Hong Kong fintech unicorn WeLab raises $75M led by insurance giant Allianz

One of the few industries that have benefited from the COVID-19 crisis is online finance. Around the world, the pandemic has forced consumers to adopt digital banking. Hong Kong’s WeLab, a fintech company founded in 2013, saw users soar by 20% year-over-year in 2020, bringing its accumulative user base to 50 million.

Facing innovative players like WeLab, which aims to bring more convenience, transparency, and affordability to consumers, financial incumbents feel compelled to reinvent themselves. That’s in part why Allianz X, a venture capital arm of the 131-year-old European financial conglomerate Allianz, led WeLab’s latest funding round of $75 million. The Series C1, which involved other investors, followed WeLab’s $156 million Series C round in late 2019.

“Obviously, Allianz is one of the largest asset managers and insurers in the world with a strong presence and solid footprint,” co-founder and CEO Simon Loong told TechCrunch during an interview.

Loong declined to disclose WeLab’s latest valuation but said the number has gone up since the firm last reached the $1 billion unicorn status.

When WeLab set out to build a digital bank, which launched in Hong Kong last year, one of the products it had in mind was “a new generation of wealth advisory on digital banks.”

“Allianz saw what we did over the last couple of years and identified this very interesting opportunity to co-develop a wealth technology for digital banks, so they came to us and said, why don’t they lead the round?” Loong explained.

Through the strategic investment, the partners will jointly develop and distribute investment and insurance solutions across Asia. Those products will diversify Welab’s current offerings, including a virtual bank and a lending product in Hong Kong, as well as several types of lending services in mainland China and Indonesia. Around 47 million of its total users are in mainland China, 2.5 million in Indonesia, and less than one million in Hong Kong, a city with a 7.5 million population.

“It’s an interesting four-way cooperation,” said Loong, referring to the roles of Allianz as an asset management and insurance firm, and WeLab as a bank and fintech solution provider. “I think it will really be an interesting inflection point for the company to scale.”

Working with titans

The WeLab team

Equally important to WeLab’s revenue is enterprise services, according to Loong, which are helping conventional banks and financial institutions build up a digital presence. The strategy is not unlike Ant Group’s effort to be an “enabler” for traditional financial players.

In spite of the massive combined market share of Ant and Tencent in China’s fintech market, there remains room for smaller and more specialized players like WeLab. To date, WeLab has attracted about 600 enterprise customers, most of whom are in mainland China.

“[We have] an interesting dynamics with Ant,” said Loong, when asked how WeLab wrestles with a goliath like Ant, whose e-commerce affiliate Alibaba is an investor in WeLab through the Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund.

“There are businesses where we compete, and there are also areas where we work well together,” he added. For example, WeLab introduced one of the first smartphone leasing services on Alipay, Ant’s flagship app that works as a marketplace for third-party financial products and end consumers. But Ant also has its own in-house financial products, which could clash with outside suppliers peddling on its marketplace.

“In short, I would say that because we are a rather independent company, we work with everyone,” Loong asserted.

Greater Bay links

As a Hong Kong-founded firm, WeLab has actively taken part in the Chinese government’s push to integrate what’s dubbed the Greater Bay Area, which spans the two special administrative regions of China, Hong Kong and Macau, and nine cities in the southern province of Guangdong, including Shenzhen.

An objective of the GBA blueprint is to encourage cross-border talent flow. In a way, the area has all the right conditions to run a fintech startup, which would gain access to technological and banking talents respectively in Shenzhen and Hong Kong, two adjoining cities. WeLab has done exactly that, with a larger base of tech staff in Shenzhen compared to its Hong Kong office which has more finance professionals. It’s planning to add around 100 hires this year to its 800-person headcount.

Aside from shared talent pools, Beijing also wants to encourage more financial integration in the GBA. WeLab has taken notice and plans to roll out its forthcoming wealth management products first in Hong Kong and later into other parts of the GBA through the government-supported scheme called the Wealth Management Connect, which allows residents of Hong Kong and Macau to invest in wealth management products distributed by mainland banks in the GBA. Vice versa, residents in the mainland GBA cities will be able to buy wealth management products in Hong Kong and Macau.

“Hong Kong is a great testbed, but for online business, you need to subject your successful business model to a large population,” said Loong, explaining the company’s expansion plan. “The Greater Bay Area gives us the opportunity to do so. There is a 72 million population with a GDP of $1.7 trillion, which is larger than South Korea… Naturally, it is a good area to scale.”

WeLab was looking to go public back in 2018 but halted the plan because “we didn’t feel that it was the right market window to do this,” Loong recalled. The company was also in the process of securing a banking license, so it decided to work on the critical permit before going public.

“Obviously if you look now, it’s very hot in terms of the equity market,” said Loong. “So we are talking to a lot of people. We keep a close eye on this and we are always open-minded to explore the next right market window for us.”

#ant-financial, #ant-group, #asia, #china, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #hong-kong, #tc, #welab


#DealMonitor – Sequoia steigt bei Auto1 ein – Exporo bekommt 16 Millionen – TeamViewer kauft Xaleon – Questel übernimmt innosabi

Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 19. Januar werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages in der DACH-Region. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.


+++ Der amerikanische Top-Geldgeber Sequoia Capital und der amerikanische Hedgefonds Lone Pine Capital steigen kurz vor dem IPO, bei dem das Unternehmen 1 Milliarde einsammeln möchte, bei Auto1 ein – siehe Bloomberg. “The U.S. venture capital firm and rival fund Lone Pine Capital reached a preliminary deal to each buy about 50 million euros of Auto1stock from early investor DN Capital”, heißt es im Bericht. Die Bewertung soll bei 7,2 Milliarden US-Dollar (6 Milliarden Euro) liegen. DN Capital stieg 2013 bei Auto1 ein. Auto1, 2012 gegründet,  erwirtschaftete 2019 einen Umsatz von rund 3,5 Milliarden Euro.

+++ Die Alt-Investoren investieren weitere 16 Millionen Euro in Exporo. Zu den bisherigen Geldgebern der Hamburger Immobilien-Crowdfunding-Plattform gehören unter anderem Partech, HV Capital, e.ventures und Heartcore Capital. 2019 investierten die Geldgeber 43 Millionen in Exporo, das 2014 von Simon Brunke, Björn Maronde, Julian Oertzen und Tim Bütecke gegründet wurde. Die Bewertung von Exporo lag damals und wohl auch bei der jetzigen Investmentrunde bei rund 150 Millionen (Post-Money). Die Fusion mit Zinsland sorgte zuletzt für Probleme bei Exporo. Ende Oktober rückte wohl auch deswegen Herman Tange als Co-CEO bei Exporo an.

+++ 468 Capital und Angel-Investoren wie Mato Peric, Matt Robinson, Rolf Schrömgens (Trivago) und Kai Hansen (Lieferando) investieren 2,8 Millionen in Superchat. Bei Superchat dreht sich alles um Kommunikation und Rezensionen. Zielgruppe dabei sind lokale Unternehmen. Die Jungfirma schreibt zum Konzept: “Sammeln Sie positive Online-Bewertungen, gewinnen Sie mehr Kunden und kommunizieren Sie mit Ihren Kunden per Text”. Gegründet wurde das Unternehmen 2020 von Yilmaz Köknar und Mika Hally. Bereits im vergangenen Jahr konnte die Jungfirma 500.000 Euro einsammeln – unter anderem von Feliks Eyser (RegioHelden) und Stefan Tietze (gebraucht.de).

