Chinese search giant Baidu on Monday posted a revenue of 26.33 billion yuan ($3.73 billion) for the quarter that ended in June, beating analysts’ estimates of 25.77 billion yuan ($3.65 billion) as its video streaming service iQIYI continues to see strong growth. The 19-year-old firm’s shares were up over 9% in extended trading.
The company, which is often called Google of China, said revenue of its core businesses grew 12% from the same period last year “despite the weak macro environment, our self-directed healthcare initiative, industry-specific policy changes and large influx of ad inventory.” Net income for the second quarter dropped to 2.41 billion yuan ($344 million).
“With Baidu traffic growing robustly and our mobile ecosystem continuing to expand, we are in a good position to focus on capitalizing monetization and ROI improvement opportunities to deliver shareholder value,” Herman Yu, CFO of Baidu, said in a statement.
Today’s results for Baidu, which has been struggling of late, should help calm investors’ worries. In recent years, as users move from desktop to mobile and rivals such as ByteDance win hundreds of millions of users through their mobile apps, many have cast doubt on Baidu’s ability to maintain its momentum and hold onto its advertising business. (On desktop, Baidu continues to command over three quarters of the Chinese market share.)
In the quarter that ended in March this year, Baidu posted its first quarterly loss since 2015, the year it went public.
Robin Li, Baidu co-founder and CEO, said Baidu app was being used by 188 million users everyday, up 27% from the same period last year. “In-app search queries grew over 20% year over year and smart mini program MAUs reached 270 million, up 49% sequentially,” said.
Baidu’s video streaming service iQIYI has now amassed over 100.5 million subscribers, up 50% year over year, the company said. Revenue from iQIYI stood at 7.11 billion yuan ($1.01 billion), up 15% since last year.
“On Baidu’s AI businesses, DuerOS voice assistant continues to experience strong momentum with installed base surpassing 400 million devices, up 4.5 fold year over year, and monthly voice queries surpassing 3.6 billion, up 7.5 fold year over year, in June. As mobile internet penetration in China slows, we are excited about the huge opportunity to provide content and service providers a cross-platform distribution channel beyond mobile, into smart homes and automobiles,” he added.
Revenue from online marketing services, which makes a significant contribution to overall sales, fell about 9% to 19.2 billion yuan ($2.72 billion).
The vast enterprise tech category is Silicon Valley’s richest, and today it’s poised to change faster than ever before. That’s probably the biggest reason to come to TechCrunch’s first-ever show focused entirely on enterprise. But here are five more reasons to commit to joining TechCrunch’s editors on September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for an outstanding day (agenda here) addressing the tech tsunami sweeping through enterprise.
#1 Artificial Intelligence.
At once the most consequential and most hyped technology, no one doubts that AI will change business software and increase productivity like few if any, technologies before it. To peek ahead into that future, TechCrunch will interview Andrew Ng, arguably the world’s most experienced AI practitioner at huge companies (Baidu, Google) as well as at startups. AI will be a theme across every session, but we’ll address again it head-on in a panel with investor Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta), founder Bindu Reddy (Reality Engines) and executive John Ball (Salesforce / Einstein).
#2. Data, The Cloud and Kubernetes.
If AI is at the dawn of tomorrow, cloud transformation is the high noon of today. 90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years, and no enterprise can keep its data hoard on-prem forever. Azure’s CTO Mark Russinovitch (CTO) will discuss Microsft’s vision for the cloud. Leaders in the open-source Kubernetes revolution, Joe Beda (VMWare) and Aparna Sinha (Google) and others will dig into what Kubernetes means to companies making the move to cloud. And last, there is the question of how to find signal in all the data – which will bring three visionary founders to the stage: Benoit Dageville (Snowflake), Ali Ghodsi (Databricks), Murli Thirumale (Portworx).
#3 Everything else on the main stage!
