PayPal -owned mobile payment app Venmo already offers a Mastercard-branded debit card, and it announced a year ago that it was planning to launch its first credit card as well. Today, it made good on that promise.
The Venmo Credit Card is a Visa card that offers personalized rewards and 3% cash back on eligible purchases. The cards come in five colors and include the user’s own Venmo QR code on the front.
Naturally, it also integrates with Venmo, allowing customers to track their spending and make payments from the mobile app. The card is currently available to select Venmo users, with plans to launch for the rest of the U.S. in the coming months.
The Nigerian founder didn’t offer much new on the Lagos-based firm’s expected IPO, but he did reveal Interswitch will revive investments in African startups.
Founded by Elegbe in 2002, Interswitch pioneered the infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly cash-based economy. The company now provides much of the rails for Nigeria’s online banking system that serves Africa’s largest economy and population of 200 million people. Interswitch has expanded to offer personal and business payment products in 23 Africa countries.
But Interswitch will soon be back in the business of making startup bets and acquisitions, according to Elegbe. “We’ve just certified a team and the plan is to begin to make those kinds of investments again.”
He offered a glimpse into the new fund’s focus. “This time around we want to make financial investments and also leverage the network that Interswitch has and put that at the disposal of these companies,” Elegbe told TechCrunch.
“We’ll be very selective in the companies we invest in. They should be companies that Interswitch clearly as an entity can add value to. They should be companies that help accelerate growth by the virtue of what we do and the customers that we have,” he said.
Recent venture events in African tech have likely pressed Interswitch to get back in the investing arena. As an ecosystem, VC on the continent has increased (roughly) by a factor of four over last five years, to around $2 billion in 2019. But most of that has come from single-entity investment funds, while corporate venture funding (and tech M&A activity) has remained light. That’s shifted over the last several months and the entire uptick has occurred in African fintech around entities that could be viewed as Interswitch competitors.
In July, Dubai’s Network International acquired Kenya -based payment mobile payment processing company DPO for $288 million. Shortly after the acquisition, DPO’s CEO Eran Feinstein said the company would pursue more African acquisitions on its own. In June, another mobile-money payment processor, MFS Africa, acquired digital finance company Beyonic. And in August, South Africa’s Standard Bank—Africa’s largest by assets and lending—acquired a stake in fintech security firm TradeSafe.
Since the rise of Safaricom’s dominant M-Pesa mobile money product in Kenya, fintech in Africa has become infinitely larger and more competitive. The sector has hundreds of startups and now receives nearly 50% of all VC investment on the continent.
The opportunity investors and founders are chasing is bringing Africa’s large unbanked population and underbanked consumers and SMEs online. Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data, and mobile-based finance platforms have presented the best use-cases to shift that across the region.
Interswitch has established itself as a leader in the Africa’s digital finance race. But it’s hard to envision how it can maintain or extend that role without an active venture arm that invests in and acquires innovative, young fintech startups.
No news on IPO
Elegbe had less to offer on Interswitch’s long-anticipated IPO. Asked if the company still planned to list publicly, he offered up a non-answer answer. “At this point in time we’re focused on growing the business and creating value for our customers and that is the our primary focus.”
When pressed “yes or no” on whether an IPO was still a possibility Elegbe confirmed it was. “We have private equity investors and at some point in the life of the business they want exits.” he said. “When it is time for them to exit there are various options on the table and an IPO is an option.”
There’s been talk of an Interswitch IPO for years. In 2016, Elegbe told TechCrunch a dual-listing on the Lagos and London Stock Exchanges was possible. Then word came through other Interswitch channels that it was delayed due to recession and currency volatility in Nigeria in 2017. In November 2019, a source with knowledge of the situation told TechCrunch on background, “an IPO is still very much in the cards; likely sometime in the first half of 2020.” Then came the Covid-19 crisis and the accompanying global economic slump, which may have delayed Interswitch’s IPO plans yet again.
If and when the company goes public, it would be a major event for Nigerian and African fintech. No VC backed fintech firm on the continent has listed globally. Exits for Interswitch’s investors would likely attract to Nigeria and broader Africa more VC from major funds—many of whom remain on the fence about startup opportunities on the continent.
Focus on Africa
On global product expansion, Interswitch plans to maintain an African focus for now, Elegbe explained. “There are enough opportunities for Interswitch on the continent. We’d like to be in as many African countries as possible…and position Interswitch as the (financial) gateway to the continent,” he said.
Elegbe explained the company would continue to work through alliances with major financial services firms to open up global financial access for its African client base. In August 2019, Interswitch launched a partnership that allows its Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network.
