The pandemic has disrupted international trade, driving up the cost of shipping goods and adding a fresh challenge to the global economic recovery.
The pandemic has disrupted international trade, driving up the cost of shipping goods and adding a fresh challenge to the global economic recovery.
SiCepat, an end-to-end logistics startup in Indonesia, announced today it has raised a $170 million Series B funding round. Founded in 2014 to provide last-mile deliveries for small merchants, the company has since expanded to serve large e-commerce platforms, too. Its services now also cover warehousing and fulfillment, middle-mile logistics and online distribution.
Investors in SiCepat’s Series B include Falcon House Partners; Kejora Capital; DEG (the German Development Finance Institution); Telkom Indonesia’s investment arm MDI Ventures; Indies Capital; Temasek Holdings subsidiary Pavilion Capital; Tri Hill; and Daiwa Securities. The company’s last funding announcement was a $50 million Series A in April 2019.
In a press statement, The Kim Hai, founder and chief executive officer of SiCepat’s parent company Onstar Express, said the funding will be used to “further fortify SiCepat’s position as the leading end-to-end logistics service provider in the Indonesian market and potentially to explore expansion to other markets in Southeast Asia.” SiCepat claims to be profitable already and that it was able to fulfill more than 1.4 million packages per day in 2020.
The logistics industry in Indonesia is highly fragmented, which means higher costs for businesses. At the same time, demand for deliveries is increasing thanks to the growth of e-commerce, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SiCepat is one of several Indonesian startups that have raised funding recently to make the supply chain and logistics infrastructure more efficient. For example, earlier this week, supply chain SaaS provider Advotics announced a $2.75 million round. Other notable startups in the space include Kargo, founded by a former Uber Asia executive, and Waresix.
SiCepat focuses in particular on e-commerce and social commerce, or people who sell goods through their social media networks. In statement, Kejora Capital managing partner Sebastian Togelang, said the Indonesian e-commerce market is expected to grow at five-year compounded annual growth rate of 21%, reaching $82 billion by 2025.
“We believe SiCepat is ideally positioned to serve customers from e-commerce giants to uprising social commerce players which contribute an estimated 25% to the total digital commerce economy,” he added.
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.”
In China’s cosmetics world, where foreign brands were historically revered, indigenous startups are increasingly winning over Gen-Z consumers with cheaper, more localized options. One of the rising stars is the direct-to-consumer brand Perfect Diary, which is owned by five-year-old startup Yatsen.
Yatsen impressed the capital market with a $617 million initial public offering on NYSE in November. Its flagship brand Perfect Diary consistently ranks among the top makeup brands by online sales next to giants like L’Oreal and Shiseido. Now the company is plotting another big move as it set out to buy Eve Lom, a 35-year-old skincare brand owned by British private equity firm, Manzanita Capital.
On Wednesday, Yatsen, named after the father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen, announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Eve Lom, which is known for its cleanser. The deal is expected to close within the next few weeks and Manzanita will retain a minority stake in the business and serve as a strategic partner.
The size of the deal wasn’t disclosed but Bloomberg reported in February that Manzanita was looking to sell Eve Lom for as much as $200 million.
Perfect Diary rose to prominence in China by partnering with influencers who reviewed the brand’s lipsticks, eyeshadow palettes, foundation and other products on Chinese social commerce platforms like Xiaohongshu. It took advantage of its vicinity to China’s abundant cosmetics and packaging suppliers, many of whom also work with top international brands. The strategies have allowed Perfect Diary to offer affordable prices without compromising quality, and earn it the moniker, “Xiaomi for cosmetics.”
Growth has skyrocketed at Yatsen since its founding. Its gross sales more than quadrupled to 3.5 billion yuan ($540 million) in 2019 from 2018, thanks to an effective e-commerce strategy. But losses also ballooned. The company recorded a net loss of 1.16 billion yuan ($170 million) in the nine months ended September 2020, compared to a net income of 29.1 million yuan in the year before.
Yatsen has been on the hunt for potential acquisitions to diversify its product portfolio, as it noted in its prospectus. Through the Eve Lom marriage, the company hopes to “enrich our global brand-building capabilities and product offerings,” said Jinfeng Huang, founder and CEO of Yatsen in the announcement.
Yatsen has already embarked on international expansion, landing in Southeast Asia first where it is selling on e-commerce sites like Shopee. It said in the prospectus that it plans on “selectively cooperating with local partners to accelerate our international expansion and localize our product offerings.” In the competitive and entrenched makeup world, Yatsen’s overseas expedition is definitely a curious one to watch.
The rapid growth of e-commerce in Indonesia, especially during the pandemic, is placing increasing demands on its supply chain infrastructure. But the country’s logistics industry is highly fragmented, with companies usually relying on multiple providers for one shipment, and many warehouses are still concentrated around major cities. Advotics wants to help with software to make the whole supply chain easier to track, and recently closed a $2.75 million funding round led by East Ventures.
Founded in 2016 by Boris Sanjaya, Hendi Chandi and Jeffry Tani, Advotics currently counts more than 70 clients, ranging from individual resellers to large corporations like Exxonmobil, Danone, Reckitt Benckiser, Sampoerna, Kalbe and Mulia Group.
According to research institution Statistics Indonesia, there are about 5 million small and medium-sized manufacturers in Indonesia. They use a supply chain with 15 million small to mid-sized distributors and about 288,000 large distribution companies. This fragmentation means higher expenses, with Report Linker estimating that logistics costs range between 25% to 30% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product.
To help make logistics more efficient for its clients, Advotics offers SaaS solutions to monitor almost their entire supply and logistics chain, from warehouse inventory to generating delivery routes for drivers. It includes a product digitalization feature that uses QR codes to track products and prevent counterfeiting. The company’s new funding will be used to launch a online-to-offline system for SMEs and grow its sales team.
Advotics is among several tech startups that are taking different approaches to tackle Indonesia’s logistics infrastructure. For example, Shipper wants to give sellers access to “Amazon-level logistics,” while Logisly is focused on digitizing truck shipments. Waresix recently acquired Trukita to connect businesses to shippers and truck shipment platform Kargo’s backers include Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick.
Fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, digital transformation is happening all over the world. And Southeast Asia is no exception.
Indonesia’s Xendit, a startup focused on building digital payments infrastructure for the region, has just raised $64.6 million in a Series B led by Silicon Valley heavyweight Accel. The funding brings the total amount raised by the Jakarta-based company to $88 million since its 2015.
Notably, Y Combinator also participated in the financing. In fact, Xendit is the first Indonesian company to go through Y Combinator’s accelerator program. It also was ranked No. 64 on Y Combinator’s top 100 companies (by valuation and top exits) list in January 2021.
Xendit works with businesses of all sizes, processing more than 65 million transactions with $6.5 billion in payment value annually. Its website promises businesses that “with a single integration,” they can accept payments in Indonesia and the Philippines. The company describes itself as building out financial services and digital payments infrastructure “in which the next generation of Southeast Asian SaaS companies can be built on top of,” or put more simply, it aspires to be the Stripe of Southeast Asia.
Xendit has been growing exponentially since its launch — with its CAGR (compound annual growth rate) increasing annually by 700%, according to COO and co-founder Tessa Wijaya. In 2020, the company saw its customer count increase by 540%. Customers include Traveloka, TransferWise, Wish and Grab, among others. Xendit declined to reveal hard revenue figures.
It also declined to reveal its current valuation but we do know that as of October 2019, it was valued at at least $150 million – a pre-requisite for appearing on this Y Combinator list, on which it ranked No. 53.
The idea for Xendit was formed when CEO Moses Lo met his co-founders while studying at University of California, Berkeley. Shortly after, they went through Y Combinator, and launched Xendit in 2015.
One of the company’s main benefactors was Twitch co-founder Justin Kan. According to Lo, “he happened to have some family in Indonesia, and it was also about the time when Asia was becoming more interesting for YC.”
Xendit was originally launched as a P2P payments platform before evolving into its current model.
Today, the startup aims to help businesses of all sizes seamlessly process online payments, run marketplaces, distribute payroll manage finances and detect fraud via machine learning. It aims for fast and easy integrations so that businesses can more easily accept payments digitally.
The market opportunity is there. One of the world’s most populous countries that is home to more than 270 million people — an estimated 175 million of which are internet users — Indonesia’s digital economy is expected to reach $300 billion by 2025.
