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Buy now, pay later is officially everywhere, and Latin America is no exception.
Today, one startup in the region, Addi, is announcing a $75 million extension to its Series B, bringing the total round size to $140 million. In late May, the startup announced it had raised $35 million in an equity round led by Union Square’s Opportunity Fund, and $30 million in debt funding from Architect Capital.
The company, which has dual headquarters in Bogota, Colombia, and São Paulo, Brazil, declined to reveal its new valuation other than to say it is “nearly triple” what it was 90 days ago when it closed on the first tranche of its Series B, and that it is now in the “hundreds of millions” of dollars range.
New York-based Greycroft led the extension, which also included participation from new backers GGV Capital, Citius Capital and Intersection Growth Partners, as well as existing investors Union Square’s Opportunity Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, Endeavor Catalyst, Foundation Capital, Monashees and Quona Capital.
With the latest financing, Addi has now raised a total of $220 million in debt and equity since its September 2018 inception — $140 million of that in equity and over $80 million in debt.
Addi co-founder and CEO Santiago Suarez, says he, Daniel Vallejo and Elmer Ortega started the company with a vision of making digital commerce a reality in Latin America — a region where an estimated fewer than 25% of people have a credit card.
“To do this, we had to solve the payment problem,” he said. “We wanted to make frictionless payments possible while allowing customers to afford what they wanted.”
Addi started with a buy now, pay later offering, which allowed consumers to make purchases in minutes with “just a few clicks.” Today, the company allows customers to pay for their purchases over three months at no cost. For bigger purchases, Addi lets them pay for up to 24 months at what it describes as “competitive and fair rates.”
Addi is currently available for e-commerce, mobile and brick-and-mortar purchases in Brazil and Colombia, with plans to expand across Latin America in the coming years. In particular, it plans to enter the Mexican market in 2022.
Since the beginning of this year alone, Addi has grown its GMV (gross merchandise volume) by 13x, according to Suarez.
“And our ARR has seen similar growth,” he said.
Like many other companies, Addi temporarily saw a slowdown in business as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it quickly bounced back.
“We lost 99% of our GMV in 20 days when the pandemic hit. We had to make some painful decisions, including letting go of many of our colleagues at a very difficult time,” Suarez recalled. “We also refocused the business on e-commerce and digital payments, and we haven’t looked back since then.”
As a result, Addi reached its pre-COVID high again in March/April of 2021, and has grown by about 3x since.
For now, the company is more focused on growth than profitability, Suarez added.
“This round has increased our focus on making digital commerce ubiquitous and accessible across Latin America,” he said.
Indeed, Latin America led the world in e-commerce sales growth last year. For its part, Addi currently has more than 150,000 customers, a number that is growing at 30% to 40% month over month. On the merchant side, it has close to 500 merchant partners, including brands such as Arturo Calle, Mario Hernandez, Keep Running and Claro. Earlier this year, it inked a strategic partnership with Banco Santander.
Addi currently has over 260 employees (or as Suarez put it, partners), up from less than 120 a year ago. The company prides itself as being “one of the few Latin American startups” that grants equity to everyone on staff.
“And we make it a point of speaking about partners and co-owners rather than employees,” Suarez told TechCrunch.
The company plans to use the new capital to speed up its product roadmap and geographic expansion. On the product side, it will be launching “a one-click checkout solution” for its merchant partners and customers by year’s end. Addi will also be accelerating its entry into Mexico, as mentioned previously, where it’s aiming to launch in early 2022.
Greycroft’s Thabet Mahayni said that prior to investing in Addi, his firm had been tracking the startup “for a long time.”
“In addition to an exceptional team, we believe the BNPL value proposition is stronger in LatAm than anywhere else in the world,” Mahayni told TechCrunch.” We…believe they have an opportunity to fundamentally reshape the entire consumer payments experience in the region.”
That is in part because currently, consumers in Latin America have very few alternatives when it comes to credit, he points out. Card penetration is very low and those who apply for credit “face a cumbersome and frustrating application process,” Mahayni added.
And those who do have credit cards are often given very low limits with high interest rates.
“It’s easy to see how this dynamic makes it difficult and expensive for consumers to access safe and reliable credit,” he said.
Addi, according to Mahayni, has “rebuilt the entire onboarding, underwriting and fraud stack so they can provide safer credit alternatives to consumers while enabling merchants to meaningfully increase their basket sizes and GMV.”
It’s the second LatAm investment for Greycroft, which previously invested in Rocket.chat, a Brazilian enterprise communication and collaboration platform.
In Mexico next year, Addi will join existing player, Nelo. That startup raised $3 million in April, and at the time, was live with more than 45 merchants and over 150,000 users. Also, Alchemy earlier this year entered the Mexican market.
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Flat.mx, which wants to build a real estate “super app” for Latin America, has closed on a $20 million Series A round of funding.
Anthemis and 500 Startups co-led the investment, which included participation from ALLVP and Expa. Previously, Flat.mx had raised a total $10 million in equity and $25 million in debt. Other backers include Opendoor CEO and CEO and co-founder Eric Wu, Flyhomes’ co-founder and CEO Tushar Garg and Divvy Homes’ co-founder Brian Ma.
Founded in July 2019, Mexico City-based Flat.mx started out with a model similar to that of Opendoor, buying properties, renovating them and then reselling them. That September, the proptech startup had raised one of Mexico’s largest pre-seed rounds to take the Opendoor real estate marketplace model across the Rio Grande.
“The real estate market in Mexico is broken,” said co-founder Bernardo Cordero. “One of the biggest problems is that it takes sellers anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to sell. So we launched the most radical solution we could find to this problem: an instant offer. This product allows homeowners to sell in days instead of months, a fast and convenient experience they can’t find anywhere else.”
Building an instant buyer (ibuyer) in Mexico — and Latin America in general — is a complex endeavor. Unlike in the U.S., Mexico doesn’t have a Multiple Listing Service (MLS). As such, pricing data is not readily available. On top of that, agents are not required to be certified so the whole process of buying and selling a home can be informal.
And since mortgage penetration in Mexico is also low, it can be difficult for buyers to have access to reasonable financing options.
“To build an iBuyer, we had to solve the transaction end-to-end,” said co-founder Victor Noguera. “We had to build the MLS, a third-party marketplace, a contractor marketplace, financial products, broker technology, and a home maintenance provider, along with other services. In other words, we have been building the real estate Superapp for Latam.”
Flat.mx says its certified remodeled properties have gone through a 200+ point inspection and “a full legal review.”
Flat.mx is growing sales by 70% quarter-over-quarter, and has increased its inventory by 10x over the last year, according to its founders. It has also nearly tripled its headcount from 30 at the middle of last year to over 85 today. So far, Flat.mx has conducted thousands of home valuations and over 100 transactions.
The pandemic only helped boost interest.
“Our low touch digital solution was key for having a strong business during the pandemic. We were able to create quick liquidity for sellers at a time in Mexico where it was complicated to sell,” said Cordero. “Our model allows sellers to sell with one visit instead of having to receive over 40 potential buyers at a time where they wanted to sell but also wanted to avoid contact with many buyers.”
The company plans to use its new capital to continue to develop what it describes as a “one-stop shop where homeowners and buyers will be able to get all the services they need in one place.”
The founders believe that rather than just try to tackle one aspect of the homebuying process, it makes more sense in emerging markets to address them all.
