Uber for Business expands its corporate Eats delivery feature to 20 more countries

Uber for Business, a platform designed for corporate customers, is expanding its food delivery Eats product to more than 20 countries this year, in response to a surge in demand as more employees work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The expansion kicks off Wednesday, starting with Brazil, Canada, France and the UK.

The ride-hailing company launched Business for Uber in 2014 to give companies a tool that would streamline payments for rides taken by their employees and clients. In 2018, the platform added a corporate version of its on-demand Uber Eats app, which lets companies set meal programs so employees can order food at certain times and locations and create automatic spending allowances.

Uber had plans to expand the business version of Eats. Uber said it accelerated those plans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted governments around the world to issue stay at home orders that has millions of employees working remotely.

In March, active Uber for Business customers using Eats grew 28% from the previous month, according to the company.

Uber for Business has also added new features to Eats. Employees can now use their individual
corporate cards and manage orders through a business profile on the Uber Eats app or website.

Latin America Roundup: Grupo ZAP, Grow Mobility, Wavy get acquired; Credijusto adds $100M; Cornershop, iFood brace for delivery boom

As the world locks down borders and capital flows to brace for the impact of coronavirus, Brazilian startups continue to attract international attention. Three large acquisition deals dominated the Latin American tech headlines this month, all coming from the region’s largest country. As investments have waned, these deals offer hope for some increased liquidity in Latin America’s startup ecosystem. 

At the beginning of the month, Brazilian real estate leader Grupo ZAP was acquired by OLX Brasil for $640 million, solidifying the classifieds platform’s position in the local property market. The deal will enable OLX to offer its customers more than 12 million listings from 40,000 agencies and individuals. 

Grupo Zap merged with the property rental platform VivaReal in December 2017, becoming the de facto largest real estate portal in the country. While the brands have operated separately, they jointly receive more than 40 million visits per month to help Brazilians find properties for rental and purchase. The acquisition is still under review from Brazil’s antitrust agency, CADE, and will be finalized later this year.

Meanwhile, Peixe Urbano reported its intention to acquired Grow Mobility, the alternative mobility company created from the merger between Mexico’s Grin and Brazil’s Yellow. Peixe will own the majority share in the e-scooter and bike-share startup, which has recently struggled to turn a profit. After leaving 14 cities in February, Grin Mobility is only active in Brazil’s three largest cities today, as well as in a few countries around Latin America, despite a promising partnership with Rappi in 2019. Grow Mobility raised $150 million in January 2019 when Grin and Yellow merged and seemed to be one of the fastest-growing startups at the time; however, this deal is rumored to be a total write-off for the startup’s investors. 

Finally, a Swedish cloud communications platform called Sinch AB announced it would acquire Movile’s strategic communications company, Wavy, for $68.3 million (BRL$554 million) and more than 1.5 million shares in the publicly traded company. Movile is one of Brazil’s largest tech businesses, a telecommunications company striving to become the region’s Tencent. Wavy is Brazil’s second-largest messaging provider and also operates in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Paraguay, relaying more than 13 billion messages per year. Sinch will use the acquisition to grow into the Latin American market, where Wavy currently employs over 260 people across nine offices in the region. At the time of purchase, Wavy was growing at 200% year-on-year, hinting at strong growth for the new business over the coming years.

Movile also announced the arrival of a new CEO, Patrick Hruby, in the last week of March. His predecessor, Fabricio Bloisi, co-founder and CEO since 1998, will take a seat as board president and will continue to act as CEO of iFood. Hruby previously spent five months as an Executive in Residence at Movile, where he worked closely on operations with all Movile companies: iFood, MovilePay, PlayKids, Sympla, Wavy and Zoop. Movile is one of Brazil’s least-known unicorns, quietly building a mobile empire for the region with a goal of impacting over one billion people.

Credijusto raises $100M to support SMEs in need

The Mexican credit provider, Credijusto, announced in mid-March that it had received $100 million in debt from Credit Suisse to help the startup extend more loans to SMEs affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus. Small businesses in Mexico already struggle to access financing from banks, and the current economic projections will likely cause financial institutions to hold off on risky investments for the foreseeable future. 

Meanwhile, this credit crunch has caused a surge of interest in Credijusto’s products: online small-business loans. The startup uses an algorithm to rapidly calculate risk and interest rates, providing much-needed liquidity for SMEs struggling in the face of financial turmoil. Credijusto also recently raised a $100 million debt vehicle from Goldman Sachs, alongside a $42 million Series B equity round from Goldman and Point72 Ventures in September 2019. 

Cornershop, iFood: Keeping up with coronavirus delivery demands

While in the U.S., Instacart and Amazon are scrambling to keep up with the boom in delivery orders, Latin American delivery giants Cornershop and iFood face similar challenges. Mexican-Chilean delivery app Cornershop, which was acquired by Uber last year for $450 million, revealed they had just nine months of operating capital left as they face unprecedented order volume. 

Despite the large acquisition deal, Cornershop’s case remains under review by the Mexican antitrust organization, COFECE, which blocked their previous $225 million acquisition offer from Walmart. Cornershop’s co-founder and CEO Oskar Hjertonsson took to Twitter to share the challenges his company is facing as demand for grocery delivery surges due to coronavirus concerns. He notes that grocery delivery has become an essential service in many areas with severe quarantines, yet with the acquisition still in question, Cornershop does not have the resources to serve the current demand. 

Two Mexican regulators are currently fighting over the jurisdiction to review this case, which has been going on for more than six months without a resolution. Cornershop has been at the mercy of Mexican officials since June 2018, when they first announced their Walmart acquisition. On Twitter, Hjertonsson urges Mexican officials to move forward on the decision as soon as possible to capitalize on an opportunity to help millions of Latin Americans who are currently in lockdown, as well as bringing in the resources needed to protect their delivery staff.

