Travel activities startup KKday lands investment from Alibaba and Line

Taiwan’s KKday, a startup in the increasingly competitive travel activities space, has pulled in an undisclosed funding round that adds two strategic investors to its business: Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba and Japanese chat app company Line.

KKday was founded in 2015 to help people who travel overseas to find and book activities, ranging from tours to tourist attraction, transportation, museums and more. The company said it offers over 20,000 “unique experiences” in over 500 cities across 80 countries. There is much potential to move into, it seems, with analyst firm Phocuswright predicting that the travel tour and activities market will grow by one-third to reach $183 billion by 2020.

Unlike Hong Kong-based regional rival Klook, which is valued at over $1 billion and has ventured into Europe and the U.S, KKday is focused on Asian markets only.

We last wrote about the startup in January when it raised a $10.5 million round led by Japanese travel operator H.I.S, and this new Series B funding round is led by Alibaba’s Taiwan-based entrepreneur fund and Line Ventures, the VC arm connected to Japan’s leading chat app.

KKday CEO Ming Chen told TechCrunch in an interview that the two will help KKday with its efforts in China and Japan. Alibaba initially made an investment in July, this new deal represents a follow-up and it’ll see more emphasis placed on KKday’s branded store on Alibaba’s Fliggy travel store in China. Interestingly, Alibaba’s fund has also invested in another Taiwan-based activities service, FunNow.

Similarly, KKday will double down on Japan, where Chen said the company has seen “huge growth” thanks in a large part to its relationship with H.I.S. — a 38-year-old firm which has offices in 150 cities and $5.5 billion in annual sales. Chen, who thinks KKday may be Japan’s largest travel activities booking platform already, said Line will introduce a dedicated ‘Travel’ account that ties into the KKday service to allow Line users to book activities and share details with friends without leaving the messaging app.

Chen and KKday CMO Yuki Huang explained that the company is always open to strategic investments where it believes it can find business value.

“We’re very focused on looking for strategic investors not just money,” Huang said.

Others in the round announced today include existing investors CDIB Capital from Hong Kong and Monk’s Hill Ventures in Southeast Asia. That, added to Alibaba in China/Taiwan and H.I.S and Line in Japan, gives KKday a balanced investor base to help its business in those regions, Huang added.

KKday’s main rival is Klook and a Taiwanese competitor is FunDay, but a plethora of companies have sprouted to offer similar services in other parts of the world. Those include Peek in the U.SCulture TripGetYourGuideHeadout and WithLocals. Still, KKday is sticking to its Asia focus for now, according to Chen and Huang.

Silicon Valley’s sovereign wealth problem

It’s time to bring the conversation about where Silicon Valley gets its money from out into the open. Following recent revelations into Saudi Arabia’s extensive reach and influence in the US technology sector, the willful ignorance that has defined the relationship between venture capital firms and the limited partnerships (LPs) that fund them for years now isn’t going to cut it anymore.

According to the latest reports from the Wall Street Journal, Saudi Arabia is now the single-largest source of funding for US-based tech companies. Since 2016, the Saudi royal family has invested at least $11 billion into US startups directly, and in August, the Saudi Arabian government committed $45 billion to Softbank’s $92 billion Vision Fund. To put that into context, the total amount of funding deployed across all VC deals so far in 2018 is $84.3 billion — a record for the industry, but a paltry sum relative to the wealth of the Saudi Kingdom.

Backlash is rising — and that’s a good thing. With tech companies now capturing the lion’s share of global wealth creation, we should absolutely want to know where that money is going. For one, it’s a matter of ethics. The US tech industry generates billions of dollars in returns annually for investors. When that money is being funneled into the coffers of a country with a total lack of respect for basic human rights, that’s a problem. It’s not good for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and it’s not good for the country as a whole.

That’s not to say all sovereign wealth is at issue. Not in the least bit. But when it comes to funds that support nation states with questionable track records on human rights, there’s no debate.

