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The pure hell of managing your JPEGs

By Natasha Mascarenhas

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

Natasha and Alex and Grace and Chris were joined by none other than TechCrunch’s own Mary Ann Azevedo, in her first-ever appearance on the show. She’s pretty much the best person and we’re stoked to have her on the pod.

And it was good that Mary Ann was on the show this week as she wrote about half the dang site. Which meant that we got to include all sorts of her work in the rundown. Here’s the agenda:

And that’s a wrap, for, well, at least the next five seconds.
Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

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

By Natasha Lomas

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

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

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

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

Official announcement

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

— John Edwards (@JCE_PC) August 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— dan barker (@danbarker) August 25, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Data protection experts are already warning of a regulatory stooge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Extra Crunch roundup: Corp dev handbook, Chicago startups, Brazil’s e-commerce landscape

By Walter Thompson

If you’re a founder who finds yourself in a meeting with a VC, try to remember two things:

  1. You’re the smartest person in the room.
  2. Investors are looking for a reason to say “yes.”

Even so, many entrepreneurs squander this opportunity, often because they direct questions or fail to understand their BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement).

“As the venture landscape becomes more a meritocratic environment where resumes and institutional affiliations matter less, these strategies can make the difference between a successful fundraise and a fruitless meeting,” says Agya Ventures co-founder Kunal Lunawat.

Whether you’re already in the fundraising process or plan to be in the future, be sure to read “A crash course on corporate development” that Venrock VP Todd Graham shared with us this week.

“If you’re going to get acquired, chances are you’re going to spend a lot of time with corporate development teams,” says Graham. “With a hot stock market, mountains of cash and cheap debt floating around, the environment for acquisitions is extremely rich.”


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The cover of "After Cooling On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort"

On Wednesday, August 24 at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT/11 p.m GMT, Managing Editor Danny Crichton will host a conversation on Twitter Spaces with Eric Dean Wilson, author of “After Cooling: On Freon, Global Warming, and the Terrible Cost of Comfort.”

Wilson’s book explores the history of freon, a common refrigerant that was later banned due to its devastating impact on the ozone layer. After their discussion, they’ll take questions from the audience.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week! I hope you have an excellent weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Apple is changing Mail Privacy Protection and email marketers must prepare

Image of a yellow envelope with a red notification dot.

Image Credits: Carol Yepes (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Apple iPhone, Apple Mail and Apple iPad account for nearly half of all email opens, but the privacy features included with iOS 15 will allow consumers to block marketers from seeing their physical location, IP address and tracking data like invisible pixels.

Email marketers rely heavily on these and other metrics, which means they should prepare now for the changes to come, advises Litmus CMO Melissa Sargeant.

In a detailed post, she shares several action items that will help marketing teams leverage their email analytics so they can “continue delivering personalized experiences consumers crave.”

Let’s make a deal: A crash course on corporate development

Meeting room with a big polished table and arm-chairsOther photos from this business series:

Image Credits: Cimmerian (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Venrock Vice President Todd Graham has some frank advice for founders at venture-backed startups: “It would be wise to generate a return at some point.”

With that in mind, he authored a primer on corporate development that lays out the three most common categories of acquisitions, tips for dealing with bankers, and explains why striking a partnership with a big company isn’t always the best way forward.

Regardless of the path you choose, “you need to take the meeting,” advises Graham.

“In the worst-case scenario, you’ll get a few new LinkedIn connections and you’re now a known quantity. The best-case scenario will be a second meeting.”

When VCs turned to Zoom, Chicago startups were ready for their close-up

The pandemic failed to slow the momentum of venture capitalists pouring money into startups, but Chicago stands out as an “outlying benefactor of accelerating venture capital activity and the rise of remote investing,” Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim write for The Exchange.

When the world shut down and it didn’t matter if you were in NYC or SF (because everyone was on Zoom), the Windy City was ready to present itself as the venture champion of the Midwest.

What does Brazil’s new receivables regulation mean for fintechs?

Female hand holding brazilian money (Real/Reais)

Image Credits: Priscila Zambotto (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The Brazilian Central Bank made a major reform to the way payments are processed that may throw the doors open for e-commerce in South America’s largest market.

Historically, merchants who accepted credit card payments had two options: Receive the full payment distributed over two to 12 installments, or offer a deep discount to receive a smaller sum up front.

But in June 2021, the BCB created new “registration entities” that permit “any interested receivables buyer/acquirer to make an offer for those receivables, forcing buyers to become more competitive in their discount offers,” says Leonardo Lanna, head of payment products at Monkey Exchange.

