Vietnam-based CoderSchool gets $2.6M pre-Series A to scale online course platform

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.

“After having taught over 2,000 students, we’ve been able to refine our [coding education] content. We rewrote our full-stack web development course — from Ruby, Phyton to JavaScript — in two years, and added new machine learning and data science courses to our program,” Lee told TechCrunch.

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.

#asia, #coderschool, #coding, #coding-school, #education, #funding, #monks-hill-venture, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

Financial comparison “super app” Jeff raises $1.5M seed extension

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.

#alternative-credit-scoring, #asia, #financial-aggregator, #financial-services, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #jeff, #jeff-app, #loan-comparisons, #philippines, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

How the U.S. Made War Humane and Endless

The withdrawal from Afghanistan is a final step in the transformation of American warfare into something sanitized and edited out of view.

#afghanistan, #afghanistan-war-2001, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #bush-george-w, #central-intelligence-agency, #civilian-casualties, #deaths-fatalities, #detainees, #drones-pilotless-planes, #guantanamo-bay-naval-base-cuba, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #human-rights-watch, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces, #vietnam

The Grooviest Cocoons in the Insect Kingdom

Larvae of some paper wasp species use mysteriously fluorescent silk to weave the container in which they mature to adulthood.

#journal-of-the-royal-society-interface, #research, #ultraviolet-light, #vietnam, #wasps-insects, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

America’s Military Is Too Big for America’s Good

Global military dominance has not lived up to its hype for American interests. 

#afghanistan, #afghanistan-war-2001, #defense-and-military-forces, #johnson-lyndon-baines, #truman-harry-s, #united-states, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces, #vietnam

North Base Media leads $2.7M pre-Series A funding in digital media startup Vietcetera

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.

 

#asia, #digital-media, #digital-media-network, #north-base-media, #online-media, #southeast-asia, #tc, #vietcetera, #vietnam

Kamala Harris Pledges U.S. Help for Afghan Women and Children

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.”

#afghanistan, #afghanistan-war-2001, #china, #harris-kamala-d, #south-china-sea, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government, #vietnam

In Southeast Asia, Kamala Harris Rebukes China

The vice president rebuked China and sought to fortify the image of the United States as a credible ally amid growing questions about Afghanistan.

#afghanistan-war-2001, #china, #harris-kamala-d, #lee-hsien-loong, #singapore, #south-china-sea, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government, #vietnam

SoBanHang gets $1.5M to help small Vietnamese stores sell online for the first time

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.”

A photo of a merchant in Vietnam looking at a smartphone

One of SoBanHang’s clients

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.

#asia, #bookkeeping, #e-commerce, #fundings-exits, #small-retailers, #smes, #sobanhang, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

Afghanistan War Ends With Little Recognition in U.S.

At any Army base in Colorado, little acknowledgment as the war in Afghanistan comes to an abrupt and chaotic end.

#afghanistan, #afghanistan-war-2001, #september-11-2001, #shanksville-pa, #terrorism, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces, #vietnam

Vietnam War Victims Seek Answers on Massacre from South Korea

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.

#afghanistan-war-2001, #civilian-casualties, #hanoi-vietnam, #murders-attempted-murders-and-homicides, #south-korea, #vietnam, #vietnam-war, #war-crimes-genocide-and-crimes-against-humanity

What America Owes Afghanistan and Vietnam War Victims

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.

#afghanistan, #afghanistan-war-2001, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #refugees-and-displaced-persons, #terrorism, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces, #vietnam, #vietnam-war, #vietnamese-americans

A close look at Singapore’s thriving startup ecosystem

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.

#alibaba, #asia, #china, #column, #coworking, #ec-column, #ec-southeast-asia-oceania, #funding, #government, #indonesia, #malaysia, #philippines, #razer, #singapore, #startup-ecosystem, #startups, #tc, #thailand, #unicorn, #vc, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #vietnam, #world-bank

What’s driving the global surge in retail media spending?

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.

#amazon, #asia, #brand-management, #column, #covid-19, #ec-column, #ec-marketing-tech, #ecommerce, #facebook, #indonesia, #malaysia, #marketing, #media, #shopee, #singapore, #social, #southeast-asia, #thailand, #tiki, #tokopedia, #vietnam

Vietnamese on-demand e-commerce platform Loship raises $12M at a valuation of $100M

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.”

#e-commerce, #fundings-exits, #loship, #on-demand, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

INKR draws in $3.1M to make more comics accessible to worldwide audiences

A photo of digital comics platform INKR's team

Digital comics platform INKR’s team

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.

A screenshot with some of the titles on digital comics platform INKR

Some of the titles on INKR

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.”

