TechCrunch Survey of Scottish Tech Hubs: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey European founders and investors in cities outside the larger European capitals.

Over the next few weeks, we will ask entrepreneurs in these cities to talk about their ecosystems, in their own words.

This is your chance to put Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen on the Techcrunch Map!.

If you are a tech startup founder or investor in one of these cities please fill out the survey form here.

We are particularly interested in hearing from women founders and investors.

This is the follow-up to the huge survey of investors (see also below) we’ve done over the last six or more months, largely in Europe’s biggest capital cities.

These formed part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing regularly for ExtraCrunch, our subscription service that unpacks key issues for startups and investors.

In the first wave of surveys, the cities we wrote about were largely capitals. You can see them listed here.

This time, we will be surveying founders and investors in Europe’s other cities to capture how European hubs are growing, from the perspective of the people on the ground.

We’d like to know how your city’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and generally how your city will evolve.

We leave submissions mostly unedited and are generally looking for at least one or two paragraphs in answers to the questions.

So if you are a tech startup founder or investor in one of these cities please fill out our survey form here.

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email [email protected] and/or DM on Twitter to @mikebutcher.

Kahoot acquires Clever, the US-based edtech portal, for up to $500M

Kahoot, the popular Oslo-based edtech company that has built a big business out of gamifiying education and creating a platform for users to build their own learning games, is making an acquisition to double down on K-12 education and its opportunities to grow in the U.S. It is acquiring Clever, a startup that has built a single sign-on portal for educators, students and their families to build and engage in digital learning classrooms, currently used by about 65% of all U.S. K-12 schools. Kahoot said that the deal — coming in a combination of cash and shares — gives Clever an enterprise value of between $435 million and $500 million, dependent on meeting certain performance milestones.

The plan will be to continue growing Clever’s business in the U.S. — which currently employs 175 people — as well as give it a lever for expanding globally alongside Kahoot’s wider stable of edtech software and services.

“Clever and Kahoot! are two purpose-led organizations that are equally passionate about education and unleashing the potential within every learner,” said Eilert Hanoa, CEO at Kahoot, in a statement. “Through this acquisition we see considerable potential to collaborate on education innovation to better service all our users – schools, teachers, students, parents and lifelong learners – and leveraging our global scale to offer Clever’s unique platform worldwide. I’m excited to welcome Tyler and his team to the Kahoot family.”

The news came on the same day that Kahoot, which is traded in Oslo with a market cap of $4.3 billion, also announced strong Q1 results in which it also noted it has closed its acquisition of Whiteboard.fi, a provider of whiteboard tools for teachers, for an undisclosed sum.

The same tides that have been lifting Kahoot have also been playing out for Clever and other edtech companies.

The startup was originally incubated in Y Combinator and launched with a vision to be a “Twilio for education“, which in its vision was to create a unified way of being able to tap into the myriad of student sign-on systems and educational databases to make it easier for those building edtech services to scale their products, and bring on more customers (schools, teachers, students, families) to use them. As with payments, financial services in general, and telecommunications, it turns out that education is also a pretty fragmented market, and Clever wanted to figure out a way to fix the complexity and put it behind an API to make it easier for others to tap into it.

Over time it built that out also with a marketplace (application gallery in its terminology) of some 600 software providers and application developers that integrate with its SSO, which in turn becomes a way for a school or district to subsequently expand the number of edtech tools that it can use. This has been especially critical in the last year as schools have been forced to close in-person learning and go entirely virtual to help stave off the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Clever has found a lot of traction for its approach both with schools, and investors. With the former, Clever says that it’s used by 89,000 schools and some 65% of K-12 school districts (13,000 overall) in the U.S., with that figure including 95 of the 100 largest school districts in the country. This works out to 20 million students logging in monthly and 5.6 billion learning sessions.

Paystack expands to South Africa seven months after Stripe acquisition

Nigerian fintech startup Paystack has been relatively quiet since it was bought by fintech giant Stripe last October. The deal, worth more than $200 million, caused shockwaves to the African tech ecosystem and offered some form of validation to work done by founders, startups and investors alike.