The new framework benefits consumers and sellers, but for the region’s startups, “it opens the door to a plethora of opportunities and new business models, from payments to credit.”

As its startup market accelerates, Brazil could be in for an IPO bonanza

An inflow of VC dollars, notable acquisitions and rising unicorn counts are all features of the Brazilian tech startup market, Anna Heim and Alex Wilhelm note in The Exchange.

“The IPO market in Brazil is changing,” they write. “TechCrunch noted last year that in the decade leading up to 2020, just two of the 56 IPOs in Brazil were technology companies. More recently, the number of technology companies listed in the country has swelled to at least 16, up from just four in 2019.”

Insider hacks to streamline your SOC 3 certification application

Digital encrypted Lock with data multilayers. Internet Security

Image Credits: Andriy Onufriyenko / Getty Images

“For good reason, security certifications like the SOC 3 really put you through the wringer,” Waydev CEO Alex Cercei writes in a guest column.

Waydev, a Git analytics tool that helps engineering leaders measure team performance automatically, just attained the SOC 3 certification.

“We learned so much from the process, we felt it was right to share our experience with others that might be daunted by the prospect,” Cercei writes.

“So here’s our advice on how teams can smoothly reach an SOC 3 while simultaneously balancing workloads and minimizing disruption to users.”

Dear Sophie: Tips on EB-1A and EB-2 NIW?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’m on an H-1B living and working in the U.S. I want to apply for a green card on my own. I’m concerned about only relying on my current employer and I want to be able to easily change jobs or create a startup. I’ve been looking at the EB-1A and EB-2 NIW.

I’m not sure if I would qualify for an EB-1A, but since I was born in India, I face a much longer wait for an EB-2 NIW.

Any tips on how to proceed?

— Inventive from India

How to establish a health tech startup advisory board

Most startups could use an advisory board, but in health tech, it’s a core requirement.

Founders seeking to innovate in this area have a unique need for mentors who have experience navigating regulations, raising capital and managing R&D, to name just a few areas.

Based on his own experience, Patrick Frank, co-founder and COO of PatientPartner, shared some very specific ideas about who to recruit, where to find them and how to fit them into your cap table.

“You want to leverage these individuals so you are able to focus on the full view of the company to ensure it is something that both the market and investors want at scale,” says Frank.

Crypto world shows signs of being rather bullish

There’s no shortage of tech news to analyze, Alex Wilhelm notes, but this week, he took a fresh look at crypto.

How come?

“Because there are some rather bullish trends that indicate the world of blockchain is maturing and creating a raft of winning players,” he writes.

4 common mistakes startups make when setting pay for hybrid workers

Organization Chart or Organizational Graph for Human Resources

Image Credits: kentoh (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

In one recent survey, 58% of workers said they plan to quit if they’re not allowed to work remotely.

Startups that don’t offer employees work-from-home flexibility are at a competitive disadvantage, but figuring out how to pay hybrid workers raises a complex set of questions:

  • Should you localize salaries for workers in different areas?
  • How should you pay workers who have the same job when one is WFH and the other is at their desk?
  • Are you being transparent with your staff about how their compensation is set?

São Paulo’s QuintoAndar real estate platform raises $120M, now valued at $5.1B

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Less than three months after announcing a $300 million Series E, Brazilian proptech QuintoAndar has raised an additional $120 million.

New investors Greenoaks Capital and China’s Tencent co-led the round, which included participation from some existing backers as well. São Paulo-based QuintoAndar is now valued at $5.1 billion, up from $4 billion at the time of its last raise in late May. With the extension, the startup has now raised more than $700 million since its 2013 inception. Ribbit Capital led the first tranche of its Series E.

QuintoAndar describes itself as an “end-to-end solution for long-term rentals” that, among other things, connects potential tenants to landlords and vice versa. Last year, it also expanded into connecting home buyers to sellers. Its long-term plan is to ​​evolve into a one-stop real estate shop that also offers mortgage, title insurance and escrow services.

To that end, earlier this month, the startup acquired Atta Franchising, a 7-year-old São Paulo-based independent real estate mortgage broker. Specifically, acquiring Atta is designed speed up its ability to offer mortgage services to its users. QuintoAndar also plans to explore the possibility of offering a product to perform standalone transactions outside of its marketplace in partnership with other brokers, according to CEO and co-founder Gabriel Braga.

