#DealMonitor – Tencent investiert in Scalable Capital – peaq bekommt 2,5 Millionen – Flow Lab sammelt 1 Million ein


Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 9. Juni werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages in der DACH-Region. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.

INVESTMENTS

Scalable Capital
+++ Jetzt offiziell! Der chinesische Techkonzern Tencent und Altinvestoren investieren 180 Millionen US-Dollar in Scalable Capital. Der digitale Vermögensverwalter, der 2014 von Florian Prucker, Erik Podzuweit, Patrick Pöschl, Adam French und Stefan Mittnik gegründet wurde, sammelt nun schon 320 Millionen Dollar ein. “Das neue Kapital wird verwendet, um das europäische Wachstum von Scalable Capital zu beschleunigen und den Aufbau eines ganzheitlichen digitalen Vermögensverwaltungs- und Brokerage-Angebots fortzusetzen”, teilt die Jungfirma mit. Im Zuge der aktuellen Investmentrunde steigt das Unternehmen aus München zum Unicorn auf. Die Bewertung liegt bei 1,4 Milliarden Dollar (Post-Money). 230 Mitarbeiter:innen arbeiten derzeit für Scalable Capital. Zuletzt sammelte das der Neobroker und Robo-Advisor 50 Millionen Euro ein – unter anderem von Hedosophia, BlackRock, HV Capital und Tengelmann Ventures. Im Insider-Podcast haben wir bereits am Montag über das Investment berichtet. Mehr über Scalable Capital

peaq
+++ Die Beteiligungsgesellschaft Scherzer & Co., Werner Geissler, ehemaliger Vice-Chairman von Procter & Gamble, und Meteoric VC investieren 2,5 Millionen Euro in peaq. Das Startup aus Berlin, das 2017 von Till Wendler, Julia Poenitzsch, Max Thake und Leonard Dorlöchter gegründet wurde,  möchte Unternehmen dabei helfen, Prozesse zu automatisieren und Kosten einzusparen. Dafür setzt das peaq-Team auf sogenannte Distributed Ledger Technology. “Unsere dezentrale Infrastruktur transformiert das Internet der Dinge in die hyper-vernetzte Economy of Things”, verspricht das Startup. Mehrere Angel-Investoren investierten zuvor bereits 750.000 Euro in peaq.

Flow Lab
Der Berliner Kapitalgeber IBB Ventures, APX, der Frühphaseninvestor von Axel Springer und Porsche, sowie einige Business Angels investieren 1 Million Euro in das Berliner Startup Flow Lab. Die Jungfirma, die 2018 von Jonas Vossler, David Jacob und Peter Schwarz gegründet wurde, entwickelt eine individuelle Mental-Trainings-App. ”Mit Hilfe von geführten Audiosessions lernst du Schritt für Schritt, auch unter Stress produktive Höchstleistungen zu erzielen”, heißt es auf der Website. APX, die Unternehmensberatung IIC Solutions und drei Business Angels investierten zuvor bereits 285.000 Euro in Flow Lab.

Travelcircus
+++ Die Altinvestoren investieren eine siebenstellige Summe in Travelcircus. Das Startup, das von 2014 von Nils Brosch, Bastian Böckenhüser, Mathias Zeitler und Robert Anders gegründet wurde, kümmert sich um “handverlesene Kurzreisepakete im DACH-Raum”. In der Vergangenheit investierten Geldgeber wie Airbridge Equity Partners, Tengelmann Ventures, MairDumont Ventures, IBB Ventures und Howzat Growth rund 7,5 Millionen Euro in die Jungfirma. 70 Mitarbeiter:innen wirkten derzeit für Travelcircus.

VENTURE CAPITAL

Emerge Accelerator
+++ Die Investoren SoftBank und Speedinvest starten mit Emerge Accelerator ein Programm für “mehr Diversität in der europäischen Tech-Branche”. Der Emerge Accelerator richtet sich gezielt an “Startups, die mindestens eine/n Gründer*in haben, der oder die sich als People of Color, weiblich, LGBTQ+, Mensch mit Behinderung oder Geflüchtete*r identifiziert”. Zu den Unterstützer:innen des Emerge Accelerators gehören Cherry Ventures, Breega, firstminute Capital und Kindred. In den USA investierte SoftBank im Rahmen der ersten Emerge-Reihe insgesamt 5 Millionen US-Dollar in 13 Startups.

Achtung! Wir freuen uns über Tipps, Infos und Hinweise, was wir in unserem #DealMonitor alles so aufgreifen sollten. Schreibt uns eure Vorschläge entweder ganz klassisch per E-Mail oder nutzt unsere “Stille Post“, unseren Briefkasten für Insider-Infos.

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): azrael74

#accelerator, #aktuell, #apx, #berlin, #emerge-accelerator, #fintech, #flow-lab, #ibb-ventures, #munchen, #neobroker, #peaq, #robo-advisor, #scalable-capital, #softbank, #speedinvest, #tencent, #travel, #travelcircus, #venture-capital

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In search of a new crypto deity

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I wrote about tech taking on Disney. This week, I’m talking about the search for a new crypto messiah.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The Big Thing

Elon has worn out his welcome among the crypto illuminati, and the acolytes of Bitcoin are searching out a new emperor god king.

This weekend, thousands of crypto acolytes and investors have descended on a Bitcoin-themed conference in Miami, a very real, very heavily-produced conference sporting crypto celebrities and actual celebrities all on a mission to make waves.

Even though I am not at the conference in person (panels from its main stage were live-streamed online), I have plenty of invites in my email for afterparties featuring celebrities, open bars and endless conversations on the perils of fiat. The cryptocurrency community has never been larger or richer thanks to its most fervent bull run yet, and despite a pretty noteworthy correction in the past few weeks, people believe the best is yet to come.

Despite having so much, what they still seem to be lacking is a patron saint.

For the longest bout, that was SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk who bolstered the currency by pushing Tesla to invest cash on its balance sheet into bitcoin, while also pushing for Tesla to accept bitcoin payments for its vehicles. As I’ve noted in this newsletter in the past, Musk had a tough time reconciling the sheer energy use of bitcoin’s global network with his eco warrior bravado which has seemed to lead to his mild and uneven excommunication (though I’m sure he’s welcome back at any time).

There are plenty of celebrities looking to fill his shoes — a recent endorsement gone wrong by Soulja Boy was one of the more comical instances.

Crypto has been no stranger to grift — of that even the most hardcore crypto grifters can likely agree — and I think there’s been some agreement that the only leader who can truly preach the gospel is someone who is already so rich they don’t even need more money. It’s one reason the community has offered up so much respect for Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin who truly doesn’t seem to care too much about getting any wealthier — he donated about $1 billion worth of crypto to Covid relief efforts in India. A Musk-like cheerleader serves a different purpose though, and so the community is in search of a Good Billionaire.

The best runner-up at the moment appears to be one Jack Dorsey, and while — like Musk — he is also another double-CEO, he is quite a bit different from him in demeanor and desire for the spotlight. He was, however, a headline speaker at Miami’s Bitcoin conference.

Dorsey gathers the most headlines for his work at Twitter but it’s Square where he is pushing most of his crypto enthusiasm. Users can already use Square’s Cash App to buy Bitcoin. Minutes before going onstage Friday, Dorsey tweeted out a thread detailing that Square was interested in building its own hardware wallet that users could store cryptocurrency like bitcoin on outside of the confines of an exchange.

“Bitcoin changes absolutely everything,” Dorsey said onstage. “I don’t think there is anything more important in my lifetime to work on.”

And while the billionaire Dorsey seems like a good choice on paper — he tweets about bitcoin often, but only good tweets. He defends its environmental effects. He shows up to House misinformation hearings with a bitcoin tracker clearly visible in the background. He is also unfortunately the CEO of Twitter, a company that’s desire to reign in its more troublesome users — including one very troublesome user — has caused a rift between him and the crypto community’s very vocal libertarian sect.

Dorsey didn’t make it very far into his speech before a heckler made a scene calling him a hypocrite because of all this with a few others piping in, but like any good potential crypto king would know to do, he just waited quietly for the noise to die down.


(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things 

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Facebook’s Trump ban will last at least 2 years
In response to the Facebook Oversight Board’s recommendations that the company offer more specificity around its ban of former President Trump, the company announced Friday that it will be banning Trump from its platforms through January 2023 at least, though the company has basically given itself the ability to extend that deadline if it so desires…

Nigeria suspends Twitter
Nigeria is shutting down access to Twitter inside the country with a government official citing the “use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.” Twitter called the shutdown “deeply concerning.”

Stack Overflow gets acquired for $1.8 billion
Stack Overflow, one of the most-visited sites of developers across the technology industry, was acquired by Prosus. The heavy hitter investment firm is best known for owning a huge chunk of Tencent. Stack Overflow’s founders say the site will continue to operate independently under the new management.

Spotify ups its personalization
Music service Spotify launched a dedicated section this week called Only You which aims to capture some of the personalization it has been serving up in its annual Spotify Wrapped review. Highlights of the new feature include blended playlists with friends and mid-year reviews.

Supreme Court limits US hacking law in landmark case
Justices from the conservative and liberal wings joined together in a landmark ruling that put limits on what kind of conduct can be prosecuted under the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

This one email explains Apple
Here’s a fun one, the email exchange that birthed the App Store between the late Steve Jobs and SVP of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet as annotated by my boss Matthew Panzarino.


illustration of money raining down

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process
“The more you know about your target customers’ pain points with current solutions, the easier it will be to stand out. Take every opportunity to learn about the people you are aiming to serve, and which problems they want to solve the most. Analyst reports about specific sectors may be useful, but there is no better source of information than the people who, hopefully, will pay to use your solution..”

3 lessons we learned after raising $6 million from 50 investors
“…being pre-product at the time, we had to lean on our experience and our vision to drive conviction and urgency among investors. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Investors either felt that our experience was a bad fit for the space we were entering (productivity/scheduling) or that our vision wasn’t compelling enough to merit investment on the terms we wanted.

The existential cost of decelerated growth
“Just because a technology startup has a hot start, that doesn’t mean it will grow quickly forever. Most will wind up somewhere in the middle — or worse. Put simply, there is a larger number of tech companies that do fine or a little bit worse after they reach scale.”

 

Again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

#analyst, #app-store, #bertrand-serlet, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #bryce-durbin, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #digital-currencies, #elon-musk, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #india, #jack-dorsey, #king, #matthew-panzarino, #miami, #nigeria, #president, #prosus, #soulja-boy, #spacex, #spotify, #stack-overflow, #steve-jobs, #supreme-court, #svp, #tc, #technology, #tencent, #tesla, #trump, #twitter, #united-states, #vitalik-buterin, #week-in-review

0

Facebook buys studio behind Roblox-like Crayta gaming platform

Facebook has been making plenty of one-off virtual reality studio acquisitions lately, but today the company announced that they’re buying something with wider ambitions — a Roblox-like game creation platform.

Facebook shared that they’re buying Unit 2 Games, which builds a platform called Crayta. Like some other platforms out there it builds on top of the Unreal Engine and gives users a more simple creation interface teamed with discovery and community features. Crayta has cornered its own niche pushing monetization paths like Battle Pass seasons giving the platform a more Fortnite-like vibe as well.

Unit 2 has been around for just over 3 years and Crayta launched just last July. Its audience has likely been limited by the studio’s deal to exclusively launch on Google’s cloud-streaming platform Stadia though it’s also available on the Epic Games Store as of March.

