Covid-19 Pushes India’s Middle Class Toward Poverty

The pandemic sent 32 million people in India from the middle class last year. Now a second wave is threatening the dreams of millions more looking for a better life.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #economic-conditions-and-trends, #income-inequality, #india, #labor-and-jobs, #poverty, #shutdowns-institutional, #unemployment, #wages-and-salaries

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Amazon announces $250 million venture fund for Indian startups

Amazon on Thursday announced a $250 million venture fund to invest in Indian startups and entrepreneurs focusing on digitization of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the key overseas market.

The announcement comes at a time when the American e-commerce group, which has previously invested over $6.5 billion in its India business, faces heat from government bodies, and the small and medium-sized businesses that it purports to serve.

Through the new venture fund, called Amazon Smbhav Venture Fund, Amazon said it wants to invest in startups that focus on helping small businesses come online, sell online, automate and digitize their operations, and expand to customers worldwide.

Agriculture and healthcare are two additional areas Amazon is focusing on with its new venture fund, but it said it is open to looking at tech startups from other sectors if their work intersects with SMBs.

In the agri-tech sector, Amazon is looking to invest in Indian startups that are using technology to make agri-inputs more accessible to farmers, provide credit and insurance to farmers, reduce food wastage, and improve the quality of produce to consumers. In the healthcare sector, Amazon said it will invest in startups that are enabling healthcare providers to leverage telemedicine, e-diagnosis, AI powered treatment recommendations.

The announcement was made at Amazon’s annual event, called Sambhav, that focuses on India-based SMBs. At the virtual event, Amazon also unveiled ‘Spotlight North East’, an initiative to bring 50,000 artisans, weavers and small businesses online from the eight states in the North East region of India by 2025 and to boost exports of key commodities like tea, spices and honey from the region.

In the first edition of Sambhav last year, Amazon announced it would be investing $1 billion to help digitize 10 million small and medium sized businesses. Amazon said earlier this month that it had created 300,000 jobs in India since January 2020, and enabled exports for Indian-made goods worth $3 billion.

The company said more than 50,000 offline retailers and neighborhood stores — called kirana locally — are using Amazon marketplace and about 250,000 new sellers have also joined the platform. The company said today it aims to onboard 1 million offline retailers and neighbourhood stores by 2025 through the Local Shops on Amazon program.

Not far from Sambhav’s first event last year, which was attended by Amazon chief executive and founder Jeff Bezos, tens of thousands of protesters marched on the street and expressed their concerns about what they alleged was unfair practices employed by Amazon to crush them.

A similar protest was seen today. You can hear some of their stories here. It’s an ongoing challenge for Amazon, which has long struggled to stay out of controversy in India.

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

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

Several international technology giants including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have invested in Indian startups in recent years. Amazon, too, has backed a number of firms including ride-hailing startup Shuttl, and consumer brand MyGlamm. Last month, it acquired retail startup Perpule for about $20 million.

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

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How Working From Home Changed Wardrobes Around the World

It wasn’t all sweats and leggings. A whirlwind tour of how the pandemic affected what we wore, from India to Italy.

#brazil, #fashion-and-apparel, #france, #india, #italy, #japan, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #russia, #senegal, #shopping-and-retail

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Indian fintech Zeta turns unicorn with SoftBank-led funding

Bangalore-based fintech startup Zeta has clinched the much sought-after unicorn status after finalizing a new financing round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

SoftBank Vision Fund 2 has led a ~$250 million Series D round in the five-year-old Indian startup, the sources said. The new round valued the Indian startup, co-founded by high-profile entrepreneur Bhavin Turakhia, at about $1.3 billion, up from $300 million in its maiden external funding (Series C) in 2019.

A SoftBank spokesperson declined to comment. Turakhia didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Five-year-old Zeta helps banks launch modern retail and fintech products. The thesis is that banks — largely operating on antiquated technologies — today don’t have the time and expertise to offer the best experience to hundreds of millions of customers and fintech firms they serve.

Zeta is attempting to help banks either use the startup’s cloud-native, API-first banking stack as its core framework or build services atop it to offer better a experience to all customers — think of improved mobile app and debit and credit features. It also offers API, SDKs and payment gateways to banks to work more efficiently with fintech firms.

The startup has amassed clients in several Asian and Latin American markets.

Turakhia, with his brother Divyank, started his first venture in 1998. Along the way, they sold Media.net for $900 million. In 2014, they sold four web companies to Endurance for $160 million. Zeta is the second startup Bhavin has co-founded since then — the other being business messaging platform Flock.

Zeta is the seventh Indian startup to become a unicorn this month. Last week, social commerce Meesho — also backed by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 — fintech firm CRED, e-pharmacy firm PharmEasy, millennials-focused Groww, business messaging platform Gupshup and social network ShareChat attained the unicorn status.

#asia, #cred, #finance, #funding, #groww, #gupshup, #india, #meesho, #pharmeasy, #recent-funding, #sharechat, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund-2, #startups, #zeta

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In India, a Second Wave of Covid-19 Prompts a New Exodus

Low-paid workers are starting to flee the cities en masse, just like a year ago. But their hometowns, often in far-flung places, may once again be ill prepared to test arrivals and treat the sick.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #deaths-fatalities, #india, #modi-narendra, #mumbai-india, #shutdowns-institutional, #vaccination-and-immunization

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Biden Wants World Leaders to Make Climate

The administration is closing in on deals with some close allies, but agreements with powers like China, Brazil and India are proving difficult.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #brazil, #china, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #india, #kerry-john, #united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government

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Biden Wants Leaders to Make Climate Commitments for Earth Day

The administration is closing in on deals with some close allies, but agreements with powers like China, Brazil and India are proving difficult.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #brazil, #china, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #india, #kerry-john, #united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government

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Temasek and BlackRock form Decarbonization Partners with $600 million to create a zero-emission economy

The $9 trillion financial management firm Blackrock is collaborating with the $313 billion Singapore investment firm Temasek to back companies developing technologies and services to help create a zero emission economy by 2050.

The two mega-investment firms will invest an initial $600 million to launch Decarbonization Partners, and look to raise money from investors committing to achieving a net zero world and long-term sustainable finacnial returns. The two partners have set themselves a goal to raise $1 billion for their first fund, including capital from Temasek and BlackRock.

The partnership, coming during Earth month, is one of several big multi-billion dollar initiatives that are underway to prevent global climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, BlackRock is somewhat tardy to the party. Temasek, for its part, has already made a number of high-profile bets in the alternative meat market — namely in companies like Impossible Foods — and in alternative energy technology developers including Eavor, a geothermal company, and a $500 million bet on a renewable power developer in India.

Meanwhile, a coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates are already on their second billion dollar investment vehicle through Breakthrough Energy, a multi-stage, multi-strategy initiative that includes a venture capital arm as well as other types of financing on the way.

“The world cannot meet its net zero ambitions without transformational innovation,” said Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, in a statement. “For decarbonization solutions and technologies to transform our economy, they need to be scaled. To do that, they need patient, well-managed capital to support their vital goals. This partnership will help define climate solutions as a standalone asset class that is both essential to our collective mission and a historic investment opportunity created by the net zero transition.”

To get a sense of what Decarbonization Partners might back, companies should probably look to the Breakthrough Energy portfolio — the firms share similar interests in new sources of energy, technologies to distribute that energy, building and manufacturing technologies, and material science and process innovations.

It’s a big swing that the firms are taking, but the flood of capital coming into the sustainability sector is commensurate with both the size of the problem, and the potential opportunity in returns generated by solving it.

A report from Morgan Stanley estimated that solving climate change would be a $50 trillion problem, according to a 2019 report from Forbes.

“Bold, aggressive actions are needed to make the global net zero ambition a reality. Decarbonization Partners represents one of several steps we are taking to follow through on our commitment to halve the emissions from our portfolio by 2030, and ultimately move to net zero emissions by 2050,” said Dilhan Pillay, Chief Executive Officer of Temasek International. “Through collective efforts with like-minded partners, we will be able to create sustainable value for all of our stakeholders over the long term, and investors will have the opportunity to help deliver innovative solutions at scale to address climate challenges.”

#articles, #bill-gates, #blackrock, #chief-executive-officer, #energy, #forbes, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #impossible-foods, #india, #morgan-stanley, #singapore, #tc, #temasek, #temasek-holdings

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Pine Labs acquires Southeast Asian startup Fave for $45 million

Pine Labs said on Tuesday it has acquired Southeast Asian startup Fave in a deal valued at $45 million as the Indian firm looks to strengthen its offerings in the domestic and international markets.

Fave helps an offline merchant connect and retain customers by using gift cards and vouchers. The startup allows merchants to accept digital payments by having a customer scan a QR code. Once the payment is made, the customer automatically receives a cashback / loyalty point through the Fave app that can only be redeemed at that specific business during future transactions.

“Customers love us because they get safe money, cashback and rewards for being on the platform. And merchants love us because they get a lot of new and repeat customers,” explained Joel Neoh, co-founder and chief executive of Fave.

