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UK names John Edwards as its choice for next data protection chief as gov’t eyes watering down privacy standards

By Natasha Lomas

The UK government has named the person it wants to take over as its chief data protection watchdog, with sitting commissioner Elizabeth Denham overdue to vacate the post: The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) today said its preferred replacement is New Zealand’s privacy commissioner, John Edwards.

Edwards, who has a legal background, has spent more than seven years heading up the Office of the Privacy Commissioner In New Zealand — in addition to other roles with public bodies in his home country.

He is perhaps best known to the wider world for his verbose Twitter presence and for taking a public dislike to Facebook: In the wake of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal Edwards publicly announced that he was deleting his account with the social media — accusing Facebook of not complying with the country’s privacy laws.

An anti-‘Big Tech’ stance aligns with the UK government’s agenda to tame the tech giants as it works to bring in safety-focused legislation for digital platforms and reforms of competition rules that take account of platform power.

Official announcement

Government announces preferred candidate for Information Commissioner – https://t.co/2fri3ROyhm https://t.co/i8b4OBcwzC

— John Edwards (@JCE_PC) August 26, 2021

If confirmed in the role — the DCMS committee has to approve Edwards’ appointment; plus there’s a ceremonial nod needed from the Queen — he will be joining the regulatory body at a crucial moment as digital minister Oliver Dowden has signalled the beginnings of a planned divergence from the European Union’s data protection regime, post-Brexit, by Boris Johnson’s government.

Dial back the clock five years and prior digital minister, Matt Hancock, was defending the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as a “decent piece of legislation” — and suggesting to parliament that there would be little room for the UK to diverge in data protection post-Brexit.

But Hancock is now out of government (aptly enough after a data leak showed him breaching social distancing rules by kissing his aide inside a government building), and the government mood music around data has changed key to something far more brash — with sitting digital minister Dowden framing unfettered (i.e. deregulated) data-mining as “a great opportunity” for the post-Brexit UK.

For months, now, ministers have been eyeing how to rework the UK’s current (legascy) EU-based data protection framework — to, essentially, reduce user rights in favor of soundbites heavy on claims of slashing ‘red tape’ and turbocharging data-driven ‘innovation’. Of course the government isn’t saying the quiet part out loud; its press releases talk about using “the power of data to drive growth and create jobs while keeping high data protection standards”. But those standards are being reframed as a fig leaf to enable a new era of data capture and sharing by default.

Dowden has said that the emergency data-sharing which was waived through during the pandemic — when the government used the pressing public health emergency to justify handing NHS data to a raft of tech giantsshould be the ‘new normal’ for a post-Brexit UK. So, tl;dr, get used to living in a regulatory crisis.

A special taskforce, which was commissioned by the prime minister to investigate how the UK could reshape its data policies outside the EU, also issued a report this summer — in which it recommended scrapping some elements of the UK’s GDPR altogether — branding the regime “prescriptive and inflexible”; and advocating for changes to “free up data for innovation and in the public interest”, as it put it, including pushing for revisions related to AI and “growth sectors”.

The government is now preparing to reveal how it intends to act on its appetite to ‘reform’ (read: reduce) domestic privacy standards — with proposals for overhauling the data protection regime incoming next month.

Speaking to the Telegraph for a paywalled article published yesterday, Dowden trailed one change that he said he wants to make which appears to target consent requirements — with the minister suggesting the government will remove the legal requirement to gain consent to, for example, track and profile website visitors — all the while framing it as a pro-consumer move; a way to do away with “endless” cookie banners.

Only cookies that pose a ‘high risk’ to privacy would still require consent notices, per the report — whatever that means.

Oliver Dowden, the UK Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, says that the UK will break away from GDPR, and will no longer require cookie warnings, other than those posing a 'high risk'.https://t.co/2ucnppHrIm pic.twitter.com/RRUdpJumYa

— dan barker (@danbarker) August 25, 2021

“There’s an awful lot of needless bureaucracy and box ticking and actually we should be looking at how we can focus on protecting people’s privacy but in as light a touch way as possible,” the digital minister also told the Telegraph.

The draft of this Great British ‘light touch’ data protection framework will emerge next month, so all the detail is still to be set out. But the overarching point is that the government intends to redefine UK citizens’ privacy rights, using meaningless soundbites — with Dowden touting a plan for “common sense” privacy rules — to cover up the fact that it intends to reduce the UK’s currently world class privacy standards and replace them with worse protections for data.

If you live in the UK, how much privacy and data protection you get will depend upon how much ‘innovation’ ministers want to ‘turbocharge’ today — so, yes, be afraid.

It will then fall to Edwards — once/if approved in post as head of the ICO — to nod any deregulation through in his capacity as the post-Brexit information commissioner.

We can speculate that the government hopes to slip through the devilish detail of how it will torch citizens’ privacy rights behind flashy, distraction rhetoric about ‘taking action against Big Tech’. But time will tell.

