News aggregator SmartNews raises $230 million, valuing its business at $2 billion

SmartNews, a Tokyo-headquartered news aggregation website and app that’s grown in popularity despite hefty competition from built-in aggregators like Apple News, today announced it has closed on $230 million in Series F funding. The round brings SmartNews’ total raise to date to over $400 million and values the business at $2 billion — or as the company touts in its press release, a “double unicorn.” (Ha!)

The funding included new U.S. investors Princeville Capital and Woodline Partners, as well as JIC Venture Growth Investments, Green Co-Invest Investment, and Yamauchi-No.10 Family Office in Japan. Existing investors participating in this round included ACA Investments and SMBC Venture Capital.

Founded in 2012 in Japan, the company launched to the U.S. in 2014 and expanded its local news footprint early last year. While the app’s content team includes former journalists, machine learning is used to pick which articles are shown to readers to personalize their experience. However, one of the app’s key differentiators is how it works to pop users’ “filter bubbles” through its “News From All Sides” feature, which allows its users to access news from across a range of political perspectives.

It has also developed new products, like its Covid-19 vaccine dashboard and U.S. election dashboard, that provide critical information at a glance. With the additional funds, the company says it plans to develop more features for its U.S. audience — one of its largest, in addition to Japan —  that will focus on consumer health and safety. These will roll out in the next few months and will include features for tracking wildfires and crime and safety reports. It also recently launched a hurricane tracker.

The aggregator’s business model is largely focused on advertising, as the company has said before that 85-80% of Americans aren’t paying to subscribe to news. But SmartNews’ belief is that these news consumers still have a right to access quality information.

In total, SmartNews has relationships with over 3,000 global publishing partners whose content is available through its service on the web and mobile devices.

To generate revenue, the company sells inline ads and video ads, where revenue is shared with publishers. Over 75% of its publishing partners also take advantage of its “SmartView” feature. This is the app’s quick-reading mode, and alternative to something like Google AMP. Here, users can quickly load an article to read, even if they’re offline. The company promises publishers that these mobile-friendly stories, which are marked with a lightning bolt icon in the app, deliver higher engagement — and its algorithm rewards that type of content, bringing them more readers. Among SmartView partners are well-known brands like USA Today, ABC, HuffPost, and others. Currently, over 70% of all SmartNews’ pageviews are coming from SmartView first.

SmartNews’ app has proven to be very sticky, in terms of attracting and keeping users’ attention. The company tells us, citing App Annie July 2021 data, that it sees an average time spent per user per month on U.S. mobile devices that’s higher than Google News or Apple News combined.

Image Credits: App Annie data provided by SmartNews

The company declined to share its monthly active users (MAUs), but had said in 2019 it had grown to 20 million in the U.S. and Japan. Today, it says its U.S. MAUs doubled over the last year.

According to data provided to us by Apptopia, the SmartNews app has seen around 85 million downloads since its October 2014 launch, and 14 million of those took place in the past 365 days. Japan is the largest market for installs, accounting for 59% of lifetime downloads, the firm noted.

“This latest round of funding further affirms the strength of our mission, and fuels our drive to expand our presence and launch features that specifically appeal to users and publishers in the United States,” said SmartNews co-founder and CEO Ken Zuzuki. “Our investors both in the U.S. and globally acknowledge the tremendous growth potential and value of SmartNews’s efforts to democratize access to information and create an ecosystem that benefits consumers, publishers, and advertisers,” he added.

The company says the new funds will be used to invest in further U.S. growth and expanding the company’s team. Since its last fundraise in 2019, where it became a unicorn, the company more than doubled its headcount to approximately 500 people globally. it now plans to double its headcount of 100 in the U.S., with additions across engineering, product, and leadership roles.

The Wall Street Journal reports SmartNews is exploring an IPO, but the company declined to comment on this.

The SmartNews app is available on iOS and Android across more than 150 countries worldwide.