“We believe that each one of our products makes the others stronger and creating this ecosystem of products will continue to give us an important advantage in the market,” said Noguera. The startup plans to also use the capital from the round to expand its presence in Mexico for iBuying, and to invest in data and financial products.
Naturally, Flat.mx’s investors are bullish.
Archie Cochrane, principal investor at Anthemis Group, said his firm views Flat.mx as an integral part of its embedded finance thesis in the context of the Mexican property sector.
“The iBuyer model itself is well understood and developed in many parts of the world, but it is also a complex model with many variables that requires a seasoned and astute team to execute the strategy,” Cochrane wrote via email. “When we met Victor and Bernardo, it was clear that their clarity of vision and deep understanding of the broader opportunity set would allow them to succeed over the long term.
Tim Chae, managing partner at 500 Startups, said he envisions that Flat.mx will become “the go-to route” for buyers, sellers, agents and lenders in Mexican real estate.
“There are nuances and specific problems that are unique to Mexico that Flat.mx has done a great job identifying and solving,” he said.
ALLVP Partner Fernando Lelo de Larrea said that essentially after years of “unkept promises,” software is finally transforming the real estate industry in Mexico.
“Most models replicate successful models from the more mature U.S. proptech space,” he said. “Since we started investing in proptech, we’ve never seen such an innovative approach to seizing a trillion dollar opportunity.”
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There has been significant hype around Latin America’s startup success. For good reason, too: Startups have raised $9.3 billion in just the first half of 2021, almost double the amount in all of 2020, and mega-rounds are a growing trend.
But while the industry hails the rise of the region’s ecosystem and its growing fleet of unicorns, Latin America’s startup story has a far longer past. And it’s one we should keep in mind as entrepreneurs and investors around the world forge the region’s future.
People often ask me: How are consumers different in Brazil? How does the Peruvian market behave compared to the United States? These questions don’t really see each country for its inherent value, but instead gear people up to expect the unexpected from a historically economically disadvantaged region.
In fact, the evolution of business shares far more similarities across countries than we might expect. Latin America’s market has evolved over a very long time — as long as Silicon Valley and any other hub. This region has a global outlook, spectacular universities, a diverse population and an army of entrepreneurs.
It’s important for investors outside of Latin America to get involved in fundraising at earlier stages, when founders need extra support from everyone around.
That’s why the unicorns and megadeals should come as no surprise: They’re the natural evolution of the ecosystem, of more capital generating more success after years of hard work.
As Latin America has grown, competition has grown even more intense in the United States. VCs have more money than ever, and it’s getting increasingly expensive to invest in North America. So they’re looking to diversify their investments with high-potential opportunities abroad. Big funds are now dedicating resources to exclusively targeting Latin America, from SoftBank creating a region-specific fund, to Sequoia saying it will pay more attention to the region.
These incoming investors must bring more than money to ensure that entrepreneurship continues to grow in a healthy manner, rather than set it off balance. Investors should bring a local strategy that makes them an asset to Latin America’s startup ecosystem.
Investors should look for younger markets
Most Latin American companies reaching unicorn status and going public now were started around 2012. This is not very different from the timeline of businesses in other markets such as the United States. For instance, e-commerce giant MercadoLibre launched in Argentina around the time eBay was emerging.
What this tells us is that foreign investors would do well to keep a sharp eye on emerging opportunities beyond heavily covered markets like Brazil and Mexico. There is a huge opportunity to do what local investors did in Brazil and Mexico years ago, and play a significant role in the next chapter of countries with blossoming markets like Colombia, Peru or Uruguay.
U.S. investors remain shy
The amount of VC capital being funneled into Latin American startups has surged since 2017, with angel investment close behind. However, much of this investment comes from local and regional investors. Every top university in Brazil has a pool of angels. Investors in the Andean region cover Peru, Chile and Colombia. If today’s ecosystem is flourishing, it’s largely because native investors are lighting the spark.
Meanwhile, U.S. investor presence at the early stages is still low and risk averse. It’s much harder for a pre-seed or seed startup to get foreign investor interest than when they’ve already reached Series A or B. Investors also tend to come in on an ad hoc basis or as outliers brought about by a mutual contact. Foreign investors are the exception, not the rule.
It’s important for investors outside of Latin America to get involved in fundraising at earlier stages, when founders need extra support from everyone around. Investors should be pursuing a long-term strategy that will bring more consistency to the local ecosystem as a whole.
Money is not enough, investors should bring dedicated resources
Your contribution as an investor is largely about the resources you can offer. That’s especially challenging for a foreigner who has less of an understanding of the local industry and lacks a network and people on the ground.
While investors may say their your regular value offering is enough — network and U.S. customers — in truth, this won’t necessarily be of much use. Your hiring network might not be ideal for a Latin American company, and your thorough understanding of the U.S. market might not reflect developments in Latin America.
Remember that the region has a plethora of VC organizations who have worked with local startups over the course of a decade. Latin America is a very welcoming and open market, and local investors and accelerators will happily work with foreign investors, including in deal-sharing opportunities.
It’s crucial to create incentives within the ecosystem, which — like in the United States — largely means matching founders with unique opportunities. In North America, this often happens organically, because people are on the ground and actively engaged with what’s happening in the region, from networking events, to awards, and grants and partnership opportunities.
To create this in Latin America, foreign investors need to dedicate a team and money to their regional commitments. They will have to understand the local industry and be available to mentor founders with diverse perspectives.
In my experience helping EA, Pinterest and Facebook land in Latin America, we always had someone on the ground or working remotely but fully dedicated to the region. We had people focused on localizing the product, and we had research teams studying similarities and differences in user behavior. That’s how corporations land their products; it’s how VCs should land their money.
Only disrupt when it adds value
The idea is for foreign investors to strike a balance locally while creating disruptions when it helps startups look outward rather than attempting to overhaul steady, positive internal growth. That can mean encouraging companies to incorporate in the United States to make it easier for investors from anywhere to invest or preparing the company to go global. Local investors can help investors new to the region understand the balance of things that should or shouldn’t be disrupted.
Don’t be surprised when Latin America’s apparent “boom” starts happening in other emerging markets like Africa and Asia. This isn’t about a secret hack coming in from the outside. It’s just about creating the right environment for local talent to flourish and ensuring it maintains healthy growth.
Who doesn’t want a vacation home?
Right. That’s what I thought.
Kocomo is a Mexico City-based startup that wants to help make that dream a reality. And it’s just closed on a $6 million equity and $50 million debt financing to advance on that goal.
The company aims to allow for cross-border co-ownership of luxury vacation properties that goes beyond the historical use of timeshares. Put simply, the founders of Kocomo — who are a mix of Colombian, British, Mexican, American, Panamanian — want to upend conventional vacation home ownership with a marketplace that gives people a way to purchase, own, and sell fractional interests in luxury homes. Or even more simply, Kocomo’s mission is to make the dream of vacation home ownership “an attainable reality for more people around the world.”
Founded this year, it has been operating in stealth mode since May, recently launching a beta version of its website to engage with a “select” group of clients from its waiting list.
“We are focused initially on Americans and Canadians wanting to buy a vacation home in Mexico, the Caribbean and Costa Rica and then eventually we will be doing the same in Europe,” said Martin Schrimpff, co-founder and CEO of Kocomo.
AllVP and Vine Ventures co-led the equity portion of the financing, which included participation from Picus Capital, Fontes – QED, FJ Labs, and Clocktower Technology Ventures and JAWS — the family office of SWG Chairman Barry Sternlicht. Architect Capital provided the debt investment.
