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New wave founders are headed to Startup Battlefield Latin America

TechCrunch is thrilled to announce that Rappi co-founder Sebastian Mejia, Enjoie founder Ana McLaren and Konfío founder and CEO David Arana will be joining us on stage at Startup Battlefield Latin America  for a panel about new wave startups coming out of the region. What does scaling a delivery startup out of Latin America look like? Where do you find the top engineering talent to build a marketplace app? What are the big opportunities for ecommerce and fintech companies? These are some of the ideas these three founders will speak to. Sebastián Mejia is a co-founder of Rappi, the on-demand delivery startup worth over $1 billion. Rappi initially began as a beverage delivery service, but has since expanded into groceries, meals, medicine and tech products to become a solution for last-mile delivery on demand. The company also has a popular cash withdrawl feature, and charges $1 per delivery. The Colombian startup has been backed by some of the world’s most prominent investors like Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz. In fact, Rappi marked A16z’s first investment into Latin America in 2016. Now, thanks to a huge $200M round that closed in September 2018 , Rappi is now worth over $1 billion

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Tandem’s new credit card targets people who have non-existent credit histories

With its regulatory woes behind it — and the acqui-hire of fintech startup Pariti — Tandem ‘s product roadmap appears to be picking up pace. The challenger bank founded by Ricky Knox has launched its second credit card today, this time targeting people in the U.K. who have yet to build up a credit history at all. Credit cards are already one of the most effective ways of improving your credit score (presuming you are approved for one and always repay on time, of course) and it seems that Tandem wants a piece of that action. Dubbed the “Journey Card,” Tandem says the new credit card is “a way for those who haven’t had credit before to build up a strong credit profile”. The upstart bank says it is tapping into a climate where people are realising the importance of credit scores for building a better future and how essential a decent credit score is when taking out further credit such as a car loan, mortgage and other longer-term financial products. However, although the new Journey Card shares the same low FX fees when spending abroad, there are some key differences compared to the original Tandem Cashback Card . These include no cash back, for starters, and what appears to be a higher APR in recognition of the higher risk Tandem is taking on. With that said, both cards integrate with the Tandem mobile banking app, which acts as a Personal Finance Manager (PFM), including letting you aggregate your non-Tandem bank account data from other bank accounts or credit cards you might have. Very recently the app has released a plethora of updates (including digital statements, at last!), and these include some useful budgeting tools, which sits well alongside a credit card designed to help you build your credit score. Meanwhile, it is becoming clearer that Tandem sees consumer credit as its “attack vector” in the consumer banking space, as opposed to offering a current account or pre-paid/debit card, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see the challenger bank go there eventually

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Upgrade, the newest lending startup of Lending Club founder Renaud Laplanche, has raised $62 million in Series C funding

Upgrade , a two-year-old, San Francisco-based consumer lending venture founded by Renaud Laplanche, has raised $62 million in Series C funding led by CreditEase Fintech Investment Fund. The company’s earlier investors also joined the round, including Apoletto, FirstMark Capital, NOAH, Ribbit, Sands Capital, Silicon Valley Bank, Union Square Ventures and Vy Capital. The money brings the total capital that Upgrade has raised to date to $142 million. It’s easy to appreciate investors’ interest in the company, which already employs 300 people. Since its founding, it says, it has amassed more than 100,000 customers and issued more than $1 billion loans. The average loan size is roughly $10,000. The company is gaining traction without giving away the store, too. Though the interest rate that it charges compares favorably to average credit card rates of about 18 percent for consumers with good credit, Upgrade still gets away with an APR in the low to mid-teens, charging some customers up to 30 percent interest per year — which is similar to the highest rates on credit cards. Indeed, the minimum credit score that a consumer need have to secure a loan from Upgrade, its minimum is 620, which the credit reporting bureau Experien says falls into the range of  subprime borrowers who may be offered less-than-ideal loan terms because of their perceived ability to repay a loan on time. Yet Upgrade isn’t just making money of potentially risky — and, presumably, many more solid — borrowers. The company also recently introduced a personal credit line that’s a kind of mash-up of an unsecured personal loan and credit card. Borrowers can tap up to $50,000 if, say, they know they’ll need to make a costly home improvement, or (worse) need to pay off other loans. That balance is then converted into an installment loan with a fixed interest rate and a term of up to five years if it isn’t paid off immediately. Those APRs range from 6.46 percent to a whopping 35.9 percent, which might concern someone with a severe aversion to debt, like this editor, but as a business is hard to beat

