Forum Brands raises $27M as crowded Amazon roll-up space continues to heat up

The number of startups acquiring e-commerce businesses, especially those operating on Amazon, to grow and scale is increasing as more people than ever are shopping online.

The latest such startup to raise capital is Forum Brands, which today announced it has raised $27 million in equity funding for its technology-driven e-commerce acquisition platform. 

Norwest Venture Partners led the round, which also included participation from existing backers NFX and Concrete Rose.

Brenton Howland, Ruben Amar and Alex Kopco founded New York-based Forum Brands last summer during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its self-proclaimed goal was to use data to innovate through acquisition.

“We’re buying what we think are A+ high-growth e-commerce businesses that sell predominantly on Amazon and are looking to build a portfolio of standalone businesses that are category leaders, on and off Amazon,” Howland said. “A source of inspiration for us is that we saw how consumer goods and services changed fundamentally for what we think is going to be for decades and decades to come, accelerating the shift toward digital.”

Forum Brands founding team. Image Credits: Forum Brands

Forum’s technology employs “advanced” algorithms and over 60 million data points to populate brand information into a central platform in real time, instantly scoring brands and generating accurate financial metrics.

The M&A team also uses data to contact brand owners “in just three clicks.” But Forum says it already knows which brands meet its acquisition criteria before ever making contact with brand owners.

“The decision to acquire comes within 48 hours and once terms are agreed upon, entrepreneurs get paid in 30 days or less for their brand, with additional income benefits through post-acquisition partnerships,” according to the company.

Its apps leverage analytics to push recommendations to drive growth and financial performance for brands. Then, its multichannel approaches aimed at positioning the brands for “long-term category leadership.”

“We are using a lot of data science and machine learning techniques to build technology that allows us to eventually operate efficiently a large portfolio of digital brands at scale,” Kopco said.

The company is undeterred by the increasingly crowded space based on the belief that the market opportunity is so huge, there’s plenty of room for multiple players.

“We are very much in the day zero consolidation of the e-commerce space, and the market is very, very large,” Amar told TechCrunch. “And based on our data, 98% or 99% of all sellers are still operating independently. So, this is not a winner-takes-all market. There will be multiple winners, and we’ve built a strategy to be one of these winners.” 

Norwest Venture Partners’ Stew Campbell believes that the number of sellers who reach a point where they have trouble scaling either due to the lack of resources or time is only going to grow. And Forum Brands intends to capitalize on that.

There’s a continued need for more liquidity options for the entrepreneurs behind many Amazon-first brands. Forum helps entrepreneurs recognize value, which can be significant too many,” he said. ”After acquisition, the Forum team drives operational efficiencies and scale to create better customer experiences for shoppers on Amazon.”

Campbell emphasizes that his firm was drawn to Forum Brands’ team, which the company also touts as a differentiator.

Co-founder and COO Kopco worked in a variety of product roles for several years at Amazon and John Derkits, Forum’s VP of brand growth, is also ex-Amazon. Overall, three-fourths of its operating team are former Amazonians. Co-CEO and co-founder Howland was an investor for two years at Cove Hill Partners and is a former McKinsey consultant.

Campbell says his firm has seen many other models in this market, “but the Forum team blends long-term mindsets and focus on technology, while bringing operational and M&A expertise.”

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because TechCrunch also recently covered the raise of Acquco, which has a similar business model to that of Forum Brands and also involves former Amazon employees. In May, that startup raised $160 million in debt and equity to scale its business. Thrasio is another high-profile player in the space, and has raised $850 million in funding this year. Other startups that have recently attracted venture capital include Branded, which recently launched its own roll-up business on $150 million in funding, as well as Berlin Brands Group, SellerX, Heyday, Heroes and Perch. And, Valoreo, a Mexico City-based acquirer of e-commerce businesses, raised $50 million of equity and debt financing in a seed funding round announced in February.

Also, earlier this month, Moonshot Brands announced a $160 million debt and equity raise to “acquire high-performing Amazon third-party sellers and direct-to-consumer businesses on Shopify and WooCommerce with established brand equity.” That company says that since its founding in 2020, it has achieved a $30 million revenue run rate. Among its investors are Y Combinator, Joe Montana’s Liquid 2 Ventures and the founders of Hippo, Lambda School and Shift. 

