Sequoia reveals first cohort for its ‘Surge’ accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia

Back in January, Sequoia India announced plans for its first early-stage startup accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia, and today the firm announced its first cohort of 17 startups.

To recap, the program — which is called Surge — gives each startup a $1.5 million check and participation in a four-month program that’s split across India and Singapore, as well as the wider Sequoia global presence in China and San Francisco.

The program kicked off last month, but the startups were only unveiled for the first time today — here they are:

  • Azani Sports: a ‘full stack’ sports clothing startup based in India that sells online and through selected high street retails
  • Bobobox: a capsule hotel company based in Indonesia
  • Bulbul: a live-streaming service with a focus on e-commerce across India
  • DancingMind: a Singapore startup that uses VR to enable remote for stroke victims and patients of debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s
  • Doubtnut: an India-based education startup that uses photos, videos and AI
  • Flynote: a travel booking service with a focus on personalized trips
  • Hippo Video: a platform developing, editing and analyzing marketing and sales videos
  • InterviewBit Academy: a computer science training and development platform in India — that’s not unlike recent Y Combinator graduate Skill-Lync
  • Khatabook: an accounting service for SMEs in India that already claims 120,000 weekly users
  • Qoala: a micro-insurance startup based in Indonesia, which competes with rivals like PasarPolis — which is backed by three of Indonesia’s unicorns
  • ShopUp: a social commerce startup that helps sellers in Bangladesh do business through Facebook — that’s a similar concept to established Indian startups Meesho (another YC alum) and LimeRoad which enable sellers on WhatsApp
  • Skillmatics: a startup headquartered in India that develops learning games for pre-school and primary school kids aged under 10
  • Telio: a b2b commerce platform that aims to digitize the process of brands and wholesalers selling to retailers
  • Uiza: a Singapore-Vietnam startup that lets publishers and companies develop their own video infrastructure independent of platforms like YouTube
  • Vybes: an e-commerce platform for social media influencers that’s based out of Singapore
  • Zenyum: a startup that provides invisible braces for consumers in Southeast Asia at a lower cost than traditional alternatives

There’s one additional startup which is being kept ‘under the radar’ for now, Sequoia said.

Sequoia India managing director Shailendra Singh previously told TechCrunch that Surge would support a ‘curated’ selections of fellow VCs who could invest alongside in the cohort alongside the firm, and Sequoia said that the 17 startups have attracted a total of $36 million in investment. A spokesperson also pointed out that five of the selection have at least one female co-founders, which is almost certainly above average for the region although it is tricky to get reliable data covering India and (in particular) Southeast Asia.

Surge is an interesting effort for Sequoia, which has traditionally played in post-seed and growth stages of the investment cycle. Sequoia closed its most recent fund for India and Southeast Asia at $695 million last year, and it also has access to a globally active ‘growth’ fund that is targeted at $8 billion. Reports have suggested that Surge will get its own sparkling new $200 million fund, which would make a lot of sense given the potential conflict and confusion of investing via its main fund. But the firm is declining to comment on that possibility for now.

One major addition to the program that has been confirmed, however, is Rajan Anandan, the executive who previously ran Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia and is a well-known angel investor. His arrival was announced earlier this month and he will lead the Surge initiative.

His recruitment is a major win for Sequoia, which is betting that Surge’s early stage push will reap it richer dividends in India and Southeast Asia. That part remains to be seen, but certainly, there is a dearth of early-stage programs in both regions compared to other parts of the world.

Uber’s self-driving car unit raises $1B from Toyota, Denso and Vision Fund ahead of spin-out

Uber’s has confirmed it will spin out its self-driving car business after the unit closed $1 billion in funding from Toyota, auto-parts maker Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

The development has been speculated for some time — as far back as October — and it serves to both remove a deeply-unprofitable unit from the main Uber business: helping Uber scale back some of its losses, while giving Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (known as Uber ATG) more freedom to focus on the tough challenge of bringing autonomous vehicles to market.

The deal values Uber ATG at $7.25 billion, the companies announced. In terms of the exact mechanics of the investment, Toyota and Denso are providing $667 million with the Vision Fund throwing in the remaining $333 million.

