Pink Floyd drummer invests in Disciple Media, a platform aimed at the creator economy

Much has been made of the rise of the “creator economy” in the last year. With the Pandemic biting, millions flooded online, looking for a way to make money or promote themselves. The podcasting world has exploded, and with it platforms like Patreon, Clubhouse, and many others. But the thorny problem remains: Do you really own your audience as a creator, or does the platform own you? Companies like Mighty Networks, Circle and Tribe have tried to address this, giving creators greater control than social networks do over their audiences. Now another joins the fray.

Disciple Media bills itself as a SaaS platform to enable online creators to build community-led businesses. It’s now raised $6 million in funding in what it calls a ‘large Angel round’. It already claims to have garnered 2 million members and 500 communities since launching in 2018. Investors include Nick Mason (drummer in Pink Floyd), Sir Peter Michael (CEO of Cray Computers, founder of classic FM, Quantel and Cosworth Engineering), Rob Pierre (founder and CEO of Jellyfish), and Keith Morris (ex. chairman Sabre Insurance). It’s also announced a new Chairman, Eirik Svendsen, a expert in online marketplaces, SaaS and the publishing and media industry.

On its communities so far it has American country star and American Idol judge Luke Bryan, Gor Tex, and Body by Ciara. The platform is also available on iOS and Android and comes with community management tools, a CRM, and monetization options. The company claims its creators are now “earning millions in revenue each year.”

Benji Vaughan, Founder and CEO said: “The scale and rapid growth of the creator economy is extraordinary, and today that growth is being driven by entrepreneurial creators looking to build independent businesses outside of Youtube and the social networks.”

Vaughan, a Techno DJ and artist-turned-entrepreneur, says he came up with the idea after building similar communities for clients. He says the data created on Disciple communities is owned entirely by the host who built the network, “removing third-party risk and allowing insights to be actioned immediately”.

He told me: “We are moving from a position of effectively having ‘gig economy workers for social networks’ to owners of businesses who use social networks for their needs, not the other way around. Therefore, these people are starting to leave social networks to build their businesses and using social networks as marketing channels, as the rest of the world does. Once that migration happens where they move away from social networks as their prime platform, they need a hub where their data is going to get pulled together, they have an audience, which we see as a community that connects with itself as much as they do with the host.”

He thinks the equivalent of Salesforce or HubSpot in the creative economy is going to be a community platform: “That’s where they’re going to aggregate all the information about their valuable audience or community engagement. So, we are looking to, over time, to build out something very akin to what HubSpot sites they have for tech companies or SaaS businesses: a complete package, a complete platform to manage your engagement with your users, grow your user base and then convert that into revenue.”

Rob Pierre, founder and CEO Jellyfish said: “Creating and engaging with your community digitally has never been more important. Disciple allows you to do both of those things with a fully functional, feature-rich platform which requires very little upfront capital expenditure. It also provides numerous options to monetize your community.”

#american-idol, #android, #ceo, #chairman, #cloud-applications, #computing, #crm, #europe, #founder, #hubspot, #jellyfish, #marketing, #mighty-networks, #online-creators, #online-marketplaces, #patreon, #pink-floyd, #sabre, #salesforce, #search-engine-optimization, #social-networks, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #tribe, #united-states, #youtube

Valoreo raises $30M more to acquire e-commerce brands across LatAm

Just over five months after securing $50 million in debt & equity, Valoreo has closed on a $30 million Series A funding round.

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

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

The startup was founded in late 2020 and has since swelled to more than 100 employees throughout Latin America. It has also since completed “multiple” acquisitions of local brands operating across a variety of industries, such as beauty, fitness and home goods.

California-based Presight Capital and Kingsway Capital out of the United Kingdom co-led the round, which also included participation from existing backers such as Kaszek, Upper90 and FJ Labs. The company declined to break down how much equity it raised in its seed round, but including debt, Valoreo has secured $80 million since inception.

