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India’s Cars24, a used-vehicle marketplace, raises $450M at a $1.84B valuation – TechCrunch

The used car market is getting another major infusion of venture capital today, with one of the faster scaling startups out of India picking up a major round of financing to double down on growth: Cars24 — a site and app that sells users cars and used two-wheeled motorbikes — has raised $450 million, a […]

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The used car market is getting another major infusion of venture capital today, with one of the faster scaling startups out of India picking up a major round of financing to double down on growth: Cars24 — a site and app that sells users cars and used two-wheeled motorbikes — has raised $450 million, a Series F of $340 million and $110 million in debt. The investment values Cars24 at $1.84 billion post-money, the company said, making it one of the more valuable privately-held used car startups globally.

DST Global, Falcon Edge and SoftBank Vision Fund 2 co-led the Series F, with Tencent and existing investors Moore Strategic Ventures and Exor Seeds also participating. The debt round came from a mix of financial institutions. This fundraise, now confirmed and official, was rumored in past weeks, although at a smaller amount: it didn’t include the debt portion, and some reports were based on regulatory filings for less than the sum ultimately raised.

Vikram Chopra, the CEO who co-founded the company in Gurugram with Mehul Agrawal, Ruchit Agarwal and Gajendra Jangid, said that the plan will be to use the funds across a range of areas.

They include national and international expansion (it’s already operating in India, Australia and UAE, and has its eyes on more markets); technology (specifically areas like further expanding its virtual appraisal process, as well as more data science around pricing and other details related to sales and after-sales); and financing both to buy in vehicles, as well as to help consumers make purchasing a vehicle a viable economic option.

Cars24 is active in 130 cities in India, and it has sold 400,000 vehicles to date (both cars and motorbikes) with upwards of 13 million monthly visitors on its site. All this gives it claim to being the largest platform of its kind in India. But its ambition is to improve the inefficiencies of selling a car, or buying a used car, in many parts of the globe, not just its home market.

“Buying or selling a car is hard anywhere in the world,” Chopra said in an interview. “It’s just a broken experience everywhere, so we are trying to solve for this.”

This is also where the financing and technology figure significantly. When Cars24 first started out in 2015 in India, Chopra said, it faced the added issue (or opportunity?) of a tricky economic landscape with very low car ownership penetration overall — just 2%, or 2 cars per 100 people, compared to typically between 50 and 80 cars per 100 people in Europe.

“But buying a used car in India is a way for a person to own any car,” Chopra said. In a country like India, “we want to take the penetration to 10 or 15.” He added that the car resale market today in India is around $25 billion, but is on track to soon get to $100 billion.

Cars24 has been built around a “buying-in, fixing up, and then reselling” model similar to that of the real-estate juggernaut Opendoor: it appraises vehicles from individuals looking to sell them; buys them up if an agreed price can be reached; reconditions them; and then re-sells and delivers them to new owners. This model, Chopra said, gives Cars24 an edge over some of the shortcomings that exist with traditional players (both on and offline).

First, it provides a centralized platform, cars24.com and its corresponding app, where users can browse a one-stop-shop inventory that goes beyond their local areas (and local dealers). That inventory is curated and made discoverable using a number of algorithms, and pricing is also determined by Cars24’s technology.

“CARS24 is building a data-enabled tech platform that is organizing the fragmented used car market in India,” said Munish Varma, managing partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We have been closely tracking its approach and efforts that have disrupted the used car retailing in India.”

“We believe CARS24 is enhancing the customer experience in the used car industry with its sharp focus on technology,” said Sumer Juneja, partner, SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We will continue to support this growth given our expertise in e-commerce businesses across markets”.

Second, when consumers do make a purchase, they can keep and try out a vehicle for up to seven days “and return it if you don’t like it.”

This, Chopra continued, is in contrast to other used-car sales sites, as well as physical dealers: either they don’t offer trial runs, or (in the case of physical dealers or individual offline sellers), they might give a driver 10 or 15 minutes tops, with someone attending you as you drive the vehicle around: not a great way to discover what you like or don’t like about a vehicle.

It’s also a model that investors believe will give Cars24 an edge over competitors.

“We have studied used car platforms globally and are struck by the similarities we see between CARS24 and analogous businesses that have scaled successfully,” said Navroz D. Udwadia, co-founder of Falcon Edge Capital, in a statement. “CARS24 has cemented its first-mover advantage by building wide-ranging supply side moats, which in turn drive demand liquidity on the platform. In positioning itself as a buying and selling solution for consumers, CARS24 drives immense top-of-mind recall. It is rare to find a business as focused on the consumer experience and as driven to ensure it is outstanding via the use of data science and technology. Finally, we are deeply impressed by the founders’ leadership, and are thrilled to back them as they transform the used car industry in India and scale internationally across MENA and SE Asia.”

