The Nubank EC-1

Brazil is a country riven with economic contradictions. It has one of the largest and most profitable banking industries in Latin America, and is among the world’s most developed financial markets. Financial transactions that would take days to process in the United States through ACH happen instantaneously in Brazil. This sophistication, however, masks a backward state of affairs plagued by appalling customer service, exorbitant fees and lack of banking access for many.

The country’s financial system is volatile and often leaves its citizens with few or no alternatives. According to an HBS case study, “in December 2018 the interest rate in Brazil for corporate loans was 52.3%, for consumer loans it was 120.0% and for credit card indebtedness it was 272.42%.” Those rates are many multiples higher compared to figures in neighboring countries.

Brazil’s banking system is a massive market, and one ill-served by incumbents. If someone could thread the needle of product development, strategy and political horse trading required to build a bank in a country where it is nearly impossible for foreigners to own or invest in a bank, it would be one of the great startup and economic success stories of this century.

Nubank is on its way to realizing that objective. Its story is one of unmitigated success, even by the standards of our EC-1 series on high-flying companies and their hard-learned lessons. Just last week, this Brazilian credit card and banking fintech raised a $750 million round led by Berkshire Hathaway at a $30 billion valuation, becoming one of the most valuable startups in the world. It has 40 million users across Brazil, as well as Mexico and Colombia.

Yet, it’s a startup with a CEO and co-founder who isn’t Brazilian, didn’t speak the local language of Portuguese, hadn’t started a company before, and didn’t really know a lot about banking to begin with. This is a story of how raw execution, a “faster, faster” mentality and a fanaticism for making customer experience as enjoyable as a trip to Disney World can completely change the history of an industry — and country — forever.

Our lead writer for this EC-1 is Marcella McCarthy. McCarthy, who spent significant time in Brazil growing up and is trilingual in English, Spanish and Portuguese, has been covering the LatAm and Miami ecosystems for TechCrunch with an eye to the disruption underway in these interconnected regions. The lead editor for this package was Danny Crichton, the assistant editor was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto, and illustrations were drawn by Nigel Sussman.

Nubank had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. McCarthy has no financial ties to Nubank or other conflicts of interest to disclose.

The Nubank EC-1 comprises four main articles numbering 9,200 words and a reading time of 37 minutes. Here’s what’s in the bank:

We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at [email protected].

SoftBank pours up to $150M into GBM, a Mexico City-based investment platform

Grupo Bursátil Mexicano (GBM) is a 35-year-old investment platform in the Mexican stock market. In its first three decades of life, GBM was focused on providing investment services to high net worth individuals and local and global institutions.

Over the past decade, the Mexico City-based brokerage has ramped up its digital efforts, and, in the past five years, has evolved its business model to offer services to all Mexicans with the same products and services it offers large estates.

Today, GBM is announcing it has received an investment of “up to” $150 million from SoftBank via the Japanese conglomerate’s Latin America Fund at a valuation of “over $1 billion.” The investment is being made through one of GBM’s subsidiaries and is not contingent on anything, according to the company.

Co-CEO Pedro de Garay Montero told TechCrunch that GBM has built an app, GBM+, that organizes and invests clients’ money through three different tools: Wealth Management, Trading and Smart Cash.

Last year was a “historic” one for the company, he said, and GBM went from having 38,000 investment accounts in January 2020 to more than 650,000 by year’s end. In the first quarter of 2021, that number had grown to over 1 million — representing more than 30x growth from the beginning of 2020.

For some context, according to the National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV), there were only 298,000 brokerage accounts in Mexico at the end of 2019, and that number climbed to 940,000 by the end of 2020 — with GBM holding a large share of them.

Most of GBM’s clients are retail clients, but the company also caters to “most of the largest investment managers worldwide,” as well as global companies such as Netflix, Google and BlackRock. Specifically, it services 40% of the largest public corporations in Mexico and a large base of ultra high net worth individuals.

The company is planning to use its new capital in part to invest “heavily” in customer acquisition.

Montero said that half of its team of 450 are tech professionals, and that the company plans to also continue hiring as it focuses on growth in its B2C and B2B offerings and expanding into new verticals.

“We are improving our already robust financial education offering,” he added, “so that Mexicans can take control of their finances. GBM’s mission is to transform Mexico into a country of investors.”

Because Mexico is such a huge market — with a population of over 120 million and a GDP of more than $1 trillion — GBM is laser-focused on growing its presence in the country.

“The financial services industry is dominated by big banks and is inefficient, expensive and provides a poor client experience. This has resulted in less than 1% of individuals having an investment account,” Montero told TechCrunch. “We will be targeting clients through our own platform and internal advisors, as well as growing our base of external advisors to reach as many people as possible with the best investment products and user experience.”

When it comes to institutional clients, he believes there is “enormous potential” in serving both the large corporations and the SMEs “who have received limited services from banks.”

Juan Franck, investment lead for SoftBank Latin America Fund in Mexico, believes the retail investment space in Mexico is at an inflection point.

“The investing culture in Mexico has historically been low compared to the rest of the world, even when specifically compared to other countries in Latin America, like Brazil,” he added. “However, the landscape is quickly changing as, through technology, Mexicans are being provided more education around investing and more investment alternatives.”

In the midst of this shift, SoftBank was impressed by GBM’s “clear vision and playbook,” Franck said.

