Goldman backs Kobo360, Rwanda commits to EVs, Interswitch IPO update – gpgmail


Nigerian freight logistics startup Kobo360 raised a $20 million Series A round led by Goldman Sachs and $10 million in working capital financing from Nigerian commercial banks.

The company — with an Uber-like app that connects truckers and companies to delivery services — will use the funds to upgrade its platform and expand to 10 new countries beyond current operating markets of Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and Kenya.

Kobo360 looks to grow beyond its Nigeria roots to become a truly Pan-African company, co-founder Obi Ozor told gpgmail .  He co-founded the venture in 2017 with fellow Nigerian Ife Oyedele II.

Since its launch in Lagos, the startup has continued to grow its product offerings, VC backing and customer base. Kobo360 claims a fleet of more than 10,000 drivers and trucks operating on its app. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, Dangote and DHL.

Kobo360’s latest round is also notable for Goldman Sachs’ involvement. Goldman’s participation tracks a growing list of African venture investments made by the U.S. based finance firm.

Chinese mobile-phone and device maker Transsion will list in an IPO on Shanghai’s STAR Market, Transsion confirmed to gpgmail.

The company — which has a robust Africa sales network — could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million).

Transsion’s IPO prospectus is downloadable (in Chinese) and its STAR Market listing application available on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website.

STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that also went live in July with some 25 companies going public.

Headquartered in Shenzhen — where African e-commerce unicorn Jumia also has a logistics supply-chain facility — Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand.

The company has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia and recently expanded its presence in India.

Transsion plans to spend the bulk of its STAR Market raise (1.6 billion yuan or $227 million) on building more phone assembly hubs and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development, including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai, a company spokesperson said.

The government of Rwanda will soon issue national policy guidelines to eliminate gas motorcycles in its taxi sector in favor of e-motos, according to a preview of the plan by President Paul Kagame at a public-rally

The director general for the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, Patrick Nyirishema, confirmed Kagame’s comments were ahead of a national e-mobility plan in the works for the East African nation.

“The president’s announcement is exactly the policy direction we’re in…it’s about converting to electric motos…The policy is prepared, it’s yet to be passed…and is going through the approval process,” Nyirishema told gpgmail on a call from Kigali.

Motorcycle taxis in Rwanda are a common mode of transit, with estimates of 20 to 30 thousand operating in the capital of Kigali.

Nyirishema explained that converting to e-motorcycles is part of a national strategy to move Rwanda’s entire mobility space to electric. The country will start with public transit operators, such as moto-taxis, and move to buses and automobiles.

Ampersand, a Kigali-based e-moto startup, has already begun to pilot EVs and charging systems in Rwanda and will work with the country’s government on the moto-taxi conversion.

In an ExtraCrunch feature, gpgmail delved into tech talent accelerator Andela — one of the most recognized and well funded startups operating in Africa.

In a byte, Andela is Series D stage startup ― backed by $180 million in VC ― that trains and connects African software developers to global companies for a fee.

CEO Jeremy Johnson dished on the company’s strategy toward profitability and responded to some of the criticism it receives ― namely a claim the startup is creating a second brain-drain when software developers leave Andela and Africa, to take positions with global companies.

Today Andela has offices in New York and five African countries: Nigeria, Kenya,  Rwanda, Uganda, and Egypt ― which largely align with the continent’s top tech VC markets.

Across this network the company recruits software developers, builds software engineers, and deploys teams of software engineers.

Johnson disclosed numbers on Andela’s expected new hires for the year, current developer staff, how many departures the company expects, and how many of those will likely leave their home countries―which actually amounts to a fairly small percentage.

gpgmail checked in with Nigerian fintech company Interswitch for the latest on its anticipated dual-listing London and Lagos stock exchanges.

A Bloomberg News story (based on background sourcing) revived speculation the IPO could happen this year for the company — which provides much of Nigeria’s digital banking infrastructure and has expanded its operations presence and payments products across Africa and globally.

