Tag Archives: india

Netflix tests a bypass of iTunes billing in 33 markets

Netflix is one of the highest-grossing apps on the iOS App Store, but it looks like the video streaming giant is contemplating how it might make an even bigger margin on its iPhone and iPad users. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Netflix, in its own words, is “testing the iTunes payment method” in 33 countries. More specifically, Netflix is testing how to bypass  iTunes. Until September 30, new or lapsed subscribers in selected markets across Europe, Latin America and Asia will be unable pay using iTunes. They are instead getting redirected to the mobile web version to log payment details directly with Netflix. Others like Spotify also have moved users away from using iTunes to pay for subscriptions. It’s notable that both Spotify and Netflix have something else in common: Apple — now the world’s biggest company passing a $1 trillion market cap earlier this month — has made many big moves to encroach on their space, and thus it makes little sense for either company to cut Apple in more than it has to on its direct customer relationships. (You might say the same for Google.) Netflix’s iOS test was first spotted by NDTV in India last week, with users also flagging changes on Twitter. Journalist  Manish Singh  (in a tweet he then deleted) subsequently said Netflix was running a two-month experiment. A customer support agent contacted by us earlier today confirmed that the test has actually been running since June, starting first in 10 countries and then expanding to 33 from August 2 until September 30. “During this time, customers in these countries may experience any of the following when launching the Netflix app on an iOS (mobile or tablet) device: 1. Ability to sign up in app with only iTunes Mode Of Payment. 2.

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

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.

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Walmart completes its $16 billion acquisition of Flipkart

Walmart announced over the weekend that it has completed a $16 billion investment in Flipkart that sees it become the majority owner of the Indian e-commerce company. The deal was first revealed back in May and now it has closed after receiving the necessary approvals. It sees Walmart take a 77 percent share in the company, buying out a number of prior investors in the process and expanding its rivalry with Amazon to a new horizon. The investment capital also includes $2 billion in new equity funding which will be used for growth while the transaction was structured so that Flipkart itself can still go public. That latter point could mean that the Indian firm must go public within four years, as TechCrunch previously reported . Flipkart will continue to be run by its leadership with Tencent and Tiger Global retaining board seats. Those two have remained investors in the business, alongside others that include Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal and Microsoft. Walmart previously suggested that other allies would come aboard as investors . Google was strongly mooted, but so far there have been no strategic additions. Walmart said that its plans for India will include investments that “support national initiatives and will bring sustainable benefits in jobs creation, supporting small businesses, supporting farmers and supply chain development and reducing food waste.” As we previously reported , it also plans to use Flipkart as a “key center of learning” for the rest of its business across the world, and that includes its home market. “Not only is Flipkart innovative with the problem-solving culture that they have, but they are doing some great work both in the AI space, how they are using data across their platforms but particularly in terms of the payment platform that they’ve created through PhonePe. All of those things we can learn from for the future and see how we can leverage those around the international markets and potentially into the US as well,” Walmart COO Judith McKenna said back in May when the deal was announced. Flipkart’s business could also get a whole lot more transparent since its quarterly results will be reported as part of Walmart’s earnings. Although they will be part of its international business so that might provide some protection from direct scrutiny

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New Zealand to VCs and hedge fund managers buying up its land: No more

