Chinese sellers on Amazon in hot demand by VCs and e-commerce roll-ups

Chinese merchants selling on Amazon are having a moment. The scruffy exporters are used to roaming about suburban factory areas and dealing with constant cash flow strain, but suddenly they find themselves having coffee with top Chinese venture capital firms and investment representatives from internet giants, who come with big checks to hunt down the next Shein or Anker. While VCs can provide the money for them to scale quickly, many lack the expertise to help on the strategic side.

This is where brand aggregators can put their retail know-how to work. Also called roll-ups, these companies go around acquiring promising e-commmerce brands for operational synergies. After taking off in the United States, Europe, and lately Southeast Asia, it has also quietly landed in China, where traditional white-label manufacturers are trying to move up the value chain and establish their own brand presence.

The latest roll-up to enter China is Berlin Brands Group (BBG), which aims to buy “dozens of” brands in the country over the next few years, its founder and CEO Peter Chaljawski told TechCrunch. This will significantly boost the German company’s existing portfolio of 14 brands.

The move came on the back of BBG’s $240 million funding raised from debt and its announcement to commit $300 million on its balance sheet to buying up companies. The firm opted for debt in part because it has been profitable since its inception. The recent funding won’t be its last round and it may use other financial instruments in the future, said the founder.

Chaljawski doesn’t see VC and corporate investors as direct competitors in the hunt for brands. “There are tens of thousands of sellers in China that generate significant revenue on Amazon. I think the VC money applies to some of them, and the roll-up model applies also to only some of them. But ‘some’ is a very, very big number.”

BBG is no stranger to China. The 15-year-old company has been relying on Chinese manufacturers to make its kitchenware, gardening tools, sports gear and other home appliances, with 90% of its products still made in the country today. For the new brand buy-out initiative, it’s hiring dozens of staff in Shenzhen, which Chalijawski dubbed the “Silicon Valley of Amazon,” referring to the southern city’s key role in global export, manufacturing, and increasingly, design.

Amazon alternative

BBG hopes to offer a new way for Chinese consumer products to scale in Europe and the U.S. beyond being an anonymous brand on Amazon. Sellers may want to break free of the American behemoth to seize more control over consumer data, but building a direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand is no small feat.

Many merchants that are good at operating Amazon third-party businesses lack the infrastructure to go beyond Amazon, like an in-house logistics system, said the founder. In Europe, BBG manages 120,000 square meters of fulfillment centers, allowing it to shed dependence on Amazon.

Chinese brands may also want to find Amazon alternatives in Europe, where the e-commerce landscape is a lot more fragmented than that in the U.S, noted Chaljawski.

“If you look at the U.S., Amazon is dominant. If you look at Europe, Amazon only has 10% of the market share of online retail. So 90% is beyond Amazon. In the Netherlands, you have platforms like Bol. In Poland, you have Allegro, and in France, you have other dominant players.”

To bridge the gap for international brands targeting Europe, BBG operates close to 20 D2C web stores in major European countries, aside from selling on Amazon. Its sales growth in the U.S. has also been in full steam. Currently, over 60% of the firm’s revenues come from non-Amazon channels.

BBG is already in advanced negotiations with “some brands” in China but cannot disclose their names at this stage.

#amazon, #asia, #berlin-brands-group, #brand, #china, #consumer-products, #e-commerce, #e-commerce-aggregator, #ecommerce, #europe, #manufacturing, #online-retail, #online-shopping, #retailers, #roll-ups, #shenzhen, #tc

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Fintech veteran Jitendra Gupta is ready for his new inning — now he is going after banks in India

For most people in India, having to engage with banks doesn’t instill a sense of joy. Banks in the South Asian market are notorious for making unannounced spam calls to upsell customers loans and credit cards, even when they have been explicitly asked not to do so.

Moreover, when a customer does reach out to a bank with a query, it can take forever to get the job done. Take ICICI Bank, India’s third largest bank and until recently my only banking partner for over six years, for an example.

It is now in its third month in figuring out who exactly in its relationship with Amazon is supposed to re-issue me a credit card. I have moved on with my life, and it looks like they did, too, likely before they even looked at my query.

Small and medium-sized businesses aren’t a big fan of banks, either. If you operate an early-stage startup, it’s anyone’s guess if you will ever be able to convince a bank to issue you a corporate account. So of course, startups — Razorpay and Open — took it upon themselves to fix this experience.

For consumers, too, in recent years, scores of startups have arrived on the scene to improve this banking experience. Whether you are a teenager, or just out of college, or a working professional, or don’t have a credit score, there are firms that can get you a credit card and loan.

But even these services have a ceiling limit of some sort. And customers aren’t loyal to any startup.

“A customer’s relationship is always with the entity where they park their savings deposit,” said Jitendra Gupta, a high-profile entrepreneur who has spent a decade in the fintech world. Since these customers are not parking their money with fintech, “the startups have been unable to disrupt the bank. That’s the hard reality.”

So what’s the alternative? Gupta, who co-founded CitrusPay (sold to Naspers’ PayU) and served as managing director of PayU, has been thinking about these challenges for more than two years.

“If you really want to change the banking industry, you cannot operate from the side. You have to fight from the centre, where they deposit their money. It’s a very time-consuming process and requires a lot of initial capital and experience with banks,” he told TechCrunch in an interview.

After more than a year and a half of raising about $24 million — from Sequoia Capital India, 3one4 Capital, Amrish Rau, Kunal Shah, Kunal Bahl, Tanglin Venture Partners, Rainmatter and others — Gupta is ready to launch what he believes will address a lot of the issues individuals face with their banks.

His new startup, called Jupiter, wants to bring “delight” to the banking experience, and it will launch in India on Thursday.

“We believe that a bank account should be a smart account, where it gives you insight, shares personalized tips and guides you through attaining some financial discipline,” he said.

A snapshot of the reach of banks and fintech startups in India. Data: CIBIL, Statista, BofA Global Research. Image: BofA

To be sure, Jupiter, too, will offer loans and other financial services to customers. But instead of making irrelevant calls to customers, it will assess which of its customers are running short on money and give the option to take a credit line from its app itself, he said. “The upsell doesn’t need to happen by way of spam. It needs to happen by way of contextualization and personalization.”

“Jupiter has been built in a deep integration with the underlying bank, allowing the consumer to have a frictionless experience for all their banking needs,” said Amrish Rau, chief executive of Pine Labs, co-founder of CitrusPay and longtime friend of Gupta.

The startup, which employs 115 people, has developed a number of products for customers joining on day one. The products include the ability to buy now and pay later on UPI, a feature first offered in the market by Jupiter, and a mutual fund portfolio analyzer. A debit card, in-app chat with a customer service agent, expense categorisation, finding the right card, determining the existing health insurance coverage, and more are ready to ship, the startup said.

Jupiter is currently working on providing zero mark-up on forex transactions, and frictionless two-factor authentication. The startup has published a public Trello page where it has outlined the features it is working on and when it expects to ship them, as well as features suggested by its beta-testing customers. “I want to establish full transparency in what we are working on to build trust with customers,” said Gupta.

Jupiter will have its own customer relationship team that will engage with the startup’s users. The startup, which last month opened a waiting list for customers to sign up, had amassed more than 25,000 applications as of two weeks ago.

Even Jupiter, which one day wishes to disrupt the banking sector, currently has to partner with banks. Its partners are Federal Bank and Axis Bank.

I asked Gupta about the excitement his investors see in Jupiter. “Everyone believes, as you see with fintech giants such as Nubank globally, that we will become a full bank,” he said.

But for the time being, Gupta said he is not looking to partner with more banks. “I don’t want Jupiter to attract customers because they want to bank with Federal or Axis. I want them to come to Jupiter because they want to bank with Jupiter,” he said.

In the next 12 months, the startup hopes to serve more than 1 million customers.

#apps, #asia, #banking, #finance, #india, #jitendra-gupta, #startups

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India proposes tougher e-commerce rules to address ‘widespread cheating’ complaints

India proposed on Monday banning flash sales on e-commerce platforms and preventing their affiliate entities from being listed as sellers as the South Asian market looks to further tighten rules that could hurt the future prospects of Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart in the world’s second largest market.

The proposal, unveiled by India’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs on Monday evening, comes at a time when brick-and-mortar retailers in India have ramped up their complaints to raise concerns about the what they allege as unfair practices employed by Amazon and Flipkart as they expand their operations in the country.

In its proposal, India’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs said that e-commerce firms should not be allowed to hold flash sales that are very popular during festive season in the country. During flash sales, which are akin to Amazon’s Prime Day, e-commerce firms see some of their biggest spikes in customer orders as brands offer heavy discounts on their products.

“Certain e-commerce entities are engaging in limiting consumer choice by indulging in ‘back to back’ or ‘flash’ sales wherein one seller selling on platform does not carry any inventory or order fulfilment capability but merely places a ‘flash or back to back’ order with another seller controlled by platform. This prevents a level playing field and ultimately limits customer choice and increases prices,” the ministry said in a statement.

As it has done with its recent IT rules, India is also proposing that e-commerce firms appoint Chief Compliance Officer, a nodal contact person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies, officers to ensure compliance to their orders and Resident Grievance Officer for redressing of the grievances of the consumers on the e-commerce platform.

“This would ensure effective compliance with the provisions of the Act and Rules and also strengthen the grievance redressal mechanism on e-commerce entities,” the ministry said.

Amazon said it was reviewing the proposed policies while Flipkart had no immediate comment.

In a court hearing on Monday, a Flipkart lawyer said the company sees nothing wrong in offering to cut charges for sellers on its platform if they lower product prices.

The ministry said it is making the proposal, for which it plans to seek industry feedback over the next 15 days, after receiving “several complaints against widespread cheating and unfair trade practices being observed in e-commerce ecosystem.”

Additionally, the new proposal asks e-commerce firms to introduce a mechanism to identify goods on their platforms based on country of origin and suggest alternatives to “ensure fair opportunity to domestic goods.”

The announcement comes at a time when Flipkart is in talks to raise as much as $3 billion and explore the public markets. Both Amazon and Flipkart are also the subject of an ongoing antitrust probe in India.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #india, #walmart

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Buy now, pay later startup Kredivo doubles its debt facility from Victory Park Capital to $200M

Kredivo announced today it has secured another $100 million debt facility from Victory Park Capital (VPC). This doubles the Indonesian digital lending and credit platform’s total warehouse financing facility from VPC to $200 million. The first round was closed in July 2020.

Kredivo is operated by Singapore-based fintech FinAccel. This is the largest loan facility it has raised so far, and is VPC’s biggeast debt commitment to a fintech company outside of the United States and Europe, as well as its only investment in Southeast Asia. Kredivo will use the debt facility to help achieve its goal of serving 10 million customers in Indonesia.

Other notable startups that have received debt financing from VPC include Razor Group, factory 14, Konfio and Elevate.

Kredivo has more than three million customers and offers two main types of lending products: zero interest 30-day ‘buy now, pay later’ financing for e-commerce and offline purchases, and three-, six- and 12-month installment loans with an interest rate of 2.6% a month, or a maximum annual rate of 53.36%. Kredivo chief executive officer Akshay Garg told TechCrunch that its ‘buy now, pay later’ services are typically used for small-value online purchases, while installment loans are used to finance bigger transactions, like laptops, home renovation or medical care.