Interestingly, the founders of four Latin American unicorns also put money in the equity round, including Mate Pencz and Florian Hagenbuch of Loft, Oskar Hjertonsson of Cornershop, Carlos Garcia of Kavak and Sergio Furio of Creditas.
No doubt the COVID-19 pandemic had many people reassessing their views about life and work.
In Schrimpff’s case, spending more time with friends and family became a top priority and he accelerated his plans to find a vacation home. But he was disappointed as he explored options.
“Buying an entire vacation home that I was only going to use a few weeks a year, and which I’d have to manage myself, seemed wasteful, stressful and outdated,” he said. “Furthermore, it was impossible to find a beautiful house on the beach in Mexico that fell within my budget.”
The experience of renting an Airbnb year after year, with what Schrimpff described as having “inconsistent quality and lack of professional management,” did not make sense to him either.
And so, as he discussed his frustration with his now co-founders, the idea for Kocomo was born.
The startup’s model is similar to that of another early-stage proptech based here in the U.S. called Pacaso.
In Schrimpff’s view the biggest difference between the two models is that Pacaso is focused more on the second home market in places that are one to two hour drive from where the owners are living.
“Kocomo is focused more on the cross-border vacation homes which are more like a two to three hour flight away from where the owners are located,” he said. Also, “the complexities and problems” tackled by Kocomo are larger considering that they involve cross-border transactions, according to Schrimpff.
Another big differentiator from Pacaso is that Kocomo gives owners the option to “rent their weeks,” added Schrimpff.
In the same way that Netjets uses shared ownership to create an opportunity for people to enjoy the benefits of private air travel, Kocomo aims to apply a co-ownership model to vacation homes, he said.
“Our platform enables multiple people to own and enjoy a luxury vacation home and split all the costs amongst them without the fuss and hassle normally involved,” explained CFO and co-founder Tom Baldwin. “We call this the smarter way to own a home abroad. Buying a whole home for just a few weeks a year feels like more hassle than it’s worth while spending money on a rental is a waste and an expense, not an asset.”
Kocomo, said co-founder and CPO Graciela Arango, manages all of the legal and administrative processes that come with home acquisition and ownership. For example, it purchases the home through an LLC, finds and vet qualified co-owners, allocates time equitably among the co-owners and performs all of the services necessary to manage and maintain the home over time. It even deals with managing utilities, landscaping and preventive maintenance.
The company plans to use its equity capital in part toward increasing the number of its 9-person staff, with a particular focus on sales, marketing, and engineering. It also, naturally, plans to invest in the technology that powers its platform. The debt capital will go towards the acquisition of about 20 luxury vacation properties in “sought after” destinations in Mexico that are close to airports with international flights — such as Los Cabos, Punta Mita and Tulum.
Next, the company plans to expand to other vacation destinations within direct flying distance of the U.S., such as Costa Rica and the Caribbean. Down the line, the company sees “huge potential” in ski locations, Mediterranean beach destinations and cultural centers such as Paris, London, Madrid and Berlin.
Kocomo has also Identified a financial institution partner so that it can provide financing to clients for the purchase of ownership interests in properties on our platform, and is in late-stage discussions to formalize the partnership, according to Baldwin.
“Whereas many startups coming out of stealth mode focus on going from 0 to a high number of sales quickly, our primary focus initially is to go from 0 to 10 Kocomo qualified co-owners,” said Schrimpff. “Even though we are a B2C company, since our ticket size is upwards of $200,000, our sales cycle exhibits a trajectory more akin to that of a B2B startup.”
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Kocomo is seeing that most of its early interest is coming from people in the tech community. Pacaso, too, saw a similar trend.
“This profile fits our model because they often have flexibility in their calendars, or ability to work remotely, and are open to trying new models, especially if they feel like this is a savvier way to become an owner,” said Schrimpff.
AllVP’s Antonia Rojas said that Kocomo is leveraging technology to deliver “an evolved model of real estate ownership which taps into deep-seated changes in the way consumers organize and prioritize work, family, and free time in a post-COVID world.”
The firm was also impressed by the caliber of the team. Schrimpff founded and later sold PayU, a global payments business now owned and controlled by Naspers. Baldwin is a former Goldman Sachs banker who spent the last 8 years as a venture capital and private equity investor in Mexico and Brazil. Arango graduated from Harvard Business School, and previously worked at IDEO in Silicon Valley. Brian Requarth, co-founder & non-executive chairman, previously founded real estate classifieds company Vivareal.
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Flink, a Mexico City-based neobroker, has raised $57 million in a Series B round of funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners.
The financing comes just over six months after Flink raised $12 million in a Series A round led by Accel. Existing backers Accel, ALLVP, Clocktower and new investor Mantis Venture Capital (founded by The Chainsmokers) also put money in the Series B. Since its 2017 inception, the startup has raised nearly $70 million.
Neobrokers are defined as startups that are disrupting the investment industry by providing a platform for a wider range of consumers to partake in the stock market by offering them more incremental investment options and modern and easy mobile-based interfaces to manage their money. There is a growing number of them globally, including Scalable Capital, Bitpanda and Trade Republic in Europe.
For Mexico City-born Sergio Jiménez Amozurrutia, the fact that in his country of more than 120 million people, only a tiny fraction of the population has the ability to invest in the capital markets felt unfair. To him, the lack of widespread participation in investing is an example of the rich getting richer as part of an infrastructure “that is built for the wealthy.” The result of the imbalance is that a lot of people have historically been locked out of making potentially wealth-building investments.
So after selling Easy Credit, a consumer lending platform he’d built with Rick Rafael Bueno (whom he met in 2015 at a hackathon at Tech de Monterrey), Amozurrutia set out to give Mexicans access to something he believed they’d never had access to: an app-based consumer trading platform.
Flink launched its app in 2018 with a wallet service, a digital and physical global debit card backed by Mastercard and, last year, it began offering the ability to buy and sell fractional shares from 30 pesos, without commissions, for NYSE-listed stocks.
“Users can invest as little as US$1 and with zero commissions,” Amozurrutia said. “We want Flink to be the easiest way to invest, save and use your money.”
The demand for what the startup has to offer is clearly there. Since launching its first brokerage product in July of 2020, Flink has 1.6 million users, up from 1 million users at the time of its February raise. Over 85% of its users are first-time investors. GenZers seem to be the most interested in investing — 27% of the app’s clients are between 18 and 25 years old, while 22% are millennials, execs say.
“Most legacy Mexican banks cater to less than 1% of the population — meaning most Mexicans don’t have a bank account, let alone a brokerage account,” Amozurrutia said at the time of the company’s last raise. “At Flink, we’re guided by the belief that Mexico’s financial system should work for everyone — not only a select few.”
The company is growing its user base by 38% per month and revenue by 31% per month, according to Amozurrutia, and touts a user acquisition cost of 62 cents. It is currently the largest retail brokerage service in Mexico, he said. Flink has 110 employees, up from 25 people a year ago today.
The startup plans to use its new capital to keep growing its team, toward product development and to expand its service to different countries in Latin America.
“The lack of access for retail investing is all over LATAM, and at Flink we want to change that,” Amozurrutia told TechCrunch. “We are focused on offering the opportunity to invest and grow their money to everyone in LATAM.”
Lightspeed Partner Mercedes Bent said her firm “fell in love” with Flink’s mission and impact on the country’s “financial ecosystem.” It was also impressed by the company’s unique features, including allowing Mexican investors to access the U.S. stock market and invest fractional shares.
