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.

What Can Amazon’s Product Managers Do About All Of Those Boxes?

Is there any way that Amazon can ship fewer boxes?
Is there any way that Amazon can ship fewer boxes?
Image Credit: Harlem Photograpy Inc

Ok, so I’m willing to make a confession here. I get a little thrill each and every time I come to the front door and see an Amazon box sitting there waiting for me to bring it into the house and open it up. It’s almost like Christmas day all over again! However, the product managers at Amazon have come to a realization that they need to find a way to save money. What they want to do is to find ways to ship things to their customers in fewer and smaller containers. Are they going to be able to do this?


Amazon Loves Boxes

So if you can remember all the way back to the start of this century, back then online sales only represented 1% of retail sales in the U.S. However, things have significantly changed since then. Last year alone, online sales accounted for 17% of retail sales if you ignore the purchase of cars and gas. That kind of increase in sales would look good on anyone’s product manager resume. As you might well image, there is a relationship between the amount of online shopping we all do and the need for paper packaging (boxes).

The need for cardboard boxes has grown as the mail order / e-commerce sector has grown. Last year, roughly half of all domestic retail corrugated-box shipments were used for both e-commerce and mail-order deliveries. It turns out that 80% of the increase in demand for boxes has come from the mail-order and e-commerce sectors. Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out that mail-order and e-commerce sites use roughly seven times as many boxes per dollar spent as traditional bricks and mortar stores do.

All of this would make you think that it must be a great job to be a product manager for one of those companies that makes boxes. The reality turns out to be a bit more complicated. Profits for the box industry have grown very slowly over the past few years. The reason for this slow growth is because the product that box companies make is a generic and easily copied product. This has led to intense competition in the box manufacturing business. In the box industry, the average profit margin increased from 5% of revenue back in 2014 by 5.8% this year. The number of players in the box industry has decreased. In 2001 there were 300 companies in this business. Now there are only 255 companies. This decrease has been attributed to streamlining – the remaining companies are able to produce more boxes.


Can Amazon Use Fewer Boxes?

The Amazon product managers think that the future is going to be different from the present. They believe that the relationship that exists between boxes and e-commerce is going to become weaker. They want to find ways to change their product development definition in order to use fewer boxes. Already alternatives to boxes such as plastic mailers and efforts to try to “right size” packages by doing away with oversize boxes are going to change things. Likewise, the Amazon product managers want to put a halt to what is called “overboxing” which occurs when a product has to be placed in a second box because its original packaging is too flimsy to be able to survive shipping to the customer.

Let’s face it, customers who have to open multiple boxes just to get to the product that they ordered are never happy. There is even a term for how this makes customers feel: wrap rage. The Amazon product managers want to find ways to prevent their customers from ever having to feel this way. If the Amazon product managers were able to find ways to reduce the number of boxes that they used, then they’d be able to reduce their shipping and transportation costs. Last year Amazon spent US$27.2B on shipping and transportation.

The Amazon product managers have come up with new rules for their suppliers. Going forward, products that are larger than 18x14x8 inches or which weigh 20 pounds or more have to be certified as being ready to ship without the need for additional packaging. The challenge that the Amazon product managers are facing is that even as they are trying to reduce the amount of packaging that the company uses, they are at the same time trying to increase their sales. In the end what this is going to mean is that they may end up using even more boxes than they did before!


What All Of This Means For You

Success can be a great thing, but too much success can start to cause problems for product managers. The Amazon product managers have had great success with customers calling them up and ordering products. However, as they ship products to customers they’ve discovered that they are shipping more and more boxes. Those boxes cost money to purchase and to ship. The Amazon product managers need to look at their product manager job description in order to find ways to reduce the cost of all of those boxes.

