AirWallex, a cross-border payments startup in Australia has become the next unicorn after raising a US$100 million Series C funding led by DST Global. A unicorn is indicative of having reached a milestone valuation exceeding US$1 billion.
This makes AirWallex the fourth unicorn, following the footsteps of graphic design company Canva, aerial imagery company Nearmap, and Sydney software company Atlassian which has been listed on NASDAQ in 2015.
DST Global, the investment firm which has led the new funding round, was known for having made investments in notable startups like Facebook, Airbnb, and Spotify, as well as fintechs like Nubank and Robinhood.
“We talked to a number of global funds we found interesting but we picked DST because our biggest priority is international expansion and the firm will help us opening doors and going after larger opportunities,” Jack Zhang, one of AirWallex’s co-founder said of the lead investor for the round.
But aside from DST Global, existing investors from Airwallex’s previous rounds including Sequoia Capital China, Tencent, Hillhouse Capital, Gobi Partners, Horizons Ventures, and Square Peg Capital also returned for the Series C fundraising.
Its Series C comes at the time when AirWallex’s Asia Pacific business had increased five to eight fold this year with billion dollars worth of transactions and as the startup was looking to take on more small businesses as clients.
“Very few companies are growing at this kind of rate,” Zhang said.
The new capital will be used to expand Airwallex’s suite of international collection and payment products, in addition to supporting global expansion into the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
Looking back at the roots of this payments startup, the inspiration for the fintech platform started with a coffee cup dilemma.
In 2015, co-founders Jack Zhang and Max Li met with some obstacles when they were trying to buy coffee cups and labels for their cafe Tukk & Co in Melbourne’s Docklands.
“We were importing a lot of stuff from Hong Kong and China and other places because we wanted to do it really well and cost-effectively,” Zhang told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“However when we were making a payment using the traditional methods of either a bank or Western Union, the cost could be through the roof. We are talking a couple of percent and using multiple intermediaries.”
This then led the pair to join up with friends from Melbourne University – Xijing Dai, Ki-lok Wong, and Lucy Liu – to start AirWallex.
“We started Airwallex because we knew there was a better way to make global payments,” said Zhang.
Unlike traditional brokers which adds on an ecommerce unit for SMEs, AirWallex is built from the ground up specifically for ecommerce. There’s no need to pay layers of brokers expensive fees which is why it can keep its costs low.
Much like the consumer-focused Transferwise, AirWallex provides an international payment service that lets marketplaces, merchants, and SMEs manage cross-border revenue and financing in their business.
“We wanted to be able to build something a lot more robust, a lot more real-time, cost-effective, as well as transparent in pricing to other customers so we could make the life of those businesses easier,” explained Zhang.
The startup currently supports a client base of internet giants including JD.com, Tencent, and Ctrip.
With a single know-your-customer check, an Airwallex client can open a local bank account in 50 different currencies, as well as instantly send and receive money internationally using lower interbank rates to more than 130 countries.
For example, an ecommerce seller that is importing from China using AirWallex would be able to make payment in real time at a cost that is comparatively lower from other international payment solutions which charge as much as three to four percent in currency fees.
When asked its new unicorn status, Zhang said, “The status is a little bit strange, to be honest, but it is just giving us the credibility and reputation to service more customers.”
“Airwallex is proud to free business from many of the traditional barriers that have made international transactions so difficult.”
Despite its value, AirWallex’s reported revenues are modest. In its most recent financial records filed with the regulator for the year ending June 30, 2017, Airwallex had reported a revenue of US$14,803 and a loss of US$806,195.
However, Zhang explained that this figure did not include global revenue and the business is now tracking well beyond its forecast of US$20 million.
“For a company at our stage, revenue is not the key thing, it is all about the processing volume and we are on track to process tens of billions of dollars in 2019,” he said.
Zhang said Airwallex’s vision continues to grow and it aims to become the fundamental infrastructure for online business to scale.
The startup has started focused on Asia, and China in particular. It is also looking to expand its presence in the United Kingdom and the United States through acquisitions, with the team actively seeking interesting payment startups.
Besides, Airwallex is also casting its eye on banking licenses in selected markets, which could mean it returns to raise additional capital at the end of this year or the start of 2020.
“We believe that there are huge opportunities for companies such as Airbnb and Amazon while SMEs need a true one-stop shop for their business to go from local to global. We know we have so many revenue streams we can get on the future, but for now we are focused on customer acquisition and helping our customers to scale,” he said.
