How to identify unicorn founders when they’re still early-stage

As an early-stage VC, you spend time with hundreds of fantastic startups, trying to identify potential winners by thinking about market size, business model and competition. Nevertheless, deep down you know that in the long run, it all comes down to the team and the founder(s).

When we look at the most successful companies in our portfolio, their amazing performance is in large part thanks to the founders. However, even after 20 years in the industry, I have to admit that analyzing the team is still the most challenging part of the job. How do you evaluate a young first-time entrepreneur of an early-stage company with little traction?

The best founders are humble and well aware of their weaknesses and limitations as well as the potential challenges for their startup.

At Creandum, in the past 18 years, we have been fortunate to work with some of Europe’s most successful startup founders such as Daniel Ek from Spotify, Sebastian Siemiatkowski from Klarna, Johannes Schildt from Kry, Jacob de Geer and Magnus Nilsson from iZettle, Emil Eifrem from Neo4J, Christian Hecker from Trade Republic and many more.

After a while, we realized that these incredible entrepreneurs all share some fundamental characteristics. They all have lots of energy, work hard, show patience, perseverance and resilience. But on top of that, all these unicorn founders share five key traits that, as an investor, you should look for when you back them at an early stage.

They know what they don’t know

Many people expect a typical startup founder to be very confident and have a strong sales mentality. While they should definitely live up to those expectations, the best founders are also humble and well aware of their weaknesses and limitations as well as the potential challenges for their startup.

They keep wanting to learn, improve and grow the business beyond what average people have the energy and drive to manage.

Temasek and General Atlantic in talks to back Indian neobank Open

Bangalore-based neobank Open is in advanced stages of talks to raise about $100 million, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, and General Atlantic are positioning to co-lead the Series C financing round, which values the Indian startup at pre-money $600 million, the sources told TechCrunch, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. Open was valued at about $150 million in its Series B funding round two years ago.

Existing investor Tiger Global, PayPal, which shuttered its domestic operations in the world’s second largest internet market early this year, as well as Google and Amazon are in talks to participate in the new round, the sources said.

Indian news outlet Economic Times first reported about the size of the imminent round and identified Google and Amazon as probable investors earlier this week. The round hasn’t closed yet so terms may change and not all investors may end up backing Open. The startup’s founder and chief executive Anish Achuthan declined to comment.

Open operates as a neobank that offers nearly all the features of a bank with additional tools to serve the needs of businesses. The startup offers its clients services such as automated account, payment gateway, credit cards, automated bookkeeping, cash flow management, and tax and compliance management solutions.

Realizing the opportunity that they can’t tap the entire market, several banks in India have in recent years started to collaborate with fintech startups to expand their reach in the South Asian nation.

“Banks are doing their best to defend their turf by focusing on several fronts – eco system building (led by HDFC Bank), open approach to fintech partnerships (led by ICICI Bank), overall digital experience as an acquisition tool (led by Kotak and Axis) etc. But [they] continue to play catchup as they lack the focus/ expertise in each channel (Banking super apps and APIs are fast becoming hygiene). Fintech revenues are already ~10% of private banks’ fee income, but could grow >3x in the next 3 years,” wrote analysts at Bank of America in a report late last year.

“Banks no doubt want to own the pipe and relationships, but are unlikely to succeed except in very specific segments,” they added.

In recent months, however, some banks have begun to reevaluate their engagement strategy with neobanks, Indian news and analysis publication the CapTable reported last month.

Messenger adds Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments in the U.S.

This spring, Facebook confirmed it was testing Venmo-like QR codes for person-to-person payments inside its app in the U.S. Today, the company announced those codes are now launching publicly to all U.S. users, allowing anyone to send or request money through Facebook Pay — even if they’re not Facebook friends.

The QR codes work similarly to those found in other payment apps, like Venmo.

The feature can be found under the “Facebook Pay” section in Messenger’s settings, accessed by tapping on your profile icon at the top left of the screen. Here, you’ll be presented with your personalized QR code which looks much like a regular QR code except that it features your profile icon in the middle.

