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Investment app for millennials Groww raises $83 million at over $1 billion valuation

More than 200 million people in India transact money digitally, but fewer than 30 million invest in mutual funds and stocks.

An Indian startup that is attempting to change this figure by courting millennials announced a new financing round on Wednesday and turned into the newest unicorn in the world’s second largest internet market.

Bangalore-based Groww has raised $83 million in its Series D financing round, which valued the Indian startup at more than $1 billion, up from $250 million in $30 million Series C in September last year.

Tiger Global led the new round, and existing investors Sequoia Capital India, Ribbit Capital, YC Continuity and Propel Venture Partners participated in it, the five-year-old Indian startup said, which has raised $142 million to date.

On a side note, Groww is the eighth Indian startup to attain the unicorn status this year — and fourth this week. Social commerce Meesho turned a unicorn on Monday, fintech firm CRED on Tuesday, and earlier today epharmacy firm PharmEasy announced a new financing round that valued the firm at about $1.5 billion.

Groww allows users to invest in mutual funds, including systematic investment planning (SIP) and equity-linked savings, gold, as well as stocks, including those listed at U.S. exchanges. The app offers every fund that is currently available in India.

The startup has amassed over 8 million registered users, two-thirds of whom are first-time investors, Lalit Keshre, co-founder and chief executive of Groww, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Keshre said the startup will deploy the fresh funds to accelerate its growth, and hire more talent. “We now have fuel for longer-term thinking and faster growth,” he said.

More than 60% of Groww users come from smaller cities and towns of India and 60% of these have never made such investments before, said Keshre. The startup said it has conducted workshops in several small cities to educate people about the investment world. The coronavirus pandemic has also accelerated the startup’s growth as youngsters explore new hobbies.

Sequoia Capital India on its early investment in Appier, the fund’s latest exit

Chih-Han Yu, chief executive officer and co-founder of Appier Group Inc., right, holds a hammer next to a bell during an event marking the listing of the company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, at the company's office in Taipei, Taiwan on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Chih-Han Yu, chief executive officer and co-founder of Appier Group Inc., right, holds a hammer next to a bell during an event marking the listing of the company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, at the company’s office in Taipei, Taiwan on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Appier’s initial public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange yesterday was a milestone not only for the company, but also Sequoia Capital India, one of its earliest investors. Founded in Taiwan, Appier was the fund’s first investment outside of India, and is now also the first company in its portfolio outside of India to go public. In an interview with TechCrunch, Sequoia Capital managing director Abheek Anand talked about what drew the firm to Appier, which develops AI-based marketing software.

Before shifting its focus to marketing, Appier’s founders—chief executive officer Chih-Han Yu, chief operating officer Winnie Lee and chief technology officer Joe Su—worked on a startup called Plaxie to develop AI-powered gaming engines. Yu and Su came up with the idea when they were both graduate students at Harvard, but found there was little demand at the time. Anand met them in 2013, soon after their pivot to big data and marketing, and Sequoia Capital India invested in Appier’s Series A a few months later.

“It’s easy to say in retrospect what worked and what didn’t work. What really stands out without trying to write revisionist history is that this was just an incredibly smart team,” said Anand. “They had probably the most technical core DNA of any Series A company that we’ve met in years, I would argue.” Yu holds a PhD in computer science from Harvard, Wu earned a PhD in immunology at Washington University in St. Louis and Su has a M.S. in computer science from Harvard. The company also filled its team with AI and machine learning researchers from top universities in Taiwan and the United States.

At the time, Sequoia Capital “had a broad thesis that there would be adoption of AI in enterprises,” Anand said. “What we believed was there were a bunch of people going after that problem, but they were trying to solve business problems without necessarily having the technical depth to do it.” Appier stood out because they “were swinging at it from the other end, where they had an enormous amount of technical expertise.”

Since Appier’s launch in 2012, more companies have emerged that use machine learning and big data to help companies automate marketing decisions and create online campaigns. Anand said one of the reasons Appier, which now operates in 14 markets across the Asia-Pacific region, remains competitive is its strategy of cross-selling new products and focusing on specific use cases instead of building a general purpose platform.

