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April 22, 2019
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Southeast Asia’s Carousell snags investment from Naspers-owned OLX

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It’s taken some time to come around, but Naspers — the early Tencent investor that’s also behind the world’s top listings service — finally has a piece of Southeast Asia’s Carousell. TechCrunch broke news of talks between the two sides last year, and today Tech In Asia reported that Naspers-owned OLX Group has put $42 million into Carousell.

In addition, it appears that the deal includes the transfer of the OLX Philippines business to Carousell, according to a report from Deal Street Asia which cites a source close to the investment.

Carousell is a mobile-first peer-to-peer selling app that operates across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Australia. Founded by three graduates of the National University of Singapore, its listing business has expanded into automotive and real estate, which it monetizes whilst keeping the core service free.

The deal gives Singapore-based Carousell a valuation of $365 million, according to a company filing that Tech In Asia gained access to. The publication reported that OLX now owns 11.5 percent of Carousell — that would make it the startup’s third-largest shareholder beyond existing backers Rakuten and Sequoia India, which own 29.6 percent and 15.1 percent, respectively.

Prior to this deal, Carousell had raised $126.8 million in funding. Its last round was a $85 million deal that closed in May 2018, although TechCrunch earlier broke news of the investment.

OLX, meanwhile, is the world’s biggest classifieds business. It is active across over 40 countries through a network of 17 entities. All combined, it claims to reach more than 350 million users each month. That makes it a very coveted investor for Carousell and, really, any company that sits in classifieds/listing space.

OLX is the world’s largest operator of classifieds sites — its reach covers 350 million monthly users across 40 countries through 17 brands

A source with knowledge of discussions told TechCrunch that the Carousell deal had been agreed to some time ago, but Naspers’ impending IPO in Europe — it is taking its Tencent stake and other web holdings public on Euronext Amsterdam — was the reason for the delay in tying things up.

It also seems that agreeing on a valuation may have been a sticking point. In our story last year, we reported that Carousell was shooting for a $500 million valuation but this deal is short of that by some margin, according to the details sourced by Tech In Asia. We also reported that the investment could be a precursor to an eventual acquisition — that’s a development that we’ll have to wait on, but it is certainly a logical assumption that many will come to, rightly or wrongly.

There have already been some significant dealings in 2019, as OLX/Naspers strategically shuffle their cards across the world. OLX last week sold a slew of its Africa-based business to rival Jiji, while, back in January, Naspers took full control of its Russia-based classifieds site Avito in a deal worth $1.16 billion.

Outside of classifieds, Nasper has put increased focus on India where it has backed unicorns Swiggy (food delivery) and Byju’s (education) in major deals announced in recent months.

News Source = techcrunch.com

ShopBack, a cashback startup in Asia Pacific, raises $45M from Rakuten and others

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ShopBack, a Singapore-based startup that offers cashback and consumer rewards in Asia Pacific, has closed a $45 million round led by new investors Rakuten Capital and EV Growth.

Founded in 2014, the startup had been relatively under-the-radar until late 2017 when it announced a $25 million investment that funded expansion into Australia among other things. Now, it is doubling down with this deal which sees participation from another new backer, EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board. Shopback has now raised close to $85 million from investors, which also include Credit Saison Blue Sky, AppWorks, SoftBank Ventures Korea, Singtel Innov8 and Qualgro.

The investment will see Amit Patel, who leads Rakuten-owned cashback service Ebates, and EV Growth managing partner Willson Cuaca, join the board. Cuaca is a familiar face since his East Ventures firm, which launched EV Growth alongside Yahoo Japan Capital and SMDV last year, was an early investor in Shopback, while the addition of Patel is potentially very significant for the startup. Indeed, when I previously wrote about ShopBack, I compared the startup directly to Ebates, which was bought by Rakuten for $1 billion in 2014.

Ebates brings operating experience in the cashback space,” Henry Chan, ShopBack co-founder and CEO told TechCrunch in an interview.

“A lot has changed in the last year and a half, Ebates has a very strong focus on the U.S… given that we’re not competing, it makes sense to partner and to learn,” he added.

