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Home improvement startup Houzz partners with Indian media company Times Bridge

Houzz is expanding its presence in India by partnering with Times Bridge, the investment arm of The Times Group.

As a result of the deal, Houzz said its content will be integrated into The Times Group’s online properties, including the Times of India. A Houzz spokesperson said this will be “the authentic Houzz experience” with the full functionality of the platform, which connects users with home remodeling and design professionals.

Houzz first launched a beta test in India in November of last year, before becoming fully available across the country in January. The company says it now has more than 80,000 active professionals in India.

The deal also includes an investment of undisclosed size from Times Bridge. Houzz raised a $400 million round at a $4 billion valuation earlier this year.

“From its unique design aesthetic and products to its professional talent and expertise, India has become an important part of the global design language Houzz is facilitating,” said Houzz co-founder and CEO Adi Tatarko (pictured above) in the announcement. “We’re delighted to partner with The Times Group and connect even more Indian homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home professionals with our global platform.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Truecaller makes first acquisition to build out payment and financial services in India

Sweden’s Truecaller started out life as a service that screens calls and messages to weed out spammers. In recent times the company has switched its focus to India, its largest market based on users, adding services that include payments to make it more useful. Now Truecaller is putting even more weight behind its India push after it announced its first acquisition, mobile payment service Chillr.

The vision is to go deeper into mobile payments and associated services to turn Truecaller into a utility that goes beyond just handling messages and calls, particularly payments — a space which WhatsApp is preparing to enter in India.

Truecaller doesn’t have WhatsApp -like scale — few companies can match 200 million active users in Indua, but it did recently disclose that it has 100 million daily active users worldwide, while India is its largest country with 150 million registered users.

Truecaller has raised over $90 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. TechCrunch reported in 2015 that it was in talks to raise $100 million at a valuation of around $1 billion, but a deal never happened. Truecaller has instead raised capital from Swedish investment firm Zenith. Chillr, meanwhile, had raised $7.5 million from the likes of Blume Ventures and Sequoia Capital.

Truecaller isn’t disclosing how much it has paid for the deal, but it said that Chillr’s entire team of 45 people will move over and the Chillr service will be phased out. In addition, Chillr CEO Sony Joy will become vice president of Truecaller Pay, running that India-based payment business which will inherit Chillr’s core features.

“We’ve acquire a company that is known for innovation and leading this space in terms of building a fantastic product,” Truecaller co-founder and CSO Nami Zarringhalam told TechCrunch in an interview.

Zarringhalam said the Truecaller team met with Chillr as part of an effort to reach out to partners to build out an ecosystem of third-party services, but quickly realized there was potential to come together.

“We realized we shared synergies in thought processes for caring for the customer and user experience,” he added, explaining that Joy and his Chillr team will “take over the vision of execution of Truecaller Pay.”

Truecaller added payments in India last year

Joy told TechCrunch that he envisages developing Truecaller Pay into one of India’s top three payment apps over the next two years.

Already, the service supports peer-to-peer payments following a partnership with ICICI Bank, but there are plans to layer on additional services from third parties. That could include integrations to provide services such as loans, financing, micro-insurance and more.

Joy pointed out that India’s banking push has seen many people in the country sign up for at least one account, so now the challenge is not necessarily getting banked but instead getting access to the right services. Thanks to gathering information through payments and other customer data, Truecaller could, with permission from users, share data with financial services companies to give users access to services that wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.

“Most citizens have a bank account (in each household), now being underserved is more to do with access to other services,” he explained.

Joy added that Truecaller is aiming to layer in value added services over its SMS capabilities, digging into the fact that SMS remains a key communication and information channel in India. For example, helping users pay for items confirmed via SMS, or pay for an order which is tracked via SMS.

The development of the service in India has made it look from the outside that the company is splitting into two, a product localized for India and another for the rest of the world. However, Zarringhalam said that the company plans to replicate its approach — payments and more — in other markets.

“It could be based on acquisitions or partners, time will tell,” he said. “But our plan is to develop this for all markers where our market penetration is high and the market dynamics are right.”

Truecaller has raised over $90 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. TechCrunch reported in 2015 that it was in talks to raise $100 million at a valuation of around $1 billion, but a deal never happened. Truecaller has instead raised capital from Swedish investment firm Zenith.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Sea seeks $400M raise to develop its e-commerce and payment businesses

Southeast Asia-based internet firm Sea is raising $400 million through the sale of notes in what would be its first fundraising activity since it went public via in an October 2017 IPO that raised over $1 billion.

The Singapore-based company, formerly known as Garena, said that the senior note offering will put toward general costs and business expansion. Long-time investor Tencent is expected to buy up $50 million of the notes on offer, and the offering itself could be extended by a further $60 million.

Sea’s IPO was a landmark for Southeast Asia, where startup exits are few and far between, but the company hasn’t exactly set Wall Street on fire since making its public bow. Its share price is $16.40 at the time of writing, having debuted at $15. It has risen thanks to gains over the past month following its most recent earnings but initially the company spent a lot of time priced under $15.

Sea share price, via Yahoo Finance

So what got investors excited? In short, signs of growth.

