Automotive marketplace Carro hits unicorn status with $360M Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2

Carro, one of the largest automotive marketplaces in Southeast Asia, announced it has hit unicorn valuation after raising a $360 million Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Other participants include insurance giant MSIG and Indonesian-based funds like EV Growth, Provident Growth and Indies Capital. About 90% of vehicles sold through Carro are secondhand, and it offers services that cover the entire lifecycle of a car, from maintenance to when it is broken down and recycled for parts.

Founded in 2015, Carro started as an online marketplace for cars, before expanding into more verticals. Co-founder and chief executive officer Aaron Tan told TechCrunch that, roughly speaking, the company’s operations are divided into three sections: wholesale, retail and fintech. Its wholesale business works with car dealers who want to purchase inventory, while its retail side sells to consumers. Its fintech operation offers products for both, including B2C car loans, auto insurance and B2B working capital loans.

Carro’s last funding announcement was in August 2019, when it said it had extended its Series B to $90 million. The company’s latest funding will be used to fund acquisitions, expand its financial services portfolio and develop its AI capabilities, which Carro uses to showcase cars online, develop pricing models and determine how much to charge insurance policyholders.

It also plans to expand retail services in its main markets: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Carro currently employs about 1,000 people across the four countries and claims its revenue grew more than 2.5x during the financial year ending March 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped Carro’s business because people wanted their own vehicles to avoid public transportation and became more receptive to shopping for cars online. Those factors also helped competitors like OLX Autos and Carsome fare well during the pandemic.

The adoption of electric vehicles across Southeast Asia has resulted in a new tailwind for Carro, because people who buy an EV usually want to sell off their combustion engine vehicles. Carro is currently talking to some of the largest electric vehicle countries in the world that want to launch in Southeast Asia.

“For every car someone typically buys in Southeast Asia, there’s always a trade-in. Where do cars go, right? We are a marketplace, but on a very high level, what we’re doing is reusing and recycling. That’s a big part in the environmental sustainability of the business, and something that sets us apart of other players in the region,” Tan said.

Cars typically stay in Carro’s inventory for less than 60 days. Its platform uses computer vision and sound technology to replicate the experience of inspecting a vehicle in-person. When someone clicks on a Carro listing, an AI bot automatically engages with them, providing more details about the cost of the car and answering questions. They also see a 360-degree view of the vehicle, its interior and can virtually start the engine to see how it sounds. Listings also provide information about defects and inspection reports.

Since many customers still want to get an in-person look before finalizing a purchase, Carro recently launched a beta product called Showroom Anywhere. Currently available in Singapore, it allows people to unlock Carro cars parked throughout the city, using QR codes, so they can inspect it at any time of the day, without a salesperson around. The company plans to add test driving to Showroom Anywhere.

“As a tech company, our job is to make sure we automate everything we can,” said Tan. “That’s the goal of the company and you can only assume that our cost structure and our revenue structure will get better along the years. We expect greater margin improvement and a lot more in cost reduction.”

Pricing is fixed, so shoppers don’t have to engage in haggling. Carro determines prices by using machine-learning models that look at details about a vehicle, including its make, model and mileage, and data from Carro’s transactions as well as market information (for example, how much of a particular vehicle is currently available for sale). Carro’s prices are typically in the middle of the market’s range.

Cars come with a three or seven-day moneyback guarantee and 30-day warranty. Once a customer decides to buy a car, they can opt to apply for loans and insurance through Carro’s fintech platform. Tan said Carro’s loan book is about five years old, almost as old as the startup itself, and is currently about $200 million.

Carro’s insurance is priced based on the policyholders driving behavior as tracked by sensors placed in their cars. This allows Carro to build a profile of how someone drives and the likelihood that they have an accident or other incident. For example, someone will get better pricing if they typically stick to speed limits.

“It sounds a bit futuristic,” said Tan. “But it’s something that’s been done in the United States for many years, like GEICO and a whole bunch of other insurers,” including Root Insurance, which recently went public.

Tan said MSIG’s investment in Carro is a “statement that we are really trying to triple down in insurance, because an insurer has so much linkage with what we do. The reason that MSIG is a good partner is that, like ourselves, they believe a lot in data and the difference in what we call ‘new age’ insurance, or data-driven insurance.”

Carro is also expanding its after-sale services, including Carro Care, in all four of its markets. Its after-sale services reach to the very end of a vehicle’s lifecycle and its customers include workshops around the world. For example, if a Toyota Corolla breaks down in Singapore, but its engine is still usable, it might be extracted and shipped to a repair shop in Nairobi, and the rest of its parts recycled.

“One thing I always ask in management meetings, is tell me where do cars go to die in Indonesia? Where do cars go to die in Thailand? There has to be a way, so if there is no way, we’re going to find a way,” said Tan.

In a statement, SoftBank Investment Advisers managing partner Greg Moon said, “Powered by AI, Carro’s technology platform provides consumers with full-stack services and transparency throughout the car ownership process. We are delighted to partner with Aaron and the Carro team to support their ambition to expand into new markets and use AI-powered technology to make the car buying process smarter, simpler and safer.”

#asia, #automative-marketplace, #car-marketplace, #carro, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #malaysia, #recent-funding, #singapore, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #thailand, #used-cars

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Corporate services “super app” Osome lands $16M Series A

Osome, a startup that combines multiple corporate services for SMEs into one “super app,” has raised a $16 million Series A. The round included returning investors Target Global, AltaIR Capital and Phystech Ventures, and new backers S16VC and venture capitalist Peng T. Ong, who joined as an angel investor.

The Singapore-based startup’s last funding round was $3 million announced in November. Its Series A brings Osome’s total funding since it was founded in 2017 to $24.5 million. It now claims to be used by 6,000 companies in Singapore, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, giving it $9.5 million in annual recurring revenue and 100% year-over-year revenue growth.

Its Series A will be used on international expansion and product integrations. Osome, which employs a total of 200 people, has seen fast adoption by e-commerce companies in particular, and plans to launch more products and apps for the sector over the next 18 months.

Co-founder and chief executive officer Victor Lysenko told TechCrunch that the company started “looking at the e-commerce segment some time ago, but wanted to be confident that our product can handle the increased complexity and transaction volume of e-commerce businesses before launching marketing. The pandemic has caused the e-commerce industry to grow significantly faster and that was also a factor for us.”

He added that Osome will add integrations with multiple e-commerce platforms and administrative services, with the goal of cutting hours out of the time e-commerce company owners spend on accounting each week.

Osome’s flagship product is online accounting services for SMEs, connecting companies with chartered accountants. It also offers corporate secretary services, including business registration, compliance and taxation. The platform uses machine learning tech to automate many tasks—for example, it categorizes, tags and stores documents, creates management reports and tax returns and files paperwork on time.

Lysenko said entrepreneurs on average spend 68% of their time dealing with back-office tasks, instead of strategizing their company’s goals. Osome is meant to reduce the burden of administrative work on small businesses and demand for its services grew during the pandemic as companies moved more of their operations online.

Singapore makes it relatively easy to incorporate businesses online, so several other startups in the same space are based there. These include Sleek, Lanturn and BlueMeg, all focused on automating accounting and other time-consuming tasks for SMEs.

In a statement about the funding, S16VC co-founder Aleks Shamis said, “I’ve done business with small and medium e-commerce in 10 countries and see the same inefficiencies in manual accounting across all of them. It is a real problem that will definitely be solved, and Osome is technologically and traction-wise among the few companies in the world in getting there.”

 

#accounting, #asia, #corporate-services, #fundings-exits, #osome, #singapore, #smes, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Singapore-based D2C dental brand Zenyum raises $40M Series B from L Catterton, Sequoia India and other investors

Zenyum, a startup that wants to make cosmetic dentistry more affordable, announced today it has raised a $40 million Series B. This includes $25 million from L Catterton, a private equity firm focused on consumer brands. The round’s other participants were Sequoia Capital India (Zenyum is an alum of its Surge accelerator program), RTP Global, Partech, TNB Aura, Seeds Capital and FEBE Ventures. L Catteron Asia’s head of growth investments, Anjana Sasidharan, will join Zenyum’s board.

This brings Zenyum’s total raised so far to $56 million, including a $13.6 million Series A announced in November 2019. In a press statement, Sasidharan said, “Zenyum’s differentiated business model gives it a strong competitive advantage, and we are excited to partner with the founder management team to help them realize their growth ambitions.” Other dental-related investments in L Catteron’s portfolio include Ideal Image, ClearChoice, dentalcorp, OdontoCompany, Espaçolaser and 98point6.

Founded in 2018, the company’s products now include ZenyumSonic electric toothbrushes; Zenyum Clear, or transparent 3D-printed aligners; and ZenyumClear Plus for more complex teeth realignment cases.

Founder and chief executive officer Julian Artopé told TechCrunch that ZenyumClear aligners can be up to 70% cheaper than other braces, including traditional metal braces, lingual braces and other clear aligners like Invisalign, depending on the condition of a patients’ teeth and what they want to achieve. Zenyum Clear costs $2,400 SGD (about $1,816 USD), while ZenyumClear Plus ranges from $3,300 to $3,900 SGD (about $2,497 to $2,951 USD).

The company is able to reduce the cost of its invisible braces by combining a network of dental partners with a technology stack that allows providers to monitor patients’ progress while reducing the number of clinic visits they need to make.

First, potential customers send a photo of their teeth to Zenyum to determine if ZenyumClear or ZenyumClear Plus will work for them. If so, they have an in-person consultation with a dentists, including an X-ray and 3D scan. This costs between $120 to $170 SGD, which is paid to the clinic. After their invisible braces are ready, the patient returns to the dentist for a fitting. Then dentists can monitor the progress of their patient’s teeth through Zenyum’s app, only asking them to make another in-person visit if necessary.

ZenyumClear is currently available in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan, with more markets planned.

Sequoia India principal Pieter Kemps told TechCrunch, “There are 300M customers in Zenyum’s core markets—Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan—who have increased disposable income for beauty. We believe spend on invisible braces will grow significantly from the current penetration, but what it requires is strong execution on a complex product to become the preferred choice for consumers. That is where Zenyum shines: excellent execution, leading to new products, best-in-class NPS, fast growth, and strong economics. This Series B is a testament to that, and of the belief in the large opportunity down the road.”

