The militant group trucked more than 1 million gallons of diesel into Lebanon, flouting U.S. sanctions and billing itself as savior to a suffering population.
America is displaying political tribalism like what we tried to quell elsewhere.
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.
Olympus said in a brief statement Sunday that it is “currently investigating a potential cybersecurity incident” affecting its European, Middle East and Africa computer network.
“Upon detection of suspicious activity, we immediately mobilized a specialized response team including forensics experts, and we are currently working with the highest priority to resolve this issue. As part of the investigation, we have suspended data transfers in the affected systems and have informed the relevant external partners,” the statement said.
But according to a person with knowledge of the incident, Olympus is recovering from a ransomware attack that began in the early morning of September 8. The person shared details of the incident prior to Olympus acknowledging the incident on Sunday.
A ransom note left behind on infected computers claimed to be from the BlackMatter ransomware group. “Your network is encrypted, and not currently operational,” it reads. “If you pay, we will provide you the programs for decryption.” The ransom note also included a web address to a site accessible only through the Tor Browser that’s known to be used by BlackMatter to communicate with its victims.
Read more on TechCrunch
Brett Callow, a ransomware expert and threat analyst at Emsisoft, told TechCrunch that the site in the ransom note is associated with the BlackMatter group.
BlackMatter is a ransomware-as-a-service group that was founded as a successor to several ransomware groups, including DarkSide, which recently bounced from the criminal world after the high-profile ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, and REvil, which went silent for months after the Kaseya attack flooded hundreds of companies with ransomware. Both attacks caught the attention of the U.S. government, which promised to take action if critical infrastructure was hit again.
Groups like BlackMatter rent access to their infrastructure, which affiliates use to launch attacks, while BlackMatter takes a cut of whatever ransoms are paid. Emsisoft has also found technical links and code overlaps between Darkside and BlackMatter.
Since the group emerged in June, Emsisoft has recorded more than 40 ransomware attacks attributed to BlackMatter, but that the total number of victims is likely to be significantly higher.
Ransomware groups like BlackMatter typically steal data from a company’s network before encrypting it, and later threaten to publish the files online if the ransom to decrypt the files is not paid. Another site associated with BlackMatter, which the group uses to publicize its victims and touts stolen data, did not have an entry for Olympus at the time of publication.
Japan-headquartered Olympus manufactures optical and digital reprography technology for the medical and life sciences industries. Until recently, the company built digital cameras and other electronics until it sold its struggling camera division in January.
Olympus said it was “currently working to determine the extent of the issue and will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available.”
Christian Pott, a spokesperson for Olympus, did not respond to emails and text messages requesting comment.
Three University of Michigan students are building Channels Inc., a communication software tailored for physical workers, and already racking up some big customers in the event management industry.
Siddharth Kaul, 18, Elan Rosen, 20, and Ibrahim Mohammed, 20, started the company after finding some common ground in retail and events. The company’s customer list boasts names like Marriott Hotels, and it announced a $520,000 seed round, led by Sahra Growth Capital, to give it nearly $570,000 in total funding.
Kaul grew up going to a lot of events in Kuwait and Dubai, but started noticing there was a delay in things that should happen and many processes were being done on pen and paper.
“The technology that was available was inharmonious and made it hard for physical workers to fulfill tasks,” Kaul told TechCrunch. “We saw it happening in the event management space, forcing workers to coordinate across technologies.”
Legacy communication platforms like Slack are aggregating communications, but are better for remote workers; for physical workers, they rely more on text communication, he said. However, the disadvantage with texting is that you have to keep scrolling to get to the new message, and old communication is lost amid all of the replies.
They began developing a platform for small hotels to help them transition to digital and provide communication in a non-chronological order that is easier to access, enables discussion and can be searched. Users of the SaaS platform can build live personnel maps to see where employees are and what the event floor looks like, prioritize alerts and automate tasks while monitoring progress.
Marriott became a customer after one of its employees saw the Channels platform was being tested at an event. He saw employees pulling out their phones and asked the manager why they were doing that, and was told they were testing out the product and referred him to Kaul.
“What they thought was helpful was that it was communication, and though the employees were checking their phones, it was quick and they remained attentive,” Kaul said.
Channels provides a solid platform in terms of analytics and graphical representation, which is a major selling point for customers, leading to initial traction and revenue for the company that Rosen said he expects can occur at the convention level the company is striving for.
The new funding will be used to grow in development and bring additional engineering talent to the team. In addition, it will allow Kaul and Rosen to continue with their studies, while Mohammed will be doing more full-time work. They want to increase their recurring revenue in the Middle East while building up operations in the United States.
Jamal Al-Barrak, managing partner of Sahra Growth Capital, said Channels was on his firm’s radar ever since they won the 2020 Dubai X-Series competition it sponsors. As a result of winning the competition, he was able to see the founders on multiple occasions and hear their growth.
Sahra doesn’t typically invest in companies like Channels, but the firm started a “seed sourcing effort” to make investments of between $200,000 and $800,000 into early-stage companies, Al-Barrak said. Channels is one of the first investments with that effort.
“Channels is one of our first investments in this initiative and they look very promising so far even compared to our investments before we started this initiative,” Al-Barrak said. He liked the founders’ work ethic and their focus on the event industry, which he called, “historically outdated and bereft of technological innovation.”
“Sid, Elan and Ibrahim are some of the youngest yet brightest entrepreneurs I have come across to this day and I have invested in over 25 technology startups,” he said. “Additionally, I enjoyed that they had proof of concept with a prior customer base and revenue. I was most impressed by their vision past their current industry and bounds as they want to encapsulate communication for all physical workers, whether it is events, retail or more.”
