Indonesian B2B marketplace GudangAda raises more than $100M in new funding

A photo of GudangAda founder and chief executive officer Stevensang

GudangAda founder and chief executive officer Stevensang

GudangAda, a Jakarta-based marketplace that brings wholesalers closer to retail stores and other buyers, announced it has closed a Series B of more than $100 million. The company says the round was oversubscribed, passing its initial target of $75 million. The funding was led by Asia Partners and Falcon Edge, with participation from Sequoia Capital India, Alpha JWC and Wavemaker Partners.

This brings GudangAda’s total raised so far to about $135 million. Its last funding was a $25.4 million Series A last year, led by Sequoia Capital India and JWC Alpha Ventures.

Founded in January 2019, GudangAda is now used by half a million SMEs and covers 500 cities in Indonesia. Before raising its Series B, it had already grown to $6 billion in net merchandise value on $35 million of funding. Principal manufacturers and distributors on the platform range include food products company Sido Muncul, seasoning maker Sasa and British multinational consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser.

Founder and chief executive officer Stevensang spent more than 25 years in Indonesia’s fast-moving consumer goods and retail industries before starting GudangAda. Over the past 10 years, Stevensang told TechCrunch that logistics costs in Indonesia have increased to among the highest in the world, impacting the whole supply chain, especially SME buyers.

GudangAda helps lower operational costs by connecting principal manufacturers, distributors and retailers, and handling almost all aspects of B2B buying, including deliveries. Its mobile app includes a point-of-sale system and it can also be used to manage orders, track logistics and make payments.

Stevensang said GudangAda focuses on several things to make buying inventory easier for SMEs. One is optimizing inventory turnover to increase working capital for businesses on the platform. The company also provides market research and data for products and gives retailers a large selection of goods. Being connected to multiple suppliers on the same platform also lets small retail stores that sell a large selection of items, but don’t have the buying volume to order directly from distributors, to purchase inventory at competitive costs.

To keep logistics costs down, GudangAda partners with third-party vehicle and warehouse providers to build its coverage throughout Indonesia. For its logistics partners, it provides transportation and warehouse management systems to help them digitize their operations.

GudangAda also partners with banks to provide working capital for SMEs, enabling them to apply for loans using their data on the platform.

The funding will be used to expand GudangAda’s product categories, which now include fast-moving consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, packaging, homeware and stationery. It also plans to develop AI-based tools that can provide personalized recommendations for merchant customers. For example, during COVID-19, the platform suggested how much disinfectants a store should stock.

In a statement, Falcon Edge co-founder Navroz D. Udwadia said, “GudangAda is definitively the largest SME e-commerce marketplace in Indonesia with best-in-class metrics. Our research and conversations with stakeholders (principals, wholesalers and retailers) has given us confidence on GudangAda’s distinctive ROI and value addition to the entire ecosystem.”

Indonesia “sea-to-table” platform Aruna hooks $35M led by Prosus and East Ventures Growth Fund

When Aruna’s founders first met at university, they wanted to find a way to use their studies in information technology to help family members who were running small fisheries. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest fisheries producers, but the industry is very fragmented. This means fisheries, especially small ones, deal with fluctuations in demand and price instability. Aruna was created to bring them closer to customers like restaurants and exporters, the way farm-to-table startups are aggregating the agricultural supply chain.

Aruna announced today it has raised $35 million in Series A funding led by Prosus Ventures and East Ventures Growth Fund, with participation from SIG and returning investors including AC Ventures, MDI and Vertex Ventures. Aruna says this is the largest Series A investment to date in Indonesia’s agritech and maritime sector.

The company works primarily with small fisheries (or ones that have boats with about one to two metric tonnes of capacity) and focuses on sustainability, helping suppliers adhere to the United Nations Goal 14’s targets. These include preventing overfishing, protecting coastal ecosystems and giving small-scale fisheries access to more resources and markets.

