China roundup: Tencent takes on sites trying to circumvent its age limits

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

The enforcement of China’s new gaming regulations is unfolding like a cat-and-mouse game, with the country’s internet giants and young players constantly trying to outsmart each other. Following Didi’s app ban, smaller ride-hailing apps are availing themselves of the potential market vacuum.

Tencent and young gamers

The Chinese saying “Where there is a policy, there is a countermeasure” nicely encapsulates what is happening in the country’s tightening regulatory environment for video games. This month, China enacted the strictest rules to date on playtime among underage users. Players under the age of 18 were startled, scrambling to find methods to overcome the three-hour-per-week quota.

Within days, gaming behemoth Tencent has acted to root out these workarounds. It sued or issued statements to over 20 online services selling or trading adult accounts to underage players, the company’s gaming department said in a notice on Weibo this week.

Children were renting these accounts to play games for two hours at a few dollars without having to go through the usual age verification checks. Such services “are a serious threat to the real-name gaming system and underage protection mechanism,” Tencent said, calling for an end to these practices.

Educational games

China has mainly been targeting games that are addiction-inducing or deemed “physically and mentally harmful” to minors. But what about games that are “good” for kids?

When Tencent and Roblox set up a joint venture in China in 2019, the speculation was that the creator-focused gaming platform would give Tencent a leg up in making educational games to inspire creativity or something that would help it align better with Beijing’s call for using tech to do more social good. As we wrote earlier:

Roblox’s marketing focus on encouraging “creativity” could 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.

If Roblox can inspire young Chinese to design globally popular games, the Chinese authorities may start regarding it as a conduit for exporting Chinese culture and soft power. The gaming industry is well aware that aligning with Beijing’s interests is necessary for gaining support from the top. Indeed, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an organ for non-political spheres like the business community to “put forward proposals on major political and social issues,” said in June that video games are “an effective channel for China’s cultural exports.”

The case of Roblox will be interesting to watch for reading Beijing’s evolving attitude toward games for educational and export purposes.

Didi challengers

Didi has had many rivals over the years, but none has managed to threaten its dominance in China’s ride-hailing industry. But recently, some of its rivals are seeing a new opportunity after regulators banned new downloads of Didi’s app, citing cybersecurity concerns. Cao Cao Mobility appears to be one.

Cao Cao, a premium ride-hailing service under Chinese automaker Geely, announced this week a $589 million Series B raise. The round should give Cao Cao ammunition for subsidizing drivers and passengers. But amid the government’s spade of anti-competition crackdowns, internet platforms these days are probably less aggressive than Didi in its capital-infused growth phase around 2015.

The app ban seems to have had a limited effect on Didi so far. The app even saw a 13% increase in orders in July, according to the Ministry of Transport. While people who get new phones will not be able to download Didi, they still are able to access its mini app run on WeChat, which is ubiquitous in China and has a sprawling ecosystem of third-party apps. It’s unclear how many active users Didi has lost, but its rivals will no doubt have to shell out great incentives to lure the giant’s drivers and customers away.

DTC fast fashion

Venture capitalists are pouring money into China’s direct-to-consumer brands in the hope that the country’s supply chain advantage coupled with its pool of savvy marketers will win over Western consumers. July saw PatPat, a baby clothing brand, raise a sizable $510 million raise. This month, news came that up-and-coming DTC brand Cider, which makes Gen Z fast fashion in China and sells them in the U.S., has secured a $130 million Series B round at a valuation of over $1 billion. The news was first reported by Chinese tech news site 36Kr and we’ve independently confirmed it. 

DST Global led Cider’s new round, with participation also from the startup’s existing A16Z, an existing investor and Greenoaks Capital. Investors are clearly encouraged by Shein’s momentum around the world — its new download volume has surpassed that of Amazon in dozens of countries and is often compared side by side with industry behemoth Zara. Unlike a pure internet firm, export-oriented e-commerce has a notoriously long and complex value chain, from design, production, marketing and shipment to after-sales service. Shein’s story might have inspired many followers, but it won’t be easily replicated.

#amazon, #beijing, #china, #didi, #dst-global, #geely, #greenoaks-capital, #roblox, #shein, #tc, #tencent, #wechat

China roundup: Beijing wants tech giants to shoulder more social responsibilities

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

This week, the gaming industry again became a target of Beijing, which imposed arguably the world’s strictest limits on underage players. On the other hand, China’s tech titans are hastily answering Beijing’s call for them to take on more social responsibilities and take a break from unfettered expansion.

Gaming curfew

China dropped a bombshell on the country’s young gamers. As of September 1, users under the age of 18 are limited to only one hour of online gaming time: on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 8-9 p.m.

The stringent rule adds to already tightening gaming policies for minors, as the government blames video games for causing myopia, as well as deteriorating mental and physical health. Remember China recently announced a suite of restrictions on after-school tutoring? The joke going around is that working parents will have an even harder time keeping their kids occupied.

A few aspects of the new regulation are worth unpacking. For one, the new rule was instituted by the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), the regulatory body that approves gaming titles in China and that in 2019 froze the approval process for nine months, which led to plunges in gaming stocks like Tencent.

It’s curious that the directive on playtime came from the NPPA, which reviews gaming content and issues publishing licenses. Like other industries in China, video games are subject to regulations by multiple authorities: NPPA; the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s top internet watchdog; and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which oversees the country’s industrial standards and telecommunications infrastructure.

As analysts long observe, the mighty CAC, which sits under the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission chaired by President Xi Jinping, has run into “bureaucratic struggles” with other ministries unwilling to relinquish power. This may well be the case for regulating the lucrative gaming industry.

For Tencent and other major gaming companies, the impact of the new rule on their balance sheet may be trifling. Following the news, several listed Chinese gaming firms, including NetEase and 37 Games, hurried to announce that underage players made up less than 1% of their gaming revenues.

Tencent saw the change coming and disclosed in its Q2 earnings that “under-16-year-olds accounted for only 2.6% of its China-based grossing receipts for games and under-12-year-olds accounted for just 0.3%.”

These numbers may not reflect the reality, as minors have long found ways around gaming restrictions, such as using an adult’s ID for user registration (just as the previous generation borrowed IDs from adult friends to sneak into internet cafes). Tencent and other gaming firms have vowed to clamp down on these workarounds, forcing kids to seek even more sophisticated tricks, including using VPNs to access foreign versions of gaming titles. The cat and mouse game continues. 

Prosper together

While China curtails the power of its tech behemoths, it has also pressured them to take on more social responsibilities, which include respecting the worker’s rights in the gig economy.

Last week, the Supreme People’s Court of China declared the “996” schedule, working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, illegal. The declaration followed years of worker resistance against the tech industry’s burnout culture, which has manifested in actions like a GitHub project listing companies practicing “996.”

Meanwhile, hardworking and compliant employees have often been cited as a competitive advantage of China’s tech industry. It’s in part why some Silicon Valley companies, especially those run by people familiar with China, often set up branches in the country to tap its pool of tech talent.

