Startups that solve the operational and supply chain challenges of players in the high-speed consumer goods (FMCG) industry—helping buyers access sellers’ products on a single platform—continue to attract venture capital from investors.
Cartona, one of the leading players digitizing the traditional commerce market, including family stores, FMCG producers, wholesalers and distributors in Egypt, has raised $12 million in Series A funding. Jordan and the stage venture capital firm US-based initial Silicon Badia led the round, which also received participation from SANAD Fund for MSME, an impact investment fund for the Middle East and North Africa, Arab Bank Accelerator and Sunny Side Ventures.
Investors such as Global Ventures and Kepple Ventures doubled less than a year after participating in the company’s $4.5 million pre-Series A funding last September. At the time, Cartona was present in three Egyptian cities; now it’s eleven. According to a statement, the investment will allow the startup, launched in 2020, to cover all provinces in Egypt, grow its product, technology and services, and explore new verticals beyond the FMCG.
“So, we believe that with that money we would reach profitability. We will use this money for sustainable growth and only sustainable growth. We’re not going to expand like crazy without having positive unit savings in every city,” CEO Mahmoud Talaat told TechCrunch in an interview. “We plan to cover every city in Egypt, focus a lot on technology and product.”
Cartona’s platform allows buyers to order inventory from a network of selected sellers through an app that provides a communication tool for promotions and a dashboard for market insights.
The company operates a light asset market where it does not have a single product or vehicle. This model generated customer complaints on both sides of the platform. And as a result, Talaat said Cartona had to focus more on its technical integrations with major manufacturers and their warehouses, which created more upside for the business. With these integrations, he said, Cartona could simultaneously pursue capital efficiency and growth while scaling its embedded finance product.
Providing loans, working capital or BNPL to micro and small businesses is the sweet spot of B2B e-commerce and retail markets in Africa. But how they provide that service is different. CTO Mahmoud Abdel-Fattah says that in Egypt, a market with other asset-heavy startups like MaxAB or the Capiter hybrid model, Cartona excels at integrating BNPL services into its market processes without the help of a third-party provider. So instead of having small businesses pay off their loans every month with interest like other platforms, Cartona lets them pay off those loans every time there’s a shipment of products.
“In a market like Egypt, retailers do not accept the concept of paying the BNPL with interest at the end of the month. You don’t want to think you’re paying more interest to an outside company that gives you these working capital loans. They prefer it to be part of the prices of the products and to feel like it is part of the order cycle, making us a little different.” added Talaat.
Cartona borrows off its balance sheet for the time being. But executives say the company expects to receive some lines of credit and risk debt from local and international partners by January of next year.
There are over 400,000 stores and thousands of international and local brands across Egypt, with the sector growing by 8% annually. The reports also say that the overall size of the retail market is $120 billion, with the food and beverage market worth $70 billion. The huge opportunity this presents for platforms like Cartona has drawn investors like Silicon Badia into the B2B retail sector. According to the founding managing partner of the company, “the market is hungry for this type of[s] solutions, and we believe that Cartona’s asset-light approach will enable them to serve as many market participants as possible in a highly efficient manner.”
In our interview with Cartona executives last year, the company had over 30,000 merchants and processed over 400,000 orders with an annual gross merchandise value of EGP 1 billion (~$64 million). It has since doubled some of its numbers. Talaat said the company now serves more than 60,000 merchants and has processed more than 1 million transactions with an annual gross merchandise value of EGP 2.3 billion (~$120 million). Cartona has over 1,500 distributors and wholesalers on its platform and 200 FMCG companies, including big names like Unilever and Henkel. These numbers are higher than last September’s figures for 1,000 distributors, wholesalers and 100 FMCG companies.
The founders say they want to build Cartona to become a better technology partner for these FMCG brands. Abdel-Fattah, the executive in charge of handling these technical integrations, said: “We started with very large FMCGs, but everyone, including multinationals, is interested because they now see our value. We are not competing with them or lowering their prices. We’re not subsidizing your products like the competition sometimes does. We’re just connecting them to the retailer, so it’s about making the process seamless.”