At the same time, Brazil’s largest food delivery company, iFood, announced the launch of a new fund to help small restaurants survive the economic tumult brought on by the coronavirus. The food industry has been one of the hardest-hit by the pandemic, as many restaurants live on small margins. To combat this trend, iFood launched a $9.8 million fund that will support small restaurants within the iFood network. 

The company also announced that it would speed up receipt processing during April and May, helping small businesses receive their payments within seven days without extra cost. This measure will inject an additional $117 million into the Brazilian restaurant market. Finally, iFood seeks to support its restaurant partners by returning all fees they receive for delivery during the coronavirus epidemic. Realizing that restaurants must rely on delivery orders to survive this period, iFood has extended these measures to over 120,000 restaurant partners in 1,000 cities across Brazil. 

News and Notes: Vai.Car, ClassPass, Superlogica and NotCo

Despite public health and economic concerns about COVID-19, the Latin American startup ecosystem remained active this month, with startups raising large rounds from local and international firms alike. Brazil’s car rental startup Vai.car raised $85 million from the Brazilian investment platform XP Investimentos, which IPO’d at the end of 2019. The startup targets a young market by enabling medium-term car rentals that are delivered to the user’s door and unlocked with face recognition technology. Vai.car also partners with Uber and 99 to help drivers access vehicles from their fleet of more than 25,000 cars.

U.S. gym-sharing platform Classpass expanded aggressively into Latin America this month through the acquisition of Chile’s Muvpass and Argentina’s Clickypass. These platforms work similarly to Classpass, allowing users to access a network of gyms and fitness classes across the country. Classpass launched in Brazil in December 2019 and became the first unicorn of the decade, with a $285 million Series E in early 2020. 

The Brazilian payments management platform Superlogica raised a $63.5 million round from U.S. private equity firm Warburg Pincus in mid-March. Superlogica helps companies manage recurring payments using a subscription model powered by artificial intelligence. The startup currently serves customers in more than 45,000 rental properties around the country.

Chilean plant-based food tech startup, The Not Company, announced a partnership with Burger King to create a vegan Whopper across the United States. The RebelWhopper is made of plant-based meat and features NotCo’s signature NotMayo, a mayonnaise made without animal products, which rapidly became a household name in Chile. The Not Company raised $30 million from Bezos Ventures and other investors in 2019 and has continued to expand rapidly into Argentina and Brazil over the past year. 

The past six weeks have been characterized by global uncertainty about the future of the economy and international relations as COVID-19 has made its way into every country in the world. However, deal flow in Latin America was still strong in March, bringing large deals and several acquisitions, especially in Brazil, even as the country refuses to lock down to prevent the spread of the pandemic. Notably, despite travel restrictions, many of the deals this month were led by foreign VCs, hinting at a potential for quicker feedback loops in the region as investors disburse capital without traveling first. 

It is hard to see today what the new normal will be globally, and specifically in venture and tech in Latin America. Almost every country has closed its borders, some more forcefully than others, and many are waiting out the pandemic in some level of quarantine. Just Mexico and Brazil, the region’s largest economies, remain adamant about keeping their cities running normally, even encouraging their citizens to visit bars, restaurants and museums as their neighbors shutter businesses. Time will tell how this decision will affect startups and investments, as well as their citizens and political stability, across the region.

Uber Eats beefs up its grocery delivery offer as COVID-19 lockdowns continue

Uber Eats has beefed up grocery delivery options in three markets hard hit by the coronavirus.

Uber’s food delivery division said today it’s inked a partnership with supermarket giant Carrefour in France to provide Parisians with 30 minute home delivery on a range of grocery products, including everyday foods, toiletries and cleaning products.

The service is starting with 15 stores in the city, with Uber Eats saying it plans to scale it out rapidly nationwide “in the coming weeks”.

In Spain it’s partnered with the Galp service station brand to offer a grocery delivery service that consists of basic foods, over the counter medicines, beverages and cleaning products in 15 cities across the following 8 provinces: Badajoz, Barcelona, Cádiz, Córdoba, Madrid, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia.

Uber Eats said there will be an initial 25 Galp convenience stores participating. The service will not only be offered via the Uber Eats app but also by phone for those without access to a smartphone or Internet.

The third market it’s inked deals in is Brazil, where Uber said it’s partnering with a range of pharmacies, convenience stores and pet shops in Sao Paulo to offer home delivery on basic supplies.

“Over the counter medicines will be available from the Pague Menos chain of pharmacies, grocery products from Shell Select convenience stores and pet supplies from Cobasi — one of the largest pet shop chains in the country,” it said. “The new services will be available on the Uber Eats app, with plans to launch in other Brazil states and cities in the coming weeks.”

The grocery tie-ups are not Uber Eats’ first such deals. The company had already inked partnerships with a supermarket in Australia (Coles) and the Costcutter brand in the UK, where around 600 independent convenience stores are offered via its app.

Uber Eats also lets independent convenience stores in countries around the world self listed on its app. However the latest tie-ups put more branded meat on the bone of its grocery offer in Europe and LatAm — with the Carrefour tie-up in France marking its first partnership with a major supermarket in Europe.

It’s worth noting Spain’s food delivery rival, Glovo, has an existing grocery-delivery partnership with the French supermarket giant in markets including its home country — which likely explains why Uber Eats has opted for a different partner in Spain.

Asked whether it’s looking to further expand grocery deliveries in other markets hit by the public health emergency Uber Eats told us it’s exploring opportunities to partner with more supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers around the world.

