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Walmart reports lower-than-expected Q4 earnings, despite e-commerce sales growth of 35%

18:51 | 18 February

Walmart’s holiday quarter didn’t perform as expected. That’s the big news today from the retailer’s weak Q4 2019 earnings, which saw revenue of $141.67 billion versus the $142.55 expected and adjusted earnings per share of $1.38 versus the $1.44 expected. The company cited a number of factors, including “softer” than anticipated holiday sales in U.S. stores — particularly softer sales of toys, media and gaming, and apparel during the month of December.

Overall, the earnings point to the challenges for Walmart in a market where more consumers than ever are choosing to shop online. Walmart, meanwhile, still makes the bulk of its money from retail stores, not online, though it’s heavily investing in the latter. That leaves it at mercy of the sort of problems it faced in Q4 — like the trouble with the toy industry (that also hit Target), a lack of newness in gaming, a shorter holiday shopping season, and even a warmer winter than has depressed apparel sales across retailers.

Even as large as Walmart’s stores are, they’re still constrained by shelf space and square footage. And when inventory doesn’t move as quickly as it should, sales suffer. In Q4, Walmart’s U.S. same-store sales were up 1.9%, which was short of the 2.3% expected.

By comparison, Amazon’s holiday results crushed expectations. It reported record sales, Prime membership that soared to 150 million paying subscribers, and one-day and same-day deliveries that quadrupled over the same quarter the prior year.

So far, Walmart, like Target and others, has been fairly successful in taking the hybrid approach to retail — meaning its brick-and-mortar business and online side aren’t separated, but rather work together to drive shoppers into stores to pick up their online purchases. Walmart’s pickup business, including online grocery pickup, is helping capture market share and grow Walmart’s overall e-commerce sales.

That remained true in Q4, as e-commerce sales were up 35% with online grocery helping drive those increases. Walmart even boasted grocery sales on a two-year stacked basis were its “best in the past 10 years.” The retailer has also been quickly expanding the number of stores that support online grocery, and ended the year with nearly 3,200 grocery pickup locations and 1,600 stores offering grocery delivery.

However, in a quarter that’s all about boosting business by way of holiday shopping, it’s worth noting that Walmart’s e-commerce sales were up by 41% last quarter, more than the 35% in Q4.

One area where Walmart may need to more quickly expand in the months ahead is its Delivery Unlimited service. Launched in 2019, the membership program for grocery delivery competes with Instacart and others by allowing grocery delivery customers to save on their per-delivery fees by way of a monthly or annual subscription. The company didn’t offer an update on where the program is now available, though it had planned for 50% coverage across the U.S. by year-end.

Meanwhile, Target has now expanded its Shipt same-day grocery delivery service to include non-grocery items from its stores, and has integrated Shipt directly with its own app and on Target.com. And of course, Amazon’s Prime members can shop grocery thanks to Whole Foods, as well as rush their everyday orders courtesy of Amazon’s ever-faster ship times.

In addition, Walmart’s still unprofitable e-commerce business faced other struggles in 2019. Some of its acquisitions in apparel haven’t paid off as anticipated. Last year Walmart sold off Modcloth, Bonobos laid off staff and founder Andy Dunn left. Walmart also shut down Jet.com’s city grocery business, and it just wrapped up its experimental shopping service Jet black.

Walmart additionally pointed to issues in Q4 related to political unrest in Chile, which disrupted the majority of its stores. However, Sam’s Club, Walmex, China and Flipkart did well.

“The holiday season delivered positive transaction growth and underlying expense leverage was strong for the
quarter. However, it wasn’t as good as expected due to lower sales volumes and some pressure related to
associate scheduling,” said Walmart CFO Brett Biggs, in a statement. “We understand the factors that affected our results and are developing plans to address them. We remain confident in our business strategy and our ability to deliver value and convenience for our customers through an integrated omnichannel offering across the globe,” he added.

The retailer also offered lowered 2021 guidance, with earnings expected in the range of $5.00 to $5.15, below analysts’ estimates of $5.22. Walmart said this doesn’t include any impact from the coronavirus outbreak, but it’s continuing to monitor the situation.

 

 


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Walmart shuts down its experimental personal shopping service, Jet black

22:22 | 13 February

Walmart is shutting down its personal shopping service, Jet black, on February 21, after struggling to find adoption or additional investment. The service had allowed New York-area customers to text message orders for home delivery. According to its website, Jet black will now no longer accept new orders and will refund its customers their most recent $50 monthly membership fee.

