It breaks my heart to have to write this post but I’m not giving up on this mission – a read for technical founders who care about Asian representation

It breaks my heart to have to write this post but I’m not giving up on this mission. For the past 10 months, I’ve dedicated my life to building a platform where Asians can represent their unique story, show their personality and transcend stereotypes with the end goal of finding meaningful connections. In short, it would be a video dating app that celebrates the Asian experience.

I was determined to build this platform because I am a product of immigrants who was raised on western media and its negative portrayal of Asians. I’m doing this because I’m still hurting and recognize that we, the collective Asian community, are longing to heal from the generations of ancestral trauma and internalized racism.

We gathered a small group of talented and passionate individuals with the same passion, values, drive and mission to improve the lives of Asian individuals, and were just 2 weeks away from releasing the beta. Over 900 people have signed up to be beta testers and there was genuine excitement and support in the community about this product and our mission.

This all ended abruptly just a few days ago when our CTO was forced to pull out of the project due to unforeseen family reasons and extenuating circumstances. Now, we are left with 900 individuals who’ve been eagerly and patiently waiting for the app, an app that’s about 2 weeks away from beta stage completion and a small group of passionate individuals who want nothing more than to offer a better dating experience for Asian individuals. We’ve come to a standstill.

But we’re not giving up here. We’ve come too far and there is too much at stake – the possibility of helping Asians lead happier lives. As difficult as it was to find our original and amazing CTO, we’re again looking for a talented CTO and co-founder to continue our mission.

The app is built on Firebase and Flutter, and it’s pretty great – again, near public beta shape. We’re looking for a CTO and co-founder who is a senior full-stack developer with experience in mobile development and startups. The most important quality, however, is that this person is passionate about Asian representation and believes in a mission like ours. The team is working remotely so it doesn’t matter where you are. You would join for equity. (So this isn’t a job post.) We have no funding and don’t have any grand illusions of getting any at this stage without users or revenue. But money is not what drives us and it’s not why we’re doing this.

And if you’re curious, yes, we’ve done the research, the surveys, the interviews, the prototyping, the alpha testing. I can tell you straight out: Will all Asians want to use this app? NO. Some Asians don’t want to date other Asians and that’s their prerogative. We’re not here to convert anyone. But do Asians in general want a platform like this? YES. The majority of Asians do see the benefit and value in dating someone who comes from a similar experience and upbringing. And just because you’re on this app doesn’t mean you’re not open to dating non-Asians. And is the app sticky? Fuck ya.

We believe this is an app that has the potential to become the “TikTok” of Asian dating – a cool platform that everyone wants to join. Yeah, nothing like this has existed before so it’s hard for some to even imagine it. But 900 of you and many more that have reached out with support can see that vision and that possibility. This will be a platform where Asians can proudly celebrate our identity, culture and story, and, by telling our stories with compassion, love and empathy, allow ourselves to find self-acceptance and even, perhaps, love.

If you believe in a mission like ours and you’re interested in possibly joining our team or know anyone that might be, please tell them about www.alike.dating and tell them to message me at hello@alike.dating. Fingers crossed. Thank you.

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

Investors drop off $33 million for Chowbus, a delivery service for ‘mom and pop’ Asian restaurants

When big platforms have carved out large swaths of the delivery market, the best thing for an upstart company to do is specialize.

For Chowbus, that meant building a food-delivery business that finds restaurants whose cuisines specialize in regional cuisines from Northern and Southern China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

It’s a strategy that has now netted the company $ 33 million in financing led by the Silicon Valley-based investment firm Altos Ventures and New York’s Left Lane Capital. Hyde Park Angels, Fika Ventures, FJ Labs and Silicon Valley Bank also participated in the round.

Founded four years ago in Chicago by Suyu Zhang and Linxin Wen, the company said that its goal was to connect people with authentic Asian food that’s not easy to find on delivery apps. Over the past year, the company touted significant growth in its business, a traction that can be reflected in its decision to bring on the former chief operating officer of Jump Bikes, Kenny Tsai, as its chief operating officer, and Jieying Zheng, a former Groupon product leader as its head of product.

“When we say we’re true partners to the restaurants we work with, we mean it. By eliminating hidden fees, helping them showcase their best dishes, and other efforts we make on their behalf, we really go the extra mile to help our restaurant partners succeed,” said Wen, Chowbus’ chief executive, in a statement. “We only succeed if they do.”

And seemingly, Chowbus is succeeding. The company raised $ 4 million in its first round of institutional funding just last year and its rise has been rapid ever since.

The Chicago-based company said it would use its new funding to expand to more cities across the U.S. and add new products like a “dine-in” feature allowing diners to order and pay for their meals on their phone for a contactless experience at restaurants in cities that have flattened the curve of COVID-19 infections and are now reopening. 

Chowbus pitches its lack of hidden fees, and its footprint across 20 cities in North America, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Seattle, and many others. In Los Angeles, the company offers menus in Mandarin and Cantonese and allows its users to bundle in a single delivery dishes from multiple restaurants.