Today, the payments company, which powers businesses with its payment API and is actively present in Nigeria and Ghana, is announcing its official launch in South Africa.

In 2018 when we reported Paystack’s $8 million Series A (which Stripe also led), it was powering 15% of all online payments in Nigeria. The company had more than 10,000 businesses on its platform and expansion to other African countries was one way it planned to use the money. Ghana was its next stop.

Since expanding to Ghana, Paystack has grown and claims to power 50% of all online payments in Nigeria with around 60,000 customers, including small businesses, larger corporates, fintechs, educational institutions and online betting companies. Some of its customers include MTN, SPAR and UPS, and they use the company’s software to collect payments globally.

The South African launch was preceded by a six-month pilot, which means the project kickstarted a month after Stripe acquired it. Stripe is gearing toward a hotly anticipated IPO and has been aggressively expanding to other markets. Before acquiring Paystack, the company added 17 countries to its platform in 18 months, but none from Africa. Paystack was its meal ticket to the African online commerce market, and CEO Patrick Collison didn’t mince words when talking about the acquisition in October.

“There is an enormous opportunity. In absolute numbers, Africa may be smaller right now than other regions, but online commerce will grow about 30% every year. And even with wider global declines, online shoppers are growing twice as fast. Stripe thinks on a longer time horizon than others because we are an infrastructure company. We are thinking of what the world will look like in 2040-2050,” he said. 

Although Stripe said the $600 million it raised in Series H this March would be used mainly for European expansion, its foray deeper into Africa has kicked off. And while Paystack claims to have had a clear expansion roadmap prior to the acquisition, its relationship with Stripe is accelerating the realization of that pan-African expansion goal.

Now, Africa accounts for three of the 42 countries where Stripe currently has customers today.

“South Africa is one of the continent’s most important markets, and our launch here is a significant milestone in our mission to accelerate commerce across Africa,” said Paystack CEO Shola Akinlade of the expansion. “We’re excited to continue building the financial infrastructure that empowers ambitious businesses in Africa, helps them scale and connects them to global markets.”

The six-month pilot saw Paystack work with different businesses and grow a local team to handle on-the-ground operations. However, unlike Nigeria and Ghana, where Paystack has managed to be a top player, what are the company’s prospects in the South African market where it will face stiff competition from the likes of Yoco and DPO?

“The opportunity for innovation in the South African payment space is far from saturated. Today, for instance, digital payments make up less than half of all transactions in the country,” Abdulrahman Jogbojogbo, product marketer at Paystack said. “So, the presence of competition is not only welcome; it’s encouraged. The more innovative plays there are, the faster it’ll be to realize our goal of having an integrated African market.”

Khadijah Abu, head of product expansion, added that “for many businesses in South Africa, we know that accepting payments online can be cumbersome. Our pilot in South Africa was hyper-focused on removing barriers to entry, eliminating tedious paperwork, providing world-class API documentation to developers, and making it a lot simpler for businesses to accept payments online.”

Many people compare Paystack to Africa’s newest fintech unicorn Flutterwave. Founded a year apart, both companies help businesses accept payments from thousands of businesses. When the latter raised its recent juggernaut $170 million round, it claimed to have 290,000 businesses on its platform. While Flutterwave has been high-flying with its pan-African expansion (it has a presence in 20 African countries), Paystack has adopted a rather scrupulous approach. The company said the reason behind this lies with the peculiarities each African country presents and because each country has different regulations, launching at scale takes time. 

“Our goal isn’t to have a presence in lots of countries, with little regard for service quality. We care deeply that we deliver a stellar end-to-end payment experience in the countries we operate in,” Jogbojogbo continued. “And this takes some time, careful planning and lots of behind-the-scenes, foundational work.”

But being backed by Stripe and armed with millions of dollars, Paystack might need to switch things up eventually. Even as it operates independently, its pan-African vision is equally important to Stripe, and speed will be crucial, even the five-year-old company acknowledges this and said, “its pace of expansion will quicken as it expands into more African countries.”