Aruna was founded in 2016 by Farid Naufal Aslam, Indraka Fadhlillah and Utari Octavianty, who met while studying information technology administration and management at Telkom University. Fadhlillah and Octavianty came from families in the fishing industry, and the three wanted to create something that would solve some of the challenges they faced.

“This was the main idea, but the bigger thing we saw at the time was the advantage of Indonesia’s position as a large agricultural country with big potential in the seafood industry,” Aslam told TechCrunch.

According to the World Bank, Indonesia is the world’s second largest fisheries producer. The sector creates about $4.1 billion in annual export earnings and supports more than 7 million jobs.

But Aruna’s founding team saw two major problems while analyzing coastal communities. The first one was market access and getting fair prices for seafood. The second was access to working capital.

To solve the first issue, Aruna was built to shorten the supply chain, which Aslam said can have six or seven layers between fisheries and buyers like restaurants, markets or exporters.

Buyers make purchase orders through the platform, which are then distributed to fishery communities that Aruna organizes to focus on particular types of seafood. This helps them predict demand, guarantee return business and prevent overfishing.

Aruna also built a logistics network that includes more than 45 collection sites, or warehouses where seafood is delivered by fisheries for quality checks, processing and packaging. Aruna’s warehouses are a combination of facilities that it owns or runs with partners. Deliveries are performed by third-party logistics providers.

The platform currently has about 20 product categories and will use its funding to expand into more. Its commodities include high-value products like lobster, which are shipped by exporters to markets like Malaysia, Singapore, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada and the United States.

One of Aruna’s main requirements for fisheries on the platform is sticking to its sustainability process. According to the World Bank, one of the biggest issues facing Indonesia fisheries is overfishing, which hurts marine biodiversity. Aruna team members work with fisheries to standardize their equipment so they comply with government regulations and chose locations that are not overfished.

By focusing on a few types of seafood each, fisheries that work with Aruna are better able to ensure the quality and traceability of their products, and manage pricing fluctuations.

The second problem Aruna is working on is lack of access to working capital. To help fisheries get low interest, collateral-free loans for equipment and other things they need for their businesses, Aruna partners with financial institutions and fintech companies. When an Aruna fishery applies for a loan, the platform is able to provide transaction data collected on the platform for credit scoring.

The company also announced today that it has appointed Budiman Goh as its president, and Octavianty as its chief sustainability officer. Its funding will be used to expand to new areas in Indonesia, hiring data analytics and tech development, including IoT devices to help perform quality checks.

Aruna plans to focus on Indonesia for the near future because of the large number of fisheries in the country.

“Currently we have 21,000 fishermen on the platform, yet there are about 2.7 million fishermen in Indonesia, so there is a lot of room to grow,” Aslam said.

In a statement, Sachin Bhanot, Prosus Ventures’ head of Southeast Asia investment said, “Having built a robust supply chain and technology infrastructure steeped with deep industry knowledge and expertise, we believe Aruna is uniquely positioned to service the growing global demand for sustainable fishery product, while supporting the livelihood of local fishermen.”

 

Outplay gets $7.3M from Sequoia Capital India to help outbound sales team scale their campaigns

Outbound sales managers typically rely on high volumes of inquiries to find customers, but this means that their revenue is often in proportion to the size of their team. Outplay helps them scale more easily with tools that automate campaigns, identifies the likeliest prospects and uses data to decide the right time to send pitches. The company announced today it has raised $7.3 million in seed funding from Sequoia Capital India.

The new capital will be used for tech development and hiring, and brings Outplay’s total raised so far to $9.3 million. Its previous funding was a $2 million raise from Sequoia Capital India’s Surge announced in March after Outplay took part in the program’s fourth cohort.

Since its seed round, Outplay says it has grown its revenue four times and now has customers in more than 50 countries, serving primarily B2B software companies.

Outplay was founded in 2019 by brothers Ram and Lax Papineni. The two previously launched AppVirality, a referral marketing tool for app developers.