As we are all well aware, online sales have exploded over the past few years. As more items have been bought online, more boxes have been used to ship products to customers. Mail-order and e-commerce are the ones who are using all of the boxes, not retail stores. In fact, the online firms use seven times as many boxes as retail stores do. Life has not been easy for box product managers. The market for boxes has a great deal of competition and their product is both generic and easily copied. The Amazon product managers want to break the link between rising sales and the increasing use of boxes. They want to use other packaging and to start to use the packaging that products come in to ship them. The Amazon product managers are looking for ways to reduce the number of boxes that they are using. They are starting to require vendors to make their product packaging strong enough to allow their products to be shipped without boxes. However, as Amazon sells more and more products, they will still need more and more boxes.

The Amazon product managers have a real problem on their hands. They need boxes in order to get their products into the hands of their customers. However, as they use more and more boxes, their costs keep going up. What they need to do is to find ways to get products to customers using fewer boxes. The idea of getting vendors to do a better job of packing their products is a great first step. Now Amazon just needs to find ways to package more products together. We’ll have to watch carefully as Amazon tries to keep growing without having to use even more boxes.


– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™


Question For You: How could Amazon ship fewer boxes and still deliver products to customers the next day?


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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When you are thirsty, what kind of drink do you reach for? A lot of us will grab a soda, a water, or maybe even a coffee or a tea. However, just a few years ago a new option showed up: favored bubbly water. The leader in this market category was a brand called LaCroix. The LaCroix product managers did very well for a long time. However, the popularity of their product has attracted new competitors and now the LaCroix product managers have to take a look at their product development definition and find ways to defend their market share. What should they do to keep the fizz in their product sales?

The post What Can Amazon’s Product Managers Do About All Of Those Boxes? appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

Jumia co-CEO Jeremy Hodara talks African e-commerce, and his company’s path to profitability

This month, African e-commerce giant Jumia released its second full-year financials for Q4 and its fiscal year 2020. The results were mixed — active customers and gross profit increased, while orders and gross merchandise volume (GMV) fell.

A particular feature that has troubled the company since its inception in 2012 was also present, namely persistent adjusted EBITDA and operating losses. However, those metrics fell year over year, and the company, in a statement, said that it had demonstrated “meaningful progress on our path to profitability.”

The unevenness of Jumia’s business is also reflected in how its share price performed in the past year. In March 2020, the company hit rock bottom and traded at an all-time low of $2.15 after facing fraud allegations. But it hit an all-time high of $69.89 almost a year later this February. 

With the release of its financials, two things were top of TechCrunch’s mind: What made Jumia’s value swell by more than 3,000 percent in the last year, and will the e-commerce player’s unending losses end anytime soon?

I spoke with Jumia co-CEO Jeremy Hodara to get his insights on these two questions and on issues that have faced the company in the past.

Talking profitability with Jumia

This interview has edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: This time last year, Jumia was trading between $2 and $4. Now it’s within $40 to $50. What do you think has been the driving factor behind this?

Jeremy Hodara: What I think is really important about the stock rise is two things. First, in general, the world realized that there was a big paradigm shift in e-commerce and that e-commerce was the way to go for the future. This is something you can look at for every e-commerce company in the past 12 to 18 months. The second thing that happened is that we at Jumia have been very clear about the opportunities e-commerce represents in Africa. E-commerce is a real problem of access to consumption and has a strong value proposition to those who necessarily don’t fancy brick-and-mortar stores in Africa.

What we never really have proven is that you can build a profitable e-commerce business. However, I think that will change soon because what we’ve done quarter after quarter is to be disciplined to bring clarity that we’re going after a profitable business model and profitable growth. And as people understood and saw what we were doing, it also gave them more confidence about how exciting this opportunity is. In my opinion, what happened in the last 12 months was the combination of people understanding how important e-commerce is worldwide. Secondly, Jumia brought proof points that it was building a sustainable and profitable business model.

Would you say Andrew Left’s reversal in October and his decision to take long positions at Jumia also affected the share price?

