Mafengwo accused of faking 85% of all user-generated content

The travel and lifestyle service is being accused of faking over 85% of its user-generated content. Original Link

Briefing: Tencent tests digital travel project in Yunnan

Tencent hopes to satisfy a traveler’s diverse needs with just one smartphone app – Go Yunnan is a pilot solution. Original Link

Smart travel in China and beyond: Ctrip VP

Smart travel in China and beyond: Ctrip VP · TechNode

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Ctrip is bringing supersonic travel to speed-obsessed China

Ctrip invests in US Boom Supersonic to supersonic travel to China

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10 Steps to Cloud Happiness (Step 8): Curing Travel Woes

Every journey starts at the beginning and this journey’s no exception.

As previously presented in the introduction, it’s possible to find cloud happiness through a journey focused on the storyline of digital transformation and the need to deliver applications in to a cloud service.

Application delivery and all its moving parts such as containers, cloud, platform as a service (PaaS) and a digital journey requires some planning to get started. There’s nothing like hands-on steps to quickly leverage real experiences as you prepare.

Previously we covered how to get a cloud, the use of a service catalog, how to add cloud operations functionality, centralizing business logic, process improvement, the human aspect, and a retail web shop, so what’s next?

Curing Travel Woes

One thing that everyone has unfortunately gone through is a bad travel experience. From a bad booking experience to lost luggage, it can ruin a trip before it even starts or detract from an otherwise pleasant journey.

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Walking the path to cloud happiness means we can’t ignore the possibilities of learning through examples of improving the travel experience using containers, business logic, service integration, capturing the process, and a front-end application for travel bookings.  Another example expands your experience with a container-based deployment of a lost baggage delivery solution.

An online travel booking process project showcases the ease of integrating services, purchasing, validation and includes the ability to roll back the purchase if needed in several systems. It contains multiple web services for looking up data for the process and rules to calculate pricing. Furthermore, there are several tasks that can be activated to evaluate pricing and to review the final booking data before completing the booking.

Below are the instructions that include installing OpenShift Container Platform as outlined in step one of this series called, Get a Cloud.

  1. First ensure you have an OpenShift container based installation, such as one of the following installed first:
  2. Download and unzip this demo.
  3. Download JBoss EAP & JBoss BPM Suite, add to installs directory (see installs/README).
  4. Run ‘’ or ‘init.bat’ file. ‘init.bat’ must be run with Administrative privileges:
 # The installation needs to be pointed to a running version # of OpenShift, so pass an IP address such as: # $ ./ # example for OCP.

Log in to Travel Agency to start exploring an online bookings application (the address will be generated by the init script):

  • Travel Agency project: ( u:erics / p:bpmsuite1! )
  • Travel booking web app:

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Want to build the Travel Agency demo from scratch? Try this hands-on online workshop.

Losing baggage after a long trip can only be classified as a painful experience, but with this project you see how the process of registering the loss can be streamlined.

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Filling in a form kicks off a process to ensure the fees and frequent flier benefits are correctly applied before the traveller is charged.

These examples ensure exposure to travel experiences on your journey to cloud happiness, providing hands-on with container development and application delivery in the cloud.

Rest of the Story

If you are looking for the introduction to the 10 steps series or any of the individual steps:

  1. Get a Cloud
  2. Use a Service Catalog
  3. Adding Cloud Operations
  4. Centralize Business Logic
  5. Real Process Improvement
  6. Human Aspect
  7. Retail Web Shop
  8. Curing Travel Woes
  9. Exploring Financial Services
  10. Agile Cloud Service Integration

So stay tuned as this list’s tackled one-by-one over the coming weeks and months to provide you with a clear direction towards your very own application delivery in the cloud happiness.

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4 takeaways from Ctrip’s Polar Travel Report

While Christmas has not been a part of traditional Chinese culture and is a working day in China, more and more Chinese tourists have been traveling to Finland’s northern province Lapland—“Santa Clause’s home”—to witness the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. Polar tourism has become the new darling of China’s high-income population and has attracted a large number of Chinese tourists to the north and south poles.