Underneath, you’ll be shown your personal Facebook Pay UR which is in the format of “https://m.me/pay/UserName.” This can also be copied and sent to other users when you’re requesting a payment.

Facebook notes that the codes will work between any U.S. Messenger users, and won’t require a separate payment app or any sort of contact entry or upload process to get started.

Users who want to be able to send and receive money in Messenger have to be at least 18 years old, and will have to have a Visa or Mastercard debit card, a PayPal account or one of the supported prepaid cards or government-issued cards, in order to use the payments feature. They’ll also need to set their preferred currency to U.S. dollars in the app.

After setup is complete, you can choose which payment method you want as your default and optionally protect payments behind a PIN code of your choosing.

The QR code is also available from the Facebook Pay section of the main Facebook app, in a carousel at the top of the screen.

Facebook Pay first launched in November 2019, as a way to establish a payment system that extends across the company’s apps for not just person-to-person payments, but also other features, like donations, Stars, and e-commerce, among other things. Though the QR codes take cues from Venmo and others, the service as it stands today is not necessarily a rival to payment apps because Facebook partners with PayPal as one of the supported payment methods.

However, although the payments experience is separate from Facebook’s cryptocurrency walletNovi, that’s something that could perhaps change in the future.

Image Credits: Facebook

The feature was introduced alongside a few other Messenger updates, including a new Quick Reply bar that makes it easier to respond to a photo or video without having to return to the main chat thread. Facebook also added new chat themes including one for Olivia Rodrigo fans, another for World Oceans Day, and one that promotes the new F9 movie.

 

Terraformation gets $30M to fight climate change with rapid reforesting

Every startup is trying to fix something but Terraformation is tackling the only problem that must matter to all of us: Climate change.

This is why it’s in such a big huge hurry. Its mission — as a ‘forest tech’ startup — is to accelerate tree planting by applying a startup-y operational philosophy of scalability to the pressing task of rapidly, sustainably reforesting denuded landscapes — bringing back native trees species to revive former wastelands and shrinking our carbon emissions in the process.

Forests are natural carbon sinks. The problem is we just don’t have enough trees with roots in the ground to offset our emissions. So that at least means the mission is simple: Plant more trees, and plant more trees fast.

Terraformation’s goal is to restore three billion acres of global native forest ecosystems by scaling tree replanting projects in parallel, scaling the use of existing techniques, and working with all the partners it can. (For a little context, the U.S. contains some 2.27BN acres of total land area, per Wikipedia).

So far it says it’s planted “thousands” of trees — with live projects in North America, South America, Africa and Europe which it hopes will yield up to 20,000 replanted acres. It’s also in talks with partners about more projects that could clad hundreds of thousands of acres with carbon-consuming (and biodiversity-prompting) trees, if they come to full fruition.

That’s still a long way off the 3BN-acre-wooded moonshot, of course. But Terraformation claims it’s been able to achieve a forestry restoration work-rate that’s 5x the average already. And that’s definitely the kind of ‘gas stepping’ that climate change needs.

Its elevator pitch is also punchy: “Our mission is explicitly to solve climate change through mass reforestation,” says founder Yishan Wong — whose name may be familiar as the ex-Reddit CEO (and also a former early-stage engineer at PayPal/Facebook). So it’s getting trees in the ground and getting faster at getting trees in the ground.”

It’s not going it alone, either. It’s just announced a first closing of a $30 million Series A funding round, led by Sam & Max Altman at Apollo Projects, the brothers’ ‘moonshot’ fund; plus several high-profile institutional investors (whose names aren’t being disclosed); along with nearly 100 angel investors, including Sundeep Ahuja, Lachy Groom, Sahil Lavingia, Joe Lonsdale, Susan Wu, and OVN Cap.

“The [Series A] was a bit larger than we anticipated and the idea is to get us to the next stage of planting orders of magnitude more trees every year,” says Wong. “So it’ll be used both for supporting forestry projects directly, as well as for the development and deployment of forestry acceleration products and technology.”