The deal is expected to close in Q3, and it gives investors a new take on Uber’s imminent IPO, which comes with Uber ATG. The company posted a $1.85 billion loss for 2018, but R&D efforts on ‘moonshots’ like autonomous cars and flying vehicles dragged the numbers down by accounting for over $450 million in spending. Moving those particularly capital-intensive R&D plays into a new entity will help bring the core Uber numbers down to earth, but clearly there’s still a lot of work to reach break-even or profitability.

Still, those crazy numbers haven’t dampened the mood. Uber is still seen as a once-in-a-generation company, and it is tipped to raise around $10 billion from the IPO, giving it a reported valuation of $90 billion-$100 billion.

Like the spin-out itself, the identity of the investors is not a surprise.

The Vision Fund (and parent SoftBank) have backed Uber since a January 2018 investment deal closed, while Toyota put $500 million into the ride-hailing firm last August. Toyota and Uber are working to bring autonomous Sienna vehicles to Uber’s service by 2021 while, in further proof of their collaborative relationship, SoftBank and Toyota are jointly developing services in their native Japan which will be powered by self-driving vehicles.

The duo also backed Grab — the Southeast Asian ride-hailing company that Uber owns around 23 percent of — perhaps more aggressively. SoftBank has been an investor since 2014 and last year Toyota invested $1 billion into Grab, which it said was the highest investment it has made in ride-hailing.

“Leveraging the strengths of Uber ATG’s autonomous vehicle technology and service network and the Toyota Group’s vehicle control system technology, mass-production capability, and advanced safety support systems, such as Toyota Guardian, will enable us to commercialize safer, lower cost automated ridesharing vehicles and services,” said Shigeki Tomoyama, the executive VP who leads Toyota’s ‘connected company’ division, said in a statement.

Here’s Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s shorter take on Twitter

Proof of Capital is a new $50M blockchain fund that’s backed by HTC

It’s often said that the dramatic fall of crypto prices last year ushered in a new era for technology-focused startups in the blockchain space, and the same argument can be made for the venture capitalists who fund them. Proof of Capital is the latest fund to emerge after it officially announced a maiden $50 million fund today.

The fund is led by trio Phil Chen, who created HTC’s Vive VR headset and is currently developing its Exodus blockchain phone (he spent time as a VC with Horizons Ventures in between), Edith Yeung, who previously headed up mobile for 500 Startups, and Chris McCann, a Thiel Fellow whose last role was head of community for U.S. VC firm Greylock Partners.

The firm — and you have to give them credit for the name — has an LP base that is anchored by HTC — no big surprise there given the connections — alongside YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics, Ripple’s former chief risk officer Greg Kidd (who is also a prolific crypto investor) and a number of undisclosed family offices.

“For HTC, it’s obvious, they already have a product to go with it,” Yeung told TechCrunch in an interview, referencing the fact that HTC is keen to invest in blockchain services and startups to build an ecosystem for its play.

The fund also includes a partnership with HTC which, slightly hazy on paper, will essentially open the possibility for Proof of Capital portfolio companies to work with HTC directly to develop services or products for Exodus and potentially other HTC blockchain ventures. But other LPs are also keen to dip their toes in the water in different ways.

“Some of these backers are curious at the possibilities of blockchain,” continued Yeung. “For example, they’re giving us some ideas on how tokenization and gamification could be applied on different platforms.”

Proof of Capital founding partners (left to right) Edith Yeung, Chris McCann and Phil Chen

The fund itself is broadly targeted at early stage blockchain companies in fintech, infrastructure, hardware and the “consumer layers of the blockchain ecosystem.” Its remit is worldwide. Although Chen and Yeung have strong networks in Asia, the fund’s first deal is an investment in Latin America-based blockchain fintech startup Ubanx.

Yeung clarified that the fund is held in fiat currency and that it is focused on regular VC deals, as opposed to token-based investments.

“It’s a VC fund so the setup is traditional,” she explained. “There’s been a lot of interesting movements in the last two years, [but] we come from a more traditional VC background and are excited about the technology.”

“It’s still really early [for blockchain] and a lot of the hype — the boom and bust — is down to the crypto market and ICOs, but the reality is that a lot of these technologies are really nascent. Now, projects are raising equity, even if they have a token,” Yeung added.

Indeed, last year we wrote about the rise of private sales and that even the biggest blockchain companies took on VC fundingcrypto didn’t kill VCs despite the hype — and Yeung said that blockchain startup founders in 2019 are “taking a more concerted approach” to raising money beyond simply issuing tokens.

