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After GoFundMe, Rob Solomon flies a $200 million kite into trading land

Three years after stepping down as chairman and CEO of GoFundMe, Rob Solomon returns to the industry he calls his “first love,” digital commerce, as co-founder and CEO of GoFundMe. Kitea trading company focused on investing in, acquiring and operating high-potential, digital-first consumer product brands.

In addition to GoFundMe, Solomon has quite an extensive commercial background through roles at companies such as Yahoo (leads the commercial business unit) and Groupon (President and COO). He told australiabusinessblog.com that he “knows Commerce 1.0 quite well” and has always wanted to go shopping.

“We’re entering a pretty interesting phase where e-commerce is real,” said Solomon. “I say that lightly. It’s big, but it’s still a small percentage of total trading. Physical trading still dominates. The reality of trading in the future is that it’s not online. It’s not offline. It’s not Amazon. It’s not Shopify. It’s not direct-to-consumer. It’s just every channel.”

Rob Solomon Kite

Rob Solomon, co-founder and CEO of Kite. Image Credits: Kite

Solomon started the company in 2022 with investment firms Juxtapose and Blackstone, who provided Kite with $200 million in equity to get started. The idea is to use that money to strategically acquire outfits and 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 tech stack that leans on artificial intelligence and API to provide better manufacturing, supply chain, design and customer acquisition capabilities.

That description sounds a lot like an e-commerce aggregator, a company that buys consumer products companies and uses technical infrastructure to scale them up. Additionally, one of Kite’s board members is Delta Dental’s president and CEO, Mark Mitchke, who was previously the general manager of Fulfillment by Amazon. Still, Solomon insists that Kite is something different, something new.

“The best way to think about it is it’s a trading platform company,” said Solomon. “We want to own and operate a finite number of brands that will train the system. We want to invest in commerce, businesses and software companies to help build the ecosystem. We ultimately want to provide a platform to tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, if not millions of direct sellers over the next decade.”

There are many inefficiencies, friction and high costs for most small and medium direct sellers, so Kite builds the software and provides the services for how products are made, moved, marketed, shipped, stored and sold at scale, explains Solomon out.

Jed Cairo, co-founder and partner at Juxtapose, echoed Solomon in a written statement, writing that his company believes “consumer-centric commerce is in the early innings of a revolution. More and more categories are moving away from brands favored by hyper-scale, TV advertising and big-box retail relationships to specialized, smaller, passionate brands that are agile and powered by world-class technology.”

As for how Kite gets there, Solomon has already surrounded himself with a group of people, including a GoFundMe colleague, Ujjwal Singh, who is chief product and technology officer; Nastasha Tan, chief design officer, who previously worked at Ideo and Uber; and supply chain and operations expert John Kufner as chief operations officer.

James Chen, CTO of Built Technologies and former CTO of Flexport, joins Mark Mitchke on the company’s board.

Meanwhile, Kite has acquired a number of secret companies, including one in the fitness category and in the broader self-improvement category. Solomon said it’s a good time to start with Kite because economic corrections often produce “some of the best companies in the world” because they are disciplined in spending money and focused on building sustainable businesses.

By comparison, Solomon notes, brands were told for years prior to last year’s abrupt market shift to grow at all costs and “not worry about creating an efficient, effective cash-flow-generating business model.” As the market corrected and it was difficult to raise capital, the growth of small e-commerce brands stagnated and many acquirers, including e-commerce aggregators, had to close their operations.

In fact, even a year later, some acquirers are still in “pause mode” regarding acquisitions, Taliesen Hollywood, director of specialty M&A at London-based Hahnbeck, said in an email interview with australiabusinessblog.com.

Hollywood, which trades between buyers and sellers of e-commerce businesses, said aggregators are “much more selective” today than in 2020 and 2021, and that “brand value, competitive resilience and scale are more important, among other things,” meaning that “a lot fewer acquisition targets meet their criteria.”

Indeed, when asked about the types of brands Kite wants to buy, Solomon said sustainability and relevance were important, but quality was “very important”.

“If you can take what big brand companies have been doing and apply technology to them, you have a really interesting opportunity to create the brands of the future that will become the consumer and durable goods that have defined the last 100 years,” said Solomon. “As major consumer goods companies have defined everything in products over the last century, new companies will be created that will come and take away some of the share. That’s part of what we hope to be able to do with our own and managed brands: help them gain market share gains over time.”

Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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