Ctrip, one China’s largest travel sites, recently released China’s first annual “Chinese Polar Travel Report” shows that the number of Chinese tourists traveling to view the Northern Lights has increased 400% in 2017, compared with 2016. The strong market growth, on the one hand, is due to the Chinese travelers’ pursuit of exotic destinations, more challenging travel locations.

As more and more Chinese tourists visit European countries, Chinese mobile payment app Alipay’s coverage in the region is expanding. Finland’s biggest chain of department stores Stockmann agreed to install Alipay as one of its payment methods on this September preparing for Golden Week, a week-long national holiday in October. Payments made in European stores using the Alipay increased six-fold over in that period. 

Apart from the Polar tourism, there are more business interactions between China and Northern European countries, such as SLUSH, a Finland born international tech conference and more startups from Finland and Iceland starting in China, posing a strong background in games such as Shanghai-based AR, VR game maker Directive Games. Some startups scooped investment from Chinese investors or even got acquired by a Chinese company, such as Supercell whose majority stake was purchased by Tencent, Rightware, which was later acquired by China’s Thundersoft. 

Here are four takeaways from Ctrip’s data.

1. Shanghai people are the dominant Polar-goers

From Ctrip’s data, “the top ten Chinese cities that love polar city travel” were mostly first-tier cities or southern cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan, Chongqing, and Changsha.

Finland, Norway, US Alaska, Canada and Iceland rank as the most popular northern lights destinations. According to Ctrip, the world’s six most popular Aurora destinations for Chinese tourists were: Rovaniemi in Finland, China’s Mohe in Heilongjiang province, Reykjavik in Iceland, Alaska in the United States, and Russia Murmansk and Canada Huangdao City.

2.  Elder people love the South Pole, while younger people love the North Pole

Ctrip travel data shows that the age of customers is polarized (get it?). The South Pole and Antarctica travel products were purchased mainly by people over the age of 46, accounting for 58%. Ctrip travel experts suggest that time-consuming consumers choose Antarctic + South America tour itinerary since it takes more than 30 hours to get to South America from China.

On the other hand, the North Pole and Arctic Aurora travel products were mainly purchased by young people born after the 1990s: 19 to 35-year-olds accounted for more than 50% of the customers.

3. China has become Antarctica’s second largest tourist source in the world in 2016

Data released by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators also reflects the strong growth of Chinese outbound tourism. According to the association, China has become Antarctica’s second largest tourist source in the world in 2016, accounting for 12% of some 46,000 total visitors, trailing the United States. Chinese travelers to Antarctica have increased 40 times from less than 100 visitors in 2008 to 3,944 in 2016.

4. Chinese tourists spend RMB 50,000 ($7,500) on average when traveling to polar regions

According to Ctrip’s tourism statistics, tourists who plan to travel to the polar regions for the Spring Festival 2017 and New Year’s Day spent more than RMB 50,000 on tourist products. In terms of consumption, Antarctic products have higher prices, with an average of RMB 100,000 to 200,000 with some direct-to-South Pole and Antarctic luxury cruise products priced at more than RMB 300,000.

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Social travel service Mafengwo pockets $133M D round for UGC development and big data

Chinese social travel service Mafengwo announced today that has completed a D round worth $133 million. New investors in this round include General Atlantic, Ocean Link, Temasek, Yuantai Investment, and Hopu. Existing investors Capital Today, Qiming Venture Partners, and Hillhouse Capital also participated.

The proceeds will be used to improve the global travel experience, offer user-generated content, deepen the application of advanced analytics, and improve travel guides and services, according to a company statement.

Born out of an online travel community for Chinese millennials, the startup has grown to become an independent online travel platform that aggregates user-generated reviews of destinations, hotels, attractions, and local activities to provide trip planning advice to self-guided travelers in China.

