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Elon Musk is building a ‘kid-size submarine’ to rescue Thai kids trapped in cave

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Elon Musk is coming to the rescue.

The tech leader, along with SpaceX and Boring Company engineers, have been working with cave experts in Thailand to rescue the boys’ soccer team of 12 that’s been stuck in a cave system since June 23.

On Saturday, Musk tweeted an updated rescue plan, which essentially involves constructing “a tiny, kid-size submarine” that he plans to fly to Thailand.

Musk began his Saturday updates by discussing an “escape pod design” and “an inflatable tube with airlocks.” But as the day progressed, he settled on the idea of a mini-submarine. Read more…

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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.

Southeast Asia’s Carro raises $60M for its automotive classifieds and car financing service

Carro, an automotive classifieds service and car financing startup based in Singapore, has closed a $60 million Series B round to scale its business in Southeast Asia.

The deal was co-led by SoftBank Ventures Korea, Insignia Ventures — the firm from ex-Sequoia Asia partner Yinglan Tan — and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital Group. Other participants include IDG Ventures India founder Manika Arora (via his family fund) and existing Carro backers Venturra,
Singtel Innov8, Golden Gate Ventures and Alpha JWC.

Carro raised a $12 million Series A round in March 2017. This latest capital takes it to $78 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase.

The 2.5-year-old company said in an announcement that $250 million of vehicles were sold last year across its three markets: Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. That’s more than double the $120 million it claimed in 2016. Last March, Carro introduced its Genie Finance underwriting business, and over its first year, it claims to have originated over $100 million in loans while amassing a loan book of nearly $40 million.

Carro CEO Aaron Tan previously spent time at Singtel Innov8 and is one of a trio of co-founders. Tan told TechCrunch that the capital will initially be spent growing Carro’s business in Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, but further down the line, there’s a plan for expansion.

“The exact markets are still to be determined but it may be a small setup in Japan and other sources of cars,” he added.

Carro has already expanded in terms of services. Initially a vehicle marketplace, it launched Genie Finance and has also forayed into insurance brokerage and road-side assistance. It recently introduced a service that completes vehicle sales in 60 minutes — Carro Express — which it said is now available in 30 locations across Southeast Asia.

“We will double down on our online marketplaces and financing in emerging markets this year. Ultimately, we want to improve the experience of selling and buying a car, as well as provide access to capital to the next billion people, which will improve the quality of lives,” Tan said in a statement.

Carro is rivaled by a number of startups, including BeliMobilGue in Indonesia, Carsome, iCar Asia and Rocket Internet’s Carmudi, although with its new raise in the bank Carro is the best-funded by some margin.

iCar Asia, which is managed by Malaysian venture builder Catcha, raised $19 million last November. This year has seen Carsome — which covers Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand — raise a $19 million Series B, BeliMobilGue — Indonesia-only — raise $3.7 million and Carmudi land $10 million.

In the case of Carmudi, the business has retrenched itself. At its peak it covered over 20 markets worldwide across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, but today its focus is on Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Carro’s monster raise follows another notable deal in Southeast Asia today which saw Carousell close a Series C round worth $85 million. The firm added backing from new investors DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest bank, and EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board.

Battered by tourists, the Thai beach from ‘The Beach’ to close temporarily

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Thailand’s natural wonders are feeling the force of tourism, forcing one to close temporarily.

Maya Bay, a great beach on Phi Phi Leh island made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio in the not-so-great movie The Beach, will be temporarily closed for four months a year from June, as reported by the Associated Press.

Thailand’s National Parks and Wildlife Department made the decision on Wednesday to allow the island’s coral reefs and sea life to recover. The beach is open all-year round, in contrast to the many Thai marine parks closed between mid-May to mid-October. Read more…

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Kyklo is bringing the billion-dollar electromechanical industry into digital sales

The electromechanical industry may not be the kind of sexy tech that you’ll regularly read about in TechCrunch, but we like solutions to problems, and that is why I am about to write about a company in the aforementioned industry. Add in that the startup is based in Asia — Thailand, to be precise — and we have the recipe for a young company to keep an eye on.

