A look inside Google’s first store, opening in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood tomorrow

There have been plenty of pop-ups over the years, but tomorrow Google’s first store opens in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood. The brick and mortar model finds the company joining peers like Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and even Amazon, all of whom have a retail presence in Manhattan, including several just around the corner from Google’s new digs.

The new space, which opens tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. local time, fills 5,000 square feet of selling space in Google’s big, pricey West Side real estate investment. The retail location was previously occupied by a Post Office and Starbucks, which vacated the premises once their leases expired under their new corporate landlord.

Image Credits: Photos courtesy of Google and Paul Warchol

The store’s layout is designed to be experiential, highlighting the company’s growing hardware portfolio along with select third-party partners. Essentially it’s a way for the company to get Pixel phones, Home offerings, Stadia, WearOS and the newest addition to the hardware portfolio, Fitbit devices, in front of tourists and locals.

“We really used the pop-ups over the last several years to get a better sense of what are customer expectations for what we can uniquely deliver at Google,” VP Jason Rosenthal said during a press preview week. We’ve taken learnings from our 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 pop-ups and really fed that learning into what we’re opening[…] in Chelsea.”

Due to pandemic restrictions, the preview was virtual. And while it’s open to the public this week, the company will be maintaining the standard safety precautions, as the city deals with (knock on wood) the tail end of the pandemic.

And while COVID-19 almost certainly slowed the planned opening, Google promises that things will be in full force starting tomorrow. This follows several weeks of piloting, wherein the store’s 50 or so staffers were put through their paces, while the company put the finishing touches on the experience. Prior to this, Google built a full-size store mockup in a hangar space in Mountain View to test out ideas.

Image Credits: Google and Paul Warchol

In addition to product screens and dioramas lining the 17-foot windows, the company filled the store with “sandboxes” — effectively scenarios like a living room, not dissimilar to what you might find in a large furniture store — albeit better lit. There’s also a gaming area for playing Stadia and a soundproof spot for testing out various Home/Nest products.

Like Apple’s Store, customers can bring in for repair broken devices like Pixels. The company says it’s growing the number of devices that can be repaired on-site, while certain issues, like a broken screen, should be able to be fixed same day.

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It seems likely that the store is a pilot in and of itself, with further plans to open additional locations in the U.S. and, perhaps, international markets where the company sells hardware. For now, however, Google won’t discuss the subject beyond tomorrow’s opening in Chelsea.

Amazon deflects responsibility on fake reviews but admits 200M were blocked last year

Amazon admits it has a fake review problem, but does its best to spread the blame around in a new post detailing the issue. After numerous reports for years that the online retail giant is overrun with knock-off products and faked or farmed reviews, the company aims to look as if it is finally putting its foot down, but no new efforts or rules are discussed — rather, it is others that need to step up their work to keep Amazon safe.

Amazon reviews have become notoriously unreliable as indicators of quality as the store has given itself over willingly to counterfeits, AliExpress resellers and promotion of the company’s internal brands (developed with the benefit of seller data). Multiple reports have found organized efforts to spam the store with meaningless five-star reviews in exchange for free products or cash. I have myself received such offers, or sellers promising payment for raising a star rating.

After the requisite preliminary palaver about being “obsessed with delighting customers” and all that, Amazon explains that it, like all big tech giants, uses automated systems to vet reviews before they go up. The company has always been cagey about the actual numbers, but in this post it drops a whopper: “In 2020, we stopped more than 200 million suspected fake reviews before they were ever seen by a customer.”

200 million is a lot no matter how you look at it, but it’s really a lot when you consider that Amazon told CNBC that same year that it “analyze[s] over 10 million review submissions weekly,” which adds up to somewhere north of 520 million submissions yearly. These two Amazon-provided numbers suggest that a third of all reviews submitted, at a minimum, are rejected as fake.

Hard numbers on Amazon’s total reviews are hard to come by. Speaking to BuzzFeed, Amazon listing analysis site ReviewMeta’s Tommy Noonan estimated that in 2020 Amazon hosted around 250 million reviews (of which, incidentally, he calculated about 9% were “unnatural”). But if over 500 million were submitted in 2020 and about 200 million of those were fake, that indicates a far larger total. I’ve asked Amazon for more precise information on this, and will update the post if I hear back, but the company is not communicative about these numbers in general.

Groups organizing on social media numbering in the tens of thousands have been repeatedly pointed out as major contributors to the fake review ecosystem. Amazon writes that in the first quarter of 2020, it reported 300 such groups to the platforms hosting them, and the same period in 2021 it reported over 1,000. Takedown times have increased, but it’s hard to take this increase as anything other than a thriving business model — certainly not something in the process of being stamped out.

“It is imperative for social media companies to invest adequately in proactive controls to detect and enforce fake reviews ahead of our reporting the issue to them,” Amazon declares. Indeed social media companies are being pressed from multiple directions to take more responsibility for what users do on their platforms, but they make the same noises Amazon does: “we’re doing what we can,” (and, it is left unsaid, clearly it’s not enough).

“We need coordinated assistance from consumer protection regulators around the world,” Amazon writes. But the company lobbied forcefully and successfully against the INFORM act, which would have helped identify sellers with bad intent and add transparency to online marketplaces (strangely, Amazon has taken some of the actions it objects to independently). And that line is suspiciously absent when it is Amazon that consumers need to be protected against.

“It is also critical that we hold bad actors—and the service providers that provide them with fake reviews—accountable for their activity,” the post continues. But while lawsuits and partnerships with law enforcement are part of that, once again the call to “work together” rings hollow when Amazon itself is where the activity occurs and the company is in complete control of that ecosystem. Though it has banned some major players from the store, innumerable others flout the rules with impunity.

