Combat roles will still be restricted, but female soldiers and sailors will have greater access to the academy that leads to choice leadership positions.
Some nations fear an accelerated arms buildup in a region where larger countries have already ramped up their military spending or capabilities.
Some nations fear an accelerated arms buildup in a region where larger countries have already ramped up their military spending or capabilities.
The officer, who had been traveling in India with the agency’s director, was given medical attention after an unexplained incident triggered injuries.
Six-year-old Bangalore-based fintech Razorpay, which was valued at $3 billion in a financing round in April this year, has courted one more high-profile investor: Salesforce Ventures.
Razorpay said on Monday it has received a “strategic investment” from the venture arm of the American enterprise giant. The investment will help the startup “further strengthen its presence in the business banking space,” it said.
The two firms didn’t disclose the size of the investment, but Sequoia Capital India-backed startup said the deal will “make an impactful contribution to the industry and drive adoption and financial growth for underserved small businesses in the next twelve months.”
Razorpay accepts, processes and disburses money online for small businesses and enterprises — essentially everything Stripe does in the U.S. and several other developed markets. But the Indian startup’s offering goes much further than that: in recent years, Razorpay has launched a neobanking platform to issue corporate credit cards, and it also offers businesses working capital.
With the global giant Stripe still nowhere in the Indian picture, Razorpay has grown to become the clear market leader and has started to expand to the Southeast Asian market.
“At Razorpay, we want to make further strides on the idea of investing in India’s digital future and building an intelligent payment and banking infrastructure for the new- world. We are delighted to associate with Salesforce Ventures and Salesforce more broadly in India,” said Harshil Mathur, co-founder and chief executive of the fintech startup.
“I am certain that this investment, along with support from our existing investors will help build an ecosystem for a hassle-free, easy-to-integrate payments and banking experience. We also hope to expand, build new products and deliver this experience to businesses in South East Asian countries too.”
Monday’s deal is Salesforce Ventures’ second investment in the Indian startup ecosystem. The firm led a $15 million Series C financing round in Hyderabad-headquartered Darwinbox earlier this year.
“The journey towards a ‘less-cash’ economy has been accelerated with the pandemic. The rapid growth in digital payments over the last year has opened doors for technology innovation and Razorpay has been emerging as the company of choice for a lot of e-commerce businesses,” said Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairperson and chief executive of Salesforce India, in a statement.
“We are excited to support Razorpay in their journey to revolutionize digital finance not only in India, but globally as well,” added Bhattacharya, who joined the firm last year.
The Indian startup, which became a unicorn a year ago, said it has witnessed a 40-45% month-on-month growth in recent months. The startup is currently in the market to raise a new financing round and is negotiating a considerably larger valuation bump over the current value, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Scores of corporate giants including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have started to chase strategic investments in the world’s second largest internet market. Microsoft inked a strategic deal with Indian budget hotel chain Oyo, they confirmed this month.
India has produced a record 27 unicorns this year so far, up from 11 last year as many high-profile global investors including Tiger Global, Falcon Edge Capital, Temasek, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, and Coatue Management increase the pace of their investments in the South Asian market. And the list continues to grow: A16z is in advanced stages to back Indian crypto startup CoinSwitch Kuber, TechCrunch reported last week.
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. I also tweet.
A few things this morning:
- I shook up the show format a little, including how the script came together and how it was organized. Hit me up on Twitter if you have notes.
- Disrupt is this week, so strap thyself in for the best tech event of the year, coming to your living room. The Equity team is hosting — between the group of us — a zillion panels and one of the two stages. Come hang out with us. It’s going to be on heck of a show.
- On the news front, the global stock market is taking a whacking. US stocks are set to fall after European stocks went lower thanks to concerns that the Chinese property developer Evergrande and its constituent debt issues could spread to other parts of the market, possibly leading to contagion.
- Cryptos are also off sharply in the last 24 hours, so there sems to be little refuge in today’s markets.
- A French hosting company is going public, an Indian used-car marketplace raised a boatload of cash, and Amazon is investigating a bribe.
- And we are expecting IPOs from both Freshworks and Toast this week.
It’s going to be a very busy few days. Pour some extra coffee, and get hype.
Speaking of Amazon — which is reportedly conducting an investigation to find whether its lawyers bribed government officials in India — the company announced today it plans to roll out the voice shopping experience feature in the Hindi language in the South Asian market ahead of the Diwali festival in early November.
The e-commerce giant, which rolled out the voice shopping experience in English last year, said the feature in the Hindi language — which will roll out in “coming weeks” — will enable users to search for products and check their order status using voice commands such as “joote dikhao,” which is Hindi for ‘show me shoes.’
Only 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people speak English. And in recent years, voice search has dramatically surged in India as many new internet users find it difficult to type on virtual keyboards. Scores of tech companies — including Amazon’s rival, Flipkart — have in recent years made push to add support for more regional languages, or introduce support for voice queries — and in some cases, do both.
Amazon’s voice shopping experience will be available to only Android users, the company said.
“Since the launch of voice shopping in 2020, we are humbled to see by the adoption of voice by Amazon.in customers to fulfil their shopping needs has grown by 2X year-on-year. We will continue to focus on bringing new features for our customers on voice to make their shopping experience exciting and fulfilling,” said Kishore Thota, Director of Customer Experience and Marketing at Amazon India, in a statement.
The new rollout is part of a broader localization push from the company. Amazon said today that its website and apps are now also available in Marathi and Bengali. The website already supports five additional regional languages — Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu.
“Our aim with regional language shopping experience is to make ecommerce accessible, relevant and convenient for customers. Every month, tens of millions of customers visit Amazon.in in regional languages and 90% of the customers are from tier 2 and below cities. This festive season we are happy to expand the Amazon.in experience for our customers in Marathi and Bengali,” said Thota.
Indian news outlet The Ken reported last week that Amazon was also working on building a voice-based payments authentication system. The company declined to comment.
Amazon has launched an investigation into the conduct of its legal representatives in India following a complaint from a whistleblower who alleged that one or more of the company’s reps had bribed government officials, Indian news and analysis outlet the Morning Context reported on Monday.
The company is investigating whether legal fees financed by it was used for bribing government officials, the report said, which cited unnamed sources and didn’t identify government officials. Amazon has placed Rahul Sundaram, a senior corporate counsel, on leave, the report added.
In a statement to TechCrunch, an Amazon spokesperson said the company has “zero tolerance” for corruption.
“We take allegations of improper actions seriously, investigate them fully, and take appropriate action. We are not commenting on specific allegations or the status of any investigation at this time,” the spokesperson added.
India is one of the key overseas markets for Amazon. The American e-commerce firm has invested over $6.5 billion in its South Asian nation’s operations and aggressively expanded to multiple categories in recent years.
The new development comes months after Reuters reported that Amazon had secretly favored big sellers, misrepresented its ties with those firms, and used such arrangements to circumvent the South Asian nation’s foreign investment rules.
Amazon is also subject of an ongoing antitrust investigation in India. The company made an unsuccessful attempt to appeal against the investigation.
Often overlooked, the communities in South and Southeast Asia complicate notions of Jewish identity while emphasizing its malleability.
FloBiz, an Indian startup that is building a neobank for small- and medium-sized businesses in the South Asian market, said on Monday it has raised $31 million in a new financing round as it works to broaden its product offerings.
Sequoia Capital India and Think Investments co-led the 18-month-old startup’s Series B financing round. Existing investors Elevation Capital and Beenext also participated in the round, which brings FloBiz‘s all-time raise to over $41 million.
The startup’s marquee offering — called myBillBook — helps small- and medium-sized businesses digitize their invoicing, streamline business accounting, and automate workflows of their enterprises.
India, the world’s second largest internet market, is home to millions of small- and medium-sized businesses. Scores of startups have launched neobanks in the country in recent years to focus on serve millennials or businesses.
“SME-focussed neobanks are building engagement with business- clients through their ability to provide solutions like automated invoicing, collections/payments, accounting, inventory and sales management, taxes and in some cases interest on current deposits as well (banks can’t pay interest). This may help to ramp- up and upfront their monetisation prospects,” analysts at Jefferies wrote in a report to clients last week.
myBillBook, which supports Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil as well as English, will add support for “at least” five more regional languages within the next six months, the startup said, adding that the app has been downloaded over 5 million times.
