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India’s most popular services are becoming super apps

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Apps, Asia, China, Cloud, Developer, Facebook, Finance, Flipkart, Food, Foodpanda, Gaana, Gaming, grab, haptik, hike, India, MakeMyTrip, Media, Microsoft, microsoft garage, Mobile, Mukesh Ambani, mx player, payments, Paytm, paytm mall, reliance jio, saavn, SnapDeal, Social, Startups, Tapzo, Tencent, Times Internet, Transportation, Truecaller, Uber, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, WeChat | 0 comments

Truecaller, an app that helps users screen strangers and robocallers, will soon allow users in India, its largest market, to borrow up to a few hundred dollars.

The crediting option will be the fourth feature the nine-year-old app adds to its service in the last two years. So far it has added to the service the ability to text, record phone calls and mobile payment features, some of which are only available to users in India. Of the 140 million daily active users of Truecaller, 100 million live in India.

The story of the ever-growing ambition of Truecaller illustrates an interesting phase in India’s internet market that is seeing a number of companies mold their single-functioning app into multi-functioning so-called super apps.

Inspired by China

This may sound familiar. Truecaller and others are trying to replicate Tencent’s playbook. The Chinese tech giant’s WeChat, an app that began life as a messaging service, has become a one-stop solution for a range of features — gaming, payments, social commerce and publishing platform — in recent years.

WeChat has become such a dominant player in the Chinese internet ecosystem that it is effectively serving as an operating system and getting away with it. The service maintains its own app store that hosts mini apps and lets users tip authors. This has put it at odds with Apple, though the iPhone-maker has little choice but to make peace with it.

For all its dominance in China, WeChat has struggled to gain traction in India and elsewhere. But its model today is prominently on display in other markets. Grab and Go-Jek in Southeast Asian markets are best known for their ride-hailing services, but have begun to offer a range of other features, including food delivery, entertainment, digital payments, financial services and healthcare.

The proliferation of low-cost smartphones and mobile data in India, thanks in part to Google and Facebook, has helped tens of millions of Indians come online in recent years, with mobile the dominant platform. The number of internet users has already exceeded 500 million in India, up from some 350 million in mid-2015. According to some estimates, India may have north of 625 million users by year-end.

This has fueled the global image of India, which is both the fastest growing internet and smartphone market. Naturally, local apps in India, and those from international firms that operate here, are beginning to replicate WeChat’s model.

Founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Paytm Vijay Shekhar Sharma speaks during the launch of Paytm payments Bank at a function in New Delhi on November 28, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN)

Leading that pack is Paytm, the popular homegrown mobile wallet service that’s valued at $18 billion and has been heavily backed by Alibaba, the e-commerce giant that rivals Tencent and crucially missed the mobile messaging wave in China.

Commanding attention

In recent years, the Paytm app has taken a leaf from China with additions that include the ability to text merchants; book movie, flight and train tickets; and buy shoes, books and just about anything from its e-commerce arm Paytm Mall . It also has added a number of mini games to the app. The company said earlier this month that more than 30 million users are engaging with its games.

Why bother with diversifying your app’s offering? Well, for Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO of Paytm, the question is why shouldn’t you? If your app serves a certain number of transactions (or engagements) in a day, you have a good shot at disrupting many businesses that generate fewer transactions, he told TechCrunch in an interview.

At the end of the day, companies want to garner as much attention of a user as they can, said Jayanth Kolla, founder and partner of research and advisory firm Convergence Catalyst.

“This is similar to how cable networks such as Fox and Star have built various channels with a wide range of programming to create enough hooks for users to stick around,” Kolla said.

“The agenda for these apps is to hold people’s attention and monopolize a user’s activities on their mobile devices,” he added, explaining that higher engagement in an app translates to higher revenue from advertising.

Paytm’s Sharma agrees. “Payment is the moat. You can offer a range of things including content, entertainment, lifestyle, commerce and financial services around it,” he told TechCrunch. “Now that’s a business model… payment itself can’t make you money.”

Big companies follow suit

Other businesses have taken note. Flipkart -owned payment app PhonePe, which claims to have 150 million active users, today hosts a number of mini apps. Some of those include services for ride-hailing service Ola, hotel booking service Oyo and travel booking service MakeMyTrip.

Paytm (the first two images from left) and PhonePe offer a range of services that are integrated into their payments apps

What works for PhonePe is that its core business — payments — has amassed enough users, Himanshu Gupta, former associate director of marketing and growth for WeChat in India, told TechCrunch. He added that unlike e-commerce giant Snapdeal, which attempted to offer similar offerings back in the day, PhonePe has tighter integration with other services, and is built using modern architecture that gives users almost native app experiences inside mini apps.

When you talk about strategy for Flipkart, the homegrown e-commerce giant acquired by Walmart last year for a cool $16 billion, chances are arch rival Amazon is also hatching similar plans, and that’s indeed the case for super apps.

