Coinbase acquires Distributed Systems to build ‘Login with Coinbase’

Coinbase wants to be Facebook Connect for crypto. The blockchain giant plans to develop ‘Login with Coinbase’ or a similar identity platform for decentralized app developers to make it much easier for users to sign up and connect their crypto wallets. To fuel that platform, today Coinbase announced it has acquired Distributed Systems, a startup […]

Coinbase wants to be Facebook Connect for crypto. The blockchain giant plans to develop ‘Login with Coinbase’ or a similar identity platform for decentralized app developers to make it much easier for users to sign up and connect their crypto wallets. To fuel that platform, today Coinbase announced it has acquired Distributed Systems, a startup founded last year that was building identity standard for dApps called the Clear Protocol.

The five-person Distributed Systems team and its technology will join Coinbase. Three of the team members will work with Coinbase’s Toshi decentralized mobile browser team, while CEO Nikhil Srinivasan and one other co-founder are forming the new decentralized identity team that will work on the ‘Login with Coinbase’ product. They’ll be building it atop the “know your customer” anti-money laundering data Coinbase has on its 20 million customers. Srinivasan tells me the goal is to figure out “How can we allow that really rich identity data to enable a new class of applications?”

Distributed Systems had raised a $1.7 million seed round last year led by Floodgate and was considering raising a $4 million to $8 million round this summer. But Srinivasan says “No one really understood what we’re building”, and it wanted a partner with KYC data. It began talking to Coinbase Ventures about an investment, but after they saw Distributed Systems’ progress and vision, “they quickly tried to move to find a way to acquire us.”

Distributed Systems began to hold acquisition talks with multiple major players in the blockchain space, and the CEO tells me it was deciding between going to “Facebook, or Robinhood, or Binance, or Coinbase”, having been in formal talks with at least one of the first three. Coinbase “were able to convince us they were making big bets, weaving identity across their products.” The financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Coinbase’s plan to roll out the ‘Login with Coinbase’ platform is an SDK that others apps could integrate. That mimics the way Facebook colonized the web with its SDK and login buttons that splashed its brand in front of tons of new and existing users. This made turned Facebook into a fundamental identity utility beyond its social network.

Developers eager to improve conversions on their sign up flow could turn to Coinbase instead of requiring users to set up whole new accounts and deal with crypto-specific headaches of complicated keys and procedures for connecting their wallet to make payments. One prominent dApp developer told me yesterday that forcing users to set up the MetaMask browser extension for identity was the part of their signup flow where they’re losing the most people.

This morning Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong confirmed these plans to work on an identity SDK. When Coinbase investor Garry Tan of Initialized Capital wrote that “The main issue preventing dApp adoption is lack of native SDK so you can just download a mobile app and a clean fiat to crypto in one clean UX. Still have to download a browser plugin and transfer Eth to Metamask for now Too much friction”, Armstrong replied “On it :)”

In effect, Coinbase and Distributed Systems could build a safer version of identity than we get offline. As soon as you give your social security number to someone or it gets stolen, it can be used anywhere without your consent and that leads to identity theft. Coinbase wants to build a vision of identity where you can connect to decentralized apps while retaining control. “Decentralized identity will let you prove that you own an identity, or that you have a relationship with the Social Security Administration, without making a copy of that identity” writes Coinbase’s PM for identity. “If you stretch your imagination a little further, you can imagine this applying to your photos, social media posts, and maybe one day your passport too.”

Considering Decentralized Systems and Coinbase are following the Facebook playbook, they may soon have competition from the social network. It’s spun up its own blockchain team and an identity and single sign-on platform for dApps is one of the products I think Facebook is most likely to build. But given Coinbase’s strong reputation in the blockchain industry and its massive head start in terms of registered crypto users, today’s acquisition well positions it to be how we connect our offline identity with the rising decentralized economy.

