Review: Handsome and nippy, new VanMoof e-bikes could be the shape of cities to come

I have to admit, I was an e-bike virgin. Sure, I’d tried out Uber’s Jump bikes and similar e-bikes, but these are more like normal bikes “with a little extra help.” So when I was offered the chance to try out the new VanMoof S3, an e-bike that has literally been built from the ground up, I was excited at how different the experience might be.

Perhaps more significantly, I had a particular task in mind for it. In the current COVID-19 pandemic much has been made of cities being transformed into proverbial deserts, as traffic and pedestrians disappeared. Now, with many cities coming out of lockdown, governments have advised their citizens to go back to work, desperate to get their economies moving. And they are pushing cycling as a viable alternative to public transport, where the virus is more likely to be found. So what better time would there be to try out an e-bike as a viable alternative to commuting to and from the suburbs of a large city?

Indeed, the U.K. government has unleashed a £2 billion package to create a new era for cycling and walking.

In the U.S., New York City recently committed to adding protected bike lanes across Manhattan and Brooklyn. Berlin is extending some of its already extensive bike lanes. And Milan will introduce a five-mile cycle lane to cut car use after the lockdown. New York City has reported a 50% increase in cycling compared to this time last year, and cycling in Philadelphia has increased by more than 150% during the COVID-19 outbreak.

But much of the official advice is to avoid public transport where possible, due to the near-impossibility of social distancing.

So with cycling a viable option in many cities, but distance still the old adversary, many consumers are looking to e-bikes as a way to kill two birds with one stone. Not only can you socially distance, but you can also take the bikes on much longer commutes than is possible with traditional bikes and, dare I say it, traditional legs.

With London still on lockdown recently, I decided to try out the new VanMoof S3 on the deserted streets, cycling from the deep London suburbs right into the empty center of the city.

The bike
For starters, it’s worth saying that the VanMoof S3 is a handsome bike. As a significant upgrade to its previous version, it is similar in its good looks, but what’s “under the bonnet” is what counts.

The S3 is a full-size bike with 28-inch wheels. It has a 24-inch wheeled sister called the X3, which is more compact and it therefore technically “nippier” in the city; however, I found the S3 perfectly suited to London. In fact, its “chopper-like” handling felt very reassuring over London’s bumpy and often unkempt roads.

The S3 and X3 both cost $2,000. Both also come with four-speed automatic shifting and hydraulic brakes. They are cheaper than the previous S2 and X2 models, which only had two-speed automatic shifting and cable brakes. Although the frame construction is unchanged, VanMoof says it has achieved savings by making production more efficient. The bikes weigh about 41 pounds, which is very acceptable for an electric bike. You can get front and rear racks as accessories for pannier bags, cargo boxes or a child seat.

The range per charge varies somewhere between 37 and 93 miles, depending which power level you select on the smartphone app. Level 0 turns off the electric pedal assist, leaving the bike quite heavy to pedal, and level 4 boosts the bike continuously. For my jaunt around London I used Level 4 all the time and managed to get a full, and quick, 45 miles out of the bike without even breaking a sweat, showing that even the heaviest users would be well served by the S3. If you are concerned about your battery charge level, this is displayed on top of the cross-bar, which also shows you current speed. It takes four hours to charge the bike to 100%, but just under an hour and a half to get to 50%.

The VanMoof is driven by a front hub motor and in “European mode” gives a continuous power of 250 watts. But to get more speed you can select the U.S. setting, tick a disclaimer and get 350W of continuous power, with peak power-hitting 500W via the Boost button on the right handlebar. That means you can take off at the lights very easily and quickly get ahead of the traffic, while the normal pedal assist will suffice for most needs. The Boost is particularly useful when going up hills, which the S3 seemed to devour on my ride through London.

Thieves will find this bike frustrating. The rear brake locks when you tap the button near the rear hub. All parts apart from the handlebars and seat post require a special tool to undo. The headlight and taillight are integrated into the frame. The tires are large and puncture-resistant and covered by large metal fenders with integrated mud flaps.

If a thief tries to wheel away the bike when it’s locked it will immobilize the rear wheel and belt out a loud alarm. If the thief persists, a more shrill alarm will sound, the headlights and taillight will flash, a notification will appear on your phone and the bike will refuse to work at all. Only VanMoof can then re-enable the bike using the bike’s built-in cellular data connection and Bluetooth. The bike will sense the phone in your pocket as you approach, allowing you to unlock the rear wheel — and the app always shows the bike’s current location.

