Uber Acquires Latin American Grocery Delivery Business Cornerstone, The Battle to Become the Mexican Nubank, Google’s Cloud Division Ramps up LATAM Expansion with Recruitment Efforts, Lithium Battery Industry’s “Rude Awakening” in South America, and More
Other featured stories include: Streaming Services’ Transformation of Latin American TV, SoftBank Invests in Mexican Startup Kavak, and dataPlor CEO Geoffrey Michener’s Interview with Techiexpert.
Uber Acquires Latin American Grocery Delivery Business Cornerstone
In the latest efforts of diversifying its revenue stream, Uber has made an announcement that the company will be buying a majority ownership stake of Cornershop, a Latin American online grocery delivery business.
According to CNBC the deal is expected to close in early 2020, with the current leadership at Cornershop continuing to lead the business and reporting to a board with majority Uber representation. Cornershop currently operates in Chile, Mexico, Peru and Toronto.
“The deal could help strengthen Uber’s revenue in Latin America, which saw a 24% dip between the second quarter of 2018 and 2019 while revenue from its other regional segments increased,” CNBC reported.
The Battle to Become the Mexican Nubank
In Latin America, Brazil was the first market to have neobanks challenge the banks’ oligopoly, with Nubank transforming the financial services space. Providing a superior product and customer support, the startup was able to attract over 15 million customers, therefore valuing the company at an impressive US$10 billion in its latest round.
Although Brazil has been the origin of the neobanks’ emergence in Latin America, attention has been shifting toward Mexico, the second-largest economy in the region.
The country has become an increasingly relevant market for the fintechs in the region. Despite a population of 130 million population, a large share of Mexicans still unbanked. 63% of the adult population still doesn’t have access to financial services, according to the Global Findex database, and traditional banks haven’t been able to serve them. Additionally, Mexicans are suspicious of banks due to their lack of transparency, coupled with recent financial crises.
This skepticism toward banks, paired with a cash-based economy, means that 90% of all consumer transactions in Mexico are still made in cash. This tendency prompts a scenario in which twice a month (quincena) there are long lines at ATMs all across the country with people withdrawing their wages.
On the other hand, however, Mexico has a digitally engaged population. As reported by Tech Crunch, Mexico is the fifth largest market for Facebook, ninth for YouTube and the third for Uber, with high smartphone penetration (85.8% according to The Competitive Intelligence Unit).
The combination of these factors create an attractive opportunity for the emergence of neobanks. The country had a few neobank pioneers in the past couple of years; Bankaool launched in 2015, but was too early in the market; later followed by Broxel and Albo in 2016, then by Flink in 2018.
However, the market started to garner more attention in April 2018 when the Iranian Matin Tamizi raised US$2 million from Andreessen Horowitz and Kaszek Ventures to create a neobank in Mexico, Cuenca.
Together with the success of neobanks in Brazil, this investment sparked global attention for the potential of the market.
A few months after, Albo announced a Series A, raising US$7.4 million. Albo is currently the leading player in the market, with 150,000 customers and the third debit card issuer in Mexico.
In September, a new entrant joined when Klar raised US$7.5 million in equity and US$50 million in debt financing with the goal to become the “Chime of Mexico.”
Vexi is another significant player in the market, though their platform is focused on providing credit cards to people at “the base of the pyramid”. So far, it has issued more than 20,000 credit cards and recently, raised US$2 million in equity and US$1 million in debt financing.
Regional and international players are also becoming interested in the opportunity in Mexico. Brazilian giant Nubank officially announced that it would be expanding there. The leading Spanish neobank, Bnext, also announced it would be entering the Mexican market, fueled by a new round of €22.5 million. Bnext has differentiated itself from other non banks in that it partners with fintechs and financial institutions to provide services to its customers via a marketplace.
According to Tech Crunch, there are rumors that other significant players, such as the Europeans Revolut and N26, are planning to enter the market, in addition to Argentinian Ualá.
Neobanks aren’t the only businesses trying to get a share of the Mexican wallets, however. Big tech companies like Weex and Rappi are also launching digital wallets and issuing debit cards, leveraging their large user base to expand service offerings.
To add another factor into the emerging neobank market, traditional banks are now making a significant effort to improve their digital offers — some even going as far as launching digital branchless initiatives. Spanish Banco Sabadell entered the Mexican market with a full digital strategy. Meanwhile Banregio, a local medium-sized bank, launched Hey Banco, a new digital account.
