TrovaTrip, a group travel management platform and marketplace, raises $15M

TrovaTrip, a travel planning and booking platform that lets creators host adventures with their communities, has raised $15 million in Series A funding led by Madrona. Founded in 2017, the Portland-based company makes it easy for creators to sell and host multi-day experiences around the world. TrovaTrip offers more than 150 experiences in 48 countries. To date, more than 15,000 travelers have used TrovaTrip to book an experience.

The platform includes bookable experiences like hiking in Patagonia, sourcing textiles in Morocco, practicing yoga in Bali and more. Hosts, which is the name for creators on the platform, set their price for a specific experience that they will be leading. TrovaTrip then provides a landing page for hosts to publish and promote their trip and then start accepting bookings. Hosts can also set up an email marketing campaign, in addition to promoting their bookable experience across their social media channels.

TrovaTrip handles payment processing, customer support, traveler management and also covers the host with free insurance during the trip. The company charges a 10% service fee and a $2.9% transaction fee.

All trips are organized and run by a certified tour operator and include a local guide to ensure a safe experience. Trips include accommodations, transportation between cities, listed meals and guided activities relevant to the theme of the trip. Examples of trip categories and themes include photography, exploration, health and wellness, food, LGBTQ+, yoga and more.

The platform was founded by TrovaTrip CEO Nick Poggi, CRO Lauren Schneider and CTO Branden Denham. The idea for TrovaTrip began when Poggi, Schneider and a few of their friends were planning a two-week vacation trip to Europe, but were unable to find group travel options for young professionals, Poggi told TechCrunch in an interview. While they were on the trip, they started mapping out a plan to build the solution that they wish existed. Poggi then brought Denham on board, after which the trio had the idea to create a platform that lets you not only travel, but travel while learning about something you’re passionate about with someone you look up to.

An image of TrovaTrip's co-founders

Image Credits: TrovaTrip

“Rather than us selling these experiences directly to customers, we thought let’s build a platform that makes it easy for creators to offer and host experiences with their communities,” Poggi said. “This would create an authentic and reputable source of income for creators, while also supporting them as they look to build out their community. The concept worked and led to a pretty incredible experience. Our first trip was to Italy and then the next two were to Portugal.”

The company’s Series A funding round included participation from existing investors, PSL Ventures, Oregon Venture Fund, Elevate Capital and Portland Seed Fund. TrovaTrip will use the new funding to further advance its platform and open up access to more creators, Poggi says.

“We are very much focused on continuing to enhance our platform to provide a world class experience for our hosts, travelers and operators,” Poggi said. “We will be growing our sales and marketing efforts to open up the platform for more creators and their communities. We’ve only scratched the surface with the various categories and themes that we could potentially work with. We’re very excited to open up the platform a bit more on the host side. And then we will continue to work to expand our selection of itineraries across destinations.”

TrovaTrip’s Series A funding round follows the company’s $5 million seed funding announced in August 2021, which was led by PSL Ventures. The company has raised $20 million in funding to date.

In terms of the future, TrovaTrip plans to continue to develop its platform to be a reputable income stream for creators. The company notes that it’s already becoming some creators’ primary source of income. TrovaTrip also plans to continue to make travel safer and maintain a high bar for quality group travel.

TrovaTrip, a group travel management platform and marketplace, raises $15M by Aisha Malik originally published on TechCrunch

1MRobotics emerges from stealth with $25M for ‘nano-fulfillment’ centers

As evidenced by recent layoffs and scaled-back expansions, on-demand delivery is a challenging space. Brands, retailers and operators push to deliver with maximum efficiency, a strategy that’s led within the past several years to the rise of “dark stores.” A dark store, also known as a micro-fulfillment center, is a small, local store without the customers, where employees pack orders from shelves and racks for online delivery orders.

On-demand delivery startups like Getir and Gopuff operate hundreds of dark stores within the cities they service — one analysis projects that there will be 45,000 dark stores in operation by 2030. But while the storefronts decrease delivery times, sky-high rents and staffing requirements make them expensive to maintain — eating away at revenues.

