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YC-backed Cashfree raises $35.3 million for its payments platform

Cashfree, an Indian startup that offers a wide-range of payments services to businesses, has raised $35.3 million in a new financing round as the profitable firm looks to broaden its offering.

The Bangalore-based startup’s Series B was led by London-headquartered private equity firm Apis Partners (which invested through its Growth Fund II), with participation from existing investors Y Combinator and Smilegate Investments. The new round brings the startup’s to-date raise to $42 million.

Cashfree kickstarted its journey in 2015 as a solution for restaurants in Bangalore that needed an efficient way for their delivery personnel to collect cash from customers.

Akash Sinha and Reeju Datta, the founders of Cashfree, did not have any prior experience with payments. When their merchants asked if they could build a service to accept payments online, the founders quickly realized that Cashfree could serve a wider purpose.

In the early days, Cashfree also struggled to court investors, many of whom did not think a payments processing firm could grow big — and do so fast enough. But the startup’s fate changed after Y Combinator accepted its application, even though the founders had missed the deadline and couldn’t arrive to join the batch on time. Y Combinator later financed Cashfree’s seed round.

Fast-forward five years, Cashfree today offers more than a dozen products and services and helps over 55,000 businesses disburse salary to employees, accept payments online, set up recurring payments and settle marketplace commissions.

Some of its customers include financial services startup Cred, online grocer BigBasket, food delivery platform Zomato, insurers HDFC Ergo and Acko and travel ticketing service provider Ixigo. The startup works with several banks and also offers integrations with platforms such as Shopify, PayPal and Amazon Pay.

Based on its offerings, Cashfree today competes with scores of startups, but it has an edge — if not many. Cashfree has been profitable for the past three years, Sinha, who serves as the startup’s chief executive, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“Cashfree has maintained a leadership position in this space and is now going through a period of rapid growth fuelled by the development of unique and innovative products that serve the needs of its customers,” Udayan Goyal, co-founder and a managing partner at Apis, said in a statement.

The startup processed over $12 billion in payments volumes in the financial year that ended in March. Sinha said part of the fresh fund will be deployed in R&D so that Cashfree can scale its technology stack and build more services, including those that can digitize more offline payments for its clients.

Cashfree is also working on building cross-border payments solutions to explore opportunities in emerging markets, he said.

“We still see payments as an evolving industry with its own challenges and we would be investing in next-gen payments as well as banking tech to make payments processing easier and more reliable. With the solid foundation of in-house technologies, tech-driven processes and in-depth industry knowledge, we are confident of growing Cashfree to be the leader in the payments space in India and internationally,” he said.

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Extra Crunch roundup: Inside DoorDash’s IPO, first-person founder stories, the latest in fintech VC and more

One of my favorite series of Monty Python sketches is built around the concept of surprise:

Chapman: I didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.

[JARRING CHORD]

[Three cardinals burst in]

Cardinal Ximénez: NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!

I was reminded of this today when I needed to reschedule a few stories so we could cover DoorDash’s S-1 filing from multiple angles. First, Managing Editor Danny Crichton looked at how well the company’s co-founders and many investors stand to make out. Alex Wilhelm covered the IPO announcement in depth on TechCrunch before writing an Extra Crunch column that studied the role the COVID-19 pandemic played in the home-delivery platform’s recent growth.

Our all-hands-on-deck coverage of DoorDash’s S-1 is a good illustration of Extra Crunch’s mission: timely analysis of current and future technology trends that serves founders and investors. We have a talented team, and as today’s coverage shows, they’re just as good as they are fast.

The stories that follow are an overview of Extra Crunch from the last five days. The full articles are only available to members, but you can use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one or two-year subscription. Details here.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week. I hope you have a great weekend!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


What I wish I’d known about venture capital when I was a founder

Why I left edtech and got into gaming

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

We frequently run posts by guest contributors, but two stories we published this week were written in the first person, which is a bit of a departure.

In Why I left edtech and got into gaming, Darshan Somashekar brought us inside his decision to pivot away from a sector that’s been growing hotter in 2020.

His post is a unique take on two oft-discussed categories, but it also examines one founder/investor’s thought process when it comes to evaluating new opportunities.

Andy Areitio, a partner at early-stage fund TheVentureCity, wrote What I wish I’d known about venture capital when I was a founder, a reflection on the “classic mistakes” founders tend to make when it’s time to fundraise.

“Error number one (and two) is to raise the wrong amount of money and to do it at the wrong time,” he says. “They can also put all their eggs in one basket too early. I made that mistake.”