So, despite being a decades-old company, SoftBank sees big potential in the strength of the digital platform that GBM has built out.

“GBM is the leading broker in Mexico in terms of trading activity and broker accounts,” he said. “The company combines decades of industry know-how with an entrepreneurial drive to revolutionize the wealth management space in the country.”

Jeeves emerges from stealth with $131M in debt and equity and a16z as a lead investor

Jeeves, which is building an “all-in-one expense management platform” for global startups, is emerging from stealth today with $131 million in total funding, including $31 million in equity and $100 million in debt financing. 

The $31 million in equity consists of a new $26 million Series A and a previously unannounced $5 million seed round.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led the Series A funding, which also included participation from YC Continuity Fund, Jaguar Ventures, Urban Innovation Fund, Uncorrelated Ventures, Clocktower Ventures, Stanford University, 9 Yards Capital and BlockFi Ventures.

A high-profile group of angel investors also put money in the round, including NFL wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the founders of five LatAm unicorns — Nubank CEO David Velez, Kavak CEO Carlos Garcia, Rappi co-founder Sebastian Mejia, Bitso CEO Daniel Vogel and Loft CEO Florian Hagenbuch. Justo’s Ricardo Weder also participated in this round and Plaid co-founder William Hockey put money in the $5 million seed funding that closed in 2020 after the company completed the YC Summer 2020 batch.

The “fully remote” Jeeves describes itself as the first “cross country, cross currency” expense management platform. The startup’s offering is currently live in Mexico — its largest market — as well as Colombia, Canada and the U.S., and is currently beta testing in Brazil and Chile. 

Dileep Thazhmon and Sherwin Gandhi founded Jeeves last year under the premise that startups have traditionally had to rely on financial infrastructure that is local and country-specific. For example, a company with employees in Mexico and Colombia would require multiple vendors to cover its finance function in each country — a corporate card in Mexico and one in Colombia and another vendor for cross-border payments.

Image Credits: Left to right: Jeeves co-founders Dileep Thazhmon and Sherwin Gandhi

Jeeves claims that by using its platform, any company can spin up their finance function “in minutes” and get access to 30 days of credit on a true corporate card, noncard payment rails, as well as cross-border payments. Customers can also pay back in multiple currencies, reducing FX (foreign transaction) fees.

“We’re building an all-in-one expense management platform for startups in LatAm and global markets — cash, corporate cards, cross-border — all run on our own infrastructure,” Thazhmon said. 

“We’re really building two things — an infrastructure layer that sits across banking institutions in different countries. And then on top of that, we’re building the customer-, or end user-facing app,” he added. “What gives us the ability to launch in countries much quicker is that we own part of that stack ourselves, versus what most fintechs would do, which is plug into a third-party provider in that region.” 

Image Credits: Jeeves

Indeed, the company has seen rapid early growth. Since launching its private beta last October, Jeeves says it has grown its transaction volume (GTV) by 200x and increased revenue by 900% (albeit from a small base). In May alone, Jeeves says it processed more transaction volume than the entire year to date, and more than doubled its customer base. It says that “hundreds of companies,” including Bitso, Belvo, Justo, Runa, Worky, Zinboe, RobinFood and Muncher, “actively” use Jeeves to manage their local and international spend. On top of that, it says, the startup has a waitlist of more than 5,000 companies — which is part of why the company sought to raise debt and equity.

The shift to remote work globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic has played a large role in why Jeeves has seen so much demand, according to Thazhmon.

“Every company is now becoming a global company, and the service to employees in two different countries requires two different systems,” he said. “And then someone’s got to reconcile that system at the end of the month. This has been a big reason why we’re growing so fast.”

One of Jeeves’ biggest accomplishments so far, Thazhmon said, has been receiving approval to issue cards from its own credit BIN (bank identification number) in Mexico. It can also run SPEI payments directly on its infrastructure. (SPEI is a system developed and operated by Banco de México that allows the general public to make electronic payments.)

“This gives us a lot of flexibility and allows us to offer a truly unique product to our customers,” said Thazhmon, who previously co-founded PowerInbox, a
Battery Ventures-backed MarTech company that he says grew to $40 million in annual revenue in three years.

Jeeves says it will use the fresh capital to onboard new companies to the platform from its waitlist, scale its infrastructure to cover more countries and currencies as well as do some hiring and expand its product line.

A16z General Partner Angela Strange, who is joining Jeeves’ board as part of the investment, is extremely bullish on the startup’s potential.

Strange says she met Thazhmon about a year ago and was immediately intrigued.

“Not only were they working to provide the financial operating system within a country, starting in Mexico, they were designing their software platform to scale across multiple countries,” she said. “Finally — a multicountry/currency expense management & payouts platform, where increasingly companies have employees and operations in multiple countries from the start and can use a single company to manage their financials.”

Strange, who has been investing in Latin America for the past few years, notes that most companies in the region are unable to get a corporate credit card.

“That’s only the tip of the iceberg,” she told TechCrunch. “It’s cumbersome for companies to make bank to bank payouts, handle wires, and they usually also have expenses in the U.S. (and often other countries) so there is also FX. And they manage multiple bank accounts. Not only is paying hard, reconciliation on the backend takes weeks.”

As such, Strange said, with every country having their own bank transfer system, rules around who can issue a credit card, approved payment processors, currencies and bank accounts — payments and expense management across countries can be complex.

