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Welcome to Dealboard. In this weekly feature, The Current is providing a look at the mergers, acquisitions and venture capital deals making waves in the ecommerce and consumer goods landscape.
This week, Pete Davidson becomes an investor in Manscaped as he debuts a new ad, a new logistics unicorn emerges and a pair of deals show movement in the Shopify ecosystem.
Here's a look at the dealflow:
Pete Davidson becomes a shareholder in Manscaped
With the announcement, the brand launched a new ad that features the SNL alum and “King of Staten Island” star testing out taglines.
“Both his sense of humor and sense of self closely fit our brand voice and values,” said Paul Tran, founder and CEO of Manscaped, in a statement. “One of those core values is to not take ourselves too seriously; it makes our brand approachable and allows for authentic connections with our fans.”
Davidson joins Zac Efron and Tim Tebow among celebrities signing on with digitally-native brands in recent weeks.
Terms of the investment deal were not disclosed.
Klarna's valuation drops in $800 million raise
Payments company Klarna announced Monday that it raised $800 million in new funding at a post-money valuation of $6.7 billion.
Participants in the round included Sequoia, the founders, Bestseller, Silver Lake, and Commonwealth Bank of Australia. It also attracted new investment from Mubadala Investment Company, the sovereign fund of the UAE, and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.
The company will use the funding to continue expansion in the United States, where it says it has 30 million users.
The valuation was an 85% drop from a year ago, when the company was valued at $45.6 billion, according to CNBC.
In an announcement, Klarna pointed out the fact that it raised in a stock market downturn, and pointed out that it now has a similar valuation to other fintech companies. It also said its valuation has risen 219% since 2018.
The investment is of $800m in common equity and at a valuation 3x times higher than back in 2018, outperforming Klarna’s public peers for the same time period. Klarna has not been immune to the significant downdrafts of fintech stock in public markets. The company’s peers are down 80-90% vs peak valuations and consequently the adjustment in Klarna’s valuation is on par with its public peers from its $45.6bn valuation in June 2021.
Nevertheless, the round comes amid headwinds for the Buy Now Pay Later market, which has faced scrutiny on both the business model and regulatory fronts. Plus, Apple is getting ready to enter the space in the fall. For its part, Klarna laid off 10% of its workforce earlier this year.
In a Twitter thread detailing "facts that the media might omit," CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski tweeted, "As investor sentiment shifts it is time to return to profitability," adding, "What does not kill you makes you stronger." Full thread below:
\u201cToday Klarna announces an $800m financing round during the worst stock downturn and challenging macro in decades. \n\nWe are not immune to public peers being down 75-90% and hence our valuation is down on par. Here are some facts that the media might omit in reporting on this \ud83e\uddf5 \ud83d\udc47\u201d— Sebastian Siemiatkowski (@Sebastian Siemiatkowski) 1657547956
Flexe becomes a unicorn
Logistics tech company Flexe raised $119 million in a Series D funding round. The Seattle-based company raised at a post-money valuation of more than $1 billion, meaning it now has unicorn status among startups.
The round included investments from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, as well as follow-on investments from Activate Capital, Madrona Ventures, Prologis Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and T. Rowe Price Investment Management, Inc. and Tiger Global.
Founded in 2013, Flexe combines enterprise technology and logistics expertise to provide brands and retailers with services in fulfillment, retail distribution and network capacity. The company says it works with six of the ten largest retailers and four of the five largest consumer packaged goods companies.
"Despite changing economic conditions, Flexe added nearly as many enterprise customers in the first six months of 2022 as it did all of last year and continues to see strong demand," said Karl Siebrecht, cofounder and CEO at Flexe, in a statement. "Our model allows organizations to scale fast in strong economic environments and reduce risk, capital investment and long-term commitments when they face uncertainty."
NielsenIQ and GfK combine consumer and retail measurement capabilities
A pair of global information services companies serving brands and retailers are joining together as one company.
By combining Nielsen’s cloud platform and omnichannel measurement technologies with GfK’s recently launched gfknewron platform, the companies will offer unique insights on consumer purchasing behavior. The deal also brings together two companies with a global footprint: GfK has a presence in 67 countries, while Nielsen is working in more than 90 countries.
With the deal, the majority shareholder of the company will be Advent, a private equity firm which acquired NielsenIQ from parent company Nielsen for $2.7 billion in 2021. Longtime GfK majority shareholder NIM will also retain a key stake, while private equity firm KKR will be a minority shareholder, the companies said
Terms of the deal, which is expected to close later this year, were not disclosed.
Essity acquires majority stake in Knix
With the deal, which values Knix at $400 million, Essity will own 80% of Knix. Joanna Griffiths, who founded Knix in 2013 and led it as CEO, will retain a 20% stake in the company and remain onboard as president.
