Ride-hailing firms such as Ola and Uber can only draw a fee of up to 20% on ride fares in India, New Delhi said in guidelines on Friday, a new setback for the SoftBank-backed firms already struggling to improve their finances in the key overseas market.
The guidelines, which for the first time bring modern-age app-based ride-hailing firms under a regulatory framework in the country, also put a cap on the so-called surge pricing, the fare Uber and Ola charge during hours when their services see peak demands.
According to the guidelines, Ola and Uber — and any other app-operated, ride-hailing firm — can charge a maximum of 1.5 times of the base fare. They can, however, choose to offer their services at 50% of the base fare as well. The rules also state that drivers will not be permitted to work for more than 12 hours in a day, and that the companies need to provide them insurance cover.
Uber and Ola have not previously publicly shared precisely how much they charge their drivers for each ride, but industry estimates show that a driver partner with either of these firms makes up to 74% of the ride fare, after paying taxes. The new guidelines say drivers should get to keep at least 80% of fares.
The cap on the ride fare and implied insurance costs will raise operating costs in India for Uber and Ola, both of which have eliminated jobs in recent months amid the pandemic to trim costs. The South Asian nation, which has attracted many giant international firms in recent years as they look for their next growth market, in the meantime has entered an unprecedented recession.
But not everything about the guidelines will hurt Uber and Ola, both of which had no comment to share on Friday. The rules will enable the companies to offer pooling (shared car) services on private cars, though there is a daily limit of four intra-city rides on such cars, and two weekly inter-city rides.
Ujjwal Chaudhry, an associate partner at Bangalore-based marketing research consulting firm Redseer, said the guidelines by the government will have a mixed impact.
“While it is positive in terms of formalizing the sector as well as increasing the consumer trust on aggregators through improved safety regulations. But, overall the impact of these guidelines on the ecosystem growth are negative as capping surge and platform fee will ultimately lead to reduced earnings for 5 Lac (500,000) drivers (currently on these platforms) and will also lead to increased prices and higher wait times for the 6-8 crore (60 to 80 million) consumers who use it for their mobility and commute needs,” he said in a statement.
The rules also address a range of other factors surrounding a ride. For instance, under no circumstance can the cancellation fee imposed on a rider or driver be more than 10% of the total fare, and the fee cannot exceed 100 Indian rupees, or $1.35. Also, female passengers looking for a pooled service will have the option to share the cab with only female passengers, the rules say. Cab aggregators are also required to establish a control room with round-the-clock operations.
Ola and Uber dominate the app-based ride-hailing market in India. Both the companies claim to lead the market, though SoftBank, a common investor, said recently that Ola had a slight lead over Uber in India.
There’s no lack of news these days on China’s tech giants teaming up with traditional carmakers. Companies from Alibaba to Huawei are striving to become relevant in the trillion-dollar auto industry, which itself is seeking an electric transition and intelligent upgrade as 5G comes of age.
State-owned automaker SAIC Motor, a major player in China, unveiled this week a new electric vehicle arm called Zhiji, in which Alibaba and a Shanghai government-backed entity are minority shareholders. The tie-up comes as Chinese EV startups like Xpeng and Nio and their predecessor Tesla see their stocks soaring in recent months.
Alibaba’s ties with SAIC can be traced back to 2015 when they jointly announced a $160 million investment in internet-connected cars. The partners moved on to form a joint venture called Banma (or ‘Zebra’) and Alibaba has since developed a slew of auto solutions for the Banma platform to enable everything from voice-activated navigation to voice ordering coffee, which is, of course, linked to the Alipay e-wallet.
Alibaba is certainly not SAIC’s exclusive supplier, as it’s also worked closely with the likes of BMW and Audi as well over the years.
For SAIC’s new EV brand, Alibaba will continue to be its “technology solution provider,” an Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.
The other tech giant making big moves in auto is Huawei. Just this week, the telecoms equipment and smartphone maker announced it would fold its smart car unit into its consumer business group, which previously focused on handsets. The expanded group will continue to be steered by Richard Yu, regarded as the man who helped grow Huawei from an underdog in the mobile industry to a leading global player.
Huawei’s ambition in auto is “not to manufacture cars but to focus on developing ICT [information and communications technology] to assist automakers in producing cars,” the firm asserts in the statement, addressing rumors that it wants to encroach on traditional carmakers’ turf.
Huawei’s phone business has taken a hit since U.S. sanctions hobbled its supply chain. It sold its budget phone brand Honor recently in the hope that the spinoff, independent from Huawei, will be free from trade curbs.
TikTok’s rise in the West is unprecedented for any Chinese tech company, and so is the amount of attention it has attracted from politicians worldwide. Below is a timeline of how TikTok grew from what some considered another “copycat” short video app to global dominance and eventually became a target of the U.S. government.
2012-2017: The emergence of TikTok
These years were a period of fast growth for ByteDance, the Beijing-based parent company behind TikTok. Originally launched in China as Douyin, the video-sharing app quickly was wildly successful in its domestic market before setting its sights on the rest of the world.
Zhang Yiming, a 29-year-old serial engineer, establishes ByteDance in Beijing.
Chinese product designer Alex Zhu launches Musical.ly.
ByteDance launches Douyin, which is regarded by many as a Musical.ly clone. It launches Douyin’s overseas version TikTok later that year.
2017-2019: TikTok takes off in the United States
TikTok merges with Musical.ly and and launches in the U.S., where it quickly becomes popular, the first social media app from a Chinese tech company to achieve that level of success there. But at the same time, its ownership leads to questions about national security and censorship, against the backdrop of the U.S.-China tariff wars and increased scrutiny of Chinese tech companies (including Huawei and ZTE) under the Trump administration.
ByteDance buys Musical.ly for $800 million to $1 billion. (link)
TikTok merges with Musical.ly and becomes available in the U.S. (link)
TikTok surpassed Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube in downloads. (link)
The first half of 2020: Growth amid government scrutiny
The app is now a mainstay of online culture in America, especially among Generation Z, and its user base has grown even wider as people seek diversions during the COVID-19 pandemic. But TikTok faces an escalating series of government actions, creating confusion about its future in America.
A man wearing a shirt promoting TikTok is seen at an Apple store in Beijing on Friday, July 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Revived Dubsmash grows into TikTok’s imminent rival. (link)
TikTok lets outside experts examine its moderation practices at its “transparency center.” (link)
Senators introduce a bill to restrict the use of TikTok on government devices. (link)
TikTok brings in outside experts to craft content policies. (link)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the U.S. is looking to ban TikTok. (link)
TikTok announced a $200 million fund for U.S. creators. (link)
Trump told reporters he will use executive power to ban TikTok. (link)
The second half of 2020: TikTok versus the U.S. government
After weeks of speculation, Trump signs an executive order in August against ByteDance. ByteDance begins seeking American buyers for TikTok, but the company also fights the executive order in court. A group of TikTok creators also file a lawsuit challenging the order. The last few months of 2020 become a relentless, and often confusing, flurry of events and new developments for TikTok observers, with no end in sight.
Reports say ByteDance agrees to divest TikTok’s U.S. operations and Microsoft will take over. (link)
Trump signals opposition to the ByteDance-Microsoft deal. (link)
Microsoft announces discussions about the TikTok purchase will complete no later than September 15. (link)
Trump shifts tone and says he expects a cut from the TikTok sale. (link)
TikTok broadens fact-checking partnerships ahead of the U.S. election. (link)
August 7: In the most significant escalation of tensions between the U.S. government and TikTok, Trump signs an executive order banning “transactions” with ByteDance in 45 days, or on September 20. (link). TikTok says the order was “issued without any due process” and would risk “undermining global businesses’ trust in the United States’ commitment to the rule of law.” (link)
August 9: TikTok reportedly plans to challenge the Trump administration ban. (link)
Oracle is also reportedly bidding for the TikTok sale. (link)
August 24: TikTok and ByteDance file their first lawsuit in federal court against the executive order, naming President Trump, Secretary of State Wilbur Ross and the U.S. Department of Commerce as defendants. The suit seeks to prevent the government from banning TikTok. Filed in U.S. District Court Central District of California (case number 2:20-cv-7672), it claims Trump’s executive order is unconstitutional. (link)
TikTok reaches 100 million users in the U.S. (link)
August 27: TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer resigns after 100 days. (link)
Kevin Mayer (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)
Walmart says it has expressed interest in teaming up with Microsoft to bid for TikTok. (link)
August 28: China’s revised export laws could block TikTok’s divestment. (link)
China says it would rather see TikTok shuttered than sold to an American firm. (link)
September 13: Oracle confirms it is part of a proposal submitted by ByteDance to the Treasury Department in which Oracle will serve as the “trusted technology provider.” (link)
September 18: The Commerce Department publishes regulations against TikTok that will take effect in two phases. The app will no longer be distributed in U.S. app stores as of September 20, but it gets an extension on how it operates until November 12. After that, however, it will no longer be able to use internet hosting services in the U.S., rendering it inaccessible. (link)
On the same day as the Commerce Department’s announcement, two separate lawsuits are filed against Trump’s executive order against TikTok. One is filed by ByteDance, while the other is by three TikTok creators.
The one filed by TikTok and ByteDance is in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (case number 20-cv-02658), naming President Trump, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and the Commerce Department as defendants. It is very similar to the suit ByteDance previously filed in California. TikTok and ByteDance’s lawyers argue that Trump’s executive order violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the right to free speech, and due process and takings clauses.
