Travel activities startup KKday lands investment from Alibaba and Line

Taiwan’s KKday, a startup in the increasingly competitive travel activities space, has pulled in an undisclosed funding round that adds two strategic investors to its business: Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba and Japanese chat app company Line.

KKday was founded in 2015 to help people who travel overseas to find and book activities, ranging from tours to tourist attraction, transportation, museums and more. The company said it offers over 20,000 “unique experiences” in over 500 cities across 80 countries. There is much potential to move into, it seems, with analyst firm Phocuswright predicting that the travel tour and activities market will grow by one-third to reach $183 billion by 2020. Unlike Hong Kong-based regional rival Klook, which is valued at over $1 billion and has ventured into Europe and the U.S, KKday is focused on Asian markets only. We last wrote about the startup in January when it raised a
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How the Apple Watch changed the world

In 2015 Switzerland was fucked. This blunt belief, grunted out by Apple’s Jony Ive and repeated by the media as a death knell for the watch industry, seemed to define a sad truth: that the Swiss watch was dead and Apple pulled the trigger.

Now, three years and four Apple Watches later, was Ive right? Did Apple change the world? And, most importantly, did Switzerland survive?

Yes, but…

As you might have noticed the Swiss watch industry is still standing. The major Swiss houses – LVMH, Richemont, and Swatch Group – are seeing a major uptick in sales, especially in the US. According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, sales are up 5.5% year-over-year, a bit of news that was, amusingly, almost buried by the onslaught of Apple Watch Series 4 reviews. This increase of US sales bucked a major trend this year and one
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Silicon Valley’s sovereign wealth problem

It’s time to bring the conversation about where Silicon Valley gets its money from out into the open. Following recent revelations into Saudi Arabia’s extensive reach and influence in the US technology sector, the willful ignorance that has defined the relationship between venture capital firms and the limited partnerships (LPs) that fund them for years now isn’t going to cut it anymore.

According to the latest reports from the Wall Street Journal, Saudi Arabia is now the single-largest source of funding for US-based tech companies. Since 2016, the Saudi royal family has invested at least $11 billion into US startups directly, and in August, the Saudi Arabian government committed $45 billion to Softbank’s $92 billion Vision Fund. To put that into context, the total amount of funding deployed across all VC deals so far in

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Lessons from building Brex into a billion-dollar startup

When I think about my experience as an immigrant and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, I remember growing up in Brazil and how we saw tech founders and CEOs as kings. We imagined what it would be like to assume the throne.

But these weren’t just any kings. Silicon Valley was the kingdom of nerds and underdogs. We identified with these guys, they were just like us. We were fed the myth of a Silicon Valley meritocracy, and the illusion that all you needed was ambition, determination, and a good idea to meet the right person and get funded.

What we didn’t understand was that this myth was not completely rooted in reality. Not everyone has access to the American Dream, and those who do have a track record of success

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The Hack Fund will use crypto to give startups early liquidity

Now that “utility” tokens have become a popular and international way to fund major blockchain projects, a pair of investors are creating a new way to turn tokens into true equities. The investors, Jonathan Nelson and Laura Nelson, have created Hack Fund, an early stage investment vehicle that allows startups to launch what amounts to “blockchain stock certificates,” according to Jonathan.

“Our previous business model exchanged equity from startup companies for services, and wrapped that equity into funds that we then sold to investors. These fund investors have included family offices, institutions, and high net worth individuals,” said Jonathan. “However, Hack Fund represents a new business model. Because Hack Fund leverages the blockchain, investors all over the world at all levels can participate in startup investing by trading blockchain stock certificates. Also, its SEC compliant structure means that it is also available to a limited number of accredited investors
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KZen raises $4 million to bring sanity to crypto wallets

