Pages Navigation Menu

The blog of DataDiggers

Categories Navigation Menu

Grab raises $200M from Thailand-based retail conglomerate Central Group

Posted by on Jan 31, 2019 in Asia, booking holdings, carsharing, central group, E-Commerce, funding, Fundings & Exits, go-jek, grab, Indonesia, JD.com, Microsoft, on-demand services, Philippines, Rocket Internet, Singapore, Softbank, Software, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Toyota, transport, vietnam, Vision Fund, yamaha motors, Zalora | 0 comments

Grab’s fundraising push continues unabated after the Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm announced that it has raised $200 million from Central Group, a retail conglomerate based in Thailand.

Central’s business covers restaurants, hotels and more than 30 malls in Thailand, while it has operations in markets that include Vietnam and Indonesia. Its public-listed holding companies alone are worth more than $15 billion.

Singapore-based Grab confirmed that this deal is not part of its ongoing Series H fundraising, but is instead an investment into its Thailand-based business. Rumors of the deal were first reported by Reuters last year.

Following this investment, Central said it will work with Grab in a number of areas in Thailand, including bringing its restaurants into the Grab Food service, adding Grab transportation to its physical outlets and bringing Grab’s logistics service into its businesses.

The investment represents the first time an investor has bought into a local Grab country unit, and the goal is to strengthen Grab’s position in Thailand — a market with 70 million consumers and Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. Grab is under threat from Go-Jek, which expanded to Thailand at the end of 2018. While Go-Jek’s ‘Get’ service is currently limited to motorbikes on-demand in Thailand, its ambition is to recreate its Indonesia-based business that covers four-wheeled cars, mobile payments, on-demand services and more.

Central is a huge presence in the country, and in recent years it has raised its efforts to translate that offline retail presence into the digital space. Past deals have included the acquisition of Rocket Internet’s Zalora fashion business in 2016, and — more recently — a $500 million joint venture with Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com to create online retail and fintech businesses in Thailand.

Grab, meanwhile, is pushing on with its $3 billion Series H funding round. That deal is anchored by a $1 billion investment from Toyota but it also includes contributions from the likes of Microsoft, Booking Holdings and Yamaha Motors. More capital is waiting in the wings, however, with existing investor SoftBank in the process of transferring its investment to its Vision Fund with a view to investing a further $1.5 billion. The total fundraising effort is targeted at a lofty goal of $5 billion, sources told TechCrunch.

To date, Grab has raised $6.8 billion from investors, according to data from Crunchbase. That makes it Southeast Asia’s most capitalized tech startup and it was most recently valued at $11 billion. The company recently announced it has completed three billion rides; it claims 130 million downloads across its eight markets.

Go-Jek, meanwhile, closed the first portion of a $2 billion funding round last week, sources told TechCrunch. The new financing is aimed at growing out its presence in new market expansions which, beyond Thailand, include Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

SoftBank’s Vision Fund is preparing to invest $1 billion in Grab

Posted by on Dec 21, 2018 in Asia, booking holdings, China, didi, funding, Fundings & Exits, grab, India, Indonesia, Microsoft, series h, Singapore, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Southeast Asia, Toyota, Uber, Vision Fund, vodafone, yamaha motors | 0 comments

SoftBank’s Vision Fund is set to continue its recent spree of investments in Asian tech unicorns. The mega fund — which is targeted at $100 billion — is planning to invest upwards of $1 billion into Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing leader Grab, two sources with knowledge of the plan told TechCrunch. The investment could reach as much as $1.5 billion, one source added.

A SoftBank representative did not respond to a request for comment. Grab declined to comment.

The Vision Fund has made significant investments in three billion-dollar Asian companies in recent months. That includes backing India’s OYO as part of a $1 billion round (which included money from Grab) in September, writing a $2 billion check for Korea’s Coupang in November and co-leading a $1.2 billion round for Tokopedia in Indonesia alongside Alibaba earlier this month.

There is a pattern that SoftBank appears to be following here.

In all three cases, the Japanese company was an existing investor and, having transferred its stakes to the Vision Fund, it then doubled down and invested again via the Vision Fund itself. That’s also the plan for this Grab deal, TechCrunch understands.

