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Nigerian ethical credit-recovery fintech Bfree secures $1.7M, expands to Asia, Europe, South America and across Africa

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Bfree, a Nigerian credit management fintech has embarked on global expansion after raising $1.7 million in a pre-Series A round, to tap the opportunities in emerging markets, where digital lending apps have recently sprung up in droves.

Funds that participated in the latest round included 4Di Capital, Octerra Capital, VestedWorld, Voltron Capital, Logos Ventures, and several other angel investors, bringing the total capital raised by the Lagos-based startup to $2.5 million, having realized $800,000 in a seed round last May.

Bfree is now on a massive recruitment drive for the 16 new markets it is setting up operations in, including Ghana, India, Uganda, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Russia, Poland, Pakistan and Indonesia. This is as it grows beyond Nigeria, where it started operations in August 2020 before entering Kenya in July last year.

“We are going into markets with large populations, credit deepening and an underdeveloped regulatory environment, where a behavioral collection approach is likely to work,” Bfree co-founder and CEO, Julian Flosbach told TechCrunch.

Bfree was founded by Chukwudi Enyi (COO), Moses Nmor (CPO) and Flosbach (CEO), who were looking to develop better, ethical and tech-inspired debt-collection tools and processes following their first-hand experience working for digital lenders in Nigeria.

“We saw that there was like a little bit of a breach in the value proposition of lenders — they are good at giving out loans, but the aftersales services of the credit market didn’t work as collections processes were inefficient and not user friendly,” said Flosbach.

Flosbach told TechCrunch that Bfree employs the use of ethical debt collection standards and works closely with defaulters for tailor-made settlement options, with the end-goal of increasing the repayment rate and customer satisfaction.

Ethical debt collection standards ensure the privacy of customer information during the process, explore flexible repayment options and do not lead to unnecessary penalties like lateness fees and debt-shaming (as is the practice with many digital lenders at the moment).

Bfree was founded by Julian Flosbach (CEO), Chukwudi Enyi (COO) and Moses Nmor (CPO) inspired by the need to introduce ethical debt recovery tools and processes in emerging markets. Image Credits: Bfree

The startup is currently working with 30 credit institutions, including digital lenders, micro-finance institutions and banks. Using customer data provided by the lenders, the startup builds the user profiles of defaulters, and runs their data through an algorithm to predict their behavior and recommend the best collection method.

Depending on a customer’s risk profile, Bfree either directs them to a self-service platform, where borrowers set new payment plans using their phone number, follow-up on debt balance through automated communication (chat boxes, callbots or IVR technology) or direct calls. The startup also regularly conducts financial literacy campaigns.

The emerging markets have in recent years experienced a surge in digital lenders providing credit to a population that has remained underserved by formal lenders. The credit offered is often instant and collateral-free, which is unlike loans from formal banking institutions (like banks) where borrowers are at the very least required to hold an account, have regular account activity and maintain minimum operating balances. Besides, traditional lenders require collateral of some kind to cushion them from losses whenever borrowers fail to repay.

Digital lenders avail the much-needed credit to people locked out by formal banking institutions, but they experience a high default rate (in mid 2020, Kenya’s default of digital loans stood at 23%), which has forced them to outsource the services of collection agencies, which, among other techniques, use debt-shaming tactics like calling the friends and relatives of borrowers.

Bfree has so far followed up with 1.2 million defaulters to date, and are currently handling around 800,000 customers, majority of them in Nigeria. Flosbach anticipates that the startup will be handling 1.4 million profiles by the end of next month.

In preparation for its next stage of growth, Bfree has secured the services of leading industry professionals, including CTO Konrad Pawlus formerly of SALESmanago and Yohan Theatre who previously worked at  investment management firm PIMCO. Theatre takes over as the head of data decision-making and financial engineering. The duo will be part of the team that will steer the startup’s new business as it works to disrupt traditional finance by leveraging blockchain technology for secondary debt markets.

“Lenders in the US or in Europe have the opportunity to sell significant chunks of their debt portfolios to third parties. This means they only carry a portion of the risk of the loans they issue. In emerging markets, this is typically not the case. Lenders have to carry the entire credit risk on their own. A key driver for this difference lies in higher transaction costs and contractual uncertainties,” said Theatre.

“The arrival of DeFi (decentralized finance) is a game-changer: transaction costs can be slashed while contractual certainty is increased by smart contracts. These are some of the risk-sharing instruments that we are now actively providing to lenders and borrowers,” he said.

