Nubank is now worth $4 billion after Tencent’s $180 million investment

Nubank, the Brazilian financial services company, has raised $180 million from the Chinese internet giant, Tencent.

Tencent has long been interested in financial services startups, and with its $90 million direct investment and another $90 million investment in the secondary market, the company now has access to what is arguably the largest digital banking company in the world.

With the $4 billion valuation, it also makes Nubank one of the most highly valued privately held startups in Latin America.

News of the investment was first reported by The Information, which included the $4 billion figure.

For Nubank co-founders David Velez and Cristina Junqueira, the investment from Tencent means the addition of a strategic partner whose financial services products and transaction platform is unmatched by anything in Western Europe or the U.S.

Velez stressed that Nubank, which had raised $150 million in a February financing round led by DST, did not need the additional capital. “We found so much value in partnering with Tencent,” Velez said. “Particularly everything there is to learn about the Chinese financial market.”

Velez hopes to take those lessons and apply them back to the market in Brazil. China is in the forefront of financial services globally because of its technology companies’ ability to offer multi-product platforms. “They have built the playbook of how to use mobile.”

Through the investment, Tencent will gain an understanding of how Nubank has managed to service 5 million credit card holders, and the game plan the company is deploying to develop its own savings accounts and other banking services.

“Over 20 million people have applied for the card,” said Velez. “There are active, engaged, customers that want to get everything from us.”

Junqueira estimates the company will soon be able to serve tens of millions of Brazilians with either a savings account, a checking account or credit.

The opportunity could be even bigger as Brazil’s central bank investigates the possibility of instant payments as well, looking to India’s experiment with demonetization as an example.

Both Junqueira and Velez said the opportunity for financial services startups to achieve significant scale was far higher in emerging markets like Brazil than in developed markets, because the barriers to banking are so much higher.

Financial services, Velez said, has been controlled by massive oligopolies that have erected unfair obstacles to wealth creation for the masses. Nubank and other companies like it are working to change that.

Now the company has the benefit of Tencent’s guidance as it continues to push the envelope.

The next big restaurant chain may not own any kitchens

If investors at some of the biggest technology companies are right, the next big restaurant chain could have no kitchens of its own.

These venture capitalists think the same forces that have transformed transportation, media, retail and logistics will also work their way through prepared food businesses.

Investors are pouring millions into the creation of a network of shared kitchens, storage facilities, and pickup counters that established chains and new food entrepreneurs can access to cut down on overhead and quickly spin up new concepts in fast food and casual dining.

Powering all of this is a food delivery market that could grow from $35 billion to a $365 billion industry by 2030, according to a report from UBS’s research group, the “Evidence Lab”.

“We’ve had conversations with the biggest and fastest growing restaurant brands in the country and even some of the casual brands,” said Jim Collins, a serial entrepreneur, restauranteur, and the chief executive of the food-service startup, Kitchen United. “In every board room for every major restaurant brand in the country… the number one conversation surrounds the topic of how are we going to address [off-premise diners].”

Collins’ company just raised $10 million in a funding round led by GV, the investment arm of Google parent company, Alphabet. But Alphabet’s investment team is far from the only group investing in the restaurant infrastructure as a service business.

Perhaps the best capitalized company focusing on distributed kitchens is CloudKitchens, one of two subsidiaries owned by the holding company City Storage Solutions.

Cloud Kitchens and its sister company Cloud Retail are the two arms of the new venture from Uber co-founder and former chief executive, Travis Kalanick, which was formed with a $150 million investment.

As we reported at the time, Travis announced that he would be starting a new fund with the riches he made from Uber shares sold in its most recent major secondary round. Kalanick said his 10100, or “ten one hundred”, fund would be geared toward “large-scale job creation,” with investments in real estate, e-commerce, and “emerging innovation in India and China.”

If anyone is aware of the massive market potential for leveraging on-demand services, it’s Kalanick. Especially since he was one of the architects of the infrastructure that has made it possible.

