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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Saltbox

Image Credits: Saltbox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goldman Sachs leads $23M in funding for Brazilian e-commerce startup Olist

Olist, a Brazilian e-commerce marketplace integrator, has raised $23 million in a Series D round extension led by new investor Goldman Sachs Asset Management that brings its total Series D financing to $80 million.

Existing backer Redpoint Ventures, which first put money in Olist in 2015, also participated in the latest round. With this latest infusion, Olist has now raised over $126 million since its 2015 inception. This round is reportedly its last before the company plans to go public, according to Bloomberg.

SoftBank led the first tranch of Olist’s Series D in November as well as the company’s $46 million Series C in 2019. Valor Capital, Velt Partners, FJ Labs, Península and angel Kevin Efrusy had previously invested in the first tranche of the Series D.

Olist connects small businesses to larger product marketplaces to help entrepreneurs sell their products to a larger customer base. The company was founded with the mission of helping small merchants gain market share across the country through a SaaS licensing model to small brick and mortar businesses.

As of October 2019, Olist had more than 7,000 customers and used a drop-shipping model to send products directly from stores to clients around the country, allowing them to grow with a capital-light model.

Today, Olist says its platform provides tools that support “all the stages of an e-commerce operation” with the goal of helping merchants see “rapid increases in sales volume.” It currently has about 25,000 merchants on its platform.

The startup is no doubt benefiting from the pandemic-fueled e-commerce boom taking place all over the world as more people have turned to online shopping. Latin America, in general, has been home to increased e-commerce adoption.

Olist says its revenue tripled to a record number in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the previous year, although it did not provide hard figures. It also reportedly doubled revenue in 2020, according to Bloomberg.

Olist Store, the company’s flagship product, gives merchants a way to manage product listings, logistics and store payments. It also offers “a unique sales experience” through channels such as Mercado Livre, B2W and Via Varejo. The product saw a record GMV in the first half of the year, which was up 2.5 times over the same period in the prior year, the company said.

Last year, Olist launched a new product, Olist Shops, giving users the ability to create a virtual showcase “in less than 3 minutes” that also offers payment checkout tools and integration with logistics operators. Shops has interfaces in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, and since its launch, it has attracted more than 200,000 users in 180 countries, according to Olist.

“The pandemic has accelerated digitalizing business processes around the world, thus spurring e-commerce growth in a surprising way,” said Tiago Dalvi, Olist’s founder and CEO, in a written statement. 

The company plans to use its new capital to invest in technology and products, pursuing new mergers and acquisitions and boosting its internationalization process. This is on top of two acquisitions Olist made last year — Clickspace and Pax Logistica, which gave Olist entry into the heated logistics space with more than 4,000 registered drivers.

Specifically, CFO Eduardo Ferraz said the company is in preliminary discussions with ERPs, retailers, and companies with complementary solutions to its own.

“That is why we also decided to expand the investment in our Series D and bring Goldman Sachs as another relevant investor to our cap table,” he said.

David Castelblanco, managing director and head of Latin America Corporate and Growth Equity Investing for the Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said his firm was impressed with how Olist empowers SMBs to generate more revenue.

“Tiago and the Olist team are incredibly customer oriented and have created an innovative technological solution for their e-commerce clients,” he added.

Olist is operating in an increasingly crowded space. In March, we covered São Paulo-based Nuvemshop’s $90 million raise that was led by Silicon Valley venture firm Accel. That company has developed an e-commerce platform that aims to allow SMBs and merchants to connect more directly with their consumers. 

From pickup basketball to market domination: My wild ride with Coupang

A month ago, Coupang arrived on Wall Street with a bang. The South Korean e-commerce giant — buoyed by $12 billion in 2020 revenue — raised $4.55 billion in its IPO and hit a valuation as high as $109 billion. It is the biggest U.S. IPO of the year so far, and the largest from an Asian company since Alibaba’s.

But long before founder Bom Kim rang the bell, I knew him as a fellow founder on the hunt for a good idea. We stayed in touch as he formed his vision for what would become Coupang, and I built it alongside him as an investor and board member.

As a board member, I’ve observed a brief quiet period following the IPO. But now I want to share how exactly our paths intersected, largely because Bom exemplifies what founders should aspire to and should seek: big risks, dogged determination, and obsessive responsiveness to the market.

Bom fearlessly turned down an acquisition offer from then-market-leader Groupon, ferociously learned what he didn’t know, made a daring pivot even after becoming a billion-dollar company, and iteratively built a vision for end-to-end market dominance.

Why I like talking to founders early

In 2008, I met Bom while playing a weekend game of pickup basketball at Stuyvesant High School. We realized we had a mutual acquaintance through my recently-sold startup, Community Connect Inc. He told me about the magazine he had sold and his search for a next move. So we agreed to meet up for lunch and go over some of his ideas.

