Restricted so far in the name of domestic food security: Indian wheat, Malaysian chicken and Indonesian cooking oil. Experts warn of unwanted consequences.
Roger Ng is most likely the only person who will face trial in the United States in connection with a scheme to fleece the loot billions from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.
Sellers from the country have become a reliable source of sought-after labels, finding high value in discarded items.
The boat was being towed ashore with more than 100 Rohingya refugees on board. Indonesia initially said it would turn the vessel away, but relented under pressure from rights groups.
The vessel capsized near a beach town in the South China Sea, leaving 29 others missing, officials said. The victims’ nationalities were not disclosed.
Powerful associates of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, are making and selling captagon, an illegal amphetamine, creating a new narcostate on the Mediterranean.
The man, a Malaysian with an I.Q. of 69, was caught trying to smuggle an ounce and a half of heroin in 2009. Some are calling his planned hanging a human rights violation.
The Islamic authorities want to imprison her for wearing female clothing at a religious event and threatened to put her in a rehabilitation camp where she could “return to the right path.”
Disney’s streaming service is seeing improved growth, after initially seeing slower numbers of subscriber additions in Q2 as COVID lockdowns and mask mandates came to an end. Today, Disney+ beat analyst expectations for subscriber growth in Disney’s blowout third quarter, reaching 116 million paid subscribers — above the 114.5 million Wall Street had expected — and up over 100% year-over-year.
Disney also topped expectations across the board, with $17.02 billion in revenue versus the $16.76 billion expected, and earnings per share of 80 cents, above analysts’ expectations of 55 cents. Even Disney Parks were back in business.
The pandemic had thrown a wrench in forecasting growth metrics across a number of industries, streaming included. Although Disney+ has well-established itself as one of the few competitors capable of challenging Netflix in an increasingly crowded market, it has seen some ups and downs due to COVID impacts. In the earlier days of the pandemic, streaming was on the rise. This March, Disney+ passed 100 million subscribers after just 16 months of operation. At the time, Disney execs said the service was on track to meet its projections of 260 million subscribers by 2024.
But in Disney’s second-quarter earnings, the economy’s re-opening impacted Disney+ numbers, as people finally had more to do than just sit at home, and vaccinations become more widely available. Then, Disney+ only reached 103.6 million subscribers, when analysts were expecting 109.3 million, and the stock slipped as a result.
Disney wasn’t alone in feeling the impacts of COVID-induced lumpiness in subscriber additions. Netflix had also seen slower subscriber growth earlier in the year due to COVID and its far-reaching effects on things like production delays and release schedules.
But Netflix’s most recent quarter, where it once again topped subscriber estimates, had hinted that Disney+ may see a similar boost. Aiding in that growth was Disney+’s recent market expansions in Asia. Disney+ Hotstar arrived in Malaysia and Thailand in June after prior launches in India and Indonesia last year.
The Hotstar version of Disney+, however, led to lowered average monthly revenue per user (ARPU) in the quarter due to its lower price points. In Q3, ARPU declined from $4.62 to $4.16 due to a higher mix of Disney+ Hotstar subscribers compared with the prior-year quarter, Disney said.
Disney’s other streaming services, Hulu and ESPN+, didn’t see the same trend.
Hulu’s subscription video service jumped from $11.39 to $13.15 year-over-year and its Live TV service (+SVOD) grew from $68.11 to $84.09. ESPN+ also grew from $4.18 to $4.47.
Subscriber growth also increased across the services, with ESPN+ growing 75% year-over-year to reach 14.9 million customers and total Hulu subscribers growing 21% to reach 42.8 million.
“…Our direct-to-consumer business is performing very well, with a total of nearly 174 million subscriptions across Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu at the end of the quarter, and a host of new content coming to the platform,” noted Disney CEO Bob Chapek in a press release.
Across Disney’s direct-to-consumer business, revenues grew 57% to $4.3 billion and its operating loss declined from $0.6 billion to $0.3 billion, thanks to improved results from Hulu, including subscription growth and higher ad revenues.
These gains were offset by a higher loss at Disney+ attributed to programming, production, marketing and technology costs that were somewhat mitigated by increases in subscription revenues and success of the Disney+ Premier Access release of “Cruella.” (Disney’s fiscal quarter ended July 3, so the impacts of the massive haul that “Black Widow” saw following its U.S. opening — nor the resulting lawsuit from star Scarlett Johansson, for that matter — have yet to be included in these figures.)
Singapore is home to fewer than six million people, making it one of the smallest ASEAN countries, in terms of population. It is a young country as well — having gained independence in 1963 — and resides in a neighborhood with far larger economies, including China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. When the country first became independent, its mandate was to simply survive rather than thrive.
So how does a country evolve from a position of relative uncertainty, with comparatively few resources, to one that leads the ASEAN region in venture capital investment and has been home to 10 unicorns?
Countries around the world examine Singapore’s ecosystem from a distance, hoping to learn from, and emulate, its story. The World Bank Group recently published a report, The Evolution and State of Singapore’s Start-up Ecosystem, documenting the country’s experience in building its startup ecosystem and the challenges facing it.
This article presents an overview of the report’s key findings and offers a few key recommendations on what other countries can learn from Singapore’s experience, as well as what Singapore itself can do to maintain progress.
A glimpse into Singapore’s current startup ecosystem
As of 2019, Singapore had over $19 billion in PE and VC assets under management, more than twice that of neighboring Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand combined. In that same year, the country was home to an estimated 3,600 tech startups and nearly 200 different intermediary and supporting organizations (accelerators, co-working spaces, coding academies, etc.) – some which have a multinational presence, such as Blk71, whose Singapore headquarters has been referred to as “the world’s most tightly packed entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
While assessing the size and strength of startup ecosystems is an evolving method, Start-up Genome priced Singapore’s ecosystem at over $25 billion, five times the global median.
