Netflix to release 41 original Indian shows and movies this year

Netflix said on Wednesday it will roll out 41 Indian films and shows this year, its biggest annual roster of Indian content to date, as the American giant makes further push to win subscribers in the world’s second largest internet market.

The streaming giant, which committed to spending about $420 million on locally produced Indian content in 2019 and 2020, is this year spending significantly more on the new Indian catalog, which is three times larger than the past two years combined.

The new titles feature high-profile Indian actors and directors including Madhuri Dixit, Karan Johar, Manoj Bajpayee, R. Madhavan, Raveena Tandon, Neena Gupta, and Dhanush.

The new roster includes “Bombay Begums,” which follows stories of five women across generations wrestling with desire, ethics, and personal crises, “Decoupled,” a comedy by writer Manu Joseph on India and marriage, and a second season of Emmy-winning drama “Delhi Crime.”

Also in the list are comedy specials that have become immensely popular on streaming services in India. Netflix said comedians including Sumukhi Suresh, Aakaash Gupta, Rahul Dua, and Prashasti Singh — all of whom have participated in comedy shows by Amazon Prime Video — will have shows on the streaming service this year.

Kota Factory, a show that debuted on YouTube about a group of students preparing to compete to get into the prestigious engineering colleges, will premier its second season on Netflix. The Viral Fever, the producer of the show, had collaborated with Indian edtech startup Unacademy, for the first season of the show.

Dice Media’s “Little Things”, which also began its life as native advertisement for a few firms but has since grown into its own show, is getting a fourth season this year.

“Our upcoming lineup features more variety and diversity than we have seen before. From the biggest films and series, to gripping documentaries and reality, and bold comedy formats. We are taking our next big leap in India to bring you more than 40 powerful and irresistible stories from all corners of the country,” said Monika Shergill, Vice President of Content at Netflix India.

“This is just a taste of the films and series to come. We are so excited to share these rich and diverse stories from the best and brightest creators and talent from India to the world,” said Shergill.

R. Madhavan and Surveen Chawla in a still from Netflix’s upcoming show “Decoupled.” (Netflix)

Netflix’s growing catalog in India comes as Bollywood, which churns out more movies than any other film industry, struggles to deliver big hits as theatres across the country report low footfall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, the Indian film industry began releasing several movies directly on streaming services after some pushback from several key players.

Karan Johar said at Netflix’s virtual press conference that streaming services are increasingly reaching the level of scale in India that the next “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” — one of the biggest blockbuster films in India, and also one directed by Johar — can release directly on Netflix.

Thanks to the availability of some of the world’s cheapest mobile data and proliferation of low-cost Android smartphones, more than half a billion Indians came online in the past decade, much of it in the last five years.

YouTube reaches more than 450 million internet users in India, TechCrunch reported in January. (India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad corroborated the figure at a press conference last month.) Disney’s Hotstar has amassed over 30 million paying subscribers in India. Media consulting firm MPA estimates that Netflix has about 5 million subscribers in India, a figure that has grown in recent years as the streaming service inked a deal with India’s largest telecom operator Jio Platforms.

Netflix’s growing focus on India also comes at a time when New Delhi is getting more involved with the nature of content on on-demand streaming services. Until now Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services have operated in India without having to worry too much about the nature of their content. But that’s changing, according to new rules announced by India last week.

“The category classification of a content will take into account the potentially offensive impact of a film on matters such as caste, race, gender, religion, disability or sexuality that may arise in a wide range of works, and the classification decision will take account of the strength or impact of their inclusion,” the new rules state.

Amazon issued a rare apology to viewers in India on Tuesday after some people — including lawmakers with governing Bhartiya Janata Party — objected to some scenes from its political mini-series “Tandav.” Netflix, itself, has faced some heat, too. A police case was filed against two top executives of Netflix, including Shergill, after some people objected to scenes of the show “A Suitable Boy.”

#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #apps, #asia, #disney, #entertainment, #hotstar, #india, #media, #mx-player, #netflix

0

China’s cosmetics startup Yatsen to buy 35-year-old skincare brand Eve Lom

In China’s cosmetics world, where foreign brands were historically revered, indigenous startups are increasingly winning over Gen-Z consumers with cheaper, more localized options. One of the rising stars is the direct-to-consumer brand Perfect Diary, which is owned by five-year-old startup Yatsen.

Yatsen impressed the capital market with a $617 million initial public offering on NYSE in November. Its flagship brand Perfect Diary consistently ranks among the top makeup brands by online sales next to giants like L’Oreal and Shiseido. Now the company is plotting another big move as it set out to buy Eve Lom, a 35-year-old skincare brand owned by British private equity firm, Manzanita Capital.

On Wednesday, Yatsen, named after the father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen, announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Eve Lom, which is known for its cleanser. The deal is expected to close within the next few weeks and Manzanita will retain a minority stake in the business and serve as a strategic partner.

The size of the deal wasn’t disclosed but Bloomberg reported in February that Manzanita was looking to sell Eve Lom for as much as $200 million.

Perfect Diary rose to prominence in China by partnering with influencers who reviewed the brand’s lipsticks, eyeshadow palettes, foundation and other products on Chinese social commerce platforms like Xiaohongshu. It took advantage of its vicinity to China’s abundant cosmetics and packaging suppliers, many of whom also work with top international brands. The strategies have allowed Perfect Diary to offer affordable prices without compromising quality, and earn it the moniker, “Xiaomi for cosmetics.”

Growth has skyrocketed at Yatsen since its founding. Its gross sales more than quadrupled to 3.5 billion yuan ($540 million) in 2019 from 2018, thanks to an effective e-commerce strategy. But losses also ballooned. The company recorded a net loss of 1.16 billion yuan ($170 million) in the nine months ended September 2020, compared to a net income of 29.1 million yuan in the year before.

Yatsen has been on the hunt for potential acquisitions to diversify its product portfolio, as it noted in its prospectus. Through the Eve Lom marriage, the company hopes to “enrich our global brand-building capabilities and product offerings,” said Jinfeng Huang, founder and CEO of Yatsen in the announcement.

Yatsen has already embarked on international expansion, landing in Southeast Asia first where it is selling on e-commerce sites like Shopee. It said in the prospectus that it plans on “selectively cooperating with local partners to accelerate our international expansion and localize our product offerings.” In the competitive and entrenched makeup world, Yatsen’s overseas expedition is definitely a curious one to watch.

#asia, #china, #cosmetics, #ecommerce, #lipstick, #perfect-diary, #southeast-asia, #tc, #xiaohongshu, #xiaomi, #yatsen

0

Indonesian supply chain startup Advotics raises $2.75M led by East Ventures

The rapid growth of e-commerce in Indonesia, especially during the pandemic, is placing increasing demands on its supply chain infrastructure. But the country’s logistics industry is highly fragmented, with companies usually relying on multiple providers for one shipment, and many warehouses are still concentrated around major cities. Advotics wants to help with software to make the whole supply chain easier to track, and recently closed a $2.75 million funding round led by East Ventures.

Founded in 2016 by Boris Sanjaya, Hendi Chandi and Jeffry Tani, Advotics currently counts more than 70 clients, ranging from individual resellers to large corporations like Exxonmobil, Danone, Reckitt Benckiser, Sampoerna, Kalbe and Mulia Group.

According to research institution Statistics Indonesia, there are about 5 million small and medium-sized manufacturers in Indonesia. They use a supply chain with 15 million small to mid-sized distributors and about 288,000 large distribution companies. This fragmentation means higher expenses, with Report Linker estimating that logistics costs range between 25% to 30% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product.

To help make logistics more efficient for its clients, Advotics offers SaaS solutions to monitor almost their entire supply and logistics chain, from warehouse inventory to generating delivery routes for drivers. It includes a product digitalization feature that uses QR codes to track products and prevent counterfeiting. The company’s new funding will be used to launch a online-to-offline system for SMEs and grow its sales team.

Advotics is among several tech startups that are taking different approaches to tackle Indonesia’s logistics infrastructure. For example, Shipper wants to give sellers access to “Amazon-level logistics,” while Logisly is focused on digitizing truck shipments. Waresix recently acquired Trukita to connect businesses to shippers and truck shipment platform Kargo’s backers include Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick.

#advotics, #asia, #ecommerce, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #logistics, #southeast-asia, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc

0

Sequoia Capital India’s Surge invests $2M in sales engagement platform Outplay

A Zoom screenshot showing members of Outplay's team on a video call

Outplay’s team members on a video call

Sales engagement platforms (SEP) help sales teams automate and track the large number of tasks they need to do each day as they contact leads and hone in on potential deals. Focused on small-to-medium-sized companies, SEP startup Outplay announced today it has raised $2 million from Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for early-stage startups.

Outplay was founded in January 2020 by brothers Ram and Laxman Papineni and now counts more than 300 clients. Before launching Outplay, the Papineni brothers built AppVirality, a referall marketing tool for app developers.

Laxman told TechCrunch that Outplay’s customers come from sectors like IT, computer software, marketing and advertising and recruiting, and most are based in North America and Europe.

Outplay is designed for teams that use multiple channels to reach potential customers, including phone calls, text messages, email, live chats on websites, and social media platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter. It integrates with customer relationship management platforms like Salesforce and Pipedrive, giving sales people a new interface that includes productivity and automation tools to cut the time they spend on administrative tasks.

Screenshots of Outplay's sales engagement platform for automating sales tasks

Outplay’s platform

For example, Outplay can be used create sequences that send initial messages through different platforms, and then automatically follows up with new messages if there isn’t a reply within a pre-set time frame. Outplay also provides analytics to help sales people track how well sales campaigns are working.

Two of Outplay’s biggest competitors are Outreach and SalesLoft, both of which hit unicorn status in recent funding rounds. Laxman said Outplay is focused on ease of use, with other differentiators including more integrations with CRMs and other software, and a strong customer support team.

#asia, #fundings-exits, #india, #outplay, #sales-engagement-platform, #startups, #tc

0

Amazon issues rare apology in India over drama series

Amazon on Tuesday issued a rare apology to users in India for an original political drama series over allegations that a few scenes in the nine-part mini series hurt religious sentiments of some people in the key overseas market.

The series, called “Tandav,” has faced criticism from some people in India — including a few members of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party — over its depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses.

In a message titled, “Amazon Prime Video Apologizes,” the American e-commerce group said it “deeply regrets that viewers considered certain scenes to be objectionable” and that it had either edited those scenes or removed them altogether from the show after hearing concerns from viewers.

“We respect our viewers’ diverse beliefs and apologize unconditionally to anyone who felt hurt by these scenes. Our teams follow company content evaluation processes, which we acknowledge need to be constantly updated to better serve our audiences. We will continue to develop entertaining content with partners, while complying with the laws of India and respecting the diversity of culture and beliefs of our audiences.”

The show, which stars several top Bollywood actors including Saif Ali Khan, premiered in mid-January and immediately prompted controversy and criminal complaints. Things have escalated in recent weeks as several high-profile executives of Amazon Prime Video have been questioned by the authority.

Prime Video has amassed millions of subscribers in India, where it competes with Disney’s Hotstar, Netflix, Times Internet’s MX Player, and dozens more streaming services. Amazon has grown more aggressive with Prime Video in India in recent months. It recently introduced an even cheaper subscription tier and secured rights for streaming some cricket matches.

Amazon’s rare apology today comes days after New Delhi announced new rules for on-demand video streaming services and social media firms.

Until now Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services have operated in India without having to worry too much about the nature of their content. But that’s changing, according to the new rules.

“The category classification of a content will take into account the potentially offensive impact of a film on matters such as caste, race, gender, religion, disability or sexuality that may arise in a wide range of works, and the classification decision will take account of the strength or impact of their inclusion,” the new rules state.

