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May 24, 2019
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DHL launches Africa eShop app for global retailers to sell into Africa

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DHL is launching an e-commerce app called DHL Africa eShop for global retailers to sell goods to Africa’s consumers markets.

The platform goes live today and brings more than 200 U.S. and UK retailers—from Nieman Marcus to Carters—online in 11 African markets: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritius, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Malawi, Botswana, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.

DHL Africa eShop will operate using startup MallforAfrica.com’s white label service, Link Commerce. Payment methods will include local fintech options, such as Nigeria’s Paga and Kenya’s M-Pesa.

The announcement comes as e-commerce in Africa has seen some ups and downs—with online sales startup Jumia announcing an IPO, while several Africa digital retail ventures have recently faltered.

DHL Africa eShop takes advantage of shipping giant’s existing delivery structure on the continent, able to get goods to doorsteps near and far through its DHL Express shipping, tracking, and courier service.

DHL’s partner for the new app, MallforAfrica, has experience collaborating with DHL and a number of big name retailers, including Macy’s and Best Buy. Backed by Helios Investment Partners, MFA was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

MallforAfrica’s payment and delivery system serves as a digital broker and logistics manager for U.S. retailers that come online with the startup to sell their goods to African consumers.

DHL has been a MallforAfrica logistics partner since 2015 and in 2018, the two teamed up to launch MarketPlaceAfrica.com—an e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell their goods in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.

For DHL Africa eShop, MallforAfrica’s Link Commerce service will facilitate local payments, procurement, and delivery, MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch.

“That’s what our service does. It takes care of that whole ecosystem to enable global e-commerce to exist, no matter what country you’re in,” he said.

In a statement, DHL Express CEO for Sub-Saharan Africa referred to the DHL Africa eShop app as something that “provides convenience, speed, and access to connect African consumers with exciting brands.” The DHL Africa app is also intended to fill a commercial void, according to DHL, as many U.S. and UK retailers do not ship to Africa.

E-commerce ventures, particularly in Nigeria, have captured the attention of VC investors looking to tap into Africa’s growing consumer markets. McKinsey & Company projects consumer spending on the continent to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025, with African e-commerce accounting for up to 10 percent of retail sales.

As mentioned, Africa’s e-commerce startup landscape has seen its own ups and downs. Pan-African e-commerce startup Jumia’s recent IPO filing on the NYSE is a first for any startup from Africa. MallforAfrica has also continued to expand into new countries, now operating in 17, with partners, such as DHL.

On the flip side, the distressed acquisition of Nigerian e-commerce hopeful Konga.com, backed by roughly $100 million in VC, created losses for investors. And in late 2018, Nigerian online sales platform DealDey shut down.

On a B2C level, DHL Africa eShop brings distinct advantages on a transaction cost basis (i.e., the cost of delivery) given it is connected to one of the world’s logistics masters, DHL.

Another component of DHL and MallforAfrica’s partnership is the market for offering e-commerce fulfillment services through MallforAfrica’s white label Link Commerce service.

This could put the duo on a footing to compete with (or work with) big e-commerce names entering Africa and adds another layer of competition with Jumia, which offers its own fulfillment services vertical in Africa.

As for the big global names, Alibaba has talked about Africa expansion, but for the moment has not entered in full.

Amazon offers limited e-commerce sales on the continent, but more notably, has started offering AWS services in Africa.

To watch is how DHL’s new Africa eShop business factors into the continent’s online-sales landscape. It could certainly serve as a new player in African e-commerce phase 2.0, now that the sector has shaken out some failures, produced an IPO, and drawn the attention of big global names.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flight-hailing startup BlackBird raises $10 million to replace driving with flying

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The origin story of BlackBird, a startup that links travelers to planes and commercial pilots through an app, didn’t begin with air travel. It was prompted by car sickness.

BlackBird CEO and founder Rudd Davis, who was getting his pilot’s license at the time, asked his flight instructor if he would fly his family to Tahoe because his son gets terribly sick every time they traveled by car. What Rudd discovered was an incredible experience that was far more affordable than he realized. 

Davis launched the company in 2016 and has spent the past two years honing in on the business model as well as adding commercial pilots and members. Now, with fresh capital from New Enterprise Associates, BlackBird is ready to spread its wings. 

The company announced Tuesday it has raised $10 million in a Series A round led by NEA. NEA partner Jonathan Golden, who previously worked at Airbnb, has joined the BlackBird board of directors alongside Francoise Brougher of Pinterest, Square and Google, and Andrew Swain, who also is from Airbnb.