Born in the pandemic, Moonfire’s first $60M Seed fund will combine remote investing with big data

During the pandemic, we’ve seen the rise of ‘Zoom investing’ – where VCs literally use remote video conference tools like Zoom and Google Meet to take pitches from entrepreneurs. Now a new European Seed fund plans to leverage that emerging behavior and bake it into their model.

Mattias Ljungman, the former co-founder of Atomico formed Moonfire when he left in December 2019, but few details were revealed about his new operation. Today Moonfire reveals it will be a $60 million seed-stage “data-driven” VC that will also leverage the new advantages of remote working which entrepreneurs themselves have had to adapt to.

Admittedly Ljungman didn’t have much choice. Starting in January 2020, he ended up having to found, raise and close the fund, as well as invest, almost all remotely. But, he says, that means it will continue to take advantage of this ‘new normal’. “We are doing zoom investing. It’s the death of geography, and people are now pretty comfortable with that way of living,” he told me, literally via Zoom.

Moonfire’s first fund has been raised from LPs spanning the usual swathe of institutional investors, entrepreneurs, and VCs. Cendana, the US-based seed fund investment firm, is the anchor investor. It is joined by Utah School & Institutional Trust Funds Office (SITFO) and Reference Capital, among others. Moonfire says the fund was significantly oversubscribed.

Moonfire will focus on a very broad range of areas which will include Health & Wellbeing, Work & Knowledge, Gaming, Community & Leisure and Capital & Finance. Its most recent investments across Europe include Humaans, Electric Noir Studios, Skunkworks, Pento, Awell Health, Mindstone, Business Score, Homerun, HiPeople, LoveShark, WillaPay, Oliva, Equify, and more.

Ljungman ‘knows his onions,’ as the phrase goes. As a co-founder of Atomico he spent 20 years investing tech startups-turned-unicorns including Klarna, Supercell, Viagogo and Climate Corp.

Mike Arpaia and Candice Lo. Arpaia will partner the firm with Ljungman. Former computer scientist Arpaia joins Moonfire with experience from Etsy, Facebook, Kolide, and Workday. Lo has been an entrepreneur but is an operator turned investor with experience at Uber in Europe and China, as well as an early-stage investor with the UK’s Blossom Capital.

Ljungman says data will form the cornerstone of the fund. He said: “Venture will always be a relationship business, but it should be powered by data, software, and machine learning to hone and optimize everything we do from discovery, screening, and evaluation to delivering better insights for our founders. We are able to enhance traditional thesis-driven investing and make decision-making quicker and more effective.”

Of course, just about every VC these days says it uses data to invest – Inreach Ventures in London, for instance, is just one of many that makes a great play of this idea.

Over a video call, Ljungman countered: “You’re looking at utilizing software, automation, and machine learning. If you look at any industry that is what happened – software is eating it up. It touches every component of your process from discovering companies to managing them, evaluating them, helping them with support. So we still have our thesis-driven approach, but what we’re doing is pairing it with software, like a bionic suit, so this is how to augment what we do and do it bigger and better.”

He added: “The European ecosystem is a lot bigger today, so relying on gut instinct, relationships, networking is not going to be efficient. Utilizing software is going to be critical for us. We have 1.4 million people already in our database. These entrepreneurs usually have a really nice history. The average entrepreneur is a lot older than it used to be, as well. If we’re looking at thousands of companies per year, there are real network effects. The more you build out your data the more you build out your portfolio, the more you make more investments, the better you are at helping and supporting your portfolio companies because you’ve institutionalized that knowledge.”

Graham Pingree, Partner at Cendana Capital, said in a statement: “We’ve been watching the European start-up ecosystem mature and grow in the past year and we’re excited to have the opportunity to partner with the team at Moonfire as they look to expand their portfolio. Moonfire, like Cendana, is passionate about supporting founders at the earliest stages of their journey and they have the skills and expertise needed to nurture a new generation of founders.”

