Index leads $12.2M seed in Sourceful, a data play to make supply chains greener

Supply chains can be a complex logistical challenge. But they pose an even greater environmental challenge. And it’s that latter problem — global supply-chain sustainability — where UK startup Sourceful is fully focused, although it argues its approach can boost efficiency as well as shrink environmental impact. So it’s a win-win, per the pitch.

Early investors look impressed: Sourceful is announcing a $12.2 million seed funding round today, led by Europe’s Index Ventures (partner, Danny Rimer, is joining the board). Eka Ventures, Venrex and Dylan Field (Figma founder), also participated in the chunky raise.

The June 2020-founded startup says it will use the new funding to scale its operations and build out its platform for sustainable sourcing, with a plan to hire more staff across technology, sustainability, marketing and ops.

Its team has already grown fivefold since the start of 2021 — and it’s now aiming to reach 60 employees by the end of the year.

And all this is ahead of a public launch that’s programmed for early next year.

Sourceful’s platform is in pre-launch beta for now, with around 20 customers across a number of categories — such as food & beverages (Foundation Coffee House), fashion and accessories (Fenton), healthcare (Elder), and online marketplaces (Floom and Stitched) — kicking the tyres in the hopes of making better supply chain decisions.

Startup watchers will know that supply chain logistics and freight forwarding has been a hotbed of activity — with entrepreneurs making waves for years now, promising efficiency gains by digitizing legacy (and often still pretty manual) legacy processes.

Sustainability-focused supply chain startups are a bit more of a recent development (with some category-pioneering exceptions) but could be set for major uplift as the world’s attention spins toward decarbonizing. (Just this month we’ve also covered Portcast and Responsibly, for example.)

Sourceful joins the fray with a dual-sided promise to tackle sustainability and efficiency by mapping client requirements to vetted suppliers on its marketplace — handling the buying and shipping logistics piece (including a little warehousing) — and taking a commission on the overall price as its cut of the action.

At first glance it’s a curious choice of name for a sustainability startup, given the fact that sourcing (a whole lot) less is what’s ultimately going to be needed for humanity to cut its global carbon emissions enough to avert climate disaster. But maybe the intended wordplay here is ‘full’ — in the sense of ‘fully optimized’.

The UK startup is attacking the supply chain sustainability problem from the perspective of doing something right now, arguing that making a dent in consumer-driven environmental impacts of sourcing stuff (packaging, merchansize, components etc) is a lot better than letting the same old polluting status quo roll on. 

However, given all the unverifiable ‘eco’ marketing claims being attached to products nowadays — or, indeed, other forms of flagrant ‘greenwashing’ (like bogus carbon offsets) that are cynically trying to convince consumers it’s okay to keep consuming as much as ever — there are clearly pitfalls to avoid too.

If you’re talking about packaging — which is one of the products that Sourceful is deeply focused on, with a forthcoming design capability offering that will help businesses to customize packaging designs, pick materials, size etc based on real-time data, all with the goal of encouraging ‘greener’ choices — less really is more.

Ideally, zero packaging is what your business should be aiming for (where practical, ofc). Yet Sourceful’s service will, inevitably, support demand for packaging supply and manufacture. At least in the first blush. So there’s a bit of a conundrum.

“You can put a carbon footprint score on packaging in general. So you could say packaging overall is this amount so the best thing you could do is not use any packaging. But the reality is, for most brands right now, especially for ecommerce, if you’re trying to deliver your product to the customer there needs to be some packaging — and so if packaging is unavoidable in its current form or in another form then the best thing you can then do is optimize that packaging,” argues CEO and co-founder Wing Chan, when we make the point that zero packaging is the most sustainable option.

“Right now we think the best solution is to help you optimize your packaging — the next wave will be around circular forms of packaging. Packaging that you can return back to your courier, packaging that you can reuse in another form. But we wanted to start with what is the current pain point. And the pain point is: I’m buying packaging, it’s very expensive, it’s very time-consuming and if I try and get it to be ‘green’ I either put a marketing spin on it or I don’t know how to actually make it more sustainable.

“But I definitely agree with you that long term we’ve got to think about how do I get the supply chain number as close to zero and then offset whatever’s remaining.”

For now, then, Sourceful is using data — combined with its marketplace of vetted suppliers (~40 at this stage) in the UK and China — to help companies optimize sourcing logistics and shrink their supply chains’ environmental impact.

It does this by putting a “carbon footprint score” on the product choices its brand clients are making.

This means that instead of only being able to claim “qualitative things” — such as that a product uses less plastic or a different type of plastic — Sourceful’s customers can display an actual benchmarked carbon footprint score (in the form of a number), based on its lifecycle assessment of the stuff involved in making up the finished product.

“It’s a lifecycle view,” says Chan. “For example if you take packaging we look at the box, we look at what is the cardboard material, where does it come from, how far has it travelled, what type of material is it, how much material gets used, how is then transported — for example is it a manufacturer in Asia all the way to the UK — so we get an overall score. So rather than it just being comparing paper and plastic we actually help the brands to see an overall quantitive outcome.”

“We’ve built the [software] engine that allows you to make choices and see the actual output — so, for example, if you make your box bigger what does that actually do to your carbon footprint score?” he adds.

Sourceful has an internal climate science team to do this work. It is also building on publicly available data sources, per Chan — such as ecoinvent (“the market standard based data”) — but he says the public data available isn’t up-to-date, saying it’s also therefore working with researchers to update these key sources with the last five years of data.

It wants the protocol it’s devised for scoring carbon footprint via this lifecycle assessment to become a universal standard. Hence it’s currently going through an ISO certification process — hoping to have that in place before the planned public launch of its platform in Q1 next year.

“There’s two ISO standards for doing a lifecycle assessment and normally you’d get ISO approval for a specific product but we’re getting ISO approval for the whole methodology — essentially the platform that we’ve built,” explains Chan. “There’s an independent panel of people, from universities, from other consultancies, who will be reviewing this as part of that ISO review — that’s why it’s so important to us that we’re doing that.”

The vetting of the suppliers on its marketplace is something Sourceful is doing entirely by itself, though — without any outside help. So its customers still need to trust that it’s doing a proper job of monitoring all the third parties on its marketplace.

But, on this, Chan argues that’s since sustainability is core to its value proposition it is incentivized to do the vetting in a more thorough and comprehensive way than any other individual player would be.

“The key thing for us is we combine both the data capture you would do when you’re understanding a supplier — asking all the questions about how their supply chain works and all of the laws entered by the new country — but we’re coupling that with a human visit as well. So we have a team in the UK as well as a team in Asia who actually go and visit the manufacturers. So it’s an extra layer of comfort for the brands that we’ve actually spent the time to go and meet them,” he suggests.

“The second thing is, as part of our marketplace build, we’re understanding how their supply chain works — in order to build the lifecycle assessment we actually understand each stage of their manufacturing process. So we have a much deeper understanding of their way of operating than all of the other platforms would have. So, yes it’s more involved, but we think that gives better accountability and a more accurate outcome.”

“We’re taking [the vetting process] to another level,” he adds. “We didn’t find anyone that was going into the same level of depth as us — so that’s why we’ve done it ourselves.”

Pressed a little more, Chan also tells TechCrunch: “Supply chain risks never disappear but the thing is how much investment are you making to learn more about it? And for us because we’re capturing this data on lifecycle assessment it’s part of that process of understanding the supplier. So rather than it being another cost that we pay to go visit the manufacturer, we see it as part of our data gathering — a key part of the platform.

“So rather than it being a cost to minimize, which is why a lot of companies end up in trouble because they don’t visit [their suppliers] enough, we’re invested in making sure that data is as accurate and up-to-date as possible. And the manufacturers see that because they want to have a score that’s good, they also want to understand where their footprint could be improved. So it’s a partnership, rather than it just being a bunch of tick boxes to check — which is what a lot of the audits are… We’re here to try and understand their process better.”

Zooming out to look at the driving forces pressing for supply chain sustainability, Chan suggests demand for greener sourcing by businesses is being driven by consumers themselves — who are certainly more aware than ever of environmental concerns. And can, to a degree, vote with their wallet by choosing more eco products (and/or by putting direct reputational pressure on businesses, such as via social media channels).

There is some regulatory pressure, too — such as existing sustainability and carbon reporting requirements (typically for larger businesses). Along with the overarching ‘net zero’ targets which governments in Europe and elsewhere have signed up for. So there should be increasing ‘top down’ pressure on businesses to decarbonize.

Chan also points to another swathe of environmental laws coming in — such as those banning things like single use plastics — which he says are creating further momentum for businesses to re-evaluate their supply chains.

Nonetheless, he believes the biggest source of pressure for companies to decarbonize is coming from consumers themselves. So — the premise is — brands that can present the strongest story to people about what they’re doing to reduce their environmental impact — backed up by a certified lifecycle assessment (assuming Sourceful gets its ISO stamp) — stand to win the business of growing numbers of eco-minded buyers, at the same time as netting cost efficiencies by optimizing their supply chains.

(And, indeed, part of the team’s inspiration for Sourceful’s business was to challenge the idea that consumers are to blame for the world’s environmental problems — given the lack of choice people so often have over what they can buy, not to mention the paucity of information to inform purchasing choices.)

“In the absence of government regulation on [lifecycle assessment] we’re actually saying to the brand, you’ve got existing products, we’ve measured the material, production, transport, all of these things — given you a carbon footprint score, and actually when you go and look at alternatives we can quantitatively assess the difference between those options. So rather than just pandering to the latest marketing buzzword you get a quantitive view on that,” he says.

“So what we’ve been showing is you can move to a more sustainable outcome — from a quantitative point of view — but also save money. So we’re tackling both problems. The supply chain itself is not very efficient so we can save money and the supply chain is not very transparent so we can give them better visibility into their actual carbon footprint.”

