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African fintech startup Chipper Cash raises $30M backed by Jeff Bezos

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has raised a $30 million Series B funding round led by Ribbit Capital with participation of Bezos Expeditions — the personal VC fund of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Chipper Cash was founded in San Francisco in 2018 by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled. The company offers mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in seven countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

Parallel to its P2P app, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout — a merchant-focused, fee-based payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business. The company has scaled to 3 million users on its platform and processes an average of 80,000 transactions daily. In June 2020, Chipper Cash reached a monthly payments value of $100 million, according to CEO Ham Serunjogi .

As part of the Series B raise, the startup plans to expand its products and geographic scope. On the product side, that entails offering more business payment solutions, crypto-currency trading options, and investment services.

“We’ll always be a P2P financial transfer platform at our core. But we’ve had demand from our users to offer other value services…like purchasing cryptocurrency assets and making investments in stocks,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch on a call.

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash has added beta dropdowns on its website and app to buy and sell Bitcoin and invest in U.S. stocks from Africa — the latter through a partnership with U.S. financial services company DriveWealth.

“We’ll launch [the stock product] in Nigeria first so Nigerians have the option to buy fractional stocks — Tesla shares, Apple shares or Amazon shares and others — through our app. We’ll expand into other countries thereafter,” said Serunjogi.

On the business financial services side, the startup plans to offer more API payments solutions. “We’ve been getting a lot of requests from people on our P2P platform, who also have business enterprises, to be able to collect payments for sale of goods,” explained Serunjogi.

Chipper Cash also plans to use its Series B financing for additional country expansion, which the company will announce by the end of 2021.

Jeff Bezos’s backing of Chipper Cash follows a recent string of events that has elevated the visibility of Africa’s startup scene. Over the past decade, the continent’s tech ecosystem has been one of the fastest growing in the world by year year-over-year expansion in venture capital and startup formation, concentrated in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Image Credits: TechCrunch/Bryce Durbin

Bringing Africa’s large unbanked population and underbanked consumers and SMEs online has factored prominently. Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

As such, fintech has become Africa’s highest-funded tech sector, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to startups in 2019. Even with the rapid venture funding growth over the last decade, Africa’s tech scene had been performance light, with only one known unicorn (e-commerce venture Jumia) a handful of exits, and no major public share offerings. That changed last year.

In April 2019, Jumia — backed by investors including Goldman Sachs and Mastercard — went public in an NYSE IPO. Later in the year, Nigerian fintech company Interswitch achieved unicorn status after a $200 million investment by Visa.

This year, Network International purchased East African payments startup DPO for $288 million and in August WorldRemit acquired Africa focused remittance company Sendwave for $500 million.

One of the more significant liquidity events in African tech occurred last month, when Stripe acquired Nigerian payment gateway startup Paystack for a reported $200 million.

In an email to TechCrunch, a spokesperson for Bezos Expeditions confirmed the fund’s investment in Chipper Cash, but declined to comment on further plans to back African startups. Per Crunchbase data, the investment would be the first in Africa for the fund. It’s worth noting Bezos Expeditions is not connected to Jeff Bezo’s hallmark business venture, Amazon.

For Chipper Cash, the $30 million Series B raise caps an event-filled two years for the San Francisco-based payments company and founders Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled. The two came to America for academics, met in Iowa while studying at Grinnell College and ventured out to Silicon Valley for stints in big tech: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr and Yahoo! for Moujaled.

Chipper Cash founders Ham Serunjogi (R) and Maijid Moujaled; Image Credits: Chipper Cash

The startup call beckoned and after launching Chipper Cash in 2018, the duo convinced 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to back their company with seed funds. The startup expanded into Nigeria and Southern Africa in 2019, entered a payments partnership with Visa in April and raised a $13.8 million Series A in June.

Chipper Cash founder Ham Serunjogi believes the backing of his company by a notable tech figure, such as Jeff Bezos (the world’s richest person), has benefits beyond his venture.

