YC-backed LemonBox raises $2.5M bringing vitamins to Chinese millennials

Like many overseas Chinese, Derek Weng gets shopping requests from his family and friends whenever he returns to China. Some of the most wanted imported products are maternity items, cosmetics and vitamin supplements. Many in China still uphold the belief that “imported products are better.”

The demand gave Weng a business idea. In 2018, he founded LemonBox to sell American health supplements to Chinese millennials like himself via online channels. The company soon attracted seed funding from Y Combinator and just this week, it announced the completion of a pre-A round of $ 2.5 million led by Panda Capital and followed by Y Combinator .

LemonBox tries to differentiate itself from other import businesses on two levels — affordability and personalization. Weng, who previously worked at Walmart, where he was involved in the retail giant’s China import business, told TechCrunch that he’s acquainted with a lot of American supplement manufacturers and is thus able to cut middleman costs.

“In China, most supplements are sold at a big markup through pharmacies or multi-level marketing companies like Amway,” Weng said. “But vitamins aren’t that expensive to produce. Amway and the likes spend a lot on marketing and sales.”

Inside LemonBox’s fulfillment center (Image: LemonBox)

LemonBox designed a WeChat-based lite app, where users receive product recommendations after taking a questionnaire about their health conditions. Instead of selling by the bottle, the company customizes user needs by offering daily packs of various supplements.

“If you are a vegetarian and travel a lot, and the other person smokes a lot, [your demands] are going to be very different. I wanted to customize user prescriptions using big data,” explained Weng, who studied artificial intelligence in business school.

A monthly basket of 30 B-complex tablets, for instance, costs 35 yuan ($ 5) on LemonBox. Amway’s counterpart product, a bottle of 120 tablets, asks for 229 yuan on JD.com. That’s about 57 yuan ($ 9) for 30 tablets.

Selling cheaper vitamins is just a means for LemonBox to attract consumers and gather health insights into Chinese millennials, with which the company hopes to widen its product range. Weng declined to disclose the company’s customer size, but claimed that its user conversion rate is “higher than most e-commerce sites.”

With the new proceeds, LemonBox is opening a second fulfillment center in the Shenzhen free-trade zone after its Silicon Valley-based one. That’s to provide more stability to its supply chain as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts international flights and cross-border trade. Moreover, the startup will spend the money on securing health-related certificates and adding Japan to its sourcing regions.

Returnees adapt

Screenshot of Lemonbox’s WeChat-based store

In the decade or so when Weng was living in the U.S., the Chinese internet saw drastic changes and gave rise to an industry largely in the grip of Alibaba and Tencent. Weng realized he couldn’t simply replicate America’s direct-to-customer playbook in China.

“In the U.S., you might build a website and maybe an app. You will embed your service into Google, Facebook or Instagram to market your products. Every continent is connected with one other,” said Weng.

“In China, it’s pretty significantly different. First off, not a lot of people use web browsers, but everyone is on mobile phones. Baidu is not as popular as Google, but everybody is using WeChat, and WeChat is isolated from other major traffic platforms.”

As such, LemonBox is looking to diversify beyond its WeChat store by launching a web version as well as a store through Alibaba’s Tmall marketplace.

“There’s a lot of learning to be done. It’s a very humbling experience,” said Weng.

Startups – TechCrunch

Revel pulls electric mopeds after failing to make a dent in Austin’s car culture

Shared electric moped startup Revel said Friday that it will shut down its service in Austin later this month.

The startup’s CEO and co-founder Frank Reig didn’t place the entire blame on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused ridership to fall across shared micromobility services as well as public transit, for the company’s decision. Instead, Reig cited the combination of Austin’s “deep-rooted” car culture, which has only become further engrained during COVID. The service will shut down in Austin on December 18.

“When Revel came to Austin we knew there would be challenges,” Reig wrote in the statement that was posted on Twitter. “In addition to having a less dense urban core than our other markets, the city’s deep-rooted car culture has proven difficult to penetrate, especially during COVID.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment. TechCrunch will update the article if the company responds.

Revel, founded in March 2018 by Frank Reig and Paul Suhey, started with a pilot program in Brooklyn and later expanded to Queens, the Bronx and sections of Manhattan. It has been on a fast-paced growth track thanks to the $ 27.6 million in capital raised in October 2019 in a Series A round led by Ibex Investors. The equity round included newcomer Toyota AI Ventures and further investments from Blue Collective, Launch Capital and Maniv Mobility.