“Many equities platforms only let you invest in equities in your own country,” she said. “Flink also has a big focus on education and creating an investment experience that makes it easy for their users to onboard.” For example, Bent noted, Flink has a podcast dubbed “Finanzas en órbita” that provides financial and stock market education in México.
In a blog post, Bent and Will Kohler wrote that they could feel the company’s passion and vision for creating more financial inclusion in Mexico, even via a Zoom call.
“The excitement leapt through the video screen,” the pair wrote. “…Flink’s vision for the future goes beyond accessing stocks, and we wanted to be a part of it.”
Flink marks Lightspeed’s third investment in Mexico, alongside Stori and Frubana, and Bent and Kohler say there is “more to come.”
“We are big believers in México, and bullish on LATAM,” they wrote.
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The Latin America startup ecosystem is having a great year, with mega-rounds being announced at breakneck speed and new unicorns minted almost monthly. This is mostly due to the clearly maturing startup scene in the region, with proven successes such as Nubank, Cornershop, Gympass and Loggi helping to bolster LatAm’s credibility.
Interestingly, many of the region’s rounds are led by or saw participation from investors based elsewhere. Firms such as SoftBank, Tiger Global Management, Tencent, Accel, Ribbit Capital and QED Investors are pouring money into LatAm. Some are even seeing more opportunity than in the U.S. — Latin America, they believe, has historically been ripe for disruption, especially in the fintech and proptech sectors, due to the significant underbanked and unbanked population in the region and the relatively unstructured real estate industry.
Last month, my colleagues Anna Heim and Alex Wilhelm found that structural factors such as strong digital penetration and quick e-commerce growth are among the key reasons Latin America is breaking venture capital records this year. One Mexico-based VC even declared that the story was about “talent, not capital.”
Local VCs are raving about the human capital in the region, but for some global investors, the appeal of Latin America extends beyond the talent to the general populace. Shu Nyatta, a managing partner at SoftBank who co-leads its $5 billion Latin America Fund, pointed out a dynamic that might seem obvious but is rarely articulated: Technology in LatAm is often more about inclusion rather than disruption.
“The vast majority of the population is underserved in almost every category of consumption. Similarly, most businesses are underserved by modern software solutions,” Nyatta explained. “There’s so much to build for so many people and businesses. In San Francisco, the venture ecosystem makes life a little better for individuals and businesses who are already living in the future. In LatAm, tech entrepreneurs are building the future for everyone else.”
Accel Partner Ethan Choi says the region’s consumer markets are growing rapidly thanks to a fast-growing middle class and “technology permeating through every aspect of consumers’ lives.” This has spurred demand for digital offerings, which has led to more startups, and consequently, investor interest.
Brazil and Mexico riding the gravy train
One look at the dollars pouring into LatAm this year is enough to convince anyone of the skyrocketing interest.
Latin America saw a total of $6.2 billion in incoming venture capital in the first half of 2021, more than double the $2.6 billion in the same period last year, and even beating the $4.1 billion invested across all of 2020, according to preliminary data from LAVCA (the Association for Private Capital Investment in Latin America — LAVCA used a different methodology than CB Insights, in case you’re wondering).
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Apple recently began a research study designed to collect speech data from study participants. Earlier this month, the company launched a new iOS app called “Siri Speech Study” on the App Store, which allows participants who have opted in to share their voice requests and other feedback with Apple. The app is available in a number of worldwide markets but does not register on the App Store’s charts, including under the “Utilities” category where it’s published.
According to data from Sensor Tower, the iOS app first launched on August 9 and was updated to a new version on August 18. It’s currently available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Taiwan — an indication of the study’s global reach. However, the app will not appear when searching the App Store by keyword or when browsing through the list of Apple’s published apps.
The Siri Speech Study app itself offers little information about the study’s specific goals, nor does it explain how someone could become a participant. Instead, it only provides a link to a fairly standard license agreement and a screen where a participant would enter their ID number to get started.
Reached for comment, Apple told TechCrunch the app is only being used for Siri product improvements, by offering a way for participants to share feedback directly with Apple. The company also explained people have to be invited to the study — there’s not a way for consumers to sign up to join.
The app is only one of many ways Apple is working to improve Siri.
In the past, Apple had tried to learn more about Siri’s mistakes by sending some small portion of consumers’ voice recordings to contractors for manual grading and review. But a whistleblower alerted media outlet The Guardian that the process had allowed them to listen in on confidential details at times. Apple shortly thereafter made manual review an opt-in process and brought audio grading in-house. This type of consumer data collection continues, but has a different aim that what a research study would involve.
Unlike this broader, more generalized data collection, a focus group-like study allows Apple to better understand Siri’s mistakes because it combines the collected data with human feedback. With the Siri Speech Study app, participants provide explicit feedback on per request basis, Apple said. For instance, if Siri misheard a question, users could explain what they were trying to ask. If Siri was triggered when the user hadn’t said “Hey Siri,” that could be noted. Or if Siri on HomePod misidentified the speaker in a multi-person household, the participant could note that, too.
Another differentiator is that none of the participants’ data is being automatically shared with Apple. Rather, users can see a list of the Siri requests they’ve made and then select which to send to Apple with their feedback. Apple also noted no user information is collected or used in the app, except the data directly provided by participants.
Apple understands that an intelligent virtual assistant that understands you is a competitive advantage.
This year, the company scooped up ex-Google A.I. scientist Samy Bengio to help make Siri a stronger rival to Google Assistant, whose advanced capabilities are often a key selling point for Android devices. In the home, meanwhile, Alexa-powered smart speakers are dominating the U.S. market and compete with Google in the global landscape, outside China. Apple’s HomePod has a long way to go to catch up.
But despite the rapid progress in voice-based computing in recent years, virtual assistants can still have a hard time understanding certain types of speech. Earlier this year, for example, Apple said it would use a bank of audio clips from podcasts where users had stuttered to help it improve its understanding of this kind of speech pattern. Assistants can also stumble when there are multiple devices in a home that are listening for voice commands from across several rooms. And assistants can mess up when trying to differentiate between different family members’ voices or when trying to understand a child’s voice.
In other words, there are still many avenues a speech study could pursue over time, even if these aren’t its current focus.
That Apple is running a Siri speech study isn’t necessarily new. The company has historically run evaluations and studies like this in some form. But it’s less common to find Apple’s studies published directly on the App Store.
Though Apple could have published the app through the enterprise distribution process to keep it more under wraps, it chose to use its public marketplace. This more closely follows the App Store’s rules, as the research study is not an internally-facing app meant only for Apple employees.
Still, it’s not likely consumers will stumble across the app and be confused — the Siri Speech Study app is hidden from discovery. You have to have the app’s direct link to find it. (Good thing we’re nosy!)
Reels are coming to Facebook in the U.S. The company this morning announced it will begin testing a new feature, Facebook Reels, which will give Facebook users the ability to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. The addition is an expansion of tests launched earlier this year in India, Mexico and Canada, which had focused on bringing short-form videos to Facebook users, including by sharing existing Instagram Reels to Facebook, as had been reported.
In addition, Facebook today says it will also test a new feature that will give Instagram creators in the U.S. the option to have their Instagram Reels shown as recommended content on Facebook. If the creators opt in, their videos will appear in the “Reels” section in users’ News Feed, alongside other Reels created on Facebook.