Medal.tv, a short-form video clipping service and social network for gamers, is entering the live streaming market with the acquisition of Rawa.tv, a Twitch rival based in Dubai, which had raised around $1 million to date. The seven-figure, all cash deal will see two of Rawa’s founders, Raya Dadah and Phil Jammal, now joining Medal and further integrations between the two platforms going forward.
The Middle East and North African region (MENA) is one of the fastest-growing markets in gaming and still one that’s mostly un-catered to, explained Medal.tv CEO Pim de Witte, as to his company’s interest in Rawa.
“Most companies that target that market don’t really understand the nuances and try to replicate existing Western or Far-Eastern models that are doomed to fail,” he said. “Absorbing a local team will increase Medal’s chances of success here. Overall, we believe that MENA is an underserved market without a clear leader in the livestreaming space, and Rawa brings to Medal the local market expertise that we need to capitalize on this opportunity,” de Witte added.
Medal.tv’s community had been asking for the ability to do livestreaming for some time, the exec also noted, but the technology would have been too expensive for the startup to build using off-the-shelf services at its scale, de Witte said.
“People increasingly connect around live and real-time experiences, and this is something our platform has lacked to date,” he noted.
But Rawa, as the first livestreaming platform dedicated to Arab gaming, had built out its own proprietary live and network streaming technology that’s now used in all its products. That technology is now coming to Medal.tv.
The two companies were already connected before today, as Rawa users have been able to upload their gaming clips to Medal.tv, and some Rawa partners had joined Medal’s skilled player program. Going forward, Rawa will continue to operate as a separate platform, but it will become more tightly integrated with Medal, the company says. Currently, Rawa sees around 100,000 active users on its service.
The remaining Rawa team will continue to operate the livestreaming platform under co-founder Jammal’s leadership following the deal’s close, and the Rawa HQ will remain based in Dubai. However, Rawa’s employees have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic, and it’s unclear if that will change in the future, given the uncertainty of Covid-19’s spread.
Medal.tv detailed its further plans for Rawa on its site, where the company explained it doesn’t aim to build a “general-purpose” livestreaming platform where the majority of viewers don’t pay — a call-out that clearly seems aimed at Twitch. Instead, it says it will focus on matching content with viewers who would be interested in subscribing to the creators. This addresses on of the challenges that has faced larger platforms like Twitch in the past, where it’s been difficult for smaller streamers to get off the ground.
The company also said it will remain narrowly focused on serving the gaming community as opposed to venturing into non-gaming content, as others have done. Again, this differentiates itself from Twitch which, over the years, expanded into vlogs and even streaming old TV shows. And it’s much different from YouTube or Facebook Watch, where gaming is only a subcategory of a broader video network.
The acquisition follows Medal.tv’s $9 million Series A led by Horizons Ventures in 2019, after the startup had grown to 5 million registered users and “hundreds of thousands” of daily active users. Today, the company says over 200,000 people create content every day on Medal, and 3 million users are actively viewing that content every month.
This charade doesn’t leave anyone safer. It’s gone on long enough.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters
Apple to scan for CSAM imagery
Apple announced a major initiative to scan devices for CSAM imagery. The company on Thursday announced a new set of features, arriving later this year, that will detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in its cloud and report it to law enforcement. Companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft already scan for CSAM in their cloud services, but Apple had allowed users to encrypt their data before it reached iCloud. Now, Apple’s new technology, NeuralHash, will run on users’ devices, tatformso detect when a users upload known CSAM imagery — without having to first decrypt the images. It even can detect the imagery if it’s been cropped or edited in an attempt to avoid detection.
Meanwhile, on iPhone and iPad, the company will roll out protections to Messages app users that will filter images and alert children and parents if sexually explicit photos are sent to or from a child’s account. Children will not be shown the images but will instead see a grayed-out image instead. If they try to view the image anyway through the link, they’ll be shown interruptive screens that explain why the material may be harmful and are warned that their parents will be notified.
Some privacy advocates pushed back at the idea of such a system, believing it could expand to end-to-end encrypted photos, lead to false positives, or set the stage for more on-device government surveillance in the future. But many cryptology experts believe the system Apple developed provides a good balance between privacy and utility, and have offered their endorsement of the technology. In addition, Apple said reports are manually reviewed before being sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
The changes may also benefit iOS developers who deal in user photos and uploads, as predators will no longer store CSAM imagery on iOS devices in the first place, given the new risk of detection.
In-App Events appear on the App Store
Though not yet publicly available to all users, those testing the new iOS 15 mobile operating system got their first glimpse of a new App Store discovery feature this week: “in-app events.” First announced at this year’s WWDC, the feature will allow developers and Apple editors alike to showcase directly on the App Store upcoming events taking place inside apps.
The events can appear on the App Store homepage, on the app’s product pages or can be discovered through personalized recommendations and search. In some cases, editors will curate events to feature on the App Store. But developers will also be provided tools to submit their own in-app events. TikTok’s “Summer Camp” for creators was one of the first in-app events to be featured, where it received a top spot on the iPadOS 15 App Store.
Apple expands support for student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch ahead of the fall semester. Tens of thousands more U.S. and Canadian colleges will now support mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet app, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University and others.
Apple was accused of promoting scam apps in the App Store’s featured section. The company’s failure to properly police its store is one thing, but to curate an editorial list that actually includes the scams is quite another. One of the games rounded up under “Slime Relaxations,” an already iffy category to say the least, was a subscription-based slime simulator that locked users into a $13 AUD per week subscription for its slime simulator. One of the apps on the curated list didn’t even function, implying that Apple’s editors hadn’t even tested the apps they recommend.
Tax changes hit the App Store. Apple announced tax and price changes for apps and IAPs in South Africa, the U.K. and all territories using the Euro currency, all of which will see decreases. Increases will occur in Georgia and Tajikistan, due to new tax changes. Proceeds on the App Store in Italy will be increased to reflect a change to the Digital Services Tax effective rate.