Not really. Like I said earlier, I think it had to do with the story of e-commerce change for the future. That didn’t start in October; it started months before. Also, we being disciplined quarter after quarter to build what’s right started months before, so I can’t really comment if his decision affected our share price or if an investor’s negative or positive comments would change market sentiment towards our stock.

You’ve talked about how Jumia is trying to build a profitable business. But how’s it going to do that if the company reports losses quarter after quarter and year after year?

I think we’re on the right path, considering that our EBITDA losses reduced by 47 percent last quarter, and we’ll be trying to do so every quarter. We want to go about it by improving the efficiency of the business and opening new avenues for growth.

The most exciting thing about e-commerce is that first, you build large assets for your own use, but it becomes relevant for other stakeholders over time. For us, we have an application and website with very engaged visitors, and we’re exploring having third-party advertisers who place ads on the platform.

Our logistics service is also another way. We’re building tools and technology to equip our logistics partners and help them become more productive. This drives our costs per delivery down and is the type of benefit that comes with scaling. So I think there’s a path to profitability by opening the assets we’ve built for ourselves to benefit our ecosystem.

Jumia’s expenses dropped last year, but revenue also dropped despite a little increase in customer base. Aren’t those worrying signs?

On the revenue side, here’s how we should look at it. When you’re a marketplace, your revenue is the commission that you make from a transaction. So if you’re a seller on Jumia and sell something that costs $100 and your commission is 10 percent, your revenue inside the P&L of Jumia will be $10. If I buy a product from you at $90 and sell it to my consumer for $100, I’ll record $100 as the revenue.

That’s the insurance from the financial pinpoint between what you call the third-party and the first-party model. At the first-party model, you record as the revenue the value of the product. At the marketplace, you only record the commission. Jumia has, give or take, 10 percent of its business as the first-party model and 90 percent as the marketplace model. But that percentage changed over time, and when it did, you can see how the revenue went down.

So we don’t base our profitability on revenue. What is the right KPI for us is the gross profit as it shows the monetization of Jumia. It has been growing quarter after quarter, this time by 12% percent. Our active consumers growing 12 percent from 6.1 million in Q4 2019 to 6.8 million in Q4 2020 shows a disciplined growth towards profitability.

If there’s indeed a path to profitability, why did Jumia investors — Rocket Internet and MTN — exit the company? And does that put pressure on the company?

Oh, not at all. The fact that Jumia was able to gain support from the companies was a blessing, and they’ve come a long way with us. But like any investor after six to nine years, I think it was time for them to decide to leave the company, and I’ll say the company was lucky to have had them along our side from the beginning. Well, I can’t say for them, but for myself, I don’t think one can say that their leaving after so many years is a sign of distrust in our ability to become profitable.

One of the positives of your financials was JumiaPay. Does it tie into Jumia’s journey to being profitable?

JumiaPay is an amazing opportunity for us. Once you have a great commerce platform, you have a fantastic opportunity to build a great payments solution for your consumers. We can see that consumers are adopting it very fast, and I think this is because the platform also gives them access to other digital services where they top up their phone, pay bills and get loans. Also, it is a great payment method for consumers who want to prepay for services. And when you prepay for products, you make logistics more efficient and have more sales.

Sales remind me of the fraud issues in 2019 when some J-Force team members engaged in improper sales practices. What is Jumia doing to avoid situations like that?

It’s a lesson we’ve learnt, and we have put in the right compliance, the right internal control team to resolve such situations. I’ll say one of the reasons why we’re becoming one of the most professional organizations in Africa is because we now have these systems in place.

As an African company, how is Jumia addressing concerns around diversity, especially at top positions?

I think what’s really African with Jumia is who we are serving, our African sellers, our African consumers and our African team. In Nigeria, Juliet Anammah, who was the CEO of Jumia Nigeria, is now the chairperson of Jumia Group. I don’t know what constitutes an African or a non-African company, but what I can tell you is that our team is African, our consumers are African, and we’re selling on the continent every day. I think that’s what should make sense to our ecosystem.