As we wrote recently, the controversy surrounding the political drama and the new rules from India for streaming services are only few of the challenges that Amazon is facing in India, where it has committed to deploy over $6.5 billion.

Last month, an influential India trader group that represents tens of millions of brick-and-mortar retailers called New Delhi to ban Amazon in the country after an investigation by Reuters claimed that the American e-commerce group had given preferential treatment to a small group of sellers in India, publicly misrepresented its ties with those sellers and used them to circumvent foreign investment rules in the country.

#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #asia, #ecommerce, #india, #media, #netflix, #prime-video

0

Coupang may raise up to $3.6 billion in its IPO, at a potential valuation of $51 billion

According to an amended S-1 filing, South Korean e-commerce leader Coupang expects to price its initial public offering between $27 to $30 per share, potentially raising up to $3.6 billion. After the IPO, Coupang will have a total of 1.7 billion shares outstanding, including Class A and Class B. This means the means the pricing would give Coupang a potential market capitalization between $46 billion to $51 billion, a huge increase over the $9 billion valuation it reached after its last funding round in 2018, led by SoftBank Vision Fund.

Coupang and some of its existing shareholders will offer a total of 120 million shares during the IPO.

If Coupang’s IPO is successful, it would be a huge win for SoftBank Vision Fund, which will own 36.8% of its Class A shares after the listing.

Founded in 2010 by Bom Kim, Coupang is known for its ultra-speedy deliveries and is now the largest e-commerce company in South Korea, according to Euromonitor. According to the filing, Kim will hold 76.7% of voting power after the listing, while SoftBank Vision Fund will hold about 8.6%. Other investors that currently own 5% or more of Coupang’s shares include Greenoaks Capital Partners, Maverick Holdings, Rose Park Advisors, BlackRock and Ridd Investments.

Coupang filed to go public on the New York Stock Exchange last month, under the symbol CPNG. Based on Bloomberg data, Coupang’s listing will be the fourth-biggest by an Asian company on a U.S. exchange, and the largest since Alibaba’s $25 billion IPO in 2014.

#asia, #coupang, #ecommerce, #fundings-exits, #ipo, #south-korea, #startups, #tc

0

How China’s synthetic media startup Surreal nabs funding in 3 months

What if we no longer needed cameras to make videos and can instead generate them through a few lines of coding?

Advances in machine learning are turning the idea into a reality. We’ve seen how deepfakes swap faces in family photos and turn one’s selfies into famous video clips. Now entrepreneurs with AI research background are devising tools to let people generate highly realistic photos, voices, and videos using algorithms.

One of the startups building this technology is China-based Surreal. The company is merely three months old but has already secured a seed round of $2-3 million from two prominent investors, Sequoia China and ZhenFund. Surreal received nearly ten investment offers in this round, founder and CEO Xu Zhuo told TechCrunch, as investors jostled to bet on a future shaped by AI-generated content.

Prior to founding Surreal, Xu spent six years at Snap, building its ad recommendation system, machine learning platform, and AI camera technology. The experience convinced Xu that synthetic media would become mainstream because the tool could significantly “lower the cost of content production,” Xu said in an interview from Surreal’s a-dozen-person office in Shenzhen.

Surreal has no intention, however, to replace human creators or artists. In fact, Xu doesn’t think machines can surpass human creativity in the next few decades. This belief is embodied in the company’s Chinese name, Shi Yun, or The Poetry Cloud. It is taken from the title of a novel by science fiction writer Liu Cixin, who tells the story of how technology fails to outdo the ancient Chinese poet Li Bai.

“We have an internal formula: visual storytelling equals creativity plus making,” Xu said, his eyes lit up. “We focus on the making part.”

In a way, machine video generation is like a souped-up video tool, a step up from the video filters we see today and make Douyin (TikTok’s Chinese version) and Kuaishou popular. Short video apps significantly lower the barrier to making a professional-looking video, but they still require a camera.

“The heart of short videos is definitely not the short video form itself. It lies in having better camera technology, which lowers the cost of video creation,” said Xu, who founded Surreal with Wang Liang, a veteran of TikTok parent ByteDance.

Commercializing deepfakery

Some of the world’s biggest tech firms, such as Google, Facebook, Tencent and ByteDance, also have research teams working on GAN. Xu’s strategy is not to directly confront the heavyweights, which are drawn to big-sized contracts. Rather, Surreal is going after small and medium-sized customers.

Surreal’s face swapping software for e-commerce sellers

Surreal’s software is currently only for enterprise customers, who can use it to either change faces in uploaded content or generate an entirely new image or video. Xu calls Surreal a “Google Translate for videos,” for the software can not only swap people’s faces but also translate the languages they speak accordingly and match their lips with voices.

Users are charged per video or picture. In the future, Surreal aims to not just animate faces but also people’s clothes and motions. While Surreal declined to disclose its financial performance, Xu said the company has accumulated around 10 million photo and video orders.

Much of the demand now is from Chinese e-commerce exporters who use Surreal to create Western models for their marketing material. Hiring real foreign models can be costly, and employing Asian models doesn’t prove as effective. By using Surreal “models”, some customers have been able to achieve 100% return on investment (ROI), Xu said. With the multi-million seed financing in its pocket, Surreal plans to find more use cases like online education so it can collect large volumes of data to improve its algorithm.

Uncharted territory

The technology powering Surreal, called generative adversarial networks, is relatively new. Introduced by machine learning researcher Ian Goodfellow in 2014, GANs consist of a “generator” that produces images and a “discriminator” that detects whether the image is fake or real. The pair enters a period of training with adversarial roles, hence the nomenclature, until the generator delivers a satisfactory result.

In the wrong hands, GANs can be exploited for fraud, pornography and other illegal purposes. That’s in part why Surreal starts with enterprise use rather than making it available to individual users.

Companies like Surreal are also posing new legal challenges. Who owns the machine-generated images and videos? To avoid violating copyright, Surreal requires that the client has the right to the content they upload for moderation. To track and prevent misuse, Surreal adds an encrypted and invisible watermark to each piece of the content it generates, to which it claims ownership. There’s an odd chance that the “person” Surreal produces would match someone in real life, so the company runs an algorithm that crosschecks all the faces it creates with photos it finds online.

“I don’t think ethics is something that Surreal itself can address, but we are willing to explore the issue,” said Xu. “Fundamentally, I think [synthetic media] provides a disruptive infrastructure. It increases productivity, and on a macro level, it’s inexorable, because productivity is the key determinant of issues like this.”

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #bytedance, #camera-technology, #computer-graphics, #funding, #idg-capital, #machine-learning, #sequoia-china, #shenzhen, #snap, #surreal, #synthetic-media, #tc, #tiktok

0

Apple alum’s jobs app for India’s workers raises $12.5 million

A startup by an Apple alum that has become home to millions of low-skilled workers in India said on Tuesday it has raised an additional $12.5 million, just five months after securing $8 million from high-profile investors.

One-year-old Apna said Sequoia Capital India and Greenoaks Capital led the $12.5 million Series B investment in the startup. Existing investors Lightspeed India and Rocketship VC also participated in the round. The startup, whose name is Hindi for “ours,” has now raised more than $20 million.

More than 6 million low-skilled workers such as drivers, delivery personnel, electricians and beauticians have joined Apna to find jobs and upskill themselves. But there’s more to this.

An analysis of the platform showed how workers are helping one another solve problems — such as a beautician advising another beautician to perform hair dressing in a particular way that tends to make customers happier and tip more, and someone sharing how they negotiated a hike in their salary from their employer.

“The sole idea of this is to create a network for these workers,” Nirmit Parikh, Apna founder and chief executive told TechCrunch in an interview. “Network gap has been a very crucial challenge. Solving it enables people to unlock more and more opportunities,” he said. Harshjit Sethi, principal at Sequoia India, said Apna was making inroads with “building a professional social network for India.”

The startup has become an attraction for several big firms, including Amazon, Flipkart, Unacademy, Byju’s, Swiggy, BigBasket, Dunzo, BlueStar and Grofers, which have joined as recruiters to hire workers. Apna offers a straightforward onboarding process — thanks to support for multiple local languages — and allows users to create a virtual business card, which is then shown to the potential recruiters.

The past six months have been all about growth at Apna, said Parikh. The app, available on Android, had 1.2 million users in August last year, for instance. During this period, there have been 60 million interactions between recruiters and potential applicants, he said. The platform, which has amassed more than 80,000 employers, has a retention rate of over 95%, said Parikh.

“Apna has taken a jobs-centric approach to upskilling that we are very excited about. Lack of accountability has been the core issue with current skill / vocational learning alternatives for grey and blue-collar workers. Apna has turned the problem on its head by creating net-positive job outcomes for anyone who chooses to upskill on the platform,” said Vaibhav Agrawal, partner at Lightspeed India, in a statement.

Image Credits: Nirmit Parikh

Parikh got the idea of building Apna after he kept hearing about the difficulty his family and friends faced in India in hiring people. This was puzzling to Parikh, as he wondered how could there be a shortage of workers in India when there are hundreds of millions of people actively looking for such jobs. The problem, Parikh realized, was that there wasn’t a scalable networking infrastructure in place to connect workers with employers.

Before creating the startup, Parikh met workers and worked with them to understand where are the core challenges they faced. That journey has not ended. The startup talks to over 15,000 users each day to understand what else Apna could do for them.

“One of the things we heard was that users were facing difficulties with interviews. So we started groups to practice them with interviews. We also started upskilling users, which has made us an edtech player. We plan to ramp up this effort in the coming months,” he said.

Parikh said the startup is overwhelmed each day with the response it is getting from its customers and the industry. Each day, he said, people share how they were able to land jobs, or increase their earnings. In recent months, several high-profile executives from companies such as Uber and BCG have joined Apna to scale the startup’s vision, he said, adding that the problem Apna is solving in India exists everywhere and the startup’s hope is to eventually serve people across the globe.

The app currently has no ads, and Parikh said he intends to not change that. “Once you get in the ad business, you start doing things you probably shouldn’t be doing,” he said. The startup instead plans to monetize its platform by charging recruiters, and offering upskill courses. But Parikh maintained that Apna will always offer its courses to users for free. The premium version will target those who need extensive assistance, he said.

As is the case elsewhere, millions of people lost their livelihood in India in the past year as coronavirus shut many businesses and workers migrated to their homes. There are over 250 million blue and grey-collar workers in India, and providing them meaningful employment opportunities is one of the biggest challenges in our country, said Sethi.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#apna, #apps, #asia, #funding, #greenoaks-capital, #india, #lightspeed-india, #recent-funding, #rocketship-vc, #sequoia-capital-india, #startups

0

Australia-based Employment Hero raises $45M AUD for its global expansion

A photo of Ben Thompson, co-founder and chief executive officer of human resources platform Employment Hero

Ben Thompson, co-founder and chief executive officer of human resources platform Employment Hero

Businesses, and the tech platforms that support their operations, had to adapt quickly to the pandemic. Ben Thompson, co-founder and chief executive officer of human resources platform Employment Hero told TechCrunch that “COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of employment management software by roughly five years,” as teams adjusted to remote work.

The Sydney, Australia-based company announced today it has raised a $45 million AUD (about $34.8 million) Series D, bringing its valuation to more than $250 million AUD ($193.4 million USD). The capital will be used for expansion and growth in markets including New Zealand, Southeast Asia and the United Kingdom.

The round was led by SEEK, which runs job platforms around the world, with participation from OneVentures and AirTreeVentures, all returning investors. Employment Hero also added Salesforce Ventures as a new investor.