“Many projects that raised ICO really smelt like equity,” said Yeung. “We are seeing companies today delaying token issuance as much as possible; the whole thing has gone a little more back to earth.”

HTC is an anchor LP in Proof of Capital, and it is working with the fund to help its portfolio companies develop services for its Exodus blockchain phone, pictured above

The chat feature may soon return to Facebook’s mobile app

Facebook upset millions upon millions of users five years ago when it removed chat from its core mobile app and forced them to download Messenger to communicate privately with friends. Now it looks like it might be able to restore the option inside the Facebook app.

That’s according to a discovery from researcher Jane Manchun Wong who discovered an unreleased feature that brings limited chat features back into the core social networking app. Wong’s finding suggests that, at this point, calling, photo sharing and reactions won’t be supported inside the Facebook app chat feature, but it remains to be seen if that is simply because it is currently in development.

It is unclear whether the feature will ship to users at all since this is a test. Messenger, which has over 1.3 billion monthly users, will likely stick but this change would give users other options for chatting to friends.

We’ve contacted Facebook for comment, although we’re yet to hear back from the company. We’ll update this story with any comment that the company does share.

As you’d expect, the discovery has been greeted with cheers from many users who were disgruntled when Facebook yanked chat from the app all those years ago. I can’t help but wonder, however, if there are more people today who are content with using Messenger to chat without the entire Facebook service bolted on. Given all of Facebook’s missteps over the past year or two, consumer opinion of the social network has never been lower, which raises the appeal of using it to connect with friends but without engaging its advertising or newsfeed.

Wong’s finding comes barely a month after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sketched out a plan to pivot the company’s main focus to groups and private conversation rather than its previously public forum approach. That means messaging is about to become its crucial social graph, so why not bring it back to the core Facebook app? We’ll have to wait and see, but the evidence certainly shows Facebook is weighing the merits of such a move.

Uber has already made billions from its exits in China, Russia and Southeast Asia

Uber’s exits from China, Russia and Southeast Asia were billed as failures from the company, but the ride-sharing giant has already made billions on paper from those moves, according to its IPO filing.

Uber released its much-anticipated S1 on Thursday U.S. time and reporters and analysts are frantically digging into a treasure trove of previously-unreleased details. A number of sections on Uber’s global divestitures begin to paint a clear picture of the strategy that Uber employed when leaving China, Russia and Southeast Asia in recent years.

In each case, Uber decided to leave the market but, upon doing so, take a stake in its rival business in exchange for the assets it had remaining. Today, those holdings are collectively worth a cool $12.5 billion on paper, with a least $3 billion in gains so far.

China: $7.95 billion

China was Uber’s first tactical exit and it saw the company sell to local giant Didi Chuxing in August 2016

The Uber filing shows the U.S. firm took an 18.8 percent take in Didi. That, Uber estimates, has since been reduced to around 15.4 percent due to subsequent fundraising from Didi, which last publicly announced a $5.5 billion raise one year ago — previously, it raised $4 billion at the end of 2017.

Didi’s $56 billion valuation means it is the third highest valued startup in the world behind only ByteDance, parent of TikTok, and Uber, which it counts as an investor

The really interesting part of the filing its Uber’s estimate for the value of its Didi stake: that was $5.97 billion as of the end of 2017, and $7.95 billion at the end of last year. That’s a $2 billion paper increase in just one year, although the Uber filing doesn’t provide a value for the initial merger deal. Didi is also in the money having invested $1 billion into Uber in exchange for

One notable piece is that an investigation into whether the deal constitutes a monopoly is still ongoing, some two and a half years after the transaction was first announced.

“It is not clear how or when that proceeding will be resolved,” Uber notes in its document.

Finally, the original deal included a clause forbidding Didi from making “certain investments outside of Asia” for a six-year period. The company breached that — it acquired Uber rival 99 in Brazil and expanded its business into Mexico, among other moves — which saw Uber take back some shares, although its net gain was only $152 million.

Didi has struggled over the last 18 months so safety concerns bubbled to the fore following the murder of two female passengers last year. Operationally, too, there have been challenges. Didi reportedly lost $1.6 billion last year — that’s more than Uber — and it reshuffled the organization by laying off 15 percent of its staff recently. Despite buying out Uber, it is up against increased competition after a consortium of automakers inked a $1.45 billion ride-hailing joint-venture while new government rules have made the business of ride-hailing, and in particular recruiting drivers, more challenging in China.

