Podcasting startup WaitWhat raises $4.3M as interest in audio content explodes

WaitWhat, the digital content production engine behind LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale podcast, has secured a $4.3 million Series A investment led by Cue Ball Capital and Burda Principal Investments.

Launched in January 2017, WaitWhat will use the cash to create additional media properties across a variety of mediums, including podcasts.

Investors are gravitating toward podcast startups as consumer interest in original audio content skyrockets. Podcasting, though an infantile industry that hit just $314 million in revenue in 2017, is maturing, raking in venture capital rounds large and small and recording its first notable M&A transaction with Spotify’s acquisition of Gimlet and Anchor earlier this month. The music streaming giant shelled out a total of $340 million for the podcast production platform and the provider of a suite of podcast creation, distribution and monetization tools, respectively. It plans to spend an additional $500 million on audio storytelling platforms as part of a larger plan to become the Netflix of audio.

WaitWhat, for its part, dubs itself the “media invention company.” Founded by June Cohen and Deron Triff, a pair of former TED executives responsible for expanding the nonprofit’s digital media business, WaitWhat is today launching Should This Exist, a new podcast hosted by Flickr founder and tech investor Caterina Fake.  Fake will interview entrepreneurs about the human side and the impact of technology in the show created in partnership with Quartz.

“People don’t just transact with content; they want to feel connected to it through a sense of wonder, awe, curiosity, and mastery,” Cohen said in a statement. “These are contagious emotions, and research shows they stimulate sharing. Where many media companies aim for volume — putting out lots of content with a short shelf life — we’re building a completely distinctive portfolio of premium properties that are continually increasing in value, inspiring deep audience engagement, and creating opportunities for format expansion.”

Other investors in the round include Reid Hoffman, MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito and Liminal Ventures. WaitWhat previously raised a $1.5 million round from Victress Capital, Human Ventures and Able Partners, all of which have joined the A round.

On-demand logistics startup Lalamove raises $300M for Asia growth and becomes a unicorn

Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based on-demand logistics startup, has closed a $300 million Series D round as it seeks expansion across Asia. In doing so, the company has officially entered the unicorn club.

Founded in 2013 by Stanford graduate Shing Chow, Lalamove provides logistics and delivery services in a similar style to ride-hailing apps like Uber but it is primarily focused on business and corporate customers. That gives it more favorable economics and a more loyal customer base than its consumer-focused peers, who face discount wars to woo fickle consumers.

This new round is split into two, Lalamove said, with Hillhouse Capital leading the ‘D1’ tranche and Sequoia China heading up the ‘D2’ portion. The company didn’t reveal the size of the two pieces of the round. Other investors that took part included new backers Eastern Bell Venture Capital and PV Capital and returning investors ShunWei Capital — the firm founded by Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun — Xiang He Capital and MindWorks Ventures .

The deal takes Lalamove to over $460 million raised to date, and it follows a $100 million Series C that closed in late 2017. Lalamove isn’t disclosing a valuation but Blake Larson, the company’s head of international, told TechCrunch that it has been “past unicorn mark for quite some time [but] we just don’t talk about it.” That figures given the size of the round and the fact that Lalamove was just shy of the $1 billion mark for that Series C.

The Lalamove business is anchored in China where it covers over 130 cities with a network of over two million drivers covering vans, cars and motorbikes.

Beyond China, Lalamove is present in its native Hong Kong — where Uber once briefly tried a similar service — Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, where it works with popular chat app Line. All told, it covers 11 cities outside of China and this new capital will go towards expanding that figure with additional city launches in Southeast Asia and entry to India.

“If we do this well, then we are in countries that are more than half the world’s population,” Larsen said in an interview, although he didn’t rule out the potential for Lalamove to expand beyond Asia in the future.

There are also plans to grow the business in mainland China in terms of both geography and new services. Already, Lalamove has begun to offer driver services, starting with financing packages to help drivers with vehicle purchasing, and it is developing dedicated corporate offerings, too.

Lalamove CEO Shing Chow started Lalamove in late 2013, his past roles have included time with Bain & Company, a number of startup ventures — including a Hong Kong-based skin center — and a stint as a professional poker player

Overall, the business claims to have registered 3 million drivers to date and served more than 28 million users across all cities. With its headquarters in Hong Kong, it employs some 4,000 people across its business.

