In the checkout arena, it’s a battle of speed, and two San Francisco-based startups with four-letter names are angling to make buying quicker and more convenient for consumers.
Bolt, an almost eight-year-old company that’s raked in $963 million in venture capital, and Fast, which has raised $124 million since it's founding in 2019, compete in an e-commerce checkout space that's also attracted larger rivals.
U.S. payments giants like PayPal, Block, Stripe and Shopify are also vying for a piece of the online checkout action, as are others based outside the U.S., including Checkout.com and Adyen. PayPal has a market valuation of about $190 billion and London-based Checkout.com recently achieved a market value of $40 billion valuation.
Every big tech company is trying to address the headache of having to enter a credit card number at the end of the e-commerce flow, Fast CEO Domm Holland said. That's because 70% of online shopping carts are abandoned at checkout, according to Fast and Bolt, and retailers are eager to find ways to keep those sales.
Within the checkout technology realm, "there’s a place for these different solutions," said Bob Buch, Bolt’s chief business officer, and "we welcome more actors in this space." Bolt recently raised $355 million in venture funding, putting the company’s valuation at $11 billion, according to TechCrunch.
"In the early days, it was lonely," Buch said. In the one-click checkout space, "people were like, 'Well, are you a payment provider? Or are you a fraud provider? Are you a shopping cart?' We were like, 'No, we work with all of those things, but we’re checkout.'"
Fast seeks to eliminate authentication snags
Holland, a native Australian and serial entrepreneur, says his company sits at the intersection of payments, identity and e-commerce.
Struck by a family member’s inability to buy groceries online due to a forgotten password, Holland launched Fast to address the difficulties with authentication. But he realized "checkout as a whole is just a bigger version of the problem of passwords."
Online checkout is "a long process and most people can leave during that process, or get stuck in the password phase," he said.
Aiming to make it smoother, Fast wants to eliminate the checkout form for consumers, Holland said. After initial use — when a shopper enters necessary information — those credentials are stored and subsequent checkouts through Fast are one-click. "It’s one-step, one-click from the point that you decide you want to buy something," Holland said.
Since launching in 2020, Fast has lined up partnerships with Marquee Brands, which includes the brands Sur La Table, Martha Stewart, BCBG Max Azria, as well as with Saks OFF 5TH and Big Green Egg. The service is available on more than 1,000 e-commerce sites, according to the company.
Fast also integrates with platforms like BigCommerce and WooCommerce, and works with professional sports teams like the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, putting QR codes on cupholders that allow fans to scan and purchase promoted items.
Holland said Fast is particularly focused on putting purchasing capabilities anywhere. A consumer reading a recipe online, for example, could click and purchase a knife from Sur La Table without ever having to leave the recipe, he explained.
Among the investors that have been attracted to Fast is Stripe, which led investors in a 2020 funding round. Holland notes the company may "potentially" have another investment round on the horizon.
Based on competitor Bolt’s recent funding round, Holland believes "there’s a strong play for [Fast] to raise a significant amount of capital," but for now he's focused on expanding the business.
Fast has "had a lot of acquisition interest," Holland added, but for the foreseeable future, "we’ll be staying a private company and growing as a venture-backed business."
Larger rival Bolt takes a different approach
Bolt has a different spin on the service, replacing a merchant’s existing checkout and trying to give more brands for "Amazon-like convenience," Bolt Chief Business Officer Bob Buch said.
At the same time, Buch notes that his company is trying to break the "stranglehold" that Amazon has on merchants' checkout. He'd like Bolt to provide checkout services for merchants across the internet.
Bolt has amassed a network of tens of millions of shoppers who’ve saved their payment and shipping information, which makes subsequent checkout experiences frictionless for those consumers, creating "this sort of federated, one-click checkout," Buch said.
Bolt works with hundreds of merchants – including brand group ABG, which owns Forever 21 and Lucky Brand – and it’s now taking "a far more scaled approach," Buch said. A recent Adobe-Bolt partnership means Adobe Commerce merchants will integrate Bolt’s one-click checkout. The checkout company also has partnered with European shopping cart platform PrestaShop.
Through these "one-to-many partnerships" launching this year, Buch said, they’ll be "opening up the floodgates" and working with tens of thousands of merchants. Offering application programming interfaces (APIs) that connect a merchant’s existing checkout experience to the Bolt network has accelerated growth, too, he added.
Bolt acquired Swedish embedded commerce firm Tipser late last year. That's "exactly the type of acquisition that we think this capital can enable for us," Buch said, referring to a recent fundraising. "We’re pretty actively looking at other areas that can do that in these very strategic markets."
An initial public offering isn’t top of mind, Buch said. "We are getting the capital we need at the right valuations to really grow this business in the way that we want to grow it, so it’s not on the immediate horizon for us," he said of an IPO. The company isn't looking to sell itself at the moment either.
As the checkout arena has evolved in recent years, rival Fast entering the space helped further the idea of startups focused on tackling the online buying process, Buch said.
"I think we benefit from the fact that we’ve just been doing it for so long, we just have so many integrations," Buch said. That’s put Bolt "in this real leadership position in the space."
Holland counters that Fast has "literally not scratched the surface of the market," in a multi-trillion-dollar market.