This year, QuintoAndar expanded operations into 14 new cities in Brazil. Eventually, QuintoAndar plans to enter the Mexican market as its first expansion outside of its home country but it has not yet set a date for that step. Today, the company has more than 120,000 rentals under management and about 10,000 new rentals per month. Its rental platform is live in 40 cities across Brazil, while its home-buying marketplace is live in four (Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre) and seeing more than 10,000 sales in annualized terms.

QuintoAndar, he said, is open to acquiring more companies that it believes can either help it accelerate in a particular way or add something it had not yet thought about.

“We’re receptive to the idea but our core strategy is to focus on organic growth and our own innovation and accelerate that,” Braga said.

Why raise more money so soon?

The Series E was oversubscribed with investors who got in and “some who could not join,” according to Braga.

Greenoaks and Tencent, he said, couldn’t participate because of “timing issues.”

“We kept talking and they came back to us after the round, and wanted to be involved so we found a way to have them on board,” Braga said. “We did not need the money. But we have been constantly overachieving on the forecast that we shared with our investors. And that’s part of the reason why we had this extension.”

Greenoaks’ long-term time horizon was appealing because the firm’s investment was designed to be “perpetual capital with no predefined timeframe,” Braga said.

“We’re doing our best to build an enduring company that will be around for many, many years, so it’s good to have investors who share that vision and are technically aligned,” he added.

Greenoaks Partner Neil Shah said his firm believes that what QuintoAndar is building will “fundamentally reshape real estate transactions, enhancing transparency, expanding options for Brazilians seeking housing, dramatically simplifying the experience for landlords and driving increased investment into real estate across the country.” He also believes there is big potential for the company to take its offering to other parts of Latin America.

“We look forward to being partners for decades to come,” he added. 

Tencent’s experience in China is something QuintoAndar also finds valuable.

“We believe we can learn a lot from them and other Chinese companies doing interesting stuff there,” Braga said.

QuintoAndar isn’t the only Brazilian prop tech firm raising big money: In March, São Paulo digital real estate platform Loft announced it had closed on $425 million in Series D funding led by New York-based D1 Capital Partners. Then, about one month later, it revealed a $100 million extension that valued the company at $2.9 billion.

 

Men are a niche demographic

By Natasha Mascarenhas

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

Danny was back, joining Natasha and Alex and Grace and Chris to chat through the week’s coming and goings. But, before we get to the official news, here’s some personal news: Danny is stepping back from his role as co-host of the Friday show! Yes, Mr. Crichton will still take part in our mid-week, deep dive episodes, but this is the conclusion of his run as part of the news roundup. We will miss him, glad that his transitions and wit will continue to be part of the Equity universe.

Who will take the third chair? Well, stay tuned. We have some neat things planned.

Now, the rundown:

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PDT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

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.

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.”

Brazilian HR startup Flash raises $22M in a Tiger Global-led Series B round of funding

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Flash, a startup that has developed a flexible benefits platform for Brazilian companies and employees, has raised $22 million in a Series B round of funding led by Tiger Global Management.

Monashees (which led Flash’s Series A), Global Founders Capital (who backed Flash’s seed round), Citius and Kauffman Fellows also participated in the financing.

Founded in 2019 by childhood friends Ricardo Salem, Guilherme Lane and Pedro Lane, Flash is out to revamp what it views as an antiquated way of offering benefits to employees in South America’s largest country.

The São Paulo-based company has built a flexible benefit management app provided with a Mastercard in an effort to replace what has historically been provided in the form of “outdated, commoditized and mandatory” meal/food and transportation “vouchers.”

“Our first product was a reinvention of the voucher that by Brazilian labor law, was something of a mandatory benefit for all companies to give as part of compensation,” Salem said. “There are four traditional incumbents, owned by the banks, that held 95% of the market with very outdated products and fat margins, and exploitation all over.”

Beyond that, Flash took its offering a step further by giving companies a way to configure their benefits offering so employees can “choose and manage their benefits as they want” via Flash’s app marketplace and card, noted Salem.

The company must be doing something right.

Since its inception, Flash has grown its customer base to 4,000 companies, ranging from startups and SMEs to enterprises.

Last year, Flash grew “10x” by all metrics. It went from 10,000 employees to 100,000 using its platform. So far, this year that number has already swelled to 250,000. While the company declined to reveal hard revenue figures, Lane said the growth in customers is reflected in the company’s GMV. Flash has also grown from about 50 to 200 employees over the past 8 months.