The retailer tries to spin the shutdown as a learning experience, noting that part of the initiative was to test and build technology that could eventually be applied to other parts of Walmart’s business. In Jet black’s case, Walmart learned about conversational commerce and how customers could use text messages to shop.

But according to an earlier report from The Wall St. Journal, Walmart had discussed investment with several potential partners, including Microsoft and VC firm NEA. Those talks didn’t pan out. Jet black, the report said, had gained less than 1,000 customers and remained a money-losing business.

To be fair, a high-end shopping service was largely an experimental concept for Walmart to dabble in, and it’s not surprising that it didn’t take off. After all, the Walmart brand today is aligned with cost savings and mainstream America, not necessarily the well-to-do, time-strapped urban parents Jetblack aimed to cater to. It also overlapped with Walmart’s own home delivery options, including its successful Walmart Grocery service, which could deliver the fresh food Jet black could not.

Jet black received more attention than it likely warranted, given its concept and limited reach, for a few reasons. The service, which arrived in May 2018, was the first project to debut from Walmart’s tech incubator, Store No. 8, which drew interest. In addition, Jet black’s co-founder and CEO Jenny Fleiss, previously co-founded Rent the Runway, a popular clothing rental startup catering to a similar upwardly mobile demographic.

Jet black also arrived at a time when a few startups had been trying out text-based shopping, including Hello Alfred, Magic, GoButler, Operator, Fetch, Scratch, and others. (Most have since failed or pivoted.) Walmart’s entry into this market, at the time, was then considered notable.

Walmart claimed last July Jet black’s customers were spending $1,500 per month, on average. But there weren’t enough customers — or efficiency in the business model — to make Jet black profitable.

In addition, Fleiss left the business last year, signaling Jet black’s struggles. She replaced by Nate Faust, Walmart senior vice president of e-commerce logistics. The Journal reported Jet black was losing as much as $15,000 per year per member, as of last summer. Today, it says 293 Jet black employees will be laid off, as a result of the shutdown.

A Walmart spokesperson confirmed this figure to TechCrunch, as well, noting that 58 other employees are being retained to help apply Jet black’s learning to other areas, including Walmart Grocery.

“We’ve learned a lot through Jet black, including how customers respond to the ability of ordering by text as well as the type of items they purchase through texting,” said Scott Eckert, SVP, Next Generation Retail and Principal, Store No 8, in an announcement. “We’re eager to apply these learnings from Jet black and leverage its core capabilities within Walmart,” he added.

 

 

 

 

 


0

Extra Crunch Anniversary: 9 lessons from building a media subscription product

16:10 | 12 February

Last year we embarked on a mission to democratize information for startups, and today we are celebrating the one-year anniversary of our membership program, Extra Crunch. 

Since launching Extra Crunch, we’ve published more than 1,000 articles, onboarded a few new hires, overhauled our technical infrastructure, expanded into five new European countries, made a handful of visual design changes, launched an Extra Crunch stage at Disrupt, performed a lot of price testing, adjusted our editorial strategy based on what the Extra Crunch audience wants and announced nearly a dozen annual community perks from partners like DocSend, AWS, Brex, Typeform, Zendesk, and Aircall.

Beyond what you see on the consumer-facing side of Extra Crunch, there’s a lot that happens behind the scenes. Since our product is focused on helping startups, we wanted to share a few learnings from the business side over the past year. Hopefully our tips will help your team make more informed decisions.  

Here are nine tips from building a media subscription product:

 


0

7-Eleven is the next retailer to test cashierless stores

21:02 | 6 February

7-Eleven is the latest retailer to test the “cashierless” store concept, following Amazon’s big push into the market with its Amazon Go convenience stores that use technology, instead of people, to monitor stock levels, track purchases, and process payments. This week, 7-Eleven announced it’s piloting its own take on the cashierless concept with a 700-square-foot store at its corporate HQ in Irving, Texas, open only to company employees.

The store stocks 7-Eleven’s most popular products, including beverages, snacks, food, groceries, over-the-counter drugs, and non-food items. This product mix may be refined over the course of the testing.

Similar to Amazon Go, the 7-Eleven pilot store will involve a mobile app that customers use to check into the store, pay for items, and view their receipts.