It plans to use the new capital mostly to continue acquiring e-commerce brands across Mexico, Brazil and Colombia as well as to do more hiring.

The company says its model differs from that of its U.S.-based competitors (such as Thrasio and Perch) in that it is tailored to “the specific needs of the Latin American market and is specifically focused on the Latin American end customer.”

Valoreo aims to help entrepreneurs who may lack the resources and access to capital to take their businesses to the next level.

At the time of its seed raise, co-founder and co-CEO Stefan Florea told TechCrunch that the company takes less than five weeks typically from its initial contact with a seller to a final payout. 

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

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

Hernan Kazah, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek, said the firm doubled down on its investment in the startup after seeing its “impressive growth over the past few months.”

Valoreo is not the only Latin American startup focused on this space. In April, Merama announced it had raised $60 million in seed and Series A funding and secured $100 million in debt.

The money was raised “at well over a $200 million valuation,” co-founder and CEO Sujay Tyle said at the time.

#amazon, #brazil, #colombia, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #fj-labs, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hernan-kazah, #kaszek, #kingsway-capital, #latin-america, #mercado-libre, #mexico, #mexico-city, #online-marketplaces, #presight-capital, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #stefan-florea, #upper90, #valoreo, #venture-capital

Sneaker marketplace GOAT hits $3.7 billion valuation in Series F raise

Sneaker and streetwear empire GOAT just doubled its valuation in a massive new raise.

The GOAT Group parent company shared today that it has raised $195 million in a Series F raise valuing the fashion giant at some $3.7 billion. The raise was led by a handful of hedge funds and P/E firms including Park West Asset Management, Franklin Templeton, Adage Capital Management, Ulysses Management and funds & accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates.

GOAT has surgically defined a corner of fashion commerce outside of Amazon’s purview while growing the appeal of street wear and sneakers to a broader audience of consumers. GOAT Group has now raised just shy of $500 million in total.

This round more than doubles the $1.8 billion valuation GOAT Group reached in its Series E fundraise last year. Like other online marketplaces, GOAT saw major growth last year, expanding its audience of buyers and sellers while seeing 100% year-over-year growth in its sneaker business and 500% year-over-year growth for its newer apparel business.

GOAT details some 30 million “members” and 600,000 sellers across its platform. In a press release, the company detailed its peer-to-peer marketplace has reached some $2 billion in gross merchandise volume.

#amazon, #economy, #franklin-templeton, #goat, #livestock, #online-marketplaces, #park-west-asset-management, #publishing, #retailers, #series-e, #sneakers, #tc, #valuation

Amazon’s market power to be tested in Germany in push for “early action” over antitrust risks

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office (FCO) is seeking to make swift use of a new competition tool to target big tech — announcing today that it’s opened a proceeding against ecommerce giant Amazon.

If the FCO confirms that Amazon is of “paramount significance for competition across markets” — as defined by an amendment to the German Competition Act which came into force in January (aka, the GWB Digitalisation Act) — the authority will have greater powers to proactively impose conditions on how it can operate in order to control the risk of market abuse.

Section 19a of the GWB enables the FCO to intervene earlier, and the idea is more effectively, against the practices of large digital companies.

The provision gives the authority the power to prohibit digital giants from engaging in anti-competitive practices like self-preferencing; or using tying or bundling strategies intended to penetrate new markets “by way of non-performance based anti-competitive means”; or creating or raising barriers to market entry by processing data relevant for competition.

The FCO already has two other proceedings ongoing against Amazon — one looking at the extent to which Amazon is influencing the pricing of sellers on Amazon Marketplace by means of price control mechanisms and algorithms; and a second examining to agreements between Amazon and brand manufacturers to check whether exclusions placed on third-party sellers on Amazon Marketplace constitute a violation of competition rules — but a finding of “paramount significance” would enable the authority to “take early action against and prohibit possible anti-competitive practices by Amazon”, as it puts it.

