Niio announces $15M Series A following strategic partnership with Samsung Displays

Niio, a Tel Aviv-based digital art platform that offers access to digital art, from contemporary artists and galleries to NFTs, announced today it has closed $15 million Series A funding in the wake of a strategic partnership with Samsung Displays last week.

The round was co-led by L Catterton, which is a joint venture company between LVMH and Catterton, Entrée Capital and Pico Venture Partners. Additional investors also joined, including Saga VC, as well as leading artists, art collectors, museums, gallerists and trustees at institutions such as MOMA and Guggenheim as well as Shalom McKenzie, who recently acquired a CryptoPunk NFT at Sotheby’s. Prior to the Series A round, Niio had raised $8 million, initially from strategic angels, followed by a seed round from institutions in 2017.

Niio will use its capital to grow its artist community and scale its app-enabled subscription and purchase platform, which is blockchainbased and will include a trading-enabled marketplace for NFTs and other digital art assets.

“Digital art has become an accepted, mainstream medium with the market accelerating largely due to the explosive growth of NFTs,” said Niio CEO and co-founder Rob Anders. “The transformation people are experiencing is the most significant and consequential moment for culture in decades, making new kinds of art accessible and experienced on screens in ways like never before,” Anders added.

Niio’s technology enables users to stream digital artwork on any digital screen or canvas anywhere, bridging the gap between art and creating a platform similar to what music and entertainment streaming services have done for albums and movies.

Niio, founded by Rob Anders and Oren Moshe in 2014, combines an accessible streaming subscription service alongside the ability for people to purchase editioned NFT artwork directly from artists, galleries and content owners, through its public marketplace or via private transactions, Anders told TechCrunch.

Niio is launching its subscription service at the end of 2021 followed by its NFT marketplace — which makes Niio, backed by a global community of art professionals, the most comprehensive end-to-end solution for the digital art medium and ensuring that premium digital art is easily accessible by anyone on any screen, Anders continued.

By providing Niio’s tools to a global community of 6,000 galleries, institutions and artists from renowned to emerging, Niio’s platform and blockchain enables artists to require, distribute, manage and monetize and preserve their work.

Niio will be free for all artists, forever, to respect and support the creative community and artists’ ability for publishing, managing and protecting their life’s work.

“We have realized our vision for a platform that first and foremost empowers artists and enables their work to be experienced digitally and available globally. We are gratified by the trust that more than 6,000 artists have placed in us — as we enable them to publish, manage protect and monetize their life’s work,” Niio co-founder Oren Moshe said.

Approximately 10,000 global business customers have been using the Niio platform for the past two to three years, Anders said. Clients range from art professionals, including galleries, museums, studios and art schools, to luxury brands, hotel chains and real estate developers, who subscribe and display curated art streams from the 15,000 premium works available on the platform, to millions of people across public spaces and places in over 30 countries, Anders said.

“There are over 1 billion Smart TVs in the market and our partner Samsung has 30-40% of the market contributing to our ability to offer a ‘last mile’ proposition,” Anders said.

The digital art market is projected to be approximately $50 – $100 billion by 2025, according to Anders.

“The digital art has long been on our radar at L Catterton. We are very bullish on its future, and our ongoing evaluation of the sector brought us to Niio,” said Michael Farello, managing partner at L Catterton’s Growth Fund. “We are convinced that their platform approach including both subscription and an NFT offering combined with the reputation they have built in the critical artist community and the validation from their partnership with Samsung – will make them a market leader.”

Business Canvas, a Korea-based document management SaaS company, closes $2.5M seed round

Business Canvas, a South Korean document management SaaS company behind Typed, announced today it has raised a $2.5 million seed round led by Mirae Asset Venture Investment, with participation from Kakao Ventures and Nextrans Inc.

The seed round will be used for accelerating product development and global launch of open beta for its AI-powered document management platform. The company opened an office in Santa Clara, California this year to spur its global expansion.