BlackBird has also hired Brian Hsu, who spent a decade at eBay and most recently was vice president of supply at Lyft, as chief operating officer. Davis is counting on Hsu, who has experience scaling marketplaces, to help BlackBird expand its membership and reach.

 

The company will use its new injection of capital to scale up, in terms of users, pilots and employees.

BlackBird currently has more than 700 commercial pilots who fly passengers between 50 and 500 miles from and within California. For now, Davis said this is a self-imposed geographic restriction.

“We’re trying to build up density and build up the network and optimize it before we start replicating it to other geographies,” Davis said.

It does face challenges. BlackBird has to find that price-per-seat sweet spot, which is largely driven by how many users and pilots are on the platform. Seats can be around $80 or upwards of $900, depending on the route, pilot availability and demand. And BlackBird must fight misconceptions of what and who the platform is designed for.

“A lot of people have looked at this space before, and really have kind of come up empty handed,” said Golden, who was a seed investor in BlackBird before joining NEA.

What makes BlackBird so compelling, Golden added, is that it’s not about luxury travel, but instead about how to actually replace driving through flights, which is really compelling.

“When most people think about kind of flying non-commercially, they think about huge jets with couches and for billionaires,” Davis said.And that is not the entirety of general aviation; there’s a huge aspect of aviation that is flying in smaller planes. It just hasn’t really been as accessible.”

Omidyar Network spins out its fintech investment arm as Flourish, with up to $300 million

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After 12 years spent investing in impact-oriented financial services startups around the globe, the Omidyar Network, which serves as the family investment office for eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, is spinning off its financial inclusion investment arm as Flourish Ventures.

Equipped with up to $300 million in capital for operations and investments, the new Flourish will continue to invest around the Network’s core mission of backing companies with a dual focus of making a social impact and achieving quality financial returns.

Already, the new firm is one of the most active financial services investors globally, according to a report from FT Partners.

This double-bottom line approach has already yielded results for the company.

“After 10 or 12 years with people becoming more broadly interested in the impact investment space, we had an opportunity to reinvent ourselves,” says Tilman Ehrbeck, a managing partner at the newly independent Flourish.

Flourish is actually the third spin-out from Omidyar Network’s investment and philanthropic arms. Two years ago, Omidyar spun out its U.S. emerging technology initiative as Spero, and last year launched a governance and citizen engagement-focused group called Luminate.

Now the organization, financed by Pam and Pierre Omidyar, will launch Flourish as the latest independent entity.

“We feel that we are the right team at the right place at the right time,” says Ehrbeck.

Flourish, he says, is launching into a financial services environment that looks far different than it did when the Omidyar Network first identified financial services and inclusion as a focus area for its operations.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, financial services organizations indicated that they could not, or would not, deliver necessary access to consumers and small businesses. There was an erosion of trust, says Ehrbeck, and against a backdrop of stagnating wages and the changing nature of work, low and middle-income consumers and would-be entrepreneurs in emerging and established financial markets need all the help they can get.

Indeed, an entire generation of entrepreneur is leveraging a slew of technologies, from blockchain to the platforms that Omidyar Network has helped create through its earliest investments in the market.

That includes companies like Lenddo, an online lender using alternative sources of social media data to determine the creditworthiness of applicants raised its first institutional capital in 2012 with capital from investors, including the Omidyar Network. That investment and the company’s subsequent merger with another Omidyar Network company, EFL, is indicative of the formative role that Omidyar — and now Flourish — can play in the growth of a business.

We knew each other for three years. As we were looking to identify and scale we started to look at where there synergistic opportunities between smaller companies and could we put something together that would allow us to grow,” says Lenddo chief executive Richard Eldridge. 

That scaling has paid off in Lenddo’s expansion into more markets and a more robust product offering.

Stories like those repeat across the Flourish portfolio of companies, and speak to the kind of value the company provides to portfolio companies, said Eldridge.

Indeed, Flourish’s global portfolio holds at least 40 fintech companies helping low and middle-income households and small businesses. From challenger banks like Chime, Aspiration, Neon, Albo and Tez; to insurance technology companies like MicroEnsure and Kin; and asset optimization tools, including United Income and Scripbox.

Given the explosion of interest in financial services offerings across challenger banks and through insurance technology offerings, Ehrbeck said it was a no-brainer for the company to spin out, focus and potentially expand.

With the spin-off, Flourish is taking the existent $200 million portfolio the team had built at Omidyar and expanding that with the additional capital commitment from the Omidyar Group.

The firm is also starting to realize its first exits. The firm realized a 3x return on its investment in Asian Networks and has had another exit in the sale of Ruma to Go-Jek.

