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February 24, 2019
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Startups Weekly: Flexport, Clutter and SoftBank’s blood money

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The Wall Street Journal published a thought-provoking story this week, highlighting limited partners’ concerns with the SoftBank Vision Fund’s investment strategy. The fund’s “decision-making process is chaotic,” it’s over-paying for equity in top tech startups and it’s encouraging inflated valuations, sources told the WSJ.

The report emerged during a particularly busy time for the Vision Fund, which this week led two notable VC deals in Clutter and Flexport, as well as participated in DoorDash’s $400 million round; more on all those below. So given all this SoftBank news, let us remind you that given its $45 billion commitment, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the Vision Fund’s largest investor. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the planned killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Here’s what I’m wondering this week: Do CEOs of companies like Flexport and Clutter have a responsibility to address the source of their capital? Should they be more transparent to their customers about whose money they are spending to achieve rapid scale? Send me your thoughts. And thanks to those who wrote me last week re: At what point is a Y Combinator cohort too big? The general consensus was this: the size of the cohort is irrelevant, all that matters is the quality. We’ll have more to say on quality soon enough, as YC demo days begin on March 18.

Anyways…

Surprise! Sort of. Not really. Pinterest has joined a growing list of tech unicorns planning to go public in 2019. The visual search engine filed confidentially to go public on Thursday. Reports indicate the business will float at a $12 billion valuation by June. Pinterest’s key backers — which will make lots of money when it goes public — include Bessemer Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark Capital, Fidelity and SV Angel.

Ride-hailing company Lyft plans to go public on the Nasdaq in March, likely beating rival Uber to the milestone. Lyft’s S-1 will be made public as soon as next week; its roadshow will begin the week of March 18. The nuts and bolts: JPMorgan Chase has been hired to lead the offering; Lyft was last valued at more than $15 billion, while competitor Uber is valued north of $100 billion.

Despite scrutiny for subsidizing its drivers’ wages with customer tips, venture capitalists plowed another $400 million into food delivery platform DoorDash at a whopping $7.1 billion valuation, up considerably from a previous valuation of $3.75 billion. The round, led by Temasek and Dragoneer Investment Group, with participation from previous investors SoftBank Vision Fund, DST Global, Coatue Management, GIC, Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator, will help DoorDash compete with Uber Eats. The company is currently seeing 325 percent growth, year-over-year.

Here are some more details on those big Vision Fund Deals: Clutter, an LA-based on-demand storage startup, closed a $200 million SoftBank-led round this week at a valuation between $400 million and $500 million, according to TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden’s reporting. Meanwhile, Flexport, a five-year-old, San Francisco-based full-service air and ocean freight forwarder, raised $1 billion in fresh funding led by the SoftBank Vision Fund at a $3.2 billion valuation. Earlier backers of the company, including Founders Fund, DST Global, Cherubic Ventures, Susa Ventures and SF Express all participated in the round.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

Menlo Ventures has a new $500 million late-stage fund. Dubbed its “inflection” fund, it will be investing between $20 million and $40 million in companies that are seeing at least $5 million in annual recurring revenue, growth of 100 percent year-over-year, early signs of retention and are operating in areas like cloud infrastructure, fintech, marketplaces, mobility and SaaS. Plus, Allianz X, the venture capital arm attached to German insurance giant Allianz, has increased the size of its fund to $1.1 billion and London’s Entrepreneur First brought in $115 million for what is one of the largest “pre-seed” funds ever raised.

Flipkart co-founder invests $92M in Ola
Redis Labs raises a $60M Series E round
Chinese startup Panda Selected nabs $50M from Tiger Global
Image recognition startup ViSenze raises $20M Series C
Circle raises $20M Series B to help even more parents limit screen time
Showfields announces $9M seed funding for a flexible approach to brick-and-mortar retail
Podcasting startup WaitWhat raises $4.3M
Zoba raises $3M to help mobility companies predict demand

Indian delivery men working with the food delivery apps Uber Eats and Swiggy wait to pick up an order outside a restaurant in Mumbai. ( INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

According to Indian media reports, Uber is in the final stages of selling its Indian food delivery business to local player Swiggy, a food delivery service that recently raised $1 billion in venture capital funding. Uber Eats plans to sell its Indian food delivery unit in exchange for a 10 percent share of Swiggy’s business. Swiggy was most recently said to be valued at $3.3 billion following that billion-dollar round, which was led by Naspers and included new backers Tencent and Uber investor Coatue.

Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based on-demand logistics startup, is the latest venture-backed business to enter the unicorn club with the close of a $300 million Series D round this week. The latest round is split into two, with Hillhouse Capital leading the “D1” tranche and Sequoia China heading up the “D2” portion. New backers Eastern Bell Venture Capital and PV Capital and returning investors ShunWei Capital, Xiang He Capital and MindWorks Ventures also participated.

Longtime investor Keith Rabois is joining Founders Fund as a general partner. Here’s more from TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos: “The move is wholly unsurprising in ways, though the timing seems to suggest that another big fund from Founders Fund is around the corner, as the firm is also bringing aboard a new principal at the same time — Delian Asparouhov — and firms tend to bulk up as they’re meeting with investors. It’s also kind of time, as these things go. Founders Fund closed its last flagship fund with $1.3 billion in 2016.”

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I discuss Pinterest’s IPO, DoorDash’s big round and SoftBank’s upset LPs.

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News Source = techcrunch.com

BeliMobilGue raises $10M for its used-car sales platform in Indonesia

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BeliMobilGue, a used car sales platform in Indonesia, has fueled up with a $10 million Series round for the race to dominate the automotive market in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

The company was started in 2017 as a joint venture between Europe’s Frontier Car Group (FCG) and Intudo Ventures, a VC firm focused on Indonesia. BeliMobilGue said today that the capital came from FCG and new investors, which include Tunas Toyota — the authorized dealership for Toyota cars in Indonesia.

It’s worth noting that FCG itself is a venture which, as the name sounds, develops on automotive ventures in emerging (frontier) markets in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Its investors include Naspers/OLX, Balderton Capital, TPG Growth and Partech Ventures.

This Series A round follows a $3.7 million round last year for BeliMobilGue — which means ‘buy my car’ in Indonesia’s Bahasa language.

BeliMobilGue is aimed at making it easy for car owners to sell their vehicle.

The first step is an online price estimation for vehicle. If the owner is happy with the valuation, BeliMobilGue takes the vehicles in and, after a one hour check attended in person by its testers, it arranges a sale to its network of over 1,000 dealers and private buyers. The entire process is targeted at one hour and is free for consumers, BeliMobilGue CEO Rolf Monteiro told TechCrunch.

The company has 30 physical testing points across Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, and with this money in the bank it is targeting expansion to Java. By the end of this year, Monteiro forecasts that the number of physical stations will have passed 100.

Another target for this year is ancillary services. BeliMobilGue is focused on enabling dealers, many of whom are often small businesses rather than nationwide chains, to growth with its service so it is offering financial packages financed by a third-party bank.

“The difference between small and large dealerships is their access to capital,” Monteiro explained in an interview. “We are a little bit more comfortable [than a bank] to extend their finance because we’re not just using data, we’re sitting on that dealer relationship.

“Plus we are sitting on cars, so we are financing cars that come from our platform and [if necessary] we can help offload the car for the dealer,” he added.

BeliMobilGue aims to sell vehicles within an hour, that includes a comprehensive inspection that’s carried out by its staff and covers 300 points.

BeliMobilGue is far from alone in going after Indonesia, which is the world’s fourth most populous country and the cornerstone of most digital strategies for the region. An annual report from Google and Temasek forecasts that Indonesia’s online economy will grow to $100 billion by 2025 from $8 billion in 2015. Southeast Asia as a whole is predicted to reach $240 billion, which is telling of the significance of Indonesia.

With that in mind, regional rivals have doubled down on Indonesia.

Carro has raised $78 million to date — including a $60 million Series B last year — while Carsome has $27 million and iCar Asia, from venture builder Catcha, has pulled in $39 million to date.

Each of that trio serves multiple markets across the region, not Indonesia exclusively, which is where Monteiro believes he can find an advantage. While he admitted that BeliMobilGue could have raised more money — it stuck to finding ‘smart money’ over amassing pools of cash, he said — he sees the existance of competition as win-win for the industry.

“Indonesia is a massive market,” he said. “Whether it is us, Carro or Carsome, the competition helps educate the market and it will get us new business. But, as much as I welcome them, I want that dominant position.”

Adding strategic investors like Tunas Toyota is, Monteiro believes another key differentiator.