“The very, very nice thing about mass reforestation or mass restoration as a solution to climate change is that it’s extremely parallelizable,” he adds. “You can plant any tree at the same time as your planting some other tree. This is the primary reason why this solution can potentially be implemented within the timetable that we have left. But in order to do so we have to start and drive an enormous, decentralized reforestation campaign across multiple continents and countries.”

The funding follows a $5M seed last year, as the young startup worked to hone its approach.

Terraformation is targeting the main barriers to successful reforesting: Through early research and pilots it says it’s identified three key bottlenecks to large-scale forest restoration — namely, land availability, freshwater, and seed. It then seeks to address each of these pinch-points to viable reforesting — identifying and fashioning modular, sharable solutions (tools, techniques, training etc) that can help shave off friction and build leafy, branching success.

These products include a seed bank unit it’s devised, housed in a standard shipping container and kitted out with all the equipment (plus solar off-grip capability, if required) to take care of on-site storage for the thousands of native seeds each projects needs to replant a whole forest.

It also offers a nursery kit which also ships in a shipping container — a flat-packed greenhouse that it says a couple of people can put together, and where thousands of seedlings can then be tended and irrigated in pots until they’re ready to plant out.

A third support it offers to the replanting projects it wants to work with is expertise in building solar-powered desalination rigs so young trees can be supplied with adequate water to survive in locations where poor land management may have made conditions for growth difficult and harsh.

It goes without saying that planted trees which fail because of poor processes won’t help cut carbon emissions. Badly managed replanting is at best wasteful — and may be closer to cynical greenwashing in some cases. (Poor quality projects can be a known problem where claims of corporate carbon offsetting are being made, for example.)

Terraformation is thus zeroing in on repeatable ways to scale and accelerate the successful planting and nurturing of trees, from seed to sapling and beyond, to accelerate sustainable reforesting.

Ultimately, it’s the only kind of tree planting that will really count in the fight against climate change.

Its first pilot restoration projects begun in Hawai’i in 2019 — where it’s been able to plant thousands of trees at a site called Pacific Flight, reviving a native tropical sandalwood forest that had been logged unsustainably. To enable the young trees to grow in land which had also become arid as a result of cattle grazing, the team built the world’s largest fully off-grid, solar-powered desalination system to supply sustainable freshwater to the baby forest.

“The arid environment, high winds, and degraded soils meant that if a team could restore a forest there, they could do it anywhere,” is the pitch on its website.

The Series A will go toward spinning up lots more such native species forest restoration projects — working via partnerships, with organizations such as Environmental Defenders in Uganda, and other groups in Ecuador, Haiti and Tanzania — as well as on more R&D (additional products are in the pipeline, we’re told); and on expanding headcount so its team has the legs to run faster.

Interestingly, for a startup with Silicon Valley engineering pedigree at its core, the team’s approach is intentionally light on technology — leaning only on vital tech (like solar and desalination), rather than experimental bells and whistles (drones, robotics etc) to ensure the processes it’s packaging up for massive replanting parallelism remain as simple, accessible and reliable as possible. So they are able to scale all over the globe.

It’s clear that sci-fi robotic gadgetry isn’t the answer here. It’s sweating toil plus tried and tested horticulture processes, done systematically and repeatedly, in mass parallelism all over the world that’s required, argues Wong, whose years in tech have given him a healthy scepticism on the issue of over-engineering. (“The biggest lesson I learned was, you want to solve a big problem? You want to use as little technology as possible… Technology’s always breaking, it’s always got flaws. The biggest problem with technology is technology.”)

“I would say that the key contribution that ‘tech’ — if you think of a monolith or a culture or whatever — will make to climate change, is not in fact some new invention or some gadget or some sort of special magical technology… I think it really is the practice of scalability,” he goes on. “Which is an organizational end. A management way of thinking. Because that is actually something that has been carefully and painfully developed… over the past 20 years in Silicon Valley. How to take small working solutions, how to solve very big problems, how to scale them. And it isn’t a very glamorous thing — which is why I think it’s one of the more pure disciplines.