Jeeves, according to Strange, “gets as close to the networks/payment rails as possible” since it has its own issuing credit BIN versus needing to connect through legacy players.

Providing an orchestration layer on top of all the rails gives Jeeves the ability “to handle all the payment and reconciliation complexity” so “their customers don’t have to think about it,” she added.

 

Belvo, LatAm’s answer to Plaid, raises $43M to scale its API for financial services

Belvo, a Latin American startup which has built an open finance API platform, announced today it has raised $43 million in a Series A round of funding.

A mix of Silicon Valley and Latin American-based VC firms and angels participated in the financing, including Future Positive, Kibo Ventures, FJ Labs, Kaszek, MAYA Capital, Venture Friends, Rappi co-founder and president Sebastián Mejía, Harsh Sinha, CTO of Wise (formerly Transferwise) and Nubank CEO and founder David Vélez.

Citing Crunchbase data, Belvo believes the round represents the largest Series A ever raised by a Latin American fintech. In May 2020, Belvo raised a $10 million seed round co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek.

Belvo aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.

The startup’s goal with its developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data is to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.

As TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm explained in this piece last year, Belvo might be considered similar to U.S.-based Plaid, but more attuned to the Latin American market so it can take in a more diverse set of data to better meet the needs of the various markets it serves. 

So while Belvo’s goals are “similar to the overarching goal[s] of Plaid,” co-founder and co-CEO Pablo Viguera told TechCrunch that Belvo is not merely building a banking API business hoping to connect apps to financial accounts. Instead, Belvo wants to build a finance API, which takes in more information than is normally collected by such systems. Latin America is massively underbanked and unbanked so the more data from more sources, the better.

“In essence, we’re pushing for similar outcomes [as Plaid] in terms of when you think about open banking or open finance,” Viguera said. “We’re working to democratize access to financial data and empower end users to port that data, and share that data with whoever they want.”

The company operates under the premise that just because a significant number of the region’s population is underbanked doesn’t mean that they aren’t still financially active. Belvo’s goal is to link all sorts of accounts. For example, Viguera told TechCrunch that some gig economy companies in Latin America are issuing their own cards that allow workers to cash out at small local shops. In time, all those transactions are data that could be linked up using Belvo, casting a far wider net than what we’re used to domestically.

The company’s work to connect banks and non-banks together is key to the company’s goal of allowing “any fintech or any developer to access and interpret user financial data,” according to Viguera.

Viguera and co-CEO Oriol Tintoré founded Belvo in May of 2019, and it was part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch. Since launching its platform last year, the company says it has built a customer base of more than 60 companies across Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, handling millions of monthly API calls. 

This is important because as Alex noted last year, similar to other players in the API-space, Belvo charges for each API call that its customers use (in this sense, it has a model similar to Twilio’s). 

Image Credits: Co-founders and co-CEOs Oriol Tintore and Pablo Viguera / Belvo

Also, over the past year, Belvo says it expanded its API coverage to over 40 financial institutions, which gives companies the ability to connect to more than 90% of personal and business bank accounts in LatAm, as well as to tax authorities (such as the SAT in Mexico) and gig economy platforms.

“Essentially we take unstructured financial data, which an individual might have outside of a bank such as integrations we have with gig economy platforms such as Uber and Rappi. We can take a driver’s information from their Uber app, which is kind of built like a bank app, and turn it into meaningful bank-like info which third parties can leverage to make assessments as if it’s data coming from a bank,” Viguera explained.

The startup plans to use its new capital to scale its product offering, continue expanding its geographic footprint and double its current headcount of 70. Specifically, Belvo plans to hire more than 50 engineers in Mexico and Brazil by year’s end. It currently has offices in Mexico City, São Paulo and Barcelona. The company also aims to launch its bank-to-bank payment initiation offering in Mexico and Brazil.

Belvo currently operates in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. 

But it’s seeing “a lot of opportunity” in other markets in Latin America, especially in Chile, Peru and Argentina, Viguera told TechCrunch. “In due course, we will look to pursue expansion there.” 

Fred Blackford, founding partner of Future Positive, believes Belvo represents a “truly transformational opportunity for the region’s financial sector.”

Nicolás Szekasy, co-founder and managing partner of Kaszek, noted that demand for financial services in Latin America is growing at an exponential rate .

“Belvo is developing the infrastructure that will enable both the larger institutions and the emerging generation of younger players to successfully deploy their solutions,” he said. “Oriol, Pablo and the Belvo team have been leading the development of a sophisticated platform that resolves very complex technical challenges, and the company’s exponential growth reflects how it is delivering a product that fits perfectly with the requirements of the market.” 

Meet Justos, the new Brazilian insurtech that just got backing from the CEOs of 7 unicorns

Here in the U.S. the concept of using driver’s data to decide the cost of auto insurance premiums is not a new one.

But in markets like Brazil, the idea is still considered relatively novel. A new startup called Justos claims it will be the first Brazilian insurer to use drivers’ data to reward those who drive safely by offering “fairer” prices.

And now Justos has raised about $2.8 million in a seed round led by Kaszek, one of the largest and most active VC firms in Latin America. Big Bets also participated in the round along with the CEOs of seven unicorns including Assaf Wand, CEO and co-founder of Hippo Insurance; David Velez, founder and CEO of Nubank; Carlos Garcia, founder and CEO Kavak; Sergio Furio, founder and CEO of Creditas; Patrick Sigris, founder of iFood and Fritz Lanman, CEO of ClassPass. Senior executives from Robinhood, Stripe, Wise, Carta and Capital One also put money in the round.

