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Daily Crunch: Jack Dorsey defends his work as Twitter CEO

By Anthony Ha

Twitter’s CEO defends himself from activist investors, Google takes additional coronavirus precautions and a fizzy drink maker raises $30 million. Here’s your Daily Crunch for March 6, 2020.

1. Twitter CEO’s weak argument why investors shouldn’t fire him

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey spoke yesterday at a Morgan Stanley conference, where he delivered remarks (also shared via Twitter’s investor relations account) that responded obliquely to activist investor Elliott Management’s efforts to pressure Twitter into a slew of reforms, potentially including replacing Dorsey with a new CEO.

Among other things, Dorsey said he might not spend six months a year in Africa after all, claimed the company’s real product development is happening under the hood and offered an excuse for deleting Vine before it could become TikTok.

2. Google recommends Washington State employees work from home, citing coronavirus risk

The software giant has not closed its Washington offices outright, nor is it planning to make an official statement regarding the recommendation, but the news certainly points to a broader trend of serious precautions around the novel coronavirus outbreak. The move follows a similar decision by Lyft, which sent home employees in its San Francisco office.

3. Spindrift, maker of fizzy drinks, has raised $29.8M

Spindrift, founded in 2010, is up against big players, like the beloved and decades-old LaCroix, another sparkling water brand. The company differentiates itself by emphasizing “real fruit” in its drinks — think cucumbers from Michigan, strawberries from California and Alfonso mangoes from India.

4. Airbnb and three other P2P rental platforms agree to share limited pan-EU data

The European Commission announced that it has reached a data-sharing agreement with vacation rental platforms Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group and Tripadvisor — trumpeting the arrangement as a “landmark agreement” which will allow the EU’s statistical office to publish data on short-stay accommodations across the EU.

5. SaaS companies flirt with correction territory as another wild week comes to a close

Stocks are set to fall further today, likely forcing shares in SaaS and cloud companies down yet again. After two wild trading weeks, the high-flying tech category is off over 9% from recent highs before the bell this morning, putting it close to correction territory. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Mark Cuban backs ChatableApps, developer of a hearing assist app that removes background noise

The company has built a smartphone app that provides hearing assistance by removing background noise in near real time. Alongside auditory neural signal processing researcher Dr. Andy Simpson, the company’s co-founders are Brendan O’Driscoll, Aidan Sliney and George Boyle — the original team behind the music discovery app Soundwave.

7. Pex buys Dubset to build YouTube ContentID for TikTok & more

Pex is a royalty attribution startup that scans social networks and other user-generated content sites for rightsholders’ content, then lets them negotiate licensing with the platforms, request a take-down, demand attribution and/or track the consumption statistics. Dubset, meanwhile, has spent 10 years tackling the problem of getting remixes and multi-song DJ sets legalized for streaming.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Twitter CEO’s weak argument why investors shouldn’t fire him

By Josh Constine

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey might not spend six months a year in Africa, claims the real product development is under the hood, and gives an excuse for deleting Vine before it could become TikTok. Today he tweeted, via Twitter’s investor relations account, a multi-pronged defense of his leadership and the company’s progress.

The proclamations come as notorious activist investor Elliott Management prepares to pressure Twitter into a slew of reforms, potentially including replacing Dorsey with a new CEO, Bloomberg reported last week. Sources confirmed to TechCrunch that Elliott has taken a 4% to 5% stake in Twitter. Elliott has previously bullied eBay, AT&T, and othe major corporations into making changes and triggered CEO departures.

…Focusing on one job and increasing accountability has made a huge difference for us. One of our core jobs is to keep people informed. We want to be a service that people turn to… to see what’s happening, to be a credible source that people learn from.

— Twitter Investor Relations (@TwitterIR) March 5, 2020

Specifically, Elliott is seeking change because of Twitter’s weak market performance, which as of last month had fallen 6.2% since July 2015 while Facebook had grown 121%. The corporate raider reportedly takes issue with Dorsey also running fintech giant Square, and having planned to spend up to six months a year in Africa. Dorsey tweeted that “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!)”, despite cryptocurrency having little to do with Twitter.

