Sequoia reveals first cohort for its ‘Surge’ accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia

Back in January, Sequoia India announced plans for its first early-stage startup accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia, and today the firm revealed the first cohort of 17 startups.

To recap, the program — which is called Surge — gives each startup a $1.5 million check and participation in a four-month program that’s split across India and Singapore, as well as the wider Sequoia global presence in China and San Francisco.

The program kicked off last month, but the startups were only unveiled for the first time today — here they are:

  • Azani Sports: a ‘full stack’ sports clothing startup based in India that sells online and through selected high street retails
  • Bobobox: a capsule hotel company based in Indonesia
  • Bulbul: a live-streaming service with a focus on e-commerce across India
  • DancingMind: a Singapore startup that uses VR to enable remote for stroke victims and patients of debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s
  • Doubtnut: an India-based education startup that uses photos, videos and AI
  • Flynote: a travel booking service with a focus on personalized trips
  • Hippo Video: a platform developing, editing and analyzing marketing and sales videos
  • InterviewBit Academy: a computer science training and development platform in India — that’s not unlike recent Y Combinator graduate Skill-Lync
  • Khatabook: an accounting service for SMEs in India that already claims 120,000 weekly users
  • Qoala: a micro-insurance startup based in Indonesia, which competes with rivals like PasarPolis — which is backed by three of Indonesia’s unicorns
  • ShopUp: a social commerce startup that helps sellers in Bangladesh do business through Facebook — that’s a similar concept to established Indian startups Meesho (another YC alum) and LimeRoad which enable sellers on WhatsApp
  • Skillmatics: a startup headquartered in India that develops learning games for pre-school and primary school kids aged under 10
  • Telio: a b2b commerce platform that aims to digitize the process of brands and wholesalers selling to retailers
  • Uiza: a Singapore-Vietnam startup that lets publishers and companies develop their own video infrastructure independent of platforms like YouTube
  • Vybes: an e-commerce platform for social media influencers that’s based out of Singapore
  • Zenyum: a startup that provides invisible braces for consumers in Southeast Asia at a lower cost than traditional alternatives

There’s one additional startup which is being kept ‘under the radar’ for now, Sequoia said.

Sequoia India managing director Shailendra Singh previously told TechCrunch that Surge would support a ‘curated’ selections of fellow VCs who could invest alongside in the cohort alongside the firm, and Sequoia said that the 17 startups have attracted a total of $36 million in investment. A spokesperson also pointed out that five of the selection have at least one female co-founders, which is almost certainly above average for the region although it is tricky to get reliable data covering India and (in particular) Southeast Asia.

Surge is an interesting effort for Sequoia, which has traditionally played in post-seed and growth stages of the investment cycle. Sequoia closed its most recent fund for India and Southeast Asia at $695 million last year, and it also has access to a globally active ‘growth’ fund that is targeted at $8 billion. Reports have suggested that Surge will get its own sparkling new $200 million fund, which would make a lot of sense given the potential conflict and confusion of investing via its main fund. But the firm is declining to comment on that possibility for now.

One major addition to the program that has been confirmed, however, is Rajan Anandan, the executive who previously ran Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia and is a well-known angel investor. His arrival was announced earlier this month and he will lead the Surge initiative.

His recruitment is a major win for Sequoia, which is betting that Surge’s early stage push will reap it richer dividends in India and Southeast Asia. That part remains to be seen, but certainly, there is a dearth of early-stage programs in both regions compared to other parts of the world.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Match Group restructures exec team with focus on Asia

Tinder parent company Match Group, also the owner of a suite of dating apps including OkCupid, Meetic, Match, PlentyofFish and others, announced this morning plans to restructure its leadership team in order to better focus on the market opportunities for dating apps in Asia. Specifically, the company has appointed three new general managers in Asia to focus on areas like Japan, Taiwan, India, South Korea and other parts of Southeast Asia.

The company explains its decision has to do with the potential it sees for growth outside the U.S. and Europe, where there are more than 400 million singles, two-thirds who have not yet tried a dating app.

One of the new GMs is Tokyo-based Junya Ishibashi, who has been CEO of Match Group’s Eureka business in Japan. He now becomes the general manager of Match Group for Japan and Taiwan.

Taru Kapoor, who’s based in Delhi, will be GM of Match Group India. And Seoul-based Lyla Seo, who previously served as regional director of East Asia for Tinder, is now GM of Match Group for South Korea and Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Alexandre Lubot, who has served as both CEO of Meetic and CEO of Match Group EMEA & APAC since 2016, will remain CEO of Match Group EMEA & APAC. He will oversee the brands across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with the three general managers reporting directly to him.

