La Belle Vie wants to compete with Amazon Prime Now in Paris

French startup La Belle Vie announced a new funding round of $6.5 million earlier this week (€5.5 million). Julien Mangeard, Thibaut Faurès Fustel de Coulanges, Louis Duclert, Kima Ventures and Shake-Up Factory participated in the founding round.

Online grocery shopping is becoming quite competitive in Paris. You can order groceries from Amazon using Amazon Prime Now. And all the traditional supermarkets are launching or relaunching services to order and receive groceries within a couple of hours — Carrefour Livraison Express, Franprix’s mobile app, etc.

But all those services aren’t necessarily designed for this kind of offering. With Franprix’s app for instance, a rider is going to pick up your groceries in the nearest store and bring them to you. With Amazon Prime Now, Amazon has a big warehouse in the North of Paris filled with Kindles, books and tomatoes.

La Belle Vie wants to focus exclusively on your groceries and optimize all the steps. It starts with a big inventory. La Belle Vie sells you basic groceries, organic stuff, meat, fish and vegetables. Last year, the company acqui-hired 62degrés to sell fresh prepared meals too.

La Belle Vie has developed all its tools from scratch, including its ERP, a warehouse management service and a delivery management service. In 2017, the startup generated $3.5 million in sales (€3 million) in sales.

With this funding round, the company plans to launch a second warehouse in Paris and new cities, starting with Lyon. But the best part is that you can order croissants without going to the boulangerie — finally a croissants-as-a-service startup.

Trump reportedly pushed USPS to double Amazon’s shipping rates

According to new reporting from The Washington Post, President Trump personally pushed United States Postal Service head Megan Brennan to jack up shipping prices on Amazon and other firms.

The story comes from unnamed sources, who suggest that, thus far, the postmaster general has held out against pressure from the president. If enacted, the new pricing structure would likely cost the online retailer and others billions. 

Amazon has been in Trump’s crosshairs from some time, of course. In late March, he took to Twitter to personally call out a “scam” he believed was costing the USPS “billions,” writing, “If the P.O. ‘increased its parcel rates, Amazon’s shipping costs would rise by $2.6 Billion.’ This Post Office scam must stop. Amazon must pay real costs (and taxes) now!”

Brennan has reportedly pushed back on the notion that deals with companies like Amazon have been a bad deal for the postal service, offering evidence of the upsides of such partnerships in meetings with the president. She has also noted that such multiyear contracts wouldn’t be easy to break.

But Trump’s criticism of Amazon clearly has a personal element. Here’s a nice compendium of the many times he’s gone after the company and its owner Jeff Bezos on Twitter — at least through late-March. The criticism really started to hit its stride around 2015. Bezos, of course, also own The Washington Post, a paper Trump has regularly called out for reporting “fake news.” 

Further clouding all of this is the fact that the USPS hasn’t released the specifics of its pricing deals with Amazon, for fear of given competing delivery services “an unfair advantage.” It has, however, insisted that it’s made money on its deals with Amazon, in spite of the fact that the service reported a $2.7 billion loss in 2017.

Southeast Asia’s Carro raises $60M for its automotive classifieds and car financing service

Carro, an automotive classifieds service and car financing startup based in Singapore, has closed a $60 million Series B round to scale its business in Southeast Asia.

The deal was co-led by SoftBank Ventures Korea, Insignia Ventures — the firm from ex-Sequoia Asia partner Yinglan Tan — and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital Group. Other participants include IDG Ventures India founder Manika Arora (via his family fund) and existing Carro backers Venturra,
Singtel Innov8, Golden Gate Ventures and Alpha JWC.

Carro raised a $12 million Series A round in March 2017. This latest capital takes it to $78 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase.

The 2.5-year-old company said in an announcement that $250 million of vehicles were sold last year across its three markets: Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. That’s more than double the $120 million it claimed in 2016. Last March, Carro introduced its Genie Finance underwriting business, and over its first year, it claims to have originated over $100 million in loans while amassing a loan book of nearly $40 million.

