Sino-U.S. investment firms are targeting over $4 billion for new funds launched this year

As limited partners increasingly demand greater exposure to emerging market opportunities, venture capital firms with a focus on Asia are bulking up their funds and chasing deals in an increasingly competitive race to own stakes in the next generation of local startups with global aspirations.

Over the last year, firms including DCM Ventures, GGV CapitalMatrix Partners China, and Qiming Venture Partners have all significantly increased the targets for their new funds. If each firm hits their targets, there’s roughly $4.4 billion in new capital that could be flooding into an already scorching market for investment into Chinese startups, according to SEC filings.

The largest of these new funds, by far, is GGV Capital, which has registered a new $1.8 billion fund with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Qiming Ventures has targeted $900 million for its latest fund, while DCM Ventures and Matrix Partners China are each looking for $750 million for their own new investment vehicles, according to securities filings.

Managing partners at the firms did not respond to a request for comment.

These four firms are among the last standing from the initial flood of U.S.-based venture capital firms that poured into Asia (and China specifically) in the first decade of the new millennium.

While marquee names like Kleiner Perkins, DFJ and others foundered in China, these four firms (along with global venture capital juggernauts like Sequoia Capital and NEA) put down deep roots and notched notable wins with investments in startups like Didi-Chuching, Kuaidi, Meituan-Dianping, Xiaomi, and many many more.

In part, these massive new funds are simply a response to the new world that venture investors find themselves in thanks to the massive amounts of capital raised by SoftBank with its $100 billion Vision Fund, or Sequoia with its $9 billion new investment vehicle.

Firms are also under pressure to raise more capital from limited partners, who want to reduce their exposure and consolidate their own investments around venture firms with track records of success and the ability to deploy capital into larger checks.

Couple those facts with the (still) low cost of capital given where interest rates are, and the sustained growth of technology companies across emerging market geographies, and you have a more willing pool of investors that want to commit more capital to emerging technology ecosystems (this is happening in Latin America too).

But there are also some contours of China’s competitive environment that are pushing these venture capital firms to raise increasingly larger funds.

One is the sheer size of the opportunity that exists for new technology companies in China. As the WeChat messaging service increasingly evolves into a new operating system, there are opportunities to scale quickly with larger infusions of capital to capture the market.

Like their peers in the U.S., Chinese companies are also delaying their public offerings and spending more time to build a better outcome with their IPOs. That’s putting pressure on earlier stage investors to raise capital so they don’t get crowded out in those later stage rounds.

Chinese entrepreneurs are also often putting in their own money to finance companies at the earliest stages, which means startups are more mature when they’re seeking their first round. It’s this phenomenon which leads to the $100 million Series A and B rounds that crop up in the Chinese market more regularly than in the U.S.

Taking Tesla private, WeWork and Uber earnings, and what happened to crypto

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week was a corker. We had Alex Wilhelm in-studio with our guest Minal Hasan, founder of K2 Global, and TechCrunch’s Danny Chriton jumped in from New York to help the crew dig through the biggest and best stuff from the last seven days.

It’s been busy, to say the least. First, we took a look at the Elon-Musk-taking-Tesla-private-situation, which has kept Markets Twitter in suspense for days. We didn’t really get to talk about the Grimes-Azealia Banks stuff, but, hey, stay in your lane and what not. Don’t forget that the latest Tesla upheaval comes on the heels of the firm’s pretty good earnings report.

Next, we took a look at earnings. Not of public companies, mind, but two unicorns that have become so large as to require regular financial disclosure. So, we took a peek into what Uber and WeWork had cooking. In short:

Put into simple terms, WeWork’s long-term lease situation has us worried, while Uber’s losses compared to its net revenue seem kinda alright given other financial metrics. Place your own bets, of course.

Moving along we took a dig into the NIO IPO, which you probably haven’t heard about yet. It’s another electric car company, but this time from China. And it’s raising a lot after having essentially zero history as a revenue-generating company. What could go wrong!

And finally, crypto and all that has happened to your favorite coin recently. Hasan was on hand with a grip of good points on the matter. She was a pretty damn great guest.

That’s it for this week, hang tight and come see us at Disrupt.

Production note: Alex’s mic was a bit whack until the 16-minute mark. Please forgive the issue, we noticed and fixed it as fast as we could. Hugs and love! 

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Messaging firm Line launches a dedicated crypto fund

Messaging company Line is continuing to burrow deep into the crypto space after it announced the launch of a $10 million investment fund.

The fund will be operated by Line’s Korea-based blockchain subsidiary Unblock Corporation, which is tasked with research, education and other blockchain-related services. The fund will be called Unblock Ventures and it’ll initially have a capital pool of $10 million but Line said that is likely to increase over time.

