Algeria’s Yassir picks up $30M to build a super app in North Africa

Yassir, an Algerian startup that provides on-demand services such as ride-hailing and last-mile delivery, has raised a $30 million Series A round.

The investment came from a long list of VCs and angel investors. VCs include WndrCo, DN Capital, Kismet Capital, Spike Ventures, Quiet Capital, Endeavor Catalyst, FJ Labs, VentureSouq, Nellore Capital and Moving Capital. The angel investors include Cleo Sham of Uber; Thomas Layton of Upwork, Opentable and Metaweb; Rohan Monga of Gojek; and Hannes Graah of Spotify and Revolut.

The company said in a statement that most of the investors from its $13.25 million seed round, which was previously undisclosed, participated as well.  

After earning a Ph.D. at Stanford and spending most of his professional life in Silicon Valley working at various companies, CEO Noureddine Tayebi returned to Algeria to get involved in the country’s nascent tech scene to start a company and build technical talent in the Maghreb region (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia).

Most people in French-speaking Africa are unbanked due to a lack of trust in incumbents and inefficient banking solutions. Tayebi felt that providing on-demand services — which solves essential needs and, more importantly, builds trust to then provide payment services — was the catalyst to enable financial inclusion in the region.

He founded Yassir with Mahdi Yettou in 2017. The company started with ride-hailing services because the cities it targeted had dense populations and inefficient transportation services. Yassir progressed to offer last-mile delivery services, creating a multi-sided marketplace that brings drivers, couriers, merchants, suppliers and wholesalers to individual users on one platform.

Yassir

Yassir CEO Noureddine Tayebi. Image Credits: Yassir

According to Tayebi, the plan is to use the marketplace model to offer payment services to all parties involved and create a super app in the process.

“Our approach of solving the unbanked population problem is unique in the region by offering more of a ‘banking as a platform’ solution where daily services are at the heart of it all via a super-app marketplace,” he told TechCrunch.

“Such services not only build trust for all the sides of the marketplace but also use them as channels to offer these payment services, which we think is the approach that is most suited to the region. Most of our competitors are either on-demand services — ride-hailing or last-mile delivery only — or pure payment solutions. This gives us an edge over them as we build the network, the channels and the trust that are all key ingredients for the adoption of payment services at large scale.”

Yassir has seen exponential growth since launching four years ago. Last year, it was part of Y Combinator’s winter batch as the first Algerian startup in the accelerator. In terms of traction, over 3 million people and 40,000 partners in all its markets now use the platform. Tayebi said that Yassir generates revenues by taking a commission on the services it offers.  

This round of funding makes Yassir the most funded startup in Algeria and one of the most funded in the Maghreb and MENA region. Tayebi isn’t coy about saying his company aims for regional dominance in its category. Yassir also plans to gain market share outside the region into other markets, primarily sub-Saharan Africa and other “strategic geographies.”

The company will use the investment to achieve that as well as consolidate growth in its existing markets by launching new products and improving existing ones.

Yassir also plans to triple the size of its engineering team, a department the company is also particular about building locally.

“We are [a] 100% local champion, including tech talent, as we want to empower the tech talent in the region and hire them in each country we operate in. We want a success model that is fully from the region,” Tayebi said.

“Yassir is a natural evolution of companies seen elsewhere in the world,” WndrCo partner Anthony Saleh said in a statement.The moment we met the team, we saw the opportunity of entering an enormous market with a service taking the best of models we have seen elsewhere. We’re thrilled to be part of this supercharged journey.”

Quick-commerce startup YallaMarket eyes Saudi Arabia and Qatar next year after U.A.E expansion

YallaMarket, a Dubai-based quick-commerce startup, is planning to expand within the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E), and to enter Saudi Arabia and Qatar next year, to tap the appetite for speedy and convenient grocery shopping.

The startup, which was formally launched last month, is expanding in the U.A.E cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai by setting up an additional 100 dark stores to offer 15-minute delivery services. Dark stores are order fulfillment centers for online retail outlets. These stores are inaccessible to customers but serve the important role of rapid order fulfillment. YallaMarket has two dark stores that are currently operational with plans to open two more in the next two weeks.

The instant delivery service will use the $2.3 million it has raised in the pre-seed round to fund expansion within the U.A.E. The round was co-led by Dubai Angel Investors and Wamda Capital, with the participation of a number of angel investors that focus on the Middle-East and North Africa (MENA). YallaMarket is planning to launch the production of ready-to-eat meals that will be available to order via the app, in the near future too.

The startup was founded by Dubai-based Russian entrepreneurs Leonid Dovbenko and Stanislav Seleznev, also founders of restaurant automatization services DocsinBox and Tawreed.