Reports that Interswitch could be one of the earliest big tech companies out of Africa to go public trace back to 2016, when CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe told gpgmail the company was considering a listing before the end of that year.

Last month, an Interswitch spokesperson would neither confirm or deny a pending IPO, per a gpgmail inquiry. So, it’s still tough to say if or when the company could list. But there are still several reasons why the business (and its possible IPO) are worth keeping an eye on, which we detailed in the update story.

 

One could be an eventual increase in venture funding to African startups, that could come from Interswitch. Another could be an Interswitch IPO adding another benchmark for global investors to gauge Africa’s tech sector beyond Jumia — the e-commerce company that became the first big tech firm operating in Africa to launch on a major exchange, the NYSE in April.

More Africa-related stories @gpgmail

African tech around the ‘net

 


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Could Peloton be the next Apple? – gpgmail


Hello and welcome back to Equity, gpgmail’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we were back in the SF studio, with Kate and Alex on hand to chat venture, business, startups, and IPOs with Iris Choi. Choi is a partner at Floodgate, and one of the very few folks who have ever been invited back on the show.

Despite Floodgate being an early-stage firm, Choi was more than willing to dig into the week’s later-stage topics, starting with the Peloton IPO filing. Kate was stoked about the offering (her piece here, Alex’s notes here). Peloton, a fitness, media, hardware (and more) company, is a lot different than your run-of-the-mill enterprise SaaS exits.

Next Alex ran the team through a list of impending IPOs that we care about. There are a number of venture-backed companies looking to go public before the stock market falls apart. More on each when they price.

After the S-1 march, we turned to personnel news, namely that Instacart’s CFO is leaving the firm after about four years with the companyRavi Gupta is joining Sequoia Capital. We’ll tell you why.

Next, we touched on two rounds. First, a Kleiner deal into Consider, an app that brings power-tooling to email. And then we chatted about Inkitt, another Kleiner deal. Why the pair of early-stage rounds? Because Alex recently went to Kleiner to chat with its new partner team about where they’ll deploy capital in the future.

And that took us comfortably overtime. A big thanks to Choi for joining us, again, and you for sticking with the show. More next week!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.




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NASA’s new HPE-built supercomputer will prepare for landing Artemis astronauts on the Moon – gpgmail


NASA and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) have teamed up to build a new supercomputer, which will serve NASA’s Ames Research Center in California and develop models and simulations of the landing process for Artemis Moon missions.

The new supercomputer is called ‘Aitken,’ named after American astronomer Robert Grant Aitken, and it can run simulations at up to 3.69 petaFLOPs of theoretical performance power. Aitken is custom-designed by HPE and NASA to work with the Ames modular data centre, which is a project it undertook starting in 2017 to massively reduce the amount of water and energy used in cooling its supercomputing hardware.

Aitken employs second generation Intel Xeon processors, Mellanox InfiniBand high-speed networking, and has 221 TB of memory on board for storage. It’s the result of four years of collaboration between NASA and HPE, and it will model different methods of entry, descent and landing for Moon-destined Artemis spacecraft, running simulations to determine possible outcomes and help determine the best, safest approach.

This isn’t the only collaboration between HPE and NASA: The enterprise computer maker built a new kind of supercomputer able to withstand the rigors of space for the agency, and sent it up to the ISS in 2017 for preparatory testing ahead of potential use on longer missions, including Mars. The two partners then opened that supercomputer for use in third-party experiments last year.

HPE also announced earlier this year that it was buying supercomputer company Cray for $1.3 billion. Cray is another long-time partner of NASA’s supercomputing efforts, dating back to the space agency’s establishment of a dedicated computational modelling division and the establishing of its Central Computing Facility at Ames Research Center.


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After data incidents, Instagram expands its bug bounty – gpgmail


Facebook is expanding its data abuse bug bounty to Instagram.