Gang Lü, Co-Founder and COO of Mafengwo, said, “Mafengwo began as one of China’s largest tourism communities and has since evolved to become an independent online travel service platform that covers over 60,000 travel destinations globally and leverages advanced analytics to provide a unique user experience. Our platform continues to be differentiated due to our community of users, who generate diverse and candid feedback, recommendations, and ideas, and our AI-enabled platform, which makes it easy for our users to find the content and recommendations they need to make travel plans.”

The company previously raised an undisclosed C round from investors including Hillhouse Capital, Coatue Management LLC, Qiming Venture Partners in 2015. A $15 million B round was received in 2013. The company expects its total GMV to reach nearly RMB 10 billion in 2017.

The GMV of China’s online travel market approached RMB 176 billion in Q2 2017, rising 24.8% on the previous year. Along with the market boom over the past decade, there’s been a significant change in the way that Chinese people travel: from organized tours to individual trips, where travelers seek in-depth experiences as part of the journey. The rise of Mafengwo, its top rival Qiongyou and a raft of custom traveling platforms find their roots in this change.

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Black Tech Founder on Pitching to the Sharks and Cuban’s Remark on ‘Entitled Millennials’

Ryan Diew pitched Trippie on the Season 9 premiere of ABC’s Shark Tank. After the show, Black Enterprise contributor Brandon Andrews sat down with Diew for an interview about the show and his mobile app that helps travelers navigate and find what they need at the airport.

Trippie Founder Ryan Diew Pitches on ABC's Shark Tank (Trippie App Founder Ryan Diew on ABC’s Shark Tank. Image: ABC/Michael Desmond)

Brandon Andrews: Trippie makes navigating airports easier. Tell us how you came up with the idea.  

Ryan Diew: Two years ago, after a long week of finals, I was on a layover in DC headed home to Oakland. I forgot to pack a lunch in the airport so I was pretty hungry. On my layover, I wanted to get food but I had no idea where anything was. I immediately searched the app store for “airport app with airport maps” to see if there was anything out there, but I couldn’t find anything. I had to trust a stranger with my three carry-on bags while I went to find food. It was at this moment I decided to build a solution myself.

Why are you passionate about solving this problem?

I really like that we’re solving a problem that millions of people deal with every day. I really believe Trippie can change the way air travelers spend their time waiting before flights in the airport.

You built Trippie while you were a college athlete. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs wanting to build apps themselves? 

If you want to do something, just do it. I’ve had a lot of people say to me, “I have this great idea, but I don’t have a motivated developer” and that’s the wrong way to go about things. I didn’t learn how to build this app in class. I decided to use sources like YouTube to watch tutorials on how to build every single feature I wanted in the app. The internet has significantly made knowledge more accessible and easier.

Trippie App Screenshots (Trippie Mobile App Screenshot. Image: Trippie)

When did you apply to be on the show?

My team and I pitched at my alma mater Colgate University my junior year. In our Shark Tank pitch contest, we were able to win $22,000 in prize money. This allowed me to actually buy a laptop to code on which was really awesome. That win led to Trippie being featured in Inc Magazine’s Coolest College Startups back in March. After the Inc feature, we were contacted by the producers of Shark Tank.

A lot of entrepreneurs dream about appearing on Shark Tank. Of course, I thought about it too. However, Shark Tank wasn’t an opportunity we were actively pursuing. I honestly thought we were a bit too early. But, the producers reached out and I took the opportunity.

Your pitch on the show illustrated the struggle of many black entrepreneurs. They have spark and grit, but often lack the capital to build their businesses. Lack of capital can also mean that these businesses do not have the traditional traction profile VCs look for. Tell us about your experience pitching.

I went in expecting to get a deal, but I knew our product wasn’t as far along as I wanted it to be. I was a D-1 college basketball player. Upsets happen every year in the NCAA tournament. The No. 15 seed has to believe they can beat the No. 2 seed for it to happen. I went in believing.

We didn’t get a deal, and as guest Shark Rohan Oza said, they gave me some tough love. My Shark Tank pitch nonetheless has been an amazing learning experience for me.