The days when overworking is glorified and tolerated seem to be drawing to an end. Both ByteDance and its short video rival Kuaishou recently scrapped their weekend overtime policies.

Similarly, Meituan announced that it will introduce compulsory break time for its food delivery riders. The on-demand services giant has been slammed for “inhumane” algorithms that force riders into brutal hours or dangerous driving.

In groundbreaking moves, ride-hailing giant Didi and Alibaba’s e-commerce rival JD.com have set up unions for their staff, though it’s still unclear what tangible impact the organizations will have on safeguarding employee rights.

Tencent and Alibaba have also acted. On August 17, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech calling for “common prosperity,” which caught widespread attention from the country’s ultra-rich.

“As China marches towards its second centenary goal, the focus of promoting people’s well-being should be put on boosting common prosperity to strengthen the foundation for the Party’s long-term governance.”

This week, both Tencent and Alibaba pledged to invest 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) in support of “common prosperity.” The purposes of their funds are similar and align neatly with Beijing’s national development goals, from growing the rural economy to improving the healthcare system.

#alibaba, #asia, #beijing, #bytedance, #china, #china-roundup, #didi, #gaming, #github, #government, #jd-com, #kuaishou, #ministry-of-industry-and-information-technology, #netease, #tc, #tencent, #xi-jinping

China proposes strict control of algorithms

China is not done with curbing the influence local internet services have assumed in the world’s largest populous market. Following a widening series of regulatory crackdowns in recent months, the nation on Friday issued draft guidelines on regulating the algorithms firms run to make recommendations to users.

In a 30-point draft guidelines published on Friday, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) proposed forbidding companies from deploying algorithms that “encourage addiction or high consumption” and endanger national security or disrupt the public order.

The services must abide by business ethics and principles of fairness and their algorithms must not be used to create fake user accounts or create other false impressions, said the guidelines from the internet watchdog, which reports to a central leadership group chaired by President Xi Jinping. The watchdog said it will be taking public feedback on the new guidelines for a month (until September 26).

The guidelines also propose that users should be provided with the ability to easily turn off algorithm recommendations. Algorithm providers who have the power to influence public opinion or mobilize the citizens need to get an approval from the CAC.

Friday’s proposal comes at a time when Beijing is increasingly targeting companies for the way they have handled consumer data and the monopolistic positions they have assumed in the nation.

Earlier this year, Beijing-backed China Consumers Association said local internet companies had been “bullying” users into purchases and promotions and undermining their privacy rights.

Beijing’s recent data-security crackdown and tightening regulations around tutor services have spooked investors and wiped hundreds of billions of dollars.

Friday’s guidelines appear to target ByteDance, Alibaba Group, Tencent, and Didi and other companies whose services are built on top of proprietary algorithms. Shares of Alibaba and Tencent fell slightly on the news.

In recent years, several governments including those in the U.S. and India have attempted — to little to no success — to get better clarity on how these big tech companies’ algorithms work and put checks in place to prevent misuse.

#alibaba, #asia, #bytedance, #china, #didi, #government, #tencent

Tencent’s WeChat suspends new user registration in China to comply with ‘relevant laws and regulations’

Tencent’s WeChat said on Tuesday it is temporarily suspending registration of new users in China as it works to comply with “relevant laws and regulations,” the latest Chinese firm to face regulatory scrutiny in the world’s largest internet market.

In a social media post, Tencent said it is “upgrading” its security technology to align with all relevant laws and regulations and while this process in underway “registration of new Weixin personal and official accounts has been temporarily suspended.”

“Registration services will be restored after the upgrade is complete, which is expected in early August,” the company, which has amassed over 1 billion monthly active users, said in a statement.

It’s not immediately clear which law WeChat is citing in its announcement but the move comes at a time amid a broad crackdown on tech firms by Chinese regulators. The crackdown has wiped hundreds of billions of dollars in market cap for Chinese firms and many high-profile global investors including SoftBank are impacted.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #china, #didi, #government, #social, #tencent, #wechat

China Roundup: What’s going on with China’s data security clampdown?

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world.

A tectonic shift is underway in how Beijing regulates and accesses the troves of citizen data collected by its tech giants. More details of China’s new cybersecurity rules have recently come to light as Didi, the SoftBank-backed ride-sharing dominator in China, became the target of the Chinese government’s latest effort to heighten data protection. This week, we look at what this changing landscape means to Chinese tech firms wooing investors in the United States.

Data sovereignty

The new wave of discussion around China’s cybersecurity rules started with the bombshell dropped on Didi. Just two days after its $4 billion IPO in New York, the ride-hailing giant was hit with a probe by China’s Cybersecurity Review Office on July 2. Two days later, the same government agency ordered the Didi app, which has amassed nearly 500 million annual users, to be yanked because it was “illegally collecting user data.”

The Cybersecurity Review Office is an agency within the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s top internet regulator. It has existed for a few years but its roles were only made clear in April 2020 when China put forward its rules on internet security reviews.

Didi appears to be the first target of the department’s enforcement actions. A memo of an “expert meeting” shared among Didi’s investors, which TechCrunch reviewed, said the ride-hailing firm had failed to assure Beijing its data practices were secure before going public in New York. A major concern was that Didi’s data, if unguarded by Chinese laws, could be subject to scrutiny by U.S. regulators. But a Didi executive claimed that the firm stored all its China data locally and it is “absolutely not possible” that it passed data to the U.S.

Before long, the Cybersecurity Review Office was onto other players that could similarly compromise the data security of Chinese users. On July 5, it put SoftBank-backed truck-sharing platform Full Truck Alliance and recruiting site Boss Zhipin — both of which recently IPO’ed in the U.S. — under the same review process as it did with Didi.

The probes were just the beginning. On July 10, the Cybersecurity Review Office unveiled the draft of a revised version of the data security review rules passed last year. One of the major changes is that any business commanding over one million users is subject to security checks if it is seeking an overseas IPO.

Just as the U.S. government frets over Chinese companies commanding Americans’ data, as in the case of TikTok, China is now making sure that its citizen data stays onshore and protected from U.S. authorities. Foreign players operating in China have to comply, too. Giants like Apple and Tesla have pledged and moved to store their Chinese user data within the country.

The new data rule is no doubt a stumbling block for Chinese companies that want to list abroad. TikTok owner ByteDance indefinitely put on hold its plans of a U.S. listing after Chinese officials told it to address data security risks, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. But how about incumbents like Alibaba that have traded their stocks on Wall Street for years? And do the revised rules apply to companies listing in Hong Kong, which is being increasingly integrated with mainland China?