The title feels designed for the lightweight nature of cloud-gaming platforms with users able to share access to games just by linking other users and Facebook seems keen to use Crayta to push forward their own efforts in the gaming sphere.

“Crayta has maximized current cloud-streaming technology to make game creation more accessible and easy to use. We plan to integrate Crayta’s creation toolset into Facebook Gaming’s cloud platform to instantly deliver new experiences on Facebook,” Facebook Gaming VP Vivek Sharma wrote in an announcement post.

The entire team will be coming on as part of the acquisition, though financial terms of the deal weren’t shared.

#computing, #epic-games, #epic-games-store, #facebook, #fortnite, #google-stadia, #online-games, #roblox, #software, #stadia, #tc, #tencent, #video-gaming, #virtual-reality, #vp

0

Tencent helps Chinese students skip prohibitively low speeds for school websites overseas

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students enrolled in overseas schools are stranded as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt life and airlines worldwide. Learning at home in China, they all face one challenge: Their school websites and other academic resources load excruciatingly slowly because all web traffic has to pass through the country’s censorship apparatus known as the “great firewall.”

Spotting a business opportunity, Alibaba’s cloud unit worked on connecting students in China to their university portals abroad through a virtual private network arrangement with American cybersecurity solutions provider Fortinet to provide, Reuters reported last July, saying Tencent had a similar product.

Details of Tencent’s offering have come to light. An app called “Chang’e Education Acceleration” debuted on Apple’s App Store in March, helping to speed up loading time for a selection of overseas educational services. It describes itself in a mouthful: “An online learning free accelerator from Tencent, with a mission to provide internet acceleration and search services in educational resources to students and researchers at home and abroad.”

Unlike Alibaba’s VPN for academic use, Chang’e is not a VPN, the firm told TechCrunch. The firm didn’t say how it defines VPN or explain how Chang’e works technically. Tencent said Chang’e rolled out on the app’s official website in October.

The word “VPN” is a loaded term in China as it often implies illegally bypassing the “great firewall.” People refer to its euphemism “accelerator” or “scientific internet surfing tool” otherwise. When Chang’e is switched on, iPhone’s VPN status is shown as “on”, according to a test by TechCrunch.

Tencent’s Chang’e website ‘accelerator’ helps Chinese students stuck home get on their school websites faster. Screenshot: TechCrunch

On the welcome page, Chang’e asks users to pick from eight countries, including the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., for “acceleration”. It also shows the latency time and expected speed increased for each region.

Once a country is picked, Chang’e shows a list of educational resources that users can visit on the app’s built-in browser. They include the websites of 79 top universities, mostly U.S. and the U.K. ones; team collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Trello and Slack; remote-learning platforms UDemy, Coursera, Lynda and Khan Academy; research networks such as SSRN and JSTOR; programming and engineering communities like Stack Overflow, Codeacademy and IEEE; economics databases from the World Bank and OECD; as well as resources for medical students like PubMed and Lancet.

Many of these services are not blocked in China but load slowly on mainland China behind the “great firewall.” Users can request sites not already on the list to be included.

Accessing Stanford’s website through Chang’e. Screenshot: TechCrunch

Chang’e appears to have whitelisted only its chosen sites rather than all traffic on a user’s smartphone. Google, Facebook, YouTube and other websites banned in China are still unavailable when the Chang’e is at work. The app, available on both Android and iOS for free, doesn’t currently require users to sign up, a rare gesture in a country where online activities are strictly regulated and most websites ask for users’ real-name registrations.

Services accessible through Chang’e. Screenshot: TechCrunch

The offerings from Alibaba and Tencent are indicative of the inadvertent consequences caused by Beijing’s censorship system designed to block information deemed illegal or harmful to China’s national interest. Universities, research institutes, multinational corporations and exporters are often forced to seek censorship circumvention apps for what the authorities would consider innocuous purposes.

VPN providers have to obtain the government’s green light to legally operate in China and users of licensed VPN services are prohibited from browsing websites thought of us endangering China’s national security. In 2017, Apple removed hundreds of unlicensed VPN apps from its China App Store at Beijing’s behest.

In October, TechCrunch reported that the VPN app and browser Tuber gave Chinese users a rare glimpse into the global internet ecosystem of Facebook, YouTube, Google and other mainstream apps, but the app was removed shortly after the article was published.

#alibaba, #app-store, #apple, #apple-app-store, #asia, #beijing, #china, #firewall, #fortinet, #great-firewall, #tc, #tencent, #vpn

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Xbox teams up with Tencent’s Honor of Kings maker TiMi Studios

TiMi Studios, one of the world’s most lucrative game makers and is part of Tencent’s gargantuan digital entertainment empire, said Thursday that it has struck a strategic partnership with Xbox.

The succinct announcement did not mention whether the tie-up is for content development or Xbox’s console distribution in China but said more details will be unveiled for the “deep partnership” by the end of this year.

Established in 2008 within Tencent, TiMi is behind popular mobile titles such as Honor of Kings and Call of Duty Mobile. In 2020, Honor of Kings alone generated close to $2.5 billion in player spending, according to market research company SensorTower. In all, TiMi pocketed $10 billion in revenue last year, according to a report from Reuters citing people with knowledge.

The partnership could help TiMi build a name globally by converting its mobile titles into console plays for Microsoft’s Xbox. TiMi has been trying to strengthen its own brand and distinguish itself from other Tencent gaming clusters, such as its internal rival LightSpeed & Quantum Studio, which is known for PUBG Mobile.

TiMi operates a branch in Los Angeles and said in January 2020 that it planned to “triple” its headcount in North America, adding that building high-budget, high-quality AAA mobile games was core to its global strategy. There are clues in a recruitment notice posted recently by a TiMi employee: The unit is hiring developers for an upcoming AAA title that is benchmarked against the Oasis, a massively multiplayer online game that evolves into a virtual society in the fiction and film Ready Player One. Oasis is played via a virtual reality headset.

Xbox’s latest Series X and Series S are to debut in China imminently, though the launch doesn’t appear to be linked to the Tencent deal. Sony’s Playstation 5 just hit the shelves in China in late April. Nintendo Switch distributes in China through a partnership with Tencent sealed in 2019.

Chinese console players often resort to grey markets for foreign editions because the list of Chinese titles approved by local authorities is tiny compared to what’s available outside the country. But these grey markets, both online and offline, are susceptible to ongoing clampdown. Most recently in March, product listings by multiple top sellers of imported console games vanished from Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace.

#asia, #call-of-duty, #china, #gadgets, #gaming, #honor-of-kings, #los-angeles, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #player, #ready-player-one, #tencent, #video-games, #video-gaming, #virtual-reality, #xbox

0

#CaptableCheck – Gründer Kagan Sümer hält weiter 18,9 % am Unicorn Gorrilas


Der Berliner Lieferdienst Gorillas, 2020 von Kagan Sümer und Jörg Kattner gegründet, gehört knapp ein Jahr nach dem Start schon zu den heißesten Startups des Landes. In den vergangenen Monaten flossen mehr als 280 Millionen Euro in den schnellen Supermarkt. Das Startup, das nach unseren Informationen derzeit 1 Milliarde Dollar sucht, erreichte zudem bereits Unicorn-Status – und damit eine Bewertung von mindestens 1 Milliarde Dollar – so schnell wie nie zuvor ein Startup in Deutschland.

Auch nach der Unicorn-Investmentrunde hält Gründer Sümer weiter 18,9 % am milliardenschweren Unternehmen. Auf Mitgründer Kattner, der bereits ausgestiegen ist, entfallen noch 4,2 %. Der Berliner Super-Angel Christophe Maire, der über Atlantic Food Labs bereits im Sommer 2020 in Gorillas investierte, ist über mehrere Investmentvehikel weiter mit rund 14,9 % am Lieferdienst beteiligt. Noch mehr Anteile hält nur die New Yorker Investmentgesellschaft Coatue, auf die 19,4 % der Gorillas-Anteile entfallen.

Der milliardenschwere Geldgeber DST Global, hinter dem Yuri Milner steckt, ist derzeit mit 4,7 % an Gorillas beteiligt. Auf den chinesischen Internet-Giganten Tencent entfallen knapp 3,9 %. Greenoaks Capital ist derzeit mit 2,3 % am Unternehmen beteiligt. Auf Fifth Wall entfallen 1,1 % der Gorillas-Anteile. Der Berliner Geldgeber Discovery Ventures (Jan Deepen und Stefan Jeschonnek) zu guter Letzt ist noch mit knapp 0,4 % am schnellen Supermarkt beteiligt.

Daneben sind noch einige Gorillas-Mitarbeiter wie Ronny Shibley (7,6 %), Felix Chrobog (2,3 %) und Ugur Samut (2,1 %) direkt am Unternehmen beteiligt. Zudem halten auch noch diverse weitere Personen MIni-Anteile am Unicorn – darunter Neeraj Berry, Elmar Broschelt, Adrian Frenzel, Kevin Hartz, Daniel Khachab, Philipp Klöckner, Alexander Ljung, Florian Meissner, Ramzi Rizk, Ulrike Schott-Maire Matthias Wilrich.

Tipp: 5 Dinge, die jeder über das ganz schnelle Unicorn Gorillas wissen sollte

Insider #101 – Gorrilas sucht 1 Milliarde Dollar

Abonnieren: Die Podcasts von deutsche-startups.de könnt ihr bei Amazon Music – Apple Podcasts – Castbox – Deezer – Google Podcasts – iHeartRadio – Overcast – PlayerFM – Podimo – Spotify – SoundCloud oder per RSS-Feed abonnieren.

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): Gorillas

#aktuell, #berlin, #captablecheck, #gorillas, #tencent, #venture-capital

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PayPal’s ambition and uphill battle in China

Over the last few months, PayPal has been quietly gearing up for its expansion in China.

At the recent Boao Forum for Asia, China’s answer to Davos, the American payments giant said its strategy for China is not to challenge the duopoly of Alipay and WeChat Pay. Instead, it wants to focus on cross-border business and provide gateways both for Chinese merchants to collect funds and for Chinese consumers to pay for overseas goods.

It’s certainly a lucrative area. The market size of cross-border e-commerce in China surged from about 3 trillion yuan ($460 million) to nearly 6 trillion yuan between 2016 and 2021, according to market research firm iResearch.

But this space has also become crowded in recent years and PayPal may be late to the fray, said a China-based manager for an American tech giant, who asked for anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak to the media.

On Amazon, one of the largest marketplaces for Chinese exporters to sell online, there are already established options for merchants to collect funds. Setting up a bank account in a foreign country can be difficult for a small-time Chinese exporter, not to mention the high fees for remittance, so such merchants often seek third-party payments transfer solutions such as U.S.-based Payoneer and Chinese equivalents Pingpong and Lianlian, which charge a relatively small fee to deposit merchants’ sales into their bank accounts at home.

China has stringent policies for foreign exchange and electronic payments, but PayPal has already cleared the regulatory hurdles. In January, the American fintech titan became the first foreign firm to hold a license for online payment processor in China after it bought out shares in a local payments firm.

Obtaining the government greenlight is just the first step. The appeal of PayPal hinges largely on what it can offer to Chinese e-commerce exporters, who are now flooding the likes of Amazon and eBay.

“At the end of the day, customers only care which service is the cheapest and easiest to use,” said the China-based manager from the American firm.

“The Chinese cross-border payment solutions have achieved impressive results in terms of products, scale, and fees,” the person said. “I don’t think PayPal stands a chance.”