In India, Amazon offers its customers a range of payment features such as the ability to pay phone bills and cable subscription through its Amazon Pay service. The company last year acquired Indian startup Tapzo, an app that offers integration with popular services such as Uber, Ola, Swiggy and Zomato, to boost Pay’s business in the nation.

Another U.S. giant, Microsoft, is also aboard the super train. The Redmond-based company has added a slew of new features to SMS Organizer, an app born out of its Microsoft Garage initiative in India. What began as a texting app that can screen spam messages and help users keep track of important SMSs recently partnered with education board CBSE in India to deliver exam results of 10th and 12th grade students.

This year, the SMS Organizer app added an option to track live train schedules through a partnership with Indian Railways, and there’s support for speech-to-text. It also offers personalized discount coupons from a range of companies, giving users an incentive to check the app more often.

Like in other markets, Google and Facebook hold a dominant position in India. More than 95% of smartphones sold in India run the Android operating system. There is no viable local — or otherwise — alternative to Search, Gmail and YouTube, which counts India as its fastest growing market. But Google hasn’t necessarily made any push to significantly expand the scope of any of its offerings in India.

India is the biggest market for WhatsApp, and Facebook’s marquee app too has more than 250 million users in the nation. WhatsApp launched a pilot payments program in India in early 2018, but is yet to get clearance from the government for a nationwide rollout. (It isn’t happening for at least another two months, a person familiar with the matter said.) In the meanwhile, Facebook appears to be hatching a WeChatization of Messenger, albeit that app is not so big in India.

Ride-hailing service Ola too, like Grab and Go-Jek, plans to add financial services such as credit to the platform this year, a source familiar with the company’s plans told TechCrunch.

“We have an abundance of data about our users. We know how much money they spend on rides, how often they frequent the city and how often they order from restaurants. It makes perfect sense to give them these valued-added features,” the person said. Ola has already branched out of transport after it acquired food delivery startup Foodpanda in late 2017, but it hasn’t yet made major waves in financial services despite giving its Ola Money service its own dedicated app.

The company positioned Ola Money as a super app, expanded its features through acquisition and tie ups with other players and offered discounts and cashbacks. But it remains behind Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay, all of which are also offering discounts to customers.

Integrated entertainment

Super apps indeed come in all shapes and sizes, beyond core services like payment and transportation — the strategy is showing up in apps and services that entertain India’s internet population.

MX Player, a video playback app with more than 175 million users in India that was acquired by Times Internet for some $140 million last year, has big ambitions. Last year, it introduced a video streaming service to bolster its app to grow beyond merely being a repository. It has already commissioned the production of several original shows.

In recent months, it has also integrated Gaana, the largest local music streaming app that is also owned by Times Internet. Now its parent company, which rivals Google and Facebook on some fronts, is planning to add mini games to MX Player, a person familiar with the matter said, to give it additional reach and appeal.

Some of these apps, especially those that have amassed tens of millions of users, have a real shot at diversifying their offerings, analyst Kolla said. There is a bar of entry, though. A huge user base that engages with a product on a daily basis is a must for any company if it is to explore chasing the super app status, he added.

Indeed, there are examples of companies that had the vision to see the benefits of super apps but simply couldn’t muster the requisite user base. As mentioned, Snapdeal tried and failed at expanding its app’s offerings. Messaging service Hike, which was valued at more than $1 billion two years ago and includes WeChat parent Tencent among its investors, added games and other features to its app, but ultimately saw poor engagement. Its new strategy is the reverse: to break its app into multiple pieces.

“In 2019, we continue to double down on both social and content but we’re going to do it with an evolved approach. We’re going to do it across multiple apps. That means, in 2019 we’re going to go from building a super app that encompasses everything, to Multiple Apps solving one thing really well. Yes, we’re unbundling Hike,” Kavin Mittal, founder and CEO of Hike, wrote in an update published earlier this year.

And Reliance Jio, of course

For the rest, the race is still on, but there are big horses waiting to enter to add further competition.

Reliance Jio, a subsidiary of conglomerate Reliance Industry that is owned by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, is planning to introduce a super app that will host more than 100 features, according to a person familiar with the matter. Local media first reported the development.

It will be fascinating to see how that works out. Reliance Jio, which almost single-handedly disrupted the telecom industry in India with its low-cost data plans and free voice calls, has amassed tens of millions of users on the bouquet of apps that it offers at no additional cost to Jio subscribers.

Beyond that diverse selection of homespun apps, Reliance has also taken an M&A-based approach to assemble the pieces of its super app strategy.

It bought music streaming service Saavn last year and quickly integrated it with its own music app JioMusic. Last month, it acquired Haptik, a startup that develops “conversational” platforms and virtual assistants, in a deal worth more than $100 million. It already has the user bases required. JioTV, an app that offers access to over 500 TV channels; and JioNews, an app that additionally offers hundreds of magazines and newspapers, routinely appear among the top apps in Google Play Store.