Other companies are experimenting with specialization as a way to differentiate from the major delivery services that are on the market. Black and Mobile, which launched in Philadelphia but is in the process of expanding across the country, is a delivery service focused on Black-owned restaurants and food stores.

Founded by David Cabello, Black and Mobile was started in 2017 by the 22-year-old college dropout. The company launched its first operations outside of Atlanta earlier this month and is available on iOS.

“The market is experiencing a permanent shift from offline to online ordering, a trend that Chowbus is actively driving,” said Harley Miller, managing partner at Left Lane Capital . “Focusing on this large and loyal constituency with a vertical-approach to supporting Asian restaurants and food purveyors has allowed Chowbus to differentiate itself on both sides of the marketplace. The capital efficiency with which they have operated, relative to the scale achieved, is extraordinarily impressive, and not something we often see.”

Startups – TechCrunch

GoBear raises $17 million to expand its consumer financial services for Asian markets

Singapore-based fintech startup GoBear has raised $ 17 million from returning investors Walvis Participaties, a Dutch venture capital firm, and Aegon N.V., a life insurance and asset management provider. The funding brings GoBear’s total funding so far to $ 97 million, and will be used to expand its consumer financial services platform, which is available in seven Asian markets: Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Founder and CEO Adrian Chng told TechCrunch that GoBear will focus on what it calls its “three growth pillars”: an online financial supermarket that evolved from the company’s financial products aggregator/comparison service; an online insurance brokerage; and its digital lending business, which it recently expanded by acquiring consumer lending platform AsiaKredit.

The company has also added three new executives over the past few months: chief information technology officer Valeriy Gasratov; chief strategy officer Jinnee Lim as Chief Strategy Officer; and Mike Singh from AsiaKredit as its new chief lending officer.

GoBear originally launched in 2015 as a metasearch engine, before transitioning into financial services. The company now works with over 100 financial partners, including banks and insurance providers, and says its platform has been used by over 55 million people to search for more than 2,000 personal financial products.

The startup serves consumers who don’t have credit cards or other access to traditional credit building tools. Similar to other fintech companies that focus on underbanked populations, GoBear aggregates and analyzes alternative sources of data to judge lending risk, including patterns in consumer behavior. For example, Chng said if a loan application is filled out in less than a minute, it is more likely to be fraudulent, and applications made between 8:30PM and midnight are less risky than ones made between 2AM to 5AM.

Data points from smartphones is also used to assess creditworthiness in markets like the Philippines, where the credit card penetration rate is less than 10%, but more than 40% of the population uses a smartphone.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Chng said GoBear has been gross margin positive since the end of 2019. Interest in travel insurance has declined, but the company has continued to see demand for other insurance products and lending. Its online insurance brokerage has grown its average order by 52% over the last three months, and the company has seen 50% year-over-year growth from its loan products.

There are other fintech companies in Asia that overlap with some of the services that GoBear offers, like comparison platform MoneySmart, CompareAsiaGroup and Grab Financial Group. In terms of competition, Chng told TechCrunch that not only is the market opportunity in Asia huge (he said there are 400 million underbanked people across GoBear’s seven markets), but the company also differentiates with its three core services, which are all interconnected and draw on the same data sources to score credit.

Chng anticipates that the pandemic will spur more financial institutions to begin digitizing their products and looking for partners like GoBear to help them manage risk. In turn, that will make more financial institutions open to using non-traditional data to score credit, enabling underbanked markets to have increased access to financial products.

“The momentum is here. I think now is the time for tech and data to transform financial services,” he said. “As a platform, we are really looking for partners to come with us for the next phase of growth and investment. I feel positive even with COVID-19, because I think that we will have more acceleration, and the opportunity to change people’s lives and benefit them and investors by solving tough problems will only increase.”

Startups – TechCrunch

Forget sourdough, these sisters are launching a starter to create authentic Asian food

For immigrants in the United States, representation can feel complex, celebrated and oftentimes a mix of the two. And that’s exactly why sister duo Vanessa and Kim Pham launched Omsom, a seed-stage food startup that sells packaged “starters” to recreate authentic Asian dishes at home. The starter contains sauce, spices and aromatics, and the co-founders say consumers can make a dish in 30 minutes or less.

“As we were seeing Asian Americans claim their voices in media and in culture more broadly, we then would juxtapose it with walking down this ethnic aisle in the grocery store and see the way Asian flavors were being represented,” Vanessa told me.

The existence of the ethnic aisle itself has drawn criticism for “othering” cultures that have long been within the United States. It was enough to make Vanessa, who worked at Bain & Company, and Kim, who has spent time in venture at Frontline Ventures and Dorm Room Fund NYC, join forces to create Omsom.

“The ethnic aisle feels super outdated,” Vanessa said. “Flavors have been diluted, branding and design have been stereotypical in nature. How can you boil a cuisine down into one sad jar of sauce?”

The aisle, also named the international aisle, currently contains bottles of never-to-expire thai pastes. Walk a little farther and you’ll find microwavable containers of high-fat butter chicken. And there in the corner is a bottle that boils down one of the world’s most diverse cuisines simply: “curry sauce.”

