The city’s government said it would block the distribution of films that are deemed to undermine national security, bringing the territory more in line with mainland Chinese rules.
Authorities succeeded in shuttering an activist site for three days. The takedown, and its reversal, presage a battle over internet freedoms.
Officials have banned the annual June 4 vigil, as a new security law looms over commemorations of the 1989 crackdown. Hong Kongers wonder how long the memory will remain.
Experts warn that lotteries and other perks may do little to allay the anxiety and confusion underlying residents’ reluctance to get inoculated.
Many of the city’s democracy activists face jail terms amid a broad campaign to subdue opposition.
Hundreds of protesters, many students or college-educated, face potentially stiff sentences after Beijing’s crackdown. Those behind bars already battle isolation and disillusionment.
Mr. Cena, a star of the newest “Fast and Furious” movie, posted a video apology in Mandarin, saying, “I’m really sorry. You have to understand that I love and respect China.”
Even as the authorities restrict speech in the Chinese territory, local artists are subtly rendering the 2019 pro-democracy demonstrations in paintings, installations and other media.
I grew up eating rice porridge, and every culture has its version. From mush we originate — to mush we’ll return.
The government has repeatedly singled out the city’s poor migrant workers as “high risk” for the coronavirus, though actual infection rates are low.
The police distributed a magazine denouncing “rumors and lies,” and have warned news outlets against undermining national security.
On social media, the director’s fans blurred out her name and turned images on their sides to evade the censors. “People should be celebrating,” one writer said.
AfterShip launched in 2012 to help online sellers track packages across different carriers, but since then it has built a suite of data analytics tools covering almost every step of the shopping experience, from email marketing to customer retention. The Hong Kong-headquartered startup announced today it has raised a $66 million Series B led by Tiger Global, with participation from Hillhouse Capital’s GL Ventures.
AfterShip’s last round of funding was a $1 million Series A in 2014. Co-founder Andrew Chan told TechCrunch that the company has been profitable since its launch and grew mainly through word-of-mouth referrals and partnerships, like a Shopify integration, that boosted its profile. But the company recently added a sales team and will use its latest capital on international hiring for sales and customer support. It also plans to launch new products and expand further in the United States, where about 70% of AfterShip’s customers are located.
The company’s software enables sellers to track shipments made through more than 740 carriers and handles more than 6 billion shipments each year. AfterShip’s partners with about10,000 companies, including some of the biggest names in e-commerce: Shopify (where it is used by 50,000 merchants), Magento, Squarespace, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Groupon, Rakuten, Wish and retail brands like Dyson and Inditex.
AfterShip’s core product is its shipment tracking platform, but it also makes apps for shoppers, including self-service returns and package tracking, and sales and marketing tools for merchants that let them get more use out of data from shipments. Chan explained that package tracking is also a user engagement tool for sellers that lets them show more product recommendations and promotions to shoppers. AfterShip’s tools enables merchants to create their own branded tracking pages and notifications. Other features allow them to track the performance of different carriers, create email marketing campaigns and increase customer retention.
Its CRM capabilities help AfterShip differentiate from other shipment tracking aggregator providers.
“When we think of our vision, we look at what Salesforce is doing, but is there an e-commerce Salesforce that can cover more topics for sales people to use,” Chan said.
In press statement, Pangfei Wang, global partner at Tiger Global, said, “AfterShip leads the charge in making the shipping process more transparent and reliable for consumers and companies alike. As growth in e-commerce spirals ever upward, we are excited to partner with AfterShip and its leadership team as they continue to advance technology in this critical and expanding industry.”
In one of the most staggering Hong Kong phone cons in recent memory, a 90-year-old woman was swindled over five months.
The punishments over an unauthorized peaceful protest point to what critics say is the shrinking space for dissent in Hong Kong.
The government organized a day of citywide activities, from schools to the police academy, to encourage residents to support a recent national security law.
The proposal, initiated by the Chinese central government, is intended to make it difficult for democracy advocates to hold office and would criminalize organized protest votes.
We were spread across three continents, at the mercy of vaccine geopolitics. Which of us would be inoculated last?
Beijing, which can’t afford to let its attack on civil liberties scare away global banks and financiers, is offering them a big tax break and other perks.
