The quintessential venture capitalist’s uniform consists of a pair of designer jeans, a Patagonia fleece vest and $95 wool sneakers.
The company behind the shoes, Allbirds, entered the unicorn club this morning with the announcement of a $50 million Series C from late-stage players T. Rowe Price, which led the round, Tiger Global and Fidelity Investments. The 3-year-old startup founded by Joey Zwillinger and Tim Brown has raised $75 million to date, including a $17.5 million Series B last year. Its backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, Scooter Braun, Maveron, Lerer Hippeau and Elephant, the venture capital firm led by Warby Parker founder Andrew Hunt.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting the round values Allbirds at $1.4 billion. The company would not confirm that figure to TechCrunch.
Like Warby Parker, San Francisco-based Allbirds began as a direct-to-consumer online retailer but has since expanded to brick-and-mortar, opening stores in San Francisco and New York. It currently ships to locations across the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Next week, the company plans to open its first storefront in the U.K. in London’s Covent Garden neighborhood. It will begin shipping throughout the U.K. In 2019.
Using its latest investment, Allbirds will double down on its brick-and-mortar business. In addition to the U.K., the company says it will open even more locations in the U.S., as well as open doors in Asia in the coming months. Tiger Global, which has backed Allbirds since its Series B, may be of help. The firm has offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as partners across Asia.
Allbirds makes eco-friendly wool shoes for men, women and kids via its kid’s line, aptly named Smallbirds. The shoes are made out of sustainable materials, including merino wool, a fabric made from eucalyptus fiber that the company has dubbed “Tree” and “SweetFoam,” a shoe sole made from sugarcane-based, carbon-negative foam rubber.
“Climate change is the problem of our generation and the private sector has a responsibility to combat it,” Zwillinger, Allbirds’ chief executive officer, said in a statement. “This injection of capital will help us bring our sustainable products to more people around the globe, demonstrating that comfort, design and sustainability don’t have to live exclusive of each other.”
Gogoprint claims to have worked with 45,000 companies to date. Its core services include printed business cards, flyers, booklets, posters and more, in addition to marketing collateral such as promotional pens, other stationary and flash drives.
Printing isn’t a particularly sexy space from the outside, but Gogoprint is aiming to upend the industry in Southeast Asia using something known as “batching.” That involves bundling a range of customer orders together for each print run to ensure that each sheet that’s sent to the printer is filled to capacity, or near capacity.
That sounds obvious, but traditional printing batches were almost always below capacity because each customer ordered individually with little option for batching. Gogoprint uses the internet to reach a wider number of customers which, using technology to batch jobs, means that it can handle more orders with fewer printer runs. That translates to cost savings for its business and lower prices for its customers. There are also benefits for the printers themselves, as they are guaranteed volume, which is no sure thing in today’s increasingly digital world.
Gogoprint joint managing director David Berghaeuser — who founded the company with fellow co-founder Alexander Suess — told TechCrunch that the company’s main pivot has been away from the idea it needed to own its printing facility in-house.
“When we started, we had this impression that as an online printer eventually we needed to own and operate our own machinery. But over one or two years we had a mindset shift when we realized there’s this option to operate this model as a pure marketplace — we’re definitely a marketplace and do not plan to own any printing machinery,” he explained.
A large part of that is because in Southeast Asia it simply isn’t practical to ship products overseas, both in terms of time and also the cost and hassle of importing. So Gogoprint has local partners in each market that it works with. Rather than “disrupting” the system, Berghaeuser argued that his company is making the process more efficient.
Gogoprint staff at the company’s office in Bangkok, Thailand
Gogoprint currently has around 125 staff, and there are plans to grow that number by an additional 30. In particular, Berghaeuser said the company is building out an internal structure that will enable it to scale — that includes the recent hiring of a CTO.
Berghaeuser explained that the company focuses on larger clients — such as Honda, Lazada and Lion Air — because of their higher average basket size and a higher chance of repeat customers, which he revealed is 60 percent on average. That’s achieved with a few tricks, which includes no design software on the website. Instead, Gogoprint customers upload their completed designs in any format. While he conceded the formats can be a pain, Berghaeuser clarified that the approach minimizes more hobbyist-type business, although he did say that the company is happy to work with customers of all sizes.
Gogoprint claims it grew its customer numbers by 200 percent over the past year but it declined to provide revenue details. Berghaeuser did say the company has a path to profitability that’s helped by “healthy” profit margins of 30-80 percent depending on the product.
