Eazy Digital helps Southeast Asia’s small insurers digitize their operations

Founded by two insurance industry veterans, Eazy Digital wants to give small insurance companies in Southeast Asia the same advantage as their larger competitors. Its SaaS platform lets insurers digitize many parts of their operations, enabling them to scale up more efficiently.

The Bangkok-based startup announced today it has raised $850,000 in an oversubscribed seed round led by Wavemaker Partners, with participation from Seedstars International Ventures, Wing Vasiksiri and Sasin Bangkok Venture Club.

Eazy Digital was founded last year by Haprem Doowa and Maethavee Sukul. Doowa was previously co-founder and CEO of Frank Insurance, an online digital broker in Thailand that was acquired by Bolttech in 2021. Sukul was head of operations at Frank, Bolttech Insurance Broker and digital health insurance broker Benix.

Eazy Digital co-founder Haprem Doowa

Eazy Digital co-founder Haprem Doowa

Doowa told TechCrunch that while working together at Frank, he and Sukul “both realized that the insurance industry was plagued with manual work and quick home-built solutions.” Many insurance companies in Thailand manage their agents using a combination of Excel, Line chats and phone calls.

While larger insurance companies have the money and team members to build their own software, their smaller competitors, which Doowa said make up over 90% of insurance companies, struggle to digitize their operations. Eazy Digital’s goal is to give them a platform that is affordable and helps solve their scalability issues. It enables insurers to manage agents, operations, user referrals and engagement.

Eazy Digital’s competitors include eBao, Appman and ZA Tech, which also build software for insurers. Doowa said Eazy Digital differentiates by focusing on distribution and the efficiency of agency sales and customer referrals. “Both are revenue-earning for the companies which makes it easier for insurance companies to say yes to working with us,” he added.

The startup’s new funding will be used for marketing, hiring and product development with an eye on expanding to other Southeast Asian markets.

Eazy Digital helps Southeast Asia’s small insurers digitize their operations by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

This startup brings Southeast Asia’s vacant hospital rooms into the sharing economy

Uber and Airbnb have long been the poster children for the sharing economy. In other realms of society, entrepreneurs are also trying to match demand with untapped assets and services. HD, a startup based out of Bangkok, is applying the economic model to healthcare in Southeast Asia.

HD operates a platform that helps three parties meet: surgeons with private practice, patients looking to have their surgeries done more cheaply, and vacant surgery rooms at hospitals. The model might sound a bit counterintuitive to people in the West, but Southeast Asia’s medical system is built on very different patient-hospital dynamics.

Sheji Ho, co-founder and CEO of HD, conceived the idea when he saw surgeons in Thailand advertising on Facebook to attract private customers. Dual practice is “very common” for doctors in Southeast Asia, observed Ho, who previously co-founded the Southeast Asian e-commerce enabler aCommerce.

“They get the credential from working for top hospitals, but they are paid poorly, so they also work at private ones where they get the money,” he says in an interview.

In Southeast Asia, people go straight to the hospital when they get sick. The problem with public hospitals, Ho reckons, is they have very long queues, so doctors try to lure patients to the private institutions where they work. “Doctors [in the region] are kind of like merchants who operate across different platforms,” he says.

Forty percent of Southeast Asia’s health spending was paid out of pocket in 2018, according to World Health Organization, compared to 29.8% in Europe and 32.4% in the Americas. Since there’s no central platform providing cost transparency, patients often end up paying a steep price.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, swathes of surgeon rooms suddenly got freed up as Thailand, a popular destination for medical tourism, lost international patients. The oversupply was exacerbated by the country’s hospital-building spree before the pandemic, Ho noted, as the government bet on an aging population and increased land value.

“Organically, hospitals wanted to use our platforms,” Ho says. And since HD is bringing customers to them, it can bargain for lower room rates. Patients getting surgeries such as thyroid, hemorrhoid, and orthopedic surgery through HD are paying 15-20% less than market prices.

Why not provide a meeting point for all these needs? Hence HD launched its HDcare private-label surgery service two months ago. The platform is now sitting on a supply of over 20 operating rooms across Thailand and Indonesia, according to Ho, with the potential to access more from 1,500 healthcare providers already on its platform, and has over 40 types of surgeries lined up. The plan is to scale the service to 200 surgeries performed per quarter by Q4 2023.

