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Tag Archives: asia

Singapore is the crypto sandbox that Asia needs

Singapore Blockchain Week happened this past week. While there have been a few announcements from companies, some of the most interesting updates have come from regulators, and specifically, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). The financial regulator openly discussed its views on cryptocurrency and plans to develop blockchain technology locally. For those who are unfamiliar, Singapore historically has been a financial hub in Southeast Asia, but now has also gradually become the crypto hub of Asia. Compared to the rest of Asia and the rest of the world, the regulators in Singapore are well-informed and more transparent about their views on blockchain and cryptocurrency. While regulatory uncertainties still loom over Korea and Japan, in Southeast Asia, the MAS has already released its opinion “ A Guide to Digital Token Offering ” that illustrates the application of securities laws to digital token offerings and issuances. Singaporean regulators have arguably been pioneering economic and regulatory standards in Asia since the early days of the country’s founding by Lee Kuan Yew in 1965 . Singapore is the first stop for foreign companies in crypto In the past,  I’ve said that Thailand is one of the most interesting countries in crypto in Southeast Asia.  Nonetheless, for any Western or foreign company looking to establish a footing in Asia, or even for any local company in any Asian country looking to establish a presence outside of their own country, Singapore should be the first stop. It has become the go-to crypto sandbox of Asia. There are a number of companies all over Asia, as well as in the West, that have already made moves into the country. And the types of cryptocurrency projects and exchanges that go to Singapore vary widely. A few months ago, a Korean team called MVL introduced Tada, or the equivalent of  “Uber” on the blockchain, in Singapore . Tada is an on-demand car sharing service that utilizes MVL’s technology. The Tada app is built on MVL’s blockchain ecosystem, which is specifically designed to serve the automotive industry, adjacent service industries, and their customers. In this case, MVL was looking to test out its blockchain projects in a progressive, friendly jurisdiction outside of Korea, but still close enough to its headquarters. Singapore fulfilled most of these requirements. Relatedly, Didi, China’s ride-sharing company, has also looked to build out its own blockchain-based ride-sharing program , called VVgo. VVgo’s launch is pending, and its home is intended to be in Toronto, Singapore, Hong Kong or San Francisco. Given Singapore’s geographic proximity and the transparency of its regulators, it would likely be a good testing ground for Didi as well.

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Eight Roads Ventures targets Southeast Asia deals

Eight Roads Ventures , the investment arm of financial giant Fidelity International, is moving into Southeast Asia where it sees the potential to plug the later stage investment gap. The firm has funds across the world including the U.S, China and Europe, and it has invested nearly $6 billion in deals over the past decade. The firm has been active lately — it launched a new $375 million fund for Europe and Israeli earlier this year — and now it has opened an office in Singapore, where its managing partner for Asia, Raj Dugar, has relocated to from India. The firm said it plans to make early-growth and growth stage investments of up to $30 million, predominantly around Series B, Series C and Series D deals. The focus of those checks will be startups in the technology, healthcare, consumer and financial services spaces. Already, it has three investments across Southeast Asia — including virtual credit card startup Akulaku , Eywa Pharma and fintech company Silot . There’s a huge amount of optimism around technology and startups in Southeast Asia, where there’s an emerging middle-class and access to the internet is growing. A report from Google and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek forecasted that the region’s ‘online economy’ will grow to reach more than $200 billion. It was estimated to have hit $49.5 billion in 2017, up from $30.8 million the previous year. Despite a growing market, investment has focused on early stages. A number of VC firms have launched newer and larger funds that cover Series B deals — including Openspace Ventures and Golden Gate Ventures — but there remains a gap further down the funding line and Eight Roads could be a firm that can help fill it. “Southeast Asia has several early-stage and late-stage funds that cater well to the start-ups and more mature companies. The growth-stage companies, looking at raising Series B/C/D rounds have had limited access to capital given the lack of global funds operating in the region. We see phenomenal opportunity in this segment, and look forward to helping entrepreneurs as they scale their business, providing access to our global network of expertise and contacts,” Eightroad’s Dugar said in a statement.