While ‘buy now, pay later’ services like Klarna, Afterpay or Affirm offer convenience to customers in the United States or Europe, in emerging markets it also serves as a tool to build credit, especially in countries that have low credit card penetration, Garg said.

“Credit is one of the largest and most complex areas of the financial services ecosystem and the fact is that Indonesia is deeply underserved on that equation,” he said. Most banks only provide secured lending, like home or car loans, and unsecured lending is rare. Garg said there are only eight million credit card holders in Indonesia, which has a population of 270.6 million, and that number has not changed in 13 years.

One of the reasons for Indonesia’s very low credit card penetration rate is because banks are reluctant to give unsecured loans, especially to younger customers.

“What we’re solving is less a convenience problem and more an access problem. We’re putting unsecured credit, or the ability to buy on credit, in the hands of urban millennials for the first time, simply because banks are just not providing them access to credit cards,” said Garg.

He added that Kredivo’s effective risk-scoring model allows to charge low interest rates, and its non-performing loan ratio is in the low single-digits, despite the economic impact of COVID-19, which Garg described as a “trial by fire.”

Like credit cards from banks, Kredivo also reports customers’ loan histories to Indonesia’s credit bureaus, so they can build credit scores. “What we’re doing is a building Indonesia’s first real digital credit bureau from the ground up, and I think our risk metrics show that this is not just for the sake of some funky innovation, but something that is delivering real performance,” Garg said.

In a statement, VPC partner Gordon Watson said, “We have been impressed with the resilience and growth of the business and look forward to deepening our partnership with Kredivo. The company presents a unique combination of growth, scale, risk management and financial inclusion in one of the most exciting emerging markets in the world.”

#asia, #bnpl, #buy-now-pay-later, #credit, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #kredivo, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #victory-park-capital

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GrowSari, a B2B platform for small stores in the Philippines, adds investors like Temasek’s Pavilion Capital and Tencent

Sari-sari stores are neighborhood stores in the Philippines that usually sell daily necessities and sometimes serve as community hubs, too. Today GrowSari, a startup that is digitizing sari-sari stores with features like pricing tools, inventory management and working capital loans, announced it has raised a Series B from several notable investors that brings its total funding to $30 million.

The company’s Series B is at a rolling close, so it has not announced a final amount. The $30 million total it has raised include its seed funding and Series A, which according to a July 2020 profile in Esquire Philippines was $14 million. Participants in its Series B included Temasek Holdings’ private equity unit Pavilion Capital, Tencent, International Finance Corporation (IFC), ICCP SBI Venture Partners and Saison Capital, and returning investors Robinsons Retail Holdings (which is part of the Gokongwei Group), JG Digital Equity Ventures and Wavemaker Partners.

GrowSari was founded in 2016, and says its B2B platform is currently used by more than 50,000 stores in over 100 municipalities on Luzon, the Philippines’ largest and most populated island. Its ultimate goal is to serve one million sari-sari stores.

According to GrowSari, there are more than 1.1 million sari-sari stores in the Philippines, and they account for 60% of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sold in the country, making them a valuable distribution channel for wholesalers. In addition to its supplier marketplace, GrowSari says it is able to give sari-sari store operators better pricing for products from about a thousand FMCG brands, including Unilever, P&G and Nestle, which it claims can help stores double their earnings. Other services in the app include online telecom and utility bill payments, remittance and microfinancing for working capital loans.

GrowSari’s founding tDeam includes Reymund Rollan, Shiv Choudhury, Siddhartha Kongara and Andrzej Ogonowski, who first launched the platform as a backend system for sari-sari stores to manage their logistics and inventory.

A screenshot of product categories in GrowSari's app

A screenshot of product categories in GrowSari’s app

Since most sari-sari stores are run individually, their margins are smaller than large retailers that can negotiate deals with FMCG wholesalers. GrowSari’s supplier marketplace addresses this issue by giving sari-sari stores access the Distributor List Prices seen by large stores and wholesalers. GrowSari’s marketplace does not require a minimum order, and it allows sari-sari stores on the platform to pay with cash on delivery, GrowCoins (or cash credits that can be topped up through GrowSari’s shippers, online transfers, banks or over-the-counter at convenience stores) or E-Lista, GrowSari’s seven-day loan product.

GrowSari’s new capital will be used to expand its userbase to 300,000 new stores in the Philippines, especially in Visayas and Mindanao, increase the size of its supplier marketplace and launch more financial products for sari-sari stores. The startup is part of a new crop of B2B platforms in Asia focused on serving micro to small-enterprises, including BukuWarung and BukuKas in Indonesia and Khatabook in India.

#asia, #b2b, #fmcg, #fundings-exits, #growsari, #msmes, #pavilion-capital, #philippines, #sari-sari, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #tencent

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Crypto finance startup Amber Group raises $100M at $1B valuation

More mainstream venture capital firms are jumping on the crypto bandwagon as investors increasingly consider bitcoin an investable asset, despite the recent massive price drops of a few major cryptocurrencies. Amber Group, a Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency trading startup, said on Monday it has raised $100 million in a Series B funding round at a pre-money valuation of $1 billion.

The latest valuation is ten times that of the company’s Series A closed in 2019, a $28 million round that counted Coinbase Ventures as one of its investors. Also notably, Amber’s Series B financing was bankrolled by a list of high-profile financial and VC firms, including China Renaissance, which led the round, and Tiger Brokers, Tiger Global Management, Arena Holdings, Tru Arrow Partners, Sky9 Capital, DCM Ventures, and Gobi Partners.

Its past investors Pantera Capital, Coinbase Ventures, and Blockchain.com also participated in the round.

In May, Babel Finance, another crypto asset manager based out of Hong Kong, secured $40 million in funding from a number of big-name institutional investors, including Amber’s investor Tiger Global.

Founded by a group of former investment bankers in their twenties, Amber initially set out to apply machine learning algorithms to quantitative trading but pivoted in 2017 to crypto when the team saw spikes in virtual currency’s trading volumes. The startup now serves both institutional and individual investors, offering them algorithmic trading, electronic market-making, high-frequency trading, OTC trading, borrowing and lending, derivatives, among other products.

The firm launched its mobile app in the third quarter of 2020, widening its scope from institutional clients to retail consumers. It said the trading app has so far accumulated over 100,000 registered users.

Amber has been profitable since its inception, according to its co-founder and CEO Michael Wu, with annualized revenues of $500 million based on figures from January to April 2021.

The startup has seen “record months over the past quarter across both client flow and on-exchange market-making volumes,” said Wu, and it now accounts for “2-3% of total trading volumes in major spot and derivative markets.” Its cumulative trading volumes have doubled from $250 billion since the beginning of the year to over $500 billion. Altogether, it manages around $1.5 billion in trading capital that varies based on BTC and ETH prices.

Amber has over 330 employees worldwide across Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, and Vancouver. The proceeds from its Series B will go towards global expansion.

#arena-holdings, #asia, #blockchain-com, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #cryptocurrency, #dcm-ventures, #funding, #gobi-partners, #pantera-capital, #series-b, #tc, #tiger-global-management

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Tiger Global in talks to back BharatPe at $2.5 billion valuation

Indian fintech startup BharatPe is in advanced stages of talks to raise about $250 million in a new financing round led by Tiger Global, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The new round, a Series E, is valuing the three-year-old New Delhi-headquartered firm at a pre-money valuation of $2.5 billion, sources said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. The round hasn’t closed, so terms may change, sources cautioned.

BharatPe, which prior to the new round had raised about $233 million in equity and $35 million in debt, was valued at about $900 million in its Series D round in February this year, and $425 million last year.

Indian news outlet the CapTable first reported about the talks between Tiger Global and BharatPe and said the round would value the startup at over $2 billion. BharatPe declined to comment.

BharatPe operates an eponymous service to help offline merchants accept digital payments and secure working capital. Even as India has already emerged as the second-largest internet market, with more than 600 million users, much of the country remains offline.

Among those outside of the reach of the internet are merchants running small businesses, such as roadside tea stalls and neighborhood stores. To make these merchants comfortable with accepting digital payments, BharatPe relies on QR codes and point of sale machines that support government-backed UPI payments infrastructure.

The startup, which serves more than 6 million merchants, said it had deployed over 50,000 PoS machines by November of last year, and enables monthly transactions worth more than $123 million. It does not charge merchants for universal QR code access, but is looking to make money by lending. Grover said the startup’s lending business grew by 10x in 2020.

On Friday, India’s central bank RBI granted an in-principle licence to Centrum Financial Services to set up a small finance bank. Centrum Financial Services has collaborated with BharatPe for the license, according to local media.

The startup is additionally also working to launch two new B2C apps, one of which will enable credit on QR UPI, another source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The new products will launch as soon as this month, the source said.

#apps, #asia, #bharatpe, #finance, #funding, #india, #tc, #tiger-global

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Hit game PUBG Mobile returns to India with scores of questions

Krafton, which filed for an IPO earlier this week, has built a gigantic gaming empire. If the firm is able to raise the target $5 billion from the IPO it will be the largest public offering in its home country, South Korea. The firm has something to celebrate elsewhere in the world, too.

On Thursday, it pulled off another feat that no other firm has been able to achieve: Its sleeper hit title, PUBG Mobile, has made a return to India, which banned the title more than nine months ago.

The world’s second-largest internet market banned over 200 apps last year citing national security concerns. All the apps New Delhi blocked in the nation had links to China. The move was seen by many as retaliation as tension between the two nuclear-armed neighboring nations escalated last year.

Every other app that has been banned by India — and pulled by Google and Apple from their respective app stores in the country in compliance with local government orders — remains in that state. ByteDance, whose TikTok app identified India as its largest market, has significantly downsized its team in the country. (ByteDance runs several businesses in India and many remain operational. Employees have been instructed to stay off the radar.)

Which is what makes PUBG Mobile’s return to India all the more interesting. The game, which has been rebranded to Battlegrounds Mobile India in the South Asia market, is available to download from the Play Store for any user in the country — provided they sign up for an early access before the imminent launch.

Even as PUBG Mobile is now using a different moniker, the game follows the same plot, and the identical home screen greets users with the familiar ecstatic background score.

Moreover, users are offered a quick and straightforward option to migrate their PUBG Mobile accounts to the new app.

Rishi Alwani, the quintessential gaming reporter in India who edits IGN India, told TechCrunch that the new game is “essentially PUBG Mobile with data compliance, green blood, and a constant reminder that you’re in a ‘virtual world’ with such messaging present as you start a game and when you’re in menus.”

The changes are likely Krafton’s attempt to assuage previous concerns from the local authorities, some of whom had expressed concerns about the game’s affect on youngsters.

Image Credits: TechCrunch / screen capture

But these on-the-surface changes raise a set of bigger questions that have been a topic of discussion among several startup founders and policy executives in India in recent months:

  • Did the government of India approve the new game?
  • If not, why has Google permitted the app on the Play Store?
  • Assuming the Indian government has approved the new game, what steps did Krafton take that adequately addressed the Indian government’s concerns?
  • Why has no other app been able to make a return to India so far?

Neither the Indian government nor Krafton have publicly said anything on this subject. Krafton, on its part, has taken steps to assuage India’s concerns. For instance, last year the South Korean firm cut ties with its publishing partner Tencent, the only visible Chinese affiliation — if the Indian government was indeed banning just Chinese apps. Krafton also publicly announced that it will be investing $100 million in India’s gaming ecosystem.

