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India’s Ola spins out a dedicated EV business — and it just raised $56M from investors

Posted by on Mar 1, 2019 in Ankit Jain, Asia, Automotive, Bhavish Aggarwal, carsharing, Co-founder, Collaborative Consumption, Companies, didi, Didi Chuxing, DST Global, electric vehicle, Flipkart, funding, Fundings & Exits, head, India, ola cabs, Sachin Bansal, Sequoia, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Steadview Capital, temasek, Tencent, tiger global, transport, Uber, United States | 0 comments

Ola, Uber’s key rival in India, is doubling down on electric vehicles after it span out a dedicated business, which has pulled in $56 million in early funding.

The unit is named Ola Electric Mobility and it is described as being an independent business that’s backed by Ola. TechCrunch understands Ola provided founding capital, and it has now been joined by a series of investors who have pumped Rs. 400 crore ($56 million) into Ola Electric. Notably, those backers include Tiger Global and Matrix India — two firms that were early investors in Ola itself.

While automotive companies and ride-hailing services in the U.S. are focused on bringing autonomous vehicles to the streets, India — like other parts of Asia — is more challenging thanks to diverse geographies, more sparse mapping and other factors. In India, companies have instead flocked to electric. The government had previously voiced its intention to make 30 percent of vehicles electric by 2030, but it has not formally introduced a policy to guide that initiative.

Ola has taken steps to electrify its fleet — it pledged last year to add 10,000 electric rickshaws to its fleet and has conducted other pilots with the goal of offering one million EVs by 2022 — but the challenge is such that it has spun out Ola Electric to go deeper into EVs.

That means that Ola Electric won’t just be concerned with vehicles, it has a far wider remit.

The new company has pledged to focus on areas that include charging solutions, EV batteries, and developing viable infrastructure that allows commercial EVs to operate at scale, according to an announcement. In other words, the challenge of developing electric vehicles goes beyond being a ‘ride-hailing problem’ and that is why Ola Electric has been formed and is being capitalized independently of Ola.

An electric rickshaw from Ola

Its leadership is also wholly separate.

Ola Electric is led by Ola executives Anand Shah and Ankit Jain — who led Ola’s connected car platform strategy — and the team includes former executives from carmakers such as BMW.

Already, it said it has partnered with “several” OEMs and battery makers and it “intends to work closely with the automotive industry to create seamless solutions for electric vehicle operations.” Indeed, that connected car play — Ola Play — likely already gives it warm leads to chase.

“At Ola Electric, our mission is to enable sustainable mobility for everyone. India can leapfrog problems of pollution and energy security by moving to electric mobility, create millions of new jobs and economic opportunity, and lead the world,” Ola CEO and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal said in a statement.

“The first problem to solve in electric mobility is charging: users need a dependable, convenient, and affordable replacement for the petrol pump. By making electric easy for commercial vehicles that deliver a disproportionate share of kilometers traveled, we can jumpstart the electric vehicle revolution,” added Anand Shah, whose job title is listed as head of Ola Electric Mobility.

The new business spinout comes as Ola continues to raise new capital from investors.

Last month, Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal invested $92 million into the ongoing Series J round that is likely to exceed $1 billion and would value Ola at around $6 billion. Existing backer Steadview Capital earlier committed $75 million but there’s plenty more in development.

A filing — first noted by paper.vc — shows that India’s Competition Commission approved a request for a Temasek-affiliated investment vehicle’s proposed acquisition of seven percent of Ola. In addition, SoftBank offered a term sheet for a prospective $1 billion investment last month, TechCrunch understands from an industry source.

Ola is backed by the likes of SoftBank, Tencent, Sequoia India, Matrix, DST Global and Didi Chuxing. It has raised some $3.5 billion to date, according to data from Crunchbase.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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NetEase is the latest Chinese tech giant to lay off a big chunk of its staff

Posted by on Feb 28, 2019 in alibaba, Amazon, Asia, Business, China, Didi Chuxing, E-Commerce, eCommerce, Gaming, JD.com, layoff, netease, public relations, Southeast Asia, Tencent | 0 comments

NetEase, China’s second-biggest online games publisher with a growing ecommerce segment, is laying off a significant number of its employees, adding to a list of Chinese tech giants that have shed staff following the Lunar New Year.

A NetEase employee who was recently let go confirmed with TechCrunch that the company had fired a large number of people spanning multiple departments, including ecommerce, education, agriculture (yes, founder and executive officer Ding Lei has a thing for organic farming) and public relations, although downsizing at Yanxuan, its ecommerce brand that sells private-label goods online and offline, had started before the Lunar New Year holiday.

Multiple Chinese media outlets covered the layoff on Wednesday. According to a report from Caijing Magazine, Yanxuan fired 30-40 percent of its staff; the agricultural brand Weiyang got a 50 percent cut; the education unit downsized from 300 to 200 employees; and 40 percent of NetEase’s public relations staff was gone.

A spokesperson from NetEase evaded TechCrunch’s questions about the layoff but said the company is “indeed undergoing a structural optimization to narrow its focus.” The goal, according to the person, is to “boost innovation and organizational efficiency so NetEase can fully play to its own strengths and adapt to market competition in the longer term.”

