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Why This New Marketplace Wants to Be the Anti-Amazon

Nearly seven months after it raised a $50-million seed round, e-commerce solutions startup Project Verte announced the beta rollout of MyVerte, a marketplace for brands that’s powered by blockchain.

If marketplaces like Amazon and eBay center around offering customers what can seem to be a cluttered chaos of choice, then MyVerte strives to be the opposite with a decidedly brand-first value proposition. Project Verte focuses on high-growth direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, startups that place all things customer—experience, communication and service—at their core and foster two-way relationships often far more transparent and responsive than what shoppers typically encounter with massive enterprise companies.

Project Verte seemingly takes a jab at incumbents in the e-commerce and marketplace arena when it says its mission is offering brands a way to “remain in full control over how their brand identity, products and communications are presented to consumers.” And this is where blockchain comes into play; the company uses the distributed ledger technology to underpin its “full-circle” merchant suite including a vendor portal home to all relevant workflows.

Instead of trying to keep on top of myriad third-party vendor relationships, DTC brands can find virtually everything they need, from business intelligence and automated fulfillment to inventory financing, on the Project Verte platform, the company said.

Much as sellers are drawn to the perks afforded by Fulfillment by Amazon, the company believes its own full-service Fulfillment by Project Verte will be key to attracting young, hungry brands that aren’t finding what they need from traditional 3PLs.

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To that end, Project Verte invested part of its 2018 raise in a Series C for GreyOrange, a robotics fulfillment and artificial intelligence company whose $140-million funding round included participation by India’s Flipkart and whose technology features in Zalando’s newest state-of-the-art Swedish fulfillment center.

GreyOrange’s Butler auto-driving carts and Pickpal robotic piece-picking arms accelerate repetitive warehouse tasks and help MyVerte execute on its promise of moving orders from “stock-to-dock” in two hours or less in its inaugural 750,000-square-foot Atlanta fulfillment center. More such high-tech facilities are planned for cities including Dallas and Los Angeles, part of what founder Julian Kahlon said is an effort to ensure Project Verte’s fulfillment centers are “built for Black Friday every day.”

Geodis, Project Verte’s other logistics partner, whose technology also is installed in the Atlanta facility, had been looking for an opportunity to serve small- and mid-sized e-commerce businesses, according to Jerry McDonald, SVP of retail at Geodis Americas. “While we traditionally focus on enterprise clients, we recognize the growth opportunities for growing brands to connect with their consumers online,” he said when Geodis’s partnership with Project Verte was announced in January.

Beyond its dedicated focus on elevating logistics, Project Verte believes the MyVerte marketplace dangles features that will resonate with brands.

For one, it’s come up with a way to restore the power imbalance between brands and shoppers in the name of transparency. MyVerte’s so-called “Uber-style” rating system flips the traditional feedback loop on its head in a sense; while customers will be able to review brands and their products as is common across online commerce, startups on MyVerte will be able to see which customers seem to abuse return policies and withhold their products from appearing to these shoppers whose ratings dip below a certain threshold.

Project Verte also said it’s designed MyVerte not to compete with a brand’s own e-commerce site, but to run parallel to it and “simplify the workflow.”

Kahlon reiterated the need for a new kind of marketplace at a time when the popularity of these bazaar-like sites propelled sales on the top 75 biggest players to $1.55 trillion in 2017, , according to Internet Retailer’s 2018 Online Marketplaces report. “It became clear that current marketplaces we’re designed around the branding of the marketplace, not of the brands themselves,” said Kahlon, who previously led UX communications and rebrands for large brands like Haagen-Dazs and ADP and also has consulted for DTC brands.

Because most marketplaces tout their own messaging that often muddles their brand partners’ “messaging, perception, equity and overall identity,” Kahlson said he envisions Project Verte giving emerging DTC brands “the ability to reclaim control, and get the optimization and insights that they need to grow their businesses, increase their bottom line, while at the same time staying true to their core values.”

Project Verte said MyVerte is launching with 100 brands, and a weekly drop will introduce customers to a fresh new crop of startups, including male cosmetics purveyor Stryx, ethical jewelry seller La Luna Rose, skin care accessories firm Foreo, leather travel goods maker Temporary Forevers and La Belles Heures, which is trying to make scarves contemporary and cool again.