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YC-backed Duplo raises $1.3M pre-seed to build financial OS for B2B companies in Nigeria

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Startups have sought to use technology to digitize processes in Africa’s B2B e-commerce and retail space over the past couple of years. While many focus on moving products and providing credit, issues around cash overdependency haven’t been tackled at scale. 

Here’s why this is a critical problem. When traditional distributors move goods from manufacturers and suppliers to retailers, they collect cash through a network of agents. These agents, from different parts, then proceed to make lump-sum payments into a central bank account.

For the most part, there is a lot of fraud behind the scenes because of inefficiencies in manual reconciliation processes on the distributors’ end. The logical thing to do would be to hire an accountant, but in the FMCG space, where margins are incredibly slim, that’s not on the cards for distributors.

So, in a nutshell, payments in the FMCG sector — primarily cash-based — is marred by inefficient processes which cost time, resources and customers. Duplo, a Lagos-based fintech, is attempting to tackle these inefficiencies by digitizing payment flows for B2B companies, starting with those in this industry.

Yele Oyekola, a former product lead at Carbon, started Duplo based on his experience as an economic policy officer for the UN in Africa, where touring different countries opened his eyes to how people and businesses were heavily reliant on cash.

“We are trying to make cash obsolete in Africa where lots of businesses in the distribution space heavily transact in cash for obvious reasons,” said the chief executive officer to TechCrunch in an interview.

“So, we’re focused on distributors, merchants and aggregators to stop the use of cash in this value chain because everyone knows how expensive cash is and how difficult it is to move with issues around theft and fraud.”

With Duplo, distributors can create unique virtual accounts for retailers and agents to make real-time payments or bank transfers, while the platform helps to reconcile their books automatically.

But in the FMCG industry, there’s isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Making bank transfers can be expensive for some retailers and agents; instead, they visit mobile money agents to perform transactions.

Duplo doesn’t have any issues with that, as retailers can still make transactions to these same virtual accounts via the mobile money agents; reconciliation is carried out after that

Duplo charges a 1% fee for every transaction performed on its platform. And depending on their size, businesses also pay between ₦100 (~$0.20) to ₦1,000 (~$2.00) to create virtual accounts.

Besides providing tools that enable B2B companies to digitize their payment flows, there’s a no-code tool for them to optimize trade with their business customers, vendors and suppliers. The platform also helps these companies to generate or pay invoices, offer credit to their business customers and a dashboard to attribute payment flows to a particular customer, retailer or location.

“The way we see our value prop is we help businesses automate, embed and launch payment products. So basically, inflows or outflows, automatic reconciliations for businesses and embedding payments into marketplaces. And then we also have businesses that want to provide BNPL services to smaller businesses,” said Oyekola, who co-founded Duplo with Tunde Akinnuwa in September 2021.

Akinnuwa is the company’s CPO who, before Duplo, led lending and consumer payments at JumiaPay. Emeka Okwuagwu is Duplo CTO; he was an engineering manager at ARCA Payments and has experience building fintech products for banks.

The company, which launched its pilot three months ago, said customers reported cost savings of more than 12% within that period. Duplo has also grown 60% month-month to serve 20+ enterprise businesses. Currently, it has processed over $380,000; however, Duplo has plans to reach $40 million in annualized TPV by the end of Q2, said the CEO.

Last November, Duplo got into Y Combinator and is taking part in the accelerator’s current winter batch. The YC-backed startup has also raised a $1.3 million pre-seed round led by early-stage pan-African VC firm Oui Capital to further its growth. A mix of local and international investors such as MyAsia VC, Y Combinator, Flutterwave CEO Olugbenga “GB” Agboola and Mono CEO Abdul Hassan participated.

“We’re excited to support Yele, Tunde, Emeka and the rest of the team at Duplo as they look to build a scalable B2B payments platform for the African market,” said Peter Oriaifo, principal at Oui Capital, in a statement sent to TechCrunch. “We believe that with the proliferation of commerce in Africa, there’s an emerging need for solutions such as Duplo’s that help abstract away complexities around payments.”

Duplo will spend most of this investment on improving its product, tech and sales as well as move into other sectors asides from FMCG retail to businesses in travel, farming, B2B marketplaces, alcohol and beverages.

“There’s just a tonne of potential opportunity for us as a business that we can tap into very soon,” said Oyekola. “And while we’re currently focusing on the retail space over the next three months, we’re speaking to businesses in other sectors also to help them automate their entire payments through our APIs.”

Technology

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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Micropyramid lenses triple the light that hits solar panels

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Stacks of teeny lenses that look like inverted pyramids could juice up solar panels, helping them capture more light from any angle on both sunny and overcast days.

Solar panels perform best in direct sunlight, which is why some solar systems track the big fireball across the sky, turning to face it for maximum light. Unfortunately, such tracking tech is pricey and moving parts can break.

Shortcomings like these motivated researchers at Stanford to develop an alternative. The resulting tech — named Axially Graded Index Lens, or AGILE for short — offers a way to boost the efficiency of static solar panels, even in diffuse light, authors Nina Vaidya and Olav Solgaard said in a peer-reviewed paper. Prototype arrays of AGILE lenses successfully concentrated light into a 3x smaller area, while retaining 90% of its power in the best-case scenario, and well ahead of more elementary concentrators when the light was more slanted (sometimes concentrators can sacrifice light intensity but come out ahead of gathering angle). 

Concentrating light to squeeze more energy out of solar panels is nothing new, but the authors point out that concentrators such as fresnel lenses and mirrors provide only “modest acceptance angles.” Incidentally, the pyramidal design also succeeds in looking glamorous in a render video released alongside the paper.

AGILE lens prototype shown in three stages of development

The AGILE lens prototype shown in three stages of development. A: Bonded glass. B: With aluminum sidewalls. C: With a solar cell absorbing light. Image Credits: Nina Vaidya

The internet is littered with neat ideas that could help us capture more energy from the sun. Many are inspired by things in nature, such as butterfly wings, fly eyes, flower petals and even puffer fish. The design for AGILE “did not come from nature,” says Vaidya, but the paper acknowledges that “there are features of AGILE that can be found in the retina of fish (e.g., Gnathonemus) and compound eyes in insects (e.g., Lepidoptera), where a gradient index is present as anti-reflection to maximize transmission as well as to enable camouflage.”

Though the researchers did not announce any plans to commercialize AGILE, the prototypes were designed with the solar industry in mind using readily available materials, according to a Stanford press release.

“Abundant and affordable clean energy is a vital part of addressing the urgent climate and sustainability challenges,” said Vaidya. “We need to catalyze engineering solutions to make that a reality.”

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