#asia, #dental-care, #fundings-exits, #health, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #zenyum

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WalletsClub wants to be the ‘Visa for e-wallets’ across the world

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.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #alipay, #ant-group, #asia, #bank, #canada, #china, #digital-currencies, #digital-wallet, #finance, #mastercard, #mobile-payment, #mobile-phones, #money, #moneygram, #online-payments, #philippines, #singapore, #tc, #visa, #western-union, #world-bank

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Insight Partners leads $60M growth round in cross-border payments startup Thunes

The world of digital payments is very fragmented, with different types of online bank accounts, digital wallets and money transfer services used in different countries. Singapore-based Thunes, a fintech focused on making cross-border money transfers easier, announced today it has raised a $60 million growth round led by Insight Partners. One of the world’s largest venture capital firms, Insight is known for working closely with growth-stage companies, helping them expand through its ScaleUp program.

The round included participation from existing shareholders. Thunes’ last funding announcement was in September 2020 a $60 million Series B led by Helios Investment Partners. Other investors include GGV Capital and Checkout.com.

Founded in 2016, Thunes’ customers include Grab, PayPal, MPesa, the Commercial Bank of Dubai, Western Union, Remitly and Singaporean insurance firm NTUC Income. Its technology serves a similar purpose for online payments platforms as the SWIFT system does for commercial banks, acting as a hub to transfer money online to recipients in different countries, even if they use a different financial institution, digital wallet or mobile money account. For example, Western Union uses Thunes so it can move money into digital wallets and bank accounts. Thunes monetizes per transaction through a fixed fee and a small currency exchange fee. It is regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Financial Conduct Authority in the United Kingdom.

Chief executive officer Peter De Caluwe told TechCrunch that Thunes looks for active investos who can help it work with banks and regulators in new markets and connect it with potential clients. For example, Helios focuses on African companies and Thunes used part of its funding from the firm to build teams in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Likewise, GGV Capital, which led its Series A, helped Thunes’ operations in China.

When Insight approached Thunes, it was not planning to raise more funding.

“The important note here is that we were actually not planning to do another round and Insight was pretty persistent in knocking on our door,” De Caluwe said. “Since we last spoke in September, we more than doubled our workforce, our revenues, everything just became bigger and more scaled. So at the end, we decided getting extra funding from a very solid investor makes sense if they can help us.”

Insight’s portfolio also includes Twitter and Shopify and its ScaleUp program focuses on supporting software companies with high growth potential. For example, it recently became the first outside investor in Octopus Deploy, which had been bootstrapped for almost a decade, to help grow its enterprise market over the next five to 10 years.

De Caluwe said Insight’s resources, including its talent network, will help Thunes expand in North and South America, build its engineering and product teams and decide what new services to offer customers. Thunes has doubled its team from about 70 people to 160 over the past half year, including engineers in the United Kingdom, Singapore and China, and business development teams in Latin America and Africa.

“Geographically, this is an important step for us that ticks a big box,” De Caluwe said. For example, Insight can help Thunes onboard larger U.S. retailers and fintech companies, especially ones that want to collect payments from emerging countries.

“Our ambition now is if we have a large U.S.-based retailer, service or game company who uses us to pay somebody in emerging markets, like suppliers or partners, to let our API also collect from someone. So if are you are a U.S.-based player, you can also collect payments and that is something we have been working very aggressively on,” he added.

In a press statement, Deven Parekh, managing director at Insight Partners, said, “Taking an innovative approach to solving the problems of an extremely fragmented and complex payments ecosystem, Thunes has created a unique platform that provides accessible, fast and reliable payment solutions. We see the company as poised for massive growth as it expands its infrastructure. We are looking forward to helping them scale up.”

#asia, #cross-border-payments, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #insight-partners, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #thunes

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Aspire’s business accounts reach $1B in annualized transaction volume one year after launching

Singapore-based Aspire, which wants to become the financial services “one-stop shop” for SMEs, announced that its business accounts have reached $1 billion in annualized transaction volume one year after launching. The company also unveiled Bill Pay, its latest feature that lets businesses manage and pay invoices by emailing them to Aspire’s AI-based digital assistant.

Launched in May 2020, Aspire’s online business accounts are targeted to startups and small- to medium-sized enterprises, and do not require minimum deposits or monthly fees. Co-founder and chief executive officer Andrea Baronchelli told TechCrunch more than 10,000 companies now use Aspire’s business accounts and that adoption was driven by two main reasons. The first was Aspire’s transition to a multi-product strategy early last year, after focusing on corporate cards and working capital loans. The second reason is the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it harder for companies to open accounts at traditional banks.

“We can go in and say we offer all-in-one financial tools for growing businesses,” he said. “People come in and use one thing first, and then we offer them other things later on, so that’s been a huge success for us.”

Founded in 2018, Aspire has raised about $41.5 million in funding so far, including a Series A announced in July 2019. Its investors include MassMutual Ventures Southeast Asia, Arc Labs and Y Combinator.

Baronchelli said Aspire’s business account users consist of two main segments. The first are “launchers,” or people who are starting their first businesses and need to set up a way to send and receive money. Launchers typically make less than $400,000 a year in revenue and their Aspire account serves as their primary business account. The second segment are companies that make about $500,000 to $2 million a year and already had another bank account, but started using Aspire for its credit line, expense management or foreign exchange tools, and decided to open an account on the platform as well.

The company has customers from across Southeast Asia, and is particularly focused on Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. For example, it launched Aspire Kickstart, with incorporation services for Singaporean companies, at the start of this year.

Bill Pay, its newest feature, lets business owners forward invoices by email to Aspire’s AI-based digital assistant, which uses optical character recognition and deep learning to pull out payment details, including terms and due dates. Then users get a notification to do a final check before approving and scheduling payments. The feature syncs with accounting systems integrated into Aspire, including Xero and Quickbooks. Baronchelli said Aspire decided to launch Bill Pay after interviewing businesses and finding that many still relied on Excel spreadsheets.

Aspire’s offerings overlap with several other fintech companies in Southeast Asia. For example, Volopay, Wise and Revolut offer business accounts, too, and Spenmo offers business cards. Aspire plans to differentiate by expanding its stack of multiple products. For example, it is developing tools for accounts receivable, such as invoice automation, and accounts payable, like a dedicated product for payroll management. Baronchelli said Aspire is currently interviewing users to finalize the set of features it will offer.

“I don’t want to close the door that others might come toward a multiple product approach, but if you ask me what our position is now, we are basically the only one that offers an all-in-one product stack,” he added. “So we are a couple years ahead of the competition and have a first-mover advantage.”

 

#asia, #aspire, #business-accounts, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #online-banking, #singapore, #smes, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Crypto asset manager Babel raises $40M from Tiger Global, Bertelsmann and others

Three years after its inception, crypto financial service provider Babel Finance is racking up fundings and partnerships from major institutional investors. The startup said Monday that it has closed a $40 million Series A round, with lead investors including Zoo Capital, Sequoia Capital China, Dragonfly Capital, Bertelsmann and its Asian fund BAI Capital, and Tiger Global Management.

For years, traditional investors were reluctant to join the cryptocurrency fray. But in 2020, Babel noticed that many institutions and high net worth individuals began to consider crypto assets as an investment class.

Babel, with offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Singapore, wanted to capture the window of opportunity and be one of the earliest to help allocate crypto assets in investors’ portfolios. But first, it needed to win investors’ trust. One solution is to have reputable private equity and venture capital firms on its cap table.

“It’s more of a brand boost so we can attract more institutions and build up credibility,” Babel’s spokesperson Yiwei Wang said of the firm’s latest financing, which is a strategic round as Babel had “reached profitability” and “wasn’t actively looking for funding.”

To vie for institutional customers and wealthy individuals, Babel plans to spend its fresh proceeds on product development, compliance and talent acquisition, seeking especially banking professionals and lawyers to work on regulatory requirements. It currently has a headcount of 55 employees.

Mainstream investors are jumping into the crypto scene partly because many see bitcoin as a way to hedge against “solvency and credibility risks” amid global economic uncertainties caused by Covid-19, said Wang. “Bitcoin is not something controlled by the government.”

The other trigger, Wang explained, was what shock the industry in February: Elon Musk bought $1.5 billion in bitcoin and declared Tesla would begin accepting the digital token as payments. That sparked a massive rally around bitcoin, sending its price to over $40,000.

Babel’s evolution has been in line with the trajectory of the industry. In its early days, the startup was a “crypto-native” company offering deposit and loan products to crypto miners and traders. These days, it also runs a suite of asset management products and services tailored to enterprise clients around the world. It’s applying for relevant financial licenses in North America and Asia.

As of February, Babel’s crypto lending business had reached an outstanding balance of $2 billion in equivalent cryptocurrency, the firm says. It has served more than 500 institutional clients and sees about $8 billion in direct trading volume each month. 80% of its revenues are currently derived from institutions. The goal is to manage one million bitcoins within four years.

#asia, #babel-finance, #beijing, #bertelsmann, #bitcoin, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #decentralization, #digital-currencies, #financial-technology, #funding, #sequoia-capital, #sequoia-capital-china, #singapore, #spokesperson, #tc, #tiger-global-management

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Diginex launches ESG reporting platform aimed at small businesses

As ESG reporting goes up the agenda for large companies, it’s also increasingly doing so for smaller companies as well. But right now, tracking things like your company’s CO2 emissions is mainly the preserve of large corporations. Now a startup hopes to address this.

Diginex Solutions has a self-guided tool which claims to generate ESG reports six times faster than competitors and comes in at a relatively affordable $99 per month.

The blockchain-enabled reporting tool also generates reports, giving companies the ability to demonstrate their ESG creds.

DiginexESG is certified by the GRI, an international independent standards organization and now operates in the US, UK, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Chile. It is currently raising venture backing largely from strategic corporate investors.

Competitors include Turnkey Group, NASDAQ Onereport, Enablon (raised $15M) and World-favour.

Mark Blick, CEO at Diginex Solutions said, “The current landscape of ESG reporting is challenging for many organizations – particularly SMEs – requiring huge consultancy fees, time and resources that distracts from day-to-day activity. The DiginexESG platform quite simply takes away those challenges and does all the heavy lifting for them. It’s like Docusign, Dropbox, TurboTax or Slack hardcoded for ESG reporting.”

#ceo, #chile, #docusign, #enablon, #environmentalism, #esg, #luxembourg, #singapore, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #world

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Founded by former Carousell and Fave execs, Rainforest gets $36M to consolidate Asia-Pacific Amazon Marketplace brands

A group photo of Rainforest’s team members Elita Subaja, J.J. Chai and Jerry Ng

From left to right: Rainforest business operations and strategy director Elita Subaja; co-founder and CEO J.J. Chai and brand manager Jerry Ng

Singapore-based Rainforest is one of the newest entrants in the wave of startups that “roll-up” small e-commerce brands. Launched in January by alumni from some of Southeast Asia’s top startups, including Carousell, OVO and Fave, Rainforest acquires Amazon marketplace sellers. This is similar to the Amazon-centric approach taken by Thrasio, Branded Group and Berlin Brands Group, three of the highest-profile e-commerce aggregators, but Rainforest is one of the first companies in the space to launch out of Asia and focus specifically on acquiring brands in the region. It is also laser-focused on home goods, personal care and pet items, with the goal of building the e-commerce version of conglomerate Newell Brands, whose portfolio includes Rubbermaid, Sharpie and Yankee Candle.