“We plan to use the majority of newly secured funding to boost our growth. The MENA region is actively developing…Our goal is to cover as much territory by on-demand fast delivery as possible,” said co-founder Dovbenko, who is also CEO of iiko Middle East, a cloud-based POS for restaurants.

The startup’s dark stores are located in residential areas that make it possible for delivery persons to collect orders within three minutes after purchase, and to deliver to several households on each trip. The company has its own delivery unit that uses e-scooters and bicycles. The average order of everyday goods bought through YallaMarket is $15 (55AED), with fruits, dairy and drinks leading in popularity.

YallaMarket makes a profit on each item it sells as it sources its inventory directly from brands or through large distributors.

“We see that the level of development of the e-grocery in the UAE is far from Russia, where express delivery services have achieved incredible success. Over the past few years, it has become clear that the dark-store model is supposed to replace classic convenience stores,” said Dovbenko.

As it gains more data on user habits, YallaMarket is now investing in product development by implementing a “behavior prediction system” to customize user experiences and offers based on their preferences to reduce the time spent when making orders.

The concept of the instant delivery business model (quick commerce) grew exponentially last year as the pandemic fueled the adoption of online grocery shopping according to a Coresight Research report. The report says that “permanent gains” are expected as consumers continue shopping online even after the pandemic.

Fast and reliable delivery and availability continue to be some of the most important factors when shopping online, as noted by a majority of consumers surveyed in a recent PwC study. The study expects online shopping to continue to gain ground as people continue to work from home, and as they adopt new habits like shopping online. The report ranked grocery spending as the category which consumers expect their spending to increase followed by takeaway food.

Upbound nabs $60M to grow its open source Crossplane multi-cloud management project

Companies today want to avoid the lock-in they faced in the past with a single vendor. As a result, they are hedging their bets with a multi-cloud strategy, but this creates a new problem around finding a single tool for managing it all. That’s where Upbound comes in with its open source Crossplane multi-cloud management tool.

It’s a big problem, and up until now, companies have relied on the cloud vendors themselves to manage each one separately. While some solutions like Google Anthos and Red Hat OpenShift have come along, there was a lack of open source tooling until Upbound released Crossplane in May 2020.

Investors recognized the need identified by Upbound and rewarded the company with a $60 million Series B to help build the open source project while looking to grow the commercial version of the product. Altimeter Capital led the round with participation from GV, Intel Capital and Telstra Ventures.

Upbound founder and CEO Bassam Tabbara said that while the market has attempted to find a solution to this management challenge, he believes that his company is the first to build an open source community with the hope of developing this single management console and single API to manage across cloud tools.

“There’s been a lot of efforts around trying to build a single point of control. None of them have attacked this problem from a community perspective, creating a universal control plane that enables that in [a] community, while [building] the convergence around it,” he said.

“I think of Crossplane as the first to get to a point where we actually now have a convergence effect around a single universal cloud API. This has never happened before. It’s truly the first time that we’ve gotten to one. You can go to Crossplane right now and you get one declarative API that can be used to address all cloud resources and infrastructure sources across all vendors.”

Tabbara points out that the project is fully cloud-native and is managed under the umbrella of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which manages Kubernetes and other key open source cloud-native technologies.

He said that Crossplane allows users to pick and choose the cloud vendors they want to use — whether cloud infrastructure vendors like AWS, Microsoft and Google or cloud-native tooling like Elastic, Confluent, Databricks and Snowflake — and manage all of that from a single API.

The company has grown and helped nurture the open source project and developed a commercial product in parallel called Upbound (like the company), which customers can install themselves in their cloud of choice or use a SaaS version that Upbound will manage for them.

It’s not only catching on with users. Tabbara said he has also been seeing major vendors like AWS, Azure, Equinix and IBM building integrations for Crossplane. He believes this is key, and it’s similar to the dynamic we saw in 2017 when the major cloud players began to rally around Kubernetes and the CNCF.

“It’s truly to the point where there is now a real convergence effect around Crossplane, not unlike the convergence effect that we saw around Kubernetes as a project, and not unlike the convergence we saw around Linux as a project,” he said.

It seems to be a project and a commercial vision with tremendous potential, one that investors see as a pivotal piece of the cloud puzzle and are willing to pour in significant capital to help build. If Upbound can execute on this vision, it may be onto something truly transformative, but only time will tell if they can make that happen.

Particular Audience takes in $7.5M to give retailers way to take on Amazon

Being in control of customer data is one of the ways retailers, like Amazon, Spotify and Netflix, are able to tap into consumer behavior and create customized experiences whenever a user logs in.

