Facebook is hiring a director of human rights policy to work on “conflict prevention” and “peace-building”

Facebook is advertising for a human rights policy director to join its business, located either at its Menlo Park HQ or in Washington DC — with “conflict prevention” and “peace-building” among the listed responsibilities.

In the job ad, Facebook writes that as the reach and impact of its various products continues to grow “so does the responsibility we have to respect the individual and human rights of the members of our diverse global community”, saying it’s:

… looking for a Director of Human Rights Policy to coordinate our company-wide effort to address human rights abuses, including by both state and non-state actors. This role will be responsible for: (1) Working with product teams to ensure that Facebook is a positive force for human rights and apply the lessons we learn from our investigations, (2) representing Facebook with key stakeholders in civil society, government, international institutions, and industry, (3) driving our investigations into and disruptions of human rights abusers on our platforms, and (4) crafting policies to counteract bad actors and help us ensure that we continue to operate our platforms consistent with human rights principles.

Among the minimum requirements for the role, Facebook lists experience “working in developing nations and with governments and civil society organizations around the world”.

It adds that “global travel to support our international teams is expected”.

The company has faced fierce criticism in recent years over its failure to take greater responsibility for the spread of disinformation and hate speech on its platform. Especially in international markets it has targeted for business growth via its Internet.org initiative which seeks to get more people ‘connected’ to the Internet (and thus to Facebook).

More connections means more users for Facebook’s business and growth for its shareholders. But the costs of that growth have been cast into sharp relief over the past several years as the human impact of handing millions of people lacking in digital literacy some very powerful social sharing tools — without a commensurately large investment in local education programs (or even in moderating and policing Facebook’s own platform) — has become all too clear.

In Myanmar Facebook’s tools have been used to spread hate and accelerate ethic cleansing and/or the targeting of political critics of authoritarian governments — earning the company widespread condemnation, including a rebuke from the UN earlier this year which blamed the platform for accelerating ethnic violence against Myanmar’s Muslim minority.

In the Philippines Facebook also played a pivotal role in the election of president Rodrigo Duterte — who now stands accused of plunging the country into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 80s.

While in India the popularity of the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform has been blamed for accelerating the spread of misinformation — leading to mob violence and the deaths of several people.

Facebook famously failed even to spot mass manipulation campaigns going on in its own backyard — when in 2016 Kremlin-backed disinformation agents injected masses of anti-Clinton, pro-Trump propaganda into its platform and garnered hundreds of millions of American voters’ eyeballs at a bargain basement price.

So it’s hardly surprising the company has been equally naive in markets it understands far less. Though also hardly excusable — given all the signals it has access to.

In Myanmar, for example, local organizations that are sensitive to the cultural context repeatedly complained to Facebook that it lacked Burmese-speaking staff — complaints that apparently fell on deaf ears for the longest time.

The cost to American society of social media enabled political manipulation and increased social division is certainly very high. The costs of the weaponization of digital information in markets such as Myanmar looks incalculable.

In the Philippines Facebook also indirectly has blood on its hands — having provided services to the Duterte government to help it make more effective use of its tools. This same government is now waging a bloody ‘war on drugs’ that Human Rights Watch says has claimed the lives of around 12,000 people, including children.

Facebook’s job ad for a human rights policy director includes the pledge that “we’re just getting started” — referring to its stated mission of helping  people “build stronger communities”.

But when you consider the impact its business decisions have already had in certain corners of the world it’s hard not to read that line with a shudder.

Citing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (and “our commitments as a member of the Global Network Initiative”), Facebook writes that its product policy team is dedicated to “understanding the human rights impacts of our platform and to crafting policies that allow us both to act against those who would use Facebook to enable harm, stifle expression, and undermine human rights, and to support those who seek to advance rights, promote peace, and build strong communities”.

Clearly it has an awful lot of “understanding” to do on this front. And hopefully it will now move fast to understand the impact of its own platform, circa fifteen years into its great ‘society reshaping experience’, and prevent Facebook from being repeatedly used to trash human rights.

