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Southeast Asian cloud communications platform Wavecell acquired by 88 in deal worth $125 million

Wavecell, a cloud-communications platform for companies in Southeast Asia, announced today that it has been acquired by 8×8 in a deal worth about $125 million. The acquisition will help San Jose, Calif.-based 8×8 expand in Asia, where Wavecell already has offices in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Hong Kong.

Wavecell’s cloud API platform, which includes SMS, chat, video and voice messaging, is used by companies such as Paidy, Lalamove and Tokopedia. It has relationships with 192 network operators and partners like WhatsApp and claims its infrastructure is used to share more than two billion messages each year.

The terms of the deal includes $69 million in cash and about $56 million in 8×8 common shares. Founded in 2010, Wavecell’s investors included Qualgro VC, Wavemaker Partners and MDI Ventures.

In a prepared statement, 8×8 CEO Vik Verma said “8×8 is now the only cloud provider that owns the full, global-scale, cloud-native, technology stack offering voice, video, messaging, and contact center delivered both as pre-packaged applications and as enterprise-class APIs. We’re excited to welcome the Wavecell employees to the 8×8 family. We now have a significant market presence in Asia and expect to continue to expand in the region and globally in order to meet evolving customer requirements.”

CleverTap lands $26M for its mobile-focused customer marketing service

CleverTap, an India-based startup that lets companies track and improve engagement with users across the web, has pulled in $26 million in new funding thanks to a round led by Sequoia India.

Existing investor Accel and new backer Tiger Global also took part in the deal, which values CleverTap at $150-$160 million, the startup disclosed. The deal takes CleverTap to around $40 million from investors to date.

Founded in 2015 and based in Mumbai, CleverTap competes with a range of customer experience services, including Oracle Cloud. Its service covers a range of touchpoints with consumers, including email, in-app activity, push notifications, Facebook, WhatsApp (for business) and Viber. Its service helps companies map out how their users are engaging across those vectors, and develop “re-engagement” programs to help reactive dormant users or increase engagement among others.

The company says its SDK is installed in more than 8,000 apps and its customers include Southeast Asia-based startups Go-Jek and Zilingo, Hotstar in India and U.S.-based Fandango . With a considerable customer base in Asia, CleverTap puts a particular focus on mobile because many of these markets are all about personal devices.

“Asia is mobile-first and massively growing,” CleverTap CEO and co-founder Sunil Thomas told TechCrunch in an interview. “A lot of engagement in this [part of the] world is timely… we were sort of born physically on the east side of the world, so we got to scale with all these diverse set of devices.”

That stands to benefit CleverTap as it seeks to grow market share outside of Asia, and in markets like the U.S. and Europe where mobile is — right now — just one part of the marketing and customer engagement process. The company believes that engagement by mobile has a long way to develop there.

“Engagement [in the West] is still email-heavy and not really timely,” Thomas said. “Whereas the East thinks of it as ‘Hey, let’s be proactive… instead of a user coming in to hunt for information, can I provide it when I think he or she will need it?’ ”

Of course, mobile push and in-app notifications can be easily abused.

Most people will know of an app on their phone that falls into that category. So, how does a company know what is too much or what isn’t enough?

“As long as you use push or in-app as an extension of your brand, then I think it’s extremely useful,” explained Thomas. “After all, this is a really competitive world; it isn’t just your app out there — if you can make your brand count when this person isn’t in your app, that’ll help you.”

More broadly, Thomas argued that CleverTap brings data to the table which, ultimately, “changes the whole context in real time.” So a customer can really look holistically at their online presence and figure out what is working, and with which users. In real terms, when used to acquire new users online, he said he believes that CleverTap typically doubles registration conversions and triples the buying rate.

“The cost of acquisition to first purchase is what we really effect,” said Thomas. “It’s that moment you get a new person into your house.”

CleverTap has an office in Sunnyvale and it has just landed in Singapore. Now it plans to add a location in Indonesia before the end of the year. Those expansions are centered around business development, with some customer support, since tech and other teams are in India. Already, according to Thomas, the company is looking to grow in Europe while it is weighing the potential to enter Latin America in a move that could include a local partnership.

The CleverTap CEO is also considering raising more money toward the end of the year, when he believes that the company can push its valuation as high as $400 million.

“That’s very doable based on revenue growth,” he said. “We think that the revenue will demand that valuation.”

