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Today — September 19th 2019Your RSS feeds

Google chases businesses to maintain its payments lead in India

By Manish Singh

Google said today it is bringing its mobile payments app — Google Pay — to businesses in India and introducing a jobs discovery feature as the Android-maker rushes to maintain its lead in one of its key overseas markets before its global rival Facebook expands its payment offerings in the country.

At its annual event in India, the company said even as more than 400 million people in India are online today, most businesses in the nation remain unconnected. The company unveiled Google Pay for Business, a standalone app that will enable businesses to build their digital presence and accept payments online.

Additionally, Google announced Spot Platform that will allow businesses to create their own store fronts on Google Pay app. For instance, they can use QR-like codes to offer some offerings to customers without having to build their own apps, company executives said.

The company is also bringing a feature that will enable users to discover jobs through Google Pay apps itself.

Google launched its payments app Google Pay (called Tez then) in 2017. Its payments service, built on top of Indian government-backed UPI payments infrastructure, is already among the top payment apps in the category.

The payments market in India — which is projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2023, according to a Credit Suisse — is aggressively crowded and competitive. Google today competes with Flipkart’s PhonePe, Amazon Pay, and Paytm, the country’s most popular mobile wallet app whose parent company has raised over $2.3 billion from investors.

The addition of new features is crucial for Google Pay, which prior to today’s announcements did not have many differentiating offerings. It is also racing against time as Facebook’s WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, is set to expand its UPI-based payments service to all its users by the end of the year.

Paytm is currently focusing on expanding its reach in the nation and not profits. The company, which posted more than half a billion of loss last year, said earlier this month it intends to invest another $3 billion into its business in the next two years.

More to follow…

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Calculating sales efficiency in a startup: The magic number that will help you scale

By Arman Tabatabai
Ryan Floyd Contributor
Ryan Floyd is a founding Managing Director of Storm Ventures, investing in early stage enterprise SaaS companies, and the host of Ask a VC Youtube channel.

Sales efficiency is the best way to understand the economics of a business. To me, it answers the question as to whether a business can ever scale. The harsh truth is, if it can’t scale, investors won’t be interested.

Sales efficiency is more simple to measure than other related concepts like CAC (customer acquisition cost) or LTV (lifetime value). Here’s why:

  • CAC is harder to truly measure, especially new CAC. In a SaaS organization, sometimes it can be hard to allocate those costs to what that new CAC is, as opposed to upsell or cross-sell within the same organization. Salespeople are almost always trying to pursue two goals:
    • Trying to acquire new customers
    • Selling within an existing customer (more seats within an established department, or expanding to a new division)

These activities generate different CAC; trying to strip out only the new CAC can be tricky. Sales efficiency, on the other hand, looks at all net new ARR (annual recurring revenue), which includes new customer ARR as well as expansion ARR.

  • LTV tries to measure the value of a customer over time, assuming both repeat purchases and eventual churn; this gives you a good sense of the ultimate value of that customer to your business over time. The challenge with LTV in SaaS is that the data points that you might use to assume churn and repeat purchase behavior aren’t very robust — there are few SaaS businesses that have enough customers to really make these numbers reliable.

Enterprise businesses should focus on unit economics of sales early. When a business scales, it rarely buys you better economics — usually it just means more losses.

Gracphic for sales efficiency

Image via Ryan Floyd / Storm Ventures

The role of sales efficiency in your ‘go-to-market fit’

At Storm Ventures we use a concept we call finding ‘go-to-market fit’ (GTM fit).

Ten questions for 2020 presidential candidate John Delaney

By Brian Heater

In November 2020, America will go to the polls to vote in perhaps the most consequential election in a generation. The winner will lead the country amid great social, economic and ecological unrest. The 2020 election will be a referendum on both the current White House and the direction of the country at large.

Nearly 20 years into the young century, technology has become a pervasive element in all of our lives, and will continue to only grow more important. Whoever takes the oath of office in January 2021 will have to answer some difficult questions, raging from an impending climate disaster to concerns about job loss at the hands of robotics and automation.

Many of these questions are overlooked in day to day coverage of candidates and during debates. In order to better address the issues, TechCrunch staff has compiled a 10-part questionnaire across a wide range of tech-centric topics. The questions have been sent to national candidates, regardless of party. We will be publishing the answers as we receive them. Candidates are not required to answer all 10 in order for us to publish, but we will be noting which answers have been left blank.

First up is former Congressman John Delaney. Prior to being elected to Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, Delaney co-founded and led healthcare loan service Health Care Financial Partners (HCFP) and  commercial lender CapitalSource. He was elected to Congress in 2013, beating out a 10-term Republican incumbent. Rumored to be running against Maryland governor Larry Hogan for a 2018 bid, Delaney instead announced plans to run for president in 2020.

1. Which initiatives will you prioritize to limit humankind’s impact on climate and avoid potential climate catastrophe?

My $4 trillion Climate Plan will enable us to reach the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, which the IPCC says is the necessary target to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The centerpiece of my plan is a carbon-fee-and-dividend that will put a price on carbon emissions and return the money to the American people through a dividend. My plan also includes increased federal funding for renewable energy research, advanced nuclear technologies, direct air capture, a new Climate Corps program, and the construction of the Carbon Throughway, which would transport captured carbon from all over the country to the Permian Basin for reuse and permanent sequestration.

2. What is your plan to increase black and Latinx startup founders’ access to funding?

As a former entrepreneur who started two companies that went on to be publicly traded, I am a firm believer in the importance of entrepreneurship. To ensure people from all backgrounds have the support they need to start a new business, I will create nonprofit banks to serve economically distressed communities, launch a new SBIC program to help provide access to capital to minority entrepreneurs, and create a grant program to fund business incubators and accelerators at HBCUs. Additionally, I pledge to appoint an Entrepreneurship Czar who will be responsible for promoting entrepreneurship-friendly policies at all levels of government and encouraging entrepreneurship in rural and urban communities that have been left behind by venture capital investment.

3. Why do you think low-income students are underrepresented in STEM fields and how do you think the government can help fix that problem?

I think a major part of the problem is that schools serving low-income communities don’t have the resources they need to provide a quality STEM education to every student. To fix that, I have an education plan that will increase investment in STEM education and use Title I funding to eliminate the $23 billion annual funding gap between predominantly white and predominantly black school districts. To encourage students to continue their education after they graduate from high school and ensure every student learns the skills they need, my plan also provides two years of free in-state tuition and fees at a public university, community college, or technical school to everyone who completes one year of my mandatory national service program.

4. Do you plan on backing and rolling out paper-only ballots or paper-verified election machines? With many stakeholders in the private sector and the government, how do you aim to coordinate and achieve that?

Making sure that our elections are secure is vital, and I think using voting machines that create a voter-verified paper record could improve security and increase voters’ confidence in the integrity of our elections. To address other facets of the election security issue, I have proposed creating a Department of Cybersecurity to help protect our election systems, and while in Congress I introduced election security legislation to ensure that election vendors are solely owned and controlled by American citizens.

5. What, if any, federal regulation should be enacted for autonomous vehicles?

I was proud to be the founder of the Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to understanding the impacts of advances in AI technology and educating other legislators so they have the knowledge they need to enact policies that ensure these innovations benefit Americans. We need to use the legislative process to have a real conversation involving experts and other stakeholders in order to develop a comprehensive set of regulations regarding autonomous vehicles, which should include standards that address data collection practices and other privacy issues as well as more fundamental questions about public safety.