What lessons did you learn from your experience on Shark Tank?

One lesson I learned is being able to keep a poker face. This business is my baby, and being told that my baby wasn’t ready impacted me more than I thought. Prior to Shark Tank, our team had won thousands of dollars in every pitch competition we entered. It was jarring.

I also learned to take the positive out of every situation. The Sharks were focused on my app data and ability to scale, and—immediately after the show—so was I. That feedback was honest and helpful, but I was so focused on that feedback and that I forgot every Shark saying they liked the idea.

At the end of the day, all of the buzz about my pitch is leading to more site visits and more app downloads.

During and after your pitch, Mark Cuban made a comment about “entitled millennials,” as a millennial entrepreneur, how do you respond to this criticism?

I feel like that narrative is opposite of who I am. My—now famous—monologue wasn’t intended to come across as me feeling entitled. It was intended to demonstrate that I’m worth investing in.

I made a D-1 basketball team as a walk-on. There were no roster spots my freshman year, so I participated on the practice squad and was ‘team manager.’ I even joined the track team to stay in shape in the off-season. I eventually earned a spot on the team. I taught myself to code and built the first version of Trippie myself.

I don’t think anyone owes me anything, but I do feel like my life experience demonstrates the grit needed to grow a business. While I don’t think I’m entitled, overall Mark Cuban’s advice was helpful. The conversation was much longer in person, and the edited version on the show may color it differently. He even follows me on Twitter now.


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Catch a glimpse of Tiket’s new chapter at TIA Jakarta 2017

TIA Jakarta Speaker George Hendrata

All of us love a good travel deal. We treat finding the cheapest hotel options, flights, and leisure activities as exercises in diligence, patience, and even luck. Technology has certainly made the entire process of travel planning a lot easier, removing the middleman and bringing back power to the consumer.

Recently, Indonesian e-commerce giant Blibli acquired top travel booking site Tiket in order to power-up the former’s travel services. The coming together of the two may be an indicator of the continuing demand for seamless travel e-commerce platforms in Indonesia and in Southeast Asia—as the region’s online travel industry’s value is predicted to grow to US$90 billion by 2025, according to Google and Temasek Holdings’ study.

At the forefront of Tiket’s new chapter is its newly minted CEO, George Hendrata—who previously worked as Business Director of one of Indonesia’s top tobacco company, Djarum and the chairman of BMJ, the world’s third largest specialty paper in the world.

The acquisition in a nutshell

Both platforms have been around since 2011— with Blibli’s strong suit in providing customers with personalized shopping and sharing experiences and Tiket arming itself with a diverse travel inventory by locking-in partnerships with multiple international and domestic airlines and hotels.

Late 2016 marked Blibli’s entrance in the travel space by introducing Blibli Travel. On the other hand, Tiket offers arguably one of the largest local inventories in flights, train travel, hotel accommodations, car rental, and events and entertainment.

Currently, both platforms still operate as two distinct brands— testing out which approach will work best. Beyond utility, the Tiket’s acquisition was also hinged on a similarity in company cultures and values with Blibli.

Sharpening focus on local travel e-commerce growth

As one of Asia’s largest mobile first nations, Indonesia has certainly been hit with the travel e-commerce bug. In fact, research shows that majority of Indonesians primarily use e-commerce platforms for airline ticket reservations, or tour/hotel reservations.

Data from Statista also points to a lucrative local online travel booking industry, with revenues pegged at nearly $2.5 billion this 2017. These impressive numbers and insights add up to a robust travel e-commerce landscape that is arguably projected to grow in the coming years.

Apart from this, digital start-ups such as Tiket is also seen as key forces in Indonesia’s tourism growth. With the Ministry of Tourism targeting to attract 20 million tourists by 2019, it would be interesting to see where Tiket and Blibli can help boost the country’s tourism rates.

What’s next for Tiket?

There’s probably a lot of whys and hows looming in our minds as we think about Tiket’s new chapter. Questions about platform improvements, approach to customer engagement, or even consumer exposure to more quality deals.

