Apna raises $70 million to help workers in India secure jobs

Indian cities are home to hundreds of millions of low-skilled workers who hail from villages in search of work. Many of them have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic that has slowed several economic activities in the world’s second-largest internet market.

Apna, a startup by an Apple alum, is helping millions of such blue and gray-collar workers upskill themselves, find communities and land jobs. On Wednesday it announced its acceptance by the market has helped it raise $70 million in a new financing round as the startup prepares to scale the 16-month-old app across India.

Insight Partners and Tiger Global co-led Apna’s $70 million Series B round, which valued the startup at $570 million. Existing investors Lightspeed India, Sequoia Capital India, Greenoaks Capital and Rocketship VC also participated in the round, which brings Apna’s to-date raise to over $90 million.

The startup, whose name is inspired from a 2019 Bollywood song, at its core is solving the network gap issue for workers. “Someone born in a privileged family goes to the best school, best college and makes acquaintance with influential people. Many born just a few kilometres away are dealt with a whole different kind of life and never see such opportunities,” said Nirmit Parikh, founder and chief executive of Apna, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Apna is building a scalable networking infrastructure, something that doesn’t currently exist in the market, so that these workers can connect to the right employers and secure jobs. “Apna’s focus on digitizing the process of job discovery, application and employer candidate interaction has the potential to revolutionize the hiring process,” said Griffin Schroeder, a partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.

The workers in India “already have a champion in them, we are just helping them find opportunities,” said Nirmit Parikh, founder and chief executive of Apna. (Apna)

The startup’s eponymous Android app, available in multiple languages, features more than 70 communities today for skilled professionals such as carpenters, painters, field sales agents and many others.

On the app, users connect to each other and help with leads and share tips to improve at their jobs. The app also offers people the opportunity to upskill themselves, practice with their interview performance, and become eligible for even more jobs. The startup said it’s building Masterclass-like skilling modules, outcome or job based skilling, and also enabling peer-to-peer learning via its vertical communities. It plans to launch career counselling and resume building feature.

And that bet is working. The startup has amassed over 10 million users and just last month it facilitated more than 15 million job interviews, said Parikh. All jobs listed on the Apna platform are verified by the startup and free of cost for the candidates.

Apna has partnered with some of India’s leading public and private organizations and is providing support to the Ministry of Minority Affairs of India, National Skill Development Corporation and UNICEF YuWaah to provide better skilling and job opportunities to candidates.

Apna app (Apna)

More than 100,000 recruiters — including Byju’s, Unacademy, Flipkart, Zomato, Licious, Burger King, Dunzo, Bharti-AXA, Delhivery, Teamlease, G4S Global and Shadowfax — in the country today use Apna’s platform, where they have to spend less than five minutes to post job posts and are connect to hyperlocal candidates with relevant skills in within two days.

Apna has built the “market leading platform for India’s workforce to establish digital professional identity, network, access skills training, and find high quality jobs,” said Nikhil Sachdev, managing director, Insight Partners, in a statement.

“Employers are engaging with Apna at a rapid pace to help find high quality talent with low friction which is leading to best in class customer satisfaction scores. We believe that our investment will enable Apna to continue their steep growth trajectory, scale up their operations, and improve access to opportunities for India’s workforce.”

The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to scale across India and eventually take the app to international markets, said Parikh. Apna, which has recently seen high-profile individuals from firms such as Uber, BCG  and Swiggy join the firm, is also actively hiring for several tech roles in the South Asian market.

Apna has built the infrastructure and brand awareness in the market that it can launch in a new city within two days and drive over 10,000 interviews there in less than two days, it said.

“Our first goal is to restart India’s economy in the next couple of months and do whatever we can to help,” said Parikh, who was part of the iPhone product-operations team at Apple.

Temasek and General Atlantic in talks to back Indian neobank Open

Bangalore-based neobank Open is in advanced stages of talks to raise about $100 million, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, and General Atlantic are positioning to co-lead the Series C financing round, which values the Indian startup at pre-money $600 million, the sources told TechCrunch, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. Open was valued at about $150 million in its Series B funding round two years ago.

Existing investor Tiger Global, PayPal, which shuttered its domestic operations in the world’s second largest internet market early this year, as well as Google and Amazon are in talks to participate in the new round, the sources said.

Indian news outlet Economic Times first reported about the size of the imminent round and identified Google and Amazon as probable investors earlier this week. The round hasn’t closed yet so terms may change and not all investors may end up backing Open. The startup’s founder and chief executive Anish Achuthan declined to comment.

Open operates as a neobank that offers nearly all the features of a bank with additional tools to serve the needs of businesses. The startup offers its clients services such as automated account, payment gateway, credit cards, automated bookkeeping, cash flow management, and tax and compliance management solutions.

Realizing the opportunity that they can’t tap the entire market, several banks in India have in recent years started to collaborate with fintech startups to expand their reach in the South Asian nation.

“Banks are doing their best to defend their turf by focusing on several fronts – eco system building (led by HDFC Bank), open approach to fintech partnerships (led by ICICI Bank), overall digital experience as an acquisition tool (led by Kotak and Axis) etc. But [they] continue to play catchup as they lack the focus/ expertise in each channel (Banking super apps and APIs are fast becoming hygiene). Fintech revenues are already ~10% of private banks’ fee income, but could grow >3x in the next 3 years,” wrote analysts at Bank of America in a report late last year.

“Banks no doubt want to own the pipe and relationships, but are unlikely to succeed except in very specific segments,” they added.

In recent months, however, some banks have begun to reevaluate their engagement strategy with neobanks, Indian news and analysis publication the CapTable reported last month.

Tiger Global in talks to invest in Classplus at over $250 million valuation

Tiger Global is in talks to lead a $30 million round in Indian edtech startup Classplus, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The new round, which includes both primary investment and secondary transactions, values the five-year-old Indian startup at over $250 million, two sources told TechCrunch.

The new round follows another ~$30 million investment that was led by GSV recently, one of the sources said. The round hasn’t closed, so terms may change.

Classplus — which has built a Shopify-like platform for coaching centers to accept fees digitally from students, and deliver classes and study material online — also raised $10.3 million in September last year from Falcon Edge’s AWI, cricketer Sourav Ganguly and existing investors RTP Global and Blume Ventures. That round had valued Classplus at about $73 million, according to research firm Tracxn.

Classplus didn’t respond to a request for comment. Sources requested anonymity as the matter is private.

As tens of millions of students — and their parents — embrace digital learning apps, Classplus is betting that hundreds of thousands of teachers and coaching centers that have gained reputation in their neighborhoods are here to stay.

The startup is serving these hyperlocal tutoring centers that are present in nearly every nook and cranny in India. “Anyone who was born in a middle-class family here has likely attended these tution classes,” Mukul Rustagi, co-founder and chief executive of Classplus, told TechCrunch last year. “These are typically small and medium setups that are run by teachers themselves. These teachers and coaching centers are very popular in their locality. They rarely do any marketing and students learn about them through word-of-mouth buzz,” he said then.

Rustagi had described Classplus as “Shopify for coaching centers.” Like Shopify, the service does not serve as a marketplace that offers discoverability to these teachers or coaching centers. Instead, it offers a way for these teachers to leverage its tech platform to engage with customers.

This year, Tiger Global has backed — or in talks to back — about two dozen startups in India.