Rival GoGoVan exited through a merger with China-based 58 Suyun in 2017, at a claimed valuation of $1 billion, but Lalamove has remained independent and stuck to its guns. Larson said that already it is profitable in “a significant amount” of cities and typically, he said, the blueprint is to reach profitability within two years of opening a new location.

“The focus has always been on sustainable growth and we’re very strong on the cash flow front,” the former Rocket Internet executive added.

Larson and Lalamove have been very forthcoming in their desire to go public in Hong Kong, noting so publicly as early as 2017 at a TechCrunch China event in Shenzhen. That desire is still evident — “we’re very proud to be from Hong Kong and Hong Kong would be a good place for an IPO,” Larson said this week — but still the company said that it has no particular plan on the cards, despite its consumer-focused peers Uber and Lyft lining up IPOs in the U.S. this year.

“We don’t spend maybe even five minutes a year talking about it,” Larsen told TechCrunch. “The discussion is really ‘Let’s make sure we’re IPO ready’ because sometimes there are macroeconomic conditions you can’t control.”

Clearly, investors are bullish and it is notable that Lalamove’s new round comes at a time when many Chinese companies are downsizing their staff, with the likes of Didi, Meituan and JD.com announcing cuts and refocusing strategies in recent weeks.

“[Lalamove CEO and founder] Shing is a role model for Hong Kong’s new generation of innovative entrepreneurs,” said Sequoia China founder and managing partner Neil Shen. “Raised in Hong Kong and educated at Stanford University, Shing returned and plunged himself in the entrepreneurial wave of ‘Internet Plus,’ becoming a figure of entrepreneurial success.”

Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal invests $92M in Ola

The money is starting to flow from India’s largest startup exit. Ola has added a major name to its ongoing financing round after it confirmed that Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal has invested 650 crore INR (around $92 million) into the Indian ride-hailing business.

The deal rumored in January when Paper.vc, an intelligence service that sifts through company filings in India, noticed that Bansal had committed to investing 150 crore. Today, eight-year-old Ola not only confirmed the pairing, but it revealed that the actual size of Bansal’s investment is significantly higher. It represents his most prominent and largest investment to date, and his first major deal since he left Flipkart following its sale to Walmart for $16 billion last year.

An Ola spokesperson confirmed that Bansal will not take an advisory role nor will he be involved in operations.

The investment is part of an ongoing Series J round of financing that is likely to exceed $1 billion and would value Ola, which competes fiercely with Uber in India, at around $6 billion. Bansal’s commitment comes a month after existing investor Steadview Capital put $75 million towards the round.

Here’s what Bansal — who started Flipkart with co-founder Binny Bansal in 2007 — had to say on the deal:

Ola is one of India’s most promising consumer businesses, that is creating deep impact and lasting value for the ecosystem. On one hand, they have emerged as a global force in the mobility space and on the other, they continue to build deeper for various needs of a billion Indians through their platform, becoming a trusted household name today.

I have known Bhavish as an entrepreneur and as a friend over these years and I have great respect for what he and the team at Ola have built in just 8 years! I am personally thrilled to be part of the Ola journey and I look forward to contributing to their success.

Aggarwal, Ola’s CEO, in turn, lauded Bansal as “an icon of entrepreneurship.”

“His investment is a huge encouragement for all of us at Ola and our mission to serve a billion people,” he said in a statement. “I personally look forward to learning from Sachin’s journey, his mentorship and guidance, as we look to build one of the most impactful global businesses out of India.”

Ola is locked in a dog fight with Uber, which has made India its highest priority market outside of the U.S. Uber started slowly in India, but it is pushing hard in the country having opened a dedicated local R&D center and hired a country management team that operates outside of the rest of its Asia Pacific business.

To battle its U.S. rival, Ola has expanded nationwide to cover over 100 cities and towns. It has also expanded beyond just cars, developed its own mobile money service, invested in other startups and pushed other strategies to appeal to local customers.

Flipkart’s exit money may be moving back into the ecosystem, but the company is running without the two men who founded it. Sachin Bansal left around the time of the deal while Binny Bansal (the two are not related) resigned following an incident of “serious personal misconduct” just months after the Walmart acquisition was finalized.

