Why is Andreessen Horowitz (and everyone else) investing in Latin America now?

Investments by U.S. venture capital firms into Latin America are skyrocketing and one of the firms leading the charge into deals is none other than Silicon Valley’s Andreessen Horowitz.

The firm that shook up Silicon Valley with potentially over-generous term sheets and valuations and an overarching thesis that “software is eating the world” has been reluctant to test its core belief… well… pretty much anywhere outside of the United States.

That was true until a few years ago when Andreessen began making investments in Latin America. It’s the only geography outside of the U.S. where the firm has committed significant capital and the pace of its investments is increasing.

Andreessen isn’t the only firm that’s making big bets in companies south of the American border. SoftBank has its $2 billion dollar investment fund, which launched earlier this year, to invest in Latin American deals as well. (Although the most recent SoftBank Innovation Fund investment in GymPass is likely an indicator that the fund, much like SoftBank’s “Vision” fund, has a pretty generous interpretation of what is and is not a Latin American deal.)

“We previously didn’t invest internationally, [because] we weren’t as well set up to help these companies,” says Angela Strange, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz . “Part of the reason for why LatAm is proximity.”

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Colombian point-of-sale lender ADDI nabs $12.5 million from Andreessen Horowitz

Andreessen Horowitz <3 Latin American startups.

Latin America is the only region outside of the U.S. where the venture firm is routinely investing capital and it has just made another commitment, doubling down on its early stage support for the point-of-sale lending startup, ADDI.

ADDI picked up $12.5 million in new financing in April of this year as the company looks to expand its lending services online.

For an American audience, the closest corollary to what ADDI is up to is likely Affirm, the point-of-sale lender that’s raised a ton of cash and come in for some (valid) criticism for its basic business model.

Like Affirm, ADDI lets its borrowers apply for credit at the moment of purchase. The company likens its service to the layaway and credit plans that already exist in Colombia — but involve pretty onerous requirements to use. Company co-founder Santiago Suarez and Andreessen Horowitz general partner Angela Strange both commented on how, in some cases, Colombian shoppers have to have three people vouch for a borrower before a store will issue credit or agree to a layaway plan.

The difference between an ADDI loan — or any loan — and layaway is that an installment payment plan doesn’t charge interest (and even with the fees that installment plans do charge, they are often still cheaper than taking out a loan).

But financial products are coming for consumers in Latin America whether those buyers like it or not — and for the most part, it seems they do like it.

Historically, only the wealthiest clientele in Latin America received anything resembling the kinds of financial products that are more widely available in the United States, according to Strange. And the investment in ADDI is just part of her firm’s thesis in trying to make more services more broadly available in a region where a technological transformation is creating unprecedented opportunities for challengers.

That assessment is what drew Santiago Suarez back to Latin America only two years ago. A former executive at Lending Club who previously had worked as the head of New Product Development and Emerging Services at J.P. Morgan, Suarez saw the tremendous growth happening in Latin America and returned to Colombia to see if he could bring some much needed services to his home country.

Suarez partnered with his childhood friend, Elmer Ortega, who was working as the chief technology officer of the local hedge fund where he had previously been employed as a derivatives trader before learning how to code.

Together the two men, who had known each other since they were five-years-old, set out to transform how credit was offered in retail shops. It’s an industry that Suarez had known well since his parents had owned stores.

“In the U.S. there are all of these gaps that fintech companies are filling,” says Suarez. “But the gapes in Latin America are bigger.”

Suarez and Ortega incorporated the company in September 2018, around the same time they raised $2.3 million from the regional investment firm, Monashees, Andreessen, and Village Global . They then raised another $1.5 million in an internal round of financing before closing the most recent funding.

The company offers loans at annual percentage rates ranging from19.99% to 28.90%. The company started with a digital solution for brick and mortar retailers because 90% of retail in Colombia still happens offline. 

Although it’s in its early days, the company has already originated 10,000 borrowers and typically loans out roughly $500 since it launched on February 22, according to Suarez. He declined to comment on the company’s default rate on loans.

Now with 40 employees on staff, the company is looking to bring its lending tool to more e-commerce and physical retailers, according to Suarez. And despite the threat of cyclical political turmoil, Suarez says there’s no better time to be investing in Colombia. 

“It’s the most stable country outside of Chile… Way more stable than Brazil, way more stable than Argentina and way more stable than Mexico,” Suarez says. “What we’re looking at is more than cyclical instability… those things go beyond that.. Nubank was able to build a multibillion business in the worst political and economic crisis in Brazil’s history. I think Colombia is an incredibly attractive space with a deep talent pool.”

