Feb
04
2020
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Layoffs hit Flexport, another SoftBank-backed startup worth $3.2B

Fearing weak fundraising options in the wake of the WeWork implosion, late-stage startups are tightening their belts. The latest is another Softbank-funded company, joining Zume Pizza (80 percent of staff laid off), Wag (80 percent),  Fair (40%), Getaround (25 percent), Rappi (6 percent), and Oyo (5 percent) that have all cut staff to slow their burn rate and reduce their funding needs. Now freight forwarding startup Flexport is laying off 3 percent of its global staff.

“We’re restructuring some parts of our organization to move faster and with greater clarity and purpose. With that came the difficult decision to part ways with around 50 employees” a Flexport spokesperson tells TechCrunch after we asked today if it had seen layoffs like its peers.

Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen

Flexport had raised a $1 billion Series D led by SoftBank at a $3.2 billion valuation a year ago, bringing it to $1.3 billion in funding. The company helps move shipping containers full of goods between manufacturers and retailers using digital tools unlike its old-school competitors.

“We underinvested in areas that help us serve clients efficiently, and we over-invested in scaling our existing process when we actually needed to be agile and adaptable to best serve our clients, especially in a year of unprecedented volatility in global trade,” the spokesperson explained.

Flexport still had a record year, working with 10,000 clients to finance and transport goods. The shipping industry is so huge that it’s still only the seventh largest freight forwarder on its top Trans-Pacific Eastbound leg. The massive headroom for growth plus its use of software to coordinate supply chains and optimize routing is what attracted SoftBank.

Flexport Dashboard

The Flexboard Platform dashboard offers maps, notifications, task lists, and chat for Flexport clients and their factory suppliers.

But many late-stage startups are worried about where they’ll get their next round after taking huge sums of cash from SoftBank at tall valuations. As of November, SoftBank had only managed to raise about $2 billion for its Vision Fund 2 despite plans for a total of $108 billion, Bloomberg reported. LPs were partially spooked by SoftBank’s reckless investment in WeWork. Further layoffs at its portfolio companies could further stoke concerns about entrusting it with more cash.

Unless growth-stage startups can cobble together enough institutional investors to build big rounds, or other huge capital sources like sovereign wealth funds materialize for them, these startups might not be able to raise enough to keep rapidly burning. Those that can’t reach profitability or find an exit may face down-rounds that can come with onerous terms, trigger talent exodus death spirals, or just not provide enough money.

Flexport has managed to escape with just 3 percent layoffs for now. Being proactive about cuts to reach sustainability may be smarter than gambling that one’s business or the funding climate with suddenly improve. But while other SoftBank startups had to spend tons to edge out direct competitors or make up for weak on-demand service margins, Flexport at least has a tried and true business where incumbents have been asleep at the wheel.

Feb
04
2020
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Emerge raises $20M to take its digital freight marketplace for truckers up a gear

Trucking is currently the most popular mode of transporting freight in the U.S., accounting for around $12.5 billion of the $17 billion freight market, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. But with thousands of small and single-vehicle operators and legacy (often paper-based) systems underpinning communications, it’s also one of the most inefficient.

Now there are signs that this is changing. A startup out of Phoenix, Ariz. called Emerge, which has built a platform for shippers and brokers to find and allocate truck freight more effectively across the long tail of available truck-based carriers (a little like a Flexport but for trucks), is announcing a round of $20 million, funding it will use to continue building out its technology, as well as to keep expanding business.

The Series A — led by NewRoad Capital Partners, with previous investors Greycroft and 9Yards Capital also participating — comes on the heels of some already strong traction for Emerge. Since being founded in 2018 by brothers Andrew and Michael Leto, the company has processed more than $1 billion in freight with 1,500% year-over-year growth between 2018 and 2019. Emerge has now raised just over $40 million and we understand that its valuation is currently at more than $100 million. 

Some of its traction so far is down to the founders. Both are vets of the trucking industry whose previous company, a multimodal shipment visibility/supply chain solutions platform called 10-4, sold to Trimble in a $400 million deal. And some of that is down to the gap in the market that Emerge is filling.