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Semmle, startup that makes code searchable, hauls in $21M Series B

Semmle , a startup that originally spun out of research at Oxford, announced a $21 million Series B investment today led by Accel Partners. It marked the second time Accel has led an investment in the company. Other investors include Work-Bench, Capital One, Credit Suisse, Google, Microsoft, NASA and Nasdaq Trust. Today’s investment brings the total to $31 million. Semmle has warranted this kind of interest by taking a unique approach to finding vulnerabilities in code. “The key idea behind our technology is to treat code as data and treat analysis problems as simple queries against a database. What this allows you to do is very easily encode domain expertise, security expertise or any other kinds of specialist knowledge in such a way it can be easily easily and automatically applied to large amounts of code,” Pavel Avgustinov, Semmle co-founder and VP of platform engineering told TechCrunch. Screenshot: Semmle Once you create the right query, you can continuously run it against your code to prevent the same mistakes from entering the code base on subsequent builds. The key here is building the queries and the company has a couple of ways to deal with that. They can work with customers to help them create queries, although in the long run that is not a sustainable way of working. Instead, they share queries, and encourage customers to share them with the community. “What we find is that the great tech companies we work with have the best security teams in the world, and they are giving back what they created on the Semmle platform with other users in an open source fashion. There is a GitHub repository where we publish queries, but Microsoft and Google are doing the same thing ,” Oege de Moor, company CEO and co-founder explained. In fact, the Semmle solution is freely available to open source programmers to use with their applications, and the company currently analyzes every commit of almost 80,000 open source projects. Open source developers can run shared queries against their code or create their own. They also have a paid version with customers like Microsoft, Google, Credit Suisse, NASA and Nasdaq.

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Sequoia wraps up new $695M fund for India and Southeast Asia

Sequoia has announced the close of its newest fund for India and Southeast Asia. The firm has raised $695 million for this fund, which is its fifth since it expanded into India 12 years ago. Reports at the beginning of this year suggested that the firm was shooting for a $1 billion fund, perhaps influenced by SoftBank’s gargantuan Vision Fund, but it was later reported that the target was cut to $650-$700 million. This new money for Asia is reflective of Sequoia’s activity elsewhere in the world, where it is piling up cash for more details.  The firm is in the final stages of raising an $8 billion global fund  while it is said to be preparing a China fund that could reach as high as $6 billion, with participation from e-commerce firm JD.com and state-owned Starquest Capital. It  secured a $180 million seed fund in the U.S earlier this year. With this new money, Sequoia India said it plans to “double down” on technology, consumer and healthcare startups to “unleash the potential” of the two regions, which collectively over 800 million internet users. That number is growing fast among India, population 1.3 billion, and Southeast Asia, population 650 million. Beyond being one of the premier VCs in the U.S. and China, Sequoia also enjoys a top-tier reputation in Asia and, more recently, in Southeast Asia where it has accelerated its presence in recent years. To date, the firm has made over 200 investments in India, which include major hits like unicorn Zomato, Freshworks ( which is headed to IPO ), Freecharge ( which was acquired by Snapdeal ), Pine Labs ( which recently raised from PayPal ), JustDial (which went public in 2013) and OYO Rooms, which is backed by SoftBank’s Vision fund . The firm has expanded to Southeast Asia in recent years, after first opening an office in 2012, and it said that the region accounts for 20-30 percent of portfolio value. That’s a ratio it intends to maintain going forward — which means there’s no dedicated Southeast Asia fund, for now at least.

