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Exclusive: Elenas Lands $2M Seed To Expand Commerce Platform In Latin America

Social commerce platform Elenas is helping tens of thousands of women across Colombia launch online businesses by selling products on WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media sites.

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Co-founders Thomas Harsch and Zach Oschin launched the startup two years ago at the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield and has now raised a $2 million seed round from Alpha4 Ventures, Amador Holdings, Polymath Ventures and Meesho.

Traditionally, women sell items via direct sales channels, aka catalog and door-to-door sales, which continues to be a $26 billion industry in Latin America, CEO Oschin told Crunchbase News. As a part of that growing industry, 11 million women sell products this way.

“This is still strong because for many women, it is the only way to earn extra income,” he said. “There is a 30 percent wage gap between men and women, and a lot of women stay home with children.”

The driver for the popularity of the catalog method is buying from someone you know and trust, liking their recommendations, and getting help walking through the buying process, he added.

Elenas is working to modernize and automate this process, taking the good parts of the traditional system–part-time work and trust-based purchases–and combining them with e-commerce. Now, women can sell a wide variety of products from their own home, while Elenas manages the back-end support for product sourcing, delivery and payment collection.

The company works with more than 200 manufacturers and distributors and is able to offer more than 11,000 products in 10 categories, including beauty, homegoods and fashion. One of the site’s top entrepreneurs is a 25-year-old mom selling kitchen products who has gone from earning $250 per month at her minimum wage job to $2,000 after selling products on Elenas, Oschin said.

“Our entrepreneurs can sell digitally for the first time and to a wider audience, often earning three times more than catalog sales,” he added. “More than 20,000 entrepreneurs have turned this into significant earnings.”

Elenas has achieved product market fit in Colombia, where more than 20,000 entrepreneurs are using the platform to make significant earnings, Oschin said. The new funding will help the company expand further within Colombia, as well as into Mexico, Peru and Brazil in coming years; markets with similar buying behaviors and smartphone penetration, he added.

Meanwhile, researchers estimate that global social commerce spending is expected to reach $735 billion by 2023.

“With millions of people out of work in the region and millions more needing to purchase online due to the impact of COVID-19, Elenas has been uniquely positioned to provide a significant income earning opportunity to women around Colombia and beyond,” said Elenas board member Michael Shoemaker of Roofstock, in a written statement.

Indeed, Elenas also continues to grow. From August 2019 to August 2020, year-over-year sales have grown over 60 times, Oschin said.

In addition, the company has 34 employees, and part of the new investment will go toward expanding the team in the new countries. Oschin’s plan is to hire an additional 10 people before the end of the year.

Next up, Elenas will focus on increasing the number of products offered, as well as providing additional functionality for sellers, including better sales tools, improved sharing functions, and revenue monitoring.

“Our entire focus is how to help entrepreneurs sell,” Oschin added. “For us in the near term, November and December are big months, and we will focus on continuing to expand the portfolio.”

Photo of Elenas team provided by the company
Blogroll illustration: iStock

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