Biden’s Plans Will Do Little to Shore Up U.S. Leverage
While most American allies in the region have fallen in line, authoritarian governments and those with weaker ties to the West have been more reluctant to act.
The closure of Chinese land borders and the tightened screening of goods have driven Southeast Asian fruit farmers into debt. Many have had to abandon their harvest.
Deep in the Southern Cardamom Mountains, former loggers and poachers have assumed new roles as protective rangers and ecotourism guides. Can their efforts help preserve a vast stretch of wilderness?
The U.S. secretary of state seeks to make the case that the United States is a better bet as a partner than China, even if it’s not spending so lavishly in the region.
Vietnam, one of the world’s largest suppliers of apparel and footwear, is experiencing a labor shortage. Many employees are reluctant to return after a harsh summer lockdown.
Wat Bang Phra, a temple in central Thailand, is renowned as a center for sak yant, a style of tattoo art believed by some to convey protective powers.
Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.
This week, China gets serious about breaking down the walled gardens that its internet giants have formed for decades. Two major funding rounds were announced, from the newly established autonomous driving unicorn Deeproute.ai and fast-growing, cross-border financial service provider XTransfer.
Tear down the walls
The Chinese internet is infamously siloed, with a handful of “super apps” each occupying a cushy, protective territory that tries to lock users in and keep rivals out. On Tencent’s WeChat messenger, for instance, links to Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace and ByteDance’s Douyin short video service can’t be viewed or even redirected. That’s unlike WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal that offer friendly URL previews within chats.
E-commerce platforms fend off competition in different ways. Taobao uses Alibaba’s affiliate Alipay as a default payments option, omitting its arch rival WeChat Pay. Tencent-backed JD.com, a rival to Alibaba, encourages its users to pay through its own payments system or WeChat Pay.
But changes are underway. “Ensuring normal access to legal URLs is the basic requirement for developing the internet,” a senior official from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said at a press conference this week. He added that unjustified blockages of web links “affect users’ experience, undermine users’ rights, and disrupt market orders.”
There is some merit in filtering third-party links when it comes to keeping out the likes of pornography, misinformation and violent content. Content distributors in China also strictly abide by censorship rules, silencing politically sensitive discussions. These principles will stay in place, and MIIT’s new order is really to crack anticompetitive practices and wane the power of the bloated internet giants.
The call to end digital walled gardens is part of MIIT’s campaign, started in July, to restore “orders” to the Chinese internet. While crackdowns on internet firms are routine, the spate of new policies announced in recent months — from new data security rules to heightened gaming restrictions — signify Beijing’s resolution to curb the influence of Chinese internet firms of all kinds.
The deadline for online platforms to unblock URLs is September 17, the MIIT said earlier. Virtually all the major internet companies have swiftly issued statements saying they will firmly carry out MIIT’s requirements and help promote the healthy development of the Chinese internet.
Internet users are bound to benefit from the dismantling of the walled gardens. They will be able to browse third-party content smoothly on WeChat without having to switch between apps. They can share product links from Taobao right within the messenger instead of having their friends copy-paste a string of cryptic codes that Taobao automatically generates for WeChat sharing.
Autonomous driving startup Deeproute.ai said this week it has closed a $300 million Series B round from investors including Alibaba, Jeneration Capital, and Chinese automaker Geely. The valuation of this round was undisclosed.
We’ve seen a lot of publicity from Pony.ai, WeRide, Momenta and AutoX but not so much Deeproute.ai. That in part is because the company is relatively young, founded only in 2019 by Zhou Guang after he was “fired” by his co-founders at the once-promising Roadstar.ai amid company infighting.
Investors in Roadstar.ai reportedly saw the dismissal of Zhou as detrimental to the startup, which had raised at least $140 million up to that point, and subsequently sought to dissolve the business. It appears that Zhou, formerly the chief scientist at Roadstar, still commands the trust of some investors to support his reborn autonomous driving venture.
Like Pony.ai and WeRide, Deeproute is trying to operate its own robotaxi fleets. While the business model gives it control over reams of driving data, it’s research- and cash-intensive. As such, major Chinese robotaxi startups are all looking at faster commercial deployments, like self-driving buses and trucks, to ease their financial stress.
Cross-border trade boom
The other major funding news this week comes from Shanghai-based XTransfer, which helps small-and-medium Chinese exporters collect payments from overseas. The Series C round, led by D1 Partners, pulled in $138 million and catapulted Xtransfer’s valuation to over $1 billion. The proceeds will go towards product development, hiring and global expansion.
Founded by former executives from Ant Group, XTransfer tries to solve a pain point faced by small and medium exporters: opening and maintaining bank accounts in different countries can be difficult and costly. As such, XTransfer works as a payments gateway between its SME customer, the party that pays it, and their respective banks.
As of July, XTransfer’s customers had surpassed 150,000, most of which are in mainland China. The company of over 1,000 employees is also expanding into Southeast Asia.
While business-to-business export is booming in China, more and more products are also being directly sold from Chinese brands to consumers around the world. Some of the most successful examples, like Shein and Anker, use a different set of payments processors for their direct-to-consumer sales, which tend to be in bigger volume but smaller in average ticket value.
Gogoro is going public. The company, which is best known for its electric Smartscooters and swappable battery infrastructure, announced today it will list on Nasdaq through a merger with Poema Global, a SPAC affiliated with Princeville Capital. The deal sets Gogoro’s enterprise valuation at $2.35 billion and is targeted to close in the first quarter of 2022. The combined company will be known as Gogoro Inc and trade under the symbol GGR.
Assuming no redemptions, Gogoro anticipates making $550 million in proceeds, including an oversubscribed PIPE (private investment in public equity) of over $250 million and $345 million held in trust by Poema Global. Investors in the PIPE include strategic partners like Hon Hai (Foxconn) Technology Group and GoTo, the Indonesian tech giant created through the merger of Gojek and Tokopedia, and new and existing investors like Generation Investment Management, Taiwan’s National Development Fund, Temasek and Dr. Samuel Yin of Ruentex Group, Gogoro’s founding investor.
The capital will be used on Gogoro’s expansion in China, India and Southeast Asia and further development of its tech ecosystem.
Founded ten years ago in Taiwan, Gogoro’s technology includes smart swappable batteries and their charging infrastructure and cloud software that monitors the condition and performance of vehicles and batteries. Apart from its own brands, including Smartscooters and Eeyo electric bikes, Gogoro also makes its platform available through its Powered by Gogoro Network (PBGN) program, which enables partners to create vehicles that use Gogoro’s batteries and swapping stations.
Gogoro’s SPAC deal comes a few months after it announced major partnerships in China and India. In China, it is working with Yadea and DCJ to build a battery-swapping network, and in India, Hero MotoCorp, one of the world’s largest two-wheel vehicle makers, will launch scooters based on Gogoro’s tech. It also has deals with manufacturers like Yamaha, Suzuki, AeonMotor, PGO and CMC eMOVING.
With these partnerships in place, “we really now need to take our company to the next level,” founder and chief executive officer Horace Luke told TechCrunch. Gogoro decided to go the SPAC route because “you can talk a lot deeper about what the business opportunity is, what the structure is, what the partnerships are, so you can properly value a company rather than a quick roadshow. Given our business plans, it gives us a great opportunity to focus on the expansion,” he said.
One of the reasons Gogoro decided to work with Poema is because “their thesis is quite aligned with ours,” said Bruce Aitken, Gogoro’s chief financial officer. “They have, for example, a sustainability fund, so our passion for green and sustainability merges well with that.”
Gogoro says that in less than five years, it has accumulated more than $1 billion in revenue and more than 400,000 subscribers for its battery swapping infrastructure. The company will launch its China pilot program in Hangzhou in the fourth-quarter of this year, followed by about six more cities next year. In India, Hero MotoCorp is currently developing its first Gogoro-powered vehicle and will begin deploying its battery-swapping infrastructure in New Delhi in 2022.
“We see the demand in China as a lot bigger than we first anticipated, so that’s all good news for us, and that’s one of the fundamental reasons why we need to go public because we need to raise the capital and resources needed for us to actually contribute in a big way to these markets,” said Luke.
When asked if Gogoro is planning to strike a similar partnership with GoTo to expand into Southeast Asia, Luke said the “important thing is to recognize that Southeast Asia is the third-largest market outside of China and India for two-wheelers. Gogoro has always had the vision to go after these big markets. GoTo, being a great success in Indonesia, their investment in Gogoro will start conversations, but there isn’t anything to announce at this point other than that they’re joining the PIPE.”
In a press statement, Poema Global CEO Homer Sun said, “We believe the technology differentiation Gogoro has developed in combination with the world-class partnerships it has forged will drive significant growth opportunities in the two largest two-wheeler markets in the world. We are committed with working alongside Gogoro’s outstanding management team to support its geographic expansion plans and its transition to a Nasdaq-listed company.”