Knix makes leakproof apparel for periods and incontinence, bras and other intimates products. The brand primarily sells through digital direct-to-consumer channels, and also has six retail stores.
Essity is looking to further boost its presence in the leakproof apparel market. It is already active in this space through ownership of feminine care brands Libresse, Bodyform, Saba and TOM Organic, as well as incontinence products through the TENA brand.
Shopify invests in Sanity
Shopify is making a strategic investment for an undisclosed amount in Sanity, a headless content management system used by companies such as Unilever, Puma, National Geographic, and Condé Nast.
Along with the investment, Sanity is launching an app for Hydrogen, the headless commerce framework recently introduced by Shopify that forms a stack with another tool called Oxygen.
“This means merchants building completely custom storefronts on Shopify can also deploy immersive product stories with rich media, embed product content on external channels, enable 1-click ordering anywhere on a website, orchestrate promotions to email and social media, and much more,” a release announcing the deal states.
Shopify events app Evey acquired by Staytuned
Founded in 2013 by former Shopify Director of Engineering Jason Normore, Evey offers merchants the ability to sell event tickets directly from a Shopfiy store, and provides a toolkit for event management processes like sales and check-in.
“We started Evey after personally hosting an event and hitting many roadblocks with the experience — from complicated set-up to inability to cross-sell our merchandise to taking over 1 month to get paid our ticket sales from our events platform. So, we took this frustration back to our computers and built Evey,” said Normore. “Given our depth of knowledge of Shopify, we purpose-built our app to work for Shopify merchants who wanted to set up and sell event tickets within seconds right within the Shopify platform.”
It will now join the fold at Staytuned, which currently serves more than 19,000 merchants through its collection of apps.
DEUNA raises $30 million for one-click checkout expansion in Latin America
The Series A round was led by Activant Capital, with participation from Valor Capital, Abstract Ventures, Acrew Capital, Upload Ventures, as well as founders from Plaid, Kavak, Jeeves, Xepelin, iFood, R2, and others.
The Silicon Valley-based company was founded in 2020 by Roberto Enrique Kafati Santos and Jose Maria Serrano, who are now emerging from stealth mode. The company said its platform provides one-click checkout, while integrating with payments providers and offering capabilities such as payment orchestration, payment processing, fraud prevention and life cycle management.
The company has added clients including KFC, Pappos and Dunkin Donuts.
“DEUNA’s one-click checkout will be a game changer for LatAm’s nearly $100 billion ecommerce market, helping address the region’s lower payment acceptance rates, higher fraud rates, and lower card usage rates,” said David Yang, partner at Activant Capital, in a statement. “We have been very impressed with Roberto and Jose Maria’s vision and experience as well as DEUNA’s traction to date.”
Toast acquires employee scheduling and communication platform Sling
Building on a partnership that began in 2021, Sling will now be integrated with Toast’s payroll and team management products. The company’s technology includes features such as scheduling templates, in-app messaging and multi-location team management.
“By adding Sling to the Toast platform, we can provide a more comprehensive suite of team management products purpose-built for restaurants, from new hire onboarding to payroll processing, and now the ability to schedule shifts across the team,” said Toast COO Aman Narang, in a statement. “Our customers will benefit from the ability to simplify communication across their team, control their labor costs and efficiently manage their teams through one integrated platform.”
Here are a few more deals we covered in the last week:
- Amazon + Grubhub: A deal that will add Grubhub’s subscription service to Amazon Prime includes a stake in the meal delivery company’s parent for Amazon. We broke down what the deal means for both businesses, and food delivery as a whole.
- Authentic Brands Group settles with Bolt: Forever 21 owner Authentic Brands Group said it settled a high-profile lawsuit against fintech company Bolt, and will now become a shareholder in the one-click checkout company. It was a change in tone from Authentic Brands Group, which sued Bolt over failing to deliver technology it promised. Now, Bolt will be used by Forever 21 and Lucky Brands, with the two companies exploring options for expansion.
- Booze-free beverages: Just in time for summer refreshment, PrivCo’s Daily Stack runs down alcohol-free DTC beverage companies that recently attracted investment funding.
Trending in Economy
The company is pulling back after breakneck pandemic expansion. Will it sacrifice the shopping experience along the way?
Amazon is in a period of rebalancing.
The company has long scaled at a relentless pace as it sought to not only provide a marketplace for commerce, but the infrastructure that enabled it, as well. Amazon found another level of overdrive over the last two years, as demand spiked to unseen heights during the pandemic and the company tried to build to keep up.
This wasn’t necessarily a period that saw the kind of invention that Jeff Bezos made an existential tenet of the company, but it nonetheless seems to be shaking out as a cycle that included risk and fallout.
In this case, the risk was not a new device like a smartphone or a move to bend the future to Amazon's will like drone delivery. Rather, it was an expansion that took its already-vast operations to new heights.