This is a critical moment for Silicon Valley. It’s a wake up call to venture capitalists and entrepreneurs alike to start being more mindful about their sources of funding. There are plenty of better institutions and more impactful causes you can be helping to enrich – research initiatives at top public children’s hospitals, financial aid programs at historically black colleges and universities, public pension funds, and the list goes on – you just have to make the effort and be intentional about it. As an industry, we can and should be doing more to support these groups. If fact, it’s one of the very reasons why Jyoti Bansal and I founded Unusual Ventures and raised our entire fund from a diverse set of LPs.

If history is any guide, however, it will take more than the better nature of entrepreneurs and their investors to make a real impact.

Gender parity in the tech industry is a fitting example: While advocates have been calling for greater gender diversity in senior leadership positions at tech companies for decades, gender inequality continues to pervade the entire sector. In September, California took steps to remedy the issue by passing a law requiring public companies to have at least two female directors on the executive board. Since then, we’ve seen some improvements – although there is still far, far more that needs to happen.

Similarly, what’s likely needed to move the needle on transparency in venture funding is common sense regulation. For instance, we should consider a law that requires – at a minimum – transparency around how much funding VC firms raise from foreign sources.

This already exists for VC funding raised from public US institutions. When VCs raise capital from public universities, endowments, pension funds and others, they are required to report it under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Ironically, this mandate has contributed to the rise of sovereign wealth funds in the tech sector. That is, the additional reporting requirements that come along with raising money from public institutions drives VCs to “easier” sources of funding, such as sovereign wealth and billionaire family offices. Translation: transparency isn’t just common sense – it’s effective too – so let’s level the playing field.

Just like with any society-level issue though, fixing Silicon Valley’s sovereign wealth problem won’t happen overnight. For one, drafting legislation and enacting it into law takes time. It’s also extremely difficult for VCs to make changes around their investment base in the short term. If change is going to take root, the big moments to watch will be the start of the next funding cycle (ie. when VCs are out raising their next fund) and future legislative sessions, especially in the California state legislature.

In the meantime, entrepreneurs need to start asking VCs about where their money comes from. Nothing is going to happen without the industry’s best entrepreneurs stepping up and putting the pressure on VCs. So long as they are willing to accept funding without asking where it comes from, there is little incentive for the VC industry to change.

But if the entrepreneur community in Silicon Valley takes a stand on transparency in VC and starts asking the right questions, there is nothing stopping this moment from becoming more than just another news cycle. It will become a movement the VC industry cannot ignore.

Lessons from building Brex into a billion-dollar startup

When I think about my experience as an immigrant and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, I remember growing up in Brazil and how we saw tech founders and CEOs as kings. We imagined what it would be like to assume the throne.

But these weren’t just any kings. Silicon Valley was the kingdom of nerds and underdogs. We identified with these guys, they were just like us. We were fed the myth of a Silicon Valley meritocracy, and the illusion that all you needed was ambition, determination, and a good idea to meet the right person and get funded.

What we didn’t understand was that this myth was not completely rooted in reality. Not everyone has access to the American Dream, and those who do have a track record of success before they’re given their moment to prove, or in our case, pitch ourselves.

Part of this disconnect was cultural. In Brazil, when I began my first startup, Pagar.me, a payment processing company, my co-founder Pedro Franceschi and I were two 16 year-old kids who learned how to code before we were ten. While it was hard for people to take us seriously initially—I mean, would you quit your job to work for two 16 year- olds? Being so young also worked to our advantage; it revealed that we were passionate, driven, and invested in tech at an age that we didn’t need to be.

Once we got our start-up off the ground, our employees were as invested in us as we were invested in them and the company. That’s because in Brazil, most of us grew up with parents that stayed their whole lives at the same company. You grew with the company, and that’s the approach we took when it came to hiring for our first company: who did we see sharing our same vision and growing with us?

Coming to the United States was almost a completely opposite experience. The barrier of entry was much higher. You have to go to the right college, graduate from right incubator programs, develop relationships with the right VCs, and have at least one successful startup under your belt before anyone would even consider booking a meeting with you.