The social media giant, which owns Instagram, first rolled out its data abuse bounty in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw tens of millions of Facebook profiles scraped to help swing undecided voters in favor of the Trump campaign during the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

The idea was that security researchers and platform users alike could report instances of third-party apps or companies that were scraping, collecting and selling Facebook data for other purposes, such as to create voter profiles or build vast marketing lists.

Even following he high profile public relations disaster of Cambridge Analytica, Facebook still still had apps illicitly collecting data on its users.

Instagram wasn’t immune either. Just this month Instagram booted a “trusted” marketing partner off its platform after it was caught scraping millions of users’ stories, locations and other data points on millions of users, forcing Instagram to make product changes to prevent future scraping efforts. That came after two other incidents earlier this year where a security researcher found 14 million scraped Instagram profiles sitting on an exposed database — without a password — for anyone to access. Another incident saw another company platform scrape the profile data — including email addresses and phone numbers — of Instagram influencers.

Last year Instagram also choked developers’ access as the company tried to rebuild its privacy image in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Dan Gurfinkel, security engineering manager at Instagram, said its new and expanded data abuse bug bounty aims to “encourage” security researchers to report potential abuse.

Instagram said it’s also inviting a select group of trusted security researchers to find flaws in its Checkout service ahead of its international rollout, who will also be eligible for bounty payouts.

Read more:


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The five great reasons to attend gpgmail’s Enterprise show Sept. 5 in SF – gpgmail


The vast enterprise tech category is Silicon Valley’s richest, and today it’s poised to change faster than ever before. That’s probably the biggest reason to come to gpgmail’s first-ever show focused entirely on enterprise. But here are five more reasons to commit to joining gpgmail’s editors on September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for an outstanding day (agenda here) addressing the tech tsunami sweeping through enterprise. 

#1 Artificial Intelligence.
At once the most consequential and most hyped technology, no one doubts that AI will change business software and increase productivity like few if any, technologies before it. To peek ahead  into that future, gpgmail will interview Andrew Ng, arguably the world’s most experienced AI practitioner at huge companies (Baidu, Google) as well as at startups. AI will be a theme across every session, but we’ll address again it head-on in a panel with investor Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta), founder Bindu Reddy (Reality Engines) and executive John Ball (Salesforce / Einstein). 

#2. Data, The Cloud and Kubernetes.
If AI is at the dawn of tomorrow, cloud transformation is the high noon of today.  90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years, and no enterprise can keep its data hoard on-prem forever. Azure’s CTO
Mark Russinovitch (CTO) will discuss Microsft’s vision for the cloud. Leaders in the open-source Kubernetes revolution, Joe Beda (VMWare) and Aparna Sinha (Google) and others will dig into what Kubernetes means to companies making the move to cloud. And last, there is the question of how to find signal in all the data – which will bring three visionary founders to the stage: Benoit Dageville (Snowflake), Ali Ghodsi (Databricks), Murli Thirumale (Portworx). 

#3 Everything else on the main stage!
Let’s start with a fireside chat with
SAP CEO Bill McDermott and Qualtrics Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green.  We have top investors talking where they are making their bets, and security experts talking data and privacy. And then there is quantum,  the technology revolution waiting on the other side of AI: Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort,  Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs, and Krysta Svore, style=”font-weight: 400;”> who leads the Microsoft’s quantum effort.

All told, there are 21 programming sessions.

#4 Network and get your questions answered.
There will be two Q&A breakout sessions with top enterprise investors for founders (and anyone else) to query investors directly. Plus, gpgmail’s unbeatable CrunchMatch app makes it really easy to set up meetings with the other attendees, an
incredible array of folks, plus the  20 early-stage startups exhibiting on the expo floor.

#5 SAP
Enterprise giant SAP is our sponsor for the show, and they are not only bringing a squad of top executives, they are producing four parallel track sessions featuring key SAP Chief Innovation Officer
Max Wessel,  SAP Chief Designer and Futurist  Martin Wezowski and SAP.IO’s managing director Ram Jambunathan (SAP.iO) in sessions including, how to scale-up an enterprise startup, how startups win large enterprise customers, and what the enterprise future looks like.