Rainforest announced today that it has raised seed funding of $36 million led by Nordstar with participation from Insignia Venture Partners. This includes equity financing of $6.5 million and a $30 million debt facility from an undisclosed American debt fund.

Co-founder and chief executive officer J.J. Chai, who previously held senior roles at Carousell and Airbnb, told TechCrunch that Rainforest raised debt financing (like many other e-commerce aggregators) because it is non-dilutive and will be used to acquire about eight to 12 brands sold through Amazon’s B2B service Fulfilled By Amazon (FBA). The startup’s other co-founders are chief financial officer Jason Tan, who held the same roles at OVO and Fave, and chief technology officer Per-Ola Röst, who previously founded Amazon analytics tool provider Seller Matrix and ran a FBA brand worth seven figures.

Rainforest’s portfolio currently includes three brands, which it acquired for about $1 million each. The company wants to wait until its portfolio is larger to disclose what brands it owns, but Chai said they include a mattress brand that is a best seller on Amazon, a cereal maker and a kitchenware brand. Focusing on specific verticals will allow Rainforest to streamline supply chains, product design and marketing as it scales up its brands.

Amazon’s total gross merchandise volume in 2020 was about $490 billion. According to Marketplace Pulse, $300 billion of that came from third-party sellers. Thrasio and Branded Group, which was started by Lazada co-founder and former CEO Pierre Poignant, also acquire Asian brands, but most e-commerce aggregators have so far focus on American, European or Latin American sellers (like Mexico City-based Valoreo, which also recently raised funding). Rainforest will look at sellers in the Asia-Pacific region, including China, Southeast Asia and Australia.

Chai said about 30% of Amazon’s third-party sellers are based in Asia, and he expects more e-commerce aggregators to launch in the region. “All the ingredients are there and I guess it’s just a matter of time when more people figure it out and solve this problem,” he said. “Everything we’ve seen has worked out, and of course the original creators noticed this trend, which is that there is an explosion of microbrands.”

Rainforest looks for home goods, personal care or pet product FBA sellers that are currently doing about $5 million to $10 million in sales per year, and making a minimum 15% profit margin. Most of its pipeline of potential deals are inbound inquiries. Rainforest can give brands a valuation within two days. If they are interested in the offer, due diligence usually takes about a month, and sellers get the first tranche of their payment in about 40 days.

The company plans to look at other marketplaces in the future, but is starting with Amazon because its analytics allows quicker valuations. Rainforest looks at the “Three R’s,” or product reviews, ratings and ranking, to see how well a seller is performing. It also wants brands that can expand beyond Amazon into other channels and have unique intellectual property with wide appeal. “We’re looking for products that can traverse global markets,” said Chai. “So, for example, no lawnmower covers, a very American kind of thing that’s maybe less relevant in this part of the world, because our intention is to take these brands to their next level potential.”

Many of the brands in Rainforest’s pipeline are run by sole proprietors who have gotten to the point where they need to hire a team to continue growing, but want to exit instead so they can move on to their next venture.

“Being able to create a physical goods brand and build a sizable business out of it is a relatively new phenomenon. It used to be that you needed a factory, big branding, R&D. The combination of online advertising, marketplaces and supply chains being disrupted has created an opportunity where individuals can create brands in the same way that the App Store allowed people to start distributing software,” said Chai. “Where we play into that trend is that there are a lot of microbrands and many will get stuck, so we can give the entrepreneurs a way to exit and bring a brand to its full potential.”

#asia, #e-commerce-aggregator, #ecommerce, #fulfilled-by-amazon, #rainforest, #roll-ups, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #tc

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Una Brands launches with $40M to roll up brands on multiple Asia-Pacific e-commerce platforms

Una Brands' co-founders (from left to right): Tobias Heusch, Kiran Tanna and Kushal Patel

Una Brands’ co-founders (from left to right): Tobias Heusch, Kiren Tanna and Kushal Patel. Una Brands Una Brands

One of the biggest funding trends of the past year is companies that consolidate small e-commerce brands. Many of the most notable startups in the space, like Thrasio, Berlin Brands Group and Branded Group, focus on consolidating Amazon Marketplace sellers. But the e-commerce landscape is more fragmented in the Asia-Pacific region, where sellers use platforms like Tokopedia, Lazada, Shopee, Rakuten or eBay, depending on where they are. That is where Una Brands comes in. Co-founder Kiren Tanna, former chief executive officer of Rocket Internet Asia, said the startup is “platform agnostic,” searching across marketplaces (and platforms like Shopify, Magento or WooCommerce) for potential acquisitions.

Una announced today that it has raised a $40 million equity and debt round. Investors include 500 Startups, Kingsway Capital, 468 Capital, Presight Capital, Global Founders Capital and Maximilian Bitner, the former CEO of Lazada who currently holds the same role at secondhand fashion platform Vestiaire Collective.

Una did not disclose the ratio of equity and debt in the round. Like many other e-commerce aggregators, including Thrasio, Una raised debt financing to buy brands because it is non-dilutive. The round will also be used to hire aggressively in order to evaluate brands in its pipeline. Una currently has teams in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia and plans to expand in Southeast Asia before entering Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

Tanna, who also founded Foodpanda and ZEN Rooms, launched Una along with Adrian Johnston, Kushal Patel, Tobias Heusch and Srinivasan Shridharan. He estimates that there are more than 10 million third-party sellers spread across different platforms in the Asia-Pacific.

“Every single seller in Asia is looking at multiple platforms and not just Amazon,” Tanna told TechCrunch. “We saw a big gap in the market where e-commerce is growing very quickly, but players in the West are not able to look at every platform, so that is why we decided to focus on APAC, launch the business there and acquire sellers who are selling on multiple platforms.”

Una looks for brands with annual revenue between $300,000 to $20 million and is open to many categories, as long as they have strong SKUs and low seasonality (for example, it avoids fast fashion). Its offering prices range from about $600,000 to $3 million.

Tanna said Una will maintain acquisitions as individual brands “because what’s working, we don’t change it.” How it adds value is by doing things that are difficult for small brands to execute, especially those run by just one or two people, like expanding into more distribution channels and countries.

“For example, in Indonesia there are at least five or six important platforms that you should be on, and many times the sellers aren’t doing that, so that’s something we do,” Tanna explained. “The second is cross-border in Southeast Asia, which sellers often can’t do themselves because of regulations around customs, import restrictions and duties. That’s something our team has experience in and want to bring to all brands.”

Amazon FBA roll-up players have the advantage of Amazon Marketplace analytics that allow them to quickly measure the performance of brands in their pipeline of potential acquisitions. Since it deals with different marketplaces and platforms, Una works with much more fragmented sources of data for revenue, costs, rankings and customer reviews. To scale up, the company is currently building technology to automate its valuation process and will also have local teams in each of its markets. Despite working with multiple e-commerce platforms, Tanna said Una is able to complete a deal within five weeks, with an offer usually happening within two or three days.

In countries where Amazon is the dominant e-commerce player, like the United States, many entrepreneurs launch FBA brands with the goal of flipping them for a profit within a few years, a trend that Thrasio and other Amazon roll-up startups are tapping into. But that concept is less common in Una’s markets, so it offers different team deals to appeal to potential sellers. Though Una acquires 100% of brands, it also does profit-sharing models with sellers, so they get a lump sum payment for the majority of their business first, then collect more money as Una scales up the brand. Tanna said Una usually continues working with sellers on a consulting basis for about three to six months after a sale.

“Something that Amazon players know very well is that they can find a product, sell it for four to five years, and then ideally make a multi-million deal exit and build another product or go on holiday,” said Tanna. “That’s something Asian sellers are not as familiar with, so we see this as an education phase to explain how the process works, and why it makes sense to sell to us.”

#468-capital, #500-startups, #asia, #ecommerce, #fundings-exits, #global-founders-capital, #kingsway-capital, #presight-capital, #recent-funding, #roll-ups, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #una-brands

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Fewcents raises $1.6M to help publishers take payments for individual articles, videos and podcasts

Fewcents co-founders Dushyant Khare and Abhishek Dadoo

 

Fewcents co-founders Dushyant Khare and Abhishek Dadoo

Many publishers are focused on converting visitors to subscribers, but there’s another important bracket: people who want to view a premium article or video, but not enough to sign up for a subscription. Fewcents, a Singapore-based fintech startup that enables publishers to take “micropayments” for individual pieces of content, announced today it has raised $1.6 million in seed funding.

Fewcents can be used to monetize articles, video and podcasts. It accepts 50 currencies and is meant to serve as a complementary stream of revenue to advertisements and subscriptions. Its current clients include India’s Dainik Jagran, which has a readership of 55 million; Indonesian news site DailySocial; and streaming video site Dailymotion. The company, which monetizes by sharing revenue with digital publishers, also struck a partnership with Jnomics Media to expand in Europe.

Its funding round venture capital funds M Venture Partners and Hustle Fund. Participation also came from angel investors from some of the top fintech, adtech and media companies: Koh Boon Hwee (fomer chairman of DBS Bank); Kenneth Bishop (former managing director of Southeast Asia at Facebook); Jeremy Butteriss (head of partnerships at Stripe); Shiv Choudhury (partner and managing director of the Boston Consulting Group); Francesco Alberti (former APAC regional sales director for Bloomberg Media Distribution); Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng (Summit Media president); Prantik Mazumdar (Dentsu managing director), Saurabh Mittal (Mission Holdings chairman and founder) and Nitesh Kripalani (former director and country head of Amazon Video India).

Fewcents was launched last year by Abhishek Dadoo and Dushyant Khare. Dadoo’s previous startup Shoffr, an online-to-offline attribution platform, was acquired by Affle in 2019. Khare spent 12 years working at Google, including as director of strategic partnerships in Southeast Asia and India.

In an email, Dadoo and Khare told TechCrunch that only 1% to 5% of publishers’ active users are willing to commit to a monthly subscription. The majority are casual or referred users, and publishers rely on advertising to monetize that traffic.

