Just half a year after leading SODA’s Series B, SoftBank Ventures Asia is raising its bet on the Tokyo-based sneaker resell platform. The early-stage venture capital arm of SoftBank Group announced today it has returned to lead SODA’s Series C, which currently totals $56.4 million.
Other investors include South Korean sneaker reselling platform KREAM (another SoftBank Ventures Asia portfolio company), Altos Ventures and JAFCO.
Launched in 2018, SODA runs SNKRDUNK, one of Japan’s largest sneaker reselling platforms with about 2.5 million monthly users. Along with its new funding, SODA announced it has acquired rival Monokabu. SODA said that the deal means its share of Japan’s sneaker resale industry is now 80%, making it the market leader by far.
A SoftBank Ventures Asia spokesperson told TechCrunch the fund decided to invest in SODA again because the company’s growth has increased rapidly since its previous funding. SODA’s post-money valuation is now about 24 billion JPY, or about $218 million USD.
Part of SODA’s Series C funding will also be used to expand into other Asian markets, starting with Indonesia and the Philippines next year because both countries have growing e-commerce markets and a large percentage of Generation Zs, an ideal combination for SNKRDUNK.
The company’s previous funding, its $22 million Series B, was announced in January. At the time, Uchiyama told TechCrunch demand for sneakers remained high despite the pandemic’s economic impact and increased adoption of online shopping also helped drive sales.
SODA claims it hit record sales of $34.7 million in May 2021, growing 900% year-over-year. Despite COVID-19, many sneaker C2C marketplaces, like StockX, have also seen their sales increase.
SNKRDUNK will work closely with KREAM to share knowledge about sneaker authentication, inventory management, logistics and other operations-related areas, with the goal of increasing their share of the Asian sneaker resell market.
In addition to KREAM and SODA, SoftBank Ventures Asia is also an investor in China-based sneaker trading platform Nice.
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.
Collectibles boomed during the pandemic and while NFT outfits like NBA Top Shot exploded as consumers flirted with newer efforts, the sneaker world grew even more mature with enthusiasts digging deeper into communities dedicated to the hobby/passion/obsession/alternative asset class.
Vancouver’s SoleSavy, a sneaker community dedicated to giving fans a curated place to navigate the world of shoes, with all of its drops, news and rumors, has raised a $12.5 million Series A just months after wrapping a $2 million seed round, showcasing investor enthusiasm behind vertical-specific premium social experiences. The round was led by Bedrock Capital with participation from Dapper Labs’ CEO Roham Gharegozlou, Diplo, Bessemer Ventures and Turner Novak’s Banana Capital, among others.
CEO Dejan Pralica says the company has tripled its user base since its seed raise late last year, while growing its team from 10 to 37 employees in the same period.
Today, SoleSavy’s community is based largely around a network of Slack groups where users can discuss just about everything. Though the platform’s chat communities are organized in Slack now, Pralica sees a future where the company could build its own chat hub for members, something to further tie-in the startup’s app, website and online conversations. The more near-term goal is to grow this community into a hub of trusted buyers and sellers where a peer-to-peer member marketplace can thrive. SoleSavy is at the forefront of a new generation of more social internet marketplaces where vertical-specific communities can gather and grow inside an all-encompassing platform.
“I do envision on end-to-end platform that’s very integrated,” Pralica tells TechCrunch.”I want to make sneakers fun again and enjoyable for the people that are passionate about them.”
Part of that fun has been diminished by free-for-all chat groups that can quickly grow toxic or grow exploitative as moderators look to cash in on their networks, something SoleSavy hopes a more curated approach can bring back.
That positive community vibe is what Pralica says is SoleSavy’s long-term focus and differentiating factor that keeps the 4,000 members across the U.S. and Canada interacting with the group on a nearly daily basis… I’ve been in a dozen or so different groups focused on buying large quantities of each release to re-sell over the years and many of them are, at best, rowdy and at worst toxic. That’s an environment that SoleSavy wanted to stay away from, says Pralica. Instead, SoleSavy tries to court those who want to buy and wear the shoes, trade them and yes, maybe even resell personal pairs eventually to obtain and wear another grail.
The company’s sizable Series A raise just months after a seed showcases that plenty of investors are intrigued by the idea of verticalized marketplaces built up around social communities, Pralica sees the funding as a chance to ignore fundraising for a while and focus on “building for the future” while identifying new opportunities in the sneakersphere.