The other lawsuit, filed by TikTok creators Douglas Marland, Cosette Rinab and Alec Chambers, also names the president, Ross and the Department of Commerce as defendants. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (case number 2:20-cv-04597), argues that Trump’s executive order “violates the first and fifth amendments of the U.S. Constitution and exceeds the President’s statutory authority.”
September 19: One day before the September 20 deadline that would have forced Google and Apple to remove TikTok from their app stores, the Commerce Department extends it by a week to September 27. This is reportedly to give ByteDance, Oracle and Walmart time to finalize their deal.
On the same day, Marland, Rinab and Chambers, the three TikTok creators, file their first motion for a preliminary injunction against Trump’s executive order. They argue that the executive order violates freedom of speech and deprives them of “protected liberty and property interests without due process,” because if a ban goes into effect, it would prevent them from making income from TikTok-related activities, like promotional and branding work.
September 20: After filing the D.C. District Court lawsuit against Trump’s executive order, TikTok and ByteDance formally withdraw their similar pending suit in the U.S. District Court of Central District of California.
September 21: ByteDance and Oracle confirm the deal but send conflicting statements over TikTok’s new ownership. TikTok is valued at an estimated $60 billion. (link)
September 22: China’s state newspaper says China won’t approve the TikTok sale, labeling it “extortion.” (link)
September 23: TikTok and ByteDance ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to grant a preliminary injunction against the executive order, arguing that the September 27 ban removing TikTok from app stores will “inflict direct, immediate, and irreparable harm on Plaintiffs during the pendency of this case.” (link)
September 26: U.S. District Court Judge Wendy Beetlestone denies Marland, Rinab and Chambers’ motion for a preliminary injunction against the executive order, writing that the three did not demonstrate “they will suffer immediate, irreparable harm if users and prospective users cannot download or update” TikTok after September 27, since they will still be able to use the app.
TikTok says it’s enforcing actions against hate speech. (link)
TikTok partners with Shopify on social commerce (link)
October 13: After failing to win their first request for a preliminary injunction, TikTok creators Marland, Rinab and Chambers file a second one. This time, their request focuses on the Commerce Department’s November 12 deadline, which they say will make it impossible for users to access or post content on TikTok if it goes into effect.
October 30: U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone grants TikTok creators Marland, Chambers and Rinab’s second request for a preliminary injunction against the TikTok ban. (link)
November 7: After five days of waiting for vote counts, Joe Biden is declared the president-elect by CNN, followed by the AP, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox News. With Biden set to be sworn in as president on January 20, the future of Trump’s executive order against TikTok becomes even more uncertain.
November 10: ByteDance asks the federal appeal court to vacate the U.S. government’s divestiture order that would force it to sell the app’s American operations by November 12. Filed as part of the lawsuit in D.C. District Court, ByteDance said it asked the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States for an extension, but hadn’t been granted one yet. (link)
November 12: This is the day that the Commerce Department’s ban on transactions with ByteDance, including providing internet hosting services to TikTok (which would stop the app from being able to operate in the U.S.), was set to go into effect. But instead the case becomes more convoluted as the U.S. government sends mixed messages about TikTok’s future.
The Commerce Department says it will abide by the preliminary injunction granted on October 30 by Judge Beetlestone, pending further legal developments. But, around the same time, the Justice Department files an appeal against Beetlestone’s ruling. Then Judge Nichols sets new deadlines (December 14 and 28) in the D.C. District Court lawsuit (the one filed by ByteDance against the Trump administration) for both sides to file motions and other new documents in the case. (link)
November 25: The Trump administration grants ByteDance a seven-day extension of the divestiture order. The deadline for ByteDance to finalize a sale of TikTok is now December 4.
This timeline will be updated as developments occur.
Unacademy, an online learning platform in India, has added two more marquee investors to its cap table. The Bangalore-based startup, which focuses on K-12 online education, said on Wednesday it has raised new funds from Tiger Global Management and Dragoneer Investment Group.
The funding round, which is between $75 million to $100 million in size (according to a person familiar with the matter; Unacademy has not disclosed the figure), valued the four-and-a-half-year-old startup at $2 billion, up from about $500 million in February this year when Facebook joined its list of backers, and $1.45 billion in September, when SoftBank led the round.
“Our mission from Day One has been to democratise education and make it more affordable and accessible. We have consistently built the most iconic products that deliver high quality education to everyone. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Tiger Global and Dragoneer as our partners in the journey. They are both marquee global investors with a history of partnering with innovative companies that are making an impact on people’s lives,” said Gaurav Munjal, co-founder and chief executive of Unacademy, in a statement.
Unacademy helps students prepare for competitive exams to get into a college, as well as those who are pursuing graduate-level courses. On its app, students watch live classes from educators and later engage in sessions to review topics in more detail. In recent months, the startup has held several online interviews of high-profile individuals, such as Indian politician Shashi Tharoor, on a range of topics, which has expanded its appeal beyond its student base.
The platform has amassed over 47,000 educators, who teach students in 5,000 cities in India in over 14 languages. Over 150,000 live classes are conducted on the platform each month and the collective watch time across platforms is over 2 billion minutes per month, the startup said.
“The opportunity to improve lives through online education is enormous because of its sheer accessibility. The Unacademy team has innovated rapidly to build a leading platform that is taking education to the farthest corners of India. We are very excited to partner with Unacademy and look forward to seeing it scale further,” said Scott Shleifer, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.
The Federal Communications Commission has rejected ZTE’s petition to remove its designation as a “national security threat.” This means that American companies will continue to be barred from using the FCC’s $8.3 billion Universal Service Fund to buy equipment and services from ZTE .
The Universal Service Fund includes subsidies to build telecommunication infrastructure across the United States, especially for low-income or high-cost areas, rural telehealth services, and schools and libraries. The FCC issued an order on June 30 banning U.S. companies from using the fund to buy technology from Huawei and ZTE, claiming that both companies have close ties with the Chinese Communist Party and military.
Many smaller carriers rely on Huawei and ZTE, two of the world’s biggest telecom equipment providers, for cost-efficient technology. After surveying carriers, the FCC estimated in September that replacing Huawei and ZTE equipment would cost more than $1.8 billion.
Under the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, passed by Congress this year, most of that amount would be eligible for reimbursements under a program referred to as “rip and replace.” But the program has not been funded by Congress yet, despite bipartisan support.
In today’s announcement about ZTE, chairman Ajit Pai also said the FCC will vote on rules to implement the reimbursement program at its next Open Meeting, scheduled to take place on December 10.
The FCC passed its order barring companies deemed national security threats from receiving money from the Universal Service Fund in November 2019. Huawei fought back by suing the FCC over the ban, claiming it exceeded the agency’s authority and violated the Constitution.
A police case has been filed this week against two top executives of the American streaming service in India after a leader of the governing party objected to some scenes in a TV series.
The show, “A Suitable Boy,” is an adaptation of the award-winning novel by Indian author Vikram Seth that follows the life of a young girl. It has a scene in which the protagonist is seeing kissing a Muslim boy at a Hindu temple.
Narottam Mishra, the interior minister of the central state of Madhya Pradesh, said a First Information Report (an official police complaint) had been filed against Monika Shergill, VP of Content at Netflix and Ambika Khurana, Director of Public Policies for the firm, over objectionable scenes in the show that hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus.
“I had asked officials to examine the series ‘A Suitable Boy’ being streamed on Netflix to check if kissing scenes in it were filmed in a temple and if it hurt religious sentiments. The examination prima facie found that these scenes are hurting the sentiments of a particular religion,” he said.
Gaurav Tiwari, a BJP youth leader who filed the complaint, demanded an apology from Netflix and makers of the series (directed by award-winning filmmaker Mira Nair), and said the film promoted “love jihad,” an Islamophobic conspiracy theory that alleges that Muslim men entice Hindi women into converting their religion under the pretext of marriage.
Netflix declined to comment.
In recent days, a number of people have expressed on social media their anger at Netflix over these “objectionable” scenes. Though it is unclear if all of them — if any — are a Netflix subscriber.
The incident comes weeks after an ad from the luxury jewelry brand Tanishq — part of the 152-year-old salt-to-steel conglomerate — which celebrated interfaith marriage received intense backlash in the country.
For Netflix, the timing of this backlash isn’t great. The new incident comes days after the Indian government announced new rules for digital media, under which the nation’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will be regulating online streaming services. Prior to this new rule, India’s IT ministry oversaw streaming services, and according to a top streaming service executive, online services enjoyed a great degree of freedom.
The-Wolfpack’s co-founders, Toh Jin Wei, Tan Kok Chin and Simon Nichols (Image Credit: The-Wolfpack)
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the consumer, leisure and media companies hard, but a new venture firm called The-Wolfpack is still very upbeat on those sectors. Based in Singapore, the firm was founded by former managing directors at GroupM, one of the world’s largest advertising and media companies, and plans to work very closely with each of its portfolio companies. Its name was chosen because they believe “entrepreneurs thrive best in a wolfpack.”
The-Wolfpack’s debut fund, called the Wolfpack Pioneer VCC, is already fully subscribed at $5 million USD, and will focus on direct-to-consumer companies, with plans to invest in eight to 10 startups. The firm is already looking to raise a second fund, with a target of $20 million SGD (about $14.9 million USD) and above, and will set up another office in Thailand, with plans to expand into Indonesia as well.
The-Wolfpack was founded by Toh Jin Wei and Simon Nichols, who met while working at GroupM, and Tan Kok Chin, a former director at Sunray Woodcraft Construction who has worked on projects with Marina Bay Sands, Raffles Hotel and the Singapore Tourism’s offices.