Eyal Yair proposes an alternative in the form of robotic “nano-fulfillment” centers. He’s the co-founder and CEO of 1MRobotics, which takes an automation-first approach to deploying dark stores for rapid delivery. The company today launched out of stealth with $16.5 million in Series A funding led by Ibex Investors with participation from Emerge VC, Target Global and INT3, as well as collaborations with brands including Nespresso, AB InBev and REEF Technology.

The Series A brings 1MRobotics’ total raised to $25 million, inclusive of a previously undisclosed $8.5 million seed round.

“The pandemic has completely propelled ecommerce sales, purchase habits and consumer behavior to the next level — this new norm demands a new type of infrastructure to support rapid delivery operations at a global scale,” Yair told TechCrunch in an email interview. Prior to co-launching 1MRobotics with Roee Tuval, Yair spearheaded and sold two ventures — CartCrunch and Netonomy — focused on grocery e-commerce and cybersecurity, respectively.

“Manual dark stores simply don’t cut it anymore and [1MRobotics] serves as a clear catalyst to the adoption of fulfillment technology,” he continued with bombast. “1MRobotics does something magical: enabling a hyperlocal, fully-automated fulfillment network that’s a magnitude better in service level, significantly better for ESG and costs less than legacy regional next-day fulfillment solutions. This is the holy grail of product distribution.”

Yair claims that 1MRobotics’ platform — a small warehouse of robots that pack orders — can be installed nearly anywhere and doesn’t need to be maintenanced regularly, ideally abstracting away some of the logistics of deliveries. Leveraging AI, the system learns supply and demand patterns appearing in the order flow of the goods stored in the warehouse, Yair says, and “optimizes” the stock in response.

The model isn’t dissimilar to Fabric’s, which has raised more than $300 million at an over-$1 billion valuation for its micro-fulfillment robotics technology. Other rivals include Attabotics, Nimble Robotics and better-established players like AutoStore (which went public last October), U.K.-based grocery fulfillment tech firm Ocado Group and Noyes Technologies.

It’s a cutthroat industry. In July, Fabric laid off 40% of its workforce as it pivoted from a service provider to a platform. Implicit in the shift was a recognition that on-demand delivery is coming down from its pandemic highs; a recent survey out of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that more than 90% of people who used online delivery services during the pandemic would likely revert back to their original way of shopping.

Yair is adamant that 1MRobotics is differentiated and poised to grow, with “state-of-the-art” robotics technology that’s supposedly “significantly” more efficient than most. The jury’s out, but the company’s early traction suggests that there just might be something to those claims.

One point in 1MRobotics’ favor is that investors — and customers — are still relatively bullish about transportation and logistics tech companies. Logistics startups in particular attracted big VC money in 2021, raising over $27.5 billion. Meanwhile, big-name brands have doubled down on fulfillment automation, for example with Walmart announcing that it would bring robotics to 25 of its regional distribution centers.

“The next decade will be marked with consumers continuing to demand convenience, expecting retailers and brands to supply their favorite products faster and faster. However — nearly all existing last-mile facilities are manual today, with many operating quite inefficiently,” Gal Gitter, a partner at Ibex Investors, said via email. “This is where 1MRobotics comes in — providing ‘plug-and-play’ full automation for last mile fulfillment across nearly any category, while reducing cost and associated environmental impact. We believe the future of commerce is headed towards a network of fully automated and distributed nano-fulfillment sites – that is exactly what 1MRobotics enables.”

1MRobotics emerges from stealth with $25M for ‘nano-fulfillment’ centers by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Instacart launches Connected Stores, a suite of in-store tech for retailers

Instacart announced today that it’s launching Connected Stores, a suite of new and existing technologies that aim to help retailers create a personalized experience both online and in-store. The company has been piloting the new technologies with select retailers, and is now opening them up to stores across the United States and Canada.

The suite of tools includes a new version of Instacart’s AI-powered Caper Carts, the ability to sync shopping lists to the carts, scan and pay, department orders, out of stock insights and more. 