Pedro and I had to carefully position ourselves before we even got to the Valley. When we finally did get to the U.S., we had already launched a successful startup and we were accepted to Stanford. Soon after, we were accepted by Y-Combinator, and that’s where we built relationships with the key players that would open up the doors for future meetings.

With our current startup, Brex,  we found that there weren’t just cultural differences at play, but different approaches we needed to take in order for our business to be successful. For example, in Brazil, we bootstrapped our first startup, and as a result, we had to find our product-market fit immediately. When you are so cash-constrained, it also limits how much you can build your company, and you think in terms of short-term wins instead of sustained growth. Your growth strategy is confined and you’re constantly reacting to your immediate client demands.

In the U.S., VCs and angel-investors aren’t interested in the short-term. They’re interested in long-term growth and how you are going to deliver 10x profits over a ten year period. Our strategy could no longer be: plan as we go and grow with our customer. Instead, we needed to deliver a roadmap, and when that roadmap changed or evolved, communicate those changes and adopt a culture of transparency.   

Additionally, we learned how difficult it is to find and retain  talent in the U.S.; it can feel like a Sisyphean task. Millennials for example, spend less than two years on average at a job, and if you spend six years or more at the same company, recruiters will actually ask you: “why?” So how can you build a company for the long-term in an environment where employees are not personally invested in the growth of your company?

We also learned that many successful tech startups offer stock options to their early employees, but as the company evolves and changes over time, those same stock options are not offered to future employees. This creates the exact opposite of a meritocracy. Why would a new employee work harder, longer, and bring more to the table if you are not going to be compensated for it?

Instead of using this broken model, we have invested in paying our team higher wages upfront, and based on performance, we award our team members with stock options. We want to be a company that people are proud of working at longterm, and we want to create a culture that is merit-based.

While some of the myths that we first believed in about Silicon Valley are now laughable looking back, they were also really instructional as to how we wanted to build our company and what pitfalls we wanted to avoid.

Even though nearly half of tech startups are founded by immigrant entrepreneurs, we have a cultural learning curve in order to have the opportunity to be “the next unicorn.” And maybe that’s the point, we’re experiencing a moment in time during which myths and unicorns no longer serve us, and what we need instead is the background, experience, and vision to create a company that is worth the hype.

The Hack Fund will use crypto to give startups early liquidity

Now that “utility” tokens have become a popular and international way to fund major blockchain projects, a pair of investors are creating a new way to turn tokens into true equities. The investors, Jonathan Nelson and Laura Nelson, have created Hack Fund, an early stage investment vehicle that allows startups to launch what amounts to “blockchain stock certificates,” according to Jonathan.

“Our previous business model exchanged equity from startup companies for services, and wrapped that equity into funds that we then sold to investors. These fund investors have included family offices, institutions, and high net worth individuals,” said Jonathan. “However, Hack Fund represents a new business model. Because Hack Fund leverages the blockchain, investors all over the world at all levels can participate in startup investing by trading blockchain stock certificates. Also, its SEC compliant structure means that it is also available to a limited number of accredited investors in the US.”

The team originally created Hackers/Founders, a tech entrepreneur group in Silicon Valley, and they now support 300,000 members in 133 cities and 49 countries. Hack Fund is a vehicle to support some of the startups in the Hackers/Founders network.

“HACK Fund, through its Hackers/Founders heritage, has a large, unique global network,” said Jonathan. “This provides Hack Fund with unparalleled reach and deal flow across the global technology market. There are a few blockchain-based funds, but they are limited themselves to blockchain-only investments. Unlike typical venture funds, HACK Fund will provide quick liquidity for investors, leveraging blockchain technology to make typically illiquid private stocks tradeable.”

The idea behind Hack Fund is quite interesting. In most cases investing in a company leads to up to ten years of waiting for a liquidity event. However, with blockchain-based stock certificates investors can buy shares that can be bought and sold instantly while company performance drives the value up or down. In short, startups become liquid in an instant, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the founding team.

