the 17-foot windows, the company filled the store with “sandboxes” — effectively scenarios like a living room, not dissimilar to what you might find in a large furniture store — albeit better lit. There’s also a gaming area for playing Stadia and a soundproof spot for testing out various Home/Nest products.

Like Apple’s Store, customers can bring in for repair broken devices like Pixels. The company says it’s growing the number of devices that can be repaired on-site, while certain issues, like a broken screen, should be able to be fixed same day.

It seems likely that the store is a pilot in and of itself, with further plans to open additional locations in the U.S. and, perhaps, international markets where the company sells hardware. For now, however, Google won’t discuss the subject beyond tomorrow’s opening in Chelsea.

#ecommerce, #google, #google-store, #hardware, #new-york, #new-york-city, #retail

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Amazon deflects responsibility on fake reviews but admits 200M were blocked last year

Amazon admits it has a fake review problem, but does its best to spread the blame around in a new post detailing the issue. After numerous reports for years that the online retail giant is overrun with knock-off products and faked or farmed reviews, the company aims to look as if it is finally putting its foot down, but no new efforts or rules are discussed — rather, it is others that need to step up their work to keep Amazon safe.

Amazon reviews have become notoriously unreliable as indicators of quality as the store has given itself over willingly to counterfeits, AliExpress resellers, and promotion of the company’s internal brands (developed with the benefit of seller data). Multiple reports have found organized efforts to spam the store with meaningless 5-star reviews in exchange for free products or cash. I have myself received such offers, or sellers promising payment for raising a star rating.

After the requisite preliminary palaver about being “obsessed with delighting customers” and all that, Amazon explains that it, like all big tech giants, uses automated systems to vet reviews before they go up. The company has always been cagey about the actual numbers, but in this post it drops a whopper: “In 2020, we stopped more than 200 million suspected fake reviews before they were ever seen by a customer.”

200 million is a lot no matter how you look at it, but it’s really a lot when you consider that Amazon told CNBC that same year that it “analyze[s] over 10 million review submissions weekly,” which adds up to somewhere north of 520 million submissions yearly. These two Amazon-provided numbers suggest that a third of all reviews submitted, at a minimum, are rejected as fake.

Hard numbers on Amazon’s total reviews are hard to come by. Speaking to Buzzfeed, Amazon listing analysis site ReviewMeta’s Tommy Noonan estimated that in 2020 Amazon hosted around 250 million reviews (of which, incidentally, he calculated about 9 percent were “unnatural”). But if over 500 million were submitted in 2020 and about 200 million of those were fake, that indicates a far larger total. I’ve asked Amazon for more precise information on this, and will update the post if I hear back, but the company is not communicative about these numbers in general.

Groups organizing on social media numbering in the tens of thousands have been repeatedly pointed out as major contributors to the fake review ecosystem. Amazon writes that in the first quarter of 2020, it reported 300 such groups to the platforms hosting them, and the same period in 2021 it reported over 1,000. Takedown times have increased, but it’s hard to take this increase as anything other than a thriving business model — certainly not something in the process of being stamped out.

“It is imperative for social media companies to invest adequately in proactive controls to detect and enforce fake reviews ahead of our reporting the issue to them,” Amazon declares. Indeed social media companies are being pressed from multiple directions to take more responsibility for what users do on their platforms, but they make the same noises Amazon does: “we’re doing what we can,” (and, it is left unsaid, clearly it’s not enough).

“We need coordinated assistance from consumer protection regulators around the world,” Amazon writes. But the company lobbied forcefully and successfully against the INFORM act, which would have helped identify sellers with bad intent and add transparency to online marketplaces (strangely, Amazon has taken some of the actions it objects to independently). And that line is suspiciously absent when it is Amazon that consumers need to be protected against.

“It is also critical that we hold bad actors—and the service providers that provide them with fake reviews—accountable for their activity,” the post continues. But while lawsuits and partnerships with law enforcement are part of that, once again the call to “work together” rings hollow when Amazon itself is where the activity occurs and the company is in complete control of that ecosystem. Though it has banned some major players from the store, innumerable others flout the rules with impunity.

Nowhere in the post does Amazon detail any new steps it will take to deter these bad actors or crack down on the pervasive gaming of the system for which it sets the rules. It will “continue to enhance” its detection tools, “streamline processes” for partnerships, and “work hard” at keeping scammers accountable. In other words, it will keep doing exactly what it has been doing this whole time — which is what put it in this position in the first place.

#amazon, #ecommerce, #fake-reviews

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To win post-pandemic, startups need remote-first growth teams

Growth leaders used to build key relationships across a company while working together in a real-life office. Those relationships could carry over through the pandemic, but let’s say you’re a new company and you’re remote-first.

How do you build this complex collaboration from scratch?

Growth marketer and investor Susan Su tells us that the solution is not just more software tools. In the interview below, she says that after the pandemic, startup founders will need to develop a mentality that places growth at the center of company strategy.

Consultants and agencies can be great additions to this effort, especially if they have previously solved the types of problems you face. (In fact, TechCrunch is asking founders who have worked with growth marketers to share a recommendation in this survey. We’ll use your answers to find more experts to interview.)

Su is currently the head of portfolio strategy for Sound Ventures, previously a growth leader at Stripe and the first hire at Reforge. She also shared a few thoughts on market opportunities after the pandemic in the full interview below. E-commerce is mainstream for good, she says, even as we all try to step away from screens more often. However, many social and mobile sectors are mature, and it’s going to be even harder for startups to compete as real-world activities absorb more time.

Don’t forget: Susan Su will also appear at our Early Stage virtual event on July 8 (and answer questions directly).

How are you seeing startups manage changes in user engagement as more people exit pandemic lockdowns and adjust their daily lives?

As we exit the pandemic, I expect that we’ll see a natural and obvious spike in some consumer activity that will roll up to midsized businesses and enterprises. Just like with the onset of the pandemic, we’ll see uneven results across sectors:

E-commerce boomed during the pandemic but was really an augmentation of an already-accelerating trend towards digital commerce and streamlined logistics. I don’t think we backtrack from e-commerce because habit formation around online shopping has been building for years; we would be backtracking to an age long before 2020, and that’s not going to happen.

New social-mobile experiences also boomed during the pandemic, but there’s still a valid question around whether 15 months or so is enough time to become part of the ingrained infrastructure of daily life. We are living in an age of mature platforms, so every new service is stealing time away from an existing service. As with pre-pandemic growth, their success rests upon fast-accumulating network effects and great, sticky core product experience. Now that we have parks, friends and dinners out calling to us again, it’s a real test of how compelling some of these new value propositions really are, and whether they can continue to demonstrate their relevance in a more hybridized online-offline world.

That said, the pandemic was an enormous constraint on human society and [the] economy, and these kinds of constraints often breed innovation that doesn’t go away. We will evolve, but we can never go back. It sounds cheesy but it’s true.

Some aspects of the pandemic, like remote work, appear to have radically changed certain industries. How will these societal changes impact how the typical startup thinks about growth?

Growth will always be growth — that is, a process of iterative experimentation to identify and solve customer problems, and then scale those solutions in order to reach and convert bigger and bigger audiences. Platform changes like iOS 14 or Facebook’s periodic algorithm adjustments will have a bigger impact in the near term on the technical functioning of growth, and these aren’t specifically pandemic-related.

One area to watch is how growth teams are built and operated. Growth is a horizontal function that touches many different parts of the org, including product, engineering, marketing, comms and design. Many startup teams have already been working with collaboration tools even while they sat in the same office, but growth is about more than just using tools. The most effective growth leaders succeed by building relationships across the organization; it’s like the fable of Stone Soup — you’re creating this meal that will feed everyone, but you also need each person to bring a pinch of salt, or a dash of pepper, or one carrot, and that requires socialization and relationship-building. I’ll be very interested to see how new growth leaders onboard remote-only teams and what approaches they take to this “networking” need within the function.

From the days of growth hacking on social platforms, growth marketing is now an established part of the world. But it’s not necessarily the main expertise of a startup founder, even if it needs to be. So, how should they think about addressing growth marketing in 2021? What are the essentials they should do in their roles?

Every founder needs to have a growth mentality. They don’t need to memorize all the right buttons to push in an ads dashboard, but they need to be familiar and comfortable with the core work of gap-finding. That said, founders are by definition entrepreneurial — their company exists because they saw an opportunity that no one else did, and this is the fundamental work of growth as well.

Founders will fail if they adopt a mentality that someone else can or should do it for them. The founder’s job is to supply ambition and opinions, and then magnetize high-quality talent to come and pull the levers and bring their creative vision to life. There are many people who can do growth marketing — that is, they know how the platforms work, they understand the rules and the playbooks. But there are very few who can come up with truly visionary strategies that change the game altogether — those people become founders, and those companies become household names. So for a founder, I’d say the most important growth work is to continue to know your market and customer better than anyone else in the whole world, have an opinion about what’s missing, and work to bring the best talent to come in alongside you and be a thought partner, not just a button pusher.

With limited resources, how should early-stage companies think about what to focus on?

This is going to depend on the goals of your company. Are you planning to raise money and need to demonstrate certain KPIs? Are you bootstrapping and need to keep the lights on? Resources should always be allocated to the most strategic purposes, with the longest-term view you can afford. For some companies, this could mean forgoing revenue to focus on viral or word-of-mouth-driven user acquisition to demonstrate to future investors that there’s something special here. For other companies, perhaps in lower volume categories like enterprise, it’s about bringing a few strategic logos into the family as a signal to later customers and other stakeholders, including future employees and investors.

One thing that early-stage companies should always be focused on is building a top-shelf employer brand. You will only ever be as good as the talent you attract to your company, and interestingly growth can actually play a role in this. The best designers, engineers and product people are often flowing towards the companies that have the best growth. In that way, it’s a highly strategic role and function.

What do startups continue to get wrong?

