India

Auto Added by WPeMatico

Intel to invest $253.5 million in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms

Intel said on Friday it will invest $253.5 million in Jio Platforms, joining a roster of high-profile investors including Facebook, General Atlantic, and Silver Lake that have backed India’s top telecom operator in recent months.

The American chipmaker’s investment arm said it is acquiring a 0.39% stake in Jio Platforms, giving the Indian firm a valuation of $65 billion. Intel Capital is the 12th investor to buy a stake in Jio Platforms, which has raised more than $15.5 billion by selling a 25% stake since April this year.

“Jio Platforms’ focus on applying its impressive engineering capabilities to bring the power of low-cost digital services to India aligns with Intel’s purpose of delivering breakthrough technology that enriches lives. We believe digital access and data can transform business and society for the better,” said Wendell Brooks, Intel Capital President, in a statement.

The announcement today comes weeks after Mukesh Ambani, who controls Reliance Industries — the parent firm of Jio Platforms — suggested that Saudi Arabia’s PIF $1.5 billion investment on June 18 in his digital unit had marked the “end of Jio Platforms’ current phase of induction of financial partners.”

Ambani, who is India’s richest man, said on Friday that he was excited to “work together with Intel to advance India’s capabilities in cutting-edge technologies that will empower all sectors of our economy and improve the quality of life of 1.3 billion Indians.”

The new deal further illustrates the opportunities foreign investors see in Jio, a four-year-old subsidiary of Reliance Industries (India’s most valuable firm) that has upended the telecommunications market in India with cut-rate voice calls and mobile data tariffs. Jio has about 400 million subscribers.

Analysts at Bernstein said last month that they expect Jio Platforms to reach 500 million customers by 2023, and control half of the market by 2025. Jio Platforms competes with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, a joint venture between British giant Vodafone and Indian tycoon Kumar Mangalam Birla’s Aditya Birla Group.

Jio Platforms also operates a bevy of digital apps and services, including music streaming service JioSaavn (which it says it will take public), on-demand live television service JioTV and payments app JioMoney, as well as smartphones and broadband business. These services are available to Jio subscribers at no additional charge.

On Thursday evening, Jio Platforms launched JioMeet, a video-conferencing service that offers unlimited calls with “up to 24 hours” time limit on each session. The service, which currently has no paid plans, looks uncannily like Zoom.

Good artists borrow, great artists steal 😂pic.twitter.com/r7KpIfwIFC

— Avinash Raghava (@avinashraghava) July 3, 2020

Last month, Ambani said the funds in Jio Platforms had helped him clear oil-to-retail giant Reliance Industries’ net debt of about $21 billion. Ambani had originally pledged to clear Reliance’s debt due by early 2021.

Indian startups diversify their businesses to offset COVID-19 induced losses

E-commerce giant Flipkart is planning to launch a hyperlocal service that would enable customers to buy items from local stores and have those delivered to them in an hour and a half or less. Yatra, an online travel and hotel ticketing service, is exploring a new business line altogether: Supplying office accessories.

Flipkart and Yatra are not the only firms eyeing new business categories. Dozens of firms in the country have branched out by launching new services in recent weeks, in part to offset the disruption the COVID-19 epidemic has caused to their core offerings.

Swiggy and Zomato, the nation’s largest food delivery startups, began delivering alcohol in select parts of the country last month. The move came weeks after the two firms, both of which are seeing fewer orders and had to let go hundreds of employees, started accepting orders for grocery items in a move that challenged existing online market leaders BigBasket and Grofers.

Udaan, a business-to-business marketplace, recently started to accept bulk orders from some housing societies and is exploring more opportunities in the business-to-commerce space, the startup told TechCrunch.

These shifts came shortly after New Delhi announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown meant that all public places including movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, and public transport were suspended.

Instead of temporarily halting their businesses altogether, as many have done in other markets, scores of startups in India have explored ways to make the most out of the current unfortunate spell.

“This pandemic has given an opportunity to the Indian tech startup ecosystem to have a harder look at the unit-economics of their businesses and become more capital efficient in the shorter and longer-term,” Puneet Kumar, a growth investor in Indian startup ecosystem, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Of the few things most Indian state governments have agreed should remain open include grocery shops, and online delivery services for grocery and food.

People buy groceries at a supermarket during the first day of the 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Bangalore on March 25, 2020. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

E-commerce firms Snapdeal and DealShare began grocery delivery service in late March. The move was soon followed by social-commerce startup Meesho, fitness startup Curefit, and BharatPe, which is best known for facilitating mobile payments between merchants and users.

Meesho’s attempt is still in the pilot stage, said Vidit Aatrey, the Facebook-backed startup’s co-founder and chief executive. “We started grocery during the lockdown to give some income opportunities to our sellers and so far it has shown good response. So we are continuing the pilot even after lockdown has lifted,” he said.

ClubFactory, best known for selling low-cost beauty items, has also started to deliver grocery products, and so has NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that connects apartment seekers with property owners. And MakeMyTrip, a giant that provides solutions to book flight and hotel tickets, has entered the food delivery market.

Another such giant, BookMyShow, which sells movie tickets, has in recent weeks rushed to support online events, helping comedians and other artists sell tickets online. The Mumbai-headquartered firm plans to make further inroads around this business idea in the coming days.

For some startups, the pandemic has resulted in accelerating the launch of their product cycles. CRED, a Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to help Indians improve their financial behavior by paying their credit card bill on time, launched an instant credit line and apartment rental services.

Kunal Shah, the founder and chief executive of CRED, said the startup “fast-tracked the launch” of these two products as they could prove immensely useful in the current environment.

For a handful of startups, the pandemic has meant accelerated growth. Unacademy, a Facebook-backed online learning startup, has seen its user base and subscribers count surge in recent months and told TechCrunch that it is in the process of more than doubling the number of exam preparation courses it offers on its platform in the next two months.

Since March, the number of users who access the online learning service each day has surged to 700,000. “We have also seen a 200% increase in viewers per week for the free live classes offered on the platform. Additionally there has been a 50% increase in paid subscribers and over 50% increase in average watchtime per day among our subscribers,” a spokesperson said.

As with online learning firms, firms operating on-demand video streaming services have also seen a significant rise in the number of users they serve. Zee5, which has amassed over 80 million users, told TechCrunch last week that in a month it will introduce a new category in its app that would curate short-form videos produced and submitted by users. The firm said the feature would look very similar to TikTok.

The pandemic “has also accelerated the adoption of online services in India across all demographics. Many who would not have considered buying goods and services online are starting to adopt the online platforms for basic necessities at a faster pace,” said venture capitalist Kumar.

“As far as expansion into adjacent categories is concerned, some of this was a natural progression and startups were slowly moving in that direction anyway. The pandemic has forced people to get there faster.”

Roosh, a Mumbai-based game developing firm founded by several industry veterans, launched a new app ahead of schedule that allows social influencers to promote games on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, Deepak Ail, co-founder and chief executive of Roosh, told TechCrunch.

ShareChat, a Twitter-backed social network, recently acquired a startup called Elanic to explore opportunities in social-commerce. OkCredit, a bookkeeping service for merchants, has been exploring ways to allow users to purchase items from neighborhood stores.

And NowFloats, a Mumbai-based SaaS startup that helps businesses and individuals build an online presence without any web developing skills, is on-boarding doctors to help people consult with medical professionals.

Startups are not the only businesses that have scrambled to eye new categories. Established firms such as Carnival Group, which is India’s third-largest multiplex theatre chain, said it is foraying into cloud kitchen business.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has also secured approval from West Bengal to deliver alcohol in the nation’s fourth most populated state. The e-commerce giant is also exploring ways to work with mom and pop stores that dot tens of thousands of cities and towns of India.

Last week, the American giant launched “Smart Stores” that allows shoppers to walk to a participating physical store, scan a QR code, and pick and purchase items through the Amazon app. The firm, which is supplying these mom and pop stores with software and QR code, said more than 10,000 shops are participating in the Smart Stores program.

India’s Reliance Jio Platforms to sell $1.2 billion stake to Mubadala

Abu Dhabi-based sovereign firm Mubadala has become the latest investor in Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms, joining five American firms including Facebook and Silver Lake that have secured stakes in India’s biggest telecom operator at the height of a once-in-a-century global pandemic.

Mubadala said it had agreed to invest $1.2 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms for a 1.85% stake in the firm. The deal valued the Indian telecom operator, which launched in the second half of 2016, at $65 billion.

A subsidiary of Reliance Industries, the most valued firm in India whose core businesses are in oil refining and petrochemicals, Reliance Jio Platforms has raised $11.5 billion by selling 19% stake in the last seven weeks.

“Through my longstanding ties with Abu Dhabi, I have personally seen the impact of Mubadala’s work in diversifying and globally connecting the UAE’s knowledge-based economy. We look forward to benefitting from Mubadala’s experience and insights from supporting growth journeys across the world,” Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, said in a statement.

The announcement today further shows the appeal of Jio Platforms to foreign investors that are looking for a slice of the world’s second-largest internet market. Media reports have claimed in recent weeks that Amazon is considering buying stakes worth at least $2 billion in Bharti Airtel, India’s third-largest telecom operator, while Google has held talks for a similar deal in Vodafone Idea, the second largest telecom operator.

India has emerged as one of the biggest global battlegrounds for Silicon Valley and Chinese firms that are looking to win the nation’s 1.3 billion people, most of whom remain without a smartphone and internet connection.

Khaldoon Al Mubarak, managing director and group chief executive of Mubadala Investment Company, said, “We have seen how Jio has already transformed communications and connectivity in India, and as an investor and partner, we are committed to supporting India’s digital growth journey. With Jio’s network of investors and partners, we believe that the platform company will further the development of the digital economy.”

Mubadala, which has more than $229 billion in assets, is also an investor in AMD and Alphabet’s Waymo, and SoftBank.

The new capital should help Ambani, India’s richest man, further solidify his commitment to investors when he pledged to cut Reliance’s net debt of about $21 billion to zero by early 2021 — in part because of the investments it has made to build Jio Platforms, said Mahesh Uppal, director of Com First, a communications consultancy.

Its core business — oil refining and petrochemicals — has been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Its net profit in the quarter that ended on March 31 fell by 37%.

India rejects Walmart-owned Flipkart’s proposed foray into food retail business

The Indian government has rejected Flipkart’s proposal to enter the food retail business in a setback for Walmart, which owns majority of the Indian e-commerce firm and which recently counted its business in Asia’s third-largest economy as one of the worst impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), a wing of the nation’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, told Flipkart, which competes with Amazon India, that its proposed plan to enter the food retail business violates regulatory guidelines.

