Storyblok raises $47M to build out its headless CMS aimed at non-technical users like marketers

The world of web development continues to become increasingly more democratized — and more creative — thanks to innovations in “headless” systems that give more flexibility around how a site can look and function: a middle ground between using rigid templates and building and maintaining every single component of a web’s tech stack from the ground up. Today, one of the startups building headless tools specifically for content management is announcing a big round of funding on the back of some important customer wins.

Storyblok — a startup founded in Linz, Austria, that has built a headless CMS designed both for technical and non-technical users like marketers to manage content that appears across websites, apps and other digital interfaces for education, commerce, gaming and other kinds of publishers — has raised $47 million, funding that it will use to continue expanding its CMS platform with more functionality. The company’s tools are already used by some others 74,000 companies, including Netflix, Adidas, T-Mobile, Happy Socks and Deliveroo, which collectively have built some 120,000 projects on top of it.

The Series B is being led by Mubadala Capital and HV Capital, with 3VC and firstminute capital also participating. The funding follows a Series A of $8.5 million in February 2021 also led by Mubadala. Storyblok has raised $58 million to date, and it’s not disclosing its valuation.

There are a number of headless CMS providers in the world today — companies like Contentful, Prismic, Contentstack, Strapi and many more — that compete against Storyblok, but CEO and co-founder Dominik Angerer believes his company represents a new wave of innovation in web development.

Years ago, companies like WordPress, Squarespace and Wix broke new ground in how users could select from a dynamic range of templates when building websites. More recently, a newer set of startups tapped into innovations around APIs to plug in complex technical processes created a new approach to building sites (“headless” the term was coined by the founder of Commercetools, which as its name implies applied the idea initially to the building of e-commerce sites). But these still represented a pain point for the wider organization: headless in this sense may have done away with needing to build the very technical and complex backend of managing payments and databases, but not the technicalities of building or populating the front end of sites.

This is where Storyblok comes into the story: “Headless” systems represent a new generation of web development: a headless CMS that can also be used by non-technical people like marketers. Angerer and his co-founder Alexander Feiglstorfer came up with the idea in 2017 when they saw that the systems in use at the time still required developers to build and maintain content, so their solution was to build out modules to manage the site, blocks that would initially be programmed by developers (either at the company’s in question or by a network of 1,000 third parties in a marketplace that Storyblok operates), but that could then be updated, and manipulated otherwise by marketers.

The end result has seen a lot of traction in part because of how it addresses that significant gap that exists in a lot of organizations: those who need to touch the content of sites most frequently are typically not the technical teams but those managing content. And as digital content proliferates into a wider array of formats and screens — games and apps, smartphones and watches, that demands even more input from the less technical teams, and more strain put on developer teams.

“We’ve been big believers in Storyblok from day one, and the speed at which the company has managed to scale since our Series A investment has been remarkable. Storyblok’s strong organic traction is a real testament to the quality of the product Dominik and Alex have built, and we are excited to continue our partnership with the Storyblok team,” said Fatou Bintou Sagnang, Partner at Mubadala Capital Ventures, in a statement.

The company does not see its mission as part of the wave of low-code and no-code tools: developers still need to be involved to build the initial blocks that marketers can then update.

Angerer sees developing the headless structure and focusing on those blocks as part of “its core functionality,” he said. “So switching over to building no-code tools would feel like a betrayal to that mission.”

However, third parties have plugged into the Storyblok system to create those tools for others to use if they want.

Swell takes in $20M to develop more adaptable headless commerce infrastructure

Starting an e-commerce business on one of the large marketplaces, for example, Shopify, can be an easy process, but what the team at Swell began to notice was that the model could only take a business so far.

Swell is working in “headless” commerce, which means it is disconnecting the front end of a website, aka the storefront, from the back end, where all of the data lives, to create a better shopping experience and so that anything on the back end can be updated and maintained without disturbing the front end.

The remote-first company offers APIs, storefronts and a dashboard, all tools that can grow with any sized company. The first version of Swell was a pure API for developers, but it wasn’t enabling businesses to get up-and-running quickly, so businesses were turning to marketplaces like Shopify, CEO Eric Ingram told TechCrunch.

“The key is getting started quickly, which Shopify is awesome at, but you realize you are stuck when you try to do more than the basic model,” Ingram said. “We needed to build something that was as easy as Shopify, but enabled you to grow. Most people can’t afford to build their own back end, so we also wanted to provide something people could do without spending millions of dollars.”

