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Regulating crypto could create American super apps



Regulating crypto could create American super apps

Much of Chinese society has come to depend on so-called super apps like WeChat to do multiple tasks, from making a medical appointment to hailing a taxi to getting a loan, all on one platform.

But such one-stop shops have not taken off in the United States. Now, the time may finally be ripe — and the best contenders for super apps come from the fintech world, especially those platforms dedicated to cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency is quickly growing in popularity amid sky-high equity prices, record-low interest rates and fear of inflation on the horizon, and they could, perhaps, gain more legitimacy if the U.S. government decides to fully regulate them, a topic Congress is currently exploring.

Dedicated crypto platforms like Coinbase or even Paypal, Venmo and Stripe, which recently added abilities to use crypto for payments, could evolve into the U.S. versions of super apps, assuming crypto issuers can work with regulators to find a middle ground between protecting the consumer and creating new financial and investment opportunities. If consumers see crypto as secure and legitimate — and easy to use — it could become the base of super apps.

The bottom line is that people are thinking about finance not just when they go to the bank — if they even have access to a bank — but when they shop, vacation or pay for a medical visit.

Expanding these crypto and payment apps to integrate with other apps and services would make many diverse tasks more convenient. The bottom line is that people are thinking about finance not just when they go to the bank — if they even have access to a bank — but when they shop, vacation or pay for a medical visit, and such apps would help deliver the financial services they need in a personalized manner.

Integrating crypto payments into other tasks would also go a long way in democratizing the world of finance and money, giving underserved communities and those with no credit histories who struggle to open credit cards or get loans more access to financial services.

The rise of the super app

WeChat started out as a messaging app in China in 2011, but by 2013 it also functioned as a payment platform and soon offered many other services, like shopping, food delivery and taxi-hailing.

Now it offers more than a million different services, mainly through mini apps that businesses develop to work within WeChat. AliPay, which also has more than a billion users, is similar. These two apps have been credited over the last decade with converting China from a cash-only economy to one heavily reliant on digital payments, skipping over the intermediary phase of debit and credit cards.

The concept has also become popular in Indonesia and elsewhere in the region. The fact that they involve financial services, including payment options, is key, and the common thread that runs through many of the super apps’ services.

But while app use has exploded in the United States and Europe; Big Tech players like Apple, Facebook and Google have added payment services; and several payment apps like Venmo and Square have become more popular, super apps have not yet emerged.

This is partly because of data privacy regulations; privacy laws in the United States, and especially in Europe, limit data shared between apps, making it harder to create an ecosystem where mini apps can automatically integrate into super apps like Alipay.

It also stems from the U.S. having had a well-developed internet ecosystem, with popular social media sites, like Facebook, and payment sites, like PayPal, existing before the rise of smartphones, which resulted in each of these platforms launching separate apps, rather than one app offering multiple services. Compare that with China, where much of the internet was mobile-first, arising only after the advent of smartphones. The U.S. market has long been used to separate platforms for separate tasks.

But many analysts point to apps and tech companies adding more services — like TikTok adding shopping, Snapchat integrating mini apps for games or Apple entering the payment space — and say that super apps will eventually emerge in the U.S., or at least bigger apps that can do more things. Adding more services to any one app, and finding a way to keep users on it, is also a way around privacy regulations that prevent one app from knowing what its users do on another app.

Apps are clearly on track to get bigger and more comprehensive, even though it is unlikely the U.S. would end up with only one or two dominant ones, as seen in Asian markets.

The rise of DeFi

Meanwhile, cryptocurrency developed alongside payment apps and super apps over the last decade. What started out as one product, Bitcoin, has developed into an entire peer-to-peer financial system, known as DeFi, with several currencies, including Ethereum and Dogecoin, allowing users to invest, trade, spend and lend out money.

But despite its surge in popularity, especially during the economic uncertainty posed by the COVID pandemic, and more traditional financial institutions starting to offer some crypto-related services, it remains outside the mainstream financial system and sector, with many experts saying it poses high risks. Crypto issuers have also long resisted regulation, as that would go against their goal of having a decentralized financial product.

But now things are starting to change, with some crypto platforms expressing interest in following regulation.

For example, Coinbase dropped a plan to offer an interest-earning product, which would have allowed users to earn interest on coins loaned out to others, after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission failed to offer guidance on it and threatened to sue Coinbase if it released it. In fact, crypto issuers are realizing that some regulation would give their product more legitimacy and allow more people to use it for more purposes. This comes as new crypto products hit the market recently, including stable coins, which track the value of traditional currencies.

