With Ferdinand Marcos Jr. leading in the polls, victims of his father’s regime have not given up their fight to keep his name off the ballot.
Health officials say recent infections have been milder than those seen in previous waves, though they are still urging caution.
Mr. Jose’s writing, rich in themes drawn from his rural upbringing, amounted to a continuing morality play about poverty and class divisions in the Philippines.
Philippine officials warned that residents were going hungry. Many were still in evacuation centers. On a highway, survivors scrawled an appeal for aid.
Nearly 100 people are now believed to have been killed by the storm, and rescuers are still trying to reach some devastated areas.
The Office of Civil Defense said that nearly 100,000 people in several regions had been evacuated. There was no immediate word on casualties.
The populist president also promised a peaceful transition of power when his term ends next year.
It will take more than speeches — or indeed Nobel prizes — to save independent journalism.
The decision came after days of growing international pressure on the government to allow the journalist to attend the ceremony in Norway.
Rodrigo Duterte entered the race days after his daughter announced her bid for vice president. He had previously said he would leave politics at the end of his term.
When women lead in conservation, indicators of success often go up — yet they are routinely excluded. Could a group of local leaders in the Philippines provide a model?
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who hopes to succeed Rodrigo Duterte as president, said Sara Duterte would effectively be his running mate.
The chance to swim with the world’s biggest fish led to a tourism boom in a Philippines town, but conservation groups decry the hand-feeding that keeps the gentle giants around.
The journalist, whose reporting has taken on the president of the Philippines and the C.E.O. of Facebook, discusses the “atom bomb” that social media set off in our information ecosystem.
Rappler, the news site co-founded by the new Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, dares to criticize the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte. He may yet see it shut down.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. joins the former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao in seeking to succeed Rodrigo Duterte in next year’s election.
The Philippine president, whose term ends next year, had been expected to seek the No. 2 office, but said he would not do so “in obedience to the will of the people.”
Pacquiao, who won titles in a record eight weight classes over a 26-year career, now turns his attention to his bid for the presidency of the Philippines.
The country’s best-known athlete already holds a seat in the Senate and has faced tough opposition from President Rodrigo Duterte.
The International Criminal Court will investigate the killings of thousands under President Rodrigo Duterte. His lawyer says it has no authority to do so.
The closure is spawning a backlash in a country where many people do not have access to a computer or the internet at home. Most schools in the United States and Britain have resumed in-person instruction.
Financial services, especially those for people who don’t have access to traditional bank accounts or lines of credit, are proliferating in Southeast Asia. Jeff App wants to give consumers a “super app” where they can compare many financial products and apply for them using the startup’s proprietary data-scoring models. For service providers, Jeff serves as a distribution channel, helping them find and retain customers. The startup announced today it has raised a seed extension of $1.5 million, led by J12 Ventures. Other participants included iSeed Ventures and Toy Ventures, and returning investors EstBAN, Startup Wise Guys and other angels.
The funding brings Jeff’s total raised to about $2.5 million. It announced a $1 million seed round back in March. Founder and chief executive officer Tom Niparts told TechCrunch that Jeff had a net profitable second quarter and wasn’t planning on raising again, but investors were interested because of its strong growth since the beginning of the year. The startup claims that since the end of January, its users have tripled to 700,000, who compared a total of four million products over the past six months.
Founded in 2019, the startup is operational in Vietnam and has applied for a license to launch in Indonesia. It also plans to enter the Philippines in the third quarter. Part of the funding will be used to increase Jeff’s team from about 15 people now to more than 40 employees for its offices in Latvia and Southeast Asia.
Before launching Jeff, Niparts was CEO of Spain for Digital Finance International, a fintech company that is part of the Finstar Financial Group. During that time, Niparts saw that in many Southeast Asian countries, people struggled to get loans not because of their credit history or income, but because they simply didn’t have enough personal financial data. Jeff was created to develop alternative data scoring models for financial services.
Niparts said Jeff’s goal is to become a main distribution channel for financial services in Southeast Asia and the top place for consumers to compare products and apply for them.
One of the reasons Jeff enjoyed strong growth during the first half of this year was by honing its user acquisition strategy in Vietnam. At first, it relied on global channels for user acquisition, like Google and Facebook ads, but now its top acquisition channel is through partnering with local affiliates, including bloggers and social media influencers who have grown considerable followings with educational content about finances.
“What we were surprised about is that in Europe, for instance, TikTok would never work for financial services, but in Vietnam we saw that it is a pretty amazing channel,” said Niparts.
While one of Jeff’s main features is loan comparison, the company has started expanding its offerings because most people only borrow money once in a while.
To create incentives to return to Jeff, instead of offloading the app once they secure a loan, Jeff is also offering coupons, like Shopee discounts and planning to launch telecom top-ups with cashback offers and a user referral functionality. It is also working on neobank and mobile wallet comparisons, payment functionalities, installment financing, services for micro-to small-sized merchants and a data science model to increase conversions for providers.