There’s a new entrant in Southeast Asia’s growing list of unicorns. Jakarta-based Xendit, best known for its digital payment infrastructure but also focused on other financial products, announced today it has raised $150 million in Series C funding, bumping its valuation to $1 billion. The round was led by Tiger Global Management, with participation from returning investors Accel, Amasia and Goat Capital, the venture firm co-founded by former Y Combinator partner Justin Kan (in 2015, Xendit became the first Indonesian startup to participate in the accelerator program).
Accel led Xendit’s $64.6 million Series B, announced just six months ago. This new round brings its total funding so far to $238 million. The company was founded in 2015 by chief executive officer Moses Lu and chief operating officer Tessa Wijaya.
At the end of last year, Xendit expanded into the Philippines, and says it is now one of the biggest payment players in the country. In July, it announced a strategic investment in legacy online payments platform Dragonpay.
Xendit decided to raise again because to fuel expansion into other countries, Wijaya told TechCrunch. “Our core focus at the moment for this new fundraise is to further regionalize and to expand our product suite in regions where we are at or will expand into.” The company also plans to launch value-added services.
Wijaya said that Xendit has experienced more than 200% year-over-year increase in total payments volume, and now has a total payment volume (TPV) of $9 billion processed per annum.
Before COVID-19, many of Xendit’s customers were in the travel industry, and it was hit hard by the pandemic. But since then, it’s expanded its scope.
“One big segment are SMEs. By August, there were 10,000 SME sign-ups on our platform alone. The other one is expanding out to fintech companies—for example, there’s been a big uptick in Indonesia, especially accounting platforms. We’ve also expanded to traditional enterprises, like telecom companies, who focused on having retail outlets in shopping malls. Suddenly the malls are closed, so we’ve been able to sign some of the bigger retail outlet groups in the market as well.”
The company’s clients range in size from SMEs to some of the region’s largest tech players, including Traveloka, Wise, Wish and Grab. Digital payments in most Southeast Asian markets are extremely fragmented, with consumers using everything from digital wallets, buy-now-pay-later services and virtual accounts to traditional debit and credit cards.
Xendit’s solutions let businesses accept payments from many of these methods through three integration options. These include live URLs that sellers can message to a customer for payment; web and mobile checkouts that work with e-commerce platform plug-ins; and APIs.
Though it is best known as a payment infrastructure provider, referring to itself as “a Stripe alternative build for Indonesia and Southeast Asia” on its website, Xendit is also working on other services. “In Southeast Asia, you can’t just focus on one thing, you can’t just focus on payments,” said Wijaya. “You want to focus on being this platform for every merchant to get onboard, and to never leave whenever they transact digitally.”
For example, Xendit is experimenting with working capital loans for merchants, and also exploring credit card issuing with partners, since credit card penetration is still very low in Indonesia and the Philippines. “For merchants to come online, they don’t just need payments, they need to be able to do things like subscribe to Shopify or subscribe to Google Suite, to be able to support being digital-first.”
Xendit’s expansion strategy into new markets, like Malaysia and Vietnam, will rely on solving problems that are unique to each market. For example, Wijaya said disbursements, including marketplace refunds, were difficult in Indonesia, so Xendit focused on fixing that. In the Philippines, on the other hand, “the real problem was accepting money,” so Xendit developed direct debit with Grab.
“I think the formula we had in the Philippines, which is hiring a lot of local people who understand the market rather than telling them what to do, has really worked for us, and that is how we’re going to continue our expansion plan,” she said.
Xendit’s edge is combining a global approach with its intense focus on localization, Wijaya said. “One of our investors sent a survey to some potential customers, big merchants, and they said what they like about Xendit is because we have a full commitment to being on the ground. We’re not like players where expanding into one market means a sales team, and that’s it. When we expand somewhere, we really mean we’re going to expand. We’re going to hire partnership people, a customer success team there. We’re going to hire a whole team on the ground.”
In a press statement, Tiger Global Management partner Alex Cook said, “Xendit’s digital payments infrastructure, built specifically for Southeast Asia, is quickly becoming the standard for financial operations in the region. By providing a reliable and secure payment gateway, Xendit has created an on-ramp to the digital economy for businesses across the region.”
Health insurance is the kind of thing people usually only think about only when they need it. Otherwise, their policies are just paperwork in their files or cards in their wallet. Indonesian insurtech Rey Assurance is taking a new approach. Once someone becomes a member, they also get access to a platform of health services, including AI-based self-assessment tools, 24/7 telemedicine consultations for no added fee and pharmacy deliveries. The startup is launching out of stealth today, having already raised $1 million in pre-seed funding from the Trans-Pacific Technology Fund (TPTF).
Rey was founded this year by Evan Tanotogono, former head of digital channel at Sequis, one of Indonesia largest insurers, and Bobby Siagian, who held lead engineering roles at companies including Tokopedia and Sea Group. They are joined by insurance industry veteran David Nugrho as their chief business officer.
They created Rey to address the low penetration of life and health insurance in Indonesia. “When you look at the root causes and pain points, you are looking at problems that are systemic here,” Tanotogono said. These include low awareness, expensive distribution channels like agents and telemarketing, high premiums and complicated policies.
“People feel like the product is really complex, the process is difficult and they don’t get the best value for the money. It’s been that way for many, many years,” he told TechCrunch. “We believe that we cannot just go into the market and digitize part of the value chain.”
Plans start from about $4 USD per month and are available for individual or groups, like families, and small businesses. Rey’s wellness ecosystem was created to give customers more value for their money, and help differentiate it from other companies in Indonesia’s growing insurtech industry. Some other startups that have recently raised funding include Lifepal, PasarPolis and Qoala.
“Right now, if you look at insurance in Indonesia, if the premium is high, maybe 80% or 90% of that is used for the distribution channel. Now if we optimize something for digital distribution, then we can reduce the price and use the rest for the wellness features,” Tanotogono added.
TPTF managing partner Glenn Kline told TechCrunch that Rey’s founding team was “really the driver” for its investment. “We felt these people really know where the pain points are and they understand clearly how not to try to change the legacy system, but create a whole new platform from the very beginning, where the core value proposition is an integrated solution that is simple and hassle-free.”
Instead of doing the underwriting themselves, Rey works with insurance partners to design proprietary policies. The goal is to have an onboarding process that is completely online and only takes about five minutes, and a mostly cashless claim and reimbursement system through Rey’s payment cards. If its payment card can’t be used at healthcare provider, claims can be submitted by uploading receipt photos to the app.
Tanotogono said this is much faster than traditional insurance providers, which can take up to 14 working days to reimburse a claim, and made possible with Rey’s proprietary claim adjudication technology.
Rey’s wellness ecosystem currently covers primary care services, including chats and video calls with medical providers. In the future, it plans to add specialists to the platforms.
Customers can also link their health wearables for incentives. For example, if they hit certain step or activity goals, they get rewards like discounts or shopping vouchers. Rey’s long-term plan is to link wearables more deeply to its insurance policies, using data to personalize policies and premiums.
Southeast Asia’s funding boom is set to continue, with Jungle Ventures announcing today the $225 million first close of its fourth fund. Fund IV started raising in mid-May and is targeting a total of $350 million.
The majority of its limited partners are returning from previous funds, and include Temasek Holdings, IFC (which put $25 million in Fund IV), DEG and Asian and global family offices. The firm says this makes Fund IV the largest fund across all early-stage funds in Southeast Asia this year.
Fund IV fits in with Jungle Ventures’ pace of raising a new fund every 2.5 to 3 years, founding partner Amit Anand told TechCrunch. It also happens to come at a time when the region is getting more attention—and capital.
“If you look at Southeast Asia, where we are today, the ecosystem has been in the works for a long time. We started the journey back in 2012. We’re one of the oldest funds in the region and we haven’t seen as good a time as today to be in the tech ecosystem in Southeast Asia,” he said.
“Opportunity and talent were always obvious in the region, and I think capital has followed. But the recent exit announcements, whether acquisitions or the domestic and global IPOs, in many ways has completed the picture of Southeast Asia and made it a lot more attractive to everyone,” Anand added.
Jungle Ventures takes a concentrated approach and tends to invest in about 12 to 13 companies per fund. It’s relatively stage-agnostic, writing seed to Series B checks and builds long-term partnerships with many of its investments. The firm has invested in every round of several companies, including buy now, pay later startup Kredivo.
This approach has worked out well, said Anand. Companies from its 2016 Fund II include unicorns FinAccel and Moglist, and it is paying about 7x on the fund today. “A similar pattern is emerging out of the 2019 vintage,” he added, which includes investments like beauty e-commerce platform Sociolla and KiotVet, the largest point-of-sale and store management system for small retailers in Vietnam.
Fund IV will write checks ranging from about $1 million, to $15 million for Series B funds, and participate in follow-on rounds, too.
“We typically invest in a company when it has a little bit of a product-market fit in its home market, and then we can help regionalize the business,” Anand said. “This could be at seed, it could be A, it could be at B, it doesn’t matter to us.”
