Fintech in Latin America continues to draw big dollars as Softbank invests $231 million in Creditas

As investors continue to move more aggressively into Latin America’s startup scene, there’s one industry that seems to be drawing more attention than any others — financial services.

As wealth across the region continues to rise, access to adequate financial services — specifically debt — has become a pain-point for an upwardly mobile middle class that wants to be more entrepreneurial and have more financial tools than straight cash at their disposal.

That’s what’s driven companies like Nubank, the Brazilian consumer credit card behemoth, to valuations of roughly $4 billion; and it’s also what contributed to Creditas, a provider of secured loans, raking in $231 million in new financing from the SoftBank Vision Fund and SoftBank Group. Previous investors Vostok Emerging Finance, Santander InnoVentures and Amadeus Capital also participated in the round. 

Founded by Sergio Furio in 2012, the company started as an originator of loans to Brazilian customers who were willing to offer up collateral in exchange for lower interest rates on their debt. Back in 2017, the company became more of a fully integrated lender for the entire process.

Thanks to investments from local and international investment firms including Kaszek Ventures, Quona’s Accion Frontier Fund, Redpoint eVentures, QED Investors, Naspers Fintech, International Finance Corporation and Endeavor’s Catalyst fund, the company became one of Brazil’s largest new financial services startups.

Expect the company to use the new cash to expand its product portfolio and try to offer new lines of credit that it would issue itself — perhaps by trying to enter new businesses like unsecured consumer lending and credit cards.

If it does make its way into unsecured side of the lending market, that would put the company squarely in competition with Nubank (which was reportedly in discussions with Creditas’ lead investor, SoftBank, about an investment earlier this year).

“At Creditas we relentlessly focus on creating an amazing experience that provides efficiency and lower prices to democratize the access to low-cost lending in Brazil. With these investments, we plan to accelerate this process and expand our business model in order to improve the lives of the Brazilian population,” said Sergio Furio, Founder and CEO of Creditas, in a statement.

As a result of the investment, representatives from the SoftBank Vision Fund and SoftBank Latin America Fund will join Creditas’ Board of Directors.

Doctours offers packaged medical tourism for U.S. customers

Doctours, a Los Angeles-based online platform for booking trips and treatments for medical and dental care around the world, is expanding its services to 35 countries.

Founded by serial travel entrepreneur Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, whose last company TripScope was acquired by Travefy, Doctours aims to connect patients with doctors to receive access to quality, affordable healthcare around the world.

The cost of care in the U.S. continues to climb, leading patients with few options but to travel to the best facilities offering the lowest cost care. Some companies that provide insurance benefits to their employees, like Walmart, are opting to pay for better care upfront by transporting their workers to facilities to receive appropriate care, rather than pay later for shoddy treatment.

Doctours sort of expands that thesis in an international context.

“When it comes to medical and dental treatment, there is no longer any reason to limit ourselves based on where we live,” said O’Shaughnessy, in a statement. “There is an increasingly advantageous global marketplace available with highly trained practitioners offering quality healthcare solutions at affordable prices and, although medical and dental tourism is a safe and cost-efficient solution, the current market is extremely fragmented and challenging to navigate. Doctours eliminates this fragmentation and allows anyone to easily and affordably access international medical and dental treatments and procedures.”

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Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, founder, Doctours

The company, which is backed by investors including investors in Doctours include the former CEO of Expedia, Erik Blachford, Texas billionaire and CEO of multi-strategy holding company, Cathexis, William Harrison, and Charles Cogliando of Mosaic Advisors, offers more than 330 different medical and dental procedures and has a global service area that includes Mexico, Colombia, the Caribbean, Thailand, Dubai, Brazil, Germany and Costa Rica. 

Currently working out of Quake Capital’s Austin incubator, the company helps patients search for and compare the cost of procedures, connect with doctors and book everything from in vitro fertilization to stem cell therapy, cosmetic and reparative plastic . surgery, weight loss surgery, dental work and Lasik. 

Once the procedure is booked, Doctours puts together itineraries that provide different options for flights and hotels based on the needs of the patient,  the company said.