Game Center changes, too. Apple said that on August 4, a new certificate for server-based Game Center verification will be available via the publicKeyUrl.
Robinhood stock jumped more than 24% to $46.80 on Tuesday after initially falling 8% on its first day of trading last week, after which it had continued to trade below its opening price of $38.
Square’s Cash app nearly doubled its gross profit to $546 million in Q2, but also reported a $45 million impairment loss on its bitcoin holdings.
Coinbase’s app now lets you buy your cryptocurrency using Apple Pay. The company previously made its Coinbase Card compatible with Apple Pay in June.
An anonymous app called Sendit, which relies on Snap Kit to function, is climbing the charts of the U.S. App Store after Snap suspended similar apps, YOLO and LMK. Snap was sued by the parent of child who was bullied through those apps, which led to his suicide. Sendit also allows for anonymity, and reviews compare it to YOLO. But some reviews also complained about bullying. This isn’t the first time Snap has been involved in a lawsuit related to a young person’s death related to its app. The company was also sued for its irresponsible “speed filter” that critics said encouraged unsafe driving. Three young men died using the filter, which captured them doing 123 mph.
TikTok is testing Stories. As Twitter’s own Stories integrations, Fleets, shuts down, TikTok confirmed it’s testing its own Stories product. The TikTok Stories appear in a left-hand sidebar and allow users to post ephemeral images or video that disappear in 24 hours. Users can also comment on Stories, which are public to their mutual friends and the creator. Stories on TikTok may make more sense than they did on Twitter, as TikTok is already known as a creative platform and it gives the app a more familiar place to integrate its effects toolset and, eventually, advertisements.
Facebook has again re-arranged its privacy settings. The company continually moves around where its privacy features are located, ostensibly to make them easier to find. But users then have to re-learn where to go to find the tools they need, after they had finally memorized the location. This time, the settings have been grouped into six top-level categories, but “privacy” settings have been unbundled from one location to be scattered among the other categories.
A VICE report details ban-as-a-service operations that allow anyone to harass or censor online creators on Instagram. Assuming you can find it, one operation charged $60 per ban, the listing says.
TikTok merged personal accounts with creator accounts. The change means now all non-business accounts on TikTok will have access to the creator tools under Settings, including Analytics, Creator Portal, Promote and Q&A. TikTok shared the news directly with subscribers of its TikTok Creators newsletter in August, and all users will get a push notification alerting them to the change, the company told us.
Discord now lets users customize their profile on its apps. The company added new features to its iOS and Android apps that let you add a description, links and emojis and select a profile color. Paid subscribers can also choose an image or GIF as their banner.
Twitter Spaces added a co-hosting option that allows up to two co-hosts to be added to the live audio chat rooms. Now Spaces can have one main host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Co-hosts have all the moderation abilities as hosts, but can’t add or remove others as co-hosts.
Tencent reopened new user sign-ups for its WeChat messaging app, after having suspended registrations last week for unspecified “technical upgrades.” The company, like many other Chinese tech giants, had to address new regulations from Beijing impacting the tech industry. New rules address how companies handle user data collection and storage, antitrust behavior and other checks on capitalist “excess.” The gaming industry is now worried it’s next to be impacted, with regulations that would restrict gaming for minors to fight addiction.
WhatsApp is adding a new feature that will allow users to send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing. The Snapchat-inspired feature, however, doesn’t alert you if the other person takes a screenshot — as Snap’s app does. So it may not be ideal for sharing your most sensitive content.
Telegram’s update expands group video calls to support up to 1,000 viewers. It also announced video messages can be recorded in higher quality and can be expanded, regular videos can be watched at 0.5 or 2x speed, screen sharing with sound is available for all video calls, including 1-on-1 calls, and more.
Streaming & Entertainment
American Airlines added free access to TikTok aboard its Viasat-equipped aircraft. Passengers will be able to watch the app’s videos for up to 30 minutes for free and can even download the app if it’s not already installed. After the free time, they can opt to pay for Wi-Fi to keep watching. Considering how easy it is to fall into multi-hour TikTok viewing sessions without knowing it, the addition of the addictive app could make long plane rides feel shorter. Or at least less painful.
Chinese TikTok rival Kuaishou saw stocks fall by more than 15% in Hong Kong, the most since its February IPO. The company is another victim of an ongoing market selloff triggered by increasing investor uncertainty related to China’s recent crackdown on tech companies. Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech has also impacted Tencent, Alibaba, Jack Ma’s Ant Group, food delivery company Meituan and ride-hailing company Didi. Also related, Kuaishou shut down its controversial app Zynn, which had been paying users to watch its short-form videos, including those stolen from other apps.
Twitch overtook YouTube in consumer spending per user in April 2021, and now sees $6.20 per download as of June compared with YouTube’s $5.60, Sensor Tower found.
Spotify confirmed tests of a new ad-supported tier called Spotify Plus, which is only $0.99 per month and offers unlimited skips (like free users get on the desktop) and the ability to play the songs you want, instead of only being forced to use shuffle mode.
The company also noted in a forum posting that it’s no longer working on AirPlay2 support, due to “audio driver compatibility” issues.
Mark Cuban-backed audio app Fireside asked its users to invest in the company via an email sent to creators which didn’t share deal terms. The app has yet to launch.
YouTube kicks off its $100 million Shorts Fund aimed at taking on TikTok by providing creators with cash incentives for top videos. Creators will get bonuses of $100 to $10,000 based on their videos’ performance.
Match Group announced during its Q2 earnings it plans to add to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. Since then, Match was spotted testing group live video on Tinder, but says that particular product is not launching in the near-term. At least two brands will see Hyperconnect-powered integrations in 2021.
