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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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Echelon exposed riders’ account data, thanks to a leaky API

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Image Credits: Echelon (stock image)

Peloton wasn’t the only at-home workout giant exposing private account data. Rival exercise giant Echelon also had a leaky API that let virtually anyone access riders’ account information.

Fitness technology company Echelon, like Peloton, offers a range of workout hardware — bikes, rowers, and a treadmill — as a cheaper alternative for members to exercise at home. Its app also lets members join virtual classes without the need for workout equipment.

But Jan Masters, a security researcher at Pen Test Partners, found that Echelon’s API allowed him to access the account data — including name, city, age, sex, phone number, weight, birthday, and workout statistics and history — of any other member in a live or pre-recorded class. The API also disclosed some information about members’ workout equipment, such as its serial number.

Masters, if you recall, found a similar bug with Peloton’s API, which let him make unauthenticated requests and pull private user account data directly from Peloton’s servers without the server ever checking to make sure he (or anyone else) was allowed to request it.

Echelon’s API allows its members’ devices and apps to talk with Echelon’s servers over the internet. The API was supposed to check if the member’s device was authorized to pull user data by checking for an authorization token. But Masters said the token wasn’t needed to request data.

Masters also found another bug that allowed members to pull data on any other member because of weak access controls on the API. Masters said this bug made it easy to enumerate user account IDs and scrape account data from Echelon’s servers. Facebook, LinkedIn, Peloton and Clubhouse have all fallen victim to scraping attacks that abuse access to APIs to pull in data about users on their platforms.

Ken Munro, founder of Pen Test Partners, disclosed the vulnerabilities to Echelon on January 20 in a Twitter direct message, since the company doesn’t have a public-facing vulnerability disclosure process (which it says is now “under review”). But the researchers did not hear back during the 90 days after the report was submitted, the standard amount of time security researchers give companies to fix flaws before their details are made public.

TechCrunch asked Echelon for comment, and was told that the security flaws identified by Masters — which he wrote up in a blog post — were fixed in January.

“We hired an outside service to perform a penetration test of systems and identify vulnerabilities. We have taken appropriate actions to correct these, most of which were implemented by January 21, 2021. However, Echelon’s position is that the User ID is not PII [personally identifiable information,” said Chris Martin, Echelon’s chief information security officer, in an email.

Echelon did not name the outside security company but said while the company said it keeps detailed logs, it did not say if it had found any evidence of malicious exploitation.

But Munro disputed the company’s claim of when it fixed the vulnerabilities, and provided TechCrunch with evidence that one of the vulnerabilities was not fixed until at least mid-April, and another vulnerability could still be exploited as recently as this week.

When asked for clarity, Echelon did not address the discrepancies. “[The security flaws] have been remediated,” Martin reiterated.

Echelon also confirmed it fixed a bug that allowed users under the age of 13 to sign up. Many companies block access to children under the age of 13 to avoid complying with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, a U.S. law that puts strict rules on what data companies can collect on children. TechCrunch was able to create an Echelon account this week with an age less than 13, despite the page saying: “Minimum age of use is 13 years old.”

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Casualties Mount As Violence Intensifies Between Hamas, Israel

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Israel has called up more troops and launched its heaviest assault yet along the Gaza border. Seven people in Israel have been killed. Losses are much higher on the Palestinian side.

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Palestinian Perspective: What The Conflict With Israel Looks Like From Gaza

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NPR’s Steve Inskeep talks to Omar Shaban, founder of a Gaza-based think tank, and Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu, about how this cycle of Palestinian-Israeli violence plays out in their neighborhoods.

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