As part of its response to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has switched all deliveries to contactless by default — with orders left at the door or as instructed by a user.

It also told us it’s providing drivers and delivery people with access to hand sanitiser, gloves and disinfectant wipes, as soon as they become available. And said it’s dispensing guidance to users of its apps on hygiene best practice and limiting the spread of the virus.

Uber Eats has previously said it will provide 14 days of financial support for drivers and delivery people who get diagnosed with COVID-19 or are personally placed in quarantine by a public health authority due to their risk of spreading the virus, with the amount based on their average earnings over the last six months or less.

The policy is due for review on April 6.

Facebook deletes Brazil President’s coronavirus misinfo post

Facebook has diverted from its policy of not fact-checking politicians in order to prevent the spread of potentially harmful coronavirus misinformation from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Facebook made the decisive choice to remove a video shared by Bolsonaro on Sunday where he claimed that “hydroxychloroquine is working in all places.” That’s despite the drug still undergoing testing to determine its effectiveness for treating COVID-19, which researchers and health authorities have not confirmed.

“We remove content on Facebook and Instagram that violates our Community Standards, which do not allow misinformation that could lead to physical harm” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. Facebook specifically prohibits false claims regarding cure, treatments, the availability of essential services, and the location or intensity of contagion outbreaks.

BBC News Brazil first reported the takedown today in Portuguese. In the removed video, Bolsonaro had been speaking to a street vendor, and the President claimed “They want to work”, in contrast to the World Health Organization’s recommendation that people practice social distancing. He followed up that “That medicine there, hydroxychloroquine, is working in all places.”

If people wrongly believe there’s an widely-effective treatment for COVID-19, they may be more reckless about going out in public, attending work, or refusing to stay in isolation. That could cause the virus to spread more quickly, defeat efforts to flatten the curve, and overrun health care systems.

This why Twitter removed two of Bolsonaro’s tweets on Sunday, as well as one from Rudy Giuliani, in order to stop the distribution of misinformation. But to date, Facebook has generally avoided acting as an arbiter of truth regarding the veracity of claims by politicians. It notoriously refuses to send blatant misinformation in political ads, including those from Donald Trump, to fact-checkers.

Last week, though, Facebook laid out that COVID-19 misinformation “that could contribute to imminent physical harm” would be directly and immediately removed as it’s done about other outbreaks since 2018, while less urgent conspiracy theories that don’t lead straight to physical harm are sent to fact-checkers that can then have the Facebook reach of those posts demoted.

Now the question is whether Facebook would be willing to apply this enforcement to Trump, who’s been criticized for spreading misinformation about the severity of the outbreak, potential treatments, and the risk of sending people back to work. Facebook is known to fear backlash from conservative politicians and citizens who’ve developed a false narrative that it discriminates against or censors their posts.

Online learning marketplace Udemy raises $50M at a $2B valuation from Japanese publisher Benesse

The internet has, for better or worse, become the default platform for people seeking information, and today one of the companies leveraging that to deliver educational content has raised some funding to fuel its next stage of growth. Udemy, which provides a marketplace offering some 150,000 different online learning courses from business analytics through to ukulele lessons, has picked up $50 million from a single investor, Benesse Holdings, the Japan-based educational publisher that has been Udemy’s partner in the country. The investment values Udemy at $2 billion post-money, it said.

This is a big jump since the startup last raised money, a $60 million round in 2016 that valued it at around $710 million (according to PitchBook data). With this round, Udemay has raised around $130 million in funding.

The plan will be to use the funding to expand all of Udemy’s business, which includes a vast array of courses for consumers that can be purchased a la carte — to date used by some 50 million students; as well as enterprise services, where Udemy works with companies like Adidas, General Mills, Toyota, Wipro, Pinterest and Lyft and others — 5,000 in all — to develop and administer subscription-based professional development courses. Udemy’s president Darren Shimkus describes this as a “Netflix-style” model, where users are presented with a dashboard listing a range of courses that they can take on demand.

Udemy will also be looking at improving how courses are delivered, as well as consider new areas it might move into more deeply to fit what Shimkus described as the biggest challenge for the company, and for the global workforce overall:

“The biggest challenge is for learners is to figure out what skills are emerging, what they can do to compete best in the global market,” he said. “We’re in a world that’s changing so quickly that skills that were valued just three or four years ago are no longer relevant. People are confused and don’t know what they should be learning.” That’s a challenge that also stands for businesses, he added, which are trying to work out what he described as their “three to five year human capital roadmap.”

The investment will also include a specific boost for Udemy’s international operations, starting with Japan but extending also to other markets where Udemy has seen strong growth, such as Brazil and India.

“We’ve worked closely with Benesse for several years, and this investment is a testament to the strength of our relationship and the opportunity ahead of us,” said Gregg Coccari, CEO of Udemy, in a statement. “Udemy is on a mission to improve lives through learning, and so is Benesse. 2020 will be a milestone year where we serve millions more students and enable thousands of businesses and governments to upskill their employees. This growth wouldn’t be possible without our expert instructors who partner with us every step of the way as we build this business.”

Benesse’s business spans instructional materials for children through to courses for adults both online and in in-person training centers — one of the better-known brands that it owns is Berlitz, which operates both virtual courses as well as a network of physical schools — and Udemy has been developing content alongside Benesse both in Japanese as well as English, Shimkus said, targeting both consumer and business markets.

“Access to the latest workplace skills is crucial for success everywhere, including Japan; and Udemy is the world’s largest marketplace enabling professional transformation. With this partnership, we envision a world where more people can continue to learn continuously throughout their lives,” said Tamotsu Adachi, Representative Director, President and CEO of Benesse Holdings Inc., in a statement. “Udemy and Benesse are incredibly synergistic businesses. This investment is the next progression in our business relationship and demonstrates our confidence in what we can accomplish together.”