Amazon for health services

HD’s surgery platform is a new addition to its established business, a marketplace for outpatient services. The model has proven successful in the massive healthcare market in neighboring China, where JD.com, Alibaba’s domestic archrival, runs a similar e-commerce operation selling third-party healthcare services like vaccinations, checkups, imaging sessions, and minor surgeries.

The absence of primary care in Southeast Asia means people either need to ask their friends for recommendations or do several rounds of hospital hopping before landing the right doctor and treatment.

That’s a contrast to the U.S., where 75% of adults had primary care physicians as of 2015 to treat common conditions and are referred to hospitals only for urgent and specialist treatment.

Like Airbnb, HD began onboarding hospitals and clinics through a lot of heavy lifting, like helping customers set up their product pages. “But that’s also our moat,” says Ho. “SaaS is still too early for Southeast Asia.”

HD takes a cut from transactions and charges a listing fee from healthcare providers, similar to how a conventional e-commerce platform monetizes. It also offers healthcare marketing solutions to providers on its platform, similar to how Amazon Ads and Tmall Ads enable brands to increase their reach and performance.

The liability of platform operators is an ongoing debate in the tech industry, and a business that could influence one’s health seems to make the matter even trickier. As a marketplace platform, HD doesn’t deal with disputes in general; in the beauty space where the experience may be more “subjective”, HD takes an approach similar to that of Amazon whereby it “puts patients first, refunds customers and deals with the providers directly,” says the founder.

“In general, HD prioritizes minimally invasive, short-stay, elective surgeries that have low output variation such as thyroid and hemorrhoid surgery, in addition to outpatient procedures.”

Since its founding four years ago, HD has served around 250,000 patients. It saw a 7x sales growth during the pandemic and aims to keep its growth rate at 2-3x growth in the post-COVID years.

Optimism in recession

While the pandemic is taking a toll on the global economy, Ho is optimistic about his own venture. “Whenever a recession started, we saw some businesses take off. They were leveraging excess supply. Groupon was leveraging the excess supply of restaurants, and for Airbnb, it was vacant homes,” he suggests.

“So, as we enter the recession, there is enough opportunity — hospitals sitting on excess rooms. We have a two to three-year window to rapidly grow that part of the business.”

Despite the encouraging signs of growth, HD’s fundraising was off to a rough start. As the pandemic swept across the world, investors turned to telemedicine startups as the default healthcare solution. Ho disagrees with the presumption.

“Telehealth works well in the Western market. Basically, you talk to the GP [general physician], you get a prescription, and you go to Walgreens to get your antibodies, which need a prescription,” he says.

“But in Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, you can get that tier of medication at pharmacies [over the counter], removing the need for telehealth.”

Investors are now waking up to the potential of HD, which is enabling offline medical providers with digital platforms rather than competing with them. The startup recently closed a $6 million funding round from Partech Partners, M Venture Partners, AC Ventures, iSeed, and Orvel Ventures. It’s also part of a recent batch accepted into Google for Startups Accelerator’s Southeast Asia program.

This startup brings Southeast Asia’s vacant hospital rooms into the sharing economy by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch

Thailand’s Beam simplifies checkout for social commerce

The social commerce market is already worth more than $13 billion in Southeast Asia, but the checkout process is filled with friction. Many sellers don’t have online storefronts and instead use social media and messaging apps, which means payment is made by switching to banking apps or wallets.

This means low conversion rates, say the founders of Beam. The Thailand-based startup created a one-click payment solution for social commerce sellers and has raised $2.5 million in seed funding led by Sequoia Capital India and Southeast Asia’s Surge, with participation from Partech Partners.

Beam was founded in 2019 by Nattapat Chaimanowong, Mike Chinakrit Piamchon and Win Vareekasem. The trio were frustrated by the process of filling out information repeatedly for things like memberships, credit cards and visas and began working on a business idea to streamline form filling, which turned into Beam.

Beam founders Nattapat Chaimanowong, Mike Chinakrit Piamchon, and Win Vareekasem

Beam founders Nattapat Chaimanowong, Mike Chinakrit Piamchon and Win Vareekasem. Image Credits: Beam

Vareekasem told TechCrunch that after building multiple MVPs, the team found that one of the largest groups dealing with the problem were retailers. “Form filling alone could not solve sales conversions, so payments had to be integrated too, ultimately realizing a much larger, burning problem we are going after.”

Many social commerce sellers ask for peer-to-peer mobile banking apps, which means they accept payment by sharing account numbers. This can result in poor conversions because of limited payment options and a lot of work to manage payments.