As well as representing the company in meetings with politicians, policymakers, NGOs and civil society groups, Facebook says the new human rights director will work on formulating internal policies governing user, advertiser, and developer behavior on Facebook. “This includes policies to encourage responsible online activity as well as policies that deter or mitigate the risk of human rights violations or the escalation of targeted violence,” it notes. 

The director will also work with internal public policy, community ops and security teams to try to spot and disrupt “actors that seek to misuse our platforms and target our users” — while also working to support “those using our platforms to foster peace-building and enable transitional justice”.

So you have to wonder how, for example, Holocaust denial continuing to be being protected speech on Facebook will square with that stated mission for the human rights policy director.

At the same time, Facebook is currently hiring for a public policy manager in Francophone, Africa — who it writes can “combine a passion for technology’s potential to create opportunity and to make Africa more open and connected, with deep knowledge of the political and regulatory dynamics across key Francophone countries in Africa”.

That job ad does not explicitly reference human rights — talking only about “interesting public policy challenges… including privacy, safety and security, freedom of expression, Internet shutdowns, the impact of the Internet on economic growth, and new opportunities for democratic engagement”.

As well as “new opportunities for democratic engagement”, among the role’s other listed responsibilities is working with Facebook’s Politics & Government team to “promote the use of Facebook as a platform for citizen and voter engagement to policymakers and NGOs and other political influencers”.

So here, in a second policy job, Facebook looks to be continuing its ‘business as usual’ strategy of pushing for more political activity to take place on Facebook.

And if Facebook wants an accelerated understanding of human rights issues around the world it might be better advised to take a more joined up approach to human rights across its own policy staff board, and at least include it among the listed responsibilities of all the policy shapers it’s looking to hire.

LemonBox brings US vitamins and health products to consumers in China

China is rising in many ways — the economy, consumer spending and technology — but still many of its population looks overseas, and particularly to the West, for cues on lifestyle and health. That’s a theme that’s being seized by LemonBox, a China-U.S. startup that lets Chinese consumers buy U.S. health products at affordable prices.

Indeed, the recent scare around Chinese vaccinations, which saw faulty inoculations given to babies and toddlers in a number of provinces, has only fueled demand for overseas health products which LemonBox founder Derek Weng discovered himself when his father was diagnosed as having high blood sugar levels. Weng, then working in the U.S. for Walmart, was able to look up and buy the right medicine pills for his father and bring them back to China himself. He realized, however, that others are not so fortunate.

After polling friends and family, he set up an experimental WeChat app in 2016 that dispensed health information such as articles and information. Within a year, it had racked up 30,000 subscribers and given him the confidence to jump into the business fully.

Today, LemonBox allows Chinese consumers to buy its own-branded daily vitamin packs from the U.S.. Further down the line, the goal is to expand into more specific verticals, including mother and baby, beauty and daily supplements, according to Weng, who believes that the timing is good.

“For the first time in China, people are taking a major interest in health and are working out, while society is becoming more developed,” he told TechCrunch in an interview. “We estimate that Chinese consumers are investing 30 percent of their income in health.”

The LemonBox daily pack of vitamins.

Since its full launch three weeks ago, LemonBox has pulled in 700 customers with 40 percent purchasing a three-month bundle package and the remainder a monthly order, Weng said. Typical basket size is around 300 RMB, or nearly $45.

To get the business off the ground, Weng needed expert support and his co-founder Hang Xu — who is also LemonBox’s “Chief Nutrition Scientist” — has spent 10 years in the field of nutrition science. Xu holds a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University, is a U.S.-registered dietitian and has published over 10 research papers. The startup’s third co-founder, Eddy Meng (CMO), is a graduate of Chinese app store startup Wandoujia which sold to Alibaba two years ago.

Right now, LemonBox has offices in the U.S. and China and it is squarely focused on e-commerce but Weng said the company is looking to introduce other kinds of health services. That could include consultations with dietary experts and specific offerings for patients leaving a hospital or in other long-term care situations, as well as potentially own-label products.

“We look at Stitch Fix for inspiration,” Weng said. “Right now, it leverages data to develop its own in-house private label products that improve on margin and the accuracy of recommendations. This kind of data and further services will be the next stage for us.”

