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Current and upcoming trends in Latin America’s mobile growth

Jen Laloup
Contributor

Jen Laloup is CEO of Mobile Growth Association.

Latin America (LATAM) is home to one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world. In 2018, there were 326 million mobile internet users in the region, and that figure is anticipated to increase to over 422 million users by 2025. Part of the reason for such exponential growth is that mobile is the main tool for internet access in Latin America, providing a portable way for people living in rural areas to get online. The social media boom and rise in messaging platforms in recent years have also spurred demand for optimized mobile services.
As mobile penetration continues in LATAM, it is facilitating innovative apps that promote opportunities for social mobility, financial control, access to overseas markets and societal development. And while a difference in maturity levels and local regulations dictates the mobile landscape for individual countries, there are visible trends throughout the region.
These trends are both reactions to LATAM’s unique mobile conditions and broader international influences, so can be telling of future mobile user expectations and behaviors. By recognizing and assimilating these trends, new mobile apps and services can disrupt the market in a more meaningful way.
Here are the current and upcoming trends of mobile growth across Latin America:
Digital wallets
Approximately 70% of Latin America’s population is unbanked or underbanked, meaning there is a huge opportunity to improve financial access. One emerging solution is digital wallets, which work via top-ups and don’t require a bank account with a physical company or branch to set up. Digital wallets, therefore, bypass the mistrust that many Latin Americans have around official banking institutions.
COVID-19 has certainly contributed to the heightened demand for mobile wallets in LATAM. As a predominantly cash-driven location, concerns about handling paper money have been confirmed as new studies reveal that the virus can survive on physical currency for 28 days. In turn, masses of citizens and consumers have begun looking for safer alternatives to cash. In Mexico, digital wallets are thought to occupy a 27.7% share of the business-to-consumer e-commerce payments market by 2021, while Argentina has also been showing high in-store use of digital wallets during the pandemic.
Over in Venezuela, AirTM’s digital wallet has been processing funds promised by interim President Guaidó to essential workers. The company has been instrumental in delivering the money to healthcare staff after the Maduro regime blocked the provider operating in the country. Beyond financial aid, digital wallets in Venezuela and other countries with high inflation rates mean locals don’t have to carry large amounts of bills and coins with them.

Current and upcoming trends in Latin America’s mobile growth

How Reliance Jio Platforms became India’s biggest telecom network

It’s raised $5.7 billion from Facebook. It’s taken $1.5 billion from KKR, another $1.5 billion from Vista Equity Partners, $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, $1.35 billion from Silver Lake, $1.2 billion from Mubadala, $870 million from General Atlantic, $750 million from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, $600 million from TPG, and $250 million from L Catterton.
And it’s done all that in just nine weeks.
India’s Reliance Jio Platforms is the world’s most ambitious tech company. Founder Mukesh Ambani has made it his dream to provide every Indian with access to affordable and comprehensive telecommunications services, and Jio has so far proven successful, attracting nearly 400 million subscribers in just a few years.
The unparalleled growth of Reliance Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of India’s most-valued firm (Reliance Industries), has shocked rivals and spooked foreign tech companies such as Google and Amazon, both of which are now reportedly eyeing a slice of one of the world’s largest telecom markets.
What can we learn from Reliance Jio Platforms’s growth? What does the future hold for Jio and for India’s tech startup ecosystem in general?
Through a series of reports, Extra Crunch is going to investigate those questions. We previously profiled Mukesh Ambani himself, and in today’s installment, we are going to look at how Reliance Jio went from a telco upstart to the dominant tech company in four years.

India’s richest man built a telecom operator everyone wants a piece of

The birth of a new empire
Months after India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, launched his telecom network Reliance Jio, Sunil Mittal of Airtel — his chief rival — was struggling in public to contain his frustration.
That Ambani would try to win over subscribers by offering them free voice calling wasn’t a surprise, Mittal said at the World Economic Forum in January 2017. But making voice calls and the bulk of 4G mobile data completely free for seven months clearly “meant that they have not gotten the attention they wanted,” he said, hopeful the local regulator would soon intervene.
This wasn’t the first time Ambani and Mittal were competing directly against each other: in 2002, Ambani had launched a telecommunications company and sought to win the market by distributing free handsets.
In India, carrier lock-in is not popular as people prefer pay-as-you-go voice and data plans. But luckily for Mittal in their first go around, Ambani’s journey was cut short due to a family feud with his brother — read more about that here.