To be honest, I don’t remember any of those early ideas, probably because they weren’t very good. But I really liked Bom. Even as I was crapping on his ideas, I could tell he was sharp from how he processed my feedback. It was obvious he was super smart and definitely worth keeping in touch with, which we continued to do even after he relocated to go to HBS.

I soon began investing in and incubating businesses, starting mostly with my own capital. When I got a call from an executive recruiter working for a company in Chicago called Groupon — who told me they were at a $50 million run rate in only a few months — I became fascinated with their model and started talking to some of the investors, former employees, and merchants.

Inspired, and as a new parent, I decided to launch a similar daily-deal business for families: Instead of skydiving and go-kart racing, we offered deals on kids’ music classes and birthday party venues. While I was working on this idea, John Ason, an angel investor in Diapers.com, said I should meet with the founder and CEO Marc Lore. By the end of the meeting, Marc and I etched a partnership to launch DoodleDeals.com co-branded with Diapers.com. The first deal did over $70,000 — great start.

I’ve observed a brief quiet period following the IPO. But now I want to share how exactly our paths intersected, largely because Bom exemplifies what founders should aspire to and should seek: big risks, dogged determination, and obsessive responsiveness to the market.

All that time, I kept in touch with Bom. In February 2010, we were catching up over lunch at the Union Square Ippudo, and he asked if I had heard of Buywithme, a Boston-based Groupon clone. He hadn’t yet heard about Groupon, so I explained the business model and shared the numbers. He thought something similar might transfer well to South Korea, where he was born and his parents still lived.

This kind of conversation is exactly why I love working with founders early, even before the idea forms: You learn a lot about them as they explore, wrestle with uncertainty, and eventually build conviction on a business they plan to spend the next decade-plus building. Ultimately, success comes down to founders’ belief in themselves; when you develop the same belief in them as an investor, it is pretty magical. I was starting to really believe in Bom.

The idea gets real — and moves fast

I'm not Korean — I am ethnically Chinese — so Bom put together slides on the Korean market and why it was perfect for the daily-deal model. In short: a very dense population that’s incredibly online.

I’m not Korean — I am ethnically Chinese — so Bom put together slides on the Korean market and why it was perfect for the daily-deal model. In short: a very dense population that’s incredibly online. Image Credits: Ben Sun

I told Bom he should drop out of business school and do this. He said, “You don’t think I can wait until I graduate?” I responded, “No way! It will be over by then!”

First-mover advantage is real in a business like this, and it didn’t take Bom long to see that. He raised a small $1.3 million seed round. I invested, joined the board. Because of my knowledge of the deals market and my entrepreneurial experience, Bom asked me to get hands-on in Korea — not at all typical for an investor or even a board member, but I think of myself as a builder and not just a backer, and this is how I wanted to operate as an investor.

Once he realized time was of the essence, Bom was heads down. For context, he was engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Nancy, who also went to Harvard undergrad and was a successful lawyer. Imagine telling your fiancée, “Honey, I am dropping out of business school, moving to Korea to start a company. I will be back for the wedding. Not sure if I will ever be coming back to the U.S.”

I emailed Bom, saying: “Bom — honestly as a friend. Enjoy your wedding. It is a real blessing that your fiancée is being so supportive of you doing this. Launching a site a few weeks before the wedding is going to be way too distracting and she won’t feel like your heart is in it. Launching a few weeks later is not going to make or break this business. Trust me.”

Bom didn’t listen. He launched Coupang in August 2010, two weeks before the wedding. He flew back to Boston, got married, and — running on basically no sleep — sneaked out for a 20-minute nap in the middle of his reception. Right after the wedding, he flew back to Seoul. Nancy has to be one of the most supportive and understanding partners I have ever seen. They are now married and have two kids.

Jumping on new distribution, turning down an acquisition offer

A ‘more honest’ stock market

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I talked about Clubhouse’s slowing user growth. Well, this week news broke that they had been in talks with Twitter for a $4 billion acquisition, so it looks like they’re still pretty desirable. This week, I’m talking about a story I published a couple days ago that highlights pretty much everything that’s wild about the alternative asset world right now.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The big thing

If you successfully avoided all mentions of NFTs until now, I congratulate you, because it certainly does seem like the broader NFT market is seeing some major pullback after a very frothy February and March. You’ll still be seeing plenty of late-to-the-game C-list celebrities debuting NFT art in the coming weeks, but a more sober pullback in prices will probably give some of the NFT platforms that are serious about longevity a better chance to focus on the future and find out how they truly matter.

I spent the last couple weeks, chatting with a bunch of people in one particular community — one of the oldest active NFT communities on the web called CryptoPunks. It’s a platform with 10,000 unique 24×24 pixel portraits and they trade at truly wild prices.