Still, as China’s dominant firm and with an increasingly global presence, you’d imagine that Uber’s stake is likely to become more lucrative in the future.

Southeast Asia: $3.22 billion

Uber’s exit from Southeast Asia in March 2018 never seemed a copy of its China play, where it was burning a reported $1 billion a year. Instead, I argued that the deal was actually a win for the U.S. firm because it took a decent slice of Grab as part of the agreement and Uber’s filings show that is already proving to be the case.

Uber noted that the exit deal saw it take an initial 30 percent stake for $2.28 billion, which has since diluted to around 23 percent following Grab fundraising, which remains ongoing with a goal of $6.5 billion for its Series H. (That may be why the Uber stake was initially announced as 23 percent rather than 30 percent.)

Grab’s most recent valuation was $14 billion, according to sources, which means Uber’s stake is already worth $3.22 billion, a nearly $1 billion jump on paper in just a year.

Uber’s investment in Grab has already made it a $1 billion profit in just over one year

With the company in a dogfight with Go-Jek, its Indonesia rival that’s backed by the likes of Google and Tencent, it seems unlikely that Grab and key shareholder SoftBank will do anything other than keep on raising. That’ll likely dilute Uber — which, as a shareholder rather than an investor, isn’t likely to invest again — but it’ll increase Grab’s valuation and thus the value of Uber’s stake.

That leads us to the next detail of Uber’s Grab investment: its stake is classified as “available-for-sale debt security.” That’s to say that Uber could potentially dispose of its stake in the future.

Indeed, the Uber filing notes a clause in the deal that would allow the U.S. firm to sell “all or a portion of its investment back to Grab for cash” if the company hasn’t gone public by March 25 2023, five years after the deal.

That’s the first real line in the sand that we’ve seen for a Grab IPO and, with a buyback already expensive as Uber’s stake is worth more than $3 billion, the clock is ticking.

Russia: $1.4 billion

Finally, Uber’s third tactical retreat is Russia, where it formed a joint venture with local rival Yandex.taxi in July 2017. The combined business covers ride-hailing and food delivery in over 127 cities in Russia.

That gives it a different kind of relationship to its deals with Didi and Grab, where it one of many minority shareholders, and Uber’s S1 gives fewer details of the Russia JV.

Yandex, like Uber, is testing self-driving vehicles that could used in its taxi service in the future

What we do know is that Uber estimates its share of the business is 38 percent, a slice that it says is worth $1.4 billion. That’s a valuation of around $3.68 billion which is on par with the $3.7 billion that the companies announced at the time of the deal. Like the other deals, the business is the dominant one in a huge market — Russia has a population of more than 140 million people — so it stands to reason that the business will grow and thus Uber’s value within it will increase.

Yandex, the parent of Yandex.taxi, also stands to gain and not just from the joint venture. Uber allocated the company two million shares (then worth $54 million) which, at a proposed $55 per share, would more than double to $110 million at IPO and that’s not counting its potential value in the future.

A change with Careem acquisition

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that Southeast Asia would be the company’s last global retreat, and he seems to have been good to his word so far. Indeed, Uber announced its largest acquisition last month with a planned $3 billion purchase of Middle East-based rival Careem, which is present in 15 markets.

The Uber filing explains that the deal, which has not been completed, is $3.1 billion with around $1.4 billion in cash.

“We have structured the acquisition and proposed integration of Careem with the goal of preserving the strengths of both companies, including opportunities to create operating efficiencies across both platforms. We expect to share consumer demand and driver supply across both platforms, thereby increasing network density and reducing wait times for consumers and drivers in the region, while simultaneously achieving synergies from combining back-end support functions and shared technology infrastructure,” Uber wrote in a statement.

That’s certainly a new approach for Uber worldwide and, post IPO, it’ll be interesting to watch it actively play a role in consolidating other businesses into its own rather than going the other way. Still, those three global retreats are likely to pay off handsomely despite being billed as the result of failure.

A graphic from Uber’s filing shows its global presence, and the importance of its investments in China, Russia and Southeast Asia

GuestReady, a service for Airbnb hosts, doubles down on Europe with another acquisition

GuestReady, a service that helps shared economy hosts manage their business on Airbnb and other rental sites, is getting into expansion mode again after it completed its fourth acquisition.

