Google has quietly added DuckDuckGo as a search engine option for Chrome users in ~60 markets

In an update to the chromium engine, which underpins Google’s popular Chrome browser, the search giant has quietly updated the lists of default search engines it offers per market — expanding the choice of search product users can pick from in markets around the world.

Most notably it’s expanded search engine lists to include pro-privacy rivals in more than 60 markets globally.

The changes, which appear to have been pushed out with the Chromium 73 stable release yesterday, come at a time when Google is facing rising privacy and antitrust scrutiny and accusations of market distorting behavior at home and abroad.

Many governments are now actively questioning how competition policy needs to be updated to rein in platform power and help smaller technology innovators get out from under the tech giant shadow.

But in a note about the changes to chromium’s default search engine lists on an Github instance, Google software engineer Orin Jaworski merely writes that the list of search engine references per country is being “completely replaced based on new usage statistics” from “recently collected data”.

The per country search engine choices appear to loosely line up with top four marketshare.

The greatest beneficiary of the update appears to be pro-privacy Google rival, DuckDuckGo, which is now being offered as an option in more than 60 markets, per the Github instance.

Previously DDG was not offered as an option at all.

Another pro-privacy search rivals, French search engine Qwant, has also been added as a new option — though only in its home market, France.

Whereas DDG has been added in Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Bolivia, Brazil, Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Germany, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Faroe Islands, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, India, Iceland, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Moldova, Macedonia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Paraguay, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay, US and Venezuela.

“We’re glad that Google has recognized the importance of offering consumers a private search option,” DuckDuckGo founder Gabe Weinberg told us when approached for comment about the change.

DDG has been growing steadily for years, and has also recently taken outside investment to scale its efforts to capitalize on growing international appetite for pro-privacy products.

Interestingly, the chromium Github instance is dated December 2018 — which appears to be around about the time when Google (finally) passed the Duck.com domain to DuckDuckGo, after holding onto the domain and pointing it to Google.com for years.

We asked Google for comment on the timing of its changes to search engine options in chromium. At the time of writing the search giant had not responded.

We’ve also reached out to Qwant for comment on being added as an option in its home market.

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Transportation Weekly: Waymo unleashes laser bear, Bird spreads its wings, Lyft tightens its belt

Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch . This is the fifth edition of our newsletter and we love the reader feedback. Keep it coming.

Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here, here and here. As I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. (An email subscription is coming). 

This week, we explore the world of light detection and ranging sensors known as LiDAR, young drivers, trouble in Barcelona, autonomous trucks in California, and China among other things.


ONM …

There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.

This week, we’re going to put our on analysis hats as we explore the world of LiDAR, a sensor that measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. LiDAR is considered by most in the self-driving car industry (Tesla CEO Elon Musk being one exception) a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.

There are A LOT of companies working on LiDAR. Some counts track upwards of 70. For years now, Velodyne has been the primary supplier of LiDAR sensors to companies developing autonomous vehicles. Waymo, back when it was just the Google self-driving project, even used Velodyne LiDAR sensors until 2012.

Dozens of startups have sprung up with Velodyne in its sights. But now Waymo has changed the storyline.

To catch you up: Waymo announced this week that it will start selling its custom LiDAR sensors — the technology that was at the heart of a trade secrets lawsuit last year against Uber.

Waymo’s entry into the market doesn’t necessarily upend other companies’ plans. Waymo is going to sell its short range LiDAR, called Laser Bear Honeycomb, to companies outside of self-driving cars. It will initially target robotics, security and agricultural technology.

It does put pressure on startups, particularly those with less capital or those targeting the same customer base. Pitchbook ran the numbers for us to determine where the LiDAR industry sits at the moment. There are two stories here: there are a handful of well capitalized startups and we may have reached “peak” LiDAR. Last year, there were 28 VC deals in LiDAR technology valued at $650 million. The number of deals was slightly lower than in 2017, but the values jumped by nearly 34 percent.

The top global VC-backed LiDAR technology companies (by post valuation) are Quanergy, Velodyne (although mostly corporate backed), Aurora (not self-driving company Aurora Innovation), Ouster, and DroneDeploy. The graphic below, also courtesy of Pitchbook, shows the latest figures as of January 31, 2019.

Dig In

Researchers discovered that two popular car alarm systems were vulnerable to a manipulated server-side API that could be abused to take control of an alarm system’s user account and their vehicle.

The companies — Russian alarm maker Pandora and California-based Viper (or Clifford in the U.K.) — have fixed the  security vulnerabilities that allowed researchers to remotely track, hijack and take control of vehicles with the alarms installed. What does this all mean?