“Every brand that we’ve met that has been started in the last two years, their founder or their premise of the brand had sustainability involved — it’s such a hot topic that if you start a fashion brand or a beauty brand or food brand you have to have somewhere in your mission statement/founder story about your commitment to sustainability. So we thought that’s where the market is going to be. But actually we saw more established companies had the same view — that their consumers are also asking for there to be change in how they talk about their products, how they understand their lifecycle journey. So actually I think the government drive on regulation is of course important but it’s still far behind and actually consumers are driving more of a change,” he adds.

Sourceful’s offering includes a warehousing ‘managed service’ component — where it’s using a predictive algorithm to power auto-stocking so that brands can store (non-current) inventory in its warehouses (to save space etc) and have the goods shipped to them as they need them.

Being able to source supplies like components or packaging in bulk obviously reduces purchasing costs. But depending on how it’s done, it may also mean you can optimize things like transportation requirements, which could limit shipping emissions, so there are potentially efficiency and sustainability strands here too.

“Sea freight is several times more energy efficient than air freight so if we can organize more shipments to go via sea freight than air then that’s a major win. The[n] if we can fill the container up with different client orders so that you end up with one very full container, rather than lots of containers with half of it empty, you’re also going to save a lot of energy too. And so that’s another part of the journey that we do,” says Chan. “The other thing is because were aggregating orders with the manufacturer — they actually have better utilization as well, which is more efficient for them. So all of these things are really important to driving the overall cost as well sustainability score down.”

“The more we thought about it, the more there are so many parts of the supply chain which haven’t been optimzied,” he adds. “So many times you order 2,000 boxes it comes in these air freight shipments and someone has to courier it to you in one trip — there’s so many places where aggregating and being smarter about data you can save so much footprint.”

 

#carbon-footprint, #carbon-offset, #danny-rimer, #e-commerce, #eka-ventures, #environmentalism, #europe, #fundings-exits, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #logistics, #product-management, #sourceful, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #sustainability

MarginEdge, a restaurant management software company, raises $18M

MarginEdge announced Monday it raised $18 million in Series B funding to give restaurant operators a real-time view into their costs.

Co-founder and CEO Bo Davis founded the company with Roy Phillips and Brian Mills in 2015. Both Davis and Phillips are veterans of the restaurant industry: Davis was previously the founder of conveyor belt sushi restaurant chain Wasabi, while Phillips was an executive at Bloomin Brands.

What they recognized with independent restaurants was that they struggled with workflow like invoices and tracking food costs and were either building internal tools to help them stay on top of things or were still operating with pen and paper or spreadsheets.

“We focused on building something our friends would like,” Davis told TechCrunch. “We spent three years on the product and worked with 20 restaurants to use the software and focus on getting it right instead of rushing to market.”

MarginEdge’s tool is a restaurant management app that works with a business’ point of sale to streamline inventory, cost-tracking, ordering and recipes to eliminate the paperwork. It also captures all invoices, receipts or bills and converts them to line-item details within 24 hours. It is designed for independent restaurant owners that have under 50 units, Davis said.

Since launching its app in 2018, the Virginia-based company is seeing its platform used in over 2,500 restaurants. It raised a Series A in 2019, then an A2 in 2020 and with the latest round, led by IGC Hospitality, has raised $25 million in total.

IGC Hospitality, which operates restaurant properties, is not only an investor, but is also a customer, said Jeffrey Brosi, founder and managing partner. The company was using some different technology platforms to manage inventory and sales, but was looking for something to manage its whole inventory process.

“Bo came in and did a presentation, and it was amazing,” Brosi added. “The biggest thing for us is [being] user friendly. MarginEdge also has great customer service. We’ve invested in a few companies in the hospitality industry, and know the pain points and what we want to fix. If it makes sense financially, we will invest. This was one pain point that we didn’t have, and Bo filled that void.”

Like all restaurants over the past 18 months, Davis said the global pandemic caused MarginEdge to step back and evaluate. Despite many restaurants going out of business, he credits his business taking off again to restaurants rethinking their processes.

“We were lucky enough to be in a good position with capital that we could keep our team,” he added. “Revenue decreased for the first time, but we grew 45% even with COVID and as of Q1 was seeing 200% annual growth.”

MarginEdge has over 400 employees and its platform processes 45,000 invoices a week. Davis intends to invest the new funding in building out the leadership team, product development, building new features for the back office and on data science, an area he just received an advanced degree in, he said.

The company is using benchmark data around sales, food costs and labor costs and would like to provide more insights to its customers as it relates to inflation, which affects all of those aspects, and as a result, the menu prices.

“A lot of it is using data to understand menu pricing and what other people are doing so you are not pricing yourself out of the market or operating on margins where you can’t survive,” Davis added. “It will be all about predicting rather than reporting. The two things in the kitchen that are hardest are the startup prep list and the inventory late at night, and we make both easier.”

#apps, #bo-davis, #brian-mills, #enterprise, #funding, #igc-hospitality, #inventory, #jeffrey-brosi, #marginedge, #menu, #mobile, #point-of-sale, #recent-funding, #restaurant, #restaurant-management, #roy-phillips, #saas, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #wasabi

Web building platform Duda snaps up e-commerce cart tool Snipcart

Duda announced Wednesday that it acquired Canada-based Snipcart, a startup that enables businesses to add a shopping cart to their websites.

The acquisition is Palo Alto-based Duda’s first deal, and follows the website development platform’s $50 million Series D round in June that brings its total funding to $100 million to date. Duda co-founder and CEO Itai Sadan declined to comment on the acquisition amount.

Duda, which works with digital agencies and SaaS companies, has approximately 1 million published paying sites, and the acquisition was driven by the company seeing a boost in e-commerce websites as a result of the global pandemic, he told TechCrunch.

This was not just about a technology acquisition for Duda, but also a talented team, Sadan said. The entire Snipcart team of 12 is staying on, including CEO Francois Lanthier Nadeau; the companies will be fully integrated by 2022 and the first collaborative versions will come out.

When he met the Snipcart team, Sadan thought they were “super experienced and held the same values.”

“We share many of the same types of customers, many of which are API-first,” he added. “If our customers need more headless commerce, they can build their own front end using Snipcart. Their customers will benefit from us growing the team — we plan to double it in the next year and roll out more features at a faster pace.”

The global retail e-commerce market is estimated to grow by 50% to $6.3 trillion by 2024, according to Statista. Duda itself has experienced a year over year increase of 265% in e-commerce sites being built on its platform, which Sadan said was what made Snipcart an attractive acquisition to further accelerate and manage its growth that includes over 17,000 customers.

Together, the companies will offer new capabilities, like payment and membership tools inside of the Duda platform. Many of Duda’s customers come with inventory and don’t want to manage it on another e-commerce platform, so Snipcart will be that component for taking their inventory and making it shoppable on the web.

“Everyone is thinking about how to introduce transactions into their websites and web experiences, and that is what we were looking for in an e-commerce platform,” Sadan said.

 

#api, #apps, #duda, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #francois-lanthier-nadeau, #funding, #itai-sadan, #ma, #recent-funding, #saas, #snipcart, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc

6 tips for establishing your startup’s global supply chain

Startups are hard work, but the complexities of global supply chains can make running hardware companies especially difficult. Instead of existing within a codebase behind a screen, the key components of your hardware product can be scattered around the world, subject to the volatility of the global economy.

I’ve spent most of my career establishing global supply chains, setting up manufacturing lines for 3D printers, electric bicycles and home fitness equipment on the ground in Mexico, Hungary, Taiwan and China. I’ve learned the hard way that Murphy’s law is a constant companion in the hardware business.

But after more than a decade of work on three different continents, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that will help you avoid unnecessary mistakes.

Expect cost fluctuations, especially in currency and shipping

Shipping physical products is quite different from “shipping” code — you have to pay a considerable amount of money to transport products around the world. Of course, shipping costs become a line item like any other as they get baked into the overall business plan. The issue is that those costs can change monthly — sometimes drastically.

At this time last year, a shipping container from China cost $3,300. Today, it’s almost $18,000 — a more than fivefold increase in 12 months. It’s safe to assume that most 2020 business plans did not account for such a cost increase for a key line item.

Shipping a buggy hardware product can be exponentially costlier than shipping buggy software. Recalls, angry customers, return shipping and other issues can become existential problems.

Similar issues also arise with currency exchange rates. Contract manufacturers often allow you to maintain cost agreements for any fluctuations below 5%, but the dollar has dropped much more than 5% against the yuan compared to a year ago, and hardware companies have been forced to renegotiate their manufacturing contracts.

As exchange rates become less favorable and shipping costs increase, you have two options: Operate with lower margins, or pass along the cost to the end customer. Neither choice is ideal, but both are better than going bankrupt.

The takeaway is that when you set up your business, you need to prepare for these possibilities. That means operating with enough margin to handle increased costs, or with the confidence that your end customer will be able to handle a higher price.

Overorder critical parts

Over the past year, many businesses have lost billions of dollars in market value because they didn’t order enough semiconductors. As the owner of a hardware company, you will encounter similar risks.

The supply for certain components, like computer chips, can be limited, and shortages can arise quickly if demand increases or supply chains get disrupted. It’s your job to analyze potential choke points in your supply chain and create redundancies around them.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-hardware, #ec-how-to, #ec-manufacturing-and-supply-chain, #hardware, #logistics, #manufacturing, #semiconductors, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management

Flip bags $28M to turn beauty, wellness social commerce on its head

Social commerce startup Flip is mixing live commerce mobile apps with real customer reviews to improve the buying experience and opportunity for the creator economy. Today, the Los Angeles-based company closed on a $28 million Series A led Streamlined Ventures.