There will be many places where users can create Reels from Facebook, as the new feature launches.
Initially, you’ll be able to tap a “Create” button from the Reels’ section that appears as you scroll the News Feed, while you’re watching Reels, or by tapping on “Reels” at the top of your News Feed. From here, users will gain access to a standard set of creation tools, including those for video capture, music selection, camera roll import, timed text, and more — much like you would have access to on Instagram.
For audio, you can either choose a song from Facebook’s music library, record your own original audio, or even use someone else’s audio, if their Reels are set to “public.” There are also a variety of effects and editing tools to choose from, including a timer for recording Reels hands-free, tools to speed up or slow down a part of the video or your original audio, and a number of augmented reality effects created either by Facebook or third-party developers.
Facebook told us that, for the time being, “most” of Instagram Reels’ features will also be available on Facebook Reels. But other features — like Remix (its take on TikTok’s side-by-side videos called Duets) — will be added over time as the test scales to more people. The user interface for Reels may also evolve over time to look somewhat different from Reels on Instagram, depending on user feedback.
After a Reel has been created, you can choose who to share it with — such as “Friends,” a specific audience like “Friends except…”, or the general public. The latter is the default setting.
The feature will be made available within Facebook Groups, where Reels can be created then shared with members of the community who have similar interests.
Users can also choose to tap into “My Reels,” to view past creations. And you can browse Reels created by others in the News Feed, and in select Groups and Pages — where you can like, comment or share them, just as you could with any other type of post. Reels will now be surfaced in Search results, too, Facebook told us.
Like much of what appears on Facebook, Reels will be recommended to users based on what people are interested in, what they engage with, and what’s broadly popular. This will apply to both the shared Instagram Reels and the Facebook Reels.
The company explained the decision to replicate the Reels product inside Facebook is a result of consumers’ growing interest in video, and particularly short-form video. Today, video accounts for almost half of all time spent on Facebook, in fact. On Facebook’s latest earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg remarked that Reels was “already the largest contributor to engagement growth on Instagram,” given the popularity of short-form video.
“We’re very focused on making it easy for anyone to create video, and then for those videos to be viewed across all of our different services, starting with Facebook and Instagram first,” he had told investors.
But Facebook also understands that people have different communities and audiences on Instagram and Facebook, so simply offering a cross-posting option may not have sufficed.
However, for existing Reels creators who do want to tap into Facebook’s large audience, a new option will allow them to opt-in to have their Reels shared to Facebook. This could be useful for those producing more general-interest Reels content.
These shared Reels will display the creator’s Instagram username, as well, which could help them to build a following. Creators’ Reels can also be remixed, with the creator’s permission, and their original audio can be re-used in other people’s Reels — again, much like on TikTok.
This feature will also be first introduced as a “test,” Facebook said.
While Instagram is already beginning to monetize Reels through ads, Facebook told us that Reels on Facebook don’t currently include ads. But: “we plan to roll out ads in the future,” a Facebook spokesperson added.
Reels, which is Facebook’s answer to the growing threat of TikTok, first launched to global audiences a year ago. This launch alone was not enough to win Instagram the top spot as the world’s most downloaded mobile app. In 2020, that win went to TikTok, after years where Facebook-owned apps dominated the top charts. And TikTok today continues to sit at the top of App Store charts in terms of both app installs and consumer spending, according to multiple third-party reports.
For Facebook, TikTok represents an existential threat to its business. If users’ time and attention are being spent elsewhere, Facebook’s advertisers could then follow, impacting Facebook’s bottom line. So instead of competing with TikTok in just one app, Facebook is now using two. And it’s leveraging its apps’ interoperability to ensure the best content can easily flow to both places.
The company is also directly investing in the creator community in hopes of tipping the scales back in its direction.
In July, the company announced a plan to invest over $1 billion in creators across both Facebook and Instagram through 2022. This fund will reward more than just Reels’ creators, to be clear, as it will also pay out bonuses for videos with in-stream ads enabled or for enabling IGTV ads, among other things. It will also bonus top creators who have invited fans to send them tips in the form of a virtual currency, “stars.” But Instagram Reels, and now Facebook Reels, will be looped into that initiative.
Today, Facebook said it will announce additional bonus programs and seed funding in the months ahead that will pay out bonuses for Reels on Facebook. These will be funded from that $1 billion commitment. The company declined to share details on this front, but this news alone indicates Facebook Reels is far more than just “a test” in Facebook’s eyes.
The new Facebook Reels features will begin to roll out starting today, Aug. 19, in the U.S. It will first be available to a “small percentage” of U.S. users on iOS and Android.
The feature will continue to operate in India, Mexico and Canada, as well.
In his colorful Guadalajara work space, Fabien Cappello collects and creates pieces he calls “prototypes of the future.”
Last fall, Spotify introduced a new format that combined spoken word commentary with music, allowing creators to reproduce the radio-like experience of listening to a DJ or music journalist who shared their perspective on the tracks they would then play. Today, the company is making the format, which it calls “Music + Talk,” available to global creators through its podcasting software Anchor.
Creators who want to offer this sort of blended audio experience can now do so by using the new “Music” tool in Anchor, which provides access to Spotify’s full catalog of 70 million tracks that they can insert into their spoken-word audio programs. Spotify has said this new type of show will continue to compensate the artist when the track is streamed, the same as it would elsewhere on Spotify’s platform. In addition, users can also interact with the music content within the shows as they would otherwise — by liking the song, viewing more information about the track, saving the song, or sharing it, for example.
The shows themselves, meanwhile, will be available to both free and Premium Spotify listeners. Paying subscribers will hear the full tracks when listening to these shows, but free users will only hear a 30-second preview of the songs, due to licensing rights.
The format is somewhat reminiscent of Pandora’s Stories, which was also a combination of music and podcasting, introduced in 2019. However, in Pandora’s case, the focus had been on allowing artists to add their own commentary to music — like talking about the inspiration for a song — while Spotify is making it possible for anyone to annotate their favorite playlists with audio commentary.
Since launching last year, the product has been tweaked somewhat in response to user feedback, Spotify says. The shows now offer clearer visual distinction between the music and talk segments during an episode, and they include music previews on episode pages.
The ability to create Music + Talk shows was previously available in select markets ahead of this global rollout, including in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
With the expansion, creators in a number of other major markets are now gaining access, including Japan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia. Alongside the expansion, Spotify’s catalog of Music + Talk original programs will also grow today, as new shows from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, India, Japan, and the Philippines will be added.
Spotify will also begin to more heavily market the feature with the launch of its own Spotify Original called “Music + Talk: Unlocked,” which will offer tips and ideas for creators interested in trying out the format.
Luis Mario Garcia grew up in Mexico making deliveries for the grocery stores in his neighborhood. After honing his startup skills in San Francisco, he returned to Mexico with the idea of building a software company.
That’s when he met his co-founder Javier Gonzalez and the pair started Orchata in 2020, a mobile app enabling consumers to get groceries delivered in 15 minutes, with no substitutes and at supermarket prices. Products delivered include fresh fruit, beverages, bread, medicine and household essentials, Garcia told TechCrunch.
Orchata does this by operating a network of micro fulfillment centers — it is already operating in two cities — with technology for efficient picking and hyperfast delivery.
