Let’s talk about gaslighting and fundraising

“Most of the startups I give advice to about how to raise venture capital shouldn’t be raising venture capital,” an investor recently told me. While the idea that every startup isn’t venture-backable might run counter to the narrative to the barrage of funding news each week, I think it’s important to double click on the topic. Plus, it keeps coming up, off the record, on phone calls with investors!

As venture grows as an asset class, the access to capital has broadened from a dollar perspective, but I do think the difficulties that remain is an important dynamic to call out (and something no one talks about during an upmarket). Beyond the fact that only a small subset of startups truly can pull off scaling to the point of venture-level returns, it is still hard for even qualified founders to raise venture capital. Venture capital is still a heavily white, male-led industry, and as a result contains bias that disproportionately limits access for underrepresented founders.

Eniac founding partner Hadley Harris applied this dynamic to the current market boom in a recent tweet: A lot of people are misunderstanding this VC funding market. More money is flowing into the market but the increase is not evenly distributed. The market believes winners can be much bigger but not necessary that there will be more winners. It’s still very hard for most to raise a VC.

To say otherwise is to gaslight the early-stage or first-time founders that have spent months and months trying to raise their first institutional dollars and failed. So ask yourself: Seed rounds have indeed grown bigger, but for who? What comes at the cost of the $30 million seed round? Are the founders that can raise overnight from diverse backgrounds? Are investors backing first-time founders as much as they are backing second- or third-time entrepreneurs?

The answers might leave you debating about the boundaries, and limitations, of the upcoming hot-deal summer.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the disconnect between due diligence and fundraising right now. Now we’ve moved onto the disconnect, and bifurcation, within first-check fundraising itself. There is so much more we can get into about the fallacy of “democratization” in venture capital, from who gets to start a rolling fund to the lack of assurance within equity crowdfunding campaigns.

We’ll get through it all together, and in the meantime make sure to follow me on Twitter @nmasc_ for more hot takes throughout the week.

In the rest of this newsletter, we will talk about fintech politics, the Affirm model with a twist, and sneakers-as-a-service.

Ex-Coinbase talks politics

The inimitable Mary Ann Azevedo has been dominating the fintech beat for us, covering everything from the latest Uruguayan unicorn to Acorn’s scoop of a debt management startup. But the story I want to focus on this week is her interview with ex-Coinbase counsel & former Treasury official, Brian Brooks.

Here’s what to know: Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong notoriously released a memo last year denouncing political activism at work, calling it a distraction. In this exclusive interview, Brooks spoke about how blockchain is the answer to financial inclusion, and argued why politics needs to be taken out of tech.

We don’t want bank CEOs making those decisions for us as a society, in terms of who they choose to lend money to, or not. We need to take the politics out of tech. All of us do a lot of different things, and we have no idea on a given day, whether what we’re doing is popular with our neighbors or popular with our bank president or not. I don’t want the fact that I sometimes feel Republican to be a reason why my local bank president can deny me a mortgage.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

The Affirm for X model

While Affirm may have popularized the “buy now, pay later” model, the consumer-friendly business strategy still has room to be niched down into specific subsectors. I ran into one such startup when covering Plaid’s inaugural cohort of startups in its accelerator program.

Here’s what to know: Walnut is a new seed-stage startup that is a point-of-sale loan company with a healthcare twist. Unlike Affirm, it doesn’t make money off of fees charged to consumers.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Everything you could ever want to know about StockX

In our latest EC-1, reporter Rae Witte has covered a startup that leads one of the most complex and culturally relevant marketplaces in the world: sneakers.

Here’s what to know: StockX, in her words, has built a stock market of hype, and her series goes into its origin story, authentication processes and a market map.

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Around TechCrunch

Found, a new podcast joining the TechCrunch network, has officially launched! The Equity team got a behind-the-scenes look at what triggered the new podcast, the first guests and goals of the show. Make sure to tune into the first episode.

Also, if you run into any paywalls while browsing today’s newsletter, make sure to use discount code STARTUPSWEEKLY to get 25% off an annual or two-year Extra Crunch subscription.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Okta launches a new free developer plan

New Jersey announces $10M seed fund aimed at Black and Latinx founders

Education nonprofit Edraak ignored a student data leak for two months

6 VCs talk the future of Austin’s exploding startup ecosystem

Dear Sophie: Help! My H-1B wasn’t chosen!