NetEase CEO Ding Lei pictured picking Longjing tea leaves in Hangzhou. Photo: NetEase Yanxuan via Weibo

Oddly, ecommerce and education appear to be some of NetEase’s brighter spots. The company singled them out alongside music streaming during its latest earnings call as the three sectors that saw “strong profit growth potential” and “will be the focus of [the company’s] next phase of strategic growth.” The staff cuts, then, may represent an urgency to tighten the purse strings for even NetEase’s rosiest businesses.

The shakeup fits into market speculation about company staff cuts to save costs as China copes with a weakening domestic economy. JD.com, a rival to Alibaba, is firing 10 percent of its senior management to cut costs, Caixin reported last week. Ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing plans to let go 15 percent of its staff this year as part of a reorganization to boost internal efficiency, though it’s adding new members to focus on more promising segments.

Alibaba took an unexpected turn, announcing last week that it will continue to hire new talent in 2019. “We are poised to provide more resources to our platforms to help businesses navigate current environment and create more job opportunities overall,” the firm said in a statement.

2018 was a tough year for China’s games companies of all sorts. The industry took a hit after regulators froze all licensing approvals to go through a reshuffle, dragging down stock prices of big players like Tencent and NetEase. These companies continue to feel the chill even after approvals resumed, as the newly minted regulatory body imposes stricter checks on games, slowing down the application process altogether and delaying companies’ plans to monetize lucrative new titles.

That bleak domestic outlook compelled NetEase to take what Ding dubs a “two-legged” approach to game publishing, with one foot set in China and the other extending abroad. Tencent, too, has been finding new channels for its games through regional partners like Sea’s Garena in Southeast Asia.

NetEase started in 1997 and earned its name by making PC games and providing email services in the early years of the Chinese internet. More recently the company has intended to diversify its business by incubating projects across the board. It has so far enjoyed growth in segments like music streaming and ecommerce (which is reportedly swallowing up Amazon China’s import-led service) while stepping back from others such as comics publishing, an asset it is selling to youth-focused video streaming site Bilibili.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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With today’s IPO sinking, a year of highs and lows for SoftBank

Posted by on Dec 19, 2018 in alibaba, Apple, ARM, Artificial Intelligence, Asia, Automotive, Didi Chuxing, Earnings, Finance, Flipkart, Government, Hardware, Masayoshi Son, nvidia, Saudi Arabia, SoftBank Group, Softbank Vision Fund, Sprint, TC, Uber, Venture Capital, Zume Pizza, Zymergen | 0 comments

If there was a word that dominated startup and tech news coverage this year, it was SoftBank. The Japanese telecom conglomerate’s Vision Fund pushed out a prodigious amount of capital this year — quite literally billions of dollars — into companies as diverse as a molecular manufacturer (Zymergen) and a robotic pizza delivery business (Zume Pizza). It was a year of highs as its Flipkart transaction produced billions in returns, as well as a year of incredible lows, what with the crisis over Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia is the largest investor in the Vision Fund.

But the Vision Fund is only part of the SoftBank story this year. The company’s mobile unit started trading today on the Tokyo Stock Exchange (ticker: 9434), the second largest IPO of all time after Alibaba, raising $23.6 billion. But after weeks of pushing the stock to Japanese retail stock investors, those same consumers dumped the stock upon its debut, dropping by 15% from its debut at ¥1,463 to its close at ¥1,282. That’s the second worst IPO performance this decade for a Japanese company.

Highs and lows come with any ambitious project, and certainly for Masayoshi Son, the founder and chairman of SoftBank Group, nothing — not even piles of debt — will stand in his way.

Today, Arman and I wanted to look back at SoftBank’s year, and so we’ve compiled ten areas for analysis around the group’s telco business, its Vision Fund, and its other major investments (Sprint, Nvidia, Arm, and Alibaba).

SoftBank: The Telecom

1. Its IPO did what it had to do (raising money), but bad early performance will be a challenge for 2019

Ken Miyauchi, president and chief executive officer of SoftBank Corp., strikes the trading bell during the company’s listing ceremony at the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At its core, SoftBank Group is fundamentally a telecom, and the third-largest player in the Japanese market. Masayoshi Son has for years wanted to transform SoftBank from a mature telco player into a leading investment house for funding the next-generation of technology companies.

There’s just one problem: SoftBank is sitting on piles of debt. As Arman and I wrote about a few weeks ago:

The bigger number though is sitting on the liabilities side of the company’s balance sheet. As of the end of September, SoftBank had around 18 trillion yen, or about $158.8 billion of current and non-current interest-bearing debt. That’s more than six times the amount the company earns on an operating basis, and just slightly less than the public debt held by Pakistan.

And though SoftBank’s sky-high debt balance tends to be a secondary focus in the company’s media coverage, it’s a figure that SoftBank’s top brass is well aware of, and quite comfortable with. When discussing the company’s financial strategy, Softbank CFO Yoshimitsu Goto stated that the company is in the early stages of a transition from a telco holding company to an investment company, and as a result is “likely to be perceived as a corporate group with significant debt and interest payment burden” with what is “generally considered a high level of debt.”

Those debt loads have made corporate maneuvering quite complicated. And so the company decided to put its mobile telco unit up for public trading as a means of getting a fresh injection of capital and continue its transformation into an investment shop. By raising $23.6 billion today, the company did just that.

The 15% drop in value on its debut though shows that the market has yet to fully buy into Son’s vision for where SoftBank is heading. That lowered price will make the corporate financial math around debt tougher, and will be a key theme for 2019.