The Photo & Video category on U.S. app stores saw strong growth in the first half of the year, a Sensor Tower report found. Consumer spend among the top 100 apps grew 34% YoY to $457 million in Q2 2021, with the majority of the revenue (83%) taking place on iOS.
Pokémon GO influencers threatened to boycott the game after Niantic removed the COVID safety measures that had allowed people to more easily play while social distancing. Niantic’s move seemed ill-timed, given the Delta variant is causing a new wave of COVID cases globally.
Health & Fitness
Apple kicked out an app called Unjected from the App Store. The new social app billed itself as a community for the unvaccinated, allowing like-minded users to connect for dating and friendships. Apple said the app violated its policies for COVID-19 content.
Google Pay expanded support for vaccine cards. In Australia, Google’s payments app now allows users to add their COVID-19 digital certification to their device for easy access. The option is available through Google’s newly updated Passes API which lets government agencies distribute digital versions of vaccine cards.
COVID Tech Connect, a U.S. nonprofit initially dedicated to collecting devices like phones and tablets for COVID ICU patients, has now launched its own app. The app, TeleHome, is a device-agnostic, HIPAA-compliant way for patients to place a video call for free at a time when the Delta variant is again filling ICU wards, this time with the unvaccinated — a condition that sometimes overlaps with being low-income. Some among the working poor have been hesitant to get the shot because they can’t miss a day of work, and are worried about side effects. Which is why the Biden administration offered a tax credit to SMBs who offered paid time off to staff to get vaccinated and recover.
Popular journaling app Day One, which was recently acquired by WordPress.com owner Automattic, rolled out a new “Concealed Journals” feature that lets users hide content from others’ viewing. By tapping the eye icon, the content can be easily concealed on a journal by journal basis, which can be useful for those who write to their journal in public, like coffee shops or public transportation.
Recently IPO’d language learning app Duolingo is developing a math app for kids. The company says it’s still “very early” in the development process, but will announce more details at its annual conference, Duocon, later this month.
Educational publisher Pearson launched an app that offers U.S. students access to its 1,500 titles for a monthly subscription of $14.99. the Pearson+ mobile app (ack, another +), also offers the option of paying $9.99 per month for access to a single textbook for a minimum of four months.
News & Reading
Quora jumps into the subscription economy. Still not profitable from ads alone, Quora announced two new products that allow its expert creators to monetize their content on its service. With Quora+ ($5/mo or $50/yr), subscribers can pay for any content that a creator paywalls. Creators can choose to enable a adaptive paywall that will use an algorithm to determine when to show the paywall. Another product, Spaces, lets creators write paywalled publications on Quora, similar to Substack. But only a 5% cut goes to Quora, instead of 10% on Substack.
Google Maps on iOS added a new live location-sharing feature for iMessage users, allowing them to more easily show your ETA with friends and even how much battery life you have left. The feature competes with iMessage’s built-in location-sharing feature, and offers location sharing of 1 hour up to 3 days. The app also gained a dark mode.
Security & Privacy
Controversial crime app Citizen launched a $20 per month “Protect” service that includes live agent support (who can refer calls to 911 if need be). The agents can gather your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, help you navigate to a safe location and monitor the situation until you feel safe. The system of live agent support is similar to in-car or in-home security and safety systems, like those from ADT or OnStar, but works with users out in the real world. The controversial part, however, is the company behind the product: Citizen has been making headlines for launching private security fleets outside law enforcement, and recently offered a reward in a manhunt for an innocent person based on unsubstantiated tips.
Funding and M&A
Square announced its acquisition of the “buy now, pay later” giant AfterPay in a $29 billion deal that values the Australian firm at more than 30% higher than the stock’s last closing price of AUS$96.66. AfterPay has served over 16 million customers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, to date, and comes at a time when the BNPL space is heating up. Apple has also gotten into the market recently with an Affirm partnership in Canada.
Gaming giant Zynga acquired Chinese game developer StarLark, the team behind the mobile golf game Golf Rival, from Betta Games for $525 million in both cash and stock. Golf Rival is the second-largest mobile golf game behind Playdemic’s Golf Clash, and EA is in the process of buying that studio for $1.4 billion.
U.K.-based Humanity raised an additional $2.5 million for its app that claims to help slow down aging, bringing the total raise to date to $5 million. Backers include Calm’s co-founders, MyFitness Pal’s co-founder and others in the health space. The app works by benchmarking health advice against real-world data, to help users put better health practices into action.
YELA, a Cameo-like app for the Middle East and South Asia, raised $2 million led by U.S. investors that include Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, general partner of RAD Fund. The app is focusing on signing celebrities in the regions it serves, where smartphone penetration is high and over 6% of the population is under 35.
London-based health and wellness app maker Palta raised a $100 million Series B led by VNV Global. The company’s products include Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, Zing Fitness Coach and others, which reach a combined 2.4 million active, paid subscribers. The funds will be used to create more mobile subscription products.
Emoji database and Wikipedia-like site Emojipedia was acquired by Zedge, the makers of a phone personalization app offering wallpapers, ringtones and more to 35 million MAUs. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. Emojipedia says the deal provides it with more stability and the opportunity for future growth. For Zedge, the deal provides….um, a popular web resource it thinks it can better monetize, we suspect.
Mental health app Revery raised $2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for its app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts. The company will focus on other mental health issues in the future.
London-based Nigerian-operating fintech startup Kuda raised a $55 million Series B, valuing its mobile-first challenger bank at $500 million. The inside round was co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global.
Vietnamese payments provider VNLife raised $250 million in a round led by U.S.-based General Atlantic and Dragoneer Investment Group. PayPal Ventures and others also participated. The round values the business at over $1 billion.