Arguably, the most eye-catching hallmark of this ecosystem is its population of current and former unicorns. Collectively, Singapore has been home to ten unicorns, three of which have offered an IPO (Nanofilm, Razer and Sea) and two of which have been acquired – one by giant Alibaba (Lazada) and one by Chinese streaming powerhouse YY (Bigo Live). The remaining five are Trax, Acronis, JustCo, PatSnap, and Grab – the ASEAN region’s largest unicorn to date.
The education sector is also prominent in Singapore’s ecosystem. Universities like the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are deeply embedded into this ecosystem, helping with R&D commercialization linkages, incubation, talent/knowledge transfer, and other areas.
So, how did Singapore’s startup ecosystem come to be?
Numerous factors have contributed to building Singapore’s startup ecosystem, with government intervention and leadership being the dominant driving forces. The government has spent more than USD60 billion over the past several decades to enhance the country’s R&D infrastructure, create VC funds, and launch accelerators and other support organizations.
Most businesses by now are well versed with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic: Faltering offline sales, flexible work-from-anywhere options, fluctuating foot traffic with lockdown mandates and e-commerce becoming a channel many brands wished they had built infrastructure for earlier.
As a record number of consumers in Southeast Asia move from shopping malls to online platforms like Shopee, Lazada, Tiki and Tokopedia, the advertising dollars are naturally flowing in. Emerging markets are witnessing the advent of retail media right now.
Amazon paved the way in North America in 2018 by launching Amazon Advertising to become the first bid-and-buy marketplace. BCG now estimates retailers have a $100 billion business opportunity to capture, if they can keep up.
The money is where the consumer is
To understand why retailers will capture more ad spend, it’s important to evaluate what modern day marketing has become.
Is it bus stop advertisements? Bidding on Google keywords or a Clubhouse session? Or is it a viral TikTok video? As the world becomes more connected and the lines between offline and online blur even more, modern day marketing is a mix of all the channels tied to key performance metrics.
The main goal of marketing, no matter the medium, is to highlight a business or product to the right consumers to score a potential sale. And like most things, there is a bad, a good and a much better way of doing things.
E-commerce as an advertising channel is unique, because it encapsulates the entire consumer journey from start to finish, especially as marketplaces continue to steal the share of search from search engines.
Traditional marketing channels were primarily linear TV, radio and print, because the mediums were highly popular at the time. However, with the birth of the internet newer platforms emerged such as email, websites and streaming. Then came the rise of social media and apps that shook up the advertising landscape. But regardless of these shifts, there has always been one constant: The business went where the consumer was.
So when sources of traffic and revenue once again change, let’s say due to a pandemic, the marketing mix follows. In the next 12 months alone, many marketers are planning to decrease spending in cinema, print and out of home (OOH), while the majority will increase budgets in social and search, according to Nielsen.
The search for superior advertising channels
So which channels will benefit as money flows out of outdated buckets? A good indicator is ad revenue trends in mature markets like the U.S. While Google and Facebook remain the dominant advertising players, Amazon has eaten into the duopoly’s ad revenue pie in the U.S., growing its share from 7.8% to 10.3% in 2020 alone, according to eMarketer.
How? Because the most valuable advertising channel is the one that has the most measurable touch points with the consumer.
HappyFresh, the on-demand grocery app based in Indonesia, announced today it has raised a $65 million Series D. The round was led by Naver Financial Corporation and Gafina B.V., with participation from STIC, LB and Mirae Asset Indonesia and Singapore. It also included returning investors Mirae-Asset Naver Asia Growth Fund and Z Venture Capital.
The company’s previous round of funding was a $20 million Series C announced in April 2019.
Founded in 2014, HappyFresh was the first Instacart-style grocery delivery service to launch in Southeast Asia. It expanded into five markets before shutting down its operations in Taiwan and the Philippines in 2016. It continues to operate in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
In a press release, HappyFresh said it “has been experiencing an unprecedented growth” over the past 18 months as customers turned to grocery deliveries during the pandemic, with traffic growing by 10x to 20x in its three countries.
In a statement, HappyFresh chief executive officer Guillem Segarra said, “We see a big shift in customers’ behavior; retention and frequency rates have significantly increased while the overall basket size has been consistently growing. We attribute this to a major shift in share of wallet from offline to online, which is here to stay.”
The new funding will be used to scale HappyFresh’s operations, including growing its fleet of drivers. The company also plans to add more payment methods, improve user experience and increase its assortment of items.
Easy Eat AI, a Singapore-based startup that wants to “transform restaurants into technology companies,” announced today it has raised $5 million in funding. Easy Eat AI offers an operating system for restaurants that lets them digitize all parts of their business, from inventory and customer orders to delivery, and gain AI-based data analytics to improve revenue.
Many food and beverage businesses started digitizing orders and payments so they could offer deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Easy Eat AI lets restaurants integrate with third-party food ordering apps, it also has its own delivery infrastructure, including on-demand riders, that costs just 4% per order, compared to the 20%-30% that many of the largest food delivery platforms charge.
Founded in 2019 by Mohd Wassem, Rhythm Gupta and Abdul Khalid, Easy Eat AI currently has operations in Malaysia, and plans to expand into other Southeast Asian markets. The funding included participation from Aroa Ventures, the family office of OYO founder Ritesh Agarwal; Reddy Futures Family Office; Prophetic Ventures; OYO global chief strategy officer Maninder Gulati; Alarko Ventures managing partner Cem Garih; and Esas Ventures founder and managing partner Fethi Sabancı Kamışlı.
Wassem told TechCrunch that Easy Eat AI was created because even though Southeast Asia “is a food paradise, everyone eats out, eating out is a culture here,” the restaurant industry is still one of the least advanced digitally. Before the pandemic, he said that about 80% of restaurant business came from in-person dining, but taking orders manually resulted in very little data kept about who customers are, what they like to order or how often they return.
