The prosecution of Vietnam’s most prominent environmental activist, as well as others, has cast doubt on the country’s commitment to cut coal.
In the face of COVID lockdown-related supply disruptions, Apple is moving some iPad production from China to Vietnam, according to Nikkei Asia. The company is also taking other measures with its suppliers to soften the blow of supply issues in China.
This is not Apple’s first attempt to move some production out of China. Some iPhones have been made in India, a small number of Macs have been assembled in the United States, and Vietnam is already a major factor in AirPods production.
Apple was looking to move more production to Vietnam in 2020 and 2021, but it had to postpone some of its plans as COVID-19 surges hit the country.
Some veterans have started businesses that draw from their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thrived.
More than 1,200 species of arachnids are part of a largely unregulated global marketplace, according to a new study.
The former player shared his perspective on emerging golf locales and what makes an ideal golf home today.
Shooting for Time magazine and United Press International, he documented presidents, the Vietnam War and more.
In countries friendly toward Russia, people are troubled by the war and loss of life, but some say they think that Putin has a point.
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.
Put it in pasta, stews or this thick, creamy coconut curry from Vietnam.
Poor conditions for Vietnamese workers building a $900 million tire factory underscore a chasm between the promise of investment from China and grim realities on the ground.
A monk with global influence and an ally of Martin Luther King, he championed what he called “engaged Buddhism,” applying its principles in pressing for peace.
A Belgian court convicted a man said to have been the leader of a human trafficking operation that resulted in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants in 2019. More than a dozen others were also found guilty.
The vice president met with President Emmanuel Macron of France, skirting recent U.S.-French tensions, and immersed herself in issues like Libya and cybersecurity.
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.
A celebrity chef showed the meal in a TikTok video, now removed, that angered people in Vietnam. Facebook said it was investigating why the chef’s hashtag was blocked from its site.
Plans for new power generation won’t meet global climate goals.
Confession: We didn’t even have a logistics beat before the pandemic. Now we do. Here’s what we’ve learned about the global supply chain disruption.
For many who made it to the United States, watching the chaotic exit from Afghanistan evoked memories of their own harrowing experiences.
Factories in the country, a major apparel and footwear supplier to the U.S., have been forced by the pandemic to close or operate at reduced capacity, complicating the all-important holiday season.
CoderSchool, a Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam-based online coding school startup, announced today $2.6 million in pre-Series A funding to scale up its online coding school platform.
This round was led by Monk’s Hill Ventures, with participation from returning seed investors Iterative, XA Network and iSeed Ventures. CoderSchool raised a seed round led by TRIVE Ventures in 2018.
CoderSchool will use the funding to accelerate its online teaching platform growth and technology infrastructure expansion for the company’s technical education programs that guarantee employment upon graduation.
The company, founded in 2015 by Charles Lee and Harley Trung, who previously worked as software engineers, pivoted from offline to online in early 2020 to bring high-quality technical training to everyone, everywhere. After switching to a fully online learning program, the company recorded 100% quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) growth in fully online enrollment, it said in a statement.
“Coding is the future. At CoderSchool, we believe everyone in Southeast Asia deserves a chance to be part of that future,” the company co-founder and CEO Lee said.
In Vietnam, the demand for IT talent is dramatically increasing by 47% a year, while supply is only increasing by 8% year-on-year.
“The need for strong engineers and developers in Southeast Asia has never been as pertinent as it is today with the growth of tech companies and digital businesses,” said Michele Daoud, partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures. “We have been impressed by the team’s focus on setting the standard for coding education in the region. We are excited to partner with CoderSchool to provide both opportunity and access to the millions of aspiring students in Vietnam.”
Given the strong engineer demand in Vietnam, the domestic market size is estimated between $100 million – $200 million, and still increasing every year, according to Lee. CoderSchool has been focusing on Vietnam for the last six years, but plans to enter the global market following the next round, Lee said, without providing exact timetable.
CoderSchool, which offers full-stack web development, machine learning and data sciences courses at a lower cost, has trained more than 2,000 alumni up to date, and recorded over 80% job placement rate for full-time graduates, getting jobs at companies such as BOSCHE, Microsoft, Lazada, Shopee, FE Credit, FPT Software, Sendo, Tiki and Momo.
CorderSchool’s online program enables students to interact with instructors and classmates before, during and after scheduled class sessions with its human-driven learning strategy. CoderSchool currently has 15 instructional staff, and plans to hire 35 additional instructors by Q4 2022.
CoderSchool’s data analytics has improved individual student performance while also allowing CoderSchool to increase its classroom size at scale, reaching a peak of 107 enrollments in a data science class.