Data protection experts are already warning of a regulatory stooge.

While the Telegraph suggests Edwards is seen by government as an ideal candidate to ensure the ICO takes a “more open and transparent and collaborative approach” in its future dealings with business.

In a particularly eyebrow raising detail, the newspaper goes on to report that government is exploring the idea of requiring the ICO to carry out “economic impact assessments” — to, in the words of Dowden, ensure that “it understands what the cost is on business” before introducing new guidance or codes of practice.

All too soon, UK citizens may find that — in the ‘sunny post-Brexit uplands’ — they are afforded exactly as much privacy as the market deems acceptable to give them. And that Brexit actually means watching your fundamental rights being traded away.

In a statement responding to Edwards’ nomination, Denham, the outgoing information commissioner, appeared to offer some lightly coded words of warning for government, writing [emphasis ours]: “Data driven innovation stands to bring enormous benefits to the UK economy and to our society, but the digital opportunity before us today will only be realised where people continue to trust their data will be used fairly and transparently, both here in the UK and when shared overseas.”

The lurking iceberg for government is of course that if wades in and rips up a carefully balanced, gold standard privacy regime on a soundbite-centric whim — replacing a pan-European standard with ‘anything goes’ rules of its/the market’s choosing — it’s setting the UK up for a post-Brexit future of domestic data misuse scandals.

You only have to look at the dire parade of data breaches over in the US to glimpse what’s coming down the pipe if data protection standards are allowed to slip. The government publicly bashing the privacy sector for adhering to lax standards it deregulated could soon be the new ‘get popcorn’ moment for UK policy watchers…

UK citizens will surely soon learn of unfair and unethical uses of their data under the ‘light touch’ data protection regime — i.e. when they read about it in the newspaper.

Such an approach will indeed be setting the country on a path where mistrust of digital services becomes the new normal. And that of course will be horrible for digital business over the longer run. But Dowden appears to lack even a surface understanding of Internet basics.

The UK is also of course setting itself on a direct collision course with the EU if it goes ahead and lowers data protection standards.

This is because its current data adequacy deal with the bloc — which allows for EU citizens’ data to continue flowing freely to the UK is precariously placed — was granted only on the basis that the UK was, at the time it was inked, still aligned with the GDPR.

So Dowden’s rush to rip up protections for people’s data presents a clear risk to the “significant safeguards” needed to maintain EU adequacy.

Back in June, when the Commission signed off on the UK’s adequacy deal, it clearly warned that “if anything changes on the UK side, we will intervene”. Moreover, the adequacy deal is also the first with a baked in sunset clause — meaning it will automatically expire in four years.

So even if the Commission avoids taking proactive action over slipping privacy standards in the UK there is a hard deadline — in 2025 — when the EU’s executive will be bound to look again in detail at exactly what Dowden & Co. have wrought. And it probably won’t be pretty.

The longer term UK ‘plan’ (if we can put it that way) appears to be to replace domestic economic reliance on EU data flows — by seeking out other jurisdictions that may be friendly to a privacy-light regime governing what can be done with people’s information.

Hence — also today — DCMS trumpeted an intention to secure what it billed as “new multi-billion pound global data partnerships” — saying it will prioritize striking ‘data adequacy’ “partnerships” with the US, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and the Dubai International Finance Centre and Colombia.

Future partnerships with India, Brazil, Kenya and Indonesia will also be prioritized, it added — with the government department cheerfully glossing over the fact it’s UK citizens’ own privacy that is being deprioritized here.

“Estimates suggest there is as much as £11 billion worth of trade that goes unrealised around the world due to barriers associated with data transfers,” DCMS writes in an ebullient press release.

As it stands, the EU is of course the UK’s largest trading partner. And statistics from the House of Commons library on the UK’s trade with the EU — which you won’t find cited in the DCMS release — underline quite how tiny this potential Brexit ‘data bonanza’ is, given that UK exports to the EU stood at £294 billion in 2019 (43% of all UK exports).

So even the government’s ‘economic’ case to water down citizens’ privacy rights looks to be puffed up with the same kind of misleadingly vacuous nonsense as ministers’ reframing of a post-Brexit UK as ‘Global Britain’.

Everyone hates cookies banners, sure, but that’s a case for strengthening not weakening people’s privacy — for making non-tracking the default setting online and outlawing manipulative dark patterns so that Internet users don’t constantly have to affirm they want their information protected. Instead the UK may be poised to get rid of annoying cookie consent ‘friction’ by allowing a free for all on people’s data.

 

Colombia’s Merqueo bags $50M to expand its online grocery delivery service across Latin America

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Merqueo, which operates a full-stack, on-demand delivery service in Latin America, has landed $50 million in a Series C round of funding.

IDC Ventures, Digital Bridge and IDB Invest co-led the round, which also included participation from MGM Innova Group, Celtic House Venture Partners, Palm Drive Capital and previous shareholders. The financing brings the Bogota, Colombia-based startup’s total raised to $85 million since its 2017 inception.