Singapore-based Raena gets $9M Series A for its pivot to skincare and beauty-focused social commerce

A photo of social commerce startup Raena’s team. From left to right: chief operating officer Guo Xing Lim, chief executive officer Sreejita Deb and chief commercial officer Widelia Liu

Raena’s team, from left to right: chief operating officer Guo Xing Lim, chief executive officer Sreejita Deb and chief commercial officer Widelia Liu

Raena was founded in 2019 to create personal care brands with top social media influencers. After several launches, however, the Singapore-based startup quickly noticed an interesting trend: customers were ordering batches of products from Raena every week and reselling them on social media and e-commerce platforms like Shopee and Tokopedia. Last year, the company decided to focus on those sellers, and pivoted to social commerce.

Today Raena announced it has raised a Series A of $9 million, co-led by Alpha Wave Incubation and Alpha JWC Ventures, with participation from AC Ventures and returning investors Beenext, Beenos and Strive. Its last funding announcement was a $1.82 million seed round announced in July 2019.

After interviewing people who were setting up online stores with products from Raena, the company’s team realized that sellers’ earnings potential was capped because they were paying retail prices for their inventory.

They also saw that the even though new C2C retail models, like social commerce, are gaining popularity, the beauty industry’s supply chain hasn’t kept up. Sellers usually need to order minimum quantities, which makes it harder for people to start their own businesses, Raena co-founder Sreejita Deb told TechCrunch,

“Basically, you have to block your capital upfront. It’s difficult for individual sellers or micro-enterpreneurs to work with the old supply chain and categories like beauty,” she said.

Raena decided to pivot to serve those entrepreneurs. The company provides a catalog that includes mostly Japanese and Korean skincare and beauty brands. For those brands, Raena represents a way to enter new markets like Indonesia, which the startup estimates has $20 billion market opportunity.

Raena resellers, who are mostly women between 18 to 34-years-old in Indonesia and Malaysia, pick what items they want to feature on their social media accounts. Most use TikTok or Instagram for promotion, and set up online stores on Shopee or Tokopedia. But they don’t have to carry inventory. When somebody buys a product from a Raena reseller, the reseller orders it from Raena, which ships it directly to the customer.

This drop-shipping model means resellers make higher margins. Since they don’t have to carry inventory, it also dramatically lowers the barrier to launching a small business. Even though Raena’s pivot to social commerce coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, Deb said it grew its revenue 50 times between January and December 2020. The platform now has more than 1,500 resellers, and claims a 60% seller retention rate after six months on the platform.

She attributes Raena’s growth to several factors, including the increase in online shopping during lockdowns and people looking for ways to earn additional income during the pandemic. While forced to stay at home, many people also began spending more time online, especially on the social media platforms that Raena resellers use.

Raena also benefited from its focus on skincare. Even though many retail categories, including color cosmetics, took a hit, skincare products proved resilient.

“We saw skincare had higher margins, and there are certain markets that are experts at formulating and producing skincare products, and demand for those products in other parts of the world,” she said, adding, “we’ve continued being a skincare company and because that is a category we had insight into, it was our first entry point into this social selling model as well. 90% of our sales are skincare. Our top-selling products are serums, toners, essences, which makes a lot of sense because people are in their homes and have more time to dedicate to their skincare routines.”

Social commerce, which allows people to earn a side income (or even a full-time income), by promoting products through social media, has taken off in several Asian markets. In China, for example, Pinduoduo has become a formidable rival to Alibaba through its group-selling model and focus on fresh produce. In India, Meesho resellers promote products through social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.

Social commerce is also gaining traction in Southeast Asia, with gross merchandise value growing threefold during the first half of 2020, according to iKala.