Nooruldeen “Noor” Agha, a serial e-commerce entrepreneur, founded Flip in 2019 after emigrating to the United States from Iraq. He had previously lived in Dubai, where he built some companies in the e-commerce space.

It was while leading the companies that he realized that the vision of commerce was broken and that people had a fragmented path to purchase: They may start on social media, then move to video platforms and conclude on yet another site to make the purchase.

Agha believes the future of e-commerce will be driven by shoppers and the experiences they have with social media, so Flip is pulling all of those experiences into one app, mixing in user-generated reviews and live shopping shows for beauty, wellness and health brands. It then adds same-day shipping and back-end logistics, Agha told TechCrunch. Users post video reviews of their purchases and can see in real-time data how they did, as well as receive commissions from sales that resulted from their posts.

“It’s not only a social platform, it is the best post-purchase experience — shipping, rewards, returns — everything people love and in a two-click process,” he added. “Our app is like if TikTok and Amazon had a baby.”

Joining Streamlined Ventures in the latest round is Mubadala Capital Ventures, BDMI and a group of early backers and angel investors, including Ruby Lu, an early investor in Kuaishou, China’s leading social commerce platform. In total, Flip raised $31.5 million, which includes a small seed two years ago, Agha said.

He intends to use the new funding to scale the company and its creator ecosystem, while also expanding the end-to-end logistics part of the platform.

Live commerce originated in China, where McKinsey estimates the market reached $171 billion in 2020 and will jump to a valuation of $423 billion by 2022. Meanwhile, U.S. live commerce market is trailing behind, expecting to reach $11 billion by the end of 2021.

Flip is now signing an average of 20 new brands per week and has already gained partnerships with Unilever and Coty. Agha expects to hit 500 brands by this year’s holiday season. In addition, the company has 1 million downloads and in the last quarter shopped out 30,000 orders, which Agha predicts will double in coming months.

“We were hiding on purpose so we could build out everything and be done when we launched,” he added. “We focused on onboarding brands instead of pushing for growth, but now we expect to have a grand launch at the end of September where we start aggressively pushing growth.”

Ullas Naik, founder and general partner of Streamlined Ventures, said his firm does a lot of investment in e-commerce and marketplaces and was one of the first investors in DoorDash and also backed Rappi.

Commerce has evolved over the past 20 years in a meaningful way, he said. During that time, spend shifted from retail and online, while the quality of the experience has also evolved. He has seen evidence of similar models in other geographies, particularly in China when they have “had massive success.”

“We are most intrigued with how live commerce intersects with social networking to create enhanced shopping experiences,” Naik said. “When I met with Noor and he told me he was going to start with beauty and cosmetics, I thought he was building a unique experience and wanted him to be in a broad range of categories, not just beauty. With what he is building on the back end, with the logistics piece, he is creating a super experience and I’m intrigued by what can be built.”

#advertising-tech, #apps, #bdmi, #ecommerce, #flip, #funding, #mubadala-capital-ventures, #nooruldeen-noor-agha, #recent-funding, #retailers, #social-commerce, #social-media, #social-networking, #startups, #streamlined-ventures, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #ullas-naik, #video

Wonder Brands picks up $20M, aims to build marketplace of Latin American e-commerce brands

E-commerce roll-up companies are big in the United States, and Wonder Brands wants to be that for Latin America.

The Mexico-based company closed on $20 million in seed funding, co-led by ALLVP and Mountain Nazca, with participation from CoVenture, Victory Park Capital, GFC, QED (Fontes), Korify Capital and Endeavor Catalyst.

Wonder Brands co-founders Nicolás Gonzalez Luna and Federico Malek came together to start the company in January 2021 to acquire digital brands in the MercadoLibre and Amazon ecosystem. It then leverages its technology to scale their operations and grow sales by taking care of the marketing, analytics, supply chain management and working capital needs of the companies. It focuses on companies in the areas of home and garden, sports and fitness, beauty and personal care.

“MercadoLibre has a larger share, but Amazon is entering the region quickly, so there is not one dominating marketplace. MercadoLibre may have half the market, but then it is more balanced between a number of different platforms,” Gonzalez Luna told TechCrunch. “That diversification means operations here are more complex than the classic Amazon seller. Negotiations take longer and require more discussion about who you are to get the trust in you. That’s why we will be doing fewer, but larger deals than our U.S. counterparts.”

Malek’s background is on the commerce side, having worked at Argentinian insurtech company iunigo.com before founding e-commerce fulfillment company Avenida.com, which was acquired by Groupon in 2010. He then worked as Groupon’s managing director in the region. He knew Gonzalez Luna, whose background includes Goldman Sachs where he focused on M&A.

Michael Breitstein, principal at CoVenture, said his firm has made a variety of investments on the debt and equity sides of e-commerce and believes Malek and Gonzalez Luna provide a “great one-two punch” with their backgrounds, as well as the ability to raise capital and build out a platform.

Though there is a lot of competition to acquire digitally native companies in the $1 million revenue range, Malek said Wonder Brands will focus on larger sellers and operators, with a deal target of at least $5 million in revenue. They are also taking a “buy and build” approach rather than the “buy and consolidate” business model many of the other roll-up companies have, he added.

With its approach, the company’s goal is to enable its acquired companies to sell on multiple channels. It provides support in four areas: category management and brand development, marketing and performance, technology to automate processes like inventory and logistics and operations to manage all of the channels needed. For example, in Latin America, inventory has to be consolidated into one warehouse, but then separated depending on the sales channel, Malek.

Acquiring and scaling companies is big business. London-based Hahnbeck Business Systems, an e-commerce M&A firm that tracks funding to FBA (fulfillment by Amazon) acquirers all over the world, reports that e-commerce roll-up companies raised $7.24 billion in disclosed funding to date.

According to the different sources, reports say Latin American e-commerce company MercadoLibre has a market cap of between $70 billion and $94.billion. Meanwhile, marketplace merchants accounted for 55% of units sold on Amazon.com, according to the retailer. In 2020, that accounted for $300 billion in sales, according to Marketplace Pulse estimates based on Amazon disclosures.

The seed financing enables Wonder Brands to invest in building a team to focus on the four support areas and marketing. The company has 20 employees currently and plans to triple that in the next month. The funding is also complementing larger debt facilities that the company has available to acquire brands. Its target is to make six or seven acquisitions this year.

The company is on target to achieve $55 million in revenue by the end of the year and will then move toward $100 million in revenue in the next 12 months, Malek said. It currently operates in Mexico and plans to begin operations in Brazil by the end of 2021.

 

#allvp, #amazon-com, #coventure, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #federico-malek, #funding, #groupon, #latin-america, #mercadolibre, #michael-breitstein, #mountain-nazca, #nicolas-gonzalez-luna, #paypal, #recent-funding, #retailers, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #victory-park-capital, #wonder-brands

Omnibiz gets $3M to digitize Nigeria’s informal B2B supply chain

Despite the prevalence of shopping malls and the emergence of VC-backed e-commerce companies like Jumia, informal retail in Africa is still king.

A 2016 study by PwC states that 90% of sales in Africa’s major economies come through informal channels — markets and kiosks.

This presents a large market ripe for digitization, and over the past five years, African startups have risen to the challenge, raising millions of dollars in the process. Today, Omnibiz, a Lagos-based startup, joins the fray and has raised a seed round of $3 million to expand into new markets.

Omnibiz is a B2B e-commerce platform that connects fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) manufacturers to retailers by digitizing the supply chain stakeholders.

The platform offers a mobile app, WhatsApp channel and a phone number that retailers can use to stock their shops. Omnibiz says in a statement that retailers “can place orders at their convenience and have goods delivered to their doorstep at no cost.”

Omnibiz was launched in 2019 by Deepankar Rustagi. The Indian founder and CEO who has stayed in Nigeria for over two decades started his first startup, VConnect, in 2011 as an online marketplace and search engine to find local professionals for service needs.

The platform connected individuals with more than 100 services and over 500,000 listed businesses across the country before shutting down in 2017, Rustagi claims.

Post-VConnect, Rustagi consulted for multiple FMCG brands. He figured a need existed for manufacturers and retailers of goods to digitize their processes leading to the launch of Omnibiz in late 2019.

Omnibiz operates an asset-light retail distribution model. When a retailer makes an order on the Omnibiz platform, it is requested from partner distributors who store goods on behalf of manufacturers and are traditionally known to help out with warehousing and transportation.

With Omnibiz, these distributors can focus solely on warehousing and pass on the responsibility of transporting goods to Omnibiz’s third-party logistics providers. The drivers of these logistics providers use Omnibiz to efficiently distribute the orders to the retailers within 24 hours.

“We work with manufacturers to provide visibility. Then buy goods from them and keep them in partner hubs that act as warehouses and distributors. Then, use the services of drivers that work with third-party logistics drivers who get paid on every delivery made,” Rustagi told TechCrunch.

Omnibiz

Image Credits: Omnibiz

Digitizing this value chain helps retailers save working capital while Omnibiz connects them with more than 20 brands, including Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark.

The B2B e-commerce retail company is currently in four cities across Nigeria — Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kaduna. The company will add two more cities, Ibadan and Kano, before the end of August, Rustagi adds.

By Rustagi’s account, Omnibiz will feed off his experience at VConnect, his prior business that struggled to monetize and scale despite the huge traction it got as a popular local marketplace. 

“We knew about small businesses and what sort of technology they like. That was our specialization, but our business model didn’t work. But in this case [Omnibiz], the monetization happens on our platform, and there’s money to be made for the small business. We’ve been growing 30% month-on-month for the last 12 months,” he said.

The B2B informal e-commerce market has seen a resurgence in the last couple of years. Kenya’s Sokowatch and Twiga, Nigeria’s TradeDepot and Egypt’s MaxAB have longed vied for market-leader positions in their respective markets.