Outplay was designed for sales team who contact prospects through multiple channels, like phone calls, emails, SMS, LinkedIn and Twitter. It integrates the channels into one interface, so salespeople don’t have to switch between apps. Outplay also automates sequences, or marketing campaigns that include an initial pitch sent through various channels and automatic follow-up messages if a reply isn’t received within a preset time.

The platform is meant to replace the process of cold-calling potential customers, which is time-consuming and difficult to scale, and enable salespeople to focus on the best prospects, helping them decide which channel to use and when to contact them.

Since its seed funding, Outplay has launched several new tools and features, including a Chrome extension that lets salespeople add prospects from LinkedIn and Gmail, send emails, make calls and perform other tasks without having to visit Outplay’s dashboard. It also added integrations with sales tools like Gong, Dynamics CRM and Zapier (Outplay was already integrated with customer relationship management platforms Pipedrive, Salesforce and HubSpot).

One major new feature is Magic Outbound Chat, a web chat box that is launched when a prospective customer clicks on an email link. Salespeople are notified and provided with context about the prospect. Laxman told TechCrunch that most chat boxes are designed for inbound sales teams, and Magic Outbound Chat has helped some of its teams grow their sales pipeline by 300%.

Laxman said that the onboarding process for Outplay takes just a few days and sales managers are provided with a playbook of successful sequences to help them get started.

Outplay’s competitors include unicorns Outbound and SalesLoft. Laxman said that in the mid-2000s, inbound sales processes and tech began rapidly evolving as SaaS adoption increased, but outbound sales teams still relied on the same high-volume tactics they had been using for years.

“The previous outbound sales tech disruption happened in 2011 when Outreach and Salesloft were founded. We really respect what they have done to the industry, but the approach is not scalable and the revenue eventually becomes a function of the size of the outbound sales team,” he said, adding that Outplay is changing the process by using data-driven signals to help sales representatives engage with the likeliest prospects at the right time in the right channel.

For example, Outplay’s Dynamic Sequencing automatically moves prospects from one sequence to another that has a higher chance of success. In one scenario, Outplay can be configured to move a prospective who opens a sales representative’s email more than four times to another sequence that focuses on people who appear interested in a product. Laxman said some of its customers have seen open rates as high as 80% in the second sequence with Dynamic Sequencing.

In a statement, Sequoia India principal Harshjit Sethi said, “Outbound sales needs are evolving rapidly and reps now need personalized, automated and contextual tools to drive sales which Outplay is successfully enabling. Sales reps spend an average of four hours per day on Outplay, demonstrating the effectiveness of the product which has category-leading customer reviews.”

UTEC launches a new initiative to help deep-tech founders commercialize their work

The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) is launching a new program to address a problem the venture capital fund says many deep-tech founders face. They may raise pre-seed capital from an incubator or accelerator program, but reach a funding gap before moving on to early-stage rounds. Without financial resources, it takes longer to commercialize their technology, no matter how promising.

UTEC, an independent venture fund associated with The University of Tokyo and other academic institutions, created the UTEC Founders Program (UFP) to address that gap. It offers two tracks: equity, which invests up to $1 million with flexible terms, and grants, a non-dilutive donation of about $50,000 (or occasionally up to $100,000) awarded to recipients every six months.

UFP’s applications are open to deep-tech researchers and founders anywhere in the world.

UTEC launched a $275 million fund in May, and typically writes first checks of about $1 million to $5 million. Its aggregated assets under management are about $780 million, which the firm says makes UTEC the largest venture capital fund in Japan for science and tech companies, and one of the largest deep-tech funds in Asia.

After getting feedback from deep-tech researchers and entrepreneurs, the fund’s partners realized that even though they might have developed potentially impactful tech, it might not be immediately ready for seed funding. Many teams would also benefit from swift funding to continue preparing their tech for commercialization, instead of waiting through a lengthy due diligence process.