Content creators are experimenting with micropayments, and other services include Flattr, which allows people to make one-time contributions and Axate’s pay-per-article tools. But publishers still debate how effective the model is and last year, TechCrunch reported that Google decided not to launch a tipping feature for sites.

To successfully implement a pay-per-content model, publishers not only need to produce compelling content, but also make it extremely easy for people to pay for it. For Fewcents, this means solving three key challenges, Dadoo and Khare said. First, they need to create a ubiquitous platform, since casual users won’t want to sign up for a new service every time they visit another site. It also needs to accept cross-border payments in local currency using the most popular payment methods, like digital wallets. And publishers need to be able to manage digital rights, like how long someone has access to content.

Publishers also need to determine price points that won’t turn away buyers, but will generate substantial enough revenue. Fewcents currently uses existing traffic data to manually price each piece of content. “Based on the supply-demand curve within each geography, we retroactively change the price to get the best revenue results,” Dadoo said. “However, as we develop our AI algorithms, the intent is to dynamically suggest the pricing depending on the geography and the semantics of the content.”

Khare said that by unbundling content, Fewcents can also provide deeper data than pageviews, helping them understand the preferences of specific markets and user segments, and develop customized “micro-bundles.” He added that Fewcents’ goal is to be able to automatically recommend customized content bundles for each user.

#content-monetization, #fundings-exits, #micropayments, #publishing, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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How UK-based Lendable is powering fintechs across emerging markets

What moves the needle for digital lenders is serving loans to their respective customers. But where does this money come from? The pool is usually equity or debt. While some lenders use the former, it can be seen as folly because, over time, the founders tend to lose ownership of their businesses after giving out too much equity to raise capital for loans. Hence the reason why most lending companies secure debt facilities. 

TechCrunch has recently reported on two prominent digital lenders (also digital banks in their own rights) gaining steam in Africa — Carbon and FairMoney. In 2019, Carbon secured $5 million in debt financing and the following year, FairMoney did the same but raised a higher sum, $13 million.

Enter Lendable, the UK-based firm responsible for supplying both lenders with debt finance.

The company with offices in Nairobi, New York, and Singapore advances loans to fintechs across eight markets in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Since launching in 2014, the company has disbursed over $125 million to these fintechs — SME lenders, payment platforms, asset lenders, marketplaces, and consumer lenders.

In a phone conversation with TechCrunch, Samuel Eyob, a principal at the firm, said the company is raising almost $180 million to continue its investment efforts across the three continents.

“We want to raise more than $180 million and we have investors that have committed cash to us,” he said. “Right now, we’re already investing out of that amount because we’ve already closed on a bunch of it. Ideally, the goal is to invest that amount over this year.”

Lendable was founded by Daniel Goldfarb and Dylan Friend. It was based on an insight that they had while Daniel was a partner at Greenstart, a venture capital firm focused on data, finance and energy. That insight was that the poorest people in the world pay the most for goods and services, so if capital markets could provide a path to ownership, that could help individuals build assets. So the pair set out to solve this by providing capital to fintechs catering to the needs of these people.

Eyob, a first-generation American from Ethiopia, knows what a lack of access to fair finance does to people and countries. Given the millions of people and businesses not effectively served by banks and MFIs, Eyob joined the team to drive financial inclusion in these markets

“Over a billion people still lack access to financial services and multiple reports indicate that the financing gap for micro and small businesses is trillions of dollars and growing. We believe this is a massive opportunity. So, whilst we started in Africa, the lack of access to fair financing solutions is a problem across all emerging markets, which we want to address,” he said.

Samuel Eyob

Samuel Eyob (Principal, Lendable)

So in 2014, Lendable started as a SaaS platform to democratize access to African capital markets by providing risk and analytics software. “We hoped to do this by bringing the securitization market from the Global North into Africa,” Eyob added

The company built an analytics platform to analyze loans and used machine learning to predict loan portfolio cashflows. In addition to that, they created an automated investment platform helping ventures to raise nondilutive (not equity) capital to help scale their businesses.

After sufficiently proving out its tech, the firm made a pivot. According to Eyob, the previous model wasn’t experiencing enough growth and was incurring unsustainable costs. So the company began raising capital based on its own analytics in 2016. It had only raised $600,000 and was focused on East African startups with SME financing and Pay-Go solar home models. That number has since increased to over $125 million across Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

So why do these companies actually need debt financing? Here’s a clearer picture of the instance used at the beginning of this piece.

Imagine a VC-backed startup whose ultimate goal is to help scale up female-founded SMEs with one-year loans. The startup could easily use its equity to provide the capital for all the one-year loans. The payoff from the loans, after one year, would be the interest due to them. Or, it could put that capital into hiring developers, build a go-to-market strategy, hire a CTO, all of which would likely have payoffs that are up to a 100x multiple of the interest they would have made on the single SME loan that is tied up for an entire year.

So ultimately, debt would be an ideal source of nondilutive capital for the startup as they wouldn’t have to tie up equity for one year. Therefore, debt would be a much cheaper source of capital to scale up their operations, especially if it has scaled up to having tens of thousands of one-year loans. If it were equity, they would have to raise an endless amount with constant dilution as they scale.

In its five years of official operations, Lendable has given debt facilities to more than 20 startups. While the stage at which Lendable gives money differs, it is particular about startups that are post Series A. 

Apart from Carbon and FairMoney, some startups to have raised debt from Lendable include Tugende, Uploan, KoinWorks, Planet42, TerraPay, Watu Credit, Trella, Amartha, Payjoy, Solar Panda, Cars45 and MFS Africa. Collectively, Eyob said, Lendable has reached 1.2 million end borrowers through its partners and helped finance up to 290,000 SMEs.

Of the $125 million disbursed so far as debt, Eyob said the company has a default rate of about 0.01%. The reason behind this low number, Eyob reckons, is because Lendable ensures to be in constant conversation with the companies offering help, advice or connections when necessary.

“We view lending as a partnership and typically when both parties act in good faith, there are ways to solve problems,” Eyob said

The debt facilities start at $2 million but can go up to over $15 million, Eyob said. But while the global standard at which lenders pay back their debt investments is typically 4 to 6 years, Lendable expects the companies it gives cash to do so in 3 to 4 years

Eyob pushes that founders in emerging markets should be willing to take more debt financing to scale their startups. These days, startups tend to be high on giving out equity instead of weighing options on effectively using debt in critical points when scaling.

Equity could be used to help attract the best talent or expand into new markets. Still, debt proves essential when scaling up capital-intensive operations like working capital or pre-funding activities. More often than not, debt and equity are complementary to one another, and Lendable is hoping to use the new funds it’s raising to push that notion

I think, just like everywhere else in the world, debt and equity are tools that should be used to support one another, supporting the venture’s ultimate mission. We have lasting relationships with multiple VC teams across emerging markets that we work with to ultimately support one another’s partner investees.”

 

#africa, #asia, #carbon, #debt, #fairmoney, #finance, #latin-america, #lendable, #money, #nairobi, #planet42, #private-equity, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #tc, #trella, #tugende, #venture-capital

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Robo-advisor StashAway gets $25M Series D led by Sequoia Capital India

Investment app StashAway has raised a $25 million Series D led by Sequoia Capital India, with participation from returning investors Eight Roads Ventures and Square Peg. After regulatory approvals for the funding are completed, Sequoia Capital India managing director Abheek Anand will join StashAway’s board of directors as part of the round.

StashAway does not disclose how many investors use its robo-advisor app, but it surpassed $1 billion assets under management in January. It currently has operations in in five markets: Singapore, Malayasia, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong, and is preparing to launch in Thailand.

Its Series D brings StashAway’s total paid-up capital to about $61.4 million. The new funding will be used on expanding StashAway’s product and engineering teams to continue feature and product development. Founded in September 2016, the company will also offer to buy back up to $3 million in stock options from its employees. Co-founder and chief executive officer Michele Ferrario told TechCrunch that many of StashAway’s employees have been with the company since the start, so this gives its team members a chance to cash out stock options that have vested while creating a more compelling compensation package for recruiting talent.

StashAway’s products include services for retail investors that focus on wealth-building or specific goals like retirement or buying a house and StashAway Simple, a cash account that can earn a projected rate of 1.2% per annum and allows funds be withdrawn within one to three business days. Its management fees are between 0.2% to 0.8% a year.

Ferrario said that StashAway’s core market is people aged 30 to 45, who are earning enough money to save or invest, but also have obligations like saving for retirement or their childrens’ education. People under 30 account for a smaller portion of StashAway’s assets under management, but are still a significant part of its user base because the app doesn’t require minimum investments, making it accessible to people who recently graduated or are just starting their careers. While StashAway has built an reputation for attracting first-time investors, about 20% of its assets under management come from high-net-worth individuals.

“This is something we didn’t think would happen at the beginning, but then we realized that some of the problems we’re solving are also significant problems for high-net-worth individuals as well,” said Ferrario. “If you have less than $10 million to $15 million in wealth, the services you receive from private banks are not particularly sophisticated or personalized. So we offer a more sophisticated investment at a lower cost.”

At the end of last year, the company launched StashAway WorkPlace, a platform for employers to provide benefits like pensions and vesting schedules. StashAway WorkPlace grew out of the Financial Wellness Program, a set of seminars and workshops on financial planning and investing that has been used in Singapore by about 200 companies, including Salesforce, Twitter, Netflix and LinkedIn.

Since StashAway launched its app in 2017, more robo-advisors have emerged in the same markets it serves. For example, Syfe also caters to new investors. Other investment apps in Singapore include Endowus, Kristal.AI and AutoWealth.

 

One of the main ways StashAway differentiates is its proprietary asset allocation framework, which looks at how each asset class performs under specific economic conditions, measures uncertainty with leading indicators and patterns in economic data, and adjustments to expected returns based on an asset’s valuation relative to its economic fair value. The company says it has outperformed benchmarks since launching in 2017. At the end of March, its portfolios outperformed their same-risk benchmarks (proxied by MSCI World Equity Index and FTSE World Government Bond Index), with annualized returns ranging from 16.5% (for the highest-risk portfolio) to 4% (the lowest-risk portfolio).

Ferrario said the app also emphasizes customer service, with phone calls typically answered in less than eight seconds, and an in-app WhatsApp link that connects users to a human service representative instead of sending them through a chatbot first.

But StashAway’s main competitor is still traditional banks instead of other investment apps. “In the five countries we are in, there is approximately $5 trillion of personal financial wealth. In Singapore alone, it is around $1.1 trillion,” Ferrario said. A large portion of that cash, or about $400 billion, sits in savings accounts. “That’s money that’s not working for whoever owns it,” he added.