“It just has been less corrupt… Scalability is just people thinking hard and grinding it out to address really hard big problems. And I think that practice and all the little tips and rules that we have to doing that is the real contribution that tech is going to make — with one of those principles being use as little tech as you can.”

Terraformation is building software tools too — such as a mobile app to help with cataloguing and monitoring seeds. But the really critical technologies involved, solar and desalination, are very much at the ‘tried and tested’ end of the tech scale (“very, very reliable and refined”.).

Wong points out that a key development for solar and desalination is related to the unit economics — with falling costs allowing for scalability and thus speed.

Asked whether Terraformation is a business in the typical startup sense, Wong says it’s been set up in a familiar way — as a Delaware C Corp — but purely because he says that’s just the quickest way to be able to operate. Doing stuff as a non-profit would be way too slow, he says, describing it thusly as a “non non-profit” (rather than a business with a for-profit mission).

Aka: “It’s a corporate with investors but primarily the aim is to solve climate change.”

Startup investors are of course often betting their money on the chance of a quick and meaty return. But not here, confirms Wong. “When we raised funding all of our investors invested primarily because they wanted to see climate change solved,” he tells TechCrunch. “To many of them this was the first time that a plausible, full-scale solution to solving climate change had been presented.

“It’s still very, very hard. It’s very, very large. It’s really daunting. But it’s the first time someone has mapped out a path that could actually get us there. And so all of our investors invested because they want to see that happen.”

So how will a ‘non non-profit’ startup (even with $30M just banked) get its hands on enough land to plant enough trees? A variety of ways, per Wong. (Perhaps even, in some instances, landowners could end up paying it to turn their dirt into beautiful woodland.)

“The short answer is anywhere we can!” he adds. “The solution is structured to give us maximum flexibility, given that we can use a large variety of land. We don’t want to count on any particular land owning entity — and I use that very broad term to mean like people, communities, governments, municipalities — we don’t want to rely on any one particular land-owning entity wanting to work with us or allowing us to reforest the land, because you can’t guarantee that.”

He also notes that Terraformation’s plan to fix climate change is based on “worse case scenarios” — where “no one who owns any land that gets enough natural rainfall for forest restoration will allow it to reforest it”. “We use the least valuable land — basically desertified, degraded land,” he adds. “Is there enough of that? And it turns out there is.”

Even though personal financial upside clearly isn’t front of mind for Terraformation’s investors, Wong still believes there’s plenty of ‘value’ to be unlocked as a byproduct of spreading leafy-green goodness all over the planet vs funding more extractive exploitation.

“It turns out that solving climate change is actually a huge value creating act,” he argues. “My experience in Silicon Valley is if you have people who believe in you and believe in the thing that you’re creating is ultimately value-creating then it’s actually also wealth creating. If you do something that is fundamentally very, very valuable and you’re right next to it, you will be able to monetize it in some way. You will capture some of that value for your shareholders. So it’s a bet that if you really can solve climate change, that’s super valuable, both for the world and to the entity that’s [investing].”

Of course climate change is more than just a problem; it’s an existential threat to all life on Earth — one which affect humans and every other living creature and thing on the planet.

Given such terminal stakes, reversing climate change should be the highest global priority. Instead, humans have procrastinated — putting dealing with rises in atmospheric CO2 on the back-burner and worse (cutting down existing forests like the Amazon Rainforest, for one).

Set against that backdrop, Terraformation’s answer to humanity’s greatest crisis looks compellingly simple. Its bet is that climate change can be fixed by scaling the most proven technology possible (trees) to capture carbon emissions. Who can argue with that? 

But it does also seem clear that reforesting will need to go hand in hand with a mainstreaming of conservation, as a prevailing societal attitude, if the mission is to be pulled off — otherwise all these beautiful baby trees could just meet the same sad fate as all the Earth’s already lost forests.

Nonetheless, conservation is something Wong’s team is deliberately not focusing on.

