GoBrands, the Center City-based delivery company that wants its GoPuff warehouse and delivery service to replace student runs to Wawa and beer stores, has raised $750 million and a commitment of up to $250 million more, according to people close to the company.
The investment round was led by the Japanese-run, Saudi Arabia government-funded Softbank Vision Fund, the people said.
That kind of money would enable GoPuff to accelerate its growth against other venture-backed start-ups, as well as giants such as Amazon Prime and Uber Eats.
The billion-dollar bet by Softbank Vision and another venture capital firm, Accel Partners, was first reported Friday by the Information, a San Francisco-based, subscriber-funded news service, citing unidentified sources.
GoBrands did not offer any comments, and neither SoftBank nor Accel has publicly named GoBrands among its investments.
Accel, a Silicon Valley firm that backed GoBrands in a smaller, earlier funding round, has a history with delivery start-ups: Accel also invested in Bucknell grad Marc Lore’s Quidsi delivery service, which was bought by Amazon in 2010 for more than $500 million, and Lore’s warehouse-delivery service Jet.com, bought by Walmart in 2016 for more than $3 billion.
That build-local, sell-to-giants model, if successful, could make GoPuff’s investors rich alongside its founders, Yakir Gola and Rafael Ilishayev, who met as Drexel students (Ilishayev graduated in 2015).
The Softbank and Accel-led investment would make GoBrands among the best-funded Philly software start-ups in recent years. SoftBank Vision is also an investor in Fanatics, Conshohocken-based investor Michael Rubin’s sports-gear supplier, among many other retail-tech firms.
For SoftBank, which is used to betting billions, going heavy on GoBrands looks like a hedge on earlier bets: SoftBank has also invested in GoPuff’s food service rival DoorDash, notes Bob Moul, a veteran Philadelphia-area tech CEO (he now heads data-intelligence start-up Circonus).
Along with successful investments such as China’s AliBaba and promising ones such as Uber and Fanatics, SoftBank has made some famously bad bets, writing down $4.6 billion in valuation losses last year on office-sublet company WeWork, now called the We Co.
I talked to a partner at one big East Coast venture capital firm who was visited by GoPuff during its last fund-raising but decided to pass.
“We were impressed,” he told me. “We liked these two young guys, though they were inexperienced." He noted Anthony Bucci, another Drexel grad and cofounder of Philadelphia-based online-motorcycle-gear supplier RevZilla, was an early supporter, which he found encouraging. So was Tom Vellios, chairman and cofounder of Five Below, the successful Philadelphia dollar-store chain for young teenagers.
But the partner found GoBrands’ proposed investment price too ambitious.
“The valuation they wanted was 8 to 12 times revenues,” he marveled. “They would be a unicorn” — a company that turned millions into a billion, fast.
“There was a gigantic amount of execution risk," he added. “For a so-called ‘non-brick-and-mortar’ company, they wanted to spend a lot of money on warehouses. To take over Wawa’s business, you need the kind of equipment Wawa and its suppliers have and that gets expensive.”
In December, yet another delivery rival, Snackpass, started by recent Yale grad Kevin Tan, raised $21 million from Andrew Chen, a partner at software-ventures pioneer Andreessen Horowitz. Chen was joined by Silicon Valley stalwarts Y Combinator, General Catalyst and Inspired Capital — and Philadelphia-New York-Silicon Valley-based First Round Capital, whose chairman, Josh Kopleman, once expressed regrets at not buying into GoPuff, but clearly feels its rivals are still worth buying, too. (Kopelman is chairman of the board that oversees The Inquirer.)
GoPuff delivers near its local centers for $1.95, plus tips employees say average about $3, which makes the service viable in densely populated locations such as college apartments — when the company can find enough delivery people.
For all its success raising private money, GoPuff has not hesitated to play Pennsylvania against New Jersey in its corporate hunt for taxpayer subsidies. In 2018 the company was offered $400,000 in state aid and $2.5 million in cheap city-backed loans to help develop its new headquarters at Third and Spring Garden Streets. (Like other Center City businesses with growing traffic, the old warehouse at 12th and Spring Garden has tied up traffic, leading to neighbor complaints.)
That same year it accepted up to $39 million in reduced taxes over 10 years for its planned $43 million, 600-worker, 300,000-square-foot warehouse and tech center near Rowan University in Glassboro.
The application for the Glassboro project said GoBrands needed the tax break to make the South Jersey site competitive with a cheaper site near Lansdale.
The company told New Jersey when it applied in 2018 that it expected the plant would open late last year and employ 602 by Sept. 1, but the project remains in the planning stages.
Local news accounts across the United States show that GoPuff has also made plans — since Softbank committed — to develop smaller delivery centers of about 6,000 square feet each at the Aramingo Village shopping center in Port Richmond (where it also plans a stop-and-go-style beer and takeout store); at sites in northeast and southwest San Antonio, Texas; in Henrico County and Harrisonburg, Va.; Tucson, Ariz.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Tulsa, Okla.; and Tuscaloosa, Ala., among other college towns and cities. A real estate source told me that GoPuff could end up passing on some smaller towns it targeted if conditions aren’t right.