6. How do you plan to achieve and maintain U.S. superiority in space, both in government programs and private industry?

Space exploration is tremendously important to me as a former Congressman from Maryland, the home of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, major space research centers at the University of Maryland, and many companies that develop crucial aerospace technologies. As president, I will support the NASA budget and will continue to encourage innovation in the private sector.

7. Increased capital in startups founded by American entrepreneurs is a net positive, but should the U.S. allow its businesses to be part-owned by foreign governments, particularly the government of Saudi Arabia?

I am concerned that joint ventures between U.S. businesses and foreign governments, including state-owned enterprises, could facilitate the theft of intellectual property, potentially allowing foreign governments to benefit from taxpayer-funded research. We need to put in place greater protections that defend American innovation from theft.

8. Will U.S.-China technology decoupling harm or benefit U.S. innovation and why?

In general, I am in favor of international technology cooperation but in the case of China, it engages in predatory economic behavior and disregards international rules. Intellectual property theft has become a big problem for American businesses as China allows its companies to steal IP through joint ventures. In theory, U.S.-China collaboration could advance technology and innovation but without proper IP and economic protections, U.S.-China joint ventures and partnerships can be detrimental to the U.S.

9. How large a threat does automation represent to American jobs? Do you have a plan to help train low-skilled workers and otherwise offset job loss?

Automation could lead to the disruption of up to 54 million American jobs if we aren’t prepared and we don’t have the right policies. To help American workers transition to the high-tech, high-skill future economy, I am calling for a national AI strategy that will support public/private AI partnerships, develop a social contract with the communities that are negatively impacted by technology and globalization, and create updated education and job training programs that will help students and those currently in the workforce learn the skills they need.

To help provide jobs to displaced workers and drive economic growth in communities that suffer negative effects from automation, I have proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would create an infrastructure bank to facilitate state and local government investment, increase the Highway Trust Fund, create a Climate Infrastructure Fund, and create five new matching funds to support water infrastructure, school infrastructure, deferred maintenance projects, rural broadband, and infrastructure projects in disadvantaged communities in urban and rural areas. In addition, my proposed national service program will create new opportunities that allow young adults to learn new skills and gain valuable work experience. For example, my proposal includes a new national infrastructure apprenticeship program that will award a professional certificate proving mastery of particular skill sets for those who complete the program.

10. What steps will you take to restore net neutrality and assure internet users that their traffic and data are safe from manipulation by broadband providers?

I support the Save Net Neutrality Act to restore net neutrality, and I will appoint FCC commissioners who are committed to maintaining a fair and open internet. Additionally, I would work with Congress to update our digital privacy laws and regulations to protect consumers, especially children, from their data being collected without consent.

India’s OkCredit raises $67M to help small merchants digitize their bookkeeping

By Manish Singh

OKCredit, a Bangalore-based startup that enables small merchants to turn their bookkeeping digital, has raised $67 million to expand its business in the nation.

The Series B financing round for the two-year-old startup was led by Lightspeed and Tiger Global. The new round, which follows Series A financing round in June this year, climbs OkCredit’s total raise to $87 million.

OkCredit operates an eponymous mobile app that allows merchants to keep track of their day-to-day purchases and sales. Last month, startup founders told TechCrunch that the app had amassed over 5 million active merchants across 2,000 cities in India.

More to follow…

Patch Homes locks in $5M Series A to give homeowners financial freedom without debt

By Arman Tabatabai

Homeownership has long been touted as the American dream. But rising rates of mortgage debt, student loan debt, or otherwise are making the pursuit of homeownership a nightmare. Debt burdened individuals or those with inconsistent or tight cash flow can not only struggle to get credit loan approval when buying a home but also struggle to satisfy monthly mortgage payments even after purchase. 

Patch Homes is hoping to keep the proverbial American dream alive. Patch looks to provide homeowners with cash flow and liquidity by allowing them to monetize their homes without taking on debt, interest or burdensome monthly payments. 

Today, Patch took another big step in making its vision a far-reaching reality. The company has announced it’s raised a $5 million Series A round led by Union Square Ventures (USV)  with participation by from Tribe Capital and previous investors Techstars Ventures, Breega Capital, and Greg Schroy.

Patch Home looks to partner with homeowners by investing up to $250,000 (with an average investment of ~$100,000) for an equity stake in the home’s value, generally in the 5% to 20% range. Homeowners aren’t subject to any interest or recurring payments and have ten years to pay back Patch’s investment. Upon doing so, the only incremental money Patch receives is its portion of the change in the home’s value over the course of the ten year period. If the value of the home goes down in value, Patch willingly takes a loss on its investment.

According to Patch Homes CEO and cofounder Sahil Gupta, one of the major motivations behind the company’s model is to align Patch’s incentives with the homeowners, allowing both parties to think of each other as trusted partners even after financing. After Patch’s investment, the company provides a number of ancillary services to homeowners such as credit score monitoring, as well as home value and property tax tracking.

In one instance recounted by Gupta in an interview with TechCrunch, Patch even covered three months of an owner’s mortgage during a liquidity crunch for his small business, allowing him to maintain his home and credit score. Patch is incentivized to provide all services that can help ensure an increase in home value, benefitting both Patch and the homeowner, with the homeowner earning the majority of the asset’s appreciated value.  

Additionally, since Patch’s model isn’t focused on a homeowner’s ability to pay back a loan, interest or periodic payments, Patch is able to provide financing to more people. Patch is able to help those with more variable qualifications that struggle to get traditional loans — such as a 1099 contracted worker — monetize their illiquid assets with less harsh or restrictive terms and without increasing their debt burden. Gupta described this as solving the core problem of providing liquidity to asset-rich but cash-flow sensitive people. 

Patch is not only looking to provide easier liquidity to more homeowners, but they’re trying to do so faster than traditional lenders. Interested customers can first receive a free estimate of whether Patch will invest in their home or not, how much its willing to invest and what percentage equity it will take — primarily based on Patch’s machine learning models that focus on asset, market, and location level attributes. 

After the initial estimate, a Patch home advisor will educate the customer on the product and start a formal application process, which includes your standard income and credit score verification and otherwise, that takes 5-10 days. All-in, homeowners have the ability to get money in as little as 14 days, a significantly shorter timeline than your standard home credit process. Once the investment is made, owners have full freedom with how they use the money.

According to Patch, while its customers come from a diverse set of backgrounds, many either accumulated debt have to pay down the net or may struggle making monthly payments. The average Patch homeowner uses 40% of the investment to eliminate debt, adds 40% to their savings account or passive income, and invests 20% into home improvements.

To date, Patch has raised a total of $6 million and believes the latest round of funding will help scale its operations as they team up with advisors like USV that have experience scaling fintech companies (such as a Lending Club or Carta). The funds will be used to invest in product and Patch’s clearing technology in order to further speed up Patch’s lending process.

Patch also hopes to use the investment to help them gradually expand their footprint, with the goal of eventually having a presence all 50 states. (Patch is currently available in 11 regional markets within California and Washington and expects to be in 18 regional markets by the end of the year including those in Utah, Colorado and Oregon.)