The company said the fund will be focused on early-stage startup investments, but it didn’t provide further details.

Line is listed in Tokyo and on the NYSE. This fund makes it one of the first publicly traded companies to create a dedicated crypto investment vehicle. The objective, it said, is “to boost the development and adoption of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.”

Line claims nearly 200 million users of its messaging app, which is particularly popular in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. The company also offers a range of connected services that include payment, social games, ride-hailing, food delivery and more.

This marks Line’s second major crypto move this year following the launch of its BitBox exchange last month. It isn’t available in the U.S. or Japan right now but Line envisages closes ties with its messaging service and other features further down the line.

These moves into crypto come despite some serious downturn in the valuation of the space this year following record highs in January which saw the value of one Bitcoin touch nearly $20,000 and Ethereum, among others, surged. In the months since then, however, many cryptocurrencies have seen their valuations decline. This week, Ethereum dropped below $300 in what is its first major price crisis. Bitcoin has, for many years, risen and fallen although January’s valuations took the extremes to a new level.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Come watch the Equity podcast record live at Disrupt SF 2018

Disrupt SF is right around the corner, which means startupland is prepping to congregate once again in the city for another epic run of investors, startups and celebrities. This year, Disrupt is heading to Moscone West, so the event will be bigger and better than ever.

And I have some good news for you. Initialized Capital’s Garry Tan will join Connie Loizos and Alex Wilhelm live on the Showcase Stage at 3 pm on Thursday, September 6, to dig through the latest, greatest and worst from the world of venture capital.

That’s right, you can come to Disrupt and watch us sit on tall stools holding mics while we talk about the week’s money news in front of a bustling crowd of onlookers. Live tapings are fun because we can’t run the intro a second time if we mess it up. So come on down and hang out with us. Alex may even wear a shirt with buttons.

And it gets better. If you want to obtain a discounted ticket to Disrupt (and why wouldn’t you?), head to the ticket page and use the code “EQUITY” to get 15 percent off. Come for Equity and stay to see Aileen Lee, Reid Hoffman, Drew Houston, Anne Wojcicki, Arlan Hamilton, Ashton Kutcher, Mike Judge and so very many more people you’ve heard of on the Disrupt stage. To whet your appetite until the big show begins, click here to see the full agenda. It’s a good one. See you at Disrupt!

For more Equity, head here to catch our latest episode. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

Ethereum’s falling price splits the crypto community

Hello And Welcome Back To The Latest Edition Of All The Cryptos Are Getting Rekt Right Now.

Crypto bloodbaths have become fairly common in 2018 — mainly because of the insane growth in 2017 — but we’ve not covered them all because they are so numerous and often include so-called ‘flash crashes’ or small drops, but the fall happening today is worth noting for several wider reasons.

Primarily that’s because this is a major test for Ether — the token associated with the Ethereum Foundation that is the second largest cryptocurrency by volume — has been on a downward spiral with little sign of change.

Ether, which is the preferred platform of choice for most developers building on the blockchain, is down nearly 17 percent over the past day. That’s erased billions of dollars in paper (crypto) value as the bear market for cryptocurrencies continues to pull markets south.

The drop also marks the first time ever that the price of an Ether has fallen below its valuation over one year: one Ether is worth $266 right now at the time of writing, versus $304 on August 14 2017. The token has been steadily falling since early May, when its peak value was $808, and as the lynchpin for many ICO project tokens, its demise has sent the value of most other tokens down, too.

Just looking at Coinmarketcap.com this morning, all but two of the top 100 tokens are down over the last 24 hours with many losing 10-25 percent of their value over the past day. Bitcoin, too, has dropped below $6,000, having topped $8,000 for a time last month.

Ether’s plummet below $300 has sparked a mixed debate among those in the crypto community. The token had been held as visionary, an improvement on Bitcoin that gives developers a platform to build on — whether it be decentralized apps, decentralized systems or more — but that hasn’t been reflected in in this months-long price retreat.

Certainly, two founders who spoke TechCrunch and have held ICOs expressed a belief that Ether “needs to find some price stability” to allow the focus to become about product and not just ‘get rich’ speculation. Of course, it helps that the two founders and many of those who held token sales have long since sold the Ether or Bitcoin they raised in exchange for fiat currency. Indeed, if their token sale was last year, the chances are they got a lot more real-world cash than they initially bargained for or would get now.

But still, the idea of consistency is shared by others who are in crypto professionally. That includes investors like Kenrick Drijkoningen, who is in the midst of raising a $10 million fund for LuneX, a spinout of Singapore-based VC firm Golden Gate Ventures.

