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Paytm targets merchants to fight back Google and Walmart in India’s crowded payments field

22:35 | 8 January

Paytm today announced two new features for businesses as the financial services firm looks to expand its reach in the nation that has quickly become one of the world’s most crowded and competitive payments markets.

The Noida-headquartered firm, which raised $1 billion in late November, said its app for businesses now features an “all-in-one” QR code system to accept payments from multiple platforms, including mobile wallets (that act as an intermediary between a user and their bank but provide convenience) and those that are powered by UPI, a payments infrastructure built by a coalition of banks that has been widely adopted by the industry players.

Merchants had expressed an interest in having one QR code that could understand any payments app, said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the founder and chief executive of Paytm’s parent firm One97 Communications. In addition to supporting mobile wallet apps, and UPI-powered payment apps, Paytm’s new QR codes also support payments through popular Rupay cards.

Merchants can also stick these QR codes on devices such as battery packs and chargers to enable quick transaction from users, Sharma explained at a press conference today.

Bookkeeping for merchants and small businesses

The nation’s highest-valued startup (at around $16 billion) also announced a bookkeeping feature for businesses to help them maintain their daily records.

Dubbed Paytm Business Khata, the feature will help merchants manage payments, record transactions and secure loans and insurance. The service will also enable them to set a reminder for credit transactions, get an audio alert when they have received new payment, and send links to their customers to easily pay their dues, said Sharma.

Hundreds of millions of Indians, many in small towns and villages, came online for the first time in the last decade thanks to the proliferation of cheap Android smartphones and the availability of some of the world’s cheapest mobile data plans.

In recent years, millions of merchants and small businesses have also started to accept digital payments and listed them on the web for the first time. But most of them are still offline. Scores of startups and heavily backed firms such as Google, Walmart and Amazon are chasing this untapped market.

Google, which has amassed more than 67 million users on its payments app in India, last year announced a range of offerings to allow businesses to easily start accepting payments online. In the past, the company also launched tools to help mom and pop stores build presence on the web.

A number of startups today, including Bangalore-based Instamojo, Khatabook (which raised $25 million in October last year and counts GGV Capital, Sequoia Capital India and Tencent among its investors) and Lightspeed-backed OkCredit, which raised $67 million in August last year, offer bookkeeping features and allow their consumers to enable easier payment options.

Google Pay or GPay sticker pasted on the glass of a car in New Delhi India on 18 September 2019 (Photo by Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Paytm’s Sharma claimed that his business app has already amassed more than 10 million merchant users, a number he expects to more than double by next year.

The announcements today illustrate how aggressively Paytm, which once led the mobile payments market in India, is expanding its service. Some critics have cautioned that the firm, which counts SoftBank, Alibaba and T. Rowe Price among its key investors and has raised over $3.3 billion to date, is quickly losing its market share and chasing opportunities that could significantly increase its expenses and losses. According to several industry estimates, Google Pay and Walmart’s PhonePe now lead the mobile payments market in India.

Paytm lost more than half a billion dollars in the financial year that ended in March 2019. The trouble for the company is that there is currently little money to be made in the payments market because of some of the local guidelines set by the government.

“The current Paytm’s potential is a pale shadow of its former self. And to stay relevant, the company is entering new businesses (and failing spectacularly in some) at a pace that shows both a lack of clarity and urgency. Paytm is stuck between a glorious past that was built on the back of digital payments and a future that doesn’t look anything like Jack Ma’s Alibaba, one of Paytm’s largest investors and Sharma’s inspiration,” wrote Ashish Mishra, a long-time journalist, in a scathing post (paywalled).

Sharma said today that the company plans to offer services such as stock brokerage and insurance brokerage in the coming months. At stake is India’s payments market that is estimated to be worth $1 trillion in the next four years, up from about $200 billion currently, according to Credit Suisse. And that market is only going to get more crowded when WhatsApp, which has amassed over 400 million users in India, rolls out its payments service to all its users in the country in the coming months.

 


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Domio raises $100M in equity and debt to take on Airbnb and hotels with its curated apartments

22:04 | 17 December

Airbnb has well and truly disrupted the world of travel accommodation, changing the conversation not just around how people discover and book places to stay, but what they expect when they get there, and what they expect to pay. Today, one of the startups riding that wave is announcing a significant round of funding to fuel its own contribution to the marketplace.