Carro CEO Aaron Tan previously spent time at Singtel Innov8 and is one of a trio of co-founders. Tan told TechCrunch that the capital will initially be spent growing Carro’s business in Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, but further down the line, there’s a plan for expansion.

“The exact markets are still to be determined but it may be a small setup in Japan and other sources of cars,” he added.

Carro has already expanded in terms of services. Initially a vehicle marketplace, it launched Genie Finance and has also forayed into insurance brokerage and road-side assistance. It recently introduced a service that completes vehicle sales in 60 minutes — Carro Express — which it said is now available in 30 locations across Southeast Asia.

“We will double down on our online marketplaces and financing in emerging markets this year. Ultimately, we want to improve the experience of selling and buying a car, as well as provide access to capital to the next billion people, which will improve the quality of lives,” Tan said in a statement.

Carro is rivaled by a number of startups, including BeliMobilGue in Indonesia, Carsome, iCar Asia and Rocket Internet’s Carmudi, although with its new raise in the bank Carro is the best-funded by some margin.

iCar Asia, which is managed by Malaysian venture builder Catcha, raised $19 million last November. This year has seen Carsome — which covers Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand — raise a $19 million Series B, BeliMobilGue — Indonesia-only — raise $3.7 million and Carmudi land $10 million.

In the case of Carmudi, the business has retrenched itself. At its peak it covered over 20 markets worldwide across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, but today its focus is on Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Carro’s monster raise follows another notable deal in Southeast Asia today which saw Carousell close a Series C round worth $85 million. The firm added backing from new investors DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest bank, and EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board.

Southeast Asia-based mobile listings startup Carousell raises $85M

Carousell, the Singapore-based mobile listing service that operates across Southeast Asia, has pulled in an $85 million Series C fund as it seeks to strengthen its business among the region’s competitive e-commerce landscape before expanding globally.

The round was co-led by existing investor Rakuten Ventures and EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board. Other participants included returning investors 500 Startups, Golden Gate Ventures and Sequoia India as well as new investor DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest bank with over $330 billion in assets.

TechCrunch previously reported that Carousell had agreed on the round last October, when it was $70-$80 million. We understand that it remained opened for strategic investors, before finally closing earlier this year. When asked in October if it had invested in Carousell, DBS said it hadn’t so it potentially came on board recently; Tech In Asia previously reported that EDBI became a Carousell investor in 2017.

This new round means that six-year-old Carousell has now raised over $110 million, according to Crunchbase. It closed a $35 million Series B in October 2016.

“It’s been six years since I made my partners very angry when I decided to do a startup, so it’s great to again get the validation of our investors,” co-founder and CEO Siu Rui Quek joked in an interview with TechCrunch. “Six years ago it was mobile, now we’re going into an AI-first world [with other challenges such as] how do we make payments a lot more frictionless.”

Carousell’s core business is a consumer-to-consumer sales which, like a listings site, lets people sell unwanted items to each other. To date, the platform has helped sell over 50 million items and today it has 144 million listings. In recent years, it has fanned out to offer more verticals that include cars, property, jobs, services and finance.

The primary C2C portion of the business remains free, but the company has begun to monetize over the past several quarters, Quek explained.

Its revenue streams include advertising and partnerships — such as financial services and travel insurance — promoted listing and ‘spotlight’ ads for sellers, cost per click ads, and certain premium verticals, including automotive, real estate and more.

Carousell co-founder and CEO Siu Rui Quek

Living with e-commerce giants

While its offering is different since it centers around person-to-person sales, Carousell more generally competes with e-commerce unicorns Alibaba-owned Lazada, Sea’s Shopee, and Alibaba’s Aliexpress, as well as Tokopedia (yup, also funded by Alibaba) in Indonesia.

Quek said, however, played up the role of these straight-up e-commerce firms.

“They serve an important part of the system, they’re very complementary,” he explained. “For example, when Lazada runs a big sale, we’re quite happy because people will have unwanted items or things to sell later.”