“An investor like Tunas has 25-30 years of experience, so, for us, this partnership is golden. We’re quite content with the round and how it played out,” he said.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Africa Roundup: Zimbabwe’s net blackout, Partech’s $143M fund, Andela’s $100M raise, Flutterwave’s pivot

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A high court in Zimbabwe ended the government’s restrictions on internet and social media last month.

After days of intermittent blackouts at the order of the country’s Minister of State for National Security, ISPs restored connectivity per a January 21 judicial order.

Similar to net shutdowns around the continent, politics and protests were the catalyst. Shortly after the government announced a dramatic increase in fuel prices on January 12, Zimbabwe’s Congress of Trade Unions called for a national strike.

Web and app blackouts in the southern African country followed demonstrations that broke out in several cities. A government crackdown ensued, with deaths reported.

On January 15, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile carrier, Econet Wireless, confirmed that it had complied with a directive from the Minister of State for National Security to shutdown internet.

Net access was restored, taken down again, then restored, but social media sites remained blocked through January 21.

Throughout the restrictions, many of Zimbabwe’s citizens and techies resorted to VPNs and workarounds to access net and social media, as reported in this TechCrunch feature.

Global internet rights group Access Now sprung to action, attaching its #KeepItOn hashtag to calls for the country’s government to reopen cyberspace soon after digital interference began.

The cyber-affair adds Zimbabwe to a growing list of African countries — including Cameroon, Congo and Ethiopia — whose governments have restricted internet expression in recent years.

It also provides another case study for techies and ISPs regaining their cyber rights. Internet and social media are back up in Zimbabwe — at least for now.

Further attempts to restrict net and app access in Zimbabwe will likely revive what’s become a somewhat ironic cycle for cyber shutdowns. When governments cut off internet and social media access, citizens still find ways to use internet and social media to stop them.

Partech doubled its Africa VC fund to $143 million and opened a Nairobi office to complement its Dakar practice.

The Partech Africa Fund plans to make 20 to 25 investments across roughly 10 countries over the next several years, according to general partner Tidjane Deme. The fund has added Ceasar Nyagha as investment officer for the Kenya office to expand its East Africa reach.

Partech Africa will primarily target Series A and B investments and some pre-series rounds at higher dollar amounts. “We will consider seed-funding — what we call seed-plus — tickets in the $500,000 range,” Deme told TechCrunch for this story on the new fund. Partech is open to all sectors “with a strong appetite for people who are tapping into Africa’s informal economies,” he said.

Partech Africa joined several Africa-focused funds over the last few years to mark a surge in VC for the continent’s startups. Partech announced its first raise of $70 million in early 2018 next to TLcom Capital’s $40 million, and TPG Growth’s $2 billion.

Africa-focused VC firms, including those locally run and managed, have grown to 51 globally, according to recent Crunchbase research.

Andela, the company that connects Africa’s top software developers with technology companies from the U.S. and around the world, raised $100 million in a new round of funding.

The new financing from Generation Investment Management (an investment fund co-founded by former VP Al Gore) puts the valuation of the company at somewhere between $600 million and $700 million—based on data available from PitchBook on the company’s valuation.

The company now has more than 200 customers paying for access to the roughly 1,100 developers Andela has trained and manages.

With the new cash in hand, Andela says it will double in size, hiring another thousand developers, and invest in new product development and its own engineering and data resources. More on Andela’s recent raise and focus here at TechCrunch.

Fintech startup Flutterwave announced a new consumer payment product for Africa called GetBarter, in partnership with Visa.

The app-based offering is aimed at facilitating personal and small merchant payments within and across African countries. Existing Visa  cardholders can send and receive funds at home or internationally on GetBarter.

The product also lets non-cardholders (those with accounts or mobile wallets on other platforms) create a virtual Visa card to link to the app.  A Visa spokesperson confirmed the product partnership.

GetBarter allows Flutterwave  — which has scaled as a payment gateway for big companies through its Rave product — to pivot to African consumers and traders.

The app also creates a network for clients on multiple financial platforms to make transfers across payment products and national borders, and to shop online.

“The target market is pretty much everyone who has a payment need in Africa. That includes the entire customer base of M-Pesa,  the entire bank customer base in Nigeria, mobile money and bank customers in Ghana — pretty much the entire continent,” Flutterwave CEO Olugbenga Agboola told TechCrunch in this exclusive.

