Serena Williams is used to securing Grand Slams on the tennis court – her 23 major singles titles have edged every man or woman to have ever played the sport except the legendary Margaret Court. But after dominating tennis for decades, Williams is turning to business, having raised $100 million for her new venture capital fund, Serena Ventures.
Now she’s looking for her first Grand Slam investment, and she may have just found it in supply chain management company Calico. On Tuesday, the Toronto-based startup announced that it had secured $2.1 million from Serena Ventures to scale its supplier platform and factory network and expand its customer base.
“I’ve encountered the exact problem that Calico solves and rarely have I encountered a company so in tune with the challenges and limitations of the industry as Calico,” said the tennis legend. “It’s a category-defining product that will have an outsized impact on retail, and there couldn’t be a more critical time to help them succeed.”
The funding follows strong growth for the young company, which was founded in October 2020 at the height of the pandemic. The company has grown 300% since January and its customers range from multi-million dollar retailers to SME brands in the jewelry and apparel industry.
Other investors in the funding round include Maple VC, Inovia Capital, Hyphen Capital and a group of early Shopify employees.
“We offer you an all-in-one system to manage your product development, supplier management, order management and report analysis, as well as adding a factory network for you enable any new product line to be developed in a fraction of the time you normally would,” Calico Founder and CEO Kathleen Chan told Modern Shipper.
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Chan and Calico work with many brands that have yet to establish themselves in the apparel industry, helping them access a network of factory partners. According to Chan, there are plenty of factories out there, but for companies that don’t already have a strong supplier network, finding a good fit isn’t easy.
“It’s not even just about finding factories. Finding great ones, ones that do fantastic and phenomenal work, those are really hard to find – they’re not on your Alibabas. They are really difficult to Google,” she explained.
At the same time, small businesses in particular have taken a hit to their purchasing power, with many factories beginning to feel uncomfortable offering net terms, which are payments to be made at a future date. determined. For example, net 30 would mean the buyer has 30 days to pay for shipping.
“Maybe you had 30 net warrants before and could afford to have more production,” Chan said. “But now that you’re paying a little more up front, you can’t.”
Additionally, the companies Calico works with are primarily in the jewelry and apparel space, which faces its own specific supply chain challenges.
“The sweater you’re wearing right now didn’t start to look like that,” Chan explained. “It’s a very iterative process — you have multiple prototypes in multiple styles, multiple colors. And this process is done very manually.
With all the variables and hurdles that small businesses and apparel companies face, sticking to one supplier just isn’t enough. Growing brands today must rely on multiple suppliers to ensure their product gets to the customer – that’s where Calico comes in.
Typically, a brand’s back-end runs amok with fragmented emails, spreadsheets, and manual communications, both internally and between the company and its partners. Calico is all about reducing that fat.
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“It’s a very, very opaque process. So what Calico does is we take out all of these fragmented tools and put in a dedicated workspace for you to work with your factories,” Chan told Modern Shipper. “We have a smart, easy-to-use product database – it updates your SKUs and your product as it develops.”
Using Calico’s automated platform, brands can more accurately forecast product arrivals and gauge stock levels. The platform also houses an order management portal accessible by both the brand and the supplier, allowing them to see every transaction that takes place on a single screen, even in several different factories.
But one of the main ways Calico sets itself apart is its network of proprietary factories, which Chan built from the ground up. Having worked with supply partners in the past with other brands, it leveraged those relationships into early ideas for a network of suppliers, using this core as a starting point to create an extensive network of facilities. worldwide.
Chan pointed out that the company is extremely selective when evaluating partner factories, scoring them on a multipoint scorecard that takes into account certifications, product quality and worker rights, among other metrics.
“It’s kind of our secret sauce,” she says. “It’s really, really one of those things where it’s not a wide open network. We check very carefully. We have very in-depth conversations with our factories. We want to know about them.
The funding from Serena Ventures marks Calico’s first major investment from a venture capital firm. According to Chan, the money will be used to continue to develop the company’s platform based on customer feedback, as well as to drive new customer acquisition.
“I only see that increasing, especially with the trend of e-commerce and retail. Now it’s easier than before for you to start a brand and grow it into something huge,” she claimed. “And so I think a solution like ours is really needed because these brands are becoming the next Allbirds, the next Glossiers of the world.”
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