Udemy’s expansion comes at a time when online education overall has generally continued to grow, although not without bumps.

Among those that compete at least in part with it, Coursera last year announced a $103 million round of funding at a $1 billion+ valuation and made its first acquisition to expand how it teaches programming and other computer science subjects. And in Asia, Byju’s in India is now valued at $8 billion after a quick succession of large growth rounds. We’ve also heard that Age of Learning, which quietly raised at a $1 billion valuation in 2016, is also gearing up for another round.

On the other hand, not all is rosy. Another big name in online learning, Udacity (not to be confused with Udemy), laid off 20% of its workforce amid a larger restructuring; and further afield, Kano — which merges online learning with DIY hardware kits — has also laid off and restructured in recent months. Meanwhile, we don’t seem to hear much these days from LinkedIn Learning, another would-be competitor that was rebranded Lynda.com after it was acquired by the social networking site (itself owned by Microsoft).

Unlike Coursera and others that aim for full degrees that are potentially aiming to disrupt higher education, Udemy focuses on short courses, either simply for the student’s own interest, or potentially for certifications from organizations that either help administer the courses or “own” the subject in question (for example, Cisco for networking certifications, or Microsoft regarding one of its software packages, or the PMI for a course related to project management).

Those courses are delivered by individuals who form the other half of Udemy’s two-sided marketplace. In the 10 years that it’s been in business, Udemy has worked with some 57,000 instructors to develop courses, and in the marketplace model, Shimkus told TechCrunch that those instructors have been netted $350 million in payments to date. (He would not disclose Udemy’s cut on those courses, nor whether the company is currently profitable.)

The company has a lot of areas that it has yet to tackle that present opportunities for how it might evolve. Working with enterprises but with a large base of consumer usage, there is, for example, a lot of scope to develop more data analytics about what is used, what is popular, and how to tailor courses in a better way to fit those models to improve outcomes and engagement. Another area potentially could see Udemy moving deeper into specific subject areas like language learning, where it offers some courses today but has a lot of scope for growing, particularly leaning on what Benesse has with Berlitz. To date, Udemy has made no acquisitions, but that is also an area that Shimkus said could be an option.

Latin America takes the global lead in VC directed to female co-founders

When Flavia Deutsch and Paula Crespi were raising a groundbreaking $1.7 million seed round for their parenting startup in Brazil, they had to turn away male investors.

“The men were already writing us checks, but the women — we had to convince them,” Deutsch explained of the seed round for Theia, which ended the year as the largest all-female founded company raise in Latin America. “For every male investor we had, we wanted one female investor as well,” Deutsch said. And for good reason.

Many studies have established that female-founded companies outperform their all-male counterparts. Boston Consulting Group reports that for every dollar a female founder or co-founder raises, she generates 2.5X more revenue than a male founder.1 First Round Capital’s research held that the female-founded companies it backed performed 63% better than all-male founding teams.2 The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s showed that return on investment from women-led teams is 35% higher than their all-male counterparts.3 AllRaise, a nonprofit promoting women in VC, found that “companies with women on their founding teams are likely to exit at least one year faster compared to the rest of the market, and the number of exits for companies with at least one female founder is growing at a faster rate year-over-year than exits for companies with only male founders.”4 Jen Neundorfer, founding partner at Jane VC, succinctly explains her fund’s thesis of investing in female founders as, “investing in an overlooked asset class that is overperforming.” After all, it’s a “trillion-dollar opportunity.”5

And in the 2020s, much of that opportunity will be in emerging markets. The first year that the largest IPOs globally came from emerging markets was 2017. Since then, it has been a straight line up and to the right. Nazar Yasin, who invests in emerging markets as the founder of Rise Capital, says, “this trend isn’t going away.” Given that most GDP growth now coming from emerging markets, where most global internet users live, “the future of market capitalization growth in the internet sector globally belongs to emerging markets.”

Latin America takes the global lead in funding women

And it just may belong to the women who start companies there.

New data from Gene Teare at Crunchbase shows that Latin America currently takes the global lead in investment dollars directed to women.

via Crunchbase

In 2019, investments into mixed female-male founding teams represented 16% of dollars invested in Latin America, 9% in the U.S. and only 8% in Europe.

This number includes a $400 million Series F into Nubank, the Brazilian challenger bank co-founded by Cristina Junqueira, who was — not for the first time — pregnant at the time of the raise. Junqueira is not only the female co-founder currently leading the largest neobank in the world, she is also the female co-founder currently leading the world’s largest venture-backed company.

via Crunchbase

Overall, total investment dollars into both mixed male-female teams and female-only teams represented 17% of total dollars invested in Latin America, 13% in the U.S. and 9% in Europe.

In terms of deal volume, mixed female-male founded teams make up 15% of investments in 2019 in Latin America, in comparison with 14% in the U.S. and 11% in Europe. One contributor is fintech. In Latin America, 35% of fintech companies have a female co-founder, 5X more than the global average of 7%.6

That said, in terms of funding all-female teams, the U.S. still leads. In Latin America, the women-only teams made up 4% of investment deals in 2019, on par with Europe but behind the U.S. average of 8%.

Read the conclusion, Women are the secret ingredient in Latin America’s outsized returns, on Extra Crunch.

Startups Weekly: Oyo’s toxicity + A farewell

Welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week I wrote about the startups we lost in 2019. Before that, I noted the defining moments of VC in 2019.