Amazon has been contacted for comment on the FCO’s latest proceeding. Update: An Amazon spokesperson said:

“We cannot comment on ongoing proceedings and will fully cooperate with the FCO. Amazon employs 23,000 people in Germany, has invested €28 billion in the country since 2010 and is working closely with local research. We continue to focus on innovating for both our customers and the businesses in Germany that sell in our store.”

It’s the second such application by the Bundeskartellamt to determine whether it can apply the new law to a tech giant.

In January the authority sought to extend the scope of an existing abuse proceeding, opened against Facebook in December — related to Facebook tying Oculus use to Facebook accounts — saying it would look at whether the social media giant is subject to the GWB’s “paramount significance” rules, and whether, therefore, its linking of Oculus use to a Facebook account should be assessed on that basis.

Commenting on its latest move against Amazon in a statement, FCO president Andreas Mundt said: “In the past few years we have had to deal with Amazon on several occasions and also obtained far-reaching improvements for sellers on Amazon Marketplace. Two other proceedings are still ongoing. Parallel to these proceedings we are now also applying our extended competences in abuse control.”

“In this particular case we are first of all examining whether Amazon is of paramount significance for competition across markets. An ecosystem which extends across various markets and thus constitutes an almost unchallengeable position of economic power is particularly characteristic in this respect,” he added. “This could apply to Amazon with its online marketplaces and many other, above all digital offers. If we find that the company does have such a market position, we could take early action against and prohibit possible anti-competitive practices by Amazon.”

In January Mundt made stronger comments vis-a-vis Facebook — describing its social networking ecosystem as “particularly characteristic” of the bar set by the new digital law for proactive interventions, and adding that: “In view of Facebook’s strong market presence with the eponymous social network, WhatsApp and Instagram such a position may be deemed to exist.”

The FCO proceeding to confirm whether or not Facebook falls under the law remains ongoing. (It also has a pioneering case against Facebook’s ‘superprofiling’ of users that’s headed for Europe’s top court — which could result in an order to Facebook to stop combining EU users’ data without consent, if judges agreed with its approach linking privacy and competition.)

Zooming out, the Bundeskartellamt’s moves to acquire more proactive powers at the national level to tackle big tech foreshadow planned updates to pan-European Union competition law. And specifically the ex ante regime which is set to apply to so-called “digital gatekeepers” in future — under the Digital Markets Act (DMA).

The DMA will mean that Internet intermediaries with major market power must comply with behavioural ‘dos and don’ts’ set by Brussels, risking major penalties if they don’t play by the rules.

In recent years lawmakers across Europe have been looking at how to update competition powers so regulators can respond effectively to digital markets — which are prone to anti-competitive phenomena such as networking effects and tipping — while continuing to pursue antitrust investigations against big tech. (The Commission laid out a first set of charges against Amazon in November, for example, relating to its use of third party merchant data.)

The problem is the painstaking pace of competition investigations into digital business vs the blistering speed of these players (and the massive market power they’ve amassed) — hence the push to tool up with more proactive antitrust powers.

Earlier, EU lawmakers also toyed with the idea of a new competition tool for digital markets but quietly dropped the idea — going on propose their ex ante regime for gatekeeper platforms, under the DMA, at the end of last year. However the proposal is in the process of being debated by the other EU institutions under the bloc’s co-legislative approach — which means it’s still likely years away from being adopted and applied as pan-EU law.

That in turn means German’s FCO could have an outsized role in clipping big tech’s wings in the meanwhile.

In the UK, now outside the bloc — where it too may have an influential role in reforming regional competition rules to rebalance digital market power — the government is also working on a pro-competition regime aimed at big tech.

This year it set up a dedicated unit, the DMU, within the national Competition and Markets Authority which will be tasked with overseeing a regime that will apply to platforms which are identified as having “strategic market status” (akin to the German approach of “paramount significance for competition across markets”). And while the UK is taking a similar tack to the EU’s DMA, it has said the domestic regime will not sum to a single set of rules for all gatekeeper-style platforms — but rather there will be bespoke provisions per platform deemed to fall under the ex ante regulations.

