It’s often said that the dramatic fall of crypto prices last year ushered in a new era for technology-focused startups in the blockchain space, and the same argument can be made for the venture capitalists who fund them. Proof of Capital is the latest fund to emerge after it officially announced a maiden $50 million fund today.
The firm — and you have to give them credit for the name — has an LP base that is anchored by HTC — no big surprise there given the connections — alongside YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics, Ripple’s former chief risk officer Greg Kidd (who is also a prolific crypto investor) and a number of undisclosed family offices.
“For HTC, it’s obvious, they already have a product to go with it,” Yeung told TechCrunch in an interview, referencing the fact that HTC is keen to invest in blockchain services and startups to build an ecosystem for its play.
The fund also includes a partnership with HTC which, slightly hazy on paper, will essentially open the possibility for Proof of Capital portfolio companies to work with HTC directly to develop services or products for Exodus and potentially other HTC blockchain ventures. But other LPs are also keen to dip their toes in the water in different ways.
“Some of these backers are curious at the possibilities of blockchain,” continued Yeung. “For example, they’re giving us some ideas on how tokenization and gamification could be applied on different platforms.”
Proof of Capital founding partners (left to right) Edith Yeung, Chris McCann and Phil Chen
The fund itself is broadly targeted at early stage blockchain companies in fintech, infrastructure, hardware and the “consumer layers of the blockchain ecosystem.” Its remit is worldwide. Although Chen and Yeung have strong networks in Asia, the fund’s first deal is an investment in Latin America-based blockchain fintech startup Ubanx.
Yeung clarified that the fund is held in fiat currency and that it is focused on regular VC deals, as opposed to token-based investments.
“It’s a VC fund so the setup is traditional,” she explained. “There’s been a lot of interesting movements in the last two years, [but] we come from a more traditional VC background and are excited about the technology.”
“It’s still really early [for blockchain] and a lot of the hype — the boom and bust — is down to the crypto market and ICOs, but the reality is that a lot of these technologies are really nascent. Now, projects are raising equity, even if they have a token,” Yeung added.
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.
There’s a changing of the guard within Google’s Asia Pacific business. In recent weeks, personnel changes within two of its most important roles show the search giant is entering a new era of management for its fast-growing business across the continent.
A former consultant with McKinsey in the U.S, Anandan worked for Microsoft and Dell before joining Google in 2011. Under his tenure, the company executed a range of initiatives for India under its ‘Next Billion Users’ initiative which included its Tez payments service (now called Google Pay), public WiFi, localapps and a range of more data-friendly versions of apps like Maps and YouTube. Under Anandan, Google’s revenues surpassed $1 billion annually with reports suggesting that India-based income grew some 30 percent year-on-year last year.
Anandan will stay on at Google until the end of April. Vikas Agnihotri, Google India’s head of sales, will step into his role until a replacement is found, Google said.
Beaumont paid tribute in a statement:
We are grateful to Rajan for his huge contribution to Google over the past eight years. His entrepreneurial zeal and leadership has helped grow the overall internet ecosystem in India and Southeast Asia, and we wish him all the best in his new adventures.
Google certainly stands in a more competitive position in India today, but whoever replaces Anandan will need to deliver a strategy in response to Facebook’s phenomenal growth in India — where it is said to be close to $1 billion in annual revenue, with big plans for its hugely popular WhatsApp service — and continue to develop strategies for mobile.
Rajan Anandan, vice president of Google for South East Asia and India, is leaving the search giant to oversee Sequoia’s new early-stage accelerator program (Photo credit: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)
It isn’t clear if Anandan’s departure is related to Beaumont’s recent promotion — you’d imagine that the two were among the main candidates for the top job at Google Asia — but heading to Sequoia is no slack move, particularly given the company’s increased focus on early-stage investing and Surge.
Now some words on Beaumont, who TechCrunch understands from sources is widely-liked within Google. His tenure in China is linked with the development of DragonFly, the secretive project to develop a government-friendly search service in China, but internally his star is rising thanks to Google’s improved business position in China.
DragonFly may (may) have been shuttered, but Beaumont is credited with helping Google build revenue in China through advertising deals, with The Information reporting that China-based revenue surged by more than 60 percent to more than $3 billion last year.
Scott Beaumont, Google’s newly-appointed head of Asia Pacific is widely credited with developing Google’s business in China in recent years, but that also included the controversial work on a proposed censored search service for Mainland China (Photo credit: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)
Like Twitter and Facebook, that has included dealing with state-backed media and other organizations keen to lean on Western internet pillars to reach a global audience but, as an interesting report from The Information earlier this year showed, Google also set up robust on-the-ground systems to let SMEs and companies selling to the global market access Google services through third-party offices and resellers.