Unfortunately, this will be my last newsletter, as I am leaving TechCrunch for a new opportunity. Don’t worry, Startups Weekly isn’t going anywhere. We’ll have a new writer taking over the weekly update soon enough; in the meantime, TechCrunch editor Henry Pickavet will be at the helm. You can still get in touch with me on Twitter @KateClarkTweets.

If you’re new here, you can subscribe to Startups Weekly here. Lots of good content will be coming your way in 2020.


India’s WeWork?

TechCrunch reporter Manish Singh penned an interesting piece on the state of Indian startups this week: As Indian startups raise record capital, losses are widening (Extra Crunch membership required). In it, he claims the financial performance of India’s largest startups are cause for concern. Gems like Flipkart, BigBasket and Paytm have lost a collective $3 billion in the last year.

“What is especially troublesome for startups is that there is no clear path for how they would ever generate big profits,” he writes. “Silicon Valley companies, for instance, have entered and expanded into India in recent years, investing billions of dollars in local operations, but yet, India has yet to make any substantial contribution to their bottom lines. If that wasn’t challenging enough, many Indian startups compete directly with Silicon Valley giants, which while impressive, is an expensive endeavor.”

Manish’s story came one day after The New York Times published an in-depth report on Oyo, a tech-enabled budget hotel chain and rising star in the Indian tech community. The NYT wrote that Oyo offers unlicensed rooms and has bribed police officials to deter trouble, among other toxic practices.

Whether Oyo, backed by billions from the SoftBank Vision Fund, will become India’s WeWork is the real cause for concern. India’s startup ecosystem is likely to face a number of barriers as it grows to compete with the likes of Silicon Valley.

Follow Manish here or on Twitter for more of TechCrunch’s growing India coverage.


Venture capital highlights (it’s been a slow week)


How to find the right reporter to pitch your startup

If you’ve still not subscribed to Extra Crunch, now is the time. Longtime TechCrunch reporter and editor Josh Constine is launching a new series to teach you how to pitch your startup. In it he will examine embargoes, exclusives, press kit visuals, interview questions and more. The first of many, How to find the right reporter to pitch your startup, is online now.

Subscribe to Extra Crunch here.


#EquityPod

tc equity podcast ios 2 1

Another week, another new episode of TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, Equity. This week, we discussed a few of 2019’s largest scandals, Peloton’s strange holiday ad and the controversy over at the luggage startup Away. Listen here and be sure to subscribe, too.

For anyone wondering about changes at Equity following my departure from TechCrunch, the lovely Alex Wilhelm (founding Equity co-host) will keep the show alive and, soon enough, there will be a brand new co-host in my place. Please keep supporting the show and be sure to recommend it to all your podcast-adoring friends.

Pachama launches to support global reforestation through carbon markets

The world’s forests are ablaze, under threat from illegal logging and disappearing due to the less dramatic environmental degradation wrought by drought and other signs of climate change.

It’s part of the negative feedback loop that seems to be accelerating climate change as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, but one startup company is trying to facilitate reforestation by supporting carbon offsets that specifically target the world’s flora.

Pachama has raised $4.1 million to create a marketplace where companies can support carbon offset projects. The company is backed by some big names in tech investment, like former Uber executive Ryan Graves, through his private investment firm, Saltwater, and Chris Sacca, a prominent early investor in Uber, through his Lowercase Capital firm.

Founded by Diego Saez-Gil, a serial entrepreneur whose last company was a startup selling a “smart-suitcase,” Pachama is aiming to bring reforestation projects to the carbon markets whose impacts can be independently verified by the company’s monitoring software to ensure their ability to offset emissions.

“We were making a smart connected suitcase which got banned,” says Saez-Gil. “After that I decided to take some time off and I was quite burnt out. I wanted to do some soul searching and tried to decide what I wanted to put my efforts [into].” 

He traveled to South America and did a trip through the Amazon rain forest in Peru. It was there that Saez-Gil saw the effects of deforestation in an area that represents a huge carbon dioxide offset for the planet.

“There are about 1 billion hectares on the planet that could be reforested,” says Saez-Gil.

That opportunity — to contribute to the perpetuation of independently validated carbon markets around the world — is what convinced investors like Paul Graham, Justin Kan, Daniel Kan, Gustaf Alströmer, Peter Reinhardt, Jason Jacobs and Chris Sacca from Lowercase Capital, as well as funds such as Social+Capital, Global Founders Capital and Atomico, to contribute to the company’s $4.1 million funding.

It’s a pretty big consortium to finance what amounts to a small capital commitment (given the size of the funds under management that these investors have at their disposal), but investors are right to be a little wary.

Carbon markets are driven by policy, and policymakers have been reluctant to draft legislation that would put a high enough price on carbon emissions to make those markets viable.

Pachama’s carbon credit marketplace is launching at a pivotal moment when awareness of the climate crisis is reaching an all-time high, and businesses are increasingly looking to become carbon neutral,” said Ryan Graves, Pachama’s lead investor and new director said in a statement. “What attracted me to Pachama was the company’s use of technology to bring trust to an industry that desperately needs it, and gives the verifiable results to the purchasers of carbon credits.”

Awareness doesn’t equal political action, however, and Pachama needs the political will of both governments and consumers to move the needle on creating viable carbon trading markets.

Pachama’s business becomes profitable only when the price of carbon moves beyond $15 per ton of carbon dioxide (or similar emissions) offset. Currently, there are only two markets in the world where that threshold has been reached — the California market and Europe, according to Saez-Gil.

For Pachama’s founder, forest preservation and reforestation projects can have outsized benefits. “There are only 500 forest projects that are certified today… we need tens of thousands,” says Saez-Gil. “There are one billion hectares on the planet available for reforestation without competing with agriculture.”

