by Tech in Asia
91App, Taiwan-based startup that builds customized apps for brands and retailers, announced today it has closed a US$9 million series A investment. The round was led by AppWorks with participation from CID group and 91Capital, the investment branch of 91App’s parent company. Two domestic ecommerce moguls also contributed as individual investors – Jan Hung-Tze, founder of PCHome, and Paul Lin, chairman of Chunghwa Telecom ecommerce subsidiary Sennao.
Founder Steven Ho said at a press event in Taipei that the funding will be used to grow the company’s presence in Taiwan, ramp up staffing, and expand internationally.
91App, which Tech in Asia profiled in December, creates standalone online storefronts for vendors of all kinds. Like Ottowa’s Shopify, the company aims to liberate merchants from garden variety ecommerce portals, which can charge high sales commissions and give limited options for marketing. It does this by offering merchants specialized apps, along with mobile web sites. Depending on the service tier, the company monetizes through a combination of subscription fees and commissions.
Today at a press event in Taipei, Ho said that the company has accumulated over 1,000 paying vendors in Taiwan, including Family Mart, Studio A (Taiwan’s authorized Apple reseller). The founder hopes to acquire more than 3,000 paying clients this year.
Many startups, both in the West and in Asia, are attempting to lead the way for the next wave of mobile commerce. 91App stands out for its app-centric approach. Whereas like-minded companies typically center their business around building mobile websites, 91App has always offered customized apps as its basic tier. The reason for this, according to Ho, is that apps offered a faster user experience in the early days of the mobile internet, and also drove higher engagement. 91App has been active since 2012, and introduced a mobile web product just this month.
91App also has ambitions to promote online-to-offline commerce. In addition to online vendors, the company takes brick-and-mortar stores as its clients. Using location tracking and other data, brands can offer coupons and promotions to drive foot traffic.
Taiwan’s ecommerce penetration rate is already relatively high – Ho says that 10 percent of all the retail sales occur online. Ho firmly believes that 91App will help drive a new type of buying behavior in Taiwan, wherein mobile-enabled, online-to-offline purchases drive 50 percent of total retail sales.
Regarding expansion, Ho says that the company has incorporated in the Cayman Islands in anticipation of a global rollout. He adds that 91App is in talks with potential partners in China and elsewhere in Asia, but didn’t provide further information regarding what types of companies could help import its services.
There are already a number of storefront-as-a-service startups (yes, I just made that name up) in Asia – Taiwan itself is home to several. Shopline, while based in Hong Kong, found strong early traction in the island. It recently scored a US$1.2 million investment from Ardent Capital, one of the architects of Southeast Asia’s trans-regional ecommerce network. In Japan, BASE has racked up over 150,000 merchants and is currently building its own payment service. Shopify has feet in Singapore through a partnership with Singtel. The success of these firms as they criss-cross abroad will likely depend on their ability to match the ecommerce habits of consumers.
91App’s funding marks the third in a stream of series A rounds for Taiwan-based startups. Restaurant booking service EZTable disclosed its US$5.5 million round in January. Earlier this week, image recognition startup Viscovery announced it had raised US$5 million from investors in Taiwan, China, and the US.
Editing by Steven Millward
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