VanMoof’s three-year, $340 “Peace of Mind” plan means that it guarantees to find or replace your bike if it gets stolen (assuming it was locked). In the meantime, you will get a bike on loan, although this plan is only available in cities where VanMoof has a presence.

One possible drawback of having the battery welded inside the bike is the necessity of needing to be near a power outlet every time it needs charging. This drawback will be limited to those who are unable to take the bike up to an apartment, or fear for the bike’s safety if it has to charge outside a house. Yes, the hard-wired battery might well be a security “feature,” but this may well be a deal breaker for many, forcing them to look to other bikes which have removable batteries. That said, you are likely to pay more for the bike in the first place.

The journey
As for my test around London, to put the bike through its paces I cycled from the deep suburbs right into the heart of the West End. I’d like to say people asked me about the bike, but no one was around to impress! At the time of the test, London was in full lockdown and eerily quiet.

Hitting the Boost button felt like the “Punch it, Chewy” moment form Star Wars, as I pulled away from traffic. I unwittingly rode the bike at Level 4 all the way there and back, which meant that after about four hours and about 45 miles I ran out of charge on the last mile home. However, this was not a problem as I could cycle the last leg, despite it being a bit of a strain without any electrical assistance. Level 2 or 3 would probably have been a more ideal combination of power and range.

When you drive a Tesla you drive differently, zipping in and out of lanes. Similarly with this bike I realized I could overtake “normal” bikes effortlessly. Overall I’d say this is an excellent electric bike.

VanMoof, which was was founded in 2009 by Taco and Ties Carlier, two Dutch brothers, has now attracted a €12.5 million ($13.5 million) investment from London VC Balderton Capital and SINBON Electronics, the Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer which is VanMoof’s bike assembly partner. So expect to see this company ramp up its presence across Europe and the U.S.

Admittedly they are not the only VC-backed e-bike on the market. Brussels-based Cowboy is an e-bike startup which only appeared in 2017 but which has since raised $19.5 million from Tiger Global and London’s Index Ventures.

It looks like the e-bike wars have begun, they have.

[All pictures by Mike Butcher]

Review: Handsome and nippy, new VanMoof e-bikes could be the shape of cities to come

I have to admit, I was an e-bike virgin. Sure, I’d tried out Uber’s Jump bikes and similar e-bikes, but these are more like normal bikes “with a little extra help.” So when I was offered the chance to try out the new VanMoof S3, an e-bike that has literally been built from the ground up, I was excited at how different the experience might be.

Perhaps more significantly, I had a particular task in mind for it. In the current COVID-19 pandemic much has been made of cities being transformed into proverbial deserts, as traffic and pedestrians disappeared. Now, with many cities coming out of lockdown, governments have advised their citizens to go back to work, desperate to get their economies moving. And they are pushing cycling as a viable alternative to public transport, where the virus is more likely to be found. So what better time would there be to try out an e-bike as a viable alternative to commuting to and from the suburbs of a large city?

Indeed, the U.K. government has unleashed a £2 billion package to create a new era for cycling and walking.

In the U.S., New York City recently committed to adding protected bike lanes across Manhattan and Brooklyn. Berlin is extending some of its already extensive bike lanes. And Milan will introduce a five-mile cycle lane to cut car use after the lockdown. New York City has reported a 50% increase in cycling compared to this time last year, and cycling in Philadelphia has increased by more than 150% during the COVID-19 outbreak.

But much of the official advice is to avoid public transport where possible, due to the near-impossibility of social distancing.

So with cycling a viable option in many cities, but distance still the old adversary, many consumers are looking to e-bikes as a way to kill two birds with one stone. Not only can you socially distance, but you can also take the bikes on much longer commutes than is possible with traditional bikes and, dare I say it, traditional legs.

With London still on lockdown recently, I decided to try out the new VanMoof S3 on the deserted streets, cycling from the deep London suburbs right into the empty center of the city.

The bike
For starters, it’s worth saying that the VanMoof S3 is a handsome bike. As a significant upgrade to its previous version, it is similar in its good looks, but what’s “under the bonnet” is what counts.

The S3 is a full-size bike with 28-inch wheels. It has a 24-inch wheeled sister called the X3, which is more compact and it therefore technically “nippier” in the city; however, I found the S3 perfectly suited to London. In fact, its “chopper-like” handling felt very reassuring over London’s bumpy and often unkempt roads.

