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October 22, 2018
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Marketing

Shopify opens its first brick-and-mortar space in Los Angeles

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Shopify, the provider of payment and logistics management software and services for retailers, has opened its first physical storefront in Los Angeles.

The first brick and mortar location for the Toronto-based company, is nestled in a warren of downtown Los Angeles boutique shops in a complex known as the Row DTLA.

For Shopify, Los Angeles is the ideal place to debut a physical storefront showing off the company’s new line of hardware products and the array of services it provides to businesses ranging from newly opened startups to $900 million juggernauts like the Kylie Cosmetics brand.

The city is one of the most dense conglomerations of Shopify customers with over 10,000 merchants using the company’s technologies in the greater Los Angeles area. 400 of those retailers have each earned over $1 million in gross merchandise volume.

In the Los Angeles space, which looks similar to an Apple store, patrons can expect to see demonstrations and tutorials of how Shopify’s tools and features work. Showrooms displaying the work that Shopify does with some of its close partners will also show how business owners can turn their product visions into actual businesses.

Like Apple, Shopify is staffing its store with experts on the platform who can walk new customers or would-be customers through whatever troubleshooting they may need. While also serving as a space to promote large and small vendors using its payment and supply management solution.

“Our new space in downtown LA is a physical manifestation of our dedication and commitment to making commerce better for everyone. We’re thrilled to be able to take our proven educational, support, and community initiatives and put them to work in an always-on capacity,” said Satish Kanwar, VP of Product at Shopify, in a statement. “We know that making more resources available to entrepreneurs, especially early on, makes them far more likely to succeed, and we’re happy to now be offering that through a brick-and-mortar experience in LA.”

Kanwar and Shopify chief operating officer, Harley Finkelstein, envision the new Los Angeles space as another way to support new and emerging retailers looking for tips on how to build their business in the best possible way.

“The path to being your own boss doesn’t need to be lonely or isolating,” said Finkelstein, in a statement. “With Shopify LA we wanted to create a hub where business owners can find support, inspiration, and community. Most importantly, entrepreneurs at all stages and of all sizes can learn together, have first access to our newest products, and propel their entrepreneurial dreams.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Salesforce acquires Rebel, maker of ‘interactive’ email services, to expand its Marketing Cloud

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Salesforce’s Marketing and Commerce Cloud is the company’s smallest division today, so to help beef it up, the company is making an acquisition to add in more features. Salesforce has acquired Rebel, a startup that develops interactive email services for businesses to enhance their direct marketing services: recipients of interactive emails can write reviews, shop and take other actions without leaving the messages to do so.

In an announcement on Rebel’s site, the startup said it will be joining Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud operation, which will integrate Rebel’s API-based services into its platform.

“With Rebel’s Mail and API solutions, brands, including Dollar Shave Club, L’Oreal and HelloFresh, turn emails into an extension of their website or app – collecting data, removing friction from the conversion process, and enhancing the customer experience. Rebel will enhance the power of Salesforce Marketing Clod and fundamentally change the way people interact with email,” the founders note. It sounds as if the company’s existing business will be wound down as part of the move.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed in the Rebel announcement. We have contacted both the startup and Salesforce for further comment and to ask about the price. To date, Rebel — co-founded originally as Rebelmail by Joe Teplow and Trever Faden — had raised only about $3 million, with investors including Lerer Hippeau, Sinai Ventures, David Tisch, Gary Vaynerchuk, and others, so if the deal size is equally small, Salesforce likely will not be disclosing it.

Salesforce has made a number of acquisitions to build and expand its marketing services to compete with Adobe and others. Perhaps most notable of these was buying ExactTarget, one of its biggest-ever acquisitions, for $2.5 billion in 2013. (And according to some, it even wanted to buy Adobe at one point.) Competition has been heating up between the two, with Adobe most recently snapping up Marketo for $4.75 billion.

