December 16, 2022

Flight Plan #18 - Our Investment in Partly

Partly is building the plumbing for the global auto parts industry

Written by

Stew Glynn

We are excited to announce our latest investment in Partly, our first Kiwi investment.


Partly is building the 'one API to rule them all' to power the US$1.9tn Global Auto Parts market. We're usually fairly sceptical of markets claiming to be this large, but when we dove deeper into the industry, we found that it was a huge sleepy, global market that still mostly transacted offline, and hadn’t experienced significant innovation in decades given the number of global stakeholders and information silos that had emerged over the preceding decades.

However, bringing one of the largest offline markets, online is incredibly complex, and requires ingenuity, industry know how, new approaches, and capital. We think Levi and the team are the right team to go after this challenge and that’s why we’re thrilled to be joining Partly’s Series A round, alongside some great co-investors.

Partly’s US$21m Series A was led by Octopus Ventures, one of Europe’s largest VC firms. We’re pleased to be joining this round alongside Shasta, Square co-founder Randy Reddig, Hillfarrance, I2BF, and our Aussie friends, Square Peg, and Blackbird. It was also great to see existing investors such as Figma CEO Dylan Field, Notion co-founder Akshay Kothari, and Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck, back for more.

Problem

There are millions of cars and hundreds of millions of auto parts in the global automotive parts market. The difficulty with “search” in the auto parts marketplace is that users who are looking for car parts don't, in many cases, know the specific part they are looking for, as many parts can act as viable substitutes for others for a given car.

This search problem has to date remained unsolved, at scale. When sellers list a car part on an online marketplace, they'll generally input the relevant details for their specific car part to inform and attract potential buyers. However, in a world without Partly, there is no way for the seller to automatically map their part to an exhaustive list of all the potential vehicles in the world that can use it. What this means in practice is that many transactions end up happening offline, with human “experts” helping to fill the information void.

Compounding these challenges, there is also no common and universally accepted standard for mapping these relationships. Different stakeholders use different standards to map relationships, making it a massive challenge to aggregate them all.

Multiply this scenario across different vehicle makes and models accepting parts from other manufacturers and suddenly this problem becomes unwieldy. This complex web of car makes, models, manufacturing runs, aftermarket part manufacturers, and retailers have proven too challenging of a problem to solve. Well, until now.

Enter: Partly

Partly is building a mapping and cataloging system which will map every car part to all of the possible vehicles which can accept it, globally.

Partly serves their system up and makes it accessible to customers like marketplace giant, eBay, through their application programming interface (API), where consumers already go to find and buy car parts.

To build their API, Partly is applying all that they learned dealing with car parts and the auto industry in their previous startup, AllGoods. They use best-in-class data science, quantitative and statistical methods to automatically categorise the mappings based on the pre-existing data and relational information that they have been provided by manufacturers, marketplaces and other customers.

If they can “solve” this challenge and more effectively match buyers with sellers, Partly has the potential to become a much-fabled unicorn, several times over, by dragging this massive, and largely offline market, into the present.

The traction so far is impressive. Partly has standardised and labelled ~30% of car parts and almost all of the world’s vehicles to enable matching, making it already a globally significant parts database. This has allowed them to sell to giant marketplaces like eBay which powers millions of auto part sales, globally, a huge validation of the technology, and approach to date.

Why we invested

  • All Star Team: In our view, the team is the most important ingredient in any investment, regardless of the stage. No one has been able to build what Partly is attempting so it's critical that we back a team that has the right background, experience, and gumption to attempt to pull it off. Founders, Levi Fawcett and Evan Jia have helped launch rocketships and now they're building one at Partly. Each of the founders has direct marketplace experience and deep insight into the marketplace dynamics which inform the go-to-market and incentives at play required to bring the entire market online. We also consider it a strong plus that the founders have all worked together previously at AllGoods.
  • Awakening The Sleeping Giant: Partly is activating the nascent trillion-dollar global parts industry and directing it online. Many dealerships, wreckers, manufacturers, and other stakeholders in the global parts marketplace still operate and transact offline, for the most part. In our view, this gives Partly a rare category-creating opportunity to be the “n of 1” company powering auto parts marketplaces. These industries tend to be characterised as “winner take all markets”, with enormous economic value accruing to the eventual winner.
  • APIs as global giants: Application programming interfaces (API) were once an invisible software intermediary, seldom recognised outside the developer community. Today, massively successful VC-backed API companies like Plaid (banking API), Stripe (payment API ), and Twilio (communications API) have emerged off the back of similar trends in other verticals. We know these models well having invested in other API companies like Carted, and Wonde (through Transition Level Investment). These companies now serve as the plumbing of the internet, and are seldom switched out by customers once embedded.

With strong traction, an incredible team, and a huge, unloved market to disrupt, we couldn’t be more excited to join the Partly team on their mission.

You can read more about their latest round in Techcrunch.

Safe Travels,

Stew Glynn

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