Sep
20
2021
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Airwallex raises $200M at a $4B valuation to double down on business banking

Business, now more than ever before, is going digital, and today a startup that’s building a vertically integrated solution to meet business banking needs is announcing a big round of funding to tap into the opportunity. Airwallex — which provides business banking services directly to businesses themselves as well as via a set of APIs that power other companies’ fintech products — has raised $200 million, a Series E round of funding that values the Australian startup at $4 billion.

Lone Pine Capital is leading the round, with new backers G Squared and Vetamer Capital Management, and previous backers 1835i Ventures (formerly ANZi), DST Global, Salesforce Ventures and Sequoia Capital China also participating.

The funding brings the total raised by Airwallex — which has head offices in Hong Kong and Melbourne, Australia — to $700 million, including a $100 million injection that closed out its Series D just six months ago.

Airwallex will be using the funding both to continue investing in its product and technology as well as to continue its geographical expansion and to focus on some larger business targets. The company has started to make some headway into Europe and the U.K. and that will be one big focus, along with the U.S.

The quick succession of funding and rising valuation underscore Airwallex’s traction to date around what CEO and co-founder Jack Zhang describes as a vertically integrated strategy.

That involves two parts. First, Airwallex has built all the infrastructure for the business banking services that it provides directly to businesses with a focus on small and medium enterprise customers. Second, it has packaged up that infrastructure into a set of APIs that a variety of other companies use to provide financial services directly to their customers without needing to build those services themselves — the so-called “embedded finance” approach.

“We want to own the whole ecosystem,” Zhang said to me. “We want to be like the Apple of business finance.”

That seems to be working out so far for Airwallex. Revenues were up almost 150% for the first half of 2021 compared to a year before, with the company processing more than US$20 billion for a global client portfolio that has quadrupled in size. In addition to tens of thousands of SMEs, it also, via APIs, powers financial services for other companies like GOAT, Papaya Global and Stake.

Airwallex got its start like many of the strongest startups do: It was built to solve a problem that the founders encountered themselves. In the case of Airwallex, Zhang tells me he had actually been working on a previous startup idea. He wanted to build the “Blue Bottle Coffee” of Asia Pacific out of Australia, and it involved buying and importing a lot of different materials, packaging and, of course, coffee from all around the world.

“We found that making payments as a small business was slow and expensive,” he said, since it involved banks in different countries and different banking systems, manual efforts to transfer money between them and many days to clear the payments. “But that was also my background — payments and trading — and so I decided that it was a much more fascinating problem for me to work on and resolve.”

Eventually one of his co-founders in the coffee effort came along, with the four co-founders of Airwallex ultimately including Zhang, along with Xijing Dai, Lucy Liu and Max Li.

It was 2014, and Airwallex got attention from VCs early on in part for being in the right place at the right time. A wave of startups building financial services for SMBs were definitely gaining ground in North America and Europe, filling a long-neglected hole in the technology universe, but there was almost nothing of the sort in the Asia Pacific region, and in those earlier days solutions were highly regionalized.

From there it was a no-brainer that starting with cross-border payments, the first thing Airwallex tackled, would soon grow into a wider suite of banking services involving payments and other cross-border banking services.

“In the last six years, we’ve built more than 50 bank integrations and now offer payments across 95 countries, payments through a partner network,” he added, with 43 of those offering real-time transactions. From that, it moved on to bank accounts and “other primitive stuff” with card issuance and more, he said, eventually building an end-to-end payment stack. 

Airwallex has tens of thousands of customers using its financial services directly, and they make up about 40% of its revenues today. The rest is the interesting turn the company decided to take to expand its business.

Airwallex had built all of its technology from the ground up itself, and it found that — given the wave of new companies looking for more ways to engage customers and become their one-stop shop — there was an opportunity to package that tech up in a set of APIs and sell that on to a different set of customers, those who also provided services for small businesses. That part of the business now accounts for 60% of Airwallex’s business, Zhang said, and is growing faster in terms of revenues. (The SMB business is growing faster in terms of customers, he said.)

A lot of embedded finance startups that base their business around building tech to power other businesses tend to stay at arm’s length from offering financial services directly to consumers. The explanation I have heard is that they do not wish to compete against their customers. Zhang said that Airwallex takes a different approach, by being selective about the customers they partner with, so that the financial services they offer would never be the kind that would not be in direct competition. The GOAT marketplace for sneakers, or Papaya Global’s HR platform are classic examples of this.