Revel expanded to Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C in its first 18 months of operation. In January, the company launched in Oakland and received a permit in July to operate in San Francisco.

Revel has had a challenging year, and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company voluntarily shut down operations in New York on July 28 after several of its users died in crashes. The company restarted its 3,000-strong fleet of mopeds in four boroughs after the city of New York approved its relaunch plan, which included several new features in its app aimed at increasing safety. Revel added training videos, tests and a helmet selfie feature that requires photographic evidence the user is wearing a helmet, as well as a community reporting tool.

Startups – TechCrunch

How do you carry on believing on what you do despite that things didn’t turn out the way you expected?

First of all I must clarify that I do not have an entitled mindset which I totally acknowledge that things will not always turn out the way you expected but with all the pressure it is starting to set in.

Recently with my start up of an Online Cigarette Store which I've invested nearly all my savings in has not generate any sales at all, it's just tough as I am at the edge of quitting but a part me of still try to believe in the very first reason i started as the amount of effort that I've put into this start up from going all over different states to find a manufacturer that would supply my cigarettes to sleepless nights trying to work out my SEO would all be for nothing if I quit.

How do you carry on believing in the things you do despite the disappointments and family's pressure on my finance?

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

Loadsmart Raises Another $90M for its Real-Time Trucking and Shipping Marketplace

Trucking is the dominant mode of freight transport in the United States and the total addressable market exceeds $ 800B per annum. However, the logistics industry has traditionally relied on disparate means (faxes, emails, and spreadsheets) to manage the many moving parts involved with shipments. Loadsmart, a freight management platform and marketplace, automates how freight is priced, booked, and shipped. AlleyWatch caught up with Hunter Yaw, VP of product management, marketing, and sponsorships, to learn more about Loadsmart’s impact on the logistics industry, expansion plans, and recent round of funding from investors that include BlackRock Inc.’s Innovation Capital, Chromo Invest, TFI International Inc., and shipping giants Maersk.
AlleyWatch

Zephr raises $8M to help news publishers grow subscription revenue

Zephr has raised $ 8 million in a new funding round led by Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (owned by media giant Bertelsmann).

The London-headquarted startup’s customers already include publishers like McClatchy, News Corp Australia, Dennis Publishing and PEI Media. CEO James Henderson told me via email that rather than creating “a monolithic product that tries to do a bit of everything,” Zephr is “focused entirely on the experience and journey for the prospect or customer,” driving an average 150% increase in conversion rates and 25% increase in subscription revenue within the first six months.

Henderson added, “By offering the right product, package or message at the right time to the right person, Zephr improves conversion rates, drastically decreases churn and drives new, stable revenue.”

To do this, Zephr largely relies on the publisher’s first-party data about its readers — Henderson said that this data is “by far the most important and powerful type of data that Zephr both uses and generates.” But it also takes advantage of contextual data, such as “time of day, to location, device or consumption patterns.”

He also noted that Zephr is a no-code tool, allowing non-technical members of the marketing, revenue and product teams to use a drag-and-drop editor to create different customer journeys.

Zephr

Image Credits: Zephr

Asked how the pandemic has affected the startup’s business, Henderson said there were both “positive and negative indicators,” with newsrooms seeing record readership but in some cases also freezing spending.

“As firms prepare for a ‘post-pandemic’ world, we are beginning to see our markets seize the opportunity of all these new potential subscribers and invest in subscription models — and in Zephr.” he said. “In publishing and news media, the old model of dominant advertising revenue is on the way out and we are well-placed to capitalize on that interest.”

The new funding also includes financing from Silicon Valley Bank UK Branch and brings Zephr’s total funding to $ 11 million. Previous investors include Knight Capital and Nauta Capital.

According to the company’s funding announcement, this money will go toward further product development (with a focus on increased personalization), as well as expansion across the United States, Europe and Asia.

“The recent weakness in the advertising market increased pressure for media companies to diversify revenue streams and aim to introduce or optimize subscription models,” said BDMI Managing Director Urs Cete in a statement. “We recognise Zephr’s excellent technology that empowers publishers to galvanise the online subscription opportunity and create customer journeys that are truly unique.”

Startups – TechCrunch

Tyler Winklevoss: FOMO yet to kick in | bitcoin | crypto | crypto investment | crypto news – Crypto Daily

Tyler Winklevoss: FOMO yet to kick in | bitcoin | crypto | crypto investment | crypto news  Crypto Daily
“nigeria startups when:7d” – Google News

SunCulture wants to turn Africa into the world’s next bread basket, one solar water pump at a time

The world’s food supply must double by the year 2050 to meet the demands of a growing population, according to a report from the United Nations. And as pressure mounts to find new crop land to support the growth, the world’s eyes are increasingly turning to the African continent as the next potential global bread basket.