The new Caper Cart is equipped with scales, sensors, touchscreens and computer vision technology. Shoppers can use Instacart’s new “Lists” feature to sync their shopping list directly to a Caper Cart by scanning a QR code. With the Caper Cart, shopper don’t have to manually scan items. Shoppers can simply drop in the cart, after which the item will automatically be checked off their list. The new Caper Cart is lighter and holds 65% more than the previous version. The launch of the updated Caper Cart builds off of Instacart’s $350 million acquisition of Caper AI last year.

In addition to Caper Carts, Instacart is also introducing Scan & Pay, which lets you scan items as you shop and pay for them using your mobile phone. The Scan & Pay technology is an option for retailers who don’t want to adopt the new Caper Carts.

The company is also introducing Carrot Tags, which will help shoppers find what they’re looking for in a store. The tags light up electronic shelf labels to help you find specific items. Shoppers can select an item on their phone and the corresponding shelf label will flash. Carrot Tags can also display information, like whether a specific product is gluten-free, organic or kosher. Instacart is also offering a Department Orders feature that lets shoppers order from multiple departments, such as deli and bakery, and have them ready at the same time.

Instacart has announced the launch of its first Connected Store with Good Food Holdings. Customers will see Caper Carts, Scan & Pay, Lists and Carrot Tags at Good Food Holdings’ Bristol Farms store in Irvine, California. In the coming months, Wakefern Food Corpp and Schnucks locations will also implement Caper Carts and Carrot Tags, respectively.

“For customers, a Connected Store will mean a better grocery shopping experience — with fewer headaches and more inspiration, whether online or in person,” wrote David McIntosh, the vice president of Connected Stores at Instacart, in a blog post. “For retailers, it will mean more efficiency, eliminating repetitive tasks so employees can focus on things like customer service, and higher profits, since customers who shop online and in-person are more engaged and spend more.”

Although Instacart originally started off as a grocery delivery platform, the company has started offering software services to retailers. The company’s Instacart Platform, which offers a suite of technology products and services, now includes Connected Stores.

Today’s announcement follows Instacart’s recent acquisitions. The company acquired Rosie, an e-commerce platform for local and independent retailers and wholesalers, earlier this month. Instacart said the acquisition will allow it to introduce new e-commerce solutions for local and independent retailers that complement its Instacart Platform e-commerce offerings. Also earlier this month, Instacart acquired Eversight, an AI-powered pricing and promotions platform for consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands and retailers. Eversight’s retail technology is now part of the Instacart Platform.

The launch of Instacart’s Connected Stores offering comes as the company is preparing for its market debut, as Instacart filed privately to go public in May.

Instacart launches Connected Stores, a suite of in-store tech for retailers by Aisha Malik originally published on TechCrunch

TruckSmarter comes out of stealth with a free load board for truckers

Technological innovation has caused a rise in e-commerce that is crying out for more truck drivers to deliver our smartphones and Pelotons and pineapples. But the trucking industry, the backbone of all our hedonistic spending, has yet to see the same level of tech advancements needed to create a stable and resilient supply chain.

The industry is incredibly fragmented, with truckers, a large majority of whom are owner-operators, spending hours of their day searching for brokers and shippers who will give them their next gig. And when they find it, they’ll spend almost half their time sitting idly in clogged ports waiting to be loaded or unloaded — a task that is probably as boring as it is detrimental to a trucker’s bottom line, according to Daniel Kao, co-founder and CEO of TruckSmarter, who says truckers only get paid on a per-mile basis.

To help smooth out some of these kinks and thereby make trucking a more attractive job prospect, Kao and his co-founder Paolo Bernasconi just came out of stealth with TruckSmarter, a free platform that allows truckers, carriers and dispatchers to search and book loads — like the Zillow of the trucking world.

The ability to use the service for free is one of the things that differentiates TruckSmarter from the number of other trucking software platforms that are springing up to address the outdated, yet crucial, industry. CloudTrucks, SmartHop and Convoy have all launched in recent years to help connect truckers, carriers, shippers and brokers. They each offer a dispatch service or schedule optimizer, which TruckSmarter doesn’t yet, but there’s a reason for that.