Patch Homes Co Founders Sundeep Ambati L and Sahil Gupta R

Image via Patch Homes

What makes homeownership so galvanizing for the Patch team? Patch CEO Sahil Gupta spent years putting his Carnegie Mellon financial engineering degree to work in banking and finance, as well as in financial products and strategy positions at fintech startups backed by heavy hitters such as YC to Goldman Sachs.

After realizing the majority of the US population were homeowners, but were struggling to make monthly payments or save for the future, Sahil wanted to figure out how we could take an illiquid asset like a home and make it easily accessible. 

Around the same time, Sahil’s cofounder Sundeep Ambat was working as a contractor on a new business venture of his and was struggling to get a home equity loan. While these circumstances ultimately led Sahil and Sundeep to found Patch Homes in 2016 out of the TechStars New York accelerator program, the deeper motivation behind Patch can be traced back nearly 30 years when Sahil’s father made an equity sharing agreement with his brother as they were building his family’s home in India.

With a growing family and a pregnant wife, Sunil’s father was adamant about living debt-free and so his brother provided an investment in exchange for an equity stake in the house. According to Sahil, the home is still in the family and has appreciated substantially in value to the benefit of both Sahil’s father and his brother. Longer-term, Patch wants to be the preferred partner for homeownership, helping reduce cash tight owners’ financial anxiety without the debilitating weight of debt. 

“Some companies want to help people buy or sell homes, but homeownership really begins after that point. Patch is built to be inside the home with you and everything that comes thereafter,” Gupta told TechCrunch.

“Patch was created to partner with homeowners to help them unlock their home equity so they can achieve their financial goals along every step of their homeownership journey.

Accel and Sequoia seed Middesk with $4M to background check businesses

By Kate Clark

For those of you that diligently follow the hot startups to graduate from Y Combinator’s accelerator program, you might recall Middesk.

The company was amongst an exclusive subset of startups in YC’s winter 2019 batch to walk into demo day term sheet in hand. Top VCs, like Accel and Sequoia Capital, couldn’t wait until the team’s public pitch was complete to seed the company.

Middesk performs background checks, but not of people; rather, the startup helps companies identify business and regulatory risk in their customer base. Today, it’s announcing its first round of capital, a $4 million financing led by Accel’s Rich Wong, with participation from Sequoia. Founded by two early employees of another YC graduate, Checkr, which automates the pre-employment background check process for companies, Middesk chief executive officer Kyle Mack and chief technology officer Kurt Ruppel wanted to apply their learnings to a business identity product.

“What we’ve built from the ground up is a product to help companies understand who their customers are and what those customers do for their business,” Mack explains.

Selling a product in a traditional and heavily regulated industry, Mack says having top-tier, established venture funds Accel and Sequoia on board has made a big difference for the company. This is particularly interesting, given the round comes at a time in which competition for early-stage deals is greater than ever. More and more billion-dollar funds, Accel and Sequoia included, are moving downstream to purchase stakes in promising companies as early as possible, beating out seed funds by providing better terms and brand recognition.

Accel was also an early investor in Checkr, which most recently raised a $100 million Series C at a $900 million valuation, and was familiar with the Middesk team prior to the company’s formation: “One of the nice things about this job is if you have a chance to do it right, you can build relationships with people and work with them across multiple companies,” Accel’s Wong tells TechCrunch.

San Francisco-based Middesk is working with customers, including Checkr and Plaid, a well-financed leader in fintech, as well as smaller entrants to the B2B market, like the even more recent YC-grad Vouch, which sells business insurance to startups. Mack says they are particularly focused on payments, lending, payroll, expenses and credit businesses, or those with regulatory risk requirements.

“Effectively anyone that’s touching money that’s a B2B business has regulatory requirements to do what we do,” Mack said. “There is a whole new wave of companies applying consumer-style experiences to business products, but the risks they deal with, they aren’t designed to manage those risks at scale.”

With the infusion of capital, Middesk has grown its team from two to seven, creating engineering and operations teams in the process. In the long term, Mack cites Plaid and its proven ability to rapidly become the go-to tool for connecting applications to consumer bank accounts, as inspiration.

“We talk about this idea of becoming a single source for all the external signals you might want to have about a business,” he said. “Plaid has built a single place to get a host of transaction data of people and businesses. We think about Middesk as a single place to find high-quality and trusted information for a single business.”

Nigerian online-only bank startup Kuda raises $1.6M

By Jake Bright

Nigerian fintech startup Kuda — a digital-only retail bank — has raised $1.6 million in pre-seed funding.

The Lagos and London-based company recently launched the beta version of its online mobile finance platform. Kuda also received its banking license from the Nigerian Central Bank, giving it a distinction compared to other fintech startups.

“Kuda is the first digital-only bank in Nigeria with a standalone license. We’re not a mobile wallet or simply a mobile app piggybacking on an existing bank,” Kuda bank founder Babs Ogundeyi told TechCrunch.

“We have built our own full-stack banking software from scratch. We can also take deposits and connect directly to the switch,” Ogundeyi added, referring to the Nigeria’s Central Switch — a SWIFT-like system that facilitates bank communication and settlements.

A representative for the Central Bank of Nigeria (speaking on background) confirmed Kuda’s banking license and status, telling TechCrunch, “As far as I’m aware there is no other digital bank [in Nigeria] that has a micro-finance license.”

 

Kuda Transaction Screen Card

Kuda offers checking accounts with no monthly-fees, a free debit card, and plans to offer consumer savings and P2P payments options on its platform in coming months.

“You can open a bank account within five minutes, do all the KYC in the app, and you get issued a new bank account number,” according to Ogundeyi. Kuda bank Founder CEO Babs OgundeyiOgundeyi — a repeat founder who exited classifieds site Motortradertrader.ng and worked in a finance advisory role to the Nigerian government — co-founded Kuda in 2018 with former Stanbic Bank software developer Musty Mustapha.

The two convinced investor Haresh Aswani to lead the $1.6 million pre-seed funding, along with Ragnar Meitern and other angel investors. Aswani confirmed his investment to TechCrunch and that he will take a position on Kuda’s board.

Kuda plans to use its seed funds to go from beta to live launch in Nigeria by fourth-quarter 2019. The startup will also build out the tech of its banking platform, including support for its developer team located in Lagos and Cape Town, according to Ogundeyi.

Kuda also intends to expand in the near future. “It’s Nigeria for right now, but the plan is build a Pan-African digital-only bank,” he said.

As of 2014, Nigeria has held the dual distinction as Africa’s largest economy and most populous country (with 190 million people).

To scale there, and add some physical infrastructure to its online model, Kuda has correspondent relationships with three of Nigeria’s largest financial institutions: GTBank, Access Bank and Zenith Bank.

He clarified the banks are partners and not investors. Kuda customers can use these banks’ branches and ATMs to put money into bank accounts or withdraw funds without a fee.

“Even though we don’t own a single branch, we actually have the largest branch network in the country,” Ogundeyi claimed.

Kuda’s plans to generate revenues focus largely around leveraging its bank balances. “We plan to match different liability classes to the different asset classes that we create. That’s how we make money, that’s how we get efficiency in terms of income,” Ogundeyi said.

In Nigeria, Kuda enters a potentially revenue-rich market, but its one that already hosts a crowded fintech field — as the country becomes ground zero for payments startups and tech investment in Africa.

