India’s OkCredit raises $67M to help small merchants digitize their bookkeeping – gpgmail


OKCredit, a Bangalore-based startup that enables small merchants to turn their bookkeeping digital, has raised $67 million to expand its business in the nation.

The Series B financing round for the two-year-old startup was led by Lightspeed and Tiger Global. The new round, which follows Series A financing round in June this year, climbs OkCredit’s total raise to $87 million.

OkCredit operates an eponymous mobile app that allows merchants to keep track of their day-to-day purchases and sales. Last month, startup founders told gpgmail that the app had amassed over 5 million active merchants across 2,000 cities in India.

More to follow…


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Nigerian online-only bank startup Kuda raises $1.6M – gpgmail


Nigerian fintech startup Kuda — a digital-only retail bank — has raised $1.6 million in pre-seed funding.

The Lagos and London-based company recently launched the beta version of its online mobile finance platform. Kuda also received its banking license from the Nigerian Central Bank, giving it a distinction compared to other fintech startups.

“Kuda is the first digital-only bank in Nigeria with a standalone license. We’re not a mobile wallet or simply a mobile app piggybacking on an existing bank,” Kuda bank founder Babs Ogundeyi told gpgmail.

“We have built our own full-stack banking software from scratch. We can also take deposits and connect directly to the switch,” Ogundeyi added, referring to the Nigeria’s Central Switch — a SWIFT-like system that facilitates bank communication and settlements.

A representative for the Central Bank of Nigeria (speaking on background) confirmed Kuda’s banking license and status, telling gpgmail, “As far as I’m aware there is no other digital bank [in Nigeria] that has a micro-finance license.”

 

Kuda offers checking accounts with no monthly-fees, a free debit card, and plans to offer consumer savings and P2P payments options on its platform in coming months.

“You can open a bank account within five minutes, do all the KYC in the app, and you get issued a new bank account number,” according to Ogundeyi. Kuda bank Founder CEO Babs OgundeyiOgundeyi — a repeat founder who exited classifieds site Motortradertrader.ng and worked in a finance advisory role to the Nigerian government — co-founded Kuda in 2018 with former Stanbic Bank software developer Musty Mustapha.

The two convinced investor Haresh Aswani to lead the $1.6 million pre-seed funding, along with Ragnar Meitern and other angel investors. Aswani confirmed his investment to gpgmail and that he will take a position on Kuda’s board.

Kuda plans to use its seed funds to go from beta to live launch in Nigeria by fourth-quarter 2019. The startup will also build out the tech of its banking platform, including support for its developer team located in Lagos and Cape Town, according to Ogundeyi.

Kuda also intends to expand in the near future. “It’s Nigeria for right now, but the plan is build a Pan-African digital-only bank,” he said.

As of 2014, Nigeria has held the dual distinction as Africa’s largest economy and most populous country (with 190 million people).

To scale there, and add some physical infrastructure to its online model, Kuda has correspondent relationships with three of Nigeria’s largest financial institutions: GTBank, Access Bank and Zenith Bank.

He clarified the banks are partners and not investors. Kuda customers can use these banks’ branches and ATMs to put money into bank accounts or withdraw funds without a fee.

“Even though we don’t own a single branch, we actually have the largest branch network in the country,” Ogundeyi claimed.

Kuda’s plans to generate revenues focus largely around leveraging its bank balances. “We plan to match different liability classes to the different asset classes that we create. That’s how we make money, that’s how we get efficiency in terms of income,” Ogundeyi said.

In Nigeria, Kuda enters a potentially revenue-rich market, but its one that already hosts a crowded fintech field — as the country becomes ground zero for payments startups and tech investment in Africa.

Briter Bridges Lagos Nigeria Fintech MapIn both raw and per capita numbers, Nigeria has been slower to convert to digital payments than leading African countries, such as Kenya, according to joint McKinsey Company and Gates Foundation analysis done several years ago. The same study estimated there could be nearly $1.3 billion in revenue up for grabs if Nigeria could reach the same digital-payments penetration as Kenya.