Employment Hero is designed for small-to-medium sized businesses, and combines human resources, payroll and benefits features. It currently serves about 6,000 SMEs with a combined total of more than 250,000 employees. Employment Hero doubled the number of its full-time employees to 200 last year, and launched versions in New Zealand, the UK, Malaysia and Singapore. Its Series D will be used to support growth in those markets, and enter new Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Localized versions of Employment Hero include pre-built employment contracts and policies that comply with local laws. In Malaysia and Singapore, the platform provided research on recruitment and employment trends, Thompson said, and in Singapore, it gathered COVID-related government support materials into one factsheet.

Employment Hero also renewed its partnership with SEEK, which means the platform includes SEEK job ads in Southeast Asia.

During the pandemic, the company launched a new service called Global Teams for remote work. It serves as a professional employer organization (PEO), enabling companies to recruit new remote employees around the world and automating regional compliance paperwork. Global Teams is integrated into the main Employment Hero platform, so remote employees have access to the same resources as their colleagues.

 

About 75% of Employment Hero’s customer base upgraded their subscriptions to include tools for remote work management, compliance and employee wellness services.

For example, during the first week of Australia’s nationwide lockdown, Employment Hero launched a COVID-19 resource hub, including tools for the government’s JobKeeper payment scheme and employee wellness surveys. It also ran biweekly webinars with industry experts about employees’ rights to leave and pay, mental health and employee assistance programs, cashflow management, employer duty of care for remote work arrangements and live employment law.

As remote work continued, Employment Hero also introduced engagement and productivity features, like one-on-one coaching and other tools to improve communication and feedback.

“As a company, we knew we had to do whatever it took to help our clients and the wider small and medium-sized business community through COVID-19,” said Thompson.

#asia, #australia, #employee-management, #employment-hero, #fundings-exits, #human-resources, #human-resources-software, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Paytm claims top spot in India’s mobile payments market with 1.2B monthly transactions

Paytm, India’s most valuable startup, said on Monday it processed 1.2 billion transactions in the month of February, illustrating the level of penetration it has made in one of the world’s fastest-growing payments markets where it competes with Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Flipkart-backed PhonePe.

Paytm said its users made 1.2 billion transactions last month across several payments modes including wallets, plastic cards, internet banking, and UPI. This is the largest volume of transactions reported by any payments firm in India and Paytm claimed that it has consolidated its leadership position.

A Paytm spokesperson told TechCrunch that the startup clocked over 1 billion transactions in the month of January as well. A PhonePe spokesperson told TechCrunch that its app crossed a billion transactions in December, and its last month’s transacting volume was “over a billion” across UPI, wallet, and credit and debit cards.

Paytm’s figure shows how the SoftBank-backed startup has continued to grow despite not being a dominant player in the UPI ecosystem.

A payments railroad built by a coalition of retail banks and backed by the government, UPI has emerged as the most popular way users transact online in recent years though it does not offer any business model.

Last month, UPI services processed 2.29 billion transactions, the governing body NPCI said on Monday. PhonePe and Google Pay are the dominant UPI players in India, commanding over 85% of the person-to-person payments market. PhonePe processed about 970 million UPI transactions in February. (NPCI has said that it will enforce a market share cap on its member firms.)

Unlike Paytm, which leads among wallet players, and PhonePe, Google Pay and relatively new entrant WhatsApp solely operate on UPI.

Paytm has expanded to cater to merchants in recent years as several international firms launched their offerings to solve person-to-person payments in India. The startup claimed that its service dominates in offline merchant payments and is growing 15% month-on-month. The startup, led by Vijay Shekhar Sharma, said it serves over 17 million merchants. PhonePe told TechCrunch it serves over 17.5 million merchants.

Paytm said it has been “the main driving force behind building and expanding digital villages and now empowers over 6 lakh (600,000) villages in India with digital payments.” The startup said over 50% of its merchant partners have an account with Paytm Payments Bank — the startup’s digital bank — and it also commands the market with its digital wealth management service, Paytm Money.

At stake is India’s payments market that is estimated to be worth $1 trillion in the next three years, up from about $200 billion last year, according to Credit Suisse.

“We are humbled by the trust India has shown in us & made Paytm their preferred digital payments & financial service provider. We have consistently maintained industry-leading market share & growing at an impressive rate,” said Narendra Yadav, Vice President of Paytm, in a statement.

“We have been promoting all digital payment methods giving multiple-choices to consumers that have helped us in consolidating our leadership position. In fact, a large percentage of our users who started their digital journey with Paytm, have now adopted & embraced our financial services.”

#apps, #asia, #google-pay, #india, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #softbank

0

Singapore-based Raena gets $9M Series A for its pivot to skincare and beauty-focused social commerce

A photo of social commerce startup Raena’s team. From left to right: chief operating officer Guo Xing Lim, chief executive officer Sreejita Deb and chief commercial officer Widelia Liu

Raena’s team, from left to right: chief operating officer Guo Xing Lim, chief executive officer Sreejita Deb and chief commercial officer Widelia Liu

Raena was founded in 2019 to create personal care brands with top social media influencers. After several launches, however, the Singapore-based startup quickly noticed an interesting trend: customers were ordering batches of products from Raena every week and reselling them on social media and e-commerce platforms like Shopee and Tokopedia. Last year, the company decided to focus on those sellers, and pivoted to social commerce.

Today Raena announced it has raised a Series A of $9 million, co-led by Alpha Wave Incubation and Alpha JWC Ventures, with participation from AC Ventures and returning investors Beenext, Beenos and Strive. Its last funding announcement was a $1.82 million seed round announced in July 2019.

After interviewing people who were setting up online stores with products from Raena, the company’s team realized that sellers’ earnings potential was capped because they were paying retail prices for their inventory.

They also saw that the even though new C2C retail models, like social commerce, are gaining popularity, the beauty industry’s supply chain hasn’t kept up. Sellers usually need to order minimum quantities, which makes it harder for people to start their own businesses, Raena co-founder Sreejita Deb told TechCrunch,

“Basically, you have to block your capital upfront. It’s difficult for individual sellers or micro-enterpreneurs to work with the old supply chain and categories like beauty,” she said.

Raena decided to pivot to serve those entrepreneurs. The company provides a catalog that includes mostly Japanese and Korean skincare and beauty brands. For those brands, Raena represents a way to enter new markets like Indonesia, which the startup estimates has $20 billion market opportunity.

Raena resellers, who are mostly women between 18 to 34-years-old in Indonesia and Malaysia, pick what items they want to feature on their social media accounts. Most use TikTok or Instagram for promotion, and set up online stores on Shopee or Tokopedia. But they don’t have to carry inventory. When somebody buys a product from a Raena reseller, the reseller orders it from Raena, which ships it directly to the customer.

This drop-shipping model means resellers make higher margins. Since they don’t have to carry inventory, it also dramatically lowers the barrier to launching a small business. Even though Raena’s pivot to social commerce coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, Deb said it grew its revenue 50 times between January and December 2020. The platform now has more than 1,500 resellers, and claims a 60% seller retention rate after six months on the platform.

She attributes Raena’s growth to several factors, including the increase in online shopping during lockdowns and people looking for ways to earn additional income during the pandemic. While forced to stay at home, many people also began spending more time online, especially on the social media platforms that Raena resellers use.

Raena also benefited from its focus on skincare. Even though many retail categories, including color cosmetics, took a hit, skincare products proved resilient.

“We saw skincare had higher margins, and there are certain markets that are experts at formulating and producing skincare products, and demand for those products in other parts of the world,” she said, adding, “we’ve continued being a skincare company and because that is a category we had insight into, it was our first entry point into this social selling model as well. 90% of our sales are skincare. Our top-selling products are serums, toners, essences, which makes a lot of sense because people are in their homes and have more time to dedicate to their skincare routines.”

Social commerce, which allows people to earn a side income (or even a full-time income), by promoting products through social media, has taken off in several Asian markets. In China, for example, Pinduoduo has become a formidable rival to Alibaba through its group-selling model and focus on fresh produce. In India, Meesho resellers promote products through social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.

Social commerce is also gaining traction in Southeast Asia, with gross merchandise value growing threefold during the first half of 2020, according to iKala.

Deb said one of the ways Raena is different from other social commerce companies is that most of its resellers are selling to customers they don’t know, instead of focusing on family and friends. Many already had TikTok or Instagram profiles focused on beauty and skincare, and had developed reputations for being knowledgeable about products.

As Raena develops, it plans to hire a tech team to build tools that will simplify the process of managing orders and also strike deals directly with manufacturers to increase profit margins for resellers. The funding will be used to increase its team from 15 to over 100 over the next three months, and it plans to enter more Southeast Asian markets.

#asia, #e-commerce, #indonesia, #malaysia, #personal-care, #raena, #singapore, #skincare, #social-commerce, #southeast-asia, #tc

0

Former top Paytm exec is building his own financial services startup

The executive who built the financial services boutique for Paytm, India’s most valuable startup, from the ground is ready to do something similar all over again.

Pravin Jadhav, the former chief executive of Paytm Money, revealed on Thursday his own startup, Raise Financial Services.

This time, Jadhav — under whose leadership, Paytm had amassed over 6 million Money customers — is focusing on serving a different set of the population.

Hundreds of millions of users in India today don’t have access to financial services. They don’t have a credit card, banks don’t lend to them, and they have never purchased an insurance cover or invested in mutual funds or stocks.

Scores of large firms and startups in India today are attempting to reach these users by building an underwriting technology that can use alternative data to determine an applicant’s credit worthiness. It’s a tough and capital intensive business, built on pillars of uncertainties, assumptions and hopes.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Jadhav said Raise Financial Services is aimed at customers living in metro, tier 1 and tier 2 cities (so very much in and around urban cities). “They want financial products, they are literate about these products, but they are not being served the way they should be,” he said.

Pravin Jadhav, left, poses with Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma. Jadhav left Paytm last year.

He said his new startup will offer products across financial services including investing, financing, insurance, wealth, and payments. “Just not doing the banking part, as I believe that is more of an infrastructure play,” he said.

“The idea is to offer great exceptional products that are not being offered by anyone. Number 2: Focus a lot on tech-driven distribution. And third is that today the quality of customer service experience is bad across the market. So we are trying to solve that,” he said. “Over time, we will try to stitch all of this together.”

Jadhav also announced he has raised a Seed financing round. He did not disclose the amount, but revealed enough high-profile names, including: Kunal Shah (Cred), Kalyan Krishnamurthi (Flipkart), Amod Malviya and Sujeet Kumar (Udaan), Sameer Nigam and Rahul Chari (PhonePe), Amrish Rau (Pine Labs, Citrus Pay), Sandeep Tandon (Freecharge), Jitendra Gupta (Jupiter), Girish Mathrubootham (Freshworks), Nischal Shetty (WazirX), Kuldeep Dhankar (Clevertap), Sreevatsa Prabhakar (Servify), and Amit Bhor (Walnut).

Jadhav himself is also investing, and venture investor Mirae Asset Venture is leading the round, with participation from Multi-Act Private Equity, Blume Ventures (via its Founder’s Fund) and US based early-stage investor Social Leverage, for which it is the first investment in India.

Ashish Dave, CEO of Mirae Asset Venture’s India business, told TechCrunch that even though he had known Jadhav, it was listening to him at various Clubhouse sessions that prompted him to reach out to Jadhav.

Jadhav said users can expect the startup’s first product to be live by the end of the year. (TechCrunch understands it’s shipping much sooner. Raise Financial Services’ offerings will have some similarities with SoFi and Goldman Sachs’ Marcus.)

