Both countries took steps aimed at improving Egypt’s poor human rights record, but rights advocates found them short of the mark.
Funding startups that help manufacturers and sellers distribute products and merchants access them on a single platform keeps soaring across Africa.
Today, Cairo-based B2B e-commerce startup Capiter continues that trend by raising a $33 million Series A round.
The investment was co-led by Quona Capital and MSA Capital. Other participating investors include Savola, Shorooq Partners, Foundation Ventures, Accion Venture Lab, and Derayah Ventures.
Many of the manufacturers in Egypt today do not have the right infrastructure of the supply chain in place to reach merchants. Nouh says that manufacturers can only reach 30% of merchants in the market, but with Capiter, that number goes up between 80% to 100%.
Also, a large portion of the manufacturers’ end trade happens via traditional channels where there is basically no transparency over data or market insights.
Using machine learning, Capiter says it helps these manufacturers gain critical insights into the markets they serve, the products they sell, and how they fair with competition.
Then for merchants, Capiter attends to three problems. The first is the inconvenience merchants have to deal with engaging several suppliers to find the right product. The second is transparency which involves some back and forth between merchants and manufacturers on pricing. The third is that merchants often have little or no access to working capital to get the right product and the right time.
With Capiter, merchants can order products from FMCGs and wholesalers while the company delivers them. Capiter also provides fair pricing and matching techniques that showcases a wide range of inventory for merchants.
Then it affords working capital to them to buy more products even when they are strapped with cash. Capiter partners with local banks in Egypt and the Central Bank to perform this.
Capiter has over 12 merchant types on its platform, including mom-and-pop stores, hotels, restaurants, cafes, electronic shops, supermarkets, grocery shops, and catering companies, each with its own customized solutions.
“We’re able to get the data from the products they buy. So we offer them the best solution on what they should sell, at what time and peak seasons, including when are the offerings happening. All of these are customized solutions that we offer,” said Mahmoud Nouh.
The company’s revenues are derived from little margins on the products bought from manufacturers and sold to merchants. Then on rebates for the suppliers and commission from the working capital provided to merchants. Capiter also makes money from providing market insights and data services to manufacturers and FMCGs.
Typically B2B e-commerce platforms operate either asset-light, inventory-heavy models. Nouh tells me that Capiter chose to use a hybrid model — making deliveries without owning any trucks to ensure scalability and owning inventory, especially for high turnover products helping the company with high availability and better pricing.
“This way has enabled us to scale the business in a very fast manner and at the same time, efficiently and reliably. Regarding warehouses and trucks, we don’t own them; we rent them. We deal with third-party logistics for transportation and we manage them.”
Over 50,000 merchants and 1,000 sellers use Capiter. According to CEO Nouh, the company has provided up to 6,000 SKUs. He also adds that the company is targeting an annualized revenue of $1 billion by next year.
“We’re on a very good trajectory for achieving this,” he added. “In terms of team members, we have a team of more than 1000 people at the moment, including in warehouses, delivery, etc. So we’ve seen good traction across all board,” he answered when asked about Capiter’s traction.
Quona Capital, the co-lead investor in this round, is known to have made some B2B e-commerce bets over the past years, for instance, Kenya’s Sokowatch. The investment in Capiter adds to the firm’s portfolio in that regard and a growing presence in the MENA region being its first check made in Egypt.
In a statement, Quona co-founder and managing partner Monica Brand Engel said, “Capiter’s embedded finance model, combined with its expertise and strong user engagement, can have a dramatic impact on the financial lives of SMEs, helping them optimize their income which helps communities to thrive.”
“SME supply chain inefficiencies are massive throughout the Middle East. We believe the key blocker is the lack of working capital in the system. Capiter has built an asset-light way to aggregate retailers and suppliers and facilitate credit into the system through a comprehensive multi-product offering such as commerce, credit financing, digital payments, bookkeeping and inventory management for SMEs, leveraging on the ecosystem built by the local banks and financial institutions.” adds Ben Harburg, partner at MSA Capital, a global VC that has invested in fintechs like Nubank and Klarna.
According to Ahmed Nouh, the company’s COO, Capiter will expand into new verticals like agriculture and pharmaceutical offerings.
The co-founder brings experience from the shipping and logistics space. Both he and Mahmoud are serial entrepreneurs. The latter’s journey is quite prominent, having worked in the mobility space as the co-founder and COO of Egyptian ride-hailing company SWVL. The company recently announced a potential SPAC deal valuing it at $1.5 billion and is one of the few African startups breeding a tech mafia. Ahmed Sabbah, another co-founder of the company, now runs early-stage fintech startup Telda.
Capiter has attracted a global team that brings together the expertise from companies like Careem and Flipkart needed to achieve the company’s targets, said Mahmoud.
He adds that the team, alongside the provision of financial services via partnerships with banks and its hybrid model, is how the company stands out in a competitive market, including the likes of Fatura, Bosta, and MaxAB.
Following this investment, the company plans to expand vertically (in terms of the buyer type) and geographically within the next year.
“We want to serve every single SME in the MENA region and expanding inside Egypt and globally.” He adds that Savola Group, one of its investors and the largest investor for FMCG products in the MENA region, will prove pivotal to this growth. Capiter also plans to diversify its financial services offerings to include payments.
Over 70% of Egypt’s young and fast-growing population of over 100 million is financially underserved despite mobile penetration exceeding 90%.
Traditional banks often overlook this segment because of their spending power or financial status and fintechs have seized the opportunity to cater to their needs.
One such fintech is MNT-Halan, and today, the company which describes itself as “Egypt’s leading fintech ecosystem” is announcing that it has closed a $120 million investment.
The investors backing MNT-Halan include private equity firms Apis Growth Fund II, Development Partners International (DPI), and Lorax Capital Partners; VCs like Venture Partners, Endeavor Catalyst, and DisruptTech.
They join previous local investors like GB Capital, DPI, Algebra Ventures, Wamda, Egypt Ventures, Shaka VC, Nowaisi Capital, Unidelta, Battery Road Digital Holdings that have backed the company in the past.
In 2017, Mounir Nakhla and Ahmed Mohsen started Halan as a ride-hailing and delivery app offering two and three-wheeler services to customers in Egypt. Since then, it has provided other features including wallets, bill payment services, e-commerce with buy now, pay later (BNPL), micro and consumer loans, all in a bid to become a super app.
Then in June this year, Netherlands-based MNT Investments BV entered a share swap agreement with the Egyptian super app to accelerate the progress of its payments and lending arm, especially in BNPL across Egypt and the MENA region.
Before the merger, MNT acquired the shares of Raseedy, the first independent and interoperable digital wallet in Egypt licensed by its Central Bank to disburse, collect and transfer money digitally through mobile applications.
As MNT-Halan, it has also obtained the micro, consumer, and nano finance licenses to provide services to both businesses and consumers across Egypt.
This has enabled the company to build a fintech ecosystem that connects consumers, merchants, and micro-enterprises via a digital platform and payment solutions.
As a business and consumer lender, MNT-Halan offers BNPL services, nano loans, microfinance, SME lending, payroll lending, and light-vehicle finance.
Its digital payments ecosystem provides services around loan disbursement and collection, peer-to-peer transfers, payroll disbursement, remittances, and bill payments.
Then in mobility, MNT-Halan provides courier, delivery, and ride-hailing services.
MNT-Halan claims to be Egypt’s largest and fastest-growing lender to the unbanked. Serving over 4 million customers in Egypt, of which 1 million are monthly active users, MNT-Halan has disbursed over $1.7 billion worth of loans to 1.8 million borrowers since inception. The company also claims to process $100 million monthly, growing 20x over the past five years.
The investment, a mixture of private equity and venture capital money, will help the company improve its technology and product while scaling to customers within and outside Egypt.
“We are at the forefront of the digital revolution sweeping across Egypt, bringing together the unbanked population with our technology. We are on track to bring financial inclusion to tens of millions of Egyptians. As a result, we will unleash this segment’s earnings potential and drive greater participation in the economy,” said CEO Nakhla.
One of its investors, Apis Growth Fund II, is a London-based private equity fund. It makes quasi-equity investments in the financial sector and related market infrastructure — payment gateways, switches, and payment platforms — in Africa and Asia.
MNT-Halan is its first landmark investment in Egypt but second on the continent after taking part in TymeBank’s $109 million investment in February this year.
The co-founders and managing partners Matteo Stefanel and Udayan Goyal said this in a statement, “We are thrilled to be investing in MNT-Halan, which is our first investment in Egypt. Our belief is that they will be the leading player digitizing the unbanked and bringing financial services to millions of underserved customers in the country.