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Cootek, the Chinese maker of TouchPal keyboard, files for $100M US IPO

Cootek , the Chinese mobile internet company best known for keyboard app TouchPal, has filed for a public offering in the United States. In its F-1 form , submitted last week to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Cootek said it wants to raise up to $100 million. The Shanghai-based company began operating in 2008, when TouchPal was launched, and incorporated as CooTek in March 2012. In its SEC filing, Cootek said it currently has 132 million daily active users, with average DAUs increasing 75% year-over-year as of June. It also said it achieved 453% total ad revenue growth in the six month period before June. While AI-based TouchPal, which offers glide typing and predictive text, is Cootek’s most popular product, it also has 15 other apps in its portfolio, including fitness apps HiFit and ManFIT and a virtual assistant called Talia. The company uses its proprietary AI and big data technology to analyze language data collected from users and the Internet. Then it uses those insights to develop lifestyle, healthcare and entertainment apps. Together, those 15 apps reached an average of 22.2 million monthly average users and 7.3 million daily average users in June. TouchPal itself had 125.4 million daily average users in June 2018, with active users launching the app an average of 72 times a day. It currently supports 110 languages. Most of Cootek’s revenue comes from mobile advertising. It says net revenue grew from $11 million in 2016 to $37.3 million in 2017, or 238.5% year-over-year, while its net loss dropped from $30.7 million in 2016 to $23.7 million in 2017. It achieved net income of $3.5 million for the six months ending in June, compared to a net loss of $16.2 million in the same period a year ago. Cootek plans to be listed under the ticker symbol CTK on the New York Stock Exchange and will use the IPO’s proceeds to grow its user base, invest in AI and natural language processing tech and improve advertising performance.

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Credit Karma acquires mortgage platform Approved

Credit Karma , the service best known for providing free credit score monitoring and other financial advice (mostly to millennials), is getting into the mortgage business. The company today announced that it has acquired Approved , a mortgage platform that brings modern technology to a process that even today often still involves faxing documents back and forth. The companies did not disclose the financial details of the transaction. At first glance, this may seem like a bit of an odd acquisition, given that Approved is mostly a service for banks and mortgage brokers. But it also makes perfect sense for Credit Karma to get into the mortgage business. Indeed, Credit Karma Chief Product Officer Nikhyl Singhal told me that he sees this as the natural next step in the company’s evolution. “As we’ve expanded , you’ve seen us move from credit cards as a way to help members with  that part of their life to first personal loans to auto — meaning auto loans, auto insurance,” he said. “Today, we’re really talking more publicly about mortgage. Mortgage being for many of our members the most important financial decision they’ll make.” It’s also no secret that Credit Karma’s largest user base is millennials. As they get older and start getting to the point where they consider buying a home (assuming they are in the financial position to do so), the company obviously wants to keep those users engaged on their platform and offer them more services. Singhal also stressed that 80 percent of Credit Karma members are active on the service before they get a new mortgage — and Credit Karma obviously knows all of this because it is able to collect a lot of very detailed financial data about its users. As Singhal noted, Credit Karma has been working on getting deeper into the mortgage business for about 18 months.

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A private Tesla backed by Saudi Arabia might not be as far-fetched as you think

This week the business and tech world was stunned when Elon Musk hinted on August 7, via Twitter of course, that he wanted to take Tesla private. The estimated price tag for such a move is commonly put at up to $72 billion. Shortly after that no ‘ white knights ’ appeared and Tesla’s shares plummeted. But today, Bloomberg came out with a new report which might well fan the flames of speculation on Monday. Its story has sources which say that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund (called the Public Investment Fund or PIF) was already in talks with Tesla to become a significant investor before Musk’s tweets. The timing of this revelation is important, because the PIF has already built up a stake — valued at about $2 billion — just short of 5 percent in Tesla in recent months. One could easily surmise that the world’s biggest crude oil producer might well be considering a stake in the world’s most iconic electric car company to hedge against oil. Indeed, that is exactly what Bloomberg’s sources are telling them. Now, part of the reasons the PIF might be talking to Tesla is that the car maker is alleged to have already had limited talks with SoftBank, of which PIF is a major baker. What makes these rumours so interesting is that Saudi Arabia’s government is planning to supercharge the PIF into a $2 trillion fund. And a major (let me repeat that) major focus of the PIF is technology. Why? The Saudis are extremely keen to diversify the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy and it needs a war-chest and technology assets to do that. This policy is being driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the next in line to the thrown and dubbed ‘MBS’ by everyone in Saudi. Since he was named heir-apparent last year he’s been on a tear, restricting the powers of the religious police, removing the ban on female drivers and various other cultural reforms

