Accessing global supply chains can be difficult for small businesses in Latin America, but companies like Meru, which raised funds in March to source and import goods between Mexico and China, and now more recently Pandas are harnessing overseas connections and technology to make this easier.
In the case of Pandas, the company is doing something similar to Meru, but starting with Colombia, connecting small businesses directly with Asian manufacturers, so they can reduce the high fees often imposed by half a dozen importers and intermediaries as well as the logistical issues that all businesses are facing at this time when stocks are now taking many more months to arrive than during the pre-pandemic period.
Co-founders Rio Xin and Marcos Esterli launched Pandas just three months ago to provide Asian-origin inventory to micro businesses in Latin America. Their collective background includes careers at McKinsey and Treinta for Esterli, and McKinsey, with more than seven years in China, for Xin, where he told TechCrunch he has developed a strong network in the region.
“The main problem we found is people who don’t understand the Chinese language or how Chinese manufacturers work, and then you add the logistical issues,” Xin added. “We are able to close the gap, while having our team in China to overcome all these logistical problems.”
Here’s how it works: Businesses order products through Pandas Marketplace, touting lower prices, where the business can make purchases with just a few clicks. Pandas goes from there, offering one-day delivery and customer support.
Esterli explained that people in Latin America were using smartphones for personal finance and other tasks, but that didn’t translate so quickly to the business side.
“Many customers told us that Alibaba was something they wanted to use, but it was very complicated to understand,” he added. “We wanted to create a simple and super intuitive solution because business owners don’t have that time to waste.”
Initially providing basic electronics – think headphones, accessories and cables – and with a new funding round, $5.8 million pre-seed, Pandas will move into categories such as textiles and home accessories. . The company bills the pre-seed investment as “the largest pre-seed financing in Spanish-speaking Latin America to date.”
Third Kind Venture Capital led the round and was joined by Acequia Capital, Picus Capital, Tekton Ventures, Partech, Liquid2 Ventures, Clocktower Technology Ventures, Gaingels and a host of individual investors including Juan Carlos Narvaez de Tul, Jose Jair Bonilla from Chiper, Treinta’s Man Hei and Lluís Cañadell, Pablo Viguera from Belvo, Alfonso de los Rios from Nowports, Sujay Tyle from Merama and Gonzalo Manrique from Ironhack.
So far in its young journey, the company is seeing 100% month-on-month growth and has built up a supplier network of around 300 out of 5,000 in China, Xin said.
In addition to moving into these new inventory categories, the new capital will allow Pandas to expand its operations, technology and product development and bring in new hires.
Xin expects to be present in most major Latin American markets over the next three years. Meanwhile, new features coming in the next 12 months include a suite of fintech and analytics tools like funding.