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China’s Didi kicks off expansion in Latin America with moves into Chile and Colombia

The wheels are turning on Didi Chuxing’s first major expansion in Latin America after the Chinese ride-hailing firm announced moves into Chile and Colombia to double its presence in the region.

Didi said it rolled into Valparaiso, Chile’s third largest metropolis, and Colombian capital city Bogota this week. The company plans to expand beyond those cities over time, and, in terms of services, it said that it will add dedicated licensed taxis in Colombia this year.

Anchored in China, where it is the country’s dominant ride-hailing service, Didi began to place focus on international expansion last year and Latin America is a key part of its global ambitions.

In the region, Didi currently operates in Brazil — where it acquired local player 99 for $1 billion — and Mexico, but recent reports have linked it with more countries in Latin America. In February, Reuters reported that the company was hiring for operational staff in Chile, Peru and Colombia. Other reports have put its total headcount in Latin America at over 1,000 staff, that’s a clear indication of its intent for the region.

In a statement, Mi Yang — who leads Didi’s operations in Central and South America — called Chile and Colombia “two important centers of growth and innovation in the region.”

Outside of Latin America and its homeland, Didi is present in Taiwan and Australia, where it has other global connection through its investment deals. The company owns a significant stake in Southeast Asia-based Grab it doubled down with a $2 billion investment alongside SoftBank in 2017 — as well as Bolt (formerly known as Taxify) across Europe and Africa, Ola in India and Lyft in the U.S.

Didi also has relations with Uber as a mutual investment was part of the deal that saw it acquire the Uber China business in 2016, and it invested in Middle East-based Careem, which is being acquired by Uber.

That’s a pretty complicated web of relationships and, with Didi’s global expansion, it often pits the Chinese company against its investments. In Australia, for example, Didi is up against Uber, Bolt AND Ola.

In Latin America, Uber is again a competitor and others the field include local players Cabify, Easy Taxi and Beat from Greece — companies that Didi hasn’t backed.

On offer is a market with vast growth potential. Latin America is the world’s second-fastest-growing mobile market. In a region of approximately 640 million people, there are more than 200 million smartphone users and, by 2020, predictions say that 63% of Latin America’s population will have access to the mobile Internet.

Didi’s globetrotting comes at a challenging time for its domestic business, where it is still reeling from the murder of two passengers last year.

As TechCrunch reported last month, Didi is revamping its security systems to put an increased focus on passenger security in the wake of those tragic deaths. That’s come at significant cost and it is said to have pushed back plans to take the company. Uber and Lyft have, of course, completed IPO this year, but Didi’s own timeline for doing so is unclear.

More generally, Didi is far from the first Chinese company to head to Latin America with ambitions of dizzying growth. Earlier this decade, Baidu made a major push to own the nascent web and search business in Brazil — which culminated in an acquisition — while Tencent has backed fintech unicorn Nubank and it is trying sniff out other potential giants-in-waiting as the region’s ecosystem matures.

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Sources: Bird is in talks to acquire scooter startup Scoot

If you are among those who thought that the scooter market sounded a little overhyped and overcrowded, we’ve gotten wind of a deal that could point to some impending consolidation. The on-demand scooter business Bird has agreed to acquire Scoot, a smaller two-wheeled mobility startup, sources tell TechCrunch.

The stage of the negotiations is not clear although from what our sources tell us, it sounds like the deal is not closed. Contacted for a response, both Scoot and Bird said they declined to comment on speculation.

If accurate, it would be far from a merger of equals. Scoot was last valued at around $71 million, having raised about $47 million in equity funding to date from Scout Ventures, Vision Ridge Partners, angel investor Joanne Wilson and more.

Bird is significantly larger. Led by chief executive officer Travis VanderZanden, earlier this year the company was working on a round of financing reportedly worth $300 million at a $2.3 billion valuation. We’ve been able to confirm that this round has now closed, although we don’t yet know the final amount or who the investors are. (Backers of Bird include Sequoia, Index, Charles River Ventures, Tusk Ventures, Upfront Ventures and dozens more.) Scoot would be Bird’s first full acquisition.

Scooting toward consolidation

It’s still very early days in the scooter market in terms of consumer adoption, but that hasn’t stopped people from launching a lot of startups and raising funding to capitalise on what many believe will be a big opportunity longer term.

That promise is made bigger by the regulatory structure of the scooter market. Similar to their approach to bikes, many cities restrict the number of licenses they give out to companies to run on-street, hourly scooter services. Winning a license can give a company a near-monopoly on building a business in that city.

