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February 23, 2019
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Partech is doubling the size of its African venture fund to $143 million

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Partech has doubled its Africa VC fund to $143 million and opened a Nairobi office to complement its Dakar practice.

The Partech Africa Fund plans to make 20 to 25 investments across roughly 10 countries over the next several years, according to General Partner Tidjane Deme. The fund has added Ceasar Nyagha as Investment Officer for the Kenya office to expand its East Africa reach.

Partech Africa will primarily target Series A and B investments and some pre-series rounds at higher dollar amounts. “We will consider seed-funding—what we call seed-plus—tickets in the $500,000 range,” Deme told TechCrunch on a call from Dakar.

“In terms of sectors, we’re agnostic. We’ve been looking at all…sectors. We’re open to all plays; we have a strong appetite for people who are tapping into Africa’s informal economies,” he said.

African startups who want to pitch to the new fund should seek a referral. “My usual recommendation is to find someone who can introduce you to any member of the team. We receive a lot of requests…but an intro and recommendation…shortcuts one through all that,” Deme said.

Headquartered in Paris, Partech has offices in Berlin, San Francisco, Dakar, and now Nairobi. To bring the Arica fund to $143 million the VC firm tapped a number of other funds, several undisclosed corporate venture arms, and development finance institutions.

They include Averroes Finance III, the IFC, the EBRD, and African Development Bank. Deme would not list figures, but confirmed “the IFC and European Bank for Reconstruction committed the largest amounts.”

On why players like the IFC, which has its own VC shop for African startups, would place capital with Partech, Deme explained, “many have existing mandates to co-invest…others may not know this territory as well and would rather invest in another fund” with regional experience.

Partech used that experience in 2018 to make 4 investments in African startups (2 undisclosed). They led the $16 million round in South African fintech firm Yoco (covered here at TechCrunch) and a $3 million round in Nigerian B2B e-commerce platform TradeDepot.

Partech Africa joined several Africa focused funds over the last few years to mark a surge in VC for the continent’s startups. Partech announced its first raise of $70 million in early 2018 next to TLcom Capital’s $40 million, and TPG Growth’s $2 billion.

Africa focused VC firms, including those locally run and managed, have grown to 51 globally, according to recent Crunchbase research.

As for a bead on total VC spending for African tech, figures can vary widely.

By Partech’s numbers, compiled from an annual survey it does on Africa, 2017 funding for African startups reached $560 million.

Partech hasn’t released its 2018 Africa VC estimate but it will now be up  some $70 million more from its own recent raise.

News Source = techcrunch.com

How business-to-business startups reduce inequality

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When considering the structural impact of technology companies on our economy and society, we tend to focus on questions of scale and monopoly.

It’s true that the FAANG companies and more recent winners (Airbnb, Uber) have surfed a combination of network effects, preferential access to capital and classic efficiencies of scale to generate tremendous value for their shareholders—to the detriment of new entrants who attempt to unseat them.

At their high water mark in mid-2018, FAANG alone made up 11% of the total market cap of the S&P 500 and 38% of the index’s year-to-date gain, representing a doubling in their influence in only five years. The question of regulating technology companies—to the point of instituting anti-trust actions—has even become a rare point of relative concord between Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

But is the narrative of tech companies in the 2010s only a story of economic consolidation and growing inequality? Many of the most successful B2B startups of the last decade are aligned by a theme that paints a different picture. By transforming the nature of the costs required to start a business, these startups are reducing the influence of capital and leveling the playing field for new entrants to share in the surplus generated by the secular shift to a tech-mediated economy.

Source: Getty Images/MIKIEKWOODS

A Path To Equal Opportunity: Turning Fixed Costs Into Variable Costs

What do AWSWeWorkStordGusto and RocketLawyer have in common? They provide cloud computing services, office space, warehouse storage, payroll management and access to legal templates, respectively—at first glance, not a particularly congruent set of services.

But they are alike in the economic purpose they serve for their customers. Each of these services takes a fixed cost—a bank of servers, a lease, a legal retainer—and transforms it into a variable cost. As a refresher, a fixed cost stays constant regardless of output, and variable costs scale with the output of a business.

When my father started his software consulting business in the early 1990s, I remember the giant boxes of AIX servers that arrived at our apartment, and tagging along to office tours in central New Jersey before he decided to run the company out of our spare bedroom. Back then, starting almost any kind of business was hard because of high fixed costs. Without AWS or WeWork, you shelled out up front for hardware and a lease.

Access to capital, whether in the form of a bank loan, savings, or friends and family was a prerequisite for entrepreneurship.