Not because they don’t care. Rather their hope is that by building the baby forests, the protective partners will come — to watch over and get value from the trees as they grow. 

“I don’t want to make it seem like we don’t care about [forestry conservation] but one of the things that I try to do is figure out where people are already doing work and things are already moving in the right direction — and then go work on the thing that other people are not working on,” he says when we ask about this. “When I talk to people in the forestry world many, many people are working on avoiding deforestation, helping solve the broader socioeconomic issues that result in deforestation. And so I feel like there is momentum moving in that direction — so we have to work on this other issue that other people aren’t working on.”

Wong also argues that forests are naturally more valuable than the denuded waste/scrub ground they’re replanting — implying that pure economic interest should help these baby forests survive and thrive far into the future.

However the history of humanity shows that unequal wealth distribution can wreak all sorts of havoc on a resource-rich natural environment. And people who live in poverty may well be disproportionately more likely to like in a rural location, on or near land that Terraformation hopes to target for replanting. So if these forests can’t provide — in crude terms — ‘value’ for their local communities the risk is the same cycle of short-term economic harm will rip all this hard work (and hope) out of the ground once again.

Wealth inequality lies at the core of much of humanity’s counterproductive destruction of the environment. So, seen from that angle, reforesting the planet may require just as much effort toward tackling — root and branch — the wider socioeconomic fault-lines of our world, as it will washing, sorting and storing seed, watering seedlings and nurturing and planting saplings.

And that further dials up an already massive climate challenge. But, again, Wong is quietly hopeful.

“People aren’t cutting down trees because they’re evil, they’re cutting down trees because they need to make a living. So we have to provide them with ways to make a living that is more valuable than cutting down the trees. I think that recognition is moving in the correct direction — so I’m hopeful there,” he says.

Asked what keeps him up at night, he also has a straightforward answer to hand — one we’ve heard many times already from a new generation of climate campaigners, like Greta Thunberg, whose futures will be irrevocably stamped by the effects of climate change: Humanity simply isn’t moving fast enough.

“In order to do this we have to make order of magnitude improvements in both speed and scale — which is technically a thing that we know how to do but is among the most daunting things that you ever try to undertake. So… are we moving fast enough? Are we doing enough? Because time is running out,” warns Wong.

“The timeframe that we have left is very small when compared to the planetary scale of the problem. And so I think the only way that we’re going to get there is with proven solutions, moving, growing at exponential speed.”

“I am [hopeful],” he adds. “I’m a big fan of humans working together. People can really do it. I’m very I guess what you’d call pro-human. We have a lot of flaws, we fight amongst ourselves a lot, but I really think that when people work together they can really do amazing, amazing things… Trees gave us life and so now it’s our time to repay that debt.”

 

YC-backed Ziina raises $7.5M seed led by Avenir Growth Capital and Class 5 Global

Cash is the predominant method of sending and receiving payments in the Middle East. If you owe someone a cup of coffee or a trip over a long period, repaying via cash is your best bet. This is one problem out of many financial issues that haven’t been addressed in the region.

The good news is that startups are springing up to provide solutions. Last month Telda, a now two-month-old startup in Egypt, raised an impressive sum as pre-seed to offer digital banking services. Today, Ziina, another startup based in Dubai, has closed $7.5 million in seed funding to scale its peer-to-peer (P2P) payment service across the Middle East and North Africa.

Ziina has managed to enlist top global investors and fintech founders in the round. Avenir Growth and Class 5 Global led this latest tranche of financing. Wamda Capital, FJ Labs, Graph Ventures, Goodwater Capital, Jabbar Internet Group, Oman Technology Fund’s Jasoor Ventures, and ANIM also participated.

The founders who took part include Checkout CEO Guillaume Pousaz via his investment fund Zinal Growth; Krishnan Menon, BukuKas CEO, as well as executives from Paypal and Venmo. This adds to a roster of executives and early employees from Revolut, Stripe, Brex, Notion, and Deel that joined Ziina’s round.