Let’s start with a fireside chat with SAP CEO Bill McDermott and Qualtrics Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green. We have top investors talking where they are making their bets, and security experts talking data and privacy. And then there is quantum, the technology revolution waiting on the other side of AI: Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort, Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs, and Krysta Svore, style="font-weight: 400;"> who leads the Microsoft’s quantum effort.
All told, there are 21 programming sessions.
#4 Network and get your questions answered.
There will be two Q&A breakout sessions with top enterprise investors for founders (and anyone else) to query investors directly. Plus, TechCrunch’s unbeatable CrunchMatch app makes it really easy to set up meetings with the other attendees, an incredible array of folks, plus the 20 early-stage startups exhibiting on the expo floor.
Enterprise giant SAP is our sponsor for the show, and they are not only bringing a squad of top executives, they are producing four parallel track sessions featuring key SAP Chief Innovation Officer Max Wessel, SAP Chief Designer and Futurist Martin Wezowski and SAP.IO’s managing director Ram Jambunathan (SAP.iO) in sessions including, how to scale-up an enterprise startup, how startups win large enterprise customers, and what the enterprise future looks like.
Check out the complete agenda. Don’t miss this show! This line-up is a view into the future like none other.
Grab your $349 tickets today, and don’t wait till the day of to book because prices go up at the door!
We still have 2 Startup Demo Tables left. Each table comes with 4 tickets and a prime location to demo your startup on the expo floor. Book your demo table now before they’re all gone!
China’s ByteDance, which owns popular video sharing app TikTok, is already working to enter the smartphone business and music streaming space. It appears the world’s most valued startup also has ambitions about developing its own search engine. Kind of.
“The function is in line with Toutiao’s mission of “information creates value”. Users can try the function in the app and provide feedback and suggestions on the new function,” the spokesperson said.
The search function gleans information not just from content on Toutiao, but the entire world wide web, TechCrunch understands.
From the looks of it, ByteDance’s current search functionality is more alike WeChat’s in-app search function than local giant Baidu’s or Google’s offering.
On WeChat, when a person looks up for a keyword, they see news articles about that topic, followed by mentions of it from their friends. This is followed by random articles about the subject. When a user clicks on any of these article or news links, WeChat serves them the page through its in-app browser, giving them no option to leave the walled-garden.
The idea is to change the way people think about — and use — a search engine altogether. And in China, where apps such as WeChat and TikTok have gained gigantic reach on mobile, perhaps it’s an idea worth exploring.
ByteDance’s interest in a search engine became public on Wednesday after it published a recruitment post on its WeChat account. The startup said its “search engine” is aimed at “hundreds of millions of mobile users in China.”
“We will build a universal search engine with a better user experience from 0 to 1. Only you don’t want to search, there is no [info] you can’t find, because we can search the whole network,” the company said in the post.
An analysis of LinkedIn listings by TechCrunch found more than 100 people from Google, Microsoft, and Baidu, many of whom worked around search divisions at the previous companies, have joined ByteDance.
Baidu currently holds more than 75% of the search engine market in China, according to StatCounter Global Stat, a third-party service that tracks web usage. Microsoft’s Bing is also operational in the country though its market share remains in the low single-digit. Google currently does not offer its search feature in China — though it has attempted to change that in recent months to no luck.
It’s Mobility Day at TechCrunch, and we’re hosting our Sessions event today in beautiful San Jose. That’s why we have a couple of related pieces on mobility at Extra Crunch.
First, our automotive editor Matt Burns is back with part two of his market map and analysis of the changing nature of how consumers are buying cars these days. Part one looked at how startups like Carvana, Shift, Vroom, and others are trying to disrupt the car dealership’s monopoly on auto sales in the United States.
Now, Burns takes a look at how startups like Fair and premium automakers like Mercedes are disrupting the very notion of owning a car in the first place. Rather than buying a car or leasing one, users with these new services are asked to subscribe to their cars, giving them the flexibility to get a car when they need it and to get rid of it when they don’t. Fair has raised $1.5 billion in venture capital, so clearly the space has caught the eye of investors.
