Oct
03
2019
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India’s Fyle bags $4.5M to expand its expense management platform in the US, other international markets

Fyle, a Bangalore-headquartered startup that operates an expense management platform, has extended its previous financing round to add $4.5 million of new investment as it looks to court more clients in overseas markets.

The additional $4.5 million tranche of investment was led by U.S.-based hedge fund Steadview Capital, the startup said. Tiger Global, Freshworks and Pravega Ventures also participated in the round. The new tranche of investment, dubbed Series A1, means that the three-and-a-half-year-old startup has raised $8.7 million as part of its Series A financing round, and $10.5 million to date.

The SaaS startup offers an expense management platform that makes it easier for employees of a firm to report their business expenses. The eponymous service supports a range of popular email providers, including G Suite and Office 365, and uses a proprietary technology to scan and fetch details from emails, Yash Madhusudhan, co-founder and CEO of Fyle, demonstrated to TechCrunch last week.

A user, for instance, could open a flight ticket email and click on Fyle’s Chrome extension to fetch all details and report the expense in a single click in real-time. As part of today’s announcement, Madhusudhan unveiled an integration with WhatsApp . Users will now be able to take pictures of their tickets and other things and forward it to Fyle, which will quickly scan and report expense filings for them.

These integrations come in handy to users. “Eighty percent to ninety percent of a user’s spending patterns land on their email and messaging clients. And traditionally it has been a pain point for them to get done with their expense filings. So we built a platform that looks at the challenges faced by them. At the same time, our platform understands frauds and works with a company’s compliances and policies to ensure that the filings are legitimate,” he said.

“Every company today could make use of an intelligent expense platform like Fyle. Major giants already subscribe to ERP services that offer similar capabilities as part of their offerings. But as a company or startup grows beyond 50 to 100 people, it becomes tedious to manage expense filings,” he added.

Fyle maintains a web application and a mobile app, and users are free to use them. But the rationale behind introducing integrations with popular services is to make it easier than ever for them to report filings. The startup retains its algorithms each month to improve their scanning abilities. “The idea is to extend expense filing to a service that people already use,” he said.

International expansion

Until late last year, Fyle was serving customers in India. Earlier this year, it began searching for clients outside the nation. “Our philosophy was if we are able to sell in India remotely and get people to use the product without any training, we should be able to replicate this in any part of the world,” he said.

And that bet has worked. Fyle has amassed more than 300 clients, more than 250 of which are from outside of India. Today, the startup says it has customers in 17 nations, including the U.S. and the U.K. Furthermore, Fyle’s revenue has grown by five times in the last five months, said Madhusudhan, without disclosing the exact figures.

To accelerate its momentum, the startup is today also launching an enterprise version of Fyle that will serve the needs of major companies. The enterprise version supports a range of additional security features, such as IP restriction and a single sign-in option.

Fyle will use the new capital to develop more product solutions and integrations and expand its footprint in international markets, Madhusudhan said. The startup, which just recently set up its sales and marketing team, will also expand the headcount, he said.

Moving forward, Madhusudhan said the startup would also explore tie-ups with ERP providers and other ways to extend the reach of Fyle.

In a statement, Ravi Mehta, MD at Steadview Capital, said, “intelligent and automated systems will empower businesses to be more efficient in the coming decade. We are excited to partner with Fyle to transform one of the core business processes of expense management through intelligence and automation.”

Sep
25
2019
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India’s Darwinbox raises $15M to bring its HR tech platform to more Asian markets

An Indian SaaS startup, which is increasingly courting clients from outside the country, just raised a significant amount of capital to expand its business.

Hyderabad-based Darwinbox, which operates a cloud-based human resource management platform, said on Thursday it has raised $15 million in a new financing round. The Series B round — which moves the firm’s total raise to $19.7 million — was led by Sequoia India and saw participation from existing investors Lightspeed India Partners, Endiya Partners and 3one4 Capital.

More than 200 firms — including giants such as adtech firm InMobi, fintech startup Paytm, drink conglomerate Bisleri, automobile maker Mahindra, Kotak group and delivery firms Swiggy and Milkbasket — use Darwinbox’s HR platform to serve half a million of their employees in 50 nations, Rohit Chennamaneni, co-founder of Darwinbox, told TechCrunch in an interview.

The startup, which competes with giants such as SAP and Oracle, said its platform enables a high level of configurability and ease of use, and understands the needs of modern employees. “The employees today who have grown accustomed to using consumer-focused services such as Uber and Amazon are left disappointed in their experience with their own firm’s HR offerings,” said Gowthami Kanumuru, VP Marketing at Darwinbox, in an interview.

Darwinbox’s HR platform offers a range of features, including the ability for firms to offer their employees insurance and early salary as loans. Its platform also features social networks for employees within a company to connect and talk, as well as an AI assistant that allows them to apply for a leave or set up meetings with quick voice commands from their phone.

