Gogoprint raises $7.7M to expand its online printing business in Asia Pacific

Gogoprint, a startup that is aiming to disrupt the traditional printing industry in Southeast Asia, has pulled in a $7.7 million investment as it prepares to expand its business in Asia Pacific.

We first profiled Gogoprint in 2016 soon after its launch the previous year, and since then the Bangkok-based company has expanded beyond Thailand and into Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Now, the company is looking to go beyond Southeast Asia and enter Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and other markets over the coming 12 months.

Those moves will be funded by this Series A round, which is led by existing Gogoprint backer OPG (Online Printing Group), an investment firm from Kai Hagenbuch who was an early backer of Brazil-based Printi. Printi previously sold a chunk of its business to printing giant VistaPrint through a 2014 investment and it is generally heralded as a startup success within its space.

Gogoprint claims to have worked with 45,000 companies to date. Its core services include printed business cards, flyers, booklets, posters and more, in addition to marketing collateral such as promotional pens, other stationary and flash drives.

Printing isn’t a particularly sexy space from the outside, but Gogoprint is aiming to upend the industry in Southeast Asia using something known as “batching.” That involves bundling a range of customer orders together for each print run to ensure that each sheet that’s sent to the printer is filled to capacity, or near capacity.

That sounds obvious, but traditional printing batches were almost always below capacity because each customer ordered individually with little option for batching. Gogoprint uses the internet to reach a wider number of customers which, using technology to batch jobs, means that it can handle more orders with fewer printer runs. That translates to cost savings for its business and lower prices for its customers. There are also benefits for the printers themselves, as they are guaranteed volume, which is no sure thing in today’s increasingly digital world.

Gogoprint joint managing director David Berghaeuser — who founded the company with fellow co-founder Alexander Suess — told TechCrunch that the company’s main pivot has been away from the idea it needed to own its printing facility in-house.

“When we started, we had this impression that as an online printer eventually we needed to own and operate our own machinery. But over one or two years we had a mindset shift when we realized there’s this option to operate this model as a pure marketplace — we’re definitely a marketplace and do not plan to own any printing machinery,” he explained.

A large part of that is because in Southeast Asia it simply isn’t practical to ship products overseas, both in terms of time and also the cost and hassle of importing. So Gogoprint has local partners in each market that it works with. Rather than “disrupting” the system, Berghaeuser argued that his company is making the process more efficient.

Gogoprint staff at the company’s office in Bangkok, Thailand

Gogoprint currently has around 125 staff, and there are plans to grow that number by an additional 30. In particular, Berghaeuser said the company is building out an internal structure that will enable it to scale — that includes the recent hiring of a CTO.

Berghaeuser explained that the company focuses on larger clients — such as Honda, Lazada and Lion Air — because of their higher average basket size and a higher chance of repeat customers, which he revealed is 60 percent on average. That’s achieved with a few tricks, which includes no design software on the website. Instead, Gogoprint customers upload their completed designs in any format. While he conceded the formats can be a pain, Berghaeuser clarified that the approach minimizes more hobbyist-type business, although he did say that the company is happy to work with customers of all sizes.

Gogoprint claims it grew its customer numbers by 200 percent over the past year but it declined to provide revenue details. Berghaeuser did say the company has a path to profitability that’s helped by “healthy” profit margins of 30-80 percent depending on the product.

Hagenbuch, the early backer of Printi in Brazil, is convinced that Gogoprint is on to a good thing in Asia.

“There are a handful of big-name online printers operating in the region. However, each of them has localized operations as they have been unable to truly expand regionally into Southeast Asia due to operational and market form factors,” he said in a statement

“Gogoprint has found the right formula to win more and more customers by creating true value: providing something that’s better at a cheaper price point, and with enhanced speed to market,” Hagenbuch added.

Samsung forecasts record $15.5B profit thanks to chips not smartphones

Samsung’s last quarter of business saw its slowest growth of profits in a year thanks to weak sales of its flagship Galaxy S9 smartphone. But the company is about much more than just phones, and that’s why it is forecasting a record operating profit of nearly $15.5 billion for its upcoming Q3 results.

The Korean firm said in a filing that it expects to revenue jump five percent year-on-year to hit 65 trillion KRW ($57.5 billion) with an operating profit of 17.5 trillion KRW ($15.5 billion), which represents a 20 percent annual jump and an 18 percent increase on the previous quarter.

