Co-Founding Branded: Looking Back and Connecting the Dots

5 min read
From SoftBank to Branded: A journey a million air miles in the making

Today, I am proud to announce that I am teaming up with Pierre Poignant and Ben Kaminski to launch Branded – an exciting new company that acquires, accelerates and scales high-potential Amazon third-party brands. Having already invested in the company personally, I have decided to join full-time as co-founder and President leading the U.S. operations. It is one of the most exciting moments of my career, and I am truly privileged to share it with such great investors, partners and an incredible team. 

After incubating Branded in stealth mode for the last six months within Target Global,we have already acquired key assets in the US and Europe and formed a core team of leading minds from Alibaba, Lazada, Amazon, McKinney, BCG and, including myself, SoftBank and Goldman Sachs.

From my experience at Goldman Sachs, working as an advisor to Steve Jobs as Apple entered the hyper-competitive wireless telecommunications industry, to investing early into autonomous driving and delivery platforms, to transforming underutilized urban spaces into thriving last-mile delivery hubs, I take pride in having been part of monumental transformations in the world’s most fascinating industries. I have seen disruption from both the innovator and incumbent side. I have seen what it takes to build a top-notch team and execute flawlessly in a competitive marketplace. And I know we have the opportunity of a lifetime to do just that with Branded.

From SoftBank to Branded: A Journey a Million Air Miles in the Making

Looking back at my time with Softbank – three years, $5 billionworth of investments and 500,000 air miles later – I realize that it was more rewarding than I ever thought it would be, as it ultimately led me to the vision behind Branded. 

When I joined Softbank in 2017, at the invitation of Masayoshi Son, who was my client at Goldman Sachs, I believed we had the opportunity to organize e-commerce and global logistics, as well as to drive innovation and economies of scale alongside the existing giants: Alibaba and Amazon. 

I led the Vision Fund’s investments in tech startups whose innovations will help shape the future of transportation, e-commerce and logistics. We partnered with Dan Amman and Kyle Vogt at Cruise, GM’s autonomous driving platform; we invested in JZ and Dave Ferguson’s Nuro, the autonomous local goods delivery service that’s revolutionizing how we eat, live and shop; and we invested in Ryan Peterson’s Flexport, arguably the most innovative disruptor of freight forwarding globally thanks to its automation tools. We worked with the amazing Ari Ojalvo, together with my partner Ben Kaminski and my LP partners at Mubadala to create Reef Technology, which is transforming the parking industry into a last-mile logistics solution provider, and we backed Yakir Gola and Raf Ilishayev, the amazing co-founders of GoBrands, whose company is profitably scaling a massive last-mile delivery platform for convenience goods. 

With Branded, I am moving into the driver’s seat myself as a co-founder. I believe that my partners and I have the incredible opportunity to build a consumer product goods (CPG) e-commerce platform that will enable entrepreneurs around the world to scale-up their online business faster and more efficiently than ever before. Our investment in technology, such as machine learning and AI, as well as our team’s combined expertise and access to capital will help to unlock one of the biggest entrepreneurial opportunities of our lifetime. 

2020: A ‘Sabbatical’ Under Quarantine

Ironically enough, after spending years trying to predict the next trend, co-founding Branded happened because I underestimated the biggest “trend” of 2020! 

It was late February 2020. I had just landed back in San Francisco from Tokyo, where I met with Masayoshi Son to discuss my pending departure from Softbank. Masa had recruited me from Goldman Sachs in the spring of 2017 to launch the $100 billion Vision Fund, attract the right talent to our firm and invest in the next wave of so-called ‘unicorns.’ 

Masa understood that I wanted to explore new opportunities. We agreed that I would stay involved with my portfolio companies as an advisor until the end of 2020, while being free to invest on my own. Finally, after over two decades of non-stop work, I had the chance to take some real time off!

But something just felt odd that day.

After a brisk 48-hour return trip to Tokyo, I walked through San Francisco International (SFO) Airport’s arrivals terminal, and I was surprised to see passengers wearing face masks. When I realized that the flight was coming from Wuhan, China, the original epicenter of what was later declared a global pandemic, I started questioning my plan to take a sabbatical at the onset of a mysterious infectious disease.  

Sure enough, the next few weeks saw the spread of once-in-a-century global pandemic. Gone were the dreams of extensive travel and frivolous days in the sun. Instead of spending the year enjoying life, I ended up sheltering at home, reevaluating my priorities, and reflecting, among other things, on some of the ongoing trends in business and society. 

While, at first, I regretted leaving Softbank, my badly timed sabbatical ultimately revealed its silver lining: I got to invest in and partner with some incredible minds to seize this pivotal moment for entrepreneurialism and e-commerce.

Branded: The Opportunity to Further Advance Amazon’s Global Entrepreneurial Factory

With Branded, I am joining my friend Pierre Poignant, a founding member of Lazada, an Alibaba (and as-such – Softbank) affiliate, to launch a company that will not only create scale on the Amazon marketplace, but also transform it for the better. I am also joining Ben Kaminski whom I have known for many years and has started Branded’s journey for all of us within the Target Global’s platform. Without the vision and leadership of Ben and his partners at Target Global , this ambitious endeavor would have never been possible. I am truly humbled that they have entrusted me with helping build it in the coming years. 

Our proprietary technology together with our operational and financial expertise will bring much-needed professional resources to successful, up-and-coming third-party sellers. 

The market is ready for our solution. Currently, most “solopreneurs” or small-time sellers run out of capital, expertise, and time, or, more often, all the above at the same time – before having a chance to make it. With Branded, we will provide the best of these entrepreneurs a platform for their brands, enabling scale-up growth and unprecedented expansion, and bringing brands that consumers love to more shoppers around the globe.

Our Vision

Together, we will build brands in key verticals, such as Home, Lifestyle and Leisure, to bring value to consumers across platforms and geographies. 

We will leverage our combined expertise, and Amazon’s massive logistics infrastructure, to help sellers build top-notch marketing, product engineering, supply chain and service platforms to create long-lasting consumer brands. 

Scaling up organizational platforms require the careful orchestration of human and financial capital. With the Branded team in place, and a business that is already profitable and generating hundreds of millions in revenues at a projected 2x annual growth, I am confident we will achieve our goal to build real moats in an otherwise hyper-competitive and fragmented marketplace. 

Amazon’s third-party marketplace has already reached $300 billion in sales globally and it is growing at a 50% clip. The opportunity to grow a massive company that will enable the new class of Amazon-enabled entrepreneurs is as big as anything I have seen at Softbank – ripe for us to seize. 

In hindsight, taking 2020 off to pause and reflect was incredibly valuable. It was a challenging year for sure, but it brought the massive opportunity to not only to be an investor and Board member of an amazing innovative company, but also the co-founder and President.

While I could not see this coming 12 months ago as I walked through the SFO terminal, ‘connecting the dots’ – as Steve Jobs once said – it all makes sense now.