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Flat.mx raises $20M from VCs, proptech unicorn founders to fix Mexico’s ‘broken’ real estate market

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Flat.mx, which wants to build a real estate “super app” for Latin America, has closed on a $20 million Series A round of funding.

Anthemis and 500 Startups co-led the investment, which included participation from ALLVP and Expa. Previously, Flat.mx had raised a total $10 million in equity and $25 million in debt. Other backers include Opendoor CEO and CEO and co-founder Eric Wu, Flyhomes’ co-founder and CEO Tushar Garg and Divvy Homes’ co-founder Brian Ma.

Founded in July 2019, Mexico City-based Flat.mx started out with a model similar to that of Opendoor, buying properties, renovating them and then reselling them. That September, the proptech startup had raised one of Mexico’s largest pre-seed rounds to take the Opendoor real estate marketplace model across the Rio Grande.

“The real estate market in Mexico is broken,” said co-founder Bernardo Cordero. “One of the biggest problems is that it takes sellers anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to sell. So we launched the most radical solution we could find to this problem: an instant offer. This product allows homeowners to sell in days instead of months, a fast and convenient experience they can’t find anywhere else.”

Building an instant buyer (ibuyer) in Mexico — and Latin America in general — is a complex endeavor. Unlike in the U.S., Mexico doesn’t have a Multiple Listing Service (MLS). As such, pricing data is not readily available. On top of that, agents are not required to be certified so the whole process of buying and selling a home can be informal.

And since mortgage penetration in Mexico is also low, it can be difficult for buyers to have access to reasonable financing options.

“To build an iBuyer, we had to solve the transaction end-to-end,” said co-founder Victor Noguera. “We had to build the MLS, a third-party marketplace, a contractor marketplace, financial products, broker technology, and a home maintenance provider, along with other services. In other words, we have been building the real estate Superapp for Latam.”

Flat.mx says its certified remodeled properties have gone through a 200+ point inspection and “a full legal review.” 

Flat.mx is growing sales by 70% quarter-over-quarter, and has increased its inventory by 10x over the last year, according to its founders. It has also nearly tripled its headcount from 30 at the middle of last year to over 85 today. So far, Flat.mx has conducted thousands of home valuations and over 100 transactions.

Image Credits: Flat.mx

The pandemic only helped boost interest.

“Our low touch digital solution was key for having a strong business during the pandemic. We were able to create quick liquidity for sellers at a time in Mexico where it was complicated to sell,” said Cordero. “Our model allows sellers to sell with one visit instead of having to receive over 40 potential buyers at a time where they wanted to sell but also wanted to avoid contact with many buyers.”

The company plans to use its new capital to continue to develop what it describes as a “one-stop shop where homeowners and buyers will be able to get all the services they need in one place.”

The founders believe that rather than just try to tackle one aspect of the homebuying process, it makes more sense in emerging markets to address them all.

“We believe that each one of our products makes the others stronger and creating this ecosystem of products will continue to give us an important advantage in the market,” said Noguera. The startup plans to also use the capital from the round to expand its presence in Mexico for iBuying, and to invest in data and financial products.

Image Credits: Flat.mx

Naturally, Flat.mx’s investors are bullish.

Archie Cochrane, principal investor at Anthemis Group, said his firm views Flat.mx as an integral part of its embedded finance thesis in the context of the Mexican property sector. 

“The iBuyer model itself is well understood and developed in many parts of the world, but it is also a complex model with many variables that requires a seasoned and astute team to execute the strategy,” Cochrane wrote via email. “When we met Victor and Bernardo, it was clear that their clarity of vision and deep understanding of the broader opportunity set would allow them to succeed over the long term.

Tim Chae, managing partner at 500 Startups, said he envisions that Flat.mx will become “the go-to route” for buyers, sellers, agents and lenders in Mexican real estate. 

“There are nuances and specific problems that are unique to Mexico that Flat.mx has done a great job identifying and solving,” he said. 

ALLVP Partner Fernando Lelo de Larrea said that essentially after years of “unkept promises,” software is finally transforming the real estate industry in Mexico. 

“Most models replicate successful models from the more mature U.S. proptech space,” he said. “Since we started investing in proptech, we’ve never seen such an innovative approach to seizing a trillion dollar opportunity.”

With investors like Lightspeed and The Chainsmokers, Mexican neobroker Flink raises $57M to boost financial inclusion in LatAm

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Flink, a Mexico City-based neobroker, has raised $57 million in a Series B round of funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners.

