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Main article: Indonesia

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Rapyd, which offers fintech-as-a-service via a single API, adds $20M more to its coffers at a $1.2B valuation

19:27 | 3 December

One of the biggest trends in the world of financial technology has been an ongoing push towards consolidation, where larger fish are snapping up smaller fish (including a proliferation of interesting startups) to get improved economies of scale in a business model where every transaction brings incremental returns. But today, a startup that has built the concept of consolidation into its basic DNA has raised another round of funding to continue doubling down on its business.

Rapyd — a London-based startup that has built an API that lets customers tap into a range of financial services spanning payments, checkout, funds collection, fund disbursements, compliance as a service, foreign exchange, card issuing and soon logistics across a wide range of geographies — has picked up an additional $20 million. Rapyd’s valuation with the funding is now at $1.2 billion (up from just under $1 billion in October).

The $20 million comes from new investment firm Durable Capital Partners.

Notably, it was only in October that Rapyd announced a $100 million raise. CEO and co-founder and Arik Shtilman said that Rapyd has now raised $180 million in total, with previous investors in the startup including Oak HC/FT Tiger Global, Coatue, General Catalyst, Target Global, Stripe and Entrée Capital. (Stripe, itself a fast-growing fintech upstart, remains only a financial investor in the company, Shtilman confirmed.)

Durable is the firm founded by Henry Ellenbogen, formerly a star investor at T. Rowe Price, in what Rapyd said was the firm’s first investment. (Note: Durable was also announced earlier as an investor in Convoy’s $400 million round, some clear signs that it’s open for business now.)

With Rapyd only recently raising a round, Shtilman said that the reason for the — err — rapid follow up was because the company is gearing up to make some acquisitions, as it too moves in on the consolidation trend by adding in more tools into its “Swiss Army Knife” of services.

“We’ve started to look at two acquisitions that were bigger than what we originally planned, with prices more in the range of $100 million,” he said. Up to now, Rapyd has largely built its technology from the ground up, but this will be about “getting at new business very quickly,” he added. Both deals are in progress now and are likely to close in February / March. One is of a card issuing platform (a la Marqeta), and the other is of a company based in Asia Pacific that is a significant player in payments in the region. 

The focus on Asia Pacific both for testing out new services and acquisitions is in part because this, along with Latin America, have shaped up to be important geographies for the company. In the last three months, Rapyd has signed on 20 additional large-scale companies, Shtilman said, with several of them based out of, or serving, customers out of the two regions.

In fact, Rapyd doesn’t talk much about actual customers, but they include e-commerce merchants, gig-economy platforms — including Uber — financial institutions, and technology providers. The basic pitch is that financial services are complex, and providing one like payments often means having to offer others. Building these from scratch if this is not your core competency can be time-consuming and costly, and so that is where a company like Rapyd steps in with its API.

This is what attracted its newest investor, too. “Durable Capital Partners LP has a vision to identify and invest in promising early stage growth companies and invest in teams that have bold ideas but can also execute at a world-class level and build much larger companies,” said Ellenbogen in a statement. “I believe the Fintech-as-a-Service category has tremendous potential as companies seek to embed financial services as an integral part of the next generation technology stack. I believe Rapyd is very well positioned to drive this trend and I believe Arik’s track record in scaling cloud-based businesses will deliver success in this sector.”

When we last talked with Rapyd in October, we asked Shtilman about whether the company would ever move into logistics as part of its range of tools. After all, when you think about the complexities of procuring, storing and moving goods, it’s clear that logistics is one of the cornerstones you need to get right in an online business.

He said that this was on the company’s roadmap, and now Rapyd is in a pilot in Indonesia — an interesting test bed, considering that the country’s is spread across thousands of islands — where it has integrated a logistics service and given access to a single merchant as stage one of its closed beta. It’s also in discussions with other companies about how it can incorporate their services into the Rapyd platform to provide further “logistics as a service” to customers. He also confirmed the Durable has been a help here, by making an introduction to Convoy as part of that wider strategy.

 


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Disney+ to launch in India, Southeast Asian markets next year

09:25 | 14 November

Disney plans to bring its on-demand video streaming service to India and some Southeast Asian markets as soon as the second half of next year, two sources familiar with the company’s plans told TechCrunch.

In India, the company plans to bring Disney+’s catalog to Hotstar, a popular video streaming service it owns, after the end of next year’s IPL cricket tournament in May, the people said.