The president of the Philippines says he’ll run for the vice presidency next year. Critics see a plot to avoid prosecution for the killings in his drug war.
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.
Singapore is home to fewer than six million people, making it one of the smallest ASEAN countries, in terms of population. It is a young country as well — having gained independence in 1963 — and resides in a neighborhood with far larger economies, including China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. When the country first became independent, its mandate was to simply survive rather than thrive.
So how does a country evolve from a position of relative uncertainty, with comparatively few resources, to one that leads the ASEAN region in venture capital investment and has been home to 10 unicorns?
Countries around the world examine Singapore’s ecosystem from a distance, hoping to learn from, and emulate, its story. The World Bank Group recently published a report, The Evolution and State of Singapore’s Start-up Ecosystem, documenting the country’s experience in building its startup ecosystem and the challenges facing it.
This article presents an overview of the report’s key findings and offers a few key recommendations on what other countries can learn from Singapore’s experience, as well as what Singapore itself can do to maintain progress.
A glimpse into Singapore’s current startup ecosystem
As of 2019, Singapore had over $19 billion in PE and VC assets under management, more than twice that of neighboring Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand combined. In that same year, the country was home to an estimated 3,600 tech startups and nearly 200 different intermediary and supporting organizations (accelerators, co-working spaces, coding academies, etc.) – some which have a multinational presence, such as Blk71, whose Singapore headquarters has been referred to as “the world’s most tightly packed entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
While assessing the size and strength of startup ecosystems is an evolving method, Start-up Genome priced Singapore’s ecosystem at over $25 billion, five times the global median.
Arguably, the most eye-catching hallmark of this ecosystem is its population of current and former unicorns. Collectively, Singapore has been home to ten unicorns, three of which have offered an IPO (Nanofilm, Razer and Sea) and two of which have been acquired – one by giant Alibaba (Lazada) and one by Chinese streaming powerhouse YY (Bigo Live). The remaining five are Trax, Acronis, JustCo, PatSnap, and Grab – the ASEAN region’s largest unicorn to date.
The education sector is also prominent in Singapore’s ecosystem. Universities like the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are deeply embedded into this ecosystem, helping with R&D commercialization linkages, incubation, talent/knowledge transfer, and other areas.
So, how did Singapore’s startup ecosystem come to be?
Numerous factors have contributed to building Singapore’s startup ecosystem, with government intervention and leadership being the dominant driving forces. The government has spent more than USD60 billion over the past several decades to enhance the country’s R&D infrastructure, create VC funds, and launch accelerators and other support organizations.
Lloyd J. Austin III, the American defense secretary, became the first high-ranking official in the Biden administration to travel to a region that has long received close attention from Beijing.
As scientists find more tattoos on preserved remains from Indigenous cultures, artists living today are drawing from them to revive cultural traditions.
E-commerce is booming in Southeast Asia, but in many markets, the fragmented logistics industry is struggling to catch up. This means sellers run into roadblocks when shipping to buyers, especially outside of major metropolitan areas, and managing their supply chains. Locad, a startup that wants to help with what it describes as an “end-to-end solution” for cross-border e-commerce companies, announced today it has raised a $4.5 million seed round.
The funding was led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge (Locad is currently a part of the program’s fifth cohort), with participation from firms like Antler, Febe Ventures, Foxmont, GFC and Hustle Fund. It also included angel investors Alessandro Duri, Alexander Friedhoff, Christian Weiss, Henry Ko, Huey Lin, Markus Bruderer, Dr. Markus Erken, Max Moldenhauer, Oliver Mickler, Paulo Campos, Stefan Mader, Thibaud Lecuyer, Tim Marbach and Tim Seithe.
Locad was founded in Singapore and Manila by Constantin Robertz, former Zalora director of operations Jannis Dargel and Shrey Jain, previously Grab’s lead product manager of maps. It now also has offices in Australia, Hong Kong and India. The startup’s goal is to close the gap between first-mile and last-mile delivery services, enabling e-commerce companies to offer lower shipping rates and faster deliveries while freeing up more time for other parts of their operations, such as marketing and sales conversions.
Since its founding in October 2020, Locad has been used by more than 30 brands and processed almost 600,000 items. Its clients range from startups to international brands, and include Mango, Vans, Payless Shoes, Toshiba and Landmark, a department store chain in the Philippines.
Locad is among a growing roster of other Southeast Asia-based logistics startups that have recently raised funding, including Kargo, SiCepat, Advotics and Logisly. Locad wants to differentiate by providing a flexible solution that can work with any sales channel and is integrated with a wide range of shipping providers.