A used-vehicle marketplace raising a huge amount of money is somewhat ironic given some of the bigger trends in the world of transportation.

Some have theorized that a wave of factors — they include the rise of ubiquitous e-hailing apps like Uber; on-demand car-sharing services like Getaround or Zipcar; a push in urban centers encouraging people to use a wider array of transportation options to offset traffic; and bigger environmental trends that are leading some to eschew gas guzzling autos — would push the world away from car ownership. Yet essentially, Cars24 (and others like it) are extending the life of a lot of older models to keep more vehicles in circulation and private hands.

But using Uber can get pricey and is not the same as having your own wheels, and the desire to have your own vehicle is perhaps at a high-point right now because of Covid-19 and people concerned about spreading or catching the virus, Chopra said.

“It’s definitely not the case in India that less people want to own cars,” he said. “During the pandemic, we have seen a lot of demand, in India specifically.” On new, greener vehicle technology, this is also interesting and will simply present another class of vehicles on Cars24 as adoption of electric vehicles increases, he added. But it’s not all quite there, yet.

The strength of the current opportunity is partly why it seems that we’ve found ourselves crowded with startups and scale-ups hoping to define the new generation of used-car-sale platforms.

Others in the same space that have recently raised money include close competitors like Spinny, also out of India; Cazoo in the UK, which has now gone public; InstaCarro out of Brazil; Kavak out of Mexico; and Carsome from Malaysia, among many others. Carvana, one of the biggest used-car platforms, is also publicly listed and is now valued at nearly $28 billion.

What has been interesting is that each of these big players have up to now carved out very strong markets for themselves in their home countries, and they are only more recently moving to expand internationally. Cars24 has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in funding (it also raised $200 million less than a year ago) in part because its investors think it has what it takes to export, and thus scale, its model beyond the huge market of India.

“CARS24 is at the forefront of transforming the way consumers buy and sell cars by providing a unique end-to-end digital shopping and transaction experience,” said Rahul Mehta, managing partner at DST Global, in a statement. “They have emerged as the undisputed leader in the used car space in India and early traction in international markets is exceeding expectations. We love backing founders who are bold and ambitious thinkers and couldn’t be more excited to enter the second innings of our long-lasting partnership with CARS24.”

Cars24 is active in 130 cities in India, and it has sold 400,000 vehicles to date (both cars and motorbikes) with upwards of 13 million monthly visitors on its site. All this gives it claim to being the largest platform of its kind in India. But its ambition is to improve the inefficiencies of selling a car, or buying a used car, in many parts of the globe, not just its home market.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/19/indias-cars24-a-used-vehicle-marketplace-raises-450m-at-a-1-84b-valuation/

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More talk about attaching sniper rifles to robots – TechCrunch

The whole gun on a robot thing was a question we’ve been barreling toward since the first practical quadrupedal robots arrived. Last week, that came to an inevitable head when a Ghost Robotics system was spotted at a tradeshow sporting a remote-controlled sniper rifle designed by a company called SWORD. This is a question Boston […]

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The whole gun on a robot thing was a question we’ve been barreling toward since the first practical quadrupedal robots arrived. Last week, that came to an inevitable head when a Ghost Robotics system was spotted at a tradeshow sporting a remote-controlled sniper rifle designed by a company called SWORD.

This is a question Boston Dynamics has worked hard to distance itself from. Understandably so — creating war machines is generally considered bad PR. That they — along with much of the robotics industry — were, in part, bootstrapped by DARPA funding and now create robots that people liken to scary sci-fi movies certainly complicates things.

I discussed Boston Dynamics’ approach to addressing the use of Spot for purposes of intimidation and violence in last week’s column. I also talked a bit about my own feelings around mounting guns to the backs of robots (again, I’m against it and death machines generally). Ahead of writing the piece, I also reached out to Ghost Robotics, though only heard back after it was published.

I’ve since spoken to the company’s CEO Jiren Parikh about the system he refers to as “a walking tripod,” a nod to the fact that Ghost doesn’t design the payload — in this case, the SWORD Defense Systems Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle (SPUR). There are a lot of important ethical questions here. A walking tripod? Perhaps. But ultimately, there are questions of where the buck stops? The robotics company? The company that produces the payload? The end user (i.e. the military)? All of the above?

Important questions we need to address as we’re facing down a potential army of gun-strapped robotic dogs.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Don’t forget to sign up to get the upcoming free newsletter version of Actuator delivered to your inbox.

Let’s start with the question of autonomy.

The robots themselves are not using any type of autonomy or AI for targeting weapon systems. SWORD, who makes the system, I can’t speak for. From what I know, that weapon is a manual-firing trigger. Even the targeting is done by a human behind the scenes. Firing the trigger is fully human-controlled.