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 withdrawal from Afghanistan is a final step in the transformation of American warfare into something sanitized and edited out of view.
Larvae of some paper wasp species use mysteriously fluorescent silk to weave the container in which they mature to adulthood.
Global military dominance has not lived up to its hype for American interests.
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.
As she left Southeast Asia, the vice president also delivered a blunt message to China. The United States does not want conflict, she said, but on some issues, “we are going to speak up.”
The vice president rebuked China and sought to fortify the image of the United States as a credible ally amid growing questions about Afghanistan.
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.
At any Army base in Colorado, little acknowledgment as the war in Afghanistan comes to an abrupt and chaotic end.
South Korean troops were the largest foreign contingent fighting alongside American soldiers during the Vietnam War. They have long been dogged by allegations of brutality.
For Afghans, the war isn’t over simply because the United States declared it so. The nightmare doesn’t end after the last American leaves.
Singapore is home to fewer than six million people, making it one of the smallest ASEAN countries, in terms of population. It is a young country as well — having gained independence in 1963 — and resides in a neighborhood with far larger economies, including China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. When the country first became independent, its mandate was to simply survive rather than thrive.
So how does a country evolve from a position of relative uncertainty, with comparatively few resources, to one that leads the ASEAN region in venture capital investment and has been home to 10 unicorns?
Countries around the world examine Singapore’s ecosystem from a distance, hoping to learn from, and emulate, its story. The World Bank Group recently published a report, The Evolution and State of Singapore’s Start-up Ecosystem, documenting the country’s experience in building its startup ecosystem and the challenges facing it.
This article presents an overview of the report’s key findings and offers a few key recommendations on what other countries can learn from Singapore’s experience, as well as what Singapore itself can do to maintain progress.
A glimpse into Singapore’s current startup ecosystem
As of 2019, Singapore had over $19 billion in PE and VC assets under management, more than twice that of neighboring Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand combined. In that same year, the country was home to an estimated 3,600 tech startups and nearly 200 different intermediary and supporting organizations (accelerators, co-working spaces, coding academies, etc.) – some which have a multinational presence, such as Blk71, whose Singapore headquarters has been referred to as “the world’s most tightly packed entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
While assessing the size and strength of startup ecosystems is an evolving method, Start-up Genome priced Singapore’s ecosystem at over $25 billion, five times the global median.
Arguably, the most eye-catching hallmark of this ecosystem is its population of current and former unicorns. Collectively, Singapore has been home to ten unicorns, three of which have offered an IPO (Nanofilm, Razer and Sea) and two of which have been acquired – one by giant Alibaba (Lazada) and one by Chinese streaming powerhouse YY (Bigo Live). The remaining five are Trax, Acronis, JustCo, PatSnap, and Grab – the ASEAN region’s largest unicorn to date.
The education sector is also prominent in Singapore’s ecosystem. Universities like the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are deeply embedded into this ecosystem, helping with R&D commercialization linkages, incubation, talent/knowledge transfer, and other areas.
So, how did Singapore’s startup ecosystem come to be?
Numerous factors have contributed to building Singapore’s startup ecosystem, with government intervention and leadership being the dominant driving forces. The government has spent more than USD60 billion over the past several decades to enhance the country’s R&D infrastructure, create VC funds, and launch accelerators and other support organizations.
Most businesses by now are well versed with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic: Faltering offline sales, flexible work-from-anywhere options, fluctuating foot traffic with lockdown mandates and e-commerce becoming a channel many brands wished they had built infrastructure for earlier.
As a record number of consumers in Southeast Asia move from shopping malls to online platforms like Shopee, Lazada, Tiki and Tokopedia, the advertising dollars are naturally flowing in. Emerging markets are witnessing the advent of retail media right now.
Amazon paved the way in North America in 2018 by launching Amazon Advertising to become the first bid-and-buy marketplace. BCG now estimates retailers have a $100 billion business opportunity to capture, if they can keep up.
The money is where the consumer is
To understand why retailers will capture more ad spend, it’s important to evaluate what modern day marketing has become.
Is it bus stop advertisements? Bidding on Google keywords or a Clubhouse session? Or is it a viral TikTok video? As the world becomes more connected and the lines between offline and online blur even more, modern day marketing is a mix of all the channels tied to key performance metrics.
The main goal of marketing, no matter the medium, is to highlight a business or product to the right consumers to score a potential sale. And like most things, there is a bad, a good and a much better way of doing things.
E-commerce as an advertising channel is unique, because it encapsulates the entire consumer journey from start to finish, especially as marketplaces continue to steal the share of search from search engines.
