As China shakes up regulations, tech companies suffer

The Exchange spent a little time on Friday ruminating on the impact of then-rumored regulation in China targeting its edtech sector. News that the Chinese government intended to crack down further on the education technology market hit shares of public, China-based edtech companies. It was a mess.

Then over the weekend, the rumors became reality, and the impact is still being felt today in the global markets.

But there’s more. China is also bringing new regulatory pressure on food-delivery companies and Tencent Music. More precisely, we’ve seen successive market-dynamic-changing moves from the Chinese government in the last few days, coming as 2021 had already proved to be a turbulent environment for China-based technology companies.


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Today we have to do a little bit of work to understand precisely what is going on with the various regulatory changes. Why? Because the Chinese venture capital market is a key player in the global venture scene. And Chinese startups have gone public on both Chinese, Hong Kong and U.S. exchanges; there’s a lot of capital tied up in companies impacted today — and possibly tomorrow.

For startups, the regulatory changes aren’t a death blow; indeed, many Chinese tech startups won’t be affected by what we’ve seen thus far. And upstart tech companies in sectors less likely to be targeted by central authorities may become more attractive to investors than they were before the regulatory onslaught kicked off. But on the whole, it feels like the risk profile of doing business in China has risen. That could curb the pace at which capital is invested, cut valuations and lower interest in the Chinese startup market from private-market investors able to invest globally.

Let’s parse what’s changed, examine market reactions and then consider what could be next. We want to better understand today’s Chinese startup market and what its new form could mean for existing players and future performance.

Changes

The edtech clampdown did not start last week. China’s edtech sector started to rack up penalties and fines in June, which led to what the Asia Times called “warning bells” in the sector. From there, things went from penalties to punishing regulatory changes.

Equity Monday: China boosts pressure on its tech sector as Duolingo’s IPO looks to raise a few more bucks

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

Ever wake up to just a massive wall of news? That was us this morning, so we had to pick and choose. But since this show is about getting you caught up, we decided to focus on the largest, broadest new information that we could:

  • Asian stocks were down, European shares are lower, and American equities are set to open underwater. Bitcoin had a great weekend, however.
  • China’s edtech crackdown continued over the weekend, with the country’s ruling party setting new rules for online tutoring companies; they can no longer go public and will be forced to become non-profit entities. Chinese edtech stocks around the world fell.
  • China’s larger tech crackdown continued over the weekend and into the week, with new moves against the present-day business models of both food delivery companies, and Tencent Music. The former must ensure minimum incomes, while the latter must give up exclusive rights deals. Shares fell.
  • The Jam City SPAC is kaput. It will not be the last similar deal to fall apart.
  • And we chatted about this bit of Rivian news, as it stood out to us.

All that and we had a good time. Hugs and love from the Equity crew, chat Wednesday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Equity Monday: China boosts pressure on its tech sector as Duolingo’s IPO looks to raise a few more bucks

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

Ever wake up to just a massive wall of news? That was us this morning, so we had to pick and choose. But since this show is about getting you caught up, we decided to focus on the largest, broadest new information that we could:

  • Asian stocks were down, European shares are lower, and American equities are set to open underwater. Bitcoin had a great weekend, however.
  • China’s edtech crackdown continued over the weekend, with the country’s ruling party setting new rules for online tutoring companies; they can no longer go public and will be forced to become non-profit entities. Chinese edtech stocks around the world fell.
  • China’s larger tech crackdown continued over the weekend and into the week, with new moves against the present-day business models of both food delivery companies, and Tencent Music. The former must ensure minimum incomes, while the latter must give up exclusive rights deals. Shares fell.
  • The Jam City SPAC is kaput. It will not be the last similar deal to fall apart.
  • And we chatted about this bit of Rivian news, as it stood out to us.

All that and we had a good time. Hugs and love from the Equity crew, chat Wednesday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Data-driven iteration helped China’s Genki Forest become a $6B beverage giant in 5 years

China’s e-commerce and industrial ecosystem is as different from the Western world as its culture. The country took decades to earn its reputation as the Factory of the World, but it now boasts a supply chain and manufacturing ability that few countries can match.

Creative use of the country’s networked manufacturing and logistics hubs make mass production both cheap and easy. Clothing, electronics, toys, automobiles, musical instruments, furniture — you name it and you’ll find a manufacturer in China who can turn your intangible concept into mass-manufacturable reality in mere days. And they’ll do it for cheaper than anywhere else in the world.

It was just a matter of time until an intrepid Chinese entrepreneur with a tech background decided to take on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

China is also home to one of the world’s largest e-commerce and tech ecosystems. Hundreds of startups dot the landscape, and the amount of money being raised and spent on innovating around the country’s industrial heft is mind-boggling.