The obvious question to ask is whether this deal is a precursor to a potential acquisition.

So, is it?

“It is squarely for learning and for growth,” Chan said in response. “It makes sense for us to partner with someone with the know-how.”

ShopBack operates in seven markets in Asia Pacific — Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia and Indonesia — with a core rewards service that gives consumers rebates for spending on areas like e-commerce, ride-hailing, food delivery, online travel and more. It has moved offline, too, with a new service for discovering and paying for food which initially launched in Singapore.

ShopBack said it saw a 250 percent growth in sales and orders last year which translated to nearly $1 billion in sales for its merchant partners. The company previously said it handled $400 million in 2017. It added that it typically handles more than 2.5 million transactions for upwards of seven million users.

(Left to right) Henry Chan, co-founder and CEO of ShopBack, welcomes new board member Amit Patel, CEO of Rakuten -owned Ebates [Image via ShopBack]

Chan said that, since the previous funding round, ShopBack has seen its business in emerging markets like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines take off and eclipse its efforts in more developed countries like Singapore. Still, he said, the company benefits from the diversity of the region.

Markets like Singapore and Taiwan, where online spending is more established, allow ShopBack to “learn ahead of time how different industries will develop” as the internet economy matures in Southeast Asia, Chan — who started the company with fellow co-founder Joel Leong — explained.

Outside of Southeast Asia, Chan said that ShopBack’s Australia business — launched nearly one year ago — has been its “most phenomenal market in terms of growth.”

“We’re already superseding incumbents,” he said.

ShopBack claims some 300,000 registered users in Australia, where it said purchases through its platform have grown by 1,300 percent between May 2018 and March 2019. Of course, that’s growth from a tiny initial base and ShopBack didn’t provide raw figures on sales.

For its next expansion, ShopBack is looking closer to home with Vietnam its upcoming target. The country is already home to one of its three R&D centers — the other two are located in Singapore and Taiwan — and Chan said the startup is currently hiring for a general manager to head up the soon-to-launch Vietnam business.

Already, though, the company is beginning to think about reaching beyond Asia Pacific. Chan maintained that the company already has a proven playbook — particularly on the tech side — so it “can enter a Western market” if it chooses, but that isn’t likely to happen in the immediate future.

“We could [expand beyond Asia Pacific] but we have a fair bit on our plate, right now,” said Chan with a laugh.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Partnering with Visa, emerging market lender Branch International raises $170 million

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The San Francisco-based startup Branch International, which makes small personal loans in emerging markets, has raised $170 million and announced a partnership with Visa to offer virtual, pre-paid debit cards to Branch client networks in Africa, South-Asia and Latin America. 

Branch — which has 150 employees in San Francisco, Lagos, Nairobi, Mexico City and Mumbai — makes loans starting at $2 to individuals in emerging and frontier markets. The company also uses an algorithmic model to determine credit worthiness, build credit profiles and offer liquidity via mobile phones.

“We’ll use [the money] to deepen existing business in Africa. Later this year we’ll announce high-yield savings accounts…in Africa,” says Branch co-founder and chief executive Matt Flannery.

The $170 million round from Foundation Capital and its new debit card partner, Visa, will support Branch’s international expansion, which could include Brazil and Indonesia, according to Flannery. Branch launched in Mexico and India within the last year. In Africa, it offers its services in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.

A potential Branch customer

The Branch-Visa partnership will allow individuals to obtain virtual Visa accounts with which to create accounts on Branch’s app. This gives Branch larger reach in countries such as Nigeria — Africa’s most populous country with 190 million people — where cards have factored more prominently than mobile money in connecting unbanked and underbanked populations to finance.

Founded in 2015, Branch started operating in Kenya, where mobile money payment products such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa (which does not require a card or bank account to use) have scaled significantly. M-Pesa now has 25 million users, according to sector stats released by the Communications Authority of Kenya. Branch has more than 3 million customers and has processed 13 million loans and disbursed more than $350 million, according to company stats.

Branch has one of the most downloaded fintech apps in Africa, per Google Play app numbers combined for Nigeria and Kenya, according to Flannery.