You can’t truly outsource growth or any other core function; you can’t tack on customer acquisition after product development. At the end of the day, if you really think about it, all a company is, is a customer-acquisition engine. This needs to be core; wake up every day and think about growth, not just to hit revenue or user KPIs, but to build the company that the best people are clamoring to work at. It’s not about finding someone sufficient to solve your near-term problems; it’s about framing problems in a way that’s so compelling to the most creative, hardest working people so that they can’t get it out of their heads. Go for talent moonshots, and figure out how to close them. The rest will fall in line from there.

When should a founder feel comfortable getting help from an outside expert or agency?

Anytime. Agencies are great. They are an extension of your talent, and the best agencies aren’t selling you — they have to be sold on your problem because they have their pick of companies just like yours. That’s the agency or outside expert you want to work with, because they’ll have a priceless perspective from the other best-in-class founders and teams they’ve worked with that they can bring to your challenge. Any agency can run Facebook ads (it’s not rocket science), but you want to find the team that’s solved the gnarliest problems for your hero companies. Then you’ll get not just an ads manager, but a teacher.

 

#collaboration-tools, #digital-marketing, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #entrepreneurship, #growth-hacking, #growth-marketing, #startups, #susan-su, #tc

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Uberall raises $115M, acquires MomentFeed to scale up its location marketing services

Location-based services may have had their day as a salient category for hot apps or innovative tech leveraging the arrival of smartphones, but that’s largely because they are now part of the unspoken fabric of how we interact with digital services every day: we rely on location specific information when we are on search engines, when we are using maps, or weather apps, or taking and posting photos and more.

Still, there remain a lot of gaps in how location information links up with accurate information, and so today a company that’s made it its business to address that is announcing some funding as it scales up its service.

Uberall, which works with retailers and other brick-and-mortar operators to help them update and provide more accurate information about themselves across the plethora of apps and other services that consumers use to discover them, is announcing $115 million in funding. Alongside that, the Berlin startup is making an acquisition: it’s buying MomentFeed, a location marketing company based out of Los Angeles, CA, to continue scaling its business.

The funding is being led by London-based investor Bregal Milestone, with Level Equity, United Internet and Uberall management also participating. From what we understand from sources, the funding values Uberall at around $500 million, and the deal for MomentFeed was made for between $50 million and $60 million.

The business combination is building way more scale into the platform: Uberall said that together they will manage the online presence for 1.35 million business locations, making the company the biggest in the field, with customers including the gas station operator BP, KFC, clothes and food chain Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.

Florian Hübner, the CEO and co-founder of Uberall, noted in an interview that the companies have quite a lot of overlap, and in fact prior to the deal being made the companies worked together closely in the U.S. market, but all the same, MomentFeed has built some specific technology that will enrich the wider platform, such as a particularly strong tool for measuring sentiment analysis.

“Managing the online presence” is not a company’s website, nor is it its apps, but may nevertheless be its most common digital touchpoints when it comes to actually engaging with consumers online. It includes how those companies appear on local listings services like Yelp or TripAdvisor, or mapping apps like Google’s — which provide not just listings information like addresses and opening hours but also customer reviews — or social apps or location-based advertising. Altogether, when you are considering a company with multiple locations and the multiple touchpoints a consumer might use, it ends up being a complicated mess of places that need to be managed and kept up to date.

“We are the catalyst for this huge ecosystem where we enable the brands to use everything that the other tech platforms are offering in the best possible way,” Hübner told me. The tech platforms, meanwhile, are willing to work with middle-ware companies like Uberall to make the information on their services more accurate and complete by connecting with businesses when they have not manage to do so directly on their own. (And if you’ve ever been caught out by the wrong opening times on a Google Maps entry, or any other entry or piece of information elsewhere, you know this is an issue.)

And of course expecting any company with potentially hundreds of locations to provide the right details without a tool is also a non-starter. “Casually updating 100,000 profiles is super hard,” Hübner said.

It also provides services to update information about vaccine and Covid-19 testing clinics, as well as other essential services that also have to contend with the same variations in location, opening hours and customer feedback as any other business on a site like Google Maps.

Altogether, Uberall has built out a platform that essentially connects up all of those end points, so that an Uberall customer can use a dashboard to provide updates that populate automatically everywhere, and also to read and respond to reviews.

Conversely, Uberall also can look out for instances where a company is being unofficially represented, or mis-represented and locks those down. Alongside those, it has built a location-based marketing service that also serves ads for its customers. It is somewhat akin to social media management tools, which let you manage social media accounts and social media marketing campaigns, except that it’s covering a much more fragmented and disparate set of places where a company might appear online.

The bigger picture here is that just as location-based marketing is a fragmented business, so is the business of providing services to manage it. This move reduces down that field a little more and improves the efficiency of scaling such services.

“As we saw the market trending towards consolidation, we considered several potential companies to merge with. Uberall was by far our most preferred,” said MomentFeed CEO Nick Hedges in a statement. “This combination makes enormous strategic sense for our customers, who represent the who’s-who of leading U.S. omni channel brands. It helps accelerate our already rapid pace of innovation, giving customers an even greater edge in the hyper-competitive world of ’Near Me’ Marketing.” After the deal closes, Hedges will become Uberall’s chief strategy officer and EVP for North America.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Uberall team for this next phase of growth. Our strategic investment will significantly accelerate Uberall’s ambition to become the leading ‘Near Me’ Customer Experience platform worldwide. Uberall’s differentiated full-suite solution is unsurpassed by competition in terms of integration and functionality, providing customers with a real edge to reach, interact with, and convert online customers. We look forward to supporting Florian, Nick and their talented team to deliver on their exciting innovation and expansion roadmap.” said Cyrus Shey, managing partner of Bregal Milestone, in a statement.

#advertising-tech, #ecommerce, #europe, #funding, #ma, #mobile, #momentfeed, #social, #tc, #uberall

0

Shopify expands its one-click checkout, Shop Pay, to any merchant on Facebook or Google

E-commerce platform Shopify announced this morning its one-click checkout service known as Shop Pay will become available to any U.S. merchant that sells on Facebook or Google — even if they don’t use Shopify’s software to power their online stores. That makes Shop Pay the first Shopify product offered to non-Shopify merchants, the company notes.

First introduced at its developer conference in 2017, Shop Pay is similar to other instant checkout solutions that offer an easier way to pay online by reducing the number of fields a customer has to fill out during the checkout process. The service remembers and encrypts the customer’s information, so consumers can check out with just a tap when shopping online and, as of recently, even pay for purchase in installments, thanks to a partnership with Affirm.

Shopify in February had expanded Shop Pay to Facebook and Instagram, in partnership with Facebook, but it only worked for existing Shopify merchants selling on those social platforms at the time. In May, Google announced at its I/O developer conference it was partnering with Shopify on an online shopping expansion that would give Shopify’s more than 1.7 million merchants the ability to reach customers through Google Search and other “shopping journeys” that began through other Google properties like Search, Maps, Images, Lens, and YouTube.

The company declined to share how many of its 1.7 million merchants are already available on Facebook or Google today, but said they are two of the most popular channels.

Following today’s announcement, other merchants will also have the option to adopt Shop Pay for their own Facebook or Google stores. While how many will actually do so is yet unknown, Shopify notes that every day 1.8 billion people log onto Facebook and a billion shopping sessions take place across Google.

The company also touted Shop Pay’s advantages, including its 70% faster checkout than a typical checkout offers, with a 1.72x higher conversion rate — meaning fewer abandoned charts.

For consumers, the advantage of using Shop Pay over a traditional checkout, beyond the speed, is its integration with Shopify’s mobile app, Shop, which organizes and tracks your online orders across merchants, including Amazon,  so you can see when orders are arriving or quickly ask questions and manage returns.

To date, the Shop app has tracked over 430 million orders, the company says.

Over time, the Shop app can also customize a feed including users’ favorite stores to point to other recommendations, including those from local merchants. Shopify confirmed that the Shop app will be able to track the Shop Pay-enabled orders from the non-Shopify merchants.

“Since launching, Shop Pay has set the standard for checkout experiences, facilitating more than $24 billion in orders,” noted Shopify VP, Carl Rivera, who heads Product for Shop. “According to studies, cart abandonment averages 70%, with nearly 20% occurring because of a complicated checkout process. Shop Pay makes that process fast and simple, and the expansion to all merchants selling on Facebook and Google is a mission-critical step in bringing a best-in-class checkout to every consumer, every merchant, every platform, and every device,” he added.

The expansion could be a notable challenge to other payment mechanisms, including PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, and those offered by the platforms themselves, thanks to Shopify’s growing traction with merchants — one analysis gives its platform a 23% market share in the U.S — combined with the popularity of the Shop app, now the No. 3 Shopping app on the App Store.

The news follows yesterday’s confirmation that Shopify has taken a significant stake in payments giant Stripe, the backbone of the Shop Pay service, as well as Shopify’s partner on merchant services, including bank accounts and debit cards.

Shopify says the Shop Pay service will be enabled for all U.S. merchants selling on Facebook in the “coming months,” and will roll out to all merchants on Google by late 2021.

 

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #facebook, #google, #merchant-services, #mobile-payments, #online-shopping, #online-stores, #partner, #shop, #shopify, #shopping, #stripe, #tc, #united-states

0

Fresha raises $100M for its beauty and wellness booking platform and marketplace

Beauty and wellness businesses have come roaring back to life with the decline of Covid-19 restrictions, and a startup that’s built a platform that caters to the many needs of small enterprises in the industry today is announcing a big round of funding to grow with them.

Fresha — a multipurpose commerce tool for independent wellness and beauty businesses such as hair, nail and skin salons, yoga instructors and more, based first and foremost around a completely free platform for those businesses to schedule bookings from customers — has picked up $100 million.

Fresha plans to use the funds to expand the list of countries where it operates, to grow the categories of companies that use its services (mental health practitioners is one example; fitness is another), and to build more services complementing what it already provides, helping customers do their work by providing them with more insights and data about what they do already. It will also be making acquisitions to expand its customer base.

General Atlantic is leading this Series C, with Huda Kattan, Michael Zeisser of FMZ Ventures, and Jonathan Green of Lugard Road Capital also participating, along with past investors Partech, Target Global and FJ Labs.