Beam says its checkout process takes just 20 seconds. It accepts all major payment service providers in each market, like BNPL leaders Atome and Pace, and claims sellers using their payment solution have increased checkout success by up to 30%. Sellers also save money by paying lower transaction fees, since they don’t have to pay the subscription and platform fees charged by e-commerce marketplaces.

Beam monetizes by charging a flat percentage for each transaction based on the payment method. For example, it charges 2.95% for credit card transactions. Its typical client are medium-sized businesses that process a few hundred orders daily, and sell in the fashion, beauty, home and living and electronics sectors.

Beam is currently focused on Thailand, with plans to expand into Southeast Asia. While there are other startups focused on removing friction from social commerce, like Opaper, Vareekasem said Beam differentiates by focusing on end-to-end user checkout experiences for both shoppers and merchants, making sure that the former can check out in just one click when they shop online.

Thailand’s Beam simplifies checkout for social commerce by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

Thai beauty platform Konvy raises Series A for international expansion

Founded 10 years ago, Konvy is now Thailand’s top beauty e-commerce platform. It plans to accelerate its omnichannel and international distribution with a new Series A of $10 million from Insignia Ventures Partners.

Konvy was launched in 2012 by Chinese entrepreneur QingGui Huang, who previously managed fashion e-commerce platforms in China. It now works with more than 1,000 brands, representing SKUs of more than 20,000. Its brand portfolio includes L’Oréal, Shiseido, Sulwhasoo, Eucerin and La Roche-Posay.

“Konvy had the advantage of starting in Thailand when there were no really significant e-commerce players there at the time,” Huang told TechCrunch. “We’ve since leveraged our first mover advantage in Thailand to become a leading e-commerce player in the market.”

Konvy founders Leon Huang, Pornsuda Vangvidhayakul and QingHui Huang

Konvy founders Leon Huang, Pornsuda Vangvidhayakul and QingHui Huang

Konvy’s goal is to help local and international beauty brands take advantage of two major trends. The first is that health and beauty purchases are a priority spending category for Thai consumers and the second is that Thailand sees high rates of e-commerce purchases and social media usage, meaning that young people in Thailand spend an average of about two hours and 55 minutes on social media each day.

Huang said he confirmed his assumptions about Thai spending on beauty products through conversations with brands, and that drove his desire to start Konvy.

“This opportunity of health and beauty being a priority spending category for Thai consumers is a function of both demand and supply circumstances favoring this consumer behavior over the past decades,” he said. “On the supply side, Thailand has been a manufacturing hub for a lot of international brands for more than 40 years. This has spawned as well a thriving local industry. On the demand side, we see that Thai consumers are plugged into this mindset of ‘upgrades’ when it comes to health and beauty, that is to say, it’s not just about accessing such products but actually looking for the best products and high willingness to spend on the latest trends.”

Konvy taps into the high rate of social media usage by developing a feedback loop, where engagements on its partner brands’ not only helps Konvy’s existing portfolio, but also helps more brands in the future. For example, as more Gen Z consumers bought products they saw on TikTok during the pandemic, Konvy made itself more present on that channel.

In a statement, Insignia Ventures Partners founding managing partner Yinglan Tan said, “While there may be stronger competitors from horizontal marketplaces in the future, we believe Konvy is best positioned to be the market leader in the online beauty segment given its long-standing brand equity, brand-centric and community-led approach.”

Thai beauty platform Konvy raises Series A for international expansion by Catherine Shu originally published on TechCrunch

Dear Sophie: Is there a way to keep working in the US after my J-1 visa expires?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

TechCrunch+ members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie,

I’m a Fulbright scholar on a J-1 visa. I’ve been told that after my J-1 ends, I’m required to return to my country for two years.

Is there a way I can stay in the U.S.? Can I apply for an O-1A or green card even if I have to go back to my country?

— Seeking to Stay

Dear Seeking,

Congrats on joining the ranks of the Fulbright scholars! This is a great accomplishment that will likely bolster an eventual green card application!

However, being a Fulbright scholar also comes with a cost: I have never seen a Fulbright Scholar get a 212(e) waiver for the J-1 two-year foreign residency requirement. (If you are a Fulbright scholar who got the waiver approved, please message me!)

