Used-goods marketplaces, an online staple since the beginning of the internet as we know it, have really come into their own during the COVID-19 pandemic: They've been a place for people clearing out their domestic spaces to list items that they have that are still in good shape, making some money in the process; and for buyers, they are a resource for finding items at a time when shopping in person and spending money in uncertain economic times have both fallen out of favor. Today, MPB -- a popular marketplace that specializes in used cameras and photographic equipment -- is announcing significant funding to double down on the opportunity after seeing its platform "recirculate" some 300,000 items of kit globally each year and pass £100 million ($139 million) in revenues this year.
The Brighton, England-based startup has snapped up £49.8 million (about $69 million at current exchange rates). It plans to use the money both to expand into more markets -- it currently has offices in Brooklyn and Berlin -- and into more product areas, specifically, extending the marketplace concept to serve content creators.
The Series D is being led by Vitruvian Partners, with significant participation from Acton Capital; Mobeus Equity Partners, Beringea and FJ Labs also participating. Vitruvian is a new backer for MPB; the rest were already invested in the startup, which has raised around $91 million since 2011.
MPB did not disclose its valuation in a statement on the fundraise; we have contacted the company to ask and will update if / when we learn more.
For some context, this is the biggest-ever round raised by a startup out of Brighton. Home to one university and right next to another, Brighton has had some tech world focus -- Brandwatch made a splash in February when it was acquired by Cision for $450 million; and it is well known for gaming companies and talent -- but has largely been off the fundraising radar, perhaps in part because it is so close to London and its own gravitational pull for entrepreneurs and VCs. PitchBook put MPB's valuation at $50.86 million in 2019; it's likely to be significantly higher than this now.
“This funding round is a major milestone for MPB, culminating a decade of strong performance and a vision to make great kit accessible and affordable," said Matt Barker, MPB's founder and CEO, in a statement. "With the backing of Vitruvian Partners and those reinvesting in our business, we can accelerate our US and European growth strategy at scale, profitably. Photography and videography are intrinsic to societies and cultures all over the world, and at MPB we have created a circular model that offers everyone the chance to be visual storytellers and content creators in a way that’s good for the planet.”
Indeed, what's interesting about MPB is how it touches on and addresses a number of themes that have been playing out across the world of e-commerce and wider digital society, and what's probably made it successful has been its appeal to people on one or more of those fronts at the same time.
First, there is the platform it gives to people to sell and buy used camera equipment. The sale of used items gives owners an opportunity to make money off items they no longer need, and buyers a way to procure items at lower costs. And it has an obvious environmental angle to it, since circular economy operators encourage people to get more life out of electronics that might otherwise simply become part of a landfill (or encourage more manufacturing of new goods in their place).
But on a more practical level, used-good sales also have often put people off in part because they are deprived of some of the guarantees that you would normally get on goods when buying from more established retailers.
MPB provides buying and seller security in its own way: by employing a team of people to vet and prepare items for sale, and providing a six-month guarantee on items sold over its platform. That has paid off for it even pre-pandemic: The company said that its compound growth rate over the last five years has been 53%.
(And more generally, used goods marketplaces are seeing some big attention from VCs at the moment in Europe: in February, Wallapop in Spain raised $191 million for its more generalised used-goods marketplace, and in March Vestiaire Collective raised $216 million.)
Second, it touches on the bigger trend we've seen around the growth of communities focused on specific rather than general interests. It's a clear way of conferring more authenticity, focus and signal in an otherwise very noisy world online, and in a specialized area like the sale of photography equipment, this can be especially critical and a unique selling point over more generic sales platforms like eBay: It means more attention paid by the platform to stock, as well as a more focused community of buyers and sellers.
Third, there is the focus of MPB in particular. We have most definitely seen the birth of a "creator economy" online, where people are making livings out of their own brands (ugh), or from their specific creative output, bypassing some of the more traditional middle-men in favor of newer ones (e.g. network broadcasters no longer the sole gatekeepers for serialized video content and all of the work that goes into making it; YouTube conversely now makes a killing off it, and if Substack, Patreon and others like it play their cards right, they will soon, in their own areas of interest, too.)
What this might mean for companies like MPB is a surge of interest and attention on equipment for capturing those images, although it will be interesting to see how and if that can be leveraged on a wider scale, given how so much of that creation today is happening on smartphones, which themselves continue to get more sophisticated and eat into not just casual photographers' buying patterns, but more serious ones, too.
In the question of scaling, MPB will have an interesting partner in the form of Vitruvian Partners, which backs second-hand clothes marketplace Vestiaire Collective -- which raised $216 million last month, another sign of the times and how they have boosted the opportunities for used-good sales -- alongside other marketplaces like Carwow, Just Eat, Farfetch, Skyscanner and Trustpilot.
“MPB has developed a unique tech-enabled platform to meet a market need, transforming access to photography kit to become a global leader in its field, whilst building a product that genuinely has a positive impact on the world," said Tom Studd, partner at Vitruvian Partners, said in a statement. "Matt and the team have achieved strong and profitable growth through recent launches in the US and Germany, and we’re delighted to partner with them for the next step of the journey. Vitruvian looks to back exceptional teams with unique products in large markets, and we believe Matt and the team fit those criteria perfectly.”
Sebastian Wossagk, managing partner at Acton Capital, added: “It’s always a privilege to watch companies like MPB grow and excel in their field. Matt and his team have already taken the first steps into internationalisation by opening locations in Brooklyn and Berlin, and we’re excited to support them as they pursue further expansion in both the US and Europe.”
Something notable about MPB is that Barker once said that he founded it in part because he didn't feel that the requirements of people in the photography community were being addressed well enough by more general sites like eBay or Gumtree. That may still be the case for those two sites (and countless other generic sales platforms), but it doesn't mean that there are not a number of other players addressing the used-photography equipment market. They include the likes of Worldwide Camera Exchange, Park Cameras, Camera World and many others with equally SEO-friendly names. That represents opportunities for consolidation, competitive threat and hopefully innovation for better services, but also a sign that there is more to this market than might meet the eye.