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Color raises $167 million funding at $1.5 billion valuation to expand ‘last mile’ of U.S. health infrastructure

Healthcare startup Color has raised a sizeable $167 million in Series D funding round, at a valuation of $1.5 billion post-money, the company announced today. This brings the total raised by Color to $278 million, with its latest large round intended to help it build on a record year of growth in 2020 with even more expansion to help put in place key health infrastructure systems across the U.S. – including those related to the “last mile” delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

This latest investment into Color was led by General Catalyst, and by funds invested by T. Rowe Price, along with participation from Viking Global investors as well as others. Alongside the funding, the company is also bringing on a number of key senior executives, including Claire Vo (formerly of Optimizely) as Chief Product Officer, Emily Reuter (formerly of Uber, where she played a key role in its IPO process) as VP of Strategy and Operations, and Ashley Chandler (formerly of Stripe) as VP of Marketing.

“I think with the [COVID-19] crisis, it’s really shone the light on that lack of infrastructure. We saw it multiple times, with lab testing, with antigen testing, and now with vaccines,” Color CEO and co-founder Othman Laraki told me in an interview. “The model that we’ve been developing, that’s been working really well, and we feel like this is the opportunity to really scale it in a very major way. I think literally what’s happening is the building of the public health infrastructure for the country that’s starting off from a technology-first model, as opposed to, what ends up happening in a lot of industries, which is you start off taking your existing logistics and assets, and add technology to them.”

Color’s 2020 was a record year for the company, thanks in part to partnerships like the one it formed with the the City of San Francisco to establish testing for health care workers and residents. Laraki told me they did about five-fold their prior year’s business, and while the company is already set up to grow on its own sustainably based on the revenue it pulls in from customers, its ambitions and plans for 2021 and beyond made this the right time to help it accelerate further with the addition of more capital.

Laraki described Color’s approach as one that is both cost-efficient for the company, and also significant cost-saving for the healthcare providers it works with. He likens their approach to the shift that happened in retail with the move to online sales – and the contribution of one industry heavyweight in particular.

“At some point, you build Amazon – a technology-first stack that’s optimized around access and scale,” Laraki said. “I think that’s literally what we’re seeing now with healthcare. What’s kind of getting catalyzed right now is we’ve been realizing it applies to the COVID crisis, but also, we started actually working on that for prevention and I think actually it’s going to be applying to a huge surface area in healthcare; basically all the aspects of health that are not acute care where you don’t need to show up in hospital.”

Ultimately, Color’s approach is to re-think healthcare delivery in order to “make it accessible at the edge directly in people’s lives,” with “low transaction costs,” in a way that’s “scalable, [and] doesn’t use a lot of clinical resourcing,” Laraki says. He notes that this is actually very possible once you re-asses the problem without relying on a lot of accepted knowledge about the way things are done today, which result in a “heavy stack” vs. what you actually need to deliver the desired outcomes.

Laraki doesn’t think the problem is easy to solve – on the contrary, he acknowledges that 2021 is likely to be even more difficult and challenging than 2020 in many ways for the healthcare industry, and we’ve already begun to see evidence of that in the many challenges already faced by vaccine distribution and delivery in its initial rollout. But he’s optimistic about Color’s ability to help address those challenges, and to build out a ‘last mile’ delivery system for crucial care that expands accessibility, while also making sure things are done right.

“When you take a step back, doing COVID testing, or COVID vaccinations is actually those are not complex procedures at all – they’re extremely simple procedures,” he said. “What’s hard is doing them massive scale, and with a very low transaction cost to the individual and to the system. And that’s a very different tooling.”

2020 was a defining year for cannabis: What comes next?

To say that COVID-19 has dominated the past year would be an understatement. We’ve seen the pandemic reorient how we interact with businesses, each other and the world around us. It’s accelerated many trends in business — from e-commerce to digital payments — by several years in a matter of months.

The cannabis industry is no exception. Cannabis was already the country’s fastest-growing industry, but 2020 has taken the space to another level. A record-high percentage of Americans now support cannabis legalization.

By all accounts, cannabis was one of the biggest winners on Election Day, with legalization passing in Arizona, Montana, Missouri, New Jersey and South Dakota. More than one-third of the country — over 111 million people — now live in a state with legal recreational cannabis. By 2021, the legal industry is expected to be worth $24.5 billion.

A record-high percentage of Americans now support cannabis legalization.

Never has it been more clear that cannabis is now a staple in mainstream America. As we look toward 2021, this upward trajectory not only opens new doors for the industry, but the economy as a whole, with greater innovation, investment and employment opportunities flowing into the space.

A green economy

More than 57 million Americans have filed for unemployment since March. While the financial and employment opportunities around cannabis are not a silver bullet, they’re certainly not something we should ignore.

Legal cannabis sales reached nearly $20 billion this past year and are expected to top $40 billion annually within the next four years. As the industry continues to grow, companies are hiring to keep pace. The legal cannabis market supports 243,700 full-time-equivalent American jobs, which are set to multiply by 250% between 2018 and 2028. This makes the cannabis industry America’s largest source for new jobs.

Cannabis can also strengthen state economies and generate opportunities for increased tax revenue, particularly as state and local budgets dwindle. For example, with its new legalization measure, Arizona will issue a 16% tax on cannabis sales that will go toward community colleges, police, fire departments and public health programs.

Accelerating cannabis e-commerce

If there’s one point that’s been reinforced this year, it’s that cannabis is a highly demanded and indispensable consumer good.

At the height of widespread shelter-in-place orders this spring, dispensaries were classified as “essential” in many states alongside grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies. While people couldn’t shop at department stores or go to the movies, they could still purchase from their local dispensary. This government recognition was a major signal to the market that the space has been elevated to the mainstream.