People are bombarded with information thanks to advances in technology that opens the doors to a wealth of information, but at the same time, too much information and a huge amount of data at one time leave the users confused and/or unable to make timely decisions.

Business Canvas, founded in July 2020 by CEO Woojin Kim, Brian Shin, Seungmin Lee, Dongjoon Shin and Clint Yoo, is hoping to solve the challenge that every knowledge worker and writer faces: spending more time on research and file organization than the actual content output they need to create.

“In fact, people commit over 30% of their working hours trying to search for that file we once saved in a folder that we just cannot find anymore,” Business Canvas CEO and co-founder Kim said.

Through a network that intelligently tracks and organizes files based on the user’s interactions, Typed brings all the knowledge from different websites and applications into one simple-to-use and quick-to-learn digital workspace.

Strictly keeping its users’ information and their confidential files uninterrupted, Typed does not access the content of users’ documents but utilize them as machine learning data in order to protect their information and data, Kim told TechCrunch. It simply collects users’ action driven data point and publicly available metadata of documents and resources under users’ permission, Kim added.

“Modern document writing has not changed since the 1980s,” Business Canvas co-founder Clint Yoo said. “While we have more knowledge at our fingertips than ever before, we use the same rudimentary methods to organize and make sense of it. We want any writer – from lawyers and entrepreneurs to researchers and students – to focus on creating great content instead of wasting time organizing their source material. We achieved this by making knowledge management more like the way our brain operates.”

Since the launch of the closed beta test in February 2021, Typed saw significant user growth including more than 10,000 users on the waitlist, with 25,000 files uploaded and 350% month-over-month active user growth, the company said in its statement. Typed will be available through a freemium model and is currently accepting beta registrations on its website.

“When we’ve tested our closed beta, our metrics show top traction among students as well as journalists, writers and lawyers, who require heavy research and document work on a frequent basis. We opened up access earlier this month for the waitlists in over 50 countries. These are primarily B2C users,” Kim told TechCrunch. “As for B2B, we are currently in the process of proof-of-concept (POC) for one of the largest conglomerates in South Korea. Smaller teams like startups, boutique law, consulting firms, venture capitals and government institutions also have been adopting Typed as well.”

“While the company is still in its nascent stage in its development, Typed has the potential to fundamentally change how we work individually or as a team. If there is a business to take on our outdated way of writing content, it’s them [Typed],” Shina Chung, Kakao Ventures CEO said.

The global market size for social software and collaboration SaaS is estimated at $4.5 billion in 2021, increasing over 17% year on year, Kim said.

Pakistan edtech startup Maqsad gets $2.1M pre-seed to make education more accessible

Taha Ahmed and Rooshan Aziz left their jobs in strategy consulting and investment banking in London earlier this year in order to found a mobile-only education platform startup, Maqsad, in Pakistan, with a goal “to make education more accessible to 100 million Pakistani students.”

Having grown up in Karachi, childhood friends Ahmed and Aziz are aware of the challenges about the Pakistani education system, which is notably worse for those not living in large urban areas (the nation’s student-teacher ratio is 44:1). Pakistani children are less likely to go to school for each kilometer of distance between school and their home — with girls being four times affected, Maqsad co-founder Aziz said.

Maqsad announced today its $2.1 million pre-seed round to enhance its content platform growth and invest in R&D.

The pre-seed round, which was completed in just three weeks via virtual meetings, was led by Indus Valley Capital, with participation from Alter Global, Fatima Gobi Ventures and several angel investors from Pakistan, the Middle East and Europe.

Maqsad will use the proceeds for developing in-house content, such as production studio, academics and animators, as well as bolstering R&D and engineering, Aziz told TechCrunch. The company will focus on the K-12 education in Pakistan, including 11th and 12th grade math, with plans to expand into other STEM subjects for the next one-two years, Aziz said.

Maqsad’s platform, which provides a one-stop shop for after-school academic content in a mix of English and Urdu, will be supplemented by quizzes and other gamified features that will come together to offer a personalized education to individuals. Its platform features include adaptive testing that alter a question’s level of difficulty depending on users’ responses, Aziz explained.