CEO Mitchell Elegbe concluded his Disrupt session with some perspective on balancing the stigmas and possibilities of doing business in Nigeria. Over recent years the country has shifted to become an unofficial hub for big tech expansion, VC investment, and startup formation in Africa. But Nigeria continues to have a difficult operating environment with regard to infrastructure and is often associated with political corruption and instability in its Northeast region due to the Boko Haram insurgency.
“Nigeria has a very large population and a very large market. We have lots of challenges that need to be solved, but it makes sense to me that lots of money is finding its way to Nigeria because the opportunity is there,” he said.
Elegbe’s advice to tech investors considering the country, “Don’t take a short-termist view. There are good people on the ground doing fantastic work—honest people who want to make impact. You need to seek those people out.”
Derek Norton and Jeremy Milken have known each other for twenty years. Over their longtime personal and professional relationship, the two Los Angeles-based serial entrepreneurs have invested in each other’s companies and investment firms, but never worked together until now.
Milken is taking the plunge into institutional investing, joining Norton as a partner in Watertower Ventures just as the firm prepares to close on a $50 million new fund.
It’s an auspicious time for both Los Angeles-based businessmen, as the LA venture community sees a wave of technology talent relocating from New York and San Francisco in the newly remote work culture created by the COVID-19 epidemic.
“I see two things happen. One people look at the effects of where the market’s going. We’re seeing a lot more companies that are starting up now as a result of a [the pandemic],” said Norton. “New company formation is happening faster than before covid. [And] a lot of venture capitalists that have relocated to LA. They’ve moved down to LA for lifestyle reasons and they’re saying that they don’t need to go back to San Francisco.”
For Milken, the opportunity to get into venture now is a function of the company creation and acceleration of digital adoption that Norton referenced. “The pandemic is accelerating change in the marketplace. Things that might have taken a decade are taking two years now,” Milken said.
These opportunities are creating an opening for Watertower Ventures in markets far beyond the Hollywood hills. The firm, whose original thesis focused on Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, is now cutting checks on investments in Texas and Utah, and spending much less time looking for companies in the Bay Area.
Norton’s latest fund is the only the most recent act in a career that has seen the investor traverse the financial services digital media and the early days of the internet. Norton built Digital Boardwalk, a pioneering internet service provider and the second commercial partner for the trailblazing browser service, Netscape.
Later, at Jeffries Technologies, and the $120 million Entertainment Media Ventures seed and early stage venture capital fund, Norton was intimately involved in bringing tech to market and focusing on early stage investments. With that in mind, the Watertower Ventures group, which launched in 2017 with a small, $5 million fund, is a return to those roots.
The plan, even at the time, was always to raise a larger fund. After founding and running the boutique investment banking business at Watertower Group, Norton knew he had to raise a starter fund to prove the thesis he was working on.
That thesis was to provide a bridge between early stage companies and large technology companies using the network that Norton has built in the Southern California tech and entertainment community over decades.
“We want to take our contacts at Google, Apple, Facebook, Disney, Microsoft, Cisco, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and other companies we believe should have a relationship with our portfolio companies, and help the CEOs and management teams more effectively do business development,” Norton told SoCal Tech when he closed his first fund in 2017. “We want to connect them to the right person at those companies to create a commercial relationship. That has a really large impact on early stage companies, who typically don’t have a deep network of relationships, and the ability to get to those type of people. It’s because of our advisory business that we have those relationships, and that’s also why those relationships stay fresh and active, versus people who aren’t in those businesses. It’s almost a full time job to maintain that, and that’s where our value-add is.”
Milken, who has spent his professional career in entrepreneurship, was ready to try investing, and was intimately familiar with Watertower and its portfolio, as an investor in the firm’s first $5 million fund.
“Two years ago we started having those conversations,” said Norton in an interview. “As Jeremy exited his business in September it created the opportunity to go out and raise together as the evolution of our partnership.”
Jeremy Milken, general partner, Watertower Ventures. Image Credit: Watertower Ventures
With the new capital coming in, Norton expects to back some 30 to 35 companies, he said. And, in a testament to the first fund’s performance, which has it in the top decile of venture funds for its vintage, Norton said he was able to raise the capital amidst the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 70 percent of the existing portfolio has been marked up, according to Norton.
Even though limited partners, the investors who back venture funds, were reluctant to commit capital to new firms in March and April, fundraising returned with a vengeance in June and July, according to Norton. The paper performance likely was enough to woo additional limited partners and individual investors including TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer, the former head of streaming at Disney.