But on the other hand, marketing is currently Saleforce’s smallest division. It pulled in $452 million in revenues last quarter, putting it behind revenues for Sales Cloud ($1 billion), Service Cloud ($892 million) and Salesforce Platform ($712 million). Adding in interactive email functionality isn’t likely to float Marketing and Commerce Cloud to the top of that list, but it does show that Salesforce is trying to improve its products with more functionality for would-be and current customers.

Those customers have a lot of options these days, though, in targeting their own customers with rich email services. Microsoft and Google have both started to add in a lot more features into their own email products, with Outlook and Gmail supporting things like in-email payments and more. There are ways of building such solutions through your current direct marketing providers, or now directly using other avenues.

What will be interesting to see is whether Rebel continues to integrate with the plethora of email service providers it currently works with, or if Salesforce will keep the functionality for itself. Today Rebel’s partners include Oracle, SendGrid, Adobe, IBM, SailThru and, yes, Salesforce.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

News Source = techcrunch.com

India’s Hansel raises $4M to bring its app development platform to the US

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Hansel, an India-based startup that enables more agile product development inside companies, has pulled in $4 million as it seeks to expand its business to the U.S..

The startup was founded in 2015 and it operates a real-time mobile app development platform that simplifies the process of product iteration inside companies. That’s to say that once a product is launched there’s a lot of work that is done to develop it, test new ideas and optimize but many companies overlook the process or lump it with the general engineering, which includes initial product development.

Hansel argues that product development and iteration are different, and its wider aim is to enable dedicated ‘product ops’ inside companies that until now never considered the process to be distinct from app development, or perhaps don’t have the budget.

“Product iteration is often neglected as people want to move to the next thing, but that means product building is only half done,” Varun Ramamurthy, CEO of Hansel, told TechCrunch in an interview. “We want to significantly accelerate product iteration and provide a platform for ‘product ops.’”

“Big firms like Facebook and Uber champion product ops teams inside their business but they have already built the infrastructure and have dedicated specialists. That allows them to move at breakneck on launched product and features, their competitive advantage is speed to market,” he added.

The Hansel ‘Lake’ platform is a single repository that decouples product development from the code itself, allowing teams to create a range of different experiences — iterations — that can be pushed out to different user segments. The company charges users based on end-user numbers, such as monthly active user bases,  but it also includes customized pricing for some premium features, too.

Ramamurthy is formerly of Zynga in the U.S. among other places, and he met his Hansel co-founders Mudit Krishna Mathur and Parminder Singh while the trio were at Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce giant.

“We got together at Flipkart and saw a huge difference in speed between Facebook, other top firms and the rest of the world,” Ramamurthy recalled. “When it comes to speed of personalization and iterations of product, the rest of the industry had a lot of catch up. We want to help separate iterations and personalization from general engineering… today it is all confused.”

Hansel founders Varun Ramamurthy, Parminder Singh and Mudit Krishna Mathur

The startup has focused on India to date where Ramamurthy said it has large mid-market companies and enterprises as clients, including Uber rival Ola, Paytm and Magicpin. That work has given the team of 23 people a good grounding on what to expect for clients, how to work with them and how to package its service, and now the next phase is to do more business in North America.

Hansel is using the new funding to open an office in the Bay Area, where it has recruited its first two hires to drive business development and sales. Ramamurthy himself plans to spend more time in the U.S. as part of the effort, which will also see a product marketing team hired Stateside. R&D and product development will remain anchored out of Hansel’s India office.

This new round takes Hansel to $5.4 million raised to date. Vertex led this Series A with participation from existing backers IDG Ventures India and Endiya Partners.

News Source = techcrunch.com

MallforAfrica goes global, Kobo360 and Sokowatch raise VC, France explains its $76M fund

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B2B e-commerce company Sokowatch closed a $2 million seed investment led by 4DX Ventures. Others to join the round were Village Global, Lynett Capital, Golden Palm Investments, and Outlierz  Ventures.

The Kenya based company aims to shake up the supply chain market for Africa’s informal retailers.

Sokowatch’s platform connects Africa’s informal retail stores directly to local and multi-national suppliers—such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble—by digitizing orders, delivery, and payments with the aim of reducing costs and increasing profit margins.

