Conversational commerce startup Operator announced the close of a $15 million Series B round today. The money will be used to improve Operator‘s offering and fund the company’s expansion in China.
Created in 2011, Operator has raised $25 million from venture capitalists.
“To invent a new [ecommerce] channel like Amazon…takes an investment, educating consumers that this is a new way to shop,” Operator CEO Robin Chan told VentureBeat in a phone interview.
With WeChat and an iOS app in China, and a Facebook Messenger bot and iOS and Android apps in the United States, Operator connects shoppers with human experts that they can chat with about a purchase. Half of all activity on Operator is now automated by bots, Chan said.
“We’ve always believed that [this] is a global idea. It started in the U.S. and extends globally, and China is obviously the other big market.” he said. “That’s the land of WeChat, and you have a consumer base that understands messaging inherently, so we’re going to have a very receptive market.”
Chan believes his company is uniquely positioned to enter the Chinese market since it already has relationships with Western brands and because many members of the Operator teams speak Chinese, are Chinese, or have experience in the Chinese market. Chan’s last startup, sold to Zynga, was based in Beijing.
Operator is entering the Chinese market as the nation continues to experience a generational shift. More young people with money are willing to spend above retail price for goods from foreign markets, Chan said.
“If the choice is between super cheap and super quality, people now have the disposable income to choose quality. [This demographic is] going to mirror or exceed the American consumer in terms of purchasing power, because they have that sense of taste. This is a generational shift — we’re three generations into Chinese wealth creation,” he said.
No date has been set for when Chinese consumers can expect to be able to use Operator.
Yolanda Xue will act as CEO of operations in China. Xue comes to Operator from ecommerce company Wish.com, which sells items directly from China.
GGV Capital led the Series B round, with participation from new investors Formation8, Morningside Ventures, and Horizons Ventures, as well as Greylock Partners and Expa.
Operator and its 30 employees are based in San Francisco. A new Operator office will be opened in Shanghai.