“HACK Fund is a publicly traded closed-end fund. The fund’s venture investments are valued on a quarterly basis by an independent third party, audited and posted to the blockchain for all token holders to review. There are no K-1 statements issued, there is no partnership/LLC, rather HACK Fund is an investment company akin to Berkshire Hathaway which invests in the same manner as early-stage venture capital,” said Jonathan.

The team is raising a little over $2 million in an ICO to build out the fund. They’ve already raised most of their $100 million total goal from individual investors but the ICO will let retail investors buy some of the tokens as they are made available on the BRD wallet.

VCs say Silicon Valley isn’t the gold mine it used to be

In the days leading up to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018, The Economist published the cover story, ‘Why Startups Are Leaving Silicon Valley.’

The author outlined reasons why the Valley has “peaked.” Venture capital investors are deploying capital outside the Bay Area more than ever before. High-profile entrepreneurs and investors, Peter Thiel, for example, have left. Rising rents are making it impossible for new blood to make a living, let alone build businesses. And according to a recent survey, 46 percent of Bay Area residents want to get the hell out, an increase from 34 percent two years ago.

Needless to say, the future of Silicon Valley was top of mind on stage at Disrupt.

“It’s hard to make a difference in San Francisco as a single entrepreneur,” said J.D. Vance, the author of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ and a managing partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Fund, which backs seed-stage companies based outside Silicon Valley. “It’s not as a hard to make a difference as a successful entrepreneur in Columbus, Ohio.”

In conversation with Vance, Revolution CEO Steve Case said he’s noticed a “mega-trend” emerging. Founders from cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit or Portland are opting to stay in their hometowns instead of moving to U.S. innovation hubs like San Francisco.

“The sense that you have to be here or you can’t play is going to start diminishing.”

“We are seeing the beginnings of a slowing of what has been a brain drain the last 20 years,” Case said. “It’s not just watching where the capital flows, it’s watching where the talent flows. And the sense that you have to be here or you can’t play is going to start diminishing.”

Farewell, San Francisco

“It’s too expensive to live here,” said Aileen Lee, the founder of seed-stage VC firm Cowboy Ventures, amid a conversation with leading venture capitalists Spark Capital general partner Megan Quinn and Benchmark general partner Sarah Tavel .

“I know that there are a lot of people in the Bay Area that are trying to work on that problem and I hope that they are successful,” Lee added. “It’s an amazing place to live and we’ve made it really challenging for people to live here and not worry about making ends meet.”

One of Cowboy’s portfolio companies opted to relocate from Silicon Valley to Colorado when it came time to scale their business. That kind of move would’ve historically been seen as a failure. Today, it may be a sign of strong business acumen.

Quinn said that of all 28 of Spark’s growth-stage portfolio companies, Raleigh, North Carolina-based Pendo has the easiest time recruiting folks locally and from the Bay Area.

She advises her Bay Area-based late-stage companies to open a second office outside of the Valley where lower-cost talent is available.

“We often say go to [flySFO.com], draw a three-hour circle around San Francisco where they have direct flights, find a city that has a university and open up a second office as quickly as possible,” Quinn said.

Still, all three firms invest in a lot of companies based in San Francisco. Of Benchmark’s 10 most recent investments, for example, eight were based in SF, according to Crunchbase.

“I used to believe really strongly if you wanted to build a multi-billion dollar company you had to be based here,” Tavel said. “I’ve stopped giving that soap speech.”

Underestimated talent

A lot of Bay Area VCs have been blind to the droves of tech talent located outside the region. Believe it or not, there are great engineers in America’s small- and medium-sized markets too.

At Disrupt, Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton announced the firm would launch an accelerator to further amplify companies led by underestimated founders. The program will have cohorts based in four cities; San Francisco was noticeably absent from that list.

Instead, the firm, which invests in underrepresented founders and recently raised a $36 million fund, will work with companies in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, London and one more city, which will be determined by a public vote. Aniyia Williams, the founder of Tinsel and Black & Brown Founders, will spearhead the Philadelphia effort.