This offering has especially proven useful to merchants in the pandemic as they scramble for ways to drive sales from existing customers, said Amrish Rao, chief executive of Pine Labs, in an interview. “Consumers, too, were looking for ways of cost-savings or ways to optimize their purchases.”

Pine Labs, which acquired a gift cards solution provider Qwikcilver in 2019, made its first investment in Fave last year.

Rao drew comparisons between Fave and Honey, saying the Southeast Asian startup is doing to offline businesses what Honey has achieved in the online world. “For the first time with QR, what I realized was you can do a wonderful job when it comes to loyalty, rewards, and the redemption in the offline world,” said Rao.

Leadership of Fave will continue to work at the startup post-acquisition and Rao said the team is working to bring Fave’s offering to customers in 3,700 Indian cities. (This is one of the rare times when a Southeast Asian startup is launching its offering in India.)

Neoh said in an interview that Fave also plans to launch a pay now later product in the next one to two months.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #fave, #fundings-exits, #india, #pine-labs, #southeast-asia

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Equity Monday: Microsoft buys Nuance, Uber isn’t dead, and Austin has a new unicorn

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

This is Equity Monday, 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. It is good to be back!

There was a lot to get through, so, in order that we discussed the topics on the show, here’s our rundown:

Don’t forget that Coinbase is listing this week, yeah? Chat soon!

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

#africa, #alibaba, #antitrust, #darktrace, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #india, #microsoft, #nuance-communications, #startups, #the-zebra, #tiger-global, #uber

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Tiger Global goes super aggressive in India

Recent roars from an investment firm, credited to put Indian startups on the global map in the past decade and a half, are turning local young firms into unicorns at a pace never seen before in the world’s second largest internet market.

Tiger Global has written — or is in late stages of writing — more than 25 checks, spanning from a few million dollars to over $100 million, this year alone. About 10 of its investments have been unveiled so far with the rest still in the pipeline for the coming weeks and months.

The New York-headquartered firm, which recently closed a $6.7 billion fund, last week led investments in social network ShareChat, business messaging platform Gupshup, and investment app Groww, and participated in fintech app CRED’s round, helping all of these startups attain the much sought after unicorn status.

(A report in India speculated that Tiger Global plans to invest $3 billion of its new fund in Indian startups. TechCrunch understands the $3 billion figure is way off the mark.)

Tiger Global also invested in Infra.Market and Innovaccer, two other Indian startups that turned unicorn earlier this year. (India has delivered 10 unicorns this year already, up from seven last year and six in 2019.)

Tiger Global is currently in advanced stages to back epharmacy firm PharmEasy, which also turned into a unicorn last week, fintech firm ClearTax (at possibly $1 billion valuation), crypto exchange CoinSwitch, insurer Plum, B2B marketplace Moglix (at over $1 billion valuation), social firms Kutumb and Koo (at over $100 million valuation, per the CapTable), healthtech firm Pristyn Care, and Reshamandi, according to people familiar with the matter.

No other investment firm has written checks of this magnitude to Indian firms this year, and the frenzy has reached a point where dozens of startup founders are scrambling to get an intro with Tiger Global partners.

Tiger Global’s confidence in young Indian firms isn’t newly found. Its investment in Flipkart in 2009 and Ola in 2012 showed the opportunities and level of risk-appetite the U.S. firm was prepared to operate with in India, at a time when both the firms were struggling to raise money from some Indian investors.

Under its former partner Lee Fixel, the investment firm backed several young firms including online grocer Grofers, logistics startup Delivery, fashion e-commerce Myntra, news aggregator InShorts, electric scooter maker Ather Energy, music streaming service Saavn, fintech Razorpay, and web producer TVF.

A handful of startup founders, on the condition of anonymity, recalled their investments from Tiger Global, which they all said concluded within two to three weeks after the first call from the investment firm.

But the firm slowed down its investment pace when Fixel departed in 2019, and for nearly a year focused largely on backing SaaS startups.

Things have changed in recent quarters and Tiger Global has become more aggressive than ever before, said a venture capitalist, who has invested alongside Tiger Global in a few startups, on the condition of anonymity to be able to speak candidly.

The firm is now also exploring investment opportunities in months-old startups. Reshamandi, for instance, is still in its ideation phase.

The investor quoted above pointed to Infra.Market as another example of Tiger Global’s new strategy. It wrote its first check to Infra.Market in 2019, when the B2B startup was just two years old.

“Tiger then wanted to see if the startup can grow and convince other investors to back them. So in December, Infra.Market raised money at about $250 million valuation. Two months later, Tiger Global closed the new round at $1 billion valuation,” the investor said.

While great for startups, it creates a challenge for some investors, another investor said.

When Tiger Global values a startup at a level that much of the industry can’t match, and tends to not lead the subsequent round, there are very few firms that can invest in the following financing round, the investor said.

On private forums and in recent weeks, Clubhouse, a number of investors have cautioned that the recent optimism shared by some investors could prove challenging to materialize. “Tiger Global has traditionally got very optimistic in India every two to three years. The problem is that when it’s not optimistic, we are supposed to pick the tab,” one investor said.

“Under Scott Shleifer [MD at Tiger Global and pictured above], things may be different,” the investor added. Looking at Tiger Global’s recent activities elsewhere in the world, things sure look consistent — and India is positioned to be a key global playground for the firm — and several others — in the next few years.

India, the world’s third largest startup hub, is poised to produce 100 unicorns in the coming years, analysts at Credit Suisse wrote in a report for clients last month. “India’s corporate landscape is undergoing a radical change due to a remarkable confluence of changes in the funding, regulatory and business environment in the country over the past two decades. An unprecedented pace of new-company formation and innovation in a variety of sectors has meant a surge in the number of highly-valued, as-yet unlisted companies,” they wrote.

“The growth in highly valued companies has been enabled by a range of factors: (1) the natural shortage of risk capital in an economy with low per capita wealth has been addressed by a surge in (mostly foreign) private equity: these flows have exceeded public market transactions in each year of the last decade; (2) increase in teledensity and smartphone and internet penetration. Till 2005 less than 15% of Indians had a phone, versus 85% now; 700 mn-plus people have internet access now due to cheap data and falling smartphone prices (40% penetration now).”

“(3) deep-rooted physical infrastructure changes: nearly all habitations are now connected by all-weather roads compared to only half in 2000, and all households are electrified now vs. just 54% in 2001; (4) financial innovation is accelerating, courtesy the world-leading “India stack”, which has innovative applications like UPI built on a base of universal bank account access, mobiles, and the biometric-ID (Aadhaar), helped by greater data availability; and (5) development of ecosystems in several sectors that now provides a competitive advantage versus global peers; for example in technology (4.5 mn IT professionals) and pharma/biotech (several Indian firms can now afford US$200-300 mn of annual R&D).”

#asia, #cred, #funding, #groww, #india, #pharmeasy, #sharechat, #tiger-global

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India Covid-19 Crisis Deepened by Missteps and Complacency

The new wave will hurt global efforts and vaccine supplies, experts say. Researchers are scrambling to assess whether new coronavirus variants are playing a role in India.

#contact-tracing-public-health, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #deaths-fatalities, #disease-rates, #india, #infections, #maharashtra-india, #modi-narendra, #politics-and-government, #quarantines, #vaccination-and-immunization

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Messaging platform Gupshup raises $100 million at $1.4 billion valuation

A startup that began its journey in India 15 years ago, helping businesses reach and engage with users through texts said on Thursday it has attained the unicorn status and is also profitable.

San Francisco-headquartered Gupshup has raised $100 million in its Series F financing round from Tiger Global Management, which valued the 15-year-old startup at $1.4 billion.

The startup operates a conversational messaging platform, which is used by over 100,000 businesses and developers today to build their own messaging and conversational experiences to serve their users and customers.

Gupshup, which has raised $150 million to date and concluded its Series E round in 2011, says each month its clients send over 6 billion messages.

“The growth in business use of messaging and conversational experiences, transforming virtually every customer touchpoint, is an exciting secular trend,” said John Curtius, a partner at Tiger Global Management, in a statement. “Gupshup is uniquely positioned to win in this market with a differentiated product, a clear and sustainable moat, and an experienced team with a proven track record. In addition to its market leadership, Gupshup’s unique combination of scale, growth and profitability attracted us.”

Tens of millions of users in India, including yours truly, remember Gupshup for a different reason, however. For the first six years of its existence, Gupshup was best known for enabling users in India to send group messages to friends. (These cheap texts and other clever techniques enabled tens of millions of Indians to stay in touch with one another on phone a decade ago.)

That model eventually became unfeasible to continue, Beerud Sheth, co-founder and chief executive of Gupshup, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“For that service to work, Gupshup was subsidizing the messages. We were paying the cost to the mobile operators. The idea was that once we scale up, we will put advertisements in those messages. Long story short, we thought as the volume of messages increases, operators will lower their prices, but they didn’t. And also the regulator said we can’t put ads in the messages,” he recalled.

