The Stanford connections behind Latin America’s multi-billion dollar startup renaissance

The houses along the tree-lined blocks of Josina Avenue in Palo Alto, with their big back yards, swimming pools and driveways are about as far removed from the snarls of traffic, sputtering diesel engines, and smoggy air of South America’s major metropolises as one can get.

But it was in one of those houses, about a twelve-minute bicycle ride from Stanford University, that the seed was planted for what has become a renaissance in technology entrepreneurship in Latin America.

Back in 2010, when Adeyemi Ajao, Carlo Dapuzzo, and Juan de Antonio were students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business they could not predict that they would be counted among the vanguard of investors and entrepreneurs transforming Latin America’s startup economy.

At the time, Ajao was negotiating the sale of his first business, the Spanish social networking company, Tuenti, to Telefonica (in what would be a $100 million exit). Carlo Dapuzzo was in Palo Alto taking a break from his job at Monashees, which at that time was a small, early-stage investment fund based in Brazil focused on investing in Latin America. Juan de Antonio had left a job as a consultant at BCG to attend Stanford’s business school on a Fulbright scholarship.

In just two years, Ajao would be a founding investor in de Antonio’s ride-hailing business, Cabify, focused on Latin America and Europe; and Dapuzzo would be seeding the ride-hailing service 99Taxis. Today, Cabify is worth over $1 billion and has focused its business primarily on Latin America while 99 was sold to the Chinese ride-hailing company Didi for $1 billion — making it one of the largest deals in Latin America’s young startup history.

The three men are now at the center of a vast web of startups whose intersection can, in many cases, be traced back to the house on Josina Avenue where Dapuzzo and de Antonio lived and where Ajao spent much of his free time.

“It’s the same dynamics as the PayPal Mafia,” says Ajao. “The new unicorn batches which started in Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil. Although they’re all trans-national, they all know each other and literally they are all friends and all co-investors in each other’s companies and they all have links to Silicon Valley… and… more importantly… to Stanford.”

Carlo Dapuzzo, Adeyemi Ajao, and Juan de Antonio at Stanford University

Stalled Economic Engines

If Ajao’s enthusiasm sounds familiar, that’s because it is. There was another wave of interest in Latin America that started surging nearly a decade ago, but crashed nearly five years into what was supposed to be the time of the region’s explosive growth in the global scene.

Back in 2008, as the U.S. was sliding into recession, global economists cast about for countries whose economic might could potentially provide some antidote to the toxic assets that were poisoning the global financial system in America and Western Europe. It was then that the concept coined by a Goldman Sachs economist back in 2001 (in the aftermath of another financial shock) baked Brazil, Russia, India and China into a BRIC — a group of nations that, as a bloc, could create enough growth to keep the global economy moving upwards.

All of them were growing at a rapid clip, albeit at different speeds and from different starting trajectories. But they were still all humming. Investment — from large financial institutions, private equity and venture capital firms — all began flowing into the four countries.

In Brazil and across Latin America, companies from the U.S. began to cast their eyes South for growth. That’s when Groupon began to make inroads into the region. When Groupon acquired the Chilean company ClanDescuento, it served as a starting gun for activity across multiple geographies.

Two years after that acquisition by Groupon, Redpoint’s Brazilian investment vehicle, Redpoint eVentures was able to close on a $130 million fund for Brazilian and Latin American investments in just under four months. While Brazil held the bulk of the capital, many of the largest startup companies were being launched out of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Globant, Despegar, MercadoLibre, and OLX were all lucrative deals for the investors who made them. Today, they remain solid companies, but they didn’t create the ecosystem that both local investors and entrepreneurs were hoping for. Brazil’s Peixe Urbano was also a rising star at the time, but it too wound up selling, in its case to Chinese internet Baidu. Indeed, the Peixe Urbano funding gave investors like Benchmark’s Matt Cohler their first exposure to the region.

A 2012 default on Argentinian debt derailed the economy and Brazil’s economy began seizing up at around the same time. Then, in 2014, Brazil was hit by both an economic and political collapse that shook the country’s stability and ushered in a two-year-long recession.

Ultimately, the Brazilian component of the BRIC miracle, that would have potentially ushered in a brighter future for the broader region, didn’t materialize.

The next starting gun

Ajao began investing in Latin America as an angel investor during the beginnings of the downturn in Brazil and when Argentina was also seizing up. It’s also when Dapuzzo made the initial bet on 99Taxis — bringing Ajao in as an investor — and Cabify launched, eventually bringing its service to Mexico and seeing huge growth in the Latin American market.