#apps, #asia, #comics, #digital-comics-platform, #entertainment, #fundings-exits, #inkr, #inkr-comics, #publishing, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

Kamereo gets $4.6M to connect farmers and F&B businesses in Vietnam

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.

One of Kamereo's warehouses for fresh farm products

One of Kamereo’s warehouses for fresh farm products

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.”

#agriculture, #asia, #b2b, #farmers, #food, #food-and-beverage, #kamereo, #southeast-asia, #tc, #vietnam

‘In the End We Felt Betrayed’: Vietnamese Veterans See Echoes in Afghanistan

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.

#afghanistan, #afghanistan-war-2001, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #defense-and-military-forces, #united-states-defense-and-military-forces, #vietnam, #vietnam-war, #vietnamese-americans

Vietnamese investment app Infina lands $2M seed round

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.”

#asia, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #investment-app, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

Equity Live: This is what leadership smells like

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:

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.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#a16z, #academy-investor-network, #buzzfeed, #crypto, #diversity, #early-stage, #edtech, #equity, #equity-podcast, #figma, #fintech, #fund, #fundings-exits, #insight-partners, #majority, #mfast, #military, #neobanks, #spac, #startups, #vietnam, #waitwhat

Vietnamese financial services app MFast gets $1.5M pre-Series A led by Do Ventures

MFast founders Phan Thanh Long and Phan Thanh Vinh

MFast founders Phan Thanh Long and Phan Thanh Vinh

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. 

#apps, #digipay, #do-ventures, #financial-services, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #jafco-asia, #mfast, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

A Return to Normal? Not for Countries With Covid Surges and Few Vaccines.

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.

#argentina, #bogota-colombia, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #disease-rates, #mexico, #our-world-in-data, #paraguay, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization, #vietnam, #world-health-organization

Vietnam Faces a Wave of Covid Cases and a Troubling New Variant

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.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #disease-rates, #ho-chi-minh-city-vietnam, #ministers-protestant, #quarantines, #vietnam

Mio, a social commerce startup focused on smaller cities and rural areas in Vietnam, raises $1M seed

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.

#apps, #fundings-exits, #group-buying, #mio, #mio-app, #social-commerce, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

Modern Love Podcast: She Left Me There

Kacey Vu Shap spent 25 years trying to forget the Vietnamese orphanage of his childhood. Why did he go back?

#adoptions, #ho-chi-minh-city-vietnam, #love-emotion, #orphans-and-orphanages, #vietnam

Vietnamese flexible pay startup Nano raises $3M seed round

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.”

#apps, #asia, #earned-wage-access, #fintech, #flexible-pay, #fundings-exits, #nano-technologies, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam, #vui

America, Please Don’t Forget the Victims of Agent Orange

Victims in Southeast Asia have never received compensation from the chemical giants that supplied herbicides during the Vietnam War.

#agent-orange-defoliant, #cambodia, #laos, #nguyen-phan-que-mai, #vietnam, #vietnam-war

Vietnam-based healthcare booking app Docosan gets $1M seed funding led by AppWorks

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.”

#asia, #docosan, #health, #healthcare, #healthtech, #southeast-asia, #tc, #telehealth, #vietnam

Vietnamese electric motorbike startup Dat Bike raises $2.6M led by Jungle Ventures

Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike on one of the startup's motorbikes

Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike

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.”

#asia, #dat-bike, #electric-motorbike, #electric-vehicles, #fundings-exits, #mobility, #motorbike, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine

A new formulation entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic.

#antibodies, #bangkok-thailand, #biology-and-biochemistry, #brazil, #clinical-trials, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #drugs-pharmaceuticals, #eggs, #factories-and-manufacturing, #gates-bill-and-melinda-foundation, #immune-system, #influenza, #mclellan-jason-researcher, #mers-middle-east-respiratory-syndrome, #thailand, #vietnam, #your-feed-health, #your-feed-science

Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Covid-19 Vaccine

A new formulation entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic.

#antibodies, #bangkok-thailand, #biology-and-biochemistry, #brazil, #clinical-trials, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #drugs-pharmaceuticals, #eggs, #factories-and-manufacturing, #gates-bill-and-melinda-foundation, #immune-system, #influenza, #mclellan-jason-researcher, #mers-middle-east-respiratory-syndrome, #thailand, #vietnam, #your-feed-health, #your-feed-science

With Swarms of Ships, Beijing Tightens Its Grip on South China Sea

After building artificial islands, China is using large fleets of ostensibly civilian boats to press other countries’ vessels out of disputed waters.