India’s super app revolution is in its early days, but the trend is surely one to keep an eye on as the country moves into its next chapter of internet usage.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Flipkart ranked highly for ‘fairness’ of working conditions in India gig platform study

Posted by on Mar 26, 2019 in Apps, Asia, business models, Deliveroo, eCommerce, Europe, Flipkart, Germany, gig economy, India, Ola, online platforms, Oxford Internet Institute, South Africa, TC, Uber, United Kingdom, university of Manchester, workers rights | 0 comments

The Oxford Internet Institute has published what it bills as the world’s first rating system for working conditions on gig economy platforms.

The Fairwork academic research project is a collaboration with the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore, the University of Cape Town, the University of Manchester, and the University of the Western Cape.

As the name suggests, the project focuses on conditions for workers who are being remotely managed by online platforms and their algorithms — creating a framework to score tech firms on factors like whether they pay gig economy workers the minimum wage and ensure their health and safety at work.

The two initial markets selected for piloting the rating system are India and South Africa, and the first batch of gig economy firms ranked includes a mix of delivery, ride-hailing and freelance work platforms, among others.

The plan is to update the rating yearly, and to also add gig economy platforms operating in the UK and Germany next year.

Fairness, rated

Fairwork’s gig platform scoring system measures performance per market across five standards — which are neatly condensed as: Fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management, and fair representation.

Platforms are scored on each performance measure with a basic point and an advanced point, culminating in an overall score. (There’s more on the scoring methodology here.)

Most of the measures are self explanatory but the emphasis on fair contracts is for T&Cs to be “transparent, concise, and provided to workers in an accessible form”, with the contacting party subject to local law and identified in the contract.

While, in instances of what those behind the project dub “genuine” self-employment, terms of service must be free of clauses that “unreasonably exclude liability” on the part of the platform.

For fair management, a good rating demands a documented process and clear channel of communication through which workers can be heard; decisions can be appealed; and workers be informed of the reasons behind the decisions.

The use of any decision-making algorithms must also be transparent and result in “equitable outcomes for workers”. And there must also be identified and document policy to ensure equity in areas such as hiring and firing, while any data collection must be documented with a clear purpose and explicit informed consent.

Fair representation calls for platforms to allow workers to organize in collective bodies regardless of their employment status and be prepared to negotiate and co-operate with them.

Critical attention

Criticism of the so called ‘gig economy’ has dialled up in recent years, in Western markets especially, as the ‘flexible’ working claims platforms trumpet have attracted closer and more critical scrutiny.

Policymakers are acting on concerns that demand for casual labor is being exploited by increasingly powerful tech firms which are applying algorithms at scale while using self-serving employment classifications designed to workaround traditional labor rights so they can micromanage large-scale workforces remotely while sidestepping the costs of actually employing so many people.

Trenchant critics liken the result to a kind of modern day slavery — arguing that rights-denuded platform workers are part of a wider beaten down ‘precariat’.

A report last year by a UK MP was more nuanced but still likened the casual labor practices on UK startup Deliveroo’s food delivery platform to the kind of dual market seen in 20th century dockyards, suggesting that while the platform could work well for some gigging riders this was at the exploitative expense of others who were not preferred for jobs in the same way — with a risk of unpredictable and unstable earnings. 

In recent years a number of unions have stepped up activity to support contract and casual workers used by the sector, as the number of platform workers has grown. Even as gig platforms have generally continued to deny granting collective bargaining to their ‘self-employed’ workers.

Against this backdrop there have also been a number of wildcat style ‘strikes’ by gig economy workers in the UK triggered by sudden changes to pricing policies and/or conditions, or focused more broadly on trying to move the needle on pay and working conditions.

A UK union-backed attempt to use European human rights law to challenge Deliveroo’s refusal to grant collective bargaining rights for couriers was dismissed by the High Court at the end of last year. Though the union vowed to appeal.

Regardless of that particular set-back, pressure from policymakers and the publicity from legal challenges attached to workers rights have yielded a number of improvements for gig workers in Europe, with — for example — Uber announcing it would expand free insurance products for drivers across much of the region last year. And it’s clear that scrutiny of platforms is an important lever for improving conditions for workers.

It’s with that in mind that the researchers behind Fairwork have launched their rating system.

“The Fairwork rating system shines a light on best and worst practice in the platform economy,” said Mark Graham, professor of Internet geography at the University of Oxford, commenting in a statement. “This is an area in which for too long, very few regulations have been in place to protect workers. These ratings will enable consumers to make informed choices about the platforms and services they need when ordering a cab, a takeaway or outsourcing a simple task.”

“Our hope is that our five areas of fairness will take a life of their own, and that workers, platforms and other advocates will start using them to improve the working conditions across the platform economy,” he added.

And now to those first year scores in India and South Africa…

Best and worst performers

In India, ecommerce giant Flipkart came out on top of the companies ranked, with its delivery and logistics arm eKart scoring 7/10.

