How EMERGE Commerce CEO Ghassan Halazon is Building the Next Big E-Commerce Platform
While most businesses have unquestionably suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a few that have exponentially grown under these extraordinary circumstances. Pre-pandemic, e-commerce was already a growing category that was only catalyzed as consumer habits shifted to the digital space. Perhaps one of its most dedicated disciples is EMERGE Commerce CEO Ghassan Halazon, whose company acquires and operates niche e-commerce assets with a combined member database over two million strong. Having raised $9 million and taking his company public, 2020 has certainly been a busy year for Halazon.
Bay Street Bull: How would you describe EMERGE Commerce?
Ghassan Halazon: EMERGE is an acquirer and operator of niche e-commerce assets. We connect over two million members with 12 thousand merchant partners across North America. Our digital brand portfolio includes UnderPar.com, WagJag.com, JustGolfStuff.ca, and BeRightBack.ca.
Bay Street Bull: How has the vision for EMERGE changed over the years?
Ghassan Halazon: The vision to consolidate the mid-market e-commerce landscape hasn’t really changed but it has taken more shape this year as e-commerce’s big moment arrived following the global lockdown. From our perspective, the trends we are seeing translate to a larger potential pool of incredible digital brands to acquire.
Bay Street Bull: What does EMERGE do differently than everyone else?
Ghassan Halazon: EMERGE prefers to buy e-commerce businesses rather than build them from the ground up, in large part because acquiring proven customer databases and established brands has turned out to be a far more cost-effective way to scale e-commerce than having to build them from the ground up. We pride ourselves on being disciplined capital allocators and prefer to operate lean and mean, which these days is considered “unsexy” by Silicon Valley standards. We don’t mind.
Bay Street Bull: How has a landscape impacted by COVID-19 helped your company grow?
Ghassan Halazon: It’s no secret that the e-commerce sector was one of the big winners following COVID-19. We would not feel comfortable saying we gained out of these difficult times, but the reality is consumers are shopping online in record numbers, and we sit in the middle of that movement. Given the nature of our diversified portfolio, it’s been interesting to watch certain categories grow explosively.
Bay Street Bull: Earlier this year, you embarked on a virtual investor roadshow. What was the biggest key learning that you took away from this experience?
Ghassan Halazon: To seize the opportunity when a window presents itself, because it may not last. When the world shut down earlier in the year we quickly realized the e-commerce sector, our portfolio of shopping brands included, would see a surge in orders so we leveraged that excitement to raise $9 million in a 10-day virtual roadshow.
Bay Street Bull: What essential pieces of advice would you give to others looking to raise capital through investors in a virtual format?
1. Video on. It’s more personable.
2. Show up early to ensure there are no technical difficulties
3. Remember to breathe! Especially when you’re doing all that talking.
Bay Street Bull: As a player in the e-commerce space, what major trends and key takeaways have you observed in the COVID business landscape that you think will be a barometer of the future of retail?
Ghassan Halazon: We sit in the middle of a few interesting trends at the moment. First, golf has proven to be the envy of all other experiences due to the sport’s frictionless, socially-distant nature. Second, many consumers are ordering groceries for the first time and it seems like many of them will continue to do so. Lastly, nearby staycations have opened people’s eyes as they explore local hotels and adjacent businesses while discovering new parts of their country and supporting local businesses.
Bay Street Bull: EMERGE has gone public on the TSX Venture Exchange (TSX-V: ECOM). What opportunities will this open up for your company?
Ghassan Halazon: We decided to list the company mainly to provide us with the public currency and access to larger capital to finance our ambitious acquisition plans. The visibility and brand awareness also helps.
Bay Street Bull: What does it mean to guide a company to a public listing in a time like COVID-19?
Ghassan Halazon: This is my tenth year as a founder and CEO. It’s been a rollercoaster journey up until this point. Taking a company public is quite the honour, but also quite the responsibility. We have hundreds of shareholders, thousands of merchant partners, and millions of members, and EMERGE is one of the fastest-growing companies in Canada. We’re fortunate to get our chance on the big stage, and we’re excited about the road ahead.
Bay Street Bull: What is your mission?
Ghassan Halazon: To help consumers shop, save, and support local businesses.
Bay Street Bull: What excites you most about the future of e-commerce?
Ghassan Halazon: Despite all the recent hype, we are still in the early days of the shift in consumer dollars from offline to online. Over the coming decade, trillions of dollars will be shifting online, and hundreds of massive global e-commerce companies will be created. We aim to be one of them.