My Funding Picks For The Last Week (W24)

Every Monday, I sit with my team to review the funding activity of the previous week. From that list, I pick out three companies that I would have loved to invest in or find founders that are doing similar things. Click here to know about my rationale behind this weekly exercise.

 

As most of India reopened, so did the funding lords! There was a marked increase in the number of startups that raised capital with 19 startups raising $92 million. Out of the 19 deals, 13 were in the early-stage rounds, which made the cut for my weekly analysis.

After sifting through the news (aggregated from Tracxn, Inc42, and YourStory), I picked out these three as my favorite funding news from last week!

 

Name: Cube Wealth

Amount Raised: $500k from Beenext and Asuka Holding

What does Cube Wealth do?

Edited from Traxcn: Cube Wealth is an automated investment management app which, offers personalized recommendations from financial advisors. Users get provided with an option of goal-oriented financial management. Users can set their financial goals, and Cube Wealth saves for the same via EMIs. It invests the money in diversified asset classes, including liquid, MFs, equities, P2P lending, and gold. The app is available for iOS and Android platforms.

Why do I like Cube Wealth?

The Indian wealth & investment management space is broken. A user must struggle through a multitude of apps to gain a full understanding of their exact financial positions. The decentralized information works against the middle class as they cannot seek better deals for their investments. Besides, the power of wealth aggregation that the larger family offices platforms utilize to get access to closet deals or better negotiation terms aren’t available to a middle-class family. Platforms like Cube seek to address this imbalance by using technology & scale to provide premium services at an affordable cost. With 500 million people set to enter the Indian middle Cube has a bright future ahead of them!

 

Name: Credgenics

Amount RaisedUndisclosed from Titan Capital

What does Credgenics do?

Edited from Traxcn: Credgenics offers cloud-based debt recovery solutions to banks and lenders. Its features include collection strategy, analytics for profiling & collection, automated communication for customer engagement, and more. It provides solutions for alternative dispute resolution, insolvency & bankruptcy, fintech laws, and more.

Why do I like Credgenics?

Collections are an art, and while it is easy to lend money, not every fintech company can build a strong collections team. Therefore I am excited that there are startups like Credgenics that we can get our fintech companies to outsource their collections operations too. And it isn’t a surprise that bad debts make excellent business sense!

 

Name: IVF Access

Amount Raised: $5M from Vertex Ventures SEA & India

What does IVF Access do?

Edited from YourStory: IVF Access is a Bengaluru-based healthcare startup focused on providing In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatments in India. Led by an experienced management team, IVF Access is setting up a chain of IVF centers in India, providing Assisted Reproductive treatments such as IVF and IUI. They offer nationwide access to IVF treatments with an innovative technology platform and state-of-the-art labs.

Why do I like IVF Access?

Babies are a multi-billion business opportunity. Therefore, it is not a surprise that the business of making babies is massive. Due to lifestyle-related issues & an increase in the age at which couples have babies, there is a marked increase in IVF clinics. While the market IVF market size is small, it’s going to grow to $1.50 billion by 2026.

IVF Access is an early player in providing a single brand for IVF clinics and could capitalize on a deeply fragmented space!

My Favourite Funding News from Last Week (w20)

There is a slow recovery in the funding of early-stage startups. We are still a long way away from the heydays of 2018-19, but the growing pace of activity in angel networks & early-stage funds are promising signs.

After shortlisting the early-stage deals for week 20 from Traxcn, Inc42, and YourStory, we picked out the following as the best funding picks for the last week:

 

Name: Vernacular.ai

Amount Raised: USD 5.1 mn led by Exfinity Ventures and Kalaari Capital

What does Vernacular.ai do?

Edited from Traxcn: Vernacular.ai is an AI platform to manage customer engagement and call center automation solutions. It provides multi-lingual chatbots for automating customer service operations of enterprises using natural language processing and deep learning. Natural language processing helps the bots to extract meaning, context, and entities of incoming messages, thereby enabling companies to interact and engage in any language with customers.

Deep learning helps in pre-training the bot with domain corpus and augmenting with enterprise-specific data to achieve maximum accuracy for the same. The bots developed using the platform can be deployed to multiple omnichannel platforms, including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Website, Mobile, among others. Some of the supported languages include Hindi, Gujarati, English, to name a few. Clients include Vistaar, Shriram General Insurance, Exide Life Insurance, and Barbeque Nation.