The company also offers specialized medical tourism insurance to all of its customers, according to O’Shaughnessy. And the company vets its doctors by ensuring that they are Joint Commission International accredited physicians. Roughly 70% of the company’s doctors were trained at universities and medical schools in Europe or the U.S., O’Shaughnessy wrote in an email.

Doctours is certainly entering a lucrative market. Medical and dental tourism is a $439 billion global market growing at a rate of 25% per year, according to data provided by Doctours. In 2018 alone, 14 million patients traveled abroad to seek healthcare, according to the company.

Uber CTO says competing with Didi is ‘very healthy’ despite their complicated relationship

Competing with a company that counts you as an investor is hardly conventional — some might call it strange — but for Uber it’s a situation that is not only normal but essential.

That’s according to the ride-hailing giant’s CTO, Thuan Pham, who talked about the complicated rivalry Uber has with China’s Didi Chuxing, which counts each other as investors. Uber famously exited China in 2016 — it has since left Southeast Asia and merged with a rival in Russia, too — and part of that deal saw it take nearly six percent of the Chinese company’s business while Didi got equity in Uber. Yet, years later, the two compete in the growing Latin America market, where Didi is making aggressive moves, and also in Australia.

“If you don’t have competition then you can become complacent because there’s no competition to challenge,” Pham said during an interview at the Rise conference in Hong Kong today. “This competition is definitely a very healthy thing, it’s very very necessary.”

When competing in China, “both of the companies had to be on our best in order to compete,” Pham said, and he maintains that iron continues to sharpen iron on the other side of the planet.

“Even after we exited [China] we ran into them in other markets as well,” he added. “Our philosophy [is that] if they are doing something better in terms of features, we try harder to close the gap and surpass them. In the areas where our services are better, we try not to rest on our laurels because we see them trying to catch up all the time.”

Pham didn’t address the fact that Uber owns pieces of its rivals directly — and thus it burns money competing with them — but he did allude to that fact that the battle in some markets may make or break ride-hailing services.

“The best few companies will ultimately get to stay around and the lesser companies will get absorbed,” he said.

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HONG KONG , Hong Kong – 9 July 2019; Thuan Pham, CTO, Uber, left, with Shelly Banjo, Asia Tech Reporter, Bloomberg, on Centre Stage during day one of RISE 2019 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Uber’s relationship with its competition is very tangled. It owns stakes in Didi and Grab and its M&A activity included buying Careem in the Middle East for $3.1 billion. Didi, meanwhile, spent $1 billion to acquire Brazil’s 99 to kickstart its Latin America business — Uber is said to have bid for 99 unsuccessfully. Didi is also a prolific investor and it owns stakes in Ola, Grab, Careem and Bolt, each of which competes with Uber… which counts Didi as a shareholder.

An added wrinkle to the global rivalry is that investors such as SoftBank, its Vision Fund and Coatue own stakes in multiple ride-hailing services.

Despite a trio of global retreats which suggest that Uber’s one-size-fits-all approach to international markets struggles against localized plays, Pham maintained that Uber’s approach is still to “build globally.”

That may be up for debate, but those retreats do give the company interesting options for the future. Already, Uber has made billions on paper from the stakes it owns in markets where it exited. The big question is whether, in the long term, it’ll cash out of those deals and realized profits or look at M&A opportunities to re-enter those regions. It’s certainly a unique situation.

From seed to Series A: Scaling a startup in Latin America today

It’s not easy to raise growth-stage capital in Latin America, but it’s getting easier. As startups begin to flourish in the region’s largest markets, available funding is evolving to suit the needs of these maturing companies. However, Silicon Valley-style Series A rounds in Latin America are still rare, especially outside of Brazil and Mexico.

Even in Silicon Valley, only a small percentage of startups can bring together enough pieces to raise a Series A round. Jacob Mullins, a partner at Shasta Ventures, recently published an article on Medium on what it takes to raise a Series A round in San Francisco today, which inspired my take for the Latin American ecosystem.

In the piece, he lays out the table stakes for any startup looking to raise Series A capital, including product-market fit, a strong revenue model, 2x or 3x YOY growth, a data-driven go-to-market strategy, a compelling market opportunity, a great team and a great story. These prerequisites apply to startups anywhere in the world. However, if these requirements are the minimum needed for a Series A in San Francisco, startups outside of the Valley, including in Latin America, will have to work even harder.