Samsung’s pre-earnings filings are brief and don’t contain detailed information about the performance of its business units, thus we can’t assess demand for its high-end phones — which include the Note 9 — in the quarter that Apple unveiled its newest iPhones. But the clues suggest that it is actually the more boring (but reliable) divisions that are, once again, responsible for Samsung’s strong forecast.

Chips account for some 80 percent of Samsung’s revenue and demand for DRAM, which is important in areas such as cloud, pushed prices up during Q3 but analysts suspect that the growth won’t last.

“Its earnings appeared to have peaked,” Mirae Asset Daewoo Securities analyst William Park told Reuters. “DRAM prices are going to fall, although not dramatically, and that will negatively impact its margins.”

We’ll know more when Samsung releases its full earnings this month.

China reportedly infiltrated Apple and other US companies using ‘spy’ chips on servers

Ready for information about what may be one of the largest corporate espionage programs from a nation-state? The Chinese government managed to gain access to the servers of more than 30 U.S. companies, including Apple, according to an explosive report from Bloomberg published today.

Bloomberg reports that U.S-based server motherboard specialist Supermicro was compromised in China where government-affiliated groups are alleged to have infiltrated its supply chain to attach tiny chips, some merely the size of a pencil tip, to motherboards which ended up in servers deployed in the U.S.

The goal, Bloomberg said, was to gain an entry point within company systems to potentially grab IP or confidential information. While the micro-servers themselves were limited in terms of direct capabilities, they represented a “stealth doorway” that could allow China-based operatives to remotely alter how a device functioned to potentially access information.

Once aware of the program, the U.S. government spied on the spies behind the chips but, according to Bloomberg, no consumer data is known to have been stolen through the attacks. Even still, this episode represents one of the most striking espionage programs from the Chinese government to date.

The story reports that the chips were discovered and reported to the FBI by Amazon, which found them during due diligence ahead of its 2015 acquisition of Elemental Systems, a company that held a range of U.S. government contracts, and Apple, which is said to have deployed up to 7,000 Supermicro servers at peak. Bloomberg reported that Amazon removed them all within a one-month period. Apple did indeed cut ties with Supermicro back in 2016, but it denied a claim from The Information which reported at the time that it was based on a security issue.

Amazon, meanwhile, completed the deal for Elemental Systems — reportedly worth $500 million — after it switched its motherboard provider away from Supermicro.

Supermicro, meanwhile, was suspended from trading on the Nasdaq in August after failing to submit quarterly reports on time. The company is likely to be delisted.

Amazon, Apple, Supermicro and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs all denied Bloomberg’s findings with strong and lengthy statements — a full list of rebuttals is here. The publication claims that it sourced its information using no fewer than 17 individuals with knowledge of developments, including six U.S. officials and four Apple “insiders.”

You can (and should) read the full story on Bloomberg here.

ZTE hit with 2-year ‘monitoring’ extension after breaking probation terms

Embattled Chinese tech firm ZTE narrowly survived after the U.S. Department of Commerce hit it with a $1 billion fine and forced changes to its business earlier this year, and. Now it is back in the news for negative reasons after it was judged to have broken the probation around a fine that it copped in 2017.

The company agreed to pay $892 million last March after pleading guilty to charges of violating U.S.-Iran sanctions — the same issue that triggered the initial ban from the Department of Commerce. A condition of that 2017 deal was that the company would be ‘monitored’ until 2020 to ensure against repeat offenses. That term has been extended by a further two years by a U.S. court — as Reuters reports — it had “falsely disciplined” employees who were part of the Iran trading activities.

ZTE had been required to terminate the senior members of staff and discipline the others involved.

ZTE disclosed the extension in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange. It added that the court-appointed monitor will also be given access to the same information as the monitor tied to the Department of Commerce. That means copmpany documents, information, facilities and personnel.

The company is the second largest provider of telecoms equipment in the world, it has over 75,000 employees and is suspected of close ties with the government. However, it is dependent on U.S-based companies for certain components which is why it is caught up in U.S. politics and regulators.