Easy Eat AI’s platform helps restaurants create that digital connection with their customers. Some of its clients include chains like Richiamo Coffee, Mr. Fish Fishhead Noodles, WTF Group and Hailam Toast. During COVID-19 lockdowns, Easy Eat AI has helped restaurants fulfill deliveries and its other features, like targeted marketing campaigns and loyalty reward programs, are relevant to in-person dining, too.
Easy Eat AI’s consumer interface is based on QR code ordering—customers scan the code with their smartphone and are taken directly to the restaurant’s menu online. They pick what they want, then create an account or sign-in by entering their mobile number. Payments and reward programs can also be accessed through the platform.
The company says that after analyzing 100,000 orders at more than 50 restaurants over six months, it found that people spend about 30% more when they order digitally compared to through a waiter—similar to when people go shopping for a specific item online and end up adding more items to their cart while browsing.
After a restaurant uses Easy Eat AI for about 30 to 45 days, it is able to build a customer database for targeted online marketing strategies, sending offers to the people who are most likely to use them.
For example, a month after launching in its third outlet of Mr. Fish, the platform had collected data from more than 1,400 customers. The restaurant was able to see that about 20% visited the restaurant more than once, and the average duration between their visits was 12 days. Based on that information, it created marketing campaigns to draw back people who hadn’t returned in 20 days. During that time, Mr. Fish also started fulfilling delivery orders through Easy Eat AI, and by the end of the month, 13.4% of its orders were coming through the platform, reducing its reliance on third-party delivery apps.
In a statement about the funding, Keshav Reddy, managing partner of Reddy Futures Family Office, said, “The team is customer obsessed and understands the pain problems of the industry. Their innovative software platform will be disruptive to the entire F&B ecosystem and how customers engage through the entire F&B lifecycle in the online-to-offline world.”
Southeast Asia’s car marketplace wars are going into high drive. Today Carsome Group, one of the region’s largest online used car marketplaces, said it plans to acquire listings platform iCar Asia in a transaction worth more than $200 million.
Carsome has agreed to acquire 19.9% of iCar Asia from Malaysia internet conglomerate Catcha Group. In exchange, Catcha Group will become a shareholder in Carsome Group. Carsome and Catcha Group have also made a joint proposal to iCar Asia’s directors to buy the rest of the company from its shareholders.
Carsome rival Carro revealed one month ago that it raised a $360 million Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, boosting it to unicorn status. A day after Carro’s announcement, DealStreetAsia reported that Carsome is in talks to raise over $200 million in a pre-IPO round.
Carsome hasn’t confirmed the funding, but it has been making moves to expand its reach, including a strategic investment in PT Universal, an offline car and motorcycle auction company that has retail branches in five Indonesian cities. Carsome said its investment in PT Universal will allow it to double its automotive transaction volumes in Indonesia.
Now Carsome says its integration with iCar Asia will create a marketplace that is targeting $1 billion in revenue for this year, with about 100,000 cars transacted annually, more than 460,000 live partner listings and over 13,000 car dealers it its network.
iCar Asia, which is listed on the Australian stock exchange, announced last year that it had received a takeover offer from China-based online auto marketplace Autohome. Catcha Group founder Patrick Grove told the Australian Financial Review that proposal was “one of the casualties of the cold war” between China and Australia.
In a press statement, Carsome co-founder and group chief executive officer Eric Cheng said the deal “is the first step toward consolidation to form the largest digital automotive group in terms of revenue, user base, largest live listing and the best end-to-end fulfilment capacity in the region.”
Carro, one of the largest automotive marketplaces in Southeast Asia, announced it has hit unicorn valuation after raising a $360 million Series C led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Other participants include insurance giant MSIG and Indonesian-based funds like EV Growth, Provident Growth and Indies Capital. About 90% of vehicles sold through Carro are secondhand, and it offers services that cover the entire lifecycle of a car, from maintenance to when it is broken down and recycled for parts.
Founded in 2015, Carro started as an online marketplace for cars, before expanding into more verticals. Co-founder and chief executive officer Aaron Tan told TechCrunch that, roughly speaking, the company’s operations are divided into three sections: wholesale, retail and fintech. Its wholesale business works with car dealers who want to purchase inventory, while its retail side sells to consumers. Its fintech operation offers products for both, including B2C car loans, auto insurance and B2B working capital loans.
Carro’s last funding announcement was in August 2019, when it said it had extended its Series B to $90 million. The company’s latest funding will be used to fund acquisitions, expand its financial services portfolio and develop its AI capabilities, which Carro uses to showcase cars online, develop pricing models and determine how much to charge insurance policyholders.
It also plans to expand retail services in its main markets: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Carro currently employs about 1,000 people across the four countries and claims its revenue grew more than 2.5x during the financial year ending March 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped Carro’s business because people wanted their own vehicles to avoid public transportation and became more receptive to shopping for cars online. Those factors also helped competitors like OLX Autos and Carsome fare well during the pandemic.
The adoption of electric vehicles across Southeast Asia has resulted in a new tailwind for Carro, because people who buy an EV usually want to sell off their combustion engine vehicles. Carro is currently talking to some of the largest electric vehicle countries in the world that want to launch in Southeast Asia.
“For every car someone typically buys in Southeast Asia, there’s always a trade-in. Where do cars go, right? We are a marketplace, but on a very high level, what we’re doing is reusing and recycling. That’s a big part in the environmental sustainability of the business, and something that sets us apart of other players in the region,” Tan said.