SoftBank’s most recent financial report, filed in November, explains that it plans to move its stakes in ride-hailing firms Uber, China’s Didi, India’s Ola and Grab over to the Vision Fund. But that hasn’t happened yet and it isn’t clear when it will.

“The Company expects that the necessary procedures will be made in the future to obtain applicable consent from limited partners of the Fund and regulatory approvals for the transfer,” it explained in the report, which doesn’t include a projected timeframe.

One source told TechCrunch that the investment in Grab is contingent on that equity transfer being made, as was the case with Tokopedia and Coupang, which saw SoftBank-owned stakes transferred to the fund in Q3 of this year.

Grab CEO and co-founder Anthony Tan [Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

While we don’t know how long that wait will be, Grab is hardly short on cash. The Singapore-based company is putting the final touches to its Series H fund which is focused on raising a total of $3 billion. It has already received significant contributions from Toyota, Microsoft, Yamaha Motors, Booking Holdings and a range of institutional investors.

Grab operates across eight markets in Southeast Asia, where it claims over 130 million downloads and more than 2.5 billion completed rides to date. The company acquired Uber’s business earlier this year in a deal that saw the U.S. company pick up a 27.5 percent stake in Grab and turn their rivalry into a partnership. The merger deal, however, was criticized by regulators and, in Singapore, the pair were fined a total of $9.5 million for violating anti-competition laws.

Grab is Southeast Asia’s highest-valued tech startup, having commanded an $11 billion valuation through this Series H round. It isn’t clear how much that figure will increase if, as and when this Vision Fund investment closes. The company has raised around $6.8 billion to date from investors, according to data from Crunchbase.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

SoftBank Corp shares drop 14% on their first day of trading, but it’s still one of the largest IPOs ever

Posted by on Dec 19, 2018 in Fundings & Exits, IPO, Japan, softbank corp, SoftBank Group, TC, Vision Fund | 0 comments

SoftBank Corp’s initial public offering today started with a bang before trailing off into a whimper, with the stock falling 14.5 percent during its first day of trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The company is the mobile unit of conglomerate SoftBank Group, whose holdings also include Sprint and the $100 billion Vision Fund.

Shares of SoftBank Corp opened at 1,463 yen, below the 1,500 yen the company had set for its IPO price (instead of a range), and closed at 1,282 yen. It offered 160 million shares, or about a third of the total held by parent company SoftBank Group. Despite a bumpy first day of trading, SoftBank Corp raised a total of 2.65 trillion yen (about $23.5 billion), making it Japan’s largest ever IPO and placing it just behind Alibaba’s record-setting $25 billion debut on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014 (SoftBank Group is one of Alibaba’s largest shareholders).

According to Bloomberg, 90 percent of the investors who bought SoftBank Corp shares at the 1,500 yen opening price were individuals, who the company had targeted with an unusual marketing campaign.

Factors that may have dampened investor enthusiasm include a network outage earlier this month triggered by a shutdown of Ericsson equipment due to expired software certificates (O2 customers in Great Britain were also affected).

The outage underscored other concerns about SoftBank Corp’s telecommunications infrastructure. According to a Nikkei report published last week, the company has decided to stop using hardware from Huawei Technologies due to security concerns and replace them over the next several years with equipment by Ericsson and Nokia.

While the company claims the hardware swap isn’t expected to cost a lot of money, it will also need to deal with more competition next year. SoftBank Corp’s rivals are currently NTT DoCoMo and KDDI, but Rakuten will launch cellular service in October 2019, making it Japan’s fourth mobile network operator.

Furthermore, SoftBank Group also carries massive debt that totaled 18 trillion yen (about $160 billion) as of the end of September, more than six times the amount it earns on an operating basis. This means the Vision Fund is especially reliant on Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, which contributed $48 billion, making it the fund’s largest investor.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, called the Public Investment Fund, is run by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been implicated by Turkish officials and the United State’s Central Intelligence Agency in the planning of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Crown Prince bin Salman has denied involvement in the killing, but the situation still calls into question the future of Saudi Arabia’s involvement with SoftBank, especially since Crown Prince bin Salman said in October that Saudi Arabia plans to invest another $45 billion in the second Vision Fund.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Indonesia e-commerce leader Tokopedia raises $1.1B from Alibaba and SoftBank’s Vision Fund

