eBay acquires the sneaker authentication business from partner Sneaker Con Digital

Online marketplace eBay is further investing in its sneaker business with today’s news that it’s acquiring Sneaker Con Digital’s authentication business, which verifies the authenticity of high-value footwear. The business has operations in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and Germany, and had been previously working with eBay to vet the sneakers being bought and sold on its platform.

Sneakers have become a large category on eBay’s marketplace, where today there are over 1.9 million pairs available to buy every day.

In October 2020, eBay launched an “Authenticity Guarantee” service in partnership with Sneaker Con, whose team of experts would verify the sneakers at no cost to sellers before items were shipped to the buyers. If the buyer then returns the sneakers, the authenticators would inspect them again before they’re sent back to the seller. This multi-point inspection system involves checking various aspects of the shoes in question, including the sizing, labels, stitching, logos, heel tabs, laces, and more, and even the box itself.

When the shoes were verified, the left sneaker is given an NFC-enabled tag that provides more detailed information about the sneakers’ authenticity when scanned. Verifiable listings also receive a blue check mark next to the item. The service was available for any sneaker over $100 being sold on eBay’s platform.

Many buyers and sellers preferred to shop sneakers through eBay as they’d be able to see photos of the exact shoes they’d be getting, instead of stock photos, and there were fewer fees compared with some rival sneaker marketplaces. Attracting this kind of buyer is also part of eBay’s larger strategy to drive enthusiasts to its site across various high-end categories, like handbags, watches, and sneakers, then benefit as they shop more items on eBay. The company recently noted the average sneaker buyer on eBay spends approximately $2,000 in other categories, for example.

Ebay says its Authenticity Guarantee service led to quarter-over-quarter category growth and, in just over a year, it’s authenticated over 1.55 million sneakers worldwide.

In its Q3 2021 earnings, eBay also noted its U.S. sneaker business was healthy and growing at double-digit rates, and it was expanding to other markets, including Germany. The company additionally announced plans to invest in 3D image capability on sneaker listings that would allow buyers to interact with a 360-degree view of the item they’re purchasing, as another means of instilling buyer confidence.

With the acquisition, eBay is bringing its partnered authentication business in-house where it will continue to build on its offerings to accommodate resale market trends, the company said about today’s news. Deal terms were not disclosed.

However, the deal is only for Sneaker Con’s authentication business — its events business will continue to operate separately. The deal was signed and closed on November 24, 2021, notes eBay.

“eBay has always been a vibrant community of enthusiasts, with deeply knowledgeable buyers, sellers and employees,” said Jordan Sweetnam, SVP and General Manager of eBay North America, in a statement. “We partnered with Sneaker Con to launch sneaker authentication on eBay last year because the team shared our passion for the category – with best-in-class capabilities to deliver what our customers want most. The response to our authentication offering has been overwhelming, and this acquisition allows us to continue to transform eBay and bring a higher level of trust and confidence to every transaction,” he added.

Particular Audience takes in $7.5M to give retailers way to take on Amazon

Being in control of customer data is one of the ways retailers, like Amazon, Spotify and Netflix, are able to tap into consumer behavior and create customized experiences whenever a user logs in.

Those are some of the reasons Amazon, in particular, is poised to grab 50% of the U.S. e-commerce market this year, and why Sydney-based Particular Audience wants to break down the data silos going on within e-commerce to give any retailer a chance to gather similar data on their customers to personalize experiences.

Particular Audience provides product discovery tools for retailers that are powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. In fact, the company wants to go further and offer personalization based on anonymity and without compromising personal data, CEO James Taylor told TechCrunch.

Taylor launched Particular Audience in 2019 after taking a few years to work out the technology. The global pandemic threw a wrench in some plans, with Taylor and a handful of executives taking a pay cut so as to not have to let any employees go. However, with the e-commerce industry growing over the past 18 months, the company was able to get back to where it was, he said.

The company has now amassed a real-time data set on product search, sales, pricing and availability from across the internet, from its browser plugin SimilarInc.com, which gathers the data from its online shopper community without tracking or cookies. Retailers can analyze that data to tell them, for example, how better to promote high-margin or overstocked items.