Over the last couple of years, a once well-kept secret began to gain traction in New York media outlets: wealthy American investors, including VCs and hedge fund managers, had begun snapping up tracts of land in New Zealand, largely out of fear that a Trump administration could have a destabilizing effect on an already polarized United States but also owing to growing concerns about climate change and other impending disaster scenarios. Now, facing a growing backlash over rising housing prices, New Zealand’s parliament has banned non-residents from purchasing most types of homes, aside from new apartments in large developments. (Australians and Singaporeans are exempt because of free-trade deals.) The bill, passed narrowly yesterday, was reportedly heralded by New Zealand’s Trade and Economic Development Minister David Parker as a “significant milestone.” Said Parker, “This government believes that New Zealanders should not be outbid by wealthier foreign buyers . . . Whether it’s a beautiful lakeside or ocean-front estate, or a modest suburban house, this law ensures that the market for our homes is set in New Zealand, not on the international market.” The move to block foreign buyers isn’t a complete shock in lieu of the amount of publicity that New Zealand has garnered in recent years as a haven for wealthy survivalists, including those in tech. The New Yorker began exploring the trend in a  profile about Y Combinator President Sam Altman, which said that Altman’s plan, in the case of a pandemic, was to “fly with his friend Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist, to Thiel’s house in New Zealand.” The outlet followed up with another piece several months later, in January of last year, about many other investors who’d come to see New Zealand as their backup plan. In fact, there were so many of them — particularly hedge fund managers — that it had become a bit of a running joke, LinkedIn founder and investor Reid Hoffman told the magazine. He recalled telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand, after which the friend had asked Hoffman, “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” Said Hoffman to the New Yorker, “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more. Once you’ve done the Masonic handshake, they’ll be, like, ‘Oh, you know, I have a broker who sells old ICBM silos, and they’re nuclear-hardened, and they kind of look like they would be interesting to live in.’ ” (Thiel’s ties to New Zealand became particularly prominent after The New York Times last year published his successful 2011 application for citizenship to the South Pacific island nation, in which Thiel had stated: “I am happy to say categorically that I have found no other country that aligns more with my view of the future than New Zealand.” As for the story’s timing, it was  published  in February of last year, several days after Trump signed an order that temporarily banned all refugees from the U.S.) According to the country’s Internal Affairs Department, last year,  36,450 people were granted New Zealand citizenship. Nearly six thousand of them came from the United Kingdom. Another 4,665 came from India and, lower down the line in terms of the percentage of people accepted, 1,314 people were granted citizenship who were born in China, and 735 were born in the U.S. It isn’t clear if the country — which is currently home to roughly five million people — plans to amend its processes around granting citizenship. With rare exceptions, as with Thiel, applicants are usually required to have been living in New Zealand with residence status for five years before they apply. It’s also hard to know just how many wealthy Americans have become landowners in New Zealand, though New York hedge fund managers appear to have gotten the memo about the country ahead of Silicon Valley.  (Thiel, notably, had created a hedge fund called Clarium Capital back in 2002, though it’s been wound down in more recent years.) According to The New Yorker, Rob Johnson, a former hedge fund manager with Soros who is today the president of a Soros-backed think tank called the Institute for New Economic Thinking , told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in 2015, “I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.” Underscoring the country’s global attraction, a BBC report about the new ban states that Chinese investors have been among the biggest and most active offshore buyers of property in New Zealand in recent years.

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Uber is on a hiring spree in Singapore despite ‘exiting’ Southeast Asia

Uber agreed to sell its Southeast Asia business in March , but it isn’t leaving the region. In fact, the U.S. firm is doubling down with plans to more than double its staff in Singapore. That’s right. Uber is currently in the midst of a major recruitment drive that will see Singapore, the first city it expanded to in Asia, remain its headquarters for the Asia Pacific region despite its local exit. Unfortunately for customers who miss having a strong alternative to Grab, Uber won’t be bringing its ride-hailing app back in Singapore or anywhere else in Southeast Asia. Uber’s own job portal lists 19 open roles for Singapore , but the company has contacted headhunting and recruitment firms to help fill as many as 75 vacancies, three sources with knowledge of Uber’s hiring plans told TechCrunch. The new hires will take Uber’s headcount in Singapore to well over 100 employees, the sources claimed. Ironically, of course, Uber let most of its staff in Southeast Asia leave when it stopped serving customers across its eight markets in Southeast Asia in April — although it was forced to extend into May in Singapore . As part of its exit deal, Grab got first dibs on 500 or so Uber Southeast Asia staff but that strategy didn’t pan out as planned, as TechCrunch previously reported . Indeed, a recent report suggested that fewer than 10 percent of ‘Uberites’ moved over to become ‘Grabbers’

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Tinder co-founders and eight former and current execs sue parent firm IAC, alleging they are owed billions because the startup’s valuation had been…

CNNMoney : Tinder co-founders and eight former and current execs sue parent firm IAC, alleging they are owed billions because the startup's valuation had been depressed   —  Co-founders of Tinder and eight other former and current executives of the popular dating app are suing the service's current owners …

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Tinder co-founders and eight former and current execs sue parent firm IAC, alleging they are owed billions because the startup’s valuation had been…

CNNMoney : Tinder co-founders and eight former and current execs sue parent firm IAC, alleging they are owed billions because the startup's valuation had been depressed   —  Co-founders of Tinder and eight other former and current executives of the popular dating app are suing the service's current owners …

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India’s budget hotel network OYO moves into wedding banquet services