Luckily, you may be able to get these answers straight from Tiket’s CEO himself! Catch George Hendrata on Tech in Asia Jakarta’s Main Stage this November 2, and learn more about what can be the future of an industry that helps connect us with our thirst for new experiences.

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‘TripAdvisor of the co-working industry’ scores funding

Image credit: Pixabay.

Coworker, a site that lets you search for, book, and review co-working spaces worldwide, has raised a US$500,000 round at a US$4.5 million post-money valuation form angel investors, the firm said today.

It’s not making money yet, but plans to fill a gap in the global co-working industry. There’s no reliable database for all the spaces available, something like a TripAdvisor for this category, says co-founder and CEO Leanne Beesley.

Co-working, or renting flexible office space with shared facilities, is a global trend on the rise. Research organization Small Business Labs thinks the number of people renting such spaces will grow globally from just under 1 million in 2016 to nearly 4 million in 2020.

Chains like WeWork from the US and Urwork from China have raised tens of millions of dollars to expand their network of branded co-working locations internationally.

Beesley started Coworker two years ago when she had trouble finding a suitable co-working location in Hong Kong. She focused first on getting as many places as possible listed and reviewed.

“Being on Coworker puts independent spaces on a level playing field so they can compete on equal terms with coworking giants like WeWork and UrWork,” she says.

Coworker has listed more than 5,000 spaces, with about 10,000 member reviews. The firm is registered in the US, but 1,400 of the spaces are in Asia, according to Beesley, and the region is growing fast. Beesley spends most of her time in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

When Coworker introduced a booking feature earlier in this year, India emerged as the country with the most bookings worldwide. That’s because of the many outsourcing teams working for global firms from within India, Beesley explains.

“Only a few co-working spaces cater specifically to the traveling freelancer, digital nomad type. What we see are startup teams and small businesses looking for flexible working arrangement within their own city.”

No booking commissions

Coworker, run by a team of 12 people who all work remotely, isn’t monetizing yet, Beesley admits. It wants to differentiate itself from co-working space aggregators like Flyspaces who take a commission for each booking. Flyspaces recently raised US$2.1 million to expand in Southeast Asia.

“We don’t believe in the booking commissions model, co-working spaces’ margins are already so thin,” Beesley says.

Instead, she plans to introduce packages where space operators pay to get more exposure on the site. Basic listing on the site and receiving bookings will remain free of charge.

WeWork and UrWork do not list their locations on Coworker yet, but Beesley says discussions are underway.

“Coworker is inclusive and open to anyone,” she says.

The startup’s angel investors are based in the US, China, Hong Kong, and Barcelona. Coworker had previously raised US$500,000 from angels last year, so the total amount of funding is US$1 million.

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China’s answer to Airbnb just got $300m funding

Airbnb sleeping

Photo credit: Nomao Saeki.

Tujia, China’s biggest Airbnb-esque site, has trousered US$300 million in funding, it announced today.

The money is technically only for its online offerings, following the earlier detachment of Tujia’s online and offline businesses into separate units.

Started in 2011, Tujia became a billion-dollar startup in 2015 with its previous round of funding. With this latest injection of cash, Tujia’s online wing is valued at US$1.5 billion on its own.

“We see significant growth in China’s online short term rental market and expect it to reach similar penetration levels of accommodations bookings as in the US and Europe,” said Paul Hudson, founder and CIO at Glade Brook, a new investor into Tujia. Glade Brook has also backed Airbnb and Uber.

Airbnb slumbers

Airbnb has been slow to take the Chinese market seriously. Only in late 2016 did it set up a China entity. The Silicon Valley giant chose its Chinese name earlier this year – Aibiying, which means “welcome each other with love” – but it was widely mocked on social media as “ugly-sounding.” One netizen said the new name was reminiscent of “a filthy love motel,” referring to an hourly hotel where young couples meet for sex.

