Digital Garage teams up with Blockstream to develop blockchain financial services in Japan

The global crypto market may have tanked last year, but notable names have joined forces to develop Bitcoin and blockchain financial services in Japan, which has emerged as one of the world’s most crypto-friendly markets. Blockstream, a blockchain startup founded by Bitcoin contributors, announced this week that it has launched a joint venture in Japan […]

The global crypto market may have tanked last year, but notable names have joined forces to develop Bitcoin and blockchain financial services in Japan, which has emerged as one of the world’s most crypto-friendly markets.

Blockstream, a blockchain startup founded by Bitcoin contributors, announced this week that it has launched a joint venture in Japan alongside Digital Garage, an early-stage investor/incubator that’s backed local launches from Twitter, Square and others, and financial services firm Tokyo Tanshi.

Crypto Garage — as the new venture is called — is “is dedicated to building Bitcoin and blockchain solutions for the Japanese institutional market.” The venture was first unveiled last year, and it looks like Blockstream recently came onboard through an undisclosed investment. The startup said it is providing “technical expertise” for the effort.

That’s about all the color on the venture for now, although it has released its first product, “SETTLENET.” That is described as a platform that uses Liquid Network, Blockstream’s blockchain that is designed for exchanges and brokers with a focus on speed and security.

Settlenet — because nobody likes all-caps product names — is said to have already gotten clearance from the Japanese Financial Services Agency (FSA), which regulates exchanges and crypto projects, and its first launch will be a stablecoin for the Japanese Yen. The goal is very much to arm exchanges with liquidity and, as such, the stablecoin will be tradable for Bitcoin pegged to the Liquid sidechain using atomic swaps.

The companies have collaborated for some time already. An existing investor in Blockstream, Digital Garage has plowed a further $10 million into the business in what is its third investment since 2016. That deal takes Blockstream to around $110 million raised to date.

Tokyo Tanshi, meanwhile, is a brokerage firm that was founded over 100 years ago. It has worked with Digital Garage on crypto projects since last year, when the two companies first announced Crypto Garage and a broader goal to operate blockchain financial services in Japan.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Warung Pintar raises $27.5M to digitize Indonesia’s street vendors

The digital revolution in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, continues to attract big money from investors. Hot on the heels of a $50 million round for Bukalapak, a billion-dollar company helping street stall traders to tap the internet, so Warung Pintar, another startup helping digitize the country’s vendors, has pulled in $27.5 million for growth. Bukalapak […]

The digital revolution in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, continues to attract big money from investors. Hot on the heels of a $50 million round for Bukalapak, a billion-dollar company helping street stall traders to tap the internet, so Warung Pintar, another startup helping digitize the country’s vendors, has pulled in $27.5 million for growth.

Bukalapak is one of Indonesia’s largest e-commerce services and it began catering to local merchants, those who sell product via road-side kiosks, last year, but eighteen-month-old Warung Pintar is focused exclusively on those vendors.

Bukalapak helps them to gain scale through online orders — it claims to have a base of 50 million registered users in Indonesia — but Warung Pintar digitizes kiosk vendors to the very core. At the most basic level, that means aesthetics; so all Warung Pintar vendors get a bright and colorfully-designed kiosk. They also get access to technology that includes a digital POS, free Wi-Fi for customers, an LCD screen for displays, power bank chargers and more.

It’s a ‘smart kiosk’ concept, essentially.

The project was founded in 2007 by East Ventures, a prolific early-stage investor that has backed unicorns like Tokopedia, Traveloka and Mercari. This new money means that Warung Pintar has now raised just over $35 million from investors to date.

The round — which is a Series B — included participation from existing backers SMDV, Vertex, Pavilion Capital, Line Ventures, Digital Garage, Agaeti, Triputra, Jerry Ng, and EV Growth — the joint fund from East Ventures and Yahoo. They were joined by OVO — a payment firm jointly owned by Indonesian mega-conglomerate Lippo — which has signed on as a new investor and is sure to be highly strategic in nature. OVO works with the likes of Grab, and it is battling to gain a foothold in Indonesia’s fledgling digital payments space, which is tipped to boom among the country’s 260 million population.