Exporters who build their own online stores instead of selling on mainstream marketplaces may still find PayPal necessary as a tool to accept payments from customers, given the app’s wide reach.

As for cross-border payments, PayPal is competing with Tencent’s WeChat Pay and Ant Group’s Alipay, which have long been ubiquitous in China. Both e-wallets have been aggressively growing their global partnerships to let China’s outbound travelers pay at overseas retailers like they would at home. Those shopping for overseas products domestically often use Chinese-owned e-commerce apps, which tend to have Alipay or WeChat Pay as their payment processor. Credit cards never became prevalent in China.

Cross-border payments have also become one of Ant’s main growth goals, according to the prospectus of its now-halted initial public offering. While overseas businesses accounted for just about 5% of the firm’s revenue in the second half of 2020, most of that segment came from cross-border payments. At the time, Ant also had plans to spend HK$52.8 billion, or 40%, of the net proceeds from its IPO on expanding its cross-border payment and merchant services as well as other overseas functionalities.

“It depends on whether PayPal is able to offer even lower fees than Ant,” said a person who previously worked on cross-border wallets for a Chinese company. “But PayPal itself is not famous for low fees.”

#alipay, #amazon, #ant-group, #asia, #china, #cross-border-e-commerce, #ebay, #ecommerce, #finance, #merchant-services, #online-payments, #online-stores, #payments, #payoneer, #paypal, #tc, #tencent, #wechat, #wechat-pay

0

Greece’s Viva Wallet raises $80M for its neo-bank targeting small business merchants

Challenger banks continue to make significant waves in the world of finance, with smaller outfits luring customers away from incumbents by providing an easier way for them to not only engage with basic banking services, but to tap into a wave of technology that brings more personalization and often better deals into the equation. In the latest development, Viva Wallet, a Greek startup building banking services aimed at small and medium merchants, has picked up financing of $80 million, money that it will be using to expand its footprint and the services that it is offering to users, in particular expanding its Merchant Advance loans business.

The company is already live in 23 European markets and plans soon to expand that to Croatia, Hungary and Sweden.

The funding is notable in part because of who is doing the investing. Tencent — the Chinese technology giant behind Wechat that is also making major inroads into financial services — is in the round, alongside the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and Breyer Capital.

Viva Wallet is not disclosing its valuation right now, but it means business. Yannis Larios, the company’s VP of strategy and business development, confirmed to us that it’s in the middle of closing a large Series D — last August sized at €500 million ($603 million) — that will value it at €1.5 billion ($1.8 billion). This is a big leap: he also noted that when Viva Wallet closed its Series C in the second half of 2019, it was valued at €305 million.

“We are excited to onboard Tencent, EBRD and Breyer Capital to Viva Wallet,” said Haris Karonis, Founder and CEO of Viva Wallet, in a statement. “We are confident that our investors’ extensive know-how and network of partnerships will accelerate Viva Wallet’s plan to unify the fragmented European payments market. The technology innovations that we are bringing forward to European merchants will help them provide a frictionless, localised payment experience to all their clients, and liberate them from the hassle of maintaining legacy card terminals.”

The round is notable for coming at a time when Europe is slowly, hopefully poking its head out from under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has shaken and knocked over many an economy already wobbling even before the public health crisis. Focused primarily on merchants, Viva Wallet is a prime example of the kind of tech business that might help some of these critical businesses recover.

If you think that the world of neo-banks is very crowded — and that specifically neo-banks focussed on the SMB opportunity is also getting crowded — one reason why Viva Wallet is getting some attention is because of its traction and track record so far.

Larios says that the startup has been profitable as of Q1 of this year, on the back of a business that has grown by more than 40% in the last year, with 60,000 merchants currently active on its books. It’s on track, he said, for that number to be 100,000 by the end of this year.

One reason for its success, he said, is that it’s taken a very localized approach to growth, setting up operations with physical branches in each of the countries where it is active — somewhat of a retro idea in today’s market where banks are regularly shutting down their brick-and-mortar locations and going virtual. “Viva Wallet is proving the resilience of its business model,” he said.

The funding will be used in part to build out its loans program but also to expand areas where Viva Wallet is already strong. One of these is its point of sale Tap-On-Phone solution, which turns any Android device (smartphone, tablet or enterprise device) into a card terminal, to accept both contactless and PIN payments without the need for separate hardware. (Most POS systems use small, separate terminals that will connect to a tablet or phone.)

He also said there will be some M&A in the future to expand to more markets more quickly.

One area where the company will not expand is into the consumer space. Other neo-banks like Revolut and Atom have leveraged their traction with younger consumers to move into providing services for the enterprises that they found, but Larios that that is not a strategy that Viva Wallet will take in the reverse, not least because the consumer market has so far proven to be a tough-margin (or even bad-margin) game.

“Viva Wallet focuses on businesses only and will continue to do so!” he said (exclamation his!). “The consumer segment is not providing any space for profitability and we are seeing that all competing neo-bank business models focusing on consumers are mostly burning money away.

“We are focusing on the SMEs of Europe, providing a pan-European payments solution which however is very much localized to address merchants’ true local needs in terms of local payments acceptance, local IBAN accounts, local BIN business debit cards etc.” But while Viva Wallet may have a lot of SMB customers — and the EBRD investment is definitely being made to endorse that — he points out that it also includes medium businesses and some enterprises — larger merchants like supermarket chains, for example — and that will be an area it will continue to expand in.

This gives Viva Wallet enough specialization and differentiation, alongside its profitability in targeting those areas so far, to bring in the big name investors keen to tap into economic recovery, both to help that along and to ride the wave of that as it pays dividends.

“We are very excited to help Viva Wallet unify the fragmented European payments ecosystem across 23 countries. Viva Wallet is at the forefront of a paradigm shift for fintech and together, we expect to transform the payments industry in Europe” said Jim Breyer of Breyer Capital, in a statement.

“Tencent shares Viva Wallet’s aspirations of creating value for users and partners through innovation. We look forward to supporting Viva Wallet in its expansion across Europe,” added Danying Ma, MD of Tencent Investment.

#breyer-capital, #challenger-banks, #commerce, #ecommerce, #europe, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #merchants, #neo-bank, #neobank, #point-of-sale, #pos, #smbs, #tencent, #viva-wallet

0

Arm launches its latest chip design for HPC, data centers and the edge

Arm today announced the launch of two new platforms, Arm Neoverse V1 and Neoverse N2, as well as a new mesh interconnect for them. As you can tell from the name, V1 is a completely new product and maybe the best example yet of Arm’s ambitions in the data center, high-performance computing and machine learning space. N2 is Arm’s next-generation general compute platform that is meant to span use cases from hyperscale clouds to SmartNICs and running edge workloads. It’s also the first design based on the company’s new Armv9 architecture.

Not too long ago, high-performance computing was dominated by a small number of players, but the Arm ecosystem has scored its fair share of wins here recently, with supercomputers in South Korea, India and France betting on it. The promise of V1 is that it will vastly outperform the older N1 platform, with a 2x gain in floating-point performance, for example, and a 4x gain in machine learning performance.

Image Credits: Arm

“The V1 is about how much performance can we bring — and that was the goal,” Chris Bergey, SVP and GM of Arm’s Infrastructure Line of Business, told me. He also noted that the V1 is Arm’s widest architecture yet. He noted that while V1 wasn’t specifically built for the HPC market, it was definitely a target market. And while the current Neoverse V1 platform isn’t based on the new Armv9 architecture yet, the next generation will be.

N2, on the other hand, is all about getting the most performance per watt, Bergey stressed. “This is really about staying in that same performance-per-watt-type envelope that we have within N1 but bringing more performance,” he said. In Arm’s testing, NGINX saw a 1.3x performance increase versus the previous generation, for example.

Image Credits: Arm

In many ways, today’s release is also a chance for Arm to highlight its recent customer wins. AWS Graviton2 is obviously doing quite well, but Oracle is also betting on Ampere’s Arm-based Altra CPUs for its cloud infrastructure.

“We believe Arm is going to be everywhere — from edge to the cloud. We are seeing N1-based processors deliver consistent performance, scalability and security that customers want from Cloud infrastructure,” said Bev Crair, senior VP, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Compute. “Partnering with Ampere Computing and leading ISVs, Oracle is making Arm server-side development a first-class, easy and cost-effective solution.”

Meanwhile, Alibaba Cloud and Tencent are both investing in Arm-based hardware for their cloud services as well, while Marvell will use the Neoverse V2 architecture for its OCTEON networking solutions.

#alibaba, #arm, #aws, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-services, #computing, #enterprise, #india, #machine-learning, #nvidia, #oracle, #oracle-cloud, #softbank-group, #south-korea, #svp, #tc, #technology, #tencent

0

Westward plans a $30M debut fund to take Chinese indie games global

In Hefei, a Chinese city known for its relics from the Three Kingdoms period and its manufacturing industry today, Maxim Rate was thrilled to find a small studio crafting a Western role-playing game, a genre that attracts lovers of gritty aesthetics and dark storylines.

“The design and computer graphics are really good. You can’t tell they are a Chinese team,” said Rate.

Rate’s mission is to find Chinese studios like the bootstrapped Hefei team and help them woo international players. As Chinese regulators tighten rules on game publishing and make licenses hard to obtain in recent years, small studios find themselves struggling. Since last year, Apple has pulled thousands of unlicensed games from its Chinese App Store at the behest of local authorities. Small-time developers begin to look beyond their home turf.

“The problem is these startups have no experience in overseas expansion,” said Rate.

An avid gamer himself, Rate quit his job at a Chinese cross-border payment firm last year and launched a part-incubator, part-investment vehicle to take Chinese games abroad. The firm, called Westward Gaming Ventures, took inspiration from Zheng He, a Chinese diplomat and explorer who embarked on state-sponsored naval expeditions to the “Western Oceans” during the Ming Dynasty.

Westward plans to raise 200 million yuan ($30 million) for its debut fund, Rate told TechCrunch in an interview. It plans to deploy the capital over the next three years with an intended check size of 2-4 million yuan per studio. It’s currently in talks with 20-30 teams that span a wide range of genres.

The Chinese fund being established is a so-called Qualified Foreign Limited Partners Fund, which, for the first time, will enable foreign investors (USD and EUR) to invest directly in Chinese gaming firms. Only a few institutions own a license for QFLP, and while Westward itself doesn’t hold one, it gains legitimacy for direct foreign investment by partnering with the private equity arm of a major Chinese financial conglomerate, which declined to be named at this stage.

To navigate such regulatory complications, Westward also seeks help from its advisors, including one that oversaw the legal and financial process of one of the largest joint ventures established between Chinese and foreign gaming firms in recent years. The partnership, which can’t be named, was also the first time a foreign entity has become the majority shareholder in a gaming joint venture in China.

China limits foreign investments in areas it considers sensitive, such as value-added services, so many companies resort to setting up elaborate offshore entities to receive overseas funding. The restriction makes it difficult for resource-strapped studios to land foreign investors, who could help them venture into global markets. They are left with the option of getting backed or bought by Chinese giants like Tencent or ByteDance.

Rise of Chinese plays

The idea of Westward is not just to lower the barriers for independent Chinese games to secure foreign capital but also better prepare them for overseas expansion.

“Chinese gaming studios, big or small, used to rely heavily on ads for user acquisition when they went abroad,” said Rate. “Sometimes a game would take off, but the team had no idea why, so they continued to test. Those who failed may just give up.”

