Amazon and Alibaba have approached 5-year-old startup Wish, but the CEO seems to want more than $10 billion

Amazon and Alibaba have approached 5-year-old startup Wish, but the CEO seems to want more than $10 billion

Peter Szulczewski Wish

Peter Szulczewski/LinkedIn Wish CEO and cofounder Peter Szulczewski.

Maybe you haven’t heard of Wish, the five-year-old e-commerce startup.

But all the major e-commerce players have. Sources close to the company say that Amazon and Alibaba have talked about buying it in the past year. And the price they’re talking about is jaw-dropping.

The most interesting rumor is that Amazon recently offered $10 billion in cash for Wish — and Wish walked.

$10,000,000,000!

So is the $10 billion rumor true?

Here’s what we’ve pieced together after talking to a half-dozen people familiar with, and close to, the company.

The magic number

Wish has been described as the e-commerce company Fab was supposed to be. It sells cheap but stylish products by optimizing social channels like Facebook. Its layout resembles Pinterest, but on Wish everything is for sale, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an item that costs more than $25.

The company has reportedly raised close to $600 million and been valued at $3 billion or more by investors. But it hasn’t gotten much press because CEO Peter Szulczewski doesn’t want or need any. When we first reached out to Szulczewski, in December 2014, he wrote that he was “humbled and a bit surprised” to find himself on Business Insider’s radar, since he and the company “try to keep a very low profile.”

wishWishWish gets merchants to bid on prices so it can bring the lowest-cost items possible to its users. Alibaba uses a similar approach.

Everyone we’ve spoken with agrees. Alibaba and Amazon have had acquisition talks with Wish in the past year.

One person close to top players at Wish says Amazon recently offered $10 billion in cash to buy the company, and Wish’s CEO walked away. Another person who’s friendly with top Wish people said they’d heard the $10 billion rumor as well, but that number may actually reflect a new valuation Wish is raising at, not an acquisition offer.

We circled back to the first person who said that the $10 billion rumor was “clearly conveyed” as an all-cash Amazon offer, not a fundraise.

The most likely case is that Wish has had “soft” talks with Alibaba and Amazon. But the discussions never resulted in a serious written bid for the startup for two reasons:

  • Szulczewski doesn’t want to sell.
  • If he were to sell, he wouldn’t budge unless the offer was more than $10 billion.

Amazon and Alibaba aren’t willing to pay more than $10 billion for Wish, a person with knowledge of the situation says. But Szulczewski thinks he can grow his startup to at least $100 billion in gross sales — or one-quarter the revenue of Walmart — in which case Wish would be worth more than $10 billion.

Wish is already on track for annual gross revenues of single-digit billions, people familiar with the company say. And the margins are really good. One person estimated that Wish takes home roughly 11% of gross revenue, so it’s possible the company is profitable on net revenue of around $1 billion. Wish is a lean operation — we’re talking less than a few hundred employees. LinkedIn says its headcount is between 11 and 50 people.

The company gets merchants in China to compete on price so it can offer customers unbelievably cheap items.

One person familiar with the business says Wish has about 100 million users across its platform and works with over 100,000 merchants, it’s popular in the US and Europe, and it’s become masterful at converting customers through social channels. The key to Wish’s success seems to be its customer-acquisition strategy and its data-driven approach. Most of Wish’s sales are on mobile, not desktop.

When reached for comment, Amazon said it doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation.

Wish and Alibaba did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

December 8, 2015 / by / in , , , , , , ,

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