Appier’s core product is a cross-platform advertising engine called CrossX that focuses on user acquisition. Then it has products that address other parts of their customers’ value chain: AiDeal to help companies send coupons to the customers who are most likely to use them; user engagement platform AIQUA; and AIXON, a data science platform that uses AI models to predict customer actions, including the likelihood of repeat purchases.

“I think the number one thing that the company has spent a lot of time on is focusing on efficiency,” said Anand. “Customers have tons of data, both external and first-party, that they’re processing to drive business outcomes. It’s a very hard technical problem. Appier starts with a solution that is relatively easy to break into a customer, and then builds deeper and deeper solutions for those customers.”

Appier’s listing is also noteworthy because it marks the first time a company from Taiwan has listed in Japan since Trend Micro’s IPO in 1998. Japan is one of Appier’s biggest markets (customers there include Rakuten, Toyota and Shiseido), making the Tokyo Stock Exchange a natural fit, Anand said, even though most of Sequoia Capital India’s portfolio companies list in India or the United States.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange also stood out because of its retail investor participation, liquidity and total volume. Some of Appier’s other core investors, including JAFCO Asia and SoftBank Group Corp., are also based in Japan. But though it has almost $30 billion in average trading volume, the vast majority of listings are domestic companies. In a recent report, Nikkei Asia cited a higher corporate tax rate and lack of potential underwriters, especially for smaller listings, as a potential obstacles for foreign companies.

But Appier’s debut may lead the way for other Asian startups to chose the Tokyo Stock Exchange, said Anand. “Getting ready for the Japanese exchange meant having the right accounting practices, the right reporting, a whole bunch of compliance stuff. It was a long process. In some ways we were leading the charge for external companies to get there, and I’m sure over time it will keep getting easier and easier.”

MobiKwik investigating data breach after 100M user records found online

MobiKwik said on Tuesday it was investigating claims of data breach after a website claimed to have exposed private information of nearly 100 million users of the Indian mobile payments startup.

Over the weekend, a site on the dark web claimed it had 8.2 terabytes of MobiKwik user data. The data included phone numbers, email addresses, scrambled passwords, transactions logs, and partial payment card numbers.

The website also claimed that it had “know your customer” (KYA) documents of 3.5 million users, and each visit to the website displayed four random images from the data dump. KYC documents are required in India for users who want to access certain services without any limitations. Local law requires a mobile wallet firm in India, for instance, to support monthly transactions exceeding a certain limit.

The dark web site features a searchable database that allows users to look up their phone number or email to verify the authenticity of the data breach claim. TechCrunch was able to verify the accuracy of the data in several cases.

A seller on a well-known cybercrime forum claims to be selling access to the database for 1.2 bitcoin — about $70,000.

The Sequoia Capital India-backed startup says it can’t yet prove if the data actually belongs to MobiKwik users. “It is incorrect to suggest that the data available on the darkweb has been accessed from MobiKwik or any identified source,” the startup wrote in a blog post.

Rajshekhar Rajaharia, a security researcher, told TechCrunch that he alerted MobiKwik about this alleged security breach last month. In a statement, MobiKwik said the company had conducted a thorough investigation and did not find any evidence of a breach.

However, a screenshot leaked to TechCrunch shows a MobiKwik official asking an Amazon representative last month for logs relating to its cloud service after the startup “came to know that our S3 [cloud storage] data is downloaded by some other person outside the organization.”

The startup said its legal team will take “strict action against the so-called security researcher.” Rajaharia told TechCrunch that it’s his right as a user to know if his financial data is safe and that he doesn’t have the resources to fight legal battles.

MobiKwik said it was closely working with authorities and was confident that security protocols to store sensitive data are “robust and have not been breached.” It added that it was getting a third-party to conduct a forensic data security audit. “We are committed to a safe and secure Digital India.”