I recently sat on a panel for gaming website Pocket Gamer that was focused on esports and the Olympics. We were debating whether esports were filling the gap in sporting events, including the Olympic games, which have been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was an interesting conversation that started out like most esports panels. The only difference here is that instead of the typical question, “When will esports catch up to traditional sports?” it was, “Will esports become mainstream enough to make it into the Olympics?” A slightly different question, but the same sentiment: The international games are one of televised sports’ marquee events, and esports companies hope to earn a seat at the grown-up’s table.
In truth, the Olympics have been dropping in ratings relatively steadily in the U.S. for a long time. The only Olympic games that scored in the top five ratings going back to 1992 were the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, presumably because they were held in the United States. Overall, viewership has been declining in recent years and the games don’t hold the prestige they once did.
Additionally, audiences are slowly becoming worth less and less to advertisers because the age of the average viewer is rising rapidly, a trend we are seeing in almost all traditional sports.
I doubt it would surprise anyone to learn that the average age of almost all traditional sports viewership skews older than esports’ audience. Even then, I think the actual data will be quite surprising. Only one professional sport (women’s tennis) actually saw its average viewers age come down in the last decade or so. Even in that context, the average age of a Women’s Tennis Association home spectator is 55 years old.
The average age of esports viewership looks to be around 26 years old. Think about that from a marketer’s perspective. Traditional sports are just missing young people, by a wide margin.
But there are more factors at play than just a lack of interest from millennials and Gen Z driving this trend: There’s also a question of access.
The IOC made the decision in recent years to stream the Olympics (the way most younger people consume content), but it capped the ability to watch online to 30 minutes if viewers didn’t sign in with their cable company (a relationship many millennials don’t have) to continue watching.
Additionally, the IOC made the laughable decision to “ban” GIFs with the press covering the event, which qualifies as one of the more stupid things a governing body has ever tried to do. First, it won’t work. Secondly, and more to the point, it demonstrates how out of touch the IOC is with the ways in which media has evolved in the last 20 years.
However, unlike the Olympics, where no corporation owns the rights to volleyball or the pole vault, all esports companies own the IP associated with the game itself. That means, by default, the IOC would not have carte blanche when making decisions about how to represent the games, programming, licensing rights and other factors it has enjoyed for a long time.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the IOC doesn’t like the idea of “violent” games being added to the Olympic roster. It would prefer to see current sports transformed into virtual competitions. But anyone who knows anything about esports understands that this isn’t how esports works. Before a game ascends to esports royalty, it needs to be a good game. If nobody plays it, it’s unlikely anyone will want to watch it.
Secondly, it has be digestible as a viewing experience. World of Warcraft Arena is a game that draws a lot of players, but it’s almost impossible to know what is going on unless you’re an expert at the game or you have a godly shoutcaster who can translate the on-screen action. You can’t make track and field an esport and hope audiences will want to watch.
The IOC has taken steps to try and stave off declining youth viewership trends by adopting sports considered “young” in the past few years. Five sports recently added to the Olympic games include:
The baseball/softball addition notwithstanding, I think you would have to live under a rock if you thought that competitive sport climbing held a candle to Fortnite or League of Legends in terms of generating youth interest. Frankly, this seems like an idea that came from an old person trying to find a way to “get the kids back.”
To the IOC’s credit, it has begun to hold panels and conferences with esports experts and game publishers, but the deals that will come from these will look REALLY different than what they are used to. It seems to me that we have a long way to go here.
For my part of the panel, I argued that the Olympics need esports much more than esports need the Olympics. Media companies are only going to overpay for broadcasting rights for traditional sports for so long. At some point, someone is going to notice that the “inside the demo” group isn’t there and move on.
The thing that esports CAN get from the Olympics is understanding a better way to monetize its audience, something that the Olympics do well and esports doesn’t do well right now. A report from Goldman Sachs shows the audience size and monetization based on that audience, showing that esports dramatically underindex on monetization relative to their more established sports league equivalents. It is clear that esports is immature from a monetization perspective and, while the Olympics aren’t on this chart, I would assume that it punches WAY above its weight, much like MLB does, trading on its reputation more than on actual results these days.
The IOC should act fast, though. It won’t be long until esports figures this whole thing out and once they do, the Olympic games won’t have anything to offer this emerging media powerhouse.
Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what those events mean to people in the rest of the world. This week, we are seeing the backlash Chinese tech companies face around the world as anti-China sentiment escalates. In China, one of the world’s largest trade fairs kicked off, virtually.
Chinese apps are facing major challenges in India after an app named Remove China Apps that made it easy for users to delete China-related services went viral. Though Google has pulled the app, anti-China sentiment will likely haunt Chinese apps in India as political tensions between the countries heighten. Several Indian celebrities in recent days have supported deleting Chinese apps. Yoga guru Baba Ramdev tweeted a video over the weekend that showed him deleting several apps with an affiliation with China.