“CloudTrucks is a virtual fleet, so their core business is being a carrier, and I think for drivers to be in their ecosystem, they have to give 15% of their revenue to move a load — which is a lot better than the industry standard of 30%, but you just end up being a driver for them,” said Kao. “Compared to that, our belief is that truck drivers want to own their own business and make as much revenue as they can — like the American dream of buying your own truck, running your own business and doing your own accounting with TruckSmarter.”

While TruckSmarter’s load board is free, the company makes its revenue by offering truckers same-day payments for each load. Truckers normally have to wait 30 to 45 days after a load is completed to get paid, which means they often front the bill for gas, maintenance or repairs, says Kao. TruckSmarter takes 1.5% off a load’s revenue for same-day pay, but based on the current and future scale of the platform, that small factor collectively turns into big bucks for the startup.

In the year TruckSmarter has been operating in stealth, the startup has brought on about 100,000 active users spending no money on marketing, according to the company.

“We’re already facilitating over $1 billion annualized just through our platform alone,” said Kao, who also noted the company is doing $1 million in loads per day. If every driver chooses same-day payment, TruckSmarter could pull close to $5.5 million in easy revenue each year. Basically, the company is betting on the psychological effects of delaying gratification, and as the marshmallow test taught us, it’s human nature to take the less desirable treat if we can have it immediately, rather than wait for the more desirable treat.

TruckSmarter is coming out of stealth with $44 million in funding to date. The company recently closed a $25 million Series B, which was led by Thrive Capital, with participating investors like Founders Fund, a16z, Bain Capital Ventures and Fin Capital. Some big tech names also signed on, like Tony Xu, CEO of DoorDash; Ryan Petersen, CEO of Flexport; Eric Glyman, CEO of Ramp; and Jett McCandless and Jason Duboe, CEO and chief growth officer of Project44, respectively.

TruckSmarter comes out of stealth with a free load board for truckers by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Shipmates makes order fulfillment less tedious for the Philippines’ online sellers

The Philippines’ e-commerce market now has a gross merchandise volume of $12 billion, a 132% increase from 2020, and is expected to reach $26 billion in GMV by 2025. This obviously good news for online sellers, but it also means more shipping headaches, especially for smaller sellers that need to drop off packages at couriers’ warehouses.

Shipmates wants to save them time and money by consolidating several couriers into one platform. Online sellers can book couriers through its app, who then come to their location and pick up packages. The startup, a Y Combinator and Iterative alum, announced today it has raised $2.2 million in seed funding. The round included Cathexis Ventures, Wavemaker Partners, Taurus Ventures, Capital X and Sketchnote Partners.

Shipmates founders David Marquez and Josh Supan

Shipmates founders David Marquez and Josh Supan

Founded in July 2021 by CEO Josh Supan and CTO David Marquez, Shipmates’ goal is to become the go-to shipping tool for online merchants in Philippines, while bolstering the country’s shipping infrastructure. Its platform allows online sellers to compare rates between different couriers and book standard or multiple orders.

The platform is currently integrated with 9 courier companies, and the founders say its the only aggregator in the Philippines that has both on-demand and standard couriers.

Supan and Marquez are childhood friends who started an e-commerce enabler in 2017. Supan told TechCrunch they “pivoted from that when we saw that the problem of the merchants wasn’t getting online, it was shipping their online orders.”

Shipmates’ target customers are small- to mid-sized online sellers whose typical basket sizes range from $20 to $50. Supan explained that the shipping process in the Philippines is still manual because couriers aren’t connected to e-commerce platforms, and rely on business owners to physically drop off packages at a hub or warehouse.

As a result, many online sellers need a day to send out orders. Shipmates, however, reduces that process to less than 10 minutes, Supan said. The platform also automates waybills and address validations.

Shipmates monetizes by charging 30 cents for every order booked through its platform. Supan says its revenue has been growing 30% month-over-month since launching its platform last December.