So it was just a matter of time until an intrepid Chinese entrepreneur with a tech background decided to take on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. The tech revolution hasn’t yet affected the bottled beverage industry quite as much as it has others. Incumbent giants therefore could lose a sizable chunk of market share if a company could just manage to weave together China’s manufacturing proficiency and agility with the modern tech startup philosophy of “moving fast and breaking stuff.”

Genki Forest, a Chinese direct-to-consumer (D2C) bottled beverage startup, is one such contender. A philosophy centered around iteration informed by data, quick turnarounds and a laser focus on taking advantage of China’s huge e-commerce ecosystem has helped this company’s revenues rise rapidly since it started five years ago. Its sugar-free sodas, milk teas and energy drinks sell in 40 countries and generated revenue of about $450 million in 2020. The company aims to reach $1.2 billion this year.

If anything, Genki Forest’s valuation has shot up even faster. It recently completed its fourth VC round that values it at a whopping $6 billion, triple the price it fetched a year earlier, and it has so far raised at least half a billion dollars.

It’s striking how closely Genki Forest’s operations resemble that of a tech startup. So we thought we should take a closer look and see what this company’s graph can tell us about the new wave of Chinese D2C entrepreneurship looking to take over the globe.

Finding a bigger wave to ride

The bottled beverage industry wasn’t what Genki Forest’s founder, Binsen Tang, initially set out to tackle. His first startup was a successful casual, mostly mobile gaming outfit known as ELEX Technology. It was nowhere near record-breaking, though — some 50 million users logged on to a few popular games in over 40 countries worldwide, including one of the first versions of Happy Farm, a predecessor to Zynga’s Farmville. But Tang wasn’t satisfied and eventually sold ELEX Technology to a publicly listed company for about $400 million in 2014.

Tang would walk away with a few important lessons. He’d learned by now that Chinese products were already competitive globally, whether people realized it or not, and that and geographic arbitrage was real, Happy Farm being the perfect example of this. Lastly, he now knew that it was far more important to choose the right “racetrack” (as Chinese investors and entrepreneurs like to put it) than to have a great product.

Picking the right race to win was perhaps the most important takeaway. It’s also an idea that sets Chinese entrepreneurs apart from their Western counterparts — the most worthwhile endeavors are in identifying the largest and most rewarding market at hand, regardless of one’s previous expertise. It was what led Zhang Yiming to create ByteDance, and Lei Jun to found Xiaomi.

That very philosophy led Tang to build Genki Forest. After selling ELEX Technology, Tang didn’t go back to the business that netted him his first pot of gold. As much as he had benefited from the rise of the mobile internet, he thought there was a far bigger opportunity building a consumer brand and applying the lessons he learned from programming to the manufacture of tangible products.

He soon set up his own investment fund, Challenjers Capital, convinced that the next big tech opportunity in China was in tech’s application to everyday consumer products. He soon began to invest in everything from ramen and hotpots to bottled beverages.

China’s quickly expanding e-commerce ecosystem and the plethora of D2C businesses flourishing on Alibaba and JD.com would also influence his decision to sell directly to his target audience rather than take the traditional route. But to truly understand his motivations, we need to take a look at the extremely unique D2C environment in China and how it has changed over the years.

What’s different about Chinese D2C?

“China doesn’t need any more good platforms,” Tang told his team in an internal email in 2015, “but it does need good products.” Tang was talking about how the age of building infrastructure for e-commerce in China was largely over; it was now time to create brands that could take advantage of the advanced distribution network that had been laid out.

Other investors noticed as well. Albus Yu, principal at China Growth Capital, told me that his fund had stopped making investments in independent consumer-facing platforms or marketplaces for a while. “2014 might have been the last year it was economically feasible to start such a business due to the soaring cost of acquiring customers and the strength of incumbents,” he said.

Indeed, 2015 was the year when CACs began to exceed or at least rival ARPUs for Alibaba and JD.com.

In China, that distribution network was present across the digital and physical worlds. Online, there was immense market power concentrated in the hands of just two players: Alibaba and JD.com, which used to have, and still maintain, 80% or above in market share.

In fact, the dominance of Alibaba, in particular, was so overwhelming that for years, VCs invested not in D2C, but in “Taobao brands,” since that was the only channel one needed to conquer in order to make it.

Customer acquisition was therefore straightforward — throw everything into advertising on Alibaba’s Tmall platform, especially during its annual flagship shopping festival, Singles’ Day. Even today, garnering a top spot in one of the category leaderboards remains a surefire way to build brand awareness, investor interest, as well as sales records.