Other deep pocketed companies have also stepped into the fray. Late last year Acre Venture Partners, the investment arm formed by The Campbell Soup Co., participated in a $13 million investment for Pilotworks, another distributed kitchen operator based in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, Kitchen United has been busy putting together a deep bench of executive talent culled from some of the largest and most successful American fast food restaurant chains.

Former Taco Bell Chief Development Officer, Meredith Sandland, joined the company earlier this year as its chief operating officer, while former McDonald’s executive Atul Sood, who oversaw the burger giant’s relationship with online delivery services, has come aboard as Kitchen United’s Chief Business Officer.

The millions of dollars spicing up this new business model investors are serving up could be considered the second iteration of a food startup wave.

An earlier generation of prepared food startups crashed and burned while trying to spin up just this type of vision with investments in their own infrastructure. New York celebrity chef David Chang, the owner and creator of the city’s famous Momofuku restaurants (and Milk Bar, and Ma Peche), was an investor in Maple, a new delivery-only food startup that raised $25 million before it was shut down and its technology was absorbed into the European, delivery service, Deliveroo.

Ando, which Chang founded, was another attempt at creating a business with a single storefront for takeout and a massive reliance on delivery services to do the heavy lifting of entering new neighborhoods and markets. That company wound up getting acquired by UberEats after raising $7 million in venture funding.

Those losses are slight compared to the woes of investors in companies like Munchery, ($125.4 million) Sprig, ($56.7 million) and SpoonRocket ($13 million). Sprig and Spoonrocket are now defunct, and Munchery had to pull back from markets in Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle as it fights for survival. The company also reportedly was looking at recapitalizing earlier in the year at a greatly reduced valuation.

What gives companies like Kitchen United, Pilotworks and Cloud Kitchens hope is that they’re not required to actually create the next big successful concept in fast food or casual dining. They just have to enable it.

Kitchen United just opened a 12,000 square foot facility in Pasadena for just that purpose — and has plans to open more locations in West Los Angeles; Jersey City, N.J.; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Phoenix; Seattle and Denver. Its competitor, Pilotworks, already has operations in Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, and Providence, R.I.

While the two companies have similar visions, they’re currently pursuing different initial customers. Pilotworks has pitched itself as a recipe for success for new food entrepreneurs. Kitchen United, by comparison is giving successful local, regional, and national brands a way to expand their footprint without investing in real estate.

“One of the directions that the company was thinking of going was toward the restaurant industry and the second was in the food service entrepreneurial sector,” said Collins. “Would it be a company that served restaurants with their expansions? Now, we’re in deep discussions with all kinds of restaurants.”

Smaller national fast food chains like Chick-Fil-A or Shake Shack, or fast casual chains like Dennys and Shoney’s could be customers, said Collins. So could local companies that are trying to expand their regional footprint. Los Angeles’ famous Canter’s Deli is a Kitchen United customer (and an early adopter of a number of new restaurant innovations) and so is The Lost Cuban Kitchen, an Iowa-based Cuban restaurant that’s expanding to Los Angeles.

Kitchen United is looking to create kitchen centers that can house between 10-20 restaurants in converted warehouses, big box retail and light industrial locations.

Using demographic data and “demand mapping” for specific cuisines, Kitchen United said that it can provide optimal locations and site the right restaurant to meet consumer demand. The company is also pitching labor management, menu management and delivery tools to help streamline the process of getting a new location up and running.

“In all of the facilities, all of the restaurants have their own four-walled space,” says Collins. “There’s shared infrastructure outside of that.”

Some of that infrastructure is taking food deliveries and an ability to serve as a central hub for local supplier, according to Collins. “One of the things that we’re going to be launching relatively soon here in Pasadena, is actually in-service days where local supplier and purveyors can come in and meet with seven restaurants at once.”

It’s also possible that restaurants in the Kitchen United spaces could take advantage of restaurant technologies being developed by one of the startup’s sister companies through Cali Group, a holding company for a number of different e-sports, retail, and food technology startups.