“The product will also see deeper use of technologies like AI & image processing to make the onboarding process for the less tech-savvy SMB owners in tier 2 and tier 3 cities of India a delightful first step to digital accounting,” the startup said.
Scores of high-profile entrepreneurs — including Vijay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm, Kunal Shah of CRED, Jiten Gupta of Jupiter, Amrish Rau of Pine Labs, Krishnan Menon of BukuKas, and Nitin Gupta of Uni Cards — have also backed FloBiz in the new financing round.
“Small businesses are the real heroes of our economy. In order to power the SMB economy with technology, one needs deep understanding, instinct and empathy for this audience,” said Tejeshwi Sharma, Managing Director of Sequoia Capital India, in a statement.
“We are really impressed by the user centricity, product focus and experimentative approach of the FloBiz founders. There is almost a perfect founder market fit. The team is stoked to partner with FloBiz on their mission of building a neobank for the growing SMBs of India.”
Rahul Raj, co-founder and chief executive of FloBiz, said the startup will deploy the fresh capital to “accelerate projects which have been in the works up till now – building personalisable modules & features into myBillBook, diversifying core product offerings and preparing to roll out financial services. We have a slew of developments in the pipeline to further delight our SMB partners in the next 12 months.”
Google has abused the dominant position of Android in India to illegally hurt competitors in the world’s second largest internet market, a two-year antitrust probe by the nation’s watchdog has found.
The Android-maker reduced device manufacturing firms’ ability and incentive to develop — and sell — devices running alternative versions of Android (more popularly known as forks), the probe found, according to two people have have been briefed on the findings.
Additionally, the report found Google’s requirement to make it mandatory for device manufacturers to pre-install its apps to be in violation of India’s competition law.
More than five dozen firms including Amazon and Apple responded to queries from the Indian watchdog — the Competition Commission of India — during the course of the investigation, the report said.
The Indian watchdog also found issues with the way Google has enforced policies on Play Store, saying those are “one-sided, ambiguous, vague, biased and arbitrary.”
Google said it looks forward to engage with the CCI to demonstrate how “Android has led to more competition and innovation, not less.”
The report’s findings — which are yet to be formally published by the CCI — is the latest setback for Google in India, where it has faced strong criticism from local entrepreneurs in recent quarters and several other antitrust probes.
The Alliance of Digital India Foundation, a group of 350 startups, founders and investors, lauded the CCI report’s findings and said the watchdog’s step “is in line with the Indian digital ecosystem’s needs.”
Byju’s said on Thursday it has acquired California-headquartered Tynker, a leading coding platform for K-12 students, the latest in a series of major purchases as the Indian edtech giant attempts to aggressively expand to international markets.
The companies didn’t disclose the terms of the deal, but a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that the Indian firm is spending about $200 million on the acquisition.
Tynker operates an eponymous coding platform. It has established itself as a leader in the space, having amassed over 60 million kids on its platform, Tynker founders told TechCrunch in an interview.
The eight-year-old startup, which gamifies the learning experience to make it more exciting for kids to participate, also maintains partnerships — and has presence in — over 100,000 schools across 150 nations, said Srinivas Mandyam.
Mandyam, as well as Tynker’s other co-founders — Krishna Vedati and Kelvin Chong — will continue with the firm after the acquisition, they said. Vedati said in an interview that the startups began exploring ways to collaborate earlier this year.
Byju Raveendran, founder and chief executive of Byju’s, told TechCrunch in an interview that Tynker’s asynchronous offering fits perfectly in Byju’s current portfolio. India’s most valuable startup acquired WhiteHat Jr, a coding platform that offers synchronous classes, last year in a $300 million deal. “Tynker’s offering is complimentary to WhiteHat Jr’s,” he said.
Tynker is the latest firm to be acquired by Byju’s, which has amassed over 100 million registered users — about 6.5 million of whom are paid customers — across the globe. The Bangalore-headquartered startup has this year along acquired Scholr, Aakash Institute, Hashlearn, Epic, and Great Learning for over $2 billion in cash and equity deals. Just last week it revealed that it had also purchased Times Internet-backed Gradeup for an undisclosed amount.
Raveendran said that Byju’s is continuing to explore more merger and acquisition opportunities. These acquisitions are helping Byju’s aggressively broaden its offerings and tap international markets in more meaningful ways, he said.
On the other side of the business, the Indian edtech giant is also beginning to explore an initial public offering. The startup has began conversations with bankers, some of whom have given the firm a proposed valuation of up to $50 billion, TechCrunch reported first last month.
Raveendran confirmed that “IPO is on the cards,” but said it’s too early to comment on a precise timeline.
This is a developing story. More to follow…
Pine Labs said on Thursday it has raised an additional $100 million, just weeks after securing $600 million in a financing round, as the Asian merchant commerce platform begins to explore the public markets.
The U.S.-based investment management company Invesco Developing Markets Fund made the $100 million investment, the startup said in a statement. Pine Labs, which started its journey in India, was valued at $3 billion in its July financing round.
Pine Labs, which counts Sequoia Capital India, Temasek, PayPal and Mastercard among its early backers, offers hundreds of thousands of merchants payments terminals, invoicing tools and working capital.
Its payments terminal — also known as point-of-sale machines — are connected to the cloud, and offer a range of additional services such as working capital — to the merchants. Pine Labs’s payments terminal has integration with over two dozen banks and financial and technology partners.
This differentiates Pine Labs from the competition, whose terminals typically have integration with just one bank. Each time a rival firm strikes a new partnership with a bank, they need to deploy new machines into the market. This makes the whole deployment expensive for both the fintech and the bank. (This is why you also often see a restaurant has multiple terminals at the check out.) The startup says it processes tens of billions of payment transactions.
“Over the last 18 months we have scaled our Prepaid Issuing stack, Online Payments, and also the Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) offering. We continue to make progress in the larger Asian markets with our BNPL platform. Very excited to have a marquee investor like Invesco join us in the journey,” said B. Amrish Rau (pictured above), chief executive of Pine Labs, in a statement.
The startup is looking to file for an initial public offering within two years, Rau said in July. Indian newspaper Economic Times reported on Thursday that the company had hired Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to advise the firm on the IPO.
“The Invesco Developing Markets Fund is pleased to invest in Pine Labs, a leading fintech services company in India that fits our strategy of seeking high quality companies that have durable long-term growth potential,” said Justin Leverenz, CIO of Developing Markets Equities at Invesco, in a statement.
Gogoro is going public. The company, which is best known for its electric Smartscooters and swappable battery infrastructure, announced today it will list on Nasdaq through a merger with Poema Global, a SPAC affiliated with Princeville Capital. The deal sets Gogoro’s enterprise valuation at $2.35 billion and is targeted to close in the first quarter of 2022. The combined company will be known as Gogoro Inc and trade under the symbol GGR.
Assuming no redemptions, Gogoro anticipates making $550 million in proceeds, including an oversubscribed PIPE (private investment in public equity) of over $250 million and $345 million held in trust by Poema Global. Investors in the PIPE include strategic partners like Hon Hai (Foxconn) Technology Group and GoTo, the Indonesian tech giant created through the merger of Gojek and Tokopedia, and new and existing investors like Generation Investment Management, Taiwan’s National Development Fund, Temasek and Dr. Samuel Yin of Ruentex Group, Gogoro’s founding investor.
The capital will be used on Gogoro’s expansion in China, India and Southeast Asia and further development of its tech ecosystem.
Founded ten years ago in Taiwan, Gogoro’s technology includes smart swappable batteries and their charging infrastructure and cloud software that monitors the condition and performance of vehicles and batteries. Apart from its own brands, including Smartscooters and Eeyo electric bikes, Gogoro also makes its platform available through its Powered by Gogoro Network (PBGN) program, which enables partners to create vehicles that use Gogoro’s batteries and swapping stations.
Gogoro’s SPAC deal comes a few months after it announced major partnerships in China and India. In China, it is working with Yadea and DCJ to build a battery-swapping network, and in India, Hero MotoCorp, one of the world’s largest two-wheel vehicle makers, will launch scooters based on Gogoro’s tech. It also has deals with manufacturers like Yamaha, Suzuki, AeonMotor, PGO and CMC eMOVING.
With these partnerships in place, “we really now need to take our company to the next level,” founder and chief executive officer Horace Luke told TechCrunch. Gogoro decided to go the SPAC route because “you can talk a lot deeper about what the business opportunity is, what the structure is, what the partnerships are, so you can properly value a company rather than a quick roadshow. Given our business plans, it gives us a great opportunity to focus on the expansion,” he said.