“Lots of e-commerce guys have come [to Southeast Asia] but we continue to grow,” he added.

Figuring out just how large Carousell is in Southeast Asia isn’t all that easy. The company doesn’t talk about GMV. Quek said the number isn’t relevant — it doesn’t take payment for consumer-to-consumer sales, and advertising/services are major income streams — although sources last year suggested Carousell’s GMV could be around $5 billion.

Considering Carousell business is different to the others, that number is impressive. Shopee claimed $1.6 billion GMV during its most recent quarter — which would be $6.4 billion annually — while Lazada no longer reveals its figures but claims to be larger.

Back to topics that Carousell does talk about, and global expansion remains something of interest to the team — which hails from Singapore’s NUS; making them arguably Singapore’s first home-grown startup.

“We do have global ambitions as a company, but the focus is really still cementing our leadership in Southeast Asia. It’s such an exciting region, it’s still nascent and there’s still a lotto work for us to do in the grand scheme of things,” said Quek.

That discussion about moving outside of the region is likely to happen in “the next year or so,” he added.

Hiring is the single biggest challenge

For now though, Carousell is focused on growing its position in Southeast Asia, and in particular expanding its premium offerings — automotive, real estate and partnerships — beyond Singapore and into markets like Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, and Thailand. The startup is also keen to grow its engineering chops, especially around AI which helps it match buyers and sellers.

“Hiring is extremely difficult,” Quek explained. “The single biggest focus for me and my team is going back into the weeds to find great talent. We already have over 100 product engineers covering 19 nationalities, we’ve got to bring people in from across the world.”

Beyond an HQ in Singapore, Carousell has been pragmatic in opening up offices where it can find talent. There’s a team of 20 in Taiwan and a small office of 10 engineers in Vietnam, too, while it has made three acquihires to bring in talent and expand its business. Those have been case-by-case, Quek said, so we shouldn’t expect the company to necessary go out and make more acquisitions following this new round of investment.

“Acquisitions are not a specific stream we’re deliberate about at this point – -but we’re definitely keen to see if opportunistic acquisitions might come about,” he said.

Finally, with Carousell now one of Singapore’s best-funded local startups — with influential bank DBS on its side, too — there’s likely to be talk about potential exits. Sea, formerly Garena, held a rare Southeast Asia IPO in the US last year, and Hong Kong is heating up as a tech listing destination with the likes of Xiaomi and Singapore’s Razer filing there.

For now, though, Quek said that isn’t a thought he or his team are giving time to.

“There are no plans for an IPO, we’re still super excited about the long-term opportunities and building on the mission,” he said. “We always say we are less than one percent done.”

iZettle, the ‘Square of Europe’, plans IPO to raise around $227M, valuing it at $1.1B

The strong climate for tech IPOs at the moment is leading yet more mature startups to set up their own plans to list, and the latest development on that front is coming out Sweden. iZettle, the payments and small business financial services startup that is often referred to as the “Square of Europe,” with some 413,000 business customers, today confirmed plans to list on Nasdaq in Stockholm. The company plans to raise 2 billion Swedish kronor ($227 million at current rates), giving it an estimated valuation of about SEK10 billion ($1.1 billion).

Jacob deGeer, iZettle’s co-founder and CEO, said in an interview that the plan is to use the proceeds to “execute on our ambitious growth strategy” both by continuing to serve small and medium businesses but also by turning its focus also to larger merchants and other companies in Europe and Latin America, the two markets where iZettle is currently active.

The company is currently operating at a loss, but it’s growing quickly with that loss narrowing. In its prospectus, iZettle said it would consolidated net revenue (gross revenue less interchange and card scheme fees) growth of at least 40 percent annually, with profit — specifically, positive consolidated Ebitda — “by the year ended December 31, 2020.”

