Salesforce backs Indian payments startup Razorpay

Six-year-old Bangalore-based fintech Razorpay, which was valued at $3 billion in a financing round in April this year, has courted one more high-profile investor: Salesforce Ventures.

Razorpay said on Monday it has received a “strategic investment” from the venture arm of the American enterprise giant. The investment will help the startup “further strengthen its presence in the business banking space,” it said.

The two firms didn’t disclose the size of the investment, but Sequoia Capital India-backed startup said the deal will “make an impactful contribution to the industry and drive adoption and financial growth for underserved small businesses in the next twelve months.”

Razorpay accepts, processes and disburses money online for small businesses and enterprises — essentially everything Stripe does in the U.S. and several other developed markets. But the Indian startup’s offering goes much further than that: in recent years, Razorpay has launched a neobanking platform to issue corporate credit cards, and it also offers businesses working capital.

With the global giant Stripe still nowhere in the Indian picture, Razorpay has grown to become the clear market leader.

“At Razorpay, we want to make further strides on the idea of investing in India’s digital future and building an intelligent payment and banking infrastructure for the new- world. We are delighted to associate with Salesforce Ventures and Salesforce more broadly in India,” said Harshil Mathur, co-founder and chief executive of the fintech startup.

“I am certain that this investment, along with support from our existing investors will help build an ecosystem for a hassle-free, easy-to-integrate payments and banking experience. We also hope to expand, build new products and deliver this experience to businesses in South East Asian countries too.”

Monday’s deal is Salesforce Ventures’ second investment in the Indian startup ecosystem. The firm led a $15 million Series C financing round in Hyderabad-headquartered Darwinbox earlier this year.

“The journey towards a ‘less-cash’ economy has been accelerated with the pandemic. The rapid growth in digital payments over the last year has opened doors for technology innovation and Razorpay has been emerging as the company of choice for a lot of e-commerce businesses,” said Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairperson and chief executive of Salesforce India, in a statement.

“We are excited to support Razorpay in their journey to revolutionize digital finance not only in India, but globally as well,” added Bhattacharya, who joined the firm last year.

The Indian startup, which became a unicorn a year ago, said it has witnessed a 40-45% month-on-month growth in recent months. The startup is currently in the market to raise a new financing round and is negotiating a considerably larger valuation bump over the current value, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Ascend raises $5.5M to provide a BNPL option for commercial insurance

Ascend on Wednesday announced a $5.5 million seed round to further its insurance payments platform that combines financing, collections and payables.

First Round Capital led the round and was joined by Susa Ventures, FirstMark Capital, Box Group and a group of angel investors, including Coalition CEO Joshua Motta, Newfront Insurance executives Spike Lipkin and Gordon Wintrob, Vouch Insurance CEO Sam Hodges, Layr Insurance CEO Phillip Hodges, Anzen Insurance CEO Max Bruner, Counterpart Insurance CEO Tanner Hackett, former Bunker Insurance CEO Chad Nitschke, SageSure executive Paul VanderMarck, Instacart co-founders Max Mullen and Brandon Leonardo and Houseparty co-founder Ben Rubin.

This is the first funding for the company that is live in 20 states. It developed payments APIs to automate end-to-end insurance payments and to offer a buy now, pay later financing option for distribution of commissions and carrier payables, something co-founder and co-CEO Andrew Wynn, said was rather unique to commercial insurance.

Wynn started the company in January 2021 with his co-founder Praveen Chekuri after working together at Instacart. They originally started Sheltr, which connected customers with trained maintenance professionals and was acquired by Hippo in 2019. While working with insurance companies they recognized how fast the insurance industry was modernizing, yet insurance sellers still struggled with customer experiences due to outdated payments processes. They started Ascend to solve that payments pain point.

The insurance industry is largely still operating on pen-and-paper — some 600 million paper checks are processed each year, Wynn said. He referred to insurance as a “spaghetti web of money movement” where payments can take up to 100 days to get to the insurance carrier from the customer as it makes its way through intermediaries. In addition, one of the only ways insurance companies can make a profit is by taking those hundreds of millions of dollars in payments and investing it.