Online food delivery sales in Latin America are projected to reach $9.8 billion by 2024, with the global pandemic driving demand for faster delivery, according to Statista. Garcia sees three different waves in this market: the first one being traditional supermarkets, where you can spend hours, which led to the second wave of food delivery companies, including some big players in the region — for example Rappi in Colombia, which in July raised $500 million in Series F funding at a $5.25 billion valuation in a round led by T. Rowe Price, and Cornershop in Chile, which was acquired by Uber in 2019.
However, Garcia said many of these services still take more than an hour from order to doorstep and may require phone calls if an item is not available. He wants to be part of a third wave — software that is integrated with inventory and delivery that is super fast, and no substitutions.
“This is similar to what is going on around the world, but there is a huge opportunity to bring convenience, to be the Gopuff for Latin America, and we want to build it first in the region,” Garcia said.
The Monterrey-based company was part of Y Combinator’s summer 2020 cohort and on Friday announced a $4 million seed round from a group of investors, including Y Combinator, JAM Fund, FJ Labs, Venture Friends, Investo and Foundation Capital, and angel investors Ross Lipson, Mike Hennessey, Brian Requarth and Javier Mata.
Jonathan Lewy, co-founder of Grin Scooters and founder of Investo, is also an investor in Rappi. He said Garcia was building a product for the end user, with the key being the building of the infrastructure and inventory. Lewy believes Garcia understands how quick delivery should be done and that it is not just about offering a mobile app, but building the technology behind it.
Meanwhile, Justin Mateen, general partner at JAM Fund, and co-founder of Tinder and an early-stage investor, met Garcia over a year ago and was one of the company’s first investors. He said Garcia’s and Gonzalez’s initial idea for the model of grocery stores was still not solving the problem, but then they pivoted to doing fulfillment and inventory themselves.
“He fits the mold of what I look for in a founder, and he is the type of founder that doesn’t give up,” Mateen said. “Luis finally agreed to let me double down on my investment. The model makes sense now, he is on to something and it is now going to be about execution of capital as he scales.”
Both Mateen and Lewy agree that there will be similar apps coming because food delivery is such a large market, but that Orchata has a clear advantage of owning the customer experience from beginning to end.
Having only launched four months ago, Orchata is already processing thousands of orders and is seeing 100% monthly growth. The new funding will enable Orchata to expand into three new cities in Mexico. Garcia is also eyeing Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Chile for future expansion.
The company is also targeting multiple use cases, including someone noticing a forgotten item while cooking to consumers shopping for the week or teenagers needing food for a party.
“We are going to be super convenient to customers, and we think every use case for food delivery will be this way in the future,” Garcia said. “We will eventually introduce our own brands and foods with the goal of being that app that is there anytime you need it.”
Matthew Taylor Coleman, 40, of Santa Barbara, Calif., abducted his 2-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter and took them to Mexico, the authorities said.
Fresnillo feels to residents overrun by violence and paralyzed by fear, a testament to the failure of Mexico’s government to tackle organized crime.
Chilean startup Xepelin, which has created a financial services platform for SMEs in Latin America, has secured $30 million in equity and $200 million in credit facilities.
LatAm venture fund Kaszek Ventures led the equity portion of the financing, which also included participation from partners of DST Global and a slew of other firms and founders/angel investors. LatAm- and U.S.-based asset managers and hedge funds — including Chilean pension funds — provided the credit facilities. In total over its lifetime, Xepelin has raised over $36 million in equity and $250 million in asset-backed facilities.
Also participating in the round were Picus Capital; Kayak Ventures; Cathay Innovation; MSA Capital; Amarena; FJ Labs; Gilgamesh and Kavak founder and CEO Carlos Garcia; Jackie Reses, executive chairman of Square Financial Services; Justo founder and CEO Ricardo Weder; Tiger Global Management Partner John Curtius; GGV’s Hans Tung; and Gerry Giacoman, founder and CEO of Clara, among others.
“We want all SMEs in LatAm to have access to financial services and capital in a fair and efficient way,” the pair said.
Xepelin is built on a SaaS model designed to give SMEs a way to organize their financial information in real time. Embedded in its software is a way for companies to apply for short-term working capital loans “with just three clicks, and receive the capital in a matter of hours,” the company claimed.
It has developed an AI-driven underwriting engine, which the execs said gives it the ability to make real-time loan approval decisions.
“Any company in LatAm can onboard in just a few minutes and immediately access a free software that helps them organize their information in real time, including cash flow, revenue, sales, tax, bureau info — sort of a free CFO SaaS,” de Camino said. “The circle is virtuous: SMEs use Xepelin to improve their financial habits, obtain more efficient financing, pay their obligations, and collaborate effectively with clients and suppliers, generating relevant impacts in their industries.”
The fintech currently has over 4,000 clients in Chile and Mexico, which currently has a growth rate “four times faster” than when Xepelin started in Chile. Over the past 22 months, it has loaned more than $400 million to SMBs in the two countries. It currently has a portfolio of active loans for $120 million and an asset-backed facility for more than $250 million.
Overall, the company has been seeing a growth rate of 30% per month, the founders said. It has 110 employees, up from 20 a year ago.
“When we talk about creating the largest digital bank for SMEs in LatAm, we are not saying that our goal is to create a bank; perhaps we will never ask for the license to have one, and to be honest, everything we do, we do it differently from the banks, something like a non-bank, a concept used today to exemplify focus,” the founders said.
Both de Camino and Kreis said they share a passion for making financial services more accessible to SMEs all across Latin America and have backgrounds rooted deep in different areas of finance.
“Our goal is to scale a platform that can solve the true pains of all SMEs in LatAm, all in one place that also connects them with their entire ecosystem, and above all, democratized in such a way that everyone can access it,” Kreis said, “regardless of whether you are a company that sells billions of dollars or just a thousand dollars, getting the same service and conditions.”
For now, the company is nearly exclusively focused on the B2B space, but in the future, it believes several of its services “will be very useful for all SMEs and companies in LatAm.”
“Xepelin has developed technology and data science engines to deliver financing to SMBs in Latin America in a seamless way,” Nicolas Szekasy, co-founder and managing partner at Kaszek Ventures, said in a statement. “The team has deep experience in the sector and has proven a perfect fit of their user-friendly product with the needs of the market.”
Chile was home to another large funding earlier this week. NotCo, a food technology company making plant-based milk and meat replacements, closed on a $235 million Series D round that gives it a $1.5 billion valuation.
Merqueo, which operates a full-stack, on-demand delivery service in Latin America, has landed $50 million in a Series C round of funding.
IDC Ventures, Digital Bridge and IDB Invest co-led the round, which also included participation from MGM Innova Group, Celtic House Venture Partners, Palm Drive Capital and previous shareholders. The financing brings the Bogota, Colombia-based startup’s total raised to $85 million since its 2017 inception.
Merqueo CEO and co-founder Miguel McAllister knows a thing or two about the delivery space in Latin America, having also co-founded Domicilios.com, a Latin American food delivery company that was bought by Berlin-based Delivery Hero and later merged with Brazil’s iFood.
McAllister describes Merqueo as a “pure-play online supermarket with a fully integrated grocery delivery service” that sources directly from large brands and local suppliers, bypassing intermediaries and “delivering directly from its dark store network.” (Dark stores are traditional retail stores that have been converted to local fulfillment centers.”
Merqueo offers more than 8,000 products, including fresh foods, packaged goods, home essentials, beverages and frozen products. It currently operates in more than 25 cities in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil and has over 600,000 users.