The Pasadena-based kitchen company was founded by Harry Tsao, an investor in food technology (and a part owner of the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Football Club) through his fund Avista Investments; and John Miller, a serial entrepreneur who founded the Cali Group.

In fact, Kitchen United operates as a Cali Group portfolio company alongside Miso Robotics, the developer of the burger flipping robot, Flippy; Caliburger, an In-n-Out clone first developed by Miller in Shanghai and brought back to the U.S.; and FunWall, a display technology for online gaming in retail settings.

“Kitchen United’s data-driven approach to flexible kitchen spaces unlocks critical value for national, regional, and local restaurant chains looking to expand into new markets,” said Adam Ghobarah, general partner at GV, and a new director on the Kitchen United board. “The founding team’s experience in scaling — in addition to diverse exposure to national chains, regional brands, regional franchises, and small upstart eateries — puts Kitchen United in a strong position to accelerate food innovation.”

GV’s Ghobarah actually sees the investment of a piece with other bets that Alphabet’s venture capital arm has made around the food industry.

The firm is a backer of the fully automated hamburger preparation company, Creator, which has raised roughly $28 million to develop its hamburger making robot (if Securities and Exchange Commission filings can be believed). And it has backed the containerized farming startup, Bowery Farming, with a $20 million investment.

Ghobarah sees an entirely new food distribution ecosystem built up around facilities where Bowery’s farms are colocated with Kitchen United’s restaurants to reduce logistical hurdles and create new hubs.

“As urban farming like Bowery scales up… that becomes more and more realistic,” Ghobarah said. “The other thing that really stands out when you have flexible locations … all of the thousands of people who want to own a restaurant now have access. It’s not really all regional chains and national chains… With a satellite location like this… [a restaurant]… can break even at one third of the order volume.”

 

Vahdam Teas raises $2.5M to grow its tea-commerce business in the US

Vahdam Teas, an India-based e-commerce startup that cuts the supply chain down to sell fresh teas online, has pulled in a $2.5 million Series B investment for growth in the U.S. and other global markets.

The round comes from existing investor Fireside Ventures, a consumer brand-focused VC firm. It follows a $1.4 million Series A round that was announced at the end of 2017, and it takes two-year-old Vahdam to $5 million from investors to date. TechCrunch understands from a source with knowledge of discussions that the deal values Vahdam at the $25 million mark. Vahdam declined to discuss its valuation when asked.

Vahdam founder and CEO Bala Sarda, a 26-year-old who comes from a tea industry family, told TechCrunch that the company could have raised more money but it is aiming to be picky. There’s clearly demand. Teabox, the startup that pioneered the digital distribution model for tea sales, has raised nearly $15 million from its backers to date, for example.

“We’ve chosen to raise patient, intelligent capital from people who know this industry,” Sarda said. “We’re not profitable yet but not burning a lot of money.”

He admitted that the company could look to raise more funds next year if it sees the right growth opportunities to merit it. He expects the company to reach breakeven over that period, too.

Vahdam Teas founder and CEO Bala Sarda

Stepping back for a moment, Teabox, Vahdam and others like them are aiming to redesign the way people consume and buy tea by massively cutting the time between picking and drinking.

In traditional corporate circles, that process is something like 9-12 months as produce is kept in warehouses and supply chain takes time. Now, the new standard is freshly-kept teas that can go from plantation to home in as few as 10 days depending on harvest time. That’s thanks to temperature-controlled storage and the efficiencies of e-commerce. For consumers, these digital tea sellers offer not just fresher teas, but an easy way to buy a premium selection that is tough to find on the high street.

Vahdam recently said it had delivered its 100 millionth cup of tea — note: it sells loose leaf tea not bags — having just hit 200,000 customers to date. (Teabox said it had delivered 40 million cups in December 2017, but it hasn’t issued a new figure.) Revenue is on track to grow 2X this year, and CEO Sarda believes the company can reach 500,000 customers before the end of next year.