“It’s a carve out of a successful team that has momentum and that Pierre wants to double down on,” Ehrbeck says. “What’s carved out is the existing portfolio and a commitment to fund the next wave. The reason the number has a flexibility. Pierre gives us the capital we think we can deploy against opportunity.”

Flourish will do more than commit capital to financial services startups. It also has the opportunity to provide grants and encourage research around financial inclusion.

Some recent work from the firm included the financing of a study of 240 households called the U.S. Financial Diaries, which provided hard data around the illness that pervades a large swath of the U.S. population.

Investments from Flourish will fall into similar buckets as the firm’s previous operations under the umbrella of the Omidyar Network. Including alternative credit, challenger banks, insurance technologies and low-cost digital infrastructures that can level the playing field for financial services providers. 

“We find a gap in the system and try to fill it and improve it,” says Arjuna Costa, another partner on the new Flourish team coming over from Omidyar’s financial services group. 

“We have the impact of companies scaling and reaching and serving people and led to replicators and competitors and widespread adoption,” Costa says.

Lenddo and its credit-scoring business is a perfect example of the trend, according to Costa.

We started investing behind a number of companies that were coming up with using nontraditional data sets to try and score people,” he said. “We picked different data sets… we invested in the pioneering company using mobile payment data, the pioneering company using social media data, and the pioneering company using psychometric data.”

As those companies gained traction and new customers, proving the market demand, Omidyar’s investments could scale to higher value offerings around financial services.

“Initially talking about those deals other people in the industry looked at us and said that you’re nuts. And now it’s become the table stakes if you’re getting into lending,” Costa says. “After building this digital infrastructure to enable credit… now there’s version two and version three of the infrastructure that’s coming up.”

Those higher value services are things like the agricultural lending business Rose Goslinga has launched for farmers in Africa.

“We bootstrapped our business for the first two years. They were the largest investor in our seed round,” Goslinga says of the Flourish commitment to her company, Pula Advisors

“Omidyar is extremely well-known in the financial inclusion space. They had the first investment in micro-insurance 10 or 15 years ago. They are really seen as the blue chip of financial or insurtech investors,” Goslinga said. 

With their investment, it validated Goslinga’s attempt to provide credit and working capital loans to small farmers.

“We had quite a number of clients at that point but we didn’t have any kind of institutional or financial investors at that point,” Goslinga says. “It was a stamp of approval for a lot of people later in.”

In mature markets like the U.S., Flourish’s approach is bit more nuanced, to serve a market with significant inefficiencies and baseline inequality, but one where the disparities manifest in different ways.

That’s why Flourish has gravitated toward businesses like Aspiration, which helps people bank more ethically — promoting sustainable investment portfolios and offering pay-your-own-fee for services; and Propel, which helps American consumers manage their public assistance benefits.

“At the highest level we look at the same criteria, we care about financial health and technology to promote financial health,” says Emmalyn Shaw, a partner managing the firm’s U.S. portfolio. “The U.S. as a more mature market tends to be a lot more competitive.”

Extend Fertility banks $15M Series A to help women freeze their eggs

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Fertility services are raising venture cash left and right. Last week, it was Dadi, a sperm storage startup that nabbed a $2 million seed round. This week, it’s Extend Fertility, which helps women preserve their fertility through egg freezing.

Headquartered in New York, the business has secured a $15 million Series A investment from Regal Healthcare Capital Partners to expand its fertility services, which also include infertility treatments, such as in vitro and intrauterine insemination. The company has also appointed Anne Hogarty, the former chief business officer at Prelude Fertility and vice president of international business at BuzzFeed, to the role of chief executive officer. Hogarty replaces Extend Fertility co-founder Ilaina Edison, who had held the C-level title since the business launched in 2016. Edison will remain on the startup’s board of directors.

Extend Fertility, in its New York cryopreservation and embryology lab and treatment center, completed 1,000 egg-freezing cycles in 2018.

“A lot of amazing things have happened for women over the last century,” Hogarty told TechCrunch earlier this week. “Now, women are permitted and encouraged to seek higher education, pursue a career, follow their dreams and end up with a partner who’s the right partner, not just any partner. Doing all those things has pushed the window for when women want to start a family from their 20s to their 30s and unfortunately, one thing that has not changed in that time is the biological clock.”

Hogarty explained Extend’s fertility services are more affordable than other options because the service was built specifically with egg freezing in mind, and the company later expanded to offer infertility treatments, whereas other services were established to provide IVF and other infertility treatments and integrated cryopreservation tools later.