Traditional marketing channels were primarily linear TV, radio and print, because the mediums were highly popular at the time. However, with the birth of the internet newer platforms emerged such as email, websites and streaming. Then came the rise of social media and apps that shook up the advertising landscape. But regardless of these shifts, there has always been one constant: The business went where the consumer was.
So when sources of traffic and revenue once again change, let’s say due to a pandemic, the marketing mix follows. In the next 12 months alone, many marketers are planning to decrease spending in cinema, print and out of home (OOH), while the majority will increase budgets in social and search, according to Nielsen.
The search for superior advertising channels
So which channels will benefit as money flows out of outdated buckets? A good indicator is ad revenue trends in mature markets like the U.S. While Google and Facebook remain the dominant advertising players, Amazon has eaten into the duopoly’s ad revenue pie in the U.S., growing its share from 7.8% to 10.3% in 2020 alone, according to eMarketer.
How? Because the most valuable advertising channel is the one that has the most measurable touch points with the consumer.
Loship, the Vietnamese on-demand e-commerce platform that started as a reviews app, announced today it has raised $12 million in pre-Series C funding, bringing its valuation to $100 million. The round was co-led by BAce Capital, an Ant Group-backed venture firm, and the direct investment unit of Sun Hung Kai & Co Limited.
Founded in 2017, Loship offered one-hour deliveries for a large range of products and services, including food, ride-hailing, medicine and B2B supplies. The company says it has more than 70,000 drivers and 200,000 merchants, and serves about 2 million customers in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Can Tho and Bien Hoa.
The new round brings Loship’s total raised to $20 million. Its previous funding was a bridge round from MetaPlanet Holdings, announced in February 2021. Loship is in the process of raising a Series C, expected to close by the end of this year, and is in advanced talks with investors.
Co-founder and chief executive officer Trung Hoang Nguyen told TechCrunch that Loship raised a pre-Series C round because “there are so many investors participating in our Series C round that we find it would take a long time to completely close.” As a result, Loship decided to split the round into a pre-Series C and Series C.
MetaPlanet Holdings returned for the pre-Series C round, which also saw participation from Wealth Well, Prism Ventures and SQ Capital Group (SCCG Ventures Asia). Individual investors included former Starbucks Vice President Mojtaba Ahkbari; FNZ Group APAC chief executive officer Tim Neville; BNP Paribas global macro sales director Ben Fitzpatrick; DASS-Inc founder and CEO Wayne Cowden; EC1 managing partners Simon Eglise; Ilwella Pty Ltd director Quentin Flannery; Prenzler Group director Jonathan Feil; and iVS CEO Milan Reinartz
Loship’s new funding will be used to expand into new cities and grow verticals like B2B deliveries for small food and beverage businesses and retail stores. As part of the round, BAce Capital founder Benny Chen, the former managing director of Ant Group India, where he invested in Paytm and Zomato, will join Loship’s board of directors.
Co-founder and CEO Trung Hoang Nguyen said Loship has a “very clear path to profitability.” The company started out as an online review platform, before people began using it to buy and sell items through chats.
“Back then, people used our Lozi app the same way as eBay, where they could list their products, buy from and sell to others. However, we couldn’t really know whether the transaction via Lozi was completed, especially when it was purely online chat,” Nguyen told TechCrunch. “The best way to know the exact status of the transaction was to control the delivery.”
As a result, the company launched Loship in late 2017, starting with food deliveries and then expanding into other verticals. Nguyen explained that its platform includes “basically anything that can fit on or be transported legally by motorcycle.” This means verticals dedicated to ride-hailing, groceries, medicine, laundry, packages, flowers, beauty products and B2B supplies like ingredients and food packaging.
The number of its verticals helps Loship differentiate from large players like Grab and Gojek, Nguyen said. He added that being a homegrown startup also gives it an advantage.
“As the only local player, we understand our local customers on a deeper level compared to other regional ones. We are locals and we have our winning playbook. We strategically enter into new and relatively untouched markets like lower-tier cities, grow the customer base and then take things forward from there.”
Loship’s plan until the end of 2021 is to expand into five more major cities, bringing the total number of cities it operates in to 10. Then it plans to launch in Tier 2 and 3 cities in Vietnam, before expanding regionally in Southeast Asia (Nguyen describes Laos and Cambodia as “must-win markets.”)
In a statement about the funding, Chen said, “Loship creates a strong ecosystem which adds value to small business, customers as well as riders. Under Trung’s entrepreneurship and leadership, we saw the company get much stronger during the pandemic by constantly bringing product and service innovation to its merchants and users.”