Posted by on Dec 12, 2018 in alibaba, alibaba group, analyst, Asia, Business, Central Intelligence Agency, chairman, China, E-Commerce, eCommerce, economy, financial services, funding, Fundings & Exits, Indonesia, Jamal Khashoggi, journalist, Lazada Group, Masayoshi Son, Mohammed Bin Salman, online marketplaces, Prince, Saudi Arabia, Sequoia, Softbank, SoftBank Group, softbank ventures korea, Southeast Asia, taobao, TC, Tencent, Trump administration, Vision Fund | 0 comments

Indonesia-based e-commerce firm Tokopedia is the latest startup to enter the Vision Fund after it raised $1.1 billion Series G round led by the SoftBank megafund and Alibaba.

SoftBank and Alibaba are existing investors in the business — the Chinese e-commerce giant led a $1.1 billion round last year, while SoftBank recently transitioned its shareholding in Tokopedia to the Vision Fund. That latter detail is what held up this deal which had been agreed in principle back in October, TechCrunch understands.

Tokopedia didn’t comment on its valuation, but TechCrunch understands from a source that the deal values the company at $7 billion. SoftBank Ventures Korea and other investors — including Sequoia India — also took part in the deal. It has now raised $2.4 billion from investors to date, with SoftBank first joining in 2014 when it led a $100 million round.

The deal comes weeks after SoftBank made a $2 billion investment in Coupang, Korea’s leading e-commerce firm, at a valuation of $9 billion. Like Tokopedia, Coupang countered SoftBank as an investor before its stake transitioned to the Vision Fund.

Founded nine years ago, Tokopedia is often compared to Taobao, Alibaba’s hugely successful e-commerce marketplace in China, and the company recently hit four million merchants. Tokopedia said it has increased its GMV four-fold, although it did not provide a figure. Logistics are a huge issue in Indonesia, which is spread across some 17,000 islands. Right now, it claims to serve an impressive 93 percent of the country, while it said that one-quarter of its customers are eligible for same-day delivery on products. That’s also notable given that it operates a marketplace, which makes coordinating logistics more challenging.

The firm plans to use this new capital to develop its technology to enable more SMEs and independent retailers to come aboard its platform. On the consumer side, it is developing financial services and products that go beyond core e-commerce and increase its captive audience of consumers.

Indonesia’s super app

Despite this new round, CEO and co-founder William Tanuwijaya told TechCrunch that there are no plans to expand beyond Indonesia, which is Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s fourth most populous country with a population of over 260 million.

“We do not have plans to expand beyond Indonesia at this moment. We will double down on the Indonesia market to reach every corner of our beautiful 17,000-island archipelago,” Tanuwijaya said via an emailed response to questions. (Tokopedia declined a request for an interview over the phone.)

William Tanuwijaya, co-founder and chief executive officer of PT Tokopedia, gestures as he speaks during a panel session on the closing day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 48th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 23 – 26. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

That Indonesia-only approach is in contrast to Go-Jek, the Indonesia-based ride-hailing firm which is rapidly expanding across Southeast Asia. Go-Jek has already moved into Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand with doubtless more plans in 2019.

But Go-Jek and Tokopedia do share similarities in that they have both expanded beyond their central business.

Go-Jek has pushed into on-demand services, payments and more. In recent times, Tokopedia has moved into payments, including mobile top-up, and financial services, and Tanuwijaya hinted that it will continue its strategy to become a ‘super app.’

“We will go deeper and serve Indonesians better – from the moment they wake up in the morning until they fall asleep at night; from the moment a person is born, until she or he grows old. We will invest and build technology infrastructure-as-a-services, in logistics and fulfillment, payments and financial services, to empower businesses both online and offline,” Tanuwijaya added.

Vision Fund controversy

But, with the Vision Fund comes controversy.

A recent CIA report concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The prince manages Saudi Arabia’s PIF sovereign fund, the gargantuan investment vehicle that anchored the Vision Fund through a $45 billion investment.

SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son has condemned the killing as an “act against humanity” but, in an analyst presentation, he added that SoftBank has a “responsibility” to Saudi Arabia to deploy the capital and continue the Vision Fund.

“We are deeply concerned by the reported events and alongside SoftBank are monitoring the situation closely until the full facts are known,” Tanuwijaya told us via email, although it remains unclear exactly what Tokopedia could (or would) do even in the worst case scenario.