Merqueo CEO and co-founder Miguel McAllister knows a thing or two about the delivery space in Latin America, having also co-founded Domicilios.com, a Latin American food delivery company that was bought by Berlin-based Delivery Hero and later merged with Brazil’s iFood.

McAllister describes Merqueo as a “pure-play online supermarket with a fully integrated grocery delivery service” that sources directly from large brands and local suppliers, bypassing intermediaries and “delivering directly from its dark store network.” (Dark stores are traditional retail stores that have been converted to local fulfillment centers.”

Merqueo offers more than 8,000 products, including fresh foods, packaged goods, home essentials, beverages and frozen products. It currently operates in more than 25 cities in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil and has over 600,000 users.

Image Credits: Merqueo

It must be doing something right. The startup is close to $100 million in “run-rate revenue,” according to McAllister, having grown more than 2.5x in 2020. Merqueo also reached positive cash flow in Colombia, its most mature market. Over the last year, large Latin American retail chains and retailers have approached the company about potentially acquiring it, McAllister said.

Part of the company’s success might be attributed to the speed and flexibility it offers. Users can choose how and when to receive their groceries according to their needs, with the startup offering delivery in as little as 10 minutes or three to four hours. Users can also schedule delivery of their groceries in two-hour intervals for the same day or the next day.

Also, owning and controlling the “entire” vertical supply chain gives it the ability to obtain better margins, offer competitive pricing and achieve healthy unit economics, according to McAllister.

Merqueo plans to use its new capital in part to expand geographically. The company is currently in phase one of its expansion to Brazil, entering initially in Sao Paulo later this month. Next year, it expects to launch in other Brazilian cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza and Salvador de Bahia.

The market opportunity in Latin America is massive considering that online grocery sales only represent just 1% of the market –– far lower than in the U.S., EU or China, for example. Other players in the increasingly crowded space include GoPuff in the U.S., Getir out of Turkey and Mexico-based Jüsto, which raised $65 million in a Series A led by General Atlantic earlier this year.

“The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online grocery shopping in LatAm,” McAllister told TechCrunch. “The region went from 0.3% share of online groceries to 1%. And after the pandemic, we are seeing a 50% increase in the pace of user adoption.” Overall, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly, with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.

Currently, Merqueo has over 1,300 employees in LatAm, up 60% from last year. It plans to continue hiring with the proceeds from the Series C round as well work “to become the largest and most ambitious dark stores network of Latin America.”

Alejandro Rodríguez, managing partner at IDC Ventures, is naturally bullish on Merqueo’s potential.

“From all the opportunities we looked into, Merqueo is undoubtedly the most advanced in the region. … The Merqueo team has proved they know how to scale the business and how to get to profitability,” Rodríguez told TechCrunch.

Online grocery delivery is a business with many technical and operational complexities, he said. In his view, Merqueo’s technology and operational expertise allow it to tackle those issues in a way that has led to “the best customer experience that we have seen in a scalable way.”

“They have the best combination of both great service metrics and healthy unit economics,” Rodríguez added.

Acrew Capital, Jeff Bezos back Colombia-based proptech La Haus’ $100M debt, equity round

By Mary Ann Azevedo

La Haus, which has developed an online real estate marketplace operating in Mexico and Colombia, has secured $100 million in additional funding, including $50 million in equity and $50 million in debt financing.

The new capital was obtained as an extension to the company’s Series B, the first tranche of which closed in January. With the latest infusion, Medellin, Colombia-based La Haus has now secured $135 million total for the round and over $158 million in funding since its 2017 inception.

San Francisco Bay Area venture firms Acrew Capital and Renegade Partners co-led the round, which also included participation from Jeff Bezos’ Bezos Expeditions, Endeavor Catalyst, Moore Strategic Ventures, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Rappi’s Simon Borrero, Maluma, and Gabriel Gilinski. Existing backers who put money in this round include Greenspring Associates, Kaszek, NFX, Spencer Rascoff’s 75 & Sunny Ventures, Hadi Partovi and NuBank’s David Velez. 

Jerónimo Uribe (CEO), Rodrigo Sánchez-Ríos (president), Tomás Uribe (chief growth officer) and Santiago Garcia (CTO) founded the company after Jerónimo and Tomas met Sánchez-Ríos at Stanford University. Prior to La Haus they started and ran Jaguar Capital, a Colombian real estate development company with over $350 million of completed retail and residential projects. 

The company declined to reveal at what valuation the extension was raised, with Sánchez-Ríos saying only that it was “a significant increase” from January.

The Series B extension follows impressive growth for the startup, which saw the number of transactions conducted on its Mexico portal climb by nearly 10x in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the 2020 second quarter. With over 500 homes selling on its platform (via lahaus.com and lahaus.mx) the company is “the market leader in selling new housing in Spanish-speaking Latam by an order of magnitude,” its execs claim.  La Haus expects to have facilitated more than $1 billion in annualized gross sales by the end of the year. 