Though — if it wants to get a perfect 10 — it’s still got work to do on contracts, to improve clarity and ensure they reflect the true nature of the relationship, according to the researchers’ assessment.

Flipkart also does not recognize a body that could support collective bargaining for its workers.

Three tech platforms shared the wooden spoon for the worst conditions for Indian gig workers, according to the researchers’ assessment — namely: Food delivery platform Foodpanda and ride-hailing giants Ola and Uber which scored just 2/10 apiece, fulfilling only the minimum wage criteria and failing on every other measure.

UberEats, Uber’s food delivery operation, did slightly better — scoring 3/10 in India, thanks to also offering a due process for decisions affecting workers.

While in South Africa the top scorer was white collar work platform NoSweat, which got 8/10. On the improvements front, it also could do a little more work to make its contracts fairer, and also doesn’t recognize collective bargaining.

Bottom of the list in the country is ride-hailing firm Bolt (Taxify) — which scored 4/10, hitting targets on pay and some conditions (mitigating task-specific risks), while also offering a due process for decisions affecting workers, but failing on other performance measures.

Uber didn’t do much better in South Africa either — coming in second to last, with 5/10. Though it’s notable the company does offer more protections for workers there vs those grafting on its platform in India, including mitigating task-specific risks and actively seeking to improve conditions (such as by offering insurance).

Reached for comment on its Fairwork ratings, an Uber spokesperson sent this statement:

Uber wouldn’t be what it is without drivers — they are at the heart of the Uber experience. Over the past years we have made a number of changes to offer a better experience with more support and more protection, including our Partner Injury Protection programme, new safety features and access to quality and affordable private healthcare coverage for driver-partners and their families. We will continue to work hard to earn our partners trust and ensure that their voices are heard as we take Uber forward together.

There’s clearly no one universal standard for Uber’s business where working conditions are concerned. Instead the company tunes its standard to the local regulatory climate — offering workers less where it believes it can get away with it.

That too suggests a stronger spotlight on conditions offered by gig economy platforms can help improve workers’ lot and raise standards globally.

On the improvements front the Fairwork researchers claim the project has already led to positive impacts in the two pilot markets — claiming discussions are “ongoing” with platforms in India about implementing changes in line with the principles, including with a platform that has some 450,000 workers.

Though they also point out the first-year ranking show the overwhelming majority of India’s platform workers are engaged on platforms that score below their Fairwork basic standards (with scores <5/10) — which covers more than a million gig economy workers.

In South Africa another positive development they point to is alcohol delivery platform Bottles committing to supporting the emergence of fair workers’ representation on its platform, after collaborating with the project.

The local NoSweat freelance work platform has also introduced what the researchers couch as “significant changes” in all five areas of fairness — now having a formal policy to pay over the minimum wage after workers’ costs are taken into account; a clear process to ensure clients on the platform agree to protect workers’ health and safety; and a channel and process for workers to lodge grievance about conditions.

Commenting in a statement, Wilfred Greyling, co-founder of NoSweat said the project had helped the company “formalise” the principles and incorporate them into its systems. “NoSweat Work believes firmly in a fair deal for all parties involved in any work we put out,” he said, adding that the platform is “built on people and relationships; we never hide behind faceless technology”.

This report was updated with comment from Uber


Source: The Tech Crunch

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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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Ousted Flipkart founder Binny Bansal aims to help 10,000 Indian founders with new venture

Posted by on Feb 5, 2019 in Amazon Web Services, Asia, binny Bansal, ceo, Co-founder, Companies, computing, E-Commerce, executive, Flipkart, India, online payments, Sachin Bansal, Startup company, United States, Walmart, web services | 0 comments

Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal’s next act is aimed at helping the next generation of startup founders in India.

Bansal has already etched his name into India’s startup history after U.S. retail giant Walmart paid $16 billion to take a majority stake in its e-commerce business to expand its rivalry with Amazon. Things turned sour, however, when he resigned months after the deal’s completion due to an investigation into “serious personal misconduct.”

In 2019, 37-year-old Bansal is focused on his newest endeavor, xto10x Technologies, a startup consultancy that he founded with former colleague Saikiran Krishnamurthy. The goal is to help startup founders on a larger scale than the executive could ever do on his own.

“Person to person, I can help 10 startups but the ambition is to help 10,000 early and mid-stage entrepreneurs, not 10,” Bansal told Bloomberg in an interview.

Bansal, who started Flipkart in 2007 with Sachin Bansal (no relation) and still retains a four percent share, told Bloomberg that India-based founders are bereft of quality consultancy and software services to handle growth and company building.

“Today, software is built for large enterprises and not small startups,” he told the publication. “Think of it as solving for startups what Amazon Web Services has done for computing, helping enterprises go from zero to a thousand servers overnight with no hassle.”

“Instead of making a thousand mistakes, if we can help other startups make a hundred or even few hundred, that would be worth it,” Bansal added.