Check out the complete agenda. Don’t miss this show! This line-up is a view into the future like none other. 

Grab your $349 tickets today, and don’t wait till the day of to book because prices go up at the door!

We still have 2 Startup Demo Tables left. Each table comes with 4 tickets and a prime location to demo your startup on the expo floor. Book your demo table now before they’re all gone!


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Y Combinator-backed Holy Grail is using machine learning to build better batteries – gpgmail


For a long, long time, renewable energy proponents have considered advancements in battery technology to be the holy grail of the industry.

Advancements in energy storage has been among the hardest to achieve economically thanks to the incredibly tricky chemistry that’s involved in storing power.

Now, one company that’s launching from Y Combinator believes it has found the key to making batteries better. The company is called Holy Grail and it’s launching in the accelerator’s latest cohort.

With an executive team that initially included Nuno Pereira, David Pervan, and Martin Hansen, Holy Grail is trying to bring the techniques of the fabless semiconductor industry to the world of batteries.

The company’s founders believe that the only way to improve battery functionality is to take a systems approach to understanding how different anodes and cathodes will work together. It sounds simple, but Pereira says that the computational power hadn’t existed to take into account all of the variables that go along with introducing a new chemical to the battery mix.

“You can’t fix a battery with just a component,” Pereira says. “All of the batteries that were created and failed in the past. They create an anode, but they don’t have a chemical that works with the cathode or the electrolyte.”

For Pereira, the creation of Holy Grail is the latest step on a long road of experimentation with mechanical and chemical engineering. “As a kid I was more interested in mechanical engineering and building stuff,” he says. But as he began tinkering with cars and became fascinated with mobility, he realized that batteries were the innovation that gave the world its charge.

In 2017 Pereira founded a company called 10Xbattery, which was making high-density lithium batteries. That company, launching with what Pereira saw as a better chemistry, encapsulated the industry’s problem at large — the lack

So, with the help of a now-departed co-founder, Pereira founded Holy Grail. “He essentially told me, ‘Do you want to take a step back and see if there’s a better way to do this?’” said Pereira.

The company pitches itself as science fiction coming from the future, but it relies on a combination of what are now fairly standard (at least in the research community) tools. Holy Grail’s pitch is that it can automate much of the research and development process to create new batteries that are optimized to the specifications of end customers.

“It’s hard for a human to do the experiments that you need and to analyze multidimensional data,” says Pereira. “There are some companies that only do the machine-learning part and the computational science part and sell the results to companies. The problem is that there’s a disconnection between experimental reality and the simulations.”

Using computer modeling, chemical engineering and automated manufacturing, Holy Grail pitches a system that can get real test batteries into the hands of end customers in the mobility, electronics, and utility industries orders of magnitude more quickly than traditional research and development shops.

Currently the system that Holy Grail has built out can make 700 batteries per day. The company intends to  build a pilot plant that will make batteries for electronics and drones. For automotive and energy companies, Holy Grail says it will partner with existing battery manufacturers that can support the kind of high-throughput manufacturing big orders will require.

Think of it like bringing the fabless chip design technologies and business models to the battery industry, says Pereira.

Holy Grail already has $14 million in letters of intent with potential customers, according to Pereira and is expecting to close additional financing as it exits Y Combinator.

To date the company has been backed by the London-based early stage investment firm Deep Science Ventures, where Pereira worked as an entrepreneur in residence.

Ultimately, the company sees its technology being applied far beyond batteries as a new platform for materials science discoveries broadly. For now, though the focus is on batteries.

“For the low volume we sell direct,” says Pereira. “While on high volume production, we will implement a pilot line through the system… we are able to do the research engineering with the small ones and test the big ones. In our case when we have a cell that works, it’s not something that works in a lab it’s something that works in the final cell.”