Jungle Ventures’ limited partners also do a significant amount of co-investments; in the last three to four years, LPs have invested close to $400 million in its portfolio startups.
In terms of sectors, Anand is particularly excited about social commerce. “I think social commerce is going to eclipse e-commerce by a huge margin in a market like Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is not just a story about the metro cities, it’s a story about multiple Tier 2, Tier 3 cities across different islands, different geographies. It’s also a geography where the social fabric is deeply engrained within communities.”
Jungle Ventures’ social commerce investments include Evermos, which sells halal and Sharia-compliant goods through agents to their communities.
The firm focuses primarily on Southeast Asia, but it also makes investments in India.
“The cross pollination of talent and ideas, learning and capital between Southeast Asia and India is very strong,” Anand said. “Southeast Asia, even though the ecosystem is growing a lot, the tech talent here in the region is still emerging, whereas India is a great source of tech talent, and we’ve enabled a lot of our portfolio companies to leverage that by opening up tech hubs in India.”
He added that “the focus for Indian investments is to help them expand to Southeast Asia as well and capture this opportunity, too.” One example from Jungle Ventures’ portfolio is interior design platform Livspace, which was founded in India, expanded in Singapore and will enter other Southeast Asia markets.
China’s first data privacy laws go into effect on November 1, 2021. Will your company be in compliance?
Modeled after the EU’s GDPR, the new regulations “[introduce] perhaps the most stringent set of requirements and protections for data privacy in the world,” writes Scott W. Pink, special counsel in O’Melveny’s Data Security & Privacy practice.
In a comprehensive overview, he explains its key requirements and compliance steps for U.S.-based firms that service Chinese consumers.
“American firms doing business in China or with companies inside China will need to immediately start assessing how this new law will impact their activities,” he advises.
Now that the world has embraced remote work, are visas as critical for startup founders who want to succeed in the United States?
On Tuesday, September 14, at 2 p.m PT/5 p.m. ET, Managing Editor Danny Crichton and immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn will discuss the matter on Twitter Spaces.
— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) September 10, 2021
They’ll take questions from the audience, so mark your calendar and follow @techcrunch on Twitter to get a reminder before the chat.
Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch; I hope you have a great weekend.
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
Fintech is transforming the world’s oldest asset class: Farmland
Whether or not he actually said it, “buy land, they ain’t making any more of it,” is one of Mark Twain’s best quotes on capitalism.
Past recessions and the ongoing pandemic have created real uncertainty about the future of commercial and residential real estate, but farmland is “historically stable,” says Artem Milinchuk, founder and CEO of FarmTogether.
Anatomy of a SPAC: Inside Better.com’s ambitious plans
Online mortgage company Better.com isn’t waiting to complete its SPAC merger before making big moves: Ryan Lawler reported that it purchased Property Partners, a U.K.-based startup that offers fractional property ownership.
It’s the second company Better bought in recent months: In July, it snapped up digital mortgage brokerage Trussle.
“We aren’t so easily categorized,” said Better CEO Vishal Garg, who told Ryan that the company plans to soon expand into traditional financial services like auto loans and insurance.
Said CFO Kevin Ryan, “a lot of people have their niches in the way they’re attacking this, but we feel like we’re on a path to being full stack where everything’s embedded in the same flow.”
5 factors that can make or break a startup’s growth journey
If you don’t have a good story to share, it doesn’t matter how big your marketing budget is.
“Paid marketing can be a useful tool in your toolkit to accelerate an already humming flywheel. Just don’t let it be the only one,” suggests Brian Rothenberg, a two-time founder who’s now a partner at Defy.
Drawing from his time as VP of growth for Eventbrite, he shares five critical factors for kick-starting, maintaining and measuring growth over the long term.
Debt versus equity: When do non-traditional funding strategies make sense?
Many potential founders are well-versed in startup economics — and many are completely green.
When it comes to raising funds, understanding the relative benefits (and limitations) of debt and equity financing is required knowledge, however.
Founders who are less willing to dilute their control may be willing to use debt financing to fund their capital expenditures, “but it doesn’t make sense for everyone,” says six-time entrepreneur David Friend.
Investors are doubling down on Southeast Asia’s digital economy
Last year, startups based in Southeast Asia raised more than $8.2 billion, a 4x increase from 2015.
In the first half of 2021, regional M&A has increased 83% to a record $124.8 billion.
It’s not just venture capitalists and Big Tech who are beefing up their presence in the region.
“Over 229 family offices have been registered in Singapore since 2020, with total assets under management of an estimated $20 billion,” writes Amit Anand, a founding partner of Jungle Ventures.
Edtech leans into the creator economy with cohort-based classes
Natasha Mascarenhas examined the parallels between edtech and the creator economy, both of which boomed amid the pandemic — and blurred amid the rise of cohort-based classes.
“Edtech and the creator economy certainly differ in the problems they try to solve: Finding a VR solution to make online STEM classes more realistic is a different nut to crack than streamlining all of a creator’s different monetization strategies into one platform. Still, the two sectors have found common ground in the past year.”
Meet retail’s new sustainability strategy: Personalization
Were the shoes, jacket and makeup that looked so good on Instagram (and in your shopping cart) disappointing when you put them on for the first time?
Due to buyer’s remorse, it’s not uncommon for apparel or beauty products to languish in the back of a drawer or end up as gifts, but there are also serious consequences.
“The beauty industry produces over 120 billion units of packaging every year, little of which is recycled. Globally, an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste ends up in landfills,” Sindhya Valloppillil, founder and CEO of Skin Dossier, notes in a guest column.
The answer to bringing sustainability to the industry, she says, is using tech to personalize the retail experience:
- AR virtual try-on with shade matching
- Advanced virtual fitting rooms with VR/AR for fashion
- Smart packaging with IoT and distributed ledger technology
Plentywaka founder Onyeka Akumah on African startups and global expansion
Twenty million people live in Lagos, Nigeria, and each day, 14 million of them use the city’s transit system.
Travelers rely on overcrowded public buses that navigate congested routes: What should be a 30-minute trip is often a three-hour journey, but Treepz CEO and co-founder Onyeka Akumah “has big plans to ameliorate the public transport infrastructure in Africa and beyond,” writes Rebecca Bellan.
“We wanted to give people a better way to commute with predictability, where they can know when the bus will get here, the certainty that they will have a seat in a vehicle, that it’s a decent vehicle and a safe one where you can bring your laptop,” said Akumah.
“Those are the things we said we wanted to change.”
Dear Sophie: When can I apply for my US work permit?
My husband just accepted a job in Silicon Valley. His new employer will be sponsoring him for an E-3 visa.
I would like to continue working after we move to the United States. I understand I can get a work permit with the E-3 visa for spouses.
How soon can I apply for my U.S. work permit?
— Adaptive Aussie
Southeast Asian tech companies are drawing the attention of investors around the world. In 2020, startups in the region raised over $8.2 billion, about four times more than they did in 2015. This trend continued in 2021, with regional M&A hitting a record high of $124.8 billion in the first half of 2021, up 83% from a year earlier.
This begs the question: Who exactly is investing in Southeast Asia?
Let’s explore the three key types of investors pouring money into and driving the growth of Southeast Asia’s tech ecosystem.
Over 229 family offices have been registered in Singapore since 2020, with total assets under management of an estimated $20 billion.
Southeast Asia has become an attractive market for U.S. and Chinese tech firms. Internet penetration here stands at 70%, higher than the global average, and digital adoption in the region remains nascent — it wasn’t until the pandemic that adoption of digital services such as e-wallets and online shopping took off.
China’s tech giants Tencent and Alibaba were among the first to support early e-commerce growth in Southeast Asia with investments in Sea Limited and Lazada, and have since expanded their footprint into other internet verticals. Alibaba has backed Akulaku, M-Pay (eMonkey), DANA, Wave Money and Mynt (GCash), while Tencent has invested in Voyager Innovations (PayMaya), SHAREit, iflix, Ookbee and Sanook.
U.S. tech firms have also recently entered the scene. In June 2020, Gojek closed a $3 billion Series F round from Google, Facebook, Tencent and Visa. Google, together with Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, invested some $350 million in Tokopedia in October. Meanwhile, Microsoft invested an undisclosed amount in Grab in 2018 and has invested $100 million in Indonesian e-commerce firm Bukalapak.
In Q1 2021, Southeast Asian startups raised $6 billion, according to DealStreetAsia, positioning 2021 as another record year for VC investment in the region.
The region is also rising in prominence as a destination for investment capital relative to the rest of Asia. Regional VC investment grew 5.2 times to $8.2 billion in 2020 from $1.6 billion in 2015, as we can see in the table below.
Southeast Asia also has many opportunities for VC investment relative to its market size. From 2015 to 2020, China saw VC investment of nearly $300 per person; for Southeast Asia — despite a recent investment boom — this metric sits at just $47.50 per person, or just a sixth of that in China. This implies a substantial opportunity for investments to develop the region’s digital economy.
The region’s rising population and growth prospects are higher due to China’s population growth challenges, alongside the latter’s higher digital economy market saturation and maturity.