Before the fine earlier this year, it looked like the company was finished. The Trump administration banned U.S. companies from selling components to ZTE for seven years but the President himself spearheaded an unexpected reprieve that saw ZTE pay the fine and make operational changes. Trump’s move was part of a wider and ongoing trade war that the U.S. and China have fought out using trade tariffs.

SoftBank and Toyota team up to develop services powered by self-driving vehicles

SoftBank is getting into self-driving car services after the Japanese tech giant announced a joint-venture with Toyota in its native Japan.

SoftBank is invested in Uber and a range of other ride-hailing startups like Didi in China and Grab in Southeast Asia, but this initiative with Toyota is not related to those deals. Instead, it is designed to combine SoftBank’s focus on internet-of-things technology and Toyota’s connected vehicle services platform to enable new types of services that run on autonomous vehicle tech.

Called MONET — after ‘mobility network’ — the joint venture will essentially assign autonomous vehicles to various different “just in time” services. That just in time caveat essentially means more than on-demand. SoftBank suggests it’ll mean that services are performed in transit. That could be food prepared as it is delivered, hospital shuttles that host medical examinations, or mobile offices, according to examples given by SoftBank.

The plan is to use Toyota’s battery-based e-Palette electric vehicles and begin a roll “by the second half of the 2020s.” SoftBank said that the business will be focused on the Japanese market with “an eye to future expansion on the global market.”

Toyota has made strong progress on self-driving vehicles, having debuted its 3.0 self-driving research car earlier this year and then, in March, created a new $2.8 billion business that’s focused on developing requisite software systems. That latter program is designed to work alongside the Toyota Research Institute which, fueled by a $1 billion grant, is pushing the firm’s autonomous tech strategy.

Toyota is also aligned with Uber on ride-hailing. The firm invested $500 million in Uber and $1 billion in Grab via deals this year.

Back in January at CES, Toyota said that it is working with Amazon, Uber, Didi, Mazda and Pizza Hut to develop an electric autonomous shuttle that can be used to deliver people or packages. The business alliances were created to focus on the development of the e-Palette.

SoftBank’s autonomous vehicle projects including a bus that it is developing in partnership with China’s Baidu.

Go-Jek is close to launching a ride-hailing service in Singapore

Indonesia’s ride-sharing startup Go-Jek plans to land in Singapore, its arch-rival Grab’s HQ, as soon as this month as its regional expansion program gains speed, TechCrunch has come to understand.

Go-Jek has grown to become a $5 billion business that’s backed by the likes of Google and Tencent without venturing out of Indonesia, where it original motorbike taxi-hailing app has fanned out to cover cars, on-demand services, payments and more. But it decided to expand in Southeast Asia following Uber’s exit from the region in March, landing first in Vietnam and then Thailand, where it has recruited drivers and is close to commencing its service.

Singapore — a far smaller market but one that’s hugely symbolic — is on its radar and Go-Jek plans to introduce a service in the country before the end of October, a source with knowledge of the plans told TechCrunch.

Exactly what that’ll look like isn’t clear. Unlike Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, Singapore doesn’t allow motorbike taxis so the company will be launching cars right off the bat. Go-Jek remains in discussions with ComfortDelGro, Singapore’s largest taxi operator which previously had an agreement with Uber, but it may also launch its own private car service to rival Grab directly.

Go-Jek is currently in discussions with investors with a view to raising $2 billion to finance the next stage of its expansion.

Grab was founded in Malaysia but it has since moved its headquarters to Singapore where it is registered as a business. The company was recently valued at $11 billion following the completion of a $2 billion financing round.

Consumers have complained about a lack of options following Uber’s exit and Singapore’s regulators fined Uber and Grab over its “anti-competitive” merger deal, but Grab co-founder Hooi Ling Tan has maintained there’s plenty of competition. Certainly, her statement will ring truer when Go-Jek cars are driving around on Grab’s front lawn.

It wasn’t just you, Instagram was down for about an hour but it’s back now

Instagram just got a new CEO this week after the fairly controversial exit of its founding duo and it is underfire for a major security issue. The last thing it needed is an outage — but that’s exactly what happened today.

Between the hours of midnight and 1am at Facebook HQ, issues preventing the service from working on both the web and its apps, according to Down Detector. We here at TechCrunch were unable to access it in parts of Europe and Asia, and the issue appeared to impact many beyond those countries and, potentially, all users.