Already profitable, Branch International expects to reach $100 million in revenues this year, with roughly 70 percent of that generated in Africa, according to Flannery.

In addition to Visa and Foundation Capital, the $170 Series C round included participation from Branch’s existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Trinity Ventures, Formation 8, the IFC, CreditEase and Victory Park, while adding new investors Greenspring, Foxhaven and B Capital.

Branch last raised $70 million in 2018. The company’s overall VC haul and $100 million revenue peg register as pretty big numbers for a startup focused primarily on Africa. Pan-African e-commerce startup Jumia, which also announced its NYSE IPO last month, generated $140 million in revenue (without profitability) in 2018.

Startups building financial technologies for Africa’s 1.2 billion population have gained the attention of investors. As a sector, fintech (or financial inclusion) attracted 50 percent of the estimated $1.1 billion funding to African startups in 2018, according to Partech.

Branch’s recent round and plans to add countries internationally also tracks a trend of fintech-related products growing in Africa, then expanding outward. This includes M-Pesa, which generated big numbers in Kenya before operating in 10 countries around the world. Nigerian payments startup Paga announced its pending expansion in Asia and Mexico late last year. And payment services such as Kenya’s SimbaPay have also connected to global networks like China’s WeChat.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Africa Roundup: Jumia files for IPO, OneFi acquires Amplify, FlexClub expands in Mexico

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Less than a decade ago IPOs, acquisitions, and global expansion by African startups were more possibility than reality. March saw all three from the continent’s tech scene.

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia filed for an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, per SEC documents and confirmation from chief executive Sacha Poignonnec.

In an updated filing, (since the March 12 original) Jumia indicated it will offer 13,500,000 ADR shares, for an offering price of $13 to $16 per share to trade under the ticker symbol “JMIA”. The IPO could raise up to $216 million for Jumia.

Since our first story (and reflected in the latest SEC docs) Mastercard Europe agreed up front to buy $50 million in Jumia ordinary shares.

With a smooth filing process, Jumia will become the first African startup to list on a major global exchange. The company is incorporated in Germany, but maintains its headquarters in Nigeria, and operates exclusively in Africa with 4000 employees on the continent.

The pending IPO creates another milestone for Jumia. The venture became the first African startup unicorn in 2016, achieving a $1 billion valuation after a funding round that included Goldman Sachs, AXA and MTN.

Founded in Lagos in 2012 with Rocket Internet backing, Jumia now operates multiple online verticals in 14 African countries. Goods and services lines include Jumia Food (an online takeout service), Jumia Flights (for travel bookings) and Jumia Deals (for classifieds). Jumia processed more than 13 million packages in 2018, according to company data. The company has started to generate annual revenues over $100 million, but like many burn-rate startups, has done so while racking up big losses.

There’ll be a lot more to cover, analyze, and debate pre and post Jumia’s NYSE bell toll—which could happen in coming weeks or months. For example, can Jumia generate a profit, is it really an African startup, will Jumia become an acquisition target for a big outside name or an acquirer of smaller startups in African e-commerce? Stay tuned for continuing TechCrunch coverage.

On the acquisition front,  Lagos based online lending startup OneFi bought Nigerian payment solutions company Amplify for an undisclosed amount.

OneFi is taking over Amplify’s IP, team, and client network of over 1000 merchants to which Amplify provides payment processing services, OneFi CEO Chijioke Dozie told TechCrunch.

The purchase of Amplify caps off a busy period for OneFi. Over the last seven months the Nigerian venture secured a $5 million lending facility from Lendable, announced a payment partnership with Visa, and became one of first (known) African startups to receive a global credit rating. OneFi is also dropping the name of its signature product, Paylater, and will simply go by OneFi (for now).

Collectively, these moves represent a pivot for OneFi away from operating primarily as a digital lender, toward becoming an online consumer finance platform.

“We’re not a bank but we’re offering more banking services…Customers are now coming to us not just for loans but for cheaper funds transfer, more convenient bill payment, and to know their credit scores,” said Dozie.