The pandemic spiked more interest in their activities as all the aforementioned startups have raised money this past year, including newcomers Kenya’s MarketForce and now Omnibiz.

Some operate asset-light models, while others take up the responsibility of managing the end-to-end digitization process. Rustagi believes the former is perfect for the company because it helps distributors expand their reach rather than eliminate them.

I think scaling in one city with assets is not that difficult. But if you have to scale in 20, 24 cities in a country like Nigeria or Ghana, or Ivory Coast or East Africa, the investment required will be very high.” Rustagi continued. “So we think without significant investment in assets, we will be able to scale much faster. And since we took the tech-first approach, we have good control over the business. I believe we’re in the right space and the right time with the right model.”

Omnibiz’s seed round was led by V&R Africa, Timon Capital and Tangerine Insurance. The round also included Lofty Inc., Musha Ventures, Sunu Capital, Launch Africa, and Rising Tide Africa. It takes the company’s total investment to $4 million. Rustagi also disclosed that the company also got funding from Seedstars and will participate in the accelerator’s growth program.

I think Omnibiz will be the role model for B2B retail in Africa and can scale well into other emerging markets. We are excited and happy to be supporting Omnibiz in all ways beyond just providing capital,” Raj Kulasingam and Vishal Agarwal of V&R Africa said in a statement. 

Over the next few months, Omnibiz will use the investment to expand in other West African cities outside Nigeria —  Abidjan, Takoradi, Kumasi and Accra. Food, non-alcoholic beverages, personal care, and baby care products are the top categories on the Omnibiz platform. The company is planning to expand into new categories like alcoholic beverages and OTC pharmaceutical products.

Omnibiz will also use the investment to create new tech products that will enhance value for the retailers. The company will work with partners to increase the working capital availability for the retailers and digital tools to manage their business more efficiently.

“One of the key things we intend to do is to bring on medium-scale manufacturers who find it difficult to get the last-mile delivery to reach customers. We want to scale them so they can reach a large number of retailers. That’s something we are rolling out so we can onboard more and more manufacturers,” said the CEO on Omnibiz’s next plans.

#africa, #e-commerce, #east-africa, #ecommerce, #logistics, #nigeria, #omnibiz, #supply-chain-management, #tc

5 ways AI can help mitigate the global shipping crisis

With the fourth quarter now upon us, every industry faces a challenge in managing a holiday production calendar that will deliver the goods. The key for startups looking to defend the quarter from disruptions is to adopt a proactive, data-driven approach to inventory management.

Here are five methods we’ve been counseling clients to adopt:

  • Use data and analytics to identify and map out the inventory being affected by the global shipping crisis. If you don’t have the data about what is on a ship transporting your materials, then use this crisis as an opportunity to justify prioritizing supply chain digital transformation with data, IoT and advanced analytics (e.g., machine learning and simulation). You need to know the location of your goods all times if you are going to successfully gauge what impact a shortage will have on your operation.

    Ultimately, AI will help startups understand how myriad disruptions affect their supply chain so they can better respond with a Plan B when the unthinkable happens.

  • If you don’t have the data readily available, then you need to partner with a vendor and use a secure environment to share second-party data to deliver AI-driven actionable insights on the business impact on all parties involved, from startup to retailer to the consumer.
  • Simulate and forecast the impact of these supply-side issues on the demand side. Conduct scenario planning exercises and inform critical business decisions. If this ability is not in place, an emergency like a pandemic, civil unrest or an uncontrollable rate hike will wreak havoc on your business plan. Use this situation as an opportunity to put a disaster management program in place to prepare for the potential risks.

    #analytics, #artificial-intelligence, #business-intelligence, #column, #ec-column, #ec-manufacturing-and-supply-chain, #internet-of-things, #logistics, #machine-learning, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management

Online retailers: Stop trying to beat Amazon

Brick-and-mortar stores forced to close due to pandemic lockdowns had to quickly pivot to an online-only model. Understandably, newcomers to the digital retail scene found themselves behind the curve in attracting online buyers, particularly in the face of popular established events like Amazon Prime Day. This year’s Prime Day, held June 21-22, was reportedly the biggest ever on the platform.

Online retailers that have opted to forge their own path to generate sales often wonder how they can compete with Amazon.

Amazon’s true unique selling proposition is its distribution network. Online retailers will not be able to compete on this point. Instead, it’s important to focus on areas where they can excel.

The reality is that Amazon’s true unique selling proposition is its distribution network. Online retailers will not be able to compete on this point because Amazon’s distribution network is so fast. Instead, it’s important to focus on areas where they can excel — without having to become a third-party seller on Amazon’s platform.

The following are seven key tips that are relevant for online retailers that want to attract and retain customers without having to partner with Amazon or to try to beat it at its own game.

Gain a 360-degree view of the customer

An online retailer needs to consider what kind of experience it wants to create; customers expect smooth processes on every step of their online shopping journey.

One idea is to implement a consumer data platform that will help the retailer gain the best insights into their customers: who they are and what they like, which websites they frequent and other relevant information. Retailers can use this data to then target customers with ads for products they’ll actually want to buy. Consumer data platforms can even help online retailers target consumers across platforms as well as in the store.

Ensure smooth and glitch-free pre-sale transactions

One of the biggest frustrations with online retailers is the performance of a website, from getting on the site through the closing of the sale. If something fails or glitches at any point in the process of searching for a product and paying for it, the customer will leave and not come back.

The solution to this problem involves a lot of testing of the user interface to ensure a good user experience. Tests should be done on all e-commerce segments on a site, including the basket and ad banners. By inserting tags along the customer journey, a retailer can track lost sales and see where problems happen on their website.

Offer a broad variety of payment options

As a payment option, PayPal recently experienced a record 36% year-on-year growth in payment volume between the third quarter of 2019 and Q3 2020. Despite PayPal’s popularity, Amazon does not accept it as a form of payment.

#amazon, #brand-management, #column, #customer-experience, #customer-service, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ecommerce, #online-shopping, #supply-chain-management, #tc

Checkmarx acquires open source supply chain security startup Dustico

Checkmarx, an Israeli provider of static application security testing (AST), has acquired open-source supply chain security startup Dustico for an undisclosed sum. 

Founded in 2020, Dustico provides a dynamic source-code analysis platform that employs machine learning to detect malicious attacks and backdoors in software supply chains. 

The acquisition will see Checkmarx combine its AST capabilities with Dustico’s behavioral analysis technology to give customers a consolidated view into the risk and reputation of open-source packages, and as a result, a more comprehensive approach to preventing supply chain attacks. 

The deal comes amid a sharp rise in supply chain attacks, in which threat actors slip malicious code into a trusted piece of software or hardware. Last December, it was revealed that Russian hackers had breached software firm SolarWinds to plant malicious code in its IT management tool Orion. This allowed the hackers — later identified as Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) — to access as many as 18,000 networks that used the Orion software.

Dustico’s technology, which is similar to that offered by Sonatype, analyses open source packages using a three-pronged approach. First, it factors in trust, providing visibility into the credibility of package providers and individual contributors in the open-source community, and then it examines the health of packages to determine their level of maintenance. Finally, Dustico’s advanced behavioral analysis engine inspects the package and looks for malicious attacks hiding within including backdoors, ransomware, multi-stage attacks, and trojans. 

This insight, coupled with vulnerability results from Checkmarx’s AST solutions, aims to give organizations and developers greater insights for managing the risks associated with open-source and the supply chains dependent on them, according to the two companies.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Dustico and its team to Checkmarx as the Israeli tech ecosystem continues to push the boundaries of cybersecurity innovation and talent,” said Emmanuel Benzaquen, CEO of Checkmarx. “Blending Dustico’s differentiated approach to open-source analysis with Checkmarx’s security testing capabilities will bring disruptive value to our customers as they manage the challenges with securing software supply chains.”

The acquisition of Dustico comes after Checkmarx was bought by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman at a valuation of $1.15 billion in March 2020. Prior to this, in 2015, the company was sold to Insight Partners with an $84 million investment. 

#backdoor, #ceo, #checkmarx, #computer-security, #computing, #cryptography, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #developer, #hellman-friedman, #insight-partners, #ma, #machine-learning, #security, #software, #solarwinds, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-attack, #supply-chain-management, #united-states

Independent retailer platform Creoate raises $5M Seed led by Fuel Ventures

Creoate is a startup, which lets independent retailers buy sustainable products from brands and wholesalers, has raised a $5m Seed round led by Fuel Ventures with participation from Vinted founder, Justas Janauskas. 

Its competitors include traditional wholesalers who’ve supplied independent retailers for decades, and other startups such as Faire (US, raised $696M) and Ankorstore (FR, raised €115M).


Founders Ashley Horn and Fahad Khan say the company aims at helping independent businesses and “reclaims the supply chain from global giants”. Khan says ‘Mom and Pop’ are “faced with poor information, discriminatory pricing and unpredictable cash flows.”

Creoate, which doesn’t own inventory, says it helps retailers forecast which products will sell well so that they can buy and manage inventory levels more easily. It says its cataloging software allows retailers to deal with fewer middlemen.

Launched in January 2020 the platform now claims 25,000 retailers across the UK, France, and Netherlands.

Creoate co-founder Horn said: “Sourcing brands as an independent retailer is close to impossible… We could see that this system was not sustainable and there had to be a better way”. 

Mark Pearson, founder and managing partner at Fuel Ventures said: “Unless you’re in the world of retail, it can be difficult to truly grasp just how broken the system is for the 2.5 million retailers and 30 million emerging brands that Creoate serves. We are captivated by Creoate’s technology which is inspired by the founding team’s real-world experience and empathy.”

#ankorstore, #co-founder, #europe, #france, #fuel-ventures, #inventory, #managing-partner, #mark-pearson, #netherlands, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vinted

Finite State lands $30M Series B to help uncover security flaws in device firmware

Columbus, Ohio-based Finite State, a startup that provides supply chain security for connected devices and critical infrastructure, has raised $30M in Series B funding. 