LemonBox raised a seed round in March, which included participation from Y Combinator, and as part of Y Combinator’s current program, it’ll present to prospective investors at the program’s demo day. Already, though, Weng said there’s been interest from investors which the company is thinking over.

Interestingly, it was forth time lucky entering YC for Weng, who had before applied with previous startups unsuccessfully. This time it was entirely circumstantial. He applied to be in the audience for Y Combinator’s ‘Startup School’ event that took place in Beijing in May.

Unbeknownst to him, YC picked out a handful of attendees whose companies were of interest, and, after an interview that Weng didn’t realize was an audition, LemonBox was selected and fast-tracked into the organization’s latest program. In addition, YC joined the startup’s seed funding round which had initially closed in March.

That anecdotal evidence says much of YC’s effort to grab a larger slice of China’s startup ecosystem.

The organization has aggressively recruited companies from under-represented regions such as India, Southeast Asia and Africa, but China remains a tough spot. According to YC’s own data, fewer than 10 Chinese companies have passed through its corridors. That’s low considering that the organization counts over 1,400 graduates.

With events like the one in May, which helped snare LemonBox, and a new China-centric role for partner Eric Migicovsky, who founded Pebble, YC is trying harder than ever.

MallforAfrica goes global, Kobo360 and Sokowatch raise VC, France explains its $76M fund

B2B e-commerce company Sokowatch closed a $2 million seed investment led by 4DX Ventures. Others to join the round were Village Global, Lynett Capital, Golden Palm Investments, and Outlierz  Ventures.

The Kenya based company aims to shake up the supply chain market for Africa’s informal retailers.

Sokowatch’s platform connects Africa’s informal retail stores directly to local and multi-national suppliers—such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble—by digitizing orders, delivery, and payments with the aim of reducing costs and increasing profit margins.

“With both manufacturers and the small shops, we’re becoming the connective layer between them, where previously you had multiple layers of middle-men from distributors, sub-distributors, to wholesalers,” Sokowatch founder and CEO Daniel Yu told TechCrunch.

“The cost of sourcing goods right now…we estimate we’re cutting that cost by about 20 percent [for] these shopkeepers,” he said

“There are millions of informal stores across Africa’s cities selling hundreds of billions worth of consumer goods every year,” said Yu.

These stores can use Sokowatch’s app on mobile phones to buy wares directly from large suppliers, arrange for transport, and make payments online. “Ordering on SMS or Android gets you free delivery of products to your store, on average, in about two hours,” said Yu.

Sokowatch generates revenues by earning “a margin on the goods that we’re selling to shopkeepers,” said Yu. On the supplier side, they also benefit from “aggregating demand…and getting bulk deals on the products that we distribute.”

The company recently launched a line of credit product to extend working capital loans to platform clients. With the $2 million round, Sokowatch—which currently operates in Kenya and Tanzania—plans to “expand to new markets in East Africa, as well as pilot additional value add services to the shops,” said Yu.

MallforAfrica and DHL launched MarketPlaceAfrica.com: a global e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell wares to buyers in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.

The site will prioritize fashion items — clothing, bags, jewelry, footwear and personal care — and crafts, such as pictures and carvings. MallforAfrica is vetting sellers for MarketPlace Africa online and through the Africa Made Product Standards association (AMPS), to verify made-in-Africa status and merchandise quality.

“We’re starting off in Nigeria and then we’ll open in Kenya, Rwanda and the rest of Africa, utilizing DHL’s massive network,” MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch about where the goods will be sourced. “People all around the world can buy from African artisans online, that’s the goal,” Folayan told TechCrunch.

Current listed designer products include handbags from Chinwe Ezenwa and Tash women’s outfits by Tasha Goodwin.

In addition to DHL for shipping, MarketPlace Africa will utilize MallforAfrica’s e-commerce infrastructure. The startup was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron  href=”https://pctechmag.com/2018/05/french-president-emmanuel-macron-launches-a-usd76m-africa-startup-fund/”>unveiled a $76 million African startup fund at VivaTech 2018 and TechCrunch paid a visit to the French Development Agency (AFD) — who will administer the new fund — to get details on how it will work.