In a press statement, Anand said, “StashAway is growing rapidly as it fulfills an obvious gap in the digital wealth management space, especially in areas where its competitors may be lacking: an easy-to-use platform, robust client relationships and a very sophisticated investing framework. StashAway has built trust with its client base by navigating them through market volatility while providing strong returns.”

#asia, #fundings-exits, #investment-app, #robo-advisor, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #stashaway, #tc

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Qapita, a developer of equity management software for startups, raises $5M led by MassMutual

A group photo of Qapita's co-founders. From left to right: Vamsee Mohan, Ravi Ravulaparthi and Lakshman Gupta

 

Qapita’s co-founders. Fom left to right: Vamsee Mohan, Ravi Ravulaparthi and Lakshman Gupta

Qapita, a Singapore-based fintech that provides capitalization table and employee stock ownership plans (ESOP) management software, has raised $5 million in pre-Series A funding. The round was led by MassMutual Ventures, with participation from Endiya Partners and angel investors including Avaana Capital founder Anjali Bansal and Udaan co-founder Sujeet Kumar.

Vulcan Capital and East Ventures, who led Qapita’s seed round in September 2020, also returned for this funding, along with most of its angel investors, including Koh Boon Hwee, Atin Kukreja, Alto Partners, Mission Holdings, Northstar Group Partners and K3 Ventures. East Ventures co-founder and managing partner Willson Cuaca will join Qapita’s board.

Qapita currently serves clients in Indonesia, Singapore and India, focusing on startups. Its software platform helps private companies digitize and manage cap tables, perform due diligence and issue equity to employees. Qapita was founded in 2019 by Ravi Ravulaparthi, Lakshman Gupta and Vamsee Mohan, and has since grown its team to 30 people.

Its goal is to create more liquidity and re-investment in the Indian and Southeast Asian startup ecosystems by making it easier to issue equity. Qapita currently serves more than 100 companies, and its new funding will be used to add more features and strike partnerships with service providers like legal, accounting and company secretarial firms.

In a press statement, MassMutual Ventures Anvesh Ramineni, said, “Globally, we are witnessing trends that indicate a convergence between public and private markets. Qapita is enabling this in the region through their solution – from cap table and stakeholder management to digital share issuances and liquidity solutions. We believe the team has the right combination of experience, understanding of regional markets and product expertise to deliver on their vision.”

#asia, #employee-stock-ownership-plans, #equity-management, #esop, #financial, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #india, #indonesia, #qapita, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

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Singapore-based fintech STACS raises $3.6M to develop blockchain platforms for financial institutions

Singapore-based fintech Hashstacs Pte Ltd (STACS) announced today it has raised $3.6 million USD in pre-Series A funding. The company develops blockchain platforms that can work with financial institutions’ existing infrastructure, and its core technology is also used in GreenSTACS for environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments. The round was led by Wavemaker Partners, which focuses on enterprise and deep tech companies in Southeast Asia, with participation from the Tribe Accelerator, a program for blockchain startups backed by the Singaporean government. STACS participated in Tribe last year, along with Project Ubin, the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s blockchain-based multi-currency payments network initiative.

Founded in 2019, STACS has now raised a total of more than $6 million and is preparing to raise Series A funding later this year. The company’s goal is to fix fragmentation in the tech systems used by financial institutions that can result in capital being locked in international clearing systems, a build-up of transaction fees and fines for trades that fail to settle. Its core solution is a technology stack that is built around STACS blockchain. It allows clients to integrate payment platforms (including Ubin), trading platforms and external software like user management systems, while enabling smart contracts and digital ledgers.

STACS’ products include a real-time trade processing platform that is used by clients like Eastspring Investments and BNP Paribas Securities Service. Some of its other clients are Deutsche Bank, Bursa Malaysia, EFG Bank and Bluecell Intelligence. STACS co-founder and managing director Benjamin Soh told TechCrunch that STACS is targeting a network of more than 30 institutions by the end of this year.

GreenSTACS launched last month in a collaboration with Bluecell Intelligence to help companies certify and monitor green and sustainability-related loans and bonds.

Soh said in an email that STACS received many requests from financial institutions that needed to perform impact monitoring on ESG projects, but were not able to do so effectively because “information sources are asymmetric, there is no common data infrastructure and serving of ESG financing is typically too inefficient.”

STACS’ goal is to make GreenSTACS “the common infrastructure” for ESG financing and impact monitoring, he added. The platform enables loan and bond parameters to be programmed into security tokens and connects with data sources, like IoT devices or satellite images, to create real-time impact reports on a distributed ledger. This helps prevent “greenwashing,” a term that refers to making something seem more environmentally-friendly or sustainable than it really is.

“Essentially, this would boost investors’ and banks’ confidence with green financing by ensuring green money is strictly used in achieving pledged green goals and policies,” said Soh.

In a press statement, Wavemaker general partner Gavin Lee said, “There is an immense opportunity to help financial institutions process large volumes of trade more quickly, securely and accurately while reducing costs and illiquid capital. As an enterprise distributed ledger technology provider, STACS has productized a secure layer that can be deployed instantly above existing infrastructure. Enterprise sales is never easy for young companies, but Benjamin is a convincing and seasoned serial entrepreneur who has secured numerous leading financial institutions as key clients.”

#asia, #blockchain, #finance, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #greenstacs, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #stacs, #startups, #tc

0

Temasek and BlackRock form Decarbonization Partners with $600 million to create a zero-emission economy

The $9 trillion financial management firm Blackrock is collaborating with the $313 billion Singapore investment firm Temasek to back companies developing technologies and services to help create a zero emission economy by 2050.

The two mega-investment firms will invest an initial $600 million to launch Decarbonization Partners, and look to raise money from investors committing to achieving a net zero world and long-term sustainable finacnial returns. The two partners have set themselves a goal to raise $1 billion for their first fund, including capital from Temasek and BlackRock.

The partnership, coming during Earth month, is one of several big multi-billion dollar initiatives that are underway to prevent global climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, BlackRock is somewhat tardy to the party. Temasek, for its part, has already made a number of high-profile bets in the alternative meat market — namely in companies like Impossible Foods — and in alternative energy technology developers including Eavor, a geothermal company, and a $500 million bet on a renewable power developer in India.

Meanwhile, a coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates are already on their second billion dollar investment vehicle through Breakthrough Energy, a multi-stage, multi-strategy initiative that includes a venture capital arm as well as other types of financing on the way.

“The world cannot meet its net zero ambitions without transformational innovation,” said Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, in a statement. “For decarbonization solutions and technologies to transform our economy, they need to be scaled. To do that, they need patient, well-managed capital to support their vital goals. This partnership will help define climate solutions as a standalone asset class that is both essential to our collective mission and a historic investment opportunity created by the net zero transition.”

To get a sense of what Decarbonization Partners might back, companies should probably look to the Breakthrough Energy portfolio — the firms share similar interests in new sources of energy, technologies to distribute that energy, building and manufacturing technologies, and material science and process innovations.

It’s a big swing that the firms are taking, but the flood of capital coming into the sustainability sector is commensurate with both the size of the problem, and the potential opportunity in returns generated by solving it.

A report from Morgan Stanley estimated that solving climate change would be a $50 trillion problem, according to a 2019 report from Forbes.

“Bold, aggressive actions are needed to make the global net zero ambition a reality. Decarbonization Partners represents one of several steps we are taking to follow through on our commitment to halve the emissions from our portfolio by 2030, and ultimately move to net zero emissions by 2050,” said Dilhan Pillay, Chief Executive Officer of Temasek International. “Through collective efforts with like-minded partners, we will be able to create sustainable value for all of our stakeholders over the long term, and investors will have the opportunity to help deliver innovative solutions at scale to address climate challenges.”

#articles, #bill-gates, #blackrock, #chief-executive-officer, #energy, #forbes, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #impossible-foods, #india, #morgan-stanley, #singapore, #tc, #temasek, #temasek-holdings

0

Vaccine Passports Could Unlock World Travel and Cries of Discrimination

Vaccine rollouts in some countries have a long-locked-down world dreaming of travels abroad again. But they have also set off a fraught debate about the fairness of a two-tier system for haves and have-nots.

#aruba, #canada, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #europe, #great-britain, #israel, #japan, #politics-and-government, #quarantines, #saudi-arabia, #singapore, #travel-and-vacations, #united-arab-emirates, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization, #vaccination-proof-and-immunization-records

0

Singapore-based retail analytics company Trax raises $640M Series E led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and BlackRock

A group photo of Trax's co-founders, Joel Bar-El (left) and Dror Feldheim (right), and Trax's CEO, Justin Behar (center)

Trax’s co-founders, Joel Bar-El (left) and Dror Feldheim (right), and Trax’s CEO, Justin Behar (center)

COVID-19 forced many retailers and brands to adopt new technologies. Retail analytics unicorn Trax expects that this openness to tech innovation will continue even after the pandemic. The Singapore-based company announced today that it has raised $640 million in Series E funding to expand its products, which combine computer vision and cloud-based software to help brick-and-mortar stores manage their inventory, merchandising and operations. The round included primary and secondary capital, and was led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and returning investor BlackRock. Other participants included new investors OMERS and Sony Innovation Fund by IGV.

Before this round, Trax had raised $360 million in primary funds. J.P. Morgan acted as a placement agent to Trax on its Series E, which brings its total funding so far to $1.02 billion. Trax did not disclose a new valuation, but reportedly hit unicorn status in 2019. Reports emerged last year that it is considering a public offering, but chief executive officer Justin Behar had no comment when asked by TechCrunch if Trax is planning for an IPO.

Founded in 2010 and headquartered in Singapore, Trax also has offices in Brazil, the United States, China, the United Kingdom, Israel, Mexico, Japan, Hungary, France, Russia and Australia. The company says it serves customers in more than 90 countries.

Behar told TechCrunch that the new funding will be used to “invest heavily in global [go-to-market] strategies and technology for our flagship Retail Watch solution, as we look for ways to make it easier for retailers and brands to continue their digitization journey. More specifically, we will use the capital to accelerate growth and triple-down on continued innovation across our core vision, machine learning, IoT and marketplace technologies.”

Launched last year, Retail Watch uses a combination of computer vision, machine learning and hardware like cameras and autonomous robots, to gather real-time data about the shelf availability of products. It sends alerts if stock is running low, corrects pricing errors and checks if planograms, or product display plans for visual merchandising, are being followed. Retail Watch currently focuses on center shelves, where packaged goods are usually stocked, but will expand into categories like fresh food and produce.

The funding will also be used to expand Trax’s Dynamic Merchandising, a partnership with on-demand work platform Flexforce, and Shopkick, the shopping rewards app Trax acquired in 2019, into new markets over the next one to two years.