KZen, a company run by former TC editor Ouriel Ohayon, has raised $4 million in seed to build a “better wallet,” obviously the elusive Holy Grail in the crypto world. Benson Oak Ventures, Samsung Next, Elron Ventures invested. Ohayon, who has worked at Internet Lab and founded TechCrunch France and Appsfire, wanted to create an easy-to-use crypto wallet that wouldn’t confound users. The company name is a play on the Japanese word kaizen or improvement and it also points to the idea of the zero-knowledge proof. Omer Shlomovits, Tal Be’ery, and Gary Benattar are deep crypto researchers and developers and helped build the wallet of Ohayon’s dreams. “We wanted something that did not feel like a pre-AOL experience, that was incredibly superior in terms of security, and simple to use,” he said. “We wanted a solution that brings peace of mind and that did not force the user
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VCs say Silicon Valley isn’t the gold mine it used to be

In the days leading up to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018, The Economist published the cover story, ‘Why Startups Are Leaving Silicon Valley.’ The author outlined reasons why the Valley has “peaked.” Venture capital investors are deploying capital outside the Bay Area more than ever before. High-profile entrepreneurs and investors, Peter Thiel, for example, have left. Rising rents are making it impossible for new blood to make a living, let alone build businesses. And according to a recent survey, 46 percent of Bay Area residents want to get the hell out, an increase from 34 percent two years ago. Needless to say, the future of Silicon Valley was top of mind on stage at Disrupt. “It’s hard to make a difference in San Francisco as a single entrepreneur,” said J.D. Vance, the author of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ and a managing partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest
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Ready, Set, Raise is a new accelerator built for women by women

Women in tech are not only significantly under-funded by venture capitalists, but they also often lack access to the early-stage support granted to their male counterparts. To enroll in a startup accelerator like Y Combinator, for example, its expected founders relocate to the Bay Area for three months. Women, who are more often caregivers, might not be able to do that, and even if they can, the program may not cater to their specific needs. Female Founders Alliance (FFA), a relatively new network of female startup founders, has built a free, non-dilutive 5-week accelerator for women by women. Called ‘Ready, Set, Raise,’ its goal is to help more female-founded startups raise VC through workshops, 1-on-1 coaching, legal clinics, communications and speech coaching and more. The accelerator, sponsored by Trilogy Equity Partners, kicked off at the end of August and will culminate with a private demo day with VCs in
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Jack Ma says he isn’t about to retire from Alibaba but is planning a gradual succession

Reports of Jack Ma’s impending retirement are greatly exaggerated, it seems. Ma, the co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, has pushed back on claims that he is on the cusp of leaving the $420 billion Chinese e-commerce firm. The New York Times first reported that the entrepreneur plans to announce that he will leave the firm to pursue philanthropy in education, a topic he is passionate about — Ma is a former teacher. But that news was quickly rebutted after Ma gave an interview to the South China Morning Postthe media company that Alibaba bought in 2016 — in which he explained that he plans to gradually phase himself out of the company through a succession plan. When reached for comment, Alibaba pointed TechCrunch to the SCMP report which claims Ma’s strategy will “provide [leadership] transition plans over a significant period of time.” In order words, Ma isn’t abruptly leaving
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Is China’s digital silk road going to pave over Silicon Valley?

Over the past 20 years, China has now grown into one of the largest consumer technology markets, with thousands of startups and funding rivaling Silicon Valley. In 2018, Chinese entrepreneurs are seeking to expand their businesses beyond borders, establish international operations, and become global companies by listing on exchanges including the NASDAQ and NYSE. More than ever Chinese entrepreneurs are confident in their ability to create a unicorn thanks to China’s digital transformation and its leading innovations in international markets.