500 Startups expanded to Mexico around the same period, in what turned out to be a prescient move. Because even as the broader economies were slowing, technology adoption — fueled by rising smartphone sales and new internet-enabled mobile services — was speeding up.

Groupon’s push into the region taught a new consumer market about the pleasures of venture-backed e-commerce, but it was ride-hailing that truly paved the way for Latin America’s future success. Many factors played a role, from the rise of smartphones to the stabilization and growth of economies in the region outside of Argentina and Brazil and the return of a generation of founders who gained exposure and experience in Silicon Valley.

Here again, the house on Josina Street and the friends that were made over the course of the two-year grad school program at Stanford would play a critical role.

“99 was the second start and this new generation of founders,” said one investor with a deep knowledge of the region.

A taxi driver uses the 99 taxi app for smartphones in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 11, 2018. (Photo via Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

A herd of unicorns

Ajao also sees 99 as ground zero for the network that has spawned a unicorn stampede in Latin America. It’s a group of companies that covers everything from financial services, mobility and logistics, food delivery and even pet care.

In some ways it’s an extension and culmination of the American on-demand thesis, with allowances for the unique characteristics of the region’s varied economies and cultural experience, investors and entrepreneurs said.

“In my mind 99 had a lot to do with what is happening right now with the current PayPal mafia [of Latin America] because they became the first big new exit on the continent,” Ajao says.

Entrepreneurs from 99 spun out to form Yellow, a dockless scooter and bike-sharing company that was initially backed by Monashees, Grishin Robotics and Base10 Ventures — the venture firm that Ajao co-founded and which closed a $137 million venture fund just nine months ago.

Monashees and Base10 also co-invested in Grin, a Mexico City-based dockless scooter company. Together the two companies managed to raise over $100 million before merging into one company earlier this. That deal ultimately provided a challenger to the automotive-based ride-sharing businesses that were beginning to encroach on the scooter business.

The growth of 99Taxis and the rise of startups in Latin America ultimately convinced David Velez, a former venture investor with Sequoia Capital to return to Brazil and try his hand at entrepreneurship as well. A year behind Ajao, de Antonio and Dapuzzo at Stanford, Velez was also friendly with the group.

Velez worked at Sequoia Capital and saw the opportunity that Latin America presented as an investment environment. After starting Sequoia Capital Latin America he transitioned into an entrepreneurial role and became the co-founder of Nubank, which would be Sequoia’s first Latin America investment. Now a $4 billion financial technology powerhouse, the Nubank deal was yet another proof point that the Latin American market had come of age — and another branch on a tree that has its roots in Stanford’s business school and the Silicon Valley venture community.

The final piece of this intersecting web of investments and relationships is Rappi — the Colombian delivery service business that was also backed by Monazhees and Base10. The first company from Latin America to enter YCombinator and the first investment from the new Silicon Valley power player, Andreessen Horowitz, Rappi epitomizes the new generation of Latin American startups.

“The way we think about this part of the world is as a massive market with 700 million people living on the continent and really dense cities,” says Rappi co-founder and president, Sebastian Mejia. “And it’s a region where the tech stack hasn’t been built, which gives you an opportunity to solve problems and create digital champions that look more similar to China than the U.S.”

Mejia epitomizes what Ajao calls a new breed of startup entrepreneur that doesn’t necessarily look to other markets for inspiration or business models, but solves local problems for a local customer, rather than a global one.

“Being local was more of a competitive advantage than a disadvantage and we can solve problems in a better way than a Silicon Valley company or a Chinese company could,” says Mejia. “What we’re starting to see now is that those changes in perspective allow us to build bigger companies.”

In all, Monashees and Base10 have invested in companies operating in Latin America that have a combined valuation of over $6 billion between them. Through the extended network of Stanford connections and the startups that Velez has brought to the table that number is higher than $10 billion.

A bicycle courier working for Colombian online delivery company “Rappi”, rides his bike in Bogota, on October 11, 2018. (Photo via John Vizcaino/AFP/Getty Images)

The next $10 billion

If the Latin American market was once overlooked by venture investors like Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark or Accel, that’s certainly no longer the case.

Funds are pouring into the region at an unprecedented clip, driven by SoftBank and its interest on the continent following its commitment to launching a new $2 billion fund in the region and its subsequent $1 billion investment in Rappi.

“Latin America is on the cusp of becoming one of the most important economic regions in the world, and we anticipate significant growth in the decades ahead,” said Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SBG, in a statement when SoftBank launched its fund.