The financing comes just over six months after Flink raised $12 million in a Series A round led by Accel. Existing backers Accel, ALLVP, Clocktower and new investor Mantis Venture Capital (founded by The Chainsmokers) also put money in the Series B. Since its 2017 inception, the startup has raised nearly $70 million.

Neobrokers are defined as startups that are disrupting the investment industry by providing a platform for a wider range of consumers to partake in the stock market by offering them more incremental investment options and modern and easy mobile-based interfaces to manage their money. There is a growing number of them globally, including Scalable Capital, Bitpanda and Trade Republic in Europe.

For Mexico City-born Sergio Jiménez Amozurrutia, the fact that in his country of more than 120 million people, only a tiny fraction of the population has the ability to invest in the capital markets felt unfair. To him, the lack of widespread participation in investing is an example of the rich getting richer as part of an infrastructure “that is built for the wealthy.” The result of the imbalance is that a lot of people have historically been locked out of making potentially wealth-building investments.  

So after selling Easy Credit, a consumer lending platform he’d built with Rick Rafael Bueno (whom he met in 2015 at a hackathon at Tech de Monterrey), Amozurrutia set out to give Mexicans access to something he believed they’d never had access to: an app-based consumer trading platform.

Flink launched its app in 2018 with a wallet service, a digital and physical global debit card backed by Mastercard and, last year, it began offering the ability to buy and sell fractional shares from 30 pesos, without commissions, for NYSE-listed stocks.

“Users can invest as little as US$1 and with zero commissions,” Amozurrutia said. “We want Flink to be the easiest way to invest, save and use your money.” 

Image Credits: Lightspeed’s Mercedes Bent and Flink founding team / Lightspeed

The demand for what the startup has to offer is clearly there. Since launching its first brokerage product in July of 2020, Flink has 1.6 million users, up from 1 million users at the time of its February raise. Over 85% of its users are first-time investors. GenZers seem to be the most interested in investing — 27% of the app’s clients are between 18 and 25 years old, while 22% are millennials, execs say.

“Most legacy Mexican banks cater to less than 1% of the population — meaning most Mexicans don’t have a bank account, let alone a brokerage account,” Amozurrutia said at the time of the company’s last raise. “At Flink, we’re guided by the belief that Mexico’s financial system should work for everyone — not only a select few.”

The company is growing its user base by 38% per month and revenue by 31% per month, according to  Amozurrutia, and touts a user acquisition cost of 62 cents. It is currently the largest retail brokerage service in Mexico, he said. Flink has 110 employees, up from 25 people a year ago today.

The startup plans to use its new capital to keep growing its team, toward product development and to expand its service to different countries in Latin America.

“The lack of access for retail investing is all over LATAM, and at Flink we want to change that,” Amozurrutia told TechCrunch. “We are focused on offering the opportunity to invest and grow their money to everyone in LATAM.”

Lightspeed Partner Mercedes Bent said her firm “fell in love” with Flink’s mission and impact on the country’s “financial ecosystem.” It was also impressed by the company’s unique features, including allowing Mexican investors to access the U.S. stock market and invest fractional shares.

“Many equities platforms only let you invest in equities in your own country,” she said. “Flink also has a big focus on education and creating an investment experience that makes it easy for their users to onboard.” For example, Bent noted, Flink has a podcast dubbed “Finanzas en órbita” that provides financial and stock market education in México.

In a blog post, Bent and Will Kohler wrote that they could feel the company’s passion and vision for creating more financial inclusion in Mexico, even via a Zoom call.

“The excitement leapt through the video screen,” the pair wrote. “…Flink’s vision for the future goes beyond accessing stocks, and we wanted to be a part of it.”

Flink marks Lightspeed’s third investment in Mexico, alongside Stori and Frubana, and Bent and Kohler say there is “more to come.”

“We are big believers in México, and bullish on LATAM,” they wrote.

Apple launches a new iOS app, ‘Siri Speech Study,’ to gather feedback for Siri improvements

By Sarah Perez

Apple recently began a research study designed to collect speech data from study participants. Earlier this month, the company launched a new iOS app called “Siri Speech Study” on the App Store, which allows participants who have opted in to share their voice requests and other feedback with Apple. The app is available in a number of worldwide markets but does not register on the App Store’s charts, including under the “Utilities” category where it’s published.