The company sells in over 85 countries, but it has focused on the U.S. market, which accounts for up to 75 percent of its revenue, according to Sarda.

Vahdam first entered America largely through Amazon — which sells its teas, alongside those of Teabox and others, although Vahdam was part of Amazon’ Launchpad startup accelerator program. While that relationship has helped break into the market, Sarda said that Vahdam is on track to see activity from its own website overtake that of its own Amazon store by the end of 2018. That’s important because it helps establish a direct relationship with customers, which is essential for new products, that will soon include a subscription-based service and also a ready-to-drink teabag option.

That subscription was originally going to launch this year, but Vahdam has delayed it while it set up logistics in the U.S. market. Using its previous Series A financing, the startup opened an office in New York and warehouse in New Jersey and Indianapolis — the location of Fedex’s second-largest U.S. hub and a UPS “super hub” with convenient links between east and west coast consumer markets.

Through these locations — and the use of delivery partners — Sarda said Vahdam can now deliver its product to U.S-based customers more effiently. The CEO said it managed U.S-based inventory mostly predictively, but the new locations make it much easier (and cheaper) to handle smaller packages quickly in the U.S. That’ll help with its upcoming subscription, which will include a ‘surprise box’ or regular orders that can be scheduled over variable times, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.

Vahdam Teas plans to introduce a subscription-based option for its customers

“We are targeting mainstream tea-drinking customers in the U.S, it’s a multi-billion market,” Sarda told TechCrunch. “Our focus is to disrupt the mainstream brands and we’ve been converting [consumers] because they believe it is much fresher tea that’s also easier to order.”

The company is also giving attention to its native market. Not only is it preparing to begin to sell tea in India — it has focused on global markets to date — but it has also unveiled a CSR project aimed at putting money back into the grassroots industry.

Its TEAch Me project sets aside one percent of company revenue to fund the school fees for the children of workers at its partner plantations, where the tea sold to consumers is sourced. Vahdam works with over a dozen partners which, Sarda said, should mean it covers the education costs of over 1,000 students before this year is out. A pilot with one estate saw it cover 60 students and Sarda said that already Vahdam is planning a follow-up initiative focused on health insurance.

“Education is a big part of their salaries [and it] can become a burden for their families even with the [incoming national] minimum wage. As we have more capital to infuse we’ll also look at health care options,” he said.

While it is involved with its estates through these projects, Sarda said there are no plans to own any outright. In some cases, Vahdam buys up a majority, or all, of an estate’s premium tea products but there are other goods sold on to other merchants or at auction. He did say, however, that the company would consider buying stakes where an estate needs new capital, and it is actively helping its partners to embrace technology.

China’s Didi Chuxing launches taxi-hailing service in Japan

China’s Didi Chuxing is fighting fires at home around passenger safety, but overseas the ride-hailing giant has moved into another new market after its taxi-booking service began operations in Japan.

The service has gone live in Osaka, the city of nearly nine million people, and parts of the surrounding area including Kansai International Airport. The Didi Japan app links passengers up with drivers from 10 local taxi companies, and Didi said it will use an AI-based dispatch and fleet management system for efficiency.

Didi, which is valued at $56 billion, entered Japan in partnership with SoftBank, which is of course one of its investors. The company said it plans to expand the service to major cities including “Kyoto, Fukuoka and Tokyo” in the near future.

The company is going to stick to license taxis and not private cars because the latter is banned in Japan. Still, the traditional taxi industry is big business in Japan . The country is the world’s third largest taxi market based on revenue ($13 billion GMV), and it has some 240,000 licensed vehicles.

Uber, meanwhile, is piloting a similar taxi-based approach across Japan, but there are some far bigger players in the space.

JapanTaxi is a ride-hailing startup operated by Ichiro Kawanabe, who runs Japan’s largest taxi operator Nihon Kotsu and heads up the country’s taxi federation. JapanTaxi also has big-name backers, with Toyota the lead investor of a recent $69 million funding round. Beyond that, popular messaging app Line operates a ride-hailing service while Lyft, Uber’s rival in the U.S. market, is considering entering Japan, too.