Meetic, which is Match Group’s European dating app, will now be overseen by Matthieu Jacquier, who has worked as a CPO with the company for a year. Alongside Jacquier, Elisabeth Peyraube will now take on a new role of COO & CFO of Match Group EMEA & APAC.

While Match Group plans for growth across Asia, India has been of particular importance, especially as rival dating app Bumble entered the country last year, where it tapped actress, celebrity and Bumble investor Priyanka Chopra to advise its expansion.

Tinder has also tried to cater to its Indian users with the more recent launches of expanded gender options in its app, and the Bumble-like “My Move” feature, which allows the women to chat first.

However, Tinder’s strategy in India needs to differ from here in the U.S. where it’s now promoting the young, carefree and often less relationship-focused “single lifestyle.” In India (as well as in China and other markets), dating apps today still face challenges due to cultural norms. That’s led to an unbalanced ratio between men and women using the apps in India, a report from The Wall Street Journal found. And when women join, they’re overwhelmed by the attention they receive, as a result.

These issues will require Tinder to adapt everything from its marketing and advertising messages to even its product features in order to better cater to its Indian users. And it requires someone who fully understands the market to lead.

“Taru was originally hired to grow Tinder in India, but a little more than a year ago we increased her responsibilities to oversee the growth of other Match Group products in the country,” said Mandy Ginsberg, Match Group CEO, in a statement about the leadership restructuring. “During that time Tinder has become a big brand in India, but Taru also has meaningfully grown OkCupid’s user base in India over the last six months due to her keen understanding of the market and culture. Her success is a template for how we can approach these emerging Asian markets, particularly when we have stellar talent on the ground that understands the cultural, regulatory and market dynamics at play,” she added.

In Korea, Match Group credits Seo with executing Tinder’s first-ever TV ad campaign, which helped increase downloads in Korea 2.5x from 2016 to 2018.

The company also says Ishibashi more than doubled Pairs’ revenue in Japan since its acquisition in 2015.

Both executives will oversee other Match Group brands in their respective markets as part of their new responsibilities.

Match Group has been growing its footprint in the Asian market for some time. On its Q4 2018 earnings call in February, the company noted it already had teams in around half a dozen key countries throughout Asia focused on its marketing programs and developing the cultural insight it needed to succeed in those regions.

Ginsberg now says she would like to see a quarter of Match Group’s revenue coming from Asia within five years.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Southeast Asia’s Carousell snags investment from Naspers-owned OLX

It’s taken some time to come around, but Naspers — the early Tencent investor that’s also behind the world’s top listings service — finally has a piece of Southeast Asia’s Carousell. TechCrunch broke news of talks between the two sides last year, and today Tech In Asia reported that Naspers-owned OLX Group has put $42 million into Carousell.

In addition, it appears that the deal includes the transfer of the OLX Philippines business to Carousell, according to a report from Deal Street Asia which cites a source close to the investment.

Carousell is a mobile-first peer-to-peer selling app that operates across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Australia. Founded by three graduates of the National University of Singapore, its listing business has expanded into automotive and real estate, which it monetizes whilst keeping the core service free.

The deal gives Singapore-based Carousell a valuation of $365 million, according to a company filing that Tech In Asia gained access to. The publication reported that OLX now owns 11.5 percent of Carousell — that would make it the startup’s third-largest shareholder beyond existing backers Rakuten and Sequoia India, which own 29.6 percent and 15.1 percent, respectively.

Prior to this deal, Carousell had raised $126.8 million in funding. Its last round was a $85 million deal that closed in May 2018, although TechCrunch earlier broke news of the investment.

OLX, meanwhile, is the world’s biggest classifieds business. It is active across over 40 countries through a network of 17 entities. All combined, it claims to reach more than 350 million users each month. That makes it a very coveted investor for Carousell and, really, any company that sits in classifieds/listing space.

OLX is the world’s largest operator of classifieds sites — its reach covers 350 million monthly users across 40 countries through 17 brands

A source with knowledge of discussions told TechCrunch that the Carousell deal had been agreed to some time ago, but Naspers’ impending IPO in Europe — it is taking its Tencent stake and other web holdings public on Euronext Amsterdam — was the reason for the delay in tying things up.

It also seems that agreeing on a valuation may have been a sticking point. In our story last year, we reported that Carousell was shooting for a $500 million valuation but this deal is short of that by some margin, according to the details sourced by Tech In Asia. We also reported that the investment could be a precursor to an eventual acquisition — that’s a development that we’ll have to wait on, but it is certainly a logical assumption that many will come to, rightly or wrongly.