The company, which has raised $3.7 million from investors to date, just announced that it has acquired France-based rival BnbLord, a startup that it claims is the largest Airbnb host platform in France and Portugal, through an undisclosed deal.

The deal represents a doubling down on those two markets and it follows the acquisition of Portugal-based Oporto City Flats last December, while GuestReady also took over We Stay In Paris, a French competitor. GuestReady’s first acquisition saw it capture U.K/France service Easy Rental in 2017.

GuestReady CEO and co-founder Alexander Limpert told TechCrunch that latest deal is its largest to date. The acquisition will double GuestReady’s presence to over 2,000 properties in Europe, where it covers the UK, France and Portugal. The company is also present in the UAE, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Beyond Airbnb, it supports hosts on Booking.com and HomeAway.

“We are extremely excited about this acquisition because it allows GuestReady to propel forward and become the largest service provider in the vacation rental industry,” Limpert said in a statement. “Since we started, we have been very focused on operational excellence and building a property technology system that allows us to automate non-core processes.”

The deal will see the 14-person team behind BnbLord transition in full to GuestReady, and BnbLord will retain its branding. Limpert revealed that BnbLord helped generate over €10 million for its hosts last year with over 30,000 bookings managed, but he didn’t disclose if the business was profitable.

Launched in 2016, GuestReady — as the name suggests — provide all manner of services that an Airbnb host could need for managing that property, from cleaning and laundry, to check-in and out services. It also includes listing generation, price management and other b2b services. It has over 100 staff.

We last wrote about the startup in late 2017, when it raised $3 million led by Impulse VC, the Russian fund that is backed by billionaire Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich. Limpert, who previously led country businesses in Asia for Rocket Internet’s Foodpanda, told TechCrunch that GuestReady plans to tap the private markets for more capital again soon.

“We are looking to raise a larger round later this year,” he said, indicating that the deal may happen in Q3. Limpert declined to state how much the company is aiming to raise, however.

GuestReady’s other investors include Swiss Founders Fund, Senn and Partner, Australia’s Xponova and Boost Heroes, a VC led by Lastminute founder Fabio Cannavale, and Airbnb executive Georg Bauser.

CleverTap lands $26M for its mobile-focused customer marketing service

CleverTap, an India-based startup that lets companies track and improve engagement with users across the web, has pulled in $26 million in new funding thanks to a round led by Sequoia India.

Existing investor Accel and new backer Tiger Global also took part in the deal, which values CleverTap at $150-$160 million, the startup disclosed. The deal takes CleverTap to around $40 million from investors to date.

Founded in 2015 and based in Mumbai, CleverTap competes with a range of customer experience services, including Oracle Cloud. Its service covers a range of touchpoints with consumers, including email, in-app activity, push notifications, Facebook, WhatsApp (for business) and Viber. Its service helps companies map out how their users are engaging across those vectors, and develop “re-engagement” programs to help reactive dormant users or increase engagement among others.

The company says its SDK is installed in over 8,000 apps and it some of the public clients it names include Southeast Asia-based duo Go-Jek and Zilingo, Hotstar in India and struggling U.S. startup Fandango . With a considerable customer base in Asia, CleverTap puts a particular focus on mobile because many of these markets are all about personal devices.

“Asia is mobile-first and massively growing,” CleverTap CEO and co-founder Sunil Thomas told TechCrunch in an interview. “A lot of engagement in this [part of the] world is timely… we were sort of born physically on the east side of the world, so we got to scale with all these diverse set of devices.”

That stands to benefit CleverTap as it seeks to grow market share outside of Asia, and in markets like the U.S. and Europe where mobile is — right now — just one part of the marketing and customer engagement process. The company believes that engagement by mobile has a long way to develop there.

“Engagement [in the West] is still email-heavy and not really timely,” Thomas said. “Whereas the East thinks of it as ‘Hey, let’s be proactive… instead of a user coming in to hunt for information, can I provide it when I think he or she will need it?'”

Of course, mobile push and in-app notifications can be easily abused.

Most people will know of an app on their phone — or perhaps once on their phone — that falls into that category. So, how does a company know what is too much or what isn’t enough?

“As long as you use push or in-app as an extension of your brand, then I think it’s extremely useful,” explained Thomas. “After all, this is a really competitive world; it isn’t just your app out there — if you can make your brand count when this person isn’t in your app, that’ll help you.”