“Finally, we see many opportunities to help retailers along their digitization journey and will be expanding into new use cases with products we develop internally and via potential acquisitions,” Behar said.

Early in the pandemic, retailers had to cope with surge buying, as customers emptied shelves of stock while preparing to stay at home. As the pandemic continued, buying patterns shifted dramatically and in April 2020, Forrester forecast COVID-19 would cause global retail sales to decline by an average of 9.6% globally, resulting in a loss of $2.1 trillion, and that it would take about four years for retailers to overtake pre-pandemic levels.

In a more recent report, Forrester found despite spending cuts, nearly 40% of retailers and wholesalers immediately increased their tech investment, in some cases implementing projects in weeks that would have otherwise taken years.

Behar said “the pandemic made it clear the retail industry was not prepared for a sudden change in demand, as consumers faced empty shelves and out-of-stocks for extended periods in key categories. These extreme shifts in consumer behavior, coupled with global supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, changing channel dynamics (such as e-commerce) and decrease in brand loyalty forced brands and retailers to develop new strategies to meet the evolving needs of their customers.”

He expects that willingness to adopt new technologies will continue after the pandemic. For example, to get shoppers back into brick-and-mortar stores, retailers might try things like in-store navigation, improved browsing, loyalty programs and new check out and payment systems.

Trax’s Retail Watch, Dynamic Merchandising and Dynamic Workforce Management solutions were in development before the pandemic, though “it has certainly expedited the need for innovative digital solutions to longstanding retail pain points,” Behar added.

For example, Retail Watch supports online ordering features, like showing what products are available to online shoppers and helping store associates fulfill orders, while Dynamic Merchandising lets brands find on-demand workers for in-store execution issues—for example, if new stock needs to be delivered to a location immediately.

Other tech companies focused on retail analytics include Quant Retail, Pensa Systems and Bossa Nova Robotics. Behar said Trax differentiates with a cloud-based platform that is “extensible, flexible and scalable and combines multiple integrated technologies and data-collection methods, optimized to fit each store, such as IoT-enabled shelf-edge cameras, dome cameras, autonomous robots and images taken from smartphones, to enable complete and accurate store coverage.”

Its proprietary computer vision technology was also designed specifically for use in retail stores, and identifies individual SKUs on shelves, regardless of category. For example, Behar said it can distinguish between near identical or multiple products, deal with visual obstructions like odd angles or products that are obscured by another item and recognize issues with price tags.

“Like many innovative solutions, our most meaningful competition comes from the legacy systems deeply entrenched in the world of retail and the fear of change,” he added. “While we do see an acceleration of interest and adoption of digital innovation as a result of the ‘COVID effect,’ this is by far our biggest challenge.”

In a press statement, SoftBank Investment Advisers director Chris Lee said, “Through its innovative AI platform and image recognition technologies, we believe Trax is optimizing retail stores by enabling [consumer packaged goods] brands and retailers to execute better inventory strategies using data and analytics. We are excited to partner with the Trax team to help expand their product offerings and enter new markets.”

#asia, #brick-and-mortar, #computer-vision, #fundings-exits, #retail-analytics, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #trax, #trax-retail

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Singapore-based career platform Glints gets $22.5M in Series C funding

Glints, the Singapore-based career platform, announced today it has raised $22.5 million in Series C funding led by Japanese human resources management firm PERSOL Holdings. The new capital will be used on Glints’ expansion in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Taiwan and hiring for its product and engineering teams.

Glints co-founder and chief executive officer Oswald Yeo said this is the largest funding round to date for a talent platform in Southeast Asia, and brings the startup’s total raised to $33 million. Other participants included returning investors Monk’s Hill Ventures, Fresco Capital, Mindworks Ventures, Wavemaker Partners, Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal and former Goldman Sachs TMT China head and partner Xiaoyin Zhang.

Founded in 2013, Glints says it has been used by more than 1.5 million professionals and 30,000 organizations, including Gojek, Tokopedia, Starbucks and Mediacorp. Most of its current users are from the tech and financial services sectors, but Glints has a “broad horizontal focus on young to mid-level professionals,” and its long-term goal is to be sector agnostic, Yeo told TechCrunch.

One of the ways Glints differentiates from other job platforms active in its markets, like LinkedIn, JobStreet and CakeResume, is by building a “full-stack” of services for people who want to advance their careers. In addition to its job marketplace, which the company says has more than 7,000 active listings and 4 million visitors each month, Glints also offers community features and skills education, like online classes.

One of Glints’ value propositions is helping companies, especially in tech, cope with the regional talent shortage, a topic it recently covered in a comprehensive report with Monk’s Hill Ventures.

One of the solutions the report highlighted is hiring teams based in different Southeast Asian countries to address talent crunches in specific markets, like Singapore. Glints says its cross-border remote work hub, TalentHub, doubled its business in 2020 as the pandemic also made employers more open to hiring remotely.

#asia, #career-platform, #fundings-exits, #glints, #job-platform, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Cryptocurrency wallet and blockchain tech startup imToken raises $30 million Series B

imToken, the blockchain tech startup and crypto wallet developer, announced today it has raised $30 million in Series B funding led by Qiming Venture Partners. Participants included returning investor IDG Capital, and new backers Breyer Capital, HashKey, Signum Capital, Longling Capital, SNZ and Liang Xinjun, the co-founder of Fosun International.

Founded in 2016, the startup’s last funding announcement was for its $10 million Series A, led by IDG, in May 2018. imToken says its wallet for Ethereum, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies now has 12 million users and over $50 billion in assets are currently stored on its platform, with total transaction value exceeding $500 billion.

The company was launched in Hangzhou, China, before moving to it current headquarters to Singapore, and about 70% of its users are in mainland China, followed by markets including South Korea, the United States and Southeast Asia.

imToken will use its latest funding to build features for “imToken 3.0.” This will include keyless accounts, account recovery and and a suite of decentralized finance services. It also plans to expand its research arm for blockchain technology, called imToken Labs and open offices in more countries. It currently has a team of 78 people, based in mainland China, the United States and Singapore, and expects to increase its headcount to 100 this year.

In a press statement, Qiming Venture Partners founding managing partner Duane Kuang said, “In the next ten to twenty years, blockchain will revolutionize the financial industry on a global scale. We believe that imToken is riding this trend, and has strongly positioned itself in the market.”

#asia, #blockchain, #china, #cryptocurrency, #digital-wallet, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #imtoken, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #tc

0

Monk’s Hill Ventures and Glints on how Southeast Asian startups can cope with the region’s talent crunch

A lot has changed since Monk’s Hill Ventures released its first report on tech compensation in Southeast Asia five years ago, with base salaries and competition for top talent jumping dramatically. But one thing has remained the same since 2016: startup compensation data, including information about base pay, bonuses and stock options, is still hard to find. To get more data for its latest Southeast Asia Tech Talent Compensation report, which covers startup hiring in Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, Monk’s Hill Ventures teamed up with Glints, one of its portfolio companies.

Glints is a recruitment platform that claims 4 million users each month and is used by 30,000 organizations. The report analyzed more than 1,000 data points from Glints’ proprietary database, including job advertisements and placements made through 2020, and surveyed 175 employees in both technical and non-technical roles. It also includes interviews with more than 20 founders, including from Bot MD, Carousell, Horangi, the Asianparent and Ninja Van. The full report can be downloaded here.

The report focused on Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam because they are three of the fastest-growing markets in Southeast Asia. It found that startups are dealing with several major shifts at the same time. There are more Southeast Asian startups maturing into late stage, but at the same time, large American and Chinese tech companies are setting up regional operations, including TikTok, Tencent, Alibaba and Zoom. This means compensation packages are being driven up and startups face a talent crunch, especially in Singapore. Most of the founders interviewed by Monk’s Hill Ventures and Glints said that base salaries have at least doubled since 2016.

Going remote even before the pandemic

But the range of salaries and talent pool varies widely between Southeast Asian countries, and as a result, tech startups can build strong teams with a regionally distributed strategy. For example, this can look like an engineering team in Vietnam, data science team in Singapore and product management team in Indonesia. Vietnam had the highest salary differences between senior and junior roles, for both tech and non-tech talent, compared to Singapore and Indonesia, which the report said means there is “strong potential for upward salary growth within the Vietnamese tech sector.”

Oswald Yeo, co-founder and chief executive officer of Glints, told TechCrunch that many startups were building regionally distributed engineering hubs before COVID-19 because there was simply not enough talent in Singapore. Now even more founders have become open to remote teams because of the pandemic. But having teams in different countries doesn’t just address the talent crunch. It also lays the groundwork for regional expansion.

“Commercially in Southeast Asia, you can’t stay in a single market unless it’s maybe Indonesia,” said Yeo. “If you stay only in Singapore, Malaysia or even Vietnam, you will not be a large enough business and make the impact you want to make. A lot of startups have to venture out, so they end up having commercial teams in each market anyway and then it’s very normal for them to build product and tech teams in those markets.”

Competing for specialized skills

The report found that tech roles, including product, data science and engineering, earn 54% more than non-technical roles, like marketing, operations or finance. But the base salary between product and data science roles over non-technical roles was one to two times higher than for engineering, suggesting that “while engineering skills are becoming more common across the region, specialized product and data science skills remain hard to come by.”

Founders said that vice presidents of engineering in particular are seen as one of a startup’s most critical hires. Singapore-based startups at Series B and upward paid base monthly salaries ranging from $7,500 to $10,000, with equity compensation from 0.3% to 1.2%. In Indonesia, base salaries for engineering VPs ranged from $2,800 to $7,100 depending on the stage of company, and in Vietnam, early stage companies paid on average $1,000 to $5,000. That amount increased to $5,000 to $6,000 after raising Series A funding, and $8,000 to $10,000 for companies at Series B stage and above.

The competition for top tech talent is also reflected in C-level compensation. The report found that chief executive officers tend to hold more equity in their startups, but chief technology officers consistently have higher median base salaries, “suggesting that CEOs are often willing to take a pay cut in favor of their technical counterparts, who are typically highly valued and considered scarce assets to the company.”

Based on combined data from Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia, CEO’s median salary increased from $2,600 a month at the $0 to $10 million funding stage, to $6,000 a month at $5 million to $10 million in funding. In comparison, at the same funding stages, CTO’s median salary increased from $3,300 to $7,550 respectively. CEO at startups with funding up to $5 million owned between 15% to 100% of their company’s equity, while the average ownership of CTOs at that stage is 19%.