Also in the news

  • Tencent and Alibaba may tear down their “walled gardens.” According to The Wall Street Journal, the archrivals are considering opening their services to each other. This means users may be able to pay via Alipay on the WeChat app, which currently excludes Alibaba-affiliated Alipay. China has recently been working to rein in its tech darlings and already slapped anticompetition penalties on a cohort of tech firms. Jack Ma’s fintech behemoth Ant Group has been put on the spot and forced to restructure into a financial holding company that would potentially curb its profitability and subject it to more regulatory oversight.
  • TikTok tops 3 billion downloads from the App Store and Google Play, according to Sensor Tower. This makes the hit video platform the only app not owned by Facebook to cross the milestone across the two app stores, said the research firm, and it’s only the fifth one after WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram to achieve that. TikTok is also generating big bucks for ByteDance. Globally, it has made more than $2.5 billion in consumer spending since its launch.
  • Tencent ups its stake in food delivery giant Meituan to 17.2%The deal cost Tencent, a longtime patron of Meituan, $400 million. The proceeds will allow Meituan to invest further in “cutting edge tech” such as unmanned delivery cars and drones, an area where other tech firms have also made similar promises to automate parcel and food deliveries.
  • The smart vehicle craze continues. These days, hardly a week goes by without a major announcement by an autonomous driving or smart car company in China. The news last week came from Banma, which was set up by Alibaba and state-owned carmaker SAIC Motor to make internet-connected cars. It just raised $460 million from Alibaba and SAIC Motor, among others and claimed its technology now serves three million users. It raised its first round in 2018 with 1.6 billion yuan (around $250 million) and was already valued at over $1 billion at the time.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #alipay, #ant-group, #asia, #beijing, #bytedance, #china, #didi, #food-delivery, #jack-ma, #meituan, #saic-motor, #smart-car, #tc, #tencent, #the-wall-street-journal, #tiktok

Mmhmm, it’s the most ridiculous story we’ve ever heard

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Danny and Alex were on deck this week, with Grace on the recording and edit. Natasha will be back with us starting next week. So, it was old times on the show with just two of our team to vamp on the news. And oh boy was there a lot of news to get into. Like, loads.

  • What’s going on with Didi? Didi’s woes have continued this week, with the company seeing its share price continue to fall. The Equity team’s view is that the era of Chinese companies listing in the United States is over.
  • What’s going on with facial recognition tech? With AnyVision raising a $235 million round, Danny and Alex tangled over the future of privacy, and what counts as good enough when it comes to keeping ourselves to ourselves.
  • Nextdoor is going public: Via a SPAC, mind, but the transaction had our tongues wagging about its history, growth, and how hard it can be to build a social network.
  • Dataminr buys WatchKeeper: In its first-ever acquisition, Dataminr bought a smaller company to help it better visualize the data it collects. It’s a neat deal, and especially fun given taht Dataminr should go public sooner rather than later.
  • Planet and Satellogic are going public: One week, two satellite SPACs. You can read more about Planet here, and Satellogic here.
  • FabricNano and Cloverly raise capital: Satellites had us into the concept of climate change, so we also dug into recent funding rounds from FabricNano and Cloverly. It’s beyond neat to see for-profit companies tackle our warming planet.
  • Two new venture capital funds: Acrylic has put together a $55 million fund for moonshot crypto work, while Renegade Partners has a $100 million fund for early-and-mid-stage generalist investments.
  • Mmhmm is big time: And then there was mmhmm. Which now has $100 million more, and some big plans. Our question is what it will do with the money. We’ll have to wait and find out, we suppose.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#acrylic, #anyvision, #china, #climate-change, #cloverly, #crypto, #dataminr, #didi, #disaster-tech, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fabricnano, #fundings-exits, #global-warming, #mmhmm, #nextdoor, #planet, #renegade-partners, #satellite, #satellogic, #spac, #space, #startups, #tc, #watchkeeper

Extra Crunch roundup: Video pitch decks, Didi’s regulatory struggles, Nothing CEO interview

The numbers don’t lie.

According to DocSend, the average pitch deck is reviewed for just three minutes. And if you think a senior VC is studying the presentation your team crafted for months as if it were a Fabergé egg — well, you might be disappointed.

Even if you are lucky enough to land a meeting, it’s more likely that a junior person went through your pitch and ran it up the chain.

“The biggest lie in venture capital is: ‘Yes, I read through your deck,’” says Evan Fisher, founder of Unicorn Capital and Minimal Capital.

“Because those words are immediately followed by, ‘ … but why don’t you run us through it from the beginning?’”


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Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


According to Fisher, the pro forma pitch deck is a thing of the past. Instead, the founders he’s worked with who made video pitches netted two to five times as many investor meetings as people who sent traditional pitch decks.

They also received up to five times more in terms of investor commitments from the first 20 meetings.

“Even if the only benefit was that other investment committee members heard the story direct from the founder, that alone would make your video pitch worth it,” says Fisher.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

 

Nothing founder Carl Pei on Ear (1) and building a hardware startup from scratch

Carl Pei OnePlusDSC04551

Image Credits: TechCrunch

In an exclusive interview with Hardware Editor Brian Heater, Nothing Founder Carl Pei discussed the product and design principles underpinning Ear (1), a set of US$99/€99/£99 wireless earbuds that will hit the market later this month.

“We’re starting with smart devices,” said Pei. “Ear (1) is our is our first device. I think it has good potential to gain some traction.”

Despite Apple’s market share and the number of players already competing in the space, “we’ve just focused on being ourselves,” said Nothing’s founder, who also shared initial marketing plans and discussed the inherent tensions involved with manufacturing consumer hardware.

“Everything is a trade-off. Like if you pursue this design, that has a ton of implications. Battery life has ton of implications on size and on cost. The materials you use have implications on cost. Everything has an implication on timeline. It’s like 4D chess in terms of trade-offs.”

 

Will Didi’s regulatory problems make it harder for Chinese startups to go public in the US?

Last week, just days after its U.S. IPO, cybersecurity regulators in China banned ride-hailing company Didi from onboarding new members.

Over the weekend, authorities called for Didi to be removed from several app stores due to “serious violations of laws and regulations in collecting and using personal information.”

The move suggests that China’s government “is willing to sacrifice business results for control,” writes Alex Wilhelm in this morning’s edition of The Exchange.

“For China-based companies hoping to list in the United States, the market likely just got much, much colder.”

 

79% more leads without more traffic: Here’s how we did it

Image Credits: Peter Dazeley (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Jasper Kuria, the managing partner of CRO consultancy The Conversion Wizards, walks through an A/B test showing how research-driven CRO (conversion rate optimization) techniques led to a 79% increase in conversion rates for China Expat Health, a lead-generation company.

“Using research-based CRO principles to optimize a landing page for PPC (pay per click) traffic produced a 79% conversion lift, dramatically reducing the cost per lead for the company,” Kuria writes.

“They could then afford to bid more per click, which increased their overall monthly leads. CRO can have this kind of transformative effect on your business.”

#alex-wilhelm, #biotechnology, #brian-heater, #carl-pei, #china, #cro, #didi, #entrepreneurship, #hardware, #marketing, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital, #wireless-earbuds

Didi gets hit by Chinese government, and Pelo raises $150M

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture-capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday Tuesday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

What a busy weekend we missed while mostly hearing distant explosions and hugging our dogs close. Here’s a sampling of what we tried to recap on the show:

It’s going to be a busy week! Chat tomorrow.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#ai, #byrd, #china, #didi, #equity, #equity-podcast, #funding, #fundings-exits, #india, #pleo, #startups, #twitter, #venture-capital

Didi app pulled from app stores in China after suspension order

China has ordered app-store operators to remove the app of Didi from their stores, the latest as tension escalates between the nation’s largest ride-hailing giant and local regulators. The app has disappeared from several stores including Apple’s App Store in China, TechCrunch can confirm.