Today, startups make it possible to start and scale almost any kind of business while incurring few fixed costs. Want to found an ecommerce store? Start with a free Shopify account and dropship your inventory. Want to become a freelance designer? Put a shingle up on Fiverr and meet clients at a Breather you rent by the hour.

Whether software or hardware or labor, building a business is way easier when overhead is transformed into a string of flexible microservices that you only pay for as you grow.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Lower Fixed Costs Means Capital Matters Less

Taken together, startups that turn fixed costs into variable costs make it less capital intensive to start a business. This decreases the influence of gatekeepers and aggregators of capital—an impact evident in the way entrepreneurs think about starting businesses today.

It’s no coincidence that the rise of B2B startups fitting this theme has coincided with the bootstrap movement, in which tech entrepreneurs with major ambitions demur from raising venture funding because—well, they don’t need the money anymore.

It has also coincided with a renaissance in freelance entrepreneurship: 56.7 million Americans freelanced in 2018. Beyond the economic benefits of working for yourself—the fastest growing segment of freelancers earns over $75,000 a year—freelancers can access the lifestyle and health benefits of owning their destiny, which aren’t directly captured but play a role in the economic picture. 51% of freelancers said no amount of money would lure them into a traditional job, and 64% reported feeling healthier and happier.

When capital plays a reduced role in new business formation, access to capital plays a smaller role in determining who will succeed. More companies are founded, and the economy becomes more likely to birth new Davids that will unseat the Goliaths. Economics 101: lower barriers to entry create markets that converge on perfect competition instead of oligarchic concentration.

Sourlce: Getty Images/ERHUI1979

Variable Costs Don’t Scale, But That’s OK

Variable costs have their downsides. A startup with a relatively higher proportion of fixed costs—the profile of the classic high-tech software business—can achieve higher profit margins as it scales. Compare Microsoft or Google, which pay high fixed costs in the form of salaries and servers but few costs in delivering their services and achieve operating margins of 25-30%, to Costco, which takes in more than $100B of annual revenue but earns an operating margin in the single digits.

That’s OK. Neither type of cost is “better” or “worse,” but having the option to decide how to structure costs through a company’s lifecycle can meaningfully impact an entrepreneur’s ability to execute a business idea.
Founders investigating startup ideas—and politicians debating the impact of technology—would do well to pay attention to how B2B companies have democratized access to entrepreneurship.

Equality of outcome arrives from equality of opportunity—and a future where millions of people can start businesses, differentiate, and succeed on the basis of their ability and value proposition, rather than their access to capital, sounds like a promising representation of the egalitarian ethos Silicon Valley wants to bring to pass.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Entrepreneur First eyes further Asia growth to build its global network of founders

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British startup venture builder Entrepreneur First is eying additional expansion in Asia, where its operation is now as large as it is in Europe, as it expands its reach in 2019. But, despite serving a varied mixture of markets, the company said its founders are a fairly unified breed.

The Entrepreneur First program is billed as a “talent investor.” It matches prospective founders and, through an accelerator program, it encourages them to start and build companies which it backs with financing. The organization started out in London in 2011, and today it is also present in Paris and Berlin in Europe and, in Asia, Singapore, Hong Kong and (soon) Bangalore. To date, it says it has graduated over 1,200 founders who have created more than 200 companies, estimated at a cumulative $1.5 billion on paper.

Those six cities cover a spread of unique cultures — both in general life and startup ecosystems — but, despite that, co-founder Matthew Clifford believes there’s actually many commonalities between among its global founder base.

“It’s really striking to me how little adjustment of the model has been necessary to make it work in each location,” Clifford — who started EF with Alice Bentinck — told TechCrunch in an interview. “The outliers in each country have more in common with each other and their fellow compatriots… we’re uncovering this global community of outliers.”

Despite the common traits, EF’s Asia expansion has added a new dimension to the program after it announced a tie-in with HAX, one of the world’s best-known hardware-focused accelerator programs, that will see the duo co-invest in hardware startups via a new joint program.

“We saw early that hardware was a much more viable part of the market in Asia than it is traditionally seen in Europe [and] needed a partner to accelerate the talent,” Clifford said.

Already, the first four beneficiaries of that partnership have been announced — AIMS, BOPSIN, Neptune Robotics and SEPPURE — each of which graduated the first EF cohort in Hong Kong, its fourth in Asia so far. Going forward, Clifford expects that around three to five startups from each batch will move from EF into the joint initiative with HAX. The program covers Asia first but it is slated to expand to EF’s European sites “soon.”

Entrepreneur First held its first investor day in Hong Kong this month

Another impending expansion is EF’s first foray into India via Bangalore which starts this month, and there could be other new launches in 2019.