Our in-house security expert and reporter Zack Whittaker digs in and gives us a reality check. Follow him @zackwhittaker.

Since the first widely publicized car hack in 2015 proved hijacking and controlling a car was possible, it’s opened the door to understanding the wider threat to modern vehicles.

Most modern cars have internet connectivity, making their baseline surface area of attack far greater than a car that doesn’t. But the effort that goes into remotely controlling a vehicle is difficult and convoluted, and the attack — often done by chaining together a set of different vulnerabilities — can take weeks or even longer to develop.

Keyfob or replay attacks are far more likely than say remote attacks over the internet or cell network. A keyfob sends an “unlock” signal, a device captures that signal and replays it. By replaying it you can unlock the car.

This latest car hack, featuring flawed third-party car alarms, was far easier to exploit, because the alarm systems added a weakness to the vehicles that weren’t there to begin with. Car makers, with vast financial and research resources, do a far greater job at securing their vehicle than the small companies that focus on functionality over security. For now, the bigger risk comes from third parties in the automobile space, but the car makers can’t afford to drop their game either.


A little bird …

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

blinky-cat-bird

The California Department Motor Vehicles is the government body that regulates autonomous vehicle testing on public roads. Except in one case: autonomous trucks. That job falls to the California Highway Patrol.

In an effort to gauge the need for more robust testing guidelines, the California Highway Patrol decided to hold an event at its headquarters in Sacramento. Eight companies working on autonomous trucking technology were invited. It was supposed to be a large event with local and state politicians in attendance. And it was supposed to validate autonomous trucking as an emerging industry.

There’s just one problem: only one AV trucking company is willing and able to complete this course. We hear that this AV startup actually already went ahead and completed the test course.

The California Highway Patrol has postponed event, for now, presumably until more companies can join.

Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.


Deal of the week

Instead of highlighting one giant deal, let’s step back and take a broader view of mobility this week. The upshot: 2018 saw a decline in total investments in the sector and money moved away from ride-hailing and towards two-wheeled transportation.

According to new research from EY, mobility investments in 2018 reached $39.1 billion, down from $55.2 billion in the previous year. (The figures EY provided was through November 2018).

Ride-hailing companies raised $7.1 billion in 2018, a 73 percent decline from the previous year when $26.7 billion poured into this sector.

Investors, it seems, are shifting their focus to other business models, notably first and last-mile connectivity. EY estimates $7 billion was invested in two-wheeler mobility companies such as bike-sharing and electric scooters in 2018. The U.S. and China together have contributed to more than 80 percent of overall two-wheeler mobility investments this year alone, according to EY research shared with TechCrunch.

Other deals:


Snapshot

Let’s talk about Generation Z, that group of young people born 1996 to the present, and one startup that is focused on turning that demographic into car owners.

There’s lots of talk and hand wringing about young people choosing not to get a driver’s license, or not buying a vehicle. In the UK, for instance, about 42 percent of young drivers aged 17 to 24, hold a driver’s license. That’s about 2.7 million people, according to the National Travel Survey 2018 (NTS) of the UK government’s department of transport. An additional 2.2 million have a provisional or learner license. Combined, that amounts to about 13 percent of the car driving population of the UK.

In the UK, evidence suggests that a rise in motoring costs have discouraged young people from learning. And there lies one opportunity that a new startup called Driver1 is targeting.

Driver 1 is a car subscription service designed exclusively for first car drivers aged 17 to 24. The company has been in stealth mode for about a year and is just now launching.

“The young driver market is being underserved by the car industry, Driver1 founder Tim Hammond told TechCrunch. “And primarily it’s the financing that’s not available for that age group. It’s also something that’s not really affordable for any of the car subscription models like Fair.com and it’s not suitable for the OEM subscription services either financially or from an age perspective for young drivers.”

The company’s own research has found this group wants a newer car for 12 to 15 months.

“The car is the extension of their device,” Hammond said, noting these drivers don’t want the old junkers. “They want their iPhones and they want the car that goes with it.”

The company is working directly with leasing companies — not dealerships — to provide young drivers with 3 to 5-year-old cars that have lost 60 percent or so of their value. Driver1 is targeting under $120 a month for the customer and has a partnership with remarketing company Manheim, which is owned by Cox Automotive.

The startup is focused on the UK for now and has about 600 members who have reserved their cars for purchase. Driver1 is aiming to capture about 10 percent of the 1 million or so young people in the UK who pass their learners permit each year. The company plans it expand to France and other European countries in the fall.