To fight the scourge of open offices, ROOM sells rooms

Noisy open offices don’t foster collaboration, they kill it, according to a Harvard study that found the less-private floor plan led to a 73 percent drop in face-to-face interaction between employees and a rise in emailing. The problem is plenty of young companies and big corporations have already bought into the open office fad. But […]

Noisy open offices don’t foster collaboration, they kill it, according to a Harvard study that found the less-private floor plan led to a 73 percent drop in face-to-face interaction between employees and a rise in emailing. The problem is plenty of young companies and big corporations have already bought into the open office fad. But a new startup called ROOM is building a prefabricated, self-assembled solution. It’s the Ikea of office phone booths.

The $3495 ROOM One is a sound-proofed, ventilated, powered booth that can be built in new or existing offices to give employees a place to take a video call or get some uninterrupted flow time to focus on work. For comparison, ROOM co-founder Morten Meisner-Jensen says “Most phone booths are $8,000 to $12,000. The cheapest competitor to us is $6,000 — almost twice as much.” Though booths start at $4,500 from TalkBox and $3,995 from Zenbooth, they tack on $1,250 and $1,650 for shipping while ROOM ships for free. They’re all dividing the market of dividing offices.

The idea might seem simple, but the booths could save businesses a ton of money on lost productivity, recruitment, and retention if it keeps employees from going crazy amidst sales call cacophony. Less than a year after launch, ROOM has hit a $10 million revenue run rate thanks to 200 clients ranging from startups to Salesforce, Nike, NASA, and JP Morgan. That’s attracted a $2 million seed round from Slow Ventures that adds to angel funding from Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen. “I am really excited about it since it is probably the largest revenue generating company Slow has seen at the time of our initial Seed stage investment” says partner Kevin Colleran.

“It’s not called ROOM because we build rooms” Meisner-Jensen tells me. “It’s called ROOM because we want to make room for people, make room for privacy, and make room for a better work environment.”

Phone Booths, Not Sweatboxes

You might be asking yourself, enterprising reader, why you couldn’t just go to Home Depot, buy some supplies, and build your own in-office phone booth for way less than $3,500. Well, ROOM’s co-founders tried that. The result was…moist.

Meisner-Jensen has design experience from the Danish digital agency Revolt that he started befor co-founding digital book service Mofibo and selling it to Storytel. “In my old job we had to go outside and take the class, and I’m from Copenhagen so that’s a pretty cold experience half the year.” His co-founder Brian Chen started Y Combinator-backed smart suitcase company Bluesmart where he was VP of operations. They figured they could attack the office layout issue with hammers and saws. I mean, they do look like superhero alter-egos.

Room co-founders (from left): Brian Chen and Morten Meisner-Jensen

“To combat the issues I myself would personally encounter with open offices, as well as colleagues, we tried to build a private ‘phone booth’ ourselves” says Meisner-Jensen. “We didn’t quite understand the specifics of air ventilation or acoustics at the time, so the booth got quite warm – warm enough that we coined it ‘the sweatbox.'”

With ROOM, they got serious about the product. The 10 square foot ROOM One booth ships flat and can be assembled in under 30 minutes by two people with a hex wrench. All it needs is an outlet to plug into to power its light and ventilation fan. Each is built from 1088 recycled plastic bottles for noise cancelling so you’re not supposed to hear anything from outsides. The whole box is 100 percent recyclable plus ith can be torn down and rebuilt if your startup implodes and you’re being evicted from your office.

The ROOM One features a bar-height desk with outlets and a magnetic bulletin board behind it, though you’ll have to provide your own stool of choice. It actually designed not to be so comfy that you end up napping inside, which doesn’t seem like it’d be a problem with this somewhat cramped spot. “To solve the problem with noise at scale you want to provide people with space to take a call but not camp out all day” Meisner-Jensen notes.

Booths by Zenbooth, Cubicall, and TalkBox (from left)

A Place To Get Into Flow

Couldn’t office managers just buy noise-cancelling headphones for everyone? “It feels claustrophobic to me” he laughs, but then outlines why a new workplace trend requires more than headphones. “People are doing video calls and virtual meetings much, much more. You can’t have all these people walking by you and looking at your screen. [A booth is] also giving you your own space to do your own work which I don’t think you’d get from a pair of Bose. I think it has to be a physical space.”