#china, #duterte-rodrigo, #international-relations, #malaysia, #philippines, #reefs, #south-china-sea, #territorial-disputes, #vietnam, #xi-jinping

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

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

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

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

Going remote even before the pandemic

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

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

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

Competing for specialized skills

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

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

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

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

Cash versus equity

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

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

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

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

YC-backed Homebase is an alternative to traditional mortgages for home buyers in Vietnam

Homebase co-founders Phillip An and Junyuan Tan

Homebase co-founders Phillip An and Junyuan Tan

The home ownership rate in Vietnam is about 90%, but many millennials are struggling to join that number. Rising property prices in cities, coupled with a lack of financing options, mean more people have to delay buying their first homes unless they have family support.

Part of Y Combinator’s latest batch, Homebase was founded in 2019 to give prospective buyers in Vietnam an alternative to traditional financing. Homebase acts as a co-investor, buying a share of property with customers, who then have the option of purchasing equity from Homebase until they take full ownership, or selling the property for their portion of the proceeds. In the meantime, buyers pay rent to Homebase that corresponds to the company’s stake, and have full usage rights to the home, so they can live in or rent it.

Co-founders Junyuan Tan and Phillip An originally started Homebase in Singapore, but decided to focus on Vietnam because Tan had lived there while working on his previous startups, RePrice Technologies and Atlantis Lab. Tan wanted to buy a home, but found bank mortgages charged high interest rates even on short-term loans.

“If you look at the whole of Southeast Asia, compared to Europe or the U.S., there are really no other solutions, like government schemes or rent-to-own financing solutions,” Homebase chief operating officer Phillip An told TechCrunch.

Its model is similar to Divvy Homes and ZeroDown in the United States and, in fact, leaders from both startups have invested in Homebase (Divvy Homes co-founder Brian Ma and ZeroDown’s former COO Troy Steckenrider). Homebase’s other backers include VinaCapital Ventures, Class 5 Global, Pegasus Technology Ventures, 1982 Ventures, Antler and Darius Cheung, the founder and CEO of 99.co.

Most of Homebase’s transactions are currently in Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon, and it plans to expand into Hanoi and Danang by the end of this year. Ultimately, Homebase’s goal is to enter other Southeast Asian markets where home owners also face a dearth of financing options, like Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

In Vietnam, about 70% of adults are “unbanked,” meaning they don’t have a bank account, which makes it difficult to apply for mortgages. An said some of Homebase’s customers use the service because they are unbanked. Other customers have financial accounts, but see Homebase as a faster, more flexible option to bank loans.

Its contracts range from one to 10 years, and at the end, customers have the option of buying all the equity in the property or selling it with Homebase to get back their investment. The amount of equity customers buy at the start also varies. For example, home buyers who are using Homebase as an alternative to mortgages typically take an initial 20% to 30% stake in the property, while real estate investors often start with a 50% stake.

Homebase finances its stake in properties in part by working with third-party financial institutions, including private high-net worth individuals and family offices who see it as an opportunity to diversify their holdings into a new asset class. An said the company is also talking to different types of funds, including equity, hedge, real estate debt and emerging market debt, from Europe, the United States and Singapore.

To screen applicants, Homebase has an internal checklist and onboarding process, and it also works with real estate agents, developers and other partners in Vietnam.

For those third parties, Homebase serves as a value-add tool that helps them close more deals by providing a way for customers to get financing. Homebase also performs due diligence on potential properties, including examining documentation and permits, and has built an asset valuation model based on existing property data, transaction data and information from developers.

An said this valuation service, which Homebase is expanding, is a key part of the business because it provides assurance to buyers that the company’s incentives are aligned with theirs.

“We stand to risk our investment, too,” he said. “Many customers are also first-time buyers and they want more help to find a good property.”

#asia, #fundings-exits, #homebase, #real-estate, #rent-to-own, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam, #y-combinator

Jeff raises $1M to build alternative credit scoring and other fintech products for Southeast Asia

According to the World Bank, more than one billion people in South and East Asia lack access to a bank account. For many, this makes it is difficult to secure loans and other services because they don’t have traditional financial records like a credit score. Jeff’s loan brokerage platform was created to make it easier for financial service providers to integrate alternative data scoring, allowing them reach more potential borrowers.

The startup, which launched its app in Vietnam last year, announced today it has raised $1 million, led by the Estonian Business Angels Network (EstBAN). The funding will be used to enter other Southeast Asian markets, including Indonesia and the Philippines, and introduce new products, like free credit score and insurance offers, digital discount coupons and mobile wallet cashbacks. Other participants in the round included Startup Wise Guys; Taavi Tamkivi, the founder of Salv who formerly held lead roles at TransferWise and Skype; and angel investors from European on-demand ride platform Bolt.