In addition to providing financial capital, The-Wolfpack wants to build ecosystems around its portfolio companies by connecting them with IP owners, digital marketing experts, content producers and designers who can help create offline experiences. It also plans to invest in startups based on opportunities for them to collaborate or cross-sell with one another.
Toh told TechCrunch that formal planning on The-Wolfpack began at the end of 2019, but he and Nichols started thinking of launching their own business five years ago while working together at GroupM.
“Our perspective on what the industry needed was similar — strategic investors who truly knew how to get behind D2C founders,” Toh said.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact has hurt spending in The-Wolfpack’s three key sectors (consumer, leisure and media). But it also presents opportunities for innovation as consumer habits shift, Nichols said.
For example, even though consumer spending has dropped, people are still “drawn towards brands that build towards higher-quality engagements,” he said. “There is a real business advantage for D2C brands who’ve recognized this shift and know how to act on it.”
The-Wolfpack hasn’t disclosed its investments yet since deals are still being finalized, but some of the brands its debut fund are interested in include one launched by an Australian makeup artist who wants to scale to Southeast Asia, and an online gaming company whose ecosystem includes original content, gaming teams and studios. The-Wolfpack plans to help them set up a physical studio to create an offline experience, too.
“Typically brands have talked at customers, but it’s become a two-way conversation, and startups who get D2C right have a real potential for exponential growth that’s worth investing in,” said Toh.
Like with the previous orders, India cited cybersecurity concerns to block these apps. “This action was taken based on the inputs regarding these apps for engaging in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order,” said India’s IT Ministry in a statement.
The ministry said it issued the order of blocking these apps “based on the comprehensive reports received from Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Center, Ministry of Home Affairs.”
The apps that have been banned include popular short video service Snack Video, which had surged to the top of the chart in recent months, as well as e-commerce app AliExpress, delivery app Lalamove, and shopping app Taobao Live.
The Chinese Uber for trucks Manbang announced Tuesday that it has raised $1.7 billion in its latest funding round, two years after it hauled in $1.9 billion from investors including SoftBank Group and Alphabet Inc’s venture capital fund CapitalG.
The news came fresh off a Wall Street Journal report two weeks ago that Manbang was seeking $1 billion ahead of an initial public offering next year. The company declined to comment on the matter, though its CEO Zhang Hui said in May 2019 that the firm was “not in a rush” to go public.
Manbang said it achieved profitability this year. Its valuation was reportedly on course to reach $10 billion in 2018.
The company, which runs an app matching truck drivers and merchants transporting cargo and provides financial services to truckers, was formed from a merger between rivals Yunmanman and Huochebang in 2017. It was a time when China’s “sharing economy” craze began to see consolidation and shakeup.
The latest financing again attracted high-profile backers, including returning investors SoftBank Vision Fund and Sequoia Capital China, Permira and Fidelity, a consortium that co-led the round. Other participants were Hillhouse Capital, GGV Capital, Lightspeed China Partners, Tencent, Jack Ma’s YF Capital and more.
The company has other Alibaba ties. Its CEO Zhang, who founded Yunmanman, hailed from Alibaba’s famed B2B department where Manbang chairman Wang Gang also worked before he went on to fund ride-hailing giant Didi’s angel round.
Manbang claims its platform has over 10 million verified drivers and 5 million cargo owners. The latest funding will allow it to further invest in research and development, upgrade its matching system, and expand its service capacity to functions like door-to-door transportation.
Sequoia is quite bullish about truck-hailing as it made its sixth investment in Manbang. For Permira, a European private equity fund, the Manbang investment marked the China debut of its Growth Opportunities Fund.
That order, for 24 machine learning-enabled robotic recycling systems with the waste handling company Waste Connections, was a showcase for the efficacy of the company’s recycling technology.
That comes on the back of a pilot program earlier in the year with one Toronto apartment complex, where the complex’s tenants were able to opt into a program that would share recycling habits monitored by AMP Robotics with the building’s renters in an effort to improve their recycling behavior.
The potential benefits of AMP Robotic’s machine learning enabled robots are undeniable. The company’s technology can sort waste streams in ways that traditional systems never could and at a cost that’s far lower than most waste handling facilities.
As TechCrunch reported earlier the tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.
AMP’s robots already have been deployed in North America, Asia and Europe, with recent installations in Spain and across the U.S. in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
At the beginning of the year, AMP Robotics worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that provided residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits. Sidewalk Labs is transporting the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash is sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics.
Once the waste is categorized, sorted and recorded, Sidewalk communicates with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.
It was only last November that the Denver-based AMP Robotics raised a $16 million round from Sequoia Capital and others to finance the early commercialization of its technology.
As TechCrunch reported at the time, recycling businesses used to be able to rely on China to buy up any waste stream (no matter the quality of the material). However, about two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries.
The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively. At the time, unemployment rates put the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where trash was sorted. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put even more pressure on those recycling and waste handling facilities, despite their identification as “essential workers”.
Given the economic reality, recyclers are turning to AMP’s technology — a combination of computer vision, machine learning and robotic automation to improve efficiencies at their facilities.
And, the power of AMP’s technology to identify waste products in a stream has other benefits, according to chief executive Matanya Horowitz.
“We can identify… whether it’s a Coke or Pepsi can or a Starbucks cup,” Horowitz told TechCrunch last year. “So that people can help design their product for circularity… we’re building out our reporting capabilities and that, to them, is something that is of high interest.”
AMP Robotics declined to comment for this article.
Cashfree kickstarted its journey in 2015 as a solution for restaurants in Bangalore that needed an efficient way for their delivery personnel to collect cash from customers.
Akash Sinha and Reeju Datta, the founders of Cashfree, did not have any prior experience with payments. When their merchants asked if they could build a service to accept payments online, the founders quickly realized that Cashfree could serve a wider purpose.
In the early days, Cashfree also struggled to court investors, many of whom did not think a payments processing firm could grow big — and do so fast enough. But the startup’s fate changed after Y Combinator accepted its application, even though the founders had missed the deadline and couldn’t arrive to join the batch on time. Y Combinator later financed Cashfree’s seed round.
Fast-forward five years, Cashfree today offers more than a dozen products and services and helps over 55,000 businesses disburse salary to employees, accept payments online, set up recurring payments and settle marketplace commissions.
Some of its customers include financial services startup Cred, online grocer BigBasket, food delivery platform Zomato, insurers HDFC Ergo and Acko and travel ticketing service provider Ixigo. The startup works with several banks and also offers integrations with platforms such as Shopify, PayPal and Amazon Pay.
Based on its offerings, Cashfree today competes with scores of startups, but it has an edge — if not many. Cashfree has been profitable for the past three years, Sinha, who serves as the startup’s chief executive, told TechCrunch in an interview.
“Cashfree has maintained a leadership position in this space and is now going through a period of rapid growth fuelled by the development of unique and innovative products that serve the needs of its customers,” Udayan Goyal, co-founder and a managing partner at Apis, said in a statement.
The startup processed over $12 billion in payments volumes in the financial year that ended in March. Sinha said part of the fresh fund will be deployed in R&D so that Cashfree can scale its technology stack and build more services, including those that can digitize more offline payments for its clients.
Cashfree is also working on building cross-border payments solutions to explore opportunities in emerging markets, he said.
“We still see payments as an evolving industry with its own challenges and we would be investing in next-gen payments as well as banking tech to make payments processing easier and more reliable. With the solid foundation of in-house technologies, tech-driven processes and in-depth industry knowledge, we are confident of growing Cashfree to be the leader in the payments space in India and internationally,” he said.
Sleek, the corporate services platform that helps entrepreneurs launch and run new companies in Singapore and Hong Kong, has raised $4 million.
The new funding was led by SEEDS Capital, the investment arm of government agency Enterprise Singapore. Returning investors MI8 Limited and Pierre Lorinet also participated, along with Singapore Fintech Association co-founder Varun Mittal as part of Sequoia Capital’s scout program.
Sleek co-founder and chief growth officer Adrien Barthel told TechCrunch that the funding is part of Sleek’s seed round and brings the startup’s total raised so far to $7 million. It will start raising a Series A next year.
Founded three years ago by Barthel and Julien Labruyere, Sleek first began offering online corporate services, including company incorporation, compliance, digital accounting and tax filing, in Singapore before expanding into Hong Kong. Sleek now serves more than 3,000 companies, ranging from individual consultants to SMEs, startups and investment vehicles for funds, Barthel said.
Sleek is one of several cloud-based corporate services platforms focused on Singapore and/or Hong Kong, where regulations make it easier to incorporate companies and file taxes online, that have recently raised new venture capital funding. Others include Lanturn, Osome and Bluemeg. These startups were originally launched to reduce the amount of time and money spent on performing operational tasks, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for their services.
“We are happy to see other digital initiatives coming up around us,” Barthel told TechCrunch. “The market is wide enough for us to evolve on different positioning, and we’re only starting to see traditional firms looking at embracing the use of technology.”
While Sleek’s peers also offer secretarial, accounting and tax services, Barthel said his company’s vision “is to become the entrepreneur’s operating system, by going beyond that common service ground and building a range of services that are here to fit all entrepreneurs’ needs.”
For example, it recently released an electronic signature app called SleekSign that has digitized 145,000 signatures so far, added payroll services and launched a corporate insurance desk. Barthel said more product releases are planned for the end of this year and the first quarter of 2021.
In addition to growing its roster of services for entrepreneurs, Sleek also plans to expand into new markets where regulations also mesh well with its digital services.