The startup was founded with the mission of making it easier for people to buy homes and helping “solve LatAm’s extreme housing inequality.” Its end goal is to accelerate access to new housing by both generating and curating supply and demand and then matching it with its technology, noted Sánchez-Ríos. 

“In the last six months, our chief product officer has built a product that allows this to happen 100% digitally,” he said. “Before it would take a lot of time, people involved and visits. We want to provide people looking for a home a similar experience as to people looking for their next flight at delta.com.”

It has done that by embedding its software to developers’ new projects so that it can bring that digital experience to its users. 

“They are able to view the projects on our sites, we match them and then they can see in real time which units of a particular tower are available, and then select, sign and pay for everything digitally,” Sánchez-Río said.

Image credit: La Haus

The need for new housing in the region and other emerging markets in general is acute, they believe. And the pace of building new homes is slow because small and mid-sized developers – who are responsible for building the majority of new homes in Latin America – are cash constrained. At the same time, mortgages are mostly not affordable for consumers, with banks extending only a fraction of the credit to individuals compared to the U.S., and often at far worse terms. 

What La Haus is planning to do with its new capital – particularly the debt portion – is go beyond selling homes via its marketplace to helping extend financing to both developers and potential buyers.It plans to take the proprietary data it has been able to glean from the thousands of real estate transactions conducted on it platform to extend capital to developers and consumers “more quickly, with much lower risk and at better terms.”

Already, what the startup has accomplished is notable. Being able to purchase a home 100% digitally is not that easy even in the U.S. Pulling that off in Latin America – which has historically trailed behind in digital adoption – is no easy feat. By year’s end, La Haus intends to be in every major metropolitan area in Mexico and Colombia. 

Its ultimate goal is to be able to help new, sustainable homes “to be built faster, alleviating the inequality caused by lack of access to inventory.”

To Acrew Capital’s Lauren Kolodny, La Haus is building a solution specific to the issues of Latin America’s housing market, rather than importing business models – such as iBuying – from the U.S.

“For many people in the United States home equity is their largest asset. In Latin America, however, consumers have been challenged with an impenetrable real estate market stacked against consumers,” she wrote via email. “La Haus is removing barriers to home ownership that stifles millions of people from achieving financial security. Specifically, Latin America has no centralized MLS, very costly interest rates, no transactional transparency, and few online informational tools.”

La Haus, Kolodny added, is breaking down these barriers by consolidating listings online, offering pricing transparency and educating consumers about their financing options.

Acrew first invested in the startup in its $10 million Series A and has been impressed with its growth over time.

“They have a unique focus on new housing — a massive industry worldwide, but especially in emerging markets where new housing is so necessary,” Kolodny said. “The management team…knows real estate in Latin America better than anyone we’ve met.”

For its part, the La Haus team is excited to put its new capital to work. As Sánchez-Río put it, “$50 million goes a lot further in Mexico and Colombia than in the U.S.”

“We are going to be very aggressive in Mexico and Colombia, and plan to go from four to at least 12 markets by the end of the year,” Jeronimo told TechCrunch. “We’re also excited to roll out our financing solution to developers and buyers.”

Last-mile delivery in Latin America is ready to take off

By Ram Iyer
Bob Ma Contributor
Bob Ma is an investor at WIND Ventures, where he invests in energy, retail and mobility startups. Prior to joining WIND, he was an investor at Soma Capital, where he invested venture capital globally across the consumer and enterprise sectors.

In the United States, same-day and next-day Amazon Prime deliveries have become the de facto standard in e-commerce. People want convenience and instant gratification, evidenced by the fact that an astonishing ~45% of U.S. consumers are Amazon Prime members.

Most major retailers are scrambling to catch up to Amazon by partnering with last-mile delivery startups. Walmart has become a major investor in Cruise for autonomous-vehicle deliveries, and Target acquired Shipt and Deliv last-mile delivery startups to increase its delivery speed. Costco partnered with Instacart for same-day deliveries, and even Domino’s Pizza has jumped in by partnering with Nuro for last-mile delivery using autonomous vehicles.

E-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

The holdout: Latin America

Venture capitalists have been investing heavily in last-mile delivery over the past five years on a global scale, but Latin America (LatAm) has lagged behind. Over $11 billion has been invested globally in last-mile logistics over the past decade, but Latin America only saw about $1 billion over the same period (Source: PitchBook and WIND Ventures research).

Within this, only about $300 million was in Spanish-speaking Latin America — a surprisingly small amount for a region that has 110 million more consumers than in the U.S.

Brazil-based Loggi accounts for about 60% of last-mile VC investment in Latin America, but it only operates in Brazil. That leaves major Spanish countries like Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina without a leading independent last-mile logistics company.

In these countries, about 60% of the last-mile delivery market is dominated by small, informal companies or independent drivers using their own trucks. This results in inefficiencies due to a lack of technologies such as route optimization as well as a lack of operating scale. These issues are quickly becoming more pronounced as e-commerce in LatAm has taken off at a compound annual industry growth rate of 16% over the past five years.