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Voatz: a tale of a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea

Let’s get the fish in the barrel out of the way. Voatz are a tech startup whose bright idea was to disrupt democracy by having people vote on their phone, and store the votes on, you guessed it, a blockchain. Does this sound like a bad idea? Welp. It turned out that they seemed awfully casual about basic principles of software security , such as not hard-coding your AWS credentials. It turned out that their blockchain was an eight-node Hyperledger install, i.e. one phenomenologically not especially distinguishable from databases secured by passwords. They have been widely and justly chastised for these things. But they aren’t what’s important. To their credit, their system is opt-in, and apparently generates real-time voter-verified paper ballots , the single most important thing about any voting system. But still. We need to step back and ask a question here: why are we trying to vote via an app and collate election results on any kind of centralized system at all? We don’t want to make voting more efficient. Efficiency is not the problem we are trying to solve with elections. The inefficiency of paper ballots and their handling and collation and tabulation is a feature, not a bug

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Instagram’s CEO on vindication after 2 years of reinventing Stories

“I think the mistake everyone made was to think that Stories was a photography product,” says Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom. “If you look at all these interactivity features we’ve added, we’ve really made Stories something else. We’ve really innovated and made it our own.” His version of the ephemeral slideshow format turns two years old today . By all accounts, it’s a wild success. Instagram Stories has 400 million daily users, compared to 191 million on Snapchat, which pioneered Stories. While the first year was about getting to parity with augmented reality filters and stickers, the two have since diverged. Instagram chose the viral path. Interactivity > Photoshop Snapchat has become more and more like Photoshop, with its magic eraser for removing objects, its green screen-style background changer, scissors for cut-and-pasting things and its fill-in paint bucket. These tools are remarkably powerful for living in a teen-centric consumer app. But many of these artistic concepts are too complicated for day-to-day Snapping. People don’t even think of using them when they could. And while what they produce is beautiful, the slides get tapped past and disappear just like any other photo or video. Instagram could have become Photoshop. Its early photo-only feed’s editing filters and brightness sliders pointed in that direction

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Confusion reigns as Facebook briefly receives China business license

Facebook’s long-running effort to go into China got a boost this week after the U.S. company was handed a license to set up a subsidiary in the country. But quickly after news broke, the license was seemingly revoked. The incident started when Reuters spotted  a filing approved on China’s National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System for a Facebook subsidiary that is registered in Hangzhou, the location of e-commerce giant Alibaba’s HQ. Records show the subsidiary is financed by $30 million in capital, with Facebook Hong Kong listed as the sole shareholder. As word of the filing began to spread following the Reuters report, references to the news were blocked on some social media platforms in China were blocked and the filing itself from removed from the system, as The New York Times reported . Facebook itself said in a statement that it intends to launch an innovation in Zhejiang, the province that counts Hangzhou as its capital, but the language used by the company suggests it hasn’t yet made progress on that plan. “We are interested in setting up an innovation hub in Zhejiang to support Chinese developers, innovators and start-ups. We have done this in several parts of the world — France, Brazil, India, Korea — and our efforts would be focused on training and workshops that help these developers and entrepreneurs to innovate and grow,” a Facebook representative told TechCrunch. So what happened? It’s hard to know with the Chinese government — and it certainly looks like Facebook is following developments as much as anyone else is. It’s well reported that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a long-standing interest in entering China in some form — he has famously learned Mandarin and appeared at university events among other things — but exactly what that details has never been clear. Facebook the service remains blocked in China.