Hagenbuch, the early backer of Printi in Brazil, is convinced that Gogoprint is on to a good thing in Asia.
“There are a handful of big-name online printers operating in the region. However, each of them has localized operations as they have been unable to truly expand regionally into Southeast Asia due to operational and market form factors,” he said in a statement
“Gogoprint has found the right formula to win more and more customers by creating true value: providing something that’s better at a cheaper price point, and with enhanced speed to market,” Hagenbuch added.
Nigerian digital payments startup Paga is gearing up for international expansion with a $10 million round led by the Global Innovation Fund.
The company is exploring the release of its payments product in Ethiopia, Mexico, and the Philippines—CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch.
Paga looks to go head to head with regional and global payment players, such as PayPal, Alipay, and Safaricom according to Oviosu.
“We are not only in a position to compete with them, we’re going beyond them,” he said of Kenya’s href=”https://crunchbase.com/organization/m-pesa” data-saferedirecturl=”https://www.google.com/url?q=https://crunchbase.com/organization/m-pesa&source=gmail&ust=1538690131434000&usg=AFQjCNFh9TKfy2mvIHjw_XVc1R63-ggIJg”>M-Pesa mobile money product. “Our goal is to build a global payment ecosystem across many emerging markets.”
Launched in 2012, Paga has created a multi-channel network and platform to transfer money, pay-bills, and buy things digitally 9 million customers in Nigeria—including 6000 businesses.
Since inception, the startup has processed 57 million transactions worth $3.6 billion, according to Oviosu. He joined Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge and Helios Investment Partners’ Fope Adelowo at Disrupt San Francisco to discuss fintech and Africa’s tech ecosystem.
South African fintech startup Jumo raised a $52 million round (led by Goldman Sachs) to bring its fintech services to Asia. The company—that offers loans to the unbanked in Africa—has opened an office in Singapore to lead the way.
The new round takes Jumo to $90 million raised from investors and also saw participation from existing backers that include Proparco — which is attached to the French Development Agency — Finnfund, Vostok Emerging Finance, Gemcorp Capital, and LeapFrog Investments.
Launched in 2014, Jumo specializes in social impact financial products. That means loans and saving options for those who sit outside of the existing banking system, and particularly small businesses.
To date, it claims to have helped nine million consumers across its six markets in Africa and originated over $700 million in loans. The company, which has some 350 staff across 10 offices in Africa, Europe and Asia, was part of Google’s Launchpad accelerator last year. Jumo is led by CEO Andrew Watkins-Ball, who has close to two decades in finance and investing.
Lagos based Paystack raised an $8 million Series A round led by Stripe.
In Nigeria the company’s payment API integrates with tens of thousands of businesses, and in two years it has grown to process 15 percent of all online payments.
In 2016, Paystack became the first startup from Nigeria to enter Y Combinator, and the incubator is doing some follow-on investing in this round.
Other strategic investors in this Series A include Visa and the Chinese online giant Tencent, parent of WeChat and a plethora of other services. Tencent also invested in Paystack’s previous round: the startup has raised $10 million to date.
Paystack integrates a wide range of payment options (wire transfers, cards, and mobile) that Nigerians (and soon, those in other countries in Africa) use both to accept and make payments. There’s more about the company’s platform and strategy in this TechCrunch feature.
South African startup Yoco raised $16 million in a new round of funding to expand its payment management and audit services for small and medium sized businesses as it angles to become one of Africa’s billion dollar businesses.
To get there the company that “builds tools and services to help SMEs get paid and manage their business” plans to tap $20 billion in commercial activity that the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Katlego Maphai estimates is waiting to move from cash payments to digital offerings.
Yoco offers a point of sale card reader that links to its proprietary payment and performance software at an entry cost of just over $100.
With this kit, cash based businesses can start accepting cards and tracking metrics such as top selling products, peak sales periods, and inventory flows.
Yoco has positioned itself as a missing link to “solving an access problem” for SMEs. Though South Africa has POS and business enterprise providers — and relatively high card (75 percent) and mobile penetration (68 percent) — the company estimates only 7 percent of South African businesses accept cards.
Yoco says it is already processing $280 million in annualized payment volume for just under 30,000 businesses.
The startup generates revenue through margins on hardware and software sales and fees of 2.95 percent per transaction on its POS devices.
Yoco will use the $16 million round on product and platform development, growing its distribution channels, and acquiring new talent.