Meanwhile, to differentiate shoppers and their purchases, 7-Eleven is using a proprietary mix of algorithms and predictive technology, it says.

“Ultimately, our goal is to exceed consumers’ expectations for faster, easier transactions and a seamless shopping experience,” said Mani Suri, 7-Eleven Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, in a statement. “Introducing new store technology to 7-Eleven employees first has proven to be a very productive way to test and learn before launching to a wider audience. They are honest and candid with their feedback, which enables us to learn and quickly make adjustments to improve the experience. This in-house, custom-built technology by 7-Eleven engineers is designed for our current and future customers. We continue to innovate, and coupling fresh, innovative, healthy food options with a frictionless shopping experience could be a game-changer,” he added.

The company has been working to adapt to the changes needs of customers in other ways, before now, including through its on-demand delivery service and mobile checkout, for example. But given Amazon’s intention to directly compete in 7-Eleven’s market, it likely had no choice but to begin experimenting with cashierless technology sooner, rather than later.

7-Eleven is not alone on that front.

Since Amazon introduced its Amazon Go concept in 2018, other retailers have followed suit. Walmart and Walmart-owned Sam’s Club and supermarket chain Giant Eagle are testing A.I. technology similar to Amazon Go, among others. And several companies sell cashierless technology to retailers, including Standard Cognition, Zippin, Grabango, AiFi, and Trigo, to name a few.

The pilot program at 7-Eleven is underway now, but the company didn’t give any indication as to how long the tests would run or if and when it would expand to the public. It also didn’t detail the proprietary technology it’s using. But typically, cashierless stores use a combination of sensors, cameras, and A.I.

The retailer today operates, franchises and licenses more than 70,000 stores in 17 countries, including 11,800 in North America.

 


0

Shopping via smart speakers is not taking off, report suggests

19:33 | 4 February

U.S. consumers aren’t adopting voice-based shopping as quickly as expected, according to a new report today from eMarketer. While consumers have been happy to bring smart speakers into their home, they continue to use them more often for simple commands — like playing music or getting information, for example — not for making purchases. However, the overall number of voice shoppers is growing. It’s just slower than previously forecast, the analysts explain.

By the end of this year, eMarketer estimates that 21.6 million people will have made a purchase using their smart speaker. That’s lower than the Q2 2019 forecast which then expected the number to reach 23.6 million.

Still, it’s important to point out that the overall number of people making purchases via a smart speaker is growing. It will even pass a milestone this year, when 10.8% of all digital buyers in the U.S. will have made a purchase using their smart speaker.

eMarketer attributes the slower-than-anticipated growth to a number of factors, including security concerns are leading people to not yet fully trust smart speakers and their makers. Many consumers would also prefer a device with a screen so they could preview the items before committing to buy. Apple and Google have addressed the latter by introducing smart home hubs that include screens, speakers and built-in voice assistants. But consumers may have already bought traditional Echo and Google Home devices and don’t feel the need to upgrade.

In addition, the report upped the estimates for percentage of users listening to audio (81.1%) or making inquiries (77.8%).

“Though there are thousands of smart speaker apps that do everything from let you order takeout to find recipes or play games, many consumers don’t realize that they need to take extra and more specific steps to utilize all capabilities,” said eMarketer principal analyst Victoria Petrock. “Instead, they stick with direct commands to play music, ask about the weather or ask questions, because those are basic to the device.”

To be fair, a forecast like this can’t give a complete picture of smart speaker usage. Many consumers do ask Alexa to add items to a shopping list, for instance, which they then go on to buy online at some point — but that wouldn’t be considered voice-based purchasing. Instead, the smart speaker sits as the top of the funnel, capturing a consumer’s intention to buy later, but doesn’t trigger the actual purchase.

That said, Amazon, in particular, has failed to capitalize on the potential for voice shopping, given how easily it can tie a voice command to a purchase from its site. Perhaps it became a little gun-shy from all those mistaken purchases, but the company hasn’t innovated on voice shopping features. There are a number of ways Amazon could make voice shopping a habit or turn one-time purchases into subscriptions, just by way of simple prompts.

Amazon could also develop a set of features, similar to Honey (now owned by PayPal), that allow users track prices drops and sales, then alert Echo owners using Alexa’s notifications platform or even an “Amazon companion” skill, that could be added to users’ daily Flash Briefings. (E.g. The item you were watching is now $50 off. The new price is…$X…would you like to buy it?”) The companion could also track out-of-stock items, alert you to new arrivals from a favorite brand, or even send product photos to the Alexa companion app, as suggested deals.