#asia, #finance, #funding, #india, #online-lending, #paytm, #sofi

0

Xiaomi further localizes India supply chain via BYD, DBG partnerships

China’s Xiaomi had dominated the Indian smartphone market for three consecutive years until recently losing the top spot to Samsung. It has played by the Indian government’s rulebook to support domestic manufacturing, making smartphones in India rather than shipping them from its home country of China. Now it is further ramping up production in India by adding two new supply chain partners, BYD and DBG, the company said in an announcement on Thursday.

The move comes at a time when the Indian government is applying more pressure on Chinese tech companies. Along with TikTok, dozens of other popular Chinese apps were banned in India last June over national security concerns.

So far the hardware companies have remained largely unaffected, but worsening India-China relations won’t likely bode well for Chinese companies that are wooing Indian consumers. Xiaomi and its Chinese competitors Vivo, Oppo and Oppo-affiliated Realme together commanded as much as 64% of the Indian market in the third quarter of 2020.

This is probably the time for Chinese firms to demonstrate to the Indian government how they could make contributions to the local economy. Under the new production partnerships, Xiaomi will be able to significantly ratchet up its output in India, the company said.

The tie-up with BYD and DBG also reflects a growing trend of Chinese manufacturers setting up overseas plants to cope with rising labor costs back home and increasingly hostile trade policies against China. BYD is China’s largest electric carmaker with a long history of making electronics parts, while DBG has been a major supplier to Chinese telecom firms including Huawei. DBG has set up a production plant in Haryana and has increased Xiaomi’s local production by about 20%. BYD’s facility in Tamil Nadu is scheduled to begin operation by H1 this year.

Prior to its deals with BYD and DBG, Xiaomi was already making 99% of its smartphones in India through Apple’s long-time contract manufacturers, the Taiwanese giant Foxconn and California-based Flex.

Xiaomi also stressed that it sources locally, buying mother-boards, batteries, chargers and other components from domestic suppliers like Sunny India and NVT, which together account for over 75% of the value of its smartphones.

Separately, Xiaomi’s India business has onboarded a new partner, Ohio-based Radiant Technology, to make its smart TVs, which have been a bestseller in India. Local electronics company Dixon currently makes its smart TVs.

Xiaomi’s localization effort has led to a 60,000-strong team in India, six years after it first landed in the country, including staff in production, sales, and logistics. The company prides itself on boosting local employment. As Manu Kumar Jain, managing director for Xiaomi India, pointed out in toay’s announcement, the company added 10,000 employees in India last year. “When organizations were downsizing their workforce, we were focused on putting together the building blocks for our growth in the India market – our employees.”

#asia, #gadgets, #hardware

0

James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems leads $31 million investment in India’s Doubtnut

Doubtnut, an Indian startup that helps students learn and master concepts from math and science using short videos, has raised $31 million in a new financing round, months after it rejected an acquisition offer from India’s largest edtech firm Byju’s.

The three-year-old Gurgaon-headquartered startup said SIG and James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems led the $31 million Series B funding round. Existing investors Sequoia Capital India, Omidyar Network India and Waterbridge Ventures also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s to-date raise to about $50 million to date.

The Doubtnut app allows students to take a picture of a problem, and uses machine learning and image recognition to deliver their answers through short-videos. These videos offer students step-by-step instructions to solve a problem.

The app supports multiple languages, and has amassed over 2.5 million daily active users who spend 600 million minutes a month on the app, the startup said. More than half of the users have come online for the first time in last 12 months, the startup said.

The startup said it has developed a bank of over 65 million questions in nine languages for students from sixth grade to high-school. Unlike several other popular edtech firms, Doubtnut said its app reaches students in smaller towns and cities. “85% of the current base comes from outside of the top 15 Indian cities, and 60% users study in state boards where typical medium of instruction is the local vernacular language,” the startup said.

TechCrunch reported last year that Byju’s was in talks to acquire Doubtnut for as much as $150 million. Byju’s later lowered its deal offer, after which the two firms ended their talks.

James Murdoch last month announced he was reuniting with Uday Shankar, an executive who helped him build the Murdoch family’s Star business in India, which was later sold to Disney. Shankar will work with Murdoch to “accelerate” Lupa’s efforts in India, Murdoch said last month. Lupa has backed nearly a dozen startups so far, including Indian news aggregator and social app DailyHunt.

“Doubtnut has been built with a vision to improve learning outcomes for all students, especially those outside the major Indian cities. We specialize in developing content in vernacular languages and use technology to create affordable solutions for people in this large target segment,” said Tanushree Nagori, co-founder and CEO of Doubtnut, adding,

“We are pleased to welcome onboard SIG and Lupa; SIG brings in strong experience of investing in ed-tech companies globally and Lupa Systems brings unparalleled experience of building world-class businesses and harnessing high-impact technologies,” she added.

The startup said it will deploy the fresh capital to add support for more language and broaden the scope of subjects it covers today. Doubtnut is also planning to introduce paid courses.

#apps, #asia, #byjus, #doubtnut, #edtech, #education, #funding, #india, #lupa-systems, #sequoia-capital-india, #sig, #unacademy, #waterbridge-ventures

0

India sets more stringent rules for social media, streaming services

India announced sweeping changes to its guidelines for social media, on-demand video streaming services, and digital news outlets on Thursday, joining several other nations in posing new challenges for giants such as Facebook and Google that count the nation as its biggest market by users.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s IT, Law, and Justice minister, said in a press conference that social media companies will be required to acknowledge takedown requests of unlawful content within 24 hours and deliver a complete redressal in within 15 days. In sensitive cases that surround rape or other similar criminal cases, firms will be required to take down the objectionable content within 24 hours.

These firms will also be required to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact officer, who shall be reachable round the clock, and a resident grievance officer. They will also have to set up a local office in India.

Prasad said social media firms will have to disclose the originator of objectionable content. “We don’t want to know the content, but firms need to be able to tell who was the first person who began spreading misinformation and other objectionable content,” he said. WhatsApp has previously said that it can’t comply with such traceability requests without compromising end-to-end encryption security for every user.

Firms will also be required to publish a monthly compliance report to disclose the number of requests they received and what actions they took. They will also be required to offer a voluntary option to users who wish to verify their accounts.

The guidelines, which replace the law from 2011, go into effect for small firms effective immediately, but bigger services will be provided three months to comply, said Prasad.

New Delhi has put together these guidelines because citizens in India have long requested a “mechanism to address grievances,” said Prasad. India has been working on a law aimed at intermediaries since 2018. You can read the final version of the draft here, courtesy of New Delhi-based advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation.

“India is the world’s largest open Internet society and the Government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India,” he said, adding that WhatsApp had amassed 530 million users, YouTube, 448 million users, Facebook’s marquee service 410 million users, Instagram 210 million users, and Twitter, 175 million users in the country.

Full guidelines for social media firms and other intermediaries. (Source: Indian government.)

For streaming platforms, the rules have outlined a three-tier structure for “observance and adherence to the code.” Until now, on-demand services such as Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, and MX Player have operated in India with little to no censorship.

New Delhi last year said India’s broadcasting ministry, which regulates content on TV, will also be overseeing digital streaming platforms. 17 popular streaming firms including international giants had banded together to devise a self-regulation code. Prakash Javedkar, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said in the conference that the proposed solution from the industry wasn’t adequate and there will be an oversight mechanism from the government to ensure full compliance with the code.

Streaming services will also have to attach a content ratings to their titles. “The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”,” the Indian government said.

“The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.”

The new rules will also force digital news outlets to disclose the size of their reach and structure of their ownership.

Industry executives have expressed concerns over the new proposed regulation, saying New Delhi hasn’t consulted them for these changes. IAMAI, a powerful industry body that represents nearly all on-demand streaming services, said it was “dismayed” by the guidelines, and hoped to have a dialogue with the government.

Javedkar and Prasad were asked if there will be any consultation with the industry before these guidelines become law. The ministers said that they had already received enough inputs from the industry.

This is a developing story. Check back for more information…

#apps, #asia, #disney, #facebook, #google, #government, #hotstar, #iamai, #india, #instagram, #mx-player, #netflix, #social, #twitter, #whatsapp

0

Infra.Market becomes India’s newest unicorn with $100 million fundraise

The newest unicorn in India is a startup that is helping construction and real estate companies in the world’s second most populated nation procure materials and handle logistics for their projects.

Four year-old Infra.Market said on Thursday it has raised $100 million in a Series C round led by Tiger Global. Existing investors including Foundamental, Accel Partners, Nexus Venture Partners, Evolvence India Fund, and Sistema Asia Fund also participated in the round, which valued the Indian startup at $1 billion.

The new round, which brings Infra.Market’s total to-date raise to about $150 million, comes just two months after the Mumbai-headquartered startup concluded its Series B round. The startup was valued at about $200 million post-money in the December round, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. Avendus Capital advised Infra.Market on the new transaction.

Infra.Market helps small businesses such as manufacturers of paints and cements improve the quality of their production and meet various compliances. The startup adds its load cells to the manufacturing facilities of these small businesses to ensure there is no lapse in quality, and also helps them work with other businesses that can provide them with better raw material and provide guidance on pricing. It also works closely with businesses to ensure that their deliveries are made on time.

These improvements, explained co-founder Souvik Sengupta, help small manufacturers land larger clients that have higher expectations from the businesses with which they engage. He said the startup has helped small manufacturers reach customers outside of India as well. Some of its clients are in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore and Dubai.

“We are bringing a service layer to these small manufacturers, enabling them to grow their business. We don’t own the asset and are creating private label brands,” he said in an interview with TechCrunch in December. Infra.Market works with more than 170 small manufacturers and counts the vast majority of major construction and real estate companies such as giants Larsen & Toubro, Tata Projects and Ashoka Buildcon as its clients. Sengupta said the startup sells to more than 400 large clients and 3,000 small retailers.

Sengupta said in December that the startup was on track to hit the ARR (annual recurring revenue) of $100 million before the pandemic hit early last year. This nearly cut the startup’s business in half for at least two early months of the pandemic. But the startup has picked up pace again, and is now on track to hit the ARR of $180 million. The startup aims to grow this figure to $300 million by March.

“We are delighted to partner with Souvik and Aaditya in the growth journey of Infra.Market which is reshaping India’s construction materials supply chain. With pioneering technology innovation and the ability to stitch together private label brands, Infra.Market is positioned for strong growth, healthy economics and profitability,” said Scott Shleifer, Partner of Tiger Global Management, in a statement.

Sengupta added today: “We are seeing rapid acceleration in demand as Infrastructure and real-estate companies are looking to shift their procurement to get consistent quality and minimize delays.”

#accel-partners, #asia, #ecommerce, #evolvence-india-fund, #funding, #india, #nexus-venture-partners, #sistema-asia-fund, #tiger-global

0

Rainmaking launches Motion Ventures to boost innovation in the maritime industry

A new fund has launched, with backing from the Singaporean government, to support tech innovation for the maritime industry. Called Motion Ventures, it is targeting $30 million SGD (about $22.8 million USD) and has completed its first close, with Wilhelmsen, one of the world’s largest maritime networks, and logistics company HHLA as anchor investors.

Motion Ventures was launched by Rainmaking, the venture building and investment firm that runs accelerator program Startupbootcamp, and will jointly invest in startups with SEEDS Capital, the investment arm of government agency Enterprise Singapore.

SEEDS Capital announced in June 2020 that it plans to invest $50 million SGD in maritime startups, with the goal of creating more resilient supply chains and fixing issues underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shaun Hon, general partner at Motion Ventures and director at Rainmaking, told TechCrunch that the fund plans to invest in around 20 early-stage startups focused on AI, machine learning and automation, with check sizes ranging between $500,000 SGD to $2 million SGD.