The Indian government’s order and the communication and compliance mechanism for concerned entities have been so opaque on this subject that it is unclear on what grounds Krafton has been able to bring the game back.

One explanation — albeit admittedly full of speculation — is that it’s a new app in the sense that it has a new app ID. In this instance, it happens to have a new developer account, too. Remember, India banned apps, and not the firms themselves. Several Tencent and Alibaba apps, for instance, remain available in India.

This would also explain how BIGO has been able to launch a new app — Tiki Video — under a new developer account and plenty of effort to conceal its connection. That app, which was launched in late February, has amassed over 16 million monthly active users, according to mobile insight firm App Annie. The app’s existence and affiliation with BIGO have not been previously reported.

But the question remains, are these simple workarounds enough to escape the ban? To be sure, some apps, including Battlegrounds Mobile India, are also hosting their data in the country now, and have agreed for periodic audits. So is that enough? And if it is, why aren’t most — if not all — apps making a return to India?

Regardless, the return of PUBG Mobile India is a welcome move for tens of millions of users in the country, many of whom — about 38 million last month, according to App Annie — were using workarounds themselves to continue to play the game.

#apps, #asia, #bytedance, #gaming, #india, #krafton, #mobile-gaming, #pubg-mobile, #tc, #tiktok

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Co-living startup Habyt closes $24M Series B, merges with Homefully

When WeWork appeared, other entrepreneurs looked at the model and thought that if you could apple co-working to property, then why not apply co-living. Thus, in the US, Common appeared, as did Hmlet in Asia. Imn the EU, Habyt launched, but has already gobbled-up its competitors Quarters, Goliving, and Erasmo’s Room.

It’s now closed a series B round of €20M / $24M, and merged with another competitor, Homefully, founded by Sebastian Wuerz in 2016. The round was backed by HV Capital (formerly Holtzbrink Ventures), Vorwerk Ventures, P101 and Picus Capital.

Founded in 2017 by Luca Bovone, Habyt will now have over 5,000 units across 15 cities and 6 countries. The merged companies will offer fully furnished and serviced living units, coupled with a tech-enabled user-experience and a focus on community, aimed at young professionals between 20 and 35 years old who move jobs and cities fairly frequently.

Luca Bovone, Founder and CEO of Habyt, said: “We have been on an incredible journey in the past year and a half. In spite of less than perfect market conditions we have been able to grow a lot via a very successful M&A strategy that brought us into the position of leaders of our sector in Europe and that still has a lot of potential. This 20M series B round really opens our doors to keep building Habyt both via organic growth and via more M&As. We are now looking at strategic targets in Europe, specifically in France and Italy, and also in other continents, especially in Asia.”

Sebastian Wuerz, Founder of homefully, said: “The coliving market is going through a consolidation phase and Habyt has really seized this opportunity quickly and effectively and is on the best track to become the leader of the sector at a global scale. Joining forces is a crucial step in this direction and I am very excited for the team to be part of this journey.”

Felix Kluehr, Partner at HV said: “We are happy to see that Habyt has emerged as the leading player in the European co-living market and HV is excited to support the team in their ambitious plan to build the leading European coliving company”.

Over an interview, Bovone told me: “It’s like a member’s club. We have a subscription model, where people pay a monthly fee, which is your rent, and then you can, of course, apply for a room somewhere else and know that we have a fairly decent scale across Europe and eventually, also in southern Europe. You are able to move from one place to the other. Our motto is live anywhere.”

He said that the pandemic had meant that people were ditching co-working spaces and “They would prefer to spend 50 to 100 euro more per month on getting better housing where they can work comfortably from home.”

“We are already seeing within our customer base, they want to stay six months in Berlin, three months in Madrid, then move back to Berlin and so on. The traditional housing market just doesn’t allow that to happen. You have contracts with utilities and so on, which you can never break and it’s just an outdated product offering, and we’re trying to tackle that.”

#asia, #berlin, #ceo, #co-living, #economy, #europe, #european-union, #france, #housing, #hv-capital, #italy, #madrid, #partner, #picus-capital, #sharing-economy, #tc, #united-states, #vorwerk-ventures, #wework

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Apna raises $70 million to help workers in India secure jobs

Indian cities are home to hundreds of millions of low-skilled workers who hail from villages in search of work. Many of them have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic that has slowed several economic activities in the world’s second-largest internet market.

Apna, a startup by an Apple alum, is helping millions of such blue and gray-collar workers upskill themselves, find communities and land jobs. On Wednesday it announced its acceptance by the market has helped it raise $70 million in a new financing round as the startup prepares to scale the 16-month-old app across India.

Insight Partners and Tiger Global co-led Apna’s $70 million Series B round, which valued the startup at $570 million. Existing investors Lightspeed India, Sequoia Capital India, Greenoaks Capital and Rocketship VC also participated in the round, which brings Apna’s to-date raise to over $90 million.

The startup, whose name is inspired from a 2019 Bollywood song, at its core is solving the network gap issue for workers. “Someone born in a privileged family goes to the best school, best college and makes acquaintance with influential people. Many born just a few kilometres away are dealt with a whole different kind of life and never see such opportunities,” said Nirmit Parikh, founder and chief executive of Apna, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Apna is building a scalable networking infrastructure, something that doesn’t currently exist in the market, so that these workers can connect to the right employers and secure jobs. “Apna’s focus on digitizing the process of job discovery, application and employer candidate interaction has the potential to revolutionize the hiring process,” said Griffin Schroeder, a partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.

The workers in India “already have a champion them, we are just helping them find opportunities,” said Nirmit Parikh, founder and chief executive of Apna. (Apna)

The startup’s eponymous Android app, available in multiple languages, features more than 70 communities today for skilled professionals such as carpenters, painters, field sales agents and many others.

On the app, users connect to each other and help with leads and share tips to improve at their jobs. The app also offers people the opportunity to upskill themselves, practice with their interview performance, and become eligible for even more jobs. The startup said it’s building Masterclass-like skilling modules, outcome or job based skilling, and also enabling peer-to-peer learning via its vertical communities. It plans to launch career counselling and resume building feature.

And that bet is working. The startup has amassed over 10 million users and just last month it facilitated more than 15 million job interviews, said Parikh. All jobs listed on the Apna platform are verified by the startup and free of cost for the candidates.

Apna has partnered with some of India’s leading public and private organizations and is providing support to the Ministry of Minority Affairs of India, National Skill Development Corporation and UNICEF YuWaah to provide better skilling and job opportunities to candidates.

Apna app (Apna)

More than 100,000 recruiters — including Byju’s, Unacademy, Flipkart, Zomato, Licious, Burger King, Dunzo, Bharti-AXA, Delhivery, Teamlease, G4S Global and Shadowfax — in the country today use Apna’s platform, where they have to spend less than five minutes to post job posts and are connect to hyperlocal candidates with relevant skills in within two days.

Apna has built the “market leading platform for India’s workforce to establish digital professional identity, network, access skills training, and find high quality jobs,” said Nikhil Sachdev, managing director, Insight Partners, in a statement.

“Employers are engaging with Apna at a rapid pace to help find high quality talent with low friction which is leading to best in class customer satisfaction scores. We believe that our investment will enable Apna to continue their steep growth trajectory, scale up their operations, and improve access to opportunities for India’s workforce.”

The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to scale across India and eventually take the app to international markets, said Parikh. Apna, which has recently seen high-profile individuals from firms such as Uber, BCG  and Swiggy join the firm, is also actively hiring for several tech roles in the South Asian market.

“Our first goal is to restart India’s economy in the next couple of months and do whatever we can to help,” said Parikh, who was part of the iPhone product-operations team at Apple.

#apna, #apps, #asia, #funding, #india, #insight-partners, #recent-funding, #startups, #talent, #tiger-global

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FamPay, a fintech aimed at teens in India, raises $38 million

How big is the market in India for a neobank aimed at teenagers? Scores of high-profile investors are backing a startup to find out.

Bangalore-based FamPay said on Wednesday it has raised $38 million in its Series A round led by Elevation Capital. General Catalyst, Rocketship VC, Greenoaks Capital and existing investors Sequoia Capital India, Y Combinator, Global Founders Capital and Venture Highway also participated in the new round, which brings FamPay’s to-date raise to $42.7 million.

TechCrunch reported early this month that FamPay was in talks with Elevation Capital to raise a new round.

Founded by Sambhav Jain and Kush Taneja (pictured above) — both of whom graduated from Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee in 2019 — FamPay enables teenagers to make online and offline payments.

The thesis behind the startup, said Jain in an interview with TechCrunch, is to provide financial literacy to teenagers, who additionally have limited options to open a bank account in India at a young age. Through gamification, the startup said it’s making lessons about money fun for youngsters.

Unlike in the U.S., where it’s common for teenagers to get jobs at restaurants and other places and understand how to handle money at a young age, a similar tradition doesn’t exist in India.

After gathering the consent from parents, FamPay provides teenagers with an app to make online purchases, as well as plastic cards — the only numberless card of its kind in the country — for offline transactions. Parents credit money to their children’s FamPay accounts and get to keep track of high-ticket spendings.

In other markets, including the U.S., a number of startups including Greenlight, Step and Till Financial are chasing to serve the teenagers, but in India, there currently is no startup looking to solve the financial access problem for teenagers, said Mridul Arora, a partner at Elevation Capital, in an interview with TechCrunch.

It could prove to be a good issue to solve — India has the largest adolescent population in the world.

“If you’re able to serve them at a young age, over a course of time, you stand to become their go-to product for a lot of things,” Arora said. “FamPay is serving a population that is very attractive and at the same time underserved.”

The current offerings of FamPay are just the beginning, said Jain. Eventually the startup wishes to provide a range of services and serve as a neobank for youngsters to retain them with the platform forever, he said, though he didn’t wish to share currently what those services might be.

Image Credits: FamPay

Teens represent the “most tech-savvy generation, as they haven’t seen a world without the internet,” he said. “They adapt to technology faster than any other target audience and their first exposure with the internet comes from the likes of Instagram and Netflix. This leads to higher expectations from the products that they prefer to use. We are unique in approaching banking from a whole new lens with our recipe of community and gamification to match the Gen Z vibe.”

“I don’t look at FamPay just as a payments service. If the team is able to execute this, FamPay can become a very powerful gateway product to teenagers in India and their financial life. It can become a neobank, and it also has the opportunity to do something around social, community and commerce,” said Arora.

During their college life, Jain and Taneja collaborated and built an app and worked at a number of startups, including social network ShareChat, logistics firm Rivigo and video streaming service Hotstar. Jain said their work with startups in the early days paved the idea to explore a future in this ecosystem.

Prior to arriving at FamPay, Jain said the duo had thought about several more ideas for a startup. The early days of FamPay were uniquely challenging to the founders, who had to convince their parents about their decision to do a startup rather than joining firms or startups as had most of their peers from college. Until being selected by Y Combinator, Jain said he didn’t even fully understand a cap table and dilutions.

He credited entrepreneurs such as Kunal Shah (founder of CRED) and Amrish Rau (CEO of Pine Labs) for being generous with their time and guidance. They also wrote some of the earliest checks to the startup.