But with plenty of companies able to construct physical spaces, it will be a challenge for ROOM to convey to subtleties of its build quality that warrant its price. “The biggest risk for ROOM right now are copycats” Meisner-Jensen admits. “Someone entering our space claiming to do what we’re doing better but cheaper.” Alternatively, ROOM could lock in customers by offering a range of office furniture products. The co-founder hinted at future products, saying ROOM is already receiving demand for bigger multi-person prefab conference rooms and creative room divider solutions.

The importance of privacy goes beyond improved productivity when workers are alone. If they’re exhausted from overstimulation in a chaotic open office, they’ll have less energy for purposeful collaboration when the time comes. The bustle could also make them reluctant to socialize in off-hours, which could lead them to burn out and change jobs faster. Tech companies in particular are in a constant war for talent, and ROOM Ones could be perceived as a bigger perk than free snacks or a ping-pong table that only makes the office louder.

“I don’t think the solution is to go back to a world of cubicles and corner offices” Meisner-Jensen concludes. It could take another decade for office architects to correct the overenthusiasm for open offices despite the research suggesting their harm. For now, ROOM’s co-founder is concentrating on “solving the issue of noise at scale” by asking “How do we make the current workspaces work in the best way possible?”

Karma raises $12M to let restaurants and grocery stores offer unsold food at a discount

Karma, the Stockholm-based startup that offers a marketplace to let local restaurants and grocery offer unsold food at a discount, has raised $12 million in Series A funding. Swedish investment firm Kinnevik led the round, with participation from U.S. venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, appliance manufacturer Electrolux, and previous backer VC firm e.ventures. It […]

Karma, the Stockholm-based startup that offers a marketplace to let local restaurants and grocery offer unsold food at a discount, has raised $12 million in Series A funding.

Swedish investment firm Kinnevik led the round, with participation from U.S. venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, appliance manufacturer Electrolux, and previous backer VC firm e.ventures. It brings total funding to $18 million.

Founded in late 2015 by Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren, Ludvig Berling, Mattis Larsson and Elsa Bernadotte, and launched the following year, Karma is an app-based marketplace that helps restaurants and grocery stores reduce food waste by selling unsold food at a discount direct to consumers.

You simply register your location with the iOS or Android app and can browse various food merchants and the food items/dishes they have put on sale. Once you find an item to your liking, you pay through the Karma app and pick up the food before closing time. You can also follow your favourite establishments and be alerted when new food is listed each day.

“One third of of all food produced is wasted,” Karma CEO Ståhlberg Nordegren tells me. “We’re reducing food waste by enabling restaurants and grocery stores to sell their surplus food through our app… Consumers like you and me can then buy the food directly through the app and pick it up as take away at the location. We’re helping the seller reduce food waste and increase revenue, consumers get great food at a reduced price, and we help the environment redistributing food instead of wasting it”.

Since Karma’s original launch in its home country of Sweden, the startup has expanded to work with over 1,500 restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, cafes and bakeries to help reduce food waste by selling surplus food to 350,000 Karma users. It counts three of Sweden’s largest supermarkets as marketplace partners, as well as premium restaurants such as Ruta Baga and Marcus Samuelsson’s Kitchen & Table, and major brands such as Sodexo, Radisson and Scandic Hotels.

In February, the company expanded to the U.K., and is already working with over 400 restaurants in London. They include brands such as Aubaine, Polpo, Caravan, K10, Taylor St Barista’s, Ned’s Noodle Bar, and Detox Kitchen.

Ståhlberg Nordegren says Karma’s most frequent users are young professionals between the age of 25-40, who typically work in the city and pick up Karma on their way home. “Students and the elderly also love the app as it’s a great way to discover really good food for less,” he adds.

Meanwhile, will use the funding to continue to develop its product range, especially within supermarkets, and to expand to new markets, starting with Europe. The company plans to expand from 35 people based in Stockholm today to over 100 across 5 markets by the end of next year and over 150 by mid 2020.

Chinese Tesla rival Nio files to raise $1.8 billion in US IPO

Tesla may be looking to go private, but Chinese rival Nio is going the other way after it filed to raise $1.8 billion in an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. Nio was started in 2014, initially as NextCar, by Bin Li, an entrepreneur who founded online automotive services platform Bitauto. The company is backed by Chinese […]

Tesla may be looking to go private, but Chinese rival Nio is going the other way after it filed to raise $1.8 billion in an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange.