Briter Bridges Lagos Nigeria Fintech MapIn both raw and per capita numbers, Nigeria has been slower to convert to digital payments than leading African countries, such as Kenya, according to joint McKinsey Company and Gates Foundation analysis done several years ago. The same study estimated there could be nearly $1.3 billion in revenue up for grabs if Nigeria could reach the same digital-payments penetration as Kenya.

A number of startups — established and new — are going after that prize in the West African country — several with a strategy to scale in Nigeria first before expanding outward on the continent and globally.

San Francisco-based, no-fee payment venture Chipper Cash entered Nigeria this month.

Series B-stage Nigerian payments company Paga raised $10 million in 2018 to further grow its customer base (that now tallies 13 million) and expand to Asia and Latin America.

Kuda CEO Babs Ogundeyi believes the startup can scale and compete in Nigeria on a number of factors, one being financial safety. He names the company’s official bank status and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation security that brings as something that can attract cash-comfortable bank clients to digital finance.

Ogundeyi also points to offerings and price.”We look to be the next generation bank where you can do everything— savings, payments and transfers — and also the one that’s least expensive,” he said.

 

Work Life Ventures raises $5M for debut enterprise SaaS seed fund

By Kate Clark

Brianne Kimmel had no trouble transitioning from angel investor to general partner.

Initially setting out to garner $3 million in capital commitments, Kimmel, in just two weeks’ time, closed on $5 million for her debut venture capital fund Work Life Ventures. The enterprise SaaS-focused vehicle boasts an impressive roster of limited partners, too, including the likes of Zoom chief executive officer Eric Yuan, InVision CEO Clark Valberg, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Cameo CEO Steven Galanis, Andreessen Horowitz general partners’ Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon, Initialized Capital GP Garry Tan and fund-of-funds Slow Ventures, Felicis Ventures and NFX.

At the helm of the new fund, Kimmel joins a small group of solo female general partners. Dream Machine’s Alexia Bonatsos is targeting $25 million for her first fund. Day One Ventures’ Masha Drokova raised an undisclosed amount for her debut effort last year. Sarah Cone launched Social Impact Capital, a fund specializing in impact investing, in 2016, among others.

Meanwhile, venture capital fundraising is poised to reach all-time highs in 2019. In the first half of the year, a total of $20.6 billion in new capital was introduced to the startup market across more than 100 funds.

For most, the process of raising a successful venture fund can be daunting and difficult. For well-connected and established investors in the Bay Area, like Kimmel, raising a fund can be relatively seamless. Given the speed and ease of fund one in Kimmel’s case, she plans to raise her second fund with a $25 million target in as little as 12 months.

“The desire for the fund is to take a step back and imagine how do we build great consumer experiences in the workplace,” Kimmel tells TechCrunch.

Kimmel has been an active angel investor for years, sourcing top enterprise deals via SaaS School, an invite-only workshop she created to educate early-stage SaaS founders on SaaS growth, monetization, sales and customer success. Prior to launching SaaS School, which will continue to run twice a year, Kimmel led go-to-market strategy at Zendesk, where she built the Zendesk for Startups program.

 

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“You start by advising, then you start with very small angel checks,” Kimmel explains. “I reached this inflection point and it felt like a great moment to raise my own fund. I had friends like Ryan Hoover, who started Weekend Fund focused on consumer, and Alexia is one of my friends as well and I saw what she was doing with Dream Machine, which is also consumer. It felt like it was the right time to come out with a SaaS-focused fund.”

Emerging from stealth today, Work Life Ventures will invest up to $150,000 per company. To date, Kimmel has backed three companies with capital from the fund: Tandem, Dover and Command E. The first, Tandem, was amongst the most coveted deals in Y Combinator’s latest batch of companies. The startup graduated from the accelerator with millions from Andreessen Horowitz at a valuation north of $30 million.

Dover, another recent YC alum, provides recruitment software and is said to be backed by Founders Fund in addition to Work Life. Command E, currently in beta, is a tool that facilities search across multiple desktop applications. Kimmel is also an angel investor in Webflow, Girlboss, TechCrunch Disrupt 2018 Startup Battlefield winner Forethought, Voyage and others.

Work Life is betting on the consumerization of the enterprise, or the idea that the next best companies for modern workers will be consumer-friendly tools. In her pitch deck to LPs, she cites the success of Superhuman and Notion, a well-designed email tool and a note-taking app, respectively, as examples of the heightened demand for digestible, easy-to-use B2B products.

“The next generation of applications for the workplace sees people spinning out of Uber, Coinbase and Airbnb,” Kimmel said. “They’ve faced these challenges inside their highly efficient tech company so we are seeing more consumer product builders deeply passionate about the enterprise space.”

But Kimmel doesn’t want to bury her thesis in jargon, she says, so you won’t find any B2B lingo on Work Life’s website or Instagram.

She’s focusing her efforts on a more important issue often vacant from conversations surrounding investment in the future of work: diversity & inclusion.

Kimmel meets with every new female hire of her portfolio companies. Though it’s “increasingly non-scalable,” she admits, it’s part of a greater effort to ensure her companies are thoughtful about D&I from the beginning: “Because I have a very focused fund, it’s about maintaining this community and ensuring that people feel like their voices are heard,” she said.

“I want to be mindful that I am a female GP and I feel honored to have that title.”

Paytm’s annual loss doubles to $549M

By Manish Singh

Running a payments business in India is not cheap. Just ask Paytm . One of India’s largest payment companies reported a net loss of Rs 3959 crore ($549 million) for the financial year that ended in March, up 165% over 1490 crore ($206 million) in the same period last year.

During the same period, the company’s revenue rose to Rs 3232 crore ($448 million), compared to Rs 3052 crore ($423 million) in the year before. The firm’s debt also surged to Rs 695 crore ($96 million), One97 Communications, the parent firm of Paytm, told investors in its annual report.

One97 Communications also runs an e-commerce business, which recently raised money from eBay, and Paytm Money, that runs mutual funds business. On a consolidated basis, the 9-year-old firm reported an annual loss of Rs 4217.20 crore ($584 million), up from Rs 1604.34 crore ($222 million) from the year before.

Indian news outlet BloombergQuint first reported (paywalled) the financial performance of Paytm.

The loss should worry Paytm, whose CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma said in a conference last week that the firm would begin to work on going public in the next 22 to 24 months. The level of competition that Paytm faces today is only about to increase in the coming future, and unlike earlier, the Indian firm is not facing off financially weaker local rivals.

Paytm, which has raised over $2 billion to date from a range of investors including SoftBank, Alibaba, and Berkshire Hathaway, continues to be the largest mobile wallet app provider in India, but increasingly users are moving to government-backed UPI payments infrastructure. In UPI land, Paytm competes with Flipkart’s PhonePe and Google Pay, both of which are heavily-backed.

As of July, both PhonePe and Google Pay commanded a bigger market share across UPI apps than Paytm.

Also in UPI land, you don’t make money on each transaction. So lately, every payments firm in India, including Paytm, has expanded it offering to include financial services such as a credit card, or loan, or insurance.

In many ways, this has created a level playing field for payment firms that did not dominate the wallet business.

In a statement, Paytm said it has been investing $1 billion per year for the last two years to “expand payments ecosystem in our country.” The company plans to invest a further $3 billion in the next two years.