However, as Airwallex continues to grow, you can’t help but wonder whether one of those partners might like to gobble up all of Airwallex and take on some of that service provision role itself. In that context, it’s very interesting to see Salesforce Ventures returning to invest even more in the company in this round, given how widely the company has expanded from its early roots in software for salespeople into a massive platform providing a huge range of cloud services to help people run their businesses.

For now, it’s been the combination of its unique roots in Asia Pacific, plus its vertical approach of building its tech from the ground up, plus its retail acumen that has impressed investors and may well see Airwallex stay independent and grow for some time to come.

“Airwallex has a clear competitive advantage in the digital payments market,” said David Craver, MD at Lone Pine Capital, in a statement. “Its unique Asia-Pacific roots, coupled with its innovative infrastructure, products and services, speak volumes about the business’ global growth opportunities and its impressive expansion in the competitive payment providers space. We are excited to invest in Airwallex at this dynamic time, and look forward to helping drive the company’s expansion and success worldwide.”

Updated to note that the coffee business was in Australia, not Hong Kong.

Mar
04
2021
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Papaya Global raises $100M more at a $1B+ valuation for tools to hire, pay and manage distributed workforces

Remote working — hiring people further afield and letting people work outside of a central physical office — is looking like it will be here to stay, and today one of the startups building tools for that environment is announcing a big fundraise in response to the opportunity.

Papaya Global, an Israeli startup that provides cloud-based payroll and hiring, onboarding and compliance services across 140 countries for organizations that employ full-time, part-time and contract workers outside of their home country, has picked up $100 million in funding and has confirmed that its valuation is now over $1 billion.

The company targets organizations that not only have global workforces, but are expanding their employee bases quickly. They include fast-growing startups like OneTrust, nCino and Hopin (which today announced a monster $400 million round), as well as major corporates like Toyota, Microsoft, Wix and General Dynamics.

Papaya is not disclosing revenue numbers but said that sales have grown 300% year-over-year for each of the last three years.

Led by Greenoaks Capital Partners, this Series C also includes significant participation from IVP Ventures and Alkeon Capital. Previous backers Insight Venture Partners, Scale Venture Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Dynamic Loop, New Era and Workday Ventures, Access Ventures and Group 11 also chipped in. The new investment brings Papaya’s total funding to $190 million.

Papaya has been on a fundraising tear in the last 18 months. Today’s news comes less than six months after it raised a $40 million Series B. And that round came less than a year after a $45 million Series A.

Why so much, so quickly? Partly because of the demands on the business, but possibly also to capitalize on an opportunity at a time when so many others are also going after it as well.

The opportunity is that companies and other organizations are finding themselves needing tools to address the current state of play: Workforce growth today doesn’t look like it did in 2019, and so incumbent solutions like ADP, or cobbled together solutions covering multiple geographies, either don’t cut it, or are too costly to maintain.

Papaya Global, in contrast, says it has built an AI-based platform that automates a lot of work and removes much of the manual activity that comes out of trying to right-size a lot of legacy payroll products to work in new paradigms.

“The major impact of COVID-19 for us has been changing attitudes,” CEO Eynat Guez, who co-founded the company with Ruben Drong and Ofer Herman, told me in an interview last September. “People usually think that payroll works by itself, but it’s one of the more complex parts of the organization, covering major areas like labor, accounting, tax. Eight months ago, a lot of clients thought, it just happens. But now they realize they didn’t have control of the data, some don’t even have a handle on who is being paid.”

One challenge, however, is that many others are also chasing these customers in hopes of becoming the ADP of distributed and global work.

Last month, a startup called Oyster, also aimed at distributed workforces, raised $20 million. Others in the same area that have raised lots of capital include Turing,  DeelRemoteHibob, Personio, Factorial, Lattice, Turing and Rippling.

And as we have pointed out before, these are just some of the HR startups that have raised money in the last year. There are many, many more.

Investors here are hoping that as we see some consolidation emerge out of this mix, there will be a few leaders and that Papaya will be one of them.

“Papaya Global has built a best in class solution to onboard new employees, automate payroll, and manage a global workforce through a single pane of glass. Both growing and established companies have dramatically changed their working practices in recent years, and Papaya has seen impressive growth as a result. We’re excited to continue supporting them as they seek to simplify an increasingly complex challenge for some of the world’s biggest companies,” said Patrick Backhouse, partner at Greenoaks Capital, in a statement.