Shipmates makes order fulfillment less tedious for the Philippines’ online sellers by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

ZineOne raises cash to help e-commerce companies predict customer behavior

In-session marketing, a form of inbound marketing that attempts to analyze and influence web and app users’ purchasing decisions, is often challenging to implement. With so much competing for consumers’ attention these days, rare is the brand that’s able to make a lasting first impression. According to Microsoft Research, people only spend about 10 seconds on a company’s homepage if the page doesn’t immediately connect with a marketing message.

Debjani Deb, Manish Malhotra and Arnab Mukherjee, the co-founders of in-session marketing platform ZineOne, dealt with the hurdles around customer tracking firsthand at their previous jobs. Deb previously co-founded EmPower, a firm that provided tools for social media research and media monitoring, while Malhotra started his own company, Social Lair, to build social media capabilities for large enterprises. As for Mukherjee, he left Oracle to launch Udichi, a compute platform for “big data” analysis.

In the early days of ZineOne, Deb, Malhotra and Mukherjee met at the Milpitas Library in Santa Clara and local coffee shops to speculate about where online marketing technology was heading. They came to the conclusion that recording real-time customer decisions was the key to boosting conversions, springboarding ZineOne’s first series of products.

After attracting customers like Men’s Wearhouse, Wynn Resorts, Advance Auto Parts and Kohl’s, ZineOne has raised $28 million in Series C funding, the company today announced. SignalFire led the round, with participation from Norwest and others, bringing ZineOne’s total raised to $42 million.

“We believe in-session marketing is a critical, and perhaps the most important, component of modern marketing for brands in a privacy-first world,” Deb told TechCrunch in an email interview. “What in-session marketing accomplishes, ultimately, is enabling brands to capture the optimal amount of conversion on their website which results in more efficient pre-purchase dollars and less reliance on re-marketing strategies.”

ZineOne

Image Credits: ZineOne

At a high level, ZineOne — which serves specifically e-commerce brands — uses AI to score behavior and personalize website and app users’ individual experiences. By observing a visitor’s first few clicks or taps, the platform can ostensibly customize the messaging, discount offers and product recommendations that they see in real time.

It’s worth noting that, at least according to some surveys, a large segment of consumers don’t agree with any form of behavior tracking for marketing. Part of the rejection might stem from concerns over bias in AI systems, which have the potential to impact the experiences of certain customer segments. But Deb argues that ZineOne has protections in place to allay these fears.

For example, ZineOne uses anonymized session data to conduct its analyses, Deb says — primarily a “granular set of behavioral events” for each visitor, including product detail views, cart updates and checkouts. Since the platform’s targeting derives from short-term behaviors, it doesn’t need to store any longitudinal identity or profile data, she claims.

“ZineOne’s in-session marketing platform focuses on these three key pillars: understanding in-session behaviors for anonymous visitors (not just known customers), predicting outcomes and taking the optimal set of in-session actions,” Deb said. “ZineOne’s early purchase prediction model tells [brands] within 5 clicks which anonymous visitors are highly likely to make a purchase, who is on the fence and who is unlikely to buy in that session. They are then able to trigger experiences according to the consumers’ purchase propensity today, right now, in the moment.”

ZineOne isn’t the only platform applying data analytics to drive e-commerce personalization. DynamicYield, which was acquired by McDonald’s in 2019 before being sold to Mastercard, uses AI to customize content on websites, insert product recommendations and even dynamically change the layout of web flows. There’s also Metrical, which learns of those visiting a site, who is likely to bounce or abandon their cart and “hyper-targets” these prospects to convince them to continue shopping.

But Deb argues that ZineOne is differentiated by the breadth of its AI system, which also can predict levels of friction throughout the shopping process and price sensitivity at specific points in a session. The current product roadmap is focused on productizing new predictive models and building new data visualizations, she said, as well as launching a self-service dashboard.

ZineOne also plans to expand its headcount, growing it 70% by the end of the year.

“ZineOne gives end users a better personalized browsing and shopping experience without infringing on their privacy through cookie-tracking and shadow profiles … Now is the ideal time for in-session marketing due to many factors: consumer data privacy regulations are increasing and customer acquisition costs are rising for retailers,” Deb said. “The retail sector saw tremendous e-commerce growth during the peak of the pandemic and are now facing different challenges as the economy slows and inflation spikes. ZineOne addresses a blind spot for these major brands, which is serving the needs of the anonymous consumer and acknowledging what’s happening immediately while the consumer is actively engaged with the brand.”

