Sequoia reveals first cohort for its ‘Surge’ accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia

Back in January, Sequoia India announced plans for its first early-stage startup accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia, and today the firm announced its first cohort of 17 startups.

To recap, the program — which is called Surge — gives each startup a $1.5 million check and participation in a four-month program that’s split across India and Singapore, as well as the wider Sequoia global presence in China and San Francisco.

The program kicked off last month, but the startups were only unveiled for the first time today — here they are:

  • Azani Sports: a ‘full stack’ sports clothing startup based in India that sells online and through selected high street retails
  • Bobobox: a capsule hotel company based in Indonesia
  • Bulbul: a live-streaming service with a focus on e-commerce across India
  • DancingMind: a Singapore startup that uses VR to enable remote for stroke victims and patients of debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s
  • Doubtnut: an India-based education startup that uses photos, videos and AI
  • Flynote: a travel booking service with a focus on personalized trips
  • Hippo Video: a platform developing, editing and analyzing marketing and sales videos
  • InterviewBit Academy: a computer science training and development platform in India — that’s not unlike recent Y Combinator graduate Skill-Lync
  • Khatabook: an accounting service for SMEs in India that already claims 120,000 weekly users
  • Qoala: a micro-insurance startup based in Indonesia, which competes with rivals like PasarPolis — which is backed by three of Indonesia’s unicorns
  • ShopUp: a social commerce startup that helps sellers in Bangladesh do business through Facebook — that’s a similar concept to established Indian startups Meesho (another YC alum) and LimeRoad which enable sellers on WhatsApp
  • Skillmatics: a startup headquartered in India that develops learning games for pre-school and primary school kids aged under 10
  • Telio: a b2b commerce platform that aims to digitize the process of brands and wholesalers selling to retailers
  • Uiza: a Singapore-Vietnam startup that lets publishers and companies develop their own video infrastructure independent of platforms like YouTube
  • Vybes: an e-commerce platform for social media influencers that’s based out of Singapore
  • Zenyum: a startup that provides invisible braces for consumers in Southeast Asia at a lower cost than traditional alternatives

There’s one additional startup which is being kept ‘under the radar’ for now, Sequoia said.

Sequoia India managing director Shailendra Singh previously told TechCrunch that Surge would support a ‘curated’ selections of fellow VCs who could invest alongside in the cohort alongside the firm, and Sequoia said that the 17 startups have attracted a total of $36 million in investment. A spokesperson also pointed out that five of the selection have at least one female co-founders, which is almost certainly above average for the region although it is tricky to get reliable data covering India and (in particular) Southeast Asia.

Surge is an interesting effort for Sequoia, which has traditionally played in post-seed and growth stages of the investment cycle. Sequoia closed its most recent fund for India and Southeast Asia at $695 million last year, and it also has access to a globally active ‘growth’ fund that is targeted at $8 billion. Reports have suggested that Surge will get its own sparkling new $200 million fund, which would make a lot of sense given the potential conflict and confusion of investing via its main fund. But the firm is declining to comment on that possibility for now.

One major addition to the program that has been confirmed, however, is Rajan Anandan, the executive who previously ran Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia and is a well-known angel investor. His arrival was announced earlier this month and he will lead the Surge initiative.

His recruitment is a major win for Sequoia, which is betting that Surge’s early stage push will reap it richer dividends in India and Southeast Asia. That part remains to be seen, but certainly, there is a dearth of early-stage programs in both regions compared to other parts of the world.

Amazon China to close local marketplace and place more focus on cross-border

Amazon has finally given up the fight with Chinese online shopping giants to capture the domestic market. On Thursday, the Seattle-based ecommerce company announced it will shut down its marketplace on Amazon.cn, which connects mainland Chinese buyers and sellers, while other units of its local venture will stay intact.

“We are working closely with our sellers to ensure a smooth transition and to continue to deliver the best customer experience possible,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch, adding that this segment of the business will end on July 18.

The partial retreat, first reported by Reuters and Bloomberg, is indicative of the relentless ecommerce race in China where Alibaba and JD.com dominate, with newcomer Pinduoduo closing on the incumbents’ heels.

But this is hardly the end of Amazon’s China story. The American giant has over the years attracted waves of cross-border sellers, many of whom have hailed from China’s traditional export industry looking to sell cheaply manufactured goods to consumers around the world for lucrative margins. To date, Chinese export suppliers are able to sell to 12 countries that include India, Japan, Australia, Canada, the United States, and five Western European countries.

