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October 19, 2018
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The real-life Emery and Evan from “Fresh off the Boat” launch Batu Capital for cannabis, crypto and big data startups

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Brothers Evan and Emery Huang, founders of Batu Capital

Restaurateur and raconteur Eddie Huang is the best known of the three “Fresh off the Boat” brothers (it was his memoir that inspired the ABC sitcom), but his younger brothers Emery and Evan remain relatively mysterious even to its most loyal viewers. Though the two’s namesake characters are also prominently featured on the show, their real-life counterparts have kept a much lower public profile, making sporadic appearances on Eddie’s social media.

Emery and Evan, however, have been busy investing in real estate and recently branched into tech startups. Though their multi-family investment office Batu Capital just launched this year, it reached a big milestone this week when one of their first investments, MJ Freeway, an enterprise software developer for the cannabis industry, entered into a merger agreement with MTech that will make it part of a Nasdaq-listed holding company.

The fictionalized versions of Evan and Emery Huang, portrayed on “Fresh off the Boat” by Ian Chen and Forrest Wheeler. (Photo by Vivian Zink/ABC via Getty Images)

In an interview, the two brothers told TechCrunch about moving into the tech sector and the startups they want to fund in the United States, China and Southeast Asia. Batu Capital is focused on finding companies in the cannabis, blockchain and crypto sectors, as well as big data.

In addition to MJ Freeway, which provides enterprise resource planning and compliance tracking software for the cannabis businesses, its portfolio also includes Vidy, a startup building a new approach to video ads on Ethereum, and Sora Ventures, a crypto-backed blockchain and digital currency venture fund. Batu Capital invests in seed or Series A stage companies or Series C and pre-IPO and its typical check size will be about $500,000 to $2 million.

Though Batu isn’t a single family office, instead raising capital from a network of limited partners for each investment, its creation was motivated by Emery and Evan’s desire to protect their family’s assets after several generations of political and social upheaval.

“Long story short, our family has made and lost fortunes more than five times within the past two generations and quite frankly I’ll be damned if we let it happen again in me and Evan’s lifetime,” Emery says.

Before World War II, the Huang brothers’ paternal relatives amassed a railroad fortune, but lost it all during the Japanese invasion of Nanjing. They escaped to Chongqing and began rebuilding their wealth through real estate, but were forced to flee to Taiwan during the Chinese Communist Revolution, losing everything once again. Meanwhile their maternal grandparents had also fled from China to Taiwan to escape the Japanese army. Though they had worked in banking before, they survived in Taipei by selling steamed buns on the street for several years until getting jobs in a textile plant, eventually opening their own curtain and upholstery fabric factory.

Like many who had escaped the Chinese Communist Party, however, the boys’ relatives remained wary of another invasion and though they had rebuilt their lives in Taiwan, both sides eventually left for the U.S. That’s where their parents, Louis and Jessica, met, married, and had their three sons. “Fresh off the Boat,” the first American primetime sitcom in 20 years to star Asian-Americans, is a fictionalized version of the Huang family’s ups-and-downs as Louis and Jessica build a restaurant business in Florida, where the brothers grew up.

Investing in the backbone of new industries

All three brothers gained business experience by working on BaoHaus, the popular restaurant chain Eddie launched on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 2009. Emery, who had won the Writers of the Future Grand Prize for science fiction writing, exited early and moved to China. He wanted to work on novels set there, but also look for new investment opportunities. At that time, Emery and Evan were helping their parents prepare for retirement by exiting the restaurant business and they began investing the family’s assets in real estate, brokering deals between Chinese investment groups and New York City property owners before deciding to branch into tech.

Batu Capital is named after Batu Khan, the Mongol ruler and founder of the Golden Horde dynasty, in a nod to their love of Mongolian history (they also recently discovered, thanks to 23andMe tests, that they have some Mongolian heritage through both their parents).