According to data from Sensor Tower, the iOS app first launched on August 9 and was updated to a new version on August 18. It’s currently available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Taiwan — an indication of the study’s global reach. However, the app will not appear when searching the App Store by keyword or when browsing through the list of Apple’s published apps.

The Siri Speech Study app itself offers little information about the study’s specific goals, nor does it explain how someone could become a participant. Instead, it only provides a link to a fairly standard license agreement and a screen where a participant would enter their ID number to get started.

Reached for comment, Apple told TechCrunch the app is only being used for Siri product improvements, by offering a way for participants to share feedback directly with Apple. The company also explained people have to be invited to the study — there’s not a way for consumers to sign up to join.

Image Credits: App Store screenshot

The app is only one of many ways Apple is working to improve Siri.

In the past, Apple had tried to learn more about Siri’s mistakes by sending some small portion of consumers’ voice recordings to contractors for manual grading and review. But a whistleblower alerted media outlet The Guardian that the process had allowed them to listen in on confidential details at times. Apple shortly thereafter made manual review an opt-in process and brought audio grading in-house. This type of consumer data collection continues, but has a different aim that what a research study would involve.

Unlike this broader, more generalized data collection, a focus group-like study allows Apple to better understand Siri’s mistakes because it combines the collected data with human feedback. With the Siri Speech Study app, participants provide explicit feedback on per request basis, Apple said. For instance, if Siri misheard a question, users could explain what they were trying to ask. If Siri was triggered when the user hadn’t said “Hey Siri,” that could be noted. Or if Siri on HomePod misidentified the speaker in a multi-person household, the participant could note that, too.

Another differentiator is that none of the participants’ data is being automatically shared with Apple. Rather, users can see a list of the Siri requests they’ve made and then select which to send to Apple with their feedback. Apple also noted no user information is collected or used in the app, except the data directly provided by participants.

WWDC 2021 on device privacy

Image Credits: Apple WWDC 2021

Apple understands that an intelligent virtual assistant that understands you is a competitive advantage.

This year, the company scooped up ex-Google AI scientist Samy Bengio to help make Siri a stronger rival to Google Assistant, whose advanced capabilities are often a key selling point for Android devices. In the home, meanwhile, Alexa-powered smart speakers are dominating the U.S. market and compete with Google in the global landscape, outside China. Apple’s HomePod has a long way to go to catch up.

But despite the rapid progress in voice-based computing in recent years, virtual assistants can still have a hard time understanding certain types of speech. Earlier this year, for example, Apple said it would use a bank of audio clips from podcasts where users had stuttered to help it improve its understanding of this kind of speech pattern. Assistants can also stumble when there are multiple devices in a home that are listening for voice commands from across several rooms. And assistants can mess up when trying to differentiate between different family members’ voices or when trying to understand a child’s voice.

In other words, there are still many avenues a speech study could pursue over time, even if these aren’t its current focus.

That Apple is running a Siri speech study isn’t necessarily new. The company has historically run evaluations and studies like this in some form. But it’s less common to find Apple’s studies published directly on the App Store.

Though Apple could have published the app through the enterprise distribution process to keep it more under wraps, it chose to use its public marketplace. This more closely follows the App Store’s rules, as the research study is not an internally-facing app meant only for Apple employees.

Still, it’s not likely consumers will stumble across the app and be confused — the Siri Speech Study app is hidden from discovery. You have to have the app’s direct link to find it. (Good thing we’re nosy!)

In growing battle with TikTok, Facebook to test ‘Facebook Reels’ in the US

By Sarah Perez

Reels are coming to Facebook in the U.S. The company this morning announced it will begin testing a new feature, Facebook Reels, which will give Facebook users the ability to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. The addition is an expansion of tests launched earlier this year in India, Mexico and Canada, which had focused on bringing short-form videos to Facebook users, including by sharing existing Instagram Reels to Facebook, as had been reported.

In addition, Facebook today says it will also test a new feature that will give Instagram creators in the U.S. the option to have their Instagram Reels shown as recommended content on Facebook. If the creators opt in, their videos will appear in the “Reels” section in users’ News Feed, alongside other Reels created on Facebook.

There will be many places where users can create Reels from Facebook, as the new feature launches.

Initially, you’ll be able to tap a “Create” button from the Reels’ section that appears as you scroll the News Feed, while you’re watching Reels, or by tapping on “Reels” at the top of your News Feed. From here, users will gain access to a standard set of creation tools, including those for video capture, music selection, camera roll import, timed text, and more — much like you would have access to on Instagram.