“SBG plans to invest in entrepreneurs throughout Latin America and use technology to help address the challenges faced by many emerging economies with the goal of improving the lives of millions of Latin Americans,” he added.

Son is likely thinking about the 375 million internet users in Latin America and the 250 million smartphone users across the region. It’s also worth noting that retail e-commerce has been a huge driver of economic growth despite other economic obstacles. The region’s e-commerce has grown to $54 billion in 2018 up from $29.8 billion in 2015.

Even more critically, there are some key areas where innovation and new services are still sorely needed. Access to transportation isn’t great for the roughly 79% of the 700 million people across South America who live in cities. Then there are 400 million people across Latin America who are either unbanked or underbanked. Healthcare is another area where a lack of investment to date could create potential opportunities for new startups.

More generally, poor infrastructure remains a significant problem that companies like Rappi and another SoftBank investment, Loggi, are looking to make inroads into.

“Latin America was for many years, underinvested,” says de Antonio, whose Cabify business has managed to score a valuation of over $1 billion largely based on the opportunities ahead of it in the Latin American market. “You will see a bit more money to catch up. The market is big… and potentially huge… I’m a big believer that it’s a good moment now to invest.”

For de Antonio, Cabify, Rappi, and other startups are only now hitting their stride. In the future, they stand to enable a host of other opportunities, he believes.

“The entrepreneurial mindset is really ingrained in Latin America… the difference is maybe there wasn’t an ecosystem to help these ideas to scale.. .there are huge fortunes in the region but they typically… they have a lot of their assets invested in the region… but they need to diversify,” said de Antonio. “Until recently there hasn’t been an active funding market for all of these startups.”

For de Antonio and Ajao, one of the critical lessons that they learned from their time at Stanford and being exposed to the broader Silicon Valley ecosystem was the notion of collaboration.

“This is something we learned from San Francisco,” de Antonio said. “The way companies help each other is something that we haven’t seen people do before. And usually when you are a young company this can be the difference between being successful or a failure.

Getsafe, the German insurance app, scores $17M Series A

Getsafe, the German insurance startup targeting millennials, has raised $17 million (€15m) in a Series A funding.

The round is led by Earlybird, with CommerzVentures and other existing investors also participating, while the capital will be used for European expansion. Notably, the company plans to launch in the U.K. by the end of the year.

Founded in May 2015 by Christian Wiens (CEO) and Marius Blaesing (CTO), Getsafe initially launched as a digital insurance broker but has since pivoted to a direct to digital consumer insurance offering of its own (its brokerage business was sold to Verivox).

The startup claims it is the market leader in the digital-first 20 to 35-year-old segment, with 60,000 customers, although competitors such as Wefox’s One may disagree.

Getsafe customers can take out renters insurance and liability insurance. The latter includes bike and drone coverage, with additional products to be added soon.

More broadly, Getsafe says it is “reinventing insurance”. The insurtech startup, based in Heidelberg, says its tech uses AI to help customers identify the insurance protection they might need. “With a few clicks, customers can learn about, buy, and manage insurance on their smartphone,” says the company. Claims can be done entirely digitally, too, via the Getsafe app and chatbot.

As part of the investment, Getsafe plans to grow its team from the current 50 employees to more than 100. The recruitment drive will span customer care, software development and data science. The startup also plans to raise further funds over next twelve months.

AntiToxin sells safetytech to clean up poisoned platforms

The big social networks and video games have failed to prioritize user well-being over their own growth. As a result, society is losing the battle against bullying, predators, hate speech, misinformation and scammers. Typically when a whole class of tech companies have a dire problem they can’t cost-effectively solve themselves, a software-as-a-service emerges to fill the gap in web hosting, payment processing, etc. So along comes AntiToxin Technologies, a new Israeli startup that wants to help web giants fix their abuse troubles with its safety-as-a-service.

It all started on Minecraft. AntiToxin co-founder Ron Porat is cybersecurity expert who’d started popular ad blocker Shine. Yet right under his nose, one of his kids was being mercilessly bullied on the hit children’s game. If even those most internet-savvy parents were being surprised by online abuse, Porat realized the issue was bigger than could be addressed by victims trying to protect themselves. The platforms had to do more, research confirmed.

A recent Ofcom study found almost 80% of children had a potentially harmful online experience in the past year. Indeed, 23% said they’d been cyberbullied, and 28% of 12 to 15-year-olds said they’d received unwelcome friend or follow requests from strangers. A Ditch The Label study found of 12 to 20-year-olds who’d been bullied online, 42% were bullied on Instagram.

