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YC-backed Djamo is building a financial super app for consumers in Francophone Africa – TechCrunch

Djamo, a financial super app for consumers in Francophone Africa, is the first startup from Ivory Coast to get backing from Y Combinator. While there has been a huge profusion of financial services that have emerged in recent years in Africa, Djamo’s mission is to try to plug one specific and a very underserved gap […]

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Djamo, a financial super app for consumers in Francophone Africa, is the first startup from Ivory Coast to get backing from Y Combinator.

While there has been a huge profusion of financial services that have emerged in recent years in Africa, Djamo’s mission is to try to plug one specific and a very underserved gap in Francophone Africa.

In the region, less than 25% of adults have bank accounts as the focus for banks remains the top 10-20% wealthiest customers. The rest, which is a huge segment of the market of about 100 million people, is not perceived as profitable. But as banks slacked, mobile money from the region’s telcos filled in the gap. In the last 10 years, their wallets have reached more than 60% of the population — proof of how many millions of French-speaking natives were hungry for financial services. Today, this mobile money infrastructure and reach allows startups to build upon their existing payment infrastructure to democratize access through different applications.

Djamo is one of such companies taking advantage of this opportunity to bring affordable and seamless banking to the region.

In 2019, Hassan Bourgi, a second-time founder, returned to Ivory Coast after exiting his Latin American-based startup, Busportal, to Naspers-company redBus. There he met Régis Bamba who was still working at MTN, one of Africa’s largest telcos, leading several mobile money projects.

Frustrated by the unpleasant banking experiences they and many millennials faced in the country, Bourgi and Bamba launched Djamo last year to challenge the banking industry status quo.

“Banking services are really difficult to access here, and we saw that as a huge opportunity,” Djamo CEO Bourgi said to TechCrunch. “Since day one, we wanted to design a mobile-first platform that could break into the masses and our combined experience building mass-market consumer products was very critical to launching Djamo.”

According to Bourgi, the country’s millennials are trying to create relations with technology companies and be served differently from the norm. So, Djamo is providing this audience with a better front end experience and faster customer service.

Image Credits: Djamo

Rather than offering a one-size-fits-all approach, they focused on accommodating multiple layers tailored to different user needs. Whether it’s affording Ivorians the luxury to pay for online services like Amazon, Alibaba, or Netflix, or providing VISA debit cards in a timely fashion, these tailored approaches have made Djamo grow organically via word of mouth.

And why not? Before Djamo came along, the CEO says people would need to go to their bank branches and stay in long queues to get their cards or even load them with credit. Djamo relieves that stress and even allows customers to use their cards with zero fees in a wide range of services.

“For us, it was important to offer a zero-fee card with no recurring fee to a certain limit. After that, you pay as you go in transaction fees. There is a premium plan around $4 a month where users can transact to higher limits,” said Bourgi.

Today, Djamo claims to have around 90,000 registered users and processes over 50,000 transactions monthly. However, to get to this point, the company has ridden on sheer resourcefulness around its operations.

Unlike Nigeria, where there are established payment infrastructure players like Flutterwave and Paystack, Ivory Coast doesn’t have such household names.

“We have a couple of providers, but most are unreliable. But this doesn’t matter to the end-user, you have to make it work somehow,” said Bambi, the company’s CPO and CTO.

Lacking better options, Djamo switches from one provider to another to keep operations running. The year-old startup has also faced scepticism issues, common with most African fintech startups when they first launch. In Djamo’s case though, the founders had to go at lengths to prove to banks and customers that the platform was safe to use for onboarding, KYC and transactions.

Hassan Bourgi (CEO) and Régis Bamba (CTO & CPO)

Onboarding customers also came with its own set of problems: the delivery of Djamo VISA cards. Bourgi says unlike more developed countries on the continent, it is a Herculean task to access efficient delivery and logistics services in Ivory Coast. So, the startup built a delivery app with in-house delivery agents for this particular purpose. “The objective for our customers is that after registering with us, they get their cards the next day in a timely fashion,” Bourgi added.

But even before pushing out its MVP, Djamo had already received monetary validation for its product. In June 2019, it raised a pre-seed investment of $350,000 from private investors — arguably the largest round at this stage in the Francophone region. The ingenuity of the solution, at least to French-speaking Africa, and the founders’ track record was crucial to Djamo closing the round, Hassan explained.

For a long time, Francophone Africa has been underrated by international investors despite signs pointing to the emergence of a budding startup scene. Part of this has to do with language barriers and the region’s GDP and income per capita where English-speaking countries, excluding South Africa, contribute to 47% of sub-Saharan Africa’s average GDP, while French-speaking countries boast of only 19%.