Why do I like Vernacular.ai?

Voice AI has enormous applications in a world where customer service standards aren’t keeping up with the expectations of customers. Customers want to get personalized treatment and in a language that they are comfortable conversing in. As an early investor in vPhrase, I have seen the vast revenue potential of applying artificial intelligence for customer communication.

 

Name: Mintoak

Amount Raised: USD 2 mn led by Pravega Ventures

What does Mintoak do?

Edited from Traxcn: Mintoak offers a POS solution called DOV that enables merchants to accept digital payments. The solution involves a POS hardware device along with software solutions. Merchants can accept various types of card payments, such as magstripe, EMV, NFC, and secure PIN. It also enables the acceptance of UPI payments. Merchants can also accept payments without internet connectivity through their patent-pending technology that allows a POS to the transaction to be completed using the voice channel, thereby improving transaction completion rates. It also offers a consolidated view of all transactions handled by the device.

Why do I like Mintoak?

Except-Jio, most mobile operators operate on seriously inadequate infrastructure to handle the bandwidth demands of India fintech companies in urban centers. I shudder to imagine how vendors in Bharat, where the network infrastructure is weaker, would cope up. Mintoak attempts to use a data-light technology to process transactions, thereby decreasing costs and improving efficiency – an actual Bharat-focussed tech play.

 

Name: MetaMorphoSys

Amount Raised: Undisclosed amount led by Good Capital

What does MetaMorphoSys do?

Edited from Traxcn: MetaMorphoSys Technologies provides a software suite for the insurance industry. It offers solutions for product development, claims management, risk management, and more. It also features software for insurance quoting, sales & marketing, underwriting, and more.

Why do I like MetaMorphoSys?

Insure-tech will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the post-COVID environment. A CRM focussed on increasing the sales & marketing ability of insurance agents will be a need-to-have utility. Hitting a ₹50 lakh monthly SaaS revenue will be the first port-of-validation for MetaMorphoSys!

My funding picks of last week (w18)

Fundraising activity continues to slow down; therefore, my team and I had a tough time shortlisting our favorite picks with just a handful of deals to choose from. After shortlisting all early-stage deals activity for week 18 from Traxcn, Inc42, and YourStory, we jointly picked out the following as the best funding picks for the last week:

 

Name: QuillBot

Amount Raised: $4 Mn in a round led by GSV Ventures and Sierra Ventures

What does QuillBot do?

Edited from Traxcn: Millions trust QuillBot’s full-sentence thesaurus to get creative suggestions, rewrite content, and get over writer’s block. QuillBot uses state-of-the-art AI to rewrite any sentence or article you give it.

Why do I like QuillBot?

My team and I are Grammarly power users processing tens of thousands of words for our investment notes, meeting minutes, emails, blogs, private chats, and more. I believe that there is space for a Grammarly competitor, especially one that understands the Indianized English – also, can Quillbot (or Grammarly) build a plugin for PowerPoint, please!

 

Name: YAP

Amount Raised: $4.5 Mn led by BEENEXT

What does YAP do?

Edited from Traxcn: YAP offers a white label program management platform. They also issue a Yap Tatkal wallet, which allows their clients to provide their customers physical or virtual prepaid cards linked to their products. They also offer a QR payment solution in the mobile wallet.

Why do I like YAP?

The lockdown caught the banks with their pants down due to unpreparedness to go digital. The post-lockdown scenario is bleak for physical banking, and banks must prepare themselves to fully service their customers from the palm of their hands. YAP is building APIs to bridge that gap hence one to look out for.

 

Name: Mindhouse

Amount Raised: ~$680K from BTB Ventures, GGV Capital, Aartieca Family Trust, and Angels

What does Mindhouse do?

Edited from Traxcn: Standalone mental fitness and wellness center brand

Why do I like Mindhouse?

The COVID19 virus reserves it’s worst for those with weakened immune systems. Therefore I expect that fitness (physical or mental) will be on the priority list of most in the post-virus era. Mindhouse attempts to enter the space that mind.fit is operating in. Will it succeed?

Is the Karvy scam the knockout punch to the fintech boom?