Seen on Extra Crunch

5 machine learning essentials nontechnical leaders need to understand

How we dodged risks and raised millions for our open-source machine language startup

Giving EV batteries a second life for sustainability and profit

And that’s a wrap! Thanks for making it this far, and now I dare you to go make the most out of the rest of your day. And by make the most, I mean listen to Taylor’s Version.

Warmly,

N

Neighbor raises $53M for self-storage marketplace after 5x YoY revenue growth

Neighbor, which operates a self-storage marketplace, announced Wednesday that it has raised $53 million in a Series B round of funding.

Fifth Wall led the financing, which notably also included participation from returning backer Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and new investors DoorDash CEO Tony Xu and StockX CEO Scott Cutler. Xu and Cutler will join former Uber CEO Ryan Graves as investors and advisors to the Lehi, Utah-based startup. A16z led Neighbor’s $10 million Series A in January of 2020.

At a time when the commercial real estate world is struggling, self-storage is an asset class that continues to perform extremely well. Neighbor’s unique model aims to repurpose under-utilized or vacant space — whether it be a person’s basement or the empty floor of an office building — and turn it into storage.

Colton Gardner, Joseph Woodbury and Preston Alder co-founded Neighbor.com in 2017 with the mission of giving people a more accessible and personal alternative to store their belongings. 

Image Credits: Neighbor

The $40 billion self-storage industry is ripe for a shake-up, considering that most people are used to renting space out of buildings located in not necessarily convenient locations. 

Neighbor has developed a unique peer-to-peer model, connecting “renters” in need of storage space with “hosts” in their neighborhood who are willing to lease storage space in their home, garage or even driveway. The company says it has hosts on the platform making more than $50,000 a year in passive income.

“We really grew into a national business over the last year and now have active renters in more states than Public Storage, which is a $43 billion publicly traded company,” CEO Woodbury said.

Neighbor makes money by charging a service fee (a sliding-scale percentage) of each rent. Its algorithms provide suggested rental fees for hosts.

COVID has only accelerated Neighbor’s business, with revenue growing “5x” and organic reservations increasing “7x” year over year.

“If you think about it, fundamentally on the demand side, everyone’s moving out of these major metro areas like New York and San Francisco, and are moving to these more rural locations. All that moving activity has created a lot more storage demand,” Woodbury told TechCrunch. “In addition to that, people are just spending more time at home and cleaning out their homes more. And they no doubt need storage as a result of that.”

 It also doesn’t hurt that the company claims the self-storage offered on its marketplace on average is priced about 40% to 50% less than traditional storage facilities.

Neighbor also partners with commercial real estate operators to turn their under-utilized or vacant retail, multifamily or office space into self-storage. This provides new revenue streams to landlords hurting from the pandemic keeping so many people at home. And that increased demand led to Neighbor’s commercial real estate footprint growing 10x in 2020. 

With its new capital, the company plans to expand its nationwide network of hosts and renters as well as continue to spread awareness of its marketplace.

“We have tens of millions of square feet of self storage on the platform,” Woodbury said. “The beauty of that square footage is that it’s in every single state. But we want to continue to expand nationally and as we grow and mature, we’ll turn our eyes globally as well.”

Interestingly, before leading the round for Neighbor, Fifth Wall approached the company about business development opportunities. Partner Dan Wenhold said he offered to introduce the concept to the real estate venture firm’s LPs, which include more than 65 of the world’s largest owners and operators of real estate from 15 countries. For example, Fifth Wall partners Acadia Realty Trust and Jamestown are already onboarding properties onto Neighbor’s platform. 

“We are sort of the bridge between the largest owners and operators of physical real estate assets and the most disruptive technologies that are impacting those property managers and landlords, Wenhold said. “And Neighbor fits perfectly into that thesis for us.”

After introducing Neighbor to a short list of Fifth Wall’s strategic LP partners, the feedback the firm got “was fantastic,” Wenhold said. 

“A lot of owners in retail, office and even multi-family expressed interest in working with Neighbor to help monetize space,” he added.

The company’s mission also has a sustainable component considering that creating self-storage space out of existing property can help minimize the amount of new construction that takes place.

Fifth Wall, Wenhold added, is aware of the waste and the emissions that come from the construction process to build new space and admires Neighbor’s role in minimizing that.