For audio, you can either choose a song from Facebook’s music library, record your own original audio, or even use someone else’s audio, if their Reels are set to “public.” There are also a variety of effects and editing tools to choose from, including a timer for recording Reels hands-free, tools to speed up or slow down a part of the video or your original audio, and a number of augmented reality effects created either by Facebook or third-party developers.

Facebook told us that, for the time being, “most” of Instagram Reels’ features will also be available on Facebook Reels. But other features — like Remix (its take on TikTok’s side-by-side videos called Duets) — will be added over time as the test scales to more people. The user interface for Reels may also evolve over time to look somewhat different from Reels on Instagram, depending on user feedback.

After a Reel has been created, you can choose who to share it with — such as “Friends,” a specific audience like “Friends except…”, or the general public. The latter is the default setting.

The feature will be made available within Facebook Groups, where Reels can be created then shared with members of the community who have similar interests.

Users can also choose to tap into “My Reels,” to view past creations. And you can browse Reels created by others in the News Feed, and in select Groups and Pages — where you can like, comment or share them, just as you could with any other type of post. Reels will now be surfaced in Search results, too, Facebook told us.

Like much of what appears on Facebook, Reels will be recommended to users based on what people are interested in, what they engage with, and what’s broadly popular. This will apply to both the shared Instagram Reels and the Facebook Reels.

Image Credits: Facebook (Reels in Groups)

The company explained the decision to replicate the Reels product inside Facebook is a result of consumers’ growing interest in video, and particularly short-form video. Today, video accounts for almost half of all time spent on Facebook, in fact. On Facebook’s latest earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg remarked that Reels was “already the largest contributor to engagement growth on Instagram,” given the popularity of short-form video.

“We’re very focused on making it easy for anyone to create video, and then for those videos to be viewed across all of our different services, starting with Facebook and Instagram first,” he had told investors.

But Facebook also understands that people have different communities and audiences on Instagram and Facebook, so simply offering a cross-posting option may not have sufficed.

However, for existing Reels creators who do want to tap into Facebook’s large audience, a new option will allow them to opt-in to have their Reels shared to Facebook. This could be useful for those producing more general-interest Reels content.

These shared Reels will display the creator’s Instagram username, as well, which could help them to build a following. Creators’ Reels can also be remixed, with the creator’s permission, and their original audio can be re-used in other people’s Reels — again, much like on TikTok.

This feature will also be first introduced as a “test,” Facebook said.

While Instagram is already beginning to monetize Reels through ads, Facebook told us that Reels on Facebook don’t currently include ads. But: “we plan to roll out ads in the future,” a Facebook spokesperson added.

Image Credits: Facebook (sharing Instagram Reels to Facebook opt-in flow)

Reels, which is Facebook’s answer to the growing threat of TikTok, first launched to global audiences a year ago. This launch alone was not enough to win Instagram the top spot as the world’s most downloaded mobile app. In 2020, that win went to TikTok, after years where Facebook-owned apps dominated the top charts. And TikTok today continues to sit at the top of App Store charts in terms of both app installs and consumer spending, according to multiple third-party reports. 

For Facebook, TikTok represents an existential threat to its business. If users’ time and attention are being spent elsewhere, Facebook’s advertisers could then follow, impacting Facebook’s bottom line. So instead of competing with TikTok in just one app, Facebook is now using two. And it’s leveraging its apps’ interoperability to ensure the best content can easily flow to both places.

The company is also directly investing in the creator community in hopes of tipping the scales back in its direction.

In July, the company announced a plan to invest over $1 billion in creators across both Facebook and Instagram through 2022. This fund will reward more than just Reels’ creators, to be clear, as it will also pay out bonuses for videos with in-stream ads enabled or for enabling IGTV ads, among other things. It will also bonus top creators who have invited fans to send them tips in the form of a virtual currency, “stars.” But Instagram Reels, and now Facebook Reels, will be looped into that initiative.

Today, Facebook said it will announce additional bonus programs and seed funding in the months ahead that will pay out bonuses for Reels on Facebook. These will be funded from that $1 billion commitment. The company declined to share details on this front, but this news alone indicates Facebook Reels is far more than just “a test” in Facebook’s eyes.

The new Facebook Reels features will begin to roll out starting today, Aug. 19, in the U.S. It will first be available to a “small percentage” of U.S. users on iOS and Android.

The feature will continue to operate in India, Mexico and Canada, as well.