“We look forward to partnering with them to extend their impressive growth trajectory and believe Mounir Nakhla’s track record, combined with MNT-Halan’s tech team and operational expertise, provide the ideal opportunity to invest in Egypt’s fintech sector.”
Prior to this news, Halan as an independent entity had raised $26.4 million, according to Crunchbase. This investment takes it to a combined total of $146.4 million, of which the latest is one of the largest raised in Africa this year and continues to prove the dominance of fintech on the continent.
Last month, MaxAB, the Egyptian B2B e-commerce platform that serves food and grocery retailers, raised one of the largest Series A on the continent, to the tune of $40 million. Today, it has raised a $15 million extension from existing investors — RMBV, IFC, Flourish Ventures, Crystal Stream Capital, Rise Capital, Endeavour Catalyst, Beco Capital and 4DX Ventures — bringing its total Series A fundraise to $55 million.
The company, founded by Belal El-Megharbel and Mohamed Ben Halim in 2018, manages procurement and grocery delivery to shops in Egypt. Store owners can use the platform to purchase goods, request delivery or logistics to move the goods, and access a customer support team.
When CEO El-Megharbel spoke to TechCrunch during its first Series A tranche, he said MaxAB, which operates in Egypt alone, was looking to expand across the Middle East and North Africa besides launching new product offerings and growing its team.
Today’s announcement marks MaxAB’s first step toward regional scale. The startup is announcing the acquisition of Morocco-based B2B e-commerce and distribution platform WaystoCap for an undisclosed amount.
Niama El Bassunie co-founded WaystoCap with Mehdi Daoui, Anis Abdeddine and Aziz Jaouhari Tissafi in 2015. The company was originally a cross-border trade platform for transacting business goods in Africa. That business model got WaystoCap into Y Combinator’s Winter batch in 2017, making it the first company accepted from Morocco. The company subsequently raised a $3 million seed round.
WaystoCap took its cross-border services to Ivory Coast and Togo, and at some point, was processing over $3 million worth of transactions per quarter. However, since its pivot to a similar model to MaxAB, in that it connects retailers with suppliers across Morocco, WaystoCap has pulled out from both countries while growing to a network of over 8,000 retailers in Morocco.
El-Megharbel mentioned to TechCrunch that MaxAB’s plan to move into Morocco coincided with WaystoCap’s bid to raise new funding (the last time the company took venture capital was in 2017) and push further into the Moroccan market. But both companies agreed to work together rather than compete with each other.
“I love the team. They share the same values and they’re on a mission that is using a tech-enabled supply chain to optimize food distribution across the continent,” he said in an interview. “For us, our strategy is to build a global team that can think local and execute properly. And we figured out that they’re already a perfect fit for that.”
While the acquisition signals MaxAB’s move into Morocco, it also shows the company’s entry into the Maghreb markets — Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, where there’s little or no contest.
MaxAB says more than 70,000 retailers across both platforms will “benefit from its technology, expanded end-to-end supply chain solutions and business intelligence tools as well as WaystoCap’s knowledge and expertise.”
El Bassunie will take over the position as the managing director at MaxAB Morocco. Commenting on the acquisition of her startup, she said, “… We are thrilled to play a pivotal role in the new all-star team being created and led by experienced, innovative entrepreneurs to establish a regional market leader in food and grocery supply. We are looking forward to continuing our close working relationship with our new team and taking the business to its next phase.”
The Maghreb market is new territory for MaxAB and the acquisition positions it as the most funded and largest B2B e-commerce platform for retailers and suppliers. Morocco’s growing tech hub offers huge potential and the acquisition of WaystoCap empowers MaxAB to become a truly global team with a targeted local approach, setting the company on track to be the leading B2B retail and grocery platform in the Middle East and Africa.
“At the end of the day, what we want to do is build a tech-enabled supply chain, in all the African countries, in the Middle Eastern countries, and then connect them together. That’s where the magic happens. This is where we can actually have a real impact by putting the right amount of food at the right place at the right time, and minimizing the waste which MENA cannot afford,” said MaxAB CEO El-Meghabel.
MaxAB’s acquisition of WaystoCap is the second local cross-border acquisition that has played out in Africa this week. On Monday, Nigeria and Canada-based mobility startup Plentywaka announced the acquisition of Stabus, its counterpart in Ghana, for an undisclosed amount. From a narrower consolidation perspective, Kenyan consumer experience platform Ajua acquired Kenyan AI and ML messaging and payments company WayaWaya, early in April.
WaystoCap is also the second YC-backed company in Africa to exit, after Paystack got bought by Stripe for more than $200 million last October.
Servicing one’s car personally is a time-consuming, expensive and painstaking process. It’s a cycle that can lead to more expensive repairs and safety issues down the line, and no car owner likes that.
Egypt and Dubai-based auto tech startup Odiggo is a platform addressing this problem. It allows car owners to get the help they need by finding car services and parts suppliers from providers around them. Then for the suppliers, it increases their sales and reaches more customers without necessarily spending on marketing.
Odiggo is part of the current YC Summer batch and has secured a $2.2 million seed round before Demo Day. The rosters of existing investors participating in the round are Y Combinator, 500 Startups, and Plug and Play Ventures. Regional VCs like Seedra Ventures, LoftyInc Capital, and Essa Al-Saleh (CEO of Volta-Tucks) also took part.
Ahmed Omar and Ahmed Nasser launched Odiggo in December 2019. The company operates a marketplace that connects car owners with service providers who can solve their problems, from servicing and repair to washing and maintenance. A commission-based model is used and Odiggo charges the car suppliers 20% commission on every transaction.
Over 50,000 car owners across three markets — Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia — use Odiggo. The company also works directly with over 300 merchants. It claims merchant numbers have grown 40% month-on-month while its user base has increased 200% since the start of the pandemic.
“We believe we are at a watershed moment. It is incredible that since COVID hit, Odiggo has experienced over 10 times growth in the last year,” said co-founder Omar.
CEO Omar said with this new round, Odiggo’s priority will be to attain consistent growth while expanding its team across the UEA, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
He adds that since Odiggo taps into a mix of data sources — including car metrics and internal software, it will use that same information to provide more product offerings.
Odiggo will use part of the funding to continue developing its tech and dashboard software, he said.
“For example, the platform would be hooked up to the car owner’s vehicle and link the vehicle to the marketplace and provide frequent updates of your vehicle condition so you’ll be informed if the tires are low, the oil needs changing, or if a service is required.”
The pandemic has upended the mobility and logistics sectors, especially in MENA, making players like Odiggo gain much visibility from investors. In an industry today worth over $61 billion in the Middle East and Africa alone, Odiggo is looking to become a market leader. It has even more lofty plans to go public in the next three years.
“We are also aiming to be fully focused on spending more on our product and technology, as building an ecosystem to monetize requires more capital. Our target is to go for IPO by 2024 and achieve one billion services booked, and this requires a lot of network effects, infrastructure and technology,” the CEO said.
“We aim to be the first $100 billion company coming out of the region,” added Nasser.
Some of its investors, Idris Ayodeji Bello, managing partner at LoftyInc, and Essa Al-Saleh, are onboard with the startup’s plan despite early days.
“We are excited to back Odiggo through our Afropreneurs Funds in its quest to transform the automotive parts market and provide superior service to clients, starting from MENA. The leadership team of Omar and Nasser, supported by the rest of the employees, have been a joy to work with and we are on a countdown to the IPO,” said Bello in a statement.
Facebook today announced that it would extend the “most comprehensive” subsea cable to serve the African continent and Middle East region to four more branches.
Facebook will do this in collaboration with the 2Africa consortium that includes China Mobile International, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, STC, Telecom Egypt, Vodafone, and WIOCC.
The new branches are Seychelles, the Comoros Islands, Angola, and the south-eastern part of Nigeria. They join the recently announced extension to the Canary Islands.
Last year, Facebook announced the 2Africa project to lay 37,000 km (22,990 miles) of cables. These cables interconnect Europe, via Egypt, and the Middle East, via Saudi Arabia, and 21 landings in 16 African countries.
At the time, the involved parties said the 2Africa project would be completed either by 2023 or early 2024. And once live, 2Africa should be able to serve more than the total combined capacity of all subsea cables serving Africa at the moment.
According to the company’s new statement released by the consortium, the plan is still to go live in late 2023. The consortium says 2Africa has made some progress as a big part of the subsea route survey activity is complete. The Egypt and Mediterranean Seas connections are almost complete as well, the statement read. In addition, the marine surveys for the new sections are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
The consortium selected Nokia’s Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) to build the new branches, bringing 2Africa landings to 35 in 26 countries.