While Africa has 65% of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, according to the African Development Bank, the countries on the continent face significant obstacles as they look to boost the productivity of their agricultural industries.

On the continent, 80% of families depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but only 4% use irrigation. Many families also lack access to reliable and affordable electricity. It’s these twin problems that Samir Ibrahim and his co-founder at SunCulture, Charlie Nichols, have spent the last eight years trying to solve.

Armed with a new financing model and purpose-built small solar-powered generators and water pumps, Nichols and Ibrahim have already built a network of customers using their equipment to increase incomes by anywhere from five to 10 times their previous levels by growing higher-value cash crops, cultivating more land and raising more livestock.

The company also just closed on $ 14 million in funding to expand its business across Africa.

“We have to double the amount of food we have to create by 2050, and if you look at where there are enough resources to grow food — all signs point to Africa. You have a lot of farmers and a lot of land, and a lot of resources,” Ibrahim said.

African small farmers face two big problems as they look to increase productivity, Ibrahim said. One is access to markets, which alone is a huge source of food waste, and the other is food security because of a lack of stable growing conditions exacerbated by climate change.

As one small farmer told The Economist earlier this year, “The rainy season is not predictable. When it is supposed to rain it doesn’t, then it all comes at once.”

Ibrahim, who graduated from New York University in 2011, had long been drawn to the African continent. His father was born in Tanzania and his mother grew up in Kenya and they eventually found their way to the U.S. But growing up, Ibrahim was told stories about East Africa.

While pursuing a business degree at NYU Ibrahim met Nichols, who had been working on large-scale solar projects in the U.S., at an event for budding entrepreneurs in New York.

The two began a friendship and discussed potential business opportunities stemming from a paper Nichols had read about renewable energy applications in the agriculture industry.

After winning second place in a business plan competition sponsored by NYU, the two men decided to prove that they should have won first. They booked tickets to Kenya and tried to launch a pilot program for their business selling solar-powered water pumps and generators.

Conceptually solar water-pumping systems have been around for decades. But as the costs of solar equipment and energy storage have declined, the systems that leverage those components have become more accessible to a broader swath of the global population.

That timing is part of what has enabled SunCulture to succeed where other companies have stumbled. “We moved here at a time when [solar] reached grid parity in a lot of markets. It was at a time when a lot of development financiers were funding the nexus between agriculture and energy,” said Ibrahim.

Initially, the company sold its integrated energy generation and water-pumping systems to the middle income farmers who hold jobs in cities like Nairobi and cultivate crops on land they own in rural areas. These “telephone farmers” were willing to spend the $ 5,000 required to install SunCulture’s initial systems.

Now, the cost of a system is somewhere between $ 500 and $ 1,000 and is more accessible for the 570 million farming households across the word — with the company’s “pay-as-you-grow” model.

It’s a spin on what’s become a popular business model for the distribution of solar systems of all types across Africa. Investors have poured nearly $ 1 billion into the development of off-grid solar energy and retail technology companies like M-kopa, Greenlight Planet, d.light design, ZOLA Electric and SolarHome, according to Ibrahim. In some ways, SunCulture just extends that model to agricultural applications.

“We have had to bundle services and financing. The reason this particularly works is because our customers are increasing their incomes four or five times,” said Ibrahim. “Most of the money has been going to consuming power. This is the first time there has been productive power.”

SunCulture’s hardware consists of 300-watt solar panels and a 440-watt-hour battery system. The batteries can support up to four lights, two phones and a plug-in submersible water pump. 

The company’s best-selling product line can support irrigation for a two-and-a-half acre farm, Ibrahim said. “We see ourselves as an entry point for other types of appliances. We’re growing to be the largest solar company for Africa.”

With the $ 14 million in funding, from investors including Energy Access Ventures (EAV), Électricité de France (EDF), Acumen Capital Partners (ACP) and Dream Project Incubators (DPI), SunCulture will expand its footprint in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Senegal, Togo and Cote D’Ivoire, the company said. 

Ekta Partners acted as the financial advisor for the deal, while CrossBoundary provided additional advisory support, including an analysis on the market opportunity and competitive landscape, under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Kenya Investment Mechanism Program

Startups – TechCrunch