Add to that a complex region that is home to 17,000 different islands and a number of regulatory and technological challenges.
“Trying to build the businesses of tomorrow on yesterday’s infrastructure is holding Southeast Asia’s businesses back,” Lo said.
The global shift toward more digital transactions over the past year led to increased demand for Xendit’s infrastructure and services, according to Wijaya. To meet that demand, the company doubled its employee headcount to over 350 currently.
The pandemic also led to Xendit branching out. Prior to 2020, many of the company’s customers were large travel companies. So the first few months of the year, the startup’s business was hit hard. But increased demand paved the way for Xendit to expand into new sectors, such as retail, gaming and other digital products.
Looking ahead, the startup plans to use its new capital to scale its digital payments infrastructure “quickly” with the goal of providing millions of small and medium-sized businesses across Southeast Asia with “an on-ramp to the digital economy.” It is also eyeing other markets. Xendit recently expanded into the Philippines and also is considering other countries in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, according to Wijaya.
Xendit is also similar in scope to San Francisco-based Finix, which aims to make every software company a payments company. Xendit acknowledges the similarities, but notes it is also “looking to tackle broader challenges related to accessibility, security and reliability that are unique to Southeast Asia,” with a deep understanding of the region’s unique geographical and cultural nuances.
To Accel partner Ryan Sweeney, Xendit has “quietly” built a modern digital payments infrastructure that’s transformed how Southeast Asian businesses transact.
“Their team’s combination of deep local expertise and global ambitions means they’re uniquely positioned to do what no other company could do in the region,” he said. “The vision of Xendit is a bold one: they are building the digital payments infrastructure for Southeast Asia, and fits squarely into Accel’s global fintech thesis.”
Other fintechs that Accel has backed include Braintree/Venmo, WorldRemit,GoFundMe and Monzo, and more recently Galileo, TradeRepublic, Lydia, Public.com and Flink.
Businesses, and the tech platforms that support their operations, had to adapt quickly to the pandemic. Ben Thompson, co-founder and chief executive officer of human resources platform Employment Hero told TechCrunch that “COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of employment management software by roughly five years,” as teams adjusted to remote work.
The Sydney, Australia-based company announced today it has raised a $45 million AUD (about $34.8 million) Series D, bringing its valuation to more than $250 million AUD ($193.4 million USD). The capital will be used for expansion and growth in markets including New Zealand, Southeast Asia and the United Kingdom.
The round was led by SEEK, which runs job platforms around the world, with participation from OneVentures and AirTreeVentures, all returning investors. Employment Hero also added Salesforce Ventures as a new investor.
Employment Hero is designed for small-to-medium sized businesses, and combines human resources, payroll and benefits features. It currently serves about 6,000 SMEs with a combined total of more than 250,000 employees. Employment Hero doubled the number of its full-time employees to 200 last year, and launched versions in New Zealand, the UK, Malaysia and Singapore. Its Series D will be used to support growth in those markets, and enter new Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Localized versions of Employment Hero include pre-built employment contracts and policies that comply with local laws. In Malaysia and Singapore, the platform provided research on recruitment and employment trends, Thompson said, and in Singapore, it gathered COVID-related government support materials into one factsheet.
Employment Hero also renewed its partnership with SEEK, which means the platform includes SEEK job ads in Southeast Asia.
During the pandemic, the company launched a new service called Global Teams for remote work. It serves as a professional employer organization (PEO), enabling companies to recruit new remote employees around the world and automating regional compliance paperwork. Global Teams is integrated into the main Employment Hero platform, so remote employees have access to the same resources as their colleagues.
About 75% of Employment Hero’s customer base upgraded their subscriptions to include tools for remote work management, compliance and employee wellness services.
For example, during the first week of Australia’s nationwide lockdown, Employment Hero launched a COVID-19 resource hub, including tools for the government’s JobKeeper payment scheme and employee wellness surveys. It also ran biweekly webinars with industry experts about employees’ rights to leave and pay, mental health and employee assistance programs, cashflow management, employer duty of care for remote work arrangements and live employment law.
As remote work continued, Employment Hero also introduced engagement and productivity features, like one-on-one coaching and other tools to improve communication and feedback.
“As a company, we knew we had to do whatever it took to help our clients and the wider small and medium-sized business community through COVID-19,” said Thompson.
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.
A new fund has launched, with backing from the Singaporean government, to support tech innovation for the maritime industry. Called Motion Ventures, it is targeting $30 million SGD (about $22.8 million USD) and has completed its first close, with Wilhelmsen, one of the world’s largest maritime networks, and logistics company HHLA as anchor investors.
Motion Ventures was launched by Rainmaking, the venture building and investment firm that runs accelerator program Startupbootcamp, and will jointly invest in startups with SEEDS Capital, the investment arm of government agency Enterprise Singapore.
SEEDS Capital announced in June 2020 that it plans to invest $50 million SGD in maritime startups, with the goal of creating more resilient supply chains and fixing issues underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shaun Hon, general partner at Motion Ventures and director at Rainmaking, told TechCrunch that the fund plans to invest in around 20 early-stage startups focused on AI, machine learning and automation, with check sizes ranging between $500,000 SGD to $2 million SGD.
“We’ve got our eyes on some of the maritime value chain’s biggest challenges including decarbonization, supply chain resilience and improving safety. In most cases, the technology to address the industry’s issues already exists, but the missing link is figuring out how to apply these solutions in the corporate context,” Hon said.
“That’s what Motion Ventures aims to address,” he added. “If we can bring a consortium of industry adopters together to connect with entrepreneurs early in the process, we’re setting everyone up with the best chance to succeed.”
In addition to capital, Motion Ventures plans to partner startups with well-established maritime firms like Wilhelmsen to help them commercialize and integrate their technology into supply chains. For mentorship, Motion Ventures’ startups will also have access to Ocean Ventures Alliance, which was launched by Rainmaking in November 2020, and now includes more than 40 maritime value chain industry leaders.
Singapore is quickly turning into a hub for food-tech startups, partly because of government initiatives supporting the development of meat alternatives. One of the newest entrants is Next Gen, which will launch its plant-based “chicken” brand, called TiNDLE, in Singaporean restaurants next month. The company announced today that it has raised $10 million in seed funding from investors including Temasek, K3 Ventures, EDB New Ventures (an investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board), NX-Food, FEBE Ventures and Blue Horizon.
Next Gen claims this is the largest seed round ever raised by a plant-based food tech company, based on data from PitchBook. This is the first time the startup has taken external investment, and the funding exceeded its original target of $7 million. Next Gen was launched last October by Timo Recker and Andre Menezes, with $2.2 million of founder capital.
Next Gen’s first product is called TiNDLE Thy, an alternative to chicken thighs. Its ingredients include water, soy, wheat, oat fiber, coconut oil and methylcellulose, a culinary binder, but the key to its chicken-like flavor is a proprietary blend of plant-based fats, like sunflower oil, and natural flavors that allows it to cook like chicken meat.
Menezes, Next Gen’s chief operating officer, told TechCrunch that the company’s goal is to be the global leader in plant-based chicken, the way Impossible and Beyond are known for their burgers.
“Consumers and chefs want texture in chicken, the taste and aroma, and that is largely related to chicken fat, which is why we started with thighs instead of breasts,” said Menezes. “We created a chicken fat made from a blend, called Lipi, to emulate the smell, aroma and browning when you cook.”
Both Recker and Menezes have years of experience in the food industry. Recker founded German-based LikeMeat, a plant-based meat producer acquired by the LIVEKINDLY Collective last year. Menezes’ food career started in Brazil at one of the world’s largest poultry exporters. He began working with plant-based meat after serving as general manager of Country Foods, a Singaporean importer and distributor that focuses on innovative, sustainable products.
“It was clear to me after I was inside the meat industry for so long that it was not going to be a sustainable business in the long run,” Menezes said.
Over the past few years, more consumers have started to feel the same way, and began looking for alternatives to animal products. UBS expects the global plant-based protein market to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of more than 30%, reaching about $50 billion by 2025, as more people, even those who aren’t vegans or vegetarians, seek healthier, humane sources of protein.
Millennial and Gen Z consumers, in particular, are willing to reduce their consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products as they become more aware of the environmental impact of industrial livestock production, said Menezes. “They understand the sustainability angle of it, and the health aspect, like the cholesterol or nutritional values, depending on what product you are talking about.”