The firm is focusing on cannabis because of its “massive addressable market, both in terms of pain management and medical usage, as well as recreational usage,” Emery says. In particular, the brothers are hopeful that it can replace the $17 billion painkiller market, but without the side effects that have contributed to the opioid epidemic. As for crypto, Emery says the brothers “were really drawn to the applications of blockchain technology, not just for currency, but blockchain in general, and smart ledgers in general, as a way to archive information in terms of data storage and data fidelity.”

In each sector, Evan says Batu looks for companies that want to build solutions for the “overall infrastructure of the industry.”

For example, MJ Freeway helps growers and dispensaries manage their business while making sure they comply with state and federal regulations. Vidy, meanwhile, is using blockchain to reboot the way publishers display ads. Instead of automatic pop-ups or embeds, readers can decide if they want to see a video by placing their finger or cursor over text in an online article (try it in this Esquire Singapore article by hovering over the pink highlighted text).

By allowing readers an easy opt-in to streaming videos, Vidy hopes to give publishers a more nuanced understanding of user engagement. The startup, whose partners include Mediacorp, Mercedes-Benz, and Deliveroo, also created its own ERC20 utility token, called VidyCoin, which advertisers use to purchase ad placements and readers can earn by watching videos. Recording transactions on blockchain enables Vidy to guard against different types of online ad fraud, including click spam.

With their family’s past setbacks in mind, the Huang brothers say one priority is to make sure their portfolio is geographically diverse. In addition to the U.S. and China (Emery is based in Shanghai and Evan is planning to move from the U.S. to Beijing soon), Batu Capital is also looking at growth markets in Southeast Asia, in particular the Philippines and Cambodia. The latter not only benefits from Chinese funding, but also provides more transparency for investors, they say.

“Our number one priority for startups is the executive team. We want to make sure it’s people who have a track record of building up companies in that industry or related industries, or that have experience that can transfer over. They have to have a competitive edge in the market. For example, what’s their niche in the big data space or do they have strategic partnerships?” Emery says. “The same thing with crypto and cannabis. We don’t just invest in the space. We need to make sure they stand out.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Gogoprint raises $7.7M to expand its online printing business in Asia Pacific

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Gogoprint, a startup that is aiming to disrupt the traditional printing industry in Southeast Asia, has pulled in a $7.7 million investment as it prepares to expand its business in Asia Pacific.

We first profiled Gogoprint in 2016 soon after its launch the previous year, and since then the Bangkok-based company has expanded beyond Thailand and into Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Now, the company is looking to go beyond Southeast Asia and enter Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and other markets over the coming 12 months.

Those moves will be funded by this Series A round, which is led by existing Gogoprint backer OPG (Online Printing Group), an investment firm from Kai Hagenbuch who was an early backer of Brazil-based Printi. Printi previously sold a chunk of its business to printing giant VistaPrint through a 2014 investment and it is generally heralded as a startup success within its space.

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.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Indonesian co-working startup GoWork lands $10 million

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Co-working today is a global game that’s played by many more than just WeWork, despite the company’s valuation surging to $20 billion. But, as WeWork increasingly globalizes its focus, the U.S. firm is coming into contact with smaller players who are highly localized in markets with the potential to grow significantly.

One such market is Indonesia, the largest economy in the growing region of Southeast Asia. Indonesia’s capital alone has a population of 10 million and it is tipped to overtake Tokyo as the world’s most populous city by 2020. WeWork is prioritizing Indonesia as one of the keys markets in Asia but already there are strong local competitors. EV Hive, now known as Cocowork, raised $20 million earlier this year, and now Gowork, a startup formed from a merger between Rework and GoWork, has pulled in $10 million for expansion.

The new capital is led by VC firm Gobi Partners and The Paradise Group, a firm that operates shopping malls, residential developments and more. 

GoWork currently operates 16 ‘hubs’ which are its main locations for 8,000 members and operate at over 90 percent occupancy. In addition, that reach is extended by a series of over 30 ‘spokes.’ Those are essentially smaller spaces that are designed to be accessible while members are traveling or wanting to work outside of normal business hours. They are developed in conjunction with F&B group Ismaya, so are located within their coffee shops or restaurants.