In an interview last week, Drijkoningen told TechCrunch that raising a fund and doing deals in a ‘low tide’ market like now beats attempting to do the same amid a frothy period with hype and peak valuations — one Ether was worth nearly $1,400 in January, for example. A number of others VCs have long said that, ultimately, stability is good for the ecosystem.

Vitalik Buterin is the creator of Ethereum

But, on the other side, there are more pessimistic voices.

Among some investors canvassed by TechCrunch, the sense is that with the downturn of the ICO funding boom that fueled much of Ethereum’s rise, there may be less incentive to hold as the broader market’s interest in the cryptocurrency wanes.

For one Bitcoin bull, the intrinsic value of Bitcoin as an immutable, decentralized ledger acts as a more powerful draw than the perceived mutability and centralization that the Ethereum platform offers.

“People are also beginning to understand the unique value of an immutable, decentralized ledger, and recognize that Ethereum is not that,” the investor wrote in an email.

Another long-term problem that Ethereum faces, according to this investor, is that the promise of decentralized apps backed by the token is yet to be released. Crypto Kitties, a smash hit earlier this year, has faded and now there’s competition as Bitcoin’s Lightning Network is adding nodes and apps — referred to as LApps — which can operate in a similar but leverage the Bitcoin ledger.

It’s still early days, of course, and markets will always rise and fall, but this is the first big test for Ether and Ethereum. Beyond the sport of price speculation, it’ll be worth watching to see where this heads next.

Note: One of the authors of this post — Jon Russell — owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

California may mandate a woman in the boardroom, but businesses are fighting it

California is moving toward becoming the first state to require companies to have women on their boards –assuming the idea could survive a likely court challenge.

Sparked by debates around fair pay, sexual harassment and workplace culture, two female state senators are spearheading a bill to promote greater gender representation in corporate decision-making. Of the 445 publicly traded companies in California, a quarter of them lack a single woman in their boardrooms.

SB 826, which won Senate approval with only Democratic votes and has until the end of August to clear the Assembly, would require publicly held companies headquartered in California to have at least one woman on their boards of directors by end of next year. By 2021, companies with boards of five directors must have at least two women, and companies with six-member boards must have at least three women. Firms failing to comply would face a fine.

“Gender diversity brings a variety of perspectives to the table that can help foster new and innovative ideas,” said Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, who is sponsoring the bill with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego.”It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good for a company’s bottom line.”

Yet critics of the bill say it violates the federal and state constitutions. Business associations say the rule would require companies to discriminate against men wanting to serve on boards, as well as conflict with corporate law that says the internal affairs of a corporation should be governed by the state law in which it is incorporated. This bill would apply to companies headquartered in California.

Jennifer Barrera, senior vice president of policy at the California Chamber of Commerce, argued against the bill and said it only focuses “on one aspect of diversity” by singling out gender.

“This bill basically mandates that we hire the woman above anybody else who we may be fulfilling for purposes of diversity,” she said at a hearing.

Similarly, a legislative analysis of the bill cautioned that it could get challenged on equal protection grounds, and that it would be difficult to defend, requiring the state to prove a compelling government interest in such a quota system for a private corporation.

Five years ago, California was the first state to pass a resolution, authored by Jackson, calling on public companies to increase gender diversity. In response, about 20 percent of the companies headquartered in the state followed through with putting women on their boards, according to the research firm Board Governance Research. But the resolution was non-binding and expired in December 2016.

Other countries have been more proactive. Norway in 2007 was the first country to pass a law requiring 40 percent of corporate board seats be held by women, and Germany set a 30 percent requirement in 2015. Spain, France and Italy have also set quotas for public firms.

In California, smaller companies have fewer female directors. Out of 50 companies with the lowest revenues, 48 percent have no female directors, according to Board Governance Research. Only 8 percent of their board seats are held by women.

The 2017 study said larger companies did a better job of appointing women, with all 50 of the highest-revenue companies having at least one female director and 23 percent of board seats held by women.

“The main issue is still that a lot of companies headquartered here don’t have women on their boards,” said Annalisa Barrett, clinical professor of finance at the University of San Diego’s School of Business. “We quite often like to think of California as progressive and a leader on social issues, so that’s kind of disappointing.”

Barrett publishes an annual report of women on boards in California. Public companies are major employers in the state, and their financial performance has a big impact on public pension funds, mutual funds and investment portfolios. “Financial performance does really impact the broader community,” she said.

The National Association of Women Business Owners, sponsor of the bill, says an economy as big as California’s ought to “set an example globally for enlightened business practice.” In a letter of support, the association cites studies that suggest corporations with female directors perform better than those with no women on their boards.

One University of California, Davis study did find that companies with more women serving on their boards saw a higher return on assets and equity, but the author acknowledges this may not suggest a cause-and-effect.