Nowhere in the post does Amazon detail any new steps it will take to deter these bad actors or crack down on the pervasive gaming of the system for which it sets the rules. It will “continue to enhance” its detection tools, “streamline processes” for partnerships, and “work hard” at keeping scammers accountable. In other words, it will keep doing exactly what it has been doing this whole time — which is what put it in this position in the first place.

To win post-pandemic, startups need remote-first growth teams

Growth leaders used to build key relationships across a company while working together in a real-life office. Those relationships could carry over through the pandemic, but let’s say you’re a new company and you’re remote-first.

How do you build this complex collaboration from scratch?

Growth marketer and investor Susan Su tells us that the solution is not just more software tools. In the interview below, she says that after the pandemic, startup founders will need to develop a mentality that places growth at the center of company strategy.

Consultants and agencies can be great additions to this effort, especially if they have previously solved the types of problems you face. (In fact, TechCrunch is asking founders who have worked with growth marketers to share a recommendation in this survey. We’ll use your answers to find more experts to interview.)

Su is currently the head of portfolio strategy for Sound Ventures, previously a growth leader at Stripe and the first hire at Reforge. She also shared a few thoughts on market opportunities after the pandemic in the full interview below. E-commerce is mainstream for good, she says, even as we all try to step away from screens more often. However, many social and mobile sectors are mature, and it’s going to be even harder for startups to compete as real-world activities absorb more time.

Don’t forget: Susan Su will also appear at our Early Stage virtual event on July 8 (and answer questions directly).

How are you seeing startups manage changes in user engagement as more people exit pandemic lockdowns and adjust their daily lives?

As we exit the pandemic, I expect that we’ll see a natural and obvious spike in some consumer activity that will roll up to midsized businesses and enterprises. Just like with the onset of the pandemic, we’ll see uneven results across sectors:

E-commerce boomed during the pandemic but was really an augmentation of an already-accelerating trend towards digital commerce and streamlined logistics. I don’t think we backtrack from e-commerce because habit formation around online shopping has been building for years; we would be backtracking to an age long before 2020, and that’s not going to happen.

New social-mobile experiences also boomed during the pandemic, but there’s still a valid question around whether 15 months or so is enough time to become part of the ingrained infrastructure of daily life. We are living in an age of mature platforms, so every new service is stealing time away from an existing service. As with pre-pandemic growth, their success rests upon fast-accumulating network effects and great, sticky core product experience. Now that we have parks, friends and dinners out calling to us again, it’s a real test of how compelling some of these new value propositions really are, and whether they can continue to demonstrate their relevance in a more hybridized online-offline world.

That said, the pandemic was an enormous constraint on human society and [the] economy, and these kinds of constraints often breed innovation that doesn’t go away. We will evolve, but we can never go back. It sounds cheesy but it’s true.

Some aspects of the pandemic, like remote work, appear to have radically changed certain industries. How will these societal changes impact how the typical startup thinks about growth?

Growth will always be growth — that is, a process of iterative experimentation to identify and solve customer problems, and then scale those solutions in order to reach and convert bigger and bigger audiences. Platform changes like iOS 14 or Facebook’s periodic algorithm adjustments will have a bigger impact in the near term on the technical functioning of growth, and these aren’t specifically pandemic-related.

One area to watch is how growth teams are built and operated. Growth is a horizontal function that touches many different parts of the org, including product, engineering, marketing, comms and design. Many startup teams have already been working with collaboration tools even while they sat in the same office, but growth is about more than just using tools. The most effective growth leaders succeed by building relationships across the organization; it’s like the fable of Stone Soup — you’re creating this meal that will feed everyone, but you also need each person to bring a pinch of salt, or a dash of pepper, or one carrot, and that requires socialization and relationship-building. I’ll be very interested to see how new growth leaders onboard remote-only teams and what approaches they take to this “networking” need within the function.

From the days of growth hacking on social platforms, growth marketing is now an established part of the world. But it’s not necessarily the main expertise of a startup founder, even if it needs to be. So, how should they think about addressing growth marketing in 2021? What are the essentials they should do in their roles?

Every founder needs to have a growth mentality. They don’t need to memorize all the right buttons to push in an ads dashboard, but they need to be familiar and comfortable with the core work of gap-finding. That said, founders are by definition entrepreneurial — their company exists because they saw an opportunity that no one else did, and this is the fundamental work of growth as well.

Founders will fail if they adopt a mentality that someone else can or should do it for them. The founder’s job is to supply ambition and opinions, and then magnetize high-quality talent to come and pull the levers and bring their creative vision to life. There are many people who can do growth marketing — that is, they know how the platforms work, they understand the rules and the playbooks. But there are very few who can come up with truly visionary strategies that change the game altogether — those people become founders, and those companies become household names. So for a founder, I’d say the most important growth work is to continue to know your market and customer better than anyone else in the whole world, have an opinion about what’s missing, and work to bring the best talent to come in alongside you and be a thought partner, not just a button pusher.

With limited resources, how should early-stage companies think about what to focus on?

This is going to depend on the goals of your company. Are you planning to raise money and need to demonstrate certain KPIs? Are you bootstrapping and need to keep the lights on? Resources should always be allocated to the most strategic purposes, with the longest-term view you can afford. For some companies, this could mean forgoing revenue to focus on viral or word-of-mouth-driven user acquisition to demonstrate to future investors that there’s something special here. For other companies, perhaps in lower volume categories like enterprise, it’s about bringing a few strategic logos into the family as a signal to later customers and other stakeholders, including future employees and investors.

