Hong Kong-based fintech startup Qupital raises $15M Series A to expand in mainland China

Qupital, a fintech startup that bills itself as Hong Kong’s largest trade financing platform for SMEs, has closed a $15 million Series A led by CreditEase FinTech Investment Fund (CEFIF), with participation from returning investors Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund and MindWorks Ventures, both participants in its seed round. To date, Qupital has raised $17 million, including a seed round two years ago, and will use its latest funding to expand its supply chain financing products, launch in mainland Chinese cities and hire more people for its tech development and risk management teams.

CreditEase, which provides loans and other financial services for SMEs in China, will act as a strategic investor, aiding with Qupital’s geographic expansion. Existing investor Alibaba has already helped Qupital reach small businesses on its platform. Qupital will open branches in Chinese cities including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, along with setting up a new technology center in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area for talent and tech development. In total, it will hire about 100 people for its Hong Kong office this year.

Founded in 2016, Qupital offers lending for SMEs that frequently have cash flow issues because they are in a cycle of waiting for invoices to be paid. Qupital’s loans cover most of the value of an invoice, then matches that with investors and funders who cover the cash with the expectation of a return. The company makes money by charging SMEs a service fee that is a fixed percentage of the total invoice value and then a discount fee, and taking a percentage of net gains made by investors.

Qupital has now processed 8,000 trades, totaling HKD $2 billion in value. It won’t disclose how many SMEs it has worked with, but co-founder and chairman Andy Chan says that number is in the hundreds.

Chan tells TechCrunch that in China, Qupital will not compete directly against traditional financial institutions, because it focuses on financing the Hong Kong business entities of Chinese companies in U.S. and Hong Kong currency, instead of onshore renminbi. It will also target SMEs underserved by traditional lenders, by using alternative data sources to determine their creditworthiness.

In a prepared statement, CEFIF managing director Dennis Cong said “The growing volume of SME and cross-border trading drives a huge demand for alternative financing for SME’s who are underserved in the market and opportunities for investors to earn a decent risk-adjusted return. We look forward to working with Qupital to broaden its source of capital base and create unparalleled investment opportunities for CreditEase.”

Unicorns aren’t profitable, and Wall Street doesn’t care

In Silicon Valley, investors don’t expect their portfolio companies to be profitable. “Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies,” a bible for founders, instead calls for heavy spending on growth to scale in an Amazon -like fashion.

As for Wall Street, it’s shown an affinity for stock in Jeff Bezos’ business, despite the many years it spent navigating a path to profitability, as well as other money-losing endeavors. Why? Because it too is far less concerned with profitability than market opportunity.

Lyft, a ride-hailing company expected to go public this week, is not profitable. It posted losses of $911 million in 2018, a statistic that will make it the biggest loser amongst U.S. startups to have gone public, according to data collected by The Wall Street Journal. On the other hand, Lyft’s $2.2 billion in 2018 revenue places it atop the list of largest annual revenues for a pre-IPO business, trailing behind only Facebook and Google in that category.

Wall Street, in short, is betting on Lyft’s revenue growth, assuming it will narrow its loses and reach profitability… eventually.

Wall Street’s hungry for unicorns

Lyft, losses notwithstanding, is growing rapidly and Wall Street is paying attention. On the second day of its road show, reports emerged that its IPO was already oversubscribed. As a result, Lyft is said to have upped the cost of its stock, with new plans to raise more than $2 billion at a valuation upwards of $25 billion. That represents a revenue multiple of more than 11x, a step up multiple of more than 1.6x from its most recent private valuation of $15.1 billion and, of course, Wall Street’s insatiable desire for unicorns, profitable or not.

New data from PitchBook exploring the performance of billion-dollar-plus VC exits confirms Wall Street’s leniency toward unprofitable tech companies. Sixty-four percent of the 100+ companies valued at more than $1 billion to complete a VC-backed IPO since 2010 were unprofitable, and in 2018, money-losing startups actually fared better on the stock exchange than money-earning businesses. Moreover, U.S. tech companies that had raised more than $20 million traded up nearly 25 percent of 2018, while the S&P 500 technology sector posted flat returns.

Wall Street is still adapting to the rapid growth of the tech industry; public markets investors, therefore, are willing to deal with negative to minimal cash flows for, well, a very long time.

A tolerance for outsized exits

There’s no doubt Lyft and its much larger competitor, Uber, will go public at monstrous valuations. The two IPOs, set to create a whole bunch of millionaires and return a number of venture capital funds, will provide Silicon Valley a lesson in Wall Street’s tolerance for outsized exits.

Much like a seed-stage investor must bet on a founder’s vision, Wall Street, given a choice of several unprofitable businesses, has to bet on potential market value. Fortunately, this strategy can work quite well. Take Floodgate, for example. The seed fund invested a small amount of capital in Lyft when it was still a quirky idea for ridesharing called Zimride. Now, it boasts shares worth more than $100 million. I’m sure early shareholders in Amazon — which went public as a money-losing company in 1997 — are pretty happy, too.

Ultimately, Wall Street’s appetite for unicorns like Lyft is a result of the shortage of VC-backed IPOs. In 2006, it was the norm for a company to make its stock market debut at 7.9 years old, per PitchBook. In 2018, companies waited until the ripe age of 10.9 years, causing a significant slowdown in big liquidity events and stock sales.

Fund sizes, however, have grown larger and the proliferation of unicorns continues at unforeseen rates. That may mean, eventually, an influx of publicly shared unicorn stock. If that’s the case, might Wall Street start asking more of these startups? At the very least, public market investors, please don’t be swayed by WeWork‘s eventual stock offering and its “community adjusted EBITDA.” Silicon Valley’s pixie dust can’t be that potent.