Robertz told TechCrunch that Locad is able to keep an asset-light business model by partnering with warehouse operators and facility managers. What the startup brings to the mix is a cloud software platform that serves as a “control tower,” letting users get real-time information about inventory and orders across Locad’s network. The company currently has seven fulfillment centers, with four of its warehouses in the Philippines and the other three in Singapore, New South Wales, Australia and Hong Kong. Part of its funding will be used to expand into more Asia-Pacific markets, focusing on Southeast Asia and Australia.
Locad’s seed round will also used to add integrations to more couriers and sales channels (it can already be used with platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, Amazon, Shopee, Lazada and Zalora), and develop new features for its cloud platform, including more data analytics.
Voyager Innovations, the Manila-based owner of PayMaya, one of the Philippines’ most popular payment and financial services apps, announced today it has raised $167 million in new funding to launch more financial services, including a digital bank.
The raise includes $121 million in new funding, and $46 million from previously committed funds. Voyager announced in April 2020 that it had secured up to $120 million in investment commitments from PLDT, KKR, Tencent, the International Finance Group (IFC) and the IFC Emerging Asia Fund.
The latest capital came from existing shareholders PLDT, one of the country’s largest telecoms, KKR and Tencent, and new investors including IFC Financial Institutions Growth Fund, managed by IFC AMC, a member of the World bank Group (another one of Voyager’s investors).
Voyager’s total raised since 2018 now stands at $452 million.
Along with competitors GCash and Coins, PayMaya is one of the most popular financial “super apps” in the Philippines. Its services include a digital wallet, online remittances, bill payments, bank transfers, prepaid cards and an e-commerce feature called PayMaya Mall that connects consumers to 350 merchants.
In its funding announcement today, Voyager said it has applied for a digital bank license with Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the Philippines’ central bank. A representative for the Voyager said the neobank will launch about six months after Voyager secures its license.
PayMaya has more than 250,000 digital-finance access touchpoints, like convenience stores, where users can top-up their accounts. Voyager says this is seven times the number of ATM and bank branches in the Philippines, making PayMaya more accessible than traditional banks, especially in remote or rural areas.
According to the BSP, about 71% of Filipinos were unbanked as of 2019. The BSP has set financial inclusion goals it wants to achieve by 2023, including onboarding 70% of Filipino adults to payment or transaction accounts, and converting 50% of total retail payments into digital form.
PayMaya and Smart Padala by PayMaya, its remittance service, claim its total registered users doubled over 18 months to 38 million as of June 2021. This year, Voyager also began expanding PayMaya’s services with working capital loans for micro- to mid-sized businesses through PayMaya Lending Corp, and PayMaya Protect insurance policies for health coverage and devices.
A scion to the country’s most prominent pro-democracy political family, he was celebrated early in his administration for stabilizing the country’s faltering economy.
Sari-sari stores are neighborhood stores in the Philippines that usually sell daily necessities and sometimes serve as community hubs, too. Today GrowSari, a startup that is digitizing sari-sari stores with features like pricing tools, inventory management and working capital loans, announced it has raised a Series B from several notable investors that brings its total funding to $30 million.
The company’s Series B is at a rolling close, so it has not announced a final amount. The $30 million total it has raised include its seed funding and Series A, which according to a July 2020 profile in Esquire Philippines was $14 million. Participants in its Series B included Temasek Holdings’ private equity unit Pavilion Capital, Tencent, International Finance Corporation (IFC), ICCP SBI Venture Partners and Saison Capital, and returning investors Robinsons Retail Holdings (which is part of the Gokongwei Group), JG Digital Equity Ventures and Wavemaker Partners.
GrowSari was founded in 2016, and says its B2B platform is currently used by more than 50,000 stores in over 100 municipalities on Luzon, the Philippines’ largest and most populated island. Its ultimate goal is to serve one million sari-sari stores.
According to GrowSari, there are more than 1.1 million sari-sari stores in the Philippines, and they account for 60% of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sold in the country, making them a valuable distribution channel for wholesalers. In addition to its supplier marketplace, GrowSari says it is able to give sari-sari store operators better pricing for products from about a thousand FMCG brands, including Unilever, P&G and Nestle, which it claims can help stores double their earnings. Other services in the app include online telecom and utility bill payments, remittance and microfinancing for working capital loans.
GrowSari’s founding tDeam includes Reymund Rollan, Shiv Choudhury, Siddhartha Kongara and Andrzej Ogonowski, who first launched the platform as a backend system for sari-sari stores to manage their logistics and inventory.
Since most sari-sari stores are run individually, their margins are smaller than large retailers that can negotiate deals with FMCG wholesalers. GrowSari’s supplier marketplace addresses this issue by giving sari-sari stores access the Distributor List Prices seen by large stores and wholesalers. GrowSari’s marketplace does not require a minimum order, and it allows sari-sari stores on the platform to pay with cash on delivery, GrowCoins (or cash credits that can be topped up through GrowSari’s shippers, online transfers, banks or over-the-counter at convenience stores) or E-Lista, GrowSari’s seven-day loan product.