Flipkart’s proposed food retail business, called Flipkart FarmerMart, cannot be structured on a 100% foreign direct investment, the Indian agency said. Rajneesh Kumar, chief corporate affairs officer at Flipkart, told TechCrunch that the company was evaluating the agency’s response and intended to re-apply.

“At Flipkart, we believe that technology and innovation driven marketplace can add significant value to our country’s farmers and food processing sector by bringing value chain efficiency and transparency. This will further aid boosting farmers’ income & transform Indian agriculture,” he added.

While announcing the plan to enter the nation’s growing food retail market, Kalyan Krishnamurthy, Flipkart Group CEO, said in October last year that the company planned to invest $258 million in the new venture.

Flipkart planned to invest deeply in the local agriculture-ecosystem, supply chain, and work with tens of thousands of small farmers, their associations, and the nation’s food processing industry, Krishnamurthy said. The food retail unit would help “multiply farmers’ income and bring affordable, quality food for millions of customers across the country.”

Several e-commerce and grocery firms in India, including Amazon, Zomato, and Grofers, have previously secured approval from New Delhi, which earlier permitted 100% foreign direct investment in food and a handful of other sectors, for entering the food retail business.

The Indian government has since revisited the guidelines to clarify that food retail, like any other e-commerce sector, can only operate as a marketplace that allows third-party sellers to engage with buyers — and not offer their own inventories, nor have equity in any of the players who sell on the platform.

Food and grocery are compelling categories for e-commerce businesses in India as it enables them to engage with their customers more frequently. According to research firm Forrester, India’s online food and grocery market remain significantly tiny, accounting for just 1% of the overall sales.

In the most recent quarterly earnings call, Walmart said limited operations at Flipkart had negatively affected the group’s overall growth. New Delhi announced one of the world’s stringent lockdowns across the nation in late March that restricted Amazon and Flipkart from delivering in many states and only sell “essential items” such as grocery and hygienic products.

India maintains the stay-at-home orders for its 1.3 billion citizens, though it has eased some restrictions in recent weeks to resuscitate the economy.

India’s FarEye raises $25M to grow its logistics SaaS startup in international markets

More than 150 e-commerce and delivery companies globally use an Indian logistics startup’s service to work out the optimum way before they ship items to their customers. That startup, Noida-based FarEye, has raised $25 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its footprint in international markets.

M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, led the seven-year-old startup’s Series D financing round. Eight Roads Ventures, Honeywell Ventures, and existing investor SAIF Partners participated in the round, which pushes FarEye’s total raise-to-date to $40 million.

FarEye helps companies orchestrate, track, and optimize their logistics operations. Say you order a pizza from Domino’s, the eatery uses FarEye’s service, which integrates into the system it is using, to quickly inform the customer how long they need to wait for the food to reach them.

Behind the scenes, FarEye is helping Domino’s evaluate a plethora of moving pieces. How many delivery people are in the vicinity? Can it bundle a few orders? What’s the maximum number of items one can carry? How experienced is the delivery person? What’s the best route to reach the customer? And, would the restaurant need the same number of delivery people the following day?, explained Kushal Nahata, co-founder and chief executive of FarEye, in an interview with TechCrunch .

Gautam Kumar (left), Gaurav Srivastava (centre), and Kushal Nahata co-founded FarEye in 2013

“The level of digitization that logistics firms have made over the years remains minimal. The amount of visibility they have over their own delivery network is minimal. Forget what a customer should expect,” said Nahata, explaining the challenges the industry faces.

FarEye is addressing this by using AI to parse through more than a billion data points to identify the optimum solution. In the past one year, it has fine-tuned its algorithm to handle last-mile and long-haul deliveries to offer a full-suite of services to its clients.

The startup, which employs about 350 people, said it is already handling more than 10 million transactions a day. The more transactions it processes, the better its algorithm becomes, he said.

FarEye today has clients across several categories including transportation and logistics, retail (which includes grocery, furniture, and fashion), and FMCG in 20 nations. Some of these clients include Walmart, FedEx, DHL, Amway, Domino’s, Bluedart, Future Group, and J&J. Nahata said the startup will use the fresh capital to improve its predictive tech and grow its footprint in the United States, Europe, and Asia-Pacific region.

“We are solving certain problems for our customers today, but I feel we can solve much larger problems and help digitize the entire supply chain network,” he said.

As the coronavirus pandemic jeopardises grocery and e-commerce firms’ ability to timely deliver items to customers, FarEye said it is making Serve, one of its services that focuses on enabling movement of everyday essentials, free for any firm to use for more than a year.

“The global pandemic has accelerated the need for enterprises to scale their supply chain operations efficiently to meet the rising share of online deliveries. FarEye’s highly configurable last-mile and long-haul logistics platform has been validated by leading global enterprises across the 3PL, retail and manufacturing categories,” said Shweta Bhatia, a partner at Eight Roads Ventures, in a statement.

FarEye has been making money since day one, but Nahata said an IPO is not something on the table for the foreseeable future. “Our biggest focus right now is to grow,” he said.

Investors in LatAm get bitten by the hotel investment bug as Ayenda raises $8.7 million

Some of Latin America’s leading venture capital investors are now backing hotel chains.

In fact, Ayenda, the largest hotel chain in Colombia, has raised $8.7 million in a new round of funding, according to the company.

Led by Kaszek Ventures, the round will support the continued expansion of Ayenda’s chain of hotels in Colombia and beyond. The hotel operator already has 150 hotels operating under its flag in Colombia and has recently expanded to Peru, according to a statement.

Financing came from Kaszek Ventures and strategic investors like Irelandia Aviation, Kairos, Altabix and BWG Ventures.

The company, which was founded in 2018, now has more than 4,500 rooms under its brand in Colombia and has become the biggest hotel chain in the country.

Investments in brick and mortar chains by venture firms are far more common in emerging markets than they are in North America. The investment in Ayenda mirrors big bets that SoftBank Group has made in the Indian hotel chain Oyo and an investment made by Tencent, Sequoia China, Baidu Capital and Goldman Sachs, in LvYue Group late last year, amounting to “several hundred million dollars”, according to a company statement.

“We’re seeking to invest in companies that are redefining the big industries and we found Ayenda, a team that is changing the hotel’s industry in an unprecedented way for the region”, said Nicolas Berman, Kaszek Ventures partner.

Ayenda works with independent hotels through a franchise system to help them increase their occupancy and services. The hotels have to apply to be part of the chain and go through an up to 30-day inspection process before they’re approved to open for business.

“With a broad supply of hotels with the best cost-benefit relationship, guests can travel more frequently, accelerating the economy,” says Declan Ryan, managing partner at Irelandia Aviation.

The company hopes to have more than 1 million guests in 2020 in their hotels. Rooms list at $20 per-night, including amenities and an around the clock customer support team.

Oyo’s story may be a cautionary tale for companies looking at expanding via venture investment for hotel chains. The once high-flying company has been the subject of some scathing criticism. As we wrote:

The New York Times  published an in-depth report on Oyo, a tech-enabled budget hotel chain and rising star in the Indian tech community. The NYT wrote that Oyo offers unlicensed rooms and has bribed police officials to deter trouble, among other toxic practices.

Whether Oyo, backed by billions from the SoftBank  Vision Fund, will become India’s WeWork is the real cause for concern. India’s startup ecosystem is likely to face a number of barriers as it grows to compete with the likes of Silicon Valley.

Oyo’s revenue surged in FY19, but loss widened, too

Budget-lodging startup Oyo reported a loss of $335 million on $951 million revenue globally for the financial year ending March 31, 2019, and pledged to cut down on its spending as the India-headquartered startup grows more cautious about its aggressive expansion.

The six-year-old startup’s growing revenue, up from $211 million in financial year ending March 31, 2018, is in line with the company’s ambitions to be in a clear path to profitability this year, said Abhishek Gupta, Global CFO of OYO Hotels & Homes, in a statement.

But the startup’s loss has widened, too. Its consolidated loss increased from 25% in FY18 to 35% in FY19, it said. In India, where Oyo clocked $604 million in revenue in FY19, it was able to reduce its loss to 14% (from 24%) of revenue in FY19 to $83 million.

The startup, which today operates more than 43,000 hotels with over a million rooms in 800 cities in 80 nations, said its expansion to China and other international markets contributed to the loss.

“These markets constituted 36.5% of the global revenues. While consistently improving operating economics in mature markets like India where it’s already seeing an improvement in gross margins, the company is determined to bring in the same fiscal discipline in emerging markets in the coming financial year,” the startup said in a statement.

Oyo has come under scrutiny in recent months for its aggressive expansion in a manner that some analysts have said is not sustainable. The startup, which rebrands and renovates independent budget hotels, has also engaged in sketchy ways to sign up new hotels, as documented by the New York Times earlier this year.

In recent months, Oyo executives have acknowledged that the startup grew too fast and is confronting a number of “teething issues.” Oyo has laid off at least 3,000 employees, mostly in India, in last three months.

Local Indian laws require every startup to disclose their annual financials. Most of them filed their financials in early October.

More to follow shortly…

Opera and the firm short-selling its stock (alleging Africa fintech abuses) weigh in

Internet services company Opera has come under a short-sell assault based on allegations of predatory lending practices by its fintech products in Africa.

Hindenburg Research issued a report claiming (among other things) that Opera’s finance products in Nigeria and Kenya have run afoul of prudent consumer practices and Google Play Store rules for lending apps.

Hindenburg — which is based in NYC and managed by financial analyst Nate Anderson — went on to suggest Opera’s U.S. listed stock was grossly overvalued.

That’s a primer on the key info, though there are several additional shades of the who, why, and where of this story to break down, before getting to what Opera and Hindenburg had to say.

A good start is Opera’s ownership and scope. Founded in Norway, the company is an internet services provider, largely centered around its Opera browser.

Opera was acquired in 2016 for $600 million by a consortium of Chinese investors, led by current Opera CEO Yahui Zhou.

Two years later, Opera went public in an IPO on NASDAQ, where its shares currently trade.

Web Broswers Africa 2019 Opera

Though Opera’s web platform isn’t widely used in the U.S. — where it has less than 1% of the browser market — it has been number-one in Africa, and more recently a distant second to Chrome, according to StatCounter.

On the back of its browser popularity, Opera went on an African venture-spree in 2019, introducing a suite of products and startup verticals in Nigeria and Kenya, with intent to scale more broadly across the continent.

In Nigeria these include motorcycle ride-hail service ORide and delivery app OFood.