Soon afterwards, the company plans to expand Hotstar with Disney+ catalog to Indonesia and Malaysia among other Southeast Asian nations, said those people on the condition of anonymity.

A spokesperson for Hotstar declined to comment.

Hotstar leads the Indian video streaming market. The service said it had more than 300 million monthly subscribers during the IPL cricket tournament and ICC World Cup earlier this year. More than 25 million users simultaneously streamed one of these matches, setting a new global record.

The international expansion of Hotstar isn’t a surprise as it has entered the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. in recent years. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, Ipsita Dasgupta, president of Hotstar’s international operations, said so far the company’s international strategy has been to enter markets with “high density of Indians.”

In an earnings call for the quarter that ended in June this year, Disney CEO Robert Iger hinted that the company, which snagged Indian entertainment conglomerate Star India as part of its $71.3 billion deal with 21st Century Fox, would bring Star India-operated Hotstar to Southeast Asian markets, though he did not offer a timeline.

Disney+, currently available in the U.S, Canada, and the Netherlands, will expand to Australia and New Zealand next week, and the U.K., Germany, Italy, France and Spain on March 31, the company announced last week.

Price hike

Disney, which debut its video streaming service in the U.S. this week and has already amassed over 10 million subscribers, plans to raise the tariff of Hotstar in India, where the service currently costs $14 a year, one of the two aforementioned people said.

A screenshot of Hotstar’s homepage

The price hike will happen towards the end of the first quarter next year, just ahead of commencement of next IPL cricket tournament season, they said. The company has not decided exactly how much it intends to charge, but one of the people said that it could go as high as $30 a year.

In other Southeast Asian markets, the service is likely to cost above $30 a year as well, both of the sources said. The prices have yet to be finalized, however, they said. Even at those suggested price points, Disney would be able to undercut local rivals on price. Until recently, Netflix charged at least $7 a month in India and other Southeast Asian markets. But this year, the on-demand streaming pioneer introduced a $2.8 monthly tier in India and $4 in Malaysia.

Hotstar offers a large library of local movies and titles syndicated from Showtime, HBO, and ABC (also owned by Disney). In its current international markets, Hotstar’s catalog is limited to some local content and large library of Indian titles.

The arrival of more originals from Disney on Hotstar, which already offers a number of Disney-owned titles in India, could help the service sustain users after cricket seasons. The service’s monthly userbase plummets below 60 million in weeks following IPL tournament, according to people who have seen the internal analytics.

In recent quarters, Hotstar has also set up an office in Tsinghua Science Park in Beijing, China and hired over 60 engineers and researchers as it looks to expand its tech infrastructure to service more future users, according to job recruitment posts and other data sourced from LinkedIn.

 


0

Relocating Indonesian capital will impact nation’s startup ecosystem

02:13 | 9 November

Hugh Harsono Contributor
Hugh Harsono is a former financial analyst currently serving as a U.S. Army officer.

Recently reelected, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced a desire to move the nation’s capital from Jakarta to the East Kalimantan region, citing environmental concerns, the most exigent of these being the fact that Jakarta is literally sinking due to the uncontrolled extraction of groundwater. Widodo said he wished to separate Indonesia’s government from its business and economic hub in Jakarta.

However, what would a move from Jakarta do to Indonesia’s burgeoning startup economy?

Shifting administrative governmental hubs

According to Widodo, studies have determined that the best site for the proposed new capital is between North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kertanegara, both located in East Kalimantan. The basis of this selection is due to studies highlighting the region’s relative protection from natural disasters, especially when compared to other regions. This would definitely be a benefit for the governmental heart of Indonesia, ensuring continuous administrative functions in a disaster-prone region. Other governments have separated administrative centers from their economic hubs with varying degrees of success, with some examples being Brazil’s creation of Brasília, as well as Korea’s projected move from Seoul to Sejong.

What is most interesting to note from prior examples is that these newer branched-out cities are non-surprisingly, heavily government-centric. In Brasília, roles tied to the government make up nearly 40% of all jobs, while in Sejong, a lack of facilities like public transit and commercial mall space cause many to commute into Sejong for government work, instead of permanently settling in the area. Given the semi-undeveloped nature of East Kalimantan, these anecdotes are quite troubling if the government is actually moving to North Penajam Paser or Kutai Kertanegara.

These facts raise the question of economic impacts of such governmental moves. In fact, one may even opine that while these moves do allow for governmental growth, ultimately, they may hurt the country economically due to a divestment between both government and economic hubs. In this specific instance, it is most important to analyze the impact of such a move on Indonesia’s startup economy, as the nation is one the world’s leaders in startup growth.