A number of startups — established and new — are going after that prize in the West African country — several with a strategy to scale in Nigeria first before expanding outward on the continent and globally.

San Francisco-based, no-fee payment venture Chipper Cash entered Nigeria this month.

Series B-stage Nigerian payments company Paga raised $10 million in 2018 to further grow its customer base (that now tallies 13 million) and expand to Asia and Latin America.

Kuda CEO Babs Ogundeyi believes the startup can scale and compete in Nigeria on a number of factors, one being financial safety. He names the company’s official bank status and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation security that brings as something that can attract cash-comfortable bank clients to digital finance.

Ogundeyi also points to offerings and price.”We look to be the next generation bank where you can do everything— savings, payments and transfers — and also the one that’s least expensive,” he said.

 


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Mozilla launches a VPN, brings back the Firefox Test Pilot program – gpgmail


Mozilla today announced that it is bringing back the Firefox Test Pilot program to allow users to try out new features before they are ready for mainstream usage. While the name is familiar, though, the overall goals of the new program are a bit different from the last iteration and the focus is less on crazy experiments and more on beta testing products that are almost ready for public consumption.

The first new project in the Test Pilot program is the beta of the Firefox Private Network VPN service, which is now available in the U.S. for Firefox desktop users.

The Firefox Test Pilot program has gone through its share of iterations. First launched three years ago, it quickly became the incubation ground for a number of new features. In January of this year, though, the organization decided to shut it down.

Why bring it back now? Clearly, Mozilla was getting valuable feedback from the Test Pilot users, who were surely among the most dedicated Firefox fans.

The organization says that it wanted to take time to evolve the program and this new version is indeed somewhat different. “The difference with the newly relaunched Test Pilot program is that these products and services may be outside the Firefox browser, and we will be far more polished, and just one step shy of general public release,” the team explains.

The new Test Pilot program then is less about giving users the opportunity to test some of the Firefox team’s more eccentric ideas and more like a traditional public beta test program.

The new VPN project, the team writes, is a good example of this approach. It’s a Test Pilot project because the team wants to fine-tune it a bit more before its public release.

The Firefox Private Network isn’t so much about trying to circumvent geo-restrictions and instead mostly focuses on giving users access to a private network when they are on public WiFi and helping them hide their locations from website and ad trackers (and indeed, a lot of the new Test Pilot projects will focus on privacy). That’s probably why Mozilla doesn’t refer to it as a VPN either, though that’s obviously what it is.

“One of the key learnings from recent events is that there is growing demand for privacy features,” Mozilla’s Marissa Wood writes today. “The Firefox Private Network is an extension which provides a secure, encrypted path to the web to protect your connection and your personal information anywhere and everywhere you use your Firefox browser.”

Mozilla is partnering with Cloudflare for this launch and Cloudflare is providing the proxy server for it. It’s available as a Firefox extension, but only in the U.S. and fore Firefox desktop users. For now, it’s available for free, though there have been some hints that Mozilla will at some point start charging for the service. Since it’s not a full VPN service, it remains to be seen how much the organization will be able to charge for it. Last year, Mozilla partnered with ProtonVPN and offered that service for $10 per month.

It’s worth noting that Opera, too, includes a free built-in VPN service, which includes the ability to set your location to either the Americas, Europe or Asia.

If you want to give the new service a try, you only need a Firefox account and sign up here.

 

 


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InMobi’s Glance raises $45M to expand outside of India – gpgmail


Glance, a subsidiary of Indian mobile ad business firm InMobi, said today it has raised $45 million as it prepares to scale its business outside of India and bulk up its product offerings.

The unnamed, maiden financing round for Glance was funded by Mithril Capital, a growth stage investment firm co-founded by Silicon Valley investors Peter Thiel and Ajay Royan.