Bansal served as Flipkart’s CEO from 2007 to 2016 before becoming CEO of the Flipkart Group. He declined to go into specifics of the complaint against him at Flipkart — which reports suggest came about from a consensual relationship with a female employee — and, of the breakdown of his relationship with Sachin Bansal, he said he’s moved on to new things.

It isn’t just xto10x Technologies that is keeping him busy. Bansal is involved in investment firm 021 Capital where he is the lead backer following a $50 million injection. Neither role at the two companies involves day-to-day operations, Bloomberg reported, but, still, Bansal is seeding his money and experience to shape the Indian startup ecosystem.


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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Moglix raises $23M to digitize India’s manufacturing supply chain

Posted by on Dec 18, 2018 in Accel Partners, Amazon, Asia, chairman, E-Commerce, eCommerce, Flipkart, funding, Fundings & Exits, IFC, India, innoven capital, jungle ventures, Moglix, online payments, ratan tata, SaaS, series C, Singapore, temasek, Walmart, World Bank | 0 comments

We hear a lot about India’s e-commerce battle between Walmart, which bought Flipkart for $17 billion, and Amazon. But over in the B2B space, Moglix — an e-commerce service for buying manufacturing products that’s been making strides — today it announced a $23 million Series C round ahead of a bigger round and impending global expansion.

This new round was led by some impressive names that Moglix counts as existing investors: Accel Partners, Jungle Ventures and World Bank-affiliated IFC. Other returning backers that partook include Venture Highway, ex-Twitter VP Shailesh Rao and InnoVen Capital, a venture debt fund affiliated with Singapore’s Temasek. The startup also counts Ratan Tata — the former chairman of manufacturing giant Tata Sons — Singapore’s SeedPlus and Rocketship on its cap table.

Founded in 2015 by former Googler Rahul Garg, Moglix connects manufacturing OEMs and their resellers with business buyers. Garg told TechCrunch last year that it is named after the main character in The Jungle Book series in order to “bring global standards to the Indian manufacturing sector.” The country accounts for 90 percent of its transactions, but the startup is also focused on global opportunities.

“The entire B2B commerce industry in India will move to a transactional model,” Garg told us in an interview this week. He sees a key role in bringing about the same impact Amazon had on consumer e-commerce.

“We think there’s an opportunity to start from a blank sheet and rewrite how B2B transactions should be done in the country,” he added. “The entire supply chain has been pretty much offline and fragmented.”

In a little over three years, Moglix has raced to its Series C round with rapid expansion that has seen it grow to 10 centers in India with a retail base that covers over 5,000 suppliers and supplying SMEs.

Yet, despite that, Garg has kept things lean as the company has raised just $41 million across those rounds, including a $12 million Series B last year, with under 500 staff. However, Moglix is laying the foundations for what he expects will be a much larger fundraising round next year that will see the company go after international opportunities.

“This [new] round is about doubling, tripling, down on India but also establishing a seed in a couple of countries we are looking at,” Garg said.

Moglix aims to make the B2B online buying experience as intuitive and user-friendly as e-commerce sites are for consumers

Adding further color, he explained that Moglix will expand its Saas procurement service, which helps digitize B2B purchasing, to 100 markets worldwide as part of its global vision. While that service does have tie-ins with the Moglix platform, it also allows any customer to bring their existing sales channels into a digital environment, therein preparing them to get their needs online, ideally with Moglix. That service is currently available in eight countries, Garg confirmed.

Beyond making connections on the buying side, Moglix also works with major OEM brands and their key resellers. The basic pitch is the benefits of digital commerce data — detailed information on what your target customers buy or browser — as well as the strength of Moglix’s distribution system, tighter fraud prevention and that aforementioned digital revolution.

“Brands have started to realize [that digital] will be a very important channel and that they need to use both [online and offline] for crafting their distribution,” explained Garg.

Indeed, a much-cited SPO India report forecasts that B2B in India is currently a $300 billion a year market that is poised to reach $700 billion by 2020. Garg estimates that his company has a 0.5 percent market share within its manufacturing niche. Over the coming five years, he said he believes that it can reach double-digit percent.

While it may not be as sexy as consumer commerce, stronger unit economics — thanks to a large part to different buying dynamics of business customers, who are less swayed by discounts — make the space something to keep an eye on as India’s digital development continues. Already, Garg paid credit to GST — the move to digitize taxation — as a key development that has aided his company.

“GST enabled good trust and accelerated everything by 2/3X,” he said.

There might yet be further boons as the Indian government chases its strategy of becoming a global manufacturing hub.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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In emerging markets there are no copycats, just budding entrepreneurs

Posted by on Dec 17, 2018 in Amazon, Business, business incubators, chef, Column, eBay, economy, entrepreneurship, Flipkart, founder, Innovation, Kickstarter, oliver samwer, Postmates, Private Equity, Rocket Internet, stanford, Startup company, Startups, Uber, United States | 0 comments

Every year I teach an MBA course at Stanford about the exciting opportunities for tech investors and entrepreneurs in developing economies. When we designed the syllabus back in 2013, Rocket Internet was still firing on all cylinders on four continents. The unapologetic machine built to copy big American internet companies created billions of dollars for the Samwer brothers and its backers. During Rocket’s golden years, the best startups in the developing economies seemed to inevitably have an original reference in Silicon Valley.