Autonomous trucking startup Einride raises $110M ahead of expansion into US

Einride, the Swedish startup known for its unusual-looking electric and autonomous pods that are designed to carry freight, has raised $110 million to help fund its expansion in Europe and into the United States.

The Series B round, which far exceeds its previous raises of $10 million in 2020 and $25 million in 2019, included new investors Temasek, Soros Fund Management LLC, Northzone and Maersk Growth. The company said Thursday that existing investors EQT Ventures, Plum Alley, Norrsken VC, Ericsson and NordicNinja VC also participated in the round.

Einride has raised a total of $150 million to date. The company didn’t share its post-money valuation.

The company, founded in 2016 by Robert Falck, Linnéa Kornehed, and Filip Lilja, has two kinds of vehicles: connected, electric heavy trucks driven by humans and its driverless Pods.

The electric trucks do much the freight-shuttling work today for customers like Swedish food producer Oatly, Coca-Cola, Lidl and Electrolux. The company’s pitch is that its electric trucks reduce emissions for its customers by 94% compared to driving with diesel. Einride has also developed a digital platform for carriers that handles planning, scheduling and routing as well as invoices and billing.

Einride electric truck

Image Credits: Screenshot/Einride

The company is perhaps best known for its Einride Pod — once called the T-Pod —  a self-driving truck that doesn’t have a cab and can be controlled remotely. The first-generation vehicle has been tested on public roads in Sweden and even carried freight in a pilot program for Oatly. In October, the unveiled a line of next-generation pod freight-carrying vehicles that depending on its level of autonomy will begin shipping to customers as early as this year.

Einride will be using this significant injection of capital to fulfill current customer contracts, double its 100-person workforce by the end of the year  and expand in Europe and into the United States, according to CEO Robert Falck.

Einride will have operations up and running in the U.S. before the end of the year and are looking to set up a headquarters in Austin, Texas, and additional offices in New York and Silicon Valley, Falck said in an email. Global agreements are in place with brands such as Oatly, which includes U.S. operations, with more to be announced soon, he added.

einride_next-gen pod

Image Credits: Einride

As Einride continues to scale its human-powered electric trucking operation, it is also working on the long-term goal of rolling out commercial driverless Pods. Einride has said its new Pods will be available with differing levels of autonomy and functionality based on its internal Autonomous Electric Transport (AET) classification system, which ranges from levels 1 to 5.

Its AET 1 Pod is for closed facilities with predetermined routes that are best suited for fully-autonomous operation. The constraints expand from there with Pods at AET 2 designed for closed facility operation with an added capability to traverse public roads over short distances between destinations. Einride has said that these first two level of Pods will begin shipping to customers starting in 2021.

Level 3 allows for operation on backroads and less busy main roads between facilities, at a maximum operating speed of 28 mph. At Level 4, under Einride’s system, the Pod will operate autonomously on freeways and other major roads at up to 52 mph. Einride has said that Levels 3 and 4 will ship to customers in 2022 and 2023.

Shift Technology raises $220M at a $1B+ valuation to fight insurance fraud with AI

While insurance providers continue to get disrupted by startups like Lemonade, Alan, Clearcover, Pie and many others applying tech to rethink how to build a business around helping people and companies mitigate against risks with some financial security, one issue that has not disappeared is fraud. Today, a startup out of France is announcing some funding for AI technology that it has built for all insurance providers, old and new, to help them detect and prevent it.

Shift Technology, which provides a set of AI-based SaaS tools to insurance companies to scan and automatically flag fraud scenarios across a range of use cases — they include claims fraud, claims automation, underwriting, subrogation detection and financial crime detection — has raised $220 million, money that it will be using both to expand in the property and casualty insurance market, the area where it is already strong, as well as to expand into health, and to double down on growing its business in the U.S. It also provides fraud detection for the travel insurance sector.

This Series D is being led Advent International, via Advent Tech, with participation from Avenir and others. Accel, Bessemer Venture Partners, General Catalyst, and Iris Capital — who were all part of Shift’s Series C led by Bessemer in 2019 — also participated. With this round, Paris and Boston-based Shift Technology has now raised some $320 million and has confirmed that it is now valued at over $1 billion.