Retailers are missing an opportunity to give customers what they want. Customers today expect free, reliable same- or next-day delivery — on-time, all the time, and without damage or theft. All of these are challenging in LatAm. Theft, in particular, is a significant problem, because unprofessional drivers often steal products out for delivery and then sell them for a profit. Cost is a problem, too, because free same- and next-day deliveries are simply not available in many places.

Operational and technological roadblocks abound

Why does Latin America lag when it comes to the last mile? First, traditional LatAm e-commerce delivery involves multiple time-consuming steps: Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, distributed to a warehouse, delivered to a second cross-dock, and then finally delivered to the customer.

By comparison, modern delivery operations are much simpler. Products are picked up from the retailer, delivered to a cross-dock, and then delivered directly to the customer. There’s no need for warehousing and an extra pre-warehouse cross-dock.

And those are just the operational challenges. Lack of technology also plays a significant role. Most delivery coordination and routing in LatAm are still done via a spreadsheet or pen and paper.

Dispatchers have to manually pick up a phone to call drivers and dispatch them. In the U.S., computerized optimization algorithms dramatically cut both delivery cost and time by automatically finding the most efficient route (e.g., packing the most deliveries possible on a truck along the route) and automatically dispatching the driver that can most efficiently complete the route based on current location, capacity and experience with the route. These algorithms are almost unheard of in the Latin America retail logistics sector.

Major retail brands are the last-mile catalyst

Valoreo raises $30M more to acquire e-commerce brands across LatAm

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Just over five months after securing $50 million in debt & equity, Valoreo has closed on a $30 million Series A funding round.

Mexico City-based Valoreo aims to invest in, operate and scale e-commerce brands as part of its self-described mission “to bring better products at more affordable prices” to the Latin American consumer.

Valoreo (which the company says is an extension of the Spanish word “valor,” meaning to add value), acquires merchants that operate their own brands and primarily sell on online marketplaces such as Amazon and Mercado Libre. The company targets brands that offer “category-leading products” and which it believes have “significant growth potential.” It also develops brands in-house to offer a broader selection of products to the end customer.

The startup was founded in late 2020 and has since swelled to more than 100 employees throughout Latin America. It has also since completed “multiple” acquisitions of local brands operating across a variety of industries, such as beauty, fitness and home goods.

California-based Presight Capital and Kingsway Capital out of the United Kingdom co-led the round, which also included participation from existing backers such as Kaszek, Upper90 and FJ Labs. The company declined to break down how much equity it raised in its seed round, but including debt, Valoreo has secured $80 million since inception.

It plans to use the new capital mostly to continue acquiring e-commerce brands across Mexico, Brazil and Colombia as well as to do more hiring.

The company says its model differs from that of its U.S.-based competitors (such as Thrasio and Perch) in that it is tailored to “the specific needs of the Latin American market and is specifically focused on the Latin American end customer.”

Valoreo aims to help entrepreneurs who may lack the resources and access to capital to take their businesses to the next level.

At the time of its seed raise, co-founder and co-CEO Stefan Florea told TechCrunch that the company takes less than five weeks typically from its initial contact with a seller to a final payout. 

Then, the acquired and developed brands are integrated into the company’s consolidated holding. By tapping its team of “specialists” in areas such as digital marketing and supply chain management, it claims to be able to help these brands “reach new heights” while giving the entrepreneurs behind the companies “an attractive exit,” or partial exit in some cases.

Generally Valoreo acquires the majority of the business, with the purchase price typically being a combination of an upfront cash payment and a profit share component so sellers can still earn money.

Hernan Kazah, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek, said the firm doubled down on its investment in the startup after seeing its “impressive growth over the past few months.”

Valoreo is not the only Latin American startup focused on this space. In April, Merama announced it had raised $60 million in seed and Series A funding and secured $100 million in debt.

The money was raised “at well over a $200 million valuation,” co-founder and CEO Sujay Tyle said at the time.

Powered by local stores, JOKR joins the 15-min grocery race with a $170M Series A

By Mike Butcher

“We are true believers in the fact that the world needs a new Amazon, a better one, a more sustainable one, one that appreciates local areas and products.” It’s quite one thing to claim you are out to replace Amazon (just as its founder goes into space), but Ralf Wenzel, Founder and CEO of JOKR, certainly believes his company might have a shot. And he’s raising plenty of money to aim at that goal.

Today the fast-growing grocery and retail delivery platform has closed a whopping $170 million Series A funding round. The round comes three months after the company started operations in the U.S., Latin America, and Europe. JOKR’s team consists of people who created both foodpanda and Delivery Hero, so from the outside at least, they have the chops to build a big business.

The round was led by Led by GGV Capital, Balderton Capital, and Tiger Global Management. It was joined by Activant Capital, Greycroft, Fabrice Grinda’s FJ Labs, as well as Latin America’s tech-specialized VC firms Kaszek and Monashees, as did HV Capital, the first institutional investor.