A Warung Pintar kiosk in Jakarta, Indonesia

These investors are all betting that Warung Pintar can take off and provide greater functionality for street vendors and consumers alike.

The startup is in growth mode right now so it isn’t fully focused on monetization. The only fee is $5,000 from the vendor, which covers the cost of a new prefab kiosk, while all the tech appliances are provided without fee to help kiosk owners engage with the local community. For example, East Ventures noticed that drivers for Go-Jek or Grab tended to hang around the kiosk store near the VC firm’s office and they were curious how to grow engagement to benefit both parties.

“There are going to be a lot of ways to charge and make money,” East Ventures co-founder and managing partner Willson Cuaca told TechCrunch in an interview. “Once we have built enough, we can manage the supply chain and then figure out of how to make money.”

Indeed, monetization might not be via fees to the kiosk owners themselves, explained Cuaca — who is president of Warung Pintar. Since the company maintains touch points with consumers, it is a commodity that can appeal to brands, manufacturers and others when it reaches nationwide scale.

While there has been promising progress and product market fit in Jakarta, Cuaca and his team see significant growth potential still to be realized.

When we spoke to Warung Pintar just under a year ago, it had just raised a seed round and had been in operation for under six months. Today, the business counts 1,150 kiosks in Jakarta. However, it recently opened up in Banyuwangi, East Java, which, alongside other planned expansions, is aimed to increase its reach to 5,000 kiosks before the end of this year, Cuaca said.

There’s no plan for regional expansion at this point, he added.

The business and model is fascinating but it is conceived and executed in Indonesia, that’s to say it isn’t a problem that could be identified, mapped and solved from the U.S, China or other markets. It’s the type of tech and startup that is helping change daily lives in Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country by population. Home-grown solutions have been rare in Southeast Asia, but there are increasing opportunities that only local players can cater to and now the region’s VC corpus is substantial enough to provide the capital needed.

Startups Weekly: Squad’s screen-shares and Slack’s swastika

We’re three weeks into January. We’ve recovered from our CES hangover and, hopefully, from the CES flu. We’ve started writing the correct year, 2019, not 2018. Venture capitalists have gone full steam ahead with fundraising efforts, several startups have closed multi-hundred million dollar rounds, a virtual influencer raised equity funding and yet, all anyone wants to talk […]

We’re three weeks into January. We’ve recovered from our CES hangover and, hopefully, from the CES flu. We’ve started writing the correct year, 2019, not 2018.

Venture capitalists have gone full steam ahead with fundraising efforts, several startups have closed multi-hundred million dollar rounds, a virtual influencer raised equity funding and yet, all anyone wants to talk about is Slack’s new logo… As part of its public listing prep, Slack announced some changes to its branding this week, including a vaguely different looking logo. Considering the flack the $7 billion startup received instantaneously and accusations that the negative space in the logo resembled a swastika — Slack would’ve been better off leaving its original logo alone; alas…

On to more important matters.

Rubrik more than doubled its valuation

The data management startup raised a $261 million Series E funding at a $3.3 billion valuation, an increase from the $1.3 billion valuation it garnered with a previous round. In true unicorn form, Rubrik’s CEO told TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden it’s intentionally unprofitable: “Our goal is to build a long-term, iconic company, and so we want to become profitable but not at the cost of growth,” he said. “We are leading this market transformation while it continues to grow.”

Deal of the week: Knock gets $400M to take on Opendoor

Will 2019 be a banner year for real estate tech investment? As $4.65 billion was funneled into the space in 2018 across more than 350 deals and with high-flying startups attracting investors (Compass, Opendoor, Knock), the excitement is poised to continue. This week, Knock brought in $400 million at an undisclosed valuation to accelerate its national expansion. “We are trying to make it as easy to trade in your house as it is to trade in your car,” Knock CEO Sean Black told me.

Cybersecurity stays hot

While we’re on the subject of VCs’ favorite industries, TechCrunch cybersecurity reporter Zack Whittaker highlights some new data on venture investment in the industry. Strategic Cyber Ventures says more than $5.3 billion was funneled into companies focused on protecting networks, systems and data across the world, despite fewer deals done during the year. We can thank Tanium, CrowdStrike and Anchorfree’s massive deals for a good chunk of that activity.