Deb said one of the ways Raena is different from other social commerce companies is that most of its resellers are selling to customers they don’t know, instead of focusing on family and friends. Many already had TikTok or Instagram profiles focused on beauty and skincare, and had developed reputations for being knowledgeable about products.

As Raena develops, it plans to hire a tech team to build tools that will simplify the process of managing orders and also strike deals directly with manufacturers to increase profit margins for resellers. The funding will be used to increase its team from 15 to over 100 over the next three months, and it plans to enter more Southeast Asian markets.

Marc Benioff and this panel of judges will decide who gets one seat on the first all-civilian spaceflight

SpaceX’s first all-civilian human spaceflight mission, which will carry four passengers to orbit using a Crew Dragon capsule later this year if all goes to plan, will include one passenger selected by a panel of judges weighing the submissions of entrepreneurs. The panel will include Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Fast Company Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Mehta, YouTuber Mark Rober and Bar Rescue TV host Jon Taffer. It may seem like an eclectic bunch, but there is some reason to the madness.

This seat is one of four on the ride – the first belongs to contest and mission sponsor Jared Isaacman, the founder of Shift4 Payments and a billionaire who has opted to spend a not insignificant chunk of money funding the flight. The second, Isaacman revealed earlier this week, will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital employee and cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux.

That leaves two more seats, and they’re being decided by two separate contests. One is open to anyone who is a U.S. citizen and who makes a donation to St. Jude via the ongoing charitable contribution drive. The other will be decided by this panel of judges, and will be chosen from a pool of applicants who have build stores on Shift4’s Shift4Shop e-commerce platform.

That’s right: This absurdly expensive and pioneering mission to space is also a growth marketing campaign for Isaacman’s Shopify competitor. But to be fair, the store of the winning entrant doesn’t have to be news – existing customers can also apply and are eligible.

The stated criteria for deciding the winner is “a business owner or entrepreneur the exhibits ingenuity, innovation and determination” so in other words it could be just about anybody. I’m extremely curious to see what Benioff, Mehta, Rober (also a former NASA JPL engineer in addition to a YouTuber) and Taffer come up with between them as a winner.

The Inspiration4 mission is currently set to fly in the fourth quarter of 2021, and mission specifics including total duration and target orbit are yet to be determined.

3D model provider CGTrader raises $9.5M Series B led by Evli Growth Partners

3D model provider CGTrader, has raised $9.5M in a Series B funding led by Finnish VC fund Evli Growth Partners, alongside previous investors Karma Ventures and LVV Group. Ex-Rovio CEO Mikael Hed also invested and joins as Board Chairman. We first covered the Vilnius-based company when it raised 200,000 euro from Practica Capital.

Founded in 2011 by 3D designer Marius Kalytis (now COO), CGTrader has become a signifiant 3D content provider – it even claims to be the world’s largest. In its marketplace are 1.1M 3D models and 3.5M 3D designers, service 370,000 businesses including Nike, Microsoft, Made.com, Crate & Barrel, and Staples.

Unlike photos, 3D models can also be used to create both static images as well as AR experiences, so that users can see how a product might fit in their home. The company is also looking to invest in automating 3D modeling, QA, and asset management processes with AI. 

Dalia Lasaite, CEO and co-founder of CGTrader said in a statement: “3D models are not only widely used in professional 3D industries, but have become a more convenient and cost-effective way of generating amazing product visuals for e-commerce as well. With our ARsenal enterprise platform, it is up to ten times cheaper to produce photorealistic 3D visuals that are indistinguishable from photographs.”

CGTrader now plans to consolidate its position and further develop its platform.

The company competes with TurboSquid (which was recently acquired for $75 million by Shutterstock) and Threekit.

Second crew member of first all-civilian SpaceX mission revealed

SpaceX is now in the business of flying people to space, and if all goes to plan, it’ll be the first to provide a trip for a crew made up entirely of private space tourists later this year. Now, we know who will join billionaire and Shift4Payments founder Jason Isaacman on that trip – St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital employee, and former patient Hayley Arceneaux.