Unfortunately, the massive scale of the threat combined with a late start on policing by top apps makes progress tough without tremendous spending. Facebook tripled the headcount of its content moderation and security team, taking a noticeable hit to its profits, yet toxicity persists. Other mainstays like YouTube and Twitter have yet to make concrete commitments to safety spending or staffing, and the result is non-stop scandals of child exploitation and targeted harassment. Smaller companies like Snap or Fortnite-maker Epic Games may not have the money to develop sufficient safeguards in-house.

“The tech giants have proven time and time again we can’t rely on them. They’ve abdicated their responsibility. Parents need to realize this problem won’t be solved by these companies” says AntiToxin CEO Zohar Levkovitz, who previously sold his mobile ad company Amobee to Singtel for $321 million. “You need new players, new thinking, new technology. A company where ‘Safety’ is the product, not an after-thought. And that’s where we come-in.” The startup recently raised a multimillion-dollar seed round from Mangrove Capital Partners and is allegedly prepping for a double-digit millions Series A.

AntiToxin’s technology plugs into the backends of apps with social communities that either broadcast or message with each other and are thereby exposed to abuse. AntiToxin’s systems privately and securely crunch all the available signals regarding user behavior and policy violation reports, from text to videos to blocking. It then can flag a wide range of toxic actions and let the client decide whether to delete the activity, suspend the user responsible or how else to proceed based on their terms and local laws.

Through the use of artificial intelligence, including natural language processing, machine learning and computer vision, AntiToxin can identify the intent of behavior to determine if it’s malicious. For example, the company tells me it can distinguish between a married couple consensually exchanging nude photos on a messaging app versus an adult sending inappropriate imagery to a child. It also can determine if two teens are swearing at each other playfully as they compete in a video game or if one is verbally harassing the other. The company says that beats using static dictionary blacklists of forbidden words.

AntiToxin is under NDA, so it can’t reveal its client list, but claims recent media attention and looming regulation regarding online abuse has ramped up inbound interest. Eventually the company hopes to build better predictive software to identify users who’ve shown signs of increasingly worrisome behavior so their activity can be more closely moderated before they lash out. And it’s trying to build a “safety graph” that will help it identify bad actors across services so they can be broadly deplatformed similar to the way Facebook uses data on Instagram abuse to police connected WhatsApp accounts.

“We’re approaching this very human problem like a cybersecurity company, that is, everything is a Zero-Day for us” says Levkowitz, discussing how AntiToxin indexes new patterns of abuse it can then search for across its clients. “We’ve got intelligence unit alums, PhDs and data scientists creating anti-toxicity detection algorithms that the world is yearning for.” AntiToxin is already having an impact. TechCrunch commissioned it to investigate a tip about child sexual imagery on Microsoft’s Bing search engine. We discovered Bing was actually recommending child abuse image results to people who’d conducted innocent searches, leading Bing to make changes to clean up its act.

AntiToxin identified publicly listed WhatsApp Groups where child sexual abuse imagery was exchanged

One major threat to AntiToxin’s business is what’s often seen as boosting online safety: end-to-end encryption. AntiToxin claims that when companies like Facebook expand encryption, they’re purposefully hiding problematic content from themselves so they don’t have to police it.

Facebook claims it still can use metadata about connections on its already encrypted WhatApp network to suspend those who violate its policy. But AntiToxin provided research to TechCrunch for an investigation that found child sexual abuse imagery sharing groups were openly accessible and discoverable on WhatsApp — in part because encryption made them hard to hunt down for WhatsApp’s automated systems.

AntiToxin believes abuse would proliferate if encryption becomes a wider trend, and it claims the harm that it  causes outweighs fears about companies or governments surveiling unencrypted transmissions. It’s a tough call. Political dissidents, whistleblowers and perhaps the whole concept of civil liberty rely on encryption. But parents may see sex offenders and bullies as a more dire concern that’s reinforced by platforms having no idea what people are saying inside chat threads.

What seems clear is that the status quo has got to go. Shaming, exclusion, sexism, grooming, impersonation and threats of violence have started to feel commonplace. A culture of cruelty breeds more cruelty. Tech’s success stories are being marred by horror stories from their users. Paying to pick up new weapons in the fight against toxicity seems like a reasonable investment to demand.