Indonesia’s startup economy

Indonesia has emerged as a startup hub within Southeast Asia in recent years, with its population of over 260 million marking it as the world’s fourth-most populous country. Additionally, Indonesia’s mobile-first population has enabled the full embrace of the internet era, with 95% of all internet users in Indonesia connected to the web via a mobile device.

Similarly, startup growth has boomed in the island archipelago, with several Indonesian-based unicorns disrupting local, regional, and global economies. Softbank-backed ecommerce giant Tokopedia is currently in talks for a pre-IPO funding round, while emerging super-app Gojek controls significant portions of the ride-sharing industry in Asia, simultaneously expanding into separate industries to include digital payments, food delivery, and even video-streaming. Additionally, online travel portal Traveloka (in which Expedia has a minority stake) has recently entered the financial services space, furthering its impact within Asia. These specific examples of high-growth startups demonstrate a population hungry for innovation, further driving the developing startup economy.

 


0

Southeast Asian real estate portal 99.co agrees to joint venture with iProperty, as their rival PropertyGuru prepares for IPO

09:46 | 9 October

Southeast Asian real estate portal 99.co has agreed to form a joint venture with iProperty. As part of the deal, iProperty owner REA Group will invest $8 million of working capital into the venture, expected to be finalized by the second quarter of 2020.

99.co and REA Group, a real estate-focused digital advertising conglomerate that is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), say that the JV immediately makes 99.co the market leader in Indonesia and positions it to take the top spot in Singapore, as well. The deal also makes 99.co a more formidable rival to PropertyGuru. Backed by TPG Capital and KKR, PropertyGuru is expected to raise up to AUD $380.2 million (about USD $255.9 million) in an IPO on the ASX this month.

The joint venture is expected to be finalized by the second quarter of 2020 and 99.co will assume full control of REA Group brands iProperty.com.sg in Singapore and Rumah123.com in Indonesia. The JV will be led by 99.co’s management team, including co-founder and CEO Darius Cheung.

99.co’s last round of funding was a $15.2 million Series B, announced in August, that the company says took its valuation to over $100 million.

In a press statement, Cheung said “We are coming for market leadership. This is a key milestone that positions us instantly as number one in Indonesia, and well on our way to that in Singapore. Our innovative DNA plus REA’s unrivaled experience and resources makes this partnership a lethal combination Southeast Asia has not seen before.”

The company’s existing shareholders, including Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Sequoia Capital, MindWorks Ventures, Allianz X, East Ventures and 500 Startups, will have a combined stake of 73%, with REA Group holding the remaining 27%.

Launched in 2014, 99.co was created to make real estate listings more navigable for renters and buyers in Singapore and other Southeast Asian markets. REA Group owns portals in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore and China, and a property review site in Thailand. It is also a stakeholder in Move, the American real estate site, and Indian property portal PropTiger.

 

 


0

Voter manipulation on social media now a global problem, report finds

15:29 | 26 September

New research by the Oxford Internet Institute has found that social media manipulation is getting worse, with rising numbers of governments and political parties making cynical use of social media algorithms, automation and big data to manipulate public opinion at scale — with hugely worrying implications for democracy.

The report found that computational propaganda and social media manipulation have proliferated massively in recently years — now prevalent in more than double the number of countries (70) vs two years ago (28). An increase of 150%.

The research suggests that the spreading of fake news and toxic narratives has become the dysfunctional new ‘normal’ for political actors across the globe, thanks to social media’s global reach.

“Although propaganda has always been a part of political discourse, the deep and wide-ranging scope of these campaigns raise critical public interest concerns,” the report warns.

The researchers go on to dub the global uptake of computational propaganda tools and techniques a “critical threat” to democracies.

“The use of computational propaganda to shape public attitudes via social media has become mainstream, extending far beyond the actions of a few bad actors,” they add. “In an information environment characterized by high volumes of information and limited levels of user attention and trust, the tools and techniques of computational propaganda are becoming a common – and arguably essential – part of digital campaigning and public diplomacy.”

Techniques the researchers found being deployed by governments and political parties to spread political propaganda include the use of bots to amplify hate speech or other forms of manipulated content; the illegal harvesting of data or micro-targeting; and the use of armies of ‘trolls’ to bully or harass political dissidents or journalists online.