One of the reasons Gogoro decided to work with Poema is because “their thesis is quite aligned with ours,” said Bruce Aitken, Gogoro’s chief financial officer. “They have, for example, a sustainability fund, so our passion for green and sustainability merges well with that.”
Gogoro says that in less than five years, it has accumulated more than $1 billion in revenue and more than 400,000 subscribers for its battery swapping infrastructure. The company will launch its China pilot program in Hangzhou in the fourth-quarter of this year, followed by about six more cities next year. In India, Hero MotoCorp is currently developing its first Gogoro-powered vehicle and will begin deploying its battery-swapping infrastructure in New Delhi in 2022.
“We see the demand in China as a lot bigger than we first anticipated, so that’s all good news for us, and that’s one of the fundamental reasons why we need to go public because we need to raise the capital and resources needed for us to actually contribute in a big way to these markets,” said Luke.
When asked if Gogoro is planning to strike a similar partnership with GoTo to expand into Southeast Asia, Luke said the “important thing is to recognize that Southeast Asia is the third-largest market outside of China and India for two-wheelers. Gogoro has always had the vision to go after these big markets. GoTo, being a great success in Indonesia, their investment in Gogoro will start conversations, but there isn’t anything to announce at this point other than that they’re joining the PIPE.”
In a press statement, Poema Global CEO Homer Sun said, “We believe the technology differentiation Gogoro has developed in combination with the world-class partnerships it has forged will drive significant growth opportunities in the two largest two-wheeler markets in the world. We are committed with working alongside Gogoro’s outstanding management team to support its geographic expansion plans and its transition to a Nasdaq-listed company.”
A16z is inching closer to making its first investment in a startup in India, the world’s second largest internet market that has produced over two dozen unicorns this year.
The Menlo Park-headquartered firm is in final stages of conversations to invest in Indian crypto trading startup CoinSwitch Kuber, three sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The proposed deal values the Bangalore-based firm at $1.9 billion, two sources said. Coinbase is also investing in the new round, one of the sources said.
CoinSwitch Kuber was valued at over $500 million in a round in April this year when it raised $25 million from Tiger Global. If the deal with A16z materializes, it will be CoinSwitch Kuber’s third financing round this year.
TechCrunch reported last week that CoinSwitch Kuber was in talks to raise its Series C funding at up to $2 billion valuation. The report, which didn’t identify a lead investor, noted that the Indian startup had engaged with Andreessen Horowitz and Coinbase in recent weeks.
Usual caveats apply: terms of the proposed deal may change or the talks may not result in a deal. The author reported some details about the deal on Wednesday.
The startup declined to comment. Coinbase and A16z as well as existing investors Tiger Global and Sequoia Capital India did not respond to requests for comment.
The investment talks come at a time when CoinSwitch Kuber has more than doubled its user base in recent months — even as local authorities push back against crypto assets. Its eponymous app had over 10 million users in India last month, up from about 4 million in April this year, the startup said in a newspaper advertisement over the weekend.
A handful of crypto startups in India have demonstrated fast-pace growth in recent years — while impressively keeping their CAC very low — as millions of millennials in the South Asian nation kickstart their investment journeys. Several funds including those with big presence in India such as Accel, Lightspeed, WEH and Kalaari recently began working on their thesis to back crypto startups, TechCrunch reported earlier.
B Capital backed CoinDCX, a rival of CoinSwitch Kuber that has amassed 3.5 million users, last month in a $90 million round that valued CoinDCX at about $1.1 billion.
Policymakers in India have been debating on the status of digital currencies in the South Asian market for several years. India’s central bank, Reserve Bank of India, has expressed concerns about private virtual currencies though it is planning to run trial programs of its first digital currency as soon as December.
About 27 Indian startups have become a unicorn this year, up from 11 last year, as several high-profile investors — and global peers of Andreessen Horowitz — such as Tiger Global and Coatue have increased the pace of their investments in the South Asian market. Apna announced earlier on Thursday that it had raised $100 million in a round led by Tiger Global at $1.1 billion valuation, becoming the youngest Indian firm to attain the unicorn status.
Groww, an investment app for millennials, is in talks to raise a new financing round that would value it at $3 billion, TechCrunch reported on Wednesday. The startup has engaged with Coatue in recent days, the report said.
A 22-month old startup that is helping millions of blue- and gray-collar workers in India learn new skills and find jobs has become the youngest firm to join the coveted unicorn status in the world’s second largest internet market.
Apna announced on Thursday that it has raised $100 million in a round led by Tiger Global. The new round — a Series C — valued Apna at a valuation of $1.1 billion. TechCrunch reported last month that Tiger Global, an existing investor in Apna, was in talks to lead a $100 million financing round in the startup at the unicorn valuation.
Owl Ventures, Insight Partners, Sequoia Capital India, Maverick Ventures and GSV Ventures also participated in the new round, which is the third investment secured by Apna this year. Apna was valued at $570 million in its Series B round in June this year.
The investors’ excitement comes as Apna has demonstrated an impressive growth in recent months. The startup has amassed over 16 million users on its eponymous Android app, up from 10 million in June this year.
Indian cities are home to hundreds of millions of low-skilled workers who hail from villages in search of work. Many of them have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic that has slowed several economic activities in the South Asian market.
Apna has built a platform that provides a community to these workers. In the community, they engage with each other, exchange notes to perform better at interviews, and share tips to negotiate better compensation.
On top of this, Apna connects these workers to potential employers. In an interview with TechCrunch, Apna founder and chief executive Nirmit Parikh said more than 150,000 employers — including Zomato, Bharti AXA, Urban Company, BYJU’S, PhonePe, Burger King, Delhivery, Teamlease and G4S Global — are on the platform and over 5 million jobs are active.
The startup, whose name is inspired from a cheerful 2019 Bollywood song, has facilitated over 18 million job interviews in the past 30 days, he said. Apna is currently operational in 28 Indian cities.
The idea for Apna came, Parikh has said, after he was puzzled to find that even as there are hundreds of millions of blue- and gray-collar workers in India, locating them when you need assistance with a task often proves very difficult.
Prior to starting Apna, Parikh, who previously worked at Apple, met these workers and went undercover as electrician and floor manager to understand the problems they were facing. The problem, he found, was the disconnect. Workers had no means to find who needed them for jobs, and they were also not connected with one another. The community aspect of Apna, which now has over 70 such groups, is aimed at addressing this challenge.
The Apna app allows these workers to learn new skills to become eligible for more work opportunities. Apna has emerged as one of the fastest growing upskilling platforms — and that would explain why GSV Ventures and Owl Ventures, two high-profile firms known to back edtech startups, are investing in the Bangalore-based firm.
“Apna’s viral adoption is driven by a novel social and interactive approach to connecting employers with job seekers. We expect job seekers in search of meaningful connections and vetted opportunities to drive Apna’s continued explosive growth across India — and the world,” said Griffin Schroeder, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.
Now the startup, which has started to monetize the platform, is ready to aggressively expand. Parikh said Apna will continue to expand to more cities in India and by early next year, Apna will begin its global expansion. Parikh said the startup is eyeing expansion in the USA, South East Asia, and Middle East and Africa.
“We have already created a dent. Now we want to impact the lives of 2.3 billion,” he said. “We will require crazy amounts of resources to world class team to deliver. It’s a herculean task, and is going to take a village. But somebody has to solve it.”
Truecaller, which operates an eponymous caller-identification service, said on Wednesday it is looking to raise $116 million in an initial public offering on Nasdaq Stockholm.
The 12-year-old Stockholm-headquartered firm, which counts India as its biggest market by users, is aiming for a valuation of about $3 billion in the IPO, according to earlier local media reports. The company said it plans to do its listing by fourth quarter of this year.
The firm, which has amassed 278 million monthly active users, has been working on its initial public offering for at least two years, according to past interviews Truecaller co-founder and chief executive Alan Mamedi has given to TechCrunch.
The firm counts Sequoia Capital and Atomica among its earlier investors. It has raised over $95 million over the years, according to Crunchbase. Six years ago, the firm engaged with some investors to raise an additional $100 million at a valuation of $1 billion, TechCrunch reported, but the deal never materialized.