Given that the Trump administration seems focused on continuing the status quo with Saudi Arabia as a key ally, the situation remains in flux although there’s been plenty of discussion around whether the Saudi link makes the Vision Fund tainted money for founders.

Son himself said recently that he hadn’t heard of any cases of startups refusing an investment from the Vision Fund, but he did admit that there “may be some impact” in the future.

Tanuwijaya didn’t directly address our question on whether he anticipates a backlash from this investment. The Vision Fund’s recent deal with Coupang doesn’t appear to have generated a negative reaction.

Even the involvement of Alibaba throws up other questions, given that it owns Lazada — which is arguably Southeast Asia’s most prominent e-commerce service.

Unlike Tokopedia, Lazada covers six markets in Southeast Asia, it is focused on retail brands and it maintains close links to Alibaba’s Taobao service, giving merchants a channel to reach into the region. According to sources who spoke to TechCrunch earlier this year, Tokopedia’s management was originally keen to take money from Alibaba’s rival Tencent, but an intervention from SoftBank forced it to bring Alibaba on instead.

Tanuwijaya somewhat diplomatically played down the rivalry and any rift, insisting that there is no impact on its business.

“Tokopedia is an independent company with a diversified cap table,” he said via email. “No single shareholder owns the majority of the company. We work closely with our shareholders’ portfolio companies and tap into available synergies.”

“For example, Tokopedia works closely with both Grab — a SoftBank portfolio — and Gojek — a Sequoia portfolio. We see Lazada having a different business model than us: Lazada is a hybrid of retail and marketplace model, whereas Tokopedia is a pure marketplace. Lazada is [a] regional player, we are a national player in Indonesia,” he added.

Tokopedia has many similarities to Alibaba’s hugely successful Taobao marketplace in China

“How can we be less excited about this moment?”

At nearly a decade old, Tokopedia was one of the earliest startups to emerge in Indonesia. Famously, Tanuwijaya and fellow co-founder Leontinus Alpha Edison famously saw nearly a dozen pitches for venture capital rejected by VCs before they struck out and raised money.

Compared to now — and entry to the Vision Fund for “proven champions,” as Son calls it — that’s a huge transition, and that’s not even including the business itself which has broadened into financial products and more. But that doesn’t always sit easily with every founder. Privately, many will often concede that the ‘best’ days are early times during intense scaling and all-hands-to-the-pump moments. Indeed, Traveloka — a fellow Indonesia-based unicorn — recently lost its CTO to burnout.

Is the same likely to happen to Tanuwijaya, Edison and their C-level peers in the business?

Tanuwijaya compared the journey of his business to scaling a mountain.

“Leon and I are very excited entering our tenth year. When we first started Tokopedia, it was like seeing the tip of a mountain that is very far from where we stand. We promised ourselves that we were going to climb to the top of the mountain one day,” he told TechCrunch.

“The top of the mountain is our company mission: to democratize commerce through technology. Today, we have arrived at the base of the mountain. We can finally touch the mountain and we can start to climb it. With this additional capital, we have the tools and supplies to achieve our mission at a faster rate. Should we think whether we are burned-out and go home to rest, or should we climb our mountain? How can we be less excited about this moment?” he added.

Tokopedia has certainly become a mountain in itself. The startup is the third highest valued private tech company, behind only Grab and Go-Jek, at $11 billion and (reportedly) $9 billion, respectively, and the fairytale story is likely to inspire future founders in Indonesia and beyond to take the startup route. What happens to the Vision Fund and its PIF connection by then is less certain.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

SoftBank’s Vision Fund inches closer to $100B

Posted by on Dec 8, 2018 in Central Intelligence Agency, Column, Jamal Khashoggi, Mohammed Bin Salman, Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia, Securities and Exchange Commission, SoftBank Group, Softbank Vision Fund, TC, Venture Capital, Vision Fund, vodafone, White House | 0 comments

Much has been said about the SoftBank Vision Fund (SBVF), mostly in awe of the size of the investment vehicle.

It’s important to remember that the $100 billion number most often associated with the gargantuan fund is only a target. Today, however, the Vision Fund inched yet closer to that 12-figure goal as it continues to pour billions of dollars into technology companies around the world.