Waking up to the unearthing of a 2,000 crore scam at Karvy Stock Broking was precisely the sort of news fintech entrepreneurs and investors did not need. Ironically, this news would flash within a few hours of Andreessen Horowitz’s Anish Acharya and Seema Amble publishing a brilliant discussion on Does Zero Fee Trading Pay Off. Seema and Anish share their views on the impact that a start-up like Robinhood brought to an age-old business-like Chares Schwab and whether zero-fee trading can make money, or will it eventually lead to the demise of the incumbent.
To give you some context:
On October 1st, Charles Schwab announced that they would no longer charge any trading fees or commissions to their customers. On the day of the announcement, their stock fell 15% as the news spooked investors as to how the move would affect profitability. However, the investors had their fears allayed as a mid-November article said that the brokerage saw a surge in new account openings. The news led to a stunning rebound in the stock as it surged almost 50% from the bottom!
The incumbent’s response to a disruptor was to copy their strategy and transform their own business! It led to a win-win situation for them as Schwab earned new business, increased assets under management, revenues, and their investors have become more prosperous. The incumbent’s move to recognize that way of doing business had changed speaks volumes to the sort of culture that must exist at the upper echelons of Schwab.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the business houses in India. Their shady business tactics, lack of ethics, and underhand dealings have cast a shadow on their industries and as a result of that, on the newcomers.

It is a known fact that the IL&FS fiasco cast doubt on the entire NBFC space and led to an exodus of top-tier professionals. The pressure intensified as a host of top-tier NBFCs defaulted on their obligations leading to an almost blanket freeze in lending or investing to companies in this sector – including start-ups, which were the hardest hit.
Now, this Karvy fiasco will cast doubts in the minds of customers of start-ups like Groww, PayTM Money, and many others that are attempting to disrupt the investment space. I estimate that we are a few months away from the same freeze in funding investing tech that was witnessed in lending tech this year.  All I can tell fintech founders is that they must conserve resources. A cold hard winter is setting in on their space.

Only the fittest will survive, but they must endure.

Is Hong Kong's Octopus Card a Model for Mumbai?

I am in Hong Kong attending the Rise 2018 summit.  This is the first time I walked out of the Hong Kong airport and my expectations of this city were based merely on what I had heard about Hong Kong from the people who live here. Little did I know that I was in a for a surprise.
The first thing that I noted about Hong Kong is the lack of digital penetration when it comes to modes of payment i.e. digital wallets, debit cards and credit cards are useless here as Hong Kong thrives on cash as a medium of exchange. My first experience with the lack of digital options started when I tried to get into a cab from the airport to go to my hotel but was denied service as I did not have any Hong Kong dollars on me. I had to go back to the ATM inside the airport so that I could pay the cab service.
Another incident took place when I was trying to buy some groceries from a store at the MTR station and the store didn’t accept any of my cards.  The experience at the bakery a few doors down wasn’t any different. It was a surreal experience considering how deep the digital payment players have penetrated the Chinese and Indian lifestyles and since Hong Kong is supposed to be the gateway to investing in or out of China I just expected digital payments to be universally accepted here. In fact, this peculiarity stumps even the local expats, especially those that often visit China and I think it is a phenomenon worth further investigation.
While I spot an opportunity for a smart founding team to penetrate the Hong Kong payments market, they could face fierce competition from a local closed loop card called the Octopus card. This closed loop card is just like London’s Oyster card or Delhi Metro Smart Card in that,  it allows the user to deposit money to utilise the public transportation infrastructure. However, the interesting thing about the Octopus card is that it is an acceptable mode of payment at most pay points that did not accept digital payment mediums. Take for example this morning, I ordered an amazing breakfast smoothie at the local breakfast place, the cashier would not take my credit card but they had a reader to accept the Octopus card. I found the experience weird and brilliant at the same time.
It made me think of creating a similar closed loop payment ecosystem in an Indian metropolis like Mumbai or Delhi. A payment card could be used to access the public transport infrastructure, pay at stores, maybe even pay tolls etc. The card (like the Octopus card) should be partly owned by the local government so that there is a strong trust with the consumer as well as the merchants accepting the card. To ensure a seamless experience, the card will require an able tech team, an ambitious entrepreneurial team and a strong network infrastructure.
However, the transaction data, the fees from merchants and interest from the balances on the cards could create solid revenue streams. Introduce the ability for banks, P2P lenders and NBFCs to provide the consumer & the merchant credit based on the transactional data and it is a serious business!
57/2018