“We’ll continue to grow by adding sites but we are not in a rush,” Clifford said. “The most important thing is retraining quality of talent. It may be six months until we add another site in Asia but there’s no shortage of places we think it will work.

“We operate a single global fund,” he added. “We’re a talent investor and we believe there are strong network effects in that. The people who back us are really betting on the model… [that it’s] an asset class with great returns.

While it appears that its global expansion drive is a little more gradual than what was previously envisaged — backer and board member Reid Hoffman told TechCrunch in 2016 that he could imagine it in 50 cities — Clifford said EF isn’t raising more capital presently. That previous investment coupled with management fees is enough fuel in the tank, he said. The organization also operates a follow-on fund but it has one major exit to date, Pony Technology, the AI startup bought by Twitter for a reported $150 million.

Still, with hundreds of companies in the world with EF on the cap table, Clifford said he is bullish that his organization can target an international-minded breed of entrepreneur worldwide. The impact he sees is one that will work regardless of any local constraints placed on them.

“With our global network of capital, we always want capital, not talent, to be the limiting factor. Our goal is to make being ‘an EF company’ more relevant to your identity as a startup regardless of your location,” he told TechCrunch

News Source = techcrunch.com

WhatsApp Business app adds customer service features to its desktop and web apps

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A year ago, Facebook-owned WhatsApp officially introduced its standalone app aimed at small business customers. Today, the WhatsApp Business app has grown to reach 5 million business customers, the company says. And now it’s making the app easier to use on the desktop and the web by porting over several of the most popular features that were previously available only on mobile.

These include tools to organize and filter chats, as well as to quickly reply to customer inquiries.

Quick Replies, as the latter feature is called, lets businesses respond to common questions from customers with pre-written replies. It’s similar to a feature Facebook introduced several years ago, then called “Saved Replies,” that allowed business owners with Facebook Pages to respond to customers with canned messages.

On WhatsApp Business, you can trigger the quick replies by press the “/” button on your keyboard.

The feature joins several other customer service features, like automated greeting messages that are triggered when the customer pings the business account, or away messages that can be scheduled for those times when you’re not able to immediately answer new inquiries.

The other two features now rolling out to web and desktop users are labels and chat list filters.

The former lets you organize contacts using labels, and the latter lets you filter chat list by categories like unread messages, groups, or broadcast lists. Like Quick Replies, these were previously available on mobile.

The idea, the company explains, is to make it easier on business owners who are working from their computer – sending invoices, scheduling appointments, and responding to customer inquiries. They shouldn’t have to turn to their phone to use these sorts of basic customer service features.

The new web and desktop features are rolling out today, says WhatsApp.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Groww, an investment app for millennials in India, raises $6.2M

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Groww, a startup hoping to make saving and investment opportunities more widely available to young people in India, has closed a $6.2 million Series A to grow its business.

Founded in 2017, the Bengaluru-based company was part of Y Combinator in the U.S. last year and it went on to raise a $1.6 million “pre-Series A” round in June of last year. Groww was started by four ex-Flipkart staffers — Lalit Keshre, Harsh Jain, Neeraj Singh and Ishan Bansal — who realized how difficult investing in India is, particularly among young people.

This new money is led by Sequoia India with participation from Y Combinator, Propel Venture Partners and Kauffman Fellows. The company also counts Singapore’s Insignia Ventures Partners, Lightbridge Partners and Kairos among its backers.

Groww lets its users invest in mutual funds, including systematic investment planning (SIP) and equity-linked savings scheme. It claims over one million registered users, most of whom are aged under 40 and mobile-first, according to the company. Available on iOS, Android and the web, it offers over 5,000 mutual funds which can be invested in directly from its app.

Keshre, who is Groww’s CEO and previously led Flipkart’s logistics platform, told TechCrunch that the new money will be spent on hiring and developing tech to support the launch of new products. That could include direct investments and ETFs while, further down the line, Keshre said there’s an ambition to offer insurance and more.

“We’re used across India not just in metros,” Keshre said in an interview. “Our users are spread across all the major cities… [they’re] working-class, young millennials straight across India.”

Groww’s founding team [left to right]: Ishan Bansal, Lalit Keshre, Neeraj Singh and Harsh Jain

Keshre said the focus is on keeping the app and its design simple but, like Robinhood in the U.S, he said that the broader goal is to democratize investing, particularly among younger segments of the population in India. For now, he added, there is no plan to venture overseas since Groww is just scratching the surface of what it could become in India.

“There are 200 million people with investable income in India, but only 20 million investors. The only way to bring the next 180 million onboard is by making investing simple,” he said in a statement.

Note: Article updated to correct that Groww is available on iOS and the web as well as Android.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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