A cut in ferry service because of the pandemic means the animals, a Hong Kong icon, are getting a little peace and quiet in a favored habitat. But the break is temporary and the future not bright.
The defendants, including the media tycoon Jimmy Lai and the barristers Martin Lee and Margaret Ng, are some of the city’s most prominent activists.
New rules give the bodies power to investigate all potential candidates, meaning opposition politicians face steep odds of even being allowed to run.
If you feel left out, here are tips for enjoying (or at least tolerating) the burn.
Pro-Beijing lawmakers have called for work by the dissident artist Ai Weiwei to be removed from a new museum, and accused local arts groups of undermining national security.
An artwork that sold for nearly $700,000 was the latest in the frenzied market for digital art — and possibly the first created in part by a non-human.
Hong Kong-based viAct helps construction sites perform around-the-clock monitoring with an AI-based cloud platform that combines computer vision, edge devices and a mobile app. The startup announced today it has raised a $2 million seed round, co-led by SOSV and Vectr Ventures. The funding included participation from Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund, Artesian Ventures and ParticleX.
Founded in 2016, viAct currently serves more than 30 construction industry clients in Asia and Europe. Its new funding will be used on research and development, product development and expanding into Southeast Asian countries.
The platform uses computer vision to detect potential safety hazards, construction progress and the location of machinery and materials. Real-time alerts are sent to a mobile app with a simple interface, designed for engineers who are often “working in a noisy and dynamic environment that makes it hard to look at detailed dashboards,” co-founder and chief operating officer Hugo Cheuk told TechCrunch.
As companies signed up for viAct to monitor sites while complying with COVID-19 social distancing measures, the company provided training over Zoom to help teams onboard more quickly.
Cheuk said the company’s initial markets in Southeast Asia will include Indonesia and Vietnam because government planning for smart cities and new infrastructure means new construction projects there will increase over the next five to 10 years. It will also enter Singapore because developers are willing to adopt AI-based technology.
In a press statement, SOSV partner and Chinaccelerator managing director Oscar Ramos said, “COVID has accelerated digital transformation and traditional industries like construction are going through an even faster process of transformation that is critical for survival. The viAct team has not only created a product that drives value for the industry but has also been able to earn the trust of their customers and accelerate adoption.”
“Warrior,” a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, leads a week of 20th and 21st century livestreamed auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
The promise of universal suffrage has animated the city’s politics for decades. Beijing’s latest moves could finally extinguish that hope.
The territory has avoided full lockdown largely by moving aggressively to stamp out infections, but the latest outbreak has renewed claims of harsh treatment in the way quarantines are enforced.
Setting a confrontational tone ahead of meetings in Alaska, the United States punished Chinese officials involved in eroding democracy in Hong Kong.
A new rule for foreigners applying in Hong Kong for visas gives preference to those who choose shots produced in China.
One of the few industries that have benefited from the COVID-19 crisis is online finance. Around the world, the pandemic has forced consumers to adopt digital banking. Hong Kong’s WeLab, a fintech company founded in 2013, saw users soar by 20% year-over-year in 2020, bringing its accumulative user base to 50 million.
Facing innovative players like WeLab, which aims to bring more convenience, transparency, and affordability to consumers, financial incumbents feel compelled to reinvent themselves. That’s in part why Allianz X, a venture capital arm of the 131-year-old European financial conglomerate Allianz, led WeLab’s latest funding round of $75 million. The Series C1, which involved other investors, followed WeLab’s $156 million Series C round in late 2019.
“Obviously, Allianz is one of the largest asset managers and insurers in the world with a strong presence and solid footprint,” co-founder and CEO Simon Loong told TechCrunch during an interview.
Loong declined to disclose WeLab’s latest valuation but said the number has gone up since the firm last reached the $1 billion unicorn status.
When WeLab set out to build a digital bank, which launched in Hong Kong last year, one of the products it had in mind was “a new generation of wealth advisory on digital banks.”
“Allianz saw what we did over the last couple of years and identified this very interesting opportunity to co-develop a wealth technology for digital banks, so they came to us and said, why don’t they lead the round?” Loong explained.
Through the strategic investment, the partners will jointly develop and distribute investment and insurance solutions across Asia. Those products will diversify Welab’s current offerings, including a virtual bank and a lending product in Hong Kong, as well as several types of lending services in mainland China and Indonesia. Around 47 million of its total users are in mainland China, 2.5 million in Indonesia, and less than one million in Hong Kong, a city with a 7.5 million population.