GrowSari’s new capital will be used to expand its userbase to 300,000 new stores in the Philippines, especially in Visayas and Mindanao, increase the size of its supplier marketplace and launch more financial products for sari-sari stores. The startup is part of a new crop of B2B platforms in Asia focused on serving micro to small-enterprises, including BukuWarung and BukuKas in Indonesia and Khatabook in India.
The death came three days after the International Criminal Court’s departing chief prosecutor requested a full investigation into the bloody war on drugs in the Philippines.
Android shared information today about six features that will roll out this summer. Some of these are just quality of life upgrades, like starring text messages to easily find them later, or getting contextual Emoji Kitchen suggestions depending on what you’re typing. But other aspects of this update emphasize security, safety, and accessibility.
Last summer, Google added a feature on Android that basically uses your phone as a seismometer to create “the world’s largest earthquake detection network.” The system is free, and since testing in California, it’s also launched in New Zealand and Greece. Now, Google will introduce this feature in Turkey, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The company says that they’ll continue expanding the feature this year, prioritizing countries with the highest earthquake risk.
Google is also expanding on another feature released last year, which made Google Assistant compatible with Android apps. In the initial update, apps were supported like Spotify, Snapchat, Twitter, Walmart, Discord, Etsy, MyFitnessPal, Mint, Nike Adapt, Nike Run Club, eBay, Kroger, Postmates, and Wayfair. Today’s update mentioned apps like eBay, Yahoo! Finance, Strava, and Capital One. These features are comparable to Apple’s support of Siri with iOS apps, which includes the ability to open apps, perform tasks, and record a custom command.
When it comes to accessibility, Google is ramping up its gaze detection feature, which is now in beta. Gaze detection allows people to ask Voice Access to only respond when they’re looking at their screen, allowing people to naturally move between talking with friends and using their phone. Now, Voice Access will also have enhanced password input — when it detects a password field, it will allow you to input letters, numbers, and symbols by saying “capital P” or “dollar sign,” for example, making it easier for users to more quickly enter this sensitive information. In October, Google Assistant became available on gaze-powered accessible devices, and in the same month, Google researchers debuted a demo that made it so people using sign language could be identified as the “active speaker” in video calls. Apple doesn’t have a comparable gaze detection feature yet that’s widely available, though they acquired SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), an eye-tracking firm, in 2017. So, hopefully similar accessibility features will be in the works at Apple, especially as Google continues to build out theirs.
Today’s Android update also lets Android Auto users customize more of their experience. Now, you can set your launcher screen from your phone, set dark mode manually, and more easily browse content on media apps with an A-Z scroll bar and “back to top” button. Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messages will now be compatible on the launch screen – proceed with caution and don’t drive distracted – and EV charging, parking, and navigation apps will now be available for use.
The countries targeted by the ban, which will take effect on July 14, include the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Cuba, China, Russia and Ukraine.
Apple announced a handful of privacy-focused updates at its annual software developer conference on Monday. One called Private Relay particularly piques the interest of Chinese users living under the country’s censorship system, for it encrypts all browsing history so nobody can track or intercept the data.
As my colleague Roman Dillet explains:
When Private Relay is turned on, nobody can track your browsing history — not your internet service provider, anyone standing in the middle of your request between your device and the server you’re requesting information from. We’ll have to wait a bit to learn more about how it works exactly.
The excitement didn’t last long. Apple told Reuters that Private Relay won’t be available in China alongside Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.
Apple couldn’t be immediately reached by TechCrunch for comment.
Virtual private networks or VPNs are popular tools for users in China to bypass the “great firewall” censorship apparatus, accessing web services that are otherwise blocked or slowed down. But VPNs don’t necessarily protect users’ privacy because they simply funnel all the traffic through VPN providers’ servers instead of users’ internet providers, so users are essentially entrusting VPN firms with protecting their identities. Private Relay, on the other hand, doesn’t even allow Apple to see one’s browsing activity.
In an interview with Fast Company, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, explained why the new feature may be superior to VPNs:
“We hope users believe in Apple as a trustworthy intermediary, but we didn’t even want you to have to trust us [because] we don’t have this ability to simultaneously source your IP and the destination where you’re going to–and that’s unlike VPNs. And so we wanted to provide many of the benefits that people are seeking when in the past they’ve decided to use a VPN, but not force that difficult and conceivably perilous privacy trade-off in terms of trusting it a single intermediary.”
It’s unclear whether Private Relay will simply be excluded from system upgrades for users in China and the other countries where it’s restricted, or it will be blocked by internet providers in those regions. It also remains to be seen whether the feature will be available to Apple users in Hong Kong, which has seen an increase in online censorship in the past year.
