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Trigo bags $10M for computer-vision based checkout tech to rival Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’

While Amazon continues to expand its self-service, computer-vision-based grocery checkout technology by bringing it to bigger stores, an AI startup out of Israel that’s built something to rival it has picked up funding and a new strategic investor as a customer.

Trigo, which has produced a computer vision system that includes both camera hardware and encrypted, privacy-compliant software to enable “grab and go” shopping — where customers can pick up items that get automatically detected and billed before they leave the store — has bagged $10 million in funding from German supermarket chain REWE Group and Viola Growth.

The exact amount of the investment was not being disclosed (perhaps because $10 million, in these crazy times, suddenly sounds like a modest amount?), but Pitchbook notes that Trigo had up to now raised $87 million, and Trigo has confirmed that it has now raised “over $100 million,” including a Series A in 2019, and a Series B of $60 million that it raised in December of last year. The company has confirmed that the amount raised is $10 million today, and $104 million in total.

The company is not disclosing its valuation. We have asked and will update as we learn more.

“Trigo is immensely proud and honored to be deepening its strategic partnership with REWE Group, one of Europe’s biggest and most innovative grocery retailers,” said Michael Gabay, Trigo co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “REWE have placed their trust in Trigo’s privacy-by-design architecture, and we look forward to bringing this exciting technology to German grocery shoppers. We are also looking forward to working with Viola Growth, an iconic investment firm backing some of Israel’s top startups.”

The REWE investment is part of a bigger partnership between the two companies, which will begin with a new “grab and go” REWE store in Cologne. REWE has 3,700 stores across Germany, so there is a lot of scope there for expansion. REWE is Trigo’s second strategic investor: Tesco has also backed the startup and has been trialling its technology in the U.K.. Trigo’s also being used by Shufersal, a grocery chain in Israel.

REWE’s investment comes amid a spate of tech engagements by the grocery giant, which recently also announced a partnership with Flink, a new grocery delivery startup out of Germany that recently raised a big round of funding to expand. It’s also working with Yamo, a healthy eating startup; and Whisk, an AI powered buy-to-cook startup.

“With today’s rapid technological developments, it is crucial to find the right partners,” said Christoph Eltze, Executive Board Member Digital, Customer & Analytics REWE Group. “REWE Group is investing in its strategic partnership with Trigo, who we believe is one of the leading companies in computer vision technologies for smart stores.”

More generally, consumer habits are changing, fast. Whether we are talking about the average family, or the average individual, people are simply not shopping, cooking and eating in the same way that they were even 10 years ago, let alone 20 or 30 years ago.

And so like many others in the very established brick-and-mortar grocery business, REWE — founded in 1927 — is hoping to tie up with some of the more interesting innovators to better keep ahead in the game.

“I don’t actually think people really want grocery e-commerce,” Ran Peled, Trigo’s VP of marketing, told me back in 2019. “They do that because the supermarket experience has become worse with the years. We are very much committed to helping brick and mortar stores return to the time of a few decades ago, when it was fun to go to the supermarket. What would happen if a store could have an entirely new OS that is based on computer vision?”

It will be interesting to see how widely used and “fun” smart checkout services will become in that context, and whether it will be a winner-takes-all market, or whether we’ll see a proliferation of others emerge to provide similar tools.

In addition to Amazon and Trigo, there is also Standard Cognition, which earlier this year raised money at a $1 billion valuation, among others and other approaches. One thing that more competition could mean is also more competitive pricing for systems that otherwise could prove costly to implement and run except for in the busiest locations.

There is also a bigger question over what the optimal size will be for cashierless, grab-and-go technology. Trigo cites data from Juniper Research that forecasts $400 billion in smart checkout transactions annually by 2025, but it seems that the focus in that market will likely be, in Juniper’s view, on smaller grocery and convenience stores rather than the cavernous cathedrals to consumerism that many of these chains operate. In that category, the market size is 500,000 stores globally, 120,000 of them in Europe.

Apna raises $70 million to help workers in India secure jobs

Indian cities are home to hundreds of millions of low-skilled workers who hail from villages in search of work. Many of them have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic that has slowed several economic activities.

Apna, a startup by an Apple alum, is helping millions of such blue and gray collar workers upskill themselves, find communities and land jobs. On Wednesday it announced its acceptance by the market has helped it raise $70 million in a new financing round as the startup prepares to scale the 16-month-old app across India.

Insight Partners and Tiger Global co-led Apna’s $70 million Series B round, which valued the startup at $570 million. Existing investors Lightspeed India, Sequoia Capital India, Greenoaks Capital and Rocketship VC also participated in the round, which brings Apna’s to-date raise to over $90 million.

The startup, whose name is inspired from a Bollywood song, at its core is solving the network gap issue for workers. “Someone born in a privileged family goes to the best school, best college and makes acquaintance with influential people. Many born just a few kilometres away are dealt with a whole different kind of life and never see such opportunities,” said Nirmit Parikh, founder and chief executive of Apna, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Apna is building a scalable networking infrastructure, something that doesn’t currently exist in the market, so that these workers can connect to the right employers and secure jobs. “Apna’s focus on digitizing the process of job discovery, application and employer candidate interaction has the potential to revolutionize the hiring process,” said Griffin Schroeder, a Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.

