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April 21, 2019
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Southeast Asia’s Carousell snags investment from Naspers-owned OLX

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It’s taken some time to come around, but Naspers — the early Tencent investor that’s also behind the world’s top listings service — finally has a piece of Southeast Asia’s Carousell. TechCrunch broke news of talks between the two sides last year, and today Tech In Asia reported that Naspers-owned OLX Group has put $42 million into Carousell.

In addition, it appears that the deal includes the transfer of the OLX Philippines business to Carousell, according to a report from Deal Street Asia which cites a source close to the investment.

Carousell is a mobile-first peer-to-peer selling app that operates across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Australia. Founded by three graduates of the National University of Singapore, its listing business has expanded into automotive and real estate, which it monetizes whilst keeping the core service free.

The deal gives Singapore-based Carousell a valuation of $365 million, according to a company filing that Tech In Asia gained access to. The publication reported that OLX now owns 11.5 percent of Carousell — that would make it the startup’s third-largest shareholder beyond existing backers Rakuten and Sequoia India, which own 29.6 percent and 15.1 percent, respectively.

Prior to this deal, Carousell had raised $126.8 million in funding. Its last round was a $85 million deal that closed in May 2018, although TechCrunch earlier broke news of the investment.

OLX, meanwhile, is the world’s biggest classifieds business. It is active across over 40 countries through a network of 17 entities. All combined, it claims to reach more than 350 million users each month. That makes it a very coveted investor for Carousell and, really, any company that sits in classifieds/listing space.

OLX is the world’s largest operator of classifieds sites — its reach covers 350 million monthly users across 40 countries through 17 brands

A source with knowledge of discussions told TechCrunch that the Carousell deal had been agreed to some time ago, but Naspers’ impending IPO in Europe — it is taking its Tencent stake and other web holdings public on Euronext Amsterdam — was the reason for the delay in tying things up.

It also seems that agreeing on a valuation may have been a sticking point. In our story last year, we reported that Carousell was shooting for a $500 million valuation but this deal is short of that by some margin, according to the details sourced by Tech In Asia. We also reported that the investment could be a precursor to an eventual acquisition — that’s a development that we’ll have to wait on, but it is certainly a logical assumption that many will come to, rightly or wrongly.

There have already been some significant dealings in 2019, as OLX/Naspers strategically shuffle their cards across the world. OLX last week sold a slew of its Africa-based business to rival Jiji, while, back in January, Naspers took full control of its Russia-based classifieds site Avito in a deal worth $1.16 billion.

Outside of classifieds, Nasper has put increased focus on India where it has backed unicorns Swiggy (food delivery) and Byju’s (education) in major deals announced in recent months.

News Source = techcrunch.com

ShopBack, a cashback startup in Asia Pacific, raises $45M from Rakuten and others

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ShopBack, a Singapore-based startup that offers cashback and consumer rewards in Asia Pacific, has closed a $45 million round led by new investors Rakuten Capital and EV Growth.

Founded in 2014, the startup had been relatively under-the-radar until late 2017 when it announced a $25 million investment that funded expansion into Australia among other things. Now, it is doubling down with this deal which sees participation from another new backer, EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board. Shopback has now raised close to $85 million from investors, which also include Credit Saison Blue Sky, AppWorks, SoftBank Ventures Korea, Singtel Innov8 and Qualgro.

The investment will see Amit Patel, who leads Rakuten-owned cashback service Ebates, and EV Growth managing partner Willson Cuaca, join the board. Cuaca is a familiar face since his East Ventures firm, which launched EV Growth alongside Yahoo Japan Capital and SMDV last year, was an early investor in Shopback, while the addition of Patel is potentially very significant for the startup. Indeed, when I previously wrote about ShopBack, I compared the startup directly to Ebates, which was bought by Rakuten for $1 billion in 2014.

Ebates brings operating experience in the cashback space,” Henry Chan, ShopBack co-founder and CEO told TechCrunch in an interview.

“A lot has changed in the last year and a half, Ebates has a very strong focus on the U.S… given that we’re not competing, it makes sense to partner and to learn,” he added.

The obvious question to ask is whether this deal is a precursor to a potential acquisition.

So, is it?

“It is squarely for learning and for growth,” Chan said in response. “It makes sense for us to partner with someone with the know-how.”

ShopBack operates in seven markets in Asia Pacific — Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia and Indonesia — with a core rewards service that gives consumers rebates for spending on areas like e-commerce, ride-hailing, food delivery, online travel and more. It has moved offline, too, with a new service for discovering and paying for food which initially launched in Singapore.