Nowhere was this more evident than the company’s logistics network. As CEO Andy Jassy described it to analysts Thursday on an earnings call, the company doubled the size of a fulfillment network it took a quarter-century to build in two years. It also built out a last-mile delivery network that was the size of UPS, which is one of the top two carriers in the U.S.
In 2022, all of that expansion ran into 40-year-high inflation, war in Ukraine and a pullback in demand for goods amid reopening. The company first admitted the problem: It had overbuilt.
But the solution is not to tear down. It had to keep expanding as only Amazon does, while still cutting back in a period of “belt-tightening,” as executives have put it.
That’s evident in watching developments out of the logistics network alone. Amazon pulled out of some areas, and canceled plans to expand into some new warehouses. Yet, as Business Insider reported, it still added 79 million square feet – a footprint that is equal to half of next-closest competitor Walmart’s entire distribution network. It is also expanding Buy with Prime, a new program that will allow direct-to-consumer brands to offer Prime benefits, and, by extension, access to Amazon’s logistics network. Another service, called Amazon Warehousing and Delivery, is designed for upstream storage, necessitating more space to be made available in the network.
At the same time, it will seek to keep doing more for consumers.
Jassy indicated as much when he was prompted to outline his priority areas. Beyond cost-cutting, he said speed is the second highest priority for Amazon. As if to conform this, he said later in the call that one-day shipping is getting off the ground in North America.
Selection is another priority area. At Amazon, that phrase translates to a few things, but top of mind is “expanding the third-party seller marketplace.” Third-party sellers accounted for 59% of sales in Q4. Beyond sales, Amazon’s work with the sellers who post their products on the marketplace is also lucrative for the company. Amazon allows these sellers to tap its logistics network to offer Prime through the Fulfillment by Amazon program. Its business segment called third-party seller services grew 20% year-over-year in the fourth quarter, right in line with the massively profitable cloud computing division Amazon Web Services.
Price, Jassy said, is another area of importance, especially with the consumer pullback on discretionary purchases being observed amid inflation.
“I think pricing being sharp is always important,” Jassy said. “But particularly in this type of uncertain economy, where customers are very conscious about how much they're spending, having the millions of deals that we put together with our selling partners in the fourth quarter was an important part of the demand that you saw.”
Finally, Jassy cited a priority of improving the customer experience. He said Buy with Prime would give subscribers the ability to use their benefits across the web, and noted that virtual try-on for shoes brings change to the shopping experience.
But it’s in this area that the tradeoffs that may be happening under the surface may rear their head again. GlobalData Managing Director Neil Saunders noted that online shopping generally is becoming “more difficult" on Amazon.
“While the Amazon marketplace is far from a terrible place to shop, it has become more complex and cluttered with a multitude of products, delivery options, and prices levels for shoppers to sift through,” Saunders wrote in note released at the time of the earnings call. “The result is that impulse buying has dropped and that more people are migrating away to other retailers. This is not yet a serious problem as erosion has only happened at the margins, but it is something Amazon will need to address and arrest to prevent further decline.”
Taking a rhetorical step further, the journalist John Hermann wrote this week that a “junkification” of Amazon is taking place, while arguing that “everything is going according to plan" for the company.
He placed the growth of the third-party seller marketplace at the center of this trend. But it also comes as Amazon grows its advertising business, with many taking note of a growing number of ads on the platform. The company also wants to keep growing Prime, and is now using content such as Lord of the Rings and NFL’s Thursday Night Football as key acquisition channels. Both had “record” signups of new Prime members, CFO Brian Olsavsky said.
“We see a direct link between that type of engagement and higher purchases of everyday products on our Amazon website,” he said.
It will have to do each of these things at once, while entering a period that will require it to be “more targeted with its growth ambitions,” as Saunders put it.
"Since its inception, Amazon has had a culture of throwing dollars at many different things to see where they led and what they could learn," Saunders said. "That approach worked well for a younger, fast-growth business. It works far less successfully for a more mature entity. In our view, management deserves credit for recognizing this and quickly responding. However, the shift requires a lot of care because Amazon needs to find a new balance between being ambitious and innovative and being more frugal with its spending – which will be very challenging."
Jassy said the changes of the pandemic made its logistics a "different network." That may be true of the whole company. Rather than an isolated cycle of overbuilding and pulling back, this may prove to be a period that changes Amazon altogether. The bets will still be there, but the risk will be magnified with fewer dollars that don't pay off to go around. As hinted by the logistics buildout of the pandemic and even Buy with Prime, they also may look more operational.
Less delivery robot, more delivery optimization.
As Jassy put it: “We're going to be very thoughtful about how we streamline our costs, and I think you see a lot of that, but we're also going to continue to invest for the long term.”
The recipients of those investments will say a lot about where it wants to head in this next year.