Arceneaux was already selected by Isaacman to be one of the four members of the crew for the mission aboard a SpaceX Dragon, which will include a flight to an unspecified orbit for a trip likely spanning a few days when it launches. The billionaire tipped that he “already knew” who he’d picked to represent St. Jude during a press call when the trip was originally announced earlier this year, but noted that he was saving the reveal.

Isaacman is running a months-long campaign around ‘Inspiration4,’ which is what he has named the flight. The remaining two seats will be given to winners chosen from two separate ongoing competitions: One pool includes anyone who makes a donation to St. Jude during the course of a fundraising campaign attached to the launch, and the other will be selected from entrepreneurs who build an online store on Shift4’s newly launched e-commerce platform.

As AP reports, Arceneaux is a bone cancer survivor who joined St. Jude last year as a physician assistant. She’s record a number of firsts and records when she gets to space on the upcoming flight, including becoming the youngest American ever in space at just 29, and also becoming the first to enter space with a prosthetic in place – she has an artificial knee and a rod in her thighs bone due to the bone cancer she was treated for at St. Jude when she was 10.

Isaacman is footing the entire bill for the SpaceX launch – including covering the tax obligations of the other winners selected for the St. Jude seats on the mission. He has also committed to donating $100 million to the hospital from his own funds, in addition to whatever is raised through the public donation drive that will be used to select one of the other crew members.

Pipe17 closes $8M to connect a range of e-commerce tools without any code required

This morning Pipe17, a software startup focused on the e-commerce market, announced that it has closed $8 million in funding.

Pipe17’s service helps smaller e-commerce merchants connect their digital tools, without the need to code. With the startup’s service, e-commerce operations that may lack an in-house IT function can quickly connect their selling platform to shipping, or point-of-sale data to their ERP.

The venture arm of a large logistics investor GLP, GLP Capital Partners led the round.

Pipe17 co-founders Mo Afshar and Dave Shaffer told TechCrunch in an interview that the idea for their startup came from examining the e-commerce market, noting the energy to be found concerning selling platforms, and the comparative dearth of software to help get e-commerce tools to work together; Shopify and BigCommerce and Shippo are just fine, but if you can’t code you might wind up schlepping data from one platform to the next to keep your e-commerce operation humming.

So they built Pipe17 to fill in the gap.

According to Afshar, Pipe17 wants to simplify operations for e-commerce merchants through the lens of connection; the pair of co-founders believe that easy cross-compatibility is the key missing ingredient in the modern-day e-commerce software stack, likening the current e-commerce maket to the IT and datacenter worlds before the advent of Splunk and Datadog.

The prevailing view in the e-commerce industry, the co-founders explained, is that to fix a problem e-commerce players should purchase another application. Pipe17 thinks that most ecommerce companies probably have enough tooling, and that they instead need to get their existing tooling to communicate.

What’s neat about the startup is that it’s building something that we might call no-code-no-code, or no-code to a higher degree. Instead of offering a interface for non-developers to visually map out connections between different software services, it has pre-built what might need to be mapped. Just pick the two e-commerce services you want to link, and Pipe17 will connect them for you in an intelligent manner. For folks who find any sort of coding hard (which probably describes a lot of indie online store operators), the method could be an attractive pitch.

The startup’s customer target are sellers doing single-digit millions to nine-figures in year sales.

Why did Pipe17 raise capital now? The co-founders said that there are only so many chances to simplify a large market, akin to what Plaid and Twilio did for their own niches, so taking on funds now made sense. In Afshar’s view, e-commerce operations is going to be simply massive. Given the growth in digital selling that we saw last year, it’s a perspective that is hard to dispute.