Regarding IPO, Zhang said that given how easily the company is raising money privately, the company has no plans to go public for at least three years.
The Flipkart Mafia has done it again. While Flipkart had made headlines earlier this year when acquired by Walmart at a US$16 billion deal, Bengaluru-based B2B online marketplace Udaan – founded by former Flipkart employees – has also become India’s latest unicorn.
The startup has recently raised a US$225 million Series C funding round co-led by Russian internet billionaire Yuri Milner’s DST Global and existing investor Lightspeed Venture Partners, which previously led its Series A and Series B funding.
This brings the total aggregated funding to US$285 million, with the startup jumping up to a US$1 billion valuation within just 26 months of its launch. This makes it one of the fastest company in India to reach the unicorn status.
Remarkably, the latest valuation has also seen a surge of almost five times since its last US$50 million Series B funding in February 2018 with its valuation worth only US$200 million.
In fact, the year 2018 can rightly be said as the year of unicorns, with as many as six new startups joining the unicorn club in India.
That is apart from Udaan, the remaining startups who reached a US$1 billion valuation in 2018 are BYJU’s, Paytm Mall, Swiggy, PolicyBazaar, and SaaS startup Freshworks.
However it is not just an increasing number of unicorns, Indian startup unicorns are also achieving the status quicker compared to past unicorns.
India’s most valued tech company Flipkart took five years to reach the unicorn status, while delivery app Zomato also garnered its US$1.4 billion valuation in 2017 after nearly 10 years in business.
In comparison, 3D printing company Desktop Metal crossed the threshold at 21 months old while Craiglist competitor Letgo also became a unicorn in just 2 years. Though Udaan also made a record of reaching unicorn status in 26 months, the reason lies in its development.
Launched in 2016, Udaan is an end-to-end marketplace that connects small- and medium- businesses directly with manufacturers. It runs an online platform for businesses in consumer goods, fashion and electronics, and offer logistic services and loan services.
The startup was founded by three former Flipkart employees – Sujeet Kumar, Amod Malviya, and Vaibhav Gupta – who were previously Flipkart’s President of Operations, Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President of business finance and analytics.
In ecommerce space, the market opportunity has been huge and Udaan focuses on the wholesale business to retail market sector.
As of February 2018, the startup has accumulated 150,000 in their seller base across 80 cities and delivers to more than 500 cities, with an average order value between INR 6,000 to INR 7,000 (about US$83 to US$97).
As a whole to date, Udaan is hitting revenues of Rs 300 to Rs 400 crore (about US$47.8 to US$55.7 million) every month, which is said to contribute to the five-fold increase on their business valuation in less than a year.
Bejul Somaima, a managing director at Lightspeed India that’s been on the company board since Series A told TechCrunch.
“We have been fortunate to see the company scale very rapidly from close quarters. We’re drawn to the company’s first-principles approach to solving significant problems that are unique in the Indian context.”
That is Udaan helps businesses discover customers, suppliers and products across categories and connect directly with each other for the best deal, in addition to facilitating buying and selling with secure payments and logistics.
While right now electronics and consumer goods are for sale on the app, Udaan plans to expand into more verticals including industrial goods, home and kitchen, office supplies, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
The newly raised funds are also expected to be utilized for establishing its logistic pieces as it aims to offer first mile and last mile services to its customers, as well as launching their own supply-chain solution, which will involve creating massive warehouses to store inventory.
If you haven’t been following the venture capital network in India, Freshworks is one of the larger SaaS providers you have probably never heard of… well, until now.
California and Chennai-based customer engagement software maker Freshworks has officially joined the country’s unicorn club, after raising US$100 million in a fresh round of funding co-led by Sequoia Capital and Accel Partners.
This new funding values the company at around $1.5 billion, doubling up from the valuation of $700 million it reached in late 2016.
Founded in Chennai, India in 2010 as Freshdesk, the startup began as a helpdesk software providing a single cloud-based customer support solution for businesses.
In less than a decade, the firm grew exponentially, moving beyond customer service to offer a host of innovative product suites in ITSM and CRM domains.
From Freshdesk to Freshmarketer, the startup owns products ranging from sales CRM software to recruitment tools and IT streamlining software, and this ultimately drove the name change to Freshworks.
So, now if you ask what Freshworks does?
It provides organizations of all sizes with a series of SaaS solutions that make it easier for customer support, sales and marketing professionals to communicate efficiently with customers for better service and to collaborate with team members and resolve customer issues.
