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Fastest-growing direct-to-consumer startups 2020

These are the direct-to-consumer startups that came out on top this year.

By Connor Bilboe

Credit: Credit: YFood

Christmas is a prime time of year for direct-to-consumer (DTC) startups, all hoping to make a killing from festive online sales. But plenty of Europe’s DTC companies have been seeing record sales all year.

In the past several months, a few DTC startups have become $1bn+ brands, such as meal kit company Gousto with a valuation “well into unicorn land”  and fitness business Gymshark which was valued at $1.45bn after US growth equity fund General Atlantic bought a 21% stake in it.

The pandemic has boosted ecommerce adoption and led to a rise in digital consumption which is unlikely to go away any time soon. “With many companies experiencing WFH for the first time, we should expect companies to have more flexible working policies going forward. This will result in people continuing to spend a lot of their time at home and investing in areas such as food delivery, wellbeing and more,” Luca Bocchio, partner at VC firm Accel, tells Sifted. 

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Even before coronavirus came and swept DTC startups off their feet, investors were paying increasing attention to consumer-facing startups. VC investment in European consumer startups hit €16.6bn in 2019, up from €4.4bn in 2014.

In light of this, Sifted has looked into the European DTC landscape and picked out the startups that had the biggest growth spurts throughout 2020. We measured this by headcount — with supporting data on website traffic and social media growth — and sorted by sector.

From beauty whizzes to healthtech gurus, here they are:

Beauty

DTC startup Gitti
Jennifer Baum-Minkus, founder of Gitti

Gitti 

Founded: 2018, Berlin

Team growth over past year: 338% (8 to 35)

Investment raised: €3m

Considering it launched just over a year ago, sustainable nail polish startup Gitti has built up a solid team of 35 pretty fast. Gitti says that it has increased the sales of its vegan, cruelty-free and water-based products by 600%.

Founded by Jennifer Baum-Minkus — who had previously worked with corporates like Coca-Cola and Henkel — the DTC startup managed to woo some well-known angel investors and VCs for its first seed funding round. This includes Estee Lauder Germany’s former managing director Christoph Honnefelder and German VC firm btov Partners.

Trinny Woodall, founder of Trinny London

Trinny London

Founded: 2017, London

Team growth over past year: 76% (66 to 116)

Website traffic growth over past year: 233% 

Investment raised: £7.4m

Wondering what the popular British fashion advisors of the noughties Trinny and Susannah are up to these days? Well, the former, Trinny Woodall, has been busy building her beauty empire Trinny London, and its growth trajectory is impressive.

Founded in 2017, the DTC startup has reported 350% year-on-year net revenue growth in 2019 and has grown by 250% in 2020 (accounting for 67% of the current fiscal year so far.) Between its first and fourth fiscal year, the startup’s revenue has grown from £1m to £26m. Big investors like Unilever Ventures have invested in the startup.

DTC startup Beauty Pie

Beauty Pie 

Founded: 2016, London

Team growth over past year: 58% (52 to 82)

Website traffic growth over past year: 114% (93% in the UK)

Social media growth over past year: Instagram: 72.3%, Facebook: 75.7%, LinkedIn: 230% 

Investment raised: Undisclosed Series A round from Balderton, Index and others.

This UK-based beauty retailer — which sells a range of products from makeup to haircare — has boosted its membership rates by 300% since the pandemic began, according to the company’s founder and chief executive Marcia Kilgore.

Kilgore is a serial founder, who previously launched companies like spa retail company Bliss and bath, body and cosmetics startup Soap & Glory, the latter of which she sold to UK high-street  retailer Boots in 2014. DTC startup Beauty Pie has snapped up some top talent since the beginning of the year, including new chief marketing officer Rob Weston, previously of Marks & Spencer and John Lewis, and chief operating officer Panni Morshedi, formerly at Funding Circle. 

Notable others:

  • Typology — This French startup, which has been recognised as a B Corp, was founded in 2018 by Made.com founder Ning Li and produces sustainable skincare products. Team growth over the past year: 58%. Investment raised: €8.8m.

Food

air up team

air up 

Founded: 2018, Munich

Team growth over past year: 160% (30 to 80)

Website traffic growth over past year: 380%

Social media growth over past year: Instagram: 477%

Investment raised: €3.2m 

Over in Munich, beverage startup air up creates and sells drinks products on its site, including water flavourings — like wild berry and coffee  — with 0% sugars and additives, and 100% recyclable bottles.

