Why e-commerce startups aren’t raising more funding during this historic boom

After yesterday’s look into the somewhat lackluster pace of investment into e-commerce-focused startups this year, a few VCs sent in notes that added useful context. So this morning let’s discuss why the pace of e-commerce startup fundraising has been so milquetoast in 2020.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

To frame the oddity of e-commerce startups not raising a flood of cash during what are historic boom times, we noted Walmart’s staggering online sales growth in Q2, which TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez broke out into a separate piece. Today, for a soupçon more, Target reported its Q2 earnings. Its results are similar to Walmart’s own, if even more extreme.

The American retailer reported that its “store comparable” sales were up 10.9% in the quarter, which was rather good. But Target also reported that its “digital comparable sales grew 195%,” which is staggering. Target’s revenue mix moved from 7.3% digital in its year-ago quarter to 17.2% in its most recent.


If you’ve been around the internet lately, you can’t help but trip over more data detailing this extraordinary moment in e-commerce history — there are years of change happening in just a quarter’s time. For a taste, former Andreessen denizen Benedict Evans has some great data on U.S. and U.K. e-commerce growth, and here’s yet another great chart to chew on. It goes on and on.

So the e-commerce boom is real, and the startup funding funk is as well, per the data we ingested yesterday via CB Insights. What gives? GGV’s Jeff Richards had an idea, and we chatted with Canaan’s Byron Ling as well. We’ve also done a little digging into some of the largest, recent e-commerce rounds to get some flavor on who is raising in the space. Ready?

Why e-commerce VC isn’t going straight up

If you recall, our thesis yesterday was that, perhaps, the kill zone theory often posited concerning Amazon meant that the e-commerce space is less investable than we’d otherwise imagine and that because some things are “sorted” to a degree, there is less green space available in the sector for startups to tackle.

Bits of that might be right.