PARIS — Agora, a social beauty commerce start-up based in London, has raised $6.6 million in seed funding led by Draper Esprit, with participation from Lakestar, Angel Capital Management and other investors.
The app, which currently allows beauty aficionados to monetize their creativity by developing and sharing video content linked to their most-loved beauty brands, was soft launched in April by Riccardo Basile and Elizabeth Craft Townsend-Rose.
The duo had formerly been on the founding team of e-commerce company Lazada, which Alibaba Group purchased in 2016.
“We thought we were e-commerce experts when we sold the business to them, but then we realized that we were experts of the 1.0 form of commerce,” said Basile. “Working with Alibaba was in a way for us almost [like] a Ph.D. in e-commerce and in the power of combining social mechanics and e-commerce.”
Agora’s model was inspired by the rising trend of user-generated content employed by e-commerce platforms in Asia, such as Little Red Book and Taobao.
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“The vision for the company is really to give an opportunity to create a community of beauty lovers — starting from the U.K., but then expanding across Europe and even outside of Europe potentially in the future,” explained Basile.
Agora aims for beauty brands to have a presence in the community by opening direct flagships where they can sell to consumers. The idea is ultimately to offer Agora users an experience similar to that of walking into an offline beauty store — with all the elements of fun, efficiency and trust. Such a marketplace should be operational between the first and second quarters of 2021.
To date, Agora has 50,000 registered users and that fan base with a strong Gen Z footprint has grown mostly organically.
“We started by soft-launching a platform that first allowed individual users and content creators to upload their thoughts — which we call takes — [that are] their reviews and opinions of different products, and interact with each other around that,” said Craft Townsend-Rose, adding people themselves choose the products they want to talk positively or negatively about.
They can earn and accumulate virtual Agora “coins” redeemable for free beauty products on the platform. Agora has already partnered with more than 200 beauty brands, both established and indie.
“We’re bringing really exciting new products every day to the users,” said Craft Townsend-Rose.
In November, Agora started testing social commerce by giving 30 content creators, dubbed “ambassadors,” the ability to sell pre-made beauty boxes through the app, while making a commission on the transactions.
“We can scale the number of ambassadors to 300 already next year, and we aim to have thousands of them going forward,” said Basile, describing the ambassadors as beauty professionals, lovers and experts.
A goal is to give beauty brands the opportunity to connect with this network of “meta sellers.”
Agora, which has 20 employees, plans to use the new funds to grow the teams on both its business and technology sides. So that means adding people to work with brands for growing the community and to expand marketing.
Regarding tech, Craft Townsend-Rose said Agora will hire more people, “so we can really elaborate on some of the features that will help our content creators sell. For example, we might offer livestreaming solutions to take the medium of video-enhanced selling a little bit further. And then, of course, we want to invest heavily in using data and creating a better user experience through personalization.”
Investors view Agora as transformative.
“We have a strong conviction that there is a huge market opportunity in Europe to build the predominant social e-commerce platform for beauty,” said Christoph Hornung, investment director at Draper Esprit, in a statement.
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