In an interview with gpgmail, Naveen Tewari, founder and CEO of InMobi Group, said the current round has not closed and could bag another $30 million to $55 million in the next two months.

Glance operates an eponymous service that shows media content in local languages on the lock screen of Android-powered smartphones. InMobi has partnered with a number of top smartphone vendors including Xiaomi, Samsung, and Gionee to integrate Glance into their respective operating systems.

Glance, which was launched in September last year and supports English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, has amassed 50 million monthly active users in India, its primary market. Users are spending an average of 22 minutes with Glance each day, he said.

“All the new smartphone models launched by Samsung, Xiaomi, and a handful of other vendors have launched with Glance on them,” Tiwari said.

In a statement, Mithril Capital’s Rohan, said, “We share Glance’s global vision of breaking through the constraints of application architectures and linguistic markets to deliver rich, frictionless, and engaging experiences across a myriad of cultures and languages.” As part of the financing round, he is joining Glance’s board.

Glance does not show traditional ads, something it intends to never change, but shows a certain kind of content to drive engagement for brands.

In the months to come, Glance plans to expand the platform and bring short-form videos (Glance TV), and mini games (Glance Games) to the lock screen. It is also working on a feature dubbed Glance Location that will enable brands to court users in their vicinity, and Glance Shopping to explore ways to build commerce around content.

As of today, InMobi Group is not monetizing Glance platform, but plans to explore ways to make money from it early next year, Tiwari said.

The 12-year-old firm said it plans to expand footprints of Glance outside of India. The company plans to take Glance to some Southeast Asian markets like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. InMobi’s Tiwari said the Glance has already started to find users in these markets.

InMobi Group, which had raised $320 million prior to today’s financing round, has been profitable for several years, but the company decided to raise external funding to accelerate Glance’s growth, Tiwari said.

The firm, which has three subsidiaries including its marquee marketing cloud division, plans to go public in the next few years. But instead of taking the entire group public, Tiwari said the firm is thinking of publicly listing each division as they mature. The marketing cloud division, which brings in the vast majority of revenue for the firm, will go public first, he said.

“The IPO plans remain, and we will evaluate them as we go along. The reality, however, is that the market is so big and there is so much room that we can continue to be private for a few more years,” he said.


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SimShine raises $8 million for home security cameras that use edge computing – gpgmail


SimShine, a computer vision startup based in Shenzhen, has raised $8 million in pre-Series A funding for SimCam, its line of home security cameras that use edge computing to keep data on-device. The funding was led by Cheetah Mobile, with participation from Skychee, Skyview Fund and Oak Pacific Investment.

Earlier this year, SimShine raised $310,095 in a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. It will use its pre-Series A round for product development and hiring.

SimShine’s team started off developing computer vision and edge computing software, spending five years working with enterprise clients before launching SimCam.

The company plans to release more smart home products that use edge computing with the ultimate goal of building a IoT platform to connect different devices, co-founder and chief marketing officer Joe Pham tells gpgmail. SimCam currently integrates with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, with support for Apple Homekit in the works.

Pham says edge computing protects users’ privacy by keeping data, including face recognition data, on device, while also decreasing latency and false alarms, because calculations are performed continuously on the device (cameras connect to Wi-Fi so customers can watch surveillance video on their smartphones). It also means customers don’t have to sign up for the subscription plans that many cloud-based home security cameras require and reduces the price of each device since SimCam does not have to maintain cloud servers.


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Paytm’s annual loss doubles to $549M – gpgmail


Running a payments business in India is not cheap. Just ask Paytm . One of India’s largest payment companies reported a net loss of Rs 3959 crore ($549 million) for the financial year that ended in March, up 165% over 1490 crore ($206 million) in the same period last year.