Kyklo is the company and it is aimed at bringing the electromechanical space, which is worth over $1 trillion per year across 100,000s of distributors and retailers worldwide, into the digital era. The company operates a service that brings sales channels, inventory and networks online to replace the existing system, which is largely offline.

As of now, for example, if an OEM is selling air conditioning units for a new building development — the industry touches 5-20 percent of every new building via electrical equipment — the process will typically be handled by a reseller who presents a paper-based inventory to the buyer. Kyklo is proposing to take things online by allowing OEMs to lay out their inventory in a web-based shop — like Shopify — which can then be used by the reseller to solicit sales.

The idea may seem elementary, but the benefits go beyond ease of use — a website obviously has plenty of benefits over a physical sales catalog — including increased visibility to the OEM, who previously relied on the reseller for sales data. Resellers themselves also have a more dynamic catalog of products to share with prospective sales leads, which is also designed to feature highly in search engine rankings to help bring in inbound sales leads.

Kyklo began as a Shopify-like solution when it was founded in 2015 by two former employees of Schneider Electric, the $50-billion electric and energy company that is listed in Paris, France. Over the past year, however, the startup refocused into a sales lead and management tool for both OEMs and resellers.

CEO Remi Ducrocq — who started Kyklo with fellow co-founder and CTO Fabien Legouic — told TechCrunch that there was an expectation that simply by launching a store sales leads would land. While Kyklo does optimize search ranking, it works best as an aid for teams by helping coordinate sales leads, giving greater transparency on data — for future sales predictions — making it easy to add new products quickly, and automating much of the process for repeat customers.

Kyklo CEO Remi Ducrocq and CTO Fabien Legouic (left and right) both formerly worked for Schneider Electric

Rather than spending time requests from existing customers with phone calls and emails, resellers can simply provide a link to the catalog and enable customers to handle the re-purchasing process by themselves. That frees up resources to chase new sales and more.

“When we pitch distributors on why they should digitize their sales operations, it is first about how you get your existing customers online. So you shift your business from offline to online and by doing so you’ll get better satisfaction and you’ll be able to saturate your customer base,” Ducrocq said, pointing out that the service has helped some customers add 20 percent more sales from existing customers.

“Considering a distributor has 10 sales guys covering 1,000 customers, the truth is they only spend time with 50 guys who do 80 percent of the orders,” Ducrocq added. “On existing customers, a lot of the work is really admin [so] that’s something you can take off by making it digital.”

Kyklo’s customer base includes Schneider Electric and Thailand-based Interlink, the latter of which told TechCrunch in a statement that it grew revenue from its online business five-fold “in a matter of months” after coming on the Kyklo platform.

The benefit for OEMs is obvious, but initially some resellers were initially unsure of allowing a third-party into the relationship with their supplier (OEM). Kyklo CEO Ducrocq said his company has no interest in entering the reseller space. In fact, it has field agents who accompany resellers to meetings with their major buyers to help them come aboard while it jointly works on data and statistics to help reseller teams target new sales opportunities.

While it is sticking firmly to its position in the sales cycle, the startup does, however, have designs on international expansion. Right now, has customers in seven markets in Asia — Ducrocq is half-French, half-Thai hence the initial location in Bangkok — but already it is casting eyes on the European and North American markets.

U.S.-based Handshake, a B2B sales platform that has raised over $20 million from investors, is perhaps one of the most notable competitors it would come up against, but Kyklo believes its focus on the electromechanical space can help it conquer its niche. The startup is also looking to expand its relationship with existing global customers who it services in Asia to cover new markets that will give it a rolling start to its expansions.

“Right now we’re looking at which two countries we will do in Europe, and where we will go in the U.S.,” Ducrocq said.

In order to aid that expansion, Kyklo has raised funding from investors that include Singapore-based duo SeedPlus and Wavemaker Partners. Ducrocq declined to provide financial details of the round, while he also declined to give financial details on Kyklo’s business.

The company currently has 40 staff in its Bangkok HQ, with a number of remote business development and sales executives. While it plans to increase the number of staff it has outside of Thailand, there is no plan to relocate its main office from Bangkok.