So far in 2018 the SoftBank Vision Fund has invested in more than 20 deals, accounting for over $21 billion in total investment. That sum didn’t all come from the Vision Fund of course — SoftBank’s Vision Fund typically invests alongside one or more syndicate partners who help fill out bigger rounds — but the amounts are nonetheless staggering. The chart below shows the Vision Fund’s investments since its inception in 2017.

In an annual Form D disclosure filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission this morning, SBVF disclosed that it has raised a total of approximately $98.58 billion from 14 investors since the date of first sale on May 20, 2017. The annual filing from last year said there was roughly $93.15 billion raised from 8 investors, meaning that the Vision Fund has raised $5.43 billion in the past year and added six new investors to its limited partner base.

In a financial report from November, SoftBank Group Corp disclosed (p. 21, Note 1) it has invested an additional $5 billion in the fund, which is “intended for the installment of an incentive scheme for operations of SoftBank Vision Fund.” It brings SoftBank’s total contribution to $21.8 billion, in line with original targets.

The most recent Form D also cites six more limited partners. Crunchbase News presumes that the $430 million in new capital we cannot source back to SoftBank came from those new partners. SoftBank declined to comment on who they are.

Uncertainty looms over Vision Fund 2

One of the primary challenges an investor as big as the Vision Fund faces is sourcing capital. SoftBank doesn’t have a lot of choice about who it can take on as limited partners. To fill out a $100 billion fund (or something larger), government-backed investors are some of the only market participants with the financial wherewithal to anchor its limited partner base. And, sometimes, international politics and venture finance collide.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund committed $45 billion to the SBVF; it’s the single biggest backer of the fund. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is implicated in the extrajudicial torture, murder, dismemberment and disposal of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in early October.

In November, TechCrunch reported that SoftBank would wait for the outcome of Khashoggi’s murder investigation before it decides on Vision Fund 2. New revelations this weekend close the window of reasonable doubt around bin Salman’s involvement in the murder.

This past weekend, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency intercepted 11 messages sent between bin Salman and one of his closest aides, who allegedly oversaw the execution squad, in the hours before Khashoggi’s death. Amid mounting international and intelligence community consensus, though, the White House continues to defend Saudi Arabia.

Given these recent developments, it’s uncertain how SoftBank’s relationship with the Vision Fund’s principal backer will change going forward. Whether anything changes at all is itself an unknown at this point too.

SoftBank COO Marcelo Claure said there was “no certainty” of a follow-up fund back in mid-October.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Khashoggi’s fate shows the flip side of the surveillance state

Posted by on Oct 20, 2018 in Edward Snowden, Government, Jamal Khashoggi, law enforcement, mass surveillance, Mohammed Bin Salman, national security, Privacy, russia, Saudi Arabia, Security, Softbank, Storage, surveillance, TC, trump, Turkey, Venture Capital, Vision Fund, Visual Computing | 0 comments

It’s been over five years since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden lifted the lid on government mass surveillance programs, revealing, in unprecedented detail, quite how deep the rabbit hole goes thanks to the spread of commercial software and connectivity enabling a bottomless intelligence-gathering philosophy of ‘bag it all’.

Yet technology’s onward march has hardly broken its stride.

Government spying practices are perhaps more scrutinized, as a result of awkward questions about out-of-date legal oversight regimes. Though whether the resulting legislative updates, putting an official stamp of approval on bulk and/or warrantless collection as a state spying tool, have put Snowden’s ethical concerns to bed seems doubtful — albeit, it depends on who you ask.

The UK’s post-Snowden Investigatory Powers Act continues to face legal challenges. And the government has been forced by the courts to unpick some of the powers it helped itself to vis-à-vis people’s data. But bulk collection, as an official modus operandi, has been both avowed and embraced by the state.

In the US, too, lawmakers elected to push aside controversy over a legal loophole that provides intelligence agencies with a means for the warrantless surveillance of American citizens — re-stamping Section 702 of FISA for another six years. So of course they haven’t cared a fig for non-US citizens’ privacy either.

Increasingly powerful state surveillance is seemingly here to stay, with or without adequately robust oversight. And commercial use of strong encryption remains under attack from governments.