It remains to be seen how Google’s China strategy will develop now that Beaumont has taken on more responsibility with a broader job and, indeed, what he will bring to Google’s overall strategy in Asia Pacific. The region accounts for around 15 percent of revenue behind the U.S. and Europe, according to Google parent Alphabet’s latest financials, with 33 percent annual growth second only to Latin America.
Let’s start with some numbers. Venture funding in Latin American startups is up — way up — from previous years. Specifically, LAVCA’s data shows that VC funding more than doubled in 2017 to $1.14 billion compared to $500 million in 2016. While 2018 numbers haven’t been finalized, LAVCA is projecting another record year with venture investments topping $1.5 billion.
If you combine private equity and venture investing, the numbers are even more impressive. LAVCA estimates that PE and VC fundraising together in Latin America in 2017 totaled $4.3 billion, up from $2.3 billion in 2016.1
Julie Ruvolo, director of venture capital for LAVCA, said all this “fits squarely in this larger momentum that’s been building over the last year or two.”
“We’ve been seeing the continued, and increased, entry of significant global players in the market,” she told Crunchbase News. “Plus, we’ve been seeing an uptick in $100 million-plus rounds, which was a relatively rare thing in Latin America.”
Also unsurprising is the breakdown of where the majority of venture dollars have gone in Latin America. Brazil led the region across all stages of VC investment, capturing 73 percent of VC investment dollars in 2017 and the first half of 2018 (201 startup investments totaling $1.4 billion). Mexico was the second most active market by number of deals (82 startup investments totaling $154 million), but Colombia saw more money invested ($188 million over 23 deals).
Here’s a quick rundown of just some of the bigger deals that took place during that same time frame:
Argentinian online travel agency Despegar, went public on the NYSE.
It’s worth noting that fintech is the top sector of VC investment by dollars and number of deals in Latin America. The region also hosts a number of unicorns, including Brazilian ride-hailing startup 99; Colombian last-mile delivery service Rappi; Brazilian learning systems provider Arco Educação; and Brazilian fintech startup Stone Pagamentos.
With all this innovation and investing going on in Latin America, there is clearly large potential. And SoftBank is now poised to capitalize on that.
The fundraising and investment data LAVCA collects is specific to fund managers that have raised capital from third-party institutional investors/limited partners and doesn’t account for other types of private capital investors, like a SoftBank fund or sovereign wealth fund, corporate, etc.
Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch . This is the fifth edition of our newsletter and we love the reader feedback. Keep it coming.
Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here, here and here. As I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. (An email subscription is coming).
This week, we explore the world of light detection and ranging sensors known as LiDAR, young drivers, trouble in Barcelona, autonomous trucks in California, and China among other things.
There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.
This week, we’re going to put our on analysis hats as we explore the world of LiDAR, a sensor that measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. LiDAR is considered by most in the self-driving car industry (Tesla CEO Elon Musk being one exception) a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.
There are A LOT of companies working on LiDAR. Some counts track upwards of 70. For years now, Velodyne has been the primary supplier of LiDAR sensors to companies developing autonomous vehicles. Waymo, back when it was just the Google self-driving project, even used Velodyne LiDAR sensors until 2012.
Dozens of startups have sprung up with Velodyne in its sights. But now Waymo has changed the storyline.
To catch you up: Waymo announced this week that it will start selling its custom LiDAR sensors — the technology that was at the heart of a trade secrets lawsuit last year against Uber.
Waymo’s entry into the market doesn’t necessarily upend other companies’ plans. Waymo is going to sell its short range LiDAR, called Laser Bear Honeycomb, to companies outside of self-driving cars. It will initially target robotics, security and agricultural technology.
It does put pressure on startups, particularly those with less capital or those targeting the same customer base. Pitchbook ran the numbers for us to determine where the LiDAR industry sits at the moment. There are two stories here: there are a handful of well capitalized startups and we may have reached “peak” LiDAR. Last year, there were 28 VC deals in LiDAR technology valued at $650 million. The number of deals was slightly lower than in 2017, but the values jumped by nearly 34 percent.
The top global VC-backed LiDAR technology companies (by post valuation) are Quanergy, Velodyne (although mostly corporate backed), Aurora (not self-driving company Aurora Innovation), Ouster, and DroneDeploy. The graphic below, also courtesy of Pitchbook, shows the latest figures as of January 31, 2019.
