Invaluable is the world’s largest online live auction marketplace of fine and decorative arts, antiques and collectibles, featuring a live online bidding platform that allows collectors and dealers to bid in real-time in auctions held around the world.
The company, formerly known as, Artfact, was founded in 1989 and re-branded as Invaluable in November of 2013, shortly after Rob Weisberg took the helm as Chief Executive Officer. Having served as the company’s COO for five months prior to the move to CEO, Weisberg said the following at the time of the re-brand:
“The Invaluable brand speaks to the emotional connection our community of collectors and dealers have with the items they are most passionate about. Through this re-brand effort, we are confident that the new Invaluable brand will speak to the transcendent power and passion that our customers have for the industry and that we have in helping to evolve the live auction marketplace.”
When you think of collectibles, and the buyers’ passion for them, the items truly are invaluable. And while the company produces SaaS technology and marketing services to auction houses around the world, their brand must appeal to consumers, as roughly 60% of the company’s (fast growing) revenue comes from purchases made by collectors buying items at live auctions using the Invaluable platform. Advertising (~25%) and listing fees make up the company’s remaining revenue.
2013 saw the implementation of Weisberg as CEO and a major brand makeover – and it appears both moves are paying off. The company has realized approximately 500% growth in three years.
GET TO KNOW ROB WEISBERG
A native New Yorker, Weisberg attended the University of Rochester where he studied psychology and marketing, but having grown up with a mother who was a high school computer science teacher, Weisberg always had a keen understanding and interest in technology.
Upon graduation he enter the advertising world, holding various positions at agencies in New York such as, Ogilvy & Mather and Grey Advertising. With his agency days coming during the birth of the Internet, Weisberg recalled, “setting up the original email account for his first agency.”
Weisberg’s experience working with tech clients like IBM and Microsoft would eventually translate into his role with Domino’s Pizza, where he was, as he put it, “tasked with bringing the restaurant chain into the modern age.” Today, Domino’s views itself as a technology-enabled company, utilizing voice-ordering apps to enhance the customer experience. That tech vision started with Weisberg, who grew Domino’s online sales to 28% of all revenues before he left for another industry-changing challenge – Zipcar.
“We utilized technology to great success at Domino’s,” Weisberg told me. “I left to help do the same with Zipcar and was able to be a part of changing the car rental business through technology.”
Weisberg joined Zipcar in 2010 as Chief Marketing Officer, where he would triple the user-base of the car sharing company. During his tenure, Zipcar went public in 2011 and Weisberg left for the COO role at Invaluable prior to Zipcar’s acquisition from Avis.
With Zipcar on the rise, I asked Weisberg what pulled him away and into Invaluable:
“I thrive on bringing technology into industries that have been slow to adopt it. I looked at this $130 billion live auction market and realized this was an opportunity to do what I love – grow a business and shake up an industry by utilizing technology.”
DRIVING THE GROWTH OF INVALUABLE
Under Weisberg’s watch, alongside a $33.75 million series D round of funding in June of 2014, there are three standout business initiatives that have driven the aggressive growth of the company, which has doubled in employee headcount since he began, going from around 65 to 130 today.
In October of 2014 Invaluable struck a deal with eBay, to power eBay’s live auction platform. Through the partnership, Invaluable’s partner auction houses can now make their auction catalogs available for online bidding by eBay’s 155 million active users by simulcasting on the eBay platform.
The partnership calls for a revenue split between the two companies.
Just this past March, Invaluable struck up another partnership with global auction house, Sotheby’s. As a result of the collaboration, Sotheby's advanced its digital strategy with a new online salesroom and exciting bidding platform features, including private messaging, along with enhanced video streaming. This ensures all auction participants are able to follow along in real-time, regardless of their location. Regarding the partnership, Sotheby’s Chief Digital Officer, David Goodman said:
“The technology integrates seamlessly into our web bidding platforms, helping us to grow the e-commerce portion of our business and attract new clients who enjoy the convenience and accessibility that real-time online bidding provides.”
Another major part of Invaluable’s growth has been the company’s adoption of mobile technology. With the help of Boston-based Raizlabs, the world’s largest online live auction marketplace launched an iPad app in Q4 2014 and followed up with an iPhone app in Q1 2015. Today, over 40% of Invaluable’s traffic is coming from mobile users. The app supports 22 different currencies and has received bidders in more than 150 countries. International adoption for the app, Weisberg says, is ahead of the US. This takes us to business initiative three – International expansion.
Allston, MA based Invaluable, which also has an office in the United Kingdom, has had exposure overseas for many years, but international expansion and growth in Q2 2015 was a key factor behind the company’s record-breaking quarter, which saw a 50 percent increase in the number of auctions run on the platform along with a 68 percent increase in unique bidders over the same period in 2014.
The company continued to expand its sales, marketing and support teams in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia and grow the Invaluable bidder base in these regions. A year ago, Weisberg told me, the company had 6 employees overseas - now, with that number up around 25, International sales accounts for approximately 40% of Invaluable’s business.
Sam Zales, the President of International Dealer Operations for Cambridge-based CarGurus sits on the Board of Directors for Invaluable. Charged with bringing the online auto-shopping business beyond the US, Zales knows a thing or two about international expansion. I asked Zales about the potential impact Invaluable can have within the industry across the world:
“The live auctions market is exceptionally ripe for increased buyer-seller liquidity. Invaluable gives consumers an optimal bidding and buying experience online that helps auction houses across the globe grow their businesses significantly.”
With the record pace 2015 has brought Invaluable, the future is bright for Weisberg and his team, which continues to grow, both domestically and internationally. Weisberg’s track record, while impressive, is still an unfinished product, like Invaluable, who, he says, will continue to innovate on that product and remain aggressive in expansion. And his vision remains clear:
"We want to make buying in an auction as easy as buying on Amazon.”
Josh Boyle is Director of Community & Marketing, VentureFizz. You can follow him on Twitter @jb_sid and keep up with his latest posts by signing up for the VentureFizz Weekly Email!