I recently spoke with Anthony Pawelski, the senior international advisor at Mass General Brigham, which consists of 16 institutions including Harvard- and Tufts-affiliated teaching hospitals. In that role, Pawelski prepares thousands of J-1 and other non-immigrant visa applications each year, but he says he has only seen waivers granted to Fulbright scholars a few times. Even waiver requests for Fulbright scholars that were filed by NASA and the National Science Foundation have been denied.

Pawelski also notes that India will not support J-1 waivers for medical doctors educated in India, and that Thailand and the Philippines are very strict about supporting waivers.

Before I share more about your visa and green card options to work in the U.S. after your exchange visit ends, here’s a primer on the J-1 two-year home residency requirement, and the process to seek a waiver for those who are eligible. A word of caution: the J-1 is a non-immigrant intent visa, so people who intend to seek a green card or live permanently in the U.S. are denied J-1 visas.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Two-year home residency requirement

As you probably know, the J-1 educational and cultural exchange visa has several benefits, such as being open to individuals in a range of fields, and allowing a J-1 visa holder’s spouse to apply for a work permit. While its benefits can far outweigh the drawbacks, the biggest limitation of the J-1 is the one you’re facing: the two-year home residency requirement.

Dear Sophie: Is there a way to keep working in the US after my J-1 visa expires? by Ram Iyer originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon Prime Video launches localized services for top three markets in Southeast Asia

Amazon Prime Video today launched localized versions of its streaming service in Southeast Asia’s biggest markets — Indonesia, Thailand, and The Philippines. The company is attempting to boost its subscriber base in the three markets by increasing its investment in local production, releasing original slates for each territory, and giving customers special offers like seven-day free trials and discounts.

“We’re delighted to be increasing our investment in Prime Video for customers in Southeast Asia, making it a truly localized experience—from local content specifically sourced for our customers to a localized user experience and the first full-scale local marketing campaign,” Josh McIvor, director of International Expansion, Prime Video, said in an official statement. “Our support of local production companies in Southeast Asia is a significant step towards our broader international expansion plans and our ambition to become the most local of global streaming services.”

Prime Video has been available in Southeast Asia since 2016, but until now it had never featured original content offerings, nor did it feature the local-language interfaces and subtitling that are typical in more developed markets.

To promote the new offerings, Amazon Prime Video is introducing free one-week trials and promotional subscription prices that last until December 2023 as part of its relaunch efforts in Indonesia, Thailand, and The Philippines. The discounted subscriptions will cost 59,000 Indonesian rupiah ($3.98), 149 Thai baht ($4.10), and 149 Philippine pesos ($2.69).

“Southeast Asia is a tapestry of cultures, languages, and histories, and there has truly never been a better time to be a content creator or a content consumer in this part of the world,” said Erika North, head of Asia-Pacific Originals, Prime Video. “We are committed to the local TV and film industry and believe in working with the most innovative creative talent in the region to bring the very best, most authentic, and local storytelling to life for our customers not only in the region but also Prime Video members around the world. This is just the start.”

Originals coming to the platform include three versions of a new situational comedy improv show”Comedy Island.” The new local originals “Comedy Island: Indonesia,” “Comedy Island: Thailand,” and “Comedy Island: Philippines” will each have eight comedians and celebrities taking part in comedic challenges and games. All three versions will be launching on Prime Video in over 240 countries and territories across the globe in 2023.

Indonesian content offerings include two films, “Siege At Thorn High” and “4 Seasons In Java,” plus other Indonesian titles like a local version of the Italian hit “Perfect Strangers,” “Ashiap Man,” and horror film “Kuntilanak 3.”

Thai titles coming to the local service include “Three Idiots and a Ghost,” “Metal Casket,” “The 100,” “The Up Rank,” “My True Friends: The Beginning,” and “How To Fake It In Bangkok.”

Filipino content ranges from comedy-drama “Big Night” to romance “How To Love Mr. Heartless” and “Whether The Weather Is Fine.”

Viewers will also get access to Korean offerings like “Nothing Serious,” “Toy Soldiers: Fake Men 2 The Complete,” along with popular anime titles “Demon Slayer” and “Jujutsu Kaisen 0.”

There are going to be other global titles such as the newly released film “Thirteen Lives,” starring Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen, the Hollywood blockbuster “No Time to Die,” global Amazon Originals like “The Boys,” “The Terminal List,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” and licensed U.S. series “The Good Doctor.”