You can find business writing that explores best practices anywhere, which is why we hunt down stories that are firmly rooted in data or personal experience (which includes success and failure).

How COVID-19 accelerated DoorDash’s business

Image Credits: DoorDash

The coronavirus pandemic looms large in DoorDash’s S-1 filing.

According to the food-delivery platform, “58% of all adults and 70% of millennials say that they are more likely to have restaurant food delivered than they were two years ago,” and “the COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated these trends.”

As in other sectors, the pandemic didn’t wave a magic wand — instead, it hastened trends that were already in play: consumers love convenience, which means DoorDash’s gross order volume and revenue were tracking well before the virus started to shape our lives.

“It’s your call on how to balance the factors and decide whether or not to buy into the IPO, but this one is going to be big,” writes Alex Wilhelm in a supplemental edition of today’s The Exchange.

The VC and founder winners of DoorDash’s IPO

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 05: DoorDash CEO Tony Xu speaks onstage during Day 1 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 5, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

None of us knew DoorDash would release its S-1 filing today, but Danny Crichton jumped on the story “so we can see who is raking in the returns on the country’s delivery startup champion.”

After estimating the value of the respective ownership stakes held by DoorDash’s four co-founders, he turned to the investors who participated in rounds seed through Series H.

Some growth funds are about to look very good after this IPO, and each founder is looking at hundreds of millions, he found.

But even so, their diminished haul of about $1.3 billion is “a sign of just how much dilution the co-founders took given the sheer amount of capital the company fundraised over its life.”

Fintech VC keeps getting later, larger and more expensive

Investors sent stacks of cash to late-stage fintech companies in Q3 2020, but these sizable rounds may also point to shrinking opportunities for early-stage firms, reports Alex Wilhelm in this morning’s edition of The Exchange.

2020 could be a record year for fintech VC in Europe and North America, but are these “huge late-stage dollars” actually “a dampener for new fintech startups trying to get off the ground?”

Accelerators embrace change forced by pandemic

Devin Coldewey interviewed the leaders of three startup accelerators to learn more about the adaptations they’ve made in recent months:

  • David Brown, founder and CEO, Techstars
  • Cyril Ebersweiler, founder HAX, venture partner at SOSV
  • Daniela Fernandez, founder, Ocean Solutions Accelerator

Due to travel bans, shelter-in-place orders and other unknowns, they’ve all shifted to virtual. But accelerators are intensive programs designed to indoctrinate founders and elicit brutally honest feedback in real time.

Despite the sudden shift, that boot-camp mindset is still in effect, Devin reports.

“Cutting out the commute time in a busy city leaves founders with more time for workshops, mentor matchmaking, pitch practice and other important sessions,” said Fernandez. “Everybody just has more flexibility and tranquility.”

Said Ebersweiler: “People are for some reason more participative and have more feedback than physically — it’s pretty strange.”

Greylock’s Asheem Chandna on ‘shifting left’ in cybersecurity and the future of enterprise startups

Image Credits: Greylock

In a recent interview with Greylock partner Asheem Chandna, Managing Editor Danny Crichton asked him about the buzz around no-code platforms and what’s happening in early-stage enterprise startups before segueing into a discussion about “shift left” security:

“Every organization today wants to bring software to market faster, but they also want to make software more secure,” said Chandna.

“There is a genuine interest today in making the software more secure, so there’s this concept of shift left — bake security into the software.”

Square and PayPal earnings bring good (and bad) news for fintech startups

If you missed Wednesday’s The Exchange, Alex scoured earnings reports from PayPal and Square to see what the near future might hold for several fintech startups currently waiting in the wings.

Using Square and PayPal’s recent numbers for stock purchases, card usage and consumer payment activity as a proxy, he attempts to “see what we can learn, and to which unicorns it might apply.”

Conflicts in California’s trade secret laws on customer lists create uncertainty

Image Credits: jayk7 (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

In California, non-competition agreements can’t be enforced and a court has ruled that customer contact lists aren’t trade secrets.

That doesn’t mean salespeople who switch jobs can start soliciting their former customers on their first day at the new gig, however.

Before you jump ship — or hire a salesperson who already has — read this overview of California’s trade secret laws.

“Even without litigation, a former employer can significantly hamper a departing salesperson’s career,” says Nick Saenz, a partner at Lewis & Llewellyn LLP, who focuses on employment and trade secret issues.

As public investors reprice edtech bets, what’s ahead for the hot startup sector?

Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

News of a highly effective COVID-19 vaccine appeared to drive down prices of the three best-known publicly traded edtech companies: 2U, Chegg and Kahoot saw declines of about 20%, 10% and 9%, respectively after the report.