Latin America’s exceptional growth in VC funding over the past 12 months speaks to the growing number of later-stage rounds startups are raising across the region. 2018 was Latin America’s inflection point for startups, with four big trends:

Record-breaking rounds: Mexico’s Grin Scooters raised Latin America’s largest seed round, and Brazilian bike and scooter-sharing startup Yellow raised Latin America’s largest Series A round to date (then they merged!). Food delivery startup Rappi became Colombia’s first unicorn, raising $200 million (and then $1 billion from SoftBank shortly thereafter), and Brazil’s iFood also raised $400 million, one of Latin America’s biggest rounds ever.

A closer examination reveals patterns in what it takes to raise scale capital in the Latin American market today.

Soaring Asian investment: Brazil’s most popular ride-hailing app, 99, was acquired by Didi Chuxing, China’s version of Uber . Tencent invested in Brazilian fintech Nubank; Ant Financial invested in Brazilian POS company StoneCo; SoftBank invested in Brazil’s logistics provider Loggi, Brazil’s Gympass and Colombia’s largest hotel chain, Ayenda Rooms. SoftBank also committed a $5 billion fund for Latin America, outstripping all previous funds by an order of magnitude.

Exits to Latin American and U.S. corporates: Chilean-Mexican grocery delivery startup Cornershop went to Walmart for $225 million and e-commerce company Linio was acquired by Falabella for $138 million. These deals reveal a growing concern from large companies in Latin America about competition from startups.

More YC grads: Latin America sent at least 10 startups to the Y Combinator, and many more to other international accelerators, in the past year. These companies include Grin, Higia, Truora, Keynua, The Podcast App, SkyDrop, UBits, Cuenca, BrainHi, Pachama, Calii, Cuanto, Pronto and Fintual.

2018 really was a breakout year for Latin American startups.

So who is raising Series A rounds in the region?

Within the list of 30 or so companies that have managed to raise a Series A in Latin America in the past year, most of the startups fit into a few categories. There is also significant overlap between the investors who are pursuing tickets of this size, most of whom are located in major markets like Mexico and Brazil, or have offices in Silicon Valley. A closer examination of these startups reveals patterns in what it takes to raise scale capital in the Latin American market today.

Copycats

Copycats — or startups that copy a successful business model from another market — are a good business in Latin America. Among those to raise Series A rounds within the past year were:

  • Grin and Yellow (now Grow Mobility): Bird/Lime clones raised $150 million as Grow Mobility from GGV Capital and Monashees.

  • LentesPlus: 1-800-Contacts clone raised $5 million from Palm Drive Capital, with participation from IGNIA and InQLab.

  • Mercadoni: Instacart clone raised $9 million from Movile.

  • Uala and Albo: Monzo/Revolut clones raised $10 million from Soros, Greyhound Capital, Recharge Capital and Point 72 Ventures, and $7.4 million from Omidyar, Greyhound and Mountain Nazca, respectively.

International investors often see copycat models as less risky, because the model has been tested before.

Logistics and last-mile delivery

Brazil’s CargoX, the “Uber for trucks,” is leading the market for logistics solutions in Latin America, receiving international investment from Valor Capital and NXTP Labs starting in their first round. They have also received funding from Soros, Goldman Sachs and Blackstone in later rounds. Recently, logistics startups like Colombia’s Liftit and Mexico’s Skydrop have raised multimillion-dollar rounds from Silicon Valley investors, including IFC, Monashees, MercadoLibre Fund, Variv Capital, Sierra Ventures and Sinai Ventures . Startups like Rappi, Loggi and Mandaê have also raised Series A rounds, and beyond.

Brazilian startups

In many ways, the Brazilian market operates separately from the rest of Latin America, and not only because of the language difference. Brazil has Brazil-centric funds and its startups follow their own rules, because the market is big enough to accommodate companies that only operate locally. Brazil also receives a majority of international VC funding and has produced a significant portion of Latin America’s unicorns.