#aca-investments, #aggregation, #ai, #android, #apple-news, #apps, #funding, #google, #google-news, #japan, #machine-learning, #media, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #mobile-software, #new-aggregator, #news, #news-aggregation, #news-reading, #recent-funding, #smartnews, #software, #startups, #tokyo, #united-states

The Tokyo Olympics could be a Covid-19 “super evolutionary event”

Flag bearers Yui Susaki and Rui Hachimura of Team Japan lead their team out during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

Enlarge / Flag bearers Yui Susaki and Rui Hachimura of Team Japan lead their team out during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (credit: Matthias Hangst | Getty Images)

Ten days before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, Kara Lawson, the coach of the United States women’s 3×3 basketball team, gave a press conference. The sport is new to the Olympics this year, and Lawson, a former WNBA player and coach at Duke University, told the dozen or so reporters participating online what she liked about it—the game is faster-paced, Lawson said, and more unpredictable than the five-on-five version. But during a global pandemic, Lawson added, the health of her players was her number one priority. “We’re obviously tested daily. I’m actually quarantined in my room right now,” Lawson said. “We’re masked all the time … a positive test at this juncture is hard for any team getting ready to go to Tokyo. We’re focused on doing our part, not just so we can have a good competition, but we definitely feel a responsibility to fellow human beings to be smart about eliminating transmission of the disease worldwide.”

Less than a week later, one of Lawson’s players—Katie Lou Samuelson, a power forward for the Seattle Storm—announced on Instagram that she had tested positive for Covid-19 and wouldn’t be able to go to Tokyo. Fast-paced, maybe, but not exactly unpredictable. As the 2020 Tokyo Games get underway, Samuelson is one of 91 people either in Tokyo for the Olympics or who were hoping to go who’ve tested positive for the disease, including US tennis player Coco Gauf, a Czech beach volleyball player, two South African soccer players, and so on.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#covid-19, #ioc, #olympics, #pandemic, #science, #tokyo, #vaccines

YouTube TV adds a $20 monthly upgrade for 4K support, offline viewing

With less than a month to go before the Olympics kick off in Tokyo, cord-cutting services like YouTube TV are attempting to woo new subscribers who are looking for a way to watch summer sports. But whether or not you’re eager to watch Simone Biles defy gravity, YouTube TV’s latest upgrades enhance the product with audio and video improvements. Today, YouTube TV announced a 4K Plus add-on package with offline downloads, 5.1 Dolby audio, and features that make it easier to watch live sports. The company previously teased these features in February.

YouTube TV is already one of the pricier streaming services out there — at $64.99 per month, you might not save much money by choosing YouTube in lieu of your cable service. Hulu + Live TV is priced the same, but offers a Disney+ and ESPN+ add-on for a total of $72.99 per month. But if you want to kick your video quality (and your monthly bill) up a notch, you can now enable 4K streaming for an extra $19.99 per month, bringing your grand total to $84.98 monthly.

The 4K Plus add-on package will also allow subscribers to download shows from DVR to watch offline — currently, that’s not possible on the standard $64.99 per month package. Subscribers will be able to try out the package for free for a month, then pay $9.99 per month for a year before the price increases to $19.99. This is pretty consistent with YouTube TV’s continual price hikes over the years.

Meanwhile, the 5.1 Dolby audio capabilities will be a free addition for all YouTube TV members — in a blog post, the company says this has been one of users’ “biggest requests.” Over the coming weeks, these surround-sound audio capabilities will begin rolling out to select devices. The sports upgrades also come at no additional cost — one new feature will let viewers jump to key plays and specific highlight moments when watching a DVR recording or trying to catch up live. So, if you’re tuning in an hour late, you can view key moments from the game, then jump right in live. YouTube TV will also let users search for specific sports to add to their DVR, which has no storage space limit. So, again, if you’re determined not to miss a single Simone Biles floor routine, it will be easier to make sure you’re in the loop. There will also be a Medal count view during the Olympics within the app.

As the Olympics draw nearer, we can expect other cord-cutting services to up the ante on their live sports offerings — the $9.99 monthly Paramount+ Premium plan includes a wide range of international soccer matches, but no word on the Olympics yet. Still, the service is far less expensive than YouTube TV and already offers 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision. YouTube TV had 3 million subscribers as of October 2020, but did not offer an update for Q1 of 2021. As of March, Hulu had 4.1 million subscribers to its Live TV service, which will also air the Olympics.

#apps, #computing, #digital-television, #entertainment, #espn, #hulu, #mass-media, #olympics, #paramount, #tokyo, #video-hosting, #youtube, #youtube-tv

Fashion wholesale marketplace Joor opens China office

Joor, an online marketplace that connects fashion brands and retailers around the world, has opened its first China office in downtown Shanghai as it eyes growth in the region.

The 11-year-old New York-based company works as a virtual showroom for brands, which traditionally would meet with their retail partners in physical venues to showcase the latest collections. With Joor, showrooms become live videos, a feature that has no doubt proven useful during COVID-19.