INKR is a digital comics platform that crosses cultural and language divides, enabling creators to reach global audiences with its proprietary localization technology. Previously bootstrapped, the company announced today that it has raised $3.1 million in pre-Series A funding led by Monk’s Hill Ventures, with participation from manga distributor TokyoPop founder and chief executive Stu Levy and VI Management managing director David Do.
Headquartered in Singapore with an office in Ho Chi Minh City, INKR was founded in 2019 by Ken Luong, Khoa Nguyen and Hieu Tran. The company says that since it launched in October 2020, its monthly average users have grown 200%. It currently partners with more than 70 content creators and publishers, including FanFan, Image Comics, Kodansha USA, Kuaikan, Mr. Blue, SB Creative, TokyoPop and Toons Family, and has more than 800 titles so far, including manga, webtoons and graphic novels.
Luong, INKR’s CEO, told TechCrunch that the platform will focus first on translated comics from top global publishers, but plans to open to small and indie creators in 2022.
At the heart of INKR’s platform is its localization technology, which the company says reduces the time spent on preparing comics for different markets from days to just hours.
“Comics localization is more than just translation. It is a time-consuming process with many steps involving many people—file handling, transcription, translation, typesetting, sound effects, quality control, etc,” Luong said.
In addition to language, publishers also have to take into account the differences between comic styles around the world, including Japanese manga, Chinese manhua, Korean manhwa, American comics. For example, comics can be laid out page-by-page or use vertical scrolling. Some languages read from left to right, while others go from right to left.
Luong says INKR’s proprietary AI engine, called INKR Comics Vision, is able to recognize different formats and elements on a comic page, including text, dialogue, characters, facial expressions, backgrounds and panels. INKR Localize, its tool for human translators, helps them deliver accurate translations more quickly by automating tasks like text transcription, vocabulary suggestions and typesetting.
Since localization is performed by teams, including people in different locations, INKR provides them with browser-based collaboration software. The platform supports Japanese-English, Korean-English and Chinese-English translations, with plans to add more languages. Some publishers, like Kuaikan Manhua and Mr. Blue, have used INKR to translate thousands of comic chapters from Chinese and Korean into English.
INKR provides content creators with a choice of monetization models, including ad-supported, subscription fees or pay-per-chapter. Luong says the platform analyzes content to tell publishers which model will maximize their earnings, and shares a percentage of the revenue generated.
INKR is vying for attention with other digital comics platforms like Amazon-owned Comixology and Webtoon, the publishing portal operated by Naver Corporation.
Luong said INKR’s competitive advantages include the the diversity of comics is offers and the affordability of its pricing. Before launching, it also invested in data and AI-based technology for both readers and publishers. For example, users get personalized recommendation based on their reading activity, while publishers can access analytics to track title performance based on consumption trends.
In a statement, Monk’s Hill Ventures general partner Justin Nguyen said INKR’s “proprietary AI-driven platform is addressing pain points for creators and publishers who need to go digital and global—localizing for many languages quickly and cost-effectively while also helping them improve reach and readership through analytics and intelligent personalized feeds. We look forward to partnering with them to quench the huge demand for translated comics globally.”
While working as the chief operating officer of a pizza chain in Vietnam, Taku Tanaka saw how difficult it is for restaurants to connect with farmers. Many small F&B businesses can’t buy in large volumes, so they rely on nearby markets or multiple suppliers who only sell one category. In turn, this means farmers are disconnected from the end customers of their products, making it hard to predict selling prices or plan their crops. Tanaka founded Kamereo, B2B platform with its own warehouse and last-mile delivery network, to focus on those problems.
Based in Ho Chi Minh City, the company announced today that it has raised $4.6 million co-led by food conglomerate CPF Group, Quest Ventures and Genesia Ventures. The capital will be used for hiring, building a new warehouse management system, user interface upgrades and expanding into Hanoi next year.
Before founding Kamereo in 2018, Tanaka was COO of Pizza 4Ps, which grew from one location in Ho Chi Minh City when he joined to 10 stores three years later (it now has more than 30 locations in Vietnam).
Kamereo works with about 15 farmers, including cooperatives, and serves more than 400 active customers, ranging in size from family-owned restaurants to chains with more than 20 locations. Despite COVID-19 related movement restrictions and temporary business closures, Kamereo says it has grown by 15% every month over the last 12 months. It currently has about 100 employees.
F&B businesses use the platform to order from multiple farmers. Kamereo handles supplier negotiations, order processing and management, and fulfillment. Tanaka told TechCrunch that the company operates its own warehouses and last-mile delivery network because it is cheaper than working with third-party providers.