“Gap” is actually the operative word here. How shipments are booked on trucks today is quite inefficient, with orders often leaving empty spaces on truck beds that could be filled with goods going in the same direction; and in about 20% of all journeys carrying no load at all.

Part of the reason for this is the antiquated way that shippers book space on trucks, and part of the reason is because there is just simply too much fragmentation in the system, with 80% of all shipments today contract-based and the remaining 20% operating as a “spot market” and booked on the fly, and neither of them particularly efficient when it comes to truck occupancy. (Most of the latter spot market is booked through spreadsheets and email, Michael Leto, the CEO, said in an interview.)

Emerge’s solution is something of a stick-and-carrot approach that reminds me a little also of how advertising exchanges work.

A shipper that wants to use the Emerge platform essentially activates/lists its entire inventory of truck providers on the platform to get started. That list and inventory, in turn, become part of a bigger database of other providers: and again, this is a long-tail approach, with typically the trucking companies on the platform having no more than 200 trucks (and often fewer) in their fleets.

Then, when a shipper goes to Emerge to book a shipment, options are provided that might include previous truckers, but might also include others. The idea is that this provides a more efficient picture, and that in turn gets passed on as cost savings to the customers, who can typically reduce shipping costs by as much as 20% using the platform.

If the cost savings and expanded choice are the carrots, the stick comes in the form of the requirement to upload truck data and share it with other shippers: you can’t use the system without doing it.

“But it’s a network effect,” Leto explained when I asked if Emerge ever saw resistance to the model. “We allow these companies to share capacity to drive efficiencies, and to drive and lower costs with less deadhead miles. There are a lot of benefits to capacity sharing.” It doesn’t seem to have deterred too many in any case. There are currently some 30,000 carrier profiles on the platform, and 12,000 transportation entities — including carriers, brokers or other shippers — transacted in Q4 alone, speaking to activity on the platform being strong. 

Emerge is not the only company that has identified the opportunity in providing a better and more updated platform to communicate and book space in the fragmented truck market. Sennder out of Berlin — which last year raised a sizeable round of funding — has also built a platform to centralise communications around booking shipments. It, however, seems to have less of an emphasis on encouraging shippers to take the lead in expanding that network effect that Leto describes.

Others that are tackling the wider shipping and logistics market and trying to improve how it runs include Sendy out of Kenya, which recently also announced a $20 million raise; Flexport, which now has a $3.2 billion valuation; Zencargo, which has also raised $20 million; and FreightHub ($30 million), Bringg ($25 million) and NEXT ($97 million).

But within that, Emerge’s performance so far, coupled with the Leto brothers’ history as founders, is giving the startup some extra mileage as we enter the next phase of what trucking might hold, which could include a critical mass of autonomous and electric vehicles on pre-defined routes.

“Uniquely, Emerge combines an exciting new technology designed to serve existing, unmet market need with experienced industry operators and entrepreneurs,” said Tracy Black of NewRoad in a statement. “Andrew and Michael are building the most innovative marketplace we’ve seen in the freight and digital marketplace industry — bringing contracts and carriers together to create new capacity. We are excited to be leading their Series A and I am thrilled to join the board to support their growth.”

Sep
25
2019
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Why Flexport built a slick Slack SaaS for shipping

“Make their metrics your metrics” is one of Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen’s mantras. Sometimes that means building free software for your clients. It can be frustrating aligning your fates with a fellow business if they operate on email, phone and fax like much of the freight-forwarding industry that gets pallets of goods across the world from factories to retailer’s floors. So today, the new Flexport Platform launches, allowing brand clients, their factories and their Flexport logistics reps to all team up to get stuff where it belongs on time.

The software could further stoke Flexport‘s growth by locking in customers to work with the shipping startup that was valued at $3.2 billion after raising $1 billion from SoftBank in February (to bring it to $1.3 billion in funding). Flexport’s revenue was up 95%, to $441 million in 2018, Forbes’s Alex Konrad reported. Yet there’s plenty of green field to conquer given even Flexport’s largest competitor Kuehne & Nagel only holds 2.5% market share while the whole freight-forwarding industry grows 4% per year.