OYO Rooms, the India-based budget hotel network that’s backed by SoftBank’s Vision fund , has prioritized expansion into China this year but that’s not all it’s up to. Back home in India, it just moved into the event hosting space through the acquisition of a wedding banquet company. Today, OYO said it has acquired  Weddingz.in , a three-year-old company that claims to be India’s largest wedding planner with 4,000 venues across 15 cities. The company had raised over $1 million from investors, and it says that it handles 1,500 weddings per quarter. The deal is undisclosed and it is OYO’s third acquisition to date, all of which have come this year. Previously it snapped up a boutique apartment operator and then IOT startup AblePlus , but this transaction marks its first move outside of its core hotels and homes segment. The company said it is making the move because wedding banquets are “a fragmented, low yield, broken customer service business” that OYO believes matches with its experience of digitizing hotels and real estate. “At OYO, our experience ranges from end-to-end management of homes, villas, small asset to hotels with 100+ rooms while running successful businesses for our asset partners and all these facets will be of utmost importance while operating in the wedding industry that in the dire need of fundamental changes and improvements,” OYO CSO Maninder Gulati said in a statement. OYO hinted in its announcement today that it has other real estate projects in mind to expand further beyond hotels. That core focus is its affordable hotel network that it says spans  5,500 exclusive hotels in over 160 cities across India, China, Malaysia and Nepal. OYO announced its move into China this summer and in two months it claims to have reached 1,000 chains across 28 locations in the country with a focus on serving middle-income customers. The company has been linked with an investment from internet giant Tencent  to push on in China, but so far nothing has been confirmed. OYO does count NASDAQ-listed China Lodging, which was formerly known as Huazhu Hotels and is valued at $6.8 billion, as a strategic partner on the ground there though.  China Lodging invested $10 million last year as a follow-on to OYO’s $250 million Series D , which was led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

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Three Indonesian tech unicorns unite to back digital insurance startup

It’s almost unheard of to see three unicorns join forces to fund a startup, but that’s exactly what has happened in Indonesia. Ride-hailing company Go-Jek , e-commerce firm Tokopedia and travel booking startup Traveloka — each of which is valued in the billions of U.S. dollars — have come together to provide a Series A funding round for  PasarPolis , a digital insurance startup in Indonesia aiming to tap  Southeast Asia’s growing internet economy . PasarPolis started out as an insurance comparison site but today it offers micro- and modular-insurance online. Go-Jek, Tokopedia and Traveloka are three of its major clients through which it offers ‘click box’ policies that are bundled with ride-hailing trips, e-commerce sales and travel deals. The round itself is undisclosed but TechCrunch understands that it is in range of $5-8 million, as was earlier reported by Deal Street Asia . PasarPolis founder and CEO Cleosent Randing told TechCrunch in an interview that the deal was strategic and aimed at developing new products with the three companies, which he estimates provide “access to 100 million insurable hits per month.” He said that the startup could be picky because it is already cash flow positive. “We were very very selective with this round, it’s something we are keeping quite low profile,” he explained. “It’s more of how we can be the provider of choice for the largest digital companies in Indonesia… we feel it’s a strategic investment and collaboration to advance micro insurance via the internet. “Do they believe in the vision and can they help make the vision a reality but giving customers much cheaper, more modular insurance which is more relevant in today’s digital economy?” he added. Left to right: Tokopedia COO Melissa Siska Juminto, Go-Jek chief human resources officer Monica Oudang, PasarPolis founder & CEO Cleosent Randing, Minister of Communications and Informatics Rudiantara, and Traveloka SVP of business development Caesar Indra Beyond obvious consumer-focused products, PasarPolis has developed programs such as life insurance for Go-Jek drivers, and health care initiatives for SMEs that sell product on Tokopedia. In the travel space, he pointed out that growth in insurance revenue for companies like Expedia is outstripping ticket sale growth which bodes well for Traveloka. PasarPolis is currently waiting on the result of an application for an insurance license which will give it new options for products beyond its current setup of working with insurers on underwriting

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Musical.ly investor bets on internet radio with $17M deal for Korea’s Spoon Radio

One of the early backers of Musical.ly, the short video app that was acquired for $1 billion , is making a major bet that internet radio is one of the next big trends in media. Goodwater Capital, one of a number of backers that won big when ByteDance acquired Musical.ly last year, has joined forces with Korean duo Softbank Ventures and  KB Investment to invest $17 million into Korea’s Spoon Radio. The deal is a Series B for parent company Mykoon, which operates Spoon Radio and previously developed an unsuccessful smartphone battery sharing service. That’s much like Musical.ly, which famously pivoted to a karaoke app after failing to build an education service. “We decided to create a service, now known as Spoon Radio, that was inspired by what gave us hope when previous venture ‘Plugger’ failed to take off. We wanted to create a service that allowed people to truly connect and share their thoughts with others on everyday, real-life issues like the ups and downs of personal relationships, money, and work. “Unlike Facebook and Instagram where people pretend to have perfect lives, we wanted to create an accessible space for people to find and interact with influencers that they could relate with on a real and personal level through an audio and pseudo-anonymous format,” Mykoon CEO Neil Choi told TechCrunch via email. Choi started the company in 2013 with fellow co-founders Choi Hyuk jun and Hee-jae Lee, and today Spoon Radio operates much like an internet radio station. Users can tune in to talk show or music DJs, and leave comments and make requests in real-time. The service also allows users to broadcast themselves and, like live-streaming, broadcasters — or DJs, as they are called — can monetize by receiving stickers and other virtual gifts from their audience. Spoon Radio claims 2.5 million downloads and “tens of millions” of audio broadcasts uploaded each day. Most of that userbase is in Korea, but the company said it is seeing growth in markets like Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam. In response to that growth — which Choi said is over 1,000 percent year-on-year — this funding will be used to invest in expanding the service in Southeast Asia, the rest of Asia and beyond. Audio social media isn’t a new concept