The startup has a workforce of more than 1,000 employees globally across five offices in India, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and the United States.
To date, their software is being used by over 150,000 organizations around the world, counting established names like Bridgestone, Toshiba. Cisco, NHS, Rightmove, Hugo Boss, Honda, and Citizens Advice
Looking at the success of the startup today, Ramesh Ravishankar, the marketing Director of Freshworks said that the metrics and insights from Google have played a big part in understanding and continuing their growth.
“Google tools are the most sophisticated for measuring a channel’s effectiveness. We are well-armored when having to talk about the return on investment of Google products.”
From launch, Freshworks has been using Google Search advertising to build a customer base in mature markets across the United States and Europe.
The startup also adopted a unique global inside sales model that lowered the company’s cost of selling. This enabled Freshworks to put more into their digital marketing budget, and improve the customer on-boarding experience.
At the same time, as software products move from on-premise to a cloud-based model, the SaaS market in India has seen a rapid evolution. Instant decision making, cost-effectiveness, low risk, greater flexibility combined with an increasing mobile workforce and customers has been the driving force behind SaaS adoption.
“Freshworks has built the only customer engagement platform on the market that elegantly meets the needs of a business of any size with software that is modern, intuitive and affordable,” said Sameer Gandhi, a partner at Accel.
Today, Freshworks is a global powerhouse in cloud-based business software with a majority of revenue coming from North America, followed by Europe. They now have a customer base of over 130,000 with 60% of their business coming through Google products.
With Freshworks riding on an incredible wave of growth and reaching the unicorn stage, many have started to ask when are the plans for IPO?
In fact, expectations for IPO in the near future has already sparked when the startup announced the appointment of Suresh Seshadri, former AppDynamics’ Vice President of Finance & Treasury as the Chief Financial Officer. Seshadri has previously helped prepare AppDyanmics for its IPO before it was acquired by Cisco in 2017,
“Coming on board to work with Girish and the rest of the executive team is an incredible opportunity and I am confident that we are well-positioned to reach the next phase of Freshworks’ expansion,” Seshadri said.
However, Freshworks CEO Girish Mathrubootham told TechCrunch we shouldn’t be holding our breath waiting for his company to IPO.
“Freshworks hasn’t started the IPO process but we do feel that we will eventually go public in the U.S.,” he said. “With that said, our primary focus right now is on growing the business and investing in our platform. When the timing is right, we’ll make that decision.”
At present, the startup will focus on expanding Freshworks’ worldwide expansion and continue investing in its integrated SaaS platform, especially at how it can use AI to bring innovations to its new tools.
“When we started Freshworks in 2010, we were a single-product company with a goal of offering better, easier-to-use customer service software than what was in the market,” said Girish.
“It’s been a long way but we’ve since scaled our company to US$100 million in annual recurring revenue and built a full SaaS platform where all of our products – such as Freshsales, Freshdesk, and Freshservice – work together seamlessly without requiring additional integration resources or consultants to make the software simply work,” he added.
China’s Luckin Coffee, a coffee franchise rivaling Starbucks had just closed a US$200 million Series A round from Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, China’s Legend Capital, Joy Capital, and Centurium Capital.
The funding round values Luckin at US$1 billion which makes it the newest Unicorn in China.
However, the scale of the capital and the fact that the round is labeled a Series A has been confusing because the company basically expanded overnight.
Founded by Jenny Qian, the former chief operating officer in Car Inc, Luckin Coffee started late last year.
Luckin Coffee has rapidly grown using a mass-store model and the company was soon found everywhere in China. It entered the market vigorously and expanded across China’s first and second-tier cities.
But in less than nine months after its launch, Luckin Coffee has opened 525 outlets across China’s major cities, in addition to offering on-demand delivery services in partnership with S.F. Express. Luckin Coffee will deliver for orders over RMB35 (US$5.30) within 30 minutes.
Besides, the coffee franchise selling point was clear, it positioned itself similarly to Starbucks. Both highlighting their freshly brewed coffee to be of high Arabica standards and made with professional blending.
Pricing-wise, Luckin Coffee is reasonably set between 20 to 30 yuan (about US$3 to US$5) which separates it from fast food coffees at McCafe or KFC that is 10 to 20 yuan (about US$2 or US$3), while being more attractive than Starbucks which sells at 30 to 40 yuan (about US$5 to US$6).
If that’s not enough to prove that it is a rival of Starbucks, the Chinese coffee chain has also opened fire on Starbucks, accusing the American coffee giant of engaging in monopolistic behavior and creating an unfair domestic trade market.