But taking a game abroad is not as simple as translating it, hitting the publish button and launching an ad campaign on Facebook.

Westward’s plan is to get involved in a game’s early development phase and help them position: Is it an RPG? Is the targeted user a casual or serious player? What’s the graphic style? In addition, the firm also plans to supply developers with workspace, technical assistance, marketing and localization expertise, connection to publishers, and overseas operation help.

Image Credits: Westward Gaming Ventures

To provide post-investment support, Westward has partnered up with V+ Gaming Society, an incubator for games headquartered Shenzhen, which Westward also calls home.

Chinese tech companies are facing mounting challenges in the West as geopolitical tensions rise. Many now prefer calling themselves “global firms” and even deny their Chinese roots outright.

But for Westward, the games it helps doesn’t need to pretend they are non-Chinese. “Most players don’t consider where a game is from if it is a really good game,” said Rate.

“We actually hope to see elements of Chinese culture in these games that can be understood by overseas players.”

Amy Ho, a partner at Westward along with Rate and Edward He, said one of the few Chinese games that have managed to be both “Chinese” and transcend cultural boundaries is Chinese Parents. The simulation game became a global hit by letting users experience what it is like to raise a child in China.

The benchmark Rate gave was the generation of Japanese games that began exporting 20-30 years ago, which he described as “Japanese” in spirit but “globalized” in graphics and game design.

There have already been globally successful titles from Chinese makers like Tencent and rising studios Lilith and Mihoyo. In the past, many Chinese users on Steam would be asking foreign titles to rush out Chinese versions. Now, it’s not uncommon to see Western users demanding English editions of Chinese games, Rate observed.

Rather than politics, the bigger challenge, especially for small studios, is how to “collect key data for product iteration while complying with local privacy laws,” said Ho.

50-70% of Westward’s capital will come from Chinese institutions. The presence of Chinese investments inevitably leads to questions around censorship. Ho said while Westward provides resources and capital to studios, it will work to ensure their independence from investor influence.

If things go well, Westward could help facilitate cultural exchange between China and the rest of the world. Beijing has been trying to export the country’s soft power, and games may be a suitable conduit, suggested Rate. Amid the ongoing trade war, having foreign fundings in Chinese companies may also do good to China’s “brand”, he said.

#asia, #china, #entertainment, #funding, #games, #gaming, #rpg, #shenzhen, #tc, #tencent

0

Bux, a European Robinhood, raises $80M to expand its neo-broker platform

A new wave of apps have democratized the concept of investing, bringing the concept of trading stocks and currencies to a wider pool of users who can use these platforms to make incremental, or much larger, bets in the hopes of growing their money at a time when interest rates are low. In the latest development, Bux — a startup form Amsterdam that lets people invest in shares and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) without paying commissions (its pricing is based on flat €1 fees for certain services, no fees for others) — has picked up some investment of its own, a $80 million round that it.

Alongside this, the company is announcing a new CEO. Founder Nick Bortot is stepping away and Yorick Naeff, an early employee of the company who had been the COO, is taking over. Bortot will remain a shareholder and involved with the company, which will be using to expand its geographical footprint and expand its tech platform and services to users, said Naeff in an interview.

“Since we started, Bux has been trying to make investments affordable and intuitive, and that will still be the case,” he said. The average age of a Bux customer is 30, so while affordable and intuitive are definitely priorities to capture younger users, it also means that if Bux can earn their loyalty and show positive returns, they have the potential to keep them for a long time to come.

The funding is coming from an interesting group of investors. Jointly led by Prosus Ventures and Tencent (in which Prosus, the tech division of Naspers, is a major investor), it also included ABN Amro Ventures, Citius, Optiver, and Endeit Capital — all new investors — as well as previous backers HV Capital and Velocity Capital Fintech Ventures.

Naeff said in an interview that Bux isn’t disclosing its valuation with this round. But for some context, he confirmed that the startup has around 500,000 customers across the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, France and Belgium, using not just its main Bux Zero app, but also Bux Crypto and Bux X (a contracts for difference (CFDs) app).

Crypto remains a niche but extremely active part of the wider investment market and Naeff described Bux Crypo — formed out of Bux acquiring Blockport last year — as “very profitable.” The company had only raised about $35 million before this round, and it’s been around since 2014, so while he wouldn’t comment on wider profitability, you can draw some conclusions from that.

For some further valuation context, another big player in trading in Europe, eToro, in March announced it was going public by way of a SPAC valuing it at $10 billion. (Note: eToro is significantly bigger, adding 5 million users last year alone.)

Others in the wider competitive landscape include Robinhood out of the US, which had plans but appeared to have stalled in its entry into Europe; Trade Republic out of Germany, which raised $67 million a year ago from the likes of Accel and Founders Fund; and Revolut, which has been running a trading app for some time.

The opportunity that Bux is targeting is a very simple one: technology, and specifically innovations in banking and apps, have opened the door to making it significantly easier for the average consumer to engage in a new set of financial services.

At the same time, some of the more traditional ways of “growing” one’s capital, by way of buying and selling property or opening savings accounts, are not as strong these days as they were in the past, with the housing market being too expensive to enter for younger people, and interest rates very low, leading those consumers to considering other options open to them. Social media is also playing a major role here, opening up conversations around investing that have been traditionally run between professionals in the industry.

“We’re looking for industries that solve big societal needs and fintech continues to be one of them,” said Sandeep Bakshi, who heads up investments for Prosus in Europe, in an interview. “Interest rates being what they are, there are no opportunities for individuals to save and that represents a massive opportunity, and we’re happy to partner and be a part of the journey.”

Although there is a wave of so-called neo-brokers in the market today, Bux’s unique selling point, Naeff said, is the company’s tech stack.

In comparison to others providing trading apps, he said Bux is the first and only one of them to have built a full-stack system of its own.

“It’s not on top of existing broker, which makes it a nimble and modular,” he said. “This is especially critical because fintech is a game of scale, but every market is completely different when you consider tax, payment systems and the ID documents that one needs in order to fill KYC requirements.”

And that is before you consider that doing business in Europe means doing business in a number of different languages.

“Our system is here to scale across Europe,” he said. “The fact that we are live in five countries, and the only neo-broker doing that, shows that this modular system is working.”

Indeed, the scaling opportunity is one of the reasons why China’s tech giant Tencent, owner of WeChat and a vast gaming empire, has come on board.

“We are excited about backing BUX as they are the leading neo-broker in Europe and have been able to build a platform that is sustainable and scalable. BUX is the only neo-broker in Europe that offers zero commission investing without being dependent on kickbacks or payments for order flow. This ensures that its interests are fully aligned with its customers. We will support BUX in its journey of pursuing consistent growth for the years to come”, said Alex Leung, Assistant GM at Tencent, Strategic Development, in a statement.

#amsterdam, #bux, #europe, #finance, #funding, #neo-broker, #netherlands, #prosus, #tencent, #trading

0

Bilibili ups the ante in games with $123 million investment in TapTap

Competition in China’s gaming industry is getting stiffer in recent times as tech giants sniff out potential buyouts and investments to beef up their gaming alliance, whether it pertains to content or distribution.

Bilibili, the go-to video streaming platform for young Chinese, is the latest to make a major gaming deal. It has agreed to invest HK$960 million (about $123 million) into X.D. Network, which runs the popular game distribution platform TapTap in China, the company announced on Thursday.

Dual-listed in Hong Kong and New York, Bilibili will purchase 22,660,000 shares of X.D.’s common stock at HK$42.38 apiece, which will grant it a 4.72% stake.

The partners will initiate a series of “deep collaborations” around X.D.’s own games and TapTap, without offering more detail.

Though known for its trove of video content produced by amateur and professional creators, Bilibili derives a big chunk of its income from mobile games, which accounted for 40% of its revenues in 2020. The ratio had declined from 71% and 53% in 2018 and 2019, a sign that it’s trying to diversify revenue streams beyond distributing games.

Tencent has similarly leaned on games to drive revenues for years. The WeChat operator dominates China’s gaming market through original titles and a sprawling investment portfolio whose content it helps operate and promote.

X.D. makes games, too, but in recent years it has also emerged as a rebel against traditional game distributors, which are Android app stores operated by smartphone makers. The vision is to skip the high commission fees charged by the likes of Huawei and Xiaomi and monetize through ads. X.D.’s proposition has helped it attract a swathe of gaming companies to be its investors, including fast-growing studios Lilith Games and miHoYo, as well as ByteDance, which built up a 3,000-people strong gaming team within six years.

Bilibili’s investment further strengthens X.D.’s matrix of top-tier gaming investors. Tencent is conspicuously absent, but it’s no secret that ByteDance is its new nemesis. The TikTok parent recently outbid Tencent to acquire Moonton, a gaming studio that has gained ground in Southeast Asia, according to Reuters. Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, is also vying for user attention away from content published on WeChat.

#android, #asia, #bilibili, #bytedance, #china, #entertainment, #gaming, #smartphone-makers, #tencent, #tiktok, #video-hosting, #wechat, #xiaomi

0

Tencent Music now has joint labels with all ‘big three’ record labels

The music streaming arm of Tencent is further tightening its ties with the “big three” record label companies, its major licensing partners. Tencent Music Entertainment announced Tuesday that it has formed a new joint label with Warner Music Group, following similar deals with Universal Music Group in August 2020 and Sony Music Entertainment in early 2018.

The collaboration will take advantage of “Warner Music’s global resources and experience in supporting artists’ careers, as well as TME’s massive influence in mainland China’s music and entertainment market,” TME says in an announcement.

The joint label established with UMG similarly aims to bring international artists to China, one of the world’s fastest-growing music markets, and take Chinese musicians abroad.

Alongside the label deal, TME and WMG have signed a multi-year licensing agreement, an extension of their decade-long collaboration.

TME has ongoing licensing relationships with all three major record labels and some have manifested in equity relationships. In January, a Tencent-led consortium increased its total stake in UMG to 20%.

TME also operates some of China’s most popular online music services. Through its family of music streaming apps including QQ Music, Kugou Music and Kuwo Music, TME collectively commands 622 mobile monthly active users as of the fourth quarter.

Paying ratio remains relatively low, however, with 9% of the users paying in the quarter, up from 6.2% in the previous year.

But TME has another major revenue stream that distinguishes it from Western streaming services like Spotify: social entertainment. This category includes the karaoke app WeSing which monetizes through the sales of virtual gifts, which are bought by users and sent to performers they appreciate. It mirrors real-life fan-idol interaction.

The segment contributed $854 million to Q4 revenue, compared to $423 million generated from user subscription and digital music sales.

#asia, #china, #entertainment, #media, #record-labels, #sony-music-entertainment, #spotify, #streaming-services, #tencent, #tencent-music, #tencent-music-entertainment, #tme, #universal-music-group, #warner-music-group

0

How ByteDance plans to crack the gaming industry

For the last few years, ByteDance, the parent company of short video app TikTok, has been working to diversify its revenue streams beyond advertisement and find more ways to monetize its hundreds of millions of users. One area it is targeting is gaming, which has historically been a lucrative business in China’s internet economy.

China is the world’s largest gaming market, generating revenues of $40.85 billion in 2020, according to market research firm Newzoo. The United States trailed behind at $36.92 billion.

But competition is also intense. Giants Tencent and NetEase have long dominated and smaller players like Mihoyo and Lilith are making breakthroughs. According to market research firm Analysys, Tencent occupied over half of the Chinese gaming market in 2019, while NetEase and 37 Interactive respectively commanded around 16% and 10%, leaving little breathing room for smaller rivals.