2. The Japanese government wants to increase competition in the telco space, putting massive pressure on SoftBank’s financials

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images

Japan’s telco market is quite dormant, with mature, oligopolistic companies charging some of the highest prices on the planet for mobile service. Japan’s government also doesn’t auction off spectrum, which has saved telcos billions of dollars in direct cash costs, helping them to become reliable profit-generating juggernauts.

That cozy world is being shattered by the policy of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who has made increasing competition in the industry a major policy initiative. That includes putting 5G spectrum up for what will essentially be a competitive auction, demanding lower prices from telcos, and opening the market to new entrants like Rakuten (see #3 below).

As a result, incumbents like NTT DoCoMo have announced rate cuts of up to 40 percent on mobile services, while warning investors that it may take five years for the company to return to current profitability. Those announcements caused stock traders to dump Japanese telco shares this year, shedding $34 billion in the days following the announcements.

At a time when SoftBank most needs its cash flow to pay off its debt, the world is rapidly moving against it. The company has insisted that it can keep revenues and profits stable and even grow into the competition, but the announcements from its larger competitors dump cold water on its claims. SoftBank’s profits surged in its last quarter, but mostly from its Vision Fund investments rather than its core telco business.

3. Rakuten’s entrance into the Japanese mobile service market will scramble the traditional three-way oligopoly

Hiroshi Mikitani, owner of Rakuten. BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

One of the big news stories for SoftBank came from ecommerce giant Rakuten, which announced that it will launch a new mobile service in Japan starting as early as next year. As Arman and I wrote about at the time:

Though a new entrant hasn’t been approved to enter the telco market since eAccess in 2007, Rakuten has already gotten the thumbs up to start operations in 2019. The government also instituted regulations that would make the new kid in town more competitive, such as banning telcos from limiting device portability.

Rakuten’s partnerships with key utilities and infrastructure players will also allow it to build out its network quickly, including one with Japan’s second largest mobile service provider, KDDI.

Rakuten has obvious built-in advantages as the second largest ecommerce company in Japan following Amazon, and that will put pressure on other incumbents — including SoftBank — to meet its prices or to compete with more marketing dollars to reach customers. Again, we see a tough road ahead for SoftBank’s telecom business at a very vulnerable time for its balance sheet.

SoftBank: The Vision Fund

4. The Vision Fund actually got bigger this year

Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

The Vision Fund’s massive vision got just a bit bigger this year. When the fund announced its first close in May 2017, it set a target final fund size of $93 billion. In 2018 though, the Vision Fund received another $5 billion in commitments. When we add the $6 billion already committed for SoftBank’s Delta Fund, which is a separate vehicle used to alleviate conflicts around the company’s Didi investment, Masayoshi Son now has more than a $100 billion at his disposal.

But that’s not all! The Vision Fund has also been rumored to be raising $4 billion in debt so that it can fund startups faster (picking up on that debt theme yet?). Its LPs, which include Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, and Apple, are given time to fund their commitments to the Vision Fund, and so the fund wants to have cash in the bank so that it can fund its investments faster. Debt structures in the fund are complicated, to say the least.

Masayoshi Son has repeatedly said that he wants to raise a $300 billion Vision Fund II, possibly as soon as next year, eventually ramping to $880 billion in the coming years. Whether the company’s debt load and controversy over Saudi Arabia (see #6 below) will allow that vision to come to pass is going to be a major question for 2019.

5. Seriously: is there any company not getting a multi-hundred million dollar term sheet from SoftBank these days?

Photo by Alessandro Di Ciommo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

SoftBank dominated headlines throughout 2018 with a steady cadence of monster investments across geographies and industries. Based on data from regulatory filings, Pitchbook, and Crunchbase, SoftBank and its Vision Fund led roughly 35 investment rounds, with total round sizes aggregating to roughly $30 billion, or over $40 billion when including investments in Uber and Grab, which were announced in 2017 but didn’t close until early 2018.

Surprisingly, SoftBank’s latest filings indicate that as of the end of September, the Vision Fund had only deployed roughly $33 billion, or about one-third the total fund, though the actual number might be quite a bit larger. SoftBank has led twelve rounds since September, including buying a $3 billion dollar warrant for WeWork and finalizing a large round that included secondary shares into Chinese news aggregator ByteDance.

In addition to investing directly through its Vision Fund, SoftBank also regularly makes and holds investments at the group level, with the intention of selling or transferring shares to the Vision Fund at a later date. As a result, SoftBank currently holds around $27.7 billion in investments that sit outside the Vision Fund, including the company’s stakes in Uber, Grab and Ola which it expects to eventually transfer to the Vision Fund pending LP and regulatory approvals. Assuming it plans to move the majority of these investments to the Vision Fund, SoftBank might have already deployed close to half the fund.

For all of that money flowing out the door though, there are limits even to the Vision Fund’s ambitions. Just today, the Wall Street Journal reported that LPs are pushing back against a plan to buy out a majority of WeWork, which would push the Vision Fund’s investment in the co-working startup to $24 billion. From the article:

Some of the people said that [Saudi Arabia’s] PIF and [Abu Dhabi’s] Mubadala have questioned the wisdom of doubling down on WeWork, and have cast doubt on its rich valuation. The company is on track to lose around $2 billion this year, and the funds have expressed concern that WeWork’s model could leave it exposed if the economy turns, some of the people said.

If the investment went through, WeWork would represent roughly a quarter of the fund’s capital, an astonishing level of concentration for a venture fund. Its a bold, concentrated bet, exactly the kind of model that entices Son.