Home and auto insurance can be broken up into payments, but the commercial side is not as customer friendly, Wynn said. Insurance is often paid in one lump sum annually, though, paying tens of thousands of dollars in one payment is not something every business customer can manage. Ascend is offering point-of-sale financing to enable insurance brokers to break up those commercial payments into monthly installments.

“Insurance carries continue to focus on annual payments because they don’t have a choice,” he added. “They want all of their money up front so they can invest it. Our platform not only reduces the friction with payments by enabling customers to pay how they want to pay, but also helps carriers sell more insurance.”

Ascend app

Startups like Ascend aiming to disrupt the insurance industry are also attracting venture capital, with recent examples including Vouch and Marshmallow, which raised close to $100 million, while Insurify raised $100 million.

Wynn sees other companies doing verticalized payment software for other industries, like healthcare insurance, which he says is a “good sign for where the market is going.” This is where Wynn believes Ascend is competing, though some incumbents are offering premium financing, but not in the digital way Ascend is.

He intends to deploy the new funds into product development, go-to-market initiatives and new hires for its locations in New York and Palo Alto. He said the raise attracted a group of angel investors in the industry, who were looking for a product like this to help them sell more insurance versus building it from scratch.

Having only been around eight months, it is a bit early for Ascend to have some growth to discuss, but Wynn said the company signed its first customer in July and six more in the past month. The customers are big digital insurance brokerages and represent, together, $2.5 billion in premiums. He also expects to get licensed to operate as a full payment in processors in all states so the company can be in all 50 states by the end of the year.

The ultimate goal of the company is not to replace brokers, but to offer them the technology to be more efficient with their operations, Wynn said.

“Brokers are here to stay,” he added. “What will happen is that brokers who are tech-enabled will be able to serve customers nationally and run their business, collect payments, finance premiums and reduce backend operation friction.”

Bill Trenchard, partner at First Round Capital, met Wynn while he was still with Sheltr. He believes insurtech and fintech are following a similar story arc where disruptive companies are going to market with lower friction and better products and, being digital-first, are able to meet customers where they are.

By moving digital payments over to insurance, Ascend and others will lead the market, which is so big that there will be many opportunities for companies to be successful. The global commercial insurance market was valued at $692.33 billion in 2020, and expected to top $1 trillion by 2028.

Like other firms, First Round looks for team, product and market when it evaluates a potential investment and Trenchard said Ascend checked off those boxes. Not only did he like how quickly the team was moving to create momentum around themselves in terms of securing early pilots with customers, but also getting well known digital-first companies on board.

“The magic is in how to automate the underwriting, how to create a data moat and be a first mover — if you can do all three, that is great,” Trenchard said. “Instant approvals and using data to do a better job than others is a key advantage and is going to change how insurance is bought and sold.”

Kapor Capital, Square co-founder Sam Wen back TomoCredit in its $10M Series A funding round

Building credit history can be difficult if you are a consumer that is having trouble getting access to credit in the first place.

Enter TomoCredit, which has developed a credit card focused on building credit history for first-time borrowers. The San Francisco-based startup is announcing today that it has raised $10 million in a Series A funding round co-led by Kapor Capital and KB Investment Inc. (KBIC), a subsidiary of South Korea’s leading consumer bank. Lewis & Clark Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Knollwood Investment Advisory, WTI, Bronze and Square co-founder Sam Wen also participated in the Series A financing.

The new capital comes just over seven months after TomoCredit raised $7 million in seed funding, and brings its total raised this year to $17 million. The company also announced today it has appointed Ash Gupta, former CRO at American Express, to its board.

TomoCredit co-founder and CEO Kristy Kim came up with the concept for the company after being rejected multiple times for an auto loan while in her early 20s.

Kim, who immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea with her family as a child, was disappointed that her lack of credit history proved to be such an obstacle despite the fact she had a job “and positive cash flow.”

So she teamed up with Dmitry Kashlev, a Russian immigrant, in January of 2019 to create a solution for other foreign-born individuals and young adults facing similar credit challenges. That fall, the startup (short for Tomorrow’s Credit) was accepted into the Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars.