Offering a white-labeled lending service in emerging markets, Mines raises $13 million

Emerging markets credit startup Mines.io has closed a $13 million Series A round led by The Rise Fund, the global impact fund formed by private equity giant TPG, and 10 others, including Velocity Capital.

Mines provides business to consumer (B2C) “credit-as-a-service” products to large firms.

“We’re a technology company that facilitates local institutions — banks, mobile operators, retailers — to offer credit to their customers,” Mines CEO and co-founder Ekechi Nwokah told TechCrunch.

Most of Mines’ partnerships entail white-label lending products offered on mobile phones, including non-smart USSD devices.

With offices in San Mateo and Lagos, Mines uses big-data (extracted primarily from mobile users) and proprietary risk algorithms “to enable lending decisions,” Nwokah explained.

“We combine a strong AI technology with full…deployment services — disbursement…collections, payments, loan management, and regulatory — wrap it up in a box, give it to our partners and then help them run it,” he said.

Mines’ typical client is a company “that has a large customer base and wants to avail credit to that customer base,” according to Nwokah. The startup generates revenue from fees and revenue share with partners.

Mines started operations in Nigeria and counts payment processor Interswitch and mobile operator Airtel as current partners. In addition to talent acquisition, the startup plans to use the Series A to expand its credit-as-a-service products into new markets in South America and Southeast Asia “in the next few months,” according to its CEO.

Mines sees itself as a “hardcore technology company based in Silicon Valley with a global view,” according to Nwokah. “At the same time, we’re very African,” he said.

The startup’s leadership team is led by three Nigerians — Nwokah, Chief Scientist Kunle Olukotun and MD Adia Sowho. The company came together after Olukotun (then and still a Stanford professor) and Nwokah (a then-AWS big data specialist) met in Palo Alto in 2014.

Looking through the lens of their home country Nigeria, the two identified two problems in emerging markets: low access to credit across large swaths of the population and insufficient tools for big institutions to put together viable consumer lending programs.

Due to a number of structural factors in these markets, such as low regulatory support, lack of credit data and tech support, “there’s no incentive for many banks and institutions to take risk on a retail lending business,” according to Nwokah.

Nwokah sees Mines’ end user market as “the more than 3 billion adults globally without access to credit,” and its direct client market as big “banks, retailers and mobile operators…who want to power digital credit tailored to these markets.”

Mines views itself as different from the U.S.’s controversial payday lenders by serving different consumer needs. “If you live in a country where your salary is not guaranteed every month, where you don’t have a credit card…where you have to pay upfront cash for almost everything you do, you need cash,” he said

The most common loan profile for one of Mines’ partners is $30 at 15 percent flat for a couple of weeks.

Nwokah wouldn’t name specific countries for the startup’s pending South America and Southeast Asia expansion, but believes “this technology is scalable across geographies.”

As part of the Series A, Yemi Lalude from TPG Growth (founder of The Rise Fund) will join Mines’ board of directors.

On a call with TechCrunch, Lalude named the company’s ability to “drive financial inclusion within a matter of seconds from mobiles devices,” their “local execution on the ground” and model of “partnering with many large organizations with their own balance sheets” as reasons for the investment commitment.

With Mines’ pending Asia and South America move they join Nigerian tech companies MallforAfrica.com and data analytics firm Terragon Group, who have expanded or stated plans to expand internationally this year.

Gogoprint raises $7.7M to expand its online printing business in Asia Pacific

Gogoprint, a startup that is aiming to disrupt the traditional printing industry in Southeast Asia, has pulled in a $7.7 million investment as it prepares to expand its business in Asia Pacific.

We first profiled Gogoprint in 2016 soon after its launch the previous year, and since then the Bangkok-based company has expanded beyond Thailand and into Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Now, the company is looking to go beyond Southeast Asia and enter Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and other markets over the coming 12 months.

Those moves will be funded by this Series A round, which is led by existing Gogoprint backer OPG (Online Printing Group), an investment firm from Kai Hagenbuch who was an early backer of Brazil-based Printi. Printi previously sold a chunk of its business to printing giant VistaPrint through a 2014 investment and it is generally heralded as a startup success within its space.

Gogoprint claims to have worked with 45,000 companies to date. Its core services include printed business cards, flyers, booklets, posters and more, in addition to marketing collateral such as promotional pens, other stationary and flash drives.