#amazon, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #new-york, #nfx, #norwest-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #roll-up, #roll-ups, #startup, #startups, #venture-capital

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

Founded by former Carousell and Fave execs, Rainforest gets $36M to consolidate Asia-Pacific Amazon Marketplace brands

A group photo of Rainforest’s team members Elita Subaja, J.J. Chai and Jerry Ng

From left to right: Rainforest business operations and strategy director Elita Subaja; co-founder and CEO J.J. Chai and brand manager Jerry Ng

Singapore-based Rainforest is one of the newest entrants in the wave of startups that “roll-up” small e-commerce brands. Launched in January by alumni from some of Southeast Asia’s top startups, including Carousell, OVO and Fave, Rainforest acquires Amazon marketplace sellers. This is similar to the Amazon-centric approach taken by Thrasio, Branded Group and Berlin Brands Group, three of the highest-profile e-commerce aggregators, but Rainforest is one of the first companies in the space to launch out of Asia and focus specifically on acquiring brands in the region. It is also laser-focused on home goods, personal care and pet items, with the goal of building the e-commerce version of conglomerate Newell Brands, whose portfolio includes Rubbermaid, Sharpie and Yankee Candle.

Rainforest announced today that it has raised seed funding of $36 million led by Nordstar with participation from Insignia Venture Partners. This includes equity financing of $6.5 million and a $30 million debt facility from an undisclosed American debt fund.

Co-founder and chief executive officer J.J. Chai, who previously held senior roles at Carousell and Airbnb, told TechCrunch that Rainforest raised debt financing (like many other e-commerce aggregators) because it is non-dilutive and will be used to acquire about eight to 12 brands sold through Amazon’s B2B service Fulfilled By Amazon (FBA). The startup’s other co-founders are chief financial officer Jason Tan, who held the same roles at OVO and Fave, and chief technology officer Per-Ola Röst, who previously founded Amazon analytics tool provider Seller Matrix and ran a FBA brand worth seven figures.

Rainforest’s portfolio currently includes three brands, which it acquired for about $1 million each. The company wants to wait until its portfolio is larger to disclose what brands it owns, but Chai said they include a mattress brand that is a best seller on Amazon, a cereal maker and a kitchenware brand. Focusing on specific verticals will allow Rainforest to streamline supply chains, product design and marketing as it scales up its brands.

Amazon’s total gross merchandise volume in 2020 was about $490 billion. According to Marketplace Pulse, $300 billion of that came from third-party sellers. Thrasio and Branded Group, which was started by Lazada co-founder and former CEO Pierre Poignant, also acquire Asian brands, but most e-commerce aggregators have so far focus on American, European or Latin American sellers (like Mexico City-based Valoreo, which also recently raised funding). Rainforest will look at sellers in the Asia-Pacific region, including China, Southeast Asia and Australia.

Chai said about 30% of Amazon’s third-party sellers are based in Asia, and he expects more e-commerce aggregators to launch in the region. “All the ingredients are there and I guess it’s just a matter of time when more people figure it out and solve this problem,” he said. “Everything we’ve seen has worked out, and of course the original creators noticed this trend, which is that there is an explosion of microbrands.”

Rainforest looks for home goods, personal care or pet product FBA sellers that are currently doing about $5 million to $10 million in sales per year, and making a minimum 15% profit margin. Most of its pipeline of potential deals are inbound inquiries. Rainforest can give brands a valuation within two days. If they are interested in the offer, due diligence usually takes about a month, and sellers get the first tranche of their payment in about 40 days.

The company plans to look at other marketplaces in the future, but is starting with Amazon because its analytics allows quicker valuations. Rainforest looks at the “Three R’s,” or product reviews, ratings and ranking, to see how well a seller is performing. It also wants brands that can expand beyond Amazon into other channels and have unique intellectual property with wide appeal. “We’re looking for products that can traverse global markets,” said Chai. “So, for example, no lawnmower covers, a very American kind of thing that’s maybe less relevant in this part of the world, because our intention is to take these brands to their next level potential.”