The word “maqsad” means purpose in Urdu.

“We believe everyone has a purpose. Maqsad’s mission is to enable Pakistani students to realize this purpose; whether you are a student from an urban centre, such as Lahore, or from a remote village in Sindh: Maqsad believes in equal opportunity for all,” Aziz said.

“We are building a mobile-first platform, given that 95% of broadband users in Pakistan are via mobile. Most other platforms are not mobile optimized,” Aziz added.

“It’s about more than just getting students to pass their exams. We want to start a revolution in the way Pakistani students learn, moving beyond rote memorization to a place of real comprehension,” said co-founder Taha Ahmed, who was a former strategy consultant at LEK.

The company ran small pilots in April and May and started full-scale operations on 26 July, Aziz said, adding that Maqsad will launch its mobile app, currently under development, in the coming months in Q4 2021 and has a waitlist for early access.

“Struggles of students during the early days of the pandemic motivated us to run a pilot. With promising initial traction and user feedback, the size of the opportunity to digitize the education sector became very clear,” Aziz said.

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the education industry, heating up the global edtech startups that made online education more accessible for a wider population, for example in countries like India and Indonesia, Aziz mentioned.

The education market size in Pakistan is estimated at $12 billion and is projected to increase to $30 billion by 2030, according to Aziz.

It plans to build the company as a hybrid center offering online and offline courses like Byju’s and Aakash, and expand classes for adults such as MasterClass, the U.S.-based online classes for adults, as its long-term plans, Aziz said.

“Maqsad founders’ deep understanding of the problem, unique approach to solving it and passion for impact persuaded us quickly,” the founder and managing partner of Indus Valley Capital, Aatif Awan, said.

“Pakistan’s edtech opportunity is one of the largest in the world and we are excited to back Maqsad in delivering tech-powered education that levels access, quality and across Pakistan’s youth and creates lasting social change,” Ali Mukhtar, general partner of Fatima Gobi Ventures said.

Vietnam-based CoderSchool gets $2.6M pre-Series A to scale online course platform

CoderSchool, a Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam-based online coding school startup, announced today $2.6 million in pre-Series A funding to scale up its online coding school platform.

This round was led by Monk’s Hill Ventures, with participation from returning seed investors Iterative, XA Network and iSeed Ventures. CoderSchool raised a seed round led by TRIVE Ventures in 2018.

CoderSchool will use the funding to accelerate its online teaching platform growth and technology infrastructure expansion for the company’s technical education programs that guarantee employment upon graduation.

The company, founded in 2015 by Charles Lee and Harley Trung, who previously worked as software engineers, pivoted from offline to online in early 2020 to bring high-quality technical training to everyone, everywhere. After switching to a fully online learning program, the company recorded 100% quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) growth in fully online enrollment, it said in a statement.

“Coding is the future. At CoderSchool, we believe everyone in Southeast Asia deserves a chance to be part of that future,” the company co-founder and CEO Lee said.

In Vietnam, the demand for IT talent is dramatically increasing by 47% a year, while supply is only increasing by 8% year-on-year.

“The need for strong engineers and developers in Southeast Asia has never been as pertinent as it is today with the growth of tech companies and digital businesses,” said Michele Daoud, partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures. “We have been impressed by the team’s focus on setting the standard for coding education in the region. We are excited to partner with CoderSchool to provide both opportunity and access to the millions of aspiring students in Vietnam.”

Given the strong engineer demand in Vietnam, the domestic market size is estimated between $100 million – $200 million, and still increasing every year, according to Lee. CoderSchool has been focusing on Vietnam for the last six years, but plans to enter the global market following the next round, Lee said, without providing exact timetable.

CoderSchool, which offers full-stack web development, machine learning and data sciences courses at a lower cost, has trained more than 2,000 alumni up to date, and recorded over 80% job placement rate for full-time graduates, getting jobs at companies such as BOSCHE, Microsoft, Lazada, Shopee, FE Credit, FPT Software, Sendo, Tiki and Momo.