The nation’s cyberspace administration, which unveiled the order on Sunday, said Didi was illegally collecting users’ personal data.

The ride-hailing giant, which counts Apple, SoftBank, and Tencent and Uber among its investors and filed for an IPO late last month, has been ordered to make changes to comply with Chinese data protection rules.

The move comes after the Chinese internet watchdog announced a probe into Didi over “national security” concerns earlier this week. Didi raised at least $4 billion this week after the New York Stock Exchange debut in one of the largest U.S. IPOs.

In a statement, Didi said it had removed its app from various app stores and begun the “corrections.” It also said it had halted new user registrations on Saturday. For existing users, the Didi app remains operational.

It’s very rare for an app of this scale to be pulled from the app stores. For the 12 months ended March, Didi served 493 million annual active users and saw 41 million transactions on a daily basis, it revealed recently.

The app had 156 million monthly users in Q1, well above Uber’s 98 million in the period.China’s official data showed the country had 365 million ride-hailing users as of December, which suggests Didi commands a substantial market share.

#apps, #asia, #china, #didi, #government

Extra Crunch roundup: CEO Twitter etiquette, lifting click-through rates, edtech avalanche

Yesterday, China ordered ride-hailing company Didi to stop signing up new customers after regulators announced a cybersecurity review of the company’s operations.

As of this writing, Didi’s stock price is down 5.3%. In today’s edition of The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm suggested that the move wasn’t a complete surprise, but it still “puts a bad taste in our mouths,” since the company went public days ago.


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


When Didi filed to go public, it listed several potential pitfalls facing Chinese companies that go public in the U.S., including “numerous legal and regulatory risks” and “extensive government regulation and oversight in its F-1.”

What does this news signify for other Chinese companies that are hoping for stateside IPOs?

We’ll be off on Monday, July 5 in observance of Independence Day. Thanks very much for reading, and I hope you have an excellent weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

3 guiding principles for CEOs who post on Twitter

Did you hear about the CEO who made misleading claims about a funding round and got sued? How about that pharmaceutical executive whose taunts to a former Secretary of State led to a 4.4% decline in the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index?

In case it isn’t clear: Startup executives are held to a higher standard when it comes to what they post on social media.

“Reputation and goodwill take a long time to build and are difficult to maintain, but it only takes one tweet to destroy it all,” says Lisa W. Liu, a senior partner at The Mitzel Group, a San Francisco-based law practice that serves many startups.

To help her clients (and Extra Crunch readers) Liu has six basic questions for tech execs with itchy Twitter fingers.

And if the answer to any of them is “I don’t know,” don’t post.

The 2021 edtech avalanche has just begun

A report from Brighteye Ventures on Europe’s edtech scene shows that this year’s deal flow is on pace to meet or surpass 2020, when remote instruction exploded.

According to Brighteye’s head of Research, Rhys Spence, the average deal size is now $9.4 million, a threefold increase from last year. Still, “It’s interesting that we are not seeing enormous increases in deal count,” he noted.

How Robinhood’s explosive growth rate came to be

jagged line written by robinhood quill logo on graph background

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Trading platform Robinhood has attracted enough users and activity to change the conversation around retail investing — economists will likely be discussing the 2021 GameStop saga for years to come.

After the company filed to go public yesterday, Alex Wilhelm sorted through Robinhood’s main income statement to better understand how it scaled year-ago revenue from $127.6 million to $522.2 million in Q1.

“Those are numbers that we frankly do not see often amongst companies going public,” says Alex. “300% growth is a pre-Series A metric, usually.”

So: where is all that revenue coming from?

As EU venture capital soars, will the region retain future IPOs?

Given the valuation gap between U.S. tech markets and those overseas, it’s easy to see why some foreign startups would head to our shores when it’s time to go public.

But Anna Heim and Alex Wilhelm found that a record increase in European venture capital activity is picking up the pace of IPOs this year, and many of these companies are content to go public in their native markets.

To gain some insight into where European investors believe they have an advantage, Anna and Alex interviewed:

  • Franck Sebag, partner, EY
  • David Miranda, partner, Osborne Clarke Spain
  • Yoram Wijngaarde, founder and CEO, Dealroom

How VCs can get the most out of co-investing alongside LPs

A red and a green shoe tied together

Image Credits: Diana Ilieva (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In a recent private equity survey, 80% of respondents said their co-investments with people outside traditional VC firms outperformed their PE fund investments.

Alternative investors are highly motivated, and because they’re seeking higher returns than are generally available in public markets, they are less daunted by risk. In return, they benefit from less expensive fee structures and develop close ties with VCs, enlarging the talent pool as they build investment skills.

These relationships have direct benefits for VCs as well, such as more flexibility with diversification and consolidated decision-making power.

“With the right deal structure, deal selection and deal investigation, co-investors can significantly increase their returns,” says C5 Capital Managing Partner William Kilmer, who wrote an Extra Crunch post for VCs considering an alternative path.

Dear Sophie: How can I bring my parents and sister to the U.S.?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My husband and I are both U.S. permanent residents.

Given what we’ve gone through this past year being isolated from loved ones during the pandemic, we’d like to bring my parents and my sister to the U.S. to be close to our family and help out with our children.

Is that possible?

— Symbiotic in Sunnyvale

How to cut through the promotional haze and select a digital building platform

Modern city buildings on a printed circuits board. Digital illustration.

Image Credits: Andreus (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Smart-building products include everything from connecting landlords with tenants to managing construction sites.

Given their widespread impact on the enterprise — and the novel nature of much of this new technology, selecting the right digital building platform (DBP) is a challenge for most organizations.

Brian Turner, LEED-AP BD&C, has created a matrix intended to help decision-makers identify the fundamental functions and desired outcomes for stakeholders.

“When it comes to the built environment, creating those comfortable, healthy and enjoyable places requires new tools,” says Turner. “Selecting a solid DBP is one of the most important decisions to be made.”

Demand Curve: 7 ad types that increase click-through rates

Use these seven ad types to improve CTR

Image Credits: Octavian Iolu / EyeEm (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

One perennial problem inside startups: Because no one on the founding team has significant marketing experience, growth-related efforts are pro forma and generally unlikely to move the needle.

Everyone wants higher click-through rates, but creating ads that “stand out” is a risky strategy, especially when you don’t know what you’re doing. This guest post by Demand Curve offers seven strategies for boosting CTR that you can clone and deploy today inside your own startup.

Here’s one: If customers are talking about you online, reach out to ask if you can add a screenshot of their reviews to your advertising. Testimonials are a form of social proof that boost conversions, and they’re particularly effective when used in retargeting ads.

Earlier this week, we ran another post about optimizing email marketing for early-stage startups.

We’ll have more expert growth advice coming soon, so stay tuned.