More broadly, Thomas argued that CleverTap brings data to the table which, ultimately, “changes the whole context in real time.” So a customer can really look holistically at their online presence and figure out what is working, and with which users. In real terms, when used to acquire new users online, he said he believes that CleverTap typically doubles registration conversions and triples the buying rate.

“The cost of acquisition to first purchase is what we really effect,” said Thomas. “It’s that moment you get a new person into your house.”

CleverTap has just opened an office in Singapore, and it plans to add a location in Indonesia before the end of the year. Both of those expansions are centered around business development, with some customer support. Already, according to Thomas, the company is looking to grow in Europe while it is weighing the potential to enter Latin America in a move that could include a local partnership.

The CleverTap CEO is also considering raising more money towards the end of the year, when he believes that the company can push its valuation as high as $400 million.

“That’s very doable based on revenue growth,” he said. “We think that the revenue will demand that valuation.”

ShopBack, a cashback startup in Asia Pacific, raises $45M from Rakuten and others

ShopBack, a Singapore-based startup that offers cashback and consumer rewards in Asia Pacific, has closed a $45 million round led by new investors Rakuten Capital and EV Growth.

Founded in 2014, the startup had been relatively under-the-radar until late 2017 when it announced a $25 million investment that funded expansion into Australia among other things. Now, it is doubling down with this deal which sees participation from another new backer, EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board. Shopback has now raised close to $85 million from investors, which also include Credit Saison Blue Sky, AppWorks, SoftBank Ventures Korea, Singtel Innov8 and Qualgro.

The investment will see Amit Patel, who leads Rakuten-owned cashback service Ebates, and EV Growth managing partner Willson Cuaca, join the board. Cuaca is a familiar face since his East Ventures firm, which launched EV Growth alongside Yahoo Japan Capital and SMDV last year, was an early investor in Shopback, while the addition of Patel is potentially very significant for the startup. Indeed, when I previously wrote about ShopBack, I compared the startup directly to Ebates, which was bought by Rakuten for $1 billion in 2014.

Ebates brings operating experience in the cashback space,” Henry Chan, ShopBack co-founder and CEO told TechCrunch in an interview.

“A lot has changed in the last year and a half, Ebates has a very strong focus on the U.S… given that we’re not competing, it makes sense to partner and to learn,” he added.

The obvious question to ask is whether this deal is a precursor to a potential acquisition.

So, is it?

“It is squarely for learning and for growth,” Chan said in response. “It makes sense for us to partner with someone with the know-how.”

ShopBack operates in seven markets in Asia Pacific — Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia and Indonesia — with a core rewards service that gives consumers rebates for spending on areas like e-commerce, ride-hailing, food delivery, online travel and more. It has moved offline, too, with a new service for discovering and paying for food which initially launched in Singapore.

ShopBack said it saw a 250 percent growth in sales and orders last year which translated to nearly $1 billion in sales for its merchant partners. The company previously said it handled $400 million in 2017. It added that it typically handles more than 2.5 million transactions for upwards of seven million users.

(Left to right) Henry Chan, co-founder and CEO of ShopBack, welcomes new board member Amit Patel, CEO of Rakuten -owned Ebates [Image via ShopBack]

Chan said that, since the previous funding round, ShopBack has seen its business in emerging markets like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines take off and eclipse its efforts in more developed countries like Singapore. Still, he said, the company benefits from the diversity of the region.

Markets like Singapore and Taiwan, where online spending is more established, allow ShopBack to “learn ahead of time how different industries will develop” as the internet economy matures in Southeast Asia, Chan — who started the company with fellow co-founder Joel Leong — explained.

Outside of Southeast Asia, Chan said that ShopBack’s Australia business — launched nearly one year ago — has been its “most phenomenal market in terms of growth.”

“We’re already superseding incumbents,” he said.

ShopBack claims some 300,000 registered users in Australia, where it said purchases through its platform have grown by 1,300 percent between May 2018 and March 2019. Of course, that’s growth from a tiny initial base and ShopBack didn’t provide raw figures on sales.

For its next expansion, ShopBack is looking closer to home with Vietnam its upcoming target. The country is already home to one of its three R&D centers — the other two are located in Singapore and Taiwan — and Chan said the startup is currently hiring for a general manager to head up the soon-to-launch Vietnam business.

Already, though, the company is beginning to think about reaching beyond Asia Pacific. Chan maintained that the company already has a proven playbook — particularly on the tech side — so it “can enter a Western market” if it chooses, but that isn’t likely to happen in the immediate future.