Facebook acknowledged the issue with a statement just before the service came back online:

“We’re aware that some users are having trouble accessing their Instagram accounts. We’re working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

With over one billion users worldwide, even just an hour is a pretty huge incident for the service.

You’d be forgiven for being worried. Facebook just suffered a huge hack which impacted at least 50 million accounts although, so far, the company has said it didn’t spread to Instagram, WhatsApp or services that use the Facebook login system.

We’ve reached out to Facebook and Instagram to see if there are more details on what happened.

In the meantime, here are some tweets:

Tencent Music, China’s largest streaming service with 800M users, files for US IPO

This year has seen a number of tech companies that are majority or substantially owned by Chinese giant going public in the U.S. Baidu’s iQiyi service, Xiaomi-backed Huami and Viomi are a few examples, and now Tencent Music — the music division of Tencent, as you can guess — is making its run after plenty of speculation.

TME — Tencent Music Entertainment — filed initial paperwork to go public in the U.S. (exchange not specified) overnight and the initial target is a $1 billion raise, although that is subject to change. We know that Tencent Music is valued at least at $12 billion, based on data from Spotify’s IPO earlier this year, so it’ll be interesting to note how much that rises from this listing.

Hardly a startup, TME is a spunout subsidiary that houses four Tencent music streaming services, Q Music, Kugou Music, Kuwo Music and WeSing. Those include orthodox streaming services, karaoke apps and live-streaming services. They are generally recognized to be China’s top four music apps and together they claim over 800 million monthly users.

Unlike Apple Music, Spotify or Pandora, TME is a profitable business, but its gross revenue and the way it makes money is quite different to its Western brethren. Spotify and co rely on subscriptions and ad-supported free tiers, Tencent Music draws the majority of its revenue from social activities, advertising and song sales.

Tencent Music’s 2017 revenue was $1.7 billion (RMB 11 billion) with a $199 million (RMB 1.3 billion) profit. Already the first half of 2018 has seen it clock $1.3 billion (RMB 8.6 billion) in revenue with a $263 million (RMB 1.7 billion) profit. Subscriptions accounted for just 30 percent of those sales, with the remainder gathered from virtual gifts that are sent to live streamers and premium memberships.

A large part of that success is its connection to Tencent services — in particularly WeChat, which counts one billion users, and QQ but also Tencent Video — which give Tencent Music’s services an avenue to reach users and spread across friend graphs and networks. That’s helped keep marketing expenses down and ultimately make the company profitable. Tencent Music’s cost of revenue is 60 percent, versus nearly 75-85 percent for Spotify which has to do a lot more work to bring users in.

Interestingly, Tencent Music notes in its prospectus that it expects revenue from subscriptions to increase over time.

“We had a paying ratio of 3.6 percent in the second quarter of 2018, which is still very low compared to the paying ratios of online games and video services in China and other online music services globally as quoted by iResearch, which indicates significant growth potential,” the company wrote.

That’s not a given though when you consider how rife privacy is in China. Those in the industry claim it is changing, it’s in their own interests to say that, but it is unclear whether the alternative ‘social’ monetization models that Tencent Music taps cannibalize potential subscription-based revenue.

Either way, the company might be able to learn from the West, too. Spotify holds a 9.1 percent stake in the business courtesy of a share swap last year — Tencent owns 7.5 percent of Spotify — which could yet lead to synergies between both sides, although Spotify competes with Tencent-owned Joox (not part of TME) in markets like Southeast Asia.

For now, the main takeaway is that Tencent Music is China’s top streaming dog and it is leaning on WeChat, the country’s dominant messaging platform. That bodes well, but, as repeated numerous times in its prospectus, monetizing music is still a new concept in China so there are few parallels to look at for guidance.

Still, this is a rare example of Chinese tech IPO that isn’t hemorrhaging cash — for example, Nio — which, coupled with the Tencent connection, is likely to make it a popular one.

Philippines SME lending startup First Circle raises $26M ahead of regional expansion

This year has been a breakout one for micro-financing startups in Southeast Asia, which are becoming among the most funded within the region’s fintech space. Next in line to raise capital is First Circle, an SME-lending service that’s based in the Philippines which has pulled in $26 million as it begins to consider regional expansion options.