That’s when Gupshup decided to pivot. “We were neither able to subsidize the messages, nor monetize our user base. But we had all of this advanced technology for high-performance messaging. So we switched from consumer model to enterprise model. So we started to serve banks, e-commerce firms, and airlines that need to send high-level messages and can afford to pay for it,” he said.

Over the years, Gupshup has expanded to newer messaging channels, including conversational bots and it also helps businesses set up and run their WhatsApp channels to engage with customers.

Sheth said scores of major firms worldwide in banking, e-commerce, travel and hospitality and other sectors are among the clients of Gupshup. These firms are using Gupshup to send their customers with transaction information, and authentication codes among other use cases. “These are not advertising messages or promotional messages. These are core service information,” he said.

The startup, which had an annual run rate of $150 million, will use the fresh capital to broaden its product offering and court clients in more markets.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#apps, #funding, #india, #tiger-global-management

0

A Fierce Election Tests Modi’s Campaign to Remake India

The prime minister’s party is vying to dethrone a powerful politician in West Bengal. Even a close race could demonstrate the growing reach of his Hindu nationalist movement.

#adhikari-suvendu-1970, #all-india-trinamool-congress, #banerjee-mamata, #bharatiya-janata-party, #elections, #hinduism, #india, #minorities, #modi-narendra, #nationalism-theory-and-philosophy, #politics-and-government, #west-bengal-india

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Investment app for millennials Groww raises $83 million at over $1 billion valuation

More than 200 million people in India transact money digitally, but fewer than 30 million invest in mutual funds and stocks.

An Indian startup that is attempting to change this figure by courting millennials announced a new financing round on Wednesday and turned into the newest unicorn in the world’s second largest internet market.

Bangalore-based Groww has raised $83 million in its Series D financing round, which valued the Indian startup at more than $1 billion, up from $250 million in $30 million Series C in September last year.

Tiger Global led the new round, and existing investors Sequoia Capital India, Ribbit Capital, YC Continuity and Propel Venture Partners participated in it, said the four-year-old Indian startup, which has raised $142 million to date.

On a side note, Groww is the eighth Indian startup to attain the unicorn status this year — and fourth this week. Social commerce Meesho turned a unicorn on Monday, fintech firm CRED on Tuesday, and earlier today epharmacy firm PharmEasy announced a new financing round that valued the firm at about $1.5 billion.

Groww allows users to invest in mutual funds, including systematic investment planning (SIP) and equity-linked savings, gold, as well as stocks, including those listed at U.S. exchanges. The app offers every fund that is currently available in India.

The startup has amassed over 8 million registered users, two-thirds of whom are first-time investors, Lalit Keshre, co-founder and chief executive of Groww, told TechCrunch in an interview. Keshre and other former Flipkart executives — Harsh Jain, Neeraj Singh and Ishan Bansal — co-founded Groww in 2017.

Keshre said the startup will deploy the fresh funds to accelerate its growth, and hire more talent. “We now have fuel for longer-term thinking and faster growth,” he said.

More than 60% of Groww users come from smaller cities and towns of India and 60% of these have never made such investments before, said Keshre. The startup said it has conducted workshops in several small cities to educate people about the investment world.

Comparison of fintech market share in brokerage (BCG)

The coronavirus pandemic has also accelerated the startup’s growth as youngsters explore new hobbies. The startup competes with a handful of firms including Zerodha, Paytm Money, Upstox, ET Money, Smallcase, and traditional firms.

“We started Groww almost five years back to make investing accessible and transparent to everyone in India. We have made good progress, but it feels we have just got started,” said Keshre.

#apps, #asia, #funding, #groww, #india, #propel-venture-partners, #ribbit-capital, #sequoia-capital-india, #tiger-global, #yc-continuity

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India’s CRED valued at $2.2 billion in new $215 million fundraise

Two-year-old CRED has become the youngest Indian startup to be valued at $2 billion or higher.

Bangalore-based CRED said on Tuesday it has raised $215 million in a new funding round — a Series D — that valued the Indian startup at $2.2 billion (post-money), up from about $800 million valuation in $81 million Series C round in January this year.

New investor Falcon Edge Capital and existing investor Coatue Management led the new round. Insight Partners and existing investors DST Global, RTP Global, Tiger Global, Greenoaks Capital, Dragoneer Investment Group, and Sofina also participated in the new round, which brings CRED’s total to-date raise to about $443 million.

TechCrunch reported last month that CRED was in advanced stages of talks to raise about $200 million at a valuation of around $2 billion.

CRED operates an app that rewards customers for paying their credit card bills on time and gives them access to a range of additional services such as credit and a premium catalog of products from high-end brands.

An individual needs to have a credit score of at least 750 to be able to sign up for CRED. By keeping such a high bar, the startup says it is ensuring that people are incentivized to improve their financial behavior. (More on this later.)

CRED today serves more than 6 million customers, or about 22% of all credit card holders — and 35% of all premium credit card holders — in the world’s second largest internet market.

Kunal Shah, founder and chief executive of CRED, told TechCrunch in an interview that the startup intends to become the platform for affluent customers in India and also not limit its offerings to financial services.

He said the startup’s e-commerce service, for instance, has been growing fast. He attributed the early success to customers enjoying the curation of items on CRED and merchants finding the platform appealing as ticket size of each transaction on CRED is higher.

The startup plans to deploy the fresh funds to scale several of its revenue channels and engage in more experimentations, he said.

When asked whether CRED would like to serve all credit card users in India some day, Shah said the selection criteria limits the startup from doing so, but he said he was optimistic that more users will improve their scores in the future.

The startup, unlike most others in India, doesn’t focus on the usual TAM (addressable market) — hundreds of millions of users of the world’s second-most populated nation — and instead caters to some of the most premium audiences.

Consumer segmentation and addressable market for fintech firms in India (BofA Research)

“India has 57 million credit cards (vs 830 million debit cards) [that] largely serves the high-end market. The credit card industry is largely concentrated with the top 4 banks (HDFC, SBI, ICICI and Axis) controlling about 70% of the total market. This space is extremely profitable for these banks – as evident from the SBI Cards IPO,” analysts at Bank of America wrote in a recent report to clients.

“Very few starts-ups like CRED are focusing on this high-end base and [have] taken a platform-based approach (acquire customers now and look for monetization later). Credit card in India remains an aspirational product. The under penetration would likely ensure continued strong growth in coming years. Overtime, the form-factor may evolve (i.e. move from plastic card to virtual card), but the inherent demand for credit is expected to grow,” they added.

CRED has become one of the most talked about startups in India, in part because of the pace at which it has raised money of late, its growing valuation, and the fact that it only caters to select customers.

Some users have also said that CRED no longer offers them the perks it used a year ago.

Shah said CRED is addressing those concerns. A recent feature, which allows customers to use CRED points at over a thousand merchants, for instance, has made the reward more appealing, he said, adding that the startup is slowly incorporating that into its own e-commerce store as well.

“What will soon happen is that customers will realize that these points are asset and not a liability. They will start to see benefits of the points in more places,” he said, adding that the pandemic derailed some of the things CRED had planned for in the real world.

The startup, which bought back shares worth $1.2 million from employees in January this year, told them in an email today that it will soon be buying back stocks worth $5 million. “As the funding helps CRED invest in its future, hopefully the buyback will help some of you do that too,” the email said.

#apps, #asia, #coatue-management, #cred, #dragoneer-investment-group, #dst-global, #falcon-edge-capital, #finance, #funding, #greenoaks-capital, #india, #kunal-shah, #rtp-global, #sofina, #tiger-global

0

Amazon Uses a Lot of Plastic. It Doesn’t Have To.

The world’s biggest online retailer must become a leader in reducing single-use packaging.

#amazon-com-inc, #bezos-jeffrey-p, #containers-and-packaging, #e-commerce, #india, #organic-foods-and-products, #plastics, #recycling-of-waste-materials, #united-states, #waste-materials-and-disposal, #whole-foods-market-inc

0

Byju’s acquires Indian tutor Aakash for nearly $1 billion

Why did Byju’s raise over $1 billion last year and is already inching closer to securing another half a billion dollars? We are getting some answers today.

Byju’s said on Monday it has acquired Aakash Educational, a 33-year-old chain of physical coaching centres, as the Indian online learning giant looks to further consolidate its leadership position in the world’s second largest internet market.

The Indian startup paid “close to $1 billion” in cash and equity for the acquisition, which is one of the largest in the edtech space, three people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. (EY advised the firms on the transaction; Bloomberg first reported about the two firms talking in January.)

Backed by Blackstone, Aakash owns and operates more than 200 physical tutoring centres across the country aimed at students preparing to qualify for top engineering and medical colleges.

The decades-old firm has made some of its offering available online in recent years, but the pandemic’s recent shift to students’ preferences made Aakash and Byju’s explore a deal six-seven months ago, executives from the firm told TechCrunch in a joint interview. (They declined to comment on the financial aspects of the deal.)