To guard against data loss and misuse, the cybersecurity conversation must evolve

Locking down data centers and networks against intruders is just one aspect of an organization’s security responsibilities; cloud services, collaboration tools and APIs extend security perimeters even farther. What’s more, the systems created to prevent the misuse and mishandling of sensitive data often depend heavily on someone’s better angels.

According to Sid Trivedi, a partner at Foundation Capital, and seven-time CIO Mark Settle, IT managers need to replace existing DLP frameworks with a new one that centers on DMP — data misuse protection.

These solutions “will provide data assets with more sophisticated self-defense mechanisms instead of relying on the surveillance of traditional security perimeters,” and many startups are already competing in this space.

#didi, #extra-crunch-roundup, #growth-marketing, #immigration-law, #proptech, #real-estate, #robinhood, #security, #social, #startups, #venture-capital

California has no water and lots of liquidity

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Danny, Natasha, and Alex were on-deck this week, with Grace on the recording and edit. But, if you want to hear more about Robinhood, this is not the episode for you. If you want to learn more about the consumer fintech company’s IPO filing this is the episode you want. Basically, Robinhood filed after we had wrapped taping, so we had to do a special pod for the news.

So, this is the everything-but-Robinhood episode. And here’s what’s inside of it:

A four-episode week! With only Grace handling production! She’s amazing.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#acceleprise, #articulate, #bessemer, #brave, #china, #daylight, #didi, #duolingo, #edtech, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fintech, #forum-ventures, #fundings-exits, #hinge-health, #ipo, #neeva, #peanut, #robinhood, #search, #sentinelone, #startups, #tc, #zipline

Why is Didi worth so much less than Uber?

Years ago, U.S. ride-hailing giant Uber and its Chinese rival Didi were locked in an expensive rivalry in the Asian nation. After a financially bruising competition, Uber sold its China-based business to Didi, focusing instead on other markets.

The two companies are coming head-to-head again, however, as Didi looks to list in the United States. The company’s IPO filing was big news for the SoftBank Vision Fund, Tencent and Uber, thanks to its stake in Didi from its earlier transaction.

But Didi appears set to be valued at a discount to Uber. By several tens of billions of dollars, it turns out. And we can’t quite figure out why.

This week, Didi indicated that it will target a $13 to $14 per-share IPO price, with each share on the U.S. markets worth one-fourth of a Class A share in the company. In more technical language, each ADR is 25% of a Class A ordinary share in Didi, if you prefer it put like that.

With 288 million shares to be sold in its U.S. IPO, Didi could raise as much as $4.03 billion, a huge sum.

What’s Didi worth at $13 to $14 per ADR? Using a non-diluted share count, Didi is valued between $62.3 billion and $67.1 billion. Inclusive of shares that may be issued thanks to vested options and the like, Didi could be worth as much as $70 billion; Renaissance Capital calculates the company’s mid-point valuation using a fully diluted share count at $67.5 billion.

Regardless of which number you prefer, Didi is not set to challenge Uber’s own valuation. Yahoo Finance pegged Uber at $95.2 billion as of this morning.

Why is the Chinese company worth less than its erstwhile rival? Let’s dig around in their numbers and find out.

Didi versus Uber

As a reminder, Uber’s Q1 2021 included adjusted revenues of $3.5 billion, a gain of 8% compared to the year-ago quarter. And Uber’s adjusted EBITDA came in for the period at -$359 million.

#didi, #ec-mobility-software, #fundings-exits, #startups, #transportation, #uber

Extra Crunch roundup: TC Mobility recaps, Nubank EC-1, farewell to browser cookies

What, exactly, are investors looking for?

Early-stage founders, usually first-timers, often tie themselves in knots as they try to project the qualities they hope investors are seeking. In reality, few entrepreneurs have the acting skills required to convince someone that they’re patient, dedicated or hard-working.

Johan Brenner, general partner at Creandum, was an early backer of Klarna, Spotify and several other European startups. Over the last two decades, he’s identified five key traits shared by people who create billion-dollar companies.


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


“A true unicorn founder doesn’t need to have all of those capabilities on Day One,” says Brenner, “but they should already be thinking big while executing small and demonstrating that they understand how to scale a company.”

Drawing from observations gleaned from working with founders like Spotify’s Daniel Ek, Sebastian Siemiatkowski from Klarna, and iZettle’s Jacob de Geer and Magnus Nilsson, Brenner explains where “VC FOMO” comes from and how it drives dealmaking.

We’re running a series of posts that recap conversations from last week’s virtual TC Mobility conference, including an interview with Refraction AI’s Matthew Johnson, a look at how autonomous delivery startups are navigating the regulatory and competitive landscape, and much more. There are many more recaps to come; click here to find them all.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

How contrarian hires and a pitch deck started Nubank’s $30 billion fintech empire

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Founded in 2013 and based in São Paulo, Brazil, Nubank serves more than 34 million customers, making it Latin America’s largest neobank.

Reporter Marcella McCarthy spoke to CEO David Velez to learn about his efforts to connect with consumers and overcome entrenched opposition from established players who were friendly with regulators.

In the first of a series of stories for Nubank’s EC-1, she interviewed Velez about his early fundraising efforts. For a balanced perspective, she also spoke to early Nubank investors at Sequoia and Kaszek Ventures, Latin America’s largest venture fund, to find out why they funded the startup while it was still pre-product.

“There are people you come across in life that within the first hour of meeting with them, you know you want to work with them,” said Doug Leone, a global managing partner at Sequoia who’d recruited Velez after he graduated from grad school at Stanford.

Marcella also interviewed members of Nubank’s founding team to better understand why they decided to take a chance on a startup that faced such long odds of success.

“I left banking to make a fifth of my salary, and back then, about $5,000 in equity,” said Vitor Olivier, Nubank’s VP of operations and platforms.

“Financially, it didn’t really make sense, so I really had to believe that it was really going to work, and that it would be big.”

Despite flat growth, ride-hailing colossus Didi’s US IPO could reach $70B

Image Credits: Didi

In his last dispatch before a week’s vacation, Alex Wilhelm waded through the numbers in Didi’s SEC filing. The big takeaways?

“While Didi managed an impressive GTV recovery in China, its aggregate numbers are flatter, and recent quarterly trends are not incredibly attractive,” he writes.

However, “Didi is not as unprofitable as we might have anticipated. That’s a nice surprise. But the company’s regular business has never made money, and it’s losing more lately than historically, which is also pretty rough.”

What’s driving the rise of robotaxis in China with AutoX, Momenta and WeRide

AutoX, Momenta and WeRide took the stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to discuss the state of robotaxi startups in China and their relationships with local governments in the country.

They also talked about overseas expansion — a common trajectory for China’s top autonomous vehicle startups — and shed light on the challenges and opportunities for foreign AV companies eyeing the massive Chinese market.

The air taxi market prepares to take flight

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

“As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors,” Aria Alamalhodaei writes. “A quick peek at comments and posts on LinkedIn reveals squabbles among industry insiders and analysts about when this emerging technology will truly take off and which companies will come out ahead.”

But while some electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) companies have no revenue yet to speak of — and may not for the foreseeable future — valuations are skyrocketing.