Is full autonomy a line the company doesn’t want to cross in this scenario?

We don’t make the payloads. Are we going to promote and advertise any of these weapon systems? Probably not. That’s a tough one to answer. Because we’re selling to the military, we don’t know what they do with them. We’re not going to dictate to our government customers how they use the robots.

We do draw the line on where they’re sold. We only sell to U.S. and allied governments. We don’t even sell our robots to enterprise customers in adversarial markets. We get lots of inquiries about our robots in Russia and China. We don’t ship there, even for our enterprise customers.

Does the company reserve the right to make sure the robots aren’t used for applications that you don’t support?

In a sense, yes. We have full control. Everyone has to sign a licensing agreement. We don’t sell the robots to anyone we don’t want to. We only choose to sell them to U.S. and allied governments that we feel comfortable. We just have to recognize that military customers don’t disclose everything that they’re doing. If they need to use that robot for specific purposes for national security or to keep a war fighter out of harms way, we’re all for that.

Image Credits: SWORD

The vetting is in the customers [Ghost] chooses, rather than the applications the customers use those robots for?

That’s correct. We’ve had people call to use these robots for fighting videos or putting together a reality show for crazy stuff the robots would do. Without naming names, we decline. We think that’s not tasteful. The robot is a serious tool. It’s a tool for inspections, security and all sort of military applications.

As far as what we saw [last week] in the photos, is there a timeline?

They’re expecting to do field testing on that sniper kit in late-Q1 of next year.

In this specific case, what is the nature of the deal? The DoD has an individual deal with you and SWORD?

There’s no deals. This is just a long-gun company that believes there’s a market opportunity for this. They developed on their own dime and we thought it was a compelling payload. There’s no customers.

An aircraft flying

Image Credits: Reliable Robotics

Okay, that’s it for the war dogs (for this week, at least). Let’s move from land operations to sea and sky. First off is Reliable Robotics, a Bay Area-based autonomous cargo-plane company that just raised $100 million. The Series C round brings the four-year-old firm’s total funding to $130 million, in Reliable’s bid to effectively move the autonomous trucking model into the skies.

Speaking of unmanned aerial vehicles, Wing just announced the beginning of what could amount to a big push into U.S. drone deliveries. Following successful pilots in Australia and a small town in Virginia, the Alphabet division announced a partnership with Walgreens to bring autonomous deliveries to the greater Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area.

Image Credits: Alphabet

Wing told us the following about its efforts on the regulatory side of things:

In April of 2019, Wing became the first drone operator to be certified as an air carrier by the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing us to deliver commercial goods to recipients miles away, and we got an expanded version of that permission to launch in Virginia in October 2019. Now, we’re working toward permissions for this expansion, and we’ll be conducting test flights and demonstrating our new capabilities in the area in the coming weeks as part of that process. Prior to launching our service in DFW, we will work with authorities at the local, state and federal levels to secure all the appropriate permissions.

Several Saildrone vessels float in formation on the ocean.

Image Credits: Saildrone

On the water-front comes another $100 million Series C. This one is for Saildrone’s autonomous boats, which are being deployed to collect data for scientific purposes. The company has already deployed a sizable fleet of its uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs), which have traveled around half a million miles, collectively.

Lastly, an interesting piece from The New York Times about the adoption of robotic waiters amid pandemic-related staff shortages. That part isn’t all that’s interesting in and of itself. What is, however, is that the wait staff has reported an increase in tipping, as a result. From the piece:

Servi saved wait staff and bussers from having to run back and forth to the kitchen and gave overworked servers more time to schmooze with customers and serve more tables, which led to higher tips.

This is a small vindication of what robotics companies have been suggesting for a while — that autonomous systems won’t replace existing jobs, but rather augment them and fill in the gaps companies can’t with current headcount. That certainly seems to be the case on a shorter timeline when, frankly, these systems are incapable of replacing people outright. There’s a question around whether this is a step toward full automation, but in the near term, there’s something to be said for freeing up humans to do more humane things.

Important questions we need to address as we’re facing down a potential army of gun-strapped robotic dogs.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/10/21/guns-on-robots/

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It’s a big moment for climate change. Here are 4 books for autumn to understand what’s changing – TechCrunch

We’re just weeks away from COP26, the big environmental policy confab where scores of world leaders will descend on Scotland and determine the future of the planet, answering the question, “Should we all die or live?” That’s meant a whole truckload of new books on the subject, as well as renewed attention to older works […]

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We’re just weeks away from COP26, the big environmental policy confab where scores of world leaders will descend on Scotland and determine the future of the planet, answering the question, “Should we all die or live?”