Brazilian (and some Mexican) startups in edtech, healthtech and fintech, including Neon, Sanar, Mosyle, UnoDosTres and Nexoos, raised Series A rounds in 2018. Key investors included Quona Capital, e.Bricks Ventures, Elephant and Peak Ventures. Brazilian startups tend to scale more quickly at all sizes; Creditas and Loggi were able to raise their Series A in 2016 and 2014 respectively. In 2018, they were already raising $55 million at Series C and $100 million+ Series D from investors such as Vostok Emerging Capital, Kaszek Ventures, IFC, Naspers and SoftBank. However, startups in these industries in other Latin American countries might not find it as easy to raise larger rounds.

How much to raise in a Latin American Series A

Latin American valuations are noticeably lower than their Silicon Valley equivalents. A Series A round in a small or medium Latin American market like Chile or Colombia might end up looking a lot like a San Francisco seed round. Valuations and amount are bifurcated: those that have access to Silicon Valley-style capital can get higher valuations and bigger checks (still lower and smaller than the U.S.), while those that don’t have access have lower valuations.

The startup’s team, story and revenue model should all align to create an unbeatable business.

Outside of Brazil or Mexico, startups should not expect to raise more than $5 million in a Series A, even if they are receiving co-investments from the U.S. The average Series A round in the U.S. hit $11.29 million in 2018; however, the top 10% of deals averaged more than $60 million.

In Latin America, a Series A could range from as little as $1 million to around $10 million in most countries. Brazil and Mexico might break the mold, but startups looking for growth capital in Latin America should not expect to raise more than $5 million if they are not in a massive market. For example, Chile’s Destacame raised $3 million in their Series A from Chilean funds in early 2019. By comparison, Brazil’s Neon raised $22 million in their Series A in the same year. While these are different industries and comparing apples to oranges, the orders of magnitude seem right.

If we compare in the same industry but different years, the results are similar. Nubank’s Series A in 2014, led by Sequoia Capital, was $14.3 million. Neobanks in smaller markets, like albo and Uala, raised $7.4 million and $10 million, respectively, in their Series A rounds.

To date, the largest Series A raised in the region went to Yellow, Brazil’s bike-share and e-scooter company, created by the founders of 99, Ariel Lambrecht, Eduardo Musa, and Renato Freitas. Yellow raised a $63 million Series A within a year after launch, then merged with Mexico’s Grin Scooters.

Where to look for investment: Latin America or USA?

There are still very few entirely Latin American funds investing at Series A. Most of the time, Latin American startups must look to Mexico and Brazil, or beyond the region to Asia and the U.S., to fund rounds beyond the seed stage.

Within Latin America, some of the actors in this investment sector include Brazil’s Monashees and Valor Capital, Argentina’s Kaszek Ventures, Peru and Mexico’s Angel Ventures and Mexico’s ALLVP, MITA Ventures and Ignia. Startups might also find Series A-level investment from major regional tech leaders who are scouting acquisition opportunities, like Movile’s investment in Mercadoni. Movile is Brazil’s leader in mobile technology, with a mission to impact one billion people, following in the footsteps of China’s giant conglomerate, Tencent. Movile has invested in and acquired many Latin American startups to increase their mobile offerings for its customers.

While some funds in Latin America participate in investments of this scale, most Latin American startups target at least a part of their Series A rounds from outside the region. Latin American startups have been able to reach U.S. VCs in one of three ways: through top-tier accelerators, by selling to consumers in the U.S. market or by taking on a copycat model. U.S.-based VCs Accel Partners, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Base10, Liquid2 Ventures, Quona Capital, QED, IFC and Sierra Ventures have all made multiple contributions to Series A rounds in Latin America within the past year.

Raising a Series A round in Latin America today

Raising a Series A round anywhere means checking a lot of boxes. Beyond bringing a great product to market, the startup’s team, story and revenue model should all align to create an unbeatable business. In Latin America, raising a Series A also means knowing where to look for capital, and which models are receiving funding.

Although there is no instruction manual for raising a Series A anywhere, following in the footsteps of companies that have done so successfully can be a wise way to start. Latin America’s Series A success stories outline a list of investors that are interested in this stage, as well as how much they are investing in Latin American companies. Founders can use this information to structure their fundraising efforts and optimize their time to raise a Series A and continue to scale.

Nowports raises $5.3 million to become Latin America’s digital shipping answer to Flexport

Nowports, a developer of software and services to track freight shipments from ports to destinations across Latin America, has aims to become the regional answer to Flexport’s billion-dollar digital shipping business.