Physically, the Chinese market also differs greatly from much of the developed West. Years of heavy investment in logistics by the private sector, accelerated by government support and infrastructure buildout, means that delivery costs have come down significantly over the years, even dipping below $0.40 per package wholesale as of this year. Innovations such as return insurance have also sped up customer adoption.

By 2016, China was shipping 30 billion packages a year, already accounting for 44% of global shipments. That number has been doubling every three years and is expected to exceed 100 billion this year. And the low cost of delivery is one of the biggest reasons for China’s outsized e-commerce market — the largest globally and estimated to reach $2.8 trillion in 2021, more than triple that of the No. 2, the U.S.

Express parcels sit stacked at a logistic base of e-commerce giant Suning before the 618 Shopping Festival

Express parcels sit stacked at a logistic base of e-commerce giant Suning before the 618 Shopping Festival. Image Credits: VCG

Present-day China also presents another edge: Proximity to an advanced, flexible manufacturing network and supply chain for the vast majority of consumer products, and the ability to outsource almost everything to them.

The original equipment manufacturers of years past have long since evolved into original design manufacturers. An expected consequence of being “the Factory of the World” for so many years, making goods for some of the best brands in the world, is that some of the knowledge was bound to transfer.

It may be difficult for outsiders to understand just how strong China’s networked manufacturing hubs are these days. What used to take weeks now takes mere days, the lead times shortened drastically by software, robots and other advancements. For example, Chinese cross-border ultra-fast-fashion company Shein has compressed design-to-ship timelines to as little as seven days.

And it’s definitely not just for making crop tops. The turnaround can be astonishingly fast even when manufacturing completely unfamiliar goods, such as when electric vehicle maker BYD turned its factory into the world’s largest face mask plant in just two weeks when the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year.

Companies leverage this manufacturing flexibility and agility for more than just speed. Chinese cosmetics upstart Perfect Diary uses it to launch twice as many SKUs as foreign competitors. In addition, the quick turnaround allows agile brands to take advantage of that most ephemeral of IP, memes.

It’s not to say that the Chinese supply chain is inaccessible to foreign entrepreneurs. Best-selling mattress maker Zinus, for example, is founded by a South Korean, but its products are manufactured in China and sold mostly on Amazon to U.S. customers.

It’s just that very few non-Chinese companies have figured out how to tap as deeply into the supply chain as this new crop of Chinese D2C brands, which can require years of working not just alongside but physically inside the factories, building trust and know-how. Shein, for example, watches carefully what other brands are making by staying close to the factories.

The China opportunity

Before global sensations such as TikTok weakened the mantra, “copy to China” used to be a dominant characterization of Chinese startups. In December 2015, when Tang registered the Genki Forest trademark, that was still very much a relevant strategy.

China Roundup: Kai-Fu Lee’s first Europe bet, WeRide buys a truck startup

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

Despite the geopolitical headwinds for foreign tech firms to enter China, many companies, especially those that find a dependable partner, are still forging ahead. For this week’s roundup, I’m including a conversation I had with Prophesee, a French vision technology startup, which recently got funding from Kai-Fu Lee and Xiaomi, along with the usual news digest.

Spotting opportunities in China

Like many companies working on futuristic, cutting-edge tech in Europe, Prophesee was a spinout from university research labs. Previously, I covered two such companies from Sweden: Imint, which improves smartphone video production through deep learning, and Dirac, an expert in sound optimization.

The three companies have two things in common: They are all in niche fields, and they have all found eager customers in China.

For Prophesee, they are production lines, automakers and smartphone companies in China looking for breakthroughs in perception technology, which will in turn improve how their robots respond to the environment. So it’s unsurprising that Xiaomi and Chinese chip-focused investment firm Inno-Chip backed Prophesee in its latest funding round, which was led by Sinovation Venture.

The funding size was undisclosed but TechCrunch learned it was in the range of “tens of million USD.” It was also the first investment that Kai-Fu Lee has made through Sinovation in Europe. As Prophesee CEO Luca Verre recalled:

I met Dr. Kai-Fu Lee three years ago during the World Economic Forum … and when I pitched to him about Prophesee, he got very intrigued. And then over the past three years, actually, we kept in touch and last year, given the growing traction we were having in China, particularly in the mobile and IoT industry, he decided to jump in. He said okay, it is now the right timing Prophesee becomes big.

The Paris-based company wasn’t actively seeking funding, but it believed having Chinese strategic investors could help it gain greater access to the complex market.