Rapid executive turnover is another sore spot. Finally, Twitter is seen as moving glacially slow on product development, with little about its core service changing in the past five years beyond a move from 140 to 280 characters per tweet. Competing social apps like Facebook and Snapchat have made landmark acquisitions and launched significant new products like Marketplace, Stories, and Discover.

Dorsey spoke today at the Morgan Stanley investor conference, though apparently didn’t field questions about Elliott’s incursion. The CEO did take to his platform to lay out an argument for why Twitter is doing better than it looks, though without mentioning the activist investor directly. That type of response without mentioning to whom it’s directed, is popularly known as a subtweet. Here’s what he outlined:

On democracy: Twitter has prioritized healthy conversation and now “the #1 initiative is the integrity of the conversation around the elections” around the world, which it’s learning from. It’s now using humans and machine learning to weed out misinformation, yet Twitter still hasn’t rolled out labels on false news despite Facebook launching them in late 2016.

On revenue: Twitter expects to complete a rebuild of its core ad server in the first half of 2020, and it’s improving the experience of mobile app install ads so it can court more performance ad dollars. This comes seven years late to Facebook’s big push around app install ads.

On shutting down products: Dorsey claims that “5 years ago we had to do a really hard reset and that takes time to build from… we had been a company that was trying to do too many things…” But was it? Other than Moments, which largely flopped, and the move to the algorithmic feed ranking, Twitter sure didn’t seem to be doing too much and was already being criticized for slow product evolution as it tried to avoid disturbing its most hardcore users.

On stagnanation: “Some people talk about the slow pace of development at Twitter. The expectation is to see surface level changes, but the most impactful changes are happening below the surface” Dorsey claims, citing using machine learning to improve feed  and notification relevance

Yet it seems telling that Twitter suddenly announced yesterday that it was testing Instagram Stories-esque feature Fleets in Brazil. No launch event. No US beta. No indication of when it might roll out elsewhere. It seems like hasty and suspiciously convenient timing for a reveal that might convince investors it is actually building new things.

On talent: Twitter is apparently hiring top engineers “that maybe we couldn’t get 3 years ago”. 2017 was also Twitter’s share price low point of $14 compared to $34 today, so it’s not much of an accomplishment that hiring is easier now. Dorsey claims that “Engineering is my main focus. Everything else follows from that.” Yet it’s been years since fail whales were prevalent, and the core concern now is that there’s not enough to do on Twitter, rather than what it does offer doesn’t function well.

On Jack himself: Dorsey says he should have added more context “about my intention to spend a few months in Africa this year”, including its growing population that’s still getting online. Yet the “Huge opportunity especially for young people to join Twitter” seemed far from his mind as he focused on how crypto trading was driving adoption of Square’s Cash App

“I need to reevaluate” the plan to work from Africa “in light of COVID-19 and everything else going on”. That makes coronavirus a nice scapegoat for the decision while the phrase “everything else” is doing some very heavy lifting in the face of Elliott’s activist investing.

Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On fighting harassment: Nothing. The fact that Twitter’s most severe ongoing problem doesn’t even get a mention should clue you in to how many troubles have stacked up in front of Dorsey

Running Twitter is a big job. So big it’s seen a slew of leaders ranging from founders like Ev Williams to hired guns like Dick Costolo peel off after mediocre performance. If Dorsey wants to stay CEO, that should be his full-time, work-from-headquarters gig.

This isn’t just another business. Twitter is a crucial communications utility for the world. Its absence of innovation, failure to defend vulnerable users, and an inability to deliver financially has massive repercussions for society. It means Twitter hasn’t had the products or kept the users to earn the profits to be able to invest in solving its problems. Making Twitter live up to its potential is no sidehustle.

