Editor’s note: Startup Spotlight is a regular feature in WRAL TechWire.
RALEIGH – Hip eCommerce, a designer of marketplaces for the buying and selling of collectibles, has raised another million dollars, and could add up to $3.5 million in the round, according to the startup’s CEO and founder Mark Rosenberg.
The company previously raised growth capital, and currently employs about 40, supporting three customized collectible online marketplaces: stamps, postcards, and comics.
Rosenberg’s very first business was a partnership with his father, a stamp collector. Rosenberg convinced his father to buy and sell stamps, collectibles, on the eBay platform when it first launched. He would go on to found bidStart.com in 2005, later selling the business in 2012.
He would return to his roots for the next venture, launching Hip eCommerce in order to deliver exceptional experiences for collectors.
“Think about collectibles: it is such a huge market,” said Rosenberg, in an interview with WRAL TechWire. “But at the end of the day, if you try to create a marketplace for all collectibles, you’re not creating anything special for anyone.”
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What Rosenberg decided to do was to build out marketplaces that were customized for the collectible item, and were easy to navigate for sellers, buyers, and collectors.
Next, the team went on to address a core challenge in the comic book marketplace. Brick and mortar comic retailers may have between 30,000 and 40,000 comics in their retail store, said Rosenberg, but perhaps a half a million or more comics off the retail floor, either in a storeroom or off-site in storage.
Why couldn’t sellers list the entire collection online? It came down to cost-effectiveness, said Rosenberg. What they decided to build was a comic book scanner, which, now completed, helps create an online listing within the company’s comic book marketplace as much as five times faster than any other collectible site, said Rosenberg.
That’s when they went out to raise additional capital, said Rosenberg. The company was profitable, he said. “We wanted to grow faster, we went out to raise half a million dollars,” said Rosenberg. The company brought in $400,000 in 2018, then in 2019, added more than $980,000.
Triangle serial entrepreneur and investor Scot Wingo joined the board of directors and became an investor in the company during a prior round of funding. Wingo told WRAL TechWire that the company overlapped four areas of great personal interest, “marketplaces, e-commerce, collectibles and Triangle startups.”
(Editor’s Note: Wingo is himself a collector, and authored a profile of WRAL TechWire co-founder Allan Maurer in September 2021 that documented a story of Maurer gifting a collection of vintage Star Wars comic books to Wingo in 1999 when Wingo was running the startup AuctionRover.)
The company grew, and it went on to raise additional capital in 2020, adding $5.3 million in equity funding.
Now, said Rosenberg, the company has released a progressive web application, enabling a more native experience on mobile devices, and is raising capital again, expecting to close just over $3 million.
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New funding, new features
An SEC filing from earlier this month notes that the company has already closed $1 million from two investors, and the round could close as much as $3.5 million.
And the company is seeing more than $2 million in monthly sales, across each of its three collectible marketplaces.
Part of the latest funding will be allocated to growth, through the acquisition of a comic book retailer, said Rosenberg. They’ll be bringing that company and their portfolio of collectibles on the platform exclusively.
The company also plans to build out best practices that are geared toward assisting the communities of collectors, said Rosenberg. “Continue to focus on buyers, and collectors in general,” said Rosenberg. “To bring more people onto our community.”
Rosenberg also plans to add an additional feature, with collectors in mind. Think of a collector who maintains thousands of stamps or comic books, and wants to catalogue a collection or to understand a range of estimated value. Building tools to assist collectors in this way can add value to the community, said Rosenberg, who told WRAL TechWire a story of a time when he catalogued his own comic book collection by hand, saving the spreadsheet to a zip drive, which he promptly lost less than a month later.
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Hiring and growth
The company is actively hiring, with about a half dozen open positions, said Rosenberg. The team may continue to grow as the company expands into additional collectible categories, though Rosenberg did not disclose which areas might be a focal point for the company moving forward.
What Rosenberg did say, however, was that the perspective on the collectibles market has changed, from those who sit outside of it.
“This fundraise that we’ve just done right now,” said Rosenberg. “Was the first time I didn’t receive push back from VCs about how big of an addressable market collectibles could have.”
Some of that shift is due to trends that became more visible during the prior two years. Some of that is driven by an interest in non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, and some is driven by an interest in fractional ownership.
But one result of the emergence of NFTs as viable collectibles in a digital economy is a renewed interest in tangible collectibles, said Rosenberg.
“If you look at all the interest in NFTs, it’s bringing about a similar interest in tangibles,” he said. “We do think it is helpful for the marketplace overall.”
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