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February 24, 2019
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Venmo launches a ‘limited edition’ rainbow debit card for its payment app users

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Hoping to entice more users to attach the Venmo MasterCard to their account, Venmo this morning announced it’s launching a “special edition” rainbow-colored version of its debit card that will only be available in limited quantities. Clearly, the idea here is to generate a sense of urgency around ordering the Venmo MasterCard as well as a desire to cater to Venmo users’ interest in more card varieties.

The new rainbow card will be offered until supplies last, says Venmo. And existing card holders can choose to request the rainbow card as a replacement for their current card, if they choose.

The card will be first offered to top cardholders on Friday, and will then be available to all Venmo users starting on March 4th, the company says.

“We launched the LImited Edition rainbow card based on the positive response we received from our customers when we launched the initial set of six colorful cards,” a spokesperson for Venmo explained to TechCrunch. “We know our users love to pick a card color that best suits their own personality and style, so the card design is inspired by many of our existing card colors and gives our users an even more vibrant option for their wallets and at checkout,” they added.

Venmo had first beta tested its debit card in 2017, with an ugly card that featured a photo of a lump of dough on it. (Get it? Dough.)

But the company soon realized that young people care about how a card looks – and a photo of dough wasn’t cutting it. When Venmo launched the public version of the card last July, it instead opted for an array of colorful choices. Users could choose a solid white, black, yellow, pink, blue or green shade for their Venmo debit card.

The rainbow version takes all those same colors and splashes them all over the card face.

It’s…well…unique. But it’s not really all that pretty – especially since the card still has to feature the clashing red-and-orange MasterCard logo.

The new card works the same as the old ones – allowing you to pay for things in the real world using your Venmo balance, as well as to easily split costs of purchases and tips, like you can do in the Venmo app.

It’s not surprising that Venmo is trying out different card designs.

Unique card styles have been proven to attract millennial customers. For example, part of the demand for Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is due to the fact that the card is made using a metallic alloy, instead of plastic. The company even ran out of the alloy for a time, because of the high demand. Today, there are a number of metal cards on the market, including the one from fintech startup Revolut, hoping to gain similar attention.

In addition, newcomers are testing out colorful styles – SoFi, for instance, launched an aqua and green card last year. And savings app Acorns hired Ammunition, a design firm co-led longtime industrial designer for Apple, Robert Brunner, to design its card.

But millennials often seem to prefer “fancy” to splashy, which is why Venmo rival Square went with a more formal design where it allows you to have your signature laser-printed on the card’s front.

Venmo declined to say how many cards it has shipped to date, or how many limited edition cards are now available.

The company claims demand is growing, however.

“The Venmo card has seen strong interest from our customers,” a spokesperson noted. “We saw 300% month-over-month growth in monthly active card users from August to September 2018, and the top two purchase categories are supermarkets and restaurants as Venmo becomes a part of our user’s everyday spend,” they said.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

On-demand logistics startup Lalamove raises $300M for Asia growth and becomes a unicorn

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Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based on-demand logistics startup, has closed a $300 million Series D round as it seeks expansion across Asia. In doing so, the company has officially entered the unicorn club.

Founded in 2013 by Stanford graduate Shing Chow, Lalamove provides logistics and delivery services in a similar style to ride-hailing apps like Uber but it is primarily focused on business and corporate customers. That gives it more favorable economics and a more loyal customer base than its consumer-focused peers, who face discount wars to woo fickle consumers.

This new round is split into two, Lalamove said, with Hillhouse Capital leading the ‘D1’ tranche and Sequoia China heading up the ‘D2’ portion. The company didn’t reveal the size of the two pieces of the round. Other investors that took part included new backers Eastern Bell Venture Capital and PV Capital and returning investors ShunWei Capital — the firm founded by Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun — Xiang He Capital and MindWorks Ventures .

The deal takes Lalamove to over $460 million raised to date, and it follows a $100 million Series C that closed in late 2017. Lalamove isn’t disclosing a valuation but Blake Larson, the company’s head of international, told TechCrunch that it has been “past unicorn mark for quite some time [but] we just don’t talk about it.” That figures given the size of the round and the fact that Lalamove was just shy of the $1 billion mark for that Series C.

The Lalamove business is anchored in China where it covers over 130 cities with a network of over two million drivers covering vans, cars and motorbikes.

Beyond China, Lalamove is present in its native Hong Kong — where Uber once briefly tried a similar service — Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, where it works with popular chat app Line. All told, it covers 11 cities outside of China and this new capital will go towards expanding that figure with additional city launches in Southeast Asia and entry to India.

