Startups solving the supply chain and operational challenges facing players in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry – by helping buyers access products from sellers on a single platform – continue to attract venture capital from investors.
Cardboard, one of the key players digitizing the traditional commerce market, including mom-and-pop stores, FMCG producers, wholesalers and distributors in Egypt, has raised $12 million in Series A financing. Jordan and US-based venture capital firm Silicon Badia led the round, which also welcomed the participation of 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 in less than a year after participating in the company’s $4.5 million pre-Series A funding last September. Cartona was then present in three Egyptian cities; it is now past eleven. According to a statement, the investment will enable the startup, launched in 2020, to cover all of Egypt’s governorates, grow its product, technology and services and explore new verticals beyond FMCG.
“So we believe we would be profitable with this money. We will use this money for sustainable growth and only for sustainable growth. We will not expand like crazy without a positive unity economy in every city,” CEO Mahmoud Talaat told londonbusinessblog.com in an interview. “We plan to cover all cities in Egypt and focus a lot on technology and product.”
Cartona’s platform allows buyers to order inventory from a network of curated sellers through an app that provides a communication tool for promotions and a dashboard for market insights.
The company operates an asset-light marketplace where it does not own any product or vehicle. This model has led to complaints from customers on both sides of the platform. And as a result, Talaat said Cartona needed to focus more on the technical integrations with major manufacturers and their warehouses, which has created more profit for the company. With these integrations, Cartona could simultaneously pursue capital efficiency and growth while scaling its embedded financial 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 this service differs. CTO Mahmoud Abdel Fattah claims that Cartona in Egypt, a market with other entrants such as the heavy MaxAB or the hybrid model Capiter, stands out for integrating BNPL services into its market processes without the help of a third party. So instead of small businesses paying their loans with interest every month like other platforms, Cartona allows them to repay these loans every time a product is shipped.
“In a market like Egypt, retailers don’t really like the concept of paying interest for BNPL at the end of the month. You don’t want to think that you are paying more interest with an outside company that gives you these working capital loans. They prefer it to be a part of product pricing and embedded as part of the order cycle, which makes us a little bit different.” Talaat added.
Cartona is borrowing from the balance sheet for the time being. But the executives say the company expects credit lines and risk debt from local and international partners by January next year.
There are over 400,000 stores and thousands of international and local brands across Egypt, with the sector growing at an annual rate of 8%. Reports also say the total retail market is $120 billion, with a food and beverage market being $70 billion. The huge opportunity this presents to platforms like Cartona has attracted investors like Silicon Badia to the B2B retail sector. According to the company’s founding managing partner, “the market is hungry for this type”[s] of solutions, and we believe Cartona’s asset-light approach will enable them to serve as many market participants as possible in a very efficient way.”
In our interview with Cartona’s executives last year, the company had more than 30,000 salespeople and processed more than 400,000 orders with an annual gross trade value of EGP 1 billion (~$64 million). Since then, the number has doubled. Talaat said the company now serves 60,000+ merchants and has processed more than 1 million transactions with an annual gross trade value of EGP 2.3 billion (~$120 million). Cartona has more than 1,500 distributors and wholesalers on its platform and 200 FMCG companies, including big names such as Unilever and Henkel. These numbers are higher than last September’s numbers of 1,000 distributors, wholesalers and 100 FMCG companies.
The founders say they want to build on Cartona to become a better technology partner for these FMCG brands. Abdel-Fattah, the director in charge of these technical integrations, said: “We started with very large FMCGs, but everyone, including multinationals, is interested because they now see our value. We do not compete with them or lower their prices. We don’t subsidize their products like the competition sometimes does, we just connect them to the retailer, so it’s about making the process seamless.”