Swell was an idea Ingram had about a decade ago that stemmed from his experience at e-commerce company Digital River and then building a few of his own businesses, including a clothing company. He and his team got things off the ground in 2021, raising $3.4 million in a seed round.

Nearly a year later, the company is back again with $20 million in Series A funding, led by VMG Catalyst and Headline, with participation from Bonfire Ventures, Willow Growth, Commerce Ventures and Red Antler. Individual investors include Attentive CEO Brian Long, Gorgias CEO Romain Lapeyre, Remote First Capital and former CTO of Product Hunt Andreas Klinger, CEO Domm Holland and Warby Parker’s Brian Magida.

The opportunity for additional funding was somewhat unexpected, according to Ingram, but he feels like Swell’s focus on small and mid-market companies, while building an ecosystem and community, separates it from competitors like Commercetools and Fabric that are targeting larger companies.


Swell’s founding team, from left, Dave Loneragan, Eric Ingram, Stefan Kende, Mark Regal and Joshua Voydik. Image Credits: Swell

“To solve the problem, it has to be something accessible to everyone rather than just big companies with big budgets,” Ingram added. “Some of the platforms are only good at one thing, but there are hundreds of other models out there.”

In the past year, Swell grew five times in revenue and grew its customer base to over 1,000 at the end of 2021 after starting the year with 30 customers. It also created a free community plan, where customers begin paying when they start selling, to go with the standard and enterprise options.

Ingram expects to use the new funding to grow Swell’s team of 30 to 100 in the next 12 months and in product development, including building an app ecosystem. Plans include building out a framework for third parties to build the apps and also for customers to be able to own their own data on the back end and do more with it, something that is difficult for businesses building on marketplaces to do, he said.

“A core feature will be a configurable database that could adapt to new use cases,” he added. “The market is moving fast with integrations and building apps and the community will require 10 times more people to get to the next level.”

As post-pandemic e-commerce booms, Rally raises $6M for Headless Checkout platform

You might have heard of ‘headless’ content management systems, whereby you can run a CMS without being locked into a front-end platform. Well a similar movement is coming to e-commerce.

The latest incarnation of this movement is the news that ‘Headless Checkout’ startup Rally Commerce Inc., has secured $6 million in seed funding. The wider idea here is to ‘decentralize’ e-commerce ecosystems by allowing merchants to decouple themselves from the likes of Shopify, et al. There’s also a twist. Rally combines headless commerce with a Web3 token approach, which – they claim – will allow a merchant to ‘own’ a piece of the network.

The funding round was led by Felix Capital, alongside Rainfall Ventures, Long Journey Ventures, Afore Ventures and Commerce Ventures.

The team behind Rally previously built CartHook, a checkout solution.

Rally says its checkout is platform-agnostic, allowing Merchants to replace their existing traditional checkouts with Rally’s, or build a headless experience, with Rally as the checkout and orchestration layer.

Jordan Gal, co-founder and CEO of Rally said: “Merchants are too often forced to accept the mediocre checkouts provided to them by underlying platforms, and app developers are subservient to the platforms they build for. We’re offering merchants a better conversion rate with higher average order value (AOV) and the freedom to build their businesses according to their needs.”

E-commerce is exploding post-pandemic after whole populations were forced onto online platforms, so anything e-commmerce is obviously benefitting.

Joseph Pizzolato, investor, Felix Capital said: “The headless commerce space is booming as merchants and investors recognize the potential to create seamless and unique customer experiences across all touchpoints. Companies like CommerceTools, Nacelle, Fabric and Bolt are revolutionizing the old e-commerce stack, driving record funding inflows and sky-high valuations. We see Rally in the same category.”

For context, Commercetools — a provider of e-commerce APIs that larger retailers can use to build customized payment, check-out, social commerce, marketplace and other services — recently closed $140 million in funding.

But Commercetools and Rally are not alone. Others include Spryker, Swell, Fabric, Chord and Shogun.

Equity Monday: Market pessimism, new iPhones, and IPOs

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

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

Vacation was good, and a big thanks to Mary Ann and Natasha — not to mention Grace and Chris! — for keeping things flowing while I mostly sat around reading books and playing video games. But enough being maudlin! To the news!