This picture sold for a $1.05 million.

I talked to a dozen or so people (including the guy who sold that one ^^) that had spent between tens of thousands and millions of dollars on these pixelated portraits, my goal being to tap into the psyche of what the hell is happening here. The takeaway is that these folks don’t see these assets as any more non-sensical than what’s going on in more traditional “old world” markets like public stock exchanges.

A telling quote from my reporting:

“Obviously this is a very speculative market… but it’s almost more honest than the stock market,” user Max Orgeldinger tells TechCrunch. “Kudos to Elon Musk — and I’m a big Tesla fan — but there are no fundamentals that support that stock price. It’s the same when you look at GameStop. With the whole NFT community, it’s almost more honest because nobody’s getting tricked into thinking there’s some very complicated math that no one can figure out. This is just people making up prices and if you want to pay it, that’s the price and if you don’t want to pay it, that’s not the price.”

Shortly after I published my piece, Christie’s announced that they were auctioning off nine of the CryptoPunks in an auction likely to fetch at least $10 million at current prices. The market surged in the aftermath and many millions worth of volume quickly moved through the marketplace minting more NFT millionaires.

Is this all just absolutely nuts? Sure.

Is it also a poignant picture of where alternative asset investing is at in 2021? You bet.

Read the full thing.


an illustration of a cardboard ballot box with an Amazon smile on the front

Other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Amazon workers vote down union organization attempt
Amazon is breathing a sigh of relief after workers at their Bessemer, Alabama warehouse opted out of joining a union, lending a crushing defeat to labor activists who hoped that the high-profile moment would lead more Amazon workers to organize. The vote has been challenged, but the margin of victory seems fairly decisive.

Supreme court sides with Google in Oracle case
If any singular event impacted the web the most this week, it was the Supreme Court siding with Google in a very controversial lawsuit by Oracle that could’ve fundamentally shifted the future of software development.

Coinbase is making waves
The Coinbase direct listing is just around the corner and they’re showing off some of their financials. Turns out crypto has been kind of hot lately and they’re raking in the dough, with revenue of $1.8 billion this past quarter.

Apple share more about the future of user tracking
Apple is about to upend the ad-tracking market and they published some more details on what exactly their App Tracking Transparency feature is going to look like. Hint: more user control.

Consumers are spending lots of time in apps
A new report from mobile analytics firm App Annie suggests that we’re dumping more of our time into smartphone apps, with the average users spending 4.2 hours a day doing so, a 30 percent increase over two years.

Sonos perfects the bluetooth speaker
I’m a bit of an audio lover, which made my colleague Darrell’s review of the new Sonos Roam bluetooth speaker a must-read for me. He’s pretty psyched about it, even though it comes in at the higher-end of pricing for these devices, still I’m looking forward to hearing one with my own ears.


 

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
The StockX EC-1
“StockX is a unique company at the nexus of two radical transitions that isn’t just redefining markets, but our culture as well. E-commerce upended markets, diminishing the physical experience by intermediating and aggregating buyers and sellers through digital platforms. At the same time, the internet created rapid new communication channels, allowing euphoria and desire to ricochet across society in a matter of seconds. In a world of plenty, some things are rare, and the hype around that rarity has never been greater. Together, these two trends demanded a stock market of hype, an opportunity that StockX has aggressively pursued.”

Building the right team for a billion-dollar startup
“I would really encourage you to take some time to think about what kind of company you want to make first before you go out and start interviewing people. So that really is going to be about understanding and defining your culture. And then the second thing I’d be thinking about when you’re scaling from, you know, five people up to, you know, 50 and beyond is that managers really are the key to your success as a company. It’s hard to overstate how important managers, great managers, are to the success of your company.

So you want to raise a Series A
“More companies will raise seed rounds than Series A rounds, simply due to the fact that many startups fail, and venture only makes sense for a small fraction of businesses out there. Every check is a new cycle of convincing and proving that you, as a startup, will have venture-scale returns. Moore explained that startups looking to move to their next round need to explain to investors why now is their moment.”

Until next week,
Lucas M.

And again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

A ‘more honest’ stock market

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I talked about Clubhouse’s slowing user growth. Well, this week news broke that they had been in talks with Twitter for a $4 billion acquisition, so it looks like they’re still pretty desirable. This week, I’m talking about a story I published a couple days ago that highlights pretty much everything that’s wild about the alternative asset world right now.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The big thing

If you successfully avoided all mentions of NFTs until now, I congratulate you, because it certainly does seem like the broader NFT market is seeing some major pullback after a very frothy February and March. You’ll still be seeing plenty of late-to-the-game C-list celebrities debuting NFT art in the coming weeks, but a more sober pullback in prices will probably give some of the NFT platforms that are serious about longevity a better chance to focus on the future and find out how they truly matter.