“The significant investment by Facebook in 2Africa builds on several other investments we have made in the continent, including infrastructure investments in South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria, and DRC. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of connectivity as billions of people around the world rely on the internet to work, attend school, and stay connected to the people they care about,” a Facebook spokesperson said regarding the company’s continued investment in Africa.
“2Africa will not only be an important element for advancing connectivity infrastructure across the African continent, but it will also be a major investment that comes at a critical time for economic recovery. With more and more people relying on the internet, subsea cables are a vital ingredient to ensure they always are connected to what matters. While Facebook invests in submarine cables to provide better experiences for people using our products, our investments drive a more cost-effective internet for all.”
Cairo and Dubai-based ride-sharing company Swvl plans to go public in a merger with special purpose acquisition company Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital, Swvl said Tuesday. The deal will see Swvl valued at roughly $1.5 billion.
Swvl was founded by Mostafa Kandil, Mahmoud Nouh and Ahmed Sabbah in 2017. The trio started the company as a bus-hailing service in Egypt and other ride-sharing services in emerging markets with fragmented public transportation.
Its services, mainly bus-hailing, enables users to make intra-state journeys by booking seats on buses running a fixed route. This is pocket-friendly for residents in these markets compared to single-rider options and helps reduce emissions (Swvl claims it has prevented over 240 million pounds of carbon emission since inception).
After its Egypt launch, Swvl expanded to Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The company also moved its headquarters to Dubai as part of its strategy to become a global company.
Swvl offerings have expanded beyond bus-hailing services. Now, the company offers inter-city rides, car ride-sharing, and corporate services across the 10 cities it operates in across Africa and the Middle East.
Queen’s Gambit, the women-led SPAC in charge of the deal, raised $300 million in January and added $45 million via an underwriters’ overallotment option focusing on startups in clean energy, healthcare and mobility sectors.
The statement also mentions a group of investors — Agility, Luxor Capital and Zain Group — which will contribute $100 million through a private investment in public equity, or PIPE.
Per Crunchbase, Swvl has raised over $170 million. From an African perspective, Swvl features as one of the most venture-backed startups on the continent. The company has been touted to reach unicorn status in the past and will when this SPAC merger is completed.
The company will aptly trade under the ticker SWVL. The listing will make it the first Egyptian startup to go public outside Egypt and the second to go public after Fawry. It will also make the mobility company the largest African unicorn debut on any U.S.-listed exchange, beating Jumia’s debut of $1.1 billion on the NYSE. Swvl joins music-streaming platform Anghami as the second startup in the region to go public via a SPAC merger in the Middle East.
Swvl had annual gross revenue of $26 million in 2020, according to the statement, and the company expects its annual gross revenue to increase to $79 million this year and $1 billion by 2025 after expanding to 20 countries across five continents.
On why Queen’s Gambit picked Swvl for this deal, Victoria Grace, founder and CEO, said in a statement that the company fit the profile of what she was looking for: “a disruptive platform that solves complex challenges and empowers underserved populations.”
“Having established a leadership position in key emerging markets, we believe Swvl is ready to capitalize on a truly global market opportunity,” she added.
In May, TechCrunch wrote that SPACs didn’t target African startups for several reasons, including a lack of global appeal and private capital and market satisfaction. Judging by Grace’s comments, Swvl has that global appeal and is ready to venture into the public market despite being in operation for just four years.
The global social market is rapidly growing. With over 1.25 million online social sellers in Egypt alone, the Egyptian social e-commerce market is forecast to be worth more than $14.8 billion by 2024.
One of its players, Taager, is a social e-commerce platform enabling online merchants with end-to-end logistics. Today, it is announcing that it has secured $6.4 million in seed funding.
The seed round was led by Pan-African focused VC 4DX Ventures. It also included participation from Raed Ventures, Beco Capital, Breyer Capital and some private investors, including Magnus Olsson, co-founder of Careem. This is Breyer Capital’s first investment in the MENA region, and the round brings Taager’s total investment to more than $7 million since launching in December 2019.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and more recently TikTok have made advertising easier for online merchants to target customers with their products. Offline, there’s a wide range of last-mile companies to distribute these products. However, there is a fragmentation between these processes for new merchants. They are left to fend for themselves when starting out and during the delivery of products; a perfectly executed end-to-end cycle, if you will.
“Consider I’m an undergraduate, and I want to own my own e-commerce store. Where do I get the product from? How do I ship them, where do I store them? Where do I make the fulfilment, what about financing it, how am I going to deliver it?” CEO Mohammed Elhorishy said to TechCrunch concerning the dilemma new merchants face.
Elhorishy argues that typically a merchant would need to meet different suppliers to strike deals before proceeding to do the same with shipping and last-mile delivery companies.
“With Taager, we can now see the trend of people who would never have been able to build businesses on their own, now using Taager and getting the exact outcome of the very painful processing they would have gone through if they went about it manually,” he added.
So how does this work exactly? Essentially, Taager has built a B2B platform to provide a one-stop shop for these online merchants and suppliers. The platform provides online merchants and suppliers with a suite of backend and integrated services, from operational and logistical infrastructure such as storage and shipping to an online marketplace to host their products, connecting sellers with wholesalers.
The company claims to use AI and data science to enable first-time sellers to start and scale their online business with relatively low risk. It offers a transparent pricing structure and an enhanced product selection process, freeing online sellers to focus on running their business while Taager handles end-to-end operations.
After getting products from suppliers on Taager, merchants can take pictures and descriptions to Facebook (via ads or its Marketplace platform), TikTok or Instagram.
“They start utilising their marketing skills. They do advertising, run campaigns, and once an order is fulfilled, the merchants will put it on our site and Taager fulfils the end-to-end cycle. This way, merchants, without any inventory or stock or cash, can start a business and scale it from one order to a thousand orders per day because Taager made it seamless for them,” said the CEO.
On the other end, Taager takes a margin of every sale and aggregates data points. The platform does this to suggest the products that often sell to merchants and what pricing is best.
Elhorishy explains the need to employ this strategy. According to him, while Taager is not involved with the day-to-day sale of merchant’s products, the data it provides will act as growth engines alongside the heavy lifting performed by providing warehousing and last-mile services.
“It’s all about phases. You need to reach specific data-critical points where you can suggest products that make sense to the merchants. We perceive ourselves mainly as a technology and data company that has the necessary presence on the ground to fulfil this. We’re trying to automate operations as much as possible.”
Presently, Taager claims to have 5,000 merchants on its platform, critical components to the 40% month-on-month increase in Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) Elhorishy says the startup enjoys. While he did not comment on the platform’s number of suppliers, he talks about how difficult it was to onboard them initially. These suppliers, currently in their hundreds, have a plethora of options to sell their products, so Taager’s catch was to provide them with better pricing and thousands of merchants, meaning their products get sold faster. In addition to this was insights on how to expand their products and make faster imports.
“Now they come to us asking what we think the market needs, whereas it was a very big challenge in the beginning because they weren’t used to this kind of business. Another challenge was managing the last-mile operations, and now we have teams managing relationships with a wide variety of last-mile companies,” Elhorishy said of some challenges faced by the company early on.
A high margin business, as Elhorishy claims, Taager will be looking to deploy the new capital into its rapidly growing operations. It is also making hires across all levels in the company and plans to scale across MENA.
Social e-commerce globally is on the rise, and in MENA as well. Jim Breyer of Breyer Capital is enthused by this growth and Taager’s traction in the space. He believes there’s a great opportunity for Taager to replicate its unique data-driven approach for further growth across the region.
Taager’s growth also proved decisive in getting a check from its lead investor. Peter Orth, co-founder and managing partner at 4DX Ventures, said, “The Taager team have achieved very impressive results incredibly quickly, and also built one of the most impressive teams in the ecosystem. Their focus on quality and execution and a very unique approach to empowering e-commerce entrepreneurs is a dominant combination. We’re thrilled to partner with the team in the next phase of the company’s growth.”
The giant container ship had been held in the Suez Canal since March, as Egyptian authorities and the ship’s owners argued over compensation. On Wednesday, it finally began the journey out.
Globally, food and grocery delivery startups have been raising mega-rounds of late, especially those in Europe as the pandemic has given rise to more people ordering online more than ever. This growth has translated to an increase in volume across e-commerce platforms all over the world.
While there has relatively been no action in Africa in terms of raising investments, startups in MENA continue to garner interest, mainly in B2B e-commerce. Today, the latest of these is coming out of Egypt.