 

#amazon, #andreas-mundt, #big-tech, #brussels, #competition, #competition-and-markets-authority, #competition-law, #digital-markets-act, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #europe, #european-union, #facebook, #online-marketplaces, #policy, #united-kingdom

Weav raises $4.3M to knit together a universal API for commerce platforms

Weav, which is building a universal API for commerce platforms, is emerging from stealth today with $4.3 million in funding from a bevy of investors, and a partnership with Brex.

Founded last year by engineers Ambika Acharya, Avikam Agur and Nadav Lidor after participating in the W20 YC batch, Weav joins the wave of fintech infrastructure companies that aim to give fintechs and financial institutions a boost. Specifically, Weav’s embedded technology is designed to give these organizations access to “real time, user-permissioned” commerce data that they can use to create new financial products for small businesses.  

Its products allow its customers to connect to multiple platforms with a single API that was developed specifically for the commerce platforms that businesses use to sell products and accept payments. Weav operates under the premise that allowing companies to build and embed new financial products creates new opportunities for e-commerce merchants, creators and other entrepreneurs. 

Left to right: Co-founders Ambika Acharya, Nadav Lidor and Avikam Agur; Image courtesy of Weav

In a short amount of time, Weav has seen impressive traction. Recently, Brex launched Instant Payouts for Shopify sellers using the Weav API. It supports platform integrations such as Stripe, Square, Shopify and PayPal. (More on that later.) Since its API went live in January, “thousands” of businesses have used new products and services built on Weav’s infrastructure, according to Lidor. Its API call volume is growing 300% month over month, he said.

And, the startup has attracted the attention of a number of big-name investors, including institutions and the founders of prominent fintech companies. Foundation Capital led its $4.3 million seed round, which also included participation from Y Combinator, Abstract Ventures, Box Group, LocalGlobe, Operator Partners, Commerce Ventures and SV Angel. 

A slew of founders and executives also put money in the round, including Brex founders Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi; Ramp founder Karim Atiyeh; Digits founders Jeff Seibert and Wayne Chang; Hatch founder Thomson Nguyen; GoCardless founder Matt Robinson and COO Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas; Vouch founder Sam Hodges; Plaid’s Charley Ma as well as executives from fintechs such as Square, Modern Treasury and Pagaya.

Foundation Capital’s Angus Davis said his firm has been investing in fintech infrastructure for over a decade. And personally, before he became a VC, Davis was the founder and CEO of Upserve, a commerce software company. There, he says, he witnessed firsthand “the value of transactional data to enable new types of lending products.”

Foundation has a thesis around the type of embedded fintech that Weav has developed, according to Davis. And it sees a large market opportunity for a new class of financial applications to come to market built atop Weav’s platform.

“We were excited by Weav’s vision of a universal API for commerce platforms,” Davis wrote via email. “Much like Plaid and Envestnet brought universal APIs to banking for consumers, Weav enables a new class of B2B fintech applications for businesses.”

How it works

Weav says that by using its API, companies can prompt their business customers to “securely” connect their accounts with selling platforms, online marketplaces, subscription management systems and payment gateways. Once authenticated, Weav aggregates and standardizes sales, inventory and other account data across platforms and develops insights to power new products across a range of use cases, including lending and underwriting; financial planning and analysis; real-time financial services and business management tools.

For the last few years, there’s been a rise of API companies, as well as openness in the financial system that’s largely been focused on consumers, Lidor points out.

“For example, Plaid brings up very rich data about consumers, but when you think about businesses, oftentimes that data is still locked up in all kinds of systems,” he told TechCrunch. “We’re here to provide some of the building blocks and the access to data from everything that has to do with sales and revenue. And, we’re really excited about powering products that are meant to make the lives of small businesses and e-commerce, sellers and creators much easier and be able to get them access to financial products.”

In the case of Brex, Weav’s API allows the startup to essentially offer instant access to funds that otherwise would take a few days or a few weeks for businesses to access.