Other global ecommerce players also have their eyes set on the massive raft of goods flowing out of China, though each comes with a different geographic focus. Alibaba-backed Lazada, for example, is the bridge between Chinese merchants and Southeast Asian shoppers, while Jumia, which just listed in the U.S., exports from China to Africa.

“The biggest appeal [of exporting through Amazon] is the low costs because we are close to a lot of supply chain resources,” a Shenzhen-based vendor selling water-resistant placemats on Amazon told TechCrunch.

In the meantime, China has developed a big craving for imported goods as middle-class consumers now demand higher quality products. Amazon is in the import business, too, although it lags far behind more entrenched players such as Alibaba, of which Tmall Global takes the lead with 29 percent market share in the cross-border ecommerce space according to data from iResearch, dwarfing Amazon’s 6 percent.

That could change if Amazon finds a prominent local partner. Rumors have swirled for months that Amazon was reportedly in talks to merge its import unit with Kaola, the cross-border shopping business run by Chinese internet giant Netease with a 22.6 percent market share.

Not to be forgotten, Amazon also offers cloud computing services to Chinese enterprises although, in this space, it’s again in a direct face-off with Alibaba Cloud, the dominant player in China. Lastly, China remains the largest market for Kindle, so pivotal that the e-reader launched a localized model just for China.

“Over the past few years, we have been evolving our China online retail business to increasingly emphasize cross-border sales, and in return we’ve seen very strong response from Chinese customers,” said the Amazon spokesperson. “Amazon’s commitment to China remains strong—we have built a solid foundation here in a number of successful businesses and we will continue to invest and grow in China across Amazon Global Store, Global Selling, AWS, Kindle devices and content.”

Google Home’s Philips Hue integration can now wake you up gently

Maybe you love the sound of your alarm clock blaring in the morning, heralding a new day full of joy and adventure. More likely, though, you don’t. If you prefer a more gentle wake-up (and have invested in some smart home technology), here’s some good news: Google Home now lets you use your Philips Hue lights to wake you up by slowly changing the light in your room.

Philips first announced this integration at CES earlier this year, with a planned rollout in March. Looks like that took a little while longer, as Google and Philips gently brought this feature to life.

Just like you can use your Home to turn on “Gentle Wake,” which starts changing your lights 30 minutes before your wake-up time to mimic a sunrise, you also can go the opposite way and have the lights mimic sunset as you get ready to go to bed. You can either trigger these light changes through an alarm or with a command that starts them immediately.

While the price of white Hue bulbs has come down in recent years, colored hue lights remain rather pricey, with single bulbs going for around $40. If that doesn’t hold you back, though, the Gentle Sleep and Wake features are now available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Singapore and India in English only.

TikTok downloads banned on iOS and Android in India over porn and other illegal content

TikTok, the user-generated video sharing app from Chinese publisher Bytedance that has been a global runaway success, has stumbled hard in one of the world’s biggest mobile markets, India, over illicit content in its app.

Today, the country’s main digital communications regulator, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ordered both Apple and Google to remove the app from its app stores, per a request from High Court in Madras after the latter investigated and determined that the app — which has hundreds of millions of users, including minors — was encouraging pornography and other illicit content.

This is the second time in two months that TikTok’s content has been dinged by regulators, after the app was fined $5.7 million by the FTC in the US over violating child protection policies.

The order in India does not impact the 120 million users in the country who already have the app downloaded, or those on Android who might download it from a source outside of Google’s official Android store. But it’s a strong strike against TikTok that will impede its growth, harm its reputation, and potentially pave the way for further sanctions or fines against the app in India (and elsewhere taking India’s lead).

TikTok has issued no less than three different statements — each subsequently less aggressive — as it scrambles to respond to the order.

“We welcome the decision of the Madras High Court to appoint Arvind Datar as Amicus Curae (independent counsel) to the court,” the statement from TikTok reads. “We have faith in the Indian judicial system and we are optimistic about an outcome that would be well received by over 120 million monthly active users in India, who continue using TikTok to showcase their creativity and capture moments that matter in their everyday lives.”

(A previous version of the statement from TikTok was less ‘welcoming’ of the decision and instead highlighted how TikTok was making increased efforts to police its content without outside involvement. It noted that it had removed more than 6 million videos that violated its terms of use and community guidelines, following a review of content generated by users in India. That alone speaks to the actual size of the problem.)