Are COVID-19 tailwinds dissipating, or did the market make a correction because “edtech has been categorically overhyped in recent months?”

Dear Sophie: What does a Biden win for tech immigration?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

What does President-elect Biden’s victory mean for U.S. immigration and immigration reform?

I’m in tech in SF and have a lot of friends who are immigrant founders, along with many international teammates at my tech company. What can we look forward to?

— Anticipation in Albany

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Daily Crunch: Stripe acquires Nigeria’s Paystack

Stripe makes a big acquisition, Google rolls out search improvements and Snapchat adds a TikTok-y feature. This is your Daily Crunch for October 15, 2020.

The big story: Stripe acquires Nigeria’s Paystack

Stripe has made its biggest acquisition to date. It announced today that it bought Paystack, a Lagos-headquartered startup that makes it easy to integrate payment services — we’ve referred to it in the past as “the Stripe of Africa.”

Sources tell us that the acquisition price was more than $200 million.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Stripe CEO Patrick Collison said that expanding into Africa presents the company with “an enormous opportunity,” adding that Stripe is planning for “a longer time horizon” than most other companies: “We are thinking of what the world will look like in 2040-2050.”

The tech giants

Google launches a slew of Search updates — These new AI-focused improvements include the ability to better answer questions with very specific answers, as well as a new algorithm to better handle the typos in your queries.

Snapchat launches its TikTok rival, Sounds on Snapchat — Snapchat made good on its promise to release a new feature that would allow users to set their Snaps to music.

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit review — Bryce Durbin offers an illustrated look at a new edition of Mario Kart that incorporates a real remote-controlled car.

Startups, funding and venture capital

River, the latest venture from Wander founder Jeremy Fisher, launches with $10.4M in funding — River is meant to rethink the way we consume content across the internet.

Small business payments and marketing startup Fivestars raises $52.5M — It’s a difficult time for small businesses, and Fivestars CEO Victor Ho said that many of the big digital platforms aren’t helping.

Bipedal robot developer Agility announces $20M raise — Agility’s Digit is a package delivery robot capable of navigating stairs and other terrain.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

News that Calm seeks more funding at a higher valuation is not transcendental thinking — We rewind the clock and review data from 2018, 2019 and 2020 about the meditation app.

Brighteye Ventures’ Alex Latsis talks European edtech funding in 2020 — European edtech firm Brighteye Ventures recently announced the $54 million first close of its second fund.

Tesla’s decision to scrap its PR department could create a PR nightmare — The move effectively makes founder Elon Musk the company’s lone voice.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

New Oxford machine learning-based COVID-19 test can provide results in under 5 minutes —  The test also offers advantages when it comes to detecting actual virus particles, instead of antibodies or other signs of the presence of the virus.

When was the last time you worked out your soul? — Another discussion of wellness startup funding, this time via the latest episode of the Equity podcast.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Daily Crunch: Venmo launches a credit card

Venmo’s first credit card is here, a former Amazon employee is arrested for fraud and we review the Nest Audio smart speaker. This is your Daily Crunch for October 5, 2020.

The big story: Venmo launches a credit card

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 tech giants

Feds arrest former Amazon employee after company reported him to FBI for fraud — The company says it reported Vu Anh Nguyen to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July 2020 over allegations of falsely issuing refunds for products ordered on Amazon .com to himself and his associates.

Nest Audio review — Brian Heater says it’s a welcome update to the Google Home.

Instagram expands shopping on IGTV, plans test of shopping on Reels — The product lets you watch a video, then purchase the featured product with a few taps.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Ola fails to get ride-hailing license renewed in London, says it will appeal and continues to operate — The India-based ride-hailing startup is not getting its Transport for London ride-hailing license renewed after failing to meet public safety requirements around licensing for drivers and vehicles.

Cooler Screens raises $80M to bring interactive screens into cooler aisles — Cooler Screens is led by co-founder and CEO Arsen Avakian, who previously was founder and CEO of Argo Tea.

GrubMarket raises $60M as food delivery stays center stage — The startup provides a platform for consumers to order produce and other food and home items for delivery, as well as a service supplying grocery stores, meal-kit companies and other food tech startups with products for resale.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Accel VCs Sonali De Rycker and Andrew Braccia say European deal pace is ‘incredibly active’ — De Rycker’s comments point to a future where there is no single center of startup gravity.

