India’s Uber rival Ola is headed to Europe with ride-hailing launch in the UK

The UK is getting a new alternative to Uber after India-based ride-hailing company Ola announced plans to expand to the country, which will become its first market in Europe. Ola was founded in 2010 and it covers over 110 cities in India where it offers licensed taxis, private hire cars and rickshaws through a network […]

The UK is getting a new alternative to Uber after India-based ride-hailing company Ola announced plans to expand to the country, which will become its first market in Europe.

Ola was founded in 2010 and it covers over 110 cities in India where it offers licensed taxis, private hire cars and rickshaws through a network of over one million drivers. The company has raised around $3 billion from investors that include SoftBank, Chinese duo Tencent and Didi Chuxing and DST Global . It was last valued at $7 billion. Ola ventured overseas for the first time when it launched in Australia earlier this year — it is now in seven cities there — and its move into the UK signals a further expansion into Europe.

Ola’s UK service isn’t live right now, but the company said it will begin offering licensed taxi and private hire bookings initially in South Wales and Greater Manchester “soon.” Ola plans to expand that coverage nationwide before the end of this year. That will eventually mean taking on Uber and potentially Taxify another unicorn startup backed by Didi which is looking to relaunch in the UK — in London and other major cities.

So, why the UK?

Ola CEO and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal called the country “a fantastic place to do business” and added that he “look[s] forward to providing a responsible, compelling, new service that can help the country meet its ever demanding mobility needs.”

It’s no secret that Uber has struggled in London, where its gung-ho attitude to business — ‘launch first, apologize later’ — has seen it run into issues with regulators. Uber (just about) won a provisional 15-month transport license earlier this year following an appeal against the city’s transportation regulator, Transport for London (TfL) earlier rejected its application.

The’ New Uber’ — under CEO Dara Khosrowshahi — is trying to right the wrongs of the past, but compliance with regulators takes time and requires wholesale changes to business, operations and company culture.

Ola isn’t commenting directly on its rivalry with Uber — we did ask, but got a predictable “no comment” — but the tone of its announcement today shows it is focused on being a more collaborative player than Uber.

Indeed, there’s been much groundwork. Aggarwal met with regulators in London last year and he said in a statement released today that he plans “continued engagement with policymakers and regulators” as the Ola service expands across the UK.

International expansion is very much part of Ola’s ambition to go public, which Aggarwal recently said could happen in the next three to four years. But Ola isn’t alone in looking overseas. Didi, the firm that defeated Uber in China and has backed Ola, Taxify and many others, has also been busy moving into new markets.

Last year, the firm raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and go overseas and it has come good on that promise by entering MexicoAustralia and Taiwan. It also landed Brazil through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99 and it is preparing to go live in Japan, where it will operate a taxi-booking service through a joint venture with SoftBank.

China’s Didi pumps $1B into its rebranded driver services business

Didi Chuxing is going pedal to the metal for its automobile services business after it announced it will invest $1 billion into the division, which is also getting a rebrand. The Chinese ride-hailing firm had been tipped to spin out the business and raise $1.5 billion from investors ahead of an IPO, according to a recent Reuters […]

Didi Chuxing is going pedal to the metal for its automobile services business after it announced it will invest $1 billion into the division, which is also getting a rebrand.

The Chinese ride-hailing firm had been tipped to spin out the business and raise $1.5 billion from investors ahead of an IPO, according to a recent Reuters report. The business itself hasn’t spun out, however, but it has been renamed to Xiaoju Automobile Solutions and given more autonomy with the introduction of its own general manager.

The division handles services for registered Didi drivers, such as leasing and purchase financing, insurance, repairs, refueling, car-sharing and more. Essentially, with its huge army of drivers, Didi can get preferential rates from service providers, which means better deals for its drivers. That, in turn, is helpful for recruiting new drivers and growing the business. (Didi claims to support 30 million drivers, but that covers food delivery as well as more basic point-to-point transportation.)

