Airwallex raises $200M at a $4B valuation to double down on business banking

Business, now more than ever before, is going digital, and today a startup that’s building a vertically integrated solution to meet business banking needs is announcing a big round of funding to tap into the opportunity. Airwallex — which provides business banking services both directly to businesses themselves, as well as via a set of APIs that power other companies’ fintech products — has raised $200 million, a Series E round of funding that values the Australian startup at $4 billion.

Lone Pine Capital is leading the round, with new backers G Squared and Vetamer Capital Management, and previous backers 1835i Ventures (formerly ANZi), DST Global, Salesforce Ventures and Sequoia Capital China, also participating.

The funding brings the total raised by Airwallex — which has head offices in Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia — to date to $700 million, including a $100 million injection that closed out its Series D just six months ago.

Airwallex will be using the funding both to continue investing in its product and technology, as well as to continue its geographical expansion and to focus on some larger business targets. The company has started to make some headway into Europe and the UK and that will be one big focus, along with the U.S.

The quick succession of funding, and that rising valuation, underscore Airwallex’s traction to date around what CEO and co-founder Jack Zhang describes as a vertically integrated strategy.

That involves two parts. First, Airwallex has built all the infrastructure for the business banking services that it provides directly to businesses with a focus on small and medium enterprise customers. Second, it has packaged up that infrastructure into a set of APIs that a variety of other companies use to provide financial services directly to their customers without needing to build those services themselves — the so-called “embedded finance” approach.

“We want to own the whole ecosystem,” Zhang said to me. “We want to be like the Apple of business finance.”

That seems to be working out so far for Airwallex. Revenues were up almost 150% for the first half of 2021 compared to a year before, with the company processing more than US$20 billion for a global client portfolio that has quadrupled in size. In addition to tens of thousands of SMEs, it also, via APIs, powers financial services for other companies like GOAT, Papaya Global and Stake.

Airwallex got its start like many of the strongest startups do: it was built to solve a problem that the founders encountered themselves. In the case of Airwallex, Zhang tells me he had actually been working on a previous start-up idea. He wanted to build the “Blue Bottle Coffee” of Asia out of Hong Kong, and it involved buying and importing a lot of different materials, packaging and of course coffee from all around the world.

“We found that making payments as a small business was slow and expensive,” he said, since it involved banks in different countries and different banking systems, manual efforts to transfer money between them and many days to clear the payments. “But that was also my background — payments and trading — and so I decided that it was a much more fascinating problem for me to work on and resolve.”

Eventually one of his co-founders in the coffee effort came along, with the four co-founders of Airwallex ultimately including Zhang, along with Xijing Dai, Lucy Liu and Max Li.

It was 2014, and Airwallex got attention from VCs early on in part for being in the right place at the right time. A wave of startups building financial services for SMBs were definitely gaining ground in North America and Europe, filling a long-neglected hole in the technology universe, but there was almost nothing of the sort in the Asia Pacific region, and in those earlier days solutions were highly regionalized.

From there it was a no-brainer that starting with cross-border payments, the first thing Airwallex tackled, would soon grow into a wider suite of banking services involving payments and other cross-border banking services.

“In last 6 years, we’ve built more than 50 bank integrations and now offer payments 95 countries payments through a partner network,” he added, with 43 of those offering real-time transactions. From that, it moved on the bank accounts and “other primitive stuff” with card issuance and more, he said, eventually building an end-to-end payment stack. 

Airwallex has tens of thousands of customers using its financial services directly, and they make up about 40% of its revenues today. The rest is the interesting turn the company decided to take to expand its business.

Airwallex had built all of its technology from the ground up itself, and it found that — given the wave of new companies looking for more ways to engage customers and become their one-stop shop — there was an opportunity to package that tech up in a set of APIs and sell that on to a different set of customers, those who also provided services for small businesses. That part of the business now accounts for 60% of Airwallex’s business, Zhang said, and is growing faster in terms of revenues. (The SMB business is growing faster in terms of customers, he said.)

A lot of embedded finance startups that base their business around building tech to power other businesses tend to stay arm’s length from offering financial services directly to consumers. The explanation I have heard is that they do not wish to compete against their customers. Zhang said that Airwallex takes a different approach, by being selective about the customers they partner with, so that the financial services they offer would never be the kind that would not be in direct competition. The GOAT marketplace for sneakers, or Papaya Global’s HR platform are classic examples of this.

However, as Airwallex continues to grow, you can’t help but wonder whether one of those partners might like to gobble up all of Airwallex and take on some of that service provision role itself. In that context, it’s very interesting to see Salesforce Ventures returning to invest even more in the company in this round, given how widely the company has expanded from its early roots in software for salespeople into a massive platform providing a huge range of cloud services to help people run their businesses.

For now, it’s been the combination of its unique roots in Asia Pacific, plus its vertical approach of building its tech from the ground up, plus its retail acumen that has impressed investors and may well see Airwallex stay independent and grow for some time to come.

“Airwallex has a clear competitive advantage in the digital payments market,” said David Craver, MD at Lone Pine Capital, in a statement. “Its unique Asia-Pacific roots, coupled with its innovative infrastructure, products and services, speak volumes about the business’ global growth opportunities and its impressive expansion in the competitive payment providers space. We are excited to invest in Airwallex at this dynamic time, and look forward to helping drive the company’s expansion and success worldwide.”

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Investors are doubling down on Southeast Asia’s digital economy

Southeast Asian tech companies are drawing the attention of investors around the world. In 2020, startups in the region raised over $8.2 billion, about four times more than they did in 2015. This trend continued in 2021, with regional M&A hitting a record high of $124.8 billion in the first half of 2021, up 83% from a year earlier.

This begs the question: Who exactly is investing in Southeast Asia?

Let’s explore the three key types of investors pouring money into and driving the growth of Southeast Asia’s tech ecosystem.

Over 229 family offices have been registered in Singapore since 2020, with total assets under management of an estimated $20 billion.

Big tech

Southeast Asia has become an attractive market for U.S. and Chinese tech firms. Internet penetration here stands at 70%, higher than the global average, and digital adoption in the region remains nascent — it wasn’t until the pandemic that adoption of digital services such as e-wallets and online shopping took off.

China’s tech giants Tencent and Alibaba were among the first to support early e-commerce growth in Southeast Asia with investments in Sea Limited and Lazada, and have since expanded their footprint into other internet verticals. Alibaba has backed Akulaku, M-Pay (eMonkey), DANA, Wave Money and Mynt (GCash), while Tencent has invested in Voyager Innovations (PayMaya), SHAREit, iflix, Ookbee and Sanook.

U.S. tech firms have also recently entered the scene. In June 2020, Gojek closed a $3 billion Series F round from Google, Facebook, Tencent and Visa. Google, together with Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, invested some $350 million in Tokopedia in October. Meanwhile, Microsoft invested an undisclosed amount in Grab in 2018 and has invested $100 million in Indonesian e-commerce firm Bukalapak.

Venture capitalists

In Q1 2021, Southeast Asian startups raised $6 billion, according to DealStreetAsia, positioning 2021 as another record year for VC investment in the region.

