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Acquco t-shirt for Tesla giveaway
Acquco

Start-ups are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire the top independent sellers on the Amazon Marketplace, creating a gold rush to “roll up” these mostly small businesses into larger entities that have better resources and can pour money into growth.

Competition to acquire these Amazon sellers has gotten so fierce that one player, Acquco, is giving away a Tesla Model Y to anyone who refers a seller that the company ends up buying.

Acquco, founded last year by Raunak Nirmal, has representatives at the annual Prosper Show this week in Las Vegas, where Amazon sellers convene to network and share tips. The company is handing out t-shirts and flyers that say, “Refer a Seller, get a Tesla.”

Nirmal said in an interview that as of Thursday the company had received about 200 referrals in a little over 24 hours since starting the program and launching the promotional web page. He said the company is willing to give away up to $10 million worth of Model Ys, which retail for a starting price of around $50,000.

“There are two options for rewards,” the web page says. “You can either get a Tesla — you will have $49,990 to put towards a Tesla model of your choice.  Alternatively, you can choose to take the cash directly!” 

The reward should be received within 45 days of the closing of the acquisition, the site says, and the recipient will owe income tax on the car or the cash.

The red-hot market for Amazon resellers

Much of Amazon’s dominance in e-commerce has come from its third-party marketplace, which is filled with millions of independent sellers who use the company’s logistics services, shipping, fulfillment centers and mammoth customer base to reach buyers.

Growing a business on Amazon has become increasingly complex in recent years due to a surge in Chinese counterfeits and other bad actors who set out to manipulate reviews and get rivals shut down. Aggregators are using those challenges as an opportunity to buy up promising products and storefronts, while using their scale and operational experience to clean up the marketplace for consumers.

Acquco has raised over $165 million in equity and debt to buy Amazon marketplace retailers, building a business with close to $200 million in revenue from those entities. It’s one of the busiest corners of the start-up market, as companies like Thrasio, which ranked 22nd on the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, along with Perch, Heyday, Branded and Boosted Commerce have raked in billions of dollars combined to pull together businesses that have grown up on Amazon.

Nirmal said the top sellers are so inundated with pitches that it’s difficult to get meetings with them.

“As a seller, when you get a message from someone about acquiring your business, you think of it as spam and go about your day,” said Nirmal, who previously spent over a year in Amazon’s marketplace business and also started his own brands and consulting businesses. “This is a unique opportunity to connect with friends, family and people that surround the sellers.”

While Nirmal didn’t attend the Prosper show, he sent a few of his 60 full-time employees, including the head of sales, to network and meet sellers. Acquco also had some contractors distributing flyers and handing out merchandise.

Acquco flyer for Tesla giveaway
Acquco

Rivals Thrasio, Heyday and Perch had an even bigger presence at the show, as they were paid exhibitors with floor space and some speaking slots, according to Prosper’s website. It’s a big change from the last conference in 2019, when the rollup market was in its infancy. Thrasio was founded in 2018 and others followed over the next couple years.

Total attendance at Prosper appears to be up about 15% to 20% over the last in-person show in 2019, which attracted over 1,500 people, a conference representative said. The show began on Tuesday and wraps up on Thursday.

How to lure sellers

Casey Gauss, a vice president at Thrasio, attended the show as part of his company’s contingent. He told CNBC that he joined in April 2020 as employee number 26, and that the last time he checked last week, the company had a workforce of 930.

Thrasio has raised $1.75 billion, the most of any company in the space. While it’s not giving away Teslas, the company did host a pricey party Wednesday night at the Bellagio Hotel, called “Feast by the Fountains,” referring to the resort’s outdoor fountain show. Gauss said he expected about 180 people.

“Feast by The Fountains will offer 5-star American cuisine and an open bar of top shelf cocktails inspired by the top supper clubs around the world,” the website for the event said.

Gauss said that the topic of aggregators has been front and center at the show and that companies have to find clever ways to meet sellers.

“We tried to throw a nice event to allow high-end networking,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity, not only for us to hang out with prospective sellers that may want to sell to us and people that have sold to us. But also, we’re pretty intentional about just building good relationships in the community.”

For Acquco, this year’s Prosper is its first big event. The company said it’s trying to get its name out to more people — and the Tesla giveaway program is a way to make a splash.

David Lam, the company’s vice president of growth strategy, said he’s been working with Tesla’s enterprise sales team on the program. The start-up did not get reduced pricing on the Model Ys, but he expects that once the program reaches about 20 cars, a discount will kick in, and then perhaps a steeper discount at the 50th sale.

The new Tesla Model Y is introduced. Tesla has expanded its model range to include an SUV based on the current Model 3.
Hannes Breustedt | picture alliance | Getty Images

Tesla giveaways have become more commonplace among non-profits as a way to raise money and give people a chance to win through online raffles. The overall popularity of the cars is the main reason Tesla says it’s able to keep down marketing, promotional and advertising costs, which were “immaterial” over the past three years, according to its latest annual report.