Orchata raises $4M, aims to build a ‘Gopuff for Latin America’

By Christine Hall

Luis Mario Garcia grew up in Mexico making deliveries for the grocery stores in his neighborhood. After honing his startup skills in San Francisco, he returned to Mexico with the idea of building a software company.

That’s when he met his co-founder Javier Gonzalez and the pair started Orchata in 2020, a mobile app enabling consumers to get groceries delivered in 15 minutes, with no substitutes and at supermarket prices. Products delivered include fresh fruit, beverages, bread, medicine and household essentials, Garcia told TechCrunch.

Orchata does this by operating a network of micro fulfillment centers — it is already operating in two cities — with technology for efficient picking and hyperfast delivery.

Online food delivery sales in Latin America are projected to reach $9.8 billion by 2024, with the global pandemic driving demand for faster delivery, according to Statista. Garcia sees three different waves in this market: the first one being traditional supermarkets, where you can spend hours, which led to the second wave of food delivery companies, including some big players in the region — for example Rappi in Colombia, which in July raised $500 million in Series F funding at a $5.25 billion valuation in a round led by T. Rowe Price, and Cornershop in Chile, which was acquired by Uber in 2019.

However, Garcia said many of these services still take more than an hour from order to doorstep and may require phone calls if an item is not available. He wants to be part of a third wave — software that is integrated with inventory and delivery that is super fast, and no substitutions.

“This is similar to what is going on around the world, but there is a huge opportunity to bring convenience, to be the Gopuff for Latin America, and we want to build it first in the region,” Garcia said.

The Monterrey-based company was part of Y Combinator’s summer 2020 cohort and on Friday announced a $4 million seed round from a group of investors, including Y Combinator, JAM Fund, FJ Labs, Venture Friends, Investo and Foundation Capital, and angel investors Ross Lipson, Mike Hennessey, Brian Requarth and Javier Mata.

Jonathan Lewy, co-founder of Grin Scooters and founder of Investo, is also an investor in Rappi. He said Garcia was building a product for the end user, with the key being the building of the infrastructure and inventory. Lewy believes Garcia understands how quick delivery should be done and that it is not just about offering a mobile app, but building the technology behind it.

Meanwhile, Justin Mateen, general partner at JAM Fund, and co-founder of Tinder and an early-stage investor, met Garcia over a year ago and was one of the company’s first investors. He said Garcia’s and Gonzalez’s initial idea for the model of grocery stores was still not solving the problem, but then they pivoted to doing fulfillment and inventory themselves.

“He fits the mold of what I look for in a founder, and he is the type of founder that doesn’t give up,” Mateen said. “Luis finally agreed to let me double down on my investment. The model makes sense now, he is on to something and it is now going to be about execution of capital as he scales.”

Both Mateen and Lewy agree that there will be similar apps coming because food delivery is such a large market, but that Orchata has a clear advantage of owning the customer experience from beginning to end.

Having only launched four months ago, Orchata is already processing thousands of orders and is seeing 100% monthly growth. The new funding will enable Orchata to expand into three new cities in Mexico. Garcia is also eyeing Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Chile for future expansion.

The company is also targeting multiple use cases, including someone noticing a forgotten item while cooking to consumers shopping for the week or teenagers needing food for a party.

“We are going to be super convenient to customers, and we think every use case for food delivery will be this way in the future,” Garcia said. “We will eventually introduce our own brands and foods with the goal of being that app that is there anytime you need it.”

 

Yaydoo secures $20M, aims to simplify B2B collections, payments

By Christine Hall

It’s no secret that the technology for easy business-to-business payments has not yet caught up to its peer-to-peer counterparts, but Yaydoo thinks it has the answer.

The Mexico City-based B2B software and payments company provides three products, VendorPlace, P-Card and PorCobrar, for managing cash flow, optimizing access to smart liquidity, and connecting small, midsize and large businesses to an ecosystem of digital tools.

Sergio Almaguer, Guillermo Treviño and Roberto Flores founded Yaydoo — the name combines “yay” and “do” to show the happiness of doing something — in 2017. Today, the company announced the close of a $20.4 million Series A round co-led by Base10 Partners and monashees.

Joining them in the round were SoftBank’s Latin America Fund and Leap Global Partners. In total, Yaydoo has raised $21.5 million, Almaguer told TechCrunch.

Prior to starting the company, Almaguer was working at another company in Mexico doing point-of-sale. His large enterprise customers wanted automation for their payments, but he noticed that the same tools were too expensive for small businesses.