One thing that early-stage companies should always be focused on is building a top-shelf employer brand. You will only ever be as good as the talent you attract to your company, and interestingly growth can actually play a role in this. The best designers, engineers and product people are often flowing towards the companies that have the best growth. In that way, it’s a highly strategic role and function.

What do startups continue to get wrong?

You can’t truly outsource growth or any other core function; you can’t tack on customer acquisition after product development. At the end of the day, if you really think about it, all a company is, is a customer-acquisition engine. This needs to be core; wake up every day and think about growth, not just to hit revenue or user KPIs, but to build the company that the best people are clamoring to work at. It’s not about finding someone sufficient to solve your near-term problems; it’s about framing problems in a way that’s so compelling to the most creative, hardest working people so that they can’t get it out of their heads. Go for talent moonshots, and figure out how to close them. The rest will fall in line from there.

When should a founder feel comfortable getting help from an outside expert or agency?

Anytime. Agencies are great. They are an extension of your talent, and the best agencies aren’t selling you — they have to be sold on your problem because they have their pick of companies just like yours. That’s the agency or outside expert you want to work with, because they’ll have a priceless perspective from the other best-in-class founders and teams they’ve worked with that they can bring to your challenge. Any agency can run Facebook ads (it’s not rocket science), but you want to find the team that’s solved the gnarliest problems for your hero companies. Then you’ll get not just an ads manager, but a teacher.

 

Uberall raises $115M, acquires MomentFeed to scale up its location marketing services

Location-based services may have had their day as a salient category for hot apps or innovative tech leveraging the arrival of smartphones, but that’s largely because they are now part of the unspoken fabric of how we interact with digital services every day: we rely on location specific information when we are on search engines, when we are using maps, or weather apps, or taking and posting photos and more.

Still, there remain a lot of gaps in how location information links up with accurate information, and so today a company that’s made it its business to address that is announcing some funding as it scales up its service.

Uberall, which works with retailers and other brick-and-mortar operators to help them update and provide more accurate information about themselves across the plethora of apps and other services that consumers use to discover them, is announcing $115 million in funding. Alongside that, the Berlin startup is making an acquisition: it’s buying MomentFeed, a location marketing company based out of Los Angeles, CA, to continue scaling its business.

The funding is being led by London-based investor Bregal Milestone, with Level Equity, United Internet and Uberall management also participating. From what we understand from sources, the funding values Uberall at around $500 million, and the deal for MomentFeed was made for between $50 million and $60 million.

The business combination is building way more scale into the platform: Uberall said that together they will manage the online presence for 1.35 million business locations, making the company the biggest in the field, with customers including the gas station operator BP, KFC, clothes and food chain Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.

Florian Hübner, the CEO and co-founder of Uberall, noted in an interview that the companies have quite a lot of overlap, and in fact prior to the deal being made the companies worked together closely in the U.S. market, but all the same, MomentFeed has built some specific technology that will enrich the wider platform, such as a particularly strong tool for measuring sentiment analysis.

“Managing the online presence” is not a company’s website, nor is it its apps, but may nevertheless be its most common digital touchpoints when it comes to actually engaging with consumers online. It includes how those companies appear on local listings services like Yelp or TripAdvisor, or mapping apps like Google’s — which provide not just listings information like addresses and opening hours but also customer reviews — or social apps or location-based advertising. Altogether, when you are considering a company with multiple locations and the multiple touchpoints a consumer might use, it ends up being a complicated mess of places that need to be managed and kept up to date.

“We are the catalyst for this huge ecosystem where we enable the brands to use everything that the other tech platforms are offering in the best possible way,” Hübner told me. The tech platforms, meanwhile, are willing to work with middle-ware companies like Uberall to make the information on their services more accurate and complete by connecting with businesses when they have not manage to do so directly on their own. (And if you’ve ever been caught out by the wrong opening times on a Google Maps entry, or any other entry or piece of information elsewhere, you know this is an issue.)

And of course expecting any company with potentially hundreds of locations to provide the right details without a tool is also a non-starter. “Casually updating 100,000 profiles is super hard,” Hübner said.

It also provides services to update information about vaccine and Covid-19 testing clinics, as well as other essential services that also have to contend with the same variations in location, opening hours and customer feedback as any other business on a site like Google Maps.

Altogether, Uberall has built out a platform that essentially connects up all of those end points, so that an Uberall customer can use a dashboard to provide updates that populate automatically everywhere, and also to read and respond to reviews.

Conversely, Uberall also can look out for instances where a company is being unofficially represented, or mis-represented and locks those down. Alongside those, it has built a location-based marketing service that also serves ads for its customers. It is somewhat akin to social media management tools, which let you manage social media accounts and social media marketing campaigns, except that it’s covering a much more fragmented and disparate set of places where a company might appear online.

The bigger picture here is that just as location-based marketing is a fragmented business, so is the business of providing services to manage it. This move reduces down that field a little more and improves the efficiency of scaling such services.