Central to these services are Opera’s fintech apps: OPay in Nigeria and OKash and Opesa in Kenya — which offer payment and lending options.

Fintech focused VC and startups have been at the center of a decade long tech-boom in several core economies in Africa, namely Kenya and Nigeria.

In 2019 Opera led a wave of Chinese VC in African fintech, including $170 million in two rounds to its OPay payments service in Nigeria.

Opera’s fintech products in Africa (as well as Opera’s Cashbean in India) are at the core of Hindenburg Research’s brief and short-sell position. 

The crux of the Hindenburg report is that due to the declining market-share of its browser business, Opera has pivoted to products generating revenue from predatory short-term loans in Africa and India at interest rates of 365 to 876%, so Hindenburg claims.

The firm’s reporting goes on to claim Opera’s payment products in Nigeria and Kenya are afoul of Google rules.

“Opera’s short-term loan business appears to be…in violation of the Google Play Store’s policies on short-term and misleading lending apps…we think this entire line of business is at risk of…being severely curtailed when Google notices and ultimately takes corrective action,” the report says.

Based on this, Hindenburg suggested Opera’s stock should trade at around $2.50, around a 70% discount to Opera’s $9 share-price before the report was released on January 16.

Hindenburg also disclosed the firm would short Opera.

Founder Nate Anderson confirmed to TechCrunch Hindenburg continues to hold short positions in Opera’s stock — which means the firm could benefit financially from declines in Opera’s share value. The company’s stock dropped some 18% the day the report was published.

On motivations for the brief, “Technology has catalyzed numerous positive changes in Africa, but we do not think this is one of them,” he said.

“This report identified issues relating to one company, but what we think will soon become apparent is that in the absence of effective local regulation, predatory lending is becoming pervasive across Africa and Asia…proliferated via mobile apps,” Anderson added.

While the bulk of Hindenburg’s critique was centered on Opera, Anderson also took aim at Google.

“Google has become the primary facilitator of these predatory lending apps by virtue of Android’s dominance in these markets. Ultimately, our hope is that Google steps up and addresses the bigger issue here,” he said.

TechCrunch has an open inquiry into Google on the matter. In the meantime, Opera’s apps in Nigeria and Kenya are still available on GooglePlay, according to Opera and a cursory browse of the site.

For its part, Opera issued a rebuttal to Hindenburg and offered some input to TechCrunch through a spokesperson.

In a company statement opera said, “We have carefully reviewed the report published by the short seller and the accusations it put forward, and our conclusion is very clear: the report contains unsubstantiated statements, numerous errors, and misleading conclusions regarding our business and events related to Opera.”

Opera added it had proper banking licenses in Kenyan or Nigeria. “We believe we are in compliance with all local regulations,” said a spokesperson.

TechCrunch asked Hindenburg’s Nate Anderson if the firm had contacted local regulators related to its allegations. “We reached out to the Kenyan DCI three times before publication and have not heard back,” he said.

As it pertains to Africa’s startup scene, there’ll be several things to follow surrounding the Opera, Hindenburg affair.

The first is how it may impact Opera’s business moves in Africa. The company is engaged in competition with other startups across payments, ride-hail, and several other verticals in Nigeria and Kenya. Being accused of predatory lending, depending on where things go (or don’t) with the Hindenburg allegations, could put a dent in brand-equity.

There’s also the open question of if/how Google and regulators in Kenya and Nigeria could respond. Contrary to some perceptions, fintech regulation isn’t non-existent in both countries, neither are regulators totally ineffective.

Kenya passed a new data-privacy law in November and Nigeria recently established guidelines for mobile-money banking licenses in the country, after a lengthy Central Bank review of best digital finance practices.

Nigerian regulators demonstrated they are no pushovers with foreign entities, when they slapped a $3.9 billion fine on MTN over a regulatory breach in 2015 and threatened to eject the South African mobile-operator from the country.

As for short-sellers in African tech, they are a relatively new thing, largely because there are so few startups that have gone on to IPO.

In 2019, Citron Research head and activist short-seller Andrew Left — notable for shorting Lyft and Tesla — took short positions in African e-commerce company Jumia, after dropping a report accusing the company of securities fraud. Jumia’s share-price plummeted over 50% and has only recently begun to recover.

As of Wednesday, there were signs Opera may be shaking off Hindenburg’s report — at least in the market — as the company’s shares had rebounded to $7.35.

Catalyst Fund gets $15M from JP Morgan, UK Aid to back 30 EM fintech startups

The Catalyst Fund has gained $15 million in new support from JP Morgan and UK Aid and will back 30 fintech startups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America over the next three years.

The Boston based accelerator provides mentorship and non-equity funding to early-stage tech ventures focused on driving financial inclusion in emerging and frontier markets.

That means connecting people who may not have access to basic financial services — like a bank account, credit or lending options — to those products.

Catalyst Fund will choose an annual cohort of 10 fintech startups in five designated countries: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India and Mexico. Those selected will gain grant-funds and go through a six-month accelerator program. The details of that and how to apply are found here.

“We’re offering grants of up to $100,000 to early-stage companies, plus venture building support…and really…putting these companies on a path to product market fit,” Catalyst Fund Director Maelis Carraro told TechCrunch.

Program participants gain exposure to the fund’s investor networks and investor advisory committee, that include Accion and 500 Startups. With the $15 million Catalyst Fund will also make some additions to its network of global partners that support the accelerator program. Names will be forthcoming, but Carraro, was able to disclose that India’s Yes Bank and University of Cambridge are among them.

Catalyst fund has already accelerated 25 startups through its program. Companies, such as African payments venture ChipperCash and SokoWatch — an East African B2B e-commerce startup for informal retailers — have gone on to raise seven-figure rounds and expand to new markets.

Those are kinds of business moves Catalyst Fund aims to spur with its program. The accelerator was founded in 2016, backed by JP Morgan and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Catalyst Fund is now supported and managed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and global tech consulting firm BFA.

African fintech startups have dominated the accelerator’s companies, comprising 56% of the portfolio into 2019.

That trend continued with Catalyst Fund’s most recent cohort, where five of six fintech ventures — Pesakit, Kwara, Cowrywise, Meerkat and Spoon — are African and one, agtech credit startup Farmart, operates in India.

The draw to Africa is because the continent demonstrates some of the greatest need for Catalyst Fund’s financial inclusion mission.

By several estimates, Africa is home to the largest share of the world’s unbanked population and has a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

Collectively, these numbers have led to the bulk of Africa’s VC funding going to thousands of fintech startups attempting to scale payment solutions on the continent.

Digital finance in Africa has also caught the attention of notable outside names. Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey recently took an interest in Africa’s cryptocurrency potential and Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs has invested in fintech startups on the continent.

This lends to the question of JP Morgan’s interests vis-a-vis Catalyst Fund and Africa’s financial sector.

For now, JP Morgan doesn’t have plans to invest directly in Africa startups and is taking a long-view in its support of the accelerator, according to Colleen Briggs — JP Morgan’s Head of Community Innovation

“We find financial health and financial inclusion is a…cornerstone for inclusive growth…For us if you care about a stable economy, you have to start with financial inclusion,” said Briggs, who also oversees the Catalyst Fund.

This take aligns with JP Morgan’s 2019 announcement of a $125 million, philanthropic, five-year global commitment to improve financial health in the U.S. and globally.

More recently, JP Morgan Chase posted some of the strongest financial results on Wall Street, with Q4 profits of $2.9 billion. It’ll be worth following if the company shifts its income-generating prowess to business and venture funding activities in Catalyst Fund markets such as Nigeria, India and Mexico.

Introducing ‘Dear Sophie,’ an advice column for U.S.-bound immigrant employees

Sophie Alcorn
Contributor

Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Extra Crunch is excited to announce the launch of “Dear Sophie,” an advice column with answers for all your questions on attracting, hiring and retaining immigrant employees — and more.

Dear Sophie is a collaborative forum hosted by ExtraCrunch and curated by Sophie Alcorn, certified as a Specialist Attorney in Immigration and Nationality Law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. Sophie is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law, the fastest-growing immigration law firm in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.”


Dear Reader,

As I pack my bags to speak at TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin this week, I’m happy to announce the first edition of my new column, Dear Sophie. I’m excited to answer your questions about U.S. immigration!

And, If you’re in the area, I invite you to join me at Disrupt Berlin 2019. You can use promo code ALCORN for discounted admission and meet me in person for a free consultation with CrunchMatch, or attend one of my two sessions: 

Hope to see you there,

Sophie


Dear Sophie: I’m scared: I feel like I should really be in Silicon Valley to grow my company, but everything I read about immigration makes it sound so hard. Is my dream possible?

— Dreaming in Dresden

Dear Dreaming: Yes, coming to the U.S. to build a startup is absolutely possible. In fact, I see founders like you do it all the time. Your dream is valid and definitely worth pursuing.

The first piece of advice I’d give you is to be careful about which news sources you trust! You might not be getting the whole story. While dramatic changes are taking place in the United States, we still have a functioning immigration system that allows people to come live and work here — people just like you. 

The second piece of advice I have is to research the many visa and green card options that can allow you to come to the United States and grow your company (you can read about them on my blog). You’ll find that some visas grant you the ability to work for the short-term or the long-term (potentially), and some allow you to visit and see what things are like here. 

With these visas, you can find a co-founder and build the early stage of your company, establish a U.S. branch of your existing business, seek venture capital and so much more. 

The third piece of advice I have is to really clarify why you want to come to America — that way, you can be strategic about achieving your goals. You might require a little guidance here, which is one example of where immigration lawyers like myself can be helpful. 

When I meet people in your situation, I reassure them that, not only are they safe to dream with me, but I’ve also helped hundreds of people just like them realize their dreams, even when they didn’t believe it was possible. Almost everybody who comes here once asked the same questions you’re asking.

My last piece of advice is simply to follow your heart. The world needs your ideas and contributions. There are lots of resources and ways to get informed and educated, which is the first step on this journey. Once you have a clear vision, you can work to make your dream a reality — It’s not always easy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

You’ve already asked for help, which is a great way to get started. I wish you the best!

Dear Sophie: I have a startup that has been quite successful in Germany. What’s the best way for me to spend some time in the United States exploring product-market fit, gauging business development, and talking to venture capitalists?

— Founder in Frankfurt

Dear Founder: Congratulations on your startup! And bravo for considering taking steps toward strengthening the U.S. marketplace. 

The first thing I suggest you decide is how long it will likely take for you to accomplish your goals. 