How Reliance Jio Platforms became India’s biggest telecom network

Daily Crunch: WhatsApp launches payments

WhatsApp is adding support for in-app payments, Apple is upgrading the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro desktop and we argue about the future of startup hubs.
Here’s your Daily Crunch for June 15, 2020.
1. WhatsApp finally launches payments, starting in Brazil
After months of talks and trials, WhatsApp has finally pulled the trigger on payments. Users in Brazil will be the first to be able to send and receive money through the messaging app, using Facebook Pay.
WhatsApp says that the payments service — which currently is free for consumers to use, but comes with a 3.99% processing fee for businesses receiving payments — will work by way of a six-digit PIN or fingerprint to complete transactions.
2. Apple adds new MacBook Pro graphics option and Mac Pro SSD upgrade kit
A week before kicking off WWDC, Apple introduced a pair of upgrades to its pro-level hardware lines. Both the 16-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro desktop are getting select internal upgrades, starting today.
3. 3 perspectives on the future of SF and NYC as startup hubs
Three TechCrunch writers address one of the big questions about the future: Will tech continue to centralize in hubs like San Francisco and New York City, or will remote work and all the other second-order effects lead to a more decentralized startup ecosystem? (Extra Crunch membership required.)
4. Interstellar Technologies’ privately developed MOMO-5 rocket falls short of reaching space
The company first launched a vehicle in 2017, but the launch didn’t go exactly as planned and failed to reach space. In 2019, its MOMO-3 sounding rocket did break the Karman line, though just barely, and unfortunately its MOMO-5 sounding rocket launched over the weekend did not make space, as planned.
5. Introducing The Exchange, your daily dive into the private markets
The Exchange is Alex Wilhelm’s regular dive into the financial side of the startup world, and how the public markets exert gravity (or lift) on private companies. These themes might sound familiar to Daily Crunch readers, since we’ve linked to plenty of Alex’s pieces, but now it’s an official column with an official name.
6. Tesla’s US-made Model 3 vehicles now come equipped with wireless charging and USB-C ports
Tesla Model 3 vehicles produced at its Fremont, Calif. factory will reportedly come standard with a wireless charging pad and USB-C ports, upgrades that were first spotted by Drive Tesla Canada.
7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts
The latest full-length episode of Equity discusses Facebook’s new startup venture fund, while the Monday news roundup covers the latest problems at Quibi. Over at Original Content, we review the latest season of “Queer Eye.”
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Daily Crunch: WhatsApp launches payments

WhatsApp eyes credit feature for users in India

WhatsApp, which began testing its mobile payments feature in India two years ago, could offer at least one more financial service to people in its biggest market.
In a filing with the local regulator in India, the company has listed credit as one of the areas it will pursue in the country. The Facebook -owned service declared with the local regulator earlier this month providing credit or loans as one of the “main objects to be pursued by it in the country.” No other financial service is listed in the filing.
At an event in Bangalore late last year, Abhijit Bose, WhatsApp’s head in India, said he believed that the mobile payments market in India, which has attracted dozens of local and international firms in recent years, is still at a very early stage in the country and may eventually see firms move beyond just offering a way for people to send money to one another.
WhatsApp has yet to receive approval from New Delhi for a nationwide rollout of Pay in India. Local media reports claimed earlier this year that WhatsApp had started to expand Pay’s reach in the country in various phases.
Ajit Mohan, a Facebook VP and India head, told TechCrunch in an interview last week that only 1 million WhatsApp users in India, same as before, have access to its mobile payment service.
Dozens of payment services in India have expanded to credit, or online lending, in recent quarters as they search for a business model in the country. A number of firms, including Paytm, India’s most-valued startup, and MobiKwik today offer small ticket credit to millions of users in India.
Tens of millions of users have started to digitally transact money in India in recent years. But the local payments body has removed most of the fees they could levy on banks and merchants to make money. The move has resulted in firms exploring other financial services, such as credit and insurance and target merchants to make money.
This year, Paytm has expanded to serve merchants, launching new gadgets such as a stand that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and a battery pack, a portable speaker that provides voice confirmations of transactions and a point-of-sale machine with built-in scanner and printer.
The Alibaba and SoftBank-backed company is offering these gadgets as part of a subscription service that helps it establish a steady flow of revenue. Paytm’s Money arm, which offers lending, insurance and investing services, has amassed more than 3 million users.
Flipkart’s PhonePe, another major player in India’s payments market, today serves more than 175 million users and over 8 million merchants. Its app serves as a platform for other businesses to reach users. The company is currently not taking a cut for the real estate on its app.
WhatsApp’s expansion in mobile payments in India, estimated to grow to $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), could create new challenges for the aforementioned players.
Facebook, which like other American tech giants counts India as one of its biggest markets but makes considerably less revenue in the world’s second largest market, “reaffirmed” its commitment to India this month.
The social giant invested $5.7 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms this month to acquire a 9.99% stake in the Indian telecom giant. Over the weekend, JioMart, an e-commerce venture run by Jio’s parent firm, began testing an “ordering system” on WhatsApp, teasing the first peek at the collaboration between Facebook and Indian telecom giant Reliance Jio Platforms.