“Electric air mobility is gaining elevation,” she writes. “But there’s going to be some turbulence ahead.”

The demise of browser cookies could create a Golden Age of digital marketing

Though some may say the doomsday clock is ticking toward catastrophe for digital marketing, Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, which does away with automatic opt-ins for data collection, and Google’s plan to phase out third-party cookies do not signal a death knell for digital advertisers.

“With a few changes to short-term strategy — and a longer-term plan that takes into account the fact that people are awakening to the value of their online data — advertisers can form a new type of relationship with consumers,” Permission.io CTO Hunter Jensen writes in a guest column. “It can be built upon trust and open exchange of value.”

If offered the right incentives, Jensen predicts, “consumers will happily consent to data collection because advertisers will be offering them something they value in return.”

How autonomous delivery startups are navigating policy, partnerships and post-pandemic operations

Nuro second gen R2 delivery vehicle

Image Credits: Nuro

We kicked off this year’s TC Sessions: Mobility with a talk featuring three leading players in the field of autonomous delivery. Gatik co-founder and chief engineer Apeksha Kumavat, Nuro head of operations Amy Jones Satrom, and Starship Technologies co-founder and CTO Ahti Heinla joined us to discuss their companies’ unique approaches to the category.

The trio discussed government regulation on autonomous driving, partnerships with big corporations like Walmart and Domino’s, and the ongoing impact the pandemic has had on interest in the space.

Waabi’s Raquel Urtasun explains why it was the right time to launch an AV technology startup

Image Credits: Waabi via Natalia Dola

Raquel Urtasun, the former chief scientist at Uber ATG, is the founder and CEO of Waabi, an autonomous vehicle startup that came out of stealth mode last week. The Toronto-based company, which will focus on trucking, raised an impressive $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures.

Urtasun joined Mobility 2021 to talk about her new venture, the challenges facing the self-driving vehicle industry and how her approach to AI can be used to advance the commercialization of AVs.

#artificial-intelligence, #av, #didi, #ec-techcrunch-tc-mobility, #entrepreneurship, #extra-crunch-roundup, #finance, #fintech, #klarna, #nubank, #robotaxi, #spotify, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital

Despite flat growth, ride-hailing colossus Didi’s US IPO could reach $70B

Didi filed to go public in the United States last night, providing a look into the Chinese ride-hailing company’s business. This morning, we’re extending our earlier reporting on the company to dive into its numerical performance, economic health and possible valuation.

Didi is approaching the American public markets at a fortuitous moment. While the late-2020 IPO fervor, which sent offerings from DoorDash and others skyrocketing after their debuts, has cooled, valuations for public companies remain high compared to historical norms. And Uber and Lyft, two American ride-hailing companies, have been posting numbers that point to at least a modest recovery in the ride-hailing industry as COVID-19 abates in many parts of the world.

As further grounding, recall that Didi has raised tens of billions worth of private capital from venture capitalists, private equity firms, corporations and other sources. The size of the bet riding on Didi is simply massive. As we explore the company’s finances, then, we’re more than vetting a single company’s performance; we’re examining what sort of returns an ocean of capital may be able to derive from its exit.

In that vein, we’ll consider GMV results, revenue growth, historical profitability, present-day profitability, and what Didi may be worth on the American markets, given current comps. Sound good? Into the breach!

Inside Didi’s IPO filing

Starting at the highest level, how quickly has gross transaction volume (GTV) scaled at the company?

GTV

Didi is historically a business that operates in China but has operations today in more than a dozen countries. The impact and recovery of China’s bout with COVID-19 is therefore not the whole picture of the company’s GTV results.

COVID-19 began to affect the company starting in the first quarter of 2020. From the Didi F-1 filing:

Core Platform GTV fell by 32.8% in the first quarter of 2020 as compared to the first quarter of 2019, and then by 16.0% in the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the second quarter of 2019.

The dips were short-lived, however, with Didi quickly returning to growth in the second half of the year:

Our businesses resumed growth in the second half of 2020, which moderated the impact on a year-on-year basis. Our Core Platform GTV for the full year 2020 decreased by 4.8% as compared to the full year 2019. Both our China Mobility and International segments were impacted, but whereas the GTV for our China Mobility segment decreased by 6.6% from 2019 to 2020, the GTV for our International segment increased by 11.4% from 2019 to 2020.

Holding to just the Chinese market, we can see how rapidly Didi managed to pick itself up over the last year. Chinese GTV at Didi grew from 25.7 billion RMB to 54.6 billion RMB from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021; naturally, we’re comparing a more pandemic-impacted quarter at the company to a less-affected period, but the comparison is still useful for showing how the company recovered from early-2020 lows.

The number of transactions that Didi recorded in China during the first quarter of this year was also up more than 2x year over year.

On a whole-company basis, Didi’s “core platform GTV,” or the “sum of GTV for our China Mobility and International segments,” posted numbers that are less impressive in growth terms:

Image Credits: Didi F-1 filing

You can see how quickly and painfully COVID-19 blunted Didi’s global operations. But seeing the company settle back to late-2019 GTV numbers in 2021 is not super bullish.

Takeaway: While Didi managed an impressive GTV recovery in China, its aggregate numbers are flatter, and recent quarterly trends are not incredibly attractive.

Revenue growth

#carsharing, #china, #didi, #ec-mobility, #ec-news-analysis, #fundings-exits, #lyft, #startups, #tc, #uber, #unicorn, #united-states, #venture-capital

SoftBank, Uber, Tencent set to reap rewards from Didi IPO

After years of speculation, Didi Chuxing, China’s ride-sharing behemoth, finally unveiled its IPO filing in the U.S., giving a glimpse into its money-losing history.

Didi didn’t disclose the size of its raise. Reuters reported the company could raise around $10 billion at a valuation of close to $100 billion.

Cheng Wei, Didi’s 38-year-old founder owns 7% of the company’s shares and controls 15.4% of its voting power before the IPO, according to the prospectus. Major shareholder SoftBank Vision Fund owns 21.5% of the company, followed by Uber with 12.8% and Tencent at 6.8%.

The nine-year-old company, which famously acquired Uber’s China operations in 2016, is more than a ride-hailing platform now. It has a growing line of businesses like bike-sharing, grocery, intra-city freight, financial services for drivers, electric vehicles and Level 4 robotaxis, which it defines as “the pinnacle of our design for future mobility” for its potential to lower costs and improve safety.

Didi set up an autonomous driving subsidiary that banked $500 million from SoftBank in May last year. The unit now operates a team of over 500 members and a fleet of over 100 autonomous vehicles.

For the twelve months ended March, Didi served 493 million annual active users and saw 41 million transactions on a daily basis.

Didi had been operating in the red from 2018 to 2020, when it finished the year with a $1.6 billion net loss, but managed to turn the tide in the first quarter of 2021 by racking up a net profit of $837 million, which it recognized was primarily due to the investment income from the deconsolidation of Chengxin, its cash-burning grocery group buying initiative, and an equity investment disposal.