But there’s another end to the surveillance telescope. As I wrote five years ago, those who watch us can expect to be — and indeed are being — increasingly closely watched themselves as the lens gets turned on them:

“Just as our digital interactions and online behaviour can be tracked, parsed and analysed for problematic patterns, pertinent keywords and suspicious connections, so too can the behaviour of governments. Technology is a double-edged sword – which means it’s also capable of lifting the lid on the machinery of power-holding institutions like never before.”

We’re now seeing some of the impacts of this surveillance technology cutting both ways.

With attention to detail, good connections (in all senses) and the application of digital forensics all sorts of discrete data dots can be linked — enabling official narratives to be interrogated and unpicked with technology-fuelled speed.

Witness, for example, how quickly the Kremlin’s official line on the Skripal poisonings unravelled.

After the UK released CCTV of two Russian suspects of the Novichok attack in Salisbury, last month, the speedy counter-claim from Russia, presented most obviously via an ‘interview’ with the two ‘citizens’ conducted by state mouthpiece broadcaster RT, was that the men were just tourists with a special interest in the cultural heritage of the small English town.

Nothing to see here, claimed the Russian state, even though the two unlikely tourists didn’t appear to have done much actual sightseeing on their flying visit to the UK during the tail end of a British winter (unless you count vicarious viewing of Salisbury’s wikipedia page).

But digital forensics outfit Bellingcat, partnering with investigative journalists at The Insider Russia, quickly found plenty to dig up online, and with the help of data-providing tips. (We can only speculate who those whistleblowers might be.)

Their investigation made use of a leaked database of Russian passport documents; passport scans provided by sources; publicly available online videos and selfies of the suspects; and even visual computing expertise to academically cross-match photos taken 15 years apart — to, within a few weeks, credibly unmask the ‘tourists’ as two decorated GRU agents: Anatoliy Chepiga and Dr Alexander Yevgeniyevich Mishkin.

When public opinion is faced with an official narrative already lacking credibility that’s soon set against external investigation able to closely show workings and sources (where possible), and thus demonstrate how reasonably constructed and plausible is the counter narrative, there’s little doubt where the real authority is being shown to lie.

And who the real liars are.

That the Kremlin lies is hardly news, of course. But when its lies are so painstakingly and publicly unpicked, and its veneer of untruth ripped away, there is undoubtedly reputational damage to the authority of Vladimir Putin.

The sheer depth and availability of data in the digital era supports faster-than-ever evidence-based debunking of official fictions, threatening to erode rogue regimes built on lies by pulling away the curtain that invests their leaders with power in the first place — by implying the scope and range of their capacity and competency is unknowable, and letting other players on the world stage accept such a ‘leader’ at face value.

The truth about power is often far more stupid and sordid than the fiction. So a powerful abuser, with their workings revealed, can be reduced to their baser parts — and shown for the thuggish and brutal operator they really are, as well as proved a liar.

On the stupidity front, in another recent and impressive bit of cross-referencing, Bellingcat was able to turn passport data pertaining to another four GRU agents — whose identities had been made public by Dutch and UK intelligence agencies (after they had been caught trying to hack into the network of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) — into a long list of 305 suggestively linked individuals also affiliated with the same GRU military unit, and whose personal data had been sitting in a publicly available automobile registration database… Oops.

There’s no doubt certain governments have wised up to the power of public data and are actively releasing key info into the public domain where it can be poured over by journalists and interested citizen investigators — be that CCTV imagery of suspects or actual passport scans of known agents.

A cynic might call this selective leaking. But while the choice of what to release may well be self-serving, the veracity of the data itself is far harder to dispute. Exactly because it can be cross-referenced with so many other publicly available sources and so made to speak for itself.

Right now, we’re in the midst of another fast-unfolding example of surveillance apparatus and public data standing in the way of dubious state claims — in the case of the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who went into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 for a pre-arranged appointment to collect papers for his wedding and never came out.

Saudi authorities first tried to claim Khashoggi left the consulate the same day, though did not provide any evidence to back up their claim. And CCTV clearly showed him going in.

Yesterday they finally admitted he was dead — but are now trying to claim he died quarrelling in a fistfight, attempting to spin another after-the-fact narrative to cover up and blame-shift the targeted slaying of a journalist who had written critically about the Saudi regime.