Many of the brands in Rainforest’s pipeline are run by sole proprietors who have gotten to the point where they need to hire a team to continue growing, but want to exit instead so they can move on to their next venture.

“Being able to create a physical goods brand and build a sizable business out of it is a relatively new phenomenon. It used to be that you needed a factory, big branding, R&D. The combination of online advertising, marketplaces and supply chains being disrupted has created an opportunity where individuals can create brands in the same way that the App Store allowed people to start distributing software,” said Chai. “Where we play into that trend is that there are a lot of microbrands and many will get stuck, so we can give the entrepreneurs a way to exit and bring a brand to its full potential.”

#asia, #e-commerce-aggregator, #ecommerce, #fulfilled-by-amazon, #rainforest, #roll-ups, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #tc

Una Brands launches with $40M to roll up brands on multiple Asia-Pacific e-commerce platforms

Una Brands' co-founders (from left to right): Tobias Heusch, Kiran Tanna and Kushal Patel

Una Brands’ co-founders (from left to right): Tobias Heusch, Kiren Tanna and Kushal Patel. Una Brands Una Brands

One of the biggest funding trends of the past year is companies that consolidate small e-commerce brands. Many of the most notable startups in the space, like Thrasio, Berlin Brands Group and Branded Group, focus on consolidating Amazon Marketplace sellers. But the e-commerce landscape is more fragmented in the Asia-Pacific region, where sellers use platforms like Tokopedia, Lazada, Shopee, Rakuten or eBay, depending on where they are. That is where Una Brands comes in. Co-founder Kiren Tanna, former chief executive officer of Rocket Internet Asia, said the startup is “platform agnostic,” searching across marketplaces (and platforms like Shopify, Magento or WooCommerce) for potential acquisitions.

Una announced today that it has raised a $40 million equity and debt round. Investors include 500 Startups, Kingsway Capital, 468 Capital, Presight Capital, Global Founders Capital and Maximilian Bitner, the former CEO of Lazada who currently holds the same role at secondhand fashion platform Vestiaire Collective.

Una did not disclose the ratio of equity and debt in the round. Like many other e-commerce aggregators, including Thrasio, Una raised debt financing to buy brands because it is non-dilutive. The round will also be used to hire aggressively in order to evaluate brands in its pipeline. Una currently has teams in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia and plans to expand in Southeast Asia before entering Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

Tanna, who also founded Foodpanda and ZEN Rooms, launched Una along with Adrian Johnston, Kushal Patel, Tobias Heusch and Srinivasan Shridharan. He estimates that there are more than 10 million third-party sellers spread across different platforms in the Asia-Pacific.

“Every single seller in Asia is looking at multiple platforms and not just Amazon,” Tanna told TechCrunch. “We saw a big gap in the market where e-commerce is growing very quickly, but players in the West are not able to look at every platform, so that is why we decided to focus on APAC, launch the business there and acquire sellers who are selling on multiple platforms.”

Una looks for brands with annual revenue between $300,000 to $20 million and is open to many categories, as long as they have strong SKUs and low seasonality (for example, it avoids fast fashion). Its offering prices range from about $600,000 to $3 million.

Tanna said Una will maintain acquisitions as individual brands “because what’s working, we don’t change it.” How it adds value is by doing things that are difficult for small brands to execute, especially those run by just one or two people, like expanding into more distribution channels and countries.

“For example, in Indonesia there are at least five or six important platforms that you should be on, and many times the sellers aren’t doing that, so that’s something we do,” Tanna explained. “The second is cross-border in Southeast Asia, which sellers often can’t do themselves because of regulations around customs, import restrictions and duties. That’s something our team has experience in and want to bring to all brands.”

Amazon FBA roll-up players have the advantage of Amazon Marketplace analytics that allow them to quickly measure the performance of brands in their pipeline of potential acquisitions. Since it deals with different marketplaces and platforms, Una works with much more fragmented sources of data for revenue, costs, rankings and customer reviews. To scale up, the company is currently building technology to automate its valuation process and will also have local teams in each of its markets. Despite working with multiple e-commerce platforms, Tanna said Una is able to complete a deal within five weeks, with an offer usually happening within two or three days.