Serial entrepreneurs Dhaval Chadha, Jorge Soto Moreno and Antonio Molins co-founded Justos, having most recently worked at various Silicon Valley-based companies including ClassPass, Netflix and Airbnb.

“While we have been friends for a while, it was a coincidence that all three of us were thinking about building something new in Latin America,” Chadha said. “We spent two months studying possible paths, talking to people and investors in the United States, Brazil and Mexico, until we came up with the idea of creating an insurance company that can modernize the sector, starting with auto insurance.”

Ultimately, the trio decided that the auto insurance market would be an ideal sector considering that in Brazil, an estimated more than 70% of cars are not insured. 

The process to get insurance in the country, by any accounts, is a slow one. It takes up to 72 hours to receive initial coverage and two weeks to receive the final insurance policy. Insurers also take their time in resolving claims related to car damages and loss due to accidents, the entrepreneurs say. They also charge that pricing is often not fair or transparent.

Justos aims to improve the whole auto insurance process in Brazil by measuring the way people drive to help price their insurance policies. Similar to Root here in the U.S., Justos intends to collect users’ data through their mobile phones so that it can “more accurately and assertively price different types of risk.” This way, the startup claims it can offer plans  that are up to 30% cheaper than traditional plans, and grant discounts each month, according to the driving patterns of the previous month of each customer. 

“We measure how safely people drive using the sensors on their cell phones,” Chadha said. “This allows us to offer cheaper insurance to users who drive well, thereby reducing biases that are inherent in the pricing models used by traditional insurance companies.”

Justos also plans to use artificial intelligence and computerized vision to analyze and process claims more quickly and machine learning for image analysis and to create bots that help accelerate claims processing. 

“We are building a design driven, mobile first and customer experience that aims to revolutionize insurance in Brazil, similar to what Nubank did with banking,” Chadha told TechCrunch. “We will be eliminating any hidden fees, a lot of the small text and insurance specific jargon that is very confusing for customers.”

Justos will offer its product directly to its customers as well as through distribution channels like banks and brokers.

“By going direct to consumer, we are able to acquire users cheaper than our competitors and give back the savings to our users in the form of cheaper prices,” Chadha said.

Customers will be able to buy insurance through Justos’ app, website, or even WhatsApp. For now, the company is only adding potential customers to a waitlist but plans to begin selling policies later this year..

During the pandemic, the auto insurance sector in Brazil declined by 1%, according to Chadha, who believes that indicates “there is latent demand rearing to go once things open up again.”

Justos has a social good component as well. Justos intends to cap its profits and give any leftover revenue back to nonprofit organizations.

The company also has an ambitious goal: to help make insurance become universally accessible around the world and the roads safer in general.

“People will face everyday risks with a greater sense of safety and adventure. Road accidents will reduce drastically as a result of incentives for safer driving, and the streets will be safer,” Chadha said. “People, rather than profits, will become the focus of the insurance industry.”

Justos plans to use its new capital to set up operations, such as forming partnerships with reinsurers and an insurance company for fronting, since it is starting as an MGA (managing general agent).

It’s also working on building out its products such as apps, its back end and internal operations tools as well as designing all its processes for underwriting, claims and finance. Justos’ data science team is also building out its own pricing model. 

The startup will be focused on Brazil, with plans to eventually expand within Latin America, then Iberia and Asia.

Kaszek’s Andy Young said his firm was impressed by the team’s previous experience and passion for what they’re building.

“It’s a huge space, ripe for innovation and this is the type of team that can take it to the next level,” Young told TechCrunch. “The team has taken an approach to building an insurance platform that blends being consumer centric and data driven to produce something that is not only cheaper and rewards safety but as the brand implies in Portuguese, is fairer.”

Brazilian proptech startup QuintoAndar lands $300M at a $4B valuation

Fintech and proptech are two sectors that are seeing exploding growth in Latin America, as financial services and real estate are two categories in particular dire need of innovation in a region.

Brazil’s QuintoAndar, which has developed a real estate marketplace focused on rentals and sales, has seen impressive growth in recent years. And today, the São Paulo-based proptech has announced it has closed on $300 million in a Series E round of funding that values it at an impressive $4 billion.

The round is notable for a few reasons. For one, the valuation – high by any standards but especially for a LatAm company – represents an increase of four times from when QuintoAndar raised a $250 million Series D in September 2019.

It’s also noteworthy who is backing the company. Silicon Valley-based Ribbit Capital led its Series E financing, which also included participation from SoftBank’s LatAm-focused Innovation Fund, LTS, Maverik, Alta Park, an undisclosed US-based asset manager fund with over $2 trillion in AUM, Kaszek Ventures, Dragoneer and Accel partner Kevin Efrusy.

Having backed the likes of Coinbase, Robinhood and CreditKarma, Ribbit Capital has historically focused on early-stage investments in the fintech space. Its bet on QuintoAndar represents clear faith in what the company is building, as well as its confidence in the startup’s plans to branch out from its current model into a one-stop real estate shop that also offers mortgage, title, insurance and escrow services.

The latest round brings QuintoAndar’s total raised since its 2013 inception to $635 million.

