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February 24, 2019
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E-commerce startup Zilingo raises $226M to digitize Asia’s fashion supply chain

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If you’re looking for the next unicorn in Southeast Asia, Zilingo might just be it. The 3.5-year-old e-commerce company announced today that it has raised a Series D round worth $226 million to go after the opportunity to digitize Asia’s fashion supply chain.

This new round takes Zilingo to $308 million from investors since its 2015 launch. The Series D is provided by existing investors Sequoia India, Singapore sovereign fund Temasek, Germany’s Burda and Sofina, a European backer of Flipkart -owned fashion site Myntra. Joining the party for the first time is new investor EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board.

Zilingo isn’t commenting on a valuation for the round, but a source with knowledge of the deal told TechCrunch that it is ‘a rounding error’ away from $1 billion. We had heard in recent months that the startup was getting close to unicorn status, so that is likely to come sooner or later — particularly given that Zilingo has made it to Series D so rapidly.

Raising more than $300 million makes Zilingo one of Southeast Asia’s highest-capitalized startups, but its meteoric growth in the last year has come from expansion from consumer e-commerce into business-to-business services.

CEO Ankiti Bose — formerly with Sequoia India and McKinsey — and CTO Dhruv Kapoor first built a service that capitalized on Southeast Asia’s growing internet connectivity to bring small fashion vendors from the street markets of cities like Bangkok and Jakarta into the e-commerce fold.

Zilingo still operates its consumer-facing online retail store, but its key move has been to go after b2b opportunities in the supply chain. That’s to say that it is building a network of supply chain pieces — manufacturing, logistics, payments, etc — that it can take to retailers or brands. So, in theory, anyone wanting to get into private labels or fashion selling could use Zilingo as an end-to-end solution to make and source their product.

Revenue grew by 4X over the past year, with b2b responsible for 75 percent of that total, Bose told TechCrunch. She declined to provide raw figures but did say net income is in “the hundreds of millions” of U.S dollar. The company — which has over 400 staff — isn’t profitable yet, but CEO Bose said the b2b segment gives it “a clear pathway” to break-even by helping offset expensive e-commerce battles.

Ankiti Bose and Dhruv Kapoor founded Zilingo in 2015.

The supply chain’s ‘outdated tech’

Moving into the supply chain after building distribution makes sense, but Zilingo has long had its eye on services.

That business-focused push started with a suite of basic products to help Zilingo sellers manage their e-commerce business. Those initially included inventory management and sales tracking, but they have since graduated to deeper services like financing, sourcing and procurement, and a ‘style hunter’ for identifying upcoming fashion trends. Zilingo also widened its target from the long tail of small vendors operating in Southeast Asia, to bigger merchants and brands and even to the fashion industry in Europe, North America and beyond that seeks access to Asia’s producers, who are estimated to account for $1.4 trillion of the $3 billion global fashion manufacturing market.

Zilingo’s goal today is to provide any seller with the features, insight and network that brands such as Zara have built for themselves through years of work.

In Southeast Asia, that means helping small merchants, SMEs and larger retailers to source items for sale online through the Zilingo store. But in Europe and the U.S, where it doesn’t operate an outlet, Zilingo goes straight to the sellers themselves. That could mean retailers seeking wholesale opportunities from Asia or online influencers, such as Instagram personalities, keen to use their presence for e-commerce. Beyond just picking out items to sell, Zilingo wants to help them build their own private labels using its supply chain network.

That rest of the world plan has been on the cards since last year when Zilingo closed a $54 million Series C, but now the next stage of the journey is deeper integration with factories.

“If you think about these factories that make the products, the process isn’t optimized over there,” Bose said in an interview. “The guy or girl running factory likely has no technology, they don’t even use Excel. So we’re going to small and medium factories, increasing capacity utilization, helping to manage payroll, getting loans and other fintech services.”

Kapoor, her co-founder, adds that the fashion supply chain is “is marred by outdated tech.”

“It’s imperative for us to build products that introduce machine learning and data science effectively to SMEs while also being easy to use, get adopted and scale quickly. We’re re-wiring the entire supply chain with that lens so that we can add most value,” he added in a statement.