Accordingly, we added a class about the opportunity of replicating business models to seize this information arbitrage. Call it the second-mover advantage.

Despite my conviction about the model, the copycat word  —  short for replicating startups and attached to these ventures  —  annoyed me from the start. More than a term to describe a straightforward recipe to launch, I see it as an unconscious way to belittle an entire group of hard-charging founders and investors.

Indeed, while in foreign eyes, we have been building a Mexican Kickstarter, a Middle Eastern Uber, an Indian Amazon or a Colombian Postmates, I argue visionary founders are taking a simple idea that already exists and creating new worlds.

On the internet, there are Einsteins and there are Bob the Builders. I’m Bob the Builder. Oliver Samwer, founder of Rocket Internet

Gateway to entrepreneurship

While impact is the final goal, founders can approach the journey in different ways. The most common approach in the startup world is to use the business method, or more pompously, the design thinking methodology. “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution,” mentors keep telling a succession of startup clusters in acceleration programs. The best and “leanest” way to product market fit is by starting small then keep iterating the solution until you nail it.

A second way to start is favored by engineers and scientists: Take a new promising technology or a forgotten molecule, then find a big problem. Keep iterating until you find a problem worth solving, like a hammer looking for a nail.

A third way is starting like painters create, building skills by copying classics, or like a new chef cooks by starting with iconic recipes: replicate a proven idea and iterate until you find traction.

Until a few years ago it was ostensibly the only way to scale in developing economies. The model helped raise local capital from risk-averse investors who needed reassurance. The playbook to scale was unfolding a couple of years ahead and served as a guide to founders without previous startup experience and no local role models. The potential acquirer was identified and sometimes contacted in advance. Founders weren’t crazy and investors weren’t dumb.

Replicating a business model has served in emerging ecosystems as the gateway to entrepreneurship and venture investing.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/A_Marga

Riding the next wave

According to conventional wisdom, new ecosystems around the world grow through the following three stages, be them in developing economies or more developed countries. First, local and foreign entrepreneurs replicate successful models focused on local markets. Then as the ecosystem evolves, founders start applying existing technologies to solve local problems. Finally, as the tech space matures, new technologies begin to flourish.

In my opinion, those stages never happen sequentially as stated by ecosystem observers. Successful startups that started with a foreign inspiration can outgrow the master. If they are not bought into submission by the first mover, some of the most famous copycats reinvented the original and made it better: Mercado Libre is much more relevant in the e-commerce space than eBay . Flipkart is hardly an Amazon, not to mention WeChat. These companies are in turn some of the most prolific tech innovators on the globe. Truly ecosystems evolve organically in unique ways reflecting their history, geopolitical environment, economic structure and cultural features.

Two ways to defend the status quo: “It’s been done before” and “It’s never been done before.” –Thibault @Kpaxs

In defense of talent

Recently, it’s hard to hear American observers use the word copycat to describe any American company. After all, Guilt replicated VentesPrivees and Lime, Chinese dockless bike sharing and many more examples. All American startups are treated as innovators while the rest as mere followers.

Recently, Chinese or Indian startups seem to be given the benefit of the doubt regarding their originality. Is it because these regions have become more innovative? Maybe. But it’s also because these ecosystems have gained the respect of Silicon Valley. Indeed, Chinese consumer tech surpassed decisively the U.S. as the most important country in terms of investments.

So here’s my humble suggestion to our wealthier and more accomplished colleagues: stop using the c-word with founders. It’s offensive. Most probably, these founders are facing more challenges to build their companies and lower odds for success that the first mover. If anything, they have more merit than the originals.

As for founders, when they call you a me-too, remember all teams started somewhere, somehow. In fact, most started like Bob the Builder before turning into Einsteins. The truth is, it doesn’t matter where you start. You can start by applying a new technology or protocol. You can start with a problem you feel passionate about. You can start by replicating a business model. It doesn’t really matter if you take a big swing at the future and trust you will figure out how to make it happen. It doesn’t matter what label they use while you change the world for the better.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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What I learned from Flipkart

Posted by on Aug 27, 2018 in Column, eCommerce, Flipkart, India, myntra, Naspers, Sachin Bansal, Walmart | 0 comments

Two weeks ago, Walmart concluded its investments to acquire a majority stake in Flipkart.

This is one of the largest transactions in e-commerce and in the internet space globally, with Walmart deploying US$16 billion to obtain an approximate 77 percent shareholding at closing. As part of this transaction, my company, Naspers, exited fully, selling our 11.18 percent stake for $2.2 billion.

In addition to the obvious financial success — a 3.6x or $1.6 billion absolute return in six years — being part of one of the greatest success stories of the Indian and global e-commerce market led to countless insights for Naspers.