The $76 million (or €65 million) will divvy up into three parts, AFD Digital Task Team Leader Christine Ha told TechCrunch.

“There are €10 million [$11.7 million] for technical assistance to support the African ecosystem… €5 million will be available as interest-free loans to high-potential, pre-seed startups…and…€50 million [$58 million] will be for equity-based investments in series A to C startups,” explained Ha during a meeting in Paris.

The technical assistance will distribute in the form of grants to accelerators, hubs, incubators and coding programs. The pre-seed startup loans will issue in amounts up to $100,000 “as early, early funding to allow entrepreneurs to prototype, launch and experiment,” said Ha.

The $58 million in VC startup funding will be administered through Proparco, a development finance institution — or DFI — partially owned by the AFD. “Proparco will take equity stakes, and will be a limited partner when investing in VC funds,” said Ha.

Startups from all African countries can apply for a piece of the $58 million by contacting any of Proparco’s Africa offices.

The $11.7 million technical assistance and $5.8 million loan portions of France’s new fund will be available starting in 2019. On implementation, AFD is still “reviewing several options…such as relying on local actors through [France’s] Digital Africa platform,” said Ha. President Macron followed up the Africa fund announcement with a trip to Nigeria last month.

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 was accepted into Y Combinator’s 2018 class and gained some working capital in the form of $1.2 million in pre-seed funding led by Western Technology Investment.

The startup — with an Uber like app that connects Nigerian truckers to companies with freight needs — will use the funds to pay drivers online immediately after successful hauls.

Kobo360 is also launching the Kobo Wealth Investment Network, or KoboWIN — a crowd-invest, vehicle financing program. Through it, Kobo drivers can finance new trucks through citizen investors and pay them back directly (with interest) over a 60-month period.

On Kobo360’s utility, “We give drivers the demand and technology to power their businesses,” CEO Obi Ozor told TechCrunch. “An average trucker will make $3,500 a month with our app. That’s middle class territory in Nigeria.”

Kobo360 has served 324 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 5480 drivers and moved 37.6 million kilograms of cargo since 2017, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, and DHL.

Ozor thinks the startup’s asset-free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Logistics in Nigeria have been priced based on the assumption drivers are going to run empty on the way back…When we now match freight with return trips, prices crash.”

Kobo360 will expand in Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal.

[PHOTO: BFX.LAGOS] And finally, applications are open for TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Africa, to be held in Lagos, Nigeria, December 11. Early-stage African startups have until September 3 to apply here.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

·         CowryWise micro-savings service opens high-yield government bonds to everyday Nigerians


African Tech Around the Net

·         More Than Half of Sub-Saharan Africa to Be Connected to Mobile by 2025, Finds New GSMA Study
·         Ethiopia’s Gebeya acquires Coders4Africa to accelerate its growth
·         Rwanda, Andela partner to launch pan-African tech hub in Kigali
·         Google’s free public Wi-Fi initiative expanded to Africa
·         Accounteer wins 2018 MEST Entrepreneur challenge
·         SafeBoda completes expansion to Kenya, now live in Nairobi
·         Uganda government sued over social media tax

Sokowatch closes $2 million seed round to modernize Africa’s B2B retail

Kenya based Sokowatch aims to shake up the supply chain market for Africa’s informal retailers.

The B2B e-commerce company closed a $2 million seed investment led by 4DX Ventures. Others to join the round were Village Global, Lynett Capital, Golden Palm Investments, and Outlierz  Ventures.

Sokowatch’s platform connects Africa’s informal retail stores directly to local and multinational suppliers—such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble—by digitizing orders, delivery, and payments with the aim of reducing costs and increasing profit margins.

The term disrupt is used less frequently in African tech since startups are often entering new business spaces where there’s little to actually disrupt.

That’s not the case with Sokowatch, which sees price and productivity benefits to revamping existing supply chain structures for Africa’s informal retailers.