“In simple terms,” co-founder and then CEO [of Fair] Scott Painter, told TechCrunch following its recent raise, “for every dollar in equity we unlock $10 in debt, and we borrow that cash to buy cars.”
Fair works much like a traditional lease with more options. Users can drive the vehicles as long as they’re paying for them and can switch to a different one whenever. This is different from a traditional lease where the buyer is often locked into the vehicle for two to four years. The model makes Fair an excellent option for Uber and Lyft drivers, and in the last year, Uber sold fair its $400 million leasing business to accelerate this offering.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, our China tech reporter Rita Liao takes a deeper look at the quickly changing tides of the ride-hailing industry in China. It’s a fight between intermediation, disintermediation, and who ultimately owns the ride-hailing consumer. As transit in China and the rest of the world increasingly becomes multi-modal, who owns the gateway to figuring out the best method and paying for it is increasingly in the driver’s seat:
Instead of switching between apps to secure a ride during rush hour, people in China can now hail from different companies using a single app. Some of the country’s largest internet companies — including ride-hailing giant Didi itself — are placing bets on this type of aggregation service.
The nascent model is reminiscent of a feature Google Maps added in early 2017 allowing users to hail Uber, Lyft, Gett and Hailo straight from its navigation app. A few months later, AutoNavi, a maps app owned by Alibaba, debuted a similar feature in China. Other big names like Baidu, Hellobike, Meituan and Didi subsequently joined forces with third-party ride-booking services rather than building their own.
The trend underscores changes in China’s massive ride-hailing industry of 330 million users (in Chinese). The government is tightening rules around vehicle and driver accreditation, leading to a widescale driver shortage. Meanwhile, established carmakers including BMW and state-owned Shouqi are entering the fray, offering premium rides with better-trained fleet drivers, but they face an uphill battle with Didi, which gobbled up Uber China in 2016.
By corraling various ride-booking services, an aggregator can shorten wait time for users. For new ride-hailing players, riding on a billion-user platform like Meituan opens up wider user acquisition channels.
These ride-hailing marketplaces let users request rides from any number of third-party services available. At the end of the trip, users pay directly through the aggregator, which normally takes a commission of about 10%, although none of the players have disclosed how revenue is exactly divided with their mobility partners.
In comparison, a ride-hailing operator such as Didi charges about 20% from each trip since they take care of driver management, customer support and other dirty work which, to a great extent, helps build the moat around their business.
Here’s a look at who the aggregators are.
China’s war on garbage is as digitally savvy as the country itself. Think QR codes attached to trash bags that allow a municipal government to trace exactly where its trash comes from.
On July 1, the world’s most populated city (Shanghai) began a compulsory garbage-sorting program. Under the new regulations (in Chinese), households and companies must classify their wastes into four categories and dump them in designated places at certain times. Noncompliance can lead to fines. Companies and properties that don’t comply risk having their credit rating lowered.
The strict regime became the talk of the city’s more than 24 million residents, who criticized the program’s inflexibility and confusing waste categorization. Gratefully, China’s tech startups are here to help.
For instance, China’s biggest internet companies responded with new search features that help people identify which wastes are “wet” (compostable), “dry,, “toxic,” or “recyclable.” Not even the most environmentally conscious person can get all the answers right. Like, which bin does the newspaper you just used to pick up dog poop belong to? Simply pull up a mini app on WeChat, Baidu or Alipay and enter the keyword. The tech firms will give you the answer and why.
A WeChat mini program that lets users learn the category of cash
Alipay, Alibaba’s electronics payment affiliate, claims its garbage-sorting mini app added one million users in just three days. The lite app, which is available without download inside the e-wallet with one billion users, has so far indexed more than 4,000 types of rubbish. Its database is still growing, and soon it will save people from typing by using image recognition to classify trash when they snap a photo of it. Alibaba’s answer to Alexa Tmall Genie can already answer (in Chinese) the question “what kind of trash is a wet wipe?” and more.