Two Kindred Capital partners discuss the firm’s focus and equitable venture model — The London-based VC, which backs early-stage founders in Europe and Israel, recently closed its second seed fund at £81 million.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Camera that will film a spacewalk in VR delivered to the International Space Station — The camera will be used to film a spacewalk in immersive, cinematic VR for the first time ever on an upcoming ISS astronaut mission.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Away’ deftly balances space exploration and human drama — I worried that the show might be a bit too weepy and melodramatic, but I was wrong.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Indian startups explore alliance and alternative app store to fight Google’s ‘monopoly’

Google, which reaches more internet users than any other firm in India and commands 99% of the nation’s smartphone market, has stumbled upon an odd challenge in the world’s second-largest internet market: Scores of top local entrepreneurs.

Dozens of top startups and firms in India are working to form an alliance and toying with the idea of launching an app store to cut their reliance on Google, five people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The list of entrepreneurs includes high-profile names, such as Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of Paytm (India’s most valuable startup), Deep Kalra of travel ticketing firm MakeMyTrip, and executives from PolicyBazaar, Sharechat and many other firms.

The growing list of founders expressed deep concerns about Google’s “monopolistic” hold on India, and discussed what they alleged was unfair and inconsistent enforcement of Play Store’s guidelines in the country.

The conversations, which began in recent weeks, escalated on Tuesday after Google said that starting next year developers with an app on Google Play Store must give the company a cut of as much as 30% of several app-related payments.

Dozens of executives “from nearly every top startup and firm” in India attended a call on Tuesday to discuss the way forward, some of the people said, requesting anonymity. A 30% cut to Google is simply unfeasible, people on the call unanimously agreed.

Vishal Gondal, the founder of fitness startup GOQii, confirmed the talks to TechCrunch and said that an alternative app store would immensely help the Indian app ecosystem.

TechCrunch reached out to Paytm on Monday for comment and the startup declined the request.

In recent months, several major startups in India have also expressed disappointment over several of the existing industry bodies, which some say have failed to work on nurturing the local ecosystem.

The tension between some firms and Google became more public than ever late last month after the Android-maker reiterated Play Store’s gambling policy, sending a shockwave to scores of startups in the country that were hoping to cash in on the ongoing season of Indian Premier League cricket tournament.

Google temporarily pulled Paytm’s marquee app from the Play Store citing repeat violation of its Play Store policies. Disappointed by Google’s move, Paytm’s Sharma said in a TV interview, “This is the problem of India’s app ecosystem. So many founders have reached out to us… if we believe this country can build digital business, we must know that it is at somebody else’s hand to bless that business and not this country’s rules and regulations.”

Google has sent notices to several firms in India including Hotstar, TechCrunch reported last month. Indian newspaper Economic Times reported on Wednesday that the Mountain View giant had also sent warnings to food delivery startups Swiggy and Zomato.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, lauded the banding of Indian entrepreneurs and likened Silicon Valley giants’ hold on India to the rising days of East India Company, which pillaged India. “Modern day tech companies pose a similar risk,” he told TechCrunch.

Some of the participating members are also hopeful that the government, which has urged the citizens in India to become self-reliant to revive the declining economy, would help their movement.

Other than its reach on Android, Google today also leads the mobile payments market in India, TechCrunch reported earlier this year.

The giant, which has backed a handful of startups in India and is a member of several Indian industry bodies, invested $4.5 billion in Mukesh Ambani’s telecom giant Jio Platforms earlier this year.

Ambani, who runs oil-to-retails giant Reliance Industries and is India’s richest man, is an ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Jio Platforms has attracted over $20 billion in investment from Google, Facebook, and 11 other high-profile investors this year.

The voluminous investment in Jio Platforms has puzzled many industry executives. “I see no business case for Facebook investing in Jio beyond saying we need regulatory help,” said Miten Sampat, a high-profile angel-investor on a podcast published Wednesday.

Google said in July that it would work with Jio Platforms on low-cost Android smartphones. Jio Platforms is planning to launch as many as 200 million smartphones in the next three years, according to a pitch the telecom giant has made to several developers. Bloomberg first reported about Jio Platform’s smartphone production plans.

These smartphones, as is the case with nearly 40 million JioPhone feature phones in circulation today, will have an app store with only a few dozen apps, all vetted and approved by Jio, according to one developer who was pitched by Jio Platforms. An industry executive described Jio’s store as a walled-garden.

A possible viable option for startup founders is Indus OS, a Samsung-backed third-party store, which last month said it reaches over 100 million monthly active users. As of earlier this week, Paytm and other firms had not reached out to IndusOS, a person familiar with the matter said.