“With both manufacturers and the small shops, we’re becoming the connective layer between them, where previously you had multiple layers of middle-men from distributors, sub-distributors, to wholesalers,” Sokowatch founder and CEO Daniel Yu told TechCrunch.

“The cost of sourcing goods right now…we estimate we’re cutting that cost by about 20 percent [for] these shopkeepers,” he said

“There are millions of informal stores across Africa’s cities selling hundreds of billions worth of consumer goods every year,” said Yu.

These stores can use Sokowatch’s app on mobile phones to buy wares directly from large suppliers, arrange for transport, and make payments online. “Ordering on SMS or Android gets you free delivery of products to your store, on average, in about two hours,” said Yu.

Sokowatch generates revenues by earning “a margin on the goods that we’re selling to shopkeepers,” said Yu. On the supplier side, they also benefit from “aggregating demand…and getting bulk deals on the products that we distribute.”

The company recently launched a line of credit product to extend working capital loans to platform clients. With the $2 million round, Sokowatch—which currently operates in Kenya and Tanzania—plans to “expand to new markets in East Africa, as well as pilot additional value add services to the shops,” said Yu.

MallforAfrica and DHL launched MarketPlaceAfrica.com: a global e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell wares to buyers in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.

The site will prioritize fashion items — clothing, bags, jewelry, footwear and personal care — and crafts, such as pictures and carvings. MallforAfrica is vetting sellers for MarketPlace Africa online and through the Africa Made Product Standards association (AMPS), to verify made-in-Africa status and merchandise quality.

“We’re starting off in Nigeria and then we’ll open in Kenya, Rwanda and the rest of Africa, utilizing DHL’s massive network,” MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch about where the goods will be sourced. “People all around the world can buy from African artisans online, that’s the goal,” Folayan told TechCrunch.

Current listed designer products include handbags from Chinwe Ezenwa and Tash women’s outfits by Tasha Goodwin.

In addition to DHL for shipping, MarketPlace Africa will utilize MallforAfrica’s e-commerce infrastructure. The startup was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron  href=”https://pctechmag.com/2018/05/french-president-emmanuel-macron-launches-a-usd76m-africa-startup-fund/”>unveiled a $76 million African startup fund at VivaTech 2018 and TechCrunch paid a visit to the French Development Agency (AFD) — who will administer the new fund — to get details on how it will work.

The $76 million (or €65 million) will divvy up into three parts, AFD Digital Task Team Leader Christine Ha told TechCrunch.

“There are €10 million [$11.7 million] for technical assistance to support the African ecosystem… €5 million will be available as interest-free loans to high-potential, pre-seed startups…and…€50 million [$58 million] will be for equity-based investments in series A to C startups,” explained Ha during a meeting in Paris.

The technical assistance will distribute in the form of grants to accelerators, hubs, incubators and coding programs. The pre-seed startup loans will issue in amounts up to $100,000 “as early, early funding to allow entrepreneurs to prototype, launch and experiment,” said Ha.

The $58 million in VC startup funding will be administered through Proparco, a development finance institution — or DFI — partially owned by the AFD. “Proparco will take equity stakes, and will be a limited partner when investing in VC funds,” said Ha.

Startups from all African countries can apply for a piece of the $58 million by contacting any of Proparco’s Africa offices.

The $11.7 million technical assistance and $5.8 million loan portions of France’s new fund will be available starting in 2019. On implementation, AFD is still “reviewing several options…such as relying on local actors through [France’s] Digital Africa platform,” said Ha. President Macron followed up the Africa fund announcement with a trip to Nigeria last month.

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 was accepted into Y Combinator’s 2018 class and gained some working capital in the form of $1.2 million in pre-seed funding led by Western Technology Investment.

The startup — with an Uber like app that connects Nigerian truckers to companies with freight needs — will use the funds to pay drivers online immediately after successful hauls.

Kobo360 is also launching the Kobo Wealth Investment Network, or KoboWIN — a crowd-invest, vehicle financing program. Through it, Kobo drivers can finance new trucks through citizen investors and pay them back directly (with interest) over a 60-month period.