In countries where Amazon is the dominant e-commerce player, like the United States, many entrepreneurs launch FBA brands with the goal of flipping them for a profit within a few years, a trend that Thrasio and other Amazon roll-up startups are tapping into. But that concept is less common in Una’s markets, so it offers different team deals to appeal to potential sellers. Though Una acquires 100% of brands, it also does profit-sharing models with sellers, so they get a lump sum payment for the majority of their business first, then collect more money as Una scales up the brand. Tanna said Una usually continues working with sellers on a consulting basis for about three to six months after a sale.

“Something that Amazon players know very well is that they can find a product, sell it for four to five years, and then ideally make a multi-million deal exit and build another product or go on holiday,” said Tanna. “That’s something Asian sellers are not as familiar with, so we see this as an education phase to explain how the process works, and why it makes sense to sell to us.”

#468-capital, #500-startups, #asia, #ecommerce, #fundings-exits, #global-founders-capital, #kingsway-capital, #presight-capital, #recent-funding, #roll-ups, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #una-brands

Berlin’s Razor Group raises $400M to buy and scale Amazon Marketplace merchants

The market remains very hot for startups building e-commerce empires by consolidating independent third-party merchants that have gained traction on Amazon’s Marketplace, and in the latest development, Razor Group — a Berlin-based startup buying up promising Amazon sellers and scaling them into bigger, multi-channel businesses — has closed financing of $400 million to scale its own efforts in the space.

Around $25 million is coming in the form of equity to grow its business and $375 million is in debt to make acquisitions, with target businesses typically already pulling in between $1 million and $15 million in annual revenues.

Razor Group itself is not even a year old but has been building out its business at a fast pace. Founded in August 2020, in the last eight months, CEO Tushar Ahluwalia said the startup has grown to 107 employees across four offices and is currently on track to cross $120 million (€100 million) in sales from the 30 brands it has already amassed in its stable in categories like personal wellness, sports and home and living. Assuming the debt capital it’s now raised is put to use, Ahluwalia believes Razor Group will cross $480 million (€400 million) in sales in the next 12 to 15 months.

As a point of comparison, Thrasio, one of the older players in this current market, was founded in 2018 and has 100 brands in its stable.

Indeed, there are, as you might have seen, a lot of others in the market pursuing the “FBA rollup” model — consolidating businesses that have been built on the back of Fulfillment by Amazon, with the pitch being they can apply more sophisticated economies of scale, analytics and management to grow great cottage industries into high rises, so to speak. But Razor believes its point of differentiation is its focus on technology to improve its responsiveness to the market, both when it comes to identifying and buying brands, and then growing them.

It’s a big opportunity. By one estimate there are about 5 million third-party sellers on Amazon today, and their ranks are growing exponentially, with more than 1 million sellers joining the platform in 2020 alone. Thrasio has in the past estimated to me that there are probably 50,000 businesses selling on Amazon via FBA making $1 million or more per year in revenues.

“It’s perfectly acceptable to build an FBA-based business, but at some point you can move beyond that,” Ahluwalia said in an interview. “We want to transform what we see as the levers of business operations in this space. We don’t see ourselves as the next P&G, but a new version of it, building microchampions in micromarkets, identifying underpriced digital real estate. Just thinking about it as abritrage is not enough.”

The funding, a mixture of equity to invest in the startup itself and debt to use for acquisitions (and it is mostly debt), is being led by funds and accounts managed by BlackRock and Victory Park Capital (“VPC”) as well as its existing shareholders, a list that includes a number of individuals as well as VCs such as Redalpine, FJ Labs and Global Founders Capital, the VC firm co-founded by the Samwer Brothers, also behind the well-known Berlin e-commerce incubator Rocket Internet.

Ahluwalia and Razor’s head of finance Christoph Gamon — who together co-founded Razor with CTO Shrestha Chowdury — are both Rocket Internet alums, and Ahluwalia and Chowdury also worked on a previous e-commerce business in India called StalkBuyLove (a clone of Wanelo — short for “Want Need Love” — for India, I think) that ran out of cash and shut down.

All of that speaks to both the inroads that the founders may have had into gaining some early financing from other Rocket alums and others, as well as their experiences, both good and bad, of what it takes to grow and scale e-commerce businesses.