MaxAB, a startup based out of Cairo that serves a network of traditional food and grocery retailers across Egypt, has raised $40 million in Series A financing.
The company, which claims to have launched in a new city every month this year, will be expanding its physical footprint across the Middle East and North Africa. In addition, MaxAB plans on hiring more talent and scaling its recently launched business verticals, including new supply chains and embedded finance solutions.
Founded in November 2018 by Belal El-Megharbel and Mohamed Ben Halim, MaxAB’s platform manages procurement and grocery delivery to shops in Egypt. Store owners can use the platform to purchase goods, request delivery or logistics to move the goods, and access a customer support team.
“It’s not just the technology platform; we operate our own warehouses, we operate our own fleet. And the idea was quite simple.” CEO El-Megharbel said to TechCrunch. According to him, small merchants in Egypt, representing a large chunk of the nation’s GDP, find it hard to procure their inventory. On the other hand, manufacturers also have to suffer immensely and incur so many costs to serve a market like Egypt, where over 400,000 small mom-and-pop shops sell 90% of groceries in the country.
“We saw that there is a massive role in optimizing this supply chain using technology so that we can have the right amount of products at the right place at the right time,” explained El-Megharbel, the chief executive who left Careem in 2018 to start MaxAB.
He calls MaxAB the Amazon for retail in the Middle East. There’s a slight comparison. In emerging markets, it can be challenging to find third-party e-commerce delivery companies to work with. Those available are either expensive or inefficient. This is why MaxAB has its own infrastructure. The company doesn’t build warehouses from scratch. Instead, it buys them outrightly and revamps them to fit its needs. After that, MaxAB uses internal technology tools to better manage inventory flow in, within, and out of the warehouse.
El-Megharbel noted that up until last year, MaxAB was focused on offering a single type of supply chain in one city. That was before and after completing its $6.2 million seed round with 9,000 merchants on its app. But with this new round, MaxAB solidifies both infrastructure and technology into a multi-supply chain and multi-city business.
The new development is accompanying a period of growth the company experienced in the last two years where it now services more than 55,000 merchants and delivers over 2,000 unique products. In terms of staff size, the company has grown more than 5x to 1,600 people and is looking to add to that number.
Talking about the embedded finance solutions, the plan for MaxAB is to offer financial services to its merchants. First of all, given the company’s database of merchants, MaxAB can predict their financial status. Then orking with banking and non-banking partners, MaxAB will offer credit facilities and capital financing to these merchants.
MaxAB’s Series A investment is one of the largest in this financing round across the MENA region. Impact investor RMBV led the round with participation from the IFC, Flourish Ventures, Crystal Stream Capital, Rise Capital, and Endeavour Catalyst. Exiting investors, Beco Capital and 4DX Ventures also took part. This round brings the company’s total investment to date to $46.2 million.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the unique structure of Egypt’s economy, with hundreds of thousands of shopkeepers and small businesses becoming the lifeline of our country at the time of crisis,” said managing partner at RMBV Ahmed Badreldin in a statement. “We are delighted to be backing visionary entrepreneurs that have created a transformative business with impressive growth that is a catalyst for financial inclusion and job creation. We look forward to supporting MaxAB in its next phase of development as they continue delivering on growth and innovation.”
The pandemic has significantly increased technology adoption and enhanced the company’s unit economics. As a market leader, MaxAB has taken advantage to consolidate its position and scale sustainably amidst competition.
“There is competitiveness in the Middle East. Most of them are marketplace models but do not manage their supply chain per se. And this is what makes our model more unique is that we own the end-to-end cycle. It’s painful, but we believe that this is what this industry, the food and groceries B2B e-commerce space, needs,” the CEO said.
After expanding across MENA, does the company see any opportunity southward into sub-Saharan Africa where it might face competition from the likes of Sokowatch? “Not in the near future,” answered El-Megharbel. “I think this market [the Middle East and North Africa] is almost $200 billion per year. So we have a long way to go there before we go to sub-Saharan Africa.”
Icon group is a new $30M VC fund being launched out of Germany’s iconmobile group, a WPP network agency. This means a reorganization of the company from a full-service innovation agency into also offering VC backing.
iconmobile has garnered a reputation as an innovative technology, design, and sustainability agency, but the turnaround means it will now, instead, back tech startups that enable traditional companies to “reinvent their business models and the way they reach their consumers.”
The icon ventures VC fund will be accompanied by new company arm: ‘icon impact’, the continuation of iconmobile’s well-established product and experience innovation arm.
Previous iconmobile properties now fall under the icon ventures umbrella include:
• D[AI]TA, a white label sustainable laundry system that filters microplastic fibers via smart washing machines, reduces chemical contaminants, and uses ‘smart grid’ washing to save energy. It also tracks what items have been washed, and worn, and sends that data to retailers.
• banbutsu, that does sustainable last-mile fulfillment
• icon incar a mobility experience company
Thomas Fellger, Founder of icon group said: “Whether it’s creating the first connected toothbrush for Oral-B or UX/UI design for the world’s leading automotive brands, icon group works to bring innovation from idea to scale…. Now, with the inclusion of a venture fund, we can create the things we believe in without waiting for permission or additional budget allocations by investing in opportunities where we have deep knowledge and proven impact, something that sets us apart from the big five firms.”
Speaking to me over a call he added: “We are more capable than most companies to convert our knowledge of R&D into a fast business opportunity. For example, we found an infrared sensor, which can be used to measure air quality in Egypt. Because we knew we needed that kind of quality of air data, we were able to create a whole new product. And that’s what we will be good at – connecting the dots of different products services across industries to create for that industry, a new way of looking at their business by changing the business model, or even extending the services which they couldn’t do before.”
In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a growing trend of creators adopting digital and social media, not just as a supplement to their media presence but also as a cornerstone of their personal brand.
The pandemic has surely accelerated creator economy trends. Many popular artists and figures have had to postpone concerts and live events, subsequently using social media to carry out these activities and engage their fans. Proliferating through Western and far East markets, the creator economy bug, which has made platforms like Cameo and Patreon unicorns, is beginning to take centre stage in MENA.
Today, Minly, an Egypt-based creator economy platform, is announcing that it has closed a $3.6 million seed round to allow stars across the MENA region to create authentic, personalized connections with their fans.
The round, which Minly says was oversubscribed, was co-led by 4DX Ventures, B&Y Venture Partners, and Global Ventures. It also included participation from unnamed regional funds and angel investors like Scooter Braun, founder of SB Projects and Jason Finger, co-founder of Seamless and Grubhub.
Experts say time spent viewing social media surpassed time spent viewing TV within the MENA region. But one shortcoming with social media is that its content often feels mass-produced. When creators make posts, it’s most times void of personalization to the different categories of fans they possess. In a way, this dilutes the fan experience and limits the extent and number of ways the creator can monetize.
This is where Minly comes in. The company was founded last year by Mohamed El-Shinnawy, Tarek Hosny, and Bassel El-Toukhy. It provides tools for creators to craft what it calls ‘authentic connections’ with their superfans and audience at scale. “In short, our goal is to eventually deliver tens of millions of unique, unforgettable experiences to fans each year,” El-Shinnawy said to TechCrunch.
Shinnawy, who brings more than 15 years of media and technology experience to the table, is the chief technology officer at Minly. He sold his first company Emerge Technology to a U.S.-based media company. He has also delivered work for Hollywood’s top studios, such as Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal, Disney, Fox, and Warner Brothers, while playing a role in the global expansion of Apple TV+, Disney+, and Netflix to the MENA region.
Minly has experienced rapid growth since launching late last year. It has more than 50,000 users along with an impressive list of popular regional celebrities.
On the platform, users can buy personalized video messages and shoutouts from their favourite celebrities, get unprecedented access to the talent they admire most, and celebrities, in turn, connect with their fans on a deeper level. Minly has also assembled a diverse roster of celebrities. They range from traditional movie and television stars and athletes to musicians and internet influencers. Some of these popular figures include Tamer Hosny, Fifi Abdou, Assala Nasri, and Mahmoud Trezeguet.
“We think that we have already differentiated ourselves from other creator economy platforms in the region. We do this by offering the best catalogue of stars and user experience. And our entire team is working hard to grow this gap even further,” said El-Shinnawy on the crop of stars Minly has onboarded to the platform.
The CTO further gave instances of the connection created by celebrities with their fans. Last year, Egyptian singer Tamer Hosny made a surprise appearance at two fans’ engagement party. Actress and dancer Fifi Abdou also sent a personal message to one of her biggest fans, who has Down syndrome.