Aakash Chaudhry, Managing Director and Co-promoter of Aakash Educational, said the two firms joining forces will offer “very substantial and value-additive services to students.” The leadership at Aakash Educational will stay with the firm after the acquisition.

The acquisition will enable the two entities to build the largest omni-channel for students in India, he said. “Students who have wanted to access physical classrooms have gotten that from us. And those who wanted to access content and learning online has been served by Byju’s. Together, we will leverage the physical location and technology and online learning and offer students that is unique,” he said.

The future of education will blend offline and online experiences, said Byju Raveendran, co-founder and chief executive of the eponymous startup, in an interview. And Byju, a teacher himself, would know. Prior to launching the online platform, Raveendran took classes for hundreds of students at stadiums.

For several of Byju’s offerings such as test-preparation, he said, an online-only model is still a few years away. Monday’s deal is also aimed at expanding the reach of Byju’s and Aakash Educational in smaller towns and cities, the executives said.

Amit Dixit, Co-head of Asia Acquisitions and Head of India Private Equity at Blackstone at Blackstone, which acquired a 37.5% stake in Aakash for about $183 million in 2019, said that an “omni-channel will be the winning model in test prep and tutoring, and we look forward to being a part of the partnership between the two foremost companies in Indian supplementary education – Aakash and Byju’s.”

The userbase of Byju’s — which prepares students pursuing undergraduate and graduate-level courses — has grown substantially since last year, now serving over 80 million users, 5.5 million of whom are paying subscribers. Byju’s, which is profitable, generated revenue of over $100 million in the U.S. last year, Deborah Quazzo, managing partner of GSV Ventures (which has backed the Indian startup), said at a session held by Indian venture fund Blume Ventures earlier this week.

The startup has used the past two years to grow inorganically through acquisitions. In 2019, it acquired U.S.-based Osmo for $120 million, and last year, it bought kids-focused coding platform WhiteHat Jr for $300 million. Ravendran said the startup is looking to acquire more firms. TechCrunch reported last week that the startup is holding acquisition talks with California-headquartered startup Epic for “significantly more than $300 million.”

#asia, #byjus, #education, #fundings-exits, #india

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Facebook-backed Indian social commerce Meesho raises $300M at $2.1B valuation

Meesho said on Monday it has raised $300 million in a new financing round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 as the Indian social commerce startup works to become the “single ecosystem that will enable all small businesses to succeed online.”

The new round — a Series E — gives the five-year-old startup a valuation of $2.1 billion. The Indian startup, which has raised about $490 million to date, said existing investors Facebook, Prosus Ventures, Shunwei Capital, Venture Highway, and Knollwood Investment also participated in the new round.

Bangalore-based Meesho operates an eponymous online marketplace that connects sellers with customers on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram. The startup claims to have a network of more than 13 million entrepreneurs, a majority of whom are women, from hundreds of Indians towns who largely deal with apparel, home appliances and electronics items.

Meesho said it will deploy the fresh capital to help 100 million individuals and small businesses in the country to sell online. “In the last one year, we have seen tremendous growth across small businesses and entrepreneurs seeking to move their businesses online,” said Vidit Aatrey, co-founder and chief executive of Meesho, in a statement.

“We have been closely tracking Meesho for the last 18 months and have been impressed by their growth, daily engagement metrics, focus on unit economics and ability to create a strong team. We believe Meesho provides an efficient platform for SME suppliers and social resellers to onboard the e-commerce revolution in India and help them provide personalized experience to consumers,” said Sumer Juneja, partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement.

In a recent report, UBS analysts identified social commerce and business-to-business marketplaces as potential sources of competition to e-commerce firms such as Amazon and Flipkart in India.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#asia, #ecommerce, #facebook, #funding, #india, #meesho

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Maoist Insurgents Kill 23 Indian Forces in Ambush, Officials Say

The four-hour battle in a forested area of central India has revived concerns about a decades-old insurgency that had appeared largely contained.

#chattisgarh-india, #deaths-fatalities, #defense-and-military-forces, #india, #naxalites, #terrorism

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With Open Ears, Indian Ragas and Western Melodies Merge

Amit Chaudhuri charts his musical journey in a new book, “Finding the Raga: An Improvisation on Indian Music.”

#books-and-literature, #chaudhuri-amit, #classical-music, #content-type-personal-profile, #finding-the-raga-an-improvisation-on-indian-music-book, #india, #writing-and-writers

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She Told Relatives She’d Been Raped. They Paraded Her and the Suspect.

Videos of the girl and her alleged attacker as violent crowds shamed and beat her created outrage in India.

#chennai-india, #india, #madhya-pradesh-india, #women-and-girls, #womens-rights

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Consumers spent $32B on apps in Q1 2021, the biggest quarter on record

The pandemic’s remarkable impact on the app industry has not slowed down in 2021. In fact, consumer spending in apps has hit a new record in the first quarter of this year, a new report from App Annie indicates. The firm says consumers in Q1 2021 spent $32 billion on apps across both iOS and Google Play, up 40% year-over-year from Q1 2020. It’s the largest-ever quarter on record, App Annie also notes.

Last year saw both app downloads and consumer spend increase, as people rapidly adopted apps under coronavirus lockdowns — including apps for work, school, shopping, fitness, entertainment, gaming and more. App Annie previously reported a record 218 billion in global downloads and record consumer spend of $143 billion for the year.

Image Credits: App Annie

These trends have continued into 2021, it seems, with mobile consumers spending roughly $9 billion more in Q1 2021 compared with Q1 2020. Although iOS saw larger consumer spend than Android in the quarter — $21 billion vs. $11 billion, respectively — both stores grew by the same percentage, 40%.

But the types of apps driving spending were slightly different from store to store.

On Google Play, Games, Social and Entertainment apps saw the strongest quarter-over-quarter growth in terms of consumer spending, while Games, Photo & Video, and Entertainment apps accounted for the strongest growth on iOS.

By downloads, the categories were different between the stores, as well.

On Google Play, Social, Tools, and Fiance saw the biggest download growth in Q1, while Games, Finance and Social Networking drove download growth for iOS. Also on Google Play, other top categories included Weather (40%) and Dating (35%), while iOS saw Health and Fitness app downloads grow by a notable 25% — likely a perfect storm as New Year’s Resolutions combined with continued stay-at-measures that encouraged users to find new ways to stay fit without going to a gym.

Image Credits: App Annie

The top apps in the quarter remained fairly consistent, however. TikTok beat Facebook, in terms of downloads, and was followed by Instagram, Telegram, WhatsApp and Zoom. But the short-form video app only made it to No. 2 in terms of consumer spend, with YouTube snagging the top spot. Tinder, Disney+, Tencent Video, and others followed. (Netflix has dropped off this chart as it now directs new users to sign up directly, rather than through in-app purchases).

Image Credits: App Annie

Though Facebook’s apps have fallen behind TikTok by downloads, its apps — including Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — still led the market in terms monthly active users (MAUs) in the quarter. TikTok, meanwhile, ranked No. 8 by this metric.

Up-and-comers in the quarter included privacy-focused messaging app Signal, which saw the strongest growth in the quarter by both downloads and MAUs — a calculation that App Annie calls “breakout apps.”  Telegram closely followed, as users bailed from mainstream social after the Capitol riot. Another “breakout” app was MX TakaTak, which is filling the hole in the market for short-form video that resulted from India’s ban  of TikTok.

Image Credits: App Annie

Gaming, meanwhile, drove a majority of the quarter’s spending, as usual, accounting for $22 billion of the spend — $13 billion on iOS (up 30% year-over-year) and $9 billion on Android (up 35%). Gamers downloaded about a billion titles per week, up 15% year-over-year from 2020.

Among Us! dropped to No. 2 in the quarter by downloads, replaced by Join Clash 3D, while DOP 2: Delete One Part jumped 308 places to reach No. 3.

Image Credits: App Annie

Roblox led by consumer spend, followed by Genshin Impact, Coin Master, Pokemon Go and others. And although Among Us! dropped on the charts by downloads, it remained No. 1 by monthly active users in the quarter, followed by PUBG Mobile, Candy Crush Saga, Roblox and others.

App Annie notes that the pandemic also accelerated the mobile gaming market, with game downloads outpacing overall downloads by 2.5x in 2020. It predicts that mobile gaming will reach  $120 billion in consumer spending this year, or 1.5x all other gaming formats combined.

#android, #app-annie, #apps, #computing, #disney, #facebook, #google-play, #india, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #netflix, #roblox, #tiktok, #whatsapp

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India’s HealthPlix raises $13.5 million to help doctors treat patients more efficiently

There are fewer than 300,000 doctors in India actively practicing medicine. They serve hundreds of millions of patients who suffer from chronic illness in the world’s second most populous nation.

A doctor only has a few minutes to spend on a patient, remember the past diagnosis by glancing at their record, and formulate a plan of management.

HealthPlix, a Bangalore-based startup, believes it can help doctors serve these patients more efficiently with the limited time they have.