“The AI system is not just looking for certain keywords. If an employee tells the system he or she is not feeling well today, it automatically applies a leave for them,” she said.

Darwinbox’s platform is built to handle onboarding new employees, keep a tab on their performance, monitor attrition rate and maintain an ongoing feedback loop. Or as Kanumuru puts it, the entire “hiring to retiring” cycle.

One of Darwinbox’s clients is L&T, which is tasked with setting up subways in many Indian cities. L&T is using Darwin’s geo-fencing feature to log the attendance of employees. “They are not using biometric punch machine that is typically used by other firms. Instead, they just require their 1,200 employees to check-in from the workplace using their phones,” said Kanumuru.

darwinbox event

Additionally, Darwinbox is largely focusing on serving companies based in Asia as it believes Western companies’ solutions are not a great fit for people here, said Kanumuru. The startup began courting clients in Southeast Asian markets last year.

“Our growth is a huge validation for our vision,” she said. “Within six months of operations, we had the delivery giant Delhivery with over 23,000 employees use our platform.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, Dev Khare, a partner at Lightspeed Venture, said, “there is a new trend of SaaS companies targeting the India/SE Asia markets. This trend is gathering steam and is disproving the conventional wisdom that Asia-focused SaaS companies cannot get to be big companies. We firmly believe that Asia-focused SaaS companies can get to large impact value and become large and profitable. Darwinbox is one of these companies.”

Darwinbox’s Chennamaneni said the startup will use the fresh capital to expand its footprints in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian markets. Darwinbox also will expand its product offerings to address more of employees’ needs. The startup is also looking to make its platform enable tasks such as booking of flights and hotels.

Chennamaneni, an alum of Google and McKinsey, said Darwinbox aims to double the number of clients it has in the next six to nine months.

Sep
24
2019
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Alibaba unveils Hanguang 800, an AI inference chip it says significantly increases the speed of machine learning tasks

Alibaba Group introduced its first AI inference chip today, a neural processing unit called Hanguang 800 that it says makes performing machine learning tasks dramatically faster and more energy efficient. The chip, announced today during Alibaba Cloud’s annual Apsara Computing Conference in Hangzhou, is already being used to power features on Alibaba’s e-commerce sites, including product search and personalized recommendations. It will be made available to Alibaba Cloud customers later.

As an example of what the chip can do, Alibaba said it usually takes Taobao an hour to categorize the one billion product images that are uploaded to the e-commerce platform each day by merchants and prepare them for search and personalized recommendations. Using Hanguang 800, Taobao was able to complete the task in only five minutes.

Alibaba is already using Hanguang 800 in many of its business operations that need machine processing. In addition to product search and recommendations, this includes automatic translation on its e-commerce sites, advertising and intelligence customer services.

Though Alibaba hasn’t revealed when the chip will be available to its cloud customers, the chip may help Chinese companies reduce their dependence on U.S. technology as the trade war makes business partnerships between Chinese and American tech companies more difficult. It also can help Alibaba Cloud grow in markets outside of China. Within China, it is the market leader, but in the Asia-Pacific region, Alibaba Cloud still ranks behind Amazon, Microsoft and Google, according to the Synergy Research Group.

Hanguang 800 was created by T-Head, the unit that leads the development of chips for cloud and edge computing within Alibaba DAMO Academy, the global research and development initiative in which Alibaba is investing more than $15 billion. T-Head developed the chip’s hardware and algorithms designed for business apps, including Alibaba’s retail and logistics apps.

In a statement, Alibaba Group CTO and president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence Jeff Zhang (pictured above) said, “The launch of Hanguang 800 is an important step in our pursuit of next-generation technologies, boosting computing capabilities that will drive both our current and emerging businesses while improving energy-efficiency.”

He added, “In the near future, we plan to empower our clients by providing access through our cloud business to the advanced computing that is made possible by the chip, anytime and anywhere.”

T-Head’s other launches included the XuanTie 910 earlier this year, an IoT processor based on RISC-V, the open-source hardware instruction set that began as a project at UC Berkeley. XuanTie 910 was created for heavy-duty IoT applications, including edge servers, networking, gateway and autonomous vehicles.

Alibaba DAMO Academy collaborates with universities around the world, including UC Berkeley and Tel Aviv University. Researchers in the program focus on machine learning, network security, visual computing and natural language processing, with the goal of serving two billion customers and creating 100 million jobs by 2035.

Sep
17
2019
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Data storage company Cloudian launches a new edge analytics subsidiary called Edgematrix

Cloudian, a company that enables businesses to store and manage massive amounts of data, announced today the launch of Edgematrix, a new unit focused on edge analytics for large data sets. Edgematrix, a majority-owned subsidiary of Cloudian, will first be available in Japan, where both companies are based. It has raised a $9 million Series A from strategic investors NTT Docomo, Shimizu Corporation and Japan Post Capital, as well as Cloudian co-founder and CEO Michael Tso and board director Jonathan Epstein. The funding will be used on product development, deployment and sales and marketing.