That’s meant a whole truckload of new books on the subject, as well as renewed attention to older works that are suddenly back in the limelight again. So following up from our summer round-up of books broadly on the thesis of climate change, we have a new set of reviews of four more books to explore this intricately fascinating subject:

  • First, I look at Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future with a piece entitled “The dark side of environmentalism.” Robinson offers us a hopeful vision of the future where humans come together to solve the world’s problems, but only after an ecoterrorist group makes the alternatives and status quo less palatable. How do we unpack those values, and what do they portend for our world going forward?
  • Second, my colleague Brian Heater looks at The Vertical Farm written by Dickson Despommier, which was recently republished as a tenth anniversary edition. Vertical farms are among the more utopian movements emanating out of climate tech — a way to bring agriculture closer to the billions of people living in urban agglomerations. How feasible are they, and will they really work?
  • Third, I interview Azeem Azhar on his new book The Exponential Age, exploring why technologies like semiconductors, gene editing, 3D printing, and more are suddenly coming together to completely reshape our world. The change is only going to accelerate.
  • Finally, I analyze Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, a heady and intensely thought-provoking series of lectures bound up in a slim volume that is just exploding with insight. Ghosh sees our culture as completely divergent from the needs of the climate today, and wonders why authors and other creatives seem completely unwilling to address the crisis that is befalling the planet.
  • Second, my colleague Brian Heater looks at The Vertical Farm written by Dickson Despommier, which was recently republished as a tenth anniversary edition. Vertical farms are among the more utopian movements emanating out of climate tech — a way to bring agriculture closer to the billions of people living in urban agglomerations. How feasible are they, and will they really work?
  • Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/10/10/fall-climate-change-books/

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    Graneet thinks construction companies should switch from Excel to its tool – TechCrunch

    Meet Graneet, a French startup that just raised a $2.8 million seed round (€2.4 million) led by Point Nine and Fondamental. Graneet is a vertical software-as-a-service startup focused on the construction industry and the myriad of small and medium companies in this industry specifically. It wants to build the definitive financial management solution so that […]

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    Meet Graneet, a French startup that just raised a $2.8 million seed round (€2.4 million) led by Point Nine and Fondamental. Graneet is a vertical software-as-a-service startup focused on the construction industry and the myriad of small and medium companies in this industry specifically.

    It wants to build the definitive financial management solution so that construction companies can better control their projects. The vast majority of construction companies still rely on multiple Excel files, which leads to information silos and cumbersome data entry tasks. Other investors include Jack Newton, Renaud Visage, Alexandre Guinefolleau, Arthur Waller, Philippe Gelis and the founders of Colonies.

    The mother of Graneet’s co-founder and CEO Jean-Gabriel Niel has been leading a construction company. “She would tell me ‘this is crazy, I can’t figure out whether I’m going to gain or lose money for one out of two construction projects,’” he told me.

    He spent some time looking at this company’s internal processes — order processing, billing management, you name it. And that’s when he realized that Microsoft Excel was still the leading solution.

    With Graneet, the company thinks it needs to solve three basic things — quotes, billing and resource planning. The startup first started working on billing. Graneet acts as a single source of truth where you can see how much your client is supposed to pay, how much you’ve received so far and what’s next. You can see if there are any outstanding invoices and mark them as paid.

    The company then started working on quotes and lead generation. Graneet lets you create quotes directly from the platform. Once the client has approved your quote, you can go back when your construction project is well on its way and enter a percentage of completion — this is a key metric in this industry.

    Finally, with today’s funding round, Graneet wants to develop the third part of its product, which is resource planning. Soon, you’ll be able to manage subcontractors from Graneet and divide an invoice into multiple parts for multiple contractors.

    Graneet clients will be able to invite subcontractors to the platform. They won’t be able to see everything, but they’ll be able to see what they’re working on. Similarly, if you’re a Graneet client and you work for a bigger company as a subcontractor, you’ll be able to send monthly progress reports. That should definitely help when it comes to finding new clients for the product.

    Later down the road, Graneet thinks it can also offer more services to its existing customers. For instance, many construction companies work with factoring companies — these companies buy outstanding invoices and pay them right away for cash flow reasons. Graneet could also provide advance payments on the platform directly.

    That’s just one example of how Graneet could be helpful. The idea is that construction companies are currently under-equipped when it comes to software solutions. If Graneet can prove that it can fill that gap, there will be a lot of product opportunities.

    Image Credits: Graneet

    With Graneet, the company thinks it needs to solve three basic things — quotes, billing and resource planning. The startup first started working on billing. Graneet acts as a single source of truth where you can see how much your client is supposed to pay, how much you’ve received so far and what’s next. You can see if there are any outstanding invoices and mark them as paid.

    Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/10/08/graneet-thinks-construction-companies-should-switch-from-excel-to-their-tool/

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