Enter the headquarters of Whitebox on Holabird Ave., and you’ll find the desks and work areas needed to run a technology company. Further back, the space gives way to a warehouse where the ecommerce company is preparing products to be shipped.
The six-year-old company fully moved into its new space in June.
There’s a couple of key factors to the move location-wise, one being the desire to remain in Baltimore. The company started out of Emerging Technology Center (ETC). Along with knowledge of the talent in the area where those companies were built, he said the next generation of technologists being trained at universities like University of Maryland, Towson University, Johns Hopkins and UMBC, continues to impress.
It also brought the full local team together from previous locations at a Hampden office and Rosedale warehouse.
“Having everyone under one roof is really important to us and is really exciting,” said Marcus Startzel, a longtime executive who at local tech companies who joined Whitebox as CEO earlier this year. Startzel was a leader at adtech companies that are among notable Baltimore exits such as Ad.com, Millennial Media and Mediaglu, and also went on to work with AOL and AppNexus following those acquisitions. If the account management team has a question about inventory, he said, now the two teams are in the same physical space.
It’s fitting, as the teams play an interconnected role in the company’s work to automate the processes across direct-to-consumer brands’ entire ecommerce operation. Whitebox looks to help the companies who create the products sell them online. And it’s grown a customer base that includes bigger brands like McCormick, Starbucks and KitchenAid. It also works with startups that have grown up along with ecommerce like Super Coffee maker Kitu and Bare Bones. They also see opportunity with companies that typically sell to distributors, rather than going direct-to-consumer.
Startzel said this work involves applying its tech and team on the “sell stuff” side – where they sell products on marketplaces like Amazon, eBay or through a company’s own store. It also means the “move stuff” side, where the company is taking in the brands’ physical products, prepping them for shipment and ultimately sending them out.
One example comes in how it packages the products. Goods are sent to Whitebox in bulk. But with its digital tools and because the products are stored at its warehouse, the company determines how to “kit” the goods into multipacks or other configurations that are designed to sell on ecommerce sites.
Throughout, Whitebox is helping the companies strategize their online selling, track the products through the process, monitor quality control, list the products online, handle returns and more. Rob Wray, who founded the company along with CTO Sean Clark, and assumed the role of chief product officer when Startzel joined, said there are 100 different decisions that go into the process. The company looks to apply data so that brands don’t make a mistake, or have something happens that results in a bad experience for the buyer. And since Whitebox is moving the products, Startzel said the company is also able to help find savings, whether on the marketplaces themselves or through the supply chain.
Startzel said the company has been growing in the first half of the year. One data point: it was up 30 percent from Q4 of 2018 to Q1 of 2019. The team has also grown from 28 employees when Startzel joined in January, to 42 now. And it’s adding warehouse space. Along with the new facility in Baltimore, the company also opened a new warehouse in Las Vegas, bringing its warehouse square footage from 16,000 earlier this year to its current 60,000.
Part of the growth has included the leadership team. Startzel joined with 20 years of experience and a track record of exiting companies. Prior to his hiring, COO Rob Hahn joined from Amazon, where he led the company’s fulfillment centers — one of which is next door to Whitebox’s office — over an eight-year stint with the company.
The company is looking to continue to expand, and has fresh funding to do so. Shortly after moving into the new office, it announced the close of a $5 million Series A, led by TDF Ventures. Investors in the company also include Millennial Media cofounder Chris Brandenburg, Merkle Chairman and CEO David Williams and former Ad.com and Millennial Media COO Steve Root. Whitebox has raised $7.6 million to date.
“Whitebox is uniquely positioned to power brands operating in the direct-to-consumer space,” James Pastoriza, managing director of TDF Ventures, said in a statement. “The team has unmatched expertise across ecommerce, marketplaces, major digital platforms, direct-to-consumer logistics and mobile technology. Our investment signifies our confidence in the team, growth to date, the company and its market potential.”
With the funding, the company will grow sales, marketing and product development. It’ll also continue hiring, with a particular eye on tech talent.
This comes as ecommerce and the direct-to-consumer space is growing, and retail stores, in turn, are closing. Those macro trends were a big part of what attracted Startzel to the company. Startzel said a difference from the adtech companies is working with physical products as opposed to digital ads. Yet it’s still a technology company, so there’s plenty of familiarity with the approach to solving problems. And the culture and talent among the group of technologists recalls teams with past successes.
“The team at Whitebox is incredible and high energy — probably some of the most talented groups of people I’ve ever worked with. In that way it feels very familiar to when I walked into Advertising.com,” he said.