Nio was started in 2014, initially as NextCar, by Bin Li, an entrepreneur who founded online automotive services platform Bitauto. The company is backed by Chinese internet giants Baidu and Tencent among others, and it has developed two vehicles so far: the EP9 supercar and ES8.

The former is really a concept/racer car — it broke the electric vehicle speed record last year — but the ES8, pictured above, is a car designed for the masses which is priced at 448,000 RMB, or around $65,000.

Nio opened sales for the ES8 last year but it only began shipping in June. Thus, to date, it has fulfilled just 481 orders, although it claims that there are 17,000 customers who put down reservations waiting in the wings.

That means that, essentially, it is pre-revenue at this point.

The company reported revenue of $6.9 million as of the end of June — so one month of deliveries — with a total loss of $502 million for 2018 to date. Last year, Nio lost $759 million in 2017, that included no revenue and nearly $400 million spent on R&D.

Nio may be in the same space as Tesla, but its approach differs from the U.S. firm. The company operates ‘clubhouses’ where it sells to new customers and allows existing owners to come to spend time, while it also goes direct to consumer with mobile-based sales. (Not, unlike, say an early Xiaomi model.)

Nio’s pricing is more focused on mid-market and, without a charger network like Tesla (most Chinese households would struggle to charge at home), it has developed its own unique way to handle battery charging. Its vehicles support battery swapping at dedicated stations while it operates a range of roaming charging trucks can  reach users who are low on juice.

Those on-demand charging services come as part of a subscription-based package which will add further revenue beyond car sales. Further down the line, the company said its vehicles will be compatible with the national EV charging network China is developing so that’ll help on the charging front, too.

Like China’s infrastructure play, Nio itself is very much a work in progress.

Indeed, case in point, it doesn’t yet operate its own factory.

Right now, state-owned JAC Motors handles product but Nio has pledged to invest $650 million to construct its own manufacturing plant in Shanghai. Nio’s current order backlog will take six to nine months to process, according to the filing, but its own factory could mean orders are dispatched to customers within 28 days of purchase.

The interior of the NIO ES8

The company’s focus is China, but Nio has global roots. Shanghai is its headquarters and home to nearly 2,500 staff, but it also has teams in Munich (design), San Jose (software and self-driving) and London and Oxford in the UK, which handle vehicle concepts.

Its executive team is predominantly Chinese but one familiar name is Padmasree Warrior who is the head of Nio’s U.S. business. The former Motorola CTO joined the company in 2015 after calling time on Cisco, where she spent seven years and had been chief technology and strategy officer.

Despite an international setup, there’s no word in the filing on whether Nio has a timeframe for selling vehicles outside of China. For now, the company cites analyst data claiming that “China is a clear leader in the global EV market” with sales growing from 21,800 in 2013 to 740,900 units last year. That’s despite the Chinese government cutting back on some of its generous subsidies aimed at encouraging early ownership of EVs and eco-friendly hybrid cars.

Singapore’s Openspace Ventures closes new $135M fund for Southeast Asia

It seems like everyone is out there raising new funds in Southeast Asia. Weeks after we reported Golden Gate Ventures hit a first close on its third fund aimed at $100 million, so Openspace Ventures — the Singapore-based firm formerly known as NSI — has announced a final close of $135 million for its second […]

It seems like everyone is out there raising new funds in Southeast Asia. Weeks after we reported Golden Gate Ventures hit a first close on its third fund aimed at $100 million, so Openspace Venturesthe Singapore-based firm formerly known as NSI — has announced a final close of $135 million for its second fund.

Founded in 2014 by entrepreneur Hian Goh and finance exec Shane Chesson, Openspace is best known for being an early backer of Indonesian ride-hailing unicorn Go-Jek. A selection of its other investments includes fintech startup FinAccel, e-commerce player Love Bonito, restaurant booking service Chope, health-focused insurance brokerage CXA Group, and bread maker Rotimatic.