Instead, Alexa voice shopping remains fairly basic. Without improvements, consumers will likely continue to avoid the option.

eMarketer also today adjusted its forecast for overall smart speaker usage. Instead of the 84.5 million U.S. smart speaker users, the 2020 estimate has been dropped to 83.1 million users, indicating slightly slower adoption.

 

 

 

 


0

Nomagic, a startup out of Poland, picks up $8.6M for its pick-and-place warehouse robots

15:15 | 4 February

Factories and warehouses have been two of the biggest markets for robots in the last several years, with machines taking on mundane, if limited, processes to speed up work and free up humans to do other, more complex tasks. Now, a startup out of Poland that is widening the scope of what those robots can do is announcing funding, a sign not just of how robotic technology has been evolving, but of the growing demand for more automation, specifically in the world of logistics and fulfilment.

Nomagic, which has developed way for a robotic arm to identify an item from an unordered selection, pick it up and then pack it into a box, is today announcing that it has raised $8.6 million in funding, one of the largest-ever seed rounds for a Polish startup. Co-led by Khosla Ventures and Hoxton Ventures, the round also included participation from DN Capital, Capnamic Ventures and Manta Ray, all previous backers of Nomagic.

There are a number of robotic arms on the market today that can be programmed to pick up and deposit items from Point A to Point B. But we are only starting to see a new wave of companies focus on bringing these to fulfilment environments because of the limitations of those arms: they can only work when the items are already “ordered” in a predictable way, such as on an assembly line, which has mean that fulfilment of, for example, online orders is usually carried out by humans.

Nomagic has incorporated a new degree of computer vision, machine learning and other AI-based technologies to  elevate the capabilities of those robotic arm. Robots powered by its tech can successfully select items from an “unstructured” group of objects — that is, not an assembly line, but potentially another box — before picking it up and placing it elsewhere.

Kacper Nowicki, the ex-Googler CEO of Nomagic who co-founded the company with Marek Cygan (formerly of Climate Corporation) and Tristan d’Orgeval (an academic), noted that while there has been some work on the problem of unstructured objects and industrial robots — in the US, there are some live implementations taking shape, with one, Covariant, recently exiting stealth mode — it has been mostly a “missing piece” in terms of the innovation that has been done to make logistics and fulfilment more efficient.

That is to say, there has been little in the way of bigger commercial roll outs of the technology, creating an opportunity in what is a huge market: fulfilment services are projected to be a $56 billion market by 2021 (currently the US is the biggest single region, estimated at between $13.5 billion and $15.5 billion).

“If every product were a tablet or phone, you could automate a regular robotic arm to pick and pack,” Nowicki said. “But if you have something else, say something in plastic, or a really huge diversity of products, then that is where the problems come in.”

Nowicki was a longtime Googler who moved from Silicon Valley back to Poland to build the company’s first engineering team in the country. In his years at Google, Nowicki worked in areas including Google Cloud and search, but also saw the AI developments underway at Google’s DeepMind subsidiary, and decided he wanted to tackle a new problem for his next challenge.

His interest underscores what has been something of a fork in artificial intelligence in recent years. While some of the earliest implementations of the principles of AI were indeed on robots, these days a lot of robotic hardware seems clunky and even outmoded, while much more of the focus of AI has shifted to software and “non-physical” systems aimed at replicating and improving upon human thought. Even the word “robot” is now just as likely to be seen in the phrase “robotic process automation”, which in fact has nothing to do with physical robots, but software.

“A lot of AI applications are not that appealing,” Nowicki simply noted (indeed, while Nowicki didn’t spell it out, DeepMind in particular has faced a lot of controversy over its own work in areas like healthcare). “But improvements in existing robotics systems by applying machine learning and computer vision so that they can operate in unstructured environments caught my attention. There has been so little automation actually in physical systems, and I believe it’s a place where we still will see a lot of change.”

Interestingly, while the company is focusing on hardware, it’s not actually building hardware per se, but is working on software that can run on the most popular robotic arms in the market today to make them “smarter”.

“We believe that most of the intellectual property in in AI is in the software stack, not the hardware,” said Orgeval. “We look at it as a mechatronics problem, but even there, we believe that this is mainly a software problem.”