Zilingo encourages retailers and brands to develop their own private labels by tapping into the supply chain network it has built

AWS for the fashion supply chain

Bose said Zilingo’s early efforts have boosted factory efficiency by some 60 percent and made it possible to develop links to retailers while also enabling factories to develop their own private label colletions, rather than simply churning out unbranded or non-descript products.

A large part of that work with factories is consultancy-based, and Zilingo has hired supply chain experts to help provide quality guidance and perspective alongside the software tools it offers, Bose said.

She compares it, in many ways, to how Amazon conceived AWS. After it built tech to fix its own problems internally, it commercialized the services for third parties. So Zilingo started out offering a consumer-facing e-commerce platform but it is making its sourcing networks open to anyone at a cost — almost like supply chain on an API.

That gives its business a two, if not three, sided focus which spans selling to consumers in Southeast Asia through Zilingo.com — which is present in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia with the Philippines and Australia coming soon — reaching overseas retailers through Zilingo Asia Mall, and developing the b2b play.

In Southeast Asia, its home market, Zilingo doesn’t pressure its merchants to sell on its platform exclusively — “we don’t mind if they go to Instagram, Lazada, Tokopedia and Shopee,” Bose said — but in the U.S. it doesn’t have a go-to consumer outlet. It’s possible that might change with the company considering potential partnerships, although it seems unlikely it will launch its own consumer play.

Zilingo was once destined to compete with the big players like Lazada, which is owned by Alibaba, Shopee, which is operated by NYSE-listed Sea, and Tokopedia, the $7 billion company that’s part of SoftBank’s Vision Fund, but its supply chain focus has shifted its position to that of enabler.

That’s helped it avoid tricky times for specialist e-commerce services, which battle tough competition, pricing wars and challenging dynamics, and instead become one of Southeast Asia’s highest-capitalized startups. The company’s U.S. plan is ambitious, and it is taking longer than expected to get off the ground, but that makes it a startup that is worth keeping an eye on in 2019. It’s also an example that the startup journey is not defined since, in some cases, the biggest opportunities aren’t presented immediately.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Melonee Wise and Anca Dragan will be speaking at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI April 18 at UC Berkeley

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Hard to believe, but we’re only a few months out from the next TC Sessions: Robotics. As we get ready for our third year, take a trip down robotic memory lane with these highlights from last year’s big event.

We’ll be returning to UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall in April, this time with an added focus on artificial intelligence. Last week we announced that computer science professor Hany Farid and VC/Playground global co-founder Peter Barrett will be joining us at the event, and now we’ve got a couple more big names to share with you.

Melonee Wise is the CEO of collaborative warehouse robotics company Fetch. She previously worked at influential Bay Area robotics startup Willow Garage, where she helped develop the ROS (Robotic Operating System), the PR2 and TurtleBot. Wise has received numerous awards, including MIT Technology Review’s TR35, and was named a 2018 World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer.

Anca Dragan is an assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s EECS (Electric Engineering and Computer Sciences) department, with a focus on human-robotic interaction. Her team explores the fields of autonomous vehicles, manufacturing and assistive robotics. Dragan is a co-founder of the Berkeley AI Research Lab and has received a Sloan Fellowship, MIT TR35, Okawa and NSF CAREER awards.

Grab your Early-Bird tickets today and save more than $100 before prices go up. Students, grab your tickets for just $45 here.

News Source = techcrunch.com

China’s Nreal raises $15M to shrink augmented headsets to size of sunglasses

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A former Magic Leap engineer believes the problem with most consumer-facing augmented headsets on the market is their bulky size.

“You wouldn’t want to wear them for more than one hour,” Xu Chi, founder and chief executive officer of Nreal told me as he put on a bright orange headgear that looked just like plastic Ray-Ban shades. Called Light and powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor, Nreal’s first-generation mixed reality glasses officially launched at Las Vegas’ tech trade show CES this week.

With a light-weight play, the two-year-old Chinese startup managed to bring in some big-name investors. Aside from debuting Light, Nreal also announced this week that it has raised $15 million in total funding to date. The proceeds include a Series A from Shunwei, the venture fund that Xiaomi founder set up, Baidu’s video streaming unit iQiyi, investment firm China Growth Capital, and others. According to Xu, R&D is his company’s biggest expense at this stage.

