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Nigeria’s ThankUCash secures $5.3M to build infrastructure for cashback, deals and BNPL services

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Nigeria’s ThankUCash secures $5.3M to build infrastructure for cashback, deals and BNPL services

Loyalty, deals and rewards services are a rarity in most African markets. The unit economics and other factors such as currency instability make such businesses hard to pull off in the region.

Yet, ThankUCash, a platform launched in 2018 by Connected Analytics, has managed to thrive, proving that not all is gloom in the deals, coupon and rewards business. And to that end, the startup, which announced an undisclosed seven-figure seed last year, has finally closed the round at $5.3 million.

VC firms 500 Global and Unicorn Growth Capital co-led the Lagos-based company’s seed round. It saw participation from U.S.-based accelerator Expert Dojo, Predictive VC, SaaS Growth Ventures, Betatron Venture Group, Accelerex Holdings. Individual investors like Andrew Dell, former CEO of HSBC and Craig Fenton of Google UK also took part.

The company plans to use the investment to expand within its home market Nigeria — where it operates in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja — and outside to Ghana and Kenya. It also wants to improve its product offerings and add more staff.

For years, store-like businesses in Nigeria such as supermarkets and restaurants have operated offline, relying on bookkeeping and head knowledge to record their customers’ activities in their shops. This made it difficult to offer cash back and loyalty points to customers.

Online platforms like ThankUCash present these merchants with an opportunity to delve into rewards and help them retain loyalty and increase revenue.

CEO Simeon Ononobi started ThankUCash with Suraj Supekar, Madonna Ononobi and Harshal Gandole, who act as a chief technical officer, chief operating officer and senior vice president of engineering, respectively.

The multi-merchant rewards platform (which means customers can hop on from one merchant to another to earn loyalty points in another) allows customers to earn rewards anytime they shop with thousands of merchants listed on its app.

The business raised a $320,000 pre-seed after grabbing the attention of accelerators such as 500 Startups, Google Launchpad and other local investors like Microtraction and Ventures Platform.

Up until this point, ThankUCash said it has recorded over 600,000 users and onboarded over 1,000 stores on its platform. Also, it claims to have processed over $80 million in transaction volume.

Having matured as a business, Ononobi and his team want to take on a more complicated task: building infrastructure for companies that want to offer akin services.

“We are creating solutions that help SMEs succeed while increasing consumer buying power and opportunities. We want to build an infrastructure for rewards, loyalty, deals, buy now, pay later, cashback,” he said to TechCrunch on a call.

“Cashback was our low hanging fruit and an entry point. We’re still going to go into deals, couponing, gift cards, buy now, pay later, anything that will help the business grow, but at the same time, allowing the consumer increase in opportunities of buying.”

Ononobi, a serial entrepreneur who previously built a payments company and also apps for Nigerian banks and the government, reckons that ThankUCash will do to rewards the same thing Flutterwave and Paystack did to payments in Africa.

Some companies such as banks have launched cashback programs via debit cards to users in the past. But most of them have been generally inefficient, from setup down to collections and redeeming of points, and Ononobi argues that their inefficiencies boil down to no technical support. ThankUCash sees a gold mine to provide plugins banks and fintechs can tap into to offer cashback and rewards.

ThankUCash cofounders

The bit about buy now, pay later is fuzzy now since only a handful of prominent BNPL services in Africa. However, the company seems to be positioning itself for the imminent proliferation of such services buoyed by similar happenings globally where buy now, pay later services have seen an uptake as a result of pandemic-induced consumer behaviour.

“The technology is such that we have our machines in stores. So as customers request loans, we generate a code for it, customers input it into the POS machine and the merchant gets credited directly. The code can only be used in the store chosen and only for the loan amount requested, such that at the end of the day the customer is buying straight from the merchants,” explained the founder, who also mentioned that his startup might venture into offering buy now, pay later services itself in the future.

ThankUCash’s consumer-facing platform will remain operational. But to set the infrastructure play in motion, it has signed a partnership with payments company Interswitch to onboard its merchants.

The company, which is also in the process of making integrations with payments gateways, said a couple of bank partnerships are in its pipeline.

In terms of how ThankUCash makes money, merchants pay the company a fee on every purchase made in their stores. For instance, ThankUCash gets a 1.5% commission for every customer it brings into the store to redeem a 5% cashback item. The Lagos-based company also takes commissions for deals and plans to charge a “heavy onboarding fee” for businesses that want to use its APIs for its services, including buy now, pay later. 

ThankUCash has perfected one offering: the cashback product where merchants can get more walk-in customers. It’s improving the deals category, allowing merchants to sell products fast (by hiring ex-managers of DealDey, a Nigerian defunct deals company). And while currently building out its buy now pay later infrastructure (which gives businesses a chance to sell products regardless of whether customers have money or not), ThankUCash plans to add a fourth offering soon: a remittance product where merchants can sell directly to the diaspora.