“For us, it’s about closing that wealth gap to address inequity in tech,” Williams said. “There needs to be more active participation from everyone.”

Hamilton added that for her, the tech talent in LA and London is undeniable.

“There is a lot of money and a lot of investors … it reminds me of three years ago in Silicon Valley,” Hamilton said.

Silicon Valley vs. China

Silicon Valley’s demise may not be just as a result of increased costs of living or investors overlooking talent in other geographies. It may be because of heightened competition abroad.

Doug Leone, an early- and growth-stage investor at Sequoia Capital, said at Disrupt that he’s noticed a very different work ethic in China.

Chinese entrepreneurs, he explained, are more ruthless than their American counterparts and they’re putting in a whole lot more hours.

“I’ve had dinner in China until after 10 p.m. and people go to work after 10 p.m.,” Leone recalled.

“We don’t see that in the U.S. I’m not saying the U.S. founders oughta do that but those are the differences. They are similar in character. They are similar in dreams. They are similar in how they want to change the world. They are ultra-driven … The Chinese founders have a half other gear because I think they are a little more desperate.”

Much of this, however, has been said before and still, somehow, Silicon Valley remained the place to be for investors and startup entrepreneurs.

The reality is, those engaged in tech culture are always anxiously awaiting for the bubble to pop, the market to crash and for “peak Valley” to finally arrive.

Maybe, just maybe, Silicon Valley is forever.

Here’s more of our coverage of Disrupt 2018.

Jack Ma says he isn’t about to retire from Alibaba but is planning a gradual succession

Reports of Jack Ma’s impending retirement are greatly exaggerated, it seems. Ma, the co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, has pushed back on claims that he is on the cusp of leaving the $420 billion Chinese e-commerce firm.

The New York Times first reported that the entrepreneur plans to announce that he will leave the firm to pursue philanthropy in education, a topic he is passionate about — Ma is a former teacher. But that news was quickly rebutted after Ma gave an interview to the South China Morning Postthe media company that Alibaba bought in 2016 — in which he explained that he plans to gradually phase himself out of the company through a succession plan.

When reached for comment, Alibaba pointed TechCrunch to the SCMP report which claims Ma’s strategy will “provide [leadership] transition plans over a significant period of time.”

In order words, Ma isn’t abruptly leaving the company, but it seems that his role will be gradually reduced over time. Alibaba confirmed he’ll remain a part of the company while the succession plan is carried out. The exact details will be announced on Ma’s birthday, September 10.

That transition isn’t a new development. Ma stepped back from a daily role when he moved from CEO to chairman in 2013. Speaking at the time, he said that he would remain active and that it was “impossible” for him to retire but he did concede that younger people with fresher ideas should lead the business.

That’s exactly what has happened in the preceding years.

13-year Alibaba veteran Jonathan Lu stepped into Ma’s shoes as CEO. He led Alibaba when it went public in a record $25 billion IPO in 2015, but he was replaced in 2015 by Daniel Zhang after reportedly losing Ma’s confidence. Former COO Zhang leads the company today, although Ma’s presence still looms large and he is particularly involved in the political side of the business. That’s included a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, and various activities with national leaders in markets like Southeast Asia, where Alibaba has sought to leverage the colossal size of its business to make inroads in emerging markets and position its business for growth as internet access continues to increase.

“I sat down with our senior executives 10 years ago, and asked what Alibaba would do without me,” Ma told SCMP in an interview. “I’m very proud that Alibaba now has the structure, corporate culture, governance and system for grooming talent that allows me to step away without causing disruption.”

How I Raised Funding – Priyanka Agarwal, Wishberry

In the first interview of our "How I Raised Funding?" Series, Priyanka Aggarwal, Wishberry shares Q: In your seed round, you raised funding from the who’s who of Angel investors like Rajan Anandan, Sharad Sharma, Deep Kalra, Sunil Kalra, etc through the Letsventure platform. How did you kick off your fundraising process on Letsventure? How did you end up convincing so many stalwarts to

Stealthy Singapore VC firm Qualgro is raising a $100M fund

Southeast Asia’s venture capital space is booming right now. Openspace Ventures just announced the close of its newest $135 million fund, Golden Gate Ventures hit the first close on its upcoming $100 million vehicle, and a third Singapore-based fund is also raising big right now: Qualgro.