Printing isn’t a particularly sexy space from the outside, but Gogoprint is aiming to upend the industry in Southeast Asia using something known as “batching.” That involves bundling a range of customer orders together for each print run to ensure that each sheet that’s sent to the printer is filled to capacity, or near capacity.

That sounds obvious, but traditional printing batches were almost always below capacity because each customer ordered individually with little option for batching. Gogoprint uses the internet to reach a wider number of customers which, using technology to batch jobs, means that it can handle more orders with fewer printer runs. That translates to cost savings for its business and lower prices for its customers. There are also benefits for the printers themselves, as they are guaranteed volume, which is no sure thing in today’s increasingly digital world.

Gogoprint wants to modernize online printing in Southeast Asia

Gogoprint joint managing director David Berghaeuser — who founded the company with fellow co-founder Alexander Suess — told TechCrunch that the company’s main pivot has been away from the idea it needed to own its printing facility in-house.

“When we started, we had this impression that as an online printer eventually we needed to own and operate our own machinery. But over one or two years we had a mindset shift when we realized there’s this option to operate this model as a pure marketplace — we’re definitely a marketplace and do not plan to own any printing machinery,” he explained.

A large part of that is because in Southeast Asia it simply isn’t practical to ship products overseas, both in terms of time and also the cost and hassle of importing. So Gogoprint has local partners in each market that it works with. Rather than “disrupting” the system, Berghaeuser argued that his company is making the process more efficient.

Gogoprint staff at the company’s office in Bangkok, Thailand

Gogoprint currently has around 125 staff, and there are plans to grow that number by an additional 30. In particular, Berghaeuser said the company is building out an internal structure that will enable it to scale — that includes the recent hiring of a CTO.

Berghaeuser explained that the company focuses on larger clients — such as Honda, Lazada and Lion Air — because of their higher average basket size and a higher chance of repeat customers, which he revealed is 60 percent on average. That’s achieved with a few tricks, which includes no design software on the website. Instead, Gogoprint customers upload their completed designs in any format. While he conceded the formats can be a pain, Berghaeuser clarified that the approach minimizes more hobbyist-type business, although he did say that the company is happy to work with customers of all sizes.

Gogoprint claims it grew its customer numbers by 200 percent over the past year but it declined to provide revenue details. Berghaeuser did say the company has a path to profitability that’s helped by “healthy” profit margins of 30-80 percent depending on the product.

Hagenbuch, the early backer of Printi in Brazil, is convinced that Gogoprint is on to a good thing in Asia.

“There are a handful of big-name online printers operating in the region. However, each of them has localized operations as they have been unable to truly expand regionally into Southeast Asia due to operational and market form factors,” he said in a statement

“Gogoprint has found the right formula to win more and more customers by creating true value: providing something that’s better at a cheaper price point, and with enhanced speed to market,” Hagenbuch added.

The real-life Emery and Evan from Fresh off the Boat launch Batu Capital for cannabis, crypto and big data startups

Brothers Evan and Emery Huang, founders of Batu Capital

Restaurateur and raconteur Eddie Huang is the best known of the three “Fresh off the Boat” brothers (it was his memoir that inspired the ABC sitcom), but his younger brothers Emery and Evan remain relatively mysterious even to its most loyal viewers. Though the two’s namesake characters are also prominently featured on the show, their real-life counterparts have kept a much lower public profile, making sporadic appearances on Eddie’s social media.

Emery and Evan, however, have been busy investing in real estate and recently branched into tech startups. Though their multi-family investment office Batu Capital just launched this year, it reached a big milestone this week when one of their first investments, MJ Freeway, an enterprise software developer for the cannabis industry, entered into a merger agreement with MTech that will make it part of a Nasdaq-listed holding company.

The fictionalized versions of Evan and Emery Huang, portrayed on “Fresh off the Boat” by Ian Chen and Forrest Wheeler. (Photo by Vivian Zink/ABC via Getty Images)

In an interview, the two brothers told TechCrunch about moving into the tech sector and the startups they want to fund in the United States, China and Southeast Asia. Batu Capital is focused on finding companies in the cannabis, blockchain and crypto sectors, as well as big data.

In addition to MJ Freeway, which provides enterprise resource planning and compliance tracking software for the cannabis businesses, its portfolio also includes Vidy, a startup building a new approach to video ads on Ethereum, and Sora Ventures, a crypto-backed blockchain and digital currency venture fund. Batu Capital invests in seed or Series A stage companies or Series C and pre-IPO and its typical check size will be about $500,000 to $2 million.