Didi is hoping to stick out from the competition by appealing to both travelers and locals. To help snag interest from tourists visiting the country, it has created a ‘roaming passport’ that will allow users of other Didi apps — including China, Mexico, Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan — to use their regular Didi app in Japan.

This Japan launch has been in the offing for some time — SoftBank and Didi announced the joint venture back in February — and this is the fifth expansion that Didi has completed so far this year. The company raised $4 billion at the tail-end of last year and it earmarked that capital for developing AI, core tech and international markets.

Didi hasn’t held back in broadening its business globally. The company has expanded into Mexico and Australia organically, while it acquired Uber rival 99 in Brazil in a $1 billion deal and launched a franchise-based expansion in Taiwan. It global reach also includes investments, and it owns stakes in Uber in the U.S, Ola in India, Grab in Southeast Asia, Careem in the Middle East and Taxify in Europe and Africa.

Eight Roads Ventures targets Southeast Asia deals

Eight Roads Ventures, the investment arm of financial giant Fidelity International, is moving into Southeast Asia where it sees the potential to plug the later stage investment gap.

The firm has funds across the world including the U.S, China and Europe, and it has invested nearly $6 billion in deals over the past decade. The firm has been active lately — it launched a new $375 million fund for Europe and Israeli earlier this year — and now it has opened an office in Singapore, where its managing partner for Asia, Raj Dugar, has relocated to from India.

The firm said it plans to make early-growth and growth stage investments of up to $30 million, predominantly around Series B, Series C and Series D deals. The focus of those checks will be startups in the technology, healthcare, consumer and financial services spaces. Already, it has three investments across Southeast Asia — including virtual credit card startup Akulaku, Eywa Pharma and fintech company Silot.

There’s a huge amount of optimism around technology and startups in Southeast Asia, where there’s an emerging middle-class and access to the internet is growing. A report from Google and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek forecasted that the region’s ‘online economy’ will grow to reach more than $200 billion. It was estimated to have hit $49.5 billion in 2017, up from $30.8 million the previous year.

Despite a growing market, investment has focused on early stages. A number of VC firms have launched newer and larger funds that cover Series B deals — including Openspace Ventures and Golden Gate Ventures — but there remains a gap further down the funding line and Eight Roads could be a firm that can help fill it.

“Southeast Asia has several early-stage and late-stage funds that cater well to the start-ups and more mature companies. The growth-stage companies, looking at raising Series B/C/D rounds have had limited access to capital given the lack of global funds operating in the region. We see phenomenal opportunity in this segment, and look forward to helping entrepreneurs as they scale their business, providing access to our global network of expertise and contacts,” Eightroad’s Dugar said in a statement.

Amazon makes offline retail push in India

Amazon unleashed a flurry of new products this week at a U.S. press event, but halfway across the world, it is getting deeper into physical retail in the Indian market.

The U.S. e-commerce giant is buying up 49 percent of More in a deal that sees Amazon partner and PE firm Samara Capital pick up the remaining 51 percent. Amazon and Samara have created an entity called Witzig Advisory Services Private Limited which will hold the ownership stake through the deal, which is reportedly worth around $585 million according to Indian media. Regulation prevents Amazon from owning the business entirely, hence it requires a local partner to take a majority stake.

The deal is significant because it represents a major move for Amazon in brick and mortar retail in India, which is one of the up-and-coming global markets. It did, of course, jumped into offline sales in the U.S. when it gobbled up Whole Foods for some $16 billion last year and this India-based acquisition is similarly strategic.

Amazon is battling Flipkart for dominance in India’s e-commerce market, which is tipped to grow four-fold to reach $150 billion by 2022, according to a recent report from PWC. The India rival got a huge boost when it was bought by Walmart, Amazon’s chief rival in the U.S, in a $17 billion deal earlier this year.

That acquisition got Walmart into India’s e-commerce space and it also presents an opportunity to go further and move into other emerging markets using Flipkart’s tech and experience, which is something that Walmart has said it is keen to explore.