The S3 and X3 both cost $2,000. Both also come with four-speed automatic shifting and hydraulic brakes. They are cheaper than the previous S2 and X2 models, which only had two-speed automatic shifting and cable brakes. Although the frame construction is unchanged, VanMoof says it has achieved savings by making production more efficient. The bikes weigh about 41 pounds, which is very acceptable for an electric bike. You can get front and rear racks as accessories for pannier bags, cargo boxes or a child seat.

The range per charge varies somewhere between 37 and 93 miles, depending which power level you select on the smartphone app. Level 0 turns off the electric pedal assist, leaving the bike quite heavy to pedal, and level 4 boosts the bike continuously. For my jaunt around London I used Level 4 all the time and managed to get a full, and quick, 45 miles out of the bike without even breaking a sweat, showing that even the heaviest users would be well served by the S3. If you are concerned about your battery charge level, this is displayed on top of the cross-bar, which also shows you current speed. It takes four hours to charge the bike to 100%, but just under an hour and a half to get to 50%.

The VanMoof is driven by a front hub motor and in “European mode” gives a continuous power of 250 watts. But to get more speed you can select the U.S. setting, tick a disclaimer and get 350W of continuous power, with peak power-hitting 500W via the Boost button on the right handlebar. That means you can take off at the lights very easily and quickly get ahead of the traffic, while the normal pedal assist will suffice for most needs. The Boost is particularly useful when going up hills, which the S3 seemed to devour on my ride through London.

Thieves will find this bike frustrating. The rear brake locks when you tap the button near the rear hub. All parts apart from the handlebars and seat post require a special tool to undo. The headlight and taillight are integrated into the frame. The tires are large and puncture-resistant and covered by large metal fenders with integrated mud flaps.

If a thief tries to wheel away the bike when it’s locked it will immobilize the rear wheel and belt out a loud alarm. If the thief persists, a more shrill alarm will sound, the headlights and taillight will flash, a notification will appear on your phone and the bike will refuse to work at all. Only VanMoof can then re-enable the bike using the bike’s built-in cellular data connection and Bluetooth. The bike will sense the phone in your pocket as you approach, allowing you to unlock the rear wheel — and the app always shows the bike’s current location.

VanMoof’s three-year, $340 “Peace of Mind” plan means that it guarantees to find or replace your bike if it gets stolen (assuming it was locked). In the meantime, you will get a bike on loan, although this plan is only available in cities where VanMoof has a presence.

One possible drawback of having the battery welded inside the bike is the necessity of needing to be near a power outlet every time it needs charging. This drawback will be limited to those who are unable to take the bike up to an apartment, or fear for the bike’s safety if it has to charge outside a house. Yes, the hard-wired battery might well be a security “feature,” but this may well be a deal breaker for many, forcing them to look to other bikes which have removable batteries. That said, you are likely to pay more for the bike in the first place.

The journey
As for my test around London, to put the bike through its paces I cycled from the deep suburbs right into the heart of the West End. I’d like to say people asked me about the bike, but no one was around to impress! At the time of the test, London was in full lockdown and eerily quiet.

Hitting the Boost button felt like the “Punch it, Chewy” moment form Star Wars, as I pulled away from traffic. I unwittingly rode the bike at Level 4 all the way there and back, which meant that after about four hours and about 45 miles I ran out of charge on the last mile home. However, this was not a problem as I could cycle the last leg, despite it being a bit of a strain without any electrical assistance. Level 2 or 3 would probably have been a more ideal combination of power and range.

When you drive a Tesla you drive differently, zipping in and out of lanes. Similarly with this bike I realized I could overtake “normal” bikes effortlessly. Overall I’d say this is an excellent electric bike.

VanMoof, which was was founded in 2009 by Taco and Ties Carlier, two Dutch brothers, has now attracted a €12.5 million ($13.5 million) investment from London VC Balderton Capital and SINBON Electronics, the Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer which is VanMoof’s bike assembly partner. So expect to see this company ramp up its presence across Europe and the U.S.

Admittedly they are not the only VC-backed e-bike on the market. Brussels-based Cowboy is an e-bike startup which only appeared in 2017 but which has since raised $19.5 million from Tiger Global and London’s Index Ventures.

It looks like the e-bike wars have begun, they have.