Cars typically stay in Carro’s inventory for less than 60 days. Its platform uses computer vision and sound technology to replicate the experience of inspecting a vehicle in-person. When someone clicks on a Carro listing, an AI bot automatically engages with them, providing more details about the cost of the car and answering questions. They also see a 360-degree view of the vehicle, its interior and can virtually start the engine to see how it sounds. Listings also provide information about defects and inspection reports.
Since many customers still want to get an in-person look before finalizing a purchase, Carro recently launched a beta product called Showroom Anywhere. Currently available in Singapore, it allows people to unlock Carro cars parked throughout the city, using QR codes, so they can inspect it at any time of the day, without a salesperson around. The company plans to add test driving to Showroom Anywhere.
“As a tech company, our job is to make sure we automate everything we can,” said Tan. “That’s the goal of the company and you can only assume that our cost structure and our revenue structure will get better along the years. We expect greater margin improvement and a lot more in cost reduction.”
Pricing is fixed, so shoppers don’t have to engage in haggling. Carro determines prices by using machine-learning models that look at details about a vehicle, including its make, model and mileage, and data from Carro’s transactions as well as market information (for example, how much of a particular vehicle is currently available for sale). Carro’s prices are typically in the middle of the market’s range.
Cars come with a three or seven-day moneyback guarantee and 30-day warranty. Once a customer decides to buy a car, they can opt to apply for loans and insurance through Carro’s fintech platform. Tan said Carro’s loan book is about five years old, almost as old as the startup itself, and is currently about $200 million.
Carro’s insurance is priced based on the policyholders driving behavior as tracked by sensors placed in their cars. This allows Carro to build a profile of how someone drives and the likelihood that they have an accident or other incident. For example, someone will get better pricing if they typically stick to speed limits.
“It sounds a bit futuristic,” said Tan. “But it’s something that’s been done in the United States for many years, like GEICO and a whole bunch of other insurers,” including Root Insurance, which recently went public.
Tan said MSIG’s investment in Carro is a “statement that we are really trying to triple down in insurance, because an insurer has so much linkage with what we do. The reason that MSIG is a good partner is that, like ourselves, they believe a lot in data and the difference in what we call ‘new age’ insurance, or data-driven insurance.”
Carro is also expanding its after-sale services, including Carro Care, in all four of its markets. Its after-sale services reach to the very end of a vehicle’s lifecycle and its customers include workshops around the world. For example, if a Toyota Corolla breaks down in Singapore, but its engine is still usable, it might be extracted and shipped to a repair shop in Nairobi, and the rest of its parts recycled.
“One thing I always ask in management meetings, is tell me where do cars go to die in Indonesia? Where do cars go to die in Thailand? There has to be a way, so if there is no way, we’re going to find a way,” said Tan.
In a statement, SoftBank Investment Advisers managing partner Greg Moon said, “Powered by AI, Carro’s technology platform provides consumers with full-stack services and transparency throughout the car ownership process. We are delighted to partner with Aaron and the Carro team to support their ambition to expand into new markets and use AI-powered technology to make the car buying process smarter, simpler and safer.”
A light rail train carrying passengers in Kuala Lumpur collided in a tunnel with an empty train on a test run. Officials promised a full investigation.
Farmers and food businesses, like restaurants, deal with the same issue: a fragmented supply chain. Secai Marche wants to streamline agricultural logistics, making fulfillment more cost-efficient and enabling food businesses to bundle products from different farmers into the same order. The company is headquartered in Japan, with operations in Malaysia, and plans to expand into Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. This week, it announced 150 million JPY (about $1.4 million USD) in pre-Series A funding from Rakuten Ventures and Beyond Next Ventures to build a B2B logistics platform for farmers that sell to restaurants, hotels and other F&B (food and beverage) businesses.
This round brings Secai Marche’s total raised to about $3 million. The capital will be used to expand its fulfillment infrastructure, including a network of warehouses and cold chain logistics, hire more people for its engineering team, and sales and marketing.
Secai Marche was founded in 2018 by Ami Sugiyama and Shusaku Hayakawa, and currently serves 130 farmers and more than 300 F&B businesses. Before launching the startup, Sugiyama spent seven years working in Southeast Asia, including managing restaurants and cafes in Malaysia. During that time, she started to import green tea from Japan, intending to sell it directly to customers in Malaysia. But she realized supply chain inefficiencies not only made it hard to meet demand, but also ensure quality for all kinds of ingredients.
Meanwhile, Hayakawa was operating a farm in Japan and working on agriculture control systems that predicted weather and crop growth to help farmers maintain consistent quality.
Both Sugiyama and Hayakawa ended up at consulting firm Deloitte, researching how to create a more efficient supply chain for Japanese agricultural exports to Singaporean F&B businesses. Policies implemented by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration aim to increase Japanese agricultural exports from 922.3 billion JPY (about $8.5 billion) in 2020 to 2 trillion JPY (about $18.5 billion) by 2025, and 5 trillion JPY (about $46.1 billion) in 2030.
Seche Marche’s goal is to make it easier for farmers to sell their crops to F&B businesses domestically or overseas.
“We found that not only farmers in Japan, but also all farmers in Southeast Asia have the same problem in terms of the current supply chain,” Sugiyama told TechCrunch. “So we left Deloitte and started our own business to connect not only farmers in Japan, but farmers in all Asian countries.”
Secai Marche’s logistics management tech is what differentiates it from other wholesaler platforms. It uses an AI-based algorithm to predict demand based on consumption trends, seasonal products and farmer recommendations, said Hayakawa. Secai Marche runs its own warehouse network, but mostly relies on third-party logistics providers for fulfillment, and its platform assigns orders to the most efficient transportation method.
This allows F&B businesses to consolidate orders from farmers, so they can order smaller batches from different places without spending more money. About 30% of Secai Marche’s products are shipped to other countries, while the rest are sold domestically.