U.S.-based streaming services such as Paramount+ and Disney+ have recently expanded into more countries and territories and also invested in international content to diversify their offerings and boost subscriptions.

In June, Paramount+ launched in South Korea in a partnership with TVING. The streamer plans for 150 international originals by 2025. Disney+ had its MENA launch (the Middle East and North Africa) two months ago, and aims to expand to 160+ countries by its fiscal 2023.

JusTalk spilled millions of user messages and locations for months

Popular messaging app JusTalk left a huge database of unencrypted private messages publicly exposed to the internet without a password for months.

The messaging app has around 20 million international users, while Google Play lists JusTalk Kids, billed as a child-friendly version of its messaging app, has racked up over 1 million Android downloads.

JusTalk says both its messaging apps are end-to-end encrypted and boasts on its website that “only you and the person you communicate with can see, read or listen to them: Even the JusTalk team won’t access your data!”

But that isn’t true. A logging database used by the company for keeping track of bugs and errors with the apps was left on the internet without a password, according to security researcher Anurag Sen, who found the exposed database and asked TechCrunch for help in reporting the lapse to the company.

The database and the hundreds of gigabytes of data inside — hosted on a Huawei-hosted cloud server in China — could be accessed from the web browser just by knowing its IP address. Shodan, a search engine for exposed devices and databases, shows the server was continually storing the most recent month’s worth of logs since at least early January when the database was first exposed.

A short time after we reported that the app was not end-to-end encrypted as the company claims, the database was shut down.

Juphoon, the China-based cloud company behind the messaging app, says on its website that it spun out JusTalk in 2016 and is now owned and operated by Ningbo Jus, a company that appears to share the same office as listed on Juphoon’s website.

Leo Lv, Juphoon’s chief executive and JusTalk’s founder, opened our emails but did not respond, or say if the company planned on notifying users about the security lapse.

Because the server’s data was entangled with logs and other computer-readable data, it’s not known exactly how many people had their private messages exposed by the security lapse.

The server was collecting and storing more than 10 million individual logs each day, including millions of messages sent over the app, including the phone numbers of the sender, the recipient and the message itself. The database also logged all placed calls, which included the caller’s and recipient’s phone numbers in each record.

Because each message recorded in the database contained every phone number in the same chat, it was possible to follow entire conversations, including from children who were using the JusTalk Kids app to chat with their parents. One conversation chain contained enough personal information to identify a pastor who was using the app to solicit a sex worker who lists their phone number publicly for their services, including the time, location and the price of their meeting.

None of the messages were encrypted, despite JusTalk’s claims.

We also previously reported that the database also included granular location data of thousands of users collected from users’ phones, with large clusters of users in the U.S., U.K., India, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and mainland China. The database also contained records from a third app, JusTalk 2nd Phone Number, which allows users to generate virtual, ephemeral phone numbers to use instead of giving out their private cell phone number. A review of some of these records show the database was logging both the person’s cell phone number and every ephemeral phone number that they generated.

But TechCrunch found evidence that Sen was not alone in finding the exposed database.

An undated ransom note left on the database suggests it was accessed on at least one occasion by a data extortionist, a bad actor that scans the internet for exposed databases in order to steal it and threaten to publish the data unless a ransom of a few hundred dollars worth of cryptocurrency is paid.

It’s not known if any JusTalk data was lost or stolen as a result of the extortionist’s access, but the blockchain address associated with the ransom note shows it has not yet received any funds.

Zipmex pauses withdrawals “until further notice”

Zipmex, a digital assets exchange with operations in Singapore, Australia, Indonesia and Thailand, said on Twitter that it “would be pausing withdrawals until further notice.”

The Singapore-headquartered company cited a “combination of circumstances beyond our control including volatile market conditions, and the resulting financial difficulties of our key business partners.”

Zipmex is not the only crypto exchange that has run into difficulties amid a global sell off in crypto markets. Crypto unicorn Babel suspended withdrawals in June, while Celsius, one of crypto’s biggest lenders, filed for bankruptcy a week ago.

Vauld, another Singapore-based crypto platform, suspended withdrawals, trading and deposits due to financial challenges earlier this month.

TechCrunch has reached out to Zipmex for comment and will update this story if we hear back from them. Reuters reports that in a livestream on Wednesday evening, Zipmex Thailand CEO Akalarp Yimwilai said its office’s difficulties were because of problems at Singapore-based Zipmex Global, whose partners Babel Finance and Celsius, were experiencing liquidity problems.