I spent the last couple weeks, chatting with a bunch of people in one particular community — one of the oldest active NFT communities on the web called CryptoPunks. It’s a platform with 10,000 unique 24×24 pixel portraits and they trade at truly wild prices.

This picture sold for a $1.05 million.

I talked to a dozen or so people (including the guy who sold that one ^^) that had spent between tens of thousands and millions of dollars on these pixelated portraits, my goal being to tap into the psyche of what the hell is happening here. The takeaway is that these folks don’t see these assets as any more non-sensical than what’s going on in more traditional “old world” markets like public stock exchanges.

A telling quote from my reporting:

“Obviously this is a very speculative market… but it’s almost more honest than the stock market,” user Max Orgeldinger tells TechCrunch. “Kudos to Elon Musk — and I’m a big Tesla fan — but there are no fundamentals that support that stock price. It’s the same when you look at GameStop. With the whole NFT community, it’s almost more honest because nobody’s getting tricked into thinking there’s some very complicated math that no one can figure out. This is just people making up prices and if you want to pay it, that’s the price and if you don’t want to pay it, that’s not the price.”

Shortly after I published my piece, Christie’s announced that they were auctioning off nine of the CryptoPunks in an auction likely to fetch at least $10 million at current prices. The market surged in the aftermath and many millions worth of volume quickly moved through the marketplace minting more NFT millionaires.

Is this all just absolutely nuts? Sure.

Is it also a poignant picture of where alternative asset investing is at in 2021? You bet.

Read the full thing.


an illustration of a cardboard ballot box with an Amazon smile on the front

Other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Amazon workers vote down union organization attempt
Amazon is breathing a sigh of relief after workers at their Bessemer, Alabama warehouse opted out of joining a union, lending a crushing defeat to labor activists who hoped that the high-profile moment would lead more Amazon workers to organize. The vote has been challenged, but the margin of victory seems fairly decisive.

Supreme court sides with Google in Oracle case
If any singular event impacted the web the most this week, it was the Supreme Court siding with Google in a very controversial lawsuit by Oracle that could’ve fundamentally shifted the future of software development.

Coinbase is making waves
The Coinbase direct listing is just around the corner and they’re showing off some of their financials. Turns out crypto has been kind of hot lately and they’re raking in the dough, with revenue of $1.8 billion this past quarter.

Apple share more about the future of user tracking
Apple is about to upend the ad-tracking market and they published some more details on what exactly their App Tracking Transparency feature is going to look like. Hint: more user control.

Consumers are spending lots of time in apps
A new report from mobile analytics firm App Annie suggests that we’re dumping more of our time into smartphone apps, with the average users spending 4.2 hours a day doing so, a 30 percent increase over two years.

Sonos perfects the bluetooth speaker
I’m a bit of an audio lover, which made my colleague Darrell’s review of the new Sonos Roam bluetooth speaker a must-read for me. He’s pretty psyched about it, even though it comes in at the higher-end of pricing for these devices, still I’m looking forward to hearing one with my own ears.


 

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
The StockX EC-1
“StockX is a unique company at the nexus of two radical transitions that isn’t just redefining markets, but our culture as well. E-commerce upended markets, diminishing the physical experience by intermediating and aggregating buyers and sellers through digital platforms. At the same time, the internet created rapid new communication channels, allowing euphoria and desire to ricochet across society in a matter of seconds. In a world of plenty, some things are rare, and the hype around that rarity has never been greater. Together, these two trends demanded a stock market of hype, an opportunity that StockX has aggressively pursued.”

Building the right team for a billion-dollar startup
“I would really encourage you to take some time to think about what kind of company you want to make first before you go out and start interviewing people. So that really is going to be about understanding and defining your culture. And then the second thing I’d be thinking about when you’re scaling from, you know, five people up to, you know, 50 and beyond is that managers really are the key to your success as a company. It’s hard to overstate how important managers, great managers, are to the success of your company.

So you want to raise a Series A
“More companies will raise seed rounds than Series A rounds, simply due to the fact that many startups fail, and venture only makes sense for a small fraction of businesses out there. Every check is a new cycle of convincing and proving that you, as a startup, will have venture-scale returns. Moore explained that startups looking to move to their next round need to explain to investors why now is their moment.”

Until next week,
Lucas M.

And again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

Mercato raises $26M Series A to help smaller grocers compete online

The pandemic upended the way people shop for their everyday needs, including groceries. Online grocery sales in the U.S. are expected to reach 21.5% of the total grocery sales by 2025, after leaping from 3.4% pre-pandemic to 10.2% as of 2020. One business riding this wave is Mercato, an online grocery platform that helps smaller grocers and speciality food stores get online quickly. After helping grow its merchant sales by 1,300% in 2020, Mercato has now closed on $26 million in Series A funding, the company tells TechCrunch.