There have already been some significant dealings in 2019, as OLX/Naspers strategically shuffle their cards across the world. OLX last week sold a slew of its Africa-based business to rival Jiji, while, back in January, Naspers took full control of its Russia-based classifieds site Avito in a deal worth $1.16 billion.

Outside of classifieds, Nasper has put increased focus on India where it has backed unicorns Swiggy (food delivery) and Byju’s (education) in major deals announced in recent months.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

ShopBack, a cashback startup in Asia Pacific, raises $45M from Rakuten and others

ShopBack, a Singapore-based startup that offers cashback and consumer rewards in Asia Pacific, has closed a $45 million round led by new investors Rakuten Capital and EV Growth.

Founded in 2014, the startup had been relatively under-the-radar until late 2017 when it announced a $25 million investment that funded expansion into Australia among other things. Now, it is doubling down with this deal which sees participation from another new backer, EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board. Shopback has now raised close to $85 million from investors, which also include Credit Saison Blue Sky, AppWorks, SoftBank Ventures Korea, Singtel Innov8 and Qualgro.

The investment will see Amit Patel, who leads Rakuten-owned cashback service Ebates, and EV Growth managing partner Willson Cuaca, join the board. Cuaca is a familiar face since his East Ventures firm, which launched EV Growth alongside Yahoo Japan Capital and SMDV last year, was an early investor in Shopback, while the addition of Patel is potentially very significant for the startup. Indeed, when I previously wrote about ShopBack, I compared the startup directly to Ebates, which was bought by Rakuten for $1 billion in 2014.

Ebates brings operating experience in the cashback space,” Henry Chan, ShopBack co-founder and CEO told TechCrunch in an interview.

“A lot has changed in the last year and a half, Ebates has a very strong focus on the U.S… given that we’re not competing, it makes sense to partner and to learn,” he added.

The obvious question to ask is whether this deal is a precursor to a potential acquisition.

So, is it?

“It is squarely for learning and for growth,” Chan said in response. “It makes sense for us to partner with someone with the know-how.”

ShopBack operates in seven markets in Asia Pacific — Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia and Indonesia — with a core rewards service that gives consumers rebates for spending on areas like e-commerce, ride-hailing, food delivery, online travel and more. It has moved offline, too, with a new service for discovering and paying for food which initially launched in Singapore.

ShopBack said it saw a 250 percent growth in sales and orders last year which translated to nearly $1 billion in sales for its merchant partners. The company previously said it handled $400 million in 2017. It added that it typically handles more than 2.5 million transactions for upwards of seven million users.

(Left to right) Henry Chan, co-founder and CEO of ShopBack, welcomes new board member Amit Patel, CEO of Rakuten -owned Ebates [Image via ShopBack]

Chan said that, since the previous funding round, ShopBack has seen its business in emerging markets like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines take off and eclipse its efforts in more developed countries like Singapore. Still, he said, the company benefits from the diversity of the region.

Markets like Singapore and Taiwan, where online spending is more established, allow ShopBack to “learn ahead of time how different industries will develop” as the internet economy matures in Southeast Asia, Chan — who started the company with fellow co-founder Joel Leong — explained.

Outside of Southeast Asia, Chan said that ShopBack’s Australia business — launched nearly one year ago — has been its “most phenomenal market in terms of growth.”

“We’re already superseding incumbents,” he said.

ShopBack claims some 300,000 registered users in Australia, where it said purchases through its platform have grown by 1,300 percent between May 2018 and March 2019. Of course, that’s growth from a tiny initial base and ShopBack didn’t provide raw figures on sales.

For its next expansion, ShopBack is looking closer to home with Vietnam its upcoming target. The country is already home to one of its three R&D centers — the other two are located in Singapore and Taiwan — and Chan said the startup is currently hiring for a general manager to head up the soon-to-launch Vietnam business.

Already, though, the company is beginning to think about reaching beyond Asia Pacific. Chan maintained that the company already has a proven playbook — particularly on the tech side — so it “can enter a Western market” if it chooses, but that isn’t likely to happen in the immediate future.

“We could [expand beyond Asia Pacific] but we have a fair bit on our plate, right now,” said Chan with a laugh.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Travel activities platform Klook raises $225M led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund

We recently noted that SoftBank’s Vision Fund has stepped up its deal-making in Asia this year, and today it added a new company to its roster: travel services platform Klook.

Hong Kong-based Klook announced today that it has raised a $225 million round led by the Vision Fund with participation from existing investors. The deal — which is described as a “Series D plus” — comes just eight months after Klook announced its $200 million Series D at a valuation of over $1 billion. The company didn’t confirm what its new valuation is, but co-founder and president Eric Gnock Fah (second from right in the photo above) did confirm to TechCrunch that it has increased.