“Data IP is the current frontier,” he said. “It is data that is going to improve predictions to personalize inventory and reduce waste while also helping with supply chain management. The goal is to create website data visibility that would benefit all of the other merchants other than Amazon.”

To continue developing its technology, the company secured $7.5 million in Series A funding in a round led by Equity Venture Partners and that included existing investors Carthona Capital and a group of angel investors. This latest investment gives the company $9.5 million in total funding raised to date, which includes $1.3 million in seed funding raised in 2019.

Particular Audience

How Particular Audience works on a website. Image Credits: Particular Audience

Particular Audience is working with approximately 100 websites currently. In addition to Sydney, the company also has an office in London. Europe makes up more than 50% of Particular Audience’s global revenue, and the new funding enables the company to open a new office in Amsterdam next year.

North America is also a growth territory for the company, where it has already opened an office in Vancouver, with plans to open a New York office in 2022 as well. The company has 60 employees, up from 20 last year, and Taylor expects to add 40 more in the next year, including rounding out its leadership team with a head of product.

The funding will also be invested into building out an API-first product suite and retail media platform so retailers can gain a revenue stream from cost per clicks. Meanwhile, the company saw 460% year over year in revenue growth and expects to hit $100 million in gross merchandise value through its products this year, up 19 times in the last two years, Taylor said.

As part of the investment, Daniel Szekely, partner at Equity Venture Partners, will join the board.

“Personalization of the internet is a critical frontier for e-commerce retailers, and in a world of growing online shopping options and diminishing consumer attention spans, delivering an experience that meets individual consumers’ needs is absolutely critical,” he said in a written statement. “James and his outstanding team have tackled this issue in a novel way, and the important need for their solution has been made obvious as the business gets pulled into multiple geographies. We’re thrilled to back them in their Series A and know this is just the beginning of the journey.”

 

Bolt makes first acquisition with Tipser, launches ‘Remote Checkout’

The ability to purchase something at the point of discovery from digital content exists, but checkout technology company Bolt has the opportunity to give that its “one-click” treatment. It announced Monday that it made its first acquisition in Tipser, a Swedish-based technology company enabling direct checkout on any digital surface.

San Francisco-based Bolt is fresh off of raising $393 million in Series D funding in October, bringing total capital raised to date to $600 million. And though the Tipser acquisition is in line with the company’s plans of what it wanted to do with the new capital, Ryan Breslow, founder and CEO of Bolt, told TechCrunch the deal “had been in the works for a while.”

Tipser’s technology enables consumers to purchase products natively from sites like online publications, mobile marketplaces, price comparison sites, social media platforms or search engines. The company is led by Marcus Jacobsson, co-founder and CEO, who started the company in 2012 with Axel Wolrath and Jonas Sjöstedt.

In fact, when Bolt initially began talking to Tipser, the company was not in a place to sell, and was actually working on their next investment round (they raised just over $14 million), but the two companies ended up going into deeper conversations and found their cultural resonances worked better together, Breslow said.

“We saw how significant Tipser could be for Bolt,” he added. “They had been perfecting their embedded commerce technology for a decade and were the only formidable player. They were stronger than us in areas where we were weaker. It is very strategic to have them on our team.”

Exact transaction figures were not disclosed, but Breslow did reveal to TechCrunch that the acquisition, which was an all-stock deal, came in “just shy of $200 million.” The entire Tipser team is staying put, so Bolt will be adding 100 more people to its team. Tipser’s presence in Sweden will now also serve as Bolt’s European headquarters to go with the company’s recent announcement of expanding into Europe.

In addition to the acquisition, Bolt is launching Remote Checkout, a tool for shoppers to make a purchase from the exact point of discovery. Instead of seeing something on social media — where 84% of shoppers look for reviews, according to Pew Research Center — then going to another website to make the purchase,

The new tool is one that Bolt was working on internally for over a year and was inspired by Instagram Checkout, also a tool where you can discover a product and check out directly from the app, Breslow said.