The round was led by Velvet Sea Ventures with participation from Team Europe, the investing arm of Lukasz Gadowski, co-founder of Delivery Hero. Seed investors Greycroft and Loeb.nyc also returned for the new round Gadowski and Mike Lazerow of Velvet Sea Ventures have also now joined Mercato’s board.

Mercato itself was founded in 2015 by Bobby Brannigan, who had grown up helping at his family’s grocery store in Brooklyn. But instead of taking over the business, as his Dad had hoped, Brannigan left for college and eventually went on to bootstrap a college textbook marketplace, Valore Books, to $100 million in sales. After selling the business, he returned his focus to the family’s store and found that everything was still operating the way it had been decades ago.

Image Credits: Bobby Brannigan of Mercato

“He had a very basic website, no e-commerce, no social media, and no point-of-sale system,” explains Brannigan. “I said, ‘I’m going to build what you need.’ This was my opportunity to help my dad in an area that I knew about,” he adds.

Brannigan recruited some engineers from his last company to help him build the software systems to modernize his dad’s store, including Mercato’s co-founders Dave Bateman, Michael Mason, and Matthew Alarie. But the team soon realized could do more than help just Brannigan’s dad — they could also help the 40,000 independent grocery stores just like him better compete with the Amazon’s of the world.

The result was Mercato, a platform-as-a-service that makes it easier for smaller grocers and speciality food shops to go online to offer their inventory for pickup or delivery, without having to partner with a grocery delivery service like Instacart, AmazonFresh or Shipt.

The solution today includes an e-commerce website and data analytics platform that helps stores understand what their customers are looking for, where customers are located, how to price their products, and other insights that help them to better run their store. And Mercato is now working on adding on a supply platform to help the stores buy inventory through their system, Brannigan notes.

“Basically, the vision of it is to give them the tech, the systems, and the platform they need to be successful in this day and age,” notes Brannigan.

He likens Mercato as a sort of “Shopify for groceries,” as it gives stores their own page on Mercato where they can reach customers. When the customer visits Mercato on the web or via its app, they can enter in their zip code to see which local stores offer online shopping. Some stores simply redirect their existing websites to their Mercato page, as they can continue to offer other basic information, like address, hours, and other details about their stores on the Mercato-provided site, while gaining access to Mercato’s over 1 million customers.

However, merchants can also opt for a white-label solution that they can plug into their own website, which uses their own branding.

The stores can further customize the experience they want to offer customers, in terms of pickup and delivery, and the time frames for both they want to commit to. If they want to ease into online grocery, for example, they can start with next-day delivery services, then speed thing up to same-day when they’re ready. They can also set limits on how many time slots they offer per hour, based on staffing levels.

Image Credits: Mercato

Unlike Instacart and others which send shoppers to stores to fill the orders, Mercato allows the merchants themselves to maintain the customer relationship by handling the orders themselves, which they can receive via email, text or even robo-phone calls.

“They’re maintaining that relationship,” says Brannigan. “Usually, it’s a lot better if it’s somebody from the store [doing the shopping] because they might know the customer; they know the kind of product they’re looking for. And if they don’t have it, they know something else they can recommend — so they’re like a really efficient recommendation engine.”

“The big difference between an Instacart shopper and the worker in the store is that the worker in the store understands that somebody is trying to put a meal on the table, and certain items could be an important ingredient,” he notes. “For the shoppers at Instacart, it’s about a time clock: how quickly can they pick an order to make the most money.”

The company contracts with both national and regional couriers to handle the delivery portion, once orders are ready.

Mercato’s system was put to test during the pandemic, when demand for online grocery skyrocketed.

This is where Mercato’s ability to rapidly onboard merchants came in handy. The company says it can take stores online in just 24 hours, as it has built out a centralized product catalog of over a million items. It then connects with the store’s point-of-sale system, and uploads and matches the store’s products to their own database. This allows Mercato to map around 95% of the store’s products in a matter of minutes, with the last bit being added manually — which helps to build out Mercato’s catalog even further. Today, Mercato can integrate with virtually all point-of-sale (POS) solutions in the grocery market, which is more than 30 different systems.

As customers shop, Mercato’s system uses machine learning to help determine if a product is likely in stock by examining movement data.

“One of the challenges in grocery is that most stores actually don’t know how many quantities they have in stock of a product,” explains Brannigan. “So we launch a store, we integrate with the POS. And with the POS we can see how quickly a product is moving in-store and online. Based on movement, we can calculate what is in stock.”

This system, he says, continues to get smarter over time, too.

“We’re certainly three to five years ahead, and we’re not going back,” says Brannigan of the COVID impacts to the online grocery business. “It’s very plentiful now in many places, in terms of e-commerce offerings. And the nature of retail businesses is competitive. So if 1% of people are online, it might not drive other people. But if you have 15% of stores online, then other stores have to get online or they won’t be able to compete,” he notes.