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Peer-to-peer boat rental marketplace Boatsetter raises $10M as it looks to grow globally – gpgmail


Obviously, not everyone owns their boat, and boat ownership is far more unique than car ownership – which makes it maybe an ideal category for peer-to-peer marketplace rentals. P2P boat rental startup Boatsetter recognized this opportunity, and is now announcing a $10 million Series A “extension” funding round to help it grow its business, with investment led by WestCap Group and Valor Equity.

Boatsetter counts itself the top peer-to-peer boat rental marketplace in the U.S., and offers insurance to boat renters, owners and captains alike through a just-announced strategic partnership with Geico. The Miami-based startup estimates he size of the peer-to-peer boat rental market at as much as $50 billion annually, and plans to use its investment to expand its offering, both from a product perspective and expanding its presence in key markets globally.

To date, Boatsetter has raised $31 million, including earlier portions of this Series A raised over the past two years. The company focuses on rentals for anywhere from two to more than a dozen passengers, and a range of boat options that can also include qualified captains for larger vessels. It’s a bit like an Airbnb crossed with an Uber, and there are rentals available in vacation hotspots around the world. AS part of this new funding, Boatsetter is also adding a new board member – Laurence Tosi, the former CFO of Blackstone and Airbnb, who is also a founder and partner at new investor WestCap.

The funding will help the startup invest in bringing in new talent focused on design, engineering and brand building, in addition to product work and market expansion.


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Apple rolls out Apple Card Preview to select users – gpgmail


Apple Card is getting its first group of public test users today. A limited amount of customers that signed up to be notified about the release of Apple Card are getting the ability to apply for the card in their Wallet app today — as well as the option to order their physical Apple Card.

I’ve been using the card for a few days on my own device, making purchases and payments and playing around with features like Apple Cash rewards and transaction categorization.

A full rollout of Apple Card will come later in August. It requires iOS 12.4 and up to operate.

The application process was simple for me. Portions of the information you need are pre-filled from your existing AppleID account, making for less manual entry. I had an answer in under a minute and was ready to make my first purchase instantly. I used it both online and in person with contactless terminals.

It…works.

The card on the screen has a clever mechanism that gives you a sort of live heat map of your spending categories. The color of the card will shift and blend according to the kinds of things you buy. Spend a lot at restaurants and the card will take on an orange hue. Shop for entertainment related items and the card shifts into a mix of orange and pink. It’s a clever take on the chart based spending category features many other credit cards have built into their websites.

As many have pointed out, if you’re the kind of person that maximizes your points on current cards towards super specific rewards, like travel miles, the rewards system of Apple Card will not feel all that impressive. This is by design. Apple’s aim on this initial offering was to provide the most representational and easy to understand reward metric, rather than to provide top of category points returns.

But it also means that this may not be the card for you if you’re a big travel points maximizer.

I am a points person, and I carry several cards with differing rewards returns and point values depending on what I’m trying to accomplish. Leveraging these cards has allowed me to secure upgrades to higher classes, first class flights for family members and more due to how much I travel. Getting to this point, though, required a crash course in points values, programs and a tight grip on what cards to use when. Shout out to TPG.

IMG 0677

You will not be able to leverage Apple’s card in this way as a frequent traveler. Instead, Apple decided on a (by comparison) transparent rewards methodology: cash back based on a percentage of your purchases in 3 categories.

Those categories are 3% on all purchases from Apple Stores, the App Store and Apple subscriptions, 2% daily cash on any Apple Pay purchase and 1% with the physical card either online or offline.

The cash rewards are delivered daily, and made available to you very quickly on your Apple Cash card balance. Usually in less than a day. You can then do an instant transfer to your bank for a maximum $10 fee or a 1-3 day transfer for free. This cashout is faster than just about any other cash back program out there and certainly way faster cash reward tallying than anyone else. And Apple makes no effort to funnel you into a pure statement credit version of cash back, like many other cards do. The cash becomes cash pretty instantly.