The fintech offers a credit card aimed at helping first-time borrowers build credit history, based on their cash flow, rather than on their FICO or credit report ratings. Its biggest differentiator, believes Kim, is that it has no fees, no APR and no credit pull. Traditional credit products rely heavily on fees and APR, she said, while TomoCredit makes money through merchant fees.

Image Credits: TomoCredit

TomoCredit is powered by Finicity (which was acquired by Mastercard last year), and leverages that company’s data network and open banking technology so that it can “securely” access applicants’ bank accounts to obtain financial data for underwriting purposes.

Once approved, applicants receive the TomoCredit Mastercard. The goal is to bring “millions of individuals that lack a credit score into the financial system, allowing a diverse group of consumers the opportunity to better position themselves as qualified candidates for mortgages, auto loans, or other major life purchases,” the company said.

TomoCredit has already pre-approved more than 300,000 customers and expects to issue a total of 500,000 cards by year’s end, according to Kim.

“We’ve grown 10x this year from the beginning of 2021,” Kim said. “Still, this round came together earlier than expected.”

Something that has been surprising to Kim is the interest from a variety of types of consumers.

“In the beginning, we thought international students and immigrants would be most interested in our product,” she told TechCrunch. “But after launching, we’ve realized that so many people can benefit — from gig economy workers to YouTubers to any young person who hasn’t had a chance to build credit yet. The market is way bigger than we even realized.”

In early 2022, the company plans to roll out the Tomo Black card, a product for some of its existing customers that “are showing good performance.” It’s currently testing it with some of its existing user base.

“This is a premium product that can grow with our customers, who we want to retain over the next 10 to 20 years,” Kim said. “We don’t want our product to be a stop-gap solution.”

Image Credits: TomoCredit

The startup plans to use its new capital to do more hiring and enhance features such as weekly autopay and high credit limits in an effort to “boost credit scores faster,” she added. Currently, TomoCredit has about 30 employees, up from 10 at the time of its last raise in February.

“My main focus is recruiting top talent,” Kim said, noting that the company had already hired “some senior people from Wells Fargo.” 

“When we recruit and hire, we care about diversity,” she added. “We’re building products for people who have been traditionally underserved by major banks. I think to align with our mission, we should embody that in building our team. More than 50% of our execs are female. The entire risk team is female. We are diverse in terms of gender, age and ethnicity because we want to truly understand our customers and build a product that is inclusive.”

Brian Dixon, partner at Kapor Capital, points out that there are about 45 million people in the U.S. who should have credit scores, but cannot take out a loan, get a credit card, or apply for a mortgage. And that number is only increasing.

“When we learned that Kristy experienced these issues firsthand when she moved to the United States and thoughtfully figured out a way to circumvent the predatory and broken credit card system, it deepened our conviction in her and the product itself,” he wrote via email.

Dixon believes that TomoCredit’s model of not charging the user makes it a “safe and affordable alternative” to what is in the market.

“Their mission aligns with our thesis of closing gaps of access and opportunity in the credit space at large as well,” he added.

India’s Groww in talks to raise funds at a $3 billion valuation

Groww, an Indian startup that is helping millennials invest in mutual funds and stocks, is in advanced stages of talks to raise a new financing round at a $3 billion valuation, according to six people familiar with the matter.

The Bangalore-based startup is negotiating to close a $250 million round, the people said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. The round could close within weeks, they said.

Usual caveats apply: The terms of the deal may change. The startup has received several termsheets — with similar terms — in recent days. Tiger Global, Coatue, and TCV have held conversations to lead or co-lead the round, people said. And many including Insight Partners have also explored investment, the people said.

A spokesperson for Coatue declined to comment. Groww chief executive did not respond to a request for comment. Indian news outlet CapTable first reported about Groww’s upcoming financing round.

More than 200 million people in India transact money digitally, but fewer than 30 million invest in mutual funds and stocks. Groww allows users to invest in mutual funds, including systematic investment planning (SIP) and equity-linked savings, gold, as well as stocks, including those listed at U.S. exchanges. The app offers every fund that is currently available in India.