Mastodon for iPhone
Fans of decentralized social media efforts now have a new app. The nonprofit behind the open source decentralized social network Mastodon released an official iPhone app, aimed at making the network more accessible to newcomers. The app allows you to find and follow people and topics; post text, images, GIFs, polls, and videos; and get notified of new replies and reblogs, much like Twitter.
@_666eveITS SO COOL FRFR do u guys want a tutorial? #fypシ #醒图 #醒图app♬ original sound – Ian Asher
TikTok users are teaching each other how to switch over to the Chinese App Store in order to get ahold of the Xingtu app for iOS. (An Android version is also available.) The app offers advanced editing tools that let users edit their face and body, like FaceTune, apply makeup, add filters and more. While image-editing apps can be controversial for how they can impact body acceptance, Xingtu offers a variety of artistic filters which is what’s primarily driving the demand. It’s interesting to see the lengths people will go to just to get a few new filters for their photos — perhaps making a case for Instagram to finally update its Post filters instead of pretending no one cares about their static photos anymore.
Facebook still dominating top charts, but not the No. 1 spot:
Not cool, Apple:
This user acquisition strategy:
Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere:
The Cameo app, where celebrities send video messages to paying fans, has taken off globally. But now the concept is set to come to the Middle East and South Asia.
Tech startup YELA has secured $2 million in investment to support its launch, and will — similar to Cameo — offer users the opportunity to get close to their idols via voice, video and direct text messages.
The investment is led by U.S investors Justin Mateen (co-founder of Tinder) and general partner of JAM Fund, joined by Sean Rad (co-founder Tinder) and general partner of RAD Fund. Participation from the U.S. also includes Graph Ventures, championed by Razmig Hovaghimian (board member at Rakuten). In addition, U.K investment comes from Samos Fund, Ascension Ventures, and from MENA-based Hambro Perks Oryx Fund, who joined the round.
The twist is that YELA plans to sign some big celebrities known in the region, but less so in the Western world. That doesn’t mean the market is small. There are over 365 million Arabic speakers online and over 65% of the population is under 35. Meanwhile, smartphone penetration is very high.
Alex Eid, CEO and co-founder of YELA said: “There is a huge appetite in the MENA market for a premium offering in the creator space.”
He said YELA has onboarded high-profile celebrities, confirming A-list signees including Amr Diab, the multiaward-winning Egyptian singer, and Haifa Wehbe, three-time Big Apple Music Award winner, amongst others.
YELA will launch in August 2021 with prices starting from $100.
These past few years have seen the emergence of buy now, pay later services worldwide, with leading players raising buttloads of cash to serve an insatiable young adult population who don’t fancy credit cards or paying interest.
In what seems to be a consolidation of some sorts, fintech juggernaut Square acquired Australian buy now, pay later giant Afterpay in a mouthwatering $29 billion deal this week.
The deal is a sign of things to come for established markets like Europe and the U.S. and promising markets witnessing a proliferation of these services. For instance, in the Middle East, not less than ten startups offering BNPL services have launched within the past three years.
Tabby is one such service and clearly the most known in the region. Today, it is announcing that it has raised a $50 million Series B, valuing the company at $300 million.
Global Founders Capital and STV led the funding round, with participation from Delivery Hero and CCVA. Existing investors, including Arbor Ventures, Mubadala Investment Capital, Raed Ventures, Global Ventures, MSA Capital, VentureSouq, Outliers VC, JIMCO, and HOF, also participated.
Hosam Arab founded the company in late 2019 after he left fashion e-commerce Namshi, a company he led as CEO until a Dubai-based real estate firm acquired it. The launch of tabby as a buy now, pay later solution was to specifically target economic problems of the MENA and wider GCC region, says Arab.
Globally, BNPL services address obvious pain points around the flexibility of payments for customers and better conversion rates for merchants. However, in the Middle East, there’s another component tabby wanted to address, which was the over-dependence on cash as a payment method. It’s so deep-rooted that while running Namshi, Arab noticed that 80% of the transactions recorded by the company were cash-based, presenting unique challenges to scaling the e-commerce platform.
“With buy now, pay later, our view and hypothesis was that, in addition to the well-known benefits of buy now, pay later, we also provide an alternative for consumers to pay online digitally. And if we’re able to do that, that becomes a very interesting solution for the retailers of this market.”
The company integrates with retailers to allow their customers to shop at online and physical stores with interest-free installments. Tabby went live in early 2020. Although it had a relatively slow start because the launch coincided with the onset of the pandemic, it turned out to be in the company’s best interests, as merchants and customers began to shift online significantly. While pre-COVID e-commerce penetration levels in the GCC region stood at single digits, Arab thinks it might have increased to double digits due to the sheer number of merchants and consumers that have since embraced online commerce.
The jump in penetration is one reason tabby has scaled 20x in transaction volume since June 2020. According to the company, more than 400,000 active shoppers use its platform, and approximately 3,000 installs are recorded daily. In addition, over 2,000 global brands and small businesses, including Adidas, IKEA, SHEIN, and Marks & Spencer, use the platform.
The fast growth has allowed tabby to secure another round of capital than originally planned, Arab adds. In June, the company raised $50 million in one of the largest debt facilities by a fintech in the MENA and GCC region. The investment follows tabby’s seed and Series A rounds of $7 million and $23 million in 2020 per Crunchbase. This means tabby has received over $130 million despite launching early last year.
But tabby isn’t the only company with such firepower in the region. Its Saudi counterpart Tamara recently raised a $110 million Series A in debt and equity financing from Checkout. Although Tamara claims Checkout acquired a minority stake, there are contrasting reports that prove otherwise.