Google pitches free trials of its enterprise G Suite conferencing tools as part of a coronavirus response

By Jonathan Shieber

Google said in a blog post that it would roll out free access to advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally as the company pitches its remote work tools as an option for companies looking to let employees work from home.

Chief executive Sundar Pichai announced the initiative in a tweet on Tuesday.

We want to help businesses and schools impacted by COVID-19 stay connected: starting this week, we'll roll out free access to our advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities through July 1, 2020 to all G Suite customers globally. https://t.co/OWWF7s5jjR

— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) March 3, 2020

“As more employees, educators, and students work remotely in response to the spread of COVID-19, we want to do our part to help them stay connected and productive,” the company wrote in its post. “And, as more businesses adjust their work-from-home policies and adopt reduced travel plans in response to COVID-19, we’re helping to ensure that all globally distributed teams can still reliably meet face to face, even if employees are not in the same location.”

Google’s move comes as some of the largest industry conferences and events around the world are cancelling due to fears of the spreading new coronavirus, COVID-19. Major canceled events include: GSMA’s Mobile World Congress and Facebook’s F8 conference, along with the Geneva Motor Show and the Game Developers Conference.

It’s not just conferences that are closing their doors. Companies are also doing everything they can to encourage remote work. Twitter has encouraged its workers to operate remotely, and they’re not alone. Stripe, Slack, Square and others are all urging their employees to not come in to the office.

Google’s pitch to companies and educational institutions during the trial is free access for capabilities, including for larger meetings of up to 250 participants per-call; live-streaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain; and the ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive.

Google is enabling all of its customers to use the enterprise functionality for no additional cost until July 1, the company said in a statement.

“We’re committed to supporting our users and customers during this challenging time, and are continuing to scale our infrastructure to support greater Hangouts Meet demand, ensuring streamlined, reliable access to the service throughout this period.”

The company already has one happy customer for its services in Jack Dorsey and Twitter. The embattled chief executive wrote in a tweet, “We just held our first fully virtual Twitter global all-hands using @Google Meet and @SlackHQ.”

We just held our first fully virtual Twitter global all-hands using @Google Meet and @SlackHQ. We had folks all around the world working from home, and some in our offices. Worked flawlessly, and enabled some things that weren’t possible before. Thanks Google and Slack! https://t.co/qD3d09pluZ

— jack 🌍🌏🌎 (@jack) March 3, 2020

Activist investors want to crank up the Twitter revenue machine

By Ron Miller

When Elliott Management, a New York investment firm with an activist approach, sets its sights on a company, it usually means it has been under-performing, and it sees a ton of unmet potential. News broke on Friday that the company had bought a substantial stake in Twitter and was seeking board seats.

Sources have confirmed this information and say the stake is in the 4-5% range. The company is looking to take three or four board seats and wants to implement big changes, including, as reported, replacing Jack Dorsey as CEO.

Sources say that Dorsey has too many side projects, particularly Square, but also his growing interest in crypto currency and Africa, and that Twitter requires a full-time, focused chief executive. The sources indicated that they aren’t discounting Dorsey completely, and if he were willing to drop his other projects, the firm would entertain the idea of retaining him.

The company is also reportedly concerned about the constant executive turnover in key positions like product manager, and they are hoping to stabilize this. Yet like any Elliott target, this one is undervalued, but has the potential for much greater income than it’s currently generating.

As in the past, you can probably expect at some point that Elliott will share a public letter with shareholders outlining the problems it has observed, and the path, as it sees it, to a more stable and profitable future. The company sent such a letter to eBay last year, which announced plans to execute on that plan shortly thereafter. It is reasonable to assume it will follow a similar pattern with Twitter.

It is hard not to look at this deal in the context of Elliott founder and principal Paul Singer’s politics. He is a big contributor to the Republican Party, but sources say this deal is about money, not politics.

They say that the fund manages a large swath of investors, from pension funds to charitable endowments, with a fiduciary responsibility to those organizations, and considered the idea of introducing politics into an investment decision to be, in the words of one source, “ridiculous.” Voices on the Twitter platform over the weekend didn’t agree, suggesting it’s a political move by Singer.