Fresha has raised $132 million to date, and it’s not disclosing its valuation. But as a point of reference, when it closed its Series B (as Shedul; the company rebranded in February 2020), it was valued at $105 million.

Chances are that figure is significantly higher now.

Fresha’s current range of services include a free-to-use platform for booking appointments; free software for managing accounts; a payments service that includes both a physical point of sale and digital interface; and a wider marketplace both to provide goods to the businesses (B2B); and for the businesses to sell goods to customers (B2C).

The London-based company has 50,000 business customers and 150,000 stylists and professionals in 120+ countries (mostly in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe), with some 250 million appointments booked to date.

And while many businesses did have to curtail how they operated (and in some countries had to stop operating altogether) Fresha found that it was attracting a lot of new business in part because of its “free” model that meant customers didn’t have to pay to maintain a booking platform at a time when they weren’t taking bookings, but could use Fresha to generate revenues in other ways (such as through the sale of goods, vouchers for future services, and more.)

So in a year when you might have thought that a company based around providing services to industries that were hard hit by Covid would have also been hard-hit, in fact Fresha saw a 30x increase in card payment transactions versus the year before, and more than $12 billion worth of booking appointments made on its platform.

In a market that is very crowded with tech companies building platforms to book beauty (and other) services and to manage the business of independent retailers — they include giants like Lightspeed POS, as well as smaller players like Booksy (which also recently raised) and StyleSeat but also players like Square and PayPal, and many others — the core of Fresha’s offering is a booking platform built as a totally free product.

Why free? To attract more users to its other services (such as payments, which do come at a price), and because co-founders William Zeqiri (CEO) and Nick Miller (product chief) — pictured above, respectively left and right — think this the only way to build a business like this in a crowded market.

“We believe that software is a commodity,” said Zeqiri in an interview. “A lot of our competitors are beating each other on price to the bottom. We wanted to consolidate the supply side of the software, gather data about the businesses, how they use what they use.”

That data led, first, to identifying the need for and building out  single all the time and launch its B2B and B2C marketplaces, and the idea is that it will likely lead to more products as it continues to mature, whether its better analytics for its current customers so that they can better price or develop their services accordingly; or entirely new tools for new categories of users.

Meanwhile, the services that it already provides like payments have taken off like a shot, not least because they’ve served a need for any virtual transactions like selling vouchers or items.

Miller noted that while a lot of its customers actually interface with tech with a lot of reluctance — they are the essence of “physical” retailers when you think about it — they also found themselves having to use more digital services simply because of circumstances. “Looking back at what happened, tech adoption accelerated for our customers,” said Miller. He said that current customers usage for the point-of-sale systems and online payments is roughly equal.

Looking ahead, Fresha’s investor list is notable for its strategic mix and might shed some light on how it grows. Kattan, a “beauty influencer” and the founder of Huda Beauty, is investing by way of HB Investments, a strategic venture arm; while Zeisser’s FMZ focuses on “experience economy” investments today, but he himself has a long history working at tech companies building marketplaces, including years with Alibaba as head of its U.S. investment practice. These speak to areas where Fresha is likely interested in expanding its reach — more marketplace activity; and perhaps more social media angles and exposure for its customers at a time when social media really has become a key way for beauty and wellness businesses to market themselves.

“Fresha has emerged as a leader powering the beauty and wellness industry,” said Aaron Goldman, Global Co-head of financial services and MD at General Atlantic, in a statement. “William, Nick and the Fresha team have built a product that is resonating with the market and creating long-term value through the intersection of its payments, software and marketplace offerings. We are thrilled to be partnering with the company and believe Fresha has significant opportunity to further scale its innovative platform.”

“I’ve witnessed first-hand the positive impact Fresha has for beauty entrepreneurs,” added Kattan. “The company is a force for good in the growing community of beauty professionals around the globe, who are increasingly adopting a self-employed approach. By making top business software accessible without any subscription fees, Fresha lets professionals focus on what they do best — offering great experiences for their customers.”

#beauty, #ecommerce, #europe, #fresha, #funding, #health, #marketplace, #tc, #wellness

0

Instagram adds affiliate and shop features for creators

As Apple hosts their annual Worldwide Developers Conference, Instagram and Facebook chose this moment to pilot their first-ever Creator Week. This three-day event is geared toward aspiring and emerging digital creators, complete with 9:45 AM virtual DJ sets and panels on “Algorithm Mythbusting” and raising “zillions for a nonprofit you care about.”

During the first day of the event, Mark Zuckerberg made an announcement introducing new ways for creators to make money. In the coming months, Instagram will start testing a native affiliate tool, which allows creators to recommend products available on checkout, share them with followers and earn commissions for sales their posts drive. When creators make these posts, the text “eligible for commission” will appear beneath their username in the same way that sponsored content labels appear.

Available immediately, creators will be able to link their shops to their personal profiles, not just business ones. By the end of the year, eligible creators in the U.S. will be able to partner with one of Instagram’s merchandise partners (Bravado/UMG, Fanjoy, Represent and Spring) to drop exclusive product launches on the app.

During live Instagram videos, viewers can tip creators by sending them a Badge, which costs between $0.99 and $4.99. Facebook Gaming has a similar feature called Stars, in which one Star is valued at $0.01. Starting this week, creators can earn bonuses for accomplishing certain challenges, like going live with another account. In a promotional image, for example, Facebook offers a bonus of $150 for creators who earn 5,000 Stars, the equivalent of $50.

“To help more creators make a living on our platforms, we’re going to keep paid online events, fan subscriptions, badges, and our upcoming independent news products free for creators until 2023,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “And when we do introduce a revenue share, it will be less than the 30% that Apple and others take.”

Image Credits: Instagram

These updates mark the latest push by Instagram toward affiliate marketing and in-app shopping, like its redesigned Instagram Shop and Shopping in Reels, which debuted within the last year.

“Our goal is to be the best platform for creators like you to make a living. And if you have an idea that you want to share with the world, you should be able to create it and get it out there easily and simply — across Facebook and Instagram — and then earn money for your work,” Zuckerberg added during Creator Week.

Creators may be drawn to experiment with these affiliate and shop features, since for now, they won’t lose a cut of their profits to Instagram. But platforms like TikTok and YouTube offer monetization strategies that extend beyond e-commerce.

Last July, TikTok announced its $200 million TikTok Creator Fund, which allows popular posters to earn money from their videos. It’s unclear exactly how TikTok determines how much money to dole out, but it depends on the number of views, engaged views and other factors. In August 2020, the YouTuber-turned-TikToker Hank Green estimated that he would bring home about $700 from 20,000,000 TikTok views in one month, averaging to about 3.5 cents per 1,000 views.

Meanwhile, YouTube announced a $100 million fund last month for top creators on YouTube Shorts, its TikTok competitor. The platform pointed out that over the last three years it has paid $30 billion to content creators. Snapchat has been paying $1 million per day to creators on their own TikTok competitor, Spotlight.

For users who don’t have millions of followers, these creator funds might not pay the rent. Still, it offers an income stream based on views, outside of e-commerce or viewer tips. For now, Instagram can’t say the same.

#conference, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #instagram, #mark-zuckerberg, #online-events, #partner, #social, #software, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #video-hosting, #youtube

0

Pinterest adds a Shopping List feature to round up your saved products

Pinterest has long positioned itself a source for inspiration that could ultimately lead to online purchases. And over the years, it has worked on features to better connect consumers with the products and services they want to buy, like shoppable pins, visual search, AR try-on, product recommendations, and more. Today, the company is rolling out another feature aimed at turning users’ saved Pins into purchases: a shopping list.

The new Pinterest Shopping list feature saves all your Product Pins in one place, so when you’re ready to purchase you won’t have to hunt around through your saved Pins and Boards to find the products you had been considering. Here, you’ll find the information you need, including an item’s price, reviews, and shipping info in an even grid so you can compare products and make decisions.

The feature, however, isn’t just an organizational tool — Pinterest says it will also send out notifications if the items you’ve saved have dropped in price — which could encourage users to make the purchase.

The Shopping List is available on your Profile page above your other boards, and will include the shoppable items you’ve saved as well as items you’ve recently viewed. When you’re ready to buy, you can click on the pin to visit the retailer’s website to complete the transaction — giving Pinterest the credit for the referral, of course.

The feature will launch first in the U.S. and U.K., and will later roll out to Australia, Canada, France and Germany later in the year, Pinterest says.

Alongside the Shopping List, Pinterest today is also expanding merchant tools with the debut of its Verified Merchant Program in the U.K., Australia, Canada, France and Germany, plus a merchant storefront on profile feature, and new product tagging in Australia, Canada, France and Germany. Launched last year, the Verified Merchant Program offers retailers a way to sign up for a manual review to determine if they meet Pinterest’s qualifications for high-quality customer service experiences. If so, they receive a blue checkmark on their profile as a signal to consumers that they’re a trustworthy retailer.

Image Credits: Pinterest

In addition, the company is today launching a special two-week long Shopping Spotlight called “The Goods by Pinterest,” which offers users access to limited edition items sold by DTC brands including Brooklinen, Outdoor Voices, Clare Paint, Olive & June, and Maude. And it’s running a “Shop the mood” campaign offering curated trends from its annual report, “Pinterest Predicts.”

Though Pinterest notes its users, on average, outspend non-users by 2x every month and have a 85% larger basket size, the way people want to shop online is rapidly changing.

Historically an image-centric idea board of sorts, Pinterest may be left behind as more consumers — and particularly younger shoppers — begin to more heavily rely on shopping via video (both recorded and live), including through influencer-driven content across platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Pinterest has only more recently expanded into this area, with the launch of video-first “Idea Pins” last month aimed at creators, and a test of livestreamed creator events around the same time.

The new launches follow a Pinterest earnings beat in April on both EPS and revenue (11 cents vs 7 cents expected, and $485M vs $474M expected), but slowing user growth. The company reported 478 million monthly active users versus the 480.5 million expected, causing the stock to drop 10% after the report came out. The company blamed the decline in user growth and user engagement on the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, as consumers began to spend less time online.