If people are too busy or lazy to hit the collection schedule, well, startups are offering valet trash service at the doorstep. A third-party developer helped Alipay build a recycling mini app (“垃圾分类回收平台”) and is now collecting garbage from 8,000 apartment complexes across 11 cities. To date, two million people have sold recyclable material through its platform.
Ele.me, Alibaba’s food delivery arm, added trash pickup to its list of valet services its fleets offer on top of “apologize to the girlfriend” and dog walking.
Alibaba’s food delivery & local service platform https://t.co/Yh95Bt0DPG just rolled out a “throw out the trash” service for $2. The delivery guy can also “apologize to the girlfriend” on your behalf among other things #DigitalEconomyinChina $BABA pic.twitter.com/C2ey1ePDvJ
— Krystal Hu (@readkrystalhu) June 24, 2019
Besides helping households, companies are also building software to make property managers’ lives easier. Some residential complexes in Shanghai began using QR codes to trace the origin of garbage, state-owned media outlet Xinhua reported. Each household is asked to attach a unique QR code to their trash bags, which will be scanned for sources and classification when they arrive at the waste management station.
Workers at a waste management station in Shanghai scan codes on trash bags to check their source (Screenshot from Xinhua feature)
This way, regulators in the region know exactly which family has produced the trash — although the city’s current garbage regulations do not require real-name tracking — and those who correctly categorized receive a small reward of 0.1 yuan, or 1.45 cents, per day, according to another report (in Chinese) from Xinhua.
Chinese regulators might follow the European Union’s lead to make life harder for internet companies such as TikTok that closely track behavior of their users in a move that could significantly hurt their revenue.
Last week, Beijing proposed a new set of measures to enforce data security for individuals and the nation overall. According to Article 23 of the draft (see translation from China Law Translate), companies that are “using user data and algorithms to deliver news information or commercial advertisements shall conspicuously label them with the words ‘targeted’ and provide users with functionality to stop receiving information from targeted delivery.”
This is good news for users in China, who could potentially take more control over what they are shown and what tech companies collect about them.
On the flip side of the coin, stepped up data protection will “definitely have an impact” on companies that rely heavily on data crunching business, Michael Tan, partner at law firm Taylor Wessing specializing in data policies, told TechCrunch.
Advances in artificial intelligence have helped adtech players get better at predicting people’s clicks, and, boost their income. Few have done it better in the Chinese mobile age than Bytedance, the startup that operates TikTok and the popular Chinese news app Jinri Toutiao. In between viral videos and news are customized ads that help the eight-year-old company, which was last valued at a whopping $75 billion, make money.
Bytedance’s success with programmatic ads prompted more entrenched tech giants to follow suit. Baidu, which is China’s answer to Google with a lucrative ad business, added a personalized news feed to its search app in 2016 as Toutiao hit the mainstream. Tencent and Alibaba also incorporated customized feeds into their main products.
“Data is too important for internet companies,” a product manager at a Shenzhen-based tech firm told TechCrunch. A lot of businesses, he said, including Bytedance, are well-prepared for regulatory scrutiny so they have plenty of backup plans and have explored alternative revenue streams.
“For instance, the apps might trick you into giving them access to your data,” the person added. “Even if you consent, you still don’t know how your data is being used.”
In mid-2017, China introduced a sweeping Cybersecurity Law as Beijing sought more control over how data flows within its online borders. A lot of the clauses are broad and vague, but the government has taken incremental steps to solidify them overtime, including efforts like the proposed measures for data protection.
“So far there is no unified data protection legal framework in place, though the topic is addressed by various laws and regulations including the PRC Cybersecurity Law,” explained Tan. “This is quite different from many other jurisdictions like that of the E.U. where there is unified protection framework in place with primary focus on personal data and privacy protection.”