[All pictures by Mike Butcher]

14 VCs discuss COVID-19 and London’s future as a tech hub

The UK has created 63 tech unicorns in the past decade (according to Dealroom), and it almost goes without saying that the vast majority of those companies were based out of London, the country’s largest tech hub.

Famously, London’s DeepMind, an AI startup, was acquired by Google in 2014 for $500 million, but it has resolutely refused to move to Silicon Valley; founder Demis Hassabis says the city’s diversity of talent meant the powerhouse needed to stay put.

London has produced fintech upstarts like Revolut, Monzo and Starling and attracted early Skype team members who went on to create TransferWise. In 2019, London’s startups received $9.7 billion in venture capital funding, more than Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and Madrid combined.

Furthermore, last year Pitchbook found that up to $4.4 billion worth of deals had involved at least one U.S.-based investor, with London receiving over $12.5 billion from American investors in the previous five years – almost twice as much as Berlin (on $6.5 billion of investment from U.S. VC firms).

Brexit uncertainty may impact startups’ ability to recruit and sale, and the UK government’s points-based system for immigration is unlikely to satisfy the industry’s voracious appetite for talent. But London is a tech supertanker that other European cities are unlikely to be able to match any time soon, Brexit or no Brexit.

But in the era of COVID-19, will major hubs like London still be able to attract future tech unicorns, and will these be in the same sectors as before? Will geography be replaced by mere time zones?

We surveyed many of London’s top VCs to get their insights. Here’s who we heard from:

  • Ruth Foxe-Blader, partner, Anthemis Capital
  • Yana Abramova, partner, Pretiosum Capital
  • Leila Zegna, co-founding partner, Kindred Capital
  • Rob Moffat, partner, Balderton Capital
  • Nic Brisbourne, managing partner, Forward Partners
  • Sean Seton-Rogers, general partner, PROfounders Capital
  • Simon Murdoch, managing partner, Episode 1 Ventures
  • Nenad Marovac, founder and managing partner, DN Capital
  • Andrei Brasoveanu, partner, Accel Partners
  • Jan Lynn-Matern, founder and partner, Emerge Education
  • Rob Kniaz, founding partner, Hoxton Ventures
  • Harry Briggs, partner, OMERS Ventures
  • Hussein Kanji, partner, Hoxton Ventures
  • Eileen Burbidge, partner, Passion Capital

Ruth Foxe-Blader, Anthemis Capital

How much is local investing even a focus for you now? If you are investing remotely in general now, are you filtering for local founders?

Neither our investment thesis, nor our geographic focus has changed: we are a global investor, focused on the US, UK and Europe. We are filtering, even more, for the best founders, as geography feels less important in lockdown.

From that, what do you expect to happen to the startup climate in London longer term, with the shift to more remote work (post COVID-19), possibly from more remote areas. Will London stay a tech hub or will the ecosystem become more dispersed across the country?

As a global financial hub with substantial infrastructure (including capital) designed to support emerging technology, London will remain a critical node in the fintech ecosystem.

Long-term, do you expect to be more or less locally focused, especially in light of COVID-19 or in other ways?

We’re anticipating a pretty substantial change to working norms, at least over the near term (6-12 months). The long-term impact is likely to level the playing field for great founders operating outside of established tech hubs. Remote assessment of companies, while challenging, has the potential to create more equitable investment practices.

From that, what do you expect to happen to the startup climate in London longer term, with the shift to more remote work (post COVID-19), possibly from more remote areas. Will London stay a tech hub or will the ecosystem become more dispersed across the country?

As a global financial hub with substantial infrastructure (including capital) designed to support emerging technology, London will remain a critical node in the fintech ecosystem.

Will there be tech hubs post-COVID-19? What is a tech hub now, by your definition?

To the extent that culture, regulation and capital play a large role in favoring certain types of economic activity, I expect existing tech hubs to remain important bastions of innovation. That said, I think we will see the rise of complementary tech hubs, as well as teams “in the middle of nowhere” emboldened to start great companies.

Are there particular industry sectors that you expect to do uniquely well or poorly, locally?

Given the proximity to the City and the heritage in financial technology innovation, the London tech ecosystem will continue to produce great fintech and insurtech companies.

