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Berlin’s Razor Group raises $400M to buy and scale Amazon Marketplace merchants

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The market remains very hot for startups building e-commerce empires by consolidating independent third-party merchants that have gained traction on Amazon’s Marketplace, and in the latest development, Razor Group — a Berlin-based startup buying up promising Amazon sellers and scaling them into bigger, multi-channel businesses — has closed financing of $400 million to scale its own efforts in the space.

Around $25 million is coming in the form of equity to grow its business and $375 million is in debt to make acquisitions, with target businesses typically already pulling in between $1 million and $15 million in annual revenues.

Razor Group itself is not even a year old but has been building out its business at a fast pace. Founded in August 2020, in the last eight months, CEO Tushar Ahluwalia said the startup has grown to 107 employees across four offices and is currently on track to cross $120 million (€100 million) in sales from the 30 brands it has already amassed in its stable in categories like personal wellness, sports and home and living. Assuming the debt capital it’s now raised is put to use, Ahluwalia believes Razor Group will cross $480 million (€400 million) in sales in the next 12 to 15 months.

As a point of comparison, Thrasio, one of the older players in this current market, was founded in 2018 and has 100 brands in its stable.

Indeed, there are, as you might have seen, a lot of others in the market pursuing the “FBA rollup” model — consolidating businesses that have been built on the back of Fulfillment by Amazon, with the pitch being they can apply more sophisticated economies of scale, analytics and management to grow great cottage industries into high rises, so to speak. But Razor believes its point of differentiation is its focus on technology to improve its responsiveness to the market, both when it comes to identifying and buying brands, and then growing them.

It’s a big opportunity. By one estimate there are about 5 million third-party sellers on Amazon today, and their ranks are growing exponentially, with more than 1 million sellers joining the platform in 2020 alone. Thrasio has in the past estimated to me that there are probably 50,000 businesses selling on Amazon via FBA making $1 million or more per year in revenues.

“It’s perfectly acceptable to build an FBA-based business, but at some point you can move beyond that,” Ahluwalia said in an interview. “We want to transform what we see as the levers of business operations in this space. We don’t see ourselves as the next P&G, but a new version of it, building microchampions in micromarkets, identifying underpriced digital real estate. Just thinking about it as abritrage is not enough.”

The funding, a mixture of equity to invest in the startup itself and debt to use for acquisitions (and it is mostly debt), is being led by funds and accounts managed by BlackRock and Victory Park Capital (“VPC”) as well as its existing shareholders, a list that includes a number of individuals as well as VCs such as Redalpine, FJ Labs and Global Founders Capital, the VC firm co-founded by the Samwer Brothers, also behind the well-known Berlin e-commerce incubator Rocket Internet.

Ahluwalia and Razor’s head of finance Christoph Gamon — who together co-founded Razor with CTO Shrestha Chowdury — are both Rocket Internet alums, and Ahluwalia and Chowdury also worked on a previous e-commerce business in India called StalkBuyLove (a clone of Wanelo — short for “Want Need Love” — for India, I think) that ran out of cash and shut down.

All of that speaks to both the inroads that the founders may have had into gaining some early financing from other Rocket alums and others, as well as their experiences, both good and bad, of what it takes to grow and scale e-commerce businesses.

Including the $25 million in this latest tranche, the funding brings the total raised in equity by Razor Group to about $40 million — with the previous money being used to get the ball rolling and “validate the model”, Ahluwalia said. It’s not disclosing its valuation today but he confirmed it’s also raising another, larger equity round when it will be speaking more about that.

Meanwhile, the huge injection of debt financing it is getting for acquisitions — doubled after its original plan to raise $200 million got a lot of interest — is a sign not just of what investors and Razor Group itself see as an opportunity, but also of the encroaching competition from other roll-up players that are also well capitalized also setting their sights on buying up the most promising independent businesses selling via Amazon and other marketplace providers.

That list of competitors is getting longer by the day. It includes Thrasio, one of the first startups to identify and build out this space, which has raised very large rounds in rapid succession totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in the last year, and is profitable; Branded; Heroes; SellerX; Perch; Berlin Brands Group (X2); Benitago; and Valoreo (with its backers including Razor’s CEO).

The opportunity is also breeding other e-commerce startups like Jungle Scout, which has also raised $110 million recently, providing tools to some of those third-party sellers to help them stay, in fact, independent (or at least grow more to be more valuable to acquirers)

Razor believes that its ability to stand out in this crowd will not just be based on how much money it has to spend, but on the technology that it is using to identify the best third-party sellers faster in order to roll them up first, and then to leverage that early move by giving those companies better tools to grow faster.