The researchers looked at computational propaganda activity in 70 countries around the world — including the US, the UK, Germany, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and Australia (see the end of this article for the full list) — finding organized social media manipulation in all of them.

So next time Facebook puts out another press release detailing a bit of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” it claims to have found and removed from its platform, it’s important to put it in context of the bigger picture. And the picture painted by this report suggests that such small-scale, selective discloses of propaganda-quashing successes sum to misleading Facebook PR vs the sheer scale of the problem.

The problem is massive, global and largely taking place through Facebook’s funnel, per the report.

Facebook remains the platform of choice for social media manipulation — with researchers finding evidence of formally organised political disops campaigns on its platform taking place in 56 countries.

We reached out to Facebook for a response to the report and the company sent us a laundry list of steps it says it’s been taking to combat election interference and coordinated inauthentic activity — including in areas such as voter suppression, political ad transparency and industry-civil society partnerships.

But it did not offer any explanation why all this apparent effort (just its summary of what it’s been doing exceeds 1,600 words) has so spectacularly failed to stem the rising tide of political fakes being amplified via Facebook.

Instead it sent us this statement: “Helping show people accurate information and protecting against harm is a major priority for us. We’ve developed smarter tools, greater transparency, and stronger partnerships to better identify emerging threats, stop bad actors, and reduce the spread of misinformation on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. We also know that this work is never finished and we can’t do this alone. That’s why we are working with policymakers, academics, and outside experts to make sure we continue to improve.”

We followed up to ask why all its efforts have so far failed to reduce fake activity on its platform and will update this report with any response.

Returning to the report, the researchers say China has entered the global disinformation fray in a big way — using social media platforms to target international audiences with disinformation, something the country has long directed at its domestic population of course.

The report describes China as “a major player in the global disinformation order”.

It also warns that the use of computational propaganda techniques combined with tech-enabled surveillance is providing authoritarian regimes around the world with the means to extend their control of citizens’ lives.

“The co-option of social media technologies provides authoritarian regimes with a powerful tool to shape public discussions and spread propaganda online, while simultaneously surveilling, censoring, and restricting digital public spaces,” the researchers write.

Other key findings from the report include that both democracies and authoritarian states are making (il)liberal use of computational propaganda tools and techniques.

Per the report:

  • In 45 democracies, politicians and political parties “have used computational propaganda tools by amassing fake followers or spreading manipulated media to garner voter support”
  • In 26 authoritarian states, government entities “have used computational propaganda as a tool of information control to suppress public opinion and press freedom, discredit criticism and oppositional voices, and drown out political dissent”

The report also identifies seven “sophisticated state actors” — China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela — using what it calls “cyber troops” (aka dedicated online workers whose job is to use computational propaganda tools to manipulate public opinion) to run foreign influence campaigns.

Foreign influence operations — which includes election interference — were found by the researchers to primarily be taking place on Facebook and Twitter.

We’ve reached out to Twitter for comment and will update this article with any response.

A year ago, when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said it was considering labelling bot accounts on its platform — agreeing that “more context” around tweets and accounts would be a good thing, while also arguing that identifying automation that’s scripted to look like a human is difficult.

Instead of adding a ‘bot or not’ label, Twitter has just launched a ‘hide replies’ feature — which lets users screen individual replies to their tweets (requiring an affirmative action from viewers to unhide and be able to view any hidden replies). Twitter says this is intended at increasing civility on the platform. But there have been

the feature could be abused to help propaganda spreaders — i.e. by allowing them to suppress replies that
.

The Oxford Internet Institute researchers found bot accounts are very widely used to spread political propaganda (80% of countries studied used them). However the use of human agents was even more prevalent (87% of countries).

Bot-human blended accounts, which combine automation with human curation in an attempt to fly under the BS detector radar, were much rarer: Identified in 11% of countries.

While hacked or stolen accounts were found being used in just 7% of countries.

In another key finding from the report, the researchers identified 25 countries working with private companies or strategic communications firms offering a computational propaganda as a service, noting that: “In some cases, like in Azerbaijan, Israel, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, student or youth groups are hired by government agencies to use computational propaganda.”

Commenting on the report in a statement, professor Philip Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, said: “The manipulation of public opinion over social media remains a critical threat to democracy, as computational propaganda becomes a pervasive part of everyday life. Government agencies and political parties around the world are using social media to spread disinformation and other forms of manipulated media. Although propaganda has always been a part of politics, the wide-ranging scope of these campaigns raises critical concerns for modern democracy.”