If the latter is true, the buyout follows a line of consolidation happening in the MENA and wider GCC region. In May, Australian BNPL company Zip Co said it was acquiring Spotti, another major player in MENA, for $26 million. Afterpay also took a significant stake in Postpay’s recent $10 million investment. This series of events makes tabby the sole independent local player in the market. But how does the company see competition playing out?
“We’re seeing this level of competition globally. I don’t think that our market is any different. I think the market is big enough to handle a few players. How many players is really the question, and will that lead into further consolidation down the line potentially?” he said.
“I think what we’ve seen as well, even with Square’s acquisition of Afterpay, is that there needs to be a broader differentiation from the just plain vanilla BNPL. I think, if you continue to play in that very limited space of BNPL, the opportunities are going to be fairly challenging.”
Maybe this is why tabby strategically positioned itself with Delivery Hero instead of taking investments from an established BNPL player. The company, which owns and operates several regional food and grocery delivery companies, including Talabat, InstaShop and Hunger Station, has one of the largest customer bases in the MENA region. And the investment marks Delivery Hero’s first fintech investment in MENA.
“As we expand our offering, we’re looking at strategic partners where we see ourselves offering the same services in the future. And working with Delivery Hero that has one of the largest consumer platforms in the region, makes a lot of sense for us. Much more sense than working with, let’s say, a global BNPL player with zero presence in this market,” Arab added.
Mark Venema, the senior vice president, Strategy at Delivery Hero, acknowledges that investing in tabby is strategic. He says the multinational sees “great potential in tabby to drive the industry forward and “is proud to be supporting the company on its growth journey.”
Ahmad Alshammari, partner at co-lead investor STV, in a statement, said, “As the global BNPL market is expected to grow at ~30% CAGR over the next five years, we estimate that MENA will grow at least twice as fast, further accelerated by a rapid switch to contactless payments, e-commerce growth, and access to credit. Our doubling-down shows our strong belief that tabby is the market leader in MENA and that they will continue to drive BNPL’s growth across the region by enabling buyers and merchants alike.”
The funding will help tabby expand its product portfolio and enter new markets in the GCC area. When that happens, will we see more consolidation take place? For instance, will companies like Klarna and Affirm, which don’t have a presence in MENA and the GCC, try to acquire or buy a majority stake in tabby?
“There is a very long journey ahead of us and where we believe we’re headed and what we want to build around this business,” Arab said. “And so the short answer is no, we’re not looking for a quick exit; otherwise, we would have probably done it by now. The opportunity here for us is significantly bigger.”
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.
One of fashion’s first top Arab models has a new documentary about the creative class in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
It’s been fascinating to watch the development of Eventtus, a startup I came across many years ago on my travels in the Middle East, finding them at the Rise-Up Summit in Cairo in 2012. Then, it was two young women who’d taken the Silicon Valley startup culture to heart and created their own take on event ticketing. But today it’s my genuine pleasure to write that Eventtus has reached a well-deserved exit.
The acquisition means Eventtus’ 20 engineers will now join the Bevy team, alongside Egyptian founders Mai Medhat and Nihal Fares.
The purchase will add to Bevy’s event technology stack with the addition of a mobile in-person conference app, and several other engagement tools for attendees, enabling Bevy to offer a more comprehensive, end-to-end event management solution, especially as events now stretch from virtual to hybrid to, – as the world opens up again – in-person event programs.
Derek Andersen, CEO, and co-founder of Bevy said: “Enterprises have invested in creating connected communities for their customers, employees, and partners. Events are not only an extension of these communities but also provide an important channel for driving ongoing engagement. With this acquisition, we can now further advance our leadership role in enterprise events.”
Medhat and Fares did an incredible job of navigating the crazy startup world, but they did it from Egypt, and during interesting political times in that country, to put it extremely mildly. And a global pandemic to boot.
Speaking to TechCrunch, Medhat said: “We competed against companies such as Hopin, Attendify, Bizzabo, and Swapcard within the mobile event application space, but we won when it came to delivering a white-labeled experience built for organizers.”
She told me Eventtus was acquired due to its tech stack and its expertise within event technology: “Derek Andersen and I met a few years back and we were the event application of record for Startup Grind and CMX Summit. Bevy is focused on enabling businesses to build community, and the acquisition allows for us to meet attendees where they are at and how they prefer to experience events.”
Medhat now becomes VP of Innovation while Fares will be Director of Product Management.
I asked Medhat if the exit was prompted by the pandemic in some way?: “It wasn’t. Across the world, we’re seeing so much exciting innovation and demand within the event tech space, with Bevy recently fundraising $40M during its Series C round. This acquisition is the union of our shared vision of being the community event engine powering community globally and we are excited to grow together.”
As for its ramifications for the Egyptian ecosystem, the news is nothing but good. Eventtus was one of the rising stars of the MENA region’s tech scene, and no doubt its founders will continue to champion that, going forward.
AttackIQ, a cybersecurity startup that provides organizations with breach and attack simulation solutions, has raised $44 million in Series C funding as it looks to ramp up its international expansion.
The funding round was led by Atlantic Bridge, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV), and Gaingels, with existing vendors — including Index Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, and Telstra Ventures — also participating. The round brings the company’s total funding raised to date to $79 million.
AttackIQ was founded in 2013 and is based out of San Diego, California. It provides an automated validation platform that runs scenarios to detect any gaps in a company’s defenses, enabling organizations to test and measure the effectiveness of their security posture and receive guidance on how to fix what’s broken. Broadly, AttackIQ’s platform helps an organization’s security teams to anticipate, prepare, and hunt for threats that may impact their business, before hackers get there first.