In an email, UTEC principals and UFP leads Hiroaki Kobayashi and Kiran Mysore told TechCrunch, “Just like entrepreneurs who create new product offerings to cater to unmet market needs, we at UTEC endeavor to be more nimble and offer new investment products to serve science and technology researchers and entrepreneurs. UFP is UTEC’s attempt to channel over 15 years of deep-tech investing experience and learnings into an early-stage technology commercialization initiative.”

The equity track is primarily for seed and pre-Series A startups, and offers flexible investment terms like SAFE notes, KISS and J-KISS (the Japanese version of Keep It Simple Security), convertible notes and bonds, or common stocks. It accepts applications throughout the year, and successful candidates are contacted for a first interview within three days. Mysore said that the entire due diligence and investment committee process will be completed within four weeks of the first interview.

The grant track is aimed at pre-launch or early-stage startups, and the funds can be used for things like prototyping, testing the market and recruitment. Applications are opened every six months, with about five teams selected each time. The deadline for the first batch of applicants is July 31 and decisions will be made in September.

Deep-tech teams who participate in UFP also get access to UTEC’s network of more than 115 Japanese and global startups, academic institutions, government organizations and corporations.

 

Kamereo gets $4.6M to connect farmers and F&B businesses in Vietnam

While working as the chief operating officer of a pizza chain in Vietnam, Taku Tanaka saw how difficult it is for restaurants to connect with farmers. Many small F&B businesses can’t buy in large volumes, so they rely on nearby markets or multiple suppliers who only sell one category. In turn, this means farmers are disconnected from the end customers of their products, making it hard to predict selling prices or plan their crops. Tanaka founded Kamereo, B2B platform with its own warehouse and last-mile delivery network, to focus on those problems.

Based in Ho Chi Minh City, the company announced today that it has raised $4.6 million co-led by food conglomerate CPF Group, Quest Ventures and Genesia Ventures. The capital will be used for hiring, building a new warehouse management system, user interface upgrades and expanding into Hanoi next year.

Before founding Kamereo in 2018, Tanaka was COO of Pizza 4Ps, which grew from one location in Ho Chi Minh City when he joined to 10 stores three years later (it now has more than 30 locations in Vietnam).

Kamereo works with about 15 farmers, including cooperatives, and serves more than 400 active customers, ranging in size from family-owned restaurants to chains with more than 20 locations. Despite COVID-19 related movement restrictions and temporary business closures, Kamereo says it has grown by 15% every month over the last 12 months. It currently has about 100 employees.

F&B businesses use the platform to order from multiple farmers. Kamereo handles supplier negotiations, order processing and management, and fulfillment. Tanaka told TechCrunch that the company operates its own warehouses and last-mile delivery network because it is cheaper than working with third-party providers.

One of Kamereo's warehouses for fresh farm products

One of Kamereo’s warehouses for fresh farm products

Most of Kamereo’s last-mile deliveries are done by motorbikes since Vietnam has many small roads that are inaccessible to trucks. Tanaka said one drawback is how many goods can be delivered in one trip. Since drivers need to make multiple trips each day, Kamereo plans to expand its micro-warehouse network in Ho Chi Minh City so they don’t need to travel long distances. Its tech team is also building an internal system to manage inventory, fulfillment and last-mile deliveries with the goal of minimizing variable costs.

In a statement about the investment, Quest Ventures partner Goh Yiping said, “Kamereo sites in one of the largest food production hubs of Southeast Asia, and there is much room to grow in solving many of the inefficiencies of the supply chain today, improving farmers’ livelihood outcomes and procuring the best products for businesses and homes.”

Singapore-based Tinvio raises $12M Series A to build financial services for supply chain merchants

First created to give supply chain merchants a streamlined way to communicate with buyers, Tinvio is now preparing to launch financial services, including financing and credit card issuing. The Singapore-based startup announced today it has raised a $12 million Series A to build out its B2B transactions platform. The round was led by AppWorks Ventures, with participation from strategic investor MUFG Innovation Partners (MUIP), a venture capital firm for collaborations between startups and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group.

