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‘Digital Unilever’: Australian startup Una Brands plans to be a unicorn in a year

‘Digital Unilever’: Australian startup Una Brands plans to be a unicorn in a year

Despite being in existence for less than a year, Sydney-based e-commerce aggregator Una Brands has already acquired several Australian companies, and co-founder Adrian Johnston expects to pick up at least 15 more by the end of the year.

“We’ve got a roadmap to 100 acquisitions, which will more or less take us to unicorn status,” Mr Johnston told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

In the world of startups, making just one or two acquisitions would be unusual enough, but for Una Brands, it’s business as usual. The startup is part of a new wave of online retail ‘aggregators’ making waves and attracting millions in funding around the world.

Una, which operates across Singapore, Australia and Malaysia, looks for sellers on popular online retail platforms such as Shopify, eBay and Amazon with sales between $600,000 and $10 million, and offers to acquire them. It then integrates the company into its broader platform, streamlining areas such as marketing and data analytics with an aim of rapidly growing the newly acquired business.

The business model – known as a ‘rollup’ process – is common in the private equity space, with Mr Johnston noting it had been highly successful in more traditional industries such as gyms, surgeons and hairdressers.

“We view ourselves as a digital version of Unilever,” Mr Johnston said, referring to the consumer goods conglomerate behind brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Vaseline. “The question is: why didn’t Unilever do this before?”

Una raised $40 million in May from a number of high-profile international investors including 500 Startups and Kingsway Capital and is currently in the midst of an “extremely oversubscribed” Series A and is already preparing for a Series B.

“The whole thing is a total whirlwind. Every time we make a plan or a fundraising prediction, we achieve it in double the time,” Mr Johnston said.

Investors’ appetite for the nascent business is no surprise given the success of other e-commerce aggregators such as US-based Thrasio, which is worth upwards of $US3 billion ($4.13 billion), UK’s Olsam, and Germany’s Razor Group, each of which has attracted billions in fundraising in the last 18 months.

Mr Johnston is hoping to leverage Una Brands’ first-mover advantage in the Australian and South-East Asian markets to reach similar lofty valuations, confidently saying the business has a one-year roadmap to becoming a billion-dollar business.

He attributes the hype around the space to a handful of factors, most notably the pandemic and the associated boom in online shopping which has made aggregators such as Una more feasible and attractive to investors.

Mr Johnston, a former trader at Goldman Sachs and Boston Consulting Group consultant, also says low interest rates and the cyclical nature of private equity mean there is excess of capital in the market which is finding its way into aggregators such as his.

Inevitably, he expects a number of the aggregators around the world will form their own conglomerates, or a “roll-up of the rollups”.

“You could very easily imagine some type of merging these companies to create a fully geographically comprehensive model,” he said.

Photo: Adrian Johnston, CEO of Una Brand


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