“One of our objectives this year has been to prepare Truecaller for an IPO. Thanks to the strong feedback that we’ve received from potential investors, it feels very exciting to take the next step in this process. A listing of Truecaller is not only a milestone for Nami [the other co-founder], myself and all of our employees who have contributed to building Truecaller to the fantastic platform that it is today, but also to the growing Swedish tech ecosystem,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
“Even though we are twelve years into our incredible journey, we believe that this is just the beginning and we have a clear strategy to continue to grow and develop our services and products. I look forward to welcoming existing and new shareholders on this journey.”
Truecaller’s service allows users to avoid spam calls by identifying the callers, and also filters similar texts. The service is popular in many parts of the world, but India, where everyone receives dozens of such calls each month, is Truecaller’s biggest market by users.
Even as Apple and Google have improved the caller ID feature in their mobile operating systems in recent years, and taken several other steps to curb spam calls, Truecaller’s offerings remain unmatched.
The firm — which reported an operating revenue of $57 million in 2020, up from $22 million in 2018 — has expanded to additional categories such as financial services in recent years in India.
“Truecaller has made communication smarter, safer and more efficient across the world. As smartphone usage increases globally, fraud and unwanted communication has followed, and Truecaller has turned into an indispensable platform for consumers and businesses. With a clear focus on innovation and growth, Truecaller is on an exciting journey to reach even more users with even better products,” said Shailesh Lakhani, Managing Director at Sequoia Capital India, in a statement.
Groww, an Indian startup that is helping millennials invest in mutual funds and stocks, is in advanced stages of talks to raise a new financing round at a $3 billion valuation, according to six people familiar with the matter.
The Bangalore-based startup is negotiating to close a $250 million round, the people said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. The round could close within weeks, they said.
Usual caveats apply: The terms of the deal may change. The startup has received several termsheets — with similar terms — in recent days. Tiger Global, Coatue, and TCV have held conversations to lead or co-lead the round, people said. And many including Insight Partners have also explored investment, the people said.
A spokesperson for Coatue declined to comment. Groww chief executive did not respond to a request for comment. Indian news outlet CapTable first reported about Groww’s upcoming financing round.
Groww is tapping into a huge market. More than 200 million people in India transact money digitally, but fewer than 30 million invest in mutual funds and stocks. The startup 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.
Investors’ growing push to back — or double down on — Groww follows several months of strong growth. The Indian startup is currently on track to clock about $35 million in ARR, two people briefed on the figure said. Groww, which counts Tiger Global and Sequoia Capital India among its existing investors, was valued at $1 billion in April this year and $250 million last September.
The startup is also internally exploring expansion into the crypto space, but hasn’t made a firm decision on when it plans to offer such trading, one person said.
The country’s top science agency tailored its findings to fit Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s optimistic narrative despite a looming crisis, researchers say.
India and Singapore are working to link their digital payments systems to enable “instant, low-cost fund transfers,” in a major push to disrupt cross-border transactions, the central banks of the two nations said on Tuesday.
The project to link India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and Singapore’s PayNow is targeted for operationalization by July 2022, Reserve Bank of India said. Users on either of the systems will be able to make transactions to one another without having to sign up to the second platform, the banks said.
“When implemented, fund transfers can be made from India to Singapore using mobile phone numbers, and from Singapore to India using UPI virtual payment addresses (VPA). The experience of making a PayNow transfer to a UPI VPA will be similar to that of a domestic transfer to a PayNow VPA,” said Monetary Authority of Singapore in a press statement.
UPI, a payments infrastructure developed by a coalition of retail banks, has become the most popular digital payments method in India. The railroads, adopted by scores of local and global firms including Google and Facebook, is now processing over 3 billion transactions each month. Like UPI, Singapore’s PayNow also brings interoperability between banks and payments apps, allowing user from one payment app to make transaction to those on other apps.
“The UPI-PayNow linkage is a significant milestone in the development of infrastructure for cross-border payments between India and Singapore, and closely aligns with the G20’s financial inclusion priorities of driving faster, cheaper and more transparent cross-border payments,” India’s central bank said in a statement.
“The linkage builds upon the earlier efforts of NPCI International Private Limited (NIPL) and Network for Electronic Transfers (NETS) to foster cross-border interoperability of payments using cards and QR codes, between India and Singapore and will further anchor trade, travel and remittance flows between the two countries. This initiative is also in line with RBI’s vision of reviewing corridors and charges for inbound cross-border remittances outlined in the Payment Systems Vision Document 2019-21.”
This is a developing story. More to follow…
Southeast Asia’s funding boom is set to continue, with Jungle Ventures announcing today the $225 million first close of its fourth fund. Fund IV started raising in mid-May and is targeting a total of $350 million.
The majority of its limited partners are returning from previous funds, and include Temasek Holdings, IFC (which put $25 million in Fund IV), DEG and Asian and global family offices. The firm says this makes Fund IV the largest fund across all early-stage funds in Southeast Asia this year.
Fund IV fits in with Jungle Ventures’ pace of raising a new fund every 2.5 to 3 years, founding partner Amit Anand told TechCrunch. It also happens to come at a time when the region is getting more attention—and capital.
“If you look at Southeast Asia, where we are today, the ecosystem has been in the works for a long time. We started the journey back in 2012. We’re one of the oldest funds in the region and we haven’t seen as good a time as today to be in the tech ecosystem in Southeast Asia,” he said.
“Opportunity and talent were always obvious in the region, and I think capital has followed. But the recent exit announcements, whether acquisitions or the domestic and global IPOs, in many ways has completed the picture of Southeast Asia and made it a lot more attractive to everyone,” Anand added.
Jungle Ventures takes a concentrated approach and tends to invest in about 12 to 13 companies per fund. It’s relatively stage-agnostic, writing seed to Series B checks and builds long-term partnerships with many of its investments. The firm has invested in every round of several companies, including buy now, pay later startup Kredivo.
This approach has worked out well, said Anand. Companies from its 2016 Fund II include unicorns FinAccel and Moglist, and it is paying about 7x on the fund today. “A similar pattern is emerging out of the 2019 vintage,” he added, which includes investments like beauty e-commerce platform Sociolla and KiotVet, the largest point-of-sale and store management system for small retailers in Vietnam.
Fund IV will write checks ranging from about $1 million, to $15 million for Series B funds, and participate in follow-on rounds, too.
“We typically invest in a company when it has a little bit of a product-market fit in its home market, and then we can help regionalize the business,” Anand said. “This could be at seed, it could be A, it could be at B, it doesn’t matter to us.”
Jungle Ventures’ limited partners also do a significant amount of co-investments; in the last three to four years, LPs have invested close to $400 million in its portfolio startups.
In terms of sectors, Anand is particularly excited about social commerce. “I think social commerce is going to eclipse e-commerce by a huge margin in a market like Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is not just a story about the metro cities, it’s a story about multiple Tier 2, Tier 3 cities across different islands, different geographies. It’s also a geography where the social fabric is deeply engrained within communities.”
Jungle Ventures’ social commerce investments include Evermos, which sells halal and Sharia-compliant goods through agents to their communities.
The firm focuses primarily on Southeast Asia, but it also makes investments in India.
“The cross pollination of talent and ideas, learning and capital between Southeast Asia and India is very strong,” Anand said. “Southeast Asia, even though the ecosystem is growing a lot, the tech talent here in the region is still emerging, whereas India is a great source of tech talent, and we’ve enabled a lot of our portfolio companies to leverage that by opening up tech hubs in India.”
He added that “the focus for Indian investments is to help them expand to Southeast Asia as well and capture this opportunity, too.” One example from Jungle Ventures’ portfolio is interior design platform Livspace, which was founded in India, expanded in Singapore and will enter other Southeast Asia markets.
Both as a term and as a financial product, “buy now, pay later” has become mainstream in the past few years. BNPL has evolved to assume various forms today, from small-ticket offerings by fintechs on consumer checkout platforms and marketplaces, to closed-loop products offered on marketplaces such as Amazon Pay Later (which they are now extending for outside use as well). You can also see some variants offered by companies that want to expand the scope of consumption and consumer credit.
Globally, BNPL has seen the most growth in the consumer segment and has driven retail consumption and lending over the past few years. Consumer BNPL offerings are a good alternative to credit cards, especially for people who do not have a credit history and can’t get credit from banks. That said, a specific vertical of BNPL products is gaining traction — one targeted toward small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This new vertical is known as “SME BNPL.”
BNPL can be particularly useful when flow-based underwriting or transaction-based underwriting is used to offer credit to small businesses.