All of Tinvio’s existing investors—Sequoia Capital India’s Surge, Global Founders Capital and Partech Ventures—also returned for its Series A, which brings Tinvio’s total raised to $18.5 million.

Tinvio’s last funding announcement was a $5.5 million seed round in April 2020. The company was founded in July 2019 by Ajay Gopal, whose prior professional experience included leading initial public offering and merger and acquisition transactions as a fintech investment banker for Credit Suisse in London.

Since its seed funding, Tinvio says its client base has increased four times to over 5,000 businesses in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and other Asian markets. Gopal told TechCrunch that as its user base grows, it is acquiring more new customers through word-of-mouth and referrals. For example, Southeast Asian F&B supplier QQ Group onboarded all of its merchants onto Tinvio and now uses the platform for all trade orders.

One of the reasons Tinvio focuses on F&B businesses is because they deal with a lot of perishable goods and constantly need to manage orders and inventory. Gopal said the company also has clients in the healthcare and automotive sectors, but plans to keep targeting growth in F&B.

Tinvio app was originally launched as a way to consolidate orders from different places, including email, SMS and WhatsApp, and let suppliers keep real-time digital ledgers.

It recently entered financial services by adding a digital payments collection and reconciliation features. Gopal says many suppliers still take payment in the form of bank transfers or cash and paper checks on delivery, making it difficult to keep manage their cash cycles. So Tinvio launched a “super dirty pilot” for on-platform payments late last year in Indonesia, and after validating it, added B2B payments to its core product. Tinvio supports payments through credit cards, direct debits and automated bank transfers, and is integrated with regional payment gateways. Over the last two months, 95% of suppliers on the platform have continued to use Tinvio to collect payments from their merchants.

“It’s only been live for a couple of months, but we’ve already gotten so much feedback from our users and we’re sprinting to unlock new capabilities such as real-time payments and credit,” said Gopal.

The company has a 12-month roadmap for its other financial services, including transaction financing, credit card issuing and invoice factoring, with pilots planned for the next two quarters. “In this Series A, we’ve teamed up with MUFG bank,” Gopal said. “This sets us up in a fantastic position to go-to-market even sooner with our financial technology stack that we’ve been building.”

In a statement, AppWorks Ventures managing partner Jessica Liu said, “Tinvio’s focus on modernizing B2B trade with a seamless user experience has seen it onboard and digitalize thousands of merchant and supplier teams without disrupting their daily routines or procurement workflows. Despite COVID-19, we still see great growth momentum, led by increasing network effects, leaving Tinvio well positioned to dominate this category.”

 

Easy Eat AI raises $5M to help Southeast Asian restaurants digitize their operations

Easy Eat AI, a Singapore-based startup that wants to “transform restaurants into technology companies,” announced today it has raised $5 million in funding. Easy Eat AI offers an operating system for restaurants that lets them digitize all parts of their business, from inventory and customer orders to delivery, and gain AI-based data analytics to improve revenue.

Many food and beverage businesses started digitizing orders and payments so they could offer deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Easy Eat AI lets restaurants integrate with third-party food ordering apps, it also has its own delivery infrastructure, including on-demand riders, that costs just 4% per order, compared to the 20%-30% that many of the largest food delivery platforms charge.

Founded in 2019 by Mohd Wassem, Rhythm Gupta and Abdul Khalid, Easy Eat AI currently has operations in Malaysia, and plans to expand into other Southeast Asian markets. The funding included participation from Aroa Ventures, the family office of OYO founder Ritesh Agarwal; Reddy Futures Family Office; Prophetic Ventures; OYO global chief strategy officer Maninder Gulati; Alarko Ventures managing partner Cem Garih; and Esas Ventures founder and managing partner Fethi Sabancı Kamışlı.

Wassem told TechCrunch that Easy Eat AI was created because even though Southeast Asia “is a food paradise, everyone eats out, eating out is a culture here,” the restaurant industry is still one of the least advanced digitally. Before the pandemic, he said that about 80% of restaurant business came from in-person dining, but taking orders manually resulted in very little data kept about who customers are, what they like to order or how often they return.