Low in sodium and saturated fat, TiNDLE Thy has received the Healthier Choice Symbol, which is administered by Singapore’s Health Promotion Board. Next Gen’s new funding will be used to launch TiNDLE Thy, starting in popular Singaporean restaurants like Three Buns Quayside, the Prive Group, 28 HongKong Street, Bayswater Kitchen and The Goodburger.
Over the next year or two, Next Gen plans to raise its Series A round, launch more brands and products, and expand in its target markets: the United States (where it is currently recruiting a growth director to build a distribution network), China, Brazil and Europe. After working with restaurant partners, Next Gen also plans to make its products available to home cooks.
“The reason we started with chefs is because they are very hard to crack, and if chefs are happy with the product, then we’re very sure customers will be, too,” said Menezes.
Based in Singapore, ErudiFi wants to help more students in Southeast Asia stay in school by giving them affordable financing options. The startup announced today it has raised a $5 million Series A, co-led by Monk’s Hill Ventures and Qualgro.
ErudiFi currently works with more than 50 universities and vocational schools in Indonesia and the Philippines. Co-founder and chief executive officer Naga Tan told TechCrunch that students in those countries have limited financing options, and often rely on friends or family, or informal payday lenders that charge high interest rates.
To provide more accessible financing options, ErudiFi partners with accredited universities and schools to offer subsidized installment plans, using tech to scale up while keeping costs down. Interest rates and repayment terms vary between institutions, but can be as low as 0%, with loans payable in 12 to 24 months.
By providing their students with affordable financing plans, ErudiFi can increase retention rates at schools, helping them keep students who would otherwise be forced to drop out because of financial issues.
Tan said ErudiFi’s value proposition for educational institutions is “being able to offer a data-driven financing solution that helps with student recruitment and retention. Students also greatly benefit because our product is one of the few, if not the only, affordable financing option they have access to.”
In a press statement, Peng T. Ong, co-founder and managing partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, said, “Access to affordable tertiary education remains a huge pain point in Southeast Asia where the cost is nearly double then the average GDP per capita. ErudiFi is tackling an underserved market that is plagued with high-interest rates by traditional financial institutions and limited reach from peer-to-peer lending companies.”
ErudiFi’s Series A will be used on hiring for its product and engineering teams and to expand in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Despite the market impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, retail investing is increasing in Indonesia, especially among people aged 18 to 30. Today, investment platform FUNDtastic announced it has raised a $7.7 million Series A to tap into that demand, with plans to launch new products for retail investors, reports DealStreetAsia.
The round was led by Singapore-based Ascend Capital Group, with participation from other investors including tech holding company Indivara Group. FUNDtastic plans to add retail bonds, insurance and peer-to-peer lending to its current roster of mutual funds and gold investment options.
FUNDtastic acquired Invisee, a mutual funds and securities portal, last year for $6.5 million, allowing it to sell mutual fund products directly.
Based in Jakarta, FUNDtastic was founded in 2019 by Harry Hartono, Franky Chandra and Medwin Susilo. While capital investing in Indonesia remains relatively low, with many preferring to invest in real estate instead, that number is gradually increasing as young professionals diversify their holdings. The Indonesian Stock Exchange is also launching initiatives to attract more retail investors.
Other startups focused on making retail investment more accessible to Indonesians include Ajaib and Bibit, which both recently raised funding.
GajiGesa, a fintech company that offers Earned Wage Access (EWA) and other services for workers in Indonesia, has raised $2.5 million in seed funding. The round was co-led by Defy.vc and Quest Ventures. Other participants included GK Plug and Play, Next Billion Ventures, Alto Partners Multi-Family Office, Kanmo Group and strategic angel investors.
The company was founded last year by husband-and-wife team Vidit Agrawal and Martyna Malinowska. Agrawal was Uber’s first employee in Asia and has also served in leadership positions at Carro and Stripe. Malinowska led product development at Standard Chartered’s SC Ventures and alternative credit-scoring platform LenddoEFL.
About 66% of Indonesia’s 260 million population is “unbanked,” which means they don’t have a bank account and limited access to financial services like loans. Agrawal and Malinowska decided to launch GajiGesa in Indonesia because Malinowska worked with many unbanked workers while at LenddoEFL. While at Uber, Agrawal also worked with drivers across Southeast Asia whose average earnings were $250 USD a month (excluding Singapore), and he said the top issue they face was harassment by money lenders.
“These hardworking Indonesians had no fair or formal sources for easy access to capital. Further, the most common reason for borrowing was short-term liquidity issues,” Agrawal told TechCrunch. “But workers were forced to borrow either long-term, high ticket size loans or short-term loans with exorbitantly high-interest rates.”
Having immediate access to earned wages, instead of waiting for a semi-monthly or monthly paycheck, can help alleviate financial stress and make it easier for workers to manage their income and handle emergencies. Companies that have started instant payment services for workers in other countries include Square, London-based startup Wagestream and Gusto.
Since launching in October 2020, GajiGesa has added over 30 employers on its platform, serving tens of thousand of workers in total. It integrates into a company’s existing human resources management and payroll systems. Workers can get earned wages immediately, track earnings, pay bills, buy prepaid cards and access financial education resources through an app.
GajiGesa does not charge interest rates or require collateral, since all its users are pre-approved by their employers. Companies decide to charge fees or offer GajiGesa as part of their benefits packages, and also get access to analytics that can help them create targeted incentives or new benefits for their workforce.
During COVID-19, Agrawal said the startup has “seen insatiable demand and support for GajiGesa’s EWA solution from employers. This is partly attributed to the various challenges employers are facing due to the effects of COVID-19, but our platform is designed to support employers and employees in the long-term. The value of EWA and the other services we offer is not limited to the pandemic.”
Grab, the Southeast Asian ride-hailing and on-demand delivery giant, announced a program to increase access to COVID-19 vaccinations today. Its goal is to have all of its employees, as well as driver and delivery partners, vaccinated by 2022 (excluding people who are medically unable to receive shots). Grab also said it will work with governments to provide information about vaccines through its app, and is in discussions to provide last-mile vaccine distribution, and transportation to and from vaccination centers.
The company currently has operations in eight Southeast Asian countries: Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Grab joins a growing roster of private companies around the world that have offered to help governments with their vaccination programs. In the United States, these include tech companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce and Epic. Meanwhile, China’s largest ride-hailing company, Didi Chuxing, is pledging $10 million to support vaccination programs in 13 countries.
In a statement, Russell Cohen, Grab’s group managing director of operations, said, “The quicker we can achieve herd immunity, the sooner our communities and economies can start to rebuild. Public-private partnership has been critical in taking on some of the pandemic’s biggest battles, and this collaboration should continue.”
For drivers and delivery partners, Grab said it will subsidize COVID-19 vaccine costs not covered by national vaccination programs. The company will also extend its Group Prolonged Medical Leave insurance policy to cover income lost by drivers as a result of potential side effects from getting vaccinated. Employees and immediate family members will have any costs not covered by national programs paid for by Grab.
In terms of vaccine education, the Grab app will prominently display information from governments and health authorities, and run user surveys to help them understand public sentiment about COVID-19 vaccines. The company says its app has been downloaded more than 214 million times.
Time is critical for healthcare providers, especially in the middle of the pandemic. Singapore-based Bot MD helps save time with an AI-based chatbot that lets doctors look up important information from their smartphones, instead of needing to call a hospital operator or access its intranet. The startup announced today it has raised a $5 million Series A led by Monk’s Hill Venture.
Other backers include SeaX, XA Network and SG Innovate, and angel investors Yoh-Chie Lu, Jean-Luc Butel and Steve Blank. Bot MD was also part of Y Combinator’s summer 2018 batch.
The funding will be used to expand in the Asia-Pacific region, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, and to add new features in response to demand from hospitals and healthcare organizations during COVID-19. Bot MD’s AI assistant currently supports English, with plans to release Bahasa Indonesian and Spanish later this year. It is currently used by about 13,000 doctors at organizations including Changi General Hospital, National University Health System, National University Cancer Institute of Singapore, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, Parkway Radiology and the National Kidney Transplant Institute.
Co-founder and chief executive officer Dorothea Koh told TechCrunch that Bot MD integrates hospital information usually stored in multiple systems and makes it easier to access.