The startup has developed a software for doctors that helps them keep a tab on the symptoms a patient has displayed in the past, the medicine that was prescribed to them, and if they are showing any improvements in a methodical template.

But it doesn’t stop there, said Sandeep Gudibanda, co-founder of HealthPlix, in an interview with TechCrunch. The software has a knowledge base that is making determination of all the other factors that a doctor needs to assess as they treat the patient.

For instance, if a patient has diabetes, and they have mentioned that they had swollen feet and are experiencing more frequent visits to the washroom, said Gudibanda, the doctor can quickly assess that the patient’s symptoms are getting worse and she needs to start looking at the function of the kidney and other organs and monitor blood sugar.

“As a doctor, you are able to see how my disease is progressing, what medicine was prescribed to me and if they are working. So you are not going to prescribe me some medicine that didn’t work two months ago. Based on the data of more than 12 million patients we have, our software is also able to inform doctors what other things I am exposed to,” he said.

“Doctors have immense knowledge, but they have very little time. So how do we help them make better decisions on the few minutes they have with a patient,” he asked. “These few minutes matter most. It is in this precious interaction that health decisions get made, diagnostic tests get prescribed, pharmaceutical brands get chosen, surgical procedures get planned, and hospital referrals get made. This interaction is the moment of truth, where $88 billion of annual healthcare spend is decided.”

Scores of healthtech startups in India today are attempting to serve patients. What distinguishes HealthPlix from most is the approach it has taken. Unlike other startups, HealthPlix’s solution puts doctors at its centre of universe, said Gudibanda, who has spent nearly two decades in entrepreneurship in healthtech.

He said in a country like India, where there are so many people suffering from chronic diseases, a doctor’s intervention is needed for best results. “While going through the patient’s route, we might achieve some scale, we realized that the stakeholder they reason with and listen to is the doctor. A doctor here serves hundreds of patients. You work with the doctor and you make a bigger impact,” he said.

“Second, because of the immense workload on doctors, who can only spend 2-3 minutes to serve a patient, If he or she doesn’t have all the information, their thinking might get compromised. Hence the doctor had to be in the piece.”

HealthPlix initially started in late 2016 to help doctors connect with patients digitally. But that model, he recalled, wasn’t working. The current model is growing fast. More than 6,000 doctors today are using HealthPlix for over four hours a day, he said. The startup plans to reach over 50,000 doctors in two years.

On Wednesday, the startup said it has raised $13.5 million in its ongoing Series B financing round. The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. The startup has now raised about $23.5 million to date.

“What sets HealthPlix apart is its doctor-first B2B approach. Doctors are the most influential decision-makers in healthcare. We believe whichever platform wins their trust will have the sole right to orchestrate the entire $88 billion of healthcare spend,” said Vaibhav Agrawal, Partner at Lightspeed, in a statement.

“The impact is very clear — improved health outcomes for patients, better practices for doctors, 10x better Insights for pharma and med device companies, and superior underwriting capability for insurers.”

Gudibanda said the startup will also deploy the fresh capital to tackle some acute diseases.

#asia, #funding, #health, #india, #lightspeed-venture-partners

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Google starts trialing its FLoC cookie alternative in Chrome

Google today announced that it is rolling out Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), a crucial part of its Privacy Sandbox project for Chrome, as a developer origin trial.

FLoC is meant to be an alternative to the kind of cookies that advertising technology companies use today to track you across the web. Instead of a personally identifiable cookie, FLoC runs locally and analyzes your browsing behavior to group you into a cohort of like-minded people with similar interests (and doesn’t share your browsing history with Google). That cohort is specific enough to allow advertisers to do their thing and show you relevant ads, but without being so specific as to allow marketers to identify you personally.

This “interest-based advertising,” as Google likes to call it, allows you to hide within the crowd of users with similar interests. All the browser displays is a cohort ID and all your browsing history and other data stay locally.

Image Credits: Google / Getty Images

The trial will start in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and the Philippines. Over time, Google plans to scale it globally. As we learned earlier this month, Google is not running any tests in Europe because of concerns around GDPR and other privacy regulations (in part, because it’s unclear whether FLoC IDs should be considered personal data under these regulations).

Users will be able to opt out from this origin trial, just like they will be able to do so with all other Privacy Sandbox trials.

Unsurprisingly, given how FLoC upends many of the existing online advertising systems in place, not everybody loves this idea. Advertisers obviously love the idea of being able to target individual users, though Google’s preliminary data shows that using these cohorts leads to similar results for them and that advertisers can expect to see “at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.”

Google notes that its own advertising products will get the same access to FLoC IDs as its competitors in the ads ecosystem.

But it’s not just the advertising industry that is eyeing this project skeptically. Privacy advocates aren’t fully sold on the idea either. The EFF, for example, argues that FLoC will make it easier for marketing companies that want to fingerprint users based on the various FLoC IDs they expose, for example. That’s something Google is addressing with its Privacy Budget proposal, but how well that will work remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, users would probably prefer to just browse the web without seeing ads (no matter what the advertising industry may want us to believe) and without having to worry about their privacy. But online publishers continue to rely on advertising income to fund their sites.

With all of these divergent interests, it was always clear that Google’s initiatives weren’t going to please everyone. That friction was always built into the process. And while other browser vendors can outright block ads and third-party cookies, Google’s role in the advertising ecosystem makes this a bit more complicated.

“When other browsers started blocking third-party cookies by default, we were excited about the direction, but worried about the immediate impact,” Marshall Vale, Google’s product manager for Privacy Sandbox, writes in today’s announcement. “Excited because we absolutely need a more private web, and we know third-party cookies aren’t the long-term answer. Worried because today many publishers rely on cookie-based advertising to support their content efforts, and we had seen that cookie blocking was already spawning privacy-invasive workarounds (such as fingerprinting) that were even worse for user privacy. Overall, we felt that blocking third-party cookies outright without viable alternatives for the ecosystem was irresponsible, and even harmful, to the free and open web we all enjoy.”

It’s worth noting that FLoC, as well as Google’s other privacy sandbox initiatives, are still under development. The company says the idea here is to learn from these initial trials and evolve the project accordingly.

#advertising-tech, #australia, #brazil, #canada, #computing, #google, #google-search, #india, #indonesia, #japan, #mexico, #new-zealand, #online-advertising, #philippines, #software, #tracking, #united-states, #web-browsers

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MobiKwik investigating data breach after 100M user records found online

MobiKwik said on Tuesday it was investigating claims of data breach after a website claimed to have exposed private information of nearly 100 million users of the Indian mobile payments startup.

Over the weekend, a site on the dark web claimed it had 8.2 terabytes of MobiKwik user data. The data included phone numbers, email addresses, scrambled passwords, transactions logs, and partial payment card numbers.

The website also claimed that it had “know your customer” (KYA) documents of 3.5 million users, and each visit to the website displayed four random images from the data dump. KYC documents are required in India for users who want to access certain services without any limitations. Local law requires a mobile wallet firm in India, for instance, to support monthly transactions exceeding a certain limit.

The dark web site features a searchable database that allows users to look up their phone number or email to verify the authenticity of the data breach claim. TechCrunch was able to verify the accuracy of the data in several cases.

A seller on a well-known cybercrime forum claims to be selling access to the database for 1.2 bitcoin — about $70,000.

The Sequoia Capital India-backed startup says it can’t yet prove if the data actually belongs to MobiKwik users. “It is incorrect to suggest that the data available on the darkweb has been accessed from MobiKwik or any identified source,” the startup wrote in a blog post.

Rajshekhar Rajaharia, a security researcher, told TechCrunch that he alerted MobiKwik about this alleged security breach last month. In a statement, MobiKwik said the company had conducted a thorough investigation and did not find any evidence of a breach.

However, a screenshot leaked to TechCrunch shows a MobiKwik official asking an Amazon representative last month for logs relating to its cloud service after the startup “came to know that our S3 [cloud storage] data is downloaded by some other person outside the organization.”

The startup said its legal team will take “strict action against the so-called security researcher.” Rajaharia told TechCrunch that it’s his right as a user to know if his financial data is safe and that he doesn’t have the resources to fight legal battles.

MobiKwik said it was closely working with authorities and was confident that security protocols to store sensitive data are “robust and have not been breached.” It added that it was getting a third-party to conduct a forensic data security audit. “We are committed to a safe and secure Digital India.”

#asia, #india, #mobikwik, #security, #sequoia-capital-india

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Virgin Galactic debuts its first third-generation spaceship, ‘VSS Imagine’

Commercial human spaceflight company Virgin Galactic has unveiled the first ever Spaceship III, the third major iteration of its spacecraft design. The first in this new series is called ‘VSS (Virgin SpaceShip) Imagine,’ and will start ground testing now with the aim of beginning its first glide flights starting this summer. VSS Imagine has a snazzy new external look, including a mirrored wraparound finish that’s designed to reflect the spacecraft’s changing environment as it makes its way from the ground to space — but more importantly, it moves Virgin Galactic closer to achieving the engineering goals it requires to produce a fleet of spacecraft at scale.