The funding lands amid increased focus on the less-secure elements in an organizations’ supply chain, such as Internet of Things devices and embedded systems. The problem, Finite State says, is largely fueled by device firmware, the foundational software that often includes components sourced from third-party vendors or open-source software. This means if a security flaw is baked into the finished product, it’s often without the device manufacturers’ knowledge. 

“Cyber attackers see firmware as a weak link to gain unauthorized access to critical systems and infrastructure,” Matt Wyckhouse, CEO of Finite State, tells TechCrunch. “The number of known cyberattacks targeting firmware has quintupled in just the last four years.”

The Finite State platform brings visibility to the supply chains that create connected devices and embedded systems. After unpacking and analyzing every file and configuration in a firmware build, the platform generates a complete bill of materials for software components, identifies known and possible zero-day vulnerabilities, shows a contextual risk score, and provides actionable insights that product teams can use to secure their software.

“By looking at every piece of their supply chain and every detail of their firmware — something no other product on the market offers — we enable manufacturers to ship more secure products, so that users can trust their connected devices more,” Wyckhouse says.

The company’s latest funding round was led by Energize Ventures, with participation from Schneider Electric Ventures and Merlin Ventures, and comes a year after Finite State raised a $12.5 million Series A round. It brings the total amount of funds raised by the firm to just shy of $50 million. 

The startup says it plans to use the funds to scale to meet the demands of the market. It plans to increase its headcount too; Finite State currently has 50 employees, a figure that’s expected to grow to more than 80 by the end of 2021.  

“We also want to use this fundraising round to help us get out the message: firmware isn’t safe unless it’s safe by design,” Wyckhouse added. “It’s not enough to analyze the code your engineers built when other parts of your supply chain could expose you to major security issues.”

Finite State was founded in 2017 by Matt Wyckhouse, founder and former CTO of Battelle’s Cyber Business Unit. The company showcased its capabilities in June 2019, when its widely-cited Huawei Supply Chain Assessment revealed numerous backdoors and major security vulnerabilities in the Chinese technology company’s networking devices that could be used in 5G networks. 

Read more:

#articles, #battelle, #ceo, #columbus, #computer-security, #computing, #cto, #cyberwarfare, #energize-ventures, #firmware, #funding, #hardware, #huawei, #internet-of-things, #open-source-software, #security, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #technology

Colvin raises €45M Series C led by Eurazeo to disrupt the cosy flowers industry

Something very interesting is going on with supply chains, and has been for a while. But it’s clear the pandemic has accelerated the trend. Tech startups are once again cutting out the middle man, but this time at the supply chain level. The opportunity is to replace supply chains with platforms – it’s the ‘platformization of supply chains’ if you will.

The latest example of this is Colvin, a platform for the ‘floriculture’ industry, which has now raised a €45M Series C led by Eurazeo, a private equity and venture capital firm out of France which has invested other marketplaces such as Farfetch, Glovo or ManoMano. Also participating was Capagro, and AgTech and FoodTech VC also out of France.

Launched as a direct-to-consumer brand (which is still maintained) Colvin has now created a B2B category aimed at professionals.

Sergi Bastardas, cofounder of Colvin said: “2020 has been a year of acceleration for Colvin, a turning point that will set the pace for our growth over the coming years… Our goal at Colvin is to lead the transformation of the industry at a global level”.

Chloé Giard, Investment Director at Eurazeo said: “Colvin’s trajectory in the flower delivery market has been outstanding. They have proved they could grow both fast and profitably, while expanding into new geographies. This is only a first step in their ambition to build the future of the flower industry: as more and more B2B categories are switching online (see the recent announcements of Ankorstore, Choco or Sennder), the timing is unique to bring a new standard to the flower wholesale market. Colvin is leveraging years of industry expertise, a scalable supply chain, and a global network of trusted growers to seize this $ billion market opportunity.”

Over a call, Bastardas told me: “The Netherlands has a monopoly on the flowers and plants market. Some 65% of all flowers and plants in the world have to pass, physically, through a huge auction that sits in the Netherlands, regardless of where they were cultivated. This is because the industry is not digitalized. So that’s the problem we were solving: connecting the stakeholders in a more direct way.”

He said they’d started by connecting growers with customers with a b2c platform: “We’ve now started to build out our b2b solution, where we connect our growers, as well as wholesalers directly with retailers, avoiding unnecessary intermediaries, with technology.”

I asked him if he will annoy the industry: “The intermediaries are going to be mad with us, yes.”

#agtech, #business, #cofounder, #colvin, #distribution, #e-commerce, #eurazeo, #europe, #farfetch, #france, #management, #netherlands, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #venture-capital

Collectiv raises $16M Series A to connect food producers directly with kitchens

In the modern world, we tend to like to know where our food comes from and this has massively influenced professional kitchens. For decades, food suppliers have sat on one side and distribution channels (restaurants and the like) on the other. But large wholesalers in the middle have traditionally crushed producers on prices and late payments. Professional kitchens can circumvent this by going direct to food producers. But they can’t manage hundreds of direct relationships. It’s just not been possible. Until the Internet.

Collective Food is a new startup that addresses this with a new take on the food supply chain model. It directly sources products from suppliers, unlocking price advantages for both suppliers and buyers, it says. Its competitors include Brakes, Bidfood, and Transgourmet.

It’s now raised £12M / $16M in its Series A funding round led by VNV Global, along with VisVires New Protein (VVNP), Octopus Ventures, Norrsken VC, and existing investors, including Partech, Colle Capital, and Mustard Seed. Frontline Ventures was the earliest investor in 2017.

Launched in 2019, Collectiv so far operates in the UK and France. It operates by sourcing food directly from producers, disintermediating the wholesaler middleman, and delivering straight to professional kitchens. Customers include restaurants, hotels, catering firms, meal-kit companies, and dark kitchens. The company claims that this approach generates 50% less CO2 emissions than traditional supply methods better prices, fresher products, transparency, traceability, and more reliable service.

Customers include Big Mamma Group, The Hush Collection, Dirty Bones, Megan’s, Crussh, Butchies, Cocotte, Tossed, and Fresh Fitness Food. 

Collectiv founder Jeremy Hibbert-Garibaldi said in a statement: “We’re being pushed by a combination of strong tailwinds: end-consumers demanding a better understanding of provenance; cities implementing air pollution regulations that limit large freight; a post-Covid hospitality industry desperate to improve margins but with limited staff availability to facilitate this in-house. Combined with our innovative model, we’re able to set our sights on not only becoming a European leader in food distribution over the next few years, but even a global one.”

Björn von Sivers, Investment Manager at VNV Global, said: “Collectiv’s innovative managed marketplace connects a fragmented supply of producers with the very fragmented demand of professional kitchens, creating improved transparency amongst other clear network improvements for all stakeholders.”

In his former profession as a Forensic Accountant, Hibbert-Garibaldi came across the business model for Collective after he investigated one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK and their food wholesale leg, mainly for violations of codes of conduct, such as how they were behaving with their suppliers. “I quickly realized that food supply chains were broken, with too much opacity and malpractice, and at the end of the day not benefiting any sides of the marketplace,” he said.

Engrained with a passion for food from his French and Italian origins, he quit his job and spend months in restaurant kitchens to understand the problems they faced: “I wanted to understand why it was so hard for them to source good products, know exactly where their food was coming from, and receive these products reliably and sustainably whenever they needed them. Using this I built my case study to get out to investors and start the business.”

It remains to be seen if Collectiv can scale, or take a chunk out of the vast food supply chain industry, but if it ends up appealing both to suppliers and distributors it will be very interesting to watch.

#bjorn-von-sivers, #brakes, #europe, #food, #france, #frontline-ventures, #investment-manager, #leader, #octopus-ventures, #series-a, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vnv-global

How WesternUnion is fighting back against fintech startups

The saying goes that, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That may or may not be true, but at least one “old dog” is working hard to disprove that saying.

Western Union has been operating in the cross-border payments space for nearly 150 years (yes, you read that right – 150 years) and today, globally, it serves almost 150 million customers – representing senders and receivers.

In recent years, a number of fintech startups have emerged to challenge Western Union in the massive space – from Wise (formerly TransferWise) to Remitly to WorldRemit. But the payments giant seems up for the challenge and has been investing heavily in its digital operations in an attempt to beat fintechs at their own game

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a massive acceleration of the trend of all things moving to digital in nearly all industries. Money transfer was no exception. In 2020, Western Union benefited from that acceleration. Its overall digital money transfer revenues – including WU.com and its digital partnership business – climbed by 38% to more than $850 million, up from over $600 million in 2019. 

Speaking of WU.com, the company’s online transactions site, it saw a nearly 30% gain in annual active customers to 8.6 million. 

This year, the company recently projected that its digital money transfer revenues are on track to exceed $1 billion in 2021 after first-quarter revenue growth of 45% to a new quarterly high of $242 million.

Today, Western Union claims to hold the largest cross-border, digital, peer-to-peer payments network in terms of scale, revenue and channels.

The emphasis on beefing up its digital operations – an initiative that actually began in the second half of 2019, according to the company – and expanding those digital offerings to more countries led to Western Union’s overall business profile shifting over the past 15 months. 

Digital channels in 2020 made up 29% of transactions and 20% of revenue for the company’s consumer-to-consumer (C2C) business, up from 16% and 14%, respectively, in 2019.

Western Union also “open sourced” its platform to third-party financial institutions in a move it says is a “step towards creating an end-to-end payments processing hub.”

TechCrunch talked with Shelly Swanback, Western Union’s president of product and platform, about the company’s digital strategy and what’s next beyond payments for the company (hint: it involves banking products). 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

TC: Let’s start out by hearing how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business, and what kinds of steps you took as a company to adapt?

