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In India’s Elections, Female Candidates Still Need Men’s Blessings

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Bharatiya Janata Party, elections, Haryana (India), India, Indian National Congress, Legislatures and Parliaments, Modi, Narendra, Politics and Government, Women and Girls | 0 comments

It’s a perplexing reality, as women have made it to the top much earlier than most of the Western democracies.
Source: New York Times

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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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Shiok Meats takes the cultured meat revolution to the seafood aisle with plans for cultured shrimp

Posted by on Mar 15, 2019 in Asia, asia pacific, Australia, food and drink, India, meat, Singapore, Southeast Asia, TC, United Nations, Y Combinator | 0 comments

Rising consumer interest in alternative proteins and meat replacements has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to companies trying to grow or replace beef or chicken, but few companies have turned their attention to developing seafood alternatives.

Now Shiok Meats is looking to change that. The company has raised pre-seed financing from investors like AIM Partners, Boom Capital, and Ryan Bethencourt and is now part of the recent Y Combinator cohort presenting next week.

Co-founders Sandhya Sriram and Ka Yi Ling are both stem cell scientists working at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research who decided to leave their cushy government posts for life in the fast lane of entrepreneurship. 

The two have set themselves a goal of creating a shrimp substitute that would be similar to what’s typically found in the freezer section of most grocery stores — and a minced shrimp-replacement for use in dumplings.

There’s a huge market for seafood across the globe, but especially in Asia and Southeast Asia where crustaceans are a huge part of the diet. Chinese consumers alone account for the consumption of some 3.6 million tons of crustaceans, according to a 2015 study from the Food and Agriculture Department of the United Nations .

Shrimp cultivation as it stands is also a pretty dirty business. The industry is constantly being criticized for poor working conditions, unsanitary farms, and ancillary environmental damage. A blockbuster report from the Associated Press revealed instances of modern slavery in the Thai seafood industry.

“We chose to start with shrimp because it’s an easier animal to deal with compared to crabs and lobsters,” says Shriram. But the company will be expanding its offerings over time to those higher-end crustaceans.

Right now, the focus is squarely on shrimp. The company’s early tests have proved successful and the company estimates that it can make a kilogram of shrimp meat for somewhere around $5,000.

While that may sound expensive, it’s still much less than many of the lab-grown meat companies are pending to produce their replacement beef.

“We’re still relatively low compared to the other clean meat companies, which are still at hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says Ling.

The company is looking to bring its first product to market in the next three-to-five years and will initially target the Asia-Pacific consumer.

That means initially selling into their home market of Singapore and expanding into Hong Kong, India and eventually, Australia.

 


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Three Generations of a Canadian Family Died in Ethiopian Plane Crash

Posted by on Mar 13, 2019 in Airlines and Airplanes, Aviation Accidents, Safety and Disasters, Boeing Company, Canada, Deaths (Fatalities), ethiopia, Ethiopian Airlines, Immigration and Emigration, India | 0 comments

“I am not angry, but I am devastated, I have lost everyone,” said Manant Vaidya, whose parents, sister, brother-in-law and two teenage nieces died in the crash.
Source: New York Times

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India Fights Diabetic Blindness With Help From A.I.

Posted by on Mar 10, 2019 in Aravind Eye Hospital, Artificial Intelligence, Blindness, diabetes, Eyes and Eyesight, Google Inc, Hospitals, India, Research | 0 comments

A partnership with Google is part of a global effort to build and deploy systems that can detect signs of illness and disease in medical scans.
Source: New York Times

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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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Spotify reportedly launches in India

Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in India, Media, Spotify, TC | 0 comments

Spotify has reportedly launched for some users in India today, with plans to officially launch on Wednesday to everyone, Variety, citing sources with knowledge of Spotify’s plans, reports.

For the first 30 days, Spotify’s premium service will be free and then cost 119 rupees (about $1.67) per month. There are also single-day, weekly, monthly, three-month, six-month and annual plans. Similar to other streaming services available in India, Spotify will also offer a free, ad-supported product.