Like all Western tech firms operating in China, Apple is trapped between antagonizing Beijing and flouting the values it espouses at home. Apple has a history of caving in to Beijing’s censorship pressure, from migrating all user data in China to a state-run cloud center, cracking down on independent VPN apps in China, limiting free speech in Chinese podcasts, to removing RSS feed readers from the China App Store.
Digital payments are going mainstream around the world. By the end of 2020, there were more than 300 mobile money providers with over 100,000 active users, according to a report published by GSMA, an industry association for mobile network operators. Altogether, over 300 million mobile money accounts were active every month around the world.
Mobile money providers — more commonly known as e-wallets — are used to transfer money, pay and receive payments through mobile phones without the need for a traditional bank. They are useful so long as they enjoy wide adoption and a strong network effect. But even a popular service like Ant Groups’s Alipay, which has over one billion annual users, is practically unusable outside China due to its low penetration in most countries.
The problem is there is no interoperability between most wallets as there is between traditional banks, suggested Xue Zhixiang, who worked on the basic infrastructure for Alibaba’s cloud unit and Alipay before starting WalletsClub.
Registered in Hong Kong in 2019 with a small operational team in mainland China, WalletsClub sets its sights on becoming the Visa for digital wallets, making money transfers possible between the world’s hundreds of electronic money services.
“We are like a clearinghouse for digital wallets,” said Xue, the company’s CEO.
A clearing system is an intermediary for two parties engaged in a financial transaction. It’s designed to ensure the efficiency and security of a transfer by validating the availability of the funds and logging the transfer between two transacting parties. Payments can be sent and received in real-time using WalletsClub, Xue claimed, and its technology is based on the “ISO 20022” standard, a common language for financial institutions to exchange data across the globe.
In other words, WalletsClub is going after the hundreds of e-wallets around the world rather than individual end-users. Its vision is to let people pay with any mobile wallet anywhere as long as the sender’s service provider or financial institution and the receiver’s equivalent services are members of WalletsClub, similar to how Visa and Mastercard process credit cards issued by different banks that are in their networks. The company plans to monetize by charging a flat fee per transaction.
By adding interoperability to electronic wallets, even small, regional players can thrive because they gain compatibility wherever a clearing system is in place.
Instead of challenging the traditional financial system, WalletsClub wants to provide a way for unbanked individuals to easily move money around through digital wallets, which are easier to obtain than a bank account. A big demand will come from overseas migrant workers who need to send money back to their home countries, such as the millions of Southeast Asian workers abroad.
WalletsClub is potentially encroaching on the territory of a few players. Expatriate workers sending money home currently revert to longstanding remittance services like Western Union or MoneyGram, which have large networks of “agent” locations where users go send or collect money. In 2018, Alipay began allowing users in Hong Kong to send money to GCash accounts in the Philippines, but “the focus of Ant Group is payments rather than remittance,” Xue observed.
In 2019, money sent home from diaspora workers became the largest source of external financing in low- and middle-income countries excluding China, according to World Bank data. The money flows amounted to over $500 billion and surpassed the levels of foreign direct investment in these regions.
The other type of business that a clearinghouse for mobile wallets could threaten is cross-border payment aggregators, which save merchants from having to integrate with various digital payment methods.
The biggest challenge for the nascent startup is to establish trust with clients. At this stage, WalletsClub in talks with electronic money services founded by Chinese entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada. Chinese-made wallets are especially plentiful in emerging markets, thanks to these founders’ learning from China’s fintech boom over the decade. Many of them found it hard to compete with behemoths like Tencent and Ant, let alone China’s tightening regulations around fintech.
“If we reach 20 members and have several hundreds of transactions between every pair of members on a daily basis, we are basically profitable,” said Xue, adding that the goal is to onboard a dozen customers by this year.
Founded in 2014, Great Deals is an e-commerce enabler that helps brands like Abbot, L’Oréal and Unilever build their online retail operations in the Philippines. The startup announced today that it has raised $30 million in Series B funding led by Fast Group, one of the Philippines’ biggest logistics firms, with support from CVC Capital Partners. Navegar, which led Great Deals’ Series A, also returned for this round.
The transaction was advised by Rocket Equities. The investment by Fast Group, which has a fleet of more than 2,500 vehicles and 90,000 stores in its distribution network, marks the beginning of a strategic partnership. Great Deals will use part of the new capital to build an automated fulfillment center, and the deal will help it increase its penetration outside the Greater Manila Area and offer more Instant Commerce, or deliveries under one hour.
Great Deals currently operates only in the Philippines, but plans to expand regionally next year, founder and chief executive officer Steve Sy told TechCrunch.