Tiny but mighty micromobility

Bird Rocking Out GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Ca-caw, ca-caw! That’s the sound of Bird gearing up to launch Bird Platform in New Zealand, Canada and Latin America in the coming weeks. The platform is part of Bird’s mission to bring its scooters across the world “and empower local entrepreneurs in regions where we weren’t planning to launch to run their own electric-scooter sharing program with Bird’s tech and vehicles,” Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden told TechCrunch.

MRD’s two cents: Bird Platform seems like a way for Bird to make extra cash without having to do any of the work i.e. charging the vehicles, maintaining them and working with city officials to get permits. Smart!

Meanwhile, the dolla dolla bills keep pouring into micromobility. European electric scooter startup Voi Technology raised an additional $30 million in capital. That was on top of a $50 million Series A round just three months ago.

Oh, and because micromobility isn’t just for startups, Volkswagen decided to launch a kind of weird-looking electric scooter in Geneva. Because, why not?

Megan Rose Dickey

One more thing …

Lyft is trimming staff to prepare for its IPO. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden learned that the company has laid off about 50 staff in its bike and scooter division. It appears most of these folks are people who joined the Lyft through its acquisition of  electric bike sharing startup Motivate a deal that closed about three months ago.


Notable reads

It’s probably not smart to suggest another newsletter, but if you haven’t checked out Michael Dunne’s  The Chinese Are Coming newsletter, you should. Dunne has a unique perspective on what’s happening in China, particularly as it related to automotive and newer forms of mobility such as ride-hailing. One interesting nugget from his latest edition: there are more than 20 other new electric vehicle makers in China.

“Most will fall away within the next 3 to 4 years as cash runs out,” Dunne predicts.

Other quotable notables:

Here’s a fun read for the week. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney wrote about a YC Combinator startup Jetpack Aviation.The startup has launched pre-orders this week for the moonshot of moonshots, the Speeder, a personal vertical take-off and landing vehicle with a svelte concept design that looks straight out of Star Wars or Halo.


Testing and deployments

Spanish ride-hailing firm Cabify is back operating in Barcelona, Spain despite issuing dire warnings that new regulations issued by local government would crush its business and force it to fire thousands of drivers and leave forever. Turns out forever is one month.

The Catalan Generalitat issued a decree last month imposing a wait time of at least 15 minutes between a booking being made and a passenger being picked up. The policy was made to ensure taxis and ride-hailing firms are not competing for the same passengers, following a series of taxi strikes, which included scenes of violence. Our boots on the ground reporter Natasha Lomas has the whole story.

Sure, Barcelona is just one city. But what happened in Barcelona isn’t an isolated incident. The early struggles between conventional taxis and ride-hailing operations might be over, but that doesn’t mean the matter has been settled altogether.

And it’s not likely to go away. Once, robotaxis actually hit the road en masse — and yes, that’ll be awhile — these same struggles will pop up again.

Other deployments, or, er, retreats ….

Bike share pioneer Mobike retreats to China

On the autonomous vehicle front:

China Post, the official postal service of China, and delivery and logistics companies Deppon Express, will begin autonomous package delivery services in April. The delivery trucks will operate on autonomous driving technologies developed by FABU Technology, an AI company focused on intelligent driving systems.


On our radar

There is a lot of transportation-related activity this month. Come find me.

SXSW in Austin: TechCrunch will be at SXSW. And there is a lot of mobility action here. Aurora CEO and co-founder Chris Urmson was on stage Saturday morning with Malcolm Gladwell. Mayors from a number of U.S. cities as well as companies like Ford and Mercedes are on the scene. Here’s where I’ll be. 

  • 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (local time) March 9 at the Empire Garage for the Smart Mobility Summit, an annual event put on by Wards Intelligence and C3 Group. The Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, will also be on hand.
  • 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (local time) March 12 at the JW Marriott. The Autonocast and founding general partner of Trucks VC, Reilly Brennan will hold a SXSW podcast panel on automated vehicle terminology and other stuff.
  • 3:30 p.m (local time) over at the Hilton Austin Downtown, I’ll be moderating a panel Re-inventing the Wheel: Own, Rent, Share, Subscribe. Sherrill Kaplan with Zipcar, Amber Quist, with Silvercar and Russell Lemmer with Dealerware will join me on stage.
  • TechCrunch is also hosting a SXSW party from 1 pm to 4 pm Sunday, March 10, 615 Red River St., that will feature musical guest Elderbrook. RSVP here

Nvidia GTC

TechCrunch (including yours truly) will also be at Nvidia’s annual GPU Technology Conference from March 18 to 21 in San Jose.