The company also gives brands a set of data tools to analyze their sales that can inform future productions. For buyers, the benefits are similar — they are able to see which brand or product is trending and make better forecasts.

The expansion into China follows a robust year for Joor in APAC and the opening of its offices in Melbourne and Tokyo. Joor’s wholesale volume ordered by retailers in the region grew 139% year-over-year in 2021, and wholesale volume for APAC-based brands was up 419%, the company said in an announcement.

“The establishment of JOOR Shanghai will allow us to provide frictionless wholesale management to the range of fine brands and retailers across the country,” said Joor’s CEO Kristin Savilia in a statement. “It builds on our existing leadership position in North America and Europe, and we expect continued expansion across the Asia-Pacific region.”

Joor’s marketplace boasts more than 12,500 brands and over 325,000 retailers around the world to date. The company has raised over $35 million in funding, according to its disclosed rounds. Its investors include venture capital firms Battery Ventures and Canaan Partners as well as the 71-year-old Japanese trading house Itochu.

#asia, #asia-pacific, #battery-ventures, #canaan-partners, #china, #ecommerce, #itochu, #joor, #melbourne, #new-york, #online-marketplace, #shanghai, #tokyo

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google promises better 3D maps

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

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

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

Image Credits: Google

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

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

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

Image Credits: Google

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

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

Image Credits: Google

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

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

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

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

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

Japan’s Uncovered Fund launches $15M fund to back early-stage startups in Africa

Uncovered Fund, a VC firm targeting early-stage startups in Africa, announced today that it has launched its $15 million fund which is expected to close at the end of June this year. The Tokyo-based outfit founded by Takuma Terakubo in 2019 will invest $50,000 to $500,000 in African startups in seed and Series A stages.

Before Uncovered Fund, Terakubo was the CEO of Leapfrog Ventures. Together with Japanese startup incubator, Samurai Incubate, they launched Samurai Incubate Fund; a fund focused on early-stage African startups. During his time there, the firm raised more than $4.5 million targeted at startups in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria. It also financed over 10 startups with checks similar to Uncovered Fund’s ($50,000 to $500,000).

Terakubo doesn’t say why he left Samurai Incubate Fund. But according to him, Uncovered Fund’s investment methodology is different from his previous firm because it doesn’t bring only money to the table.

“We do not make scattered, one-shot, small investments, but rather we provide long-term growth support, including follow-on investment. In addition, we not only invest, but we also multiply the huge assets of Japanese companies to grow the business and provide technical support and finance as well,” he said.

As per who these corporations are, Terakubo isn’t disclosing names just yet but says he hopes to do so in the coming months.

Uncovered Fund focuses on startups based in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa playing in retail, fintech, healthtech, logistics, MaaS, agritech, and smart city sectors. The general partner says the firm invests in these sectors because “they are basic behaviors in people’s lives, and we believe it is important to improve convenience as quickly as possible.”

So far, it has backed five startups across these sectors and markets. They include Kenyan e-commerce platform, Sky Garden; US-based and Africa-focused healthtech startup RxAll; Francophone Africa mobility startup, Gozem; Kenyan fintech company LipaLater; and YC-backed Nigerian digital freight startup, SEND Technologies.

Some of these companies are doing business in other countries, and Terakubo says that the firm is willing to fund startups in other African countries as well.

“We are looking for African startups to expand their business across multiple countries. So, we welcome startups from any country as long as the business can scale.”

Uncovered Fund joins other Asian early-stage VC firms like Future Hub, Kepple Africa, and recently launched Sherpa Ventures who have launched within the past four years and funded over 50 African startups during that period. Terakubo says his VC firm hopes to increase this number by backing 15 startups this year and further the synergy between African founders and Asian investors.

“We are looking into joint development from Africa to Asian markets, and that is the big vision we have for the future,” he said. “As a VC and also an entrepreneur, I’m looking forward to the challenge of working with African entrepreneurs to create that future.”

#africa, #funding, #japan, #leapfrog-ventures, #startups, #tc, #tokyo, #venture-capital

Rocket Lab successfully launches satellite for Japanese startup Synspective

Rocket Lab has completed its 17th mission, putting a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite on orbit for client Synspective, a Tokyo-based space startup that has raised over $100 million in funding to date. Syspective aims to operate a 30-satellite constellation that can provide global imaging coverage of Earth, with SAR’s benefits of being able to see through clouds and inclement weather, as well as in all lighting conditions.