“It’s a big deal when a world class investor like Bezos or Ribbit goes out of their sweet spot to a new area where they previously haven’t done investments,” he said. “Ultimately, the winner of those things happening is the African tech ecosystem overall, as it will bring more investment from firms of that caliber to African startups.”

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GM to leverage driver data as it jumps back into the insurance business

General Motors is launching an insurance service, returning to a business that it abandoned more than a decade ago, but this time more in step with the connected-car era.

The service, called OnStar Insurance, will offer bundled auto, home and renters’ insurance, starting this year with GM employees in Arizona. GM’s new insurance agency, OnStar Insurance Services, will be the exclusive agent for OnStar Insurance. Homesite Insurance Group, an affiliate of American Family Insurance, will underwrite the program.

The services will be available to the public nationwide by the end of 2022, including people who drive vehicles outside of GM’s portfolio of Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC branded cars, trucks and SUVs. The aim, however, is to leverage the vast amounts of data captured through its OnStar connected car service, which today has more than 16 million members in the United States.

GM’s pitch is that this data can be an asset to drivers and help them cash in on lower insurance rates based on safe driving habits.

“Our goal is really to create greater transparency and greater control for our customers in influencing what they pay for insurance and their total cost of ownership on the vehicles,” Russell Page, GM’s head of business intelligence said in a recent interview.

The data play is substantial. The company has logged more than 121 million GB of data usage across the Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC brands since the launch of 4G LTE in 2014.

The increase in internet-connected vehicles has in turn, produced loads of data. GM has been one of the data collection leaders, thanks to its long-established OnStar platform that launched in 1996. But GM is not the first, nor certainly the last automaker, to seek out ways to use that data to provide services such as insurance. Tesla, for instance, launched an insurance service in 2019 that promised to deliver rates 20% and even as high as 30% lower than other insurance providers. Earlier this year, TechCrunch reported that Rivian was hiring an insurance agency data manager, a job posting that suggested the all-electric automaker is planning to offer its own insurance to customers.

GM faces competition from the bevy of smartphone apps and dongle devices that plug into a vehicle’s OBD-II port that track a vehicle’s performance as well as driver data and are tied to discounts on insurance.

GM does have experience in the industry dating back to 1925. The automaker spun off its insurance business in 2008. GM contends that its telematics data coupled with its knowledge of the vehicle and its features will allow it to offer deep discounts to drivers.

“And we’re going to then leverage that as we learn and move forward in order to bring novel products to bear, over the next few years,” Page said. “Think of it as an iterative development process.”

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Tesla gets a spot on the S&P 500

Tesla will be added to the S&P 500, a milestone that will expand its investor base and put the electric automaker in the same company as heavyweights like Apple, Berkshire Hathaway and Microsoft.

The announcement, made Monday afternoon by the S&P Dow Jones Indices, sent shares 13.7% higher in after-market trading. Tesla will officially join the benchmark index prior to trading December 21, the S&P Dow Jones Indices said in a statement.

When Tesla joins the S&P 500, it will be among the most valuable companies on the benchmark. Its weighting will be so influential that the S&P DJI is mulling whether to add the stock at the full float-adjusted market capitalization weight all at once or in two tranches.

“Tesla will be one of the largest weight additions to the S&P 500 in the last decade, and consequently will generate one of the largest funding trades in S&P 500 history,” S&P DJI said in a statement. “However, Tesla itself is very liquid, and adding the stock at the upcoming December quarterly rebalancing coincides with the expiration of stock options, stock futures, stock-index options, and stock-index futures, which may help facilitate the funding trade.”

Joining the S&P 500 has its benefits, as investors that have index-tracked funds will be forced to buy shares. With share prices already popping, that will mean investors will have to sell other stocks to make room for Tesla. Existing investors may, in turn, want to take advantage of that demand and sell. The upshot: The traditionally volatile stock might get a bit more volatile.

The inclusion on the benchmark follows Tesla’s decision in August to split its shares 5 for 1.

