LinkBy, a Taiwan-based social commerce platform company, announced Thursday that it has raised $1.54 million in an oversubscribed Series Pre-A funding round.

Led by global venture capital firm Hive Ventures, the round also saw participation from 18 other investors including institutional/corporate investors such as Artesian Capital and Animoca Brands.

Private investors 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, also participated in the round.

“Fundamentally, commerce has always been built upon trust. We believe smaller but more engaged trusted networks bring that trust element back into ecommerce. Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs) are the trusted leaders at the heart of these communities on social media,” LinkBy Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Keegan Huang said in a statement.

Launched in 2020, LinkBy’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform helps KOCs rapidly establish shoppable digital presences and provides them with access to an Amazon-like marketplace for global brands ranging from fitness apparel to cosmetics. KOCs are seen as relatable, personable voices within conversations about brands, and LinkBy helps retailers participate in hundreds of thousands of these conversations to win consumers’ trust and drive sales through KOCs.

LinkBy’s technology extends beyond a user-friendly SaaS platform and into the realms of artificial intelligence. By analysing over 2 billion social engagements and proprietary AI models developed in-house, the startup’s internal AI engine Engaged AI leverages machine learning to automatically match retailers with the most valuable KOCs. This enables the startup to execute a highly focused vertical strategy.

“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,” said Yan Lee, Founding Partner of Hive Ventures.

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. Using the fitness industry as an example, fitness coach KOCs typically recommend their favourite brands by sending an ecommerce 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 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.

“To look far in the future, look deep in the past. Historically, retail was heavily influenced by word of mouth, now it is digitalised. I am intrigued by the notion of decentralised retail where every human being can be a point of sales,” said Michelle Ho, Board Chairman of Hanshin Department Store.

According to the statement, LinkBy sees massive opportunity ahead as across the Southeast Asia region, social commerce sales accounted for around 44 percent of the $109 billion ecommerce market in 2020, with a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28.4 percent from 2021 to 2028.

The startup has set its sights on leveraging that growth to realise its goal of achieving Always-on Retail worldwide, starting with its expansion into Southeast Asia.

“We think trusted networks will shape the future of retail – that’s where the next level of commerce is. We call this Always-On Retail,” added Huang.

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