“We believe India is at the inflection point of digital payments and Paytm’s sole focus is towards solving the merchant payments and offering them financial services. We will invest Rs 20,000 crore ($2.7 billion) in the next two years towards achieving this,” a company spokesperson said.

The biggest challenge for Paytm and other UPI payment apps has yet to emerge. Before the end of this year, WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, plans to offer UPI payment option to all its years in the coming month.

Troubles keep mounting for the We Company as Softbank reportedly calls for shelving the IPO

By Jonathan Shieber

The troubles for We Company and its main business WeWork are mounting as the Financial Times is reporting that the company’s main backer, Softbank, is pushing for the company to put its troubled public offering on hold.

Citing sources familiar with the company and its main investor, the Financial Times said that the cool reception We Company has received from public market investors.

The company needs to raise at least $3 billion in the public offering to trigger a $6 billion in debt financing from the very bankers architecting its IPO. If it fails to cross that $3 billion threshold and not have access to that debt, it would be a significant roadblock to the We Company’s global expansion plans. And those plans are vital to the company’s success, since it’s the growth story that the company is selling to public market investors.

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company was thinking about reducing the amount it would seek in a public offering below the $20 billion figure that had been previously reported.

The We Company had last raised money at a valuation of over $47 billion and the constant reductions in the company’s value may create a self-fulfilling prophecy that pushes the share price down even further should the company go ahead with a public offering.

The company has even taken steps to roll back some of the more egregious financial arrangements that made investors look at the company askance. It added a woman to its board of directors after much public outcry over the board composition and unwound a nearly $6 million agreement the company had made with its chief executive Adam Neumann over the licensing rights to the brand “We”.

Still, Neumann’s control over the company and the mounting losses of the core business sub-leasing long term commercial rental space to short term tenants have made public investors balky on the We Company’s longterm prospects.

Accion Venture Lab launches $23M inclusive fintech startup fund

By Jake Bright

Accion Venture Lab—the seed-stage investment arm of non-profit Accion—has raised $23 million for a new inclusive fintech startup fund.

The Accion Venture Lab Limited Partnership, as its called, will make seed-stage investments in inclusive fintech startups, defined as ventures that “that leverage technology to increase the reach, quality, and affordability of financial services for the under-served at scale,” per a company release.

The new fund was raised with capital contributions from a number of participants, including the Ford Foundation, Visa Inc. and Proparco—the development finance institution of the French government.

The additional $23 million brings Accion Venture Lab‘s total capital under management to $42 million.

The new LP fund will consider startups from any geography, as along as they meet specific criteria. Overall, Accion Venture Lab doesn’t have regional investment quotas, but does look to allocate roughly 25 to 30 percent of its funds to Africa, Accion Venture Lab Managing Director Tahira Dosani told TechCrunch on a call.

“We want to continue to focus on Latin-America, on Sub-Saharan Africa, on Southeast Asia as well as in the U.S. It really is about…where we see the need and the opportunity across the markets that we’re in,” she said.

In line with Accion’s mandate to boost financial inclusion globally, Accion Venture Lab already has a portfolio of 36 fintech startup investments across 5 continents—including 9 in the U.S., 8 in Latin America, and 8 in India.

“Our goal is to really be the that first institutional investor in the companies we invest in. That’s were we see the biggest capital gap. And it’s where we build capability and expertise,” Dosani said. In 2018, Accion Venture Lab successfully exited Indian fintech company Aye Finance, following exits in 2017 and 2016.

Tahira Dosani Accion Venture Lab I

This year Accion Venture Lab supported a $6.5 million Series A investment in Lulalend, a South African startup that uses internal credit metrics to provide short-term loans to SMEs that are often unable to obtain working capital.

Accion’s new LP fund will follow past practice and make investments typically in the $500,000 range. It will start sourcing startups immediately through its investment leads around the world and already made its first seed financing to U.S. venture Joust—a fintech platform for gig economy workers.

Accion Venture Lab’s LP fund is the first time the organization has pooled third-party investment capital, according to a spokesperson.

On the appeal for those contributing, Dosani named Accion’s geographic reach and experience. “We think that’s our strength, because we’re able to invest in similar business models across different markets. And we’re able to bring that knowledge from one market to another,” she said.

The Ford Foundation contributed $2 million, according to an email from Christine Looney, Deputy Director, Mission Investments. Visa didn’t disclose its capital contribution, but told TechCrunch it will play a role in governance through its participation in a Limited Partners Advisory Committee for the new fund.

As a point of observation, Accion Venture Lab stands out as a fund for giving an equal pitch footing to fintech ventures across frontier, emerging, and developed markets from Lagos to London.

Accion’s new LP fund—along with the organization’s commitment to make nearly a third of its investments in Africa—means more capital to digital finance startups on the continent. By a number of estimates, Africa’s 1.2 billion people still represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population.

 

 

 

Bunq simplifies group payment tracking and adds analytics

By Romain Dillet

European challenger bank Bunq is announcing a handful of updates today. You now get a better overview of your account with more insights on how you spend money. If you’re going on vacation with someone else, you can now choose to automatically add transactions to a Slice Group. There are also improvement to VAT management for business users.

Slice Groups are shared accounts for owners of the Bunq Travel Card. You can create a group with multiple Bunq users and then add expenses to the group. You can’t add money to a Slice Group directly. It is essentially a group accounting feature that lets you keep track of who paid for what, who has a positive balance and who has a negative balance.

While you could easily add Bunq transactions to a group, you still had to manually add them every time there are some new transactions. You can now turn on AutoSlice, a feature that lets you temporarily add all card transactions to a Slice Group.

In other news, Bunq wants to give you more information about your spending habits. It starts with a new feature called Bunq Insights. As the name suggests, your payments are now automatically categorized so that you can see a breakdown of what you do with your money.

When you travel, Bunq now gives you information about your travel destination, such as the exchange rate as well as tips and tricks for that country. Bunq users can add recommendations for other Bunq users.

And if you’re always wondering if you’re spending too much money after getting paid, Bunq now tries to predict how much money you’ll have left at the end of the month. The company analyzes your past transactions to predict how much you’re going to spend over the coming weeks.

Finally, Bunq is updating AutoVAT for business users who have to deal with VAT in Europe. In addition to setting aside VAT you’ll have to pay back, the app now counts how much VAT you’ve paid so far so that you know how much you can reclaim. By combining these two figures, you get the exact VAT amount for your taxes.

Kabbage acquires Radius Intelligence, the marketing tech firm with a database of 20M small businesses

By Ingrid Lunden

Data is the new oil, as the saying goes, and today Kabbage — a fintech startup backed by SoftBank that has built a business around lending up to $250,000 to small and medium enterprises, using AI-based algorithms to help determine the terms of the loan — is picking up an asset to expand its own data trove as it looks to expand into further SMB financial services. The company has acquired Radius Intelligence, the marketing technology firm that has built a database of information on some 20 million small and medium businesses in the U.S.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but notably, it comes on the heels of a sightly tumultuous period for Radius . Last year, the company announced a merger with its big competitor Leadspace, only to quietly cancel the deal three months later. Then two months after that, it replaced its longtime CEO.

Radius — which is backed by some $120 million from investors that include Founders Fund, David Sacks, Salesforce Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures and the actor Jared Leto, among others — last had a valuation of around $200 million, according to PitchBook, but that was prior to these events. Kabbage, meanwhile, has raised hundreds of millions in equity and debt and is valued at more than $1 billion. The deal will be financed off Kabbage’s own balance sheet and will not require the company to raise more funds, I understand.