Send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

Fundraising efforts continue

I would be remiss not to highlight a slew of venture firms that made public their intent to raise new funds this week. Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures filed to raise $350 million across two new funds and Redpoint Ventures set a $400 million target for two new China-focused funds. Meanwhile, Resolute Ventures closed on $75 million for its fourth early-stage fund, BlueRun Ventures nabbed $130 million for its sixth effort, Maverick Ventures announced a $382 million evergreen fund, First Round Capital introduced a new pre-seed fund that will target recent graduates, Techstars decided to double down on its corporate connections with the launch of a new venture studio and, last but not least, Lance Armstrong wrote his very first check as a VC out of his new fund, Next Ventures.

More money goes toward scooters

In case you were concerned there wasn’t enough VC investment in electric scooter startups, worry no more! Flash, a Berlin-based micro-mobility company, emerged from stealth this week with a whopping €55 million in Series A funding. Flash is already operating in Switzerland and Portugal, with plans to launch into France, Italy and Spain in 2019. Bird and Lime are in the process of raising $700 million between them, too, indicating the scooter funding extravaganza of 2018 will extend into 2019 — oh boy!

Startups secure cash

  • Niantic finally closed its Series C with $245 million in capital commitments and a lofty $4 billion valuation.
  • Outdoorsy, which connects customers with underused RVs, raised $50 million in Series C funding led by Greenspring Associates, with participation from Aviva Ventures, Altos Ventures, AutoTech Ventures and Tandem Capital.
  • Ciitizen, a developer of tools to help cancer patients organize and share their medical records, has raised $17 million in new funding in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
  • Footwear startup Birdies — no, I don’t mean Allbirds or Rothy’s — brought in an $8 million Series A led by Norwest Venture Partners, with participation from Slow Ventures and earlier investor Forerunner Ventures.
  • And Brud, the company behind the virtual celebrity Lil Miquela, is now worth $125 million with new funding.

Feature of the week

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine introduced readers to Squad this week, a screensharing app for social phone addicts.

Listen to me talk

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I marveled at the dollars going into scooter startups, discussed Slack’s upcoming direct listing and debated how the government shutdown might impact the IPO market.

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Reserve your demo table today for the TechCrunch Winter Party at Galvanize

There are just three short weeks until Silicon Valley’s startup community takes a night off to relax, connect and get down at the 2nd Annual TechCrunch Winter Party at Galvanize. It’s not just an opportunity to have a great time — although you will. It’s also the chance for promising early-stage startups to strut their […]

There are just three short weeks until Silicon Valley’s startup community takes a night off to relax, connect and get down at the 2nd Annual TechCrunch Winter Party at Galvanize. It’s not just an opportunity to have a great time — although you will. It’s also the chance for promising early-stage startups to strut their stuff. We have a handful of demo tables available, but they won’t last long. Why not book a demo table today? You never know who might attend the party and facilitate your big break.

Here’s one legendary example. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington used to hold these parties in his back yard. And that’s where Box founders Aaron Levie and Dylan Smith met one of their first investors, DFJ. Demo your early-stage startup at our Winter Party, and you just might start your own legend.

What can you expect at our Winter fete? Great food, delicious libations and outstanding company for starters. Last year, nearly 1,000 of the early-stage startup community — movers, shakers and star-makers — attended. Join us for a great night of community, networking and fun.

Here’s the lowdown on the particulars:

  • When: Friday, February 8, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Where: Galvanize, 44 Tehama St., San Francisco, CA 94105
  • Tickets: $85
  • Demo table: $1,500 (includes three attendee tickets)

Demo tables are open to early-stage startups with $3 million or less in funding.

Along with conversation and networking, every TechCrunch bash includes plenty of games, activities, photo ops, swag and giveaways. Who wants free tickets to Disrupt 2019? You do! So, book your demo table now, before they’re gone. Come party with your people on February 8 and show us your stuff!