SoleSavy has been pretty focused on North American sneaker heads so far, but Pralica see that hefty Series A check taking the platform into new markets, including Australia and New Zealand, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan and broader Europe. The company also plans to use the new funding to build out its editorial network with podcasts, editorial features, original video and member events.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
And in our downloads section, we have a treat for readers: a time-sensitive and exclusive invite code to get into one of the hottest new apps for sneakerheads: Sole Retriever.
WWDC’s big keynote is kicking off next week on June 7 at 1 PM ET. The livestream page is here. While we may see new MacBook Pros, what software developers will care about are the forthcoming details about Apple’s latest OS releases and other new technologies. As to what they may include? Bloomberg reported that iOS 15 will introduce a way for users to set different notification preferences and automatic replies, based on their current status (driving, working, sleeping, etc.) and an updated Lock Screen where this menu of choices would be accessible. iMessage may be upgraded to be more social, to better compete with Messenger and WhatsApp. Meanwhile, iPadOS could be getting the App Library and an upgraded Home Screen with support for widgets. (And you can fill the screen with just widgets, if you choose.) Or who knows! Until it’s official, it’s all a maybe!
But one potentially interesting rumor to watch for would be a new privacy feature that would show users which apps were collecting data about them. This builds on Apple’s investments in App Tracking Transparency and could make it more difficult for shady SDKs to stay in business.
There will likely be some updates coming to other Apple’s own apps, Siri, watchOS and more. It’s going to be a packed week — stay tuned!
Ahead of WWDC, Apple also updated its report (conducted on its behalf via the Analysis Group) on App Store commerce. The company says the App Store facilitated $643 billion in billings and sales in 2020, up 24% from the $519 billion seen the year prior. It also noted that about 90% of the billings and sales facilitated by the App Store actually took place outside its walls, meaning Apple took no commission on those purchases. This is up from the 85% figure reported last year. The full report delves into other trends related to the pandemic’s impact, small and large businesses, and more. Apple initially commissioned the report to demonstrate how little business on the App Store is actually subject to App Store fees, but now it’s updated the report a year later. It’s interesting how much understanding Apple has about its App Store, especially when Tim Cook claimed to know so little about several crucial figures.
Image Credits: Apple
Apple also this week unveiled its 2021 Apple Design finalists. The awards honor apps and games that offer a combination of innovation, ingenuity and technical achievement — the latter which often means making great use of Apple technologies. The finalists span six categories: Inclusivity, Delight and Fun, Interaction, Social Impact, Visuals and Graphics, and Innovation.
Google this week opened submissions for two of its annual developer programs: the Indie Games Accelerator and the Indie Games Festival. The programs are designed to help small games studios grow on Google Play. This year, the programs will include more eligible markets and will be fully digital experiences.
Google will restrict third-party apps from customizing the native Android Sharesheet in Android 12. Currently, the UI of the Sharesheet can differ from app to app, but XDA Developers reports it will become more iOS-like, by offering a consistent menu across apps.
Google is taking a cue from Apple by allowing users to opt out of personalization using the advertising ID in the Android Settings. Once users opt out, the advertising ID is disabled. The ID is a unique, user-resettable identifier provided by Google Play services. As part of a coming Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising identifier will be removed when the user opts out of tracking, and any attempt to access the identifier will only return a string of zeros. Google says ad and analytics service partners will receive notifications about a user’s preferences to help them with compliance. The change will roll out in late 2021 and will impact apps running on Android 12 devices initially, with an expansion to devices that support Google Play in early 2022.
Platforms: Huawei (!!)
Image Credits: Wang Chenglu, president of Huawei Consumer Business Group’s software department
Two years after Huawei was put on a list of Chinese companies banned from doing business with U.S. organizations, it launched its proprietary operating system, HarmonyOS, for smartphones. The OS is designed to power phones, tablets and smart devices. Smartphone maker Meizu has already hinted it may adopt the new OS.
Image Credits: Facebook
Facebook’s flagship AR creation software, Spark AR, has already been used by more than 600,000 creators from over 190 countries to publish over 2 million AR effects. At Facebook’s F8 event this week, the company announced Multipeer API for video calls on Messenger, Instagram and Portal. The API will allow developers to create “shared AR” effects that apply to all the call participants — like a party hat that shows up on everyone’s heads for a birthday call, for instance.