Investors’ growing push to back — or double down on — Groww follows several months of strong growth. The Indian startup is currently on track to clock about $35 million in ARR, according to two people with the matter. Groww, which counts Tiger Global and Sequoia Capital India among its existing investors, was valued at $1 billion in April this year and $250 million last September.

The startup is also internally exploring expansion into the crypto space, but hasn’t made a firm decision on when it plans to offer crypto trading, one person said.

India and Singapore to link their payments systems to enable ‘instant and low-cost’ cross-border transactions

India and Singapore are working to link their digital payments systems to enable “instant, low-cost fund transfers,” in a major push to disrupt cross-border transactions, the central banks of the two nations said on Tuesday.

The project to link India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and Singapore’s PayNow is targeted for operationalization by July 2022, Reserve Bank of India said. Users on either of the systems will be able to make transactions to one another without having to sign up to the second platform, the banks said.

“When implemented, fund transfers can be made from India to Singapore using mobile phone numbers, and from Singapore to India using UPI virtual payment addresses (VPA). The experience of making a PayNow transfer to a UPI VPA will be similar to that of a domestic transfer to a PayNow VPA,” said Monetary Authority of Singapore in a press statement.

UPI, a payments infrastructure developed by a coalition of retail banks, has become the most popular digital payments method in India. The railroads, adopted by scores of local and global firms including Google and Facebook, is now processing over 3 billion transactions each month. Like UPI, Singapore’s PayNow also brings interoperability between banks and payments apps, allowing user from one payment app to make transaction to those on other apps.

“The UPI-PayNow linkage is a significant milestone in the development of infrastructure for cross-border payments between India and Singapore, and closely aligns with the G20’s financial inclusion priorities of driving faster, cheaper and more transparent cross-border payments,” India’s central bank said in a statement.

“The linkage builds upon the earlier efforts of NPCI International Private Limited (NIPL) and Network for Electronic Transfers (NETS) to foster cross-border interoperability of payments using cards and QR codes, between India and Singapore and will further anchor trade, travel and remittance flows between the two countries. This initiative is also in line with RBI’s vision of reviewing corridors and charges for inbound cross-border remittances outlined in the Payment Systems Vision Document 2019-21.”

This is a developing story. More to follow…

SpotOn raises $300M at a $3.15B valuation and acquires Appetize

Last year at this time, SpotOn was on the brink of announcing a $60 million Series C funding round at a $625 million valuation.

Fast-forward to almost exactly one year later and a lot has changed for the payments and software startup.

Today, SpotOn said it has closed on $300 million in Series E financing that values the company at $3.15 billion — more than 5x of its valuation at the time of its Series C round, and significantly higher than its $1.875 billion valuation in May (yes, just three and a half months ago) when it raised $125 million in a Series D funding event.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led both the Series D and E rounds for the company, which says it has seen 100% growth year over year and a tripling in revenue over the past 18 months. Existing investors DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group, Franklin Templeton and Mubadala Investment Company too doubled down on their investments in SpotOn, joining new backers Wellington Management and Coatue Management. Advisors Douglas Merritt, CEO of Splunk, and Mike Scarpelli, CFO of Snowflake, also made individual investments as angels. With the new capital, SpotOn has raised $628 million since its inception.

The latest investment is being used to finance the acquisition of another company in the space — Appetize, a digital and mobile commerce payments platform for enterprises such as sports and entertainment venues, theme parks and zoos. SpotOn is paying $415 million in cash and stock for the Los Angeles-based company.

Since its 2017 inception, SpotOn has been focused on providing software and payments technology to SMBs with an emphasis on restaurants and retail businesses. The acquisition of Appetize extends SpotOn’s reach to the enterprise space in a major way. Appetize will go to market as SpotOn and will work to grow its client base, which already includes an impressive list of companies and organizations, including Live Nation, LSU, Dodger Stadium and Urban Air. 

In fact, Appetize currently covers 65% of all major league sports stadiums, specializing in contactless payments, mobile ordering and menu management. So for example, when you’re ordering food at a game or concert, Appetize’s technology makes it easier to pay in a variety of contactless ways through point of sale (POS) devices, self-service kiosks, handheld devices, online ordering, mobile web and API integrations.