The chief executive doesn’t give details about this product. Meanwhile, its investors, who have doubled down while privy to information like this, are enthused about “the continued evolution of the company”, a remark made by Amit Bhatti, the principal at co-lead investor 500 Global.

“Since going through 500 Global’s accelerator in 2019, we’ve been impressed by Simeon and the ThankUCash team’s progress in implementing a rewards system that works for Nigerian consumers, regardless of cash or credit or online or offline payment,” said the principal. “It’s a win-win for businesses and banks, too, as TUC gives them the tools and data they need to grow.”

The 45-man team has hired Aaron Tindiseega to lead its expansion into Kenya and the eastern Africa region. The Ugandan professional has experience working for banks and tech companies like Uber, Standard Chartered Bank and Stanbic IBTC. For its expansion into Ghana, Kiki Anku, who has worked at Apple and a couple of startups, will spearhead the task.

Source: Tech

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Spendesk is the fifth French startup to reach unicorn status this month

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Fintech startup Spendesk is announcing that it has raised an extension to its Series C round. Tiger Global is investing $114 million (€100 million) in the startup. Following today’s funding round, the company says that is has reached a valuation of more than $1.14 billion (more than €1 billion).

In other words, Spendesk is a new unicorn in the French tech ecosystem. Funding news has been accelerating over the last few months in France. In January alone, five startups announced that they have crossed the threshold to reach unicorn status — PayFit, Ankorstore, Qonto, Exotec and Spendesk.

Back Market, an e-commerce marketplace focused on refurbished smartphones and electronics devices, has also raised a mega round and reached a $5.7 billion valuation.

Let’s go back to Spendesk. The startup offers an all-in-one corporate spend management platform for medium companies in Europe. Originally focused on virtual cards for online payments, the company has expanded its product offering to tackle everything related to corporate spending.

Spendesk customers can order physical cards for employees, team members can use the platform to pay outstanding invoices, file expense reports, manage budgets and generate spending reports. By offering everything in a single service, Spendesk wants to simplify accounting and approvals in general so that money moves more freely.

The startup defines its platform as a “7-in-1 spend management solution”, meaning that Spendesk is no longer just a product that lets you order debit cards for your employees.

“We have had this goal since the beginning — we really want to become this platform, this operational system to manage your spending,” co-founder and CEO Rodolphe Ardant told me. “When we started working on the product, we looked at each use case and designed the right workflow for that.”

In particular, Spendesk helps you formalize your internal processes. You can define team budgets, set up complicated approval workflows for expensive payments, automate some pesky tasks, such as VAT extraction.

“We target mid-market clients. Those are customers with 50 to 1,000 employees. We have a few clients that are bigger than that and a few clients that are smaller than that,” Ardant said.

And the company currently has 3,500 clients — around half of them are based in France while other clients are mostly based in Germany and the U.K. Clients have spent €3 billion through Spendesk in 2021 alone.

With its central positioning in the financial stack, Spendesk needs to interface perfectly with other financial tools — banks on one side and ERP products on the other side.

The startup currently supports many of the popular accounting tools used by European companies, such as Xero and Datev. Spendesk customers can also export transaction batches and import them into Sage, Cegid and other accounting software solutions.

Spendesk is also working on automating the integrations with your bank accounts, which could be particularly useful for companies with multiple bank accounts. For instance, you could imagine setting up a rule that automatically triggers a transfer between your German bank account and your Spendesk account when you want to pay a German supplier.

Image Credits: Spendesk

Spend management in Europe

Spendesk isn’t the only spend management solution in Europe. There are some competitors, such as Pleo, which recently reached a $4.7 billion valuation, and Soldo — another well-funded competitor as it has raised $180 million last year.

In the U.S. as well, companies like Brex and Ramp have reached sky-high valuations. And yet, Spendesk doesn’t think it has the same positioning as American startups.

“On the American market, it shouldn’t be called the spend management industry — it’s the corporate card industry. Players like Brex and Ramp position themselves as a payment method,” Spendesk co-founder and CEO Rodolphe Ardant told me. “Europe’s corporate culture is a culture of debit — not credit. We don’t provide payment methods, we provide a process.”

It’s a slight difference in product positioning, so it’s going to be interesting to see if a European spend management startup can successfully enter the U.S. and vice versa.

When it comes to business model as well, Spendesk considers itself as a software-as-a-service company with recurring subscriptions. The startup didn’t want to share any hard numbers for its revenue. Its CEO just said that Spendesk’s revenue “more than doubles every year.”

With today’s funding round, Spendesk plans to triple the size of its team over the next two years. The company plans to have 1,000 employees by the end of 2023.

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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