Cloudian itself has raised a total of $174 million, including a $94 million Series E round announced last year. Its products include the Hyperstore platform, which allows businesses to store hundreds of petrabytes of data on premise, and software for data analytics and machine learning. Edgematrix uses Hyperstore for storing large-scale data sets and its own AI software and hardware for data processing at the “edge” of networks, closer to where data is collected from IoT devices like sensors.

The company’s solutions were created for situations where real-time analytics is necessary. For example, it can be used to detect the make, model and year of cars on highways so targeted billboard ads can be displayed to their drivers.

Tso told TechCrunch in an email that Edgematrix was launched after Cloudian co-founder and president Hiroshi Ohta and a team spent two years working on technology to help Cloudian customers process and analyze their data more efficiently.

“With more and more data being created at the edge, including IoT data, there’s a growing need for being able to apply real-time data analysis and decision-making at or near the edge, minimizing the transmission costs and latencies involved in moving the data elsewhere,” said Tso. “Based on the initial success of a small Cloudian team developing AI software solutions and attracting a number of top-tier customers, we decided that the best way to build on this success was establishing a subsidiary with strategic investors.”

Edgematrix is launching in Japan first because spending on AI systems there is expected to grow faster than in any other market, at a compound annual growth rate of 45.3% from 2018 to 2023, according to IDC.

“Japan has been ahead of the curve as an early adopter of AI technology, with both the governmetn and private sector viewing it as essential to boosting productivity,” said Tso. “Edgematrix will focus on the Japanese market for at least the next year, and assuming that all goes well, it would then expand to North America and Europe.”

Aug
12
2019
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India’s Reliance Jio inks deal with Microsoft to expand Office 365, Azure to more businesses; unveils broadband, blockchain and IoT platforms

India’s Reliance Jio, which has disrupted the local telecom and features phone markets in less than three years of existence, is ready to foray into many more businesses.

In a series of announcements Monday, which included a long-term partnership with global giant Microsoft, Reliance Jio said it will commercially roll out its broadband service next month; an IoT platform with ambitions to power more than a billion devices on January 1 next year; and “one of the world’s biggest blockchain networks” in the next 12 months — all while also scaling its retail and commerce businesses.

The broadband service, called Jio Fiber, is aimed at individual customers, small and medium-sized businesses as well as enterprises, Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries and Asia’s richest man, said at a shareholders’ meeting today.

The service, which is being initially targeted at 20 million homes and 15 million businesses in 1,600 towns, will start rolling out commercially starting September 5. Ambani said more than half a million customers have already been testing the broadband service, which was first unveiled last year.

The broadband service will come bundled with access to hundreds of TV channels and free calls across India and at discounted rates to the U.S. and Canada, Ambani said. The service, the cheapest tier of which will offer internet speeds of 100Mbps, will be priced at Rs 700 (~$10) a month. The company said it will offer various plans to meet a variety of needs, including those of customers who want access to gigabit internet speeds.

Continuing its tradition to woo users with significant “free stuff,” Jio, which is a subsidiary of India’s largest industrial house (Reliance Industries) said customers who opt for the yearly plan of its fiber broadband will be provided with the set-top box and an HD or 4K TV at no extra charge. Specific details weren’t immediately available. A premium tier, which will be available starting next year, will allow customers to watch many movies on the day of their public release.

The broadband service will bundle games from many popular studios, including Microsoft Game Studios, Riot Games, Tencent Games and Gameloft, Jio said.

Partnership with Microsoft

The company also announced a 10-year partnership with Microsoft to launch new cloud data centers in India to ensure “more of Jio’s customers can access the tools and platforms they need to build their own digital capability,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a video appearance Monday.

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talks about the company’s partnership with Reliance Jio

“At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Core to this mission is deep partnerships, like the one we are announcing today with Reliance Jio. Our ambition is to help millions of organizations across India thrive and grow in the era of rapid technological change.”

“Together, we will offer a comprehensive technology solution, from compute to storage, to connectivity and productivity for small and medium-sized businesses everywhere in the country,” he added.

As part of the partnership, Nadella said, Jio and Microsoft will jointly offer Azure, Microsoft 365 and Microsoft AI platforms to more organizations in India, and also bring Azure Cognitive Services to more devices and in 13 Indian languages to businesses in the country. The solutions will be “accessible” to reach as many people and organizations in India as possible, he added. The cloud services will be offered to businesses for as little as Rs 1,500 ($21) per month.