Based out of New York, where it launched last month JOKR plans to roll out across cities in the U.S., Latin America and Europe. Right now it’s live in nine cities, across Latin American countries, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, as well as Poland and Austria in Europe.

Wenzel said: “The investment we announced today will empower us to continue our expansion at an unprecedented rate as we continue to build JOKR into the premier platform for a new generation of online shopping, with instant delivery, a focus on local product offerings and more sustainable delivery and supply chains. We are proud to be able to partner with such a distinguished group of international tech investors to help us seize the enormous opportunity in front of us.”

JOKR’s pitch is that it enables small local businesses to sell their goods, sourced from other local businesses, via the platform, thus expanding their reach without the need for complex logistics and delivery networks on their own. But that local aspect also builds sustainability into the model.

Hans Tung, Managing Partner at GGV Capital, and newly appointed member of JOKR’s board said: “Ralf has put together an all-star team for food delivery that will transform the retail supply chain. The combination of food delivery experience and the sophisticated data capabilities that optimizes inventory allocation and dispatch, set JOKR apart. We look forward to working with the team on their mission to make retail more instant, more democratic, and more sustainable.”

JOKR is joining other fast-delivery grocery providers like Gorillas and Getir in providing a 15 minute delivery time for supermarket and convenience products, pharmaceuticals, but also ‘exclusive’ local products that are not available in regular supermarkets. Although, so far, it only has an app on Google Play.

Speaking at an interview with me Wenzel said: “We are close to the equivalent of Instacart, strongly grocery focused. Our offering is significantly broader than the ones of Gorillas because we’re not only focusing on convenience and all kinds of different grocery categories, we’re getting closer to a supermarket offering, so the biggest competing element would be the traditional supermarkets, the offline supermarkets, as well as online grocery propositions. We are vertically integrating and hence procuring directly, cutting out middlemen and building our own distribution warehouses.”

Colombian on-demand delivery startup Rappi raises ‘over’ $500M at a $5.25B valuation

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Rappi, a Colombian on-demand delivery startup, has raised “over” $500 million at a $5.25 billion valuation in a Series G round led by T. Rowe Price, the company announced late Friday.

Baillie Gifford, Third Point, Octahedron, GIC SoftBank, DST Global, Y Combinator, Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital and others also participated in the round.

The new financing brings Rappi’s total raised since its 2015 inception to over $2 billion, according to Crunchbase. Today, the country has operations in 9 countries and more than 250 cities across Latin America. Its last raise was a $300 million a Series F funding round in September of 2020.

According to the Latin American Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (LAVCA), Rappi focused on delivering beverages and first, and has since expanded into meals, groceries, tech goods and medicine. The company also offers a cash withdrawal feature, allowing users to pay with credit cards and then receive cash from one of Rappi’s delivery agents. Today, the company says its app allows consumers to “order nearly any good or service.”

In addition to traditional delivery, it says “users can get products delivered in less than 10 minutes, can access financial services, as well as ‘whims,” and “favors.’ Whims allow users to order anything available in their coverage area. Favors offer an array of custom services, such as running an errand, going to the hardware store or picking out and delivering a gift. The two products allow users to connect directly with a courier. 

Simón Borrero, Sebastian Mejia, and Felipe Villamarin launched the company in 2015, graduating from Y Combinator the following year. A16z’s initial investment in July 2016 was the Silicon Valley firm’s first investment in Latin America, according to LAVCA.

Kaszek Ventures leads a $15 million round in Chilean asset management startup, Fintual

By Marcella McCarthy

Like other financial sectors in Latin America, the retail investing space is getting a facelift by local tech startups that are cashing in on the untapped potential for democratizing asset management in the region. One of those startups is Chilean-based Fintual, which today announced a $15 million round led by Kaszek Ventures, the largest fund in Latin America.

Fintual is an automated passive investment platform that allows the average person in Chile or Mexico to invest in mutual funds containing ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds), investment vehicles that aren’t as well known, or as readily accessible in Latin America.

“The idea that got to me was that we were allowing people to invest in the long term, we enable them to invest in instruments they didn’t have access to before,” said Pedro Pineda, co-founder and CEO of Fintual.

Before starting Fintual in 2018 with his three co-founders, Pineda was an astronomer and an entrepreneur, who built and sold a Groupon copycat company in Chile called “Queremos Descuentos” (We Want Discounts) for just over $1 million when he was 28. 

After the exit, he admits he was a bit lost in life. 

“One day I decided that I wanted to do only the things that I wanted to do and with the people I wanted to do it with,” he said.

He traveled for a couple of years, and learned to code, among other things, until Omar Larré, Fintual’s current CIO, presented him with the idea for the business. 