Regulation of crypto, an idea that SEC Chairman Gary Gensler has said he supports, along with some in Congress and some in the crypto industry, could indeed be on the horizon.

Using cryptocurrency to fuel the first U.S. super app

If crypto issuers work with government officials to set up regulation that protects consumers without limiting innovation, crypto is a good bet for what finally spurs American super apps.

Think about what could happen if Coinbase were to work with the SEC and align on smart regulation that would validate Coinbase as a viable and certified financial intermediary that users could rely on for crypto, embracing both its new financial products with potentially attractive yields in addition to its ability to use for everyday spending. Regulation would likely stabilize the currencies, turning them into something practical to shop with, rather than just hold for potential value. Such regulations would also eliminate some of the steps that add friction to current user experiences when it comes to using crypto in everyday life, like long transaction times, high transaction fees and large fluctuations in its value.

A regulatory framework would unlock massive demand for crypto, and there would suddenly be many businesses — from restaurants to retail – that would want a way to process crypto payments, spurring them to integrate into existing crypto payment apps and causing those to evolve into super apps. More people would also make deposits in crypto on these apps, rather than using traditional currencies in their banks. This would disrupt the entire economy and financial ecosystem.

Banks have always produced products they think the public wants while the world of crypto and DeFi are clearly providing products and services that people need, and millions are already using them, despite their uncertain regulatory and legal status.

Just as ubiquitous and integrated digital payments quickly emerged in China to fill a need — a cash alternative in a market underserved by credit cards — crypto-based super apps would fulfill the needs of consumers and businesses looking for a secure and efficient way to use crypto instead of, or in addition to, traditional payment methods.

If crypto remains an unregulated gray zone, and its platforms remain isolated from the rest of economic and daily life, rather than evolve into super apps, the United States will miss the opportunity to build a new and innovative mobile- and digital-first financial ecosystem.

Source: Tech


Paack pulls in a $225M Series D led by SoftBank to scale its E-commerce delivery platform



By now, many of us are familiar with the warehouse robots which populate those vast spaces occupied by the likes of Amazon and others. In particular, Amazon was very much a pioneer of the technology. But it’s 2021 now, and allying warehouse robots with a software logistics platform is no longer the monopoly of one company.

One late-stage startup which has been ‘making hay’ with the whole idea is Paack, an e-commerce delivery platform which a sophisticated software platform that integrates with the robotics which are essential to modern-day logistics operations.

It’s now raised €200m ($225m) in a Series D funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. The capital will be used for product development and European expansion.

New participants for this round also include Infravia Capital Partners, First Bridge Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst. Returning investors include Unbound, Kibo Ventures, Big Sur Ventures, RPS Ventures, Fuse Partners, Rider Global, Castel Capital, and Iñaki Berenguer.

This funding round comes after the creation of a profitable position in its home market of Spain, but Paack claims it’s on track to achieve similar across its European operations, Such as in the UK, France, and Portugal.

Founded by Fernando Benito, Xavier Rosales and Suraj Shirvankar, Paack now says it’s delivering several million orders per month from 150 international clients, processing 10,000 parcels per hour, per site. Some 17 of them are amongst the largest e-commerce retailers in Spain.

The startup’s systems integrate with e-commerce sites. This means consumers are able to customize their delivery schedule at checkout, says the company.

Benito, CEO and Co-founder, said: “Demand for convenient, timely, and more sustainable methods of delivery is going to explode over the next few years and Paack is providing the solution. We use technology to provide consumers with control and choice over their deliveries, and reduce the carbon footprint of our distribution.” 

Max Ohrstrand, Investment Director at SoftBank Investment Advisers said: “As the e-commerce sector continues to flourish and same-day delivery is increasingly the norm for consumers, we believe Paack is well-positioned to become the category leader both in terms of its technology and commitment to sustainability.”

According to research from the World Economic Forum (WEF), the last-mile delivery business is expected to grow 78% by 2030, causing a rise in CO2 emissions of nearly one-third.

As a result, Paack claim it aims to deliver all parcels at carbon net-zero by measuring its environmental impact, using electric last-mile delivery vehicles. It is now seeking certification with The Carbon Trust and United Nations.

In an interview Benito told me: “We have a very clear short term vision which is to lead sustainable e-commerce delivers in Europe… through technology via what we think is perhaps the most advanced tech delivery platform for last-mile delivery. Our CTO was the CTO and co-founder of Google Cloud, for instance.”