According to the company, it has raised over $8.6 million since launching last year. This includes the $850,000 pre-seed raised in May 2020 and $125,000 secured after going through Y Combinator’s Winter batch early this year.

Ziina was founded by Faisal Toukan, Sarah Toukan, and Andrew Gold. It’s the latest addition to the Middle East’s bubbling fintech ecosystem and is capitalising on the region’s rapid adoption of fintech friendly regulation.

The company allows users to send and receive payments with just a phone number —no IBAN or swift code required as is the de facto method in the UAE and some parts of the Middle East. It also claims to be the country’s first licensed social peer-to-peer application “on a mission to simplify finance for everyone.”

After meeting during a hackathon in the U.S., Faisal and Gold began exchanging ideas on how to build wallets, wanting to mirror the successes platforms like WePay, Paytm have had. At the time, VCs seemed to be interested in how the wallets ecosystem intersected with banking.

“The lines between wallets and banking have become really blurred. Every wallet has a banking partner, and people who use wallets use them for their day-to-day needs,” CEO Faisal Toukan said to TechCrunch.

On the other hand, Sarah, who is Faisal’s sister, was on her personal fintech journey in London. There, she attended several meetups headlined by the founders of Monzo and Revolut. With her knowledge and the experience of the other two, the founders decided that solving P2P payments issues was their own way of driving massive impact in the Middle East.

So how far have they gone? “We launched a beta for the market but it’s restricted for regulatory reasons and basically to keep ourselves in check with the ecosystem,” Toukan remarked. “Since then, we’ve gotten regulated. We’ve got a banking partner, one of the three largest banks in the UAE, and we’ve set a new wallet a month from now. That’s also what we were working throughout our period in YC. So it’s been quite an eventful year.”

The fintech sector in MENA is growing fast; in terms of numbers, at a CAGR of 30%. Also, in the UAE, it is estimated that over 450 fintech companies will raise about $2 billion in 2022 compared to the $80 million raised in 2017. Fintechs in the region are focused on solving payments, transfers, and remittances. Alongside its P2P offering, these are the areas Ziina wants to play in, including investment and cryptocurrency services.

According to Toukan, there’s no ease of making online investments, and remittances are done in exchange houses, a manual process where people need to visit an office physically. “So what we’re looking to do is to bring all these products to life in the UAE and expand beyond that. But the first pain point we’re solving for is for people to send and receive money with two clicks,” the CEO affirmed.

Starting with P2P has its own advantages. First, peer-to-peer services is a repeat behavioural mechanism that allows companies to establish trust with customers. Also, it’s a cheaper customer acquisition model. Toukan says that as Zinna expands geographically — Saudi Arabia and Jordan in 2022; and Egypt and Tunisia some years from now — as he wants the company’s wallet to become seamless across borders. “We want a situation where if you move into Saudi or Dubai, you’re able to use the same wallet versus using different banking applications,” he added

To be on the right side of regulation is key to any fintech expansion, and Toukan says Ziina has been in continuous dialogue with regulators to operate efficiently. But some challenges have stemmed from finding the right banking partners. “You need to make a case to the banks that this is basically a mutually beneficial partnership. And the way we’ve done that is by basically highlighting different cases globally like CashApp that worked with Southern Bank,” he said.

Now that the company has moved past that challenge, it’s in full swing to launch. Presently, Ziina has thousands of users who transacted more than $120,000 on the platform this past month. According to the company, there are over 20,000 users on its waiting lis to be onboarded post-launch.

Ziina has already built a team with experience across tech companies like Apple, Uber, Stanford, Coinbase, Careem, Oracle, and Yandex. It plans to double down on hiring with this new investment and customer acquisition and establishing commercial partnerships.

Twitter Tip Jar lets you pay people for good tweetin’

Twitter today confirmed earlier reports that it’s testing a new Tip Jar feature. The new addition utilizes a number of different payment platforms, including PayPal, Venmo, Patreon, Cash App and Bandcamp (all region-dependent).