Image Credits: SpotOn

SpotOn is taking on the likes of Square in the payments space. But the company says its offering extends beyond traditional payment processing and point-of-sale software. Its platform aims to give SMBs the ability to run their businesses “from building a brand to taking payments and everything in between.” SpotOn’s goal is to be a “one-stop shop” by incorporating tools that include things such as custom website development, scheduling software, marketing, appointment scheduling, review management, analytics and digital loyalty.

The combined company will have 1,600 employees — 1,300 from SpotOn and 300 from Appetize. SpotOn will now have over 500 employees on its product and technology team, according to co-founder and co-CEO Zach Hyman. It will also have clients in the tens of thousands, a number that SpotOn says is growing by “thousands more every month.”

The acquisition is not the first for SpotOn, which also acquired SeatNinja last year and Emagine in 2018.

But in Appetize it saw a company that was complementary both in its go-to-market and tech stacks, and a “natural fit.”

“SMEs are going to benefit from the scalable tech that can grow with them, including things like kiosks and offline modes, and for the enterprise clients of Appetize, they’re going to be able to leverage products like sophisticated loyalty programs and extended marketing capabilities,” Hyman told TechCrunch. 

SpotOn was not necessarily planning to raise another round so soon, Hyman added, but the opportunity came up to acquire Appetize.

“We spent a lot of time together, and it was too compelling to pass up,” he told TechCrunch.

For its part, Appetize — which has raised over $77 million over its lifetime, according to Crunchbase — too saw the combination as a logical one.

“It was important to us to retain a stake in the business. We were not looking to cash out,” said Appetize CEO Max Roper. “We are deeply invested in growing the business together. It’s a big win for our team and our clients over the long term. This is a rocketship that we are excited to be on.” 

No doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic only emphasized the need for more digital offerings from small businesses to enterprises alike.

“There has been a high demand for our services and now as businesses are faced with a Covid resurgence, no one is closing down,” Hyman said. “So they see a responsibility to install the necessary technology to properly run their business.”

One of the moves SpotOn has made, for example, is launching a vaccination alert system in its reservation management software platform to make it easier for consumers to confirm they are vaccinated for cities and states that have those requirements.

Clearly, a16z General Partner David George too was bullish on the idea of a combined company.

He told TechCrunch that the two companies fit together “extremely nicely.”

“It felt like a no-brainer for us to want to lead the round, and continue to support them,” George said.

Since first investing in SpotOn in May, the startup’s growth has “exceeded” a16z’s expectations, he added.

“When companies are growing as fast as it is organically, they don’t need to rely on acquisitions to fuel growth,” he said. “But the strategic rationale here is so strong, that the acquisition will only turbocharge what is already high growth.”

While the Series E capital is primarily funding the acquisition, SpotOn continues to double down on its product and technology.

“This is our time to shine and invest in the future with forward-thinking technology,” Hyman told TechCrunch. “We’re thinking about things like how are consumers going to be ordering their beer at a Dodgers game in three years? Are they going to be standing in line for 25 minutes or are they going to be interacting and buying merchandise in other unique ways? Those are the things we’re looking to solve for.”

MaxRewards banks $3M to reveal best payment methods that reap the most rewards

When Anik Khan graduated from college, his first job was working on credit cards and business expenses at Accenture. There, he found that someone could bring in a couple of thousand dollars just by having the right credit cards and following the rewards and promotions.

It was back in 2017 when he and David Gao got the idea for his company MaxRewards, a digital wallet app that manages credit cards and automatically activates benefits like rewards, cashback offers and monthly credits. It also makes recommendations at the point of purchase on which card would yield the best reward for that purchase.

Going after the some 83% of Americans that have a credit card, the app version was officially launched in 2019, and now the Atlanta-based company is announcing a $3 million seed round co-led by Dundee Venture Capital and Calano Ventures. Also backing the company are Techstars, Fintech Ventures Fund, Service Provider Capital and Fleetcor president Nick Izquierdo.