OneFi will add payment options for clients on social media apps including WhatsApp this quarter—something in which Amplify already holds a specialization and client base. Through its Visa partnership, OneFi will also offer clients virtual Visa wallets on mobile phones and start providing QR code payment options at supermarkets, on public transit, and across other POS points in Nigeria.

On the back of the acquisiton, OneFi is in the process of raising a round and will look to expand internationally, considering Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Ghana and Egypt and Europe for Diaspora markets.

On African startups expanding globally, FlexClub—a South African venture that matches investors and drivers to cars for ride-hailing services—announced it will expand in Mexico in a partnership with Uber after closing a $1.2 million seed round led by CRE Venture Capital.

The move comes as Africa’s tech-transit space continues to produce unique mobility solutions shaped around local needs.

FlexClub touts itself as a “gig economy investment platform” that is creating new asset classes in emerging markets, according to chief executive and co-founder Tinashe Ruzane.

That asset class, for now, is ride-hail vehicles. FlexClub allows investors to go on the site and purchase a car (ultimately managed and serviced by FlexClub). The startup then connects that car to an Uber driver who uses earnings to pay a weekly rental charge.

Those fees generate monthly, fixed-rate interest income for the investor. The driver has the option of buying the car after the 12 months, with a descending purchase price over time.

FlexClub’s platform manages the investment, rental income, and disbursement of funds across all parties. The startup also handles insurance, maintenance, and upkeep of the cars.

Ruzane envisions this as a model to finance multiple asset classes in emerging markets—where lending options are fewer for individuals who may not have credit histories.

“Our goal is to make this completely passive… where investors can invest in different kinds of assets on our platform, login to a dash, and see this is how my five cars in South Africa are doing, my vans in Mexico, my motorbikes in Indonesia — with a diversified portfolio around the world,” he explained.

FlexClub will begin work matching investors to cars and Uber drivers in Mexico in April. The startup sees opportunities to move into other mobility classes, such as Africa’s ride-hail motorcycle taxi and three-wheel tuk-tuk market, CEO Tinashe Ruzane told TechCrunch in this feature.

And finally, francophone Africa will see a boost in funds and support for startups. The Dakar Network Angels group launched last month, making its first investment to cleantech venture Coliba—an Ivorian startup that uses a mobile app to coordinate waste recycling

The deal is part of Dakar Network Angels’ mission of convening experts and capital to bridge the resource gap for startups in French-speaking Africa — or 24 of the continent’s 54 countries.

The organization — which goes by DNA for short — will offer seed fund investments of between $25,000 to $100,000 to early-stage ventures with high growth potential. These rounds will come with the entrepreneurial guidance of DNA’s angel network.

Launched in Senegal, the organization’s founder is Marieme Diop — a VC investor at Orange Digital Ventures — named the goal of bridging VC disparities between francophone and non-francophone Africa as the primary driver for DNA. She pointed to funding data by Partech indicating that 76 percent of investment to African startups goes to three English-speaking countries — Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.

To gain consideration for DNA investment, startups must gain referral by a member. DNA will take a minority stake (less than 10 percent) in ventures that receive seed funds and provide program mentorship until exits, Diop told TechCrunch.

To become an angel, members must commit to investing a minimum of $10,000 a year (for those coming on as individuals), $20,000 (for corporates) and be on hand to support the portfolio startups, according to DNA’s Corporate Membership Charter.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

African Tech Around The Net

News Source = techcrunch.com

Grab is talking to Ant Financial and PayPal about spinning out its financial services business

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Grab, the $16 billion-valued ride-hailing firm that acquired Uber’s Southeast Asia business last year, is in talks with Alibaba’s Ant Financial and PayPal as it considers spinning out of its financial services unit to double down on its non-transportation business, TechCrunch has learned.

The seven-year-old company’s coming-of-age moment was a deal to buy Uber’s regional business last year, but it hasn’t enjoyed the total monopoly many foresaw. Instead, it is faced with a growing challenge from rival Go-Jek, a $10 billion company backed by Google, Tencent and others, which is expanding across the region from Indonesia. In response, Grab is placing an increased focus on financial services as it seeks to become the ‘everyday app’ for consumers in Southeast Asia, where digital spending is expected to triple by 2025.