Tomorrow’s Education
+++ Der  englische Geldgeber Emerge Education investiert 1,1 Millionen Euro in das EdTech Tomorrow’s Education. Das junge Berliner Unternehmen, das 2020 von Christian Rebernik und Thomas Funke gegründet wurde, bietet das berufsbegleitende Masterprogramm “Sustainability, Entrepreneurship and Technology (SET)” an, das auf der eigens dafür entwickelten Plattform verfügbar ist. Lerninhalte können bei Tomorrow’s Education auf die Bedürfnisse der Teilnehmer:innen zugeschnitten werden.

Boost Thyroid
+++ IBB Ventures und einige nicht genannte Angel-Investoren investieren in Boost Thyroid, eine auf KI-basierte App gegen die Krankheit Hashimoto. Das 2016 von den Wissenschaftlern Vedrana und Mikael Högqvist Tabor gegründete und in Berlin ansässige Unternehmen ermöglicht es Menschen die an einer Schilddrüsen-Autoimmunerkrankung leiden, wissenschaftlich geprüfte Informationen zu erhalten.

+++ Die chinesische High-Tech-Firma Justech investiert eine sechsstellige Summe in das Middleware-Startup emocean. Das Münchner Startup entwickelt mit indigo eine Software, die Maschinen und Anwendungen miteinander kommunizieren lässt – und das in Echtzeit. “Gleichzeitig ist sie herstellerunabhängig einsetzbar und bis auf die kleinsten Ebenen im Fertigungsprozess skalierbar”, teilt die Jungfirma mit.

+++ Das Dr. Giesen Family Office und die Alt-Investoren, ein Verbund aus drei Risikokapitalgebern angeführt von Quest Solutions investieren eine ungenannte Summe in Nomoo, ein Kölner Startup, das seit 2016 veganes Eis produziert. Quest Solutions, Siltho Research und AM1 Ventures investierten zuletzt eine sechsstellige Summe in das Food-Startup. Nomoo wurde von Rebecca Göckel und Jan Grabow gegründet.


+++ Der Fernwartungssoftware-Anbieter TeamViewer übernimmt Xaleon, ein Unternehmen rund um Customer Engagement. “Das Kernprodukt von Xaleon ist eine Co-Browsing-Technologie, die in Web Sessions eine besondere Form des Screensharings ermöglicht. Dies funktioniert ohne Installation und ohne Übertragung von Nutzerdaten, womit die Software vollkommen DSGVO-konform arbeitet”, teilt das Unternehmen mit. Xaleon – früher als Chatvisor bekannt – wurde 2018 von Horst-Georg Fuchs, Markus Wagner und Mathias Holzinger in Linz gegründet. Derzeit wirken 20 Mitarbeiter für die Jungfirma. Über den Kaufpreis wurde Stillschweigen vereinbart. TeamViewer teilt aber dies mit: “Neben einer fixen Komponente im niedrigen zweistelligen Millionenbereich, die sich aus einer Vorab-Barkomponente und zusätzlichen jährlichen Barzahlungen für vier Jahre zusammensetzt, wird der Gesamtkaufpreis durch eine variable Komponente erhöht. Dieser Earn-Out ist an bestimmte Unternehmensziele über einen Vierjahreszeitraum gekoppelt”. TeamViewer integrierte die Xaleon-Technologie bereits im vergangenen Jahr als Whitelabel-Lösung für seine TeamViewer Tensor-Nutzer.

+++ Der Reisegigant trivago übernimmt das Startup weekend.com, eine App speziell für Wochenendreisen. Die Düsseldorfer Jungfirma, die 2016 von Tobias Boese, Ralf Usbeck and Tom Hülser gegründet wurde,  ist derzeit in Deutschland, Österreich, der Schweiz, den Niederlanden, Großbritannien und den USA verfügbar. Der börsennotierte Travel-Dienst Travelzoo und das Düsseldorfer Unternehmen Vilauma investierten 2018 beachtliche 5,25 Millionen Euro in die Jungfirma, die früher als weekenGO bekannt war. “The acquisition supports trivago and weekend.com’s shared mission to bring travelers inspirational content, helping turn travel intent into exciting getaways. The combination will allow trivago to apply its marketing and product expertise to the weekend.com brand while leveraging synergies with trivago’s existing products”, teilt trivago zur Übernahme mit. Der Kaufpreis ist nicht bekannt.

+++ Das französische Unternehmen Questel, ein Anbieter von Lösungen für geistiges Eigentum und Innovationsmanagement, übernimmt die Mehrheit an innosabi – siehe Handelsblatt. innosabi, eineSoftware für agiles Ideen- und Innovationsmanagement wurde 2010 von Catharina van Delden, Jan Fischer, Hans-Peter Heid und Moritz S. Wurfbaum gegründet. Der Kaufpreis ist nicht bekannt. “Es dürfte sich aber um mehrere zehn Millionen Euro handeln”, heißt es im Bericht.

+++ Das deutsch-britische Telemedizin-Unternehmen Zava (früher als DrEd bekannt) übernimmt sprechstunde.online (gehört zur Deutsche Arzt AG aus Essen). “Mit seiner KBV-zertifizierten Videosprechstunden-Software ist sprechstunde.online bundesweit Marktführer unter den Anbietern, die unabhängig vom Praxis-Verwaltungs-System (PVS) operieren”, teilt das Unternehmen mit. Europa. sprechstunde.online zählt nach eigenen Angaben 12.000 registrierte Ärzten und Therapeuten. Über den Kaufpreis wurde Stillschweigen vereinbart. Zava hatte gerade erst das Berliner Startup Medlanes, das Hausbesuche von Kinderärzten, Internisten, Orthopäden und Allgemeinmedizinern organisiert übernommen.

+++ DasBonitäts-Startup bonify übernimmt einige Überreste von Joonko, das derzeit abgewickelt wird – siehe FinanceFWD. Das Berliner Startup bonify, das 2015 von Gamal Moukabary und Andreas Bermig gegründet wurde, ermöglicht Nutzern die Onlineauskunft über die Kreditwürdigkeit und Bonität. Ende Oktober des vergangenen Jahres gab der Check24-Rivale Joonko überraschend auf. Raisin und der Ping An Global Voyager Fund investierten zuvor mehr als 10 Millionen Euro in das Finleap-Projekt Joonko, ein digitales Finanzportal, das es seinen Verbrauchern ermöglicht, die für sie passenden Finanz- und Versicherungsprodukte zu finden. Joonko wurde 2019 von Carolin Gabor, Andreas Schroeter und Eric Lange gegründet.


Ant Financial
+++ Das chinesische FinTech Ant Financial plant einen Fintech-Fonds mit Sitz in Berlin – siehe FinanceFWD. “Ant Financial will sich künftig verstärkt an hiesigen Finanz-Startups beteiligen. Die gut vernetzte Managerin ­Jasmine Zhang sucht in Berlin nach einem Führungsteam für den Fonds. 100 Millionen Dollar sollen laut Brancheninsidern zusammenkommen, einen Teil werde Ant Financial beisteuern, weitere Gelder sollen von anderen Investoren kommen”, heißt es im Artikel. Themen sind unter anderem Blockchain und Fintech.

Achtung! Wir freuen uns über Tipps, was wir im #DealMonitor aufgreifen sollten. Schreibt uns eure Vorschläge per E-Mail oder nutzt unsere “Stille Post“, unseren anonymen Briefkasten.