The new financing is led by Venturra Capital with participation from Insignia Ventures Partners, Hong Kong’s Silverhorn Investment Advisors, and Tryb Group. First Circle has previously raised $2.5 million, including a $1.3 million seed round 18 months ago.

The company was founded by Irish duo CEO Patrick Lynch, formerly of CompareAsia Group and CTO Tony Ennis, previously with WebSummit, and the goal is to help small businesses scale by offering them short-term loans. The Philippines is an impact market since SMEs account for 99.6 percent of the country’s business, 65 percent of its workforce and a staggering 35 percent of national GDP. Yet, there’s no formal credit scoring system and existing loan coverage is patchy at best.

Most of First Circle’s loans are often transaction or working capital, such as financing to take on a new deal for a client with a guaranteed financial return that requires a fairly brutal wait of 90-120 days, Lynch told TechCrunch in an interview.

“A lack of access to capital is a problem that faces tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of businesses in the Philippines,” he explained. “Emerging markets are not capital developed, and our business model is quite different from the p2p lender model in that we do share risk with the investors.”

First Circle sources capital from third parties, including asset managers and family offices, who take half of the loan book. Unlike the P2P model, which is going through a spectacular crash in China, First Circle is invested in all deals and as such it does thorough due diligence before committing. However, after processing over $100 million in deals to “thousands” of businesses, Lynch said that the company has built up data on a number of suppliers and business partners to the point that a “significant” chunk of applications can be processed without human involvement.

For example, if a loan application is seeking financing in order to do a dealing with Multinational X, First Circle can move quickly if it has dealt with the application before or it has issued loans to other partners who have done business with Multinational X.

“Over time, as we acquire more customers, the degrees of separation are collapsing over time,” Lynch said.

First Circle’s executive team including co-founders Tony Ennis (third from left) and Patrick Lynch (middle)

The fact that there is little data available via a credit bureau makes things challenging. The need to built a solution from the ground up necessitates great time, cost and other resources but it can have major benefits, as First Circle is beginning to enjoy.

“Many new providers of financial services are rating customer for the first time. In 80 percent of the time in our case, it’s the first time our customer will have had a formal relationship” with a financial organization, Lynch explained. “That provides an opportunity, if done correctly, to provide a strong relationship and be a part of their future success for a long time.”

Indeed, the First Circle CEO said that, to date, customers will typically take a loan of around $10,000, but the average will balance is $30,000 — meaning that there are three loans active. That reflects the transactional nature of the loans the startup is issuing, but of course more business means more data, stronger relationships and a higher chance of word-of-mouth recommendations.

First Circle is staying focused on the Philippines for now, but Lynch revealed that there are plans to expand to other parts of Southeast Asia, the region of nearly 650 million consumers. This round may help the company “put a foot in a second market,” Lynch said, but it is likely to go out and raise more money to push its regional expansion plan next year.

Opera Touch is a solid alternative to Safari on the iPhone

Browser company Opera is back doing what it does best, offering you beautifully-designed alternatives to the stock browsers from the likes of Google and Apple . This week the company brought its ‘Opera Touch’ browser to iOS to give iPhone owners a new alternative to the basic Safari browser.

The app was first launched for Android in April and, as we noted at the time, it reinvents a lot of the established paradigms to work well on mobile and particularly large screens that don’t have a home button — which is steadily becoming every premium devices on the market today.

Touch for iOS — which you can download here — will be particularly of interest to owners of the iPhone X or Apple’s newest iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and (upcoming) iPhone XR devices since it is optimized for one-handed use. That’s to say it employs the same nifty user interface seen on the Android app (see below), which lets you open or close tabs, switch to search, go back or forward using a menu bar located at the bottom of the screen. One thing it is missing, for now, is more comprehensive management of bookmarks.

The app also includes Opera’s ‘Flow’ technology which lets a user pass links, images and notes from their phone to an Opera browser on their computer using a “secure and private” connection.

As ever, the Opera browser comes with ad blocking built-in and there’s the company’s usual protection from cryptojacking — that’s the process of being hacked and having your CPU used to mine crypto for someone else.

All in all, the browser is worth taking for a spin if you have Apple’s new home buttonless devices and seek an alternative to the pre-loaded Safari browser. Other options might include Google Chrome, recently given a redesign for its tenth anniversary, as well as Mozilla, UC Web, Dolphin and Brave.