Domio, a startup that designs and then rents out apart-hotels with kitchens and other full-home experiences, has raised $100 million, $50 million in equity and $50 million in debt, to expand its business in the US and globally to 25 markets by next year, up from 12 today. Its target customers are younger, millennials travelling in groups, or families swayed by the size and scope of the accommodation — typically five times bigger than the average hotel room — as well as the price, which is on average 25% cheaper than a hotel room.

The Series B, which actually closed in August of this year, was led by GGV Capital, with participation from Eldridge Industries, 3L Capital, Tribeca Venture Partners, Softbank NY, Tenaya Capital and Upper90. Upper90 also led the debt round, which will be used to lease and set up new properties.

Domio is not disclosing its valuation, but Jay Roberts, the founder and CEO, said in an interview that it’s a “huge upround” and around 50x the valuation it had in its seed round and that the company has tripled its revenues in the last year. Prior to this, Domio had only raised around $17 million, according to data from PitchBook.

For some comparisons, Sonder — another company that rents out serviced apartments to the kind of travellers who have a taste for boutique hotels — earlier this year raised $225 million at a valuation north of $1 billion. Others like Guesty, which are building platforms for others to list and manage their apartments on platforms like Airbnb, recently raised $35 million with a valuation likely in the range of $180 million to $200 million. Airbnb is estimated to be valued around $31 billion.

Domio plays in an interesting corner of the market. For starters, it focuses its accommodations at many of the same demographics as an Airbnb. But where Airbnb offers a veritable hodgepodge of rooms and homes — some are people’s homes, some are vacation places, some never had and never will have a private occupant, and across all those the range of quality varies wildly — Domio offers predictability and consistency with its (possibly more anodyne) inventory.

“We are competing with amateur hosts on Airbnb,” said Roberts, who previously worked in real estate investment banking. “This is the next step, a modern brand, the next Marriott but with a more tech-powered brain and operating model.” These are not to be confused with something like Hilton’s Homewood Suites, Roberts stressed to me. He referred to Homewood as “a soulless hotel chain.”

“Domio is the anti-hotel chain,” he added.

Roberts is also quick to describe how Domio is not a real estate company as much as it is a tech-powered business. For starters, it uses quant-style algorithms that it’s built in-house to identify regions where it wants to build out its business, basing it not just on what consumers are searching for, but also weather patterns, economic indicators and other factors. After identifying a city or other location, it works on securing properties.

It typically sets up its accommodations in newer or completely new buildings, where developers — at least up to now — are not usually constructing with short-term rentals in mind. Instead, they are considering an option like Domio as an alternative to selling as condominiums or apartments, something that might come up if they are sensing that there is a softening in the market. “We typically have 75%-78% occupancy,” Roberts said. He added that hotels on average have occupancy rates in the high 60% nationally.

As Domio lengthens its track record — its 12 U.S. markets include Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Phoenix — Roberts says that they’re getting a more select seat at the table in conversations.

“Investors are starting to go out buy properties on our behalf and lease them to us,” he said. This gives the startup a much more favorable rate and terms on those deals. “The next step is that Domio will manage these directly.” The most recent property it signed, he noted, includes a Whole Foods at the ground level and a gym.

Using technology to identify where to grow is not the only area where tech plays a role. Roberts said that the company is now working on an app — yet to be released — that will be the epicenter of how guests interact to book places and manage their experience once there.

“Everything you can do by speaking to a human in a traditional hotel you will be able to do with the Domio app,” he said. That will include ordering room service, getting more towels, booking experiences and getting restaurant recommendations. “You can book your Uber through the Domio app, or sync your Spotify account to play music in the apartment.

There are plans to extend the retail experience too using the app. Roberts says it will be a “shoppable” experience where, if you like a sofa or piece of art in the place where you’re staying, you can order it for your own home. You can even order the same wallpaper that’s been designed to decorate Domio apartments.

Ripe for the booking

Although Airbnb has grown to be nearly as ubiquitous as hotels (and perhaps even more prominent, depending on who you are talking to), the wider travel and accommodation market is still ripe for the taking, estimated to reach $171 billion by 2023 and the highest growth sector in the travel industry.

“Airbnb has taught us that hotels are not the only to stay,” said Hans Tung, GGV’s managing partner. “Domio is capitalizing on the global shift in short-term travel and the consumer demand for branded experiences.  From my travels around the world, there is a large, underserved audience – millennials, families, business teams – who prefer the combined benefits of an apartment and hotel in a single branded experience.”