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): azrael74

#468-capital, #aktuell, #ant-financial, #auto1-com, #berlin, #bonify, #boost-thyroid, #chatvisor, #dusseldorf, #e-health, #edtech, #emerge-education, #emocean, #essen, #exporo, #fintech, #hamburg, #ibb-ventures, #joonko, #lone-pine-capital, #munchen, #questel, #ruhrgebiet, #sequoia-capital, #sprechstunde-online, #superchat, #teamviewer, #telemedizin, #tomorrows-education, #trivago, #venture-capital, #weekend-com, #weekengo, #xaleon, #zava


China lays out ‘rectification’ plan for Jack Ma’s fintech empire Ant

What a whirlwind holiday for Jack Ma and his fintech empire. The People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, summoned Ant Group for regulatory talks on December 26th, announcing a sweeping plan for the fintech firm to “rectify” its regulatory violations.

The meeting came less than two months after China’s financial authorities abruptly halted what could have been a record-setting initial public offering of Ant over the firm’s regulatory compliance issues. The company, which started out as a payments processor for Alibaba’s online marketplaces and spun out in 2011, lacked a sound governance structure, defied regulatory requirements, illegally engaged in arbitrage, excluded competitors using its market advantage and hurt consumer rights, said the central bank.

Concurrently, Jack Ma’s e-commerce giant Alibaba is under investigation by China’s top market regulator over alleged monopolistic behavior.

The banking authority laid out a five-point compliance agenda for Ant, which is controlled by Alibaba’s billionaire founder Jack Ma. The fintech company should return to its roots in payments and bring more transparency to transactions; obtain the necessary licenses for its credit businesses and protect user data privacy; establish a financial holding company and ensure it holds sufficient capital; revamp its credit, insurance, wealth management and other financial businesses according to the law; and step up compliance for its securities business.

Following the closed-door meeting, Ant said it has established an internal “rectification workforce” to work on all the regulatory requirements.

The shakeup could take months to carry out and likely dent Ant’s valuation, which surpassed $300 billion around the time it was scheduled to go public. For instance, the government recently announced plans to raise the bar for third-party technology platforms like Ant to provide loans to consumers, a segment that made up about 35% of Ant’s annual revenue. The proposed change, which is part of Beijing’s effort to control the country’s debt risks, also sets a new requirement for online microlenders to provide at least 30% of the loan they fund jointly with banks, which could put pressure on Ant’s cash flow.

Some remain optimistic about Ant’s future. “[Ant] creates a lot of value. If you take the long view, the temporary suspension of its IPO has a limited impact on its business,” Bill Deng, founder of cross-border payments operator Xtransfer and a former executive at Ant, said to TechCrunch.

“From the regulator’s standpoint, [Ant’s] lending size is getting so big that it has extended beyond the old regulatory perimeters. To some extent, it has also encroached on the core interests of traditional financial players,” he added.

The clampdown on Ant has no doubt sent a warning to the rest of the industry. In a surprising move, JD.com’s fintech unit, a challenger to Ant, appointed its former chief compliance officer to steer the fintech firm as the new chief executive officer.

Tencent also has a sprawling fintech business, but it may not receive the same level of scrutiny because the social and gaming giant is “not nearly as aggressive” as Ant, said a partner of Tencent’s overseas fintech business who asked not to be named.

#ant-financial, #ant-group, #ant, #china, #finance, #fintech, #government, #tc, #xtransfer


China’s e-commerce titan Alibaba hit with antitrust probe

China’s top market watchdog has begun a probe into Alibaba over alleged anti-competition practices at the e-commerce firm, the latest of Beijing’s efforts to curb the country’s ever-expanding internet titans.

The State Administration for Market Regulation said Thursday in a brief statement that it is investigating Alibaba over its “choosing one from two” policy, in which merchants are forced to sell exclusively on Alibaba and skip rivaling platforms JD.com and Pinduoduo.

Alibaba cannot be immediately reached for comment.

On the same day, state-backed Xinhua reported that Ant Group, Alibaba’s affiliate, has been summoned by a group of finance authorities to discuss its “compliance” work. Ant, which works as an intermediary for financial services and customers, has pledged to take measures to curb debt risks after Chinese authorities abruptly called off its colossal initial public offering last month.

“Today, Ant Group received a meeting notice from regulators. We will seriously study and strictly comply with all regulatory requirements and commit full efforts to fulfill all related work,” the firm said in a statement.

More to come…

#alibaba, #ant-financial, #ant, #asia, #ecommerce, #government, #jack-ma, #tc


Indian food delivery giant Zomato secures $660 million

Zomato has raised $660 million in a financing round that it kicked off last year as the Indian food delivery startup prepares to go public next year.

The Indian startup said Tiger Global, Kora, Luxor, Fidelity (FMR), D1 Capital, Baillie Gifford, Mirae, and Steadview participated in the round — a Series J –which gives Zomato a post-money valuation of $3.9 billion. Zomato had previously disclosed fundraise of about $212 million as part of Series J round from Ant Financial, Tiger Global, Baillie Gifford, and Temasek.

Deepinder Goyal, the co-founder and chief executive of Zomato, said the 12-year-old startup is also in the process of closing a $140 million secondary transaction. “As part of this transaction, we have already provided liquidity worth $30m to our ex-employees,” he tweeted.

The startup originally anticipated to close a round of about $600 million by January this year, but several obstacles including the global pandemic delayed the fundraise effort. Additionally, Ant Financial, which had originally committed to invest $150 million in this round, only delivered a third of it, Zomato’s investor Info Edge disclosed earlier this year.

The Gurgaon-headquartered startup, which acquired the Indian food delivery business of Uber early this year, competes with Prosus Ventures-backed Swiggy  in India. A third player, Amazon, has also emerged in the market, though it currently offers its food delivery service in only parts of Bangalore.

At stake is India’s food delivery market, which analysts at Bernstein expect to balloon to be worth $12 billion by 2022, they wrote in a report to clients — accessed by TechCrunch. With about 50% of the market share, Zomato is the current leader among the three, Bernstein analysts wrote.

Zomato has eliminated hundreds of jobs this year to improve its finances and navigate the coronavirus pandemic, which significantly hurt the food delivery business in India in the early months. Goyal said the food delivery market is “rapidly coming out of COVID-19 shadows. December 2020 is expected to be the highest ever GMV month in our history. We are now clocking ~25% higher GMV than our previous peaks in February 2020.” He added, “I am supremely excited about what lies ahead and the impact that we will create for our customers, delivery partners, and restaurant partners.”

In September, Goyal told employees that Zomato was working for its IPO for “sometime in the first half of next year” and was raising money to develop a war-chest for “future M&A, and fighting off any mischief or price wars from our competition in various areas of our business.”

Making money with food delivery has been especially challenging in India. Unlike Western markets such as the U.S., where the value of each delivery item is about $33, in India, a similar item carries the price tag of $4, according to estimates by Bangalore-based research firm RedSeer.

“The problem is that there are very few people in India who can afford to place an order from a food delivery firm each day,” said Anand Lunia, a venture capitalist at India Quotient, in an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year.

#ant-financial, #apps, #asia, #food, #funding, #swiggy, #tiger-global, #zomato


The race to be China’s top fintech platform: Ant vs Tencent

As Ant Group seizes the world’s attention with its record initial public offering, which was abruptly called off by Beijing, investors and analysts are revisiting Tencent’s fintech interests, recognized as Ant’s archrival in China.

It’s somewhat complicated to do this, not least because they are sprawled across a number of Tencent properties and, unlike Ant, don’t go by a single brand or operational structure — at least, not one that is obvious to the outside world.