Decoupling from Chinese tech might not be easy in practice. Four out of the top five smartphone brands in India are Chinese, according to Counterpoint data, three of which belong to the enigmatic BBK Electronics group based in Shenzhen. These Android phones normally come bundled with a suite of Chinese utility apps, so users would have to find alternatives were they to abandon the Chinese options.
Indian smartphone shipments market share (Counterpoint)
Tencent Cloud powers mega trade show
The coronavirus outbreak is prompting people to bring everything online — including mega-size trade shows. This week, Tencent announced that it will provide technological infrastructure to digitize China’s oldest and biggest trade fair Canto Fair, which was postponed due to the coronavirus and later rescheduled to run virtually from June 15 to 24.
The project is no small feat for Tencent. Last year, the trade show, which took place in China’s major trade city Guangzhou, attracted just below 200,000 buyers with turnover reaching nearly $30 billion.
The social networking and gaming giant, which has a growing cloud unit, will deploy more than 1,300 acceleration nodes across some 30 countries to handle the traffic of several hundred thousand exhibitors and buyers (1,100 of these acceleration nodes will be in China).
The virtual system will support essential trade show functionalities such as matchmaking between exhibitors and buyers, product demonstrations through videos and interactive live streaming.
The project will also acquire users for Tencent’s enterprise-facing services, which have become the giant’s new growth focus. For instance, Tencent Meeting, a Zoom equivalent, can host up to 300 participants per session. The app is currently the most downloaded iOS “business” app in China, according to App Annie.
ERP startup Jushuitan raised $100 million
Jushuitan, a six-year-old Shanghai-based startup focused on ERP (enterprise resources planning) tailored to e-commerce, announced completing a $100 million Series C round led by Goldman Sachs. While China’s consumer-facing internet companies are in many ways on par with their American counterparts, the country is still “5-10 years behind in the area of enterprise software,” stated Sun Mengxi, managing director at Goldman Sachs.
The firm’s software-as-a-service solutions have served more than 500,000 e-commerce clients in China, but it’s looking for overseas expansion — which will use some of the proceeds from this round of funding. The fresh capital will also help upgrade the Jushuitan’s products and services, work on its integration into supply chains, as well as allow it to invest in or acquire other companies.
Jushuitan is betting on the need for digitization in China’s massive online retail industry, which has seen exponential growth since the early 2010s. Chief executive and founder Luo Haidong contended in a previous interview that the “watershed” in Chinese e-commerce happened around 2013-2014.
“When e-commerce first emerged, stores were able to sell all their inventory as long as they managed their orders well. But as the number of stores increased and growth slowed after 2014, there was a greater need to improve management. I clearly felt that the market was calling for an integrated system to manage orders, warehouses and supply chains — that gave Jushuitan a great opportunity.”
When Nigerian angel investor Tomi Davies backed his first company — Strika Entertainment in 2001 — he admits he wasn’t aware of his future role.
“I was just helping out friends. I didn’t know it was angel investing. I didn’t know there was a structure to it,” he said.
Seven years later, Davies received a 20x return on his first exit and a decade after that he’s recognized as an architect of early-stage investing across Africa.
Davies is President of The African Business Angel Network and continues to fund and mentor young tech entrepreneurs in multiple countries.
On a call with TechCrunch, he shared advice for startups on fundraising, surviving COVID-19 and suggestions for global investors on entering Africa.
Davies’ ascendance in fundraising runs parallel to the boom in startup formation and VC on the continent over the last decade.
When he began In 2001, there wasn’t much measurable venture or digital entrepreneurial activity in Sub-Saharan Africa, outside South Africa. In fact, there was limited data on VC investing on the continent until around five years ago.
An early Crunchbase assisted study estimated VC to African startups annually grew from $40 million in 2012 to $500 million by 2015. A recent assessment by investment firm Partech tallied $2 billion going to the continent’s digital entrepreneurs in 2019, across top markets Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya.
Image Credits: TechCrunch
There are now thousands of VC backed startup entrepreneurs across the continent descending on every conceivable use-case — from fintech to on demand electric motorcycle mobility.
Increasingly, Davies’ home country of Nigeria has become the continent’s unofficial capital for venture investment and startup formation, given its market thesis of having Africa’s largest economy and population of 200 million people.
Even with the boom in VC to the continent’s startups — which has drawn investors such as Goldman Sachs and Steve Case — for years panels at African tech conferences have echoed the need for more early-stage funding options.
Davies has worked to meet that. He came to investing at the friends and family level after receiving an MBA at the University of Miami and an earlier career that spanned roles in management consulting, telecoms and IT.