The first two data centers will be set up in Gujarat and Maharashtra by next year. Jio will migrate all of its non-networking apps to the Microsoft Azure platform and promote its adoption among its ecosystem of startups, the two said in a joint statement.

The foray into broadband business and push to court small enterprises come as Reliance Industries, which dominates the telecom and retail spaces in India, attempts to diversify from its marquee oil and gas business. Reliance Jio, the nation’s top telecom operator, has amassed more than 340 million subscribers in less than three years of its commercial operations.

At the meeting, Ambani also unveiled that Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil producer Aramco was buying a 20% stake in $75 billion worth Reliance Industries’ oil-to-chemicals business.

Like other Silicon Valley companies, Microsoft sees massive potential in India, where tens of millions of users and businesses have come online for the first time in recent years. Cloud services in India are estimated to generate a revenue of $2.4 billion this year, up about 25% from last year, according to research firm Gartner. Microsoft has won several major clients in India in recent years, including insurance giant ICICI Lombard.

Today’s partnership could significantly boost Microsoft’s footprint in India, posing a bigger headache for Amazon and Google.

Ambani also said Reliance Retail, the nation’s largest retailer, is working on a “digital stack” to create a new commerce partnership platform in India to reach tens of millions of merchants, consumers and producers. Ambani said Reliance Industries plans to list both Reliance Retail and Jio publicly in the next years.

“We have received strong interests from strategic and financial investors in our consumer businesses — Jio and Reliance Retail. We will induct leading global partners in these businesses in the next few quarters and move towards listing of both these companies within the next five years,” he said.

The announcement comes weeks after Reliance Industries acquired for $42.3 million a majority stake in Fynd, a Mumbai-based startup that connects brick and mortar retailers with online stores and consumers. Reliance Industries has previously stated plans to launch a new e-commerce firm in the country.

Without revealing specific details, Ambani also said that Jio is building an IoT platform to control at least one billion of the two billion IoT devices in India by next year. He said he sees IoT as a $2.8 billion revenue opportunity for Jio. Similarly, the company also plans to expand its blockchain network across India, he said.

“Using blockchain, we can deliver unprecedented security, trust, automation and efficiency to almost any type of transaction. And using blockchain, we also have an opportunity to invent a brand-new model for data privacy where Indian data, especially customer data is owned and controlled through technology by the Indian people an d not by corporate, especially global corporations,” he added.

Jul
24
2019
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Alibaba to help Salesforce localize and sell in China

Salesforce, the 20-year-old leader in customer relationship management (CRM) tools, is making a foray into Asia by working with one of the country’s largest tech firms, Alibaba.

Alibaba will be the exclusive provider of Salesforce to enterprise customers in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, and Salesforce will become the exclusive enterprise CRM software suite sold by Alibaba, the companies announced on Thursday.

The Chinese internet has for years been dominated by consumer-facing services such as Tencent’s WeChat messenger and Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace, but enterprise software is starting to garner strong interest from businesses and investors. Workflow automation startup Laiye, for example, recently closed a $35 million funding round led by Cathay Innovation, a growth-stage fund that believes “enterprise software is about to grow rapidly” in China.

The partners have something to gain from each other. Alibaba does not have a Salesforce equivalent serving the raft of small-and-medium businesses selling through its e-commerce marketplaces or using its cloud computing services, so the alliance with the American cloud behemoth will fill that gap.

On the other hand, Salesforce will gain sales avenues in China through Alibaba, whose cloud infrastructure and data platform will help the American firm “offer localized solutions and better serve its multinational customers,” said Ken Shen, vice president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, in a statement.

“More and more of our multinational customers are asking us to support them wherever they do business around the world. That’s why today Salesforce announced a strategic partnership with Alibaba,” said Salesforce in a statement.

Overall, only about 10% of Salesforce revenues in the three months ended April 30 originated from Asia, compared to 20% from Europe and 70% from the Americas.

Besides gaining client acquisition channels, the tie-up also enables Salesforce to store its China-based data at Alibaba Cloud. China requires all overseas companies to work with a domestic firm in processing and storing data sourced from Chinese users.

“The partnership ensures that customers of Salesforce that have operations in the Greater China area will have exclusive access to a locally-hosted version of Salesforce from Alibaba Cloud, who understands local business, culture and regulations,” an Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Cloud has been an important growth vertical at Alibaba and nabbing a heavyweight ally will only strengthen its foothold as China’s biggest cloud service provider. Salesforce made some headway in Asia last December when it set up a $100 million fund to invest in Japanese enterprise startups and the latest partnership with Alibaba will see the San Francisco-based firm actually go after customers in Asia.