A resounding response from consumers followed with record cannabis sales. Unprecedented demand forced cannabis retailers to revolutionize the ways they do business and how customers purchase products. To minimize direct person-to-person contact that can potentially spread the virus, dispensaries turned quickly to e-commerce and digital payment solutions to keep employees and consumers safe while modernizing their business.

As a result of these changes across industries, online sales will reach $794.5 billion by the end of the year, far surpassing original estimates. Experts estimate that the pandemic accelerated the shift to e-commerce by five years. At Dutchie, we’ve seen this firsthand. Since March, we’ve experienced a 700% surge in online orders and a 32% increase in average order size.

Looking ahead to 2021

These political and business transformations were milestones that we’ve fast-forwarded to at breakneck speed. So, what comes next?

I see technological innovation at the forefront of the legal industry moving forward. Technology will enable dispensaries to streamline operations in a highly regulated space where compliance is essential. In turn, data will increasingly become more important as retailers will need to better understand their data to make more proactive, informed decisions. This will be a focus for dispensaries of all sizes, but in particular larger businesses that are looking for an increasingly high level of sophistication for their online experiences.

To meet this need, we’re finally seeing new enterprise-level solutions on the market that empower dispensaries to fully leverage their data to design their unique online identity so they can remain competitive as more players join the space.

As legalization continues to spread, wider adoption will further legitimize the industry and de-stigmatize cannabis sales and use. We will likely see cannabis companies attracting more top talent from some of the most notable companies across mainstream industries, and more software platforms, businesses and investors that were formerly hesitant to enter the space begin to work with and invest in cannabis-related businesses. Federal legalization of cannabis also has the potential to enhance liquidity and open the floodgates to more investment deals.

Additionally, as we’ve already begun to see, there will be an increasing trend toward consolidation across the space as retailers continue to make big acquisitions and mergers. More multistate operators will consume smaller players and smaller players will combine forces, creating a space that is more cohesive and less fragmented.

The future of cannabis

The cannabis industry is still in its infancy, but its potential is crystal clear.

As more states legalize and the industry grows and matures, we will see the needle move even closer to where we want to be: Where legal cannabis is afforded the same technological and financial resources as other mainstream industries; innovators can more freely come together to develop modern technology solutions to push the space forward; and where consumers and patients can get what they want more conveniently.

Florida-based logistics provider ShipMonk raises $290 million on the back of rising eCommerce demand

Jan Bednar started ShipMonk with $70,000 in winnings from a string of student business plan competitions and launched the business that just closed on $290 million in new funding from a small warehouse with no air conditioning in the middle of Florida.

While Bednar’s new offices are still inside the warehouse his company operates, they now have air conditioning… and a $290 million financing round from Summit Partners to grow its business.

The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based ShipMonk provides a slew of shipping and logistics services for small to medium-sized eCommerce businesses and right now — given the continuing COVID-19 pandemic — business is good.

We help SMBs and mid-market direct to consumer companies manage their supply chains. Help get their products from suppliers to facilities and connect with all of their sales channels including B2B … order management, transportation management, reverse logistics,” said Bednar. 

The company’s largest customers can book anywhere from $150 million to $250 million in revenue, but most of ShipMonk’s customers are actually small businesses pulling in between $1 million and $10 million on average.

It’s for these businesses that ShipMonk will fill its warehouses in Pennsylvania, California and Florida with 60,000 stock keeping units — managing around 50 different items for each customer it serves.

Bednar said ShipMonk would use the new cash to continue to upgrade its automation services and increase its staffing while also looking to expand internationally.

Profitable from the outset, ShipMonk just came off one of its best years, taking in upwards of $140 million in revenue. 

Bednar began the business alone, but quickly brought on co-founders Kevin Seitz, who handles marketing for the business, and Bosch Jares, a fellow native of the Czech Republic (like Bednar) who serves as the company’s chief technology officer.

The story of how Jares joined the business is indicative of the type of hustle that’s allowed Bednar to grow a booming tech and logistics business from the Ft. Lauderdale beaches.

It was the Florida weather that sold Jares, a college student from one of the Czech Republic’s top technical institutions, on the move to ShipMonk. Bednar had posted an internship opportunity to work (unpaid, but offering room and board) at his company on a college job board in the middle of January. The applications came pouring in, but it was Jares, a programmer who had been working with computers since age 14 who took the slot.

The rest… is ShipMonk history. Jares built the bulk of the backend for the company’s initial services spending nearly 20 hours a day coding.

 The thriftiness and hard work has won ShipMonk a booming business that has grown from 15,000 square feet of warehousing space into nearly 1 million square feet of storage space and a logistics service that spans the U.S. 

Timing for the new round couldn’t be better, as National Retail Federation estimates are banking on a 20% bump in new online sales — which could reach $202 billion this year. 

Black Friday alone raked in $9 billion in online purchases, according to data from Adobe Analytics provided by the company, and consumer spending is only going to continue to move online as the pandemic continues to threaten the health and safety of American consumers.  

ShipMonk’s technology integrates with shopping cart and marketplace platforms like Shopify to import orders across sales channels, which are then processed at the company’s warehouse locations. Customers can save up to 50% on their operational costs, according to the company.

“We believe ShipMonk truly demonstrates the power of a bootstrapped, durable growth mindset. Jan identified a significant gap in the market and, together with the ShipMonk team, has scaled the business in a deliberate and capital efficient manner to address that need. The results have been impressive,” said Christopher Dean, a Managing Director at Summit Partners who is taking a seat on the company’s board.