It must be doing something right. The startup is close to $100 million in “run-rate revenue,” according to McAllister, having grown more than 2.5x in 2020. Merqueo also reached positive cash flow in Colombia, its most mature market. Over the last year, large Latin American retail chains and retailers have approached the company about potentially acquiring it, McAllister said.
Part of the company’s success might be attributed to the speed and flexibility it offers. Users can choose how and when to receive their groceries according to their needs, with the startup offering delivery in as little as 10 minutes or three to four hours. Users can also schedule delivery of their groceries in two-hour intervals for the same day or the next day.
Also, owning and controlling the “entire” vertical supply chain gives it the ability to obtain better margins, offer competitive pricing and achieve healthy unit economics, according to McAllister.
Merqueo plans to use its new capital in part to expand geographically. The company is currently in phase one of its expansion to Brazil, entering initially in Sao Paulo later this month. Next year, it expects to launch in other Brazilian cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza and Salvador de Bahia.
The market opportunity in Latin America is massive considering that online grocery sales only represent just 1% of the market –– far lower than in the U.S., EU or China, for example. Other players in the increasingly crowded space include GoPuff in the U.S., Getir out of Turkey and Mexico-based Jüsto, which raised $65 million in a Series A led by General Atlantic earlier this year.
“The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online grocery shopping in LatAm,” McAllister told TechCrunch. “The region went from 0.3% share of online groceries to 1%. And after the pandemic, we are seeing a 50% increase in the pace of user adoption.” Overall, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly, with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.
Currently, Merqueo has over 1,300 employees in LatAm, up 60% from last year. It plans to continue hiring with the proceeds from the Series C round as well work “to become the largest and most ambitious dark stores network of Latin America.”
Alejandro Rodríguez, managing partner at IDC Ventures, is naturally bullish on Merqueo’s potential.
“From all the opportunities we looked into, Merqueo is undoubtedly the most advanced in the region. … The Merqueo team has proved they know how to scale the business and how to get to profitability,” Rodríguez told TechCrunch.
Online grocery delivery is a business with many technical and operational complexities, he said. In his view, Merqueo’s technology and operational expertise allow it to tackle those issues in a way that has led to “the best customer experience that we have seen in a scalable way.”
“They have the best combination of both great service metrics and healthy unit economics,” Rodríguez added.
La Haus, which has developed an online real estate marketplace operating in Mexico and Colombia, has secured $100 million in additional funding, including $50 million in equity and $50 million in debt financing.
The new capital was obtained as an extension to the company’s Series B, the first tranche of which closed in January. With the latest infusion, Medellin, Colombia-based La Haus has now secured $135 million total for the round and over $158 million in funding since its 2017 inception.
San Francisco Bay Area venture firms Acrew Capital and Renegade Partners co-led the round, which also included participation from Jeff Bezos’ Bezos Expeditions, Endeavor Catalyst, Moore Strategic Ventures, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Rappi’s Simon Borrero, Maluma, and Gabriel Gilinski. Existing backers who put money in this round include Greenspring Associates, Kaszek, NFX, Spencer Rascoff’s 75 & Sunny Ventures, Hadi Partovi and NuBank’s David Velez.
Jerónimo Uribe (CEO), Rodrigo Sánchez-Ríos (president), Tomás Uribe (chief growth officer) and Santiago Garcia (CTO) founded the company after Jerónimo and Tomas met Sánchez-Ríos at Stanford University. Prior to La Haus they started and ran Jaguar Capital, a Colombian real estate development company with over $350 million of completed retail and residential projects.
The company declined to reveal at what valuation the extension was raised, with Sánchez-Ríos saying only that it was “a significant increase” from January.
The Series B extension follows impressive growth for the startup, which saw the number of transactions conducted on its Mexico portal climb by nearly 10x in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the 2020 second quarter. With over 500 homes selling on its platform (via lahaus.com and lahaus.mx) the company is “the market leader in selling new housing in Spanish-speaking Latam by an order of magnitude,” its execs claim. La Haus expects to have facilitated more than $1 billion in annualized gross sales by the end of the year.
The startup was founded with the mission of making it easier for people to buy homes and helping “solve LatAm’s extreme housing inequality.” Its end goal is to accelerate access to new housing by both generating and curating supply and demand and then matching it with its technology, noted Sánchez-Ríos.
“In the last six months, our chief product officer has built a product that allows this to happen 100% digitally,” he said. “Before it would take a lot of time, people involved and visits. We want to provide people looking for a home a similar experience as to people looking for their next flight at delta.com.”
It has done that by embedding its software to developers’ new projects so that it can bring that digital experience to its users.
“They are able to view the projects on our sites, we match them and then they can see in real time which units of a particular tower are available, and then select, sign and pay for everything digitally,” Sánchez-Río said.
The need for new housing in the region and other emerging markets in general is acute, they believe. And the pace of building new homes is slow because small and mid-sized developers – who are responsible for building the majority of new homes in Latin America – are cash constrained. At the same time, mortgages are mostly not affordable for consumers, with banks extending only a fraction of the credit to individuals compared to the U.S., and often at far worse terms.
What La Haus is planning to do with its new capital – particularly the debt portion – is go beyond selling homes via its marketplace to helping extend financing to both developers and potential buyers.It plans to take the proprietary data it has been able to glean from the thousands of real estate transactions conducted on it platform to extend capital to developers and consumers “more quickly, with much lower risk and at better terms.”
Already, what the startup has accomplished is notable. Being able to purchase a home 100% digitally is not that easy even in the U.S. Pulling that off in Latin America – which has historically trailed behind in digital adoption – is no easy feat. By year’s end, La Haus intends to be in every major metropolitan area in Mexico and Colombia.
Its ultimate goal is to be able to help new, sustainable homes “to be built faster, alleviating the inequality caused by lack of access to inventory.”
To Acrew Capital’s Lauren Kolodny, La Haus is building a solution specific to the issues of Latin America’s housing market, rather than importing business models – such as iBuying – from the U.S.
“For many people in the United States home equity is their largest asset. In Latin America, however, consumers have been challenged with an impenetrable real estate market stacked against consumers,” she wrote via email. “La Haus is removing barriers to home ownership that stifles millions of people from achieving financial security. Specifically, Latin America has no centralized MLS, very costly interest rates, no transactional transparency, and few online informational tools.”
La Haus, Kolodny added, is breaking down these barriers by consolidating listings online, offering pricing transparency and educating consumers about their financing options.
Acrew first invested in the startup in its $10 million Series A and has been impressed with its growth over time.
“They have a unique focus on new housing — a massive industry worldwide, but especially in emerging markets where new housing is so necessary,” Kolodny said. “The management team…knows real estate in Latin America better than anyone we’ve met.”
For its part, the La Haus team is excited to put its new capital to work. As Sánchez-Río put it, “$50 million goes a lot further in Mexico and Colombia than in the U.S.”
“We are going to be very aggressive in Mexico and Colombia, and plan to go from four to at least 12 markets by the end of the year,” Jeronimo told TechCrunch. “We’re also excited to roll out our financing solution to developers and buyers.”
In the United States, same-day and next-day Amazon Prime deliveries have become the de facto standard in e-commerce. People want convenience and instant gratification, evidenced by the fact that an astonishing ~45% of U.S. consumers are Amazon Prime members.
Most major retailers are scrambling to catch up to Amazon by partnering with last-mile delivery startups. Walmart has become a major investor in Cruise for autonomous-vehicle deliveries, and Target acquired Shipt and Deliv last-mile delivery startups to increase its delivery speed. Costco partnered with Instacart for same-day deliveries, and even Domino’s Pizza has jumped in by partnering with Nuro for last-mile delivery using autonomous vehicles.
