El Segundo-based Dibbs, which brands itself as "the only real-time fractional sports card marketplace," secured a $13 million Series A round this week. Foundry Group led the round, with several superstar athletes such as Chris Paul and Skylar Diggins-Smith also participating.
Since last year, the sports card trade has reached record highs — in some cases, outpacing stock markets — with all-time high trading prices and a significant increase in online trades. The industry has even reeled in venture capitalists, including L.A.-based VCs Carter and Courtney Reum.
Alongside the growing interest in investing in physical cards is a booming market in trading sports-related digital tokens. The asset class known as NFTs (non-fungible tokens) has been expanding quickly, with marketplaces like NBA Top Shot making millions and upstarts like BallerTV minting tokens for high school athletes.
In a way, Dibbs combines these two industries. Traders can send their cards to Dibbs, who create digital representations of the card to be minted and sold as NFTs. While the card sits in a highly secure vault powered by PWCC Vault, the seller can profit off of the sales, and Dibbs takes a trading fee.
Dibbs sells these collectibles as fractional NFTs, meaning users do not have to contribute large amounts of money to participate in trades. Instead, they can own fractions of NFTs, which can be bought and sold on the platform.
So called "smart contracts" baked into the blockchain algorithm give buyers a full NFT once they've accumulated enough fractions. At that point, the user can either have the physical card sent to them or they can keep the full NFT to trade on other marketplaces.
"More than anything else, [the NFT craze has] gotten people to think about collecting differently," said CEO and co-founder Evan Vandenberg. "Before it was this kind of physical attachment, and I think people are now much more comfortable separating that possession from ownership concept and being able to do these things in a digital form."
Vandenberg said the appeal of owning a fraction of a sports card NFT lies in not only the affordability but also in the potential for this specific market to grow.
"Sports cards have been around since the 19th century, so we're talking about 100-plus years of actual collectability, of value," he said, adding that he hopes to see the market for digital cards grow as well. "I'm the biggest fan of NFTs. I hope they really have longevity."
The fractionalization of NFTs has stirred up controversy in the crypto world, prompting concerns that fractions of NFTs could at some point be reclassified as securities — meaning they would be legally subject to regulation. At the Security Token Summit last March, SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce said of fractionalized NFTs, "You better be careful that you're not creating something that's an investment product. That is a security."
Such talk doesn't faze Vandenberg, who said Dibbs does not see their fractional NFTs as securities.
"Where fractional ownership — whether ownership of a network like Ethereum, or a particular NFT — can be accomplished in a transparent, open-source manner, without making purchasers beholden to the management efforts of the promoters, we see that as a win-win."
According to Vandenberg, tens of thousands of people signed up to the platform's waitlist before launch, and over 110,000 trades were made on Dibbs while it was in closed beta, which ended earlier this month.
The platform is now available to anyone over 18 in the U.S., and nearly 20,000 non-U.S. customers remain on its current waitlist, Vandenberg said.
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As the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed small businesses, some struggling companies turned to livestreaming-based ecommerce business Popshop Live to stay afloat.
Now, Popshop Live wants to prove that ecommerce via live streaming is here to stay.
Valued at $100 million, the company announced a Series A round of funding Thursday. Popshop declined to disclose how much it raised in the funding round, though TechCrunch reported the funding was around $20 million.
The round was led by Benchmark and included TQ Ventures, Mantis VC and Access Industries.
Popshop Live also hired former Instagram and Instacart executive Bangaly Kaba to lead platform growth and former head of Uber Eats Jason Droege to lead expansion, the company announced.
Founded in 2019, Popshop is one of several Los Angeles-based startups competing in the emerging livestreaming ecommerce world that includes talkshoplive, a streaming service for celebrities, and Whatnot, a streaming service for collectibles.
"Livestream commerce is not just a trend in China and through the pandemic," said Popshop Live board member Matt Cohler in announcing the raise. "It is an emerging multi-billion-dollar phenomenon whose growth is accelerating every day."
The company sees itself as a combination of online commerce with the experience of in-person shopping. Customers can scroll through live feeds of merchants selling items, interact with sellers and purchase items through Popshop's app. The startup claims that traditional brick-and-mortar sellers are shifting their focus to its platform, after seeing higher sales and rates of customer convergence.
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One of the difficult and costly things for ecommerce companies is finding and keeping customers online.
Emad Hasan, a former Facebook and Paypal marketing analyst, said he often saw online sellers wasting money chasing customers who would never return.
The co-founder of Santa Monica-based Retina, Hasan helped create an application that vendors can use to identify valuable customers, those more likely to spend or keep coming back.
On Tuesday, Retina announced it raised $8 million in Series A funding that it will use to develop the software and expand the company. The funding round was led by Alpha Intelligence Capital and Vertical Venture Partners.
"Using a compass is what they have been doing," he said. "And now we're now giving them a GPS that gives them a much more accurate understanding of where they are, where they could be going and how they're making those decisions."
Founded in 2017, Retina uses artificial intelligence and data from the company to predict which customers are likely to come back.
The AI tools are integrated into platforms like Shopify, Google and Facebook and customers can view Retina's predictions on Google and Facebook Ads platforms.
Client companies can use Retina's AI to lure in customers who are likely to return with things like discounts and special offers.
Hasan said Retina is targeting smaller, newer companies that often don't have the money or manpower to sift through customer data and search out repeat shoppers. It's also appealing to businesses that have at least 18 months of data and around 100,000 customers.
Retina's customers include companies like Dollar Shave Club, Nestlé and Madison Reed.