After emerging as one of the early angels to Africa’s startups, supporting the continent’s innovation ecosystem became a mission for the Nigerian investor.
“My raison d’etre became, and will remain until the day I die, tech in African,” Davies said on a call from Lagos.
In his role as President of The African Angel Business Network, or ABAN, Davies has worked with a team to build out a local investor web across the continent.
“ABAN is very simply a network of networks…we have 49 networks in 33 African countries,” he explained.
Those include Lagos Angel Network, which Davies co-founded, Cairo Angels and Angel Investor Ethiopia, announced in Addis Ababa in 2019.
Tomi Davies (L) judges pitches with Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge at Startup Ethiopia 2019, Image Credits: Jake Bright
ABAN establishes certain guidelines and criteria for how member networks operate, but each chapter sets its own investment terms, according to Davies.
For example, ABAN affiliated Dakar Angel Network — founded in 2018 to support startups in French speaking Africa — offers seed investments of between $25,000 to $100,000 to early-stage ventures.
Where and how startups seek funds from ABAN’s family of networks depends on where they operate. “One thing I say to everybody, from presidents to business people to investors, is Africa is about cities,” Davies said.
“When you know which city your looking to invest in or seek investment in, automatically we’ll be in a position to say, ‘here’s your network.'”
For the Lagos Angel Network in Nigeria, the team has a pitch night the third Thursday of each month with a 30 day rule. “Before you leave, you’ll hear if we’re interested or not. If we’re interested, we’ve got 30 days to make you an offer,” explained Davies.
In addition to his work with ABAN, Davies continues to invest in his own portfolio of startups — now at 32 ventures — and is a regular judge on Africa’s tech competition circuit.
He’s developed a framework to assess companies and shared parts of it with TechCrunch.
Tomi Davies (center) at Startup Battlefield Africa 2017
“What I say to any startup raising is the first thing any investor is listening to is how do I get my money back. That’s question number one, ‘How do I get my exit?,'” he said.
Davies stressed three things to satisfy that question: “The product service offering that you have, the customers who see value in that product service offering and the nature of the relationship in terms of channel and price offering,” he said.
“That’s what you’re always tinkering with after you start with some kind of value proposition.”
Davies referenced the increased significance of referrals, given the coronavirus has cancelled a number of events and limited mobility to pitch in person in Africa’s top VC markets.
“Because of COVID-19, networks have become critically important. Because investors can’t touch, can’t feel, can’t see [founders] people are looking now for referential integrity, ‘Who sent me this deck?,'” Davies said.
On how a coronavirus induced Nigerian recession may impact startups, Davies flagged the country’s non-stop informal commercial activity — and the adaptability of Nigerian entrepreneurs — as factors that could carry ventures through.
“There’s a significant chunk of the economy that’s in the informal market. So even if you look back at the recessions we’ve had…it hasn’t been felt on the streets,” he said.
Davies is also collaborating with partners on creating working capital solutions for startups whose revenues have been impacted by slowdown.
Tomi Davies is direct about his desire to draw new partners from tech centers such as Silicon Valley, into early-stage investing in Africa.
“We are always looking for co-investors and I speak on behalf of all 49 networks in ABAN,” he said. Davies highlighted the local expertise each network brings to their market as a benefit to VCs looking to invest on the continent through an African Business Angel Network affiliate.
Despite the global panic caused by the current pandemic, startups in Latin America have continued to attract international capital. In April, Mexico’s Alphacredit, Colombia’s Frubana and Brazil’s CargoX were among those that raised particularly large rounds to support their growth during this challenging time. All three companies target markets that may have grown since the start of the pandemic, namely lending, food delivery and cargo delivery, respectively.
Alphacredit, a Mexican lending startup, raised a $100 million equity round from SoftBank and previous investors to continue to expand its digital banking services across Mexico. This round comes just months after the startup received a $125 million Series B round from SoftBank in January of this year. Alphacredit’s CEO explained that the round would enable the company to help clients during the current liquidity crisis, increasing financial inclusion in Mexico.
Meanwhile, fresh produce delivery platform Frubana raised a $25 million Series A led by GGV and Monashees, with support from SoftBank, Tiger Global and several other private investors. The startup delivers fresh produce to restaurants and small retailers directly from farmers across Colombia, and participated in Y Combinator in 2019.
Frubana has seen a boom in demand for its products since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. People have shied away from visiting large grocery stores, preferring to visit local mom-and-pop shops that receive the startup’s deliveries. Frubana raised $12 million in mid-2019 to help scale into Mexico and Brazil after it hit a monthly growth rate of 50% in the Colombian market. The startup’s founder, Fabián Gomez, started Frubana after serving as head of Expansion at Rappi, one of Latin America’s fastest-growing startups and Colombia’s first unicorn.