Mercato generates revenue both from its consumer-facing membership program, with plans that range from $96/year – $228/year, depending on distance, and from the merchants themselves, who pay a single digit percentage transaction fee on orders — a lower percentage than what restaurant delivery companies charge.

The company has now scaled its service to over 1,000 merchants across 45 U.S. states, including big cities like New York, Chicago, L.A. D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, and others.

With the additional funding, Mercato aims to expand its remotely distributed team of now 80 employees, as well as its data analytics platform, which will help merchants make better decisions that impact their business. It also plans to refresh the consumer subscription to add more benefits and perks that make it more compelling.

Mercato declined to share its valuation or revenue, but as of the start of the pandemic last year, the company had said it was reaching a billion in sales and a $700 million run rate.

Computer vision software has the potential to reinvent the way cities move

In October 2019, The New York Times reported that 1.5 million packages were delivered in New York City every single day. Though convenient for customers and profitable for the Amazons of the world, getting so many boxes from warehouse to customer generates considerable negative externalities for cities.

As the Times put it, “The push for convenience is having a stark impact on gridlock, roadway safety, and pollution in New York City and urban areas around the world.”

Since that article was published, the global pandemic has taken e-commerce to new heights, and experts don’t expect this upward trend to slow down anytime soon. Without strategic intervention, we will find our cities facing increasingly severe traffic problems, safety issues and polluting emissions.

Without strategic intervention, we will find our cities facing increasingly severe traffic problems, safety issues and polluting emissions.

The same frustrations have plagued urban roadways for decades. However, technology is finally catching up, providing new means of addressing the challenges of crowding, pollution and parking enforcement on dense city streets.

As is almost always the case, an effective solution begins by first understanding the detailed circumstances giving rise to the problem. In this case, a simple means of assessing the problem is to observe curbside parking and street traffic using streetlight cameras.

Deploying cameras to monitor public spaces may immediately incite the ire of die-hard privacy advocates (I consider myself among them), which is why companies like mine have taken a privacy-by-design approach to product development. Our technology processes video in real time and addresses further concerns about potential misuse for surveillance purposes by blurring faces and license plates beyond recognition prior to making any kind of image data available either internally or to public officials.

The point of these cameras is not to surveil but rather to leverage concrete data from real-world city streets to generate crucial insights and power automations at the curb. Automotus’ computer vision software is already using this model to help cities manage the aforementioned flood of commercial vehicles on their streets.

This technology can also be used to optimize and incentivize parking turnover. According to one study, drivers in New York City spend an average of 107 hours per year searching for parking spots, at a cost of $2,243 per driver in wasted time, fuel and emissions, which represents $4.3 billion in total costs to the city. Similar wasteful dynamics are unfolding across America and the world. By collecting comprehensive data around the demand for curbside space, cities can design parking policies that ensure proper alignment between the supply of curb space and the way vehicles are actually using it.

In one pilot we ran on the campus of Loyola Marymount University, traffic caused by drivers searching for parking dropped by more than 20% after our data was used to adjust parking policy. Using data to optimize parking results in more efficient turnover, less time spent circling for a spot and reduced traffic delays. Real-time parking availability data can also be used to direct drivers to open parking spots via an application or API.

By arming city planners with accurate, up-to-date information on all forms of curbside activity, we empower them to fully understand the temporal and spatial patterns that rule their curbs. This gives planners the information they need to make informed decisions about curbside policy tailored to their city’s peculiarities.

Suddenly, questions such as “How many ride-hailing drop-offs occur here?” and “Whose delivery trucks are double parking on Tuesday morning?” become trivial to answer. Gone are the days of using vague heuristics to guide policy; this new wealth of information makes possible precise and impactful decisions on the locations of passenger parking, dedicated delivery zones and ride-hailing areas, as well as optimal rates to charge for parking, appropriate penalties for violations and much more.

This tech is also a win for delivery companies. When delivery fleets have data about real-time and predicted parking availability, this can improve route efficiency, saving them money. Instead of paying for curb usage via fines, delivery companies can instead receive an invoice for their time spent at the curb (a tax-deductible expense, I might add).

A study done in Columbus, Ohio, found that designated loading zones decreased double parking violations by 50% and reduced commercial vehicle time at the curb by 28%. Radically increasing the efficiency of delivery translates into savings for companies like FedEx and Amazon, which can then afford to pay fair rates for their curb access and pass on those savings to consumers.

