(NYTimes) 99Taxis is raising US$100m, despite economic and political crises in Brazil.
How does an aspiring entrepreneur navigate the economic and political crises dogging Brazil? Build a growing taxi-app start-up, naturally. The financing will come.
That’s the approach being taken by 99Taxis, based in São Paulo and one of Uber’s main competitors in Brazil. It has begun a new financing round, seeking about US$100m, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans. That would be one of the largest fund-raising efforts for a Brazilian Internet start-up in the last decade, including the boom years.
The details, including which investment firm will lead the round, have not yet been completed, the individuals said, because the company is still deciding whether to bring on new investors or stay with its current ones.
However, the New York-based investment firm Tiger Global Management, which led two prior rounds for 99Taxis this year, is expected to put in more money, one of the individuals said.
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Even though Tiger led Uber’s latest financing round, it is expected to invest in this round. It also backed its main competitors in other large emerging markets: Didi Kuaidi in China, GrabTaxi in Indonesia, and Ola in India.
So far Uber has not been able to win any of those markets and faces long odds in doing so. That is most likely true in Brazil as well.
In the next few weeks, 99Taxis expects to complete the new round’s structure, with the formal close expected to take place during the first quarter of next year, according to one of the individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the plan.
The new financing would allow 99Taxis, which was founded in 2012 and whose current largest outside shareholder is Tiger Global, to continue to stay ahead of Uber here.
Brazil has two main taxi-app incumbents, 99Taxis and Easy Taxi, which is backed by Rocket Internet. Since February, Easy Taxi’s market share has steadily declined, based on the percentage of mobile users who have installed the app, according to data provided by the research firm 7Park Data. Easy Taxi’s share peaked at 18.9 percent in February but fell to 14.8 percent by mid-November. And 99Taxis “has been on a steady ascent,” the firm said, growing to 15.6 percent from 9 percent this year; it has been the market leader since October. Uber was No. 3 at 6.5 percent.
Uber, the Silicon Valley company, started operating in Brazil only last year during the World Cup and ran into many problems as it sought to expand in this country, Latin America’s largest economy.
It has drawn the ire of hundreds of politicians and been banned in the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It has angered taxi drivers and labor leaders here. Uber has sought to portray those critics as old-school, anti-innovation protectionists.
Yet many of those taxi drivers use 99Taxis, whose earlier investors include Qualcomm Ventures and the São Paulo-based Monashees Capital, whose limited partners include Cisco Systems and Silicon Valley Bank’s fund of funds group SVB Capital, hardly opponents of innovation or free-market economics.
Uber caught a break here recently. After the company filed a complaint with Brazil’s antitrust watchdog, the Administrative Council for Economic Defense, or CADE, the agency said it would investigate taxi unions for what it argued was their “anti-competitive behavior” against Uber. Yet that investigation is expected to take months and does not target the taxi-app start-ups.
The economic research unit of CADE published a study this month concluding that for now, Uber was not taking business away from taxi drivers or 99Taxis and Easy Taxi.
On the contrary, the report said of Uber that, “rather than absorbing a significant portion of rides made by taxis, in truth, in a majority of cases, it obtained new clients who do not use taxis.” It contended that the company was “generating a new demand.” Still, it acknowledged that that could change once Uber became more aggressive as it had in other markets.
The taxi start-up’s new capital, if the deal closes, would pair with good news from the São Paulo city government. This month, in a new program, it awarded 5,000 new licenses to taxi drivers who want to operate a so-called black-car service. In order to participate, they are required to use a mobile app.
The initiative has since been temporarily suspended by São Paulo’s Court of Accounts, which said it did not receive required documents from the mayor’s office in sufficient time, but most expect this to be resolved soon and that the program will move forward early next year.
The program grew out of the aftermath of the City Council’s recent passage of a bill banning unauthorized ride-sharing services, like Uber. Although the mayor, Fernando Haddad, signed it into law, he has made urban mobility a focus, and so sought a third way, acknowledging the city’s taxi fleet needed upgrades.
This new initiative is likely to benefit local companies like 99Taxis, which since its founding only works with licensed drivers. That allows it to go head-to-head with Uber in the premium ride service category, which it had not been able to do previously. It is calling its new service 99Top.
Drivers will have to buy the black cars themselves, but will receive discounted financing from the public bank Banco do Brasil, said Rodrigo Pirajá, executive director of SP Negocios, which is running the program for the city.
Uber declined a chance to participate in this, he said.
Yet Uber’s fate here is hardly sealed. One result of CADE’s current investigation is that São Paulo is looking again for a way to incorporate Uber. Mr. Pirajá said he and São Paulo’s mayor’s office were examining alternative ways to normalize Uber. “It is under analysis,” he said. A decision is expected next month.
Uber through a spokeswoman declined to make anyone available for comment. A Tiger Global Management spokeswoman declined to comment. An email to 99Taxis’ press official requesting information on fund-raising was not answered.