“We’ve got our eyes on some of the maritime value chain’s biggest challenges including decarbonization, supply chain resilience and improving safety. In most cases, the technology to address the industry’s issues already exists, but the missing link is figuring out how to apply these solutions in the corporate context,” Hon said.

“That’s what Motion Ventures aims to address,” he added. “If we can bring a consortium of industry adopters together to connect with entrepreneurs early in the process, we’re setting everyone up with the best chance to succeed.”

In addition to capital, Motion Ventures plans to partner startups with well-established maritime firms like Wilhelmsen to help them commercialize and integrate their technology into supply chains. For mentorship, Motion Ventures’ startups will also have access to Ocean Ventures Alliance, which was launched by Rainmaking in November 2020, and now includes more than 40 maritime value chain industry leaders.

#asia, #fundings-exits, #logistics, #maritime, #motion-ventures, #rainmaking, #seeds-capital, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #supply-chain, #tc

0

Plant-based food startup Next Gen lands $10M seed round from investors including Temasek

Singapore is quickly turning into a hub for food-tech startups, partly because of government initiatives supporting the development of meat alternatives. One of the newest entrants is Next Gen, which will launch its plant-based “chicken” brand, called TiNDLE, in Singaporean restaurants next month. The company announced today that it has raised $10 million in seed funding from investors including Temasek, K3 Ventures, EDB New Ventures (an investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board), NX-Food, FEBE Ventures and Blue Horizon.

Next Gen claims this is the largest seed round ever raised by a plant-based food tech company, based on data from PitchBook. This is the first time the startup has taken external investment, and the funding exceeded its original target of $7 million. Next Gen was launched last October by Timo Recker and Andre Menezes, with $2.2 million of founder capital.

Next Gen’s first product is called TiNDLE Thy, an alternative to chicken thighs. Its ingredients include water, soy, wheat, oat fiber, coconut oil and methylcellulose, a culinary binder, but the key to its chicken-like flavor is a proprietary blend of plant-based fats, like sunflower oil, and natural flavors that allows it to cook like chicken meat.

Menezes, Next Gen’s chief operating officer, told TechCrunch that the company’s goal is to be the global leader in plant-based chicken, the way Impossible and Beyond are known for their burgers.

“Consumers and chefs want texture in chicken, the taste and aroma, and that is largely related to chicken fat, which is why we started with thighs instead of breasts,” said Menezes. “We created a chicken fat made from a blend, called Lipi, to emulate the smell, aroma and browning when you cook.”

Both Recker and Menezes have years of experience in the food industry. Recker founded German-based LikeMeat, a plant-based meat producer acquired by the LIVEKINDLY Collective last year. Menezes’ food career started in Brazil at one of the world’s largest poultry exporters. He began working with plant-based meat after serving as general manager of Country Foods, a Singaporean importer and distributor that focuses on innovative, sustainable products.

“It was clear to me after I was inside the meat industry for so long that it was not going to be a sustainable business in the long run,” Menezes said.

Over the past few years, more consumers have started to feel the same way, and began looking for alternatives to animal products. UBS expects the global plant-based protein market to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of more than 30%, reaching about $50 billion by 2025, as more people, even those who aren’t vegans or vegetarians, seek healthier, humane sources of protein.

Millennial and Gen Z consumers, in particular, are willing to reduce their consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products as they become more aware of the environmental impact of industrial livestock production, said Menezes. “They understand the sustainability angle of it, and the health aspect, like the cholesterol or nutritional values, depending on what product you are talking about.”

Low in sodium and saturated fat, TiNDLE Thy has received the Healthier Choice Symbol, which is administered by Singapore’s Health Promotion Board. Next Gen’s new funding will be used to launch TiNDLE Thy, starting in popular Singaporean restaurants like Three Buns Quayside, the Prive Group, 28 HongKong Street, Bayswater Kitchen and The Goodburger.

Over the next year or two, Next Gen plans to raise its Series A round, launch more brands and products, and expand in its target markets: the United States (where it is currently recruiting a growth director to build a distribution network), China, Brazil and Europe. After working with restaurant partners, Next Gen also plans to make its products available to home cooks.

“The reason we started with chefs is because they are very hard to crack, and if chefs are happy with the product, then we’re very sure customers will be, too,” said Menezes.

#asia, #food, #foodtech, #fundings-exits, #next-gen, #plant-based-food, #plant-based-meat, #recent-funding, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #temasek, #tindle

0

Chinese mobile games are gaining ground in the US

Over the past year, the coronavirus crisis has spurred app usage in the United States as people stay indoors to limit contact with others. Mobile games particularly have enjoyed a boom, and among them, games from Chinese studios are gaining popularity.

Games released on the U.S. App Store and Google Play Store raked in a total of $5.8 billion in revenue during the fourth quarter, jumping 34.3% from a year before and accounting for over a quarter of the world’s mobile gaming revenues, according to a new report from market research firm Sensor Tower.

In the quarter, Chinese titles contributed as much as 20% of the mobile gaming revenues in the U.S. That effectively made China the largest importer of mobile games in the U.S., thanks to a few blockbuster titles. Chinese publishers claimed 21 spots among the 100 top-grossing games in the period and collectively generated $780 million in revenues in the U.S., the world’s largest mobile gaming market, more than triple the amount from two years before.

Occupying the top rank are familiar Chinese titles such as the first-person shooter game Call of Duty, a collaboration between Tencent and Activision, as well Tencent’s PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. But smaller Chinese studios are also quickly infiltrating the U.S. market.

Mihoyo, a little-known studio outside China, has been turning heads in the domestic gaming industry with its hit game Genshin Impact, a role-playing action game featuring anime-style characters. It was the sixth-most highest-grossing mobile game in the U.S. during Q4, racking up over $100 million in revenues in the period.

Most notable is that Mihoyo has been an independent studio since its inception in 2011. Unlike many gaming startups that covet fundings from industry titans like Tencent, Mihoyo has so far raised only a modest amount from its early days. It also stirred up controversy for skipping major distributors like Tencent and phone vendors Huawei and Xiaomi, releasing Genshin Impact on Bilibili, a popular video site amongst Chinese youngsters, and games downloading platform Taptap.

Magic Tavern, the developer behind the puzzle game Project Makeover, one of the most installed mobile games in the U.S. since late last year, is another lesser-known studio. Founded by a team of Tsinghua graduates with offices around the world, Magic Tavern is celebrated as one of the first studios with roots in China to have gained ground in the American casual gaming market. KKR-backed gaming company AppLovin is a strategic investor in Magic Tavern.

Other popular games in the U.S. also have links to China, if not directly owned by a Chinese company. Shortcut Run and Roof Nails are works from the French casual game maker Voodoo, which received a minority investment from Tencent last year. Tencent is also a strategic investor in Roblox, the gaming platform oriented to young gamers and slated for an IPO in the coming weeks.

#asia, #china, #entertainment, #games, #gaming, #tc

0

Walmart’s Flipkart to deploy over 25,000 electric vehicles in India by 2030

India’s Flipkart said on Wednesday it will deploy more than 25,000 electric vehicles in its supply chain by 2030 as the Walmart-owned e-commerce giant looks to achieve a 100% transition to electric mobility in the next 10 years.

The Bangalore-headquartered firm said it has partnered with leading EV makers including Hero Electric, Mahindra Electric, and Piaggio to build vehicles for its first and last mile delivery fleets across the country.

The announcement comes a day after rival Amazon said it had partnered with Mahindra Electric to develop “close to hundred” electric three-wheeler in India. The American e-commerce giant last year pledged to deploy 10,000 electric vehicles in the country by 2025.

Flipkart said its electric fleet will include two-wheeler, three-wheeler, and four-wheeler vehicles, all of which will be designed and assembled in India. The company said it has already started to pilot two-wheeler and three-wheeler electric vehicles in “multiple locations” in India including Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Guwahati.

In recent years, New Delhi has pushed to replace gasoline and diesel vehicles in India with environmentally friendly electric vehicles. Reuters reported in 2019 that the Indian government was planning to order ride-hailing firms such as Ola and Uber to convert 40% of their fleets to electric by April 2026.

“Electrification of the logistics fleet is a key part of Flipkart’s larger sustainability goal and in line with our commitment to the Climate Group’s EV100 initiative,” said Amitesh Jha, SVP of Ekart and Marketplace at Flipkart, in a statement.

“In this journey of making our logistics fleet completely electric by 2030, we will collaborate and work with leading local players to procure and deploy electric vehicles while supporting the required infrastructure growth. We understand the relevance of electric mobility in achieving both business and sustainability goals and are committed to paving the way for greater adoption of EVs across the country,” he added.

The company said over the past year it has worked to create a network of ecosystem partners across charging providers, skill development agencies, aggregators, and original equipment manufacturers.

The company, which is expected to publicly list later this year, identified three models that will feature in its electric vehicles fleet: Nyx series by Hero Electric, which offers extended driving range of up to 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) per charge; Treo Zor by Mahindra Electric, which features “highest-in-class payload of 550kg (1212.5 pounds)”; and Ape’ E Xtra FX by Piaggio.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #flipkart, #piaggio, #transportation, #walmart

0

Area 120 is beginning to use Google’s massive reach to scale HTML5 GameSnacks platform

Hundreds of millions of users, especially in developing markets, don’t own high-end smartphones and can’t afford fast data plans to enjoy much of anything on the web.

Google has been exploring multiple ways to better serve this segment of the user base. It has tried partnerships to make the internet more affordable to tens of millions of users. It has worked with smartphone makers to bring reliable Android experience to cheap smartphones. In fact, it’s currently working on a project with telecom operator Jio Platforms in India to further lower the price point for decent Android experience.

For mobile games, however, Google has a slightly different idea to reach users. Area 120, Google’s in-house incubator for experimental projects, last year launched GameSnacks. It’s an HTML5 gaming platform, where titles are bite-sized and they load much faster and consume far less resources because of the way they have been designed.

And that idea appears to be working.

Google said on Tuesday that over the past year it has made inroads with GameSnacks, and is now ready to scale the platform and test monetization models to make it worthwhile for game developers.

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Ani Mohan, General Manager of GameSnacks, said the platform has amassed over 100 titles and millions of users.

“HTML5 gaming has been growing, especially outside of the United States. HTML5 is a great way to get games to users who have just come online and probably haven’t played games online before. These games are cross-device, work on low-bandwidth connection, and are instantly playable as they don’t require users to install any files,” he said.

These single-player games, that work on any device with as low RAM as 1GB and 2G to 3G data connection, are available to users through GameSnacks website. They can be played on desktop as well as Chrome on an iPhone or iPad (if you wanted to give it a whirl.)

Now the company is using its scale to expand the reach and discoverability of GameSnacks. Mohan said in recent weeks GameSnacks games have been made available from the New Tab page in Chrome for users in India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Kenya.

In India, Google’s biggest market by users, GameSnacks games are also arriving to Google Pay. The company is also experimenting with bringing GameSnacks games to Discover feed.

Mohan said the company is starting these integrations is select countries because that’s where many users face the challenges the platform is trying to address. “We view this as an early stage of experimentation. If it goes well, we will love to expand it,” he said.

Additionally, Mohan said the company is experimenting with bringing GameSnacks games to the Google Assistant.

“Now that few of these integrations are live, one of things we are hoping to do is talk to developers, and tell them that there is an easy way to get on Google,” he said.

Developers on GameSnacks currently monetize their games via a licensing or a contracting model where they sell some or all of their game rights to the company. Mohan said the team, which comprises six people (though more people from Google contribute to it), is working on helping these developers monetize their games using next-generation AdSense for Games ad formats.

