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November 21, 2018
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Korean e-commerce firm Coupang raises $2 billion from SoftBank’s Vision Fund

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Just days after a CIA report concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, SoftBank’s Vision Fund — the gargantuan investment vehicle anchored by a $45 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s PIF sovereign fund — is back in check-writing action.

Coupang, Korea’s largest e-commerce firm, revealed today that it has raised $2 billion from the Vision Fund. The investment comes weeks after SoftBank’s stake in Coupang was transferred over the Vision Fund, as the firm has done with a number of its investment.

No valuation was announced, but a source close to the deal told TechCrunch that it values Coupang at $9 billion post-money. This deal, which we understand is entirely new stock with no secondary sales, takes Coupang to $3.4 billion raised to date. Its last round was a $1 billion investment from SoftBank in 2015.

The deal is a massive validation for Coupang, which becomes the first Korean company to form a part of the Vision Fund, which SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son has championed as a network of global winners, but the link to the Khashoggi threatens to sour the achievement.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman is widely accused of ordering the killing of Washington Post reporter Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime. A Saudi-led investigation exonerated the prince’s role, however the CIA report released over the last week places the blame fairly squarely on his shoulders — while others in the Saudi royal family are reportedly plotting to replace the prince as the next in line to the throne.

Son himself condemned the killing as an “act against humanity” but, in a recent analyst presentation, he added that SoftBank has a “responsibility” to Saudi Arabia to deploy the capital and continue the Vision Fund.

The PIF’s role in Vision Fund — it is the largest single investor — has threatened to taint its efforts, with voices in Silicon Valley suggesting that many founders would prefer to take money from less-tainted sources. However, SoftBank has announced a number of deals in recent weeks — including a $375 million investment in robotic food-prep startup Zume and $1.1 billion deal with glass maker View — which contradicts that. Son himself said he hadn’t heard of any cases of startups refusing an investment from the Vision Fund, but he did admit that there “may be some impact” in the future.

Those investments haven’t stopped Coupang from taking an investment from the Vision Fund, and announcing it publicly, too.

“The Vision Fund is a visionary fund [and] we’re proud to be selected to work in partnership with it,” Coupang CEO Bom Kim told TechCrunch in an interview.

Kim said he doesn’t expect a backlash from the investment, claiming that the tension around Khashoggi’s death “doesn’t represent us and doesn’t represent these companies.”

Taking a vast amount of money from a fund whose mainer backer is a country that (reportedly) murdered a journalist who dared criticize the regime isn’t a good look. But ultimately, it remains to be seen how that will shake out. As the world’s waits on a fuller investigation from the CIA and responses from the Saudi royal family and SoftBank’s Son, the incident certainly does have the potential to weigh on Coupang’s positive news.

Coupang CEO Bom Kim started the company in 2010, now it is valued at $10 billion. [Image via Coupang]

Operating relatively under the global radar, Coupang has become Korea’s largest e-commerce player and it is actively looking to expand into other areas.

Founded in 2010, Kim claimed the company is “approaching” $5 billion in revenue for 2018 with 70 percent annual growth. One in every two adults in Korea have the Coupang app on their phone, the company claims. The company operates only in Korea, but it does have engineering outposts in Beijing, LA, Seattle, Shanghai, Silicon Valley and Seoul.

That impressive revenue number has increased 14x since 2014 which Kim accounts to a moment of clarity which saw the company’s focused redirected.

“We had plans to go public and had gotten pretty far along in the process but we realized that wouldn’t fulfill of our vision,” Kim explained. “Instead, we saw an opportunity to make a long-term series of investments that would mean multi-year investment in tech platforms and infrastructure.”

That meant developing its own network of trucks and drivers, integrating technology at every level and making other changes to build the infrastructure and capacity to deliver items quickly to customers across Korea.

That’s helped Coupang roll out services like same-day delivery, overnight delivery and more. Coupang also has its own RocketPay payment service.

Kim explained that, for example, if a parent realized the night before school that their child needed a new rain jacket, they could receive it via Coupang before 7 am the next day if they ordered it before midnight. The overnight delivery service also includes fresh produce and “millions” of other items, he said. For that to happen, Coupang developed a cold chain logistics network in just one month.

Coupang said “millions” of customers use its service at least 50 times a year, i.e. on a weekly basis. Yes, it is a vague number and we don’t know what proportion of the overall customer base that represents, but it is an impressive snapshot nonetheless.

Kim revealed Coupang has “a lot of different plans” to spend this capital, although he declined to go into specific detail.