While the set of data regulations touch on individual privacy, Tan noted that the laws’ real focus is on topics “relating to national security protection.”
For example, Article 29 of the proposed data policies stipulates that “where mainland users visit the mainland internet, their traffic must not be routed outside the mainland.” The authority does not elaborate on what counts as “routing,” though some speculate that it might be targeting people accessing overseas websites through a VPN, the tool that allows them to get around China’s censorship apparatus.
Tan suggested otherwise, arguing that the clause might be introduced “with good intention to prevent fraudulent cases including conscious or unconscious visits to overseas websites which promote illegal business under Chinese law, for example, gambling sites,” although doing so may “inadvertently hurt China-based multinational companies that have their I.T. facilities deployed globally.”
The draft measures for data protection, which were published by the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s top internet authority, are currently soliciting public comment until June 28.
The houses along the tree-lined blocks of Josina Avenue in Palo Alto, with their big back yards, swimming pools and driveways are about as far removed from the snarls of traffic, sputtering diesel engines, and smoggy air of South America’s major metropolises as one can get.
But it was in one of those houses, about a twelve-minute bicycle ride from Stanford University, that the seed was planted for what has become a renaissance in technology entrepreneurship in Latin America.
Back in 2010, when Adeyemi Ajao, Carlo Dapuzzo, and Juan de Antonio were students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business they could not predict that they would be counted among the vanguard of investors and entrepreneurs transforming Latin America’s startup economy.
At the time, Ajao was negotiating the sale of his first business, the Spanish social networking company, Tuenti, to Telefonica (in what would be a $100 million exit). Carlo Dapuzzo was in Palo Alto taking a break from his job at Monashees, which at that time was a small, early-stage investment fund based in Brazil focused on investing in Latin America. Juan de Antonio had left a job as a consultant at BCG to attend Stanford’s business school on a Fulbright scholarship.
In just two years, Ajao would be a founding investor in de Antonio’s ride-hailing business, Cabify, focused on Latin America and Europe; and Dapuzzo would be seeding the ride-hailing service 99Taxis. Today, Cabify is worth over $1 billion and has focused its business primarily on Latin America while 99 was sold to the Chinese ride-hailing company Didi for $1 billion — making it one of the largest deals in Latin America’s young startup history.
The three men are now at the center of a vast web of startups whose intersection can, in many cases, be traced back to the house on Josina Avenue where Dapuzzo and de Antonio lived and where Ajao spent much of his free time.
“It’s the same dynamics as the PayPal Mafia,” says Ajao. “The new unicorn batches which started in Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil. Although they’re all trans-national, they all know each other and literally they are all friends and all co-investors in each other’s companies and they all have links to Silicon Valley… and… more importantly… to Stanford.”
Carlo Dapuzzo, Adeyemi Ajao, and Juan de Antonio at Stanford University
If Ajao’s enthusiasm sounds familiar, that’s because it is. There was another wave of interest in Latin America that started surging nearly a decade ago, but crashed nearly five years into what was supposed to be the time of the region’s explosive growth in the global scene.
Back in 2008, as the U.S. was sliding into recession, global economists cast about for countries whose economic might could potentially provide some antidote to the toxic assets that were poisoning the global financial system in America and Western Europe. It was then that the concept coined by a Goldman Sachs economist back in 2001 (in the aftermath of another financial shock) baked Brazil, Russia, India and China into a BRIC — a group of nations that, as a bloc, could create enough growth to keep the global economy moving upwards.
All of them were growing at a rapid clip, albeit at different speeds and from different starting trajectories. But they were still all humming. Investment — from large financial institutions, private equity and venture capital firms — all began flowing into the four countries.
In Brazil and across Latin America, companies from the U.S. began to cast their eyes South for growth. That’s when Groupon began to make inroads into the region. When Groupon acquired the Chilean company ClanDescuento, it served as a starting gun for activity across multiple geographies.