Those are some of the reasons Amazon, in particular, is poised to grab 50% of the U.S. e-commerce market this year, and why Sydney-based Particular Audience wants to break down the data silos going on within e-commerce to give any retailer a chance to gather similar data on their customers to personalize experiences.

Particular Audience provides product discovery tools for retailers that are powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. In fact, the company wants to go further and offer personalization based on anonymity and without compromising personal data, CEO James Taylor told TechCrunch.

Taylor launched Particular Audience in 2019 after taking a few years to work out the technology. The global pandemic threw a wrench in some plans, with Taylor and a handful of executives taking a pay cut so as to not have to let any employees go. However, with the e-commerce industry growing over the past 18 months, the company was able to get back to where it was, he said.

The company has now amassed a real-time data set on product search, sales, pricing and availability from across the internet, from its browser plugin SimilarInc.com, which gathers the data from its online shopper community without tracking or cookies. Retailers can analyze that data to tell them, for example, how better to promote high-margin or overstocked items.

“Data IP is the current frontier,” he said. “It is data that is going to improve predictions to personalize inventory and reduce waste while also helping with supply chain management. The goal is to create website data visibility that would benefit all of the other merchants other than Amazon.”

To continue developing its technology, the company secured $7.5 million in Series A funding in a round led by Equity Venture Partners and that included existing investors Carthona Capital and a group of angel investors. This latest investment gives the company $9.5 million in total funding raised to date, which includes $1.3 million in seed funding raised in 2019.

Particular Audience

How Particular Audience works on a website. Image Credits: Particular Audience

Particular Audience is working with approximately 100 websites currently. In addition to Sydney, the company also has an office in London. Europe makes up more than 50% of Particular Audience’s global revenue, and the new funding enables the company to open a new office in Amsterdam next year.

North America is also a growth territory for the company, where it has already opened an office in Vancouver, with plans to open a New York office in 2022 as well. The company has 60 employees, up from 20 last year, and Taylor expects to add 40 more in the next year, including rounding out its leadership team with a head of product.

The funding will also be invested into building out an API-first product suite and retail media platform so retailers can gain a revenue stream from cost per clicks. Meanwhile, the company saw 460% year over year in revenue growth and expects to hit $100 million in gross merchandise value through its products this year, up 19 times in the last two years, Taylor said.

As part of the investment, Daniel Szekely, partner at Equity Venture Partners, will join the board.

“Personalization of the internet is a critical frontier for e-commerce retailers, and in a world of growing online shopping options and diminishing consumer attention spans, delivering an experience that meets individual consumers’ needs is absolutely critical,” he said in a written statement. “James and his outstanding team have tackled this issue in a novel way, and the important need for their solution has been made obvious as the business gets pulled into multiple geographies. We’re thrilled to back them in their Series A and know this is just the beginning of the journey.”

 

Flowrite is an AI writing productivity tool that wants to help you hit inbox zero

When TechCrunch asks Flowrite if it’s ‘Grammarly on steroids’, CEO and co-founder Aaro Isosaari laughs, saying that’s the comment they always get for the AI writing productivity tool they’ve been building since late summer 2020 — drawing on early access to OpenAI’s GPT-3 API, and attracting a wait-list of some 30,000 email-efficiency seeking prosumers keen to get their typing fingers on its beta.

The quest for ‘Inbox zero’ — via lightning speed email composition — could be rather easier with this AI-powered sidekick. At least if you’re the sort of person who fires off a bunch of fairly formulaic emails each and every day.

What does Flowrite do exactly? It turns a few instructions (yes you do have to type these) into a fully fledged, nice to read email. So where Grammarly helps improve a piece of (existing) writing, by suggesting tweaks to grammar/syntex/style etc, Flowrite helps you write the thing in the first place, so long as the thing is email or some other professional messaging type comms.

Email is what Flowrite’s AI models have been trained on, per Isosaari. And frustration with how much time he was having to spend composing emails was the inspiration for the startup. So its focus is firmly professional comms — rather than broader use cases for AI-generated words, such as copy writing etc (which GPT-3 is also being used for).

“In my previous work I knew that this is a problem that I had — I’d spend several hours every day communicating with different stakeholders on email and other messaging platforms,” he says. “We also knew that there are a lot more people — it’s not just our problem as co-founders; there’s millions of people who could benefit from communicating more effectively and efficiently in their day to day work.”

Here’s how Flowrite works: The user provides a set of basic (bullet pointed) instructions covering the key points of what they want to say and the AI-powered tool does the rest — generating a full email text that conveys the required info in a way that, well, flows.

Automation is thus doing the wordy leg work of filling in courteous greetings/sign-offs and figuring out appropriate phrasing to convey the sought for tone and impression.