“As we saw the market trending towards consolidation, we considered several potential companies to merge with. Uberall was by far our most preferred,” said MomentFeed CEO Nick Hedges in a statement. “This combination makes enormous strategic sense for our customers, who represent the who’s-who of leading U.S. omni channel brands. It helps accelerate our already rapid pace of innovation, giving customers an even greater edge in the hyper-competitive world of ’Near Me’ Marketing.” After the deal closes, Hedges will become Uberall’s chief strategy officer and EVP for North America.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Uberall team for this next phase of growth. Our strategic investment will significantly accelerate Uberall’s ambition to become the leading ‘Near Me’ Customer Experience platform worldwide. Uberall’s differentiated full-suite solution is unsurpassed by competition in terms of integration and functionality, providing customers with a real edge to reach, interact with, and convert online customers. We look forward to supporting Florian, Nick and their talented team to deliver on their exciting innovation and expansion roadmap.” said Cyrus Shey, managing partner of Bregal Milestone, in a statement.

Shopify expands its one-click checkout, Shop Pay, to any merchant on Facebook or Google

E-commerce platform Shopify announced this morning its one-click checkout service known as Shop Pay will become available to any U.S. merchant that sells on Facebook or Google — even if they don’t use Shopify’s software to power their online stores. That makes Shop Pay the first Shopify product offered to non-Shopify merchants, the company notes.

First introduced at its developer conference in 2017, Shop Pay is similar to other instant checkout solutions that offer an easier way to pay online by reducing the number of fields a customer has to fill out during the checkout process. The service remembers and encrypts the customer’s information, so consumers can check out with just a tap when shopping online and, as of recently, even pay for purchase in installments, thanks to a partnership with Affirm.

Shopify in February had expanded Shop Pay to Facebook and Instagram, in partnership with Facebook, but it only worked for existing Shopify merchants selling on those social platforms at the time. In May, Google announced at its I/O developer conference it was partnering with Shopify on an online shopping expansion that would give Shopify’s more than 1.7 million merchants the ability to reach customers through Google Search and other “shopping journeys” that began through other Google properties like Search, Maps, Images, Lens, and YouTube.

The company declined to share how many of its 1.7 million merchants are already available on Facebook or Google today, but said they are two of the most popular channels.

Following today’s announcement, other merchants will also have the option to adopt Shop Pay for their own Facebook or Google stores. While how many will actually do so is yet unknown, Shopify notes that every day 1.8 billion people log onto Facebook and a billion shopping sessions take place across Google.

The company also touted Shop Pay’s advantages, including its 70% faster checkout than a typical checkout offers, with a 1.72x higher conversion rate — meaning fewer abandoned charts.

For consumers, the advantage of using Shop Pay over a traditional checkout, beyond the speed, is its integration with Shopify’s mobile app, Shop, which organizes and tracks your online orders across merchants, including Amazon,  so you can see when orders are arriving or quickly ask questions and manage returns.

To date, the Shop app has tracked over 430 million orders, the company says.

Over time, the Shop app can also customize a feed including users’ favorite stores to point to other recommendations, including those from local merchants. Shopify confirmed that the Shop app will be able to track the Shop Pay-enabled orders from the non-Shopify merchants.

“Since launching, Shop Pay has set the standard for checkout experiences, facilitating more than $24 billion in orders,” noted Shopify VP, Carl Rivera, who heads Product for Shop. “According to studies, cart abandonment averages 70%, with nearly 20% occurring because of a complicated checkout process. Shop Pay makes that process fast and simple, and the expansion to all merchants selling on Facebook and Google is a mission-critical step in bringing a best-in-class checkout to every consumer, every merchant, every platform, and every device,” he added.

The expansion could be a notable challenge to other payment mechanisms, including PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, and those offered by the platforms themselves, thanks to Shopify’s growing traction with merchants — one analysis gives its platform a 23% market share in the U.S — combined with the popularity of the Shop app, now the No. 3 Shopping app on the App Store.

The news follows yesterday’s confirmation that Shopify has taken a significant stake in payments giant Stripe, the backbone of the Shop Pay service, as well as Shopify’s partner on merchant services, including bank accounts and debit cards.

Shopify says the Shop Pay service will be enabled for all U.S. merchants selling on Facebook in the “coming months,” and will roll out to all merchants on Google by late 2021.

 

Fresha raises $100M for its beauty and wellness booking platform and marketplace

Beauty and wellness businesses have come roaring back to life with the decline of Covid-19 restrictions, and a startup that’s built a platform that caters to the many needs of small enterprises in the industry today is announcing a big round of funding to grow with them.

Fresha — a multipurpose commerce tool for independent wellness and beauty businesses such as hair, nail and skin salons, yoga instructors and more, based first and foremost around a completely free platform for those businesses to schedule bookings from customers — has picked up $100 million.

Fresha plans to use the funds to expand the list of countries where it operates, to grow the categories of companies that use its services (mental health practitioners is one example; fitness is another), and to build more services complementing what it already provides, helping customers do their work by providing them with more insights and data about what they do already. It will also be making acquisitions to expand its customer base.

General Atlantic is leading this Series C, with Huda Kattan, Michael Zeisser of FMZ Ventures, and Jonathan Green of Lugard Road Capital also participating, along with past investors Partech, Target Global and FJ Labs.

Fresha has raised $132 million to date, and it’s not disclosing its valuation. But as a point of reference, when it closed its Series B (as Shedul; the company rebranded in February 2020), it was valued at $105 million.

Chances are that figure is significantly higher now.

Fresha’s current range of services include a free-to-use platform for booking appointments; free software for managing accounts; a payments service that includes both a physical point of sale and digital interface; and a wider marketplace both to provide goods to the businesses (B2B); and for the businesses to sell goods to customers (B2C).

The London-based company has 50,000 business customers and 150,000 stylists and professionals in 120+ countries (mostly in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe), with some 250 million appointments booked to date.