As a result, Tujia has grown with little real competition from Airbnb. The local startup now covers 345 domestic and 1,037 foreign destinations, with over 650,000 online listings, it said today in a statement.

The lead investors in this round were Ctrip and All-Stars Investment, with China Renaissance’s New Economy Fund, Glade Brook Capital, and G Street Capital also participating.

See: Even as Airbnb doubles down on China, Chinese unicorn Tujia widens the war to Asia

Editing by Jack Ellis

(And yes, we’re serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

About Steven

Steven’s interested in ecommerce, mobile, smartphone adoption, gadgets, social media, transportation, and cars. If you have any tips or feedback, contact him on Twitter: @sirsteven

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Q&A: InnoVen’s Chin Chao on venture debt’s rise in Asia, after closing largest deal

InnoVen CEO Chin Chao. Photo credit: InnoVen Capital.

InnoVen Capital, a joint venture of Singapore’s Temasek and United Overseas Bank (UOB), today announced US$15.4 million funding of travel portal Yatra in India’s largest venture debt deal. It’s also the biggest deal for InnoVen which operates in Singapore, China, and India.

Apart from its size, the deal shows a broadening of appeal for venture debt – it can be a useful option for later-stage companies too, and not just early stage startups, InnoVen CEO Chin Chao explains to Tech in Asia.

For Yatra, which competes with MakeMyTrip and Cleartrip for booking flights and hotels, this is the second time it is opting for venture debt. InnoVen had provided it with a loan of US$4 million in 2013. Now the US$15.4 million loan comes after an IPO. “After having raised US$92 million through our Nasdaq listing in December 2016, the debt funding provides us additional capital for our growth needs,” says Yatra CFO Alok Vaish.

Venture debt is 25 to 30 times cheaper than equity financing.

InnoVen started in India as an entity of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) in 2008, and got acquired by Singapore’s state-owned Temasek in a joint venture with UOB in 2014. It has given out 165 loans to 120 startups so far, mostly in India. It expanded to Southeast Asia early last year, and to China a couple of months back.

For Chin Chao, it’s a second coming to venture debt as CEO of InnoVen Singapore and interim CEO of Innoven India. Back in 1998, he was a VC becoming increasingly frustrated with banks refusing to extend debt facilities to his portfolio companies.

“Instead of complaining about it, my partner and I decided to do something about it,” Chao tells me. They formed a joint venture between Venture TDF and Keppel Tat Lee Bank in 1999 to provide loans to fast-growing tech companies. But when the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation acquired Keppel Tat Lee Bank in 2001, the venture debt business got shut down.

Last year, when InnoVen expanded to Southeast Asia, Temasek and UOB brought in Chao to head the Singapore unit. He’s also interim CEO for InnoVen India until a replacement is found for Ajay Hattangadi, who had been with the firm from its SVB days and quit earlier this year to start a rival venture debt firm Alteria Capital.

In an interview with Tech in Asia, Chao shares insights on the venture debt scene which he has observed from way back in 1999. Here are excerpts from the interview:

What a venture debt firm usually offers is for startups to raise working capital without having to dilute equity. Now, with the Yatra deal, it seems like you want to cater to later stage companies. Is there a shift?

What we’re seeing in India is that companies that raised money from us earlier are coming back to us for additional financing requirements. We took a call not to let these opportunities pass us by, so we’re looking at funding larger companies too.

Also, since we’ve already lent money to these companies once or twice earlier, we’re comfortable with the team and business – such as with Yatra.

We’re still focused on the series A and series B stages; that’s our bread and better. But we’re seeing a lot of opportunities to write larger cheque sizes than the usual US$1 million to US$2 million.

Do you offer better terms to later stage companies than to startups?

The difference in our mind is not so much the stage of the company. When we get familiar with a company, we’re able to do more in terms of its commercial value. Follow-on loans from us have better terms than the first loan we give the company.

What are the factors you consider in picking a company to invest in?