“Small businesses need access as quickly as possible to their revenue so that they can fund their operations,” Lidor said.

Brex co-CEO Henrique Dubugras said that Weav’s API gives the company the ability to offer real-time funding to more customers selling on more platforms, which saved the company “thousands of engineering hours” and accelerated its rollout timeline by months.

Clearly, the company liked what it saw, considering that its founders personally invested in Weav. Is Weav building the “Plaid for commerce”? Guess only time will tell.

#abstract-ventures, #angus-davis, #api, #banking, #box-group, #brex, #carlos-gonzalez-cadenas, #commerce-ventures, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #fintech-infrastructure, #foundation-capital, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hatch, #matt-robinson, #money, #online-marketplaces, #operator-partners, #paypal, #plaid, #real-time, #recent-funding, #shopify, #startup, #startups, #stripe, #tc, #thomson, #upserve, #venture-capital, #weav, #y-combinator

A trove of imported console games vanish from Chinese online stores

In the world’s largest gaming market, China, console games play a relatively small part as their revenue has been meager compared to mobile and PC games for years — at least by the official numbers (more on this later). There remains a community of hardcore console lovers, but they are finding it harder to get hold of devices and cartridges recently.

A handful of grey market videogame console vendors on Taobao stopped selling and shipping this week, according to checks by TechCrunch and online posts by gamers. Before we examine what might be happening here, a bit of industry history is needed.

In 2000, China banned the sale and import of videogame consoles as concerns over addiction in teenagers grew. Even with the ban, imported consoles still existed in the grey market targeting a group of loyal players. Meanwhile, the online PC and mobile gaming industry flourished, in part thanks to their affordability and the social experience built into their mechanics.

When China finally lifted its restriction on consoles in 2015, giants like Sony and Microsoft quickly responded by releasing Chinese editions of their products through local partners. Nintendo Switch hit the Chinese shelves in 2019 via a much-anticipated partnership with Tencent, which itself is the world’s largest gaming firm. But the grey market largely persisted because mainland Chinese versions of the consoles are subject to strict regulatory oversight, which limits users’ choice to a small friendly range approved by censors.

Many Chinese players thus resort to brick-and-mortar electronics bazaars and online marketplaces to find imported editions of PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch, along with their games. These products normally enter China through parallel trading, the import of legitimate goods through unauthorized channels. The games that are brought in normally lack a Chinese gaming license, which is hard to obtain even by local publishers.

Several major videogame console importers on Taobao have suspended business. Screenshot: TechCrunch

It’s unclear how many imported consoles and console games were taken down from Taobao and what triggered the purge. Tgbus, one of the largest console game sellers on Taobao with 462,000 followers, currently has zero product listing. When asked by TechCrunch, a customer service staff said the store has temporarily halted shipping due to “a water leak in the warehouse.” When we pressed further, the person said it was due to “an electrical-equipment failure.”

Other vendors keep their responses vague, citing “special reasons” for the suspended services. One seller named the “Shanghai Gaming Console Store” said it suspended its business at the request of Taobao, without elaborating further.

Alibaba could not be immediately reached for comment.

The incident appears to inflict mostly console sellers with a sizable business at this moment. Imported cartridges and console devices can still be found on smaller Taobao stores and alternative platforms like Pinduoduo by searching the right keyword.

Some users see the move as China further tightening its grip on what gamers get to play. Over the past year, Apple’s China App Store removed thousands of games to wipe out games without China’s official greenlight. Other motives are politcal. Animal Crossing was pulled from grey market stores on Taobao and Pinduoduo after one of Hong Kong’s most well-known pro-democracy activists used the game as his protest ground.

Other users point out that customs officers regularly clamp down on parallel trading, which is designed to evade import tax because goods are carried by traders who appear as regular travelers. This isn’t the first time the console grey market has been hit, either. Some grey goods manage to fly under the radar before they attract critical sales. There are signs that the new Monster Hunter Rise, a Nintendo-Switch exclusive which isn’t available on the Chinese console edition, is stoking much interest among local players in recent weeks and may have driven some imports.