If you think you can get the answers you need in less than 90 days, the answer is pretty simple: apply for ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), which is available to citizens of about 40 countries (including Germany). You’re allowed to visit for business or pleasure with ESTA, but you’re not allowed to work — and you must definitely depart the United States before the end of the authorized period. 

ESTA could be great for a short business trip or a brief accelerator program in Silicon Valley. Be careful with programs that run longer than 90 days. I’ve seen founders in these longer programs leave on day 88 to go back home for a week and then return to the U.S. to complete the program, hoping that this is a safe workaround of the time limit. Remember that ESTA is a non-immigrant status, and if Customs and Border Protection suspects that you are trying to live here or work here, they have the authority to deny your entry to the United States. 

On the other hand, if you know you’ll need to spend 4-6 months in the U.S. without interruption, I suggest you talk to an attorney about the possibility of applying for a B-1/B-2 visitor visa (even if you have ESTA). A visitor visa allows you to stay in the U.S. for up to six months on a single visit. 

People often ask me how long they can stay in the U.S. during a calendar year or how long they need to be outside of the United States after a six-month visit. While there is no fixed answer to these questions, I remind them that ESTA, B-1, and B-2 are non-immigrant statuses, Customs and Border Protection has the authority to deny you entry if you appear to be living or working in the U.S. In my experience, reentry seems OK when people are spending less than 50% of the time in the country as visitors. Still, it’s always best to talk with an attorney about your particular situation. For example, sometimes our clients request that we provide them with letters of support explaining why their trip is temporary, which they can show to the officers at the airport if they get questioned.

I encourage people in your situation to at least come for 90 days. It’s a great opportunity to network, have some great conversations, and clarify your long-term goals in the U.S. Take some time to think about it, reach out online, so you have things set up before you arrive, and plan out your finances so you can make the most of your trip. I’m wishing you every success!

Dear Sophie: I am a venture capitalist, and my fund recently had great success. We’re now raising a second round and building out the infrastructure of our organization. I have a brilliant contractor working for me who scouts new startups. She was born in India, just got her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from an Ivy League university, and was also recently accepted back into a Master’s program there. I want to help her plan for her future. Can she keep working for me after OPT, or should she go back to school? How do these choices affect her prospects for short-term and long-term chances for immigration?

— Venture in Venice Beach

UrbanClap, India’s largest home services startup, raises $75M

UrbanClap, a marketplace for freelance labor in India and the UAE, has raised $75 million in a new financing round to expand its business.

The Series E round for the four-and-a-half-year old India-based startup was led Tiger Global. Existing investors Steadview Capital, which led the startup’s Series D in December last year, and Vy Capital also participated in the current round. The startup, which has raised about $185 million to date, said some early investors sold portions of their stake as part of the new round.

Through its platform, UrbanClap matches service people such as cleaners, repair staff and beauticians with customers across 10 cities in India and Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The startup supports 20,000 “micro-franchisees” (service professionals) with around 450,000 transactions taking place each month, cofounder and CEO Abhiraj Bhal told TechCrunch.

Bhal said that UrbanClap helps offline service workers, who have traditionally relied on getting work through middleman such as some store or word of mouth networks, to find more work. And they earn more, too. UrbanClap offers a more direct model, with workers keeping 80% of the cost of their jobs. That, Bhal said, means workers can earn multiples more and manage their own working hours.

“The UrbanClap model really allows them to become service entrepreneurs. Their earnings will shoot up two or three-fold, and it isn’t uncommon to see it rise as much as 8X — it’s a life-changing experience,” he said. Average value of a service is between $17 to $22, according to the company.

In recent years, UrbanClap has also started to offer training, credit, and basic banking services to better support the service workers on its platform. On its website, UrbanClap claims to offer 73 services — including kitchen cleaning, hairdressing, and yoga training. It says it has served 3 million customers.

Bhal said that around 20-25% of applicants are accepted into the platform, that’s a decision based on in-person meetings, background and criminal checks, as well as a “skills” test. Workers are encouraged to work exclusively — though it isn’t a requirement — and they wear UrbanClap outfits and represent the brand with customers.

India’s largest video streaming service, owned by Disney, breaks Safari compatibility to fix security flaw

Hotstar, India’s largest video streaming service with more than 300 million users, disabled support for Apple’s Safari web browser on Friday to mitigate a security flaw that allowed unauthorized usage of its platform, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The incident comes at a time when the streaming service — operated by Star India, part of 20th Century Fox that Disney acquired — enjoys peak attention as millions of people watch the ongoing ICC World Cup cricket tournament on its platform.

As users began to complain about not being able to use Hotstar on Safari, the company’s official support account asserted that “technical limitations” on Apple’s part were the bottleneck. “These limitations have been from Safari; there is very little we can do on this,” the account tweeted Friday evening.

Sources at Hotstar told TechCrunch that this was not an accurate description of the event. Instead, company’s engineers had identified a security hole that was being exploited by unauthorized users to access Hotstar’s content, they said.

Hotstar intends to work on patching the flaw soon and then reinstate support for Safari, the sources said.

The security flaw can only be exploited through Safari’s desktop and mobile browsers. On its website, the company recommends users to try Chrome and Firefox, or its mobile apps, to access the service. Hotstar did not respond to requests for comment.

Hotstar, which rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in India, maintains a strong lead in the local video streaming market (based on number of users and engagement). Last month, it claimed to set a new global record by drawing more than 18 million viewers to a live cricket match.

India’s largest video streaming service, owned by Disney, breaks Safari compatibility to fix security flaw

Hotstar, India’s largest video streaming service with more than 300 million users, disabled support for Apple’s Safari web browser on Friday to mitigate a security flaw that allowed unauthorized usage of its platform, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The incident comes at a time when the streaming service — operated by Star India, part of 20th Century Fox that Disney acquired — enjoys peak attention as millions of people watch the ongoing ICC World Cup cricket tournament on its platform.

As users began to complain about not being able to use Hotstar on Safari, the company’s official support account asserted that “technical limitations” on Apple’s part were the bottleneck. “These limitations have been from Safari; there is very little we can do on this,” the account tweeted Friday evening.

Sources at Hotstar told TechCrunch that this was not an accurate description of the event. Instead, company’s engineers had identified a security hole that was being exploited by unauthorized users to access Hotstar’s content, they said.

Hotstar intends to work on patching the flaw soon and then reinstate support for Safari, the sources said.

The security flaw can only be exploited through Safari’s desktop and mobile browsers. On its website, the company recommends users to try Chrome and Firefox, or its mobile apps, to access the service. Hotstar did not respond to requests for comment.

Hotstar, which rivals Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in India, maintains a strong lead in the local video streaming market (based on number of users and engagement). Last month, it claimed to set a new global record by drawing more than 18 million viewers to a live cricket match.

Uber may have left Southeast Asia but its APAC HQ remains in Singapore

Uber exited Southeast Asia last year after it sold its local business to Grab but it continues to remain in Singapore, where it has now opened a new regional HQ for Asia Pacific and is hiring for staff.

The company — which is headed for IPO imminently — won’t be restarting its service, however, which puts it in a rather interesting position in Singapore.

The writing has been on the wall for some time, though. TechCrunch reported last August that Uber was on a hiring spree in Singapore, and now that has come to fruition with the opening with a new 2,000 sq meter office near the Central Business District in Singapore. That’ll function as the management center for the nine markets that Uber operates in across Asia Pacific, which include Japan, Korea and Australia. India, Uber’s second largest market, is managed separately to the rest of the continent.

Uber’s Southeast Asia sale — which saw it take a tactical 27.5 percent stake in its Singapore-based rival — gave Grab first refusal on a lot of Uber’s operational talent, but most of Uber’s core management team remained with the company in Singapore. For example, Brooks Entwistle, who was hired as chief business officer for Asia Pacific in 2017, remains stationed there as Uber’s international chief business officer.

Big day for ⁦@Uber⁩ in Asia as we open our new APAC HQ in Singapore. Our awesome team is growing as we deepen our commitment to this city-state and its outstanding tech talent and focus. We are hiring! #Uber #UberEATS #JUMP #Onward #Asia #Singapore https://t.co/BOnOn2GblE

— Brooks Entwistle (@BrooksEntwistle) April 2, 2019

Straits Times reports that Uber’s Singapore headcount is at least 165 with some 17 vacancies open right now. As we reported last year, the company was aiming to hire at least 75 roles to take its Singapore-based team to over “well over” 100 — it seems that it did that and then some.

It’s time to disrupt nuclear weapons

Beatrice Fihn
Contributor

Beatrice Fihn is the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and the winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

“Atomic bombs are primarily a means for the ruthless annihilation of cities.”

Those are the words of Leo Szilard, one of the scientists who pushed for the development of nuclear weapons. He wrote them as part of a petition signed by dozens of other scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project pleading with President Harry Truman not to use the nuclear bomb on Japan.

Mere months after its introduction in 1945, the architects of today’s nuclear world feared the implications of the technology they had created.

Nearly 75 years later it’s time again to ask technologists, innovators, entrepreneurs and academics: will you be party to the ‘ruthless annihilation of cities’? Will you expend your talents in the service of nuclear weapons? Will you use technology to create or to destroy?

Our moment of choice

Humanity is at another turning point.

A new nuclear arms race has begun in earnest with the US and Russia leading the way; tearing up the promise of lasting peace in favor of a new Cold War. Russia’s latest weapon is built to destroy entire coast lines with a radioactive tsunami. The US is building new nuclear weapons that are ‘more likely to be used’.

Meanwhile, North Korea appears to again be building its nascent nuclear weapons program. And India and Pakistan stand on the verge of open nuclear conflict, which climate modeling shows could lead to a global famine killing upwards of 2 billion people.

An Indian student wearing a mask poses with her hands painted with a slogans for peace during a rally to mark Hiroshima Day, in Mumbai on August 6, 2018. (PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images)

How do we stop this march toward oblivion?

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has created an opening — a chance to radically change course with the power of international law and shifting norms. The nuclear ban treaty will become international law once 50 nations have ratified it. We are already at 22.

The financial world is also recognizing the risk, with some of the world’s biggest pension funds divesting from nuclear weapons. But there is something even more powerful than the almighty dollar; human capital.

“It took innovation, technological disruption, and ingenuity to create the nuclear dawn. We will need those same forces in greater measure to bring about a nuclear dusk.”

The nuclear weapons industrial complex relies on the most talented scientists, engineers, physicists and technologists to build this deadly arsenal. As more of that talent moves into the tech sector, defense contractors and the Pentagon is seeking to work with major technology companies and disruptive startups, as well as continue their work with universities.