Rob Frohwein, Kabbage’s co-founder and CEO, said in an interview that the plan is to integrate Radius’ tech and IP into the Kabbage platform — the task will be overseen by Radius’ current CEO, Joel Carusone — as well as Radius’ tech team of 20 engineers, who will work for the Atlanta-based startup out of its office in San Francisco.

He also added that Radius’ current products — which include market intelligence and contact information for employees at SMBs in the U.S., along with a host of related solutions, which up to now had been gathered both via public sources and the businesses updating the information themselves; as well as the technology for merging disparate sources of data and ferreting out the “valid” pieces that are worth retaining and throwing out what is out of date — will not be sold any longer via Radius. From now on, there will be only one customer for all that data: Kabbage itself (the company had already been a user of Radius’ data to help its own marketing team connect with new and and existing customers).

“We have known the company for a long time,” said Frohwein. Other customers that Radius lists on its site include Square, American Express, LendingTree, FirstData, MetLife, Sam’s Club, Yahoo and more.

This doesn’t mean that Kabbage might not offer the SMB intelligence in a format to businesses directly via its own platform at some point, but it also means that as Kabbage expands into services that might compete with some of Radius’ now-former customers — payments and merchant acquirer services, as well as tools to help SMBs grow their own customer funnels are some that are on the cards for the coming months — it will have an edge on them because of the data on users that it will now own.

The deal underscores two bigger trends among startups that focus on enterprise customers. First, it points to  ongoing consolidation in the world of marketing tech, in part as businesses look for ways to better compete against the likes of Microsoft and Salesforce, which are also continually building out their stacks of services. And we likely will see more activity from stronger fintech companies keen to expand their platforms to provide more touchpoints and revenue streams from existing customers, as well as more services to expand the customer base overall.

“We’re thrilled to join the Kabbage team. As a company dedicated to small business analytics and data management, we’ve always had a deep respect for Kabbage’s data-driven technology and focus,” Radius CEO Carusone said in a statement. “Our companies have complementary technical architectures and domain experience for decision making. With Kabbage, we can build a more sophisticated analytics solution to identify, reach and serve small businesses.”

Kabbage itself is not looking for new funding at the moment, Frohwein said, but he added also that it is on a fast trajectory at the moment but still a ways away from an IPO, so I wouldn’t discount more raises in the future. The company is currently on track to see revenues up 40% versus last year, with customers up 60%.

“We’re always looking to grow,” he said.

India’s mobile payments firm MobiKwik reaches rare key profit milestone

By Manish Singh

Indian mobile payments firm MobiKwik has reached a milestone very few of its local rivals can even contemplate: not burning money. The 10-year-old Gurgaon-headquartered firm said Tuesday it is now generating a profit excluding interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.

“We have been in an ecosystem where we have seen a lot of high-growth and several regulatory changes in the payments domain. But what we realized was that payments alone is likely not going to be a very profitable business,” Bipin Singh, co-founder and CEO of MobiKwik, told TechCrunch in an interview.

To get to the path of profitability, MobiKwik has made a number of significant changes to its business in recent years. It stopped participating in the race of getting more and more users and fight with the likes of Paytm, which has raised more than $2 billion to date.

Paytm remains unprofitable and an analysis of its financial performance shows that this is not going to change anytime soon. Google, which also offers a payments service in India, has no shortage of cash either.

Upasana Taku, co-founder and COO of MobiKwik, recalled an offsite meeting where someone asked her why Kotak and ICICI banks, both of which have about 15 million to 20 million customers are profitable, but wallet apps with tens of millions of users are not. MobiKwik, which employs 400 people, has 110 million users, she said.

In last two and a half years, MobiKwik has cut down on cashback it bandies out to users — a practice followed by nearly every company offering a payments solution in India — and focused on building financial services on top of its wallet app to retain customers and find additional revenue sources.

The company continues to focus on its mobile wallet and payments processing businesses that account for about 65% of its revenue, but its growing suite of financial services such as providing credits and insurance to customers is already bringing rest of the revenue, she said.

That’s not surprising. Fewer than 50 million credit cards are in circulation in India currently, and for people with limited income, getting a loan remains a major challenge.

“Even the population that has access to smartphones and cheap internet data can’t get a credit card in India. We found it a good match for the growth of our payments app. We started serving these users who have the discipline to repay money, have certain kind of income,” the couple said, who are now also donning the role of angel investors.

MobiKwik works with banks and other lenders to finance loans worth Rs 5,000 ($69) to Rs 100,000 ($1380). In the 18 months the service has been live, MobiKwik has offered 800,000 loans and disbursed $100 million. Its health insurance starts at as little as $1.3 a month.

MobiKwik expects its revenue to hit $66 million in the financial year that ends in March next year, up from $28 million a year earlier. The company, which expects to turn profitable in the next two to three years, plans to go public soon afterwards.

MobiKwik competes with a number of players, many of which are increasingly adding financial services such as loans to their platforms. India’s overall retail credit demand is expected to grow 60% to $771 billion over the next four years, according to the Digital Lenders Association of India.

Africa Roundup: Goldman backs Kobo360, Rwanda commits to EVs, Interswitch IPO update

By Jake Bright

Nigerian freight logistics startup Kobo360 raised a $20 million Series A round led by Goldman Sachs and $10 million in working capital financing from Nigerian commercial banks.

The company — with an Uber-like app that connects truckers and companies to delivery services — will use the funds to upgrade its platform and expand to 10 new countries beyond current operating markets of Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and Kenya.

Kobo360 looks to grow beyond its Nigeria roots to become a truly Pan-African company, co-founder Obi Ozor told TechCrunch .  He co-founded the venture in 2017 with fellow Nigerian Ife Oyedele II.

Since its launch in Lagos, the startup has continued to grow its product offerings, VC backing and customer base. Kobo360 claims a fleet of more than 10,000 drivers and trucks operating on its app. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, Dangote and DHL.

Kobo360’s latest round is also notable for Goldman Sachs’ involvement. Goldman’s participation tracks a growing list of African venture investments made by the U.S. based finance firm.

Chinese mobile-phone and device maker Transsion will list in an IPO on Shanghai’s STAR Market, Transsion confirmed to TechCrunch.

The company — which has a robust Africa sales network — could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million).

Transsion’s IPO prospectus is downloadable (in Chinese) and its STAR Market listing application available on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website.

STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that also went live in July with some 25 companies going public.

Headquartered in Shenzhen — where African e-commerce unicorn Jumia also has a logistics supply-chain facility — Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand.

The company has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia and recently expanded its presence in India.

Transsion plans to spend the bulk of its STAR Market raise (1.6 billion yuan or $227 million) on building more phone assembly hubs and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development, including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai, a company spokesperson said.

The government of Rwanda will soon issue national policy guidelines to eliminate gas motorcycles in its taxi sector in favor of e-motos, according to a preview of the plan by President Paul Kagame at a public-rally

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

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

Motorcycle taxis in Rwanda are a common mode of transit, with estimates of 20 to 30 thousand operating in the capital of Kigali.

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

Ampersand Africa e motorcycle

Ampersand, a Kigali-based e-moto startup, has already begun to pilot EVs and charging systems in Rwanda and will work with the country’s government on the moto-taxi conversion.