  • Investors are kinda thinking that the run-up in stocks needs to take a breather. And that the reset could land between 5% and 10%, with another 10% of respondents expecting a correction of more than 10%. Yowza.
  • China may break up Ant, keeping the pace of its regulatory deluge going as this week starts. And the Chinese government thinks that its country has too many EV companies. If the market or central planning will wind up taking point on solving the “problem” is not clear.
  • The Apple v. Epic decision is still driving conversation. Here’s TechCrunch’s coverage, and here’s the MG piece I mentioned.
  • Toast and Freshworks have new filings up. Which is good news if you want to dig into new S-1/A reports. Forge is going public via a SPAC.
  • And Babyscripts and Commercetools raised rounds, while Jungle Ventures raised a fund.

Got all that? Ok good. Chat you Wednesday!

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

Commercetools raises $140M at a $1.9B valuation as ‘headless’ commerce continues to boom

E-commerce these days is now a major part of every retailer’s strategy, so technology builders and platforms that are helping them compete better on digital screens are seeing a huge boost in business. In the latest turn, Commercetools — a provider of e-commerce APIs that larger retailers can use to build customized payment, check-out, social commerce, marketplace and other services — has closed $140 million in funding, a Series C that CEO Dirk Hoerig has confirmed to me values the company at $1.9 billion. 

The funding is being led by Accel, with previous investors Insight Partners and REWE Group also participating. Munich, Germany-based Commercetools spun out of REWE — a giant German retailer, and also a customer — and announced $145 million in investment led by Insight in October 2019.

This latest round represents a huge hike on its valuation since then, when Commercetools was valued at around $300 million.

Part of the reason for the big bump, of course, has been the wave of interest in digital transactions from shopping online. E-commerce was already growing at a steady pace before 2020, by some estimates representing more than half of all commerce transactions. The Covid-19 pandemic turbo-charged that proportion, with many retailers switching exclusively to internet sales, and consumers stuck at home happy to shop with a click.

While companies like Shopify have addressed the needs of smaller retailers, providing them with an alternative or complement to listing on third-party marketplaces like Amazon’s, Commercetools has built its business around catering to larger retailers and the many specific, large-scale needs and investment budgets that they may have for building their digital commerce solutions.

It provides some 300 APIs today around some nine “buckets” of services, and a wide network of integration partners, Hoerig said, and powers some $10 billion of sales annually for its customers, which include the likes of Audi, AT&T, Danone, Tiffany & Co., John Lewis and many others.

“Our main focus is the retailer with more than $100 million in gross merchandise value,” Hoerig said. “This is when it becomes interesting.” But he added that the force of market growth is such that Commercetools is also seeing a lot of business from smaller companies that are simply needing more functionality to address their fast growth. “So we also sometimes have customers that start at $5 million in GMV and quickly go to $50 million. With that scale, they also have specific requirements, so the lines get a bit blurry.” (And that also explains why investors are so interested: there is a lot of evidence of the market growing and growing; and by capturing smaller retailers on big trajectories, that represents a lot more scale for Commercetools.)

Hoerig is sometimes credited with being the person who first coined the term “headless commerce”, which basically means APIs that can be used by a company, or its team of strategists, developers and designers, to build their own customized check-out and other purchasing experiences, rather than fitting these into templates provided by the tech company powering the checkout.

But as the API economy has continued to grow, and the world of non-tech companies that use tech continues to mature, that has taking on a mass-market appeal, and so Commercetools is far from being the only one in this area. In addition to Shopify (which has its own version targeting larger businesses, Shopify Plus), others include SprykerSwellFabricChord and Shogun.

Commercetools will be using the funding both to continue organically expanding its business, but also to make some acquisitions to bolt on new customers, and new technology, tapping into some of the scaling and consolidation that is taking place across e-commerce as a whole. What will be interesting to see is where consolidation will happen, and which startups will be raising money to scale on their own: right now there is a lot of enthusiasm around the space because it is so buoyant, and that will spell more money being funneled to more startups.

Case in point: when I first got wind of this funding round, Commercetools told me it was in the middle of a deal to acquire a company. In the end, that company decided to stay independent and take some more investment to try to grow on its own. Hoerig said it’s now pursuing another target.

Indeed, that is also the bigger force that has brought Commercetools to where it is today.

“The chance to invest in a fast-growing, innovative commerce platform was one we could not pass up,” said Ping Li, the partner at Accel who led on this deal, said in a statement. “Commercetools provides e-commerce enterprises the technology necessary to capture revenue in the rapidly growing global e-commerce market.”