Flutterwave and Visa will focus on building a GetBarter user base across mobile money and bank clients in Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, with plans to grow across the continent and reach those off the financial grid.

Founded in 2016, Flutterwave has positioned itself as a global B2B payments solutions platform for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad. It allows clients to tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber,  Facebook,  Booking.com and African e-commerce unicorn Jumia.com.

Flutterwave added operations in Uganda in June and raised a $10 million Series A round in October The company also plugged into ledger activity in 2018, becoming a payment processing partner to the Ripple and Stellar blockchain networks.

Headquartered in San Francisco, with its largest operations center in Nigeria, the startup plans to add operations centers in South Africa and Cameroon, which will also become new markets for GetBarter.

And sadly, Africa’s tech community mourned losses in January. A terrorist attack on Nairobi’s 14 Riverside complex claimed the lives of six employees of fintech startup Cellulant and I-Dev CEO Jason Spindler. Both organizations had been engaged with TechCrunch’s Africa work over the last 24 months. Condolences to  family, friends, and colleagues of those lost.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

African Tech Around The Net    

News Source = techcrunch.com

Go-Jek buys fintech startup Coins.ph for $72M ahead of Philippines expansion

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Ride-hailing startup Go-Jek’s expansion into the Philippines ran into problems earlier this month over its ownership structure, but that isn’t deterring the Indonesian company from investing into the market.

Today, Go-Jek announced that it has acquired local fintech company Coins.ph through “substantial investment” which gives it a majority stake in the business. The deal is officially undisclosed, but TechCrunch understands from two industry sources that Go-Jek paid $72 million.

The startup claims five million registered users in the Philippines, where it offers a mobile wallet that covers payments, phone top-up, bill payment, public transport rides and more. Post-deal, the company will continue to run as usual but while tapping into Go-Jek’s resources and experience.

Ron Hose, CEO and co-founder, told TechCrunch that Coins.ph was in the process of raising a new round of funding when the Go-Jek opportunity presented itself.

“We had to make a decision on how we want to continue growing our business, and we felt like ultimately together with Go-Jjek we could build something that is overall bigger and better for our customers,” he said in a phone interview.

Coins.ph started out offering crypto exchange services, but it pivoted to a broader focus on fintech including mobile payments and financial services in recent times. The company has raised $10 million from two investments and it counts Naspers, Global Brain, Wavemaker, Beenext and Pantera Capital among its backers.

The Coins.ph team

The acquisition is clearly a strategic one for Go-Jek, which is reportedly valued at around the $9 billion mark.

Last year, it expanded beyond Indonesia — where it claims to be the dominant player — for the first time. Its overseas moves saw it enter Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore, with the Philippines named as another proposed destination, although it has taken longer than planned with no launch yet.

Fintech doesn’t sound like an obvious point of entry for a ride-hailing company, but, in Southeast Asia, ride-hailing and fintech area peas in a pod. Part of Go-Jek’s success in Indonesia was the rise of its GoPay service, which enables money transfers, offline payment and even insurance and micro-loans. The company said half of the transactions on its network in Indonesia are made via the payment service.

That approach has been copied by Grab, Go-Jek’s arch-rival, which is rolling out its Grab Pay service across Southeast Asia’s biggest six countries with plans to enter areas like loans, remittance and insurance with partners such as Chinese digital insurer ZhongAn.

In that spirit, Go-Jek said today that Coins.ph will work closely with GoPay to “to encourage a cashless
society and enhance access to financial services in the Philippines.”

Coins.th, the company less developed business in Thailand, is likely to continue to operate as it currently is now, Hose said. That Thai entity has fewer locations than the Philippines business so it is likely less appealing to Go-Jek, despite its expansion to Thailand.

The GoPay collaboration is likely to mean the rollout of services such as insurance, loans and other financial services as well as, of course, deepening Coin.ph’s userbase in the Philippines, a country with a population of over 105 million people.

“With the second largest population and a strong domestic economy, the Philippines is one of the most exciting markets in Southeast Asia and through this partnership with Coins.ph, we are humbled to take part in the country’s digital payments transformation,” Go-Jek CEO Nadiem Makarim said in a statement

“Today’s announcement marks the start of our long-term commitment to the Philippines and a continuation of our mission to use technology to improve everyday lives and create a positive social impact,” he added.