“Our platform being common law friendly, we’re looking at such jurisdictions with attention, such as Australia, the United Kingdom and North America,’ said Barthel. “We are also closely looking at a few regional markets in Southeast Asia where regulatory frameworks are evolving and accepting progressively the use of technology for governance management and accounting.”
Metigy, a marketing platform created to help small businesses automate more of the decision making in their online ad campaigns, has raised a Series B of $20 million AUD (about $14.6 million USD). The new funding, led by returning investor Cygnet Capital, will be used to grow the Sydney, Australia-based startup’s international customer base, especially in the United States and Southeast Asia. Other participants in the round included Regal Funds Management, OC Funds, Five V Venture Capital and Thorney, plus returning
Founded in 2015, Metigy is currently used by about 26,000 businesses and has channel partnerships with Google and Optus. About 44% of its customers are in Australia and New Zealand, while 26% are in Southeast Asia, and 22% are in the United States. The startup has raised AUD $27.1 million (about USD $19.9 million) in total.
Co-founder and chief executive officer David Fairfull told TechCrunch Metigy was created because “half of SMEs fail in the first two years and marketing is one of the top two reasons for this. It’s a global issue and a paradigm that can be changed by harnessing technology.”
Fairfull and other members of Metigy’s founding team previously worked at We Are Social, a global creative agency. While there, they “spotted an opportunity to give small businesses access to the same data and strategic insights” as larger marketing teams.
Marketing platform Metigy’s Command Center
Metigy’s platform gives more support to small or inexperienced marketing teams by using real-time data from their online advertising channels to create a livestream of recommendations. For example, it will tell marketing teams if they should start posting more content right away, use more hashtags or schedule more posts. The platforms also predicts what posts will result in the most conversions, helping companies decide how to spend their advertising budget.
For example, one of Metigy’s customers, parking app Share with Oscar, used Metigy to analyze what was trending on social media when members of the Royal Family visited Sydney. As a result, Fairfull said they were able to generate 2,700 customer engagements by spending about AUD $10 (about USD $7).
Other social marketing platforms like Hootsuite and Sprout Social are “essentially process solutions that help make the marketer more efficient,” said Fairfull. “However, if you don’t understand marketing, then all this process efficiency won’t help you gain results.”
Metigy is focusing on the United States and Southeast Asia because of the large number of SMEs there. By 2022, there is expected to be 30 million SMEs in the U.S. “On top of this, success in marketing technology is often benchmarked by success in the U.S., so expanding in this region adds credibility,” Fairfull added.
But in terms of volume, Southeast Asia offers a more promising market. “The real growth opportunity for us though is in Southeast Asia, where there is expected to be 150 million SMEs across the 11 markets by 2022,” Fairfull said. But the majority of them don’t have large marketing teams or access to the kind of ad technology that larger companies do. Companies in the region also tend to be more price sensitive, Fairfull added, so artificial intelligence and machine learning-based technology helps lower the cost of software like Metigy to an attractive price.
In a much-anticipated move, California-based gaming firm Roblox filed to go public last week. One aspect driving the future growth of the children- and community-focused gaming platform is its China entry, which it fleshes out in detail for the first time in its IPO prospectus.
The partnership, which began in 2019, revolves around a joint venture in which Roblox holds a 51% controlling stake and a Tencent affiliate called Songhua owns a 49% interest. The prospectus notes that Tencent currently intends to publish and operate a localized version of the Roblox Platform (罗布乐思), which allows people to create games and play those programmed by others.
User-generated content is in part what makes Roblox popular amongst young gamers, but that social aspect almost certainly makes its China entry trickier. It’s widely understood that the Chinese government is asserting more control over what gets published on the internet, and in recent times its scrutiny over gaming content has heightened. Industry veteran Wenfeng Yang went as far as speculating that games with user-generated content will “never made [their] path to China,” citing the example of Animal Crossing.
Roblox says it believes it’s “uniquely positioned” to grow its penetration in China but its “performance will be dependent on” Tencent’s ability to clear regulatory hurdles. It’s unclear what measures Roblox will take to prevent its user-generated content from running afoul of the Chinese authorities, whose appetite for what is permitted can be volatile. Tencent itself has been in the crosshairs of regulators over allegedly “addictive” and “harmful” gaming content. It also remains to be seen how Roblox ensures its user experience won’t be compromised by whatever censorship system that gets implemented.
Roblox chose Tencent as its Chinese partner. / Image: Roblox
At the most basic level, Roblox claims it works to ensure user safety through measures designed “to enforce real-world laws,” including text-filtering, content moderation, automated systems to identify behaviors in violation of platform policies, and a review team. The company expresses in its filing optimism about getting China’s regulatory greenlight:
“While Tencent is still working to obtain the required regulatory license to publish and operate Luobulesi [Roblox’s local name] in China, we believe the regulatory requirements specific to China will be met. In the meantime, Luobu is working towards creating a robust developer community in China.”
The company is rightfully optimistic. China is the world’s largest gaming market and Tencent has a proven history of converting its social network users into gamers. Roblox’s marketing focus on encouraging “creativity” might also sit well with Beijing’s call for tech companies to “do good,” an order Tencent has answered. Roblox’s Chinese website suggests it’s touting part of its business as a learning and STEM tool and shows it’s seeking collaborations with local schools and educators.
Nonetheless, the involvement of Tencent is the elephant in the room in times of uncertain U.S.-China relations. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. or CFIUS, which is chaired by the Treasury Department, was inquiring about data practices by Tencent-backed gaming studios in the U.S. including Epic and Riot, Bloomberg reported in September.
Roblox isn’t exempt. It notes in the prospectus that CFIUS has “made inquiries to us with respect to Tencent’s equity investment in us and involvement in the China JV.” It further warns that it “cannot predict what effect any further inquiry by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. into our relationship with Tencent or changes in China-U.S. relations overall may have on our ability to effectively support the China JV or on the operations or success of the China JV.”
The other obstacle faced by all foreign companies entering China is local clones. Reworld, backed by prominent Chinese venture firms such as Northern Light Venture Capital and Joy Capital, is one. The game is unabashed about its origin. In a Reddit post responding to the accusation of it being “a ripoff of Roblox,” Reworld pays its tribute to Roblox and admits its product is “built on the shoulders of Roblox,” while claiming “it did not take any code from Roblox Studio.”
The Beijing-based startup behind Reworld has so far raised more than $50 million and had about 100 developers working on Reworld’s editing tool and 50 other operational staff, its co-founder said in a June interview. In comparison, Roblox had 38 employees in China by September, 38 of whom were in product and engineering functions. It’s actively hiring in China.
Roblox cannot comment for the story as it’s in the IPO quiet period.
Karan Bajaj, an Indian entrepreneur who teaches meditation and in a recent book guides others on how to avoid noise, is going after the most vocal critic of his startup.
Bajaj, founder of coding platform aimed at kids WhiteHat Jr, has filed a defamation case against Pradeep Poonia, an engineer who has publicly criticized the firm for its marketing tactics, the quality of the courses on the platform, and aggressive takedown of such criticism.
In the lawsuit — in which Bajaj is seeking $2.6 million in damages — Poonia has been accused of infringing trademarks and copyright of properties owned by WhiteHat Jr, defaming and spreading misleading information about the startup and its founder, and accessing the company’s private communications app.
Global internet companies Facebook, Google and Twitter and others have banded together and threatened to leave Pakistan after the South Asian nation granted blanket powers to local regulators to censor digital content.
Earlier this week, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan granted the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority the power to remove and block digital content that pose “harms, intimidates or excites disaffection” toward the government or in other ways hurt the “integrity, security, and defence of Pakistan.”
Through a group called the Asia Internet Coalition Asia (AIC), the tech firms said that they were “alarmed” by the scope of Pakistan’s new law targeting internet firms.” In addition to Facebook, Google, and Twitter, AIC represents Apple, Amazon, LinkedIn, SAP, Expedia Group, Yahoo, Airbnb, Grab, Rakuten, Booking.com, Line, and Cloudflare.
If the message sounds familiar, it’s because this is not the first time these tech giants have publicly expressed their concerns over the new law, which was proposed by Khan’s ministry in February this year.
After the Pakistani government made the proposal earlier this year, the group had threatened to leave, a move that made the nation retreat and promise an extensive and broad-based consultation process with civil society and tech companies.
That consultation never happened, AIC said in a statement on Thursday, reiterating that its members will be unable to operate in the country with this law in place.
“The draconian data localization requirements will damage the ability of people to access a free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world. It’s chilling to see the PTA’s powers expanded, allowing them to force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression,” the group said in a statement.
“The Rules would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses. If Pakistan wants to be an attractive destination for technology investment and realise its goal of digital transformation, we urge the Government to work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm.”
Under the new law, tech companies that fail to remove or block the unlawful content from their platforms within 24 hours of notice from Pakistan authorities also face a fine of up to $3.14 million. And like its neighboring nation, India, — which has also proposed a similar regulation with little to no backlash — Pakistan now also requires these companies to have local offices in the country.
The new rules comes as Pakistan has cracked down on what it deems to be inappropriate content on the internet in recent months. Earlier this year, it banned popular mobile game PUBG Mobile and last month it temporarily blocked TikTok.
Countries like Pakistan and India contribute little to the bottomline for tech companies. But India, which has proposed several protectionist laws in recent years, has largely escaped any major protest from global tech companies because of its size. Pakistan has about 75 million internet users.