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‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ and the limits of today’s game economies

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is a bonafide wonder. The game has been setting new records for Nintendo, is adored by players and critics alike and provides millions of players a peaceful escape during these unprecedented times.

But there’s been something even more extraordinary happening on the fringe: Players are finding ways to augment the game experience through community-organized activities and tools. These include free weed-pulling services (tips welcome!) from virtual Samaritans, and custom-designed items for sale — for real-world money, via WeChat Pay and AliPay.

Well-known personalities and companies are also contributing, with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” scribe Gary Whitta hosting an A-list celebrity talk show using the game, and luxury fashion brand Marc Jacobs providing some of its popular clothing designs to players. 100 Thieves, the white-hot esports and apparel company, even created and gave away digital versions of its entire collection of impossible-to-find clothes.

This community-based phenomenon gives us a pithy glimpse into not only where games are inevitably going, but what their true potential is as a form of creative, technical and economic expression. It also exemplifies what we at Forte call “community economics,” a system that lies at the heart of our aim in bringing new creative and economic opportunities to billions of people around the world.

What is community economics?

Formally, community economics is the synthesis of economic activity that takes place inside, and emerges outside, virtual game worlds. It is rooted in a cooperative economic relationship between all participants in a game’s network, and characterized by an economic pluralism that is unified by open technology owned by no single party. And notably, it results in increased autonomy for players, better business models for game creators, and new economic and creative opportunities for both.

The fundamental shift that underlies community economics is the evolution of games from centralized entertainment experiences to open economic platforms. We believe this is where things are heading.

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Jack Ma’s fintech giant tops 1.3 billion users globally

The speculation that Alibaba’s fintech affiliate Ant Group will go public has been swirling around for years. New details came to light recently. Reuters reported last week that the fintech giant could float as soon as this year in an initial public offering that values it at $200 billion. As a private firm, details of the payments and financial services firm remain sparse, but a new filing by Alibaba, which holds a 33% stake in Ant, provides a rare glimpse into its performance.

Alipay, the brand of Ant’s consumer finance app, claims to earmark 1.3 billion annual active users as of March. The majority of its users came from China, while the rest were brought by its nine e-wallet partners in India, Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

In recent years Ant has been striving to scale back its reliance on in-house financial products in response to Beijing’s tightening grip on China’s fledgling fintech industry. Tencent, Alibaba’s nemesis, is considered a lot more reserved in the financial space but its WeChat Pay app has been slowly eating away at Alipay’s share of the payments market.

In a symbolic move in May, the Alibaba affiliate changed its name from Ant Financial to Ant Group. Even prior to that, Ant had been actively publicizing itself as a “technology” company that offers payments gateways and sells digital infrastructure to banks, insurance groups, and other traditional financial institutions — rather than being a direct competitor to them. On the Alipay app, users can browse and access a raft of third-party financial services including wealth management, microloans, and insurance.

As of March, Ant’s wealth management unit facilitated 4 trillion yuan ($570 billion) of assets under management for its partners offering money market funds, fixed income products, and equity investment services. During the same period, total insurance premiums facilitated by Ant more than doubled from the year before.

In June, Ant’s new boss Hu Xiaoming set the goal for the firm to generate 80% of total revenues from technology service fees, up from about 50% in 2019. He anticipated the monetary contribution of Ant’s own proprietary financial services to shrink as a result.

Ant grew out of Alipay, the payments service launched by Alibaba as an escrow service to ensure trust between e-commerce buyers and sellers. In 2011, Alibaba spun off Ant, allegedly to comply with local regulations governing third-party payments services. Ant has since taken on several rounds of equity financing. Today, Alibaba founder Jack Ma still controls a majority of Ant’s voting interests.

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Software will reshape our world in the next decade

As I was wrapping up a Zoom meeting with my business partners, I could hear my son joking with his classmates in his online chemistry class.

I have to say this is a very strange time for me: As much as I love my family, in normal times, we never spend this much time together. But these aren’t normal times.

In normal times, governments, businesses and schools would never agree to shut everything down. In normal times, my doctor wouldn’t agree to see me over video conferencing.

No one would stand outside a grocery store, looking down to make sure they were six feet apart from one another. In times like these, decisions that would normally take years are being made in a matter of hours. In short, the physical world — brick-and-mortar reality— has shut down. The world still functions, but now it is operating inside everyone’s own home.

This not-so-normal time reminds me of 2008, the depths of the financial crisis. I sold my company BEA Systems, which I co-founded, to Oracle for $8.6 billion in cash. This liquidity event was simultaneously the worst and most exhausting time of my career, and the best time of my career, thanks to the many inspiring entrepreneurs I was able to meet.

