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Fintech and insurtech innovation in Brazil set to take off on regulatory tailwinds

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Fintech and insurtech innovation in Brazil set to take off on regulatory tailwinds

Brazilian instant payment system Pix ended 2021 having powered more than 8 billion transactions, according to statistics from the country’s Central Bank. This is quite an impressive figure for an offering only launched in November 2020 and goes to show how ubiquitous Pix has become in the country.

You could describe Pix as “a government-built version of Venmo,” as João Pedro Thompson, founder of fintech Z1, told TechCrunch. However, the analogy doesn’t fully capture the fact that Pix appeals to many more than just digitally savvy teenagers repaying friends for coffee. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be used by six of 10 Brazilians.

In a country where many people are still unbanked and queuing to pay bills is part of daily life, the impact of being able to pay anyone instantly can’t be understated. In addition, Pix now supports more services, such as letting you withdraw cash from businesses.

It’s interesting that Pix is an institutional initiative, part of a wider range of public efforts to transform Brazil’s financial landscape. “The Central Bank has been doing a tremendous job and Pix is one of the most relevant structural changes,” Brazilian VC Bruno Yoshimura told TechCrunch when we wrote about Latin America’s fintech boom.

I’ve lived in Brazil, so this naturally piqued my interest. At the time, entrepreneurs were constantly complaining about bureaucracy, and their highest hope was that institutions would just stay out of the way. But now, VCs and founders are actually praising the Central Bank for its initiatives and the opportunities it has created.

“Both Open Banking and Pix will level the playfield for new challenges, and we expect to see a lot of innovation around them,” Yoshimura said, referring to another of the Central Bank’s projects.

It’s not just Pix, and it’s not only the Central Bank’s BC# agenda either. Brazil’s Superintendence of Private Insurance (Susep) is working on open insurance plans, which means that insurtech could be the next sector to benefit from regulatory tailwinds.

To understand what’s going on with regulations in Brazil, and how this is affecting startups, I reached out to experts with firsthand knowledge of Latin America’s fintech ecosystem.

On the VC side, I got in touch with Amy Cheetham, a partner at Costanoa Ventures, whose recent investments include Rio de Janeiro-based Plug; and Alma Mundi VenturesJavier Santiso for additional thoughts on insurtech. On the startup side, I spoke with CEOs Rodrigo Teijeiro from RecargaPay and Pedro Sônego de Oliveira from TruePay.

Opportunities abound

“The open banking initiatives adopted by Brazil’s Central Bank are absolutely tailwinds for fintech innovation,” Costanoa’s Amy Cheetham said. “As consumers regain control of their data, it creates space for new entrants to the banking ecosystem and creates more competition, giving consumers access to better, cheaper, fairer, and more secure financial products and services. This includes giving fintechs the power to build for previously [underserved] or unserved segments of the population,” she explained.

RecargaPay is one of the startups leveraging the new regulations to expand their B2C services. “Our mission at RecargaPay,” founder Teijeiro said, “is to democratize mobile payments and financial services in Brazil, so open banking and Pix are the perfect recipe to accelerate our mission.”

Teijeiro is particularly appreciative of Pix and its “incredible” trajectory. “What was accomplished in just one year was a tremendous disruption benefiting millions of Brazilians by making their payments easier, faster and cheaper. For this, the Brazilian Central Bank deserves to be recognized as the ‘fintech startup of the year,’” he said, describing Pix’s impact on cash going mobile as “a huge blessing for RecargaPay.”

Source: Tech

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Crypto.com expands venture arm to $500 million to back early-stage web3 startups

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Crypto.com, a popular cryptocurrency exchange, has extended its venture arm’s fund size to $500 million as it looks to more aggressively back early-stage startups to help the nascent ecosystem grow, following similar moves by rivals Binance, Coinbase and FTX.

The broadening of Crypto.com Capital comes less than a year after the Singapore-headquartered firm unveiled its maiden fund of $200 million. The fund, unlike those of many of its rivals, has no LPs (meaning, it’s fully financed by the firm’s balance sheet.)

The maiden fund, whose individual checks run up to $10 million in size, has been so far deployed to back about 20 startups including YGG SEA, multi-chain crypto portfolio tracker DeBank, cross-chain token infrastructure Efinity and Ethereum scaling solution Matter Labs.