“Our firm ardently pursued the opportunity to invest in a transformative proptech business like Neighbor,” he said.

Collective launches a SaaS marketplace for freelancer teams

Freelancers who work well together in teams are the target for Collective, a French startup that’s launching a software-as-a-service marketplace today. (Not to be confused with Collective, a US-based startup that offers back-office tools for the self employed running a business-of-one.)

Collective (the French ‘teams’ edition) is co-founded by Jean de Rauglaudre and Vianney de Drouas, and is backed by the SaaS-focused startup studio/venture builder, eFounders, which covers expenses during the first 18 months (so how much it ends up investing depends but typically runs to at least a few thousand euros.)

“As a former freelancer, I was really attracted by this new way of working,” says de Rauglaudre, discussing why Collective is focusing on “independents teaming up by mutualizing skills, networks and work methodology in a quest to go faster, think bigger, and find more meaning”, as he puts it.

The startup points to notable Collectives that have emerged in recent years — such as ProductLed.Org and Knackcollective.com in the US, and Mozza.io, Alasta.io and Lookoom.co in France, as feeding the idea.

It argues that the indie ‘collectives’ phenomenon has only been accelerated as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — with companies faced with more uncertainty looking for more resilient and flexible options.

The pair of founders worked with eFounders to hone their fledgling idea. “We understood that collective was the ultimate next step on this market. Though, we noticed that those forms today do not scale (because of so many admin issues), do not shine (because they do not thrive under a standardized reality), and work alone (while solo freelancers have a lot of tools and benefit from a legal existence, collectives are still undeserved). Therefore, we ‘imaginated’ Collective!” de Rauglaudre tells TechCrunch.

For teams of skilled indie workers the lure of Collective is a promise that it combines the benefits of working in an agency — because its SaaS platform automates a bunch of back-office functions like proposals, invoices, contracts and payments — with the flexibility of still being freelance and thus able to pick and choose projects and clients.

“Exhaustive” back-office is the promise from de Rauglaudre. (Which — yes — does include chasing clients for late/non payment of invoices. When we checked that detail he dubbed the service “a perfect combination of flexibility (inherent to collective models) and security (related to our back-office)”. Late freelancer payments are of course an infamous pain-point that’s been targeted by other startups over the years; but Collective is coming with the full back-office package.)

Additionally, Collective offers freelancer teams marketplace visibility — and thus help with their client pipeline.

It’s been soft launched for one month at this point and in that time says 18 collectives have been formed on its marketplace, comprising more than 150 freelancers in total.

Early collectives operating on its marketplace are offering “varied” expertise — from software development, design, product management, and growth — and are already working with five companies. Collective also says it’s speaking with more than 80 companies as it starts its push for scale.

“We did not expect such huge interest in so little time, coming both from independents and companies,” adds de Rauglaudre in a statement. “This confirms our initial realization: That people and companies are looking for more flexible ways of working and that it is by joining forces that we can reach higher. What we’re seeing is the very beginning of the teamwork revolution.”

“While solo freelancers benefit from a legal existence and have dedicated platforms, collectives are still under-served,” says eFounders co-founder Thibaud Elziere in another supporting statement. “They all operate under different legal structures and struggle to find work because they don’t have the right tools. Collective aims to become the go-to solution to help collectives exist, find work and scale.”

In terms of the underlying trends Collective is aiming to tap into, de Rauglaudre points to “skyrocketing” rates of independent work over the past decade (150%+).

As they investigated further, he says they noticed that more and more freelancers are working together in various forms — suggesting that around a fifth of independents “work as a collective consciously or not”.

“We estimate that +10M freelancers are merging in collectives worldwide but with very various forms (structured or not). They want to team up to increase their revenues (competing against agencies and not solo freelancers) while improving their working mode (not alone any more),” he suggests.

In terms of target sectors/skills for the marketplace to serve (and serve up), he doesn’t think there’s a single template — but Collective is starting by focusing development (on the ‘collectives’ supply side) on design, product, tech, data and growth marketing; and (on the client demand side) on large scale-ups and tech companies.

The business model at this stage is for it to a charge markup (5%-15%) on the client side. The lower fee is charged is the platform isn’t providing the client; while the higher figure is if it is, per de Rauglaudre.