WhatsApp eyes credit feature for users in India

$75M weed giant Caliva ditches Eaze, launches delivery

It’s a brutal time for marijuana startups. I’m hearing some are raising at 1/5th of their 2019 valuation amidst rampant competition, tall taxes, and slow legalization. The struggles for marijuana’s best-known startup, delivery service Eaze, continue as today it’s losing one of its top partners. $75 million-funded weed brand empire Caliva has dropped Eaze in favor of launching its own delivery system.
By partnering with Hypur banking to solve the marijuana payments legality issue, Caliva will be able to accept contactless mobile payments unlike Eaze that it claims usually requires customers pay in cash. [Update: Eaze claims the majority of payments come via debit cards]. Caliva buyers won’t have to worry about trips to the ATM, especially now during COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, which the startup expects will boost their average order volume. Combined with verticalizing delivery in-house plus its retail and wholesale operations, Caliva hopes it can grow its margins and survive this long winter for weed startups.

“Our mission at Caliva has always been to provide safe and easy access to plant-based solutions for health, happiness and healing,” said Caliva CEO Dennis O’Malley. “Together with Hypur, we are proud to offer our customers safe, compliant and convenient cashless payment options to improve and modernize their purchasing experience.” It hasn’t been so easy for Eaze, though.
Back in January, we reported that Eaze was in trouble, having suffered unannounced layoffs and executive departures. It burned cash on billboards, and never launched the services of a startup it acquired. There were questions about data security, and weed brands dropped Eaze due to delayed payments. It was almost out of money and in danger of vaporizing. It luckily managed to secure a $15 million bridge round to keep it alive plus a $20 million Series D in February just before the COVID hit the fan, though I dread to think of the terms of that funding.

Troubled Eaze finally closes $35M funding to sell its own cannabis

The plan for Eaze was to verticalize, buying and developing brands that it could sell through its existing delivery service to up its margins. Now it’s seeing former partner Caliva do the reverse, launching a delivery service to sell its own Fun Uncle, Deli, and Caliva brands as well as distribute other vape, edible, and flower brands like Dosist and Kiva. Its menu breadth to attract customers and in-house brands to drive profits could be a winning combo. After limited pilots in SoCal, Caliva delivery is launching in LA and the Bay Area.
Unfortunately, traditional payment processors usually refuse to work with marijuana companies for fear of legal repercussions. That’s why most delivery services can’t accept credit or debit cards, or do so through sketchy legal workarounds that have led payment providers to be sued. Others like CanPay only offer ACH transfers, while Square only works with CBD sellers. “We spent time researching and evaluating all platforms that accept cannabis payments in the U.S., and found that Hypur has the best security, compliance and consumer experience” O’Malley tells me.

400-person Caliva is now trying to raise a Series B, but may experience tough headwinds with shelter-in-place orders in effect in states where marijuana is legal. Stiff taxes on marijuana have meanwhile helped the black market continue to thrive, as California’s $3.1 billion in legal 2019 sales were overshadowed by an estimated $8.7 billion in illegal sales. Faster delivery and simpler payments could help. But enthusiasm for the industry has dwindled following the initial flood of entrants sought to exploit the end of prohibition. Is the Green Rush over?

$75M weed giant Caliva ditches Eaze, launches delivery