Without Bot MD, doctors may need to dial a hospital operator to find which staffers are on call and get their contact information. If they want drug information, that means another call to the pharmacy. If they need to see updated guidelines and clinical protocols, that often entails finding a computer that is connected to the hospital’s intranet.
“A lot of what Bot MD does is to integrate the content that they need into a single interface that is searchable 24/7,” said Koh.
For example, during COVID-19, Bot MD introduced a new feature that takes healthcare providers to a form pre-filled with their information when they type “record temperature” into the chatbot. Many were accessing their organization’s intranet twice a day to log their temperature and Koh said being able to use the form through Bot MD has significantly improved compliance.
The time it takes to onboard Bot MD varies depending on the information systems and amount of content it needs to integrate, but Koh said its proprietary natural language processing chat engine makes training its AI relatively quick. For example, Changi General Hospital, a recent client, was onboarded in less than ten days.
Bot MD plans to add new clinical apps to its platform, including ones for electronic medical records (EMR), billing and scheduling integrations, clinical alerts and chronic disease monitoring.
BukuWarung, an Indonesian startup focused on digitizing the country’s 60 million small businesses, announced today it has raised new funding from Rocketship.vc and an Indonesian retail conglomerate.
The amount was undisclosed, but sources say it brings BukuWarung’s total funding so far to $20 million. The company’s last round, announced in September 2020, was between $10 million to $15 million. Launched in 2019, BukuWarung was founded by Chinmay Chauhan and Abhinay Peddisetty and took part in Y Combinator last year.
Rocketship.vc is also an investor in Indian startup Khatabook, which reached a valuation between $275 million to $300 million in its last funding round. Like Khatabook, BukuWarung helps small businesses, like neigborhood stores called warung, that previously relied on paper ledgers transition to digital bookkeeping and online payments. BukuWarung recently launched Tokoko, a Shopify-like tool that lets merchants create online stores through an app, and says Tokoko has been used by 500,000 merchants so far.
Chuahan, BukuWarung’s president, said it has started making revenue through its payments solution. In total, BukuWarung now claims more than 3.5 million registered merchants in 750 Indonesian towns and cities, and says it is recording over $15 billion worth of transactions across its platform and processing over $500 million in terms of volume.
SMEs contribute about 60% to Indonesia’s gross domestic product and employ 97% of its domestic workforce, but many have difficulty accessing financial services that can help them grow. By digitizing their financial records, companies like BukuWarung can make it easier for them to access lines of credit, working capital loans and other services. Other companies serving SMEs in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, include BukuKas and CrediBook.
BukuWarung will use its new funding to grow its tech and product teams in Indonesia, India and Singapore. It plans to launch more monetization products, including credit, and grow its payments solution this year.
Speaking is one of the hardest parts of learning a new language, especially if you don’t have someone to practice with regularly. ELSA is an app that helps by using speech recognition technology to correct pronunciation. Based in San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh City, ELSA announced today it has raised a $15 million Series B, led by VI (Vietnam Investments) Group and SIG. Other participants included returning investors Google’s AI-focused fund Gradient Ventures, SOSV and Monk’s Hill Ventures, along with Endeavor Catalyst and Globant Ventures.
The capital will be used to expand ELSA’s operations in Latin America and build a scalable B2B platform, allowing companies and educational organizations to offers the app’s coaching services to employees or students. Founded in 2015, ELSA, which stands for English Language Speech Assistant, now claims more than 13 million users. Its last round of funding was a $7 million Series A announced in 2019.
In addition to Latin America, ELSA will also focus on expanding in Vietnam, India and Japan, where it saw high demand last year. The company recently formed a partnership with IDP and British Council, which owns the widely-used IELTS English language test and now recommends ELSA to for test preparation. ELSA is also working with language schools in Vietnam like IMAP and Speak Up, online learning platform YOLA and corporate clients including Kimberly Clark, Intel and ATAD.
ELSA co-founder and chief executive officer Vu Van told TechCrunch that many users want to improve their English speaking proficiency for job opportunities and to increase their earning potential. In Vietnam, India and Brazil, people with higher English speaking proficiency can earn about two to three times more than their colleagues, she said.
“This motivation drives a lot of demand for our English learner community in Vietnam, India and Brazil, especially during COVID-19 when we’ve seen enormous interest from the LatAm region as well,” Van added.
In Vietnam, where Van is from, English learners spend a lot of their disposable income on online or offline English training. “However, the majority of English learners still struggle to improve their speaking skill because other people don’t understand them or they’re afraid to speak it,” she said. ELSA was designed to give them an accessible resource to help improve their pronunciation and confidence when speaking English.
Other apps focused on English pronunciation include FluentU and Say It. Van said one of ELSA’s main advantages is its proprietary voice recognition AI tech.
“What’s unique about our AI is that we’ve collected the largest amount of accented English voice data from millions of users that we have used to train our AI model over the last few years, which gives us a higher accuracy in recognizing and understanding non-native English speakers around the world,” she said. “The other existing voice recognition technologies available, by comparison, might understand native speakers well but have a hard time understanding non-native accented English learner communities.”
Instead of providing feedback about individual words, ELSA’s app also corrects individual sounds and gives users detailed information on how to improve their pronunciation, including “very advanced prosodic speaking features like intonation, rhythm and fluency to help them speak English more naturally, something that our competitors don’t offer,” Van added.
Access to the internet in Myanmar dropped sharply after the military detained leaders of ruling party National League for Democracy, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and declared a state of emergency. The NLD won a wide majority of parliamentary seats in November’s general election, which the military alleges was the result of election fraud. In a statement on military-owned television, the army said a year-long state of emergency would be declared in Myanmar and power handed to military chief Min Aung Hlaing.
According to NetBlocks, a non-governmental organization that monitors digital rights, cybersecurity and internet governance around the world, internet disruptions began around 3AM Monday morning local time, with national connectivity falling to 75% of ordinary levels, and then reaching about 50% around 8AM. Data shows that the cuts affected several network operators, including the state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) and Telenor. NetBlocks said “preliminary findings [indicate] a centrally ordered mechanism of disruption targeting cellular and some fixed-line services, progressing over time as operators comply.”
Update: Internet connectivity in #Myanmar has fallen to 50% of ordinary levels as of 8:00 a.m. local time amid an apparent military coup and the detention of civilian leaders; pattern of disruption indicates centrally issued telecoms blackout order
— NetBlocks (@netblocks) February 1, 2021
The United States Embassy’s American Citizen Services said on Twitter that internet and phone connectivity are both limited throughout Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw.
Update: We are aware that internet and phone connectivity is limited throughout Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw.
— American Citizen Services – Burma (Myanmar) (@ACSRangoon) February 1, 2021
Aye Min Thant, a former correspondent for Reuters who is now the Tech for Peace program manager at Phandeeyar, a tech accelerator in Yangon, tweeted that she had been logged out of Signal and Telegram overnight, and can’t log in again because cell service is shut down, preventing her from getting verification codes.
The detainment of Suu Kyi and other National League for Democracy leaders comes days after Myanmar’s military attempted to downplay concerns about a coup by stating it would protect the country’s constitution, despite its allegations of vote fraud in November’s election.
Myanmar came under direct military rule after a 1962 coup replaced the civilian government. In 1990, free elections were held and the NLD won, but the military refused to give up power, placing Suu Kyi under house arrest. After 2011, a transition to democratic rule gradually began, but the military still controlled much of the government.
The NLD has also been accused of being complicit in the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims and disenfranchising opponents.
While Myanmar’s government does not practice direct censorship of internet content, Freedom House gave the country a score of only 36 out of 100 in 2019, citing manipulation of online content by both the military and NLD, and prosecution that forces individuals to self-censor. In June 2019, the government banned the internet in parts of Rakhine and Chin State, the sites of ongoing fighting between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army. Human rights observers including the Human Rights Watch have said that the internet ban prevents people in those areas from communicating with their families, getting information about COVID-19 or accessing aid.
Women who end a pregnancy after 12 weeks could still face prison or fines. Abortion rights advocates say more change is needed.
LottieFiles, a platform for JSON-based Lottie animations, has raised a Series A of $9 million. The round was led by M12, Microsoft’s venture capital arm, with participation from returning investor 500 Startups.
Based in San Francisco and Kuala Lumpur, LottieFiles was founded in 2018. The platform includes Lottie creation, editing and testing tools, and a marketplace for animations. It now claims about one million users from 65,000 companies, including Airbnb, Google, TikTok, Disney and Netflix, and 300% year-over-year growth. The new funding brings its total raised to about $10 million.