Convenience store-style on-demand delivery startup JOKR launched in New York City to provide 15-minute or less delivery of items you might otherwise find in small stores and local delis. Except instead of dealing with stores, JOKR has its own strategically placed micro-hubs. The startup was founded by Ralf Wenzel, who previously founded Foodpanda, which later merged with Delivery Hero.
Image Credits: Walmart
Walmart is handing out over 740,000 new Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro smartphones (retail $499) to its employees, saying that “constant communication” is essential to its business. The phones will run Walmart’s proprietary Me@Walmart app, where employees clock in, adjust schedules, use the voice assistant “Ask Sam,” and communicate with others via push-to-talk. Employees will be allowed to use the phone for personal use after work hours, and Walmart will not have access to their personal data, the retailer says.
Image Credits: Kraken
Coinbase rival Kraken launched a mobile app in the U.S. that allows users to buy and sell more than 50 crypto tokens from their mobile phone. Kraken is the world’s fourth-largest digital currency exchange, in terms of trading volume.
Venmo now lets users hide their friend list for additional privacy. The change to the app came after BuzzFeed News found President Biden’s Venmo account using public friend lists. Digital rights groups had called the design a “security nightmare.”
Japan-based Line Corp. is launching its digital banking platform in Indonesia, which means it will now offering banking services in three of its biggest overseas markets: Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan.
Coinbase Card, which allows users to spend their crypto while on the go, now works with Apple Pay and Google Pay. The card will offer up to 4% in crypto rewards for everyday purchases.
Chime has established itself as the No. 1 neobank in the U.S., according to eMarketer. The banking app will have 13.1 million U.S. accounts this year, up 30.7% from 2020. Current will have 4 million, double from the 2.1 million it had last year. Aspiration is in third place, with 3 million, followed by Varo, at 2.7 million.
Scoop: Tinder tested a group video chat feature ahead of parent company Match’s move into social discovery with its $1.73 billion acquisition of Seoul-based Hyperconnect. The feature was only tested briefly in New Zealand and then shut down, but may have served as a way to gain valuable data about younger users’ interest in social discovery apps and services as Match moves into that market which it says is double the size of the dating market.
Image Credits: Twitter
Twitter Blue officially launched. Will you pay for better Twitter? Twitter’s new premium subscription brings tools to organize your bookmarks, read threads in a clutter-free format and take advantage of an “Undo Tweet” feature — which is the closest thing Twitter will have to the long-requested “Edit” button. It also offers a few other perks, like custom app icons, colorful themes and subscription customer support. Unfortunately, the service is only live in Canada and Australia for the time being.
Twitter redesigned its mobile app to put its Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, in the middle of its navigation bar. Initially, only around 500 people from the original Spaces beta test will first see the new Spaces discovery tab, but it will expand to more people over time. The tab will help people keep track of Spaces they want to listen to and manage notifications, among other things.
Twitter began rolling out Birdwatch fact checks inside tweets. Birdwatch is Twitter’s pilot program that aims to crowdsource fact-checking of tweets, as an alternative to relying on fact-checkers. The program’s goal will be to append more info to misinformation online in real time.
TikTok reamined the top non-game app worldwide in May 2021 by downloads. According to Sensor Tower, TikTok was No. 1 on both the App Store and Google Play with 80 million combined installs. Brazil accounted for 16% of those, and China 12%.
Facebook at its developer conference F8 also introduced Facebook Login Connect with Messenger. For businesses that have already integrated with Facebook Login, this allow users to log in to their app using their Facebook credentials and opt in to chat with businesses over Messenger, all in the Facebook Login flow. The tool is in closed beta.
Facebook also updated its Business Suite with a new feature that will allow developers to build “business apps,” which are tools made by third-party developers that work alongside the Business Suite. These “apps” could do things like bring in content from a catalog to their Facebook page or Instagram account. The platform already has 30 developers working on it and integrates with e-commerce platforms, like BigCommerce.
