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4 keys to international expansion – TechCrunch

Adopt a “hire slow, fire fast” mentality for your expansion strategy. Don’t be afraid to pull the plug if things don’t work out.

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Levin joined Heartcore Capital in 2019 from Global Founders Capital, the billion-dollar VC arm of Rocket Internet, where he was responsible for investments in Canva, Heyjobs, Instarem, Anyfin and others.

During my five years with Global Founders Capital, Rocket Internet’s $1 billion VC arm, I saw more than a hundred of Rocket’s incubated companies attempt to internationalize. For background, Rocket Internet has helped launch some very successful businesses internationally, including HelloFresh ($12.9 billion market cap), Lazada ($1 billion exit to Alibaba), Jumia ($3.2 billion market cap), Zalando ($21.2 billion market cap) and many others. Rocket often followed the Blitzscaling model popularized by Reid Hoffman — earning them an appearance in his book of the same name.

After an initial success helping Groupon scale internationally via a merger with Rocket’s incubation firm CityDeal, Rocket’s team have aggressively scaled businesses from Algeria to Zimbabwe — sometimes in a matter of weeks. No surprise, Rocket also has a graveyard of failed companies that were victims of bad internationalization efforts.

Many companies make the costly mistake of launching abroad too soon.

My personal observations on Rocket’s successes and failures start with this crucial point: These learnings might not apply to your unique combination business model, market and timing. No matter how well you prepare and plan your internationalization, in the end you need to be agile, alert and smart as you dip your toes into your first foreign market.

Fail fast and cheaply

Internationalization can be a big driver of growth and consequently enterprise value, which is why investors always push for it. But going abroad can also destroy value just as quickly. As a founder, it’s your job to manage financial and operational risks. Finding the right balance between keeping costs in check and not underinvesting can mean doing things more slowly than your board would like. For example, you might launch new markets sequentially instead of rolling 10 out at the same time.

Adopt a “hire slow, fire fast” mentality for your expansion strategy. Don’t be afraid to pull the plug if things don’t work out.

Our team at Heartcore Capital use the following framework and learnings to guide internationalization strategies for our portfolio companies. A successful internationalization strategy needs to answer and address the “Four Ws”: When, Where, Which and With whom to internationalize. (Regarding the fifth W from journalism, you should not need to ask the “Why” question if you want to build a large business!)

1. When is the right time to start?

Many companies make the costly mistake of launching abroad too soon. They look at internationalization as a detached function, isolated from the rest of the business and then launch their second market prematurely. Follow this simple rule: Wait to internationalize until you hit product/market fit.

How do you know exactly when you’ve reached product/market fit? According to Marc Andreessen, “Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” He adds that experienced entrepreneurs can usually feel if they’ve reached this point.

Let’s take the man for his word and move on to the actual argument: Until you have product/market fit, you will not be able to distinguish between what you’ve learned from your business model and what you’ve learned from your in-country experience. Mistakes will compound. Complexities and costs will multiply. I contend that insufficient understanding of their business and operating model is the main reason why companies fail with their expansion strategies.

Founders should also consider the underlying costs of internationalizing before they decide to expand (more about this in the “What” section below). Some companies are global by default — think mobile gaming companies — or simply require language localization. Others need to build new warehouses, hire local teams or build entirely new products. The costs and respective risks of expanding prematurely depend heavily on the business model.

There are edge cases where companies need to move quickly to internationalize for strategic reasons — despite uncertainty about their market fit. For instance, companies like Groupon or those engaged in food delivery face winner-takes-most markets, where opportunities for product differentiation are limited. “Blitzscaling” makes sense in cases like these.

However, you should tread carefully if your only reason to start scaling abroad is a large fundraise or to match a competitor’s internationalization efforts. Scaling prematurely for the wrong reasons might just cost you your entire company.

When Rocket Internet announced it would launch the Homejoy model into European markets with Helpling, the American “original” company launched quickly in Germany in an effort to squash their new competitor. In the early days of “on-demand everything,” a managed marketplace for cleaning services sounded like the next unicorn in the making.