And while many businesses did have to curtail how they operated (and in some countries had to stop operating altogether) Fresha found that it was attracting a lot of new business in part because of its “free” model that meant customers didn’t have to pay to maintain a booking platform at a time when they weren’t taking bookings, but could use Fresha to generate revenues in other ways (such as through the sale of goods, vouchers for future services, and more.)

So in a year when you might have thought that a company based around providing services to industries that were hard hit by Covid would have also been hard-hit, in fact Fresha saw a 30x increase in card payment transactions versus the year before, and more than $12 billion worth of booking appointments made on its platform.

In a market that is very crowded with tech companies building platforms to book beauty (and other) services and to manage the business of independent retailers — they include giants like Lightspeed POS, as well as smaller players like Booksy (which also recently raised) and StyleSeat but also players like Square and PayPal, and many others — the core of Fresha’s offering is a booking platform built as a totally free product.

Why free? To attract more users to its other services (such as payments, which do come at a price), and because co-founders William Zeqiri (CEO) and Nick Miller (product chief) — pictured above, respectively left and right — think this the only way to build a business like this in a crowded market.

“We believe that software is a commodity,” said Zeqiri in an interview. “A lot of our competitors are beating each other on price to the bottom. We wanted to consolidate the supply side of the software, gather data about the businesses, how they use what they use.”

That data led, first, to identifying the need for and building out software and launching its B2B and B2C marketplaces, and the idea is that it will likely lead to more products as it continues to mature, whether its better analytics for its current customers so that they can better price or develop their services accordingly; or entirely new tools for new categories of users.

Meanwhile, the services that it already provides like payments have taken off like a shot, not least because they’ve served a need for any virtual transactions like selling vouchers or items.

Miller noted that while a lot of its customers actually interface with tech with a lot of reluctance — they are the essence of “physical” retailers when you think about it — they also found themselves having to use more digital services simply because of circumstances. “Looking back at what happened, tech adoption accelerated for our customers,” said Miller. He said that current customers usage for the point-of-sale systems and online payments is roughly equal.

Looking ahead, Fresha’s investor list is notable for its strategic mix and might shed some light on how it grows. Kattan, a “beauty influencer” and the founder of Huda Beauty, is investing by way of HB Investments, a strategic venture arm; while Zeisser’s FMZ focuses on “experience economy” investments today, but he himself has a long history working at tech companies building marketplaces, including years with Alibaba as head of its U.S. investment practice. These speak to areas where Fresha is likely interested in expanding its reach — more marketplace activity; and perhaps more social media angles and exposure for its customers at a time when social media really has become a key way for beauty and wellness businesses to market themselves.

“Fresha has emerged as a leader powering the beauty and wellness industry,” said Aaron Goldman, Global Co-head of financial services and MD at General Atlantic, in a statement. “William, Nick and the Fresha team have built a product that is resonating with the market and creating long-term value through the intersection of its payments, software and marketplace offerings. We are thrilled to be partnering with the company and believe Fresha has significant opportunity to further scale its innovative platform.”

“I’ve witnessed first-hand the positive impact Fresha has for beauty entrepreneurs,” added Kattan. “The company is a force for good in the growing community of beauty professionals around the globe, who are increasingly adopting a self-employed approach. By making top business software accessible without any subscription fees, Fresha lets professionals focus on what they do best — offering great experiences for their customers.”

Pinterest adds a Shopping List feature to round up your saved products

Pinterest has long positioned itself a source for inspiration that could ultimately lead to online purchases. And over the years, it has worked on features to better connect consumers with the products and services they want to buy, like shoppable pins, visual search, AR try-on, product recommendations, and more. Today, the company is rolling out another feature aimed at turning users’ saved Pins into purchases: a shopping list.

The new Pinterest Shopping list feature saves all your Product Pins in one place, so when you’re ready to purchase you won’t have to hunt around through your saved Pins and Boards to find the products you had been considering. Here, you’ll find the information you need, including an item’s price, reviews, and shipping info in an even grid so you can compare products and make decisions.

The feature, however, isn’t just an organizational tool — Pinterest says it will also send out notifications if the items you’ve saved have dropped in price — which could encourage users to make the purchase.

The Shopping List is available on your Profile page above your other boards, and will include the shoppable items you’ve saved as well as items you’ve recently viewed. When you’re ready to buy, you can click on the pin to visit the retailer’s website to complete the transaction — giving Pinterest the credit for the referral, of course.

The feature will launch first in the U.S. and U.K., and will later roll out to Australia, Canada, France and Germany later in the year, Pinterest says.

Alongside the Shopping List, Pinterest today is also expanding merchant tools with the debut of its Verified Merchant Program in the U.K., Australia, Canada, France and Germany, plus a merchant storefront on profile feature, and new product tagging in Australia, Canada, France and Germany. Launched last year, the Verified Merchant Program offers retailers a way to sign up for a manual review to determine if they meet Pinterest’s qualifications for high-quality customer service experiences. If so, they receive a blue checkmark on their profile as a signal to consumers that they’re a trustworthy retailer.

Image Credits: Pinterest

In addition, the company is today launching a special two-week long Shopping Spotlight called “The Goods by Pinterest,” which offers users access to limited edition items sold by DTC brands including Brooklinen, Outdoor Voices, Clare Paint, Olive & June, and Maude. And it’s running a “Shop the mood” campaign offering curated trends from its annual report, “Pinterest Predicts.”

Though Pinterest notes its users, on average, outspend non-users by 2x every month and have a 85% larger basket size, the way people want to shop online is rapidly changing.