These were some of the brightest, hardworking, never-take-no-for-an-answer founders, and in this era, many CEOs showed their true colors. That was when Slack, Lyft, Uber, Credit Karma, Twilio, Square, Cloudera and many others got started. All of these companies now have multibillion dollar market caps. And I got to invest and partner with some of them.

Once again, I can’t help but wonder what our world will look like in 10 years. The way we live. The way we learn. The way we consume. The way we will interact with each other.

What will happen 10 years from now?

Welcome to 2030. It’s been more than two decades since the invention of the iPhone, the launch of cloud computing and one decade since the launch of widespread 5G networks. All of the technologies required to change the way we live, work, eat and play are finally here and can be distributed at an unprecedented speed.

The global population is 8.5 billion and everyone owns a smartphone with all of their daily apps running on it. That’s up from around 500 million two decades ago.

Robust internet access and communication platforms have created a new world.

The world’s largest school is a software company — its learning engine uses artificial intelligence to provide personalized learning materials anytime, anywhere, with no physical space necessary. Similar to how Apple upended the music industry with iTunes, all students can now download any information for a super-low price. Tuition fees have dropped significantly: There are no more student debts. Kids can finally focus on learning, not just getting an education. Access to a good education has been equalized.

The world’s largest bank is a software company and all financial transactions are digital. If you want to talk to a banker live, you’ll initiate a text or video conference. On top of that, embedded fintech software now powers all industries.

No more dirty physical money. All money flow is stored, traceable and secured on a blockchain ledger. The financial infrastructure platforms are able to handle customers across all geographies and jurisdictions, all exchanges of value, all types of use-cases (producers, distributors, consumers) and all from the start.

The world’s largest grocery store is a software and robotics company — groceries are delivered whenever and wherever we want as fast as possible. Food is delivered via robot or drones with no human involvement. Customers can track where, when and who is involved in growing and handling my food. Artificial intelligence tells us what we need based on past purchases and our calendars.

The world largest hospital is a software and robotics company — all initial diagnoses are performed via video conferencing. Combined with patient medical records all digitally stored, a doctor in San Francisco and her artificial intelligence assistant can provide personalized prescriptions to her patients in Hong Kong. All surgical procedures are performed by robots, with supervision by a doctor of course, we haven’t gone completely crazy. And even the doctors get to work from home.

Our entire workforce works from home: Don’t forget the main purpose of an office is to support companies’ workers in performing their jobs efficiently. Since 2020, all companies, and especially their CEOs, realized it was more efficient to let their workers work from home. Not only can they save hours of commute time, all companies get to save money on office space and shift resources toward employee benefits. I’m looking back 10 years and saying to myself, “I still remember those days when office space was a thing.”

The world’s largest entertainment company is a software company, and all the content we love is digital. All blockbuster movies are released direct-to-video. We can ask Alexa to deliver popcorn to the house and even watch the film with friends who are far away. If you see something you like in the movie, you can buy it immediately — clothing, objects, whatever you see — and have it delivered right to your house. No more standing in line. No transport time. Reduced pollution. Better planet!

These are just a few industries that have been completely transformed by 2030, but these changes will apply universally to almost anything. We were told software was eating the world.

The saying goes you are what you eat. In 2030, software is the world.

Security and protection no longer just applies to things we can touch and see. What’s valuable for each and every one of us is all stored digitally — our email account, chat history, browsing data and social media accounts. It goes on and on. We don’t need a house alarm, we need a digital alarm.

Even though this crisis makes the near future seem bleak, I am optimistic about the new world and the new companies of tomorrow. I am even more excited about our ability to change as a human race and how this crisis and technology are speeding up the way we live.

This storm shall pass. However the choices we make now will change our lives forever.

My team and I are proud to build and invest in companies that will help shape the new world; new and impactful technologies that are important for many generations to come, companies that matter to humanity, something that we can all tell our grandchildren about.

I am hopeful.

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Google and Walmart’s PhonePe establish dominance in India’s mobile payments market as WhatsApp Pay struggles to launch

In India, it’s Google and Walmart-owned PhonePe that are racing neck-and-neck to be the top player in the mobile payments market, while Facebook remains mired in a regulatory maze for WhatsApp Pay’s rollout.

In May, more than 75 million users transacted on Google Pay app, ahead of PhonePe’s 60 million users, people familiar with the companies’ figures told TechCrunch. More than 10 million users transact on SoftBank -backed Paytm’s app everyday, according to internal data seen by TechCrunch.

