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Tag Archives: jon-russell

Stealthy Singapore VC firm Qualgro is raising a $100M fund

Southeast Asia’s venture capital space is booming right now. Openspace Ventures just announced the close of its newest $135 million fund , Golden Gate Ventures hit the first close on its upcoming $100 million vehicle , and a third Singapore-based fund is also raising big right now: Qualgro. Unlike others, Qualgro has operated relatively under the radar to date. That’s been very deliberate, according to managing partner Heang Chhor, who started the firm after leaving McKinsey following a 26-year stint that spanned Europe and Asia. Cambodian by birth, Chhor grew up in France and he rose to become a member of the McKinsey Global Board, whilst also leading the business in Japan. Prior to McKinsey, Chhor started a number of businesses — of which he says he got a modest exit but plenty of experience — and now he is turning his attention to Southeast Asia, where growing internet access among a cumulative base of 650 million consumers is opening up new opportunities for tech and internet businesses. The region’s digital economy is forecast to pass $200 billion by 2020, up from an estimated $50 billion in 2017, according to a much-cited report from Temasek and Google . Qualgro — which stands for ‘quality’ and ‘growth,’ in case you wondered — opened its doors in 2015 with a maiden $50 million fund. Alongside Chhor is Jason Edwards, formerly with PE firm Clearwater Capital and Peter Huynh, who joined from the Singtel Innov8 VC arm. To date, Qualgro has made 19 investments, which include IP and data firm Patsnap , e-commerce startup Shopback , and lending platform Funding Societies . The aim is to super-size that with this new fund, which this week completed a first close of $60 million. The total target is $100 million

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Korea’s Naver backs Southeast Asia-based e-commerce startup iPrice

iPrice , an e-commerce aggregation service in Southeast Asia, has landed a strategic investment from Naver, the Korean internet giant valued at over $21 billion, as part of a follow-on to the startup’s $4 million Series B  from May. There’s actually a strong connection around that recent round. It was led by Line Ventures, the investment arm of messaging app Line, which is owned by Naver . The size of the Naver investment hasn’t been disclosed, but iPrice has raised close to $10 million to date. Its investor base includes Asia Venture Group (AVG), Venturra Capital, Gobi Partners, Cento Ventures, Econa and Starstrike Ventures. Naver is best known for its search engine, gaming business and content portals, but it also operates a shopping and price comparison engine in Korea. That’s something that iPrice can take valuable lessons from, according to a statement from the startup’s CEO David Chmelar. iPrice is headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and it operates an e-commerce aggregator service that pulls in prices from a range of services, including Alibaba-owned Lazada and Shopee, the online retail site from U.S.-listed Sea. Founded in 2015 , it covers six countries in Southeast Asia — Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines — and also Hong Kong. The idea is that a one-stop shop offers a better experience to Southeast Asia’s consumers, of which some 330 million are estimated to be online. That’s more than the entire population of the U.S.. While Southeast Asia often sits in the shadows of China and India, the region’s digital economy is tipped to grow five-fold over the next eight years to pass $200 billion by 2020, according to a report co-authored by Google

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Apple cracks down on gambling apps in China

Apple is cracking down on illegal content in China after it removed potentially thousands of apps related to gambling, including ‘lottery’ services. The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. phone-maker purged as many as 25,000 apps — that’s a figure that was first cited by state-owned broadcaster CCTV link in Chinese . Apple didn’t comment on the number of apps removed, but it did confirm that it took action. “Gambling apps are illegal and not allowed on the App Store in China. We have already removed many apps and developers for trying to distribute illegal gambling apps on our App Store, and we are vigilant in our efforts to find these and stop them from being on the App Store,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. Apple offers over 1.5 million apps in China. Greater China — which includes China, Hong Kong and Taiwan — is Apple’s third largest region based on business, grossing $9.6 billion in the most recent quarter. That’s around 18 percent of its total revenue. The removals come weeks after a number of state-media reported  criticism of Apple for failing to prevent issues such a spam, gambling, pornography and more concerning its business in Asia. That criticism has been linked to the ongoing trade war between China and the U.S. — a spat that cost Qualcomm’s its $44 billion acquisition of NXP — but that may be wide of the mark. Apple is not alone in being rebuked by Beijing for content deemed unsuitable, a number of China’s up-and-coming startups have also had their wings clipped. Earlier this year, ambitious new media firm ByteDance — which operates news and video apps and is currently  talking to investors to raise $2.5-$3.5 billion —  was ordered to shutter a parody app it operated in China. Additionally,  four news and content apps were suspended from the App Store and Google Play for offending authorities

