Sam Vlessing grew up on the factory floor of his family’s furniture business. As the fourth generation of a furniture family, Vlessing has experienced first-hand how behind the sector is when it comes to e-commerce.
With an aim to modernize the family business, Vlessing launched CommerceBear in 2019. The startup provides furniture manufacturers with an end-to-end e-commerce solution to sell their products on markets like Wayfair, Amazon, and Walmart.
This year, CommerceBear raised a total of $10.5 million USD to help it win more of the market and make e-commerce accessible to the entire furniture and home goods industry.
“I went through the wringer myself; I was in the shoes of our customer today.”
CommerceBear raised the money in what Vlessing referred to as two tranches throughout this year. The first included Garage Capital and some other investors that put in $4 million USD, and then followed on in the second ($6 million USD) tranche that was led by Inovia.
CommerceBear’s other investors include Spider Capital, Watchfire Ventures, WIN, and FJ Labs, as well as angel investors like Lightspeed Commerce president JD St-Martin, Burrow CEO Stephen Kuhl, and unnamed executives from Stripe, Shopify, Airbnb, PayPal, Whatsapp, and Uber.
CommerceBear helps furniture makers build listings, drive revenue, and manage their end-to-end e-commerce operations through a single touch point. The technology also has upsides for consumers: CommerceBear has created what it calls “bear-ified listings” that Vlessing claims make it easier for consumers to know and trust the product they are buying online is reliable.
Vlessing describes CommerceBear as the product he wishes he had when he was trying to help his family business sell furniture online.
After leaving a job in the financial sector, Vlessing returned to his family business and found himself spending months manually building out a catalogue of inventory on Wayfair. While there are a plethora of e-commerce solutions available for businesses, Vlessing found that none of them were designed or worked for furniture. The complexity and bulkiness of selling and shipping furniture items can have differing demands from traditional e-commerce businesses.
“I went through the wringer myself; I was in the shoes of our customer today,” Vlessing told BetaKit. “And the way we set out to solve the problem is to go start CommerceBear, go build the tools that I wish I had. …The only difference is the market has evolved.”
The evolution that Vlessing is referencing is how the furniture industry changed alongside the pandemic-led boom in e-commerce. While Wayfair had been around for two decades, prior to COVID-19 buying large home goods online was less widespread.
“When I first started this business and I would ask folks, ‘hey are you bullish on buying furniture on the internet?’ Folks would say ‘no way, like there’s no way I’m buying a $3,000 sofa on the internet,’” said Vlessing. “Today it’s like, ‘of course, who doesn’t?’”
“This part of the market seems substantially underserved.”
– Devon Galloway, Garage
Despite the ongoing evolution, CommerceBear and its investors see the furniture e-commerce market as highly underserved. “Despite [the] last couple of years having incredible market attention on e-commerce opportunity, this part of the market seems substantially underserved,” said Devon Galloway, general partner at Garage Capital.
Vlessing reasoned that this is because of the nature of the furniture industry. “Furniture catalogues are very complex. They’re bigger, they’re bulky, they’re hard to ship.”
After building out CommerceBear and building its customer base over the past few years, the startup raised its first round of venture financing earlier this year. The $10.5 million in equity seed capital marks CommerceBear’s total financing to date.
CommerceBear claims to have seen the gross merchandise value on its platform increase by more than 300 percent over the past year. The startup estimates there is an $800 billion USD market size for the furniture and home industry, and that most of the players still operate offline.
“It is a very interesting space that operates in a very archaic sort of way compared to how most online sales businesses are run,” said Inovia investor and vice president of technology Kory Jeffrey, adding that CommerceBear has an opportunity to win market share.
To capitalize on that opportunity, CommerceBear has been using its seed financing to expand into home categories beyond furniture. It also plans to expand the e-commerce platform integrations it currently offers to furniture manufacturers.
Focused on North America currently, Vlessing noted that he sees an opportunity to take CommerceBear global in the future.
“We are building the system of record for furniture,” Vlessing said. “A single point of truth for reliability of what you’re putting in, what you’re pulling out.”