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Ninja Van’s Big-Ticket Funding Signals Startup Deal Resilience

Yoolim Lee
Ninja Van’s Big-Ticket Funding Signals Startup Deal Resilience

(Bloomberg) -- Singapore’s Ninja Van has raised $279 million from backers including France’s GeoPost SA and ride-hailing giant Grab Holdings Inc., scoring one of Southeast Asia’s largest startup investments since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic.

Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital Group and Monk’s Hill Ventures were among those that took part in the parcel delivery firm’s Series D round, completed after the outbreak drove a surge in online shopping among people sheltering at home. The Southeast Asian startup joins a select club of firms that have raised significant money this year, including Indonesian online marketplace GudangAda with a $25.4 million deal.

The coronavirus outbreak and its accompanying economic fallout is stress-testing the region’s once high-flying startup ecosystem. But the twin Southeast Asian deals announced Tuesday underscore how investors continue to explore industries from e-commerce to gaming and telehealth, regarded as more resilient to or even beneficiaries of rolling lockdowns. Globally, tech investment has sputtered since the outbreak spooked deal-makers, shuttered smaller outfits and forced cash-burning corporations from Oyo to Grab to rein in spending. Just 44 Silicon Valley startups won funding in March, down from 126 two months prior, according to law firm Fenwick & West LLP.

“The Covid scenario would be very helpful because dynamics have changed,” Chief Executive Officer Lai Chang Wen told Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin and Yvonne Man on Tuesday. “With this renewed focus on e-commerce, we think this will be an inflection point for e-commerce in Southeast Asia.”

Much remains uncertain and many tech companies warn the business environment could deteriorate unpredictably should Covid-19 persist into the second half. Underscoring the extent of the fallout, Indonesia on Tuesday posted its weakest economic growth since 2001.

But for now, Ninja Van, which helps e-commerce clients deliver more than a million packages daily across six Southeast Asian countries, is benefiting from a spike in orders. Its latest fundraising surpassed a $200 million target set about a year ago and lifted its total financing to about $400 million, Lai said.

The investor interest “shows that logistics is something which is around to stay,” he said. “Social distancing will have a profound effect.”

He declined to disclose the company’s valuation, describing it as “vanity metrics.” “People who get overly fixated on that make a lot of mistakes,” he added.

Lai, a 32-year-old former derivatives trader at Barclays Plc, founded Ninja Van in 2014 with two friends, aiming to use technology to make the logistics market more efficient. They picked the name Ninja Van to reflect the idea of working quietly to get things done. It now helps consumer brands from L’Oreal to Wing Tai Holdings Ltd.’s G2000 label digitize their businesses and sell to consumers, diversifying its clients beyond e-commerce platforms. The Singapore startup also aims to handle deliveries of merchandise for smaller merchants such as social media influencers.

“It certainly isn’t the sexiest of companies but logistics has become a hot space since we invested five years ago,” said Lim Kuo-Yi, a managing partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, the company’s first institutional investor. “Very few companies at this scale have shown the ability to cover the region comprehensively and is able to demonstrate a credible path to profitability.”

Read more: Only 44 Startups In Silicon Valley Got Funded Last Month

Other backers in its latest round include Carmenta, Golden Gate Ventures Growth Fund and Intouch Holdings. Besides Singapore, Ninja Van operates in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam and employs more than 30,000 people, including some 20,000 full-time drivers. It’s profitable in half of those markets but needs time for the whole business to become “solidly profitable,” Lai said. Ninja Van may do another round of funding before a sale or IPO, he added.

“All (exit) options are on the table,” he added. “But right now, solidly profitable is what we focus on.”

Separately, GudangAda, which helps mom and pop stores buy goods such as cooking ingredients, instant noodles and beverages from wholesalers, said it secured $25.4 million in a round led by Sequoia India and Alpha JWC Ventures. It plans to recruit more than 100 employees this year, adding to a workforce of about 350, according to founder and Chief Executive Officer Stevensang, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

“We do have plans to strengthen our mid-senior team throughout the rest of this year, especially in areas of technology and product management,” he said in an interview.

Read more: Sequoia India, Alpha JWC Lead Latest Online Marketplace Funding

(Updates with CEO’s TV interview from the fourth paragraph)

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