“With the death of tracking and cookies, we could see the need for native checkout so retailers can track conversion,” he added. “It’s better for consumers to not have to click a million things.”

Bolt’s Remote Checkout features include the direct one-click checkout, engagement with Bolt’s network of shoppers and the ability for merchants to boost conversion rates while receiving orders through multiple channels and building direct relationships with visitors. It also turns anonymous visitors into logged-in account holders and monetizes traffic on-site.

The added feature of publishers and creators being able to monetize traffic coming to their sites was one that Jason Wagenheim, president and CRO at media publisher BDG (formerly known as Bustle Digital Group), found particularly interesting. BDG’s brands include Bustle, EliteDaily and Fatherly.

He was a bystander of sorts for the merger, having signed up with Tipser in January as the company’s first U.S. publisher, going live with the product in April on two of BDG’s 13 sites, Wagenheim said in an interview.

“What I love most about this acquisition is that we can accelerate the onboarding of hundreds of more merchants onto our platform,” he said. “This is a marriage of content and commerce.”

Before social media and companies like Bolt and Tipser, shopping directly from a magazine page meant utilizing QR codes, but that didn’t take off like people thought it would, Wagenheim said.

Other publishers tried to crack the code, and he noted Goop being one of the few able to do it. Now with these new technologies, any publisher or creator can close the gap between the upper and lower funnels and drive awareness because its commerce is shoppable and one click away.

He considers BDG’s project with Tipser still in the beta phase, but there are plans to roll out the technology on all of its sites next year. The company already had its audience engage in over 25 million sessions with people, on average, seeing 10 products per session, a metric Wagenheim says means the process is working: people are spending time with the products, are engaged and adding products to carts.

“With hundreds more merchants for editors to write about, and the one-click transaction happening, that is a game-changer,” he added.

Product Managers Are Changing Retail Stores Into Warehouses

As customer's needs change, product managers have to adjust
As customer’s needs change, product managers have to adjust
Image Credit: Seika

So here’s a quiz for you: if you were going to buy a TV, how would you go about doing it? If you are like most of us, you’d go look online, find the model that you wanted, and then order it online. The idea of going to a store and picking one out is something that a lot of us no longer consider. Product managers for stores are starting to realize this and they are starting to look at their product development definition and make adjustments to meet the new world that they find themselves living in. What’s happening is that stores are now being transformed into warehouses.

Say Hello To Your New Warehouse

The arrival of online shopping has caused a virtual “retail apocalypse.” Existing stores are being converted into warehouses that are then used to service ecommerce shoppers. This is part of a burgeoning trend in which retail spaces of all sizes are being converted into e-commerce fulfillment centers. The global pandemic may have turbocharged the shift from bricks-and-mortar retail to online shopping, but the rate of conversion of retail into industrial spaces had been accelerating for years.

An analysis found that since 2017, 60 new retail-to-industrial conversion projects have entered at least the preplanning stage, out of a total of 94 such projects completed or in progress in the past decade. Projects begun or completed since 2017 transformed 14 million square feet of former retail space into 15.2 million square feet of industrial space, most of it for e-commerce distribution. Product managers need to keep in mind that it’s still a relatively small proportion of the 14.5 billion square feet of industrial real estate in the U.S. but if we want to add this to our product manager resume we may want to get involved now. What product managers need to realize is that this is a trend that has legs and we’re should expect to see this expand into the foreseeable future.

Product managers at medium-size retailers who are catering to middle-income Americans are looking to add e-commerce fulfillment to their existing stores. A number of big grocery chains across the globe, including Albertsons Cos., Wakefern Food Corp. and France’s Carrefour SA, fall into this category. They are using or planning to use almost fully automated micro-fulfillment warehouses either within existing stores or in adjacent retail spaces.

Warehouses Represent The Next Step In Retail

Many big retailers, including Walmart, Target Corp. and, Wholefoods, are taking a related but distinct approach: shipping directly from stores. Even stores that have begun offering curbside pickup amid the pandemic are, in a way, becoming part of the trend. Each business that decides retail space might be better used for filling e-commerce orders does so for its own reasons, but two intersecting trends play a big role. Retail stores and shopping centers were closing on account of declining foot traffic even before the pandemic, as e-commerce continued gobbling bricks-and-mortar retail market share.