Its Security Optimization Platform platform, which supports Windows, Linux, and macOS across public, private, and on-premises cloud environments, is based on the MITRE ATT&CK framework, a curated knowledge base of known adversary threats, tactics, and techniques. This is used by a number of cybersecurity companies also building continuous validation services including FireEye, Palo Alto Networks, and Cymulate.
AttackIQ says this latest round of funding, which comes more than two years after its last, arrives at a “dynamic time” for the company. Not only has cybersecurity become more of a priority for organizations as a result of a major uptick in both ransomware and supply-chain attacks, the company also recently accelerated its international expansion efforts through a partnership with technology distributor Westcon.
The startup says it’s planning to use these new funds to further expand internationally through its newfound partnership with Atlantic Bridge, which will also see Kevin Dillon, the company’s co-founder and managing director, join the AttackIQ board of directors.
“AttackIQ has established itself as a category leader with a formidable enterprise customer base that includes four of the Fortune 20,” said Dillon. “We believe deeply in the company’s vision and potential to become the next billion-dollar cybersecurity software company and look forward to helping the company turn early traction in Europe and the Middle East into robust, long-term expansion.”
Brett Galloway, CEO of AttackIQ, said the round “reaffirms the strength” of its platform.
As well as enabling organizations to review the robustness of their security defenses, the startup also runs the AttackIQ Academy, which provides free entry-level and advanced cybersecurity training. It has accumulated 17,200 registered students to date across 176 countries.
Unit21, a startup that helps businesses monitor fraudulent activities with its no-code software, announced today it has raised $34 million in a Series B round of funding led by Tiger Global Management.
The round values San Francisco-based Unit21 at $300 million and comes nine months after the startup raised a $13 million Series A that included investments from the founders of Plaid, Chime and Shape Security as well as former Venmo COO Michael Vaughan.
ICONIQ Capital and existing backers Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI venture fund), A.Capital and South Park Commons participated in the latest funding event.
Former Affirm product manager Trisha Kothari and Clarence Chio founded Unit21 in 2018 with the goal of giving risk, compliance and fraud teams a way to fight financial crime via a “secure, integrated, no-code platform.”
The pair say they started Unit21 based on the belief that the existing model of “black box” machine learning used for fraud prevention and detection was flawed. Their idea was to develop an alternative system to provide risk and compliance teams with more control over their operations. Unit21 describes its core technology as a “flag-and-review” toolset designed to give non-technical operators and anti-money laundering (AML) teams the ability to “easily” write complex statistical models and deploy customized workflows without having to involve their engineering teams. Unit21 says it provides this toolset to companies with the aim of helping them mitigate fraud and money laundering risks through Know Your Customer (KYC) verification, transaction monitoring detection and suspicious activity report (SAR) case management.
Unit21 has built up an impressive customer base of over 50 enterprise clients, including Chime, Intuit, Coinbase, Gusto, Flywire, Wyre and Twitter, among others. The company says it has monitored more than $100 billion in activity via its API and dashboard since its 2018 inception. It also says that it has saved more than 20 million users over $100 million in fraud loss/suspicious activity. The company declined to reveal hard revenue figures, saying only revenue grew by “12x” in 2020 compared to 2019.
“Data is the most important weapon in the fight against fraud and money laundering,” Kothair said. “This funding will support our mission to democratize data and make it more accessible to operations teams.”
The company will also use its new capital in part toward expanding its engineering, research & development and go-to-market teams. As of late June, Unit21 had 53 employees, up from 12 at the same time last year. The startup also plans evolve its platform for generalized flag + review use cases beyond financial crimes and fraud. It’s also eyeing expansion in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) and Europe/Middle East (EMEA) markets.
Tiger Global Partner John Curtius said Unit21 is transforming organizations’ ability to “analyze data to its advantage for risk management and compliance.”
The space is a hot one with a number of other fraud-prevention companies raising capital in recent months including Sift, Seon and Feedzai. According to Compliance Week (citing analysis by Fenergo), financial institutions were hit with an estimated $10.4 billion in global fines and penalties related to anti-money laundering (AML), know your customer (KYC), data privacy, and MiFID (Markets in Financial Instruments Directive) regulations in 2020, bringing the total to $46.4 billion for those types of breaches since 2008. The report, spanning up to its release date of Dec. 9, said there has been 198 fines against financial institutions for AML, KYC, data privacy, and MiFID deficiencies, representing a 141% increase since 2019.
Last fall, Facebook announced it was opening an office in Lagos, Nigeria, which would provide the company with a hub in the region and the first office on the continent staffed with a team of engineers. We’ve now spotted one of the first products to emerge from this office: an education-focused mobile app called Sabee, which means “to know” in Nigerian Pidgin. The app aims to connect learners and educators in online communities to make educational opportunities more accessible.
The app was briefly published to Google Play by “NPE Team,” the internal R&D group at Facebook, which has typically focused on new social experiences in areas like dating, audio, music, video, messaging and more.
While the learnings from the NPE Team’s apps sometimes inform broader Facebook efforts, the group hasn’t yet produced an app that has graduated to become a standalone Facebook product. Many of its earlier apps have also shut down, including (somewhat sadly), the online zine creator Eg.g, video app Hobbi, calling app CatchUp, friend-finder Bump, podcast community app Venue, and several others.
Sabee, however, represents a new direction for the NPE Team, as it’s not about building yet another social experiment.
Instead, Sabee is tied to Facebook’s larger strategy of focusing more on serving the African continent, starting with Nigeria. This is a strategic move, informed by data that indicates a larger majority of the world’s population will be in urban centers by 2030, and much of that will be on the African continent and throughout the Middle East. By 2100, Africa’s population is expected to have tripled, with Nigeria becoming the second-most populated country in the world, behind China.