“Tip Jar is an easy way to support the incredible voices that make up the conversation on Twitter,” the company wrote in a blog post confirming the news. “This is a first step in our work to create new ways for people to receive and show support on Twitter — with money.”

Currently available on both iOS and Android, the feature is designed to give users a way to quickly tip creators with a few taps. Tip Jar is beginning to roll out to select groups of users, including nonprofits, journalists, experts and creators. The company has further plans to roll it out to additional groups and languages.

For now, those using Twitter in English will be able to send a tip. Those profiles that have enabled it will show the Tip Jar icon on their profile page to the left of the Follow button. Hitting that will show a list of the aforementioned third-party money transfer apps. The opt-in feature will pop up in the mobile app, letting qualified users choose which payment platforms they’ll accept.

In addition to the above, Android users will be able to send money via Twitter’s Clubhouse competitor, Spaces. The company says it won’t be taking a percentage of those transactions.

The feature comes as the service looks to become a more well-rounded content-creation platform. In addition to the audio feature, Spaces (which recently saw a much wider roll out), Twitter has also been looking to take on the likes of Substack with its own newsletter-style offering.

 

 

Will fintech unicorn Flywire’s proposed IPO reach escape velocity?

It’s a big morning for fintech startups today: Flywire, a Boston-based magnet for venture capital, has filed to go public.

Flywire is a global payments company that attracted more than $300 million as a startup, according to Crunchbase, most recently raising a $60 million Series F last month. We don’t have its most recent valuation, but PitchBook data indicates that the company’s February 2020, $120 million round valued Flywire at $1 billion on a post-money basis.

So what we’re looking at here is a fintech unicorn IPO. A great way to kick off the week, to be honest, though I’d thought that Robinhood would be the next such debut.

Fintech venture capital activity has been hot lately, which makes the Flywire IPO interesting. Its success or failure could dictate the pace of fintech exits and fintech startup valuations in general, so we have to care about it.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Regardless, we’re doing our regular work this morning. First, what does Flywire do and with whom does it compete? Then, a closer look at its financial results as we hope to get our hands around its revenue quality, aggregate economics and growth prospects.

After that, we’ll discuss valuations and which venture capital groups are set to do well in its flotation. The company had a number of backers, but Spark Capital, Temasek, F-Prime Capital, and Bain Capital Ventures made the major shareholder list, along with Goldman Sachs. So, a number of firms and funds are hoping for a big Flywire exit. Let’s dig in.

What is Flywire?

Flywire is a global payments company. Or, as it states in its S-1 filing, it’s “a leading global payments enablement and software company.” And it thinks that its market, and by extension itself, has lots of room to grow. While “substantial strides [have been] made in payments technology in the retail and e-commerce industries,” the company wrote, “massive sectors of our global economy—including education, healthcare, travel, and business-to-business, or B2B, payments—are still in the early stages of digital transformation.”

That’s the same logic behind Stripe’s epic valuation and the rising value of payments-focused companies like Finix.

Equity Monday: TechCrunch goes Yahoo while welding robots raise $56M

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

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

This morning was a notable one in the life of TechCrunch the publication, as our parent company’s parent company decided to sell our parent company to a different parent company. And now we’re to have to get new corporate IDs, again, as it appears that our new parent company’s parent company wants to rebrand our parent company. As Yahoo.

Cool.

Anyway, a bunch of other stuff happened as well:

We’re back Wednesday with something special. Chat then!

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

Amid the IPO gold rush, how should we value fintech startups?

If there has ever been a golden age for fintech, it surely must be now. As of Q1 2021, the number of fintech startups in the U.S. crossed 10,000 for the first time ever — well more than double that if you include EMEA and APAC. There are now three fintech companies worth more than $100 billion (Paypal, Square and Shopify) with another three in the $50 billion-$100 billion club (Stripe, Adyen and Coinbase).

Yet, as fintech companies have begun to go public, there has been a fair amount of uncertainty as to how these companies will be valued on the public markets. This is a result of fintechs being relatively new to the IPO scene compared to their consumer internet or enterprise software counterparts. In addition, fintechs employ a wide variety of business models: Some are transactional, others are recurring or have hybrid business models.