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Southeast Asia’s Grab hit by backlash over changes to customer loyal program

Life without Uber should be simple for Grab , but a battle with regulators in Singapore could see the company’s acquisition of Uber’s Southeast Asia business unwound while some consumers have voiced concern around a lack of competition . Grab co-founder Hooi Ling Tan recently claimed competition remains in the market , but that hasn’t stopped another consumer backlash after the ride-hailing firm altered its loyalty program without warning. To be fair to Grab, earning loyalty points for taxi rides is something unique — Uber doesn’t offer any kind of program, for example — and the changes initiated last week seem aimed at spreading the benefit beyond taxis and into Grab’s newer ventures, which include its GrabPay payment service and food deliveries. However, in doing so, the company made two cardinal sins. The changes included the lowering of benefits for Grab’s highest tier (read: most loyal) customers — with rebates dropping from a range of 3.5-4.5 percent to 0.7-1.7 percent, as MileLion explains in thorough detail . Worse than that, it initiated the new terms, which include these drastic drops, on a Friday and with immediate effect. That meant points earned over the past year were suddenly devalued with no apparent recourse. 10 July 2018; Tan Hooi Ling, Co-Founder, Grab, speaks at a pressconferencee during day one of RISE 2018 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / RISE via Sportsfile Unsurprisingly that sparked a backlash, with many consumers accusing Grab of making the changes to save on money. ( Grab has said it hasn’t increased prices after Uber’s exit despite some consumers claiming to the contrary.) That led to a second announcement, made late on Monday, that postponed the introduction of the new loyalty program terms until September 30. However, it hasn’t scrapped the new changes themselves. That’s the right move, and it gives customers the chance to spend the credit they earned in the way they believed it would be redeemed before the change kicks in. “We acknowledge that customers would appreciate time to adjust to the changes

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With eyes on Europe, Open Banking API provider TrueLayer raises $7.5M

TrueLayer , the London startup that’s built a developer platform to make it easy for fintech and other adjacent companies, such as retailers, to access bank APIs — and ride the Open Banking and PSD2 gravy train — has picked up further $7.5 million in funding. Leading the round is venture capital fund Northzone. It follows a $3 million Series A in June last year , and will be used for European expansion, starting with Germany and France. The new capital will also be invested in growing the TrueLayer team and to develop new products to help companies and consumers make the most of Open Banking and PSD2, where co-founder Francesco Simoneschi tells me the opportunities are huge, even if they remain largely untapped, thus far. “I think the first quarters of 2018 have been about working and educating companies on Open Banking and how to build propositions on top of it,” he says. “This has seen a silent yet massive stream of inbound demand for us. To put things in context, we grew 500 percent in terms of the developer community averaging hundreds of companies a month asking how to start using TrueLayer and the services that we enable — from two people in a garage to the largest enterprise”. Since Open Banking was tentatively launched in the U.K. January, TrueLayer has secured partnerships and integrations with a number of fintech companies including challenger banks Monzo and Starling Bank, along with the likes of Zopa, ClearScore, Canopy, Plum, BitBond, Emma, Anorak, and CreditLadder. This has happened in despite of a press narrative around a “failed Big Bang kind of uptake” and incumbent banks not cooperating or meeting their minimum statutory requirements in time (which is undeniably true, in some instances). The reality on the ground, however, is quite different, argues Simoneschi. “Remember that exponential growth often looks sub-linear at the very beginnings,” he says. “Based on the view of the market that we have, contracts signed, POCs and advanced conversations, I can assure you that you will see a wealth of high street banks and retailers, financial institutions, global platforms, marketplaces, loyalty and rewards propositions, crypto exchanges, wallets and fintech applications experimenting and launching Open Banking-based propositions in the next 12 months”. To that end, TrueLayer offers a single platform/API to connect to 16 major and not so major banks and credit cards in the U.K., using a mixture of official Open Banking APIs, access to private APIs, and, at a push, screen scraping — depending on a developer’s data needs and stomach for the different kinds of official and unofficial access available

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