“With both manufacturers and the small shops, we’re becoming the connective layer between them, where previously you had multiple layers of middle-men from distributors, sub-distributors, to wholesalers,” Sokowatch founder and CEO Daniel Yu told TechCrunch.

“The cost of sourcing goods right now…we estimate we’re cutting that cost by about 20 percent [for] these shopkeepers,” he said

Quantifying the size and potential of Africa’s informal markets has captured the attention of economists and startups. GDP revisions in several African countries have revealed outdated statistical methods were missing billions of dollars in economic activity. And one estimate by The International Labor Organization places up to two-thirds of Sub-Saharan Africa’s non-agricultural employment in the informal economy.

On the number of small shops on the continent, Yu noted a lack of reliable numbers but cited a 2016 KPMG study pegging fast moving consumer goods spending in Nigeria alone at $41 billion annually. A portion of those goods move through the continent’s vast network of roadside markets, shops, and stands.

“There are millions of informal stores across Africa’s cities selling hundreds of billions worth of consumer goods every year,” said Yu.

These stores can use Sokowatch’s app on mobile phones to buy wares directly from large suppliers, arrange for transport, and make payments online. “Ordering on SMS or Android gets you free delivery of products to your store, on average, in about two hours,” said Yu.

Sokowatch generates revenues by earning “a margin on the goods that we’re selling to shopkeepers,” said Yu. On the supplier side, they also benefit from “aggregating demand…and getting bulk deals on the products that we distribute.”

The startup has delivered 100,000 orders to customers for “a few thousands shops,” according to Yu and company data.

The company recently launched a line of credit product to extend working capital loans to platform clients. With the $2 million round, Sokowatch—which currently operates in Kenya and Tanzania—plans to “expand to new markets in East Africa, as well as pilot additional value add services to the shops,” said Yu.

Peter Orth, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at lead investor 4DX Ventures, will join Sokowatch’s board of directors.

Yu also noted the possible big data benefits to informal African retail from Sokowatch. “If you are …selling into this market you have no clue who ultimately ends up with your product, even two layers down. That’s a big challenge,” he said.

“With us, not only do we know who’s buying the product, we know when they are buying the product, what they’re buying it in conjunction with, and the pricing.”

“Everyone is talking to everyone” — rideshare investor bypasses Uber-Careem rumor

Ride-hailing giant Uber is in talks over a possible merger with Middle East rival Careem, according to Bloomberg — citing three people familiar with the matter.

The report suggests various deal structures have been discussed, although it also says that no deal has been reached — nor may ever be reached, as discussions are ongoing and may not come to anything.

Bloomberg’s sources told it that Uber has said it would need to own more than half of the combined company, if not buy Careem outright.

Among the possible arrangements that have been discussed are for Careem’s current leaders to manage a new combined business, day to day, with potentially both brands being retained in local markets.

Another proposal would have Uber outright acquire Careem.

Bloomberg also reports that Dubai-based Careem is in talks with investors to raise $500 million, which it says could value the ride-hailing company at about $1.5BN. Careem is said to have held early talks with banks about a potential IPO in January.

Neither company has publicly confirmed any talks.

An Uber spokesman declined to comment when asked to confirm or deny talks with Careem.

While a Careem spokeswoman, Maha Abouelenein, told us: “We do not comment on rumors. Our focus remains to build the leading internet platform for the region, from the region. That means expanding to new markets and doubling down on our existing markets by adding new products and services to the platform. We are only getting started.”

Uber has been reconfiguring its global business for several years now, pulling out of South East Asia earlier this year after agreeing to sell its business to local rival Grab — while also taking a minority stake in the competitor.

And Uber did a similar exit deal with another rival — Didi — in China back in 2016.

Last year it also threw its lot in with Yandex.Taxi in Russia, with the pair combining efforts via a joint venture — albeit one which gave Yandex the majority share.

But Uber has been talking up its position and potential in the Middle East — with CEO Dara Khosrowshahi telling a conference in May that he believes it can be the “winning player” in the market, as well as in India and Africa, and vowing it would “control our own destiny” in those markets.

That does not necessary take a Careem-Uber deal off the table, of course, though the (public) claim from Uber is that it’s not willing to settle for a minority stake in the region, as it has elsewhere.