Smaller than GIF or PNG graphics, Lottie animations also have the advantage of being scalable and interactive. It was introduced as an open-source library by Airbnb engineers six years ago and quickly became popular with app developers because Lottie files can be used across platforms without additional coding and edited after shipping.
LottieFiles co-founder and chief executive officer Kshitij Minglani told TechCrunch the startup originally started as a community for designers and developers, before adding tools, integrations and other resources. It launched its marketplace during the COVID-19 lockdown, with 70% of earnings going directly to creators, and also has a list of animators who are available for hire.
LottieFiles’ core platform and tools are currently pre-revenue, with plans to monetize later this year. “It’s not often a revolutionary format comes about and disrupts an entire industry, saving tons of precious design and development hours,” said Minglani. “We didn’t want to stunt the adoption of Lottie by monetizing early on.”
The new funding will be used on LottieFiles’ product roadmap, expanding its infrastructure and increasing its global user base.
CrediBook, a startup that helps Indonesian retail wholesalers digitize the financial side of their operations, has raised $1.5 million in pre-Series A funding led by Wavemaker Partners, with participation from Alpha JWC Ventures and Insignia Ventures Partners. The capital will be used for product launches and expansion into more Indonesian cities.
Founded in February 2020, CrediBook is part of a wave of startups focused on digitizing small- to medium-sized businesses in Indonesia. SMEs contribute more than 60% of the country’s gross domestic product, but many still use traditional bookkeeping systems like paper ledgers. Digitizing them makes it easier for them to use services like online invoicing and payments, and keep financial records to apply for working capital loans.
Some other startups serving Indonesian SMEs include BukuKas and BukuWarung, two digital bookkeeping apps for small B2C businesses like neighborhood stores and restaurants (both have also recently raised funding). Moka and Jurnal, meanwhile, are used by larger companies. CrediBook is carving out a niche for itself by serving small-to-medium sized B2B businesses in the retail sector, including wholesalers.
Co-founder and chief executive officer Gabriel Frans told TechCrunch that the company is moving toward a profitable business model and currently has more than 500,000 customers, who use the app for bookkeeping, tracking orders from retailers and digital payments. CrediBook also works with financial services provider PayFazz, one of its seed investors, to provide financing to SMEs.
Frans said CrediBook plans to add more features, including online invoicing, to create an end-to-end platform like Tel Aviv and New York-based B2B payment startups Melio, which announced a round of funding this week that brought its valuation to $1.3 billion. “We are digitizing not only the bookkeeping, but also the invoicing and payment processing,” Frans said.
Most of CrediBook’s customers are currently concentrated in the cities of Jabodetabek and Bandung, and part of its funding will be used for building its user base in more areas. Frans said many of the startup’s customers relied on paper ledgers before signing up for CrediBook, so part of the process of convincing them to go online includes demonstrating how having more visibility into their finances can grow their businesses.
“We are very close to our users because this is a very localized market,” said Frans, who previously worked at O2O platform Kudo (now called GrabKios after its acquisition by Grab in 2017) and bookings platform Traveloka. “I was already familiar with the industry based on my previous experience, and if they try our app and experience the benefit of how it will make their day-to-day problems less, they will love it.”
iSTOX, a digital securities platform that wants to make private equity investment more accessible, has added new investors from Japan to its Series A round, bringing its total to $50 million. Two of its new backers are the government-owned Development Bank of Japan and JIC Venture Growth Investments, the venture capital arm of Japan Investment Corporation, a state-backed investment fund.
Other participants included Juroku Bank and Mobile Internet Capital, along with returning investors Singapore Exchange, Tokai Tokyo Financial Holdings and Hanwha Asset Management.
Founded in 2017 and owned by blockchain infrastructure firm ICHX, iSTOX’s goal is to open private capital opportunities, including startups, hedge funds and private debt, that are usually limited to a small group of high-net-worth individuals to more institutional and accredited investors. (It also serves accredited investors outside of Singapore, as long as they meet the country’s standards by holding the equivalent amount in assets and income.) iSTOX’s allows users to make investments as small as SGD $100 (about USD $75.50) and says it is able to keep fees low by using blockchain technology for smart contracts and to hold digital securities, which makes the issuance process more effective and less costly.
iSTOX’s Series A round was first announced in September 2019, when the company said it had raised an undisclosed amount from Thai investment bank Kiatnakin Phatra Financial Group while participating in the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) FinTech Regulatory Sandbox. The Singaporean government has been especially supportive of blockchain technology, launching initiatives to commercialize its use in fintech, data security, logistics and other sectors.
iSTOX completed the sandbox program in February 2020, and was approved by the MAS for the issuance, custody and trading of digitized securities. The new funding will be used for geographical expansion, including in China, where it already has an agreement in the city of Chongqing, and Europe and and Australia, where it is currently working on issuance deals. iSTOX also plans to add new investment products, including private issuances that investors can subscribe to in “bite-size portions.”
In a press statement, iSTOX chief commercial officer Oi Yee Choo said, “Capital markets are transforming rapidly because of advancements in technology. The regulator MAS and our institutional investors have been far-sighted and progressive, and they support the change wholeheartedly.”
The company is among several Asia-based fintech platforms that want to democratize the process of investing. For retail investors, there are apps like Bibit, Syfe, Stashaway, Kristal.ai and Grab Financial’s investment products.
Since iSTOX works with accredited and institutional investors, however, its most direct competitors include the recently-launched DBS Digital Exchange, which is also based in Singapore. iSTOX’s advantage is that it offers more kinds of assets. Right now, it facilitates the issuance of funds and bonds, but this year, it will start issuing private equity and structured products as well. The company’s securities are also fully digitized, which means they are created on the blockchain, instead of being recorded on the blockchain after they are issued, which means iSTOX is able to offer faster settlement times.
Grab Financial Group said today it has raised more than $300 million in Series A funding, led by South Korean firm Hanhwa Asset Management, with participation from K3 Ventures, GGV Capital, Arbor Ventures and Flourish Ventures.
The Financial Times reports that the funding values Grab Financial, a subsidiary of ride-hailing and delivery giant Grab, at $3 billion. Both K3 Ventures and GGV Capital were early investors in Grab, which was founded in 2012.
Back in February 2020, Grab announced it had raised $856 million in funding to grow its payment and financial services. That news came during speculation that Grab and Gojek, one of it top rivals, were finally getting closer to a merger after lengthy discussions.
But the Grab-Gojek talks stalled, and Gojek is now reportedly in talks to merge with Indonesia e-commerce platform Tokopedia instead. According to Bloomberg, the combined company would be worth $18 billion, making it a more formidable rival to Grab.
In its funding announcement, Grab Financial Group said its total revenues grew more than 40% in 2020, compared to 2019. This driven by strong consumer adoption of services like AutoInvest, an investment platform that allows users to invest small amounts of money at a time through the Grab app and insurance products. Grab Financial announced the launch of several financial products for consumers and SMEs in August 2020.
Usagea of digital financial services by consumers and SMEs in Southeast Asia increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report published by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company in November, usage of banking apps and online payments, remittances, insurance products and robo-advisor investment platforms all grew in 2020, and the region’s financial services market may be reach $60 billion in revenue by 2025.
A consortium between Grab-Singtel was also among several firms awarded a full digital-banking license by the Monetary Authority of Singapore in December 2020.
In a press statement, Hanhwa Asset Management chief executive officer Yong Hyun Kim said, “We expect GFG to continue its expontential growth on the back of an innovative business model which supports the changing broader lifestyle of consumers, as well as its highly synergistic relationship with Grab, the largest Southeast Asian unicorn.”
Zipmex, a digital assets exchange headquartered in Singapore, announced today it has raised $6 million in funding led by Jump Capital. The startup, which plans to become a digital assets bank, says the round exceeded its initial target of $4 million. Along with earlier funding, it brings the total Zipmex has raised so far to $10.9 million.
The exchange is regulated in Singapore, Australia and Indonesia, and licensed in Thailand. It focuses on investors new to cryptocurrency with educational features, as well as high net-worth individuals, and says it has transacted over $600 million in gross transaction volume since launching at the end of 2019.
The funding will be used on hiring and to add more product offerings. In addition to its cryptocurrency exchange, Zipmex’s services also include ZipUp, its interest-bearing accounts, and its own ERC-20 token ZMT.