Image Credits: Facebook
As part of its F8-related announcements, WhatsApp said it would update its Business API to make it quicker for business to get started with its service. WhatsApp will make it faster to set up a business account (5 minutes instead of weeks), and will allow businesses to respond faster to inbound messages, as well as send messages to users who opted in. The business tool for customer care will allow up to 10 pre-written messages, among other updates.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told popular news outlet/leaker WaBetaInfo that WhatsApp will add multi-device support for connecting up to four devices to one account. He also said WhatsApp will introduce a “view once” disappearing feature for photos and videos, and is working on an iPad app. The method of delivering this news is worth noting — WaBetaInfo is not a traditional news outlet, but more of an independent news portal of sorts. Zuckerberg has been taking Facebook news to non-traditional (and often far friendlier) channels as of late, including popping up in Clubhouse rooms and other independent outlets. Facebook clearly feels mainstream press has turned on it when they…[checks notes]…held Facebook accountable for its actions.
Facebook also announced the general availability of the Messenger API for Instagram. First announced last fall and rolling out in phases, the API offers a more efficient way for larger brands to handle a high volume of messages by allowing them to integrate Instagram messaging into the tools and applications they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations.
Community social network Nextdoor launched a new feature called Free Finds that helps its users unload their unwanted stuff on others in their neighborhood. Notably, the feature doesn’t require you to be a Nextdoor member to access the listings, but eventually, those users may convert.
Streaming & Entertainment
Image Credits: Spotify
Spotify rolled out a sort of mid-year version of Wrapped with the launch of the new personalized experience, Only You. The feature offers insights about your music history in a sharable format, like your musical dinner party or audio birth chart, and other fun finds. Why now? Perhaps Spotify is heading off Apple Music news to come with a feature that reminds users it does personalization best?
Spotify also added Blend, a way to create a playlist with any other Spotify user. The company offers a similar feature for users on its Family and Duo plans, but this new tool doesn’t require users to be in the same household.
Apple tried to acquire livestreaming music platform Verzuz, which later sold to video social network Triller,Bloomberg reported. Apple didn’t engage in a bidding war and offered a lower price than what Triller paid, it said.
The Apple TV app launched on Android devices. Like Apple Music, Apple TV is a service that needs to work across platforms in order to compete with rivals. The Android app’s arrival followed the Apple TV app’s debut on Nvidia’s Shield TV, which means it’s now available across all major Android TV-based devices.
Health & Fitness
Amazon updated its Halo health app with a new feature called Movement Health, which will use computer vision and machine learning to asses users’ posture, mobility and stability and then suggest exercises to improve them.
Peloton slashed the pricing for its fitness app, normally $12.99/mo, for students, teachers, healthcare workers and military. Students can pay $6.99/mo while the others can pay $9.99/mo. Military members and their families can lock in that rate for life. The company is facing a PR crisis after recalling treadmills that injured 70 and led to one infant death.
Image Credits: App Annie
A TikTok trend where users prank people by spamming them on text has driven the app that makes that possible, Paste Keyboard, to the top of the App Store. Mashable noted the app’s rise, but couldn’t figure out why. Nor could App Annie. It’s kids, y’all. Honestly, the App Store needs a new “viral” chart at this point.
AirTag support is coming to Android. Apple announced some changes to AirTag, including the period of time they’ll make a sound when moved. The time will change from three times per day to a random time between 8-24 hours. Apple believes the shortening of the window will serve as a better deterrent against bad actors using AirTag to track someone. Alongside this announcement, Apple said it will later this year launch an Android application that will allow users to detect AirTag or other Find My network-enabled accessories that are separated from its owner and may be traveling with a user.
Firefox revamped its Mac and iOS app this week with a what it claims is a more distraction-free design, featuring streamlined toolbar and menus, expanded privacy protections, a new look for tabs, updated notifications and alerts, easier muting, and more.
Ring added “Request for Assistance posts” on its Neighbors app, claiming this will allow public safety agencies (e.g. police) to ask communities for help in investigations. The Request for Assistance posts can only be issued from verified public safety agency profiles, Ring says. Of course, this isn’t the only way police can acquire Ring videos, as the company has many police partnerships across the U.S. that let them acquire footage without a warrant.
Toyota added a data privacy portal to its apps. The feature is available in the Account Settings of the Toyota and Lexus apps and works with vehicles offering connected services that were built in the 2013 model year or later. It also allows consumers who own multiple Toyota or Lexus vehicles to customize privacy and data-sharing settings for each.
Gokada is launching its ride-hailing service in two more Nigerian cities as part of its super app plans. The company is merging its ride-hailing service with food delivery platform GShop. In the past year, Gokada crossed $100 million in annualized transaction value, and helped onboard 30,000 merchants.