Samantha Bradshaw, researcher and lead author of the report, added: “The affordances of social networking technologies — algorithms, automation and big data — vastly changes the scale, scope, and precision of how information is transmitted in the digital age. Although social media was once heralded as a force for freedom and democracy, it has increasingly come under scrutiny for its role in amplifying disinformation, inciting violence, and lowering trust in the media and democratic institutions.”

Other findings from the report include that:

  • 52 countries used “disinformation and media manipulation” to mislead users
  • 47 countries used state sponsored trolls to attack political opponents or activists, up from 27 last year

Which backs up the widespread sense in some Western democracies that political discourse has been getting less truthful and more toxic for a number of years — given tactics that amplify disinformation and target harassment at political opponents are indeed thriving on social media, per the report.

Despite finding an alarming rise in the number of government actors across the globe who are misappropriating powerful social media platforms and other tech tools to influence public attitudes and try to disrupt elections, Howard said the researchers remain optimistic that social media can be “a force for good” — by “creating a space for public deliberation and democracy to flourish”.

“A strong democracy requires access to high quality information and an ability for citizens to come together to debate, discuss, deliberate, empathise and make concessions,” he said.

Clearly, though, there’s a stark risk of high quality information being drowned out by the tsunami of BS that’s being paid for by self-interested political actors. It’s also of course much cheaper to produce BS political propaganda than carry out investigative journalism.

Democracy needs a free press to function but the press itself is also under assault from online ad giants that have disrupted its business model by being able to spread and monetize any old junk content. If you want a perfect storm hammering democracy this most certainly is it.

It’s therefore imperative for democratic states to arm their citizens with education and awareness to enable them to think critically about the junk being pushed at them online. But as we’ve said before, there are no shortcuts to universal education.

Meanwhile regulation of social media platforms and/or the use of powerful computational tools and techniques for political purposes simply isn’t there. So there’s no hard check on voter manipulation.

Lawmakers have failed to keep up with the tech-fuelled times. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given how many political parties have their own hands in the data and ad-targeting cookie jar, as well as pushing fakes. (Concerned citizens are advised to practise good digital privacy hygiene to fight back against undemocratic attempts to hack public opinion. More privacy tips here.)

The researchers say their 2019 report, which is based on research work carried out between 2018 and 2019, draws upon a four-step methodology to identify evidence of globally organised manipulation campaigns — including a systematic content analysis of news articles on cyber troop activity and a secondary literature review of public archives and scientific reports, generating country specific case studies and expert consultations.

Here’s the full list of countries studied:

Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Myanmar, Netherlands, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.

 


0

Shipper, a platform for e-commerce logistics in Indonesia, raises $5 million

08:25 | 19 September

Indonesia has one of the fastest-growing e-commerce markets in the world, but the logistics industry there is still very fragmented, creating headaches for both vendors and customers. Shipper is a startup with the ambitious goal of giving online sellers access to “Amazon-level logistics.” The company has raised $5 million in seed funding from Lightspeed Ventures, Floodgate Ventures, Insignia Ventures Partners and Y Combinator (Shipper is part of the accelerator’s winter 2019 batch), which will be used for hiring and customer acquisition.

Shipper was launched in 2017 by co-founders Phil Opamuratawongse and Budi Handoko, and is now used by more than 25,000 online sellers. Indonesia’s e-commerce market is growing rapidly, but online sellers still face many logistical hurdles.

The country is large (Indonesia has more than 17,500 islands, of which 600 are inhabited) and unlike the United States, where Amazon dominates, e-commerce sellers often use multiple platforms, like Tokopedia, Shopee, Bukalapak and Lazada. Smaller vendors also sell through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and other social media. Once an order has been placed, the challenge of making sure it gets to customers starts. There are more than 2,500 logistics providers in Indonesia, many of whom only cover a small area.

“It is really hard for any one provider to do nationwide themselves, so the big ones usually use local partners to fulfill locations where they don’t have infrastructure,” says Opamuratawongse.

The startup’s mission is to create a platform that makes the process of fulfilling and tracking orders much more efficient. In addition to a package pick-up service and fulfillment centers, Shipper also has a technology stack to help logistics providers manage shipments. It is used to predict the best shipping routes and consolidate packages headed in the same direction and also provides a multi-carrier API that allows sellers to manage orders, print shipping labels and get tracking information from multiple providers on their phones.

