Latin America had a huge e-commerce growth in 2020, driven by the pandemic and digital acceleration. From this perspective, the timing of Merama, a Latin American retail brand acceleration startup with an emphasis on e-commerce, could not have been better. The company started its operations in December aiming to be the main player of brands in the region and the biggest partner of retail and e-commerce giants, such as Mercado Libre, Amazon, Magazine Luiza, B2W and Via Varejo.
In April, Merama raised a $160 million Series A round, of which $60 million in equity and $100 million in credit line. The investment round included important funds, such as monashees, Valor Capital, Balderton and MAYA Capital, as well as founders and executives from Latin America unicorns, such as MadeiraMadeira, Rappi, iFood and Loggi.
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The rise of this newcomer startup has to do with its business model. Merama wants to be a kind of Latin American Unilever. “Merama’s proposal is to be a holding of brands focused on digital platforms. We adapted a business model that already exists in the United States and European countries, known as aggregators. We adapted this model for Latin America,” explains Renato Andrade, co-founder at Merama.
Merama was born from a partnership between Andrade and Brazilian Guilherme Nosralla, who wanted to bring this business model to Brazil, and Mexican Felipe Delgado and American Sujay Tyle, who planned to launch a similar venture in Mexico. Finally, the Frenchman Olivier Scialom joined the group.
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Nosralla says that Merama has two competitive advantages: expertise in fundraising and a Latin American DNA. Headquartered in Brazil and Mexico, the startup also operates in Chile and Peru. Merama does not reveal how many brands it has already brought to its portfolio, but expects a revenue of around $100 million in its first year of operation.
A lot of capital to unlock the growth
Merama’s business is based on scale, which also explains the value of its Series A, the startup needs cash in hand to bring brands to its portfolio.
Andrade explains that the choice of brands to invest in meets four requirements:
- Online presence. “Many Latin American brands have online and offline operations, there are few digital natives, that’s why we also look at offline, as long as they are on the way to online.”
- Financial health. “Our thesis is one of growth. We are looking for companies that have already achieved a balance between growth and cash generation.”
- Product. “We are looking for products with no seasonal appeal and no expiration date.”
- Fit with Merama’s business goal. “We bought at least 51% of the companies, and the founder continues on the business. That’s why this fit is essential.” After scaling up operations, Merama’s model foresees the acquisition of 100% of the companies within a period of three to five years.
By becoming a partner in the business, besides the capital investment, Merama also develops a growth plan targeted at each brand. The startup does not interfere with product development and also has no plans to become a marketplace itself.
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Some of the growth levers include internationalization, omnichannel strategy, digital marketing optimization, investment in new products, as well as operational improvements such as process automation and standardization of suppliers.
“E-commerce is growing a lot in Latin America. It is a region that already has many successful businesses, but entrepreneurs face challenges. For example, it grows but reinvests all the profit. At the same time, there is a lack of capital to boost the business. Merama unlocks growth by offering the capital and the conditions for the operation to have liquidity, but also to take off in digital and internationalize,” concluded Nosralla.