I spoke to Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier about VSS Imagine, and what it represents for the company.

“We can build these at a faster pace,” he explained. “These are still relatively slow, versus what we want in our next class of spaceships. But what we do expect to have here is, we’ve taken all the learnings from [VSS] Unity, and built-in what we need to do so that we can turn these ships at a faster pace, because obviously, the number of flights we can do is the product of how many ships you have, and how quickly you can turn them.”

Unlike Unity, which is the spacecraft that Virgin Galactic first flew in September 2016, and that it ‘s still using in New Mexico now for its testing and commercial launch preparation program, Imagine has a “modular design” that makes it much easier to maintain, and increases the rate at which it can fly subsequent missions. As Colglazier mentioned, there’s still more work to be done in that regard to get the Spaceship design to the point where it’s able to support the company’s target of around 400 flights per year, per individual spaceport, but it’s a big upgrade, and the company is already beginning manufacturing work on a second Spaceship III-class vehicle, ‘VSS Inspire.’

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

Imagine and Inspire are technical achievements, to be sure, but Colglazier, who came to Virgin Galactic from Disney Parks International in July 2020, also emphasized the importance of this spacecraft debut in terms of the company’s consumer brand.

“What you’re seeing in the images, the choice of the livery, the film that we’ve put out, is a very clear step, as a consumer brand launch, and as we’re stepping in and building that, that will build over the course of the summer as we build up towards Richard [Branson]’s flight,” he said. “Very purposefully, we’ve used these lofty words of ‘democratizing space’ — but space is meant for everyone. It may take a while, just for everyone to get there, but it’s coming. And so this was leading with a very consumer facing, ‘Why are we doing this?’”

In fact, that focus on the consumer side of the business has been a lot of Colglazier’s work over the past eight months since joining the company. He said that the Virgin Galactic he joined had a “world-class team” that had the aerospace pieces completely locked in, but that his particular contribution has been in building up the commercial side of the business to match.

“We’re now bringing some talent in that is used to scaling this kind of a business, so Swami Iyer actually started Monday of last week,” he said. “And when you see a guy like Joe Rohde, who came in on the experience side, there’s no replacement — that’s additive to building out now the shoulders around this experience.”

Iyer joined as President of Aerospace Systems, and brings years of experience in the commercial space and defense industry, across GKN Advanced Defernce Systems, Honeywell Aerospace and more. Rohde, on the other hand, boasts a very different background, as a longtime Disney Imagineer, who joins the company as its first ‘Experience Architect,’ focused squarely on defining what the Virgin Galactic experience is for its astronaut customers, their friends and family, and the broader public, too.

Colglazier said that their vision for what the experience will look like will also be different depending on what part of the world you’re flying from, noting that weather you fly from a spaceport in Europe, Asia, India or Australia should result in something “dramatically different,” even if the spacecraft themselves are all used in the same way as they are in New Mexico. That definitely seems like a logical approach from an executive whose prior experience includes leading Disney’s parks in Burbank, Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

In the end, Colglazier said that the core philosophy Virgin Galactic will pursue in terms of consumer brand will be one focused on inclusion, even if the actual ‘going to space’ part of its offering remains out of reach for most in the short term.

“This is for everyone, it has to be for everyone,” he said. That aspiration may take some number of years to actually be realized, but in the meantime, we have to find a way that our brand and our company can be accessed, that what we do can be accessed by all sorts of people at all different layers of engagement, so we’re going to be very purposeful about that. You’re going to hear us talking mostly about, effectively the apex experience — actually taking the new ships to space. But the ability to tier down out of that is really, really important, and the ability for us to be a brand that’s reaching out to everyone is incredibly important.”

That begins with the approach to this spacecraft debut today, Colglazier says, and is apparent in the tone of the video the company debuted (embedded above) to mark the reveal. And Virgin Galactic also still has 600 passengers booked and waiting for their own flights, so that’s obviously a key focus after Branson’s flight targeted for later this year.

Finally, I asked Colglazier when he himself intends to go up, since he said he definitely plans to when joining the company. Mostly, he said, he doesn’t want to cut in front of any paying customers.

“Okay, there are 600 or so people that are going to be a little ticked at me, if I jumped the line, so I’m going to keep focused at the consumer level,” he said. “But nobody else is in line yet, so I’m gonna get in before anybody else comes in line.”

#aerospace, #asia, #astronaut, #australia, #ceo, #europe, #executive, #india, #michael-colglazier, #new-mexico, #outer-space, #paris, #president, #richard-branson, #shanghai, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #tc, #tokyo, #virgin-galactic

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Google promises better 3D maps

Google is announcing a handful of major updates to Google Maps today that range from bringing its Live View AR directions indoors to adding weather data to its maps, but the most tantalizing news — which in typical Google fashion doesn’t have an ETA just yet — is that Google plans to bring a vastly improved 3D layer to Google maps.

Using photogrammetry, the same technology that also allows Microsoft’s Flight Simulator to render large swaths of the world in detail, Google is also building a model of the world for its Maps service.

“We’re going to continue to improve that technology that helps us fuse together the billions of aerials, StreetView and satellite images that we have to really help us move from that flat 2D map to a more accurate 3D model than we’ve ever had. And be able to do that more quickly. And to bring more detail to it than we’ve ever been able to do before,” Dane Glasgow, Google’s VP for Geo Product Experience, said in a press event ahead of today’s announcement. He noted that this 3D layer will allow the company to visualize all its data in new and interesting ways.

Image Credits: Google

How exactly this will play out in reality remains to be seen, but Glasgow showed off a new 3D route preview, for example, with all of the typically mapping data overlayed on top of the 3D map.

Glasgow also noted that this technology will allow Google to parse out small features like stoplights and building addresses, which in turn will result in better directions.

“We also think that the 3D imagery will allow us to visualize a lot of new information and data overlaid on top, you know, everything from helpful information like traffic or accidents, transit delays, crowdedness — there’s lots of potential here to bring new information,” he explained.

Image Credits: Google

As for the more immediate future, Google announced a handful of new features today that are all going to roll out in the coming months. Indoor Live View is the flashiest of these. Google’s existing AR Live View walking directions currently only work outdoors, but thanks to some advances in its technology to recognize where exactly you are (even without a good GPS signal), the company is now able to bring this indoors. This feature is already live in some malls in the U.S. in Chicago, Long Island, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, but in the coming months, it’ll come to select airports, malls and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich as well (just in time for vaccines to arrive and travel to — maybe — rebound). Because Google is able to locate you by comparing the images around you to its database, it can also tell what floor you are on and hence guide you to your gate at the Zurich airport, for example (though in my experience, there are few places with better signage than airports…).

Also new are layers for weather data (but not weather radar) and air quality in Google Maps. The weather layer will be available globally on Android and iOS in the coming months, with the air quality layer only launching for Australia, India and the U.S. at first.

Image Credits: Google

Talking about air quality, Google Maps will also get a new eco-friendly routing option that lets you pick the driving route that produces the least CO2 (coming to Android and iOS later this year), and it will finally feature support for low emission zones, a feature of many a European City. Low emission zones on Google Maps will launch in June in Germany, France, Spain and the UK on Android and iOS. More countries will follow later.

And to bring this all together, Google will update its directions interface to show you all of the possible modes of transportations and routing options, prioritized based on your own preferences, as well as based on what’s popular in the city you are in (think he subway in NYC or bike-sharing in Portland).

Also new are more integrated options for curbside grocery pickups in partnership with Instacart and Albertsons, if that’s your thing.

And there you have it. As is so often the case with Google’s announcement, the most exciting new features the company showed off don’t have an ETA and may never launch, but until then you can hold yourself over by getting your weather forecasts on Google Maps.

#albertsons, #android, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #chicago, #computing, #eta, #france, #germany, #google, #google-search, #google-maps, #gps, #india, #instacart, #los-angeles, #maps, #newark, #operating-systems, #portland, #san-francisco, #san-jose, #seattle, #software, #spain, #tokyo, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #zurich

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Russia Trumpets Coronavirus Vaccine Exports, While Quietly Importing Doses

Russia has held up the Sputnik vaccine as a triumph of its scientists. But the country’s inoculation program still relies on cross-border trade.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #factories-and-manufacturing, #india, #international-trade-and-world-market, #russia, #shortages, #vaccination-and-immunization

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India’s News Upstarts Challenged Modi. New Rules Could Tame Them.

Online portals have practiced aggressive journalism in a mostly compliant media landscape. But trolls and the government could now be empowered to stop them.

#ashutosh-1965, #censorship, #computers-and-the-internet, #cyberharassment, #freedom-of-the-press, #india, #modi-narendra, #news-and-news-media, #politics-and-government, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #satya-hindi-youtube-channel, #varadarajan-siddharth-1965, #wire-the-web-site

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Don’t Like Spicy Food but Feel Left Out? Train Your Taste Buds

If you feel left out, here are tips for enjoying (or at least tolerating) the burn.