Flexport Dashboard

The Flexboard Platform dashboard offers maps, notifications, task lists, and chat for Flexport clients and their factory suppliers.

The Flexport Platform lets 10,000 clients, like Bombas socks, invite their suppliers to collaborate on managing shipments together. An integrated calendar makes shipping timelines clear. A map gives clients a god-view of their freight criss-crossing the globe. Pre-filled forms expedite compliance. Tagging lets users group shipments and filter or search their dashboards, and flag something for extra care — like a pallet of goods critical for a marketing launch event. Collaborators also can sync up via a Facebook Wall-style feature, or direct message the team with threaded conversations, much like Slack.

Ryan Petersen Flexport

Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen

“There’s infinite demand for a job well done,” Petersen says about his industry.The hard part has always been doing a good job.” Taking the confusion out communication scattered across email chains means clients get shipping documentation filled out 50% faster with 4X more accurate data. Flexport is on the tip of the tongue as software eats the world, with antiquated sectors suddenly leveling up.

Petersen saw the inefficiency first-hand growing up running his own import/export and customs business. He is part of a wave of entrepreneurs attacking unsexy businesses that the typical Silicon Valley enterprise exec might never stumble across. But three years after we profiled his scrappy company, when it had raised just $26 million in funding and had 700 clients, Petersen tells me “We’re trying to retire the word ‘startup.’ ”

It turns out top global brands like Sonos and Klean Kanteen don’t like the second half of “move fast and break things” when those things are boats and planes full of their products. “They want a company that will help them grow, not the fly-by-night startup,” Petersen explains. But with competitors trying to chase it and incumbents trying to adopt similar technologies, Flexport must maintain its agility to avoid being subsumed by the pack.

As his company has grown to 1,700 employees, he’s dedicated a ton of his time to keeping its culture in check — especially after a certain other logistics giant startup had some uber-painful troubles with workplace toxicity. “You either have too much bureaucracy or not enough process, and no one knows what to do. The English language lacks a positive word for bureaucracy — just the right amount of process so people can move quickly.”

That’s what Flexport wanted to give clients with the new platform. From a dedicated tasks queue to a notifications pane, it’s built to take the guesswork out of what to do next while being as approachable as consumer software for new users. That also why it’s free. It’s not supposed to be some chore you’re forced to complete, product lead Frank te Pas tells me. “As you move your first shipment you get onboarded onto this system” says te Pas. “It’s our way of helping.”

Flexport Warehouse

That’s meant a ton of personal growth, too. Petersen is still enthusiastic, curious and charmingly rough around the edges, but he carries it all with more dignity and gravity than a few years back. “The only way I get to stay in this role is if I learn faster than anybody else. Being the CEO of a 1,700-person company is not something I knew how to do four to five years ago, or even last year,” he tells me. “I’ve changed and become more self-aware. It’s been really important to take care of myself — sleeping a lot, I quit drinking alcohol, I lost 30 pounds. I feel great.”

With plenty of cash in the bank, industry talent taking it seriously and new businesses like Flexport Capital freight financing and its cargo insurance offered in partnership with Marsh, the company might not be a startup for long. It looks like a hot candidate for a coming season of IPOs. And while this company has its own plane (the leading entry for the naming contest is “Weird Flex But OK”), it’s actually part of its shipping fleet.

Jul
31
2019
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Calling all hardware startups! Apply to Hardware Battlefield @ TC Shenzhen

Got hardware? Well then, listen up, because our search continues for boundary-pushing, early-stage hardware startups to join us in Shenzhen, China for an epic opportunity; launch your startup on a global stage and compete in Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen on November 11-12.

Apply here to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019. Why? It’s your chance to demo your product to the top investors and technologists in the world. Hardware Battlefield, cousin to Startup Battlefield, focuses exclusively on innovative hardware because, let’s face it, it’s the backbone of technology. From enterprise solutions to agtech advancements, medical devices to consumer product goods — hardware startups are in the international spotlight.

If you make the cut, you’ll compete against 15 of the world’s most innovative hardware makers for bragging rights, plenty of investor love, media exposure and $25,000 in equity-free cash. Just participating in a Battlefield can change the whole trajectory of your business in the best way possible.