When it launched three years ago, Shipper began by focusing on the last-mile for smaller vendors, who Opamuratawongse says typically keep inventory in their homes and fulfill about five to 10 orders per day. Since many give customers a choice of several logistics providers, that meant they needed to visit multiple drop-off locations every morning.

Shipper offers pick-up service performed by couriers (who Opamuratawongse says are people like stay-at-home parents who want flexible, part-time work) who collect packages from several vendors in the same neighborhood and distribute them to different logistics providers, serving as micro-fulfillment hubs. Shipper signs up about 10 to 30 new couriers each week, keeping them at least 2.5 kilometers apart so they don’t compete against each other.

The company began setting up fulfillment centers to keep up with vendors whose businesses were growing and were turning to third-party warehouse services. Shipper has established 10 fulfillment centers so far across Indonesia, including Jakarta, with plans to open a new one about every two weeks until it covers all of Indonesia.

Opamuratawongse says he expects the logistics industry in Indonesia to remain fragmented for the next decade at least, and perhaps longer because of Indonesia’s size and geography. Shipper will focus on expanding in Indonesia first, with the goal of having 1,000 microhubs within the next year and 15 to 20 fulfillment centers. Then the company plans to tackle other Southeast Asian countries with rapidly-growing e-commerce markets, including Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

 


0

Rwanda to phase out gas motorcycle-taxis for e-motos

10:30 | 28 August

The government of Rwanda will soon issue national policy-guidelines to eliminate gas motorcycles in its taxi sector in favor of e-motos.

The country’s president Paul Kagame previewed the plan last week. “We will find a way to replace the ones you have now. We urge taxi-moto operators to help us when the phase-out process comes,” he said speaking at a youth forum.

The Director General for the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority Patrick Nyirishema confirmed Kagame’s comments were ahead of a national e-mobility plan in the works for the East African nation.

“The president’s announcement is exactly the policy direction we’re in…it’s about converting to electric motos…The policy is prepared, it’s yet to be passed..and is going through the approval process,” Nyirishema told TechCrunch on a call from Kigali.

Motorcycle taxis in Rwanda are a common mode of transit, with estimates of 20 to 30 thousand operating in the capital of Kigali. The country has come a long way since the 1990s, becoming a test-bed for drone-delivery and prioritizing initiatives to become an African tech hub.

Rwanda motorcycle taxisNyirishema explained that converting to e-motorcycles is part of a national strategy to move Rwanda’s entire mobility space to electric. The country will start with public transit operators, such as moto-taxis, and move to buses and automobiles.

“Once the policy is out, we’ll no longer permit any motorcycle that is not electric to be added to a fleet,”  Nyirishema said, adding that the country’s regulators will need to create an appropriate transition period and program for taxi operators to move to e-motos.

The news comes as Africa’s motorcycle taxi markets — worth an estimated $4 billion — have seen a flurry of tech investment and expansion. Uber and Bolt got into the motorcycle taxi business in Africa in 2018.

Norwegian (and Chinese backed) browser service Opera’s recent $50 million backed West Africa product expansion included linking its new payment app to ORide, a motorcycle ride-hail venture it launched in Nigeria.

Nigerian motorcycle taxi and delivery startup MAX.ng raised a $7 million Series A round with participation from Yamaha. The company is using the funding to pilot e-motorcycles in Africa powered by renewable energy.

Another local moto-taxi ventureUganda’s SafeBoda—received outside capital in a Series B round co-led by the venture arms of Germany’s Allianz and Indonesia’s Go-Jek

The Director General for  Rwanda’s Utilities Regulatory Authority Patrick Nyirishema prepared to confirm partners for the country’s e-moto conversion.

One startup that says it will be involved is Ampersand, a Kigali based venture that has already begun to pilot EVs and charging systems in Rwanda.

The company has worked with a feasibility study for implementing electric vehicles across Rwanda since last year, according to CEO Josh Whale. “We’ve also got a grant from the government…and it’s been tied in really well with the feasibility study,” he told TechCrunch.

Copy of Bike Rebero Ampersand eveningAmpersand has shaped its own e-motorcycle model, building the batteries and fitting them into new motorcycle chassis imported from Asia. To keep the taxi-moto riders consistently moving—vs. delayed while recharging—the startup has developed a battery swapping system and station.

One motorcycle ride-hail startup that’s been testing an Ampersand e-moto is Cango. Founded in 2015, the company has app-based, on-demand taxi-moto fleets in Rwanda and Congo.