However, with the World Bank stating that the region will have 62.5% of Africa’s fastest-growing economies by 2021, there’s bullishness around its growth in the coming years.

With so many untapped opportunities, underrepresented regions like Francophone Africa are ripe for disruption. Investors know this and though their checks are still skewed towards Anglophone Africa, million-dollar raises from Senegalese energy startup, Oolu and Cameroonian healthtech startup, Healthlane in 2020 show their keenness on the market.

Like Djamo, both startups are YC-backed and are the other Francophone startups to have made it into the accelerator. But with this Winter 2021 batch, Djamo becomes the first fintech startup from the region. Following Healthlane’s acceptance in 2020, it is also the first time French-speaking Africa has had representatives for consecutive years.

To the founders, YC’s backing validates Djamo’s premise that financial service distribution across the Francophone Africa region is fundamentally changing towards applications.

“In Ivory Coast, people always say that the banking industry is too complex and we can’t do anything about it. But we saw it as a huge opportunity and a great industry to take on. Everywhere you see frustration, customers in pain, there is an opportunity for a business to come and do it better,” said Régis.

After participating in the three-month-long program which culminates in a Demo Day on March 23rd, Djamo will also take part in Visa’s Fintech Fast Track Program, an avenue for the company to leverage the fintech giant’s network to introduce new payment experiences.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/05/yc-backed-djamo-is-building-a-financial-super-app-for-consumers-in-francophone-africa/

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Facebook rolls out new tools for Group admins, including automated moderation aids – TechCrunch

Facebook today introduced a new set of tools aimed at helping Facebook Group administrators get a better handle on their online communities and, potentially, help keep conversations from going off the rails. Among the more interesting new tools is a machine learning-powered feature that alerts admins to potentially unhealthy conversations taking place in their group. […]

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Facebook today introduced a new set of tools aimed at helping Facebook Group administrators get a better handle on their online communities and, potentially, help keep conversations from going off the rails. Among the more interesting new tools is a machine learning-powered feature that alerts admins to potentially unhealthy conversations taking place in their group. Another lets the admin slow down the pace of a heated conversation, by limiting how often group members can post.

Facebook Groups are today are significant reason why people continue to use the social network. Today, there are “tens of millions” of groups, that are managed by over 70 million active admins and moderators worldwide, Facebook says.

The company for years has been working to roll out better tools for these group owners, who often get overwhelmed by the administrative responsibilities that come with running an online community at scale. As a result, many admins give up the job and leave groups to run somewhat unmanaged — thus allowing them to turn into breeding grounds for misinformation, spam and abuse.

Facebook last fall tried to address this problem by rolling out new group policies to crack down on groups without an active admin, among other things. Of course, the company’s preference would be to keep groups running and growing by making them easier to operate.

That’s where today’s new set of features come in.

A new dashboard called Admin Home will centralize admin tools, settings and features in one place, as well as present “pro tips” that suggest other helpful tools tailored to the group’s needs.

Image Credits: Facebook

Another new Admin Assist feature will allow admins to automatically moderate comments in their groups by setting up criteria that can restrict comments and posts more proactively, instead of forcing admins to go back after the fact and delete them, which can be problematic — especially after a discussion has been underway and members are invested in the conversation.

For example, admins can now restrict people from posting if they haven’t had a Facebook account for very long or if they had recently violated the group’s rules. Admins can also automatically decline posts that contain specific promotional content (perhaps MLM links! Hooray!) and then share feedback with the author of the post automatically about why those posts aren’t allowed.

Admins can also take advantage of suggested preset criteria from Facebook to help with limiting spam and managing conflict.

Image Credits: Facebook

One notable update is a new moderation alert type dubbed “conflict alerts.” This feature, currently in testing, will notify admins when a potentially contentious or unhealthy conversation is taking place in the group, Facebook says. This would allow an admin to quickly take an action — like turning off comments, limiting who could comment, removing a post, or however else they would want to approach the situation.

Conflict alerts are powered by machine learning, Facebook explains. Its machine learning model looks at multiple signals, including reply time and comment volume to determine if engagement between users has or might lead to negative interactions, the company says.

This is sort of like an automated expansion on the Keyword Alerts feature many admins already use to look for certain topics that lead to contentious conversations.

Image Credits: Facebook

A related feature, also new, would allow admins to also limit how often specific members could comment, or how often comments could be added to posts admins select.