Most of Kamereo’s last-mile deliveries are done by motorbikes since Vietnam has many small roads that are inaccessible to trucks. Tanaka said one drawback is how many goods can be delivered in one trip. Since drivers need to make multiple trips each day, Kamereo plans to expand its micro-warehouse network in Ho Chi Minh City so they don’t need to travel long distances. Its tech team is also building an internal system to manage inventory, fulfillment and last-mile deliveries with the goal of minimizing variable costs.
In a statement about the investment, Quest Ventures partner Goh Yiping said, “Kamereo sites in one of the largest food production hubs of Southeast Asia, and there is much room to grow in solving many of the inefficiencies of the supply chain today, improving farmers’ livelihood outcomes and procuring the best products for businesses and homes.”
Those who continued fighting for South Vietnam in 1975 know what it’s like when an American-made military is suddenly left with little support.
The pandemic has spurred interest in saving and investment apps around the world, especially ones geared toward newer investors. In Southeast Asia, startups in this space that have raised funding over the past few months include Ajaib, Bibit and Stashaway—and that’s just a (very) partial list. Now Infina, which calls itself the “Robinhood of Vietnam,” is announcing an oversubscribed $2 million seed round.
The seed funding, which was made in two closes, included participation from Saison Capital, Venturra Discovery, 1982 Ventures, 500 Startups, Nextrans, and angel investors like executives at Google and Netflix.
Infina launched its app in January 2021. Most of its users are between the ages of 25 to 40 and looking for alternatives to investing in long-term asset classes like real estate. The app requires a minimum contribution of about $25 USD and lets investors pick from assets including savings accounts, term deposits, fractionalized real estate and mutual funds, which founder and chief executive officer James Vuong told TechCrunch is currently the most popular asset class among Infina’s users. Infina works with financial partners like Dragon Capital, ACB Capital, Mirae Asset Fund Management and Viet Capital Asset Management.
The company notes that only about 3.2% of people in Vietnam have invested in stocks. But according to the Vietnams Securities Depository, about 500,000 trading accounts were opened during the first five months of 2021, a 20% increase from all of 2020. This, along with Vietnam’s high internet penetration rate (about 70% as of January 2020) and the fact that more than 3/4 of of internet users have used online financial services before, lays the groundwork for apps like Infina to take traction.
In statement about its investment, Saison Capital partner Chris Sirise said, “Retail investing in Vietnam is at an inflection point and we have seen multiple other emerging markets reach this break-out point. With an experienced team that is passionate about financial literacy and education, Infina is well-positioned to ride this wave of growth.”
Before founding Infina, Vuong was an engineer in Silicon Valley before returning to Vietnam to serve as vice president of investment and a Kauffman Fellow at IDG Ventures. He also founded a startup called Lana Group that was acquired by Line Group. Vuong told TechCrunch he believes Vietnam is entering a “‘golden decade’ of hyper uninterrupted growth as other Asian Tigers have had in the past,” and created Infina to gives retail investors a chance to partake in Vietnam’s financial trajectory.
While at home during various stages of lockdown in Vietnam, Vuong said many internet users began switching to digital services, including for investments. He added that a series of interest rate cuts by Vietnam’s Central Bank to help businesses during COVID-19 prompted many retail investors to look for alternatives with higher returns than term deposits.
“A majority of our users are new investors,” said Vuong. “Although they are familiar with savings, fixed income or mutual fund investing are relatively new to them.” The app’s interface and content is geared toward them.
When users register, Infina surveys their risk and return profile, then recommends an asset to begin with. As they continue investing, Infina’s users see information about the risk and return profile of each asset category and the issuer’s profile, investment strategy and historical performance. Like other investment apps with many newer investors, Infina also creates its own educational content, like blog posts, daily newsletters and videos.
“We are very transparent in communications on risk and returns, profits and fees, and that’s our advantage compared to other platforms,” said Vuong. He added that part of the new funding will be used to hire people with technical and investment backgrounds to further develop Infina’s KYC (know your customer) system to better analyze their risk appetite, as well as its system for evaluating each asset class.
Other investment apps in Vietnam include Finhay and Tikop. When asked how Infina differentiates from its competitors, Vuong noted its wide range of asset classes, low minimum and transparency about different types of investments. He added that Infina is not majority owned or tied to a particular issuer, “which allows us to be neutral and work with all of the country’s high-quality fund managers.”
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.
This week we did something fun and different and good: a live show! A good number of people came, and asked questions, and altogether, it was a blast.
Danny, Natasha, and Alex had a lovely time with the regular work, while Grace and Chris and Kevin made the whole operation function. We’ll likely post a bonus episode of the Q&A on Saturday if people are interested in Equity After Hours.