Crypto.com will continue to focus on backing early-stage startups, said Jon Russell, who joined the firm as a general partner this month, in an interview with TechCrunch.

With the fund, Crypto.com is broadly focusing on gaming, decentralized-finance and startups innovating on cross-chain solutions. But he cautioned that the industry could change and expand, as it has in recent years, to areas “we don’t know about,” hence the firm is keeping an eye out on everything.

Tuesday’s announcement also further illustrates the growing involvement of cryptocurrency exchanges in being the rainmaker – and beneficiary – of the ecosystem which encompasses the industry in which they operate.

FTX, which has backed over 15 startups, last week announced a $2 billion crypto fund. Its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, also owns Alameda Research, a venture firm that has backed close to 100 web3 startups.

Coinbase Ventures, the investment arm of the only crypto exchange that is publicly traded, and Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume, are also among the most prolific investors in the web3 space.

Venture investment in crypto / web3 in 2021 by category (Image credits: Galaxy Digital)

The funding activity in the space, even as most of the aforementioned names often co-invest in startups, is at an all-time high. VCs invested more than $33 billion in crypto/web3 startups in 2021, more than all prior years combined, Galaxy Digital, another prolific investor in the space, wrote in a recent report.

“Valuations in the crypto/blockchain space were 141% higher than the rest of the venture capital space in Q4, highlighting a founder-friendly environment and the intense competition among investors for deal allocations,” the report added.

Scores of venture capital firms have also raised new funds for their crypto investments. Just last year, Andreessen Horowitz added a $2.2 billion crypto fund, Paradigm unveiled a $2.5 billion fund, and Hivemind Capital Partners announced a $1.5 billion fund. Katie Haun, who co-led a16z’s $2.2 billion crypto fund, has left the firm to launch her own crypto-focused fund.

Russell – a former journalist who previously had stints at TechCrunch, The Next Web, and The Ken – said Crypto.com is backing startups to help the ecosystem grow.

“If you’re in the industry, it’s in your interest to help companies grow in the ecosystem and the ecosystem itself to grow,” he said. (Worth pointing out that Solana, Avalanche, Polkadot — as well as some of their major investors — are also aggressively backing startups that are building applications for the native blockchains.)

The startups Crypto.com backs are under no obligation to list their tokens on Crypto.com over any of its rivals or offer the exchange any other preferential treatment, he said. The exchange team similarly doesn’t have a soft spot for the investment arm’s portfolio firms, he added.

(What’s up with the career move? “I’ve been crypto curious for a number of years but I wasn’t gasping to dive in full-time. This project appeals to me because Crypto.com is ambitious but yet it does things the right way. There’s certainly a lot of hype and hot air in crypto and web3 right now, but it’s impossible to ignore the talent that’s pouring into the industry,” he said.)

Crypto.com, which started its life as a blog of professor Matt Blaze (who sold the domain to the crypto exchange), has aggressively expanded in the past year as it looks to court more users. The Singapore-headquartered firm last year agreed to pay more than $700 million for the naming rights of the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The downtown Los Angeles complex has been rebranded as Crypto.com Arena for the next 20 years.

The firm, which bills itself as the “fastest-growing” crypto exchange, said at the time of the announcement that the move is positioned to make cryptocurrencies mainstream. Crypto.com, which processes trade volumes of over $2.5 billion every day, also teamed up with Hollywood star Matt Damon last year to promote the brand and cryptocurrencies.

The Damon-starring ad equated buying crypto tokens and NFTs to one of the greatest and boldest accomplishments in the history of humankind. Hyperbole, to be sure, but having the most mainstream American actor as Crypto.com’s celebrity sponsor has certainly helped bring the trading platform, and all that it sells, into the mainstream. The ad went viral and also attracted criticism for being cringeworthy.

Source: Tech

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Focused on smaller cities, Vietnamese social commerce startup Mio raises $8M Series A

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Mio, the Vietnamese social commerce platform, has raised an $8 million Series A, less than a year after announcing its seed round. The funding was led by Jungle Ventures, Patamar Capital and Oliver Jung, with participation from returning investors GGV, Venturra, Hustle Fund, iSEED SEA and Gokul Rajaram.