Unlike others, Qualgro has operated relatively under the radar to date.

That’s been very deliberate, according to managing partner Heang Chhor, who started the firm after leaving McKinsey following a 26-year stint that spanned Europe and Asia. Cambodian by birth, Chhor grew up in France and he rose to become a member of the McKinsey Global Board, whilst also leading the business in Japan.

Prior to McKinsey, Chhor started a number of businesses — of which he says he got a modest exit but plenty of experience — and now he is turning his attention to Southeast Asia, where growing internet access among a cumulative base of 650 million consumers is opening up new opportunities for tech and internet businesses. The region’s digital economy is forecast to pass $200 billion by 2020, up from an estimated $50 billion in 2017, according to a much-cited report from Temasek and Google.

Qualgro — which stands for ‘quality’ and ‘growth,’ in case you wondered — opened its doors in 2015 with a maiden $50 million fund. Alongside Chhor is Jason Edwards, formerly with PE firm Clearwater Capital and Peter Huynh, who joined from the Singtel Innov8 VC arm. To date, Qualgro has made 19 investments, which include IP and data firm Patsnap, e-commerce startup Shopback, and lending platform Funding Societies.

The aim is to super-size that with this new fund, which this week completed a first close of $60 million. The total target is $100 million. Qualgro didn’t comment on the identity of its LPs, but it said the increased capital will see it further its efforts on Series B deals.

The firm has focused on Series A and B deals in Southeast Asia so far with a primary interest in b2b businesses, and those that use data, AI, enterprise and Sass models. Beyond that b2b specialism, the firm looks to distinguish itself by offering international growth opportunities to its portfolio. That’s to say that Chhor uses his networks across the world to help Southeast Asia-based companies expand into new geographical markets — especially on issues like setting up offices and hiring — whilst also tapping his connections within the enterprise and business worlds.

“As a Southeast Asia-based VC, we are looking for talented people that are able to grow their company regionally and potentially become a real global player. It’s a little bit difficult because as a Southeast Asian entrepreneur you need to have certain skills and be on the right business model to access the global world and compete successfully [but] we invest in this type of talent irrespective of their country in Southeast Asia,” Chhor told TechCrunch.

[Left to right] Heang Chhor, Qualgro founder and managing partner, Jason Edwards, co-founder and partner, and Peter Huynh, co-founder and partner

That’s been most visible with its efforts in Australia to date. For example, Qualgro has worked closely with Shopback to expand its service into the country. While Patsnap, too, has leveraged its investor to expand into Europe, where it has a sizeable operation in addition to its Singapore HQ.

But the strategic deals also flow the other way.

Qualgro is looking to back companies that seek the opportunities to move into Southeast Asia. To date that has seen it get active in the Australian market, where it has done more deals that other Southeast Asian VC firm. Those include Data Republic, which has expanded to Singapore with plans to go beyond that, too.

Chhor explained that, beyond its current scope on Southeast Asia and Australia, the firm is open to pursuing deals with companies in markets like Europe and Japan when there are opportunities for Qualgro to come in as a strategic investor help grow businesses and expand networks across Asia.

Indeed, Qualgro’s focus on international is reflected in its team which consists of six people in Singapore with one in Australia and an advisor in Europe.

Sagewise pitches a service to verify claims and arbitrate disputes over blockchain transactions

Sometimes smart contracts can be pretty dumb.

All of the benefits of a cryptographically secured, publicly verified, anonymized transaction system can be erased by errant code, malicious actors or poorly defined parameters of an executable agreement.

Hoping to beat back the tide of bad contracts, bad code and bad actors, Sagewise, a new Los Angeles-based startup, has raised $1.25 million to bring to market a service that basically hits pause on the execution of a contract so it can be arbitrated in the event that something goes wrong.