Regardless, big changes will likely be coming to Twitter, and that could involve the user experience, new products and very likely more advertising, as the new boss looks to unlock the financial potential in the platform.

Twitter stock was up more than 8% on the news as we published this post.

Anomalous data can lead to growth opportunities

By Walter Thompson
Julian Shapiro Contributor
Julian Shapiro is the founder of BellCurve.com, a growth marketing team that trains startups in advanced growth, helps you hire senior growth marketers and finds you vetted growth agencies. He also writes at Julian.com.

We’ve aggregated many of the world’s best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this growth report.

This is how you stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Our community consists of 1,000 startup founders and VPs of growth from later-stage companies. We have 400 YC founders, plus senior marketers from companies including Medium, Docker, Invision, Intuit, Pinterest, Discord, Webflow, Lambda School, Perfect Keto, Typeform, Modern Fertility, Segment, Udemy, Puma, Cameo and Ritual .

You can participate in our community by joining Demand Curve’s marketing webinars, Slack group or marketing training program.

Without further ado, on to our community’s advice.

No one wants your $25 referral bonus

Insights from Julian Shapiro of Demand Curve.

Even people who earn minimum wage can’t be bothered to refer a friend for a $25 referral fee. The most successful referral programs typically focus on app features that naturally incentivize users to invite friends and colleagues.

Twitter adds a button so you can thread your shower thoughts

By Natasha Lomas

Hold that tweet — and add another one.

Twitter is adding a new feature for mobile users to make it easier to link dispersed ‘shower thoughts’ together — and another thing styleee.

Per 9to5Mac, the feature — which Twitter tweeted about yesterday — is slowly rolling out to its iOS app. (At the time of writing we spotted it in Europe.)

The feature lets you pull down as you’re composing a tweet to add to your previous tweet by creating a thread or seeing a ‘continue thread’ option.

Tapping on a three-dots menu brings up an interface of older tweets which you can link the new tweet to — to continue (or kick off) a thread.

The feature looks intended to encourage more threads (from #140 characters to #280 to infinity tweetstorms and beyond!).

It may also be intended to address the broken thread phenomenon which can still plague the information network service. Especially where users are discussing complex and/or nuanced topics. (And Twitter has said it wants to foster healthy conversations on its platform so…)

The shortcut offers an alternative for Twitter users to being organized enough to tweet a perfectly threaded series of thoughts in the first place (i.e. by using the ‘+’ option at the point of composing your tweetstorm).

It also does away with the need to go manually searching through your feed for the particular tweet you want to expand on and then hitting reply to add another.

No, it’s still not an edit button, per se. But, frankly, if you think Twitter is ever going to let you rewrite your existing tweets you should probably think longer before you hit ‘publish’ on your next one.

The ‘continue thread’ option could also be used as a de facto edit option — by letting users more easily append a correction to a preexisting tweet.

Now you can add a Tweet to one you already Tweeted, faster! pic.twitter.com/j3ktAN6t5o

— Twitter (@Twitter) February 19, 2020

Whether the feature will (generally) work as intended — to boost threads and reduce broken threads and make Twitter a less confusing place for newbs — remains to be seen.

Happily it looks like Twitter has thought about and closed off one potential misuse risk. We tested to see what would happen if you try to insert a new tweet into the middle of an existing tweetstorm — which would have had the potential to generate more confusion (i.e. if the thread logic got altered by the addition).

But instead of embedding the new tweet in the middle of the old thread it was added at the bottom as a supplement. So you just start a new thread at the bottom of your old thread.

Good job Jack.

TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet contributed to this report 

Silicon Valley Community Foundation challenges donors to address local problems

By Walter Thompson
Scott Bade Contributor
Scott Bade is a former speechwriter for Mike Bloomberg and co-author of "More Human: Designing a World Where People Come First."