Amazon, facing ‘unfavorable’ regulatory environment, struggles to expand in India

Amazon is lagging its chief rival Flipkart in India on several key metrics and struggling to make inroads in smaller Indian cities and towns, according to a scathing report by investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein.

The American e-commerce giant’s 2021 gross merchandise value in the country, where it has deployed over $6.5 billion, stood between $18 billion to $20 billion, lagging Flipkart’s $23 billion, the analysts said in a report to clients Tuesday that was obtained by TechCrunch.

India is a key overseas market for Amazon, where it competes with Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail, which launched grocery shopping on WhatsApp this week, Walmart-owned Flipkart and social commerce startups SoftBank-backed Meesho and Tiger Global-backed DealShare. Amazon has so far offered “a weaker proposition in ‘new’ commerce” in the country, the report added.

At stake is one of the world’s last great growth markets. The e-commerce spending in India, the world’s second largest internet market, is expected to double in size to over $130 billion by 2025. Amazon has been attempting to increase its presence in India through stakes in local firms and has also aggressively explored partnerships with neighborhood stores.

The company attempted to acquire Future Retail, India’s second largest retail chain, but was outwitted by Ambani’s firm. (Amazon accused the estranged Indian partner and Reliance of fraud in newspaper ads.)

Amazon’s recent spendings for growth in India has also made its local division’s prospects of turning a profit “elusive,” the Bernstein report added.

“Amazon has struggled to scale volumes in higher-margin categories such as fashion and BPC (beauty and personal care), while the inability to operate a 1P model (inventory led) has limited the availability of private labels vs. competition which further pressures margins. Amazon’s management attrition has also increased recently, potentially signaling difficulties achieving desired scale,” said Bernstein, whose reports are highly influential and widely cited.

Amazon, like Walmart’s Flipkart, operates a marketplace business in India due to local regulatory requirements. It’s facing a wide range of other regulatory pushback in the South Asian market. Marketplaces cannot have a controlling stake in sellers on their platform. Amazon and Flipkart have reduced their stakes in their largest sellers. Amazon had a controlling stake in Cloudtail and Appario but has reduced it to 24%.

A single seller cannot have more than a 25% share on a foreign-owned online marketplace. No e-commerce marketplace platform can mandate a seller/brand to sell exclusively on the platform. “It has also clamped down on deep discounts,” the report adds. Additionally, a new guideline proposed by India’s central bank, if enforced, will impact Amazon’s buy now, pay later offering, the report added.

Image Credits: Sanford C. Bernstein

Other takeaways from the report:

  • Amazon is less competitive in grocery and beauty and personal care categories.
  • Amazon’s India Prime membership offering is much the same as in the U.S. in terms of entertainment availability, but its logistics network size pales in comparison (13 m sq. ft. vs. 375 m sq. ft.) limiting SKUs available for half-day delivery.
  • Amazon is missing out in terms of engagement metrics and download share. Flipkart was the leader during the festival season last year, capturing a share of 62% while Amazon had a share of 27%.

    Image Credits: Sanford C. Bernstein

    Image Credits: Sanford C. Bernstein

“With more than 85% of our customers from Tier 2/3 cities/towns, shopping India’s largest selection across electronics, grocery, fashion and beauty, everyday essentials, and more, we are humbled to be an integral fabric of daily lives across India. We are proud to be a catalyst of livelihoods and India’s economic story for small businesses and local stores, relying on us to go online,” an Amazon spokesperson said Thursday.

“Around 50% of our one million sellers come from Tier 2/3 cities/towns, and over 100k exporters sell to our customers, globally. We are excited by this momentum and remain committed to our pledges to digitize 10 Million MSMEs, generate 2 Million jobs and enable $20 billion cumulative exports by 2025.”

The story was updated with Amazon’s response.