Digital transformation through new native apps and services make scaling easier

Despite the talent war between China and the U.S. and large growing domestic markets, Chinese chief executives dream of successfully entering the U.S. Market. There is now global competition to attract Chinese startups to list on exchanges around the world. With a growing
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ShipBob brings in $40M to help e-commerce businesses compete with Amazon

Nowadays, those of us who shop for everyday goods online are accustomed to said goods arriving on our doorstep 24 to 48 hours after we click ‘buy.’ That’s because of Amazon; the e-commerce giant’s next-day delivery feature is a sweet, sweet deal, but for smaller e-commerce businesses that are trying to compete with Jeff Bezos it’s, well, tough. ShipBob is here to help. The Chicago-based startup has raised a $40 million Series C to help small e-commerce businesses streamline the fulfillment process and manage inventory. The company was launched through Y Combinator in 2014 by CEO Dhruv Saxena and Divey Gulati, a pair of engineers that met after college. “Once we graduated, we thought up this e-commerce store and we were able to automate basically everything in the operation except for shipping and logistics,” Saxena told TechCrunch. “We realized none of the existing solutions out there worked. So, we
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Canters restaurant royalty raises $9.5 million for Ordermark, a takeout order management service

Alex Canter knows the restaurant business. The scion of Los Angeles’ famous first family of the deli business — the owners of the eponymous Canters restaurant — Canter has been in the food business longer than many seasoned restauranteurs twice his age. While some people had a Bar Mitzvah party, the thirteen year old Canter had section four of his family’s restaurant. But as technology started making its way inside the restaurant business, Canter realized that the delicatessen on Fairfax would need to upgrade to keep up with the times. The younger Canter upgraded the menu, brought in a point of sale system and renovated the bar. “I was the guy in the restaurant to pitch whenever there was a service or product,” Canter says. “All of a sudden online ordering started up. All of these different ordering services began to pop up and each one added more customers and
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Xiaomi backs Indian consumer lending startup ZestMoney in $13.4M deal

Xiaomi has continued its investment in India after it led a $13.4 million round for fintech startup ZestMoney. The newly-public Chinese firm previously said it would invest up to $1 billion in India and Indian startups over a five-year period, and this deal follows its maiden India fintech investment in lending platform KrazyBee. The new capital is an extension to ZestMoney’s recently closed $6.5 million Series A, and it takes the company to $22 million raised to date. Existing backers PayU, Ribbit Capital and Omidyar Network joined Xiaomi in this ‘Series A2’ round. ZestMoney was founded in 2015 by British entrepreneur Lizzie Chapman, who moved to India in 2011 to head up payday loan startup Wonga’s division in the country. Wonga — which is reportedly close to shutting down — didn’t ultimately pursue that opportunity. After a spell consulting, Chapman reunited with her former Wonga India colleagues Ashish Anantharaman and
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Stealthy Singapore VC firm Qualgro is raising a $100M fund

Southeast Asia’s venture capital space is booming right now. Openspace Ventures just announced the close of its newest $135 million fund, Golden Gate Ventures hit the first close on its upcoming $100 million vehicle, and a third Singapore-based fund is also raising big right now: Qualgro. Unlike others, Qualgro has operated relatively under the radar to date. That’s been very deliberate, according to managing partner Heang Chhor, who started the firm after leaving McKinsey following a 26-year stint that spanned Europe and Asia. Cambodian by birth, Chhor grew up in France and he rose to become a member of the McKinsey Global Board, whilst also leading the business in Japan. Prior to McKinsey, Chhor started a number of businesses — of which he says he got a modest exit but plenty of experience — and now he is turning his attention to Southeast Asia, where growing internet access among a cumulative base
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Sagewise pitches a service to verify claims and arbitrate disputes over blockchain transactions

Sometimes smart contracts can be pretty dumb.

All of the benefits of a cryptographically secured, publicly verified, anonymized transaction system can be erased by errant code, malicious actors, or poorly defined parameters of an executable agreement. Hoping to beat back the tide of bad contracts, bad code and bad actors, Sagewise, a new Los Angeles-based startup has raised $1.25 million to bring to market a service that basically hits pause on the execution of a contract so it can be arbitrated in the event that something goes wrong. Co-founded by a longtime lawyer, Amy Wan, whose experience runs the gamut from the U.S. Department of Commerce to serving as counsel for a peer-to-peer real estate investment platform in Los Angeles, and Dan Rice, a longtime entrepreneur working with blockchain, Sagewise works with both Ethereum and the Hedera Hashgraph (a newer distributed ledger technology, which purports to solve
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MallforAfrica goes global, Kobo360 and Sokowatch raise VC, France explains its $76M fund