Rather than sending information collected by sensors and cameras to computing platforms, Prophesee fits that process inside a chip (fabricated by Sony) that mimics the human eyes, a technology that is built upon neuromorphic engineering.

The old method snaps a collection of fixed images so when information grows in volume, a tremendous amount of computing power is needed. In contrast, Prophesee’s sensors, which it describes as “event-based,” only pick up changes in the environment just as the photoreceptors in our eyes and can process information continuously and quickly.

Europe has been pioneering neuromorphic computing, but in recent years, Verre saw a surge in research coming from Chinese universities and tech firms, which reaffirmed his confidence in the market’s appetite.

We see Chinese OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), particularly Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo pushing the standard of quality of image quality to very, very high … They are very eager to adopt new technology to further differentiate in a way which is faster and more aggressive than Apple. Apple is a company with an attitude which to me looks more similar to Huawei. So maybe for some technology, it takes more time to see the technology mature and adopt, which is right very often but later. So I’m sure that Apple will come at certain point with some products integrating event-based technology. In fact, we see them moving. We see them filing patents in the space. I’m sure that will come, but maybe not the first.

Though China is striving for technological independence, Verre believed Prophesee’s addressable market is large enough — $20 billion by his estimate. Nonetheless, he admitted he’d be “naive to believe Prophesee will be the only one to capture” this opportunity.

WeRide bought a truck company

One of China’s most valuable robotaxi startups has just acquired an autonomous trucking company called MoonX. The size of the deal is undisclosed, but we know that MoonX raised “tens of millions RMB” 15 months ago in a Series A round.

While WeRide is focused on Level 4 self-driving technology, it is also finding new monetization avenues before its robotaxis can chauffeur people at scale. It’s done so by developing minibusses, and the MoonX acqui-hire, which brings the company’s founder and over 50 engineers to WeRide, will likely help diversify its revenue pool.

WeRide and MoonX have deep-rooted relationships. Their respective founders, Tony Han and Yang Qingxiong, worked side by side at Jingchi, which was later rebranded to WeRide. Han co-founded Jingchi and took the helm as CEO in March 2018 while Yang was assigned vice president of engineering. But Yang soon quit and started MoonX.

Han, a Baidu veteran, gave Yang a warm homecoming and put him in charge of the firm’s research institute and its new office in Shenzhen, home to MoonX. WeRide’s sprawling headquarters is just about an hour’s drive away in the adjacent city of Guangzhou.

AI surveillance giant Cloudwalk nears IPO

Cloudwalk belongs to a cohort of Chinese unicorns that flourished through the second half of the 2010s by selling computer vision technology to government agencies across China. Together, Cloudwalk and its rivals SenseTime, Megvii and Yitu were dubbed the “four AI dragons” for their fast ascending valuations and handsome funding rounds.

Of course, the term “AI dragon” is now a misnomer as AI application becomes so pervasive across industries. Investors soon realized these upstarts need to diversify revenue streams beyond smart city contracts, and they’ve been waiting anxiously for exits. Finally, here comes Cloudwalk, which will likely be the first in its cohort to go public.

Cloudwalk’s application to raise 3.75 billion yuan ($580 million) from an IPO on the Shanghai STAR board was approved this week, though it can still be months before it starts trading. The firm’s financials don’t look particularly rosy for investors, with net loss amounting to 720 million yuan in 2020.

Also in the news

  • Speaking of the torrent of news in autonomous driving, vehicle vision provider CalmCar said this week that it has raised $150 million in a Series C round. Founded by several overseas Chinese returnees in 2016, CalmCar uses deep learning to develop ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) used in automotive, industrial and surveillance scenarios. German auto parts maker ZF led the round.
  • Baby clothes direct-to-consumer brand PatPat said it has raised $510 million from Series C and D rounds. The D2C ecosystem leveraging China’s robust supply chains is increasingly gaining interest from venture capitalists. Brands like Shein, PatPat, Cider and Outer have all secured fundings from established VCs. Founded by three Carnegie Mellon grads, PatPat counts IDG Capital, General Atlantic, DST Global, GGV Capital, SIG China and Sequoia China among its investors.

Extra Crunch roundup: finding GTM, China’s edtech clampdown and how to define growth

Early-stage startups tend to claim that their go-to-market strategy is fully operational. In reality, GTM is a stark numbers game, and even with a solid plan in place, it can be easily foiled by common problems like turf battles and poor communication.

Finding GTM fit is a milestone for any startup that includes everything from expanding the engineering team to launching your first media buy. But how do you know when you’ve reached that magic moment?