By contrast, India is the biggest market for Google and Facebook by users. “Silicon Valley companies love to come to India because it’s an MAU (monthly active users) farm,” Kunal Shah, a veteran entrepreneur, said in a conference in 2018.
The Competition Commission of India (CCI), the Indian watchdog, said in a brief statement that it had approved the proposed acquisition of retail, wholesale, logistics, and warehousing businesses of Future Group, India’s second largest retail chain, by Reliance Retail, the largest.
Late last month, a Singapore arbitration court issued an order to temporarily halt the deal between the two Indian retail giants, but it has been unclear ever since how much water that order holds in India. Shortly after the court issued the order, Future Group and Reliance Retail said they were working to complete their deal “without any delay.”
Friday’s announcement is crucial. Amazon, which has invested over $6.5 billion in its India business, had requested the CCI and SEBI, the regulator of the securities and commodity market in India, to consider Singapore International Arbitration Centre’s order and block the deal.
Future Group is currently fighting with Amazon in a court in Delhi, where a lawyer for the Indian firm has used bizarre language to charge the American firm. On several occasions, the lawyer has likened Amazon’s effort to block Future Group’s deal to the East India Company, the British trading house whose arrival in India kicked off nearly 200 years of colonial rule.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Starting a new phone brand in 2018 might seem too late in an already crowded market, but Sky Li was convinced that consumers between 18-25 years old were largely under-served — they needed something that was both affordable and cool.
A few months after Li founded Realme in May that year, the smartphone company organized a product launch at a college campus in India, the world’s second-largest smartphone market. It brought its own production crew, built a makeshift stage and invited local rappers to grace the event.
“I was amazed. No one was sitting down and it felt like a carnival, a big disco party,” Chase Xu, Realme’s 31-year-old chief marketing officer, told me at the firm’s headquarters in Shenzhen.
“No foreign company had ever entered the campus. They didn’t think it was possible. Why would a university let you do a launch event there?” Xu, clad in a minimalist, chic black jacket from a domestic brand, recounted with enthusiasm and pride.
“Realme became widely known thanks to the event. People found it very interesting that it was mixing with students. It didn’t just launch a product. It was showing off a youthful, flamboyant attitude.”
Within nine quarters, Realme has shipped 50 million handsets around the world with India as its biggest market, even larger than China. The target this year is to double last year’s target to 50 million units, a goal that’s “nearly complete” according to Xu. It’s now the world’s 7th biggest smartphone brand, trailing only after those who have been around for much longer — Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, Apple, Oppo and Vivo, according to a Q3 report from research firm Canalys.
Realme didn’t accomplish all that from scratch. It’s yet another smartphone brand rooted in BBK Group, the mystic electronics empire that owns and supports some of the world’s largest phone makers Vivo, Oppo, OnePlus, and now Realme.
In 2018, former Oppo vice president and head of overseas business Sky Li announced he was resigning from Oppo to start Realme as an independent brand, similar to how OnePlus started in 2013. Today, Realme, OnePlus and Oppo all belong to the same holding group. That entity, together with Vivo, sits under BBK, which started out in 1998 selling electronic dictionaries in south China and has been diversifying its portfolio ever since.
While Realme and OnePlus operate independently, they get access to Oppo’s supply chain, a model that has allowed them to have lighter assets and consequently fewer costs.
Realme’s pop-up store in India / Photo: Realme
“Realme has an advantage because we share a supply chain with Oppo. We are able to get very good resources from the supply end, stay ahead globally and obtain what we should have,” said Xu.
For instance, the nascent phone maker was among the first to get Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 865 chips and put four cameras into a handset. Priority isn’t always guaranteed, however, because “there is definitely competition between us and our peers to fight to be the first,” Xu admitted. “Of course, it also depends on the progress of each team’s research and development.”
The light-asset strategy also means Realme is able to offer competitive technologies at relatively low prices. In India, its 8GB RAM, 128GB phone cost less than 1,000 yuan ($152) and its notch screen one was under 1,500 yuan ($228).
Realme isn’t concerned about increasing margin in the “growth stage,” Xu said, and the firm has “been profitable from the outset.” On the other hand, the phone maker is also introducing a slew of IoT gadgets like smart TVs and earphones, categories with higher markups.
The smartphone-plus-IoT strategy is certainly not unique, as its siblings in the BBK family, as well as Xiaomi and Huawei, have the same vision: smartphones and smart devices from the same brand will form a nicely interconnected ecosystem, driving sales and data collection for each other.
Another way to cut costs, according to Xu, is to avoid extravagant outdoor advertising. The company prefers more subtle, word-of-mouth promotion like working with influencers, throwing campus music festivals and fostering an online fan community. And the strategy seems to be clicking with the young generation who like to interact with the brand they like and even be part of its creative process.
The most enthusiastic users would sometimes message Xu with pencil sketching of what they envisioned Realme’s next products should look like. “They have very interesting and excellent ideas. This is a great generation,” the executive said.
Chinese brands go global
A Realme event during Diwali / Photo: Realme
Realme’s India chief executive Madhav Sheth is equally adored by the country’s young consumers. A former distribution partner of Realme, he made an impression on Realme founder Li, who “understands the Indian market very well despite not speaking fluent English,” according to Xu.
“Sheth is very charismatic and good at public speaking. He knows how to excite people,” Xu spoke highly of Sheth, who is an avid Twitter user and has garnered some 280,000 followers since he joined in the spring of 2018.
Against all odds, Realme is seeing robust growth in India. In Q3, it grew 4% from the previous quarter and currently ranks fourth in India with a 10% market share, according to research firm Counterpoint.
“During the start of the quarter, we witnessed some anti-China consumer sentiments impacting sales of brands originating from China. However, these sentiments have subsided as consumers are weighing in different parameters during the purchase as well,” the researcher wrote in the report.
“Of course the India-China conflict is not something we want to see. It’s a problem of international relationships. Realme doesn’t take part in politics,” Xu assured. “There will always be extremist users. What we can do is to expand our fan base, give them what they want, and leave the extremists alone.”
Next year, Realme is looking to ramp up expansion in Europe, Russia and its home market China. None will be a small feat as they are much-coveted markets for all major phone makers.
Realme’s onion-inspired model designed by prominent Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa
Part of Realme’s effort to associate itself with what Gen-Z around the world considers “cool” is to work with prominent designers. Xu’s eyes lit up, raising his hand in the air as if he was holding a ball. He was mirroring Naoto Fukasawa, the renowned Japanese industrial designer who came up with the onion-inspired color and pattern of the Realme X model.
“The afternoon sunlight slanted through the large windows. [Fukasawa] gave me a playful look, took an onion from beneath the table, and told me that was his inspiration,” Xu recalled. “He slowly turned the onion in the sun. I was dumbfounded. The veins, the pink, gold color, the texture. It was so beautiful. You wouldn’t think it was an onion. You’d think it was craftwork.”
South Korea-based PUBG Corporation, which runs sleeper hit gaming title PUBG Mobile, announced last week that it plans to return to India, its largest market by users. But its announcement did not address a key question: Is India, which banned the app in September, on the same page?
The company says it will locally store Indian users’ data, open a local office and release a new game created especially for the world’s second-largest internet market. To sweeten the deal, PUBG Corporation also plans to invest $100 million in India’s gaming, esports and IT ecosystems.
But PUBG’s announcement, which TechCrunch reported as imminent last week, is treading in uncharted territory and it remains unclear if its efforts allay the concerns raised by the government.
New Delhi says it enforced the ban over cybersecurity concerns. The government had received complaints about the apps stealing user data and transmitting it to servers abroad, the nation’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said at the time. The banned apps are “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India,” it added.
KRAFTON, the parent firm of PUBG Corporation, inked a deal with Microsoft to store users’ data of PUBG Mobile and its other properties on Azure servers. Microsoft has three cloud regions in India. Prior to the move, PUBG Mobile data concerning Indian users was stored on Tencent Cloud. In addition, PUBG said it is committed to conducting periodic audits of its Indian users’ data.
At face value, it appears that PUBG Corporation has resolved the issues that the Indian government had raised. But industry executives say that meeting those concerns is perhaps not all it would take to return to the country.
Here’s where things get complicated.
Not a single app India has blocked in the country has made its comeback yet. Some firms such as TikTok have been engaging with the Indian government for more than four months and have promised to make investments in the country, but they are still not out of the woods.
PUBG Corporation, too, has not revealed when it plans to release the new game in India. “More information about the launch of PUBG Mobile India will be shared at a later day,” it said in a statement last Thursday. According to a popular YouTuber who publishes gameplay videos on PUBG Mobile, the company has privately released the installation file of the new game and has hinted that it plans to release the game in India as soon as Friday. (There’s also a big marketing campaign in the works, which could begin on Friday, people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.)
If you want to know what the future of finance looks like, head east, where it’s already been laid down in China. Digital payments through mobile phones are ubiquitous, and there is incredible innovation around lending, investments and digital currencies that are at the vanguard of global financial innovation.
Take the cover photo of this article: At Alibaba, facial recognition software identifies customers at the employee cafeteria, while visual AI identifies foods on their tray and calculates a total bill — all pretty much instantly.
Given some of the big news stories emanating out of the sector the past two weeks, I wanted to get a deeper view on what’s happening in China’s fintech market and what that portends for the rest of the world moving forward. So I called up Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who is writing a book on the development of China’s fintech sector to get his take on what’s happening and what it all means.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Martin Chorzempa: I think there’s been surprise at how much interest there is in the company, and I think that’s just really an indication of the market for fintech in China. It’s certainly the world’s largest market for financial technology, and even though in the payments space things look pretty saturated between Ant and Tencent’s WeChat, there are so many areas that they’re expanding into, like credit and insurance, where there’s still a lot of room to run for these kinds of financial technologies to take over a much larger share of the financial system than they do now.