Tracking his own credit cards manually prior to MaxRewards, Khan recalled in one year, getting $16,000 in rewards. However, utilizing those benefits was time-consuming and difficult, because the rewards and savings aren’t always made evident by the credit card companies.

“Other companies have tried to do something similar, but the issue is you don’t have the reward information or the offers,” Khan told TechCrunch. “If you were to aggregate this information, you still would have to activate all of these things and use them before they expired.”

Users connect their accounts and when they make a purchase, their location is cross-referenced with the merchant and an algorithm is applied to tell the user which card to use. The average app user has six credit cards.

MaxRewards is free to download and use, and the majority of the app’s functionalities are free. Users who want additional features, like the auto activation or rewards, can join MaxRewards Gold and are given the opportunity to choose their own monthly price — the average is over $25 per month — based on the value they expect to gain, Khan said.

MaxRewards offers and benefits. Image Credits: MaxRewards

Ron Watson, partner at Dundee, said his firm invests in seed-stage companies between the coasts and is interested in consumer and e-commerce companies. Watson said he was impressed with what MaxRewards has been able to do with a team of three. He also relates to the company’s mission, having grown up in a lower, middle-class family that did not frequently go on vacations.

When he got his first job and was suddenly flying everywhere, he recalls building up so many rewards to the point where he was able to go on a vacation to Hawaii and only spend maybe $100, he said.

“I used to put my points into a spreadsheet, but as I got older and had kids, I realized how hard it was for the average person to do that and how important it is to have automation,” Watson said. “I downloaded the app, and on the first day, saved $20.”

The company is often compared to NerdWallet or Mint, but in terms of functionality, Khan said he feels MaxRewards is unique due to its credit card system connectors. Rather than rely on third-party aggregators to discover the rewards, MaxRewards leverages its own proprietary connectors to card systems.

There are hundreds of thousands of offers to be discovered, and consumers are asking for even more features, so Khan decided it was time to go after seed funding. He had raised a small seed, about $200,000, from his time at Techstars, but the new funding will enable him to add to his team of three people. He expects to be at 20 by the end of the year. Khan also wants to accelerate its user acquisition, product improvement and compliance.

Next up, the company is going to automate rewards and savings across additional platforms like debit cards, payment apps and cashback apps, as well as create browser extensions and a web app. Khan also wants to do more on the education side with regard to using credit cards in a smart manner.

Arron Solano, managing partner at Calano, met Khan through Techstars and said he is an advocate for using credit cards in the right way. His firm was looking for a company like MaxRewards.

“During our first call, I remember telling my partner that Anik was a bulldog who knew what he was talking about, especially at that stage,” Solano added. “He had strong team members, his vision lined up well and that checked off a massive box for us. He energized us and showed he could find a market with insanely high ‘super users.’ ”

Addi raises $75M to advance ‘buy now, pay later’ in LatAm, nearly triples valuation

Buy now, pay later is officially everywhere, and Latin America is no exception.

Today, one startup in the region, Addi, is announcing a $75 million extension to its Series B, bringing the total round size to $140 million. In late May, the startup announced it had raised $35 million in an equity round led by Union Square’s Opportunity Fund, and $30 million in debt funding from Architect Capital.

The company, which has dual headquarters in Bogota, Colombia, and São Paulo, Brazil, declined to reveal its new valuation other than to say it is “nearly triple” what it was 90 days ago when it closed on the first tranche of its Series B, and that it is now in the “hundreds of millions” of dollars range.

New York-based Greycroft led the extension, which also included participation from new backers GGV Capital, Citius Capital and Intersection Growth Partners, as well as existing investors Union Square’s Opportunity Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, Endeavor Catalyst, Foundation Capital, Monashees and Quona Capital. 

With the latest financing, Addi has now raised a total of $220 million in debt and equity since its September 2018 inception — $140 million of that in equity and over $80 million in debt.

Addi co-founder and CEO Santiago Suarez, says he, Daniel Vallejo and Elmer Ortega started the company with a vision of making digital commerce a reality in Latin America — a region where an estimated fewer than 25% of people have a credit card.