The co-founders started Yaydoo to provide procurement, accounts payable and accounts receivables, but in a simpler format so that the collection and payment of B2B transactions was affordable for small businesses.

Image Credits: Yaydoo

The idea is taking off, and vendors are adding their own customers so that they are all part of the network to better link invoices to purchase orders and then connect to accounts payable, Almaguer said. Yaydoo estimates that the automation workflows reduced 80% of time wasted paying vendors, on average.

Yaydoo is joining a sector of fintech that is heating up — the global B2B payments market is valued at $120 trillion annually. Last week, B2B payments platform Nium announced a $200 million in Series D funding on a $1 billion valuation. Others attracting funding recently include Paystand, which raised $50 million in Series C funding to make B2B payments cashless, while Dwolla raised $21 million for its API that allows companies to build and facilitate fast payments.

The new funding will enable the company to attract new hires in Mexico and when the company expands into other Latin American countries. Yaydoo is also looking at future opportunities for its working capital business, like understanding how many invoices customers are setting, the access to actual payments, and how money flows out and in so that it can provide insights on working capital funding gaps. The company will also invest in product development.

The company has grown to over 800 customers, up from 200 in the first quarter of 2020. Its headcount also grew to 100 from 30 during the same time. In the last 12 months, over 70,000 companies have transacted on the Yaydoo network, and total payment volume grew to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yaydoo is a SaaS subscription model, but the new funding will also enable the company to create a pool of potential customers with a “freemium” offering with the goal of converting those customers into the subscription model as they grow, Almaguer said.

Rexhi Dollaku, partner at Base10 Partners, said the firm saw the way B2B payments were becoming modernized and “was impressed” by the Yaydoo team and how it built a complicated infrastructure, but made it easy to use.

He believes Latin America is 10 years behind in terms of B2B payments but will catch up sooner than later because of the digital transformation going on in the region.

“We are starting to see early signs of the network being built out of the payments product, and that is a good indication,” Dollaku said. “With the funding, Yaydoo will be also able to provide more financial services options for businesses to address a working fund gap.”

Chilean fintech Xepelin secures $230M in debt and equity from Kaszek, high-profile angels

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Chilean startup Xepelin, which has created a financial services platform for SMEs in Latin America, has secured $30 million in equity and $200 million in credit facilities.

LatAm venture fund Kaszek Ventures led the equity portion of the financing, which also included participation from partners of DST Global and a slew of other firms and founders/angel investors. LatAm- and U.S.-based asset managers and hedge funds — including Chilean pension funds — provided the credit facilities. In total over its lifetime, Xepelin has raised over $36 million in equity and $250 million in asset-backed facilities.

Also participating in the round were Picus Capital; Kayak Ventures; Cathay Innovation; MSA Capital; Amarena; FJ Labs; Gilgamesh and Kavak founder and CEO Carlos Garcia; Jackie Reses, executive chairman of Square Financial Services; Justo founder and CEO Ricardo Weder; Tiger Global Management Partner John Curtius; GGV’s Hans Tung; and Gerry Giacoman, founder and CEO of Clara, among others.

Nicolás de Camino and Sebastian Kreis founded Xepelin in mid-2019 with the mission of changing the fact that “only 5% of companies in all LatAm countries have access to recurring financial services.”

“We want all SMEs in LatAm to have access to financial services and capital in a fair and efficient way,” the pair said.

Xepelin is built on a SaaS model designed to give SMEs a way to organize their financial information in real time. Embedded in its software is a way for companies to apply for short-term working capital loans “with just three clicks, and receive the capital in a matter of hours,” the company claimed.

It has developed an AI-driven underwriting engine, which the execs said gives it the ability to make real-time loan approval decisions.

“Any company in LatAm can onboard in just a few minutes and immediately access a free software that helps them organize their information in real time, including cash flow, revenue, sales, tax, bureau info — sort of a free CFO SaaS,” de Camino said. “The circle is virtuous: SMEs use Xepelin to improve their financial habits, obtain more efficient financing, pay their obligations, and collaborate effectively with clients and suppliers, generating relevant impacts in their industries.”

The fintech currently has over 4,000 clients in Chile and Mexico, which currently has a growth rate “four times faster” than when Xepelin started in Chile. Over the past 22 months, it has loaned more than $400 million to SMBs in the two countries. It currently has a portfolio of active loans for $120 million and an asset-backed facility for more than $250 million.