In a statement, Fast Group president and chief executive officer William Chiongbian II said, “The Fast Group sees a lot of synergies with Great Deals in building capacity. We are privileged to contribute to the growth of Philippine e-commerce, as it relies heavily on a strong supply chain backbone.”
Some of Great Deals’ other clients include Nestlé, Samsonite, GSK, Bayer and Fila. In addition to serving as an e-commerce distributor, it offers an end-to-end services for brands, including digital content production, marketing campaign coordination and management of marketplace listings (Great Deals’ partners include Lazada, Shopee, Zalora, Zilingo, Shopify and Magento).
There has been a flurry of investments in startups focused on acquiring third-party sellers on Amazon and helping them build their businesses.
The latest is Acquco, which aims to stand out from the others in that it was formed by a pair of founders — Raunak Nirmal and Wiley Zhang — who actually worked at Amazon, and then built multimillion-dollar businesses on its platform.
The New York City-based startup has raised $160 million in debt and equity in a Series A round that it says will fund its “aggressive growth plans.” CoVenture, Singh Capital Partners, Crossbeam and other notable investors such as GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani put money in the equity portion of the round. Acquco would not disclose the valuation at which the money was raised, nor the exact breakdown of debt and equity, other than to say “a significant portion was equity.” But CEO Raunak Nirmal did share a few other notable things.
For one, the company has already scaled to over $100 million in revenue since its founding (in a year’s time) while deploying less than $2 million of equity capital. Plus, it’s been profitable “since day one,” he said.
Nirmal also claims that Acquco’s proprietary technology and “proven playbooks” give it an edge against competitors such as Thrasio and Perch. Specifically, the company says it helps Amazon sellers exit their business within 30 days and continue to scale their business “to the next level” post-acquisition. It also claims to offer flexible terms and that it does not prevent entrepreneurs from selling again on Amazon.
Acquco says it identifies the best businesses to acquire, and leverages what it describes as “flexible founder-friendly deal structures,” which essentially gives sellers a way to make money from the exit and then still get a cut of revenues down the line. The company claims that it on average achieves over 100% revenue growth after migrating brands onto its platform.
Forming Acquco was not an overnight story, but rather was years in the making.
“My first job out of college was actually at Amazon. I worked as a business analyst on the merchant technologies team there, which was really focused on third-party selling and helping empower third-party sellers to grow on the platform and then just growing that segment of the business,” Nirmal recalls. “At the time, third-party selling was smaller than the retail side for Amazon.”
A lot has changed since then, of course, as that segment of the e-commerce giant’s business has grown dramatically.
In recent years, most sales on Amazon have come through Amazon Marketplace, where millions of outside sellers compete to find customers. Many pay Amazon to store and ship their goods, making them eligible for Prime shipping through an arrangement known as Fulfillment by Amazon, or FBA. This is where Acquco is focusing.
While at Amazon years ago, Nirmal was tasked with starting a brand on the site so he could better understand sellers’ pain points, as well as the tools that could be built “to really help them grow.”
Eventually, Nirmal left Amazon to pursue selling on Amazon full time because the brand he’d started ended up selling over $7 million in its first year. After that, he and COO Zhang built and sold multiple brands in the Amazon ecosystem before going on to consult for “some of the largest sellers in the marketplace,” primarily based in China but selling in the U.S. market.
“A lot of these guys are actually public companies now,” Nirmal said.
The duo went on to co-found a seller outsourcing firm in the Philippines, which helps to minimize the cost of operating the brands for sellers and make it more accessible for sellers that don’t have a huge team to build something on Amazon.
Then they founded a company called Refund Labs, a seller tool that helps sellers essentially automatically identify issues in the payments that they receive from Amazon as well as recover money on their behalf for things like inventory that gets damaged or lost or the fees that are being charged that might be incorrect.
Nirmal stepped down as CEO of Refund Labs to form Acquco.
“What we wanted to do is take this knowledge and experience that we really have built up over the last seven years, and apply it in the best way possible,” Nirmal told TechCrunch. “And rather than building brands from the ground up, or consulting for some of these large sellers, we thought, ‘Why not go and buy the best brands, and then help grow them using our expertise?’ ”
The company says its proprietary algorithms analyze thousands of criteria sets and millions of data inputs “to automate and maximize the performance of the core functions within supply chain and brand management” across their portfolio.
Acquco plans to use its new capital to enter “hypergrowth mode,” according to Chief Strategy Officer Jerel Ho, who most recently led corporate development and strategy at WeWork, where he closed over $40 billion in M&A deals.
The startup has the ambitious goal of scaling its portfolio to over $500 million in revenue by 2022. It plans to put the new money toward continuing to build out its technology platform — including tools that can automate the management of an entire brand on Amazon and across other retail channels — as well as continuing to acquire brands. It’s also, naturally, going to do some hiring.