Klook was founded in 2014 and it serves as an activities platform for users who travel overseas. That covers areas like visits to adventure parks, scuba diving, more localized tours or basics such as train travel, food or airport transfers, all of which can be found, paid for and taken using Klook’s platform. Today, Klook claims to host 100,000 activities across over 270 destinations. Its team has grown to over 1,000 staff and it has 20 offices, including sites in Europe and the U.S. as well as, of course, on its home turf in Asia Pacific.

Its rivals include KKday, a Taiwan-based company backed by the likes of Alibaba and Line, and FunNow. Outside of Asia, there’s Peek, Headout, Voyagin, GetYourGuide, Culture Trip and even Airbnb’s ‘experiences’ feature. Still, Klook has raised considerably more than any of these competitors.

This new injection means that Klook has now raised $425 million to date. Its investors include Sequoia China, Matrix Partners, TCV, OurCrowd, Goldman Sachs, Boyu Capital, Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV) among others.

Gnock Fah said that Klook has maintained a dialogue with SoftBank “for a while.” The company only recently raised its Series D so didn’t need the additional capital, but he said that it was moved by SoftBank’s “bigger vision” and its potential role in the SoftBank “ecosystem.”

That, in particular, means opportunities to work with other Vision Fund-backed startups in Asia. Gnock Fah specifically name-checked ride-hailing firm Grab in Southeast Asia and hospitality company OYO, as well as e-commerce companies Coupang in Korea and Tokopedia in Southeast Asia.

“We don’t do point to point or on demand so it’s synergistic on both ends,” he said of potential tie-ins with Grab — which is already working with OYO — while he cited Klook’s ongoing work with Alibaba, which has relationships with Tokopedia and Lazada in Southeast Asia.

(From left to right) David Liu, Chief Product Officer; Bernie Xiong, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder; Anita Ngai, Chief Revenue Officer; Eric Gnock Fah, Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder; Ethan Lin, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder (PRNewsfoto/Klook)

The new funds will be used to go after growth in Western markets, Gnock Fah explained, as well as increasing Klook’s efforts in Japan — where it has been ramping up ahead of the Summer Olympics in 2020, and now has the SoftBank connection.

“Now is the time to scale up the fundamentals we’ve built in Western regions,” Gnock Fah said in an interview. “We already have a team on the ground — fundamentals are built — now it is about investing more on the supply-demand side.”

That sounds like increased online advertising spend — I often wonder how handsomely Facebook and Google profit from Vision Fund investments — while in Japan the company is working to cater to more Japanese travelers heading overseas on trips as well as inbound tourism. SoftBank has launched a number of joint ventures with Vision Fund companies to bring their services to the Japanese market — Paytm, WeWork, OYO and Didi Chuxing immediately come to mind — but Gnock Fah said nothing definitive has been decided.

“We’re in a lot of conversations with their team about how to work closely with them,” he said, pointing out that — unlike those aforementioned examples — Klook already has a presence in Japan.

Whenever the Vision Fund has invested in Asia-based companies, I’ve asked the founders how they handle the fund’s links to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is widely believed to have ordered the killing, and he runs Public Investment Fund (PIF), the main LP anchor behind the Vision Fund.

Clearly, based on an increase in deals in Asia this year, the link isn’t putting founders off.

Most founders of Vision Fund portfolio startups that TechCrunch spoke to have supplied fairly platitudinous comments or declined to say anything at all — you can read a collection of them here — but Gnock Fah suggested a new (and unique) perspective.

“Because it is a relatively new fund, there’s more spotlight” on the Vision Fund, he offered.

Klook declined to provide a further statement on the Vision Fund and the Khashoggi murder following our interview despite a request from TechCrunch.

“The new capital isn’t about capital per se — our economics are heath — but more for a strategic investment angle,” he said, getting back to more fundamental founder talking points.

The Vision Fund-led cash infusion does mean that Klook, which has been pretty candid about a potential IPO, is putting off plans for a liquidity exit further down the road.

“Right now, there is no fixed timeframe,” Gnock Fah said. “Back in the early days, we had that aspiration… back then, if we wanted to raise $300-400 million [then] IPO was the way to get that.”

“We believe Klook is a leader in taking a mobile-first approach to the travel activities and services industry. The company has seen great success in scaling its business across different geographies and cultures, and we are excited to help them drive further innovation in the global travel industry,” said SoftBank partner Lydia Jett in a statement.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source