Binny has set up a fund — expect to see more Walmart capital flowing back into Indian startups — but his newest project is a venture aimed at helping India’s most promising founders to scale their businesses.

Amazon leads $700M round in electric automaker Rivian

Rivian, the electric automaker that debuted its first two vehicles just three months ago, has raised $700 million in a round led by Amazon .

The news follows a report earlier this week by Reuters that GM and Amazon were in talks to invest in the electric vehicle company.

“We’re inspired by Rivian’s vision for the future of electric transportation,” Amazon CEO Worldwide Consumer Jeff Wilke said in a statement. “RJ has built an impressive organization, with a product portfolio and technology to match. We’re thrilled to invest in such an innovative company.”

Rivian says it will remain an independent company. The equity round also includes participation from existing shareholders. ALJ is the company’s primary investor. Rivian and Amazon are not disclosing additional details about this investment.

Rivian is a curious company that has spent the majority of its life in the shadows. Founder and CEO RJ Scaringe launched it as Mainstream Motors in 2009. By 2011, the name changed to Rivian and moved out of Florida. Today, the company has more than 750 employees split between four development locations in the U.S. and an office in the U.K. The bulk of its employees are in Michigan to be close to an expansive automotive supply chain.

The company also has operations in San Jose and Irvine, Calif., where engineers are working on autonomous vehicle technology. Rivian purchased in 2017 the Normal, Ill. factory where Mitsubishi in a joint venture with Chrysler Corporation called Diamond-Star Motors produced the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Plymouth Laser and Dodge Avenger, among others.

While Rivian had been active the past several years, its big public reveal came at the LA Auto Show in November when it revealed its all-electric R1T pickup and R1S SUV. Deliveries of these vehicles to customers in the U.S., which use a flexible skateboard platform, are expected to begin in late 2020.

StayTuned Digital helps video creators publish and measure everywhere

If you’re a video creator in 2019, you’re probably thinking about a long list of publishing destinations: YouTube, of course, but also Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and more.

StayTuned Digital is a new startup trying to help video creators and publishers push their content to multiple platforms. The company, which bills itself as “content’s best friend,” is officially unveiling its product today and announcing that it’s raised $2.5 million in funding.

StayTuned was founded by CEO Serge Kassardjian (previously the global head of media app business development for Google Play) and Randy Jimenez (previously CTO at SinglePlatform). Kassardjian told me he saw the need for a product like this during his time at Google, when he would talk to content creators becoming “overwhelmed” by the fragmentation across all the different devices and platforms available to them.

“What’s happened is every single one of the platforms is releasing new formats, new ways to optimize, it’s constantly changing every couple of months,” Kassardjian said.

So with StayTuned, publishers shouldn’t have to worry about all that. Kassardjian said the product does three big things: optimizes the video so that it looks good and can perform well on each platform, pushes the video to each platform and then measures the results, which feeds back into the optimization.

Kassardjian acknowledged that getting into the media business, even as a technology provider, might seem like a bad idea right now, but he said, “There’s a misconception that what’s happening in the world is that media and content is dead, but there’s more media and content ever before.”

Nor does Kassardjian believe that publishers can stop relying on Facebook and other platforms. Sure, they may want to drive more traffic to their own properties or launch their own subscription services, but unless they’re Netflix-sized, they can’t ignore the big platforms entirely.

“We provide ubiquity to where the audience is,” he said.

And when he talks about video publishers, he isn’t just thinking about traditional media companies (although he’s looking to work with them too). He also said StayTuned could work with newer digital companies, ecommerce retailers and other brands that are created content — and eventually, small businesses.

As for the funding, it was led by Bowery Capital, with participation CourtsideVC, Quaker Health, Social Leverage, Liquid 2 Ventures, The Fund, Hive Ventures, Grape Arbor and a number of angel investors. StayTuned is also part the current GCT Startup-in-Residence program.

Indonesia-focused Intudo Ventures raises new $50M fund

Intudo Ventures, a VC firm focused on Indonesia, has closed a new $50 million fund. This is Intudo’s second fund to date following its $20 million debut last year.