Once all the bells and whistles are ready with the SaaS — in about another month — he says it will also charge a monthly fee on the collective side.

Given the branding clash with the SF-based back-office startup Collective, the French team may want to take that time to consider a name change — maybe ‘Collectif’ could work? 🙃

Fleksy adds an art marketplace to spice up its keyboard app

Fleksy, an autocorrecting AI keyboard which competes with big-guns like Google’s Gboard and Microsoft’s Swiftkey, has a new way to catch users’ eyes: Art keyboards.

It’s just launched FleksyArt: A marketplace for artists to sell digital works to its users so they can customize the look of their keyboards.

Fleksy has had keyboard themes before. But the art marketplace aims to go further — opening its platform up to all sorts of artists to digitally distribute work to its “millions” of users for display on a piece of essential smartphone real-estate (it points out the keyboard is the second most used app on phones, after all).

As this is keyboard art, the illustrations and artworks appear with the letters of Fleksy’s keyboard overlaid. So the startup warns legibility is important. Clearly some designs are going to work better than others. But beyond that the creative sky is the limit.

A collage of some of the different artworks available on the FleksyArt marketplace (Image credit: Fleksy)

FleksyArt is starting with several digital artists onboard, including María Picasso i Piquer, Lucila Dominguez, URKO and Maru Ceballos.

It’s inviting other artists to sign up by submitting a portfolio of work for review here.

Victoria Gerchinhoren, Fleksy’s chief design officer, explains how it works: “When we receive the portfolios, my design team approves for having the artwork in our marketplace,” she tells us, noting Fleksy has already handpicked a few artists to get the ball rolling. “I send them guidelines on how to prepare the assets and I write the last specs before publishing inside the product.”

“There defined guidelines in terms of the number of pieces (always packs of 2-4 themes) and artists can create as many packs as they want. We suggest the pieces inside each pack have a connection, they can be connected by an idea or style,” she goes on.

“We publish the packs in a dedicated section in the host app (which we redesigned with this in mind not long ago) then communicate in social media. We’ve also just launched the website section with interviews and the artist profiles and bios so they have a nice place to be showcased.”

Fleksy is setting a flat price of €2.99 for all art packs — in order that artists selling on the marketplace “have the same price and competition is fair”, as Gerchinhoren puts it.

It’s doing a 50:50 revenue split on sales — after Google’s 30% commission has been factored in. So this means that Google gets €0.89 per sale, and the artist and Fleksy then split the rest.

Fleksy has also confirmed that artists retain copyright of their works.

“We’re setting this collaboration on a revenue-share model,” it notes on its website. “You’ll receive 50% of the revenue after Google’s 30% commission. We think this is fair since you’ll provide the Artwork and Fleksy implements & distribute your Artwork. Payments are made bi-annually, upon our receipt of a legal invoice from you.”

Curtsy, a clothing resale app aimed at Gen Z women, raises $11 million Series A

Curtsy, a clothing resale app and competitor to recently IPO’d Poshmark, announced today it has raised $11 million in Series A funding for its startup focused on the Gen Z market. The app, which evolved out of an earlier effort for renting dresses, now allows women to list their clothes, shoes and accessories for resale, while also reducing many of the frictions involved with the typical resale process.

The new round was led by Index Ventures, and included participation from Y Combinator, prior investors FJ Labs and 1984 Ventures, and angel investor Josh Breinlinger (who left Jackson Square Ventures to start his own fund).

To date, Curtsy has raised $14.5 million, including over two prior rounds which also included investors CRV, SV Angel, Kevin Durant, Priscilla Scala, and other angels.

Like other online clothing resale businesses, Curtsy aims to address the needs of a younger generation of consumers who are looking for a more sustainable alternative when shopping for clothing. Instead of constantly buying new, many Gen Z consumers will rotate their wardrobes over time, often by leveraging resale apps.

Image Credits: Curtsy

However, the current process for listing your own clothes on resale apps can be time consuming. A recent report by Wired, for example, detailed how many women were spinning their wheels engaging with Poshmark in the hopes of making money from their closets, to little avail. The Poshmark sellers complained they had to do more than just list, sell, package and ship their items — they also had participate in the community in order to have their items discovered.