In 2013, Homejoy had a fresh $24 million Series A from Google Ventures and First Round — considered a huge round at a time when Instacart had just raised an $8 million Series A and Snapchat had done a $13 million Series A round. It must have seemed like a good idea to squash the German competition early.

As it turned out, Homejoy’s product was not yet ready to scale internationally. Just 13 months after launching in Germany, Homejoy had to cease operations globally, while Rocket’s Helpling is still alive and kicking. Helpling focused carefully on product, automation and making their unit economics work. A rush to crush an international competitor caused the demise of a would-be unicorn.

Homejoy expanded internationally in 2014 in a rush to squash a new German competitor Helpling. Their websites in 2020 show starkly different outcomes.

Homejoy expanded internationally in 2014 in a rush to squash a new German competitor Helpling. Their websites in 2020 show starkly different outcomes. Image Credits: Homejoy/Helpling

2. Where should you internationalize?

When deciding which new international market to tackle, it is vital to do your homework. Analyze the competitive environment, partner availability, infrastructure, culture, regulation and synergies with your home market.

In the early days of e-commerce, it was rather easy to analyze if a market was an expansion target. In the absence of professional competition, Rocket chose new countries based solely on GDP and internet penetration.

Adopt a “hire slow, fire fast” mentality for your expansion strategy. Don’t be afraid to pull the plug if things don’t work out.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/12/28/4-keys-to-international-expansion/

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South Korean antitrust regulator fines Google $177M for abusing market dominance – TechCrunch

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market. The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), […]

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The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market.

The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), according to the antitrust regulator statement.

Under the AFA, smartphone developers are not allowed to install or develop “Android forks”, modified versions of Android.

The KFTC banned Google LLC, Google Asia Pacific and Google Korea from imposing local smartphone developers to sign the AFA and make changes on details about the existing version. The new measure in South Korea will be applied to not only mobiles devices but also other Android-powered smart devices including watches and TVs.

Android has spurred innovation among Korean mobile operator owners and software developers and that has led to a better user experience for Korean consumers, Google said in its statement. “The KFTC’s decision released today ignores these benefits, and will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers. Google intends to appeal the KFTC’s decision,” a spokesperson at Google said.

The commission has been investigating Google over the anti-competition practice in OS market since July 2016, a spokesperson at KFTC said.

Google’s global mobile OS market share excluding China has been increased to 97.7% in 2019 from 38% in 2010, as per KFTC’s announcement.

Google’s AFA has also limited to launch tech companies’ new devices like smart watches and TVs using the operating system (OS) including Samsung’s smart watch in 2013, LG Electronics’ LTE smart speaker in 2018 as well as Amazon’s smart TV in 2018.

South Korea’s watchdog is probing into three other cases including the Play Store app market, billing system and the advertisement market.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s “anti-Google law”, takes effect on 14 September, based on Korea Communications Commission’s press release.

In late August, South Korea passed a bill to curb global tech companies including Google and Apple from imposing their own proprietary in-app payment service and commissions on app developers.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/14/south-korean-antitrust-regulator-fines-google-177m-for-abusing-market-dominance/

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The SEC and the DOJ just charged this startup founder with fraud, saying he lied to Tiger and others – TechCrunch

Today, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Manish Lachwani, cofounder of a mobile app testing company Headspin, with fraud. The SEC says he violated antifraud provisions, and the civil penalties it’s seeking include a permanent injunction, a conduct-based injunction, and to bar him for serving as a corporate […]

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Today, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Manish Lachwani, cofounder of a mobile app testing company Headspin, with fraud. The SEC says he violated antifraud provisions, and the civil penalties it’s seeking include a permanent injunction, a conduct-based injunction, and to bar him for serving as a corporate executive or board member.

The DOJ, which arrested Lachwani earlier, has accused him of one count of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud, and the associated penalties if he’s found guilty are are more harsh, including, for wire fraud, a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. If he’s found guilty of securities fraud, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $5,000,000.

Both the the SEC and the DOJ say Lachwani — who led the six-year-old company as CEO until May of last year — defrauded investors out of $80 million by falsely claiming that his company, Headspin, had “achieved strong and consistent growth in acquiring customers and generating revenue” when he was pitching its Series C round to potential backers.