He didn’t rule out adjacent services like media — Amazon is, of course, a major name in video and music streaming — and he revealed that Coupang “intends to have a broad reach in more markets than just Korea” although, again, there’s no information on what countries and when.

The plan to go public is also likely to be revived, with the U.S. a more likely destination than a domestic IPO, although Kim said that there is “no specific timetable” for when that might happen.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Interest rates and fears of a mounting trade war send tech stocks lower

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Shares of technology companies were battered in today’s trading as fears of an increasing trade war between the U.S. and China and rising interest rates convinced worried investors to sell.

The Nasdaq Composite Index, which is where many of the country’s largest technology companies trade their shares, was down 219.4 points, or 3%, to 7,028.48. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 395.8 points, or 1.6%, to 25,017.44.

Facebook, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Apple, Netflix and Amazon all fell into bear trading territory, which means that the value of these stocks have slid more than 20%. CNBC has a handy chart illustrating just how bad things have been for the largest tech companies in the U.S.

Some of the woes from tech stocks aren’t necessarily trade war related. Facebook shares have been hammered on the back of a blockbuster New York Times report detailing the missteps and misdirection involved in the company’s response to Russian interference in the U.S. elections. Investors are likely concerned that the company’s margins will shrink as it spends more on content moderation.

And Apple saw its shares decline on reports that sales of its new iPhones may not be as rosy as the company predicted — although the holiday season should boost  those numbers. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Apple has cut the targets for all of its new phones amid uncertainties around sales.

The Journal reported that in recent weeks, Apple had cut its production orders for all of the iPhone models it unveiled in September, which has carried through the supply chain. Specifically, targets for the new iPhone XR were cut by one-third from the 70 million units the company had asked suppliers to produce, according to WSJ sources.

Those sales numbers had a ripple effect throughout Apple’s supply chain, hitting the stock prices for a number of suppliers and competitors.

But the U.S. government’s escalating trade war with China is definitely a concern for most of the technology industry as tariffs are likely to affect supply chains and drive prices higher.

According to a research note from Chris Zaccarelli, the chief investment officer at Independent Advisor Alliance, quoted in MarketWatchinterest rates and slowing global growth are adding to trade war pressures to drive tech stock prices down.

“Tech continues to be caught in the crosshairs of the triple threat of rising interest rates, global growth fears and trade tensions with China,” Zaccarelli wrote. “Trade war concerns with China weigh on the global supply chain for large technology companies while global growth fears worry many that future earnings will be lower,” he said.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Cities that didn’t win HQ2 shouldn’t be counted out

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The more than year-long dance between cities and Amazon for its second headquarters is finally over, with New York City and Washington, DC, capturing the big prize. With one of the largest economic development windfalls in a generation on the line, 238 cities used every tactic in the book to court the company – including offering to rename a city “Amazon” and appointing Jeff Bezos “mayor for life.”

Now that the process, and hysteria, are over, and cities have stopped asking “how can we get Amazon,” we’d like to ask a different question: How can cities build stronger start-up ecosystems for the Amazon yet to be built?

In September 2017, Amazon announced that it would seek a second headquarters. But rather than being the typical site selection process, this would become a highly publicized Hunger Games-esque scenario.

An RFP was proffered on what the company sought, and it included everything any good urbanist would want, with walkability, transportation and cultural characteristics on the docket. But of course, incentives were also high on the list.

Amazon could have been a transformational catalyst for a plethora of cities throughout the US, but instead, it chose two superstar cities: the number one and five metro areas by GDP which, combined, amounts to a nearly $2 trillion GDP. These two metro areas also have some of the highest real estate prices in the country, a swath of high paying jobs and of course power — financial and political — close at hand.

Perhaps the take-away for cities isn’t that we should all be so focused on hooking that big fish from afar, but instead that we should be growing it in our own waters. Amazon itself is a great example of this. It’s worth remembering that over the course of a quarter century, Amazon went from a garage in Seattle’s suburbs to consuming 16 percent — or 81 million square feet — of the city’s downtown. On the other end of the spectrum, the largest global technology company in 1994 (the year of Amazon’s birth) was Netscape, which no longer exists.

The upshot is that cities that rely only on attracting massive technology companies are usually too late.

At the National League of Cities, we think there are ways to expand the pie that don’t reinforce existing spatial inequalities. This is exactly the idea behind the launch of our city innovation ecosystems commitments process. With support from the Schmidt Futures Foundation, fifty cities, ranging from rural townships, college towns, and major metros, have joined with over 200 local partners and leveraged over $100 million in regional and national resources to support young businesses, leverage technology and expand STEM education and workforce training for all.