Openspace specializes in Series A with a typical check size of $3 million to $5 million, and capital for follow-on deals. Goh told TechCrunch around the time of the first close that the plan is to expand the focus on startups operating marketplaces and/or the e-commerce space to cover emerging verticals such as fintech, health tech and education.

Chesson, his partner, said that in areas like healthcare, progress from startups has been “remarkable” while he sees “great opportunities” to develop new kinds of consumer-centric brands in e-commerce, both B2C and B2B.

Beyond vertical expansion, the firm may also seek opportunities in new geographies — it invested alongside Go-Jek in Bangladesh-based on-demand service Pathao, for example. It also plans to utilize local teams in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam and perhaps expand its network to more markets, too.

The target for the capital is Southeast Asia, a region of more than 650 million consumers where rising internet access is creating new opportunities for tech startups and internet-based businesses.

A report co-authored by Google last year forecast the region’s internet economy reaching $200 billion per year by 2025, up from $31 million in 2015. Already, Southeast Asia has more internet users than the U.S. population, and the total value of its digital economy was said to reach $50 million in 2017.

Between 2016 and 2017, investors pumped over $12 billion into Southeast Asia-based startups. It’s an impressive stat, but most of the capital was captured by the largest businesses and that’s why more seed and early-stage funds are needed — and are arriving — in the region.

The Openspace Ventures team

At investor level, there certainly seems to be a growing appetite among global LPs, the investors who fund the funds.

Openspace, for example, was originally targeting a $125 million raise, but the firm said it saw significant interest and so raised the additional figure to “embed deeper regional and operating capabilities” into its team.

Singapore sovereign fund Temasek and U.S. PE firm StepStone Group are among the named LPs. Openspace said others include pension funds, university endowments, insurance companies and family offices across the U.S., Europe, Japan, China and Australia.

“For most of these LPs, Openspace is their first and only investment in this region. For some, they have returned and increased their commitment since fund one,” Chesson told TechCrunch via email. “It has taken some time for LPs of this caliber to get comfortable with the region, but we are pleased that we now have the track record at the fund and the interest in the region to bring them on board.”

“This is a big change from a few years back and is a testament to all the entrepreneurs and ecosystem partners who have developed this market so rapidly. There is still much work to be done though in fulfilling the promise, realizing gains, filling in gaps in the regional capability set and we look forward to being part of this,” he added.

This second pot has already been open and, combined with a $90 million debut fund, the firm has backed 19 startups to date. That portfolio, it said, has raised over $2.6 billion in follow-on capital which, even without $2 billion from Go-Jek, is pretty impressive. Indeed, Openspace says its inaugural fund is ranked the third best performing VC fund in the 2003-2015 bracket, according to investment tracking service Preqin.

China’s Didi beefs up its newly-independent car services business with an acquisition

A week after spinning out its driver services business and giving it $1 billion in investment capital, Didi Chuxing has added to it through an acquisition. Xiaoju Automobile Solutions (XAS), which the Didi spinout is called, announced today it has bought Hiservice, a three-year-old company that provides after-service care for car owners using a digital platform. […]

A week after spinning out its driver services business and giving it $1 billion in investment capital, Didi Chuxing has added to it through an acquisition.

Xiaoju Automobile Solutions (XAS), which the Didi spinout is called, announced today it has bought Hiservice, a three-year-old company that provides after-service care for car owners using a digital platform.

The deal was undisclosed, but XAS said that Hiservice will be combined with its maintenance and repair division to form a new unit that’s focused on car-owner services such as maintenance, parts and components. That’ll be called Xiaoju Auto Care (小桔养车) for those of you who are keeping up with the names of these Didi subsidiaries.

That auto care business will be jointly run by Yinbo Yi, who had run Didi’s auto care business, and Hiservice founder Cheng Qian, Didi confirmed. The new business claims 28 physical maintenance centers across seven cities in Asia.

Didi’s move to create XAS, which removes an asset-heavy business from the core Didi books, is seen by many as a sign that the company plans to go public soon. Unsurprisingly, Didi isn’t commenting on that at this point. The company was last valued at $56 billion when it raised a $4 billion round late last year — it has since added a $500 million strategic investment from travel company Booking Holdings.