The UK government to acquire satellite company OneWeb in deal funded in part by India’s Bharti Global

Distressed satellite constellation operator OneWeb, which had entered bankruptcy protection proceedings at the end of March, has completed a sale process, with a consortium led by the UK Government as the winner. The group, which includes funding from India’s Bharti Global – part of business magnate Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises – plan to pursue OneWeb’s plans of building out a broadband internets satellite network, while the UK would also like to potentially use the constellation for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services in order to replace the EU’s sat-nav resource, which the UK lost access to in January as a result of Brexit.

The deal involves both Bharti Global and the UK government putting up around $500 million each, respectively, with the UK taking a 20 percent equity stake in OneWeb, and Bharti supplying the business management and commercial operations for the satellite firm.

OneWeb, which has launched a total of 74 of its planned 650 satellite constellation to date, suffered lay-offs and the subsequent bankruptcy filing after an attempt to raise additional funding to support continued launches and operations fell through. That was reportedly due in large part to majority private investor SoftBank backing out of commitments to invest additional funds.

The BBC reports that while OneWeb plans to essentially scale back up its existing operations, including reversing lay-offs, should the deal pass regulatory scrutiny, there’s a possibility that down the road it could relocate some of its existing manufacturing capacity to the UK. Currently, OneWeb does its spacecraft manufacturing out of Florida in a partnership with Airbus.

OneWeb is a London-based company already, and its constellation can provide access to low latency, high-speed broadband via low Earth orbit small satellites, which could potentially be a great resource for connecting UK citizens to affordable, quality connections. The PNT navigation services extension would be an extension of OneWeb’s existing mission, but theoretically, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to leverage planned in-space assets to serve a second purpose.

Also, while the UK currently lacks its own native launch capabilities, the country is working towards developing a number of spaceports for both vertical and horizontal take-off – which could enable companies like Virgin Orbit, and other newcomers like Skyrora, to establish small-sat launch capabilities from UK soil, which would make maintaining and extending in-space assets like OneWeb’s constellation much more accessible as a domestic resource.

Lime puts Jump bikes back on London streets

Jump bikes are returning to London — this time through its new owner Lime .

London is the first city in Europe to see Jump bikes return since Uber offloaded the company to Lime in a complex deal that unfolded in May. Lime raised $170 million in a funding round led by Uber, along with other existing investors Alphabet, Bain Capital Ventures and GV. As part of the deal, Lime acquired Jump, the electric bike and scooter division that Uber acquired in 2018 for around $200 million.

When the deal closed with Lime, thousands of Jump bikes were scrapped in the United States and the entire Jump team — some 400 employees — lost their jobs. Lime closed the acquisition of Jump in Europe several weeks after the transaction closed in the U.S. Until now, it was unclear if the Jump bikes in Europe would suffer the same fate as their counterparts in the United States.

Thousands of Jump bikes were pulled off the streets in European cities such as Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Malaga, Munich, Paris, Rome and Rotterdam. It’s unlikely that Lime will put Jump bikes back in all of these cities. Sources have said Lime plans to redeploy Jump scooters and bikes in London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. Today’s announcement appears to be the first step.

For now, the Jump bikes will be available in the Uber app in London. The Jump bikes will be added to the Lime app at a later date as a result of ongoing systems integration, the company said. The fleet size will start at around 100 e-bikes and will grow based on demand. Pricing will be £1 unlock and 15p per minute thereafter. Bikes will be deployed in Camden and Islington, Lime said.

Demand for bikes appears to have prompted Lime to bring Jump back into service. The company said that since lockdown restrictions have eased, Lime’s e-bike rental service has seen record usage. The micromobility company said users are taking longer journeys and the bikes are being used more frequently. Lime also recorded its highest-ever usage in a single day over a weekend in mid-June with more than 4,000 new users. Lime said its e-bike network has now facilitated over 1.5 million journeys across London.

The reintroduction of Jump bikes in London is part of a broader plan by Lime to increase its presence in the city. Earlier this week, the UK announced that an e-scooter pilot program would begin Saturday. Lime said it has partnered with global insurance giant Allianz to provide coverage for Lime e-scooter riders in the UK. Lime said it co-designed a two-year safety campaign with Allianz that will run until March 2022.

African payment startup Chipper Cash raises $13.8M Series A

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has closed a $13.8 million Series A funding round led by Deciens Capital and plans to hire 30 new staff globally.

The raise caps an event filled run for the San Francisco based payments company, founded two years ago by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled.

The two came to America for academics, met in Iowa while studying at Grinnell College and ventured out to Silicon Valley for stints in big tech: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr and Yahoo! for Moujaled.