Having Khosla as a backer is notable given that a very large part of the VC’s prolific investing has been in North America up to now. Nowicki said he had a connection to the firm by way of his time in the Bay Area, where before Google, Vinod Khosla backed a startup of his (which went bust in one of the dot-com downturns).

While there is an opportunity for Nomagic to take its idea global, for now Khosla’s interested because of the a closer opportunity at home, where Nomagic is already working with third-party logistics and fulfilment providers, as well as retailers like Cdiscount, a French Amazon-style, soup-to-nuts online marketplace.

“The Nomagic team has made significant strides since its founding in 2017,” says Sven Strohband, Managing Director of Khosla Ventures, in a statement. “There’s a massive opportunity within the European market for warehouse robotics and automation, and NoMagic is well-positioned to capture some of that market share.”

WARSAW, POLAND – Feb 4, 2020 – Nomagic, provider of smart pick & place robots for warehouses, announced today the closing of a $8.6 million Seed investment round led by Khosla Ventures. The round is one of the biggest seed rounds for a Polish startup yet. Hoxton Ventures (London) co-led the round with existing investors DN Capital (London), Capnamic Ventures (Cologne) and Manta Ray (London).

“The Nomagic team has made significant strides since its founding in 2017,” says Sven Strohband, Managing Director of Khosla Ventures. “There’s a massive opportunity within the European market for warehouse robotics and automation, and NoMagic is well-positioned to capture some of that market share.”

Founded on the premise that order fulfillment in warehouses requires repetitive manual tasks for which it is harder and harder to find operators, Nomagic develops AI-based solutions using robotic arms to reliably pick and place millions of different products. Their smart robots are able to determine how to pick never seen products and detect rare anomalies such as robots picking two items at once. In 2019, Nomagic deployed its solution at Cdiscount, the leading French e-commerce platform, to build the first fully automated packing line for e-commerce.

 


0

Africa Roundup: Trump’s Nigeria ban, Paga’s acquisition and raises — Fluterwave $35m, Sendy $20M

08:34 | 4 February

The first month of the new-year saw Africa enter the fray of U.S. politics. The Trump administration announced last week it would halt immigration from Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation with the continent’s largest economy and leading tech sector.

The presidential proclamation stops short of a full travel ban on the country of 200 million, but suspends immigrant visas for Nigerians seeking citizenship and permanent resident status in U.S.

The latest regulations are said not to apply to non-immigrant, temporary visas for tourist, business, and medical visits.

The new policy follows the Trump’s 2017 travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries. The primary reason for the latest restrictions, according to the Department of Homeland Security, was that the countries did not “meet the Department’s stronger security standards.”

Nigeria’s population is roughly 45% Muslim and the country has faced problems with terrorism, largely related to Boko Haram in its northeastern territory.

Restricting immigration to the U.S. from Nigeria, in particular, could impact commercial tech relations between the two countries.

Nigeria is the U.S.’s second largest African trading partner and the U.S. is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria.

Increasingly, the nature of the business relationship between the two countries is shifting to tech. Nigeria is steadily becoming Africa’s capital for VC, startups, rising founders and the entry of Silicon Valley companies.

Recent reporting by VC firm Partech shows Nigeria has become the number one country in Africa for venture investment.

Much of that funding is coming from American sources. The U.S. is arguably Nigeria’s strongest partner on tech and Nigeria, Silicon Valley’s chosen gateway for entering Africa.

Examples include Visa’s 2019 investment in Nigerian fintech companies Flutterwave and Interswitch and Facebook and Google’s expansion in Nigeria.

On the ban’s impact, “U.S. companies will suffer and Nigerian companies will suffer,” Bosun Tijani, CEO of Lagos based incubator CcHub, told TechCrunch .

Nigerian entrepreneur Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, who co-founded two tech companies with operations in the U.S. and Lagos — Flutterwave and Andela — posted his thoughts on the latest restrictions

“Just had an interesting dinner convo about this visa ban with Nigerian tech professionals in the U.S. Sad …but silver lining is all the amazing and experienced Nigerian talent in US tech companies who will now head on home,”

.

Notable market moves in African tech last month included an acquisition, global expansion and a couple big raises.

Nigerian digital payments startup Paga acquired Apposit, a software development company based in Ethiopia, for an undisclosed amount.