While it is organizing its China-based business, Didi has also spent this year expanding into new markets. It has launched in Mexico, Australia and Taiwan while it acquired Uber rival 99 in Brazil. It is also edging close to launching a taxi-booking service in Japan via a joint venture with SoftBank.

WeWork China rival Ucommune raises $43.5M more at a $1.8B valuation

Barely weeks after WeWork China raised $500 million, one of its main rivals is refueling its tanks too. Ucommune — the company formerly known as UrWork until a WeWork lawsuit forced a rebrand — announced its $43.5 million Series C round. Beijing-based Ucommune’s new round was led by real estate-focused investment firms Prosperity Holdings and RK […]

Barely weeks after WeWork China raised $500 million, one of its main rivals is refueling its tanks too. Ucommune — the company formerly known as UrWork until a WeWork lawsuit forced a rebrand — announced its $43.5 million Series C round.

Beijing-based Ucommune’s new round was led by real estate-focused investment firms Prosperity Holdings and RK Properties. The company said the deal gives its business a $1.8 billion post-money valuation. to date, it has raised around $450 million from investors, according to Crunchbase data. For comparison, WeWork China has pulled in $1 billion overall since being spun out of WeWork’s global business one year ago.

Both investors are strategic, according to Ucommune. It said that its partnership with Prosperity, in particular, will help it expand its presence in Southeast Asia, where it has a presence in Singapore and an investment in Indonesia. While it will work with RK Properties to upgrade its existing office spaces, perhaps in the style of WeWork’s ‘Powered By We’ program.

In total, Ucommune claims to manage 160 locations in over 35 cities. That’s primarily China but outside of Asia its reach does include New York, London, Hong Kong and Taiwan, too.

News of this new funding comes one day after another Chinese co-working brand, My Dream, raised $120 million.

Three big names is nothing though, the field used to be comprised of dozens of players. Some have died out but the market has also seen plenty of consolidation. WeWork bought its closest rival Naked Hub in a deal reportedly worth $400 million. Meanwhile, Ucommune has made four acquisitions this year, including Workingdom for around $45 million this summer.

India’s budget hotel network OYO moves into wedding banquet services

OYO Rooms, the India-based budget hotel network that’s backed by SoftBank’s Vision fund, has prioritized expansion into China this year but that’s not all it’s up to. Back home in India, it just moved into the event hosting space through the acquisition of a wedding banquet company. Today, OYO said it has acquired Weddingz.in, a three-year-old company that […]

OYO Rooms, the India-based budget hotel network that’s backed by SoftBank’s Vision fund, has prioritized expansion into China this year but that’s not all it’s up to. Back home in India, it just moved into the event hosting space through the acquisition of a wedding banquet company.

Today, OYO said it has acquired Weddingz.in, a three-year-old company that claims to be India’s largest wedding planner with 4,000 venues across 15 cities. The company had raised over $1 million from investors, and it says that it handles 1,500 weddings per quarter.

The deal is undisclosed and it is OYO’s third acquisition to date, all of which have come this year. Previously it snapped up a boutique apartment operator and then IOT startup AblePlus, but this transaction marks its first move outside of its core hotels and homes segment. The company said it is making the move because wedding banquets are “a fragmented, low yield, broken customer service business” that OYO believes matches with its experience of digitizing hotels and real estate.

“At OYO, our experience ranges from end-to-end management of homes, villas, small asset to hotels with 100+ rooms while running successful businesses for our asset partners and all these facets will be of utmost importance while operating in the wedding industry that in the dire need of fundamental changes and improvements,” OYO CSO Maninder Gulati said in a statement.

OYO hinted in its announcement today that it has other real estate projects in mind to expand further beyond hotels. That core focus is its affordable hotel network that it says spans 5,500 exclusive hotels in over 160 cities across India, China, Malaysia and Nepal.

OYO announced its move into China this summer and in two months it claims to have reached 1,000 chains across 28 locations in the country with a focus on serving middle-income customers.