During the same period, the company’s revenue rose to Rs 3232 crore ($448 million), compared to Rs 3052 crore ($423 million) in the year before. The firm’s debt also surged to Rs 695 crore ($96 million), One97 Communications, the parent firm of Paytm, told investors in its annual report.

One97 Communications also runs an e-commerce business, which recently raised money from eBay, and Paytm Money, that runs mutual funds business. On a consolidated basis, the 9-year-old firm reported an annual loss of Rs 4217.20 crore ($584 million), up from Rs 1604.34 crore ($222 million) from the year before.

Indian news outlet BloombergQuint first reported (paywalled) the financial performance of Paytm.

The loss should worry Paytm, whose CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma said in a conference last week that the firm would begin to work on going public in the next 22 to 24 months. The level of competition that Paytm faces today is only about to increase in the coming future, and unlike earlier, the Indian firm is not facing off financially weaker local rivals.

Paytm, which has raised over $2 billion to date from a range of investors including SoftBank, Alibaba, and Berkshire Hathaway, continues to be the largest mobile wallet app provider in India, but increasingly users are moving to government-backed UPI payments infrastructure. In UPI land, Paytm competes with Flipkart’s PhonePe and Google Pay, both of which are heavily-backed.

As of July, both PhonePe and Google Pay commanded a bigger market share across UPI apps than Paytm.

Also in UPI land, you don’t make money on each transaction. So lately, every payments firm in India, including Paytm, has expanded it offering to include financial services such as a credit card, or loan, or insurance.

In many ways, this has created a level playing field for payment firms that did not dominate the wallet business.

In a statement, Paytm said it has been investing $1 billion per year for the last two years to “expand payments ecosystem in our country.” The company plans to invest a further $3 billion in the next two years.

“We believe India is at the inflection point of digital payments and Paytm’s sole focus is towards solving the merchant payments and offering them financial services. We will invest Rs 20,000 crore ($2.7 billion) in the next two years towards achieving this,” a company spokesperson said.

The biggest challenge for Paytm and other UPI payment apps has yet to emerge. Before the end of this year, WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, plans to offer UPI payment option to all its years in the coming month.


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Good Capital launches to close the funding gap for early-stage Indian startups – gpgmail


Rohan Malhotra and Arjun Malhotra left their jobs in London and Silicon Valley to explore opportunities in India in late 2013. A year later, the brothers launched Investopad to connect with local startup founders and product managers and built a community to exchange insight. Somewhere in the journey, they wrote early checks to social-commerce startup Meesho, which now counts Facebook as an investor, Autonomic, which got acquired by Ford, and HyperTrack, among others. Now the duo is ready to be full-time VCs.

On Monday, they announced Good Capital, a VC fund that would invest in early-stage startups. Through Good Capital’s maiden fund of $25 million, the brothers plan to invest in about half a dozen startups in a year and provide between $100,000 to $2 million in their Seed and Series A financing rounds, they told gpgmail in an interview last week.

“Through Investopad, we helped startup founders raise money, provided guidance, and helped them find customers. We did a ton of events, and learned about the market,” said Arjun, who worked at Capricorn Investment Group and also acted in 2014 blockbuster Bollywood title “Highway.”

Investopad’s first fund portfolio stands at a gross IRR of 138.3% and nine of its 12 investments have realised returns, with every dollar invested already returned, the brothers said.

Good Capital will focus on investing in startups that are building solutions that address users who have come online in India for the first time in the last two years, they said.

“We don’t have laser-focus on a particular sector,” said Rohan, who previously worked as a sports agent in the talent management business. “Our primary focus is to help startups that are taking a bottom-up approach.”

One example of such startup is Meesho, a social-commerce startup that has amassed over 2 million users who are engaging with the platform to sell products across India.

In a statement, Vidit Aatrey, cofounder and CEO of Meesho, said, “Rohan and Arjun were our earliest investors. They have a phenomenal global network of entrepreneurs, operators and investors. They helped us early on with introductions to such people; who brought not only capital but, more importantly, valuable operational inputs which helped us learn quickly and find product-market fit faster. While we’ve grown from 2 people to over 1,000+ at Meesho, they remain close confidants!”