I mentioned to Roberts that the leasing model reminded me a little of WeWork, which itself does not own the property it curates and turns into office space for its tenants. (The Softbank investor connection is interesting in that regard.) Roberts was very quick to say that it’s not the same kind of business, even if both are based around leased property re-rented out to tenants.

“One of the things we liked about Domio is that is very capital efficient,” said Tung, “focusing on the model and payback period. The short-term nature of customer stays and the combination of experience/price required for to maintain loyal customers are natural enforcers of efficient unit economics.”

“For GGV, Domio stands out in two ways,” he continued. “First, CEO Jay Roberts and the Domio team’s emphasis on execution is impressive, with expansion in to 12 cities in just three years. They have the right combination of vision, speed and agility. Domio’s model can readily tap into the global opportunity as they have ambition to scale to new markets. The global travel and tourism spend is $2.8 trillion with 5 billion annual tourists. Global travellers like having the flexibility and convenience of both an apartment and hotel – with Domio they can have both.”

 


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EHang, maker of autonomous flying shuttles, files for $100 million IPO

15:33 | 1 November

Chinese autonomous air mobility company EHang has filed with the SEC the paperwork required to go public in the U.S. on the NASDAQ exchange, with a $100 million initial public offering. The company, which has been flying demonstration flights with passengers on board for a while now, is gearing up to launch its first commercial service in Guangzhou after getting approval from local and national regulators to deploy its drones in the area.

At launch, EHang will be using its two-seater vertical take-off and landing craft (VTOL), which has room for two passengers on board. EHang doesn’t just build the aircraft, though – its goal is to build full, multi-aircraft (as many as ‘thousands,’ according to Forbes) autonomous transportation networks that it hopes will serve to alleviate and avoid congested ground traffic. Guangzhou, with an estimated population of over 13 million, suffers from considerable traffic.

EHang is also building out logistics and cargo transportation capabilities as well as passenger services. The company believes it can offers short designate cross-city transportation that can cut down on time by as much as 40 to 60 percent, and once it achieves scale, it also says that costs have the potential to be reduced by as much as 50 percent.

Founded in 2014, EHang last announced funding in 2015, when It raised $42 million in a Series B round led by GP Capital, with GGV Capital, ZhenFund, Lebox Capital, OFC and PreAngel also participating.

 


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Opendoor appoints CFO, CPO

16:00 | 14 October

Opendoor has named Gautam Gupta its chief financial officer and chief business offer, critical roles as the business continues to alter the way in which homes are bought and sold. Uber’s former head of finance, Gupta joined the $3.8 billion home-selling platform as its chief operating officer in 2017.

The company, which has raised more than $4 billion in debt and equity funding to date, is announcing several new hires this morning. Venrock’s Tom Willerer has joined as the company’s first-ever chief product officer. Willerer has previously led product at Coursera and Netflix. He joined the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Venrock in 2017 and has since struck deals with edtech startups including Make School and Flockjay .

Opendoor has also hired Julie Todaro as its president of homes and services, another newly created role. Todaro, who spent over a decade at Amazon, most recently as its vice president of consumer electronics, will oversee market operations, customer experience and home services.

Finally, Carrie Wheeler, a partner at TPG for 20 years, and Jason Kilar, the founding CEO of Hulu, have joined Opendoor’s board of directors.

Founded in 2013, San Francisco-based Opendoor is backed by General Atlantic, Hawk Equity, SoftBank, Access Technology Ventures, Lennar Corporation, Fifth Wall Ventures, SV Angel, Norwest Venture Partners, NEA, GGV Capital, Khosla Ventures, GV and more.

 


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India’s Udaan raises $585M to expand its B2B e-commerce platform

20:16 | 2 October

Udaan, a three-year-old business-to-business e-commerce platform in India, has raised more than half a billion dollars as it looks to bring more kirana stores, chemists, and other small businesses online through its marketplace.

The startup said today it has raised $585 million from Tencent, Altimeter, Footpath Ventures, Hillhouse, GGV Capital and Citi Ventures. Existing investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, which wrote its first check to the startup back in 2016, and DST Global also invested in the round.

The new round valued the startup between $2.3 billion to $2.7 billion, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. Co-founders of Udaan, which reached the unicorn status in the shortest period of time among Indian startups, declined to comment on the valuation.