Meanwhile, rents for e-commerce fulfillment and other industrial spaces are climbing due to that surging demand. The gap between higher retail rent and lower warehousing rent is closing. Office space can also be converted into micro-fulfillment centers, and firms have set up small fulfillment warehouses in what was once office space. As companies reconsider whether they ever want their employees to return to offices, more of this kind of real estate could also be available. As Americans shift from buying things in-store to buying them online, all of those goods have to be shipped from somewhere. The faster we demand they get to us, the closer they have to be stored, which necessitates more e-commerce warehouses than ever, and in places they’ve rarely been seen before, such as city centers.

The good news for product managers is that even as things change in our world, their customers are still shopping. However, what product managers need to realize is that like so many of us, they’re now doing it from home. If trends continue, then in terms of jobs, real estate, consumption patterns, supply chains and land use, warehouses are going to be playing a big role in how we get the things that we buy.


What All Of This Means For You

Product managers who have been responsible for retail stores have been facing challenges for quite some time. The number of customers coming to their stores has been falling even as the volume of ecommerce purchases has been rising. The Covid-19 virus just served to make a confusing situation even more chaotic. What is the best way to deal with a situation like this?

It turns out that the answer may be sitting right in front of product managers. Converting their retail stores into warehouses that can be used to serve ecommerce customers, although not in anyone’s product manager job description, might be the right way to make their business successful once again. More and more firms are starting to decide that the space that they have been using for retail operations may be better used as a warehouse. As firms try to decide if they want to return to their offices after the pandemic, these spaces are opening up for use as warehouse space. As more and more purchases are being made online, the need to be able to deliver goods to customers faster and faster is becoming critical. Having warehouses that are located close to your customers is something that all product managers now want.

The trend for customers to purchase more and more goods online will probably only continue into the future. Retail product managers need to find ways to deal with their deceasing foot traffic and increasing ecommerce sales. Considering transforming some retail space into warehouse space and using that to support ecommerce operations sounds like an interesting plan. We’ll have to take a careful look at what our markets are asking of us in order to determine what the right answer is for us.


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


Question For You: Do you think a product manager should ever shut down all retail operations and just start to run warehouses?


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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I can only speak for myself, but it seems as though anytime I walk into a store that sells food, there is some sort of sticker on the door that proclaims that if I’d prefer to have my food brought to me, there is a service that will do it. What a fantastic age we now live in! The product managers at these food delivery services are working hard to try to establish their new market while fending off all of the other companies that are doing the same thing that they are. However, there is a fundamental problem that they are all dealing with: their customers are not turning into repeat customers.

The post Product Managers Are Changing Retail Stores Into Warehouses appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

Rensource-spinoff Sabi closes $6M bridge round, expands B2B retail platform outside Nigeria

Nigeria’s informal trade sector, worth over $244 billion, has more than 40 million micro, small and medium businesses.

Most of these businesses operated offline until a few years ago when startups brought about digitization by providing infrastructure and a gamut of e-commerce and financial services.

One-year-old Sabi — a spinoff from Rensource, an African energy company that offers power-as-a-service to customers — is the latest startup to raise funds to serve the informal sector. The company confirmed to TechCrunch that it has raised a $6 million bridge round led by pan-African VC firm CRE Ventures.

Sabi’s bridge round is coming a year after closing a $2 million seed round from CRE Ventures, Jaango Capital, Atlantica Ventures and Waarde Capital.

Ademola Adesina and Anu Adasolum have been at the helm of Rensource since the company started in 2015; Adesina as founder and CEO and Adasolum, COO.

By providing these small and medium businesses with power, the team at Rensource began to look into other pain points these SMEs had and find ways to add value beyond energy provision.

With the pandemic halting Rensource’s business, the team had time to develop this concept which became Sabi in October 2020.

Adasolum leads Sabi’s efforts as founder and CEO following the company’s branch out in March, while Adesina holds a co-founder and director role. 