On top of prohibiting downloads, the High Court also directed the regulator to bar media companies from broadcasting any videos — illicit or otherwise — made with or posted on TikTok. Bytedance has been working to try to appeal the orders, but the Supreme Court, where the appeal was heard, upheld it.

This is not the first time that TikTok has faced government backlash over the content that it hosts on its platform. In the US, two months ago, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that the app violated children’s privacy laws and fined it $5.7 million, and through a forced app updated, required all users to verify that they were over 13, or otherwise be redirected to a more restricted experience. Musically, TikTok’s predecessor, had also faced similar regulatory violations.

More generally the problems that TikTok is facing right now are not unfamiliar ones. Social media apps, relying on user-generated content as both the engine of their growth and the fuel for that engine, have long been problematic when it comes to illicit content. The companies that create and run these apps have argued that they are not responsible for what people produce on the platform, as long as it fits within its terms of use, but that has left a large gap where content is not policed as well as it should be. On the other hand, as these platforms rely on growth and scale for their business models, some have argued that this has made them less inclined to proactively police their platforms to bar the illicit content in the first place.

Additional reporting Rita Liao

Match Group restructures exec team with focus on Asia

Tinder parent company Match Group, also the owner of a suite of dating apps including OKCupid, Meetic, Match, PlentyofFish and others, announced this morning plans to restructure its leadership team in order to better focus on the market opportunities for dating apps in Asia. Specifically, the company has appointed three new General Managers in Asia to focus on areas like Japan, Taiwan, India, South Korea, and other parts of Southeast Asia.

The company explains its decision has to do with the potential it sees for growth outside the U.S. and Europe, where there are more than 400 million singles, two-thirds who have not yet tried a dating app.

One of the new GMs is Tokyo-based Junya Ishibashi, who has been CEO of Match Group’s Eureka business in Japan. He now become the General Manager of Match Group for Japan and Taiwan.

Taru Kapoor, who’s based in Delhi, will be GM of Match Group India. And Seoul-based LylaSeo, who previously served as Regional Director of East Asia for Tinder, is now GM of Match Group for South Korea and Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Alexandre Lubot, who has served as both CEO of Meetic and CEO of Match Group EMEA & APAC since 2016 will remain CEO of Match Group EMEA & APAC. He will oversee the brands across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with the three General Managers reporting directly to him.

Meetic, which is Match Group’s European dating app, will now be overseen by Matthieu Jacquier, who has worked as a CPO with the company for a year. Alongside Jacquier, Elisabeth Peyraube will now take on a new role of COO & CFO of Match Group EMEA & APAC.

While Match Group plans for growth across Asia, India has been of particular importance, particularly as rival dating app Bumble entered the country last year, where it tapped actress, celebrity and Bumble investor Priyanka Chopra, to advise its expansion.

Tinder has also tried to cater to its Indian users with the more recent launches of expanded gender options in its app, and the Bumble-like “My Move” feature, which allows the women to chat first.

However, Tinder’s strategy in India needs to differ from here in the U.S. where it’s now promoting the young, carefree, and often less relationship-focused “single lifestyle.” In India (as well as in China and other markets), dating apps today still face challenges due to cultural norms. That’s led to an unbalanced ratio between men and women using the apps in India, a report from The Wall St. Journal found. And when women join, they’re overwhelmed by the attention they receive, as a result.

These issues will require Tinder to adapt everything from its marketing and advertising messages to even its product features in order better cater to its Indian users. And it requires someone who fully understands the market to lead.

“Taru was originally hired to grow Tinder in India, but a little more than a year ago we increased her responsibilities to oversee the growth of other Match Group products in the country,” said Mandy Ginsberg, Match Group CEO, in a statement about the leadership restructuring. “During that time Tinder has become a big brand in India, but Taru also has meaningfully grown OkCupid’s user base in India over the last six months due to her keen understanding of the market and culture. Her success is a template for how we can approach these emerging Asian markets, particularly when we have stellar talent on the ground that understands the cultural, regulatory and market dynamics at play,” she added.

In Korea, Match Group credits Seo with executing Tinder’s first-ever TV ad campaign, which helped increase downloads in Korea 2.5x from 2016 to 2018.

The company also says Ishibashi more than doubled Pairs’ revenue in Japan since its acquisition in 2015.

Both executives will oversee other Match Group brands in their respective markets, as part of their new responsibilities.