The region is also rising in prominence as a destination for investment capital relative to the rest of Asia. Regional VC investment grew 5.2 times to $8.2 billion in 2020 from $1.6 billion in 2015, as we can see in the table below.

Venture capital investment by region 2015-2020

Image Credits: Jungle VC

Southeast Asia also has many opportunities for VC investment relative to its market size. From 2015 to 2020, China saw VC investment of nearly $300 per person; for Southeast Asia — despite a recent investment boom — this metric sits at just $47.50 per person, or just a sixth of that in China. This implies a substantial opportunity for investments to develop the region’s digital economy.

The region’s rising population and growth prospects are higher due to China’s population growth challenges, alongside the latter’s higher digital economy market saturation and maturity.

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Driven by live streams, consumer spending in social apps to hit $17.2B in 2025

The live streaming boom is driving a significant uptick in the creator economy, as a new forecast estimates consumers will spend $6.78 billion in social apps in 2021. That figure will grow to $17.2 billion annually by 2025, according to data from mobile data firm App Annie, which notes the upward trend represents a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29%. By that point, the lifetime total spend in social apps will reach $78 billion, the firm reports.

Image Credits: App Annie

Initially, much of the livestream economy was based on one-off purchases like sticker packs, but today, consumers are gifting content creators directly during their live streams. Some of these donations can be incredibly high, at times. Twitch streamer ExoticChaotic was gifted $75,000 during a live session on Fortnite, which was one of the largest ever donations on the game streaming social network. Meanwhile, App Annie notes another platform, Bigo Live, is enabling broadcasters to earn up to $24,000 per month through their live streams.

Apps that offer live streaming as a prominent feature are also those that are driving the majority of today’s social app spending, the report says. In the first half of this year, $3 out every $4 spend in the top 25 social apps came from apps that offered live streams, for example.

Image Credits: App Annie

During the first half of 2021, the U.S. become the top market for consumer spending inside social apps with 1.7x the spend of the next largest market, Japan, and representing 30% of the market by spend. China, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea followed to round out the top 5.

Image Credits: App Annie

While both creators and the platforms are financially benefitting from the live streaming economy, the platforms are benefitting in other ways beyond their commissions on in-app purchases. Live streams are helping to drive demand for these social apps and they help to boost other key engagement metrics, like time spent in app.

One top app that’s significantly gaining here is TikTok.

Last year, TikTok surpassed YouTube in the U.S. and the U.K. in terms of the average monthly time spent per user. It often continues to lead in the former market, and more decisively leads in the latter.

Image Credits: App Annie

Image Credits: App Annie

In other markets, like South Korea and Japan, TikTok is making strides, but YouTube still leads by a wide margin. (In South Korea, YouTube leads by 2.5x, in fact.)

Image Credits: App Annie

Beyond just TikTok, consumers spent 740 billion hours in social apps in the first half of the year, which is equal to 44% of the time spent on mobile globally. Time spent in these apps has continued to trend upwards over the years, with growth that’s up 30% in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2018.

Today, the apps that enable live streaming are outpacing those that focus on chat, photo or video. This is why companies like Instagram are now announcing dramatic shifts in focus, like how they’re “no longer a photo sharing app.” They know they need to more fully shift to video or they will be left behind.

The total time spent in the top five social apps that have an emphasis on live streaming are now set to surpass half a trillion hours on Android phones alone this year, not including China. That’s a three-year CAGR of 25% versus just 15% for apps in the Chat and Photo & Video categories, App Annie noted.

Image Credits: App Annie

Thanks to growth in India, the Asia-Pacific region now accounts for 60% of the time spent in social apps. As India’s growth in this area increased over the past 3.5 years, it shrunk the gap between itself and China from 115% in 2018 to just 7% in the first half of this year.

Social app downloads are also continuing to grow, due to the growth in live streaming.

To date, consumers have downloaded social apps 74 billion times and that demand remains strong, with 4.7 billion downloads in the first half of 2021 alone — up 50% year-over-year. In the first half of the year, Asia was the largest region region for social app downloads, accounting for 60% of the market.

This is largely due to India, the top market by a factor of 5x, which surpassed the U.S. back in 2018. India is followed by the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil and China, in terms of downloads.

Image Credits: App Annie

The shift towards live streaming and video has also impacted what sort of apps consumers are interested in downloading, not just the number of downloads.

A chart that show the top global apps from 2012 to the present highlights Facebook’s slipping grip. While its apps (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Facebook) have dominated the top spots over the years in various positions, TikTok popped into the number one position last year, and continues to maintain that ranking in 2021.

Further down the chart, other apps that aid in video editing have also overtaken others that had been more focused on photos or chat.

Image Credits: App Annie

Video apps like YouTube (#1), TikTok (#2) Tencent Video (#4), Bigo Live (#5), Twitch (#6), and others also now rank at the top of the global charts by consumer spending in the first half of 2021.

But YouTube (#1) still dominates in time spent compared with TikTok (#5), and others from Facebook — the company holds the next three spots for Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, respectively.

This could explain why TikTok is now exploring the idea of allowing users to upload even longer videos, by increasing the limit from 3 minutes to 5, for instance.

In addition, because of live streaming’s ability to drive growth in terms of time spent, it’s also likely the reason why TikTok has been heavily investing in new features for its TikTok LIVE platform, including things like events, support for co-hosts, Q&As and more, and why it made the “LIVE” button a more prominent feature in its app and user experience.

App Annie’s report also digs into the impact live streaming has had on specific platforms, like Twitch and Bigo Live, the former which doubled its monthly active user base from the pre-pandemic era, and the latter which saw $314.2 million in consumer spend during H1 2021.

“The ability of social media users to communicate with each other using live video – or watch others’ live broadcasts – has not only maintained the growth of a social media app market, but contributed to its exponential growth in engagement metrics like time spent, that might otherwise have saturated some time ago,” wrote App Annie’s Head of Insights, Lexi Sydow, when announcing the new report.

The full report is available here.

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Crypto infra startup Fireblocks raises $310M, triples valuation to $2.2B

Fireblocks, an infrastructure provider for digital assets, has raised $310 million in a Series D round of funding that tripled the company’s valuation to $2.2 billion in just over five months.

Sequoia Capital, Stripes and Spark Capital co-led Fireblocks’ latest round, which also included participation from Coatue, DRW VC  and SCB 10X – the venture arm of Thailand’s oldest bank – and Siam Commercial Bank. The latter is the third global bank to invest in Fireblocks in addition to the Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon and SVB Capital. 

In February, the New York-based startup raised $133 million in a Series C round at a $700 million valuation. The latest financing brings Fireblocks’ total raised since its 2018 inception to $489 million. And as for Fireblocks’ valuation boost, the growth correlates with its increase in customers and ARR this year, according to CEO and co-founder Michael Shaulov. 

Since January, Fireblocks has seen its customer base increase to about 500 compared to 150 in January. Its ARR (annual recurring revenue) is also up – by 350% so far in 2021 compared to 2020. Last year, ARR rose by 450% compared to 2019.

“We expect to end the year up 500%,” Shaulov said. “We’ve already adjusted our revenue predictions for 2021 three times.”

