Three years after becoming Chairman and CEO of GoFund Me, Rob Salomon is returning to an industry he calls “my first love,” digital commerce, as co-founder and CEO of Keith Commerce, a company focused on investing, acquiring and operating at scale. – Potential, digital-first consumer product brands.
In addition to GoFundMe, Salomon has an extensive business background from roles at companies such as Yahoo (Commerce Business Unit) and Groupon (President and COO). He told TechCrunch that he’s “intimately familiar with Commerce 1.0,” and has always wanted to get back to marketing.
“We’re entering a really exciting phase of e-commerce,” said Solomon. “I’d say by winning. It’s big, but it’s still a small percentage of the total business. Physical business is still dominant. The future reality of business is not online. It’s not offline. It’s not Amazon. It’s not Shopify. It’s direct-to-consumer. It’s just every channel.”
Solomon launched the company in 2022 with investment firms Juxtapose and Blackstone, which gave Kite $200 million in equity funding to start. The idea is to strategically acquire clothes with that money, then help brand founders with capital and operations to accelerate their business from e-commerce to social, retail and beyond. Part of that vision includes building a technology stack powered by artificial intelligence and APIs to deliver better manufacturing, supply chain, design and customer acquisition capabilities.
That description sounds like an e-commerce aggregator, a company that buys consumer product companies and leverages technology infrastructure. In addition, one of Keith’s board members is Delta Dental President and CEO Mark Michke, who was previously an Amazon executive. Still, Solomon insists that Keith is something else, something new.
“The best way to think about it is as a commerce platform company,” Solomon said. “We want to own and operate certain brands, which will train the system. We want to invest in business, business and software companies to help build the ecosystem. Ultimately we want to provide a platform for tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of direct sellers over the next decade.”
Solomon explained that since there is a lot of inefficiency, friction and high cost for most small and medium direct sellers, Kit is building the software and providing the services for how products are produced, moved, marketed, shipped, stored and sold.
Juxtapose co-founder and partner Jed Cairo described Solomon in a written statement, writing that the firm believes “consumer-facing business is at the beginning of a revolution.” A growing number of categories are moving from brands that use high-end, TV advertising and big-box retail communication to unique, small and passionate brands that are backed by world-class technology.
As for how the kit comes about, Salomon has surrounded himself with a team of people, including GoFundMe’s Ujjwal Singh, chief product and technology officer. Nastasya Tan, formerly with Ideo and Uber, Chief Design Officer; and supply chain and operations expert John Kuffner as chief operating officer.
Joining Mark Mitchke on the company’s board is James Chen, CTO of Built Technologies and former CTO of Flexport.
Meanwhile, Kite has acquired two unknown businesses, including one in the fitness category and one in the broader self-improvement category. Salomon Keith says it’s a good time to start because out of economic corrections often come “some of the best companies in the world” because they’re focused on investing and building sustainable businesses.
Comparatively, before last year’s sudden market upheaval, brands were told for years to grow at all costs and “don’t worry about creating an efficient and effective cash flow business model,” Solomon explained. As the market adjusted and access to capital became difficult, growth among smaller e-commerce brands flatlined, and many buyers, including e-commerce aggregators, had to shut down.
In fact, even a year later, some buyouts are still in “pause mode” when it comes to acquisitions, Talison Hollywood, director of specialist M&A at London-based Hahnbeck, told TechCrunch in an email interview.
Hollywood, which brokers between buyers and sellers of e-commerce companies, says collectors are becoming “more selective” today than in 2020 and 2021, and that “brand equity, competition and balance protection are more important than anything else.” ” meaning “Very few purchase targets meet their criteria”.
Indeed, when asked about the types of brands Kit is interested in, Salomon says consistency and relevance are important, but quality is “very important.”
“If you take what great brand companies have done and apply technology to it, you have an exciting opportunity to create the consumer goods and sustainable brands of the future that have defined the past 100 years,” Solomon said. “The way the big consumer goods companies have defined everything for the last century, there are going to be new companies that come in and take some of that share. That’s part of what we hope to do with our owned and operated brands: help them achieve market share gains over time.