Easy Eat AI’s platform helps restaurants create that digital connection with their customers. Some of its clients include chains like Richiamo Coffee, Mr. Fish Fishhead Noodles, WTF Group and Hailam Toast. During COVID-19 lockdowns, Easy Eat AI has helped restaurants fulfill deliveries and its other features, like targeted marketing campaigns and loyalty reward programs, are relevant to in-person dining, too.

A restaurant menu on Easy Eat AI's platform

A restaurant menu on Easy Eat AI’s platform

Easy Eat AI’s consumer interface is based on QR code ordering—customers scan the code with their smartphone and are taken directly to the restaurant’s menu online. They pick what they want, then create an account or sign-in by entering their mobile number. Payments and reward programs can also be accessed through the platform.

The company says that after analyzing 100,000 orders at more than 50 restaurants over six months, it found that people spend about 30% more when they order digitally compared to through a waiter—similar to when people go shopping for a specific item online and end up adding more items to their cart while browsing.

After a restaurant uses Easy Eat AI for about 30 to 45 days, it is able to build a customer database for targeted online marketing strategies, sending offers to the people who are most likely to use them.

For example, a month after launching in its third outlet of Mr. Fish, the platform had collected data from more than 1,400 customers. The restaurant was able to see that about 20% visited the restaurant more than once, and the average duration between their visits was 12 days. Based on that information, it created marketing campaigns to draw back people who hadn’t returned in 20 days. During that time, Mr. Fish also started fulfilling delivery orders through Easy Eat AI, and by the end of the month, 13.4% of its orders were coming through the platform, reducing its reliance on third-party delivery apps.

In a statement about the funding, Keshav Reddy, managing partner of Reddy Futures Family Office, said, “The team is customer obsessed and understands the pain problems of the industry. Their innovative software platform will be disruptive to the entire F&B ecosystem and how customers engage through the entire F&B lifecycle in the online-to-offline world.”

YC-backed Deskimo, an on-demand coworking space app, launches in Singapore and Hong Kong

A photograph of Arcc, one of Deskimo's coworking spaces in Singapore

Arcc, a coworking space in Singapore available for bookings on Deskimo

Part of Y Combinator’s current batch, Deskimo wants to make finding coworking spaces easier. Its on-demand booking app is currently available in Singapore and Hong Kong, with plans to enter more markets after Demo Day. Its founders are former Rocket Internet executives who say that their main competition aren’t spaces like WeWork or other hot desk booking apps. Instead, its Starbucks, since Deskimo caters to people who usually work from home, but occasionally need a place nearby where they can get away from distractions or take meetings. Deskimo partners with employers and charges them by the minutes their workers spend at space, instead of a monthly or yearly fee.

Deskimo was launched in February by Raphael Cohen, Rocket Internet’s former head of Asia, and Christian Mischler, who co-founded Foodpanda and served as its global chief operating officer. After Rocket Internet, the two started HotelQuickly, an on-demand booking app they sold in 2017.

The pandemic has quickly changed attitudes toward remote work, with a McKinsey survey finding that 62% of respondents said they only wanted to return to the office a few days a week, or not at all. As a result, many companies, especially startups, will continue offering flexible arrangements.

Mischler and Cohen already have experience watching peoples’ behavior shift after Foodpanda was launched. “Back in 2012, people were saying that food ordering is not going to work online, people just order on the home or in person,” Cohen said. “What we learned from on-demand restaurant delivery, the shared market-based model, is very similar in that case to setting up with workspace partners.”

 

Deskimo now has about 40 properties in Singapore and 25 in Hong Kong, and wants to expand in both residential and business districts, since many remote workers prefer to find a space close to their homes. It works with several different types of property owners and is approaching each group step-by-step. The first are office spaces that are already set up for coworking and see Deskimo as an additional distribution channel. The second are hotels that are converting some of their space into coworking areas. Finally, Deskimo plans to partner with spaces like social clubs and event venues that usually sit empty during weekdays.