Overall, the company has been seeing a growth rate of 30% per month, the founders said. It has 110 employees, up from 20 a year ago.

Xepelin has more than 60 partnerships (a number that it said is growing each week) with midmarket corporate companies, allowing for their suppliers to onboard to its platform for free and gain access to accounts payable, revenue-based financing. The company also sells its portfolio of non-recourse loans to financial partners, which it says mitigates credit risk exposure and enhances its platform and data play.

“When we talk about creating the largest digital bank for SMEs in LatAm, we are not saying that our goal is to create a bank; perhaps we will never ask for the license to have one, and to be honest, everything we do, we do it differently from the banks, something like a non-bank, a concept used today to exemplify focus,” the founders said.

Both de Camino and Kreis said they share a passion for making financial services more accessible to SMEs all across Latin America and have backgrounds rooted deep in different areas of finance.

“Our goal is to scale a platform that can solve the true pains of all SMEs in LatAm, all in one place that also connects them with their entire ecosystem, and above all, democratized in such a way that everyone can access it,” Kreis said, “regardless of whether you are a company that sells billions of dollars or just a thousand dollars, getting the same service and conditions.”

For now, the company is nearly exclusively focused on the B2B space, but in the future, it believes several of its services “will be very useful for all SMEs and companies in LatAm.” 

“Xepelin has developed technology and data science engines to deliver financing to SMBs in Latin America in a seamless way,” Nicolas Szekasy, co-founder and managing partner at Kaszek Ventures, said in a statement.The team has deep experience in the sector and has proven a perfect fit of their user-friendly product with the needs of the market.”

Chile was home to another large funding earlier this week. NotCo, a food technology company making plant-based milk and meat replacements, closed on a $235 million Series D round that gives it a $1.5 billion valuation.

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.”

This tool tells you if NSO’s Pegasus spyware targeted your phone

By Zack Whittaker

Over the weekend, an international consortium of news outlets reported that several authoritarian governments — including Mexico, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates — used spyware developed by NSO Group to hack into the phones of thousands of their most vocal critics, including journalists, activists, politicians and business executives.

A leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers of potential surveillance targets was obtained by Paris-based journalism non-profit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, and shared with the reporting consortium, including the Washington Post and The Guardian. Researchers analyzed the phones of dozens of victims to confirm they were targeted by the NSO’s Pegasus spyware, which can access all of the data on a person’s phone. The reports also confirm new details of the government customers themselves, which NSO Group closely guards. Hungary, a member of the European Union where privacy from surveillance is supposed to be a fundamental right for its 500 million residents, is named as an NSO customer.

The reporting shows for the first time how many individuals are likely targets of NSO’s intrusive device-level surveillance. Previous reporting had put the number of known victims in the hundreds or over a thousand.

NSO Group sharply rejected the claims. NSO has long said that it doesn’t know who its customers target, which it reiterated in a statement to TechCrunch on Monday.

Researchers at Amnesty, whose work was reviewed by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, found that NSO can deliver Pegasus by sending a victim a link which when opened infects the phone, or silently and without any interaction at all through a “zero-click” exploit, which takes advantage of vulnerabilities in the iPhone’s software. Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak said in a tweet that NSO’s zero-clicks worked on iOS 14.6, which until today was the most up-to-date version.

Amnesty’s researchers showed their working by publishing meticulously detailed technical notes and a toolkit that they said may help others identify if their phones have been targeted by Pegasus.

The Mobile Verification Toolkit, or MVT, works on both iPhones and Android devices, but slightly differently. Amnesty said that more forensic traces were found on iPhones than Android devices, which makes it easier to detect on iPhones. MVT will let you take an entire iPhone backup (or a full system dump if you jailbreak your phone) and feed in for any indicators of compromise (IOCs) known to be used by NSO to deliver Pegasus, such as domain names used in NSO’s infrastructure that might be sent by text message or email. If you have an encrypted iPhone backup, you can also use MVT to decrypt your backup without having to make a whole new copy.

The Terminal output from the MVT toolkit, which scans iPhone and Android backup files for indicators of compromise. (Image: TechCrunch)

The toolkit works on the command line, so it’s not a refined and polished user experience and requires some basic knowledge of how to navigate the terminal. We got it working in about ten minutes, plus the time to create a fresh backup of an iPhone, which you will want to do if you want to check up to the hour. To get the toolkit ready to scan your phone for signs of Pegasus, you’ll need to feed in Amnesty’s IOCs, which it has on its GitHub page. Any time the indicators of compromise file updates, download and use an up-to-date copy.