So even just considering the domestic market, it’s huge and it’s just going to get larger. Then, the big question mark is expanding abroad and whether these companies can become truly global financial technology giants. Today, nobody except Chinese people outside of China uses Alipay or WeChat Pay to pay for anything. So that’s a big unexplored side that I think is going to come into a lot of geopolitical risks.
So on globalization, who do these companies need to globalize? China has 1.3 billion people — isn’t that enough of a market to stay focused on?
Well, I don’t think anything’s ever enough for firms this ambitious. And if you think about it, if you have this really unique experience and data, that has a lot of applicability to other countries. So at the very least, it would be kind of a deadweight loss not to have that technology and experience applied to building out digital financial solutions in other countries.
Prior to the pandemic, Chinese people were going abroad in large numbers. So if you want to keep serving even the domestic market you have to have your payment methods accepted abroad.
Plus, if you want to facilitate and grow with China’s e-commerce businesses and other kinds of international trade, then having networks of merchants abroad and being able to use Alipay, for example, is something that could be really important to future growth. The domestic market is huge, but eventually you do run into diminishing returns if everybody already has your app and they’re already borrowing and investing.
There’s no shortage of TikTok coverage in the news today as the app’s fate in the U.S. hangs in the air.
What the press doesn’t always address is how TikTok gets here — how did a Chinese startup seize the lucrative short-video market in the West before Google and Facebook? What did it do differently from its Chinese predecessors who tried global expansion to little avail? Matthew Brennan’s new book “Attention Factory” set out to answer these questions by tracing ByteDance’s trajectory from an underdog despised by Chinese tech workers and investors to the envy of Silicon Valley and the target of the White House.
Matthew has spent years working closely with China’s tech firms, not only analyzing them but also using their products as a curious local, experiences that informed his meticulously researched and entertaining book. Interwoven with captivating anecdotes of TikTok, rare photos of ByteDance’s original team, incisive analysis and telling infographics, “Attention Factory” is an essential read for those looking to understand how ideas in the American and Chinese internet worlds collided, coincided and converged throughout the 2010s.
TikTok is a rare example of a Chinese internet service that has gained worldwide success. Before expanding overseas, ByteDance had already proven the short-video model in China through Douyin, the homegrown version of TikTok.
The excerpt below follows a high-growth period of Douyin, detailing how it gained around 200 million daily active users within a year: a loyal creator community, viral memes, algorithmic recommendation and aggressive ad spending.
Before long, the Chinese startup would replicate that growth playbook in the rest of the world, tweaking it here and there to make it work.
Hundreds of fashionably dressed young people were arriving at 751 D.PARK, an expanse of industrial plants redeveloped into a hip culture venue in northeast Beijing. They were clad in baseball caps, brightly colored dresses, loose-fitting hip-hop style streetwear and limited-edition sneakers. The site had been transformed into something akin to the stage of the talent competition “American Idol,” spanning two floors filled with strobe lighting, high-volume music and trendy backdrops. This was an exclusive party — three hundred top Douyin creators coming together to celebrate the app’s one-year anniversary.
The online stars, billed as the “new generation of internet celebrities,” weren’t there to just socialize and enjoy themselves. Every influencer was aware of the unspoken competition to derive the best content from that night. They were all fighting to achieve a higher level of superstardom and the medium of battle was short video.
The influencers who knew each other gathered in small groups as their assistants tirelessly captured fifteen-second videos of their carefully crafted skits. Loners roamed around the dance floor, absorbed in finding the ideal lighting for their lip-syncing selfie videos. Lesser-known influencers nervously approached more famous ones, proposing to record a dance together to potentially tap into their peers’ following. Loud hip-hop music kept playing in the background as creators hurried to touch up the videos they had just shot. Once the editing was done, they uploaded their works and anxiously waited for the app’s algorithms to judge who would grab more eyeballs.
Dance teams took to the stage to display their skills. The crowd bopped their heads back and forth as rappers attempted to impress with clever lyrics. Later as the hosts were midway through giving out awards, a wave of noise erupted from the back of the crowd interrupting the proceedings.
It was Yiming. Dressed in a black baseball cap and gray T-shirt and accompanied by Lidong. The audience went wild — the CEO had decided to drop in unannounced! Immediately he was bombarded with requests to take pictures and videos. As those around him whooped and cried out wildly, the entrepreneur simply smiled and kept his hands calmly by his side, an awkward 34-year-old engineer type among the hyper fashionable, mostly teenage hip-hop crowd.
Yiming and Lidong appear at a Douyin promotional event marking the app’s first anniversary in Sept 2017.
He already knew from looking at the data, but this was confirmation in the flesh — Douyin had built a robust community, with powerful momentum and was on the verge of doing something special.
October 1st marks the beginning of “Golden Week,” a seven-day-long official Chinese national holiday. Periods like these are big opportunities for China’s internet industry. People’s behaviors change for a week; many find more time for entertainment and to try new things.
Over October, Douyin’s daily users doubled from seven to 14 million; two months later, they reached 30 million. Over those three months, the 30-day retention rates jumped from eight to over 20%, the average time spent in the app soared from 20 to 40 minutes. It was as if some magic rocket fuel had suddenly been added, boosting every key metric. What had changed?
The answer was Zhu Wenjia. Zhu Wenjia, hired from Baidu in 2015, was widely considered to be one of the top-three best people in the entire company when it came to algorithm technology. He ran one of ByteDance’s most capable engineering teams and had recently been assigned to work on Douyin. The team’s work harnessing the full power of ByteDance’s content recommendation back end led directly to the astounding October results.
The better the metrics, the more resources ByteDance placed behind the app as it now had good retention and was fast-tracked into becoming a strategically important product. Suddenly support was coming in from all over the company — people, money, user traffic, celebrity endorsements, brand collaborations, and most importantly, full integration and optimization of ByteDance’s powerful recommendation engine. Chinese stars with massive fan bases such as Yang Mi, Lu Han, Kris Wu, and Angelababy opened accounts, joining in publicity campaigns, and a nationwide “Douyin Party” event roadshow was planned. Douyin had become the hottest upcoming app in China.
ByteDance ramped up the investment in all three short-video products, including Douyin. People, resources and advertising budget were all raised, leading an industry insider to comment later: “The sudden rise of Douyin wasn’t without good cause. Yiming threw more money at this than anyone and dared to hunt down and grab the best people.”
Commercialization began with the first three brand ad campaigns paid for by Airbnb, Harbin Beer and Chevrolet. Douyin’s advertising business would soon make rapid progress. ByteDance already had hundreds of sales and marketing staff who would shortly be able to add Douyin’s advertisement inventory to their sales targets.
Yiming revealed in a later interview that the company had made it compulsory for everyone on the management team to make their own Douyin videos with goals to gain a certain number of likes or suffer forfeits such as doing push-ups. It wasn’t good enough to just look at charts and data; management needed to understand short videos from a creator’s perspective also. Yiming had watched Douyin videos for a long time but creating his own was “a big step for me,” he admitted.
Yiming’s personal Douyin account (3277469). Seventeen videos at the time of writing, including clips from his global travels.
‘Oh well … karma’s a bitch’
The video opened to a young woman yawning, dressed in pajamas with messy morning hair. Wearing glasses and with no signs of makeup, she casually lip-syncs the line, “Oh well … karma’s a bitch” and throws a silk scarf into the air. Suddenly loud background music explosively begins. In an instant, she transforms into a glamorous fashion model, almost unrecognizable from a second before. A new meme had taken hold of Douyin.
“Karma’s a bitch” was a new version of the original “Don’t judge me” challenge that had propelled Musical.ly to top the U.S. app store three years earlier. The meme was another breakthrough for Douyin; People loved watching the shocking transformations. Compilations of the meme’s videos started popping up online. In particular, the makeup skills of some women left many men in disbelief. “Karma’s a bitch” left an impact on mainstream culture and gained widespread recognition and publicity, even making waves out into English language global media.
Douyin was also increasingly hypercharging the popularity of catchy pop songs with strong hooks. In late 2017, a track known as the “Ci-li-ci-li song” exploded on Douyin. The song’s catchy energy was undeniably infectious. Yet, it was the novel set of dance moves that had become associated with the track’s hook that turned the music into a meme and dramatically amplified its success.
The track had actually been released back in 2013 by Romanian reggae and dancehall artist Matteo, under the name “Panama.” Four years after its debut, the song’s unexpected and explosive spike in popularity led the singer to hastily organize an Asia tour to capitalize on his track’s sudden fame. A YouTube video shows him meeting Chinese fans at the Hangzhou airport who demonstrate their moves to him in the arrivals hall. With the dance having been created entirely in China, the bewildered artist finds himself in the awkward situation of not knowing how to follow the moves to the song for which he is famous.
Perhaps the most reliable indicator of the platform’s increasing influence on society was how the name, Douyin, had started to enter everyday colloquial vernacular, becoming synonymous with short video. The meaning of “Let’s shoot a Douyin!” needed no explanation.
Make it rain
ByteDance knew they now had a winning formula. Retention was good, word of mouth was excellent, a large, vibrant community of video creators had been fostered. The recommendation engine was doing its job of surfacing the best content. Douyin’s fire was already burning bright; now, it was time to pour gasoline on things and spend, spend, spend.