Match Group has been growing its footprint in the Asian market for some time. On its Q4 2018 earnings call in February, the company noted it already had teams in around half a dozen key countries throughout Asia focused on its marketing programs and developing the cultural insight it needed to succeed in those regions.

Ginsberg now says she would like to see a quarter of Match Group’s revenue coming from Asia within 5 years.

 

Ten steps to prepare for an exponential future

If it feels like technological change is happening faster than it used to, that’s because it is.

It took around 12,000 years to move from the agrarian to the industrial revolution but only a couple of hundred years to go from the industrial to the information revolution that’s now propelling us in a short number of decades into the artificial intelligence revolution. Each technological transformation enables the next as the time between these quantum leaps becomes shorter.

That’s why if you are looking backwards to get a sense of how quickly the world around you will change, you won’t realize how quickly our radically different future is approaching. But although this can sometimes feel frightening, there’s a lot we can do now to help make sure we ride this wave of radical change rather than get drowned by it.

Here’s my essential list:

  1. Do what you can to preserve your youth
    Scientists are discovering new ways to slow the biological process of aging. It won’t be too long before doctors start prescribing pills, gene therapies, and other treatments to manage getting old as a partly curable disease. Because most of the terrible afflictions we now fear are correlated with age, medically treating aging will push off the date when we might have otherwise developed cancers, heart disease, dementia, and other killers. To maximally benefit from the new treatments for aging tomorrow, we all, no matter what our current age, need to do what we can to take care of our bodies today. That means exercising around 45 minutes a day, eating a healthy and mostly plant-based diet, trying to sleep at least seven hours a night, avoiding too much sun, not smoking, building and maintaining strong communities and support networks, and living a purposeful life. The healthier you are when the anti-age treatments arrive, the longer you’ll be able to maintain your vitality into your later years.
  2. Quantify and monitor your health
    You can’t monitor what you can’t measure. If you want to maintain optimal health, you need a way to regularly assess if you are on the right track. Monitoring your health through regular broad-spectrum blood and stool tests, constant feedback about your heart rate and sleep patterns from devices like your Apple Watch or Fitbit, having your genome sequenced, getting a full body MRI, and having a regular colonoscopy may seem like overkill to most people. But waiting until you have a symptom to start assessing your health status is like waiting until your car is careening down a hill to check if the brakes are in order. Some smart people worry that this kind of monitoring of “healthy” people will waste money, overwhelm our already overburdened healthcare system, and cause people unnecessary anxiety. But even the healthiest among us are in the early stages of developing one disease or another. Society will inevitably shift from a model of responsive sick care of people already in trouble to the predictive healthcare trying to keep people out of it. Do you want to be a dinosaur-like victim of the old model or a proactive pioneer of the new one?
  3. Freeze your essential biological materials
    Our bodies are a treasure trove of biological materials that could save us in the future, but every morning we still flush gold down the toilet. That gold, our stool, could potentially be frozen so we could repopulate our essential gut bacteria if our microbiome were to take a dangerous hit from antibiotics or illness. Skin cells could be transformed into potentially life-saving stem cells and stored for future use to help rejuvenate various types of aging cells. If our future treatments will be personalized using our own biological materials, but we’ll need to have stored these materials earlier in life to receive the full benefit of these advances. We put money in the bank to ensure our financial security, so why wouldn’t we put some of our biological materials in a bio-bank to have our youngest possible rescue cells waiting for us when we need them and help secure our physiological security?
  4. If you plan on ever having children, freeze your eggs or your sperm
    More people will soon shift from conceiving children through sex to conceiving them through IVF and embryo selection. The preliminary driver of this will be parents’ increasing recognition that they can reduce the roughly 3% chance their future children will be born with dangerous genetic mutations by having their embryos screened in a lab prior to implantation in the mother. This may seem less exciting than making babies in the back seat of a car, but the health and longevity benefits of screening embryos will ultimately overpower conception by sex kind of like how vaccinating our children has (mostly) overpowered the far more natural option of not doing so. If you are likely to conceive via IVF and embryo selection, why not freeze your eggs, sperm, or embryos when you are at your biological peak and when the chance of passing on genetic abnormalities is lower than it may be later in life?
  5. Manage your public identity