Ribbit Capital Partner Nick Huber said Quintoandar has over the years built “a unique and trusted brand in Brazil” for those looking for a place to call home.

“Whether you are looking to buy or to rent, QuintoAndar can support customers through the entire transaction process: from browsing verified inventory to signing the final contracts,” Huber told TechCrunch. “The ability to serve customers’ needs through each phase of life and to do so from start to finish is a unique capability, both in Brazil and around the world.”

QuintoAndar describes itself as an “end-to-end solution for long-term rentals” that, among other things, connects potential tenants to landlords and vice versa. Last year, it expanded also into connecting a home buyers to sellers.

Image Credits: QuintoAndar

TechCrunch spoke with co-founder and CEO Gabriel Braga and he shared details around the growth that has attracted such a bevy of high-profile investors.

Like most other businesses around the world, QuintoAndar braced itself for the worst when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year – especially considering one core piece of its business is to guarantee rents to the landlords on its platform.

“In the beginning, we were afraid of the implications of the crisis but we were able to honor our commitments,” Braga said. “In retrospect, the pandemic was a big test for our business model and it has validated the strength and defensibility of our binsess on the credit side and reinforced our value proposition to tenants and landlords. So after the initial scary moments, we actually felt even more confident in the business that we are building.”

QuintoAndar describes itself as “a distant market leader” with more than 100,000 rentals under management and about 10,000 new rentals per month. Its rental platform is live in 40 cities across Brazil, while its homebuying marketplace is live in 4. Part of its plans with the new capital is to expand into new markets within Brazil, as well as in Latin America as a whole.

The startup claims that, in less than a year, QuintoAndar managed to aggregate the largest inventory among digital transactional platforms. It now offers more than 60,000 properties for sale across Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belho Horizonte and Porto Alegre. To give greater context around the company’s growth of that side of its platform: in its first year of operation, QuintoAndar closed more than 1,000 transactions. It has now surpassed the mark of 8,000 transactions in annualized terms, growing between 50% and 100% quarter over quarter.

As for the rentals side of its business, Braga said QuintoAndar has more than 100,000 rentals under management and is closing about 10,000 new rentals per month. The company is not profitable as it’s focused on growth, although it is unit economics are particularly favorable in certain markets such as Sao Paulo, which is financing some of its growth in other cities, according to Braga.

Now, the 2,000-person company is looking to begin its global expansion with plans to enter the Mexican market later this year. With that, Braga said QuintoAndar is looking to hire “top-tier” talent from all over.

“We want to invest a lot in our product and tech core,” he said. “So we’re trying to bring in more senior people from abroad, on a global basis.”

Some history

CEO Braga and CTO André Penha came up with the idea for QuintoAndar after receiving their MBAs at Stanford University. As many startups do, the company was founded out of Braga’s personal “nightmare” of an experience – in this case, of trying to rent an apartment in Sao Paulo.

The search process, he recalls, was difficult as there was not enough information available online and renters were forced to provide a guarantor, or co-signer, from the same city or pay rent insurance, which Braga described as “very expensive.”

“Overall, I felt it was a very inefficient and fragmented process with no transparency or tech,” Braga told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “There was all this friction and high cost involved, just real tangible problems to solve.”

The concept for QuintoAndar (which can be translated literally to “Fifth Floor” in Portuguese) was born.

“Little by little, we created a platform that consolidated supply and inventory in a uniform way,” Braga said.

The company took the search phase online for the first time, according to Braga. It also eliminated the need for tenants to provide a guarantor, thereby saving them money. On the other side, QuintoAndar also works to help protect the landlord with the guarantee that they will get their rent “on time every month,” Braga said.

It’s been interesting watching the company evolve and grow over time, just as it’s been fascinating seeing the region’s startup scene mature and shine in recent years.

The LatAm funding boom continues as Kaszek raises $1B across a duo of funds

Long before SoftBank launched its $2 billion Innovation Fund in Latin America, and before Andreessen Horowitz began actively investing in the region, Sao Paulo-based Kaszek has been putting money into promising startups since 2011, helping spawn nine unicorns along the way.

And now, the early-stage VC firm is announcing its largest fund closures to date: Kaszek Ventures V, a $475 million early-stage fund, believed to be the largest vehicle of its kind ever raised in the region, and Kaszek Ventures Opportunity II, a $525 million for later-stage investments.

Over the years, Kaszek has backed 91 companies, which the firm says collectively have raised over $10 billion in capital. 

MercadoLibre co-founder Hernán Kazah and the company’s ex-CFO, Nicolas Szekasy, founded Kaszek a decade ago after leaving LatAm’s answer to Amazon. Fun fact: the firm’s name comes from a combination of their two last names: Ka-Szek. Rounding out the team are Nicolas Berman, former VP at MercadoLibre, Santiago Fossatti, Andy Young and Mariana Donangelo.

Kaszek founded its first fund in 2011, raising $95 million, an impressive sum at that time. Funds II and III closed in 2014 and 2017, raising $135 million and $200 million, respectively. By 2019, Kaszek had closed on its fourth fund, raising $375 million and its first Opportunity Fund, reserving $225 million for later-stage investing in existing portfolio companies.

It’s notable that in its fifth fund, Kaszek is reserving more of its new capital to fund later-stage investments – a testament to its faith in its current portfolio. Both funds, according to Kaszek, were “several times oversubscribed” with demand coming globally from university endowments, global foundations, technology funds and several tech entrepreneurs.