“We want to help them build viable businesses over time so we’re going to start experimenting with advertising on the platform,” he said. However, this will be for a select number of GameSnacks games for now.

Emerging markets such as Africa and Asia are not new to the world of HTML games. In India, for instance, a gaming platform called Gamezop raised $4.2 million last year to expand its HTML5 games to reach more developers and embed them into over 1,000 apps.

In 2018, South African telco, MTN Group, launched the Bonus Bucks HTML5 game portal for its subscribers in the Southern African country. Facebook operated HTML5 Instant Games on Messenger for years until taking it off the messaging service. A quick search on our own archive returns scores of firms that work on HTML5 games in the past, though we have seen fewer examples in recent years.

Mohan remains bullish that there is a big opportunity for HTML games and this extends beyond Africa and Asia. “We don’t see these markets as our only option. These are just the markets we’re starting with because the need for HTML5 games… is especially compelling. We think the market size for this is much broader because HTML has users all around the world,” he said.

#apps, #area-120, #asia, #game, #games, #gamesnacks, #gaming, #google, #html5

0

ErudiFi raises $5 million Series A to give students in Southeast Asia more education financing options

Based in Singapore, ErudiFi wants to help more students in Southeast Asia stay in school by giving them affordable financing options. The startup announced today it has raised a $5 million Series A, co-led by Monk’s Hill Ventures and Qualgro.

ErudiFi currently works with more than 50 universities and vocational schools in Indonesia and the Philippines. Co-founder and chief executive officer Naga Tan told TechCrunch that students in those countries have limited financing options, and often rely on friends or family, or informal payday lenders that charge high interest rates.

To provide more accessible financing options, ErudiFi partners with accredited universities and schools to offer subsidized installment plans, using tech to scale up while keeping costs down. Interest rates and repayment terms vary between institutions, but can be as low as 0%, with loans payable in 12 to 24 months.

By providing their students with affordable financing plans, ErudiFi can increase retention rates at schools, helping them keep students who would otherwise be forced to drop out because of financial issues.

Tan said ErudiFi’s value proposition for educational institutions is “being able to offer a data-driven financing solution that helps with student recruitment and retention. Students also greatly benefit because our product is one of the few, if not the only, affordable financing option they have access to.”

In a press statement, Peng T. Ong, co-founder and managing partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, said, “Access to affordable tertiary education remains a huge pain point in Southeast Asia where the cost is nearly double then the average GDP per capita. ErudiFi is tackling an underserved market that is plagued with high-interest rates by traditional financial institutions and limited reach from peer-to-peer lending companies.”

ErudiFi’s Series A will be used on hiring for its product and engineering teams and to expand in Indonesia and the Philippines.

#asia, #education, #erudifi, #finance, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #philippines, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

India’s Zomato valued at $5.4 billion in new $250 million investment

Zomato has raised $250 million, two months after closing a $660 million Series J financing round, as the Indian food delivery startup builds a war-chest ahead of its IPO later this year.

Kora (which contributed $115 million), Fidelity ($55 million), Tiger Global ($50 million), Bow Wave ($20 million), and Dragoneer ($10 million) pumped the new capital into the 12-year-old Gurgaon-headquartered startup, Info Edge, a publicly listed investor in Zomato, disclosed in a filing (PDF) to a local stock exchange. The new investment gives Zomato a post-money valuation of $5.4 billion, up from $3.9 billion in December last year, said Info Edge, which owns 18.4% stake in the Indian startup.

The new investment reinforces the strong confidence investors have in Zomato, which struggled to raise money for much of last year. Zomato, which acquired the Indian food delivery business of Uber early last year, competes with Prosus Ventures-backed Swiggy (valued at about $3.6 billion) in India. Together they work with over 440,000 delivery partners, a larger workforce than that employed by Indian Department of Posts.

A third player, Amazon, also entered the food delivery market in India last year, though its operations are still limited to parts of Bangalore.

At stake is India’s food delivery market, which analysts at Bernstein expect to balloon to be worth $12 billion by 2022, they wrote in a report to clients. With about 50% of the market share, Zomato is the current leader among the three, Bernstein analysts wrote.

“We find the food-tech industry in India to be well positioned to sustained growth with improving unit economics. Take-rates are one of the highest in India at 20-25% and consumer traction is increasing. Market is largely a duopoly between Zomato and Swiggy with 80%+ share,” wrote analysts at Bank of America in a recent report, reviewed by TechCrunch.

Zomato and Swiggy have improved their finances in recent years, which is especially impressive because making money with food delivery is very even more challenging in India. Unlike Western markets such as the U.S., where the value of each delivery item is about $33, in India, a similar item carries the price tag of $3 to $4, according to research firms.

Both the startups eliminated hundreds of jobs last year as coronavirus pandemic hit their businesses. Zomato co-founder and chief executive Deepinder Goyal said in December that the food delivery market was “rapidly coming out of COVID-19 shadows.”

“December 2020 is expected to be the highest ever GMV month in our history. We are now clocking ~25% higher GMV than our previous peaks in February 2020. I am supremely excited about what lies ahead and the impact that we will create for our customers, delivery partners, and restaurant partners,” he said.

In an email to employees in September last year, Goyal said Zomato was working on its IPO for “sometime in the first half” of 2021 and was raising money to build a war-chest for “future M&A, and fighting off any mischief or price wars from our competition in various areas of our business.”

#amazon, #apps, #asia, #food, #funding, #india, #swiggy, #tiger-global, #zomato

0

Indonesian investment platform FUNDtastic lands $7.7 million Series A

Despite the market impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, retail investing is increasing in Indonesia, especially among people aged 18 to 30. Today, investment platform FUNDtastic announced it has raised a $7.7 million Series A to tap into that demand, with plans to launch new products for retail investors, reports DealStreetAsia.

The round was led by Singapore-based Ascend Capital Group, with participation from other investors including tech holding company Indivara Group. FUNDtastic plans to add retail bonds, insurance and peer-to-peer lending to its current roster of mutual funds and gold investment options.

FUNDtastic acquired Invisee, a mutual funds and securities portal, last year for $6.5 million, allowing it to sell mutual fund products directly.

Based in Jakarta, FUNDtastic was founded in 2019 by Harry Hartono, Franky Chandra and Medwin Susilo. While capital investing in Indonesia remains relatively low, with many preferring to invest in real estate instead, that number is gradually increasing as young professionals diversify their holdings. The Indonesian Stock Exchange is also launching initiatives to attract more retail investors.

Other startups focused on making retail investment more accessible to Indonesians include Ajaib and Bibit, which both recently raised funding.

#asia, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #fundtastic, #indonesia, #investment, #retail-investing, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc

0

Twitter explored buying India’s ShareChat and turning Moj into a global TikTok rival

Twitter recently held talks to acquire Indian social media startup ShareChat as the company explored ways to expand its presence in the world’s second largest internet market and build a global rival to TikTok, three sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The American firm, which is already an investor in Bangalore-based ShareChat, offered to buy the Indian startup for $1.1 billion and had committed an additional investment of $900 million, two of the sources said.

The talks are no longer ongoing, two sources said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. TechCrunch could not determine why the talks did not materialize into a deal.

Two sources said Twitter had expressed intention to take Moj, a short-form video app that ShareChat owns, to international markets and position it as a rival to Chinese app TikTok.

Twitter declined to comment and ShareChat did not respond to a request for comment.

India’s ban on TikTok last year prompted scores of local startups and international giants to try their hands at short-form video format.

Moj, with over 80 million users already, has emerged as one of the largest players in the category. Earlier this month, Snap inked a deal with ShareChat to integrate its Camera Kit into the Indian short video app. This is the first time Snap had formed a partnership of this kind with a firm in India.

With the buyout offer no longer being entertained, ShareChat has resumed talks with other investors for its new financing round. These investors include Google, Snap, as well as Tinder-parent firm Match Group, the sources said. TechCrunch reported in January that the Indian startup was talking to Google and Snap as well as some existing investors including Twitter to raise over $200 million. A potential acquisition by Twitter prolonged the investment talks.

ShareChat, which claims to have over 160 million users, offers its social network app in 15 Indian languages and has a large following in small Indian cities and towns, or what venture capitalist Sajith Pai of Blume Ventures refer as “India 2.” Very few players in the Indian startup ecosystem have a reach to this segment of this population, which thanks to users from even smaller towns and villages — called “India 3” — getting online has expanded in recent years.

In an interview with TechCrunch last year, Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and chief executive of ShareChat, said the startup’s marquee app was growing “exponentially” and that users were spending, on an average, more than 30 minutes a day on the service.

Twitter, itself, has struggled to make inroads outside of bigger cities and towns in India. Its app reached about 75 million users in the country in the month of January, according to mobile insight firm AppAnnie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. It inked a deal with news and social app Dailyhunt to bring Moments — curated tweets pertaining to news and other local events — to the Google-backed Indian app.

The American social network has broadened its product offering in the past year amid pressure from activist investors to accelerate growth.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #google, #india, #instagram, #match, #moj, #sharechat, #snap, #social, #tinder, #twitter

0

China’s Black Lake raises $77M to give factories a digital upgrade

Zhou Yuxiang doesn’t have the typical profile for working in China’s manufacturing world. A soft-spoken yet incisive person in his early thirties, Zhou graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in government and went on to work in investment banking in Hong Kong, following the path of many Chinese overseas returnees.

But a few years into his career, Zhou realized he wanted to build his own business. This was around 2015, a time when China was consumed by a startup craze amid Premier Li Keqiang’s campaign for “mass entrepreneurship and innovation.” Rather than going into the sleek world of consumer lifestyle, fintech or AI, Zhou picked manufacturing as a starting point.

During his time at Barclays, Zhou helped deep-pocketed Chinese manufacturers scour for merger and acquisition deals in Europe. He saw how factories in Germany digitize their operations using Siemens and SAP solutions. In China, “factories had a lot of money and could buy top-of-the-line equipment. But on the software management front, they were still very primitive,” said Zhou in an interview with TechCrunch.

“Most of the operation was done on paper. Every day, workers received a stack of papers telling them what to do, and in turn, they filled up the sheets reporting what material they had used… When you acquire these financially underperforming factories in Europe, you realize their software infrastructure capabilities are still far superior to yours,” Zhou added.

That digital gap encouraged Zhou to start Black Lake, a software platform for factory workers to log their daily tasks and managers to oversee the plant floor. Since its inception in 2016, the startup has raised over $100 million from GGV Capital, Bertelsmann Asia Investments, GSR Ventures, ZhenFund and others. The company recently closed a Series C round, pocketing nearly 500 million yuan ($77 million) and bringing on new backers including Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek, who led the round, as well as China Renaissance and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Black Lake’s vision is to be a one-stop collaboration platform for factory workers and managers, digitizing data incurred in all stages of production, from client orders, material procurement, quality compliance, warehouse management, to logistics and shipment. The software analyzes these reams of data, churning out reports for bosses to check for abnormalities in production and for workers to see how they could increase their output and income.

Compared to SaaS incumbents from the West, Black Lake’s more localized services and affordable prices have a greater appeal to China’s wide swathes of small and medium-sized factories, Zhou argued. Black Lake tries to simplify its user experience to a Lego-like building process so factory bosses can easily customize the software for their own use. Workers access the cloud-based software from their smartphones, which have become ubiquitous in China’s affluent cities thanks to increasingly friendly device prices and data fees. A foreign SaaS giant’s solution could cost a factory at least three million yuan a year, while Black Lake charges 300,000 yuan or less, Zhou said.