Regardless, ByteDance is forging ahead, giving a brand name, Nuversegame, and a website to its gaming business for the first time last month. Its strategy consists of a genre-spanning portfolio, a hiring spree, a proven monetization scheme, and a focus on both the domestic and overseas markets. During his short-lived stint with ByteDance, Kevin Meyer was put in charge of multiple overseas businesses, including gaming.

ByteDance, the David when it comes to games, seems undeterred by the Goliaths. As one of the company’s gaming executives Yan Shou wrote in a social media post a year ago: “Gaming is a content business. A monopoly is difficult to maintain [in this industry] as long as there is patience.”

Battle for talent

In recent years, ByteDance has hired a large number of ex-employees from the BAT, the acronym for three of the most prominent tech firms in China: Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. Yan himself worked on strategy at Tencent for over two years before joining ByteDance in 2015. While poaching and job-hopping are common in China’s fast-changing tech industry, ByteDance is known for doling out generous paychecks and many tech workers are lured by the prospects of receiving employee options before the firm goes public someday.

Ambitious staff may also feel stagnant after a long period at Alibaba and Tencent, which are both over 20 years old and where room for career advancement is limited. ByteDance, in comparison, is merely nine years old and is still in a fast-growth phase, a Beijing-based headhunter for technology firms tells TechCrunch.

“The current stage of ByteDance and the new businesses it is incubating provide the right platform for these people to achieve their ambitions,” the headhunter says.

In gaming, too, ByteDance has gone on a recruiting spree. The company’s gaming headcount numbers nearly 3,000 today, up from only 1,000 last year, according to a person with knowledge. These employees are scattered across China’s major tech hubs, from Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou to Shenzhen, working in various gaming studios under ByteDance.

How big is a 3,000-person team? 37 Interactive, the third-largest gaming firm in China, had around 4,000 gaming staff as of January, according to a company executive. It took the company 10 years to reach this scale. ByteDance began exploring games only around five years ago.

ByteDance declined to comment on the story.

Factory of games

Being late to the game could bring advantages. Having seen how Tencent and other predecessors tackle the gaming market allows ByteDance to learn. For one, ByteDance is working on a diverse range of genres simultaneously, from disposable mobile games to indie titles with unorthodox design or topics. This makes ByteDance different from Tencent, says Daniel Ahmad, a gaming analyst at Niko Partners. Tencent, the world’s largest gaming firm, cut its teeth on board and card games in the 2000s before gradually expanding into other genres.

Of course, only a deep-pocketed upstart like ByteDance could strive for a diverse portfolio from day one. With a well-oiled advertising business built upon its short video app Douyin and news aggregator Toutiao, as well as over $7 billion raised from equity funding over the years, ByteDance has been able to fund its horizontal expansions in not just games but also education and SaaS.

Aside from hunting down talent from other tech giants, ByteDance also relies on swallowing smaller companies to boost its workforce. Since 2018, ByteDance has invested in at least 11 gaming companies, six of which were full acquisitions, according to public disclosures. The acquired assets and talent were subsequently incorporated into ByteDance’s gaming studios. Acqui-hiring is an old and proven formula at ByteDance. Kelly Zhang, the product manager credited for taking Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, off the ground, also joined after her photo-sharing startup was bought by ByteDance.

Like many gaming firms, ByteDance’s monetization scheme is two-pronged: distribution of third-party titles and original creation. Quality games don’t come overnight, so the strategy allows its gaming unit to have some revenue as it bets on one of its own works to be a cash cow. Casual games are great for ads, which are normally placed between levels. More complex games rely on user loyalty and the natural way to make money is through in-app purchases.

A number of ByteDance’s licensed casual games have so far made it into the Top 10 iOS free games in China, including car racing game Drift Race, music game Yinyue Qiuqiu, and puzzle game Brain Out. While these collaborations don’t make big bucks yet, the initial traction proves the viability of ByteDance’s traffic strategy.

ByteDance said in 2019 it had 1.5 billion monthly users across its app family (there can be user overlap between apps). One way ByteDance is marketing games is by inserting native ads into users’ content feeds. Videos, says Niko Partners’ Ahmad, are “interactive, easy to use, easy to click through and can get much higher conversion than traditional ads.”

In some cases, the ad may prompt users to download a standalone gaming app. But like WeChat and most of China’s popular apps,  Douyin and Toutiao support third-party “mini apps” within their own platforms. Users can, for instance, play a lite game on Douyin just as they can on WeChat.

With hundreds of millions of monthly users, ByteDance already has a good grasp of people’s tastes and behavior, so it knows what games to recommend. In theory, the more people see and react, the more accurate its predictions become.

“Through targeted ‘recommendations’, our ‘algorithms’ will automatically show users mini games presented in various forms,” explains ByteDance’s gaming developer handbook. “All games have a fair and equal chance of getting initial exposure.”

#asia, #bytedance, #china, #games, #gaming, #tc, #tencent, #tiktok

0

Epic Games buys photogrammetry software maker Capturing Reality

Epic Games is quickly becoming a more dominant force in gaming infrastructure M&A after a string of recent purchases made to bulk up their Unreal Engine developer suite. Today, the company announced that they’ve brought on the team from photogrammetry studio Capturing Reality to help the company improve how it handles 3D scans of environments and objects.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Photogrammetry involves stitching together multiple photos or laser scans to create 3D models of objects that can subsequently be exported as singular files. As the computer vision techniques have evolved to minimize manual fine-tuning and adjustments, designers have been beginning to lean more heavily on photogrammetry to import real world environments into their games. 

Using photogrammetry can help studio developers create photorealistic assets in a fraction of the time it would take to create a similar 3D asset from scratch. It can be used to quickly create 3D assets of everything from an item of clothing, to a car, to a mountain. Anything that exists in 3D space can be captured and as game consoles and GPUs grow more capable in terms of output, the level of detail that can be rendered increases as does the need to utilize more detailed 3D assets.

The Bratislava-based studio will continue operating independently even as its capabilities are integrated into Unreal. Epic announced some reductions to the pricing rates for Capturing Reality’s services, dropping the price of a perpetual license fee from €15,000 to $3,750 USD. In FAQs on the studio’s site, the company notes that they will continue to support non-gaming use clients moving forward.

In 2019, Epic Games acquired Quixel which hosted a library of photogrammetry “mega scans” that developers could access.

 

#3d-imaging, #3d-modeling, #computer-graphics, #epic-games, #forward, #gaming, #laser, #photogrammetry, #tc, #tencent, #unreal-engine, #video-gaming

0

Boss of Chinese gaming titan NetEase calls for shared parental leave

China’s relaxation of its one-child restriction has not delivered the population targets set by its policy planners. In 2019, the birth rate in China slumped to a seven-decade low, which experts attribute to changes in social attitudes, skyrocketing living costs as well as a demanding work culture.

One way to fix China’s demographic crisis is to lighten mothers’ burden, said Ding Lei, founder and CEO of NetEase, the second-biggest gaming company in China which also runs a popular music streaming service.

Ding made the proposal at China’s annual parliament session this week, comprising the meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Each spring, delegates from a wide range of backgrounds, including political elites and tech billionaires, gather in Beijing for the legislative meetings informally known as the “two sessions.”

Ding is a member of the CPPCC, which includes other tech bosses like Tencent’s Pony Ma, Xiaomi’s Lei Jun and Baidu’s Robin Li. Ding suggested efforts should be directed to address costly childbearing, short maternity leave, an undersupply of children’s healthcare, an underdeveloped childcare system and other “practical pain points” to take burdens off women’s shoulders.

Ding further advocated for shared parental leave “at one’s discretion” to “give men more responsibilities in parenting.” The country, he argued, should bear women’s reproductive costs and the number of nursery facilities should be increased.

Most provinces in China have introduced paternity leave in recent years, but the length and implementation efforts vary across regions. In Guangdong, home to NetEase and Tencent, fathers are entitled to up to 15 days of paid paternity leave. Shanghai, on the other hand, falls on the lower end of the spectrum with 10 days.

But some experts argue the one-week average for fathers is far from enough to liberate new mothers, who receive a minimum of 98 days of paid maternity leave but could get more depending on where they reside. NetEase’s family leave policy is in line with national and regional regulations, a company representative told TechCrunch.

Occasionally, China’s tech giants disclose or give hints about their gender ratio. In 2019, 35% of NetEase’s 20,000 employees were women, the company says, and about 25% of its top management were female in the year. Online travel agent Ctrip, which prides itself on benefits for female employees, said in 2018 that over 60% of its staff were female. Jack Ma, a frequent speaker at female leadership forums, pledged in 2019 that females must make up more than 33% of Alibaba staff.

#asia, #beijing, #china, #gender-balance, #jack-ma, #netease, #parental-leave, #pony-ma, #robin-li, #tc, #tencent

0

TikTok parent ByteDance joins patent troll protection group LOT Network

LOT Network, the non-profit that helps businesses of all sizes and across industries defend themselves against patent trolls by creating a shared pool of patents to immunize themselves against them, today announced that TikTik parent ByteDance is joining its group.

ByteDance has acquired its fair share of patents in recent years and is itself embroiled in a patent fight with its rival Triller. That’s not what joining the LOT Network is about, though. ByteDance is joining a group of companies here that includes the likes of IBM, the Coca-Cola Company, Cisco, Lyft, Microsoft, Oracle, Target, Tencent, Tesla, VW, Ford, Waymo, Xiaomi and Zelle. In total, the group now has over 1,300 members.

As LOT CEO Ken Seddon told me, the six-year-old group had a record year in 2020, with 574 companies joining it and bringing its set of immunized patents to over 3 million, including 14% of all patents issued in the U.S.

Among the core features of LOT, which only charges members who make more than $25 million in annual revenue, is that its members aren’t losing control over the patents they add to the pool. They can still buy and trade them as before, but if they decide to sell to what the industry calls a ‘patent assertion entity,’ (PAE) that is, a patent troll, they automatically provide a free licence to that patent to every other member of the group. This essentially turns LOT into what Seddon calls a ‘flu shot ‘ against patent trolls (and one that’s free for startups).

“The conclusion that people are waking up to is, is that we’re basically like a herd, we’re herd immunization, effectively,” Seddon said. “And every time a company joins, people realize that the community of non-members shrinks by one. It’s like those that don’t have the vaccination shrinks — and they are, ‘wait a minute, that makes me a higher risk of getting sued. I’m a bigger target.’ And they’re like, ‘wait a minute, I don’t want to be the target.’”

ByteDance, he argues, is a good example for a company that can profit from membership in LOT. While you may think of patents as purely a sign of a company’s innovativeness, for corporate lawyers, they are also highly effective defense tools (that can be used aggressively as well, if needed). But it can take a small company years to build up a patent portfolio. But a fast-growing, successful company also becomes an obvious target for patent trolls.

“When you are a successful company, you naturally become a target,” Seddon said. “People become jealous and they become threatened by you. And they covet your money and your revenue and your success. One of the ways that companies can defend themselves and protect their innovation is through patents. Some companies grow so fast, they become so successful, that their revenue grows faster than they can grow their patent portfolio organically.” He cited Instacart, which acquired 250 patents from IBM earlier this month, and Airbnb, which was sued by IBM over patent infringement in early 2020 (the companies settled in December), as examples.