“You have to consider three metrics: gross churn rate, the magic number and gross margin,” says Tae Hea Nahm, co-founder and managing director of Storm Ventures.

High churn means customers aren’t delighted, low gross margins mean poor unit economics, and that so-called magic number?

“You can calculate it by taking new ARR divided by your marketing and sales spending,” Nahm writes. “But keep in mind that the magic number is a lagging indicator, and it may take you a few quarters to see a positive result.”


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If you are methodical in your approach to building a larger customer base, it is not difficult to foster steady growth.

Marketers who shift with whichever way the wind is blowing — or blindly follow someone else’s idea of best practices — are less likely to be successful.

“The not-so-secret secret here is that the key to great retention is really simple,” said growth expert Susan Su recently at TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising. “It is building a product that solves a real and especially persistent problem for people.”

In conversation with Managing Editor Eric Eldon, Su delved into several issues, including tips on how founders should discuss growth with investors, and her methods for developing a sample qualitative growth model.

“I firmly believe that every founder should try their hand at growth,” said Su.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

How we built an AI unicorn in 6 years

An adult wearing a unicorn mask leaps over a chain-link fence

Image Credits: Lucas Knappe/EyeEm (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Few startups go to market with the exact product their founders first envisioned.

Today, Tractable is known for developing tech that allows drivers to upload photos of their vehicles after a collision so its AI can assess the damage. Its first paying customer, however, used Tractable to inspect plastic pipe welds.

And as fate would have it, that customer also fired them just as the founders were raising their first round.

“We struck gold with car insurance,” says co-founder Alex Dalyac, as it was “a huge and inefficient market in desperate need of modernization.”

In an Extra Crunch guest post, he shares several takeaways from the last six years spent scaling a unicorn that have value for founders of all stripes. Step one?

“Search for complementary co-founders who will become your best friends,” advises Dalyac.

 

The European VC market is so hot it may skip its summer holiday

Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim continued their exploration of the scorching global VC market, this time taking a look at Europe.

For perspective, they analyzed data from Dealroom and spoke to four VCs about the continent’s investment climate:

  • Diana Koziarska, SMOK Ventures
  • Vinoth Jayakumar, Draper Esprit
  • Simon Schmincke, Creandum
  • Javier Santiso, Mundi Ventures

“There’s little indication that what we’ve seen thus far from Europe in 2021 will slow in Q3 or Q4,” Alex and Anna write.

“Even though Europe has a reputation for lengthy summer vacations, investors don’t expect much — if any — slowdown to come in Europe during this sun-drenched quarter.”

Startups and investors are turning to micromobility subscriptions

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

“Amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic and the murky path to profitability for shared electric micromobility, an increasing number of companies have turned to subscriptions,” Rebecca Bellan writes in a roundup about the future of micromobility.

“It’s a business model that some founders and investors argue hits the profit center sweet spot — an approach that appeals to customers who are wary of sharing as well as paying upfront to own a scooter or e-bike, all while minimizing overhead costs and depreciation of assets.”

What Robinhood’s warnings about crypto trading say about Coinbase’s near-term future

After noting that Robinhood anticipates a decline in revenue in the third quarter as a result of slowing crypto trading, Alex Wilhelm got to thinking about what that forecast means for Coinbase.

“The now-public unicorn has lived through crypto ups and crypto downs,” he writes. “A decline in consumer interest in the next few months or quarters is not a huge deal, assuming one keeps a long enough perspective and the crypto-infused future that its fans expect comes to pass.”

But will it?

Dear Sophie: Should we look to Canada to retain international talent?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I handle people ops as a consultant at several different tech startups. Many have employees on OPT or STEM OPT who didn’t get selected in this year’s H-1B lottery.

The companies want to retain these individuals, but they’re running out of options. Some companies will try again in next year’s H-1B lottery, even though they face long odds, particularly if the H-1B lottery becomes a wage-based selection process next year.

Others are looking into O-1A visas, but find that many employees don’t yet have the experience to meet the qualifications. Should we look at Canada?

— Specialist in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley comms expert Caryn Marooney shares how to nail the narrative

Caryn Marooney, right, vice president of technology communications at Facebook, poses for a picture on the red carpet for the 6th annual 2018 Breakthrough Prizes at Moffett Federal Airfield, Hangar One in Mountain View, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. (N

Image Credits: MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images(Image has been modified)

Caryn Marooney, a Silicon Valley communications professional turned venture capitalist, spoke extensively on storytelling at TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising.

Throughout her time in Silicon Valley, she helped companies like Salesforce, Amazon, Facebook and more launch products and sharpen their messaging. In 2019, she left Facebook, where she was VP of technology communication, and joined Coatue Management as a general partner.