It also means that a combination between two companies whose geographic footprints do not overlap becomes a much cheaper and faster way of instantly creating a bigger business.

Notably, Scoot has a license to operate a pick-up/drop-off street service in the key market of San Francisco — where it competes with Skip, the only other licensed operator in the city. (Note: Bird last month did start up business again in SF, but only for the less popular offer of monthly rentals.)

What’s more, the two startups do not have any overlap in the rest of their footprints. Scoot is active in Barcelona, Spain and Santiago, Chile. Bird, on the other hand, has launched in about 100 cities spanning the U.S. and Europe, but its list does not include any of the cities where Scoot has rolled out its service.

Bird announced its new, two-seated electric vehicle earlier this week

On the vehicle front, the story is a little different. The two are providing, more or less, the same kinds of vehicles. Scoot has built out a network focused primarily on electric push scooters, seated scooters and electric bikes. Bird, meanwhile, has mostly built its service around electric push scooters, but just yesterday the company debuted its first seated vehicle to expand into a new product class.

Bird acquiring Scoot will help the two achieve better economies of scale in terms of vehicle purchasing power and device R&D.

It also helps them compete against the big boys. The market for scooters and other two-wheeled vehicles (collectively termed “micro-mobility”) is still a relatively new one, but Lyft and Uber have also waded in early to establish market share, as part of their own strategies to position themselves as the go-to platforms for any and all transportation needs.

Bird buying Scoot is one likely M&A move, but it’s not the only one.

Sources have told TechCrunch that an Uber acquisition of Skip (the other provider in SF) could also be in the works. Skip, much like Scoot, is another small player in the e-scooter market. To date, it has secured $31 million in venture capital funding from Initialized Capital, Accel and others.

Uber is already an active acquirer in the area of mico-mobility. If you remember, it acquired JUMP Bikes for $200 million in April 2018.

Uber’s acquisition of JUMP wasn’t surprising. In January 2018, the ride-hailing giant partnered with JUMP to launch Uber Bike, which lets Uber riders book JUMP bikes via the Uber app.

Other acquisitions in the nascent micro-mobility space include Lyft’s purchase of Motivate, a deal announced roughly one year ago. Motivate, the oldest and largest electric bike-share company in North America, did not disclose terms of the deal, though reports indicated it was asking for at least $250 million.

Bird — founded in 2017 — has yet to announce any acquisitions, although a spokesperson for the company said there have been quiet acqui-hires before now.

It was itself the subject of acquisition rumors for several months in 2018, too. Prior to Uber filing to go public in what was one of the most highly anticipated initial public offerings of the decade, many expected it to shell out cash for either Bird or Lime. From what we know, Uber was in discussions to acquire Bird, but ultimately it wasn’t able to meet Bird’s steep asking price.

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SoftBank makes a huge bet on Latin America

Rappi represents a new era for Latin American technology startups.

Based in Bogotá, Colombia, the on-demand delivery startup has taken the region by storm, attracting a record amount of venture capital funding in mere months. Today marks the beginning of a new round of explosive growth as SoftBank, the Japanese telecom giant and prolific Silicon Valley tech investor, has confirmed a $1 billion investment in the business.

The king-sized financing comes two months after SoftBank announced its Innovation Fund, a new pool of capital committed to spending billions on the growing tech ecosystem in Central and South America.

VC funding in Latin America catapulted to new heights in 2018. Startups located across Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and more have secured nearly $2.5 billion since the beginning of 2018, according to PitchBook, up from less than $1 billion invested in 2017.

SoftBank plans to transfer the Rappi investment to the Innovation Fund “upon the fund’s establishment,” according to a press release. For now, the SoftBank Group and affiliated Vision Fund will each invest $500 million in the company. Jeffrey Housenbold, a managing director at SoftBank responsible for investments in Brandless, Opendoor and DoorDash, will join Rappi’s board of directors.

“SoftBank’s vision of accelerating the technology revolution deeply resonated with our mission of improving how people live through digital payments and a super-app for everything consumers need,” Rappi co-founder Sebastian Mejia said in a statement. “We will continue to focus on building innovations for couriers, restaurants, retailers and start-ups that translate into new sources of growth.”

The latest round, the largest ever for a Latin American tech startup, brings Rappi’s total raised to date to a whopping $1.2 billion. The company was valued at more than $1 billion last year with a $200 million financing.

Rappi is among few venture-backed “unicorns” based in Latin America. São Paulo-based Nubank, a fast-growing fintech startup, garnered a $4 billion valuation last year with a $180 million investment.

Rappi didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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