We are really purpose-built to be an egg-freezing-first company, where many legacy institutions that were providing infertility services have legacy costs that come with … inefficiencies bred over decades and outmoded technology in their labs that may not be the most efficient and effective,” she said. “We have a state of the art lab with the latest equipment.”

It’s the classic innovator dilemma,” she added. “Infertility services are extraordinarily expensive and reproductive endocrinology is a new area of medicine. There are a lot of people and institutions that have been taking inordinate amounts of money for their infertility services so they weren’t looking to serve this population of women looking to preserve their fertility.”

One egg-freezing cycle with Extend costs women $5,500, and additional cycles come at a sticker price of $4,000. Each cycle includes a fertility assessment, private consultation, anesthesia and any monitoring a patient may need during their cycle. The costs don’t include medication, however. Extend can prescribe medications — which typically cost between $2,000 and $5,000 for fertility patients — but they still need to go through a third party to get their prescriptions filled and paid for. 

For reference, FertilityIQ, an online platform for researching fertility care providers and treatments, says the typical cost per cycle for egg freezing is more than $17,000 in New York City or $15,600 in San Francisco. Most egg-freezing services, including Extend, do not accept insurance, as most insurance providers don’t cover the steep costs of fertility or infertility treatments.

Some companies, however, are beginning to offer benefits that cover these costs. Facebook and Apple, for example, began subsidizing egg-freezing procedures for employees in 2014. Spotify and eBay, for their part, will pay for an unlimited number of IVF cycles.

Hogarty said Extend’s price point makes it one of the lowest-cost players in the market.

“We want as many women as possible to benefit from the advances from egg-freezing technology,” she said.

Extend Fertility, which has previously raised $10 million, plans to use the latest investment to open labs in new markets and expand its infertility services.

Spotify, eBay set standard for fertility benefits, study finds

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The technology sector awards women and same-sex couples the most comprehensive fertility benefit packages, according to a survey by FertilityIQ, an online platform for fertility patients to review doctors and research treatments.

The company asked 30,000 in vitro fertilisation (IVF) patients across industries about their employers’ — or their spouse’s employer’s’ — 2019 fertility treatment policy, and allocated points based on their support for IVF procedures and egg freezing, among other services.

Silicon Valley semiconductor business Analog Devices and eBay led the ranking. The two companies offer employees unlimited IVF cycles with no pre-authorization requirement, meaning employees do not need permission from insurance providers before seeking certain medical services. Pre-authorization has historically impacted lesbian, gay or unpartnered employees from accessing care quickly or at all, FertilityIQ co-founder Jake Anderson explained

Spotify, Adobe, Lyft, Facebook and Pinterest were amongst the highest-ranked technology businesses, too.

“I think a lot of people see the tech sector as being unenlightened when it comes to family values but it’s still the sector that makes the fertility benefits the most widely acceptable,” Anderson, a former consumer internet investor at Sequoia Capital, told TechCrunch.

FertilityIQ’s fertility benefits survey results.

Despite an initial outpouring of skepticism, Facebook and Apple became leaders in the fertility benefit category when they began paying for their female employees to freeze their eggs in 2014. Since then, smaller firms have opted to beef up those benefits to stay competitive with their much larger and richer counterparts.

“The Lyfts, the Airbnbs and the Ubers of the world, who clearly need to compete for those companies for talent, have effectively matched those companies dollar-for-dollar despite a much smaller war-chest,” Anderson said. “These companies that are worth 1/1000th of these bigger companies are effectively going toe-to-toe to offer whatever women need.”

Anderson and his wife, FertilityIQ co-founder Deborah Anderson, noticed improved benefits in 2018 from companies implicated by the #MeToo movement, such as Vice Media, Under Armour and Uber.

“Silicon Valley is notorious for talent moving around on you but it’s probably not coincidental that some of the companies that were in the spotlight in the #MeToo movement have added really generous benefits,” Deborah Anderson told TechCrunch.

Uber, for example, now pays for its employees to complete two IVF cycles but still requires pre-authorization.

One in 7 Americans struggle with infertility and the rate of IVF procedures only continues to increase, with the latest data indicating a 15 percent year-over-year growth rate. IVF costs roughly $22,000 per cycle, per FertilityIQ’s survey, a cost which has similarly increased 15 percent since 2015.

That’s a whole lot of cash for a fertility patient to dole out. If companies foot the bill, they’ll have a better shot at retaining talent.

“Best we can tell, there is no question that employees that get this benefit and use it are more loyal and more likely to stick around,” Jake Anderson said. “The company that helps you build your family is the company that you remain committed to.”

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