Chowdhury describes the platform that she has built as “M&A 2.0”, a system that performs “massive due dilligence” at machine scale by evaluating some 1 million companies each week as they perform on platforms like Amazon’s. “Technology runs through the whole business,” she said, started with the acquisitions, where Razor is identifying the most interesting companies faster than others, she said. “We look at thousands of data points,” building algorithms, she continued, “to flag what we want to acquire. It means that our acquisitions funnel is 99% sourced directly and we don’t rely on brokers.” Brokers, she said, are something of a unspoken part of this area, but bypassing them means less competition and better pricing.

Being early also means building better relationships with the owners of these businesses, with less time pressure.

“Dealmaking is something extremely personal,” Ahluwalia said. “A seller needs to like you. Our calculations have allowed us to be the first in these deal conversations”

Further along, that data will also help Razor build those businesses and figure out where else brands can be sold beyond Amazon and how to sell them better.

That is a plan that has yet to be proven out, given the age of the company, but investors — adding up the numbers and track record of these founders, and the tech they have built — are willing to bet on this one.

“We are excited to partner with Tushar, Chris, and the rest of the Razor Group team. The ability to identify, underwrite, integrate and ultimately create tangible value across a broad suite of eCommerce assets is a real competitive advantage in the marketplace,” said Tom Welch, partner at VPC, in a statement.

“We are pleased to make this investment in Razor Group to support the company’s strong growth momentum as it continues to diversify its portfolio of brands and expand into new markets,” added Dan Worrell, MD at BlackRock.

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If you don’t want robotic dogs patrolling the streets, consider CCOPS legislation

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Boston Dynamics’ robot “dogs,” or similar versions thereof, are already being employed by police departments in Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York. Partly through the veil of experimentation, few answers are being given by these police forces about the benefits and costs of using these powerful surveillance devices.

The American Civil Liberties Union, in a position paper on CCOPS (community control over police surveillance), proposes an act to promote transparency and protect civil rights and liberties with respect to surveillance technology. To date, 19 U.S. cities in have passed CCOPS laws, which means, in practical terms, that virtually all other communities don’t have a requirement that police are transparent about their use of surveillance technologies.

For many, this ability to use new, unproven technologies in a broad range of ways presents a real danger. Stuart Watt, a world-renowned expert in artificial intelligence and the CTO of Turalt, is not amused.

Even seemingly fun and harmless “toys” have all the necessary functions and features to be weaponized.

“I am appalled both by the principle and the dogbots and of them in practice. It’s a big waste of money and a distraction from actual police work,” he said. “Definitely communities need to be engaged with. I am honestly not even sure what the police forces think the whole point is. Is it to discourage through a physical surveillance system, or is it to actually prepare people for some kind of enforcement down the line?

“Chunks of law enforcement have forgotten the whole ‘protect and serve’ thing, and do neither,” Watts added. “If they could use artificial intelligence to actually protect and actually serve vulnerable people, the homeless, folks addicted to drugs, sex workers, those in poverty and maligned minorities, it’d be tons better. If they have to spend the money on AI, spend it to help people.”

The ACLU is advocating exactly what Watt suggests. In proposed language to city councils across the nation, the ACLU makes it clear that:

The City Council shall only approve a request to fund, acquire, or use a surveillance technology if it determines the benefits of the surveillance technology outweigh its costs, that the proposal will safeguard civil liberties and civil rights, and that the uses and deployment of the surveillance technology will not be based upon discriminatory or viewpoint-based factors or have a disparate impact on any community or group.

From a legal perspective, Anthony Gualano, a lawyer and special counsel at Team Law, believes that CCOPS legislation makes sense on many levels.

“As police increase their use of surveillance technologies in communities around the nation, and the technologies they use become more powerful and effective to protect people, legislation requiring transparency becomes necessary to check what technologies are being used and how they are being used.”

For those not only worried about this Boston Dynamics dog, but all future incarnations of this supertech canine, the current legal climate is problematic because it essentially allows our communities to be testing grounds for Big Tech and Big Government to find new ways to engage.

Just last month, public pressure forced the New York Police Department to suspend use of a robotic dog, quite unassumingly named Digidog. After the tech hound was placed on temporary leave due to public pushback, the NYPD used it at a public housing building in March. This went over about as well as you could expect, leading to discussions as to the immediate fate of this technology in New York.

The New York Times phrased it perfectly, observing that “the NYPD will return the device earlier than planned after critics seized on it as a dystopian example of overly aggressive policing.”