Our journey with Flipkart will help us to further shape how we partner with entrepreneurs to build leading technology companies in the future.

I was fortunate enough to have had a front-row seat at Flipkart for the past six years, leading our various investment rounds and being Naspers’ appointed board director. Here are some of the key lessons that I will remember moving forward.

Pursue big market opportunities and solve big problems

E-commerce is a global trend that manifests in every market around the world. The potential of Indian e-commerce is beyond any doubt, with a total retail market of more than $500 billion. Before Flipkart, Indian e-commerce customers were repeatedly disappointed by mediocre selection, low product quality, little flexibility in payment options and a lengthy delivery experience.

Flipkart was the first player to solve these issues at scale, opening up the marketplace to more categories (starting with media and then rapidly expanding into electronics, lifestyle, etc.), offering warehouse services, and introducing its own courier network, Ekart, that ensured customer delight and cash on delivery. Other players eventually offered similar services, but Flipkart was the pioneer.

Market leadership is key to sustainable success, even in e-commerce, which tends to have “winner takes most” as opposed to “winner takes all” characteristics. Leaders enjoy attention from sellers, buyers, as well as existing and prospective employees. They continue to innovate while laggards are trying to catch up. Throughout our six-year journey with Flipkart, the company was in a market leadership position against strong competition from global and local online players.

Given the rapid growth of the Indian e-commerce market, Flipkart had to scale its tech platforms while also scaling its business model and organization. This is hard to do, and we’ve seen many businesses fail to scale. Flipkart was not one of them.

As a market leader and pioneer in the Indian e-commerce market, Flipkart had to sail unchartered waters. Experimenting while increasing in scale carried significant risk for the organization and had consequences for the market — Flipkart made many bold decisions over the years. Many of these worked out beautifully, such as acquiring Myntra in May 2014 to obtain a strong position in the strategic fashion and apparel category, or establishing Big Billion Day as the marquee sales event of the year.

There were others that did not work out, like trialing app-only shopping, but these failures never deterred the team from taking chances and changing course if needed, while always capturing the lessons. In the end, the app-only move allowed the company to become mobile-centric and a clear innovation leader in this area.

Think globally, but act locally

Flipkart is focused on the Indian market, but the competitive battle for sellers, buyers and talent is fought globally. The team adopted global best practices like Big Billion Day, which was inspired by ideas from the U.S., China and Romania.

They also measure success based on KPIs constantly drawing comparison with global market leaders. Most importantly though, Flipkart always innovated for the local market, taking local tastes into account (as serviced by the multitude of private label brands at Flipkart and Myntra), as well as bandwidth and affordability constraints on the customer side, leading to super-light mobile sites and apps, as well as various trade-in and financing programs.

Play the long game

Despite multi-billion-dollar trading volumes, the current e-commerce market in India is still mostly driven by affluent metro city dwellers in places like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. This is not dissimilar to what we’ve seen in other countries around the world at a similar development stage as e-commerce in India.

However, to really unlock the potential of Indian e-commerce, one has to reach the hundreds of millions of customers that live in tier-two or -three cities, or in the countryside.

This will require a very unique approach in terms of selection, price points and delivery and payment mechanisms. Flipkart management spends a considerable amount of time strategizing about these challenges.

The common thread in all of these lessons is that you need to have strong, inspiring leaders who come from the local market and have the vision and desire to scale their platforms responsibly and skillfully. Whether it was Binny and Sachin as co-founders of the business, or Kalyan, Ananth and Sameer in leading the respective Flipkart, Myntra and PhonePe business units, without these leaders it would have not been possible for Flipkart to grow to what it is today. I’m very grateful for my time with Flipkart and wish the team and Walmart all the best in continuing this incredible journey… a journey made in India.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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India’s Hansel raises $4M to bring its app development platform to the US

Posted by on Aug 8, 2018 in Apps, Asia, ceo, Facebook, Flipkart, Fundings & Exits, hansel.io, India, Marketing, North America, personalization, product development, Uber, United States, Zynga | 0 comments

Hansel, an India-based startup that enables more agile product development inside companies, has pulled in $4 million as it seeks to expand its business to the U.S..

The startup was founded in 2015 and it operates a real-time mobile app development platform that simplifies the process of product iteration inside companies. That’s to say that once a product is launched there’s a lot of work that is done to develop it, test new ideas and optimize but many companies overlook the process or lump it with the general engineering, which includes initial product development.

Hansel argues that product development and iteration are different, and its wider aim is to enable dedicated ‘product ops’ inside companies that until now never considered the process to be distinct from app development, or perhaps don’t have the budget.

“Product iteration is often neglected as people want to move to the next thing, but that means product building is only half done,” Varun Ramamurthy, CEO of Hansel, told TechCrunch in an interview. “We want to significantly accelerate product iteration and provide a platform for ‘product ops.’”