Diving deep into Africa’s blossoming tech scene

Jumia may be the first startup you’ve heard of from Africa. But the e-commerce venture that recently listed on the NYSE is definitely not the first or last word in African tech.

The continent has an expansive digital innovation scene, the components of which are intersecting rapidly across Africa’s 54 countries and 1.2 billion people.

When measured by monetary values, Africa’s tech ecosystem is tiny by Shenzen or Silicon Valley standards.

But when you look at volumes and year over year expansion in VC, startup formation, and tech hubs, it’s one of the fastest growing tech markets in the world. In 2017, the continent also saw the largest global increase in internet users—20 percent.

If you’re a VC or founder in London, Bangalore, or San Francisco, you’ll likely interact with some part of Africa’s tech landscape for the first time—or more—in the near future.

That’s why TechCrunch put together this Extra-Crunch deep-dive on Africa’s technology sector.

Tech Hubs

A foundation for African tech is the continent’s 442 active hubs, accelerators, and incubators (as tallied by GSMA). These spaces have become focal points for startup formation, digital skills building, events, and IT activity on the continent.

Prominent tech hubs in Africa include CcHub in Nigeria, Pan-African incubator MEST, and Kenya’s iHub, with over 200 resident members. More of these organizations are receiving funds from DFIs, such as the World Bank, and aid agencies, including France’s $76 million African tech fund.

Blue-chip companies such as Google and Microsoft are also providing money and support. In 2018 Facebook opened its own Hub_NG in Lagos with partner CcHub, to foster startups using AI and machine learning.

Free stock trading app Robinhood rockets to a $5.6B valuation with new funding round

Robinhood started off as a dead-simple stock trading application that had no transaction fees — but since it’s continued to grow, and especially as it starts to dive into cryptocurrency, investors are getting pretty excited about its prospects and are pouring a ton of new funding into it.

And it’s that tantalizing prospect of creating a next generation way of trading assets and cryptocurrency is now sending Robinhood to a $5.6 billion valuation in a new financing round that the company is announcing today. Robinhood says it’s closed a $363 million Series D financing round, with DST Global led this new round and Iconiq, Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia and Capital G participated. Robinhood had a $1.3 billion valuation last year when it had around 2 million users, and Robinhood says it now has 4 million users and has passed $150 billion in transaction volume.

“It’s the only place right now where you can trade crypto, stocks, and options all in one place,” CEO Vlad Tenev said. “For us to construct an experience that feels seamless and natural for customers, that for example want to sell an equity and use the proceeds to buy crypto, seamlessly, that’s been challenging not just from a product and design standpoint, but also infrastructure standpoint. There’s complexity under the hood, and our goal is to make it as seamless as possible in the process and make that complexity go away.”

Those 4 million users — and that valuation — indicates that Robinhood has clearly exposed a lot of demand for an easier way to users to dip their toes into financial services without having to work with firms that have trading fees like Scotttrade or E*Trade. And while there are a lot of services that offer robo-advisory services like Betterment and Wealthront, which make it easier to start investing small amounts of money, Robinhood offers users the opportunity to do these things at a more granular level.

And, of course, there’s the cryptocurrency aspect that is clearly spurring a lot of interest in the company. At the time, 1 million users waitlisted for access in just the five days after Robinhood Crypto was announced. Robinhood has premium services like Robinhood Gold, where the company can find additional ways to generate revenue that offset the requirements of running a system that allows users to trade stocks for free. Robinhood has raised $539 million to date, as diving into financial services can be an expensive prospect, as well as getting enough users on board to the point that it can scale to a level that the business starts to increasingly make sense.

Robinhood’s crypto trading service came out in February and by today, the company says it’s available in 11 states. The company also rolled out a web version and stock option trading, trying to become a more robust financial services company that’s still tuned to a younger generation that wants an easier way to get into investing without needing a big balance to invest. Most of Robinhood’s users, too, aren’t so-called “day traders” and are instead holding stocks for a while after they buy them.

“If you look at the data and the statistics, people that are active day traders are actually a very small percentage of our space,” Tenev said. “People that are actually transacting on that cadence are the minority of our customers. Most of our customers engage in more of these buy and hold accumulation strategies. We really see a lot of unique things because we don’t charge trading commissions. There are customers that deposit money regularly twice or once a month and then buy stocks as soon as those deposits come in. We don’t see a lot of customers that are doing rapid buying and selling.”