However, when you tease out Tencent’s fintech activity across its wider footprint — from direct operations like WeChat Pay through to its sizeable strategic investments and third-party marketplaces — you have something comparable in size to Ant, and in some services even bigger.

Hidden business

Ant refuted the comparison with Tencent or anyone else. In a reply to China’s securities regulator in September, the Jack Ma-controlled, Alibaba-backed fintech giant said it is “not comparable” to WeChat Pay, the fintech tool inside WeChat, Tencent’s flagship messenger.

“In the space of digital payments and merchant service, there are many players around the world, including Tencent’s WeChat Pay. But the payments services offered by these companies are different from our digital payments and merchant services. They are not comparable. In terms of digital finance, our way of working with and serving financial institutions, as well as our revenue model, are novel and do not have a counterpart,” the company noted in a somewhat hubristic reply.

There’s no denying that Ant is a pioneer in expanding financial inclusion in China, where millions remain outside the formal banking system. But Tencent has played catch-up in digital finance and made major headway, especially in electronic payments.

Both companies ventured into fintech by first offering consumers a way to pay digitally, though the brands “Alipay” and “WeChat Pay” fail to reflect the breadth of services touted by the platforms today. Alipay, Ant’s flagship app, is now a comprehensive marketplace selling Ant’s in-house products and myriad third-party ones like micro-loans and insurance. The app, like WeChat Pay, also facilitates a growing list of public services, letting users see their taxes, pay utility bills, book a hospital visit and more.

Screenshots of the Alipay app. Source: iOS App Store 

Tencent, on the other hand, embeds its financial services inside the payment features of WeChat (WeChat Pay) and the giant’s other popular chat app, QQ. It has thus been historically difficult to make out how much Tencent earns from fintech, something the giant doesn’t disclose in its earnings reports. This is reflective of Tencent’s “horse racing” internal competition, in which departments and teams often rival fiercely against each other rather than actively collaborate.

Screenshots of WeChat Pay inside Tencent’s WeChat messenger

As such, we have pulled together estimates of Tencent’s fintech businesses ourselves using a mix of quarterly reports and third-party research — a mark of how un-transparent some of this really is — but it begs some interesting questions. Will (should?) Tencent at some point follow in Alibaba’s footsteps to bring its own fintech operations under one umbrella?

User number

In terms of user size, the rivals are going neck and neck.

The Alipay app recorded 711 monthly active users and 80 million monthly merchants in June. Among its 1 billion annual users, 729 million had transacted in at least one “financial service” through the platform. As in the PayPal-eBay relationship, Alipay benefits tremendously by being the default payments processor for Alibaba marketplaces like Taobao.

As of 2019, more than 800 million users and 50 million merchants used WeChat to pay monthly, a big chunk of the 1.2 billion active user base of the messenger. It’s unclear how many people tried Tencent’s other fintech products, though the firm did say about 200 million people used its wealth management service in 2019.


Ant reported a total of 121 billion yuan or $17 billion in revenue last year, nearly doubling its sum from 2017 and putting it on par with PayPal at $17.8 billion.

In 2019, Tencent generated 101 billion yuan of revenue from its “fintech and business services. The segment mainly consisted of fintech and cloud products, industry analysts told TechCrunch. With its cloud unit finishing the year at 17 billion yuan in revenue, we can venture to estimate that Tencent’s fintech products earned roughly or no more than 84 billion yuan ($12 billion), from the period — paled by Ant’s figure, but not bad for a relative latecomer.

The sheer size of the fintech giants has made them highly attractive targets of regulation. Increasingly, Ant is downplaying its “financial” angle and billing itself as a “technology” ally for traditional institutions rather than a challenger. These days, Alipay relies less on selling proprietary financial products and bills itself as an intermediary helping state banks, wealth managers and insurers to reach customers. In return for facilitating the process, Ant charges administrative fees from transactions on the platform.

Now, let’s turn to the rivals’ four main business focuses: payments, microloans, wealth management and insurance.

Ant vs. Tencent’s fintech businesses. Sources for the figures are companies’ quarterly reports, third-party research and TechCrunch estimates.

Digital payments

In the year ended June, Alipay processed a whopping 118 trillion yuan in payment transactions in China. That’s about $17 trillion and dwarfs the $172 billion that PayPal handled in 2019.

Tencent doesn’t disclose its payments transaction volume, but data from third-party research firms offer a hint of its scale. The industry consensus is that the two collectively control over 90% of China’s trillion-dollar electronic payments market where Alipay enjoys a slight lead.

Alipay processed 55.4% of China’s third-party payments transactions in the first quarter of 2020, according to market research firm iResearch, while another researcher Analysys said the firm’s share was 48.44% in the period. In comparison, Tenpay (the brand assigned to the company-wide infrastructure that powers WeChat Pay and the less-significant QQ Wallet, yet another name to confuse people) trailed behind at 38.8%, per iResearch data, and 34% according to Analysys.

At the end of the day, the two services have distinct user scenarios. The fact that WeChat Pay lies inside a messenger makes it a tool for social, often small, payments, such as splitting bills and exchanging lucky money, a custom in China. Alipay, on the other hand, is associated with online shopping.

That’s changing as Tencent tries to increase its ticket size through alliances. It’s tied WeChat Pay to portfolio e-commerce companies like JD.com, Pinduoduo and Meituan — all Alibaba’s competitors.

Third-party payments were once an incredibly profitable business. Platforms used to be able to hold customer reserve funds from which they generated handsome interests. That lucrative scheme came to a stop when Chinese regulators demanded non-bank payments providers to place 100% of customer deposit funds under a centralized, interest-free account last year. What’s left for payment processors to earn are limited fees charged from merchants.

Payments still account for the bulk of Ant’s revenues — 43%, or a total of 51.9 billion yuan ($7.6 billion) in 2019, but the percentage was down from 55% in 2017, a sign of the giant’s diversifying business.


Ant has become the go-to lender for shoppers and small businesses in a country where millions aren’t qualified for bank-issued credit cards. The firm had worked with about 100 banks, doling out 1.7 trillion yuan ($250 billion) of consumer loans and 400 billion yuan ($58 billion) of small business loans in the year ended June. That amounted to 41.9 billion yuan or 34.7% of Ant’s annual revenue.

The size of Tencent’s loan business is harder to gauge. What we do know is that Weilidai, the microloan product sold through WeChat, had issued an aggregate of 3.7 trillion yuan ($540 billion) to 28 million customers between its launch in 2015 and 2019, according to a report from WeBank, the Tencent-backed private bank that provides the WeChat-based loan.

Wealth management

As of June, Ant had 4.1 trillion yuan ($600 billion) assets under management, making it one of the world’s biggest money-market funds. Working with 170 partner asset managers, the segment brought in about 17 billion yuan or 14% of total revenue in 2019.

Tencent said its wealth management platform accumulated assets of over 600 billion yuan in 2018 and grew by 50% year-over-year in 2019. That should put its AUM in 2019 at around 900 billion yuan ($131 billion).


Last but not least, both giants have made big pushes into consumer insurance. Besides featuring third-party plans, Alipay introduced a new way to insure customers: mutual aid. The novel scheme, which is not regulated as an insurance product in China, is free to sign up and does not charge any premium or upfront payment. Users pay small monthly fees that are pooled to pay for claims of critical illnesses.

Insurance premiums and mutual aid contributions on Ant’s platform reached 52 billion yuan, or $7.6 billion, in the year ended June. Working with about 90 partner insurers in China, the segment contributed nearly 9 billion yuan, or 7.4%, of the firm’s annual revenue. More than 570 million Alipay users participated in at least one insurance program in the year ended June.