#alibaba-group, #china, #console, #grey-market, #nintendo, #nintendo-entertainment-system, #nintendo-switch, #online-marketplaces, #taobao, #tc, #video-game

No taxation without innovation: The rise of tax startups

In New York City, if you order a toasted bagel with cream cheese at a deli, you have to pay sales tax. Ask for that same bagel unprepared? You won’t. In Illinois, candy is subject to sales tax, but candy with flour is considered a regular grocery item. Meaning: A Kit Kat is tax-free, but M&Ms will cost you extra. And in Colorado, your daily coffee cup is considered essential packaging, while the lid is not, making it subject to a nonessential packaging tax.

These examples may seem trivial, but they illustrate the idiosyncrasies of sales tax — a fee consumers pay on their purchases that must ultimately be reconciled with the appropriate jurisdictions. Though sales tax is arguably the most complex type of indirect tax, businesses must also contend with other indirect taxes such as use tax, property tax and value-added tax (VAT).

Given the market needs for tax compliance, it’s somewhat shocking how poorly companies are being served by the majority of legacy software companies.

Such taxes may be easy to understand conceptually, but their calculation is convoluted in practice — particularly for sales tax, which is governed by more than 11,000 unique jurisdictions in the U.S. alone. There is no reliable methodology businesses can use to calculate annual remittances based on previous years’ accounting formulas because local tax code changes as much as 25% every year.

For large corporations, sales tax compliance drives sky-high financial planning and analysis spending, and small businesses face an even worse predicament because they can neither afford outsourced tax preparation nor have the expertise to handle this filing. No matter a company’s size, failure to pay the correct amount of sales tax can result in severe penalties and even bankruptcy.

Now, a new legion of startups is emerging to help companies manage the intricacies of indirect taxes, including TaxJar, Taxdoo and Fonoa.

Why does this matter now?

Smaller businesses have, until fairly recently, managed to limp through tax season by selling goods and services locally, and thus operating within relatively consolidated tax jurisdictions. But e-commerce changed this in at least two profound ways.

The first is that even the smallest businesses have transformed from simple brick-and-mortar ventures to complex entities transacting in multiple places online, including via their own storefronts and websites, third-party vendors such as Amazon and Etsy, and wholesale channels. Previously, a small business may have calculated a single type of sales tax — traditionally for storefront enterprises. Now, they may have to calculate different taxes across an increasing number of channels and their resulting tax codes.

Second, e-commerce expanded companies’ geographic reach, allowing them to sell across state and country lines. Until recently, this was an unqualified advantage to small businesses, which benefited from outdated laws requiring most businesses to pay taxes only where they had established nexus, or physical presence. But the 2018 Supreme Court case of South Dakota v. Wayfair put an end to that, with the court ruling that businesses with digital revenue levels above a certain threshold must pay taxes in all states and municipalities in which they sell.

To a large extent, businesses have met the resulting increase in their tax obligations either sloppily or not at all. But the economic fallout from the pandemic is making such noncompliance far less tenable as state and local governments face fiscal shortfalls. With states traditionally relying on sales tax as a primary source of revenue (second only to federal receipts), local governments are beginning not only to enforce their tax codes more vigilantly but also to create new laws that broaden the scope of taxable goods and services.

Given that the financial losses of the pandemic are projected to extend for years, it is unlikely states will revert to their previously relaxed standards of enforcement. Instead, it is far more plausible that COVID-19 will prove an opportunity for states to find new ways to capitalize on sales taxes related to e-commerce.

Small and medium businesses need more options for tax compliance

#column, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-fintech, #ec-market-map, #ecommerce, #finance, #online-marketplaces, #startups, #tax, #tax-policy, #tc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This, Valoreo believes, provides an opportunity for consolidation.