6. The Vision Fund generated its first massive returns with Flipkart, Guardant and Ping An, with a huge roster to come

Photo by AFP/Getty Images

In just the first full year of operations, the Vision Fund has already begun to see the fruits of its investments with several portfolio company exits.

It made a spectacular return on Indian ecommerce startup Flipkart, where SoftBank realized a $1.5 billion gain on its $2.5 billion investment in just about a year. Walmart, which bought a 77% stake in Flipkart as part of its ambitious overseas strategy, valued the company at $21 billion.

Flipkart may have been the year’s largest highlight for the Vision Fund, but it wasn’t the only liquidity the fund saw. Its pre-IPO investment in Ping An Health & Technology Co, which produces the popular Chinese medical app Good Doctor, debuted on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and Guardant Health, which makes blood tests for disease detection, went public in October to rabid investor enthusiasm.

While those early wins are positive signs, the proof of the Vision Fund’s thesis will come early next year, when companies like Uber, Slack and Didi are expected to go public. If the returns prove favorable, then the fundraise for Vision Fund II may well come together quickly. But if the markets turn south and complicate the roadshows for these unicorns, it could complicate the story of how the Vision Fund exits out of these high-flying investments.

7. Murder is wrong. That makes the math for SoftBank really hard.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The tech media world went into a frenzy over Saudi Arabia’s horrific and horrifically public killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That put enormous pressure on SoftBank and its Vision Fund, where Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the largest LP with a $45 billion commitment.

There have been strong calls for Masayoshi Son to avoid Saudi Arabia in future fundraises, but that is complicated for one simple reason: there are just not that many money managers in the world who can a) invest tens of billions of dollars into firms backing risky technology investments, and b) are willing to ignore SoftBank’s massive debt stack and existential risks.

So SoftBank faces a tough choice. It can have its fund, but will need to get money from unsavory people. That might be fine — after all, Saudi Arabia is also the largest investor in Silicon Valley. Or it can walk away and try to find another LP that might replace the Kingdom’s huge fund commitment.

If the Vision Fund’s numbers look good after the early IPOs in 2019, I can imagine it being able to paper around Saudi Arabia’s commitment with a broader set of LPs that might be intrigued with technology investing and trust the numbers a bit more. If the IPOs stall though, whether because of internal company challenges à la pre-Dara Uber or broader market challenges, then expect a next fundraise to feature Saudi Arabia prominently, or for no fundraise to take place at all.

SoftBank: The Other Stuff

8. Good news on SoftBank’s Sprint side with its merger with T-Mobile looking like it will move forward

CEO of T-Mobile US Inc. John Legere and Executive Chairman of Sprint Corporation Marcelo Claure. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Since SoftBank acquired Sprint for $20 billion back in 2013, Sprint’s heavy debt balance has led to lackluster performance and the downgrade of SoftBank’s credit ratings to junk, where they’ve remained since.

After initial discussions stalled in 2017, SoftBank reinitiated merger discussions with T-Mobile’s German parent, Deutsche Telekom in 2018, eventually reaching an agreement for a Sprint/T-Mobile merger that would see SoftBank’s ownership stake fall from just over 80% of Sprint to just 27% of the combined entity.

Despite the poor track record for telco deal approvals and the increased scrutiny of cross-border M&A from U.S. regulators, SoftBank’s proposed merger recently received key approvals from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense. Part of that agreement came when SoftBank agreed to eliminate Huawei equipment from its infrastructure. While the deal still needs approval from the Federal Communications Commission, the road forward seems to be relatively clear.

If the deal ultimately goes through, SoftBank will no longer have to consolidate Sprint financials with its own and can instead report only its owned share of Sprint financials (and debt expense), improving (at least the optics of) SoftBank’s balance sheet.

9. SoftBank’s massive bet on Nvidia could be a $3 billion winner even as Nvidia faces crash

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

SoftBank became Nvidia’s fourth largest shareholder in 2017 after building up a roughly $4 billion stake in the company’s shares. As I detailed last week, Nvidia’s stock has gone into free fall over the past two months, as the company faces geopolitical turmoil, the loss of a huge revenue stream with the collapse in crypto, and an increasingly competitive battle in the next-generation application workflow space.

Now, SoftBank is reportedly looking to sell its Nvidia shares for possible profits of around $3 billion. As Bloomberg reported, that’s because the acquisition was built as a “collar trade” that protected SoftBank against a drop in Nvidia’s share price (a good reminder that even when a stock loses half of its value, it is entirely possible for people to still make money).

The opportunity though is that SoftBank almost certainly still wants to continue to play in the next-generation AI chip space, and needs to find another vehicle for it to hitch a ride on.

10. ARM could be the saving grace of chips for SoftBank

Masayoshi Son, CEO of Japanese mobile giant SoftBank, and Stuart Chambers, Chairman of British chip designer company ARM Holdings, are pictured outside 11 Downing street in central London. NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP/Getty Images

In 2016, SoftBank made its biggest purchase ever when it acquired system-on-a-chip designer ARM Holdings for $32 billion. ARM’s designs were dominant among smartphones, which at the time was seeing rapid adoption and growth worldwide.