The VC fund has completed its first close of $12 million from Symphony International Holdings, a host of European family offices, and a number of other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Sundeep Madra, CEO of Ford X, and Yogen Dalal, Partner Emeritus at the Mayfield Fund and founder of Glooko, and Dinesh Moorjani, Managing Director of Comcast Ventures and founder of Hatch Labs and Tinder, will serve as advisors to Good Capital.

“Rohan and Arjun have a unique ability to identify trends and bring together founders and investors to go after the unique problems that India needs to have solved. They operate with a sense of urgency and innovation which is a major key at the seed-stage.” said Madra, who has invested in companies such as Uber and Zenefits.

The fund has also set up an investment committee whose members are Sanjay Kapoor, former CEO of Airtel and now a senior advisor at BCG, Rahul Khanna, formerly a managing partner at Cannan Partners and now founder of Trifecta Capital, and Kashyap Deorah, a serial entrepreneur who is currently building HyperTrack.

Good Capital has also already made two investments: SimSim, a video-based e-commerce platform that is trying to replicate the experience consumers have in offline stores, and Spatial, a cross-reality platform that allows people to collaborate through augmented reality. Garrett Camp, a founder of Uber and Expa, and Samsung Next have also invested in Spatial.

The VC fund is also interested in funding business-to-business startups, though they say these startups would ideally be building solutions for overseas markets. “There we are generally targeting makers, developers and designers, rather than solving problems for heavy-duty sales businesses.”

The arrival of Good Capital should help the Indian startup community, which today has to rely on a handful of VC funds that invest in early stage startups. “Conventionally, funds have targeted the top of the pyramid by exploring visible opportunities and replicated US companies and models,” said Moorjani in a statement.

“In contrast, Good Capital’s first principles thinking applied to India’s larger economy, which is coming online at scale with a supporting ecosystem for the first time, has been refreshing to see. The team is beyond talented.,” he added.

Even as Indian tech startups raised a record $10.5 billion in 2018, early-stage startups saw a decline in the number of deals they participated in and the amount of capital they received.

Early-stage startups participated in 304 deals in 2018 and raised $916 million in funds last year, down from $988 million they raised from 380 rounds in 2017 and $1.096 billion they raised from 430 deals the year before, research firm Venture Intelligence told gpgmail.

As for Investopad, the brothers said they have hired a number of people who will now continue its operation.


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India loses contact with spacecraft during historic moon landing attempt – gpgmail


India’s attempt to become the first nation to soft land a robotic spacecraft at the moon’s South Pole, an unexplored region, has ended in failure, the space agency said Saturday.

Less than two miles above the lunar surface, the Vikram lander (named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program) lost communications with the mission control.

A live broadcast from ISRO, India’s equivalent of NASA, showed scientists grow tense as the control station struggled to get a signal from the lander.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was watching the landing attempt, offered words of encouragement to the scientists and children, who had accompanied him at the ISRO campus.

“Be courageous. Our faith in ISRO has not lost. I can proudly say that the effort was worth it and so was the journey. We are full of confidence that when it comes to our space program, the best is yet to come,” he said.

Space is hard. The lunar surface is filled with debris of spacecrafts that have attempted and failed to land in one piece. Because there is little to no atmosphere on the moon, parachutes can’t be used, leaving landers to rely completely on thrusters to modulate the speed.

Chandrayaan-2, a roughly $140 million mission, is, in part, intended to study moon craters that are believed to contain water deposits, something Chandrayaan-1 found in 2008.

A successful touchdown would have made India the fourth country to successfully complete a soft landing on the lunar surface. So far, only the former Soviet Union, the U.S., and China have accomplished it.