Put simply, Fireblocks aims to offer financial institutions an all-in-one platform to run a digital asset business, providing them with infrastructure to store, transfer and issue digital assets. In particular, Fireblocks provides custody to institutional investors and has secured the transfer of over $1 trillion in digital assets over time. 

Fireblocks launched out of stealth mode in June of 2019 and has since opened offices in the United Kingdom, Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore, France and the DACH region. Today, it has over 500 financial institutions as customers – a mix of businesses that already support crypto and digital assets and those that are considering entering the space. Customers include global banks, crypto-native exchanges, lending desks, hedge funds, OTC desks as well as companies such as Revolut, BlockFi, Celsius, PrimeTrust, Galaxy Digital, Genesis Trading, crypto.com and eToro among others. 

Of those 500 institutions, Fireblocks is working with 70 banks that are looking to join the cryptocurrency space, and start platforming their infrastructure, according to Shaulov. Siam Commercial bank, for example, is using the company’s infrastructure to transform into a blockchain-based bank.

“Our platform creates highly secure wallets for cryptocurrencies and digital assets, where institutions can store their funds or their customer funds, and also get security insurance,” he said.

Fireblocks’ issuance and tokenization platform allows for the creation of asset-backed tokens.

“We handle all the security or compliance, all the policies and workflows,” Shaulov said. “Basically all the complicated stuff you need to do as a business when you want to start working with this new technology. So it’s a bit like ‘Shopify for crypto.’ ”

Sequoia Partner Ravi Gupta is naturally bullish on the company, describing Fireblocks as “the leading back-end infrastructure for crypto products.”

“The team has the potential to build a large, enduring business serving crypto-native companies, consumer fintech companies, and traditional financial institutions alike,” he told TechCrunch. “Their growth has been tremendous, and the quality of their product and customer sentiment are remarkable.”

Image Credits: Left to right: Fireblocks co-founders Idan Ofrat, Michael Shaulov and Pavel Berengoltz / Fireblocks

Fireblocks has also started to see businesses outside of what would be identified as fintech or finance show interest in its platform such as e-commerce websites that are looking to create NFTs on the back of their merchandise. 

The Fireblocks platform, Shaulov said, helps spread the expansion of digital asset use cases beyond bitcoin into payments, gaming, NFTs, digital securities and “ultimately allows any business to become a digital asset business.”

What that means is that Fireblocks’ technology can be white labeled for crypto custody offerings, “so that new and established financial institutions can implement direct custody on their own without having to rely on third parties,” the company says.

Shaulov emphasizes Fireblocks’ commitment to staying an independent company after a wave of consolidation in the space. Earlier this year, PayPal announced its plans to acquire Curv, a cryptocurrency startup based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Then in early May, bitcoin-focused Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd. said it agreed to buy BitGo Inc. for $1.2 billion in cash and stock in the first $1 billion deal in the cryptocurrency industry.

“Consolidation can be painful for clients,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s Important for us that we stay independent and that’s part of the purpose of this round.

The company will also use the funds to increase its engineering and customer success operations, and expand geographically, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.  

“Fireblocks provides the most secure and flexible platform for a wide range of customer needs,” said Sequoia’s Gupta. “It uses world-class multi-party computation technology to secure digital assets in storage and in transit, and has the most flexible platform with controls for product teams to be able to build on and manage Fireblocks effectively.”

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Tiger Global leads $34M investment into Unit21, a no-code fraud prevention platform

Unit21, a startup that helps businesses monitor fraudulent activities with its no-code software, announced today it has raised $34 million in a Series B round of funding led by Tiger Global Management.

The round values San Francisco-based Unit21 at $300 million and comes nine months after the startup raised a $13 million Series A that included investments from the founders of Plaid, Chime and Shape Security as well as former Venmo COO Michael Vaughan.

ICONIQ Capital and existing backers Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI venture fund), A.Capital and South Park Commons participated in the latest funding event. 

Former Affirm product manager Trisha Kothari and Clarence Chio founded Unit21 in 2018 with the goal of giving risk, compliance and fraud teams a way to fight financial crime via a “secure, integrated, no-code platform.” 

Image Credits: Unit21

The pair say they started Unit21 based on the belief that the existing model of “black box” machine learning used for fraud prevention and detection was flawed. Their idea was to develop an alternative system to provide risk and compliance teams with more control over their operations. Unit21 describes its core technology as a “flag-and-review” toolset designed to give non-technical operators and anti-money laundering (AML) teams the ability to “easily” write complex statistical models and deploy customized workflows without having to involve their engineering teams. Unit21 says it provides this toolset to companies with the aim of helping them mitigate fraud and money laundering risks through Know Your Customer (KYC) verification, transaction monitoring detection and suspicious activity report (SAR) case management. 

Unit21 has built up an impressive customer base of over 50 enterprise clients, including Chime, Intuit, Coinbase, Gusto, Flywire, Wyre and Twitter, among others. The company says it has monitored more than $100 billion in activity via its API and dashboard since its 2018 inception. It also says that it has saved more than 20 million users over $100 million in fraud loss/suspicious activity. The company declined to reveal hard revenue figures, saying only revenue grew by “12x” in 2020 compared to 2019.

“Data is the most important weapon in the fight against fraud and money laundering,” Kothair said. “This funding will support our mission to democratize data and make it more accessible to  operations teams.”

The company will also use its new capital in part toward expanding its engineering, research & development and go-to-market  teams. As of late June, Unit21 had 53 employees, up from 12 at the same time last year. The startup also plans evolve its platform for generalized flag + review use cases beyond financial crimes and fraud. It’s also eyeing expansion in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) and Europe/Middle East (EMEA) markets.

Tiger Global Partner John Curtius said Unit21 is transforming organizations’ ability to “analyze data to its advantage for risk management and compliance.”

The space is a hot one with a number of other fraud-prevention companies raising capital in recent months including Sift, Seon and Feedzai. According to Compliance Week (citing analysis by Fenergo), financial institutions were hit with an estimated $10.4 billion in global fines and penalties related to anti-money laundering (AML), know your customer (KYC), data privacy, and MiFID (Markets in Financial Instruments Directive) regulations in 2020, bringing the total to $46.4 billion for those types of breaches since 2008. The report, spanning up to its release date of Dec. 9, said there has been 198 fines against financial institutions for AML, KYC, data privacy, and MiFID deficiencies, representing a 141% increase since 2019.

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E-commerce logistics startup Locad gets $4.5M seed round led by Sequoia Capital India

E-commerce is booming in Southeast Asia, but in many markets, the fragmented logistics industry is struggling to catch up. This means sellers run into roadblocks when shipping to buyers, especially outside of major metropolitan areas, and managing their supply chains. Locad, a startup that wants to help with what it describes as an “end-to-end solution” for cross-border e-commerce companies, announced today it has raised a $4.5 million seed round.

The funding was led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge (Locad is currently a part of the program’s fifth cohort), with participation from firms like Antler, Febe Ventures, Foxmont, GFC and Hustle Fund. It also included angel investors Alessandro Duri, Alexander Friedhoff, Christian Weiss, Henry Ko, Huey Lin, Markus Bruderer, Dr. Markus Erken, Max Moldenhauer, Oliver Mickler, Paulo Campos, Stefan Mader, Thibaud Lecuyer, Tim Marbach and Tim Seithe.