The quality of the team is most important to us, and that is true of venture capital as well. We look at the investor base of companies that have raised some amount of funding from VCs. Who’s behind it is pretty important in the way we look at credit. We also take a bit of a call on the sector, but mainly it’s the team and investors.

Which are the sectors that attract you the most?

We’ve invested across sectors in India. One area where we haven’t done much is healthcare, so we’re looking at that a bit more now.

Whatever VCs are investing in, we want to be able to provide loans to companies in those sectors. Most of our transactions have been in ecommerce and marketplaces because those are the sectors that were being funded the most a couple of years ago. There’s usually a lag of one or two years between VC funding and venture debt.

Half of the Yatra funding is from InnoVen India and half from your Singapore unit. What’s the advantage of cross-border funding?

Indian companies often have offshore holding companies. For example, [customer engagement software product company] Capillary has a business in India as well as overseas. It has its headquarters in Singapore to handle its business there as well as in China and the Middle East. InnoVen India lends to Capillary for its working capital needs locally, but can’t lend overseas. So InnoVen Capital Singapore lends to Capillary there.

We can also help startups with their international expansion because we have people on the ground in countries from Indonesia and Singapore to India and China.

What are the situations where a startup turns to you for venture debt?

Take a company that raises a US$10 million round. After three months we get a call: the founder says, “I’m experiencing so much growth in the business, much more than I expected. Now I want to expand to new locations, hire new staff, launch a new product, do a marketing campaign… I didn’t budget for that in my equity raise.”

Venture debt is a complement to venture capital and not a replacement.

They could raise more equity but it’s only been a few months since the last round, so they’re not going to get an increase in valuation. That’s why they come to us. So they can take advantage of new growth opportunities, without diluting equity at the old valuation. When it comes time to raise the next round, the metrics are better than otherwise they would be. So they can raise funds at a higher valuation. Thus it allows them to take advantage of opportunities that they had not budgeted for.

It can also be used for an acquisition of a complementary company that was not foreseen and hadn’t been budgeted for when they raised the VC funding round.

A third use case is runway extension. Companies usually raise a VC round for a runway of 12-18 months. Venture debt can give them an additional runway of three to six months. Some founders also take it as insurance against running out of funds – a little bit of a buffer. A Singapore company in our portfolio took US$10 million in equity funding, but topped it up with US$2 million in venture debt.

Venture loans are common in Silicon Valley – 18 of the top 20 unicorns in the US have taken venture debt to avoid diluting equity too early in their lifecycle [see chart below].

These 18 of the top 20 unicorns in the US have used debt to save dilution of equity. Source: Crunchbase.

You started a venture debt firm in 1999 in Singapore. The company got acquired two years later and the business closed. Now you’re back in this industry. How do you see the scene today as compared to earlier?

Venture debt in Southeast Asia is still at a nascent stage. It hasn’t changed much. When I left the industry, there was no replacement, and when I looked at the scene a couple of years ago, I thought, ‘wow nobody has spotted the opportunity yet.’ When I talk to startups, there’s still the frustration of banks refusing to lend money to them. It’s almost as if I’m replicating what I did 17 years ago.

The biggest change is that the founding teams are so much better than they were years ago. The enthusiasm has always been there, just the talent level has changed drastically.

It’s almost as if I’m replicating what I did 17 years ago.

The big challenge in Southeast Asia is lack of exits. VCs need exits to realize their gain. But I just need them to survive to be able to pay back the loans. The risk is that companies raise VC funding for 12 to 18 months and some of them shut down without being able to repay our loans. That’s the risk we underwrite, but our default rate of 2 percent on loans is lower than that of banks.

It’s important to see venture debt as a complement to venture capital and not a replacement. Being over-leveraged is not good, just as in your personal finances. We aim for a venture debt to equity financing ratio of one to five, so that companies are not stressed over repayment.

When it’s done right, venture debt can be 25 times cheaper than equity financing. We’ve done an analysis to show how it works out [as seen in the chart below].

Venture debt cost vs equity financing cost. Source: InnoVen Capital.