With the new additions, Pinterest wants to better ensure those users who are on its site are not just idly browsing, but actually checking out.

#digital-media, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #online-purchases, #online-shopping, #pinterest, #products, #shopping, #visual-search

0

Equity Monday: Jeff’s going to space, and everyone wants a piece of Flipkart

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

It’s WWDC week, so expect a deluge of Apple news to overtake your Twitter feed here and there over the next few days. But there’s a lot more going on, so let’s dig in:

And that’s your start to the week. More to come from your friends here on Wednesday, and Friday. Chat soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#amazon, #china, #ecommerce, #elon-musk, #equity, #equity-podcast, #flipkart, #fundings-exits, #jeff-bezos, #kanzhun, #nigeria, #social-media, #space, #startups, #tesla, #trulioo, #twitter, #wwdc

0

Lightspeed buys Ecwid for $500M; NuOrder for $425M in ongoing e-commerce consolidation play

Lightspeed, has picked up two more companies in what is shaping up to be an acquisition spree for the Canadian point-of-sale software provider. The company today announced that it would acquire e-commerce platform Ecwid for $500 million; and NuOrder, a B2B ordering platform servicing wholesales, brands and retailers, for $425 million.

Together, the two deals underscore the long-anticipated consolidation trend swirling around the fragmented e-commerce industry, at a time when digital transactions are playing an ever more critical role in the Covid-impacted global economy, and smaller players are looking for better ways to compete against behemoths like Amazon and Stripe with a mix of tools and services addressing the various needs of merchants, brands, suppliers and everything in between.

“By joining forces with Ecwid and NuOrder, Lightspeed becomes the common thread uniting merchants, suppliers and consumers, a transformation we believe will enable innovative retailers to adapt to the new world of commerce,” said Dax Dasilva, founder and CEO of Lightspeed, in a statement. “As economies reopen and business creation accelerates, we hope to embolden entrepreneurs with the tools they need to simplify their operations and scale their ambitions.”

Lightspeed will pay $175 million in cash and $325 million in shares for Ecwid; and it will pay $212.5 million in cash and $212.5 million in shares for NuOrder, the company said. Both deals are expected to close at the end of September, pending regulatory and other approvals.

Lightspeed is publicly traded and has a market cap of about $9.4 billion. It has been on an acquisition march in the last several months, with the bigger picture being to build a complete, end-to-end, one-stop-shop for customers beyond the basics of the point-of-sale software that helped the company make its name. That has also included acquiring Upserve in a $430 million deal in December to deepen its presence in the restaurant industry.

Ecwid itself has been around for years, initially making its name as a key partner of Facebook’s to help small businesses build commerce experiences on the social media platform, and eventually expanding to provide tools for merchants that use services like Square and Wix, as well as other third-party platforms like Instagram and Google — sometimes competing with but also potentially integrating with other e-commerce backends like Shopify.

The company — originally founded in Russia — had largely been under the venture radar until last year, when it raised $42 million from Morgan Stanley and PeakSpan Capital, to double down on growth.

And that growth has been good. It current has 130,000 paying customers across 100+ countries and Lightspeed said it had revenue of more than $20 million in the year that ended in March, with growth of 50% year-over-year.. The deal, which is subject to customary closing conditions and post-closing working capital adjustment, is expected to close during the quarter ended September 30, 2021 after the receipt of applicable regulatory approvals.

“The distinction between online and brick-and-mortar retail has disappeared. Lightspeed and Ecwid, two best-in-class platforms, will unite to truly empower businesses. By eliminating the barriers merchants face when selling online, we will only more rapidly achieve our common vision of democratizing retail for independent businesses worldwide and enrich the communities they serve,” said Ecwid CEO, Ruslan Fazlyev, in a statement.

NuOrder, meanwhile, will help Lightspeed deepen its role in supplier relationships and transactions — an essential cornerstone in how commerce works and one where Lightspeed had already been building a business, by way of its Lightspeed Supplier Network. NuOrder has 3,000 brand and 100,000 retailer customers — some of them include Canada Goose, Converse and Arc’teryx — and Lightspeed said that some $11.5 billion in orders were made through its platform in the year that ended in March.

Like Ecwid, NuOrder also posted revenues of $20 million in that period; its growth rate was 30% year-over-year.

“At NuORDER, we have been on a journey to revolutionize retail by building a global network for brands and retailers. The coming together of Lightspeed and NuORDER accelerates that vision exponentially. The power of connected commerce comes to life now,” said NuORDER co-founders and co-CEO’s Olivia Skuza and Heath Wells in a statement. “We are thrilled to join forces with Lightspeed to unlock transformative value for brands and retailers globally. This represents an inflection point in the history of retail.”

#commerce, #ecommerce, #ecwid, #fundings-exits, #lightspeed, #ma, #nuorder, #point-of-sale, #pos

0

99 minutos, Mexico’s last mile delivery startup, raises a $40M Series B

In 2014 Alexis Patjane was at a local hookah bar in Mexico City with some friends and the bar ran out of tobacco. They thought maybe they could buy some online and have it delivered to the bar in real-time, but it turns out that service didn’t exist.

At the time, Patjane was running a food truck-making business, which was responsible for about 80% of all the food trucks in Mexico, so he had experience doing business in the region.

A couple of weeks later, to solve the instant delivery problem he had faced at the hookah bar, Patjane launched 99 minutos, a website that sold products and delivered them within 99 minutes, hence the name.

Today, 99 minutos announced a $40 million Series B from Prosus and Kaszek Ventures which it plans to use to grow its business in Latin America. 

The company currently operates within 40 major markets across Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Peru and offers four services: less than 99 minutes delivery, same-day delivery, next-day delivery, and CO2-free delivery. 

What started as an e-commerce company with fast delivery quickly became a last-mile delivery service for other e-commerce companies.

“We started to build the API connections and plug-ins, and any e-commerce could add our delivery service to their business,” Patjane told TechCrunch.

99 minutos makes money by charging the customer a flat fee for delivery and then offering the driver a flat rate as well, but today, the volume is so large on each route, that it’s become very lucrative.

“We ship about 60-80 packages per route,” Patjane said, and from the consumer’s perspective, the delivery app works similarly to Waze. “You can pause the delivery, you can change the address. You can say, “Oh, I’m not at home, I’m at the Starbucks on the corner, can you drop it off there?”’ he added.

Patjane said that initially, the company offered delivery only within Mexico City, but it quickly grew to offer its services between cities and now operates between 21 cities in Mexico.

“E-commerce is growing quickly in Latin America, but it is still [the] early days. E-commerce penetration in Latin America is at 6%, while China is reaching 30% and the U.S. is at 20%,” the company said in a statement.

“When we hear big e-commerce players saying that 99 minutos is ‘their most reliable partner’ and that they are ‘the provider with the most potential,’ it tells us that the team is executing extremely well and is on a path to disrupt e-commerce delivery in Latin America,” said Banafsheh Fathieh, Head of Americas Investments at Prosus Ventures.

Part of the funds will also be to speed up their city-to-city deliveries. “We’ll be doing same day [delivery] from city to city and will be using small aircraft to connect the cities,” Patjane said.

#api, #business, #chile, #colombia, #delivery, #distribution, #driver, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #food-trucks, #funding, #kaszek-ventures, #latin-america, #logistics, #mexico, #mexico-city, #prosus-ventures, #tc, #united-states

0

Extra Crunch roundup: Guest posts wanted, ‘mango’ seed rounds, Expensify’s tech stack

Prospective contributors regularly ask us about which topics Extra Crunch subscribers would like to hear more about, and the answer is always the same:

  • Actionable advice that is backed up by data and/or experience.
  • Strategic insights that go beyond best practices and offer specific recommendations readers can try out for themselves.
  • Industry analysis that paints a clear picture of the companies, products and services that characterize individual tech sectors.

Our submission guidelines haven’t changed, but Managing Editor Eric Eldon and I wrote a short post that identifies the topics we’re prioritizing at the moment:

  • How-to articles for early-stage founders.
  • Market analysis of different tech sectors.
  • Growth marketing strategies.
  • Alternative fundraising.
  • Quality of life (personal health, sustainability, proptech, transportation).

If you’re a skillful entrepreneur, founder or investor who’s interested in helping someone else build their business, please read our latest guidelines, then send your ideas to guestcolumns@techcrunch.com.

Thanks for reading; I hope you have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


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Opting for a debt round can take you from Series A startup to Series B unicorn

Image of a tree in a field, with half barren to represent debt and half flush with cash to represent success.

Image Credits: olegkalina (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Debt is a tool, and like any other — be it a hammer or handsaw — it’s extremely valuable when used skillfully but can cause a lot of pain when mismanaged. This is a story about how it can go right.

Mario Ciabarra, the founder and CEO of Quantum Metric, breaks down how his company was on a “tremendous growth curve” — and then the pandemic hit.

“As the weeks following the initial shelter-in-place orders ticked by, the rush toward digital grew exponentially, and opportunities to secure new customers started piling up,” Ciabarra writes. “A solution to our money problems, perhaps? Not so fast — it was a classic case of needing to spend in order to make.”

If companies want to preserve equity, debt can be an advantageous choice. Here’s how Quantum Metric did it.

4 proven approaches to CX strategy that make customers feel loved

CX is the hottest acronym in business

Image Credits: mucahiddin / Getty Images

People have been working to optimize customer experiences (CX) since we began selling things to each other.

A famous San Francisco bakery has an exhaust fan at street level; each morning, its neighbors awake to the scent of orange-cinnamon morning buns wafting down the block. Similarly, savvy hairstylists know to greet returning customers by asking if they want a repeat or something new.

Online, CX may encompass anything from recommending the right shoes to AI that knows when to send a frustrated traveler an upgrade for a delayed flight.

In light of Qualtrics’ spinout and IPO and Sprinklr’s recent S-1, Rebecca Liu-Doyle, principal at Insight Partners, describes four key attributes shared by “companies that have upped their CX game.”