Deskimo app's QR code

Deskimo app’s QR code

On the client side, Deskimo contracts with companies, who then offer the app to their employees. Each person gets a monthly budget on Deskimo, and their employers are only billed for the time they spend at a space. The Deskimo app generates a QR code that workers use to gain access to one of its spaces, and they also scan it when checking out to record how long they were there. Pricing ranges from about $2 to $4 USD per minute, with desks in central business districts typically costing more. Aggregated invoices are sent to clients each month and revenue is then shared with coworking space owners.

“Many companies realize they can save a lot of costs by having people work from home so they can reduce their office space, and instead of adding more fixed costs, they just add variable costs,” said Mischler. “They provide their employees with the ability to go to an office, but if they don’t want to because they have a great home to work from, employees are also more than welcome to work from home.”

In Deskimo’s current markets, other on-demand coworking space apps include Switch, Flydesk, WorkBuddy and Booqed. But Mischler says its main competitors are large F&B chains like Starbucks, since they are easy to find. He adds that Deskimo is more efficient for workers, who are guaranteed a table and don’t need to worry about finding outlets or the quality of Wi-Fi. Besides expanding into more markets, Deskimo also wants to add other services on top of coworking to give it a competitive edge.

“Once we have the company relationships and their employees use Deskimo for their bookings, there’s a lot of different things we can build on top of it, whether it’s employee engagement or workforce management, not just workplace management,” says Mischer. “But we’re focused on the transactional model right now because that’s the biggest pain point.”

 

Next Gen Foods to launch its plant-based chicken in the U.S. after raising a $20M seed extension from investors like GGV

A photo of Next Gen's TiNDLE Parmigiana

“Chicken” Parmigiana made from Next Gen’s TiNDLE

Singapore-based Next Gen Foods will bring its plant-based chicken alternative to the United States after raising a $20 million seed extension. Investors included GGV Capital, agriculture and food tech-focused Bits x Bites, food and beverage company Yeo Hiap Seng, entrepreneur and “Blitzscaling” author Chris Yeh and English footballer Dele Alli.

Returning investors include Temasek, which led Next Gen Foods’ original $10 million seed round, announced in February, and K3 Ventures. The first $10 million was already the largest seed funding ever raised by a plant-based food tech company, based on data from Pitchbook, and now the round totals $30 million. Part of the funding will be used to fill 50 roles in the U.S. for its research and development, sales, supply chain and finance and marketing teams. 

Next Gen also announced changes to its leadership team. Co-founder Timo Recker is moving from his chief executive officer position to chairman, while Andre Menezes, another founder, will take over the CEO spot. Former Temasek director Rohit Bhattacharya will join the startup as its chief financial officer. 

Next Gen’s chicken alternative, called TiNDLE, launched in Asia through partnerships with restaurants and is now served in more than 70 locations in Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau. Over the next 12 months, Next Gen will take a similar approach as it enters the U.S., working with food services in cities to develop TiNDLE dishes for their menus. Eventually it will expand to other distribution channels, like retail, Menezes told TechCrunch.

To replicate chicken meat’s texture, Next Gen uses a proprietary blend of plant-based fats, including sunflower oils, and natural flavors. This allows TiNDLE products to replicate the aroma and browning of chicken when it cooks. 

In the U.S., Next Gen faces rivalry from plant-based food companies like Beyond Meat, which launched its Chicken Tenders product at about 400 restaurants earlier this week. Panda Express, a popular food chain, is also piloting Beyond Meat orange chicken. 

When asked about the competitive landscape, Menezes said, “We are really glad this sector is gaining traction and we do not see other plant-based companies as our competitors. The only competition we worry about are the companies bringing unsatisfactory products to consumers. Consumers may end up having the wrong impression that plant-based foods compromise in taste and experience even today.” 

He added that TiNDLE is GMO and cholesterol-free, and Next Gen has an asset-light business model that will make it easier to scale into new markets. 