“It’s an interesting four-way cooperation,” said Loong, referring to the roles of Allianz as an asset management and insurance firm, and WeLab as a bank and fintech solution provider. “I think it will really be an interesting inflection point for the company to scale.”
Working with titans
Equally important to WeLab’s revenue is enterprise services, according to Loong, which are helping conventional banks and financial institutions build up a digital presence. The strategy is not unlike Ant Group’s effort to be an “enabler” for traditional financial players.
In spite of the massive combined market share of Ant and Tencent in China’s fintech market, there remains room for smaller and more specialized players like WeLab. To date, WeLab has attracted about 600 enterprise customers, most of whom are in mainland China.
“[We have] an interesting dynamics with Ant,” said Loong, when asked how WeLab wrestles with a goliath like Ant, whose e-commerce affiliate Alibaba is an investor in WeLab through the Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund.
“There are businesses where we compete, and there are also areas where we work well together,” he added. For example, WeLab introduced one of the first smartphone leasing services on Alipay, Ant’s flagship app that works as a marketplace for third-party financial products and end consumers. But Ant also has its own in-house financial products, which could clash with outside suppliers peddling on its marketplace.
“In short, I would say that because we are a rather independent company, we work with everyone,” Loong asserted.
Greater Bay links
As a Hong Kong-founded firm, WeLab has actively taken part in the Chinese government’s push to integrate what’s dubbed the Greater Bay Area, which spans the two special administrative regions of China, Hong Kong and Macau, and nine cities in the southern province of Guangdong, including Shenzhen.
An objective of the GBA blueprint is to encourage cross-border talent flow. In a way, the area has all the right conditions to run a fintech startup, which would gain access to technological and banking talents respectively in Shenzhen and Hong Kong, two adjoining cities. WeLab has done exactly that, with a larger base of tech staff in Shenzhen compared to its Hong Kong office which has more finance professionals. It’s planning to add around 100 hires this year to its 800-person headcount.
Aside from shared talent pools, Beijing also wants to encourage more financial integration in the GBA. WeLab has taken notice and plans to roll out its forthcoming wealth management products first in Hong Kong and later into other parts of the GBA through the government-supported scheme called the Wealth Management Connect, which allows residents of Hong Kong and Macau to invest in wealth management products distributed by mainland banks in the GBA. Vice versa, residents in the mainland GBA cities will be able to buy wealth management products in Hong Kong and Macau.
“Hong Kong is a great testbed, but for online business, you need to subject your successful business model to a large population,” said Loong, explaining the company’s expansion plan. “The Greater Bay Area gives us the opportunity to do so. There is a 72 million population with a GDP of $1.7 trillion, which is larger than South Korea… Naturally, it is a good area to scale.”
WeLab was looking to go public back in 2018 but halted the plan because “we didn’t feel that it was the right market window to do this,” Loong recalled. The company was also in the process of securing a banking license, so it decided to work on the critical permit before going public.
“Obviously if you look now, it’s very hot in terms of the equity market,” said Loong. “So we are talking to a lot of people. We keep a close eye on this and we are always open-minded to explore the next right market window for us.”
Bored and trapped in an area one-third the size of Rhode Island, Hong Kongers have sought out the most far-flung corners of their city, mobbing parklands with crowds typically seen downtown.
China’s national legislature disclosed plans for a law that would make it extremely difficult for Beijing’s critics to hold elective office in Hong Kong.
But as Beijing rolls out a long-term plan, its top leader has also warned that “the United States is the biggest threat.”
A Chinese official has called for severe punishment of opposition figures facing charges under a new national security law.
The president may be putting personal ambition ahead of his country’s best interests.
Before Sunday, only a handful of people had been formally charged with breaking the law China imposed last year, which is punishable by life in prison.
Through new lesson plans and expensive publishing projects, the government hopes to teach future generations a curated lesson about Hong Kong’s past.
The central government is likely to bypass local officials, just as it did with last year’s national security law.
The broadcaster, Radio Television Hong Kong, is known for independent reporting often critical of the government.
The government unveiled an animated video about the national security law as part of a broader curriculum overhaul for schools.