By the SEC’s telling, his fabrications were designed to help secure the round at a so-called unicorn valuation. That apparent plan worked, too, with Palo Alto-based Headspin attracting coverage in Forbes in February of last year after Dell Technologies Capital, Iconiq Capital and Tiger Global provided the company with $60 million in Series C funding at a $1.16 billion valuation. Forbes reported at the time that the valuation was double the valuation investors assigned HeadSpin when it closed its Series B round in October 2018.

The SEC also says that Lachwani was looking to enrich himself, saying he did so “by selling $2.5 million of his HeadSpin shares in a fundraising round during which he made misrepresentations to an existing HeadSpin investor.” (It isn’t clear from its complaint whether the SEC is referring to the Series C or an earlier round.)

The DOJ’s federal complaint suggests that Lachwani’s alleged scheming dates back to at least November 2019, when the company was fundraising. It says it was then that the success of Palo Alto-based Headspin — which helps apps and devices work in different environments around the world – was being knowingly misrepresented to investors by Lachwani.

More specifically, the complaint alleges that “in materials and presentations to potential investors, Lachwani reported false revenue and overstated key financial metrics of the company. . . he maintained control over operations, sales, and record-keeping, including invoicing, and he was the final decision maker on what revenue was booked and included in the company’s financial records.”

In the investigation that led to the DOJ’s charges, the FBI discovered “multiple examples” of Lachwani “instructing employees to include revenue from potential customers that inquired but did not engage Headspin, from past customers who no longer did business with Headspin, and from existing customers whose business was far less than the reported revenue,” says the department.

How far off were these collective calculations? The complaint says that ultimately, Lachwani “provided investors false information that overstated Headspin’s annual recurring revenue . . . by approximately $51 to $55 million.”

According to the complaint, Lachwani’s fraud unraveled after the company’s board of directors conducted an internal investigation and revised HeadSpin’s valuation down from $1.1 billion to $300 million. Indeed, in August of last year, The Information reported that the company was planning to lower the value of its Series C stock by nearly 80%.

The outlet reported at the time that Lachwani had already been replaced by another executive. That person, according to LinkedIn, is Rajeev Butani, who joined Headspin as its chief sales officer around the time its Series C round was being announced in February of last year.

Nikesh Arora, a former SoftBank president, the current CEO and chairman of Palo Alto Networks helped lead the internal review as a then-director on the board of Headspin, said The Information.

The SEC says it’s investigation is continuing. Meanwhile, the DOJ notes in its announcement that “a complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Either way, the outlook doesn’t look very promising right now for Lachwani, who, according to Forbes, previously sold a mobile cloud business to Google and wound up co-founding Headspin after Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang introduced him to Brien Colwell, a former Palantir and Quora engineer was working at the time on a different startup.

Colwell remains with Headspin as its CTO. He has not been named in either the SEC or the DOJ’s complaints relating to Headspin.

The company itself, which says it has been cooperating with the government’s investigation, was also not charged.

Pictured above, left to right, Headspin founders Lachwani and Colwell.

The DOJ’s federal complaint suggests that Lachwani’s alleged scheming dates back to at least November 2019, when the company was fundraising. It says it was then that the success of Palo Alto-based Headspin — which helps apps and devices work in different environments around the world – was being knowingly misrepresented to investors by Lachwani.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/08/25/the-sec-and-the-doj-just-charged-this-startup-ceo-with-fraud-saying-he-lied-to-tiger-and-others/

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Blockchain startup XREX gets $17M to make cross-border trade faster – TechCrunch

A substantial portion of the world’s trade is done in United States dollars, creating problems for businesses in countries with a dollar shortage. Blockchain startup XREX was launched to help cross-border businesses in emerging markets perform faster transactions with products like a payment escrow service and crypto-fiat exchange platform. The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has […]

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Blockchain startup co-founders Winston Hsiao and Wayne Huang in front of the company's logo

XREX co-founders Winston Hsiao and Wayne Huang

A substantial portion of the world’s trade is done in United States dollars, creating problems for businesses in countries with a dollar shortage. Blockchain startup XREX was launched to help cross-border businesses in emerging markets perform faster transactions with products like a payment escrow service and crypto-fiat exchange platform.

