Aussie fintech Airwallex secures $109 million in the biggest capital raise of 2018 so far


Airwallex co-founder and president Lucy Liu. Source: supplied.

Australian fintech startup Airwallex has secured the biggest local venture capital raise of the year so far, raising $108.93 million ($US80 million) in its Series B funding round, but co-founder and chief operating officer Lucy Liu says she’s not focusing on the figures.

Founded in Melbourne in 2015, Airwallex provides a platform for cross-border payments for businesses, with foreign exchange rates in line with inter-bank rates.

This latest funding follows a $17.4 million Series A round, closed in May last year, and a $10.9 million Series A round from Australian VC firm SquarePeg in December last year. Airwallex previously raised a $4.5 million pre-Series A round in July 2016

It brings Airwallex’s total funding to date to $138.89 million.

The Series B raise was led by Tencent and Sequoia China, both of which also invested in the Series A funding in May last year, while SquarePeg was also a repeat investor.

New investors participating in the latest raise included China-based Hillhouse, Horizon Venture, the VC firm of Hong Kong billionaire Sir Ka-Shing Li, and Indonesian firm Central Capital Ventura.

Liu tells StartupSmart that while Airwallex was trying to build its profile among new Asian investors — which she says could have been the difference between a $60 to $70 million raise and the $108 million they closed on — having previous investors on board was also important.

“They had a lot of faith in us,” Liu says.

“And more understanding of what we do.”

Having that backing is not just about getting money in the bank, she says.

“We’ve built a good relationship with existing investors, and it means they have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing,” says Liu.

“Our goals are quite ambitious, and they actually support that,” she adds.

Since the Series A round in mid-2017, Airwallex has grown considerably, doubling its team in the past six months. Liu also says the business has seen double-figure busines growth for six consecutive months, although she declines to share specific figures.

Now, laying claim to the largest VC raise of the year so far, Liu says: “Given the timing, we probably raised more than we thought we would”.

But again, she stresses: “It’s more than just numbers. It’s about how we use that money to grow the business.”

“I wouldn’t say financially we were struggling, so I see it as the extra rocket fuel to really help us achieve what we want to achieve,” she adds.

Global goals

Airwallex has big ambitions. Liu says this latest funding will fuel further growth by going towards new product lines, features and applications, and gaining licences in more jurisdictions.

It will also go towards increasing headcount in the company’s existing Hong Kong office, and expanding to the US and Canada.

“Our primary focus is really on solidifying the connections between APAC and the rest of the world,” she says.

“We scale as our customers scale.”

The startup will also be focusing on making cross-border payments more accessible for the Australian SME market, in which “a lot of people still use traditional products … and there isn’t really a solution that’s well integrated with everything else they use”, says Liu.

Australia is a very “trade-focused” country, she says, with a lot of people and businesses buying and selling overseas.

“When we first started, we wanted to build a solution that was compact, smart, and helped reduce the cost and improve efficiency of making payments,” says Liu.

“Now it’s more than that. We’re looking to use a partnership model to try to really build an end-to-end solution [to] help these businesses, and a lot of sub-traders to expand globally.”

Looking to the future, the big-picture goal for Airwallex is “connecting all the digital points in the world”, Liu says, although she accepts that in reality this will create a huge network requiring “a lot of work and innovation”.

For other startups with $100 million fundraising goals, Liu says you need a strong focus on the business, and the problem it’s solving.

“As a founder, you should know your business the best, more than any VCs,” she says.

“You should be able to demonstrate that you’re the one that can get it done.”

She adds that relationships with VCs work both ways. While the VCs are the ones contributing the cash, it’s important not just to think about things in financial terms.

Startups provide opportunities for VCs, Liu says.

“We’re giving them the opportunity to come on the journey with us,” she says.

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