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AI training and social network content moderation services bring TaskUs a $250 million windfall

TaskUs , the business process outsourcing service that moderates content, annotates information and handles back office customer support for some of the world’s largest tech companies, has raised $250 million in an investment from funds managed by the New York-based private equity giant, Blackstone Group . It’s been ten years since TaskUs was founded with a $20,000 investment from its two co-founders, and the new deal, which values the decade-old company at $500 million before the money even comes in, is proof of how much has changed for the service in the years since it was founded. The Santa Monica-based company, which began as a browser-based virtual assistant company — “You send us a task and we get the task done,” recalled TaskUs chief executive Bryce Maddock — is now one of the main providers in the growing field of content moderation for social networks and content annotation for training the algorithms that power artificial intelligence services around the world. “What I can tell you is we do content moderation for almost every major social network and it’s the fastest growing part of our business today,” Maddock said. From a network of offices spanning the globe from Mexico to Taiwan and the Philippines to the U.S., the thirty two year-old co-founders Maddock and Jaspar Weir have created a business that’s largest growth stems from snuffing out the distribution of snuff films; child pornography; inappropriate political content and the trails of human trafficking from the user and advertiser generated content on some of the world’s largest social networks. (For a glimpse into how horrific that process can be, take a look at  this article from  Wired ,  which looked at content moderation for the anonymous messaging service, Whisper.) Maddock estimates that while the vast majority of the business was outsourcing business process services in the company’s early days (whether that was transcribing voice mails to texts for the messaging service PhoneTag, or providing customer service and support for companies like HotelTonight) now about 40% of the business comes from content moderation. Image courtesy of Getty Images Indeed, it was the growth in new technology services that attracted Blackstone to the business, according to Amit Dixit, Senior Managing Director at Blackstone. “The growth in ride sharing, social media, online food delivery, e-commerce and autonomous driving is creating an enormous need for enabling business services,” said Dixit in a statement. “TaskUs has established a leadership position in this domain with its base of marquee customers, unique culture, and relentless focus on customer delivery.” While the back office business processing services remain the majority of the company’s revenue, Maddock knows that the future belongs to an increasing automation of the company’s core services. That’s why part of the money is going to be invested in a new technology integration and consulting business that advises tech companies on which new automation tools to deploy, along with shoring up the company’s position as perhaps the best employer to work for in the world of content moderation and algorithm training services. It’s been a long five year journey to get to the place it’s in now, with glowing reviews from employees on Glassdoor and social networks like Facebook, Maddock said. The company pays well above minimum wage in the market it operates in (Maddock estimates at least a 50% premium); and provides a generous package of benefits for what Maddock calls the “frontline” teammates.

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RIP EmuParadise, a haven for retro gamers for almost two decades

If you’re a fan of retro games, chances are you have a few emulators installed to let you play Mega Drive or Atari 800 titles. And if you have a few emulators installed, you probably have some ROMs. And if you have some ROMs, it’s likely that sometime since the year 2000 you visited EmuParadise, a stalwart provider of these ambiguously legal files. Well, EmuParadise is no more — at least the site we knew and loved. The site explained the bad news in a post today , acknowledging the reality that the world of retro gaming has changed irrevocably and a site like EmuParadise simply can’t continue to exist even semi-legally. So they’re removing all ROM downloads. For those not familiar with this scene, emulators let you play games from classic consoles that might otherwise be difficult, expensive or even impossible to find in the wild. ROMs, which contain the actual game data (and are often remarkably small — NES games are smaller than the image above), are questionably legal and have existed in a sort of grey area for years. But there’s no question that this software has been invaluable to gamers. “I started EmuParadise 18 years ago because I never got to play many of these amazing retro games while growing up in India and I wanted other people to be able to experience them,” wrote the site’s founder, MasJ. “Through the years I’ve worked tirelessly with the rest of the EmuParadise team to ensure that everyone could get their fix of retro gaming

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