The company currently has around 100 customers across 25 different countries — with customers including Generali France and Mitsui Sumitomo — and says that it has already analyzed nearly two billion claims, data that’s feeding its machine learning algorithms to improve how they work.

The challenge (or I suppose, opportunity) that Shift is tackling, however, is much bigger. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a non-profit in the U.S., estimates that at least $80 billion of fraudulent claims are made annually in the U.S. alone, but the figure is likely significantly higher. One problem has, ironically, been the move to more virtualized processes, which open the door to malicious actors exploiting loopholes in claims filing and fudging information.

Shift is also not alone in tackling this issue: the market for insurance fraud detection globally was estimated to be worth $2.5 billion in 2019 and projected to be worth as much as $8 billion by 2024.

In addition to others in claims management tech such as Brightcore and Guidewire, many of the wave of insuretech startups are building in their own in-house AI-based fraud protection, and it’s very likely that we’ll see a rise of other fraud protection services, built out of fintech to guard against financial crime, making their way to insurance, as the mechanics of how the two work and the compliance issues both face are very closely aligned.

“The entire Shift team has worked tirelessly to build this company and provide insurers with the technology solutions they need to empower employees to best be there for their policyholders. We are thrilled to partner with Advent International, given their considerable sector expertise and global reach and are taking another giant step forward with this latest investment,” stated Jeremy Jawish, CEO and co-founder, Shift Technology, in a statement. “We have only just scratched the surface of what is possible when AI-based decision automation and optimization is applied to the critical processes that drive the insurance policy lifecycle.”

For its backers, one key point with Shift is that it’s helping older providers bring on more tools and services that can help them improve their margins as well as better compete against the technology built by newer players.

“Since its founding in 2014, Shift has made a name for itself in the complex world of insurance,” said Thomas Weisman, an Advent director, in a statement. “Shift’s advanced suite of SaaS products is helping insurers to reshape manual and often time-consuming claims processes in a safer and more automated way. We are proud to be part of this exciting company’s next wave of growth.”

Krafton announces PUBG India return under Battlegrounds Mobile title

Krafton, the South Korean video game developer of PUBG Mobile, said on Thursday that it is bringing back the popular gaming title to India under the brand name Battlegrounds Mobile India. The new title, which uses the color scheme of the Indian flag, will offer “a world class AAA multiplayer” and free-to-play gaming experience on mobile devices, it said.

The developer said it will open pre-registration for Battlegrounds Mobile India ahead of its launch in the country, but didn’t share a specific date. The title has been exclusively developed for the world’s second largest internet market, Krafton said.

“Krafton will collaborate with partners to build an esports ecosystem while bringing in-game content regularly, starting with a series of India specific in-game events at launch, to be announced later,” it said.

Thursday’s announcement comes months after India banned PUBG Mobile alongside 200 other apps with links to China citing national security concerns. In the months since Krafton has taken several steps — including cutting ties with its publishing partner Tencent, inking a global cloud deal with Microsoft, pledging a $100 million investment in India’s mobile gaming ecosystem, and earlier this year backing local startup Nodwin — to ally New Delhi’s concerns.

“With privacy and data security being a top priority, Krafton will be working with partners, to ensure data protection and security, at each stage. This will ensure privacy rights are respected, and all data collection and storage will be in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations in India and for players here,” it said in a statement.

The firm didn’t say whether it had any conversation with New Delhi and if it had received the approval to launch the new title.

Prior to being banned in India, PUBG Mobile was the most popular mobile game in the country. The app had amassed over 50 million monthly active users in the country. PUBG Mobile still had over 10 million users in India last month, according to a popular mobile insight firm. (Many have been using VPN tools and other workarounds to bypass the geo-restriction.)

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Tesla supplier Delta Electronics invests $7M in AI chip startup Kneron

Despite a persistent semiconductor shortage that is disrupting the global automotive industry, investors remain bullish on the chips used to power next-generation vehicles.