“Our growth is driven by two factors,” DeGeer said in an email interview, “an increase in the number of active users and improved user engagement. Our strategy going forward is to grow our merchant base in existing markets as well as shift the mix towards slightly larger merchants, though our focus will continue to remain on small businesses.” 

iZettle notes that the listing would happen sometime in 2018 but has not yet specified an exact date.

Along with the IPO announcement, iZettle has published its most up-to-date financials, which confirm that the company is still operating at a loss, but with that margin shrinking as its revenues continue to grow. In the first three months of 2018, the company reported negative earnings before tax, depreciation and amortization of SEK73 million ($8.3 million), slightly narrower than its negative Ebitda of SEK78 million ($8.8 million). More details on its financials below.

iZettle’s announcement puts to rest IPO speculation that has been swirling around for a while now, which reached a crescendo pitch last week. It also comes less than five months after the company raised its last funding — $47 million at a $950 million valuation.

A number of strong tech IPOs so far this year point to a sympathetic climate for more to list, rather than stay private and raise more growth funds that way. “We were founded eight years ago and have grown from a start-up to a mature fintech company,” DeGeer said. “Our shareholders and board believe that it is now an appropriate time to broaden the shareholder base and list the company. We believe that the listing will support our continued growth, our strategy and provide us with improved access to capital markets.” 

Similar to Square, iZettle started out life as a service for small businesses and sole traders to take card payments by turning their mobile devices into card readers, taking a cut on each transaction, before later expanding from that into a wider range of services to help those people run other aspects of their businesses, from inventory management and ordering through to accounting and taking out business loans, and most recently to helping businesses build out e-commerce operations online, beyond the physical point of sale.

Some $36 million of the funding that it has raised — around $235 million in total to-date — has also been used to look into newer areas of tech, specifically artificial intelligence, and how that can be applied both to helping iZettle run its business and develop new products for its customers.

So far, the company has been growing strong, but despite the push into multiple alternative revenue streams, the bulk of its revenues remain in payments. In the first three months of this year, iZettle reported gross revenues of SEK258 million ($29 million), versus SEK187 million for the same period a year ago. Of the SEK258 million, SEK209 million came from transactions, SEK31 million came from hardware and only SEK18 million came from software and services. “In the long term, the Company targets a consolidated Ebitda net margin (defined as Ebitda as a percentage of Net revenue) of 30-35 percent,” the company notes.

Alibaba buys Rocket Internet’s Daraz to expand its e-commerce empire into South Asia

Alibaba has expanded its e-commerce empire into South Asia after the Chinese internet giant acquired Daraz in an undisclosed deal.

Daraz was founded in 2012 by Rocket Internet and today it operates in Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Rocket said in a statement that Alibaba has acquired the entire Daraz business. The deal is the second time Alibaba has bought a Rocket company, the first being Lazada in Southeast Asia two years ago.

Rumors of a deal have been rife for the past couple of months, with Bloomberg reporting in March that acquisition talks were ongoing.

The deal is part of Alibaba’s second wave of international expansions which see it enter South Asia.

The company initially focused on India — where it has backed Paytm — and Southeast Asia with Lazada, but this year it has spread its wings into lower profile but hugely populous countries in South Asia. Pakistan, for example, has a population of over 190 million. The acquisition of Daraz follows a fintech investment from Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial, which runs Alipay and other Alibaba financial services.

Back in March, Ant paid $184.5 million for a 45 percent stake in Telenor Microfinance Bank, a fintech division from Norwegian operator Telenor, which operates Pakistan’s second largest telco. That one-two punch of e-commerce and fintech (particularly payments) is a common move from Alibaba-Ant, which has made similar deals in India and across Southeast Asia.

Beyond Pakistan, it looks like Alibaba is also eying nearby Bangladesh, which has a popular of over 160 million and rising internet adoption.

According to reports last month, the Chinese firm is pushing to buy a 20 percent chunk of payment firm bKash, a move that would again push its reach deeper into South Asia.

Southeast Asia’s ShopBack moves into personal finance with its first acquisition

Singapore-based e-commerce startup ShopBack came on the radar when it raised $25 million last November, and now the company is making its first acquisition.