Tencent, on the other hand, taps partners in its relatively uncharted territory. Its insurance strategy includes in-house platform WeSure that works like a middleman between insurers and consumers, and Tencent-backed Waterdrop, which provides both traditional insurances and a rival to Ant’s mutual aid product Xianghubao.

In the first half of 2020, WeSure, Tencent’s main insurance operation that sells through WeChat, paid out a total of 290 million yuan ($42.4 million), it announced. The unit does not disclose its amount of premiums or revenues, but we can find clues in other figures. Twenty-five million people used WeShare services in 2019 and the average premium amount per user was over 1,000 yuan ($151). That is, WeShare generated no more than 25 billion yuan, or $3.78 billion, in premium that year because the user figure also accounts for a good number of premium-free users.


Moving forward, it remains unclear whether Tencent will restructure its fintech operations in a more cohesive and collaborative way. As they expand, will investors and regulators demand that? And what opportunities are there for others to compete in a space dominated by two huge players?

One thing is for sure: Tencent will need to tread more carefully on regulatory issues. Ant’s achievement is a win for entrepreneurs looking to “disrupt” China’s financial sector, but its halted IPO, which is tied to regulatory issues and reportedly Jack Ma’s hubris, also sounds an alarm to contenders that policymaking in China can be capricious.

#alibaba, #ant-financial, #ant-group, #asia, #china, #finance, #fundings-exits, #initial-public-offering, #tc, #tencent, #wechat


China postpones Ant’s colossal IPO after closed-door talk with Jack Ma

The Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges announced postponing Ant Group’s colossal initial public offering, a day after Chinese regulators weighed a slew of new fintech rules and summoned Jack Ma and other top executives to a closed-door meeting.

The rare talk between China’s top financial regulators and Ant, which revealed “major changes in the fintech regulatory environment,” may disqualify the firm from listing on November 5, the bourse said in a statement on the evening of November 3.

It’s unclear what those “changes” are, though the bourse has ordered Ant to disclose them. It’s worth noting that in late October, Ma gave a provoking speech criticizing China’s financial regulation. The conference was attended by China’s senior leaders and later on stirred widespread controversy.

Ant has over the years tried to be in the good graces of the authorities. When it rebranded from Ant Financial to Ant Technology this year, the gesture was seen as an attempt to shed the firm’s image as an intimidating financial giant and stress the one of a benevolent technology provider. The campaign began a few years ago, prompting the firm to devise awkward coinages like “techfin” (as opposed to “fintech”) and declare it wasn’t competing with traditional financial institutions, many of which were state-led.

The promises weren’t merely a show. Ant has slowly grown into an online marketplace matching hundreds of millions of customers with financial products offered by traditional players. It’s also brought on heavyweight state actors like the National Social Security Fund and China International Capital Corporation as shareholders, which are slated for handsome returns from their investments.

But the amount of reassurance did not seem enough. China’s financial authorities released a new wave of proposals on Monday to rein in the fintech sector, days before Ant was scheduled to raise $34.5 billion in the world’s largest initial public offering. The draft, though not explicitly aimed at Ant, coincided with the financial regulators’ meeting with Ant executives.

“Views regarding the health and stability of the financial sector were exchanged,” an Ant spokesperson told TechCrunch earlier in a statement. “Ant Group is committed to implementing the meeting opinions in depth and continuing our course based on the principles of: stable innovation; embrace of regulation; service to the real economy; and win-win cooperation.”

The message was clear: Ant strives to abide by Beijing’s wishes.

“We will continue to improve our capabilities to provide inclusive services and promote economic development to improve the lives of ordinary citizens,” the firm added.

The proposal was just the latest move in China’s ongoing effort to bring stability to its flourishing fintech sector. The draft rules include a ban on interprovincial online loans unless otherwise approved by authorities; a maximum online loan amount of 300,000 yuan ($45,000) for each individual; and a 1 billion yuan registered capital threshold for online microloan lenders.

At issue is Ant’s ballooning lending business, which contributed 41.9 billion yuan or 34.7% to its annual revenue, according to the firm’s IPO prospectus. In the year ended June, Ant had worked with about 100 banks, doling out 1.7 trillion yuan ($250 billion) of consumer loans and 400 billion yuan ($58 billion) of small business loans.

Over the years, China’s financial regulators have dropped numerous other policies limiting the expansion and profitability of fintech players. For instance, Ant’s payments service Alipay and its rivals could no longer generate lucrative interest returns from customer reserve funds starting last year.

Ant has not responded to a request for comment on the IPO halt.

#alibaba, #ant-financial, #ant-group, #ant, #asia, #china, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #government, #ipo, #jack-ma, #tc


Lead Edge Capital just closed on $950 million from a whopping 500 investors

Lead Edge Capital, a software-focused venture firm with one office in New York and another in California, was founded just 11 years ago. Yet it’s already managing $3  billion in assets through a process that founder Mitchell Green half-kiddingly refers to as “rinse and repeat.”

As he describes its model, Lead Edge raises money from wealthy, networked individuals, then it claws its way into companies, helps them, turns them into valuable references, and when those companies sell or go public, the firm raises more money from people who like the firm’s returns.

It sounds simple but it isn’t, says Green, who cut his teeth as an associate at Bessemer Venture Partners and at a Tiger Fund-affiliate called Eastern Advisors. Managing 500 investors, which is now the case, is “harder than it looks.”

That’s true even with two partners: Brian Neider, who first crossed paths with Green at Bessemer, and Nimay Mehta, who joined the firm in 2011. That’s true despite a dozen employees who Green says are “zero to five years out of college” and cold-call companies all day,

It’s a lot of work, even with four investors who are also operating partners and who, in that capacity, sometimes serve as board members on behalf of Lead Edge. These are former eBay president Lorrie Norrington, former Netsuite CFO Ron Gill, former Dell CFO Jim Schneider, and former Dell president Paul Bell. (“If you’ve already got a couple of VCs on your board,” says Green, “I think the company gets more benefit from putting operators on the board.”)

Not that anyone is complaining. On the contrary, Lead Edge has been having a very good run, which explains how its fund sizes have so quickly ballooned, from a $52 million debut vehicle to a $138 million fund, a $290 million fund, a $520 million vehicle, and now a $950 million fifth fund. (Lead Edge also spins up special purpose vehicles on the side one to two times a year when it wants an especially big bite of a certain company.)

Some of its largest returns by dollars have come via Alibaba’s IPO, Spotify’s IPO, and the sale of Duo Security to Cisco, companies on which it made big bets. Green has said the firm invested $300 million into Alibaba in the years leading up to its IPO; more than $150 million into Spotify in the years leading up to its IPO; and more than $90 million into Duo.

This year is proving fortuitous to Lead Edge’s backers, too, including thanks to the recent direct listing of Asana and the sale of Signal Sciences to Fastly.

That’s saying nothing about the Alibaba affiliate ANT Group, into which Lead Edge has poured $160 million over the years and that’s now expected to become the world’s largest IPO (although the offering has been delayed for now by China’s securities regulator).

Given these wins, it’s maybe it’s not so surprising that the firm’s investor base would continue to build on itself, and in the process turn into a highly competitive advantage for the firm, according to Green.

Indeed, when asked how Lead Edge differentiates itself from other growth-stage investors, he cites the firm’s pool of backers, which includes former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy, former Charles Schwab CEO David Pottruck, and former ESPN CEO Steve Bornstein, among the hundreds of other individuals who’ve written checks to Lead Edge that range from $250,000 to $50 million.