Still, as it tries to further expand — especially into products like crypto and new regions — it’s going to increasingly find itself trying to jump hurdles that financial services companies find when going abroad. And there’s always a chance that the trading platforms will try to become a little more competitive (and companies like Square are even getting into Bitcoin trading). That’s going to require a robust amount of funding to try to outmaneuver well-capitalized companies that might already have those relationships in place to more easily expand.

“The political climate is uncertain, it sort of affects everyone, it doesn’t affect us uniquely,” Tenev said. “We’re a crypto business now. Not a lot of people have a ton of clarity on what that’s gonna look like in the future, it’s a new space that’s evolving really rapidly. I think that we’re confident we can adapt and evolve, and we’re operating the business in a responsible way. There’s only so much you can do, but I feel like we’ve done a lot to address any concerns.”

Whoops: SoftBank CEO reveals Walmart has acquired Flipkart

Here’s one way to make sure Amazon doesn’t get control of Flipkart in India by outbidding you for a majority stake: buy it outright. Today during SoftBank’s earnings presentation, it looks like CEO Masayoshi Son slipped in a little scoop: he announced that Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, on Tuesday night reached a deal to buy Flipkart, the leading e-commerce retailer in India, putting an end to months (and actually years) of speculation. SoftBank is currently one of Flipkart’s biggest investors.

Walmart is purchasing Flipkart,” Son said in the presentation (he spoke in Japanese with a real-time translation provided by a SoftBank representative). “Last night there was the official announcement.”

Very soon after, there was a quick and slightly messy recovery: a second gentleman approached Son during the Q&A section of his presentation and slipped him a note, after which point the CEO read it, and then said an announcement had not yet been confirmed.

“With regards to Flipkart, it’s not officially announced yet,” he said with a weak smile. “Maybe I should not have mentioned that … Well, I can’t take it out!”

“Not yet announced” is also the line that SoftBank spokespeople are also taking, and we have yet to hear back from Flipkart and Walmart with their comments. Yet it could come very soon, though: we’ve been told by a source that the official news will be released at 5pm India time.

If Masa’s first statement was accurate, Walmart’s acquisition would end a long-running saga.  For months now, there have been rumors that the world’s largest retailer was gearing up to acquire a sizeable stake in the Indian company to get its foot into India — with reports putting the size of the stake at anywhere between 51 percent and around 70 percent, and at a value of between $15 billion and $20 billion, with additional investors potentially including Google.

But in the last week, alternative reports started to emerge that Amazon would try to gazump Walmart and take a pole position as a shareholder.

Walmart and Amazon have been hotly competing against each other in other markets, specifically the US — where Amazon dominates in online sales but Walmart continues to lead the charge in brick-and-mortar, despite many aggressive moves from Amazon, such as its acquisition of Whole Foods.

Meanwhile, India — Asia’s second-largest economy after China and one of the world’s fastest-growing markets — has become a key country for Amazon over the last several years, with billions already ploughed into its operations there and billions more earmarked for future investment. So when it appeared that Walmart was also going to try to muscle in by taking a stake in the country’s largest homegrown online retailer, Flipkart became the latest battleground between the two U.S. giants.

Walmart clearly was not ready to give up, though. As we pointed out last week, Walmart divesting its stake in Asda in the UK to Sainsbury’s would pave the way for the company to make a bigger move in India, and that seems to be what has happened here.

It’s still not clear if Walmart will buy out all investors with this deal, or whether it will take just a controlling share, and continue to involve other third parties.

Flipkart has raised around $7.3 billion in funding since being founded in 2007, with other investors including Microsoft, eBay, Naspers, Tencent, Tiger Global, Accel and many more, and it has been a consolidator of sorts itself, buying eBay India last year.

But although it is the country’s biggest online retailer, it has had a rocky time in terms of its valuation, which at one point was over $15 billion but dipped to $11.6 billion in its last round in 2017, in part because of fierce competition from Amazon, Snapdeal and more.

Interestingly, we should point out that this is not the first time that Son has “announced” an India-based tech deal ahead of time.

Two years ago during another quarterly presentation, the SoftBank boss let slip that OYO — the hotel aggregator service that counts SoftBank as an investor — had acquired rival Zo Rooms, a deal that had been much-speculated in India at the time.

Despite his reveal, the OYO-Zo deal actually never happened. In fact, the two were at loggerheads and even went to court as the relationship soured following the breakdown of the proposed deal.

The scale of the Flipkart-Walmart tie-up is many orders of magnitude higher, with Flipkart’s India’s highest-valued startup and a poster child for the tech industry. Let’s hope Mr. Son got it right this time.