    The days of living incognito are over. No matter how aggressively some of us may try to avoid it, our lives leave massive digital footprints that are becoming an essential part of our very identities. The authoritarian government in China is planning to give “social credit“ scores evaluating the digitally monitored behavior of each citizen in a creepy and frightening way. But even in more liberal societies we will all be increasingly judged at work, at home, and in our commercial interactions based on our aggregated digital identities. These identities will be based on what we buy, what we post, what we seek, and how and with whom we interact online. Some societies and individuals are smartly trying to exert a level of control over the collection and use of this personal data, but even this won’t change the new reality that our digital identities will significantly influence what options are available to us in life and represent us after we die. Given this, and perhaps sadly, we all need to protect our privacy but also think of our public selves as brands, managing our digitally recorded activity from early on to present ourselves to the world the way we consciously want the world to know us.
  6. Learn the language of code
    Our lives will be increasingly manipulated by algorithms few of us understand. Most people who were once good at finding their way now just use their GPS-guided smart phones to get where they need to go. As algorithms touching many different aspects of our lives get better, we will increasingly rely on them to make plans, purchasing decisions, and even significant life choices for us. Pretty much every job we might do and many other aspects of our lives will be guided by artificial intelligence and big data analytics. Fully understanding every detail of how each of these algorithms function may be impossible, but we’ll be even more at their mercy if we don’t each acquire at least a rudimentary understanding of what code is and how it works. If you can read one book about code, that’s a start. Learning the fundamental of coding will do even more to help you navigate the fast arriving algorithmic world.
  7. Become multicultural
    Pretty much wherever you were in the 18th century, you needed to understand Europe to operate effectively because European power then defined so many parts of the world. The same was true for understanding United States in the 20th century understanding America was imperative for most people living outside of the United States because US actions influenced so many aspects of their lives. For many people living in 20th century America, understanding the rest of the world was merely interesting. As China rises and Global power decentralizes in the 21st-century, we’ll all need to learn more about China, India, and other new power, population, and culture centers than ever before. This won’t just help you become a more well-rounded person, it will give you a far greater chance of success in most anything you’ll be doing. Although machine translation will make communicating across languages pretty seamless, you’ll need a cultural fluidity and fluency to succeed in the 21st century world. The good news is that people motivated to learn about other groups and societies now have more resources than ever before to do so. If you want to be ready for our multicultural, multinational future, you’d better start doing all you can to learn about other cultures and societies now.
  8. Become an obsessive learner
    Technological change has been a constant throughout human history, but the pace of change is today accelerating far more rapidly than ever before. As innovations across the spectrum of science and technology empower, inspire, and reinforce each other, multiple technological transformations are converging into a revolutionary whole far greater than the sum of its parts. This unprecedented rate of change will mean that much of your knowledge will start becoming obsolete as soon as you acquire it. To keep up in your career and life, you’ll need to dedicate yourself to a lifetime of never ending, aggressive, continuous, and creativity-driven learning. The only skill worth having in an exponential world will be knowing how to learn and a passion for doing it. Call me an old-fashioned futurist, but this learning process must include reading lots of books to help you understand where we have come from and how the disparate pieces of information fit together to create a larger story. This type of knowledge will be an essential foundation of the wisdom we’ll each and all need to navigate our fast-changing world.
  9. Invest in physical community
    We humans are social species. A primary reason we rose to the top of the food chain and built civilization is that our brains are optimized for collaborating with those around us. When we bond with our partners and friends, we realize one of our essential cord needs as humans. That’s why people in solitary confinement tend to go a bit crazy. But although our progression from feeling our sense of connection, belonging, and community has expanded from the level of clan to village to city to country to, in some ways, the world, we are still not virtual beings. We may get a little dopamine hit whenever someone likes our tweet or Facebook post, but most of us still need a connected physical community around us in order to be happy and to realize our best potential. With all of the virtual options that will surround us – chatbots engaging us in witty repartee, virtual assistants managing our schedules, and even friends messaging from faraway lands among them – our virtual future must remain grounded in our physical world. To build your essential community of flesh and blood people, you must invest in deep and meaningful relationships with the people physically around you.
  10.   Don’t get stuck in today The olden days were, at least in most peoples’ minds, always better. We used to have better values, a better work ethic, better communities. We used to walk to school uphill in both directions! But while we do need to hold on to the best of the past, we also need to march boldly into the future. Because the coming world will feel like science fiction, will all need to be like science fiction writers  imagining the world ahead and positioning ourselves to shape it for the better. The technologies of the future will be radically new but we’ll need to draw on the best of our ancient value systems to use them wisely. The exponential future is coming faster than most of us appreciate or are ready for. Like it or not, we are now all futurists.