Marooney uses the acronym RIBS to describe her basic strategy for startup messaging: Relevance, Inevitability, Believability and keeping it Simple.

Canada’s startup market booms alongside hot global VC investment

For The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim looked at Canada’s VC market in the first half of 2021, and if you’ve been reading their work, you know what’s coming.

Canada, like the rest of the globe, was absolutely scorching in the first half.

“Canada’s venture capital results now rival those of the entire Latin American region, with exits and mega-deals coming in roughly on par in the second quarter, and a similar number of total venture capital rounds in the period,” they write.

“That caught our attention.”

Greylock’s Mike Duboe explains how to define growth and build your team

With more venture funding flowing into the startup ecosystem than ever before, there’s never been a better time to be a growth expert.

At TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising earlier this month, Greylock Partners’ Mike Duboe dug into a number of lessons and pieces of wisdom he’s picked up leading growth at a number of high-growth startups, including StitchFix. His advice spanned hiring, structure and analysis, with plenty of recommendations for where growth teams should be focusing their attention and resources.

Last-mile delivery in Latin America is ready to take off

Thanks to sprawling fulfillment centers, seamless logistics networks and ubiquitous internet access, consumers in many regions can now order groceries and a new set of cookware during breakfast and reasonably expect everything to arrive in time for dinner.

In Latin America, a lack of technology infrastructure makes delivery operations complex, and these supply chains are often managed with spreadsheets, paper and pen.

Algorithms that manage delivery routes or automatically dispatch drivers “are almost unheard of in the Latin America retail logistics sector,” says Bob Ma, an investor at WIND Ventures.

But thanks to growing consumer demand and expanding investment in last-mile delivery startups, Ma says the region is at a turning point.

Since Latin America’s middle class has grown 50% in the last decade and e-commerce constitutes just 6% of all retail, several unicorns have emerged in recent years, with more waiting in the wings.

China’s expected edtech clampdown may chill a key startup sector

China’s edtech industry is estimated to be worth $100 billion, but its leaders are reportedly considering a plan that would require these firms to operate as non-profits.

“When it comes to control, the Chinese government doesn’t mind wiping out a few dozen billion dollars in market cap here and there,” writes Alex Wilhelm in this morning’s edition of The Exchange.

“That’s not a great system.”

China’s expected edtech clampdown may chill a key startup sector

News that China’s government may force domestic tutoring-focused companies to go non-profit is taking a huge bite out of the value of several technology companies. Bloomberg notes that the value of companies like New Oriental Education & Technology Group and TAL Education are tumbling in light of the news, which would constitute merely the latest salvo against tech companies in the autocratic country.

New Oriental’s Hong Kong-listed shares fell 44.22% in after-hours trading after the non-profit news broke, while NYSE-shares of TAL are off an even sharper 51.75% in pre-market trading. With Yahoo Finance listing a roughly $13.8 billion market cap for TAL ahead of its impending declines at the market open, billions of equity value are about to get deleted. The list goes on: China Online Education Group is off 39.97% in after-hours trading, for example.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


A new decision by China’s government to exert more control over a sector of its domestic economy should not surprise. And we shouldn’t be shocked that online tutoring is in the country’s targets; today’s news is a follow-up to prior regulatory action in the sector from earlier in the year.

As China has become synonymous with edtech startup in recent years, the news impacts more than just public companies. The expected rules change may also hit a host of private, venture-backed companies.

For example, what will happen to Yuanfudao? The company was valued at $15.5 billion last year, offering what TechCrunch described as “live tutoring, an online Q&A arm and a math problem-checking arm.” Will the company see its wings clipped?

Or how about Zuoyebang, which raised $1.6 billion in a single round last year? TechCrunch wrote that Zuoyebang offers “online courses, live lessons and homework help for kindergarten to 12th grade students.” Is it in trouble as well?

All this comes on the same day that shares in Zomato began to float, with the Indian online food delivery company seeing its shares close up nearly 65% in their first day’s trading. TechCrunch has viewed the Zomato IPO as a possible bellwether for the larger Indian startup market, and the results augur well for other growth-focused, loss-making unicorns in the country.

US blames China for Exchange server hacks and ransomware attacks

The Biden administration and its allies has formally accused China of the mass-hacking of Microsoft Exchange servers earlier this year, which prompted the FBI to intervene as concerns rose that the hacks could lead to widespread destruction.

The mass-hacking campaign targeted Microsoft Exchange email servers with four previously undiscovered vulnerabilities that allowed the hackers — which Microsoft already attributed to a China-backed group of hackers called Hafnium — to steal email mailboxes and address books from tens of thousands of organizations around the United States.