There’s plenty of competition on that front, though.

Grab is readying its GrabPay entry and well-funded Oriente is present, but already Alibaba has invested in payment and fintech company Mynt while Tencent, China’s other internet superpower and a Go-Jek investor, backed rival service Voyager through a $215 million deal. Now Go-Jek, which is readying a $2 billion investment round of its own, is entering the fray. This year promises to be an interesting one for fintech in the Philippines.

Past Go-Jek acquisitions have included offline payment firm Kartuku, payment gateway Midtrans, payment and lending network Mapan — announced all in one go. India, it has gone after engineering talent with acquihire deals for startups C42, CodeIgnition and Piant, which have helped create its Bangalore-based tech hub.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Byju’s buys Osmo for $120M to add blended learning to its $4B digital education business

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Weeks after it raised a massive $540 million funding round, Indian education unicorn Byju’s is on the M&A path. The company announced today it has snapped up U.S-based Osmo, a startup that develops apps for kids that use offline input, in a deal worth $120 million.

Osmo has raised over $30 million from investors that include Mattel, Sesame Workshop, Upfront Ventures, K9 Ventures and Accel. They were offered a cash option but elected for an all-stock payout, Osmo CEO Pramod Sharma told TechCrunch in an interview. That, he added, is a “validation of the level of confidence” that they have in Osmo combining its resources with Byju’s, which is valued at nearly $4 billion from that recent funding round that featured Naspers, Tencent and others.

Founded by former Googlers Sharma and Jerome Scholler, the Osmo service was launched at TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield in 2013, when it was initially called Tangible Play. The company combines the benefits of digital and offline learning using a dozen or so apps that tie into customized hardware, that’s a base designed for iPads or Amazon Kindle Fire tables alongside a red reflector and game pieces — as pictured above.

The result is ‘blended learning’ apps that integrate offline activities, varying from drawing to math, spelling and even making pizza, to help children aged between 5 and 12 learn. Currently, Sharma said, it is used in around 20,000 schools and it has reached around a million families, 90 percent of which are in the U.S.

That puts it squarely into the bracket of companies that Byju’s founder Byju Raveendran told TechCrunch that his company was seeking to snap up using its newly-acquired war chest.

In an interview announcing the fund last month, Raveendran said he wanted “product-based acquisitions that will be value-adds on top of our core product.”

Byju Raveendran founded Byju’s as an offline learning center business in 2008, today it is worth nearly $4 billion thanks to a thriving digital education business with over a million paying customers. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

In that respect, Osmo is an ideal complement to Byju’s existing business, which covers educational courses for grades 4-12 using a combination of videos, games and other materials and counts. It currently counts 30 million registered students to date and 1.3 million paying users with a specific focus on India. But, with its new funding in the bank, it is preparing a new service that will offer a number of courses in English for children aged 3-8 based across the world.

Raveendran and Sharma said that the immediate plan post-acquisition will see a huge increase in content for the Osmo platform, while the price of the hardware — which currently ranges from $99-$189 — may also be reduced to help grow the audience beyond its current base.

“For us to grow, we need to invest in content,” Sharma said. “We have a lot of ideas [and] have proven a set of interactions, [but] a lot can be expanded with more content and levels. We’ve proven this is a compelling platform for learning, and we are nowhere close to scaling it… our goal is to get it to every child.”

Osmo offers three different packages to customers wishing to buy its equipment for children

Echoing those comments, Raveendran said Osmo can “reach its maximum potential” with more content while he stressed that there is plenty of cross-pollination potential between the two companies.

“We’re asking: ‘How can we bring some of the offline learning kids do, is there a way to capture that back onto the app and personalize the learning experiences further?’” he said. “There’s overlap between Osmo users and the products we are building [so] how we can use that for multiple education use scenarios, even possibility for higher grades?”

Ten-year-old Byju’s started out in offline learning before moving into digital courses in 2015. Its push online has seen it do a number of deals and Osmo represents its fourth acquisition. But beyond being its most expensive, Raveendran hailed the acquisition as his company’s “most important” deal to date.

“We have video as a format, games as a format, and we think of Cosmo like a format… we could have thousands of supported apps,” he told TechCrunch by phone. “Education is not purely an online experience, especially for younger kids [so] the potential is huge if there’s a clear online-to-offline application.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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