ShopBack said it saw a 250 percent growth in sales and orders last year which translated to nearly $1 billion in sales for its merchant partners. The company previously said it handled $400 million in 2017. It added that it typically handles more than 2.5 million transactions for upwards of seven million users.

(Left to right) Henry Chan, co-founder and CEO of ShopBack, welcomes new board member Amit Patel, CEO of Rakuten -owned Ebates [Image via ShopBack]

Chan said that, since the previous funding round, ShopBack has seen its business in emerging markets like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines take off and eclipse its efforts in more developed countries like Singapore. Still, he said, the company benefits from the diversity of the region.

Markets like Singapore and Taiwan, where online spending is more established, allow ShopBack to “learn ahead of time how different industries will develop” as the internet economy matures in Southeast Asia, Chan — who started the company with fellow co-founder Joel Leong — explained.

Outside of Southeast Asia, Chan said that ShopBack’s Australia business — launched nearly one year ago — has been its “most phenomenal market in terms of growth.”

“We’re already superseding incumbents,” he said.

ShopBack claims some 300,000 registered users in Australia, where it said purchases through its platform have grown by 1,300 percent between May 2018 and March 2019. Of course, that’s growth from a tiny initial base and ShopBack didn’t provide raw figures on sales.

For its next expansion, ShopBack is looking closer to home with Vietnam its upcoming target. The country is already home to one of its three R&D centers — the other two are located in Singapore and Taiwan — and Chan said the startup is currently hiring for a general manager to head up the soon-to-launch Vietnam business.

Already, though, the company is beginning to think about reaching beyond Asia Pacific. Chan maintained that the company already has a proven playbook — particularly on the tech side — so it “can enter a Western market” if it chooses, but that isn’t likely to happen in the immediate future.

“We could [expand beyond Asia Pacific] but we have a fair bit on our plate, right now,” said Chan with a laugh.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Travel activities platform Klook raises $225M led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund

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We recently noted that SoftBank’s Vision Fund has stepped up its deal-making in Asia this year, and today it added a new company to its roster: travel services platform Klook.

Hong Kong-based Klook announced today that it has raised a $225 million round led by the Vision Fund with participation from existing investors. The deal — which is described as a “Series D plus” — comes just eight months after Klook announced its $200 million Series D at a valuation of over $1 billion. The company didn’t confirm what its new valuation is, but co-founder and president Eric Gnock Fah (second from right in the photo above) did confirm to TechCrunch that it has increased.

Klook was founded in 2014 and it serves as an activities platform for users who travel overseas. That covers areas like visits to adventure parks, scuba diving, more localized tours or basics such as train travel, food or airport transfers, all of which can be found, paid for and taken using Klook’s platform. Today, Klook claims to host 100,000 activities across over 270 destinations. Its team has grown to over 1,000 staff and it has 20 offices, including sites in Europe and the U.S. as well as, of course, on its home turf in Asia Pacific.

This new injection means that Klook has now raised $425 million to date. Its investors include Sequoia China, Matrix Partners, TCV, OurCrowd, Goldman Sachs, Boyu Capital, Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV) among others.

Gnock Fah said that Klook has maintained a dialogue with SoftBank “for a while.” The company only recently raised its Series D so didn’t need the additional capital, but he said that it was moved by SoftBank’s “bigger vision” and its potential role in the SoftBank “ecosystem.”

That, in particular, means opportunities to work with other Vision Fund-backed startups in Asia. Gnock Fah specifically name-checked ride-hailing firm Grab in Southeast Asia and hospitality company OYO, as well as e-commerce companies Coupang in Korea and Tokopedia in Southeast Asia.

“We don’t do point to point or on demand so it’s synergistic on both ends,” he said of potential tie-ins with Grab — which is already working with OYO — while he cited Klook’s ongoing work with Alibaba, which has relationships with Tokopedia and Lazada in Southeast Asia.

(From left to right) David Liu, Chief Product Officer; Bernie Xiong, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder; Anita Ngai, Chief Revenue Officer; Eric Gnock Fah, Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder; Ethan Lin, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder (PRNewsfoto/Klook)

The new funds will be used to go after growth in Western markets, Gnock Fah explained, as well as increasing Klook’s efforts in Japan — where it has been ramping up ahead of the Summer Olympics in 2020, and now has the SoftBank connection.

“Now is the time to scale up the fundamentals we’ve built in Western regions,” Gnock Fah said in an interview. “We already have a team on the ground — fundamentals are built — now it is about investing more on the supply-demand side.”