The startup’s eponymous Android app features, available in multiple languages, over 60 communities today for skilled professionals such as carpenters, painters, field sales agents and many others.

On the app, users connect to each other and help with leads and share tips to improve at their jobs. The app also offers people the opportunity to upskill themselves, practice with their interview performance, and become eligible for even more jobs.

And that bet is working. The startup has amassed over 10 million users and just last month it facilitated over 15 million job interviews, said Parikh.

Apna has partnered with some of India’s leading public and private organizations and is providing support to the Ministry of Minority Affairs of India, National Skill Development Corporation, UNICEF Yuwaah to provide better skilling and job opportunities to candidates.

More than 10,000 recruiters — including Byju’s, Unacademy, Flipkart, Zomato, Licious, Burger King, Dunzo, Bharti-AXA, Delhivery, Teamlease, G4S Global, and Shadowfax — in the country today use Apna’s platform to find candidates.

Apna has built the “market leading platform for India’s workforce to establish digital professional identity, network, access skills training, and find high quality jobs,” said Nikhil Sachdev, Managing Director, Insight Partners, in a statement.

“Employers are engaging with Apna at a rapid pace to help find high quality talent with low friction which is leading to best in class customer satisfaction scores. We believe that our investment will enable Apna to continue their steep growth trajectory, scale up their operations, and improve access to opportunities for India’s workforce.”

The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to scale across India and eventually take the app to international markets, said Parikh. Apna, which has recently seen high-profile individuals from firms such as Uber, BCG & Swiggy join the firm, is also actively hiring for several tech roles in the South Asian market.

“Our first goal is to restart India’s economy in the next couple of months and do whatever we can to help,” he said.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

FamPay, a fintech aimed at teens in India, raises $38 million

How big is the market in India for a neobank aimed at teenagers? Scores of high-profile investors are backing a startup to find out.

Bangalore-based FamPay said on Wednesday it has raised $38 million in its Series A round led by Elevation Capital. General Catalyst, Rocketship VC, Greenoaks Capital and existing investors Sequoia Capital India, Y Combinator, Global Founders Capital and Venture Highway also participated in the new round, which brings FamPay’s to-date raise to $42.7 million.

TechCrunch reported early this month that FamPay was in talks with Elevation Capital to raise a new round.

Founded by Sambhav Jain and Kush Taneja (pictured above) — both of whom graduated from Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee in 2019 — FamPay enables teenagers to make online and offline payments.

The thesis behind the startup, said Jain in an interview with TechCrunch, is to provide financial literacy to teenagers, who additionally have limited options to open a bank account in India at a young age. Through gamification, the startup said it’s making lessons about money fun for youngsters.

Unlike in the U.S., where it’s common for teenagers to get jobs at restaurants and other places and understand how to handle money at a young age, a similar tradition doesn’t exist in India.

After gathering the consent from parents, FamPay provides teenagers with an app to make online purchases, as well as plastic cards — the only numberless card of its kind in the country — for offline transactions. Parents credit money to their children’s FamPay accounts and get to keep track of high-ticket spendings.

In other markets, including the U.S., a number of startups including Greenlight, Step and Till Financial are chasing to serve the teenagers, but in India, there currently is no startup looking to solve the financial access problem for teenagers, said Mridul Arora, a partner at Elevation Capital, in an interview with TechCrunch.

It could prove to be a good issue to solve — India has the largest adolescent population in the world.

“If you’re able to serve them at a young age, over a course of time, you stand to become their go-to product for a lot of things,” Arora said. “FamPay is serving a population that is very attractive and at the same time underserved.”

The current offerings of FamPay are just the beginning, said Jain. Eventually the startup wishes to provide a range of services and serve as a neobank for youngsters to retain them with the platform forever, he said, though he didn’t wish to share currently what those services might be.

Image Credits: FamPay

Teens represent the “most tech-savvy generation, as they haven’t seen a world without the internet,” he said. “They adapt to technology faster than any other target audience and their first exposure with the internet comes from the likes of Instagram and Netflix. This leads to higher expectations from the products that they prefer to use. We are unique in approaching banking from a whole new lens with our recipe of community and gamification to match the Gen Z vibe.”

“I don’t look at FamPay just as a payments service. If the team is able to execute this, FamPay can become a very powerful gateway product to teenagers in India and their financial life. It can become a neobank, and it also has the opportunity to do something around social, community and commerce,” said Arora.

During their college life, Jain and Taneja collaborated and built an app and worked at a number of startups, including social network ShareChat, logistics firm Rivigo and video streaming service Hotstar. Jain said their work with startups in the early days paved the idea to explore a future in this ecosystem.

Prior to arriving at FamPay, Jain said the duo had thought about several more ideas for a startup. The early days of FamPay were uniquely challenging to the founders, who had to convince their parents about their decision to do a startup rather than joining firms or startups as had most of their peers from college. Until being selected by Y Combinator, Jain said he didn’t even fully understand a cap table and dilutions.

He credited entrepreneurs such as Kunal Shah (founder of CRED) and Amrish Rau (CEO of Pine Labs) for being generous with their time and guidance. They also wrote some of the earliest checks to the startup.

The startup, which has amassed over 2 million registered users, plans to deploy the fresh capital to expand its user base and product offerings, and hire engineers. It is also looking for people to join its leadership team, said Jain.