Over the last decade, Silicon Valley Community Foundation has become one of the favorite destinations for tech philanthropy.

Counting Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Reed Hastings among its donors, SVCF has quietly become a philanthropic powerhouse. As a community foundation, it made $126 million in grants in 2018 in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties (the latest year for which numbers were available), but its true power comes from the nearly $9 billion in donor-advised funds (also known as DAFs) it oversees.

DAFs have become popular among wealthy donors in recent years because they carry the tax benefits of a donation without requiring that an immediate donation be made. They also courted controversy, with critics accusing them of being a vehicle for tax sheltering.

Not so, says Nicole Taylor, SVCF’s CEO and president. Appointed a year ago after her predecessor was ousted in scandal, Taylor is working to change the image of DAFs while challenging her donors to take on the Bay Area’s unique challenges, like housing, inequality and transportation. I spoke to Taylor about how the tech sector can do better with its giving.

TechCrunch: Let’s start by explaining how a community foundation works?

Nicole Taylor: Community foundations are a vehicle for people who want to give that come with a far better tax advantage and advising advantage than setting up private foundations [whose] overhead is costly. Most people don’t want to go there; they want a place that helps them with their giving and they want to have that connection back to their local community.

Community foundations were started in the Midwest and are over 100 years old. There are over 800 of us. We serve particular geographic areas. Our core focus [at SVCF] is the Silicon Valley region, the two counties here – Santa Clara and San Mateo.

Nigeria is becoming Africa’s unofficial tech capital

By Jake Bright

Africa has one of the world’s fastest growing tech markets and Nigeria is becoming its unofficial capital.

While the West African nation is commonly associated with negative cliches around corruption and terrorism — which persist as serious problems, and influenced the Trump administration’s recent restrictions on Nigerian immigration to the U.S.

Even so, there’s more to the country than Boko Haram or fictitious princes with inheritances.

Nigeria has become a magnet for VC, a hotbed for startup formation and a strategic entry point for Silicon Valley. As a frontier market, there is certainly a volatility to the country’s political and economic trajectory. The nation teeters back and forth between its stereotypical basket-case status and getting its act together to become Africa’s unrivaled superpower.

The upside of that pendulum is why — despite its problems — so much American, Chinese and African tech capital is gravitating to Nigeria.

Demographics

“Whatever you think of Africa, you can’t ignore the numbers,” Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote told me in 2015, noting that demographics are creating an imperative for global businesses to enter the continent.

Trump to halt immigration from Africa’s top tech hub, Nigeria

By Jake Bright

The Trump administration announced Friday it would halt immigration from Nigeria Africa’s most populous nation with the continent’s largest economy and leading tech sector.

The restrictions would stop short of placing a full travel ban on the country of 200 million, but will suspend U.S. immigrant visas for Nigeria, along with Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar.

That applies to citizens from those countries looking to live permanently in the U.S. The latest restrictions are said not to apply to non-immigrant, temporary visas for tourist, business, and medical visits.

The news was first reported by the Associated Press, after a press briefing by Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. The Department of Homeland Security later provided TechCrunch with Wolf’s remarks and a summary on the measures.

The primary reason for the new restrictions, according to DHS, was that the countries did not “meet the Department’s stronger security standards.”

Secretary Wolf noted, “the restrictions are not permanent if the country commits to change.”

The move follows reporting over the last week that the Trump administration was considering adding Nigeria, and several additional African states, to the list of predominantly Muslim countries on its 2017 travel ban. That ban was delayed in the courts until being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

Restricting immigration to the U.S. from Nigeria, in particular, could impact commercial tech relations between the two countries.

Nigeria is the U.S.’s second largest African trading partner and the U.S. is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria, according to USTR and State Department briefs.

Increasingly, the nature of the business relationship between the two countries is shifting to tech. Nigeria is steadily becoming Africa’s capital for VC, startups, rising founders and the entry of Silicon Valley companies.

Recent reporting by VC firm Partech shows Nigeria has become the number one country in Africa for venture investment.