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Coinbase now supports buying and selling Ethereum Classic

Coinbase has added a new buying option for its customers after the crypto exchange introduced Ethereum Classic to its collection. The addition was first announced in July but Coinbase took its time to implement its newest addition following criticism over the way it added Bitcoin Cash last year. Allegations of insider trading led  the company to investigate the incident  which saw service outages and wild price fluctuations for Bitcoin Cash right after its addition to the exchange. It later introduced a framework for adding new tokens. Nonetheless, Ethereum Classic’s value spiked 20 percent on last month’s news. Today, though, it is down two percent over the last 24 hours, according to Coinmarketcap.com . Coinbase has taken a conservative approach to adding more crypto. Today’s addition takes it to five tokens — Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash are the others — but that’s likely to change this year. Last month, it announced it is “exploring” the addition of another five tokens while CTO Balaji Srinivasan hinted that the selection would grow further when I interviewed him at the recent TechCrunch blockchain event in Zug. “We hear your requests, and are working hard to make more assets available to more customers around the world,” Dan Romero, who heads Coinbase’s consumer business, said in a blog post  published today. A note on Ethereum Classic — it was created in June 2016 following a major hack on The DAO , a fundraising vehicle for the project

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Chinese Tesla rival Nio files to raise $1.8 billion in US IPO

Tesla may be looking to go private , but Chinese rival Nio is going the other way after it filed to raise $1.8 billion in an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. Nio was started in 2014, initially as NextCar, by Bin Li, an entrepreneur who founded online automotive services platform Bitauto. The company is backed by Chinese internet giants Baidu and Tencent among others, and it has developed two vehicles so far: the EP9 supercar and ES8. The former is really a concept/racer car — it broke the electric vehicle speed record last year — but the ES8, pictured above, is a car designed for the masses which is priced at 448,000 RMB, or around $65,000. Nio opened sales for the ES8 last year  but it only began shipping in June. Thus, to date, it has fulfilled just 481 orders, although it claims that there are 17,000 customers who put down reservations waiting in the wings. That means that, essentially, it is pre-revenue at this point. The company reported revenue of $6.9 million as of the end of June — so one month of deliveries — with a total loss of $502 million for 2018 to date. Last year, Nio lost $759 million in 2017, that included no revenue and nearly $400 million spent on R&D. Nio may be in the same space as Tesla, but its approach differs from the U.S. firm

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Singapore’s Openspace Ventures closes new $135M fund for Southeast Asia

It seems like everyone is out there raising new funds in Southeast Asia. Weeks after we reported Golden Gate Ventures hit a first close on its third fund aimed at $100 million , so Openspace Ventures — the Singapore-based firm formerly known as NSI — has announced a final close of $135 million for its second fund. Founded in 2014 by entrepreneur Hian Goh and finance exec Shane Chesson, Openspace is best known for being an early backer of Indonesian ride-hailing unicorn Go-Jek. A selection of its other investments includes fintech startup FinAccel, e-commerce player Love Bonito, restaurant booking service Chope, health-focused insurance brokerage CXA Group, and bread maker Rotimatic. Openspace specializes in Series A with a typical check size of $3 million to $5 million, and capital for follow-on deals. Goh told TechCrunch around the time of the first close that the plan is to expand the focus on startups operating marketplaces and/or the e-commerce space to cover emerging verticals such as fintech, health tech and education. Chesson, his partner, said that in areas like healthcare, progress from startups has been “remarkable” while he sees “great opportunities” to develop new kinds of consumer-centric brands in e-commerce, both B2C and B2B. Beyond vertical expansion, the firm may also seek opportunities in new geographies — it invested alongside Go-Jek in Bangladesh-based on-demand service Pathao , for example. It also plans to utilize local teams in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam and perhaps expand its network to more markets, too. The target for the capital is Southeast Asia, a region of more than 650 million consumers where rising internet access is creating new opportunities for tech startups and internet-based businesses. A report co-authored by Google last year forecast the region’s internet economy reaching $200 billion per year by 2025, up from $31 million in 2015. Already, Southeast Asia has more internet users than the U.S

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WeWork China rival Ucommune raises $43.5M more at a $1.8B valuation