Emerging markets credit startup Mines.io closed a $13 million Series A round led by The Rise Fund, and looks to expand in South America and Asia.
Mines provides business to consumer (B2C) “credit-as-a-service” products to large firms.
“We’re a technology company that facilitates local institutions — banks, mobile operators, retailers — to offer credit to their customers,” Mines CEO and co-founder Ekechi Nwokah told TechCrunch.
Most of Mines’ partnerships entail white-label lending products offered on mobile phones, including non-smart USSD devices.
With offices in San Mateo and Lagos, Mines uses big-data (extracted primarily from mobile users) and proprietary risk algorithms “to enable lending decisions,” Nwokah explained.
Mines started operations in Nigeria and counts payment processor Interswitch and mobile operator Airtel as current partners. In addition to talent acquisition, the startup plans to use the Series A to expand its credit-as-a-service products into new markets in South America and Southeast Asia “in the next few months,” according to its CEO.
Nwokah wouldn’t name specific countries for the startup’s pending South America and Southeast Asia expansion, but believes “this technology is scalable across geographies.”
As part of the Series A, Yemi Lalude from TPG Growth (founder of The Rise Fund) will join Mines’ board of directors.
Digital infrastructure company Liquid Telecom is betting big on African startups by rolling out multiple sponsorships and free internet across key access points to the continent’s tech entrepreneurs.
The Econet Wireless subsidiary is also partnering with local and global players like Afrilabs and Microsoft to create a cross-border commercial network for the continent’s startup community.
“We believe startups will be key employers in Africa’s future economy. They’re also our future customers,” Liquid Telecom’s Head of Innovation Partnerships Oswald Jumira told TechCrunch.
With 13 offices on the continent, Liquid Telecom’s core business is building the infrastructure for all things digital in Africa.
The company provides voice, high-speed internet, and IP services at the carrier, enterprise, and retail level across Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa. It operates data centers in Nairobi and Johannesburg with 6,800 square meters of rack space.
Liquid Telecom has built a 50,000 kilometer fiber network, from Cape Town to Nairobi and this year switched on the Cape to Cairo initiative—a land based fiber link from South Africa to Egypt.
Though startups don’t provide an immediate revenue windfall, the company is betting they will as future enterprise clients.
“Step one…in supporting startups has been….supporting co-working spaces and events with sponsorships and free internet,” Liquid Telecom CTO Ben Roberts told TechCrunch. “Step two is helping startups to adopt…business services.”
Liquid Telecom provides free internet to 30 hubs in seven countries and is active sponsoring startup related events.
On the infrastructure side, it’s developing commercial services for startups to plug into.
“At the early stage and middle stage, we’re offering startups connectivity, skills development, and access to capital through the hubs,” said Liquid Telecom’s Oswald Jumira.
“When they reach the more mature level, we’re focused on how we can scale them up…and be a go to market partner for them. To do that they’ll need to leverage…cloud services.”
Microsoft and Liquid Telecom announced a partnership in 2017 to offer cloud services such as Microsoft’s Azure, Dynamics 365, and Office 365 to select startups through free credits—and connected to comp packages of Liquid Telecom product offerings.
On the venture side, Liquid Telecom doesn’t have a fund but that could be in the cards.
“We haven’t yet started investing in startups, but I’d like to see that we do,” said chief technology officer Ben Roberts. “That can be the next move onwards… from having successful business partnerships.”
And finally, tickets are now available here for Startup Battlefield Africa in Lagos this December. The first two speakers were also announced, TLcom Capital senior partner and former minister of communication technology for Nigeria Omobola Johnson and Singularity Investment’s Lexi Novitske will discuss keys to investing across Africa’s startup landscape.
Binance, the one-year-old startup that appeared from nowhere to become the world’s top crypto exchange, is making major moves as it enters the next phase of its business. That includes a plan to offer fiat-to-crypto trading in international markets and the release of a decentralized exchange to complement its current trading site.
The company routinely trades more than $1 billion in crypto volumes daily — even in this current bear market — but to date it has only allowed crypto-to-crypto trading. That’s primarily down to the need for regulation in order to offer fiat currency conversation, but that’s set to change.
Speaking at a Coindesk event in Singapore last week, CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao revealed plans to launch a slew of local exchanges offering fiat conversation in markets across the world and he provided further details in an interview with TechCrunch.
“Right now, we are centralized crypto-to-crypto,” Zhao told us. “We don’t offer fiat gateways and so we rely on others to do that. But through discussions with different regulators across the world, we now have those channels. We want to make it easier for fiat currency to get into the crypto world.”