Twitter’s acquisition strategy: Eat the public conversation

woman talking with megaphone

Image Credits: We Are (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

What is a microblogging service doing buying a social podcasting company and a newsletter tool while also building a live broadcasting sub-app? Is there even a strategy at all?

Yes. Twitter is trying to revitalize itself by adding more contexts for discourse to its repertoire. The result, if everything goes right, will be an influence superapp that hasn’t existed anywhere before. The alternative is nothing less than the destruction of Twitter into a link-forwarding service.

Let’s talk about how Twitter is trying to eat the public conversation.

Reading the IPO market’s tea leaves

Although it was a truncated holiday week here in the United States, there was a bushel of IPO news. We sorted through the updates and came up with a series of sentiment calls regarding these public offerings.

Earlier this week, we took a look at:

  • Marqeta‘s first IPO price range (fintech).
  • 1st Dibs‘ first IPO price range (e-commerce).
  • Zeta Global‘s IPO pricing (martech).
  • The start of SoFi trading post-SPAC (fintech).
  • The latest from BarkBox (e-commerce).

How Expensify hacked its way to a robust, scalable tech stack

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Part 4 of Expensify’s EC-1 digs into the company’s engineering and technology, with Anna Heim noting that the group of P2P pirates/hackers set out to build an expense management app by sticking to their gut and making their own rules.

They asked questions few considered, like: Why have lots of employees when you can find a way to get work done and reach impressive profitability with a few? Why work from an office in San Francisco when the internet lets you work from anywhere, even a sailboat in the Caribbean?

It makes sense in a way: If you’re a pirate, to hell with the rules, right?

With that in mind, one could assume Expensify decided to ask itself: Why not build our own totally custom tech stack?

Indeed, Expensify has made several tech decisions that were met with disbelief, but its belief in its own choices has paid off over the years, and the company is ready to IPO any day now.

How much of a tech advantage Expensify enjoys owing to such choices is an open question, but one thing is clear: These choices are key to understanding Expensify and its roadmap. Let’s take a look.

Etsy asks, ‘How do you do, fellow kids?’ with $1.6B Depop purchase

GettyImages 969952548

Image Credits: Getty Images

The news this week that e-commerce marketplace Etsy will buy Depop, a startup that provides a secondhand e-commerce marketplace, for more than $1.6 billion may not have made a large impact on the acquiring company’s share price thus far, but it provides a fascinating look into what brands may be willing to pay for access to the Gen Z market.

Etsy is buying Gen Z love. Think about it — Gen Z is probably not the first demographic that comes to mind when you consider Etsy, so you can see why the deal may pencil out in the larger company’s mind.

But it isn’t cheap. The lesson from the Etsy-Depop deal appears to be that large e-commerce players are willing to splash out for youth-approved marketplaces. That’s good news for yet-private companies that are popular with the budding generation.

Confluent’s IPO brings a high-growth, high-burn SaaS model to the public markets

Image Credits: Andriy Onufriyenko / Getty Images

Confluent became the latest company to announce its intent to take the IPO route, officially filing its S-1 paperwork this week.

The company, which has raised over $455 million since it launched in 2014, was most recently valued at just over $4.5 billion when it raised $250 million last April.

What does Confluent do? It built a streaming data platform on top of the open-source Apache Kafka project. In addition to its open-source roots, Confluent has a free tier of its commercial cloud offering to complement its paid products, helping generate top-of-funnel inflows that it converts to sales.

What we can see in Confluent is nearly an old-school, high-burn SaaS business. It has taken on oodles of capital and used it in an increasingly expensive sales model.

How to win consulting, board and deal roles with PE and VC funds

Jumping to the highest level - goldfish jumping in a bigger bowl - aspiration and achievement concept. This is a 3d render illustration

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Would you like to work with private equity and venture capital funds?

There are relatively few jobs directly inside private equity and venture capital funds, and those jobs are highly competitive.

However, there are many other ways you can work and earn money within the industry — as a consultant, an interim executive, a board member, a deal executive partnering to buy a company, an executive in residence or as an entrepreneur in residence.

Let’s take a look at the different ways you can work with the investment community.

The existential cost of decelerated growth

Even among the most valuable tech shops, shareholder return is concentrated in share price appreciation, and buybacks, which is the same thing to a degree.

Slowly growing tech companies worth single-digit billions can’t play the buyback game to the same degree as the majors. And they are growing more slowly, so even a similar buyback program in relative scale would excite less.

Grow or die, in other words. Or at least grow or come under heavy fire from external investors who want to oust the founder-CEO and “reform” the company. But if you can grow quickly, welcome to the land of milk and honey.

Even among the most valuable tech shops, shareholder return is concentrated in share price appreciation, and buybacks, which is the same thing to a degree.

Slowly growing tech companies worth single-digit billions can’t play the buyback game to the same degree as the majors. And they are growing more slowly, so even a similar buyback program in relative scale would excite less.

Grow or die, in other words. Or at least grow or come under heavy fire from external investors who want to oust the founder-CEO and “reform” the company. But if you can grow quickly, welcome to the land of milk and honey.

Hormonal health is a massive opportunity: Where are the unicorns?

uterus un paper work.Pink backgroundArt concept of female reproductive health

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There is a growing group of entrepreneurs who are betting that hormonal health is the key wedge into the digital health boom.

Hormones are fluctuating, ever-evolving, and diverse — but these founders say they’re also key to solving many health conditions that disproportionately impact women, from diabetes to infertility to mental health challenges.

Many believe it’s that complexity that underscores the opportunity. Hormonal health sits at the center of conversations around personalized medicine and women’s health: By 2025, women’s health could be a $50 billion industry, and by 2026, digital health more broadly is estimated to hit $221 billion.

Still, as funding for women’s health startups drops and stigma continues to impact where venture dollars go, it’s unclear whether the sector will remain in its infancy or hit a true inflection point.

3 lessons we learned after raising $6.3M from 50 investors

Image of businesspeople climbing ladders up an arrow toward three increasingly tall piles of cash.

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Two years ago, founders of calendar assistant platform Reclaim were looking for a “mango” seed round — a boodle of cash large enough to help them transition from the prototype phase to staffing up for a public launch.

Although the team received offers, co-founder Henry Shapiro says the few that materialized were poor options, partially because Reclaim was still pre-product.

“So one summer morning, my co-founder and I sat down in his garage — where we’d been prototyping, pitching and iterating for the past year — and realized that as hard as it was, we would have to walk away entirely and do a full reset on our fundraising strategy,” he writes.

Shapiro shares what he learned from embracing failure and offers three conclusions “every founder should consider before they decide to go out and pitch investors.”

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process

For SaaS success, differentiation is crucial

Image Credits: Kevin Schafer / Getty Images

Although software as a service has been thriving as a sector for years, it has gone into overdrive in the past year as businesses responded to the pandemic by speeding up the migration of important functions to the cloud, ActiveCampaign founder and CEO Jason VandeBoom writes in a guest column.

“We’ve all seen the news of SaaS startups raising large funding rounds, with deal sizes and valuations steadily climbing. But as tech industry watchers know only too well, large funding rounds and valuations are not foolproof indicators of sustainable growth and longevity.”

VandeBoom notes that to scale sustainably, SaaS startups need to “stand apart from the herd at every phase of development. Failure to do so means a poor outcome for founders and investors.”

“As a founder who pivoted from on-premise to SaaS back in 2016, I have focused on scaling my company (most recently crossing 145,000 customers) and in the process, learned quite a bit about making a mark,” VandeBoom writes. “Here is some advice on differentiation at the various stages in the life of a SaaS startup.”

#confluent, #depop, #ecommerce, #etsy, #expensify, #extra-crunch-roundup, #marqeta, #qualtrics, #quantum-metric, #saas, #social, #sprinklr, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #zeta-global

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As buy-now-pay-later startups keep raising capital, a dive into Klarna, Afterpay and Affirm’s earnings

Venture capitalists continue to fund buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) startups, evidence of ongoing optimism regarding not only e-commerce, but the specific model for financing consumer purchases as well.

Evidence of continued investor confidence in the BNPL space cropped up several times in the second quarter. Divido, a startup that TechCrunch described as a “white-label [BNPL] platform for retail finance that integrates with e-commerce platforms,” raised $30 million. And Zilch raised $80 million for an “over-the-top” BNPL solution.


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Zilch is now worth $800 million.

There are other examples, but those will suffice to get us into the correct mindset for today’s work as we look back at data points regarding the financial performance of more mature BNPL tech companies. So, as in February when we were looking at Q4 2020 numbers, today we’re looking into the more recent performance of Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay.

Growth versus profitability

As startups scale, they focus a bit more on profitability. Super-early-stage startups aren’t often too worried about net margins, for example, as their revenues can be nascent and their costs rising as they staff up for a product launch or another similar event.

But as those same startups mature into unicorn territory, questions about their model’s profitability on a unit basis, operating cash burn and aggregate profitability will start to pop up. The Rule of 40 is a startup rubric for a reason.

And in the cases of Affirm and Afterpay, we’re in fact examining public companies. So we can safely care even more about their profitability than we might if they, like Klarna, were still waiting for an IPO.

For each, then, we’ll consider growth and profitability. Let’s start with Klarna:

Klarna’s latest data, dealing with Q1 2021, breaks down as follows:

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Architect Capital brings alternative capital to the early stage with new $100M fund

Early-stage startups are increasingly looking for alternative ways to access capital, meaning not every company wants to raise money from VCs or take on debt.

In recent years, a flurry of startups have emerged to give companies other options. (Think Pipe, for example.)

And today, San Francisco-based Architect Capital is a new firm that is launching with over $100 million in funds to serve as an “asset-based lender” to “high-growth,” early-stage tech companies. Specifically, the new firm aims to provide non-dilutive or less-dilutive financing options to asset-rich fintech, e-commerce and SaaS companies in the U.S. and Latin America, but with an emphasis on the latter. The region, Architect maintains, does not have a plethora of institutional financing available against assets.

