We’ve been hearing the word “community” a lot recently in the startup and venture capital worlds. From Lolita Taub’s community-first approach to venture finance to Archive’s community-based marketing buying power. In Latin America, where belonging to a community is valued, firms such as Trela in Brazil and Muni in Colombia are bringing people together to meet a shared need – in Muni’s case, the purchase of basic necessities. After earning her MBA at Stanford and overseeing Rappi’s worldwide grocery business, Mara Echeverri Gomez came up with the idea for the startup.
She told TechCrunch, “I was at Stanford looking at what potential in Latin America might drive the adoption of technology.” “While at Rappi, I witnessed what could be done, but the worldwide epidemic demonstrated that technology is better for everyone in the long run, but only a few individuals had access to it.” She observed that the initial steps to access tended to always be individuals buying stuff online after doing some exploratory visits to China and India, so she began looking into how to make e-commerce more accessible to the 92 percent of Latin Americans who were unable to access internet shopping.
Add to that the fact that you don’t have much faith in it: People like to handle items, receive products in the quality they anticipate, and frequently pay cash on delivery, according to Echeverri Gomez. Community purchasing, on the other hand, she viewed as a means to cover all of those areas while also providing individuals with an additional source of income to help them get out of poverty. The procedure is straightforward: community leaders provide a link to the WhatsApp online store, which centralizes orders. Neighbors place their purchases, and the supplier delivers them to Muni, which selects and packs them before handing them over to the community leader to handle the last-mile delivery and cash payments.
“We created an app to help community leaders succeed by allowing them to track their revenue, manage their clients, and see who has and hasn’t placed an order,” she explained. “Because many community leaders have never done business online before – we had to explain what a shopping cart is — the product is incredibly user-friendly.” Muni operates in Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil, with over 15,000 community leaders using the service, which has gained 20% month over month since its June 2020 start. More than 6,000 SKUs are available in 20 categories, ranging from grocery to fresh produce to packaged items to electronics.
Customers, who number in the thousands, benefit from costs that are up to 40% cheaper than the competition, with no additional shipping or service fees, according to Echeverri Gomez. Meanwhile, the firm has expanded its workforce, now employing 500 people, half of whom work in warehouses and the rest in operations, business, technology, and customer support.
To keep up with its quick expansion, Echeverri Gomez’s firm received $20 million in Series A funding, which she describes as “the highest Series A investment disclosed for a female entrepreneur in Spanish-speaking Latin America to date.” Rappi co-founders Simón Borrero and Felipe Villamarin, Affirm founding COO Huey Lin, Habi co-founder Brynne McNulty Rojas, Frubana founder Fabian Gomez, Loft co-founder Florian Hagenbuch, and GGV managing partner Hans Tung led the round, which was joined by Muni’s seed investors Monashees and Pear VC, as well as a group of angel investors, including Muni now has a total financing of around $27 million.
Muni will likely be someone’s first digital account, according to Alex Taussig, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, and the company’s efforts to develop profiles will improve the shopping experience. “We were blown away by Maria’s thoughtfulness and how effectively the model was operating and expanding,” he continued. “There is a genuine social purpose component to it, as well as an angle for helping women to become entrepreneurs in their communities.” She hopes that by doing so, they would be able to escape poverty.”
As Muni grows to second- and third-tier cities, Echeverri Gomez aims to utilize the extra cash to invest in the technology and product teams, scale operations, and guarantee the proper infrastructure is in place. She also plans to branch out into other product categories and service areas, such as financial services. “We aim to be social commerce with a supply chain backbone,” she continued. “To yet, many of the’superapp’ concepts have only been successful in China. In terms of revenue, many in Latin America are pursuing a top-down strategy, but we are the only ones in a position to take a bottom-up one.”