India’s 9-month-old CRED raises $120M to help people improve their financial behavior – gpgmail


Many Silicon Valley companies and fintech startups in India today share a common mission: They all want to bring their financial services to the next billion users. Dozens of fintech startups that we have spoken to in recent months have told us that they all want to address much of India, one of the last great growth markets globally, in the next few years.

So you can imagine our excitement when we learned there is at least one startup that is going after just a few million users in the immediate future. We’re talking about CRED, a nine-month-old, Bangalore-based startup that is building solutions to incentivize credit card users in India to become more responsible with money and thereby improve their credit score.

CRED has raised $120 million in a Series B financing round, Kunal Shah, founder and CEO of the startup, told gpgmail on Monday. He declined to share more information. The startup, which has raised about $145 million to date, is now valued between $430 million to $450 million, a person familiar with the matter told gpgmail.

According to a regulatory filing, existing investors Sequoia Capital, Ribbit Capital and DST Global’s Gemini Investments led the round, with participation from Tiger Global, Hillhouse Capital, General Catalyst, Greenoaks Capital and Dragoneer.

Hundreds of millions of Indians today don’t have a credit score because they have never taken a loan from a recognized entity nor owned a credit card. According to the government’s official figures, fewer than 50 million credit cards are in circulation in India currently, with industry reports suggesting that the actual number of unique credit card holders is about half of that.

“Nobody taught us about how to use money,” Shah told gpgmail in a recent interview. “This has created a huge trust gap in India. If you look at developed markets, systematic trust is very high between all the entities. Members don’t have to rely on third-parties. In India, even if you wanted to rent a flat, you look for brokers, for instance.”

You can build that trust when you know how someone handles their money, and how they have handled it in recent history. “Our aim is to create a big membership community with high credit worthiness, therefore open up more opportunities for them,” Shah explained.

Shah is not going after the masses. He wants to focus on just the credit card users for now, and if he could win the trust of just half of those plastic card holders in India, he would consider it a success.

“Instead of chasing the mythological mass customers who are currently useful only on paper if you wanted to boast about your daily active user or monthly active user metric, our goal is to serve the existing users,” he said.

On CRED, users are offered a range of features, including the ability to better track their spending, get reminders and check their credit score, but more importantly, access to a range of lofty offers such as membership to a gym at a discounted price, access to good restaurants at low prices and subscription to various services at little to no charge. Users can access these features by earning points, which they can secure every time they pay their credit card bills on time.

Varun Krishnan, editor of technology news site FoneArena, told gpgmail that he has found CRED useful in getting reminders to pay his bills and likes that he can pay them through a range of payment options, including UPI apps and debit cards. “I have several cards and it is hard to track amounts and due dates of payment for each one. They send all these alerts on WhatsApp, which is a blessing,” he said.

These are the reasons that attracted many people like Krishnan to join CRED. That, and some incentive to pay his bills — though he hopes that CRED expands the range of offers it currently provides to customers.

That wish may soon come true. In the coming months, CRED will enable these highly sought-after customers to access some financial services from banks in a single-click. Additionally, it is also exploring expansion to some international markets, the aforementioned source said.

CRED does not charge users any money for joining its platform, nor for availing any of the features it offers. But it is generating revenue from some of the partners that are supplying offers on the app.

It’s not a surprise that Shah, an industry veteran known for speaking the uncomfortable truths at conferences, has won the trust of so many investors already. He built one of the biggest payment apps in India, Freecharge, and sold it to e-commerce giant Snapdeal for a whopping $400 million in one of the increasingly rare exits that India’s fintech market has seen to date.


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Fantasy football startup Sleeper nabs VC funding to take on ESPN – gpgmail


Sleeper is looking to take on fantasy league apps from major players like ESPN and has amassed venture funding from Silicon Valley investors to take them down.

The Bay Area startup is aiming to treat a fantasy football league more like a social platform than a loose jumble of league mechanics, distinguishing itself as a simple and free, ad-free option.

Sleeper has done limited press as it has been ramping up its app over the past two seasons, but the team has been courting the interest of investors to scale the product, raising more than $7 million from VCs to date. The company closed a $5.3 million Series A late last year led by General Catalyst. In early 2017, the startup also closed a $2 million seed led by Birchmere Ventures with participation from Uber co-founder Garrett Camp’s startup studio, Expa.