Barely weeks after WeWork China raised $500 million , one of its main rivals is refueling its tanks too. Ucommune — the company formerly known as UrWork until a WeWork lawsuit forced a rebrand — announced its $43.5 million Series C round. Beijing-based Ucommune’s new round was led by real estate-focused investment firms Prosperity Holdings and RK Properties. The company said the deal gives its business a $1.8 billion post-money valuation. to date, it has raised around $450 million from investors, according to Crunchbase data . For comparison, WeWork China has pulled in $1 billion overall since being spun out of WeWork’s global business one year ago . Both investors are strategic, according to Ucommune. It said that its p artnership with Prosperity, in particular, will help it expand its presence in Southeast Asia, where it has a presence in Singapore and an investment in Indonesia . While it will work with RK Properties to upgrade its existing office spaces, perhaps in the style of WeWork’s ‘Powered By We’ program . In total, Ucommune claims to manage 160 locations in over 35 cities. That’s primarily China but outside of Asia its reach does include New York, London, Hong Kong and Taiwan, too. News of this new funding comes one day after another Chinese co-working brand, My Dream, raised $120 million . Three big names is nothing though, the field used to be comprised of dozens of players. Some have died out but the market has also seen plenty of consolidation. WeWork bought its closest rival Naked Hub in a deal reportedly worth $400 million.

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Singapore’s Golden Gate Ventures announces a $10M fund for crypto deals

VCs around the world are trying to wrap their head around crypto, and the new investment paradigm it brings. Some have made one-off deals but a few have jumped in off the deep end with dedicated crypto funds, with A16z in the U.S. the most prominent example . Now Singapore has its first from the traditional world after prominent firm Golden Gate Ventures announced a spinoff fund called  LuneX Ventures . The fund is focused on crypto and it is targeting a $10 million raise. Its announcement comes weeks after we reported the first close for Golden Gate’s new $100 million fund , its third to date, which is backed by Naver, Mistletoe and others. Golden Gate already has some exposure to ICOs, having backed the company behind OMG , and plenty of rumors have done the rounds about its plans for a standalone fund considering the surge in ICOs, which have scooped up over $10 billion in investment this year so far . Notably, LuneX will be the first crypto fund from a traditional investor in Southeast Asia, although Wavemaker Partners — which is backed by early Bitcoin proponent Tim Draper —  does have a U.S.-based fund . LuneX will be run by founding partner Kenrick Drijkoningen, who was previously head of growth for Golden Gate, with associate Tushar Aggarwal, who hosts the Decrypt Asia podcast. The two are assembling a small support team which will also be assisted by Golden Gate’s back office team. Drijkoningen told TechCrunch in an interview that he believes the time is right for the fund, even though the price of Bitcoin, Ether and other major tokens is way below the peaks seen in January.

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Apple hints at plan to build a car after all as it rehires ex-Tesla engineering head

If you’re looking for hints that Apple might deliver on its long-rumored plan to develop its own car, a significant one landed this week after it emerged that Doug Field — Apple’s former VP of Mac hardware engineering — has rejoined from the company after a spell with Tesla. John Gruber at Daring Fireball broke the news of Field returning to Apple following five years at Tesla where he oversaw the production of the Model 3. Apple confirmed in a statement to TechCrunch that it has rehired Field, but it declined to give information about this role. Gruber reports, however, that Field will link up with Bob Mansfield, the former colleague he worked with on the Mac hardware business. Mansfield just so happens to be the person who is heading up Apple’s ‘Project Titan’ car project , having been tempted back and out of retirement, so there’s a lot to dig into. There’s been plenty of speculation about the secretive Project Titan, most notably it was reported in 2016 that Apple had abandoned plans to develop a car. Instead, it was said to be focused on autonomous driving technology . While the project remains pretty opaque and tough to gauge, the hiring of the man who oversaw Tesla production — right after Apple poached a Waymo self-driving engineer — is a pretty interesting clue that suggests Apple might be reviving plans to develop a car once again. Ex-Apple employee charged with stealing self-driving car secrets

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Neat is a challenger bank for early-stage startups and SMEs