Rather than outsiders — SoftBank had been linked with an investment at a valuation of up to $3 billion — Xiaoju is getting its capital boost direct from Didi. The company said it injected $1 billion to “support its business in providing Didi drivers and the broader car-owner community with convenient, flexible, economical, and reliable one-stop auto services.”

Of course, these factors don’t preclude Didi from spinning the business out in the future and listing it separately to the parent Didi firm. That’s the reasoning Reuters made in its previous story, and it still stands to reason that if Didi is (as widely expected) planning a public listing of its own then it might be keen to break out this asset-heavy part of its business.

Didi didn’t respond to our request for comment on those future plans.

Didi Chuxing’s rebranded Xiaoju driver services division includes a refueling program for its drivers.

The company is saying more about the Xiaoju business itself. It said the services support drivers in over 257 cities through a network of 7,500 partners and distributors. There are some caveats, though: the auto care service is currently limited to seven cities in China.

Didi also went on the record with some financial data. The company claimed that annualized GMV for Xiaoju has jumped from 37 billion RMB ($5.4 billion) in April 2018 to 60 billion RMB ($8.76 billion) as of today. That’s impressive growth of 62 percent, and the forecast is that it will easily pass its previous goal of 90 billion RMB ($13.15 billion) for 2018 before this year is finished.

GMV, in this case, refers to the total value of goods and services crossing the Xiaoju platform. That help gives an idea of how active it is, but it doesn’t translate to revenue or profit/loss for Didi. The company didn’t provide information for either revenue or profitability for Xiaoju.

This year has been a notable one as the company has expanded its horizons for the first time by venturing outside of China.

Last year, Didi raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and move into new markets, and it has come good on that promise by entering MexicoAustralia and Taiwan. It also landed Brazil through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99 and it is preparing to go live in Japan, where it will operate a taxi-booking service through a joint venture with SoftBank.

Beyond that massive $4 billion raise, Didi recently landed a $500 million investment from Booking Holdings that’s aimed at providing strategic alliances between the Didi and the travel giant’s range of services. The company has raised over $17 billion from investors to date and it was last valued at $56 billion.

FinAccel raises $30M to build a digital credit card for Southeast Asia

FinAccel, a Southeast Asia-based startup that offers a digital credit card service in Indonesia, has closed a $30 million Series B round as it begins to consider overseas expansion. The company launched its ‘Kredivo’ service two years ago to help consumers pay online in Southeast Asia, where credit card penetration is typically low, and it is essentially […]

FinAccel, a Southeast Asia-based startup that offers a digital credit card service in Indonesia, has closed a $30 million Series B round as it begins to consider overseas expansion.

The company launched its ‘Kredivo’ service two years ago to help consumers pay online in Southeast Asia, where credit card penetration is typically low, and it is essentially the combination of a digital credit card and PayPal. The service is available in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, where it uses a customer’s registered phone number — there is no physical credit card — and a dedicated checkout on online retail websites.

For consumers, the service offers a 30-day payback option and then more longer-term options of three, six and 12-month payback windows. The 30-day option is interest-free, but other plans come with a 2.95 percent per month charge on the reducing principle, which effectively makes it 25 percent flat.

FinAccel says it has credit scored close to two million consumers in Indonesia, while on the retail side it has partnered with 200 online sales platforms including large names such as Alibaba’s Lazada, Shopee (which is owned by U.S.-listed Garena), and unicorn Tokopedia, which counts SoftBank and Alibaba among its investors.

This new investment, by the way, is a notable one for Southeast Asia, which has generally been considered to have a gap in Series B funding, so $30 million for a two-year-old business is quite something.

The round itself is led by Australia’s Square Peg Capital — in what is one of its highest-profile overseas deals to date — alongside new investors MDI Ventures, which is affiliated with Telkom Indonesia, and UK-based Atami Capital. Existing investors Jungle Ventures, Openspace Ventures, GMO Venture
Partners, Alpha JWC Ventures and 500 Startups also took part in the round.