Zipmex’s goal is to become the largest digital exchange in the Asia Pacific, where interest in cryptocurrency investing and blockchain technology is increasing quickly. For example, DBG Group Holdings, Southeast Asia’s largest lender, recently launched a crypto exchange, though it is currently open only to professional investors.
But Zipmex is also up against a roster of competitors, including regional exchanges like BitKub in Thailand and Swyftx in Australia, as well as players like Luno, Coinbase and Binance which are targeting growth in the Asia Pacific region.
Zipmex chief executive officer Marcus Lim said the company’s ambition to become a digital assets bank sets it apart from other exchanges. “We currently offer customers to invest and earn interest on their digital assets,” he told TechCrunch. “In the future, we are planning to roll out payments and lending and the investment into securitized tokens.”
Other cryptocurrency startups that Jump Capital, an American venture capital firm, has invested in include BitGo and TradingView. Its parent company, trading firm Jump Trading, powers Robinhood’s crypto trades.
The backbone of Indonesia’s economy are small- to medium-sized businesses, which account for 60% of its gross domestic product. Many still rely on manual bookkeeping, but the impact of COVID-19 has driven small businesses to digitize more of their operations. BukuKas, one of several startups helping SMEs go online, announced today it has raised a $10 million Series A led by Sequoia Capital India.
BukuKas launched in December 2019 as a digital bookkeeping app, but is growing its range of services with the goal of creating an “end-to-end software stack” for small businesses. Eventually, it wants to launch a SME-focused digital bank.
The funding, which brings BukuKas’ total raised so far to $22 million, included participation from returning investors Saison Capital, January Capital, Founderbank Capital, Cambium Grove, Endeavor Catalyst and Amrish Rau.
As of November 2020, BukuKas had a registered user base of 3.5 million small merchants and retailers, and had crossed 1.8 million monthly active users. During that month, the platform also recorded $17.4 billion worth of transactions on an annualized basis, a figure corresponding to more than 1.5% of Indonesia’s $1.04 trillion GDP.
BukuKas was founded by chief executive officer Krishnan Menon and chief operating officer Lorenzo Peracchione, who met eight years ago while working at Lazada Indonesia.
Menon’s previous startup was Fabelio, an Indonesian online home furnishings store. Every two months, he would visit smaller small cities in Indonesia, like Jepara and Cirebon, to source furniture.
“One of the things that stood out was how different the Jakarta bubble is from the rest of Indonesia, all the way from the penetration of software to financial services,” he told TechCrunch. While talking to merchants and suppliers, Menon realized that “no one is building products with them as the center of the universe,” despite the fact that there are 56 million small businesses.
Peracchione said he and Mebon had been brainstorming startup ideas for a while. “When he told me about the idea of solving cash flow visibility to SMEs, it immediately struck me,” Peracchione said. “My dad used to be a SME owner himself and during my childhood I experience first hand the struggles and ups and downs connected to running a small business.”
The two decided to start with digital bookkeeping after speaking to 1,052 merchants because helping them keep track of their business performance would generate data that would in turn enable access to more financial services.
“Our vision expanded into providing an end-to-end software stack to digitize SMEs and help them across a wide range of activities as a prequel to building an SME-focused digital bank down the line,” Menon said.
In addition to digital ledger features, BukuKas also sends payment reminders to buyers through WhatsApp and automatically generates invoices, includes an an inventory management module and analyzes expenses to help businesses understand what is impacting their profit. The company plans to add digital payments this month. During the rest of 2021, it will also introduce more features to help businesses sell online, including tools for online store fronts, a promotions engine and social sharing.
“With COVID-19, SMEs are rushing to get digitized, but they lack the right mobile-first tools to sell online as well as to manage their business,” said Menon.
The app focuses on smaller Indonesian cities and towns, since about 73% of the merchants who use BukuKas are located outside of tier 1 cities like Jakarta. Its users represent wide range of sectors, including retailers, food vendors, grocery markets, mobile and phone credit providers, social commerce sellers, wholesalers and service providers. BukuKas acquired digital ledger app Catatan Keuangan Harian, which has 300,000 monthly active users, in September 2020 to expand its market share in Indonesia.
With its large number of SMEs, Indonesia is seen as a desirable market for companies helping the drive toward digitization. For example, India’s Khatabook, which was valued between $275 million to $300 million after its last round of funding in May 2020, recently launched BukuUang in Indonesia. Other startups in the same space include Y Combinator-backed BukuWarung, Moka and Jurnal, all of which offer tools to help SMEs bring more of their operations online.
Menon said BukuKas’ advantage is its team’s experience building businesses in Indonesia over the past seven years. For example, it launched a “Know Your Profits” module based on user feedback. It also offers a self-guided onboarding process, a simple user interface and an offline mode for users in areas with poor network connections.
“In general, individual features can be copied but we believe our ‘integrated end-to-end software stack approach,’ coupled with our obsessive focus on simplicity, deep understanding of our users and a superior level of service will be key in differentiating BukuKas from competing offerings,” he added.
BukuKas’ Series A will be used on user acquisition, its engineering and product teams in Jakarta and Bangalore and to introduce new services for merchants. The company may eventually expand into other Southeast Asia markets, but “in the short term consolidating and further expanding our leadership in the SME space in Indonesia is our top priority,” said Menon.
Ajaib Group, an online investment platform that says it now runs the fifth-largest stock brokerage in Indonesia by number of trades, announced it has raised a $25 million Series A led by Horizons Ventures, the venture capital firm founded by Li Ka-Shing, and Alpha JWC. Returning investors SoftBank Ventures Asia, Insignia Ventures and Y Combinator also participated in the round, which was made in two closes.
Founded in 2019 by chief executive officer Anderson Sumarli and chief operating officer Yada Piyajomkwan, Ajaib Group focuses on millennials and first-time investors, and currently claims one million monthly users. It has now raised a total of $27 million, including a $2 million seed round in 2019.
Stock investment has a very low penetration rate in Indonesia, with only about 1.6 million capital market investors in the country, or less than 1% of its population (in comparison, about 55% of Americans own stocks, according to Gallup data).
The very low penetration rate, coupled with growing interest in the capital market among retail investors during the pandemic, has spurred VC interest in online investment platforms, especially ones that focus on millennials. Last week, Indonesian investment app Bibit announced a $30 million growth round led by Sequoia Capital India, while another online investment platform, Bareksa, confirmed an undisclosed Series B from payment app OVO last year.
Ajaib Group’s founders said it differentiates as a low-fee stock trading platform that also offers mutual funds for diversification. Bibit is a robo-advisor for mutual funds, while Bareksa is a mutual fund marketplace.
In an email, Sumarli and Piyajomkwan told TechCrunch that the stock investment rate is low in Indonesia because it is typically done by high net-worth individuals who use offline brokers and can afford high commissions. Ajaib Group was launched in 2019 after Sumarli became frustrated by the lack of investment platforms in Indonesia where he could also learn about stock trading.
Inspired by companies like Robinhood in the United States and XP Investimentos in Brazil, Ajaib Group was created to be a mobile-first stock trading platform, with no offline brokers or branches. It appeals to first-time investors and millennials with a simple user interface, in-app education features and a community where people can share investment ideas and low fees.
Since people prefer to invest small amounts when trying out the app for the first time, Ajaib requires no minimums to open a brokerage account. Piyajomkwan said “we typically see investors triple their investment amount within the second month of investing with Ajaib.”
Ajaib Group’s platform now includes Ajaib Sekuritas for stock trading and Ajaib Reksadana for mutual funds. The company says that Ajaib Sekuritas became the fifth-largest stock brokerage in Indonesia by number of trades just seven months after it launched in June 2020.
The Indonesian government and Indonesia Stock Exchange have launched initiatives to encourage more stock investing. Some of Ajaib Group’s Series A will be used for its #MentorInvestai campaign, which works with the government to educate millennials about investing and financial planning. The round will also be spent on expanding Ajaib’s tech infrastructure and products, and to hire more engineers.
Ajaib may eventually expand into other Southeast Asian markets, but for the near future, it sees plenty of opportunity in Indonesia. “Ajaib was built with regional aspiration, having two founders from the two biggest capital markets in Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Thailand,” Piyajomkwan said. “But for the immediate term, we are focused on Indonesia as investment penetration is still low and there are many more millennial investors we can serve.”