Sabi is an attempt at platforming the informal sector and African trade via various online and offline channels. This means that Sabi tries to complement the middlemen (mainly distributors) in the B2B e-commerce retail chain rather than replace them, a model familiar with other prominent B2B e-commerce retail startups such as Sokowatch, MaxAB TradeDepot and Twiga.

“We’re not trying to be, you know, a tech-enabled digital distributor. We’re not trying to disintermediate a market full of hyper-specialization where one of the defining characteristics of the informal sector is you have all these middlemen and agents performing a very narrow role,” Adesina said to TechCrunch.

We think that specialization is important for the sector to work properly — whether it’s aggregation, making a sale, knowing the customer especially well, all these middlemen play a key role. And the way we deal with them is we give them a set of tools and an infrastructure they can run their business on to make it more optimized.”

Sabi caters to the needs of manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers and classifies all of them as merchants.

The company operates an asset-light model and doesn’t own vehicles, warehouses or goods. But it provides visibility into these assets across the entire value chain from the demand and supply side and controls on a single platform.

Running this model exempts Sabi from the constraints a typical B2B e-commerce retail platform might face when acting as a distributor for manufacturers to retailers.

Sabi

Anu Adasolum (Founder and CEO, Sabi)

For instance, asset-heavy platforms can’t move goods from two different suppliers in the same truck or use the same salespeople when distributing goods from different suppliers to retailers. On the other hand, Sabi doesn’t have such constraints, so whereas other platforms try to standardize operations around goods offtake, Sabi concentrates on offtake monitoring.

“We focus our processes, policies and monitoring around understanding the different types of users and monitoring how the third parties we work with are serving them,” said CEO Adasolum.

“As a result, the net experience of each off-taker is different and it works more for their particular business type. So I’m not going to go to a business that is used to working a particular way and change it but instead offer several other channels that they’re more comfortable with through our platform.”

These channels include offline agents, call centres, merchant partners, supplier centres and mobile app. Each stakeholder can access tools around inventory management, sales, tracking, digital invoices, analytics on the platform.

“We’re starting with what makes them comfortable, not what we think is best,” the CEO added. 

Merchants on Sabi deal with FMCG goods and products in other sectors such as agriculture, electronics and chemicals. The category-agnostic platform is home to more than 175,000 merchants who have made B2B transactions totalling over $200 million annualized GMV run rate. And more than 10,000 agents serve these merchants on Sabi’s network.

Sabi makes money by taking a transaction fee when any merchants perform any sale on the marketplace. The company also earns a margin for providing financing to them.

Adesina said in Q1 2022, Sabi plans to roll out a subscription model where agents will pay a monthly fee to access a reseller model.

Also in Sabi’s pipeline is providing manufacturers with visibility and data-backed insights and direct engagement down the value chain.

Growing an average of 40% month on month in Nigeria, Sabi intends to replicate its rapid growth in other African countries Kenya and South Africa.

The company opened shop in Kenya last month and just made a few hires in South Africa, intending to go live early next year. Another round of funding, a Series A, might close in time to fuel the company’s expansion into both countries, Adesina said.

Pardon Makumbe, co-founder and managing partner of CRE Venture Capital, in a statement emphasizing why his firm doubled down on its investment under a year said, “Sabi’s online and offline approach to serving informal businesses, combined with the quality of its platform and service provider curation, has clearly taken root in Nigeria. The company is on track to be one of the fastest-growing African companies of 2021 and is showing no signs of slowing down.”

Sabi’s growth, in addition to market demand, comes from the background of its founders. Before Sabi and Rensource, CEO Adasolum worked at Jumia, where she was in charge of offline sales for some African countries: Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya.

She has also performed commercial operations and merchant acquisition roles for the African e-commerce giant. Adesina too has vast experience working with multinationals such as the Capricorn Investment Group, the Rockefeller Foundation and JP Morgan.

Adesina is confident that the digitization of offline processes for B2B e-commerce retail will continue despite questions about why many players exist in the space. And he believes as more startups come into the market, more venture capital will follow.

Sabi’s monthly GMV numbers is one reason the co-founder has this conviction. Right now, the company claims to be on the verge of processing about $12 million monthly GMV.