Udaan operates an eponymous B2B marketplace where it connects buyers and sellers. The platform supports a wide-range of categories from lifestyle, electronics, home and kitchen, staples, toys, to fruits and vegetables.

Udaan also offers a credit line to provide working capital to buyers and sellers on its platform, thereby addressing one of the biggest challenges faced by small and micro businesses and merchants in the nation, said Vaibhav Gupta, a co-founder of Udaan, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The startup has amassed more than 3 million retailers from 900 cities and towns in India. Today, a wide range of merchants, including farmers, shopkeeper owners, restaurants, chemists, and street vendors are connected to Udaan.

L R Amod Malviya Vaibhav Gupta Sujeet Kumar Co founders Udaan

From left-to-right: Amod-Malviya, Vaibhav Gupta, and Sujeet Kumar, co-founders of Udaan

Sujeet Kumar, another co-founder of Udaan, said the startup will use the fresh capital to expand its footprint in the nation and focus on growing the marketplace in both existing and new categories.

Even as more than half a billion people in India are online today, most businesses in the nation remain offline. But a growing cohort of startups in the nation is beginning to help merchants make use of technology.

Amazon and Walmart have invested billions of dollars to create business-to-commerce marketplaces in India, but e-commerce still accounts for just 3% of the overall retail market in the country.

Their mightiest rivals remain mom and pop stores that dot tens of thousands of villages, cities, towns, and slums of India. In recent years, many Silicon Valley companies have also started to address these businesses. Google has launched tools to help these mom and pop stores set up their online presence, and last month, it launched a business app of Google Pay to help these merchants accept online payments.

That’s the opportunity that drove Vaibhav, Sujeet, and Amod Malviya — the third co-founder — to leave their jobs at e-commerce platform Flipkart and build a platform to serve small businesses in the nation.

“The market opportunity is turning out to be much deeper than we envisioned when Lightspeed led the company’s Series A financing in 2016 and we’re excited to continue supporting the company while welcoming a strong syndicate of new investors,” said Bejul Somaia, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners .

In a statement, Martin Lau, President of Tencent, said, “Udaan’s unique approach can enhance the capabilities of millions of retail stores across India. It represents a powerful example of how technology can empower the business of small merchants, improve the efficiency of industries and bring benefits to consumers.”

More to follow…


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Khatabook raises $25M to help businesses in India record financial transactions digitally and accept online payments

04:50 | 1 October

Even as tens of millions of Indians have come online for the first time in recent years, most businesses in the nation remain offline. They continue to rely on long notebooks to keep a log of their financial transactions. A nine-month old startup which is digitizing the bookkeeping and allowing merchants to accept online payments just raised a significant amount of capital.

Khatabook, a Bangalore-based startup, said on Tuesday it has raised $25 million in a new financing round. The Series A round for the startup was funded by GGV Capital, Partners of DST Global, RTP Ventures, Sequoia India, Tencent, and Y Combinator. A clutch of high-profile angel investors including Amrish Rau, Anand Chandrasekharan, Deep Nishar, Gokul Rajaram, Jitendra Gupta, Kunal Bahl, and Kunal Shah also participated in the round. The startup has raised $29 million to date.

Khatabook operates an eponymous Android app that allows small and medium businesses to keep a log of their financial transactions and accept payments online. The app, which was launched on Google Play Store in December last year, has amassed 5 million merchants from more than 3,000 cities, towns, and villages in India, Ravish Naresh, cofounder and CEO of Khatabook told TechCrunch in an interview this week.

The app, which remains free of charge, was used to process transactions worth more than $3 billion in August, said Naresh. Most merchants in developing markets are not online currently. They continue to rely on logging their financial transactions — credit, for instance — on notebooks. As you can imagine, this methodology is not structured.

Even has Reliance Jio, a telecom operator launched by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, upended the Indian market and brought tens of millions of Indians online for the first time in last three years, most businesses in the country are still carrying out their operations without the use of any technology, said Naresh. “Could we build an app that makes it very easy for merchants to digitize their bookkeeping?” he said.

“As soon as we launched the app, we instantly started to go viral,” he said. For several months now, the startup is seeing 20% growth each month, he said. In six months, the app has helped businesses recover $5 billion in previously unpaid credits, Naresh claimed. Without any marketing, the app has also gained a significant number of users in Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, said Naresh.