Neuroglee Therapeutics, a startup developing digital therapeutics for people with neurodegenerative diseases, has raised a $10 million Series A led by Openspace Ventures and EDBI. The funding will be used to launch virtual neurology clinics and to support Neuroglee’s move to Boston. Other participants included Ramen Singh, the former chief executive officer of Mundipharma; Biofourmis co-founders Kuldeep Singh Rajput and Wendou Liu; and Eisai Co., the Japanese pharmaceutical that led Neuroglee’s last round last year.
In an email, founder and chief executive officer Aniket Singh Rajput told TechCrunch that the company is moving to Boston because the city “is one of the largest digital health hubs in the world. As a company devoted to developing our first line of solutions for treating mild cognitive impairment related to difficult-to-treat neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, we believe Boston will offer us the strategic support in order to do so.”
Neuroglee and the Mayo Clinic are currently working together on a new platform called Neuroglee Connect. Based on the Mayo Clinic’s 10-day in-person program HABIT (Health Action to Benefit Independence and Thinking) for people with mild cognitive impairment from possible neurodegenerative conditions, Neuroglee’s technology will enable HABIT to scale, making it available to patients and caregivers in their homes. Neuroglee Connect users will also have access to health navigators who are available 24 hours and clinical care teams for assessments and interventions.
Neuroglee’s product pipeline also includes digital therapeutics for Parkinson’s disease and strokes.
Since Neuroglee’s previous funding announcement in December 2020, Rajput said it has hit milestones like the successful product development of NG-001, its prescription digital therapy software for Alzheimer’s, and began work on its proof-of-concept study to earn NG-001 a Breakthrough Designation from the Federal Drug Administration.
Neuroglee’s adaptive learning tech uses machine learning and biomarkers related to cognitive function, mood and behavior to automatically personalize therapy plans for each patient, who access the software through a smartphone or tablet.
“For example, adjustments will be made to the number and type of tasks and games that are offered, based on the speed of the patient’s finger movements, time to complete games or tasks, and their facial expression identified through the device camera,” said Rajput. “The solution also incorporates reminiscence therapy, which uses images from the patient’s past to evoke positive memories and emotions, which have been shown to improve cognitive functioning.”
Intudo Ventures, the “Indonesia-only” investment firm, announced today it has closed its third fund, totaling $115 million. Called Intudo Ventures Fund III, it was raised in less than three months and oversubscribed.
Fund III’s limited partners include Black Kite Investments, the family office of Singaporean businessman Koh Bon Hwee; Wasson Enterprises, the family office of former Walgreens Boots Alliance chief executive officer Greg Wasson; and PIDC, the investment arm of Taiwan-based retail conglomerate Uni-President Enterprises Corp. Other LPs include more than 30 Indonesian families and their conglomerates; over 20 leading global funds and managing partners; and more than 10 founders of tech unicorns.
Intudo founding partners Patrick Yip and Eddy Chan launched the firm in June 2017 as the first Indonesia-only venture capital firm, with a debut fund of $10 million. At first, many people were dubious that a country-specific fund focused on early-stage Indonesian companies would take off, especially since Yip and Chan wanted to build a small portfolio and work closely with startups.
Then in 2019, Intudo closed its $50 million second fund with LPs including Founders Fund, which Chan said helped validate its mission. Portfolio companies from its first two funds include Pintu, TaniHub Group and Gredu.
At the beginning, “when we said we were going to raise $10 million, we got laughed out of the room by many managers, but four years into it, we’re running roughly $200 million dollars,” he told TechCrunch. “It shows that for the right markets, hyperlocal is the way to go.”
For its third fund, Intudo intends to invest in about 12 to 14 startups, in sectors like agriculture, B2B and enterprise, education, finance and insurance, healthcare and logistics. Initial check sizes will range from $1 million to $10 million. Leading early-stage and Series A rounds will continue to be Intudo’s core focus, but it also plans to invest in Series B and C rounds for companies from its first two funds.
Unlike many funds that have a handful of anchor investors, all of Intudo’s limited partners are capped at 10% of the total fund size so it can maintain its independent investment thesis and ensure all LPs are treated equally.
“I think 10% is a nice number, where it signals to the founder that we are doing what’s best for their company and not for one special interest group,” said Chan.
The firm will look for companies with competitive moats, like strong intellectual property or deep tech. It also looks for companies that operate in heavily-regulated sectors that are difficult for competitors to enter.
Chan pointed to crypto-exchange Pintu as a good example of Intudo’s investment thesis.
“Everyone was like, you invested in this because it’s trendy, but you have to understand that we met the founder when Bitcoin had dropped down to $6,000. When we gave him the term sheet, six months later in March 2019, Bitcoin was at $3,000,” he said. “The moral of the story is we knew the founder was legit and we were able to pick up all the best talent because you can’t go to a lot of major unicorns to work on crypto.”
Many of Intudo’s portfolio founders are pulkam kampung, or Indonesians who have studied and worked overseas, but returned to launch companies, and it runs a program called Pulkam S.E.A. Turtle Fellowship to mentor aspiring founders. One-third of the deals from Intudo’s first two funds were sourced from universities and the tech community in the United States.
Intudo works closely with founders after signing checks. For example, all of its companies have made a commercial deal sourced through the firm’s network before receiving an investment. Its country-specific approach is also an advantage during the pandemic, because Intudo can continue to hold in-person meetings with founders on an almost weekly basis.
“The founder community has obviously gone through a tough time this year and last year due to COVID,” said Yip. “A lot of these founders needed to make course adjustments and corrections to their business plans. I think our role as an in-market, involved investor has been even more enhanced. A lot of the companies that have gone under, they did not have an in-country partner from the get-go.”
He added, “I think our involved approach and having a concentrated portfolio is something that is appreciated by the founder community as well, so that’s definitely something we intend to rinse and repeat going into Fund III.”
Four months after its last funding announcement, Singapore-based e-commerce aggregator Rainforest has closed a $20 million pre-Series A round led by Monk’s Hill Ventures. Other participants included January Capital, Crossbeam Venture Partners, Amasia and Lo & Behold Group, along with returning investors Nordstar and Insignia Venture Partners.
Rainforest announced in May that it had raised $6.55 million in equity and a $30 million debt facility to fund acquisitions. The company says its latest raise means it now has more than $50 million to spend on acquiring e-commerce brands.
Founded by former Carousell and Fave executives, Rainforest buys mostly Asia-based Amazon brands and wants to become the e-commerce version of consumer goods conglomerate Newell Brands.
Co-founder and chief executive officer J.J. Chai told TechCrunch in an email that Rainforest raised funding again because it’s doubled its portfolio since the last round and also has “a number of sizable acquisitions in the pipeline.” The company originally intended to raise about $8 million to $12 million to add to its seed round, but increased that amount to $20 million because of investor interest, he added. In addition to brand acquisitions, the funding will also be used on hiring and building its tech infrastructure.
Chai said Rainforest raised only equity this time because it hasn’t finished using the debt facility it got from Accial earlier this year.
Since launching in January 2021, Rainforest has acquired six brands, including one from China for $3.6 million, marking its first foray into the country, and plans to triple its brand portfolio by the end of this year. After buying brands, Rainforest scales them up through inventory management, cost optimization and expansions into new marketplaces and distribution channel. The company claims its portfolio brands have seen over 50% improvement in annual growth rates after their acquisitions.
Rainforest also announced it has hired Yev Ivanko, previously co-founder and CEO at NimbleSeller, as its vice president of acquisitions, and Christine Ng, who has worked in marketing and branding at Sephora, ShopStyle, Luxola and Shopbop, as its new vice president of brands.
Financial services, especially those for people who don’t have access to traditional bank accounts or lines of credit, are proliferating in Southeast Asia. Jeff App wants to give consumers a “super app” where they can compare many financial products and apply for them using the startup’s proprietary data-scoring models. For service providers, Jeff serves as a distribution channel, helping them find and retain customers. The startup announced today it has raised a seed extension of $1.5 million, led by J12 Ventures. Other participants included iSeed Ventures and Toy Ventures, and returning investors EstBAN, Startup Wise Guys and other angels.
The funding brings Jeff’s total raised to about $2.5 million. It announced a $1 million seed round back in March. Founder and chief executive officer Tom Niparts told TechCrunch that Jeff had a net profitable second quarter and wasn’t planning on raising again, but investors were interested because of its strong growth since the beginning of the year. The startup claims that since the end of January, its users have tripled to 700,000, who compared a total of four million products over the past six months.
Founded in 2019, the startup is operational in Vietnam and has applied for a license to launch in Indonesia. It also plans to enter the Philippines in the third quarter. Part of the funding will be used to increase Jeff’s team from about 15 people now to more than 40 employees for its offices in Latvia and Southeast Asia.
Before launching Jeff, Niparts was CEO of Spain for Digital Finance International, a fintech company that is part of the Finstar Financial Group. During that time, Niparts saw that in many Southeast Asian countries, people struggled to get loans not because of their credit history or income, but because they simply didn’t have enough personal financial data. Jeff was created to develop alternative data scoring models for financial services.