Naspers-owned PayU doubles down on India with $70M deal to buy Wibmo

PayU, the Naspers-owned payments company that competes with the likes of PayPal but focuses mainly on emerging markets, has made an acquisition to expand its business in India. It has acquired Wibmo, a startup based out of the US (Cupertino, to exact) that mostly operates in India. PayU is paying $70 million for the startup, bringing the total its invested in building its business to $500 million in the last two months.

Wibmo offers a range of payment processing services that cover security, risk and fraud, authentication, SME disbursements, mobile payments, QR codes and prepaid cards. It works with banks, merchants and offers consumer-facing services, too. The appeal to PayU appears to be an opportunity to own touchpoints across the payment process, a bridge to develop its own ecosystem, although Wibmo will keep its branding and run as a wholly-owned subsidiary.

The deal had previously been reported by Economic Times last month, and it speaks to ongoing consolidation.

“This is a strategic acquisition for PayU that combines our merchant network and Wibmo’s leadership in digital security,” Aakash Moondhra, Chief Financial Officer at PayU Global, told TechCrunch in an interview. “PayU is very bullish on India as a market.”

A Citi report issued late last year valued PayU’s India unit at $2.5 billion, and that’s no accident given the level of investment that the company has made.

PayU acquired Citrus for $130 million in 2016, and it has also made investments in Indian fintech startups that include PaySense and Zest Money. Elsewhere in the world, its deal-making has included investments in Creditas in Brazil, Germany’s Kreditech, U.S-based Remitly — which operates remittance worldwide — and Zooz in Israel.

Another key area for the business in India has been a move away from a wallet-based approach to financial services. PayU shuttered one of its wallet apps in India at the beginning of last year, and instead went after services that include credit and deferred payment options, via its LazyPay service. The business also has its core payment gateway service, which will be boosted by the addition of Wibmo.

Naspers itself is doubling down on India, where it has backed unicorns Swiggy, food delivery service that recently raised a $1 billion round, and education service Byju’s, which pulled in $540 million, with major deals announced in recent months.

The company, which is still best known for its early investment in Tencent, has reportedly set aside $1 billion for fintech-related M&A in India, according to a Bloomberg report published last month.

CleverTap lands $26M for its mobile-focused customer marketing service

CleverTap, an India-based startup that lets companies track and improve engagement with users across the web, has pulled in $26 million in new funding thanks to a round led by Sequoia India.

Existing investor Accel and new backer Tiger Global also took part in the deal, which values CleverTap at $150-$160 million, the startup disclosed. The deal takes CleverTap to around $40 million from investors to date.

Founded in 2015 and based in Mumbai, CleverTap competes with a range of customer experience services, including Oracle Cloud. Its service covers a range of touchpoints with consumers, including email, in-app activity, push notifications, Facebook, WhatsApp (for business) and Viber. Its service helps companies map out how their users are engaging across those vectors, and develop “re-engagement” programs to help reactive dormant users or increase engagement among others.

The company says its SDK is installed in over 8,000 apps and it some of the public clients it names include Southeast Asia-based duo Go-Jek and Zilingo, Hotstar in India and struggling U.S. startup Fandango . With a considerable customer base in Asia, CleverTap puts a particular focus on mobile because many of these markets are all about personal devices.

“Asia is mobile-first and massively growing,” CleverTap CEO and co-founder Sunil Thomas told TechCrunch in an interview. “A lot of engagement in this [part of the] world is timely… we were sort of born physically on the east side of the world, so we got to scale with all these diverse set of devices.”

That stands to benefit CleverTap as it seeks to grow market share outside of Asia, and in markets like the U.S. and Europe where mobile is — right now — just one part of the marketing and customer engagement process. The company believes that engagement by mobile has a long way to develop there.

“Engagement [in the West] is still email-heavy and not really timely,” Thomas said. “Whereas the East thinks of it as ‘Hey, let’s be proactive… instead of a user coming in to hunt for information, can I provide it when I think he or she will need it?'”

Of course, mobile push and in-app notifications can be easily abused.

Most people will know of an app on their phone — or perhaps once on their phone — that falls into that category. So, how does a company know what is too much or what isn’t enough?

“As long as you use push or in-app as an extension of your brand, then I think it’s extremely useful,” explained Thomas. “After all, this is a really competitive world; it isn’t just your app out there — if you can make your brand count when this person isn’t in your app, that’ll help you.”