Swanback: As COVID started playing out, just like any other company, I thought ‘What do we need to do to rally around our customers because our customers who rely on retail locations may not be able to get to their retail location as the COVID lockdowns started happening?’

One of the things we learned from that experience is this notion of everyday innovation. Innovation isn’t always blockchain or some emerging technology. Sometimes the best innovation is just about innovating every day with the products and services that you have. 

For example, we had some places in the world where we actually needed to figure out how we could do home delivery of cash. Delivering cash is different than delivering pizza as you can imagine, as there are a whole lot of regulatory items and security items. We very quickly figured out how we can deliver cash in Sri Lanka and Nepal, Jordan and some other places across the world. 

Another example lies in addressing how some folks were just a little intimidated by digital technology. I thought, ‘What if we set up a video digital location we called it where people could call in and do a video call with us and we could help them with their money transfer?’ It turned out that there actually wasn’t as much customer demand for that as we might have thought. 

But the great news — and this is a good lesson, I think, for many organizations — is what we actually did there in terms of KYC (Know Your Customer), which is a big thing in the financial services industry. So, all the technology we set up for this digital location for customers to upload their documents electronically and not have to be in front of an agent, we’re using today, just in a different way.

TC: I know Western Union has touted the fact that it has such a strong physical presence in so many locations actually benefits the growth of its digital operations as well as an expansion into other offerings beyond payments. Can you elaborate on that?

Swanback: The success and acceleration that we’re having in our digital business and of course the quarterly results are great, and we want to continue to do that. But for me, what’s most exciting is just the solid foundation and the basis gives us to build toward this idea of having a more meaningful account-based relationship with our customers and ability to offer them more than just money transfer. 

We have the fortune of having a trusted brand that’s known globally and trusted for something that’s very near and dear to our customers. What we’re hearing from our customers is they would trust us to provide additional services. So one of the things that we’re beginning to put plans in place for, and beginning to do some market tests on, is building an ecosystem or building a marketplace if you will. It will all be catered around the 270 million migrants across the world and really connecting them to each other, connecting them to their families and connecting them to merchants who want to sell them goods or provide them services that are very culturally relevant to them,  either where they happen to be living and working or providing them services back home to their families. 

Later in the fall, we’re going to be launching our first market test in Europe. We’re going to be offering a bank account, debit card, and multi-currency accounts tied of course into our money transfer services, as well as a few other things as we get closer to the market launch. But this really is our first test around providing a more comprehensive set of services.

TC: You recently announced a tie-up with Google Pay and some others. What is the significance of those partnerships?

Swanback: We want to be able to offer our cross-border capabilities and platform in more of a co-branded or white-label fashion, so that we can reach those customers that might still prefer to just be a customer of a bank. As an example, we recently announced that Google Pay users can log in to their app and can do cross-border transfers.

I think that’s an important part of our strategy– going after the direct relationship with customers and at the same time being able to offer our platform to others who already have a direct relationship with our customer. This is also part of our whole technology modernization right now of course. We’re very, very strong in the C2C segment, but the way we’re going about our technology modernization is one that provides us optionality to continue to expand in other segments  – whether it be consumer to business or business to consumer, or even business to business.

TC: Tell me more about this “modernization.”

Swanback: Like many financial organizations and many existing global organizations, part of our massive technology modernization program is moving to the cloud. So we were well on our way from migrating many of our applications to an AWS Cloud Platform. We’re pretty excited about the progress that we’re making there.

Also, over the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve migrated a good portion of our customer agent transactions, like the core of our data, to Snowflake. We;’ve mined 33 data warehouses, and we’ve got 20 petabytes of data in the cloud. And so, that in itself is just this is just the starting point. We’re modernizing our apps on top of this data foundation and really starting to use artificial intelligence and machine learning. But we’re not using it in the back end processes like many other organizations who were using it for operational interactions with our customers. We’re using it in the front office. For example, we launched a telephone money transfer product where a customer talks to a virtual assistant and it’s 100% digitized. It’s actually one of the best customer experiences we’ve seen.

#artificial-intelligence, #aws, #bank, #banking, #business, #cross-border-payments, #debit-card, #e-commerce, #economy, #europe, #finance, #google, #jordan, #machine-learning, #marketing, #nepal, #online-shopping, #payments, #payments-network, #peer-to-peer, #president, #remitly, #sri-lanka, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #virtual-assistant, #western-union, #worldremit

Goldman Sachs leads $202M investment in project44, doubling its valuation to $1.2B in a matter of months

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted a lot in the world, and supply chains are no exception. 

A number of applications that aim to solve workflow challenges across the supply chain exist. But getting real-time access to information from transportation providers has remained somewhat elusive for shippers and logistics companies alike. 

Enter Project44. The 7-year-old Chicago-based company has built an API-based platform that it  says acts as “the connective tissue” between transportation providers, third-party logistics companies, shippers and the systems. Using predictive analytics, the platform provides crucial real-time information such as estimated time of arrivals (ETAs).

“Supply chains have undergone an incredible amount of change – there has never been a greater need for agility, resiliency, and the ability to rapidly respond to changes across the supply chain,” said Jason Duboe, the company’s Chief Growth Officer.

And now, project44 announced it has raised $202 million in a Series E funding round led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Emergence Capital. Girteka and Lineage Logistics also participated in the financing, which gives project44 a post-money valuation of $1.2 billion. That doubles the company’s valuation at the time of its Insight Partners-led $100 million Series D in December.

The raise is quite possibly the largest investment in the supply chain visibility space to date.

Project44 is one of those refreshingly transparent private companies that gives insight into its financials. This month, the company says it crossed $50 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR), which is up 100% year over year. It has more than 600 customers including some of the world’s largest brands such as Amazon, Walmart, Nestle, Starbucks, Unilever, Lenovo and P&G. Customers hail from a variety of industries including CPG, retail, e-commerce, manufacturing, pharma, and chemical.

Over the last year, the pandemic created a number of supply chain disruptions, underscoring the importance of technologies that help provide visibility into supply chain operations. Project44 said it worked hard to help customers to mitigate “relentless volatility, bottlenecks, and logistics breakdowns,” including during the Suez Canal incident where a cargo ship got stuck for days.

Looking ahead, Project44 plans to use its new capital in part to continue its global expansion. Project44 recently announced its expansion into China and has plans to grow in the Asia-Pacific, Australia/New Zealand and Latin American markets, according to Duboe.

We are also going to continue to invest heavily in our carrier products to enable more participation and engagement from the transportation community that desires a stronger digital experience to improve efficiency and experience for their customers,” he told TechCrunch. The company also aims to expand its artificial intelligence (AI) and data science capabilities and broaden sales and marketing reach globally.

Last week, project44 announced its acquisition of ClearMetal, a San Francisco-based supply chain planning software company that focuses on international freight visibility, predictive planning and overall customer experience. WIth the buy, Duboe said  project44 will now have two contracts with Amazon: road and ocean. 

“Project44 will power what they are chasing,” he added.

And in March, the company also acquired Ocean Insights to expand its ocean offerings.

Will Chen, a managing director of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, believes that project44 is unique in its scope of network coverage across geographies and modes of transport.  

“Most competitors predominantly focus on over-the-road visibility and primarily serve one region, whereas project44 is a truly global business that provides end-to-end visibility across their customers’ entire supply chain,” he said.

Goldman Sachs Asset Management, noted project44 CEO and founder Jett McCandless, will help the company grow not only by providing capital but through its network and resources.

#amazon, #api, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #asia-pacific, #australia, #business, #chicago, #chief, #china, #clearmetal, #companies, #e-commerce, #emergence-capital, #funding, #fundings-exits, #goldman-sachs, #insight-partners, #lenovo, #logistics, #manufacturing, #nestle, #new-zealand, #officer, #pg, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #starbucks, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #transportation, #unilever, #venture-capital, #walmart

Settle raises $15M from Kleiner Perkins to give e-commerce companies more working capital

Alek Koenig spent four years at Affirm, where he was head of credit.

There he saw firsthand just how powerful the alternative lending model could be. Koenig realized that it wasn’t just consumers who could benefit from the model, but businesses too.

So in November 2019, he founded Settle as a way to give e-commerce and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies access to non-dilutive capital. (Not every company wants to raise venture money). By June 2020, the startup had launched its platform, which is designed to help these businesses manage their cash flow. Over time, he recruited a previous co-worker, Shane Morian, to serve as Settle’s CTO.

And today, the company is announcing that it has raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by Kleiner Perkins. This follows a previously unannounced $6 million seed raise led by Founders Fund in November 2020. Other investors in the company include SciFi (Affirm founder Max Levchin’s VC firm), Caffeinated Capital, WorkLife Ventures, Background Capital and AngelList Venture CEO Avlok Kohli.

With the pandemic leading to a massive shift toward digital and online shopping, ecommerce and CPG businesses found themselves with the challenge of keeping up with demand while trying to manage their cash flow. The main problem was the lag between accounts receivables and accounts payables.

“These companies suffer from the problem where there are these huge cash flow gaps from buying inventory, waiting to receive it and then turning it into revenue,” Koenig explains. “It takes quite a bit of time for these customers to actually get revenue from all those inventory purchases they need to make. What we do is make it really easy for companies to pay their vendors with extended payment terms.”

Settle does this by automatically syncing to a business’ accounting software and combining that with working capital products it’s developed.

Put simply, Settle will pay a vendor, and then brands can pay Settle back when they turn that COGS (cost of goods sold) into revenue. The startup says it also saves brands money on expensive wire fees.

Image Credits: Settle

“Businesses really value getting cash sooner, so they can use it in their operations,” Koenig said. “We’ve worked to reimagine the CFO suite for brands, starting with integrated financing and bill pay solutions.”