Backing Culture Genesis, T.I. launches Tech Cypha, an investment syndicate for tech deals

With an inaugural investment into the Los Angeles-based entertainment startup Culture Genesis, Clifford Harris Jr., who’s better known as “T.I.”, has launched a new syndicated investment vehicle called Tech Cypha. Launched by the music and cultural impresario with more hustle than hustle and his business partner Jason Geter, the new collaborative investment strategy focused on tech startups will […]

With an inaugural investment into the Los Angeles-based entertainment startup Culture Genesis, Clifford Harris Jr., who’s better known as “T.I.”, has launched a new syndicated investment vehicle called Tech Cypha.

Launched by the music and cultural impresario with more hustle than hustle and his business partner Jason Geter, the new collaborative investment strategy focused on tech startups will allow high net worth individuals to participate in deals.

The strategy has evolved since Geter and Harris made their first investment twelve years ago into a company called Streetcred.com, a site that allowed fans to go online and share opinions about street culture. While that first deal didn’t work out, Geter and Harris both remained interested in the technology and startup scene and saw a new opportunity to leverage their networks and promote new businesses.

“We learned a lot,” says Harris. “Now we know where our demographic is.”

For Geter, that demographic is taking advantage of Atlanta’s surging position as a cultural and tecnological mecca in the United States. Indeed, Atlanta-area startups raised roughly $1.15 billion in 2018, a record for the region, according to data from Pitchbook and the National Venture Capital Association.

“Being in the city of Atlanta and with Georgia Tech producing so much talent, and coming from us being within the hip-hop culture which is always influencing and promoting things, we saw an opportunity,” says Geter. “In the past, we were always looking through the glass window and looking at ways we can participate earlier. And that’s by coming together to pool our resources so we can invest more.”

Harris and Geter aren’t the first hip-hop entrepreneurs to branch out into tech investment.

Calvin Broadus Jr. (better known as Snoop Dogg) closed a $45 million investment fund last year; Sean Carter, or “Jay Z” launched Marcy Venture Partners; the Chamillionaire, Hakeem Seriki, is an entrepreneur in residence at the LA-based firm Upfront Ventures and has his own app; and Nas, who founded Queensbridge Venture Partners, recently saw an exit when one of his companies, PillPack, was sold to Amazon for around $750 million.

“We are a group of guys and girls who’ve been doing business together over time. While we’ve been doing just fine on our own we thought that if we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals and pool our resources together we could do much more together than on our own,” says Harris.

Investors and entrepreneurs should think of Tech Cypha as an open-ended investment syndicate — like a rap version of SV Angels out of Silicon Valley.

“It’s people around our constituency who wake up knowing that there is dealing to be done,” says Geter.

While the Culture Genesis crew out of Los Angeles may seem slightly out of the Atlanta-based wheelhouse for Tech Cypha, the company’s co-founder Cedric Rogers spent a lot of time in Atlanta.

“I lived in Atlanta for many years and [Geter] and I have grown a relationship over seven years,” says Rogers. “I’m excited to work with these guys.”

For Harris, the opposite of moderate, immaculately polished with the spirit of a hustler and the swagger of a college kid, the investment into Culture Genesis is indicative of the type of deal that the syndicate will make. It’s got a media component, it’s leveraging new technology and it taps into the incredibly tech-forward community that comprises the rising middle class audience of urban (for lack of a better word) consumers.

Now the only question is whether Harris and Geder can find out what’s up and what’s happening next.

Indonesian e-commerce unicorn Bukalapak raises $50M

The chances are you may be familiar with Tokopedia, especially after it commanded a $7 billion valuation last November when it raised $1.1 billion from investors like Alibaba and SoftBank’s Vision Fund, but fewer people outside of Indonesia are aware of another sizable local online retail unicorn: Bukalapak. Smaller than Tokopedia in size, the company is […]

The chances are you may be familiar with Tokopedia, especially after it commanded a $7 billion valuation last November when it raised $1.1 billion from investors like Alibaba and SoftBank’s Vision Fund, but fewer people outside of Indonesia are aware of another sizable local online retail unicorn: Bukalapak.

Smaller than Tokopedia in size, the company is valued at $1 billion — it became Indonesia’s fourth unicorn one year ago. The country, which is Southeast Asia’s largest economy and has a population of over 260 million, also counts Tokopedia, Go-Jek and Traveloka in the billion-dollar club.