The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has raised $17 million in pre-Series A funding led by CDIB Capital Group. The oversubscribed round also included participation from SBI Investment (a subsidiary of SBI Holdings), Global Founders Capital, ThreeD Capital, E.Sun Venture Capital, Systex Corporation, MetaPlanet Holdings, AppWorks, BlackMarble, New Economy Ventures and Seraph Group. XREX’s last funding was a $7 million seed round in 2019.

Part of the new round will be use to apply for financial licenses in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Africa, and partner with banks and financial institutions, like payment gateways.

“We specifically wanted to build a regulatory-friendly cap table,” XREX co-founder and chief executive officer Wayne Huang told TechCrunch. “It’s really hard for a startup like us to raise from banks and public companies, but as you can see, this round we deliberately to do that and we were successful.”

Huang sold his previous startup, anti-malware SaaS developer Armorize Technologies, to Proofpoint in 2013. Armorize analyzed source code to find vulnerabilities, and many of its clients were developers in Bangalore and Chennai, so Huang spent a lot of time traveling there.

“We ran into all sorts of cross-border money transfer issues. It seemed almost unstoppable,” Huang said. “Growing up in the U.S. and then in Taiwan, we were not exposed to those issues. So that planted a seed, and then when Satoshi [Nakamoto] published the bitcoin white paper, of course that was a big thing for all cybersecurity experts.”

He began thinking of how blockchain can support financial inclusion in emerging markets like India. The idea came to fruition Huang teamed up with XREX co-founder Winston Hsiao, the founder of BTCEx-TW, one of Taiwan’s first bitcoin exchanges. Hsiao grew up in India and founded Verico International, exporting Taiwan-manufactured semiconductors and electronics to other countries, so he was also familiar with cross-border trade issues.

XREX Crypto Services give merchants, especially those in countries with low U.S. dollar liquidity, tools to conduct trade in digital fiat currencies. “They have to get quick access to the U.S. dollar and be able to pay it out quick enough for them to secure important commodities that they want to import, and that’s the problem we want to solve,” said Huang.

To use the platform, merchants and their customers sign up for XREX’s wallet, which includes a commercial escrow service called Bitcheck. Huang said it is similar to having a standby letter of credit from a commercial bank, because buyers can use it to guarantee they will be able to make payments. Bitcheck uses digital currencies like USDT and USDC, stablecoins that are pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Merchants pay stablecoin to suppliers and XREX escrows the funds until the supplier provides proof of shipment, at which point it moves the payment to them. XREX’s crypto-fiat exchange allows users to convert USDT and USDC to U.S. dollars, which they can also withdraw and deposit through the platform.

Part of XREX’s funding will be used to expand its fiat currency platform, though Huang said it doesn’t plan to add too many cryptocurrencies “because we’re not built for crypto traders, we’re built for businesses and brand really matters to them. Brand and compliance, so whatever the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency says is a good stablecoin is what they’re going to use.”

Some of XREX’s partners include compliance and anti-money laundering providers like CipherTrace, Sum&Substance and TRISA. Part of XREX’s funding will be used to expand its security and compliance features, including Public Profiles, which are mandatory for customers, and user Reputation Index to increase transparency.

In a statement about the funding, CDIB Capital Innovation Fund head Ryan Kuo said, “CDIB was an early investor in XREX. After witnessing the company’s fast revenue growth and their commitment to compliance, we were determined to double our investment and lead this strategic round.”

The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has raised $17 million in pre-Series A funding led by CDIB Capital Group. The oversubscribed round also included participation from SBI Investment (a subsidiary of SBI Holdings), Global Founders Capital, ThreeD Capital, E.Sun Venture Capital, Systex Corporation, MetaPlanet Holdings, AppWorks, BlackMarble, New Economy Ventures and Seraph Group. XREX’s last funding was a $7 million seed round in 2019.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/08/22/blockchain-startup-xrex-gets-17m-to-make-cross-border-trade-faster/

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