Revenue from the quarter also more than doubled year-over-year to $6.6 billion. China accounts for over 90% of Didi’s revenues as of late. The company has tried to expand its presence in a dozen overseas countries like Brazil, where it bought local ride-hailing business 99 Taxis.

Of its mobility revenues in China, more than 97% came from ride-hailing between 2018 and 2020. Taxi hailing, chauffeur and carpooling, a lucrative business that was revamped following two deadly accidents, made up a trifling share.

Didi plans to spend 30% of its IPO proceeds on shared mobility, electric vehicles, autonomous driving and other technologies. 30% will go towards its international expansion and another 20% will be used for new product development.

#asia, #automation, #carsharing, #china, #didi, #didi-chuxing, #funding, #robotaxi, #robotics, #softbank, #softbank-group, #transport, #transportation, #uber

Volvo to supply Chinese ride hailing giant Didi with autonomous driving cars

As the autonomous driving race in China heats up, Didi is rushing to expand its car fleets by picking Swedish automaker Volvo, an old partner of Uber, as its ally.

Didi said on Monday it will be using the XC90 SUVs of Volvo, which has been owned by Chinese auto company Geely since 2010, for its network of robotaxis in the long term. Didi created a subsidiary dedicated to autonomous driving last year and the unit has since raised about $800 million from investors including SoftBank Vision Fund and IDG Capital. The subsidiary now has over 500 employees.

Didi started out as a ride-share app in 2012 and gobbled up Uber China in 2016. It now offers a range of mobility services including taxi hailing, ride-hailing, carpooling, shared bikes and scooters, as well as financial services for drivers. The company is seeking a valution north of $100 billion in an initial public offering, Reuters reported last month.

Didi’s autonomous driving arm has been testing robotaxis for the past two years in China and the United States, but Volvo’s XC90 model will be the first to adopt Didi’s freshly minted self-driving hardware system called Gemini, which contains sensors like short, mid and long-range lidars, radars, cameras, a thermal imager; a fallback system; and remote assistance through 5G networks.

Didi said that its Gemini platform, coupled with Volvo’s backup functions including steering, braking and electric power, will eventually allow its robotaxis to remove safety drivers. If any of the primary systems fails during a ride, Volvo’s backup systems can act to bring the vehicle to a safe stop.

Didi is competing against a clutch of well-funded robotaxi startups in China, such as Pony.ai and WeRide, which are busy tesing in major Chinese cities and California while splurging on R&D expenses to reach Level 4 driving. AutoX, another Chinese robotaxi company, announced last week that it will be using Honda’s Accord and Inspire sedans for its test drives in China. The edge of Didi, some suggest, is the mountains of driving data accumulated from its ride-hailing business spanning Asia, Latin America, Africa and Russia.

Rising electric automakers like Nio and Xpeng have also joined in the race to automate vehicles, making bold claims that they, too, will be able to remove safety drivers soon. Meanwhile, traditional car manufacturers don’t want to fall behind. BAIC, a state-owned enterprise, for instance, is adding Huawei’s advanced automation system and smart cockpit to its new electric passenger cars.

#accord, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #automotive, #autox, #china, #didi, #idg-capital, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund, #transportation, #uber, #volvo, #volvo-cars, #xpeng

Didi to subsidize trips for vaccinations with $10M global fund

As countries around the world prepare to vaccinate people against the coronavirus, tech companies are rushing to demonstrate their willingness to help fight the deadly virus. China’s ride-hailing leader Didi Chuxing is pledging a $10 million fund to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts in 13 markets outside its home country China, the company said on Friday.

The multi-purpose fund will be used to reduce fees for passengers going to vaccination appointments and frontline healthcare workers traveling to vaccination locations. It will also sponsor future measures based on a market’s local needs, Didi said, adding that it will continue working with the respective governments. It’s unclear how the company plans to allocate the funds across the dozens of markets.

Like other tech firms, Didi has responded swiftly to the COVID-19 outbreak by offering relief measures. It said it has so far funded more than six million free or discounted rides and meals for frontline healthcare workers and distributed more than six million masks and sanitation kits to driver and courier partners in its international markets.

In China, the ride hailing company has made similar efforts, including financial assistance like insurance plans for drivers with confirmed cases or those undergoing quarantine.

“The vaccination support initiative is a crucial step in our local recovery effort across the world,” said Jean Liu, president of Didi.

“The incredible commitment and agility of Didi teams, together with a safety system built for complex mobility scenarios, play a critical role in protecting our people and ensuring essential services throughout these challenging times. We will continue to stand by our partners and communities to get our cities moving again.”

The SoftBank-backed company took a hit when it temporarily suspended its popular and lucrative carpooling service following two passenger incidents. The startup remains one of China’s most valuable private tech companies and rumors have swirled for a few years that it is planning an initial public offering, which the company has denied.

Didi has garnered over 550 million users across the Asia Pacific, Latin
America and Russia by offering taxi hailing, private car hailing, rideshare, buses, bikes and e-bikes, and it enables over 10 billion passenger trips a year as of late. It has a nascent autonomous driving arm backed by SoftBank and is among a group of Chinese upstart AI companies aggressively developing and testing autonomous vehicles. It’s also working with China’s electric carmaking giant BYD to co-design a model tailored for ride-hailing.

#asia, #china, #coronavirus, #covid, #covid-19, #didi, #ride-hailing, #tc, #transportation

China Roundup: SoftBank leads Didi’s $500M round and Meituan crosses $100B valuation

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. Last week, we had a barrage of news ranging from SoftBank’s latest bet on China’s autonomous driving sector to Chinese apps making waves in the U.S. (not TikTok).

China tech abroad

The other Chinese apps trending in America

TikTok isn’t the only app with a Chinese background that’s making waves in the U.S. A brand new short-video app called Zynn has been topping the iOS chart in America since May 26, just weeks after its debut. Zynn’s maker is no stranger to Chinese users: it was developed by short-video platform Kuaishou, the nemesis of Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister.

The killer feature behind Zynn’s rise is an incentive system that pays people small amounts of cash to sign up, watch videos or invite others to join, a common user acquisition tactic in the Chinese internet industry.

The other app that’s been trending in the U.S. for a while is News Break, a hyper-local news app founded by China’s media veteran Jeff Zheng, with teams in China and the U.S. It announced a heavy-hitting move last week as it onboards Harry Shum, former boss of Microsoft AI and Research Group, as its board chairman.

Alibaba looks for overseas influencers

The Chinese e-commerce giant is searching for live-streaming hosts in Europe and other overseas countries to market its products on AliExpress, its marketplace for consumers outside China. Live-streaming dancing and singing is nothing new, but the model of selling through live videos, during which consumers can interact with a salesperson or session host, has gained major ground in China as shops remained shut for weeks during the coronavirus outbreak.

In Q1 2020, China recorded more than 4 million e-commerce live-streaming sessions across various platforms, including Alibaba. Now the Chinese giant wants to replicate its success abroad, pledging that the new business model can create up to 100,000 new jobs for content creators around the world.