Now, this More deal gives Amazon a strong position in Walmart’s core business — to date, Amazon operates a limited number of fulfilment centers in India. It also comes hot on the heels of another investment which saw Amazon take control of fintech startup Tapzo in a move that boosts its own payment service in India.

Ola raises $50M at a $4.3B valuation from two Chinese funds

Ola, the arch-rival of Uber in India, has raised $50 million at a valuation of about $4.3 billion from Sailing Capital, a Hong Kong-based private equity firm, and the China-Eurasian Economic Cooperation Fund (CEECF), a state-backed Chinese fund. The funding was disclosed in regulatory documents sourced by Paper.vc and reviewed by Indian financial publication Mint.

According to Mint, Sailing Capital and CEECF will hold a combined stake of more than 1% in Ola . An Ola spokesperson said the company has no comment.

Ola’s last funding announcement was in October, when it raised $1.1 billion (its largest funding round to date) from Tencent and returning investor SoftBank Group. Ola also said it planned to raise an additional $1 billion from other investors that would take the round’s final amount to about $2.1 billion.

At the time, a source with knowledge of the deal told TechCrunch that Ola was headed toward a post-money valuation of $7 billion once the $2.1 bllion raise was finalized. So while the funding from Sailing Capital and CEECF brings it closer to its funding goal, the latest valuation of $4.3 billion is still lower than the projected amount.

Ola needs plenty of cash to fuel its ambitious expansion both within and outside of India. In addition to ride hailing, Ola got back into the food delivery game at the end of last year by acquiring Foodpanda’s Indian operations to compete with UberEats, Swiggy, Zomato and Google’s Areo. It was a bold move to make as India’s food delivery industry consolidated, especially since Ola had previously launched a food delivery service that shut down after less than one year. To ensure the survival of Foodpanda, Ola poured $200 million into its new acquisition.

A few months later after buying Foodpanda, Ola announced the acquisition of public transportation ticketing startup Ridlr in an all-stock deal. Outside of India, Ola has been focused on a series of international launches. It announced today that it will begin operating in New Zealand, fast on the heels of launches in the United Kingdom and Australia (its first country outside of India) this year.

Indian patient-doctor platform DocPrime gets $50M for city expansion

Less than three months after it raised $200 million led by SoftBank’s mighty Vision Fund, Indian digital insurance startup PolicyBazaar beefed up its new healthcare business through a $50 million capital injection.

DocPrime, which lets visitors book consultations with doctors or schedule a range of medical tests, launched in August. Already, it claims to host 14,000 doctors and 5,000 diagnostic labs on its platform serving Delhi-NCR — the ‘capital region’ that surrounds the city.

With this investment — which is provided by PolicyBazaar — DocPrime will begin an expansion next month that is expected to take it into major cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. That’s part of a wider goal to reach 100 cities across India and grow the network to 150,000 doctors and 20,000 labs.

DocPrime is up against established competitors, however.

Practo has raised $230 million from investors including China’s Tencent and it claims to work with 200,000 healthcare providers. Beyond India, Practo has already expanded overseas to four countries to tap the doctor-patient gap in other emerging markets. Lybrate, another doctor-patient matching service, has raised over $14 million although it has quietened down somewhat lately. 1mg and Netmeds are others that are active in the space in India.

To get an edge, DocPrime has pushed to work closely with China-based Ping An Good Doctor, a fellow Vision Fund company that claims over 30 million monthly active users.

Facebook is hiring a director of human rights policy to work on “conflict prevention” and “peace-building”

Facebook is advertising for a human rights policy director to join its business, located either at its Menlo Park HQ or in Washington DC — with “conflict prevention” and “peace-building” among the listed responsibilities.