Compared to email templates (an existing tech for email productivity), Isosaari says the advantage is the AI-powered tool adapts to context and “isn’t static”.

One obvious but important point is that the user does also of course get the chance to check over — and edit/tweak — the AI’s suggested text before hitting send so the human remains firmly the agent in the loop.

Isosaari gives an example use-case of a sales email where the instructions might boil down to typing something like “sounds amazing • let’s talk more in a call • next week, Monday PM” — in order to get a Flowrite-generated email that includes the essential details plus “all the greetings” and “added formalities” the extended email format requires.

(Sidenote: Flowrite’s initial pitch to TechCrunch was via email — but did not apparently involve the use of its tool. At least the email did not include a disclosure that: “This email is Flowrittenas a later missive from Isosaari (to send the PR as requested) did. Which, perhaps, gives an indication of the sorts of email comms you might want to speed-write (with AI) and those you maybe want to dedicated more of your human brain to composing (or at least look like you wrote it all yourself).)

“We’ve built an AI powered writing tools that helps professionals of all kinds to write and communicate faster as part of their daily workflow,” Isosaari tells TechCrunch. “We know that there’s millions of people who spend hours every day on emails and messages in a professional context — so communicating with different stakeholders, internally and externally, takes a lot of work, daily working hours. And Flowrite helps people to do that faster.”

The AI tool could also be a great help to people who find writing difficult for specific reasons such as dyslexia or because English is not their native language, he further suggests.

One obvious limitation is that Flowrite is only able to turn out emails in English. And while GPT-3 does have models for some other common languages, Isosaari suggests the quality of its ‘human-like’ responses there “might not be as good” as they are in English — hence he says they’ll remain focused there for now.

They’re using GPT-3’s language model as the core AI tech — but have also, recently, begun to use their own accumulated data to “fine tune it”, with Isosaari noting: “Already we’ve built a lot of things on top of GPT-3 so we’re building a wrapper on it.”

The startup’s promise for the email productivity tool is also that the AI will adapt to the user’s writing style — so that faster emails won’t also mean curtly out of character emails (which could lead to fresh emails asking if you’re okay?).

Isosaari says the tech is not not mining your entire email history to do this — but rather only looks at the directly preceding context in an email thread (if there is one).

Flowrite does also currently rely on cloud processing, since it’s calling GPT-3’s tech, but he says they want to move to on-device processing, which would obviously help address any confidentiality concerns, when we ask about that.

For now the tool is browser-based and integrates with web email. Currently it only works for Chrome and Gmail but Isosaari confirms the team’s plan is to expand integrations — such as for messaging platforms like Slack (but still initially at least, only for the web app version).

While the tech tool is still in a closed beta, the startup has just announced a $4.4 million seed raise.

The seed is led by Project A, along with Moonfire Ventures and angel investors Ilkka Paananen (CEO & Co-founder of Supercell), Sven Ahrens (director of global growth at Spotify), and Johannes Schildt (CEO & Co-Founder of Kry). Existing investors Lifeline Ventures and Seedcamp also joined in the round.

What types of emails and professionals is Flowrite best suited for? On the content side, Isosaari says it’s “typically replies where there’s some kind of existing context that you are responding to”.

“It’s able to understand the situation really well and adapt to it in a really natural way,” he suggests. “And also for outreaches — things like pitches and proposals… What it doesn’t work that well for is if you want to write something that is really, really complex — because then in order to do that you would need to have all that information in the instructions. And then obviously if you need to spend a lot of time writing the instruction that could be even close to the final email — and there’s not much value that Flowrite can provide at that point.”

It’s also obviously not going to offer great utility if you’re firing off “really, really short emails” — since if you’re just answering with a couple of words it’s likely quicker to type that yourself.

In terms of who’s likely to use Flowrite, Isosaari says they’ve had a broad range of early adopters seeking to tap into the beta. But he describes the main user profile as “executives, managers, entrepreneurs who communicate a lot on a daily basis” — aka, people who “need to give a good impression about themselves and communicate very thoughtfully”.

On the business model front, Flowrite’s initial focus is on prosumers/individual users — although Isosaari says it may look to expand out from there, perhaps first supporting teams. And he also says he could envisage some kind of SaaS offering for businesses down the line.

Currently, it’s not charging for the beta — but does plan to add pricing early next year.

“Once we move out of the beta then we’ll be starting to monetize,” he adds, suggesting that a full launch out of beta (so no more waitlist) could happen by mid 2022. 

The seed funding will primarily be spent on growing the team, according to Isosaari, especially on the engineering side — with the main goal at this early stage being to tool up around AI and core product.

Expanding features is another priority — including adding a “horizontal way” of using the tool across the browser, such as with different email clients.

