Taiwan-based accelerator MOX (or the Mobile-Only Accelerator) held a demo day for its second batch of startups yesterday in Singapore. The program, part of US-headquartered venture capital firm and accelerator runner SOSV, targets the “last four billion” of mobile users in emerging markets.
MOX works with startups that make mobile apps and services, and focuses on Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America.
As it targets mobile app makers, the accelerator has found it has to throw down with Google and Facebook, the two main forces that determine what content floats to the top.
“In the US you have the 99 percent and the 1 percent, on the internet you have the 99.9 percent and the 0.1 percent,” says William Bao Bean, MOX managing director and SOSV partner. The latter are the people who make any money on mobile, he adds.
“We don’t even see venture capital backing apps so much anymore because it’s just a money transfer from the VC to the #startup and from the startup to Google and Facebook,” William laments.
To break this distribution stranglehold on mobile, MOX is trying to put together a consortium of companies that are feeling the same pressures. This includes companies like mobile phone brands, TV networks, and independent app stores. William isn’t ready to provide more details or name any participating companies at this point.
Work in progress
The accelerator was originally meant to have one more startup batch during summer 2016 but chose to take a break and iron out some kinks.
One key lesson it learned during that process? “When we say low-end phones, they’re really low-end phones,” he laughs. For its first batch, the accelerator wanted to find apps and services that worked on cheaper smartphones – ones more likely to be found in emerging markets, where MOX claims to offer startups access to a user pool of 130 million.
Turns out, they overestimated even those devices. So now, participating startups need to make their apps under 10MB in size, able to work in unstable networks, and more data-friendly.
We don’t even see VC backing apps so much anymore because it’s just a money transfer from them to Google and Facebook.
MOX splits its investment in participating startups into equity-based investment and services provided. It generally pours US$40,000 in funding into each startup and spends US$60,000 on incubation services (like resources, office space, and operating costs) for a total of around US$100,000 per startup. It also does revenue-share agreements.
In return, it determines equity based on company stage and potential revenue. It takes an average equity stake of 6 percent in younger startups. For later stage businesses, the stake can be lower. For larger companies, different approaches can be taken, like results-based partnerships.
As of last month, the accelerator is also generating revenue through an ad and payment platform it’s got up and running.
These are the startups that pitched in the accelerator’s second demo day in Taipei and Singapore, in alphabetical order:
Elsa is actually an acronym that stands for English Language Speech Assistant. It’s a mobile app that coaches English learners. The AI-based assistant emphasizes correct pronunciation and uses feedback and tests to help users get more confident speaking the language.
Eristica lets people come up with funny challenges and make and share funny videos out of them. Think Ice Bucket Challenge but for anything. It claims to have over 1 million registered users. The startup has worked to make its video component as resource-friendly as possible for lower-end smartphones and data connections.
Everyday People is a mobile advertising tool. It lets advertising campaigns that can then be broadcasted by social media users who get paid for their trouble.
The campaigns use GPS so that they are visible within 25 km from the campaign location. Users are encouraged to share these posts with as many of their friends as possible to get more money. It’s a little like being a walking billboard but with none of the walking.
Fantasee makes fantasy sports games. Its first product is FunCricket, a (you guessed it) cricket fantasy league aimed at the Indian market. Players can put together and manage a team of their favorite cricketers and compete with others online.
MFoto is a social streaming app that lets you document your day-to-day through photos and videos. It stitches these together to create montages that are easily tweaked and shared online.
As the name suggests, LotaData deals in a lot of data. The startup has created an AI-powered analytics platform that records mobile phone location to provide “people intelligence.” It uses public and private data to track how people interact with and move around stores and businesses or city facilities like parks and sports fields.
It combines that data with statistics like age, gender, ethnicity, income levels, and more, to come up with insights on how people move around a city. The company quells privacy concerns by clarifying it doesn’t use personally identifiable data.
Now there’s an unusual entry – Migme is a well-known, ASX-listed startup with 38 million monthly active users. But this doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from the accelerator. The company has a new, faster and more lightweight version of its platform coming out, and it’s tested it on users in India with MOX’s help. It’s an indication of just how stage-agnostic MOX is.
Veooz is an automated news aggregator that brings you tailored news stories about your location and your topics of interest. The app’s advantage over more mainstream apps is localization – it’s available in 10 languages across 40 countries, including Indonesian and several Indian languages like Telugu, Bengali, Tamil, Gujarati, and more.