Revenue for Q1 jumped 81 percent year-on-year as its Shopee e-commerce service doubled its GMV and the firm’s AirPay payment unit quadrupled its transaction volume, but ultimately the business remains unprofitable. Losses jumped from $73 million to $216 million and Sea’s cost of revenue more than doubled, indicating that it is still chasing growth for its businesses.

While AirPay and Shopee, which competes with the likes of Alibaba-owned Lazada for the attention of Southeast Asia’s 600 million consumers, are growing, the same can’t be said of Sea’s main business. It rose to prominence selling games via its Garena service, with Tencent a particular ally here, but that business is seeing new user growth flatten and and revenue gains slow.

It makes sense that Sea is playing up its digital business since the big opportunity in Southeast Asia is e-commerce, as evidenced by Alibaba’s recent double-down on Lazada — which it first bought a majority stake in for $1 billion in 2016. Alibaba invested $1 billion more in 2017 and then a further $2 billion in March to increase its ownership. It also installed a number of its own executives in a bid to help Lazada grow its business and the overall e-commerce industry in Southeast Asia, too.

A much-cited report co-authored by Google forecasts that e-commerce in Southeast Asia will surpass $88 billion by 2025. That’s up from an estimated $10.9 billion in 2017.

Sea said previously that it expects Shopee to reach $8.2-$8.7 billion in GMV in 2018, a increase that’s potentially as high as 112 percent year-on-year. That’s up on its previous guidance of $7.5-$8 billion but, since it is GMV, it doesn’t translate to direct revenue for the company itself. Sea had previously boosted Shopee by allowing a high burn rate to fund merchant and buyer promotions. It only began to monetize the service last year.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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M17 delays IPO debut after pricing this morning on NYSE

M17 Entertainment, a Taipei-based live streaming and dating app group, priced its IPO this morning on the NYSE and was expected to open trading today according to their final press release. But with just a little more than two hours to go before market closing, it’s still not trading, and no one seems to know why.

An interview I had scheduled with the CEO earlier this afternoon was canceled at the last minute, with the company’s representative saying that M17 couldn’t comment since its shares were not yet actively trading, and thus the company remains under an SEC-mandated quiet period.

M17 has had a rocky non-debut so far. Originally targeting a fundraise of $115 million of American Depository Receipts (shares of foreign companies listed domestically on the NYSE), the company concluded its roadshow raising less than half of its target, for a final investment of $60.1 million. The company priced its ADR shares at $8 each, with each ADR representing 8 shares of the stock’s Class A security.

My colleague Jon Russell has covered the company’s rapid growth over the past three years. It was formed from the merger of dating app company Paktor and live streaming business 17 Media. Joseph Phua, who was CEO of Paktor, became CEO of the joint M17 company following the merger. Together, the two halves have raised tens of millions in venture capital.

M17 provides live streaming and dating apps throughout “Developed Asia”

The company’s main product is a live streaming product where creators can build their fanbases and brands. Fans can purchase virtual gifts to send to their favorite artists, and those points are proving to be extraordinarily lucrative for the company. The company, according to its amended F-1 statement, has seen tremendous revenue growth, netting $37.9 million of revenue in the first three months of this year. The company has also been able to attract more live streaming talent, increasing its contracted artists from 999 at the end of December 2016 to 7,719 at the end of March this year.

That’s where the good news ends for the company though. Despite that revenue growth, operating losses are torrential, with the company losing $24.8 million in the first three months of this year. The company in its statement says that it has $31.4 million in cash and cash equivalents, giving it limited runway to continue operations without a strong IPO debut.

User growth has been mostly stagnant. Active monthly users has increased from 1.5 million to 1.7 million between March 31 of 2017 and 2018. What the company has succeeded in doing is monetizing those users much better. The percentage of users paying on the platform has more than doubled over the same time period, and the value of those users has increased more than 40% to $355 per user per month.

The big challenge for M17 is revenue quality. Live streaming represents 91.4% of the company’s revenues, but those revenues are concentrated on a handful of “whales” who buy a freakishly high number of virtual gifts. The company’s top ten users represent 11.8% of all revenues (that’s $447,220 a user in the first three months this year!), and its top 500 users accounted for almost a majority of total revenues. That concentration on the demand side is just as heavy on the supply side. M17’s top 100 artists accounted for more than a third of the company’s revenue.

That concentration has improved over the past few months, according to the company’s filing. But Wall Street investors have learned after Zynga and other whale-based revenue models that the sustainability of these businesses can be tough.

Finally, one complication for many investors wary of the increasing use of dual-class stock issues is the governance of the company. Phua, the CEO, will have 56.3% of the voting rights of the company, and M17 will be a controlled company under NYSE rules according to the company’s amended filing. Class B shares vote at a 20:1 ratio with Class A share voting rights.

All of this is to say that while the company has had some dizzying growth in its revenue numbers over the past 24 months, that success is moderated by some significant challenges in revenue concentration that will have to be a top priority for M17 going forward. Why the company priced and hasn’t traded though remains a mystery, and we have reached out for more comments.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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