The company has been linked with an investment from internet giant Tencent to push on in China, but so far nothing has been confirmed. OYO does count NASDAQ-listed China Lodging, which was formerly known as Huazhu Hotels and is valued at $6.8 billion, as a strategic partner on the ground there though. China Lodging invested $10 million last year as a follow-on to OYO’s $250 million Series D, which was led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

Three Indonesian tech unicorns unite to back digital insurance startup

It’s almost unheard of to see three unicorns join forces to fund a startup, but that’s exactly what has happened in Indonesia. Ride-hailing company Go-Jek, e-commerce firm Tokopedia and travel booking startup Traveloka — each of which is valued in the billions of U.S. dollars — have come together to provide a Series A funding […]

It’s almost unheard of to see three unicorns join forces to fund a startup, but that’s exactly what has happened in Indonesia.

Ride-hailing company Go-Jek, e-commerce firm Tokopedia and travel booking startup Traveloka — each of which is valued in the billions of U.S. dollars — have come together to provide a Series A funding round for PasarPolis, a digital insurance startup in Indonesia aiming to tap Southeast Asia’s growing internet economy.

PasarPolis started out as an insurance comparison site but today it offers micro- and modular-insurance online. Go-Jek, Tokopedia and Traveloka are three of its major clients through which it offers ‘click box’ policies that are bundled with ride-hailing trips, e-commerce sales and travel deals.

The round itself is undisclosed but TechCrunch understands that it is in range of $5-8 million, as was earlier reported by Deal Street Asia.

PasarPolis founder and CEO Cleosent Randing told TechCrunch in an interview that the deal was strategic and aimed at developing new products with the three companies, which he estimates provide “access to 100 million insurable hits per month.” He said that the startup could be picky because it is already cash flow positive.

“We were very very selective with this round, it’s something we are keeping quite low profile,” he explained. “It’s more of how we can be the provider of choice for the largest digital companies in Indonesia… we feel it’s a strategic investment and collaboration to advance micro insurance via the internet.

“Do they believe in the vision and can they help make the vision a reality but giving customers much cheaper, more modular insurance which is more relevant in today’s digital economy?” he added.

[Left to right:] Tokopedia COO Melissa Siska Juminto, Go-Jek chief human resources officer Monica Oudang, PasarPolis founder & CEO Cleosent Randing, Minister of Communications and Informatics Rudiantara, and Traveloka SVP of business development Caesar Indra

Beyond obvious consumer-focused products, PasarPolis has developed programs such as life insurance for Go-Jek drivers, and health care initiatives for SMEs that sell product on Tokopedia. In the travel space, he pointed out that growth in insurance revenue for companies like Expedia is outstripping ticket sale growth which bodes well for Traveloka.

PasarPolis is currently waiting on the result of an application for an insurance license which will give it new options for products beyond its current setup of working with insurers on underwriting. That’ll take some time, however, and right now the focus is on developing new insurance products, cementing its position in the market and also expanding into new markets in Southeast Asia — which now has more internet users than the entire population of the U.S., according to a report co-authored by Google.

Its work with Go-Jek will take it into markets like Vietnam and Thailand — where Go-Jek is expanding its ride-hailing business — but Randing said he is also in talks with other companies and insurance providers to offer more modular options for consumers. That could take the form of usage-based car insurance, or cover for public transport-based delays, he explained.

“Our goal is to make insurance less expensive than half of cup of a Starbucks coffee,” Randing said. Adding that the company may look for new funding in early 2019 as it grows its regional footprint.

Interestingly, PasarPolis has already gone overseas by tapping India for talent — which is something Go-Jek and others have also done. Randing said the company has 15-20 engineers in Bangalore, while the core team, partner support and tech integration staff are housed in Indonesia.