Mayer’s presence in the firm’s investor base is a testament to the firm’s pitch to founders. “We view fundraising as a massive distraction for these early stage companies from their business. We try to deliver that network that’s ours to those founders,” said Norton.
“I think we’re in a unique position starting with a fresh fund here,” says Norton. “Uncertainty creates opportunity and people are bringing solutions. We haven’t noticed any slowdown whatsoever, we’re working with twenty five companies per week. Since the inception of the fund, we haven’t seen deal flow at this level.”
Will Hutchins is a managing director at Espresso Capital, a leading provider of innovative growth financing and venture debt solutions.
While a handful of tech companies like Zoom and Shopify are enjoying massive gains as a result of COVID-19, that’s obviously not the case for most. Weaker demand, slower sales cycles, and customer insistence on pricing concessions and payment deferrals have conspired to cloud the outlook for many tech companies’ growth.
Compounding these challenges, a lot of tech companies are struggling to raise capital just when they need it most. The data so far suggests that investors, particularly those focused on earlier stage financings, are taking a more cautious approach to new deals and valuations while they wait to see how individual companies perform and which way the economy will go. With the outcome of their planned equity financings uncertain, some tech companies are revisiting their funding strategies and exploring alternative sources of capital to fuel their continued growth.
Forecasting growth in a pandemic: a difficult job just got harder
For certain businesses, COVID-19’s impact on revenue was immediate. For others, the effects of slower economic activity and tighter budgets surfaced more gradually with deals in the funnel before the pandemic closing in April and May. Either way, in the second half of 2020, technology CFOs face a common challenge: How do you accurately forecast sales when there’s very little consensus around key issues such as when business activity will return to pre-COVID levels and what the long-term effects of the crisis might be?
Unfortunately, navigating this uncertainty is just as daunting a challenge for investors. These days, equity investors’ assessment of a company’s growth potential, and the value they are willing to pay for that growth, aren’t just impacted by their view of the company itself. Equally important is their assumptions about when the economy will recover and what the new normal might look like. This uncertainty can lead to situations where companies and their potential investors have materially different views on valuation.
Longer funding cycles, more investor-friendly deals
While the full impact of COVID was felt too late to have a material impact on Q1 deal volumes, recently released data from Pitchbook and the NVCA suggest that 2020 will see a significant decrease in the number of companies funded, possibly by as much 30 percent compared to 2019 among early stage companies. And, while it often takes several months to see evidence of broad trends in investment terms, anecdotal evidence indicates investors are seeking to mitigate risk by demanding additional protective provisions.
The new range boosts Lemonade’s expected value, a boon for insurtech startups like Root, Kin, MetroMile, Hippo and others. Had Lemonade been forced to reduce its pricing, the valuations of its contemporaries could have come under pressure when they went to raise more capital. But with Lemonade noting that the market will bear a higher price for its equity, it’s a good day for startups looking to rebuild insurance products in a digital-first manner.
This morning, let’s work out the Lemonade’s new valuation range, compare it to the company’s final private valuation and figure out if we can understand why the stock market may support the company at its new price. After that, we’ll share a few notes from folks about the IPO and how they think it might go, just for fun.
Lemonade intends on selling 11 million shares as before, so the company is not targeting a larger bloc of shares to disburse. At its new price range, Lemonade will sell shares worth between $286 million and $308 million, a few dozen million more at the top end of its new range than it had anticipated with its first IPO pricing interval ($253 million and $286 million).
The company has two valuation ranges: one without the 1.65 million shares its underwriters may purchase at its IPO price if they choose, and one including those shares. Without the extra equity, Lemonade is aiming at a $1.43 billion to $1.54 billion valuation; including the extra equity, Lemonade is worth $1.47 billion to $1.58 billion.
BizCapital, an online lender based in Brazil, has raised $12 million from a clutch of investors including the German development finance institution, the corporate venture capital fund of MercadoLibre and existing investors Quona Capital, Monashees, Chromo INvest and 42K Investments.
“This latest round reinforces investors’ confidence in BizCapital’s ability to innovate in the Latin American credit market amid challenging circumstances caused by Covid-19,” said Francisco Ferreira, the company’s chief executive, in a statement. “We have seen four times as many business credit inquiries on our site year over year, and we are ready to serve them.”
Founded in 2016, the company pitches itself as a fast and reliable way to access financing for working capital. It already has more than 5,000 customers across 1,200 cities in Brazil, according to a statement.
The company said it would use the money to develop new products for Brazilian small and medium-sized businesses and will expand into new distribution channels.