“We’ve done a lot with very little,” Ho told TechCrunch. “But hyper growth plans require a much larger team across all functions.”
CoVenture founder Ali Hamed says that the Amazon third-party seller ecosystem does $200 billion of revenue and is growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 50%.
“It’s the most attractive market we’ve seen since founding our firm,” he told TechCrunch. “And of all the people we’ve talked to, Raunak is as plugged into the Amazon ecosystem as anyone we could find. In many ways, he taught us how to look, think and deploy capital into the market.”
To say Hamed is bullish on Acquco would be an understatement. Since first investing in the company in 2020, Nirmal “has exceeded” all of CoVenture’s expectations.
“We’ve been begging him to take more money every three months since writing our first check,” Hamed added. “Raunak is able to help buy businesses and make them better than they ever were before. He has a vision of how to operate these assets post-purchase that other operators who are not Amazon-native just don’t have.”
Besides Thrasio, other players in the space that have recently raised funding include Branded, which recently launched its own roll-up business on $150 million in funding, as well as Berlin Brands Group, SellerX, Heyday, Heroes and Perch. And, Valoreo, a Mexico City-based acquirer of e-commerce businesses, raised $50 million of equity and debt financing in a seed funding round announced in February.
Scientists are concerned about unregulated feeding of ocean wildlife by tour operators.
People in the Philippines are stepping up to help one another where the state has failed them — only to be treated like insurgents.
In demanding that Beijing remove ships from Manila’s waters, the Philippine foreign minister used language on Twitter that is more often associated with the country’s president.
E-wallets are rapidly gaining popularity in the Philippines, overtaking credit cards, which have a penetration rate of under 10%. Fintech startup Plentina is leveraging that trend with buy now, pay later (BNPL) installment loans that can be used and repaid through e-wallets.
The company announced today it has closed a $2.2 million seed round, co-led by former Tableau executive and ClearGraph chief executive officer Andrew Vigneault, Unpopular Ventures and DV Collective. Other participants included JG Digital Equity Ventures (JGDEV), Amino Capital, Canaan Partners Scout Fund and Ignite Impact Fund.
Its last funding was $750,000 pre-seed round raised last year from investors including Techstars, Emergent Ventures and the 500 Startups Vietnam Fund. Plentina also participated in the Techstars Western Union and Stanford’s StartX accelerator programs.
Plentina launched in the Philippines in October 2020 and has been downloaded more than 30,000 times. Its merchant partners include 7-Eleven Philippines and Smart Communications, a telecom provider with more than 70 million prepaid subscribers. The company will use its seed round to onboard more merchant partners in the Philippines before expanding in Southeast Asia and other regions.
Plentina uses machine learning models to gauge the creditworthiness of loan applicants, drawing on founders Kevin Gabayan and Earl Valencia’s data science backgrounds. Gabayan was data science lead at Bump Technologies and then spent five years working at Google after it acquired the startup. Valencia’s experience includes serving as managing director of digital transformation at Charles Schwab.
“We’re making BNPL work in emerging markets where few have credit scores and merchants can’t easily integrate technology,” Valencia, Plentina’s chief business officer, told TechCrunch. In addition to alternative credit scoring, the startup also focuses on making installment payment work with merchants’ legacy workflows, he said.
So for, Plentina has generated 10 million credit scores from alternative data sources, including mobile data obtained with user permission and retail loyalty programs, and will continue to develop its models as its merchant partnerships and customer base grows. Customers who build good credit scores with Plentina can increase their credit limits and unlock more offers.
Loans have a flat 5% service fee, with no interest. 7-Eleven and Smart Communications both offer 14 day loans, and Plentina will introduce more dynamic loan terms in the future, Valencia said. Loans can be used to purchase goods at all of 7-Eleven’s 3000 stores in the Philippines and prepaid mobile airtime with Smart Communications.
Other installment loan services in the Philippines include BillEase, Tendopay and Cashalo. Valencia said Plentina “aim[s] to be a customer’s financial service partner throughout their lifetime. We’re starting by offering closed-loop store credit for essentials purchases for consumers to easily establish their financial identity. As a customer’s financial wellness matures, we can graduate them into additional financial services.”
In a press statement about his investment, Vigneault said, “I’ve worked with many early stage fintech companies over the years. However, I’ve come across few founders who are as impressive as Kevin and Earl and have been able to achieve such levels of success with customers, channel partners, and product at such an early stage.”
Not long ago, democracy seemed to be surging in the region. But in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and elsewhere, it is in trouble.
A grand jury has indicted a California resident accused of stealing Shopify customer data on over a hundred merchants, TechCrunch has learned.