“After having taught over 2,000 students, we’ve been able to refine our [coding education] content. We rewrote our full-stack web development course — from Ruby, Phyton to JavaScript — in two years, and added new machine learning and data science courses to our program,” Lee told TechCrunch.

CorderSchool’s online program enables students to interact with instructors and classmates before, during and after scheduled class sessions with its human-driven learning strategy. CoderSchool currently has 15 instructional staff, and plans to hire 35 additional instructors by Q4 2022.

CoderSchool’s data analytics has improved individual student performance while also allowing CoderSchool to increase its classroom size at scale, reaching a peak of 107 enrollments in a data science class.

South Korean antitrust regulator fines Google $177M for abusing market dominance

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market.

The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), according to the antitrust regulator statement.

Under the AFA, smartphone developers are not allowed to install or develop “Android forks”, modified versions of Android.

The KFTC banned Google LLC, Google Asia Pacific and Google Korea from imposing local smartphone developers to sign the AFA and make changes on details about the existing version. The new measure in South Korea will be applied to not only mobiles devices but also other Android-powered smart devices including watches and TVs.

Android has spurred innovation among Korean mobile operator owners and software developers and that has led to a better user experience for Korean consumers, Google said in its statement. “The KFTC’s decision released today ignores these benefits, and will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers. Google intends to appeal the KFTC’s decision,” a spokesperson at Google said.

The commission has been investigating Google over the anti-competition practice in OS market since July 2016, a spokesperson at KFTC said.

Google’s global mobile OS market share excluding China has been increased to 97.7% in 2019 from 38% in 2010, as per KFTC’s announcement.

Google’s AFA has also limited to launch tech companies’ new devices like smart watches and TVs using the operating system (OS) including Samsung’s smart watch in 2013, LG Electronics’ LTE smart speaker in 2018 as well as Amazon’s smart TV in 2018.

South Korea’s watchdog is probing into three other cases including the Play Store app market, billing system and the advertisement market.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s “anti-Google law”, takes effect on 14 September, based on Korea Communications Commission’s press release.

In late August, South Korea passed a bill to curb global tech companies including Google and Apple from imposing their own proprietary in-app payment service and commissions on app developers.

Chinese crackdown on tech giants threatens its cloud market growth

As Chinese tech companies come under regulatory scrutiny at home, concerns and pressures are escalating among investors and domestic tech companies including China’s four big cloud companies, BATH (Baidu AI, Alibaba Cloud, Tencent Cloud and Huawei Cloud), according to an analyst report.

Despite a series of antitrust and internet-related regulation crackdowns, the four leading cloud companies have been growing steadily. As the current scrutiny is not particularly focused on the cloud sector and the demand for digital transformation, artificial intelligence and smart industries remains firm, China’s cloud infrastructure market size mounted to $6.6 billion, which is an increase of 54% compared with the previous year, in the second quarter of 2021.

Nonetheless, share prices of three of them–Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent– have fallen between 18% and 30% over the last 6 month, which could make investors cautious on betting on the Chinese tech companies.

“Chinese tech companies could always rely on their local market, especially when access to lucrative Western markets was blocked. But increasing domestic regulatory pressures over the past nine months have been a frustrating headwind for those companies that have seen their cloud businesses grow significantly over the past years,” said Canalys Vice President Alex Smith.

The four big cloud titans dominate the Chinese cloud market, accounting for 80% of total cloud spending. Alibaba Cloud maintained its frontrunner status with a 33.8% market share, in the second quarter of this year. Huawei, which had 19.3% of China’s market size in 2Q21, is the one that has avoided regulatory measures so far.

“Huawei is an infrastructure and device company that also happens to have developed a strong cloud business. When it comes to cloud infrastructure, we focus on the BATH companies, not just BAT. Huawei is in a strong position to drive growth, particularly in the public sector where it has a good standing and long-term relationship with the government,” Canalys Chief Analyst Matthew Ball said.