On Kobo360’s utility, “We give drivers the demand and technology to power their businesses,” CEO Obi Ozor told TechCrunch. “An average trucker will make $3,500 a month with our app. That’s middle class territory in Nigeria.”

Kobo360 has served 324 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 5480 drivers and moved 37.6 million kilograms of cargo since 2017, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, and DHL.

Ozor thinks the startup’s asset-free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Logistics in Nigeria have been priced based on the assumption drivers are going to run empty on the way back…When we now match freight with return trips, prices crash.”

Kobo360 will expand in Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal.

[PHOTO: BFX.LAGOS] And finally, applications are open for TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Africa, to be held in Lagos, Nigeria, December 11. Early-stage African startups have until September 3 to apply here.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

·         CowryWise micro-savings service opens high-yield government bonds to everyday Nigerians


African Tech Around the Net

·         More Than Half of Sub-Saharan Africa to Be Connected to Mobile by 2025, Finds New GSMA Study
·         Ethiopia’s Gebeya acquires Coders4Africa to accelerate its growth
·         Rwanda, Andela partner to launch pan-African tech hub in Kigali
·         Google’s free public Wi-Fi initiative expanded to Africa
·         Accounteer wins 2018 MEST Entrepreneur challenge
·         SafeBoda completes expansion to Kenya, now live in Nairobi
·         Uganda government sued over social media tax

News Source = techcrunch.com

Southeast Asia’s Grab hit by backlash over changes to customer loyal program

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Life without Uber should be simple for Grab, but a battle with regulators in Singapore could see the company’s acquisition of Uber’s Southeast Asia business unwound while some consumers have voiced concern around a lack of competition.

Grab co-founder Hooi Ling Tan recently claimed competition remains in the market, but that hasn’t stopped another consumer backlash after the ride-hailing firm altered its loyalty program without warning.

To be fair to Grab, earning loyalty points for taxi rides is something unique — Uber doesn’t offer any kind of program, for example — and the changes initiated last week seem aimed at spreading the benefit beyond taxis and into Grab’s newer ventures, which include its GrabPay payment service and food deliveries.

However, in doing so, the company made two cardinal sins. The changes included the lowering of benefits for Grab’s highest tier (read: most loyal) customers — with rebates dropping from a range of 3.5-4.5 percent to 0.7-1.7 percent, as MileLion explains in thorough detail. Worse than that, it initiated the new terms, which include these drastic drops, on a Friday and with immediate effect.

That meant points earned over the past year were suddenly devalued with no apparent recourse.

10 July 2018; Tan Hooi Ling, Co-Founder, Grab, speaks at a pressconferencee during day one of RISE 2018 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / RISE via Sportsfile

Unsurprisingly that sparked a backlash, with many consumers accusing Grab of making the changes to save on money. (Grab has said it hasn’t increased prices after Uber’s exit despite some consumers claiming to the contrary.)

That led to a second announcement, made late on Monday, that postponed the introduction of the new loyalty program terms until September 30. However, it hasn’t scrapped the new changes themselves. That’s the right move, and it gives customers the chance to spend the credit they earned in the way they believed it would be redeemed before the change kicks in.

“We acknowledge that customers would appreciate time to adjust to the changes. Effective tomorrow (24 July) at 8am until 30 September, GrabRewards members can claim ride reward points at the previous rates. Customers who have purchased Grab ride rewards based on the new rates will have the difference in points refunded,” the company said in a statement.

It added that it plans to introduce “more exclusive perks” for its higher-tier ‘platinum” and ‘gold’ customers before the end of the year. TechCrunch understands that will relate to partnerships with third-parties, enabling users to spend points accumulated with Grab in more places although details aren’t finalized.

In the past, competition with Uber might have given Grab some leeway for messing up communication with users. But, as this latest saga shows, the removal of that competition has dented consumer confidence in Grab, and that means every misstep has the potential to alienate or upset users more than it did in the past. That’s part and parcel of adjusting from being the underdog fighting a global giant to being the biggest fish in the pond.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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