Curtsy has an entirely different take. It wants to make it easier and faster for casual sellers to list items by reducing the amount of work involved to sell. It also doesn’t matter how many followers a seller has, which makes its marketplace more welcoming to first-time sellers.

“The big gap in the market is really for casual sellers — people who are not interested in selling professionally,” explains Curtsy CEO David Oates. “In pretty much every other app that you’ve heard about, pro sellers really crowd out everyday women. Part of that is the friction of the whole process,” he says.

On Curtsy, the listing process is far more streamlined.

The app uses a combination of machine learning and human review to help the sellers merchandise their items, which increase their chances of selling. When sellers first list their item in the app, Curtsy will recommend a price then fill in details like the brand, category, subcategory, shipping weight and the suggested selling price, using machine learning systems training on the previous items sold on its marketplace. Human review fixes any errors in that process.

Also before items are posted, Curtsy improves and crops the images, as well as fixes any other issues with the listing, and moderates listings for spam. This process helps to standardize the listings on the app across all sellers, giving everyone a fair shot at having their items discovered and purchased.

Another unique feature is how Curtsy caters to the Gen Z to young Millennial user base (ages 15-30), who are often without shipping supplies or even a printer for producing a shipping label.

Image Credit: Curtsy / Photo credit: Brooke Ray

First-time sellers receive a free starter kit with Curtsy-branded supplies for packaging their items at home, like poly mailers in multiple sizes. As they need more supplies, the cost of those is built into the selling flow, so you don’t have to explicitly pay for it — it’s just deducted from your earnings. Curtsy also helps sellers to schedule a free USPS pickup to save a trip to the post office, and it will even send sellers a shipping label, if need be.

“One of the things we realized quickly is Gen Z does not really have printers. So we actually have a label service and we’ll send you the label in the mail for free from centers across the country,” says Oates.

Later, when a buyer of an item purchased from Curtsy is ready to resell it, they can do so with one tap — they don’t have to photograph it and describe it again. This also speeds up the selling process.

Overall, the use of technology, outsourced teams who improve listings, and extra features like supplies and labels can be expensive. But Curtsy believes the end result is that they can bring more casual sellers to the resale market.

“Whatever costs we have, they should be in service of increased liquidity, so we can grow faster and add more people,” Oates says. “In case of the label service, those are people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in selling online. There’s no other app that would allow them to sell without a printer.”

Image Credits: Curtsy

This system, so far, appears to be working. Curtsy now has several hundred thousand people who buy and sell on its iOS-only app, with an average transaction rates of 3 items bought or sold per month. When the new round closed late in 2020, the company was reporting a $25 million GMV revenue run rate, and average monthly growth of around 30%. Today, Curtsy generates revenue by taking a 20% commission on sales (or $3 for items under $15.)

The team, until recently, was only five people — including co-founders David Oates, William Ault, Clara Agnes Ault, and Eli Allen, plus a contract workforce. With the Series A, Curtsy will be expanding, specifically by investing in new roles within product and marketing to help it scale. It will also be focused on developing an Android version of its app in the first quarter of 2021 and further building out its web presence.

“Never before have we seen such a strong overlap between buyers and sellers on a consumer-to-consumer marketplace,” said Damir Becirovic of Index Ventures, about the firm’s investment. “We believe the incredible love for Curtsy is indicative of a large marketplace in the making,” he added.

African edtech startup uLesson lands a $7.5 million Series A

ULesson, an edtech startup based in Nigeria that sells digital curriculum to students through SD cards, has raised $7.5 million in Series A funding. The round is led by Owl Ventures, which closed over half a billion in new fund money just months ago. Other participants include LocalGlobe and existing investors, including TLcom Capital and Founder Collective.

The financing comes a little over a year since uLesson closed its $3.1 million seed round in November 2019. The startup’s biggest difference between now and then isn’t simply the millions it has in the bank, it’s the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its entire value proposition.

ULesson launched into the market just weeks before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. The startup, which uses SD cards as a low-bandwidth way to deliver content, saw a wave of smart devices enter homes across Africa as students adapted to remote education.

“The ground became wet in a way we didn’t see before,” founder and CEO Sim Shagaya said. “It opens up the world for us to do all kinds of really amazing things we’ve wanted to do in the world of edtech that you can’t do in a strictly offline sense,” the founder added.