ByteDance, thanks to the success of TikTok, now finds itself in a situation where it, too, is likely to become a target of patent trolls. The company has started acquiring patents itself to grow its portfolio faster and now it is joining LOT to strengthen its protection there.

“[ByteDance] is being a visionary and trying to get ahead of the wave,” Seddon noted. “They are a successful global company that needs to develop a global IP strategy. Historically, PAEs were just a US problem, but now ByteDance has to worry about PAEs being an issue in China and Europe as well.  By joining LOT, they protect themselves and their investments from over 3 million patents should they ever fall into the hands of a PAE.”

Lynn Wu, Director and Chief IP Counsel, Global IP and Digital Licensing Strategy at ByteDance, agrees. “Innovation is core to the culture at ByteDance, and we believe it’s important to protect our diverse technical and creative community,” she said in today’s announcement. “As champions for the fair use of IP, we encourage other companies to help us make the industry safer by joining LOT Network. If we work together, we can protect the industry from exploitation and continue advancing innovation, which is key to the growth and success of the entire community.”

There’s another reason companies are so eager to join the group now, though, and that’s because these patent assertion entities, which had faded into the background a bit in the mid- to late-2010s, may be making a comeback. The core assumption here is a bit gloomy: many companies seem to assume we’re in for an economic downturn. If we hit a recession, a lot of patent holders will start looking at their patent portfolios and start selling off some their more valuable patents in order to stay afloat. Since beggars can’t be choosers, that often means they’ll sell to a patent troll if that troll is the highest bidder. Last year, a patent troll sued Uber using a patent sold by IBM, for example (and IBM gets a bit of a bad rap for this, but, hey, it’s business).

That’s what happened after the last recession — though it typically takes a few years for the effect to be felt. Nothing in the patent world moves quickly.

Now, when LOT members sell to a troll, that troll can’t sue other LOT members over it. Take IBM, for example, which joined LOT last year.

“People give IBM a lot of grief and criticism for selling to PAEs, but at least IBM is giving everybody a chance to get a free license,” Seddon told me. “IBM joined LOT last year and what IBM is effectively doing is saying to everybody, ‘look, I joined LOT.’ And they put all of their entire patent portfolio into LOT. And they’re saying to everybody, ‘look, I have the right to sell my patents to anybody I want, and I’m going to sell it to the highest bidder. And if I sell it to a patent troll and you don’t join LOT — and if you get sued by a troll, is that my fault or your fault? Because if you join LOT, you could have gotten a free license.’”

#airbnb, #bytedance, #cisco, #flu, #ford, #ibm, #instacart, #intellectual-property-law, #lawsuit, #lot-network, #lyft, #microsoft, #monopoly, #oracle, #patent, #patent-law, #patent-troll, #software, #tencent, #tesla, #triller, #united-states, #vaccination, #vw, #waymo

0

Tencent backs digital rights startup Pex in $57M round

Pex, a startup aiming to giving rightsholders more control over how their content is used and reused online, has raised $57 million in new funding.

The round comes from existing investors including Susa Ventures and Illuminate Ventures, as well as Tencent, Tencent Music Entertainment, the CueBall Group, NexGen Ventures Partners, Amaranthine and others.

Founded in 2014, Pex had previously raised $7 million, and it acquired music rights startup Dubset last year. Founder and CEO Rasty Turek told me that while the product has evolved from what he described as “a Google-like search engine for rightsholders to find copyright infringement” into a broader platform, the vision of creating a better system of managing copyright and payments online has remained the same.

The startup describes its Attribution Engine as the “licensing infrastructure for the Internet,” bringing together the individuals and companies who own content rights, creators who might want to license and remix that content, the big digital platforms where content gets shared and the law enforcement agencies that want to monitor all of this.

The product includes six modules — an asset registry, a system for identifying those assets when they’re used in new content, a licensing system, a dispute resolution system, a payment system and data and reporting to see how your content is being used.

Turek said that while Pex is being used by “most of the largest rightsholders in the world,” the system was built to be accessible to “a struggling musician out on the streets of Los Angeles” who doesn’t have the resources to “police all of this content” online.

Pex CEO Rasty Turek

Pex CEO Rasty Turek

He also suggested that the broader regulatory environment is calling for a solution like Pex, with the European Union passing a new copyright directive that’s set to take effect this year, and new copyright legislation also on the table in the United States. The EU bill was criticized for potentially prompting larger platforms to preemptively block broad swaths of content, but Turek argued, “There’s so much content out there in search of an audience that this is going to be the opposite of overblocking.”

Not that Pex is taking is relying entirely on regulators. Turek also said the platform is structured to balance the needs of the different groups using it — and that it has an incentive to strike that balance because its revenue comes from licensing deals, so it’s focused on “really being the Switzerland, really being the neutral party.”

“We designed all of our business around the idea that if we try to abuse the system, we lose, too,” he said. “We don’t make money [when someone] abuses the system, we only make money when everybody plays nice.”

Turek also claimed that public domain and Creative Commons licenses are “first class citizens” on the platform, and that many of the rightsholders using the Attribution Engine don’t necessarily want monetary compensation: “A lot of people are happy to do this for recognition. We are social animals.” (Plus, recognition can lead to moneymaking opportunities.)

Pex says the new funding will allow it to continue scaling the Attribution Engine.

“I don’t believe investments are valdation,” Turek added. “I believe they’re more obligation than validation, but they do prove you are directionally correct.”

#funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #pex, #startups, #tc, #tencent

0

China court to proceed with ByteDance case against Tencent over alleged monopoly

ByteDance is bringing its battle with archrival Tencent to the court at a time when the Chinese government moves to curve the power of the country’s internet behemoths.

The Beijing Intellectual Property Court has permitted a ByteDance lawsuit brought against Tencent to proceed, a ByteDance spokesperson confirmed with TechCrunch. Upstart new media company ByteDance alleged that Tencent’s restrictions on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, are in violation of China’s anti-monopoly draft rules. Douyin is headquartered in Beijing while Tencent’s base is in Shenzhen.

For three years, Tencent has blocked Douyin from its flagship networking apps WeChat and QQ, which bans users from viewing or sharing content from the short video app. Tencent’s behavior “no doubt” constitutes “monopolistic behavior achieved by abusing market domination to exclude and limit competition,” which the proposed anti-monopoly law prohibits, Douyin, said.

“We believe that competition is better for consumers and promotes innovation. We have filed this lawsuit to protect our rights and those of our users.”

Tencent said in response the accusation is false and malicious defamation. It further asserted that Douyin, which is used by 600 million users every day, uses illegal and anti-competitive methods to access WeChat’s user data, and it’s planning to sue ByteDance for harming its platform ecosystem and user rights.

ByteDance and Tencent each covet the other’s turf. ByteDance debuted a chat app to take on Tencent’s dominance in social networking, while Tencent countered Douyin’s popularity by introducing a slew of short video apps. Neither has managed to threaten the other’s dominance in their respective field.

Early signs show that the Chinese government is increasingly willing to rein in monopolistic behavior on the Chinese internet following two decades of relatively lax regulations.

In November, the country’s top market regulator unveiled the draft version of its first anti-monopoly law, opening a floodgate to lawsuits and investigations. In December, regulators launched an antitrust probe into Alibaba for forcing vendors to sell exclusively on its platform. Just this month, a court in Beijing imposed a 3 million yuan ($464,000) fine on fashion e-commerce site Vipshop over anti-competitive behavior. It won’t be surprising to see more Chinese internet giants getting hit by anti-trust actions in the upcoming months.

#antimonopoly, #antitrust, #asia, #bytedance, #china, #douyin, #government, #monopoly, #tencent, #tiktok

0

China’s draft payments rules put Ant, Tencent on notice

A string of recent events in China’s payments industry suggests the duopoly comprising Ant Group and Tencent may be getting a shakeup.

Following the abrupt call-off of Ant’s public sale and a government directive to reform the firm’s business, the Chinese authorities sent another message this week signaling its plan to curb concentration in the flourishing digital payments industry.

The set of draft rules, designed to regulate non-bank payments and released by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) this week, said any non-bank payments processor with over one-third of the non-bank payments market or two companies with a combined half of the market could be subject to regulatory warnings from the anti-monopoly authority under the State Council.

Meanwhile, a single non-bank payments provider with over one half of the digital payments market or two companies with a combined two-thirds of the market could be investigated for whether they constitute a monopoly.

The difference between the two rules is nuanced here, with the second stipulation focusing on digital payments as opposed to non-bank payments in the first.

Furthermore, the rules did not specify how authorities measure an organization’s market share, say, whether the judgment is based on an entity’s total transaction value, its transaction volume, or other metrics.

Alipay processed over half of China’s third-party payments transactions in the first quarter of 2020, according to market researcher iResearch, while Tencent handled nearly 40% of the payments in the same period.

 

As China heightens scrutiny over its payments giants, it’s also opening up the financial market to international players. In December, Goldman Sachs moved to take full ownership of its Chinese joint venture. This month, PayPal became the first foreign company with 100% control of a payments business in China after it bought out the remaining stake in its local payments partner Guofubao.

Industry experts told TechCrunch that PayPal won’t likely go after the domestic payments giants but may instead explore opportunities in cross-border payments, a market with established players like XTransfer, which was founded by a team of Ant veterans.

Ant and Tencent also face competition from other Chinese internet firms. Companies ranging from food delivery platform Meituan, e-commerce platforms Pinduoduo and JD.com, to TikTok’s parent firm ByteDance have introduced their own e-wallets, though none of them have posed an imminent threat to Alipay or WeChat Pay.

The comprehensive proposal from PBOC also defines how payments processors handle customer data. Non-bank payments services are to store certain user information and transaction history and cooperate with relevant authorities on data checks. Companies are also required to obtain user consent and make clear to customers how their data are collected and used, a rule that reflects China’s broader effort to clamp down on unscrupulous data collection.

#alibaba-group, #alipay, #ant-group, #asia, #bytedance, #china, #finance, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #payments, #paypal, #state-council, #tc, #tencent, #wechat, #wechat-pay

0

Chinese esports player VSPN closes $60M Series B+ round to boost its international strategy

Esports “total solutions provider” VSPN (Versus Programming Network) has closed a $60 million Series B+ funding round, joined by Prospect Avenue Capital (PAC), Guotai Junan International and Nan Fung Group.

VSPN facilitates esports competitions in China, which is a massive industry and has expanded into related areas such as esports venues. It is the principal tournament organizer and broadcaster for a number of top competitions, partnering with more than 70% of China’s esports tournaments.

The “B+” funding round comes only three months after the company raised around $100 million in a Series B funding round, led by Tencent Holdings.

This funding round will, among other things, be used to branch out VSPN’s overseas esports services.

Dino Ying, founder and CEO of VSPN, said in a statement: “The esports industry is through its nascent phase and is entering a new era. In this coming year, we at VSPN look forward to showcasing diversified esports products and content… and we are counting the days until the pandemic is over.”

Ming Liao, the co-founder of PAC, commented: “As a one-of-its-kind company in the capital market, VSPN is renowned for its financial management; these credentials will be strong foundations for VSPN’s future development.”

Xuan Zhao, head of Private Equity at Guotai Junan International said: “We at Guotai Junan International are very optimistic of VSPN’s sharp market insight as well as their team’s exceptional business model.”

Meng Gao, managing director at Nan Fung Group’s CEO’s office said: “Nan Fung is honored to be a part of this round of investment for VSPN in strengthening their current business model and promoting the rapid development of emerging services and the esports streaming ecosystem.”