#cooking-and-cookbooks, #europe, #food, #hong-kong, #india, #indian-food-cuisine, #sauces

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Skiing in Himalayas Is ‘Like a Beautiful Dream,’ Despite Conflict and Coronavirus

A Kashmir resort is welcoming the highest number of skiers in decades as Indians eager to get outdoors after lockdowns flock there even amid a simmering separatist movement and a security clampdown.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #india, #kashmir-and-jammu-india, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #skiing

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Google backs one-year-old Indian startup DotPe in $27.5 million fundraise

Google’s latest investment in India is a startup that is helping businesses come online.

One-year-old DotPe, a Gurgaon-based startup, said on Friday it has raised $27.5 million in its Series A financing round. The round was led by PayU, with participation from existing investor Info Edge Ventures and Google.

The young startup, now valued at about $90 million, helps brick and mortar stores sell to customers online and collect payments digitally.

It’s a problem that scores of startups in India are solving today, but DotPe has some additional hooks. It helps merchants scan their inventories and quickly establish a log online.

Once the catalog is ready, a business can then make it available on WhatsApp and reach customers there. WhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in India with over 450 million users. DotPe says it also helps businesses get visibility on Google Search.

The startup, co-founded by Shailaz Nag, formerly co-founder and managing director of PayU, also enables neighborhood stores to collect payments from walk-in customers and features tools to offer loyalty points and discounts to customers to boost engagement.

“This new partnership will empower businesses to be more discoverable, expand business avenues and conduct commerce like never before,” said Nag. “Pandemic or not, we are here to reimagine the way offline businesses work and bring the digital revolution to the doorstep of every entrepreneur.”

DotPe says its platform, which doesn’t require businesses to install an app, has amassed over 5 million merchants in the last six months. These merchants are seeing over 38% of daily orders from repeat customers, the startup said.

“In a very short time, DotPe has acquired a promising merchant base with its impeccable product experience and innovation,” said Anirban Mukherjee, CEO, PayU India.

Sanjay Gupta, VP and Country Head of Google India, said in a statement that the company’s investment in DotPe is illustrative of Google’s belief in “working with India’s start-up ecosystem towards the goal of building a more inclusive digital economy that will benefit everyone.”

Google announced a $10 billion fund for India last year, its biggest market by users. The Android-maker has invested in several startups in the country including hyperlocal delivery firm Dunzo, InMobi Group’s Glance, and DailyHunt.

DotPe said it will deploy the fresh capital to reach more merchants in India and scale its technology stack to meet the growing demand.

#asia, #ecommerce, #funding, #google, #india, #khatabook, #payu

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Lending Apps in India Shame Borrowers Who Can’t Pay Money Back

With techniques honed in China, a new breed of company offers expensive loans to people devastated by the pandemic. If they can’t repay, family and friends hear all about it.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #data-mining-and-database-marketing, #e-commerce, #frauds-and-swindling, #hyderabad-india, #india, #mobile-applications, #privacy, #suicides-and-suicide-attempts, #telephones-and-telecommunications

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India Cuts Back on Vaccine Exports as Infections Surge at Home

A major supplier of the AstraZeneca vaccine, India is now circling the wagons and restricting exports. The impact is beginning to be felt worldwide, particularly in poorer countries.

#astrazeneca-plc, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #india, #modi-narendra, #poonawalla-adar-1981, #serum-institute-of-india, #vaccination-and-immunization

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Indian edtech giant Byju’s in talks to raise over $600 million at $15 billion valuation

Indian edtech giant Byju’s, which raised about a billion dollars last year as the pandemic accelerated growth of online learning services in India, is about to kickoff its fundraising spree for this year.

Byju’s is in talks to raise over $600 million in a new financing round that would value the Indian startup at $15 billion, up from $11 billion late last year, and $5.75 billion in July 2019, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Byju Raveendran, the co-founder and chief executive of the eponymous startup, informed some existing investors last month that he would be raising a sizeable round this month, a person familiar with the matter said. The new round is in advanced stages of talks, and some new investors are expected to participate, the people said.

The startup declined to comment last month and earlier this week.

The startup plans to use the fresh capital to acquire more startups. It is currently in talks with a U.S.-based firm — the name of which TechCrunch could not determine — for an acquisition, and is conducting due diligence to buy Indian physical coaching institute Aakash, the people said, requesting anonymity as talks are private.

Byju’s, which is profitable, generated revenues of over $100 million in the U.S. last year, Deborah Quazzo, Managing Partner of GSV Ventures, said at a session held by Indian venture fund Blume Ventures earlier this week.

Byju’s prepares students pursuing undergraduate and graduate-level courses, and in recent years it has also expanded its catalog to serve all school-going students. Tutors on Byju’s app tackle complex subjects using real-life objects such as pizza and cake.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#asia, #byjus, #education, #funding, #india, #unacademy

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India antitrust body orders investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy policy changes

WhatsApp’s planned policy changes aren’t sailing smoothly in India, the instant messaging service’s biggest market by users. Indian antitrust body, Competition Commission of India, on Wednesday ordered (PDF) an investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy policy changes, saying that Facebook-owned service breached local antitrust laws in the guise of a policy update.

WhatsApp didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Indian watchdog said it has ordered nation’s Director General (DG) to investigate WhatsApp’s new policy to “ascertain the full extent, scope and impact of data sharing through involuntary consent of users.” The Director General has been ordered to complete the investigation and submit the report within 60 days.

“Given the pronounced network effects it enjoys, and the absence of any credible competitor in the instant messaging market in India, WhatsApp appears to be in a position to compromise quality in terms of protection of individualised data and can deem it unnecessary to even retain the user-friendly alternatives such as ‘opt-out’ choices, without the fear of erosion of its user base,” the order reads.

“As per the 2021 update to the privacy policy, a business may give third-party service provider such as Facebook access to its communications to send, store, read, manage, or otherwise process them for the business. It may be possible that Facebook will condition provision of such services to businesses with a requirement for using the data collected by them. The DG may also investigate these aspects during its investigation.”

The move on Wednesday follows months long legal battle WhatsApp has been fighting in India over its new policy update, which goes into effect in May this year. Last week, the Indian government alleged that WhatsApp’s planned privacy update violates local laws on several counts. In a filing to the Delhi High Court, the federal government also asked the court to prevent the Facebook-owned messaging app from rolling out the update in India.

Earlier this year, India’s IT ministry had written to Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp, to express its “grave concerns” about the update and its implications and had “called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”

Used by over 2 billion users, WhatsApp has been sharing some information with parent firm Facebook since 2016. The company, which hasn’t substantially updated its terms of service since, said last year that it will be making some changes to share a set of personal data of users — such as their phone number and location — with Facebook.

Through an in-app alert earlier this year, WhatsApp asked users to share their consent for the new terms in January, which prompted an immediate backlash from some users. Following the backlash — which saw tens of millions of users explore competing services such as Signal and Telegram — WhatsApp said it will give users three additional months to review its new policy.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #government, #india, #whatsapp

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Y Combinator’s new batch features its largest group of Indian startups

Y Combinator’s latest batch — W21 — features 350 startups from 41 nations. Fifty percent of the firms, the highest percentage to date, in the new batch are based outside of the United States.

India is the second largest demographic represented in the new batch. The world’s second largest internet market has delivered 43 startups in the new batch, another record figure in the history of the storied venture firm. (For comparison, the W20 batch had 25 Indian startups, up from 14 in S20, 12 each in S19 and W19 and one each in W16, S15, and W15.)

“YC going remote has helped make YC more attractive to companies at different stages and far away geographies. For companies in India, founders no longer have to spend three months away from their customers or teams. Covid has also taught us that building a program that is remote and more software based makes YC more accessible to founders around the globe,” the firm said in a statement to TechCrunch.

“When it comes to choosing founders in India, we accept them based on the same criteria we judge companies from anywhere else. Founders must be able to communicate their local context to investors. That is an important skill.”

Here’s a list of startups, in no particular order, from India that have made it to YC W21, with some context — wherever possible — on what they are attempting to build.

QuestBook, from CreatorOS, is an app for professionals to teach in bite-sized courses using chat and a mobile-first experience. We wrote about CreatorOS last year.

Leap Club is attempting to build a Good Eggs for India. Leap Club users can order fresh and organic groceries sourced from local farms through the startup’s website or through WhatsApp. The startup says it delivers the item to customers within 12 hours of harvesting. Leap Club is already garnering over $14,000 in monthly revenue.

CashBook is building a cash account app for small businesses in India. There are over 60 million small businesses in the country, nearly all of which currently rely on traditional ways — pen and paper — for bookkeeping. The startup launched its app just six months ago and has already amassed 200,000 monthly active users. In the month of February, CashBook logged cash transactions of $511 million.

GimBooks is attempting to solve a similar problem as CashBook, though from a different angle. The startup says it offers industry-based invoicing and bookkeeping with integrated banking and payments. Its app has been downloaded over 1.4 million times, amassed over 11,000 paying customers and clocked revenues of over $450,000.