Jul
18
2019
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InCountry raises $15M for its cloud-based private data storage-as-a-service solution

The rise of data breaches, along with an expanding raft of regulations (now numbering 80 different regional regimes, and growing) have thrust data protection — having legal and compliant ways of handling personal user information — to the top of the list of things that an organization needs to consider when building and operating their businesses. Now a startup called InCountry, which is building both the infrastructure for these companies to securely store that personal data in each jurisdiction, as well as a comprehensive policy framework for them to follow, has raised a Series A of $15 million. The funding is coming in just three months after closing its seed round — underscoring both the attention this area is getting and the opportunity ahead.

The funding is being led by three investors: Arbor Ventures of Singapore, Global Founders Capital of Berlin and Mubadala of Abu Dhabi. Previous investors Caffeinated Capital, Felicis Ventures, Charles River Ventures and Team Builder Ventures (along with others that are not being named) also participated. It brings the total raised to date to $21 million.

Peter Yared, the CEO and founder, pointed out in an interview the geographic diversity of the three lead backers: he described this as a strategic investment, which has resulted from InCountry already expanding its work in each region. (As one example, he pointed out a new law in the UAE requiring all health data of its citizens to be stored in the country — regardless of where it originated.)

As a result, the startup will be opening offices in each of the regions and launching a new product, InCountry Border, to focus on encryption and data handling that keep data inside specific jurisdictions. This will sit alongside the company’s compliance consultancy as well as its infrastructure business.

“We’re only 28 people and only six months old,” Yared said. “But the proposition we offer — requiring no code changes, but allowing companies to automatically pull out and store the personally identifiable information in a separate place, without anything needed on their own back end, has been a strong pull. We’re flabbergasted with the meetings we’ve been getting.” (The alternative, of companies storing this information themselves, has become massively unpalatable, given all the data breaches we’ve seen, he pointed out.)

In part because of the nature of data protection, in its short six months of life, InCountry has already come out of the gates with a global viewpoint and global remit.

It’s already active in 65 countries — which means it’s already equipped to store, process and regulate profile data in the country of origin in these markets — but that is actually just the tip of the iceberg. The company points out that more than 80 countries around the world have data sovereignty regulations, and that in the U.S., some 25 states already have data privacy laws. Violating these can have disastrous consequences for a company’s reputation, not to mention its bottom line: In Europe, the U.K. data regulator is now fining companies the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars when they violate GDPR rules.

This ironically is translating into a big business opportunity for startups that are building technology to help companies cope with this. Just last week, OneTrust raised a $200 million Series A to continue building out its technology and business funnel — the company is a “gateway” specialist, building the welcome screens that you encounter when you visit sites to accept or reject a set of cookies and other data requests.

Yared says that while InCountry is very young and is still working on its channel strategy — it’s mainly working directly with companies at this point — there is a clear opportunity both to partner with others within the ecosystem as well as integrators and others working on cloud services and security to build bigger customer networks.

That speaks to the complexity of the issue, and the different entry points that exist to solve it.

“The rapidly evolving and complex global regulatory landscape in our technology driven world is a growing challenge for companies,” said Melissa Guzy of Arbor Ventures, in a statement. Guzy is joining the board with this round. “InCountry is the first to provide a comprehensive solution in the cloud that enables companies to operate globally and address data sovereignty. We’re thrilled to partner and support the company’s mission to enable global data compliance for international businesses.”

Jul
05
2019
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A 23-year-old B2B company has shown how keen India is for tech IPOs

Away from the limelight of the press and the frenzy of fundraising, a tech startup in India has achieved a feat that few of its peers have managed: going public.

IndiaMART, the country’s largest online platform for selling products directly to businesses, raised nearly $70 million in a rare tech IPO for India this week.

The milestone for the 23-year-old firm is so uncommon for India’s otherwise burgeoning startup ecosystem that, beyond being over-subscribed 36 times, pent up demand for IndiaMART’s stock saw its share price pop 40% on its first day of trading on National Stock Exchange on Thursday — a momentum that it sustained on Friday.

The stock ended Friday at Rs 1326 ($19.3), compared to its issue price of Rs 973 ($14.2).

IndiaMART is the first business-to-business e-commerce firm to go public in India. Its IPO also marks the first listing for a firm following the May reelection of Narendra Modi as the nation’s Prime Minister and the months-long drought that led to it.

Accounting firm EY said it expects more companies from India to follow suit and file for IPO in the coming months.

“Now that national elections are over and favorable results secured, IPO activity is expected to gain momentum in H2 2019 (second half of the year). Companies that had filed their offer documents with the Indian stock markets regulator during H2 2018 and Q1 2019 may finally come to market in the months ahead,” it said in a statement (PDF).

IndiaMART’s origin

The fireworks of the IPO are just as impressive as IndiaMART’s journey.

The startup was founded in 1996 and for the first 13 years, it focused on exports to customers abroad, but it has since modernized its business following the wave of the internet.