The good news hasn’t stopped since, although ARM has had to pivot its strategy in 2018 to adapt to changing market dynamics. Apple, which has seen its next-generation iPhone sales stalling, has been rumored to be moving to using ARM chips for a wider array of its products, including its Mac lineup. Beyond that expansion, ARM is now increasingly designing chips for the data center, and engaging in next-generation markets around artificial intelligence and automotive. ARM’s CEO has said that he sees a path to doubling revenues by 2022, which shows a healthy clip of growth if that pans out.

There are headwinds though. Consolidation in the semiconductor space has been a theme the past two years, and that will allow the surviving companies to be more ferocious competitors against ARM. Up-and-coming startups could also crimp the company’s growth in next-generation workloads, a risk shared with other incumbents like Nvidia.

That said, ARM seems to be in a much more strategic position than Nvidia these days, as ARM has managed to maintain its linchpin role, and that should ultimately roll up to a valuation that SoftBank will be excited about.

11. Alibaba is putting heavy pressure on SoftBank’s balance sheet

Jack Ma, businessman and founder of Alibaba, at the 40th Anniversary of Reform and Opening Up at The Great Hall Of The People on December 18, 2018 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)

While SoftBank has slowly been cashing in after winning big on its early backing of Alibaba, the company’s ownership stake still sits at roughly 29%.

SoftBank’s Alibaba ties have helped the company fuel its incessant appetite for leverage, with SoftBank using its stake in Alibaba as collateral for an $8 billion off-balance sheet loan, which prevented additional downgrades of Softbank’s credit. But a tougher macro backdrop and slowing sales growth have caused Alibaba to follow the precipitous decline of other Chinese tech stocks in 2018, falling nearly 20% year-to-date and 30% in the last 6 months.

That decline means tens of billions of dollars of losses for SoftBank’s already overstretched balance sheet, and as with many of these stories, will make financing its vision challenging in 2019.

And so we get back to the core theme of 2018 for SoftBank: debt, leverage, and financial wizardry in pursuit of a bold transformation into a technology investment firm. That transformation has certainly not been smooth, but it has moved forward bit by bit. If SoftBank can navigate the changes in the Japanese telco market, exit some major investments in its Vision Fund, and manage its big commitments in Sprint and Alibaba, it will reach its destination, with a few ultimately superficial bruises along the way.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Meituan, China’s ‘everything app’, walks away from bike sharing and ride hailing

Posted by on Nov 23, 2018 in alibaba, Asia, carsharing, China, didi, Didi Chuxing, driver, Ele.me, Food, Meituan, Meituan-Dianping, mobike, Nanjing, ofo, shanghai, Softbank, Tencent, transport, Transportation, Uber | 0 comments

A major player in the race to transport Chinese people around is losing steam. Meituan Dianping, the Tencent-backed all-encompassing platform for local services, continues to put the brakes on bike-sharing and ride-hailing, the company said on its earnings call on Thursday.

The eight-year-old firm is best known for competing with Alibaba-owned Ele.me in food deliveries — the segment that makes up the majority of its sales — and hotel booking, but it’s aggressively branched into various fronts like transportation.

In April, Meituan entered the bike-sharing fray after it scooped up top player Mobike for $2.7 billion to face off Alibaba-backed Ofo. Over the past few years, Mobike and Ofo were burning through large sums of investor money in a bid to win users from subsidized rides, but both have shown signs of softening their stance recently

Mobike is downsizing its fleets to “avoid an oversupply” as the bike-sharing market falters, Meituan’s chief financial officer Chen Shaohui said during the earnings call. Ofo has also scaled back by closing down many of its international operations.

In the meantime, Meituan said it has no plans to expand car-hailing beyond its two piloting cities — Shanghai and Nanjing — after venturing into the field to take on Didi Chuxing last December. The update is consistent with what the firm announced in its prospectus ahead of a blockbuster $4.2 billion initial public offering in Hong Kong this September.

The halt is likely related to changing dynamics in the country’s shared rides. Following two passenger murders on Didi, the Softbank-backed transportation platform that took over Uber China in 2016, Chinese regulators launched their strictest verification requirements for drivers across all ride-hailing apps. The mandate has squeezed driver numbers, making it harder to hire rides on Didi and its competitors.

During its third quarter that ended September 30, Meituan posted a 97.2 percent jump on revenues to 19.1 billion yuan, or $2.75 billion, on the back of strong growth in food delivery transactions. The firm’s investments in new initiatives – including ride-hailing and bike-sharing – took a toll as operating losses nearly tripled to 3.45 billion yuan compared to a year ago. Meituan shares plunged as much as 14 percent on Friday, the most since its spectacular listing.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Rappi raises $200M as Latin American tech investment reaches new highs

Posted by on Aug 31, 2018 in Andreessen Horowitz, Didi Chuxing, DST Global, Food, Latin America, nubank, on-demand delivery, Rappi, Recent Funding, Startups, TC, Uber, unicorn, Venture Capital, Y Combinator | 0 comments

Rappi, the Colombian on-demand delivery startup, has brought in a new round of funding at a valuation north of $1 billion, as first reported by Axios and confirmed to TechCrunch by a source close to the company. DST Global has led the more than $200 million financing, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia — all of which were existing investors in the company.

Rappi kicked off its business delivering beverages and has since expanded into meals, groceries and even tech and medicine. You can, for example, have a pair of AirPods delivered to you using Rappi’s app. The company also has a popular cash withdrawal feature that allows users to pay with credit cards and then receive cash from one of Rappi’s delivery agents.

