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GajiGesa, a fintech focused on Indonesian workers, adds strategic investors and launches new app for micro-SMEs

GajiGesa, a fintech startup that provides earned wage access (EWA) and other services for workers in Indonesia, has added strategic investors to help it launch new services and expand its user base. Its new backers include OCBC NISP Ventura, the venture capital arm of one of Indonesia’s largest banks, and the founders of grab-and-go coffee chain Kopi Kenangan. GajiGesa also recently expanded beyond the enterprise space with a new employee management system for SMEs and micro-SMEs. Called GajiTim, the app is aimed at businesses with between five to 100 workers and has gained more than 50,000 active users since it was launched in mid-March.

The amount of GajiGesa’s latest funding was undisclosed. The startup, launched last year by husband-and-wife team Vidit Agrawal and Martyna Malinowska, announced a $2.5 million seed round led by Defy.vc and Quest Ventures in February. Over the last quarter, GajiGesa’s enterprise customer base has doubled to more than 60 companies, representing tens of thousands of workers.

GajiGesa is part of a new wave of startups focused on digitizing the 60 million small businesses in Indonesia. Others include digital bookkeeping apps like BukuWarung and BukuKas for very small businesses including neighborhood stores; Moka and Jurnal for larger companies; and CrediBook, which focuses on B2B businesses.

Before starting GajiGesa, Agrawal’s experience included serving as Uber’s first employee in Asia, while Malinowska was former product lead at Standard Chartered’s SC Ventures and alternative credit-scoring platform LenddoEFL. They created GajiGesa to give workers an alternative to payday and other high-interest lenders by allowing them to access their earned wages immediately, instead of waiting for semi-monthly or monthly paychecks. (Other companies that offer similar services around the world include Square, London-based Wagestream and Gusto). Based on a recent survey, GajiGesa said more than 75% of workers at companies that use its EWA feature have stopped using informal lenders for short-term needs.

The founders of Kopi Kenangan, the grab-and-go coffee chain backed by investors like Sequoia Capital India, Alpha JWC and Horizons Ventures, have become prolific angel investors in other startups, and their network will help GajiGesa onboard more employers, Agrawal told TechCrunch. Its strategic partnership with Bank OCBC NISP, meanwhile, will help it launch more services.

GajiGesa co-founders Vidit Agrawal and Martyna Malinowska

GajiGesa co-founders Vidit Agrawal and Martyna Malinowska

“One thing we are realizing is that a lot of employees who use the earned wage aspect of GajiGesa are expecting more kinds of products, either a loan product or an insurance product, and that’s where an opportunity arises to partner with a bank,” Agrawal told TechCrunch. About two-thirds of Indonesia’s population is “unbanked,” meaning they don’t have a bank account, so this also gives Bank OCBC NISP a chance to onboard new customers.

“Having a bank as a partner allows us to structure the right interest rate, the right size of products and create a larger impact,” said Malinowska.

GajiGesa does not charge interest rates or require collateral, since users are pre-approved by their employers. Instead, companies can decide to charge fees or offer GajiGesa as part of a benefits package. When a worker withdraws money, GajiGesa asks why they are using the Earned Wage Access feature, and presents that data to companies in an anonymized and aggregated format.

This allows employers to see what needs their work base has and potentially develop new benefits. For example, one of the top three reasons workers use EWA is to pay medical bills. “This is a strong signal to an employer that if you’re trying to retain employees, especially a blue collar employee, even a basic insurance product might be very attractive for the family,” said Agrawal.

GajiGesa also discovered that many workers, especially in Tier 2 to Tier 3 cities, use its EWA to fund family businesses instead of taking out loans for working capital.

“A lot of families in Indonesia often have one member working in a factory with fixed salaries, and they have micro-industries at home, for example making wafers or stickers to sell in their communities or online,” said Agrawal. “They were going to loan sharks previously or private lenders for very expensive rates so they can run their business, and now the family member who is working in a factory can withdraw capital to support the family business so they don’t need to go to loan sharks.”

GajiTim was launched because the startup saw many inbound inquiries from SMEs, like restaurants, small factories and general stores, that have a lot of part-time workers. These businesses often rely on paper systems, including punch time cards, to track working hours and calculate paychecks. But this often results in disputes, so having an app that counts working hours and earned wages in real-time gives workers more transparency and helps companies save time. GajiTim also has access to GajiGesa’s flagship EWA service and allows it to bring more clients onto the platform.

Juul inventor’s Myst lands funding as institutional investors turn to China’s e-cigs

Over the past several years, institutional investors had largely shied away from China’s e-cigarette makers, an industry that was teeming with shoddy workshops and lacked regulatory oversight. But investors’ attitude is changing as China sets in motion its strictest ever regulation on electronic cigarettes.