In the job ad, Facebook writes that as the reach and impact of its various products continues to grow “so does the responsibility we have to respect the individual and human rights of the members of our diverse global community”, saying it’s:

… looking for a Director of Human Rights Policy to coordinate our company-wide effort to address human rights abuses, including by both state and non-state actors. This role will be responsible for: (1) Working with product teams to ensure that Facebook is a positive force for human rights and apply the lessons we learn from our investigations, (2) representing Facebook with key stakeholders in civil society, government, international institutions, and industry, (3) driving our investigations into and disruptions of human rights abusers on our platforms, and (4) crafting policies to counteract bad actors and help us ensure that we continue to operate our platforms consistent with human rights principles.

Among the minimum requirements for the role, Facebook lists experience “working in developing nations and with governments and civil society organizations around the world”.

It adds that “global travel to support our international teams is expected”.

The company has faced fierce criticism in recent years over its failure to take greater responsibility for the spread of disinformation and hate speech on its platform. Especially in international markets it has targeted for business growth via its Internet.org initiative which seeks to get more people ‘connected’ to the Internet (and thus to Facebook).

More connections means more users for Facebook’s business and growth for its shareholders. But the costs of that growth have been cast into sharp relief over the past several years as the human impact of handing millions of people lacking in digital literacy some very powerful social sharing tools — without a commensurately large investment in local education programs (or even in moderating and policing Facebook’s own platform) — has become all too clear.

In Myanmar Facebook’s tools have been used to spread hate and accelerate ethic cleansing and/or the targeting of political critics of authoritarian governments — earning the company widespread condemnation, including a rebuke from the UN earlier this year which blamed the platform for accelerating ethnic violence against Myanmar’s Muslim minority.

In the Philippines Facebook also played a pivotal role in the election of president Rodrigo Duterte — who now stands accused of plunging the country into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 80s.

While in India the popularity of the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform has been blamed for accelerating the spread of misinformation — leading to mob violence and the deaths of several people.

Facebook famously failed even to spot mass manipulation campaigns going on in its own backyard — when in 2016 Kremlin-backed disinformation agents injected masses of anti-Clinton, pro-Trump propaganda into its platform and garnered hundreds of millions of American voters’ eyeballs at a bargain basement price.

So it’s hardly surprising the company has been equally naive in markets it understands far less. Though also hardly excusable — given all the signals it has access to.

In Myanmar, for example, local organizations that are sensitive to the cultural context repeatedly complained to Facebook that it lacked Burmese-speaking staff — complaints that apparently fell on deaf ears for the longest time.

The cost to American society of social media enabled political manipulation and increased social division is certainly very high. The costs of the weaponization of digital information in markets such as Myanmar looks incalculable.

In the Philippines Facebook also indirectly has blood on its hands — having provided services to the Duterte government to help it make more effective use of its tools. This same government is now waging a bloody ‘war on drugs’ that Human Rights Watch says has claimed the lives of around 12,000 people, including children.

Facebook’s job ad for a human rights policy director includes the pledge that “we’re just getting started” — referring to its stated mission of helping  people “build stronger communities”.

But when you consider the impact its business decisions have already had in certain corners of the world it’s hard not to read that line with a shudder.

Citing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (and “our commitments as a member of the Global Network Initiative”), Facebook writes that its product policy team is dedicated to “understanding the human rights impacts of our platform and to crafting policies that allow us both to act against those who would use Facebook to enable harm, stifle expression, and undermine human rights, and to support those who seek to advance rights, promote peace, and build strong communities”.

Clearly it has an awful lot of “understanding” to do on this front. And hopefully it will now move fast to understand the impact of its own platform, circa fifteen years into its great ‘society reshaping experience’, and prevent Facebook from being repeatedly used to trash human rights.

As well as representing the company in meetings with politicians, policymakers, NGOs and civil society groups, Facebook says the new human rights director will work on formulating internal policies governing user, advertiser, and developer behavior on Facebook. “This includes policies to encourage responsible online activity as well as policies that deter or mitigate the risk of human rights violations or the escalation of targeted violence,” it notes. 

The director will also work with internal public policy, community ops and security teams to try to spot and disrupt “actors that seek to misuse our platforms and target our users” — while also working to support “those using our platforms to foster peace-building and enable transitional justice”.