When enabled, members can leave 1 comment every 5 minutes. The idea here is that forcing users to pause and consider their words amid a heated debate could lead to more civilized conversations. We’ve seen this concept enacted on other social networks, as well — such as with Twitter’s nudges to read articles before retweeting, or those that flag potentially harmful replies, giving you a chance to re-edit your post.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook, however, has largely embraced engagement on its platform, even when it’s not leading to positive interactions or experiences. Though small, this particular feature is an admission that building a healthy online community means sometimes people shouldn’t be able to immediately react and comment with whatever thought first popped into their head.

Additionally, Facebook is testing tools that allow admins to temporarily limit activity from certain group members.

If used, admins will be able to determine how many posts (between 1 and 9 posts) per day a given member may share, and for how long that limit should be in effect for (every 12 hours, 24 hours, 3 days, 7 days, 14 days, or 28 days). Admins will also be able to determine how many comments (between 1 and 30 comments, in 5 comment increments) per hour a given member may share, and for how long that limit should be in effect (also every 12 hours, 24 hours, 3 days, 7 days, 14 days, or 28 days).

Along these same lines of building healthier communities, a new member summary feature will give admins an overview of each member’s activity on their group, allowing them to see how many times they’ve posted and commented, have had posts removed, or have been muted.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook doesn’t say how admins are to use this new tool, but one could imagine admins taking advantage of the detailed summary to do the occasional cleanup of their member base by removing bad actors who continually disrupt discussions. They could also use it to locate and elevate regulator contributors without violations to moderator roles, perhaps.

Admins will also be able to tag their group rules in comment sections, disallow certain post types (e.g. Polls or Events), and submit an appeal to Facebook to re-review decisions related to group violations, if in error.

Image Credits: Facebook

Of particular interest, though a bit buried amid the slew of other news, is the return of Chats, which was previously announced.

Facebook had abruptly removed Chat functionality back in 2019, possibly due to spam, some had speculated. (Facebook said it was product infrastructure.) As before, Chats can have up to 250 people, including active members and those who opted into notifications from the chats. Once this limit is reached, other members will not be able to engage with that specific chat room until existing active participants either leave the chat or opt out of notifications.

Now, Facebook group members can start, find and engage in Chats with others within Facebook Groups instead of using Messenger. Admins and moderators can also have their own chats.

Notably, this change follows on the heels of growth from messaging-based social networks, like IRL, a new unicorn (due to its $1.17B valuation), as well as the growth seen by other messaging apps, like Telegram, Signal and other alternative social networks.

Image Credits: Facebook

Along with this large set of new features, Facebook also made changes to some existing features, based on feedback from admins.

It’s now testing pinned comments and introduced a new “admin announcement” post type that notifies group members of the important news (if notifications are being received for that group).

Plus, admins will be able to share feedback when they decline group members.

Image Credits: Facebook

The changes are rolling out across Facebook Groups globally in the coming weeks.

That’s where today’s new set of features come in.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/16/facebook-rolls-out-new-tools-for-group-admins-including-automated-moderation-aids/

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Early-stage venture firm The Fund launches in Australia – TechCrunch

The Fund, the early-stage investment firm focused on pre-seed and seed startups, is going Down Under for its latest expansion. The Fund was founded in New York in 2018, before launching in Los Angeles, London, the Rockies and the Midwest, too. Co-founder Jenny Fielding, who is also managing director at Techstars New York, said The […]

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A group photo of The Fund Australia’s team (left to right): Elicia McDonald, Adrian Petersen, Georgia Vidler, Ed Taylor and Todd Deacon

The Fund Australia’s team (l to r): Elicia McDonald, Adrian Petersen, Georgia Vidler, Ed Taylor and Todd Deacon

The Fund, the early-stage investment firm focused on pre-seed and seed startups, is going Down Under for its latest expansion. The Fund was founded in New York in 2018, before launching in Los Angeles, London, the Rockies and the Midwest, too.

Co-founder Jenny Fielding, who is also managing director at Techstars New York, said The Fund decides on new areas for expansion based on demand from the local startup ecosystem, and earlier this year, it heard from a group of founders and operators who wanted to launch it in Australia, too.

In addition to participating in first check rounds, The Fund also builds communities of founders and other leaders from successful startups, who not only provide mentorship, but also capital as limited partners. The Fund now has a network of about 400 founders and has made around 120 investments across its funds.

In each of its regions, The Fund is led by an investment committee of four people. In Australia, they are: Techstars managing director Todd Deacon; venture firm AirTree principal Elicia McDonald; AfterWorks Ventures co-founder Adrian Petersen; and former Canva head of product Georgia Vidler. There will be 50 people in The Fund Australia’s limited partner base, including founders of startups like Culture Amp’s Rod Hamilton, Linktree’s Alex Zaccaria, Adore Beauty’s Kate Morris, and leaders from Canva and Safety Culture, too. The Fund Australia’s LPs will help source promising startups from their networks, and refer them to the investment committee for review.