Image Credits: Apptopia
The top reading and writing apps grew their IAP revenue 50% YoY in May 2021, Apptopia reported. This group includes apps for writing novels or comic books, or reading the works from others, like Webtoon, Wattpad, Dreame, GoodNovel, Webnovel, Tapas and Radish. As a grouping, these apps have also grown IAP revenue 15% over the past six months. Since January 2020, Webtoon and Dreame combined accounted for 56.3% of the grouping’s total IAP revenue.
Government & Policy
Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, LinkedIn and startups ShareChat and Koo have now either fully or partially complied with India’s IT rules that require them to appoint and share contact details of representatives tasked with compliance, nodal point of reference and grievance redressals to address on-ground concerns. Twitter, whose offices were raided by police in Delhi, has not yet complied.
EU will review TikTok’s Terms of Service following child safety complaints. Areas of concern include hidden marketing, aggressive advertising techniques targeted at children and contractual terms in the company’s policies that could be misleading or confusing for consumers.
Security & Privacy
The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max
The biometric data collection details were introduced in the newly added section, “Image and Audio Information,” found under the heading of “Information we collect automatically” in the policy.
Alibaba’s UC Browser app has been found to be harvesting the private web activity of users across Android or iOS when incognito mode is turned on. The browser is the fourth largest in the world, with 500 million Android downloads alone. Before being banned in India over security concerns related to Chinese apps, it was also one of the most popular in India, as well.
Funding and M&A
Miami-based NUE Life Health raised $3.3 million for its telemedicine platform and app in the U.S., where it combines mental wellness solutions that employ psychedelic-assisted therapies with a graph database-driven app. The app was backed by investors who recently left SV for Miami, including Jack Abraham, Shervin Pishevar, Martin Varsavsky, Jon Oringer, James Bailey and Christina Getty.
Etsy acquired secondhand e-commerce startup Depop for more than $1.6 billion. Depop, which caters to a Gen Z crowd, saw 2020 gross merchandise sales and revenue of approximately $650 million and $70 million, respectively.
Social network platform Venn raised $60 million in Series B funding led by Group 11. The startup provides technology that allows building owners and other real estate partners and communities to provide social networking services to their tenants, with tools for organizing buy/sell groups, organizing community activities, connecting with neighbors and more.
Digital health management company Hello Heart raised $45 million Series C led by IVP. The company’s app is marketed by employers as part of their benefit programs and helps patients manage heart health and blood pressure, medications and more.
Personal finance app Truebill raised $17 million in Series C funding led by Accel, valuing the business at $500 million. The app helps consumers get better control over their finances by helping them cancel subscriptions, negotiate bills, view credit reports, budget, and access spending insights, among other things.
Newly launched stock trading app Lightyear disclosed it raised $1.5 million pre-seed funding in a round co-led by the new unnamed fund formed by Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Teleport co-founder Sten Tamkivi. The app was the fund’s first investment.
Istanbul-based grocery delivery app Getir raised $550 million in new funding, tripling its valuation to $7.5 billion. New investors include DisruptAD and Mubadala Funding Firm (both being arms of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds) as well as Silicon Valley-based Silver Lake.
Image Credits: Sole Retriever
Sole Retriever is a newly launched app that aims to be a sneakerhead’s dream.
The app offers a one-stop shop for all things sneaker — including sneaker news, sneaker releases, sneaker raffles, a calendar of upcoming drops and more. The company says its goal is to democratize access to sneaker drops by making this info more accessible and convenient for consumers. Before its mobile launch, Sole Retriever had offered its service via the web only. Now it’s live on both iOS and Android.
Unique to the mobile experience is the ability to customize your alerts so you only hear about the raffles you want to know about — like those in the U.S., or only those that are in-store or online, for example. It also makes entering raffles easier with autofill features. Custom profiles that let you save the info for others who have agreed to let you enter their name and address to increase your chances of winning. And the app can save your logins for different retailers to make shopping easier.
Sole Retriever is currently only available as a waitlist, but TechCrunch readers can bypass the waitlist! Here’s how!
After downloading the app and logging in, when you reach the waitlist screen, you can redeem a special code — “TWIA” (in all caps!), which lets you bypass the entire waitlist and gain instant access to start your seven-day free trial for the app. The code is only valid for 24 hours after this post goes live so hit it quickly!