Cash versus equity

Another noteworthy finding is that less than 32% of tech talent surveyed by Monk’s Hill Ventures and Glints are being compensated in equity. Founders said employees, especially junior-to-mid level hires, still prefer cash. But this is changing as founders spend more time educating their teams about the benefits of equity, and some startups are now also offering annual wage supplements, bonuses, restricted stock units or employee stock ownership plans.

Some founders reported that executives who have worked in the American or Singaporean startup ecosystems are keener on equity options, but in general, there needs to be more startup exits in Southeast Asia for candidates to become open to equity.

Before co-founding Monk’s Hill Ventures, Peng Ong was a venture partner at GSR Ventures in China. “In 2010, in that time frame, there were the same issues there. People wanted cash. Fast forward to three years later, when the IPOs started to happen, all that changed. People wanted options,” Ong told TechCrunch. He said that the same shift is gradually starting to happen in Southeast Asia, thanks to Sea Group and Razer’s IPOs.

#glints, #indonesia, #monks-hill-ventures, #salaries, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #tech-compensation, #vietnam

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Singapore-based Nimbly gets $4.6M to help businesses automate their standard operating procedures

Many work teams, especially stores and restaurants, rely on manual spreadsheets to ensure their operations are running smoothly. Based in Singapore, Nimbly develops software that automates more of that process. Its features include digital checklists, inventory management and field audits that can be accessed through a mobile app. The startup announced today it has raised $4.6 million in pre-Series A funding, led by Insignia Ventures Partners, with participation from Sovereign’s Capital and Saison Capital.

Founded in 2018 by Daniel Hazman and Jonathan Keith, Nimbly is currently used by more than one hundred organizations in seven countries, including Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States. Most of Nimbly’s users are in the retail or food and beverage industries, and include KFC, Kopi Kenangan, 7-Eleven and Under Armour. Some clients also come from the fast-moving consumer goods and agriculture sectors, like Cargill and Wilmar.

The new funding brings its total raised to $5.7 million and will be used for Nimbly’s Southeast Asia expansion, including a new partnership with restaurant operator Express Food Group, and adding products like more analytics, mystery shopper and employee training.

Nimbly is designed to replace spreadsheets, emails and messaging apps by combining their functionalities into one app. This includes checklists, audits and live video to ensure that standard operating procedures are followed across all locations. For example, restaurants may use Nimbly to see if food safety and hygiene standards are being followed. FMCG companies can use it to track inventory at stores and share information about how their sales and promotions compare to competitors, while use cases for agriculture include verifying that suppliers are following sustainability measure at their farms.

In a statement, Insignia Venture Partners founding managing partner Yinglan Tan said, “SaaS enterprise is an emerging vertical in Southeast Asia with more businesses of all sizes and across industries seeking to transition and even upgrade their capabilities to software tools. That makes us very excited to have partnered with Daniel, Jonathan and their team at Nimbly as they lead this space in building software stack capable of serving the operational needs of companies first in Southeast Asia, and then globally.”

#agriculture, #asia, #business-operations, #fmcg, #food-and-beverage, #fundings-exits, #nimbly, #retail, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

UI-licious gets $1.5M led by Monk’s Hill Ventures to simplify automated UI testing for web apps

UI-licious’ co-founders, chief technology officer Eugene Cheah (left) and chief executive officer Shi Ling Tai (right)

UI-licious’ co-founders, chief technology officer Eugene Cheah (left) and chief executive officer Shi Ling Tai (right)

UI-licious, a Singapore-based startup that simplifies automated user interface testing for web applications, announced today it has raised $1.5 million in pre-Series A funding. The round was led by Monk’s Hill Ventures and will be used to grow UI-licious’ product development and marketing teams.

Founded in 2016 by Shi Ling Tai and Eugene Cheah, UI-licious serves companies of all sizes, and its current clients include Daimler, Jones Lang LaSalle and tech recruitment platform Glints.

Tai, UI-licious’ chief executive officer, said that about 90% of software teams around the world rely on manual testing, which is both time-consuming and expensive. UI-licious enables users to write test scripts in pseudocode, or a language that is similar to plain English and therefore accessible to people with little programming experience.

A screenshot of UI-licious' test reporting feature

A screenshot of UI-licious’ test reporting feature

Software teams can then schedule how often the tests run. UI-licious’ proprietary smart targeting test engine supports all browsers and allows the same scripts to be run even if there are changes in a web application’s user interface or underlying code. It also produces detailed error reports to reduce the time needed to find and fix a bug.

When asked how UI-licious compares to other automated user interface testing solutions, Tai told TechCrunch, “Coded solutions require a trained engineer to inspect the website’s code to write the test scripts. The problem is that most software testers are not trained programmers, sometimes they may be the marketing or sales team that owns the project. And while there are other no-code solutions that allow non-programmers to record their actions and replay it, such tests tend to become obsolete quickly as the UI changes.”

UI-licious’ selling point is that “it is designed to make it accessible for anyone to automate UI testing and set up error alerts without needing to know how to code,” she added. “UI-licious also reduces the effort to maintain the tests as the UI code changes with its smart targeting test engine.”

In press statement, Monk’s Hill Ventures partner Justin Nguyen said, “Co-founders Shi Ling and Eugene have developed a product to address the quality assurance issues that have plagued the software automation industry for decades,” adding that “the team’s experience as software engineers has equipped them with the technical knowledge and insights to build a simple and robust tool that empowers manual testers to automate testing and detect bugs before users do.”

#asia, #fundings-exits, #no-code, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #ui-testing-automation, #ui-licious

0

Eat Just (the alt-protein company formerly known as Hampton Creek) has raised another $200 million

Eat Just, the purveyor of eggless eggs and mayonnaise and the first government-approved vendor of lab-grown chicken, has raised $200 million in a new round of funding, the company said.

The funding was led by the Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the state of Qatar, with additional participation from Charlesbank Capital Partners and Vulcan Capital, the investment arm of the estate of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.

Since its launch in 2011 as Hampton Creek, the company has raised more than $650 million all to build out capacity for its egg replacement products and its new line of lab-grown meat.

“We are very excited to work with our investors to build a healthier, safer and more sustainable food system. Their knowledge and experience partnering with companies that are transforming numerous industries were fundamental in our decision to partner with them,” said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, in a statement.

Eat Just’s evolution hasn’t been without controversy. In 2017, the company and its chief executive withstood a failed coup, which forced the firing of several executives. The company also saw its entire board resign in the aftermath of those firings, only to replace them with a new slate of directors months later.

In the aftermath, Hampton Creek rebranded and refocused. These days the company’s products fall into two somewhat related categories. There’re the plant-based egg replacement products and eggless mayonnaise and the lab grown chicken products that are meant to replace poultry farmed chicken meat.

Since the egg side of Eat Just’s chicken and egg business definitely came first, it’s worth noting that the company’s products are sold in more than 20,000 retail outlets and 1,000 foodservice locations. since it began selling the product, the company has moved more than 100 million eggs to roughly one million U.S. households.

The company’s eggs are also on offer in Dicos, a fast food chain in China, and it’s got a deal to put out a sous vide egg replacement product with Cuisine Solutions. The eggs are also available in Peet’s Coffee locations around the country and Eat Just has expanded its eggless distribution platform into Canada.

Then there’s the company’s GOOD Meat product. That was available for a short time in Singapore. The company expects to slash production costs and expand its commercial operations while working on other kinds of meats as well, according to a statement.

It’s a long way from where the Eat Just started, when it raised its first millions from Khosla Ventures and Founders Fund.

#articles, #canada, #cellular-agriculture, #china, #co-founder, #cultured-meat, #eat-just, #egg, #food-and-drink, #hampton-creek, #josh-tetrick, #meat, #microsoft, #qatar, #qatar-investment-authority, #singapore, #tc, #united-states, #vulcan-capital

0

Singapore-based M Capital Management closes $30.85M debut fund to invest in Southeast Asian startups

M Capital Management founding partners Joachim Ackermann (left) and Mayank Parekh (right)

M Capital Management founding partners Joachim Ackermann (left) and Mayank Parekh (right)

M Capital Management, a Singapore-based venture capital firm, announced today it has closed its debut fund, M Venture Partners (MVP), totaling $30.85 million USD. It plans to invest in 40 early-stage startups, primarily seed and pre-Series A, with an average initial check size of about $500,000.

M Capital Management was founded by Mayank Parekh, whose investment experience includes launching Grange Partners and leadership positions at Southern Capital Group and McKinsey & Company, and Joachim Ackermann, former managing director of Google Asia Pacific. Other senior team members include Dr. Tanuja Rajah, previously Entrepreneur First’s launch manager, and Chethana Ellepola, former research director at Acquity Stockbrokers.

MVP, a sector-agnostic fund, has already invested in 11 companies, including one, 3D Metal Forge, that recently went public on the Australian Securities Exchange.

Other portfolio companies include behavioral health coaching startup Naluri; AI-enabled lending and credit-as-a-service company Impact Credit Solutions; alternative investment fund aggregator XEN Capital; and Cipher Cancer Clinics, which is focused on making oncological care more affordable and accessible in India.

Parekh told TechCrunch that M Capital Management was launched because “we believe that the early-stage investing space in our region has substantial room for growth. A decade ago there were very few unicorns. This has changed substantially more recently, not only because of obvious advancements bringing online previously underserved or untapped populations, but also because they venture system has developed nicely in Singapore and, for that matter, across the region with support from institutional VCs at various stages of funding need, government agency support, the advent of local accelerators and rapidly growing network of angel investing bodies.”

Parekh added that he expects to see more unicorns and “soonicorns” (or companies expected to hit unicorn valuation in the near future) emerge.

As early-stage, sector-agnostic investors, Parekh said MVP’s focus is on founders, specifically those who have “pedigree professional experience and strong academic backgrounds.” For example, Naluri chief executive officer Azran Osman-Rani was previously founder of AirAsiaX, guiding it from launch to its 2013 initial public offering in six years.

MVP will focus mostly on Singapore-based startups because it invests primarily in B2B or B2B2C companies. “We need a fertile ground for our chosen startups to launch their business models with leading corporate or business partners,” said Parekh. “Singapore provides just that. It’s the hub for market leading institutions and it’s not uncommon to see them creating opportunities for new technology or disruptive ideas.”

Most of MVP’s portfolio companies have “regional or global aspirations, leveraging Singapore as the core launch platform,” he added. MVP has also already made investments in Malaysia and India, and is actively looking at companies in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.

#asia, #fundings-exits, #india, #m-capital-management, #m-venture-partners, #malaysia, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #tc, #thailand, #venture-capital

0

Georgia Attacks Prompt a Muted Reaction in Asia

Six of the eight victims were of Asian descent. But in China and South Korea, debate over the violence played out with far less intensity than it did in the United States.