Kneron, a startup that develops semiconductors to give devices artificial intelligence capabilities by using edge computing, just got funded by Delta Electronics, a Taiwanese supplier of power components for Apple and Tesla. The $7 million investment boosts the startup’s total financing to over $100 million to date.

As part of the deal, Kneron also agreed to buy Vatics, a part of Delta Electronics’ subsidiary Vivotek, for $10 million in cash. The new assets nicely complement Kneron’s business as the startup extends its footprint to the booming smart car industry.

Vatics, an image signal processing provider, has been selling system-on-a-chip (SoC) and intellectual property to manufacturers of surveillance, consumer, and automotive products for many years across the United States and China.

Headquartered in San Diego with a development force in Taipei, Kneron has emerged in recent years as a challenge to AI chip incumbents like Intel and Google. Its chips boast of low-power consumption and enable data processing directly on the chips using the startup’s proprietary software, a departure from solutions that require data to be computed through powerful cloud centers and sent back to devices.

The approach has won Kneron a list of heavyweight backers, including strategic investor Foxconn, Qualcomm, Sequoia Capital, Alibaba, and Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures.

Kneron has designed chips for scenarios ranging from manufacturing, smart homes, smartphones, robotics, surveillance and payments to autonomous driving. In the automotive field, it has struck partnerships with Foxconn and Otus, a supplier for Honda and Toyota.

Following the acquisition, Vatics executives will join Kneron to lead its surveillance and security camera division. The merged teams will jointly develop surveillance and automotive products for Kneron going forward. Image signal processors, coupled with neural processing units, are helpful in detecting objects and ensuring the safety of automated cars.

“This acquisition will allow us to offer full-stack AI solutions, along with our current class-leading NPUs [neural processing units], and will significantly speed up our go-to-market strategy,” said Kneron’s founder and CEO, Albert Liu.

Twitter rolls out bigger images and cropping control on iOS and Android

Twitter just made a change to the way it displays images that has visual artists on the social network celebrating.

In March, Twitter rolled out a limited test of uncropped, larger images in users’ feeds. Now, it’s declared those tests a success and improved the image sharing experience for everybody.

On Twitter for Android or iOS, standard aspect ratio images (16:9 and 4:3) will now display in full without any cropping. Instead of gambling on how an image will show up in the timeline — and potentially ruining an otherwise great joke — images will look just like they did when you shot them.

Twitter’s new system will show anyone sharing an image a preview of what it will look like before it goes live in the timeline, resolving past concerns that Twitter’s algorithmic cropping was biased toward highlighting white faces.

“Today’s launch is a direct result of the feedback people shared with us last year that the way our algorithm cropped images wasn’t equitable,” Twitter spokesperson Lauren Alexander said. The new way of presenting images decreases the platform’s reliance on automatic, machine learning-based image cropping.

Super tall or wide images will still get a centered crop, but Twitter says it’s working to make that better too, along with other aspects of how visual media gets displayed in the timeline.

For visual artists like photographers and cartoonists who promote their work on Twitter, this is actually a pretty big deal. Not only will photos and other kinds of art score more real estate on the timeline, but artists can be sure that they’re putting their best tweet forward without awkward crops messing stuff up.

Twitter’s Chief Design Officer Dantley Davis celebrated by tweeting a requisite dramatic image of the Utah desert (Dead Horse Point — great spot!)

We regret to inform you that the brands are also aware of the changes.

The days of “open for a surprise” tweets might be numbered, but the long duck can finally have his day.