“At Khatabook, we have taken early but significant steps towards leveraging this trend to digitize India’s shopkeepers. For most of our merchants, we are the first business software they’ve used in their entire life. And we will continue to build more India-first innovations to further enable the growth of what is still a largely untapped sector,” he said.

In a statement, Hans Tung, Managing Partner of GGV Capital, said, “as a global investor, we seek out founders who understand the local market and respond to growth opportunities with speed and agility – we certainly see this with the Khatabook team.”

Naresh, a cofounder of property startup Housing, said the startup will use the capital to build new features to serve merchants. In next 12 months, Khatabook will aim to add 25 million businesses, he said.

A growing number of startups in India are attempting to help businesses. OkCredit, which raised $67 million last month, serves 5 million merchants. IndiaMART, a 23-year-old B2B firm that went public this year, led a round in a startup called Vyapar last month that is addressing similar problems.

 


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Direct-to-consumer lingerie brand Lively acquired for $85M

19:39 | 31 July

Lively, a lingerie business founded and led by former Victoria’s Secret executive Michelle Cordeiro Grant, has sold to intimate apparel brand Wacoal for $85 million.

The deal includes up to an additional $55 million in performance-based payouts.

Lively, headquartered in New York, had raised $15 million in venture capital funding, including a $6.5 million Series A investment from GGV Capital, NF Ventures and former Nautica CEO Harvey Sanders announced late last year. The Series valued the startup at $101 million, according to PitchBook.

The deal brings Wacoal’s parent company, Wacoal International Corporation, a team of highly-skilled e-commerce marketers, who’ve successfully managed to tap into the millennial customer sect.

Lively, founded in 2016, sells bras and intimates online and in two brick-and-mortar locations in Chicago and New York. It competes with a number of other direct-to-consumer lingerie and activewear upstarts, including ThirdLove, AdoreMe, TomboyX and Outdoor Voices .

“We built Lively to inspire women to live life passionately, purposefully, and confidently,” Grant wrote in a statement. “We invest in our community and customers to empower them to celebrate their individuality and enable them with products to look and feel their best. Wacoal’s core values have a beautiful synergy with Lively’s, enabling us to come together, not just to take market share, but to also create market share.”

 


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Tile finds another $45M to expand its item-tracking devices and platform

14:00 | 24 July

Tile — the company that makes popular small square-shaped tags and other technology to help people keep track of physical belongings like keys and bags — has made more recent moves to link up with chipmakers, helping it expand to wireless headsets and other electronic and other connected items as part of a wider smart home strategy. Now, Tile is announcing a round of funding of $45 million to double down on those strategies and fulfil a plan to have its technology in millions of devices by the end of this year.

The growth equity is being led by Francisco Partners, with participation from previous investors GGV Capital and Bessemer Venture Partners and new backers Bryant Stibel and SVB Financial Group.

CJ Prober — who joined as CEO last year in part to develop Tile’s newer areas of business — said in an interview that the funding will help the startup be more aggressive in doubling down on these new opportunities.

“We’re seeing great business momentum, with the first embedded partner products from our strategic initiatives coming out this year,” he said. It now has partnerships with five semiconductor companies, including Qualcomm and most recently Nordic, which they integrate Tile functionality on to their hardware, he added. “All this is now paying off with great momentum.”

Prober would not comment on the company’s valuation with this round except to say that it was definitely an upround. It’s notable that this appears to be only the first close for the Series C, which has “opened” with this $45 million commitment, in the words of a spokesperson for the company.

Tile has declined to specify any more detail on this front, but this is pretty standard procedure, and the startup has previously raised its rounds in stages — as you can see by this timeline in PitchBook. For some more context, Tile’s last noted valuation (also in PitchBook) was around $166 million, but that was now more than two years ago, before the various initiatives and other changes at the company.

Tile is not disclosing any metrics on its market share or how many of its devices are now in use, but it typically is rated as the largest of a crowded market for item-tracking devices (with others in the space including TrackR (Adero), Chipolo, and more).

But it notes that its European business (a relatively new area of focus for Tile) has grown by 160% in the last quarter. That’s coming from a small base, though: Prober confirmed that the US is still by far its biggest market in terms of sales and users.

And it also had a strong Prime Day on Amazon this year, doubling its unit sales (but didn’t provide hard numbers for comparison). It said it has exceeded projections for sign-ups for its Premium tier, which provides free battery replacements, 30-day location history, smart alerts (prompting you for example when you’ve left your keys somewhere), customer support and more for $30 for the year or $3 per month.