Historically an image-centric idea board of sorts, Pinterest may be left behind as more consumers — and particularly younger shoppers — begin to more heavily rely on shopping via video (both recorded and live), including through influencer-driven content across platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Pinterest has only more recently expanded into this area, with the launch of video-first “Idea Pins” last month aimed at creators, and a test of livestreamed creator events around the same time.

The new launches follow a Pinterest earnings beat in April on both EPS and revenue (11 cents vs 7 cents expected, and $485M vs $474M expected), but slowing user growth. The company reported 478 million monthly active users versus the 480.5 million expected, causing the stock to drop 10% after the report came out. The company blamed the decline in user growth and user engagement on the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, as consumers began to spend less time online.

With the new additions, Pinterest wants to better ensure those users who are on its site are not just idly browsing, but actually checking out.

Lightspeed buys Ecwid for $500M; NuOrder for $425M in ongoing e-commerce consolidation play

Lightspeed, has picked up two more companies in what is shaping up to be an acquisition spree for the Canadian point-of-sale software provider. The company today announced that it would acquire e-commerce platform Ecwid for $500 million; and NuOrder, a B2B ordering platform servicing wholesales, brands and retailers, for $425 million.

Together, the two deals underscore the long-anticipated consolidation trend swirling around the fragmented e-commerce industry, at a time when digital transactions are playing an ever more critical role in the Covid-impacted global economy, and smaller players are looking for better ways to compete against behemoths like Amazon and Stripe with a mix of tools and services addressing the various needs of merchants, brands, suppliers and everything in between.

“By joining forces with Ecwid and NuOrder, Lightspeed becomes the common thread uniting merchants, suppliers and consumers, a transformation we believe will enable innovative retailers to adapt to the new world of commerce,” said Dax Dasilva, founder and CEO of Lightspeed, in a statement. “As economies reopen and business creation accelerates, we hope to embolden entrepreneurs with the tools they need to simplify their operations and scale their ambitions.”

Lightspeed will pay $175 million in cash and $325 million in shares for Ecwid; and it will pay $212.5 million in cash and $212.5 million in shares for NuOrder, the company said. Both deals are expected to close at the end of September, pending regulatory and other approvals.

Lightspeed is publicly traded and has a market cap of about $9.4 billion. It has been on an acquisition march in the last several months, with the bigger picture being to build a complete, end-to-end, one-stop-shop for customers beyond the basics of the point-of-sale software that helped the company make its name. That has also included acquiring Upserve in a $430 million deal in December to deepen its presence in the restaurant industry.

Ecwid itself has been around for years, initially making its name as a key partner of Facebook’s to help small businesses build commerce experiences on the social media platform, and eventually expanding to provide tools for merchants that use services like Square and Wix, as well as other third-party platforms like Instagram and Google — sometimes competing with but also potentially integrating with other e-commerce backends like Shopify.

The company — originally founded in Russia — had largely been under the venture radar until last year, when it raised $42 million from Morgan Stanley and PeakSpan Capital, to double down on growth.

And that growth has been good. It current has 130,000 paying customers across 100+ countries and Lightspeed said it had revenue of more than $20 million in the year that ended in March, with growth of 50% year-over-year.. The deal, which is subject to customary closing conditions and post-closing working capital adjustment, is expected to close during the quarter ended September 30, 2021 after the receipt of applicable regulatory approvals.

“The distinction between online and brick-and-mortar retail has disappeared. Lightspeed and Ecwid, two best-in-class platforms, will unite to truly empower businesses. By eliminating the barriers merchants face when selling online, we will only more rapidly achieve our common vision of democratizing retail for independent businesses worldwide and enrich the communities they serve,” said Ecwid CEO, Ruslan Fazlyev, in a statement.

NuOrder, meanwhile, will help Lightspeed deepen its role in supplier relationships and transactions — an essential cornerstone in how commerce works and one where Lightspeed had already been building a business, by way of its Lightspeed Supplier Network. NuOrder has 3,000 brand and 100,000 retailer customers — some of them include Canada Goose, Converse and Arc’teryx — and Lightspeed said that some $11.5 billion in orders were made through its platform in the year that ended in March.

Like Ecwid, NuOrder also posted revenues of $20 million in that period; its growth rate was 30% year-over-year.

“At NuORDER, we have been on a journey to revolutionize retail by building a global network for brands and retailers. The coming together of Lightspeed and NuORDER accelerates that vision exponentially. The power of connected commerce comes to life now,” said NuORDER co-founders and co-CEO’s Olivia Skuza and Heath Wells in a statement. “We are thrilled to join forces with Lightspeed to unlock transformative value for brands and retailers globally. This represents an inflection point in the history of retail.”

Extra Crunch roundup: Guest posts wanted, ‘mango’ seed rounds, Expensify’s tech stack

Prospective contributors regularly ask us about which topics Extra Crunch subscribers would like to hear more about, and the answer is always the same:

  • Actionable advice that is backed up by data and/or experience.
  • Strategic insights that go beyond best practices and offer specific recommendations readers can try out for themselves.
  • Industry analysis that paints a clear picture of the companies, products and services that characterize individual tech sectors.

Our submission guidelines haven’t changed, but Managing Editor Eric Eldon and I wrote a short post that identifies the topics we’re prioritizing at the moment:

  • How-to articles for early-stage founders.
  • Market analysis of different tech sectors.
  • Growth marketing strategies.
  • Alternative fundraising.
  • Quality of life (personal health, sustainability, proptech, transportation).