Perfeggt brings in first capital to shell out plant-based egg alternative

Sales of plant-based alternatives, like dairy and meat, are surging in the global market, and Perfeggt wants to do the same for the egg.

The Berlin-based foodtech company is poised to debut its chicken-less egg product in the first quarter of 2022 in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Today, the company announced it raised $2.8 million in its first funding round to aid the initial launch and then expand further in Europe later in 2022.

Backers in the round include EVIG Group, Stray Dog Capital, E2JDJ, Tet Ventures, Good Seed Ventures, Sustainable Food Ventures and Shio Capital.

Perfeggt CEO Tanja Bogumil co-founded the company, which is part of Lovely Day Foods GmbH, earlier this year with Gary Lin, EVIG’s founder and CEO, and Bernd Becker, who was a long-time head of R&D for Rügenwalder Mühle, a German vegetarian and vegan meat maker.

Bernd Becker, Gary Lin, Tanja Bogumil v.l.n.r. Perfeggt

Perfeggt co-founders, from left, Bernd Becker, Gary Lin and Tanja Bogumil. Image Credits: Patrycia Lukaszewicz

“I really believe we deserve better food,” Bogumil told TechCrunch. “My mother’s family is from an agriculture background in small-scale farming, so I have always been conscious of where the food we eat comes from. I turned vegetarian at 12 when my uncle brought me to a slaughterhouse to show me that the sausages I ate were not made the right way. I didn’t fully get what was happening there, but it didn’t feel right or humane.”

Unlike dairy, where there is already sustainability, she believes the egg is still largely untapped. Sure, there are companies making similar plant-based alternatives, like Simply Eggless and Just Eat, which raised $200 million earlier in the summer, but worldwide, more than 1.3 trillion eggs are produced annually, meaning there is room to grow, and applications are versatile, Bogumil said.

Perfeggt’s first plant-based egg product is a protein-rich liquid alternative made from fava beans. It can be prepared as a scrambled egg or omelet in the pan. The company will initially be launching its product with food service organizations.

As with all food, taste is king, and with this product, the co-founders worked to create similar mouth feel, sensory, flavors and textures — all elements that Bogumil says are needed to get people to switch to a plant-based equivalent.

“This is something we spent time on figuring out,” she added. “Our product is built around the fava bean, which is very suited to mimic functionality required for these applications.”

To do this, Perfeggt’s R&D site in Emsland, Germany works closely with Wageningen University & Research, known for its life sciences research, to test plant-based protein sources and their combinations that come closest to the nutritional and functional properties of animal products.

The new funding enables the company to build out its team at its headquarters and R&D facility. The company is currently hiring for food scientists, marketing and R&D.

Meanwhile, Bogumil believes that more companies coming into the egg alternative space will help Perfeggt’s mission to shift people to plant-based foods.

“This is not a one-winner-takes-all market,” she said. “We have never in history seen alternative proteins be so close to the mainstream market. Clearly that is reflected in the capital markets, and not just for developing niche markets, but for the future of food.”

“We are incredibly impressed by the team’s rapid technological progress in developing next-generation alternative proteins and finding solutions that improve human, planetary and animal health,” Stephanie Dorsey, founding partner at E2JDJ, added in a written statement. “The egg market is a massive opportunity and this is just the beginning.”

Rensource-spinoff Sabi closes $6M bridge round, expands B2B retail platform outside Nigeria

Nigeria’s informal trade sector, worth over $244 billion, has more than 40 million micro, small and medium businesses.

Most of these businesses operated offline until a few years ago when startups brought about digitization by providing infrastructure and a gamut of e-commerce and financial services.

One-year-old Sabi — a spinoff from Rensource, an African energy company that offers power-as-a-service to customers — is the latest startup to raise funds to serve the informal sector. The company confirmed to TechCrunch that it has raised a $6 million bridge round led by pan-African VC firm CRE Ventures.

Sabi’s bridge round is coming a year after closing a $2 million seed round from CRE Ventures, Jaango Capital, Atlantica Ventures and Waarde Capital.

Ademola Adesina and Anu Adasolum have been at the helm of Rensource since the company started in 2015; Adesina as founder and CEO and Adasolum, COO.

By providing these small and medium businesses with power, the team at Rensource began to look into other pain points these SMEs had and find ways to add value beyond energy provision.

With the pandemic halting Rensource’s business, the team had time to develop this concept which became Sabi in October 2020.

Adasolum leads Sabi’s efforts as founder and CEO following the company’s branch out in March, while Adesina holds a co-founder and director role. 