Bibit, a robo-advisor app that wants to make investing more accessible in Indonesia, has raised $30 million from Sequoia Capital India. Returning investors East Ventures, EV Growth, AC Ventures and 500 Startups also participated.
Part of Stockbit Group, about 90% of Bibit’s users are millennials and first-time investors. Like other robo-advisors, the aim of Bibit is to make it easier to create a portfolio tailored to each person’s risk profile and investment goals. Other investment apps in Indonesia tapping into growing demand for retail investment producgts include Bareksa and SoftBank Ventures-backed Ajaib.
Bibit claims that over the past year, it has registered more than one million first-time investors. As an example of market potential, the company cites data from the Indonesian Stock Exchange and Indonesia Central Securities Depository that showed the number of retail investors in the country grew 56% year-over-year in 2020, with about 92% of new investors aged between 21 to 40. But only about 2% of Indonesians have participated in the stock market.
Bibit chief executive officer Sigit Kouwagam told TechCrunch that most Indonesians invest their money in term deposit bank accounts or leave it in low-yield checking accounts.
“Traditionally, they also invest real estate or physical godl bars,” he added, but millennial and Gen Z investors are shifting toward “higher-yielding liquid investments that are also convenient to manage and can be started with a lower ticket size.”
The pandemic has also prompted more users build an emergency fund, with more Indonesians looking at the capital market for higher-yielding assets as an alternative to low-interest bank accounts.
Being “underbanked” doesn’t mean that someone lacks access to financial services. Instead, it often means they don’t have traditional bank accounts or credit cards. But in markets like Indonesia, many still use digital wallets or e-commerce platforms, creating alternative sources of user data that can help them secure working capital and other financial tools. Finantier, a Singapore-based open finance startup, wants to streamline that data with a single API that gives financial services access to user data, with their consent. It also includes machine learning-based analytics to enable credit scoring and KYC verifications.
Currently in beta mode with more than 20 clients, Finantier is busy getting ready to officially launch. It announced today that it has been accepted into Y Combinator’s Winter 2021 startup batch. The startup also also recently raised an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding led by East Ventures, with participation from AC Ventures, Genesia Ventures, Two Culture Capital and other investors.
Finantier was founded earlier this year by Diego Rojas, Keng Low and Edwin Kusuma, all of whom have experience building products for fintech companies, with the mission of enabling open finance in emerging markets.
Open finance grew out of open banking, the same framework that Plaid and Tink are built on. Meant to give people more control over their financial data instead of keeping it siloed within banks and other institutions, users can decide to grant apps or websites secure access to information from their online accounts, including bank accounts, credit cards and digital wallets. Open banking refers mainly to payment accounts, while open finance, Finantier’s specialty, covers a larger gamut of services, including business lending, mortgages and insurance underwriting.
While Finantier is focusing first on Singapore and Indonesia, it plans to expand into other countries and become a global fintech company like Plaid. It’s already eyeing Vietnam and the Philippines and has established partnerships in Brussels.
Before launching Finantier, Rojas worked on products for peer-to-peer lending platforms Lending Club and Dianrong, and served as chief technology officer for several fintech startups in Southeast Asia. He realized that many companies struggled to integrate with other platforms and fetch data from banks, or purchase data from different providers.
“People are discussing open banking, embedded finance and so on,” Rojas, Finantier’s chief executive officer, told TechCrunch. “But those are the building blocks of something bigger, which is open finance. Particularly in a region like Southeast Asia, where about 60% to 70% of adults are unbanked or underbanked, we believe in helping consumers and businesses leverage the data that they have in multiple platforms. It definitely doesn’t need to be a bank account, it could be in a digital wallet, e-commerce platform or other service providers.”
What this means for consumers is that even if someone doesn’t have a credit card, they can still establish creditworthiness: for example, by sharing data from completed transactions on e-commerce platforms. Gig economy workers can access more financial services and deals by giving data about their daily rides or other types of work they do through different apps.
Other open banking startups focused on Southeast Asia include Brankas and Brick. Rojas said Finantier differentiates by specializing on open finance, and creating infrastructure for financial institutions to build more services for end users.
The benefit of open finance for financial institutions is that they can create products for more consumers and find more opportunities for revenue sharing models. In Southeast Asia, this also means reaching more people who are underbanked, or otherwise lack access to financial services.
While taking part in Y Combinator’s accelerator program, Finantier will also be participating in the Indonesia Financial Service Authority’s regulatory sandbox. Once it completes the program, it will be able to partner with more fintech companies in Indonesia, including bigger institutions.
There are 139 million adults in Indonesia who are underbanked or unbanked, said East Ventures co-founder and managing partner Wilson Cuaca.
The investment firm, which focuses on Indonesia, conducts an annual survey called the East Ventures Digital Competitiveness Index, and found that financial exclusion was where one of the largest divides existed. There significant gaps in between the number of financial services available in heavily-populated islands like Java, where Jakarta is located, and other islands in the archipelago.
To promote financial inclusion and alleviate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has set a goal for 10 million micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to go digital by the end of the year. There are currently about 8 Indonesian million MSMEs that sell online, representing just 13% of MSMEs in the country.
“Providing equal access to financial services will create multiplier effects to the Indonesian economy,” Cuaca told TechCrunch about East Ventures’ decision to back Finantier. “Currently, hundreds of companies work with their own unique solutions to bring financial services to more people. We believe Finantier will help them offer more products and services to this underserved section of the population.”
Waresix, one of Indonesia’s largest logistics startups, has acquired Trukita, a company that focuses on the “first mile.” The term refers to the part of the supply chain where goods are transported from ports to warehouses.
While Waresix’s platform digitizes all parts of the supply and logistics chain, its current focus is on mid-mile logistics services, or transportation from warehouses to distributors. Trukita has an extended network of over 10,000 trucks, and the combination of the two companies means it is “now one of the largest logistics technology providers in Indonesia,” said co-founder and chief executive officer Andree Susanto. Both Waresix and Trukita operate by connecting businesses to shipper and warehouses, and the acquisition will enable them to lower customer costs.
Waresix, which recently announced it raised $100 million in funding over the past year from investors like EV Growth, Jungle Ventures and SoftBank Ventures Asia, works with more than 375 warehouses and 40,000 trucks across Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country. It currently serves more than 100 cities.
Indonesia’s geography creates unique challenges for logistics companies, especially those operating outside of major cities, because it is an archipelago made up of more than 17,500 islands, of which 6,000 are inhabited. This means supply chains often span ships, trucks and several warehouses before goods make it to their final destination. The high costs of logistics has a sizable impact on Indonesia’s economy and the government is currently engaged in an initiative to develop more infrastructure, integrate databases and simplify export-import licensing.
Indonesia’s complicated logistics landscape has given rise to startups like Waresix, Kargo and Ritase, which focus on removing middlemen, managing shipments in real-time and using data analytics to uncover inefficienies in the supply chain.
Trukita was founded in 2017, and its investors include Astra International, EverHaüs and Plug and Play.
Long established as a global financial center, Singapore also looks set to become the “Silicon Valley of Asia.”
Tencent, ByteDance and Alibaba are reportedly planning regional hubs in the city-state, with ByteDance in particular expected to add hundreds of jobs over the next three years. They will join an international coterie of tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Stripe, Salesforce and Grab, that already have headquarters or significant operations, including engineering and R&D centers, in Singapore.
This means startups will have to compete more aggressively for talent. But having a diverse cluster of big tech companies helps the ecosystem by providing more resources, including mentorship and early funding opportunities, say Singapore-based investors. In the long term, the presence of global tech giants, coupled with homegrown unicorns like Grab, Sea (formerly known as Garena) and Trax, may also mean more exit opportunities for startups.
The Singaporean government continues to create new initiatives that make it attractive to tech companies and entrepreneurs.
While the United States-China trade war may have prompted Chinese companies like Tencent and ByteDance to move more of their operations to Singapore, it’s not the only reason, said AppWorks partner Jessica Liu, who oversees the venture firm and accelerator’s programs in Southeast Asia.
Many already had investments in Southeast Asian companies and were eyeing markets there as well, particularly Indonesia. “Some of it is probably due to the trade war over the past two years and other difficulties they’ve faced in the States,” she told Extra Crunch. “Strategically, they also have to find another big market with long-term potential for growth, and I think that’s why they are targeting Southeast Asia.”