To date, the company has served nearly 2,000 manufacturers and suppliers across the Greater China Region and Southeast Asia, counting in its customers Tesla, L’Oréal, Xiaomi, Sinopec, and Chinese state-owned conglomerate China Resources’ pharmaceutical group. In all, the company claims to have reached 500,000 production workers.

Manufacturing 2.0

Black Lake’s collaboration and data management software for factories

Black Lake is riding a perfect wave of “upgrading” in China’s manufacturing world. For one, the demand for customized products is rising as consumers become savvier. Instead of producing bottled water with the same packaging, for instance, beverage companies now design various looks tailored to different demographics. Factories need to adjust quickly to the flood of customized orders, and a cloud-based data management platform could be the solution, Zhou suggested.

The U.S.-China trade war is another impetus for China’s push for factory upgrade. Having felt the heat from trade sanctions, Chinese manufacturers look to cut expenses and improve productivity. That shift, along with the government’s “new infrastructure” policy to breathe high tech into traditional industries, makes Zhou all the more bullish about his business.

But Black Lake is certainly not the only one to have spotted opportunities in China’s efforts to modernize production, and enterprise software in China has a notoriously slow monetization cycle in part due to low adoption and companies’ reluctance to pay for services. The key is finding a viable business model to fund its dream to be the ultimate “data entry point” for China’s millions of factories.

With proceeds from its new funding, Black Lake plans to spend on product development, hiring, market expansion, and building an open platform for third-party developers. The startup realizes it can’t build everything factories need, and it’s already working with partners across telecommunications, cloud computing, automation and consulting, such as Huawei, Alibaba, SAP and McKinsey.

“When Chinese factories ‘wake up’, their speed of digitization will definitely leapfrog that of their American and European counterparts,” Zhou asserted.

#asia, #black-lake, #china, #funding, #ggv-capital, #manufacturing, #saas, #tc, #temasek

0

South Korea’s prime minister has joined Clubhouse

After garnering an estimated 8 million downloads since its launch, Clubhouse’s popularity continues across the world and even outside of its original tech-focused seed community.

The latest news comes from East Asia, where Korean media reported this morning that the country’s current prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, has officially joined the social audio app under the username @gyunvely, making him among the most senior political leaders worldwide to join the burgeoning app. His account was created on Valentine’s Day (February 14th) and was “nominated” by a user using the name of TJ Park (Clubhouse does not have verified profiles).

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Clubhouse this weekend. Screenshot by Danny Crichton.

So far, the prime minister has garnered slightly fewer than 500 followers and is following a bit fewer than 200 accounts, perhaps indicating the app’s current reach in one of the world’s most mobile and connected digital economies. His Clubhouse bio reads “노란잠바 그 아저씨” or “That Yellow Jacket Guy,” a reference to the Korean civil defense uniform worn by politicians in times of crisis (such as throughout the COVID-19 pandemic) and which currently serves — in cartoon form — as Chung’s profile picture.

South Korean politicians often wear yellow civil defense uniforms in times of national crisis. Photo by South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images

According to local media reports, Chung spoke in a Clubhouse room for over an hour with fellow Democratic Party of Korea member Jung Cheong-rae. In a public Facebook post yesterday, the prime minister said that “I heard this [app] is ‘hot’ these days so I tried it as a nighttime walk.”

He further said “I was a little startled by the unexpected questions and reactions but the new experience was enjoyable. I think I’ll participate from time to time in the future.” Elaborating, he said “the fact that it’s audio-only and everyone can have a conversation without reserve made me think that it’s a better communication tool than any other social media platforms, especially since currently we’re living in the age of non-face-to-face communication.”

Discussions in the Clubhouse room included questions asking whether it was really him, to more bread-and-butter policy issues like the high price of real estate and physical abuse in the sports world, which has dominated headlines in recent weeks in local media.

While Clubhouse has become something of a fixture for techies and every form of hustle culture connoisseur imaginable, the app has increasingly made forays into politics that are hardly unknown to other social networks.

Miami’s mayor Francis Suarez has been on Clubhouse to sell his city’s potential for the tech industry. San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin joined a “debate” on the platform about the future of SF, while NYC mayoral aspirant and all around UBI nerd Andrew Yang joined a discussion about … himself. Meanwhile, Bitcoin aficionado and itinerant Tesla leader Elon Musk has even proposed bringing Vladimir Putin onto Clubhouse for a live fireside chat.

Yet, as the platform expands globally, the challenges to its open and free-wheeling if somewhat moderated conversations are coming under closer scrutiny. China has now blocked Clubhouse within its borders after a brief period of uncensored conversation.

As Clubhouse continues to garner mainstream legitimacy and interest, questions continue to percolate on the future of the app’s success, such as how it will fund creators and continue to thrive once the world opens up after COVID-19.

#asia, #clubhouse, #government, #media, #social, #south-korea, #tc

0

Leverage Edu raises $6.5 million to help Indian students land in top colleges abroad

Each year, millions of students in India rush to get an admission in universities abroad. Often they don’t know which program they should focus on, or the college that is right for their skillset and ambition.

Scores of legacy and newfound firms are attempting to offer counselling to these students. But despite India accounting for more students than any other country, most firms aiming to address this challenge are not focused on India, and struggle to understand some unique problems students from the world’s second most populous country face.

An Indian startup that is bridging this gap on Thursday said it has raised $6.5 million in a new financing round as it looks to scale its platform in the world’s second largest internet market.

Leverage Edu said Tomorrow Capital led the Gurgaon-headquartered startup’s Series A financing round. Existing investors Blume Ventures and DSG Consumer Partners also participated in the round.

Akshay Chaturvedi, founder and chief executive of Leverage Edu, told TechCrunch in an interview that he believes that eventually the firm that is going to serve the students best and emerge most successful will be the one that is physically closer to them, and not to the universities.

Chaturvedi, 30, has been experimenting with the right model for his startup for over five years. One of the earliest iterations of Leverage Edu offered mentorship to students and rewarded counselors with points.

Today, the startup offers a broad range of services in addition to offering personalized mentorship. Through its workshops, it helps students find the right college, guides them with complex applications and grade conversions, as well as assists with education loan, VISA, and accommodation. “It’s one digital dashboard. You get everything from flight ticket to local phone number, to education loan in one place,” he said.

“We believe it is inevitable that the next stellar brand in the global cross-border education space will be a home-grown one. We have a great belief in Akshay as a founder – he has a fantastic roadmap for scaling the business and the passion to build a truly global Indian edtech brand – and are excited about working with the Leverage Edu team on this journey,” said Rohini Prakash, chief executive of Tomorrow Capital, in a statement.

Leverage Edu helps students land admission in the most prestigious colleges, but also works with those that didn’t score the most marks and find high-profile colleges.

“Students going to the top colleges is just 10% of the potential audience,” explained Chaturvedi, who spent his teen years attending talks from startup founders and also made money by bringing more people to those talks.  “There are many universities that don’t have the best branding. To connect them with students, we have Univalley.com,” he said.

The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to help students find colleges in more geographies including UK and Australia, he said.

“We want to focus on a few things and do them really really well. There is also this myth around foreign education being expensive that we’ve been busting for last four years. 18 months from now, we want to be among the top study abroad companies in India, both by number of students and a roof-hitting NPS – because a happy student is why we are all really motivated everyday to do this!”, he added.

#asia, #education, #funding, #india

0

With over 1.3 million users, Nigerian-based fintech FairMoney wants to replicate growth in India

There are over 1.7 billion underbanked people globally, the majority of which are from emerging markets. For them, accessing loans can be difficult, which is a problem fintechs try to solve. One way they do this is by promoting financial inclusion by underwriting credit via a proprietary algorithm.

One such company is FairMoney, which describes itself as “the mobile banking revolution for emerging markets.” FairMoney, founded by Laurin Hainy, Matthieu Gendreau and Nicolas Berthozat, is a licensed online lender that provides instant loans and bill payments to underserved consumers in emerging markets.

Three years after launching its mobile lending service in Nigeria, the company set up shop in India, Asia’s second-most populous country in August 2020.

Before expanding, FairMoney experienced exponential growth in Nigeria in terms of loans disbursement. Last year, it disbursed a total loan volume of $93 million, representing a 128% increase from 2019 and a staggering 3,189% growth rate from its first year of operation in 2018. As it stands, the company is projecting a $140 million loan disbursement volume by the end of 2021. 

“I think we’ve been able to disburse 25-30% more than some of our competitors and I think we’re a market leader,” Hainy, the company’s CEO told TechCrunch. But compared with traditional banks, it was the seventh-largest digital financial services provider in that area.

FairMoney has come a long way since its Nigeria launch in 2017. In its first year of operation, the company had little over 100,000 users. Now, it claims to have 1.3 million unique users who have made over 6.5 million loan applications. FairMoney offers loans from ₦1,500 ($3.30) to ₦500,000 ($1,110.00) with its longest loan facility standing at 12 months. Annual percentage rates fall within 30% to 260% — the high APR, Hainy says, is due to higher default rates in Nigeria. That said, FairMoney also claims to have an NPL ratio lower than 10%. 

According to the CEO, data-driven insights was behind the choice to expand to India. The Indian market is quite similar to Nigeria’s. In the Asian country, only 36% of adults have access to credit, leaving an untapped market of about 141 million people microfinance banks do not serve. But unlike Nigeria, India has better unit economics for the lending business and a more friendly regulatory environment.

“If our ambition is to build the leading mobile bank for emerging markets, we need to start with very large markets,” Hainy said. “We tested our products in 10 different markets checking out for things like what the yield economics is like, NPLs, cost of risk, customer acquisition cost, cost of infrastructure and India stood out to us.”

FairMoney Nigeria team

Following its expansion six months ago, FairMoney claims to have processed more than half a million loan applications from over 100,000 unique users. This number trickles down to 5,000-6,000 loan applications per day with APR standing at 12-36%. Hainy says the company has achieved this with zero ad spend or marketing. 

Due to the daunting logistics behind international expansions, it’s challenging for an African-based startup to expand outside the shores of the continent. Although a rarity, there are a couple of startups to have undertaken such a task. Last year, Nigerian fintech Paga with 15 million users and a network of over 24,000 agents acquired Ethiopian software company Apposit to fast-track its expansion into Ethiopia and Mexico. 

FairMoney is on a similar path, as well. And with over 100 staff spread across Nigeria, France, and Latvia, the company hopes to build an engineering and marketing team in India.

Last month, it hired the services of Rohan Khara to become its chief product officer (CPO) and facilitate the expansion. Khara was the former head of product for financial services for Indonesian super app Gojek and held senior roles at Microsoft, Quikr and MobiKwik. Hainy says with Khara’s wealth of experience building consumer products in large emerging markets — India and Indonesia — FairMoney is poised for massive growth in Nigeria and India.

“We both share the vision that financial services in emerging markets need fixing and for us, Rohan brings the expertise to see FairMoney scale from almost a million users to 10 or 20 million users.”

FairMoney French team

Born in Germany to a Nigerian father and German mother, Hainy began his entrepreneurial journey in 2015 by launching a food delivery company in Sweden. Seven months later, he founded Le Studio VC, a Paris-based startup studio and €15 million fund he ran as CEO for three years.

“After those three years, I realised that being an investor wasn’t for me yet. I felt I was too young and I wanted to build something myself,” he said.

Neobanks like Revolut in the UK and N26 in Germany were picking up across Europe. Hainy wanted to create such for Nigeria after noticing how much people lacked access to affordable financial services during a visit.