Sabi is an attempt at platforming the informal sector and African trade via various online and offline channels. This means that Sabi tries to complement the middlemen (mainly distributors) in the B2B e-commerce retail chain rather than replace them, a model familiar with other prominent B2B e-commerce retail startups such as Sokowatch, MaxAB TradeDepot and Twiga.

“We’re not trying to be, you know, a tech-enabled digital distributor. We’re not trying to disintermediate a market full of hyper-specialization where one of the defining characteristics of the informal sector is you have all these middlemen and agents performing a very narrow role,” Adesina said to TechCrunch.

We think that specialization is important for the sector to work properly — whether it’s aggregation, making a sale, knowing the customer especially well, all these middlemen play a key role. And the way we deal with them is we give them a set of tools and an infrastructure they can run their business on to make it more optimized.”

Sabi caters to the needs of manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers and classifies all of them as merchants.

The company operates an asset-light model and doesn’t own vehicles, warehouses or goods. But it provides visibility into these assets across the entire value chain from the demand and supply side and controls on a single platform.

Running this model exempts Sabi from the constraints a typical B2B e-commerce retail platform might face when acting as a distributor for manufacturers to retailers.

Sabi

Anu Adasolum (Founder and CEO, Sabi)

For instance, asset-heavy platforms can’t move goods from two different suppliers in the same truck or use the same salespeople when distributing goods from different suppliers to retailers. On the other hand, Sabi doesn’t have such constraints, so whereas other platforms try to standardize operations around goods offtake, Sabi concentrates on offtake monitoring.

“We focus our processes, policies and monitoring around understanding the different types of users and monitoring how the third parties we work with are serving them,” said CEO Adasolum.

“As a result, the net experience of each off-taker is different and it works more for their particular business type. So I’m not going to go to a business that is used to working a particular way and change it but instead offer several other channels that they’re more comfortable with through our platform.”

These channels include offline agents, call centres, merchant partners, supplier centres and mobile app. Each stakeholder can access tools around inventory management, sales, tracking, digital invoices, analytics on the platform.

“We’re starting with what makes them comfortable, not what we think is best,” the CEO added. 

Merchants on Sabi deal with FMCG goods and products in other sectors such as agriculture, electronics and chemicals. The category-agnostic platform is home to more than 175,000 merchants who have made B2B transactions totalling over $200 million annualized GMV run rate. And more than 10,000 agents serve these merchants on Sabi’s network.

Sabi makes money by taking a transaction fee when any merchants perform any sale on the marketplace. The company also earns a margin for providing financing to them.

Adesina said in Q1 2022, Sabi plans to roll out a subscription model where agents will pay a monthly fee to access a reseller model.

Also in Sabi’s pipeline is providing manufacturers with visibility and data-backed insights and direct engagement down the value chain.

Growing an average of 40% month on month in Nigeria, Sabi intends to replicate its rapid growth in other African countries Kenya and South Africa.

The company opened shop in Kenya last month and just made a few hires in South Africa, intending to go live early next year. Another round of funding, a Series A, might close in time to fuel the company’s expansion into both countries, Adesina said.

Pardon Makumbe, co-founder and managing partner of CRE Venture Capital, in a statement emphasizing why his firm doubled down on its investment under a year said, “Sabi’s online and offline approach to serving informal businesses, combined with the quality of its platform and service provider curation, has clearly taken root in Nigeria. The company is on track to be one of the fastest-growing African companies of 2021 and is showing no signs of slowing down.”

Sabi’s growth, in addition to market demand, comes from the background of its founders. Before Sabi and Rensource, CEO Adasolum worked at Jumia, where she was in charge of offline sales for some African countries: Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya.

She has also performed commercial operations and merchant acquisition roles for the African e-commerce giant. Adesina too has vast experience working with multinationals such as the Capricorn Investment Group, the Rockefeller Foundation and JP Morgan.

Adesina is confident that the digitization of offline processes for B2B e-commerce retail will continue despite questions about why many players exist in the space. And he believes as more startups come into the market, more venture capital will follow.

Sabi’s monthly GMV numbers is one reason the co-founder has this conviction. Right now, the company claims to be on the verge of processing about $12 million monthly GMV.

While Jumia, Africa’s biggest e-commerce player, records this volume on average after five years in operation, it has taken Sabi less than a year to achieve this feat which can be attributed to the size of the country’s informal B2B e-commerce retail market.

“The kind of data we’re seeing now in terms of like real-time visibility into whether people like this product or that product, that stuff is gonna accrue and grow exponentially over the next a few years,” the co-founder said.

“And then I think that the same way one saw in China in the late 90s the kind of hyper digitalization of what was a very informal economy, I see that happening faster in Africa than most people realize. I think it’s something people don’t realize how quickly it’s going to happen.”