Two years after that acquisition by Groupon, Redpoint’s Brazilian investment vehicle, Redpoint eVentures was able to close on a $130 million fund for Brazilian and Latin American investments in just under four months. While Brazil held the bulk of the capital, many of the largest startup companies were being launched out of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Globant, Despegar, MercadoLibre, and OLX were all lucrative deals for the investors who made them. Today, they remain solid companies, but they didn’t create the ecosystem that both local investors and entrepreneurs were hoping for. Brazil’s Peixe Urbano was also a rising star at the time, but it too wound up selling, in its case to Chinese internet Baidu. Indeed, the Peixe Urbano funding gave investors like Benchmark’s Matt Cohler their first exposure to the region.
A 2012 default on Argentinian debt derailed the economy and Brazil’s economy began seizing up at around the same time. Then, in 2014, Brazil was hit by both an economic and political collapse that shook the country’s stability and ushered in a two-year-long recession.
Ultimately, the Brazilian component of the BRIC miracle, that would have potentially ushered in a brighter future for the broader region, didn’t materialize.
Ajao began investing in Latin America as an angel investor during the beginnings of the downturn in Brazil and when Argentina was also seizing up. It’s also when Dapuzzo made the initial bet on 99Taxis — bringing Ajao in as an investor — and Cabify launched, eventually bringing its service to Mexico and seeing huge growth in the Latin American market.
500 Startups expanded to Mexico around the same period, in what turned out to be a prescient move. Because even as the broader economies were slowing, technology adoption — fueled by rising smartphone sales and new internet-enabled mobile services — was speeding up.
Groupon’s push into the region taught a new consumer market about the pleasures of venture-backed e-commerce, but it was ride-hailing that truly paved the way for Latin America’s future success. Many factors played a role, from the rise of smartphones to the stabilization and growth of economies in the region outside of Argentina and Brazil and the return of a generation of founders who gained exposure and experience in Silicon Valley.
Here again, the house on Josina Street and the friends that were made over the course of the two-year grad school program at Stanford would play a critical role.
“99 was the second start and this new generation of founders,” said one investor with a deep knowledge of the region.
A taxi driver uses the 99 taxi app for smartphones in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 11, 2018. (Photo via Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)
Ajao also sees 99 as ground zero for the network that has spawned a unicorn stampede in Latin America. It’s a group of companies that covers everything from financial services, mobility and logistics, food delivery and even pet care.
In some ways it’s an extension and culmination of the American on-demand thesis, with allowances for the unique characteristics of the region’s varied economies and cultural experience, investors and entrepreneurs said.
“In my mind 99 had a lot to do with what is happening right now with the current PayPal mafia [of Latin America] because they became the first big new exit on the continent,” Ajao says.
Entrepreneurs from 99 spun out to form Yellow, a dockless scooter and bike-sharing company that was initially backed by Monashees, Grishin Robotics and Base10 Partners — the venture firm that Ajao co-founded and which closed a $137 million venture fund just nine months ago.
Monashees and Base10 also co-invested in Grin, a Mexico City-based dockless scooter company. Together the two companies managed to raise over $100 million before merging into one company earlier this. That deal ultimately provided a challenger to the automotive-based ride-sharing businesses that were beginning to encroach on the scooter business.
The growth of 99Taxis and the rise of startups in Latin America ultimately convinced David Velez, a former venture investor with Sequoia Capital to return to Brazil and try his hand at entrepreneurship as well. A year behind Ajao, de Antonio and Dapuzzo at Stanford, Velez was also friendly with the group.
Velez worked at Sequoia Capital and saw the opportunity that Latin America presented as an investment environment. After starting Sequoia Capital Latin America he transitioned into an entrepreneurial role and became the co-founder of Nubank, which would be Sequoia’s first Latin America investment. Now a $4 billion financial technology powerhouse, the Nubank deal was yet another proof point that the Latin American market had come of age — and another branch on a tree that has its roots in Stanford’s business school and the Silicon Valley venture community.