The holiday week of Chinese New Year is another unique annual opportunity for app promotions. Hundreds of millions travel home to be reunited with their families and find themselves with free time to relax. An entertainment app like Douyin was the perfect way to pass the time; word of mouth spread naturally between family members.
To step up its efforts further, Douyin directly gave out money to users by running a Chinese New Year “lucky money” campaign. Users could collect small cash amounts in special videos by tapping on the “red packet” icons — a digital manifestation of cash-filled envelopes people give to each other during the holiday. ByteDance also went all out, spending wildly, buying adverts and promotions across major online channels to acquire users, spending about 4 million yuan a day (over half a million dollars). The combination of all these effects sent Douyin to the top of the Chinese app store charts. Various reports stated Douyin’s daily users jumped from around 40 to 70 million over the February to March period covering Chinese New Year, with some of the top accounts seeing their follower numbers quadruple.
A chart mapping the progress of Douyin, from zero to 200 million daily active users, during the first two years of operation.
This article is an excerpt from “Attention Factory: The Story of TikTok and China’s ByteDance,” which was written by Matthew Brennan and edited by TechCrunch reporter Rita Liao, who wrote the introduction to this post.
Food Market Hub co-founders Anthony See and Shayna Teh
Many restaurants still rely on spreadsheets to track their inventory of produce, meat and other ingredients. But using manual methods often results in food wastage and higher costs. Malaysia-based Food Market Hub is a cloud-based platform that connects food and beverage (F&B) outlets directly to suppliers, making it easier to communicate and manage orders. The startup announced today it has closed a Series A round of $4 million from Go-Ventures, the investment arm of Gojek, and SIG.
This brings Food Market Hub’s total funding to $4.7 million so far. Founded in 2017 by Anthony See and Shayna Teh, Food Market Hub is currently used by about 2,000 food and beverage outlets in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The platform handles about $200 million in purchase orders on an annual basis and is used by well-known brands like Din Tai Fung, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Putien.
Food Market Hub automates purchasing and inventory tracking by connecting food and beverage outlets with central kitchens and suppliers. Orders can be placed through the platform or by email and WhatsApp. The platform also uses AI-based tech to forecast purchasing needs by analyzing past data.
Part of Food Market Hub’s Series A will be used to expand into Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Teh told TechCrunch that the company chose those three countries because they are the largest food and beverage markets in Southeast Asia, and share many similarities with Malaysia.
“The F&B sector does not use digitized procurement and inventory management solutions, which leads to inefficiency and significant added costs,” she said.
Several other startups focused on digitizing the food supply chain in those countries have also recently raised venture capital funding, including Thailand’s FreshKet, Indonesia’s Eden Farm and TaniHub, and Singapore-based Glife.
Teh said Food Market Hub doesn’t view those companies as competitors, because they focus on supplying produce and other ingredients to restaurants. Instead, Food Market Hub’s core business “is a communication platform that allows restaurants to communicate with and place orders to their existing suppliers,” she said.
“In fact, our customers will likely use our platform to place orders to these companies in the future,” she added.
Food Market Hub’s target clientele include restaurants that are growing into chains or franchises, which means manual purchase orders and inventory management quickly becomes inefficient. Before they started using Food Market Hub, many clients relied on Excel spreadsheets and notebooks to track inventory level and placed orders through phone calls, emails or WhatsApp, Teh said.
The company claims close to zero churn, with clients sticking to the platform unless their restaurant shuts down. Unfortunately, many food and beverage businesses have been forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including some of Food Market Hub’s customers. On the other hand, the pandemic underscored the importance of controlling inventory closely to manage costs.
“Restaurant owners and managers embraced technology at a much faster rate than ever before and we have been a beneficiary,” said Teh. “We have seen record demand for our products in recent months and are onboarding hundreds of outlets each month and expect this to only accelerate going forward.”
True Balance, a South Korean startup which runs an eponymous financial services app aimed at tens of millions of users in small cities and towns in India, said on Wednesday it has raised $28 million in a new financing round and expects to turn a profit next year.
SoftBank Ventures Asia, Naver, BonAngels, Daesung Private Equity, and Shinhan Capital financed the five-year-old startup’s Series D financing round. The startup, which has headquarters in Seoul and Gurgaon, has raised about $90 million to date.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Charlie Lee, founder and chief executive of True Balance, said the startup has disbursed over $13.5 million in small loans to consumers. The size of these loans vary from $6.75 to $675, he said.
Its customers don’t have a credit score, which makes it complicated for them to get a loan from financial institutions such as banks. Lee explained that True Balance, which formerly operated as Balancehero India, looks at alternative data to determine a user’s credit worthiness.
Hundreds of millions of Indian today don’t have a credit score, and without this, they can’t avail a range of services from banks. Scores of startups in India and Southeast Asia are experimenting with alternative data such as a phone a consumer owns and the transactions she makes and hundreds of other data points to determine these users’ credit worthiness.
Lee did not reveal how many users it has lent money to have returned the amount, but said the figure was so high that the startup is open to engaging with other firms who are looking to make use of alternative data but don’t have the tech stack.
The startup told TechCrunch last year that it was nearing profitability — a milestone it now hopes to reach by the second quarter of next year. Lee said the coronavirus, which has severely impacted the financial services sector, also hurt True Balance’s business.
Payments business in India remains a category that has yet to fully recover from the coronavirus pandemic and the sector at large won’t be profitable for at least another three years, analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote in a report they sent to clients earlier this month.
“Before the coronavirus, our business was growing very fast,” said Lee. “The coronavirus and moratorium (enforced by the nation’s central bank) hit us. We utilized this time to improve our collection process and other aspects of the business.”
In the last three months, True Balance has started to grow again, Lee said, claiming a 300% surge. The startup continues to run a range of other services including the ability to book train tickets and e-commerce and is also working on insurance.
“We will continue focusing on non-online payment users, non-credit score users, people who deserve our help, but need a way to get to it,” he said.
The fresh capital will be deployed to make the startup reach a breakeven and then profitability, he said.
Launched in the Philippines, social commerce startup Resellee wants to recreate the success of Pinduoduo, one of China’s fastest-growing e-commerce companies, in Southeast Asia. A major part of Resellee’s business is grocery deliveries, including fresh produce, and it has struck partnerships with the government and farmers’ groups to meet demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The startup announced this week it has raised $1 million in seed funding from Mintech Enterprises and Hofan Capital to build its technology and expand into new countries. Resellee was co-founded last year by chief executive officer Marc Concio, former head of e-commerce at Voyager Innovations, parent company of PayMaya, one of the Philippines’ largest online payment services.
Concio told TechCrunch that there are currently about 40,000 resellers on Resellee’s platform, and each has an average of about 20 buyers. Resellee sellers typically make about P5,000, or US $100, a month.
Like Pinduoduo, India’s Meesho and other social commerce platforms, Reselllee does not require sellers to carry their own inventory. Instead, it maintains a network of suppliers, including manufacturers and farmers, and lists available products on a marketplace. Then sellers chose what they want to add to their stores, which they market to potential buyers through their social media networks.
Resellee offers a wide range of products, including electronics and fashion items, but it currently focuses on grocery deliveries and prepaid credit for mobile phones and online games, which are all in high demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Concio’s interest in social commerce was piqued after observing Pinduoduo’s astronomical growth in China, where it became the second-largest e-commerce company in the country less than five years after launching in 2015. Pinduoduo’s group buying model leverages users’ existing social networks, especially on WeChat, to pull together buyers for products at discounted prices, and has done well in smaller cities and rural areas.
“Resellee hopes to learn from this and be the Pinduoduo of Southeast Asia by pioneering social e-commerce and group buying in the Philippines, then expanding to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, where social commerce has not started yet or is still in its early stage,” Concio said.
Social commerce is well-positioned to take off in the Philippines for several reasons, he added. One is the enormous amount of time spent of social media platforms there: four hours per day, versus two and a half hours in India, and two hours in China. The Philippines has one of the youngest median ages in Asia, around 23.5 years old, and that is the demographic most likely to use social commerce, Concio said.
Another reason is that many people want to start their own businesses, or need to make side income, especially during the pandemic, but have little access to working capital. Since Resellee’s sellers don’t need to carry their own inventory and can rely on the platform’s supply chain and logistics network, that means they can launch a store without spending any money. Most of the work they need to do is convincing people on their social media networks, like Facebook or Viber, to buy from their Resellee stores.
“We believe the same hypergrowth for social commerce will happen in the Philippines given all of the above, with Resellee pioneering both social e-commerce and group buying here,” Concio said.
Resellee’s competitors include some of the biggest e-commerce platforms in the region, like Lazada, Shopee and EZBuy, which have added social commerce features. Concio said one of Resellee’s advantages is its focus on helping sellers make money, and partnerships with farmers groups and the Philippine government. This includes a project to build an online platform that will aggregate supply information from farmer’s cooperatives across the country, and match them to Resellee’s sellers and buyers, eliminating middle men in the supply chain.
Resellee initially outsourced its logistics, but Concio said its deliveries were not prioritized by carriers, which led to customer complaints, especially for fresh produce. As a result, Resellee set up its own logistics arm, called Resellee Riders, in Metro Manila, where most of its grocery customers are. This enabled Resellee to launch next-day deliveries in the area this week (orders in other places are still carried out by third-party logistics providers).