Several interrelated trends make the current moment an especially opportune time to apply new technology to our streets and curbs. Pre-pandemic, many cities already faced declining revenue from parking as citizens shifted toward using ride-shares. Now, thousands of American municipalities are expecting major budget shortfalls in the wake of COVID-19. At the same time, a report from the World Economic Forum predicts that the number of commercial delivery vehicles will increase by 36% in inner cities by the year 2030. Our research suggests that more than 50% of parking violations are unenforced and committed by commercial vehicles.

It’s no coincidence that Columbus was the winner of the 2016 federal Smart City Challenge. When former President Barack Obama pledged over $160 million as part of his “Smart Cities” initiative in 2015, reducing congestion and pollution were among the program’s major goals. Better management of parking and curb space are crucial tools for achieving these aims. Though former President Donald Trump campaigned on a massive infrastructure plan, his delivery on promises in this area were mixed at best. Despite the lack of federal support, there are currently promising initiatives underway in cities such as Santa Monica, which is piloting a zero-emissions delivery zone in the heart of its downtown.

President Joe Biden has outlined a plan to build the infrastructure America needs both to combat climate change and modernize urban transportation. This plan includes a provision for 500,000 public charging stations for electric vehicles; changes to our cities that allow drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and others to safely share the road; and investment in critical clean energy solutions.

Curb management technology is one of a suite of options on the market that federal and local governments can leverage to reduce pollution and improve quality of life in cities. If the incoming administration is willing to champion this novel approach toward solving the problems of urban mobility, America’s infrastructure will not just be modernized but made ready for the future.

I, for one, hope this renewal is realized; our nation’s health, safety and shared prosperity depend on it.

E-commerce roll-ups are the next wave of disruption in consumer packaged goods

This year is all about the roll-ups. No, not those fruity snacks you used to find in your lunchbox; roll-ups are the aggregation of smaller companies into larger firms, creating a potentially compelling path for equity value.

Right now, all eyes are on Thrasio, the fastest company to reach unicorn status, and its cadre of competitors, such as Heyday, Branded and Perch, all vying to become the modern model of consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies.

Making things even more interesting, famed investor and operator Keith Rabois recently announced that he too is working on a roll-up concept called OpenStore with Atomic co-founder Jack Abraham.

Like any investment firm, to be successful, a roll-up should have a thesis or two providing it with a cohesive strategy across its portfolio.

Thrasio has been reaping the benefits of the e-commerce market’s Cambrian explosion in 2020, in which over $1 billion of capital was invested in firms on a mission to acquire independent Amazon sellers and brands.

This catalyst can be attributed to a few key factors, the first and most notable being the pandemic accelerating spending on Amazon and e-commerce more broadly. Next is the low cost of capital, a reflection of interest rates making markets flush with cash; this has made it easier to raise both equity and debt capital.

The third is the emerging and quantifiable proofs of concept: Thrasio is one of several raising hundreds of millions of dollars, and Anker, a primarily Amazon-native brand, went public. Both stories have provided further validation that a meaningful brand can be built on top of Amazon’s marketplace.

Still, the interest in creating value through e-commerce brands is particularly striking. Just a year ago, digitally native brands had fallen out of favor with venture capitalists after so many failed to create venture-scale returns. So what’s the roll-up hype about?

Roll-ups are another flavor of investing

Roll-ups aren’t a new concept; they’ve existed for a while. In the offline world, roll-ups often achieve much greater exit multiples, known as “multiple arbitrage,” so it’s no surprise that the trend is making its way online.

Historically, though, roll-ups haven’t been all that successful; HBR notes that more than two-thirds of roll-ups fail to create value for investors. While roll-ups are often effective at building larger companies, they don’t always increase profits or operating cash flows.

Acquirers, i.e., those rolling up smaller companies, need to uncover new operating approaches for their acquired companies to increase equity value, and the only way to increase equity value is to increase operating cash flow. There are four ways to do this: reducing overhead costs, reducing operating costs without sacrificing price or volume, increasing pricing without sacrificing volume or increasing volume without increasing unit costs.

E-commerce could present a new and different opportunity, or at least that’s what investors and smart money are betting on. Let’s explore how this new wave of roll-ups is approaching both growth and value creation.

Channel your enthusiasm: Why every roll-up needs a thesis

Like any investment firm, to be successful, a roll-up should have a thesis or two providing it with a cohesive strategy across its portfolio. There are a few that are trending in this particular wave.

The first is the primary distribution channel upon which a company grows. Evaluating companies with a common distribution channel can be helpful for creating economies of scale, focusing marketing and growth resources in a specific channel versus diluting resources across several.

On the downside, these companies become reliant on this distribution strategy and any changes could create vulnerabilities for their portfolio companies. As a study, let’s take a look at how two companies take different approaches:

E-commerce roll-ups are the next wave of disruption in consumer packaged goods

This year is all about the roll-ups. No, not those fruity snacks you used to find in your lunchbox; roll-ups are the aggregation of smaller companies into larger firms, creating a potentially compelling path for equity value.