“With this new round of capital, we will continue to widen our product lineup, helping entrepreneurs during the entire lifecycle of their companies,” said Ferreira, in a statement. “There’s never been a more important time for innovation.”
In a reflection of their American counterparts, Brazil’s venture capital firms had slowed down the pace of their investments, but now it seems like a slew of new deals are coming to market.
The investment reflects the longterm confidence that investors have in the increasingly central position e-commerce and technology-enabled services will have in the future of the Latin American economy.
In the face of a global pandemic, retreat is a natural response. Not for Shelly Tygielski – a meditation teacher and community organizer – and Busy Philipps – an accomplished actor and activist for a range of causes. Both are rare examples of how embracing fear and using your platform can lead to big-scale, meaningful change. Pandemic of Love has raised over $21 million in just 12 weeks. It even led to a casual Sunday evening conversation with former Vice President, Joe Biden.
We chatted about the innate human urge to give, how to build a grassroots movement, and why mutual aid communities can be the simplest of human connection in a world of increased isolation.
Brendan Doherty: Welcome to Icons of Impact. I’m really excited today to have two extraordinary people who are teaming up. One is Shelly Tygielski, the founder of Pandemic of Love; she’s also a renowned meditation teacher. And we have Busy Philipps, an extraordinary actor and activist, who has helped Shelly amplify her incredible work. Shelly, I’d love to start with you: we are obviously in the midst of a pandemic, and you took that moment to step back and ask what you could do in response. Tell me about Pandemic of Love?
Shelly Tygielski: Sure! Pandemic of Love is the culmination of my life as a meditator for the last 20 years. It’s always been a personal practice, and for the last four years, I’ve been a full-time meditation teacher after leaving the corporate world. I wanted to figure out a way to not be afraid of what was coming, to choose love over fear. When we’re afraid we’re in fight or flight mode, but we have the ability to create a new default mode of empathy and action instead. That’s the seed behind Pandemic of Love.
Doherty: So what’s the model for Pandemic of Love?
Tygielski: It’s a mutual aid community, which is not something that I invented. It’s been around a very long time. Our grandparents, your parents, my parents, everybody used to use the phrase back in the day when people used to live in a community together… when they knew their neighbors. People would know what was happening, but since the Industrial Revolution and the Technological Revolution, we’ve lost that human connection. So, the theory behind this mutual aid community was people are in fear, they’re losing jobs, they need to stock up on supplies. But most people don’t even have enough money to make ends meet at the end of the week, so how do we expect them to now shelter successfully at home? The mutual aid community was designed in a simple way: there are two forms – one where people can “get help” and have their needs met for groceries, utility bills, gas, and other needs. And a “give help” for people who could be donors or patrons, those who have privilege and are able to fulfill those needs. Now we have over 600 volunteers who spend their time just making matches. That’s it, we’re matchmakers, money never touches our organization.
Doherty: Give us a quick stat – to date, how much money raised and what’s the average amount?
Tygielski: So to date, we are almost at 130,000 matches. Which means, at least 260,000 people have made a human connection. The average transaction is $145. And we’re over $21 million in transactions. We have micro-communities around the globe, everywhere from Australia, to the UK to Iceland, plus in the Caribbean, Latin America, and all across the US. This is a grassroots movement, it really is neighbor helping neighbor.
Doherty: Busy, you must come across so many folks who want you to amplify their cause or get behind it. How did you hear about this, and what drew you in? What resonated personally for you?
Busy Philipps: A friend of mine, Ashley Margolis, posted about what Shelly was starting to do on her own Instagram. And I’m always looking for ways to help… I’ve been involved in many charity organizations and seek different ways to help communities in need, especially those in my backyard. I know that people can get fatigued and feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the need. And there are different kinds of donors. You have to figure out different ways to reach people and have it make sense to them. A one-to-one connection was something that made so much sense, and I just knew that people really respond to that. For instance, at another amazing organization, Baby2Baby, we started posting Amazon wish lists instead of asking people for monetary donations. There was something that people loved about just like, “Oh yeah, I’ll buy this cute thing, since it’s already on my Instagram.” So that was what drew me to Shelly. I just wanted to put it out there, repost it. There are all kinds of people that follow me, from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, so I just put – “if you can help, maybe this is a thing you want to do; and if you need help, maybe this is the thing you want to do too.” It’s been incredible how people have really responded to it.
Doherty: Shelly, what did you experience after Busy got involved?