Founded in 2010, Bukalapak claims an impressive two million orders per day and 50 million registered users. On the seller side, it said its core e-commerce business covers products from four million SMEs, 500,000 kiosk vendors and 700,000 ‘independent’ micro-businesses in Indonesia. Bukalapak means ‘open a stall’ in Indonesia’s Bahasa language, and anyone can open a shopfront on the platform.

This week, Bukalapak landed another notable funding milestone after it raised $50 million Series D round from the Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund, a joint vehicle operated by Korean mutual fund Mirae Asset and Naver, the firm whose businesses include popular messaging service Line. This is the first time Bukalapak has disclosed the size of an investment in its business, although it did not give an updated valuation. The startup counts Alibaba’s Ant Financial, Indonesia telco Emtek, Sequoia India and Singaporean sovereign fund GIC among its existing backers.

Bukalapak is one of Indonesia’s leading online commerce platforms with four million registered users, a claimed two million daily transactions and a valuation of more than $1 billion

Bukalapak said it plans to use its new funds to grow opportunities for its SME retail partners and build out its tech platform, that’s likely to mean digital services such as insurance and a mobile wallet.

The company made a major push last year to partner with local ‘warung’ kiosk store retailers — who sell items much like street vendors — in a bit to differentiate itself from Tokopedia, which is much like Alibaba’s Taobao service for Indonesia, and develop an offering for consumers.

Beyond its e-commerce marketplace, Bukalapak also offers streaming and fintech products.

VC funding of cybersecurity companies hits record $5.3B in 2018

2018 wasn’t all bad. It turned out to be a record year for venture capital firms investing in cybersecurity companies. According to new data out by Strategic Cyber Ventures, a cybersecurity-focused investment firm with a portfolio of four cybersecurity companies, more than $5.3 billion was funneled into companies focused on protecting networks, systems and data across […]

2018 wasn’t all bad. It turned out to be a record year for venture capital firms investing in cybersecurity companies.

According to new data out by Strategic Cyber Ventures, a cybersecurity-focused investment firm with a portfolio of four cybersecurity companies, more than $5.3 billion was funneled into companies focused on protecting networks, systems and data across the world, despite fewer deals done during the year.

That’s up from 20 percent — $4.4 billion — from 2017, and up from close to double on 2016.

Part of the reason was several “mega” funding rounds, according to the company. Last year saw some of the big eight companies getting bigger, amassing a total of $1.3 billion in funding last year. That includes Tanium’s combined $375 million investment, Anchorfree’s $295 million and Crowdstrike’s $200 million.

According to the report, North America leads the rest of the world with $4 billion in VC funding, with Europe around neck-and-neck at $550 million each but growing year-over-year.

In fact, according to the data, California — where many of the big companies have their headquarters — accounts for nearly half of all VC funding in cybersecurity in 2018.By comparison, only about $300 million went to the “government” region — including Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC, where many government-backed or focused companies are located.

“As DC residents, we have to think there is more the city could do to entice cybersecurity companies to establish their headquarters in the city,” the firm said. Virtru, an email encryption and data privacy firm, drove the only funding of cybersecurity investment in Washington DC last year, they added.

“We’ve seen this trend in the broader tech ecosystem as well, with many, large international funds and investment outside of the U.S.,” the firm said. “Simply put, amazing and valuable technology companies are being created outside of the U.S.”

Looking ahead, Tanium and Crowdstrike are highly anticipated to IPO this year — so long as the markets hold stable.

“It’s still unclear what the public equity markets have in store in 2019,” the firm said. “A few weeks in and we’re already experiencing a government shutdown, trade wars with China, and expected slow down in global economic growth.”

“However, only time will tell what 2019 has in store,” the firm concluded.

Redpoint Ventures is raising another $400M to invest in Chinese companies

Redpoint Ventures is doubling down on China. The firm, headquartered in Menlo Park, has filed documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to raise $400 million across two new China-focused funds. The firm has set a $300 million target for its second flagship China fund, a significant increase from the $180 million it garnered […]

Redpoint Ventures is doubling down on China. The firm, headquartered in Menlo Park, has filed documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to raise $400 million across two new China-focused funds.

The firm has set a $300 million target for its second flagship China fund, a significant increase from the $180 million it garnered for its debut China fund in 2016. Redpoint is also raising a $100 million opportunity fund that will also focus on the Chinese tech startup market.