Before launching Next Gen, Recker founded German-based LikeMeat, while Menezes worked at one of the world’s largest poultry exporters before serving as general manager of Singapore food distributor Country Foods. 

In a statement, GGV managing partner Jenny Lee said, “The Next Gen team has one of the strongest founder-market fits in foodtech, having previously developed and successfully launched a plant-based meat product for the European market. The team’s focus on product quality, brand recall and distribution provides a strong foundation for the future growth of the company.”

Great Question gets $2.5M seed round to make customer research easier

Great Question's user dashboard

Great Question’s user dashboard

Customer research is invaluable for software companies, but there are many obstacles, like finding the right group of people to survey. Great Question wants to make building and talking to their own panels accessible to all companies, no matter their size. The startup, which recently completed Y Combinator’s summer 2021 program, announced today that it has raised $2.5 million in seed funding.

Great Question launched in February 2021, and its clients include Linktree, Honeybook, O’Reilly Media and MainStreet. The platform has been used to interview customers about product ideas and strategy, find product-market fit, conduct usability studies on UX designs and see how well marketing landing pages perform. Great Question’s seed round came from investors including Funders Club, January Capital, Nomo VC and Twenty-Two Ventures. Angel investors like Warren Hogarth, co-founder of Empower Finance; Jon Williams, co-founder of Culture Amp and Pyn; Jason Smale, senior vice president of engineering at Zendesk; and Robbie Allan, former group product manager at Intercom also participated.

Before founding Great Question, PJ Murray and Ned Dwyer sold their last startup, web developer marketplace Elto, to GoDaddy in 2015. In email, Dwyer told TechCrunch that they did very little formal research at Elto. “We would talk to customers, but it wasn’t structured or consistent.”

After joining GoDaddy, however, they became “a lot more rigorous in our approach to building product—we suddenly had a much larger audience, a bigger team and aggressive targets.” Murray and Dwyer also had the advantage of working with GoDaddy’s UX research team.

The two saw an opportunity to make customer research more accessible to product development teams. Dwyer said that if companies outsource to a large UX research provider, the starting price can be $40,000 a year. On the other hand, Great Question’s freemium pricing model includes paid subscription plans for $49 and $199 a month.

Great Question has almost all of the things needed for customer research—survey smart templates, prototype tests, scheduling tools and transcription—in one place, so teams can share information easily. One of its most important features is customer recruitment and filtering tools. Dwyer explained that many UX research companies sell access to panels they have already built. That means clients often get feedback from relatively homogenous groups of people who are not their target customers—for example, college students or stay at home parents who signed up to answer surveys so they can earn extra cash or gift cards.

Great Question builds custom landing pages where users can opt into panels, decide what kind of research they want to participate in and how often they are willing to answer questions (for example, the platform automates rolling studies, sending questions to different groups of customers every two weeks). Great Question lets its clients integrate incentives programs, such as Tremendous, to compensate participants with cash or gift cards. But many of the people who participate in research through Great Question are motivated because they want to have a say in products they are already using, or find out first about upcoming releases, Dwyer said.

A landing page created for MainStreet with Great Question's user research platform

A landing page created for MainStreet with Great Question’s user research platform

Once customer panels are created, Great Question provides smart templates for surveys or interviews and automatically schedules them for distribution. This saves clients time. For example, MainStreet approached Great Question when it was preparing to release a product that would change its onboarding flow. The startup, which lets small businesses find and claim tax credits and economic incentives, didn’t have time to perform customer research before the launch. “Within 24 hours of signing up to Great Question they’d booked eight customer interviews—this was over Christmas mind you—and got the usability feedback they needed to iterate on the designs before they went to production,” said Dwyer.

In a statement about the investment, Funders Club co-founder and chief executive officer said Alix Mittal said, “Even the best product and business teams know everyday iteration, large pivots, and new launches can be hit or miss. We backed Great Question because they provide the missing tool to effortlessly incorporate customers into product and business decisions and to never miss the mark.”