Though Batu isn’t a single family office, instead raising capital from a network of limited partners for each investment, its creation was motivated by Emery and Evan’s desire to protect their family’s assets after several generations of political and social upheaval.

“Long story short, our family has made and lost fortunes more than five times within the past two generations and quite frankly I’ll be damned if we let it happen again in me and Evan’s lifetime,” Emery says.

Before World War II, the Huang brothers’ paternal relatives amassed a railroad fortune, but lost it all during the Japanese invasion of Nanjing. They escaped to Chongqing and began rebuilding their wealth through real estate, but were forced to flee to Taiwan during the Chinese Communist Revolution, losing everything once again. Meanwhile their maternal grandparents had also fled from China to Taiwan to escape the Japanese army. Though they had worked in banking before, they survived in Taipei by selling steamed buns on the street for several years until getting jobs in a textile plant, eventually opening their own curtain and upholstery fabric factory.

Like many who had escaped the Chinese Communist Party, however, the boys’ relatives remained wary of another invasion and though they had rebuilt their lives in Taiwan, both sides eventually left for the U.S. That’s where their parents, Louis and Jessica, met, married, and had their three sons. “Fresh off the Boat,” the first American primetime sitcom in 20 years to star Asian-Americans, is a fictionalized version of the Huang family’s ups-and-downs as Louis and Jessica build a restaurant business in Florida, where the brothers grew up.

Investing in the backbone of new industries

All three brothers gained business experience by working on BaoHaus, the popular restaurant chain Eddie launched on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 2009. Emery, who had won the Writers of the Future Grand Prize for science fiction writing, exited early and moved to China. He wanted to work on novels set there, but also look for new investment opportunities. At that time, Emery and Evan were helping their parents prepare for retirement by exiting the restaurant business and they began investing the family’s assets in real estate, brokering deals between Chinese investment groups and New York City property owners before deciding to branch into tech.

Batu Capital is named after Batu Khan, the Mongol ruler and founder of the Golden Horde dynasty, in a nod to their love of Mongolian history (they also recently discovered, thanks to 23andMe tests, that they have some Mongolian heritage through both their parents).

The firm is focusing on cannabis because of its “massive addressable market, both in terms of pain management and medical usage, as well as recreational usage,” Emery says. In particular, the brothers are hopeful that it can replace the $17 billion painkiller market, but without the side effects that have contributed to the opioid epidemic. As for crypto, Emery says the brothers “were really drawn to the applications of blockchain technology, not just for currency, but blockchain in general, and smart ledgers in general, as a way to archive information in terms of data storage and data fidelity.”

In each sector, Evan says Batu looks for companies that want to build solutions for the “overall infrastructure of the industry.”

For example, MJ Freeway helps growers and dispensaries manage their business while making sure they comply with state and federal regulations. Vidy, meanwhile, is using blockchain to reboot the way publishers display ads. Instead of automatic pop-ups or embeds, readers can decide if they want to see a video by placing their finger or cursor over text in an online article (try it in this Esquire Singapore article by hovering over the pink highlighted text).

By allowing readers an easy opt-in to streaming videos, Vidy hopes to give publishers a more nuanced understanding of user engagement. The startup, whose partners include Mediacorp, Mercedes-Benz, and Deliveroo, also created its own ERC20 utility token, called VidyCoin, which advertisers use to purchase ad placements and readers can earn by watching videos. Recording transactions on blockchain enables Vidy to guard against different types of online ad fraud, including click spam.

With their family’s past setbacks in mind, the Huang brothers say one priority is to make sure their portfolio is geographically diverse. In addition to the U.S. and China (Emery is based in Shanghai and Evan is planning to move from the U.S. to Beijing soon), Batu Capital is also looking at growth markets in Southeast Asia, in particular the Philippines and Cambodia. The latter not only benefits from Chinese funding, but also provides more transparency for investors, they say.

“Our number one priority for startups is the executive team. We want to make sure it’s people who have a track record of building up companies in that industry or related industries, or that have experience that can transfer over. They have to have a competitive edge in the market. For example, what’s their niche in the big data space or do they have strategic partnerships?” Emery says. “The same thing with crypto and cannabis. We don’t just invest in the space. We need to make sure they stand out.”

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