Founded by former Carousell and Fave execs, Rainforest gets $36M to consolidate Asia-Pacific Amazon Marketplace brands

A group photo of Rainforest’s team members Elita Subaja, J.J. Chai and Jerry Ng

From left to right: Rainforest business operations and strategy director Elita Subaja; co-founder and CEO J.J. Chai and brand manager Jerry Ng

Singapore-based Rainforest is one of the newest entrants in the wave of startups that “roll-up” small e-commerce brands. Launched in January by alumni from some of Southeast Asia’s top startups, including Carousell, OVO and Fave, Rainforest acquires Amazon marketplace sellers. This is similar to the Amazon-centric approach taken by Thrasio, Branded Group and Berlin Brands Group, three of the highest-profile e-commerce aggregators, but Rainforest is one of the first companies in the space to launch out of Asia and focus specifically on acquiring brands in the region. It is also laser-focused on home goods, personal care and pet items, with the goal of building the e-commerce version of conglomerate Newell Brands, whose portfolio includes Rubbermaid, Sharpie and Yankee Candle.

Rainforest announced today that it has raised seed funding of $36 million led by Nordstar with participation from Insignia Venture Partners. This includes equity financing of $6.5 million and a $30 million debt facility from an undisclosed American debt fund.

Co-founder and chief executive officer J.J. Chai, who previously held senior roles at Carousell and Airbnb, told TechCrunch that Rainforest raised debt financing (like many other e-commerce aggregators) because it is non-dilutive and will be used to acquire about eight to 12 brands sold through Amazon’s B2B service Fulfilled By Amazon (FBA). The startup’s other co-founders are chief financial officer Jason Tan, who held the same roles at OVO and Fave, and chief technology officer Per-Ola Röst, who previously founded Amazon analytics tool provider Seller Matrix and ran a FBA brand worth seven figures.

Rainforest’s portfolio currently includes three brands, which it acquired for about $1 million each. The company wants to wait until its portfolio is larger to disclose what brands it owns, but Chai said they include a mattress brand that is a best seller on Amazon, a cereal maker and a kitchenware brand. Focusing on specific verticals will allow Rainforest to streamline supply chains, product design and marketing as it scales up its brands.

Amazon’s total gross merchandise volume in 2020 was about $490 billion. According to Marketplace Pulse, $300 billion of that came from third-party sellers. Thrasio and Branded Group, which was started by Lazada co-founder and former CEO Pierre Poignant, also acquire Asian brands, but most e-commerce aggregators have so far focus on American, European or Latin American sellers (like Mexico City-based Valoreo, which also recently raised funding). Rainforest will look at sellers in the Asia-Pacific region, including China, Southeast Asia and Australia.

Chai said about 30% of Amazon’s third-party sellers are based in Asia, and he expects more e-commerce aggregators to launch in the region. “All the ingredients are there and I guess it’s just a matter of time when more people figure it out and solve this problem,” he said. “Everything we’ve seen has worked out, and of course the original creators noticed this trend, which is that there is an explosion of microbrands.”

Rainforest looks for home goods, personal care or pet product FBA sellers that are currently doing about $5 million to $10 million in sales per year, and making a minimum 15% profit margin. Most of its pipeline of potential deals are inbound inquiries. Rainforest can give brands a valuation within two days. If they are interested in the offer, due diligence usually takes about a month, and sellers get the first tranche of their payment in about 40 days.

The company plans to look at other marketplaces in the future, but is starting with Amazon because its analytics allows quicker valuations. Rainforest looks at the “Three R’s,” or product reviews, ratings and ranking, to see how well a seller is performing. It also wants brands that can expand beyond Amazon into other channels and have unique intellectual property with wide appeal. “We’re looking for products that can traverse global markets,” said Chai. “So, for example, no lawnmower covers, a very American kind of thing that’s maybe less relevant in this part of the world, because our intention is to take these brands to their next level potential.”

Many of the brands in Rainforest’s pipeline are run by sole proprietors who have gotten to the point where they need to hire a team to continue growing, but want to exit instead so they can move on to their next venture.

“Being able to create a physical goods brand and build a sizable business out of it is a relatively new phenomenon. It used to be that you needed a factory, big branding, R&D. The combination of online advertising, marketplaces and supply chains being disrupted has created an opportunity where individuals can create brands in the same way that the App Store allowed people to start distributing software,” said Chai. “Where we play into that trend is that there are a lot of microbrands and many will get stuck, so we can give the entrepreneurs a way to exit and bring a brand to its full potential.”