With the growth in cross-border payment services and ‘challenger’ bank cards for consumers, you’d be forgiven for wondering where the options are for small business — where cash is particularly precious. They do exist . One of the newer options is Neat , which is nested in Hong Kong but open for business worldwide. The startup started off following the same track as the likes of Monzo, Starling and Revolut in Europe, developing a ‘new’ kind of account free of branch-based banking and tedious paperwork. But quickly the team realized that its service was being adopted in large by startups and SMEs as a way to get more flexible financing and perks like install balance/billing. Neat still offers a consumer service in Hong Kong , but it places a heavy focus on developing its business service. Right now, that helps companies who can’t apply for credit cards get a Neat Mastercard which can be used for trivial (but important!) items such as monthly bills for services, flights, hotels and more. There’s no credit involved since the cards and account are debit-based. Beyond the basics,  Neat Business customers can use their account to handle employee payroll, business invoices, receive money and really pay all other bills that would require a credit card without using their personal one, as is so often the case for early-stage startups. More advanced features include expense cards for employees, while detailed company reporting and automated accounts are planned for introduction soon. The company is based in Hong Kong, but Neat’s service can be used overseas, and indeed it already is. Co-founder and CEO David Rosa, a former managing director of Citi Bank Asia Pacific, told TechCrunch that the company has customers in over 100 countries since account holders don’t need to be resident in, or incorporated in Hong Kong, to qualify for the service. That said, a large portion is based in or associated with Hong Kong as it stands today, but Rosa — who started the business in 2015 alongside CTO Igor Wos — said he wants to change that and grow the userbase globally. The fact that Neat is working on introducing multi-currency solutions, as well as accountancy software integrations, is sure to help widen its appeal to those based outside of Hong Kong. (Left to right) Neat co-founders Igor Wos (CTO) and David Rosa (CEO) In a further validation, Neat recently snagged $2 million in funding to develop its tech and increase marketing.

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AI giant SenseTime leads $199M investment in Chinese video tech startup

SenseTime may be best known as the world’s highest-valued AI company — having raised $620 million at a valuation of over $4.5 billion — but it is also an investor, too. The Chinese firm this week led a 1.36 billion RMB ($199 million) Series D funding round for Moviebook , a Beijing-based startup that develops technology to support online video services. Moviebook previously raised a 500 million RMB Series C in 2017, worth around $75 million. SB China Venture Capital (SBCVC) also took part in this new round alongside Qianhai Wutong, PAC Partners, Oriental Pearl, and Lang Sheng Investment. With the investment, SenseTime said it also inked a partnership with Moviebook which will see the two companies collaborate on a range of AI technologies, including augmented reality, with a view to increasing the use of AI in the entertainment industry. The object detection and tracking technology developed by SenseTime Group Ltd. is displayed on a screen at the Artificial Intelligence Exhibition & Conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, April 4, 2018. The AI Expo will run through April 6. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg In a statement in Chinese, SenseTime co-founder Xu Bing said the companies plan to use the vast amounts of video data from broadcasting, TV and internet streams to help unlock commercial opportunities in the future. He also stressed the potential to bring AI and new technologies to the entertainment industry. This isn’t SenseTime’s first strategic investment, but it is likely to be its most significant to date. The company has previously backed startups that include  51VR , Helian Health and  Suning Sports , the spinout from retail giant Suning. SenseTime itself has raised over $1.6 billion from investors, which include Alibaba, Tiger Global, Qualcomm, IDG Capital, Temasek and Silver Lake Partners.

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Facebook has removed 4 Infowars pages — but not because of fake news

There’s yet more Alex Jones/Infowars news. Facebook yanked four of the conspiracy theorist’s videos from its platform last week, and now it has finally taken more stringent action after it removed four Infowars pages from the social network entirely. Over the weekend Spotify , Stitcher and Apple all removed Infowars audio content from their platforms days after  YouTube and then Facebook pulled four videos that were found to violate community standards. A refresher for those who need it: Infowars has  broadcast a range of conspiracy theories which have included claims 9/11 was an inside job and alternate theories to the San Bernardino shootings, while it has encouraged harassment of families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting among other things .  Yet despite much attention on the organization and its use of social media,  Facebook’s efforts to handle Infowars have been confusing . One of the four videos it removed had actually been cleared following a complaint one month ago, while the video purge saw Facebook hand a 30-day ban to Jones’ personal account but the Infowars page — where the content was posted — was able to continue on as normal. That was down to the Facebook system of warnings/accumulated warnings for content violations and nothing to do with peddling fake news. That’s apparently ok. Indeed, the four Infowars pages that have been “unpublished” — the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page — were punished for “repeated violations of Community Standards and accumulating too many strikes” after more videos and content were reported to Facebook by users of the social network. “Upon review, we have taken the pages down for glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies,” the company explained in an announcement . Facebook didn’t provide details of exactly which videos violated its policies and how, but it did say explicitly that its action were not related to fake news. “Much of the discussion around Infowars has been related to false news, which is a serious issue that we are working to address by demoting links marked wrong by fact checkers and suggesting additional content, none of the violations that spurred today’s removals were related to this,” it said in a statement. Facebook has opted to remain news-neutral, in the sense that only issues warnings based on community standards. That’s a controversial stance — it is instead pursuing a policy of fact-checking information and letting users make their own mind — but irrespective of whether you agree with that approach, its actions over the past week are problematic because they don’t scale