Much of that funding is coming from American sources. The U.S. is arguably Nigeria’s strongest partner on tech and Nigeria, Silicon Valley’s chosen gateway for Africa expansion.

There are numerous examples of this new relationship.

In June 2019, Mastercard invested $50 million in Jumia — a Pan-African e-commerce company headquartered in Nigeria — before it became the first tech startup on the continent to IPO on a major exchange, the NYSE.

One of Jumia’s backers, Goldman Sachs, led a $20 million round into Nigerian trucking-logistics startup, Kobo360 in August.

Software engineer company Andela, with offices in the U.S. and Lagos, raised $100 million from American sources and employs 1000 engineers.

Facebook has senior management from Nigeria, such as Ime Archibong, and opened an innovation lab in Nigeria in 2018 called NG_Hub. Google launched its own developer space in Lagos last week.

Nigerian tech is also home to a growing number of startups with operations in U.S. Nigerian fintech startup Flutterwave, whose clients range from Uber to Cardi B, is headquartered in San Francisco, with operations in Lagos. The company maintains a developer team across both countries for its B2B payments platform that helps American companies operating in Africa get paid.

MallforAfrica — a Nigerian e-commerce company that enables partners such as Macy’s, Best Buy and Auto Parts Warehouse to sell in Africa — is led by Chris Folayan, a Nigerian who studied and worked in the U.S. The company now employs Nigerians in Lagos and Americans at its Portland, Oregon processing plant.

Africa’s leading VOD startup, iROKOtv maintains a New York office that lends to production of the Nigerian (aka Nollywood) content it creates and streams globally.

Similar to Trump’s first travel ban, the latest restrictions on Nigeria may end up in courts, which could delay implementation.

More immediately, the Trump administration’s moves could put a damper on its own executive branch initiatives with Nigeria.

Just today the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy — who was appointed by President Trump — posted a tweet welcoming Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama to the State Department hosted U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission Meeting, planned for Monday.

The theme listed for the event: “Innovation and Ingenuity, which reflects the entrepreneurial, inventive, and industrious spirit shared by the Nigerian and American people.”

Update: This article was updated to include information provided by Department of Homeland Security.

UPDATE: Los Angeles-based CREXi raises $30 million for its online real estate marketplace

By Jonathan Shieber

Los Angeles is one of the most desirable locations for commercial real estate in the United States, so it’s little wonder that there’s something of a boom in investments in technology companies servicing the market coming from the region.

It’s one of the reasons that CREXi, the commercial real estate marketplace, was able to establish a strong presence for its digital marketplace and toolkit for buyers, sellers and investors.

Since the company raised its last institutional round in 2018, it has added more than 300,000 properties for sale or lease across the U.S. and increased its user base to 6 million customers, according to a statement.

It has now raised $30 million in new financing from new investors, including Mitsubishi Estate Company (“MEC”), Industry Ventures and Prudence Holdings . Previous investors Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Jackson Square Ventures also participated in the financing.

CREXi makes money three ways. There’s a subscription service for brokers looking to sell or lease property; an auction service where CREXi will earn a fee upon the close of a transaction; and a data and analytics service that allows users to get a view into the latest trends in commercial real estate based on the vast collection of properties on offer through the company’s services.

The company touts its service as the only technology offering that can take a property from marketing to the close of a sale or lease without having to leave the platform.

According to chief executive Mike DeGiorgio, the company is also recession-proof thanks to its auction services. “As more distressed properties hit the market, the best way to sell them is through an online auction,” DeGiorgio says.

So far, the company has seen $700 billion of transactions flow through the platform, and roughly 40% of those deals were exclusive to the company.

“The CRE industry is evolving, and market players, especially younger, digitally native generations are seeking out platforms that provide free and open access to information,” said Gavin Myers, general partner at Prudence Holdings, in a statement. “CREXi directly addresses this market need, providing fair access to a range of CRE information. As CREXi continues to build out its stable of services, features, and functionality, we’re thrilled to partner with them and support the company’s continued momentum.”