Peter Thiel backs electronics marketplace PriceOye in maiden Pakistan investment

A Pakistani startup, which has taken inspiration from China’s JD.com and India’s Flipkart to build a managed marketplace of electronics products, said on Tuesday it has raised seed funding from scores of investors including PayPal founder Peter Thiel.

Launched in March 2020 — just two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world — the Islamabad-based startup PriceOye offers a range of electronics products, including smartphones, TVs and home appliances.

Its seed funding round was led by JAM Fund, a venture capital firm by Tinder founder Justin Mateen. The institutional funding round also included participation of Beenext, DG Daiwa, Mantis VC, HOF Capital, Jet.com investor Palm Drive Capital and Atlas Ventures, among others. Angels including Thiel, Immad Akhud of Mercury Bank, and Asif Keshodia of Souq also participated in the round — alongside previous investors Fatima Gobi Ventures, SOSV, and Artistic Ventures. This is Thiel’s maiden investment in Pakistan.

PriceOye has served 45 million unique users in Pakistan in the last two years, covering 37.5% of the country’s total internet userbase, Adnan Shaffi, co-founder and CEO of the startup, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“We are the second most visited shopping website in the entire country, with over two and a half million monthly active users coming on the platform, doing research using our product recommendation engine, and then getting to know about different products,” he said.

After exiting two startups, Adan and his brother Adeel Shaffi got the idea of launching PriceOye when they were doing “a lot of island hopping” in Southeast Asia. The duo looked at several startups in Indonesia and India and found the Asian markets were seeing similar consumer internet trends play out — just at a different pace. They built a thesis that Pakistan will see similar adoption of consumer internet services in the next four to five years.

That’s the genesis of PriceOye.

The duo decided to go with the managed marketplace model, where only brands and their official representatives are allowed to sell products, to limit the instances of common frauds and errors that have proven to be painful to traditional online marketplaces, Adnan said.

“We realized that in a market, where trust is one of the biggest factors, and there’s a lot of trust deficit between the consumer and the brand, the only way a marketplace can work is the managed marketplace model, which originally started out of China from JD.com, then replicated by Flipkart, and a lot of other players in Southeast Asia,” Adnan said.

PriceOye sees 30% repeat users of its entire customer base who visit the platform regularly to purchase consumer electronics goods. The startup also claims to sell four smartphones to a single user per year on an average.

It is the largest online platform for selling mobile phones and accessories in Pakistan, claimed Adnan, adding that 35% of its overall orders come from tier-two and tier-three cities across the country.

“Within a short period of time, PriceOye has grown exponentially and has cemented its position as the leading national company in online consumer electronics. We are excited to join PriceOye in its mission towards changing the way people shop in Pakistan,” said Mantis VC founder and partner Alex Pall, in a prepared statement.

PriceOye is looking to deploy the fresh funding to expand its 97-member team by hiring new talent. It’s also planning to bring its platform closer to people in the country by starting offline experience centers — beginning with three centers in high-end shopping malls across Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. More new products and categories are also in the pipeline for the eponymous platform.

Before the latest round, PriceOye had raised $450,000 in pre-seed funding from Fatima Gobi Ventures, Artistic Ventures and SOSV.

“It’s always a difficult choice for consumers to spend big amounts of money on high-value products while being unsure about their authenticity. I was inspired by the vision of PriceOye founders Adnan and Adeel of creating transparency and bringing convenience to customers when it comes to shopping for consumer electronics,” said Seamon Chan, managing partner of Palm Drive Capital, in a statement.

Instacart now lets you order same-day delivery for large items, including furniture and electronics

Instacart announced today that it’s launching “Big & Bulky,” a new fulfillment capacity that lets customers order same-day and scheduled delivery for large items. At launch, the new feature can be used to order items from Big Lots, Container Store, Mastermind Toys, Office Depot, Spirit Halloween and Staples. The new capability allows users to place orders for several different types of large items, including outdoor furniture, home office supplies and electronics.

The company also notes that the new fulfillment capacity gives delivery people on its platform an additional way to earn money. Shoppers who own a large vehicle may now be eligible to access what Instacart calls “Bulky Batches.” Instacart says batch payment will be based on the number and weight of the items in the order, and “will include heavy pay when applicable.”