Google still lags Paytm’s reach with merchants, but the Android -maker has maintained its overall lead in recent months despite every player losing momentum due to one of the most stringent lockdowns globally in place in India. The company is facing an antitrust probe in India over allegations that it is abusing its market position to unfairly promote its mobile payments app in the country, Reuters reported last month.

Paytm, once the dominant player in India, has been struggling to sustain its user base for nearly two years. The company had about 60 million transacting users in January last year, said people familiar with the matter.

Paytm had over 50 million monthly active users on its app in May, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Data sets consider transacting users to be those who have made at least one payment through the app in a month. It’s a coveted metric and is different from the much more popular monthly active users (MAU), or daily active users (DAU) that various firms use to share their performance. A portion of those labeled as monthly active users do not make any transaction on the app.

India’s homegrown payment firm, Paytm, has struggled to grow in recent years in part because of a mandate by India’s central bank to mobile wallet firms — the middlemen between users and banks — to perform know-your-client (KYC) verification of users, which created confusion among many, some of the people said. These woes come despite the firm’s fundraising success, which amounts to more than $3 billion.

In a statement, a Paytm spokesperson said, “When it comes to mobile wallets one has to remember the fact that Paytm was the company that set up the infrastructure to do KYC and has been able to complete over 100 million KYCs by physically meeting customers.”

Paytm has long benefited from integration with popular services such as Uber, and food delivery startup Swiggy, but fewer than 10 million of Paytm’s monthly transacting users have relied on this feature in recent months.

Two executives, who like everyone else spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, also said that Paytm resisted the idea of adopting Unified Payments Interface. That’s the nearly two-year-old payments infrastructure built and backed by a collation of banks in India that enables money to be sent directly between accounts at different banks and eliminates the need for a separate mobile wallet.

Paytm’s delays in adopting the standard left room for Google and PhonePe, another early adopter of UPI, to seize the opportunity.

Paytm, which adopted UPI a year after Google and PhonePe, refuted the characterization that it resisted joining UPI ecosystem.

“We are the company that cherishes innovation and technology that can transform the lives of millions. We understand the importance of financial technology and for this very reason, we have always been the champion and supporter of UPI. We, however, launched it on Paytm later than our peers because it took a little longer for us to get the approval to start UPI based services,“ a spokesperson said.

A sign for Paytm online payment method, operated by One97 Communications Ltd., is displayed at a street stall selling accessories in Bengaluru, India, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Missing from the fray is Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market by user count. The company began talks with banks to enter India’s mobile payments market, estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), through WhatsApp as early as 2017. WhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in India with over 400 million users in the country.

Facebook launched WhatsApp Pay to a million users in the following year, but has been locked in a regulatory battle since to expand the payments service to the rest of its users. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said WhatsApp Pay would roll out nationwide by end of last year, but the firm is yet to secure all approvals — and new challenges keep cropping up. The company, which invested $5.7 billion in the nation’s top telecom operator Reliance Jio Platforms in April, declined to comment.

PhonePe, which was conceived only a year before WhatsApp set eyes to India’s mobile payments, has consistently grown as it added several third-party services. These include leading food and grocery delivery services Swiggy and Grofers, ride-hailing giant Ola, ticketing and staying players Ixigo and Oyo Hotels, in a so-called super app strategy. In November, about 63 million users were active on PhonePe, 45 million of whom transacted through the app.

Karthik Raghupathy, the head of business at PhonePe, confirmed the company’s transacting users to TechCrunch.

Three factors contributed to the growth of PhonePe, he said in an interview. “The rise of smartphones and mobile data adoption in recent years; early adoption to UPI at a time when most mobile payments firms in India were betting on virtual mobile-wallet model; and taking an open-ecosystem approach,” he said.

“We opened our consumer base to all our merchant partners very early on. Our philosophy was that we would not enter categories such as online ticketing for movies and travel, and instead work with market leaders on those fronts,” he explained.

“We also went to the market with a completely open, interoperable QR code that enabled merchants and businesses to use just one QR code to accept payments from any app — not just ours. Prior to this, you would see a neighborhood store maintain several QR codes to support a number of payment apps. Over the years, our approach has become the industry norm,” he said, adding that PhonePe has been similarly open to other wallets and payments options as well.

But despite the growth and its open approach, PhonePe has still struggled to win the confidence of investors in recent quarters. Stoking investors’ fears is the lack of a clear business model for mobile payments firms in India.