Rappi charges $1 per delivery. To help keep costs efficient, the company’s fleet of couriers use only motorcycles and bikes.

Simón Borrero, Sebastian Mejia and Felipe Villamarin launched the company in 2015, graduating from Y Combinator the following year. From there, Rappi quickly captured the attention of American venture capitalists. A16z’s initial investment in July 2016 was the Silicon Valley firm’s first investment in Latin America.

The new capital will likely be used to help Rappi compete with Uber Eats, which is active across Latin America.

The round for Rappi is notable for a Latin American company, as is its new unicorn status. Only one other Latin American startup, Nubank, has surpassed a billion-dollar valuation with new venture capital funding so far in 2018. São Paulo-based Nubank makes a no-fee credit card and is also backed by DST.

Investment in Latin American tech continues to reach new highs. In the first quarter of 2018, more than $600 million was invested. That followed a record 2017, which was the first time VCs funneled more than $1 billion into the continent’s tech ecosystem during a 12-month period.

The rise in investment is mostly due to sizable fundings for companies like Rappi and Nubank, as well as Brazil-based 99, which sold to fellow ride-hailing business Didi Chuxing in a deal worth $1 billion earlier this year.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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China’s Didi suspends carpooling service after another female passenger is mudered

Posted by on Aug 26, 2018 in alibaba, alibaba group, Asia, carsharing, China, Collaborative Consumption, didi, Didi Chuxing, driver, Ele.me, law enforcement, Meituan, Meituan-Dianping, mobike, transport, Uber, Vice President | 0 comments

Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing, the $60 billion-valued company that bought out Uber’s China business, has suspended its carpooling service after the murder of a female passenger. The fatally is the second such incident this year after a passenger was murdered in May.

Police this weekend arrested a man who is accused of raping and killing a 20-year-old female who rode with him via Didi’s Hitch service on Friday in Zhejiang, a province in the east of China. Reuters reports that the woman had messaged her friend earlier in the day asking for help before she disappeared.

Authorities in Zhejiang city Leqing suspended the service before Didi later announced it would suspend Hitch nationwide. Didi’s other (commercial) carpooling and ride-hailing services are not affected by this suspension.

“We are sorry the Hitch service… would be suspended for now because of our disappointing mistakes,” Didi said in a statement.

Hitch is a modern take on hitchhiking that lets a passenger ride for free with a driver headed in their direction. Passengers are encouraged to leave a tip to cover petrol, but the idea is to make each car ride more efficient. Didi doesn’t monetize the service, but it is a strategic way to attract passengers and drivers who may use other services that the firm does draw revenue from.

Didi claims Hitch has handled over a billion trips in the past three years, but there are major safety issues.

This new murder occurred a little over three months after an air stewardess was killed in Henan province by a driver who got on to Didi’s platform using an account belonging to his father, a verified Didi driver. Following that incident, Didi suspended Hitch for six weeks. The service resumed in June with a number of restrictions, in particular, one that only allowed drivers to serve passengers of the same sex during late night hours.

This fatal Zhejiang ride occurred at 1pm, according to police, and there’s plenty to be concerned with.

Didi said in a statement that the alleged murderer, who does not have a criminal record, had been flagged to Didi’s safety team just one day before. A female passenger complained that the driver had requested her to ride in the front seat and then followed her for some time after she left his vehicle.

The Didi safety center representative who handled the complaint had not followed company policy of initiating an investigation within two hours, according to Reuters. That policy was introduced during the suspension period after Didi discovered another passenger had flagged suspicious behavior from the driver who then went on to commit the murder in May.

“The incident shows the many deficiencies with our customer service processes, especially the failure to act swiftly on the previous passenger’s complaint and the cumbersome and rigid process of information sharing with the police. This is too high a cost to pay. We plead for law enforcement and the public to work with us in developing more efficient and practical collaborative solutions to fight criminals and protect user personal and property safety,” Didi said in a statement.

The company confirmed that it has fired two executives following the murder: the general manager for Hitch and the company’s vice president of customer services.

Didi said it will launch a “co-supervisory process of our operations” which it invited members of the public and experts to take part in.

Following the murder in May, Didi said it has booked “proactive consultation sessions with relevant authorities and experts” as it sought to shore up its safety processes.

Didi has operated a virtual monopoly on ride-hailing services since it acquired and integrated Uber’s China business in 2016, but this year it has seen increased competition.

In particular, Didi is facing pressure from rival Meituan Dianping, which started out in local services but recently introduced ride-sharing services and moved into dockless bikes with the acquisition of Mobike. Meituan recently filed to go public in Hong Kong, with some reports suggesting it could raise as much as $4 billion.

Meituan is involved in a dogfight with Alibaba to win China’s local services market — Alibaba just amped up its efforts with a $3 billion raise for its Ele.me business unit — but no doubt Meituan will now doubly focus on its own safety and security measures to push its case as a legitimate alternative to Didi.

Didi has gone to great pains to emphasize that Hitch is well used — it hamfistedly shoved a mention of the service’s ride completion numbers into its apology statement — but at this point it seems best to shutter the service if it can’t guarantee the safety of all passengers, no matter how popular or strategic it may be.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Fast-growing Chinese media startup ByteDance is raising $2.5B-$3B more

Posted by on Aug 8, 2018 in alibaba, alibaba group, Ant Financial, Apps, Asia, Beijing, bytedance, China, didi, Didi Chuxing, musical.ly, online payments, Software, The Financial Times, the wall street journal, tiktok, Toutiao, Uber, United States | 0 comments

Fast-growing Chinese media startup ByteDance is looking to raise as much as $3 billion to continue growth for its empire of mobile-based entertainment apps, which include news aggregator Toutiao and video platform Tiktok.