The firm is not out to replace traditional venture capital or venture debt, emphasizes founder and CEO James Sagan, but rather to offer asset-based products that will complement them.

For some context, Sagan is no stranger to the startup world, having co-founded and served as managing partner of Arc Labs, an early-stage credit fund focused on lending to technology-enabled businesses. He’s been investing in Latin America for years, and recognized the need for new forms of financing to fund “novel and underappreciated assets.”

Also, he believes the region is home to “the most prominent fintech ecosystem in the world.”

To Sagan, traditional forms of equity and debt financing in the venture world are vital for things like growing headcount, but he believes they are “not engineered to support the growth of a company’s underlying financial products.”

“VC is highly dilutive and should be used for ROI activities such as hiring engineers and building great teams,” Sagan told TechCrunch. “It’s expensive to use equity to fund assets. Equity should not be put in a loan book. We’ll fund the loan book.”

Image Credits: Architect Capital founder James Sagan / Architect Capital

Architect’s goal is to provide “tailored and less dilutive funding,” especially to companies that produce repeatable revenues, such as SaaS and subscription businesses. 

Sagan said he first discovered the strategy in 2015 when he was working for a multifamily office that was lending against a bunch of traditional assets.

“A colleague and good friend of mine started a business and raised some equity and venture debt, but he couldn’t find the asset-specific financing for the receivables he was generating,” Sagan recalls. “He was lending to small businesses and needed asset-specific financing against those receivables.”

Venture debt doesn’t really work for receivables-based lending because venture debt shops typically are underwriting assets, or rather, underwriting the quality of the investors in the company, Sagan believes.

“So we really tailor our underwriting towards those assets themselves right and those assets range from unsecured consumer receivables to secure small business receivables to real estate,” he told TechCrunch. “Essentially, we’re providing an additional instrument for asset-heavy businesses that will allow them to scale in a way that venture debt will not.”

Architect’s LPs are mostly large institutions, as opposed to traditional high net worth individuals. The firm’s average check size will land at around $10 million to $15 million.

“Our portfolio allocation is more concentrated in general,” Sagan said. “We expect to grow our AUM (assets under management) pretty precipitously.”

Architect Capital has invested in six companies since inception, including PayJoy, a company that delivers consumer financing and smartphone technology to customers in emerging markets; Forum Brands, a U.S.-based e-commerce marketplace aggregator; and ADDI, a fintech that aims to give Colombian consumers access to fair and affordable credit through point-of-sale-financing that recently raised $65 million.

#architect-capital, #corporate-finance, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #funding, #latin-america, #money, #private-equity, #real-estate, #saas, #san-francisco, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-debt

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Fashion wholesale marketplace Joor opens China office

Joor, an online marketplace that connects fashion brands and retailers around the world, has opened its first China office in downtown Shanghai as it eyes growth in the region.

The 11-year-old New York-based company works as a virtual showroom for brands, which traditionally would meet with their retail partners in physical venues to showcase the latest collections. With Joor, showrooms become live videos, a feature that has no doubt proven useful during COVID-19.

The company also gives brands a set of data tools to analyze their sales that can inform future productions. For buyers, the benefits are similar — they are able to see which brand or product is trending and make better forecasts.

The expansion into China follows a robust year for Joor in APAC and the opening of its offices in Melbourne and Tokyo. Joor’s wholesale volume ordered by retailers in the region grew 139% year-over-year in 2021, and wholesale volume for APAC-based brands was up 419%, the company said in an announcement.

“The establishment of JOOR Shanghai will allow us to provide frictionless wholesale management to the range of fine brands and retailers across the country,” said Joor’s CEO Kristin Savilia in a statement. “It builds on our existing leadership position in North America and Europe, and we expect continued expansion across the Asia-Pacific region.”

Joor’s marketplace boasts more than 12,500 brands and over 325,000 retailers around the world to date. The company has raised over $35 million in funding, according to its disclosed rounds. Its investors include venture capital firms Battery Ventures and Canaan Partners as well as the 71-year-old Japanese trading house Itochu.

#asia, #asia-pacific, #battery-ventures, #canaan-partners, #china, #ecommerce, #itochu, #joor, #melbourne, #new-york, #online-marketplace, #shanghai, #tokyo

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Opontia raises $20M to roll up e-commerce brands in Africa and the Middle East

Razor Group. Branded. Thrasio. These are big names in the new wave of e-commerce companies taking the world by storm. Their business of acquiring small e-commerce brands that look promising and consolidating them is quite popular in the U.S. and Europe.

The concept has sifted through those shores to Latin America and Asia, where companies like Una Brands and Valoreo have raised significant investment to acquire and build these brands. Today, the concept has made its way into the Middle East and Africa as Opontia has closed a financing of $20 million to acquire and scale e-commerce brands across the regions.

This seed round, one of the largest in the Middle East and Africa, is a mix of debt and equity financing. While Opontia does not disclose the ratio of equity and debt, it confirmed that the majority was debt which will be used to make acquisitions.

Investors include Global Founders Capital, Presight Capital, Raed Ventures and Kingsway Capital. The angel investors that participated are also notable names in e-commerce across EMEA; they include Tushar Ahluwalia, CEO of Razor Group; Jonathan Doerr, the former CEO of Daraz and co-founder of Jumia; and Hosam Arab, the CEO of Tabby and the former CEO of Namshi.

Opontia was founded by co-CEOs Philip Johnston and Manfred Meyer in March 2021. Opontia has teams in Dubai and Riyadh, with professionals from Amazon, Zomato, Noon.com, Namshi, McKinsey and Uber Eats. In the coming months, the company plans to open in Cairo, Istanbul and Lagos.

Often when small e-commerce brands take off, the owner usually starts by being passionate about their product and customers. However, due to no fault of their own, most begin to reach a point of stagnation caused by constraints on working capital, operations, logistics and e-commerce commercial management.

Johnston and Meyer started Opontia to take these burdens off their back by convincing them to sell their brands and for Opontia to manage all parts of their operations. But the interesting thing, like most companies that roll up e-commerce brands, these owners will continuously be involved with the day-to-day activities of building the brand.

“We started Opontia to enable e-commerce entrepreneurs to realize the full potential of their brands. We want to do this both in terms of getting an exit now as well as benefiting from future growth,” Johnston said to TechCrunch. “We also want to help nurture and build the entrepreneurial e-commerce ecosystem in the Middle East and Africa

When Opontia acquires these brands, the owners get to share in the increase in profits over the next couple of years, Johnston added. “We do this so that they continue to see the benefit of their hard work.”

The two-month-old company is particularly interested in brands with at least $10,000 in monthly revenue and at least $5,000 in net profit per month. Per the categories of products, Opontia has a soft spot for less seasonal “all-weather” products, including kitchen products, bathroom, sport, home and living, cosmetics and toys.

There are lots of startups rolling up e-commerce brands worldwide besides Razor Group, Branded and Thrasio. But none of them has sights on the Middle East and Africa yet, with their bigger and more mature target markets.

For instance, China is the world’s largest e-commerce market, with an annual growth rate of more than 30% and annual online sales exceeding $850 billion. The second-largest market, which is the U.S, stands at over $350 billion. Brazil has annual sales reaching $36 billion, accounting for 32% of Latin America’s e-commerce market. For the Middle East and Africa, these numbers are at $30 billion and $25 billion, respectively.   

Both regions present Opontia with a huge opportunity. Still, if past happenings in other regions repeat themselves, it wouldn’t be too long before the company starts facing new competition. Every business needs to adopt what model works best in a region but the founders believe the model used by companies in other markets can also serve the Middle East and Africa, despite differences in size and how they operate.

“The market in the Middle East and Africa is currently less mature than in the West, but is growing faster than any other market in the world, with the number of sellers on marketplace growing at over 50% per year,” Meyer remarked. “The business model will work here because there have been so many amazing entrepreneurs in the Middle East coming up over the last few years. It’s a great opportunity for sellers to be able to realize some of the hard work from building their brand so that they can take a break or work on their next big thing.”  

Two years ago, it would’ve been a concern if Opontia or a similar company launched in both regions, as there just weren’t enough sellers. But with the recent and continued growth in marketplace sellers, there are now more than enough brands for Opontia to acquire. Currently, there are about 5 million third-party sellers on Amazon, with 1 million joining just last year. Opontia says that its opportunity lies in the 30,000 African and Middle East sellers in Amazon and Noon marketplaces.

Opontia adds that it will scale acquired brands across their regions and to other parts of the world. The company is in talks with more than 100 small e-commerce brands and claims to have signed “several term sheets” with some of them.

Johnston and Meyer come from two distinct e-commerce backgrounds. A former McKinsey consultant, Johnston worked on e-commerce strategy, private equity and post-merger integration at the Big 3 firm. Before that, he spent years doing venture capital, investing and banking across Southern Africa, London, New York and Singapore. On the other hand, Meyer worked as the chief marketplace officer for Lazada and CEO of Next Commerce, an e-commerce enabler in the Middle East. In addition to acquiring brands, the founders will be looking to hire talent with industry experience, who will be tasked with managing and growing these brands post-acquisition.

#africa, #ecommerce, #global-founders-capital, #kingsway-capital, #opontia, #presight-capital, #raed-ventures, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

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JOKR launches in New York with a different take on on-demand delivery

For years now, the world of retail has been evolving. Whether it’s next-day delivery with Amazon Prime or subscription D2C services or on-demand delivery from Postmates, we’re growing increasingly accustomed to being able to buy something and have it arrive at our door relatively quickly.

Today, a new startup is launching in New York with a fresh take on on-demand delivery.

JOKR, founded by Ralf Wenzel (the same guy who founded FoodPanda, which later merged with DeliveryHero) promises delivery in 15 minutes or less, with no order minimums, and a selection of products that you might find in the local deli or convenience store.

The approach is centered around what JOKR calls micro-hubs, which are really just various storefronts on side streets in denser areas. The company uses data to forecast what customers will want, when, and where, to strategically organize these micro-fulfillment centers for speed.