I could easily see the bar Apple sets here — daily rewards tallies and instant cashouts — becoming industry standard.

The card interface itself is multiples better to use than most card apps, with the new Amex apps probably coming the closest. But even those aren’t system level, requiring no additional usernames and passwords. Apple Card has a distinct advantage there, one that Apple I’m sure hopes to use to the fullest. This is highlighted by the fact that the Apple Card application option is present on the screen any time you add a new credit card or debit card to Apple Pay now. Top of mind.

The spending categories and clear transaction names (with logos in many cases) are a very welcome addition to a credit card interface. The vast majority of time with even the best credit card dashboards you are presented with super crappy list of junk that includes a transaction identifier and a mangled vendor ID that could or could not map directly to the name of the actual merchant you purchased from. It makes deciphering what a specific transaction was for way harder then it should be. Apple Card parses these by vendor name, website name and then whatever it can parse on its own before it defaults back to the raw identifier. Way easier.

IMG 0681

A note, during the setup process the card will ask you if you want it to be your payment default for everything Apple and will automatically attach to your Apple stuff like App Store and subscription payments. So keep an eye out for that and make a call. You will get 3% cash back on any apps you buy, of course, even if they’re third party.

The payments interface is also unique in that Apple is pushing very hard to help you not pay interest. It makes recommendations on how to pay chunks of your balance over time before you incur interest. It places 1-3 markers on the circle-shaped interface that show you how much you need to pay off minimum, minimum with no interest and in full. These markers are personalized a bit and can vary depending on balance, due date and payment history.

I really dug hard on how Apple Card data was being handled the last time I wrote about the service, so you should read that for more info. Goldman Sachs is the partner for the card but it absolutely cannot use the data it gathers on transactions via Apple Card for market maps, as chunks of anonymized data it can offer partners about spending habits or any of the typical marketing uses credit card processors get up to. Mastercard and Goldman Sachs can only use the data for operations uses. Credit reporting, remittance, etc.

And Apple itself neither collects nor views anything about where you shopped, what you bought or how much you paid.

And, as advertised, there are no fees with Apple Card.

One thing I do hope that Apple Card adds is an ability to see and filter out recurring payments and subscriptions. This fits with the fiscal responsibility theme it’s shooting for with the payments interface and it’s sorely lacking in most first party apps.

Some nice design touches beyond the transaction maps, the color grading that mirrors purchases and the far more readable interface is a pleasant metallic sheen that is activated on device tilt.

My physical card isn’t here yet so I can’t really evaluate that part of it. But it is relatively unique in that it is nearly featureless, with no printed number, expiration, signature or security codes on its surface.

The titanium Apple Card comes in a package with an NFC chip that allows you to simply tap your phone to the envelope to begin the process of activating your card. No phone numbers to call and, heavens forbid, no 1-800 stickers on the surface of the card.

I can say that this is probably the first experience most people will ever have with a virtual credit card number. The physical card has a ‘hard coded’ number that cannot be changed. You never need to know it because it’s only used in in-person transactions. If it ever gets compromised, you can request a new card and freeze the old one in the app.

For online purchases that do not support Apple Pay, you have a virtual card number in the Wallet app. You enter that number just as you would any other card number and it’s automatically added to your Safari auto-fill settings when you sign up for Apple Card.

The advantage to this, of course, is that if it’s ever compromised, you can hit a button to request an entirely new number right from within the app. Notably, this is not a ‘per transaction’ number — it’s a semi-permanent virtual number. You keep it around until you have an issue. But when you do have a problem, you’ve got a new number instantly, which is far superior to having to wait for a new physical card just to continue making online purchases.

Some banks like Bank of America and Citibank already offer virtual options for online purchases, and third party services like Privacy.com also exist. But this is the beginning of the mainstreaming of VCCs. And it’s a good thing.


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