An act that Starbuck has called out as a publicity stunt.
Then again, Luckin is not a Starbucks copycat. The startup adds a technological touch making its coffee-shop model revolving around an app.
Luckin customers have to download the app to order and pay for their coffee. They do not accept cash and payments can only be made using WeChat or Luckin’s own coffee wallet. This breaks it out of the traditional retail mold, fitting it in with new retail trends like Alibaba and Tencent which partners with supermarket and convenience stores on mobile payments.
Similar to many other Chinese Internet-based startups, the startup has also been spending massively on cash discounts and promotions to gain market share. First-time customers can get a free cup of coffee, while their referrals can also get another free cup of coffee.
Despite the low prices and rising expansion project, the question is – how does the company justify its valuation and can it take on the coffee giant Starbucks?
Jeff Towson, an investment lecturer at Peking University in Beijing told Quartz, “Luckin Coffee can easily worth US$1 billion if it can execute on the business — but that’s a big if.”
He explains that a large part of Starbucks’ success is not just personalize marketing and coffee. China is Starbucks second largest market after the United States with more than 3300 stores in operation.
The coffee tycoon’s real leverage is with real estates whereby many of its stores are located strategically in expensive, high traffic locations that rivals cannot afford.
However, the startup uses app to draw people to less bustling locations that are cheaper to rent. This may be the solution to overcome the real estate power of the coffee tycoon.
Moving forward, Luckin Coffee plans to use the newly raised funds for product research, IT platform development, and business expansion.
Food delivery continues to dominate the flow of big capital and investors in India’s startup ecosystem with Swiggy being the latest to enter the unicorn league.
The food delivery startup has successfully raised US$210 million in its latest round of funding from Russian billionaire Yuri Milner’s DST Global and existing backer Naspers.
DST Global is one of the world’s most influential tech investor which counts Facebook, Airbnb, and Alibaba in its investment portfolio. For DST, this will be its third investment in India after online retailer Flipkart in 2014 and cab hailing firm Ola in 2015.
The round also saw participation from US-based hedge fund Coatue Management and existing investor Meituan Dianping, a China-based provider of on-demand online services.
It is with this latest funding round that Swiggy’s valuation has increased to US$1.3 billion as per sources with direct knowledge of the development.
Besides, this also officiates the Bengaluru-based firm as one of the fastest internet companies to join the Unicorn club four years after it inception. That is less than half the time it took for its rival food tech company Zomato to earn the title.
The last valuation of Swiggy was at US$700 million in February when it raised US$100 million from Naspers and Meituan Dianping.
With this round, Swiggy’s existing capital will cross US$466 million, which is essential as it continues to compete with Ant Financial-backed Zomato and new competitor entering the space, which includes UberEats and Foodpanda.
Swiggy currently has 35,000 restaurant partners and 40,000 delivery executives across 15 cities. It will use the additional capital to ramp up its supply chain network, expand to new markets and scale its headcount especially in the technology function.
Sri Harsha Majety, the CEO of Swiggy explains, “using this investment, we will continue to widen Swiggy’s offering, along with bolstering our capabilities and plugging the gaps in the on-demand delivery ecosystem.”
Swiggy has also been reportedly looking to increase its supply by exploring investment options with cloud kitchen players and restaurants for its Swiggy Access model even as the firm is working on a pilot of medicine delivery under its offering Swiggy Dash.
If anything, this deal is expected to escalate the fierce competition in the food delivery space, and to an extent boost innovation of the services to grow beyond ride hailing.
According to a Bloomberg report, more than 400 food delivery apps were operational in India between 2013 and 2016. The industry grew by 150% year-on-year and has an estimated Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) of US$300 million in 2016.
At the same time, this sector has witnessed a lot of consolidation. While some ventures with unique ideas has managed to survive, others succumbed to market forces simply due to lack of bad timing or lack of funding.
Currently, the momentum in the food delivery market in India is lead by Swiggy with about 11 million monthly orders followed by Zomato at about 7 million orders across India and UAE. While FoodPanda records about 1 million and UberEats about 750k per month.
However, all is not fixed as in related news, Swiggy’s rival Zomato also raised a US$400 million funding capital, a news that came a few days after Swiggy’s own announcement of a US$210 fresh funding.
However undeniably, the food delivery industry is nearing saturation. Question is – who will come up on the top: Swiggy, Zomato or new entries like FoodPanda or UberEats?