#asia, #business-model, #china, #dino-ying, #esports, #financial-management, #gaming, #guotai-junan-international, #league-of-legends, #nan-fung-group, #prospect-avenue-capital, #recent-funding, #sports, #startups, #tc, #tencent, #tencent-holdings, #video-gaming, #vspn

0

WeChat advances e-commerce goals with $250B in transactions

WeChat continues to advance its shopping ambitions as the social networking app turns 10 years old. The Chinese messenger facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs,” third-party services that run on the super app that allow users to buy clothes, order food, hail taxis and more.

That is double the value of transactions on WeChat’s mini programs in 2019, the networking giant announced at its annual conference for business partners and ecosystem developers, which normally takes place in its home city of Guangzhou in southern China but was moved online this year due to the pandemic.

To compare, e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo, Alibaba’s archrival, saw total transactions of $214.7 billion in the third quarter.

WeChat introduced mini programs in early 2017 in a move some saw as a challenge to Apple’s App Store and has over time shaped the messenger into an online infrastructure that keeps people’s life running. It hasn’t recently disclosed how many third-party lite apps it houses, but by 2018 the number reached one million, half the size of the App Store at the time.

From Tencent’s strategic perspective, the growth in mini program-based transactions helps further the company’s goal to strengthen its fintech business, which counts digital payments as a major revenue driver.

A big proportion of WeChat’s mini programs are games, which the app said exceeded 500 million monthly users thanks to a boost in female and middle-aged users, as well as players residing in China’s Tier 3 cities, WeChat said.

The virtual conference also unveiled a set of other milestones from China’s biggest messaging app, which surpassed 1.2 billion monthly active users last year.

Among its monthly users, 500 million have tried the WeChat Search function. The Chinese internet is carved into several walled gardens controlled by titans like Tencent, Alibaba and ByteDance, which often block competitors from their services. When users search on WeChat, they are in effect retrieving information published on the messenger as well as Tencent’s allies like Sogou, Pinduoduo and Zhihu, rather than the open web.

WeChat said 240 million people have used its “payments score.” When the feature debuted back in 2019, there was speculation that it signaled WeChat’s entry into consumer credit finance and participation in the government’s social credit system. WeChat reiterated at this year’s event that the WeChat score does neither of that.

Like Ant’s Sesame Score, the rating system works more like a royalty program, “designed to build trust between merchants and users.” For instance, people who reach a certain score can waive deposits or delay payments when using merchant services on WeChat. The score, WeChat said, helped users save more than $30 billion in deposits a year.

WeChat’s enterprise version has surpassed 130 million active users. Its biggest rival, Dingtalk, operated by Alibaba, reached 155 million daily active users last March.

The one-day event concluded with the much-anticipated appearance of Allen Zhang, WeChat’s creator. Zhang went to great lengths to talk about WeChat’s nascent short-video feature, which is somewhat similar to Snap’s Stories. He didn’t disclose the performance of short videos because “the PR team doesn’t allow” him to, but said that “if we set a goal for ourselves, we will have to achieve it.”

Zhang also announced the WeChat team is weighing up an input tool for users. It’d be a tiny project given Tencent’s colossal size, but the project reflects Zhang’s belief in “privacy protection,” despite public skepticism about how WeChat handles user data.

“If we analyze [users’ chat history], we can bring great advertising revenue to the company. But we don’t do that, so WeChat cares a lot about user privacy,” asserted Zhang.

“But why do you still get ads [related to] what you have just said on WeChat? There are many other channels that process your information, not just WeChat. From there, our technical team said, ‘Why don’t we create an input tool ourselves?’”

#alibaba, #asia, #china, #dingtalk, #instant-messaging, #messaging-apps, #pinduoduo, #snap, #sogou, #tc, #tencent, #wechat

0

TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin launches an e-wallet

Tencent’s WeChat Pay and Alibaba’s affiliate Alipay have long dominated digital payments in China, but they have always faced new challengers. The latest entrant in online payments is Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese version.

The short video app recently added “Douyin Pay” to its list of existing payment options, which have included Alipay and WeChat Pay.

“The set-up of Douyin Pay (Douyin Zhifu) is to supplement the existing major payment options, and to ultimately enhance user experience on Douyin,” a Douyin spokesperson said.

Payment is a natural step for Douyin, which has a growing e-commerce business. Users can be directed to a product link while watching a video of an influencer reviewing, say, a lipstick. Instead of the ubiquitous WeChat Pay and Alipay, they may opt for Douyin Pay one day, if the incentives are great enough.

Other internet giants, such as e-commerce giant JD.com and food delivery service Meituan, have also tried luring people to use their own payment methods, though the market duopoly is hard to break. All in all, Alipay and WeChat Pay handle about 90% of China’s electronic payments.

Like other internet firms, Douyin parent ByteDance snapped up a coveted payments license by acquiring a third-party payments firm. Last September, a company controlled by ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming bought out a payments solution provider called Wuhan Hezhong Yibao Technology Co. The license, in turn, allows Douyin, Toutiao and other ByteDance services to offer payment features.

Users can, for instance, receive a cash-filled electronic red packet from a Douyin campaign and deposit that cash to their bank accounts.

Douyin Pay

The rollout of Douyin Pay seems well-timed with the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday, a time when families and friends gift each other red packets. Over the past decade, WeChat has been popularizing electronic versions of these auspicious money-filled envelopes, which helped WeChat Pay take off in the early days.

Douyin inked a deal with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV to be its red envelope technology provider for the Spring Festival Gala, traditionally a major advertising event of the year, according to Chinese business news provider LatePost. Alibaba’s young rival Pinduoduo had a similar deal last year in an attempt to grow its own payments users.

#alipay, #asia, #bytedance, #cctv, #china, #chinese-new-year, #finance, #online-payments, #payments, #tc, #tencent, #tiktok, #wechat, #wechat-pay, #zhang-yiming

0

Tencent-backed Hike, once India’s answer to WhatsApp, has given up on messaging

India’s answer to WhatsApp has completely moved on from messaging.

Hike Messenger, backed by Tencent, Tiger Global and SoftBank and valued at $1.4 billion in 2016, earlier this month announced that it was shutting down Sticker Chat, its messaging app.

The startup, founded by Kavin Bharti Mittal, this month pivoted to two virtual social apps called Vibe and Rush, said Mittal, who is the son of telecom giant Airtel’s chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal.

In a series of tweets earlier this month, Kavin said that India will never have a homegrown messenger that makes inroads in the world’s second largest market unless it chooses to ban Western companies from operating in the nation. “Global network effects are too strong,” he said. WhatsApp has amassed over 450 million users in India, its biggest market by users.

Mittal described opportunities in building virtual worlds as a “much better approach for today’s world that is unconstrained by cheap, fast data and powerful smartphones.”

In recent years, Hike made bets on stickers and emojis to cater to the younger population in India. In a meeting with TechCrunch in late 2019, Mittal said that the startup was overwhelmed with the engagement stickers on its platform and was working to automate development of personalized stickers.

In a different meeting last year, Mittal showcased emojis that replicated human expressions and a virtual hangout place called HikeLand. Vibe is the rebranded version of HikeLand and the emojis Hike developed will continue to be available to users on both the newer apps, Mittal said earlier this month.

Hike, which has raised more than $260 million to date, had enough runway last year, Mittal said, who hinted that the startup may raise more capital a year later.

Hike also attempted to build its own operating system through acquisition of a startup called Creo. In 2018, Hike launched Total OS that aimed to cater to users with low-cost Android smartphones and slow internet data.

The startup later shut down the project. Mittal told TechCrunch that the arrival of Reliance Jio, which prompted Airtel and Vodafone to lower mobile data tariff on their networks, solved the data issues in the country and Total OS was no longer needed in the market.

#apps, #asia, #hike, #signal, #social, #softbank, #telegram, #tencent, #tiger-global, #whatsapp

0

Signal and Telegram are also growing in China – for now

As fears over WhatsApp’s privacy policies send millions of users in the West to Signal and Telegram, the two encrypted apps are also seeing a slight user uptick in China, where WeChat has long dominated and the government has a tight grip on online communication.

Following WhatsApp’s pop-up notification reminding users that it shares their data with its parent Facebook, people began fleeing to alternate encrypted platforms. Telegram added 25 million just between January 10-13, the company said on its official Telegram channel, while Signal surged to the top of the App Store and Google Play Store in dozens of countries, TechCrunch learned earlier.

The migration was accelerated when, on January 7, Elon Musk urged his 40 million Twitter followers to install Signal in a tweet that likely stoked more interest in the end-to-end encryption messenger.

The growth of Telegram and Signal in China isn’t nearly as remarkable as their soaring popularity in regions where WhatsApp has been the mainstream chat app, but the uplift is a reminder that WeChat alternatives still exist in China in various capacities.

Signal amassed 9,000 new downloads from the China App Store between January 8 and 12, up 500% from the period between January 3 and 7, according to data from research firm Sensor Tower. Telegram added 17,000 downloads during January 8-12, up 6% from the January 3-7 duration. WhatsApp’s growth stalled, recording 10,000 downloads in both periods.

Sensor Tower estimates that Telegram has seen about 2.7 million total installs on China’s App Store, compared to 458,000 downloads from Signal and 9.5 million times from WhatsApp.

The fact that Telegram, Signal, and WhatsApp are accessible in China might come as a surprise to some people. But China’s censorship decisions can be arbitrary and inconsistent. As censorship monitoring site Apple Censorship shows, all major Western messengers are still available on the China App Store.

The situation for Android is trickier. Google services are largely blocked in China and Android users revert to Android app stores operated by local companies like Tencent and Baidu. Neither Telegram nor Signal is available on these third-party Android stores, but users with a tool that can bypass China’s Great Firewall, such as a virtual private network (VPN), can access Google Play and install the encrypted messengers.

The next challenge is actually using these apps. The major chat apps all get slightly different treatment from Beijing’s censorship apparatus. Some, like Signal, work perfectly without the need for a VPN. Users have reported that WhatsApp occasionally works in China without a VPN, though it loads very slowly. And Facebook doesn’t work at all without a VPN.

“Some websites and apps can remain untouched until they reach a certain threshold of users at which point the authorities will try to block or disrupt the website or app,” said Charlie Smith, the pseudonymous head of Great Fire, an organization monitoring the Chinese internet that also runs Apple Censorship.

“Perhaps before this mass migration from WhatsApp, Signal did not have that many users in China. That might have changed over the last week in which case the authorities could be pondering restrictions for Signal,” Smith added.

To legally operate in China, companies must store their data within China and submit information to the authorities for security spot-checks, according to a cybersecurity law enacted in 2017. Apple, for instance, partners with a local cloud provider to store the data of its Chinese users.

The requirement raises questions about the type of interaction that Signal, Telegram, and other foreign apps have with the Chinese authorities. Signal said it never turned over data to the Hong Kong police and had no data to turn over when concerns grew over Beijing’s heightened controls over the former British colony.

The biggest challenges for apps like Signal in China, according to Smith, will come from Apple, which is constantly under fire by investors and activists for submitting to the Chinese authorities.

In recent years, the American giant has stepped up app crackdown in China, zeroing in on services that grant Chinese users access to unfiltered information, such as VPN providers, RSS feed readers and podcast apps. Apple has also purged tens of thousands of unlicensed games in recent quarters after a years-long delay.