Myst Labs, a Chinese e-cigarette maker co-founded in 2019 by Chenyue Xing, a chemist who was part of the team at Juul that invented nicotine salts, a key ingredient in vaping, recently raised “tens of thousands of dollars” from a Series B funding round. The financing was led by its existing investor, IMO Ventures. Thomas Yao, CEO and another co-founder of Myst, is a founding partner of IMO Ventures.

In March, one of China’s top tech policy makers published a set of draft rules that would bring e-cigarettes under the same regulatory scope as traditional tobacco, which means vaping companies will need licenses for production, wholesale and retail operations in the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter of e-cigarettes.

These changes will deal a blow to small producers with poor quality control, leaving the industry with a handful of established and compliant players, Fang Wang, head of marketing at Myst, told TechCrunch.

For one, standardizing production is costly, Li said. From ceramic coils, batteries, to fragrance, every component and ingredient of a vape will need to meet stringent requirements. E-cigarette companies will also need to pay tobacco taxes, an important source of tax revenue for the Chinese government.

The other challenge is how to lower nicotine content. Many current products on the market have a relatively high nicotine concentration at 3-5%, so if China is in line with the European Union standard of 1.7%, many small brands will be forced out of business because they lack the know-how to produce low-nicotine vapes that still satisfy users’ crave, suggested Li.

“We’ve received a lot of investor interest in the past few months. Before that, professional, institutional investors often avoided e-cigarette companies, but they are showing more willingness now as regulations take shape,” Li added.

Myst declined to list its other investors but said they include high-profile individuals invovled in the e-bike sharing company Lime, Facebook and the bitcoin industry.

Most of Myst’s current sales are from China, where it has opened 600 stores and plans to reach a footprint of 1,000 stores in the next few quarters. Overseas, the startup has a retail footprint in Malaysia, Russia, Canada and the United Kingdom, where it’s selling in over 30 shopping malls and a few hospitals through its distribution partner, Ecigwizard.

The new funding will allow Myst to further expand its sales network and strengthen its research and development. The company prides itself on its product containing 1.7% nicotine, which it claims can deliver the effect of a 3% counterpart. At her lab, Xing is currently working on e-liquids with “natural tobacco contents” and without organic acids, additives that allow nicotine salts to vaporize and be absorbed.

Myst is still a relatively small player compared to China’s market dominator Relx, which went public in New York earlier this year and is applying for a license to sell in the U.S. But Yao is optimistic about Myst’s future. Vaping, he said, is one of the fastest-growing consumer categories in China. Myst’s recent sales are tripling every three months.

“In other consumer areas, you rarely see a top player commanding 60-70% of the market, so there is still a lot of room for the top 10 players to grow,” the CEO said.

SoftBank leads $15M round for China’s industrial robot maker Youibot

SoftBank has picked its bet in China’s flourishing industrial robotics space. Youibot, a four-year-old startup that makes autonomous mobile robots for a range of scenarios, said it has notched close to 100 million yuan ($15.47 million) in its latest funding round led by SoftBank Ventures Asia, the Seoul-based early-stage arm of the global investment behemoth.

In December, SoftBank Ventures Asia led the financing round for another Chinese robotics startup called KeenOn, which focuses on delivery and service robots.

Youibot’s previous investors BlueRun Ventures and SIG also participated in the round. The startup, based in Shenzhen where it went through SOSV’s HAX hardware accelerator program, secured three financing rounds during 2020 as businesses and investors embrace industrial automation to minimize human contact. Youibot has raised over 200 million yuan to date.

Founded by a group of PhDs from China’s prestigious Xi’an Jiaotong University, Youibot develops solutions for factory automation, logistics management, as well as inspection and maintenance for various industries. For example, its robots can navigate around a yard of buses, inspect every tire of the vehicles and provide a detailed report for maintenance, a feature that helped it rack up Michelin’s contract.

Youibot’s “strongest suits” are in electronics manufacturing and electric power patrol, the company’s spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The startup is also seeing high growth in its semiconductor business, with customers coming from several prominent front-end wafer fabs, which use the firm’s robots for chip packaging, testing, and wafer production. Youibot declined to disclose their names due to confidentiality.

Chinese clients that it named include CRRC Zhuzhou, a state-owned locomotive manufacturer, Huaneng Group, a state-owned electricity generation giant, Huawei, and more. China currently comprises 80% of Youibot’s total revenues while overseas markets are rapidly catching up. The firm’s revenues tripled last year from 2020.

Youibot plans to spend the fresh proceeds on research and development in its mobile robots and propietary software, team building and market expansion.