More broadly, Thomas argued that CleverTap brings data to the table which, ultimately, “changes the whole context in real time.” So a customer can really look holistically at their online presence and figure out what is working, and with which users. In real terms, when used to acquire new users online, he said he believes that CleverTap typically doubles registration conversions and triples the buying rate.

“The cost of acquisition to first purchase is what we really effect,” said Thomas. “It’s that moment you get a new person into your house.”

CleverTap has just opened an office in Singapore, and it plans to add a location in Indonesia before the end of the year. Both of those expansions are centered around business development, with some customer support. Already, according to Thomas, the company is looking to grow in Europe while it is weighing the potential to enter Latin America in a move that could include a local partnership.

The CleverTap CEO is also considering raising more money towards the end of the year, when he believes that the company can push its valuation as high as $400 million.

“That’s very doable based on revenue growth,” he said. “We think that the revenue will demand that valuation.”

Indian social commerce startup GlowRoad raises $10M Series B

Indian social commerce startup GlowRoad announced today that it has raised a $10 million Series B. The round was led by CDH Investments, a Chinese investment firm, with participation from returning investor Accel Partners.

GlowRoad’s last funding, a $2 million Series A led by Accel, was announced in September 2017, a few months after it launched. The startup’s founding team includes Sonal Verma, a physician who focused on community medicine before co-founding telemedicine company HealthcareMagic in 2008. During her medical work, Verma realized that many stay-at-home mothers and housewives resell products in their neighborhoods. GlowRoad was created to help them take their businesses online by drop shipping products.

GlowRoad screens manufacturers before adding them to its platform, then GlowRoad’s sellers decide which items to add to their stores and how to market them. The company now claims more than 100,000 resellers, 20,000 suppliers and 300,000 buyers. One of its most notable competitors is reselling platform Meesho, which has raised a total of $65.2 million from investors including Shunwei Capital, Sequoia Capital India, RPS Ventures, Y Combinator, Venture Highway, SAIF Partners and DST Partners, according to Crunchbase.

India’s Cashfree raises $5.5M from Korea’s Smilegate, Y Combinator and others

Cashfree, an India-based startup that specializes in making corporate banking services more accessible and easier to use, has closed a $5.5 million Series A round.

The deal is led by Smilegate Investment — the fund affiliated with Korean games firm Smilegate — with participation from Y Combinator, the U.S. accelerator program that Cashfree graduated from in 2017. The startup previously raised an undisclosed seed round from investors that include former UK Finance Minister George Osborne, and Vellayan Subbiah, who was previously managing director of Cholamandalam Investment, both of whom joined this new round.

Founded in 2015 by Reeju Datta and Akash Sinha, Cashfree started out as a payment gateway before it pivoted to tackle the more pertinent issue of moving money in India. Today, its service is used by more than 12,000 businesses to disperse bulk transfers for things like vendor payments, wages, reimbursements, refunds, and more. Those customers include recognizable names like Xiaomi, Tencent, Zomato, Cred, Club Factory, ExxonMobil and Dunzo, the concierge service backed by Google.

“While developing the payment gateway, we realized there are a lot of problems operating corporate bank accounts in India, especially when you have to handle a lot of transfers on a daily basis,” Datta told TechCrunch in an interview.

Cashfree helps its customers to connect their corporate banking services via a single interface. Aside from enabling disbursements to bank accounts, via India’s UPI system or to wallet accounts like Paytm, the system allows analysis, such as calculating top vendors, aggregate payouts and other business intelligence that would take hours of manual work using corporate bank services.

Datta said the company currently processes $4.5 billion annual recurring volume. That’s not take-home revenue — Cashfree makes its money on a per transaction basis — but he said it is profitable and has been since it graduated YC 18 months ago.

The current thesis is to work with banks rather than against them, Datta explained, but there’s always the potential that Cashfree itself might offer banking services. Right now, that isn’t possible — Datta said Cashfree will need to “wait for the regulatory climate to clear up” — but it isn’t beyond the scope of possibility that it could emerge as a challenger bank in the future. Beyond clearer regulation, “a couple more fundraises” might be necessary for that evolution, the Cashfree co-founder added.

Still, Cashfree will use this new money to double down on its banking services — those that attached to banks, that is — with a new solution with increased integrations set to ship to customers soon. It is also building up its presence in Delhi and Bombay, where it has begun hiring business development teams to expand its work.