The startup, which has amassed over 2 million registered users, plans to deploy the fresh capital to expand its user base and product offerings, and hire engineers. It is also looking for people to join its leadership team, said Jain.

#apps, #asia, #elevation-capital, #fampay, #finance, #funding, #general-catalyst, #global-founders-capital, #greenoaks-capital, #neobanks, #recent-funding, #rocketship-vc, #sequoia-capital-india, #startups, #tc, #venture-highway, #y-combinator

0

Chinese startup Pony.ai plans to launch a driverless robotaxi service in California in 2022

Pony.ai, the robotaxi startup that operates in China and the United States, has started testing driverless vehicles on public roads in California ahead of plans to launch a commercial service there in 2022.

The company said the driverless vehicle testing, which means the autonomous vehicles operate without human safety drivers behind the wheel, is happening daily on public roads in Fremont and Milpitas, California. Pony.ai is also testing its driverless vehicles in Guangzhou, China.

Pony.ai said it also plans to resume a rideshare service to the public in Irvine this summer using AVs with a human safety driver. Its goal is to roll out the fully driverless service to the public in 2022.

“Going completely driverless is key to achieving full autonomy and an indispensable catalyst to realizing our ambitious vision,” said James Peng, CEO and co-founder of Pony.ai.

Pony.ai still has some regulatory hurdles to clear before it can operate commercially. Autonomous vehicle companies that want to charge the public for driverless rides need both the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Public Utilities Commission to issue deployment permits. In early June, Cruise became the first company to receive a driverless autonomous service permit from the California PUC that allows it to test transporting passengers. The final step with the DMV, which only Nuro has achieved, is a deployment permit.

Pony’s driverless testing milestone in California comes a month after the state issued the company a permit to test a fleet of six driverless vehicles in a geographic area that spans about 39 square miles. While dozens of companies — 55 in all — have active permits to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver, it is less common to receive permission for driverless vehicles. Pony was the eighth company to be issued a driverless testing permit in the state, a list that includes Chinese companies AutoX, Baidu and WeRide as well as U.S. businesses Cruise, Nuro, Waymo and Zoox. Only Nuro has been granted a so-called deployment permit, which allows it to operate commercially.

Pony.ai, which was founded in 2016 by former Baidu developers Peng and Lou Tiancheng, has been allowed to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers since 2017.  The driverless permit issued in May by the California DMV expanded upon Pony’s existing activity in the state.

Pony has tested ridesharing in Fremont and Irvine, California. In 2019, a fleet of electric, autonomous Hyundai Kona crossovers equipped with a self-driving system from Pony.ai and Via’s ride-hailing platform began shuttling customers on public roads. The robotaxi service, called BotRide, wasn’t a driverless service, as there was a human safety driver behind the wheel at all times. The BotRide pilot concluded in January 2020.

The company then started operating a public robotaxi service called PonyPilot in the Irvine area. Pony shifted that robotaxi service from shuttling people to packages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pony.ai also partnered with e-commerce platform Yamibuy to provide autonomous last-mile delivery service to customers in Irvine. The delivery service was launched to provide additional capacity to address the surge of online orders triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pony.ai said at the time.

As the pandemic eases and California returns to normal operations, Pony is preparing to launch a commercial robotaxi service. It has already amassed a number of partners and more than $1 billion in funding, including $400 million from Toyota, to help it achieve that goal. Last November, the company said its valuation had reached $5.3 billion following a fresh injection of $267 million in funding. Pony has several partnerships or collaborations with automakers and suppliers, including Bosch, Hyundai and Toyota.

#asia, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #china, #cruise, #electric-vehicles, #nuro, #pony-ai, #robotaxi, #tc, #transportation

0

Kai-Fu Lee’s Sinovation bets on Linux tablet maker Jingling in $10M round

Kai-Fu Lee’s Sinovation Ventures has its eyes on a niche market targeting software developers. In April, the venture capital fund led a $10 million angel round in Jingling, a Chinese startup developing Linux-based tablets and laptops, TechCrunch learned. Other investors in the round included private equity firm Trustbridge Partners.

Jingling was founded only in June 2020 but has quickly assembled a team of 80 employees hailing from the likes of Aliyun OS, Alibaba’s Linux distribution, Thunder Software, a Chinese operating system solution provider, and active participants in China’s open source community.

The majority of the startup’s staff are working on its Linux-based operating system called JingOS in Beijing, with the rest developing hardware in Shenzhen, where its supply chain is located.

“Operating systems are a highly worthwhile field for investment,” Peter Fang, a partner at Sinovation Ventures, told TechCrunch. “We’ve seen the best product iteration for work and entertainment through the combination of iPad Pro and Magical Keyboard, but no tablet maker has delivered a superior user experience for the Android system so far, so we decided to back JingOS.”

“The investment is also in line with Sinovation’s recognition and prediction in ARM powering more mobile and desktop devices in the future,” the investor added.

Jingling’s first device, the JingPad A1 tablet based on the ARM architecture, has already shipped over 500 units in a pre-sale and is ramping up interest through a crowdfunding campaign. Jingling currently uses processors from Tsinghua Unigroup but is looking into Qualcomm and MediaTek chipsets for future production, according to Liu.

On the software end, JingOS, which is open sourced on GitHub, has accumulated over 50,000 installs from users around the world, most of whom are in the United States and Europe.

But how many people want a Linux tablet or laptop? Liu Chengcheng, who launched Jingling with Zhu Rui, said the demand is big enough from the developer community to sustain the startup’s early-phase growth. Liu is known for founding China’s leading startup news site 36Kr and Zhu is an operating system expert and a veteran of Motorola and Lenovo.

Targeting the Linux community is step one for Jingling, for “it’s difficult to gain a foothold by starting out in the [general] consumer market,” said Liu.

“The Linux market is too small for tech giants but too hard for small startups to tackle… Aside from Jingling, Huawei is the only other company in China building a mobile operating system, but HarmonyOS focuses more on IoTs.”

Linux laptops have been around for years, but Jingling wanted to offer something different by offering both desktop and mobile experiences on one device. That’s why Jingling made JingOS compatible with both Linux desktop software like WPS Office and Terminal as well as the usual Android apps on smartphones. The JingPad A1 tablet comes with a detachable keyboard that immediately turns itself into a laptop, a setup similar to Apple’s Magic Keyboard for iPad.

“It’s a gift to programmers, who can use it to code in the Linux system but also use Android mobile apps on the run,” said Liu.

Jingling aspires to widen its user base and seize the Chromebook market about two from now, Liu said. The success of Chromebooks, which comprised 10.8% of the PC market in 2020 and increasingly ate into Microsoft’s dominance, is indicative of the slowing demand for Windows personal computers, the founder observed.

The JingPad A1 is sold at a starting price of $549, compared to Chrome’s wide price range roughly between $200 and $550 depending on the specs and hardware providers.

#android, #asia, #beijing, #china, #funding, #gadgets, #hardware, #ipad, #kai-fu-lee, #linus-torvalds, #linux, #mediatek, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #shenzhen, #software-developers, #tc, #trustbridge-partners

0

Golden Gate Ventures forecasts a record number of exits in Southeast Asia

Despite the pandemic’s economic impact, Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem has proven to be very resilient. In fact, a new report from investment firm Golden Gate Ventures predicts a record number of exits will happen in the region over the next couple of years, thanks to factors like a maturing ecosystem, more secondary buyers and the emergence of SPACs.

The firm’s comprehensive “Southeast Asia Exit Landscape Report 2.0,” is a followup to a previous report published in 2019.

Here are some highlights from the latest report, along with additional insight from Golden Gate Ventures partner Michael Lints, its lead author. For both reports, Golden Gate Ventures partnered with business school INSEAD to survey general and limited partners in the region. It also draws on Golden Gate Ventures’ proprietary database, which dates back to 2012 and tracks information like the time between funding rounds and fundraising success rates, as well as public databases, reports and expert commentary from the New York Stock Exchange.

The overall exit landscape

Despite the pandemic’s economic impact, tech proved to be resilient globally (for example, there were a number of initial public offers in the United States at record prices). While Southeast Asia’s tech ecosystem is relatively younger, Lints told TechCrunch its resiliency was driven by companies founded years ago that suddenly saw an increase in demand for their services because of the pandemic.

“We’ve built infrastructure over the past eight to nine years, when it comes to e-commerce, logistics, some on the healthcare side as well, and when the pandemic happened, people were suddenly stuck at home,” Lints said. He added “If you look at the pickup for most of the e-commerce companies, they at least doubled their revenue. For last-mile logistics companies, they’ve increased their revenue. There was a lot of pickup on the digital healthcare side as well.”

While tech fared well compare to many other industries, one downside was that the COVID-19 pandemic caused overall global venture capital investment to decline. Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem was not immune, and had less exits, but it still did relatively well, with $8.2 billion invested in 2020, according to a report by Cento Ventures and Tech In Asia.

It’s important to note that more than half of that funding was raised in very large rounds by unicorns like Grab, Go-jek and Traveloka, but Cento Ventures found there was also an increase in investments between $50 million to $100 million for other startups. These are usually Series B and C rounds, which Golden Gate Ventures says creates a strong pipeline for potential exits over the next three to four years.

“If you go back even just two years, the amount of B rounds that are happening now, I’ve never seen that number before. It’s a definite increase,” said Lints.

Investments are also continuing to flow into Southeast Asia. According to the report, there was $6 billion of funding in just the first quarter of 2021 (based on data from DealStreet Asia, PWC and Genesis Ventures), making it the strongest start to a year in the region’s history.

This bodes well for the possibility of mergers and acquisitions in 2021. The report found that there were less exits in 2019 and 2020 than in 2018, but not just because of the pandemic—many startups wanted to remain venture-backed for longer. Golden Gate Ventures expects M&A activity will pick up again. In 2021, it forecasts acquisition deals worth more than $30 million, large mergers and an increase in SPACs.

What’s in the pipeline

Golden Gate Ventures predicts that a total of 468 startup exits will happen between 2020 and 2022, compared to the 412 forecast in the previous edition of its report. This is due to more late-stage private equity investors, including secondary buyers, SPACs and a welcoming public market.

Lints said secondary buyers will include a mix of family offices, conglomerates and venture funds that want a higher allocation in a company or to pre-empt a forthcoming round.

“What I think is interesting is some of the later-stage funds, so private equity funds, and not only ones that are in Southeast Asia, but even foreign ones, are now looking to get a position in companies that they assume will be able to raise a Series D or Series E over the next few years. That’s something I haven’t seen before, it’s relatively new in the market,” he added.

Golden Gate Ventures expects M&A activity to continue being the main way Southeast Asian startups exit, potentially accounting for up to 80% of deals, followed by secondary sales (15%) and IPOs (5%).

In fact, there was a record number of M&A deals in 2020, despite the pandemic. Golden Gate Ventures estimates that 45 deals happened, especially in e-commerce, fintech, media, adtech and social networking, as larger companies acquired startups to grow their tech stacks.

More companies going public will create a cascading effect through Southeast Asia’s ecosystem. The report forecasts that companies like Gojek and Trax, who have already made several high-profile acquisitions, will continue buying startups if they list publicly and have more liquidity.

Series B and C deals

While there will be more exits, there are also more opportunities for companies to raise larger later-stage rounds to stay private, if they want to—a sign of Southeast Asia’s maturing ecosystem, said Lints.