This is Synspective’s first satellite on orbit, and it took off from Rocket Lab’s launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. It will operate in a sun synchronous orbit approximately 300,000 miles from Earth, and will act a a demonstrator of the startup’s technology to pave the way for the full constellation, which will provide commercially available SAR data avails both raw, and processed via the company’s in-development AI technology to provide analytics and insights.

For Rocket Lab, this marks the conclusion of a successful year in launch operations, which also saw the company take its key first steps towards making its Electron launch system partially reusable. The company did have one significant setback as well, with a mission that failed to deliver its payloads to orbit in July, but the company quickly bounced back from that failure with improvements to prevent a similar incident in future.

In 2021, Rocket Lab will aim to launch its first mission from the U.S., using its new launch facility at Wallops Island, in Virginia. That initial U.S. flight was supposed to happen in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a NASA certification process for one of its systems, pushed the launch to next year.

#aerospace, #electron, #imaging, #new-zealand, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #synspective, #tc, #tokyo, #united-states, #virginia

Google Maps gets improved Live View AR directions

Google today announced a few updates to Live View, the augmented reality walking directions in its Google Maps app that officially launched last year. Live View uses your phone’s camera and GPS to tell you exactly where to go, making it a nice addition to the standard map-centric directions in similar applications.

The new features Google is introducing today include the ability to invoke Live View from the transit tab in Google Maps when you’re on a journey that includes multiple modes of transportations. Until now, the only way to see Live View was when were asking for pure walking directions.

 

Image Credits: Google

 

 

If you’re like me and perpetually disoriented after you exit a subway station in a new city (remember 2019, when we could still travel?), this is a godsend. And I admit that I often forget Live View exists. Adding it to multi-model directions may just get me to try it out more often since it is now more clearly highlighted in the app.

Google Maps can now also identify landmarks around you to give you better guidance and a clearer idea of where you are in a city. Think the Empire State Building in New York, for example.

Image Credits: Google

These new landmarks will be coming to Amsterdam, Bangkok, Barcelona, Berlin, Budapest, Dubai, Florence, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Kyoto, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Munich, New York, Osaka, Paris, Prague, Rome, San Francisco, Sydney, Tokyo and Vienna, with more to follow.

If you’re a regular Live View user, you’ll know that the actual pin locations in this mode can sometimes be off. In hilly areas, the pin can often be hovering high above your destination, for example. Now, Google promises to fix this by using a combination of machine learning and better topographical maps to place the pin exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Also new is the ability to use Live View in combination with Google Maps’ location sharing feature. So when a friend shares their location with you, you can now see exactly where they are in Live View, too, and get directions to meet them.

#amsterdam, #artificial-intelligence, #augmented-reality, #bangkok, #barcelona, #berlin, #budapest, #dubai, #florence, #google, #google-maps, #gps, #istanbul, #kuala-lumpur, #kyoto, #london, #los-angeles, #machine-learning, #madrid, #milan, #munich, #new-york, #osaka, #paris, #prague, #rome, #san-francisco, #software, #sydney, #tokyo, #vienna

Rakuten will not renew its contract with WeWork, says report

Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten has decided not to renew its contract with WeWork when it expires next month, according to a report in the Japan Times. Rakuten had leased about 700 desks in Tokyo, but is now planning to move employees from its fintech division into its own new offices.

Both WeWork and Rakuten declined to comment to TechCrunch.

Tokyo is also the headquarters of WeWork’s biggest investor SoftBank, which took ownership of the coworking startup last October as part of a bailout deal after concerns about WeWork’s financial stability and the behavior of co-founder and former chief executive officer Adam Neumann led to the postponement of its IPO.

Due in part to its close relationship with SoftBank, WeWork has a high number of clients in Japan, but the Japan Times reports that the COVID-19 pandemic caused occupancy to drop by about 60%.

Despite its troubles, SoftBank Group chief operating officer Marcelo Claure, who took over as WeWork’s chairman after Neumann’s resignation, told the Financial Times earlier this month that the company is on target to reach operating profitability by the end of next year, thanks in part to aggressive cost-cutting measures.

He also said that even though revenues were flat during the second quarter because many tenants terminated their leases or stopped paying rent, some companies have leased WeWork spaces to serve as satellite offices close to where their employees live as they continue to work from home.

#asia, #coworking-space, #japan, #rakuten, #startups, #tc, #tokyo, #wework, #wework-japan