The company has been planting a lot of seeds, and some of them have yet to sprout. Last year, Tile announced that it would take an investment from Comcast to help it develop new products for its wider connected consumer strategy.

Prober however described this as still in the “roadmapping phase” and would not get into specifics except to say that there are a number of different initiatives in the works. There is also a partnership with Google unveiled at the most recent I/O that will see its home devices also being able to be tracked by the Tile platform.

I asked Prober if he worries ultimately about whether large tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and the rest — which all want to “own” connected home customers and the ecosystem of hardware and services that they may use — are seen as opportunities or threats for Tile, given that it’s piggy backing on their platforms and devices. His and the company’s fundamental feeling — one that should be supported in the spirit of competition and consumer choice — is that having a cross-platform option is the way to go.

“Our customers have different devices, products from different companies and it’s our job to ensure that Tile works well across all of those,” he said. “We see ourselves a little bit like Switzerland, which is also something that our customers and partners appreciate.”

While we’re seeing a surge of new communications technologies and protocols — 5G being perhaps the one we are hearing about most at the moment — Tile is sticking for now to Bluetooth.

“We love what Bluetooth enables for our customers in terms of the form factor, the cost and profile of the device and the power consumption,” said Prober. “We’re constantly evaluating different alternatives, and if there is an alternative we would consider that, but in our view that doesn’t exist right now.”

It’s a choice that its investors are also supporting.

“Tile pioneered the smart location category,” said Andrew Kowal, partner with Francisco Partners, in a statement. “With Bluetooth technology projected to be included in nearly 30 billion devices shipping in the next five years, Tile is poised to deliver an embedded finding solution for a rapidly expanding market. We are extremely excited to be partnering with Tile as the company enters the next chapter of its growth story.”

 


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The need-to-know takeaways from VidCon 2019

20:27 | 15 July

VidCon, the annual summit in Anaheim, CA for social media stars and their fans to meet each other drew over 75,000 attendees over last week and this past weekend. A small subset of those where entertainment and tech executives convening to share best practices and strike deals.

Of the wide range of topics discussed in the industry-only sessions and casual conversation, five trends stuck out to me as takeaways for Extra Crunch members: the prominence of TikTok, the strong presence of Chinese tech companies in general, the contemplation of deep fakes, curiosity around virtual influencers, and the widespread interest in developing consumer product startups around top content creators.

Newer platforms take center stage

GettyImages 1161447217

Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images

TikTok, the Chinese social video app (owned by Bytedance) that exploded onto the US market this past year, was the biggest conversation topic. Executives and talent managers were curious to see where it will go over the next year more than they were convinced that it is changing the industry in any fundamental way.

TikTok influencers were a major presence on the stages and taking selfies with fans on the conference floor. I overheard tweens saying “there are so many TikTokers here” throughout the conference. Meanwhile, TikTok’s US GM Vanessa Pappas held a session where she argued the app’s focus on building community among people who don’t already know each other (rather than being centered on your existing friendships) is a fundamental differentiator.

Kathleen Grace, CEO of production company New Form, noted that Tik Tok’s emphasis on visuals and music instead of spoken or written word makes it distinctly democratic in convening users across countries on equal footing.

Esports was also a big presence across the conference floor with teens lined up to compete at numerous simultaneous competitions. Twitch’s Mike Aragon and Jana Werner outlined Twitch’s expansion in content verticals adjacent to gaming like anime, sports, news, and “creative content’ as the first chapter in expanding the format of interactive live-streams across all verticals. They also emphasized the diversity of revenue streams Twitch enables creators to leverage: ads, tipping, monthly patronage, Twitch Prime, and Bounty Board (which connects brands and live streamers).

 


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From seed to Series A: Scaling a startup in Latin America today

00:00 | 3 July

Nathan Lustig Contributor
Nathan Lustig is an entrepreneur and managing partner at Magma Partners, a seed-stage investment fund in Santiago, Chile.

It’s not easy to raise growth-stage capital in Latin America, but it’s getting easier. As startups begin to flourish in the region’s largest markets, available funding is evolving to suit the needs of these maturing companies. However, Silicon Valley-style Series A rounds in Latin America are still rare, especially outside of Brazil and Mexico.

Even in Silicon Valley, only a small percentage of startups can bring together enough pieces to raise a Series A round. Jacob Mullins, a partner at Shasta Ventures, recently published an article on Medium on what it takes to raise a Series A round in San Francisco today, which inspired my take for the Latin American ecosystem.