As Coinbase falters, Binance.US is waiting in the wings

As the largest publicly traded crypto exchange in the United States, Coinbase has become something of a household name. But as the going gets tough in the crypto markets, the company seems to be fumbling the bag, leaving it vulnerable to competition.

Coinbase’s stock price is down nearly 80% from where it started the year and it recently made headlines for laying off one-fifth of its staff. The company posted a $430 million loss in the first quarter of 2022, underperforming Wall Street analysts’ expectations. Its trading volumes and number of monthly transacting users were both down from Q4 last year — bad news for a company that depends heavily on transaction fees for its revenue.

The exchange got over its skis quicker than even Coinbase itself probably imagined, a point evidenced by its decision to rescind job offers last month from candidates who had already accepted them. Its competitors, though, have been lying in wait for their moment to close in on the U.S. market. Now, sensing Coinbase’s moment of weakness, the two largest crypto exchanges in the world by volume (Coinbase is third globally) — Binance and FTX — are hoping to seize their opportunity stateside.

The three crypto giants all have different established customer bases and are trying to steal each other’s market share. Retail investors comprise around 95% of Coinbase’s transaction revenue, according to its latest quarterly filing. FTX, in contrast, already has a strong institutional trading business anchored in its founder and chief executive Sam Bankman-Fried’s background working at a quant hedge fund.

SBF, as he’s known in the crypto world, has been pulling out all the stops to gain retail customers, including introducing zero-fee U.S. stock trading in May, to try to turn FTX into a one-stop shop for the retail investor’s needs. After all, if Coinbase ascended to the No. 3 spot buoyed almost entirely by U.S. retail investors, its decline presents a valuable opportunity for global, institutionally focused exchanges to poach its users and boost their own trading volumes.

It makes sense, then, that Binance has its sights set on luring more retail investors, but the largest global exchange is still a bit of a dark horse in the race for the U.S. market as it battles against FTX for customers. Its Binance.US division saw spot trading volumes below $300 million as of July 12. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to its global business, which saw volumes of $10 billion for the same period — about seven times higher than volumes at both FTX and Coinbase.

Today, 70% of trading volume on Binance.US, the American offshoot of the global exchange, comes from institutional customers, its CEO Brian Shroder told TechCrunch in an interview. Still, retail investors bring in more revenue overall, in part because of the steep discounts Binance.US offers to its highest-volume customers, he added.

Binance is also taking a markedly different approach from FTX in luring U.S. retail investors, focusing on its core competency in crypto.

“Some exchanges want to go back to stock trading and target that market. That’s, again, not a wrong or right approach. We are a pure web3 company. We’re not going back; we’re moving forward. We want to build more web3 tools,” Binance founder Chanpeng Zhao told Decrypt in an interview this week.

The exchange is also taking a less flashy tack when marketing in the U.S. While other competitors including Coinbase, FTX and Crypto.com were spending millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads during the crypto bull run, Binance.US stayed relatively quiet.

Under Shroder’s tenure, Binance.US seems to be reversing its reputation, once marred by rapid management turnover and ongoing regulatory battles, and pulling ahead in the fight to win over the U.S. retail investor. From a customer perspective, its strategy is undeniably appealing — undercut competitors by offering lower fees.

Coinbase’s fees are notoriously high at up to 3.99% for certain spot trades compared to FTX.US, which charges up to 0.20%. Binance.US, meanwhile, reaffirmed its commitment to keeping costs low for its customers last month when it launched fee-free bitcoin spot trading for all users, saying it is the first U.S. crypto exchange to have done so, though it’s worth noting that exchanges still make money from the spread on trades even if they don’t charge an upfront fee. It also rolled out a staking product last month that it claims provides some of the highest APY rates compared to its competitors and said it plans to add fee-free trading for more currencies in the future.

“On the cost side, it is unquestionable that we are the lowest-cost provider in this space,” Shroder said.

When asked about how Binance.US is able to provide above-market yields from its staking product, Shroder’s response was: “My guess is that when you look at the other firms having much lower APYs, it’s just that they are taking that themselves, and we are passing it on to the customer.”

Naturally, investors gravitate toward lower fees and higher returns, giving the deep-pocketed Binance a potential advantage over Coinbase in that it can afford to sacrifice profits in the U.S. to attract users as long as it makes them elsewhere. The same goes for FTX, which is able to offer no-fee equity trading only because it’s making money in other parts of its business.

