Singapore’s SalesWhale raises $5.3M to bring AI to sales and marketing teams


This post is by Jon Russell from TechCrunch


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SalesWhale, a Singapore-based startup that uses AI to help marketers and salespeople generate leads, has announced a Series A round worth $5.3 million.

The investment is led by Monk’s Hill Ventures — the Southeast Asia-focused firm that led SalesWhale’s seed round in 2017 — with participation from existing backers GREE Ventures, Wavemaker Partners, and Y Combinator. That’s right, SalesWhale is one a select few Southeast Asian startups to have been through YC, it graduated back in summer 2016.

SalesWhale — which calls itself “a conversational email marketing platform” — uses AI-powered ‘bots’ to handle email. In this case, its digital workforce is trained for sales leads. That means both covering the menial parts of arranging meetings and coordination, and the more proactive side of engaging old and new leads.

Back when we last wrote about the startup in 2017, it had just half a dozen staff. Fast forward two

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Led by LA-based March Capital, Astound raises $15.5 million for employee help desk automation services


This post is by Jonathan Shieber from TechCrunch


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Astound, a company selling automated employee help desk services, has raised a new round of $15.5 million from investors led by the Los Angeles investment firm March Capital Partners.

Previous investors Vertex Ventures, Pelion Venture Partners, Moment Ventures, and the Slack Fund also participated in the funding, which brings Astound’s total capital raised to $27 million.

The company’s software integrates with ServiceNow, BMC, Jira, Cherwell, and Workday, among others.

For co-founder and chief product officer Dan Turchin, the company is the culmination of decades of work spent developing tools for human resources and employee services. It’s the seventh company that Turchin has been involved in around applying technology to help employees, he says. Most recently Turchin worked at ServiceNow, which he left in 2014 to launch Astound.

Astound said it would use the financing to increase its product development and sales and marketing efforts, according to a statement.

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VCs bet on cannabis vaping, ED meds and mobile fertility clinics


This post is by Kate Clark from TechCrunch


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Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week was a bit of a reunion with Kate and Alex on as usual, with the addition of Extra Crunch denizen extraordinaire Danny Crichton. Danny, you may recall, has been a semi-regular Equity co-host over the past year.

As Kate explains up front, Equity is out a day early this week due to the Big TechCrunch Robotics Affair in Berkeley today. We’ll be back on Friday with IPO news regarding Zoom and Pinterest and we can’t wait.

Ok, all that sorted, what did we talk about? Alex wanted to talk about some market signals that he reads as bullish. Whatever went wrong at the end of 2018 has healed over he thinks because there have been a whole lot of supergiant venture capital rounds and some other stuff.

Next, we

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Google Cloud brings on 27-year SAP veteran as it doubles down on enterprise adoption


This post is by Frederic Lardinois from TechCrunch


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Thomas Kurian, the newly-minted CEO of Google Cloud, used the company’s Cloud Next conference last week to lay out his vision for the future of Google’s cloud computing platform. That vision involves, in part, a hiring spree to give businesses that want to work with Google more people to talk to and get help from. Unsurprisingly, Kurian is also looking to put his stamp on the executive team, too, and today announced that former SAP executive Robert Enslin is joining Google Cloud as its new President of Global Customer Operations.

Enslin’s hire is another clear signal that Kurian is focused on enterprise customers. Enslin, after all, is a veteran of the enterprise business, with 27 years at SAP, where he served on the company’s executive board until he announced his resignation from the company earlier this month. After leading various parts of SAP, including as president of its cloud product

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African e-commerce startup Jumia’s shares open at $14.50 in NYSE IPO


This post is by Jake Bright from TechCrunch


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Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia listed on the New York Stock Exchange today, with shares beginning trading at $14.50 under ticker symbol JMIA. This comes four weeks after CEO Sacha Poignonnec confirmed the IPO to TechCrunch and Jumia filed SEC documents.

With the public offering, Jumia becomes the first startup from Africa to list on a major global exchange.

In an updated SEC filing, Jumia indicated it is offering 13,500,000 ADR shares, for an opening price spread of $13 to $16 per share, representing 17.6 percent of all company shares. The IPO could raise up to $216 million for the internet venture.