Oppo in Germany

Oppo announced last week its new European headquarters in Düsseldorf, Germany, a sign that the Chinese smartphone maker has gotten more serious on the continent. The move came weeks after it signed a distribution deal with Vodafone to sell its phones in seven European countries. Oppo was also one of the first manufacturers to launch a 5G commercial phone in Europe.

Chinese tech stocks return

We speculated last week that Hong Kong might become an increasingly appealing destination for U.S.-listed Chinese tech companies, many of which will be feeling the heat of tightening accounting rules targeting foreign companies. Two firms have already taken action. JD.com and NetEase, two of China’s biggest internet firms, have won approvals to list in Hong Kong, Bloomberg reported, citing sources.

China tech back home

SoftBank doubles down on Didi

Massive losses in SoftBank’s first Vision Fund didn’t seem to deter the Japanese startup benefactor from placing bold bets. China’s ride-hailing giant Didi has completed an outsized investment of over $500 million in its new autonomous driving subsidiary. The financing led by SoftBank marked the single-largest fundraising round in China’s autonomous driving sector.

The capital will give Didi a huge boost in the race to win the autonomous driving race, where it is a relative latecomer. It’s competing with deep-pocketed players that are aggressively testing across the world, including the likes of Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, and startups such as Momenta, NIO and Pony.ai.

Marriage of e-commerce and live streaming

Speaking of live-streaming e-commerce, two of China’s biggest internet companies have teamed up to exploit the new business model. JD, the online retailer that is Alibaba’s long-time archrival, has signed a strategic partnership with Kuaishou — yes, the maker of Zynn and TikTok’s rival in China.

The collaboration is part of a rising trend in the Chinese internet, where short video apps and e-commerce platforms pally up to explore new monetization avenues. The thinking goes that video platforms can leverage the trust that influencers instill in their audience to tout products.

Meituan hit record valuation

Despite reporting an unprofitable first quarter, Meituan, a leader in China’s food delivery sector, saw its shares reach a record high last week to bring its valuation to over $100 billion.

Notion got banned in China, briefly

Notion, the fast-growing work collaboration tool that recently hit a $2 billion valuation and has attracted a loyal following in China, was briefly banned in China last week. It’s still investigating the cause of the ban, but the timing noticeably coincided with China’s annual parliament meeting, which began last week after a two-month delay due to COVID-19. Internet regulation and censorship normally toughen around key political meetings in the country.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #asia, #china, #china-roundup, #didi, #dusseldorf, #germany, #harry-shum, #jd, #jd-com, #jeff-zheng, #kuaishou, #meituan, #netease, #softbank, #tc, #tiktok, #vision-fund, #vodafone

SoftBank pours $500M into Didi in China’s biggest autonomous driving round

The race to automate vehicles on China’s roads is heating up. Didi, the Uber of China, announced this week an outsized investment of over $500 million in its freshly minted autonomous driving subsidiary. Placing the bet — the single largest fundraising round in China’s autonomous driving sector — is its existing investor Softbank, the Japanese telecom giant and startup benefactor that has also backed Uber.

The proceeds came through Softbank’s second Vision Fund, which was reportedly lagging in fundraising as its Fund I recorded massive losses in part due to the collapsing valuation of WeWork.

As China’s largest ride-hailing provider with mountains of traffic data, Didi clearly has an upper hand in developing robotaxis, which could help address driver shortage in the long term. But it was relatively late to the field. In 2018, Didi ranked eighth in kilometers of autonomous driving tests carried out in Beijing, far behind search giant Baidu which accounted for over 90% of the total mileage that year.

It’s since played aggressive catchup. Last August, it spun off its then three-year-old autonomous driving unit into an independent company to focus on R&D, building partnerships along the value chain, and promoting the futuristic technology to the government. The team now has a staff of 200 across its China and U.S. offices.

As an industry observer told me, “robotaxis will become a reality only when you have the necessary operational skills, technology and government support all in place.”

Didi is most famous for its operational efficiency, as facilitating safe and pleasant rides between drivers and passengers is no small feat. The company’s leadership hails from Alibaba’s legendary business-to-business sales team, also known as the “Alibaba Iron Army” for its ability in on-the-ground operation.

On the tech front, the subsidiary is headed by chief executive Zhang Bo, a Baidu veteran, and chief technology officer Wei Junqing, who joined last year from self-driving software company Aptiv.

The autonomous segment can also benefit from Didi’s all-encompassing reach in the mobility industry. For instance, it’s working to leverage the parent company’s smart charging networks, fleet maintenance service and insurance programs for autonomous fleets.

The fresh capital will enable Didi’s autonomous business to improve safety — an area that became a focal point of the company after two deadly accidents — and efficiency through conducting R&D and road tests. The financing will also allow it to deepen industry cooperation and accelerate the deployment of robotaxi services in China and abroad.

Over the years, Didi has turned to traditional carmakers for synergies in what it dubs the “D-Alliance,” which counts more than 31 partners. It has applied autonomous driving technology to vehicles from Lincoln, Nissan, Volvo, BYD, to name a few.

Didi has secured open-road testing licenses in three major cities in China as well as California. It said last August that it aimed to begin picking up ride-hailing passengers with autonomous cars in Shanghai in a few months’ time. It’s accumulated 300,000 kilometers of road tests in China and the U.S. as of last August.

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Uber pulls back from operating profit target

Uber is walking back its guidance for what was supposed to be a milestone year for the ride-hailing company that included reaching an operating profit by the last quarter.

Uber said Thursday it was withdrawing its 2020 guidance for gross bookings, adjusted net revenue and adjusted EBITDA, which were provided on February 6, 2020 during the company’s earnings call.

“Given the evolving nature of COVID-19 and the uncertainty it has caused for every industry in every part of the world, it is impossible to predict with precision the pandemic’s cumulative impact on our future financial results,” Uber said in a statement.

After a disappointing initial public offering in May 2019 and several months in retreat, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi set out to reduce costs by cutting its workforce and selling its food delivery service in India to competitor Zomato . It appeared that the cost-cutting was working and Khosrowshahi moved up guidance, saying that Uber planned to make an operating profit by the final quarter of 2020. The company had previously targeted 2021 to reach an operating profit.

Uber also warned that it expected an impairment charge of between $1.9 billion and $2.2 billion because of declines in value on some of its minority equity investments. Uber has minority stakes in Didi, Grab, Yandex.Taxi and Zomato, according to its latest annual report. The one-time charge is not expected to impact Uber’s first-quarter adjusted net revenue, adjusted EBITDA, cash and cash equivalents or short-term investments, the company said.

Uber also used Thursday’s change in guidance to highlight initiatives it launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a financial assistance program for drivers and delivery people.

Uber said it plans to account for this program as Contra Revenue, which will likely reduce GAAP revenue by an estimated $17 million to $22 million in the first quarter and an estimated $60 million to $80 million in the second quarter. Uber will exclude the impact of certain COVID-19-specific expenses from Adjusted Net Revenue and from Adjusted EBITDA to “help investors assess the impact of COVID-19 on our financial position.”

The company has scheduled its first quarter earnings call for 1:30 pm PT May 7.

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