Almost 54 million containers are imported and exported from Latin America each year, and nearly half of them are either delayed or lost due to mismanagement.

Nowports is pitching shippers on its digital management software to keep track of each container, and has signed on a number of leading venture capital firms to fulfill its mission.

The Monterrey, Mexico-based company raised $5.3 million in its seed round of financing. The round was led by Base10 and Monashees, with participation from Y Combinator and additional investors like Broadhaven, Soma Capital, Partech, Tekton and Paul Buchheit.

“In Nowports we saw a very strong combination: well prepared and ambitious team using technology to help thousands of customers to improve their importing and exporting processes. By adding efficiency, reliability, and transparency to change a multi-billion dollar industry, Nowports has been able to attract many clients that saw significant improvements in their daily routines by using the solution” said Caio Bolognesi, general partner from Monashees, in a statement.

The company said it would use the money to expand into new markets, grow its team and integrate with more companies involved in the (very fragmented) Latin American logistics industry. It’s a market that needs a range of better logistics technologies.

“Even though over 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea, the most cost-effective way to move goods en masse, there has yet to be a solution that’s able to connect suppliers, customs brokers, carriers and transportation companies to provide an efficient and reliable service,” said Maximiliano Casal, founder and chief executive of Nowports, in a statement. “This is why we launched Nowports, combining our 10 years of industry expertise to fill this void and are currently working with over 40 customers in the region and growing.”

The company now has offices in Chile and Uruguay, and is planning to expand to Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

“With platforms, algorithms with AI and integrations, our platform allows companies to take control of their shipments and plan and predict the best timing to move the freight based on the needs of their own company,” said Alfonso De Los Rios, founder and CTO of Nowports.

As the company looks to expand, it has a strategic road map it can follow in the growth of Flexport, the Silicon Valley startup that has become a billion-dollar business by applying technology to the outdated shipping industry.

The two co-founders of Nowports met at a program at Stanford University, with De Los Rios hailing from a family with deep ties to the shipping industry. He and Casal linked up and the two began plotting a way to make the deeply inefficient industry more modern and transparent. To familiarize himself with the market for which he’d be developing a technology, Casal worked in a freight forwarder in Kansas City that had been operating for more than 30 years.

In all, freight providers are getting paid nearly $40 billion per year to move freight into Latin America.

“Alfonso and Max are the ideal founders we look to invest in as they are industry experts and passionate about evolving the industry using technology and automation,” said Adeyemi Ajao, general partner from Base10. “We are proud to be investors in Nowports alongside our friends at Monashees and look forward to watching the company’s continued growth.”

Why is Andreessen Horowitz (and everyone else) investing in Latin America now?

Investments by U.S. venture capital firms into Latin America are skyrocketing and one of the firms leading the charge into deals is none other than Silicon Valley’s Andreessen Horowitz .

The firm that shook up Silicon Valley with potentially over-generous term sheets and valuations and an overarching thesis that “software is eating the world” has been reluctant to test its core belief… well… pretty much anywhere outside of the United States.

That was true until a few years ago when Andreessen began making investments in Latin America. It’s the only geography outside of the U.S. where the firm has committed significant capital and the pace of its investments is increasing.

Andreessen isn’t the only firm that’s making big bets in companies south of the American border. SoftBank has its $2 billion dollar investment fund, which launched earlier this year, to invest in Latin American deals as well. (Although the most recent SoftBank Innovation Fund investment in GymPass is likely an indicator that the fund, much like SoftBank’s “Vision” fund, has a pretty generous interpretation of what is and is not a Latin American deal.)

“We previously didn’t invest internationally, [because] we weren’t as well set up to help these companies,” says Angela Strange, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. “Part of the reason for why LatAm is proximity.”

China’s Didi kicks off expansion in Latin America with moves into Chile and Colombia

The wheels are turning on Didi Chuxing’s first major expansion in Latin America after the Chinese ride-hailing firm announced moves into Chile and Colombia to double its presence in the region.

Didi said it rolled into Valparaiso, Chile’s third largest metropolis, and Colombian capital city Bogota this week. The company plans to expand beyond those cities over time, and, in terms of services, it said that it will add dedicated licensed taxis in Colombia this year.