PhonePe executives held talks to raise capital last year that would have valued it at $8 billion, but the negotiations fell apart. Similar talks early this year, which would have valued PhonePe at $3 billion, which hasn’t been previously reported, also fell apart, three people familiar with the matter said. Raghupathy and a PhonePe spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s fundraising plans.

For now, Walmart has agreed to continue to bankroll the payments app, which became part of the retail group with Flipkart acquisition in 2018.

As UPI gained inroads in the market, banks have done away with any promotional incentives to mobile payments players, one of their only revenue sources.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate without a clear business model in India.

Coronavirus takes its toll on payments companies

The coronavirus pandemic that prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown in late March preceded a significant, but predictable, drop in mobile payments usage in the following weeks. But while Paytm continues to struggle in bouncing back, PhonePe and Google Pay have fully recovered as India eased some restrictions.

About 120 million UPI transactions occurred on Paytm in the month of May, down from 127 million in April and 186 million in March, according to data compiled by NPCI, the body that oversees UPI, and obtained by TechCrunch. (Paytm maintains a mobile wallet business, which contributes to its overall transacting users.)

Google Pay, which only supports UPI payments, facilitated 540 million transactions in May, up from 434 million in April and 515 million in March. PhonePe’s 454 million March figure slid to 368 million in April, but it turned the corner, with 460 million transactions last month. An NPCI spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

PhonePe and Google Pay together accounted for about 83% of all UPI transactions in India last month. UPI itself has over 117 million users.

Industry executives working at rival firms said it would be a mistake to dismiss Paytm, the one-time leader of the mobile payments market in India.

Paytm has cut its marketing expenses and aggressively chased merchants in recent quarters. Earlier this year, it unveiled a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

Merchants who use these devices pay a recurring fee to Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of the firm told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. Paytm has also entered several businesses, such as movie and travel ticketing, lending, games and e-commerce, and set up a digital payments bank over the years.

“Everyone knows Paytm. Paytm is synonymous with digital payments in India. And outside, there’s a perceived notion that it’s truly the Alipay of India,” an executive at a rival firm said.

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Facebook and PayPal invest in Southeast Asian ride-hailing giant GoJek

Facebook and PayPal have made investments in GoJek, joining Google and Tencent among other high-profile technology firms that have backed the five-year-old Southeast Asian ride-hailing startup that also offers food delivery and mobile payments.

Facebook, for which it is the first investment in an Indonesia-based firm, and PayPal did not disclose the size of their checks. GoJek told TechCrunch that Facebook and PayPal were participating in its ongoing Series F financing round, which brings it total raise-to-date to over $3 billion.

For Facebook, which in April invested in India’s top telecom operator Reliance Jio Platforms, backing GoJek unlocks a similar opportunity: Helping millions of small businesses — while finding a business model for WhatsApp, an advertisement-free instant messaging service it owns that is used by more than 2 billion users.

Matt Idema, chief operating officer at WhatsApp, said the company will work with “indispensable” GoJek to “bring millions of small businesses and the customers they serve into the largest digital economy in Southeast Asia.”

“The majority of small businesses in Indonesia rely on cash to operate due to the country’s large unbanked population. Digital payments are safer than cash, both for businesses and customers. And digital payments help more people participate in the economy and give businesses access to credit which is crucial for business growth,” he wrote in a blog post.

Indonesia is one of the biggest Asian markets for Facebook. In April, Reuters reported that the social juggernaut was in talks with local fintech firms to launch a mobile payments service in the country. Facebook said today the investment will “support Facebook and Gojek’s shared goal of empowering businesses and driving financial inclusion across the archipelago.”

PayPal, which last year invested in money lender Tala ahead of the startup’s launch in India, said Wednesday’s commercial partnership will enable the global payments giant to “significantly grow” its scope and scale in Southeast Asia.

“This new relationship is another positive step in our journey towards becoming the worldwide payments partner of choice, and helping to fuel global commerce by connecting the world’s leading marketplaces and payment networks,” PayPal said in a statement.

GoJek, which disclosed it had raised $1.2 billion in March to employees and was valued at about $10 billion, said it has amassed over 170 million users in Southeast Asia. The company, which competes with heavily-backed Singapore-headquartered Grab, said at the time that it had raised nearly $3 billion over the years.

“We have the opportunity to achieve something truly unique as we aim to help more businesses to digitise and ensure that many millions more consumers are enjoying the benefits that the digital economy can bring,” said Andre Soelistyo, who was appointed as co-chief executive of GoJek last year, in a statement. Gojek founder Nadiem Makarim resigns his top job at the firm to join Indonesian cabinet in October last year.

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