B2B commerce in India is moving online
E-commerce has seen tremendous growth in India over the past decade. Skyrocketing smartphone and internet penetration led to rapid growth in e-commerce across large cities and smaller towns alike. Consumer credit has also taken off in parallel as credit cards and digital lending spurred credit-based consumption across offline and online stores.
However, the large B2B supply chain enabling the burgeoning retail market was plagued by bottlenecks and inefficiencies because it involved a plethora of intermediaries and streamlining became a big problem. A number of tech players responded by organizing the previously disorganized B2B commerce market at various touch points, inserting convenience, pricing and easier product access through tech-enabled logistics and a modern supply chain.
India’s B2B e-commerce space has developed rapidly since 2020. Small businesses have moved from using paper to smartphone apps for running a significant part of their day-to-day business, leading to widespread disruption in how businesses transact today. The COVID-19 pandemic also forced small businesses, which were earlier using physical means to procure goods and services, to try new and online models to conduct their affairs.
Moreover, the Indian government’s widespread promotion of an instant payments system in the form of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has changed how people send money to each other or pay merchants for their goods and services. The next step for solving the digital B2B puzzle is to embed credit inside every transaction and invoice.
If we compare online B2B transactions to the offline world, there is only one missing link: The terms offered to small businesses by their supplier/distributor or vendor. Businesses, unlike consumers, must buy goods and services to eventually trade them, or add value and sell to consumers or others down the value chain. This process is not immediate and has a certain time cycle attached.
The longer sales cycle means many small businesses require credit payment terms when buying inventory. As B2B commerce scales and grows through digital means, a BNPL product that caters to the needs of SMEs can support their growth and alleviate the burden on their cash flows.
How does consumer BNPL differ from SME BNPL?
An SME BNPL product is a purchase financing product for small businesses transacting with suppliers, distributors, aggregator platforms or B2B marketplaces.
A former adviser to the Indian government once proposed immunity for people who give “harassment” bribes.
Media technology company Amagi announced Friday $100 million to further develop its cloud-based SaaS technology for broadcast and connected televisions.
Accel, Avataar Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners joined existing investor Premji Invest in the funding round, which included buying out stakes held by Emerald Media and Mayfield Fund. Nadathur Holdings continues as an existing investor. The latest round gives Amagi total funding raised to date of $150 million, Baskar Subramanian, co-founder and CEO of Amagi, told TechCrunch.
New Delhi-based Amagi provides cloud broadcast and targeted advertising software so that customers can create content that can be created and monetized to be distributed via broadcast TV and streaming TV platforms like The Roku Channel, Samsung TV Plus and Pluto TV. The company already supports more than 2,000 channels on its platform across over 40 countries.
“Video is a complex technology to manage — there are large files and a lot of computing,” Subramanian said. “What Amagi does is enable a content owner with zero technology knowledge to simplify that complex workflow and scalable infrastructure. We want to make it easy to plug in and start targeting and monetizing advertising.”
As a result, Amagi customers see operational cost savings on average of up to 40% compared to traditional delivery models and their ad impressions grow between five and 10 times.
The new funding comes at a time when the company is experiencing rapid growth. For example, Amagi grew 30 times in the United States alone over the past few years, Subramanian said. Amagi commands an audience of over 2 billion people, and the U.S. is its largest market. The company also sees growth potential in both Latin America and Europe.
In addition, in the last year, revenue grew 136%, while new customer year over year growth was 44%, including NBCUniversal — Subramanian said the Tokyo Olympics were run on Amagi’s platform for NBC, USA Today and ABS-CBN.
As more of a shift happens with video content being developed for connected television experiences, which he said is a $50 billion market, the company plans to use the new funding for sales expansion, R&D to invest in the company’s product pipeline and potential M&A opportunities. The company has not made any acquisitions yet, Subramanian added.
In addition to the broadcast operations in New Delhi, Amagi also has an innovation center in Bangalore and offices in New York, Los Angeles and London.
“Consumer behavior and infrastructure needs have reached a critical mass and new companies are bringing in the next generation of media, and we are a large part of that growth,” Subramanian said. “Sports will come on quicker, while live news and events are going to be one of the biggest growth areas.”
Shekhar Kirani, partner at Accel, said Amagi is taking a unique approach to enterprise SaaS due to that $50 billion industry shift happening in video content, where he sees half of the spend moving to connected television platforms quickly.
Some of the legacy players like Viacom and NBCUniversal created their own streaming platforms, where Netflix and Amazon have also been leading, but not many SaaS companies are enabling the transition, he said.
When Kirani met Subramanian five years ago, Amagi was already well funded, but Kirani was excited about the platform and wanted to help the company scale. He believes the company has a long tailwind because it is saving people time and enabling new content providers to move faster to get their content distributed.
“Amagi is creating a new category and will grow fast,” Kirani added. “They are already growing and doubling each year with phenomenal SaaS metrics because they are helping content providers to connect to any audience.
Microsoft has entered a “multi-year strategic alliance” with Oyo to work with the Indian startup to co-develop “next-generation” travel and hospitality products and tech.
Thursday’s announcement confirms a late July TechCrunch report. TechCrunch had reported that Microsoft was in talks to invest in Oyo and was exploring ways to provide its technologies to the Indian startup, which is one of the most valuable in the South Asian market.
In a press statement, Microsoft confirmed that it has also made a strategic equity investment in Oyo, but didn’t disclose the amount. A regulatory filing showed last month that the Windows-maker had invested $5 million in the Indian startup. The investment valued Oyo at $9.6 billion.
Oyo will switch to Microsoft Azure for its cloud-based needs and co-develop solutions with the American giant to “benefit patrons who operate small and medium hotel and home storefronts,” the firms said. “As part of this alliance, OYO will develop Smart Room experiences for travelers on the OYO platform, such as premium and customized in-room experiences for its guests. Using Microsoft’s Azure IoT, the experience will include self-check-in supported by a digital register of arrivals and departures and self-Know Your Customer (KYC) along with IoT-managed smart locks and virtual assistance,” the firms said.
“Combining the power of Azure with the tech and product stack developed by OYO, we are looking forward to accelerating innovation in travel and hospitality,” said Anant Maheshwari, President of Microsoft India, in a statement. “It is inspiring to see how the Microsoft cloud is empowering digital natives like OYO to accelerate industry transformation and innovations, turning the challenges of a post-pandemic era into opportunities for the future.”
Oyo has emerged as one of the largest hotel chains in the world, with presence in India, Southeast Asia, Europe and the U.S. But some of its missteps in its pursuit of aggressive expansion — “toxic culture,” lapse in governance and relationship with many hotel owners — have scarred its growth.
Just as the startup was pledging to improve its relationship with hotel owners, the pandemic arrived. In response, Oyo slowed its growth and laid off thousands of employees globally earlier this year as nations across the world enforced lockdowns.
The pandemic hit the seven-year-old startup like a “cyclone,” CEO Ritesh Agarwal told Bloomberg TV in July. “We built something for so many years and it took just 30 days for it drop by over 60%,” he said, adding that the firm had not made any decision on exploring the public markets.
Airbnb-backed Oyo had between $780 million to $800 million in its bank, Agarwal said at a virtual conference recently, and had pared its “monthly burn” across all businesses to $4 million to $5 million. (The startup had about $1 billion in the bank in December 2020.)
In July — after Agarwal’s remarks at the aforementioned conference — Oyo said it had raised $660 million in debt. That debt was used to pay off the previous debt, according to a person familiar with the matter.
As for Microsoft, Oyo is the latest of several strategic investments it has made in the country. The firm has backed a handful of startups in the South Asian market, including news aggregator and short-video platform DailyHunt, e-commerce giant Flipkart, and logistics SaaS firm FarEye.
Hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults get on flights each year from India to a foreign land to pursue higher education. Upon landing, they face myriad challenges. One big one: They don’t have a local credit history, so they can’t avail a range of financial services, including a loan or a credit card — at least not without paying a premium for it.
For banks and other financial institutions, there is an increased risk when they engage with foreigners, so they charge more. An Indian student studying in the U.S., for instance, borrows money at an interest rate of over 13%, nearly twice of what their local peers are charged.
Leap Finance, a two-and-a-half-year old startup with headquarters in San Francisco and Bangalore, is attempting to solve this problem — and many others. The startup, which sits at the intersection of fintech and edtech, grants loans to students at a fair interest rate by evaluating the data they generated — alternative and derived — in India itself.