In addition, fintechs now have a multitude of options in terms of how they choose to go public. They can take the traditional IPO route, pursue a direct listing or merge with a SPAC. Given the multitude of variables at play, valuing these companies and then predicting public market performance is anything but straightforward.

It is important to note that fintech is a complex category with many different types of players, and not all fintech is created equal.

The fintech gold rush has arrived

For much of the past two decades, fintech as a category has been very quiet on the public markets. But that began to change considerably by the mid-2010s. Fintech had clearly arrived by 2015, with both Square and Shopify going public that year. Last year was a record one with eight fintech IPOs, and there has been no slowdown in 2021 — the first four months have already produced seven IPOs. By our estimates, there are more than 15 additional fintech companies that could IPO this year. The current record will almost certainly be shattered well before the end of the year.

Fintech IPOs from 2000 to 2021

Image Credits: Oak HC/FT

PayPal’s ambition and uphill battle in China

Over the last few months, PayPal has been quietly gearing up for its expansion in China.

At the recent Boao Forum for Asia, China’s answer to Davos, the American payments giant said its strategy for China is not to challenge the duopoly of Alipay and WeChat Pay. Instead, it wants to focus on cross-border business and provide gateways both for Chinese merchants to collect funds and for Chinese consumers to pay for overseas goods.

It’s certainly a lucrative area. The market size of cross-border e-commerce in China surged from about 3 trillion yuan ($460 million) to nearly 6 trillion yuan between 2016 and 2021, according to market research firm iResearch.

But this space has also become crowded in recent years and PayPal may be late to the fray, said a China-based manager for an American tech giant, who asked for anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak to the media.

On Amazon, one of the largest marketplaces for Chinese exporters to sell online, there are already established options for merchants to collect funds. Setting up a bank account in a foreign country can be difficult for a small-time Chinese exporter, not to mention the high fees for remittance, so such merchants often seek third-party payments transfer solutions such as U.S.-based Payoneer and Chinese equivalents Pingpong and Lianlian, which charge a relatively small fee to deposit merchants’ sales into their bank accounts at home.

China has stringent policies for foreign exchange and electronic payments, but PayPal has already cleared the regulatory hurdles. In January, the American fintech titan became the first foreign firm to hold a license for online payment processor in China after it bought out shares in a local payments firm.

Obtaining the government greenlight is just the first step. The appeal of PayPal hinges largely on what it can offer to Chinese e-commerce exporters, who are now flooding the likes of Amazon and eBay.

“At the end of the day, customers only care which service is the cheapest and easiest to use,” said the China-based manager from the American firm.

“The Chinese cross-border payment solutions have achieved impressive results in terms of products, scale, and fees,” the person said. “I don’t think PayPal stands a chance.”

Exporters who build their own online stores instead of selling on mainstream marketplaces may still find PayPal necessary as a tool to accept payments from customers, given the app’s wide reach.

As for cross-border payments, PayPal is competing with Tencent’s WeChat Pay and Ant Group’s Alipay, which have long been ubiquitous in China. Both e-wallets have been aggressively growing their global partnerships to let China’s outbound travelers pay at overseas retailers like they would at home. Those shopping for overseas products domestically often use Chinese-owned e-commerce apps, which tend to have Alipay or WeChat Pay as their payment processor. Credit cards never became prevalent in China.

Cross-border payments have also become one of Ant’s main growth goals, according to the prospectus of its now-halted initial public offering. While overseas businesses accounted for just about 5% of the firm’s revenue in the second half of 2020, most of that segment came from cross-border payments. At the time, Ant also had plans to spend HK$52.8 billion, or 40%, of the net proceeds from its IPO on expanding its cross-border payment and merchant services as well as other overseas functionalities.

“It depends on whether PayPal is able to offer even lower fees than Ant,” said a person who previously worked on cross-border wallets for a Chinese company. “But PayPal itself is not famous for low fees.”