The investments these cities are making today may in fact be the precursor to some of the largest tech companies of the future.

With that idea in mind, here are eight cities that didn’t win HQ2 bids but are ensuring their cities will be prepared to create the next tranche of high-growth startups. 

Austin

Austin just built a medical school adjacent to a tier one research university, the University of Texas. It’s the first such project to be completed in America in over fifty years. To ensure the addition translates into economic opportunity for the city, Austin’s public, private and civic leaders have come together to create Capital City Innovation to launch the city’s first Innovation District at the new medical school. This will help expand the city’s already world class startup ecosystem into the health and wellness markets.

Baltimore

Baltimore is home to over $2 billion in academic research, ranking it third in the nation behind Boston and Philadelphia. In order to ensure everyone participates in the expanding research-based startup ecosystem, the city is transforming community recreation centers into maker and technology training centers to connect disadvantaged youth and families to new skills and careers in technology. The Rec-to-Tech Initiative will begin with community design sessions at four recreation centers, in partnership with the Digital Harbor Foundation, to create a feasibility study and implementation plan to review for further expansion.

Buffalo

The 120-acre Buffalo Niagara Medical Center (BNMC) is home to eight academic institutions and hospitals and over 150 private technology and health companies. To ensure Buffalo’s startups reflect the diversity of its population, the Innovation Center at BNMC has just announced a new program to provide free space and mentorship to 10 high potential minority- and/or women-owned start-ups.

Denver

Like Seattle, real estate development in Denver is growing at a feverish rate. And while the growth is bringing new opportunity, the city is expanding faster than the workforce can keep pace. To ensure a sustainable growth trajectory, Denver has recruited the Next Generation City Builders to train students and retrain existing workers to fill high-demand jobs in architecture, design, construction and transportation. 

Providence

With a population of 180,000, Providence is home to eight higher education institutions – including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design – making it a hub for both technical and creative talent. The city of Providence, in collaboration with its higher education institutions and two hospital systems, has created a new public-private-university partnership, the Urban Innovation Partnership, to collectively contribute and support the city’s growing innovation economy. 

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh may have once been known as a steel town, but today it is a global mecca for robotics research, with over 4.5 times the national average robotics R&D within its borders. Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh is creating a more inclusive innovation economy through a Rec-to-Tech program that will re-invest in the city’s 10 recreational centers, connecting students and parents to the skills needed to participate in the economy of the future. 

Tampa

Tampa is already home to 30,000 technical and scientific consultant and computer design jobs — and that number is growing. To meet future demand and ensure the region has an inclusive growth strategy, the city of Tampa, with 13 university, civic and private sector partners, has announced “Future Innovators of Tampa Bay.” The new six-year initiative seeks to provide the opportunity for every one of the Tampa Bay Region’s 600,000 K-12 students to be trained in digital creativity, invention and entrepreneurship.

These eight cities help demonstrate the innovation we are seeing on the ground now, all throughout the country. The seeds of success have been planted with people, partnerships and public leadership at the fore. Perhaps they didn’t land HQ2 this time, but when we fast forward to 2038 — and the search for Argo AISparkCognition or Welltok’s new headquarters is well underway — the groundwork will have been laid for cities with strong ecosystems already in place to compete on an even playing field.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Walmart passes Apple to become No. 3 online retailer in U.S.

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Walmart has overtaken Apple to become the No. 3 online retailer in the U.S., according to a report this week from eMarketer. While Amazon still leads by a wide margin, accounting for 48 percent of e-commerce sales in 2018, Walmart – including also Sam’s Club and Jet.com – is poised to capture 4 percent of all online retail spending in the U.S. by year-end, totaling $20.91 billion.

The news of the shift in e-commerce rankings comes alongside Walmart’s strong earnings which saw the retailer reporting a 43 percent increase in online sales and upping its year-end forecast for both earnings and sales.

The company had beat Wall St.’s expectations in its fiscal third quarter, with $1.08 earnings per share instead of the expected $1.01. However, it fell short on revenue with $124.89 billion versus the $125.55 billion expected, due to currency complications, it said.

eMarketer had estimated in July that Walmart would capture a 3.7 percent e-commerce share in the U.S. this year, but increased that to 4 percent based on its quickly growing online sales.

This year, Walmart’s online sales will grow by 39.4 percent – just slightly behind the growth rate for online furniture and home goods retailer Wayfair, which is expected to see sales grow by 40.1 percent, the firm also noted.