Self Racing Cars

The annual Self Racing Car event will be held March 23 and March 24 at Thunderhill Raceway near Willows, California.

There is still room for participants to test or demo their autonomous vehicles, drive train innovation, simulation, software, teleoperation, and sensors. Hobbyists are welcome. Sign up to participate or drop them a line at contact@selfracingcars.com.

Thanks for reading. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share those thoughts, opinions or tips. 

Nos vemos la próxima vez.

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QuadrigaCX's missing millions is the messiest Bitcoin saga yet

If there’s one thing the internet excels at, it’s helping people forget the rules of Occam’s razor. For many, there are usually no simple explanations for anything, and everything is a signpost to a grand conspiracy to do others harm. In the wake of one man’s death, people on the internet have indulged their worst instincts, although what’s worse is that this time, they might have a point.

QuadrigaCX was one of Canada’s largest Bitcoin exchanges, controlling assets believed to be worth around $200 million CAD. Unfortunately, Gerald Cotten, its co-founder and CEO, passed away in December 2018. Cotten was the only one who could access the company funds, leaving it unable to pay its creditors.

The simplest answer to this is that Cotten, a 30-year-old with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, was not a suitable leader for a bank. His naivety, combined with the relative ease of running a crypto business, meant he didn’t think about better protections. And in the unfortunate event of his passing, the fortune was lost.

On the other hand, regulations for exchanges are still nascent. With cryptocurrency, it’s still a wild west out there. And it’s not hard to see the seductive power of all that cash flowing through your company. If you at a relatively young age were running your own bank and saw millions or hundreds of millions in its coffers, could you resist temptation?

According to public documents, Cotten died on December 9th, 2018, as the result of complications from Crohn’s disease. The death was recorded at a hospital in Jaipur, India, where Cotten and his wife were opening an orphanage. His death certificate was recorded by officials in Jaipur and was subsequently confirmed to CoinDesk by the Canadian diplomatic service and affirmed by reporters from The London Times.

Bitcoin, Ethereum und Ripple - Kursanalyse KW10 - Die Unterstützungen halten

QuadrigaCX’s customers, however, were not informed about Cotten’s death until mid-January, long after his funeral. Cotten’s widow, Jennifer Robertson, said the company would “carry on” with the business in the wake of the death. But shortly afterward, Robertson said the bulk of QuadrigaCX’s funds were unavailable and may never be recovered.

Robertson explained that the majority of QuadrigaCX’s funds were held in cold wallets, a form of offline digital storage for the cryptocurrency. Unfortunately, she added, Cotten held the only passwords to the wallets, and that information had been lost when he died. That meant that around 115,000 people would be left without their share of deposits reportedly worth, in total, $200 million CAD.

Graham Cluley

Those deposit holders and interested third parties began a forensic analysis of QuadrigaCX to determine what the hell was going on. It didn’t take long before several suspicious details began to shake loose, raising more questions than answers. Less than a month before he died, Cotten wrote a will assigning his fortune — including a number of properties, an airplane and a yacht — to Robertson.

Cotten made a specific provision in his will for his pair of dogs, should Roberson not survive him. In that circumstance, his assets were to be distributed to the couple’s family and a $100,000 CAD trust set up to provide for their two chihuahuas. It’s the sort of extravagance that has led one Twitter user to call QuadrigaCX an “#exitscam.”

Journalist Amy Castor has written a series of extensive reports about the state of QuadrigaCX and its finances. “It’s very common for crypto exchanges to use third-party payment processors,” she told Engadget, “as they often have trouble getting banking.” To get around this, exchanges often employ “third-party payment processors, and stablecoins like Tether,” she added.

Stablecoin?

On Reddit, a QuadrigaCX representative using the official account spoke openly about the creation of Quadriga Bucks as a way of getting around bank regulations. This mishmash of payment processors, third-party bank accounts and invented currencies did, however, raise the ire of banks. Many financial institutions are obliged by law to prevent money laundering, and QuadrigaCX’s business aroused suspicion.

In January 2018, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce froze an account controlled by QuadrigaCX that held around $26 million CAD. The freeze caused disruptions with the company’s liquidity, meaning it couldn’t easily pay creditors on time. According to The Times, the bank attempted to reach out to Cotten to resolve the situation but never received a response. A lengthy courtroom battle for control of the money would ensue, running until December 2018.