While Chinese regulators intensify scrutiny of its technology companies, the crackdowns wreak havoc on its own markets and the shares of China-based companies.

Beijing passed the Data Security Law in June that started to go into effect early September for protecting critical data related to national security and issued draft guidelines on regulating the algorithms companies, targeting ByteDance, Alibaba Group, Tencent and DiDi and others, in late August.

Epic Games asks Apple to reinstate Fortnite in South Korea after new law

Epic Games has asked Apple to rejoin its Fortnite developer account in South Korea as the U.S. game maker plans to re-release Fortnite on iOS in South Korea, offering both Epic and Apple payments side-by-side, said in a tweet on September 10.

This request comes after South Korea passed a bill, the updated Telecommunications Business Act, in late August that will force Apple and other tech giants to let developers use their third-party payment systems.

“Epic intends to re-release Fortnite on iOS in Korea offering both Epic payment and Apple payment side-by-side in compliance with the new Korea law,” according to the official Fortnite Twitter account.

“As we’ve said all along, we would welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else. Epic has admitted to breach of contract and as of now, there’s no legitimate basis for the reinstatement of their developer account,” said a spokesperson at Apple.

Epic would also have to agree to comply with Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines regarding all apps, but Epic has not consistently abided by the Guidelines, and their request of Apple does not indicate any change in Epic’s position, added Apple’s statement.

Even if the South Korean legislation, which is not yet effective, were to become law in the country, it would impose no obligation on Apple to approve any developer program account application, which includes any requests for reinstatement of a developer program account terminated prior to the legislation’s effective date, based on Apple’s statement.

In August 2020, Apple kicked Fortnite off the App Store after Epic introduced a direct payment system in Fortnite that violated Apple’s in-app purchase requirement. The two companies have been embroiled in a legal dispute over the Apple Store’s payment system.

Apple is changing its app policy to allow developers to link to external websites and it also has reached a settlement with Japan for allowing developers of “reader” apps to link to their own websites.

An Epic Games spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

Teatis, low-sugar superfood powders developer for diabetics, closes seed round

A serial entrepreneur Hiroshi Takatoh recognized the need for convenient and nutritious food for critically ill consumers after losing his late wife to cancer.

Takatoh founded Teatis, a plant-based sugar blocking superfood powder for diabetic consumers, in 2017 in stealth mode and went fully operational in April 2021 by teaming up with a group of doctors and registered nutritionists.

Teatis announced today it has raised $700,000 seed funding to advance its growth in the US market.  The seed money brings Teatis’ total funding to over $1million.

The seed round was led by Genesia Ventures, Ryo Ishizuka, former CEO and co-founder of Japanese e-commerce company Mercari and Takuya Noguchi, CEO and founder of Japan’s skincare brand BULK HOMME. Seven other angel investors also participated in the seed funding.

Teatis will use the seed money for production and marketing in the US, where 122 million diabetics and pre-diabetics continue to work for prevention and treatment against diabetes, CEO and co-founder of Teatis Hiroshi Takatoh told TechCrunch. The company is now focusing on the US market where its production is located while its next funding, a Series A, is set for next year, Takatoh added.

“Most of our consumers, about 88%, are diabetics, and our recipe is built to help diabetics manage their blood sugar. A staggering number of Americans suffer from diabetes, and there is significant demand for diabetic-friendly foods that are nutritious, convenient and functional,” Takatoh said.

Teatis develops a supplement for all consumers interested in low-sugar foods, as well as pre-diabetics, Takatoh said. Teatis’ plant-based powders does not contain chemicals or sweeteners but include a special Japanese ingredient such as brown seaweed extract (Arame) that is proven to suppress the absorption of sugar from the intestinal tract and reduce blood sugar levels. The low-sugar powder can be made into teas, lattes or added to smoothies.

The US meal placement market size for diabetes is estimated at $5 billion while the US consumer packaged foods market for diabetes is approximately $300 billion, Takatoh said.

“We combine food science and technology to solve problems for diabetics through food products and telehealth,” Takatoh said.