“The thesis was, in 1996, there were no computers or internet in India. The information about India’s market to the West was very limited,” Dinesh Agarwal, co-founder and CEO of IndiaMART, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Until 2008, IndiaMART was fully bootstrapped and profitable with $10 million in revenue, Agarwal said. But things started to dramatically change in that year.

“The Indian rupee became very strong against the dollar, which dwindled the exports business. This is also when the stock market was collapsing in the West, which further hurt the exports demand,” he explained.

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Dinesh Agarwal, founder and CEO of IndiaMart.com, poses for a profile shot on July 29, 2015 in Noida, India.

By this time, millions of people in India were on the internet and, with tens of millions of people owning a feature phone, the conditions of the market had begun to shift towards digital.

“This is when we decided to pursue a completely different path. We started to focus on the domestic market,” Agarwal said.

Over the last 10 years, IndiaMART has become the largest e-commerce platform for businesses with about 60% market share, according to research firm KPMG. It handles 97,000 product categories — ranging from machine parts, medical equipment and textile products to cranes — and has amassed 83 million buyers and 5.5 million suppliers from thousands of towns and cities of India.

According to the most recent data published by the Indian government, there are about 50 to 60 million small and medium-sized businesses in India, but only around 10 million of them have any presence on the web. Some 97% of the top 50 companies listed on National Stock Exchange use IndiaMART’s services, Agarwal said.

That’s not to say that the transition to the current day was a straightforward process for the company. IndiaMART tried to capitalize on its early mover advantage with a stream of new services which ultimately didn’t reap the desired rewards.

In 2002, it launched a travel portal for businesses. A year later, it launched a business verification service. It also unveiled a payments platform called ABCPayments. None of these services worked and the firm quickly moved on.

Part of IndiaMART’s success story is its firm leadership and how cautiously it has raised and spent its money, Rajesh Sawhney, a serial angel investor who sits on IndiaMART’s board, told TechCrunch in an interview.

IndiaMART, which employs about 4,000 people, is operationally profitable as of the financial year that ended in March this year. It clocked some $82 million in revenue in the year. It has raised about $32 million to date from Intel Capital, Amadeus Capital Partners and Quona Capital. (Notably, Agarwal said that he rejected offers from VCs for a very long time.)

The firm makes most of its revenue from subscriptions it sells to sellers. A subscription gives a seller a range of benefits including getting featured on storefronts.

Where the industry stands

There are only a handful of internet companies in India that have gone public in the last decade. Online travel service MakeMyTrip went public in 2010. Software firm Intellect Design Arena and e-commerce store Koovs listed in 2014, then travel portal Yatra and e-commerce firm Infibeam followed two years later.

India has consistently attracted billions of dollars in funding in recent years and produced many unicorns. Those include Flipkart, which was acquired by Walmart last year for $16 billion, Paytm, which has raised more than $2 billion to date, Swiggy, which has bagged $1.5 billion to date, Zomato, which has raised $750 million, and relatively new entrant Byju’s — but few of them are nearing profitability and most likely do not see an IPO in their immediate future.

In that context, IndiaMART may set a benchmark for others to follow.

“The fact that we have a homegrown digital commerce business, serving both the urban and smaller cities, and having struggled and been around for so long building a very difficult business and finally going public in the local exchange is a phenomenal story,” Ganesh Rengaswamy, a partner at Quona Capital, told TechCrunch in an interview. “It keeps the story of India tech, to the Western world, going.”

Generally, it is agreed that there are too few IPOs in India and the industry can benefit from momentum and encouragement of high profile and successful public listings.

“There is a firm consensus that in India, markets will prefer only the IPOs of companies that are profitable. And investors in India might not value those companies. Both of these issues are being addressed by IndiaMART,” said Sawhney.

“We need 30 to 40 more IPOs. This will also mean that the stock market here has matured and understands the tech stocks and how it is different from other consumer stocks they usually handle. More tech companies going public would also pave the way for many to explore stock exchanges outside of India.

“Indian market is ready for more tech stocks. We just need to get more companies to go out there,” Sawhney added, although he did predict that it will take a few years before the vast majority of leading startups are ready for the public market.

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The Indian government, for its part, this week announced a number of incentives to uplift the “entrepreneurial spirit” in the nation.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government would ease foreign direct investment rules for certain sectors — including e-commerce, food delivery, grocery — and improve the digital payments ecosystem. Sitharaman, who is the first woman to hold this position in India, said the government would also launch a TV program to help startups connect with venture capitalists.

The path ahead for IndiaMART

IndiaMART has managed to build a sticky business that compels more than 55% of its customers to come back to the platform and make another transaction within 90 days, Agarwal — its CEO — said. With some 3,500 of its 4,000 employees classified as sales executives, the company is aggressive in its pursuit of new customers. Moving forward, that will remain one of its biggest focuses, according to Agarwal.