Since the original announcement (and reflected in the latest SEC docs), Mastercard Europe pre-purchased $50 million in Jumia ordinary shares.

The IPO creates another milestone for Jumia. The company became the first African startup unicorn in 2016, achieving a $1 billion valuation after a funding round

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Travis Kalanick stands to make billions from Uber’s IPO


This post is by Kate Clark from TechCrunch


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Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick, who resigned from the company in 2017, still stands to make billions in the company’s intial public offering, expected in May.

The ride-hailing giant dropped its S-1 this afternoon, confirming plans to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “Uber.” The company did not disclose the valuation it’s seeking, but is said to be planning to sell around $10 billion in stock.

The filing highlights Uber’s key stockholders, including Kalanick, who owns 8.3 percent of the company’s pre-IPO shares valued at roughly $9 billion, assuming an initial market cap of $100 billion.

Uber has raised nearly $20 billion in a combination of debt and equity funding, making it the most well-capitalized pre-IPO business ever. Its IPO will make history as the eighth largest debut in U.S. history, Axios reports.

According to the filing, the SoftBank Vision Fund owns

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DHL launches Africa eShop app for global retailers to sell into Africa


This post is by Jake Bright from TechCrunch


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DHL is launching an e-commerce app called DHL Africa eShop for global retailers to sell goods to Africa’s consumers markets.

The platform goes live today and brings more than 200 U.S. and UK retailers—from Nieman Marcus to Carters—online in 11 African markets: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritius, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Malawi, Botswana, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.

DHL Africa eShop will operate using startup MallforAfrica.com’s white label service, Link Commerce. Payment methods will include local fintech options, such as Nigeria’s Paga and Kenya’s M-Pesa.

The announcement comes as e-commerce in Africa has seen some ups and downs—with online sales startup Jumia announcing an IPO, while several Africa digital retail ventures have recently faltered.

DHL Africa eShop takes advantage of shipping giant’s existing delivery structure on the continent, able to get goods to doorsteps near and far through its DHL Express shipping, tracking, and courier service.

DHL’s partner for

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ShopBack, a cashback startup in Asia Pacific, raises $45M from Rakuten and others


This post is by Jon Russell from TechCrunch


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ShopBack, a Singapore-based startup that offers cashback and consumer rewards in Asia Pacific, has closed a $45 million round led by new investors Rakuten Capital and EV Growth.

Founded in 2014, the startup had been relatively under-the-radar until late 2017 when it announced a $25 million investment that funded expansion into Australia among other things. Now, it is doubling down with this deal which sees participation from another new backer, EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board. Shopback has now raised close to $85 million from investors, which also include Credit Saison Blue Sky, AppWorks, SoftBank Ventures Korea, Singtel Innov8 and Qualgro.

The investment will see Amit Patel, who leads Rakuten-owned cashback service Ebates, and EV Growth managing partner Willson Cuaca, join the board. Cuaca is a familiar face since his East Ventures firm, which launched EV Growth alongside Yahoo Japan Capital and SMDV last year, was

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When to ditch that nightmare customer (before they kill your startup)


This post is by Arman Tabatabai from TechCrunch


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Three million dollars. That’s the largest amount of money I’ve ever walked away from in terms of a customer contract that I decided we shouldn’t take. 

It sucked. It was, at the time, more than half of the total amount of funds we had raised and it also represented just a shade more than the previous year’s revenue. It was a Fortune 500 company and the market leader in their industry. This was pocket money to them — which was part of the problem.

Good entrepreneurs spend a lot of time worrying about customers. We worry about the customers we have, the ones we don’t have, the ones we lost,

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Grab plans to raise $6.5B this year to fund an acquisition spree in Southeast Asia


This post is by Jon Russell from TechCrunch


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Always be raisin’. That appears to be the motto of Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing companies Grab and Go-Jek.

Fresh from closing a near-$1.5 billion raise from SoftBank’s Vision Fund as part of a huge, multi-billion Series H deal, Grab said today that it plans to raise $6.5 billion in capital this year alone to amp up its battle with Go-Jek, which recently raised $1 billion of an ongoing Series F round.

