Spark Capital

With $8 million to consolidate Amazon’s top marketplace sellers, Perch makes its first deals

After raising $8 million in November to roll up top Amazon marketplace companies, the new New York-based startup Perch has begun putting that money to work in its first few deals.

The brainchild of Chris Bell, formerly Wayfair’s head of logistics and a Bain & Co. analyst, Perch is pretty well-positioned to serve as unifier of a bevy of disparate products in one nest.

The company’s recent acquisition include brands selling a sand anchor for beach umbrellas (Beachr), a waterproof apron for cooking, a hip sciatica brace (Bodymate), and other similar products that wouldn’t be out of place in a late night informercial or on the Home Shopping Network.

“We believe that the future of product R&D is entrepreneurs that are closest to the problems,” says Bell in an interview. “We look for products that are top three in their niche… [Their founders] want some liquidity and we can bring that onto our platform and add price optimization, ad-spend optimization and cross-geography marketing.”

In a way, Perch is tapping into a similar urge to give America’s huge population of tinkerers and inventors better access to market and a chance to monetize their ideas a la Quirky, the failed attempt by GE to turn gadget ideas into new product lines for GE. 

By contrast, Perch waits for the businesses to gain traction, then offers to buy the products off of their owners hands and give them up to two years participation in any upside that the product generates at certain milestones that Perch sets for the entrepreneurs that sell.

“Three years ago I would not have started this business,” says Bell. “Amazon has made this a much more defensible place.” 

The Amazon marketplace remains somewhat of the wild west, where intellectual property rights are often ignored and successful products are copied at lightning speed by vendors with access to the same commoditized supply chains. It’s really marketing muscle and an ability to get better margins through scale that creates winners, it seems, and Perch is using its technical know-how to get to the top. 

Acquisitions can range from $750,000 to $2 million upfront with the upside on the backend still to come, according to Bell. Financing this operation is a $4.5 million equity round and $3.5 million in debt financing by some of the nation’s leading venture firms. Perch won’t buy any company that’s doing less than $250,000 in revenue.

Spark Capital led the deal for Perch, with general partner Alex Finkelstein taking a seat on the company’s board of directors. Tectonic Ventures also participated. Finkelstein, who led Spark’s investment in Wayfair, was introduced to Bell through Wayfair’s chief operating officer. He immediately saw the potential in Perch’s pitch.

“If you look at it from a macro standpoint. Amazon is growing very quickly and the third party marketplace is growing very quickly. Within the next year we’re going to have a large portfolio and it’ll do well in any environment,” Finkelstein said. 

Amazon’s third party sellers are a $200 billion market and the largest single vendor is a $500 million seller, Bell noted, and that, is an opportunity that a well-capitalized company can exploit.

“We’re going to be managing hundreds of micro-brands and the only way to do that is through a technology platform,” Bell said. “They’re generally niche products that are not big enough that Amazon Basics would come into that category. We’re competing in smaller categories, but even some of these niche categories are tens of millions to hundreds of millions in revenue.”

While Perch has seen some impacts from the economic shutdown caused by the government response to the COVID-19 epidemic, the company expects the shift in consumer behavior to be the wind beneath its wings, rather than against its branches.

“Medium-term it’s pushing more people to buy online,” says Bell. And Perch isn’t slowing its pace of acquisitions. “We made two acquisitions in March and we’re likely going to close another two in the next two weeks.”


VCs warn coronavirus will impact fundraising for the next 2 quarters

As of this writing, COVID-19 has killed more than 3,400 people around the globe and the coronavirus has infected tens of thousands more. But its impact has gone much further, causing major disruptions in public markets and leading corporations to pull out of conferences and delay travel. Big tech companies are asking workers to stay home and investors are now urging startups to prepare accordingly.

Sequoia Capital sent a letter to its founders on Thursday warning that the coronavirus was a “black swan” event and startups should “brace themselves for turbulence” by considering if they have enough cash and preparing to face supply chain disruptions. The letter also warned they could have a harder time fundraising, similar to the market downturns of 2001 and 2009.

The coronavirus effect is rippling throughout the tech world. Seattle, which has seen a cluster of cases, seems almost a ghost town in some parts, according to entrepreneur and former Madrona Capital partner Shauna Causey. She told TechCrunch that many of the coffee shops and co-working spaces popular among VCs have gone empty in the last week and all of her fundraising meetings are conducted via Zoom.

And already there’s some chatter that funding might be drying up for early-stage startups, though Bloomberg Beta’s Roy Bahat tells TechCrunch that startups should always be fundraising as soon as they can to protect themselves from this type of calamity.

Long term room-rental platform Badi launches its service in NYC

As things stand in many countries, renting houses and whole apartments is relatively straightforward, if you can afford it. But trying to find rooms in those apartments and houses to rent has been chaotic for many years and relies on hugely informal networks. Some startups have launched in recent years to address this problem of finding roommates and rooms for rent as the market becomes more competitive.

Roomi (NYC, raised $17M), Roomster is in NYC, and then there’s SpareRoom. All have appeared to try and capture this growing market. And of course, they have Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace as competitors. 

Then there are other co-living companies include Common, Ollie, Quarters, Startcity, X Social Communities, and WeLive.

Backed by $45 million from U.S. and international investors like Spark Capital and Mangrove Capital, including $30 million from Goodwater Capital as their first investment in a Spanish startup, Badi is a Spanish-born startup (founded in Barcelona by Carlos Pierre) which is a long-term room rental platform, operating in cities like London, Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin.

It’s now launching in New York City, after claiming to have surpassed more than two million users in Europe. Badi says its web and mobile app now features over 300,000 listings. After soft-launching in November of last year, it claims to be growing booking requests by 370%. 

Pierre says: “Every major city around the world is suffering from overcrowdedness and increasing rent prices. The strong interest from the participants in our beta group alongside the findings from our 2020 survey on NYC indicates that city dwellers are warming up to the idea of sharing and co-living arrangements.”

During its beta in NYC, Badi found that the majority think co-living is a growing trend and shared living spaces with shared resources are viewed favorably.

Badi’s main pitch is that it provides a safe and secure communications channel for users to get to know potential roommates without an intermediary, using a visual verification tool for ensuring renters profiles and photos of the rooms and amenities.

It’s serving a need. The United Nations projects that 2.5 billion people will live in cities by 2050. This will cause rents to skyrocket, of course.