Apple Developer app
Image Credits: Apple
The Apple Developer app is not new. But it is the must-have download for the week ahead, as it will provide mobile developers with access to everything needed to navigate WWDC 21’s all-digital event. The app was updated this week with details about the agenda, sessions, pavilions, labs, coding and design challenges, and more. Developers can also sign up for labs inside the app and get notifications about their appointments. There are also new WWDC 21 iMessage stickers for some added fun.
Marco.org: Developer Relations. Marco Arment has some harsh words for Apple ahead of WWDC. He accuses the iPhone maker of undervaluing what apps mean for iOS beyond their IAP revenue. And he points out that developers themselves bring in a good number of customers through their own marketing efforts, not because of their App Store listing.
Pew Research: Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2021. Pew takes a look at U.S. trends, including smartphone ownership adoption. Eighty-five percent of U.S. adults now own a smartphone, which is more than have broadband (77%) at home.
Donny Wals: The iOS Developer’s Guide to WWDC 2021. Wals reminds developers to not get caught up in the WWDC chaos, pace themselves and focus on what matters to their business. He also makes suggestions about what to not overlook during WWDC week.
Idle observation: in all the Epic/Apple filings, there are at least a dozen 100+ slide internal Apple presentations of metrics for the App Store. Billings, genres, popular apps, payment models, developers – every metric Not a single one has a P&L or any analysis of costs at all
At TechCrunch’s Detroit City Spotlight this week, I sat down with Rae Witte, the journalist behind the StockX EC-1.
TechCrunch’s EC-1 push allows individual authors to go deep on a particular company. And as StockX has been headquartered in Detroit since its inception, we took the chance to dig into our reporting in front of our friends from Motor City.
Witte has been covering the now-unicorn, and the larger sneaker beat, for a half decade. That experience helped enrich her reporting arc, giving her more insight into the company’s business model, founding story and recent growth.
StockX is a behemoth today, having recently been valued at $3.8 billion in a round that was announced this month.
But even before the company added another billion dollars to its valuation, TechCrunch was impressed at its business progress.
Back when the company was worth a mere $2.8 billion, we called its then-current round of capital “pre-IPO money.”
And, of course, we asked Witte at the end of the conversation when we should expect to see not just an EC-1 from StockX, but an S-1 as well. Soon, we reckon.
Hit play above to enjoy a behind-the-scenes chat about the company. For more, here’s the EC-1 itself, which Witte absolutely crushed.
Tokyo-based SODA, which runs sneaker reselling platform SNKRDUNK, has raised a $22 million Series B led by SoftBank Ventures Asia. Investors also included basepartners, Colopl Next, THE GUILD and other strategic partners. Part of the funding will be used to expand into other Asian countries. Most of SNKRDUNK’s transactions are within Japan now, but it plans to become a cross-border marketplace.
Along with SODA’s $3 million Series A last year, this brings the startup’s total funding to $25 million.
While the COVID-19 pandemic was initially expected to put a damper on the sneaker resell market, C2C marketplaces have actually seen their business increase. For example, StockX, one of the biggest sneaker resell platforms in the world (which hit a valuation of $2.8 billion after its recent Series E), said May and June 2020 were its biggest months for sales ever.
SNKRDUNK’s sales also grew last year, and in December 2020, it recorded a 3,000% year-over-year increase in monthly gross merchandise value. Chief executive officer Yuta Uchiyama told TechCrunch this was because demand for sneakers remained high, while more people also started buying things online.
Launched in 2018, SNKRDUNK now has 2.5 million monthly users, which it says makes it the largest C2C sneaker marketplace in Japan. The Series B will allow it to speed up the pace of its international expansion, add more categories and expand its authentication facilities.
Like StockX and GOAT, SNKRDUNK’s user fees cover authentication holds before sneakers are sent to buyers. The company partners with FAKE BUSTERS, an authentication service based in Japan, to check sneakers before they are sent to buyers.
In addition to its marketplace, SNKRDUNK also runs a sneaker news site and an online community.
SODA plans to work with other companies in SoftBank Venture Asia’s portfolio that develop AI-based tech to help automate its operations, including logistics, payment, customer service and counterfeit inspection.
SoleSavy, a community built around buying hot sneakers and related items that are increasingly hard to acquire at retail, raised $2M in a round that closed late last year. SoleSavy is a group of communities that is currently mostly hosted on Slack.