While Resellee accepts online payments, including online wallets and bank cards, most buyers prefer to use its cash on delivery option. Sellers make money through commissions, which they can transfer to their online wallets or bank accounts. Resellee’s platform also gives them the option of using the funds to buy discounted mobile or gaming prepaid loads, or top-ups, which they can also offer in their stores. Along with fresh produce, prepaid loads are one of the key parts of Resellee’s business strategy. The platform guarantees the highest commissions and discounts for mobile prepaid loads from some of the Philippines’ top providers, including Smart, Sun and TalknText.
“The mobile prepaid market is a US $4 billion annual market versus total e-commerce in the Philippines of only US $2.3 billion,” Concio said. “This is one of our key strategies to own the mobile prepaid market, other than fruits and vegetables like Pinduoduo.”
Tech companies around the world are still identifying the “next big thing” enabled by 5G connections. Some, such as Oppo, are betting it will be augmented reality.
The Chinese smartphone firm showcased its progress in AR at a Tuesday event swarmed by hundreds of reporters, analysts, and partners in Shenzhen. Green strobe light, the color of its brand, beamed as vice president Liu Chang unveiled the Oppo AR Glass 2021, a lightweight headset slightly chunkier than regular glasses.
Still in the concept phase, the headset comes with fisheye cameras, tracks hands in milliseconds, and can supposedly simulate the experience of watching a 90-inch screen from three meters away.
AR has been a key focus for OPPO for sometime now. At last year's inno day we announced a RMB 50 billion investment over 3 years to allow development of technologies including AR and the ecosystems they need to evolve. #OPPOINNODAY20https://t.co/pfJSTHKs6u
The concept product is the result of Oppo’s three-year-plan, unveiled last year, to spend 50 billion yuan ($7.62 billion) on futuristic tech including AR.
Smartphone makers from Xiaomi to Huawei are embracing AR as they design headsets that can tether to smartphones, taking advantage of the latter’s computing power. The Oppo AR Glass 2021, for instance, is designed to link to the Oppo Find X2 Pro which contains a Snapdragon 865 chipset.
It’s unclear when Oppo’s AR glasses will hit the shelf, but the firm is actively building the ecosystem needed for mass-market adoption, from working with content providers like video streaming site iQiyi to launching a developer initiative next year to make development tools widely available.
At the same event, Oppo also flaunted a concept phone with a “scrolling” OLED screen that could make an alternative to existing foldable phones. Oppo declined to disclose who the display maker is.
Turtlemint, an Indian startup that is helping consumers identify and purchase the most appropriate insurance policies for them, has raised $30 million in a new financing round as it looks to reach more users in small cities and towns in the world’s second largest internet market.
The new round, the five-year-old Mumbai-headquartered startup’s Series D, was led by GGV Capital . American Family Ventures, MassMutual Ventures and SIG, and existing investors Blume Ventures, Sequoia Capital India, Nexus Venture Partners, Dream Incubator and Trifecta Capital also participated in the round, which brings Turtlemint’s total to-date raise to $55 million.
Only a fraction of India’s 1.3 billion people currently have access to insurance. Insurance products had reached less than 3% of the population as of 2017, according to rating agency ICRA. An average Indian makes about $2,100 a year, according to the World Bank. ICRA estimated that of those Indians who had purchased an insurance product, they were spending less than $50 on it in 2017.
Another major reason why existing insurance firms are struggling to sell to consumers is because they are too reliant on on-ground advisors.
Turtlemint co-founders Anand Prabhudesai (left) and Dhirendra Mahyavanshi pose for a picture (Turtlemint)
Instead of bypassing these advisors, Turtlemint is embracing them. It works with over 100,000 such agents, equipping them with digital tools to offer wider and more relevant recommendations to consumers and speed-up the onboarding process, which has traditionally required a lot of paperwork.
These advisors, who continue to command over 90% of all insurance sales in the country, “play a critical role in bridging the gap in tier 2 and 3 towns and cities, where low physical presence of insurance companies greatly impacts seamless access to insurance products and information,” the startup said.
Turtlemint works with over 40 insurance companies in India and serves as a broker, charging these firms a commission for policies it sells. The startup said it has amassed more than 1.5 million customers.
“By developing products for the micro-entrepreneurs and the rising middle class, Turtlemint has an opportunity to have a positive impact on India’s economy,” said Hans Tung, Managing Partner at GGV Capital, in a statement. “Dhirendra, Anand, and their team built an incredible platform that enables over 100,000 mom-and-pop financial advisors to serve consumers’ best interests with digital tools, helping middle-class families in India get insured with the best products available.”
In an interview with TechCrunch, Turtlemint co-founder Anand Prabhudesai said the startup will deploy the fresh capital to grow its network of advisors and improve its technology stack to further improve the experience for consumers. The startup today also offers training to these advisors and has built tools to help them digitally reach potential customers.
“Continuous education is a very important aspect of being a successful financial entrepreneur. To this end, we have created an online education product with a wide range of courses on financial products, advice-based sales techniques and other soft skills. Our content is now available in seven regional languages and over 20,000 learners are active each month on our edtech platform. A lot of these are first-time advisors who are taking their first steps towards starting their advisory business. Our target is to create a million successful financial entrepreneurs over the next 3-5 years,” he said.
Telkomsel, Indonesia’s biggest telecom network, has invested $150 million in ride-hailing firm GoJek, the two companies said on Tuesday.
As part of the “strategic partnership,” the two firms said they will explore a “broad range of collaboration opportunities” to reach millions of Indonesians. Since 2018, GoJek and Telkomsel have maintained a deal to subsidize the cost of mobile data consumed by the ride-hailing firm’s driver partners.
With over 170 million subscribers, Telkomsel is the largest telecom operator in Indonesia. In addition to ride-hailing, GoJek has expanded to several additional businesses including digital payments and food delivery in Indonesia.
The firm, which has raised over $3 billion to date and was valued at about $10 billion earlier this year, is backed by some of the biggest names in tech including Facebook, Google, PayPal, and Tencent. GoJek, which also serves about 170 million users, competes with just as heavily backed firm, Grab.
“This is a great day for Gojek and for Indonesia, as we strengthen our collaboration with Telkomsel, one of Indonesia’s most forward-looking telecommunication companies. By working together, we hope to help Indonesia become a true digital powerhouse in Southeast Asia, and bring the benefits of the digital economy to millions more consumers, driver-partners and small businesses,” Gojek co-chief executive Andre Soelistyo said in a statement.
AMP Robotics, the manufacturer of robotic recycling systems, has received its largest purchase order from the publicly traded North American waste handling company, Waste Connections.
The order, for 24 machine learning enabled robotic recycling systems, will be used on container, fiber and residue lines across numerous materials recovery facilities, the company said.
The AMP technology can be used to recover plastics, cardboard, paper, cans, cartons and many other containers and packaging types reclaimed for raw material processing.
The tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells, and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.
So far, AMP’s robots have been deployed in North America, Asia, and Europe with recent installations in Spain, and across the US in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
In January, before the pandemic began, AMP Robotics worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that would provide residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits.
Working with the building and a waste hauler, Sidewalk Labs would transport the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash will be sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics. Once the waste is categorized, sorted, and recorded Sidewalk will communicate with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.
Sidewalk says that the tips will be communicated through email, an online portal, and signage throughout the building every two weeks over a three-month period.
For residents, it was an opportunity to have a better handle on what they can and can’t recycle and Sidewalk Labs is betting that the information will help residents improve their habits. And for folks who don’t want their trash to be monitored and sorted, they could opt out of the program.
Recyclers like Waste Connections should welcome the commercialization of robots tackling industry problems. Their once-stable business has been turned on its head by trade wars and low unemployment. About two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries. The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively.
At the same time, low unemployment rates are putting the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where humans are basically required to hand-sort garbage into recyclable materials and trash.
AMP Robotics is backed by Sequoia Capital, BV, Closed Loop Partners, Congruent Ventures and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, a spin-out from Alphabet that invests in technologies and new infrastructure projects.
Baidu said on Monday it is acquiring Joyy’s live streaming service YY Live in China for $3.6 billion in an all-cash deal as the Chinese internet giant makes further push to diversify beyond its core search business.
The announcement, which Baidu shared on the sidelines of its quarterly earnings, is the Chinese firm’s biggest foray into the growing market of video streaming. It comes at a time when the company has been struggling to fight new comers such as ByteDance.
YY has amassed over 4 million paying subscribers who watch influencers perform and sell a range of items on the video app. The streaming service last year bought stake worth $1.45 billion in Bigo, a Singapore-based startup that operates streaming apps Bigo Live and Like in a push to expand outside of China.
YY today is only selling its China business to Baidu. The closing of the transaction is subject to certain conditions and is currently expected to occur in the first half of 2021, Baidu said.
“This transaction will catapult Baidu into a leading platform for live streaming and diversify our revenue source.” said Robin Li, co-founder and chief executive of Baidu, in a statement.
“YY Live stands to benefit from Baidu’s large traffic and thriving mobile ecosystem, while Baidu will receive immediate operational experience and knowhow for large-scale video-based social media development, as well as an enviable creator network that will further strengthen Baidu’s massive content provider network. Together with the team from YY Live, Baidu hopes to explore the next-generation livestreaming and video-based social media that can expand beyond entertainment into the diversified verticals on Baidu platform.”
For years, founders and investors in China had little interest in open source software because it did not seem like the most viable business model. Zilliz‘s latest financing round shows that attitude is changing. The three-year-old Chinese startup, which builds open source software for processing unstructured data, recently closed a Series B round of $43 million.
The investment, which catapults Zilliz’s to-date raise to over $53 million, is a sizable a