Jeff currently claims more than 300,000 users in Vietnam. Though it is based in Latvia, Jeff will continue focusing on unbanked people in South and Southeast Asia, said founder and chief executive officer Toms Niparts. Its goal is to build a “super app” that combines personalized loan comparisons with other services like e-commerce, mobile top-ups and online discounts, Niparts told TechCrunch in an email.

Before starting Jeff, Niparts was CEO of Spain for Digital Finance International, a fintech company that is part of the Finstar Financial Group, which has investments in more than 30 countries. This gave Niparts the chance to “learn about the similarities and differences of financial services from the inside in different markets,” he said.

In particular, he saw that in Southeast Asian countries, most loan applicants “were rejected not because of bad credit history, low income or other similar reasons, but because there was not enough data about them.” While some lending companies have developed pilot projects for alternative data scoring, the process is often time-consuming, complicated and expensive.

“This is a massive problem in a big part of the world, and it makes absolute sense to build it as a centralised solution,” Niparts said.

In Vietnam, Jeff currently has between 12 to 15 active partners at a time (the number changes because lenders occasionally turn off demand, a standard industry practice), and is adding another eight to 10. In total, the company now has about 80 to 100 potential partners in its Vietnam pipeline, and part of its new funding will be used to expand its team to speed up the onboarding process.

In Indonesia, Jeff has identified about 40 potential partners, “but so far we have only been scratching the surface,” said Niparts. “The Indonesian market is considerably larger than what we have seen in Vietnam, and the forecast is we will grow the pipeline to 150-200 banks and partners in 2021.”

The company’s selling point hinges on its ability to accurately measure creditworthiness based on alternative data. For lenders, this means more pre-qualified leads and access to a larger customer segment.

“Building a credit score is a never-ending process, and we are at the very early stages of it. What we have right now is mainly around publicly accessible information and client-consented data,” Niparts said. This includes behavioral analytics, smart devices meta data, data from social media and other sources that have open APIs.

As Jeff grows, it also plans to make partnerships with mobile wallets, telecom companies and consumer apps. It is developing a lender toolkit that includes bank portal and lender API to reduce the amount of time needed to integrate with the app.

Loan brokerage app Jeff's onboarding chatbot, shown on a smartphone display

Jeff’s onboarding chatbot

Borrowers sign up for Jeff with the app’s chatbot and can start getting offers once they enter basic information like their name, contact information, the amount they want to borrow and the purpose of the loan. But adding more details and data sources to their profiles, which are screened by multiple lenders at once, increases their chances of approval, and unlocks more offers. This may include uploading documents, connecting social media accounts or consenting to share their smart device metadata.

“As we evolve, new integrations and compatible accounts from other service providers—such as utilities, food delivery, and more—will be regularly added,” said Niparts.

Jeff’s partners currently offer near-prime, peer-to-peer and digital lending services that include unsecured consumer loans, installment loans and motorbike financing. It plans to add more loan products, and is also working on its first insurance collaborations, credit cards and other bank-grade products.

“Our ambition for Jeff is to become a super app, where people can not only get access to financial services that were previously unavailable to them, but also tap in other benefits and discounts,” Niparts said. “This is also a great way to learn more about creditworthiness and what’s on demand. Every new interactions gives us more data and insights to further evolve the accuracy and value added of Jeff’s credit score.”

The number of fintech startups focused on financial inclusion is on the rise across Southeast Asia. Jeff’s competitors fall into two main categories. The first are comparison portals like TopBank, TheBank and GoBear (which recently announced it is closing), that allow users to compare financial providers and banks, but don’t focus on enabling them to access services. The second are companies like CredoLab, Seon and Kalap that provide third-party services like single data-source insights and fraud prevention, but “do not have control over the customer journey,” Nipsart said.

Jeff’s goal is to “be a one-stop shop for both,” he added. “We provide both clients, as well as deeper insights about them for banks and other partners using our platform. At the same time, we are the main point of interaction for the users, which not only solves the main need of comparing financial services and accessing them, but also offers an increasing range of other discounts and benefits.”

#asia, #europe, #financial-inclusion, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #jeff, #latvia, #loan-brokerage, #philippines, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #vietnam

No-code business intelligence service y42 raises $2.9M seed round

Berlin-based y42 (formerly known as Datos Intelligence), a data warehouse-centric business intelligence service that promises to give businesses access to an enterprise-level data stack that’s as simple to use as a spreadsheet, today announced that it has raised a $2.9 million seed funding round led by La Famiglia VC. Additional investors include the co-founders of Foodspring, Personio and Petlab.