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Elon Musk’s Tesla tequila will run you $250 a bottle

Teslaquila, the Tesla -branded liquor that co-starred in CEO Elon Musk’s controversial April Fool’s Day joke about the automaker filing for bankruptcy, has arrived.

The automaker now lists Tesla Tequila (a bit different from the original Teslaquila branding) on its website. The tequila — described as a “small-batch premium 100% de agave tequila añejo made from sustainably sourced highland and lowland agaves,” is housed in a handblown glass bottle shaped in the electric charge symbol. Oh, and it costs $250.

Celeb-produced tequilas are nothing new — and are often lucrative. Casamigos, the tequila brand co-founded by George Clooney, was acquired by Diageo in a deal that valued the company up to $1 billion. Tesla Tequila might be first liquor sold by an automaker. The liquor is produced by Nosotros Tequila, according to the company.

The tequila first popped up in April 2018 when Musk tweeted a photo of himself passed out against a Tesla Model 3 “surrounded by “Teslaquilla” bottles, the tracks of dried tears still visible on his cheeks.” In the photo, Musk is holding a cardboard sign that reads “bankwupt.”

Later that year, Tesla filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark “Teslaquila.”

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Tesla has increased the price of its ‘Full Self-Driving’ option to $10,000

Tesla has made good on founder and CEO Elon Musk’s promise to boost the price of its “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) software upgrade option, increasing it to $10,000 following the start of the staged rollout of a beta version of the software update last week. This boosts the price of the package $2,000 from its price before today, and it has steadily increased since last May.

The FSD option has been available as an optional add-on to complement Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance technology, even though the features themselves haven’t been available to Tesla owners before the launch of the beta this month. Even still, it’s only in limited beta, but this is the closest Musk and Tesla have come to actually launching something under the FSD moniker — after having teased a fully autonomous mode in production Teslas for years now.

Despite its name, FSD isn’t what most in the industry would define as full, Level 4 or Level 5, autonomy per the standards defined by SAE International and accepted by most working on self-driving. Musk has designed it as vehicles having the ability “to be autonomous but requiring supervision and intervention at times,” whereas Levels 4 and 5 (often considered “true self-driving”) under SAE standards require no driver intervention.

Still, the technology does appear impressive in some ways according to early user feedback — though testing any kind of self-driving software unsupervised via the general public does seem an incredibly risky move. Musk has said that we should see a wide rollout of the FSD tech beyond the beta before year’s end, so he definitely seems confident in its performance.

The price increase might be another sign of his and the company’s confidence. Musk has always maintained that users were getting a discount by handing money over early to Tesla in order to help it develop technology that would come later, so in many ways it makes sense that the price increase comes now. This also obviously helps Tesla boost margins, though it’s already riding high on earnings that beat both revenue and profit expectations from analysts.

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This former Tesla CIO just raised $150 million more to pull car dealers into the 21st century

“I have to choose my words carefully,” says Joe Castelino of Stevens Creek Volkswagen in San Jose, California, when asked about the management software on which most car dealerships rely for inventory information, marketing, customer relationships and more.

Castelino, the dealership’s service director, laughs as he says this. But the joke has been on car dealers, most of whom have largely relied on a few frustratingly antiquated vendors for their dealer management systems over the years — along with more sophisticated point solutions.

It’s the precise opportunity that former Tesla CIO, Jay Vijayan, concluded he was well-positioned to address while still in the employ of the electric vehicle giant.

As Vijayan tells it now, he knew nothing about cars until joining Tesla in 2011, following 12 years in product development at Oracle, then VMware. Yet he learned plenty over the subsequent four years. Specifically, he says he helped to build with Elon Musk a central analysis system inside Tesla, a kind of brain that could see all of the company’s internal systems, from what was happening in the supply chain, to its factory systems, to its retail platform.

Tesla had to build it itself, says Vijayan; after evaluating the existing software of third-company providers, the team “realized that none of them had anything close to what we needed to provide a frictionless modern consumer experience.”