“Big firms like Facebook and Uber champion product ops teams inside their business but they have already built the infrastructure and have dedicated specialists. That allows them to move at breakneck on launched product and features, their competitive advantage is speed to market,” he added.

The Hansel ‘Lake’ platform is a single repository that decouples product development from the code itself, allowing teams to create a range of different experiences — iterations — that can be pushed out to different user segments. The company charges users based on end-user numbers, such as monthly active user bases,  but it also includes customized pricing for some premium features, too.

Ramamurthy is formerly of Zynga in the U.S. among other places, and he met his Hansel co-founders Mudit Krishna Mathur and Parminder Singh while the trio were at Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce giant.

“We got together at Flipkart and saw a huge difference in speed between Facebook, other top firms and the rest of the world,” Ramamurthy recalled. “When it comes to speed of personalization and iterations of product, the rest of the industry had a lot of catch up. We want to help separate iterations and personalization from general engineering… today it is all confused.”

Hansel founders Varun Ramamurthy, Parminder Singh and Mudit Krishna Mathur

The startup has focused on India to date where Ramamurthy said it has large mid-market companies and enterprises as clients, including Uber rival Ola, Paytm and Magicpin. That work has given the team of 23 people a good grounding on what to expect for clients, how to work with them and how to package its service, and now the next phase is to do more business in North America.

Hansel is using the new funding to open an office in the Bay Area, where it has recruited its first two hires to drive business development and sales. Ramamurthy himself plans to spend more time in the U.S. as part of the effort, which will also see a product marketing team hired Stateside. R&D and product development will remain anchored out of Hansel’s India office.

This new round takes Hansel to $5.4 million raised to date. Vertex led this Series A with participation from existing backers IDG Ventures India and Endiya Partners.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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EBay paid $573M to buy Japanese e-commerce platform Qoo10, filing reveals

Posted by on Jul 20, 2018 in Amazon, Asia, China, E-Commerce, eBay, eCommerce, economy, Flipkart, Giosis, gmarket, India, Japan, korea, online marketplaces, online payments, Qoo10, Software, TC, United States, Walmart | 0 comments

EBay is a very distant second behind Amazon when it comes to e-commerce sales in the U.S., but abroad — and in particular in Asia — it is willing to invest to grow its footprint in a targeted way. In February, eBay paid a total of $573 million to acquire Qoo10, a Japanese sales platform, according to the company’s quarterly earnings filing.

In more detail, the deal consisted of $306 million in cash and the relinquishment of about $266 million in shares in Giosis, a pan-Asian e-commerce marketplace business originally founded as a joint venture with Korea’s Gmarket. Qoo10, which claims two million shoppers, was originally part of Giosis.

The acquisition is similar to a deal eBay did in Korea in 2001 when it purchased Internet Auction Co and linked the Korean service up to its global network of buyers and sellers. That integration has been successful, and today South Korea is eBay’s fourth largest market based on revenue behind only the U.S., Germany and UK, respectively.

Although the acquisition of Qoo10 was first announced in February, the actual price was not disclosed until the company’s earnings report dropped on Thursday. “We believe the acquisition will allow us to offer Japanese consumers more inventory and grow our international presence,” eBay explained in the filing.

The deal underscores how eBay is at the same time pulling back from general plays while doubling down on more targeted opportunities. Earlier this year, the company gave up its stake in Flipkart as part of its acquisition by Walmart, but at the same time committed to investing in a new, standalone eBay operation in India, using some of the $1.1 billion in proceeds it made from selling its Flipkart stake to Walmart.

EBay had an unsuccessful effort in China which ended in 2006 and it hasn’t returned to the country.

According to its latest financial results, the company’s U.S.-based business accounted for $1.1 billion out the company’s total quarterly sales of $2.6 billion. That North American revenue was up five percent year-on-year, but eBay’s revenue from other international locations grew by more over the same period to give the company’s total sales a nine percent annual increase.

That didn’t impress investors, however, and the company’s share price dropped by 10 percent to close Thursday at $34.11.

EBay doesn’t break out revenue for Japan — where Qoo10 operates — but revenue from Korean rose by 13 percent to $304 million in the most recent quarter. Sales for ‘rest of the world’ were up nine percent to $505 million.

While it used to be neck-and-neck with Amazon in terms of e-commerce sales and presence in the US, it has fallen behind over the years and now accounts for just 6.6 percent of online transactions in the country, versus 49.1 percent for its bigger rival.

More growth abroad could be one route to improving those fortunes, with India one of the world’s fastest-growing and most populous economies. But success in the country will be challenging with Flipkart joining forces with Walmart and Amazon’s India unit continuing to grow in strength.

But eBay isn’t going to go head-to-head with those two. Instead, its India operations will focus on cross-border sales, so essentially looking to connect buyers and sellers in the country with opportunities overseas within its network. That’s the same model it has used to effect in other parts of the world, so its acquisition of Qoo10 and its other international services will be a key part of that India strategy, and vice versa.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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