So you have to wonder how, for example, Holocaust denial continuing to be being protected speech on Facebook will square with that stated mission for the human rights policy director.

At the same time, Facebook is currently hiring for a public policy manager in Francophone, Africa — who it writes can “combine a passion for technology’s potential to create opportunity and to make Africa more open and connected, with deep knowledge of the political and regulatory dynamics across key Francophone countries in Africa”.

That job ad does not explicitly reference human rights — talking only about “interesting public policy challenges… including privacy, safety and security, freedom of expression, Internet shutdowns, the impact of the Internet on economic growth, and new opportunities for democratic engagement”.

As well as “new opportunities for democratic engagement”, among the role’s other listed responsibilities is working with Facebook’s Politics & Government team to “promote the use of Facebook as a platform for citizen and voter engagement to policymakers and NGOs and other political influencers”.

So here, in a second policy job, Facebook looks to be continuing its ‘business as usual’ strategy of pushing for more political activity to take place on Facebook.

And if Facebook wants an accelerated understanding of human rights issues around the world it might be better advised to take a more joined up approach to human rights across its own policy staff board, and at least include it among the listed responsibilities of all the policy shapers it’s looking to hire.

Golden Gate Ventures closes new $100M fund for Southeast Asia

Singapore’s Golden Gate Ventures has announced the close of its newest (and third) fund for Southeast Asia at a total of $100 million.

The fund hit a first close in the summer, as TechCrunch reported at the time, and now it has reached full capacity. Seven-year-old Golden Gate said its LPs include existing backers Singapore sovereign fund Temasek, Korea’s Hanwha, Naver — the owner of messaging app Line — and EE Capital. Investors backing the firm for the first time through this fund include Mistletoe — the fund from Taizo Son, brother of SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son — Mitsui Fudosan, IDO Investments, CTBC Group, Korea Venture Investment Corporation (KVIC), and Ion Pacific.

Golden Gate was founded by former Silicon Valley-based trio Vinnie Lauria, Jeffrey Paine and Paul Bragiel . It has investments across five markets in Southeast Asia — with a particular focus on Indonesia and Singapore — and that portfolio includes Singapore’s Carousell, automotive marketplace Carro, P2P lending startup Funding Societies, payment enabler Omise and health tech startup AlodokterGolden Gate’s previous fund was $60 million and it closed in 2016.

Some of the firm’s exits so far include the sale of Redmart to Lazada (although not a blockbuster), Priceline’s acquisition of WoomooLine’s acquisition of Temanjalan and the sale of Mapan (formerly Ruma) to Go-Jek. It claims that its first two funds have had distributions of cash (DPI) of 1.56x and 0.13x, and IRRs of 48 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

“When I compare the tech ecosystem of Southeast Asia (SEA) to other markets, it’s really hit an inflection point — annual investment is now measured in the billions. That puts SEA on a global stage with the US, China, and India. Yet there is a youthfulness that reminds me of Silicon Valley circa 2005, shortly before social media and the iPhone took off,” Lauria said in a statement.

A report from Google and Temasek forecasts that Southeast Asia’s digital economy will grow from $50 billion in 2017 to over $200 billion by 2025 as internet penetration continues to grow across the region thanks to increased ownership of smartphones. That opportunity to reach a cumulative population of over 600 million consumers — more of whom are online today than the entire U.S. population — is feeding optimism around startups and tech companies.

Golden Gate isn’t alone in developing a fund to explore those possibilities, there’s plenty of VC activity in the region.

Some of those include Openspace, which was formerly known as NSI Ventures and just closed a $135 million fund, Qualgro, which is raising a $100 million vehicle and Golden Equator, which paired up with Korea Investment Partners on a joint $88 million fund. Temasek-affiliated Vertex closed a $210 million fund last year and that remains a record for Southeast Asia.

Golden Gate also has a dedicated crypto fund, LuneX, which is in the process of raising $10 million.