Locad was founded in Singapore and Manila by Constantin Robertz, former Zalora director of operations Jannis Dargel and Shrey Jain, previously Grab’s lead product manager of maps. It now also has offices in Australia, Hong Kong and India. The startup’s goal is to close the gap between first-mile and last-mile delivery services, enabling e-commerce companies to offer lower shipping rates and faster deliveries while freeing up more time for other parts of their operations, such as marketing and sales conversions.

Since its founding in October 2020, Locad has been used by more than 30 brands and processed almost 600,000 items. Its clients range from startups to international brands, and include Mango, Vans, Payless Shoes, Toshiba and Landmark, a department store chain in the Philippines.

Locad is among a growing roster of other Southeast Asia-based logistics startups that have recently raised funding, including Kargo, SiCepat, Advotics and Logisly. Locad wants to differentiate by providing a flexible solution that can work with any sales channel and is integrated with a wide range of shipping providers.

Robertz told TechCrunch that Locad is able to keep an asset-light business model by partnering with warehouse operators and facility managers. What the startup brings to the mix is a cloud software platform that serves as a “control tower,” letting users get real-time information about inventory and orders across Locad’s network. The company currently has seven fulfillment centers, with four of its warehouses in the Philippines and the other three in Singapore, New South Wales, Australia and Hong Kong. Part of its funding will be used to expand into more Asia-Pacific markets, focusing on Southeast Asia and Australia.

Locad’s seed round will also used to add integrations to more couriers and sales channels (it can already be used with platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, Amazon, Shopee, Lazada and Zalora), and develop new features for its cloud platform, including more data analytics.

 

#asia-pacific, #australia, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #fulfillment, #fundings-exits, #locad, #logistics, #philippines, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

Mercuryo raises $7.5M for crypto-focused cross-border payments after crossing $50M in ARR

Mercuryo, a startup that has built a cross-border payments network, has raised $7.5 million in a Series A round of funding.

The London-based company describes itself as “a crypto infrastructure company” that aims to make blockchain useful for businesses via its “digital asset payment gateway.” Specifically, it aggregates various payment solutions and provides fiat and crypto payments and payouts for businesses. 

Put more simply, Mercuryo aims to use cryptocurrencies as a tool for putting in motion next-gen cross-border transfers or as it puts it, “to allow any business to become a fintech company without the need to keep up with its complications.”

“The need for fast and efficient international payments, especially for businesses, is as relevant as ever,” said Petr Kozyakov, Mercuryo’s co-founder and CEO. While there is no shortage of companies enabling cross-border payments, the startup’s emphasis on crypto is a differentiator.

“Our team has a clear plan on making crypto universally available by enabling cheap and straightforward transactions,” Kozyakov said. “Cryptocurrency assets can then be used to process global money transfers, mass payouts and facilitate acquiring services, among other things.” 

Mercuryo began onboarding customers at the beginning of 2019, and has seen impressive growth since with annual recurring revenue (ARR) in April surpassing over $50 million. Its customer base is approaching 1 million, and the company has partnerships with a number of large crypto players including Binance, Bitfinex, Trezor, Trust Wallet, Bithumb and Bybit. In 2020, the company said its turnover spiked by 50 times while run-rate turnover crossed $2.5 billion in April 2021.

To build on that momentum, Mercuryo has begun expanding to new markets, including the United States, where it launched its crypto payments offering for B2B customers in all states earlier this year. It also plans to “gradually” expand to Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

Target Global led Mercuryo’s Series A, which also included participation from a group of angel investors and brings the startup’s total raised since its 2018 inception to over $10 million.

Image Credits: Left to right: Alexander Vasiliev, Greg Waisman, Petr Kozyakov / MercuryO

The company plans to use its new capital to launch a cryptocurrency debit card (spending globally directly from the crypto balance in the wallet) and continuing to expand to new markets, such as Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

Mercuryo’s various products include a multicurrency wallet with a built-in crypto exchange and digital asset purchasing functionality, a widget and high-volume cryptocurrency acquiring and OTC services.

Kozyakov says the company doesn’t charge for currency conversion and has no other “hidden fees.”

“We enable instant and easy cross-border transactions for our partners and their customers,” he said. “Also, the money transfer services lack intermediaries and require no additional steps to finalize transactions. Instead, the process narrows down to only two operations: a fiat-to-crypto exchange when sending a transfer and a crypto-to-fiat conversion when receiving funds.”

Mercuryo also offers crypto SaaS products, giving customers a way to buy crypto via their fiat accounts while delegating digital asset management to the company. 

“Whether it be virtual accounts or third-party customer wallets, the company handles most cryptocurrency-related processes for banks, so they can focus more on their core operations,” Kozyakov said.

Mike Lobanov, Target Global’s co-founder, said that as an experiment, his firm tested numerous solutions to buy Bitcoin.

“Doing our diligence, we measured ‘time to crypto’ – how long it takes from going to the App Store and downloading the app until the digital assets arrive in the wallet,” he said.

Mercuryo came first with 6 minutes, including everything from KYC and funding to getting the cryptocurrency, according to Lobanov.

“The second-best result was 20 minutes, while some apps took forever to process our transaction,” he added. “This company is a game-changer in the field, and we are delighted to have been their supporters since the early days.”

Looking ahead, the startup plans to release a product that will give businesses a way to send instant mass payments to multiple customers and gig workers simultaneously, no matter where the receiver is located.

#africa, #app-store, #articles, #asia-pacific, #bitcoin, #bitfinex, #blockchain, #co-founder, #cross-border-payments, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #digital-asset-management, #digital-currencies, #funding, #fundings-exits, #latin-america, #london, #money, #payments, #recent-funding, #saas, #series-a, #south-america, #southeast-asia, #startups, #target-global, #united-states, #venture-capital

Mobile game spending hits record $1.7B per week in Q1 2021, up 40% from pre-pandemic levels

The Covid-19 pandemic drove increased demand for mobile gaming, as consumers under lockdowns looked to online sources of entertainment, including games. But even as Covid-19 restrictions are easing up, the demand for mobile gaming isn’t slowing. According to a new report from mobile data and analytics provider App Annie in collaboration with IDC, users worldwide downloaded 30% more games in the first quarter of 2021 than in the fourth quarter of 2019, and spent a record-breaking $1.7 billion per week in mobile games in Q1 2021.

That figure is up 40% from pre-pandemic levels, the report noted.

Image Credits: App Annie

The U.S. and Germany led other markets in terms of growth in mobile game spending year-over-year as of Q1 2021 in the North American and Western European markets, respectively. Saudi Arabia and Turkey led the growth in the rest of the world, outside the Asia-Pacific region. The latter made up around half of the mobile game spend in the quarter, App Annie said.

 

The growth in mobile gaming, in part accelerated by the pandemic, also sees mobile further outpacing other forms of digital games consumption. This year, mobile gaming will increased its global lead over PC and Mac gaming to 2.9x and will extend its lead over home games consoles to 3.1x.