While he won’t say who some of the biggest of those investors are in terms of dollars committed, he has no qualms in crediting them collectively with the firm’s success — or going out of his way to keep them happy. Last night, for example, he played host to some of them at his Southern California home. He doesn’t seem to mind it.

“People want us for our LP network,” says Green. “That’s what we’re known for, 100%.”

#alibaba, #ant-financial, #bird, #duo-security, #exit, #growth-stage-investing, #lead-edge-capital, #mitchell-green, #spotify, #startups, #tc, #uber, #venture-capital


Unicorn rodeo: 6 high-flying startups that are set to go public

This week Airbnb announced that it has privately filed to go public, putting the famous unicorn on a path to a quick IPO if it wants. The recent move matches reporting indicating that the home-sharing upstart could yet go public in 2020 despite the collapse of the travel industry.

The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.

But Airbnb is not the only venture-backed company of note that is looking to go public at the moment, or that has privately filed to go public. Indeed, so many unicorns are looking to get out the door in the next quarter or two, I’ve started to lose track of their status.

So, this morning, let’s gather a digest of each unicorn that has filed privately, is expected to debut shortly, or may go public in the next year or two. We’re talking Airbnb, Asana, ThredUp, Qualtrics, Palantir and Ant first, and then more loosely about the huge cadre of companies that could go public before the end of 2022, like UIPath, Intercom, and, sure, Robinhood as well.

Today is Friday, which means we can afford to take a minute, center ourselves and make sure that we’re ready for the news that next week will inevitably bring. So let’s have a little fun.

Upcoming unicorn IPOs

In order to keep this digestible, we’ll proceed in bulleted-list format. Starting with the biggest news, let’s remind ourselves of Airbnb’s decline and recovery, starting with revenue numbers:


Jack Ma’s fintech giant Ant starts IPO process in Hong Kong and Shanghai

The Jack Ma -controlled Ant Group finally sets in motion what the market has been anticipating for years. The financial services and payments behemoth said Monday that it has kickstarted the process of a concurrent initial public offering on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Shanghai Stock Exchange’s Nasdaq-style Star Market.

The public listing will enable Ant, which operates the Alipay wallet used across Alibaba’s e-commerce networks, to work towards several goals: digitize China’s service industry, such as getting mom and pop shops in far-flung regions to use its payments service; drive domestic demands, such as being a conduit of government-issued coupons for consumers amid coronavirus pandemic; expand globally through its e-wallet partners in nine countries; and finally, invest in new technologies.

Ant’s choice of the HKSE and Star Market follows the latest trend of Chinese tech firms trading closer to home as the cities make it easier for high-risk, innovation-driven firms to access funding. The Star exchange, first unveiled by President Xi Jinping, debuted last year as Xi called for China to be technologically independent.

The two markets have “opened the doors for global investors to access leading-edge technology companies from the most dynamic economies in the world and for those companies to have greater access to the capital markets. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to play a part in this development,” said Eric Jing, executive chairman of Ant Group, in a statement.

Bankers are valuing Ant at a staggering $200 billion, according to sources from Reuters. The company declined to comment on its valuation.

The firm recently dropped its old brand “Ant Financial” for “Ant Group” to scale back its focus on in-house financial products. Indeed, a recent filing from Alibaba, which holds 33% in Ant, showed that about half of Ant’s 2019 revenues came from technological infrastructure it provided to enterprise clients rather than proprietary financial products.

Alipay, which now claims 1.3 billion users around the world, has over the years expanded from a mere payments app into an online gateway to third-party financial products such as micro-loans and insurance. The app also supports a slew of day-to-day services like Starbucks membership and telemedicine, all powered by mini-apps, just like WeChat has grown itself from a messenger into an all-in-one service platform.

#alibaba, #alipay, #ant-financial, #ant-group, #asia, #china, #finance, #fundings-exits, #jack-ma, #tc


Jack Ma’s fintech giant tops 1.3 billion users globally

The speculation that Alibaba’s fintech affiliate Ant Group will go public has been swirling around for years. New details came to light recently. Reuters reported last week that the fintech giant could float as soon as this year in an initial public offering that values it at $200 billion. As a private firm, details of the payments and financial services firm remain sparse, but a new filing by Alibaba, which holds a 33% stake in Ant, provides a rare glimpse into its performance.

Alipay, the brand of Ant’s consumer finance app, claims to earmark 1.3 billion annual active users as of March. The majority of its users came from China, while the rest were brought by its nine e-wallet partners in India, Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

In recent years Ant has been striving to scale back its reliance on in-house financial products in response to Beijing’s tightening grip on China’s fledgling fintech industry. Tencent, Alibaba’s nemesis, is considered a lot more reserved in the financial space but its WeChat Pay app has been slowly eating away at Alipay’s share of the payments market.

In a symbolic move in May, the Alibaba affiliate changed its name from Ant Financial to Ant Group. Even prior to that, Ant had been actively publicizing itself as a “technology” company that offers payments gateways and sells digital infrastructure to banks, insurance groups, and other traditional financial institutions — rather than being a direct competitor to them. On the Alipay app, users can browse and access a raft of third-party financial services including wealth management, microloans, and insurance.

As of March, Ant’s wealth management unit facilitated 4 trillion yuan ($570 billion) of assets under management for its partners offering money market funds, fixed income products, and equity investment services. During the same period, total insurance premiums facilitated by Ant more than doubled from the year before.

In June, Ant’s new boss Hu Xiaoming set the goal for the firm to generate 80% of total revenues from technology service fees, up from about 50% in 2019. He anticipated the monetary contribution of Ant’s own proprietary financial services to shrink as a result.

Ant grew out of Alipay, the payments service launched by Alibaba as an escrow service to ensure trust between e-commerce buyers and sellers. In 2011, Alibaba spun off Ant, allegedly to comply with local regulations governing third-party payments services. Ant has since taken on several rounds of equity financing. Today, Alibaba founder Jack Ma still controls a majority of Ant’s voting interests.

#alibaba, #ant-financial, #ant-group, #asia, #china, #finance, #jack-ma, #payments


A glint of hope for India’s food delivery market as Zomato projects monthly cash burn of less than $1M

Food delivery startups in India have been struggling to make financial sense for years. They have each lost as much as $50 million a month to win and sustain customers by offering discounts. And unlike some other markets, food delivery startups have been severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

But Zomato, one of the two market leading startups operating in the space, today offered a rare sign of hope for the market after it said it had severely cut its cash-burn as it looks to become profitable.

The Gurgaon-headquartered firm said it estimates it would lose less than $1 million in July, the lowest in years for the 12-year-old firm that acquired Uber Eats’ India business earlier this year.

Zomato also shared its performance for the financial year that ended on March 31, 2020, and the quarter that ended on June 30.

In FY 20, the startup said its revenue surged 105% to $394 million compared to the year before while its losses at EBIDTA-level — a popular metric used by businesses that does not account for interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization — ballooned to $293 million, up from $277 million the year before.

But the startup said the coronavirus pandemic, which has significantly reduced the number of orders customers place on the platform, has also helped it to improve its unit economics.

In the quarter that ended last month, Zomato clocked $41 million in revenue at an EBIDTA-level loss of $12 million. In the month of June alone, the startup’s revenue stood at $17 million at an EBIDTA-loss of $1.5 million.

As India eases its nationwide lockdown, which it enforced in late March, more workers are moving back to the larger cities. Zomato said this has helped the firm increase the number of orders on its platform. The startup said it expects its revenue generation this month to be at 60% of the levels before coronavirus wrought havoc to the industry.