Secai Marche is reaching out to farmers who want to increase their customer base. About 30% of its products currently come from Japanese farms, 50% from Malaysia and the rest from other ASEAN countries. Sugiyama and Hayakawa said the COVID-19 pandemic affected Secai Marche’s expansion plans because it originally planned to enter Singapore this year, but had to slow down since they were unable to travel and meet with farmers.
On the other hand, many farmers have started selling directly to consumers through social media like Instagram or Facebook, and have approached Secai Marche for help with fulfillment, logistics, repacking and quality control.
A newly identified coronavirus may not pose a serious threat, but the finding highlights the need to monitor animal viruses more proactively, scientists say.
Dr. Wu Lien-Teh helped change the course of a plague epidemic in the early 20th century and promoted the use of masks as a public health tool.
Over the past several years, institutional investors had largely shied away from China’s e-cigarette makers, an industry that was teeming with shoddy workshops and lacked regulatory oversight. But investors’ attitude is changing as China sets in motion its strictest ever regulation on electronic cigarettes.
Myst Labs, a Chinese e-cigarette maker co-founded in 2019 by Chenyue Xing, a chemist who was part of the team at Juul that invented nicotine salts, a key ingredient in vaping, recently raised “tens of thousands of dollars” from a Series B funding round. The financing was led by its existing investor, IMO Ventures. Thomas Yao, CEO and another co-founder of Myst, is a founding partner of IMO Ventures.
In March, one of China’s top tech policy makers published a set of draft rules that would bring e-cigarettes under the same regulatory scope as traditional tobacco, which means vaping companies will need licenses for production, wholesale and retail operations in the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter of e-cigarettes.
These changes will deal a blow to small producers with poor quality control, leaving the industry with a handful of established and compliant players, Fang Wang, head of marketing at Myst, told TechCrunch.
For one, standardizing production is costly, Li said. From ceramic coils, batteries, to fragrance, every component and ingredient of a vape will need to meet stringent requirements. E-cigarette companies will also need to pay tobacco taxes, an important source of tax revenue for the Chinese government.
The other challenge is how to lower nicotine content. Many current products on the market have a relatively high nicotine concentration at 3-5%, so if China is in line with the European Union standard of 1.7%, many small brands will be forced out of business because they lack the know-how to produce low-nicotine vapes that still satisfy users’ crave, suggested Li.
“We’ve received a lot of investor interest in the past few months. Before that, professional, institutional investors often avoided e-cigarette companies, but they are showing more willingness now as regulations take shape,” Li added.
Myst declined to list its other investors but said they include high-profile individuals invovled in the e-bike sharing company Lime, Facebook and the bitcoin industry.
Most of Myst’s current sales are from China, where it has opened 600 stores and plans to reach a footprint of 1,000 stores in the next few quarters. Overseas, the startup has a retail footprint in Malaysia, Russia, Canada and the United Kingdom, where it’s selling in over 30 shopping malls and a few hospitals through its distribution partner, Ecigwizard.
The new funding will allow Myst to further expand its sales network and strengthen its research and development. The company prides itself on its product containing 1.7% nicotine, which it claims can deliver the effect of a 3% counterpart. At her lab, Xing is currently working on e-liquids with “natural tobacco contents” and without organic acids, additives that allow nicotine salts to vaporize and be absorbed.
Myst is still a relatively small player compared to China’s market dominator Relx, which went public in New York earlier this year and is applying for a license to sell in the U.S. But Yao is optimistic about Myst’s future. Vaping, he said, is one of the fastest-growing consumer categories in China. Myst’s recent sales are tripling every three months.
“In other consumer areas, you rarely see a top player commanding 60-70% of the market, so there is still a lot of room for the top 10 players to grow,” the CEO said.
Not long ago, democracy seemed to be surging in the region. But in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and elsewhere, it is in trouble.
After building artificial islands, China is using large fleets of ostensibly civilian boats to press other countries’ vessels out of disputed waters.
M Capital Management, a Singapore-based venture capital firm, announced today it has closed its debut fund, M Venture Partners (MVP), totaling $30.85 million USD. It plans to invest in 40 early-stage startups, primarily seed and pre-Series A, with an average initial check size of about $500,000.
M Capital Management was founded by Mayank Parekh, whose investment experience includes launching Grange Partners and leadership positions at Southern Capital Group and McKinsey & Company, and Joachim Ackermann, former managing director of Google Asia Pacific. Other senior team members include Dr. Tanuja Rajah, previously Entrepreneur First’s launch manager, and Chethana Ellepola, former research director at Acquity Stockbrokers.
MVP, a sector-agnostic fund, has already invested in 11 companies, including one, 3D Metal Forge, that recently went public on the Australian Securities Exchange.
Other portfolio companies include behavioral health coaching startup Naluri; AI-enabled lending and credit-as-a-service company Impact Credit Solutions; alternative investment fund aggregator XEN Capital; and Cipher Cancer Clinics, which is focused on making oncological care more affordable and accessible in India.
Parekh told TechCrunch that M Capital Management was launched because “we believe that the early-stage investing space in our region has substantial room for growth. A decade ago there were very few unicorns. This has changed substantially more recently, not only because of obvious advancements bringing online previously underserved or untapped populations, but also because they venture system has developed nicely in Singapore and, for that matter, across the region with support from institutional VCs at various stages of funding need, government agency support, the advent of local accelerators and rapidly growing network of angel investing bodies.”
Parekh added that he expects to see more unicorns and “soonicorns” (or companies expected to hit unicorn valuation in the near future) emerge.
As early-stage, sector-agnostic investors, Parekh said MVP’s focus is on founders, specifically those who have “pedigree professional experience and strong academic backgrounds.” For example, Naluri chief executive officer Azran Osman-Rani was previously founder of AirAsiaX, guiding it from launch to its 2013 initial public offering in six years.