“We intend to be among the first to switch our fleet, as the [Ampersand] bikes are ready,” Cango co-founder Barrett Nash told TechCrunch in a message from Kinshasa.

Ampersand CEO Josh Wale sees electricity changing the micro-economics of motorcycle taxi markets. He estimates taxi riders in Rwanda spend $2000 a year on fuel and oil-charges for their gas machines.

“Looking at it from a driver point of view, from day one they are paying less for the bike and the battery by going electric,” he said.

 

 

 

 


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YC-backed Eden Farm wants to cut out the middlemen between farmers and restaurants in Indonesia

09:54 | 15 August

Eden Farm is a startup with the ambitious goal of building a food distribution network for Indonesia, where many restaurants currently rely on markets for fresh ingredients.

But this means high markups and unreliable supplies for restaurant owners and lower profits for farmers, co-founder and CEO David Gunawan tells TechCrunch. The company, part of Y Combinator’s current batch, wants to help both by simplifying the supply chain, ensuring stable pricing and reducing food waste. Eden Farm currently focuses on fresh produce and non-perishable items, but plans to expand its product line to meat and seafood, too.

The company launched in 2017 and now supplies produce from 60 farmers to more than 200 restaurants in six major cities: Jakarta, Tangerang, South Tangerang, Bekasi, Depok and Bogor. Eden Farm is currently raising an oversubscribed seed round. Gunawan says the target was originally intended to be $1 million, but has now increased to $1.75 million. Investors include Y Combinator and Everhaus.

Eden Farm started as a farm, but while talking to other farmers and researching the agricultural market, its founders realized there were many problems with food distribution in Indonesia.

“Every restaurant in Indonesia faces a huge problem with supply, stability and extreme price volatility,” Gunawan says. “Fruit and vegetable prices can go up and down around 30% to 50% every day. In peak season, for certain commodities, prices can go up ten times, like chilis in the summer.”

Eden Farm tackles the problem of supply and demand with a mobile app that gives demand forecasts to farmers so they can plan their next harvests. Traditionally, farmers don’t sell produce directly to restaurants, Gunawan says. Instead, their harvest goes through several layers of middlemen before arriving at markets.

Eden Farm

Eden Farm working with farmers in Indonesia

Eden Farm is able to ensure price stability and also allow farmers to make more profit by purchasing produce wholesale from them. On the demand side, Eden Farm’s value proposition includes quality control. Before produce is delivered to restaurants, it is inspected and washed. Gunawan says restaurants typically have to dispose around 30% of the produce they purchase from markets, but Eden Farm has a 100% guarantee and will refund the price of any produce that is unusable. It also partners with two large markets in Jakarta to help supply large quantities of vegetables and ensure there are enough supplies during peak season. Gunawan says Eden Farm’s quality control can help save restaurants up to 50%.

Eden Farm wants to build a network similar to Sysco, the American food distribution giant, but it has to solve several problems unique to Indonesia.

“We are serving a very traditional industry. Farmers already have their own way of planting and their own culture, which has lasted for generations, and we’re trying to change that,” says Gunawan. “At first we didn’t know how to talk to them, how to convince them, but we learned a lot about how to pay respect to farmers. Every time we go to a village, for example, we know how to present, who to pay respects to, like the elders there. We have to do that before the elders will introduce us to the farmers in the area.”

The company currently handles about half of its deliveries in-house and uses third-party logistics providers for the rest. Most produce is sourced from farms close to where it is sold so it can be delivered in less than 24 hours, but Eden Farms goes further for some vegetables. For example, potatoes are purchased from farms in Central Java, while carrots come from North Sumatra.

Eden Farm works mostly with small, traditional farms, but it also carries produce like lettuce and kale from hydroponic farms. After finishing Y Combinator, Gunawan says the startup will begin focusing on expanding into five new cities: Bandung, Surabaya, Bali, Medan and Malang. As its order volumes increase, the company will begin focusing on smaller markets and once it hits 25,000 restaurants, expand into meat and seafood.

 


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Aspire raises $32.5M to help SMEs secure fast finance in Southeast Asia

21:03 | 31 July

Aspire, a Singapore-based startup that helps SMEs secure working capital, has raised $32.5 million in a new financing round to expand its presence in several Southeast Asian markets.

The Series A round for the one-and-a-half-year old startup was funded by MassMutual Ventures South Asia. Arc Labs and existing investors Y Combinator — Aspire graduated from YC last year — Hummingbird, and Picus Capital also participated in the round. Aspire has raised about $41.5 million to date.