Larré had been a portfolio manager at Banco Itau, Brazil’s biggest bank by total assets, and he saw the gap in the market: investing was not set up for the average person. The annual fees were too high, the minimum amount required to invest was too high, and there was a penalty when you removed your money. Additionally, the transaction takes a certain amount of financial know-how that most people don’t possess.

For Pineda, disrupting the financial sector also seemed like a lot of fun, he thought.

“I liked the idea of challenging the financial banks, and you can’t do that without technology. We have this super tool that my parents didn’t have, and you can disrupt an entire industry,” Pineda told TechCrunch.

While traditional mutual funds in Chile and Mexico charge up to 6.45% and 5% annually, Fintual charges 1% annually of assets managed. Additionally, Fintual doesn’t require a minimum investment nor a minimum amount of time invested, and users can take their money out any time with no penalties. 

“It’s different than the U.S.; we invest way less than you do; by a factor of 10 maybe,” Pineda said, comparing the investment rate in Chile.

In 2018, the company was accepted into Y Combinator and became the first Chilean startup to go through the prestigious accelerator. It has been growing exponentially ever since and today it serves 57,000 clients in Chile and Mexico.

Below is a table that shows their growth including money managed and percent growth each year since launch.

Assets Under Management (USD)* Annual Growth
May 2018              1.2 M
May 2019              12.9 M 1075%
May 2020               87.6 M 679%
May 2021               480.7 m 548%

    *Each figure corresponds to the end of each month.

The current raise will be used to grow the company’s operations in Mexico, expand to other countries — namely Colombia and Peru — and grow its tech team. 

In addition to Kaszek, other investors to date include YC, ALLVP, and angel investors such as Plaid’s CTO, Jean-Denis Greze, and Cornershop’s founder Oskar Hjertonsson. To date, the company has raised about $15.2 million.

Fintual’s impressive growth speaks for itself, but Kaszek’s co-founder and managing partner, Nicolas Szekasy, said the fund has been following Fintual since its early days, and he was impressed with the niche market the team identified and even more impressed with the user experience the company had developed which has, in turn, fueled its growth.

Fintech all-star Nubank raises a $750M mega round

By Marcella McCarthy

In 2013, Colombian businessman David Velez decided to reinvent the Brazilian banking system. He didn’t speak Portuguese, nor was he an engineer or a banker, but he did have the conviction that the system was broken and that he could fix it. And as a former Sequoia VC, he also had access to capital.

His gut instinct and market analysis were right. Today, Nubank announced a $750 million extension to its Series G (which rang in at $400 million this past January), bringing the round to a total of $1.15 billion and their valuation to $30 billion — $5 billion more than when we covered them in January.

The extension funding was led by Berkshire Hathaway, which put in $500 million, and a number of other investors.

Velez and his team decided now was a good time to raise again, because, “We saw a great opportunity in terms of growth rate and we’re very tiny when compared to the incumbents,” he told TechCrunch.”

Nubank is the biggest digital bank in the world by number of customers: 40 million. The company started as a tech company in Brazil that offered only a fee-free credit card with a line of credit of R$50 (about USD$10). 

It now offers a variety of financial products, including a digital bank account, a debit card, insurance, P2P payment via Pix (the Brazilian equivalent of Zelle), loans, rewards, life insurance and an account and credit card for small business owners. 

Nubank serves unbanked or underserviced citizens in Brazil — about 30% of the population — and this approach can be extremely profitable because there are many more clients available.

The banking system in Brazil is one of the few bureaucracies in the country that is actually quite skillful, but the customer service remains unbearable, and banks charge exorbitant fees for any little transaction. 

Traditionally, the banking industry has been dominated by five major traditional banks: Itaú Unibanco, Banco do Brasil, Bradesco, Santander and Caixa Economica Federal. 

While Brazil remains Nubank’s primary market, the company also offers services in Colombia and Mexico (services launched in Mexico in 2018). The company still only offers the credit card in both countries.

“The momentum we’re seeing in Mexico is terrific. Our Mexican credit card net promoter score (NPS) is 93, which is the highest we’ve had in Nubank history. In Brazil the highest we’ve had was 88,” Velez said.

The company has been on a hiring spree in the last few months, and brought on two heavyweight executives. Matt Swann replaced Ed Wible (the original CTO and co-founder). Wible continues to be an important player in the company, but more in a software developer capacity. Swann previously served as CTO at Bookings.com and StubHub, and as CIO of the Global Consumer Bank at Citi, so he brings years of experience of scaling tech businesses, which is what Nubank is focused on now, though Velez wouldn’t confirm which countries are next.

The other major hire, Arturo Nunez, fills the new role of chief marketing officer. Nunez was head of marketing for Apple Latin America, amongst other roles with Nike and the NBA. 

It may sound a little odd for a tech company not to have had a head of marketing, but Nubank takes pride in having a $0 cost of acquisition (CAC). Instead of spending money on marketing, they spend it on customer service and then rely on word of mouth to get the word out.