The concept of non-dilutive capital is not a new one with other startups tackling the space in different ways. For example, Pipe aims to give SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts.

Settle is focused on the e-commerce vertical, and building a unique product for that category, Koenig says, rather than trying to build a product aimed for several different industries.

“We don’t want to be a mediocre product for everybody,” he told TechCrunch. “But rather a phenomenal product for this vertical.”

Since its launch last June, Settle has seen its business jump by 1000% although it’s important to note that’s from a small base. Settle is currently working with over 300 brands including baby stroller retailer Lalo, Spiceology and men’s skincare brand Disco. So far, all of its growth has been organic.

“Last year when the pandemic hit, offline retail shut down and ecommerce got a big boost. But that meant that a lot of these companies were running out of orders and were out of stock on many items, so they were just kind of leaving money on the table,” Koenig said. “Once they started using us, they were able to buy more inventory, so we actually help them make more profit, and not just create more sales.”

His reasoning for that last statement is that by giving these businesses the ability to purchase items in bulk, they could get cheaper price per unit costs as well as cheaper shipping costs.

The company is planning to use its new capital in part to grow its team of 20, as well as raise more debt so that it can continue lending money to businesses.

Kleiner Perkins’ Monica Desai Weiss said her firm believes that Koenig and CTO Morian’s expertise in underwriting, capital markets and e-commerce give the pair “a rare skill set that’s unique to their market.”

She’s also drawn to the company’s embedded approach.

“Whereas most lending businesses are fairly transactional and opportunistic, Settle becomes deeply embedded in the way their merchants forecast and grow,” she told TechCrunch. “That approach has demonstrated inherent virality and their timing is perfect — the past year has changed consumer behaviors permanently and also produced massive opportunities for global entrepreneurship via ecommerce. In that way, we see the umbrella of e-commerce expanding massively in the coming years, and we believe Settle will be key to enabling that shift.”

#avlok-kohli, #background-capital, #business, #caffeinated-capital, #ceo, #cfo, #corporate-finance, #cto, #e-commerce, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #fintech, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #head, #inventory, #kleiner-perkins, #online-lending, #payments, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #settle, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #venture-capital, #worklife-ventures

Bosta raises $6.7M to expand e-commerce delivery business across Africa and MENA

Per a recent report by Bain & Co., e-commerce is expected to grow to $28.5 billion in MENA by 2022 from a 2019 value of $8.3 billion. Egypt, one of the most active e-commerce countries in the region, is anticipated to grow 33% annually to reach $3 billion by 2022.

But for any e-commerce business to thrive, its last-mile delivery arm has to be well figured out. Bosta is one such company in Egypt helping small businesses with logistics and last-mile delivery. Today, the company is announcing it has closed a Series A investment of $6.7 million. U.S. and Middle East VC firm Silicon Badia led the round, with participation from 4DX Ventures, Plug and Play Ventures, Wealth Well VC, Khwarizmi VC, as well as other regional and global investors

This investment comes a year after the company raised a $2.5 million round, which takes its total investment raised to $9.2 million.

Bosta was launched in 2017 by Mohamed Ezzat and Ahmed Gaber. The company offers next-day delivery to customers and handles exchange shipments, customer returns and cash collection.

The idea for Bosta came during Ezzat’s time at Lynks, his previous consumer goods startup. Lynks, the first YC-backed company from Egypt, allows people in Egypt to buy brands from the U.S., China and the U.K.

As co-founder and COO at Lynks, Ezzat was responsible for logistics, international clearance and last-mile delivery. In 2016, Egypt experienced an economic downturn coupled with the Egyptian pound devaluation and government restriction on imports. For Lynks it meant slow growth, but Ezzat was concerned about fixing the last-mile delivery bit, which, according to him, was a huge pain point.

“My nightmare was always the last mile. And at that time, you know that e-commerce is still very, very small. So it’s only 1% of the whole retail value,” he told TechCrunch. “So I was always thinking, how come if we want the e-commerce to grow, and we don’t have any strong company when it comes to last-mile because, in the end, every transaction on an e-commerce platform is a transaction on a courier platform.”

E-commerce is a fragmented sector where 80% of transactions come from small businesses selling on Facebook, Instagram and social media in general. Most of these businesses lack a strong delivery experience, and Ezzat left Lynks the following year to start Bosta

Being in the parcel delivery industry, Bosta wants to help these companies to grow profitably. It also tries to simplify logistics and allow its customers to have full control over the delivery process.

“You can use Bosta to get anything to your doorstep. You buy in our local currency, and we buy everything, handle the shipping, customs, clearance and bring it to your doorstep,” the CEO added.

The company doesn’t own fleets of vehicles to carry out operations. Instead, it operates an Uber-like model where drivers sign up, are made contractors and make money when a delivery is completed.  

Since 2017, the company has delivered more than 4 million packages to businesses, more than half since the pandemic outbreak last year. Bosta completes more than 300,000 deliveries per month, which is a 3.5x increase from when it raised its previous round, Ezzat stated. He also claims that more than 2,200 businesses use its platform daily and achieve a 95% delivery success rate.

Asides from small businesses, Bosta works with major e-commerce platforms like Souq (an Amazon company) and Jumia. Depending on the volume of goods transported, Bosta charges small businesses about 35-40 Egyptian pounds, while the big players are charged less, at 20-25 Egyptian pounds.

Speaking on the investment, Fawaz H Zu’bi said in a statement: “E-commerce has always had amazing potential in our region but was always being held back by something whether payments, logistics, market fragmentation, or customer adoption. We are excited to finally see companies like Bosta emerge to tackle some of these issues and help e-commerce realize its full promise and potential in a region that has now ‘turned on’ digitally.”

In the next two years, Bosta plans to deliver more than 15 million parcels in Egypt and serve over 20,000 businesses. The funds will be used for those causes, as well as expanding operations across Africa, MENA and the GCC.

“The investment is to dominate Egypt,” said Ezzat. “We want to make sure that we deliver the next day across Egypt, not just in Cairo, where we currently do. And to be a market leader when it comes to e-commerce on the continent and be profitable. This is the main target for us now and also to start operations in Saudi Arabia.”

#africa, #bosta, #cairo, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #egypt, #funding, #last-mile, #recent-funding, #saudi-arabia, #silicon-badia, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc

Huawei is not a carmaker. It wants to be the Bosch of China

One after another, Chinese tech giants have announced their plans for the auto space over the last few months. Some internet companies, like search engine provider Baidu, decided to recruit help from a traditional carmaker to produce cars. Xiaomi, which makes its own smartphones but has stressed for years it’s a light-asset firm making money from software services, also jumped on the automaking bandwagon. Industry observers are now speculating who will be the next. Huawei naturally comes to their minds.

Huawei seems well-suited for building cars — at least more qualified than some of the pure internet firms — thanks to its history in manufacturing and supply chain management, brand recognition, and vast retail network. But the telecom equipment and smartphone maker repeatedly denied reports claiming it was launching a car brand. Instead, it says its role is to be a Tier 1 supplier for automakers or OEMs (original equipment manufacturers).

Huawei is not a carmaker, the company’s rotating chairman Eric Xu reiterated recently at the firm’s annual analyst conference in Shenzhen.

“Since 2012, I have personally engaged with the chairmen and CEOs of all major car OEMs in China as well as executives of German and Japanese automakers. During this process, I found that the automotive industry needs Huawei. It doesn’t need the Huawei brand, but instead, it needs our ICT [information and communication technology] expertise to help build future-oriented vehicles,” said Xu, who said the strategy has not changed since it was incepted in 2018.

There are three major roles in auto production: branded vehicle manufacturers like Audi, Honda, Tesla, and soon Apple; Tier 1 companies that supply car parts and systems directly to carmakers, including established ones like Bosch and Continental, and now Huawei; and lastly, chip suppliers including Nvidia, Intel and NXP, whose role is increasingly crucial as industry players make strides toward highly automated vehicles. Huawei also makes in-house car chips.

“Huawei wants to be the next-generation Bosch,” an executive from a Chinese robotaxi startup told TechCrunch, asking not to be named.

Huawei makes its position as a Tier 1 supplier unequivocal. So far it has secured three major customers: BAIC, Chang’an Automobile, and Guangzhou Automobile Group.

“We won’t have too many of these types of in-depth collaboration,” Xu assured.

L4 autonomy?

Arcfox, a new electric passenger car brand under state-owned carmaker BAIC, debuted its Alpha S model quipped with Huawei’s “HI” systems, short for Huawei Inside (not unlike “Powered by Intel”), during the annual Shanghai auto show on Saturday. The electric sedan, priced between 388,900 yuan and 429,900 yuan (about $60,000 and $66,000), comes with Huawei functions including an operating system driven by Huawei’s Kirin chip, a range of apps that run on HarmonyOS, automated driving, fast charging, and cloud computing.

Perhaps most eye-catching is that Alpha S has achieved Level 4 capabilities, which Huawei confirmed with TechCrunch.

That’s a bold statement, for it means that the car will not require human intervention in most scenarios, that is, drivers can take their hands off the wheels and nap.

There are some nuances to this claim, though. In a recent interview, Su Qing, general manager for autonomous driving at Huawei, said Alpha S is L4 in terms of “experience” but L2 according to “legal” responsibilities. China has only permitted a small number of companies to test autonomous vehicles without safety drivers in restricted areas and is far from letting consumer-grade driverless cars roam urban roads.

As it turned out, Huawei’s “L4” functions were shown during a demo, during which the Arcfox car traveled for 1,000 kilometers in a busy Chinese city without human intervention, though a safety driver was present in the driving seat. Automating the car is a stack of sensors, including three lidars, six millimeter-wave radars, 13 ultrasonic radars and 12 cameras, as well as Huawei’s own chipset for automated driving.