SoleSavy’s co-founders Dejan Pralica and Justin Dusanj founded the company in 2018 as a paid community for collectors and enthusiasts seeking pairs that were getting snapped up by bots or resellers. Pralica previously co-founded Kicks Deals, a sneaker shipping site focused on less than retail pricing and Dusanj is the former Director of Operations at New Age Sports, a Nike retailer.
SoleSavy has built an engaged community (several communities, really) around the ebb and flow of the sneakerhead consumer universe (SCU). I just coined that, by the way, please make it a thing. The SCU is an interesting place filled with fascinating characters and behaviors. Every once in a while it pokes its head into the mainstream, whether via a documentary, a hot shoe release or a stron-garm robbery attempt. In 2021, I believe that we will see more of this world breaking out of its box into the larger consumer consciousness.
The trends that are leading us to this place are varied, but some of them have been front and center during the pandemic, as a decade’s worth of consumer behavioral change has occurred in the space of a few months. You only have to look at how hard it was to get a PS5 or Xbox One X or a GPU for the holiday season, and how many services, Twitter accounts and monitor groups rose up to try to help people do that to see what the future of shopping looks like.
I joked about not being able to buy butter without a bot, but it’s not far from the truth — nearly every category of goods has had its own shortages over the last year. But the mother of all limited goods category for decades now has been sneakers.
Every release is hotly anticipated and eagerly purchased by people looking for the latest shoe. The massive increase in interest in the sneaker as the marquee desirable item and the unwillingness of the biggest manufacturers to lose the hype halo has led to each drop being harder to get than the last. Second-market startups like StockX and GOAT have sprung up to facilitate those who don’t mind paying 30%-200% premiums on each release.
The solution for many lies in the countless ‘cook groups’ that help buyers anticipate demand and stock for each drop and plan to purchase them on release date.
SoleSavy’s function is ostensibly to do just that: help regular enthusiasts to strategize and execute the release day cop. But beyond that, Pralica says that the group has come to be about the community of people around those shoes more than the purchase itself.
SoleSavy is at its heart a slack group (a series of groups actually that act as cohorts, leading people through the tiers of community that the team has built) with rooms that help people to understand what’s happening in sneakers, get the releases and commiserate around the culture. Pralica says that they’ve built that community out slowly (the waitlist for the group grows by 400 people per day) in order to maintain a positive atmosphere and to properly onboard new people to the group. They also have an app that drives push notifications and a podcast.
That positive community vibe is what Pralica says is SoleSavy’s long-term focus and differentiating factor that keeps the 4,000 members across the US and Canada interacting with the group on a nearly daily basis.
I’ve been in a dozen or so different groups focused on buying large quantities of each release to re-sell over the years and many of them are, at best, rowdy and at worst toxic. That’s an environment that SoleSavy wanted to stay away from, says Pralica. Instead, SoleSavy tries to court those who want to buy and wear the shoes, trade them and yes, maybe even resell personal pairs eventually to obtain and wear another grail.
Though cook groups have been the ‘core’ of the Discord and Slack-based communities in the sneaker world, other iterations have been booming too. Entrepreneurial communities based in the same hustle principles like Tyler Blake’s In This Economy and fanbase-focused groups around popular streamers top the Disboard. And bets on social token outfits like Zora are also focused on community as the glue that holds together a user base.
Community is the future of all commerce, whether you’re looking for a specific product (see the huge PS5 monitors) or want to steep yourself in a particular universe of product interest (the SCU). The trends that I’ve been seeing all point to 2021 being the year that community-driven purchasing breaks out of the underbelly of fandom and becomes officially “a thing”.
SoleSavy has been experimenting with a variety of ways to keep the community knit going including live chats, get togethers and even a handsome custom community-designed Jordan 1. These efforts have driven the previously bootstrapped company to some impressive early numbers. Pralica says that SoleSavy is currently profitable, with $1.5M ARR on $33 monthly subscriptions plus affiliate revenue and that their DAUs are at 90% — an engagement number that would make any retailer salivate.
Though the funding closed (very) late last year I thought that this would be a great kick off story for the year ahead. Though SoleSavy seems to have a really compelling story and a great growth curve, I think they’re at the tip of a very large trend, one that we will see continue to build throughout the year.
A riot of luxury labels, music, and games are vying for attention in the virtual world. And as physical events and the entertainment industry that depends on them shuts down, virtual things have come to epitomize the popular culture of the pandemic.
It’s creating an environment where imagination and technical ability, not wealth, are the only barriers to accumulating the status symbols that only money and fame could buy.