MVP will focus mostly on Singapore-based startups because it invests primarily in B2B or B2B2C companies. “We need a fertile ground for our chosen startups to launch their business models with leading corporate or business partners,” said Parekh. “Singapore provides just that. It’s the hub for market leading institutions and it’s not uncommon to see them creating opportunities for new technology or disruptive ideas.”
Most of MVP’s portfolio companies have “regional or global aspirations, leveraging Singapore as the core launch platform,” he added. MVP has also already made investments in Malaysia and India, and is actively looking at companies in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
The extradition is part of Washington’s efforts to crack down on what it has called widespread sanctions-evading activities by North Korean businessmen and diplomats around the world.
Data shows that American exporters continue to ship plastic waste overseas, often to poorer countries, even though most of the world has agreed to not accept it.
Raena was founded in 2019 to create personal care brands with top social media influencers. After several launches, however, the Singapore-based startup quickly noticed an interesting trend: customers were ordering batches of products from Raena every week and reselling them on social media and e-commerce platforms like Shopee and Tokopedia. Last year, the company decided to focus on those sellers, and pivoted to social commerce.
Today Raena announced it has raised a Series A of $9 million, co-led by Alpha Wave Incubation and Alpha JWC Ventures, with participation from AC Ventures and returning investors Beenext, Beenos and Strive. Its last funding announcement was a $1.82 million seed round announced in July 2019.
After interviewing people who were setting up online stores with products from Raena, the company’s team realized that sellers’ earnings potential was capped because they were paying retail prices for their inventory.
They also saw that the even though new C2C retail models, like social commerce, are gaining popularity, the beauty industry’s supply chain hasn’t kept up. Sellers usually need to order minimum quantities, which makes it harder for people to start their own businesses, Raena co-founder Sreejita Deb told TechCrunch,
“Basically, you have to block your capital upfront. It’s difficult for individual sellers or micro-enterpreneurs to work with the old supply chain and categories like beauty,” she said.
Raena decided to pivot to serve those entrepreneurs. The company provides a catalog that includes mostly Japanese and Korean skincare and beauty brands. For those brands, Raena represents a way to enter new markets like Indonesia, which the startup estimates has $20 billion market opportunity.
Raena resellers, who are mostly women between 18 to 34-years-old in Indonesia and Malaysia, pick what items they want to feature on their social media accounts. Most use TikTok or Instagram for promotion, and set up online stores on Shopee or Tokopedia. But they don’t have to carry inventory. When somebody buys a product from a Raena reseller, the reseller orders it from Raena, which ships it directly to the customer.
This drop-shipping model means resellers make higher margins. Since they don’t have to carry inventory, it also dramatically lowers the barrier to launching a small business. Even though Raena’s pivot to social commerce coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, Deb said it grew its revenue 50 times between January and December 2020. The platform now has more than 1,500 resellers, and claims a 60% seller retention rate after six months on the platform.
She attributes Raena’s growth to several factors, including the increase in online shopping during lockdowns and people looking for ways to earn additional income during the pandemic. While forced to stay at home, many people also began spending more time online, especially on the social media platforms that Raena resellers use.
Raena also benefited from its focus on skincare. Even though many retail categories, including color cosmetics, took a hit, skincare products proved resilient.
“We saw skincare had higher margins, and there are certain markets that are experts at formulating and producing skincare products, and demand for those products in other parts of the world,” she said, adding, “we’ve continued being a skincare company and because that is a category we had insight into, it was our first entry point into this social selling model as well. 90% of our sales are skincare. Our top-selling products are serums, toners, essences, which makes a lot of sense because people are in their homes and have more time to dedicate to their skincare routines.”
Social commerce, which allows people to earn a side income (or even a full-time income), by promoting products through social media, has taken off in several Asian markets. In China, for example, Pinduoduo has become a formidable rival to Alibaba through its group-selling model and focus on fresh produce. In India, Meesho resellers promote products through social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.
Social commerce is also gaining traction in Southeast Asia, with gross merchandise value growing threefold during the first half of 2020, according to iKala.
Deb said one of the ways Raena is different from other social commerce companies is that most of its resellers are selling to customers they don’t know, instead of focusing on family and friends. Many already had TikTok or Instagram profiles focused on beauty and skincare, and had developed reputations for being knowledgeable about products.
As Raena develops, it plans to hire a tech team to build tools that will simplify the process of managing orders and also strike deals directly with manufacturers to increase profit margins for resellers. The funding will be used to increase its team from 15 to over 100 over the next three months, and it plans to enter more Southeast Asian markets.
A panel of judges found the online outlet, Malaysiakini, guilty of contempt of court for the comments about Malaysia’s judiciary.
LottieFiles, a platform for JSON-based Lottie animations, has raised a Series A of $9 million. The round was led by M12, Microsoft’s venture capital arm, with participation from returning investor 500 Startups.
Based in San Francisco and Kuala Lumpur, LottieFiles was founded in 2018. The platform includes Lottie creation, editing and testing tools, and a marketplace for animations. It now claims about one million users from 65,000 companies, including Airbnb, Google, TikTok, Disney and Netflix, and 300% year-over-year growth. The new funding brings its total raised to about $10 million.
Smaller than GIF or PNG graphics, Lottie animations also have the advantage of being scalable and interactive. It was introduced as an open-source library by Airbnb engineers six years ago and quickly became popular with app developers because Lottie files can be used across platforms without additional coding and edited after shipping.
LottieFiles co-founder and chief executive officer Kshitij Minglani told TechCrunch the startup originally started as a community for designers and developers, before adding tools, integrations and other resources. It launched its marketplace during the COVID-19 lockdown, with 70% of earnings going directly to creators, and also has a list of animators who are available for hire.