The Lagos based venture also announced it would launch its payment products in Mexico this year and in Ethiopia imminently, CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch

The moves come a little over a year after Paga raised a $10 million Series B round and Oviosu announced the company’s intent to expand globally, while speaking at Disrupt San Francisco.

Paga will leverage Apposit — which is U.S. incorporated but operates in Addis Ababa — to support that expansion into East Africa and Latin America.

Paga has created a multi-channel network to transfer money, pay-bills, and buy things digitally. The company has 14 million customers in Nigeria who can transfer funds from one of Paga’s 24,411 agents or through the startup’s mobile apps.

With the acquisition, Paga absorbs Apposit’s tech capabilities and team of 63 engineers.  The company will direct its boosted capabilities and total workforce of 530 to support its expansion.

On the raise side, San Francisco and Lagos-based fintech startup Flutterwave (previously mentioned) raised a $35 million Series B round and announced a partnership with Worldpay FIS for payments in Africa.

FIS also joined the round, led by US VC firms Greycroft and eVentures, with participation of Visa and African fund CRE Venture Capital .

The company will use the funding to expand capabilities to provide more solutions around the broader needs of its clients. Uber, Booking.com and Jumia are among the big names that use Flutterwave to process payments.

Last month, Africa’s logistics startup space gained another multi-million-dollar round with global backing.

Kenyan company Sendy — with an on-demand platform that connects clients to drivers and vehicles for goods delivery — raised a $20 million Series B led by Atlantica Ventures.

Toyota Tsusho Corporation, a trade and investment arm of Japanese automotive company Toyota, also joined the round.

Sendy’s raise came within six months of Nigerian trucking logistics startup Kobo360’s $20 million Series A backed by Goldman Sachs. In November, East African on-demand delivery venture Lori Systems hauled in $30 million supported by Chinese investors.

The company plans to use its raise for new developer hires, to improve the tech of its platform, and toward expansion in West Africa in 2020.

Sendy’s $20 million round also includes an R&D arrangement with Toyota Tsusho Corporation, to optimize trucks for the West African market, Sendy CEO Mesh Alloys told TechCrunch.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch

African tech around the ‘net

 


0

Trump to halt immigration from Africa’s top tech hub, Nigeria

01:28 | 1 February

The Trump administration announced Friday it would halt immigration from Nigeria,  Africa’s most populous nation with the continent’s largest economy and leading tech hub.

The restrictions would stop short of placing a full travel ban on the country of 200 million, but will suspend U.S. immigrant visas for Nigeria — along with Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar — starting February 21.

That applies to citizens from those countries looking to live permanently in the U.S. The latest restrictions are said not to apply to non-immigrant, temporary visas for tourists, business, and medical visits.

The news was first reported by the Associated Press, after a press briefing by Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. AP reporting said the stated reason for thew new restrictions was that the countries, such as Nigeria, did not meet security standards.

TechCrunch has asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for a clarification on that and full details of the latest restrictions.

The move follows reporting over the last week that the Trump administration was considering adding Nigeria, and several additional African states, to the list of predominantly Muslim countries on its 2017 travel ban. That ban was delayed in the courts until being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court  in 2018.

Restricting immigration to the U.S. from Nigeria, in particular, could impact commercial tech relations between the two countries.

Nigeria is the U.S.’s second largest African trading partner and the U.S. is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria, according to USTR and State Department briefs.

Increasingly, the nature of the business relationship between the two countries is shifting to tech. Nigeria is steadily becoming Africa’s capital for VC, startups, rising founders and the entry of Silicon Valley companies.

Recent reporting by VC firm Partech shows Nigeria has become the number one country in Africa for VC investment.

Much of that funding is coming from American sources and the U.S. is arguably Nigeria’s strongest partner for tech and Nigeria Silicon Valley’s chosen gateway for expansion in Africa.

There are numerous examples of this new relationship.

Mastercard invested $50 million in Jumia — an e-commerce company headquartered in Nigeria with broader Africa presence — before it became the first tech startup on the continent to IPO on a major exchange, the NYSE, in June.

One of Jumia’s backers, Goldman Sachs, led a $20 million round into Nigerian trucking-logistics startup, Kobo360 in 2019.

Software engineer company Andela, with offices in the U.S. and Lagos, raised $100 million, including from American sources, and employs a 1000 engineers.

Facebook opened an innovation lab in Nigeria in 2018 called NG_Hub and Google launched its own developer space in Lagos last week.