“If we do this well, then we are in countries that are more than half the world’s population,” Larsen said in an interview, although he didn’t rule out the potential for Lalamove to expand beyond Asia in the future.

There are also plans to grow the business in mainland China in terms of both geography and new services. Already, Lalamove has begun to offer driver services, starting with financing packages to help drivers with vehicle purchasing, and it is developing dedicated corporate offerings, too.

Lalamove CEO Shing Chow started Lalamove in late 2013, his past roles have included time with Bain & Company, a number of startup ventures — including a Hong Kong-based skin center — and a stint as a professional poker player

Overall, the business claims to have registered 3 million drivers to date and served more than 28 million users across all cities. With its headquarters in Hong Kong, it employs some 4,000 people across its business.

Rival GoGoVan exited through a merger with China-based 58 Suyun in 2017, at a claimed valuation of $1 billion, but Lalamove has remained independent and stuck to its guns. Larson said that already it is profitable in “a significant amount” of cities and typically, he said, the blueprint is to reach profitability within two years of opening a new location.

“The focus has always been on sustainable growth and we’re very strong on the cash flow front,” the former Rocket Internet executive added.

Larson and Lalamove have been very forthcoming in their desire to go public in Hong Kong, noting so publicly as early as 2017 at a TechCrunch China event in Shenzhen. That desire is still evident — “we’re very proud to be from Hong Kong and Hong Kong would be a good place for an IPO,” Larson said this week — but still the company said that it has no particular plan on the cards, despite its consumer-focused peers Uber and Lyft lining up IPOs in the U.S. this year.

“We don’t spend maybe even five minutes a year talking about it,” Larsen told TechCrunch. “The discussion is really ‘Let’s make sure we’re IPO ready’ because sometimes there are macroeconomic conditions you can’t control.”

Clearly, investors are bullish and it is notable that Lalamove’s new round comes at a time when many Chinese companies are downsizing their staff, with the likes of Didi, Meituan and JD.com announcing cuts and refocusing strategies in recent weeks.

“[Lalamove CEO and founder] Shing is a role model for Hong Kong’s new generation of innovative entrepreneurs,” said Sequoia China founder and managing partner Neil Shen. “Raised in Hong Kong and educated at Stanford University, Shing returned and plunged himself in the entrepreneurial wave of ‘Internet Plus,’ becoming a figure of entrepreneurial success.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Alibaba’s Ant Financial buys UK currency exchange giant WorldFirst reportedly for around $700M

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Ant Financial, the financial services behemoth affiliated with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has made its first big move into Europe. It’s acquired London-headquartered payments company WorldFirst in a deal that sources tell us is valued at around $700 million.

(That price would also line up with multiple reports from December claiming the two were in talks for an acquisition of around £550 million, or $717 million at current exchange rates.)

This isn’t your average multi-hundred million dollar acquisition. The deal was confirmed by WorldFirst in a note to customers while Alibaba, which curiously didn’t put out an official press release, acknowledged the acquisition to us through a spokesperson.

Yet despite a relatively under-the-radar outing, the deal has potentially significant consequences. It not only underscores the strong market connections between China and Europe, but also the margin (and thus strategic) pressures that many smaller remittance companies are under in the wake of larger companies like Amazon building its own money-moving services, as well as competition from local players in Asia.

One of a number of globally active money remittance services, 15-year-old WorldFirst lets businesses and consumers move money between countries at prices that are lower than regular banks.

The company claims to have transferred over £70 billion ($90 billion) for customers since 2004, with more than one million transfers made each year. WorldFirst is a player in the competitive remittance market, in which migrant workers send money home to family, who can make transfers online or in person at WorldFirst outlets.

Ant Financial is best known for its Alipay service, which is China’s dominant mobile payment app with over 550 million registered users. Alibaba owns one-third of Ant, which is valued at as much as $150 billion, and it has been pushing to expand its empire outside of China and beyond Asia Pacific, too.

“Alipay and WorldFirst’s capabilities and international footprints are highly complementary,” WorldFirst co-founder and chief executive Jonathan Quin wrote in an internal memo obtained by TechCrunch.

According to Quin, WorldFirst will retain its brand and become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ant Financial. Many merchants in the UK already accept Alipay, which has expanded to cater for Chinese tourists spending money overseas.

“The tie-up will add WorldFirst’s international online payments and virtual account products to Alipay’s range of technology solutions,” an Ant Financial spokesperson told TechCrunch without disclosing the size of the buyout.

