Online-only international money transfer startup Azimo has raised $15 million (£10.3 million) to break into Asia and is relaunching its app with new branding.
Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten led the investment through its $100 million (£69 million) fintech, or financial technology, fund. Rakuten owns Japan’s largest e-commerce platform, which shares its name, and Viber, a rival to WhatsApp. It also has investments in the likes of Pinterest.
Azimo, founded in 2012, lets people send money to over 190 countries around the world. The startup focuses on the remittance market: migrants sending money to their families back home. Azimo’s general manager and cofounder Marta Krupinska told BI that 1/2 a million people are now connected to Azimo’s platform and the company has around 90 staff across two offices in Krakow and London.
The fresh funding round will be used to help Azimo expand in Asia, where it already operates in Thailand and the Philippines. Krupinska told BI: “We’re looking at Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore. The new money will be partly that — but also leveraging the contacts and reputation of Rakuten and having them as a strategic partner.
“We’re in a very fortunate place in that we’re often approached by people who want to give us money. We’re looking at people who will bring more than just the money. Asia is the next place we want to move to and the guys [Rakuten] are already there and have a fantastic knowledge of both finance and e-commerce.”
Azimo raised $20 million last year at a reported valuation of $100 million (£69 million) but Krupinska would not disclose the valuation in the new round, saying only it is a “significant” uplift on the last round.
She says: “There’s a whole conversation around valuations and how they can be inflated. We are very much after strong growth in customer metrics rather than just valuations. It’s a little bit like following a false god [focusing on valuation]. It doesn’t end well often.”
So how is Azimo growing? “The most interesting growth we’re seeing is growth in our mobile app usage, about 300% on last year,” Krupinska says.
WorldRemit, another London-based startup building app-focused remittance services, was last year valued at $500 million (£345.3 million) in a $100 million (£69 million) funding round.
As well as leveraging Rakuten’s connections to expand to Asia, Krupinska also hinted that Azimo could partner with its messaging platform to offer social payments. She says: “Rakuten’s profile as the owners of Viber — that is a massive opportunity given that we see fintech and social messaging apps integrating closer and closer together.”
Azimo is also today launching an overhauled app that adds more social elements, alongside a rebranding. Krupinska says: “We have an intelligent chat that asks you basic information that asks you things like where you are, where you want to send money to, things like that. This is the direction in which the world is going, right?”
Facebook offered tried to lure one of Azimo’s cofounders away from the company to help it build social financial services products, according to a 2014 Financial Times report that the company has never commented on.
Krupinska continues: “We’re thinking about what customers are missing out from when they’re moving from offline remittances to online remittances. Traditionally you would go to a Western Union, give them some money over the counter, and there’d be an interaction with the teller.
“This is not a scalable or a cheap solution but how can we add this element of interaction to the products that we’re building. It is much more conversational and a much easier experience for the customer. It effectively guides the customer through the transaction.”
She adds: “We added a bunch of other things: biometric security, we’re using fingerprints; we’ve added sharing status; we’ve made it very easy for customers to track where their money is and when it’s going to get to the recipient; we’ve also added an invite a friend scheme.”
Oskar Mielczarek de la Miel, Managing Partner at the Rakuten fintech fund, says in an email statement: “Azimo has cemented itself as the European specialist in digital remittances and its global network is unrivalled in the industry.
“This is a testament to an outstanding team, led by Michael and Marta, who saw an opportunity four years ago to disrupt the $600 billion remittance industry.”
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