For end users, there are no order minimums and no delivery fees.

data is the key ingredient of how we build the business to identify what customers need and put an emphasis of also on only what they need, but also when they need it. And what point of time, which day, which week which month, whether it’s in the morning or in the evening, and built a dynamic inventory and catalog management system is able to rotate inventory, provide inventory and pre forecast in suggests for customers, those type of consumer goods, and the corresponding time and if you presented and forecast the time.

JOKR procures the goods sold on the app directly from brands, manufacturers and wholesalers. In other words, you can think of the service as a sort of ghost kitchen for groceries and every day items.

“We are a platform that is not relying on any type of consumer charges,” said Wenzel. “Hence, the business is predominantly a business that generates revenue out of the respective product costs. Our ability to procure directly, and cut out middlemen in terms of wholesalers, distributors, supermarkets themselves, allows us to tap into a margin pool that is higher than that of traditional online marketplaces, which would only pick a product from existing stores, supermarkets, and then need to apply a delivery fee in order to make their proposition work.”

The company is working to increase its inventory, which currently includes more than 1,500 items.

In terms of the workforce, JOKR delivery people are full time employees.

JOKR has been operating in Latin America (Brazil, Lima, and Mexico City) and is now expanding into the U.S. market with its NYC launch.

According to TheRealDeal, JOKR has funding from SoftBank, as well as HV Capital and Tiger Global. It’s unclear how much the startup has raised.

#apps, #ecommerce, #startups, #tc

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Amazon confirms Prime Day will run June 21-22, an earlier than usual start

Amazon confirmed its annual sales event known as Prime Day will be held on Monday, June 21 and Tuesday, June 22. Bloomberg had previously reported these same dates, citing leaked records. The once-a-year mega sale had typically been held in July, when the shopping season goes through its usual lull. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s Prime Day was delayed until October in most markets, including the U.S.

Despite the changes, Amazon said small and midsize businesses generated mo0re than $3.5 billion during the Prime Day event, Amazon said, up 60% from the year prior. However, it didn’t disclose its total Prime Day figures.

This year, Amazon will kick off Prime Day early with a new promotion aimed at supporting small businesses. Starting June 7 and running up until Prime day’s start, when Prime members spend $10 on items sold by a participating small business, they’ll receive a $10 credit they can later spend during the Prime Day event.

This deal will run in select markets, including the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan, and is the big promotion for small businesses in Amazon’s history, the company noted. More than 300,000 selling partners are participating.

Prime Day was originally conceived as a way to push more Amazon shoppers to convert to paying Amazon Prime subscribers by luring them with deep discounts across categories — including Amazon’s own consumer hardware devices, like Echo smart speakers or Fire TV devices, which have been regular best sellers.

This will again be the case, as Amazon promises savings and discounts across home, electronics, beauty, fashion and Amazon devices. And it will again extend sales to other areas of Amazon’s business, like Prime Video, Amazon Music, Prime Gaming and others.

One of those deals is live now, as Prime members are offered a four-month free trial for its on-demand music streaming service, Amazon Music Unlimited, which offers up to 70 million songs. The company recently added lossless streaming support as a free upgrade, following Apple’s move to do the same for its own Music subscribers.

While Prime Day has been running since 2015, Amazon has more recently begun using the event to put a stronger spotlight on how it helps small businesses in light of increased regulatory scrutiny and antitrust investigations over its business practices.

In addition to Congressional hearings which saw Amazon founder and (soon to be former) CEO Jeff Bezos hauled in to testify, DC’s Attorney General Karl Racine last month filed an antitrust suit against Amazon, accusing the retailer of stifling competition by exerting control over third-party sellers. The suit alleges Amazon fixed prices on its retail platform by prohibiting sellers from selling products for less elsewhere, creating an artificially high price floor across the online retail market.

The company is also facing antitrust investigations abroad, including in the E.U. The retailer has been accused of harming small businesses by leveraging nonpublic data from its third-party sellers who use its marketplace in order to copy the best-selling products and undercut its selling partners.

This reality stands in sharp contrast as to how Amazon presented itself during an upbeat press briefing, where it had leveraged actress Kristen Bell’s (“The Good Place”) likeability factor to promote how well small businesses were doing on Amazon. During the event, she “interviewed” favorite sellers, like dog food seller Pawstruck and artisanal self-care product maker Live by Being, who had nothing but great things to say about working with Amazon.

Bell, along with Karamo Brown and Mindy Kaling, will also be highlighting some of their favorite sellers on Amazon’s video shopping service, Amazon Live.

Amazon also gave a broader update on its small business sellers and related efforts. The retailer noted that, last year, it delivered more than 250 new tools and services to help its selling partners reach 300 million customers globally.

“It’s pretty incredible to think in the past year in the U.S. alone, our small and medium-sized selling partners sold more than 3.7 billion products as more than 7,200 products, every minute,” said Keri Cusick, head of Small Business Empowerment at Amazon, in a press briefing. “Overall, they average $200,000 in sales, up from about $150,000, and more than 27,000 American sellers had over half a million dollars in sales,” she added.

Amazon didn’t offer specifics about its upcoming Prime Day deals, but said that it will host hundreds of thousands of deals leading up to Prime Day from companies including Le Creuset, Tommy Hilfiger, Lego, Mattel and Black & Decker.

Alexa device owners can also shop early, starting on Friday June 18, by asking “Alexa, what are my deals?”

Prime Day will be available on Amazon.com or regional websites, on Amazon.com/espanol for Spanish-language speakers and in Amazon’s physical retail stores.

#amazon, #amazon-prime-day, #ecommerce

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Kudos, with its cotton-based, eco-friendly diaper, soaks up $2.4 million in seed funding

If you’ve experienced parenthood, you’re well versed in the surprisingly small world of disposable diapers. Help may be on the way.

Kudos, a startup that is looking to reinvent the disposable diaper with sustainability in mind, announced the close of a $2.4 million seed round of financing today. Investors include Foundation Capital, XFund, PJC, Precursor Ventures, Liquid 2 Ventures,  SV Angel, Underscore VC, Alpha Bridge Ventures, April Underwood and more.

Cofounder and CEO Amrita Saigal says that Kudos is the first and only disposable baby diaper to earn the cotton natural seal from Cotton Inc. for having 100 percent cotton touching the baby’s skin instead of plastic. They’re also made with four times more plant-based materials than the top disposable diaper out there.

Disposable diapers are made up of many layers. Your average disposable diaper from brands like Huggies, Pampers, etc. employ petrochemicals, fabrics like polyester, and a whole lot of plastic. In fact, despite how soft it feels, most disposable diapers’ top sheet (the part that touches your baby’s skin) are made of plastic.

Kudos uses organic cotton in place of that, and focuses on using green materials, with the absorbent core of the diaper made of wood fluff pulp that is totally chlorine free and harvested through the Forest Stewardship Council.

All that said, Saigal explained that performance is just as important as the composition of the diaper, saying that most parents feel that going to a more eco-friendly product sometimes means trading on performance. She explained how parents often have a much higher standard for products for their babies than they do for their own products.

“When I’m thinking about feminine care products, I might go to an eco-friendly product and it’ll be a pain if it has a little bit less performance but I can handle that for myself,” said Saigal. “But with parents, if their kid gets a rash it affects their life and their sleep. When it comes to diapers, parents aren’t willing to give that same leeway for a sustainable product.”

You might be wondering, as I did, about the defensibility of a product like this. What’s to stop the big players from developing a more sustainable, cotton-based diaper.

According to Saigal, the big brands would need to overhaul their entire manufacturing process to switch from plastic to cotton. Saigal actually left a career at P&G, which is where she met Kudos’ diaper engineering advisor Jim Keighley (her former boss at P&G).

Here’s what he had to say about it, in a prepared statement:

Big brands would need to do a complete overhaul of their bonding equipment, since the pressure technology they and everyone else uses for bonding only works with plastic-based materials. It just won’t work with natural materials. That would take a big investment of time and money, while detracting from their flexibility to run current products, which are market leaders.

Kudos operates on a D2C subscription model, offering a monthly box based on your baby’s changing size and weight, for $78/month. Folks can also purchase a box (with a three to five day supply) a la carte for $14.

#ecommerce, #kudos, #startups, #tc

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6 investors and founders forecast hockey-stick growth for Edinburgh’s startup scene

Scotland is slowly but surely drawing attention in the UK’s startup space. In 2020, Scottish startups collectively raised £345 million, according to Tech Nation, and with nearly 2,500 startups, it has the highest number of budding tech companies outside London. Venture capital fundraises are also consistently on the rise every year.

Scotland’s capital Edinburgh boasts a beautiful, hilly landscape, a robust education system and good access to grant funding, public and private investment. It’s also one of the top financial centers in the U.K., making it a great place to begin a business.

So to find out what the startup scene in Edinburgh looks like, we spoke to six founders, executives and investors. The city’s tech ecosystem appears to have a robust space for machine learning, artificial intelligence, biomedicine, fintech, travel tech, oil, renewables, e-commerce, gaming, health tech, deep tech, space tech and insurtech.


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However, the city’s tech scene is apparently lackluster when it comes to legal tech, blockchain and consumer-facing technology.

Breakout companies that were founded in Edinburgh include Skyscanner and FanDuel. Notable among the current crop are Desana, Continuum Industries, Parsley Box, Current Health, Boundary, Zumo, Appointedd, Criton, Mallzee, TravelNest, TVSquared, Care Sourcer, Stampede, For-Sight, Vistalworks, Reath, InfraCost, Speech Graphics and Cyan Forensics.

The Edinburgh business-angel community appears to be quite strong, but it seems local founders find it difficult to get London-based investors to take an interest. Scottish investors are said to be “pretty conservative and risk-adverse” with some notable exceptions.

We surveyed:


Wendy Lamin, managing director, Holoxica

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
It’s strong in space, biomedicine, fintech/insurtech, AI.