Image Credits: App Annie

However, this change comes at a time when the mobile and console market is continuing to merge, App Annie notes, as more mobile devices are capable of offering console-like graphics and gameplay experiences, including those with cross-platform capabilities and social gaming features.

Games with real-time online features tend to dominate the Top Grossing charts on the app stores, including things like player-vs-player and cross-play features. For example, the top grossing mobile game worldwide on iOS and Google Play in Q1 2021 was Roblox. This was followed by Genshin Impact, which just won an Apple Design Award during the Worldwide Developer Conference for its visual experience.

Image Credits: App Annie

The report also analyzed the ad market around gaming and the growth of mobile companion apps for game consoles, including My Nintendo, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation App, Steam, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox apps. Downloads for these apps peaked under lockdowns in April 2020 in the U.S., but continue to see stronger downloads than pre-pandemic.

Image Credits: App Annie

On the advertising front, App Annie says user sentiment towards in-game mobile ads improved in Q3 2020 compared with Q3 2019, but rewarded video ads and playable ads were preferred in the U.S.

#app-store, #apps, #asia-pacific, #gaming, #germany, #google-play, #mobile-devices, #mobile-game, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #roblox, #saudi-arabia, #super-mario-run, #tc, #turkey, #united-states, #xbox

Fashion wholesale marketplace Joor opens China office

Joor, an online marketplace that connects fashion brands and retailers around the world, has opened its first China office in downtown Shanghai as it eyes growth in the region.

The 11-year-old New York-based company works as a virtual showroom for brands, which traditionally would meet with their retail partners in physical venues to showcase the latest collections. With Joor, showrooms become live videos, a feature that has no doubt proven useful during COVID-19.

The company also gives brands a set of data tools to analyze their sales that can inform future productions. For buyers, the benefits are similar — they are able to see which brand or product is trending and make better forecasts.

The expansion into China follows a robust year for Joor in APAC and the opening of its offices in Melbourne and Tokyo. Joor’s wholesale volume ordered by retailers in the region grew 139% year-over-year in 2021, and wholesale volume for APAC-based brands was up 419%, the company said in an announcement.

“The establishment of JOOR Shanghai will allow us to provide frictionless wholesale management to the range of fine brands and retailers across the country,” said Joor’s CEO Kristin Savilia in a statement. “It builds on our existing leadership position in North America and Europe, and we expect continued expansion across the Asia-Pacific region.”

Joor’s marketplace boasts more than 12,500 brands and over 325,000 retailers around the world to date. The company has raised over $35 million in funding, according to its disclosed rounds. Its investors include venture capital firms Battery Ventures and Canaan Partners as well as the 71-year-old Japanese trading house Itochu.

#asia, #asia-pacific, #battery-ventures, #canaan-partners, #china, #ecommerce, #itochu, #joor, #melbourne, #new-york, #online-marketplace, #shanghai, #tokyo

Goldman Sachs leads $202M investment in project44, doubling its valuation to $1.2B in a matter of months

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted a lot in the world, and supply chains are no exception. 

A number of applications that aim to solve workflow challenges across the supply chain exist. But getting real-time access to information from transportation providers has remained somewhat elusive for shippers and logistics companies alike. 

Enter Project44. The 7-year-old Chicago-based company has built an API-based platform that it  says acts as “the connective tissue” between transportation providers, third-party logistics companies, shippers and the systems. Using predictive analytics, the platform provides crucial real-time information such as estimated time of arrivals (ETAs).

“Supply chains have undergone an incredible amount of change – there has never been a greater need for agility, resiliency, and the ability to rapidly respond to changes across the supply chain,” said Jason Duboe, the company’s Chief Growth Officer.

And now, project44 announced it has raised $202 million in a Series E funding round led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Emergence Capital. Girteka and Lineage Logistics also participated in the financing, which gives project44 a post-money valuation of $1.2 billion. That doubles the company’s valuation at the time of its Insight Partners-led $100 million Series D in December.

The raise is quite possibly the largest investment in the supply chain visibility space to date.

Project44 is one of those refreshingly transparent private companies that gives insight into its financials. This month, the company says it crossed $50 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR), which is up 100% year over year. It has more than 600 customers including some of the world’s largest brands such as Amazon, Walmart, Nestle, Starbucks, Unilever, Lenovo and P&G. Customers hail from a variety of industries including CPG, retail, e-commerce, manufacturing, pharma, and chemical.

Over the last year, the pandemic created a number of supply chain disruptions, underscoring the importance of technologies that help provide visibility into supply chain operations. Project44 said it worked hard to help customers to mitigate “relentless volatility, bottlenecks, and logistics breakdowns,” including during the Suez Canal incident where a cargo ship got stuck for days.

Looking ahead, Project44 plans to use its new capital in part to continue its global expansion. Project44 recently announced its expansion into China and has plans to grow in the Asia-Pacific, Australia/New Zealand and Latin American markets, according to Duboe.

We are also going to continue to invest heavily in our carrier products to enable more participation and engagement from the transportation community that desires a stronger digital experience to improve efficiency and experience for their customers,” he told TechCrunch. The company also aims to expand its artificial intelligence (AI) and data science capabilities and broaden sales and marketing reach globally.

Last week, project44 announced its acquisition of ClearMetal, a San Francisco-based supply chain planning software company that focuses on international freight visibility, predictive planning and overall customer experience. WIth the buy, Duboe said  project44 will now have two contracts with Amazon: road and ocean. 

“Project44 will power what they are chasing,” he added.

And in March, the company also acquired Ocean Insights to expand its ocean offerings.

Will Chen, a managing director of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, believes that project44 is unique in its scope of network coverage across geographies and modes of transport.  

“Most competitors predominantly focus on over-the-road visibility and primarily serve one region, whereas project44 is a truly global business that provides end-to-end visibility across their customers’ entire supply chain,” he said.

Goldman Sachs Asset Management, noted project44 CEO and founder Jett McCandless, will help the company grow not only by providing capital but through its network and resources.

#amazon, #api, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #asia-pacific, #australia, #business, #chicago, #chief, #china, #clearmetal, #companies, #e-commerce, #emergence-capital, #funding, #fundings-exits, #goldman-sachs, #insight-partners, #lenovo, #logistics, #manufacturing, #nestle, #new-zealand, #officer, #pg, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #starbucks, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #transportation, #unilever, #venture-capital, #walmart

Visa takes a swipe in fintech, builds new online marketplace

The relationships between banks and fintechs are multi-faceted.

In some cases, they partner. In many cases, they compete. In other cases, one acquires or invests in the other.

Well, today, an announcement by global payments giant Visa is aimed at helping facilitate banks and fintechs’ ability to work together.

Specifically, Visa said today it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect, a program designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers. 

I talked with Terry Angelos, senior vice president and global head of fintech at Visa, to understand just exactly what that means.

“Global fintech investment last year was $105 billion,” Angelos said. “There were about 2,861 deals in venture, PE and M&A. So literally over $100 billion is going into fintech, which is more than the combined tech budgets of every bank in the U.S. As a result, a lot of innovation that is occurring in fintech is funded by venture dollars. We’re trying to bring that innovation to our clients, whether they are banks, processors or other fintechs.”