Whether it’s famous designers like Marc Jacobs, Sandy Liang, or Valentino dropping styles in Nintendo’s breakout hit, Animal Crossing: New Horizons; HypeBae’s plans to host a fashion show later this month in the game; or various crossovers between Epic Games’ Fortnite and brands like Supreme (which pre-date the pandemic), fashion is tapping into gaming culture to maintain its relevance.
One entrepreneur who’s spent time on both sides of the business as a startup founder and an employee for one of the biggest brands in athletic wear has launched a new app to try build a bridge between the physical and virtual fashion worlds.
Its goal is to give hypebeasts a chance to collect virtual versions of their physical objects of desire and win points to maybe buy the gear they crave, while also providing a showcase where brands can discover new design talent to make the next generation of cult collaborations and launch careers.
The app, called Aglet, was created by Ryan Mullins, the former head of digital innovation strategy for Adidas, and it’s offering a way to collect virtual versions of limited edition sneakers and, eventually, design tools so all the would-be Virgil Ablohs and Kanye Wests of the world can make their own shoes for the metaverse.
When TechCrunch spoke with Mullins last month, he was still stuck in Germany. His plans for the company’s launch, along with his own planned relocation to Los Angeles, had changed dramatically since travel was put on hold and nations entered lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Initially, the app was intended to be a Pokemon Go for sneakerheads. Limited edition “drops” of virtual sneakers would happen at locations around a city and players could go to those spots and add the virtual sneakers to their collection. Players earned points for traveling to various spots, and those points could be redeemed for in-app purchases or discounts at stores.
“We’re converting your physical activity into a virtual currency that you can spend in stores to buy new brands,” Mulins said. “Brands can have challenges and you have to complete two or three challenges in your city as you compete on that challenge the winner will get prizes.”
Aglet determines how many points a player earns based on the virtual shoes they choose to wear on their expeditions. The app offers a range of virtual sneakers from Air Force 1s to Yeezys and the more expensive or rare the shoe, the more points a player earns for “stepping out” in it. Over time, shoes will wear out and need to replaced — ideally driving more stickiness for the app.
Currency for in-app purchases can be bought for anywhere from $1 (for 5 “Aglets”) to $80 (for 1,000 “Aglets”). As players collect shoes they can display them on their in-app virtual shelves and potentially trade them with other players.
When the lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders came through, Mullins and his designers quickly shifted to create the “pandemic mode” for the game, where users can go anywhere on a map and simulate the game.
“Our plan was to have an LA specific release and do a competition, but that was obviously thrown off,” Mullins said.
While Mullins’ vision for Aglet’s current incarnation is an interesting attempt to weave the threads of gaming and sneaker culture into a new kind of augmented reality-enabled shopping experience, there’s a step beyond the game universes that Mullins wants to create.
The future of fashion discovery could be in the metaverse
“My proudest initiative [at Adidas] was one called MakerLab,” said Mullins.
MakerLab linked Adidas up with young, up-and-coming designers and let them create limited edition designs for the shoe company based on one of its classic shoe silhouettes. Mullins thinks that those types of collaborations point the way to a potential future for the industry that could be incredibly compelling.
“The real vision for me is that I believe that the next Nike is an inverted Nike,” Mullins said. “I think what’s going to happen is that you’re going to have young kids on Roblox designing stuff in the virtual environments and it’ll pop there and you’ll have Nike or Adidas manufacture it.”
From that perspective, the Aglet app is more of a Trojan Horse for the big idea that Mullins wants to pursue. That’s to create a design studio to showcase the best virtual designs and bring them to the real world.
Mullins calls it the “Smart Aglet Sneaker Studio”. “[It’s] where you can design your own sneakers in the standard design style and we’ll put those in the game. We’ll let you design your own hoodies and then [Aglet] does become a YouTube for fashion design.”
The YouTube example comes from the starmaking power the platform has enabled for everyone from makeup artists to musicians like Justin Bieber, who was discovered on the social media streaming service.
“I want to build a virtual design platform where kids can build their own brands for virtual fashion brands and put them into this game environment that I’m building in the first phase,” said Mullins. “Once Bieber was discovered, YouTube meant he was being able to access an entire infrastructure to become a star. What Nike and Adidas are doing is something similar where they’re finding this talent out there and giving that designer access to their infrastructure and maybe could jumpstart a young kid’s career.”