Silicon Valley-based Sequoia Capital has been an LP since day one via Sequoia Heritage, its community investment office. Also, Connecticut-based Wesleyan University is an LP with Chief Investment Officer Anne Martin describing the founding team as “internet pioneers.”

In recent years, there’s been an explosion of global investor interest in Latin American startups. The region’s startup scene is seeing a surge of fundraises, with new unicorns emerging with increasing regularity. And Kaszek has been at the heart of it all.

“We have been at the epicenter of the technology ecosystem in Latin America since 1999, first with MercadoLibre and now with Kaszek, and have witnessed firsthand the extraordinary  evolution that the sector has experienced since its infancy,” said managing partner and co-founder Kazah. “When MercadoLibre started, the internet penetration was less than 3% and it was mostly dial-up connections. Today, more than two decades later, technology secular trends are stronger than ever before as we are experiencing an acceleration towards digitalization.”

Kaszek has not yet backed any companies out of its newest investment vehicles, but plans to put money in 20 to 30 companies out of its early-stage fund, with check sizes ranging from $500,000 to $25 million, according to Kazah. Its Opportunity Fund investments will be more concentrated with the firm likely backing 10 to 15 companies with check sizes ranging from $10 million to $35 million. The firm is industry agnostic, with Kazah saying it considers “any industry where technology is playing a transformational role.”

General partner and co-founder Szekasy says that In the firm’s first funds, Kaszek mostly backed first-time entrepreneurs. But in its last early-stage fund, it began backing more teams led by repeat entrepreneurs or by founders spawned out of some of the region’s more successful startups.As many VC firms do, Kaszek describes its investment strategy as providing more than capital, but also becoming partners with the founders of its portfolio companies. For example, Creditas founder and CEO Sergio Furio describes the firm as “the co-founder I did not have.”

While the firm declined to comment on performance, a source with firsthand knowledge of its metrics over the years tells TechCrunch that it’s quite impressive with MOICS ranging from 19.2 for Fund I to 2.6 for Fund IV.

The firm’s active portfolio currently consists of 71 companies. Kaszek was one of the earliest investors in Brazilian neobank Nubank, just one of 9 unicorns it has helped build over the years. Other unicorns it’s backed include MadeiraMadeira, PedidosYa, proptech startup QuintoAndar, Gympass, Loggi, Creditas, Kavak and Bitso.

The firm’s investments have largely concentrated in Brazil and Mexico (the two startup hotspots of the region) and Colombia but the firm has also backed startups based in other countries in the region such as DigitalHouse (which was formed in Argentina), NotCo (originally founded in Chile) and Kushki (launched first in Ecuador). It has people on the ground in its home base of Brazil as well as Mexico, the United States, Argentina and Uruguay. 

“We have always believed that the strong secular technology trends that we were seeing 20 years ago, evident in the US and a little later in China, were going to happen in Latin America,” Kazah told TechCrunch. “…Everything we predicted back then was going to happen, happened. Maybe it happened later, but it was also much larger and more comprehensive than what we had initially imagined. That is typically what happens with innovations, they take off later than you think, but fly much higher than you ever imagined.” 

In the race for tech talent, the US should look to Mexico

The global tech sector is booming, and as technologies like cloud and AI accelerate their growth, the demand for tech talent outpaces supply globally. Specifically, the U.S. tech sector has seen unprecedented growth in recent years, with four tech firms reaching a $1 trillion market cap by the beginning of 2020 — all of which have seen double-digit growth since achieving a 13-digit valuation pre-pandemic.

One of the major factors in the growth and adoption of tech in the U.S. is the increasing focus on software as a service and broader digital transformations across industry sectors, which have accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, there is an insatiable appetite for quality tech talent in the U.S., with projections showing an 11% increase by 2029 from 2019 numbers, which amounts to over half a million new jobs.

Given that the U.S. produces only about 65,000 computer science graduates, there is a vast deficit in the tech talent market, which materialized as over 900,000 unfilled IT and related positions in 2019 alone. The problem is so vast that more than 80% of U.S. employers stated that recruiting for tech talent is a top business challenge, according to a survey by top HR consulting firm Robert Half.

Demand increasing for Mexican tech talent

Mexico’s tech talent can help to fill the gaps left in a hypercompetitive U.S. market for tech workers. Unlike the U.S., 20% of Mexican college graduates have relevant engineering degrees, amounting to over 110,000 per year, far surpassing the U.S. in technical talent. Investors and tech firms have noticed and are increasing operations in Mexico.

20% of Mexican college graduates have relevant engineering degrees, amounting to over 110,000 per year, far surpassing the U.S. in technical talent.

Some have referred to the cities of Monterrey and Guadalajara as the “Silicon Valley of Latin America,” and while their tech sectors are also seeing tremendous growth, the pace falls short of Mexico’s talent production, leading to a surplus of highly trained and capable individuals in the tech sector. The cost of higher education in Mexico is far less than in the U.S., so we’re likely to see that talent surplus grow in the coming years.

Under current conditions, the U.S. has an incredible opportunity to capitalize on the surplus of tech talent in Mexico. Because tech jobs are more scarce than in the U.S., the cost of talent in Mexico is considerably less than in the U.S. or in Canada. In general, talent in Mexico can be two to three times cheaper than in the U.S. while still delivering outstanding quality and specialized experience.