We chose to bring our fifth Hardware Battlefield to Shenzhen because of its outstanding track record of supporting hardware startups. The city achieves this through a combination of accelerators, rapid prototyping and world-class manufacturing. What’s more, TC Hardware Battlefield 2019 takes place as part of the larger TechCrunch Shenzhen that runs November 9-12.

Creativity and innovation no know boundaries, and that’s why we’re opening this competition to any early-stage hardware startup from any country. While we’ve seen amazing hardware in previous Battlefields — like robotic armsfood testing devicesmalaria diagnostic tools, smart socks for diabetics and e-motorcycles, we can’t wait to see the next generation of hardware, so bring it on!

Meet the minimum requirements listed below, and we’ll consider your startup:

Here’s how Hardware Battlefield works. TechCrunch editors vet every qualified application and pick 15 startups to compete. Those startups receive six rigorous weeks of free coaching. Forget stage fright. You’ll be prepped and ready to step into the spotlight.

Teams have six minutes to pitch and demo their products, which is immediately followed by an in-depth Q&A with the judges. If you make it to the final round, you’ll repeat the process in front of a new set of judges.

The judges will name one outstanding startup the Hardware Battlefield champion. Hoist the Battlefield Cup, claim those bragging rights and the $25,000. This nerve-wracking thrill-ride takes place in front of a live audience, and we capture the entire event on video and post it to our global audience on TechCrunch.

Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen takes place on November 11-12. Don’t hide your hardware or miss your chance to show us — and the entire tech world — your startup magic. Apply to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019, and join us in Shenzhen!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Jul
10
2019
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Anvyl, looking to help D2C brands manage their supply chain, raises $9.3M

Growing D2C brands face an interesting challenge. While they’ve eliminated much of the hassle of a physical storefront, they must still deal with all the complications involved in managing inventory and manufacturing and shipping a physical product to suppliers.

Anvyl, with a fresh $9.3 million in Series A funding, is looking to jump in and make a difference for those brands. The company, co-founded by chief executive Rodney Manzo, is today announcing the raise, led by Redpoint Ventures, with participation from existing investors First Round Capital and Company Ventures. Angel investors Kevin Ryan (MongoDB and DoubleClick), Ben Kaufman (Quirky and Camp) and Dan Rose (Facebook) also participated in the round.

Manzo hails from Apple, where with $300 million in spend to manage logistics and supply chain he was still operating in an Excel spreadsheet. He then went to Harry’s, where he shaved $10 million in cash burn in his first month. He says himself that sourcing, procurement and logistics are in his DNA.

Which brings us to Anvyl. Anvyl looks at every step in the logistics process, from manufacture to arrival at the supplier, and visualizes that migration in an easy-to-understand UI.

The difference between Anvyl and other supply chain logistics companies, such as Flexport, is that Anvyl goes all the way to the very beginning of the supply chain: the factories. The company partners with factories to set up cameras and sensors that let brands see their product actually being built.

“When I was at Apple, I traveled for two years at least once a month to China and Japan just to oversee production,” said Manzo. “To oversee production, you essentially have to be boots on the ground and eyes in the factory. None of our brands have traveled to a factory.”

On the other end of the supply chain, Anvyl lets brands manage suppliers, find new suppliers, submit RFQs, see cost breakdowns and accept quotes.

The company also looks at each step in between, including trucks, trains, boats and planes so that brands can see, in real time, their products go from being manufactured to delivery.

Anvyl charges brands a monthly fee using a typical SaaS model. On the other end, Anvyl takes a “tiny percentage” of goods being produced within the Anvyl marketplace. The company declined to share actual numbers around pricing.

This latest round brings Anvyl’s total funding to $11.8 million. The company plans to use the funding toward hiring in engineering and marketing, and grow its consumer goods customer base.

May
28
2019
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IBM-Maersk blockchain shipping consortium expands to include other major shipping companies

Last year IBM and Danish shipping conglomerate Maersk announced the limited availability of a blockchain-based shipping tool called TradeLens. Today, the two partners announced that a couple of other major shippers have come on board.