The Beijing-based startup is in early-stage talks with investors to raise $2.5 billion to $3 billion, according to a source with knowledge of the plans. That investment round could value ByteDance as high as $75 billion, although the source stressed that the valuation is a target and it might not be reached.

It’s audacious, but if that lofty goal is reached then ByteDance would become the world’s highest-valued startup ahead of the likes of Didi Chuxing ($56 billion) and Uber ($62 billion). Only Ant Financial has raised at a higher valuation, but the company is an affiliate of Alibaba and therefore not your average ‘startup.’

The Wall Street Journal first broke news of the ByteDance investment plan.

But there’s more: Earlier this week, the Financial Times cited sources who indicate that ByteDance is keen to go public in Hong Kong with an IPO slated to happen next year.

ByteDance is best-known for Toutiao, its news aggregator app that claims 120 million daily users, while it also operates a short-video platform called Douyin. The latter is known as TikTok overseas and it counts 500 million active users. TikTok recently merged with Musical.ly, the app that’s popular in the U.S. and was acquired by ByteDance for $1 billion, in an effort aimed at combining both userbases to create an app with global popularity.

The firm also operates international versions of Toutiao, including TopBuzz and NewsRepublic while it is an investor in streaming app Live.me.

The company’s growth has been mercurial but it has also come with problems as the company entered China’s tech spotlight and became a truly mainstream service in China.

ByteDance had its knuckles wrapped by authorities at the beginning of the year after it was deemed to have inadequately policed content on its platform. Then in April, its ‘Neihan Duanzi’ joke app was shuttered following a government order while Toutiao was temporarily removed from app stores. It returns days later after the company had grown its content team to 10,000 staff and admitted that some content it had hosted “did not accord with core socialist values and was not a good guide for public opinion.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Grab picks up $2 billion more to fuel growth in post-Uber Southeast Asia

Posted by on Aug 2, 2018 in alibaba, Asia, carsharing, China, Collaborative Consumption, Commuting, didi, Didi Chuxing, financial services, Fundings & Exits, Google, grab, Indonesia, KKR, lightspeed, lightspeed venture partners, offline to online, Philippines, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Southeast Asia, Tencent, Thailand, Toyota, transport, Uber, United States, vietnam, vulcan capital, warburg pincus | 0 comments

Grab, the ride-hailing service that struck a deal to take Uber out of Southeast Asia, has announced that it has pulled in $2 billion in new capital as it seeks to go beyond ride-hailing to offer more on-demand services.

The $2 billion figure includes a $1 billion investment from Toyota which was announced in June, and it sees a whole host of institutional investors join the Grab party. Some of those names include OppenheimerFunds, Ping An Capital, Mirae Asset — Naver Asia Growth Fund, Cinda Sino-Rock Investment Management Company, All-Stars Investment, Vulcan Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Macquarie Capital.

Grab confirmed that the round is still open, so we can expect that it’ll add more investors and figures to this deal.

The deal values Grab at $11 billion post-money, which is the same as the $10 billion valuation it earned following the Toyota deal. The caliber of investors certainly suggests an IPO is on the cards soon — not that it ever hasn’t been — although the company didn’t comment directly on that when we asked.

This new financing takes Grab to $6 billion from investors. Some of its other notable backers include SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing, which both led a $2 billion round last year which gave Grab the gas to negotiate a deal with Uber that saw the U.S. ride-hailing giant exit Southeast Asia in exchange for a 27.5 percent stake in Grab. From that perspective, the deal was a win-win for both sides.

In this post-Uber world, Grab is transitioning to offer more services beyond just rides. It has long done so, with its own payment service and food deliveries, but it is rolling out a revamped “super app” design that no longer opens to a ride request page and that reflects the changing strategy of the Singapore-based company.

10 July 2018; Tan Hooi Ling, co-Founder, Grab, at a press conference during day one of RISE 2018 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / RISE via Sportsfile

Grab said in a statement today that this new money will go towards that “O2O” [offline-to-online] strategy that turns Grab’s app into a platform that allows traditional, offline services to tap the internet to reach new customers. The trend started out in China, with Alibaba and Tencent among those pushing O2O services, and Grab is determined to be that solution for Southeast Asia’s 650 million consumers.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy with a population of over 260 million, is a key focus for Grab, the company said. The company has been pushed out new financial services in the country, fueled by an acquisition last year, and it claims it is winning “significant market share” with GMV quadrupled in the first half of this year.

With Uber out of the picture, the company’s main rival for the ‘Southeast Asia Super App Crown’ is Go-Jek, the Indonesian on-demand service valued at $5 billion.

Go-Jek has long focused on its home market but this year it unveiled an ambitious plan to expand to three new markets. That kicked off yesterday with a launch in Vietnam, and the company has plans to arrive in Thailand and the Philippines before the end of the year.