The startup call beckoned and after launching Chipper Cash in 2018, the duo convinced 500 Startups and and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to back their company with seed funds.

Two years and $22 million in total capital raised later, Chipper Cash offers its mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in seven countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

“We’re now at over one and a half million users and doing over a $100 million dollars a month in volume,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch on a call.

Chipper Cash does not release audited financial data, but does share internal performance accounting with investors. Deciens Capital and Raptor Group co-led the startup’s Series A financing, with repeat support from 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures .

Deciens Capital founder Dan Kimmerling confirmed the fund’s lead on the investment and review of Chipper Cash’s payment value and volume metrics.

Parallel to its P2P app, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout: a merchant-focused, fee-based mobile payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business.

The company will use its latest round to hire up to 30 people across operations in San Francisco, Lagos, London, Nairobi and New York — according to Serunjogi.

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash has already brought on a new compliance officer, Lisa Dawson, whose background includes stints with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and Citigroup’s anti-money laundering department.

“You know in the world we live in the AML side is very important so it’s an area that we want to invest in from the get go,” said Serunjogi.

He confirmed Dawson’s role aligned with getting Chipper Cash ready to meet regulatory requirements for new markets, but declined to name specific countries.

With the round announcement, Chipper Cash also revealed a corporate social responsibility component to its business. Related to current U.S. events, the startup has formed the Chipper Fund for Black Lives.

“We’ve been huge beneficiaries of the generosity and openness of this country and its entrepreneurial spirit,” explained Serunjogi. “But growing up in Africa, we’ve were able to navigate [the U.S.] without the traumas and baggage our African American friends have gone through living in America.”

The Chipper Fund for Black Lives will give 5 to 10 grants of $5,000 to $10,000. “The plan is to give that to…people or causes who are furthering social justice reforms,” said Serunjogi.

In Africa, Chipper Cash has placed itself in the continent’s major digital payments markets. As a sector, fintech has become Africa’s highest funded tech space, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to startups in 2019.

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Those ventures, and a number of the continent’s established banks, are in a race to build market share through financial inclusion.

By several estimates — including The Global Findex Database — the continent is home to the largest percentage of the world’s unbanked population, with a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

Increasingly, Nigeria has become the most significant fintech market in Africa, with the continent’s largest economy and population of 200 million.

Chipper Cash expanded there in 2019 and faces competition from a number of players, including local payments venture Paga. More recently, outside entrants have jumped into Nigeria’s fintech scene.

In 2019, Chinese investors put $220 million into OPay (owned by Opera) and PalmPay — two fledgling startups with plans to scale first in West Africa and then the broader continent.

Over the next several years, expect to see market events — such as fails, acquisitions, or IPOs — determine how well funded fintech startups, including Chipper Cash, fare in Africa’s fintech arena.

African payment startup Chipper Cash raises $13.8M Series A

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has closed a $13.8 million Series A funding round led by Deciens Capital and plans to hire 30 new staff globally.

The raise caps an event filled run for the San Francisco based payments company, founded two years ago by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled.

The two came to America for academics, met in Iowa while studying at Grinnell College and ventured out to Silicon Valley for stints in big tech: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr and Yahoo! for Moujaled.

The startup call beckoned and after launching Chipper Cash in 2018, the duo convinced 500 Startups and and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to back their company with seed funds.

Two years and $22 million in total capital raised later, Chipper Cash offers its mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in seven countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

“We’re now at over one and a half million users and doing over a $100 million dollars a month in volume,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch on a call.

Chipper Cash does not release audited financial data, but does share internal performance accounting with investors. Deciens Capital and Raptor Group co-led the startup’s Series A financing, with repeat support from 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures .

Deciens Capital founder Dan Kimmerling confirmed the fund’s lead on the investment and review of Chipper Cash’s payment value and volume metrics.

Parallel to its P2P app, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout: a merchant-focused, fee-based mobile payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business.

The company will use its latest round to hire up to 30 people across operations in San Francisco, Lagos, London, Nairobi and New York — according to Serunjogi.

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash has already brought on a new compliance officer, Lisa Dawson, whose background includes stints with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and Citigroup’s anti-money laundering department.

“You know in the world we live in the AML side is very important so it’s an area that we want to invest in from the get go,” said Serunjogi.