With its plan on building out a comprehensive one-stop shop for diabetic health, Teatis will launch a Registered Dietitian platform, Teatis RD on Demand, this month, to offer a full-service such as food products, telehealth, and recipes, for those battling diabetes.

Teatis RD on Demand will provide private, 1-on-1 sessions with registered dietitians. It will start at $29 per 30 minutes, which is a reduced cost, versus traditional offline appointments that cost $150 per 30 minutes, and Teledoc, which costs $90 per 30 minutes, according to Takatoh.

“Many existing players in space are old companies that don’t have digital competency and data-driven production methods. Mr. Takatoh is a proven serial entrepreneur with the qualities and boldness to take over the market…I’m excited to see how Teatis’ great ideas and products will help many people who are suffering from diabetes and other chronic diseases in the future,” Genesia Ventures Manager Shunsuke Sagara said.

PayPal acquires Japan’s Paidy for $2.7B to crack the buy-now, pay-later market in Asia  

PayPal Holdings, the U.S. fintech company, announced an acquisition of Paidy, a Japanese buy now, pay later (BNPL) service platform, for approximately $2.7 billion (300 billion yen), mostly in cash, to enhance its business in Japan.

The transaction completion including the regulatory approval is expected in the fourth quarter of 2021.

After the acquisition, the Japan-based company will continue to operate its existing business and maintain the brand while the leaders, Paidy’s president and CEO Riku Sugie and founder and executive chairman of Paidy Russel Cummer, keep their positions.

Japan is the third largest e-commerce market in the world, and so this is a significant move by PayPal to gain more market share both in the country and the region, specifically in the area of providing deferred payment services as an alternative to credit cards.

PayPal has long played nice with payment cards – users can upload details of their cards to PayPal and use it as a kind of digital wallet to manage how they pay for things online through it – but it got its start actually as a payment platform in itself, where people could pay into and out of PayPal accounts. Paidy is, in that sense, a strengthening of PayPal’s first-party rails, providing a way to ‘own’ that flow of money on its own infrastructure, not involving the card networks.

Paidy is basically a two-sided payments service, acting as a middleman between consumers and merchants in Japan. Using machine learning it determines the creditworthiness of a consumer related to a particular purchase, and then it underwrites those transactions in seconds, guaranteeing payments to merchants. Consumers then make deferred payment to Paidy for those goods.

Paidy’s platform, which offers a monthly payment installment service branded ‘3-Pay’, enables shoppers to make purchases online and then pay for them each month in a consolidated bill at a convenience store or via bank transfer.

“Paidy pioneered buy now, pay later solutions tailored to the Japanese market and quickly grew to become the leading service, developing a sizable two-sided platform of consumers and merchants,” said Peter Kenevan, vice president, head of Japan at Paypal.

Paidy has more than 6 million registered users, and the plan is to integrate PayPal and other digital and QR wallets with Paidy Link to connect further online and offline merchants.

In April 2021, the Japan-based company launched Paidy Link, allowing users to link digital wallets with their Payidy account. PayPal was the first digital wallet partner to integrate with Paidy Link.

“PayPal was a founding partner for Paidy Link and we look forward to looking together to create even more value,” Sugie said in a statement.

“Japan has been a vibrant environment for our growth to date and we’re honored to have our team’s hard work and potential recognized by a global leader. Together with Paypal, we will be able to further achieve our mission of taking the hassle out of shopping,” Cummer said.

H2O Hospitality secures $30M Series C to expedite hotel digital transformation

The pandemic has triggered more demand for contactless and staff-less operations in the hospitality sector, and now H2O Hospitality, the unmanned hotel management company, has closed a $30 million round on the back of that boost. The South Korea and Japan-based startup automates front and backend processes including accommodation reservation, room management and front desk duties, and it will be using the funds to continue expanding its business.

