“With this investment, Sparrow Ventures, and thus Migros, underscores its commitment to the area of used goods trade and circular economy” runs a headline in a Swiss newspaper that reported on the transaction.
Founded in 2013, Revendo is actually no longer considered a classic start-up. After almost ten years on the market, it has grown to the market leader in this segment with a considerate size and yearly turnover.
One might ask therefore, why we, as a corporate venture capitalist, nevertheless invested in this start-up? There are a couple reasons why we have chosen this particular moment to buy shares of an established company and why we’ve opted for Revendo.
In this blogpost, I will explain our motivations to help in particular new start-up founders to get a better understanding of the decision making processes of a (corporate) ventures capitalist.
“Timing is everything. If you’re too early, you’re doomed. If you’re too late, you’re doomed.” — Paul Graham (October, 2005)
For a start-up, market timing is an important aspect of success or failure. It’s easier to surf a wave than to paddle against the current.
As an investor — whether corporate-backed or not — you always look for the start-ups that have already positioned themselves optimally when the wave is formed. Revendo is one of them. The Swiss company buys, recycles and then resells used consumer electronics from private individuals and companies. In recent years, consumer awareness regarding sustainability has increased significantly, pushing up the demand for second-hand electronic goods. In Switzerland, for example, 47% of consumers aim to take sustainability more into account in their purchasing decisions in the future.
Even though words like “upcycling,” “refurbished” or “circular economy” are familiar, especially to younger people, the topic has not yet reached the mass market. According to a representative study by Zurich University of Applied Sciences Winterthur (ZHAW), an estimated three million old, still intact cell phones are still lying unused in drawers in Switzerland. Assuming a residual value of around CHF 300 per device, that almost accounts for CHF 1 billion. We’re convinced that companies like Revendo help to feed these devices back into the circular economy.
Alongside market timing, strategic relevance is also crucial for corporate venture capitalists
In order not to miss such disruptive trends, a dedicated department, an independent partner or a separate subsidiary within the company can help to view the existing business from a necessary distance. Ideally, they are even part of the prioritization process of strategic initiatives. With Sparrow Ventures, Migros has such a sparring partner. Sparrow Ventures has been acting as a venture builder and venture capitalist since 2018. As an investor, we follow certain investment criteria that are strongly aligned with the group strategy. This results in promising investments that expand Migros’ portfolio and, among other things, strengthen the company’s competitiveness. With the investment in bestsmile 2019, Sparrow Ventures made its first appearance as an investor. Since 2020, the topic of refurbishing/upcycling of consumer electronics and the circular economy have been much discussed internally at Migros. Over time, it has become a key strategic focus. The high strategic relevance has increased the appetite for investments in this space. At the beginning of the year, we were able to seal the participation in Revendo.
“If you don’t have competitors, you don’t have a market” — Marc Benioff, Founder & CEO at Salesforce (June 2018)
In most cases, there are several companies in the market that solve a similar “problem” with almost identical products and services. This can be seen as a positive sign, as it can be an indication of the attractiveness of a market field. Once a promising market has been successfully identified by us, the next step is to decide which player offers the best chances to help shape the market. During this process, we first obtained an overview of the used goods trade in the consumer electronics sector with a focus on Switzerland. Based on a superficial analysis, we selected a handful of young companies with whom we entered into discussions to gain an understanding of their respective business models, visions and goals. On the one hand, this included quantitative components, such as sales, the number of FTEs, growth trends and ambitions, and capital needs. On the other hand, we also examined qualitative aspects, such as strategic priorities, the founding team and the cultural fit.
All the start-ups we analyzed were for the most part promisingly positioned. They had a respectable amount of traction and a capable founding and/or management team with complementary skills.
In the end, we chose Revendo for three reasons:
- Size: Over the last years, Revendo has become the market leader in the submarkets of relevance to us, despite having limited financial resources. That is a clear seal of quality. Moreover, its product portfolio includes not just mobile phones, but also computers, laptops and accessories.
- Business model: Unlike the other players, Revendo has since its founding relied on a multi-channel approach to marketing and sales. In addition to the online shop, Revendo operates ten of its own stores in Switzerland and in Austria’s capital Vienna. Its growth is rooted partly in its physical presence, which additionally helps boost consumer confidence further, especially with respect to how personal data is handled on used devices, such as mobile telephones, tablets and computers. Revendo takes care to completely erase all data.
- Cultural fit: The founders stand behind their business 100% and live what they do. Over the years, Aurel and Laurenz have created an understanding, sustainable, yet demanding company culture. With smart action and strict capital efficiency, they have been able to accomplish a great deal with minimal resources. The conversations with them quickly showed that they fit perfectly into Migros’ value culture.
We’re convinced that Revendo is the best choice for us and we are looking forward to our joint journey.
Thanks to Revendo’s business model and broad product portfolio, there’s considerable potential for synergies with the Migros ecosystem. In addition, the cultural fit also strengthens our will to work together and thus increases the likelihood of implementing synergies. So that’s it for the theory.
Now it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get on with it!
Author: Tobias Pfortmüller, Senior Investment Manager with Sparrow Ventures