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Without a clear ask, your pitch deck is useless

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You’ve brushed off your Keynote skills, you’re giddy that you’re finally going to be able to start paying yourself a living wage, and you are excited to start pitching your startup’s next round of funding to your investors. It’s heady times, for sure, but hit the other pedal there for a moment, friend — you may be forgetting something.

After working with hundreds of founders on raising money — including the fantastically popular Pitch Deck Teardown series here on TechCrunch+ — there’s one slide that almost every founder gets woefully wrong. The slide is often referred to as The Ask. Or, as one investor friend calls it, the “what is my $10 million going to buy me”? slide.


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The Ask is a sensitive topic to a lot of inexperienced entrepreneurs, which makes sense. Trying to right-size a funding round can be a little overwhelming, and there are a thousand different ways of building a startup. If you were successful in raising $8 million, you can do things one way. If you raised $12 million, you could perhaps launch more features of your product a little faster, or experiment more, or go after an additional market earlier. You know that. Your senior staff knows that. Your investors know that. But regardless, you need a Plan A.

What do those key metrics need to look like in order to raise not this round of funding, but your next one?

What do you need to do?

A lot of founders will tell you that they are trying to raise enough money to survive for the next 18 months. That’s probably true, but that will be true regardless of how much money you raise. A better approach is to think about what you need to accomplish to raise your next round of funding, and then work backward from there. This is probably a combination of metrics and milestones.

Metrics are the measurable parts of your business that grow and evolve over time. One of the best metrics you have is revenue, but there could be many others: the number of sales, average order value (AOV), monthly or annual recurring revenue (MRR or ARR, respectively), customer acquisition cost (CAC), customer lifetime value (LTV), daily and monthly active users (DAU and MAU), retention rate (usually expressed by its inverse, churn rate) and much more. What do those key metrics need to look like in order to raise not this round of funding, but your next one?

Milestones are also measurable parts of the business, but instead of tracking them over time, they tend to be binary: You’ve either hit a milestone or you haven’t. For startups, this could be key hires; finding the perfect, experienced CFO that can help take your company public is one major milestone a lot of companies at some point need to hit. Product launches (coming out of beta), launches in particular markets (launching only in California) and localization (launching your app in Spanish and French, for example) are also important milestones. Financial milestones are also common; the first time you make a single dollar from any customer is a huge shift in the business. When a customer, on average, starts to make you more money than it costs you to acquire them is another. For earlier-stage companies, completing a customer validation phase by talking to, say, 100 potential customers is a milestone.

When you’re raising money, you will be mapping out a set of milestones that you need to hit in order to validate your company. In addition, you’ll set a number of trigger points for metrics — hitting $1 million ARR, having 5,000 daily active users or finding a combination of customer acquisition channels that means you can acquire customers at a reasonable blended CAC, for example.

So let’s examine how to put together a great “ask” slide by ascertaining what it takes to determine how much you need to raise, how to create a specific set of goals and how to bring it all together in a coherent whole.

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Tech doesn’t get more full circle than this

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Welcome to Startups Weekly, a fresh human-first take on this week’s startup news and trends. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

Tech innovation is a cycle, especially in the main character-driven world of early-stage venture capital and copycat nature of startups.

The latest proof? Y Combinator this week announced Launch YC, a platform where people can sort accelerator startups by industry, batch and launch date to discover new products. The famed accelerator, which has seeded the likes of Instacart, Coinbase, OpenSea and Dropbox, invites users to vote for newly launched startups “to help them climb up the leaderboard, try out product demos and learn about the founding team,” it said in a blog post.


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If it sounds familiar, it’s because — in my perspective — Y Combinator is taking a not-so-subtle swipe at Product Hunt, a nearly decade-old platform that is synonymous with new startup launches and feature announcements.

Y Combinator doesn’t necessarily agree with this characterization: The accelerator’s head of communications, Lindsay Amos, told me over email that “we encourage YC founders to launch on many platforms — from the YC Directory to Product Hunt to Hacker News to Launch YC — in order to reach customers, investors and candidates.”

The overlap isn’t isolated. As Y Combinator makes a Product Hunt, Product Hunt is making an Andreessen Horowitz. Meanwhile, a16z is making its own Y Combinator. Not to mention Product Hunt has investment capital from a16z and formerly went through the Y Combinator accelerator.

The strategy is more than a tongue twister, it’s a signal on what institutions think is important to offer these days (and why they’re starting to borrow more than sugar, or deal flow, from their neighbors).

For my full take, read my TechCrunch+ column, “YC makes a Product Hunt, Product Hunt makes an a16z, a16z makes a YC.”

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll talk about Coalition, Backstage Capital and Africa’s temperature-fluctuating summer. As always, you can support me by forwarding this newsletter to a friend or following me on Twitter or subscribing to my blog.