There isn’t much in terms of monetization options at the moment. CEO Nan Wang tells gpgmail that the focus right now is “amassing a large base of users and making it the stickiest and highest engagement product in the category.”

Wang says the app’s users spend 50 minutes per day on average during the season, numbers he calls “Instagram-like.” The main contributor to that number seems to be that chat is always a swipe away and that all of the actions that are happening during the season show up inside chats to encourage engagement.

This unifies the experience for users, many of whom have had to piecemeal their experience by using a WhatsApp or GroupMe group in addition to the other fantasy league apps that they’ve been using. Sleeper’s more differentiated UI seems to be largely popular among early vocal users as well as the up-to-the-minute notifications that deliver league updates.

Poaching users from other platforms is definitely a priority, but Wang says the team has really been looking at how to nab users who have stayed away from the convoluted confusion of fantasy leagues as well. Taking on the leading apps from ESPN, Yahoo and NFL can be daunting; another stress for the younger startup is just how tight the user acquisition window is, though things compound quickly if you can create one loyal user that brings their entire league to the platform.

“The user acquisition window for fantasy football leagues is strongest from the second week of August until the first week of September. Historically, we’ve seen that about 70% of users create their leagues in that three-week window,” Wang tells me.

The funding has been used to build out its team, which is still just 10 full-time employees, as well as expand their ambitions beyond fantasy football alone into other sports, including basketball and soccer.


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BuzzFeed CTO joins men’s health startup Ro – gpgmail


Ro, a two-year-old startup known for its online pharmacy of men’s health products, has named BuzzFeed’s Todd Levy its chief technology officer.

Levy first joined BuzzFeed in 2014 as the digital media company’s vice president of engineering; he was named CTO in 2016. Prior to BuzzFeed, Levy co-founded and led link management tool bit.ly. Levy begins his new role Wednesday, August 14.

We’ve reached out to BuzzFeed for comment.

Ro, valued at $500 million earlier this year, has raised $176 million in venture capital funding from Canaan Partners, FirstMark Capital, BoxGroup, Initialized Capital, General Catalyst, SignalFire and others. The fast-growing startup poised to enter the unicorn club in the next year represents an opportunity for Levy to get back in the business of early-stage startups.

The news comes months after BuzzFeed announced its largest layoffs to date. Despite having raised $500 million over the last decade, the site has struggled to find a path to profitability. BuzzFeed chairman Ken Lerer, a prolific media investor, stepped down this June.

Former BuzzFeed CTO Todd Levy.

In an email announcement to staffers, Ro co-founder Saman Rahmanian said the new hire will help usher the business into a new phase of growth: “First and foremost, we needed a great team builder – someone who cares about team spirit not just the code,” Rahmanian wrote:

Given the high growth state of our business, we also needed a leader who has seen or led the scaling of an engineering team like ours into the next stage (from 30 engineers to 200). We also needed someone with a strong technology background who has gone through the ranks and is fluent in modern software architecture. And equally as important, we needed someone that was the right fit for Ro – someone who will provide strong mentorship, who is excited about a distributed team, and who will evangelize the engineering team inside the business as well as outside of Ro to attract top talent.

New York-based Ro was founded in 2017 and has quickly become a leader in the direct-to-consumer health and wellness movement. The company competes with Hims, another online service for health products, as well as Numan, Manual and Thirty Madison, which have raised capital recently.

Ro was started by a trio of entrepreneurs: Rob Schutz, the former vice president of growth at Bark&Co; Rahmanian, a co-founder of the WeWork-acquired business Managed by Q; and chief executive officer Zachariah Reitano, who previously co-founded a Y Combinator -backed startup called Shout.

The startup initially launched under the name Roman, which became its flagship brand when the business adopted the umbrella name Ro last year.

In a 2017 interview with gpgmail’s Josh Constine, Reitano said he began experiencing ED at 17 years old: “I think in a good way I’ve become numb to the embarrassment,” he said. “I remember the embarrassment of having the condition with no solution, and that’s much worse than sharing the fact that I had it and was able to fix it myself.”

Roman offers men a $15 online doctor’s consultation and access to an instant prescription for Viagra, Cialis or generic drugs that can be filled at Roman’s in-house cloud pharmacy. The company also sells hair loss, cold sore medication and more under the Roman brand.

Ro also operates Zero and Rory, purveyors of a quit smoking kit and a line of women’s health products, respectively.


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