As the pandemic unfolded in 2020, the number of pre-seed and seed deals fell. On the other hand, the report found that it became quicker for startups to raise Series B or C rounds, or less than 21 months on average.

“If you look at typical exits between 2015 to 2017, you could argue that some of those exits might have been too early because the company was still in a growth trajectory, but there was hardly any follow-on funding for them to expand to a new country, for instance, or build out a new product,” said Lints. “So their only revenue to raise money was to be acquired by a larger company so they could keep building the product.”

“I think now you’re able to raise that Series C round, which allows you to expand the company and stay private, as opposed to having to drive towards an exit,” he added. “I think that shows the maturity of the ecosystem now and, again, it’s a huge advantage because founders have these amazing things they want to build, and now actually have the capital to do so and to really try to compete, and that has definitely been a big change.”

Another good thing is that the increase in later-stage funding does not appear to be creating a pre-seed and seed funding gap. This is partly because early employees from mature companies that have raised massive rounds often branch out and become founders themselves. As they launch startups, they have the benefit of being familiar with how fundraising works and a network. For example, a significant number of alumni from Grab, Gojek and Lazada have gone on to found companies.

“They seem to be raising a lot faster, and I think the second thing that’s happening across the board is we’re seeing more scouts putting really early checks into companies,” said Lints. “My assumption is if you look at the Series A pipeline, which is still pretty long, that has to come from a large number of pre-seed and seed deals.”

Funds want to cash out

Another factor that may drive an increase in exits—especially M&A deals—are funds that have reached the point where they want to cash out. Golden Gate Ventures’ 2019 report forecast that the first batch of institutional venture funds launched in 2010 to 2012 will start reaching the end of their lifecycle in 2020. This means the general partners of these funds are exploring exit opportunities for their portfolios, leading to an increase in secondary and M&A deals.

This in turn will increase the number of secondary markets, which have typically been low in Southeast Asia. The original investors won’t necessarily push for portfolio companies to sell themselves, but instead look at secondary buyers who might be keen on mergers and M&A deals.

“The thing we’ve seen over the last 18 months is there’s been a larger pickup in the secondary markets, where later-stage investors, in some cases family-owned businesses or family offices, are looking to get access to deals that were started eight, nine or 10 years ago. You’ll see the cap tables of these companies change, and that does mean the founders will have different shareholders,” said Lints.

“These are typically for companies that are performing well, where you can foresee that they will be able to fundraise within the next 12 months. For the ones that are in a more difficult position, I think it’s going to be tricky,” he added. “When you have a portfolio of companies as a fund, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can sell all 20 of them, so I think for some founders, the impact will be that they will need to make a decision to continue the business and buy back the shares their investors are holding, or are they going to liquidate the business or look for a trade sale.”

SPAC opportunities

The biggest SPAC news in Southeast Asia was Grab’s announcement it will go public in the United States following a $40 billion SPAC deal. Lints expects more Southeast Asian companies to take the SPAC route when going public. Not only does the process give them more flexibility, but for startups that want to list in the U.S., working with a SPAC can help them.

“My guess is with New York allowing direct listings, I think more and more people will shy away from the traditional IPO route and look at what is the fastest and most flexible way to list on a stock exchange. For Southeast Asia, listing has never been easy, so I think SPACs will definitely open the floodgates,” said Lints.

Barriers not only include regulatory filings, pre-IPO roadshows and high costs, but also “concern whether the international retail investor or public markets actually understand these companies in Southeast Asia,” he added. “If you have a very strong sponsor team that is running the SPAC, they can be super helpful in positioning the company, doing the marketing and getting interest from the market as well.”

Both the Singapore Exchange and Indonesian Stock Exchange are preparing to allow SPACs in an effort to attract more tech listings.

Lints said this will allow companies to consider a dual listing in Southeast Asia and the U.S. for larger returns. “A dual listing would be an amazing option and I think through the avenue of SPACs, that makes a lot of sense.”

#asia, #exits, #fundings-exits, #golden-gate-ventures, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Automotive marketplace Carro hits unicorn status with $360M Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2

Carro, one of the largest automotive marketplaces in Southeast Asia, announced it has hit unicorn valuation after raising a $360 million Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Other participants include insurance giant MSIG and Indonesian-based funds like EV Growth, Provident Growth and Indies Capital. About 90% of vehicles sold through Carro are secondhand, and it offers services that cover the entire lifecycle of a car, from maintenance to when it is broken down and recycled for parts.

Founded in 2015, Carro started as an online marketplace for cars, before expanding into more verticals. Co-founder and chief executive officer Aaron Tan told TechCrunch that, roughly speaking, the company’s operations are divided into three sections: wholesale, retail and fintech. Its wholesale business works with car dealers who want to purchase inventory, while its retail side sells to consumers. Its fintech operation offers products for both, including B2C car loans, auto insurance and B2B working capital loans.

Carro’s last funding announcement was in August 2019, when it said it had extended its Series B to $90 million. The company’s latest funding will be used to fund acquisitions, expand its financial services portfolio and develop its AI capabilities, which Carro uses to showcase cars online, develop pricing models and determine how much to charge insurance policyholders.

It also plans to expand retail services in its main markets: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Carro currently employs about 1,000 people across the four countries and claims its revenue grew more than 2.5x during the financial year ending March 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped Carro’s business because people wanted their own vehicles to avoid public transportation and became more receptive to shopping for cars online. Those factors also helped competitors like OLX Autos and Carsome fare well during the pandemic.

The adoption of electric vehicles across Southeast Asia has resulted in a new tailwind for Carro, because people who buy an EV usually want to sell off their combustion engine vehicles. Carro is currently talking to some of the largest electric vehicle countries in the world that want to launch in Southeast Asia.

“For every car someone typically buys in Southeast Asia, there’s always a trade-in. Where do cars go, right? We are a marketplace, but on a very high level, what we’re doing is reusing and recycling. That’s a big part in the environmental sustainability of the business, and something that sets us apart of other players in the region,” Tan said.

Cars typically stay in Carro’s inventory for less than 60 days. Its platform uses computer vision and sound technology to replicate the experience of inspecting a vehicle in-person. When someone clicks on a Carro listing, an AI bot automatically engages with them, providing more details about the cost of the car and answering questions. They also see a 360-degree view of the vehicle, its interior and can virtually start the engine to see how it sounds. Listings also provide information about defects and inspection reports.

Since many customers still want to get an in-person look before finalizing a purchase, Carro recently launched a beta product called Showroom Anywhere. Currently available in Singapore, it allows people to unlock Carro cars parked throughout the city, using QR codes, so they can inspect it at any time of the day, without a salesperson around. The company plans to add test driving to Showroom Anywhere.

“As a tech company, our job is to make sure we automate everything we can,” said Tan. “That’s the goal of the company and you can only assume that our cost structure and our revenue structure will get better along the years. We expect greater margin improvement and a lot more in cost reduction.”

Pricing is fixed, so shoppers don’t have to engage in haggling. Carro determines prices by using machine-learning models that look at details about a vehicle, including its make, model and mileage, and data from Carro’s transactions as well as market information (for example, how much of a particular vehicle is currently available for sale). Carro’s prices are typically in the middle of the market’s range.

Cars come with a three or seven-day moneyback guarantee and 30-day warranty. Once a customer decides to buy a car, they can opt to apply for loans and insurance through Carro’s fintech platform. Tan said Carro’s loan book is about five years old, almost as old as the startup itself, and is currently about $200 million.

Carro’s insurance is priced based on the policyholders driving behavior as tracked by sensors placed in their cars. This allows Carro to build a profile of how someone drives and the likelihood that they have an accident or other incident. For example, someone will get better pricing if they typically stick to speed limits.

“It sounds a bit futuristic,” said Tan. “But it’s something that’s been done in the United States for many years, like GEICO and a whole bunch of other insurers,” including Root Insurance, which recently went public.

Tan said MSIG’s investment in Carro is a “statement that we are really trying to triple down in insurance, because an insurer has so much linkage with what we do. The reason that MSIG is a good partner is that, like ourselves, they believe a lot in data and the difference in what we call ‘new age’ insurance, or data-driven insurance.”

Carro is also expanding its after-sale services, including Carro Care, in all four of its markets. Its after-sale services reach to the very end of a vehicle’s lifecycle and its customers include workshops around the world. For example, if a Toyota Corolla breaks down in Singapore, but its engine is still usable, it might be extracted and shipped to a repair shop in Nairobi, and the rest of its parts recycled.

“One thing I always ask in management meetings, is tell me where do cars go to die in Indonesia? Where do cars go to die in Thailand? There has to be a way, so if there is no way, we’re going to find a way,” said Tan.

In a statement, SoftBank Investment Advisers managing partner Greg Moon said, “Powered by AI, Carro’s technology platform provides consumers with full-stack services and transparency throughout the car ownership process. We are delighted to partner with Aaron and the Carro team to support their ambition to expand into new markets and use AI-powered technology to make the car buying process smarter, simpler and safer.”

#asia, #automative-marketplace, #car-marketplace, #carro, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #malaysia, #recent-funding, #singapore, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #thailand, #used-cars

0

UBS investment makes Byju’s the most valuable startup in India

Edtech giant Byju’s has become the most valuable startup in India after raising about $350 million in a new tranche of investment from UBS Group and Zoom founder Eric Yuan, Blackstone and others that valued the Bangalore-based firm at $16.5 billion (post-money).

In a new filing, Byju’s revealed that scores of investors including Abu Dhabi government fund ADQ and Phoenix Rising had together invested about $350 million in the startup. The new valuation helps Byju’s surpass Paytm, which was last valued at $16 billion, for the crown position in the Indian startup ecosystem. (Paytm is currently working on exploring the public markets and eyeing to raise as much as $3 billion and eyeing a valuation of up to $30 billion.)

The new tranche of investment is part of a larger round that Byju’s kickstarted earlier this year and is looking to secure over $1.5 billion. Some of its recent investors also include B Capital Group and hedge fund XN. The startup was valued at $11 billion late last year, and $5.75 billion in July 2019.

The startup plans to use the fresh capital, in part, to acquire more startups. Byju’s, which acquired Indian physical coaching institute Aakash for nearly $1 billion earlier this year, is conducting due diligence to buy and online learning startup Toppr and has also engaged with U.S.-based Epic, TechCrunch reported earlier this year.

Byju’s prepares students pursuing undergraduate and graduate-level courses, and in recent years it has also expanded its catalog to serve all school-going students. Tutors on the Byju’s app tackle complex subjects using real-life objects such as pizza and cake.

The pandemic, which prompted New Delhi to enforce a months-long nationwide lockdown and close schools, accelerated its growth, and those of several other online learning startups including Unacademy and Vedantu.

As of early this year, Byju’s said it had amassed over 80 million users, 5.5 million of whom are paying subscribers. Byju’s, which is profitable, generated revenue of over $100 million in the U.S. last year, Deborah Quazzo, managing partner of GSV Ventures (which has backed the Indian startup), said at a session in March held by Indian venture fund Blume Ventures.

The startup executives said at a UBS event earlier this year that Byju’s current revenue run rate is $800 million, a figure they expect will reach $1 billion in the next 12-15 months. It has also accelerated its international expansion plans in recent months.