In the quarter that ended in June this year, each order on Zomato earned it — made a contribution margin of — Rs 27 (36 cents), compared to loss of Rs 47 (62 cents) a order during the same period last year, claimed Deepinder Goyal, co-founder and chief executive of Zomato.

Goyal cautioned, however, that the current contribution margin is not sustainable and he expects it to go down to Rs 15 to 20 per order over time.

Zomato, which eliminated its workforce by 13% in May and slashed salary across the board, said it had reinstated existing employees back to their earlier pay level and its projection takes that into account.

The firm competes with Prosus Ventures-backed Swiggy, which has also eliminated even more jobs in recent months and made other efforts to improve its financials. The two firms, both of which together have nearly $2.5 billion, are struggling to find new investors as many VC and PE firms lose appetite for food delivery in India.

Several VCs have told TechCrunch in recent weeks that they are struggling to understand how food delivery firms would ever turn a profit in India. Unlike Western markets such as the U.S., where the value of each delivery item is about $33; in India, a similar item carries the price tag of $4, according to estimates by Bangalore-based research firm RedSeer.

More to follow…

#ant-financial, #apps, #asia, #food, #india, #swiggy, #zomato


VESoft raises $8M to meet China’s growing need for graph databases

Sherman Ye founded VESoft in 2018 when he saw a growing demand for graph databases in China. Its predecessors like Neo4j and TigerGraph had already been growing aggressively in the West for a few years, while China was just getting to know the technology that leverages graph structures to store data sets and depict their relationships, such as those used for social media analysis, e-commerce recommendations, and financial risk management.

VESoft is ready for further growth after closing an $8 million funding round led by Redpoint China Ventures, an investment firm launched by Silicon Valley-based Redpoint Ventures in 2005. Existing investor Matrix Partners China also participated in the Series pre-A round. The new capital will allow the startup to develop products and expand to markets in North America, Europe, and other parts of Asia.

The 30-people team is comprised of former employees from Alibaba, Facebook, Huawei, and IBM. It’s based in Hangzhou, a scenic city known for its rich history and housing Alibaba and its financial affiliate Ant Financial, where Ye previously worked as a senior engineer after his four-year stint with Facebook in California. From 2017 to 2018, the entrepreneur noticed that Ant Financial’s customers were increasingly interested in adopting graph databases as an alternative to relational databases, a model that had been popular since the 80s and normally organizes data into tables.

“While relational databases are capable of achieving many functions carried out by graph databases… they deteriorate in performance as the quantity of data grows,” Yu told TechCrunch during an interview. “We didn’t use to have so much data.”

Information explosion is one reason why Chinese companies are turning to graph databases, which can handle millions of transactions to discover patterns within scattered data. The technology’s rise is also a response to new forms of online businesses that depend more on relationships.

“Take recommendations for example. The old model recommends content based purely on user profiles, but the problem of relying on personal browsing history is it fails to recommend new things. That was fine for a long time as the Chinese [internet] market was big enough to accommodate many players. But as the industry becomes saturated and crowded… companies need to ponder how to retain existing users, lengthen their time spent, and win users from rivals.”

The key lies in serving people content and products they find appealing. Graph databases come in handy, suggested Yu, when services try to predict users’ interest or behavior as the model uncovers what their friends or people within their social circles like. “That’s a lot more effective than feeding them what’s trending.”

Neo4j compares relational and graph databases (Link)

The company has made its software open source, which the founder believed can help cultivate a community of graph database users and educate the market in China. It will also allow VESoft to reach more engineers in the English-speaking world who are well-acquainted with the open-source culture.

“There is no such thing as being ‘international’ or ‘domestic’ for a technology-driven company. There are no boundaries between countries in the open-source world,” reckoned Yu.

When it comes to generating income, the startup plans to launch a paid version for enterprises, which will come with customized plug-ins and host services.

The Nebula Graph, the brand of VESoft’s database product, is now serving 20 enterprise clients from areas across social media, e-commerce, and finance including big names like food delivery giant Meituan, popular social commerce app Xiaohongshu, and e-commerce leader JD.com. A number of overseas companies are also trialing Nebula.

The time is ripe for enterprise-facing startups with a technological moat in China as the market for consumers has been divided by incumbents like Tencent and Alibaba. This makes fundraising relatively easy for VESoft. The founder is confident that Chinese companies are rapidly catching up with their Western counterparts in the space, for the gargantuan amount of data and the myriad of ways data is used in the country “will propel the technology forward.”

#ant-financial, #asia, #china, #data-management, #database, #databases, #enterprise, #graph-database, #graph-databases, #hangzhou, #matrix-partners-china, #neo4j, #nosql, #open-source-software, #redpoint-ventures


Reliance Jio Platforms to sell additional $600 million stake to Silver Lake

Silver Lake is doubling down its bet on India’s Reliance Jio Platforms. The U.S. private equity firm said Friday it is buying an additional stake worth $600 million in the top Indian telecom operator, which has now raised $12.2 billion in less than two months — at the height of a global pandemic.

The Menlo Park-headquartered firm, which invested nearly $750 million in Reliance Jio Platforms last month, said the additional infusion increases its stake in the Indian firm to 2.08%, up from 1.15%.

Silver Lake’s new investment is now technically the seventh deal Reliance Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of India’s most valued firm (Reliance Industries), has secured in just as many weeks by selling nearly 20% stake. Earlier on Friday (local time), Abu Dhabi-based sovereign firm Mubadala said it would invest $1.2 billion in Jio, a firm run by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man.

Mr. Egon Durban, co-chief executive and managing partner at Silver Lake, said, the recent investment momentum in Reliance Jio Platforms “validates a compelling business model and underscores our admiration for Mukesh Ambani, his team and their courageous vision in creating and building one of the world’s most remarkable technology companies.”

“We are excited to increase our exposure and bring more of our co-investors into this opportunity, further supporting Jio Platforms in its mission to bring the power of high-quality and affordable digital services to a mass consumer and small businesses population,” he added.

Silver Lake manages nearly $40 billion in combined assets and committed capital and has invested in dozens of tech firms over the years including in video game engine maker Unity, audio and video communication service Skype, consultancy firm Gartner, Alibaba’s Ant Financial, computer giant Dell, and Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing.

More to follow…

#abu-dhabi, #alibaba, #ant-financial, #asia, #companies, #dell, #didi-chuxing, #digital-services, #funding, #india, #menlo-park, #mubadala, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #silver-lake, #united-states, #unity


JioMart, the e-commerce venture from India’s richest man, launches in additional cities

The rationale behind the deluge of dollars flooding into billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms is beginning to become more clear as his e-commerce venture JioMart starts rolling out to more people across India.

An e-commerce venture between the nation’s top telecom operator Jio Platforms and top retail chain Jio Retail, JioMart just launched its new website and started accepting orders in dozens of metro, tier 1 and tier 2 cities including Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Bokaro, Bathinda, Ahmedabad, Gurgaon, and Dehradun.

Before the expansion on Saturday, the service was available in three suburbs of Mumbai. The service now includes perishables such as fruits and vegetables, and dairy items in addition to staples and other grocery products as it makes its pitch to Indian households across the country.

Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms, which has raised more than $10 billion in the last month by selling a roughly 17% stake, has amassed over 388 million subscribers, more than any other telecom operator in the country.

The money comes as Ambani’s various companies begin entering a market already teeming with fierce competitors like Amazon, Walmart’s Flipkart, BigBasket, MilkBasket, and Grofers.