It was around that time that a lightbulb turned on. If Tesla could transform the experience for its own customers, maybe Vijayan could transform the buying and selling experience for the much bigger, broader automotive industry. Enter Tekion, a now four-year-old, San Carlos, California company that already employs 470 people locally and in Bangalore and just attracted $150 million in fresh funding led by the private equity investor Advent International.

With the Series C round — which also participation from Index Ventures, Airbus Ventures, FM Capital and Exor, the holding company of Fiat-Chrysler and Ferrari — the company has now raised $185 million altogether.

It’s also valued at north of $1 billion. (The automakers General Motors, BMW and the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Alliance are also investors.)

Eric Wei, a managing director at Advent, says that over the last decade, his team had been eager to seize on what’s approaching a $10 billion market annually. Instead, they found themselves tracking incumbents Reynolds & Reynolds, CDKGlobal and Cox Automotive’s Dealertrack — and waiting for a better player to emerge.

Then Wei met Tekion through Jon McNeill, a former Tesla president and an advisory partner to Advent.

Says Wei of seeing how Tekion’s tech compared with its more established rivals: “It was like comparing a flip phone to an iPhone.”

Unsurprisingly, McNeill, who worked at Tesla with Vijayan, also sings the company’s praises, noting that Tekion even bought a dealership in Gilroy, Calif., to use as a kind of lab while it was building its technology from scratch.

It’s nice, such acclaim, but more important is that Tekion is also attracting the attention of dealers. Though Vijayan declines to share how many customers have bought its cloud software — which connects dealers with both manufacturers and car buyers and is powered by machine learning algorithms — he says it’s already being used across 28 states.

One of these dealerships is the national chain Serra Automotive, whose founder, Joseph Serra, is now an investor in Tekion.

Another is that Volkswagen dealership in San Jose, where Castelino — who doesn’t have a financial interest in Tekion — speaks enthusiastically about the time and expenses his team is saving because of Tekion’s platform.

For example, he says customers need only log-in now to flag a particular issue. After that, with the help of an RFID tag, Stevens Creek knows exactly when that customer pulls into the dealership and what kind of help they need, making their arrival far more seamless.

Tekion can also make recommendations based on a car’s history. It might, for instance, suggest a brake fluid flush to a customer without an advisor having to look through that customer’s history, Castelino says.

As crucially, he says, the dealership has been able to cut ties with a lot of other software vendors, while also making more productive use of its time. Says Castelino, “As soon as a [repair order] is live, it’s in a dispatcher’s hand and a technician can grab the car.” It’s like that with every step, he insists. “You’re saving 15 minutes again and again, and suddenly, you have three hours where your intake can be higher.”

With converts like Castelino, it’s easy to image Tekion making serious strides in market share. And yet it does have rivals, some of which have long contracts in place with their customers.

Even steeper competition, should it come, might eventually be from Tesla itself.

In a Tesla earnings call earlier today, Musk told analysts that there are essentially a dozen startups housed inside of Tesla, including one centered on vehicle service. It’s the very business that Vijayan helped to create.

As for whether Musk might spin out any of these, he said Tesla currently has no plans to do so. He suggested it has enough on its plate for the time being. If Tekion takes off, however, that could well change.

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Tesla is a chain of startups, Elon Musk explains

Today during a call with investors and journalists, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was asked to expand a tweet from yesterday. In it, he stated: “Tesla should really be thought of as roughly a dozen technology startups, many of which have little to no correlation with traditional automotive companies.”

In short, he explained there are over a dozen startups in Tesla, and he views every product line and plant as a startup. It’s an interesting point of view from the top of Tesla, a car manufacturing company that also builds batteries, home solar panels and, among other things, is looking to offer car insurance, too.

Outside of vehicle manufacturing, Musk points to insurance when asked about the growth potential. He says the insurance business could grow into 30-40% of Tesla’s car business.

This strategy seemingly works well for Tesla, which constantly rolls out updates to existing products at an unusual pace. New features arrive without much warning, and it makes sense when Tesla is treating different vehicle component divisions as a collection of companies instead of a collection of divisions.