Anchored in China, where it is the country’s dominant ride-hailing service, Didi began to place focus on international expansion last year and Latin America is a key part of its global ambitions.

In the region, Didi currently operates in Brazil — where it acquired local player 99 for $1 billion — and Mexico, but recent reports have linked it with more countries in Latin America. In February, Reuters reported that the company was hiring for operational staff in Chile, Peru and Colombia. Other reports have put its total headcount in Latin America at over 1,000 staff, that’s a clear indication of its intent for the region.

In a statement, Mi Yang — who leads Didi’s operations in Central and South America — called Chile and Colombia “two important centers of growth and innovation in the region.”

Outside of Latin America and its homeland, Didi is present in Taiwan and Australia, where it has other global connection through its investment deals. The company owns a significant stake in Southeast Asia-based Grab it doubled down with a $2 billion investment alongside SoftBank in 2017 — as well as Bolt (formerly known as Taxify) across Europe and Africa, Ola in India and Lyft in the U.S.

Didi also has relations with Uber as a mutual investment was part of the deal that saw it acquire the Uber China business in 2016, and it invested in Middle East-based Careem, which is being acquired by Uber.

That’s a pretty complicated web of relationships and, with Didi’s global expansion, it often pits the Chinese company against its investments. In Australia, for example, Didi is up against Uber, Bolt AND Ola.

In Latin America, Uber is again a competitor and others the field include local players Cabify, Easy Taxi and Beat from Greece — companies that Didi hasn’t backed.

On offer is a market with vast growth potential. Latin America is the world’s second-fastest-growing mobile market. In a region of approximately 640 million people, there are more than 200 million smartphone users and, by 2020, predictions say that 63% of Latin America’s population will have access to the mobile Internet.

Didi’s globetrotting comes at a challenging time for its domestic business, where it is still reeling from the murder of two passengers last year.

As TechCrunch reported last month, Didi is revamping its security systems to put an increased focus on passenger security in the wake of those tragic deaths. That’s come at significant cost and it is said to have pushed back plans to take the company. Uber and Lyft have, of course, completed IPO this year, but Didi’s own timeline for doing so is unclear.

More generally, Didi is far from the first Chinese company to head to Latin America with ambitions of dizzying growth. Earlier this decade, Baidu made a major push to own the nascent web and search business in Brazil — which culminated in an acquisition — while Tencent has backed fintech unicorn Nubank and it is trying sniff out other potential giants-in-waiting as the region’s ecosystem matures.

Less than 1 year after launching its corporate card for startups, Brex eyes $2B valuation

Brex, the fintech business that’s taken the startup world by storm with its sought after corporate card tailored for entrepreneurs, is raising millions in Series D funding less than a year after it launched, TechCrunch has learned.

Bloomberg reports Brex is raising at a $2 billion valuation, though sources tell TechCrunch the company is still in negotiations with both new and existing investors. Brex didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Kleiner Perkins is leading the round via former general partner Mood Rowghani, who left the storied venture capital fund last year to form Bond alongside Mary Meeker and Noah Knauf. As we’ve previously reported, the Bond crew is still in the process of deploying capital from Kleiner’s billion-dollar Digital Growth Fund III, the pool of capital they were responsible for before leaving the firm.

Bond, which recently closed on $1.25 billion for its debut effort and made its first investment, is not participating in the round for Brex, sources confirm to TechCrunch. Bond declined to comment.

Brex, a graduate of Y Combinator’s winter 2017 cohort, has raised $182 million in VC funding, reaching a valuation of $1.1 billion in October 2018 three months after launching its corporate card for startups and less than a year after completing YC’s accelerator program.

Most recently, Brex attracted a $125 million Series C investment led by Greenoaks Capital, DST Global and IVP. The startup is also backed by PayPal founders Peter Thiel and Max Levchin, and VC firms such as Ribbit Capital, Oneway Ventures and Mindset Ventures, according to PitchBook.

The company’s pace of growth is unheard of, even in Silicon Valley where inflated valuations and outsized rounds are the norm. Why? Brex has tapped into a market dominated by legacy players in dire need of technological innovation and, of course, startup founders always need access to credit. That, coupled with the fact that it’s capitalized on YC’s network of hundreds of startup founders — i.e. Brex customers — has accelerated its path to a multi-billion-dollar price tag.

