Grant LaFontaine, Whatnot CEO, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the outlook on sports memorabilia and the booming business of collector’s items.
KRISTIN MYERS: Well, I want to pivot now to the outlook for sports memorabilia, as we see so many Americans essentially looking at collectibles as an alternative asset class. We’re joined now by Grant Lafontaine, CEO of the company Whatnot. Grant, I’m curious to know if some of the people right now are looking at these things as collectibles, or are they looking at them as investments?
GRANT LAFONTAINE: Thanks, for having me. And I think to answer your question, you’re seeing a resurgence in both sides of the market. So you’re seeing a lot of people get into sports memorabilia and sports cards for a hobby perspective and to collect. But now you also have a huge surge in people investing in these things with card prices and memorabilia prices just skyrocketing, as people use them as a kind of anti-inflation investment bet.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Now I know that your site could be likened to other memorabilia collectible type platforms like eBay. But what sets you apart is you’re doing a live shopping experience. Can you explain what that is?
GRANT LAFONTAINE: Yeah, sure. So I think you could think about Whatnot as kind of eBay meets Twitch. And so what that means is when you’re on Whatnot as a buyer, you can enter into live shows. You can see people do live sales or even participate in live video-based auctions. So we essentially allow anyone who uses our platform to turn into a QVC style host or Sothebys-like live auctioneer. And it provides a fun and entertaining experience that’s missing from a lot of the online shopping and marketplaces today.
KRISTIN MYERS: Curious to know where you guys stand on NFTs. I know you guys have so many different collectibles, sports memorabilia. You also have Funko. But NFTs are a hot new thing. What’s going to– how is Whatnot going to essentially handle NFTs?
GRANT LAFONTAINE: Sure, I think when we look at NFTs, we do think they’re going to be a material part of the future of collectibles. NFTs basically have everything that a collectible has, except you can’t touch it in your hand. So we’re currently in the process of enabling people to sell and create their own NFTs on Whatnot. And we’re very bullish about the future of them in collectibles.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Now you’ve got everything from Funko Pops and Pokémon cards to comic books and sports trading cards. Where have you seen the most interest especially during the pandemic? Where are people concentrating their efforts?
GRANT LAFONTAINE: So I would say– I’ll say two things there. First, across the board, the collectibles market has just been up. You kind of have two trends that are happening right now. One is, you have a group of people who collected these things when they were kids, and they now have disposable income, so they’re getting back into it. And then over the course of the pandemic, people were looking for things to do. And they started to get back into their hobbies.
So I would say there is– any collectibles market that resonated with people in the ’80s or ’90s has basically seen a huge resurgence. Then in terms of the one where we’ve seen the biggest bump, it’s probably in sports cards. We actually only launched the sports cards in January. And that business has already grown 80x for us and is now the number one category in the platform. And you’ll consistently see headlines in the press where, every week, there’s a new sports car hitting a new record, $3 million, $4 million, $5 million for some of the top cards.
KRISTIN MYERS: Curious to know who is buying them. Is it millennials? Is it the geriatric millennials? Is it some older folks or even Gen Z-ers? Who– which age group is expressing the most interest in some of these?
GRANT LAFONTAINE: Yeah, there’s a pretty broad age group. I would say, you know, we’re seeing collectors anywhere from the age of 18 to probably 45. And the biggest difference is kind of what each group is buying. So I would say sports cards, for instance, edge a little older in that group, whereas Pokémon cards tends to be a little younger. And I think the biggest driver is, what– when you were younger, what did you collect and now has a nostalgic value to you?
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Now in terms of your business, I know you recently raised $50 million in a series B round of funding. I think this is your third round of funding. Talk to us a little bit about who your investors are, and also, what does this do to the company’s valuation at this point?
GRANT LAFONTAINE: Sure. So we’re very lucky we’ve got some amazing investors on board. This series B round was led by Y Combinator Continuity Funds with participation from our series A investor, Andreessen Horowitz. We have a lot of other incredible investors in the company, but I’ll talk about those two since they bought the most recent rounds. They’re known for investing in and helping build some of the most iconic companies in the world, whether that’s Airbnb or Pinterest. So we’re very excited to partner with them.
And then in terms of the valuation of the company, what I can tell you there is, the business of Whatnot has been growing tremendously. I think year over year, we’ve grown about 200x. So this is one of the fastest growing marketplaces of all time.
KRISTIN MYERS: Curious to know, Grant, what are your expansion plans? Is it in terms of what items are going to be available on the site next? Is it going to be how these sales are going to be done? What do you see in Whatnot’s future?
GRANT LAFONTAINE: Yeah, I think the answer to that is basically both. We’re going to continue investing deeply in building up the product and adding a deeper experience for people so they can engage more and have a better time in the livestream shopping experience. But we also believe that this market and this experience can spread across just about every product category that exists today. So we’re going to continue to go deep into collectibles, but also start to expand in places like fashion. So in particular, vintage fashion is an area we’re very excited about.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, Grant Lafontaine of Whatnot, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate your time.