The firm is a relative newcomer to Southeast Asia but a key differentiator is that it is solely focused on Indonesia, which is the world’s fourth most populated country with over 260 million people and the region’s largest economy.

It is also the dominant market for tech and the internet in the region. According to a much-cited report from Google and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek, Indonesia’s online economy will grow to $100 billion by 2025 from $8 billion in 2015. That’s a dominant chunk of the Southeast Asia market, which is predicted to reach $240 billion as a whole.

A Google-Temasek report forecasts significant growth across Southeast Asia, with Indonesia taking the lead

Another factor that separates Intudo from other firms is its approach to working with local partners. Most VC firms in Southeast Asia tend to source their LPs from Singapore, West Asia and China with a smattering of local families or conglomerates who wield influence on the ground in markets. In Indonesia, Intudo claims to have over 20 families among its LP base, as opposed to the conventional approach of two or three.

However, founding partners Eddy Chan and Patrick Yip told TechCrunch that the majority of its capital comes from U.S-based LPs, with no investor providing more than 10 percent of the fund’s capital. Some of its overseas backers include Founders Fund, the family office of former Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson, Japan’s World Innovation Lab and Taiwan’s CTBC Group, according to the partners.

“Indonesia is a market we feel is dominated by about 100 core families, we are back by 20-some of the most influential groups in the market,” Chan said in an interview.

The goal is to help Intudo’s portfolio companies tap into opportunities from those LPs and their business holdings.

“When we sign up LPs, first and foremost we want to be able to engage the network and resources for the startup we invest into. We find a fit and hopefully provide some kind of unfair advantage… a leg up when they want to compete,” Chan explained.

“We’re not biased to any one family, we invest in a purely financially-driven manner,” added Yip.

Intudo Ventures’ founding partners Eddy Chan and Patrick Yip

Yip provides the on-the-ground presence having returned to Indonesia from the U.S. 15 years ago. Chan is in the U.S. for eight months a year, he said, where he spends much of his time seeking out Indonesia talent studying in the U.S. for prospective hiring or incubating new projects.

“We have a long-term view that we either place them in our portfolio, found companies with them or put them in with a Bain, or McKinsey type company,” Chan explained.

Yip formerly operated an investment firm associated with Goldman Sachs and spent time at retail giant CP, Chan, meanwhile has spent time as an investor and co-founded smart light company Leeo before leaving in 2015 following a restructuring.

The fund itself is focused on Series A and pre-A with some Series B with an initial investment of $500,000-$5 million with more for follow-on rounds, the partners explained. But the focus is on doubling down on a few prospects, with the fund slated to do around 12-15 deals through its lifecycle.

Chan said that when it comes to going beyond the fund’s deal range the thesis is to involve its LPs who, he claimed, are keen to invest in Indonesia further down the line. With just a year since Intudo’s debut fund closed that theory has not been tested yet although one early bet, BeliMobilGue just raised a $10 million Series A. Others in the portfolio include co-working venture CoHive, payment gateway company Xendit and fitness startup Ride Jakarta.

For now, at least, Intudo intends to remain laser-focused on Indonesia.

“Down the road will we add other countries? Time will tell,” Chan said. “This is our bread and butter and where we’re strong and what we have committed to for our LPs.”

E-commerce startup Zilingo raises $226M to digitize Asia’s fashion supply chain

If you’re looking for the next unicorn in Southeast Asia, Zilingo might just be it. The 3.5-year-old e-commerce company announced today that it has raised a Series D round worth $226 million to go after the opportunity to digitize Asia’s fashion supply chain.

This new round takes Zilingo to $308 million from investors since its 2015 launch. The Series D is provided by existing investors Sequoia India, Singapore sovereign fund Temasek, Germany’s Burda and Sofina, a European backer of Flipkart -owned fashion site Myntra. Joining the party for the first time is new investor EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board.

Zilingo isn’t commenting on a valuation for the round, but a source with knowledge of the deal told TechCrunch that it is ‘a rounding error’ away from $1 billion. We had heard in recent months that the startup was getting close to unicorn status, so that is likely to come sooner or later — particularly given that Zilingo has made it to Series D so rapidly.