Niparts said Jeff’s goal is to become a main distribution channel for financial services in Southeast Asia and the top place for consumers to compare products and apply for them.
One of the reasons Jeff enjoyed strong growth during the first half of this year was by honing its user acquisition strategy in Vietnam. At first, it relied on global channels for user acquisition, like Google and Facebook ads, but now its top acquisition channel is through partnering with local affiliates, including bloggers and social media influencers who have grown considerable followings with educational content about finances.
“What we were surprised about is that in Europe, for instance, TikTok would never work for financial services, but in Vietnam we saw that it is a pretty amazing channel,” said Niparts.
While one of Jeff’s main features is loan comparison, the company has started expanding its offerings because most people only borrow money once in a while.
To create incentives to return to Jeff, instead of offloading the app once they secure a loan, Jeff is also offering coupons, like Shopee discounts and planning to launch telecom top-ups with cashback offers and a user referral functionality. It is also working on neobank and mobile wallet comparisons, payment functionalities, installment financing, services for micro-to small-sized merchants and a data science model to increase conversions for providers.
The pandemic has triggered more demand for contactless and staff-less operations in the hospitality sector, and now H2O Hospitality, the unmanned hotel management company, has closed a $30 million round on the back of that boost. The South Korea and Japan-based startup automates front and backend processes including accommodation reservation, room management and front desk duties, and it will be using the funds to continue expanding its business.
The Series C round (equivalent to about 34 billion won) is being led by Kakao Investment and Korea Development Bank (KDB), Gorilla Private Equity, Intervest and NICE Investment also participated. With Southeast Asia’s joint fund, Kejora-Intervest Growth Fund also joined in the round, it is a sign that H2O Hospitality will be focusing specifically on the Southeast Asian Market. H2O Hospitality has raised $7 million Series B round from Samsung Ventures, Stonebridge Ventures, IMM Investment and Shinhan Capital in February 2020.
H2O Hospitality will expand its business further by adding various types of accommodations in South Korea and Japan in 2021 and 2022 and plans to enter Singapore and Indonesia in 4Q in 2022 in line with its Southeast Asia penetration strategy, according to H2O Hospitality co-founder and CEO John Lee.
“H2O Hospitality is currently speaking with several global hotel chain companies to partner with their digital transformation and operation outside of Korea and Japan,” Lee told TechCrunch.
H2O will invest in R&D to advance its customer channel solutions and contactless check-in systems depending on customer needs of each country in Asia, Lee continued.
“We need optimal system development and customization for each accommodation and situation to lead successful hotel digital transformation even after COVID-19,” Lee said in an email interview.
H2O Hospitality was founded in South Korea 2015 by CEO John Lee, and it has been on something of an acquisition-expansion spree. It entered Japan in 2017, for example, by acquiring several Japanese hospitality management companies. In 2021, H2O acquired two South Korean companies such as the contactless hotel solution company, ImGATE, and a local creator startup, Replace, in order to enhance its technology and ESG competence.
These days, the company operates approximately 7,500 accommodations including hotels, ryokans and guest houses, in Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Busan, and Bangkok.
H2O Hospitality’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT)-based hotel management system, which enables hotel management to automate and digitize, includes the Channel Management System (CMS), Property Management System (PMS), Room Management System (RMS), and Facility Management System (FMS).
Its integrated hotel management system can reduce hotel management’s fixed operating costs by 50%, while increasing revenue by as much as 20%, according to its statement.
“COVID-19 hit the hospitality industry the most and most of the hotels wanted to decrease their fixed cost level, but it was impossible with their current operational flow,” Lee continued, “They had to go through digital transformation”.
When asked how the pandemic affected H2O as COVID-19 still freezes most of the tourism industry, Lee said H2O’s revenue has been increased by as much as 30% before the pandemic, but that percentage has been dropped to 5-15% post COVID-19. Revenue drivers these days are based around tools it’s built to improve the efficiency of its customers. They include its automated dynamic pricing (ADR) tool and diverse sales channels like online and offline travel agencies in domestic and overseas, he said.
Lee also pointed out that H2O has been onboarding a lot of properties and that has also contributed to H2O’s revenue growth in the last 18 months. H2O was the only company in Asia, he claims, and many property owners have started to get onboard since August 2020, he explained.
“Every single hotel that we onboarded during the pandemic turned around their profits & losses statements and started to recover their financial loss,” Lee said.
There are currently about 16.4 million hotel rooms in the world that generate $570 billion a year, according to Lee. H2O believes that it can digitize all the lodging accommodations in the world as the company’s main goal is not building a hotel brand but allowing hotel owners to operate their properties with better operation, he said.
Lee explained that the current hotel operation process looks a lot like that of “2G phones”, that was at a stage before turning to smartphones, and H2O is turning the overall hotel operation into a “smartphone”.
“This is a very natural transition for the (hospitality) industry as it was also natural for the cellphone users to transit from 2G phone to smartphone,” Lee said.
Unfortunately, the cross-border inbound tourism market has still been stopped for both Korea and Japan even though each domestic market is still pumping demand for the market, Lee mentioned.
“We believe the inbound tourism market will recover within a year as the vaccinations grow for both countries (Korea and Japan),” Lee said.
Managing Director at Kejora-Intervest Growth Fund Jun-seok Kang told TechCrunch: “We knew this new wave for hotel digital transformation trend was coming even before the pandemic; however, COVID-19 definitely expedited the transition period, and we believe H2O will thrive in the transforming hotel market.”
Homage, the caregiving-focused startup, has raised a $30 million Series C led by Sheares Healthcare Group, which is wholly-owned by investment firm Temasek. Other participants included new investors DG Daiwa Ventures and Sagana Capital, and returning backers East Ventures (Growth), HealthXCapital, SeedPlus, Trihill Capital and Alternate Ventures.
The new funding will be used to develop Homage’s technology, continue integrating with aged and disability care payer and provider infrastructure and speed-up its regional expansion through partnerships with hospitals and care providers. Homage currently operates in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.
The Singapore-based company’s services include home visits from caregivers, nurses, therapists and doctors; telemedicine; and services for chronic illnesses. One of the reasons Homage’s platform is able to scale up is its matching engine, which helps clients, like older adults and people living with chronic conditions, find providers who are best suited to their needs (the final matches are made by Homage’s team).
The startup says the round was oversubscribed and one of the largest fundings raised by an on-demand care platform in Southeast Asia and Oceania so far. It brings Homage’s total raised to more than $45 million.
As part of Series C, Sheares Healthcare Group chief corporate development officer Khoo Ee Ping will join Homage’s board of directors.
Homage now has a regional network of more than 6,000 pre-screened and trained care professionals. It claims that its business outside of Singapore has grown more than 600% year-over-year in 2021, and it has more than tripled revenue over the past year.
Sunday, an insurtech startup based in Bangkok, announced it has raised a $45 million Series B. Investors include Tencent, SCB 10X, Vertex Growth, Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia & India, Quona Capital, Aflac Ventures and Z Venture Capital. The company says the round was oversubscribed, and that it doubled its revenue growth in 2020.
Founded in 2017, Sunday describes itself as a “full-stack” insurtech, which means it handles everything from underwriting to distribution of its policies. Its products currently include motor and travel insurance policies that can be purchased online, and Sunday Health for Business, a healthcare coverage program for employers. Sunday also offers subscription-based smartphone plans through partners.
The company uses AI and machine learning-based technology underwrite its motor insurance and employee health benefits products, and says its data models also allow it to automate pricing and scale its underwriting process for complex risks. Sunday says it currently serves 1.6 million customers.
The new funding will be used to expand in Indonesia and develop new distribution channels, including insurance agents and SMEs.
Insurance penetration is still relatively low in many Southeast Asian markets, including Indonesia, but the industry is gaining traction thanks to increasing consumer awareness. The COVID-19 pandemic also drove interest in financial planning, including investment and insurance, especially health coverage.
In a statement, Sunday co-founder and chief executive officer Cindy Kuo said, “Awareness for health insurance will continue to increase and we believe more consumers would be open to shop for insurance online. We plan to expand our platform architecture to offer retail insurance to our health members and partners while we continue to grow our portfolio in Thailand and Indonesia.”
“Traditional voice-based call center service is difficult and costly. This is where artificial intelligence and voice technology have presented an opportunity for enterprises to overcome the challenges of scale and engagement at their customer contact centers,” co-founder and CEO Skit Sourabh Gupta told TechCrunch.
The Covid-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented increase in call volumes at bank call centers as customers tried to manage their portfolios amid the chaos of work from home policy and financial instability, Gupta said. And that presented an opportunity for companies like Skit.
“Customers have a natural tendency to prefer voice call support over other self-service channels and this has led to the increase in pressure on the traditional interactive voice responses (IVR) systems and support agents to respond to all incoming queries,” he said.