Microsoft released patches to fix the vulnerabilities, but the patches did not remove any backdoor code left behind by the hackers that might be used again for easy access to a hacked server. That prompted the FBI to secure a first-of-its-kind court order to effectively hack into the remaining hundreds of U.S.-based Exchange servers to remove the backdoor code. Computer incident response teams in countries around the world responded similarly by trying to notify organizations in their countries that were also affected by the attack.

In a statement out Monday, the Biden administration said the attack, launched by hackers backed by China’s Ministry of State Security, resulted in “significant remediation costs for its mostly private sector victims.”

“We have raised our concerns about both this incident and the [People’s Republic of China’s] broader malicious cyber activity with senior PRC Government officials, making clear that the PRC’s actions threaten security, confidence, and stability in cyberspace,” the statement read.

The National Security Agency also released details of the attacks to help network defenders identify potential routes of compromise.

Several allies, including the U.K. and the members of NATO, also backed the Biden administration in its findings. In a statement, the U.K. government found Beijing responsible for a “pervasive pattern” of hacking. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied claims of state-backed or sponsored hacking.

The Biden administration also blamed China’s Ministry of State Security for contracting with criminal hackers to conduct unsanctioned operations, like ransomware attacks, “for their own personal profit.” The government said it was aware that China-backed hackers have demanded millions of dollars in ransom demands against hacked companies. Last year, the Justice Department charged two Chinese spies for their role in a global hacking campaign that saw prosecutors accuse the hackers of operating for personal gain.

Although the U.S. has publicly engaged the Kremlin to try to stop giving ransomware gangs safe harbor from operating from within Russia’s borders, the U.S. has not previously accused Beijing of launching or being involved with ransomware attacks.

“The PRC’s unwillingness to address criminal activity by contract hackers harms governments, businesses, and critical infrastructure operators through billions of dollars in lost intellectual property, proprietary information, ransom payments, and mitigation efforts,” said Monday’s statement.

The statement also said that the China-backed hackers engaged in extortion and cryptojacking, a way of forcing a computer to run code that uses its computing resources to mine cryptocurrency, for financial gain.

The Justice Department also announced fresh charges against four China-backed hackers working for the Ministry of State Security, which U.S. prosecutors said were engaged in efforts to steal intellectual property and infectious disease research into Ebola, HIV and AIDS, and MERS against victims based in the U.S., Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom by using a front company to hide their operations.

“The breadth and duration of China’s hacking campaigns, including these efforts targeting a dozen countries across sectors ranging from healthcare and biomedical research to aviation and defense, remind us that no country or industry is safe. Today’s international condemnation shows that the world wants fair rules, where countries invest in innovation, not theft,” said deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco.

With open banking on the horizon, the fintech-SME love story is just beginning

The fintech sector has been hugely successful (and hugely profitable) for much of the last decade, and even more so during the pandemic. But it might come as a surprise to learn that many in the industry believe that the story is just beginning and the sector is poised to achieve much more, with fintech’s next decade expected to be radically different from the last 10 years.

Long before the pandemic, the way in which banks were regulated was changing. Initiatives like Open Banking and the Revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) were being proposed as a way to promote competition in the banking industry — allowing smaller challenger firms to break into a market that has long been dominated by corporate titans.

Now that these initiatives are in place, however, we’re seeing that their effect goes way beyond opening up a gap for challenger banks. Since open banking requires that banks make valuable data available via APIs, it is leading to a revolution in the way that small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) are funded — one in which data, and not hard capital, is the most important factor driving fintech success.

Open banking and data freedom

In order to understand the changes that are sweeping fintech and reconfiguring the way that the industry works with small businesses, it’s important to understand open banking. This is a concept that has really taken hold among governmental and supranational banking regulators over the past decade, and we are now beginning to see its impact across the banking sector.

Allowing third parties access to the data held at banks will allow the true financial position of SMEs to be assessed, many for the first time.

At its most fundamental level, open banking refers to the process of using APIs to open up consumers’ financial data to third parties. This allows these third parties to design, build and distribute their own financial products. The utility (and, ultimately, the profitability) of these products doesn’t rely on them holding huge amounts of capital — rather, it is the data they harvest and contain that endows them with value.

Open-banking models raise a number of challenges. One is that the banking industry will need to develop much more rigorous systems to continually seek consumer consent for data to be shared in this way. Though the early years of fintech have taught us that consumers are pretty relaxed when it comes to giving up their data — with some studies indicating that almost 60% of Americans choose fintech over privacy — the type and volume shared through open-banking frameworks is much more extensive than the products we have seen up until now.