The restoration of native forests can contribute to replenishing global biodiversity, and captures more carbon than cultivating forests for industrial use, but both are better than destruction to grow row crops or support animal husbandry, Saez-Gil says.  

Pachama sources projects that are approved by existing certification bodies, but offers its customers monitoring and management services through access to satellite imagery and sensors that provide information on emissions and carbon capture on reforested land.

It’s a potential solution to the problem of deforestation that’s plaguing countries like Brazil. “The government in Brazil, they want to generate income for the country,” says Saez-Gil. If carbon markets paid as much as ranching, it would reduce the need for animal husbandry and plantation farming in Brazil, Indonesia or places like Peru. 

Today, most investments in reforestation projects are done through middlemen, which increases opacity and the chance that projects are being double-counted or sold, according to Saez-Gil. Pachama has a person who is contacting forest project developers so that they can list the projects independently. Then the company verifies the offsets with satellite imaging systems.

The company currently has 23 forest projects — three in the Amazon rain forest in Brazil and Peru and projects in the U.S. in California, Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maine .

Saez-Gil has high hopes for the future of carbon markets based on demand coming, in part, from new regulations like those imposed on the airline industry.

“Airlines will have to offset part of their emissions as part of CORSIA,”  says Saez-gil. That’s an offset of 160 million tons of emission per year. “There is all this demand coming for different offsets for different  markets that will make the price go up.”

How two-year-old Loft nabbed $175M led by Andreessen Horowitz

Loft may have better product market fit in Brazil than Opendoor does in the U.S. And now the São Paulo-based property tech company has growth funding to prove it.

Andreessen Horowitz is doubling down on its first Brazil investment with Loft, a two-year-old real estate marketplace. The $175 million Series C was co-led by Vulcan Capital. 

In the U.S., sites like Opendoor give us visibility into how much your house or properties you’re interested in are worth. That transparency doesn’t exist in Latin America. 

Loft founder and co-CEO Mate Pencz describes the residential real estate market in Latin America as a $6 trillion opportunity. As it exists now, lack of data transparency around property listings results in low-quality listings, disproportionately high asking prices and prolonged selling times. This creates a painful experience for buyers, sellers and brokers. The market is locked up, but Loft thinks it can create transparency and liquidity with open data sets for property value. 

Loft has been supported by some pretty big Silicon Valley names since its genesis in 2018. Loft raised equity capital from angel investors such as Max Levchin of PayPal, Joe Lonsdale of Palantir, Opendoor founder Eric Wu, Mike Krieger of Instagram, David Vélez of Nubank and Josh Kushner of Thrive Capital, whom Pencz met during undergrad studies at Harvard. It helped that Loft was not Pencz’s first entrepreneurial rodeo — the founder started web-printing company Printi, which exited to Vistaprint in 2014 for a $25 million stake. 

Growth-stage funding will enable Loft to scale

Pencz says they’ve transacted on 1,000 properties in their key market of São Paulo, and plans to tackle new cities with the “Uber growth model” of replicating the same service in new cities, like Mexico City. Loft is currently operative in Brazil, and has big plans for Mexico in 2020. Penzc has poached the Latin American head of Uber Eats, Juan Pablo Ramos, to launch Loft’s services in Mexico City within the next two to four months. As Loft mobilizes in Mexico, this could mean trouble for Flat, an existing Opendoor clone in Mexico, which will now fight for market share against a heavily funded competitor. 

Loft’s São Paulo HQ

When it comes to marketing, Loft isn’t thinking about Facebook or SEO performance advertising. Pencz sees more value in physically integrating the Loft brand into the fabric of new neighborhoods through festival sponsorships and community events, while leveraging broker channels. “Partnering with brokers and being perceived as a positive brand with a high NPS are the two key pillars of Loft’s expansion strategy,” says Pencz. 

The founders began by physically measuring buildings and making estimates about how much houses and apartments were worth. The founders didn’t stop there — they envision the future of Loft as a one-stop shop with services like renovations, property financing for mortgages and insurance through banks. The company wants to completely upend real estate in Latin America, and those big ambitions have piqued investor interest. 

Andreessen Horowitz and Vulcan Capital co-led the Series C, with participation from QED Investors, Fifth Wall Ventures, Thrive Capital, Valor Capital and Monashees. What is a16z’s Latin America strategy?

Andreessen Horowitz general partner Alex Rampell notes that while Loft marked the firm’s entry into Brazil, the fund has been active in Latin America for a few years: a16z invested in Colombia’s delivery unicorn Rappi, Uruguayan restaurant management platform Meitre and Colombian point of sale lender ADDI. And, a16z joined in Loft’s $70 million Series B that closed in March 2019.

Rampell, who previously invested in Opendoor and sits on the board of TransferWise, says that a16z doesn’t really have an investment strategy when it comes to Latin America. Instead, the idea with Loft was that while the iBuyer Opendoor for transactional multiple listing services isn’t by any means a proprietary business model, it may work better in a country like Brazil — where buyers and sellers are slowed down by bureaucratic policies and lack of fair market value data — than in the U.S. To put it simply, Loft has better product market fit in Brazil than Opendoor does in the U.S. 

Loft hopes its customer-friendly Nubank-esque branding will win over new users 

Rampell references the U.S.’s Groupon and Korea’s Coupang for comparison. The Groupon model blew up in Asia as Coupang’s valuation reached $9 billion. Groupon rose fast and fell hard, and now its founders are on to their next entrepreneurial ventures

“There’s a lot of value in multiple listings services, and the opportunity might be better for a market like Brazil, especially if you back the right entrepreneurs — because that’s all that really matters in the end,” says Rampell. This new model that opened or pioneered at the iBuyer model is going to pop up all around the world. So VCs are figuring out the best pockets of the world for different business models, and finding the best entrepreneurs to lead these companies. The thesis for Loft’s growth funding is that Brazil is underserved on this particular macro trend. 