Including the $25 million in this latest tranche, the funding brings the total raised in equity by Razor Group to about $40 million — with the previous money being used to get the ball rolling and “validate the model”, Ahluwalia said. It’s not disclosing its valuation today but he confirmed it’s also raising another, larger equity round when it will be speaking more about that.

Meanwhile, the huge injection of debt financing it is getting for acquisitions — doubled after its original plan to raise $200 million got a lot of interest — is a sign not just of what investors and Razor Group itself see as an opportunity, but also of the encroaching competition from other roll-up players that are also well capitalized also setting their sights on buying up the most promising independent businesses selling via Amazon and other marketplace providers.

That list of competitors is getting longer by the day. It includes Thrasio, one of the first startups to identify and build out this space, which has raised very large rounds in rapid succession totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in the last year, and is profitable; Branded; Heroes; SellerX; Perch; Berlin Brands Group (X2); Benitago; and Valoreo (with its backers including Razor’s CEO).

The opportunity is also breeding other e-commerce startups like Jungle Scout, which has also raised $110 million recently, providing tools to some of those third-party sellers to help them stay, in fact, independent (or at least grow more to be more valuable to acquirers)

Razor believes that its ability to stand out in this crowd will not just be based on how much money it has to spend, but on the technology that it is using to identify the best third-party sellers faster in order to roll them up first, and then to leverage that early move by giving those companies better tools to grow faster.

Chowdhury describes the platform that she has built as “M&A 2.0”, a system that performs “massive due dilligence” at machine scale by evaluating some 1 million companies each week as they perform on platforms like Amazon’s. “Technology runs through the whole business,” she said, started with the acquisitions, where Razor is identifying the most interesting companies faster than others, she said. “We look at thousands of data points,” building algorithms, she continued, “to flag what we want to acquire. It means that our acquisitions funnel is 99% sourced directly and we don’t rely on brokers.” Brokers, she said, are something of a unspoken part of this area, but bypassing them means less competition and better pricing.

Being early also means building better relationships with the owners of these businesses, with less time pressure.

“Dealmaking is something extremely personal,” Ahluwalia said. “A seller needs to like you. Our calculations have allowed us to be the first in these deal conversations”

Further along, that data will also help Razor build those businesses and figure out where else brands can be sold beyond Amazon and how to sell them better.

That is a plan that has yet to be proven out, given the age of the company, but investors — adding up the numbers and track record of these founders, and the tech they have built — are willing to bet on this one.

“We are excited to partner with Tushar, Chris, and the rest of the Razor Group team. The ability to identify, underwrite, integrate and ultimately create tangible value across a broad suite of eCommerce assets is a real competitive advantage in the marketplace,” said Tom Welch, partner at VPC, in a statement.

“We are pleased to make this investment in Razor Group to support the company’s strong growth momentum as it continues to diversify its portfolio of brands and expand into new markets,” added Dan Worrell, MD at BlackRock.

#amazon, #blackrock, #ecommerce, #europe, #fba, #fulfillment-by-amazon, #funding, #global-founders-capital, #razor-group, #roll-ups, #tc, #victory-park

E-commerce roll-ups are the next wave of disruption in consumer packaged goods

This year is all about the roll-ups. No, not those fruity snacks you used to find in your lunchbox; roll-ups are the aggregation of smaller companies into larger firms, creating a potentially compelling path for equity value.

Right now, all eyes are on Thrasio, the fastest company to reach unicorn status, and its cadre of competitors, such as Heyday, Branded and Perch, all vying to become the modern model of consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies.

Making things even more interesting, famed investor and operator Keith Rabois recently announced that he too is working on a roll-up concept called OpenStore with Atomic co-founder Jack Abraham.

Like any investment firm, to be successful, a roll-up should have a thesis or two providing it with a cohesive strategy across its portfolio.

Thrasio has been reaping the benefits of the e-commerce market’s Cambrian explosion in 2020, in which over $1 billion of capital was invested in firms on a mission to acquire independent Amazon sellers and brands.