The program initially launched in Europe in November of 2020, and now is available in the U.S., Asia Pacific, Latin American and CEMEA (Central Europe, Middle East and Africa). Visa has worked to identify fintechs that can help banks and financial institutions (that are clients of Visa’s) as well as other fintechs “create digital-first experiences, without the cost and complexity of building the back-end technology in-house.

Local teams will run programs in the respective regions, and vet and manage partners in the following categories: account opening, data aggregation, analytics and security, customer engagement and new cardholder services and operations and compliance.

So far, Visa has identified about 60 partners that offer a range of technologies — from back-office functions to new front-end services, according to Angelos. Those partners include Alloy, Jumio, Argyle, Fidel, FirstSource, TravelBank, Canopy, Hummingbird and Unit21, among others. Twenty-four are located in the U.S.

“So much of fintech focus and coverage is about disrupting existing banks. Everyone is trying to disrupt everyone, including fintechs like PayPal,” Angelos told TechCrunch. “Venture numbers are certainly very large. What we’re realizing is there is a significant opportunity to pair up a lot of venture-backed companies with our existing clients. It runs a little bit against us versus them approach you typically hear about.”

Visa clients can get in touch with program partners via the Visa Partner website and get benefits such as reduced implementation fees and pricing discounts. 

“The Fintech Connect program is about both helping to identify and curate interesting fintech companies and then create a favorable commercial partnership for our clients so they can engage with these Fintech Connect partners,” Angelos said.

So, what does Visa gain from all this?

“Our goal is that all of our clients are in a position to build better digital experiences for their consumers,” he told TechCrunch. “We would love it if every bank had the latest tools in order to onboard clients and build digital experiences.”

One of its partners, for example, is virtual card startup Extend. 

“There are fintechs that provide this today such as TripActions, Ramp and Divvy,” Angelos points out. “But what Visa is doing is looking at ‘How can we enable our banking clients to do something similar?’ So we’re bringing innovation into our ecosystem so that anyone can take advantage.”

It can also help companies such as TripActions, Ramp or Divvy with other complementary technologies for security posture, for example.

“The net beneficiary is to hopefully move more spending onto those rails,” Angelos said. “For example, if you look at B2B spend, there’s about $120 trillion of it annually. We believe about $20 trillion of that is card eligible. Today, Visa captures about $1 trillion of that. So, another $19 trillion is available for Visa to capture through our partners if our banks and fintechs can build these kinds of solutions to enable B2B payments.”

To be clear, Visa also invests in startups from time to time. But this initiative is distinct from those efforts, although a couple of its partners have been recipients of funding from Visa.

#africa, #asia-pacific, #bank, #banking, #central-europe, #europe, #fidel, #finance, #financial-technology, #fintech, #jumio, #middle-east, #money, #payment-cards, #payments, #paypal, #ramp, #startup, #startups, #tc, #travelbank, #tripactions, #united-states, #visa

KKR closes $15 billion fund targeting consumption and urbanization in Asia

KKR has just closed $15 billion for its Asia-focused private equity fund, exceeding its original target size after receiving “strong support” from new and existing global investors, including those in the Asia Pacific region.

The new close came nearly four years after KKR raised its Asian Fund III of $9.3 billion and marks the New York-based alternative asset management titan’s ongoing interest in Asia. It also makes KKR Asian Fund IV one of the largest private equity funds dedicated to the Asia Pacific region.

KKR itself will inject about $1.3 billion into Fund IV alongside investors through the firm and its employees’ commitments. The new fund will be on the lookout for opportunities in consumption and urbanization trends, as well as corporate carve-outs, spin-offs, and consolidation.

KKR has been a prolific investor in Asia-Pacific since it entered the region 16 years ago with a multifaceted approach that spans private equity, infrastructure, real estate and credit. It currently has $30 billion in assets under management in the region.

The firm has been active during COVID-19 as well. On the one hand, the pandemic has accelerated the transition to online activities and singled out tech firms that proved resilient during the health crisis. Market disruption in the last year has also made valuations more attractive and pressured companies to seek new sources of capital. All in all, these forces provide “increasingly interesting opportunities for flexible capital providers like KKR,” the firm’s spokesperson Anita Davis told TechCrunch.

Since the pandemic, KKR has deployed about $7 billion across multiple strategies in Asia.

While KKR looks for deals across Asia, each market provides different opportunities pertaining to the state of its economy. For deals in consumption upgrades, KKR seeks out companies in emerging markets like China, Southeast Asia and India, said Davis. In developed countries like Japan, Korea and Australia, KKR observed that continued governance reform, along with a focus on return on equity (ROE), has driven carve-outs from conglomerates and spin-offs from multinational corporations, Davis added.

Specifically, KKR’s private equity portfolio in Asia consists of about 60 companies across 11 countries. Some of its more notable deals include co-leading ByteDance’s $3 billion raise in 2018 amid the TikTok parent’s rapid growth and bankrolling Reliance Jio with $1.5 billion in 2020.

“The opportunity for private equity investment across Asia-Pacific is phenomenal,” said Hiro Hirano, co-head of Asia Pacific Private Equity at KKR. “While each market is unique, the long-term fundamentals underpinning the region’s growth are consistent — the demand for consumption upgrades, a fast-growing middle class, rising urbanization, and technological disruption.”

The Asian Fund IV followed in the footsteps of KKR’s two other Asia-focused funds that closed in January, the $3.9 billion Asia Pacific Infrastructure Investors Fund and the $1.7 billion Asia Real Estate Partners Fund.

#asia, #asia-pacific, #finance, #funding, #investment, #new-york, #private-equity, #real-estate, #reliance-jio

AWS brings the Mac mini to its cloud

AWS today opened its re:Invent conference with a surprise announcement: the company is bringing the Mac mini to its cloud. These new EC2 Mac instances, as AWS calls them, are now available in preview. They won’t come cheap, though.

The target audience here — and the only one AWS is targeting for now — is developers who want cloud-based build and testing environments for their Mac and iOS apps. But it’s worth noting that with remote access, you get a fully-featured Mac mini in the cloud, and I’m sure developers will find all kinds of other use cases for this as well.

Given the recent launch of the M1 Mac minis, it’s worth pointing out that the hardware AWS is using — at least for the time being — are i7 machines with six physical and 12 logical cores and 32 GB of memory. Using the Mac’s built-in networking options, AWS connects them to its Nitro System for fast network and storage access. This means you’ll also be able to attach AWS block storage to these instances, for example.

Unsurprisingly, the AWS team is also working on bringing Apple’s new M1 Mac minis into its data centers. The current plan is to roll this out “early next year,” AWS tells me, and definitely within the first half of 2021. Both AWS and Apple believe that the need for Intel-powered machines won’t go away anytime soon, though, especially given that a lot of developers will want to continue to run their tests on Intel machines for the foreseeable future.

David Brown, AWS’s vice president of EC2, tells me that these are completely unmodified Mac minis. AWS only turned off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It helps, Brown said, that the minis fit nicely into a 1U rack.