Bengaluru-based artificial intelligence SaaS voice automation company Skit, formerly known as Vernacular.ai, developed its AI-based voice automation platform VIVA, short for Vernacular Intelligent Voice Assistant, which enables corporations to automate 90% of their call center operations powered by Natural Language Understanding (NLU) technology. Its product VIVA covers more than 16 languages and 160 dialects.
Skit announced today it has closed $23 million Series B round to accelerate its growth in domestic and global markets including the US and South East Asia and enhance its voice automation platform.
The company was founded in 2016 by two co-founders, Indian Institute of Technology alumni, Roorkee alumnus, Sourabh Gupta and Akshay Deshraj.
The latest funding was led by WestBridge Capital along with existing investors Kalaari Capital and Exfinity Ventures, IAN Fund, LetsVenture and Sense AI. Angel investors including Prophetic Ventures’ Aaryaman Vir Shah also participated the round. The Series B round brings Skit’s total funding to $30 million.
Skit will use the fresh funding for sales, marketing, further R&D to strengthen its personalized solutions and voice products, as well as its global expansion.
“We want to double down and scale operations in both Indian and global markets. We are also planning on increasing our employee headcount. Through our new headquarters in New York, we want to build a strong customer base in North America by our product available to US enterprises,” Gupta told TechCrunch.
The company said it has quadrupled its amount of revenue and numbers of customers in 2020-2021 since its previous fundraising, $5.1 million Series A, in May 2020. Its average order book has also been growing in CAGR 200-300% every year, Gupta added. It currently has 150 employees.
Skit recently expanded into the US and South East Asia market.
“We noticed that there (South East Asia) is a high potential market for the adoption of conversational AI. Most importantly, these markets are home to a multitude of languages and dialects,” Gupta said in an exclusive interview with TechCrunch.
Given that language and hyper-personalization are Skit’s strongest suit, the company is witnessing increase adoption in South East Asia market, where is easier for the company to expand with similar demographics and business challenges as in India, Gupta explained.
It also opened headquarters in NYC, “It is a mature market, ahead in technology adoption with a level-playing for strong competition,” he said.
Venture advisor at WestBridge Capital Sashi Reddi said in a statement: “Skit’s success in helping India’s largest companies, positions them well to enter the US market where there is a massive need for voice AI solutions.”
The global contact center market size is expected to increase steadily and reach $496 billion by 2027. Skit will potentially address the $300 billion voice customer service market with its voice AI platform VIVA, Gupta said.
Its B2B and B2C clients are in diverse industries including banking, insurance, finance, securities, non-banking finance companies, travels, logistics, food & beverage, e-commerce. It has more than 25 B2B clients including Axis Bank, Hathway, Porter and Barbeque Nation, according to Gupta.
Call centers are traditionally places where there are high costs and high attrition rates, and for the end-users the traditional interactive voice responses (IVRs) and the wait times are irritating. There were longer than usual wait-times, call drops and going through extensive IVR menus and frequent agent transfers which increase customer frustration.
With over 10 million hour of training data, Skit’s VIVA replicates human-like conversation and understands speaker’s intent and can translate other unique speech characteristics that enable more efficient query resolutions, Gupta said.
Skit has been listed in Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia start-ups 2021.
Doctor Anywhere, a startup that takes an “omnichannel” approach to healthcare, announced today it has raised $88 million SGD (about $65.7 million USD) in Series C funding. The round was led by Asia Partners, with participation from Novo Holdings, Philips and OSK-SBI Partners. It also included returning investors EDBI, Square Peg, IHH Healthcare, Kamet Capital and Pavilion Capital.
As part of the round, Asia Partners co-founder Oliver Rippel and Novo Holdings Equity Asia senior partner Dr. Amit Kakar will join Doctor Anywhere’s board of directors. The company’s Series C, which it claims is one of the largest private rounds raised by a Southeast Asian healthtech company, brings its total funding to more than $140 million SGD.
Doctor Anywhere’s omnichannel approach means that in addition to online consultations, it runs in-person clinics, provides home visits, medication deliveries and operates an in-app marketplace for health and wellness products.
Founded in 2017 by Lim Wai Mun, Doctor Anywhere claims it now serves more than 1.5 million users. It is available in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, and recently established tech hubs in Bangalore and Ho Chi Minh City.
Lim told TechCrunch in an email that when he started working on Doctor Anywhere, there were already successful telemedicine platforms in the United States, the United Kingdom and China, but the model was still nascent in Southeast Asia. A former investor, Lim began Doctor Anywhere as a side project because he had older relatives who could not leave their homes for medical visits.
Doctor Anywhere launched as an online-only telehealth platform, but “we quickly realized that physical presence is very important in order to build trust with users,” Lim said. As a result, the company started its home care services and physical clinics.
According to Doctor Anywhere’s estimates, the COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked the adoption of telehealth services in Southeast Asia by at least five years. The company saw more demand for online medical consultations, medication deliveries and marketplace purchases.
“In the past year, we have more than doubled the size of our network, from around 1,000 providers at the start of 2020 to currently close to 2,500 medical professionals across Southeast Asia,” Lim said.
In response to the pandemic, Doctor Anywhere launched an online COVID-19 Medical Advisory Clinic last year to provide on-demand consultations for people with suspected symptoms. It also created an online mental wellness module with psychologists. Lim said the company has seen an increase in demand for mental health-related services, like insomnia and anxiety.
Other telehealth startups in the region include WhiteCoat, Speedoc and Doctor World. Lim said Doctor Anywhere wants to differentiate by quickly launching new products in response to user inquiries, and “cultivating a balance between technology and human touch.”
The funding will be used to deepen Doctor Anywhere’s presence in its current markets and expand into new ones. It also plans to scale its tech infrastructure and big data capabilities for a better online-to-offline user experience, and will introduce new medical specialty modules, shorten medication delivery times and develop personalized healthcare plans.
Ho Chi Minh City-based Vietcetera, a digital medial network originally created for millennials and Gen-Z, will broaden its target demographic after getting $2.7 million in pre-Series A funding. The capital was raised over two rounds this year, led by media-focused venture firm North Base Media.
Other investors included Go-Ventures, Gojek’s corporate venture arm; East Ventures; Summit Media; Genesia Ventures; Hustle Fund; and Z Venture Capital, the corporate venture arm of Z Holdings, which is owned by SoftBank Group and Naver Corporation.
Vietcetera was founded in 2016 by Hao Tran and Guy Truong and now claims an audience of 20 million users per month. Its advertisers include AIA Life Insurance, Google, Facebook, Nestlé, MasterCard, Vingroup and Tiki. Tran told TechCrunch that Vietcetera will also monetize by “prioritizing original content licensing and development.”
The network was originally created for millennials and Gen-Z audiences who wanted “content going beyond showbiz, sensational news and entertainment.” To serve more groups of readers, Vietcetera will launch new content or vertical brands in 2022 focused on women’s content, real estate and personal finance.
North Base Media was founded in 2013 by Marcus Brauchli, former lead editor of the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, and Media Development Loan Fund chief executive officer Saša Vučinič to back digital media startups in markets where mobile internet penetration is growing. Its other portfolio companies include The News Lens, Atlas Obscura, Rappler and Majarra.
Vietcetera’s new funding will be used on content, including new shows and podcasts, mobile app development, franchise and content licensing, and potential acquisitions.
The vice president’s solo international trip set a tone, and a standard.
Intellect, a Singapore-based startup that wants to make mental health care more accessible in Asia, announced it has raised $2.2 million in pre-Series A funding. It is taking part in Y Combinator’s current batch, which will hold its Demo Day at the end of this month.
The round was led by returning investor Insignia Venture Partners and included participation from Y Combinator, XA Network and angel investors like Rainforest co-founder J.J. Chai; Prenetics and CircleDNA founder Danny Yeung; and Gilberto Gaeta, Google’s director of global HR operations.
This brings Intellect’s total funding since it launched a year ago to $3 million, including a seed round announced in December 2020 that was also led by Insignia.
Intellect offered two main product suites: a consumer app with self-guided programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, and a mental health benefits solution for employers with online therapy programs and telehealth services. The startup now claims more than 2.5 million app users, and 20 enterprise clients, including FoodPanda, Shopback, Carousell, Avery Dennison, Schroders and government agencies.
Founder and chief executive officer Theodoric Chew told TechCrunch that Intellect’s usage rate is higher than traditional EAP helpline solutions. On average, its mental health benefits solution sees about 20% to 45% engagement within three months after being adopted by companies with more than 5,000 employees.
In many Asian cultures, there is still a lot of stigma around mental health issues, but that has changed over the last year and a half as people continue to cope with the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chew said. “From individuals, to companies, insurers and governments, all these different types of people and organizations are today prioritizing mental healthcare on an individual and organizational level in an extremely rapid manner.”
Intellect protects user privacy with zero-knowledge encryption, so the startup and employers don’t have access to people’s records or communications with their coaches and counsellors. Any insights shared with employers are aggregated and anonymized. Chew said the company is also compliant with major data privacy regulations like ISO, HIPAA and GDPR.