In an ExtraCrunch feature, TechCrunch delved into tech talent accelerator Andela — one of the most recognized and well funded startups operating in Africa.

In a byte, Andela is Series D stage startup ― backed by $180 million in VC ― that trains and connects African software developers to global companies for a fee.

CEO Jeremy Johnson dished on the company’s strategy toward profitability and responded to some of the criticism it receives ― namely a claim the startup is creating a second brain-drain when software developers leave Andela and Africa, to take positions with global companies.

Today Andela has offices in New York and five African countries: Nigeria, Kenya,  Rwanda, Uganda, and Egypt ― which largely align with the continent’s top tech VC markets.

Across this network the company recruits software developers, builds software engineers, and deploys teams of software engineers.

Johnson disclosed numbers on Andela’s expected new hires for the year, current developer staff, how many departures the company expects, and how many of those will likely leave their home countries―which actually amounts to a fairly small percentage.

TechCrunch checked in with Nigerian fintech company Interswitch for the latest on its anticipated dual-listing London and Lagos stock exchanges.

A Bloomberg News story (based on background sourcing) revived speculation the IPO could happen this year for the company — which provides much of Nigeria’s digital banking infrastructure and has expanded its operations presence and payments products across Africa and globally.

Reports that Interswitch could be one of the earliest big tech companies out of Africa to go public trace back to 2016, when CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe told TechCrunch the company was considering a listing before the end of that year.

Last month, an Interswitch spokesperson would neither confirm or deny a pending IPO, per a TechCrunch inquiry. So, it’s still tough to say if or when the company could list. But there are still several reasons why the business (and its possible IPO) are worth keeping an eye on, which we detailed in the update story.

 

One could be an eventual increase in venture funding to African startups, that could come from Interswitch. Another could be an Interswitch IPO adding another benchmark for global investors to gauge Africa’s tech sector beyond Jumia — the e-commerce company that became the first big tech firm operating in Africa to launch on a major exchange, the NYSE in April.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch

African tech around the ‘net

 

Credit Sesame, a platform for managing loans and credit scores, picks up $43M en route to IPO

By Ingrid Lunden

Household debt in the U.S. continues to rise and as of this year now stands at nearly $14 billion. Now, one of the startups that’s building tools to help consumers better cope with that is announcing a round of funding and plans for an IPO — signs of the demand for its services, and its success to date.

Credit Sesame — which lets consumers check their credit scores and evaluate options to rebalance existing debts and loans to improve that score and thus their overall “financial health,” in the words of CEO and founder Adrian Nazari — has raised $43 million. With the company already profitable and growing revenues 90% each year for the last five, Nazari said that this round is likely to be the last round the company raises before it goes public.

Credit Sesame is not disclosing its valuation, in part because this round is likely to have some more money added to it. But Nazari noted that it’s on track to be valued at over $1 billion when it does close in the coming months. It has now raised $110 million in total.

The round is a mixture of equity and debt, and includes both strategic and financial investors. Led by growth-stage investors ATW Partners, it also includes participation from previous investors. Past backers of Credit Sesame include Menlo Ventures, Inventus Capital, Globespan Capital, IA Capital Groups, Symantec, Capital One Ventures, and Stanford University. There will also likely be new investors coming to the company when the round does expand.

The reason the startup is raising both equity and debt is worth a note: Nazari said Credit Sesame is profitable and has been “for some time,” Nazari noted, so when it raises money now, it would prefer to do so with less dilution. The funding will be going towards continuing to work on Credit Sesame’s artificial intelligence algorithms, and to continue expanding this business, but not likely acquisitions: there are a lot of companies in the fintech arena that are working on products adjacent to what Credit Sesame does, but Nazari said that it would likely only start to work on some M&A and consolidation plays after it IPOs, using the proceeds from that to fuel that.

In addition to a number of companies building tools and products to help people manage their money better, there are direct competitors to Credit Sesame, too, including Credit Karma, NerdWallet, Experian, ClearScore, Equifax and many more. Nazari’s view is that while Credit Sesame maybe targeting a similar initial function, its approach and how helps you manage your credit score is what differentiates it.

The company has coined the term “Personal Credit Management” (as opposed to personal financial management), and has built an algorithm it calls RoboCredit, which is based on a basic score provided by TransUnion (one of the big agencies that calculates scores, alongside Equifax and Experian) but also includes other factors that it calculates to show consumers what actions they can take to improve their scores. Checking initial scores is free on Credit Sesame, as are evaluating options for how to rebalance loans and other debts to help improve the score. But users that take products referred through the engine — such as refinancing a mortgage or taking a new credit and/or transferring your existing balance — or other premium services (such as an advanced level of identity theft protection), pay fees to do so.

The credit rating industry has seen some big setbacks in the last several years — first the big breach at Equifax, and then the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fining both Equifax and TransUnion for misrepresenting what kind of data it was providing to consumers, and for not being transparent enough in its charges. But Nazari said that in fact, this has had a positive impact on the company.

“The impact from Equifax has been net positive,” he explained. “Incidents like these create awareness and the need for consumers to watch their credit and be on top of that,” he noted. “Identity theft from breaches could happen any time.” 

Indeed, online security has become a bit of an unknown variable for many of us: we can try to prepare as much as possible, but we never know what news of a new breach might come around the corner, or when one fragment of our disclosed information might be the missing piece to someone using it to steal something from us. On the other hand, the startup is giving more transparency at least to how some of the other aspects of our online financial identity work, and how it can be used by others to evaluate us as consumers.

“Credit Sesame is revolutionizing how consumers manage their credit. What once was a mystery and black box is now distilled by Credit Sesame’s PCM platform into easy to digest actionable insights that can effortlessly and meaningfully change a consumer’s credit and financial health,” said Kerry Propper, co-founder and managing partner at ATW Partners, in a statement. “We’re thrilled to open the gates to a new age of Personal Credit Management with the Credit Sesame team leading the space.”

Could Peloton be the next Apple?

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we were back in the SF studio, with Kate and Alex on hand to chat venture, business, startups, and IPOs with Iris Choi. Choi is a partner at Floodgate, and one of the very few folks who have ever been invited back on the show.

Despite Floodgate being an early-stage firm, Choi was more than willing to dig into the week’s later-stage topics, starting with the Peloton IPO filing. Kate was stoked about the offering (her piece here, Alex’s notes here). Peloton, a fitness, media, hardware (and more) company, is a lot different than your run-of-the-mill enterprise SaaS exits.

Next Alex ran the team through a list of impending IPOs that we care about. There are a number of venture-backed companies looking to go public before the stock market falls apart. More on each when they price.

After the S-1 march, we turned to personnel news, namely that Instacart’s CFO is leaving the firm after about four years with the companyRavi Gupta is joining Sequoia Capital. We’ll tell you why.

Next, we touched on two rounds. First, a Kleiner deal into Consider, an app that brings power-tooling to email. And then we chatted about Inkitt, another Kleiner deal. Why the pair of early-stage rounds? Because Alex recently went to Kleiner to chat with its new partner team about where they’ll deploy capital in the future.

And that took us comfortably over our time. A big thanks to Choi for joining us, again, and you for sticking with the show. More next week!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Update on Nigerian fintech firm Interswitch and its speculative IPO

By Jake Bright

Nigerian fintech firm Interswitch has been circulating in business news around a possible IPO on the London Stock Exchange.