The final piece of this intersecting web of investments and relationships is Rappi — the Colombian delivery service business that was also backed by Monazhees and Base10. The first company from Latin America to enter YCombinator and the first investment from the new Silicon Valley power player, Andreessen Horowitz, Rappi epitomizes the new generation of Latin American startups.
“The way we think about this part of the world is as a massive market with 700 million people living on the continent and really dense cities,” says Rappi co-founder and president, Sebastian Mejia. “And it’s a region where the tech stack hasn’t been built, which gives you an opportunity to solve problems and create digital champions that look more similar to China than the U.S.”
Mejia epitomizes what Ajao calls a new breed of startup entrepreneur that doesn’t necessarily look to other markets for inspiration or business models, but solves local problems for a local customer, rather than a global one.
“Being local was more of a competitive advantage than a disadvantage and we can solve problems in a better way than a Silicon Valley company or a Chinese company could,” says Mejia. “What we’re starting to see now is that those changes in perspective allow us to build bigger companies.”
In all, Monashees and Base10 have invested in companies operating in Latin America that have a combined valuation of over $6 billion between them. Through the extended network of Stanford connections and the startups that Velez has brought to the table that number is higher than $10 billion.
A bicycle courier working for Colombian online delivery company “Rappi”, rides his bike in Bogota, on October 11, 2018. (Photo via John Vizcaino/AFP/Getty Images)
If the Latin American market was once overlooked by venture investors like Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark or Accel, that’s certainly no longer the case.
Funds are pouring into the region at an unprecedented clip, driven by SoftBank and its interest on the continent following its commitment to launching a new $2 billion fund in the region and its subsequent $1 billion investment in Rappi.
“Latin America is on the cusp of becoming one of the most important economic regions in the world, and we anticipate significant growth in the decades ahead,” said Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SBG, in a statement when SoftBank launched its fund.
“SBG plans to invest in entrepreneurs throughout Latin America and use technology to help address the challenges faced by many emerging economies with the goal of improving the lives of millions of Latin Americans,” he added.
Son is likely thinking about the 375 million internet users in Latin America and the 250 million smartphone users across the region. It’s also worth noting that retail e-commerce has been a huge driver of economic growth despite other economic obstacles. The region’s e-commerce has grown to $54 billion in 2018 up from $29.8 billion in 2015.
Even more critically, there are some key areas where innovation and new services are still sorely needed. Access to transportation isn’t great for the roughly 79% of the 700 million people across South America who live in cities. Then there are 400 million people across Latin America who are either unbanked or underbanked. Healthcare is another area where a lack of investment to date could create potential opportunities for new startups.
More generally, poor infrastructure remains a significant problem that companies like Rappi and another SoftBank investment, Loggi, are looking to make inroads into.
“Latin America was for many years, underinvested,” says de Antonio, whose Cabify business has managed to score a valuation of over $1 billion largely based on the opportunities ahead of it in the Latin American market. “You will see a bit more money to catch up. The market is big… and potentially huge… I’m a big believer that it’s a good moment now to invest.”
For de Antonio, Cabify, Rappi, and other startups are only now hitting their stride. In the future, they stand to enable a host of other opportunities, he believes.
“The entrepreneurial mindset is really ingrained in Latin America… the difference is maybe there wasn’t an ecosystem to help these ideas to scale.. .there are huge fortunes in the region but they typically… they have a lot of their assets invested in the region… but they need to diversify,” said de Antonio. “Until recently there hasn’t been an active funding market for all of these startups.”
For de Antonio and Ajao, one of the critical lessons that they learned from their time at Stanford and being exposed to the broader Silicon Valley ecosystem was the notion of collaboration.
“This is something we learned from San Francisco,” de Antonio said. “The way companies help each other is something that we haven’t seen people do before. And usually when you are a young company this can be the difference between being successful or a failure.