Minly takes a small commission on transactions made through its platform. However, the majority of the transaction price, a figure Minly didn’t disclose, goes directly to creators. And at the same time, Minly urges celebrities to automatically donate a portion of their earnings to partner charities on the platform.
Minly’s knack for creating a personalized experience is why Pan-African VC firm 4DX Ventures invested. The firm’s co-founder and general partner Peter Orth, who will be joining Minly’s board, said the company is fundamentally changing the relationship between celebrities and fans in the MENA region. “The team has both the ambition and the expertise to build a full-stack digital interaction platform that could change the way digital content is created and consumed in the region,” he added.
The creator economy market surpassed $100 billion in value this year and is still growing at an impressive rate. The pace of content creation will only speed up since surveys suggest that being a YouTuber or TikTokker or the most common term, a Vlogger is one the most desirable careers among Gen Zs. VC firms like a16z, Kleiner, and Tiger Global have also heralded this growth. They have considerably contributed to the more than $2 billion invested in creator economy platforms this year.
In MENA, there’s a huge opportunity for Minly. The region has over 450 million people, of which 30% are between the ages of 18 to 30. This demography is known to have a deep connection with social media, and El-Shinnawy believes MENA will soon contribute to a large part of the total creator economy. For Minly, the goal is to capture a huge portion of that spend and become a multi-billion dollar category-leading company. The creator platform has a case to do so. As it stands, the opportunity to build a creator economy one-stop-shop in MENA is huge compared to other regions that already have multiple entrenched incumbents. Also, Minly is one of the few platforms in the region with meaningful venture funding.
“The creator economy is in its infancy and growing at lightning speed. We have the opportunity to build this category’s first unicorn in MENA,” the CTO remarked.
With this investment, Minly is doubling down on building local celebrity acquisition teams in Egypt and other parts across MENA and the GCC, where it has seen significant traction. The company will also scale its engineering team to churn out more products to build a horizontal creator platform.
International trade was jammed for nearly a week when the Ever Given blocked the waterway in March.
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.
Cash is the predominant method of sending and receiving payments in the Middle East. If you owe someone a cup of coffee or a trip over a long period, repaying via cash is your best bet. This is one problem out of many financial issues that haven’t been addressed in the region.
The good news is that startups are springing up to provide solutions. Last month Telda, a now two-month-old startup in Egypt, raised an impressive sum as pre-seed to offer digital banking services. Today, Ziina, another startup based in Dubai, has closed $7.5 million in seed funding to scale its peer-to-peer (P2P) payment service across the Middle East and North Africa.
Ziina has managed to enlist top global investors and fintech founders in the round. Avenir Growth and Class 5 Global led this latest tranche of financing. Wamda Capital, FJ Labs, Graph Ventures, Goodwater Capital, Jabbar Internet Group, Oman Technology Fund’s Jasoor Ventures, and ANIM also participated.
The founders who took part include Checkout CEO Guillaume Pousaz via his investment fund Zinal Growth; Krishnan Menon, BukuKas CEO, as well as executives from Paypal and Venmo. This adds to a roster of executives and early employees from Revolut, Stripe, Brex, Notion, and Deel that joined Ziina’s round.
According to the company, it has raised over $8.6 million since launching last year. This includes the $850,000 pre-seed raised in May 2020 and $125,000 secured after going through Y Combinator’s Winter batch early this year.
Ziina was founded by Faisal Toukan, Sarah Toukan, and Andrew Gold. It’s the latest addition to the Middle East’s bubbling fintech ecosystem and is capitalising on the region’s rapid adoption of fintech friendly regulation.
The company allows users to send and receive payments with just a phone number —no IBAN or swift code required as is the de facto method in the UAE and some parts of the Middle East. It also claims to be the country’s first licensed social peer-to-peer application “on a mission to simplify finance for everyone.”
After meeting during a hackathon in the U.S., Faisal and Gold began exchanging ideas on how to build wallets, wanting to mirror the successes platforms like WePay, Paytm have had. At the time, VCs seemed to be interested in how the wallets ecosystem intersected with banking.
“The lines between wallets and banking have become really blurred. Every wallet has a banking partner, and people who use wallets use them for their day-to-day needs,” CEO Faisal Toukan said to TechCrunch.
On the other hand, Sarah, who is Faisal’s sister, was on her personal fintech journey in London. There, she attended several meetups headlined by the founders of Monzo and Revolut. With her knowledge and the experience of the other two, the founders decided that solving P2P payments issues was their own way of driving massive impact in the Middle East.
So how far have they gone? “We launched a beta for the market but it’s restricted for regulatory reasons and basically to keep ourselves in check with the ecosystem,” Toukan remarked. “Since then, we’ve gotten regulated. We’ve got a banking partner, one of the three largest banks in the UAE, and we’ve set a new wallet a month from now. That’s also what we were working throughout our period in YC. So it’s been quite an eventful year.”
The fintech sector in MENA is growing fast; in terms of numbers, at a CAGR of 30%. Also, in the UAE, it is estimated that over 450 fintech companies will raise about $2 billion in 2022 compared to the $80 million raised in 2017. Fintechs in the region are focused on solving payments, transfers, and remittances. Alongside its P2P offering, these are the areas Ziina wants to play in, including investment and cryptocurrency services.
According to Toukan, there’s no ease of making online investments, and remittances are done in exchange houses, a manual process where people need to visit an office physically. “So what we’re looking to do is to bring all these products to life in the UAE and expand beyond that. But the first pain point we’re solving for is for people to send and receive money with two clicks,” the CEO affirmed.
Starting with P2P has its own advantages. First, peer-to-peer services is a repeat behavioural mechanism that allows companies to establish trust with customers. Also, it’s a cheaper customer acquisition model. Toukan says that as Zinna expands geographically — Saudi Arabia and Jordan in 2022; and Egypt and Tunisia some years from now — as he wants the company’s wallet to become seamless across borders. “We want a situation where if you move into Saudi or Dubai, you’re able to use the same wallet versus using different banking applications,” he added.
To be on the right side of regulation is key to any fintech expansion, and Toukan says Ziina has been in continuous dialogue with regulators to operate efficiently. But some challenges have stemmed from finding the right banking partners. “You need to make a case to the banks that this is basically a mutually beneficial partnership. And the way we’ve done that is by basically highlighting different cases globally like CashApp that worked with Southern Bank,” he said.
Now that the company has moved past that challenge, it’s in full swing to launch. Presently, Ziina has thousands of users who transacted more than $120,000 on the platform this past month. In addition, there are over 20,000 users on its waiting list to be onboarded post-launch.
Ziina has already built a team with experience across tech companies like Apple, Uber, Stanford, Coinbase, Careem, Oracle, and Yandex. It plans to double down on hiring with this new investment and customer acquisition and establishing commercial partnerships.
Tour companies are reporting a resurgence in interest for trips to bucket-list destinations, where travelers can still see the sites without being jostled.
A genetic analysis of a melon found in Sudan may point to the wild fruit that gave rise to one of summertime’s sweetest treats.
The close was three-quarters of the target and was done in less than a year following the firm’s launch in February 2020. According to the firm, the second close should be concluded by the end of this year or Q1 2022.
Founded by partners Khaled Talhouni, Sarah Abu Risheh and Stephanie Nour Prince, Nuwa primarily targets markets in the Middle East and the wider GCC. The partners have a track record of investing in Middle Eastern companies — Careem, Mumzworld, Golden Scent and Nana Direct. However, they have also invested in Twiga Foods and AZA, two East African startups.
They have cut checks for three companies with this new fund: two Dubai-based companies, Eyewa and Flexxpay, and one Egypt-based company, Homzmart. And despite having a strong focus on the Middle East and the GCC, the firm wants to double down on investing in more African startups, particularly in Egypt and East Africa.
I spoke with the partners to discuss their past investments, why they are interested in Africa and the similarities and differences between the regions they operate in. This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
TC: Why is Nuwa Capital choosing Sub-Saharan Africa as one of its target markets?
Khaled: I mean, it’s not our primary market, but it’s an area of secondary focus for us, which we’re really interested in. And we think that there are a lot of learnings from the Middle East that we can take from our experience of investing regionally here that we can use for investing in Africa, particularly in East Africa, especially as the digital adoption increases very significantly.
TC: Nuwa Capital invested in Homzmart recently. Are there any other startups Nuwa has invested in or plans to in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa?
Sarah: So there is a lot of the deal flow we’ve seen in North Africa, and we just started in December. We are seeing a lot of companies in Egypt, Morocco, across all of North Africa, and in the coming months, we will be investing aggressively across that geography. But for now, Homzmart is our only African investment.
TC: How do you plan to make the transition in investing in Sub-Saharan Africa?