Since we last spoke with Velez in January regarding the $400 million Series G, the company went from having 34 million customers to now having 40 million in a span of roughly 6 months. The funds will be used to grow the business, including hiring more people.

“We’ve seen the entire market go digital, especially people who never thought they would,” Velez said. “There is really now an avalanche of all backgrounds [of people] who are getting into digital banking.”

Apple’s new encrypted browsing feature won’t be available in China, Saudi Arabia and more: report

By Rita Liao

Apple announced a handful of privacy-focused updates at its annual software developer conference on Monday. One called Private Relay particularly piques the interest of Chinese users living under the country’s censorship system, for it encrypts all browsing history so nobody can track or intercept the data.

As my colleague Roman Dillet explains:

When Private Relay is turned on, nobody can track your browsing history — not your internet service provider, anyone standing in the middle of your request between your device and the server you’re requesting information from. We’ll have to wait a bit to learn more about how it works exactly.

The excitement didn’t last long. Apple told Reuters that Private Relay won’t be available in China alongside Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.

Apple couldn’t be immediately reached by TechCrunch for comment.

Virtual private networks or VPNs are popular tools for users in China to bypass the “great firewall” censorship apparatus, accessing web services that are otherwise blocked or slowed down. But VPNs don’t necessarily protect users’ privacy because they simply funnel all the traffic through VPN providers’ servers instead of users’ internet providers, so users are essentially entrusting VPN firms with protecting their identities. Private Relay, on the other hand, doesn’t even allow Apple to see one’s browsing activity.

In an interview with Fast Company, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, explained why the new feature may be superior to VPNs:

“We hope users believe in Apple as a trustworthy intermediary, but we didn’t even want you to have to trust us [because] we don’t have this ability to simultaneously source your IP and the destination where you’re going to–and that’s unlike VPNs. And so we wanted to provide many of the benefits that people are seeking when in the past they’ve decided to use a VPN, but not force that difficult and conceivably perilous privacy trade-off in terms of trusting it a single intermediary.”

It’s unclear whether Private Relay will simply be excluded from system upgrades for users in China and the other countries where it’s restricted, or it will be blocked by internet providers in those regions. It also remains to be seen whether the feature will be available to Apple users in Hong Kong, which has seen an increase in online censorship in the past year.

Like all Western tech firms operating in China, Apple is trapped between antagonizing Beijing and flouting the values it espouses at home. Apple has a history of caving in to Beijing’s censorship pressure, from migrating all user data in China to a state-run cloud center, cracking down on independent VPN apps in China, limiting free speech in Chinese podcasts, to removing RSS feed readers from the China App Store.

99 minutos, Mexico’s last mile delivery startup, raises a $40M Series B

By Marcella McCarthy

In 2014 Alexis Patjane was at a local hookah bar in Mexico City with some friends and the bar ran out of tobacco. They thought maybe they could buy some online and have it delivered to the bar in real-time, but it turns out that service didn’t exist.

At the time, Patjane was running a food truck-making business, which was responsible for about 80% of all the food trucks in Mexico, so he had experience doing business in the region.

A couple of weeks later, to solve the instant delivery problem he had faced at the hookah bar, Patjane launched 99 minutos, a website that sold products and delivered them within 99 minutes, hence the name.

Today, 99 minutos announced a $40 million Series B from Prosus and Kaszek Ventures which it plans to use to grow its business in Latin America. 

The company currently operates within 40 major markets across Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Peru and offers four services: less than 99 minutes delivery, same-day delivery, next-day delivery, and CO2-free delivery. 

What started as an e-commerce company with fast delivery quickly became a last-mile delivery service for other e-commerce companies.

“We started to build the API connections and plug-ins, and any e-commerce could add our delivery service to their business,” Patjane told TechCrunch.

99 minutos makes money by charging the customer a flat fee for delivery and then offering the driver a flat rate as well, but today, the volume is so large on each route, that it’s become very lucrative.

“We ship about 60-80 packages per route,” Patjane said, and from the consumer’s perspective, the delivery app works similarly to Waze. “You can pause the delivery, you can change the address. You can say, “Oh, I’m not at home, I’m at the Starbucks on the corner, can you drop it off there?”’ he added.

Patjane said that initially, the company offered delivery only within Mexico City, but it quickly grew to offer its services between cities and now operates between 21 cities in Mexico.

“E-commerce is growing quickly in Latin America, but it is still [the] early days. E-commerce penetration in Latin America is at 6%, while China is reaching 30% and the U.S. is at 20%,” the company said in a statement.

“When we hear big e-commerce players saying that 99 minutos is ‘their most reliable partner’ and that they are ‘the provider with the most potential,’ it tells us that the team is executing extremely well and is on a path to disrupt e-commerce delivery in Latin America,” said Banafsheh Fathieh, Head of Americas Investments at Prosus Ventures.

Part of the funds will also be to speed up their city-to-city deliveries. “We’ll be doing same day [delivery] from city to city and will be using small aircraft to connect the cities,” Patjane said.

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