Loft monetizes through the sale of properties and ancillary products. Cuts from referral and partnership fees from banks or insurance companies will continue to help Loft monetize, in addition to the $275 million in capital it has raised during its two short years in existence. 

Pencz declined to comment on Loft’s valuation.

2019 Africa Roundup: Jumia IPOs, China goes digital, Nigeria becomes fintech capital

2019 brought more global attention to Africa’s tech scene than perhaps any previous year.

A high profile IPO, visits by both Jacks (Ma and Dorsey), and big Chinese startup investment energized that.

The last 12 months served as a grande finale to 10 years that saw triple digit increases in startup formation and VC on the continent.

Here’s an overview of the 2019 market events that captured attention and capped off a decade of rapid growth in African tech.

IPOs

The story of the year is the April IPO on the NYSE of Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia. This was the first listing of a VC backed tech company operating in Africa on a major global exchange —  which brought its own unpredictability.

Founded in 2012, Jumia pioneered much of its infrastructure to sell goods to consumers online in Africa.

With Nigeria as its base market, the Rocket Internet backed company created accompanying delivery and payments services and went on to expand online verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few). Jumia now sells everything from mobile-phones to diapers and offers online services such as food-delivery and classifieds.

Seven years after its operational launch, Jumia’s stock debut kicked off with fanfare in 2019, only to be followed by volatility.

The online retailer gained investor confidence out of the gate, more than doubling its $14.95 opening share price post IPO.

That lasted until May, when Jumia’s stock came under attack from short-seller Andrew Left,  whose firm Citron Research issued a report accusing the company of fraud. The American activist investor’s case was bolstered, in part, by a debate that played out across Africa’s tech ecosystem on Jumia’s legitimacy as an African startup, given its (primarily) European senior management.

The entire affair was further complicated during Jumia’s second quarter earnings call when the company disclosed a fraud perpetrated by some of its employees and sales agents. Jumia’s CEO Sacha Poignonnec emphasized the matter was closed, financially marginal and not the same as Andrew Left’s short-sell claims.

Whatever the balance, Jumia’s 2019 ups and downs cast a cloud over its stock with investors. Since the company’s third-quarter earnings-call, Jumia’s NYSE share-price has lingered at around $6 — less than half of its original $14.95 opening, and roughly 80% lower than its high.

Even with Jumia’s post-IPO rocky road, the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and is on pace to generate over $100 million in revenues in 2019 (albeit with big losses).

The company plans reduce costs by generating more revenue from higher-margin internet services, such as payments and classifieds.

There’s a fairly simple equation for Jumia to rebuild shareholder confidence in 2020: avoid scandals, increase revenues over losses. And now that the company’s publicly traded — with financial reporting requirements — there’ll be four earnings calls a year to evaluate Jumia’s progress. 

Jumia may not be the continent’s standout IPO for much longer. Events in 2019 point to Interswitch becoming the second African digital company to list on a global exchange in 2020.  The Nigerian fintech firm confirmed to TechCrunch in November it had reached a billion-dollar unicorn valuation, after a (reported) $200 million investment by Visa. 

Founded in 2002 by Mitchell Elegbe, Interswitch created much of the initial infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s (then) predominantly cash-based economy. Interswitch has been teasing a public listing since 2016, but delayed it for various reasons. With the company’s billion-dollar valuation in 2019, that pause is likely to end.

“An [Interswitch] IPO is still very much in the cards; likely sometime in the first half of 2020,” a source with knowledge of the situation told TechCrunch. 

China-Africa goes digital

2019 was the year when Chinese actors pivoted to African tech. China is known for its strategic relationship with Africa based (largely) on trade and infrastructure. Over the last 10 years, the country has been less engaged in the continent’s digital-scene.

china africa techThat was until a torrent of investment and partnerships this past year.

July saw Chinese-owned Opera raise $50 million in venture spending to support its growing West African digital commercial network, which includes browser, payments and ride-hail services.

In August, San Francisco and Lagos-based fintech startup Flutterwave partnered with Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba’s Alipay to offer digital payments between Africa and China.

In September, China’s Transsion  — the largest smartphone seller in Africa — listed in an IPO on Shanghai’s new STAR Market. The company raised ≈ $394 million, some of which it is directing toward venture funding and operational expansion in Africa.

The last quarter of 2019 brought a November surprise from China in African tech. Over 15 Chinese investors placed over $240 million in three rounds. Transsion backed consumer payments startup PalmPay raised a $40 million seed, stating its goal to become “Africa’s largest financial services platform.”

Chinese investors also backed Opera-owned OPay’s $120 million raise and East-African trucking logistics company Lori Systems’ (reported) $30 million Series B.

In the new year, TechCrunch will continue to cover the business arc of this surge in Chinese tech investment in Africa. There’ll surely be a number of fresh macro news-points to develop, given the debate (and critique) of China’s role in Africa.

Nigeria and fintech

On debate, the case could be made that 2019 was the year when Nigeria become Africa’s unofficial capital for fintech investment and digital finance startups.

Kenya has held this title hereto, with the local success and global acclaim of its M-Pesa mobile-money product. But more founders and VCs are opting for Nigeria as the epicenter for digital finance growth on the continent.Nigeria naira

A rough tally of 2019 TechCrunch coverage — including previously mentioned rounds — pegs fintech related investment in the West African country at around $400 million over the last 12 months. That’s equivalent to roughly one-third of all startup VC raised for the entire continent in 2018, according to Partech stats.

From OPay to PalmPay to Visa — startups, big finance companies and investors are making Nigeria home-base for their digital finance operations and outward expansion in Africa.