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

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

Embedded finance startup Banxware raises €4M seed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Europe asks for views on platform governance and competition tools

The European Commission is asking for views on how online platforms should be regulated in future, launching a public consultation today on the forthcoming Digital Services Act (DSA).

This pan-EU legislative proposal, due before the end of the year, is slated to rework the regional rulebook for digital services, including tackling controversial issues such as liability for user-generated content and online disinformation.

Modernising and updating rules related to ecommerce and online marketplaces to foster competitive by ensuring a level playing field in digital markets is another stated aim. 

Whether the DSA will prove as divisive as the EU’s copyright reform remains to be seen — but the stakes are high indeed.  

In parallel today, the Commission is soliciting views on possible updates to pan-EU competition regulation, asking whether a new tool is needed to beef up enforcement powers in the digital era.

Rebooting Europe’s digital regulation

The DSA consultation, which runs until September 8, covers issues including safety online, freedom of expression, fairness and a level-playing field in the digital economy, per the Commission, which says it’s seeking input from people, businesses, online platforms, academics, civil society and “all interested parties” to shape the planned governance framework for digital services.

Of course it’s already heard plenty on this topic from tech giant lobbyists.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even sat down for a livestreamed discussion alongside European commissioner Thierry Breton last month — only to be lectured on the need for digital giants to pay their fair share of taxes.

But the Commission wants businesses of all stripes and sizes to chip into the consultation. After all, the most dominant platforms have the most to lose from any change of pan-EU rules.

And perhaps especially from changes that result in defining a specific set of “responsibilities” for the largest platforms.

Commenting in a statement, Commission EVP, Margrethe Vestager, said: The Internet presents citizens and businesses with great opportunities, which they balance against risks that come with working and interacting online. At this time, we are asking for the views of interested citizens and stakeholders on how to make a modern regulatory framework for digital services and online platforms in the EU. Many of these questions impact the day-to-day lives of citizens and we are committing to build a safe and innovative digital future with purpose for them.”

“Online platforms have taken a central role in our life, our economy and our democracy. With such a role comes greater responsibility, but this can happen only against the backdrop of a modern rulebook for digital services,” said Breton in another statement. “We will listen to all views and reflect together to find the right balance between a safe Internet for all, protecting freedom of expression and ensuring space to innovate in the EU single market.”

The DSA package will contain a number of strands, with one set of rules focused on updating the EU’s existing eCommerce Directive — which dates back two decades at this point.

“Building on these principles, we aim to establish clearer and modern rules concerning the role and obligations of online intermediaries, including non-EU ones active in the EU, as well as a more effective governance system to ensure that such rules are correctly enforced across the EU single Market while guaranteeing the respect of fundamental rights,” the Commission said today.

A second component is aimed at ensuring fairness in European digital markets which have become dominated by a few large online platforms that act as gatekeepers.

EU institutions have already adopted one legislative measure aimed at platform marketplace fairness — due to come into force next month. But the Commission believes more is needed and is now exploring building on that foundation with additional rules to foster competition — potentially around (non-personal) data sharing.

“We will explore rules to address these market imbalances, to ensure that consumers have the widest choice and that the EU single market for digital services remains competitive and open to innovation. This could be through additional general rules for all platforms of a certain scale, such as rules on self-preferencing, and/or through tailored regulatory obligations for specific gatekeepers, such as non-personal data access obligations, specific requirements regarding personal data portability, or interoperability requirements,” it said today.

The consultation is also asking for views on other “emergent” issues related to online platforms — including working conditions for platform workers who are providing a service via these marketplaces.

Gig economy platforms continue to face legal challenges in Europe over their classification of platform workers as ‘self employed’, a status that reduces the benefits they are entitled to as a result of their labor.

On competition policy, the Commission has today published an inception impact assessment and opened up another public consultation — inviting comments on whether EU regulators need a new competition tool to allow them to address structural competition problems in a timely and effective manner.

The pace of competition enforcement vs the speed of Internet-enabled disruption has led to criticism that current remedies applied to problematic digital business practices come far too late to be effective.