Responding in April to a question from CNBC about whether it might acquire Careem, Uber’s COO Barney Harford ruled out doing any more transactions for minority stakes, saying: “It would be crazy for us as a hypergrowth company to not engage in conversations about potential partnerships. But we’ve been very clear, the markets that we remain in today are core markets for us.”

Harford also claimed Uber was positioned to be able to invest in its chosen growth markets on “an indefinite basis”, thanks to having reached profitability in other markets. It’s also targeting 2019 for an IPO.

In March the Financial Times reported that Uber was in talks with Indian rival Ola over another possible merger — and the newspaper’s sources poured cold water on the notion of Uber taking a minority stake there too.

Of course Uber may not want to have to shrink its already retrenched global ambitions. But it may have to if it gets out-competed in its chosen plum markets.

Hence Careem’s chest-puffing talk about just getting started — provided it can convince its investors to screw their courage to the sticking place and stay on board for the ride.

Investors in Careem, which closed a $500M Series E round a year ago at a $1BN+ valuation, include Saudi-based VC Kingdom Holding, German automaker Daimler, and Japanese tech giant Rakuten — which reportedly led the Series E.

Oskar Mielczarek de la Miel, a managing partner at Rakuten Capital who leads on its mobility investments and is also a Careem board member, declined to comment on the rumors of Uber-Careem merger talks when we asked to chat.

But he was happy to talk up the broader opportunity that investors seen coming down the road for ridesharing, telling us: “If you look at the industry everyone is talking to everyone, and while consolidation is an obvious trend, it won’t be limited to the ridesharing players but draw other tech companies, OEMs and payment companies, to name a few.”

According to Careem’s website, the ride-hailing firm operates in 15 countries, mostly (but not only) across the Middle East, offering its services in around 80 cities in all.

While Uber’s website lists it being active in 15 cities in the Middle East and 15 in Africa.

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 accepted into YC, raises $1.2 million

When Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 interviewed for Y-Combinator’s 2018 cohort a question stood out to founder Obi Ozor. “‘What’s holding you back from becoming a Unicorn?’ they asked. My answer was simple: ‘working capital,’” said Ozor.

Kobo360 was accepted into YC’s 2018 class and gained some working capital in the form of $1.2M in pre-seed funding round led by Western Technology Investment announced this week. Lagos based Verod Capital Management also joined to support Kobo360.

The startup — with an Uber -like app that connects Nigerian truckers to companies with freight needs — will use the funds to pay drivers online immediately after successful hauls.

Kobo360 is also launching the Kobo Wealth Investment Network, or KoboWIN—a crowd-invest, vehicle financing program. Through it Kobo drivers can finance new trucks through citizen investors and pay them back directly (with interest) over a 60 month period.

Ozor said Kobo360 created the platform because of limited vehicle finance options for truckers in Nigeria.  “We hope KoboWIN…will inject 20,000…[additional] trucks on the Kobo platform,” he told TechCrunch.

On Kobo360’s utility, “We give drivers the demand and technology to power their businesses,” said Ozor. “An average trucker will make $3,500 a month with our app. That’s middle class territory in Nigeria.”

Kobo360 has served 324 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 5480 drivers, and moved 37.6M kilograms of cargo since 2017, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, and DHL.

Ozor previously headed Uber Nigeria, before teaming up with Ife Oyodeli to co-found Kobo360. They initially targeted 3PL for Nigeria’s e-commerce boom — namely Jumia (now Africa’s first unicorn) and Konga (recently purchased in a distressed acquisition).

“We started doing last mile delivery…but the volume just wasn’t there for us, so we decided to pivot…to an asset free model around long-haul trucking,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 was accepted into YC’s Summer ’18 batch—receiving $120K for 7 percent equity—and will present at an August Demo Day in front of YC Investors. “We were impressed by both Obi and Ife as founders.  They were growing quickly and had a strong vision for the company,” YC partner Tim Brady told TechCrunch.