Intellect is currently collaborating in 10 studies with institutions like the National University of Singapore, King’s College London, University of Queensland and the Singapore General Hospital. It says studies so far have demonstrated improvements in mental well-being, stress levels and anxiety among its users.
The new funding will be used to expand into more Asian markets. Intellect currently covers 12 countries and 11 languages.
Many creatures use mimicry to hide from predators. This one also uses it to lure in prey.
Developing new packaged foods and consumer goods can take a couple years as companies research, prototype and test products. In a society that runs on social media, however, people expect to see trends land on store shelves much more quickly. Founded in 2018, Ai Palette uses machine learning to help companies spot trends in real time and get them retail-ready, often within a few months. The startup, whose clients include Danone, Kellogg’s, Cargill and Dole, announced today it has raised an oversubscribed $4.4 million Series A co-led by pi Ventures and Exfinity Venture Partners. Both will join Ai Palette’s board.
The round also included participation from returning backers food tech venture firm AgFunder and Decacorn Capital, and new investor Anthill Ventures. It brings Ai Palette’s total raised to $5.5 million, including a seed round announced in 2019.
Ai Palette is based in Singapore, with an engineering hub in Bangalore. Its customer base started in Southeast Asia, before expanding into China, Japan, the United States and Europe.
Its customer base started in Southeast Asia and India, and expanded to China, Japan, the United States and Europe. Ai Palette supports 15 languages, which the company claims is the most of any AI-based tool for predicting consumer packaged goods (CPG) trends. Its funding will be used to expand into more markets and fill engineering and data science roles.
Ai Palette was founded in 2018 by chief executive officer Somsubhra GanChoudhuri and chief technology officer Himanshu Upreti, who met through Entrepreneur First, the “talent investor” that recruits and teams up potential founders.
Before Ai Palette, GanChoudhuri worked in sales and marketing at Givaudan, the world’s largest manufacturer of fragrances and flavors. This allowed him to see how product innovation is done for many types of consumer products, ranging from snacks and fast food to packaged goods. Many of the companies he worked with were beginning to realize that a two-year product innovation cycle could no longer meet demand. Upreti, an advanced machine learning and big data analysis expert, previously worked at companies including Visa, where he built models that can handle petabytes of data.
Ai Palette’s first product is Foresight Engine, which tracks trends like ingredients or flavors, analyzes why they are popular and predicts how long demand will last. It also identifies “white space opportunities,” or situations where there is unmet demand. For example, GanChoudhuri said the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people eat — they are now eating health snacks up to six times a day in front of screens — so companies have the chance to release new kinds of products.
Foresight Engine gives contextual information, said Upreti. “For example, is a food item eaten on the go, or at a café. Is a product consumed socially or individually? What’s trending at kids’ birthday parties? For a specific product or ingredient, images provide information on product pairings and product format.”
The platform uses data from sources like social media, search, blogs, recipes, menus and company data. “Data sets popular to each market are prioritized, like a local recipe or a food delivery app,” said GanChoudhuri. “And they are tracked over the years to determine growth trajectory with a strong degree of confidence.”
Some specific examples of how Ai Palette’s tech has translated into new products include brands that want to launch a new flavor, like for a potato chip or soda, in a specific country. They can use the Foresight Engine to not only see what trends are rising, but which ones have the potential to become long-term favorites, so they don’t invest in a product that will almost instantly lose its popularity.
Many of Ai Palette’s clients have used it to react to new trends and consumer behavior patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, people in many markets are interested in healthy food or ones that are supposed to boost immunity. For example, in Southeast Asia there is more demand for lemon and garlic, while acerola and yerba mate are trending in the United States.
On the other hand, “in China, taste is paramount, even over health, because people are looking for food that brings back a sense of normalcy,” said GanChoudhuri. Meanwhile in India, there is demand for products with longer shelf life as people continue to cope with the pandemic, but many consumers are also seeking interesting snacks to ease the boredom of lockdown, with kimchi and other Korean flavors becoming especially popular.
Ai Palette’s ability to work with many languages is one of the ways it differentiates from other machine learning-based trend-prediction platforms. It currently supports English, simplified Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Bahasa Indonesian, Bahasa Melayu, Tagalog, Spanish, French and German, with plans to add more as it targets new European countries, Mexico, Latin America and the Middle East.
A few months ago, brothers Hai Nam Bui and Hai Long Bui were developing a bookkeeping app for small retailers in Vietnam. Called SoBanHang (or “sales book”), it would help businesses that usually rely on paper ledgers digitize their operations, similar to Khatabook in India and BukuKas and BukuWarung in Indonesia. Then a new COVID-19 outbreak hit Vietnam. The businesses SoBanHang had been working with, which are often family owned and have less than five employees, struggled to cope. The team held a hackathon and came up with a new product for retailers to create online stores and manage orders. Since launching three months ago, SoBanHang’s “hyper local e-commerce enabler” has signed up almost 20,000 merchants, many selling online for the first time.
The company announced today that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding, with participation from investors including FEBE Ventures, Class 5 and Kevin P. Ryan, founder of businesses like Gilt Groupe, Business Insider and MongoDB.
Before launching SoBanHang, Hai Nam Bui founded Datamart Solutions, a data analytics and automation platform, and served leadership roles at Lazada. Hai Long Bui also spent several years in management at Lazada, before holding the chief analytics and chief technology officer positions at Landers Superstore, a Philippines supermarket chain.
The idea for SoBanHang was planted when Hai Nam Bui visited a grocery store while wearing a Lazada T-shirt. The store’s owners saw the shirt and asked him how they could start selling online. So he helped them register an account on Shoppe and start uploading product photos and descriptions.
“After I had everything set up, they got their first order and asked, ‘how can I ship the product?’” Hai told TechCrunch. “I said that a third-party logistics provider will come and pick up the goods. And then they asked about the money. They didn’t understand the process and they didn’t feel comfortable giving goods to a third-party logistics providers.”
Since the majority of e-commerce orders in Vietnam are paid through cash on deliveries, the store’s owners also had questions about payment. Hai explained that the customer would hand cash to the rider, who would then give it to Shoppe and, in turn, Shopee would deposit it into the store owner’s digital wallet.
“And they asked ‘where is the wallet? How can I withdraw money to a bank account if I don’t have a bank account?’ That was an a-ha moment, when I realized that a lot of e-commerce platforms are still not touchable to about 90% of retailers in Vietnam,” said Hai. “The systems are still way too complex for them.”
Hai and his brothers started working on a digital bookkeeping app to help businesses digitize their operations, but when the outbreak and lockdowns hit, it became imperative to help them start selling online immediately. Based on SoBanHang’s research, there are about 16 million “nano” to micro-sized businesses in Vietnam. Many are very local, serving customers within a couple kilometers. In fact, businesses on SoBanHang often perform their own deliveries on foot.
“That was our second a-ha moment about the retailers, which is that they are selling to customers in their neighborhoods. The buyers and sellers are actually within walking distance. When they connect with buyers, they can make that order transaction, and then retailers deliver the good themselves and collect the money at the customer’s doorstep,” said Hai. This eliminates the need for SoBanHang to have complex logistics or payment systems, or for merchants to use third-party delivery apps that charge high commission fees.
Many of SoBanHang’s clients previously managed most of their transactions on paper and didn’t have a point-of-sale system or laptop, so the app is the first time they have digitized their operations. SoBanHang can be used for all kinds of retailers, but during the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s seen the most adoption from food and convenience stores.
The retailers are small enough that their customers can just message them orders, but SoBanHang makes the process smoother and enables them to sell more. Having an online storefront also helps prepare retailers for other COVID-19 outbreaks and maintain relationships with their customers.
For example, SoBanHang has a strategic partnership with Viettel, the largest telecommunications company in Vietnam. This lets them offer discounted SMS to businesses so customers can see special offers even if they haven’t installed SoBanHang’s app and don’t get its push notifications. For example, if a grocery store wants to sell out their inventory of fresh fish, they can send out a text blast to shoppers.
After lockdown restrictions are lifted, Hai said SoBanHang can help small retailers continue competing against larger players like supermarket and convenience store chains. Their advantage is that “they have a very good relationship with their customers, they know them well and they sit and wait for their customers to come. We want to turn that relationship into a new sales strategy for them.”
In the future, SoBanHang plans to continue working on its original plans for bookkeeping app. Like other bookkeeping apps, it plans to add financial services, like working capital loans that can be disbursed even without a digital wallet or bank account. But in the near-future, the startup will continue helping small retailer sell online for the first time.
With COVID-19 disrupting the entire manufacturing supply chain including semiconductor shortages, companies across multiple industries have been struggling to seek a procurement solution that can rebalance the gap between supply and demand.
CADDi, a Tokyo-based B2B ordering and supply platform in the manufacturing and procurement industry, helps both procurement (demand side) and manufacturing facilities (supply side) by aggregating and rebalancing supply and demand via its automated calculation system for manufacturing costs and databases of fabrication facilities across Japan.
