Naspers doubles down on classifieds for $1.16B

January 29, 2019

Naspers, the South African media-biz-turned-VC-giant, bought the rest of a Russian classifieds company for $1.16B.
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One of tech’s best investors just bet $1.16B on the Russian classifieds industry

The South African media company Naspers bought out the Russian classifieds marketplace Avito in a $1.16B deal.

After a freakishly farsighted 2001 investment left Naspers with more cash than it could spend, the company transformed into one of the world’s largest tech investors — and classifieds are its next big bet.

The big bet behind it all 

Naspers started out as a South African print media business that played a terrible role in apartheid. But after its print news biz started drying up in 2000, Naspers decided to diversify by investing $32m in an unknown Chinese startup: Tencent.

By 2018, Naspers’ original investment was worth $175B — that’s more than the entirety of Naspers’ media operation.

With billions to blow, Naspers invested widely across the world — and soon looked more like a global VC than a South African media company.

Sometimes the best VC firms aren’t VC firms

But Tencent wasn’t Naspers’ only good guess: The company invested in dozens of other successful startups (ever heard of Facebook or Flipkart?).

Today Naspers runs businesses in 120 countries and markets, with a particular focus on several categories, investing in numerous food delivery startups, fintech, online education, and now classifieds sites.

Keeping things classi(fied)

Classifieds sites account for a significant slice of Naspers’ sweet, sweet investment pie: with stakes in a half dozen classifieds platforms, including majority ownership of OLX, Letgo, Dubizzle and a previous investment of $1.2B in Avito in 2015.

But since the Russian classifieds market grew 30% last year, Naspers chose to double down on its bet on the growing market for marketplaces.

Don’t nap on Naspers
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Spidey senses textiling: Synthetic spider silk is starting to appear in consumer products

Last March, German biotech company AMSilk introduced a liquid-silk coating (made from modified E. coli bacteria), used for medical and cosmetic implants, that scientists believe could be a safer alternative to silicone.

Now, Quartz reports the synthetic spider silk producer has teamed with Omega, the luxury-watch maker, on a watch strap that blends polyamide and AMSilk’s “Biosteel” synthetic — for $270.

Silking up to its full potential

Because spider silk’s strength is comparable to steel (scientists believe it actually can stop trains), synthetic spider silk has long been the white whale of textile research

AMSilk has made silky headway in the medical and cosmetic industries (it also co-created the first breathable nail polish). But in the apparel industry, AMSilk has only spun up prototypes, like the sneaker it made last year with Adidas… until now.

Recent tech advances have finally made it possible to spin synthetic silk at scale, and the Nato watch strap marks the first commercially available product made with AMSilk’s Biosteel.

A growing web of competitors 

Other synthetic silk makers, like US-based Bolt Threads and Japan’s Spiber, have developed prototypes for companies like The North Face and Stella McCartney, but AMSilk remains at the cutting edge.

According to CEO Jens Klein, “There are 50 or so [Biosteel] products worldwide which you can buy already.” 

The Nato strap is already shipping to countries in Europe, and will be available in the US soon.

» The ilk of silk

The future is calling, and it dialed in on a landline

NumberAI, a startup that adds the sweet, 21st-century functionality of texting to good ol’ landline phones, raised $10.5m

Some hip businesses have followed consumer trends and cut the cord of their business lines, relying entirely on email. 

But NumberAI and several competitors are headed in the opposite direction — by trying to make landlines cool again.

More than just an answering machine

Anyone who has ever accidentally sent a text message to a landline knows, through a mixture of annoyance and embarrassment, the limitations of non-mobile phone numbers.

But landlines don’t need to be dumb: NumberAI and competitors Zipwhip and Call-em-all create software that enables businesses to text customers from their landlines.

And the platform doesn’t stop there: NumberAI also allows small businesses to program automated responses to frequently asked questions, collect payments, and spot customer trends — all using a dumb-phone number.

But wait… Do businesses still need phone numbers?

The number of households with landlines has declined from 92.7% in 2004 to around 43.8% today. But that still means that more than 50m households still rely on landlines.

More importantly, an increasing number of people find texting (and not phone calling) to be the easiest way to interact with restaurants or stores: 89% of consumers prefer texting business to calling or emailing them.

So NumberAI isn’t actually clinging to an outdated type of technology, they’re improving customer experience. Plus, chatbots won’t be angry when you text them 3 times asking when your burrito will arrive.

» Landlines 4ever

Recharge, a hotel-by-the-minute app, is now barging into homes

Ears definitely perked up when San Francisco startup, Recharge, started offering hotel stays by the minute a few years back (What? It’s for… you know… naps, showers, phone calls — NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS).

Now, per Axios, the company says it’s moving to offer the same service in a more intrusive setting: People’s homes.

Who needs a nap pod when you have someone’s seaside condo?

Founded in 2015, Recharge actually got its start renting friends’ homes by the minute. But at the time, the company couldn’t figure out a way to properly manage home inventory, so it settled with hotels.

Since then, Recharge has raised $10m in funding and had over 50k bookings with an average stay of 2 hours (prices vary, but in 2016, the rate was $0.66 per minute or $40 for an hour).  

But now the old home-rental problem is done and dusted, giving homeowners the choice to either manage cleaning and maintenance themselves (making upwards of $2k+ per month) or let Recharge do it (for a fee of $500 a month).

Home-sharing just got even more non-committal

So far, the Homes service has launched just over 1k listings in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York — with another 80k people reportedly on a waiting list. 

Cities like San Francisco and New York are notoriously strict with home-sharing laws. Luckily, because there are no overnight stays, Recharge found a way to slip through the cracks… but only for a few minutes at a time.

   @ Me Anything
Lindsey Quinn, Managing Editor at The Hustle

Motel 6s: The original “nap pods.”
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We’ve partnered with Cole Haan to bring you a weekly roundup of the most important trends in business, tech, and culture to keep you trending in the right direction.

How the Hawaiian shirt changed office fashion forever

The ‘60s were a time of Beatlemania, bell-bottoms, and Slinkies. A time when the vibes were chill and the office attire was still surprisingly formal. 

But that all changed one fateful day when the Hawaiian Fashion Guild noticed slumping sales. 

To boost business, they passed out floral shorts to government workers and encouraged them to wear the flowery getup at the end of each week — a day they aptly branded “Aloha Fridays.” 

The casual downward spiral of office dress codes

This dressed-down approach to workplace fashion had some noticeable benefits: happy employees, increased office morale, and the realization that maybe there was an alternative to pleated slacks and ties every day. 

It wasn’t long before Aloha Friday became Casual Fridays, then Casual Everyday — and that’s where the trouble began.  

So, where did it all go wrong for office dress codes? And, more importantly, which classic American company would come to the rescue? Read our latest article, “The Death of the Suit and Tie,” to find out.

Aloha, employees → Advertisement
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