More so than other Latin American countries, Mexico has the experience and economy to support a robust tech talent export ecosystem. In fact, Mexico City’s concentrated market is larger than the sum total of every other Spanish-speaking country in Latin America. Specifically, Mexico’s IT outsourcing industry has been growing at an annual rate of 10%-15% and is now considered the third-largest exporter of IT services.

What’s more, the U.S./Mexico relationship is seeing a refresh after several tumultuous years. With Mexico ranked No. 1 among U.S. trade partners, the political and economic mechanisms for investments and partnerships are in place. Technology leaders such as Cisco and Intel have already set up shop in Mexico, demonstrating confidence in the country’s ability to support tech and economic growth.

The benefits of proximity

Mexico provides a number of benefits that make drawing from its talent surplus easier and more efficient. For one, Mexico’s time zones align with those in the U.S., enabling real-time collaboration at times that work best for both parties. Compare this to the time difference in India, which is over 12 hours ahead of California’s Silicon Valley.

Beyond the time difference, there are also many cultural similarities that make working with Mexico the clear choice for IT outsourcing. For example, the U.S. is home to more than 41 million native Spanish speakers, and plus over 12 million bilingual Spanish speakers, making the U.S. the second-largest Spanish-speaking country after Mexico. While difficult to quantify, the number of consumer and cultural exports from Mexico to the U.S. also helps to build familiarity and solidarity between the two countries, which can only improve an already healthy relationship.

New geopolitical considerations favor U.S.-Mexico ties

The steady progression of America’s tech sector is now seen as a strategic priority at the federal level. Meanwhile, public and private sector decision-makers are more interested than ever in conducting business under favorable trade treaty terms with friendly governments amid a new climate of geopolitical uncertainty.

As the U.S. tech sector continues its explosive growth, technology companies in the U.S. will need to seek alternative means to supplement its in-demand tech workforce. Rather than turning to countries undergoing increased regulatory scrutiny, or distant talent bases requiring significant business travel, business leaders are looking to geographically close, diplomatically friendly nations. U.S. companies are finding Mexico’s status as a key business partner and strategic ally to be a massive value driver.

By 2030, the middle-class population in Mexico is expected to reach 95 million, placing it in the top 10 countries with the highest share of global middle-class consumption. As the middle class rises, so will companies to meet their consumer needs, and, as such, Mexico’s own tech sector will grow and require significantly more tech talent, reducing or potentially eliminating Mexico’s talent surplus.

This is evidenced by the uptick in Mexico-based technology companies, such as Mexican used-car startup Kavak, which recently hit a $4 billion valuation. Amid an exciting backdrop of skyrocketing tech valuations and potential, the U.S. tech sector should look to Mexico as a key growth market and technology partner. The time is now for the U.S. to tap into the surplus of quality tech talent in Mexico.

Fresh out of YC, Houm raises $8M to improve the home rental and sales market in LatAm

As a longtime real estate developer based in Chile, Benjamin Labra was able to spot gaps in the buying and renting markets in Latin America. To meet demands, he started Houm, an all-in-one platform that helps homeowners rent and sell their properties in the region.

Fresh out of Y Combinator’s W21 cohort, today Houm announced an $8 million seed round. 

If you think the concept sounds like Brazil’s unicorn, QuintoAndar, it’s because Houm is very similar. While QuintoAndar dominates the Brazilian market, Houm operates in Chile, Mexico and Colombia, and aims to capture the rest of Spanish-speaking LatAm.

Think of Houm as a homeowner-run Zillow meets TaskRabbit. The company offers a marketplace run by the property owners themselves and cuts out the realtor by employing 200 freelancers who prepare the property for sale or to manage it.

Houmers, as they are called, go to the owner’s home, take photos and then help possible buyers or renters view the property. For their work, Houmers are compensated each time a home they worked on sells or gets rented.

However, Houm’s selling proposition isn’t just the ease of use it provides; instead, it also serves as a guarantor in my ways, making the buying process more accessible.

“In Colombia and Mexico, for someone to be your guarantor, they have to have a property that’s free of mortgage so it can be used as collateral,” Labra told TechCrunch.

On the flip side, the company also guarantees that renters will get paid every month, and if a tenant falters, Houm covers the cost. “You really have nothing to lose if you use Houm,” Labra said.

You can imagine that a company like Houm now has all sorts of data on the real estate market, especially around sales and rental prices. As a result, Houm uses this data in an algorithm that helps the homeowner determine a fair price for their property, but the listed price remains up to the owner.

The company, which was founded in 2018 and is based in Chile, now has about 200 full-time employees, in addition to their freelance team. While Labra declined to say how many active users it has, he said Houm is now showing a property every eight minutes.

The current funding round had no lead investor but includes Y Combinator, Goodwater Ventures, OneVC, Vast VC, Liquid2 and Myelin. The company plans to use the money to expand within the region, perfect its algorithm and generally speed up growth.

 

Payments, lending and neobanks rule fintechs in emerging markets, report says

Tech investments in emerging markets have been in full swing over the past couple of years and their ecosystems have thrived as a result.

Some of these markets like Africa, Latin America, and India, have comprehensive reports by publications and firms on trends and investments in their individual regions. But there’s hardly a report to compare and contrast trends and investments between these regions and rightfully so. Such a task is Herculean.

Well, a report released today by data research organization Briter Bridges and global inclusive tech accelerator Catalyst Fund is punching above its weight to offer a holistic representation to the darling sector of these three markets: fintech.