That sounds like increased online advertising spend — I often wonder how handsomely Facebook and Google profit from Vision Fund investments — while in Japan the company is working to cater to more Japanese travelers heading overseas on trips as well as inbound tourism. SoftBank has launched a number of joint ventures with Vision Fund companies to bring their services to the Japanese market — Paytm, WeWork, OYO and Didi Chuxing immediately come to mind — but Gnock Fah said nothing definitive has been decided.

“We’re in a lot of conversations with their team about how to work closely with them,” he said, pointing out that — unlike those aforementioned examples — Klook already has a presence in Japan.

Whenever the Vision Fund has invested in Asia-based companies, I’ve asked the founders how they handle the fund’s links to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is widely believed to have ordered the killing, and he runs Public Investment Fund (PIF), the main LP anchor behind the Vision Fund.

Clearly, based on an increase in deals in Asia this year, the link isn’t putting founders off.

Most founders of Vision Fund portfolio startups that TechCrunch spoke to have supplied fairly platitudinous comments or declined to say anything at all — you can read a collection of them here — but Gnock Fah suggested a new (and unique) perspective.

“Because it is a relatively new fund, there’s more spotlight” on the Vision Fund, he offered.

Klook declined to provide a further statement on the Vision Fund and the Khashoggi murder following our interview despite a request from TechCrunch.

“The new capital isn’t about capital per se — our economics are heath — but more for a strategic investment angle,” he said, getting back to more fundamental founder talking points.

The Vision Fund-led cash infusion does mean that Klook, which has been pretty candid about a potential IPO, is putting off plans for a liquidity exit further down the road.

“Right now, there is no fixed timeframe,” Gnock Fah said. “Back in the early days, we had that aspiration… back then, if we wanted to raise $300-400 million [then] IPO was the way to get that.”

“We believe Klook is a leader in taking a mobile-first approach to the travel activities and services industry. The company has seen great success in scaling its business across different geographies and cultures, and we are excited to help them drive further innovation in the global travel industry,” said SoftBank partner Lydia Jett in a statement.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Crypto exchange Liquid says it is now valued at over $1 billion following new investment

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Crypto has a new unicorn after exchange Liquid announced today it has raised capital from investors at a valuation of more than $1 billion as it goes after expansion opportunities.

The company said the capital will be put to work expanding into new markets and offering new services, including — potentially — a platform for security tokens.

Liquid isn’t commenting in much detail about this new financing, but here’s what we do know: it’s the first close of an undisclosed Series C round that remains ongoing. The company named two investors that are already in, they are IDG Capital — which includes exchange KuCoin, wallet Imtoken and Coinbase among its crypto portfolio — and Bitmain, the Bitcoin mining giant that recently put off a potential IPO in Hong Kong.

Liquid CEO Mike Kayamori told TechCrunch that the plan is to add more investors.

“This round will be purely strategic,” he said in an interview. “We want to get traditional, mainstream [investors] on board.”

Kayamori said the company is making the round public to be transparent with regulators, but he declined to reveal exactly how much has been raised or the exact valuation. The announcement may well spur addition interest in the round from prospective investors.

This isn’t the first time that Liquid has visited public markets for capital. It has raised some $20 million from investors that include JAFCO, SBI, B Dash Ventures, Mistletoe and ULS Group. The company also held an ICO for Quoine, its parent company, which raised $100 million in 2017. The sale created Quoine’s Qash token and it meant that the company was the first Japan regulated exchange to run an ICO. Qash, which is ranked as the 102nd highest crypto token based on ‘coin market cap,’ was largely used to provide liquidity to the exchange.

The company has around 340 staff and offices in Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines. One of Liquid’s key messages is that it is publicly in favor of regulation. The exchange doesn’t have anything like the same trading volume as the biggest players like Binance (which took in VC funding last year) — Coinmarketcap.com ranks it as the 60th largest exchange with $56 million traded in the last 24 hours; Binance stands third with $2.6 billion — but its focus on being regulatory compliant is likely what appeals to investors.

Indeed, Binance — a continued reference because it is widely acknowledged as the world’s biggest exchangeleft Japan last year without being regulated, opting instead to locate its HQ in Malta. Liquid, however, is one of more than 10 exchanges that was licensed to operate in Japan, which is a large crypto trading market and the first country to regulate crypto significantly.

Mike Kayamori, chief executive officer of Quoine, speaks during the Money20/20 Asia Conference in Singapore, on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. [Photographer: Nicky Loh/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

Liquid is planning to take its work in Japan and do the same in other markets. Singapore, where it has an office, is next on the list. Kayamori said the company “well through” on the process of getting a Capital Markets Services (CMS) license with plans to also apply for a virtual currency license. That would allow Liquid to offer a range of exchange services that could include derivatives, fiat currency ramps, security tokens, stablecoins and more, according to Kayamori.