Spotify first announced its intent to launch in India last March. In November, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek cited licensing situations as a roadblock to its launch.

Last month, Spotify inked a global content deal with T-Series, a leading Indian film and music company with a catalog of more than 160,000 songs. As TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez has noted, the Indian market won’t be an easy one for Spotify to win. That’s because Spotify is up against local player Gaana, which already has more than 80 million users, Saavn, Wynk as well as the North American likes of Google, Apple and Amazon.

This is launch is happening in light of Spotify’s legal battle with Warner Music Group. Earlier this week, WMG asked an Indian court to block Spotify from being able to play music from its catalog.

TechCrunch has reached out to Spotify and will update this story if we hear back.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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With China tariffs delayed, Beijing faces startup dilemma

Posted by on Feb 25, 2019 in Asia, China, data localization, Government, H-1B, immigration, India, Intel, Policy, robert swan, taiwan, Tencent, The Extra Crunch Daily, video games | 0 comments

China is facing a challenging juxtaposition in the coming years: can the government remain in control of business and media while also opening up the country to the knowledge economy?

China has uplifted more humans in a shorter period of time than any other country in the history of the planet. That mesmerizing growth engine, though, is starting to face an intense slog. Economic growth has slowed considerably, and while there are vagaries to these indicators, it is clear that China needs to rebuild its economy as it migrates from industrials into services.

The future (of course) is all the buzzwords that linger in Silicon Valley coffee shops: innovation, startups, and entrepreneurship, mixed in with some Chinese flavors like indigenous technology development. China has designs to be the world-leader in semiconductors and artificial intelligence. To get there though, it needs to create the intellectual environment to push the frontiers of science and technology.

That’s the debate happening right now. On one side, you have this discussion from the New York Times’ Asia business columnist Li Yuan from this weekend. Chinese entrepreneurs are supposedly fleeing the country and seeking safer waters as the government clamps down on dissent and further censors China’s already narrow internet.

Few are predicting a crash, but worries over China’s long-term prospects are growing. Pessimism is so high, in fact, that some businesspeople are comparing China’s potential future to another country where the government seized control of the economy and didn’t ease up: Venezuela.

Only one-third of China’s rich people say they are very confident in the country’s economic prospects, according to a recent survey of 465 wealthy individuals by Hurun, a Shanghai-based research firm. Two years ago, nearly two-thirds said they were very confident. Those who have no confidence at all rose to 14 percent, more than double the level of 2018. Nearly half said they were considering migrating to a foreign country or had already started the process.

Minxin Pei, a well-known writer on China’s business environment and politics, was quoted by Yuan as saying:

“It’s clear to the private businesspeople that the moment the government doesn’t need them, it’ll slaughter them like pigs. This is not a government that respects the law. It can change on a dime.”

China’s government furiously denied the article’s contention, arguing in its international-focused mouthpiece that:

Because some Western media’s always tend to smear or even subvert China’s political system. Take Chen Tianyong’s story. With ulterior motives, the New York Times tells stories of certain Chinese individuals and then exaggerates the fact, thus declaring that there are serious problems in China’s economy and political system. This is their consistent practice and some foreign people who do not understand China will fall into the Western media’s trap. Chinese people always need to be on the alert for such ill-intentioned articles.

(Really, it’s fun to read the Global Times in the morning, in the way that taking a New York City subway at 8:15am on Monday morning is fun).

Yet, for all the entrepreneurs supposedly leaving, business opportunities remain robust. China’s government announced a huge economic development plan to create a “Greater Bay Area” region around Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macau and others to compete directly with California’s Bay Area (The Lesser Bay Area: Even Better Without High-Speed Rail!™). The goal is to build upon the region’s manufacturing prowess and increasingly turn it into a source for technology innovation. If the blueprint’s economic goals are achieved, the region would rival the United Kingdom in economic size.

But that’s a big “if.”