Similar to many edtech startups, uLesson has benefited from the overnight adoption of remote education. Its positioning as a supplementary education tool helped it surface 70% month over month growth, said Shagaya. The founder says that the digital infrastructure gains will allow them to “go online entirely by Q2 this year.”

It costs an annual fee of $50, and the app has been downloaded more than 1 million times.

With fresh demand, Shagaya sees uLesson evolving into a live, online platform instead of an offline, asynchronous content play. The startup is already experimenting with live tutoring: it tested a feature that allowed students to ask questions while going through pre-recorded material. The startup got more than 3,000 questions each day, with demand so high they had to pause the test feature.

“We want you to be able to push a button and get immediate support from a college student sitting somewhere in the continent who is basically a master in what you’re studying,” he said. The trend of content-focused startups adding on a live tutoring layer continues when you look at Chegg, Quizlet, Brainly and others.

The broader landscape

E-learning startups have been booming in the wake of the coronavirus. It’s led to an influx of tutoring marketplaces and content that promises to serve students. One of the most valuable startups in edtech is Byju’s, which offers online learning services and prepares students for tests.

But Shagaya doesn’t think any competitors, even Byju’s, have cracked the nut on how to do so in a digital way for African markets. There are placement agencies in South Africa and Kenya and offline tutoring marketplaces that send people to student homes, but no clear leader from a digital curriculum perspective.

“Everybody sees that Africa is a big opportunity,” Shagaya said. “But everybody also sees that you need a local team to execute on this.”

Shagaya thinks the opportunity in African edtech is huge because of two reasons: a young population, and a deep penetration of private school-going students. Combined, those facts could create troves of students who have the cash and are willing to pay for supplementary education.

The biggest hurdle ahead for uLesson, and any edtech startup that benefitted from pandemic gains, is distribution and outcomes. ULesson didn’t share any data on effectiveness and outcomes, but says it’s in the process of conducting a study with the University of Georgia to track mastery.

“Content efforts and products [will] live or die at the altar of distribution,” Shagaya said. The founder noted that in India, for example, pre-recorded videos do well due to social nuances and culture. ULesson is trying to find the perfect sauce for videos in markets around Africa and embed that into the product.

Apeel gets more cash to fight poverty and food insecurity in emerging markets with its food-preserving tech

In the first real test of the potentially transformative power of its food-preserving technology, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Apeel Sciences is bringing its innovative food treatment and supply chain management services to distribution centers in select markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The goal is to alleviate food insecurity among farmers, who comprise one of the most susceptible populations to issues of malnutrition, according to Apeel’s chief executive James Rogers.

“The majority of fruits and vegetables grown on this planet are grown by small farmers and two thirds of the people who are food insecure are also farmers,” said Rogers. 

The reason why farmers are more at-risk than other populations stems from their inability to get the most value out of their crops, because of the threat of spoilage, Rogers said

By introducing its preservative technologies that deter spoilage and providing willing buyers among existing Apeel customers in markets like the U.S., Denmark, Germany and Switzerland Rogers said the company can have an outsized impact to improve the amount of money going into a farmer’s pocket.

“The program with the IFC is to build supply chains out,” he said. “The value is not just in the longer-lasting produce, it’s in the market access for that longer lasting produce.”

The initial markets will be in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Vietnam where Appeal’s tech will treat avocados, pineapples, asparagus, and citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges.

In some ways it’s the culmination of the work that Appeal has been doing for the past several years, getting grocers around the world to buy into its approach to reducing waste.

The company has always put smallholder farmers at the center of its company mission — ever since Appeal was founded in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development. The intention was always to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables produced by farmers without access to the modern refrigerated supply chain. It’s just that for the past several years, the company had to refine its technology and build out a retail network.

To further that aim, Apeel has raised over $360 million, including a $250 million round of funding which closed earlier this year.

The fruition of Rogers’ plans will be as the company brings demand from international markets to these local growers through regional exporters.

Without access to a refrigerated supply chain, much of what small farmers produce can only reach local markets where supply exceeds demand. The perishability of crops creates market conditions where these fruits and vegetables can’t make it to export, creating market dynamics that exacerbate poverty and increase food loss and food waste among the people who make their living farming, Appeal said.

“With extra time we can link those small producers into the global food system and help them collect the economic value that’s intrinsic to that natural resource,” said Rogers. 