Nigerian tech is also home to a growing number of startups with operations in the U.S. countries. Nigerian fintech company Flutterwave, whose clients range from Uber to Cardi B, is headquartered in San Francisco, with operations in Lagos. The company maintains a developer team across both countries for its B2B payments platform that helps American companies operating in Africa get paid.

MallforAfrica — a Nigerian e-commerce company that enables partners such as Macy’s, Best Buy and Auto Parts Warehouse to sell in Africa — is led by Chris Folayan,  a Nigerian who studied and worked in the U.S. The company now employs Nigerians in Lagos and Americans at its Portland processing plant.

Africa’s leading VOD startup, iROKOtv maintains a New York office that lends to production of the Nigerian (aka Nollywood) content it creates and streams globally.

Similar to Trump’s first travel ban, the latest restrictions on Nigeria may end up in courts, which could cause a delay in implementation.

More immediately, Trump administration’s latest moves could put a damper on its own executive branch initiatives with Nigeria. Just today the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

—who was appointed by President Trump — posted a tweet welcoming Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama to the State Department Hosted Nigeria Bicentennial, planned to start Monday.

The theme listed for the event: “Innovation and Ingenuity, which reflects the entrepreneurial, inventive, and industrious spirit shared by the Nigerian and American people.”

 


0

Kenyan logistics startup Sendy raises $20M round backed by Toyota

08:16 | 29 January

Africa’s logistics startup space has gained another multi-million dollar round with global backing.

Kenyan company Sendy — with an on-demand platform that connects clients to drivers and vehicles for goods delivery — has raised a $20 million Series B led by Atlantica Ventures.

Toyota Tsusho Corporation, a trade and investment arm of Japanese automotive company Toyota, also joined the round.

Sendy’s raise comes within six months of Nigerian trucking logistics startup Kobo360’s $20 million Series A backed by Goldman Sachs. In November, East African on-demand delivery venture Lori Systems hauled in $30 million supported by Chinese investors.

Those companies have plotted Africa expansions into each other’s markets and broader Africa. With its latest round, Sendy ups its competitive stance in the continent’s startup logistics space. The company plans to expand to West Africa in 2020, CEO Mesh Alloys told TechCrunch on a call.

Alloys co-founded Sendy in 2015 with Kenyans Evanson Biwott and Don Okoth and American Malaika Judd. The startup currently has offices in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda with 5000 vehicles on its platform that move all sorts of goods, according to Alloys.

Sendy offers services for e-commerce, enterprise, and freight delivery for a client list that includes Unilever, DHL, Maersk, Safaricom and African online retailer Jumia.

The company uses an asset-free model, with an app that coordinates contract drivers who own their own vehicles, while confirming deliveries, creating performance metrics and managing payment.

On Sendy’s business and revenue model, “We take a percentage of each transaction. We also facilitate services for drivers like insurance, health-insurance, vehicle financing, vehicle servicing and fuel credits,” said Alloys.

The company plans to use its Series B funding for new hires and to upgrade its tech. “Getting better operational efficiency is super key so we’ll invest…in engineering teams and data teams…and deploying talent to improve the services that we give our customers,” said Alloys.

Sendy’s $20 round includes an R&D arrangement with Toyota Tsusho Corporation, whose investment comes from a venture arm the company established for Africa, called Mobility 54.

“We’ll look at optimizing the kind of trucks that perform well in this market…They’ll also look at setting up vehicle services centers in partnership with us,” said Alloys.

Asia Africa Investment, Sunu Capital, Enza Capital, Vested World, and Kepple Capital joined lead investor Atlantica Ventures on the $20 million round — which brings Sendy’s total funding to $29 million, according to Alloys.

Formed in 2019, Atlantica Ventures is a relatively new Africa focused VC fund co-founded by  Washington DC based Aniko Szigetvari. She confirmed the fund’s lead on Sendy’s Series B and that Atlantica Ventures will take a board seat and work on strategic planning and execution with the company.

On how Sendy will outpace rivals such as Kobo360 and Lori Systems, Alloys points to the startup’s platform. “Our customer service is superior and that’s driven by our technology…I think we’re miles ahead of our competition today when it comes to tech,” he said.

Whoever surges ahead, Africa’s top business hubs — Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana — stand to gain from the innovation VC spending and startup rivalry bring to the on-demand goods delivery sector.

Though logistics services aren’t included in the World Bank’s ease of doing business country rankings, they’re known to be costlier in Africa than many parts of the world.