Siemens Announces 500 Million Euro Investment in Colombian Infrastructure and Energy
Germany-based technology company Siemens will invest 500 million euros in energy technology and transmission and transportation infrastructure in Colombia.
“This morning I told the president and his government that Siemens is ready and willing to invest 500 million euros in Colombia and we have worked together to make that possible,” Siemens president Joe Kaeser said in a government press release, as reported by Reuters.
Colombian President Ivan Duque did not specify which projects the company would invest, nor the time frame for the planned investments. He did state that Siemen’s investment demonstrates that Colombia is seen as one of the countries that is “growing most in Latin America”.
According to Reuters, the government predicts the Andean country will grow 3.6% this year, while the market expects a less optimistic 3.1%.
Google’s Cloud Division Ramps up LATAM Expansion with Recruitment Efforts
Google is gearing up to expand its cloud business in Latin America through aggressive recruitment.
As reported by ZACKS, Google is aiming to propel a threefold increase in its cloud workforce by next-year ‘s end. By expanding cloud workforce, the company plans to ramp up its operational efficiency, to subsequently deliver better customer experience.
Google Cloud’s team has already begun expansion countries including Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Colombia.
In addition to the latest workforce efforts, Google is planning to invest $140 million in its Chilean data center located in Quilicura, Santiago in addition to the company’s initial investment of $150 million.
According to ZACKS, Google proposes to create 120 new permanent jobs and more than 1,000 new jobs in the construction process with its investment plans. The company is also a member of Chile’s Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which will come online in Cerro Pachon in 2022.
As reported in last week’s newsletter, Latin America is an attractive market for technology providers. The increasing adoption of IoT, AI and big data within the cloud infrastructure remain the key drivers in the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) market in the region. Frost & Sullivan reports that the market is anticipated to reach $7.4 billion by 2022 at a CAGR of 31.9%.
Lithium Battery Industry’s “Rude Awakening” in South America
South America controls about 70% of global reserves of lithium- used in rechargeable batteries for mobile phones and electric vehicles- but lacks the infrastructure needed to put it to work.
Bloomberg reports that lithium refining and battery-assembling facilities could help jumpstart industries in economies that are largely dependent on commodities for revenue, putting them at risk from sharp price swings.
Thus far, public and private initiatives in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile have failed to develop a single lithium cell factory, and the progress remains dismal when considering that none are set to be built through 2025.
Photo Courtesy of Bloomberg
Chile, the world’s second-largest lithium producer, presents a key example of an effort gone off track.
In June, a $285 million lithium-cell project by two Korea-based companies was canceled after plunging lithium prices undercut government incentives on the metal. Meanwhile, a local company that assembles batteries using components from abroad is struggling to get lithium cells to support their sales in Chile.
As stated by James Ellis, the head of Latin America research at BloombergNEF,
“The size of the opportunity is huge… It makes sense to try to move up the value chain. But when you look at what’s planned globally, there are no battery manufacturing assets in Latin America.”
Other LATAM countries are faced with similar issues, including:
Argentina, the third-largest lithium producer, also experienced a state-sponsored initiative stall.
Last year, Italy’s Seri Industrial SpA formed a joint venture with state-owned JEMSE (formally the Jujuy Energy and Mining State Society). The initial plan was to build a plant to make lithium cathodes and cells, and assemble battery parts, using raw lithium mined in Argentina’s Jujuy province.
Argentina, currently plagued by economic crisis and facing the possibility that Peronist candidate Alberto Fernandez could win the upcoming presidential elections, has created roadblocks for the planned project.
In the words of JEMSE President Carlos Oehler, the current situation in Argentina has “cooled all investment projects in Argentina, including building a battery factory.”
The land and permits are ready. Oehler told Bloomberg, “ we were starting to look for financing, but the project is frozen now.”
Former Tesla Inc. executive Marco Krapels and former SunEdison Inc. executive Peter Conklin founded MicroPower-Comerc in hopes of providing rechargeable batteries to commercial and industrial facilities in Brazil.
Despite being the region’s largest economy, Brazil offers almost no government subsidies for renewable energy, and import taxes add about 65% to the cost of the batteries, which has driven the company- backed by Siemens AG- to consider buying components abroad and assembling them in Brazil as a way to lower their costs.
While the Brazilian market for big batteries is relatively nonexistent, Krapels believes there is substantial opportunity in a place with an occasionally unstable power grid and a robust market for wind and solar.