Taiwan startup FunNow gets $5M Series A to help locals in Asian cities find last-minute things to do

“Instant booking” apps that let tourists sign up for activities on very short notice have been in the news a lot lately, partly because of Klook’s new unicorn status, but also because of the proliferation of startups in the space, especially in Asia. With so many instant booking apps, are there any niches left to […]

“Instant booking” apps that let tourists sign up for activities on very short notice have been in the news a lot lately, partly because of Klook’s new unicorn status, but also because of the proliferation of startups in the space, especially in Asia. With so many instant booking apps, are there any niches left to fill? FunNow thinks so. Instead of targeting tourists, FunNow serves locals who want to find new things to do in their cities. The Taipei, Taiwan-based startup announced today that it has raised a $5 million Series A led by the Alibaba Entrepreneur Fund, with participation from CDIB, a returning investor, Darwin Venture and Accuvest. The capital will be used to expand FunNow into Southeast Asian and Japanese cities.

Along with a pre-A round closed last July, its newest funding brings FunNow’s total raised since its launch in November 2015 to $6.5 million. FunNow currently claims 500,000 members and 3,000 vendors, who provide more than 20,000 activities and services daily. Co-founder and CEO T.K. Chen says the startup will focus on building its presence in Hong Kong, Okinawa, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Osaka and Tokyo.

One noteworthy fact about its Series A is the participation of Alibaba, which is beefing up its online-to-offline (or O2O, the business of enabling users to book and pay for offline services) offerings as competitor Meituan-Dianping prepares to go public in Hong Kong. A roster of Alibaba apps, including Koubei for local bookings, food delivery platform Ele.me and travel app Feizhu, compete against Meituan-Dianping, which describes itself as a “one-stop super app” because it offers all those services.

A not-for-profit initiative, the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund supports startups that might eventually contribute to the tech giant’s ecosystem. While Alibaba’s O2O apps are focused on capturing a bigger share away from Meituan-Dianping in China, Chen says future synergies may include listing FunNow’s activities on Koubei so Chinese tourists can continue using the app when they travel. (Chen added that Alibaba wants FunNow to expand in Southeast Asia as soon as possible.)

Even with a backer like Alibaba, however, the obvious question is how does FunNow compare with other instant booking apps? The most notable ones are Klook and KKday, but other players include Headout, Voyagin, GetYourGuide, Culture Trip, Peek and even Airbnb’s new “Experiences” feature.

Chen, who notes Klook’s Series A in 2015 was also $5 million, says FunNow’s deep dive into the local market sets it apart. Its biggest categories are last-minute hotel bookings, like hot spring resorts in Taipei that offer rooms for blocks of several hours in addition to overnight stays; restaurants and bars; massages and other spa services; and events like music festivals and parties.

Chen adds that catering to locals looking for fun stuff to do in their own cities means FunNow’s user engagement is high, with 70% of each month’s gross merchandise volume from repeat customers. The rest comes from first-time users and about 60% of people make another booking within 30 days after their first purchase. FunNow expects to make revenue of $16 million in 2018, three times what it made in 2017.

Most of FunNow’s users are young, in the 25-to-35 age bracket. “We are like Uber, but for booking restaurants, massages, hotels or other kinds of activities around you. We are also targeting spontaneous consumers, because almost all of our bookings are for the next 15 minutes to hour. If you look at our data, 80% of our bookings are for the next hour,” says Chen.

The company tailors its technology platform to local users, too, and relies on a patented algorithm that makes real-time availability calculations to prevent overbookings by syncing with merchant databases. Chen says users can see all available slots based on their location and search perimeters in less than 0.1 seconds and updates in real-time, so people don’t click on something only to find it’s no longer available.

FunNow also screens vendors before adding them to the platform and will delist businesses that rate below 3.5 stars. The convenience is what draws users back to FunNow instead of, say, just reading reviews on Google or asking friends for recommendations and then messaging or calling for a reservation.

Another challenge that potentially arise in the future is if Klook, KKday or other instant booking apps for tourists decide to start serving locals as well. Chen says he believes those startups will continue focusing on the growing tourist market and demand for half-day or all-day tours.

“If they want to cut into our play, they need to first find merchants one by one and also deploy strong systems to the merchant side,” says Chen. “However, once merchants use our system, it’s unlikely for them to use two systems to control availability, because you’d need to update all of them to avoid overbooking.”

Despite its first mover advantage, FunNow is also constantly improving its tech, Chen says. “Even in a minute, a business might have sold the seat to a walk-in customer, causing a overbooking and that’s the worst thing to see.”