There’s certainly a need for institutional money. Crypto prices are down as much as 55 percent on January’ highs, according to analysis from Bloomberg, so it figures that major players like Binance need the backing of big names and large amounts to reverse the trend. While many in the space say they are happy to see a low price since it drives out less sincere operators, dwindling interest in crypto isn’t ideal for those who get paid by facilitating trades.
Zhao said the plan is to open three fiat exchanges this year with a view to growing the number to 10 in 2019, with “ideally two per continent.” Part of the goal is to help larger, institutional investors bring money into the crypto ecosystem, a move that would help Binance and the rest of the industry, too.
“We want to” reach both retail and institutional investors he added. “Our target has always been more retail focused, but now institutions are coming into crypto and we are seeing that.”
Binance CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao speaks at TechCrunch’s blockchain event in Zug in July 2018 [Image: Daniel Vaiman/Explore To Create]
Already, Binance has opened a joint venture in Lichtenstein, it has announced plans to offer fiat in Malta, and it is working on a launch Singapore. Currently in a limited beta, Zhao said the Singapore-based exchange should go live within the next month after stress testing on areas like KYC, trading flow and scalability is done.
While he didn’t specifically call out other markets that Binance is looking at, he did rule out launching in China, Japan and the U.S, which are three major markets for crypto despite respective legal roadblocks. China banned ICOs and exchanges some time ago, the U.S. has begun cracking down on crypto and Japan has tight licensing around exchanges which, for one thing, imposes regulations on what tokens can be listed on exchanges.
“Japan is progressive on crypto but their exchange regulation is too strict,” Zhao said. “It makes it very hard for exchanges.”
Indeed, it stands to reason that Binance — which once had an office in Tokyo before deciding against operating a local entity — would need to modify its token selection in line with Japanese laws were it to gain a license to operate in Japan. Either way, Zhao doesn’t seem key to reevaluate the country just yet.
Binance — which has flocked to crypto-friendly nations like Malta and Bermuda — said it would open an office in Singapore should the proposed exchange rollout go successfully.
Beyond fiat, the company is also getting closer to launching a decentralized exchange (dex) which would allow buyers and sellers to trade tokens directly without the exchange acting as an intermediatory.
The Binance dex would significantly alter the trading flow as it stands today, but Binance itself — which Zhao told Coindesk made a profit of $350 million over the past six months — would still draw revenue. That’s because the dex would operate on Binance’s own blockchain with the company operating a number of nodes itself. Zhao said that when its nodes are used in transactions, it would gain some of the network fee.
While, equally, the firm stands to profit from increased dex use because that could make Binance’s BNB token more valuable, Zhao argued.
The company recently released a very early demo of the dex — spoiler alert: it is underwhelming — but Zhao said a fully-working service should be available by the end of this year or early 2019 at the latest. The Binance CEO, who once build software for futures trading for Bloomberg, is leading the development of the project.
“Development is going well,” he added. “Our dex is very simple but it’s fast.”
Ellie Zhang, who runs the Binance Labs division that manages both projects, candidly told TechCrunch last month that real use cases for blockchain and crypto are crucial if Binance is to “thrive” as a business.
Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.
Facebook is opening its first data center in Asia. The company announced today that it is planning an 11-story building in Singapore that will help its services run faster and more efficiently. The development will cost SG$1.4 billion, or around US$1 billion, the company confirmed.
The social networking firm said that it anticipates that the building will be powered 100 percent by renewable energy. It said also that it will utilize a new ‘StatePoint Liquid Cooling’ system technology, which the firm claims minimizes the consumption of water and power.
Facebook said that the project will create hundreds of jobs and “form part of our growing presence in Singapore and across Asia.”
A render of what Facebook anticipates that its data center in Singapore will look like
Asia Pacific accounts for 894 million monthly users, that’s 40 percent of the total user base and it makes it the highest region based on users. However, when it comes to actually making money, the region is lagging. Asia Pacific brought in total sales of $2.3 billion in Facebook’s most recent quarter of business, that’s just 18 percent of total revenue and less than half of the revenue made from the U.S. during the same period. Enabling more efficient services is one step to helping to close that revenue gap.
Facebook isn’t the only global tech firm that’s investing in data centers in Asia lately. Google recently revealed that it plans to develop a third data center in Singapore. The firm also has data centers for Asia that are located in Taiwan.