This catalyst can be attributed to a few key factors, the first and most notable being the pandemic accelerating spending on Amazon and e-commerce more broadly. Next is the low cost of capital, a reflection of interest rates making markets flush with cash; this has made it easier to raise both equity and debt capital.

The third is the emerging and quantifiable proofs of concept: Thrasio is one of several raising hundreds of millions of dollars, and Anker, a primarily Amazon-native brand, went public. Both stories have provided further validation that a meaningful brand can be built on top of Amazon’s marketplace.

Still, the interest in creating value through e-commerce brands is particularly striking. Just a year ago, digitally native brands had fallen out of favor with venture capitalists after so many failed to create venture-scale returns. So what’s the roll-up hype about?

Roll-ups are another flavor of investing

Roll-ups aren’t a new concept; they’ve existed for a while. In the offline world, roll-ups often achieve much greater exit multiples, known as “multiple arbitrage,” so it’s no surprise that the trend is making its way online.

Historically, though, roll-ups haven’t been all that successful; HBR notes that more than two-thirds of roll-ups fail to create value for investors. While roll-ups are often effective at building larger companies, they don’t always increase profits or operating cash flows.

Acquirers, i.e., those rolling up smaller companies, need to uncover new operating approaches for their acquired companies to increase equity value, and the only way to increase equity value is to increase operating cash flow. There are four ways to do this: reducing overhead costs, reducing operating costs without sacrificing price or volume, increasing pricing without sacrificing volume or increasing volume without increasing unit costs.

E-commerce could present a new and different opportunity, or at least that’s what investors and smart money are betting on. Let’s explore how this new wave of roll-ups is approaching both growth and value creation.

Channel your enthusiasm: Why every roll-up needs a thesis

Like any investment firm, to be successful, a roll-up should have a thesis or two providing it with a cohesive strategy across its portfolio. There are a few that are trending in this particular wave.

The first is the primary distribution channel upon which a company grows. Evaluating companies with a common distribution channel can be helpful for creating economies of scale, focusing marketing and growth resources in a specific channel versus diluting resources across several.

On the downside, these companies become reliant on this distribution strategy and any changes could create vulnerabilities for their portfolio companies. As a study, let’s take a look at how two companies take different approaches:

#amazon, #business, #column, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #roll-ups, #tc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Target Global leads $150M round for Amazon Marketplace consolidator Branded

There’s been a profusion of startups emerging in the last year around the concept of rolling up smaller e-commerce businesses — operations that mainly sell and distribute their products on marketplace platforms like Amazon’s — using economies of scale to bring them together to run and grow them more efficiently.

Today, one of the latest of these, Branded Group, is coming out of stealth with a significant round of funding. The company has picked up $150 million and says that since quietly opening for business in mid-2020 it has already acquired 20 startups in categories like home, leisure and lifestyle across Europe, United States, and Asia.

The idea is that while the companies it acquires will continue to be sold and distributed via Amazon’s B2B service Fulfilled by Amazon (they are often referred to as FBA businesses), Branded will help with things like marketing, financing, operations expertise and technology to manage the business, provide business analytics and intelligence and so on.

The funding is being led by Target Global, which is being described as a “co-founder” of the startup, alongside the other two co-founders Pierre Poignant and Michael Ronen.

Other investors in the round include Declaration Partners, Tiger Global, Kreos Capital, Lurra Capital, Regah Ventures, Kima Ventures, and Vine Ventures, as well as individual investments from Marc Pincus (Founder of Zynga), Jon Oringer (Founder of Shutterstock), and a dozen other execs who have worked at retail giants like Amazon, Walmart, Alibaba and Lazada.

Branded is not disclosing the names of the 20 companies it has acquired — we have asked — but it claims to include some of the biggest companies selling home, leisure, and lifestyle products on Amazon.

Branded said they collectively generate $150 million in gross revenues annually. (This is the amount in sales prior to any cost-of-sale deductions, so not net revenue or nor profit.)

And in a market where reviews (for what they are worth) are one of the key levers in convincing shoppers to buy one similar-looking product (sometimes the exact same product, in fact) over another, Branded says that its sellers have amassed a whopping 700,000 reviews.

One reason that Branded may not be talking about specific names in its stable is to keep some competitive strategic advantage, because the landscape of companies building roll-up outfits to bring smaller e-commerce businesses together is getting crowded very fast.