“This is not for the faint of heart.. But I think there’s an advantage on being the first to move into a market,” Krapels said.
Although Bolivia has been unable to produce significant volumes of lithium or lithium products, the country is home to the world’s largest salt flat, covering 6,437 kilometers (4,000 square miles), and holding more than 15% of the world’s unmined lithium resources.
According to Bloomberg,,
“A pilot plant run by state-owned Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos, or YLB, produced close to 250 tons of lithium carbonate in 2018, and the country’s goal is to generate 150,000 tons within five years, partnered with German and Chinese companies. If it succeeds, Bolivia would become one of the top-producing nations.”
Last month, Industrias Quantum Motors SA began sales of the first ever domestically-built, an electric vehicle. Despite the demand, eager buyers aren’t allowed to drive the cars on Bolivia highways until the government can change certain existing regulations.
The lithium producer tried to encourage battery companies to build factories in the country by forcing miners to sell lithium at a discounted price, which attracted interest from giants including Samsung SDI Co. and Posco in 2017, when lithium prices were at record highs. Since then, prices have fallen by a third, and earlier this year the companies abandoned their plans to build.
Photo Courtesy of Bloomberg
In southern Chile, Andesvolt currently imports battery components from abroad and assembles them in the city of Valdivia. It supplies lithium-ion batteries for electricity companies including Enel Americas SA, which installs them as back-up power in industrial, commercial and residential facilities across the nation.
“Andesvolt expects to produce 1,000 kilowatt-hour this year, up from 200 kilowatt-hour last year. But he is finding it so difficult to import lithium cells that he is considering building South America’s first lithium-cell factory. Dealing with the hiccups of importing the cells from China is just too much, founder and Chief Executive Officer David Ulloa said.”
Streaming Services’ Transformation of Latin American TV
New streaming services are coming to Latin America, bringing with them huge opportunities and competition.
Apple TV Plus launches in Latin America on Nov. 1, HBO Max will launch around spring 2020; and Disney Plus will arrive in October 2020.
Manuel Martí at Argentina’s Pol-ka argues, two strong business models will thrive. He told Variety,
“There won’t be money in the world for platforms to 100% finance all the content they need, targeting each and every demographic.”
According to Martí, one is “work-for-hire for platforms in a global environment, where they buy all rights and fund 100% of production costs”; the other, “co-production, where production companies work as studios, sourcing co-funding in other countries from other channels, networks and local operators, where no one owns 100% of the IP and platforms buy a stake in shows.”
Variety reports that as free-to-air advertising deteriorates, only co-production can allow companies to attain efficient production values to compete with, produce for or sell to streamers.
In response to this competitive atmosphere, co-productions and larger production alliances have proliferated: Telemundo with Spain’s Movistar Plus; Globo with Sony; Turner with Mexico’s Dopamine, Spain’s Mediapro Studio and Argentina’s Telefe, Canal13 and
As reported by Variety, Latin American players are forging their own event series, whether in scale (“Hernán”); novel distribution (Globo’s Netflix-style global distribution for “Aruanas”); English-language production (Globo’s “The Angel of Hamburg” and “Rio Connection”); or remaking legendary novelas (Televisa’s “Fábrica de Sueños” short-format series).
According to Globo CEO Carlos Henrique Schroder, the company’s OTT service Globoplay is “producing ever more original content,” with six new series this year, in addition returning titles. With new sound stages created in August at Globo Studios, the company has increased its production capacity by 50%.
“This effort aims at offering an ever broader range of options,” Schroder added.
Mediapro announced its first production in Chile in addition to the company’s appointment of TV producer Juliana Barrera to lead the production in Colombia.
Yankelevich from Turner Latin America stated,
“Latin American action series used to have the highest production values. Dramas and comedies were not treated as high-quality content. Now, we’re trying to make them at the same production level, as high as action series or thrillers.”
Not only is the Spanish-language market massive, but is also being increasingly well received around the world. 90% of people who watched Spanish-language series “Money Heist” and “Cable Girls” have done so outside of Spain, according to Netflix’s Francisco Ramos.
Many series are, however, Latin American targeted, not global market plays, said the Wit’s Bertrand Villegas.
“The main market TV operators have to care for is their own,” he said.
There is a potential loss for operators if they focus too much on international appeal.
“Latin America is working more and more with Latin America,” Villegas continued.