In the piece, he lays out the table stakes for any startup looking to raise Series A capital, including product-market fit, a strong revenue model, 2x or 3x YOY growth, a data-driven go-to-market strategy, a compelling market opportunity, a great team and a great story. These prerequisites apply to startups anywhere in the world. However, if these requirements are the minimum needed for a Series A in San Francisco, startups outside of the Valley, including in Latin America, will have to work even harder.

Latin America’s exceptional growth in VC funding over the past 12 months speaks to the growing number of later-stage rounds startups are raising across the region. 2018 was Latin America’s inflection point for startups, with four big trends:

Record-breaking rounds: Mexico’s Grin Scooters raised Latin America’s largest seed round, and Brazilian bike and scooter-sharing startup Yellow raised Latin America’s largest Series A round to date (then they merged!). Food delivery startup Rappi became Colombia’s first unicorn, raising $200 million (and then $1 billion from SoftBank shortly thereafter), and Brazil’s iFood also raised $400 million, one of Latin America’s biggest rounds ever.

A closer examination reveals patterns in what it takes to raise scale capital in the Latin American market today.

Soaring Asian investment: Brazil’s most popular ride-hailing app, 99, was acquired by Didi Chuxing, China’s version of Uber . Tencent invested in Brazilian fintech Nubank; Ant Financial invested in Brazilian POS company StoneCo; SoftBank invested in Brazil’s logistics provider Loggi, Brazil’s Gympass and Colombia’s largest hotel chain, Ayenda Rooms. SoftBank also committed a $5 billion fund for Latin America, outstripping all previous funds by an order of magnitude.

Exits to Latin American and U.S. corporates: Chilean-Mexican grocery delivery startup Cornershop went to Walmart for $225 million and e-commerce company Linio was acquired by Falabella for $138 million. These deals reveal a growing concern from large companies in Latin America about competition from startups.

More YC grads: Latin America sent at least 10 startups to the Y Combinator, and many more to other international accelerators, in the past year. These companies include Grin, Higia, Truora, Keynua, The Podcast App, SkyDrop, UBits, Cuenca, BrainHi, Pachama, Calii, Cuanto, Pronto and Fintual.

2018 really was a breakout year for Latin American startups.

So who is raising Series A rounds in the region?

Within the list of 30 or so companies that have managed to raise a Series A in Latin America in the past year, most of the startups fit into a few categories. There is also significant overlap between the investors who are pursuing tickets of this size, most of whom are located in major markets like Mexico and Brazil, or have offices in Silicon Valley. A closer examination of these startups reveals patterns in what it takes to raise scale capital in the Latin American market today.

Copycats

Copycats — or startups that copy a successful business model from another market — are a good business in Latin America. Among those to raise Series A rounds within the past year were:

  • Grin and Yellow (now Grow Mobility): Bird/Lime clones raised $150 million as Grow Mobility from GGV Capital and Monashees.

  • LentesPlus: 1-800-Contacts clone raised $5 million from Palm Drive Capital, with participation from IGNIA and InQLab.

  • Mercadoni: Instacart clone raised $9 million from Movile.

  • Uala and Albo: Monzo/Revolut clones raised $10 million from Soros, Greyhound Capital, Recharge Capital and Point 72 Ventures, and $7.4 million from Omidyar, Greyhound and Mountain Nazca, respectively.

International investors often see copycat models as less risky, because the model has been tested before.

Logistics and last-mile delivery

Brazil’s CargoX, the “Uber for trucks,” is leading the market for logistics solutions in Latin America, receiving international investment from Valor Capital and NXTP Labs starting in their first round. They have also received funding from Soros, Goldman Sachs and Blackstone in later rounds. Recently, logistics startups like Colombia’s Liftit and Mexico’s Skydrop have raised multimillion-dollar rounds from Silicon Valley investors, including IFC, Monashees, MercadoLibre Fund, Variv Capital, Sierra Ventures and Sinai Ventures . Startups like Rappi, Loggi and Mandaê have also raised Series A rounds, and beyond.

Brazilian startups

In many ways, the Brazilian market operates separately from the rest of Latin America, and not only because of the language difference. Brazil has Brazil-centric funds and its startups follow their own rules, because the market is big enough to accommodate companies that only operate locally. Brazil also receives a majority of international VC funding and has produced a significant portion of Latin America’s unicorns.