Pet video marketplace Camlist eyes UK growth after raising $1.3 million pre-seed funding

Camlist, a video marketplace for pets, has raised $1.3 million in a pre-seed round, funding that the startup plans to use to develop its platform and grow its workforce — as it looks to expand its reach in the UK, its second market (after the U.A.E.), which it entered earlier this year.

Unlike other marketplaces, Camlist (derived from camera listing) allows sellers to list videos of the pets they wish to sell, and once contact is made, the buyer and seller can engage through both video and text-chat within the app.

The marketplace currently only allows the listing of pets, but it is set to diversify to other items in the near future.

“Classifieds, or peer to peer commerce in general, has been stuck in the same old way of operation since eBay showed up. There has not been real significant innovation ever since; it’s just listings, maybe some images and phone numbers,” said Camlist co-founder and chief executive officer, Moustafa Mahmoud.

“But at Camlist we are changing that. We are turning the marketplace into a video experience because every pre-owned item has a story.”

Mahmoud said that they are building the safest way for anyone to find a pet by also ensuring verified health checks and interest free financing, in partnership with third parties, for those unable to make one-off payments. Camlist has rehomed over 6,000 pets to date.

“Our in-app GMV (Gross Merchandise Value) has been growing 100% every two quarters, so we’re doubling every quarter, and our total GMV is around $2 million a month,” said Mahmoud.

The Y Combinator company was founded and launched in Dubai, U.A.E, last year, just before Covid pandemic hit. The launch turned out to be timely and the site grew popular as people, forced to stay home, bought their own pets — partly to deal with boredom, but also because they had the time to nurture them.

“We’re building the marketplace category by category, and we just feel that the pets listing is so huge, and also very underserved. We plan to expand into different items as we grow,” said Mahmoud, who is also a computer scientist.

Other co-founders include Maha Refai, also the startup’s chief product officer, who has 16 years’ experience building and scaling digital products. She is also the creator of MBC’s (Middle East’s largest free-to-air broadcaster) premier video platform as well as other multiple video streaming products.

Alsayed Gamal, who is Camlist chief technical officer, has 15 years software engineering experience. He has knowledge and experience in mobile platforms, data engineering, DevOps, API design, microservices and serverless architecture.

Mahmoud said the idea to start Camlist was inspired by the need to counter the bad experiences he went through while making purchases on classified sites in Dubai, U.A.E, where items were often misrepresented and scams high.

Moustafa Mahmoud; Camlist chief executive officer, he co-founded the video marketplace with Maha Refai; the startup’s chief product officer and Alsayed Gamal; chief technical officer.

Classifieds are popular in Dubai, an expat city, as people use them to dispose of their items, but they have also provided an opportunity for scammers to target unsuspecting people. To counter this, Camlist has an option for in-app payments — with funds released once the buyers confirm receipt of the pets. This feature ensures that buyers are not defrauded by deterring cons masquerading as vendors.

Mahmoud and his other co-founders provide a marketplace that allows buyers to first experience items of interest, through video, before making a purchase. This is besides ensuring that buyers were protected against fraud and guaranteeing high quality services.

The company also follows up with the sellers on its platform to ensure that they are breeding or keeping the pets in healthy environments, as well as vaccinating, deworming, and microchipping them.

“We also support our buyers and sellers by providing them with free vaccinations, microchipping, deworming, insurance, and pet food. We try to provide the best experience for our buyers and our sellers,” he said.

The startup raised the new funding from Y-Combinator; the technology startup accelerator, Act One Ventures; an early-stage venture fund and a number of angel investors from Houseparty, Mux and Facebook.

“We really looked forward to investors who believe in our vision of building the marketplace of the future. And we are really fortunate to get people who believe in this vision, and who actually work and build applications in the video industry,” said Mahmoud.

After achieving traction in the UK, Camlist is planning to enter the US market, which it believes is going to be a huge and important market for them.

“So, the current state for us is expansion within the UK because it’s a pretty big market. And we can see the impact of what we’re doing here. But as soon as we reach a certain stage where we have the majority of the market, then we will start to expand into the United States,” said Mahmoud, who was born in Egypt, with his family moving to Dubai when he was six years old.

TabTrader raises $5.8M for a mobile app that aggregates crypto exchange data

As many of the top cryptocurrencies seem to temporarily stabilize near all-time highs, users looking to speculate on tokens that are a bit more volatile are searching across exchanges to find deals.

Amsterdam-based startup TabTrader has been capitalizing on this search with a platform that aggregates prices and token availability across dozens of exchanges. While other platforms allow users to look at token prices across exchanges, most are desktop-optimized while TabTrader has built up a substantial presence for its mobile app on iOS and Android.