That might concept might sound cute but trivial in the West, but in Asia’s megacities, the option can help with productivity. In particular, Jakarta’s roads are so traffic logged that a day of meetings could require spendings hours queuing in traffic.

“We want to bring productivity to all people, we think that [issues like traffic jams] are costing us all money,” GoWork CEO Vanessa Hendriadi told TechCrunch in an interview.

Adding The Paradise Group to the team could help expand that spoke reach, as well as finding new real estate for GoWork spaces.

“Co-working is not a category anymore, it’s just how people work,” Hendriadi added. “WeWork has 57 spaces in Manhattan alone, it’s just a matter of time for when every office building or mall in Jakarta will need to have a space as this is a permanent shift in how people work.”

She added that, as in the West, Indonesia is beginning to see a shift in working for larger companies not just small startups or independent workers.

That’s why, Hendriadi explained, that GoWork is doubling down on its focus on Jakarta and look to second-tier cities, but there’s no immediate plan to venture overseas. The goal is to grow to reach over 100,000 sqm by 2020.

The GoWork CEO said that her company isn’t phased by WeWork and others like Cocowork — the latter which she said is aimed more at the mass market. Instead, Hendriadi believes that there is plenty of space in the market for a few major players.

“Obviously we watch what [WeWork] are doing and we speak to building owners to know where they are going, the fact we have a two-year head start — we’re talking to major property developers with great location — means we are not too worried. The pie is big and local players get a huge benefit that is not easily replicable by non-local players in this business as it is relationship based,” she said.

“We’re all here to educate the market and fulfill their needs,” she added. “Indonesia is the market we are familiar with, the opportunity is still massive so we’ll focus here, but we talk to big players in the region so when the opportunity comes with the right partner we won’t close any doors.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Africa Roundup: Paga goes global and 4 startups raise $99M in VC

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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.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

African Tech Around the Net     

News Source = techcrunch.com

SoftBank and Toyota team up to develop services powered by self-driving vehicles

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SoftBank is getting into self-driving car services after the Japanese tech giant announced a joint-venture with Toyota in its native Japan.

SoftBank is invested in Uber and a range of other ride-hailing startups like Didi in China and Grab in Southeast Asia, but this initiative with Toyota is not related to those deals. Instead, it is designed to combine SoftBank’s focus on internet-of-things technology and Toyota’s connected vehicle services platform to enable new types of services that run on autonomous vehicle tech.

Called MONET — after ‘mobility network’ — the joint venture will essentially assign autonomous vehicles to various different “just in time” services. That just in time caveat essentially means more than on-demand. SoftBank suggests it’ll mean that services are performed in transit. That could be food prepared as it is delivered, hospital shuttles that host medical examinations, or mobile offices, according to examples given by SoftBank.

The plan is to use Toyota’s battery-based e-Palette electric vehicles and begin a roll “by the second half of the 2020s.” SoftBank said that the business will be focused on the Japanese market with “an eye to future expansion on the global market.”

Toyota has made strong progress on self-driving vehicles, having debuted its 3.0 self-driving research car earlier this year and then, in March, created a new $2.8 billion business that’s focused on developing requisite software systems. That latter program is designed to work alongside the Toyota Research Institute which, fueled by a $1 billion grant, is pushing the firm’s autonomous tech strategy.

Toyota is also aligned with Uber on ride-hailing. The firm invested $500 million in Uber and $1 billion in Grab via deals this year.

Back in January at CES, Toyota said that it is working with Amazon, Uber, Didi, Mazda and Pizza Hut to develop an electric autonomous shuttle that can be used to deliver people or packages. The business alliances were created to focus on the development of the e-Palette.

SoftBank’s autonomous vehicle projects including a bus that it is developing in partnership with China’s Baidu.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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