Sarah: We have a network in East Africa because, in our previous fund, we did invest in two companies in Kenya. One was Twiga and the other was BitPesa, which is now AZA. We’ve invested in those, and as part of our due diligence and network that we’ve built in Africa, that’s why we think the opportunity is there because we got to see it and understood the market with those two companies.
TC: From your perception of how the African market is, how is it different from the GCC?
Sarah: There are different ways to look at it. But Africa is different from the GCC markets in terms of the population sizes, in terms of the purchasing power of people and in terms of companies that get a lot of attraction based on mass volume. So the success of the company sometimes is based on volume. So like a large number of people signing up to a company, for example. In Twiga, for example, it was bridging the gap between farmers and vendors, so they had a large number of farmers, and that really had a lot of power. And I think that’s where we see opportunity in Africa — in the power of the population.
Stephanie: From a VC standpoint, many funds have cropped up in the GCC region in the past couple of years, so there’s a lot more capital flowing directly in the market. That may not be exactly mirrored yet in East Africa if I might say. Also, I guess what we see from where we are in East Africa is that the capital seems to be concentrated around a particular set of founders.
TC: What will be the investment strategy for Nuwa Capital in Africa?
Sarah: We look for companies that fit into our thesis. So I can talk a bit more about the sectors that we invest in. So fintech is a large one that we look at. And then, we have a big focus on SaaS across different industries. We also really like e-commerce and marketplaces, the top of private label angle and private brands selling through e-commerce marketplaces.
And then we also have, we also look at something that we call the rapidly digitizing industries, and that’s companies that are disrupting the traditional industries through technology in education, health tech, agritech. So these are the theses we look at, and that’s how we drive our investment strategy. In terms of ticket sizes and stages, we focus on seed and Series A, and then we could also follow on in the round.
Stephanie: So when it particularly comes to Africa, what we’ve seen, which is also very interesting for us, is an increase of companies pitching to us in healthcare, in agritech, in different variations of financial services or intersection of fintech and something else. That will be very interesting also for us as we move forward, as we start looking a bit more intently.
TC: Since you are relatively new to African investment, will you be looking to partner or liaise with other VCs based on the continent?
Stephanie: It‘s a very common practice for us. We’re quite collaborative as a fund, and that’s also due to the nature of the region where you end up co-investing with a number of funds, and sometimes they tend to be the same funds that you have a similar mindset with. So that happens quite a bit; I think it’s very likely also to happen with funds we’ve co-invested with in the past in Africa.
TC: Egypt has been one of the exciting countries in both Africa and the Middle East region. What do you think is going for the market?
Stephanie: Egypt is one of the primary markets that we focus on. We are seeing a large part of our pipeline coming from Egypt. We’ve also seen a great shift in Egypt over the past few years where the type of entrepreneurs, the type of founders that are coming to us, are more mature and more experienced and just a higher calibre than before. We used to see a lot of earlier-stage companies with inexperienced founders. But today, what we’re seeing is just amazing. We are very bullish on the market when it is one of our primary focus markets.
Sarah: When companies come out of Egypt, their expansion strategy is usually either to the rest of North Africa or East Africa. Some will come to the GCC, while some will stay in Africa, depending on what industry they’re in. But I think that as we invest more in Egypt and then actively into our East Africa strategy will give us really good exposure in Africa, and as we grow, our subsequent funds will look more into Africa.
TC: Is there a portion of the fund dedicated to the African market?
Khalid: I don’t think we have a specific percentage, but the continent is part of the major strategy. We have a significant portion of the fund targeted at Egypt but we’d like to do at least 5-10% of the fund in Africa, excluding Egypt. It depends on the final fund size but we’re really bullish on Africa.
Chinese-backed and Africa-focused fintech platform OPay is in talks to raise up to $400 million, The Information reported today. The fundraising will be coming two years after OPay announced two funding rounds in 2019 — $50 million in June and $120 million Series B in November.
The $170 million raised so far comes from mainly Chinese investors who have begun to bet big on Africa over the past few years. Some of them include SoftBank, Sequoia Capital China, IDG Capital, SoftBank Ventures Asia, GSR Ventures, Source Code Capital.
In 2018, Opera, popularly known for its internet search engine and browser, launched the OPay mobile money platform in Lagos. It didn’t take long for the company to expand aggressively within the city using ORide, a now-defunct ride-hailing service, as an entry point to the array of services it wanted to offer. The company has tested several verticals — OBus, a bus-booking platform (also defunct); OExpress, a logistics delivery service; OTrade, a B2B e-commerce platform; OFood, a food delivery service, among others.
While none of these services has significantly scaled, OPay’s fintech and mobile money arm (which is its main play) is thriving. This year, its parent company Opera reported that OPay’s monthly transactions grew 4.5x last year to over $2 billion in December. OPay also claims to process about 80% of bank transfers among mobile money operators in Nigeria and 20% of the country’s non-merchant point of sales transactions.Last year, the company also said it acquired an international money transfer license with a partnership with WorldRemit also in the works.
It’s quite surprising that none of OPay’s plans to expand to South Africa and Kenya (countries it expressed interest in during its Series B) has come to fruition despite its large raises. The company blamed the pandemic for these shortcomings. However, earlier this year, the country set up shop in North Africa by expanding to Egypt. This next raise, likely a Series C, will be instrumental in the company’s quest for expansion, both geographically and product offerings. Per The Information, OPay’s valuation will increase to about $1.5 billion, three times its valuation in 2019.
We reached out to OPay, but they declined to comment on the story.
The secretary of state will also use his trip to the region this week to work on humanitarian aid for Gaza but has no plans to pursue full-fledged peace talks.
Investment activities in Egypt continue to gain steam, not for startups only but also the funds backing them. Today, seed accelerator Flat6Labs announced the second close of its Egypt fund to support early-stage startups and provide follow-up investment. The fund had a target for EGP50 million (~$3.2 million) but eventually closed at EGP207 million ($13.2 million).
Launched in 2011, Flat6Labs is a regional seed accelerator with offices in Egypt and Tunisia. The accelerator launched its Cairo programme in 2017 to invest in more than 100 startups across Egypt over the course of five years. Startups that get into the accelerator are provided with office space, legal and marketing help, and access to mentorship and networking, among other perks. They also receive between EGP500,000 and EGP750,000. However, with the close of this round, Flat6Labs has increased the check sizes to EGP1.5 million (~$95,000) and up to EGP3 million (~$191,000) in post-programme follow-on funding for selected startups.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the MSME Development Agency, Egypt Ventures, and the Egyptian American Enterprise Fund are the anchor investors in Flat6Labs’ seed fund. Sawari Ventures, which recently closed its $71 million fund, also participated in this second close, and it comes as no surprise because the firm, which is highly affiliated with the accelerator, said it would set aside 10% of its fund for Flat6Labs seed-stage companies when we covered them in April.
“At Sawari Ventures, our fund strategy has always been to allocate a percentage of our fund to the seed stage, which is a completely different proposition in terms of process, culture, and support needed,” Wael Amin, managing Partner at Sawari Ventures, said in a statement. “As investors in Flat6Labs Accelerator Company, we get the opportunity to profitably participate in Egyptian companies at a very early stage, get early indicators on ecosystem trends, and visibility into the ecosystem.”
The second close of Flat6Labs’ fund is the latest of four venture capital funds targeted at Egyptian startups. Shortly after Sawari Ventures’ close, Algebra Ventures announced launching a $90 million second fund. Subsequently, GIZ Egypt launched a €100 million funding programme to provide up to four MENA-based fund managers between €25-30 million and is exclusively targeted at Egypt-based startups.
Flat6Labs is one of the continent’s active and well-known seed-stage accelerators. Just in Egypt alone, it has run seven cycles and invested in 62 startups. The venture capital firm and seed-stage accelerator provides a filter for some early-stage investors to source what companies to back or not. A good portion of startups in Flat6Labs’ portfolio has piqued investors’ interests, and half of them who have gone on to raise more money also received follow-up investment from Flat6Labs totalling EGP145,000,000 (~$9.25 million). Some of the startups in Flat6Labs’ portfolio include Welnes, Glued, CreditGo, and Docspert Health.
In most parts of Africa and the Middle East, a consumer journey and experience in buying furniture is not fun. A typical shopping process would entail looking out for the best price and quality and asking for recommendations and checking offline stores, one after another.
It is rare to find one-stop shops, especially large offline ones, that can adequately cater to the needs of consumers in the MENA region. Home goods and furniture marketplaces have launched in the last three years around the region to meet this need. Egypt’s Homzmart is one such, and today the company is announcing it has closed its $15 million Series A investment.
