Last March, when the physical world went online, April Underwood watched as the shops in her neighborhood struggled to stay open as people stopped going there and started ordering everything from Amazon or Walmart. Mom-and-Pop shops took orders over the phone or tried to go online as Twitter activists helped Main Street by putting together Google spreadsheets of independent shops and restaurants that were open for business. Underwood knew there was a better way because he was in charge of product development at Slack and Twitter.
Underwood, who calls himself a “software person,” saw the first online attempts to answer the question “What’s open in my town?” as a huge flashing light. Underwood tells Forbes that you can’t just find small businesses on Google Maps or Yelp. Also, the tools that could help stand-alone businesses switch to selling online were either not available or too expensive.
So, in September 2020, she launched Nearby, a platform of hyperlocal marketplaces where users can buy online from multiple local businesses and check out with just one cart. Nearby began in Oakland, California, with only 17 stores. Since then, the number of sellers on the platform, which has made more than $100,000 in sales so far, has grown by 50%. The company just finished a $21 million Series A round, which will help the company expand into new markets.
Annie Kadavy, managing director of Redpoint Ventures, which led the round, says, “One thing I really like about April and the team is that they are really focused on the problem, not on what the solution has to be.” Since Kadavy worked at Twitter with Underwood, she says she was excited about the chance to work with her. Nearby also helps solve a problem that was on Kadavy’s mind. “It’s easy to see the possibilities for growth,” she says. GV, Obvious Ventures, Moxxie Ventures, Sound Ventures, Cowboy Ventures, and Tina Sharkey, the former founder of Brandless, all took part in the round.
Nearby lets merchants sign up for free and take care of shipping and logistics. The company charges a fee for each transaction, which Underwood says is “on the floor” compared to other online marketplaces where fees and shipping costs can cause businesses to lose up to 30% of their profit margins. The next Nearby marketplaces will be in Austin and Charleston, South Carolina. The company chose these cities based on how many suggestions were made on the platform’s website. Each new location will have its own website and a team of people hired from the area. So far, 120 places in the U.S. and other countries have been nominated, including Olney, Maryland, which applied with the help of 50 people working together.
Underwood is not surprised that customers are clamoring for Nearby in their area. Even though the pandemic made people spend more money online, the shift to the Internet was inevitable. These same shoppers want more options than Amazon, preferably ones that support local businesses. Sitecore did a survey that showed 40% of people want to spend less on Amazon, and more than half of Generation Z wants to spend less on the site overall. Nearby grew up at the same time that the number of small businesses was on the rise. More than 4.3 million new businesses asked the IRS for Employee Identification Numbers in 2020, which is 18% more than the 3.5 million that did so in 2019. This trend is expected to continue into 2021, as more than 440,000 new businesses did so in March alone.
Underwood says that getting businesses, both new and old, online should be easy for business owners. For businesses that are already up and running, the goal is to get more customers. She says, “We are really growing the pie, and we aren’t just adding their existing customers.” We are also very excited to welcome all the new businesses that will be building their audience for the first time.
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