Co-founded by a longtime lawyer, Amy Wan, whose experience runs the gamut from the U.S. Department of Commerce to serving as counsel for a peer-to-peer real estate investment platform in Los Angeles, and Dan Rice, a longtime entrepreneur working with blockchain, Sagewise works with both Ethereum and the Hedera Hashgraph (a newer distributed ledger technology, which purports to solve some of the issues around transaction processing speed and security which have bedeviled platforms like Ethereum and Bitcoin).

The company’s technology works as a middleware, including an SDK and a contract notification and monitoring service. “The SDK is analogous to an arbitration clause in code form — when the smart contract executes a function, that execution is delayed for a pre-set amount of time (i.e. 24 hours) and users receive a text/email notification regarding the execution,” Wan wrote to me in an email. “If the execution is not the intent of the parties, they can freeze execution of the smart contract, giving them the luxury of time to fix whatever is wrong.”

Sagewise approaches the contract resolution process as a marketplace where priority is given to larger deals. “Once frozen, parties can fix coding bugs, patch up security vulnerabilities, or amend/terminate the smart contract, or self-resolve a dispute. If a dispute cannot be self-resolved, parties then graduate to a dispute resolution marketplace of third party vendors,” Wan writes. “After all, a $5 bar bet would be resolved differently from a $5M enterprise dispute. Thus, we are dispute process agnostic.”

Wavemaker Genesis led the round, which also included strategic investments from affiliates of Ari Paul (Blocktower Capital), Miko Matsumura (Gumi Cryptos), Youbi Capital, Maja Vujinovic (Cipher Principles), Jordan Clifford (Scalar Capital), Terrence Yang (Yang Ventures) and James Sowers.

“Smart contracts are coded by developers and audited by security auditing firms, but the quality of smart contract coding and auditing varies drastically among service providers,” said Wan, the chief executive of Sagewise, in a statement. “Inevitably, this discrepancy becomes the basis for smart contract disputes, which is where Sagewise steps in to provide the infrastructure that allows the blockchain and smart contract industry to achieve transactional confidence.”

In an email, Wan elaborated on the thesis to me, writing that, “smart contracts may have coding errors, security vulnerabilities, or parties may need to amend or terminate their smart contracts due to changing situations.”

Contracts could also be disputed if their execution was triggered accidentally or due to the actions of attackers trying to hack a platform.

“Sagewise seeks to bring transactional confidence into the blockchain industry by building a smart contract safety net where smart contracts do not fulfill the original transactional intent,” Wan wrote.

MallforAfrica goes global, Kobo360 and Sokowatch raise VC, France explains its $76M fund

B2B e-commerce company Sokowatch closed a $2 million seed investment led by 4DX Ventures. Others to join the round were Village Global, Lynett Capital, Golden Palm Investments, and Outlierz  Ventures.

The Kenya based company aims to shake up the supply chain market for Africa’s informal retailers.

Sokowatch’s platform connects Africa’s informal retail stores directly to local and multi-national suppliers—such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble—by digitizing orders, delivery, and payments with the aim of reducing costs and increasing profit margins.

“With both manufacturers and the small shops, we’re becoming the connective layer between them, where previously you had multiple layers of middle-men from distributors, sub-distributors, to wholesalers,” Sokowatch founder and CEO Daniel Yu told TechCrunch.

“The cost of sourcing goods right now…we estimate we’re cutting that cost by about 20 percent [for] these shopkeepers,” he said

“There are millions of informal stores across Africa’s cities selling hundreds of billions worth of consumer goods every year,” said Yu.

These stores can use Sokowatch’s app on mobile phones to buy wares directly from large suppliers, arrange for transport, and make payments online. “Ordering on SMS or Android gets you free delivery of products to your store, on average, in about two hours,” said Yu.

Sokowatch generates revenues by earning “a margin on the goods that we’re selling to shopkeepers,” said Yu. On the supplier side, they also benefit from “aggregating demand…and getting bulk deals on the products that we distribute.”