CREXi joins the ranks of startups based in Los Angeles that have raised money to reshape the real estate industry. Estimates from Built in LA count roughly 127 companies, which have raised in excess of $2.4 billion, active in the real estate industry in Los Angeles. These companies range from providers of short-term commercial office space, like Knotel, or co-working companies like WeWork, to companies focused on servicing the real estate industry like Luxury Presence, which raised a $5 million round earlier in the year.

Due to inaccurate information provided by the company, an initial version of this story indicated that CREXi had raised $29 million in its Series B round. The correct number is $30 million.

Catalyst Fund gets $15M from JP Morgan, UK Aid to back 30 EM fintech startups

By Jake Bright

The Catalyst Fund has gained $15 million in new support from JP Morgan and UK Aid and will back 30 fintech startups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America over the next three years.

The Boston based accelerator provides mentorship and non-equity funding to early-stage tech ventures focused on driving financial inclusion in emerging and frontier markets.

That means connecting people who may not have access to basic financial services — like a bank account, credit or lending options — to those products.

Catalyst Fund will choose an annual cohort of 10 fintech startups in five designated countries: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India and Mexico. Those selected will gain grant-funds and go through a six-month accelerator program. The details of that and how to apply are found here.

“We’re offering grants of up to $100,000 to early-stage companies, plus venture building support…and really…putting these companies on a path to product market fit,” Catalyst Fund Director Maelis Carraro told TechCrunch.

Program participants gain exposure to the fund’s investor networks and investor advisory committee, that include Accion and 500 Startups. With the $15 million Catalyst Fund will also make some additions to its network of global partners that support the accelerator program. Names will be forthcoming, but Carraro, was able to disclose that India’s Yes Bank and University of Cambridge are among them.

Catalyst fund has already accelerated 25 startups through its program. Companies, such as African payments venture ChipperCash and SokoWatch — an East African B2B e-commerce startup for informal retailers — have gone on to raise seven-figure rounds and expand to new markets.

Those are kinds of business moves Catalyst Fund aims to spur with its program. The accelerator was founded in 2016, backed by JP Morgan and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Catalyst Fund is now supported and managed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and global tech consulting firm BFA.

African fintech startups have dominated the accelerator’s startups, comprising 56% of the portfolio into 2019.

That trend continued with Catalyst Fund’s most recent cohort, where five of six fintech ventures — Pesakit, Kwara, Cowrywise, Meerkat and Spoon — are African and one, agtech credit startup Farmart, operates in India.

The draw to Africa is because the continent demonstrates some of the greatest need for Catalyst Fund’s financial inclusion mission.

By several estimates, Africa is home to the largest share of the world’s unbanked population and has a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

Collectively, these numbers have led to the bulk of Africa’s VC funding going to thousands of fintech startups attempting to scale finance solutions on the continent.

Digital finance in Africa has also caught the attention of notable outside names. Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey recently took an interest in Africa’s cryptocurrency potential and Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs has invested in fintech related startups on the continent.

This lends to the question of JP Morgan’s interests vis-a-vis Catalyst Fund and Africa’s financial sector.

For now, JP Morgan doesn’t have plans to invest directly in Africa startups and is taking a long-view in its support of the accelerator, according to Colleen Briggs — JP Morgan’s Head of Community Innovation

“We find financial health and financial inclusion is a…cornerstone for inclusive growth…For us if you care about a stable economy, you have to start with financial inclusion,” said Briggs, who also oversees the Catalyst Fund.

This take aligns with JP Morgan’s 2019 announcement of a $125 million, philanthropic, five-year global commitment to improve financial health in the U.S. and globally.

More recently, JP Morgan Chase posted some of the strongest financial results on Wall Street, with Q4 profits of $2.9 billion. It’ll be worth following if the company shifts any of its income-generating prowess to business and venture funding activities in Catalyst Fund markets like Nigeria, India and Mexico.

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