“Most of our time still goes into educating MSMEs on how to use the internet. That was a challenge 20 years ago and it remains a challenge today,” he told TechCrunch.

In recent years, IndiaMART has begun to expand its suite of offerings to its business customers in a bid to increase the value they get from its platform and thus increase their reliance on its service.

IndiaMART has built a customer relationship management (CRM) tool so that customers need not rely on spreadsheets or other third-party services.

“We will continue to explore more SaaS offerings and look into solving problems in accounting, invoice management and other areas,” said Agarwal.

The firm also recently started to offer payment facilitation between buyers and sellers through a PayPal -like escrow system.

“This will bridge the trust gap between the entities and improve an MSME’s ability to accept all kinds of payment options including the new age offerings.”

There’s an elephant in the room, however.

A bigger challenge that looms for IndiaMART is the growing interest of Amazon and Walmart in the business-to-business space. Several startups including Udaan — which has raised north of $280 million from DST Global and Lightspeed Venture Partners — have risen up in recent years and are increasingly expanding their operations. Agarwal did not seem much worried, however, telling TechCrunch that he believes that his prime competition is more focused on B2C and serving niche audiences. Besides he has $100 million in the bank himself.

Indeed, as Quona Capital’s Rengaswamy astutely noted, competition is not new for IndiaMART — the company has survived and thrived more than two decades of it.

“Alibaba came and gave up,” he noted.

An important — and unanswered question — that follows the successful IPO is how IndiaMART’s stock will fare over the coming months. A glance to the U.S. — where hyped companies like Uber, Lyft and others have seen prices taper off — shows clearly that early demand and sustained stock performance are not one and the same.

Nobody knows at this point, and the added complexity at play is that the concept of a tech IPO is so uncommon in India that there is no definitive answer to it… yet. But IndiaMART’s biggest achievement may be that it sets the pathway that many others will follow.

Jun
27
2019
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Cathay Innovation leads Laiye’s $35M round to bet on Chinese enterprise IT

For many years, the boom and bust of China’s tech landscape have centered around consumer-facing products. As this space gets filled by Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and more recently Didi Chuxing, Meituan Dianping, and ByteDance, entrepreneurs and investors are shifting attention to business applications.

One startup making waves in China’s enterprise software market is four-year-old Laiye, which just raised a $35 million Series B round led by cross-border venture capital firm Cathay Innovation. Existing backers Wu Capital, a family fund, and Lightspeed China Partners, whose founding partner James Mi has been investing in every round of Laiye since Pre-A, also participated in this Series B.

The deal came on the heels of Laiye’s merger with Chinese company Awesome Technology, a team that’s spent the last 18 years developing Robotic Process Automation, a term for technology that lets organizations offload repetitive tasks like customer service onto machines. With this marriage, Laiye officially launched its RPA product UiBot to compete in the nascent and fast-growing market for streamlining workflow.

“There was a wave of B2C [business-to-consumer] in China, and now we believe enterprise software is about to grow rapidly,” Denis Barrier, co-founder and chief executive officer of Cathay Innovation, told TechCrunch over a phone interview.

Since launching in January, UiBot has collected some 300,000 downloads and 6,000 registered enterprise users. Its clients include major names such as Nike, Walmart, Wyeth, China Mobile, Ctrip and more.

Guanchun Wang, chairman and CEO of Laiye, believes there are synergies between AI-enabled chatbots and RPA solutions, as the combination allows business clients “to build bots with both brains and hands so as to significantly improve operational efficiency and reduce labor costs,” he said.

When it comes to market size, Barrier believes RPA in China will be a new area of growth. For one, Chinese enterprises, with a shorter history than those found in developed economies, are less hampered by legacy systems, which makes it “faster and easier to set up new corporate software,” the investor observed. There’s also a lot more data being produced in China given the population of organizations, which could give Chinese RPA a competitive advantage.

“You need data to train the machine. The more data you have, the better your algorithms become provided you also have the right data scientists as in China,” Barrier added.

However, the investor warned that the exact timing of RPA adoption by people and customers is always not certain, even though the product is ready.

Laiye said it will use the proceeds to recruit talents for research and development as well as sales of its RPA products. The startup will also work on growing its AI capabilities beyond natural language processing, deep learning, and reinforcement learning, in addition to accelerating commercialization of its robotic solutions across industries.

Jun
20
2019
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SaaS data protection provider Druva nabs $130M, now at a $1B+ valuation, acquiring CloudLanes

As businesses continue to move more of their computing and data to the cloud, one of the startups that has made a name for itself as a provider of cloud-based solutions to protect and manage those IT assets has raised a big round of funding to build its business.

Druva, which provides software-as-a-service-based data protection, backup and management solutions, has raised $130 million in a round of funding that CEO and founder Jaspreet Singh says takes the company “well past the $1 billion mark” in terms of its valuation.