Image Credits: Flash

At the beginning of the pandemic when companies were sending employees home and wanting to help them pay bills for electricity and utilities, there wasn’t any instrument to help them do so, Salem said.

“So we built one in our app, which leverages our wallet and it was able to read the bar or QR code of the utility provider,” he added. “It became a very popular benefit.”

Within that same wallet, Flash has built another product — an incentive and rewards platform..

Even with all its early success, Flash has just a 1% market share so believes “there’s plenty of room to grow.” And, it views itself as “much more of a horizontal play than a geographical play.”

“We’re solving other pain points for companies in Brazil now, and that’s our plan for the short term,” Lane said.

“In the beginning, we saw this as a very cool thing very modern tech companies wanted,” Salem said. “But last year proved that this is not just a midsize tech company product. This is for every employee from tech employees to blue collar workers to CEOs Everyone has a flexible benefit need and different lifestyles and need a product adapted to all of those.”

Global Founders Capital’s Fabricio Pettena led Flash’s seed round back in 2019. He said he had been searching for disruption in the space for “a long time.”

“Since it is a big market in Brazil due to regulation, the incumbents really rip off restaurants and others,” Pettena told TechCrunch.

He said he knew immediately he wanted to invest in Flash.

“Flash’s team actually took an active role in the regulation change that allowed for flexible benefits, instead of just playing passive,” he said. “When we first met, within 15 minutes, it was clear that, apart from a couple of details, we already shared a common vision for how this disruption would take place.”

Homebrew leads Z1’s effort to bring digital banking to Latin America’s teens

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Z1, a Sao Paulo-based digital bank aimed at Latin American GenZers, has raised $2.5 million in a round led by U.S.-based Homebrew.

A number of other investors also participated in the financing including Clocktower Ventures, Mantis – the VC firm owned by The Chainsmokers, Goodwater, Gaingels, Soma Capital and Rebel Fund. Notably, Mantis has also backed Step, a teen-focused fintech based in the U.S., and Goodwater has also invested in Greenlight, which too has a similar offering as Z1.

Z1 participated in Y Combinator’s Winter ‘21 batch earlier this year, and at the time got $125,000 in funding from the accelerator. Maya Capital led its $700,000 seed round in March of 2020.

Put simply, Z1 is a digital bank app built for teenagers and young adults. The company was founded on the notion that by using its app and linked prepaid card, Brazilian and Latin American teenagers can become more financially independent.

João Pedro Thompson and Thiago Achatz started the company in late 2019 and soon after,  Mateus Craveiro and Sophie Secaf joined as co-founders. In its early days, Z1 is focused on Brazil but the startup has plans to expand into other countries in Latin America over time.

“Z1 is what we’re building to be the go to bank of the next generation, and not just be a digital bank for teens,” Achatz told TechCrunch. “We want to grow with him and one day, be the biggest bank in Brazil and LatAm.” 

Thompson agrees. 

“We’re acquiring users really early and creating brand loyalty with the intention of being their bank for life,” he said. “We will still meet their needs as they grow into adulthood.”

Image Credits: Z1

While Z1’s offering is not completely unlike that of Greenlight here in the U.S. the founders agree that its products have been adapted more to the Brazil-specific cultural and market situation.

For example, points out Thompson, most teenagers in Brazil use cash because they don’t have access to other financial services, whether they be traditional or digital.

“We offer an account where they can deposit money, cash out money via an instant payment system in Brazil or spend through a prepaid credit card,” he said. “Most sites don’t accept debit cards so this is a big step compared to what teens already have.”

Part of the company’s use for the capital is to make its product more robust so they can do things like save money for big purchases such as an iPhone and earn interest on their accounts.

Another big difference between Brazil and the U.S., the company believes, is that many parents in general in Latin America haven’t had a true financial education that they can pass down to their kids.

“We’re not top down like Greenlight,” Achatz said. “That approach doesn’t make sense in Latin America. Here, many are independent from an early age and already work whether it’s through a microbusiness, a side job or selling things on Instagram. They’re much more self-taught and the income they earn is often outside of their parents.”

Z1 has grown 30% per week and 200% per month since launch, spending “very little” on marketing and relying mostly on word-of-mouth. For example, the company is following the lead of its U.S. counterparts and turning to TikTok to spread the word about its offering. 

“Step has around 200,000 followers on TikTok, and we have a little under half of that,” the company says. “We’re well-positioned in terms of branding.”