Tygielski: A surge of people coming to the site. I reached out to her on her Instagram and said, “thank you, you have no idea what this has meant.” We can match so many more people now, there’s always three people in need for every one person who donates. Every time somebody like Busy amplifies the message, it goes down to two- to- one for a short while, and we’re able to do more.
Philipps: I was thinking about this earlier today, we are currently in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests, and I’m trying to help engage a lot of my followers who are a majority white women — I know that because I get the analytics from Instagram. I’m trying to figure out ways to have them be involved and donate if they’re able. One really valuable thing that I’ve done for years, and advocated for other people who are in a position of comfort to do too, is to think about an amount of money where you wouldn’t blink an eye – to send your kids camp, or to buy yourself a new outfit to go to an event, nice things you’re able to do for yourself or your family — and match that with a comparable charitable donation.
Doherty: That also helps folks personalize it. The elegance of Pandemic of Love is that it’s stripped away of all of the fluff, and is really just about how you can connect someone in need with someone who has means in that moment; because that role could be reversed. Speaking as someone who has participated, I was paired with a young mother in North Georgia and after I supported her, we shared a bit. It felt very real suddenly, like I had a little micro-window into someone’s life.
Tygielski: Yes, that really is the most important part of it, honestly. It’s disruptive. In the business world, we always talk about how companies like Uber are disruptive. This movement is a disruption because it’s like, “Wait a minute, I don’t need this overhead and the staff to get this person help. And I know exactly where my gift is going.”
Doherty: What does this look like post-COVID-19? Is it one of those things that pops up to fit the need and then disappears? Does the model of an exclusively volunteer based organization work longer term given that it can be harder to maintain and relies on generosity of spirit?
Tygielski: Well, being a meditation teacher I live in the present. But I’m thinking about how the concept of mutual aid can be sustainable long after the pandemic is over. After this is all over, something new will emerge. So what does the new order look like? My “BHAG,” my “big, hairy, audacious, goal” is that I’d love to see the institutionalization of mutual aid. Why shouldn’t every municipality have a mutual aid community that’s formalized in some way?
Then there’s equity. People always have the need to give. It creates that connection constantly. We’re pivoting — like with the Navajo tribe. We’re in Minnesota. We’re in Atlanta. We’ve doubled our efforts. We’ve gotten more donors last weekend and we are allowing people in those cities to select whether or not they want to assist with specifically things like bail money or legal aid.
Doherty: Busy, with a platform of your size, often there is increased scrutiny. I had a good conversation with Jameela Jamil about this and about call out culture and cancel culture. I know even myself, especially in this moment, as a white person wanting to speak out and be even more active as an anti-racist … I’m still mindful of not wanting to get it wrong.
Philipps: You can’t get it wrong if you’re standing up for a thing that is right. It won’t be wrong. Sure, we can always do better, we can always learn better words to use, and we can always own our own ignorance and say, “I’m learning, I’m trying, I will do better.” But the baseline for me, especially if we’re shifting and talking about Black Lives Matter is simply: do you think that racism is okay? If the answer is no, then you think Black Lives Matter. In terms of showing up and using my platform to help the people who follow me use their ears on all kinds of social justice issues, it’s the same thing… there can be a fatigue, you can feel overwhelmed, you can be like “I don’t want to see that.” Well, you know, neither do my friends who live with this daily as their reality due to their skin tone. So I owe it to them to be uncomfortable and upset and own my own place in it and do what I can do in the ways I can do it. I can’t go to protests that are three blocks away right now because of COVID and because I have two small kids. But I do know I can donate, sign petitions, make phone calls.
Doherty: I also think, given that you have a mostly white female online audience base, that your standing up on these issues and speaking publicly to your audience is bringing new folks in — converting them, making the case accessible and relatable. And eventually, where I came down, is that any ridiculous fear I have of saying it wrong is nothing compared to the fear of being black in America today. So I’m 100% with you.
Philipps: I’m curious and excited to see where Shelly takes Pandemic of Love. I think that she’s right, we’re at a real turning point in our society. Where we go from here is truly up to every single one of us, and it involves both participation and a willingness to be open, to listen, and to know when to take a step back. I would say that the overarching thing — and I know Shelley agrees with me — is that people really do want to help. They do. Most people want to help, they just either feel overwhelmed or they don’t know where to start or they’re worried they’re going to make a mistake or they’re afraid of something. So, being able to strip it all away and just say like, “Shelly, this is Busy. You guys can help each other out”… that’s an incredibly powerful way to move forward.
Doherty: Thank you both, really appreciate you taking the time. Let’s give Pandemic of Love some lift!