The Series C round (equivalent to about 34 billion won) is being led by Kakao Investment and Korea Development Bank (KDB), Gorilla Private Equity, Intervest and NICE Investment also participated. With Southeast Asia’s joint fund, Kejora-Intervest Growth Fund also joined in the round, it is a sign that H2O Hospitality will be focusing specifically on the Southeast Asian Market. H2O Hospitality has raised $7 million Series B round from Samsung Ventures, Stonebridge Ventures, IMM Investment and Shinhan Capital in February 2020.

H2O Hospitality will expand its business further by adding various types of accommodations in South Korea and Japan in 2021 and 2022 and plans to enter Singapore and Indonesia in 4Q in 2022 in line with its Southeast Asia penetration strategy, according to H2O Hospitality co-founder and CEO John Lee.

“H2O Hospitality is currently speaking with several global hotel chain companies to partner with their digital transformation and operation outside of Korea and Japan,” Lee told TechCrunch.

H2O will invest in R&D to advance its customer channel solutions and contactless check-in systems depending on customer needs of each country in Asia, Lee continued.

“We need optimal system development and customization for each accommodation and situation to lead successful hotel digital transformation even after COVID-19,” Lee said in an email interview.

H2O Hospitality was founded in South Korea 2015 by CEO John Lee, and it has been on something of an acquisition-expansion spree. It entered Japan in 2017, for example, by acquiring several Japanese hospitality management companies. In 2021, H2O acquired two South Korean companies such as the contactless hotel solution company, ImGATE, and a local creator startup, Replace, in order to enhance its technology and ESG competence.

These days, the company operates approximately 7,500 accommodations including hotels, ryokans and guest houses, in Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Busan, and Bangkok.

 

H2O Hospitality’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT)-based hotel management system, which enables hotel management to automate and digitize, includes the Channel Management System (CMS), Property Management System (PMS), Room Management System (RMS), and Facility Management System (FMS).

Its integrated hotel management system can reduce hotel management’s fixed operating costs by 50%, while increasing revenue by as much as 20%, according to its statement.

“COVID-19 hit the hospitality industry the most and most of the hotels wanted to decrease their fixed cost level, but it was impossible with their current operational flow,” Lee continued, “They had to go through digital transformation”.

When asked how the pandemic affected H2O as COVID-19 still freezes most of the tourism industry, Lee said H2O’s revenue has been increased by as much as 30% before the pandemic, but that percentage has been dropped to 5-15% post COVID-19. Revenue drivers these days are based around tools it’s built to improve the efficiency of its customers. They include its automated dynamic pricing (ADR) tool and diverse sales channels like online and offline travel agencies in domestic and overseas, he said.

Lee also pointed out that H2O has been onboarding a lot of properties and that has also contributed to H2O’s revenue growth in the last 18 months. H2O was the only company in Asia, he claims, and many property owners have started to get onboard since August 2020, he explained.

“Every single hotel that we onboarded during the pandemic turned around their profits & losses statements and started to recover their financial loss,” Lee said.

There are currently about 16.4 million hotel rooms in the world that generate $570 billion a year, according to Lee. H2O believes that it can digitize all the lodging accommodations in the world as the company’s main goal is not building a hotel brand but allowing hotel owners to operate their properties with better operation, he said.

Lee explained that the current hotel operation process looks a lot like that of “2G phones”, that was at a stage before turning to smartphones, and H2O is turning the overall hotel operation into a “smartphone”.

“This is a very natural transition for the (hospitality) industry as it was also natural for the cellphone users to transit from 2G phone to smartphone,” Lee said.

Unfortunately, the cross-border inbound tourism market has still been stopped for both Korea and Japan even though each domestic market is still pumping demand for the market, Lee mentioned.

“We believe the inbound tourism market will recover within a year as the vaccinations grow for both countries (Korea and Japan),” Lee said.

Managing Director at Kejora-Intervest Growth Fund Jun-seok Kang told TechCrunch: “We knew this new wave for hotel digital transformation trend was coming even before the pandemic; however, COVID-19 definitely expedited the transition period, and we believe H2O will thrive in the transforming hotel market.”