Internet sleuths and journalists also had plenty of interest in another QuadrigaCX figure, co-founder Michael Patryn. A Reddit post from January 3rd, 2018, seems to imply that “Patryn” was one of several aliases (including Omar Patryn) of convicted felon Omar Dhanani. Dhanani was a member of Shadowcrew, an early online identity theft group. In 2004, the US Secret Service would shut down the group and arrest Dhanani, who spent 18 months in federal prison. He was arrested shortly after leaving prison on charges of burglary and theft and was deported back to Canada.

At the time, QuadrigaCX said the alleged connection between Patryn and Dhanani was “hypothetical nonsense,” and Patryn further denied the accusation to CBC. Canada’s Globe and Mail, however, dug into the allegations and believes that Patryn and Dhanani are the same person. At the end of February, it wrote that it had uncovered numerous documents that link the two identities. Previously, the same paper revealed that Patryn had engaged the services of a reputation-management agency to remove unflattering coverage. It’s a fact that Patryn denies, and QuadrigaCX said again on Reddit that he was no longer with the company as of 2016.

Reddit logo is seen on an android mobile phone...

As QuadrigaCX began to unravel, James Edwards, editor of crypto research and consulting platform ZeroNoncense, worked with fellow Redditors to examine the company’s blockchain history. His conclusions were that the company had no “identifiable cold wallet reserves,” and “never held a substantial amount of capital.” In essence, Edwards said QuadrigaCX never had the money to satisfy its depositors.

From the available evidence, Edwards concluded that QuadrigaCX was “effectively operating a shell exchange or a Ponzi.” It adds credence to the theory that withdrawals took a long time to be processed because money was being pushed around from different wallets. In addition, the report suggests that the cold wallets — the ones thought locked since Cotten’s passing — were in active use.

It’s a point Wired also made, saying that auditors now believe the company’s cold wallets are empty. Chris Stokel-Walker wrote that “cryptocurrency people trusted Cotten to keep safe wasn’t where he said it would be while he was alive, and no-one knows where it is now.”

Castor believes the timing of Cotten’s death may be important, beyond the writing of his will. “There is clear evidence that QuadrigaCX was in trouble at the time Cotten died,” she said, noting the fall in Bitcoin’s value. At the start of November 2018, the price of BTC was around $6,500, but it had fallen closer to $3,500 in the following month.

“If you’re running a crypto exchange and you have leverage — you’re taking loans against your own exchange or trading your customer’s Bitcoin — then you’re in trouble.” Castor also said there was no way of knowing if QuadrigaCX had enough cash on hand to fully repay all those people holding Quadriga Bucks.

Now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the FBI have gotten involved with the investigation, according to a report by Fortune. If accurate, it’s likely that officials will look into both QuadrigaCX’s operation and the circumstances of Cotten’s death. And, hopefully, some element of this story will have a satisfactory conclusion.

The fact that QuadrigaCX and so many other exchanges have collapsed is, in fact, a feature of Bitcoin rather than a bug. In the original white paper, Satoshi Nakamoto designed a system that intentionally bypasses well-regulated third parties like banks. People were encouraged not to trust in laws or people but in math for their security. People were not meant to use third parties to store their wealth either. Each individual was solely responsible for their money.

This deliberate lack of protection for ordinary users meant that anyone could set up their own bank, no matter how unsuitable they were. The risks were inherent in the system, and yet people trusted their cash with them as a matter of course. This has lead to large sums of money being put at risk due to greed, amateurism or a mixture of both.

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Bird's new program lets local operators run their own scooter network


Mike Blake / Reuters

Bird’s e-scooters are on their way to Canada, Latin America and New Zealand under a program that allows local business owners to set up their own networks. The company is opening up Bird Platform, which it first announced in November. Operators of the local networks can obtain scooters at cost, allow customers to find the vehicles through the Bird app and take advantage of the company’s technology to help manage their business. In exchange, Bird is taking a 20 percent cut of revenue from each ride.

At least five entrepreneurs have joined the program. They can set their own pricing, operating hours and zoning and add their own branding. They’re also responsible for maintenance, recharging and getting permits from cities. The program is running in places where Bird didn’t plan to set up its own e-scooter networks anytime soon or at all.

The first independent Bird scooter network will arrive in New Zealand next week — rival company Lime already has scooters in Auckland and Christchurch. The Bird Platform networks will expand to Canada and Latin America in the next few weeks.