The report “State of Fintech in Emerging Markets Report” has three objectives — to evaluate the investment, product, and inclusivity trends across emerging markets.

The team surveyed over 177 startups and 33 investors across Africa, Latin America, and India. Though this sample size used is minuscule, the key findings are quite impressive.

Let’s dive in.

Fintechs have raised $23B across the regions since 2017

There’s no stopping emerging markets’ favorite. The sector has continued to receive the largest share of investments year-on-year for the past five years.

More than 300 million unbanked African adults account for 17% of the world’s unbanked population. So it’s not difficult to see why in 2019, the continent witnessed five mega deals in Branch, Tala, World Remit, Interswitch, and OPay that amounted to a total of over $775 million. While this dropped last year to $362 million, companies like Flutterwave, TymeBank, Kuda have raised sizeable rounds during this period.

fintech funding five years emerging markets

Image Credits: Briter Bridges & Catalyst Fund

Latin America is home to a growing base of digital users, enabling regulation and reforms, and vibrant small businesses. And just like Africa, the percentage of unbanked people is high at 70%. Fintechs in the region have seized the opportunity and have been rewarded with mega-rounds that companies like NuBank, Neon, Konfio, and Clip have enjoyed. Collectively, fintech startups have raised $10 billion in the past five years.

In 2019 alone, Indian fintech startups raised a record of $4.8 billion, per the report. Then last year, the sector brought in $3 billion. Over the past five years, they have totaled $11.6 billion with notable big names like CRED, Razorpay, Groww, BharatPe, among others.

Africa’s average seed rounds stand at $1M, India and Latin America average $4M

Per the report, early-stage deals in Africa have been increasing over the past five years totaling over $1.6 billion. Their average size, especially for seed rounds, has grown from $750,000 in 2017 to $1 million in 2020.

For  Latin America, the average seed deal in the last five years was around $5.7 million while India did approximately $4.6 million. The report says the data for the latter was skewed because of CRED’s $30 million seed round.

Image Credits: Briter Bridges & Catalyst Fund

Latin America is IPO-hungry, India breeds unicorns while Africa is just getting started with M&A

Last year, Stripe’s acquisition of Paystack was the highlight of Africa’s M&As because of its size and the homegrown status of the Nigerian fintech startup. Other larger rounds that made the headlines include the $500 million acquisition of Wave by WorldRemit (which happens to be the largest from the continent) and the DPO Group buyout by Network International for $288 million.

Unlike the African fintech market that has noticed mega acquisition deals and many undisclosed seven-figure deals, the Latin American fintech market is a sucker for IPOs. Per the report, fintechs in the region have several $100 million rounds (Nubank, PagSeguro,  Creditas, BancoInter and Neon) and M&A activity is sparse. But a number of them have gone public recently including Arco Educacao, Stone Pagamentos, and Pagseguro

On the other hand, India has more than 25 billion-dollar companies and keeps adding yearly. Just last month, the country recorded more than eight. These unicorns range from established companies like Paytm and new ones like CRED.

Payments, credit, and neobanks lead fintech activity

The report shows that payments companies are the crème de la crème for fintech investment across the three regions. Within that subset, B2B payments reign supreme. The next two funded fintech categories are credit and digital banking.

In Africa, payments startups have seen more investments than credit and neobanks. Flutterwave, Chipper Cash, Wave, Paystack, DPO come to mind.

most funded fintech categories emerging market

Image Credits: Briter Bridges & Catalyst Fund

Latin America most funded fintechs are neobanks. And it is the only region with all three product categories closely funded at $2-3 billion each. Some of these companies include NuBank, Creditas, and dLocal.

India’s top-funded fintech startups are in payments. But it has notable representation in credit and neobanks, some of which have raised nine-figure rounds like Niyo, Lendingkart, and InCred.

Investors are enthused about the future of insurance, payments, and digital banks

From the handful of investors surveyed in the report on their view on future trends in fintech products 5 years from now, most of them chose insurance, payments, and digital banking models.

Investment platforms and embedded models are also areas of interest. They were less keen on agriculture and remittances while wealth tech platforms and neobanks were also ranked lower in priority. How is it that digital banking and neo-banking are at two ends of the spectrum of investor choice? I can’t say for sure.

investors appetite in the coming years emerging markets

Image Credits: Briter Bridges & Catalyst Fund

Parts of the report talk about underserved consumers in these regions and how fintech startups are serving them. It also discusses whether these fintech startups promote financial inclusion and what features and products would get them to that point.

In all of this, the glaring fact, which is no news, is that Africa is lagging years behind Latin America and India. Talking with Briter Bridges director Dario Giuliani, he pointed out that he’d lean on five years for the continent to get to where Latin America and India are at the moment. He added that what makes India a better market at this stage is because it isn’t a continent like the other markets and operations are uniform across board.

“It is easier to manage one country than 54 countries in Africa and 20 in Latin America,” he said to TechCrunch. “In Africa, we use the label ‘Africa,’ but we’re very much talking about 4-6 countries. Latin America is basically Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia who are seeing massive companies rise. India is one.”

One key detail the report mentions is that most fintechs across emerging markets are crossing over to different sectors like crop insurance, credit lines for distributors and vendors, KYC, e-commerce payment gateways, medical finance, and insurance. Guiliani says he expects this to continue.