He confirmed Dawson’s role aligned with getting Chipper Cash ready to meet regulatory requirements for new markets, but declined to name specific countries.

With the round announcement, Chipper Cash also revealed a corporate social responsibility component to its business. Related to current U.S. events, the startup has formed the Chipper Fund for Black Lives.

“We’ve been huge beneficiaries of the generosity and openness of this country and its entrepreneurial spirit,” explained Serunjogi. “But growing up in Africa, we’ve were able to navigate [the U.S.] without the traumas and baggage our African American friends have gone through living in America.”

The Chipper Fund for Black Lives will give 5 to 10 grants of $5,000 to $10,000. “The plan is to give that to…people or causes who are furthering social justice reforms,” said Serunjogi.

In Africa, Chipper Cash has placed itself in the continent’s major digital payments markets. As a sector, fintech has become Africa’s highest funded tech space, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to startups in 2019.

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Those ventures, and a number of the continent’s established banks, are in a race to build market share through financial inclusion.

By several estimates — including The Global Findex Database — the continent is home to the largest percentage of the world’s unbanked population, with a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

Increasingly, Nigeria has become the most significant fintech market in Africa, with the continent’s largest economy and population of 200 million.

Chipper Cash expanded there in 2019 and faces competition from a number of players, including local payments venture Paga. More recently, outside entrants have jumped into Nigeria’s fintech scene.

In 2019, Chinese investors put $220 million into OPay (owned by Opera) and PalmPay — two fledgling startups with plans to scale first in West Africa and then the broader continent.

Over the next several years, expect to see market events — such as fails, acquisitions, or IPOs — determine how well funded fintech startups, including Chipper Cash, fare in Africa’s fintech arena.

Spin scooters head to Europe, starting with Germany

Spin has launched its scooter sharing business to Germany, the first step in the U.S. company’s plans to expand to Europe.

The company, which was acquired by Ford in 2018 for about $100 million, has launched in Cologne and plans to open up in German cities Dortmund and Essen in the coming weeks. Spin said it’s also expanding its footprint in the U.S., starting with Atlanta. Other U.S. cities will follow, Spin said without providing more details. 

Spin’s Europe expansion is part of a trend that was emerging in the beginning of the year before COVID-19 upended the economy. In early 2020, it looked like Europe would become a summertime battleground for e-scooter companies. European and U.S.-based companies, including Lime, Bird, Circ, Swedish startup Voi and German startup Tier, were vying for market share. Voi was in about 40 cities in Europe and Tier had expanded to roughly 56. Amsterdam-based Dott was also in the mix. Spin announced in February plans to expand to Europe.

COVID-19 spread throughout Europe and then North America soon after, putting the brakes on micromobility. The pandemic prompted a number of scooter and bike share companies to pause operations or even pull out of cities altogether.

E-scooter startups are now coming back to Europe, where adoption rates and unit economics have been rosier than in some U.S cities.

Spin is starting with Germany in part because a recent survey conducted by the company and YouGov suggests e-scooters are poised to become a favored mode of transit in the country. Nearly 50% of those surveyed in Germany indicated they are already using or planning to use a solo transportation option for commuting to and from work and for taking trips within their immediate vicinity, Spin said.

“We are seeing heavier adoption of micromobility all around the world especially as the need for people to commute in less crowded conditions increases,” CEO and co-founder Derrick Ko said in a statement.

Spin said it plans to expand beyond Germany. The company has applied for permits in Lyon and Paris in France and submitted a proposal for rental e-scooter pilot in several U.K. cities, including Birmingham, Liverpool, London and Manchester.

Spin continued operating in some U.S. cities where it was allowed and provided free rides for healthcare workers during the pandemic. The company has resumed operations in 14 cities this month. It is now operating in 25 U.S. cities.

“Spin scooters are being used now more than ever as a utility rather than for leisurely activities,” president and co-founder Euwyn Poon said in a statement. “As public transit is cutting services, Spin is stepping in to help.”

Since April, new daily active users have increased an average 34% week over week, according to Poon. Trip duration has also increased 44%, reaching a peak of 24 minutes per trip, in May, Poon added.

 

Spin scooters head to Europe, starting with Germany

Spin has launched its scooter sharing business to Germany, the first step in the U.S. company’s plans to expand to Europe.

The company, which was acquired by Ford in 2018 for about $100 million, has launched in Cologne and plans to open up in German cities Dortmund and Essen in the coming weeks. Spin said it’s also expanding its footprint in the U.S., starting with Atlanta. Other U.S. cities will follow, Spin said without providing more details. 