Last month Bloomberg News ran a story—based on unnamed sources—reporting the financial services firm had hired investment banks to go public on the LSE later in 2019. The piece spurred additional aggregated press.

That Interswitch—which provides much of Nigeria’s digital banking infrastructure—could become one of Africa’s earliest tech companies to list on a global exchange isn’t exactly news.

It’s more deja vu of a story that began several years ago.

As TechCrunch reported, Interswitch was poised to launch on the LSE in 2016. CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe confirmed “a dual-listing on the London and Lagos stock exchange is an option on the table,” in a January 2016 call.

Two additional sources wired into Nigeria’s tech market and close to Interswitch’s investors also said the public launch would happen by the end of that year.

The IPO would have made Interswitch Africa’s first tech company to go from startup to a billion-dollar plus unicorn valuation status. Of course, it didn’t happen in 2016.

In 2017, TechCrunch checked in with Interswitch on the delay and was told the company could not comment on its pending IPO.  In other public interviews, executives Mitchell Elegbe and Divisional Chief Executive Officer Akeem Lawal named Nigeria’s recession as a reason for the delay and reaffirmed a likely dual Longon-Lagos listing by the end of 2019.

After the latest round of IPO buzz, TechCrunch asked Interswitch this week about the Bloomberg reporting and an imminent public stock listing. ““Interswitch does not comment on market speculation,” was the only info a public spokesperson could offer.

So, its tough to say if or when the company could list. There are still a few reasons why the company (and its possible IPO) are worth keeping an eye on.

One is Interswitch’s growing role as a nexus for payments and financial services infrastructure in Nigeria (home of Africa’s largest economy), across Africa, and between Africa and the world. Back in 2002, the company became the pioneer for creating infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly paper-ledger and cash-is-king based economy.

Interswitch QuicktellerInterswitch has since moved into high-volume personal and business finance, with its Verve payment cards and Quickteller payment app. The Nigerian company (which is now well beyond startup phase) has expanded with physical presence in Uganda, Gambia, and Kenya—the latter being home-turf of M-Pesa and Safaricom, which are largely responsible for making Kenya the mobile-money capital of Africa.

Interswitch also sells its products in 23 African countries, through bank partnerships, and has presence abroad. Through its Verve Global Card product, the company’s cardholders can now make payments in the U.S., UK, and UAE. Interswitch launched a partnership this month for Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network. The first transaction for the partnership was placed in New York, with an advertisement for the Nigerian company’s payment product flashing across Times Square. Verve Times Square Interswitch  Another facet to a possible Interswitch IPO is its potential to spark more corporate venture arm and acquisition activity in African fintech, which as a sector receives the bulk of the continent’s startup capital. Interswitch launched a venture arm in 2015called its global ePayment Growth Fundthat made two investments, but then went largely quiet.

A windfall of IPO capital and increasing competition from fintech startups could spur Interswitch to fire up its venture investing activity again. Startups such as Flutterwave and TeamAPT (formed by a former Interswitch alum) have already entered some of Interswitch’s product territory. If a public listing led Interswitch to ramp up investing in (or even acquiring) startups, the net effect would be more capital and exits in Africa’s fintech sector.

And finally, if Interswitch does IPO on the London and Lagos stock exchanges, it could provide another benchmark for global investors to gauge Africa’s tech sector beyond Jumia. This spring the e-commerce company became the first big tech firm operating in Africa to launch on a major exchange, the NYSE.

So far, Jumia’s IPO has been an up and down affair. The company gained investor and analyst confidence out of the gate, but also came under a short-sell assault and share-price volatility.

Two successful global IPOs of tech companies from Africa would and could become the best-case scenario for the continent’s startup scene. But for that to be a possibility, Interswitch will have to confirm the speculation and finally list as a publicly traded fintech firm.

 

What is Andela, the Africa tech talent accelerator?

By Jake Bright

As someone who covers Africa’s tech scene, I’m frequently asked about Andela . That’s not surprising, given the venture gets more global press (arguably) than any startup in Africa.

I’ve found many Silicon Valley investors have heard of Andela but aren’t exactly sure what it does.

In a bite, Andela is Series D stage startup―backed by $180 million in VC―that trains and connects African software developers to global companies for a fee.

The revenue-focused venture is often misread as a charity. In 2017, Andela CEO Jeremy Johnson described the organization as “a mission-driven for-profit company” ― a model for the concept “that you can actually build businesses that create real impact.”

I asked Johnson recently to clarify the objective behind Andela’s drive. “It’s the exact same mission as when we started, based around our founding principle… that brilliance and talent are distributed equally around the world, but opportunity is not,” he said.

“We’re about breaking down the walls that prevent brilliance and opportunity from connecting to each other.”

A major barrier for Africa’s software engineers, according to Johnson, is simply the fact that the continent has been totally off the network that companies look to for developer talent.

Urbvan raises $9 million for its private shuttle service in Mexico

By Jonathan Shieber

As cities in emerging markets grapple with increasingly traffic-clogged and dangerous streets, Urbvan, a startup providing private, high-end transportation shuttles in Mexico, has raised $9 million in a new round of financing.

Co-founded by Joao Matos Albino and Renato Picard, Urbvan is taking the reins from startups like the now-defunct Chariot and tailoring the business for the needs of emerging-market ecosystems.

Hailing from Portugal, Albino arrived in Mexico City as a hire for the Rocket Internet startup Linio. Although Linio didn’t last, Albino stayed in Mexico, eventually landing a job working for the startup Mercadoni, which is where he met Picard.

The two men saw the initial success of Chariot as it launched from Y Combinator, but were also tracking companies like the Indian startup Shuttl.

“We wanted to make shared mobility more accessible and a little bit more efficient,” says Albino. “We studied the economics and we studied the market and we knew there was a huge urgency in the congested cities of  Latin America.”

Unlike the U.S. — and especially major cities like San Francisco and New York — where public transportation is viewed as relatively safe and efficient, the urban environment of Mexico City is seen as not safe by the white-collar workers that comprise Urbvan’s principal clientele.

The company started operating back in 2016. At the time it had five vans that it leased and retrofitted to include amenities like Wi-Fi and plenty of space for a limited number of passengers. The company has expanded significantly since those early days. It now claims more than 15,000 monthly users and a fleet of 180 vans.

Urbvan optimized for safety as well as comfort, according to Albino. The company has deals with WeWork, Walmart and other retailers in Mexico City, so that all the stops on a route are protected and safe. The company also vets its drivers and provides them with additional training because of the expanded capacity of the vans.

Each van is also equipped with a panic button and cameras inside and out for additional monitoring.

Customers either pay $3 per ticket or sign up for a monthly pass that ranges from $100 to $130.

Financing for the company came from Kaszek Ventures and Angel Ventures, with previous investor Mountain Nazca also participating.

For Albino, who went to India to observe Shuttl’s operations, the global market for these kinds of services is so large that there will be many winners in each geography.

“Each city is different and you need to adapt. The technology needs to be adaptable to the city’s concerns, and where it can, add more value,” says Albino. “The Indian market is super different from Latin America… It’s a huge market with a lot of congestion… But the value proposition is a bit more basic [for Shuttl].”

Urbvan is currently operating in Mexico City and Monterrey, but has plans to expand into Guadalajara later this year.

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