What are the tech investors like in Edinburgh? What’s their focus?
The Scottish business-angel community is said to be the largest in Europe. It’s difficult to get London-based investors take an interest in Scotland — investors can tend to look at where companies are based. It is hard for “underrepresented founders” to get investments in Scotland and beyond.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Edinburgh or will they move out? Will others move in?
Stay. Not always easy to get people to come and live in Scotland. Edinburgh, there are lots of prejudices, despite it being one of the best cities to live in in the whole of the U.K.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Good to see more focus on impact investing. Par Equity is one of Edinburgh’s biggest investors, whereas Archangels is one of the biggest angel investors. Poonam Malik is great for diversity and female entrepreneurs, and she is on the board of Scottish Enterprise, and is a social entrepreneur and investor. Garry Bernstein is also an investor — he leads the Scottish chapter of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, and as such is the founder of Tech Scot Advocates.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
Thriving. The government is doing its best for the tech sector. Education in tech is currently an issue, though. Hope Brexit won’t be too much of an issue.

Andrew Noble, partner, Par Equity

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Strong in fintech, health tech, data science, deep tech. Excited by quantum computing, advanced materials, AI in Edinburgh. Weak in blockchain and consumer.

Which are the most interesting startups in Edinburgh?
Current Health, InfraCost, Speech Graphics and Cyan Forensics.

What are the tech investors like in Edinburgh? What’s their focus?
Good at seed stage up to £1 million, okay for pre-series A (£1 million to £3 million) and non-existent for Series A (£3 million-£10 million). Quality of investors is improving. Par Equity is leading the way.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Edinburgh, or will they move out? Will others move in?
Experiencing influx of new talent due to COVID-19. Edinburgh is a highly desirable city to live in. Recent new residents include Aaron Ross (Predictable Revenue) and Jules Pursuad (early employee at Airbnb and now VP at Omio).

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Par Equity (investor), Paul Atkinson, Alistair Forbes, Mark Logan, Lesley Eccles, Chris McCann, CodeBase.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
One to two new unicorns. Promising number of high-growth tech companies. A much more sophisticated investor scene in the Series A space.

Danae Shell, co-founder and CEO, Valla

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Edinburgh is strong in fintech because of our proximity to so many financial services companies and banks. Also, there are some exciting games tech companies because of our history of games companies. We’re pretty weak in law tech, Valla’s area.

Which are the most interesting startups in Edinburgh?
Vistalworks for consumer tech; Sustainably for fintech; Reath for sustainable tech.

What are the tech investors like in Edinburgh? What’s their focus?
As a rule, Scottish investors are pretty conservative and risk-averse. The only real exception is Techstart Ventures, in my experience.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Edinburgh, or will they move out? Will others move in?
I think more people will come to Edinburgh from London because the quality of life and cost of living are both so much better here.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Calum Forsyth and Mark Hogarth at Techstart Ventures; Janine Matheson at CodeBase; Jackie Waring from the Investing Women angel syndicate; Jim Newbury is a very well-respected developer and coach, and my co-founder Kate Ho is also well known. Also Danny Helson who runs the EIE event with the Bayes Centre.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
We’ve had a few exits in the past few years (Skyscanner, FreeAgent), which means that talent is spreading out across the ecosystem here and we’re getting some fantastic new startups kicking off. In five years, that first crop should be coming into the Series A stage so we could see a lot of super exciting businesses!

Allan Nelson, co-founder and CEO, For-Sight

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Strong in fintech, travel tech, health, oil, renewables, e-commerce, gaming (both video game and gambling tech). Excited by all bar oil (great driver of revenue, but not the future).

Which are the most interesting startups in Edinburgh?
Boundary, Parsley Box, Appointedd, Criton, Mallzee, TravelNest, TVSquared, Care Sourcer, Stampede, For-Sight.

What are the tech investors like in Edinburgh? What’s their focus?
Big fintech scene here. Travel tech is growing too, with Skyscanner’s influence strong.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Edinburgh, or will they move out? Will others move in?
Most will stay, as it’s a very attractive city to live and work in. It’s a globally recognized and unique city. Very international flavor as evidenced by the makeup of our team.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Ex-Skyscanner people including Gareth Williams, Mark Logan, etc. Ian Ritchie, Alistair Forbes, the FanDuel’s founders and the CodeBase founders.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
A lot bigger, as tech is a key growth target of the Scottish government and is underpinned/influenced/inspired by Skyscanner and FanDuel.

Lysimachos Zografos, founder, Parkure

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
Strong in machine learning/AI/digital. Weak in deep tech discovery, especially in biotech/therapeutics. Excited by the rise in adoption of AI in drug discovery — all these ideas that were sci-fi 20 years ago are now adopted in £B deals.

Which are the most interesting startups in Edinburgh?
Pheno Therapeutics.

What are the tech investors like in Edinburgh? What’s their focus?
Conservative angels and a few tech seed VCs.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Edinburgh, or will they move out? Will others move in?
Move in.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
Investors: Archangels, Techstart Ventures and Epidarex.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
Growing.

Bertie Wilson, co-founder, “Stealth mode”

Which sectors is your tech ecosystem strong in? What are you most excited by? What does it lack?
I don’t think there are any sectors that stand out — it’s fairly evenly split. A good strength of the city is the talent that comes from the universities. There are some really good engineers that come from Edinburgh, Heriot Watt and Edinburgh Napier. The main weakness is that the ecosystem doesn’t favor the most ambitious founders. Most investors in the region are angels and aren’t interested in finding outliers that could grow 1000x and are more interested in backing companies that are less risky but might 5x their money. If you want to find investors that will back risky (but very ambitious) plans, it’s easier to find that elsewhere.

Which are the most interesting startups in Edinburgh?
Desana, Continuum Industries, Parsley Box, Current Health, Boundary, Zumo.

What are the tech investors like in Edinburgh? What’s their focus?
I would say it’s getting better, but there are still a lot of issues with the ecosystem. It is being helped in Scotland by the likes of Techstart investing at the earliest stages with high conviction and term sheets that are more similar to London VCs. Outside of this, though, it’s easy for founders to end up with a messy cap table due to the number of angels and lack of VCs looking for VC-type returns — the messiness of these cap tables can then make it hard to raise venture funding down the line. This is fine for a lot of companies that aren’t aiming for a venture-scale return (which admittedly is a lot), but it can hurt those that are.

With the shift to remote working, do you think people will stay in Edinburgh, or will they move out? Will others move in?
I imagine and hope others will move in. It is a great place to live with a very high quality of life, and this should be a natural attraction for people who want a good standard of living but want to remain in a city.

Who are the key startup people in the city (e.g., investors, founders, lawyers, designers)?
SEP (investor), Techstart Ventures (investor), Gareth Williams (founder/investor), MBM Commercial (lawyers), Pentech, Bill Dobbie (investor), Jamie Coleman.

Where do you think the city’s tech scene will be in five years?
Optimistically, I hope that there will be a good number of companies that are at the Series B/Series C stage, which will invite a lot more interest from investors outside of Edinburgh (London, Berlin, Paris, New York, San Francisco, etc.) to start investing more actively in the city at the earliest stages as well as these stages.

#artificial-intelligence, #ec-investor-surveys, #ec-united-kingdom, #ecommerce, #edinburgh, #europe, #funding, #fundings-exits, #investor-survey, #london, #scotland, #startups, #tc, #united-kingdom, #venture-capital

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Extra Crunch roundup: first-check myths, Miami relocation checklist, standout SaaSy startups

This may seem like a great time to launch a SaaS startup, but the landscape is crowded with well-designed applications that promise “blazingly fast and delightfully simple” experiences, according to seed-stage investor John Chen of Fika Ventures.

Most SaaS startups will fail, but not because of a sour marketing campaign or server downtime. The majority of these companies will fall victim to what Chen calls “the myth of frictionless onboarding.”

Despite the hype about ease of use, enterprise companies always ask customers to abandon familiar tools so they can learn something new.

“Just like with a new fitness program, participants feel good after completing the workout, but it takes a lot of activation energy to start and hard work to get there,” Chen notes.


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Instead of putting the onus on customers to roll up their sleeves, he suggests that SaaS startups learn from cryptocurrency culture and find ways to “incentivize users to do the necessary work to have the right experience.”

But how do you encourage users to put in the time and effort required to produce an optimal customer experience?

“In a world where there is a surplus of alternatives for every job to be done, the scarce resource is not content, tooling, or hacks and tricks,” says Chen. “It’s attention.”

We’re off on Monday, May 31 in observance of Memorial Day; I hope you have a relaxing weekend!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Dismantling the myths around raising your first check

Full length side view of young woman carrying large pink block against white background

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

As startups and venture capital grow in tandem, fundraising has gone from a formal affair on Sand Hill Road to a process that can happen anywhere from Twitter to Zoom.

While fundraising may no longer require a trip to California, it might depend on whether you got an invite to a private audio app. And while you may not need to be an insider, second-time founders — largely male and white — still have a competitive advantage.

The growing complexity of fundraising has the opportunity to make tech either inclusive or exclusive.

VC is the flashy gold medal, but the rapid growth of emerging fund managers means that a first check can be piecemealed together from a variety of different sources. The options for financing are seemingly endless: syndicates, public crowdfunding, VC firms, accelerators, debt financing, rolling funds, and, for the profitable few, bootstrapping.

Doximity’s S-1 may explain why healthcare exits are heating up

Telehealth startup Doximity filed to go public earlier today. Notably, the company has not fundraised since 2014, a year in which it attracted just under $82 million at a valuation of $355 million, per PitchBook data.

How has it managed to not raise money for so long? By generating lots of cash and profit over the years. Healthtech communications, it turns out, can be a lucrative endeavor.

What Vimeo’s growth, profits and value tell us about the online video market

Image Credits: Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The spin-out of video platform Vimeo from IAC completed this week, and the smaller company is now trading as an independent entity under the ticker ‘VMEO’.

If you missed the news that the internet conglomerate was spinning out the video service, don’t feel bad; it slipped past many radars. But with the company now trading, our access to its historical results, and our minds still enthralled by YouTube’s recent financial performance for Alphabet, it’s worth taking a moment to digest the company’s health.

Flywire’s flotation suggests the IPO slowdown is behind us