Apple, meanwhile, will grow just over 18 percent in 2018 – a slowdown related to slowing domestic sales for smartphones and other devices. Its portion of the e-commerce market is relatively unchanged from 2017 to 2018, going from 3.8 percent to 3.9 percent.

Walmart, by comparison, is increasing its share from 3.3 percent to 4.0 percent.

But both are behind eBay, now at 7.2 percent. And they’re both vastly outranked by Amazon, which will account for a whopping 48 percent of the U.S. e-commerce market in 2018, up from 43.1 percent last year.

Amazon will take in more than $252.10 billion domestically this year, eMarketer said.

“Walmart’s e-commerce business has been firing on all cylinders lately,” said eMarketer principal analyst Andrew Lipsman, said in a statement. “The retail giant continues to make smart acquisitions to extend its e-commerce portfolio and attract younger and more affluent shoppers. But more than anything, Walmart has caught its stride with a fast-growing online grocery business, which is helped in large part by the massive consumer adoption of click-and-collect.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Africa’s agtech wave gets $10 million richer as Twiga Foods raises more capital

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Kenya’s Twiga Foods has raised $10 million from investors led by the International Finance Corporation to add processed food and fast moving consumer goods to its product line-up.

The startup has built a B2B platform to improve the supply chain from farmers to markets. Twiga Foods now aims to scale additional merchandise on its digital network that coordinates pricing, payment, quality control, and logistics across sellers and vendors.

CEO and co-founder Grant Brooke sees “a growth horizon…to build a B2B Amazon,” with produce as the base.

“If we can build a business around fresh fruit and vegetables, everything else after that is much simpler to add on,” he told TechCrunch.

“Fresh food and vegetables gives you clients that are ordering every two days, and now that’s paying for access to vendors and a proper way to be on every street,” said Brooke.

“It’s now much easier to lay things over that that would have been very expensive to get to end retailers.” In addition to the processed food FMCG it will add now, CEO Grant Brooke named household goods, such as light-bulbs that stock and sell in lower volumes than produce, as something the startup could include in the future.     

The $10 million IFC led investment—co-led by TLcom Capital—comes in the form of convertible notes, available later as equity, according to Wale Ayeni, regional head of IFC’s Africa VC practice. As part of the deal, Ayeni will join Twiga Foods’ board.

Of the decision to fund the startup, Ayeni indicated IFC likes what the company’s already done in “figuring out a way to service a mass market with a digital platform focused on food in a sector that’s not really been touched,” he said. Another factor was Twiga’s prospects to create additional revenue by improving B2B supply chain for FMCG and other consumer products.

Co-founded in Nairobi in 2014 by Brooke and Kenyan Peter Njonjo, Twiga Foods serves around 2000 outlets a day with produce through a network of 13,000 farmers and 6000 vendors. Parties can coordinate goods exchanges via mobile app using M-Pesa mobile money for payment.

The company has reduced typical post-harvest losses in Kenya from 30 percent to 4 percent for produce brought to market on the Twiga network, according to Brooke.

“That’s savings we can offer the outlets and better pricing we can offer the farmers,” he said.

Twiga Foods generates revenues from margins on the products it buys and sells. As an example, the company could buy bananas at around 19 Schillings ($.19) a kilo and sell at 34 ($.34) Schillings a kilo.

“Our margin is how efficient we are at moving products between those two elements” and the company purchases from farmers at roughly 10 percent higher than Kenya’s traditional produce middle-men, according to Brooke.

Agtech has become a prominent startup sector in Africa. A number of companies, such as Ghana’s Agrocenta and Nigeria’s Farmcrowdy, have raised VC for apps that coordinate payments, logistics, and working capital across the continent’s farmers and food markets.

In 2017 Twiga Foods raised a $10.3 million Series A round lead by Wamda Capital. Earlier this year the startup partnered with IBM Africa to introduce a blockchain enabled finance working capital platform to its network of vendors.

With the new investment and product expansion, Twiga Foods will explore offering additional financial services to its client network. The startup doesn’t divulge revenue information but “profitability is on the horizon for us,” said Brooke.

Twiga Foods will maintain its focus primarily on Kenya, but “we’re starting to research and dabble in Tanzania,” according to Brooke.

The startup doesn’t plan to move beyond B2B to direct online retail. “I don’t think B2C e-commerce is viable on the continent once you factor in job size and cost of acquisition versus lifetime value,” said Brooke. He also named the high cost of marketing: “In B2C e-commerce space you really have to be in the advertising space. Our clients are ordering every two days with no marketing budget,” said Brooke.

So for the time being, Twiga Foods aims to stick with improving the supply chain for products between Kenya’s buyers and sellers.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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