If venture debt is such a growing opportunity across Asian startup ecosystems, why aren’t the banks getting into it?

Most of the banks find it too small a market – 40-50 venture debt deals could amount to US$40 million. That’s like the amount of money in a single property transaction for a bank. A lot of time, energy, and effort goes into managing loans for startups in so many deals – we’ve been doing one deal a week on average.

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Localeur Raises $3 Million to Help Travelers Find Spots Where Locals Hang

Have you ever visited a new location and wanted to know the cool spots where the locals hang? Well, Localeur can help you with that. Black Enterprise recently caught up with co-founder Joah Spearman, who gave us some additional updates on the company since we last spoke with him, and how he raised $3 million from a massive group of strategic angel investors.

Joah Spearman (Image: Gary Williams, Jr.) Joah Spearman (Image: Gary Williams, Jr.)

Remind us what Localeur is. 

Localeur is a community of locals who recommend their favorite local places to eat, drink, and play to help travelers experience local instead of going where only tourists go. It started out four years ago—only in Austin, Texas,—with about 15 of my friends sharing places they go in Austin, and today we span nearly 60 cities in the U.S. and around the world including London, Sydney, and Toronto.

Why did you feel that there is a need in the market for Localeur?

When we started, Airbnb wasn’t quite the global force it is today, but we were firm believers in the idea that people didn’t just want to stay in local apartments and homes but also wanted to experience locally. I used to own a local sneaker boutique in Downtown Austin, and I got a lot of business from travelers who said they stumbled into my shop even though Yelp was directing them to national chains like Foot Locker. When many of us travel, especially millennials, we don’t want to go on guided tours or to tourist traps, but instead to the locally-owned businesses that make cities unique. Localeur has unlocked the ability for travelers to get authentic recommendations exclusively from locals.

User Interface (Image: Localeur) User Interface (Image: Localeur)

How have you been able to scale the company since launch?

We’ve served nearly 2 million travelers looking to experience local mostly because we’ve been pretty diligent about expanding from one city to the next city compared to a lot of startups in this space that either never scaled globally or some that went globally from day one and never cared to focus on the quality of their content or community. For me, I’ve always been inspired by the Jay Z lyric, “real recognize real” and I’ve tried to instill that into our DNA as a company from the diverse community of Localeurs we have in nearly 60 cities to the types of recommendations they’re giving. If it’s not quality, we don’t want to do it, and what we’ve learned is that quality scales when you focus on it, protect it, and have the patience to foster it.

How much funding have you raised to date?

We have raised a little over $3 million exclusively from angel investors, and it’s probably the most diverse group of angel investors ever assembled for a tech startup, especially out of Austin. Everyone from music industry execs who work closely with Beyoncé and Anderson .Paak to early Facebook executives and the leading angel investors in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio are involved.

How did you raise your angel round and why did you decide to wait on raising traditional venture capital?

Initially, I planned on raising from institutional firms in Silicon Valley and Austin, but after close to 150 pitches with VCs coast to coast, I realized that we were at a disadvantage for a number of reasons; One: I’m a black founder, and statistically the odds of me getting institutional funding are infinitesimally small; two: We are based in Austin, where the angel investment community is much more open to consumer startups like ours than the local VCs, and three; companies in our space like Sosh, YPlan, and Foursquare have raised tens of millions in institutional funding and not had the type of exits that would motivate VCs to write more checks in our space. All that being said, I’ve been able to raise $3 million from 58 angel investors, and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s rooted a level of grit and determination in our company that many companies never attain and many investors love to see, especially mine.

If someone wanted to access Localeur, how would they go about doing so?

We started as a website at and that’s still a big way people find our recommendations, both on desktop and mobile phones, but we also have native iPhone and Android apps. Earlier this year, we launched a well-received quarterly print magazine sharing recs in dozens of cities that we distribute through our online shop and select boutiques.

Localeur Magazine (Image: James Drakeford) Localeur Magazine (Image: James Drakeford)Original Link