Since Khashoggi went missing, CCTV and publicly available data has also been pulled and compared to identify a group of Saudi men who flew into Istanbul just prior to his appointment at the consulate; were caught on camera outside it; and left Turkey immediately after he had vanished.

Including naming a leading Saudi forensics doctor, Dr Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy, as being among the party that Turkish government sources also told journalists had been carrying a bone saw in their luggage.

Men in the group have also been linked to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, via cross-referencing travel records and social media data.

“In a 2017 video published by the Saudi-owned Al Ekhbariya on YouTube, a man wearing a uniform name tag bearing the same name can be seen standing next to the crown prince. A user with the same name on the Saudi app Menom3ay is listed as a member of the royal guard,” writes the Guardian, joining the dots on another suspected henchman.

A marked element of the Khashoggi case has been the explicit descriptions of his fate leaked to journalists by Turkish government sources, who have said they have recordings of his interrogation, torture and killing inside the building — presumably via bugs either installed in the consulate itself or via intercepts placed on devices held by the individuals inside.

This surveillance material has reportedly been shared with US officials, where it must be shaping the geopolitical response — making it harder for President Trump to do what he really wants to do, and stick like glue to a regional US ally with which he has his own personal financial ties, because the arms of that state have been recorded in the literal act of cutting off the fingers and head of a critical journalist, and then sawing up and disposing of the rest of his body.

Attempts by the Saudis to construct a plausible narrative to explain what happened to Khashoggi when he stepped over its consulate threshold to pick up papers for his forthcoming wedding have failed in the face of all the contrary data.

Meanwhile, the search for a body goes on.

And attempts by the Saudis to shift blame for the heinous act away from the crown prince himself are also being discredited by the weight of data…

And while it remains to be seen what sanctions, if any, the Saudis will face from Trump’s conflicted administration, the crown prince is already being hit where it hurts by the global business community withdrawing in horror from the prospect of being tainted by bloody association.

The idea that a company as reputation-sensitive as Apple would be just fine investing billions more alongside the Saudi regime, in SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund vehicle, seems unlikely, to say the least.

Thanks to technology’s surveillance creep the world has been given a close-up view of how horrifyingly brutal the Saudi regime can be — and through the lens of an individual it can empathize with and understand.

Safe to say, supporting second acts for regimes that cut off fingers and sever heads isn’t something any CEO would want to become famous for.

The power of technology to erode privacy is clearer than ever. Down to the very teeth of the bone saw. But what’s also increasingly clear is that powerful and at times terrible capability can be turned around to debase power itself — when authorities themselves become abusers.

So the flip-side of the surveillance state can be seen in the public airing of the bloody colors of abusive regimes.

Turns out, microscopic details can make all the difference to geopolitics.

RIP Jamal Khashoggi


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

India’s budget hotel startup OYO raises $1B for international growth

Posted by on Sep 25, 2018 in Asia, budget hotels, China, Fundings & Exits, Greenoaks Capital, India, lightspeed venture partners, oyo, Sequoia, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Softbank Vision Fund, Vision Fund | 0 comments

OYO, the India-based startup that operates a network of budget hotels, has pulled in $1 billion in new funding to grow its business in China and expand into other international markets.

The majority of the funding — $800 million, to be exact — was led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund with participation from Lightspeed, Sequoia and Greenoaks Capital. OYO said there is also an additional $200 million that has been committed from as-yet-unnamed investors. The deal values the five-year-old company at $5 billion.

Before today, OYO had raised $450 million from investors. Its previous financing was a $250 million round last September which was led by the Vision Fund and included a $10 million follow-on investment from China Lodging.

OYO was started in May 2013 by Thiel Fellow Ritesh Agarwal, who was then aged 19. The company aggregates budget hotels and hostels in India, ensuring that they include minimum standards such as clean sheets, hot showers and free WiFi. It has since branched out into other kinds of lodgings, and verticals that include wedding planning.

Today, OYO claims to have over 10,000 franchised or leased hotels in its network, which it says spans 350 cities across five countries. The company announced an expansion beyond India into China this summer and it is also present Nepal and Malaysia. More recently, it recently entered the UK market this month.

Its plan for China — which OYO interestingly today said is a dual “home market” alongside India — is particularly ambitious, but already the company claims to have reached 87,000 rooms in 171 cities.