While Jumia, Africa’s biggest e-commerce player, records this volume on average after five years in operation, it has taken Sabi less than a year to achieve this feat which can be attributed to the size of the country’s informal B2B e-commerce retail market.

“The kind of data we’re seeing now in terms of like real-time visibility into whether people like this product or that product, that stuff is gonna accrue and grow exponentially over the next a few years,” the co-founder said.

“And then I think that the same way one saw in China in the late 90s the kind of hyper digitalization of what was a very informal economy, I see that happening faster in Africa than most people realize. I think it’s something people don’t realize how quickly it’s going to happen.”

Pet video marketplace Camlist eyes UK growth after raising $1.3 million pre-seed funding

Camlist, a video marketplace for pets, has raised $1.3 million in a pre-seed round, funding that the startup plans to use to develop its platform and grow its workforce — as it looks to expand its reach in the UK, its second market (after the U.A.E.), which it entered earlier this year.

Unlike other marketplaces, Camlist (derived from camera listing) allows sellers to list videos of the pets they wish to sell, and once contact is made, the buyer and seller can engage through both video and text-chat within the app.

The marketplace currently only allows the listing of pets, but it is set to diversify to other items in the near future.

“Classifieds, or peer to peer commerce in general, has been stuck in the same old way of operation since eBay showed up. There has not been real significant innovation ever since; it’s just listings, maybe some images and phone numbers,” said Camlist co-founder and chief executive officer, Moustafa Mahmoud.

“But at Camlist we are changing that. We are turning the marketplace into a video experience because every pre-owned item has a story.”

Mahmoud said that they are building the safest way for anyone to find a pet by also ensuring verified health checks and interest free financing, in partnership with third parties, for those unable to make one-off payments. Camlist has rehomed over 6,000 pets to date.

“Our in-app GMV (Gross Merchandise Value) has been growing 100% every two quarters, so we’re doubling every quarter, and our total GMV is around $2 million a month,” said Mahmoud.

The Y Combinator company was founded and launched in Dubai, U.A.E, last year, just before Covid pandemic hit. The launch turned out to be timely and the site grew popular as people, forced to stay home, bought their own pets — partly to deal with boredom, but also because they had the time to nurture them.

“We’re building the marketplace category by category, and we just feel that the pets listing is so huge, and also very underserved. We plan to expand into different items as we grow,” said Mahmoud, who is also a computer scientist.

Other co-founders include Maha Refai, also the startup’s chief product officer, who has 16 years’ experience building and scaling digital products. She is also the creator of MBC’s (Middle East’s largest free-to-air broadcaster) premier video platform as well as other multiple video streaming products.

Alsayed Gamal, who is Camlist chief technical officer, has 15 years software engineering experience. He has knowledge and experience in mobile platforms, data engineering, DevOps, API design, microservices and serverless architecture.

Mahmoud said the idea to start Camlist was inspired by the need to counter the bad experiences he went through while making purchases on classified sites in Dubai, U.A.E, where items were often misrepresented and scams high.

Moustafa Mahmoud; Camlist chief executive officer, he co-founded the video marketplace with Maha Refai; the startup’s chief product officer and Alsayed Gamal; chief technical officer.

Classifieds are popular in Dubai, an expat city, as people use them to dispose of their items, but they have also provided an opportunity for scammers to target unsuspecting people. To counter this, Camlist has an option for in-app payments — with funds released once the buyers confirm receipt of the pets. This feature ensures that buyers are not defrauded by deterring cons masquerading as vendors.

Mahmoud and his other co-founders provide a marketplace that allows buyers to first experience items of interest, through video, before making a purchase. This is besides ensuring that buyers were protected against fraud and guaranteeing high quality services.

The company also follows up with the sellers on its platform to ensure that they are breeding or keeping the pets in healthy environments, as well as vaccinating, deworming, and microchipping them.

“We also support our buyers and sellers by providing them with free vaccinations, microchipping, deworming, insurance, and pet food. We try to provide the best experience for our buyers and our sellers,” he said.