That’s some way away for now, however, as Singapore is still finalizing its exchange regulation plans. But Kayamori expects that other markets in Southeast Asia, which are already working on regulation, will also become expansion opportunities for Liquid.

“We do it the right way… we want to work with regulators and banks,” he said. “We need to play where we’re strong and that’s Asia — we have a global strategy but we are focused on Asia right now.”

Aside from direct expansion, Kayamori said Liquid may explore acquisitions, investments or partnerships in markets, particularly in Asia, where it sees demand and can identify companies on the ground that are equipped to serve consumers.

Liquid is hiring across the board, according to Kayamori, who said that there aren’t plans to introduce a decentralized exchange service — which theoretically disintermediates the exchange in peer-to-peer trades — as Binance has done this year. Instead, he argued that the company may look to introduce decentralization around settlements and other parts of its exchange processes.

“From an exchange perspective, we believe it needs to be a hybrid,” he said.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Google reshuffles its leadership in Asia Pacific

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There’s a changing of the guard within Google’s Asia Pacific business. In recent weeks, personnel changes within two of its most important roles show the search giant is entering a new era of management for its fast-growing business across the continent.

Scott Beaumont, a British executive who previously ran Google in China and Korea, stepped into the role of Asia-Pacific president following an announcement made on March 18. Following that, Google revealed today that Rajan Anandan, the executive in charge of Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia, would leave the company. VC firm Sequoia India said that Anandan, who has made a number of angel investments, is joining its ranks to oversee Surge, the early stage accelerator program that it announced in January.

A former consultant with McKinsey in the U.S, Anandan worked for Microsoft and Dell before joining Google in 2011. Under his tenure, the company executed a range of initiatives for India under its ‘Next Billion Users’ initiative which included its Tez payments service (now called Google Pay), public WiFi, local apps and a range of more data-friendly versions of apps like Maps and YouTube. Under Anandan, Google’s revenues surpassed $1 billion annually with reports suggesting that India-based income grew some 30 percent year-on-year last year.

Anandan will stay on at Google until the end of April. Vikas Agnihotri, Google India’s head of sales, will step into his role until a replacement is found, Google said.

Beaumont paid tribute in a statement:

We are grateful to Rajan for his huge contribution to Google over the past eight years. His entrepreneurial zeal and leadership has helped grow the overall internet ecosystem in India and Southeast Asia, and we wish him all the best in his new adventures.

Google certainly stands in a more competitive position in India today, but whoever replaces Anandan will need to deliver a strategy in response to Facebook’s phenomenal growth in India — where it is said to be close to $1 billion in annual revenue, with big plans for its hugely popular WhatsApp service — and continue to develop strategies for mobile.

Rajan Anandan, vice president of Google for South East Asia and India, is leaving the search giant to oversee Sequoia’s new early-stage accelerator program (Photo credit: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)

It isn’t clear if Anandan’s departure is related to Beaumont’s recent promotion — you’d imagine that the two were among the main candidates for the top job at Google Asia — but heading to Sequoia is no slack move, particularly given the company’s increased focus on early-stage investing and Surge.

Now some words on Beaumont, who TechCrunch understands from sources is widely-liked within Google. His tenure in China is linked with the development of DragonFly, the secretive project to develop a government-friendly search service in China, but internally his star is rising thanks to Google’s improved business position in China.

DragonFly may (may) have been shuttered, but Beaumont is credited with helping Google build revenue in China through advertising deals, with The Information reporting that China-based revenue surged by more than 60 percent to more than $3 billion last year.

Scott Beaumont, Google’s newly-appointed head of Asia Pacific is widely credited with developing Google’s business in China in recent years, but that also included the controversial work on a proposed censored search service for Mainland China (Photo credit: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

Like Twitter and Facebook, that has included dealing with state-backed media and other organizations keen to lean on Western internet pillars to reach a global audience but, as an interesting report from The Information earlier this year showed, Google also set up robust on-the-ground systems to let SMEs and companies selling to the global market access Google services through third-party offices and resellers.

On the strategy side, Beaumont struck investments deals with e-commerce giant JD.com and HTC — which involved the acquisition of a smartphone division, in the case of the latter — inked a patent license with Tencent, put cash into some earlier stage startups and selectively launched some products in China.

It remains to be seen how Google’s China strategy will develop now that Beaumont has taken on more responsibility with a broader job and, indeed, what he will bring to Google’s overall strategy in Asia Pacific. The region accounts for around 15 percent of revenue behind the U.S. and Europe, according to Google parent Alphabet’s latest financials, with 33 percent annual growth second only to Latin America.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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