Proximity to important growth markets isn’t the only reason tech companies find Singapore desirable. Regulations also play a role. Liu said, “The Singaporean government has already done a good job, from a policy and tax perspective, for startups and big tech companies to set up and incorporate in Singapore,” making the country an “intuitive” choice for regional headquarters.
A lot of what makes Singapore attractive to tech companies today can be credited to government initiatives that have been in play for more than a decade, said Kuo-Yi Lim, co-founder and managing partner at early-stage investment firm Monk’s Hill Ventures.
Before Monk’s Hill Ventures, Lim served as chief executive officer of Infocomm Investments from 2010 to 2013. Infocomm Investments is backed by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, a government agency that is responsible for promoting the IT industry in Singapore.
“One of its explicit mandates was to look at bringing in top-tier tech companies to set up shop in Singapore, and ideally focus on product development activities, in addition to marketing activities like sales,” said Lim. “That’s always been a very explicit part of the government’s strategy to grow the tech industry.”
Over the past few years, companies like Google and Facebook have set up substantial operations in Singapore, along with fast-growing startups like Twilio, which came in after receiving investment from Infocomm.
“That strategy has been in play for almost 10 years, even longer, and I think we’re seeing the fruits of that now, with ByteDance, as well as Tencent, et cetera,” Lim said. “In terms of impact, I would say in general it has been very positive in terms of the vibrancy of the ecosystem, bringing in more depth of talent across multiple functional areas and bringing more richness in the different types of players across different verticals.”
Other factors made Singapore an attractive base for tech companies, including the fact it is a primarily English-speaking country, has a large number of international schools and was already filled with other multinational companies.
Timing was also crucial.
“Between 2010 and 2020, Southeast Asia went through a sea change, a lot of mobile first, which made it more meaningful for companies to set up local operations,” said Lim. “All those dovetailed nicely during that time.”
The Singaporean government continues to create new initiatives that make it attractive to tech companies and entrepreneurs. For example, it recently launched the Singapore Blockchain Innovation Programme (SBIP), with the aim of helping companies commercialize blockchain technology.
All this means that the pool of tech talent in Singapore, which has a population of 5.6 million, is in especially high demand. Moving teams of employees to Singapore can be expensive, said Liu, and as a result, many companies have satellite engineering teams in Vietnam, India and Taiwan, especially for front-end engineers.
Pioneered by WeChat almost four years ago, mini-apps are now common in China and India, and gaining traction in other markets, too. Mini-apps, or lightweight apps designed for integration into host apps, allow smartphone users to access several services through one app, saving them data and storage space. They also give host apps more ways to make revenue. But most mini-app ecosystems are currently tied to a specific app or company. Appboxo, a Singapore-based startup, wants to make mini-apps more accessible by allowing any developer to turn their app into a “super app.”
Appboxo announced today it has closed $1.1 million in seed funding, led by FF APAC Scout, a Founders Fund vehicle; 500 Startups’ Southeast Asia-focused 500 Durians fund; Plug and Play Ventures; and Antler. The new funding will be used on product development and to add more mini-apps to Appboxo’s ecosystem.
The startup currently works with about 10 host apps, including Booking.com, Klook and Zalora, and has about 80 mini-apps on its platform. Examples of how host apps have used mini-apps include travel apps that added hotel, restaurant and activities bookings; and mobile wallets that integrated insurance-buying and e-commerce services.
Appboxo was founded in 2019 by chief executive officer Kaniyet Rayev and chief technology officer Nursultan Keneshbekov while participating in Antler’s Singapore incubator program. Rayev told TechCrunch that the two initially wanted to build an all-in-one travel app, with different travel-related services integrated into one platform.
“But when we actually started developing it, we realized there is no easy way to plug in third-party services,” Rayev said. They began thinking of ways for developers to create and offer mini-apps as a plug-and-play solution.
The mini-app economy is currently siloed, with apps or companies like WeChat, ByteDance, Meituan, Paytm, PhonePe, Grab and Go-jek either developing mini-apps for their own use, or running mini-app marketplaces for their users. But last year, the W3C Chinese Web Interest Group started looking at ways to standardize mini-apps. The group, including people from Alibaba, Baidu, Huawei, Intel, Xiaomi and China Mobile, published the first working draft of its white paper in September 2019 about how mini-apps can be created to work across platforms.
“It was a really perfect time for us to read that paper, because it was around the time we started our platform,” said Rayev.
Adding mini-apps can increase engagement because users open apps more frequently if they can access different services through it. It also gives app developers more ways to generate revenue through affiliate partnerships, commissions or transactions fees.
But many native app developers simply don’t have the resources to develop their own mini-apps, so Appboxo simplifies the process with an SDK that allows them to integrate any of its platform’s mini-apps. A second barrier for many app developers is working out business and development partnership deals with mini-apps, so AppBoxo helps guide them through the process, too.
Since Appboxo is based in Singapore, a lot of its current users in Southeast Asia, and it also plans to target India, too. While mini-apps are less common in Europe and the United States, where most smartphone owners still use apps with one core offering, Rayev said that is starting to change. For example, Uber announced it was merging its ride-hailing and food delivery service, Uber Eats, into one app, last year, while Snap introduced Minis a few months ago.
AppBoxo already has partners in Europe, and “the whole super app concept is coming to the Western world,” Rayev added. “Hopefully we can find some new partners in the rest of the world as well.”
Carsome, which bills itself as Southeast Asia’s largest e-commerce platform for used cars, announced it has closed a $30 million Series D. The funding was led by Asia Partners, with participation from returning investors Burda Principal Investments and Ondine Capital.
The startup claims that this is one of the largest “all-equity financings to-date in Southeast Asia’s online automotive industry.” Part of the Series D may be used for mergers and acquisitions to consolidate the company’s supply chain.
Founded five years ago in Malaysia, Carsome’s platform serves both C2C and B2C segments, and ensures quality by conducting inspections before vehicles are listed on its platform. It now has 1,000 employees and claims to transact 70,000 cars on an annualized basis, totaling $600 million.
In a press statement, co-founder and group chief executive officer Eric Cheng said that the company, which now also operates in Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, doubled its monthly revenue over the past six months, compared to pre-pandemic levels. The company claims that this is partly because more people and businesses are buying their own cars for safety reasons.
While sales of new vehicles have plummeted around the world, used car sales, especially through e-commerce platforms, are recovering more quickly, according to Counterpoint Research. This largely because people want to avoid public transportation and ride-hailing, but also want cheaper options.
Other used car platforms in Southeast Asia include Carro, OLX Autos (formerly called BeliMobilGue) and Carmudi.
Shippit, a Sydney, Australia-based e-commerce logistics platform, will expand in Southeast Asia after closing a $30 million AUD (about $22.2 million USD) Series B led by Tiger Global, with participation from Jason Lenga. Founded in 2014, Shippit’s technology automates tasks related to order fulfillment, including finding the best carrier for an order, tracking packages and handling returns.
The company’s Series B, which brings its total raised since 2017 to $41 million AUD, will be used to expand in Southeast Asia and double its total team by hiring 100 new people, including 50 software developers.
Shippit says it currently handles five million deliveries a month in Australia from thousands of retailers, including Sephora, Target, Big W and Temple & Webster. The company launched in Singapore in May, followed by Malaysia in August.
“Southeast Asia is predicted to be the world’s largest e-commerce market in the next five years, and the addressable market for us in Southeast Asia alone is already five times the size of Australia and twice the size of the U.S.,” co-founder and co-chief executive officer William On told TechCrunch.
Shippit is considering expansion into the Philippines and Indonesia, too, and expects its Southeast Asian business to grow 100% year-over-year for the next three years at minimum.
Shippit’s Australian operations have also seen a threefold incraese in delivery volumes over the past twelve months, On added.
The increase in online sales combined with instability in the supply and logistics chain during COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of software like Shippit. E-commerce in the Asia-Pacific was already growing quickly before the pandemic hit, with Forrester forecasting online retail sales in the region to grow from $1.5 trillion in 2019 to $2.5 trillion in 2024, at a compound annual growth rate of 11.3%.
Other startups in the same space include ShipStation, EasyShip and Shippo. Shippit’s competitive strategy is to make online fulfillment as simple as possible for merchants, On said, with features like allowing the integration of online shopping carts with its allocation engine, which automatically picks the best carrier option for an order.