TechCrunch first covered Mio at the time of its $1 million seed funding in May 2021. Founded in 2020, Mio is a group buying platform that focuses on selling fresh produce and groceries in Tier 2 and 3 cities in Vietnam. The company is able to offer next day delivery because it built a logistics infrastructure that enables it to send produce directly from farms to customers.

The Series A brings Mio’s total raised to $9.1 million, and will be used to expand its logistics and fulfillment system, enter new areas in Vietnam and add new product categories like fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and household appliances.

Mio co-founder and chief executive officer Trung Huynh said that since TechCrunch first covered Mio seven months ago, it has achieved 10x gross merchandise value growth, a 10x increase in agents, or resellers, and grew its team from 60 people to 240. It now fulfills more than 10,000 pieces of fresh produce per day, operating in Ho Chi Minh, Thu Duc, Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Long An, with plans to expand into northern Vietnam.

The numbers “strengthened our conviction in this model and its potential,” he said. “We need fresh capital to accelerate hiring, product development and supply chain to keep up with the pace of growth as we deepen our presence in existing geographies and expand to new provinces.”

Mio is able to offer next day deliveries because its vertically integrated mayor layers of the value chain, including procurement, warehousing, order sorting and bulk delivery. The startup owns the majority of its logistics infrastructure and uses its own fleet of couriers. Its ability to delivery fresh produce directly from farms to customers in less than 16 hours contributed to higher customer retention and growth, Huynh said, and it will continue to shorten delivery times. .

Mio resellers are called Mio Partners. Huynh said one of the driving factors behind Mio is targeting the right people for the program, or “housewives and stay-home-moms in lower income regions who love sharing value-for-money products to their social circle of friends.”

They aggregate orders, usually from friends and family, and orders are delivered to them in batches for distribution. The startup claims Mio Partners can make up to $400 a month, including a 10% commission on each order and additional commissions based on the monthly performance of other resellers they referred to the program.

“There is a strong possibility” that Mio will expand beyond Vietnam, Huynh said, “but will only be considered at a more appropriate time after we successfully built our playbook for Vietnam.”

Source: Tech

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South Korean HR automation platform flex raises $32M Series B at a $287M valuation

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South Korea-based human resources management platform flex announced today it has closed a $32 million Series B round at a valuation of $298 million. The latest funding, which brings its total raised to $42 million, was led by Greenoaks, with participation from DST Global Partners.  

The startup’s mission is to enable corporations to automate and streamline manual human resources work processes and focus more on people. Its automation tools optimize the employee experience to ensure seamless data flow across groups for use in payroll, e-signature support, on/offboarding and people analytics. It also plans to launch performance review and talents relation management tools in the first quarter of 2022. 

“At flex we define HR as Human Relations, not Human Resources. We believe HR teams deserve world-class software to manage and service their employees, but today it’s clear that many organizations still use spreadsheets or legacy products to make ends meet, said Haenam Chang, CEO of flex.

The two-year-old startup will use the proceeds to scale operations to meet demand, advance its HR automation and SaaS products and increase its headcount.

The Series B funding comes on the back of growth in revenue of almost ten times, compared to last year, driven by a number of product launches and new customers. The startup has primarily been serving SMBs in the IT sector. However, flex plans to expand the addressable market by targeting new industries in the SMB space this year. It did not disclose any user or customer numbers when asked. 

Currently, flex is focused on growing in South Korea by offering a SaaS solution that modernizes the HR functions and processes, which have been slow to adapt to technical progress over the past 20 years. The company said its deep understanding of cultural nuances in people management and the HR regulations in the country help flex to be well-positioned to offer a set of products tailored to South Korean businesses.  

“While some companies have adopted solutions to track and improve how they manage their employees, most still rely on gut instinct or insufficient data to make ad-hoc decisions on employees. At flex, we empower customers with a reliable source of employee data and a rich set of tools to manage their people, maximizing individual and organizational performance. Our goal isn’t just to provide a great HR software solution – it’s to empower companies to better track and manage their most important assets, their people,” Chang said. 

“Korea is one of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies but has historically lacked a native solution for companies to manage and pay their employees – leaving businesses frustrated and left to develop their own homegrown solutions,” said Josh Cho, principal of Greenoaks. “Now, flex is rapidly building the country’s first next-generation human resources information system and payroll platform. We are excited about their vision for an end-to-end product that will let companies handle all their HR functions in a single place, from performance management to recruiting to payroll and more.” 

Source: Tech

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