Without those talented technologists, there would be no new nuclear arms race. It’s time to divest human capital from nuclear weapons.

A mistake to end humanity?

Just over one year ago Hawaiians took cover and frantically Googled, “What to do during a nuclear attack”. Days later many Japanese mobile phone users also received a false alert for an inbound nuclear missile.

The combination of human error and technological flaws these incidents exposed makes accidental nuclear attacks an inevitability if we don’t move to end nuclear weapons before they end us.

The development of new machine learning technologies, autonomous weapons systems, cyber threats and social media manipulation are already destabilizing the global political order and potentially increasing the risk of a nuclear cataclysm. That is why it’s vital that the technology community collectively commits to using their skills and knowledge to protect us from nuclear eradication by joining the effort for global nuclear abolition.

A mock “killer robot” is pictured in central London on April 23, 2013 during the launching of the Campaign to Stop “Killer Robots,” which calls for the ban of lethal robot weapons that would be able to select and attack targets without any human intervention. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots calls for a pre-emptive and comprehensive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. (Photo: CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

We need to stop this foolish nuclear escalation in its tracks. Our commitment must be to a nuclear weapons-free world, by disrupting the trajectory we are currently heading on. Business as usual will likely end in nuclear war.

It took innovation, technological disruption, and ingenuity to create the nuclear dawn. We will need those same forces in greater measure to bring about a nuclear dusk — the complete disarmament of nuclear-armed states and safeguards against future proliferation.

The belief that we can keep doing what we have done for seven decades for another seven decades is naive. It relies on a fanciful, misplaced faith in the illogical idea of deterrence. We are told simultaneously that nuclear weapons keep the world safe, by never being used. They bestow power, but only make certain states powerful.

This fallacy has been exposed by this moment in time. Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons have proliferated. Key treaties have been torn up or are under threat. And even more states are threatening to develop nuclear weapons.

So I am putting out a call to you: join us with this necessary disruption; declare that you will not have a hand in our demise; declare that you will use technology for good.

The Khashoggi murder isn’t stopping SoftBank’s Vision Fund

Money talks in the startup community, especially when SoftBank comes knocking with the megabucks of its Vision Fund.

Despite the public outcry around the firm’s dependence on money from Saudi Arabia in the wake of that country’s assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, deal flow for Softbank’s Vision Fund appears to be back to normal.

The $100 billion megafund has done 21 deals over the last two quarters, that’s as more than in the other quarters of the previous year combined, according to data from Crunchbase, thanks to an uptick from Asia. Since the October 2 murder, there have been 11 investments in U.S. companies, seven in Asia, two in Europe and one in Latin America. Just this week, the fund completed a near $1.5 billion investment in Southeast Asia-based ride-hailing company Grab.

While U.S. and European firms have more options, and therefore, perhaps deserve more scrutiny, Softbank’s cash is increasingly the only game in town for startups in Asia, where there are fewer alternatives for later stage capital outside of large Chinese private equity firms or tech giants — which come with their own risks.

The Vision Fund is seen by some critics as tainted money for its links to the Saudi Royal family. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the fund’s anchor investor and it is controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been strongly linked with the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the regime.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was murdered on October 2 after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His visit was part of an effort to obtain divorce documents in order to marry his fiancée, but it ended with his apparently gruesome death. Audio clips suggest he was beheaded, dismembered, and had his fingers severed before his body was dissolved in acid, although new reports suggest it may have been burned.

Jamal Khashoggi — pictured in 2014 — was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year [Photographer: Ohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images]

The Vision Fund is designed to finance ‘global winners’ which, like all investment funds, is set up to provide ‘unfair advantages’ to help its companies grow into hugely important businesses. On the financial end, as is the norm, it is built to provide handsome returns to the LPs, thus directly boosting the coffers of the PIF, the Saudi kingdom, and by extension the Saudi prince himself.

An investigation is going, but there’s already plenty of evidence to suggest that the murder happened at the request of the prince.

Sources within the U.S. State Department have reportedly said it is “blindingly obvious” that the Crown Prince ordered the killing — he reportedly threatened to shoot Khashoggi one year before. But, now that the apparent period of outrage is over, SoftBank has reverted back to writing checks and companies are taking them in spite of the links to Saudi Arabia.

For startups, the money flow means that a major source of capital for growth or subsidies for customers comes from the Saudi royal family’s pockets — a regime that would reportedly not hesitate to murder a critical voice.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund has ramped up its deals over the past six months, according to data from Crunchbase

What are the companies saying?

SoftBank itself said it has a commitment to “the people” of Saudi Arabia that will see it deploy its capital unchanged, although Chairman Masayoshi Son did concede that he will wait on the findings of the investigation into the murder before deciding on whether PIF will be involved in a second Vision Fund.

The founders taking the capital have been more cautious. When questioned, executives talk about the specifics of their deal and their growth plans, most defer issues on the management of LPs, like PIF, to SoftBank. While offering words in support of the ongoing murder investigation, they manage to say little about the ethics of taking money from the Saudi regime.

Bom Kim, CEO of Korean e-commerce company Coupang — which raised $2 billion from the Vision Fund — told TechCrunch in November that the allegations around the murder “don’t represent us and don’t represent [Vision Fund] companies.”

“We are deeply concerned by the reported events and alongside SoftBank are monitoring the situation closely until the full facts are known,” Tokopedia CEO William Tanuwijaya told TechCrunch in December after the Vision Fund co-led a $1.1 billion round.

William Tanuwijaya is the co-founder and CEO of Tokopedia [Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg]

OYO, the budget hotel network based out of India, did not respond to a request comment sent the day before this story was published. The startup raised $1 billion led by the Vision Fund in September.

TechCrunch was also unable to get a response to questions sent to Chehaoduo, the Vision Fund’s first China-based startup which raised $1.5 billion in February. The company is notable for being the only one of this group that didn’t count SoftBank as an existing investor prior to its Vision Fund deal.

The latest addition to the collection is Grab, the ride-hailing company in Southeast Asia that’s led by CEO Anthony Tan, who is very publicly a devout Christian. In a statement sent to TechCrunch this week, Grab defended its relationship with SoftBank, which first invested in Grab back in 2014:

What happened to Jamal Khashoggi was obviously horrible. We hope whoever is responsible is held accountable. We are not in a position to comment on behalf of SoftBank but from our perspective Son-san and the entire SoftBank team have brought so much value to the table for Grab – beyond just financing. They have brought advice, mentorship and potential business opportunities. The Vision Fund is about investing for the next 100 or 200 years and investing in trends that will move the needle for humanity in positive ways. This is a lofty and ultimately positive goal.

Anthony Tan is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Grab [Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

The Vision Fund is just getting started in Asia, however, with rumors suggesting it is planning to open offices in China and India. Singapore is presumably on that list, too, while the fund has been busy hiring a general team that will operate globally out of the U.S.

To date, the fund’s focus in Asia has been on some of the region’s largest (highest-valued) companies, but as it develops a local presence it is likely to seek out less obvious deals to grow its portfolio. That’s going to mean this question of ethics and conscience around the Vision Fund’s capital will present itself to more founders in Asia. Going on what we’ve seen so far, most will have no problem taking the money and issuing platitudinous statements.

Privately, VCs in the region who I have canvassed have told me that founders have little choice but to take the Vision Fund’s money. They explain that nobody else can offer billion-dollar-sized checks, while SoftBank is an existing investor in many of them already which gives it additional leverage. The fund also takes the aggressive approach of threatening to back rival companies if it doesn’t get the deals it wants, as we saw when Son said he’d consider a deal with Lyft when its Uber investment was uncertain.

That reality may be true — finding an alternative to a hypothetical $1 billion Vision Fund check is a daunting challenge — but we’ve reached a very sad time and place when the sheer size of an investment overrides important concerns about where that money came from.

India’s Ola spins out a dedicated EV business — and it just raised $56M from investors

Ola, Uber’s key rival in India, is doubling down on electric vehicles after it span out a dedicated business, which has pulled in $56 million in early funding.

The unit is named Ola Electric Mobility and it is described as being an independent business that’s backed by Ola. TechCrunch understands Ola provided founding capital, and it has now been joined by a series of investors who have pumped Rs. 400 crore ($56 million) into Ola Electric. Notably, those backers include Tiger Global and Matrix India — two firms that were early investors in Ola itself.

While automotive companies and ride-hailing services in the U.S. are focused on bringing autonomous vehicles to the streets, India — like other parts of Asia — is more challenging thanks to diverse geographies, more sparse mapping and other factors. In India, companies have instead flocked to electric. The government had previously voiced its intention to make 30 percent of vehicles electric by 2030, but it has not formally introduced a policy to guide that initiative.

Ola has taken steps to electrify its fleet — it pledged last year to add 10,000 electric rickshaws to its fleet and has conducted other pilots with the goal of offering one million EVs by 2022 — but the challenge is such that it has spun out Ola Electric to go deeper into EVs.

That means that Ola Electric won’t just be concerned with vehicles, it has a far wider remit.

The new company has pledged to focus on areas that include charging solutions, EV batteries, and developing viable infrastructure that allows commercial EVs to operate at scale, according to an announcement. In other words, the challenge of developing electric vehicles goes beyond being a ‘ride-hailing problem’ and that is why Ola Electric has been formed and is being capitalized independently of Ola.

An electric rickshaw from Ola

Its leadership is also wholly separate.

Ola Electric is led by Ola executives Anand Shah and Ankit Jain — who led Ola’s connected car platform strategy — and the team includes former executives from carmakers such as BMW.

Already, it said it has partnered with “several” OEMs and battery makers and it “intends to work closely with the automotive industry to create seamless solutions for electric vehicle operations.” Indeed, that connected car play — Ola Play — likely already gives it warm leads to chase.

“At Ola Electric, our mission is to enable sustainable mobility for everyone. India can leapfrog problems of pollution and energy security by moving to electric mobility, create millions of new jobs and economic opportunity, and lead the world,” Ola CEO and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal said in a statement.

“The first problem to solve in electric mobility is charging: users need a dependable, convenient, and affordable replacement for the petrol pump. By making electric easy for commercial vehicles that deliver a disproportionate share of kilometers traveled, we can jumpstart the electric vehicle revolution,” added Anand Shah, whose job title is listed as head of Ola Electric Mobility.

The new business spinout comes as Ola continues to raise new capital from investors.

Last month, Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal invested $92 million into the ongoing Series J round that is likely to exceed $1 billion and would value Ola at around $6 billion. Existing backer Steadview Capital earlier committed $75 million but there’s plenty more in development.