“We are developing everything from warehouse automation, time windows, routing integrations etc. in order to achieve the best delivery experience.”

Paack says it is able to work with more than one robotics partner, but presently it is using robots from Chinese firm GEEK.

The company hopes it can compete with the likes of DHL, Instabox, and La Poste in Europe, which are large incumbents.

Source: Tech

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Infermedica raises $30M to expand its AI-based medical guidance platform



Infermedica, a Poland-founded digital health company that offers AI-powered solutions for symptom analysis and patient triage, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. The round was led by One Peak and included participation from previous investors Karma Ventures, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Heal Capital and Inovo Venture Partners. The new capital means the startup has raised $45 million in total to date.

Founded in 2012, Infermedica aims to make it easier for doctors to pre-diagnose, triage and direct their patients to appropriate medical services. The company’s mission is to make primary care more accessible and affordable by introducing automation into healthcare. Infermedica has created a B2B platform for health systems, payers and providers that automates patient triage, the intake process and follow-up after a visit. Since its launch, Infermedica is being used in more than 30 countries in 19 languages and has completed more than 10 million health checks.

The company offers a preliminary diagnosis symptom checker, an AI-driven software that supports call operators making timely triage recommendations and an application programming interface that allows users to build customized diagnostic solutions from scratch. Like a plethora of competitors, such as Ada Health and Babylon, Infermedica combines the expertise of physicians with its own algorithms to offer symptom triage and patient advice.

In terms of the new funding, Infermedica CEO Piotr Orzechowski told TechCrunch in an email that the investment will be used to further develop the company’s Medical Guidance Platform and add new modules to cover the full primary care journey. Last year, Infermedica’s team grew by 80% to 180 specialists, including physicians, data scientists and engineers. Orzechowski says Infermedica has an ambitious plan to nearly double its team in the next 12 months.

Image Credits: Infermedica

“We will invest heavily into our people and our products, rolling out new modules of our platform as well as expanding our underlying AI capabilities in terms of disease coverage and accuracy,” Orzechowski said. “From the commercial perspective, our goal is to strengthen our position in the US and DACH and we will focus the majority of our sales and marketing efforts there.”

Regarding the future, Orzechowski said he’s a firm believer that there will be fully automated self-care bots in 5-10 years that will be available 24/7 to help providers find solutions to low acuity health concerns, such as a cold or UTI.

“According to WHO, by 2030 we might see a shortage of almost 10 million doctors, nurses and midwives globally,” Orzechowski said. “Having certain constraints on how fast we can train healthcare professionals, our long-term plan assumes that AI will become a core element of every modern healthcare system by navigating patients and automating mundane tasks, saving the precious time of clinical staff and supporting them with clinically accurate technology.”

Infermedica’s Series B round follows its $10 million Series A investment announced in August 2020. The round was led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and digital health fund Heal Capital. Existing investors Karma Ventures, Inovo Venture Partners and Dreamit Ventures also participated in the round.

Source: Tech

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KKR invests $45M into GrowSari, a B2B platform for Filipino MSMEs



A sari-sari store owner who uses GrowSari

GrowSari, the Manila-based startup that helps small shops grow and digitize, announced today that KKR will lead its Series C round with a $45 million investment. The funds will be used to enter new regions in the Philippines and expand its financial products. The Series C round is still ongoing and the startup says it is already oversubscribed, with the final composition currently being finalized. 

Before its Series C, GrowSari’s total raised was $30 million. TechCrunch last wrote about GrowSari in June 2021, when it announced its Series B. Since then, it has expanded the number of municipalities it serves from 100 to 220, and now has a customer base of 100,000 micro, small and mid-sized enterprise (MSME) store owners. 

Founded in 2016, GrowSari is a B2B platform that offers almost every kind of service that small- to medium-sized retailers, including neighborhood stores that carry daily necessities (called sari-saris), roadside and market shops and pharmacies, need.

For example, it has a wholesale marketplace with products from major fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands like Unilever, P&G and Nestle. It partners with over 200 providers, like telecoms, fintechs and subscription plans, so sari-saris can offer services like top-ups and bill payments to their customers. 

Sari-sari operators can also use GrowSari to launch e-commerce stores and access short-term working capital loans to buy inventory. The startup’s other financial products include digital wallets and cash-in services, and it is looking at adding remittance, insurance and loans in partnership with other providers. 

The new funding will be used to expand into the Visayas and Mindanao, the two other main geographical regions in the Philippines, with the goal of covering all 1.1 million “mom and pop” stores in the Philippines. 

Source: Tech

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