The Fund is targeting $3.5 million USD and will invest in about 40 startups, writing check sizes of $50,000 to $100,000 USD over 24 months. Limited partners and other members of its community around the world will provide guidance as portfolio companies grow.

Deacon told TechCrunch that The Fund Australia’s focus on very early-stage startups is important because of the growing pre-seed/seed funding gap. He points to a report by StartupAus, an advocacy group for Australian startups, that angel and seed investment in Australia has fallen over the past few years, both in terms of number of deals and aggregate value.

The Fund’s hypothesis is that many early-stage funds, in Australia and other parts of the world, shift their focus to later stages as they raise larger funds, Deacon added. This happened in New York City, too, and was one of the contributing drivers for the creation of The Fund in the first place.

“There’s been this gap in early-stage funding. There’s those two points of building a really strong community—helping founders and then the funding gap, which we can help to solve to a certain degree. We’re bringing in checks in the early stage with a lot of power in providing founders access to that network,” he said.

Writing early checks lets The Fund see deal flow before other venture firms and limited partners, and small check sizes gives it an advantage with startups.

“We don’t take a huge proportion of their raise, yet we come with really high quality capital,” said Deacon. “We’ve got that investor network. For why some of our [LPs] are interested, it’s to generate a return, but they also want to give back and make Australia and New Zealand companies prosper.”

Being able to tap into The Fund’s international network is helpful for startups in Australia, where many companies eye international expansion from the start.

Australian unicorns like Atlassian and Canva are also helping strengthen Australia’s startup ecosystem, said Vidler. “It feels like an inflection point for me in the startup ecosystem, where now there’s all these original founders and a community of senior operators who are keen to give back and create and bolster the ecosystem here.”

The Fund Australia is sector agnostic and wants to create a diverse portfolio. The Fund has focused on gender parity since the start. Each region’s investment committee is comprised of two men and two women, about half of its LPs are women and over 40% of its total capital has gone to female founders. Vidler says this was a major draw for her.

“The pull for me, and I think for a big part of the network in Australia, and a lot of women in tech in Australia, is that they’re going to be super interested in investing in the next generation of female founders as well,” she said.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/15/early-stage-venture-firm-the-fund-launches-in-australia/

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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin auctions off seat on first human spaceflight for $28M – TechCrunch

Blue Origin has its winning bidder for its first ever human spaceflight, and the winner will pay $28 million for the privilege of flying aboard the company’s debut private astronaut mission. The winning bid came in today during a live auction, which saw 7,600 registered bidders, from 159 countries compete for the spot. This was […]

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Blue Origin has its winning bidder for its first ever human spaceflight, and the winner will pay $28 million for the privilege of flying aboard the company’s debut private astronaut mission. The winning bid came in today during a live auction, which saw 7,600 registered bidders, from 159 countries compete for the spot.

This was the culmination of Blue Origin’s three part bidding process for the ticket, which included a blind auction first, followed by an open, asynchronous auction with the highest bid posted to the company’s website whenever it changed. This last live auction greatly ramped up the value of the winning bid, which was at just under $5 million prior to the event.

This first seat up for sale went for a lot more than what an actual, commercial spot is likely to cost on Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule, which flies to suborbital space and only spends a few minutes there before returning to Earth. Estimates put the cost of a typical launch at someone under $1 million, likely closer to $500,000 or so. But this is the first, which is obviously a special distinction, and it’s also a trip that will allow the winning bidder to pretty much literally rub elbows with Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, who is going to be on the flight as well, along with his brother Mark, and a fourth passenger that Blue Origin says it will be announcing sometime in the coming “weeks,” ahead of the July 20 target flight date.

As for who won the auction, we’ll also have to wait to find that out, since the winner’s identity is also going to be “released in the weeks following” the end of today’s live bidding. And in case you thought that $28 million might represent a big revenue windfall for Blue Origin, which has spent years developing its human spaceflight capability, think again: The company is donating it to its Club for the Future non-profit foundation, which is focused on encouraging kids to pursue careers in STEM in a long-term bid to help Bezos’ larger goals of making humanity a spacefaring civilization.

You can re-watch the entire live bidding portion of the auction via the stream below.

You can re-watch the entire live bidding portion of the auction via the stream below.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/12/jeff-bezos-blue-origin-auctions-off-seat-on-first-human-spaceflight-for-28m/

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