The company was founded in 2019 by Mahmoud Ibrahim and Ibrahim Mohamed, but it didn’t launch until the first quarter of 2020. This round of financing follows a $1.3 million seed investment raised in February last year. According to the company, this brings the total amount raised to $17.2 million.
China’s MSA Capital, one of the investors in Homzmart’s seed round, co-led this Series A investment alongside Nuwa Capital. Other participating investors include EQ2 Ventures, Impact46, Outliers Capital, Nuwa Capital and Rise Capital.
The furniture industry in Egypt has been historically characterized by poor accessibility for consumers. Homzmart’s marketplace collects designs, price ranges and other details of its retailers’ products and solves high distribution costs for them by providing access to consumers who have flexible financing options. In addition, Homzmart said it incorporates AI to optimize content for retailers and intelligent tools to help customers with their purchasing decisions.
“As a marketplace, we stand between the supply and demand. So we connect furniture and home goods suppliers with consumers,” CEO Mahmoud Ibrahim told TechCrunch in an interview. “It’s almost like a big hassle to buy furniture in Africa and the Middle East. And I think it’s a pain all over the world when it comes to having a place that you can shop all your needs when it comes to home products.”
Over the last 12 months, Homzmart claims to have grown 30x in sales. It also showcases more than 55,000 products from thousands of brands and merchants. The online marketplace is tapping into the rapidly expanding $8 billion industry where 14 million customers in the region search online for furniture monthly.
When Homzmark kicked off its hard launch and raised its seed round, it was right at the start of the pandemic. Ibrahim said the company was uncertain that it would survive due to anticipated behavioral changes in consumer spending. But the opposite happened. Customers in Egypt grew to like the product, resulting in more sales like most marketplaces and e-commerce platforms witnessed this past year.
“At the beginning, we were very worried and not sure how customers would react to buying furniture during the pandemic in the Middle East online. So we’re actually amazed by the traction as it seemed like the region was waiting for something like this to happen.”
The growth experienced within the pandemic was one reason MSA Capital decided to double down on the startup. As stated by Ben Harburg, the firm’s general partner, “The pandemic exposed the extreme vulnerabilities and inefficiencies of the Middle East’s archaic offline retail ecosystem, logistics and supply chain. Into the void stepped Homzmart as the next-generation, digitally enabled online marketplace and optimized logistics provider for large-item retail addressing both consumer and enterprise customers.”
Another reason behind the investment, the firm said, is the vast experience of both founders in e-commerce and fulfillment. Ibrahim was the VP of Operations for Jumia Egypt before becoming the Group COO of Daraz, a Southeast Asian company acquired by Alibaba in 2018. Mohamed is also a Jumia alumnus and was part of the logistics development and expansion team in Egypt.
Although their experience with different verticals in everyday commerce in Jumia and Daraz was invaluable, the founders chose to launch in the niche furniture market instead of building a similar model as their former employers. “We decided this was a really good vertical that we needed to focus on and hold ourselves accountable to digitizing in the region,” Ibrahim said about developing the niche product.
Homzmart’s first year in business was all about understanding supply and demand. The next couple of years is a strategy to expand across the MENA region, helping fulfill demand from a young and fast-growing consumer middle class.
“Whatever we did in Egypt, we need to do across the region. Homzmart isn’t looking to be just an Egyptian platform, rather a regional platform,” the CEO said.
The company has strategically launched operations close to Damietta City, Egypt, to focus on this regional market opportunity. The city is known to be one of the largest furniture manufacturing hubs in the Middle East and thus allows Homzmart to streamline the region’s vertical industry supply chain. An integral part of this supply chain is handling logistics and the movement of products from merchants to buyers. The company said a sizeable tranche of investments would be used for this effort.
What’s next for the company when logistics is handled?
“I’ll say the thing that keeps me awake at night is the fact that our business is growing very fast. And we need to make sure that we’re building the right institutional infrastructure for that business, to make sure that after two or three years, we’re building like a very solid, multi-billion dollar business,” Ibrahim remarked.
As Israeli airstrikes pummel Gaza, the reaction from Arab capitals has been muted and protests scattered. But the voices on social media have been loud and clear.
Per a recent report by Bain & Co., e-commerce is expected to grow to $28.5 billion in MENA by 2022 from a 2019 value of $8.3 billion. Egypt, one of the most active e-commerce countries in the region, is anticipated to grow 33% annually to reach $3 billion by 2022.
But for any e-commerce business to thrive, its last-mile delivery arm has to be well figured out. Bosta is one such company in Egypt helping small businesses with logistics and last-mile delivery. Today, the company is announcing it has closed a Series A investment of $6.7 million. U.S. and Middle East VC firm Silicon Badia led the round, with participation from 4DX Ventures, Plug and Play Ventures, Wealth Well VC, Khwarizmi VC, as well as other regional and global investors.
This investment comes a year after the company raised a $2.5 million round, which takes its total investment raised to $9.2 million.
The idea for Bosta came during Ezzat’s time at Lynks, his previous consumer goods startup. Lynks, the first YC-backed company from Egypt, allows people in Egypt to buy brands from the U.S., China and the U.K.
As co-founder and COO at Lynks, Ezzat was responsible for logistics, international clearance and last-mile delivery. In 2016, Egypt experienced an economic downturn coupled with the Egyptian pound devaluation and government restriction on imports. For Lynks it meant slow growth, but Ezzat was concerned about fixing the last-mile delivery bit, which, according to him, was a huge pain point.
“My nightmare was always the last mile. And at that time, you know that e-commerce is still very, very small. So it’s only 1% of the whole retail value,” he told TechCrunch. “So I was always thinking, how come if we want the e-commerce to grow, and we don’t have any strong company when it comes to last-mile because, in the end, every transaction on an e-commerce platform is a transaction on a courier platform.”
E-commerce is a fragmented sector where 80% of transactions come from small businesses selling on Facebook, Instagram and social media in general. Most of these businesses lack a strong delivery experience, and Ezzat left Lynks the following year to start Bosta.
Being in the parcel delivery industry, Bosta wants to help these companies to grow profitably. It also tries to simplify logistics and allow its customers to have full control over the delivery process.
“You can use Bosta to get anything to your doorstep. You buy in our local currency, and we buy everything, handle the shipping, customs, clearance and bring it to your doorstep,” the CEO added.
The company doesn’t own fleets of vehicles to carry out operations. Instead, it operates an Uber-like model where drivers sign up, are made contractors and make money when a delivery is completed.
Since 2017, the company has delivered more than 4 million packages to businesses, more than half since the pandemic outbreak last year. Bosta completes more than 300,000 deliveries per month, which is a 3.5x increase from when it raised its previous round, Ezzat stated. He also claims that more than 2,200 businesses use its platform daily and achieve a 95% delivery success rate.
Asides from small businesses, Bosta works with major e-commerce platforms like Souq (an Amazon company) and Jumia. Depending on the volume of goods transported, Bosta charges small businesses about 35-40 Egyptian pounds, while the big players are charged less, at 20-25 Egyptian pounds.
Speaking on the investment, Fawaz H Zu’bi said in a statement: “E-commerce has always had amazing potential in our region but was always being held back by something whether payments, logistics, market fragmentation, or customer adoption. We are excited to finally see companies like Bosta emerge to tackle some of these issues and help e-commerce realize its full promise and potential in a region that has now ‘turned on’ digitally.”
In the next two years, Bosta plans to deliver more than 15 million parcels in Egypt and serve over 20,000 businesses. The funds will be used for those causes, as well as expanding operations across Africa, MENA and the GCC.
“The investment is to dominate Egypt,” said Ezzat. “We want to make sure that we deliver the next day across Egypt, not just in Cairo, where we currently do. And to be a market leader when it comes to e-commerce on the continent and be profitable. This is the main target for us now and also to start operations in Saudi Arabia.”
Egypt has a population of over 100 million people. The country has a high mobile and internet penetration necessary for a young and tech-savvy population with 61% below 30. But despite its youthful population, two out of every three individuals are currently unbanked in Egypt. It’s the same situation in MENA, where only 40% of the population have access to a bank account.
Digital banks have enormous potential in the region. Today, a newly launched one, Telda is announcing a $5 million pre-seed round to digitize how Egyptians save, send, and spend money.
Two weeks ago, we reported that Egyptian e-commerce fulfillment startup Flextock had raised the largest pre-seed in MENA. But that has changed today with Telda’s fundraise surpassing that record with a considerable margin in both MENA and Africa (Autochek’s $3.4 million) for now.