Raising more than $300 million makes Zilingo one of Southeast Asia’s highest-capitalized startups, but its meteoric growth in the last year has come from expansion from consumer e-commerce into business-to-business services.

CEO Ankiti Bose — formerly with Sequoia India and McKinsey — and CTO Dhruv Kapoor first built a service that capitalized on Southeast Asia’s growing internet connectivity to bring small fashion vendors from the street markets of cities like Bangkok and Jakarta into the e-commerce fold. Zilingo still operates its consumer-facing online retail store, but its key move has been to go after b2b opportunities in the supply chain by digitizing its network to give retailers and brands gain access.

Revenue grew by 4X over the past year, with b2b responsible for 75 percent of that total, Bose told TechCrunch. She declined to provide raw figures but did say net income is in “the hundreds of millions” of U.S dollar. The company — which has over 400 staff — isn’t profitable yet, but CEO Bose said the b2b segment gives it “a clear pathway” to break-even by helping offset expensive e-commerce battles.

Ankiti Bose and Dhruv Kapoor founded Zilingo in 2015.

The supply chain’s ‘outdated tech’

Moving into the supply chain after building distribution makes sense, but Zilingo has long had its eye on services.

That business-focused push started with a suite of basic products to help Zilingo sellers manage their e-commerce business. Those initially included inventory management and sales tracking, but they have since graduated to deeper services like financing, sourcing and procurement, and a ‘style hunter’ for identifying upcoming fashion trends. Zilingo also widened its target from the long tail of small vendors operating in Southeast Asia, to bigger merchants and brands and even to the fashion industry in Europe, North America and beyond that seeks access to Asia’s producers, who are estimated to account for $1.4 trillion of the $3 billion global fashion manufacturing market.

Zilingo’s goal today is to provide any seller with the features, insight and network that brands such as Zara have built for themselves through years of work.

In Southeast Asia, that means helping small merchants, SMEs and larger retailers to source items for sale online through the Zilingo store. But in Europe and the U.S, where it doesn’t operate an outlet, Zilingo goes straight to the sellers themselves. That could mean retailers seeking wholesale opportunities from Asia or online influencers, such as Instagram personalities, keen to use their presence for e-commerce. Beyond just picking out items to sell, Zilingo wants to help them build their own private labels using its supply chain network.

That rest of the world plan has been on the cards since last year when Zilingo closed a $54 million Series C, but now the next stage of the journey is deeper integration with factories.

“If you think about these factories that make the products, the process isn’t optimized over there,” Bose said in an interview. “The guy or girl running factory likely has no technology, they don’t even use Excel. So we’re going to small and medium factories, increasing capacity utilization, helping to manage payroll, getting loans and other fintech services.”

Kapoor, her co-founder, adds that the fashion supply chain is “is marred by outdated tech.”

“It’s imperative for us to build products that introduce machine learning and data science effectively to SMEs while also being easy to use, get adopted and scale quickly. We’re re-wiring the entire supply chain with that lens so that we can add most value,” he added in a statement.

Zilingo encourages retailers and brands to develop their own private labels by tapping into the supply chain network it has built

AWS for the fashion supply chain

Bose said Zilingo’s early efforts have boosted factory efficiency by some 60 percent and made it possible to develop links to retailers while also enabling factories to develop their own private label colletions, rather than simply churning out unbranded or non-descript products.

A large part of that work with factories is consultancy-based, and Zilingo has hired supply chain experts to help provide quality guidance and perspective alongside the software tools it offers, Bose said.

She compares it, in many ways, to how Amazon conceived AWS. After it built tech to fix its own problems internally, it commercialized the services for third parties. So Zilingo started out offering a consumer-facing e-commerce platform but it is making its sourcing networks open to anyone at a cost — almost like supply chain on an API.

That gives its business a two, if not three, sided focus which spans selling to consumers in Southeast Asia through Zilingo.com — which is present in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia with the Philippines and Australia coming soon — reaching overseas retailers through Zilingo Asia Mall, and developing the b2b play.

In Southeast Asia, its home market, Zilingo doesn’t pressure its merchants to sell on its platform exclusively — “we don’t mind if they go to Instagram, Lazada, Tokopedia and Shopee,” Bose said — but in the U.S. it doesn’t have a go-to consumer outlet. It’s possible that might change with the company considering potential partnerships, although it seems unlikely it will launch its own consumer play.