“To do this, we had to solve the payment problem,” he said. “We wanted to make frictionless payments possible while allowing customers to afford what they wanted.”

Addi started with a buy now, pay later offering, which allowed consumers to make purchases in minutes with “just a few clicks.” Today, the company allows customers to pay for their purchases over three months at no cost. For bigger purchases, Addi lets them pay for up to 24 months at what it describes as “competitive and fair rates.”

Addi is currently available for e-commerce, mobile and brick-and-mortar purchases in Brazil and Colombia, with plans to expand across Latin America in the coming years. In particular, it plans to enter the Mexican market in 2022.

Since the beginning of this year alone, Addi has grown its GMV (gross merchandise volume) by 13x, according to Suarez.

“And our ARR has seen similar growth,” he said.

Like many other companies, Addi temporarily saw a slowdown in business as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it quickly bounced back.

“We lost 99% of our GMV in 20 days when the pandemic hit. We had to make some painful decisions, including letting go of many of our colleagues at a very difficult time,” Suarez recalled. “We also refocused the business on e-commerce and digital payments, and we haven’t looked back since then.”

As a result, Addi reached its pre-COVID high again in March/April of 2021, and has grown by about 3x since.

For now, the company is more focused on growth than profitability, Suarez added.

“This round has increased our focus on making digital commerce ubiquitous and accessible across Latin America,” he said.

Indeed, Latin America led the world in e-commerce sales growth last year. For its part, Addi currently has more than 150,000 customers, a number that is growing at 30% to 40% month over month. On the merchant side, it has close to 500 merchant partners, including brands such as Arturo Calle, Mario Hernandez, Keep Running and Claro. Earlier this year, it inked a strategic partnership with Banco Santander.

Addi currently has over 260 employees (or as Suarez put it, partners), up from less than 120 a year ago. The company prides itself as being “one of the few Latin American startups” that grants equity to everyone on staff.

“And we make it a point of speaking about partners and co-owners rather than employees,” Suarez told TechCrunch.

The company plans to use the new capital to speed up its product roadmap and geographic expansion. On the product side, it will be launching “a one-click checkout solution” for its merchant partners and customers by year’s end. Addi will also be accelerating its entry into Mexico, as mentioned previously, where it’s aiming to launch in early 2022.

Greycroft’s Thabet Mahayni said that prior to investing in Addi, his firm had been tracking the startup “for a long time.”

“In addition to an exceptional team, we believe the BNPL value proposition is stronger in LatAm than anywhere else in the world,” Mahayni told TechCrunch.” We…believe they have an opportunity to fundamentally reshape the entire consumer payments experience in the region.”

That is in part because currently, consumers in Latin America have very few alternatives when it comes to credit, he points out. Card penetration is very low and those who apply for credit “face a cumbersome and frustrating application process,” Mahayni added.

And those who do have credit cards are often given very low limits with high interest rates.

“It’s easy to see how this dynamic makes it difficult and expensive for consumers to access safe and reliable credit,” he said. 

Addi, according to Mahayni, has “rebuilt the entire onboarding, underwriting and fraud stack so they can provide safer credit alternatives to consumers while enabling merchants to meaningfully increase their basket sizes and GMV.”

It’s the second LatAm investment for Greycroft, which previously invested in Rocket.chat, a Brazilian enterprise communication and collaboration platform.

In Mexico next year, Addi will join existing player, Nelo. That startup raised $3 million in April, and at the time, was live with more than 45 merchants and over 150,000 users. Also, Alchemy earlier this year entered the Mexican market.

PayPal acquires Japan’s Paidy for $2.7B to crack the buy-now, pay-later market in Asia  

PayPal Holdings, the U.S. fintech company, announced an acquisition of Paidy, a Japanese buy now, pay later (BNPL) service platform, for approximately $2.7 billion (300 billion yen), mostly in cash, to enhance its business in Japan.

The transaction completion including the regulatory approval is expected in the fourth quarter of 2021.

After the acquisition, the Japan-based company will continue to operate its existing business and maintain the brand while the leaders, Paidy’s president and CEO Riku Sugie and founder and executive chairman of Paidy Russel Cummer, keep their positions.