Google to acquire cloud migration startup Velostrata

Google announced today it was going to acquire Israeli cloud migration startup, Velostrata. The companies did not share the purchase price.

Velostrata helps companies migrate from on-premises datacenters to the cloud, a common requirement today as companies try to shift more workloads to the cloud. It’s not always a simple matter though to transfer those legacy applications, and that’s where Velostrata could help Google Cloud customers.

As I wrote in 2014 about their debut, the startup figured out a way to decouple storage and compute and that had wide usage and appeal. “The company has a sophisticated hybrid cloud solution that decouples storage from compute resources, leaving the storage in place on-premises while running a virtual machine in the cloud,” I wrote at the time.

But more than that, in a hybrid world where customer applications and data can live in the public cloud or on prem (or a combination), Velostrata gives them control to move and adapt the workloads as needed and prepare it for delivery on cloud virtual machines.

“This means [customers] can easily and quickly migrate virtual machine-based workloads like large databases, enterprise applications, DevOps, and large batch processing to and from the cloud,” Eyal Manor VP of engineering at Google Cloud wrote in the blog post announcing the acquisition.

This of course takes Velostrata from being a general purpose cloud migration tool to one tuned specifically for Google Cloud in the future, but one that gives Google a valuable tool in its battle to gain cloud marketshare.

In the past, Google Cloud head Diane Greene has talked about the business opportunities they have seen in simply “lifting and shifting” data loads to the cloud. This acquisition gives them a key service to help customers who want to do that with the Google Cloud.

Velostrata was founded in 2014. It has raised over $31 million from investors including Intel Capital and Norwest Venture partners.

After buying Flipkart, Walmart seeks allies to join its fight against Amazon in India

The rumors are true: Walmart has bought a controlling stake in India’s Flipkart. This isn’t a straight-up acquisition, however, because, rather than going it alone, the U.S. retailer is enlisting strategic allies as it takes its fight to Amazon in a new region.

Walmart has an existing offline retail business in India, but enter the online space puts it up against Amazon, which has made massive strides since entering India in 2012.

That perhaps calls for something special, which is one reason why Walmart is buying just 77 percent of Flipkart and leaving space for others with expertise to come join.

Walmart confirmed that “some” existing investors will retain their stakes, including Tencent the $500 billion Chinese giant — and Tiger Global, both of which have board sets, and Microsoft, which was part of a $1.4 billion investment last year. Added to that, Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal has committed to stay retain his shares, although there’s no word on fellow co-founder Sachin Bansal who had been tipped to move on.

Beyond those three strategic Flipkart backers, Walmart said it is in ongoing discussions with “with additional potential investors who may join the round.”

Google is one who has been linked with a deal but you can imagine that Walmart — very much a physical retail specialist — will be looking to tap the world of tech and Asian partners to help gain an advantage over Amazon, which is broadly thought to have closed the gap on Flipkart in recent years.

Walmart is indicating that the new backers will buy a part of its equity if they invest, but it said it will “retain clear majority ownership” regardless of who joins.

“One of the things that was important to us here was having partners alongside us as well. So having Tencent, Microsoft and Tiger Global who are already investors in this business is really powerful in terms of the model that we’re creating,” Judith McKenna, Walmart COO, said on a call with investors following today’s announcement.

“[Flipkart] will be run through an independent board who will have some Walmart representation. We think that structure will best keep the entrepreneurial side of this business and guide it strategically, too,” McKenna added.

Walmart declined to give a timeline on when it might have news about the prospective investors.

Despite that, a number of investors have exited entirely with impressive returns, including SoftBank — which sunk a then-Indian record investment into Flipkart via its Vision Fund last year — Naspers and eBay.

In the more immediate future, Walmart is putting $2 billion of fresh capital into the business which Flipkart will be able to spend on growth and existing strategies.

Interestingly, too, Walmart is open to allowing Flipkart to IPO as a listed subsidiary in the future. That would help maintain incentives for employees and fulfill the ambition of management, McKenna said.

Online mortgage broker Trussle raises £13.6M Series B

Trussle, the U.K. online mortgage broker that competes most directly with Atomico-backed Habito, has closed £13.6 million in Series B funding.

Notably, the round is led by Goldman Sachs Principal Strategic Investments — a division of Goldman Sachs — and Propel Venture Partners, a fund backed by European banking giant BBVA.

In addition, a number of other investors also participated including Finch Capital, which led Trussle’s Series A fund raise, and Seedcamp, which has backed the fintech startup from the get-go.