If you’re a skillful entrepreneur, founder or investor who’s interested in helping someone else build their business, please read our latest guidelines, then send your ideas to [email protected]

Thanks for reading; I hope you have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


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Opting for a debt round can take you from Series A startup to Series B unicorn

Image of a tree in a field, with half barren to represent debt and half flush with cash to represent success.

Image Credits: olegkalina (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Debt is a tool, and like any other — be it a hammer or handsaw — it’s extremely valuable when used skillfully but can cause a lot of pain when mismanaged. This is a story about how it can go right.

Mario Ciabarra, the founder and CEO of Quantum Metric, breaks down how his company was on a “tremendous growth curve” — and then the pandemic hit.

“As the weeks following the initial shelter-in-place orders ticked by, the rush toward digital grew exponentially, and opportunities to secure new customers started piling up,” Ciabarra writes. “A solution to our money problems, perhaps? Not so fast — it was a classic case of needing to spend in order to make.”

If companies want to preserve equity, debt can be an advantageous choice. Here’s how Quantum Metric did it.

4 proven approaches to CX strategy that make customers feel loved

CX is the hottest acronym in business

Image Credits: mucahiddin / Getty Images

People have been working to optimize customer experiences (CX) since we began selling things to each other.

A famous San Francisco bakery has an exhaust fan at street level; each morning, its neighbors awake to the scent of orange-cinnamon morning buns wafting down the block. Similarly, savvy hairstylists know to greet returning customers by asking if they want a repeat or something new.

Online, CX may encompass anything from recommending the right shoes to AI that knows when to send a frustrated traveler an upgrade for a delayed flight.

In light of Qualtrics’ spinout and IPO and Sprinklr’s recent S-1, Rebecca Liu-Doyle, principal at Insight Partners, describes four key attributes shared by “companies that have upped their CX game.”

Twitter’s acquisition strategy: Eat the public conversation

woman talking with megaphone

Image Credits: We Are (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

What is a microblogging service doing buying a social podcasting company and a newsletter tool while also building a live broadcasting sub-app? Is there even a strategy at all?

Yes. Twitter is trying to revitalize itself by adding more contexts for discourse to its repertoire. The result, if everything goes right, will be an influence superapp that hasn’t existed anywhere before. The alternative is nothing less than the destruction of Twitter into a link-forwarding service.

Let’s talk about how Twitter is trying to eat the public conversation.

Reading the IPO market’s tea leaves

Although it was a truncated holiday week here in the United States, there was a bushel of IPO news. We sorted through the updates and came up with a series of sentiment calls regarding these public offerings.

Earlier this week, we took a look at:

  • Marqeta‘s first IPO price range (fintech).
  • 1st Dibs‘ first IPO price range (e-commerce).
  • Zeta Global‘s IPO pricing (martech).
  • The start of SoFi trading post-SPAC (fintech).
  • The latest from BarkBox (e-commerce).

How Expensify hacked its way to a robust, scalable tech stack

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Part 4 of Expensify’s EC-1 digs into the company’s engineering and technology, with Anna Heim noting that the group of P2P pirates/hackers set out to build an expense management app by sticking to their gut and making their own rules.

They asked questions few considered, like: Why have lots of employees when you can find a way to get work done and reach impressive profitability with a few? Why work from an office in San Francisco when the internet lets you work from anywhere, even a sailboat in the Caribbean?

It makes sense in a way: If you’re a pirate, to hell with the rules, right?

With that in mind, one could assume Expensify decided to ask itself: Why not build our own totally custom tech stack?

Indeed, Expensify has made several tech decisions that were met with disbelief, but its belief in its own choices has paid off over the years, and the company is ready to IPO any day now.

How much of a tech advantage Expensify enjoys owing to such choices is an open question, but one thing is clear: These choices are key to understanding Expensify and its roadmap. Let’s take a look.

Etsy asks, ‘How do you do, fellow kids?’ with $1.6B Depop purchase

GettyImages 969952548

Image Credits: Getty Images

The news this week that e-commerce marketplace Etsy will buy Depop, a startup that provides a secondhand e-commerce marketplace, for more than $1.6 billion may not have made a large impact on the acquiring company’s share price thus far, but it provides a fascinating look into what brands may be willing to pay for access to the Gen Z market.

Etsy is buying Gen Z love. Think about it — Gen Z is probably not the first demographic that comes to mind when you consider Etsy, so you can see why the deal may pencil out in the larger company’s mind.

But it isn’t cheap. The lesson from the Etsy-Depop deal appears to be that large e-commerce players are willing to splash out for youth-approved marketplaces. That’s good news for yet-private companies that are popular with the budding generation.

Confluent’s IPO brings a high-growth, high-burn SaaS model to the public markets

Image Credits: Andriy Onufriyenko / Getty Images

Confluent became the latest company to announce its intent to take the IPO route, officially filing its S-1 paperwork this week.

The company, which has raised over $455 million since it launched in 2014, was most recently valued at just over $4.5 billion when it raised $250 million last April.

What does Confluent do? It built a streaming data platform on top of the open-source Apache Kafka project. In addition to its open-source roots, Confluent has a free tier of its commercial cloud offering to complement its paid products, helping generate top-of-funnel inflows that it converts to sales.

What we can see in Confluent is nearly an old-school, high-burn SaaS business. It has taken on oodles of capital and used it in an increasingly expensive sales model.

How to win consulting, board and deal roles with PE and VC funds

Jumping to the highest level - goldfish jumping in a bigger bowl - aspiration and achievement concept. This is a 3d render illustration

Image Credits: Orla (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Would you like to work with private equity and venture capital funds?