Japan is the third largest e-commerce market in the world, and so this is a significant move by PayPal to gain more market share both in the country and the region, specifically in the area of providing deferred payment services as an alternative to credit cards.

PayPal has long played nice with payment cards – users can upload details of their cards to PayPal and use it as a kind of digital wallet to manage how they pay for things online through it – but it got its start actually as a payment platform in itself, where people could pay into and out of PayPal accounts. Paidy is, in that sense, a strengthening of PayPal’s first-party rails, providing a way to ‘own’ that flow of money on its own infrastructure, not involving the card networks.

Paidy is basically a two-sided payments service, acting as a middleman between consumers and merchants in Japan. Using machine learning it determines the creditworthiness of a consumer related to a particular purchase, and then it underwrites those transactions in seconds, guaranteeing payments to merchants. Consumers then make deferred payment to Paidy for those goods.

Paidy’s platform, which offers a monthly payment installment service branded ‘3-Pay’, enables shoppers to make purchases online and then pay for them each month in a consolidated bill at a convenience store or via bank transfer.

“Paidy pioneered buy now, pay later solutions tailored to the Japanese market and quickly grew to become the leading service, developing a sizable two-sided platform of consumers and merchants,” said Peter Kenevan, vice president, head of Japan at Paypal.

Paidy has more than 6 million registered users, and the plan is to integrate PayPal and other digital and QR wallets with Paidy Link to connect further online and offline merchants.

In April 2021, the Japan-based company launched Paidy Link, allowing users to link digital wallets with their Payidy account. PayPal was the first digital wallet partner to integrate with Paidy Link.

“PayPal was a founding partner for Paidy Link and we look forward to looking together to create even more value,” Sugie said in a statement.

“Japan has been a vibrant environment for our growth to date and we’re honored to have our team’s hard work and potential recognized by a global leader. Together with Paypal, we will be able to further achieve our mission of taking the hassle out of shopping,” Cummer said.

Indian fintech Slice launches $27 credit limit cards to tap 200 million users

Even as there are hundreds of millions of Indians who have bank accounts, only about 30 million of them have credit cards. The adoption rate of the plastic card has largely remained stagnant in the South Asian nation for the last few years.

The relatively young credit-rating system in India covers only a tiny fraction of the nation’s population. And banks neither have sophisticated underwriting systems nor the risk appetite to make any attempts to move the needle.

Slice, a Bangalore-based startup, believes it has found the solution. The startup, which has years of experience in issuing its cards to young professionals with no traditional jobs, said on Wednesday it’s launching a card with 2,000 Indian rupees ($27) as the default limit to tap the nation’s potential addressable market of 200 million individuals.

Rajan Bajaj, founder and chief executive of Slice, said the startup’s new credit limit card — considerably lower than industry’s lowest of about $270 — is aimed at those who don’t have a great credit score — or any score — and slowly help them build it.

The startup, which has been lately disbursing as many as 100,000 new super cards — its marquee offering — to users each month, is not charging any joining fee or annual fee with its new card and is offering the same benefits as its super card.

Bajaj said the startup is able to offer this card to users because it has spent years building its own credit underwriting system that supports this.

“In the last few years, we have actively invested in building a strong risk infrastructure by leveraging data science. Without robust risk management capabilities, it’s impossible to scale such a business and make such a truly inclusive product. But once the capability is built, no one can take the growth away from you. Currently, with a 50% m-o-m growth, our NPA is still less than 2%, a validation of our superior credit underwriting capabilities.”

Rajan said the startup arrived at the $27 figure because it believes this amount “still allows users to make meaningful transactions,” adding that by properly utilizing this limit and paying on time, users can instantly get approved for higher limits.

“We are confident this will encourage users to provide us with extra information that we need to increase their credit limit,” he told TechCrunch in an interview.

The startup, which raised $20 million in a financing round two months ago, is hoping to issue about 1 million of these new cards to users by the end of March next year.

It may raise more, soon. Investors are chasing the startup to finance a new round of about $100 million at a significantly higher valuation than that of its previous round. Rajan declined to comment on fundraise talks.