One thing does seem certain, however. As stated by Santana,
“The TV [model] which functioned for 60 years making low cost novelas is dying. Latin American audiences have migrated to quality TV made in their language. It’s irreversible.”
SoftBank Invests in Mexican Startup Kavak
SoftBank will invest in Mexican used car platform Kavak, adding to SoftBank’s growing portfolio in Latin America.
“We are proud to join with and invest in Kavak Mexico… “The company is truly transforming the use of mobile devices in the automotive market in Mexico,” said Marcelo Claure in a LinkedIn post.
In August, Reuters reported that SoftBank was in advanced talks to invest in the startup, after the company’s announcement earlier in the year a $5 billion fund to focus on Latin America.
Kavak is SoftBank’s second known investment in Mexico, following the conglomerate invested about $20 million in payments firm Clip.
The investment Kavak is poised to complement SoftBank’s portfolio.The group led a ~$17.6 million funding round in Brazilian used-car platform Volanty in August with Argentina’s Kaszek Ventures, which is also an investor in Kavak.
SoftBank has also injected $1.5 billion into China’s Chehaoduo Group, which owns a leading used-car site.
dataPlor CEO Geoffrey Michener’s Interview with Techiexpert
dataPlor Founder and CEO Geoffrey Michener sat down with Techiexpert to discuss collecting microbusiness data in emerging markets.
What is dataPlor and the main problem it solves?
dataPlor connects global companies to micro-businesses in emerging markets. Our platform enables people living in these emerging markets to earn money for collecting brick and mortar business information using their smartphones. We currently have over 120,000 trained “Explorers” on dataPlor’s platform. We are based in Los Angeles with satellite offices in Honolulu, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo.
Background of the founders and their journey?
Geoff Michener is the CEO and Founder of dataPlor. Michener is an international business executive and serial entrepreneur with over ten years of experience solving complex problems in the big data, small business, and enterprise space. His passion for helping small businesses stemmed from studying abroad in Nicaragua and working in restaurants throughout high school, college, and grad school. The idea for dataPlor came to him when he was working on another data startup. He realized the potential of untapped data that exists in emerging markets, and how better access to hyperlocal data could benefit companies operating in these markets. dataPlor is his second venture-backed technology company. Michener is also an active commercial real estate investor. For fun, Michener enjoys waterman sports, golf, and table wine.
How does dataPlor help other businesses grow?
dataPlor is closing significant data gaps and correcting inaccurate information about local businesses in emerging markets, bringing many of them online for the first time. We are also providing an additional source of income for thousands of locally based, independent contractors who receive payment for collecting information from brick and mortar businesses and entering it into our system.
Which emerging markets you are focusing on?
Currently, we are focusing on Latin America and Southeast Asia as these regions have the largest concentration of micro-businesses.
What is dataPlor’s USP?
dataPlor’s hand-collected business data from micro-businesses in emerging markets helps companies succeed. For the micro-businesses, data collected by dataPlor provides accurate, online information about their operations. Having this digital footprint, means they are visible to companies ranging from Fortune 500 to startups. For larger companies, our data offers a competitive advantage in the sales process. For example, one of our customers in the financial services industry purchased business data from traditional online scraping vendors. 10% of their leads were qualified. After partnering with dataPlor, 90% of their leads were qualified. This improvement demonstrates the value of hand-collected data and technology to solve massive data challenges.
Can you discuss any difficulties you faced in the early stages of the company?
One of the biggest challenges I faced during the early stages of the company was hiring. We had many part-time team members, which limited how fast we could scale our efforts. I quickly learned the importance of hiring slowly and carefully. For us, it became more beneficial to take our time, pay attention to referrals, and start out new hires on a 90-day trial period. This helped everyone better understand the dataPlor’s mission, as well as the expectations and demands of the role.
Have you raised funding?
We recently raised US$2M in funding and we’re backed by a great team of investors including Quest Venture Partners, ffVC, Magma Partners, Sidekick Fund, Blue Startups, and Hawaii Angels. In total, we have raised US$2.9M in funding since 2017.
Can you provide any details on dataPlor’s user base achieved so far?
As a B2B company, we are focused on building our small business database, at present, we are on track to reach 1 million. Currently, we have over 120,000 trained “Explorers” collecting data using dataPlor.
What is next for dataPlor?
Our goal is to reach 50,000 “Explorers” in Brazil by the end of 2019. In 2020, our plans include expansion to Chile, Peru, and Colombia.