Aspire operates a neo-banking-like platform to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) quickly and easily secure working capital of up to about $70,000.

AspireAccount, the startup’s flagship product, provides merchants and startups with instant credit limit for daily business expenses, as well as a business-to-business acceptance and other tools to help them manage their cash flow.

“I saw the problem while trying to rally small businesses trying to grow in the digital economy,” Andrea Baronchelli, founder and CEO of Aspire told TechCrunch last year. “The problem is really about providing working capital to small business owners,” said Baronchelli, who served as a CMO for Alibaba’s Lazada platform for four years.

Aspire currently operates in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam. The startup said it will use the fresh capital to scale its footprints in those markets. Additionally, Aspire is building a scalable marketplace banking infrastructure that will use third-party financial service providers to “create a unique digital banking experience for its SME customers.”

The startup is also working on a business credit card that will be linked to each business account by as early as this year, it said.

Baronchelli did not reveal how many business customers Aspire has, but said the startup has seen “30% month-on-month growth” since beginning operations in January 2018. Additionally, Aspire expects to amass more than 100,000 business accounts by next year.

Southeast Asia’s digital economy is slated to grow more than six-fold to reach more than $200 billion per year, according to a report co-authored by Google. But for many emerging startups and businesses, getting financial services from a bank and securing working capital have become major pain points.

A growing number of startups are beginning to address these SMEs’ needs. In India, for instance, NiYo Bank and Open have amassed millions of businesses through their neo-banking platforms. Both of these startups have raised tens of millions of dollars in recent months. Drip Capital, which helps businesses in developing markets secure working capital, raised $25 million last week.

 


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With Y Combinator’s seal of approval, MyPetrolPump raises $1.6 million for its car refueling business

01:12 | 30 July

Before even pitching on stage at Y Combinator, href="https://mypetrolpump.com/"> MyPetrolPump, the Indian startup with a car refueling business has managed to snag $1.6 million in its seed financing.

The business, which is similar to startups in the U.S. like Filld, Yoshi, and Booster Fuels, took ten months to design and receive approvals for its proprietary refueling trucks that can withstand the unique stresses of providing logistics services in India.

Together with co-founder Nabin Roy, a serial startup entrepreneur, MyPetrolPump co-founder and chief executive Ashish Gupta pooled together $150,000 to build the company’s first two refuelers and launch the business.

MyPetrolPump began operating out of Bangalore in 2017 working with a manufacturing partner to make the 20-30 refuelers that the company expects it will need to roll out its initial services. However, demand is far outstripping supply, according to Gupta.

“We would need hundreds of them to fulfill the demand,” Gupta says. In fact the company is already developing a licensing strategy that would see it franchise out the construction of the refueling vehicles and regional management of the business across multiple geographies. 

Bootstrapped until this $1.6 million financing, MyPetrolPump already has five refueling vehicles in its fleet and counts 2,000 customers already on its ledger.

These are companies like Amazon and Zoomcar, which both have massive fleets of vehicles that need refueling. Already the company has delivered 5 million liters of fuel with drivers working 12-hour-per-day shifts, Gupta says.

While services like MyPetrolPump have cropped up in the U.S. as a matter of convenience, in the Indian context, the company’s offering are more of a necessity, says Gupta.

“In the Indian context, there’s pilferage of fuel,” says Gupta. Bus drivers collude with gas station operators to skim money off the top of the order, charging for fifty liters of fuel but only getting 40 liters pumped in. Another problem that Gupta says is common is the adulteration of fuel with additives that can degrade the engine of a vehicle.

There’s also the environmental benefit of not having to go all over to refill a vehicle, saving fuel costs by filling up multiple vehicles with a .  single trip from a refueling vehicle out to a location with a fleet of existing vehicles.

The company estimates it can offset 1 million tons of carbon in a year — and provide over 300 billion liters of fuel. The model has taken off in other geographies as well. There’s Toplivo v Bak in Russia (which was acquired by Yandex), Gaston in Paris and Indonesia’s everything mobility company, Gojek, whose offerings also include refueling services.

And Gupta is preparing for the future as well. If the world moves to electrification and electric vehicles, the entrepreneur says his company can handle that transition as well.

We are delivering a last mile fuel delivery system,” says Gupta. “If tomorrow hydrogen becomes the dominant fuel we will do that… If there is electricity we will do that. What we are building is the convenience of last mile delivery to energy at the doorstep.”

 


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