We’ve seen a large wave of used-car sales startups launch across developed markets like the U.S. and Europe, disrupting a marketplace that has largely been untouched for years. Now a startup focusing on the used car-sales opportunity specifically in developing economies is ramping up its activities.
Frontier Car Group, a Berlin startup that has built a used-car marketplace targeted specifically at countries outside of Western Europe and North America, is announcing $58 million in funding — $41 million in equity and $17 million in debt funding — to continue expanding its business into Africa, Latin America and Asia, where it has sold 50,000 vehicles since launching at the end of 2016 and is on track to do $200 million in annualised revenues per year.
The Series B brings was led by Balderton Capital and TPG Growth (both of which participated in Frontier’s previous $22 million round), with Fraser McCombs Capitaland Autotech Ventures — two automotive-specific funds — also participating.
Frontier is not disclosing its valuation with this round but a source close to the company said the demand to participate in this round was high and led to two unsolicited Series C term sheets — each for around $100 million — and both on a pre-money valuations of over $200 million.
Developing markets continue to be a huge focus for tech companies when their home countries become too competitive or growth there starts to slow, and that trend has inevitably tipped into startups also targeting those markets from the very start.
Sujay Tyle — Frontier’s 24-year-old American CEO (who comes with an impressive record: he went to Harvard aged 15, and has a degree from there in economics; and he has also been a Thiel Fellow), who co-founded the company with Peter Lindholm (COO), and André Kussmann (CTO) — said that the choice to launch only in countries like Mexico and Nigeria, two of Frontier’s largest markets, was borne out of a couple of reasons.
“I fell in love with the Auto1 model,” he said, in reference to another Berlin startup that earlier this year laid claim to the highest-ever venture round raised by a European startup when it landed €460 million from Softbank, “and I could see how it could be applied to emerging markets. Emerging markets represents nascency.”
But before you start thinking that an e-commerce startup from Berlin creating clones focused on emerging markets smacks of Rocket Internet, think again. Tyle was quick to name the clone-meister himself, in order to tell me that this wasn’t the right comparison. Frontier, he said, is trying to be slow and focusing only on a small number of markets (today there are only six: Chile, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey). And it’s not just trying to mimic what used-car companies have built in the west.
But all the same, Frontier is borrowing heavily from business models tested out by others. Used car marketplace startups in countries like the US or in Europe have been focused on making it easier or faster or more flexible to own a used car — examples being the well-capitalised Fair.com, the now-public Carvana, and Auto1.
Frontier’s service is largely modeled on these. It first gives would-be sellers online quotes for how much their car might sell for. It then inspects and buys the vehicle at that price. Would-be buyers then use an app or web to browse stock and arrange for financing before buying, all online.
Tyle says that one of the bigger challenges in developed markets for this model is simply competing against others doing exactly the same thing as each other, leading to a lot of price competition. In contrast, not only is the market less crowded in the countries where Frontier operates, but similar to Uber, Frontier appears to be playing on the idea that alternatives are less good than what Frontier represents.
“The number one channel for car theft in Mexico is classified advertising,” claimed Tyle. “People make deals in cash, but if you show up to a public location with $5,000, that’s a dangerous value proposition. Also, it takes a lot of time and is onerous.”
On the side of supply, he says Frontier is also providing a service that didn’t exist before. “Smaller dealers have a lot of trouble finding cars in these markets, where there are no auction houses or services to import vehicles, so for car dealers, we can provide them with a source of inventory, which also means we have a big impact,” he said.
Frontier has made some lucrative sourcing deals that have helped it get a leg up in some countries. In Mexico City, for example, it has the contract to sell ex-Alamo rentals — “a very lucaratve business,” he added.
If you’ve been following the used-car and automotive startups, you’ll know that it’s been a bumpy road for the space overall. Some of the notable fallen stars have included Beepi, Vroom (which is still going but has shuttered some operations and laid off staff), Carspring and Hellocar in the UK, among others. Tyle said he expects Frontier to be EBITDA-profitable by Q2 of 2019.
“Balderton first invested in FCG a little under two years ago and it is staggering what the team have achieved in such a short time, getting to significant scale and building a platform that is capable of being leveraged in many different operating environments,” said Daniel Waterhouse, a partner at Balderton Capital. “We are excited to further support the company and look forward to the next chapter of this extraordinary story.”
Mark Norman, Managing Partner at Fraser McCombs Capital, said in a statement: “Fraser McCombs Capital is excited to support the FCG team and their unique software and data platform to transform the used vehicle buying and selling experience in key growth markets around the world. We’re pleased to bring our global automotive investment and operating experience to the board.”