#asia, #byjus, #education, #funding, #india, #paytm

0

Temasek and General Atlantic in talks to back Indian neobank Open

Bangalore-based neobank Open is in advanced stages of talks to raise about $100 million, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, and General Atlantic are positioning to co-lead the Series C financing round, which values the Indian startup at pre-money $600 million, the sources told TechCrunch, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. Open was valued at about $150 million in its Series B funding round two years ago.

Existing investor Tiger Global, PayPal, which shuttered its domestic operations in the world’s second largest internet market early this year, as well as Google and Amazon are in talks to participate in the new round, the sources said.

Indian news outlet Economic Times first reported about the size of the imminent round and identified Google and Amazon as probable investors earlier this week. The round hasn’t closed yet so terms may change and not all investors may end up backing Open. The startup’s founder and chief executive Anish Achuthan declined to comment.

Open operates as a neobank that offers nearly all the features of a bank with additional tools to serve the needs of businesses. The startup offers its clients services such as automated account, payment gateway, credit cards, automated bookkeeping, cash flow management, and tax and compliance management solutions.

Realizing the opportunity that they can’t tap the entire market, several banks in India have in recent years started to collaborate with fintech startups to expand their reach in the South Asian nation.

“Banks are doing their best to defend their turf by focusing on several fronts – eco system building (led by HDFC Bank), open approach to fintech partnerships (led by ICICI Bank), overall digital experience as an acquisition tool (led by Kotak and Axis) etc. But [they] continue to play catchup as they lack the focus/ expertise in each channel (Banking super apps and APIs are fast becoming hygiene). Fintech revenues are already ~10% of private banks’ fee income, but could grow >3x in the next 3 years,” wrote analysts at Bank of America in a report late last year.

“Banks no doubt want to own the pipe and relationships, but are unlikely to succeed except in very specific segments,” they added.

In recent months, however, some banks have begun to reevaluate their engagement strategy with neobanks, Indian news and analysis publication the CapTable reported last month.

#asia, #funding, #general-atlantic, #india, #open, #paypal, #temasek, #tiger-global

0

Tiger Global in talks to invest in Classplus at over $250 million valuation

Tiger Global is in talks to lead a $30 million round in Indian edtech startup Classplus, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The new round, which includes both primary investment and secondary transactions, values the five-year-old Indian startup at over $250 million, two sources told TechCrunch.

The new round follows another ~$30 million investment that was led by GSV recently, one of the sources said. The round hasn’t closed, so terms may change.

Classplus — which has built a Shopify-like platform for coaching centers to accept fees digitally from students, and deliver classes and study material online — also raised $10.3 million in September last year from Falcon Edge’s AWI, cricketer Sourav Ganguly and existing investors RTP Global and Blume Ventures. That round had valued Classplus at about $73 million, according to research firm Tracxn.

Classplus didn’t respond to a request for comment. Sources requested anonymity as the matter is private.

As tens of millions of students — and their parents — embrace digital learning apps, Classplus is betting that hundreds of thousands of teachers and coaching centers that have gained reputation in their neighborhoods are here to stay.

The startup is serving these hyperlocal tutoring centers that are present in nearly every nook and cranny in India. “Anyone who was born in a middle-class family here has likely attended these tution classes,” Mukul Rustagi, co-founder and chief executive of Classplus, told TechCrunch last year. “These are typically small and medium setups that are run by teachers themselves. These teachers and coaching centers are very popular in their locality. They rarely do any marketing and students learn about them through word-of-mouth buzz,” he said then.

Rustagi had described Classplus as “Shopify for coaching centers.” Like Shopify, the service does not serve as a marketplace that offers discoverability to these teachers or coaching centers. Instead, it offers a way for these teachers to leverage its tech platform to engage with customers.

This year, Tiger Global has backed — or in talks to back — about two dozen startups in India.

#apps, #asia, #classplus, #education, #funding, #india, #tiger-global

0

SoftBank, Uber, Tencent set to reap rewards from Didi IPO

After years of speculation, Didi Chuxing, China’s ride-sharing behemoth, finally unveiled its IPO filing in the U.S., giving a glimpse into its money-losing history.

Didi didn’t disclose the size of its raise. Reuters reported the company could raise around $10 billion at a valuation of close to $100 billion.

Cheng Wei, Didi’s 38-year-old founder owns 7% of the company’s shares and controls 15.4% of its voting power before the IPO, according to the prospectus. Major shareholder SoftBank Vision Fund owns 21.5% of the company, followed by Uber with 12.8% and Tencent at 6.8%.

The nine-year-old company, which famously acquired Uber’s China operations in 2016, is more than a ride-hailing platform now. It has a growing line of businesses like bike-sharing, grocery, intra-city freight, financial services for drivers, electric vehicles and Level 4 robotaxis, which it defines as “the pinnacle of our design for future mobility” for its potential to lower costs and improve safety.

Didi set up an autonomous driving subsidiary that banked $500 million from SoftBank in May last year. The unit now operates a team of over 500 members and a fleet of over 100 autonomous vehicles.

For the twelve months ended March, Didi served 493 million annual active users and saw 41 million transactions on a daily basis.

Didi had been operating in the red from 2018 to 2020, when it finished the year with a $1.6 billion net loss, but managed to turn the tide in the first quarter of 2021 by racking up a net profit of $837 million, which it recognized was primarily due to the investment income from the deconsolidation of Chengxin, its cash-burning grocery group buying initiative, and an equity investment disposal.

Revenue from the quarter also more than doubled year-over-year to $6.6 billion. China accounts for over 90% of Didi’s revenues as of late. The company has tried to expand its presence in a dozen overseas countries like Brazil, where it bought local ride-hailing business 99 Taxis.

Of its mobility revenues in China, more than 97% came from ride-hailing between 2018 and 2020. Taxi hailing, chauffeur and carpooling, a lucrative business that was revamped following two deadly accidents, made up a trifling share.

Didi plans to spend 30% of its IPO proceeds on shared mobility, electric vehicles, autonomous driving and other technologies. 30% will go towards its international expansion and another 20% will be used for new product development.

#asia, #automation, #carsharing, #china, #didi, #didi-chuxing, #funding, #robotaxi, #robotics, #softbank, #softbank-group, #transport, #transportation, #uber

0

Corporate services “super app” Osome lands $16M Series A

Osome, a startup that combines multiple corporate services for SMEs into one “super app,” has raised a $16 million Series A. The round included returning investors Target Global, AltaIR Capital and Phystech Ventures, and new backers S16VC and venture capitalist Peng T. Ong, who joined as an angel investor.

The Singapore-based startup’s last funding round was $3 million announced in November. Its Series A brings Osome’s total funding since it was founded in 2017 to $24.5 million. It now claims to be used by 6,000 companies in Singapore, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, giving it $9.5 million in annual recurring revenue and 100% year-over-year revenue growth.

Its Series A will be used on international expansion and product integrations. Osome, which employs a total of 200 people, has seen fast adoption by e-commerce companies in particular, and plans to launch more products and apps for the sector over the next 18 months.

Co-founder and chief executive officer Victor Lysenko told TechCrunch that the company started “looking at the e-commerce segment some time ago, but wanted to be confident that our product can handle the increased complexity and transaction volume of e-commerce businesses before launching marketing. The pandemic has caused the e-commerce industry to grow significantly faster and that was also a factor for us.”

He added that Osome will add integrations with multiple e-commerce platforms and administrative services, with the goal of cutting hours out of the time e-commerce company owners spend on accounting each week.

Osome’s flagship product is online accounting services for SMEs, connecting companies with chartered accountants. It also offers corporate secretary services, including business registration, compliance and taxation. The platform uses machine learning tech to automate many tasks—for example, it categorizes, tags and stores documents, creates management reports and tax returns and files paperwork on time.

Lysenko said entrepreneurs on average spend 68% of their time dealing with back-office tasks, instead of strategizing their company’s goals. Osome is meant to reduce the burden of administrative work on small businesses and demand for its services grew during the pandemic as companies moved more of their operations online.

Singapore makes it relatively easy to incorporate businesses online, so several other startups in the same space are based there. These include Sleek, Lanturn and BlueMeg, all focused on automating accounting and other time-consuming tasks for SMEs.

In a statement about the funding, S16VC co-founder Aleks Shamis said, “I’ve done business with small and medium e-commerce in 10 countries and see the same inefficiencies in manual accounting across all of them. It is a real problem that will definitely be solved, and Osome is technologically and traction-wise among the few companies in the world in getting there.”

 

#accounting, #asia, #corporate-services, #fundings-exits, #osome, #singapore, #smes, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Nexford University lands $10.8M pre-Series A to scale its flexible remote learning platform

Two profound problems face the higher education sector globally — affordability and relevance. Whether you live in Africa, Europe, or the U.S., a major reason why people don’t go to university or college or even drop out because they cannot afford tuition fees. On the other hand, relevance shows the huge gap between what traditional universities teach and what global employers actually look for. It’s not a secret that universities focus a bit too much on theory.

Over the past few years, there has been the emergence of a number of alternative credential providers trying to provide students with the necessary skills to earn and make a living. Nexford University is one of such platforms, and today, it has a closed $10.8 million pre-Series A funding round.

Dubai-based VC Global Ventures led the new round. Other investors include Future Africa’s new thematic fund (focused on education), angel investors, and family offices. Unnamed VCs from 10 countries, including the U.S., U.K., France, Dubai, Switzerland, Qatar, Nigeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, also took part.

To date, Nexford has raised $15.3 million, following the first tranche of $4.5 million in seed funding raised two years ago.

Fadl Al Tarzi launched Nexford University in 2019. The tech-enabled university is filling affordability and relevance gaps by providing access to quality and affordable education.

“That way, you get the best of both worlds,” CEO Al Tarzi said to TechCrunch. “You get practical skills that you can put to work immediately or for your future career while actively keeping a job. So the whole experience is designed as a learning as a service model.”

Nexford Unversity lets students study at their own pace. Once they apply and get admitted into either a degree program or a course program, they choose how fast or slow they want the program to be.

Nexford University

Fadl Al Tarzi (CEO, Nexford University)

The CEO says whatever students learn on the platform is directly applicable to their jobs. Currently, Nexford offers undergraduate degrees in business administration; 360° marketing; AI & automation; building a tech startup; business analytics; business in emerging markets; digital transformation; e-commerce; and product management. Its graduate degrees are business administration, advanced AI, e-commerce, hyperconnectivity, sustainability, and world business.

Nexford’s tuition structure is very different from traditional universities because it’s modelled monthly. Its accredited degrees cost between $3,000 to $4,000 paid in monthly instalments. In Nigeria, for instance, an MBA costs about $160 a month, while a bachelor degree costs $80 a month. But the catch for the monthly instalment structure means the faster a learner graduates, the less they pay.

What’s it like learning with Nexford University?

Nexford University doesn’t offer standardized and theoretical tests or assignments as most traditional universities do. Al Tarzi says the company employs what he calls a competency-based education model where students prove mastery by working on practical projects.

For instance, a student working on an accounting course will most likely need to create a P&L statement, analyze balance sheets and identify where the error is to correct it. The platform then gives the student different scenarios showing companies with different revenues and expense levels. The task? To analyse and extract certain ratios to help make sense of which company is profitable and the other unit economics involved.