#atlanta-ga, #china, #discrimination, #far-east-south-and-southeast-asia-and-pacific-areas, #murders-attempted-murders-and-homicides, #singapore, #taiwan, #vietnam

0

SoftBank, Tencent backs IP analytics platform PatSnap in $300M round

As enterprises around the world pour more money into research and invention to stay competitive, the need for analyzing the worthiness of R&D expenses also grows.

One company serving that function is PatSnap. When co-founder Jeffrey Tiong was working in the medical devices industry more than a decade ago, he realized how critical intellectual property and patents were in the tech world.

In 2007, Tiong launched PatSnap in Singapore to build a global patent search database and overtime pushed the firm into adjacent realms. PatSnap’s more recent software, which Tiong dubs “innovation intelligence,” helps enterprises analyze their R&D strategies, keep track of competitors, and identify potential partners by crunching data around the likes of scientific papers, government R&D grants and startup funding news.

“What we found is that a lot of companies [treat] innovation as a department, as a function, as a KPI in an organization,” said Tiong. “Many companies are hiring people… who have to find out what kind of technology is out there and who is doing what. You cannot do everything by yourself nowadays. You need to partner.”

Investors are paying attention to the R&D boom. In PatSnap’s latest funding round, the company attracted SoftBank’s Vision Fund II and Tencent as lead investors. The Series E round totals $300 million, with participation from CITIC Industrial Fund, which is part of Chinese state-owned conglomerate CITIC Group; Sequoia China; Xiaomi founder Lei Jun’s Shunwei Capital; and Vertex Ventures.

Masayoshi Son spent less than half an hour on a call with Tiong before the billionaire founder of SoftBank hammered out a deal for PatSnap. In his early twenties, Son invented and patented a device that he sold for $1 million, so “he understands the importance of inventions, IP and innovation,” Tiong said.

Tiong declined to disclose PatSnap’s post-money valuation in an interview with TechCrunch but said the number has crossed $1 billion.

The United States is PatSnap’s largest market, although China is rapidly growing as a revenue stream amid the country’s patent filing spree. In 1999, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) received just 276 applications from China. By 2019, that number rose to 58,990, surpassing that of the United States.

But compared with their western counterparts, Chinese corporations are less inclined to pay big bucks for software, which makes it challenging for SaaS companies to monetize in the country. PatSnap operates under the brand Zhihuiya in China, with customers ranging from retail brands, research institutes, AI firms to pharmaceutical giants.

The sheer number of patents doesn’t translate conveniently into technological clout. The U.S. is still ahead of China in terms of R&D expenditure, Tiong observed. Furthermore, “the quality of the patents in China is not as strong and a lot of them are increment innovation instead of groundbreaking types of invention,” he added.

PatSnap says it now has more than 10,000 customers in over 50 countries, with a 700-person workforce spread across the U.S., Europe, Canada, Japan and China. Some of its notable customers include Tesla, General Electric, Siemens, Dyson, PalPal, Spotify and Megvii. With the fresh capital, the company plans to further develop products, acquire more domain expertise, expand global sales presence and invest in human capital.

#asia, #funding, #ip, #patent, #patsnap, #singapore, #tc

0

Payfazz invests $30M in Xfers as the two Southeast Asian fintechs form Fazz Financial Group

Payfazz and Xfers, two startups that want to increase financial inclusion in Southeast Asia, announced today they have joined forces to create a new holding entity called Fazz Financial Group. As part of the deal, Payfazz, an agent-based financial services network in Indonesia, invested $30 million into payments infrastructure provider Xfers.

Based in Singapore, Xfers will serve as the B2B and Southeast Asia arm of Fazz Financial Group, while Payfazz, which already uses Xfers’ payments infrastructure, will continue expanding in Indonesia. The two companies will retain their names while working together under the new holding entity.

Both Payfazz and Xfers are Y Combinator alums, and want to make financial services accessible to more Southeast Asians, even if they don’t have a bank account. Xfers co-founder Tianwei Liu told TechCrunch in an email he and Payfazz co-founder Hendra Kwik began talking about joining forces in early 2020 because of their startups’ shared goals.

“This is also coupled with the fact that last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven a significant increase in demand for digital payments and financial services across Indonesian rural areas, creating a huge growth opportunity for us,” Liu added.

Kwik will serve as Fazz Financial Group’s group CEO, while Liu will be the financial entity’s deputy CEO. Both will continue serving as CEOs of their respective companies. Fazz Financial Group also appointed as its chief financial officer Robert Polana, who previously held the same role at booking platform Tiket.com.

In Indonesia, Payfazz has built a network of 250,000 financial agents to reach people in rural areas where many banks don’t operate branches. Customers deposit cash with agents, and that balance can used to pay phone, electricity and other bills.

Payfazz, which announced a $53 million Series B in July from investors including Tiger Global and Y Combinator, also offers loans and payment services for offline retailers. As part of Fazz Financial Group, it will continue to build its agent banking network.

Payfazz uses payment infrastructure developed by Xfers to accept digital payments. Originally launched six years ago with an API for bank transfers, Xfers has since expanded its portfolio of software to include payment acceptance for businesses, tools for disbursing and transferring funds and a cryptocurrency wallet. In 2020, Xfers obtained a Major Payment Institution license for e-money issuance from the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Xfers will continue to serve clients in Indonesia and Singapore with its payments infrastructure, which enables them to accept bank transfers, e-wallet funds and payments through convenience stores and agent banking networks (like Payfazz). Xfers says it has access to more than 10 million underbanked consumers in Indonesia through its work with agent banking services, and also plans to expand into Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Fazz Financial Group plans to launch two new products later this year: a zero-integration payment solution for Singapore-based merchants and a single-integration solution that will connect local payment methods across Southeast Asia.

Liu said that, unlike the United States, Southeast Asia “has a fragmented local payments landscape, even within each country,” meaning that consumers often use several payment methods. Creating a single-integration for payment methods in Southeast Asia gives brands a growth channel when entering new countries, allowing them to scale up more quickly, he added.

“The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has also driven a big surge in online sales and transactions across Southeast Asia, so there is a huge need for online payments by businesses and merchants across the region,” Liu said. “The zero-integration and single-integration solution will help businesses and merchants start accepting online payments quickly and easily with a simple integration within minutes, without any need to deal with complex regulation/license handling and technology development.”

#asia, #financial-inclusion, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #payfazz, #payments, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #xfers

0

Singapore-based Raena gets $9M Series A for its pivot to skincare and beauty-focused social commerce

A photo of social commerce startup Raena’s team. From left to right: chief operating officer Guo Xing Lim, chief executive officer Sreejita Deb and chief commercial officer Widelia Liu

Raena’s team, from left to right: chief operating officer Guo Xing Lim, chief executive officer Sreejita Deb and chief commercial officer Widelia Liu

Raena was founded in 2019 to create personal care brands with top social media influencers. After several launches, however, the Singapore-based startup quickly noticed an interesting trend: customers were ordering batches of products from Raena every week and reselling them on social media and e-commerce platforms like Shopee and Tokopedia. Last year, the company decided to focus on those sellers, and pivoted to social commerce.

Today Raena announced it has raised a Series A of $9 million, co-led by Alpha Wave Incubation and Alpha JWC Ventures, with participation from AC Ventures and returning investors Beenext, Beenos and Strive. Its last funding announcement was a $1.82 million seed round announced in July 2019.

After interviewing people who were setting up online stores with products from Raena, the company’s team realized that sellers’ earnings potential was capped because they were paying retail prices for their inventory.

They also saw that the even though new C2C retail models, like social commerce, are gaining popularity, the beauty industry’s supply chain hasn’t kept up. Sellers usually need to order minimum quantities, which makes it harder for people to start their own businesses, Raena co-founder Sreejita Deb told TechCrunch,

“Basically, you have to block your capital upfront. It’s difficult for individual sellers or micro-enterpreneurs to work with the old supply chain and categories like beauty,” she said.

Raena decided to pivot to serve those entrepreneurs. The company provides a catalog that includes mostly Japanese and Korean skincare and beauty brands. For those brands, Raena represents a way to enter new markets like Indonesia, which the startup estimates has $20 billion market opportunity.

Raena resellers, who are mostly women between 18 to 34-years-old in Indonesia and Malaysia, pick what items they want to feature on their social media accounts. Most use TikTok or Instagram for promotion, and set up online stores on Shopee or Tokopedia. But they don’t have to carry inventory. When somebody buys a product from a Raena reseller, the reseller orders it from Raena, which ships it directly to the customer.

This drop-shipping model means resellers make higher margins. Since they don’t have to carry inventory, it also dramatically lowers the barrier to launching a small business. Even though Raena’s pivot to social commerce coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, Deb said it grew its revenue 50 times between January and December 2020. The platform now has more than 1,500 resellers, and claims a 60% seller retention rate after six months on the platform.

She attributes Raena’s growth to several factors, including the increase in online shopping during lockdowns and people looking for ways to earn additional income during the pandemic. While forced to stay at home, many people also began spending more time online, especially on the social media platforms that Raena resellers use.

Raena also benefited from its focus on skincare. Even though many retail categories, including color cosmetics, took a hit, skincare products proved resilient.

“We saw skincare had higher margins, and there are certain markets that are experts at formulating and producing skincare products, and demand for those products in other parts of the world,” she said, adding, “we’ve continued being a skincare company and because that is a category we had insight into, it was our first entry point into this social selling model as well. 90% of our sales are skincare. Our top-selling products are serums, toners, essences, which makes a lot of sense because people are in their homes and have more time to dedicate to their skincare routines.”

Social commerce, which allows people to earn a side income (or even a full-time income), by promoting products through social media, has taken off in several Asian markets. In China, for example, Pinduoduo has become a formidable rival to Alibaba through its group-selling model and focus on fresh produce. In India, Meesho resellers promote products through social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.

Social commerce is also gaining traction in Southeast Asia, with gross merchandise value growing threefold during the first half of 2020, according to iKala.

Deb said one of the ways Raena is different from other social commerce companies is that most of its resellers are selling to customers they don’t know, instead of focusing on family and friends. Many already had TikTok or Instagram profiles focused on beauty and skincare, and had developed reputations for being knowledgeable about products.

As Raena develops, it plans to hire a tech team to build tools that will simplify the process of managing orders and also strike deals directly with manufacturers to increase profit margins for resellers. The funding will be used to increase its team from 15 to over 100 over the next three months, and it plans to enter more Southeast Asian markets.

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