The introduction of new demand from international markets, which can be fulfilled if crops are treated with Appeal’s technology can create a virtuous cycle that will ideally increase prices for crops and bring bigger payouts to farmers. At least that’s the vision that Rogers has for the latest implementations of Appeal’s technology at regional distribution hubs.

There’s the potential that the middle men who’re distributing the produce to foreign buyers may collect most of the value from the introduction of Appeal’s technology, but Rogers dismisses that scenario.

“The work is to incorporate those small producers more directly into the supply chain of the exporter. Now that there’s familiarity with the technology you can utilize the tech to create cooperative value and use those cooperatives to unlock value for the very small producers,” he said. “By growing the demand for produce in those markets that supply has to come from somewhere. The exporters earn their cut on a volume basis. The way they increase their value is to grow their volume. They want to grow the volume that’s suitable for export and the demand. Then the challenge flips and it becomes not a demand challenge but a supply challenge. And they have to incentivize people to feed into that supply.” 

To finance this international rollout, Appeal has raised another $30 million in funding from investors including the International Finance Corp., Temasek and Astanor Ventures .

“Innovative technologies can change the course of development in emerging markets and save livelihoods, economies, and in this case, food,” said Stephanie von Friedeburg, interim Managing Director and Executive Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer, of IFC, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Apeel to invest in a game-changing technology that can limit food waste by half, enhance sustainability, and mitigate climate change.”

Mirakl raises $300 million for its marketplace platform

French startup Mirakl has raised a $300 million funding round at a $1.5 billion valuation — the company is now a unicorn. Mirakl helps you launch and manage a marketplace on your e-commerce website. Many customers also rely on Mirakl-powered marketplaces for B2B transactions.

Permira Advisers is leading the round, with existing investors 83North, Bain Capital Ventures, Elaia Partners and Felix Capital also participating.

“We’ve closed this round in 43 days,” co-founder and U.S. CEO Adrien Nussenbaum told me. But the due diligence process has been intense. “[Permira Advisers] made 250 calls to clients, leads, partners and former employees.”

Many e-commerce companies rely on third-party sellers to increase their offering. Instead of having one seller selling to many customers, marketplaces let you sell products from many sellers to many customers. Mirakl has built a solution to manage the marketplace of your e-commerce platform.

300 companies have been working with Mirakl for their marketplace, such as Best Buy Canada, Carrefour, Darty and Office Depot. More recently, Mirakl has been increasingly working with B2B clients as well.

These industry-specific marketplaces can be used for procurement or bulk selling of parts. In this category, clients include Airbus Helicopters, Toyota Material Handling and Accor’s Astore. 60% of Mirakl’s marketplace are still consumer-facing marketplaces, but the company is adding as many B2B and B2C marketplaces these days.

“We’ve developed a lot of features that enable platform business models that go further than simple marketplaces,” co-founder and CEO Philippe Corrot told me. “For instance, we’ve invested in services — it lets our clients develop service platforms.”

In France, Conforama can upsell customers with different services when they buy some furniture for instance. Mirakl has also launched its own catalog manager so that you can merge listings, add information, etc.

The company is using artificial intelligence to do the heavy-lifting on this front. There are other AI-enabled features, such as fraud detection.

Given that Mirakl is a marketplace expert, it’s not surprising that the company has also created a sort of marketplace of marketplaces with Mirakl Connect.

“Mirakl Connect is a platform that is going to be the single entry point for everybody in the marketplace ecosystem, from sellers to operators and partners,” Corrot said.

For sellers, it’s quite obvious. You can create a company profile and promote products on multiple marketplaces at once. But the company is also starting to work with payment service providers, fulfillment companies, feed aggregators and other partners. The company wants to become a one-stop shop on marketplaces with those partners.

Overall, Mirakl-powered marketplaces have generated $1.2 billion in gross merchandise volume (GMV) during the first half of 2020. It represents a 111% year-over-year increase, despite the economic crisis.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to expand across all areas — same features, same business model, but with more resources. It plans to hire 500 engineers and scale its sales and customer success teams.

eBay reportedly getting close to selling its classified-ads unit to Adevinta

eBay is reportedly getting close to a deal to sell its classified-ads business to Adevinta, a Norwegian company that runs online marketplaces across Europe and Latin America. According to a Wall Street Journal report, if the negotiations are successful, a cash and stock deal could be announced as soon as Monday. The transaction is expected to value eBay’s classified business at about $8 billion.