“You can’t really stack them on shelves — you want to put them in some sort of service sled [and] it fits very well into a service sled and then our cards and all the various things we have to worry about, from an integration point of view, fit around it and just plug into the Mac mini through the ports that it provides,” Brown explained. He admitted that this was obviously a new challenge for AWS. The only way to offer this kind of service is to use Apple’s hardware, after all.

Image Credits: AWS

It’s also worth noting that AWS is not virtualizing the hardware. What you’re getting here is full access to your own device that you’re not sharing with anybody else. “We wanted to make sure that we support the Mac Mini that you would get if you went to the Apple store and you bought a Mac mini,” Brown said.

Unlike with other EC2 instances, whenever you spin up a new Mac instance, you have to pre-pay for the first 24 hours to get started. After those first 24 hours, prices are by the second, just like with any other instance type AWS offers today.

AWS will charge $1.083 per hour, billed by the second. That’s just under $26 to spin up a machine and run it for 24 hours. That’s quite a lot more than what some of the small Mac mini cloud providers are charging (we’re generally talking about $60 or less per month for their entry-level offerings and around two to three times as much for a comparable i7 machine with 32GB of RAM).

Image Credits: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

Until now, Mac mini hosting was a small niche in the hosting market, though it has its fair number of players, with the likes of MacStadium, MacinCloud, MacWeb and Mac Mini Vault vying for their share of the market.

With this new offering from AWS, they are now facing a formidable competitor, though they can still compete on price. AWS, however, argues that it can give developers access to all of the additional cloud services in its portfolio, which sets it apart from all of the smaller players.

“The speed that things happen at [other Mac mini cloud providers] and the granularity that you can use those services at is not as fine as you get with a large cloud provider like AWS,” Brown said. “So if you want to launch a machine, it takes a few days to provision and somebody puts a machine in a rack for you and gives you an IP address to get to it and you manage the OS. And normally, you’re paying for at least a month — or a longer period of time to get a discount. What we’ve done is you can literally launch these machines in minutes and have a working machine available to you. If you decide you want 100 of them, 500 of them, you just ask us for that and we’ll make them available. The other thing is the ecosystem. All those other 200-plus AWS services that you’re now able to utilize together with the Mac mini is the other big difference.”

Brown also stressed that Amazon makes it easy for developers to use different machine images, with the company currently offering images for macOS Mojave and Catalina, with Big Sure support coming “at some point in the future.” And developers can obviously create their own images with all of the software they need so they can reuse them whenever they spin up a new machine.

“Pretty much every one of our customers today has some need to support an Apple product and the Apple ecosystem, whether it’s iPhone, iPad or  Apple TV, whatever it might be. They’re looking for that bold use case,” Brown said. “And so the problem we’ve really been focused on solving is customers that say, ‘hey, I’ve moved all my server-side workloads to AWS, I’d love to be able to move some of these build workflows, because I still have some Mac minis in a data center or in my office that I have to maintain. I’d love that just to be on AWS.’ ”

AWS’s marquee launch customers for the new service are Intuit, Ring and mobile camera app FiLMiC.

“EC2 Mac instances, with their familiar EC2 interfaces and APIs, have enabled us to seamlessly migrate our existing iOS and macOS build-and-test pipelines to AWS, further improving developer productivity,” said Pratik Wadher, vice president of Product Development at Intuit. “We‘re experiencing up to 30% better performance over our data center infrastructure, thanks to elastic capacity expansion, and a high availability setup leveraging multiple zones. We’re now running around 80% of our production builds on EC2 Mac instances, and are excited to see what the future holds for AWS innovation in this space.”

The new Mac instances are now available in a number of AWS regions. These include US East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), Europe (Ireland) and Asia Pacific (Singapore), with other regions to follow soon.

#amazon-web-services, #apple, #apple-inc, #asia-pacific, #aws-reinvent, #bluetooth, #cloud, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #david-brown, #developer, #europe, #ipad, #iphone, #ireland, #mac-mini, #macintosh, #ohio, #oregon, #singapore, #steve-jobs, #tc, #web-hosting

E-scooter startup Neuron Mobility adds $12M to its Series A for expansion in Australia and New Zealand

Neuron Mobility, a Singapore-based e-scooter rental startup, announced today that it has added $12 million to its Series A. Led by Square Peg, an Australian venture capital firm and GSR Ventures, this increases the round’s new total to $30.5 million. The company, which operates in Australia and New Zealand in addition to Southeast Asian markets, first announced its Series A in December 2019.

Part of Neuron Mobility’s growth plans hinges on the increased adoption of electric scooters and bikes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are using their cars less frequently because they are working remotely or there are movement restrictions where they live. When they do go out, electric bikes and scooters offer an alternative to public transportation and ride-hailing services for short trips.

Neuron Mobility’s chief executive Zachary Wang said the company raised a Series A+ instead of moving onto a Series B because more cities are “opening up to the possibility of micromobility, particularly rental e-scooters as they present an individual transport option that takes pressure off public transport and allows people to continue social distancing.”

“We’ve been experiencing tremendous growth in ANZ and the pandemic has made us fast track our plans,” he added.

Though Neuron Mobility currently does not operate in other Southeast Asian countries besides Singapore, Wang said it is “constantly evaluating opportunities across APAC.”

The new funding will be used to speed up Neuron Mobility’s expansion plans in Australia and New Zealand, where it claims to be the leading electric scooter rental operator. The company is currently present in nine locations, including Auckland, New Zealand, and Australian cities Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Canberra and Townsville. Neuron Mobility plans to expand into five new cities over the next two months and part of that involves hiring 400 more people in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. In addition to the Asia-Pacific, Neuron Mobility will also launch in Slough, it’s first location in the United Kingdom, by the end of this year.

Neuron Mobility’s research found that before the COVID-19 lockdowns in Australia, one in five of its users had never used an e-scooter before. But now Australian and New Zealand users have increased their average e-scooter trip distances by 23% to 2.6 kilometers, with the average duration of rides rising by 10% to more than 14 minutes. Neuron Mobility’s pricing is meant to be affordable depending on different markets. For example, in Brisbane, users pay one Australian dollar (about 68 U.S. cents) to begin a trip and then 38 Australian cents for each minute of the ride. Its e-scooters can go up to speeds of about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) per hour.

Other “micromobility” companies, including Ofo, Reddy Go, Obike and Lime, have also offered rental services in Australia and New Zealand, but ran into trouble. Bike-sharing startups Ofo, Reddy Go and Obike withdrew from Australia in part because city councils were frustrated by bikes were being abandoned on sidewalks and in parks. Lime still operates in Australian cities, but in June, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found that the company failed to disclose safety issues with its Generation 2 scooters (in response, Lime said it would implement new compliance procedures and upgrade to its new Generation 3 scooter).

Wang said Neuron Mobility avoids those issues by strategically planning which cities it will launch in, instead of focusing on rapid expansion, partnering with city councils and “continually shifting and adapting to meet their needs.” Several of Neuron Mobility’s features, including geofencing to control where and how fast e-scooters can be ridden, and a “Helmet Lock” to make helmets available for all scooters, were developed after discussions with city councils. Neuron Mobility’s scooters, designed by the company specifically for renting, also use swappable batteries to decrease pollution.