Redpoint launched its dedicated China fund, led by managing director David Yuan and partners Tony Wu and Reggie Zhang, in 2016. Wu isn’t listed on the latest filings and may have taken a step back from the China team. We’ve reached out to Redpoint for additional details.

Investing at the seed, early- and growth-stages, Redpoint’s portfolio includes Stripe, Snowflake and Brandless. Its China fund has deployed capital to Yixia, a video blogging platform valued at more than $3 billion; Renrenche.com, an online marketplace for used cars; and iDreamSky, a Chinese game distributor that recently debuted on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Following a banner year for venture capital fundraising wherein firms brought in $55.5 billion across 256 vehicles, per PitchBook, VCs are already off to a strong start in 2019. This week, Resolute Ventures, an early-stage firm based in San Francisco and Boston, closed its fourth fund on $75 million, and Silicon Valley-based BlueRun Ventures nabbed $130 million for its sixth flagship fund. Earlier this month, Lightspeed Venture Partners announced $560 million in capital commitments for its fourth China fund.

Flutterwave and Visa launch African consumer payment service GetBarter

Jake Bright Contributor Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa. More posts by this contributor Harley Davidson reveals more about its push into electric vehicles Venture capital, global expansion, blockchain and drones characterize African tech in 2018 Fintech startup Flutterwave has partnered with Visa to launch […]

Fintech startup Flutterwave has partnered with Visa to launch a consumer payment product for Africa called GetBarter.

The app based offering is aimed at facilitating personal and small merchant payments within countries and across Africa’s national borders. Existing Visa card holders can send and receive funds at home or internationally on GetBarter.

The product also lets non card-holders (those with accounts or mobile wallets on other platforms) create a virtual Visa card to link to the app.  A Visa spokesperson confirmed the product partnership.

GetBarter allows Flutterwave—which has scaled as a payment gateway for big companies through its Rave product—to pivot to African consumers and traders.

Rave is B2B, this is more B2B2C since we’re reaching the consumers of our customers,” Flutterwave CEO Olugbenga Agboola—aka GB—told TechCrunch.

The app also creates a network for clients on multiple financial platforms, such as Kenyan mobile money service M-Pesa, to make transfers across payment products, national borders, and to shop online.

“The target market is pretty much everyone who has a payment need in Africa. That includes the entire customer base of M-Pesa, the entire bank customer base in Nigeria, mobile money and bank customers in Ghana—pretty much the entire continent,” Agboola said.

Flutterwave and Visa will focus on building a GetBarter user base across mobile money and bank clients in Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, with plans to grow across the continent and reach those off the financial grid.

“In phase one we’ll pursue those who are banked. In phase-two we’ll continue toward those who are unbanked who will be able to use agents to work with GetBarter,” Agboola said.

Flutterwave and Visa will generate revenue through fees from financial institutions on cards created and on fees per transaction. A GetBarter charge for a payment in Nigeria is roughly 40 Naira, or 11 cents, according to Agboola.

With this week’s launch users can download the app for Apple and Android devices and for use on WhatsApp and USSD.

Founded in 2016, Flutterwave has positioned itself as a global B2B payments solutions platform for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad. It allows clients to tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber, Facebook, Booking.com, and African e-commerce unicorn Jumia.com.

Flutterwave has processed 100 million transactions worth $2.6 billion since inception, according to company data.

The company has raised $20 million from investors including Greycroft, Green Visor Capital, Mastercard, and Visa.

In 2018, Flutterwave was one of several African fintech companies to announce significant VC investment and cross-border expansion—see Paga, Yoco, Cellulant, Mines.ie, and  Jumo.

Flutterwave added operations in Uganda in June and raised a $10 million Series A round in October that saw former Visa CEO Joe Saunders join its board of directors.

The company also plugged into ledger activity in 2018, becoming a payment processing partner to the Ripple and Stellar blockchain networks.

Flutterwave hasn’t yet released revenue or profitability info, according to CEO Olugbenga Agboola.

Headquartered in San Francisco, with its largest operations center in Nigeria, the startup plans to add operations centers to South Africa and Cameroon, which will also become new markets for GetBarter.