But in recent years, Leap Finance has aggressively expanded its offerings to provide what it calls a broader infrastructure to enable students to pursue international higher education.
The startup is helping students with guidance on admission, visas, and test preparation. Leap has developed a community of over 1 million students where they advise each other and explore options. Leap Finance said it has helped over 60,000 students in their study abroad journey over the last 18 months — and just had its strongest fall season.
And as is common in the startup ecosystem, such growth is usually followed by strong interest from investors. Which brings us to the development the startup shared on Wednesday.
Leap Finance has announced it has raised $55 million in a new financing round led by Owl Ventures. The Series C round also saw participation from Harvard Management Company, more popularly known for being a high-profile LP to venture funds. Existing investors Sequoia Capital India and Jungle Ventures also participated in the round, which follows a Series B funding in March this year, and brings Leap Finance’s all-time raise to over $75 million.
Since we last spoke about Leap Finance, the startup has demonstrated strong growth on various fronts, said Arnav Kumar, co-founder of Leap Finance, in an interview with TechCrunch. Its community has grown, the test preparation app is increasingly becoming popular, and its core financial services has also surged, he said.
On top of this, the startup has expanded its offerings to help students with preparing for — and landing — internships when they do join a college abroad, solving another aspect in which they struggle.
Now with the new funding, the startup is planning to expand to serve international markets including Middle East and Southeast Asia and help the students pursue higher education in 20 nations, said Kumar, who previously worked as an associate vice president at venture fund Elevation Capital.
“Leap is on the trajectory to become the preeminent study abroad platform for students. The overseas education market is fragmented where there is no single one-stop solution,” said Amit Patel, Managing Director of Owl Ventures, in a statement.
“It can be very confusing for students to know where to begin preparation, what colleges they should target, and how they are going to afford to pay for their education. Leap is creating a comprehensive platform that addresses all of these preparation and financing needs for students. Owl Ventures is excited to deepen our partnership with Vaibhav, Arnav, and the Leap team to make studying abroad a reality for as many students as possible.”
This is a developing story. More to follow…
Even as there are hundreds of millions of Indians who have bank accounts, only about 30 million of them have credit cards. The adoption rate of the plastic card has largely remained stagnant in the South Asian nation for the last few years.
The relatively young credit-rating system in India covers only a tiny fraction of the nation’s population. And banks neither have sophisticated underwriting systems nor the risk appetite to make any attempts to move the needle.
Slice, a Bangalore-based startup, believes it has found the solution. The startup, which has years of experience in issuing its cards to young professionals with no traditional jobs, said on Wednesday it’s launching a card with 2,000 Indian rupees ($27) as the default limit to tap the nation’s potential addressable market of 200 million individuals.
Rajan Bajaj, founder and chief executive of Slice, said the startup’s new credit limit card — considerably lower than industry’s lowest of about $270 — is aimed at those who don’t have a great credit score — or any score — and slowly help them build it.
The startup, which has been lately disbursing as many as 100,000 new super cards — its marquee offering — to users each month, is not charging any joining fee or annual fee with its new card and is offering the same benefits as its super card.
Bajaj said the startup is able to offer this card to users because it has spent years building its own credit underwriting system that supports this.
“In the last few years, we have actively invested in building a strong risk infrastructure by leveraging data science. Without robust risk management capabilities, it’s impossible to scale such a business and make such a truly inclusive product. But once the capability is built, no one can take the growth away from you. Currently, with a 50% m-o-m growth, our NPA is still less than 2%, a validation of our superior credit underwriting capabilities.”
Rajan said the startup arrived at the $27 figure because it believes this amount “still allows users to make meaningful transactions,” adding that by properly utilizing this limit and paying on time, users can instantly get approved for higher limits.
“We are confident this will encourage users to provide us with extra information that we need to increase their credit limit,” he told TechCrunch in an interview.
The startup, which raised $20 million in a financing round two months ago, is hoping to issue about 1 million of these new cards to users by the end of March next year.
It may raise more, soon. Investors are chasing the startup to finance a new round of about $100 million at a significantly higher valuation than that of its previous round. Rajan declined to comment on fundraise talks.
The live streaming boom is driving a significant uptick in the creator economy, as a new forecast estimates consumers will spend $6.78 billion in social apps in 2021. That figure will grow to $17.2 billion annually by 2025, according to data from mobile data firm App Annie, which notes the upward trend represents a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29%. By that point, the lifetime total spend in social apps will reach $78 billion, the firm reports.
Initially, much of the livestream economy was based on one-off purchases like sticker packs, but today, consumers are gifting content creators directly during their live streams. Some of these donations can be incredibly high, at times. Twitch streamer ExoticChaotic was gifted $75,000 during a live session on Fortnite, which was one of the largest ever donations on the game streaming social network. Meanwhile, App Annie notes another platform, Bigo Live, is enabling broadcasters to earn up to $24,000 per month through their live streams.
Apps that offer live streaming as a prominent feature are also those that are driving the majority of today’s social app spending, the report says. In the first half of this year, $3 out every $4 spend in the top 25 social apps came from apps that offered live streams, for example.
During the first half of 2021, the U.S. become the top market for consumer spending inside social apps with 1.7x the spend of the next largest market, Japan, and representing 30% of the market by spend. China, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea followed to round out the top 5.
While both creators and the platforms are financially benefitting from the live streaming economy, the platforms are benefitting in other ways beyond their commissions on in-app purchases. Live streams are helping to drive demand for these social apps and they help to boost other key engagement metrics, like time spent in app.
One top app that’s significantly gaining here is TikTok.
Last year, TikTok surpassed YouTube in the U.S. and the U.K. in terms of the average monthly time spent per user. It often continues to lead in the former market, and more decisively leads in the latter.
In other markets, like South Korea and Japan, TikTok is making strides, but YouTube still leads by a wide margin. (In South Korea, YouTube leads by 2.5x, in fact.)
Beyond just TikTok, consumers spent 740 billion hours in social apps in the first half of the year, which is equal to 44% of the time spent on mobile globally. Time spent in these apps has continued to trend upwards over the years, with growth that’s up 30% in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2018.
Today, the apps that enable live streaming are outpacing those that focus on chat, photo or video. This is why companies like Instagram are now announcing dramatic shifts in focus, like how they’re “no longer a photo sharing app.” They know they need to more fully shift to video or they will be left behind.
The total time spent in the top five social apps that have an emphasis on live streaming are now set to surpass half a trillion hours on Android phones alone this year, not including China. That’s a three-year CAGR of 25% versus just 15% for apps in the Chat and Photo & Video categories, App Annie noted.
Thanks to growth in India, the Asia-Pacific region now accounts for 60% of the time spent in social apps. As India’s growth in this area increased over the past 3.5 years, it shrunk the gap between itself and China from 115% in 2018 to just 7% in the first half of this year.
Social app downloads are also continuing to grow, due to the growth in live streaming.
To date, consumers have downloaded social apps 74 billion times and that demand remains strong, with 4.7 billion downloads in the first half of 2021 alone — up 50% year-over-year. In the first half of the year, Asia was the largest region region for social app downloads, accounting for 60% of the market.
This is largely due to India, the top market by a factor of 5x, which surpassed the U.S. back in 2018. India is followed by the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil and China, in terms of downloads.
The shift towards live streaming and video has also impacted what sort of apps consumers are interested in downloading, not just the number of downloads.
A chart that show the top global apps from 2012 to the present highlights Facebook’s slipping grip. While its apps (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Facebook) have dominated the top spots over the years in various positions, TikTok popped into the number one position last year, and continues to maintain that ranking in 2021.
Further down the chart, other apps that aid in video editing have also overtaken others that had been more focused on photos or chat.
Video apps like YouTube (#1), TikTok (#2) Tencent Video (#4), Bigo Live (#5), Twitch (#6), and others also now rank at the top of the global charts by consumer spending in the first half of 2021.
But YouTube (#1) still dominates in time spent compared with TikTok (#5), and others from Facebook — the company holds the next three spots for Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, respectively.
This could explain why TikTok is now exploring the idea of allowing users to upload even longer videos, by increasing the limit from 3 minutes to 5, for instance.
In addition, because of live streaming’s ability to drive growth in terms of time spent, it’s also likely the reason why TikTok has been heavily investing in new features for its TikTok LIVE platform, including things like events, support for co-hosts, Q&As and more, and why it made the “LIVE” button a more prominent feature in its app and user experience.