Though Nexford plays in the edtech space, Al Tarzi doesn’t think the company is an edtech company. As a licensed and accredited online university, Nexford has a huge amount of automation across the organization and provides students with support from faculty and career advisors.

After offering degrees, Nexford puts on its placement hats by fixing its graduates with partner employers.

There’s a big shortage of jobs in Nigeria, and despite the high unemployment, it’s actually difficult to find extremely qualified entry-level graduates. So Nexford has carried out several partnerships where employers sponsor their employees or soon-to-be employees for upskilling and rescaling purposes.

An illustration is with Sterling Bank, a local bank in the country. Most Nigerian banks have yearly routines where they hire graduates and put them on weeks-long training programs. Sterling Bank employs any candidate it feels did great after the capital intensive (eight weeks in most cases) programs.

So what Nexford has done is to partner with Sterling to fund the tuition for high school leavers. When these students go through Nexford’s programs for the first year, they begin to get part-time placements at Sterling. Upon graduation, they get a job in the bank.

“That saves Sterling the training cost and our tuition fee is almost equal to the training that they provided for students. Also, students start paying back once they get placed, so it’s a win-win.”

Nexford University has learners from 70 countries, with Nigeria its biggest market yet. Nexford also has blue-chip partnerships with Microsoft, LinkedIn Learning, and IBM to provide access to tools, courses and programmes to improve the learning experience.

One of the major gains of this learning experience is how it prepares people for remote jobs. Nexford is bullish on its virtual skills grid, where people will get jobs remotely regardless of their location on the platform.

“Across Sub Saharan Africa by the year 2026, there’s gonna be a shortage of about 100 million university seats as a result of huge growth in youth population not met by growth and supply. Even if you want to build universities fast, you wouldn’t be able to meet the demand. And that spirals down to the job market. We don’t think the local economy will produce enough jobs in Nigeria, for instance. But we want to enable people to get remote jobs across the world and not necessarily have to migrate.” 

Last year, Nexford’s revenues grew by 300%. This year, the company hopes to triple the size of its enrollment from last year, the CEO said.

Nexford is big on designing students’ curriculum based on analysis of what their employer needs. Al Tarzi tells me that the company always follow the Big Data approach, asking themselves, “how do we find out what employers worldwide are looking for and keep our curriculum alive and relevant?”

“We develop proprietary technology that enables us to analyze job vacancies as well as several other data sources; use AI to understand how those data sets and build a curriculum based on those findings. So, in short, we start with the end in mind,” he answers.

The company is keen on improving its technology regardless. It wants to analyse skills more accurately and automate more functions to enhance user experience. That’s what the funding will be used for in addition to fuelling its regional expansion plans (particularly in Asia) and investing in growth and product development. Per the latter, the online university says it will be launching partner programs with more employers globally to facilitate both placement and upskilling and rescaling. 

Merging both worlds of tech and the traditional university model is no easy feat. The former is about efficiency, user-centricity, product, among others. The latter embodies rigidity and continues to lag behind fast-paced innovation. And while there’s been a boom in edtech, most startups try to circumvent the industry’s bureaucracy by launching an app or a MOOC. Nexford’s model of running a degree-granting, licensed, accredited, and regulated university is more challenging but in it lies so much opportunity.

Iyin Aboyeji, Future Africa general partner CEO, understands this. It’s one reason why the company is the first investment out of Future Africa’s soon-to-be-launched fund focused on the future of learning and why he believes the company is a game-changer for higher education in Africa.

“During the pandemic, while many universities in Nigeria were shut down due to labour disputes, Nexford was already delivering an innovative and affordable new model of online higher education designed for a skills-based economy.”  

For general partner at Global Ventures Noor Sweid, Nexford University is redressing the mismatch between the supply of talent and the demands of today’s digital economy. “We are thrilled to partner with Fadl and the Nexford team on their journey toward expanding access to universal quality higher education in emerging markets,” she said.

#africa, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #education, #europe, #funding, #future-africa, #higher-education, #ibm, #massive-open-online-course, #microsoft, #nexford-university, #nigeria, #online-learning, #product-management, #saudi-arabia, #tc, #tech-startup, #united-states, #university

0

BukuWarung, a fintech for Indonesian MSMEs, scores $60M Series A led by Valar and Goodwater

BukuWarung, a fintech focused on Indonesia’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), announced today it has raised a $60 million Series A. The oversubscribed round was led by Valar Ventures, marking the firm’s first investment in Indonesia, and Goodwater Capital. The Jakarta-based startup claims this is the largest Series A round ever raised by a startup focused on services for MSMEs. BukuWarung did not disclose its valuation, but sources tell TechCrunch it is estimated to be between $225 million to $250 million.

Other participants included returning backers and angel investors like Aldi Haryopratomo, former chief executive officer of payment gateway GoPay, Klarna co-founder Victor Jacobsson and partners from SoftBank and Trihill Capital.

Founded in 2019, BukuWarung’s target market is the more than 60 million MSMEs in Indonesia, according to data from the Ministry of Cooperatives and SMEs. These businesses contribute about 61% of the country’s gross domestic product and employ 97% of its workforce.

BukuWarung’s services, including digital payments, inventory management, bulk transactions and a Shopify-like e-commerce platform called Tokoko, are designed to digitize merchants that previously did most of their business offline (many of its clients started taking online orders during the COVID-19 pandemic). It is building what it describes as an “operating system” for MSMEs and currently claims more than 6.5 million registered merchant in 750 Indonesian cities, with most in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas. It says it has processed about $1.4 billion in annualized payments so far, and is on track to process over $10 billion in annualized payments by 2022.

BukuWarung’s new round brings its total funding to $80 million. The company says its growth in users and payment volumes has been capital efficient, and that more than 90% of its funds raised have not been spent. It plans to add more MSME-focused financial services, including lending, savings and insurance, to its platform.

BukuWarung’s new funding announcement comes four months after its previous one, and less than a month after competitor BukuKas disclosed it had raised a $50 million Series B. Both started out as digital bookkeeping apps for MSMEs before expanding into financial services and e-commerce tools.

When asked how BukuWarung plans to continue differentiating from BukuKas, co-founder and CEO Abhinay Peddisetty told TechCrunch, “We don’t see this space as a winner takes all, our focus is on building the best products for MSMEs as proven by our execution on our payments and accounting, shown by massive growth in payments TPV as we’re 10x bigger than the nearest player in this space.”

He added, “We have already run successful lending experiments with partners in fintech and banks and are on track to monetize our merchants backed by our deep payments, accounting and other data that we collect.”

BukuWarung’s new funding will be used to double its current workforce of 150, located in Indonesia, Singapore and India, to 300 and develop BukuWarung’s accounting, digital payments and commerce products, including a payments infrastructure that will include QR payments and other services.

#apps, #asia, #bukuwarung, #digital-bookkeeping, #e-commerce, #finance, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #msmes, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Biden revokes and replaces Trump actions targeting TikTok and WeChat

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday revoking actions targeting TikTok and WeChat signed by former President Donald Trump, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

President Biden signed a new order instead requiring the Commerce Department to review apps with ties to “jurisdiction of foreign adversaries” that may pose national security risks.

The U.S. Department of Commerce, Tencent and ByteDance could not be immediately reached for comment.

This is a developing story.

#asia, #government

0

Refyne raises $20.1 million to help workers in India get faster access to wages

A young Indian startup that is betting that earned wage access solutions will take off in the South Asian nation said on Wednesday it has closed a new round from high-profile investors.

Bangalore-based Refyne said on Wednesday that it has raised $16 million in Series A from partners of DST Global and RTP Global. The startup also disclosed that it raised a $4.1 million seed round in December from Jigsaw VC and QED Investors and XYZ Capital, all of whom also participated in the new round.

TechCrunch reported last month that Refyne was in talks with RTP Global to raise money.

Refyne works with employers to let their workers access their earned salaries in real-time. For instance, an employee could see how much they have earned in a week and withdraw a fraction of it anytime they wish.

The idea, explained Chitresh Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of Refyne, is that many individuals in India run out of cash before their next payday and then some end up taking loans on not so favorable terms to make ends meet. “An employee should have the option to access their own earnings at any time,” he told TechCrunch in an interview.

It’s a concept that has taken off in several markets — with many major employers such as Uber and McDonald’s offering this flexibility to their workforce — but is yet to be tested in India, where on paper, earned wage access idea should work as a significant portion of the working force remains on a shaky financial footing. Earlier on Monday, Indonesian startup Wagely announced a $5.5 million fundraise to test this idea in the Southeast Asian market.

Sharma, a third-time founder who returned to India to start Refyne, said the startup’s plug-and-play software is aimed at employers of all size, and the platform can prove beneficial to blue-collar as well as white-collar workers.

“The need for financial inclusion is more important today than ever before. As the first company in India to provide earned wage access, Refyne can revolutionise the way millions of workers manage their money. By providing a real, affordable alternative to payday loans, Refyne will not only improve a person’s financial health, but it will add control for the consumer and dramatically reduce the stress on those who worry about meeting their financial obligations,” said QED Investors Managing Partner and Co-Founder Nigel Morris, in a statement. This is QED’s first investment in India.

Over 100 companies in India are already using Refyne’s platform, serving over 300,000 employees. Some of the clients include Rebel Foods, Cafe Coffee Day, Hira Group, and Chai Point.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#asia, #dst-global, #earned-wage-access, #finance, #funding, #india, #qed-investors

0

Wagely, an Indonesian earned wage access and financial services platform, raises $5.6M

A group photo of Wagely's founding team: Tobias Fischer, Sasanadi Ruka and Kevin Hausburg

Wagely founders (from l to r): Tobias Fischer, Sasanadi Ruka and Kevin Hausburg

Earned wage access (EWA) platforms that allow workers to withdraw their earnings on demand instead of waiting until payday are proliferating around the world. Today, Indonesian EWA startup wagely announced it has raised $5.6 million in strategic funding, led by Integra Partners (formerly known as Dymon Asia Ventures). Other investors included the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Ventures, PT Triputra Investindo Arya, Global Founders Capital, Trihill Capital, 1982 Ventures and Willy Swandi Dharma, former president director of insurance company PT Asuransi Adira Dinamika.

Founded in 2020 by alumni of two of Southeast Asia’s largest tech companies, wagely expects to reach more than 250,000 users this year. Chief executive officer Tobias Fischer was former regional lending program manager at Grab Financial Services Asia, while chief technology officer Sasanadi Rukua served as vice president of engineering at Tokopedia.

Fischer told TechCrunch that after working at financial services companies in Southeast Asia, he and Ruka saw that “managing cashflow is the most pressing everyday issue for lower- and middle-income Indonesians.”

While the pandemic exacerbated financial hardships, Fischer said more than 75% of Indonesians already struggled to cover unexpected expenses between paychecks. Many borrow from family or friends, but if that option is unavailable, they may turn to payday lenders who can charge more than 360% annualized percentage rates, or pay overdraft and late fees to their banks until their next paycheck.

“This is the start of a vicious and costly debt cycle that has a long-lasting negative impact on individual financial well-being, which in turn impacts businesses with higher turnover, lower productivity and more employee loans,” Fischer said.