FinAccel founders (left to right) Umang Rustagi (COO), Akshay Garg (CEO) and Alie Tan (head of product engineering)

The startup raised a seed round of over $1 million in 2016, before quietly raising a $5 million Series A last year, FinAccel co-founder CEO Akshay Garg revealed in an interview with TechCrunch.

Garg, who founded ad tech firm Komli, said the company is processing “hundreds of millions” in U.S. dollars per year and the immediate plan is to keep growing in Indonesia. Already, however, it is eyeing up potential expansions with its first move overseas is likely to be in Southeast Asia in early 2018, although he declined to provide more details.

“Our goal is to become the preferred digital credit card for millennials in Southeast Asia,” he told TechCrunch. “Those are consumers who are mobile-first and already bankable. The credit gap in this market is huge, there’s no electronic verification and other things that we take for granted in the West just don’t work here.”

FinAccel isn’t going after the unbanked in the region, but it also isn’t going after banks either. Garg said that it is possible that the company might try to work with banks in the future in order to grow its market share and offer new products.

One area it is looking at is financial products — such as loans for personal, educational and emergency purposes — but there could be ways to leverage its online presence and adoption among young people and work with existing financial institutions, which he believes simply aren’t equipped to reach out in the same way.

“We don’t see ourselves disrupting the banks, we are more partners,” he explained. “We could partner on balance sheet and on issuing credit cards to offer more efficient and seamless financial inclusion at best possible rates.”

Hong Kong co-working startup Campfire pulls in $18M ahead of global expansion

WeWork may be doubling down on Asia, having initially focused its efforts on China, but that isn’t stopping local players from hatching ambitious expansion plans of their own. One of those eying new markets is Hong Kong-based Campfire, which tries to stand out from the crowd with industry-focused spaces. Today, the startup announced it has […]

WeWork may be doubling down on Asia, having initially focused its efforts on China, but that isn’t stopping local players from hatching ambitious expansion plans of their own.

One of those eying new markets is Hong Kong-based Campfire, which tries to stand out from the crowd with industry-focused spaces. Today, the startup announced it has raised an $18 million Series A ahead of planned expansions to three overseas countries: Singapore, Australia and the UK. It previously raised $6 million in March 2017.

Two-year-old Campfire’s business right now is in Hong Kong, where it has eight locations which include co-education, co-retail and co-living sites, as well as more standard co-working venues. In the case of its fashion-focused location, that even includes runway, photo studio, fabric facility and 3D printer.

The new capital comes from a trio of real estate firms in Hong Kong, they are Kwai Jung Group, Fast Global Holdings — which is a subsidiary of Rykadan Capital — and Sa Sa. In the latter case, Sa Sa is actually a cosmetics brand that operates across Greater China and parts of Southeast Asia, but the firm owns a significant retail footprint. That includes the building that houses Campfire’s ‘V Point’ space in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, so the relationship is already well advanced.

A Campfire representative confirmed that the capital is all provided up front and equity-based, in other words it is an investment in the business not specific locations or joint ventures, as is sometimes the case with investment deals in co-working firms.

Going beyond Hong Kong, the group is set to open its first overseas space in London (Shoreditch) with co-working locations in Melbourne, Sydney and Singapore planned thereafter. Further down the line, it is looking to move into “global gateway cities,” with the likes of Tokyo, Osaka, Bangkok and Brisbane among those that are on the list.

Co-working is sufficiently developed worldwide that most countries across Asia have a number of local players who compete with WeWork, the global leader valued at $35 billion, either now or else soon in the future. Some of the more developed of that bunch include Singapore’s JustCoEV Hive in Indonesia and China’s Ucommune. WeWork has actually been busy consolidating its position, having snapped up Spacemob in Southeast Asia and its main rival in China, Naked Hub.