Venture Idea: A Micro-Investing Layaway Platform

Today my online behaviour is tracked constantly to create a virtual persona. That persona is constantly being bombarded with offers to spend or invest my money whether it be on ecommerce, travel, insurance or even financial products. In this world of confusion is there someone that can bring in simplicity for me to achieve my goals?
What is the use case?
A set of smart founders could create a service that:

  1. Allows me to tell them what I would like to purchase and set these products as my goals
  2. Allows me to set deadlines to achieve these goals
  3. Creates an investment plan (based on my risk-taking ability).
  4. Chooses a date to automatically transfer money from my checking account into my goal based account
  5. Constantly tracks my spending to keep me on track to achieve these goals
  6. Provides a daily/weekly/monthly report tracking my progress in relation to the goals
  7. Let’s me know if there is any offer on a product that is part of my goal basket

What is the business model?
Online retailers utilise re-targeting, discounting offers, and financing offers to convert those on the fence of making a purchase. However, I haven’t come across any players that are utilizing the age-old selling technique known as the layaway plan. A layaway plan allows a buyer to choose what they want, put down a small deposit to place the item on hold and finally choose an interest free payment plan to pay off the balance for that item. Once the balance in paid off, the item is taken out of layaway and the sales is rung up.
On the flip side, there are numerous wealth management apps that will help me plan for retirement but none that will allow me to plan for purchasing specific products by a deadline while accounting for my recurring expenses. In a world of increasing demands and availability there arises a need to strategically save.
A service that allows me to choose an item from Amazon, or vacation from MakeMyTrip or that love couch that I always wanted from PepperFry and sets up an investment plan for me to achieve that goal by a certain date solves a problem for both the seller & the buyer.
What is the revenue model?

  1. Fees from mutual funds for bringing in investments
  2. Affiliate commissions from retailers where the goal proceeds are spent

What is the total addressable market?
As per the latest data available from the RBI for the month of September 2017

In millions except transaction size Debit (YOY growth) Credit (YOY growth)
Number of Cards 819.76 (11%) 33.34 (22%)
Number of Transactions: POS 265.30 (89%) 112.63 (27%)
Transacted Value: POS 366,292 (67%) 374,654 (25%)
Transaction Size Rs. 1380 (-12%) Rs. 3326 (-1%)

 
As the data suggests Indians are getting comfortable using cards to settle bills, with debit cards continuing to dominate digital spending in India. In addition, mutual funds AUM’s grew 31% to 21 trillion rupees in October 2017, suggesting that more Indians were adopting mutual funds to save & invest. Both trends strongly indicate a shift in how Indians are spending & investing their money.
Utilising a bottom up approach we assume:

  1. Credit card owners (CCO) have higher incomes than debit card owners (DCO) i.e. higher spends.
  2. An annual vacation for a CCO is Rs. 1 lakh vs Rs. 50,000 for a DCO
  3. A major annual purchase for a CCO is Rs. 50,000 vs Rs. 25,000 for a DCO
  4. Only 20% of DCO make enough money to a worthwhile customer

Therefore, the total addressable market for
CCO (33.34 m x 1L) + (33.34 m x 0.50L) = INR 5000 billion
DCO (819.76 m x 20% x 0.50L) + (819.76 m x 20% x 0.25L) = INR 12,296 billion
Combining 1 + 2 we get a TAM of 17,296 billion
Current competition
Tracxn suggests that a startup that does this would fall under the automated micro-savings or automated micro-investment platform categories. There are currently only 5 start-ups that fall under these categories, 1 of which has been acqui-hired (SYM).
Globally Accorns, Moneybox and Dvendo are the most prominent startups in this space with Accorn in the lead, having raised over $107 million from Paypal, Rakuten, Bain, Great Oaks and 8 others.
Conclusion
While we can all agree that goal-based saving makes sense for the new age Indian, what remains important is how we create an emotional bond with the saver. This can be done by giving them the reigns to choose what they want to purchase so that they can dream up an image of ownership or enjoyment and be motivated to achieve it.
Allowing retailers to know that a potential buyer is saving up money for a future purchase will be valuable information. Retailers can tap into this data and make strategic offers to drive up sales or even plan future sales as the data gets richer.
I for one am excited about working on this idea!