The startup raised the new funding from Y-Combinator; the technology startup accelerator, Act One Ventures; an early-stage venture fund and a number of angel investors from Houseparty, Mux and Facebook.

“We really looked forward to investors who believe in our vision of building the marketplace of the future. And we are really fortunate to get people who believe in this vision, and who actually work and build applications in the video industry,” said Mahmoud.

After achieving traction in the UK, Camlist is planning to enter the US market, which it believes is going to be a huge and important market for them.

“So, the current state for us is expansion within the UK because it’s a pretty big market. And we can see the impact of what we’re doing here. But as soon as we reach a certain stage where we have the majority of the market, then we will start to expand into the United States,” said Mahmoud, who was born in Egypt, with his family moving to Dubai when he was six years old.

Forest bags $8M seed round to acquire Japanese e-commerce brands 

Japan has been the birthplace of traditional arts and crafts since ancient times. Craftmanship, meticulous attention to detail and balance of design and functionality have contributed to creating unique Japanese products like pottery, traditional fabrics, washi (paper), woodwork, glasses, bento-boxes and more. 

This craftsmanship continues to be passed along from generation to generation and live on in modern Japan. However, the craftsmen and women, who do not always have the skills or tools to be influential merchants, have often been left behind in the rapidly evolving business environment in the 21st century.

In recent years, a growing number of e-commerce entrepreneurs have started to develop their own products and brands in response to a shift in consumer demand from cheap, mass-produced goods to diversified products that meet one’s unique needs and lifestyle. 

Forest, a Japanese e-commerce aggregator, seeks to identify sustainable, high-quality products and brands that embrace the spirit of Japan and help them grow and enter the global market by using the power of technology.

Forest announced today it has raised approximately $8 million (900 million yen) of seed round led by The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) and Nordstar Partners.

The startup will use the new capital to acquire more than 300 Japanese e-commerce brands that have been carefully crafted and curated by entrepreneurs. Forest will apply digital marketing strategies at scale, optimize sales and enhance inventory planning through data analytics, as well as support cross-border e-commerce expansion. 

Forest is currently in the process of finalizing its first acquisition. It will continue to look for brands that generate sales between $1 million and $5 million and target to acquire companies with more than $10 million of sales next year, said CEO of Forest Shingo Yuhara told TechCrunch. 

It also plans to raise around $20 million to $30 million debt and equity capital of Series A, targeting the first half of 2022, Yuhara said.  

Forest looks at marketplaces, including Amazon, Rakuten, Zozotown, Yahoo Japan sellers, Shopify and more. 

Forest, founded in July by Yuhara and COO Masa Mishizawa, will compete with other e-commerce aggregators like Rainforest, Una Brands and Thrasio in the global market. Forest said it is the first pure aggregator dedicated to the Japanese market. Given that Forest initially focuses on the Japanese market, it does not see Rainforest and Thrasio as its pure competitors, Yuhara said. 

Thrasio set up a Japanese office in March to acquire Japanese brands and products sold on Amazon Japan and other e-commerce platforms.  

The Japanese e-commerce market was estimated at $165 billion (19 trillion yen) as of 2020, according to a report by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. 

“[The] investment into Forest is one of our largest seed round investments within the IT sector. In my previous life, I managed my family-owned apparel business and personally experienced the pains and limitations of a small business. I strongly believe that Forest can solve these problems and capitalize on the potential of these businesses through the power of technology,” said partner of UTEC Hiroyuki Sakamoto. “We look forward to working with the experienced Founders who seek to challenge this attractive market opportunity and we feel privileged to participate as co-lead investor.”   

“We are excited to be investing in Forest that is well-positioned to take advantage of the large opportunity in acquiring and scaling niche brands in Japan,” said managing partner Ole Ruch of Nordstar. 

Afterpay unveils BNPL subscription offering for US customers

“Buy now, pay later” company Afterpay announced Wednesday that it was going after the $1.5 trillion global subscription payments market by offering to its U.S. customers payment installments for subscriptions, like gym memberships, entertainment subscriptions and online services.