The company announced this morning a $73 million Series B round co-led by Globis Capital Partners and World Innovation Lab (WiL), with participation from existing investors DCM and Global Brain. Six new investors also have joined the round including Arena Holdings, DST Global, Minerva Growth Partners, Tybourne Capital Management, JAFCO Group and SBI Investment.
CADDi was founded by CEO Yushiro Kato and CTO Aki Kobashi in November 2017.
The post-money valuation is estimated at $450 million, according to sources close to the deal.
The new funding brings CADDi’s total raised so far to $90.5 million. In December 2018, the company closed a $9 million Series A round led by DCM and followed by Globis Capital Partners and WiL and Global Brain.
The funding proceeds will be used for accelerating digital transformation of the platform, hiring and expanding to global markets.
“We enable integrated production of complete sets of equipment consisting of custom-made parts such as sheet metal, machined parts and structural frames. Using an automatic quotation system based on a proprietary cost calculation algorithm, we select the processing company that best matches the quality, delivery date and price of the order and build an optimal supply chain,” CEO and co-founder Yushiro Kato said.
The goal of CADDi’s ordering platform is to transform the manufacturing industry from a multiple subcontractor pyramid structure to a flat, connected structure based on each manufacturers’ individual strengths, thus creating a world where those on the front lines of manufacturing can spend more time on essential and creative work, Kato said.
CADDi’s ordering platform, backed by its unique technology including automatic cost calculation system, optimal ordering and production management system, and drawing management system, offers a 10%-15% cost reduction, stable capacity and balanced order placement to its more than 600 Japanese supply partners spanning a multitude of industries.
“The demand for CADDi’s services has seen significant acceleration. Our business has been growing very fast, and our latest orders have grown more than six times compared to the previous year, leading to the company’s expanded presence into both eastern and western Japan in order to meet this increase in demand,” Kato said.
“Going forward, in addition to continuously expanding our ordering platform, we will also start to provide purchases (manufacturers) and supply partners with our technology directly to promote digital transformation of their operations, for example, the production management system and drawing management system,” Kato continued.
“As a start point, in the near future, we are thinking about selling ‘Drawing Management SaaS,’” which has been used internally for CADDi’s ordering operation, to help customers solve operational pains in handling piles of drawings. “Our ‘Drawing Management SaaS’ technology will not only help manage drawings as documents properly but also allow utilization of data of drawings in a practical way for future decision-making and action in their procurement process.”
CADDi’s next axis of growth will be other growing markets, especially in Southeast Asia, Kato pointed out. “Many of our Japanese customers have subsidiaries and branches in these countries, so it’s a natural expansion opportunity for us to strengthen our value proposition and provide more continuity and seamless service to our customers,” Kato added.
Kato also said it wants to continue investing in hiring, especially engineers, to further the development of its platform CADDi and new business. It plans to hire 1,000 employees in the next three years. CADDi had 102 employees as of March 2021.
The company aims to become a global platform with sales of USD 9.1 billion (that is 1 trillion YEN) by 2030, Kato said.
COVID-19 had a different impact on different industries in the procurement and manufacturing sector, with “the automobile and machine tool industries were negatively affected by the pandemic and experienced an up to 90% temporary drop in sales, while other industries such as the medical and semiconductor industries have experienced explosive growth in demand. The overall result of COVID-19 is that the company has captured more demand because CADDi’s system rebalances receipts across multiple industries,” according to Kato.
Masaya Kubota, partner at World Innovation Lab, told TechCrunch, “CADDi’s solution of aggregating and rebalancing supply and demand has once again proven to be indispensable to both purchasers and manufacturers, with the pandemic disrupting the entire supply chain in manufacturing. We first invested in CADDi in 2018, because we strongly believed in their mission of digitally transforming one of the most analog industries, the $1 trillion procurement market.”
Another investor principal at DCM, Kenichiro Hara, also said in an email interview with TechCrunch, “The pandemic made the manufacturing industry’s supply chain vulnerabilities quite clear early on. For example, if a country is on lockdown or a factory stalls the operations, their customers cannot procure necessary parts to produce their products. This impact amplifies, and the entire supply chain is affected. Therefore, the demand for finding new, available and accessible suppliers in a timely manner increased in importance, which is CADDi’s primary value-add.”
Several Southeast Asian nations are raising doubts about the efficacy of China’s vaccines. The Biden administration has recently offered to provide shots, “no strings attached.”
Choosing an insurance policy is one of the most complicated financial decisions a person can make. Jakarta-based Lifepal wants to simplify the process for Indonesians with a marketplace that lets users compare policies from more than 50 providers, get help from licensed agents and file claims. The startup, which says it is the country’s largest direct-to-consumer insurance marketplace, announced today it has raised a $9 million Series A. The round was led by ProBatus Capital, a venture firm backed by Prudential Financial, with participation from Cathay Innovation and returning investors Insignia Venture Partners, ATM Capital and Hustle Fund.
Lifepal was founded in 2019 by former Lazada executives Giacomo Ficari and Nicolo Robba, along with Benny Fajarai and Reza Muhammed. The new funding brings its total raised to $12 million.
The marketplace’s partners currently offer about 300 policies for life, health, automotive, property and travel coverage. Ficari, who also co-founded neobank Aspire, told TechCrunch that Lifepal was created to make comparing, buying and claiming insurance as simple as shopping online.
“The same kind of experience a customer has today on a marketplace like Lazada—the convenience, all digital, fast delivery—we saw was lacking in insurance, which is still operating with offline, face-to-face agents like 20 to 30 years ago,” he said.
Indonesia’s insurance penetration rate is only about 3%, but the market is growing along with the country’s gross domestic product thanks to a larger middle-class. “We are really at a tipping point for GDP per capita and a lot of insurance carriers are focusing more on Indonesia,” said Ficari.
Other venture-backed insurtech startups tapping into this demand include Fuse, PasarPolis and Qoala. Both Qoala and PasarPolis focus on “micro-policies,” or inexpensive coverage for things like damaged devices. PasarPolis also partners with Gojek to offer health and accident insurance to drivers. Fuse, meanwhile, insurance specialists an online platform to run their businesses.
Lifepal takes a different approach because it doesn’t sell micro-policies, and its marketplace is for customers to purchase directly from providers, not through agents.
Based on Lifepal’s data, about 60% of its health and life insurance customers are buying coverage for the first time. On the other hand, many automotive insurance shoppers had policies before, but their coverage expired and they decided to shop online instead of going to an agent to get a new one.
Ficari said Lifepal’s target customers overlap with the investment apps that are gaining traction among Indonesia’s growing middle class (like Ajaib, Pluang and Pintu). Many of these apps provide educational content, since their customers are usually millennials investing for the first time, and Lifepal takes a similar approach. Its content side, called Lifepal Media, focuses on articles for people who are researching insurance policies and related topics like personal financial planning. The company says its site, including its blog, now has about 4 million monthly visitors, creating a funnel for its marketplace.
While one of Lifepal’s benefits is enabling people to compare policies on their own, many also rely on its customer support line, which is staffed by licensed insurance agents. In fact, Ficari said about 90% of its customers use it.
“What we realize is that insurance is complicated and it’s expensive,” said Ficari. “People want to take their time to think and they have a lot of questions, so we introduced good customer support.” He added Lifepal’s combination of enabling self-research while providing support is similar to the approach taken by PolicyBazaar in India, one of the country’s largest insurance aggregators.
To keep its business model scalable, Lifepal uses a recommendation engine that matches potential customers with policies and customer support representatives. It considers data points like budget (based on Lifepal’s research, its customers usually spend about 3% to 5% of their yearly income on insurance), age, gender, family composition and if they have purchased insurance before.
Lifepal’s investment from ProBatus will allow it to work with Assurance IQ, the insurance sales automation platform acquired by Prudential Financial two years ago.
In a statement, ProBatus Capital founder and managing partner Ramneek Gupta said Lifepal’s “three-pronged approach” (its educational content, online marketplace and live agents for customer support) has the “potential to change the way the Indonesian consumer buys insurance.”
Part of Lifepal’s funding will be used to build products to make it easier to claim policies. Upcoming products include Insurance Wallet, which will include an application process with support on how to claim a policy—for example, what car repair shop or hospital a customer should go to—and escalation if a claim is rejected. Another product, called Easy Claim, will automate the claim process.
“The goal is to stay end-to-end with the customer, from reading content, comparing policies, buying and then renewing and using them, so you really see people sticking around,” said Ficari.
Lifepal is Cathay Innovation’s third insurtech investment in the past 12 months. Investment director Rajive Keshup told TechCrunch in an email that it backed Lifepal because “the company grew phenomenally last year (12X) and is poised to beat its aggressive 2021 plan despite the proliferation of the COVID delta variant, accentuating the fact that Lifepal is very much on track to replicate the success of similar global models such as Assurance IQ (US) and PolicyBazaar (India).”