BusinessOnBot is banking on the popularity of WhatsApp in India, where the Facebook-owned app has amassed over 450 million monthly active users. BusinessOnBot says it is building Shopify on WhatsApp for direct-to-consumer brands and small and medium sized businesses, helping them acquire users and automate sales.

ZOKO is helping businesses do sales, marketing, and customer support on WhatsApp.

Prescribe is a Shopify for hospitals. Its platform is aimed at helping doctor’s offices run their business online. Users can book appointments, chat with the doctor, pay and refer friends on WhatsApp.

Chatwoot is an open source customer engagement suite alternative to Intercom and Zendesk. Over 1,000 companies are already using Chatwoot and it’s clocking $32,000 in ARR from six customers.

Weekday is helping companies hire engineers who are crowdsourced by their network of scouts. The startup says it has found a way to solve the biggest problem with referrals — that it doesn’t scale.

Fountain9 helps food brands and retailers reduce food wastage. According to some estimates, over $260 billion worth of food is wasted every year due to mismanaged inventory.

Dyte is attempting to build a Stripe for live video calls. The startup says a firm can integrate its branded, configurable and programmable video calling service within 10 minutes using the Dyte SDK.

YourQuote has built a writing platform, with over 100 million posts. It has over 250,000 daily active users. The startup clocked revenues of $200,000 last year and is profitable.

Fifthtry is building a Github for product documentation. The tool blocks code changes until documentation has been approved. It has piloted its tool with three companies, all of which have over 100 developers. The startup plans to launch its tool publicly next month.

Voosh is building a OYO for restaurants and dark kitchens in India, helping them improve their economics using tech.

Kodo is building a Brex for India, helping Indian startups and small businesses secure corporate credit cards. (Banks and other credit card companies are still not addressing this opportunity. The problem Brex solved in the U.S. is even acute in India, Deepti Sanghi, co-founder and chief executive of Kodo, said in the presentation.

Krab provides instant loans for trucking companies in India. India’s logistics market, despite being valued at $160 billion, remains one of the most inefficient sectors that continues to drag the economy. In recent years, a handful of startups have started to explore ways to work with trucking companies.

Bueno Fiance says it wants to help the next billion users in India get access to financial services. It says it wants to solve for short term cash needs of customers by using digital credit card over UPI. It was to build a Chime for India, and has amassed 70,000 customers.

Betterhalf is building a Match.com for 100 million Indians. It says it is generating $75,000 in monthly revenues, a figure that is growing 30% every month.

Pensil is helping teachers who use YouTube monetize their courses. “YouTube is the largest education platform in India — but it’s not built for teachers,” said Surender Singh, co-founder of Pensil, at the presentation on Tuesday. The startup has built tools to allow teachers to create content, facilitate discussions, and collect payments.

AcadPal operates an eponymous app for India’s 10 million teachers to share homework with a tap. The startup is attempting to target a $1.4 billion market, which consists of over 400,000 private schools.

Pragmatic Leaders is attempting to build a platform to provide cost-effective alternative to an MBA. It is already clocking a monthly revenue of $112,000 and is cash-flow positive.

Splitsub is addressing a problem that tens of millions of users in India face — subscription fatigue. It says it has built a Pinduoduo for online subscriptions in India, allowing group buying and sharing of online subscriptions for services such as Netflix and Spotify.

Zingbus has built a platform for bus travel between Indian cities. (Several startups in India are helping users get cabs, three-wheelers autos, and two-wheelers bikes. Buses have remained largely untapped.)

Tilt is building a docked bike-sharing platform for Indian campuses. The startup, which has generated about $20,000 in revenues this month so far, says it has been profitable for the past 18 months.

FanPlay is a platform for social media influencers, helping them monetize by playing mobile games with their fans and followers.

(Also read: Why Y Combinator Went 8,725 Miles Away From Mountain View To Find The Next Big Startup)

In India only a fraction of the nation’s 1.3 billion people currently have access to insurance and some analysts say that digital firms could prove crucial in bringing these services to the masses. According to rating agency ICRA, insurance products had reached less than 3% of the population as of 2017.

An average Indian makes about $2,100 a year, according to the World Bank. ICRA estimated that of those Indians who had purchased an insurance product, they were spending less than $50 on it in 2017.

Three startups in the current batch are planning to disrupt this market, which is largely commanded by state and bank-backed insurers.

GroMo is an app for independent agents to sell insurance in India. Most insurance policies in India are sold by agents. The startup says it is already generating monthly revenues of over $200,000.

Bimaplan is attempting to replace the agents with an app and reach users by a referral network. The app launched last month and has already sold 700 policies this month.

BimaPe helps users better understand their policies, and make informed decisions about whether those policies are right for them. The startup, leveraging New Delhi’s new regulations, is using a government issued ID card to fetch insurance policies.

Codingal is an online, after school program K-12 students in India to learn computer science. There are roughly 270 million K-12 students in the country.

Unschool provides professional education for college students in India. The founders say, “As former leaders in youth-run organisations with 3,000 members and edtech startups in India, we saw how colleges are not preparing students for the real world.”

Flux Auto builds self-driving kits for trucks.

SigNoz is an open-source alternative to DataDog, a $30 billion company, helping developers find and solve issues in their software deployed on cloud. The startup says recent laws such as GDPR and CPRA have helped drive adoption of SigNoz.

Pibit.ai are APIs to turn unstructured documents into structured data.

Invoid creates identity workflows in India. It’s tapping into a huge market opportunity: About 11 billion know-your-customers authentication is conduced by firms in India each year.

Redcliffe Lifesciences performs genetic testing and IVF treatments across India. Its revenue in March has topped $600,000.

Veera Health is an online clinic that treats Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a lifelong condition that affects 10-20% women in India. The startup says it launched 12 weeks ago, and 85% members have reported feeling “in control” of their PCOS after 1 month.

Snazzy is SmileDirectClub for India. The startup says it sells clear aligners that are 70% cheaper than those sold by dentists.

BeWell Digital is building the operating system for India’s 1.5 million hospitals, labs, clinics and pharmacies by starting with insurance regulatory compliance.

Triomics is operating a SaaS platform for end-to-end automation of clinical trials.

#asia, #funding, #india, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator, #y-combinator-demo-day

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India’s Farm Subsidies Lead to Waste but Support Millions

In a country plagued with malnutrition, government support has led to wasted crop surpluses. But with jobs lacking, many feel they have little choice but to work the land.

#agriculture-and-farming, #crop-controls-and-subsidies, #economic-conditions-and-trends, #grain, #india, #international-trade-and-world-market, #irrigation, #labor-and-jobs, #modi-narendra, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #punjab-pakistan, #rationing-and-allocation-of-resources, #rice

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Indian beauty e-commerce Purplle raises $45 million

Purplle, an e-commerce platform for beauty products in India, said on Monday it has raised $45 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its presence in the world’s second largest internet market.

The new round, a Series D, was financed by Sequoia Capital India and existing investors Verlinvest, Blume Ventures, and JSW Ventures. The new round values the Indian startup — which has raised $95 million to date — at about $300 million, up from $150 million in its 2019 Series C round, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The new round gave partial exit to IvyCap Ventures, which had invested about $2 million in Purplle in 2015. The venture firm said in a statement that Purplle delivered a 22X return and 1.35x of its entire Fund 1.

“We continue to believe in the growth of the company and therefore we have retained our stake for Fund 2,” said Vikram Gupta, Founder and Managing Partner of IvyCap Ventures.

Eight-year-old Purplle.com, which counts Goldman Sachs among its investors, says it sells nearly 50,000 products from over 1,000 brands. The startup said it has amassed 7 million monthly active users.

“Purplle has been on a robust growth trajectory. Even with a Covid year, we have delivered >90% GMV CAGR for the last 3 years. This, while scaling our private brands successfully; Good Vibes is already an INR 150 Cr [$20.7 million] brand. The investment will help to shape Purplle into a multibillion-dollar, digital-first, beauty and personal care enterprise,” said Manish Taneja (pictured above), co-founder and chief executive of Purplle, in a statement late Monday.

The growth of Purplle is indicative of the growing e-commerce space in India, where users are beginning to purchase fashion and beauty products online. MyGlamm, an omnichannel direct-to-consumer Indian brand, last week raised $24.2 million in a round co-led by Amazon.

“We are excited to partner with Purplle as we believe they have cracked the beauty playbook of value retailing with 3 key tenets – a business built on high retention and low customer acquisition cost (CAC), a wide assortment of brands offering quality at best prices, and an attractive private label portfolio mix. We see Purplle emerging as a dominant beauty destination as the online beauty penetration grows from 10% to 25%+ over the next decade,” said Sakshi Chopra, Principal, Sequoia India.

#asia, #blume-ventures, #ecommerce, #funding, #goldman-sachs, #india, #nykaa, #sequoia-capital-india

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