Zilingo was once destined to compete with the big players like Lazada, which is owned by Alibaba, Shopee, which is operated by NYSE-listed Sea, and Tokopedia, the $7 billion company that’s part of SoftBank’s Vision Fund, but its supply chain focus has shifted its position to that of enabler.

That’s helped it avoid tricky times for specialist e-commerce services, which battle tough competition, pricing wars and challenging dynamics, and instead become one of Southeast Asia’s highest-capitalized startups. The company’s U.S. plan is ambitious, and it is taking longer than expected to get off the ground, but that makes it a startup that is worth keeping an eye on in 2019. It’s also an example that the startup journey is not defined since, in some cases, the biggest opportunities aren’t presented immediately.

PerimeterX secures $43M to protect web apps from bot attacks

We know by now that modern website attacks are typically automated, as armies of bots knock on doors until they inevitably find vulnerabilities and take advantage. PerimeterX, a San Francisco startup wants to protect sites from these automated assaults. Today, it announced a $43 million Series C.

The round was led by Scale Venture Partners . New investor Adams Street Partners joined existing investors Canaan Partners, Vertex Ventures and Data Collective in the round. Ariel Tseitlin, a partner at Scale will be joining the company’s board under the terms of the deal. Today’s investment brings the total raised to over $77 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Omri Iluz, co-founder and CEO at PerimeterX says bots have become the preferred way of hackers to attack websites and mobile apps, and his company has developed a way to defend against that kind of approach. It uses an approach called behavioral fingerprinting to blunt these automated attacks.

“Once we gain visibility into the behavior of the user, we are able to discern between normal behavior and an anomalous behavior that looks like it’s coming from an automated tool,” he said. The solution looks at attributes like mouse movements and swipes. It also analyze the hardware to understand the graphics driver and audio driver of whatever device the bot is purporting to be.

To achieve this kind of identification requires massive amounts of data and PerimeterX uses machine learning to help understand normal behavior and shut down anomalous behavior in an automated fashion.

The company was founded in 2014 and currently has 140 employees. Ariel Tseitlin from Scale Venture Partners, whose firm is leading the round, says as companies reach this level of maturity, the Series C money tends to go into sales and marketing to push the revenue pedal and scale the company.

“While there is a lot of opportunity in R&D, generally at this stage most of the dollars are going for sales and marketing, so hiring more salespeople, hiring more marketers more sales ops.
That’s where a big part of the expansion comes from, and that tends to be pretty closely correlated to revenue growth, and pretty closely correlated to just greater growth in general,” he explained

We wrote about Signal Sciences’ funding last week, a company that also works to protect web apps using a firewall approach. Iluz says that the two companies often work together in the same customers, rather than competing because they attack the problem differently.

Xiaomi-backed electric toothbrush Soocas raises $30 million Series C

China’s Soocas continues to jostle with global toothbrush giants as it raises 200 million yuan ($30 million) in a series C funding round. The Shenzhen-based oral care manufacturer has secured the new capital from lead investor Vision Knight Capital, with Kinzon Capital, Greenwoods Investment, Yunmu Capital and Cathay Capital also participating in the round.

The new proceeds arrived less than a year after Soocas, one of Xiaomi’s home appliance portfolio startups, snapped up close to 100 million yuan in a Series B round last March. Best known for its budget smartphones, Xiaomi has a grand plan to construct an Internet of Things empire that encompasses smart TVs to electric toothbrushes, and it has been gearing up by shelling out strategic investments for consumer goods makers such as Soocas.

Founded in 2015, Soocas’s rise reflects a growing demand for personal care accessories as people’s disposable income increases. Electric toothbrushes are a relatively new concept to most Chinese consumers but the category is picking up steam fast. According to data compiled by Alibaba’s advertising service Alimama, gross merchandise volume sales of electric toothbrushes grew 97 percent between 2015 and 2017. Multinational brands still dominate the oral care space in China, with Procter & Gamble, Colgate and Hawley & Hazel Chemical occupying the top three spots as of 2017, a report from Euromonitor International shows, but local players are rapidly catching up.