“We could [expand beyond Asia Pacific] but we have a fair bit on our plate, right now,” said Chan with a laugh.

India’s Cashfree raises $5.5M from Korea’s Smilegate, Y Combinator and others

Cashfree, an India-based startup that specializes in making corporate banking services more accessible and easier to use, has closed a $5.5 million Series A round.

The deal is led by Smilegate Investment — the fund affiliated with Korean games firm Smilegate — with participation from Y Combinator, the U.S. accelerator program that Cashfree graduated from in 2017. The startup previously raised an undisclosed seed round from investors that include former UK Finance Minister George Osborne, and Vellayan Subbiah, who was previously managing director of Cholamandalam Investment, both of whom joined this new round.

Founded in 2015 by Reeju Datta and Akash Sinha, Cashfree started out as a payment gateway before it pivoted to tackle the more pertinent issue of moving money in India. Today, its service is used by more than 12,000 businesses to disperse bulk transfers for things like vendor payments, wages, reimbursements, refunds, and more. Those customers include recognizable names like Xiaomi, Tencent, Zomato, Cred, Club Factory, ExxonMobil and Dunzo, the concierge service backed by Google.

“While developing the payment gateway, we realized there are a lot of problems operating corporate bank accounts in India, especially when you have to handle a lot of transfers on a daily basis,” Datta told TechCrunch in an interview.

Cashfree helps its customers to connect their corporate banking services via a single interface. Aside from enabling disbursements to bank accounts, via India’s UPI system or to wallet accounts like Paytm, the system allows analysis, such as calculating top vendors, aggregate payouts and other business intelligence that would take hours of manual work using corporate bank services.

Datta said the company currently processes $4.5 billion annual recurring volume. That’s not take-home revenue — Cashfree makes its money on a per transaction basis — but he said it is profitable and has been since it graduated YC 18 months ago.

The current thesis is to work with banks rather than against them, Datta explained, but there’s always the potential that Cashfree itself might offer banking services. Right now, that isn’t possible — Datta said Cashfree will need to “wait for the regulatory climate to clear up” — but it isn’t beyond the scope of possibility that it could emerge as a challenger bank in the future. Beyond clearer regulation, “a couple more fundraises” might be necessary for that evolution, the Cashfree co-founder added.

Still, Cashfree will use this new money to double down on its banking services — those that attached to banks, that is — with a new solution with increased integrations set to ship to customers soon. It is also building up its presence in Delhi and Bombay, where it has begun hiring business development teams to expand its work.

Fantasy sports platform Dream11 nets $1 billion valuation following new investment

India has a new unicorn after Dream11, an online fantasy sports service, claimed its valuation has surpassed $1 billion following a new investment.

This isn’t your regular unicorn valuation deal. Instead, the company — which hosts cricket, NBA, soccer and other sports contests — crossed the milestone through a secondary sale that reportedly involves the transfer of a small amount of stock.

Dream11 said today that Steadview Capital purchased an undisclosed amount of shares from existing investors Kalaari Capital, Think Investments and Multiples Equity. India’s Economic Times reported that the deal is worth around $60 million and that it values Dream11 at $1 billion-$1.5 billion. If correct, that would represent a big jump on the $500 million valuation that the company reportedly landed last September when Chinese internet giant Tencent was said to have led a $100 million Series D.

Dream11 is somewhat secretive, having never publicly confirmed the size of its past investments. Steadview, meanwhile, is well-known as an early backer of Indian Uber rival Ola. The firm recently doubled down and invested a fresh $75 million into Ola’s new round, a deal that gave the company a valuation of $6 billion.

Founded in 2007, Dream11 taps the demand for fantasy sports in India, the world’s largest market for cricket which also has a strong soccer fanbase. Dream11 gamers pick their choice of the best players in an upcoming match. They can win cash prizes depending on how their selected team performs.

Dream11 said in a statement that it is targeting 100 million registered users by the end of the year. Right now, it claims to have “over 50 million.”

“We at Steadview believe that Dream11 is poised to become the leading sports company in India catering to everything a sports fan needs. We think very highly of the visionary founders and are excited to partner with the team in this journey. The company’s phenomenal growth track-record, dominant leadership in daily fantasy gaming and strong engagement metrics is a testament to the consumer love for the platform,” said Ravi Mehta, Steadview Capital managing director in a statement.