The partners announced that CMA CGM and MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company have joined TradeLens. When you include these companies together with Maersk, the TradeLens consortium now encompasses almost half of the world’s cargo container shipments, according to data supplied by IBM .

That’s important, because shipping has traditionally been a paper-intensive and largely manual process. It’s still challenging to track where a container might be in the world and which government agency might be holding it up. When it comes to auditing, it can take weeks of intensive effort to gather the paperwork generated throughout a journey from factory or field to market. Suffice to say, cargo touches a lot of hands along the way.

It’s been clear for years that shipping could benefit from digitization, but to this point, previous attempts like EDI have not been terribly successful. The hope is that by using blockchain to solve the problem, all the participants can easily follow the flow of shipments along the chain and trust that the immutable record has not been altered at any point.

As Marie Wieck, general manager for IBM Blockchain told TechCrunch at the time of last year’s announcement, the blockchain brings some key benefits to the shipping workflow:

The blockchain provides a couple of obvious advantages over previous methods. For starters, [Wieck said] it’s safer because data is distributed, making it much more secure with digital encryption built in. The greatest advantage though is the visibility it provides. Every participant can check any aspect of the flow in real time, or an auditor or other authority can easily track the entire process from start to finish by clicking on a block in the blockchain instead of requesting data from each entity manually.

The TradeLens partners certainly see the benefits of digitizing the process. “We believe that TradeLens, with its commitment to open standards and open governance, is a key platform to help usher in this digital transformation,” Rajesh Krishnamurthy, executive vice president for IT & Transformations at CMA CGM Group, said in a statement.

Today’s announcement is a big step toward gaining more adoption for this approach. While there are many companies working on supply chain products on the blockchain, the more shipping companies and adjacent entities like customs agencies who join TradeLens, the more effective it’s going to be.

May
14
2019
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Beyond costs, what else can we do to make housing affordable?

This week on Extra Crunch, I am exploring innovations in inclusive housing, looking at how 200+ companies are creating more access and affordability. Yesterday, I focused on startups trying to lower the costs of housing, from property acquisition to management and operations.

Today, I want to focus on innovations that improve housing inclusion more generally, such as efforts to pair housing with transit, small business creation, and mental rehabilitation. These include social impact-focused interventions, interventions that increase income and mobility, and ecosystem-builders in housing innovation.

Nonprofits and social enterprises lead many of these innovations. Yet because these areas are perceived to be not as lucrative, fewer technologists and other professionals have entered them. New business models and technologies have the opportunity to scale many of these alternative institutions — and create tremendous social value. Social impact is increasingly important to millennials, with brands like Patagonia having created loyal fan bases through purpose-driven leadership.

While each of these sections could be their own market map, this overall market map serves as an initial guide to each of these spaces.

Social impact innovations

These innovations address:

May
13
2019
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Market map: the 200+ innovative startups transforming affordable housing

In this section of my exploration into innovation in inclusive housing, I am digging into the 200+ companies impacting the key phases of developing and managing housing.

Innovations have reduced costs in the most expensive phases of the housing development and management process. I explore innovations in each of these phases, including construction, land, regulatory, financing, and operational costs.

Reducing Construction Costs

This is one of the top three challenges developers face, exacerbated by rising building material costs and labor shortages.

May
13
2019
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Innovations in inclusive housing

Housing is big money. The industry has trillions under management and hundreds of billions under development.

And investors have noticed the potential. Opendoor raised nearly $1.3 billion to help homeowners buy and sell houses more quickly. Katerra raised $1.2 billion to optimize building development and construction, and Compass raised the same amount to help brokers sell real estate better. Even Amazon and Airbnb have entered the fray with high-profile investments.

Amidst this frenetic growth is the seed of the next wave of innovation in the sector. The housing industry — and its affordability problem — is only likely to balloon. By 2030, 84% of the population of developed countries will live in cities.

Yet innovation in housing lags compared to other industries. In construction, a major aspect of housing development, players spend less than 1% of their revenues on research and development. Technology companies, like the Amazons of the world, spend nearly 10% on average.