After launching in Singapore, Neuron Mobility decided to focus on Australia and New Zealand because “both countries have cities that are highly suitable for micromobility in terms of infrastructure and regulations,” Wang said. City councils have also “been keen to push the boundaries of what can be done with technology to make programs better and safer and that really suits our way of thinking.”

 

#asia, #asia-pacific, #australia, #e-scooters, #fundings-exits, #mobility, #neuron-mobility, #new-zealand, #singapore, #startups, #tc

Uber appoints Pradeep Parameswaran as new head of its Asia Pacific business

Uber has appointed Pradeep Parameswaran, who oversaw the ride-hailing giant’s business in India and South Asia for two years, as the regional general manager of its Asia Pacific region operations.

Parameswaran, who starts his new role next week, will be tasked to improve Uber’s presence in the nine nations in the Asia Pacific region where the company currently operates.

“There is huge potential to serve more Uber customers and continue innovating across the diverse region, whether that be taxi partnerships in North Asia, new products like Uber Rent in Australia or pushing two and three-wheelers deep into the Indian heartland,” said Parameswaran, pictured above, in a statement.

Asia Pacific countries indeed offer a huge opportunity to Uber, which in recent years has retreated from Southeast Asia and China as the heavily backed, loss-making company struggled to compete with just as heavily backed and loss-making local startups.

Earlier this year, before the coronavirus began to spread widely outside of China, Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said the firm planned to expand in Japan and South Korea in the immediate future.

During his tenure as the chief of Uber India and South Asia, Parameswaran helped the firm grow and steer through some tough decisions in the world’s second largest internet market. Uber said earlier this year that in 2019, it handled 14 million rides each week in India.

But the company’s bet to win the food delivery market did not work in the country, despite spending millions each month to lure customers. Earlier this year, Uber sold Eats’ Indian business to local rival Zomato.

Parameswaran will be overseeing Uber’s ride business in Asia Pacific region, but not the food delivery category, a spokesperson said, adding that the firm is also running a selection process to determine a replacement for Parameswaran’s former India role.

He will also be moving to company’s yet-to-be named new headquarter in APAC. The company has said it wants to move its regional headquarters to Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous Chinese territory where the company operates in a legal grey area.

Uber hired and appointed Amit Jain as its India head and later promoted him to run the Asia Pacific business. But Jain left the company last year to join venture fund Sequoia Capital. Since then, the region has been managed by Uber team in Europe.

“We’re pleased that Pradeep Parameswaran will take on an expanded role as Regional General Manager for APAC. After capably leading our India and South Asia business since 2018, I know that he will continue to inspire Uber’s next phase of growth across this key region,” said Andrew Macdonald, SVP of Mobility and Business Operations at Uber, in a statement.

#asia, #asia-pacific, #china, #dara-khosrowshahi, #india, #japan, #southeast-asia, #transportation, #uber, #zomato

Singapore’s micromobility startup Beam raises $26 million

Beam, a Singapore-headquartered micromobility firm that offers shared e-scooters, has raised $26 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its footprint in Korea, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Taiwan.

Sequoia India and Hana Ventures led the two-and-a-half-year-old startup’s Series A financing round, while several more investors from Asia Pacific region participated, Beam said without disclosing their names. The startup has raised $32.4 million to date, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Beam, like Bounce and Yulu in India, offers electric scooters in the aforementioned five markets. Electric and gasoline scooters have become popular in several Asian nations and elsewhere as people look for alternative transportation mediums to move around faster and at less cost.

While these vehicles make inroads into various markets, it’s also not uncommon to find these scooters abandoned carelessly in the streets. Beam said unlike other startups, it incentivizes its riders through in-app offers to park the scooters at predetermined spots.

“I’m really excited about our new technology and its ability to reduce the problems associated with randomly scattered scooters around a city. This helps us to further improve our industry-leading vehicle retention rates, reduce operational costs, and most importantly, benefits communities by keeping city streets neater,” said Beam co-founder and chief executive Alan Jiang.

Beam, which did not disclose how many customers it has amassed, will use the fresh capital to grow its operational and engineering focus and grow deeper in its existing markets, it said. It will also “accelerate” the launch of its third-generation e-scooter, the Beam Saturn, which features swappable batteries, improved build, to more markets, it said.

Abheek Anand, Managing Director at Sequoia Capital India, said Beam’s collaboration with regulators, technology, and insights into the transportation landscape stand to give it an edge in the Asia Pacific region.

The startup’s fundraising comes at a time when many young firms, especially those operating in transportation category, in Asia are struggling to raise capital. Beam said it had implemented stringent cleaning and operations practices to limit the possibility of virus transmission to allay riders’ concern.

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Autofleet raises $7.5M to help fleets put idle vehicles into drive

On-demand mobility, when done successfully, strikes a balance between demand and supply while providing reliable service and making a profit. It’s a sweet spot that can be difficult, if not impossible, to find.

Autofleet, a startup that develops fleet optimization software to redirect underused vehicles into ride-hailing and delivery services, wants to solve that mission impossible. Now, the company founded by former Avis and Gett employees, has raised $7.5 million in seed and Series A funding to expand into international markets and grow its research and development team.

The Series A was led by MizMaa Ventures with participation from Maniv Mobility, Next Gear Ventures and Liil Ventures. Its seed financing was led by Maniv Mobility.

Autofleet developed a fleet management platform that can be used by rental car companies, car sharing operators and automakers to launch or better manage mobility services. The platform includes a booking app and integrations to delivery services, demand prediction, pooling and optimization algorithms as well as a driver app, and control center. The company also has developed a simulator tool that lets operators plan how a fleet will be deployed before a single vehicle hits the road.

For example, a rental company with abundant inventory and little demand for traditional multi-day contracts could use the platform to launch and then manage a car-sharing service. Autofleet already has partnerships with Avis Budget Group, Zipcar, Keolis and Suzuki .

That focus on managing supply side constraints is what attracted Maniv Mobility to invest in the seeding and Series A rounds, according the firm’s general partner Olaf Sakkers.

Autofleet’s biggest markets today are in Europe and the U.S., CEO Kobi Eisenberg told TechCrunch . The company is seeing early traction and fast growth in Latin America and Asia-Pacific. Eisenberg said they plan to double down on these markets. The company also expects to announce a partnership in Asia to accelerate growth in that region.

Autofleet is also looking for new opportunities for how vehicle fleets can be used, including ways to help micromobility companies improve their unit economics, according to Eisenberg.

In this age of COVID-19 — when asset-heavy businesses like rental car companies have seen their businesses upended — Autofleet has already discovered new uses for its platform. The platform is being used to help companies shift fleets to meet today’s demand for logistics and medical transportation. Autofleet is also selling its platform to companies looking to leverage their vehicle assets for their delivery services.

“We’re hearing from fleet partners around the globe who are experiencing dramatic drops in demand, and therefore significant portions of their fleet and drivers are un-utilized,” Eisenberg said. “At the same time, we have seen a sharp increase in demand for delivery services from businesses across all verticals: retail and supermarkets, restaurants.”

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