As different exchanges take different approaches toward onboarding new tokens, crypto traders are increasingly signing up for accounts on multiple exchanges and tracking prices across multiple apps with multiple notification types set for each. Many users rely on TabTrader for its cross-exchange price alert feature, notifying users when a particular token has gone above or below a certain value. While plenty of exchanges offer this functionality inside their native apps, the reliability and customizability of these push notifications has often been inconsistent.

CEO Kirill Suslov tells TechCrunch that the TabTrader app has more than 400,000 active users, with particularly strong presences in Europe and Asia.

The startup has adopted a Kayak-like model, aggregating prices for tokens and picking up rebate fees from exchanges when users make a purchase through the app. While users plug their wallet info into the app to easily make purchases through connected exchanges, Suslov says that TabTrader never has access to user funds.

Alongside these rebates, TabTrader also makes money through a $12 monthly subscription for a paid version, as well as advertising. Suslov says his 20-person team has scaled to reach their current audience without any paid marketing.

While tens of millions of users have created accounts on centralized exchanges like Coinbase and Binance, Suslov says that TabTrader’s biggest opportunity may be embracing so-called decentralized exchanges like Uniswap, which allow users to rapidly exchange tokens with other users.

Suslov says that while the exchanges have built out great technology in the back-end, the front-end interfaces aren’t as easy for users to navigate, leaving room for an aggregator like TabTrader to streamline the user experience while allowing users to explore decentralized exchanges for the first time. The startup says they’re starting with a number of Solana-based exchanges including Serum, Raydium and Orca.

“[Decentralized exchanges] are the hottest topic of 2021,” Suslov says.We raised to get onto this rocket ship.”

Suslov tells TechCrunch that TabTrader has banked $5.8 million in Series A funding from 100X Ventures, Hashkey Capital, Spartan Capital, SGH Capital, SOSV and Artesian Venture Partners.

Longevica takes in $2.5M as it launches open research resources to examine life extension

Life science company Longevica said Wednesday it is launching an open research tool so scientists and research institutions can access a data set that tracks the effects of more than 1,000 pharmacological compounds for testing drugs.

This is the latest effort from the biotechnology company, which is researching mechanisms of healthy aging and life extension. To do this, the company took in $2.5 million in funding led by Xploration Capital.

In April, Longevica announced the launch of a line of supplements based on its research. The company got its start more than 11 years ago and has now raised over $15.5 million in funding from investors, including Alexander Chikunov, a longevity investor, who is also president of the company.

When the company emerged from stealth, it was primarily focused on finding the best ways to leverage the results of its research as soon as possible and bringing some consumer-ready products to market, Longevica co-founder and CEO Ainar Abdrakhmanov told TechCrunch via email.

“We still move along this path, which includes screening and trials; however, through a series of deep interviews, we found that most scientists in the longevity space lack infrastructure, and we decided to share our internal engine to leverage more research through partnerships and by giving researchers a data platform for their work,” he added.

Living longer is an area that other companies are working in as well, for both humans and pets. The global anti-aging drugs market was valued at nearly $8 billion in 2020 and is projected to double by 2027.

Meanwhile, Crunchbase News took a look at the status of longevity startups in July and found over 30 operating in the space that collectively raised billions of dollars. A more recent example is Loyal, which raised $27 million to examine longer lives in animals with a long-term vision of translating that into human longevity.

Longevica itself started fundraising when it came up with the idea of the end-to-end open research platform. The new funding will go toward supporting the platform’s development and integration of the company’s research data set.

The goal is to validate the pipeline of turning scientific research into consumer-ready products, Abdrakhmanov said.

“There’s a lot of hypotheses around ageing and lifespan, but there’s a clear bottleneck in actually testing those ideas to figure out who might be right,” he added. “Our platform should help the scientific community get a bit closer to the answers.”

Its original study, led by Chikunov and Longevica co-founder Dr. Alexey Ryazanov, tested 300 compounds and showed significant life extension properties. The company is close to publishing a peer-reviewed paper on that study. Abdrakhmanov called it “more of a moonshot project,” but also that this direction could bring results much sooner and be beneficial for the entire industry, something its investors were able to see, he added.

Armed with the new research capabilities, Longevica will now go deeper into testing those compounds with a new research study at Jackson Laboratory. In January, the company will also begin collecting applications from researchers interested in testing their drugs in a full-scale pharmacological screening experiment that will begin in June 2022.

“Also in January, we will start a public database including marked up data on most longevity-related experiments on mice, both public and some which haven’t been published yet,” Abdrakhmanov said. “The entire platform will be free and open source, even its program code will be publicly available on GitHub.”