The service will launch in both the U.S. and Australia beginning early in 2022 and will be free for customers who pay on time. IPSY, BoxyCharm, Savage X Fenty and Fabletics are among the initial list of merchants that will offer the feature. The company plans to expand the feature in-store and into other regions later, including Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and Europe.

In addition to paying for subscriptions in installments, Afterpay is also enabling its offering to be used on preordered items, where users can pay in four installments over time once the item ships. Another feature coming soon will allow merchants to accept deposits on custom items.

“By offering customers the option to pay for subscriptions with Afterpay, we’re not only giving consumers flexibility to pay for more expensive monthly costs, but we’re also helping our merchant partners capture a wider consumer base through this convenient experience,” said Zahir Khoja, general manager of North America for Afterpay, in a written statement.

Klarna, Afterpay’s competitor in the BNPL space, also announced news this week for its U.S. customers that it was offering its “Pay Now” option.

Meanwhile, in August, Square announced that it was buying Afterpay in an all-stock deal valued at $29 billion. Afterpay has also been on a roll with feature debuts recently, launching both Afterpay Ads, a suite of advertising products for brands to engage with shoppers within the ecosystem, and merchant analytics tool Afterpay IQ, in August.

Afterpay works with 100,000 retailers and has approximately 10.5 million active customers in North America as of June 30, up from 5.6 million the year prior. North America is the company’s “largest region in terms of underlying sales,” which grew 145% year over year, or from $4 billion in fiscal year 2020 to $9.8 billion in fiscal year 2021, according to the company.

India’s Spinny valued at over $1.75 billion in $280 million funding

Spinny, a Gurgaon-based startup that operates a platform to facilitate purchase and sale of used cars, is the latest firm to become a unicorn in the world’s second largest internet market.

Spinny has raised over $280 million in its Series E financing round, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The round, which is co-led by Tiger Global and Abu Dhabi Growth Fund, values Spinny at over $1.75 billion post-money, the source said.

This is the third funding round raised by Spinny this year. The startup was valued at about $700 million in July this year and $350 million in April.

The new round follows quarters of strong growth that saw Spinny expand to 15 Indian cities, up from fewer than half a dozen last year. The startup has grown its business by four times in the current calendar year, the source said, requesting anonymity as the figures are not public.

Spinny, which counts Elevation Capital and Accel among its existing backers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hundreds of thousands of used cars are sold in India each month. But buying them through the offline and traditional channel could prove to be a painstakingly long and high-risk process.

One of the biggest challenges people face in buying a used car is the trust factor, Niraj Singh, co-founder and chief executive of Spinny told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year.

Spinny is addressing this by removing the traditional middlemen from the equation, thereby making it more affordable and reliable for customers to buy a used car. The startup buys cars from the owners, performs thorough and transparent inspection and then makes it available for customers to purchase.

Niraj Singh, a former teacher, co-founded Spinny. (Image credits: Spinny)

If a customer is not satisfied with the car that they have purchased from Spinny, they get a full refund, the startup says on the website.

The growth potential for Spinny and some other startups operating in this space is massive. The market for auto e-commerce currently has less than 1% penetration in India, according to analysts at Bernstein.

“This is largely because the auto market still requires physical inspections and the target market skews towards used vehicles — an unorganized market,” they wrote in a report earlier this year.

“The total addressable market in India is around $220 billion, which includes used vehicle purchase by consumers, auctions and remarketing, growth potential for the new vehicles market, and financing and advertisements. The total addressable market for only the used car market in US is over $800 billion,” they wrote in a report earlier this year.

Spinny is the second Indian startup to become a unicorn this week. India has produced over three dozen unicorns this year — more than all other years put together — after several high-profile global investors, including Tiger Global, SoftBank and Falcon Edge Capital, began to double down on the world’s second-largest internet market earlier this year at the height of the ravaging pandemic.

In a letter to shareholders earlier this year, Tiger Global identified India as one of the few markets where it was planning to deploy billions of dollars. SoftBank Group chief executive Rajeev Misra said earlier this month that the Japanese firm has invested more than $3 billion in India this year and can invest up to $10 billion in the country next year.