Offering a white-labeled lending service in emerging markets, Mines raises $13 million

Emerging markets credit startup Mines.io has closed a $13 million Series A round led by The Rise Fund, the global impact fund formed by private equity giant TPG, and 10 others, including Velocity Capital.

Mines provides business to consumer (B2C) “credit-as-a-service” products to large firms.

“We’re a technology company that facilitates local institutions — banks, mobile operators, retailers — to offer credit to their customers,” Mines CEO and co-founder Ekechi Nwokah told TechCrunch.

Most of Mines’ partnerships entail white-label lending products offered on mobile phones, including non-smart USSD devices.

With offices in San Mateo and Lagos, Mines uses big-data (extracted primarily from mobile users) and proprietary risk algorithms “to enable lending decisions,” Nwokah explained.

“We combine a strong AI technology with full…deployment services — disbursement…collections, payments, loan management, and regulatory — wrap it up in a box, give it to our partners and then help them run it,” he said.

Mines’ typical client is a company “that has a large customer base and wants to avail credit to that customer base,” according to Nwokah. The startup generates revenue from fees and revenue share with partners.

Mines started operations in Nigeria and counts payment processor Interswitch and mobile operator Airtel as current partners. In addition to talent acquisition, the startup plans to use the Series A to expand its credit-as-a-service products into new markets in South America and Southeast Asia “in the next few months,” according to its CEO.

Mines sees itself as a “hardcore technology company based in Silicon Valley with a global view,” according to Nwokah. “At the same time, we’re very African,” he said.

The startup’s leadership team is led by three Nigerians — Nwokah, Chief Scientist Kunle Olukotun and MD Adia Sowho. The company came together after Olukotun (then and still a Stanford professor) and Nwokah (a then-AWS big data specialist) met in Palo Alto in 2014.

Looking through the lens of their home country Nigeria, the two identified two problems in emerging markets: low access to credit across large swaths of the population and insufficient tools for big institutions to put together viable consumer lending programs.

Due to a number of structural factors in these markets, such as low regulatory support, lack of credit data and tech support, “there’s no incentive for many banks and institutions to take risk on a retail lending business,” according to Nwokah.

Nwokah sees Mines’ end user market as “the more than 3 billion adults globally without access to credit,” and its direct client market as big “banks, retailers and mobile operators…who want to power digital credit tailored to these markets.”

Mines views itself as different from the U.S.’s controversial payday lenders by serving different consumer needs. “If you live in a country where your salary is not guaranteed every month, where you don’t have a credit card…where you have to pay upfront cash for almost everything you do, you need cash,” he said

The most common loan profile for one of Mines’ partners is $30 at 15 percent flat for a couple of weeks.

Nwokah wouldn’t name specific countries for the startup’s pending South America and Southeast Asia expansion, but believes “this technology is scalable across geographies.”

As part of the Series A, Yemi Lalude from TPG Growth (founder of The Rise Fund) will join Mines’ board of directors.

On a call with TechCrunch, Lalude named the company’s ability to “drive financial inclusion within a matter of seconds from mobiles devices,” their “local execution on the ground” and model of “partnering with many large organizations with their own balance sheets” as reasons for the investment commitment.

With Mines’ pending Asia and South America move they join Nigerian tech companies MallforAfrica.com and data analytics firm Terragon Group, who have expanded or stated plans to expand internationally this year.

 

Slack raises, Dropbox and Snap report earnings and Magic Leap is real

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week Matthew Lynley and Alex Wilhelm were joined by 500 Startups CEO Christine Tsai for what turned out to be a super packed episode.

We kicked off with the latest from Slack: $400 million new dollars at a shiny, new $7 billion valuation, according to TechCrunch. The new capital comes after the firm raised a huge sum last year from SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

We dug into why the company would raise again, and what competitors it has left after the Atlassian deal.

Next up, two earnings reports. Continuing our tradition of keeping tabs on recent tech IPOs, we talked through Snap and Dropbox, which reported earnings this week. Both lost ground after doing so. Ironically, they each beat financial expectations.

Snap ended up dropping value over a DAU decline, and Dropbox’s fall is still a bit undetermined. But by the time this episode ships, perhaps the market will have figured it out.

Next up we scrolled through the key reviews of the commercially available Magic Leap headset that is out at last. It’s a bit pricey, and a bit not-what-people-expected, but the well-funded startup seems to have avoided a complete miss. Its second-generation device may prove to be more impactful.

And finally, big news from China. As has become the norm on Equity, a few big Chinese rounds captivated us. This time it was the Manbang news, and what’s going on at Bytedance.

All that and we’ll be back in a week’s time. Stay cool!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.