The Wall Street Journal first reported in February that eBay was planning to sell off its classifieds business, with prospective buyers named at that time including private equity firms TPG and Blackstone Group, Naspers, and German publisher Axel Springer SE.

More recently, Prosus NV, an Amsterdam-based investment firm that is controlled by Naspers, emerged as a contender, but Bloomberg reported over the weekend that negotiations hit a bump because eBay wants to maintain a stake in the classifieds business after selling it.

Activist shareholders Elliot Management and Starboard Value LP have pushed eBay to sell off non-core business units to focus on its marketplace, resulting in the sale of StubHub to viagogo for more than $4 billion last year and the appointment of a new chief executive officer.

Ebay’s classifieds division operates mostly outside of the United States, including in Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia and Mexico. If Adevinta ends up acquiring it, it can expand its international portfolio of peer-to-peer e-commerce platforms.

An Adevinta representative told TechCrunch the company had no comment on the reported negotiations. TechCrunch has also reached out to eBay.

Ebay said in its last quarterly earnings report, issued in April, that it was “explor[ing] potential value-creating alternatives for its Classifieds business, is holding active discussions with multiple parties and anticipates having an update by the middle of the year.”

During the first quarter of this year, eBay’s main marketplace business generated $2.1 billion in revenue, down, while its classifieds business saw $248 million in revenue. In 2019, the classifieds business made $1.1 billion in revenue, versus $7.6 billion for eBay Marketplace, which is weathering competition from larger online rivals like Amazon.

Amazon US sellers will have to display their name and address starting Sept. 1, 2020

Amazon on Wednesday informed its U.S. sellers they will soon have to display their business name and address on their Amazon.com seller profile page. For individual sellers, this will include the individual’s name and address. A similar system is already in place across Amazon’s stores in Europe, Japan and Mexico, due to local laws. Amazon says it’s making the change to ensure there’s a more consistent baseline of seller information across its platform, so online shoppers can make informed buying decisions.

The change, of course, is not just about transparency.

Amazon’s U.S. marketplace is its oldest and largest, with 461,000 active U.S. sellers out of its 2.2 million worldwide actives. In total, there are 8.6 million registered sellers worldwide and Amazon adds around a million more per year, according to Marketplace Pulse data.

Amazon’s marketplace also accounts for around half the retailer’s sales. But as it has grown, it has been afflicted by a variety of issues and fraud, including problems with counterfeit goods.

Though Amazon has long been accused of avoiding these issues, it’s more recently pledged to spend billions to address the problem. Amazon even inserted itself into legal battles with fraudulent sellers and counterfeiters over the past couple of years, including those with designers and accessory makers, as well as others participating in the fake reviews economy.

Last year, Amazon also launched a set of tools for brands and manufacturers under its “Project Zero” initiative, which work to proactively combat counterfeiting.

And just this April, Amazon announced it was piloting a new system aimed at verifying the identity of third-party sellers over video-conferencing — a shift from its in-person verifications that had to stop due to the coronavirus outbreak. Through this system, Amazon checks that the individual seller’s ID matches the person and the documents they shared with their application, among other things.

Now Amazon is telling its U.S. sellers their business name and address will need to be on their profile by September 1, 2020.

The change will help businesses fighting fraud or taking legal action against sellers over counterfeit goods. Consumers will also have an address in case the product has caused harm and they need to contact the seller or even initiative legal action of their own.

Once the new system goes live in the U.S., the seller’s storefront on Amazon.com will display an expanded set of information about their business.

A photo from Marketplace Pulse shows how this may look, with a comparison of a U.K. seller page with its current U.S. counterpart:

Image Credits: Marketplace Pulse

In a statement, Amazon says the change is about consistently, avoiding the topic of online fraud.

“Over the years, we have developed many ways for sellers to share more about their business, including through features like the seller profile pages, ‘Store’ pages for brand owners, and Handmade ‘Maker Profile’ pages,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “These features help customers learn more about sellers’ businesses and their products. Beginning September 1, we will also display sellers’ business name and address on their Amazon.com seller profile page to ensure there is a consistent baseline of seller information to help customers make informed shopping decisions,” they said.