While progress is pitiful in grocery store representation, the founders are optimistic that they can change that. Omsom, from the flavors to the meaning behind its name (it means rowdy in Vietnamese) to the cap table it has at the moment, is another story waiting to be told about immigrant culture. This is theirs.

Omsom launched today with an undisclosed amount of pre-seed money. The early-stage startup’s ownership group is 50% women of color, including Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, and Brita Rosenheim, a partner at Better Food Ventures. It also raised investment from Peter Livingston, the founder and partner at Unpopular Ventures, a fund dedicated to entrepreneurs who are aiming at unconventional niches.

Livingston said that he invested in Omsom despite not actually being a “food tech investor at all” because it covers an unconventional category.

“Venture capital as an industry is so homogeneous, is clustered in a handful of geographies, prefers to invest close to home, and tends to invest within a small number of the same themes,” Livingston said. “Historically, ethnic food essentials hasn’t really been a ‘VC category,’ which to me, smells like opportunity.”

Saujani said her investment is “betting on the team and a product designed for a vastly underserved market, and the current circumstances make consumer appetite for pantry staples even larger,” referring to COVID-19 forcing more people to cook from home since restaurants are closed.

Your mother’s dish

Recreating authentic dishes with “mom’s ingredients” is not an easy goal, so the Pham sisters focused heavily on sourcing and chef collaboration and spent over a year in research and development of the recipes.

The sisters teamed up with three chefs — Jimmy Ly of Madame Vo, Nicole Ponseca of Jeepney and Chat and Ohm Suansilphong of Fish Cheeks — to create the first line of products. The chefs will get a tiered royalty on sales depending on volume.

“We made sure our ingredients, 90% of them, are unique to Asian food products and sourced directly from Asia,” said Vanessa. “We bent over backwards to get just the right kind of chili.”

But beyond authenticity, the Pham sisters also had another misconception to overcome: the oily and processed reputation of Americanized international dishes, like your favorite Chinese orange chicken takeout or a creamy bowl of butter chicken.

These flagship dishes that are so often associated with those cultures are often multitudes unhealthier than what an immigrant family within, say, the Indian culture, might serve on a day to day basis. Omsom flips that by offering dishes that have no preservatives, no high-fructose corn syrup, and are shelf stable for up to a year. It’s “acceptable for users trying to be generally health conscious, in line with something you would find at Whole Foods.”

Now, the Pham sisters just need to see if they can deliver on the promise of providing uncompromising dishes amid a pandemic. They think it will be a welcomed change for people stuck at home and looking to experiment with cooking.

“We grew up south of Boston in a predominantly white suburb and there was a bit of shame associated with our food,” said Kim Pham . “But as I went through the process of stepping into myself as a woman of color, I started to use food as the first stop in engaging with my identity.”

“I moved away from home, I don’t speak Vietnamese as I used to, but I turned to food,” she continued. “Even if it was a bowl of pho.”

Kim and Vanessa Pham (from L to R)

Startups – TechCrunch

Southeast Asian lending platform Validus raises $20 million for its Series B+ round

Small- to medium-sized businesses are one of the most important parts of Southeast Asia’s economy, but many have trouble securing growth capital from traditional financial institutions. Validus wants to fix the financing gap with its peer-to-peer lending platform, which connects accredited lenders with SMEs. The Singapore-based startup announced today that it has raised $ 20 million for its ongoing Series B+ round.

The funding was co-led by Vertex Growth fund and Kuok Group’s Orion Fund, which is managed by K3 Venture Partners. Returning investors in the round include FMO, the international development bank of the Netherlands; Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia and India; Openspace Ventures; AddVentures; and VinaCapital Ventures.

This brings Validus’ total raised to about $ 40 million since it was founded in 2015, including a $ 15.2 million Series B round announced last year.

After getting its capital markets services license from the Monetary Authority of Singapore in December 2017, Validus launched services in Indonesia and Vietnam and says it has lent over $ 315 million to businesses so far. Its plans for its Series B+ round include expanding into Thailand during the last quarter of this year. Validus’ credit risk model analyzes information from invoices, contracts and cash flow.

Co-founder and COO Nikhilesh Goel says that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has seen more demand for short-term financing, with a 50% year-over-year increase for credit-approved unsecured loans over the past few months.

Despite the impact of the pandemic on small businesses, loan performance has held steady, he added, because Validus focuses on corporate vendor financing for SMEs whose end-buyers are large corporations or government-linked entities.

Validus also plans to provide financing to SMEs that are on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19, including working capital for SMEs in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, and logistics and cleaning services.

“Through working closely with corporate partners and investors on the platform, we also aim to support SMEs who are pivoting their businesses to adapt to services and products that are required in this time,” Goel said. “In the last month, we have disbursed multiple such loans averaging $ 250,000 to $ 500,000, to support SMEs’ efforts in meeting the demand for face masks and other protective gear in short supply.”

In a press statement, MX Kuok of K3 Ventures said, “We are highly impressed by the leadership and depth of credit management experience at Validus. The team has demonstrated the unique ability to capture critical data points, combined with comprehensive machine learning capabilities, to identify high-potential SMEs that may have fallen through the gaps of the traditional banking model.”

Startups – TechCrunch