The niche that Pipe17 wants to fill has more than one player. While the startups themselves might quibble about just how much competitive space they share, Y Combinator-backed Alloy recently raised $4 million to build a no-code e-commerce automation service. Which is related to what Pipe17 does. It will be interesting to see if they wind up in competition, and, if so, who comes out on top.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This, Valoreo believes, provides an opportunity for consolidation.

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

With a reported deal in the wings for Joby Aviation, electric aircraft soars to $10B business

One year after nabbing $590 million from investors led by Toyota, and a few months after picking up Uber’s flying taxi businessJoby Aviation is reportedly in talks to go public in a SPAC deal that would value the electric plane manufacturer at nearly $5.7 billion.

News of a potential deal comes on the heels of another big SPAC transaction in electric planes, for Archer Aviation. If the Financial Times‘ reporting is accurate, then that would mean that the two will soon be publicly traded at a total value approaching $10 billion.

It’s a heady time for startups making vehicles powered by anything other than hydrocarbons, and the SPAC wave has hit it hard.

Electric car companies Arrival, Canoo, ChargePoint, Fisker, Lordstown Motors, Proterra and The Lion Electric Company are some of the companies that have merged with SPACs — or announced plans to — in the past year.

Now it appears that any company that has anything to do with the electrification of any mode of transportation is going to get waved onto the runway for a public listing through a special purpose acquisition company vehicle — a wildly popular route at the moment for companies that might find traditional IPO listings more challenging to carry out but would rather not stay in startup mode when it comes to fundraising.

The investment group reportedly taking Joby to the moon! out to public markets is led by the billionaire tech entrepreneurs and investors Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, and Mark Pincus, who launched the casual gaming company, Zynga.

Together the two men had formed Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company, earlier in 2020. The shell company went public and raised $690 million to make a deal.

Any transaction for Joby would be a win for the company’s backers including Toyota, Baillie Gifford, Intel Capital, JetBlue Technology Ventures (the investment arm of the US-based airline), and Uber, which invested $125 million into Joby.

Joby has a prototype that has already taken 600 flights, but has yet to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. And the success of any transaction between the company and Hoffman and Pincus’ SPAC group is far from a sure thing, as the FT noted.

The deal would require an additional capital infusion into the SPAC that the two men established, and without that extra cash, all bets are off. Indeed, that is probably one reason why anyone is reading about this now.

Alternatively powered transportation vehicles of all stripes and covering all modes of travel are the rage right now among the public investment crowd. Part of that is due to rising pressure among institutional investors to find companies with an environmental, sustainability, and good governance thesis that they can invest in, and part of that is due to tailwinds coming from government regulations pushing for the decarbonization of fleets in a bid to curb global warming.

The environmental impact is one chief reason that United chief executive Scott Kirby cited when speaking about his company’s $1 billion purchase order from the electric plane company that actually announced it would be pursuing a public offering through a SPAC earlier this week.

“By working with Archer, United is showing the aviation industry that now is the time to embrace cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation,” Kirby said. “With the right technology, we can curb the impact aircraft have on the planet, but we have to identify the next generation of companies who will make this a reality early and find ways to help them get off the ground.”

It’s also an investment in a possible new business line that could eventually shuttle United passengers to and from an airport, as TechCrunch reported earlier. United projected that a trip in one of Archer’s eVTOL aircraft could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50% per passenger traveling between Hollywood and Los Angeles International Airport.

The agreement to go public and the order from United Airlines comes less than a year after Archer Aviation came out of stealth. Archer was co-founded in 2018 by Adam Goldstein and Brett Adcock, who sold their software-as-a-service company Vettery to The Adecco Group for more than $100 million. The company’s primary backer was Marc Lore, who sold his company Jet.com to Walmart in 2016 for $3.3 billion. Lore was Walmart’s e-commerce chief until January.

For any SPAC investors or venture capitalists worried that they’re now left out of the EV plane investment bonanza, take heart! There’s still the German tech developer, Lilium. And if an investor is interested in supersonic travel, there’s always Boom.