App Annie’s report also digs into the impact live streaming has had on specific platforms, like Twitch and Bigo Live, the former which doubled its monthly active user base from the pre-pandemic era, and the latter which saw $314.2 million in consumer spend during H1 2021.
“The ability of social media users to communicate with each other using live video – or watch others’ live broadcasts – has not only maintained the growth of a social media app market, but contributed to its exponential growth in engagement metrics like time spent, that might otherwise have saturated some time ago,” wrote App Annie’s Head of Insights, Lexi Sydow, when announcing the new report.
The full report is available here.
Indian crypto exchange CoinSwitch Kuber is in advanced stages of talks to raise a new financing round at up to $2 billion in valuation, several sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
If the talks materialize in a deal, CoinSwitch Kuber will become the second crypto startup in the world’s second largest internet market to attain the unicorn status.
The four-year-old startup, which counts Tiger Global, Sequoia Capital India, and Ribbit Capital among its existing investors, was valued at over $500 million valuation in its Series B financing round in April this year.
It’s unclear who is positioning to lead the round. The firm has engaged closely with Andreessen Horowitz and Coinbase in recent weeks, several people aware of those discussions told TechCrunch.
A deal may finalize within this month, sources said. The size of the deal, according to one source, is over $100 million.
The startup declined to comment. Coinbase and A16z, which has yet to back any Indian startup, did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Tiger Global and Sequoia Capital India did not respond to a request for comment last week.
The investment talks come at a time when CoinSwitch Kuber has almost doubled its userbase in recent months — even as local authorities push back against crypto assets. Its eponymous app had over 7 million monthly active users in India last month, up from about 4 million in April this year, according to mobile insight platform App Annie (data of which an industry exec shared with TechCrunch).
B Capital backed CoinSwitch Kuber’s rival CoinDCX last month in a $90 million round that valued the Indian startup at about $1.1 billion.
Policymakers in India have been debating on the status of digital currencies in the South Asian market for several years. India’s central bank, Reserve Bank of India, has expressed concerns about private virtual currencies though it is planning to run trial programs of its first digital currency as soon as December.
More than two dozen Indian startups have become a unicorn this year, up from 11 last year, as several high-profile investors, including Tiger Global, SoftBank and Falcon Edge, have increased the pace of their investments in the South Asian market. TechCrunch reported last week that Tiger Global is engaging with Apna to fund a new round that values the 21-month-old Indian firm at over $1 billion.
Indian logistics firm Delhivery has courted one more high-profile investor before its expected IPO in the next two quarters: Lee Fixel’s Addition.
The Gurgaon-headquartered firm has disclosed in a regulatory filing that Addition has invested $76.4 million in the startup. The new investment is part of a Series I round, according to the filing, provided by market intelligence firm Tofler. So far Delhivery has disclosed only Addition’s investment.
The 10-year-old startup began its life as a food delivery firm, but has since shifted to a full suite of logistics services in over 2,300 Indian cities and more than 17,500 zip codes. It is among a handful of startups attempting to digitize the demand and supply system of the logistics market through a freight exchange platform.
The new investment comes months after a subsidiary of FedEx invested $100 million in Delhivery, and the startup separately closed a $277 million financing round. The startup has said earlier this year that it was looking to file for an IPO within the next six to nine months.
Delhivery is one of the largest logistics firms in India. Its platform connects consigners, agents and truckers offering road transport solutions. The startup says the platform reduces the role of brokers, makes some of its assets such as trucking — the most popular transportation mode for Delhivery — more efficient, and ensures round the clock operations.
This digitization is crucial to address the inefficiencies in the Indian logistics industry that has long stunted the national economy. Poor planning and forecasting of demand and supply increases carrying costs, theft, damages and delays, analysts at Bernstein wrote in a report last month about India’s logistics market.
Delhivery, which says it has delivered over 1 billion orders, works with “all of India’s largest e-commerce companies and leading enterprises,” according to its website, where it also says the startup has worked with over 10,000 customers. For the last leg of the delivery, its couriers are assigned an area that never exceeds 2 square kilometers, allowing them to make several delivery runs a day to save time.
Indian logistics market’s TAM (total addressable market) is over $200 billion, Bernstein analysts said. The startup said late last year that it was planning to invest over $40 million within two years to expand and increase its fleet size to meet the growing demand of orders as more people shop online amid the pandemic.
Dukaan, a one-year-old Bangalore-based startup that enables merchants to set up online stores and sell products digitally, said on Monday it has raised $11 million in a new financing round as it looks to broaden its offerings and deepen footprints in the South Asian market.
The new financing round, a Pre-Series A, was led by New York-headquartered 640 Oxford Ventures. Venture Catalyst, HOF Capital, Old Well Ventures, LetsVenture, 9Unicorns, and existing investors including Lightspeed Partners and Leopard Ventures also participated in the new round.
Ritesh Agarwal of Oyo and Carl Pei of Nothing also invested in the new round, said the startup, which has raised over $17 million to date.
Dukaan provides individuals with no-code tools to set up digital presence. The process is straightforward and quick. “First you verify your email address or phone number and then you write your business or store name. And that’s it. Your digital store has been created,” said Suumit Shah, co-founder and chief executive of Dukaan, in an interview with TechCrunch.
Once they have set up the store, they can manually add the inventory they have and start selling to their customers. For merchants operating in the grocery space, Dukaan also allows them to take pictures of their inventory and automatically logs them in the digital store. The startup also helps these merchants accept digital payments.
Dukaan is largely tapping into India’s massive neighborhood market. More than 100 million Indians work in what is locally more popular as kiranas. These stores, in many cases, have been operational for decades.
In recent years, scores of firms including Reliance, Amazon and Flipkart have attempted to disrupt their business — to little to no success. In fact, most of these firms are now increasingly exploring ways to engage with these merchants.
But the way Dukaan has been developed, it can also be used by restaurants trying to get online, or teachers who are looking to set up digital presence.
“All these digital stores, by default, get a mydukaan.io website, which they distribute among their customers and friends. This has helped our startup gain more recognition in the market,” said Shah.
The startup’s eponymous offering charges individuals or businesses as little as 6,999 Indian rupees, or $950, per year for its services. It also offers some premium plans such as Dukaan Infinity — as part of which it helps businesses conduct marketing on Facebook and Google and helps them rank better on Google search — and Dukaan Enterprise for big businesses.
Retail chain Big Bazaar and German personal care brand Nivea are customers of Dukaan Enterprise. “In case of Nivea, they have scores of distributors across the country. Now they are getting their distributors to sell the vast majority of their inventories to stores through Dukaan to bring more efficiency to the system,” he said.
“There is a massive white space opportunity to service the commerce needs of India’s 100 million+ small businesses and the Dukaan team with its strong product orientation and deep knowledge of the small business user is ideally positioned to lead the creation of new categories of commerce businesses in India,” said Akshay Bhushan, Partner at Lightspeed, in a statement.
Dukaan plans to deploy the fresh funds to build its own payments gateway and also develop plugins to integrate with delivery firms and their aggregators, said Shah. “So far the story has been about helping people with creating their stores. Now we are working on how to help these people with more things,” he said.
“We are aiming to have 2 million to 3 million monthly transacting stores on the platform in the next 12 months and also reach $10 million in annual recurring revenue in that timeframe,” he said.
Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review.
Last week, we dove into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that’s a little bit more impactful on the current state of the web — Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.
the big thing
In the past month, Apple did something it generally has done an exceptional job avoiding — the company made what seemed to be an entirely unforced error.
In early August — seemingly out of nowhere** — the company announced that by the end of the year they would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, seeking out image hashes that matched known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, the on-device scanning could not be opted out of.
This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed forward on the announcement alone.
Researchers and advocacy groups had almost unilaterally negative feedback for the effort, raising concerns that this could create new abuse channels for actors like governments to detect on-device information that they regarded as objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.”
(The announcement also reportedly generated some controversy inside of Apple.)
The issue — of course — wasn’t that Apple was looking at find ways that prevented the proliferation of CSAM while making as few device security concessions as possible. The issue was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and was doing so without external public input about possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.