The founder of early-stage payment startup ChipperCash, Ham Serunjogi, explained the imperative to operate in the West African country. “Nigeria is the largest economy and most populous country in Africa. Its fintech industry is one of the most advanced in Africa, up there with Kenya  and South Africa,” he told TechCrunch in May.

When all the 2019 VC numbers are counted, it will be worth matching up Nigeria to Kenya to see how the countries compared for fintech specific investment over the last year.

Acquisitions

Tech acquisitions continue to be somewhat rare in Africa, but there were several to note in 2019. Two of the continent’s powerhouse tech incubators joined forces in September, when Nigerian innovation center and seed-fund CcHub acquired Nairobi based iHub, for an undisclosed amount.

CChub ihub Acquisition

The acquisition brought together Africa’s most powerful tech hubs by membership networks, volume of programs, startups incubated and global visibility. It also elevated CcHub’s Bosun Tijani standing across Africa’s tech ecosystem, as the CEO of the new joint-entity, which also has a VC arm.

CcHub CEO Bosun Tijani1

CcHub/iHub CEO Bosun Tijani

In other acquisition activity, French television company Canal+ acquired the ROK film studio from Nigerian VOD company IROKOtv, for an undisclosed amount. The deal put ROK founder and producer Mary Njoku in charge of a new organization with larger scope and resources.

Many outside Africa aren’t aware that Nigeria’s Nollywood is the Hollywood of the continent and one of the largest film industries (by production volume) in the world. Canal+ told TechCrunch it looks to bring Mary and the Nollywood production ethos to produce content in French speaking African countries.

Other notable 2019 African tech takeovers included Kenyan internet company BRCK’s acquisition of internet provider Surf, Nigerian digital-lending startup OneFi’s Amplify buy and Merck KGaa’s purchase of Kenya-based online healthtech company ConnectMed.

Moto ride-hail mania

In 2019, Africa’s motorcycle ride-hail market — worth an estimated $4 billion — saw a flurry of investment and expansion by startups looking to scale on-demand taxi services. Uber and Bolt got into the motorcycle taxi business in Africa in 2018.

Ampersand Africa e motorcycle

Ampersand in Rwanda

A number of local and foreign startups have continued to grow in key countries, such as Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya.

A battle for funding and market-share emerged in Nigeria in 2019, between key moto ride-hail startups Max.ng, Gokada, and Opera owned ORide.

The on-demand motorcycle market in Africa has attracted foreign investment and moved toward EV development. In May, MAX.ng raised a $7 million Series A round with participation from Yamaha and is using a portion to pilot renewable energy powered e-motorcycles in Africa.

In August, the government of Rwanda announced a national policy to phase out gas-motorcycle taxis altogether in favor of e-motos, in partnership with early-stage EV startup Ampersand.

New funds

The year 2019 saw several new funding initiatives for Africa’s startups. Senegalese VC investor Marieme Diop helped spearhead Dakar Network Angels, a seed-fund for startups in French-speaking Africa — or 24 of the continent’s 54 countries.

Africinvest teamed up with Cathay Innovation to announce the Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund, a $100+ million capital pool aimed at Series A to C-stage startup investments in fintech, logistics, AI, agtech and edutech.

Accion Venture Lab launched a $24 million fintech fund open to African startups.

And Naspers offered more details on who can pitch to its 1.4 billion rand (≈$100 million) Naspers Foundry fund and made its first investment in online cleaning services company SweepSouth.

Closed up shop

Like any tech ecosystem, not every startup in Africa killed it or even continued to tread water in 2019. Two e-commerce companies — DealDey in Nigeria and Afrimarket in Ivory Coast — closed up digital shop.

Southern Africa’s Econet Media shut down its Kwese TV digital entertainment business in August.

And South Africa based, Pan-African focused cryptocurrency payment startup Wala ceased operations in June. Founder Tricia Martinez named the continent’s poor infrastructure as one of the culprits to shutting down. A possible signal to the startup’s demise could have been its 2017 ICO, where Wala netted only 4% of its $30 million token-offering.

Africa’s startups go global

2019 saw more startups expand products and business models developed in Africa to new markets abroad. In March, Flexclub — a South African venture that matches investors and drivers to cars for ride-hailing services — announced its expansion to Mexico in a partnership with Uber.

In May, ExtraCrunch profiled three African founded fintech startups — Flutterwave, Migo and ChipperCash — developing their business models strategically in Africa toward plans to offer their products in other regions.

By December, Migo (formerly branded Mines) had announced its expansion to Brazil on a $20 million Series B raise.

2020 and beyond

As we look to what could come in the new year and decade for African tech, it’s telling to look back. Ten years ago, there were a lot of “if” questions on whether the continent’s ecosystem could produce certain events: billion dollar startup valuations, IPOs on major exchanges, global expansion, investment from the world’s top VCs.

All those questionable events of the past have become reality in African tech, even if some of them are still in low abundance.

There’s no crystal ball for any innovation ecosystem — not the least Africa’s — but there are several things I’ll be on the lookout for in 2020 and beyond.

Two In the near term, start with what Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey may do around Bitcoin and cryptocurrency on his return to Africa (lookout for an upcoming TechCrunch feature on this).

I’ll also follow the next-phase of e-commerce in Africa, which could pit Jumia more competitively against DHL’s Africa eShop, Opera and China’s Alibaba (which hasn’t yet entered Africa in full).

On a longer-term basis, a development to follow is how the continent’s first wave of millionaire and billionaire tech-founders could disrupt dynamics around politics, power, and philanthropy in Africa —  hopefully for the better.

More notable 2019 Africa-related coverage @TechCrunch