China will account for $800 million of this newly-raised capital, OYO said. The remainder will be deployed to bolster its presence in India and supporting growth in its other overseas markets as well moving into other new territories. OYO isn’t saying right now what other overseas expansion plans it has up its sleeve.

“We will continue to explore newer businesses while remaining focused on both organic and inorganic growth. In the last 12 months, we have increased our international footprint to five countries… With this additional funding, we plan to rapidly scale our business in these countries, while continuing to invest further in technology and talent. We will also deploy fresh capital to take our unique model that enables small hotel owners to create quality living spaces, global,” Agarwal, the OYO CEO, said in a statement.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More

Sequoia wraps up new $695M fund for India and Southeast Asia

Posted by on Aug 21, 2018 in Asia, Carousell, China, credit suisse, Facebook, FreeCharge, India, online brands, PayPal, Sequoia, Sequoia India, Singapore, SnapDeal, Softbank, SoftBank Group, Southeast Asia, TC, Tokopedia, traveloka, Vision Fund, zilingo | 0 comments

Sequoia has announced the close of its newest fund for India and Southeast Asia. The firm has raised $695 million for this fund, which is its fifth since it expanded into India 12 years ago.

Reports at the beginning of this year suggested that the firm was shooting for a $1 billion fund, perhaps influenced by SoftBank’s gargantuan Vision Fund, but it was later reported that the target was cut to $650-$700 million.

This new money for Asia is reflective of Sequoia’s activity elsewhere in the world, where it is piling up cash for more details. The firm is in the final stages of raising an $8 billion global fund while it is said to be preparing a China fund that could reach as high as $6 billion, with participation from e-commerce firm JD.com and state-owned Starquest Capital. It secured a $180 million seed fund in the U.S earlier this year.

With this new money, Sequoia India said it plans to “double down” on technology, consumer and healthcare startups to “unleash the potential” of the two regions, which collectively over 800 million internet users. That number is growing fast among India, population 1.3 billion, and Southeast Asia, population 650 million.

Beyond being one of the premier VCs in the U.S. and China, Sequoia also enjoys a top-tier reputation in Asia and, more recently, in Southeast Asia where it has accelerated its presence in recent years. To date, the firm has made over 200 investments in India, which include major hits like unicorn Zomato, Freshworks (which is headed to IPO), Freecharge (which was acquired by Snapdeal), Pine Labs (which recently raised from PayPal), JustDial (which went public in 2013) and OYO Rooms, which is backed by SoftBank’s Vision fund.

The firm has expanded to Southeast Asia in recent years, after first opening an office in 2012, and it said that the region accounts for 20-30 percent of portfolio value. That’s a ratio it intends to maintain going forward — which means there’s no dedicated Southeast Asia fund, for now at least.

Already, though, Sequoia has gotten itself into a number of Southeast Asia’s top startups. They include Indonesian unicorn trio Go-Jek, Tokopedia and Traveloka, Singapore’s Carousell and e-commerce startup Zilingo. The fact that Sequoia India managing director Shailendra Singh relocated to Singapore also speaks volumes about how seriously the firm is taking Southeast Asia — even though, as mentioned, there’s no standalone fund.

“As we look to the future, the menu of investment opportunities is unprecedented — from mobile internet to online brands, enterprise SaaS to AI, crypto to deep tech in healthcare, new age consumer brands and beyond,” Sequoia wrote in a blog post announcing its new fund.

“India and Southeast Asia, meanwhile, are at an inflection point, and we are witnessing incredible quality of new investment opportunities,” it added.

Finally, the firm has announced some staff changes. Most notably, managing director Abhay Pandey is leaving after an 11-year stint to focus on investment opportunities in the consumer space, according to Sequoia. Pandey joined Sequoia from Merrill Lynch in 2007 and he previously spent time with Credit Suisse and McKinsey.

Abhay Pandey is leaving his role as managing director at Sequoia’s India fund after more than 11 years

There are also promotions. Former Facebook product manager Abheek Anand is now managing director with a focus on Southeast Asia, while four VPs —  Ishaan Mittal, Sakshi Chopra, Ashish Agarwal and Harshjit Sethi — have stepped up to become principals.


Source: The Tech Crunch

Read More