Members of a Hong Kong Facebook group help people they’ve never met cope with quarantine and virus testing, whether that means saving an 8-year-old’s birthday or keeping an eye on an octogenarian.
District councilors typically tended to mundane matters like pest control and new bus stops. Now, they’re the last line of defense in keeping the city’s pro-democracy opposition alive.
The slower pace gives the East Asian countries a chance to learn from mistakes elsewhere but also poses risks as more contagious and perhaps deadlier variants of the virus emerge.
The move was in retaliation for Britain’s offer to grant potentially millions of Hong Kong residents a path to citizenship, amid Beijing’s crackdown on the city.
For American importers, finding suppliers these days can be challenging not only due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The U.S. government’s entity list designations, human rights-related sanctions, among other trade blacklists targeting Chinese firms have also rattled U.S. supply chains.
One young company called International Compliance Workshop, or ICW, is determined to make sourcing easier for companies around the world as it completed a fresh round of funding. The Hong Kong-based startup has just raised $5.75 million as part of its Series A round, boosting its total funding to around $10 million, co-founder and CEO Garry Lam told TechCrunch.
ICW works like a matchmaker for suppliers and buyers, but unlike existing options like Alibaba’s B2B platform or international trade shows, ICW also vets suppliers over compliance, product quality, and accreditation. It gathers all that information into its growing database of over 40,000 suppliers — 80% of which are currently in China — and recommends them to customers based on individual needs.
Founded in 2016, ICW’s current client base includes some of the world’s largest retailers, including Ralph Lauren, Prenatal Retail Group, Blokker, Kmart, and a major American pharmacy chain that declined to be named.
ICW’s latest funding round was led by Infinity Ventures Partners with participation from Integrated Capital and existing investors MindWorks Capital and the Hong Kong government’s $2 billion Innovation and Technology Venture Fund.
Supply chain shift
In line with the ongoing shift of sourcing outside China, in part due to the U.S.-China trade war and China’s growing labor costs, ICW has seen more customers diversifying their supply chains. But the transition has limitations in the short run.
“It’s still very difficult to find suppliers of certain product categories, for example, Bluetooth devices and power banks, in other countries,” observed Lam. “But for garment and textile, the transition already began to happen a decade ago.”
In Southeast Asia, which has been replacing a great deal of Chinese manufacturing activity, each country has its slight specialization. Whereas Vietnam abounds with wooden furniture suppliers, Thailand is known for plastic goods and Malaysia is a good source for medical supplies, said Lam.
When it comes to trickier compliance burdens, such as human rights sanctions, ICW relies on third-party certification institutes to screen and verify suppliers.
“There is a [type of] qualification standard that verifies whether a supplier has fulfilled its corporate social responsibility… like whether the factory fulfills the labor law, the minimum labor rights, or the payroll, everything,” Lam explained.
ICW plans to use the fresh proceeds to further develop its products, including its compliance management system, product testing platform, and B2B sourcing site.
Lynk, a “knowledge-as-a-service” platform that connects clients with over 840,000 experts in a wide range of fields, announced today it has raised $24 million led by Brewer Lane Ventures and MassMutual Ventures, with participation from Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund. The company uses machine learning algorithms to match users, who include investment firms, Fortune 100 companies and government entities, with experts on its platform, helping connect them with people they would probably not find at traditional consultancies or by searching online.
“At the core of it, the search is a people search based on what you know, and not just where you work, to put it very simply,” co-founder and chief executive officer Peggy Choi told TechCrunch.
Founded in 2015, Lynk has now raised a total of $30 million. It has more than 200 employees across offices in eight cities: Hong Kong, New York City, Singapore, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Hyderabad, Toronto and Manila. Its funding will be used for product launches and to expand in North America and China, where its seen demand grow over the past twelve months.
Lynk’s flagship product, Lynk Answers, is currently used by about 200 enterprise clients when their employees need to do research for projects including geographical expansion, product-market fit and due diligence, with many relying on the platform for on-the-ground research in areas they can’t travel to because of the pandemic. For example, investors talk with advisors on Lynk to understand new technology or the dynamics in a sector. Over the past few years, companies have used Lynk to help them react quickly to geopolitical changes, including events that affected their supply chain. Some sought supply chain experts when shipments got stuck in customs or they wanted to diversify their manufacturing by setting up factories in Southeast Asia.