According to Musk, some of the so-called startups include autonomy, chip design, vehicle service, sales, designing a drive unit, motors, supercharger network and, soon, insurance.

“The thing people don’t understand about Tesla is [the company] is a whole chain of startups,” Musk said. “And then people say, ‘well, you didn’t do that before.’ Yeah, well, we’re doing it now. I think we may have been a bit slower than other startups, but I don’t think we’ve really had anything fail.”

He concluded there are no plans to spin out any business, noting there’s no need to add complexity.

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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

A solid public relations team solves many issues within a company.

It helps spread important news announcements and topics integral to a company’s success. It communicates with the media in a timely manner to ensure accurate coverage and control the conversation. It builds a state of trust and engagement that propels a company’s vision and goals forward. Unless of course that company is Tesla, in which case it wants none of that.

According to numerous internal sources confirmed by automotive blog Electrik, Tesla has been slowly dissolving its internal PR department over the course of this year, leaving the sole voice of the company its founder, Elon Musk.

If true, this is a confounding decision by Musk and the decision-makers at Tesla.

What this creates for Tesla is a black hole of information coming from the company. Facts will be obfuscated if there is no official position on whatever happens in the news. For instance, consider the recent cases of self-driving collisions or a roof flying off a new car.

Or last month, when there was a major outage in Tesla vehicles, the press was left to speculate. There is no longer a PR department to reply to these incidents. It seems that Tesla has adopted a crisis management strategy that appears to think that the best course of action is to ignore future crises and they will just go away on their own. Unfortunately for Tesla, real life doesn’t work like that.

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Polestar CEO defends the Polestar 2’s recall and 233-mile EPA rating

Polestar is a young automaker spun out of Volvo and Geely. Now, just four years old, it has two cars on the market with more launching soon. Like many startups, the company is weathering early storms coming from government regulators and early recalls.

Earlier this week, the EPA released its findings on the Polestar 2’s electric range, certifying it as capable of traveling 233 miles on a charge. That’s about 90 miles less on a charge than the competing Tesla Model 3. Read our early impressions here.

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Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath spoke at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility shortly after the EPA released its range guidance. In short, he said Polestar knows drivers see real-world results that exceed the EPA’s range.

“We know what the car does in reality,” Ingenlath said. “We know in reality, what might look like a very big difference, is not that much of a difference in real life. We think it’s definitely sufficient for day-to-day life as an EV. It’s one of our versions, and we will be adding different variants to the Polestar 2 that will have a higher EPA [rating]. I think [the range] is absolutely in the ballpark of competing EVs that is really good for you 365 days a year.”

Ingenlath concedes his company is not beating Tesla in range, but encourages side-by-side comparisons in the real world. What looks like a large difference on paper is much less in practice. And he says a longer-range version is on the way.

“Next year, in 2021, we have in our plans to come out with a single motor version,” Ingenlath said. “This will, of course, provide a better range with the same battery. And, of course, along the way, we’ll have software improvements that will give more efficiency with the same kilowatt-hours battery.

“We are on a journey,” he said. “That is where we start, and it will get better from month to month.”

Ingenlath also addressed the Polestar 2’s recent full recall over vehicles that abruptly stopped while driving. “This happened in very, very rare cases,” he said, adding there are only 2,200 Polestar 2’s on the market, and none of the reported cases happened in the United States. None of the affected vehicles were involved in an accident.

The issue is being fixed with a software update.

“We have many things to learn, and as a company, improve,” Ingenlath said. “We are a startup that’s fresh out. And of course, you cannot expect everything to go smoothly. We have to improve, and our customers have to be with us on the way. And I think it’s a really great standard that the car industry, actually, does very early recalls to make sure no one gets into a problem.”

He says he doesn’t see a big issue with the early recall. Instead, he says, he’s now focusing on ensuring the company excels at customer service when interacting with a Polestar 2 owner around the recall.


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