For lead investor Homebrew, the opportunity to educate and provide financial services to Gen Z in Latin America is even more exciting than the opportunity in the US., notes partner Satya Patel.

Over one third of LatAm Gen Z’ers have a “side hustle,” generating their own income independent from their parents, he said.

“While millennials grew up during an economic boom, Gen Z grew up during recessions – 3 in Brazil over the last decade – and wants to become financially independent as soon as possible. They’re becoming economically educated and active much earlier than previous generations,” Patel added.

He also believes the desire to transact online, for gaming and entertainment in particular, creates a groundswell of GenZ demand in Brazil for credit card and digital payments products.

Amid controversy, Dispo confirms Series A funding, high-profile advisors, and investors

By Amanda Silberling

It’s only been nine months since Dispo rebranded from David’s Disposables. But the vintage-inspired photo sharing app has experienced a whiplash of ups and downs, mostly due to the brand’s original namesake, YouTuber David Dobrik.

Like Clubhouse, Dispo was one of this year’s most hyped up new social apps, requiring an invite from an existing member to join. On March 9, when the company said “goodbye waitlist” and opened the app up to any iOS user, Dispo looked poised to be a worthy competitor to photo-sharing behemoths like Instagram. But, just one week later, Business Insider reported on sexual assault allegations regarding a member of Vlog Squad, a YouTube prank ensemble headed by Dispo co-founder David Dobrik. Dobrik had posted a now-deleted vlog about the night of the alleged assault, joking, “we’re all going to jail” at the end of the video.

It was only after venture capital firm Spark Capital decided to “sever all ties” with Dispo that Dobrik stepped down from the company board. In a statement made to TechCrunch at the time, Dispo said, “Dispo’s team, product, and most importantly — our community — stand for building a diverse, inclusive and empowering world.”

Dispo capitalizes on Gen Z and young millennial nostalgia for a time before digital photography, when we couldn’t take thirty selfies before choosing which one to post. On Dispo, when you take a photo, you have to wait until 9 AM the following day for the image to “develop,” and only then can you view and share it.

In both February and March of this year, the app hit the top ten of the Photo & Video category in the U.S. App Store. Despite the backlash against Dobrik, which resulted in the app’s product page being bombarded with negative comments, the app still hit the top ten in Germany, Japan, and Brazil, according to their press release. Dispo reportedly has not yet expended any international marketing resources.

Now, early investors in Dispo like Spark Capital, Seven Seven Six, and Unshackled have committed to donate any potential profits from their investment in the app to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault. Though Axios reported the app’s $20M Series A funding news in February, Dispo put out a press release this morning confirming the financing event. Though they intend to donate profits from the app, Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures remain listed as investors, but Spark Capital is not. Other notable names involved in the project include high-profile photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Raven B. Varona, who has worked with artists like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Actresses Cara Delevingne and Sofía Vergara, as well as NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, are also involved with the app as investors or advisors.

Dobrik’s role in the company was largely as a marketer – CEO Daniel Liss co-founded the app with Dobrik and has been leading the team since the beginning. After Dobrik’s departure, the Dispo team – which remains under twenty members strong – took a break from communications and product updates on the app. It’s expected that after today’s funding confirmation, the app will continue to roll out updates.

Dispo is quick to shift focus to the work of their team, which they call “some of the most talented, diverse leaders in consumer tech.” With the capital from this funding round, they hope to hire more staff to become more competitive with major social media apps with expansive teams, like Instagram and TikTok, and to experiment with machine learning. They will also likely have some serious marketing to do, now that their attempt at influencer marketing has failed massively.

Now more than ever, Dispo is promoting the app as a mental health benefit, hoping to shift the tide away from manufactured perfectionism toward more authentic social media experiences.

“A new era of start ups must emerge to end the scourge of big tech’s destruction of our political fabric and willful ignorance of its impact on body dysmorphia and mental health,” CEO Daniel Liss writes in a Substack post titled Dispo 2.0. “Imagine a world where Dispo is the social network of choice for every teen and college student in the world. How different a world would that be?”

But, for an app that propelled to success off the fame of a YouTuber with a history of less than savory behavior, that messaging might fall flat.

According to Sensor Tower, the highest Dispo has ever ranked in the Photo & Video category on the U.S. App Store was in January 2020, when it was still called David’s Disposables. The app ranked No. 1 in that category from January 7 to January 9, and on January 8, it reached No. 1 among all free iPhone apps.

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.”

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