LottieFiles’ core platform and tools are currently pre-revenue, with plans to monetize later this year. “It’s not often a revolutionary format comes about and disrupts an entire industry, saving tons of precious design and development hours,” said Minglani. “We didn’t want to stunt the adoption of Lottie by monetizing early on.”
The new funding will be used on LottieFiles’ product roadmap, expanding its infrastructure and increasing its global user base.
Moderna, the biotech company behind one of the two mRNA-based vaccines currently being rolled out globally to stem the tide of COVID-19, has announced that it will purse development programs around three new vaccine candidates in 2021. These include potential vaccines for HIV, seasonal flu and the Nipah virus. Moderna’s development and clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine is among the fastest in history, and thus far its results have been very promising, buoying hopes for the efficacy of other preventative treatments being generated using this technology which is new to human clinical use.
An mRNA vaccine differs from typical, historical vaccines because it involves providing a person with just a set of instructions on how to build specific proteins that will trigger a body’s natural defenses. The mRNA instructions, which are temporary and do not affect a person’s actual DNA, simply prompt the body’s cells to produce proteins that mirror those used by a virus to attach to and infect cells. The independent proteins are then fought off by a person’s natural immune response, which provides a lasting lesson in how to fight off any future proteins that match that profile, including those which help viruses attach to and infect people.
Moderna’s new programs will target not only seasonal flu, but also a combinatory vaccine that could target both the regular flu and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19. The HIV candidate, which is developed in collaboration with both the AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is expected to enter into Phase 1 trials this year, as will the flue face. Nipah virus is a highly lethal illness that can cause respiratory and neurological symptoms, and which is particularly a threat in India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore.
mRNA-based vaccines have long held potential for future vaccine development, in part because of their flexibility and programmability, and in part because they don’t use any active or dormant virus, which reduces their risks in terms of causing any direct infections up front. The COVID-19 pandemic spurred significant investment and regulatory/health and safety investment into the technology, paving the way for its use in other areas, including these new vaccine candidate trials by Moderna.
Top Glove, the world’s largest rubber glove maker, has enjoyed record profits in the pandemic, even as thousands of its low-paid workers in Malaysia suffer from a large outbreak of Covid-19.
Carsome, which bills itself as Southeast Asia’s largest e-commerce platform for used cars, announced it has closed a $30 million Series D. The funding was led by Asia Partners, with participation from returning investors Burda Principal Investments and Ondine Capital.
The startup claims that this is one of the largest “all-equity financings to-date in Southeast Asia’s online automotive industry.” Part of the Series D may be used for mergers and acquisitions to consolidate the company’s supply chain.
Founded five years ago in Malaysia, Carsome’s platform serves both C2C and B2C segments, and ensures quality by conducting inspections before vehicles are listed on its platform. It now has 1,000 employees and claims to transact 70,000 cars on an annualized basis, totaling $600 million.
In a press statement, co-founder and group chief executive officer Eric Cheng said that the company, which now also operates in Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, doubled its monthly revenue over the past six months, compared to pre-pandemic levels. The company claims that this is partly because more people and businesses are buying their own cars for safety reasons.
While sales of new vehicles have plummeted around the world, used car sales, especially through e-commerce platforms, are recovering more quickly, according to Counterpoint Research. This largely because people want to avoid public transportation and ride-hailing, but also want cheaper options.
Other used car platforms in Southeast Asia include Carro, OLX Autos (formerly called BeliMobilGue) and Carmudi.
Web Summit announced today that it will revive RISE, one of Asia’s largest tech conferences, in March 2022, moving it to Kuala Lumpur after five years in Hong Kong. It also announced a new event, called Web Summit Tokyo, that will launch in 2022, too.
The flagship Web Summit event is currently taking place as an online conference.
In November 2019, Web Summit announced it was postponing RISE to 2021 amid the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. Of course, this year has seen a series of other major event cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Web Summit is planning for the 2022 edition of RISE to be in-person, and has signed a new partnership with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation. In a press statement, Web Summit and RISE co-founder and chief executive officer Paddy Cosgrave said, “This is not a goodbye to Hong Kong. We hope to return to the city in the future with a brand new event.”
Web Summit Tokyo, which will take place in September 2022, as part of its global expansion, which will also include an event in Brazil Rio de Janeiro or Porto Alegre are currently being considered as the location.
Web Summit has already announced plans to hold its flagship event as an in-person conference in November 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Food Market Hub co-founders Anthony See and Shayna Teh
Many restaurants still rely on spreadsheets to track their inventory of produce, meat and other ingredients. But using manual methods often results in food wastage and higher costs. Malaysia-based Food Market Hub is a cloud-based platform that connects food and beverage (F&B) outlets directly to suppliers, making it easier to communicate and manage orders. The startup announced today it has closed a Series A round of $4 million from Go-Ventures, the investment arm of Gojek, and SIG.
This brings Food Market Hub’s total funding to $4.7 million so far. Founded in 2017 by Anthony See and Shayna Teh, Food Market Hub is currently used by about 2,000 food and beverage outlets in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The platform handles about $200 million in purchase orders on an annual basis and is used by well-known brands like Din Tai Fung, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Putien.
Food Market Hub automates purchasing and inventory tracking by connecting food and beverage outlets with central kitchens and suppliers. Orders can be placed through the platform or by email and WhatsApp. The platform also uses AI-based tech to forecast purchasing needs by analyzing past data.
Part of Food Market Hub’s Series A will be used to expand into Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Teh told TechCrunch that the company chose those three countries because they are the largest food and beverage markets in Southeast Asia, and share many similarities with Malaysia.
“The F&B sector does not use digitized procurement and inventory management solutions, which leads to inefficiency and significant added costs,” she said.
Several other startups focused on digitizing the food supply chain in those countries have also recently raised venture capital funding, including Thailand’s FreshKet, Indonesia’s Eden Farm and TaniHub, and Singapore-based Glife.