The companies — Russian alarm maker Pandora and California-based Viper (or Clifford in the U.K.) — have fixed the security vulnerabilities that allowed researchers to remotely track, hijack and take control of vehicles with the alarms installed. What does this all mean?
Our in-house security expert and reporter Zack Whittaker digs in and gives us a reality check. Follow him @zackwhittaker.
Since the first widely publicized car hack in 2015 proved hijacking and controlling a car was possible, it’s opened the door to understanding the wider threat to modern vehicles.
Most modern cars have internet connectivity, making their baseline surface area of attack far greater than a car that doesn’t. But the effort that goes into remotely controlling a vehicle is difficult and convoluted, and the attack — often done by chaining together a set of different vulnerabilities — can take weeks or even longer to develop.
Keyfob or replay attacks are far more likely than say remote attacks over the internet or cell network. A keyfob sends an “unlock” signal, a device captures that signal and replays it. By replaying it you can unlock the car.
This latest car hack, featuring flawed third-party car alarms, was far easier to exploit, because the alarm systems added a weakness to the vehicles that weren’t there to begin with. Car makers, with vast financial and research resources, do a far greater job at securing their vehicle than the small companies that focus on functionality over security. For now, the bigger risk comes from third parties in the automobile space, but the car makers can’t afford to drop their game either.
A little bird …
We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.
The California Department Motor Vehicles is the government body that regulates autonomous vehicle testing on public roads. The job of enforcement falls to the California Highway Patrol.
In an effort to gauge the need for more robust testing guidelines, the California Highway Patrol decided to hold an event at its headquarters in Sacramento. Eight companies working on autonomous trucking technology were invited. It was supposed to be a large event with local and state politicians in attendance. And it was supposed to validate autonomous trucking as an emerging industry.
There’s just one problem: only one AV trucking company is willing and able to complete this course. We hear that this AV startup actually already went ahead and completed the test course.
The California Highway Patrol has postponed event, for now, presumably until more companies can join.
Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.
Deal of the week
Instead of highlighting one giant deal, let’s step back and take a broader view of mobility this week. The upshot: 2018 saw a decline in total investments in the sector and money moved away from ride-hailing and towards two-wheeled transportation.
According to newresearch from EY, mobility investments in 2018 reached $39.1 billion, down from $55.2 billion in the previous year. (The figures EY provided was through November 2018).
Ride-hailing companies raised $7.1 billion in 2018, a 73 percent decline from the previous year when $26.7 billion poured into this sector.
Investors, it seems, are shifting their focus to other business models, notably first and last-mile connectivity. EY estimates $7 billion was invested in two-wheeler mobility companies such as bike-sharing and electric scooters in 2018. The U.S. and China together have contributed to more than 80 percent of overall two-wheeler mobility investments this year alone, according to EY research shared with TechCrunch.
Vayavision, an autonomous vehicle technology startup that developed perception software received a 2.45 million euro grant ($2.75 million) from the European Commission’s European Innovation Council. The company is backed by backed by LG Corp and Mitsubishi UFJ Capital.
Brodmann17 — named after the primary visual cortex in the human brain — raised $11 million in a Series A round of funding led by OurCrowd, with participation also from Maniv Mobility, AI Alliance, UL Ventures, Samsung NEXT, and the Sony Innovation Fund.
Let’s talk about Generation Z, that group of young people born 1996 to the present, and one startup that is focused on turning that demographic into car owners.
There’s lots of talk and hand wringing about young people choosing not to get a driver’s license, or not buying a vehicle. In the UK, for instance, about 42 percent of young drivers aged 17 to 24, hold a driver’s license. That’s about 2.7 million people, according to the National Travel Survey 2018 (NTS) of the UK government’s department of transport. An additional 2.2 million have a provisional or learner license. Combined, that amounts to about 13 percent of the car driving population of the UK.
In the UK, evidence suggests that a rise in motoring costs have discouraged young people from learning. And there lies one opportunity that a new startup called Driver1 is targeting.
“The young driver market is being underserved by the car industry, Driver1 founder Tim Hammond told TechCrunch. “And primarily it’s the financing that’s not available for that age group. It’s also something that’s not really affordable for any of the car subscription models like Fair.com and it’s not suitable for the OEM subscription services either financially or from an age perspective for young drivers.”
The company’s own research has found this group wants a newer car for 12 to 15 months.
