Taiwan-based social commerce platform LinkBy has raised US$1.54 million in an oversubscribed pre-Series A funding round. Launched in 2020, LinkBy is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform that empowers key opinion consumers (KOCs) and helps brands activate thousands of high-potential KOCs at scale to drive sales on social media.
The funding round was led by global venture capital firm Hive Ventures. It also saw participation from 18 other investors, ranging from institutional/corporate investors such as Artesian Capital and Animoca Brands to private investors like Michelle Ho (board chairman of Hanshin Department Store), Chu Huang-Wei (co-founder of Pixnet), and Ho Fei-Peng (chief executive officer of Cite Media Holding Group).
LinkBy plans to use the funds to boost hiring and expand across Southeast Asia, where the company sees massive opportunity. Social commerce sales in the region accounted for 44% of the U$109 billion e-commerce market in 2020, with a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28.4% from 2021 to 2028.
Covid-19 restrictions and the resultant boom in social media and e-commerce adoption have forced retailers to rethink how they acquire consumers. "Fundamentally, commerce has always been built upon trust,” LinkBy co-founder and CEO Keegan Huang says. “We believe smaller but more engaged trusted networks bring that trust element back into e-commerce. KOCs are the trusted leaders at the heart of these communities on social media."
As KOCs are seen as relatable, personable voices within conversations about brands, LinkBy says it SaaS platform helps retailers participate in hundreds of thousands of these conversations to win consumers’ trust and drive sales through KOCs.
According to LinkBy, its technology extends beyond a user-friendly SaaS platform and into the realms of artificial intelligence (AI). By analyzing over two billion social engagements and proprietary AI models developed in-house, LinkBy's internal AI engine Engaged.AI leverages machine learning to automatically match retailers with the most valuable KOCs. This enables the company to execute a highly focused vertical strategy.
Yan Lee, founding partner of Hive Ventures, comments: “LinkBy stands out as a social commerce platform for its innovative use of image recognition, natural language processing (NLP) and social listening tools – along with big data analytics and a proprietary strategy – to facilitate seamless, smarter social selling, which we foresee as being an important aspect of future hyperconnected societies. We see strong potential for LinkBy to be a trailblazer in the social commerce space.”
Unlike traditional influencer marketing where the relationship between brands and KOCs is transactional and time-bound, LinkBy focuses on driving long-term trust by facilitating persistent, always-on connections, the company says. In the fitness industry, for example, fitness coach KOCs typically recommend their favourite brands by sending an e-commerce link in chats with students for no commissions. On the other hand, managing thousands of individual KOCs has been an extremely challenging pain point for brands.
LinkBy says it taps into this existing dynamic and helps brands activate, manage, and control KOC-driven sales at scale. Since launch, LinkBy has empowered over 1,000 fitness coach KOCs to earn commissions by recommending products such as Adidas, Reebok, Decathlon and Teamjoined. These brands were able to drive meaningful sales through the KOCs' conversations with their communities (students and fans) via livestreaming and online coaching in the wake of temporary gym closures.
Michelle Ho, board chairman of Hanshin Department Store, says: "Historically, retail was heavily influenced by word of mouth, and now it is digitalized. I am intrigued by the notion of decentralized retail where every human being can be a point of sales.”