ShopBack said today it has picked up Seedly, a fellow Singaporean startup that offers a personal finance service, in an undisclosed deal. The entire team will move over and Seedly will continue as a business under ShopBack’s management.

The ShopBack service is an e-commerce aggregator that helps online sellers reach customers and incentivizes consumers with cash-back rewards. Seedly, meanwhile, is designed to simplify finance for millennials and young people across Southeast Asia. It was founded two years ago and raised seed funding from East Ventures (also a ShopBack investor) and NUS Enterprise in 2016, it also graduated Singapore bank DBS’s “hotspot” pre-accelerator program.

The deal is a fairly rare example of a smaller startup in Southeast Asia being acquired by a larger one for more than just talent, and there seems to be plenty of potential synergies between the two services.

ShopBack aspires to have close touchpoints with how young consumers in Southeast Asia spend their money online, so helping them to manage it plays into that focus. Meanwhile, Southeast Asia isn’t blessed with many local consumer finance services — despite more than 330 million internet users — so the Seedly business can benefit from ShopBack’s regional presence for expansion.

The announcement of the deal comes 24 hours after ShopBack rival iPrice, which aggregates e-commerce in Southeast Asia, picked up a $4 million investment led by chat app company Line’s VC arm.

ShopBack has raised over $40 million to date from investors that include Credit Saison, AppWorks, Intouch, SoftBank Ventures Korea and Singtel Innov8.

Southeast Asia e-commerce startup iPrice raises $4M led by chat app Line’s VC arm

iPrice, a service that aggregates Southeast Asia’s e-commerce websites in a single destination, has pulled in new funding led by messaging app Line’s VC arm, Line Ventures.

The round is officially undisclosed, but TechCrunch understands from a source close to negotiations that it is worth around $4 million. Existing iPrice backers Cento Ventures (formerly known as Digital Media Partners) and Venturra Capital also took part in this round.

iPrice, which has its HQ in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, previously raised a $4 million Series A in late 2016. Today’s investment takes the startup to $9.7 million raised overall.

The company was started in 2015 in response to the growing number of e-commerce companies in Southeast Asia, and in particular the increasing number of vertical-specific options. Even though there are some giants, such as Alibaba’s Lazada, the region has a number of smaller players that can struggle for visibility. iPrice was initially a coupon site, before pivoting into an aggregation model which essentially acts as a destination for shoppers to then go on and purchase items from e-commerce retailers.

In a way, it is much like flight booking sites — such as Skyscanner — which ask a customer where they want to go before scouring the web for the best travel deals. iPrice does this for e-commerce in Southeast Asia. It hopes that simplifying things through a single destination portal can make it the go-to online buying site for the region, which now has over 330 million internet users — more than the population of the U.S. — according to a recent report co-authored by Google.

iPrice on the web, although its mobile app and mobile browser version are more used

Today, iPrice claims to offer over 500 million SKUs across Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. The company said that over 50 million people visited its site since December 2016, and this year alone it is aiming to grow to 150 million visitors.

The company said electronics has been a particular driver while, outside of working with e-commerce firms to drive business, it has developed a B2B business with media groups and brands, including Mediacorp in Singapore and Samsung in Indonesia, who pay to tailor its service. Last year, it developed an insightful report on the state of e-commerce in Southeast Asia.

The deal makes sense for Line Ventures because of the unique vantage point that iPrice occupies, while it also ties into parent company Line’s desire to go beyond being a messaging app and build out a mobile ecosystem. That’s seen it develop services such as food delivery, ride-hailing, payments and e-commerce, although it has struggled in the latter category. A relationship with iPrice might give it greater insight for future e-commerce ventures in Southeast Asia.

Instagram quietly launches payments for commerce

Get ready to shop the ‘Gram. Instagram just stealthily added a native payments feature to its app for some users. It lets you register a debit or credit card as part of a profile, set up a security pin, then start buying things without ever leaving Instagram. Not having to leave for a separate website and enter payment information any time you want to purchase something could make Instagram a much bigger player in commerce.