A spokesperson for Grab told TechCrunch that the $6.5 billion will include additional money into that Series H deal, but also other investments that could include debt funding. The money announced so far this year — that $4.5 billion from the Series H — is included in that $6.5 billion goal, the Grab rep explained, so that means Grab is aiming to raise a further $5 billion in 2019 a further $2 billion in 2019.

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Focaldata thinks it has some answers for campaigners in the age of Trump and Brexit


This post is by Mike Butcher from TechCrunch


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Political parties, campaigns, and brands can’t get an accurate and cost-effective understanding of opinion in small geographic areas, like the constituencies of lawmakers. This is a big problem in political campaigning. And all political campaigning now has a huge online element, as we know. We also know political turbulence is one of the defining themes of our age.

But one thing is clear. All the players want faster, cheaper, more accurate and a more granular understanding of consumers and voters. In the age of AI, survey predictions are influenced as much as so many other machine-learning technology products.

Focaldata is a UK-startup that thinks it has some of the answers to these quandaries. Their integrated consumer analytics and survey workflow application claims to give customers a more accurate and granular picture of consumers than traditional polling using machine learning. At the same time, they say their workflow software cuts down

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Microsoft gives 500 patents to startups


This post is by Frederic Lardinois from TechCrunch


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Microsoft today announced a major expansion of its Azure IP Advantage program, which provides its Azure users with protection against patent trolls. This program now also provides customers who are building IoT solutions that connect to Azure with access to 10,000 patents to defend themselves against intellectual property lawsuits.

What’s maybe most interesting here, though, is that Microsoft is also donating 500 patents to startups in the LOT Network. This organization, which counts companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, SAP, Epic Games, Ford, GM, Lyft and Uber among its well over 150 members, is designed to protect companies against patent trolls by giving them access to a wide library of patents from its member companies and other sources.

“The LOT Network is really committed to helping address the proliferation of intellectual property losses, especially ones that are brought by non-practicing entities, or so-called trolls,” Microsoft  CVP

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Dakar Network Angels begins startup investments in francophone Africa


This post is by Jake Bright from TechCrunch


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The Dakar Network Angels network launched this month, making its first investment in francophone Africa to cleantech venture Coliba. The Ivorian startup—that uses a mobile app to coordinate waste recycling—will receive mentorship and a minimum of $25K in seed funds.

The deal is part of Dakar Network Angels’ mission of convening experts and capital to bridge the resource gap for startups in French speaking Africa—or 24 of the continent’s 54 countries.

The group—which goes by DNA for short—will offer seed fund investments of between $25K to $100K to early stage ventures with high growth potential. These rounds will come with the entrepreneurial guidance of DNA’s angel network.

Launched in Senegal, the organization’s founder is Marieme Diop, a VC investor at Orange Digital Ventures.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Diop underscored VC disparities between francophone and non-francophone Africa as the primary driver for launching DNA. She pointed to funding data by Partech indicating

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Seven Africa-focused startups present at Y Combinator’s Demo Day


This post is by Jake Bright from TechCrunch


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The seven African-focused companies which presented as part of Y Combinator’s 200 strong cohort of Winter 2019 class of 200 startups may seem like a small percentage for such a large class, but it represents the growing significance of African ventures in YC’s universe.

Since 2016, the Silicon Valley accelerator—that provides seed funds and mentorship for early stage startups—has backed 25 companies located in Africa and another 10 with an Africa product focus, according to YC spokesperson Lindsay Amos.

Past YC Africa alumns covered here at TechCrunch include payments startup Paystack, logistics firm Kobo360, and VOD startup Afrostream (now shuttered).

Of the 7 Africa-oriented YC class who presented at demo day 2019, 5 originated in Nigeria and 1 in Tanzania. All 7 are fintech ventures with products targeted across currency trading, agriculture, healthcare, and education.

Here’s the skinny on the Africa focused startups that presented at Demo Day

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Trello aims for the enterprise


This post is by Frederic Lardinois from TechCrunch


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Trello, Atlassian’s project management tool, is doubling down on its efforts to become a better service for managing projects at work. To do so, the team is launching thirteen new features in Trello Enterprise today, making this one of the company’s biggest feature releases since the launch of the enterprise version in 2015.

As the company also announced today, one million teams now actively use the service.