That aside, what did we talk about in a longer-than-usual episode? Here’s the rundown:
- Buzzfeed is going public! Alex wrote about the news here, but the gist is that the media company is merging with a SPAC, buying Complex, and raising some capital at the same time. We have thoughts about it.
- Maybe neobanks will break even? We dug into some fintech news through the perspective of some recent news from the neobank market.
- MAJORITY raised MONEY for migrants to the United States, while MFast, a Vietnamese financial services app, got some funding of its own amid the neobank boom.
- Alex interviewed a leading venture capitalist. So, we talked about that.
- What’s going on with the early-stage venture capital market? That’s something we tried to parse. The gist is that the rapidly-evolving world of investing in startups is in the midst of a few trends that are worth understanding. Even if they are slightly contradictory.
- A16z tripled down on crypto with a new $2.2 billion fund, giving it a total of $18.8 billion in assets under management.
- Edtech leaders rallied around a memo of their own this past week.
- And then to close, we raced through some of our recent reporting on a new fund that will invest in American military institute graduates, Figma’s huge new round of capital, and WaitWhat?
It’s always fun to play around with our show, and thank you to everyone who came out and supported us in our first-ever, but probably not last-ever, virtual live show. We are back to regular, however, starting Monday.
MFast, a mobile app that lets Vietnamese users in remote areas access financial services, announced it has raised a $1.5 million pre-Series A today. The round was led by Do Ventures, with participation from JAFCO Asia.
Launched in 2019 by fintech company Digipay, MFast says it has been used by 600,000 people to date. It partners with financial institutions who provide services like loans and insurance, and says it has been used to distribute more than 50 billion VND (about $2.2 million USD) worth of products so far.
The majority, or about 75% to 80% of MFast’s users are in remote provinces or rural areas, which the company says often limits their access to banking and credit-related services.
The funding will be used to expand MFast to more cities and provinces in Vietnam, develop its technology and partner with more institutions. MFast also plans to enter other markets in the future.
MFast’s consumer credit partners include Mirae Asset, CIMB, Mcredit and Easy Credit, and its insurance partners include PVI, PTI and BSH. It claims to have a network of more than 350,000 advisors, who offers their services through the app, and that its data analysis tools are able to reduce bad debt and fraud rates.
As nations like the United States prepare for a summer of hugs, gatherings and other activities safe for the vaccinated, nations still scrambling for shots are seeing some of their worst outbreaks.
The nation has prided itself on containing the coronavirus. But an outbreak at a church in Ho Chi Minh City and the emergence of a deadly new variant suggest its luck may be running out.
Vietnam has one of the fastest-growing e-commerce markets in Southeast Asia, but many major platforms still focus on large cities. This means people in smaller cities or rural areas need to deal with longer wait times for deliveries. Social commerce company Mio is taking advantage of that gap by building a reseller network and logistics infrastructure that can offer next-day delivery to tier 2 and 3 cities.
The startup, which currently focuses on fresh groceries and plans to expand into more categories, announced today it has raised $1 million in seed funding. The round was co-led by Venturra Discovery and Golden Gate Ventures. Other participants included iSeed SEA, DoorDash executive Gokul Rajaram and Vidit Aatrey and Sanjeev Barnwal, co-founders of Indian social commerce unicorn Meesho.
Rajaram, Aatrey and Barnwal will become advisors to Mio co-founder and chief executive officer Trung Huynh, former investment associate at IDG Ventures Vietnam. Other founders include An Pham, who also co-founded Temasek-backed logistics startup SCommerce, Tu Le and Long Pham.
Founded in June 2020, Mio now claims hundreds of agents, or resellers. They are primarily women aged 25 to 35 years old who live in smaller cities or rural areas. Most join Mio because they want to supplement their household income, which is usually below $350, Huynh and Venturra investment associate Valerie Vu told TechCrunch in an email.
The social commerce model works for them because they are part of tight-knit communities that are already used to making group orders together. On average, Mio claims that its resellers make about $200 to $300, earning a 10% commission on each order, and additional commissions based on the monthly performance of resellers they referred to the platform.
Mio is among a crop of social commerce startups across Asia that leverage the buying power of areas where major e-commerce players haven’t reached dominance yet. For example, lower tier cities fueled Pinduoduo’s meteoric rise in China, while Meesho has built a distribution network in 5,000 Indian cities. Other examples of social commerce areas focused on smaller cities and rural areas include “hyperlocal” startup Super and KitaBeli, both in Indonesia, and Resellee in the Philippines.