Launching to customers just last year, air up has smashed follower growth on Instagram, starting 2020 with 10.7k followers and ending it with nearly 62k. The startup last received €2.3m early VC funding in January, and is currently raising a Series A round. Its seed round in 2019 was backed by influential German entrepreneur and investor Frank Thelen

DTC startup YFood

YFood 

Founded: 2017, Munich

Team growth over past year: 143% (46 to 112)

Website traffic growth over past year: 236%

Investment raised: €19.4m

Thelen’s investment streak in fast-growing DTC startups continues with meal replacement brand YFood. The team won him over when they appeared on the German TV show Die Höhle der Löwen (The Lion’s Den, which is similar to the US show Shark Tank or the UK’s Dragon’s Den) to pitch its on-the-go nutritious meal replacement products like high-protein drinks, powders and bars.

Going by the numbers, it’s clear why Thelen invested. The startup has 250,000 online customers in 26 countries, and last year reported a whopping 300% growth in revenue.

Parsley Box founders Adrienne and Gordon MacAulay with Gordon’s mother, who inspired the idea for the company.

Parsley Box 

Founded: 2017, Edinburgh

Team growth over past year: 127% (44 to 100)

Website traffic growth over past year: 540%

Investment raised: €3.5m 

Edinburgh-based Parsley Box delivers ready-made meals to homes across the UK, from pies to puddings. Last month, it reached its 400,000th customer milestone and announced that it has shipped nearly 8m meals to customers across the UK. This year, the DTC startup’s revenues have shot up 200% to £24m, up from £8m in 2019.

DTC startup Gousto
Fitness coach and Gousto brand ambassador Joe Wicks with Gousto founder and CEO, Timo Boldt

Gousto

Founded: 2012, London

Team growth over past year: Approx 100% (approx 500 to 1000)

Website traffic growth over past year: 67%

Social media growth over past year: Instagram: 65%

App download growth over past year: 72% 

Investment raised: €189m

Europe’s latest food startup unicorn Gousto has had overwhelming success this year. Customers love its meal kits — it’s rated an impressive 4.8* on the Google Play Store — and investors are smitten too. It’s backed by the likes of MMC Ventures and fitness coach Joe Wicks, who is also a brand ambassador for the company.

Its numbers are just as impressive. As of November 2020, the DTC startup delivers 6m meals per month to customers across the UK and in the first six months of 2020 it surpassed its total 2019 revenue of £83m. 

Oddbox 

Founded: 2016, London

Team growth over past year: 80% (25 to 45)

Website traffic growth over past year: 300% 

Investment raised: €3.8m

UK-based B-Corp startup Oddbox is taking on the global food waste problem by selling surplus fruit and vegetables in eco-friendly subscription boxes. This year, it received the fourth-highest crowdfunding round in the European food and drink sector from Seedrs at £2.5m.

Before the pandemic, the DTC company had achieved 400% growth and it continued to see overwhelming demand as the coronavirus spread across Europe. To date, the startup has reportedly saved more than 2,000 tonnes of produce from going to waste and delivered 400,000 boxes within London.

Notable others:

  • Farmy: Based in Switzerland, this six-year-old startup is an online market for fresh groceries, which uses electric vehicles for delivery. It stocks over 8,000 products. Team growth over past year: 51%. Website traffic growth over past year: 226%. Investment raised: €16.5m.
  • Just Spices: According to this Dusseldorf-based spices ecommerce platform, more than 60% of its sales are generated online. Team growth over past year: 47%. Website traffic growth over past year: 23%. Investment raised: €13m.
  • Simple Feast: Over in the Nordics, this five-year-old online cookbook startup is backed by Balderton and the European Commission. Team growth over past year: 45%. Website traffic growth over past year: 368%. Investment raised: $45m.

Healthtech

Impress 

Founded: 2019, Barcelona

Team growth over past year: 455% (27 to 150)

Investment raised: €5m

Making its mark on the Spanish dental DTC market is Impress, an orthodontics startup which lets customers book treatments directly from its website. At just one year old, it’s hiring 10-15 employees every month, has a presence in over 55 cities in Spain, Italy, the UK and Portugal and is gearing up to expand its business into the French market in 2021 off the back of its €5m seed funding round in October this year. 