Kobo360’s app currently coordinates 5000 trips a month, according to Ozor. He thinks the startup’s asset free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Owning trucks is just too difficult to manage. The best scalable model is to aggregate trucks,” he said. “We now have more trucks than providers like TSL and they’ve been here….years. By the end of this year we plan to have 20,000 trucks on our app—probably more than anyone on this continent.”

On price, Ozor named the ability of the Kobo360 app to more accurately and consistently coordinate return freight trips once truckers have dropped off first loads.

“Logistics in Nigeria have been priced based on the assumption drivers are going to run empty on the way back…When we now match freight with return trips, prices crash.”

Kobo360 is profitable, according to Ozor. Though he wouldn’t provide exact figures, he said reviewing the company’s financial performance was part of YC’s vetting process.

Logistics has become an active space in Africa’s tech sector with startup entrepreneurs connecting digital to delivery models. In Nigeria, Jumia founder Tunde Kehinde departed and founded Africa Courier Express. Startup Max.ng is wrapping an app around motorcycles as an e-delivery platform. Nairobi based Lori Systems has moved into digital coordination of trucking in East Africa. And U.S. based Zipline is working with the government of Rwanda and partner UPS to master commercial drone delivery of medical supplies on the continent.

Kobo360 will expand in Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, and Senegal. “We’ll be in Ghana this year and next year the other countries,” said Ozor.

In addition to KoboWIN, it will also add more driver training and safety programs.

“We are driver focused. Drivers are the key to our success. Even our app is driver focused,” said Ozor. Kobo360 will launch a new version of its app in Hausa and Pidgin this August, both local languages common to drivers.

“Execution is the key thing in logistics. It has to be reliable, affordable, and it has to be execution focused,” said Ozor. “If drivers are treated well, they are going to deliver things on time.”

Breaking down France’s new $76M Africa startup fund

Weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a $76M African startup fund at VivaTech 2018, TechCrunch paid a visit to the French Development Agency (AFD) — who will administer the new fund — to get more details on how le noveau fonds will work.

The $76M (or €65M) will divvy up into three parts, according to AFD Digital Task Team Leader Christine Ha.

“There are €10M [$11.7M] for technical assistance to support the African ecosystem… €5M will be available as interest free loans to high potential, pre seed startups…and…€50M [$58M] will be for equity-based investments in series A to C startups,” explained Ha during a meeting in Paris.

The technical assistance will distribute in the form of grants to accelerators, hubs, incubators, and coding programs. The pre-seed startup loans will issue in amounts up to $100K “as early, early funding to allow entrepreneurs to prototype, launch, and experiment,” said Ha.

The $58M in VC startup funding will be administered through Proparco, a development finance institution—or DFI—partially owned by the AFD. The money will come “from Proparco’s balance sheet”…and a portion “will be invested in VC funds active on the continent,” said Ha.

Proparco already invests in Africa focused funds such as TLcom Capital and Partech Ventures. “Proparco will take equity stakes, and will be a limited partner when investing in VC funds,” said Ha.

Startups from all African countries can apply for a piece of the $58M by contacting any of Proparco’s Africa offices (including in Casablanca, Abidjan, Douala, Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg).

And what will AFD (and Proparco) look for in African startup candidates? “We are targeting young and innovative companies able to solve problems in terms of job creation, access to financial services, energy, health, education and affordable goods and services…[and] able to scale up their venture on the continent,” said Ha.

The $11.7M technical assistance and $5.8M loan portions of France’s new fund will be available starting 2019. On implementation, AFD is still “reviewing several options…such as relying on local actors through [France’s] Digital Africa platform,” said Ha.

Digital Africa­—a broader French government initiative to support the African tech ecosystem—will launch a new online platform in November 2018 with resources for startup entrepreneurs.

So that’s the skinny on France’s new Africa fund. It adds to a load of VC announced for the continent in less than 15 months, including $70 for Partech Ventures, TPG Growth’s $2BN Rise Fund, and $40M at TLcom Capital

Though $75M (and these other amounts) may pale compared to Silicon Valley VC values, it’s a lot for a startup scene that — at rough estimate—attracted only $400M four years ago.  African tech entrepreneurs, you now have a lot more global funding options, including from France.