Customers have shown enthusiasm for Binance.US, although investors, at times, have seemed more hesitant. Still, this April, the company was able to raise its first external funding from investors in a $200 million round valuing it at $4.5 billion. The fundraise marked a crucial first step on its path to an IPO — a milestone Shroder told TechCrunch he sees happening in the next two to three years.

Armed with the new cash and an extension to the round that Shroder says is coming soon, the company seems well positioned to weather a choppy market. It is actively hiring for 80+ new roles to add to its current employee base of ~400, TechCrunch reported last month.

“What I experienced at Uber, I’m living through again”

Despite Binance’s recent efforts in the U.S. market, its messy history with local regulators makes it easy to underestimate. The company is currently under investigation by the U.S. Commodities and Futures Trading Commission for allegations that it engaged in market manipulation. The U.S. Justice Department and IRS are also reportedly examining whether the exchange engaged in money laundering and tax evasion.

For context, Binance.US launched in 2019 as a standalone entity that licenses its branding and core technology from Binance itself. Zhao is said to have spun off the division in a bid to appeal to U.S. regulators who refused to greenlight the global exchange.

Zhao still wields significant influence over the U.S. exchange today as a major shareholder, although he told Decrypt this week that Binance “is no longer top-down driven” by him. The New York Times reported last August that Zhao held 90% of Binance.US shares.

Zhao’s ownership stake, according to the Times, became a sticking point with outside investors when former Binance.US CEO Brian Brooks tried to raise a venture round for the company as a step to an eventual IPO. Brooks ended up leaving the company just three months after taking over the top job, perhaps in part because the deal fell through.

Brooks isn’t the only top exec at Binance.US who has left unexpectedly. The company’s founding CEO, Catherine Coley, left the company so quietly last May that numerous unconfirmed rumors began swirling regarding her whereabouts. Last October, when Shroder took over the company as its next permanent CEO after Coley, Binance.US’s founding CFO Joshua Sroge made his exit. Last week, after nine months of searching, the company finally filled Sroge’s role, appointing former Acorns exec Jasmine Lee as its new permanent CFO.

In addition to its troubles in the U.S., Binance has also faced heavy regulatory scrutiny in Japan, the EU, Germany, Thailand and other regions. Shroder, who previously led Uber’s Asia-Pacific strategy, likened the exchange to the controversial ride-share startup.

“What I experienced at Uber, I’m living through again,” Shroder said. “When I was at Uber, we were bad boy No. 1, you know? We were the big bad guys picking on the taxi industry and hurting the taxi employees and things like that.”

“What was true about Uber is also true about Binance, globally, and then Binance in the U.S., which is that basically there was an entrepreneur who had an innovative approach to expanding technology that has never been contemplated by regulators,” he continued. “To support that, the regulators had to play catch-up to the technology, and I think that’s exactly what we’re experiencing now in the crypto space.”

Shroder is determined to shepherd Binance.US to its longstanding goal of going public, a milestone he believes it will achieve in the next two to three years. He said Binance.US is strong enough to continue growing even amid tough market conditions, citing the firm’s plans to hire some employees who were let go by Coinbase and competing crypto exchange Gemini as evidence that his company is better positioned for the challenges ahead.

“Coinbase and Gemini have multiple products and services, and they have them out there; they’ve been out there for a while. We historically have only had spot [trading] up until really this [quarter]. So as we add more products and services, which we have a very aggressive roadmap to do. We require more products and tech talent; we require more operations people to actually run those new business units. With the infusion of capital that we just got from our very first seed round, we’re taking all the funding, and we’re plowing it back into growth,” Shroder said.

Only time will tell if Shroder’s ambitious plan will work, but he is determined to reshape the narrative surrounding Binance.US in the public eye. One of the biggest misperceptions the public has about Binance.US, he said, is around its “desire to be a fully compliant and regulated entity,” a goal Shroder said has been central to the company since its founding.

“In the vacuum of you telling your own story, your story is being told by your competitors, or your story is being told based on your click rate. And to the extent that negative headlines drive views more than positive ones, I think that that just creates a misperception in the market that is not based on reality,” Shroder said.