Alongside this news, it’s making an acquisition to continue building out the storage part of its business (one of several product areas that it’s developing): it’s acquiring CloudLanes, a startup that was backed by Microsoft and others, for an undisclosed sum, in a deal that will likely be formally announced in early July.

The funding is being led by Viking Global Investors, the hedge fund and investment firm, with participation from two other new investors, Neuberger Berman and Atreides Capital, and existing investors Riverwood Capital, Tenaya Capital and Nexus Venture Partners (which were part of Druva’s last round of $80 million in 2017). The company, Singh said, is now nearly at a $100 million annual run rate. And although he would not disclose revenues, he said it’s now in a strong position to consider going public as its next step (or finally entertaining one of the many acquisition offers Singh admitted Druva gets).

“As we look at growth and the potential of what we are doing, the next obvious step is to look at public markets in the next 12 to 18 months,” he said in an interview.

The strong numbers (in terms of funding raised, valuation and performance) are a sign not just of Druva’s own business health, but of the opportunity it is tackling.

Spurred by a number of factors — the unfortunate rise of malicious hacking and data breaches, a massive wave of computing services that are creating mountains of data that can now be parsed for insights and a big move to cloud computing — the data protection industry is booming, with IDC predicting that it will collectively cost some $55 billion by 2020 to store and manage “copy data” (backups of the data), and that the data protection market will likely see revenues of $8 billion by 2020. Druva itself works with some 4,000 organizations today, with many in the mid-market in terms of size, with customers ranging across a number of verticals and including the likes of Build Group, American Cancer Society and Port of New Orleans — but as a measure of the opportunity, IDC notes that as of 2017 it had only about a 1% share (it doesn’t have more updated figures yet).

With a huge opportunity like this, it’s also an unsurprisingly crowded area in terms of competition. Singh points out that others looking to provide services in the same area include huge incumbents like CommVault and IBM, as well as newer entrants like Rubrik (itself on something of a fundraising tear in the last few years to capitalise on the same opportunity).

Singh notes that Druva stands out from these because it is the only one in the pack that started that remains an exclusively cloud-based, SaaS offering, meaning a company requires no hardware changes or appliance purchases in order to use it. While that’s an area that everyone is now moving into, his argument is that having started out here gives Druva a level of expertise and experience that cannot be matched by others — an important point when data protection is at stake.

The reality of today’s enterprise world is that there are a number of companies that are very far from being “in the cloud.” Despite the song and dance that we hear all the time about how cloud is the future, they are more often than not either relying entirely still on on-premises computing, or a hybrid solution. As Singh talks about it, this is almost irrelevant to what Druva is offering, and is in fact a segue to helping those companies come to trust and move more off premises, by giving them a strong example of how a cloud-based solution not only works, but can be less expensive and better than on-premise alternatives.

The CloudLanes acquisition fits in with this strategy, too: the company’s solution stack includes cloud storage that leverages on-premise data as a cache; ransomware protection; audit logs and more. “It will help us cover the gap between the data center and cloud more effectively,” Singh said.

This is also the belief that is propelling Druva to expanding into newer areas of business. Singh noted that business intelligence is going to be a big focus for the company, which makes sense: now that there is a lot of data being stored and managed by Druva, the next obvious move is to help parse it for insights. Security and making a wider move to secure endpoints are also areas that the company is considering, he said.

“We invest in companies based on a thorough assessment of their business models and fundamentals, the quality of their management teams, and cyclical and secular industry trends,” said Harish Belur, managing director, Riverwood Capital, in a statement. “Druva is doing something unique and special and, as a result, has grown at a phenomenal rate over recent years, all while keeping the trust and loyalty of its enterprise customers around the globe. We know this market is taking off and we continue to invest in Druva because we are sure it has the right product, executive team, and market execution to maintain leadership in the industry.”

I asked if companies like Amazon or Microsoft are friends, or frenemies, considering that they have a big part to play in cloud services. Singh said that so far, so good, since they are all more focused on infrastructure — or at least that’s where most of their strength has been up to now. Amazon, in particular, is a strong partner to the company he said, where Druva is often an early adopter of new tools of Amazon’s, and the AWS sales team regularly suggests Druva to customers for data protection and management services. Druva even happened to include a quote from the company in its news release:

“Druva is a leading Advanced Technology Partner in the AWS Partner Network,” said Mike Clayville, vice president Worldwide Commercial Sales and Business Development, Amazon Web Services, Inc., in a statement. “Druva’s solutions powered by AWS are changing the way data is managed and protected at thousands of companies globally. We’d like to congratulate Druva on its latest fund raise, and look forward to innovating with Druva to create new solutions that benefit our customers.”

Seems like that could be one to watch, as well, as both companies continue their cloud expansion, both independently and in competition with others.

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