Right now, all eyes are on Thrasio, the fastest company to reach unicorn status, and its cadre of competitors, such as Heyday, Branded and Perch, all vying to become the modern model of consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies.

Making things even more interesting, famed investor and operator Keith Rabois recently announced that he too is working on a roll-up concept called OpenStore with Atomic co-founder Jack Abraham.

Like any investment firm, to be successful, a roll-up should have a thesis or two providing it with a cohesive strategy across its portfolio.

Thrasio has been reaping the benefits of the e-commerce market’s Cambrian explosion in 2020, in which over $1 billion of capital was invested in firms on a mission to acquire independent Amazon sellers and brands.

This catalyst can be attributed to a few key factors, the first and most notable being the pandemic accelerating spending on Amazon and e-commerce more broadly. Next is the low cost of capital, a reflection of interest rates making markets flush with cash; this has made it easier to raise both equity and debt capital.

The third is the emerging and quantifiable proofs of concept: Thrasio is one of several raising hundreds of millions of dollars, and Anker, a primarily Amazon-native brand, went public. Both stories have provided further validation that a meaningful brand can be built on top of Amazon’s marketplace.

Still, the interest in creating value through e-commerce brands is particularly striking. Just a year ago, digitally native brands had fallen out of favor with venture capitalists after so many failed to create venture-scale returns. So what’s the roll-up hype about?

Roll-ups are another flavor of investing

Roll-ups aren’t a new concept; they’ve existed for a while. In the offline world, roll-ups often achieve much greater exit multiples, known as “multiple arbitrage,” so it’s no surprise that the trend is making its way online.

Historically, though, roll-ups haven’t been all that successful; HBR notes that more than two-thirds of roll-ups fail to create value for investors. While roll-ups are often effective at building larger companies, they don’t always increase profits or operating cash flows.

Acquirers, i.e., those rolling up smaller companies, need to uncover new operating approaches for their acquired companies to increase equity value, and the only way to increase equity value is to increase operating cash flow. There are four ways to do this: reducing overhead costs, reducing operating costs without sacrificing price or volume, increasing pricing without sacrificing volume or increasing volume without increasing unit costs.

E-commerce could present a new and different opportunity, or at least that’s what investors and smart money are betting on. Let’s explore how this new wave of roll-ups is approaching both growth and value creation.

Channel your enthusiasm: Why every roll-up needs a thesis

Like any investment firm, to be successful, a roll-up should have a thesis or two providing it with a cohesive strategy across its portfolio. There are a few that are trending in this particular wave.

The first is the primary distribution channel upon which a company grows. Evaluating companies with a common distribution channel can be helpful for creating economies of scale, focusing marketing and growth resources in a specific channel versus diluting resources across several.

On the downside, these companies become reliant on this distribution strategy and any changes could create vulnerabilities for their portfolio companies. As a study, let’s take a look at how two companies take different approaches:

Where is the e-commerce app ecosystem headed in 2021?

The pandemic-induced growth of e-commerce is, by now, now well documented.

What is happening in the app ecosystem that supports e-commerce? Is it growing? Are we likely to see consolidations or IPOs? Are there superapps that will emerge?

This post is less about conclusions and more about taking you along while I go through the rabbit hole to satiate my own curiosity.

I see all three trends forming:

  1. Superapps are likely to emerge. I think companies like Bold Commerce will be among the earliest superapps.
  2. There will be consolidations anchored around large SaaS players and roll-ups powered by private equity funds.
  3. There are players like Tiny that acquire early-stage firms and let them run independently.

The closest match to the growing e-commerce stack is the marketing automation stack. While there are significant overlaps, it’s fascinating to compare and contrast the growth of these ecosystems and what drives consolidation.

The closest match to the growing e-commerce stack is the marketing automation stack. While there are significant overlaps, it’s fascinating to compare and contrast the growth of these ecosystems and what drives consolidation.

Between 2015 and 2021, the martech stack grew from 1,800 to 8,000, meaning it roughly doubles every three years.

The explosion of the martech stack is common knowledge and is well documented by Scott Brinker and his famous supergraphics. What’s worth noting is that the consolidation we expected to happen is happening, and yet the pace of new companies coming up in the space makes up for the consolidation — and some more.

According to Brinker, the martech landscape grew 5,233% between 2011 and 2020. The fastest-growing category within martech in 2020 is data and governance, which grew in numbers by 25%. The martech app ecosystem more than tripled between 2015 to 2018, powered by the growth of SaaS and e-commerce industries.

I am an avid tracker of this space, but I am also interested in how we can apply martech’s evolution to the e-commerce stack. The e-commerce stack also grew 3.5 times between 2017 and 2020. But much of the growth is ahead, and so is the upcoming consolidation.