Instamojo raises $7M to help SMEs and ‘micro-entrepreneurs’ in India sell online

In India, startups are quietly building the tools and platforms to enable a different kind of gig economy: one that allows ‘micro-entrepreneurs’ to tap growing access to the internet to sell goods and services online. One such figure helping this burgeoning economy is Instamojo, a seven-year-old Bengaluru-based startup, has pulled in a $7 million Series B […]

In India, startups are quietly building the tools and platforms to enable a different kind of gig economy: one that allows ‘micro-entrepreneurs’ to tap growing access to the internet to sell goods and services online.

One such figure helping this burgeoning economy is Instamojo, a seven-year-old Bengaluru-based startup, has pulled in a $7 million Series B as it aims to grow its reach to over one million SMEs and micro-SMEs in India.

Founded in 2012 as a side-project, Instamojo offers independent merchants the means to operate a mobile-optimized storefront, collect payment and even take micro-loans. In an interview with TechCrunch, CEO and co-founder Sampad Swain said the company has some 650,000 merchants, and it is adding a further 1,200 daily. Most of them, he said, tend to earn less than $30,000 in annual sales; with around half sell physical products, such as e-commerce items, and the remainder using Instamojo to invoice for physical services or sell digital items such as courses.

The idea is to tap into those just testing the water of online commerce and give them the tools to ramp up their fledgling enterprise as India’s internet ‘population’ rises past 400 million people.

“A lot of micro-merchants in India are adopting [India’s payment service] UPI through [services like Paytm and PhonePe] but once they become a little more serious, at around 10-20 sales per month, we ask: ‘Can we give you lending, logistics, online store?'” explained Swain, who started the business with co-founders Akash Gehani and Harshad Sharma.

It’s a market that few banks or financial institutions care about because small loans and sales require enormous scale to be relevant to them. But Swain is bullish, and he believes the company will pass one million retailers this year.

The new funding is led by existing investor AnyPay — the Japanese fintech startup — with other returning backers Kalaari Capital, Beenext, and angel investor Rashmi Kwatra joining. Gunosy Capital, the VC arm of Japanese news app Gunosy, joined as a new investor. The deal takes Instamojo to around $9 million from investors to date.

Instamojo collects revenue through a two percent cut on sales, a fee on successful deliveries and commission on its micro-loan product, which essentially gives merchants advanced credit (same day or next-day) on their sales. The loans — which Swain describes as ‘sachet’ lending — are from Instamojo’s recently-established Mojo Capital unit which includes partnerships with 12 financial organizations. In just four months, Instamojo has dished out around $4 million in credit — through 50,000-odd dispersions — and Swain predicts it will scale to a $30 million run rate before the end of this year.

“Even I am surprised!” he said of the rapid uptake.

Instamojo founders [left to right] Akash Gehani, Sampad Swain and Harshad Sharma

Unlike Meesho, a YC-backed micro-entrepreneurship service in India that recently raised $50 million, Instamojo isn’t dominated by e-commerce to friends, family and neighbors. Swain said typical Instamojo sellers look to reach audiences outside of people they know, with platforms like YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and others commonly used to reach audiences. Instamojo’s big selling point is ease of sale; that’s through a unique link that sellers share with customers for the checkout therein bypasses some of the challenges of online payment in India, which include somewhat cumbersome steps for card transactions.

“Sellers just create a link and share it with the customer,” Swain explained. “Essentially they click and check out with debit or credit card or other means. Over the years we realized that’s the best beginning for our business.”

That was Instamojo’s first launch, and since then it has built out online store options to manage inventory and product as well as the recent credit launch. Beyond growing its scale, Swain said the next big focus is on developing a community for merchants, where they can share tips, collaborate and more. He is also aiming to increase the tech team and raise Instamojo’s headcount from 120 right now to around 250 by 2020.

For now, Swain said the company isn’t seeking overseas opportunities, although he did admit that the business could expand to regions like Africa or Southeast Asia. But more immediately, he sees a huge opportunity in India, where believes there are 65 million SMEs, of which 25 million are “micro-merchants,” to tackle initially. The company is planning a Series C round for later this year to finance a deeper push.