Teh said Food Market Hub doesn’t view those companies as competitors, because they focus on supplying produce and other ingredients to restaurants. Instead, Food Market Hub’s core business “is a communication platform that allows restaurants to communicate with and place orders to their existing suppliers,” she said.
“In fact, our customers will likely use our platform to place orders to these companies in the future,” she added.
Food Market Hub’s target clientele include restaurants that are growing into chains or franchises, which means manual purchase orders and inventory management quickly becomes inefficient. Before they started using Food Market Hub, many clients relied on Excel spreadsheets and notebooks to track inventory level and placed orders through phone calls, emails or WhatsApp, Teh said.
The company claims close to zero churn, with clients sticking to the platform unless their restaurant shuts down. Unfortunately, many food and beverage businesses have been forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including some of Food Market Hub’s customers. On the other hand, the pandemic underscored the importance of controlling inventory closely to manage costs.
“Restaurant owners and managers embraced technology at a much faster rate than ever before and we have been a beneficiary,” said Teh. “We have seen record demand for our products in recent months and are onboarding hundreds of outlets each month and expect this to only accelerate going forward.”
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Homage, a Singapore-based caregiving and telehealth company, has taken a major step in its global expansion plan. The startup announced today that it has received strategic investment from Infocom, the Japanese information and communications technology company that runs one of the largest healthcare IT businesses in the country. Infocom’s solutions are used by more than 13,000 healthcare facilities in Japan.
During an interview with TechCrunch that will air as part of Disrupt tomorrow, Homage co-founder and chief executive Gillian Tee said “Japan has one of the most ageing populations in the world, and the problem is that we need to start building infrastructure to enable people to be able to access the kind of care services that they need.” She added that Homage and Infocom’s missions align because the latter is also building a platform for caregivers in Japan, in a bid to help solve the shortage of carers in the country.
Homage raised a Series B earlier this year with the goal of entering new Asian markets. The company, which currently operates in Singapore and Malaysia, focuses on patients who need long-term rehabilitation or care services, especially elderly people. This makes it a good match for Japan, where more than one in five of its population is currently aged 65 or over. In the next decade, that number is expected to increase to about one in three, making the need for caregiving services especially acute.
The deal includes a regional partnership that will enable Homage to launch its services into Japan, and Infocom to expand its reach in Southeast Asia. Homage’s services include a caregiver-client matching platform and a home medical service that includes online consultations and house calls, while Infocom’s technology covers a wide range of verticals, including digital healthcare, radiology, pharmaceuticals, medical imaging and hospital information management.
In a statement about the strategic investment, Mototaka Kuboi, Infocom’s managing executive officer and head of its healthcare business division, said, “We see Homage as an ideal partner given the company’s unique cutting-edge technology and market leadership in the long-term care segment, and we aim to drive business growth not only in Homage’s core and rapidly growing market in Southeast Asia, but also regionally.”
The travel aggregator dubs the capital injection a “strong vote of confidence” in its strategy to adjust to what it couches as a ‘new normal’ for travel by retooling its focus on domestic and short hop excursions and activities. The funding round is led by an unnamed global financial institution. Traveloka also says “some” existing investors also participated (EV Growth being one it has named).
Prior to this latest raise, Traveloka had pulled in around $950M across five funding rounds since being founded back in 2012, according to Crunchbase. Back in 2017 it passed unicorn valuation after bagging $350 million from Expedia in exchange for a minority stake in the business. But, shortly afterwards, it lost one of its co-founders — who departed citing a clash of goals as the business switched to more of a commercial mindset, as he saw it.
Fast forward a few years and the pandemic is playing havoc with the travel industry as a whole. Since the pandemic landed to decimate ‘business as usual’ in the sector, Traveloka has responded by launching a number of initiatives in a bid to reassure and woo back customers — including flights that bundle COVID-19 tests; flexible open-date vouchers for hotels (aka, ‘Buy Now Stay Later’); online experiences; flash sale livestreams; and a big push around cleanliness with standardized hygiene protocols for vacation accommodation that can be booked via its platform.
Traveloka says the latest capital injection will be used not only to beef up its balance sheet but to boost efforts and deepen offerings in “select priority areas” — including building out what it describes as “a more robust and integrated Travel & Lifestyle portfolio” in key markets.
It also intends to expand financial services solutions it offers to ecosystem partners.
Commenting in a statement, Ferry Unardi, Traveloka co-founder and CEO, said: “Without a doubt, Traveloka has been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have experienced the lowest business rate that we have ever seen since our inception. However, we always believed that the company will prevail by rapidly adjusting our strategy, working with our industry and ecosystem partners, as well as continuing to innovate for our users, our ultimate focus.”
Per Ferry, Traveloka’s business in Vietnam is “approaching” steady pre-COVID-19 levels, while he says its Thailand business is “on its way” to surpassing 50%.
“Indonesia and Malaysia are still in the early stage, but they continue to demonstrate promising momentum with strong week-to-week improvement, especially in accommodation with the emergence of shorter distance staycation behavior,” he added. “We acknowledge that the sector may go through further turbulence as it navigates new waves, but we feel we are prepared to take on the challenge and emerge on the right side of it.”
“The travel industry is facing unprecedented times, including Traveloka,” added Willson Cuaca, managing partner of EV Growth, in another supporting statement. “The leadership team has taken difficult yet commendable measures including restructuring and optimization to minimize financial health risks. We are confident that the company will emerge even stronger after this crisis.”
The trial was the first of several related to the pilfering of billions from the 1MDB fund, a national scandal that led to the ouster of Mr. Najib’s party in 2018.
The deal settles charges against the Wall Street bank for its role in helping to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for a sovereign wealth fund that was used as a personal piggy bank.