A filing — first noted by paper.vc — shows that India’s Competition Commission approved a request for a Temasek-affiliated investment vehicle’s proposed acquisition of seven percent of Ola. In addition, SoftBank offered a term sheet for a prospective $1 billion investment last month, TechCrunch understands from an industry source.

Ola is backed by the likes of SoftBank, Tencent, Sequoia India, Matrix, DST Global and Didi Chuxing. It has raised some $3.5 billion to date, according to data from Crunchbase.

Samsung’s new Galaxy M smartphones will launch in India first

Samsung will launch its new lower-priced Galaxy M series in India before the smartphones roll out globally. Asim Warsi, senior vice president of Samsung India’s smartphone business, told Reuters that three devices will be available through its website and Amazon India at the end of January and are intended to help the company double online sales.

Samsung is currently trying to recover its lead in India, the world’s second-largest smartphone market behind China, after losing it to Xiaomi at the end of 2017, when Xiaomi’s sales in India overtook Samsung for the first time, according to data from both Canalys and Counterpoint.

Xiaomi’s budget Redmi series gave it an advantage since Samsung had a dearth of competitors in the same price bracket, but analysts noted the Korean electronics giant maintains an edge in terms of R&D and supply chain expertise. Samsung leaned into those strengths last year, opening what it describes as the world’s largest mobile phone factory in Noida, just outside of New Delhi.

Specs about the three Galaxy M smartphones emerged last month, with details appearing on platform benchmark Geekbench about devices called M10, M20 and M30, the latter of which may be powered by an Exynos 7885 chip with 4GB ram.

Warsi told Reuters that “the M series has been built around and incepted around Indian millennial consumers.” The price range of Indian-first smartphones will be from less than 10,000 rupees (about $142) to 20,000 rupees. TechCrunch has emailed Samsung for more information about the new phones.

The company will debut the latest version of its flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S10, in San Francisco on Feb. 20.

Ola raises $50M at a $4.3B valuation from two Chinese funds

Ola, the arch-rival of Uber in India, has raised $50 million at a valuation of about $4.3 billion from Sailing Capital, a Hong Kong-based private equity firm, and the China-Eurasian Economic Cooperation Fund (CEECF), a state-backed Chinese fund. The funding was disclosed in regulatory documents sourced by Paper.vc and reviewed by Indian financial publication Mint.

According to Mint, Sailing Capital and CEECF will hold a combined stake of more than 1% in Ola . An Ola spokesperson said the company has no comment.

Ola’s last funding announcement was in October, when it raised $1.1 billion (its largest funding round to date) from Tencent and returning investor SoftBank Group. Ola also said it planned to raise an additional $1 billion from other investors that would take the round’s final amount to about $2.1 billion.

At the time, a source with knowledge of the deal told TechCrunch that Ola was headed toward a post-money valuation of $7 billion once the $2.1 bllion raise was finalized. So while the funding from Sailing Capital and CEECF brings it closer to its funding goal, the latest valuation of $4.3 billion is still lower than the projected amount.

Ola needs plenty of cash to fuel its ambitious expansion both within and outside of India. In addition to ride hailing, Ola got back into the food delivery game at the end of last year by acquiring Foodpanda’s Indian operations to compete with UberEats, Swiggy, Zomato and Google’s Areo. It was a bold move to make as India’s food delivery industry consolidated, especially since Ola had previously launched a food delivery service that shut down after less than one year. To ensure the survival of Foodpanda, Ola poured $200 million into its new acquisition.

A few months later after buying Foodpanda, Ola announced the acquisition of public transportation ticketing startup Ridlr in an all-stock deal. Outside of India, Ola has been focused on a series of international launches. It announced today that it will begin operating in New Zealand, fast on the heels of launches in the United Kingdom and Australia (its first country outside of India) this year.

WeWork China raises $500M to triple the number of cities it covers

WeWork’s China business is getting a fresh injection of capital after it raised $500 million.

The company entered China two years ago and today it covers Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu with nearly 40 locations. It claims 20,000 members, and it is also active in Hong Kong, which technically falls under ‘Greater China.’

The new capital comes from Trustbridge Partners, Singapore’s Temasek, SoftBank, SoftBank’s Vision Fund and Hony Capital. WeWork said it’ll be used for expansion into six new cities: those are Shenzhen, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Nanjing, and Wuhan. This new raise is a Series B, WeWork China previously scored a $500 million Series A last year, which was also when the Chinese entity was founded.

The company has been pretty busy over that 12-month period, most notably it scooped up its largest rival, Naked Hub, in an acquisition deal that is worth a reported $400 million and massively grew its reach.

Naked Hub builds on WeWork’s presence in Greater China by adding 24 office locations and a further 10,000 members. That’s why WeWork China’s figures are so impressive for just two years of operations. Now, this new capital will put WeWork’s own DNA into that network through this planned expansion spree.

“This investment will help WeWork fuel our mission to support creators, small businesses, and large companies across China,” WeWork CEO and co-founder Adam Neumann said in a statement. “WeWork has built an incredible team in China that supports our members every day, serving as a bridge for local companies who want to reach the world as well as for global companies that want to enter the Chinese market.”

Outside of China, WeWork is also making inroads in India — where it launched in 2017 — Korea, Japan (where it operates a joint venture with SoftBank) and Southeast Asia, where it made an acquisition to kick-start its presence. Indeed, WeWork has a float of around $500 million for its operations in Southeast Asia and Korea, although the total pot for India is unknown at this point.

WeWork China’s big raise comes days after Hong Kong’s Campfire pulled in $18 million and Awfis in India raised $20 million.

Korean hotel firm Yanolja moves into Southeast Asia with $15M investment in Zen Rooms

Zen Rooms, the budget hotel network startup founded by Rocket Internet, had faced the deadpool earlier this year after a prospective funding deal collapsed, but now the business appears to have found a home. Korea’s Yanolja, a popular motel brand that has branched out into app-based hotel bookings, has made a strategic investment that could see it fully acquire the business.

Ten-year-old Yanolja is initially paying $15 million for an undisclosed “strategic non-controlling stake,” but it will retain the rights to buy 100 percent of the Zen Rooms business. Zen Rooms clarified that the acquisition is an option and not based on performance or financial metrics.

Founded by a former hotel worker, Lee Su-jin, Yanolja is best known for its lovel hotels although it is trying to clean up the general image of short-stay hotels by promoting them as destinations for business travelers, tourists and families, as noted by a Bloomberg profile story. The company has also grown its own app-based booking service which among the most used in its homeland with 20,000 rooms.

The company is reportedly planning an IPO, so expansion is on its mind.

For those reasons, Zen Rooms fits that new focus. The company borrowed the budget hotel model, first pioneered by SoftBank-backed Oyo in India, and brought it to Southeast Asia when it launched three years ago. The concept is simple, Zen Rooms guarantees minimum standards at all hotels including free WiFi, fresh towels and bedding, hot showers, etc all of which is controlled via a mobile app. Those standards are normal to most hotel stayers, but when traveling in the East, standards can vary wildly especially at budget hotels, which Zen Rooms is focused on.

For hotels, Zen Rooms manages the brand — and sometimes more — and it allows helps them tap the internet to find customers and bookings.

Today, Zen Rooms is active in six cities in Southeast Asia — it had previously also run operations in Brazil, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka — across which it claims to operate 1,000 hotel franchisees with an inventory of more than 7,000 rooms. Its rivals in Southeast Asia include Red Doorz, which raised $11 million earlier this year.

The startup has raised $8 million from investors to date, including a $4.1 million Series A last April that was led by Korea’s Redbadge Pacific and SBI Investment Korea with participation Asia Pacific Internet Group (APACIG), the joint venture fund in Asia between Rocket Internet and Qatari operator Ooredoo.

However, TechCrunch understands that a major funding deal of over $10 million fell apart in Q1 2018 which left the company with a rapidly depleting runway. As a result and as TechCrunch reported in March, the company was aggressively shopped to potential buyers, investors and rival companies in order to keep the business afloat.

Yanolja has come to the rescue but a full buy-out looks like it will be dependent on the company’s future performance, such is often the arrangement with strategic deals made with a view to full ownership. Rocket Internet, which remains a major investor in Zen Rooms, will hope that the deal goes as smoothly as Lazada, its e-commerce service that is now owned by Alibaba.

Lazada ran out of capital in similar circumstances in early 2016 and Alibaba, the Chinese internet giant, came to its aid with a $1 billion investment. Although that was a majority investment it wasn’t a full-on buyoutAlibaba later increased its holdings until it fully owned the business, and today it is a key part of the firm’s overseas expansion strategy.

Already, TechCrunch understands from one source that Zen Rooms has gone on a hiring spree in recent weeks after it closed the deal. It had earlier been forced to make cutbacks to its team as a result of cost-cutting following the collapse of the funding deal earlier in the year.

“We now have the capital to invest,” ZenRooms co-founder Kiren Tanna told TechCrunch. “The deal has been in discussion since earlier this year…. we are treating like an acquisition but this is step one.”

Tanna added that the company plans to focus on five markets in Southeast Asia, and an expansion to Vietnam may be in the pipeline soon.

Online learning platform Unacademy gets $21M Series C from Sequoia India, SAIF and Nexus

Unacademy founders Roman Saini, Gaurav Munjal and Hemesh Singh

Bangalore-based Unacademy will add more educators to its online learning platform, which claims to be India’s largest, after closing a $21 million Series C. The funding comes from Sequoia India, SAIF Partners and Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from Blume Ventures (all four firms are returning from Unacademy’s Series B last year).

Originally a YouTube channel created in 2010 by Gaurav Munjal, Unacademy was officially launched as a startup in 2015 by founders Munjal, Roman Saini and Hemesh Singh. It has now raised $38.6 million in total.

While Unacademy offers a wide range of courses, its most popular offerings include preparation for important exams in India. Its platform includes two apps: one that lets educators create lessons and another that allows users to access them. Unacademy says it has 10,000 registered educators and three million users. Last month, the startup claims 3,000 educators were active on the platform and lessons were watched more than 40 million times.

Many lessons are available for free, though last year Unacademy launched a paid service called Plus that gives users access to features like private discussion forums and live video classes for a per-course fee. Unacademy claims it has achieved six times growth in monthly revenue since launching Plus. The premium classes also help it differentiate from other online learning platforms like Mrunal, a popular site that provides free test preparation for Indian students.

In addition to bringing on more teachers, Unacademy will use its new funding to expand key categories like pre-med, the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) and the Common Admission Test (CAT), which are required by many post-graduate programs.