Commenting on this in another supporting statement, Vestager, who also heads up EU competition policy, said: “The world is changing fast and it is important that the competition rules are fit for that change. Our rules have an inbuilt flexibility which allows us to deal with a broad range of anti-competitive conduct across markets. We see, however, that there are certain structural risks for competition, such as tipping markets, which are not addressed by the current rules. We are seeking the views of stakeholders to explore the need for a possible new competition tool that would allow addressing such structural competition problems, in a timely and effective manner ensuring fair and competitive markets across the economy.”

The Commission says it has concluded that ensuring the “contestability” and “fair functioning” of markets is likely to require a “holistic and comprehensive approach” — emphasizing that this should involve continued vigorous enforcement of existing EU rules (including the use of so-called ‘interim measures’, where appropriate; an old tool Vestager has recently dusted off and unboxed).

But — additionally — it’s considering supplementing existing antitrust rules with ex-ante regulation of digital platforms (“including additional requirements for those that play a gatekeeper role”); and the aforementioned possible new competition tool for dealing with structural competition problems that have proven tricky to tackle with current measures (such as preventing markets from tipping).

“The new competition tool should enable the Commission to address gaps in the current competition rules and to intervene against structural competition problems across markets in a timely and effective manner,” it writes.

“After establishing a structural competition problem through a rigorous market investigation during which rights of defence are fully respected, the new tool should allow the Commission to impose behavioural and where appropriate, structural remedies. However, there would be no finding of an infringement, nor would any fines be imposed on the market participants.”

Stakeholders have until June 30 to submit views on the Commission’s inception impact assessment, while the public consultation on the potential new competition tool is taking submissions until September 8.

Subject to the outcome of the impact assessment the Commission adds that a legislative proposal is scheduled for Q4.

Interestingly, for Commission watchers, the consultation on the possibility of ex-ante regulation of digital platforms — which is clearly forming part of Vestager’s thinking on ensuring functionally competitive markets, given it’s included in the competition reform discussion — has not been included in the competition consultation — but rather slotted into the DSA consultation, which is being led by Breton.

The two commissioners not only have very different personal styles but appear opposed on policy substance, with Vestager being comfortable voicing support for regulating digital technologies while Breton continues to express reluctance to do so, preferring to court industry engagement — and couching regulation as a last, unwelcome resort.

#competition-law, #data-portability, #digital-services-act, #e-commerce, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #margrethe-vestager, #mark-zuckerberg, #online-disinformation, #online-marketplace, #online-marketplaces, #online-platforms, #policy, #tc, #thierry-breton

VC’s largest funds make big bets on vertical B2B marketplaces

During the waning days of the first dot-com boom, some of the biggest names in venture capital invested in marketplaces and directories whose sole function was to consolidate information and foster transparency in industries that had remained opaque for decades.

The thesis was that thousands of small businesses were making specialized products consumed by larger businesses in huge industries, but the reach of smaller players was limited by their dependence on a sales structure built on conferences and personal interactions.

Companies making pharmaceuticals, chemicals, construction materials and medical supplies represented trillions in sales, but those huge aggregate numbers hide how fragmented these supply chains are — and how difficult it is for buyers to see the breadth of sellers available.

Now, similar to the way business models popularized by Kozmo.com and Webvan in decades past have since been reincarnated as Postmates and DoorDash, the B2B directory and marketplace rises from the investment graveyard.

The first sign of life for the directory model came with the success of GoodRX back in 2011. The company proved that when information about pricing in a previously opaque industry becomes available, it can unleash a torrent of new demand.

#amazon, #andreessen-horowitz, #bain-capital-ventures, #business-model, #doordash, #enterprise, #extra-crunch, #goodrx, #health, #julie-yoo, #market-analysis, #marketing, #material-bank, #medicare, #menlo-ventures, #merritt-hummer, #online-marketplaces, #pharmaceuticals, #postmates, #sequoia-capital, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #webvan, #y-combinator