“This would be much better than Tesla,” Xu said of the car’s capabilities.

But some argue the Huawei-powered vehicle isn’t L4 by strict definition. The debate seems to be a matter of semantics.

“Our cars you see today are already L4, but I can assure you, I dare not let the driver leave the car,” Su said. “Before you achieve really big MPI [miles per intervention] numbers, don’t even mention L4. It’s all just demos.”

“It’s not L4 if you can’t remove the safety driver,” the executive from the robotaxi company argued. “A demo can be done easily, but removing the driver is very difficult.”

“This technology that Huawei claims is different from L4 autonomous driving,” said a director working for another Chinese autonomous vehicle startup. “The current challenge for L4 is not whether it can be driverless but how to be driverless at all times.”

L4 or not, Huawei is certainly willing to splurge on the future of driving. This year, the firm is on track to spend $1 billion on smart vehicle components and tech, Xu said at the analyst event.

A 5G future

Many believe 5G will play a key role in accelerating the development of driverless vehicles. Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom equipment maker, would have a lot to reap from 5G rollouts across the globe, but Xu argued the next-gen wireless technology isn’t a necessity for self-driving vehicles.

“To make autonomous driving a reality, the vehicles themselves have to be autonomous. That means a vehicle can drive autonomously without external support,” said the executive.

“Completely relying on 5G or 5.5G for autonomous driving will inevitably cause problems. What if a 5G site goes wrong? That would raise a very high bar for mobile network operators. They would have to ensure their networks cover every corner, don’t go wrong in any circumstances and have high levels of resilience. I think that’s simply an unrealistic expectation.”

Huawei may be happy enough as a Tier 1 supplier if it ends up taking over Bosch’s market. Many Chinese companies are shifting away from Western tech suppliers towards homegrown options in anticipation of future sanctions or simply to seek cheaper alternatives that are just as robust. Arcfox is just the beginning of Huawei’s car ambitions.

#apple, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #audi, #automotive, #bosch, #china, #continental, #eric-xu, #harmony, #harmonyos, #honda, #huawei, #intel, #nvidia, #nxp, #operating-system, #shanghai, #shenzhen, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #tesla, #transportation, #wireless-technology, #xiaomi

Saltbox raises $10.6M to help booming e-commerce stores store their goods

E-commerce is booming, but among the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs of online businesses are finding a place to store the items they are selling and dealing with the logistics of operating.

Tyler Scriven, Maxwell Bonnie and Paul D’Arrigo co-founded Saltbox in an effort to solve that problem.

The trio came up with a unique “co-warehousing” model that provides space for small businesses and e-commerce merchants to operate as well as store and ship goods, all under one roof. Beyond the physical offering, Saltbox offers integrated logistics services as well as amenities such as the rental of equipment and packing stations and access to items such as forklifts. There are no leases and tenants have the flexibility to scale up or down based on their needs.

“We’re in that sweet spot between co-working and raw warehouse space,” said CEO Scriven, a former Palantir executive and Techstars managing director.

Saltbox opened its first facility — a 27,000-square-foot location — in its home base of Atlanta in late 2019, filling it within two months. It recently opened its second facility, a 66,000-square-foot location, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is currently about 40% occupied. The company plans to end 2021 with eight locations, in particular eyeing the Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles markets. Saltbox has locations slated to come online as large as 110,000 square feet, according to Scriven.

The startup was founded on the premise that the need for “co-warehousing and SMB-centric logistics enablement solutions” has become a major problem for many new businesses that rely on online retail platforms to sell their goods, noted Scriven. Many of those companies are limited to self-storage and mini-warehouse facilities for storing their inventory, which can be expensive and inconvenient. 

Scriven personally met with challenges when starting his own e-commerce business, True Glory Brands, a retailer of multicultural hair and beauty products.

“We became aware of the lack of physical workspace for SMBs engaged in commerce,” Scriven told TechCrunch. “If you are in the market looking for 10,000 square feet of industrial warehouse space, you are effectively pushed to the fringes of the real estate ecosystem and then the entrepreneurial ecosystem at large. This is costing companies in significant but untold ways.”

Now, Saltbox has completed a $10.6 million Series A round of financing led by Palo Alto-based Playground Global that included participation from XYZ Venture Capital and proptech-focused Wilshire Lane Partners in addition to existing backers Village Capital and MetaProp. The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets.

The company’s customers are typically SMB e-commerce merchants “generating anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million a year in revenue,” according to Scriven.

He emphasizes that the company’s value prop is “quite different” from a traditional flex office/co-working space.

“Our members are reliant upon us to support critical workflows,” Scriven said. 

Besides e-commerce occupants, many service-based businesses are users of Saltbox’s offering, he said, such as those providing janitorial services or that need space for physical equipment. The company offers all-inclusive pricing models that include access to loading docks and a photography studio, for example, in addition to utilities and Wi-Fi.

Image Credits: Saltbox

Image Credits: Saltbox

The company secures its properties with a mix of buying and leasing by partnering with institutional real estate investors.

“These partners are acquiring assets and in most cases, are funding the entirety of capital improvements by entering into management or revenue share agreements to operate those properties,” Scriven said. He said the model is intentionally different from that of “notable flex space operators.”

“We have obviously followed those stories very closely and done our best to learn from their experiences,” he added. 

Investor Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing partner of Wilshire Lane Partners, said his firm was impressed with the company’s ability to “structure excellent real estate deals” to help them continue to expand nationally.

He also believes Saltbox is “extremely well-positioned to help power and enable the next generation of great direct to consumer brands.”

Playground Global General Partner Laurie Yoler said the startup provides a “purpose-built alternative” for small businesses that have been fulfilling orders out of garages and self-storage units.

Saltbox recently hired Zubin Canteenwalla  to serve as its chief operating offer. He joined Saltbox from Industrious, an operator co-working spaces, where he was SVP of Real Estate. Prior to Industrious, he was EVP of Operations at Common, a flexible residential living brand, where he led the property management and community engagement teams.

#atlanta, #business, #dallas, #denver, #e-commerce, #logistics, #los-angeles, #marketing, #model, #online-shopping, #palantir, #palo-alto, #paul, #playground-global, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #saltbox, #seattle, #self-storage, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #techstars, #village-capital, #warehouse, #wilshire-lane-partners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobl9 raises $21M Series B for its SLO management platform

SLAs, SLOs, SLIs. If there’s one thing everybody in the business of managing software development loves, it’s acronyms. And while everyone probably knows what a Service Level Agreement (SLA) is, Service Level Objectives (SLOs) and Service Level Indicators (SLIs) may not be quite as well known. The idea, though, is straightforward, with SLOs being the overall goals a team must hit to meet the promises of its SLA agreements, and SLIs being the actual measurements that back up those other two numbers. With the advent of DevOps, these ideas, which are typically part of a company’s overall Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) efforts, are becoming more mainstream, but putting them into practice isn’t always straightforward.

Noble9 aims to provide enterprises with the tools they need to build SLO-centric operations and the right feedback loops inside an organization to help it hit its SLOs without making too many trade-offs between the cost of engineering, feature development and reliability.

The company today announced that it has raised a $21 million Series B round led by its Series A investors Battery Ventures and CRV. In addition, Series A investors Bonfire Ventures and Resolute Ventures also participated, together with new investors Harmony Partners and Sorenson Ventures.

Before starting Nobl9, co-founders Marcin Kurc (CEO) and Brian Singer (CPO) spent time together at Orbitera, where Singer was the co-founder and COO and Kurc the CEO, and then at Google Cloud, after it acquired Orbitera in 2016. In the process, the team got to work with and appreciate Google’s site reliability engineering frameworks.

As they started looking into what to do next, that experience led them to look into productizing these ideas. “We came to this conclusion that if you’re going into Kubernetes, into service-based applications and modern architectures, there’s really no better way to run that than SRE,” Kurc told me. “And when we started looking at this, naturally SRE is a complete framework, there are processes. We started looking at elements of SRE and we agreed that SLO — service level objectives — is really the foundational part. You can’t do SRE without SLOs.”

As Singer noted, in order to adopt SLOs, businesses have to know how to turn the data they have about the reliability of their services, which could be measured in uptime or latency, for example, into the right objectives. That’s complicated by the fact that this data could live in a variety of databases and logs, but the real question is how to define the right SLOs for any given organization based on this data.

“When you go into the conversation with an organization about what their goals are with respect to reliability and how they start to think about understanding if there’s risks to that, they very quickly get bogged down in how are we going to get this data or that data and instrument this or instrument that,” Singer said. “What we’ve done is we’ve built a platform that essentially takes that as the problem that we’re solving. So no matter where the data lives and in what format it lives, we want to be able to reduce it to very simply an error budget and an objective that can be tracked and measured and reported on.”

The company’s platform launched into general availability last week, after a beta that started last year. Early customers include Brex and Adobe.

As Kurc told me, the team actually thinks of this new funding round as a Series A round, but because its $7.5 million Series A was pretty sizable, they decided to call it a Series A instead of a seed round. “It’s hard to define it. If you define it based on a revenue milestone, we’re pre-revenue, we just launched the GA product,” Singer told me. “But I think just in terms of the maturity of the product and the company, I would put us at the [Series] B.”

The team told me that it closed the round at the end of last November, and while it considered pitching new VCs, its existing investors were already interested in putting more money into the company and since its previous round had been oversubscribed, they decided to add to this new round some of the investors that didn’t make the cut for the Series A.

The company plans to use the new funding to advance its roadmap and expand its team, especially across sales, marketing and customer success.

#adobe, #battery-ventures, #bonfire-ventures, #brex, #cloud, #computing, #crv, #developer, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #harmony-partners, #nobl9, #orbitera, #outsourcing, #recent-funding, #resolute-ventures, #software-development, #startups, #supply-chain-management, #tc