E-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.
The holdout: Latin America
Venture capitalists have been investing heavily in last-mile delivery over the past five years on a global scale, but Latin America (LatAm) has lagged behind. Over $11 billion has been invested globally in last-mile logistics over the past decade, but Latin America only saw about $1 billion over the same period (Source: PitchBook and WIND Ventures research).
Within this, only about $300 million was in Spanish-speaking Latin America — a surprisingly small amount for a region that has 110 million more consumers than in the U.S.
Brazil-based Loggi accounts for about 60% of last-mile VC investment in Latin America, but it only operates in Brazil. That leaves major Spanish countries like Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina without a leading independent last-mile logistics company.
In these countries, about 60% of the last-mile delivery market is dominated by small, informal companies or independent drivers using their own trucks. This results in inefficiencies due to a lack of technologies such as route optimization as well as a lack of operating scale. These issues are quickly becoming more pronounced as e-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.
Retailers are missing an opportunity to give customers what they want. Customers today expect free, reliable same- or next-day delivery — on-time, all the time, and without damage or theft. All of these are challenging in LatAm. Theft, in particular, is a significant problem, because unprofessional drivers often steal products out for delivery and then sell them for a profit. Cost is a problem, too, because free same- and next-day deliveries are simply not available in many places.
Operational and technological roadblocks abound
Why does Latin America lag when it comes to the last mile? First, traditional LatAm e-commerce delivery involves multiple time-consuming steps: Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, distributed to a warehouse, delivered to a second cross-dock, and then finally delivered to the customer.
By comparison, modern delivery operations are much simpler. Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, and then delivered directly to the customer. There’s no need for warehousing and an extra pre-warehouse cross-dock.
And those are just the operational challenges. Lack of technology also plays a significant role. Most delivery coordination and routing in LatAm are still done via a spreadsheet or pen and paper.
Dispatchers have to manually pick up a phone to call drivers and dispatch them. In the U.S., computerized optimization algorithms dramatically cut both delivery cost and time by automatically finding the most efficient route (e.g., packing the most deliveries possible on a truck along the route) and automatically dispatching the driver that can most efficiently complete the route based on current location, capacity and experience with the route. These algorithms are almost unheard of in the Latin America retail logistics sector.
Major retail brands are the last-mile catalyst
Mexico City-based Valoreo aims to invest in, operate and scale e-commerce brands as part of its self-described mission “to bring better products at more affordable prices” to the Latin American consumer.
Valoreo (which the company says is an extension of the Spanish word “valor,” meaning to add value), acquires merchants that operate their own brands and primarily sell on online marketplaces such as Amazon and Mercado Libre. The company targets brands that offer “category-leading products” and which it believes have “significant growth potential.” It also develops brands in-house to offer a broader selection of products to the end customer.
The startup was founded in late 2020 and has since swelled to more than 100 employees throughout Latin America. It has also since completed “multiple” acquisitions of local brands operating across a variety of industries, such as beauty, fitness and home goods.
California-based Presight Capital and Kingsway Capital out of the United Kingdom co-led the round, which also included participation from existing backers such as Kaszek, Upper90 and FJ Labs. The company declined to break down how much equity it raised in its seed round, but including debt, Valoreo has secured $80 million since inception.
It plans to use the new capital mostly to continue acquiring e-commerce brands across Mexico, Brazil and Colombia as well as to do more hiring.
The company says its model differs from that of its U.S.-based competitors (such as Thrasio and Perch) in that it is tailored to “the specific needs of the Latin American market and is specifically focused on the Latin American end customer.”
Valoreo aims to help entrepreneurs who may lack the resources and access to capital to take their businesses to the next level.
At the time of its seed raise, co-founder and co-CEO Stefan Florea told TechCrunch that the company takes less than five weeks typically from its initial contact with a seller to a final payout.
Then, the acquired and developed brands are integrated into the company’s consolidated holding. By tapping its team of “specialists” in areas such as digital marketing and supply chain management, it claims to be able to help these brands “reach new heights” while giving the entrepreneurs behind the companies “an attractive exit,” or partial exit in some cases.
Generally Valoreo acquires the majority of the business, with the purchase price typically being a combination of an upfront cash payment and a profit share component so sellers can still earn money.
Hernan Kazah, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek, said the firm doubled down on its investment in the startup after seeing its “impressive growth over the past few months.”
Valoreo is not the only Latin American startup focused on this space. In April, Merama announced it had raised $60 million in seed and Series A funding and secured $100 million in debt.
The money was raised “at well over a $200 million valuation,” co-founder and CEO Sujay Tyle said at the time.
“We are true believers in the fact that the world needs a new Amazon, a better one, a more sustainable one, one that appreciates local areas and products.” It’s quite one thing to claim you are out to replace Amazon (just as its founder goes into space), but Ralf Wenzel, Founder and CEO of JOKR, certainly believes his company might have a shot. And he’s raising plenty of money to aim at that goal.
Today the fast-growing grocery and retail delivery platform has closed a whopping $170 million Series A funding round. The round comes three months after the company started operations in the U.S., Latin America, and Europe. JOKR’s team consists of people who created both foodpanda and Delivery Hero, so from the outside at least, they have the chops to build a big business.
The round was led by Led by GGV Capital, Balderton Capital, and Tiger Global Management. It was joined by Activant Capital, Greycroft, Fabrice Grinda’s FJ Labs, as well as Latin America’s tech-specialized VC firms Kaszek and Monashees, as did HV Capital, the first institutional investor.
Based out of New York, where it launched last month JOKR plans to roll out across cities in the U.S., Latin America and Europe. Right now it’s live in nine cities, across Latin American countries, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, as well as Poland and Austria in Europe.
Wenzel said: “The investment we announced today will empower us to continue our expansion at an unprecedented rate as we continue to build JOKR into the premier platform for a new generation of online shopping, with instant delivery, a focus on local product offerings and more sustainable delivery and supply chains. We are proud to be able to partner with such a distinguished group of international tech investors to help us seize the enormous opportunity in front of us.”
JOKR’s pitch is that it enables small local businesses to sell their goods, sourced from other local businesses, via the platform, thus expanding their reach without the need for complex logistics and delivery networks on their own. But that local aspect also builds sustainability into the model.
Hans Tung, Managing Partner at GGV Capital, and newly appointed member of JOKR’s board said: “Ralf has put together an all-star team for food delivery that will transform the retail supply chain. The combination of food delivery experience and the sophisticated data capabilities that optimizes inventory allocation and dispatch, set JOKR apart. We look forward to working with the team on their mission to make retail more instant, more democratic, and more sustainable.”
JOKR is joining other fast-delivery grocery providers like Gorillas and Getir in providing a 15 minute delivery time for supermarket and convenience products, pharmaceuticals, but also ‘exclusive’ local products that are not available in regular supermarkets. Although, so far, it only has an app on Google Play.
Speaking at an interview with me Wenzel said: “We are close to the equivalent of Instacart, strongly grocery focused. Our offering is significantly broader than the ones of Gorillas because we’re not only focusing on convenience and all kinds of different grocery categories, we’re getting closer to a supermarket offering, so the biggest competing element would be the traditional supermarkets, the offline supermarkets, as well as online grocery propositions. We are vertically integrating and hence procuring directly, cutting out middlemen and building our own distribution warehouses.”