On average, more than 50% of employees at wagely’s enterprise clients use it multiple times throughout the month to track their daily earnings and access their earned wages. The company’s ultimate goal is “to build a holistic financial wellness platform for lower- and middle-income workers” that includes other financial services, including savings, insurance and smart spending products, Fischer said.

More companies around the world are allowing workers to pick when they get paid. Some notable EWA platforms include Gusto’s Flexible Pay; DailyPay, which recently hit unicorn status; Wagestream; Minu and Even. In Indonesia, wagely’s competitors include GajiGesa and Gajiku.

Fischer said wagely “created the earned wage access category in Indonesia,” and is the market leader with more than 50 large companies, including state-owned enterprises and multi-national conglomerates. Its new funding will be used to increase wagely’s sales team in order to close more enterprise deals. Wagely’s current customers include PT Bentoel Internasional Investama Tbk (British American Tobacco); PT Supra Boga Lestari Tbk (Ranch Market); beauty and wellness company PT Mustika Ratu Tbk; and renewable energy group PT Kencana Energi Lestari Tbk.

In a press statement, Wilson Maknawi, president director at PT Kencana Energi Lestari TBK, said, “wagely offers our employees financial stability in times of uncertainty. It is incredibly important and a crucial step for the long-term resilience of our business. With no changes to our payroll process, wagely’s solution has proven to increase our business savings and helped our employees to avoid predatory loans while providing savings and budget tools that increase their financial literacy.”

#asia, #earned-wage-access, #financial-inclusion, #financial-services, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #wagely

0

Chinese lidar maker Hesai lands $300M led by Hillhouse, Xiaomi, Meituan

The rush to back lidar companies continues as more automakers and robotaxi startups include the remote sensing method in their vehicles.

Latest to the investment boom is Hesai, a Shanghai-based lidar maker founded in 2014 with an office in Palo Alto. The company just raised over $300 million in a Series D funding round led by GL Ventures, the venture capital arm of storied private equity firm Hillhouse Capital, smartphone maker Xiaomi, on-demand services giant Meituan and CPE, the private equity platform of Citic.

Hesai said the new proceeds will be spent on mass-producing its hybrid solid-state lidar for its OEM customers, the construction of its smart manufacturing center, and research and development on automotive-grade lidar chips. The company said it has accumulated “several hundred million dollars” in funding to date.

Other participants in the round included Huatai Securities, Lightspeed China Partners and Lightspeed Venture Capital, as well as Qiming Venture Partners. Bosch, Baidu, and ON Semiconductor are also among its shareholders.

Another Chinese lidar startup Innovusion, a major supplier to electric vehicle startup Nio, raised a $64 million round led by Temasek in May. Livox is another emerging lidar maker that was an offshoot of DJI.

Lidar isn’t limited to powering robotaxis and passenger EVs, and that’s why Hesai got Xiaomi and Meituan onboard. Xiaomi makes hundreds of different connected devices through its manufacturing suppliers that could easily benefit from industrial automation, to which sensing technology is critical. But the phone maker also unveiled plans this year to make electric cars.

Meituan, delivering food to hundreds of millions of consumers in China, could similarly benefit from replacing human riders with lidar-enabled unmanned vans and drones.

Hesai, with a staff of over 500 employees, says its clients span 70 cities across 23 countries. The company touts Nuro, Bosch, Lyft, Navya, and Chinese robotaxi operators Baidu, WeRide and AutoX among its customers. Last year, it kickstarted a partnership with Scale AI, a data labeling company, to launch an open-source data set for training autonomous driving algorithms, with data collected using Hesai’s lidar in California. 

Last July, Hesai and lidar technology pioneer Velodyne entered a long-term licensing agreement as the two dismissed legal proceedings in the U.S., Germany and China.

#asia, #automotive, #baidu, #bosch, #china, #funding, #hillhouse-capital, #lidar, #lightspeed, #lightspeed-venture-capital, #meituan, #qiming-venture-partners, #shanghai, #temasek, #transportation, #venture-capital, #xiaomi

0

Apple’s new encrypted browsing feature won’t be available in China, Saudi Arabia and more: report

Apple announced a handful of privacy-focused updates at its annual software developer conference on Monday. One called Private Relay particularly piques the interest of Chinese users living under the country’s censorship system, for it encrypts all browsing history so nobody can track or intercept the data.

As my colleague Roman Dillet explains:

When Private Relay is turned on, nobody can track your browsing history — not your internet service provider, anyone standing in the middle of your request between your device and the server you’re requesting information from. We’ll have to wait a bit to learn more about how it works exactly.

The excitement didn’t last long. Apple told Reuters that Private Relay won’t be available in China alongside Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.

Apple couldn’t be immediately reached by TechCrunch for comment.

Virtual private networks or VPNs are popular tools for users in China to bypass the “great firewall” censorship apparatus, accessing web services that are otherwise blocked or slowed down. But VPNs don’t necessarily protect users’ privacy because they simply funnel all the traffic through VPN providers’ servers instead of users’ internet providers, so users are essentially entrusting VPN firms with protecting their identities. Private Relay, on the other hand, doesn’t even allow Apple to see one’s browsing activity.

In an interview with Fast Company, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, explained why the new feature may be superior to VPNs:

“We hope users believe in Apple as a trustworthy intermediary, but we didn’t even want you to have to trust us [because] we don’t have this ability to simultaneously source your IP and the destination where you’re going to–and that’s unlike VPNs. And so we wanted to provide many of the benefits that people are seeking when in the past they’ve decided to use a VPN, but not force that difficult and conceivably perilous privacy trade-off in terms of trusting it a single intermediary.”

It’s unclear whether Private Relay will simply be excluded from system upgrades for users in China and the other countries where it’s restricted, or it will be blocked by internet providers in those regions. It also remains to be seen whether the feature will be available to Apple users in Hong Kong, which has seen an increase in online censorship in the past year.

Like all Western tech firms operating in China, Apple is trapped between antagonizing Beijing and flouting the values it espouses at home. Apple has a history of caving in to Beijing’s censorship pressure, from migrating all user data in China to a state-run cloud center, cracking down on independent VPN apps in China, limiting free speech in Chinese podcasts, to removing RSS feed readers from the China App Store.

#apple, #asia, #beijing, #belarus, #china, #colombia, #craig-federighi, #egypt, #firewall, #government, #great-firewall, #internet-censorship, #internet-security, #internet-service, #isp, #kazakhstan, #philippines, #saudi-arabia, #security, #south-africa, #tc, #uganda, #vpn

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Twitter restricts accounts in India to comply with government legal request

Twitter disclosed on Monday that it blocked four accounts in India to comply with a new legal request from the Indian government.

The American social network disclosed on Lumen Database, a Harvard University project, that it took action on four accounts — including those of hip-hop artist L-Fresh the Lion and singer and song-writer Jazzy B — to comply with a legal request from the Indian government it received over the weekend. The accounts are geo-restricted within India but accessible from outside of the South Asian nation. (As part of their transparency efforts, some companies including Twitter and Google make requests and orders they receive from governments and other entities public on Lumen Database.)

All four accounts, like several others that the Indian government ordered to be blocked in the country earlier this year, had protested New Delhi’s agriculture reforms and some had posted other tweets that criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s seven years of governance in India, an analysis by TechCrunch found.

A Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch that when the company receives a valid legal request, it reviews it under both its own rules and local laws.

“If the content violates Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only. In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they’re aware that we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account,” the spokesperson added.

The new legal request, which hasn’t been previously reported, comes at a time when Twitter is making efforts to comply with the Indian government’s new IT rules, new guidelines that several of its peers including Facebook and Google have already complied with.

On Saturday, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had given a “final notice” to Twitter to comply with its new rules, which it unveiled in February this year. The new rules require significant social media firms to appoint and share contact details of representatives tasked with compliance, nodal point of reference and grievance redressals to address on-ground concerns.

Tension has been brewing between Twitter and the government of India of late. Last month, police in Delhi visited Twitter offices to “serve a notice” about an investigation into its intel on classifying Indian politicians’ tweets as misleading. Twitter called the move a form of intimidation, and expressed concerns for its employees and requested the government to respect citizens’ rights to free speech. Late last month, Twitter had requested New Delhi to extend the deadline for compliance with the new rules by at least three months.

The Jack Dorsey-led company has grappled with several tough situations in India this year. After briefly complying with a New Delhi order early this year, the company faced heat from the government for restoring accounts that had posted tweets critical of the Indian government’s policy or the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The two faced off again publicly in April after New Delhi ordered Twitter and Facebook to take down posts that were critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

#asia, #facebook, #google, #government, #india, #social, #twitter

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Paytm, India’s most valuable startup, confirms plan for an IPO

Paytm, India’s most valuable startup, confirmed to its shareholders and employees on Monday that it plans to file for an IPO.

In a letter to shareholders and employees, Paytm said that it plans to raise money by issuing fresh equity in the IPO, and also sell existing shareholders’ shares at the event. The startup has offered its employees the option to sell their stakes in the firm.

This is the first time the Noida-headquartered firm has commented on its plans about the IPO. The startup said in the letter that it has received an in-principle approval from the board of directors to pursue the public market.

Paytm, which is backed by Alibaba and SoftBank, hasn’t shared when it plans to file for the IPO, but has sought shareholders’ response to their intention to sell stakes by the end of the month.

Two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that Paytm plans to raise about $3 billion and is targeting a valuation of up to $30 billion in the IPO. Paytm declined to comment.

Paytm’s letter — obtained by TechCrunch — to shareholders on Monday.

This isn’t the first time Paytm has planned to explore the public route. Exactly 10 years ago, long before Paytm established itself as the largest mobile wallet firm and expanded to several financial and commerce services, the startup had filed with the regulator with intentions to become public. The startup at the time cancelled the IPO plan and instead raised money from VCs to explore new avenues for growth.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

 

#asia, #tc

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China’s drive to compete against Starlink for the future of orbital internet

There has been a wave of businesses over the past several years hoping to offer broadband internet delivered from thousands of satellites in low-earth orbit (LEO), providing coverage of most of the earth’s surface.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen excitement in the category. Companies and people that you have heard of — Bill Gates and Motorola, to name a few — invested billions of dollars into this business model two decades ago in an adventure that ended in many bankruptcies and very few people connected to the internet from low-earth orbit. Yet, here we are 20 years later, witnessing billionaires from Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos and entities from SoftBank to the United Kingdom investing billions into broadband from space in a gold rush that began around 2015, and has only accelerated since the beginning of 2020.

During that same period, we have seen a parallel ascendance of China’s space capabilities. In tandem with the accelerated deployment of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation in 2020, China has rapidly responded in terms of policy, financing, and technology, including most notably the creation of a “Chinese answer to Starlink”, namely constellation operating company China SatNet, and the associated GuoWang (国网, or National Net(work)) constellation.

While still in early development, SatNet and GuoWang are likely to compete in certain markets with Starlink and others, while also fulfilling what may be a similar strategic purpose from a government perspective. With considerable backing from very high-level actors, we are likely to see the rollout of a Red Star(link) over China (and the rest of the world) over the coming several years.

The rapid rise of Starlink

China’s LEO constellation plans cannot be understood in a vacuum. Like many other areas of high-tech investment, China’s actions here are partially reactive to developments in the West. The acceleration and expansion of Western LEO constellations in recent years — most notably Starlink — has been an accelerant to China’s own plans.

#asia, #china, #government, #satellites, #space, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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