A long story short, over the past month researchers discovered Apple’s NeuralHash wasn’t as air tight as hoped and the company announced Friday that it was delaying the rollout “to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”
Having spent several years in the tech media, I will say that the only reason to release news on a Friday morning ahead of a long weekend is to ensure that the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear why they’d want that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the issue that they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building this so much as it’s a dig on Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while adhering to its annual iOS release schedule.
Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of this productization, has pushed development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud+ and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-centric features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.
You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but perhaps wide-ranging and trail-blazing security and privacy features should be treated a bit differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty egregious and certainly raises some questions about whether the company fully respects how the choices they make for iOS affect the broader internet.
Delaying the feature’s rollout is a good thing, but let’s all hope they take that time to reflect more broadly as well.
** Though the announcement was a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature wasn’t coming completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation might be shifting towards outright bans of some methods of encryption in some of its biggest markets.
Back in October of 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr joined representatives from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising major concerns about how implementations of encryption tech posed “significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on tech industry companies to get creative in how they tackled this problem.
Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:
LinkedIn kills Stories
You may be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you did already know that they were testing Stories, you likely won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t pan out too well. The company announced this week that they’ll be suspending the feature at the end of the month. RIP.
FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While all appeared to go swimmingly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions regarding why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from further launches until they find out what the deal is.
Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes news every month or two for spending a massive amount acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have eyes on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they’re bringing the classical music streaming service Primephonic onto the Apple Music team.
TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It isn’t a huge secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to wander into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.
Twitter tests an anti-abuse ‘Safety Mode’
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience awful for others, a realization that Twitter has seemingly been very slow to make. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing out with a new “safety mode” which pairs algorithmic intelligence with new user inputs.
Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
Our favorite startups from YC’s Demo Day, Part 1
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first half of its nearly 400-company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators….”
“…Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what’s this?’
All the reasons why you should launch a credit card
“… if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users….”
Harsh measures against dissent have trickled down to practitioners of the region’s poetic traditions, with many saying they have been told to stop.
Getting inside the mind of customers is a challenge as behaviors and demands shift, but Clootrack believes it has cracked the code in helping brands figure out how to do that.
It announced $4 million in Series A funding, led by Inventus Capital India, and included existing investors Unicorn India Ventures, IAN Fund and Salamander Excubator Angel Fund, as well as individual investment from Jiffy.ai CEO Babu Sivadasan. In total, the company raised $4.6 million, co-founder Shameel Abdulla told TechCrunch.
Clootrack is a real-time customer experience analytics platform that helps brands understand why customers stay or churn. Shameel Abdulla and Subbakrishna Rao, who both come from IT backgrounds, founded the company in 2017 after meeting years prior at Jiffstore, Abdulla’s second company that was acquired in 2015.
Business-to-consumer and consumer brands often use customer satisfaction metrics like Net Promoter Score to understand the customer experience, but Abdulla said current methods don’t provide the “why” of those experiences and are slow, expensive and error-prone.
“The number of channels has increased, which means customers are talking to you, expressing their feedback and what they think in multiple places,” he added. “Word of mouth has gone digital, and you basically have to master the art of selling online.”
Clootrack turns the customer experience data from all of those first-party and third-party touchpoints — website feedback, chat bots, etc. — into granular, qualitative insights that give brands a look at drivers of the experience in hours rather than months so that they can stay on top of fast-moving trends.
Abdulla points to data that show a customer’s biggest driver of brand switch is the experience they receive. And, that if brands can reduce churns by 5%, they could be looking at an increase in profits of between 25% and 95%.
Most of the new funding will go to product development so that all data aggregations are gathered from all possible touchpoints. His ultimate goal is to be “the single platform for B2C firms.”
The company is currently working with over 150 customers in the areas of retail, direct-to-consumer, banking, automotive, travel and mobile app-based services. It is growing nine times year over year in revenue. It is mainly operating in India, but Clootrack is also onboarding companies in the U.S. and Europe.
Parag Dhol, managing director of Inventus, said he has known Abdulla for over five years. He had looked at one of Abdulla’s companies for investment, but had decided against it due to his firm being a Series A investor.
Dhol said market research needs an overhaul in India, where this type of technology is lagging behind the U.S.
“Clootrack has a very complementary team with Shameel being a complete CEO in terms of being a sales guy and serial entrepreneur who has learned his lessons, and Subbu, who is good at technology,” he added. “As CMOs realize the value in their unstructured data inside of their own database of the customer reviews and move to real-time feedback, these guys could make a serious dent in the space.”
Mr. Geelani was an uncompromising opponent of the Indian government’s control of the Kashmir valley and favored Pakistani sovereignty over the mostly Muslim region.
The few riders left say the 140-year-old system makes sense for a city of 15 million struggling with pollution and overcrowding. But many trips now are more nostalgic than necessary.
India’s top banks five years ago built the interoperable UPI railroads and enabled over 150 million people in the South Asian market to pay digitally. Scores of firms — including local firms Paytm, PhonePe, CRED and international giants Google and Facebook — in India today support the UPI infrastructure, which is now reporting 3 billion transactions each month.
Banks are now ready for their second act.
On Thursday, eight Indian banks announced that they are rolling out — or about to roll out — a system called Account Aggregator to enable consumers to consolidate all their financial data in one place. (Participants banks are HDFC, Kotak, ICICI, Axis, SBI, IndusInd, IDFC, and Federal Bank. Four of them are rolling out the system Thursday, others say they will roll out the new system soon.)
The objective of Account Aggregator (AA) is to aggregate all financial information of an individual, said M Rajeshwar Rao, Deputy Governor of India’s central bank — Reserve Bank of India — at a virtual event Thursday.
The new system makes it possible for banks, tax authorities, insurers, and other finance firms to aggregate data of customers — who have provided their consent — to get better understanding about their potential customers, make informed decisions and ensure smoother transactions.
Users who provide consent — and it only takes a few taps to do so — will be able to share their financial information from one Account Aggregator participant to another through a centralized API-based repository. Users get to decide for how long they wish their data to be shared with a particular Account Aggregator participant.
Most countries globally already have privacy laws that recognize the rights of individuals. But even as individuals and businesses have the right to exercise their control over their data, the current system has made it difficult for consumers to operationalize how they provide consent.
“They face this difficult for two reasons,” explained Siddharth Tiwari, head of the Bank for International Settlements in Asia and Pacific. “Firstly, a service provider usually seeks consent to use and transfer data at time when consumers [are] agreeing to participate in an activity with the service provider. Since this consent is granted for a wide variety of possibilities, it is broad and sweeping in nature,” he said.
“Secondly, newly created data are often gathered and retained in proprietary silos and stored in various institutions in incompatible formats. Consumers can find it difficult to share their data as they have only limited options. […] Thus, service providers who are custodians of data effectively act as defacto owner of the data,” he said, adding that Account Aggregator is designed to potentially address these challenges. “A robust consent-based data sharing system has the potential for consumers derive value from their data while maintaining control.”
Account Aggregator is built in part to help consumers and businesses access financial services such as loans. Existing credit bureaus in India have data of only a fraction of the nation’s 1.4 billion population, which makes it very difficult for most in the country to access working capital, explained Infosys chairman Nandan Nilekani, who’s been an adviser to the initiative, at the event Thursday.
“Talks are on to onboard telecom operators as well,” he said, adding that the system has already achieved the sophistication that it could be extended to other industries.
“It’s an architecture that can now be applied to several additional industries,” he said, pointing to healthcare, fitness, testing labs as examples. “We can confidently say that there is no other country in the world that has built a robust infrastructure of this kind and at scale where its people can leverage their data. This approach is now getting global recognition.”
“For retail loan underwriting (“eligibility check”), rather than submitting previous 3 years bank statements, I can simply authenticate a data transfer via AA (and revoke the data transfer AFTER the loan is approved or sanctioned). For self-employed or freelance professionals, getting Term Insurance has always been difficult since they cannot prove their income – AA lets you provide an audit trail of past income to underwrite the Term Insurance application,” Rahul Mathur, founder and chief executive of insurance aggregator startup BimaPe, told TechCrunch.
The Account Aggregator system is also positioned to dramatically increase the addressable market for online insurers, lenders, and players in several other industries.
“This is a big step towards a connected financial ecosystem, and will be very significant in Fi’s journey to help working millennials get better with their money. With the successful demonstration of the framework today we are excited to have all our users experience the power and convenience of the AA integration once it’s rolled out to all users,” said Sumit Gwalani, co-founder of Fi.
This is a developing story. More to follow…