There are relatively few jobs directly inside private equity and venture capital funds, and those jobs are highly competitive.

However, there are many other ways you can work and earn money within the industry — as a consultant, an interim executive, a board member, a deal executive partnering to buy a company, an executive in residence or as an entrepreneur in residence.

Let’s take a look at the different ways you can work with the investment community.

The existential cost of decelerated growth

Even among the most valuable tech shops, shareholder return is concentrated in share price appreciation, and buybacks, which is the same thing to a degree.

Slowly growing tech companies worth single-digit billions can’t play the buyback game to the same degree as the majors. And they are growing more slowly, so even a similar buyback program in relative scale would excite less.

Grow or die, in other words. Or at least grow or come under heavy fire from external investors who want to oust the founder-CEO and “reform” the company. But if you can grow quickly, welcome to the land of milk and honey.

Even among the most valuable tech shops, shareholder return is concentrated in share price appreciation, and buybacks, which is the same thing to a degree.

Slowly growing tech companies worth single-digit billions can’t play the buyback game to the same degree as the majors. And they are growing more slowly, so even a similar buyback program in relative scale would excite less.

Grow or die, in other words. Or at least grow or come under heavy fire from external investors who want to oust the founder-CEO and “reform” the company. But if you can grow quickly, welcome to the land of milk and honey.

Hormonal health is a massive opportunity: Where are the unicorns?

uterus un paper work.Pink backgroundArt concept of female reproductive health

Image Credits: Carol Yepes (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There is a growing group of entrepreneurs who are betting that hormonal health is the key wedge into the digital health boom.

Hormones are fluctuating, ever-evolving, and diverse — but these founders say they’re also key to solving many health conditions that disproportionately impact women, from diabetes to infertility to mental health challenges.

Many believe it’s that complexity that underscores the opportunity. Hormonal health sits at the center of conversations around personalized medicine and women’s health: By 2025, women’s health could be a $50 billion industry, and by 2026, digital health more broadly is estimated to hit $221 billion.

Still, as funding for women’s health startups drops and stigma continues to impact where venture dollars go, it’s unclear whether the sector will remain in its infancy or hit a true inflection point.

3 lessons we learned after raising $6.3M from 50 investors

Image of businesspeople climbing ladders up an arrow toward three increasingly tall piles of cash.

Image Credits: sorbetto (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Two years ago, founders of calendar assistant platform Reclaim were looking for a “mango” seed round — a boodle of cash large enough to help them transition from the prototype phase to staffing up for a public launch.

Although the team received offers, co-founder Henry Shapiro says the few that materialized were poor options, partially because Reclaim was still pre-product.

“So one summer morning, my co-founder and I sat down in his garage — where we’d been prototyping, pitching and iterating for the past year — and realized that as hard as it was, we would have to walk away entirely and do a full reset on our fundraising strategy,” he writes.

Shapiro shares what he learned from embracing failure and offers three conclusions “every founder should consider before they decide to go out and pitch investors.”

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process

For SaaS success, differentiation is crucial

Image Credits: Kevin Schafer / Getty Images

Although software as a service has been thriving as a sector for years, it has gone into overdrive in the past year as businesses responded to the pandemic by speeding up the migration of important functions to the cloud, ActiveCampaign founder and CEO Jason VandeBoom writes in a guest column.

“We’ve all seen the news of SaaS startups raising large funding rounds, with deal sizes and valuations steadily climbing. But as tech industry watchers know only too well, large funding rounds and valuations are not foolproof indicators of sustainable growth and longevity.”

VandeBoom notes that to scale sustainably, SaaS startups need to “stand apart from the herd at every phase of development. Failure to do so means a poor outcome for founders and investors.”

“As a founder who pivoted from on-premise to SaaS back in 2016, I have focused on scaling my company (most recently crossing 145,000 customers) and in the process, learned quite a bit about making a mark,” VandeBoom writes. “Here is some advice on differentiation at the various stages in the life of a SaaS startup.”

As buy-now-pay-later startups keep raising capital, a dive into Klarna, Afterpay and Affirm’s earnings

Venture capitalists continue to fund buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) startups, evidence of ongoing optimism regarding not only e-commerce, but the specific model for financing consumer purchases as well.

Evidence of continued investor confidence in the BNPL space cropped up several times in the second quarter. Divido, a startup that TechCrunch described as a “white-label [BNPL] platform for retail finance that integrates with e-commerce platforms,” raised $30 million. And Zilch raised $80 million for an “over-the-top” BNPL solution.


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Zilch is now worth $800 million.

There are other examples, but those will suffice to get us into the correct mindset for today’s work as we look back at data points regarding the financial performance of more mature BNPL tech companies. So, as in February when we were looking at Q4 2020 numbers, today we’re looking into the more recent performance of Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay.

Growth versus profitability

As startups scale, they focus a bit more on profitability. Super-early-stage startups aren’t often too worried about net margins, for example, as their revenues can be nascent and their costs rising as they staff up for a product launch or another similar event.

But as those same startups mature into unicorn territory, questions about their model’s profitability on a unit basis, operating cash burn and aggregate profitability will start to pop up. The Rule of 40 is a startup rubric for a reason.

And in the cases of Affirm and Afterpay, we’re in fact examining public companies. So we can safely care even more about their profitability than we might if they, like Klarna, were still waiting for an IPO.

For each, then, we’ll consider growth and profitability. Let’s start with Klarna:

Klarna’s latest data, dealing with Q1 2021, breaks down as follows:

  • Global GMV of $18.9 billion, +91% compared to the year-ago result.