CultureCrush breaks out of the swipe right box

Most dating apps are aimed at a general population, but people of color and immigrants are rarely well-represented. CultureCrush wants to fix that. This app, created by a team led by former attorney Amanda Spann, lets you search the dating pool by nationality, ethnicity and tribe in an effort to help fish out of water find a match.

“We have 24,000 users, 5% of which are premium paid users, and the app has generated revenue every month since its existence. Upon our relaunch, we anticipate this number to rapidly accelerate,” said Spann. “CultureCrush is the only app of its kind that enables you to search by nationality, ethnicity, and tribe. We have nearly 1,000 tribes from across the continent of Africa. Akin to JDate, CultureCrush allows users to connect with others from specific ethnic or national backgrounds. Anyone who grew up in a specific culture understands the magic of connecting with others from the same or similar background. CultureCrush improves upon the JDate model by establishing an inclusive ecosystem where all cultures can find and date each other, or any other culture they like.”

The app also supports friend-to-friend matchmaking and has a three-day message countdown that dumps matches after 72 hours. The app is similar to other niche dating services like BlackPeopleMeet, PlentyOfGeeks and even Trump.Dating. There’s someone for everyone, the thinking goes, but sometimes you have to shrink the pool.

Spann created the app in Chicago after talking with a friend of hers from Nigeria. She said her friend found it difficult to date especially because of the cultural divide she experienced on traditional dating apps. Further, Spann and her friend felt uncomfortable on traditional dating apps after getting fetish comments like “Hi Chocolate Goddess.” For her, enough was enough.

“It’s predicted that by the end of this year African-Americans will be the most represented out of any ethnic group online. Pairing this with the fact that African-Americans are currently spending nearly 48 billion on travel annually and 8.7 percent of the overall US black population is comprised of immigrants, we believe that 2018 is ripe with opportunity for CultureCrush,” she said. “We’re excited to see how our users respond to the new features and we are looking forward to focusing our energy and attention back into growing our user base after our initial setbacks.”

“We decided to pursue the project after observing that mainstream dating apps often fail to account for cultural preferences and rarely yield positive experiences for users of color,” said Spann. “Imagine being a Nigerian man who just moved from Lagos to Chicago for med school, it might be nice to meet a local woman from your tribe. Or being a Jamaican woman spending a week in Copenhagen for work who wants to grab a drink with someone of Caribbean descent. Or what if you are an African-American who lives in a predominately white community, having difficulty meeting other people of color,” she said.

The app is available now and you can sign up to be notified when the new app hits the stores.

Meet TechCrunch in Africa Next Week

Last October, TechCrunch launched Startup Battlefield Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, where Lori Systems, SynCommerce & AgroCenta, were among the judges top picks. This week, TechCrunch is headed back to Africa to checkout the amazing startups taking root for our global Startup Battlefield competitions. Startup Battlefield at Disrupt in San Francisco September 5-7th is now open, and founders can apply here.

Startup Battlefield Director, Samantha Stein will be in Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana to meet with founders, investors, angels, and established entrepreneurs across the ecosystem. Startups and investors can learn more about TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield program at one of the upcoming meet and greets listed below.
Founders will learn how to apply for Battlefield with a solid application, and investors will learn how to refer companies in their portfolio.

Meet and greats are already filling up, so make sure to RSVP ASAP.

Startup Battlefield is TechCrunch’s renowned startup launch competition. The Startup Battlefield alumni community comprises almost 750 companies that have raised over $8 billion USD, and produced over 105 successful exits and IPOs.

2018 TechCrunch Africa Meet and Greets

Lagos, Nigeria

April 17th, Tuesday
Host: CC Hub
Time: 1:30pm – 3:00pm
RSVP

April 18th, Wednesday
Host: MEST
Time: 3:30pm
**This is an invite only event

Accra, Ghana

April 20th, Friday
Host: MEST
Time: 3:00pm – 5:30pm
RSVP

April 20th, Friday
Host: Impact Hub
Time: 6:00pm – 7:30pm
RSVP
*For questions, please email battlefield@techcrunch.com