Few areas of the economy show the tension between openness and control better than the video game industry. China has once again stopped approving licenses for games in the country last week, after a brief session of approvals following last year’s nine-month long hiatus. Tencent, which produces some of the country’s most popular games, has lost nearly a quarter of its value in the meantime, even while it puts new streaming rules into effect to try to please the government.

China has incredible potential to lead in technology (and frankly beat the United States) if it can figure out how to open its economy, perhaps not to foreign competition, but at least to its own talent. Yuan quotes several entrepreneurs saying that Trump’s trade war with China may be the country’s last hope for a more open environment. Trump’s delay implementing tariffs on China this weekend, though, highlights the danger of relying on external forces to push domestic change. Only the Chinese can rebuild China’s economy.

Across the strait, Taiwan’s Silicon Valley is fizzling

Photo by keel via Getty Images

Becoming the next Silicon Valley is every government’s dream, although few seem capable of putting all the pieces together to make it happen. Take Taiwan, which has made innovation a key watchword as it attempts to survive in the penumbra of China’s overwhelming economy.

It’s Silicon Valley plans are fizzling from lack of action and a stagnant economy according to a translated article in the Taiwan Gazette:

But according to a member of the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the Agency’s goal is hindered by cumbersome business regulations and restrictive visas and work permits.

“Although [the government was] targeted to issue 2200 visas, the Plan so far has disbursed a mere two,” said Jason Hsu, a KMT legislator with experience in Taiwan’s innovation sector.

Hsu said the government has not succeeded in attracting any global entrepreneurs to the island since the plan was implemented. The Agency has been slow to implement the Asia Silicon Valley plan, prioritizing other aspects, or simply failing to match action with words.

Compounding Taiwan’s global talent crunch is competition from China and the US, with graduates moving house to take advantage of higher wages and better employment opportunities.

You can’t build an innovative economy if the talent can’t or won’t show up.

U.S. slowing H-1B visas

Image by Blue Diamond Gallery used under Creative Commons

Meanwhile, the United States has plenty of talent that wants to show up of course, but increasingly wants to prevent at least some of them from staying in the country.

We previously talked about how the Trump administration was attempting to simplify some elements of the H-1B process. Now, USCIS has released new data that shows a decline in the approval rate for H-1B visa applications. In 4Q18 only 75% of H1-B applications were approved, compared to 83% and 92% in 2017 and 2016 respectively.

The application process itself has also gotten more intensive, with reviewing agencies requesting additional evidence from roughly 60% of corporate applicants in the fourth quarter of 2018, compared to 46% and 28% in 2017 and 2016, respectively. The Wall Street Journal noted that Apple, Microsoft and others had a 99% approval rate, while Capgemini was much lower at 60%.

Maybe some of these applications are marginal, and protecting the wages of American workers is a fair compromise. More transparency here would be very helpful. But if the United States wants to maintain its technological edge, it needs smart and talented workers to congregate here. These new rates do not bode well.

Intel investing heavily to regain lost ground in the battle for chip supremacy

Photo via Intel Corporation

Written by Arman Tabatabai

At a press event last week, Intel’s newly appointed CEO Bob Swan reiterated the company’s strategy of investing heavily in growth markets outside of its core competencies. The company has taken heat for racking up its R&D bills, but Swan insisted that the chip giant needs to spend that money after struggling in recent years to keep up with the industry’s transition to new technologies.

Intel invested nearly $30 billion last year in R&D with a focus on memory, 5G, and graphical processing units (GPUs), which are seen as the best option for artificial intelligence, machine learning, and any use case needing strong parallelized processing capabilities. The FT quoted Swan as saying :

…“If we want to play in a much larger market we’re going to continue to invest more in R&D, there’s no question about that,” he said. “We don’t want to get too penny wise and pound-foolish so we don’t invest for the future.”

Traditional brand names chipmakers have lost dominant share by investing heavily in whatever was driving profits at the time, while ignoring emerging tech that has become the primary source of growth. Intel is now paying for their failure to move sooner.

Are India’s nationalist policies creating a closed internet?

Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

Written by Arman Tabatabai

India is facing a similar dilemma to China on how open it wants to make its economy.

India’s government announced draft policies that will dictate operational requirements for ecommerce, social, and messaging companies. Following the country’s heightened focus around data localization, which we have discussed before, the set of proposals announced over the weekend would require internet companies to maintain locally-housed data centers and servers, impose a legal framework for regulating the movement of user data across borders, provide the government with access to company data stored abroad upon request, and force ecommerce websites or apps operating in India to have a locally registered business entity.

At the same time, the government also announced plans to institute policies that would require social networking and messaging platforms to swiftly remove content deemed “unlawful” or threatening to the “sovereignty and integrity of India.”

While the Indian government is trying to take a hardline approach to avoid the misconduct that has followed the expansion of big tech, they’re also putting further pressure on companies that already face a tougher, more expensive operating environment behind India’s “national champion” policy push as we’ve harped on before.

As India continues to move towards nationalist policies that make it difficult for companies to compete, a Chinese-style closed and censored internet increasingly seems likely.

Obsessions

  • We’re excited since Little Brown & Co just announced a retrospective from Netflix co-founder and original CEO, Marc Randolph, coming this fall and entitled “That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea.”
  • Lots of other book coverage coming this week including Billonnaire Raj by James Crabtree, The Next Factory of the World by Irene Yuan Sun, and The Next Billion Users by Payal Arora.
  • More discussion of megaprojects, infrastructure, and “why can’t we build things”

Thanks

To every member of Extra Crunch: thank you. You allow us to get off the ad-laden media churn conveyor belt and spend quality time on amazing ideas, people, and companies. If I can ever be of assistance, hit reply, or send an email to danny@techcrunch.com.

This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Showing the power of startup women’s health brands, P&G buys This is L

Posted by on Feb 5, 2019 in africa, Exit, India, Mergers and Acquisitions, New York, p&g, procter & gamble, San Francisco, Startups, TC, Uganda, Y Combinator | 0 comments

The P&G acquisition of This is L., a startup retailer of period products and prophylactics, shows just how profitable investing in women’s healthcare brands and products can be.

A person with knowledge of the investment put the price tag at roughly $100 million — a healthy outcome for investors and company founder Talia Frenkel. But just as important as the financial outcome is the deal’s implications for other mission-driven companies.

This is L. launched from Y Combinator in August 2015 with a service distributing condoms in New York and San Francisco and steadily expanded into feminine hygiene products.

Frenkel, a former photojournalist who worked for the United Nations and Red Cross, started the company in 2013 — roughly three years after an assignment in Africa revealed the toll that HIV/AIDs was taking on women and girls on the continent.

“I didn’t realize the No. 1 killer of women was completely preventable and I think that really inspired me to action,” Frenkel told TechCrunch at the time of the company’s launch.

Now the company has distributed roughly 250 million products to customers around the world.

“Our strong growth has enabled us to stand in solidarity with women in more than 20 countries,” said Frenkel in a statement following the acquisition. “Our support has ranged from partnering with organizations to send period products to Native communities in South Dakota, to supplying pad-making machines to a women-led business in Tamil Nadu. Pairing our purpose with P&G’s expertise, scale and resources provides an extraordinary opportunity to contribute to a more equitable world.”

The company is available in more than 5,000 stores across the U.S. and is working with women entrepreneurs in countries from Uganda to India and beyond.

“This acquisition is a perfect complement to our Always and Tampax portfolio, with its commitment to a shared mission to advocate for girls’ confidence and serve more women,” said Jennifer Davis, president, P&G Global Feminine Care. “We feel this is a strong union and together we can be a greater force for good.”

For investors with knowledge of the company, the P&G acquisition is a harbinger of things to come. The combination of a non-technical, female founder operating in the consumer packaged goods market with a mission-driven company was an anomaly in the Silicon Valley of four years ago, but Frenkel’s success shows what kind of opportunities exist in the market.

“With this acquisition investors need to update their patterns,” said one investor with knowledge of the company.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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