WorldFirst has been financed by private equity investors and, as a private company, it keeps its financial details closely held, but in August 2018 it noted that it had transferred more than $95 billion for some 160,000 customers — businesses and individuals included. A source told us its GMV was around $10 billion a year.

But sources noted that it was under pressure of its own that would have made securing a deal with Ant even more of a priority.

“That whole sector of payments from the West to China sellers for e-commerce is under massive margin pressure from Amazon going direct with its own service, plus new China based entrants PingPong, LianLian and Airwallex,” one executive very close to the remittance space told us. “WorldFirst had recently seen low to declining growth because of this.” Another source said that it had been shopping itself around.

(The Amazon reference is related to Amazon PayCode, a new service it has built with Western Union to let people in markets where Amazon has not launched a local site to pay for goods in local currencies on its platform. The deal was first announced in October last year, and has seen the two companies offering payment alternatives in places like Thailand and Kenya to remove the need to transfer payments in other ways, via Alipay or whatever transfer service a seller or buyer might use.)

The acquisition gives Ant Financial a massive international boost, and for the first time a presence in Europe, but it comes amid some stumbles for the company in its other attempts to expand internationally.

Notably, the company agreed to acquire Nasdaq-listed MoneyGram for $1.2 billion in 2017 after it won a bidding war for the global payment company. Ultimately, however, the deal was blocked by the U.S. government. Bruised by the episode, which set its plans back by a year, Ant went on to raise an enormous $14 billion funding round last summer during which time it presumably kicked off the search for a MoneyGram alternative.

While WorldFirst is based out of the UK, the company last year made a key move to expand its US operations when it was announced in August that it would acquire the retail money transfer business of San Francisco-based startup Wyre, which had built the network on blockchain technology but was selling it to focus on the other side of its business, providing currency exchange APIs to larger B2B customers.

It looked like all systems go for WorldFirst to move deeper in the US after that. But then, the company abruptly announced on February 20 that it planned to close the U.S-based business. The move may have been made to prevent a repeat of that scuppered MoneyGram acquisition.

WorldFirst is closing its business in the U.S. in a move widely seen as a precursor to its acquisition by Ant Financial

Outside of the U.S. and China, Ant Financial has aggressively expanded its presence in Asia through a series of investment deals that have seen it put $200 million into Kakao Pay in Korea, and find similar deals in Southeast Asia. The overall strategy appears to be to replicate the success of Alipay in China, where it offers mobile payments and digital financial services that cover loans, banking and wealth management.

In a show of its global ambition, Alipay just this week announced a deal to bring its payment option to U.S. Walgreens stores. A previous partnership with point-of-sale company First Data added Alipay to four million retail partners Stateside, and the company has similar deals in Europe and parts of Asia.

News Source = techcrunch.com

China’s Alipay digital wallet is entering 7,000 Walgreens stores

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China’s payments heavyweights have been following tourists abroad as their home market gets crowded. Ant Financial, Alibaba’s financial affiliate with a said valuation of $100 billion, now sees its virtual wallet Alipay handling transactions at 3,000 Walgreens stores in the U.S. and is eyeing to reach a roster of 7,000 locations by April.

The alliance will make it breezier for Chinese tourists eager to pick up vitamin supplements and cosmetics from the pharmacy giant, doing away the hassle of carrying cash around. There’s also an economic incentive as Alipay and its payments peers typically charge lower foreign transaction fees than credit card firms.

Walgreens products are already available to Chinese shoppers through Alibaba’s Tmall online marketplace, which connects customers to brands. It competes with JD.com to bring high-quality overseas products to the country’s increasingly demanding consumers.

According to a Nielsen report released last year, more than 90 percent Chinese tourists said they would use mobile payment overseas if given the option. Digital payments have become a norm in China’s urban centers and top policymakers are planning to replicate that cashless ubiquity among rural villagers by 2020, announced a set of new guidelines this week.

Ant Financial is continuing its aggression in North America despite a major fiasco last year when the U.S. government killed its $1.2 billion plan to buy money transfer firm MoneyGram, a deal that could boost Ant’s global remittance capability. Within the American borders, Ant has tapped into its partners’ retail networks. By March last year, Alipay was accepting money across 35,000 merchants through its tie-up with local payments processor First Data.

Alipay is currently available at 3,000 Walgreens stores in the U.S. / Photo: Ant Financial

Digital payments are especially popular with first-time outbound tourists, many of whom hail from smaller Chinese cities and may not own international credit cards. According to a recent report published by Ant, the number of people from third-and-fourth-tier cities who used Alipay abroad was up 230 percent during this past Lunar New Year.

