Auto parts buyers require specific parts to fit specific vehicles, creating an environment of limited supply. Based in New Zealand, Partly aims to alleviate these limitations by connecting parts buyers around the world with the right parts.
The two-year-old startup is not an auto parts market. Instead, Partly powers marketplaces like eBay and Shopify with its database of more than 50 million parts from more than 20,000 suppliers and OEMs.
“The technology basically works by working with suppliers to ingest, structure and standardize all the data,” co-founder and CEO Levi Fawcett told Root Devices.
The company then manages that data and pushes it back to the big platforms that customers already use to find auto parts.
The startup closed a $21 million Series A on Monday to continue growing in Europe, where most of its customer base is — in addition to marketplaces like eBay, it also has partial partnerships with the United Nations and a few unnamed Fortune 500 companies. Startup it also wants to use the funds to expand more aggressively in the US, where it is actively recruiting and building an office. Most importantly, the funding will help Partly double its engineering team to work on the core problem of matching all the correct parts of a vehicle based on the number plate alone.
“It sounds simple, but it’s a ridiculously hard problem,” said Fawcett, who noted that Partly’s 50-member team should grow to more than 100 employees by the end of next year.
Partly’s secondary objective is to represent New Zealand on the world stage in addition to expanding its business. With top customers and no direct competitors, the startup aims to become the largest technology company based in New Zealand within five years. For that, it will have to contend with Xero, which is publicly traded on the Australian stock exchange and has a market capitalization of about $7.4 billion, according to Google Finance.
Fawcett, who previously managed and developed hardware simulations at Rocket Lab, said the opportunity to connect parts buyers with the right parts is “monstrous.” In the US alone, consumers will spend nearly $95.4 billion on motor vehicle parts and accessories in 2021. The automotive parts and accessories market is expected to reach a global market size of $2.5 trillion by 2024.
“About 98% of parts ordered today are done over the phone by a parts interpreter, and their job is to take the phone call, understand what they’re looking for, find it in the system, find out what vehicle it’s from, decide if there are any differences or if it’s been modified, when it came from another country and then get the customer the right part,” Fawcett said. “It’s a whole process that we’re turning around. Instead, insert the license plate and then select the part you want. It basically takes a super archaic process and radically changes it by removing the human.”
The problem has yet to be solved on a large scale because it requires cooperation between vehicle manufacturers, aftermarket manufacturers and retailers and the creation of a common language so that all information is consistent between manufacturers. This not only makes it easier for buyers, but also for sellers who want to better understand their customers.
“In the case of the United Nations, we run the World Food Programme, which is one of the largest fleets in the world,” Fawcett said. “They have this huge network where their workshops have to buy parts, they have to centralize data to understand things like volume discounts, correct parts for all vehicles, etc. We run this system to connect buyers and sellers, but we work B2B.”
In part, he believes that following the B2B model will be the secret sauce he needs to scale, and the startup has clearly convinced investors of its growth potential.
Rob Coneybeer, managing director and co-founder of Shasta Ventures, one of the participating investors in the round, told Root Devices that VCs are attracted to “huge markets with attractive founders solving important consumer problems.”
“One of the biggest opportunities in the world is the collapse of the $500 billion aftermarket auto parts market,” Coneybeer said. “Levi and his team have developed a solution that makes it much easier and faster to find the right job, which leads to higher market conversion, lower returns and much more satisfied customers. Their solution is based on years of hard engineering work that has allowed them to rapidly expand from US$150 million in annual orders today to billions.”
Partly’s Series A was led by Octopus Ventures. In addition to Shasta, participating investors include Square Peg, Blackbird, Ten13, Square co-founder Randy Redigg, Hillfarrance and I2BF. Existing investors such as Figma CEO Dylan Field, Notion co-founder Akshay Kothari and Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck also participated.