Once you set off the process, the toolkit scans your iPhone backup file for any evidence of compromise. The process took about a minute or two to run and spit out several files in a folder with the results of the scan. If the toolkit finds a possible compromise, it will say so in the outputted files. In our case, we got one “detection,” which turned out to be a false positive and has been removed from the IOCs after we checked with the Amnesty researchers. A new scan using the updated IOCs returned no signs of compromise.

Given it’s more difficult to detect an Android infection, MVT takes a similar but simpler approach by scanning your Android device backup for text messages with links to domains known to be used by NSO. The toolkit also lets you scan for potentially malicious applications installed on your device.

The toolkit is — as command line tools go — relatively simple to use, though the project is open source so not before long surely someone will build a user interface for it. The project’s detailed documentation will help you — as it did us.

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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.”

Naspers co-leads $14.5M extension round in mobility startup WhereIsMyTransport

By Tage Kene-Okafor

Many people in emerging markets depend on informal public transport to move across cities. But while there are ride-hailing and bus-hailing applications in some of these cities, there’s a dire need for journey-planning apps to improve mobility for users and reduce the time they spend commuting.

South African-founded startup WhereIsMyTransport is one such company filling that gap for now. Today, it is announcing a $14.5 million Series A extension to continue its expansion across emerging markets; the company already has a presence in South Africa and Mexico.

Naspers, via its investment arm, Naspers Foundry, co-led the investment with Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund. According to Naspers, the size of its check was $3 million. Japan’s SBI Investment also participated in the round.

The extension round is coming a year after WhereIsMyTransport received a $7.5 million Series A investment from VC firms and strategic investment from Google, Nedbank, and Toyota Tsusho Corporation (TTC).

Devin de Vries, Chris King and Dave New started the company in 2015. As a mobility startup, WhereIsMyTransport maps formal and informal public transport networks. The company then uses data gotten to improve the public transport experience, making commute safe and accessible.

In addition to this, WhereIsMyTransport licenses some of this data to governments, DFIs, NGOs, operators, and third-party developers. It claims this is done for research, analytics, insights and consumer and enterprise solutions purposes.  

“WhereIsMyTransport started in South Africa, focused on becoming a central source of accurate and reliable public transport data for high-growth markets. We’re thrilled to welcome Naspers as an investor as our journey continues in megacities across the majority world,” said CEO Devin de Vries in a statement.

Last year when we covered the company, it had mapped 34 cities in Africa while actively mapping some in India, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Since then, it expanded into Mexico City last November and has completed multiple data production projects in the city alongside Lima, Bangkok, Gauteng, Dhaka. Right now, the company has worked in 41 cities across 28 countries. 

WhereIsMyTransport also launched its first consumer product Rumbo which provides network information from all modes of public transport in Mexico with more than 100,000 users delivering over 750,000 real-time network alerts. The company says there are plans to launch Rumbo in Lima, Peru, later this year.

Devin de Vries CEO_WhereIsMyTransport

Devin de Vries (CEO WhereIsMyTransport)

For co-lead investor Naspers Foundry, this is the firm’s first investment in mobility. So far, it has funded four other South African startups — Aerobotics, SweepSouth, Food Supply Network, and The Student Hub — with a focus on edtech, food and cleaning sectors.

“We couldn’t pass on the opportunity to back an extraordinary South African founder who has built his business here in Cape Town to a global market leader in mapping formal and informal transportation with a strong focus on emerging markets,” Head of Naspers Foundry Fabian Whate said to TechCrunch

He also adds that there is an overlap between mobility and the food and e-commerce businesses that seem to be Naspers main focus from a Naspers perspective. “The global food and e-commerce businesses, often operating in emerging markets, are quite reliant on mobility solutions. So there’s a great overlap between what the Naspers Group does and the vision for WhereIsMyTransport.”

In South Africa, WhereIsMyTransport’s clients include Johannesburg commuter rail system Gautrain and Transport for Cape Town. On the other hand, its international client base Google, the World Bank and WSP, and others.

South Africa CEO of Naspers, Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, said: “Mobility remains an obstacle for billions of people in high-growth markets across the world. Our investment in WhereIsMyTransport is a testimony of our belief that great innovation and tech talent is found in South Africa, and with the right backing and support, these businesses can provide solutions to local challenges that can improve the lives of ordinary people in South Africa and abroad.”

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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