While these bionic dogs are powerful enough to take a bite out of crime, the police forces seeking to use them have a lot of public relations work to do first. A great place to begin would be for the police to actively and positively participate in CCOPS discussions, explaining what the technology involves, and how it (and these robots) will be used tomorrow, next month and potentially years from now.

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Bird Rides to go public via SPAC, at an implied value of $2.3B

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Bird Rides, the shared electric scooter startup that operates in more than 100 cities across 3 continents, said Wednesday it is going public by merging with special purpose acquisition company Switchback II with an implied valuation of $2.3 billion. The announcement confirms earlier reports, including one this week from dot.la, that Bird intended to go public via a SPAC.

Bird said it was able to raise $106 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, by institutional investor Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, and others. Apollo Investment Corp. and MidCap Financial Trust provided an additional $40 million asset financing.

The transaction will enable the combined entity to retain net proceeds of up to $428 million of cash, according to Switchback, which brings $316 million cash-in-trust to the table. The announcement also provided new information about a previously undisclosed $208 million, which Bird raised privately as part of an April 2021 Senior Preferred Convertible equity offering led by Bracket Capital, Sequoia Capital and Valor Equity Partners.

When and how Bird would go public has been an item of speculation after Bloomberg reported last November that the company received “inbound interest” from SPACs.

Bird’s ride has been bumpy at times. In 2020, revenue dropped to $95 million, or 37% from the previous year. That year the company also laid off around 30% of its workforce – 406 people – for cost-saving reasons. The company may use this new access to cash to expand its European operations and pay off debt.

Most importantly, the new injection of cash may help the company finally achieve profitability. It’s a rarity amongst scooter startups, who face notoriously high overhead.

Special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, have become a popular route for going public amongst transportation startups. Already this year, scooter company Helbiz, which is based in Europe and the U.S., went public via SPAC in a merger with GreenVision Acquisition Corp. SPAC shell corporations allow companies to list on the NASDAQ without doing a traditional initial public offering.

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Only three days left to buy $99 passes to TC Disrupt 2021

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The countdown clock keeps on ticking, and you have just three days to secure your $99 pass to TechCrunch Disrupt 2021. You read that right — $99 is all that you’ll pay, $99 is all (everybody sing)!

Silly Minions aside, you’ll snag serious savings if you buy your Disrupt 2021 pass before the deadline expires on May 14 at 11:59 pm (PT).

TechCrunch Disrupt is a massive gathering of the tech startup world’s top leaders, innovators, makers, investors, founders and ground breakers. The all-virtual platform means more global participation and exposure. It’s all designed to help early-stage founders — and the people who invest in them — build a thriving business.

The Disrupt stage features in-depth interviews and panel discussions with a who’s-who of tech talent. The Extra Crunch stage is where you’ll find a deep bench of subject-matter experts sharing practical how-to content. You’ll take away actionable insights you can put into practice now — when you need it most. Check out our roster of speakers — we’re adding more every week.

Granted, we might be a tad biased about Disrupt — of course we think it’s awesome. But your contemporaries recognize its value, too. Here’s what a few of them told us about their experience at Disrupt 2020.

There was always something interesting going on in one of the breakout rooms, and I was impressed by the quality of the people participating. Partners in well-known VC firms spoke, they were accessible, and they shared smart, insightful nuggets. You will not find this level of people accessible and in one place anywhere else. — Michael McCarthy, CEO, Repositax.

I loved the variety of topics and learning about recent technology trends as they’re happening. Disrupt gave me a whole new perspective on the ways innovation happens in big companies. — Anirudh Murali, co-founder and CEO, Economize.

Watching the Startup Battlefield was fantastic. You could see the ingenuity and innovation happening in different technology spaces. Just looking at the sheer number of other pitch decks and hearing the judges tear them down and give feedback was very helpful. — Jessica McLean, Director of Marketing and Communications, Infinite-Compute.

If watching Startup Battlefield is thrilling (and it is), imagine what it would feel like to compete — or to win. We’re still accepting applications but not for long. Want to take a shot at winning $100,000? Apply to compete in Startup Battlefield before May 13 at 11:59 pm (PT).

There’s so much more opportunity waiting for you at Disrupt 2021. Explore Startup Alley, our expo area. Better yet, exhibit there yourself and, in addition to a bunch of other perks, you might be one of only 50 exhibiting startups chosen to participate in the Startup Alley+ VIP experience. Read more about Startup Alley+ here. TechCrunch will notify selected startups at the end of June.

Time is running out, and $99 is all that you’ll pay — if you buy your Disrupt 2021 pass before Friday, May 14 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.


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