Innovations in older, highly regulated industries, like housing and real estate, are part of what Steve Case calls the “third wave” of technology. VCs like Case’s Revolution Fund and the SoftBank Vision Fund are investing billions into what they believe is the future.

These innovations are far from silver bullets, especially if they lack involvement from underrepresented communities, avoid policy and ignore distributive questions about who gets to benefit from more housing.

Yet there are hundreds of interventions reworking housing that cannot be ignored. To help entrepreneurs, investors and job seekers interested in creating better housing, I mapped these innovations in this package of articles.

To make sense of this broad field, I categorize innovations into two main groups, which I detail in two separate pieces on Extra Crunch. The first (Part 1) identifies the key phases of developing and managing housing. The second (Part 2) section identifies interventions that contribute to housing inclusion more generally, such as efforts to pair housing with transit, small business creation and mental rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, many of these tools don’t guarantee more affordability. Lowering acquisition costs, for instance, doesn’t mean that renters or homeowners will necessarily benefit from those savings. As a result, some tools likely need to be paired with others to ensure cost savings that benefit end users — and promote long-term affordability. I detail efforts here so that mission-driven advocates as well as startup founders can adopt them for their own efforts.


Topics We Explore

Today:

Coming Tomorrow:

  • Part 2. Other contributions to housing affordability
    • Social Impact Innovations
    • Landlord-Tenant Tools
    • Innovations that Increase Income
    • Innovations that Increase Transit Accessibility and Reduce Parking
    • Innovations that Improve the Ability to Regulate Housing
    • Organizations that Support the Housing Innovation Ecosystem
    • This Is Just the Beginning
    • I’m Personally Closely Watching the Following Initiatives
    • The Limitations of Technology
    • Move Fast and Protect People


Please feel free to let me know what else is exciting by adding a note to your LinkedIn invite here.

If you’re excited about this topic, feel free to subscribe to my future of inclusive housing newsletter by viewing a past issue here.

May
13
2019
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India’s Locus raises $22 million to expand its logistics management business

Locus, an Indian startup that uses AI to help businesses map out their logistics, has raised $22 million in Series B funding to expand its operations in international markets.

The financing round for the four-year-old startup was led by Falcon Edge Capital and Tiger Global. Existing investors Exfinity Venture Partners and Blume Ventures also participated in the round. The startup has raised $29 million to date, Nishith Rastogi, co-founder and CEO of Locus, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Locus works with companies that operate in FMCG, logistics and e-commerce spaces. Some of its clients include Tata Group companies, Myntra, BigBasket, Lenskart and Bluedart. It helps these clients automate their logistics workload — tasks such as planning, organizing, transporting and tracking of inventories, and finding the best path to reach a destination — that have traditionally required intensive human labor.

“Say a Lenskart representative is visiting a house or an office to offer an eye checkup, and suddenly two more people there are interested in getting their eyes checked. The representative could attend these two new potential clients, or wrap things up with the first client and take care of his or her next appointment,” said Rastogi.

Locus looks at a client’s past data, identifies patterns and automates these kind of decisions on a large scale. In an example shared earlier with TechCrunch, Rastogi talked about how Locus had built a scanner for e-commerce companies for measuring products.

Rastogi said he will use the fresh capital to develop products and expand Locus in Southeast Asian and North American markets. The startup says half of its 110-person workforce is outside of India. Half of the IP it has built and the revenue it generates comes from its team outside of India.

He said the startup has spent the recent quarters studying these international markets, and has secured some anchor clients to expand the business. Locus is operationally profitable already and any additional capital goes into expanding its business, he added.

The logistics market in India has long been riddled with challenges. A growing number of startups, including BlackBuck — which raised $150 million last week — have emerged in recent years to tackle these problems.

The new funding also illustrates Tiger Global’s new strategy for the Indian market. The VC fund, which has invested in B2C businesses Flipkart and Ola in India, has made a number of investments in B2B startups in recent months. Last month, it invested $90 million in agritech supply chain startup Ninjacart, and weeks later, it gave cloud-based solutions provider Zenoti $50 million. It also participated in customer marketing service ClearTap’s $26 million round.

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