Go-Jek has raised over $2 billion and it counts KKR, Warburg Pincus, Google and Chinese duo Tencent and Meituan among its backers.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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China’s Didi Chuxing is close to launching a taxi-booking service in Japan

Posted by on Jul 19, 2018 in 99, Apps, Artificial Intelligence, Asia, Australia, booking holdings, Brazil, careem, carsharing, China, Collaborative Consumption, didi, Didi Chuxing, grab, Japan, kyoto, Lyft, Masayoshi Son, Mexico, osaka, Softbank, taiwan, Taxify, transport, Uber | 0 comments

Days after raising $500 million via a strategic investment from travel giant Booking Holdings, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has continued its international push with the launch of a local business in Japan.

Its new Japan-based unit is a joint venture with SoftBank, a longtime Didi investor, which has been in the works since an announcement back in February. Today’s news isn’t that the service is live yet — it isn’t — but rather than the JV has been formally launched.

Didi did say, however, that it plans to launch services for passengers, drivers and taxi operators in Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Tokyo and other major cities from autumn this year. Didi said that its users in China and Hong Kong will be able to use the soon-to-launch Japan service through their regular Didi app — that’s interesting since a ‘roaming’ strategy involving Lyft and others arranged years ago never came to fruition.

And yes, you did read correctly that taxi operators are part of the target audience. That’s because Japan doesn’t allow unlicensed private cars to operate as taxis.

That’s made the country a real challenge for Uber, which has held talks with taxi operators, and it also explains why one of the leading ride-hailing service in Japan — JapanTaxi — is backed by the taxi industry. JapanTaxi is even owned by an insider, Ichiro Kawanabe, who runs Japan’s largest taxi operator Nihon Kotsu and heads up the country’s taxi federation.

Working with taxi operators means Didi has a fleet management platform, as above, as part of its Japan-based service.

That concession on working with taxis doesn’t necessarily mean that Didi isn’t focused on widening the market by enabling “ride-sharing” with non-taxi drivers in the future.

Reuters reports that SoftBank supremo Masayoshi Son — one half of the Didi Japan joint venture — made some family scathing comments at an annual event.

“Ride-sharing is prohibited by law in Japan. I can’t believe there is still such a stupid country,” Son is said to have remarked.

Didi, of course, is playing things more cautious as it rides into Japan.

The company said that the country, which is the world’s third-largest market based on taxi ride revenue, “holds great potential as a market for online taxi-hailing.”

“There is earnest demand for more convenient urban and regional transportation services, especially in light of the growing population of senior citizens,” Didi added via a statement.

The Japanese expansion is another example of Didi’s push to internationalize its service beyond China in 2018. Last year, it raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and move into new markets, and this year it has come good on that promise by entering Mexico, Australia and Taiwan. While over in Brazil, it leaped into the market through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99.

The 99 deal was a particularly interesting one since Didi had previously backed the company via an investment. Didi didn’t say much about the mechanics of that strategy, but it has investments in ride-sharing companies worldwide, including Lyft, Grab, Ola, Careem and Taxify, which you’d imagine, like 99, could be converted into full-on acquisitions at some point in moves that would speed up that international expansion.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Travel giant Booking invests $500M in Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing

Posted by on Jul 17, 2018 in Apps, Asia, Booking.com, China, Didi Chuxing, Fundings & Exits, Priceline, ride hailing, Travel | 0 comments

Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing company, has pulled in some strategic capital after Booking Holdings invested $500 million into its business.

The deal will see Booking Holdings — which was formerly known as Priceline — work closely with Didi to offer its on-demand car services through its Booking.com apps via an integration. Likewise, Didi customers will have the option to book hotels through Booking.com and its sister site Agoda.

The deal isn’t about money. Didi has said publicly that it has multiple billions of US dollars on its balance sheet, thanks to a gigantic $4 billion funding round that closed at the end of 2017 and a history of raising big in recent years.

Instead, the tie-in helps on a strategic level.

Besides Booking.com and Agoda, Booking also operates Kayak, Priceline.com, Rentacars.com and OpenTable, all of which makes it a powerful ally for Didi. That’s particularly important since the Chinese firm is in global expansion mode, having launched services in Mexico, Australia and Taiwan this year. Beyond those three, it acquired local ride-hailing company 99 in Brazil and announced plans to roll into Japan.

Beyond boosting a brand and consumer touchpoints, linking up with travel companies makes sense as ride-hailing goes from simply ride-hailing to become a de facto platform for travel between both longer haul (flights) and short distance (public transport) trips. That explains why Didi has doubled down on dock-less bikes and other transportation modes.

“Building on its leadership and expertise in the global online travel market, Booking is championing a digital revolution of travel experience. We look forward to seamlessly connecting every segment of the journey and improving everyone’s traveling experience through more collaborative innovation with the Booking brands on product, technology and market development,” said Stephen Zhu, VP of strategy for Didi, in a statement.

In other Didi news today, the company is said to be considering a deal to offload its car services business.

Reuters reports that the unit, which was formed in April and consists of Didi’s car rental, sales, maintenance, sharing and gas services businesses, could be spun out in a deal worth $1.5 billion. The thinking is apparently that Didi’s IPO, which is said to be in the planning stages, would run smoother without these asset-heavy businesses involved.

Representatives for Didi declined to comment on the report when we got in touch.

Didi was linked with a 2017 IPO back in 2016 but the company went on record denying those plans. Indeed, there’s plenty of progress since those reports surfaced. Not only did Didi go on to acquire Uber’s China business — that seems like a long time ago — but it has made strategic investments across the world, backing Uber rivals in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and beyond. That’s in addition to its aforementioned expansion plans, which have seen the Didi business roll into four countries outside of China.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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