“The car is the extension of their device,” Hammond said, noting these drivers don’t want the old junkers. “They want their iPhones and they want the car that goes with it.”
The company is working directly with leasing companies — not dealerships — to provide young drivers with 3 to 5-year-old cars that have lost 60 percent or so of their value. Driver1 is targeting under $120 a month for the customer and has a partnership with remarketing company Manheim, which is owned by Cox Automotive.
The startup is focused on the UK for now and has about 600 members who have reserved their cars for purchase. Driver1 is aiming to capture about 10 percent of the 1 million or so young people in the UK who pass their learners permit each year. The company plans it expand to France and other European countries in the fall.
Tiny but mighty micromobility
Ca-caw, ca-caw! That’s the sound of Bird gearing up to launch Bird Platform in New Zealand, Canada and Latin America in the coming weeks. The platform is part of Bird’s mission to bring its scooters across the world “and empower local entrepreneurs in regions where we weren’t planning to launch to run their own electric-scooter sharing program with Bird’s tech and vehicles,” Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden told TechCrunch.
MRD’s two cents: Bird Platform seems like a way for Bird to make extra cash without having to do any of the work i.e. charging the vehicles, maintaining them and working with city officials to get permits. Smart!
Meanwhile, the dolla dolla bills keep pouring into micromobility. European electric scooter startup Voi Technology raised an additional $30 million in capital. That was on top of a $50 million Series A round just three months ago.
Oh, and because micromobility isn’t just for startups, Volkswagen decided to launch a kind of weird-looking electric scooter in Geneva. Because, why not?
It’s probably not smart to suggest another newsletter, but if you haven’t checked out Michael Dunne’s The Chinese Are Comingnewsletter, you should. Dunne has a unique perspective on what’s happening in China, particularly as it related to automotive and newer forms of mobility such as ride-hailing. One interesting nugget from his latest edition: there are more than 20 other new electric vehicle makers in China.
“Most will fall away within the next 3 to 4 years as cash runs out,” Dunne predicts.
Spanish ride-hailing firm Cabify is back operating in Barcelona, Spain despite issuing dire warnings that new regulations issued by local government would crush its business and force it to fire thousands of drivers and leave forever. Turns out forever is one month.
The Catalan Generalitat issued a decree last month imposing a wait time of at least 15 minutes between a booking being made and a passenger being picked up. The policy was made to ensure taxis and ride-hailing firms are not competing for the same passengers, following a series of taxi strikes, which included scenes of violence. Our boots on the ground reporter Natasha Lomas has the whole story.
Sure, Barcelona is just one city. But what happened in Barcelona isn’t an isolated incident. The early struggles between conventional taxis and ride-hailing operations might be over, but that doesn’t mean the matter has been settled altogether.
And it’s not likely to go away. Once, robotaxis actually hit the road en masse — and yes, that’ll be awhile — these same struggles will pop up again.
China Post, the official postal service of China, and delivery and logistics companies Deppon Express, will begin autonomous package delivery services in April. The delivery trucks will operate on autonomous driving technologies developed by FABU Technology, an AI company focused on intelligent driving systems.
On our radar
There is a lot of transportation-related activity this month. Come find me.
SXSW in Austin: TechCrunch will be at SXSW. And there is a lot of mobility action here. Aurora CEO and co-founder Chris Urmson was on stage Saturday morning with Malcolm Gladwell. Mayors from a number of U.S. cities as well as companies like Ford and Mercedes are on the scene. Here’s where I’ll be.
2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (local time) March 9 at the Empire Garage for theSmart Mobility Summit, an annual event put on by Wards Intelligence and C3 Group. The Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, will also be on hand.
9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (local time) March 12 at the JW Marriott. The Autonocast and founding general partner of Trucks VC, Reilly Brennan will hold a SXSW podcast panel on automated vehicle terminology and other stuff.
TechCrunch is also hosting a SXSW party from 1 pm to 4 pm Sunday, March 10, 615 Red River St., that will feature musical guest Elderbrook. RSVP here.
TechCrunch (including yours truly) will also be at Nvidia’s annual GPU Technology Conference from March 18 to 21 in San Jose.
Self Racing Cars
The annual Self Racing Car eventwill be held March 23 and March 24 at Thunderhill Raceway near Willows, California.
There is still room for participants to test or demo their autonomous vehicles, drive train innovation, simulation, software, teleoperation, and sensors. Hobbyists are welcome. Sign up to participate or drop them a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com to share those thoughts, opinions or tips.