The Kyklo office in Bangkok

Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank backs cloud accounting startup in first deal for $30M fund

 Thailand’s banks have stepped up to chase the startup dream over the past year. Following on from SCB’s Digital Ventures, which has backed blockchain startup Ripple among others, Kasikorn Bank (KBank) has made the first investment from its $30 million fund — a $1.15 million round for Bangkok-based FlowAccount. KBank announced its Beacon fund this summer. It has made… Read More

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Those food stalls you love about Bangkok are about to disappear from Bangkok

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Bangkok’s iconic bustling streets, lined with food vendors may soon vanish.

The government is moving to ban these food carts and makeshift clothing stalls from the capital’s main roads, as part of a campaign to clean up the city.

“All types of stalls including clothes, counterfeit goods and food stalls will be banned from main city roads,” Walop Suwandee, chief adviser to Bangkok’s governor, told news agency AFP.

“They will not be allowed for order and hygiene reasons.”

Officials have for weeks been forcing vendors out of Thonglor, one of the city’s popular tourist districts, but the latest announcement confirms that the ban is city-wide.  Read more…

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BBC's shortwave transmissions from Thailand go dark, after talks fail

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The British Broadcasting Corporation announced Wednesday it is ending its shortwave transmissions from Thailand after 20 years of operation, because it failed to reach agreement with Thailand’s military government on a renewal of its operating permit.

Shortwave transmissions are radio broadcasts in the AM band. Demand for AM receivers has dropped steeply over the years, but the BBC had still employed 45 staff members, who may lose their jobs with the decision.

Its Thai transmitters were serving the East Asia region. The BBC moved its East Asia relay station to Thailand from Hong Kong after the handover of the British colony to China in 1997. Read more…

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Turtle living in wishing pond gets surgery after years of eating of coins left by tourists

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The Thai sea turtle that spent years eating coins off the bottom of a wishing pond has undergone a successful surgery.

The 25-year-old, nicknamed Omsin (Thai for “piggy bank”), was found with an engorged stomach full of heavy coins, and she made headlines as a warning to people casting coins into ponds for good luck.

The coins, found in her stomach and intestines, were pressing on her other organs, and preventing her from diving, breathing or eating properly.

Vets operated on Omsin on Monday, removing removed some 915 coins weighing nearly 5 kg, according to Nantarika Chansue, an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University who has been spearheading the turtle’s recovery. Read more…

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Stop throwing coins into ponds, this sea turtle ate a whole bunch and needs surgery

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Years of eating coins dropped at the bottom of a pond has rendered a sea turtle in pain, and headed to the surgery ward.

The 25-year-old Thai sea turtle was discovered living in a pond in Si Racha, a town on the east coast of Thailand, according to the Bangkok Post

Vets conducted a CT scan and discovered a lump of coins measuring an alarming 20 x 23 x 30 cm (7.8 x 9 x 11 in.) in the turtle’s body, pressing down on its ventral shell (or the turtle’s belly), causing it to be cracked, swollen and infected. Scans also showed a fish hook in her intestine.  Read more…

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Asia's best restaurant has a frustratingly confusing menu of only 22 emojis

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Gaggan is a posh restaurant that’s been crowned Asia’s best for the third year in a row.

So imagine going there and having to order off an all-emoji menu

Gaggan’s menu is a minimalist one-pager of just 22 emojis, each representing one dish. 

The emojis provide a clue as to what each dish is, although if you ask us, it’s still some pretty tough guesswork.

Image: live from a lounge

However, some of the dishes look pretty true to their emoji counterparts.

Take for example the first course, “Kiss Me”, which is represented by a kissing emoji. Read more…

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Rocket Internet’s Zalora is retreating from two more countries in Asia

zalora Zalora, the Rocket Internet-backed online fashion store, is continuing its retreat from Asia. The firm sold off its businesses in Vietnam and Thailand last year, and now it is withdrawing from the Philippines and Indonesia.
Yesterday it transpired that Zalora sold 49 percent of its Philippines-based operations to local real estate firm Ayala, as E27 reported, but it is in the process of… Read More

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