The company recently launched a line of credit product to extend working capital loans to platform clients. With the $2 million round, Sokowatch—which currently operates in Kenya and Tanzania—plans to “expand to new markets in East Africa, as well as pilot additional value add services to the shops,” said Yu.

MallforAfrica and DHL launched MarketPlaceAfrica.com: a global e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell wares to buyers in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.

The site will prioritize fashion items — clothing, bags, jewelry, footwear and personal care — and crafts, such as pictures and carvings. MallforAfrica is vetting sellers for MarketPlace Africa online and through the Africa Made Product Standards association (AMPS), to verify made-in-Africa status and merchandise quality.

“We’re starting off in Nigeria and then we’ll open in Kenya, Rwanda and the rest of Africa, utilizing DHL’s massive network,” MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch about where the goods will be sourced. “People all around the world can buy from African artisans online, that’s the goal,” Folayan told TechCrunch.

Current listed designer products include handbags from Chinwe Ezenwa and Tash women’s outfits by Tasha Goodwin.

In addition to DHL for shipping, MarketPlace Africa will utilize MallforAfrica’s e-commerce infrastructure. The startup was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron  href="https://pctechmag.com/2018/05/french-president-emmanuel-macron-launches-a-usd76m-africa-startup-fund/">unveiled a $76 million African startup fund at VivaTech 2018 and TechCrunch paid a visit to the French Development Agency (AFD) — who will administer the new fund — to get details on how it will work.

The $76 million (or €65 million) will divvy up into three parts, AFD Digital Task Team Leader Christine Ha told TechCrunch.

“There are €10 million [$11.7 million] for technical assistance to support the African ecosystem… €5 million will be available as interest-free loans to high-potential, pre-seed startups…and…€50 million [$58 million] will be for equity-based investments in series A to C startups,” explained Ha during a meeting in Paris.

The technical assistance will distribute in the form of grants to accelerators, hubs, incubators and coding programs. The pre-seed startup loans will issue in amounts up to $100,000 “as early, early funding to allow entrepreneurs to prototype, launch and experiment,” said Ha.

The $58 million in VC startup funding will be administered through Proparco, a development finance institution — or DFI — partially owned by the AFD. “Proparco will take equity stakes, and will be a limited partner when investing in VC funds,” said Ha.

Startups from all African countries can apply for a piece of the $58 million by contacting any of Proparco’s Africa offices.

The $11.7 million technical assistance and $5.8 million loan portions of France’s new fund will be available starting in 2019. On implementation, AFD is still “reviewing several options…such as relying on local actors through [France’s] Digital Africa platform,” said Ha. President Macron followed up the Africa fund announcement with a trip to Nigeria last month.

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 was accepted into Y Combinator’s 2018 class and gained some working capital in the form of $1.2 million in pre-seed funding led by Western Technology Investment.

The startup — with an Uber like app that connects Nigerian truckers to companies with freight needs — will use the funds to pay drivers online immediately after successful hauls.

Kobo360 is also launching the Kobo Wealth Investment Network, or KoboWIN — a crowd-invest, vehicle financing program. Through it, Kobo drivers can finance new trucks through citizen investors and pay them back directly (with interest) over a 60-month period.

On Kobo360’s utility, “We give drivers the demand and technology to power their businesses,” CEO Obi Ozor told TechCrunch. “An average trucker will make $3,500 a month with our app. That’s middle class territory in Nigeria.”

Kobo360 has served 324 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 5480 drivers and moved 37.6 million kilograms of cargo since 2017, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, and DHL.

Ozor thinks the startup’s asset-free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Logistics in Nigeria have been priced based on the assumption drivers are going to run empty on the way back…When we now match freight with return trips, prices crash.”

Kobo360 will expand in Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal.

[PHOTO: BFX.LAGOS] And finally, applications are open for TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Africa, to be held in Lagos, Nigeria, December 11. Early-stage African startups have until September 3 to apply here.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

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