“This really highlights how mobile payment is taking root in China’s outbound tourism market,” said Janice Chen, head of the business operation for Alipay’s cross-border unit. Overseas usage from travellers born between 1960 and 1979 similarly saw robust growth last week.

Alipay’s big push into North American also includes its foray into Canada. In one instance, diners in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton — destinations that draw a lot of Chinese tourist and students — can now use Alipay to order food and skip restaurant lines. The setup comes from a deal between Ant Financial and Canadian food startup ClickDishes.

Alipay’s archrival WeChat Pay has also flexed its muscles overseas. To chase after Chinese tourists, the Tencent-owned wallet recently pushed into Japan through a partnership with chat app Line. In Hong Kong and Malaysia, WeChat has attempted to get a slice of the indigenous payments market by running localized versions of the wallet and luring users with money. During Lunar New Year, WeChat Pay shelled out millions of digital hongbao — red packets filled with cash traditionally handed out during the festive period — to users in these two regions.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Indonesia-focused Intudo Ventures raises new $50M fund

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Intudo Ventures, a VC firm focused on Indonesia, has closed a new $50 million fund. This is Intudo’s second fund to date following its $20 million debut last year.

The firm is a relative newcomer to Southeast Asia but a key differentiator is that it is solely focused on Indonesia, which is the world’s fourth most populated country with over 260 million people and the region’s largest economy.

It is also the dominant market for tech and the internet in the region. According to a much-cited report from Google and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek, Indonesia’s online economy will grow to $100 billion by 2025 from $8 billion in 2015. That’s a dominant chunk of the Southeast Asia market, which is predicted to reach $240 billion as a whole.

A Google-Temasek report forecasts significant growth across Southeast Asia, with Indonesia taking the lead

Another factor that separates Intudo from other firms is its approach to working with local partners. Most VC firms in Southeast Asia tend to source their LPs from Singapore, West Asia and China with a smattering of local families or conglomerates who wield influence on the ground in markets. In Indonesia, Intudo claims to have over 20 families among its LP base, as opposed to the conventional approach of two or three.

However, founding partners Eddy Chan and Patrick Yip told TechCrunch that the majority of its capital comes from U.S-based LPs, with no investor providing more than 10 percent of the fund’s capital. Some of its overseas backers include Founders Fund, the family office of former Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson, Japan’s World Innovation Lab and Taiwan’s CTBC Group, according to the partners.

“Indonesia is a market we feel is dominated by about 100 core families, we are back by 20-some of the most influential groups in the market,” Chan said in an interview.

The goal is to help Intudo’s portfolio companies tap into opportunities from those LPs and their business holdings.

“When we sign up LPs, first and foremost we want to be able to engage the network and resources for the startup we invest into. We find a fit and hopefully provide some kind of unfair advantage… a leg up when they want to compete,” Chan explained.

“We’re not biased to any one family, we invest in a purely financially-driven manner,” added Yip.

Intudo Ventures’ founding partners Eddy Chan and Patrick Yip

Yip provides the on-the-ground presence having returned to Indonesia from the U.S. 15 years ago. Chan is in the U.S. for eight months a year, he said, where he spends much of his time seeking out Indonesia talent studying in the U.S. for prospective hiring or incubating new projects.

“We have a long-term view that we either place them in our portfolio, found companies with them or put them in with a Bain, or McKinsey type company,” Chan explained.

Yip formerly operated an investment firm associated with Goldman Sachs and spent time at retail giant CP, Chan, meanwhile has spent time as an investor and co-founded smart light company Leeo before leaving in 2015 following a restructuring.

The fund itself is focused on Series A and pre-A with some Series B with an initial investment of $500,000-$5 million with more for follow-on rounds, the partners explained. But the focus is on doubling down on a few prospects, with the fund slated to do around 12-15 deals through its lifecycle.

Chan said that when it comes to going beyond the fund’s deal range the thesis is to involve its LPs who, he claimed, are keen to invest in Indonesia further down the line. With just a year since Intudo’s debut fund closed that theory has not been tested yet although one early bet, BeliMobilGue just raised a $10 million Series A. Others in the portfolio include co-working venture CoHive, payment gateway company Xendit and fitness startup Ride Jakarta.

For now, at least, Intudo intends to remain laser-focused on Indonesia.

“Down the road will we add other countries? Time will tell,” Chan said. “This is our bread and butter and where we’re strong and what we have committed to for our LPs.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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