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China’s Didi pumps $1B into its rebranded driver services business

Didi Chuxing is going pedal to the metal for its automobile services business after it announced it will invest $1 billion into the division, which is also getting a rebrand. The Chinese ride-hailing firm had been tipped to spin out the business and raise $1.5 billion from investors ahead of an IPO, according to a recent Reuters report . The business itself hasn’t spun out, however, but it has been renamed to Xiaoju Automobile Solutions and given more autonomy with the introduction of its own general manager. The division handles services for registered Didi drivers, such as leasing and purchase financing, insurance, repairs, refueling, car-sharing and more. Essentially, with its huge army of drivers, Didi can get preferential rates from service providers, which means better deals for its drivers. That, in turn, is helpful for recruiting new drivers and growing the business. (Didi claims to support 30 million drivers, but that covers food delivery as well as more basic point-to-point transportation.) Rather than outsiders — SoftBank had been linked with an investment at a valuation of up to $3 billion — Xiaoju is getting its capital boost direct  from Didi. The company said it injected $1 billion to “support its business in providing Didi drivers and the broader car-owner community with convenient, flexible, economical, and reliable one-stop auto services.” Of course, these factors don’t preclude Didi from spinning the business out in the future and listing it separately to the parent Didi firm. That’s the reasoning Reuters made in its previous story, and it still stands to reason that if Didi is (as widely expected) planning a public listing of its own then it might be keen to break out this asset-heavy part of its business. Didi didn’t respond to our request for comment on those future plans. Didi Chuxing’s rebranded Xiaoju driver services division includes a refueling program for its drivers. The company is saying more about the Xiaoju business itself. It said the services support drivers in over 257 cities through a network of 7,500 partners and distributors. There are some caveats, though: the auto care service is currently limited to seven cities in China.

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Short video service Musical.ly is merging into sister app TikTok

Musical.ly, the short video app that’s popular among teens and young people, is going away. Kinda. The app and all user data and accounts is being merged with Toktok, a sister app that’s owned by ByteDance, the Chinese company that acquired Musical.ly for around $1 billion last year. The switch-over happens today (Thursday) and it should be relatively seamless. Users of Musical.ly will see their app switch to TikTok once they update the app, and they should find their account, videos and personal settings inside the new app as per usual. One notable new addition is a setting that alerts a user when they have been active in the app for two hours that day. Its addition comes just a day after Facebook added similar ‘well-being’ features to its core social network and Instagram . ByteDance is making the move to consolidate its audiences on both apps. Four-year-old Musical.ly, which is particularly popular in the U.S., has around 100 million users while TikTok, which was created in 2016 and operates worldwide minus China, claims 500 million monthly active users. In China, the sister product is Douyin, while the company also offers news apps Toutiao in China and TopBuzz across the rest of the world. “TikTok, the sound of a ticking clock, represents the short nature of the video platform. We want to capture the world’s creativity and knowledge under this new name and remind everyone to treasure every precious life moment

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

Grab, the ride-hailing service that struck a deal to take Uber out of Southeast Asia, has announced that it has pulled in $2 billion in new capital as it seeks to go beyond ride-hailing to offer more on-demand services. The $2 billion figure includes a $1 billion investment from Toyota which was announced in June, and it sees a whole host of institutional investors join the Grab party. Some of those names include OppenheimerFunds, Ping An Capital, Mirae Asset — Naver Asia Growth Fund, Cinda Sino-Rock Investment Management Company, All-Stars Investment, Vulcan Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Macquarie Capital. Grab confirmed that the round is still open, so we can expect that it’ll add more investors and figures to this deal. The deal values Grab at $11 billion post-money, which is the same as the $10 billion valuation it earned following the Toyota deal. The caliber of investors certainly suggests an IPO is on the cards soon — not that it ever hasn’t been — although the company didn’t comment directly on that when we asked. This new financing takes Grab to $6 billion from investors. Some of its other notable backers include SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing, which both led a $2 billion round last year which gave Grab the gas to negotiate a deal with Uber that saw the U.S. ride-hailing giant exit Southeast Asia in exchange for a 27.5 percent stake in Grab . From that perspective, the deal was a win-win for both sides . In this post-Uber world, Grab is transitioning to offer more services beyond just rides

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