Brazilian (and some Mexican) startups in edtech, healthtech and fintech, including Neon, Sanar, Mosyle, UnoDosTres and Nexoos, raised Series A rounds in 2018. Key investors included Quona Capital, e.Bricks Ventures, Elephant and Peak Ventures. Brazilian startups tend to scale more quickly at all sizes; Creditas and Loggi were able to raise their Series A in 2016 and 2014 respectively. In 2018, they were already raising $55 million at Series C and $100 million+ Series D from investors such as Vostok Emerging Capital, Kaszek Ventures, IFC, Naspers and SoftBank. However, startups in these industries in other Latin American countries might not find it as easy to raise larger rounds.

How much to raise in a Latin American Series A

Latin American valuations are noticeably lower than their Silicon Valley equivalents. A Series A round in a small or medium Latin American market like Chile or Colombia might end up looking a lot like a San Francisco seed round. Valuations and amount are bifurcated: those that have access to Silicon Valley-style capital can get higher valuations and bigger checks (still lower and smaller than the U.S.), while those that don’t have access have lower valuations.

The startup’s team, story and revenue model should all align to create an unbeatable business.

Outside of Brazil or Mexico, startups should not expect to raise more than $5 million in a Series A, even if they are receiving co-investments from the U.S. The average Series A round in the U.S. hit $11.29 million in 2018; however, the top 10% of deals averaged more than $60 million.

In Latin America, a Series A could range from as little as $1 million to around $10 million in most countries. Brazil and Mexico might break the mold, but startups looking for growth capital in Latin America should not expect to raise more than $5 million if they are not in a massive market. For example, Chile’s Destacame raised $3 million in their Series A from Chilean funds in early 2019. By comparison, Brazil’s Neon raised $22 million in their Series A in the same year. While these are different industries and comparing apples to oranges, the orders of magnitude seem right.

If we compare in the same industry but different years, the results are similar. Nubank’s Series A in 2014, led by Sequoia Capital, was $14.3 million. Neobanks in smaller markets, like albo and Uala, raised $7.4 million and $10 million, respectively, in their Series A rounds.

To date, the largest Series A raised in the region went to Yellow, Brazil’s bike-share and e-scooter company, created by the founders of 99, Ariel Lambrecht, Eduardo Musa, and Renato Freitas. Yellow raised a $63 million Series A within a year after launch, then merged with Mexico’s Grin Scooters.

Where to look for investment: Latin America or USA?

There are still very few entirely Latin American funds investing at Series A. Most of the time, Latin American startups must look to Mexico and Brazil, or beyond the region to Asia and the U.S., to fund rounds beyond the seed stage.

Within Latin America, some of the actors in this investment sector include Brazil’s Monashees and Valor Capital, Argentina’s Kaszek Ventures, Peru and Mexico’s Angel Ventures and Mexico’s ALLVP, MITA Ventures and Ignia. Startups might also find Series A-level investment from major regional tech leaders who are scouting acquisition opportunities, like Movile’s investment in Mercadoni. Movile is Brazil’s leader in mobile technology, with a mission to impact one billion people, following in the footsteps of China’s giant conglomerate, Tencent. Movile has invested in and acquired many Latin American startups to increase their mobile offerings for its customers.

While some funds in Latin America participate in investments of this scale, most Latin American startups target at least a part of their Series A rounds from outside the region. Latin American startups have been able to reach U.S. VCs in one of three ways: through top-tier accelerators, by selling to consumers in the U.S. market or by taking on a copycat model. U.S.-based VCs Accel Partners, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Base10, Liquid2 Ventures, Quona Capital, QED, IFC and Sierra Ventures have all made multiple contributions to Series A rounds in Latin America within the past year.

Raising a Series A round in Latin America today

Raising a Series A round anywhere means checking a lot of boxes. Beyond bringing a great product to market, the startup’s team, story and revenue model should all align to create an unbeatable business. In Latin America, raising a Series A also means knowing where to look for capital, and which models are receiving funding.

Although there is no instruction manual for raising a Series A anywhere, following in the footsteps of companies that have done so successfully can be a wise way to start. Latin America’s Series A success stories outline a list of investors that are interested in this stage, as well as how much they are investing in Latin American companies. Founders can use this information to structure their fundraising efforts and optimize their time to raise a Series A and continue to scale.

 


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