Spin’s Europe expansion is part of a trend that was emerging in the beginning of the year before COVID-19 upended the economy. In early 2020, it looked like Europe would become a summertime battleground for e-scooter companies. European and U.S.-based companies, including Lime, Bird, Circ, Swedish startup Voi and German startup Tier, were vying for market share. Voi was in about 40 cities in Europe and Tier had expanded to roughly 56. Amsterdam-based Dott was also in the mix. Spin announced in February plans to expand to Europe.

COVID-19 spread throughout Europe and then North America soon after, putting the brakes on micromobility. The pandemic prompted a number of scooter and bike share companies to pause operations or even pull out of cities altogether.

E-scooter startups are now coming back to Europe, where adoption rates and unit economics have been rosier than in some U.S cities.

Spin is starting with Germany in part because a recent survey conducted by the company and YouGov suggests e-scooters are poised to become a favored mode of transit in the country. Nearly 50% of those surveyed in Germany indicated they are already using or planning to use a solo transportation option for commuting to and from work and for taking trips within their immediate vicinity, Spin said.

“We are seeing heavier adoption of micromobility all around the world especially as the need for people to commute in less crowded conditions increases,” CEO and co-founder Derrick Ko said in a statement.

Spin said it plans to expand beyond Germany. The company has applied for permits in Lyon and Paris in France and submitted a proposal for rental e-scooter pilot in several U.K. cities, including Birmingham, Liverpool, London and Manchester.

Spin continued operating in some U.S. cities where it was allowed and provided free rides for healthcare workers during the pandemic. The company has resumed operations in 14 cities this month. It is now operating in 25 U.S. cities.

“Spin scooters are being used now more than ever as a utility rather than for leisurely activities,” president and co-founder Euwyn Poon said in a statement. “As public transit is cutting services, Spin is stepping in to help.”

Since April, new daily active users have increased an average 34% week over week, according to Poon. Trip duration has also increased 44%, reaching a peak of 24 minutes per trip, in May, Poon added.

 

Tictrac secures $7.5M to expand employee wellbeing platform as WFH baloons

“Employee Wellbeing” SaaS platforms have been around for some time. Both regulation and increasing stress levels and health problems in the workplace have fed the rise of this sector of tech, and with many corporates painting long-term contracts with providers, it’s a lucrative business. Furthermore, with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, large remote-workforces look here to stay for the foreseeable future and are likely to need these platforms more than ever. Notable players in the space include Rally Health, Dacadoo and Virgin Pulse.

Tictrac is a startup in this space that uses a combination of personalized content, lifestyle campaigns and incentivized challenges to motivate staff. It combines this with behavioral science to identify trigger points to egg-on staff to positive behaviors. Existing investors of Tictrac include world-class tennis champion, Andy Murray and American basketball player, Carmelo Anthony who has been named an NBA All-Star 10 times.

Today it secures a £6m ($7.5M) in a funding round led by London-based Puma Private Equity, bringing its total investment to date to £13.5m ($17M). The latest round will allow the company to expand its Employee Wellbeing platform for its thousand-plus customers. It will also now expand its Enterprise platform, which enables insurance companies and health providers to engage their customers in their health and tailor relevant products and services to them.

Tictrac relies heavily on content, contributed by well-known health and fitness influencers, covering fitness, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, recipes and blog posts which provide its users with inspiration and advice on how to improve their lifestyle.

Unlike a lot of other “Employee Welbeing” platforms, users can follow the content or experts that they can relate to (much like with Instagram, Calm or Glo Yoga) powered by a campaign engine that delivers creative themes across Tictrac features, like healthy habit-forming action plans and activity challenges.

Founded in 2010, the company has partnered with healthcare and insurance providers including Aviva, Allianz and Prudential.

In a statement Martin Blinder, CEO and founder of Tictrac, commented: “Now more than ever, companies have a greater role and responsibility in supporting the health of their workforce. And while businesses are focused on sustaining retention and productivity – particularly with so many people working remotely – they are now tasked with trying to navigate health issues such as burn-out and striking a healthy work-life balance.”

Rupert West, Managing Director at Puma Private Equity said: “We have been consistently impressed with Tictrac’s ability to heighten health and wellbeing engagement, which in turn will help alleviate some of the pressures our health services continue to face.”