Acquco says in the giveaway material that it accepts leads for businesses with at least $500,000 in revenue but Nirmal expects to generally buy sellers that have topped $1 million. Nirmal won’t say how many acquisitions he’s completed to date, but said that three deals have been signed this week that will bring in about $40 million in revenue. Those all came prior to the Tesla giveaway.

Nirmal said Acquco started marketing the program at Prosper and will continue this week with ads across social platforms and Google as well as through influencers.

“If there’s a business that looks good and fits into our partner profile, we want to give away these Teslas,” Nirmal said.

— CNBC’s Katie Schoolov and Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.

WATCH: Amazon drivers describe pressures

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DOJ asks for independent probe into FTX bankruptcy, a likely tactic to gather evidence on alleged fraud

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DOJ asks for independent probe into FTX bankruptcy, a likely tactic to gather evidence on alleged fraud

John Ray, chief executive officer of FTX Cryptocurrency Derivatives Exchange, arrives at bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Delaware, US, on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.

Eric Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Department of Justice has requested that an independent examiner be appointed to review “substantial and serious allegations of fraud, dishonesty” and “incompetence” after the implosion of Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire. It could be one way for the DOJ to gather evidence of alleged fraud.

In a filing in Delaware federal bankruptcy court, Andrew Vara, a U.S. bankruptcy trustee, told the court that the allegations of corporate misconduct and complete failure merited an immediate and speedy examination of the events leading up to FTX’s stunning collapse three weeks ago.

Vara said there’s a substantial basis to believe that Bankman-Fried and other managers mismanaged FTX or engaged in fraudulent conduct.

“It seems to me that the DOJ is trying to use the bankruptcy process as a way of getting evidence,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told CNBC.

“Many times, the Department of Justice and bankruptcy estates in fraud cases work together in compiling potential restitution or other types of actions to make victims whole,” he said. The DOJ “will likely be part of the asset recovery and potentially having a Victims Fund with money going to those that lost money and what the Department of Justice potentially will view as a fraud.”

“It just shows a level of interest and attention that they’re paying to this that should be troubling to Mr. Bankman-Fried.”

Vara said an examination is preferable to an internal investigation because of the wider implications the company’s collapse may have on the crypto industry.

Another legal expert said that there could be other factors at play too, including the extensive political donations that FTX executives were involved in on both sides of the aisle.

There have been “campaign donations on both sides of the aisle from FTX and there have been political overtones and undertones in this case,” said Braden Perry, former senior trial attorney at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission and Kennyhertz Perry partner.

“I think that this is just out of prudence and out of caution to make sure that whatever is happening is done at an independent level,” Perry continued.

It’s not unusual to appoint a bankruptcy examiner. There was one to oversee the crypto bankruptcy process of Celsius Network, for example.

Bankruptcies above a certain size require an examiner. In this case, the U.S. Trustee said that an examiner is mandatory because FTX’s fixed, liquidated and unsecured debts to customers exceed the $5 million threshold.

FTX’s November collapse left creditors reeling over the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars, in some cases, and has rocked the wider crypto world. BlockFi, a crypto lender, filed for bankruptcy protection in New Jersey last week.

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Tech layoffs send visa holders on frantic search for employment to avoid deportation

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Tech layoffs send visa holders on frantic search for employment to avoid deportation

After years of seemingly boundless expansion, the U.S. tech industry has hit a wall. Companies are in cash preservation mode, leading to thousands of job cuts a month and a surge of layoffs in November.

While the sudden loss of a paycheck can be devastating for anyone, especially during the holiday season, the recent wave of reductions is having an outsized impact on skilled workers who are living in the U.S. on temporary visas and are at risk of being sent home if they can’t secure a new job in short order.

Tech companies are among the employers with the most approvals for H-1B visas, which are granted to people in specialty occupations that often require a college degree and extra training. Silicon Valley has for years leaned on temporary visas issued by the government to employ thousands of foreign workers in technical fields such as engineering, biotech and computer science. That’s a big reason tech companies have been outspoken in their defense of immigrants’ rights.

Workers on temporary visas often have 60 to 90 days to find a new gig so they can avoid being deported.

“It’s this amazing talent pool that the U.S. is fortunate to attract, and they’re always living on the edge,” said Sophie Alcorn, an immigration lawyer based in Mountain View, California, who specializes in securing visas for tech workers. “Many of them up are up against this 60-day grace period deadline. They have a chance to find a new job to sponsor them, and if they can’t do that, they have to leave the U.S. So it’s a stressful time for everybody.”