Brex doesn’t require any kind of personal guarantee or security deposit from its customers, allowing founders near-instant access to credit. More importantly, it gives entrepreneurs a credit limit that’s as much as 10 times higher than what they would receive elsewhere.

Investors may also be enticed by the fact the company doesn’t use third-party legacy technology, boasting a software platform that is built from scratch. On top of that, Brex simplifies a lot of the frustrating parts of the corporate expense process by providing companies with a consolidated look at their spending.

“We have a very similar effect of what Stripe had in the beginning, but much faster because Silicon Valley companies are very good at spending money but making money is harder,” Brex co-founder and chief executive officer Henrique Dubugras told me late last year.

Stripe, for context, was founded in 2010. Not until 2014 did the company raise its unicorn round, landing a valuation of $1.75 billion with an $80 million financing. Today, Stripe has raised a total of roughly $1 billion at a valuation north of $20 billion.

Dubugras and Brex co-founder Pedro Franceschi, 23-year-old entrepreneurs, relocated from Brazil to Stanford in the fall of 2016 to attend the university. They dropped out upon getting accepted into YC, which they applied to with a big dreams for a virtual reality startup called Beyond. Beyond quickly became Brex, a name in which Dubugras recently told TechCrunch was chosen because it was one of few four-letter word domains available.

Brex’s funding history

March 2017: Brex graduates Y Combinator
April 2017: $6.5M Series A | $25M valuation
April 2018: $50M Series B | $220M valuation
October 2018: $125M Series C | $1.1B valuation
May 2019: undisclosed Series D | ~$2B valuation

In April, Brex secured a $100 million debt financing from Barclays Investment Bank. At the time, Dubugras told TechCrunch the business would not seek out venture investment in the near future, though he did comment that the debt capital would allow for a significant premium when Brex did indeed decide to raise capital again.

In 2019, Brex has taken steps several steps toward maturation.Recently, it launched a rewards program for customers and closed its first notable acquisition of a blockchain startup called Elph. Shortly after, Brex released its second product, a credit card made specifically for ecommerce companies.

Its upcoming infusion of capital will likely be used to develop payment services tailored to Fortune 500 business, which Dubugras has said is part of Brex’s long term plan to disrupt the entire financial technology space.

Trump’s Huawei ban ‘wins’ one trade battle, but the US may lose the networking war

While U.S. government officials celebrate what they must consider to be a win in their battle against the low-cost, high-performance networking vendor Huawei and other Chinese hardware manufacturers, the country is at risk of falling seriously behind in the broader, global competition for telecom tech and customers.

It may be a race that the U.S. is willing to concede, but it should be noted that Huawei’s sphere of influence on other shores continues to expand, even as the company’s ability to operate in the U.S. is completely proscribed.

Indeed, Huawei’s executive director and chairman of its investment review board, David Wang, told Bloomberg that, “Our U.S. business is not that big. We have global operations. We still will have stable operations.”

Wang is right… to a point. Huawei derives most of its sales from international markets, according to a 2018 financial report released earlier this year, but it depends heavily on technology from U.S. chip manufacturers for its equipment. Without those supplies, Huawei could find itself in a very difficult spot, indeed.

Huawei’s end of year financials showed its consumer devices business is now its main money-maker, while the majority of its revenue is not derived from the U.S. market

And the U.S. has its reasons for working to stymie Huawei’s efforts to expand the reach of its networking technologies as this excellent Twitter thread from Adam Townsend persuasively argues.

Essentially, China has invested its basically limitless capital into subsidizing next-gen wireless technology and buying up next-generation startups and innovators, all while the U.S. has borne early stage risk. Meanwhile, it is also using unlimited money to poach regulators and industry experts who might advocate against it.

Huawei continues to make inroads in nations across the emerging markets of Latin America, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa where demand for connectivity is on the rise. Those are regions where the U.S. has plenty of strategic interests, but America’s ability to sway public opinion or entice governments to act against Chinese networking companies could be severely limited by its inability to offer meaningful incentives or alternatives to them.