“Apple has a history of pre-emptively censoring apps that they believe the authorities would want censored,” Smith observed. “If Apple decides to remove Signal in China, either on its own initiative or in direct response to a request from the authorities, then Apple customers in China will be left with no secure messaging options.”

#apple, #asia, #beijing, #china, #encryption, #facebook, #firewall, #google-play-store, #government, #great-fire, #messenger, #tc, #telegram, #tencent, #vpn, #wechat, #whatsapp

0

#DealMonitor – #EXKLUSIV smava und Finanzcheck planen Fusion – Gorillas-Klon Flink bekommt 10 Millionen – Berliner Thrasio-Klon bekommt 100 Millionen


Im aktuellen #DealMonitor für den 11. Januar werfen wir wieder einen Blick auf die wichtigsten, spannendsten und interessantesten Investments und Exits des Tages. Alle Deals der Vortage gibt es im großen und übersichtlichen #DealMonitor-Archiv.

INVESTMENTS

Flink
+++ Der Berliner Geldgeber Cherry Ventures und Northzone investieren 10 Millionen Euro in den ganz neuen Berliner Gorillas-Klon Flink. Hinter dem brandneuen Unternehmen, einem mobilen Supermarkt, stecken Christoph Cordes (Fashion4Home, Home24) und Oliver Merkel (Bain & Company) sowie die Hamburger Pickery-Gründer Saad Saeed und Nikolas Bullwinkel. Die Bewertung von Flink liegt bei 20 Millionen Euro (Pre-Money). Der große Wettbewerber Gorillas konnte zuletzt 44 Millionen US-Dollar einsammeln. Mehr Infos gibt es im aktuellen ds-Insider-Podcast #EXKLUSIV 

Formel Skin
+++ Vorwerk Ventures investiert gemeinsam mit den Alt-Investoren Cherry Ventures und Heartcore Capital 5 Millionen Euro in Formel Skin. Formel Skin aus Berlin, früher als True Skin bekannt, bietet “individuelle Lösung gegen Hautunreinheiten”. Das Startup verspricht dabei: “Ein Dermatologe stellt eine Creme mit aktiven Wirkstoffen für Deine Haut zusammen”. Formel Skin wurde 2019 von Anton Kononov und Florian Semler gegründet. Mehr Infos gibt es im aktuellen ds-Insider-Podcast #EXKLUSIV 

mercanis
+++ Der österreichische Geldgeber Speedinvest investiert eine unbekannte Summe in mercanis, das neue Startup von scoutbee-Gründer Fabian Heinrich und Moritz Weiermann (Director Of Operations, scoutbee). Im Rahmen der Investmentrunde steigen auch Angel-Investoren wie Jonathan Teklu (Creandum), Lee Galbraith (scoutbee), Victor Jacobsson (Klarna), Jörg Gerbig (Lieferando) bei mercanis ein. So positioniert sich die noch sehr junge Firma: Mercanis is the leading service buying software. Our cutting-edge tool enables customers to source services in a smart, efficient, and compliant manner”. Mehr Infos gibt es im aktuellen ds-Insider-Podcast #EXKLUSIV 

Lemon Marktes
+++ Der schwedischen Wagniskapitalgeber Creandum und System.One investieren eine siebenstellige Summe in Lemon Marktes. Das Unternehmen aus Münster, das von Marcel Katenhusen und Maximilian Linden gegründet wurde, positioniert sich als Tech-Broker. In unserem Pitch-Podcast haben die Gründer ihr Konzept kürzlich schon einmal vorgestellt. “Über eine Schnittstelle/API ermöglichen wir das Streaming von Echtzeit-Marktdaten und die automatische Order Ausführung. “Entwickler können Trading-Algorithmen, Bots oder Applikationen programmieren, in einer Sandbox testen und dann live am Markt ausführen”. Mehr Infos gibt es im aktuellen ds-Insider-Podcast #EXKLUSIV 

Optidash
+++ Der Berliner Geldgeber Rheingau Founders investiert in Optidash. Das 2016 von Przemek Matylla in Berlin gegründete Startup bringt sich als “AI-Powered Image Optimization and Processing Platform” in Stellung. In der Selbstbeschreibung heißt es: “Founded in 2016 in Berlin and emerging from stealth in 2019 we have built probably the most complete solution for all image optimization and recompression tasks. Optidash abstracts away the complexities associated with implementing a modern image processing pipeline into a simple REST API”. Mehr Infos gibt es im aktuellen ds-Insider-Podcast #EXKLUSIV 

Thrasio-Klon
+++ Alstin, also Carsten Maschmeyer, Upper90 und eine deutsche Stiftung investieren bis zu 100 Millionen US-Dollar in einen Berliner Thrasio-Klon, der von mehreren WHUlern vorangetrieben wird. Thrasio-Klone sind eines der Trendthemen derzeit. Startups wie die Razor Group, SellerX und Brands United bringen sich derzeit in Stellung. Aber auch etablierte Händler wie Berlin Brands Group(ehemals Chal-Tec) und KW-Commerce bringen sich derzeit in diesem Hype-Segment in Stellung. Mehr Infos gibt es im aktuellen ds-Insider-Podcast #EXKLUSIV 

Clark
+++ Der chinesische Internetkonzern Tencent, Finleap, White Star Capital und Yabeo investieren 69 Millionen Euro in das Frankfurter InsurTech Clark – siehe Handelsblatt. In den vergangenen fünf Jahren flossen schon rund 36 Millionen Euro in den Versicherungsmanager Clark. Inzwischen beschäftigt das Unternehmen mehr als 200 Mitarbeiter. Seit dem Start der App haben die Clark-Kunden nach Firmenangaben eine Million Verträge digitalisiert.

Kenbi
+++ Der Schweizer Investor Redalpine sowie Altinvestoren wie e.ventures, Heartcore Capital und Partech investieren 7 Millionen Euro in Kenbi- siehe Handelsblatt. Das junge Pflege-Startup wurde 2019 von Clemens Raemy und Katrin Alberding gegründet. “Kenbi steht für eine Pflege zu Hause, die jedem wieder Selbstbestimmung im Alltag gibt – sowohl Kunden zu Hause als auch unseren Pflege-Teams in ihrer Arbeit. Wir mischen die Pflege neu auf indem wir wieder Zeit schaffen für das aller wichtigste in der Pflege: die Menschen”, heißt es in der Selbstbeschreibung der Jungfirma, die früher als Herzsache bekannt war.

air up
+++ Der amerikanische Getränkekonzern Pepsico und weitere nicht genannte Geldgeber investieren 18 Millionen Euro in das junge Trinksystem air up – siehe Handelsblatt. Das Startup aus München aromatisiert Wasser über Duft. Ralf Dümmel, Christoph Miller und Frank Thelen investierten bereits vor einigen Jahren in die Jungfirma, die 2019 von Fabian Schlang, Tim Jäger, Lena Jüngst, Simon Nüesch und Jannis Koppitz gegründet wurde. Auch Stephan Huber, Chef des Pharmaunternehmens Denk Pharma, der Navvis-Gründer Felix Reinshagen, Carl-Claudius Rosengarten sowie der Hamburger Food-Investor Oyster Bay investierten zuvor bereits in air up. Laut Bericht erwirtschaftete das Unternehmen zuletzt einen Umsatz in Höhe von rund 20 Millionen Euro.  air up derzeit derzeit rund 80 Mitarbeiter.

Ryte
+++ Der britische Investor Octopus Investments investiert 6,5 Millionen Euro in Ryte, früher als Onpage.org bekannt. Das Münchner Startup unterstützt Unternehmen und Agenturen dabei, “die Qualität ihrer Websites und den Erfolg in den Suchmaschinen auf Basis modernster Software nachhaltig zu optimieren”. Senovo, Surplus Invest und pd ventures investierten zuletzt 3,1 Millionen Euro in Ryte. Das Unternehmen, das 2012 von Andreas Bruckschlögl, Marcus Tandler und Niels Dörje gegründet wurde, beschäftigt derzeit über 100 Mitarbeiter.

Labforward
+++ Die Laborgerätehersteller Tecan und 2mag sowie der Alt-Investor Peppermint Venture Partners investieren mehr als 5 Millionen Euro in die Berliner Laborsoftware-Firma Labforward. Mit dem neuen Kapital möchte “das Unternehmen seine Software-Suite als Konnektivitätsplattform ausbauen und international expandieren”. Labforward entstand 2019 durch die Fusion von labfolder und cubuslab. labfolder wurde 2013 von Simon Bungers und dem Biophysiker Florian Hauer gegründet. 35 Mitarbeiter wirken für Labforward.

FUSION

smava / Finanzcheck.de
+++ Das Berliner FinTech smava, ein Kreditvergleich, und Finanzcheck.de, ein Vergleichsdienst für Verbraucherkredite, verhandeln über eine Fusion. Das junge Hamburger FinTech Finanzcheck.de wanderte 2018 unter das Dach von Scout24. Der Kleinanzeigendienst zahlte damals 285 Millionen Euro für Finanzcheck.de und ordnete das Startup seiner Tochter AutoScout24 zu. Seit der Übernahme von AutoScout24 durch Hellman & Friedman steht Finanzcheck.de zum Verkauf. Durch die Fusion mit smava soll Finanzcheck.de nun zum Check24-Konkurrenten aufsteigen. Mehr Infos gibt es im aktuellen ds-Insider-Podcast #EXKLUSIV 

EXITS

Medlanes
+++ Das deutsche-britische TelemedizinUnternehmen Zava (früher als DrEd bekannt) übernimmt Medlanes. Das Berliner Startup organisiert Hausbesuche von Kinderärzten, Internisten, Orthopäden und Allgemeinmedizinern. Medlanes wurde 2014 von Erik Stoffregen und Emil Kendziorra gegründet Stoffregen bleibt auch nach der Übernahme als Geschäftsführer von Medlanes an Bord. 2018 investierte die Berliner E-Health-Schmiede Heartbeat Labs in den privatärztlichen Bereitschaftsdienst. Das Unternehmen ist derzeit in 14 deutschen Städten aktiv.

VENTURE CAPITAL

Faster Future
+++ Laura Grimmelmann, zuletzt Accel, startet mit dem Geldgeber Faster Future einen sogenannten “Single-GP-VC”. Auf der Website positioniert sich Faster Future als “european micro vc”. Ansonsten ist dort noch der Satz: “investing in the teams of tomorrow” zu lesen. Zuletzt wirkte Grimmelmann als Entrepreneur In Residence bei Entrepreneur First. Nach unserem Verständnis arbeitet Grimmelmann bei Faster Future insbesondere mit Lukasz Gadowski (Spreadshirt, Delivery Hero und Co.) zusammen. Mehr Infos gibt es im aktuellen ds-Insider-Podcast #EXKLUSIV 

Monrepos Advisers
+++ Der ehemalige Metro-Chef Olaf Koch investiert nun via Monrepos Advisers in Startups – siehe WiWo. “Das wird sicher nicht meine Hauptbetätigung werden, aber die Zusammenarbeit mit Gründern fand ich schon bei Metro extrem spannend”, sagt in dem Bericht zufolge. Auf der Website von Monrepos Advisers heißt es:  “We are a network of exprienced executives, investment professionals and advisers that gives you access to knowledge and expertise. We help early stage companies to set the right preconditions for future success. We bring complementary capabilities to the table that help you to enhance the business modell, develop a proper operating model and define an attractive investment case. Our aim is to contribute to business transformation, growth and value creation”.

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Foto (oben): azrael74

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