Finally, Brazil’s “Uber for Trucks,” CargoX raised an $80 million Series E round led by LGT Lightstone Latin America, with contributions from Valor Capital, Goldman Sachs and Farallon Capital. The startup has quietly grown to become one of the largest players in Brazil’s inefficient trucking industry, managing a fleet of nearly 400,000 truck drivers, without owning a single truck.
This investment brings CargoX’s total capital raised to $176 million and has enabled the company to launch a $5.6 million fund for the delivery of essential goods in Brazil during COVID-19. This fund will help CargoX keep drivers employed and ensure the proper delivery of essential goods like medication, food and cleaning products.
Nubank launches $3.8 million COVID-19 fund to support clients
Brazil’s largest neobank, Nubank, announced a $3.8 million (R$20 million) fund to help its clients survive the current pandemic. The fund also relies on partnerships with iFood, Rappi, Hospital Sírio-Libanês and Zenklub to help struggling clients access food, supplies, medical care and online psychological treatment throughout the pandemic.
Nubank will use the fund to grant credits to people who cannot leave their home, providing them with discounted groceries and free delivery service. Through the partnership with Hospital Sírio-Libanês, the neobank will pay for more than 1,000 free online consultations with doctors for its home-bound clients.
Nubank has more than 20 million clients across Brazil and Mexico, where it launched in 2019. CEO David Velez stated that he believed the fund could serve tens of thousands of people in need by the end of April. Customers who wished to receive these benefits were directed to reach out to Nubank via phone, email or chat to be connected with a representative who could grant the appropriate credits.
iFood merges with Domicilios to fight Rappi in its home territory
Brazil’s largest food deliverer, iFood, recently announced a partnership with Delivery Hero to merge with their Colombian subsidiary, Domicilios. The parties did not disclose the price of the deal but have shared that iFood is now the majority shareholder in Domicilios, holding 51% of the company.
IFood operates in Mexico and Colombia, as well as Brazil, but has struggled to gain traction in Spanish-speaking Latin America. This merger makes iFood geographically the largest food delivery company in the country, with more than 12,000 restaurants in its network. However, local last-mile delivery startup Rappi continues to dominate the market, using SoftBank backing to blitzscale across the region.
By comparison, iFood has focused on developing its technology, using artificial intelligence to improve the user experience across its platforms in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. Using these systems, iFood processes more than 26 million deliveries each month, helping restaurants across the region adapt to the new protocols caused by the virus and social-distancing policies. IFood hopes the merger will help provide a more competitive delivery service for Colombians, as well as helping boost growth for local restaurants.
Freight-forwarding startup Nuvocargo raised $5.3 million in seed funding to support the growth of its trade routes across the U.S.-Mexico border. Founded by Ecuadorian-born Deepak Chhugani in 2018, Nuvocargo has grown quickly since participating in Y Combinator, although this funding was their first institutional round. The round drew investors from both sides of the border, including Mexico’s ALLVP. Nuvocargo also marks the first investment by new partner Antonia Rojas Eing. Nuvocargo is working hard to ensure its truck drivers are safe as they continue to deliver essential supplies across the border through the pandemic.
Mexican online credit platform Kueski announced that it would lay off employees due to the economic crunch caused by COVID-19. Kueski provides microloans to more than 500,000 Mexicans and has been struggling financially as business slows during the pandemic. While Kueski did not disclose an official number, it is estimated that they laid off around 90 employees.
Latin American venture capital firm Magma Partners acquired Guadalajara-based accelerator Rampa Ventures to intensify its investments in Mexico. Rampa’s headquarters will serve as a Mexican base for Magma Partners as it continues to invest in the country, where it already has 12 startups in its portfolio. As a part of the deal, Rampa’s founder Mak Gutierrez will take over as CEO of Magma Partners’ internal agency, Magma Infrastructure, which helps startups grow and market themselves in the region.
The Brazilian direct to consumer dental tech startup SouSmile raised a $10 million Series A this month, closing the deal before investors began to show concerns about COVID-19. SouSmile uses 3D scanners to rapidly create invisible alignment devices for customers to provide them with affordable orthodontics for 60% cheaper than current models. This model has proved highly successful in Latin America, where access to orthodontics is quite low and cost-prohibitive.
Despite an impending global economic crisis, startup investment in Latin America showed signs of resilience in April. Startups in industries like delivery, healthcare and essential services have seen growth this month, and many are providing support to their customers and suppliers in this challenging time.
It is hard to predict what the world will look like for startups, let alone for anyone, by the end of next month. The resilience of Latin America’s startups provides hope that some businesses will bounce back and continue to support their customers throughout the global recovery from this pandemic.