GettyImages 1165864210

Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

The 142-foot tall spacecraft that blasted off Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15, carried an orbiter, a lunar lander, and a six-wheeled rover. The lander and rover were expected to operate for just a couple of weeks, but the orbiter, which detached from the lander earlier this week, will continue to operate for at least one year.

ISRO has come a long way and specialized in low-cost space launches since the early 1960s, when components of rockets were transported by bicycles and assembled by hand in the country.

In 2013, ISRO also launched an orbiter to Mars in its maiden $74 million interplanetary mission — a fraction of the $671 million NASA spent for a Mars mission in the same year. In 2017, ISRO also deployed a record 104 satellites into space in just 18 minutes.

Earlier this year, ISRO said it intends to have its own space station in the future and conduct separate missions to study the Sun and Venus. It will begin working on its space station following its first manned mission to space, called Gaganyaan (which means “space vehicle” in Sanskrit), in 2022 — just in time to commemorate 75 years of the country’s independence from Britain. The government has sanctioned Rs 10,000 crores ($1.5 billion) for the Gaganyaan mission.




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Watch India’s Chandrayaan-2 make its historic moon landing attempt right here – gpgmail


It’s a big day for India’s highly audacious Chandrayaan-2 mission. The nation will attempt to land its lunar orbit on the moon’s surface shortly as it inches closer to become the fourth in the world to complete a successful lunar landing. ISRO, India’s equivalent of NASA, will be live streaming the landing on its website, and YouTube channel.

Additionally, if you are tuning in from India, dozens of channels including Doordarshan (DD1), Disney India, National Geographic, Star Plus and Star Bharat, DD News, will live telecast the India’s mission to the moon. The landing is scheduled for between 1pm and 2pm Pacific Time (4pm to 5pm Eastern Time; 8pm to 9pm GMT).

ISRO launched its 142 feet tall spacecraft from the the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15. The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, a lander named Vikram (named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program), and a six-wheeled rover named Pragyaan (Sanskrit for “wisdom”). Earlier this week, the lander that carried the rover detached from the orbiter.

The mission’s budget is just $141 million, significantly lower than those of other countries, and less than half of the recently released blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame.”

Commenting on the landing, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will be watching the nation’s attempt at the moon landing from ISRO’s office, said earlier today that, “India, and the rest of the world will yet again see the exemplary prowess of our space scientists.”

Chandrayaan-2 aims to land on a plain surface that covers the ground between two of the moon’s craters, Simpelius N and Manzinus C — that is about 375 miles from the South Pole. It’s an understudied region that no one has seen closely yet.

NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger, said in a televised program today, “I just want everyone to know that the whole world is following this and it is not just Indians. This is the first time any country is going to the South Pole of the moon! India is leading this and as a representative of the US, we are nervous and we are hoping for success. This increases the knowledge base of the moon.”


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Xiaomi has shipped 100 million smartphones in India – gpgmail


Xiaomi said on Friday it has shipped over 100 million smartphones in India, its most important market, since beginning operations in the nation five years ago. The company cited figures from research firm IDC in its claim.

The Chinese giant, which has held the top smartphone vendor position in India for eight straight quarters now, said its budget smartphone series Redmi and Redmi Note were its top selling lineups in India.

“It’s a testament to the love we have received from millions of Mi Fans since our inception. There have been brands who entered the market before us, yet are nowhere close to the astounding feat we have achieved,” said Manu Jain, VP of Xiaomi and MD of the company’s India business, in a statement.

As competition in its home market intensified, India has emerged as the most important market for Xiaomi in recent years. When the Chinese firm entered the nation, for the first two years, it relied mostly on selling handsets online to cut overhead. But in the years since, it has established presence in brick-and-mortar market, which continues to drive much of the general sales in the nation.

xiaomi india

Last month, Xiaomi said the company is on track to building presence in 10,000 physical stores in the country by the end of the year. It expects offline market to drive half of its sales by that time frame.

More to follow…


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