Deliveree is smoothing Southeast Asia’s bumpy logistics landscape

Logistics in much of Southeast Asia is not only complicated, but also expensive. Deliveree wants to solve that problem with a platform that not only lets clients book trucks, but also uses algorithms to determine the best route based on location, trucking loads and even the weather. The company announced today that it has raised a $70 million Series C led by Gobi Partners and SPIL Ventures, with participation from returning investor Inspire Ventures. This brings the company’s total raised so far to $109 million since it was founded in 2015.

The high cost of logistics means consumers end up paying higher prices, said founder and CEO Tom Kim. “The way we see the market is that number one, the inefficiency in trucking and cargo shipping has driven up costs materially. Imagine you’re in California, Los Angeles, and buying a pair of Nike shoes. What portion of that sales cost is spent on logistics and transportation and warehousing? The answer is very well-documented. It’s about 8%. If you buy those same Nike shoes in China, the answer is about 15%. And if you buy the same Nike shoes in Indonesia, Thailand or the Philippines, the answer is going to be much closer to 25%, maybe upwards of 30%.”

The company says that in the past 24 months, it has grown its gross transaction value by 3.2x and will exceed $100 million this year. It currently has 500 employees, and 100,000 drivers on its platform.

Deliveree is currently available in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. It focuses primarily on large trucks that move commercial goods or large items. Kim said that based on Google Analytics, it gets more searched than other logistics companies. These include Waresix, Go Box, Kargo Tech and Logisly in Indonesia; Mober, Inteluck and TheLorry in the Philippines; and Giztik, TheLorry and Ezyhaul in Thailand.

Kim added that the logistics war is especially heated in Indonesia, where many logistics startups, like Waresix, have received funding.

“It’s where a lot of startups and disruptive technology in the space is being built, and it’s definitely a very active market,” he told TechCrunch. “There are all these well-known players, like Waresix or even Kargo Tech. The Philippines and Thailand are also interesting and great markets, but there are less players in the logistics space, especially cargo, trucking and freight.”

One of the problems that Deliveree solves is inefficient use of trucks. For example, trucks deliver a load of goods, but then return empty to the warehouses. If it’s part of Deliveree’s system, however, companies can book it to ship goods on its way back. That makes better use of the money spent on fuel, time and dispatch teams.

“There are an awful lot of empty trucks driving around in Thailand, the Philippine and Indonesia, because everyone has their own corporate fleets,” said Kim. “They do one-way delivery and the truck drives back empty. It’s even that way for long-distance deliveries, when you’re sending goods from one warehouse to some kind of facility in an other city. The same thing happens—you send the truck full one way and it comes back, sometimes hundreds of kilometers, empty.”

Deliveree solves these problems with a dynamic marketplace, that Kim says currently has tens of thousands of customers and vendors, including a combination of independent drivers and trucking companies. The marketplace’s technology, combined with its volume, can identify customers both ways on a truck’s journey so it rarely travels empty. The marketplace aggregates demand and determines optimal routes so trucks remain full. Kim said that before Deliveree came along, a 40% to 50% utilization rate was considered above average. With Deliveree’s marketplace, however, trucks can achieve up to a 80% utilization rate, thanks to Deliveree’s internally-generated data set, which is has been working on for five years.

“Even though it’s far from perfect, it gets smarter everyday because we do thousands of bookings every day, and it can make more accurate forecasts about the duration of the booking, the day of the week, the time of the day, even the weather. These are all things that have drastic impact on durations,” Kim said.

This also means warehouse has shorter waiting queues, because Deliveree’s algorithms can predict what loading and waiting times will be.

Most companies have their own fleets, which means hiring dispatch teams, admin teams, security teams, parking lots and security guards. This is still the prominent way it’s done, said Kim, and means a lot of overhead for companies. Kim said his argument when pitching Deliveree to companies is that they can de-leverage their balance sheets and book trucks on an asset-light basis like. That means they only pay for trucks when they need them. When the pandemic happened, revenue for many companies went down, and Kim said that led to more adoption of Deliveree as they tried to increase revenue. This increased adoption of Deliveree, as more companies tried to find ways to save money, to convert their fixed costs to variable costs.

Deliveree monetizes by charging a fee to the customer and splitting it with the carriers. Deliveree’s standard ratio is 80% to the independent trucker or trucking company, and a 20% commission for the company.

In a prepared statement, Gobi Partners managing director Kay Mok said, “Post-pandemic, we are moving into an inflationary environment plagued by supply chain issues. Deliveree has built the best tech platform for customers and this will enable them to optimize and lower total cost of operation for the logistics and shipping company.”