In the early days of online commerce development on the continent — due to a lack of viable 3PL options — pioneering e-commerce startups Jumia and Konga were forced to burn capital by forming their own delivery services.

Years later, after Jumia has listed on the NYSE and expanded to multiple countries in Africa, fulfillment costs related to delivery remain one of the company’s largest expenses.

Lowering logistics expenses for businesses in Africa is central to Sendy’s mission, according to Alloys.

“We’re organizing a marketplace using technology so companies can efficiently deliver to their customers while reducing overall costs,” he said.

 


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Pinterest launches virtual makeup ‘Try On’ feature, starting with lipstick

17:00 | 28 January

A new Pinterest feature will allow users to virtually try on products, starting with lipstick, before they shop from retailers like Estée Lauder, Sephora, bareMinerals, Neutrogena, NYX Professional Makeup, YSL Beauté, Lancôme, and Urban Decay from L’Oréal. To use the new feature, pinners will first open Pinterest’s smart camera, “Lens,” while in Search, then click “Try it” to explore the different lipstick shades available. To shop the products, you just swipe up.

Another way to access Try on is by typing in lipstick-related terms into Pinterest’s search engine — like “plum lipstick” or “red lips,” for example.

Pinterest says that it won’t alter your photo using skin smoothing or other techniques, so you can be sure of what the lipstick looks like on the real you. In addition, the feature has been integrated with Pinterest’s existing skin tone range feature, so users can shop for similar lip shades on skin tones that match their own.

While makeup and beauty is a topic that’s often featured on platforms like Instagram and YouTube, Pinterest is also a top destination for those who are shopping for beauty and personal care items. According to Pinterest, more than 52 million people search and engage with beauty content on its platform in the U.S. every month.

In addition, a 2018 study from GfK found that 87% of beauty and personal care Pinners come to Pinterest when actively considering what to purchase, the company says. Pinners also regularly turn to the platform to seek out particular lip styles, whether that’s something more traditional like “glossy lips” or “pink lips,” or trendier styles like “ombre lip” or “black lipstick,” for example — all of which were top lip searches in 2019.

The company says it started “Try on” with lipstick because it’s one of the most searched beauty-related items on the site. We should point out, it’s also easier to develop technology to virtually try on lipstick than some other makeup items, though.

Pinterest says lipstick will be followed by more Try on-enabled beauty products and categories in the future.

Pinterest is not the first to launch a virtual makeup experience. YouTube last year debuted an AR Try-On experience that allowed viewers to virtually try on makeup (also initially lipstick) while watching video reviews on its site. But that feature isn’t broadly available across videos as it was offered as an option for brands working with YouTube’s FameBit division as a way to market their makeup via YouTube influencers, not a core YouTube feature.

 

Other virtual makeup experiences include AR beauty apps like YouCam MakeupSephora’s Virtual Artist,  or Ulta’s GLAMLab; as well as selfie editors like FaceApp, Perfect365, Facetune, and others. L’Oréal also offers Live Try-On on its website, and had partnered with Facebook last year to bring virtual makeup to the site. In addition, Target’s online Beauty Studio offers virtual makeup across a number of brands and products.

In Pinterest’s case, however, the idea is to capture shoppers’ attention before they know what brand or shade they want to buy, then let them experiment with different shades until they find the right fit. The larger goal is to attract shoppers to Pinterest before they’re ready to type in a brand name on Amazon or Google, so they’ll instead find their way directly to the retailer’s site through Pinterest instead.

However, Try on is not an advertising product for Pinterest nor is there a revenue share on sales it inspires. Instead, Pinterest will continue to monetize through advertising. That said, the new feature is meant to draw in users who are ready to shop. And this, in turn, drives engagement for those brands investing in ads on Pinterest.

Participating brands may receive insights on the performance of their shopping features, like Try on. But they’re not collecting personal data. We understand the information about engagement and conversion is used in aggregate to make relevant recommendations to Pinterest users. (And users can also disable personalization from their Settings, if they choose.)

 

The launch of Try arrives as Google finds itself inching further into Pinterest’s territory with recent updates to its competitive bookmarking tool called “Collections,” as well as with its new Shopping vertical, which includes its own smart camera, Google Lens.

The new Try on feature is launching today on Pinterest in the U.S., on both iOS and Android mobile. The feature will later expand internationally as well as to more platforms.

 


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