The service, which was founded in 2020, integrates with over 100 data sources, covering all the standard B2B SaaS tools from Airtable to Shopify and Zendesk, as well as database services like Google’s BigQuery. Users can then transform and visualize this data, orchestrate their data pipelines and trigger automated workflows based on this data (think sending Slack notifications when revenue drops or emailing customers based on your own custom criteria).

Like similar startups, y42 extends the idea data warehouse, which was traditionally used for analytics, and helps businesses operationalize this data. At the core of the service is a lot of open source and the company, for example, contributes to GitLabs’ Meltano platform for building data pipelines.

y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang

y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang.

“We’re taking the best of breed open-source software. What we really want to accomplish is to create a tool that is so easy to understand and that enables everyone to work with their data effectively,” Y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang told me. “We’re extremely UX obsessed and I would describe us as no-code/low-code BI tool — but with the power of an enterprise-level data stack and the simplicity of Google Sheets.”

Before y42, Vietnam-born Dang co-founded a major events company that operated in over 10 countries and made millions in revenue (but with very thin margins), all while finishing up his studies with a focus on business analytics. And that in turn led him to also found a second company that focused on B2B data analytics.

Image Credits: y42

Even while building his events company, he noted, he was always very product- and data-driven. “I was implementing data pipelines to collect customer feedback and merge it with operational data — and it was really a big pain at that time,” he said. “I was using tools like Tableau and Alteryx, and it was really hard to glue them together — and they were quite expensive. So out of that frustration, I decided to develop an internal tool that was actually quite usable and in 2016, I decided to turn it into an actual company. ”

He then sold this company to a major publicly listed German company. An NDA prevents him from talking about the details of this transaction, but maybe you can draw some conclusions from the fact that he spent time at Eventim before founding y42.

Given his background, it’s maybe no surprise that y42’s focus is on making life easier for data engineers and, at the same time, putting the power of these platforms in the hands of business analysts. Dang noted that y42 typically provides some consulting work when it onboards new clients, but that’s mostly to give them a head start. Given the no-code/low-code nature of the product, most analysts are able to get started pretty quickly  — and for more complex queries, customers can opt to drop down from the graphical interface to y42’s low-code level and write queries in the service’s SQL dialect.

The service itself runs on Google Cloud and the 25-people team manages about 50,000 jobs per day for its clients. the company’s customers include the likes of LifeMD, Petlab and Everdrop.

Until raising this round, Dang self-funded the company and had also raised some money from angel investors. But La Famiglia felt like the right fit for y42, especially due to its focus on connecting startups with more traditional enterprise companies.

“When we first saw the product demo, it struck us how on top of analytical excellence, a lot of product development has gone into the y42 platform,” said Judith Dada, General Partner at LaFamiglia VC. “More and more work with data today means that data silos within organizations multiply, resulting in chaos or incorrect data. y42 is a powerful single source of truth for data experts and non-data experts alike. As former data scientists and analysts, we wish that we had y42 capabilities back then.”

Dang tells me he could have raised more but decided that he didn’t want to dilute the team’s stake too much at this point. “It’s a small round, but this round forces us to set up the right structure. For the series, A, which we plan to be towards the end of this year, we’re talking about a dimension which is 10x,” he told me.

#alteryx, #analytics, #berlin, #big-data, #business-intelligence, #business-software, #ceo, #cloud, #data, #data-analysis, #data-management, #data-warehouse, #enterprise, #general-partner, #information-technology, #judith-dada, #recent-funding, #shopify, #sql, #startups, #vietnam

Georgia Attacks Prompt a Muted Reaction in Asia

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

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

I Don’t Want My Role Models Erased

This is how women who covered Vietnam were marginalized in the war’s history.

#agence-france-presse, #burns-ken, #fitzgerald-frances, #halberstam-david, #kate-webb, #leroy-catherine, #malcolm-browne, #national-book-awards, #pulitzer-prizes, #sheehan-neil, #united-press-international, #vietnam, #vietnam-war, #women-and-girls, #womens-rights

Countries Tried to Curb Trade in Plastic Waste. The U.S. Is Shipping More.

Data shows that American exporters continue to ship plastic waste overseas, often to poorer countries, even though most of the world has agreed to not accept it.

#basel-action-network, #center-for-international-environmental-law, #corporations, #floods, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #indonesia, #international-trade-and-world-market, #kenya, #malaysia, #plastics, #recycling-of-waste-materials, #ships-and-shipping, #united-states, #vietnam, #waste-materials-and-disposal