Earlier this week the American e-commerce giant entered India’s food delivery market to challenge the duopoly of Prosus Ventures-backed Swiggy and Ant Financial-backed Zomato. Amazon is making a massive hiring push in India, and is looking to hire close to 50,000 seasonal workers to keep up with the growing demand on its platform.

Meanwhile, Ambani’s Reliance Retail, founded in 2006, remains the largest retailer in India by revenue. It serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns.

JioMart may have Amazon and Flipkart in its sights, but in its current form, however, the company is going to be more of a headache for Grofers and BigBasket, the top grocery delivery startups in India.

Reliance Industries, the most valued firm in India and parent entity of Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, plans to expand JioMart to more than a thousand districts in a year and also widen its catalog to include electronics and office supplies among a variety of other categories, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. A Reliance Jio spokesperson declined to comment.

The expansion to more cities comes a month after JioMart launched its WhatsApp business account, enabling people to easily track their order and invoice on Facebook -owned service.

Facebook announced it would invest $5.7 billion in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms last month and pledged to work with the Indian firm to help small businesses across the country. JioMart’s WhatsApp account currently does not support the expanded regions.

Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, first unveiled his plan to launch an e-commerce platform last year. In a speech then, Ambani invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s work and said India needed to fight another fresh battle.

A handful of firms have attempted — and failed — to launch their e-commerce websites over the years in India, where more than 95% of sales still occur through brick and mortar stores. But Ambani is uniquely positioned to fight the duopoly of Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart — thanks in part to the more than $10 billion in investment dollars the company recently raised from KKR, FacebookSilver LakeVista Equity Partners, and General Atlantic. In addition to scaling JioMart, the fresh capital should also help Ambani repay some of Reliance Industries’ $21 billion debt.

“We have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India — in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian,” Ambani said at an event attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi .

#amazon, #ant-financial, #asia, #bigbasket, #ecommerce, #facebook, #flipkart, #grofers, #mukesh-ambani, #narendra-modi, #prosus-ventures, #reliance, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #walmart, #whatsapp, #zomato


Indian food delivery startup Swiggy is cutting about 1,000 jobs

Swiggy is cutting about 1,000 jobs, most from its cloud kitchen division, as India’s top food delivery startup scales back some of its businesses in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has drastically affected millions of firms.

In a statement, the Bangalore-based startup said it was “evaluating various means to stay nimble and focus on growth and profitability across our kitchens.”

“This will, unfortunately, have an impact on a certain number of kitchen staff who will be fully supported during this transition,” said the startup, which, according to an analysis on LinkedIn, employs about 12,000 people.

Swiggy did not reveal the number of people it was letting go, but a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that about 1,000 jobs were being cut. Indian news outlet Entrackr first reported the layoffs.

As the firm cuts its headcount, it is also looking to reduce its monthly burn rate to about $5 million, down from about $20 million it spends in winning customers currently, the source said, requesting anonymity as some of these matters remain private.

Swiggy — which has raised $1.42 billion to date, including $156 million as part of an ongoing Series I round this year — competes with Ant Financial-backed Zomato, which is also in talks to raise about $500 million by mid-May, Deepinder Goyal, the co-founder and chief executive of the Gurgaon-based startup, told TechCrunch last week.

Both the startups spend nearly the same amount of money in discounts and other incentives to sustain their customers and win new patrons. India’s food delivery market, valued at $4 billion (by research firm RedSeer), has become a duopoly as FoodPanda, owned by Ola, made a major strategic shift in recent years and Uber sold its Indian Uber Eats business to Zomato.

Swiggy and Zomato have, however, struggled to cut costs in fear that they might lose customers. And those fears are well founded.

Anand Lunia, a VC at India Quotient, said that the food delivery firms have little choice but to keep subsidizing the cost of food items on their platform, as otherwise most of their customers can’t afford them.

The lockdown that New Delhi ordered last month has created new challenges for both Swiggy and Zomato. Both the startups are now seeing fewer than a million orders placed on their platforms, down from nearly 3 million they were handling before the outbreak.

In the last year, both the startups have attempted to expand into new categories in search of additional revenue sources. Swiggy has expanded and doubled down on cloud kitchens, which allows its restaurant partners to launch in more locations with not as much investment.

Late last year, Swiggy executives said they had established 1,000 cloud kitchens for its restaurant partners in the country — more than any of its local rivals. The startup said it had invested in more than a million square feet of real estate space across 14 cities in the country in the last two years.

In the wake of pandemic, both Swiggy and Zomato have also started delivering grocery items to customers.

#ant-financial, #asia, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #food, #foodpanda, #layoffs, #personnel, #swiggy, #uber, #uber-eats, #zomato


Alipay owner Ant Financial takes minority stake in Klarna

Some big moves in the payments platform space: Ant Financial Group, the owner of China’s Alipay payment platform has announced it’s taking a minority stake in Swedish payments platform Klarna — which has a strong European presence and a flagship product that lets shoppers buy now and pay later in interest-free instalments (typically 14 or 30 days after the purchase).

The pair have not disclosed terms of the deal but Reuters reported the stake amounts to less than 1% and was made up of existing and new shares. It also cites its source telling it the stake was done at a “slight uptick” to Klarna’s $460 million funding round last August — which valued the company at $5.5BN.

A spokeswomen for Klarna told us it’s not disclosing the value of the investment but she confirmed Reuters reporting, saying the stake is less than 1%.

Ant Financial is part of Chinese ecommerce and retail services multinational giant, Alibaba Group, which took a 33% stake in the fintech affiliate back in 2018 that gave it direct ownership of its suite of products and services — including an investment fund, micro-loans, insurance services, a digital bank and the Alipay mobile payments platform. 

Prior to today’s news, Klarna and Alipay had already been collaborating via Alibaba’s global ecommerce marketplace, AliExpress — which offers Klarna’s ‘Pay later’ option in multiple markets.

Now the pair touted their deepening partnership as set to bring more “innovative and convenient” financial services to consumers worldwide.

They are also clearly hoping to further grease the wheels of East to West ecommerce by expanding opportunities for China’s growing middle class to tap into Klarna’s network of European and global merchants via their preferred online payment method.

Commenting in a statement, Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiątkowski said: “For too long consumers have had to endure non-intuitive, boring and overly complex services when shopping both online and offline. At the heart of this cooperation between Klarna and Alipay is a shared ambition of innovating truly superior shopping experiences and creating destinations of inspiration for consumers across the world.”

“Alipay, and the wider Alibaba Group, have truly set the global pace on retail innovation and the app economy. We are delighted in this confidence shown in Klarna in defining the future of payments and shopping and are very much looking forward to working together further in the future,” he added.

Klarna said its technology is being used by more than 200,000 retailers and e-commerce platforms globally at this point, including AliExpress, H&M, ASOS, Expedia Group, IKEA, Farfetch, Adidas, Spotify, Samsung and Nike .

Last year it said it added over 75,000 new merchants — describing itself as a “strategic growth partner” for these retailers and claiming it’s driving “millions of referrals and traffic each month” from owned channels to partner merchants from consumers who it says are actively seeking where they can shop with Klarna. (It claims a base of 85 million shoppers.)

Ant Financial, meanwhile, has been working on expanding Alipay’s global footprint by cutting local deals in markets outside China where it cannot build up its transaction volume organically. Notably, back in 2015, it  took a stake in India’s One97 — which operates a major local mobile payment platform, Paytm.

TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden contributed to this report

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