The indictment charges Tassilo Heinrich with aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit wire fraud by allegedly working with two Shopify customer support agents to steal merchant and customer data from Shopify customers to gain a competitive edge and “take business away from those merchants,” the indictment reads. The indictment also accuses Heinrich, believed to be around 18-years-old at the time of the alleged scheme, of selling the data to other co-conspirators to commit fraud.
A person with direct knowledge of the security breach confirmed Shopify was the unnamed victim company referenced in the indictment.
Last September, Shopify, an online e-commerce platform for small businesses, revealed a data breach in which two “rogue members” of its third-party customer support team of “less than 200 merchants.” Shopify said it fired the two contractors for engaging “in a scheme to obtain customer transactional records of certain merchants.”
Shopify said the contractors stole customer data, including names, postal addresses and order details, like which products and services were purchased. One merchant who received the data breach notice from Shopify said the last four digits of affected customers’ payment cards were also taken, which the indictment confirms.
Another one of the victims was Kylie Jenner’s cosmetics and make-up company, Kylie Cosmetics, the BBC reported.
The indictment accuses Heinrich of paying an employee of a third-party customer support company in the Philippines to access parts of Shopify’s internal network by either taking screenshots or uploading the data to Google Drive in exchange for kickbacks. Heinrich paid the employee in thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency, and also fake positive reviews claiming to be from merchants to whom the employee had provided customer service but had not left feedback. The indictment alleges that Heinrich received a year’s worth of some merchants’ data.
Heinrich allegedly spent at least a year siphoning off incrementing amounts of data from Shopify’s internal network, at one point asking if he could “remotely access” the customer support employee’s computer while they were asleep.
Heinrich was arrested by the FBI at Los Angeles International Airport in February,and is currently detained in federal custody pending trial, set to begin on September 7. Heinrich has pleaded not guilty.
A Shopify spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
After building artificial islands, China is using large fleets of ostensibly civilian boats to press other countries’ vessels out of disputed waters.
The country’s foreign secretary responded forcefully to the recent assault on a Filipino immigrant in New York City. Some have called it hypocritical.
FLoC is meant to be an alternative to the kind of cookies that advertising technology companies use today to track you across the web. Instead of a personally identifiable cookie, FLoC runs locally and analyzes your browsing behavior to group you into a cohort of like-minded people with similar interests (and doesn’t share your browsing history with Google). That cohort is specific enough to allow advertisers to do their thing and show you relevant ads, but without being so specific as to allow marketers to identify you personally.
This “interest-based advertising,” as Google likes to call it, allows you to hide within the crowd of users with similar interests. All the browser displays is a cohort ID and all your browsing history and other data stay locally.
The trial will start in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and the Philippines. Over time, Google plans to scale it globally. As we learned earlier this month, Google is not running any tests in Europe because of concerns around GDPR and other privacy regulations (in part, because it’s unclear whether FLoC IDs should be considered personal data under these regulations).
Users will be able to opt out from this origin trial, just like they will be able to do so with all other Privacy Sandbox trials.
Unsurprisingly, given how FLoC upends many of the existing online advertising systems in place, not everybody loves this idea. Advertisers obviously love the idea of being able to target individual users, though Google’s preliminary data shows that using these cohorts leads to similar results for them and that advertisers can expect to see “at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.”
Google notes that its own advertising products will get the same access to FLoC IDs as its competitors in the ads ecosystem.
But it’s not just the advertising industry that is eyeing this project skeptically. Privacy advocates aren’t fully sold on the idea either. The EFF, for example, argues that FLoC will make it easier for marketing companies that want to fingerprint users based on the various FLoC IDs they expose, for example. That’s something Google is addressing with its Privacy Budget proposal, but how well that will work remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, users would probably prefer to just browse the web without seeing ads (no matter what the advertising industry may want us to believe) and without having to worry about their privacy. But online publishers continue to rely on advertising income to fund their sites.
With all of these divergent interests, it was always clear that Google’s initiatives weren’t going to please everyone. That friction was always built into the process. And while other browser vendors can outright block ads and third-party cookies, Google’s role in the advertising ecosystem makes this a bit more complicated.
“When other browsers started blocking third-party cookies by default, we were excited about the direction, but worried about the immediate impact,” Marshall Vale, Google’s product manager for Privacy Sandbox, writes in today’s announcement. “Excited because we absolutely need a more private web, and we know third-party cookies aren’t the long-term answer. Worried because today many publishers rely on cookie-based advertising to support their content efforts, and we had seen that cookie blocking was already spawning privacy-invasive workarounds (such as fingerprinting) that were even worse for user privacy. Overall, we felt that blocking third-party cookies outright without viable alternatives for the ecosystem was irresponsible, and even harmful, to the free and open web we all enjoy.”
It’s worth noting that FLoC, as well as Google’s other privacy sandbox initiatives, are still under development. The company says the idea here is to learn from these initial trials and evolve the project accordingly.