At the end of January, Berlin Brands Group — which itself is profitable and has not raised significant outside funding, yet — announced it would use $300 million+ off its balance sheet to by smaller companies. That came on the heels of U.S. competitor Thrasio raising $500 million in debt to use to buy companies, as well as significant rounds in the several months for SellerXHeydayHeroesPerch and more.

There is well over $1 billion in capital swimming around now among startups looking to be the consolidator-in-chief among smaller sellers, who have build fledging businesses leaning on efficient marketplace services for marketing, distribution and logistics to get their products to buyers, but may not have bigger strategies for how to operate them in the longer term, or to grow them.

In that mix, though, there are some interesting details about the founders of Branded that speak to why it has attracted so much funding so soon, and the company’s potential ability to leverage that into a bigger business.

Poignant was the co-founder of Lazada — the Asia-based Amazon clone backed by Rocket Internet, Alibaba and others — while Ronen was previously a managing partner at SoftBank’s Vision Fund in the U.S. (he left almost exactly a year ago, after the fund had started to come under a lot of scrutiny). Branded’s pitch is that it can use that expertise in building online businesses to grow its stable of sellers and brands better than they might be able to do on their own.

“We are excited to leverage our e-commerce and business-building experience to create this next-generation multi-brand platform,” said Mr. Poignant in a statement. “Our team will provide unmatched operations, marketing, business development and supply chain expertise, serving as the partner of choice for entrepreneurs worldwide to scale their consumer brands and delight consumers on Amazon and beyond. Our global footprint, our team’s experience in scale-up growth, our strong access to capital, as well as the proprietary analytical tools and business intelligence capabilities we are building, uniquely position us to exponentially grow the best brands out there.”

The opportunity is a big one, it seems. It is estimated that there are some 5 million smaller sellers on Amazon’s Marketplace, making up about half of all sales on the platform.

Similar to the other companies that are hoping to make a splash in the area of consolidating some of them, the pitch from Branded is that it’s able to find the most interesting of these to partner or buy in brands to help run them more efficiency and scale them to the next levels of growth.

That opportunity appears to be a particularly keen one at the moment. The global health pandemic has led to a huge shift towards online shopping, with consumers either choosing or being forced to use the internet to buy goods and services as regions enact lockdown orders or in other cases encourage people to stay away from crowded places to slow the spread of Covid-19.

That’s spelled a lot of activity for retailers selling on digital platforms, although as a Perch founders once described it, not all sellers are prepared for or interested in exploring how to handle that kind of growth. That is the scenario that startups like Branded are hoping to tap, giving them a chance to grow a stable of brands on the back of proven consumer demand.

“Covid-19 has been a massive accelerator of consumers’ continuing shift to online shopping. We see fundamental changes in consumer behavior and purchase decision-making opening an opportunity to build a new type of consumer products leader with a digital-first mindset,” said Ben Kaminski, partner at Target Global who is also a co-founded at Branded as well as chairman of the board, in a statement. “Target Global has been a proud co-founder and investor in Branded. We are excited to jointly realize this unique opportunity, while becoming a home for some of the most talented sellers and entrepreneurs seeking to take their brands to the next level. I am excited to work with Pierre and Michael to realize Branded’s full potential.”

For now, it seems that Branded’s focus is mainly on Amazon — which remains the biggest company of its kind in the U.S. and has a strong presence in a number of other countries — but it’s notable that others in the space like Berlin Brands Group are looking beyond it for other marketplaces and even opportunities in direct-to-consumer brands that sell through their own sites to bring into the bigger roll-up strategy.

“Thanks to Amazon’s incredible investment in global logistics and leading technology, there are millions of third-party sellers worldwide on the Amazon marketplace,” said Mr. Ronen in a statement. “We are facing a generational opportunity to build Branded into the leading, digital-first consumer product goods (CPG) e-commerce platform, distilling the best among the $300 billion in revenue generated by businesses already thriving on Amazon’s marketplace. We will look to partner with and enable the most successful founders of high-potential brands to scale their operations globally.”

#branded, #ecommerce, #fulfilled-by-amazon, #roll-ups