Most of these new features are for paying users, but even Trello’s free users are getting access to a few new goodies. In return, though, Trello is taking away the ability to create an unlimited number of boards for free Teams users (not regular users outside of a team). Going forward, they can only have 10 boards open in Trello at any given time. Teams without a subscription that already use more than 10 boards will continue to use them but will

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In big tech’s future expansion plans, public good should be the corporate incentive


This post is by Jonathan Shieber from TechCrunch


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The cancellation of Amazon’s planned expansion in New York exposes the truth about its HQ2 promises. In the end, the company seemed mainly interested in tax incentives and being allowed to make a corner of NYC once set aside for public housing and schools its own.

Meanwhile, Arlington county officials are revisiting plans to deliver locally-funded financial incentives to Amazon in exchange for the development of DC-adjacent “National Landing.”

Increasingly, communities are demanding that tech companies bring more to the table than they take. Locals want them to stimulate the local economy and fortify startup ecosystems rather than hire away people and raise housing prices. After all, talent is the most precious resource in the

Apple iPad event

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500 Startups Japan becomes Coral Capital with a new $45M fund


This post is by Jon Russell from TechCrunch


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The 500 Startups Japan crew is going independent. The VC firm announced a $30 million fund in 2015, and now the follow up is a new $45 million fund called Coral Capital.

Helmed by James Riney and Yohei Sawayama, just like 500 Startups Japan, Coral will essentially continue the work the U.S. firm made in Japan, where it made more than 40 investments including Kakehashi, satellite startup Infostellar, SmartHR and Pocket Concierge, which was acquired by American Express.

“Coral provides a foundational role within the marine ecosystem, it’s symbolic about how we want to be in the Japanese startup ecosystem,” Riney told TechCrunch in an interview.

LPs in the fund include 500 Startups backers Mizuho Bank, Mitsubishi Estate, and Taizo Son — the brother of SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son and founder of Mistletoe — and Shinsei Bank as well as other undisclosed institutional investors, who Riney

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The shift to collaborative robots means the rise of robotics as a service


This post is by Jonathan Shieber from TechCrunch


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The 2018 Holiday shopping season was the biggest on record for e-commerce, with nearly $126 billion in online sales. But as e-commerce continues to expand, the demand for warehouse workers is growing faster than the labor supply and creating an increased need for automation.

Given its dominance in e-commerce and the massive scale of its business, there’s no surprise that Amazon was one of the first companies to supplement their human workforce with robotics. Since the acquisition of Kiva in 2012, a growing army of robots performs an increasing variety of tasks at Amazon facilities. However, those tasks remain limited in their ability to displace their human counterparts entirely.

Today, robotics are more affordable to a broader array of companies, thanks to lower cost components, and advancements in technology have paved the way for the rise of the collaborative robot or “cobot”.

inVia Robotics warehouse robots

Cobots are more precise and increasingly flexible

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How students are founding, funding and joining startups


This post is by Jonathan Shieber from TechCrunch


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There has never been a better time to start, join, or fund a startup as a student. 

Young founders who want to start companies while still in school have an increasing number of resources to tap into that exist just for them. Students that want to learn how to build companies can apply to an increasing number of fast-track programs that allow them to gain valuable early stage operating experience. The energy around student entrepreneurship today is incredible. I’ve been immersed in this community as an investor and adviser for some time now, and to say the least, I’m continually blown away by what the next generation of innovators are dreaming up (from Analytical Space’s global data relay service for satellites to Brooklinen’s reinvention of the luxury bed).

Amazon and Flipkart pull 100,000s of products to comply with new Indian law


This post is by Jon Russell from TechCrunch


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Amazon has been forced to pull an estimated 400,000 products in India after new regulation limiting e-commerce businesses went into force in the country today.

First announced at the end of 2018, the new regulation imposes a ban on exclusive sales, prevents retailers from selling products on platforms they count as investors, and it applies restrictions on discounts and cashback promotions.

That’s hugely problematic for Amazon and Flipkart, its rival that’s owned by Walmart following a $16 billion investment last year. After a 2016 ruling prevented it from owning inventory, Amazon restricted its system so that its own products were offered by entities that it jointly owned with local partners. However, the newest regulation forbids it from working with organizations that it has ownership of, hence it is estimated to have pulled as many as 400,000 products from sale in India, according to a New York Times report.

The

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