DTC startup Oura
Harpreet Singh Rai, CEO of Oura Ring

Oura 

Founded: 2013, Oulu (Finland)

Team growth over past year: 74% (138 to 240)

Website traffic growth over past year: 138%

Investment raised: €48.9m

Oura is one of Finland’s fastest-growing startups. Its health-tracking rings are selling like wildfire; it has shipped over 300k rings to date. 

It’s got some pretty huge partners and backers too, including car racing organisation NASCAR and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), while celebrities like Prince Harry are using Oura’s rings to track their sleep. It raised a $28m Series B round in March this year, led by US VC Forerunner Ventures.

Werlabs 

Founded: 2013, Stockholm

Team growth over past year: 73% (44 to 76)

Website traffic growth over past year: 80%

Investment raised: €13.8m

This Swedish blood testing startup — which is backed by Spotify cofounder Daniel Ek and his wife Sofia Ek — was in high demand earlier this year when it rolled out coronavirus antibody testing kits in Sweden that could reportedly test 100,000 people in a week.

Since 2013, its team of doctors has analysed more than 5m blood markers and helped over 300,000 people understand more about their health.

Notable others:

  • Elvie: UK-based Elvie makes healthcare products for women — from connected breastfeeding pumps to pelvic floor trainers. This year, it expanded further by opening a research and development facility in Bristol and offices in New York and Shanghai. Team growth over past year: 57%. Website traffic growth over past year: 339%. Investment raised: €44.6m.
  • Thriva:  This startup processes over 115,000 at-home blood tests. In May 2020, it extended its Series A round to £10m. Team growth over past year: 60%. Website traffic growth over past year: 57%. Investment raised: €13.7m.

Fintech

Raphael Vuillierme and Benoit Bourdel, cofounders of Luko

Luko 

Founded: 2016, Paris

Team growth over past year: 100% (47 to 94)

Investment raised: €72m

Luko develops devices that improve home safety and aim to reduce electricity bills. It’s backed by PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel (who is on a European tech investment rampage), and recently raised a €50m Series B round from big VCs like Accel, EQT Ventures and Speedinvest. 

Notable others:

  • Trussle: Trussle, a London-based startup, is an online mortgage broker and received backing from Goldman Sachs in its $9.7m Series C funding round this year. Team growth over past year: 39%. Investment raised: €31.8m. 

Fashion

Roccamore 

Founded: 2013, Copenhagen

Team growth over past year: 52% (21 to 32)

Website traffic growth over past year: 75%

Social media growth over past year: Facebook: 18%, Instagram: 24%.

Investment raised: Undisclosed

Copenhagen-based Roccamore got going after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015. Its pitch? Insoles that prevent the discomfort that can come from walking in high heels on a daily basis. It was the first time a Danish woman — Roccamore’s founder Frederikke Schmidt — used Kickstarter to start her business.

Online, interest for the DTC startup is bubbling up. More and more people are flocking to its website, while its shown impressive growth on social media over the past year with more than 48m impressions on Facebook and 17.4m impressions on Instagram (75% more than 2019).

Gymshark

Founded: 2012, Solihull (UK)

Team growth over past year: 51% (416 to 630)

Website traffic growth over past year: 96%

Investment raised: €240m

Put simply, DTC fitness clothing brand Gymshark has had an outstanding year in terms of growth. The unicorn has customers in 131 countries, recording £18.4m in pre-tax profits on £176m in revenue from January to July this year, boasts over 12m social media followers across its accounts and a seemingly endlessly growing team. 

Thomas Plantenga, CEO of Vinted

Vinted 

Founded: 2008, Vilnius

Team growth over past year: 50% (413 to 620)

Investment raised: €232m

While it hasn’t reached the same highs as last year with its €128m Series E round from Accel et al and shiny new unicorn status, Lithuania’s second hand clothes marketplace Vinted is still growing.

It has over 34m registered users across 12 markets worldwide (up from 25m in November last year). Recently, it acquired Dutch competitor United Wardrobe as part of its mission to continue expanding. 

Notable others:

  • Laundryheap: This London-based on-demand laundry startup has had a good year. In July, it expanded into North America, Asia and the Middle East with plans to expand into more cities within these markets. Team growth over past year: 69%. Website traffic growth over past year: 70%. Investment raised: €3.4m.

 

Which DTC startups do you think are set to have a promising 2021? Drop a message to [email protected]

Connor Bilboe is Sifted’s editorial assistant. He tweets from @connorbilboe

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