To address the need to connect these regions to the internet, Facebook teamed with telcos on 2Africa, a subsea cable project that aims to serve the over 1 billion people still offline in Africa and the Middle East. These aren’t altruistic investments, of course — Facebook knows its future growth will come from these demographics.
Facebook confirmed its plans for Sabee to TechCrunch after we discovered it, noting it was still a small test for the time being.
“There are 50 million learners, but only 2 million educators in Nigeria,” said Facebook Product Lead, Emeka Okafor. “With this small, early test, we’re hoping to understand how we can help educators build communities that make education available to everyone. We look forward to learning with our early testers, and deciding what to do from there.”
The disparity between learners and educators in Nigeria greatly impacts women and girls, which is another key focus for Sabee — and the NPE Team’s efforts in the region as a whole. The company also wants to explore how to better serve groups who are often left behind by technology. On this front, Sabee is working to create an experience that works with low connectivity, like 2G.
We understand the app is currently in early alpha testing with fewer than 100 testers who are under NDA agreements with Facebook. It’s not available for anyone else beyond that group at present, but the company hopes to scale Sabee to the next stage before the end of the year.
There is no way to sign up for a Sabee waitlist, and the app is no longer public on Google Play. It was available so briefly that it was never ranked on any charts, app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower confirmed to us.
We should note that “sabee” and “sabi/sabis” have other, less-polite meanings in different languages, per Urban Dictionary. But the team has no plans to change the name for now as it makes sense in the Nigerian market where the app is targeted.
Two prominent figures are on trial in Jordan accused of plotting to destabilize the kingdom. One is an adviser to Saudi Arabia’s leader, and the Saudis have been trying to disrupt the trial.
On May 16, Israeli airstrikes destroyed three apartment buildings, decimating several families. We visited the scene, interviewed survivors and analyzed videos, photos and satellite images to find out what happened.
A more monolithic Iranian system that seeks stability presents Washington with an opportunity.
Perfect isn’t on the menu, and Iran’s Islamic regime is not going to change.
The departure of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister is a relief for Democrats, but Iran and the Palestinians could test Mr. Biden’s relations with a fragile new Israeli government.
The departure of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister is a relief for Democrats, but Iran and the Palestinians could test Mr. Biden’s relations with a fragile new Israeli government.
An Arab party in the emerging government is pushing it to recognize communities that have long existed in a sad state of limbo.
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.
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.
The relationships between banks and fintechs are multi-faceted.
In some cases, they partner. In many cases, they compete. In other cases, one acquires or invests in the other.
Well, today, an announcement by global payments giant Visa is aimed at helping facilitate banks and fintechs’ ability to work together.
Specifically, Visa said today it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect, a program designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers.
I talked with Terry Angelos, senior vice president and global head of fintech at Visa, to understand just exactly what that means.
“Global fintech investment last year was $105 billion,” Angelos said. “There were about 2,861 deals in venture, PE and M&A. So literally over $100 billion is going into fintech, which is more than the combined tech budgets of every bank in the U.S. As a result, a lot of innovation that is occurring in fintech is funded by venture dollars. We’re trying to bring that innovation to our clients, whether they are banks, processors or other fintechs.”
The program initially launched in Europe in November of 2020, and now is available in the U.S., Asia Pacific, Latin American and CEMEA (Central Europe, Middle East and Africa). Visa has worked to identify fintechs that can help banks and financial institutions (that are clients of Visa’s) as well as other fintechs “create digital-first experiences, without the cost and complexity of building the back-end technology in-house.”
Local teams will run programs in the respective regions, and vet and manage partners in the following categories: account opening, data aggregation, analytics and security, customer engagement and new cardholder services and operations and compliance.
So far, Visa has identified about 60 partners that offer a range of technologies — from back-office functions to new front-end services, according to Angelos. Those partners include Alloy, Jumio, Argyle, Fidel, FirstSource, TravelBank, Canopy, Hummingbird and Unit21, among others. Twenty-four are located in the U.S.
“So much of fintech focus and coverage is about disrupting existing banks. Everyone is trying to disrupt everyone, including fintechs like PayPal,” Angelos told TechCrunch. “Venture numbers are certainly very large. What we’re realizing is there is a significant opportunity to pair up a lot of venture-backed companies with our existing clients. It runs a little bit against us versus them approach you typically hear about.”
Visa clients can get in touch with program partners via the Visa Partner website and get benefits such as reduced implementation fees and pricing discounts.
“The Fintech Connect program is about both helping to identify and curate interesting fintech companies and then create a favorable commercial partnership for our clients so they can engage with these Fintech Connect partners,” Angelos said.
So, what does Visa gain from all this?
“Our goal is that all of our clients are in a position to build better digital experiences for their consumers,” he told TechCrunch. “We would love it if every bank had the latest tools in order to onboard clients and build digital experiences.”
One of its partners, for example, is virtual card startup Extend.
“There are fintechs that provide this today such as TripActions, Ramp and Divvy,” Angelos points out. “But what Visa is doing is looking at ‘How can we enable our banking clients to do something similar?’ So we’re bringing innovation into our ecosystem so that anyone can take advantage.”
It can also help companies such as TripActions, Ramp or Divvy with other complementary technologies for security posture, for example.
“The net beneficiary is to hopefully move more spending onto those rails,” Angelos said. “For example, if you look at B2B spend, there’s about $120 trillion of it annually. We believe about $20 trillion of that is card eligible. Today, Visa captures about $1 trillion of that. So, another $19 trillion is available for Visa to capture through our partners if our banks and fintechs can build these kinds of solutions to enable B2B payments.”
To be clear, Visa also invests in startups from time to time. But this initiative is distinct from those efforts, although a couple of its partners have been recipients of funding from Visa.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited Israel to talk about Gaza and the Palestinians, but heard a stern message about nuclear talks with Tehran.