Social commerce companies typically don’t require resellers to carry inventory. Instead, resellers pick what items they want to market to their buyers. In Mio’s case, most of their resellers’ customers are friends, family members and neighbors, and they promote group orders through social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram or Zalo, Vietnam’s most popular messaging app. Then they place and manage orders through Mio’s reseller app.
To address delivery challenges, Mio is building an in-house logistics and fulfillment system, including a new distribution center in Thu Duc that can distribute goods to all of Ho Chi Minh and the surrounding five cities in Binh Dong and Dong Nai provinces. Vu and Huynh said Mio can process up to tens of thousands of daily order units at the center. Mio is also able to perform next-day deliveries for orders that are made prior to 8PM.
To lower logistics costs and ensure quick delivery times, Mio limits the number of products in its inventory. The company currently focuses on grocery staples, including fresh produce and poultry, and plans to add FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) and household appliances, too, especially white-label goods that have a higher profit margin.
Mio’s new funding will be used on its distribution center, and hiring for its tech and product teams. The startup plans to add more personalization options for product categories and resellers, so they can build their own brand identities.
Kacey Vu Shap spent 25 years trying to forget the Vietnamese orphanage of his childhood. Why did he go back?
Nano Technologies, a startup that lets workers in Vietnam access their earned wages immediately through an app called VUI, has raised $3 million in seed funding. The oversubscribed round was led by returning investors Golden Gate Ventures and Venturra Discovery, and included participation from FEBE Ventures, Openspace Ventures and Goodwater Capital.
Nano recently took part in Y Combinator’s accelerator program. Golden Gate Ventures and Venturra Discovery both participated in its pre-seed funding. The startup was founded at the beginning of 2020 by Dzung Dang, formerly a general manager at Uber and chief executive officer of ZaloPay, and Thang Nguyen, who previously served as chief technology officer at Focal Labs and SeeSpace.
VUI launched six months ago, and now serves more than 20,000 employees from companies like GS25, LanChi Mart and Annam Gourmet. Nano Technologies claims that about 50% to 60% of employees sign up for VUI as soon as their employers offer it, and use the service about three times every month to withdraw their earned wages.
Nano’s earned wage access features can be used by employers of all sizes, in all sectors, to offer flexible pay to their employees, but its focus is currently on retail, food and beverage, and manufacturing, especially for textiles, garments and shoes. The startup says companies in these sectors have seen recruitment costs increase, while worker retention drops. This is in part because many people are opting for gig economy jobs, like ride-sharing, where their earning are automatically deposited into their digital wallets or bank accounts.
Nano usually fronts wage advances, and then is paid back back by employers on their paydays through payroll deduction. Employers who have higher liquidity can also front wages through their own balance sheets. VUI is usually offered by employers as a benefit, and they can opt to cover fees, have their workers pay fees or use a co-pay model.
Nano is among a crop of companies across the world that offer earned wage access, meant to help companies retain workers by letting them withdraw earnings whenever they want, instead of waiting until payday. In Southeast Asia, this also includes GajiGesa in Indonesia. In the rest of the world, other companies that offer similar services include Square, London-based Wagestream and Gusto). Nano’s plan is to continue focusing on Vietnam, and develop new products for employers, including tools for managing staff and engagement.
In a press statement, Chi Phan, the CEO of LanChi Mart, a subsidiary of Central Retail with about 2,000 employees, said “On-demand salary via VUI is an obvious idea and practical HR initiative that LanChi team is pleased to roll out to our employees as a new voluntary benefit. VUI provides a much-needed financial lifeline from LanChi to our employees, keeping the employee morale up during the COVID-19 pandemic and reducing attrition rites post-Tet.”
Victims in Southeast Asia have never received compensation from the chemical giants that supplied herbicides during the Vietnam War.
Based in Ho Chi Minh City, Docosan helps patients avoid long waits by letting them search and book doctors through its app. The company announced today it has raised more than $1 million in seed funding, which is claims is one of the largest seed rounds ever for a Vietnamese healthtech startup. The investment was led by AppWorks, the Taiwan-based early-stage investor and accelerator program, with participation from David Ma and Huat Ventures.
Founded in 2020, the app has been used by about 50,000 patients for bookings and now has more than 300 individual healthcare providers, ranging from small family pediatric clinics to neurosurgeons at large private hospitals, co-founder and chief executive officer Beth Ann Lopez told TechCrunch. Providers are vetted before being added to the platform and have on average 18 years of clinical experience.