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Africa Roundup: Kenya’s BRCK acquires EveryLayer, Nigeria’s TeamApt eyes global expansion

Kenyan  communications hardware company BRCK acquired the assets of Nairobi based internet provider Surf and its U.S. parent EveryLayer in a purchase deal of an undisclosed amount in February.

Based in Nairobi, Surf is a hotspot service provider aimed at offering affordable internet to lower income segments. BRCK is a five year old venture that pairs its rugged WiFi routers to internet service packages designed to bring people online in frontier and emerging markets.

With the acquisition, BRCK gains the assets of San Francisco based EveryLayer and its Surf subsidiary, including 1200 hotspots and 200,000 active customers across 22 cities in Kenya, according to BRCK CEO and founder Erik Hersman.

Backed by $10 million from investors including Steve Case’s Revolution  VC fund, BRCK plans to use its new resources to expand to an undisclosed East African country and is eyeing options abroad. “We’re looking at Indonesia and starting our pilot in Mexico next month,” Hersman told TechCrunch on a call from Kigali.

BRCK built its platform around providing internet solutions primarily in Kenya and Rwanda. In 2017, the company rolled out its SupaBRCK product and paired it to its Moja service, which offers free public WiFi—internet, music, and entertainment—subsidized by commercial partners.

There’s not a requirement to click on or watch advertisements to gain Moja access, though users can gain faster speeds if they “interact with one of our business partners…by doing a survey, downloading an app, or watching an ad,” said Hersman.

In 2018, BRCK began offering SupaBRCK devices to drivers of Nairobi’s Matatu buses for Kenyan commuters to access Moja. As of January Moja traffic is racking up 300,000 active uniques and 3.7 million impressions per month, according to Hersman. There’s more on the deal and Africa’s internet connectivity equation in this TechCrunch exclusive on the acquisition.

Nigerian fintech startup TeamApt raised $5.5 million in capital in a Series A round led by Quantum Capital Partners.

The Lagos based firm will use the funds to expand its white label digital finance products and pivot to consumer finance with the launch of its AptPay banking app.

Founded by Tosin Eniolorunda, TeamApt supplies financial and payment solutions to Nigeria’s largest commercial banks—including Zenith, UBA, and ALAT.

For Eniolorunda, launching the fintech startup means competing with his former employer, the later stage Nigerian tech company Interswitch.

The TeamApt founder is open about his company going head to head not only with Interswitch, but other Nigerian payment gateway startups, including Paystack and Flutterwave, he told TechCrunch in this exclusive.

TeamApt, whose name is derivative of aptitude, bootstrapped its way to its Series A by generating revenue project to project working for Nigerian companies, according to its CEO.

The venture now has a developer team of 40 in Lagos, according to Eniolorunda, who spent 6 years at Interswitch as a developer and engineer himself, before founding the startup in 2015 .

“The 40 are out of a total staff of about 72 so the firm is a major engineering company. We build all the IP and of course use open source tools,” he said.

TeamApt’s commercial bank product offerings include Moneytor— a digital banking service for financial institutions to track transactions with web and mobile interfaces—and Monnify, an enterprise software suite for small business management.

On performance, TeamApt claims 26 African bank clients and processes $160 million in monthly transactions, according to company data. Though it does not produce public financial results, TeamApt claimed revenue growth of 4,500 percent over a three year period.

Quantum Capital Partners, a Lagos based investment firm founded by Nigerian banker Jim Ovia, confirmed it verified TeamApt’s numbers.

“Our CFO sat with them for about two weeks,” Elaine Delaney told TechCrunch.

TeamApt’s results and the startup’s global value proposition factored into the fund’s decision to serve as sole-investor in the $5.5 million round.

Delaney will take a board seat with TeamApt “as a supportive investor,” she said.

TeamApt plans to develop more business and consumer based offerings. “We’re beginning to pilot into much more merchant and consumer facing products where we’re building payment infrastructure to connect these banks to merchants and businesses,” CEO Tosin Eniolorunda said.

Part of this includes the launch of AptPay, which Eniolorunda describes as “a push payment, payment infrastructure” to “centralize…all services currently used on banking mobile apps.”

The company recently received its license from the Nigerian Central Bank to operate as a payment switch in the country.

On new markets,  TeamApt is looking to Canada and Europe with a specific expansion announcement expected by fourth quarter 2019, according to Eniolorunda

TeamApt’s CEO is open about the company’s future intent to list. “The project code name for the recent funding was NASDAQ. We’re clear about becoming a public company,” said Eniolorunda.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

African Tech Around The Net    

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