The financial injection bears strategic significance to Xiaomi and iQIYI. The former is best known for its budget smartphones but its bigger ambition lies in an Apple Home-like ecosystem that surely welcomes portable MR headsets. IQiyi, on the other hand, already has a channel dedicated to virtual reality, which is meant to immerse the end user in a completely digital environment. MR content may just be around the corner to provide an interactive experience of the real world.

Taking money from Shunwei rather than straight from Xiaomi is a thought-through choice. Xiaomi has backed hundreds of manufacturers to gain control over supply chains. Its portfolio companies, in turn, get access to Xiaomi’s retail channels, but they make comprises on various fronts such as product design and pricing.

Xu doesn’t want his freshly minted business to lose independence. “We don’t want to pick sides. We want to be able to work with Oppo and a whole lot of other brands. We want to be compatible with a wide range of devices — smartphones, laptops, PCs, and so on,” said the founder.

Founder and CEO Xu Chi holding Nreal Light’s glasses and chipset. Photo: Nreal

In early 2017, the Chinese entrepreneur started Nreal with his cofounder Xiao Bing, an optical engineer. The brand “Nreal” conveys the partners’ vision to bring users to spaces that fall between the real and unreal. Xu, who spent years working and studying in the US, decided to pursue his ideas back on his homeland for easier access to supply chains.

“We are combining our technological know-how from overseas with great resources in China’s manufacturing industry,” the founder said of his firm’s edge.

The 85-gram (about 3-ounce) Nreal Light isn’t as featherweight as regular glasses but it’s a significant improvement from the biggies it’s going after — Magic Leap One and Microsoft’s HoloLens. Nreal was able to shrink its gadget size because it uses a display solution that requires fewer cameras and sensors than its peers, Xu explained.

Furthermore, Nreal is fixated on the consumer market from the outset, unlike its bigger rivals which, in Xu’s words, are “building gadgets for the next five or even ten years.”

“They want to disrupt everything from cell phones, computers to televisions. They are not necessarily oriented towards consumers,” Xu added.

Nreal Lights

The smart glasses come in a variety of colors. Photo: Nreal

When it comes to performance, Light claims its display has a 52-degree field of view and a 1080p resolution, which my human eyes weren’t able to verify when I wore it to play an interactive shooting game. That said, I did experience minimum dizziness and latency on Light, as the company promised.

The only irritating part was I started to feel the weight of the specs on my nose bridge a few minutes into my session. Xu assured me that what I tried on was a prototype and that an assortment of nose pads and lenses for different facial features will be available. The glasses also come in a variety of flashy coral colors.

Nreal Light won’t be shipping until Q2 this year and mass production won’t arrive until Q3. Xu hasn’t priced his brainchild but said it will probably hover around $1,000. By comparison, HoloLens charges $3,000 and Magic Leap One costs $2,300.

Where does that price tag leave Nreal in terms of profitability? It’s a matter of what kind of consumer hardware Nreal wants to become. “Do we want to be Apple or Xiaomi?” The founder asked himself rhetorically. He’s sure of one thing: As the MR industry matures in China, production costs will also come down. The company is already mulling its own factory so as to beef up supply chains and reduce costs, according to Xu.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Apple losses trigger a plunge in U.S. markets

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Bad news from Apple and signs of slowing international and domestic growth sent stocks tumbling in Thursday trading on all of the major markets.

Investors erased some $75 billion in value from Apple alone… an amount known technically as a shit ton of money. But stocks were down broadly based on Apple’s news, with the Nasdaq falling 3%, or roughly 202.44 points, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeting 660.02 points, or roughly 2.8%.

Apple halted trading yesterday afternoon of its stock to provide lower guidance for upcoming earnings.

Apple’s news from late yesterday that it would miss its earnings estimates by several billion dollars thanks to a collapse of sales in China was the trigger for a broad selloff that erased gains from the last trading sessions before the New Year (which saw the biggest one day gain in stocks in recent history).