Despite these concerns, the push toward open banking is progressing around the world. In Europe, the PSD2 (the Payment Services Directive) requires large banks to share financial information with third parties, and in Asia services like Alipay and WeChat in China, and Tez and PayTM in India are already altering the financial services market. The extra capabilities available through these services are already leading to calls for the U.S. banking system to embrace open banking to the same degree.

Serving SMEs

If the U.S. banking industry can be convinced of the utility of open banking, or if it is forced to do so via legislation, several groups are likely to benefit:

  • Consumers will be offered novel banking and investment products based on far more detailed data analysis than exists at present.
  • The fintech companies who design and build these products will also see the use of their products increase, and their profit margins alongside this.
  • Arguably, even banks will benefit, because even in the most open models it is banks who still act as the gatekeepers, deciding which third parties have access to consumer data, and what they need to do to access.

By far the biggest beneficiary of open banking, however, will be SMEs. This is not necessarily because open-banking frameworks offer specific new functionality that will be useful to small and medium-sized businesses. Instead, it is a reflection of the fact that SMEs have historically been so poorly served by traditional banks.

SMEs are underserved in a number of ways. Traditional banks have an extremely limited ability to view the aggregate financial position of an SME that holds capital across multiple institutions and in multiple instruments, which makes securing finance very difficult.

In addition, SMEs often have to deal with dated and time-consuming manual interfaces to upload data to their bank. And (perhaps worst of all) the B2B payment systems in use at most banks provide very limited feedback to the businesses that use them — a lack of information that can cost businesses dearly.

New capabilities

Given these deficiencies, it’s not surprising that fintech startups are keen to lend to small businesses, and that SMEs are actively looking for novel banking products and services. There have, of course, already been some success stories in this space, and the kinds of banking systems available to SMEs today (especially in Europe) are leagues ahead of the services available even 10 years ago.

However, open banking promises to accelerate this transformation and dramatically improve the financial services available to the average SME. It will do this in several ways. Allowing third parties access to the data held at banks will allow the true financial position of SMEs to be assessed, many for the first time.

Via APIs, fintech companies will be able to access information on different types of accounts, insurance, card accounts and leases, and consolidate data from multiple countries into one overall picture.

This, in turn, will have major effects on the way that credit-worthiness is assessed for SMEs. At the moment, there is a funding gap facing many SMEs, largely because banks have been hesitant to move away from the “balance sheet” model of assessing credit risk. By using real-time analytics on an SME’s current business activities, banks will be able to more accurately assess this risk and lend to more businesses.

In fact, this is already happening in countries where open banking is well advanced – in the U.K., Lloyds’ Business ToolBox offers unlimited credit checks on companies and directors in addition to account transaction data.

Open banking will also allow peer comparison analytics far ahead of what we have seen until now. APIs can be used to provide SMEs real-time feedback on how they are performing within their market sector. Again, this ability is already available in the U.K., with Barclays’ SmartBusiness Dashboard offering marketing effectiveness tools as part of a customizable business dashboard.

These capabilities will be so useful to SMEs that they are likely to drive the popularity of any fintech product that offers them. For SMEs, this value will lie mainly in intelligent data-analytics-based insights, recommendations and automatic prompts that can be built on top of account aggregation.

Then, additional insights generated from these same monitoring tools could enable banks and alternative lenders to be more proactive with their lending — offering preapproved lines of credit, in a timely manner, to SMEs that would have previously found it difficult to access funding.

The bottom line

Crucially for the fintech sector, it’s almost a certainty that SMEs will be willing to pay fees for data-analytics-based value-added services that help them grow. This is why some startups in this space are already attracting huge levels of funding, and why open banking is at the heart of the relationship between tech and the economy.

So if fintech has had a good year, this is likely to be just the start of the story. Backed by open-banking initiatives, the sector is now at the forefront of a banking revolution that will finally give SMEs the level of service they deserve and unleash their true potential across the economy at large.

Equity Monday: Cybersecurity startups see deluge of capital as Microsoft looks to buy RiskIQ

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

It was a busy weekend for everyone, regardless of whether you were watching the technology, what Branson was up to, or the footie. I won’t take sides on the match, but I will say that it was gripping unto the very end and a great example of sport. Now, the news:

And don’t forget that earnings season is just around the corner. It’s a pretty important cycle. Why? Because startup valuations are hot, and could take a hit if earnings come up short. And the IPO market is pretty freaking active; poor earnings from major tech companies could crimp exit-prices for mature startups.

Ok! Talk to you on Wednesday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!