Shoppers who have an eligible vehicle can opt in to receive Bulky Batches by tapping “Access More Batches” in the Shopper app. Instacart’s initial test zones showed that 97% of eligible shoppers opted in to deliver Bulky Batches.

Instacart is also introducing new delivery options in select regions for people who have an electric bike or moped. Shoppers who choose to deliver orders on an electric bike or moped will be given orders with shorter distances and fewer items. Although it would be difficult to use an electric bike or moped to deliver typical Instacart orders, which can include large items like cases of water and numerous bags, the new small orders option gives people who don’t have access to a car the ability to work with the company.

“We’re excited to introduce these new opportunities for shoppers to increase your earnings, whether you have a large vehicle or none at all,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to bringing you new updates and product features that will improve your experience as a shopper in the coming months.”

Instacart will begin testing these new delivery options in select cities across the U.S and Canada in the coming weeks.

Today’s announcement comes as Instacart has been building out its features over the past few months. Most recently, the company launched a new “OrderUp” feature that lets users add items from additional retailers to their original grocery order without having to pay an extra delivery fee. The company says the new feature gives users a way to complete their weekly shopping in one delivery trip.

The company also recently announced that Electronic Benefits Transfer and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (EBT SNAP) can now be used to buy groceries online in 10 additional states through its app. With this expansion, grocers of all sizes can use Carrot Payments, an Instacart Platform solution, to accept EBT SNAP payments online across 49 states and Washington, D.C.

eBay is acquiring trading card marketplace TCGplayer for up to $295M

eBay is acquiring TCGplayer, an online marketplace for collectible trading card games, in a deal valued up to $295 million, the company announced on Monday. The deal is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to close in the first quarter of 2023. eBay says the acquisition furthers its commitment to trading card enthusiasts and also noted that trading cards are currently showing “substantial growth.”

Founded in 2008, TCGplayer has grown from Syracuse-based hobby stores into an e-commerce platform. TCGplayer, which currently employs more than 600 people, will continue to operate autonomously following the acquisition

“eBay continues to build on our 26 years of experience in trading cards, powering local hobby stores and Main Street retailers to deliver an online destination that collectors love,” said Dawn Block, the Vice President of Collectibles at eBay, in a press release. “eBay has always fueled our customers’ passion in this space and facilitated connections between buyers and sellers, and with TCGplayer, we can enhance the customer experience across categories, forge even more relationships, and cater to enthusiasts around the world.”

In a statement, TCGplayer founder and CEO Chedy Hampson said the acquisition will give the company a chance to benefit from eBay’s industry experience and resources while TCGplayer continues to operate independently. Hampson noted that he will remain in his position as CEO of TCGplayer. He also said the company will keep its headquarters in downtown Syracuse after the deal closes.

“With eBay’s support, we will advance our purpose, and expand our tools and services to improve the collecting experience online and in your favorite local hobby store,” Hampson said in the press release.

eBay has long been a place for trading card enthusiasts to buy and sell, and the company has recently been working to solidify its place in the market. In January, the company expanded its authentication service to include support for authenticating valuable trading cards worth at least $750. At the time, eBay said it saw the value in adding authentication support for trading cards due to the volume of activity in the category on its site. The company said the trading cards category is growing “significantly faster” than its total marketplace, and that the category saw $2 billion in transactions in the first half of 2021. That’s equal to all of the trading card transactions that took place in 2020, for comparison.

As eBay deals with increased competition from services like Facebook Marketplace and other local buying apps, the company has been working to better establish itself as a place where people can seek out collectibles. The company’s latest acquisition shows that eBay sees increased potential in trading cards, as the company notes that the agreement offers a way for it to “maintain its position as a desirable platform for trading card sellers.”

Today’s announcement comes two months after eBay said it was acquiring Manchester-based NFT marketplace KnownOrigin for an undisclosed sum. The platform enables artists and collectors to create, buy and resell NFTs. eBay said it’s acquiring the entire company, including IP and the team. Earlier this year, eBay launched its first collection of NFTs in partnership with web3 platform OneOf.