In a media statement, SAIF partner Alok Goel said “Unacademy has demonstrated tremendous progress towards their goal of delivering personalized learning by connecting great quality educators and students on their platform. The company has diversified across several new domains and has achieved amazing word of mouth among learners.”

Alibaba’s Ant Financial fintech affiliate raises $14 billion to continue its global expansion

Ant Financial, the financial services affiliate connected to Alibaba which operates the Alipay mobile payment service, has confirmed that it has closed a Series C funding round that totals an enormous $14 billion.

The rumors have been flying about this huge financing deal for the past month or so, with multiple publications reporting that Ant — which has been strongly linked with an IPO — was in the market to raise at least $9 billion at a valuation of upwards of $100 billion. That turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg here.

The money comes via a tranche of U.S. dollar financing and Chinese RMB from local investors. Those names include Singapore-based sovereign funds GIC and Temasek, Malaysian sovereign fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Warburg Pincus, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Silver Lake and General Atlantic.

Ant said that the money will go towards extending its global expansion (and deepening its presence in non-China markets it has already entered), developing technology and hiring.

“We are pleased to welcome these investors as partners, who share our vision and mission, to embark on our journey to further promote inclusive finance globally and bring equal opportunities to the world. We are proud of, and inspired by, the transformation we have affected in the lives of ordinary people and small businesses over the past 14 years,” Ant Financial CEO and executive chairman Eric Jing said in a statement.

Alibaba itself doesn’t invest in Ant, which it span off shortly before its mega-IPO in the U.S. in 2014, but the company did recently take up an option to own 33 percent of Ant’s shares.

Ant has long been tipped to go public. Back in 2016 when it raised a then blockbuster $4.5 billionlittle did we know it would pull in many multiples more — the company has been reportedly considering a public listing, but it instead opted to raise new capital at a valuation of $60 billion.

It looks like the same again, but with higher stakes. This new Series C round pushes that valuation up to $100 billion, according to Bloomberg. (Ant didn’t comment on its valuation.) So what has Ant done over the past two years to justify that jump?

It has long been a key fintech company in China, where it claims to serve offer 500 million consumers and offers Alipay, digital banking and investment services, but it has begun to replicate that business overseas in recent years. In particular, it has made investments and set up joint-ventures and new businesses in a slew of Asian countries that include India, Thailand, Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The company was, however, unsuccessful in its effort to buy MoneyGram after the U.S. government blocked the $1.2 billion deal.

On the business-side, Ant is said to have posted a $1.4 billion profit over the last year, suggesting it is more than ready to make the leap to being a public firm.

Despite that U.S. deal setback, Ant said today that its global footprint extends to 870 million consumers. I’d take that with a pinch of salt at this point since its business outside of China is in its early stages, but there seems little doubt that it is on the road to replicating its scale in its homeland in many parts of Asia. Raising this huge round only solidifies those plans by providing the kind of capital infusion that tops most of the world’s IPOs in one fell swoop.

“Social selling” startup Meesho lands $11.5M Series B led by Sequoia India

Y Combinator alum Meesho, one of several “social selling” startups gaining speed in India, will add more features to its e-commerce platform after closing a $11.5 million Series B led by Sequoia India. Existing investors SAIF Partners, Y Combinator and Venture Highway also returned for the round, which brings the Bangalore-based startup’s total funding so far to $15 million. Its last round of funding, a $3.4 million Series A, was announced last October.

Like social selling competitors including GlowRoad and Zepo, Meesho’s model combines dropshipping from its wholesale partners with a comprehensive suite of e-commerce tools and services. This reduces overhead while making it easy for sellers, who Meesho says includes many housewives, students and retirees, to set up an online business through WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media.

Meesho’s tools include an online platform that allows sellers to manage purchases and process payments, as well as a network of wholesale suppliers (its main categories are currently fashion and lifestyle items) and logistics providers. In other words, it offers almost everything its vendors need to start selling online. This leaves vendors responsible for customer acquisition, picking what items they want to include in their online shops and marketing them.

This reselling model appeals to small stores, as well as individuals, who want to make more money but don’t want the expense of setting up an e-commerce business from scratch and carrying inventory. Meesho’s rivals include e-commerce startups like GlowRoad, Shopmatic and Zepo, which have also recently raised large funding rounds. All of these companies attract sellers by offering a significant amount of help with order management, payment processing, fulfillment and logistics.

In order to differentiate, chief executive officer Vidit Aatrey, who co-founded Meesho in 2015 with Sanjeev Barnwal, its chief technology officer, tells TechCrunch it focuses on product quality, pricing and personalization to help resellers improve their sales and customer service. Meesho claims that more than 800,000 resellers have used its platform and that a “typical” reseller earns between 20,000 to 25,000 rupees per month (about $298 to $373).

In a press statement about the funding, Sequoia India managing director Mohit Bhatnagar said “Social commerce is the future of e-commerce in India. People buy from people they trust, and that’s what Meesho enables.  Entrepreneurs, many of them women, use the Meesho platform to recommend, customize and sell to their family and friends. Social selling is a huge trend and Sequoia India is excited to partner with Meesho, which is the early leader in this space.”

Aatrey says Meesho’s Series B capital will be used to hire more people for its tech and product teams in order to build a suite of new customer acquisition and selling tools. The startup also plans to add more personalization options for its resellers and product categories.

‘Westworld’ went to imperialist India this week and we didn’t really need it

TwitterFacebook

Westworld Season 2, episode 3 didn’t begin in any place we’ve seen. The episode opened on what appeared to be colonial India, which we immediately realize is another Delos park: The Raj.

It’s certainly a twist in what fans expected of Season 2 – namely a clamoring for Shogun World – and an interesting choice, to say the least.

The purpose of introducing The Raj – which we may not ever see again – is twofold: First, to see that hosts in other parks are revolting, just as they are in Westworld, and to learn where that monstrously large Bengal tiger came from in episode 1. Read more…

More about Entertainment, Television, India, Hbo, and Westworld

Ola will add 10,000 electric rickshaws to its India fleet over the next year

Ola announced today that it will add 10,000 electric auto-rickshaws to its fleet in India over the next 12 months. The program, called “Mission: Electric,” is part of its ambitious plan to put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2021. The company launched a trial EV program last year in the city of Nagpur, but has reportedly run into some recent road bumps.

Three-wheel rickshaws are a popular way of making quick trips in many cities and can be hailed through Ola’s app; the company’s electric vehicle trial program in Nagpur, which started in May 2017, already includes rickshaws. As part of “Mission: Electric,” Ola said it will add 10,000 new electric rickshaws across three additional cities this year.

To enable drivers to switch to EVs, Ola’s program also includes infrastructure like rooftop solar panels and charging stations. Last month, however, Factor Daily reported that Ola is scaling back its electric vehicle plans after India’s government appeared to become less enthusiastic about creating an explicit EV policy, despite its previously stated goal of making all new vehicles electric by 2030.

Around the same time, Reuters reported that many Ola drivers participating in its Nagpur trial wanted to switch back to fuel-powered cars because of long waiting times at charging stations and higher operating costs.

An Ola representative told TechCrunch that the company has installed charging dockets at the homes of some drivers so they can save time by swapping out batteries, stating that “with new technologies like battery swapping, the charging experience has been significantly improved.” Ola is currently in discussions with several state and municipal governments about where to launch its electric rickshaw program and is “willing to work with any city committed to sustainable mobility solutions.”

“We have clocked more than four million [electric] kilometers and have learned the ins and outs of vehicles, capabilities and applications. We have learned real-world operating challenges and cost implications of chargers, batteries and solars,” she added. “Deployment of electric vehicles would require support of like-minded partners.”

India just cracked down on cryptocurrency. Hard.

TwitterFacebook

Indian officials are not here for your cryptocurrency games. 

Government officials with the Reserve Bank of India announced on Thursday that, effective immediately, banks would be prohibited from “dealing with or providing services to any individuals or business entities dealing with or settling virtual currencies.”

Essentially, that means people in India are now unable to move money from bank accounts to exchanges in order to buy cryptocurrency. What’s more, if you’ve sold your fat gains for cash, you are no longer able to move that money back to your bank account. Read more…

More about India, Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency, Tech, and Other

Unusual smoke-breathing elephant baffles scientists

TwitterFacebook

For scientists conducting long term research on tigers and their prey, catching an elephant smoking is a rather strange sight.

That’s what they discovered when they visited camera trap locations around India’s Nagarahole National Park.

“I believe the elephant may have been trying to ingest wood charcoal,” Varun Goswami, an elephant biologist working with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). “She appeared to be picking up pieces from the forest floor, blowing away the ash that came along with it, and consuming the rest.”

According to WCS, charcoal has toxin-binding properties which could be useful medicinally. It’s also useful as a laxative, serving a purpose after forest fires, lightning strikes, or controlled burns. Read more…

More about Animals, India, Elephant, Elephants, and Culture

India-based music streaming service Gaana raises $115M led by Tencent

 Chinese internet giant Tencent is continuing to put its money in India and in music streaming services after it agreed to lead a $115 million investment in India’s Gaana. Gaana is a music streaming service that was started by Times Media, the company behind the Times of India newspaper and tech incubator Times Internet among other things, seven years ago. Gaana didn’t reveal its… Read More

Uber rival Ola buys Foodpanda India to get into food deliveries

 Ola, the Uber rival in India, is entering the food delivery space after it announced a deal to acquire Foodpanda’s India business from its parent company DeliveryHero. The deal will see Ola scoop up the Foodpanda India business with DeliveryHero taking an undisclosed amount of Ola stock in exchange. Undisclosed all-stock deals are usually indicative of a willingness to sell, and we… Read More

Uber’s Indian rival Ola begins offering a bicycle-sharing service

 Ola, the company battling Uber in India, has turned to pedal power after it introduced a bike-sharing service. China’s Didi Chuxing and Grab in Southeast Asia have invested in bike-sharing companies, which offered dock-less bikes that users can pick up across a city and leave anywhere they want when they’re done, and now Ola — which recently raised $1.1 billion in fresh… Read More

Woman creates board game about arranged marriages based on her experience getting out of one

TwitterFacebook

Nashra Balagamwala was only 18 when she first faced pressure to enter into an arranged marriage.

More than five years later, she’s back with something that has helped her get out of an arranged marriage — a board game.

Arranged! is a board game that follows three women. Their objective? Avoid the matchmaker.

Balagamwala, who’s previously worked for board game giant Hasbro, first came up with the idea of making her game, after making a list of all the things she had done to avoid an arranged marriage.