B2B e-commerce company Sokowatch closed a $2 million seed investment led by 4DX Ventures. Others to join the round were Village Global, Lynett Capital, Golden Palm Investments, and Outlierz  Ventures. The Kenya based company aims to shake up the supply chain market for Africa’s informal retailers. Sokowatch’s platform connects Africa’s informal retail stores directly to local and multi-national suppliers—such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble—by digitizing orders, delivery, and payments with the aim of reducing costs and increasing profit margins. “With both manufacturers and the small shops, we’re becoming the connective layer between them, where previously you had multiple layers of middle-men from distributors, sub-distributors,
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What every startup founder should know about exits

The dream of a startup founder can often be summarized by the following well-intentioned, and mostly delusional, quote: “We’ll raise a few rounds and in a few years we’ll IPO on Nasdaq.”
But a more likely scenario looks something like this: You invest a few years of hard work to build something of value. One day you receive an acquisition offer out of the blue. You’re elated. And you’re not prepared. You drop everything to focus on this opportunity. Exclusive due diligence starts. Your company is a mess (IP, contracts, burn). Days become weeks; weeks become months. You’ve neglected business and fundraising. You’re running out of money. M&A is now your one and only option. The buyer says they found a bunch of cockroaches in the
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Bitcoin price falls but doesn’t flatline

Those not looking at the Bitcoin markets lately will either gasp or smile. Bitcoin, down from its all time high of around $19,000, is now floating at $6,785 as of this writing. To many this means that either the Bitcoin experiment is over or, to many more, that it has just begun. There are plenty of folks who will have been hurt by this crash. I was speaking with a Romanian entrepreneur about his friend who bought BTC on a credit card only to find that he is wildly underwater. The volatility is also frightening to folks who might have gotten in on the last run up only to find themselves back at the start. I pity the poor waiter who a friend saw making Bitcoin trades at $18,000 during his shift. I hope he sold. But there are no signs that the cryptocurrency train is stopping. Startups around the
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The race to build autonomous delivery robots rolls on

It’s been a busy year in delivery robot land.

Starship Technologies sounded the starting gun to bring autonomous delivery vehicles to market with a $17.2 million round led by Daimler back in January 2017. Then in January this year the Mountain View, Calif.-based company Nuro, raised the curtain on its own vision for robo-delivery with a whopping $92 million in funding. Meanwhile, upstart Robomart has its own notion for delivery vehicles that it unveiled at CES. And not to be outdone, everyone’s favorite Chinese retail powerhouse, Alibaba, announced its own self-driving delivery vehicle.

Now, there’s Boxbot, the still-stealthy startup developing autonomous delivery somethings, which has picked up new cash as the race to build delivery bots rolls on.

Boxbot is a latecomer in the field. The Oakland-based company boasts impressive pedigrees from its founders — former Tesla engineer Austin Oehlerking and Mark Godwin, an entrepreneur who was

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Pick up some moving insights into the future of mobility with Gett chief executive Dave Waiser in Tel Aviv

Dave Waiser has been at the forefront of the mobility technology revolution in Israel for the past eight years, ever since he launched Gett in 2010. One of the last companies standing in the ultra-competitive global ride-sharing market, Gett has withstood competition from Didi Chuxing, Grab, Ola, Lyft and Uber and kept pace with those rivals as it claims a share of a worldwide market worth billions. Through direct operations and partnerships with companies like the chauffeur and logistics business Carey International, Gett has managed to achieve a footprint of 1,000 cities that span the globe. It operates directly in 100 cities in four countries (including a competitive position in New York) and has raised some $640 million in venture funding — including a $300 million investment from the Volkswagen Group. For Waiser, Gett’s success is only the latest in a string of endeavors which the enterprising entrepreneur has
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