Grab Financial Group — which covers the GrabPay service and ventures that include insurance and loans — would operate independently of the core Grab business if spun out, but could start its new life with some notable allies. Grab is in early discussions with Ant Financial, Alibaba’s financial services business, and global payments firm PayPal over potential strategic investments, two sources with knowledge of talks told TechCrunch.

Grab has been heavily linked with an investment from Alibaba — having held discussions in the past — but backing Grab Financial might make more sense for the Chinese firm since it aligns with Ant Financial’s push into Southeast Asia, which has seen investments in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia among other markets.

A spin-out could happen in the coming months, according to one of the sources.

Deal Street Asia previously reported that Ant, which operates Alibaba’s hugely successful Alipay service and other financial ventures, would invest in Grab’s financial services unit.

“We don’t comment on rumors or speculation,” a PayPal spokesperson told TechCrunch.

“We don’t comment on market rumors and speculation,” a Grab spokesperson told TechCrunch.

A spokesperson for Ant Financial declined to comment.

Update: “Ant Financial is not involved in talks with Grab,” a spokesperson from Ant told TechCrunch in an updated statement.

The move would cap a busy recent period for Grab, which earlier this month announced a $1.48 billion investment from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, a deal that TechCrunch first reported on in December. That financing took Grab’s ongoing Series H round to $4.5 billion. We previously reported that it could close out at around $5 billion and Grab has confirmed that it is still raising capital for the round. It’s important to note that the spin-out of Grab Financial Services would not be directly related to the round.

Headed by long-time Grab executive Reuben Lai, Grab Financial Services is — as the name suggests — focused on building out fintech and payment services for the ride-hailing firm as part of its ‘super app’ strategy. That’s designed to take Grab from merely being a transportation app, in the purest sense of what Uber and its rivals began as, and develop it into a daily app for Southeast Asia’s 600 million-plus consumers.

Beyond the obvious areas like transportation and food delivery, Grab has added its own payment service — in addition to rides, GrabPay covers online and offline merchants in selected markets in Southeast Asia — and teamed up with partners to add SME loans, insurance, cross-border transfers and more. Internally, Grab sees its financial platform as ‘glue’ that can keep its core app sticky for users whilst helping build new revenue streams and business lines beyond transportation — which, as we all know, is a highly capital intensive industry.

“This year is all about doubling down on financial services and really executing on that,” Lai told TechCrunch in an interview on the sidelines of the Money2020 event in Singapore this month, where Grab announced new insurance and loans products. Right now, many of those financial products are limited to Singapore, but Lai said Grab plans to offer its suite of financial services across the region over time.

Reuben Lai, senior managing director at Grab Financial Group, speaks during the Money20/20 Asia Conference in Singapore, on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. [Photographer: Nicky Loh/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

Lai spent three years as Grab’s chief of staff and head of business development before moving to lead Grab Financial Group a year ago. He claimed that Grab, which says it has e-money licenses in Southeast Asia’s six largest countries, is “the largest payments ecosystem” in the region. Grab doesn’t provide figures for the volume of its payment flows.

Beyond financial services, Grab is courting third parties in content, services and other verticals with the lure of adding their businesses to its app, which claims over 130 million downloads in Southeast Asia. Grab Platform — as the initiative is called — has added video service HOOQ, China’s Ping An Good Doctor, travel firm Booking.com, e-grocer HappyFresh, and others.

Southeast Asian consumers could be forgiven for a feeling of deja vu. Grab’s super app strategy is reminiscent of that of Go-Jek, its chief rival in the region post-Uber, which successfully built a dominant position in its native Indonesia using a ‘constellation’ of services that included GoPay and other on-demand services. Go-Jek’s financial services unit remains part of the overall business, but it’ll be interesting to see whether that changes as it scales up.

Unlike Grab, which expanded across the region before fanning out into new verticals beyond transport, Go-Jek built its reputation in Indonesia before launching in new markets for the first time last year. Go-Jek has moved into Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand using core transportation services. It remains to be seen whether, or indeed when, those new markets will get the financial services and other offerings that Go-Jek serves up in Indonesia.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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