Soocas faces some serious competition from its Chinese peers Usmile and Roaman. Like Soocas, the two rivals have also placed their offices in southern China for proximity to the region’s robust supply chain resources. Part of Soocas’s strength comes from its tie-up with Xiaomi, which gives its portfolio companies access to a massive online and offline distribution network worldwide. That comes at a cost, however, as Xiaomi is known to impose razor-thin margins on the companies it backs and controls.

According to a statement from Soocas’s founder Meng Fandi, the company has achieved profitability since its launch and has seen its margin increase over the years. It plans to spend its fresh proceeds on marketing in a race to lure China’s increasingly sophisticated young consumers with toothbrushes and its new lines of hair dryers, nasal trimmers and other tools that make you squeaky-clean.

Ambitious Singapore startup Delegate wants to bring its event booking platform to the US

It’s not often that you hear about a startup from Singapore with ambitions to expand to the U.S, but that’s exactly the goal for event booking service Delegate.

Founded in August 2015, the company aims to be a one-stop shop for booking an event, that covers corporate and professional functions, celebrations like weddings and more personal events such as birthdays or get-togethers.

Beyond the essential step of securing a venue, Delegate’s platform covers a range of different needs that include: food and beverage, photography and videography, flowers and decor, entertainment such as bands, invitation and gifts, event staff, production equipment and transport.

“We saw a huge gap in the market,” co-founders Melissa Lou and Jacqueline Ye, who both worked in the event industry prior to starting Delegate, told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “There was no one resource for finding events and resources.”

The Delegate platform covers venue booking, catering, staffing, entertainment and more.

But, beyond being a booking platform for consumers, Delegate has a smart hook that attracts those on venue and event hosting side. In addition to helping them generate bookings via its sites, Delegate offers a subscription ‘Pro’ product that helps them manage daily operations, generate leads, collect bookings and handle collaborations with others in their supply chain.

There’s also an element of granularity with the consumer side of the business. Delegate has set up options to make the myriads of suppliers, venues and more navigable for less experienced customers. That includes a ‘deals’ section for, well, deals and an inspiration board for the planning process which is itself inspired by Pinterest’s visual approach.

Coming soon, the company hopes to add payment plans to help make it easier to pay for major events, as well as a new offering focused squarely on business users and API integrations for third-party services.

Lou and Ye started the business nearly four years ago with around 100 vendors thanks to their personal and business networks. Today, it claims 1,700 vendors and 70,000 users across Singapore and Hong Kong, its first expansion market.

Delegate co-founders Jacqueline Ye and Melissa Lou (left and right) want to expand their service to the U.S. market.

Already present in two of Asia’s top event locations, where average spend is among the highest for the region. But since those countries are limited in size — Singapore’s population is just shy of six million, Hong Kong’s is around seven million, it makes sense that Delegate is now looking for its next moves. Lou and Ye said they plan to launch the service in “key cities” in Australia and the U.S. to tap what they see as lucrative markets, while Korea and Taiwan are also on the radar closer to home in Asia.

“We see these markets as a good fit for us,” Lou explained. “They have a fair share of corporate events already and, in particular, Australia is a good country because we have a good network there.”

Entering the U.S. might sound implausible to some, but already soft launches of the platform in LA and Austin have drawn interest from over 100 vendors, the Delegate co-founders said. That’s without any major marketing push to either businesses or consumers, and it gives the company optimism. Already the U.S. is a listed location on their service but, for now, there are less than a dozen vendors and there’s no specific location.

Beyond early outreach, the company has raised funds for expansion. Last month, Delegate announced a $1 million pre-Series A round from an undisclosed family office (with apparent links to the event industry) and angel investors who founded Zopim, the Singapore-based startup that sold to Zendesk for around $30 million in 2014.

That network and Saas expertise is likely to help with those ambitious global expansion plans, although Lou and Ye said they aren’t planning to raise their Series A just yet. They say they plan to stretch their runway and keep their costs lean, a practice the founders say they have stuck to since bootstrapping without outside funding for the first year of the business. It’s unlikely bet for most startups in Southeast Asia, but if Delegate can gain even just a small foothold in the U.S, it would be a massive validation of its business model and niche, and no doubt precipitate that larger Series A round.