Telda was launched last month by CEO Ahmed Sabbah and CTO Youssef Sholqamy. Before Telda, Sabbah was the co-founder and CTO of Egypt’s ride-hailing company Swvl, and Sholqamy, a former senior engineer in Uber’s infrastructure team. Sabbah said he and his co-founder had been looking at the fintech space at their former workplaces. However, after his experience using N26 while visiting a friend in Berlin in 2015, his eyes opened to the possibilities of digital banking in Egypt.
“I was fond of the idea, and it was coming from a huge pain of payments we had in Egypt and the region. And for me, I was kind of like waiting for this to happen in Egypt, or if not, I thought I’ll tap into the opportunity someday,” he told TechCrunch. “Youcef and I have been like watching out the space for a while when the first digital bank started like six years ago, and watching how they grew in markets where we think banking is more mature than this region. So imagine an opportunity in a region like Egypt where banking is even way, way less mature.”
The North African country is one of the highest consumer spending markets in Africa. Its private consumption accounts for nearly 85% of its nominal GDP, and only 4% of its overall GDP is cashless. In essence, Egypt is heavily cash reliant, and card usage in the country is very much in its infancy. Disheartened by the non-customer-centric banking experiences, Telda was launched to provide an alternative.
Like any digital bank globally, Telda enables customers to create a free account to send and receive money. And also a card to use online, in stores, make withdrawals and pay bills. But while the service is currently live, Telda cards are yet to be distributed to existing and new customers.
Telda affirmed that it is the first company to receive a license from the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) under its new regulations to issue cards and onboard customers digitally. And by doing so, the one-month-old company has made major progress in a relatively short time, even though obtaining that license took lengthy dialogue with regulators.
“First movers will usually have to make all the effort with the regulators and with the bank and try to pave the way. So this was one of the hardest parts — convincing regulators to trust and regulate our banking business and to provide payment financial services to our consumers,” the CEO said. But because Telda’s proposition aligns with the CBE’s vision of digitizing payments in the country, it had little choice but to grant them the license.
A different issue the company has faced was finding a partner bank to provide these services. And to do that, Telda had to convince the bank that their services were complementary and wouldn’t entirely overlap.
“That means basically trying to be as much independent as possible from the infrastructure of the bank. This was quite crucial for us to be able to move right and as fast as a startup, not as slow and pretty much tied to the pace of the bank’s technology and operations,” he continued.
Due to the founders’ experience in Swvl and Uber, the importance of building a great team cannot be overemphasized. There’s barely any blueprint to look at in launching a digital bank in Egypt, so Telda is building how it knows best: hiring exceptional talent. According to the CEO, the team comprises Egyptians who returned to the North African country to build Telda after working for corporations like Facebook, Microsoft, Uber, Noon, and McKinsey.
MENA appears to be ripe for a digital banking experience. Per GSMA Intelligence, 280 million people in the region are mobile internet users, and growth is not slowing down. The frustration with traditional banks is particularly acute with the younger generation, who crave a simple, user-friendly, and transparent experience. Telda has been able to onboard an impressive list of investors, including Sequoia Capital, for this reason.
The giant US VC firm led the pre-seed round as Berlin-based Global Founders Capital (GFC) and emerging markets-focused fund Class 5 Global participated.
Although Sequoia has made a few Sub-Saharan African investments in startups like Healthlane and OPay, Telda is its first venture into North Africa and the wider GCC region. Eight years ago, the VC giant led an infamous seed investment in Latin American digital bank Nubank before it began to go full throttle. Now with more than 38 million customers, Nubank is the world’s largest digital bank with a valuation of $25 billion. Sequoia will be looking for a similar success story in Telda.
“There are many parallels between Brazil and Egypt. Both countries boast a large, young, talented, and tech-savvy population with a strong appetite to innovate,” said Sequoia Partner George Robson of the investment. “We are delighted to partner with Telda and earmark our first investment in the region.”
Telda intends to fast-track its card production and distribution with this new funding. The company said it currently has more than 30,000 signups already, with half of that already requesting cards. It also plans to capitalize on Sequoia’s name for hiring and expansion, the CEO continued.
“I think hiring is key for us. We want to scale the team into a world-class team that’s willing to tap into the opportunity. What we aspire for is basically growing in Egypt, start to deliver cards for the early adopters, and we see ourselves reaching close to a million cards in our first year.”
Investments in Egypt have been growing in leaps and bounds over the past three years, accompanied by a growing, vibrant ecosystem. Egypt recorded the largest number of investment deals last year per Partech Africa. With 86 deals completed, the country contributed 24% to the total number of deals made on the continent.
GFC partner Roel Janssen referring to the budding ecosystem in his statement, said: “We are highly impressed by Sabbah and Sholqamy and love their vision for building the region’s leading digital banking app, and we are proud to be part of their journey. It is GFC’s first investment in Egypt, and we see that Egypt has the potential to become an important hub in the global tech ecosystem.”
Class 5 global managing partner Youcef Oudjane said, “Money has become a medium of self-expression — a form of identity — not solely a store of value. Telda has done a remarkable job of embedding their culture and values in the product, in both functionality and design.”
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Flextock, one of the 10 African startups from the recent Y Combinator winter batch, has bagged an impressive pre-seed round just two months after graduation.
The five-month-old company, which helps consumers and businesses manage e-commerce and fulfillment operations — from warehousing and logistics to delivery and cash collection — has closed a $3.25 million pre-seed investment.
As it stands, this is a record high for the MENA region, which also had a record-high two months ago in fellow Egyptian and YC winter batch startup Dayra. The fintech company raised $3 million in debt and equity.
Mohamed Mossaad and Enas Siam founded Flextock in September 2020. However, the company didn’t launch until January 2021. When we covered the company in March, it had just raised $850,000 but CEO Mossaad made it clear that more was still to come.
The investors in this round include Egyptian VC Foundation Ventures, Y Combinator, MSA Capital, CRE Ventures, Alter Global, Jameel Investment Management Company (JIMCO), B&Y Ventures Partners and Access Bridge Ventures. The company also received angel investments from an unnamed Sequoia Capital scout, investors in the GCC region and Flexport.
Flextock currently serves the Egyptian market. It leverages proprietary software to offer merchants end-to-end e-commerce fulfillment and logistics solutions on demand. Since its launch, the company claims to have signed more than 100 merchants to its platform, with thousands of stock-keeping units (SKUs). The company also says it is growing 25% week-on-week.
“In the last two months we launched different products to help merchants grow their brands more efficiently,” Mossaad told TechCrunch.” We’ve built various partnerships with different logistics services providers in the market to offer merchants an E2E experience, quadrupled the number of merchants and doubled the size of our team.”
Flextock wants to capture a large portion of MENA’s $25 billion e-commerce logistics market, and Mossaad says the funding will help with that ambition. The company plans to put the funding into strengthening its presence in Egypt, technology, recruitment and regional expansion before the end of the year.
In the MENA region, Trella is another Egyptian logistics company backed by YC. The accelerator has now invested in four logistics and digital freight focused startups, including Nigeria’s Kobo and SEND, ever since it successfully backed Flexport in 2014.
Despite having a global operation, the freight forwarder is testing the waters in the MENA region — on the Flexport website, there’s a role for a Partnerships Manager, Turkey & Middle East. Although Flexport has freight forwarding and custom partners in the region, its interest in deepening reach in MENA might have spurred it to examine other opportunities. Flextock which provides e-commerce fulfillment appears to be one following the global freight provider’s “strategic investment” in the Egyptian company.
CEO Mossaad said that having Flexport onboard not only serves as a strong vote of confidence to the company’s growth potential but will help it build a regional interconnected network of e-commerce logistics services providers by leveraging their wide network of partners around the world.
That said, it will be interesting to see how this investment plays out in the foreseeable future.
For Mazen Nadim, the managing partner at Foundation Ventures, Flextock’s e-commerce fulfillment and logistics play will be key to realizing the regional dominance it craves.
“We recognize the massive opportunity in logistics presented by the rise of e-commerce in the region,” he said. “Flextock is building the underlying infrastructure so that any e-commerce player can scale their operations on-demand.”
Flextock’s investment continues the series of seven-figure pre-seed rounds that have become more prevalent in the African tech scene. No less than six startups (including Flextock) have raised $1 million or more in this round in the past year. They include Egypt’s Zedny, Cassbana and Flick; and Nigeria’s Okra and Autochek, with the latter raising the largest pre-seed investment yet in Africa at $3.4 million.
“It’s like finding a treasure trove while you are picking up mushrooms in a forest,” an archaeologist said. “We are overwhelmed with this discovery.”
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