But despite studying other neobank models, Hainy and his team couldn’t replicate them in a developing market like Nigeria. Credit was still significantly underserved by Nigerian banks because of the strict methodology employed in allocating loans. Sensing an opportunity, they launched FairMoney as a neobank by leveraging a credit-first model. Like Nubank in Brazil, FairMoney started off offering loans to solve the access to credit problem. But its broader vision is not to be just a digital bank but also a commercial bank.

The company is working towards getting a microfinance bank license to operate as the former in Nigeria. However, according to the CEO, the commercial bank license will take longer maybe five to ten years. 

“In the next five to ten years, I’d like to think two out of the five largest commercial banks in Nigeria will be neobanks. We want FairMoney to be one of them,” he said.

The Lagos and Paris-based company raised $11 million Series A in 2019. Between now and the time it will get a commercial bank license, Hainy says the company would’ve raised its Series B round to position itself for that task.

After India, which emerging market will FairMoney expand to next? There’s none in sight at the moment, the CEO says. The company plans to move from a credit-led value proposition to a full financial service provider, deepen its verticals, and replicate Nigeria’s growth in India for now.

#africa, #asia, #fairmoney, #finance, #online-lending, #startups, #tc

0

TikTok’s China twin Douyin has 550 million search users, takes on Baidu

The advance of short videos is reshaping how information is created, disseminated and consumed online. Snappy 15-second videos aren’t just for entertainment. On Chinese short-video apps Douyin and Kuaishou, people can get their daily dose of news, learn to cook, practice English, hunt for jobs, and seek practically any type of information from the platforms’ quickly expanding content library.

While people are increasingly used to being fed by machine-recommended videos, many users still have the urge and need for active searching. Douyin understood that and incorporated a search function back in mid-2018. More than two years later, the feature reached 550 million monthly active users. There’s still room for Douyin’s search feature to grow, as the app last reported 600 million daily users in September, so its monthly user base should be above that.

Kelly Zhang, the young product manager credited for the rise of Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese version, disclosed Douyin’s search user figure for the first time this week on her microblogging account. Search is a territory that had long been dominated by Baidu in China. As of December, Baidu’s flagship app had 544 million monthly active users, so it’s safe to say as many people are searching on Douyin as on Baidu.

Zhang’s remark is telling of Douyin’s ambition in conquering the online video sector, and eventually how people receive information: “I have said this before: I hope Douyin could become the video encyclopedia for human civilization. Video search is, therefore, the index of the book, the gateway to finding answers and reaping new knowledge.”

She further added that Douyin’s search engine is hiring for research and development, product, and operational roles in the upcoming year (China has just observed the Lunar New Year) as the video app continues to ramp up investment in search capabilities.

Short video platforms are already the second-most popular method for Chinese users to search online, trailing only after general search engines like Baidu and coming ahead of social networks and e-commerce, data analytics firm Jiguang said in a report last December. Baidu’s command of search is increasingly limited by the walled gardens built up by Chinese tech titans who block one another from free access to its sites and data. The status quo harms user experience but bodes well for vertical search engines on apps like Douyin and Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace, and consequently revenues from ad sponsorships.

ByteDance cut its teeth on using machine learning algorithms to recommend content through services like Douyin, TikTok and news aggregator Toutiao. The model proved highly efficient and lucrative, prompting its predecessors from Baidu to Tencent to introduce similarly algorithm-powered content feeds. ByteDance’s move into search, a realm with a longer history, is an intriguing yet natural step. The firm is just completing the puzzle for its digital media empire, giving people another option to find information. Users can receive machine recommendations and subscribe to content creators if they want. They can as well put in a search keyword if they have one in mind, the good old way.

#asia, #entertainment, #media

0

Indian trader group calls for ban on Amazon following explosive report

An influential India trader group that represents tens of millions of brick-and-mortar retailers called New Delhi to ban Amazon in the country after a report claimed that the American e-commerce group had given preferential treatment to a small group of sellers in India, publicly misrepresented its ties with those sellers, and used them to circumvent foreign investment rules in the country.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) on Wednesday “demanded” serious action from the Indian government against Amazon following revelations made in a Reuters story. “For years, CAIT has been maintaining that Amazon has been circumventing FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] laws of India to conduct unfair and unethical trade,” it said.

Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary General of CAIT, which claims to represent 80 million retailers and 40,000 trade associations in India, said, “It’s an open and shut case that Amazon is wilfully playing with rules. What more we are waiting for. It should be banned in India with immediate effect.”

CAIT has for years expressed concerns over what they allege are unlawful business practices employed by Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart in the country. They say these actions are posing existential threats to small merchants.

India is a key overseas market for Amazon, which has committed to invest over $6.5 billion in its operations in the world’s second largest internet market.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company cannot confirm the veracity or otherwise information and claims made in the Reuters story as it has not seen the documents. “The article appears to be based on unsubstantiated, incomplete, and/or factually incorrect information, likely supplied with the intention of creating sensation and discrediting Amazon,” the spokesperson said.

“Amazon remains compliant with all Indian laws. In the last several years, there have been number of changes in regulations governing the marketplaces and Amazon has, on each occasion taken rapid action to ensure compliance. The story therefore seems to have outdated information and does not show any non-compliance. We continue to focus on delivering first class service to India’s consumers, and helping India’s manufacturers and SMB’s reach customers across India and around the world,” it added.

Long-standing laws in India have constrained Amazon and other e-commerce firms to not hold inventory or sell items directly to consumers. To bypass this, the company has operated through a maze of joint ventures with local companies that operate as inventory-holding firms. India got around to fixing this loophole in late 2018.

Citing private company documents, Reuters said that Amazon had exercised significant control over the inventory of some of the biggest sellers. The report claimed that 33 Amazon sellers accounted for about a third of the value of all goods sold on Amazon, and two sellers in which Amazon had an indirect stake accounted for around 35% of the platform’s sales revenue in early 2019.

The new report — and its potential repercussions — is just the latest headache for Amazon in India.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #india

0

Zolve raises $15 million for its cross-border neobank aimed at global citizens

Tens of thousands of students and professionals in India leave their home nation each year for work and pursue higher education. Even after spending months in the new country, they struggle to get a credit card from local banks, and have to pay a premium to access a range of other financial services.

Banks in the U.S., or in most other countries for that matter, rely on local credit score to determine the worthiness of potential applicants. Even if an individual had a great credit score in India, for instance, that wouldn’t hold any water to banks in the foreign land.

That was the takeaway Raghunandan G, the founder of ride-hailing firm TaxiForSure (sold to local giant Ola), returned to India with after a trip. After months of research and assembling a team, Raghunandan believes he has a solution.

On Wednesday, he announced Zolve, a neobanking platform that is aimed global citizens. The startup works with banks in the U.S., India and other countries to provide consumers access to financial products seamlessly — without paying any premium or coughing up any security deposit.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Raghunandan said the startup underwrites the risks, which has enabled banks in foreign countries extend their services to Zolve customers. “Consumers can open an account with us and access all banking services as if they are banking with their national bank,” he said.

As part of the announcement, Raghunandan said Zolve has raised $15 million in a Seed financing round led by Accel and Lightspeed. Blume Ventures and several high-profile angel investors including Kunal Shah (founder of Cred), Ashish Gupta (formerly the MD of Helion), Greg Kidd (known for his investments in Twitter and Ripple), Rahul Mehta (Managing Partner at DST Global), Rahul Kishore (Senior Managing Director of Coatue Capital, also participated in the round. So did Founder Collective (which has backed Airtable and Uber), in what is its first investment in an Indian startup.

“Individuals with financial identities in multiple geographies need seamless global financial solutions and we believe the team’s strong identification with the problem will enable them to deliver compelling and innovative financial experiences,” said Bejul Somaia, Lightspeed India Partners, in a statement.

Before starting Zolve, Raghunandan founded TaxiForSure, a ride-hailing firm, that he later sold to Ola for $200 million.

Raghunandan acknowledged that a handful of other startups are also attempting to solve this challenge, but he said other firms are not making use of a consumer’s credit history from their origin nation. “We are the only one who is looking at this problem in a completely different light. We are not trying to solve the problem at the destination country where consumers face the challenges. We are finding the solution in the home country itself, where the consumers already have a reputation and credit history,” he said.

Once a customer has access to a credit card and other financial services in the new nation, they can quickly broaden their local credit history, something that otherwise takes years, he said.

“The global citizen community is largely underserved in terms of access to financial services and we believe that there is a huge market opportunity for Zolve. Raghu has a proven track record as a founder and we are delighted to partner with him again, on his latest venture. The team’s passion and commitment are commendable and we are positive that Zolve will create tremendous value for this community,” said Anand Daniel, partner at Accel, in a statement.

Headquartered in San Francisco and Bangalore, Zolve offers a range of compelling features even for those who don’t plan to visit a foreign land. If you’re in India, for instance, you can use Zolve to buy shares of companies listed at U.S. exchanges. You can also buy bitcoin and other cryptocurrency from exchanges based in the U.S. or Europe, said Raghunandan.

The startup, which has already amassed over 5,000 customers, has formed revenue-sharing arrangements with its banking partners. Raghunandan said since Zolve currently onboards customers in India and generates much of its revenue from banking partners in the U.S., it’s already operating on a profitable model.

#asia, #finance, #funding

0

Redefine Meat is moving plant-based proteins from patties to steaks

The Israeli startup Redefine Meat, which has developed a manufacturing process to make plant-based proteins that more closely resemble choice cuts of beef than the current crop of hamburger-adjacent offerings, has gotten a big vote of confidence from the investment arm of one of Asia’s premier food brands. 

The company has raised $29 million in financing from Happiness Capital, the investment arm backed by the family fortunes of Hong Kong’s Lee Kum Kee condiment dynasty, and Hanaco Ventures, an investment firm backing startups in New York and Israel.

Investors have stampeded into the plant-based food industry, spurred by the rising fortunes of companies like Beyond Meat, which has inked partnerships with everyone from Pepsico to McDonald’s, and Impossible Foods, which counts Burger King among the brands boosting its plant-based faux meat.

While these companies have perfected plant patties that can delight the taste buds, the prospect of carving up a big honkin cut of pea protein in the form of a ribeye, sirloin or rump steak, has been a technical hurdle these companies have yet to overcome in a commercial offering.

Redefine Meat thinks its manufacturing processes have cracked the code on the formulation of plant-based steak.

They’re not the only ones. In Barcelona, a startup called Novameat raised roughly $300,000 earlier this year for its own take on plant-based steak. That company raised its money from the NEOTEC Program of the Spanish Center for Industrial Technological Development.

Both companies are using 3-D printing technologies to make meat substitutes that mimic the taste and texture of steaks, rather than trying to approximate the patties, meatballs, and ground meat that companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible have taken to market.

Backing Redefine’s path to market are a host of other investors including Losa Group, Sake Bosch, and K3 Ventures.

The company said it would use the new funding to expand its portfolio and support the commercial launch of its products. Redefine aims to have a large-scale production facility for its 3-D printers online before the end of the year, the company said in a statement.

In January, Redefine Meat announced a strategic agreement with the Israeli distributor Best Meister and the company has been expanding its staff with a current headcount of roughly 40 employees.

“We want to change the belief that delicious meat can only come from animals, and we have all the building blocks in place to make this a reality: high-quality meat products, strategic partnerships with stakeholders across the world, a large-scale pilot line under construction, and the first-ever industrial 3D Alt-Meat printers set to be deployed within meat distributors later this year,” said Eschar Ben-Shitrit, the company’s chief executive, in a statement. 

 

#3-d, #asia, #barcelona, #beyond-meat, #bosch, #burger-king, #food-and-drink, #hanaco-ventures, #happiness-capital, #impossible-foods, #israel, #mcdonalds, #meat, #meat-substitutes, #new-york, #novameat, #steak, #tc

0