Lopez said advance doctor bookings aren’t the norm in Vietnam. Instead, people who use private healthcare providers have to “choose between over 30,000 private hospitals and clinics spread across the hospital with huge variations in price and quality. This is why people use word of mouth recommendations from their family and friends to choose a healthcare provider. Then they show up at a hospital or clinic and wait in line, sometimes for hours.”
Docosan’s users can filter providers with criteria like location and specialty, and see pricing information and verified customer reviews. It recently added online payment features and insurance integrations. The company, which took part in Harvard’s Launch Lab X plans to launch telehealth and pharmacy services as well.
For healthcare providers on the app, Docosan provides software to manage bookings and ease wait times, a key selling point during the COVID-19 pandemic because many people are reluctant to sit in crowded waiting rooms. Lopez said another benefit is reducing the number of marketing and adminstrative tasks doctors have to do, allowing them to spend more time with patients.
The startup plans to expand into other countries. “Docosan is a solution that works well anywhere with a large, fragmented private healthcare system,” said Lopez. “We would all benefit from a world in which it’s as easy to find a great doctor as it is a book a Grab taxi.”
In press statement, AppWorks partner Andy Tsai said, “We noticed Docosan’s potential early on because of its participation in the AppWorks Accelerator. Docosan’s founders demonstrated strong experience and dedication to the healthcare issues in the region. We are proud to be supporting Docosan’s vision of better healthcare access for all.”
Dat Bike, a Vietnamese startup with ambitions to become the top electric motorbike company in Southeast Asia, has raised $2.6 million in pre-Series A funding led by Jungle Ventures. Made in Vietnam with mostly domestic parts, Dat Bike’s selling point is its ability to compete with gas motorbikes in terms of pricing and performance. Its new funding is the first time Jungle Ventures has invested in the mobility sector and included participation from Wavemaker Partners, Hustle Fund and iSeed Ventures.
Founder and chief executive officer Son Nguyen began learning how to build bikes from scrap parts while working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. In 2018, he moved back to Vietnam and launched Dat Bike. More than 80% of households in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam own two-wheeled vehicles, but the majority are fueled by gas. Nguyen told TechCrunch that many people want to switch to electric motorbikes, but a major obstacle is performance.
Nguyen said that Dat Bike offers three times the performance (5 kW versus 1.5 kW) and 2 times the range (100 km versus 50 km) of most electric motorbikes in the market, at the same price point. The company’s flagship motorbike, called Weaver, was created to compete against gas motorbikes. It seats two people, which Nguyen noted is an important selling point in Southeast Asian countries, and has a 5000W motor that accelerates from 0 to 50 km per hour in three seconds. The Weaver can be fully charged at a standard electric outlet in about three hours, and reach up to 100 km on one charge (the motorbike’s next iteration will go up to 200 km on one charge).
Dat Bike’s opened its first physical store in Ho Chi Minh City last December. Nguyen said the company “has shipped a few hundred motorbikes so far and still have a backlog of orders.” He added that it saw a 35% month-over-month growth in new orders after the Ho Chi Minh City store opened.
At 39.9 million dong, or about $1,700 USD, Weaver’s pricing is also comparable to the median price of gas motorbikes. Dat Bike partners with banks and financial institutions to offer consumers twelve-month payment plans with no interest.
“These guys are competing with each other to put the emerging middle class of Vietnam on the digital financial market for the first time ever and as a result, we get a very favorable rate,” he said.
While Vietnam’s government hasn’t implemented subsidies for electric motorbikes yet, the Ministry of Transportation has proposed new regulations mandating electric infrastructure at parking lots and bike stations, which Nguyen said will increase the adoption of electric vehicles. Other Vietnamese companies making electric two-wheeled vehicles include VinFast and PEGA.
One of Dat Bike’s advantages is that its bikes are developed in house, with locally-sourced parts. Nguyen said the benefits of manufacturing in Vietnam, instead of sourcing from China and other countries, include streamlined logistics and a more efficient supply chain, since most of Dat Bike’s suppliers are also domestic.
“There are also huge tax advantages for being local, as import tax for bikes is 45% and for bike parts ranging from 15% to 30%,” said Nguyen. “Trade within Southeast Asia is tariff-free though, which means that we have a competitive advantage to expand to the region, compare to foreign imported bikes.”
Dat Bike plans to expand by building its supply chain in Southeast Asia over the next two to three years, with the help of investors like Jungle Ventures.
In a statement, Jungle Ventures founding partner Amit Anand said, “The $25 billion two-wheeler industry in Southeast Asia in particular is ripe for reaping benefits of new developments in electric vehicles and automation. We believe that Dat Bike will lead this charge and create a new benchmark not just in the region but potentially globally for what the next generation of two-wheeler electric vehicles will look and perform like.”