“Wearing fake engagement rings, getting a tan or being seen with male friends in public, [these are] the things I had done to avoid an arranged marriage myself,” she told Mashable. Read more…

More about India, Board Games, Pakistan, Hasbro, and Arranged Mariage

Powered by WPeMatico

Chinese state media just released a terribly racist video mocking Indians

TwitterFacebook

A video released by Chinese state media is turning heads for all the wrong reasons.

The Xinhua News Agency, China’s official press agency, on Wednesday released a video accusing India of committing several “sins.” 

The video features a man dressed in a turban and a fake beard, speaking in a supposed “Indian” accent. 

The video, titled “7 Sins of India“, comes amid months of increasing tensions between China and India over a border dispute, which has become known as the Doklam standoff.

The three-minute long video sees a Chinese presenter explaining the Doklam standoff via a script chiding India, while the Indian “guest star” enacts a mock dialogue to a canned laugh soundtrack. Read more…

More about China, India, Racist, Doklam, and Xinhua

Powered by WPeMatico

Hike beats WhatsApp to launching messenger app payments in India

 India-focused mobile messaging service Hike landed funding from Tencent last year, and today it took a major step to emulating the Chinese firm’s WeChat app with the introduction of mobile payments. The launch of Hike Pay not only shows an ambition to build a messaging platform, it also means Hike has beaten WhatsApp, the chat app that dominates India, to the punch. Facebook-owned… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

UberEATS starts serving in India, its fourth Asian market

TwitterFacebook

Uber had announced in January that it was bringing its food delivery service to India, its fastest-growing market in the world. And finally, it’s here. 

UberEATS has rolled out in Mumbai and will soon be taken to five other Indian cities.

India becomes UberEATS’ fourth Asian market, after it launched in Singapore last May, followed by Tokyo (Japan) and Bangkok (Thailand).

Interestingly, Uber’s local rival Ola had started a similar service, Ola Cafe, in 2015 and shut it down a year later after reportedly failing to expand its network of restaurants.   Read more…

More about Ecommerce, Startups, Asia, India, and Food Delivery Services

Powered by WPeMatico

Amazon launches Fire TV Stick in India

TwitterFacebook

Now that Amazon has put its content catalog in place for Prime Video users in India, the company is ready to expand its ecosystem.

On Wednesday, the company announced that it is bringing the Fire TV Stick to India, only the fifth market for the miniature streaming device.

The company is offering the Fire TV Stick at a price point of Rs 3,999 ($60), with Prime subscribers getting an additional $7.5 discount. 

The Chromecast rival, the Fire TV Stick, offers a range of additional services including built-in apps. Amazon says users can find entertainment apps such as EROS TV, Netflix, Gaana on the device.  Read more…

More about Netflix, India, Amazon, Fire Stick Tv, and Amazon Prime Video

Powered by WPeMatico

India-based doctor booking platform Lybrate quietly raises $3M more

 Indian health tech startup Lybrate has raised $3 million in new funding, according to a filing in the U.S., where it is incorporated.
Lybrate declined to comment on the filing, nor would it provide details of the investors who participated in the round.
Make what you will of that cagey response. The company last raised $10.2 million led by Tiger Global in July 2015, which is some time ago. Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

India's first workplace with 'pawternity' leave is here

TwitterFacebook

Pets require a lot of attention when you first get themLike, a lot

Sometimes you, as an adoptive parent, are compelled to bunk work and tend to your fur babies. Very few workplaces though understand this need to allow “pawternity” time.

But, now there’s one from India, and possibly the country’s first.

Publishing giant HarperCollins India has announced pawternity leave for its pet-adopting employees. Starting this year, they will be entitled to a week’s — or 5 working days’ — paid leave if they have just adopted a pet, HuffPost India reportedRead more…

More about Parenting Family, India, Workplace Safety, Workplace, and Workplace Culture

Powered by WPeMatico

WhatsApp will reportedly launch peer-to-peer payments in India within 6 months

 WhatsApp may be about to introduce peer-to-peer payments in India, which is its largest market with over 200 million users. A report from The Ken, an India-based subscription media company that we recently profiled, claims that WhatsApp plans to use UPI, a cross-bank payment system backed by the government, to begin enable payments between users within the next six months. “India is… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Apple opens App Accelerator in India to foster iOS app development

TwitterFacebook

Apple is taking further steps to foster the developer ecosystem in the world’s fastest growing smartphone market. 

The Cupertino-based company said it will open a new App Accelerator in Bangalore, India. The announcement comes less than a year after the company said it would open an iOS App Design and Development Accelerator in India’s Silicon Valley. 

Through the new App Accelerator, the company hopes to offer specialised support to developers as well as tools to help them push the boundaries. 

At the centre, a group of experts will lead briefings and provide one-on-one app reviews for developers. The company is calling it “the first-of-its-kind facility” for the nation which already has tens of thousands of developers making apps for iOS.   Read more…

More about Bangalore, India, Developers, Developer, and Iphone

Powered by WPeMatico

Truecaller adds payments and Google Duo video calls in move to rival WhatsApp in India

Sweden-based startup Truecaller made its name as a nifty mobile app that helps people fielder out unwanted phone calls and messaging, but now it is making a move to become a platform. At a press event in India, Truecaller’s largest market based on its 150 million users, the company announced a series of partnerships, including a tie-in with Google which will see the U.S.… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Truecaller gets payment support and Duo integration as it trickles to feature phones

TwitterFacebook

For Truecaller, an app that offers real-time caller ID and spam protection, the past two years have been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. 

On one hand, the eight-year-old service continues to grow strongly in developing markets, and has also chalked out plans to attract people globally.

On the other hand, several features that made Truecaller so popular are now shipping out of the box with iPhone and Android smartphones. 

So what does the Swedish company doing to survive in the market? Partnerships, mostly, it said today at an event in New Delhi.  Read more…

More about Apple, Android, Ios, Spam Protection, and India

Powered by WPeMatico

India blocks 'The Danish Girl' from airing on TV

TwitterFacebook

India’s film censorship board has barred Sony Pictures’ channel from telecasting Oscar-recognized film, The Danish Girl. 

The movie was slated to air on Sunday. However, the film authority objected to its supposedly “sensitive storyline” and dubbed it “unsuitable” for audiences below 18.

In The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne plays the main character grappling with his gender identity, and is based on historical events of the world’s first sex reassignment surgery.

The broadcaster tweeted: “We regret to inform you that Sony Le Plex HD is unable to telecast the television premiere of the award-winning film The Danish Girl on March 26 as the necessary certification to enable the telecast of the movie has not been received.” Read more…

More about Lgbtq, Censorship, India, Movies, and Entertainment

Powered by WPeMatico

Vodafone India confirms it is merging with Idea Cellular to form India’s largest telco

 Vodafone India has confirmed that it has reached an agreement to acquire rival Idea Cellular. The deal, which is being painted as a merger, will create India’s largest operator with some 377 million customers. The company revealed it was in talks with Idea Cellular over a deal in January, and the coming-together was announced today. Subject to the relevant approvals, it is expected… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Vodafone merges with rival to create India's largest phone network

TwitterFacebook

Vodafone’s India arm has merged with rival Idea Cellular to form the largest cellular service network in India.

The joint entity will have a subscriber base of nearly 400 million and a revenue market share of 41 percent, according to reports.

India with over a billion mobile connections is presently witnessing a telecom war  triggered by Reliance Jio, a low-cost 4G network started by the country’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

Jio, which claims to be offering the cheapest mobile data in the world, has lured 100 million customers in super-quick time, sending shivers down the spine of its peers.  Read more…

More about India, Reliance Jio, Telecommunications, Vodafone, and Mergers

Powered by WPeMatico

You will soon be able to pay for Netflix using Paytm

TwitterFacebook

Netflix is about to make it much more convenient for Indians to pay for its monthly subscription. 

The on-demand video streaming service will soon integrate the Paytm mobile wallet service as a payment method, according to two sources familiar with the matter. 

Right now, the company only supports credit cards for payments, the penetration of which remains very low in India. This has been among one of the chief factors in limiting the company’s reach in the country.

The California-based company recently met with several Indian wallet companies who presented their offerings and it has finalised its talks with Paytm, said one source, who requested anonymity.  Read more…

More about Payments, Wallet, India, Paytm, and Netflix

Powered by WPeMatico

Qatar Airways is launching in one of the biggest aviation markets in the world

TwitterFacebook

Qatar Airways, which was running for the title of the world’s longest flight operator last year, is soon launching an airline in India — one of the top ten aviation markets in the world.

QA chief Akbar Al Baker announced at the ITB Berlin Travel Show on Wednesday that the carrier would be making an application to the India government soon, Times of India reports.

The Doha-based airline is owned by the state of Qatar and its operations in India would be in partnership with the investment arm of the Qatar government. Read more…

More about Travel, India, Qatar Airways, Aviation, and World

Powered by WPeMatico

Former Indian minister falls for online puppy scam

TwitterFacebook

A former Indian minister has been duped in an online puppy sale. 

Salman Khurshid, who had served in the previous government, tried buying a pedigree Maltese puppy on a website that was offering them for cheap.

However, that was not to be. This came to light after Khurshid filed a police report against the ecommerce scammer, Press Trust of India reports.

“On February 13, I came across an advertisement on the internet for the sale of two Maltese puppies by one Tonny Wallace for Rs 12,000 ($180) per puppy,” Khurshid said in a complaint filed at a New Delhi police station. Read more…

More about India, Ecommerce, Scams, Pets, and World

Powered by WPeMatico

Samsung Pay is now live in India

 Samsung Pay has launched in India where it is working on selected devices, according to a report from Sam Mobile. The Korean firm had teased its entry to India’s payments market last month, but now it has rolled out with support for banks Axis, HDFC, ICICI, SBI, and Standard Chartered, and credit and debit cards from MasterCard and Visa. Beyond traditional financial organizations,… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

India hoists its tallest flag at the border but some are highly unimpressed

TwitterFacebook

Indians have a new selfie spot to show off their national pride. 

The Tricolor was hoisted on the country’s tallest flag post (360 feet) at the Indo-Pak Attari Border on Sunday. And in no time, locals and tourists thronged the venue to witness the sight.

The 120-feet-long and 80-feet-wide flag was unveiled by a member of India’s ruling political party.

India’s tallest (350 feets high) National Flag hosted at the reception Centre of Wagah Border today. Jai Hind 🇮🇳🇮🇳 pic.twitter.com/3NDn5PCwDM

— Kamal Sharma (@kamalsharmabjp) March 5, 2017 Read more…

More about Politics, Tourist Attraction, Flags, Pakistan, and India

Powered by WPeMatico