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Sep
29
2020
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Papaya Global raises $40M for a payroll and HR platform aimed at global workforces

Workforces are getting more global, and people who work day in, day out for organizations don’t always sit day in, day out in a single office, in a single country, to get a job done. Today, one of the startups building HR to help companies provision services for and manage those global workers better is announcing a funding round to capitalise on a surge in business that it has seen in the last year — spurred in no small part by the global health pandemic, the impact it’s had on travel and the way it has focused the minds of companies to get their cloud services and workforce management in order.

Papaya Global, an Israeli startup that provides cloud-based payroll, as well as hiring, onboarding and compliance services for organizations that employ full-time, part-time, or contract workers outside of their home country, has raised $40 million in a Series B round of funding led by Scale Venture Partners. Workday Ventures — the corporate investment arm of the HR company — Access Industries (via its Israeli vehicle Claltech), and previous investors Insight Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, New Era Ventures, Group 11 and Dynamic Loop also participated

The money comes less than a year after its Series A of $45 million, following the company growing 300% year-over-year annually since 2016. It has now raised $95 million and is not disclosing valuation. But Eynat Guez, the CEO who co-founded the company in that year with Ruben Drong and Ofer Herman, said in an interview that it’s 5x the valuation it had in its round last year.

Its customers include fast-growing startups (precisely the kind of customer that not only has global workforces, but is expanding its employee base quickly) like OneTrust, nCino and Hopin, as well as major corporates like Toyota, Microsoft, Wix and General Dynamics.

Guez said Papaya Global was partly born out of the frustrations she herself had with HR solutions — she’s worked in the field for years. Different countries have different employment regulations, varied banking rules, completely different norms in terms of how people get paid, and so on. While there have been some really modern tools built for local workforces — Rippling, Gusto and Zenefits now going head to head with incumbents like ADP — they weren’t built to address these issues.

Other HR people who have dealt with international workers would understand her pain; those who control the purse strings might have been less aware of the fragmentation. All that changed in the last eight months (and for the foreseeable future), a period when companies have had to reassess everything about how they work to make sure that they can get through the current period without collapsing.

“The major impact of COVID-19 for us has been changing attitudes,” said Guez. “People usually think that payroll works by itself, but it’s one of the more complex parts of the organization, covering major areas like labor, accounting, tax. Eight months ago, a lot of clients thought, it just happens. But now they realize they didn’t have control of the data, some don’t even have a handle on who is being paid.”

As people moved into and out of jobs, and out of offices into working from home, as the pandemic kicked off, some operations fell apart as a result, she said. “Payroll continuity is like IT continuity, and so all of a sudden when COVID started its march, we had prospects calling us saying they didn’t have data on, for example, their Italian employees, and the office they were using wasn’t answering the phone.”

Guez herself is walking the walk on the remote working front. Papaya Global itself has offices around the world, and Guez is normally based in Tel Aviv. But our interview was conducted with her in the Maldives. She said she and her family decided to decamp elsewhere before Israel went into a second lockdown, which was very tough to handle in a small flat with small children. Working anywhere, as we have found out, can work.

The company is not the only one that has identified and is building to help organizations handle global workforces. In fact, just when you think the unemployment, furlough and layoff crunch is affecting an inordinate number of people and the job market is in a slump, a rush of them, along with other HR companies, have all been announcing significant funding rounds this year on the back of surges in business.

Others that have raised money during the pandemic include Deel, which like Papaya Global is also addressing the complexities of running global workforces; Turing, which helps with sourcing and then managing international teams; Factorial with its platform targeting specifically SMBs; Lattice focused on the bigger challenges of people management; and Rippling, the second act from Zenefits’ Parker Conrad.

“Papaya Global’s accelerating growth is a testament to their top-notch executive leadership as well as their ability to streamline international payroll management, a first for many enterprises that have learned to live with highly manual payroll processes,” said Rory O’Driscoll, a partner at Scale Venture Partners, in a statement. “The complexity and cost of managing multi-region workforces cannot be understated. Eynat and her team are uniquely serving their customers’ needs, bringing an advanced SaaS platform into a market long-starved for more effective software solutions.”

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