The already grim situation worsened in November, when Meta, Amazon, Twitter, Lyft, Salesforce, HP and DoorDash announced significant cuts to their workforces. More than 50,000 tech workers were let go from their jobs in November, according to data collected by the website Layoffs.fyi.

Amazon gave staffers who were laid off 60 days to search for a new role inside the company, after which they’d be offered severance, according to a former Amazon Web Services employee who lost his job. The person spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity.

In fiscal 2021, Amazon had the most approved petitions for H-1B visas, with 6,182, according to a National Foundation for American Policy review of U.S. immigration data. Google, IBM and Microsoft also ranked near the top of the list.

The former AWS employee has been in the country for two years on student and employment visas. He said he was unexpectedly laid off at the beginning of November, just months after joining the company as an engineer. Despite Amazon informing him that he had 60 days to find another position internally, the person said his manager advised him to apply for jobs elsewhere due the company’s pullback in hiring. Amazon said in November it’s pausing hiring for its corporate workforce.

An Amazon spokesperson didn’t provide a comment beyond what CEO Andy Jassy said last month, when he told those affected by the layoffs that the company would help them find new roles.

Companies generally aren’t specifying what percentage of the people being laid off are on visas. A search for “layoffs H1B” on LinkedIn surfaces a stream of posts from workers who recently lost their jobs and are expressing concern about the 60-day unemployment window. Visa holders have been sharing resources on Discord servers, the anonymous professional network Blind and in WhatsApp groups, the former AWS employee said.

It had already been a frenetic few years for foreign workers in the U.S. well before surging inflation and concerns of a recession sparked the latest round of job cuts.

The Trump administration’s hostile posture toward immigration put the H-1B program at risk. As president in 2020, Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending work visas, including those with H-1B status, claiming they hurt employment prospects for Americans. The move drew a strong rebuke from tech executives, who said the program serves as a pipeline for talented individuals and strengthens American companies. President Joe Biden allowed the Trump-era ban to expire last year.

Whatever relief the Biden presidency provided is of limited value to those who are now jobless. An engineer who was recently laid off by gene-sequencing technology company Illumina said he hoped his employer would sponsor his transfer to an H-1B visa. He’s here on a different visa, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to work in the U.S. for up to three years after graduation.

The former Illumina employee, who spoke on condition that he not be named, not only has to find a new job within 90 days from the layoff date, but his OPT visa expires in August. Any company that hires him must be willing to sponsor his visa transfer and pay the related fees. He’s considering going back to school in order to extend his stay in the U.S., but he’s anxious about taking on student loans.

Illumina said in November it was cutting about 5% of its global workforce. A company spokesperson told CNBC that less than 10% of impacted employees were here on H-1B or related visas.

“We are engaging with each employee individually so that they understand the impact to their employment eligibility and options to remain in the U.S.,” the spokesperson said by email. “We are working to review each and every situation to ensure great care for those impacted, and to ensure compliance with immigration law.”

The ex-employee said he had dreams of working for Illumina, planting roots in the U.S. and buying a house. Now, he said, he’s just trying to find a way to stay in the country without going deep into debt. In just a matter of months, it’s “like a night and day difference,” he said.

WATCH: Tech layoffs double from October to November

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Elon Musk suspends Ye’s Twitter account after swastika post

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Elon Musk suspends Ye's Twitter account after swastika post

Ye suspended from Twitter again after antisemitic post

Ye’s Twitter account was suspended again Friday for violating the social media platform’s rules on “incitement to violence,” CEO Elon Musk said.

The rapper, formerly known as Kanye West, appeared to post an image of a swastika, a symbol synonymous with the Nazis, inside a Star of David, a prominent symbol of Judaism.

Musk said he “tried his best” in response to Ye’s tweet, which can no longer be viewed. “Despite that, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended.”

Ye’s tweet came after he made antisemetic comments in an interview with the controversial radio host Alex Jones on Thursday. Ye referred to “the Jewish media” and said he saw “good things about Hitler” in an hourlong conversation with the conspiracy theorist.

In October, Twitter locked Ye’s account for an unspecified amount of time following a string of antisemitic remarks which escalated into threatening and hateful comments about Jewish people. He returned to Twitter in November.

Deals off

Elon Musk is the bravest, most creative person on the planet, says Netflix's Reed Hastings

The billionaire Tesla CEO, who has called himself a “free speech absolutist,” is finding the limits of that tested in his early days of owning Twitter.

‘Verified’ service

Musk has attempted to make sweeping changes in his first few days in charge, including gutting a huge swathe of Twitter’s workforce and launching an $8 per month “Verified” service that allows users to buy the coveted blue check mark.

Twitter was forced to pause its subscription service however after users abused it by paying the fee to get a blue check then impersonating celebrities.

Musk said last week that the “Verified” service would be relaunched on Friday with different colored check marks, but there has been no update on whether this is still the case.

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