Apples China woes could be attributed to any number of factors, D.A. Davidson senior analyst Tom Forte said. The weakening Chinese economy, patriotic fervor from Chinese consumers, or the increasingly solid options available from domestic manufacturers could all be factors.

Sales were suffering in more regions than China, Forte noted. India, Russia, Brazil, and Turkey also had slowing sales of new iPhone models, he said.

Investors have more than just weakness from Apple to be concerned about. Chinese manufacturing flipped from growth to contraction in December and analysts in the region expect that the pain will continue through at least the first half of the year.

“We expect a much worse slowdown in the first half, followed by a more serious and aggressive government easing/stimulus centred on deregulating the property market in big cities, and then we might see stabilisation and even a small rebound later this year,” Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura in Hong Kong, wroe in a report quoted by the Financial Times.

U.S. manufacturing isn’t doing much better, according to an industrial gauge published by The Institute for Supply Management. The institute’s index dropped to its lowest point in two years.

“There’s just so much uncertainty going on everywhere that businesses are just pausing,” Timothy Fiore, chairman of ISM’s manufacturing survey committee, told Bloomberg. “No matter where you look, you’ve got chaos everywhere. Businesses can’t operate in an environment of chaos. It’s a warning shot that we need to resolve some of these issues.”

The index, remains above the threshold of a serious contraction in American industry, but the 5.2 drop from the previous month in the manufacturing survey is the largest since the financial crisis and was only exceeded one other time — following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the U.S.

News Source = techcrunch.com

TNB Aura closes $22.7M fund to bring PE-style investing to Southeast Asia’s startups

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TNB Aura, a recent arrival to Southeast Asia’s VC scene, announced today that it has closed a maiden fund at SG$31.1million, or around US$22.65 million, to bring a more private equity-like approach to investing in startups in the region.

The fund was launched in 2016 and it is a joint effort between Australia-based venture fund Aura and Singapore’s TNB Ventures, which has a history of corporate innovation work. It reached a final close today, having hit an early close in January. It is a part of the Enterprise Singapore ‘Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering’ scheme which, as you’d expect, means there is a focus on hardware, IO, AI and other future-looking tech like ‘industry 4.0.’

The fund is targeting Series A and B deals and it has the firepower to do 15-20 deals over likely the next two to three years, co-founder and managing partner Vicknesh R Pillay told TechCrunch in an interview. There’s around $500,000-$4 million per company, with the ideal scenario being an initial $1 million check with more saved for follow-on rounds. Already it has backed four companies including TradeGecko, which raised $10 million in a round that saw TNB Aura invest alongside Aura, and AI marketing platform Ematic.

The fund has a team of 10, including six partners and an operating staff of four. It pitches itself a little differently to most other VCs in the region given that manufacturing and engineering bent. That, Pillay said, means it is focused on “hardware plus software” startups.

“We are very strong fundamentals guys,” Pillay added. We ask what is the valuation and decide what we can get from a deal. It’s almost like PE-style investing in the VC world.”

A selection of the TNB Aura team [left to right]: Samuel Chong (investment manager), Calvin Ng, Vicknesh R Pillay, Charles Wong (partners), Liu Zhihao (investment manager)

Another differentiator, Pillay believes, is the firm’s history in the corporate innovation space. That leads it to be pretty well suited to working in the B2B and enterprise spaces thanks to its existing networks, he said.

“We particularly like B2B saas companies and we believe we can assist them through of our innovation platforms,” Pillay explained.

Outside of Singapore — which is a heavy focus thanks to the relationship with Enterprise Singapore — TNB Aura is focused on Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, four of the largest markets that form a large chunk of Southeast Asia’s cumulative 650 million population. With an internet population of over 330 million — higher than the entire U.S. population — the region is set to grow strongly as internet access increases. A recent report from Google and Temasek tipped the region’s digital economy will triple to reach $240 billion by 20205.

The report also found that VC funding in Southeast Asia is developing at a fast clip. Excluding unicorns, which distort the data somewhat, startups raised $2.6 billion in the first half of this year, beating the $2.4 billion tally for the whole of 2017.

There are plenty of other Series A-B funds in the region, including Jungle Ventures, Golden Gate Ventures, Openspace Ventures, Monks Hill Ventures, Qualgro and more.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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