Before Lynk, Choi worked in finance, including at Silver Lake in London and TPG in San Francisco. As an investor, “every day you have to do a lot of conversations with executives and different kinds of experts to learn about new industries or companies really quickly. Through that experience, I realized that talking to the right person makes a huge difference,” she said.
In contrast, Choi found herself at a loss when her parents wanted to launch an art gallery. “They had all these day-to-day business questions and sometimes they asked me because they thought I would know how to address it. But I don’t know either, I’m not the right person for them, so I had to find the right people,” she said. “When I saw that contrast, I thought, what about using data to organize people in a way based on what they know?”
Lynk, which monetizes by charging enterprise clients a subscription fee, fills the gap between traditional consultancies and consumer-oriented Q&A platforms like Quora or China’s Zhihu. The platform also includes SaaS features that provide an alternative to email chains, like collaboration tools and auto-transcription for expert interviews so they can be organized, searched and referenced by a team.
Lynk’s experts, who the platform calls “Knowledge Partners,” include C-suite executives, independent consultants, lawyers, engineers, financial analysts and scientists, among others. The company finds them through several channels, including digital marketing, a referral program for current Knowledge Partners and partnerships with groups, associations and institutions. Lynk vets experts before they are added to the platform, where they set their own rates.
When users have a question, Lynk’s search engine shows them a list of experts based on criteria like domain expertise and geography. Then they ask potential experts a couple of questions to see if they are the right match. Lynk uses data from those conversations, on an anonymized basis, to refine its search technology and make matching more accurate. Once users pick experts, they work with them in different ways. Most of the time they do a question-and-answer session. Sometimes that turns into speaker and workshop engagements or longer-term projects.
Choi said building an inclusive roster of experts is a priority for Lynk. The company’s team and board are divided equally between women and men and represent more than 20 nationalities. It wants to build a diverse database through initiatives like outreach programs and campaigns like Lynk Elite Expert Women to recruit people, including those who haven’t done consulting before.
“When we were running the [Lynk Elite Expert Women] campaign, we realized that a lot of people find it a very new way of being valued,” said Choi. “Especially if they’ve spent their entire life doing something, they also want to know what people want to know about their area.”
The city’s notorious tenement apartments are potential hotbeds of transmission, with their cramped quarters, faulty piping and poor ventilation.
Klook, the Hong Kong-based travel activities platform backed by SoftBank Vision Fund, announced the closure of $200 million in funding for its Series E round, lifting the startup’s total capital raised to date to $720 million.
Aspex Management, an investment fund focused on Asia Pacific led the round, alongside existing backers Sequoia Capital China, Softbank Vision Fund 1, Matrix Partners China, Boyu Capital, as well as a handful of new investors.
Securing sizable funding at a time the COVID-19 pandemic sacks the global economy is congratulatory, not to mention Klook is in an industry severely hit by the virus. The startup, which enables its mostly Asia-based users to book activities in overseas destinations, lost millions of orders over the first few months of travel restrictions. The company quickly regrouped for a pivot to staycation and software-as-a-service for local activity merchants, including ticketing, distribution, inventory management and marketing. Bookings subsequently rebounded.
“There are things to do at home, as well as local things to do when people could travel,” co-founder and chief operating officer Eric Gnock Fah told TechCrunch in an interview last July. “Now [the pandemic] is giving us an opportunity to add a new aspect to it.”
The arrival of the new funding appears timely. Klook reached profitability in a number of markets by last July but overall was still in an aggressive expansion mode, it told TechCrunch at the time. Founded in 2014, Klook exceeded $1 billion in valuation in 2018 but declined to reveal its latest post-money valuation, which almost certainly has increased since it reached the unicorn status. The company currently has no plans to go public, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.
In Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan where COVID-19 restrictions have gradually eased, Klook said it saw increased spending on local activities, with bookings reaching near pre-COVID levels. At the height of the pandemic, Klook onboarded 150% more activities compared to the same period in 2019.
Today, Klook’s SaaS software powers millions of bookings for more than 2,500 merchants worldwide. With proceeds from the new investment, it will continue working on the development and roll-out of its merchant SaaS solutions.
“This new capital further strengthens our leading position to take us from defense to offense, as domestic tourism becomes ubiquitous and international travel gradually returns,” said Ethan Lin, co-founder and chief executive at Klook.