Deal of the week

Coalition! Built by a quartet of women operators in venture, Coalition is a fund meets network that is trying to get more diverse decision-makers onto cap tables. The two-pronged approach of fund and network helps Coalition cover multiple fronts: Founders can turn to the firm for capital or the network for advice at no further dilution. Aspiring investors and advisers can turn to the firm to begin building out their portfolio, and LPs can put money into an operation that is committed to broadening diversity on cap tables, known to have economic benefits.

Here’s why it’s important: Coalition co-founder Ashley Mayer, the former VP of communications for Glossier, explained a little about the building philosophy behind the new company.

Mayer explained that she and her three co-founders saw the value of taking a “portfolio approach” to careers, basically going deep on their respective operator roles while also angel investing and eventually scout investing. Three of them previously worked in venture but left it because they missed the experience of operating. Now, they’re trying to scale a way for people to keep their day jobs and build beyond it. Coalition co-founder and Cityblock Health founder Toyin Ajayi said that “as one of few women of color leading a venture-backed company, I feel a deep obligation to hold the door open for others.”

Coalition investors (left to right): Cityblock Health co-founder Toyin Ajayi, Tribe AI co-founder Jackie Nelson, Umbrella co-founder Lindsay Ullman, Glossier VP of Communications Ashley Mayer

Image Credits: Coalition

When do layoffs matter? Trick question — always

This week on Equity, we spoke about Backstage Capital laying off a majority of its staff, weeks after pausing any investments in new startups. The workforce reduction, which impacted nine of Backstage Capital’s 12-person staff, was due to a lack of capital from limited partners, per fund founder Arlan Hamilton.

Here’s why it’s important: Backstage Capital has invested in over 200 startups built by historically overlooked entrepreneurs, while Hamllton herself has invested in more than two dozen venture capital funds. Despite having impact, no single firm can be immune from the difficulties of venture (or growing in an environment full of macroeconomic and cultural hurdles). Below is an excerpt of my story.

Without more support, it becomes difficult to close shop on new investments, bring more assets under management and bring more follow-on investments, Hamilton said.

“Somebody asked me, ‘why don’t you have more under management?’” she said during the podcast. “You gotta ask these LPs, you gotta ask these family offices, you gotta ask these people who ask me, ‘how can I be helpful,’ and I say ‘invest in our fund,’ and I never hear from them again.”

one chess pawn on a green elevated platform, with one on lower pink platform. startups and Market downturns

Image Credits: Jordan Lye (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Africa charts its own course

TC’s Dominic-Madori Davis and Tage Kene-Okafor wrote a story about how the downturn is playing out in Africa, essentially answering why we should all be tuning into the continent’s activity this summer.

Here’s why it matters: Africa’s venture capital totals weren’t too shabby in the first quarter, but investors think that it may just be a reporting delay. If most of the deals were finalized before high interest rates, the war and inflation, experts say, we may see an economic downturn soon start affecting developing markets. The story doesn’t stop there; I’d read more to see what Tiger Global tells us and how August is shaping up to be a key month of movement. 

Arrows on the African landscape pointing up and down

The summer could decide this year’s fate of the African funding landscape.

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

OK, whose rocket just hit the moon?

This co-worker does not exist: FBI warns of deepfakes interviewing for tech jobs

Formerly rich NFT buyers party through the pain

Robinhood almost imploded during the GameStop meme stock chaos

FTX says no active talks to buy Robinhood

Seen on TechCrunch+

Your startup pitch deck needs an operating plan

3 questions for the startup market as we enter Q3

Disclose your Scope 3 emissions, you cowards

What’s a fintech even worth these days?

Until next time,

N

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Google will start erasing location data for abortion clinic visits

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In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to strip federal abortion rights in the U.S., many people are questioning how the apps they use every day might suddenly be turned against them.

As concerns mount over the endless well of data that tech companies built an entire industry around, Google is taking at least one step to mitigate some potential harm related to location tracking.

The company announced Friday in a blog post that it would remove location history data about some “particularly personal” places from a Google account shortly after someone visits. Locations that will have their data deleted include “medical facilities like counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, cosmetic surgery clinics, and others,” according to the blog.

Google also noted that Fitbit users who use the device’s companion software as a period tracker currently must delete those entries one by one, but an easier way to “delete multiple logs at once” is on the way.

The change to location history will go into effect in the next few weeks, emptying one potential bucket of data that law enforcement could demand from the company. Google notes that its location history feature is off by default for people who use its services, but if you’re not sure about that, it’s always worth double-checking what personal information you’re actively sharing with tech’s data brokers — particularly now.

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