Launched in 2016, Trussle moves the entire mortgage process online, bringing with it much-needed transparency. One aspect to this — powered by the data it amassing and machine learning — is making it infinitely easier to ‘switch’ mortgage when a better deal or lower interest rate becomes available. The same technology-driven approach is used for those looking to find and apply for a new or first time mortgage.

In a brief call this morning, Trussle co-founder and CEO Ishaan Malhi told me that the new capital will be used to further scale up the company, noting that the Trussle team has grown from 14 to 70 people since its Series A in February 2017. A significant portion of these are in product development as the fintech startup moves from what Malhi describes as a transactional proposition — where customers use Trussle at the point of taking out a mortgage — to a “lifetime proposition” that supports customers when they first start thinking about owning their own home and then throughout their financed home ownership.

As an example of this, he pointed me towards Trussle’s mortgage monitoring service, which launched last year. It constantly monitors the market and alerts you when money can be saved by switching to another deal.

However, the longer term vision — and presumably part of what attracted investors — is to return more value based on the data Trussle captures. This could include telling you when it may be advantageous to overpay and giving you an easy to understand dashboard that clearly shows where you are at in the repayment process.

More broadly, Trussle wants to play a major role and making home ownership a reality for many for whom is it increasingly prohibitive (think: Generation Rent). To do this, he doesn’t rule out partnerships with other fintech startups aligned to that same mission.

Adds Malhi in a statement: “The backing from two prolific and globally renowned fintech investors recognises the brilliant progress we’ve made, but also the scale of our ambition. The funding will enable us to invest significantly in building our brand and our product, but fundamentally will accelerate us towards our vision of digitising the end-to-end journey to make home ownership more affordable and accessible to all”.

Tame wants to bring order to conference and event planning chaos

Tame, a self-proclaimed “design-driven” tech startup from Copenhagen in Denmark, is on a mission to “solve the chaos of event planning”. The company’s founders, who claim to have previously organised more than thirty large conferences and events, think they have spotted a gap in the market for an all-in-one event planning tool designed specifically to be used by teams.

Like a Swiss Army Knife for event production, the SaaS spans an array of organisational features, such as event program building, an easy way to store the contact details and current status of speakers, and a place to manage suppliers, sponsors and exhibitors. In addition, Tame supports team collaboration in the form of shared file storage, notes, tasks, and messaging.

“Tame is built as a collaborative event planning tool, enabling your entire organisation to plan and streamline all your events from start to finish,” says Tame co-founder Jasenko Hadzic. “With Tame you can stay on top of every event with a complete 360 real-time overview and collaborate with your team and external partners.

Furthermore, Tame includes its own ticketing features that allows event managers to quickly publish programs, speakers, and sponsors “on a beautifully constructed ticketing page, that can be customised to fit every organisation”. The software plays nicely with the wider event ecosystem, too, with an API that enables Tame to integrate with other event technologies currently on the market, thus letting the startup focus solely on “solving the planning of the event,” says Hadzic.

“Tame’s solution replaces tasks currently done in spreadsheets and is the first of its kind customisable enough to consolidate all of your internal event planning in one place and empower your entire team with real-time collaboration,” he adds.

Last month saw the company launch more publicly, opening up the SaaS to self sign-up so that event teams can hit the road running. “As events are stressful, we’ve focused a lot of on building a simple UI that would allow event teams all over the world to get going easily and onboard themselves. Event teams have to get going smoothly and they can’t afford to make mistakes. We know that, so we’ve allowed them to get going very fast,” says Hadzic.

Tame is operating a freemium model: it costs nothing to use for free events but there’s a fixed fee of €1 per paid ticket, which the event organiser can either absorb or transfer to the attendee. “We are all in on transparency, so therefore we don’t offer a percentage fee of the ticket price like many other ticketing solutions out there. In the future, we will offer a premium version of our platform for a fixed monthly subscription fee and this will be our primary business model”.

Meanwhile, the company is also disclosing a seed round of $550,000 from a number of well-known Nordic angel investors with a proven track record in SaaS and product design. They include Tommy Andersen (co-founder and Managing Partner of ByFounders), Hampus Jakobsson (Venture Partner at BlueYard Capital and co-founder of TAT, which sold to Blackberry for $150m), Jacob Wandt (founder of e-conomic, which sold to HG Capital in 2013 for $100m+), Anders Pollas (co-founder and ex-CPO of Podio, the project management tool sold to Citrix for €50 million), and Gregers Kronborg (ex-General Partner of Northzone).