TechCrunch reader Genady Okrain first tipped us off to the payment feature. When we asked Instagram, a spokesperson confirmed that native payments for booking appointments like at restaurants or salons is now live for a limited set of partners.

One of the first equipped is dinner reservation app Resy. Some of its clients’ Instagram Pages now offer this native payment for booking. And in the future, Instagram says you can expect direct payments for things like movie tickets through the app. Instagram initially announced in March 2017 that “we’ll roll out the ability to book a service with a business directly from their profile later this year,” but never mentioned native payments.

Instagram’s native appointment booking

We’ve confirmed that the payment settings are now visible; some, but not all, users in the U.S. have it while at least some in the U.K. don’t. A tap through to the terms of service reveals that Instagram Payments are backed by Facebook’s Payments rules.

With its polished pictures and plethora of brands, shopping through Instagram could prove popular and give businesses a big new reason to advertise on the app. If they can get higher conversion rates because people don’t quit in the middle of checkout as the fill in their payment info, brands might prefer to push people to buy via Instagram.

Instagram’s existing Shoppable Tags feature forces you out to a business’ website to make a purchase, unlike the new payments feature

Facebook started dabbling in native commerce around 2013, and eventually started rolling out peer-to-peer payments through Messenger. But native payment for shopping is still in closed beta in the chat app. It’s unclear if peer-to-peer payments might come to Instagram, but having a way to add a credit or debit card on file is a critical building block to that feature.

It’s possible that the payments option will work with Instagram’s “Shoppable Tags,” which first started testing in 2016 to let you see which products were in a post and tap through to buy them on the brand’s site. Since then, Instagram has partnered with storefront platforms BigCommerce and Shopify to get their clients hooked up, and expanded the feature to more countries in March. For now, though, none of Instagram’s previous shopping feature partners like Warby Parker or Kate Spade let you checkout within Instagram, and still send you to their site.

But the whole point of Instagram not allowing links in captions is to keep you in a smooth, uninterrupted browsing flow. Getting booted out to the web to buy something broke that. Instagram Payments could make impulse buys much quicker, enticing more businesses to get on board. Even if Instagram takes no cut of the revenue, brands are likely to boost ad spend to get their shoppable posts seen by more people if the native payments mean more of them actually complete a purchase.

Instagram isn’t the only one who sees this potential. Snapchat started testing its own native payments and checkout feature in February.

Birchbox ownership changes hands after beauty business does recap

Beauty-in-a-box brand Birchbox has changed up its ownership structure.

The New York-based startup, which has raised almost $90 million in funding from noted venture firms like Accel Partners and First Round Capital, has a new majority owner in hedge fund Viking Global, sources confirm to TechCrunch.

First reported by Recode, Birchbox made some changes to its cap table after failing to find a suitable buyer. We are told that the details are still getting finalized, but that Viking is expected to take on a majority stake after investing about $15 million. Viking previously led Birchbox’s $60 million funding round in 2014.

Birchbox did not respond for comment. 

Birchbox has managed to become a household name amongst its targeted demographic of female millennials, but its business has faced challenges amidst growing competition. Ipsy, Glossybox, Sephora and Allure Magazine are amongst the many beauty sample box subscriptions that consumers can buy.

Its boxes retail for just $10 per month. And while they are able to find discounts and partnerships with beauty brands eager to partner with Birchbox, it can still be hard to keep distribution costs down, while also spending on sales and marketing to grow the business. Birchbox hopes that consumers will buy more full-sized products off of its website.

Recaps are not uncommon, but they are usually a sign that a startup is struggling. However, it is an opportunity for Birchbox to raise cash and remain in business while it figures out a longer-term plan.

Birchbox was founded in 2010 by Harvard Business alums Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp. Barna left Birchbox and is now an investor at First Round Capital. Beauchamp remains CEO.