Rocket Internet, the Samwer Brothers' Berlin-based e-commerce startup incubator, is taking its Latin American ambitions up to the next gear. Easy Taxi, a Hailo-like app for calling up taxicabs, is today announcing a $15 million round of investment from Latin America Internet Holding (LIH). LIH is Rocket Internet's holding company in the region, and it is part-owned by Millicom, an emerging markets service provider that also invests in Rocket startups in Africa. Easy Taxi will be using the funding both to continue to build out its operations in Latin Amercia, but also to gear up for "global" expansion. That could pit it closer to competing against Hailo, the taxi app that seems to have inspired both the Easy Taxi service as well as perhaps an element of its logo (seen here to the right). Both apps (like Uber and others as well) use a mobile app-based system to link up drivers with passengers. Passengers can track where the nearest cars are on in-app maps, and similarly drivers can use the app to track passengers. (And following with logo similarity, the apps have lookalike icons for doing this.) The difference between Uber and Hailo/Easy Taxi is that the latter apps rely more on the wider cab service, while others like Uber have cultivated their own fleets of non-yellow-cab drivers. For now, Easy Taxi operates in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and other Brazilian cities (where it first started, in 2011), as well as Botoa, Salvador, Lima and Venezuela. Further afield it looks like Asia is coming next, with outposts already in Seoul and Kuala Lumpur, but also plans to add Manila, Hong Kong and Bangkok to the mix. Hailo, meanwhile, is active in London, Cork, Dublin, Barcelona and Madrid in Europe; Boston, Chicago, New York, Toronto and Washington in North America; and Tokyo in Asia and also has its eye on international growth, fuelled by some $50 million in VC funding, including a $30 million round announced in December 2012. A spokesperson for Rocket Internet would not say how much Easy Taxi has raised to date, although a $4.9 million round, also from Rocket itself, was disclosed in October 2012. This round in Easy Taxi, relatively speaking, is early-stage and small in the wider scheme of Rocket Internet companies, which go on to pick up funding in the hundreds of millions of dollars as they ramp up to compete against local and potential international rivals. Recent rounds have included $100 million for Lazada in Asia; $120 million for Lamoda in Russia; and $100 million for Zalora, another Asian fashion e-commerce effort. "When we started the company in 2011, we had only one goal: To connect taxi drivers and passengers the smoothest, easiest and safest way possible," notes Dennis Wang, Head of International Expansion of Easy Taxi. He says the company now has more than 30,000 taxi drivers in its network with almost 1,000,000 downloads of the app itself. "With the recent round of funding, we want to reinforce our position as market leader and continue our global expansion.” The company does not disclose how many active users or turnover to date. Like many e-commerce companies, and those like Uber and Hailo working in the livery service specifically, the key to success in these businesses is to nail the logistics part of the equation. This not only makes the running of the service itself more efficient, but it also lays the groundwork for growing it out, and potentially adding further services around it -- these could include courier work or other kinds of delivery. For a company like Rocket Internet, with holdings spanning food delivery and the sale of goods online, you can see how something like Easy Taxi could easily plug into that infrastructure to help bolster those other businesses. That can be used both during downtime on the taxi service itself, or just to help diversify revenue streams. Easy Taxi already names Payleven, the Rocket Internet-backed mobile payment service ("Square clone" if want the quick description), as a partner, to help some drivers take payments more easily on the fly.
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