Even with the passage of the BUILD Act in October 2018, which was meant to revitalize U.S. foreign aid and investment with a $60 billion package, it’s worth noting that China spent nearly $47 billion in foreign investment in Europe alone in 2018. Chinese direct investments totaled another $49.45 billion into Africa and the Middle East and $18 billion into South America, according to data from the American Enterprise Institute, compiled by Foreign Policy.

Map courtesy of the American Enterprise Institute.

Those investments have turned nations that should be staunch political allies into reluctant or simply rhetorical backers of the U.S. position. Take the relationship between the U.S. and Brazil, for example — a historically strong partnership going back years and one that seemingly only strengthened given the similarities between the two ultraconservative leaders in power in both nations.

However, as Foreign Affairs reports, Brazil is unlikely to accede to President Trump’s demands that Brazil aids in steps to block China’s economic expansion.

“Brazilian business groups have already begun to defend the country’s deep trade ties to China, rightly pointing out that any hope of containing China and once more turning the United States into Brazil’s most important trading partner is little more than unrealistic nostalgia,” writes Foreign Affairs correspondent, Oliver Stuenkel. “Working alongside powerful military generals, these business associations are mobilizing to avoid any delays that sidelining Huawei in the region could cause in getting 5G up and running.”

The whole article is worth reading, but its refrain is that the attempts by U.S. government officials to paint Huawei and Chinese economic inroads as a national security threat in developing economies are largely falling on deaf ears.

It’s not just networking technologies either. As one venture capitalist who invests in Latin America and the U.S. told TechCrunch anonymously: “It’s interesting how the U.S.-China relationships are going to affect what is happening in Latin America. The Chinese are already being more aggressive on the banking side.”

China’s big technology companies are also taking an interest in South America, both as vendors and as investors on the continent.

In an article in Crunchbase, the South American and Chinese-focused venture capitalist, Nathan Lustig underscored the trend. Lustig wrote:

In both the private and the public sectors, China is swiftly increasing its support for Latin America. Chinese expertise in financial technology, as well as its influence in developing markets around the world, is turning China into a strategic partner for startups and entrepreneurs in Latin America. Most of the Chinese investment in Latin America so far is going to Brazil, although this is likely to spread across the region as Chinese investors become better-acquainted with the local tech ecosystems, most likely to Mexico.

Beyond the Didi Chuxing acquisition of Brazil’s 99 in January, Chinese companies began investing heavily in Brazilian fintech startups, specifically Nubank and StoneCo, this year.

Indeed, China has an entire catalog of low-cost technologies and economic packages from state-owned and privately held investors to support their adoption, backing up its position as the leader for tech across a range of applications in emerging markets.

For the U.S. to compete, it will have to look beyond protectionism at its shores to actual commitments to greater economic development abroad. With lower tax revenues coming in and the prospect of giant deficits building up as far as the eye can see, there’s not much room to promote an alternative to Huawei internationally. That could leave the country increasingly isolated and create far more problems as it gets left behind.

FBI has seized Deep Dot Web and arrested its administrators

The FBI have arrested several people suspected of involvement in running Deep Dot Web, a website for facilitating access to dark web sites and marketplaces.

Two suspects were arrested in Tel Aviv and Ashdod, according to Israel’s Tel Aviv Police, which confirmed the arrests in a statement earlier in the day, Local media first reported the arrests.

Arrests were also made in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Brazil.

Deep Dot Web is said to have made millions of dollars in commission by offering referral links to dark web marketplaces, accessible only at an .onion domain used specifically by the Tor anonymity network. Tor bounces internet traffic through a series of random relay servers dotted across the world, making it near-impossible to trace the user.

Its .onion site displayed a seized notice by the FBI, citing U.S. money laundering laws. Its clear web domain no longer loads.

Tuesday’s arrests follow an earlier operation by U.S. and German authorities earlier in the week that took down the Wall Street Market, one of the largest remaining dark web marketplaces. Thousands of sellers sold drugs, weapons and stolen credentials used to break into online accounts.

Efforts to reach Deep Dot Web over encrypted chat were unsuccessful.

Spokespeople for the Justice Department and the FBI did not immediately comment. A spokesperson for the Israeli consulate in New York did not respond to a request for comment.