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Amazon makes offline retail push in India

Amazon unleashed a flurry of new products this week at a U.S. press event , but halfway across the world, it is getting deeper into physical retail in the Indian market. The U.S. e-commerce giant is buying up 49 percent of More in a deal that sees Amazon partner and PE firm Samara Capital pick up the remaining 51 percent. Amazon and Samara have created an entity called Witzig Advisory Services Private Limited which will hold the ownership stake through the deal, which is reportedly worth around $585 million according to Indian media . Regulation prevents Amazon from owning the business entirely, hence it requires a local partner to take a majority stake. The deal is significant because it represents a major move for Amazon in brick and mortar retail in India, which is one of the up-and-coming global markets. It did, of course, jumped into offline sales in the U.S. when it gobbled up Whole Foods for some $16 billion last year  and this India-based acquisition is similarly strategic. Amazon is battling Flipkart for dominance in India’s e-commerce market, which is tipped to grow four-fold to reach $150 billion by 2022, according to a recent report from PWC . The India rival got a huge boost when it was bought by Walmart, Amazon’s chief rival in the U.S, in a $17 billion deal earlier this year.

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Africa’s Jumo raises $52M led by Goldman to bring its fintech services to Asia

Asia’s fintech scene is poised to get a little larger after Jumo , a company that offers loans to the unbanked in Africa, revealed plans to expand into the continent. To get the ball rolling,  Jumo has opened an office in Singapore to lead the way and landed a massive $52 million investment led by banking giant Goldman Sachs to fuel the growth. The new round takes Jumo to $90 million raised from investors. While Goldman is the lead — and standout name — the round also saw participation from existing backers that include Proparco — which is attached to the French Development Agency — Finnfund, Vostok Emerging Finance, Gemcorp Capital, and LeapFrog Investments. Jumo launched in 2014 and it specializes in social impact financial products. That means loans and saving options for those who sit outside of the existing banking system, and particularly small businesses. To date, it claims to have helped nine million consumers across its six markets in Africa and originated over $700 million in loans. The company, which has some 350 staff across 10 offices in Africa, Europe and Asia, was part of Google’s Launchpad accelerator last year and it is led by CEO Andrew Watkins-Ball, who has close to two decades in finance and investing. Watkins-Ball told TechCrunch that he believes Jumo’s experience working in Africa sets it up perfectly to offer similar services in markets across Asia. “We grew up in a very tough play yard,” he said in an interview. “We built our initial success in Tanzania which is probably one of the hardest financial markets in the world. A lot of these environments in Asia look more attractive.” Unlike the West, where challengers are trying to unseat banks, fintech startups in emerging markets work with the existing system. That isn’t some cop-out, it actually makes perfect sense. Banks simply aren’t equipped to deal with customers seeking small loans in the hundreds of U.S. dollar bracket.

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Trump expands tariffs on China by another $200 billion, threatens more

By this point, you should all know the drill . Another day, another massive tariff from the Trump administration. After rumors the past few weeks that the president was considering expanding tariffs to another $267 billion worth of imported goods from China , the administration announced today that it would expand them merely to another $200 billion worth of goods, which has the convenience of being a nice round number. In a White House statement , the president announced a 10 percent tariff to be implemented by September 24, which will then increase to 25 percent at the start of the new year. “For months, we have urged China to change these unfair practices, and give fair and reciprocal treatment to American companies. We have been very clear about the type of changes that need to be made, and we have given China every opportunity to treat us more fairly. But, so far, China has been unwilling to change its practices,” the statement said. Furthermore, the president said that any retaliatory action by China would result in immediate tariffs action and an expansion of tariffs to $267 billion worth of Chinese goods. Among the options that Chinese policy circles have been mulling is putting in place an export ban on critical components in U.S. supply chains , which could massively damage the ability of manufacturers and assemblers from building their products. China’s options for direct retaliation are limited, due to the sheer amount of exports China sends to the United States. China imports less from America than the value of goods included in these tariffs, and can no longer match them dollar-to-dollar.

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Indian patient-doctor platform DocPrime gets $50M for city expansion

Less than three months after it raised $200 million led by SoftBank’s mighty Vision Fund , Indian digital insurance startup PolicyBazaar beefed up its new healthcare business through a $50 million capital injection. DocPrime , which lets visitors book consultations with doctors or schedule a range of medical tests, launched in August. Already, it claims to host 14,000 doctors and 5,000 diagnostic labs on its platform serving Delhi-NCR — the ‘capital region’ that surrounds the city. With this investment — which is provided by PolicyBazaar — DocPrime will begin an expansion next month that is expected to take it into major cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. That’s part of a wider goal to reach 100 cities across India and grow the network to 150,000 doctors and 20,000 labs. DocPrime is up against established competitors, however. Practo has raised $230 million from investors including China’s Tencent and it claims to work with 200,000 healthcare providers. Beyond India, Practo has already expanded overseas to four countries to tap the doctor-patient gap in other emerging markets. Lybrate, another doctor-patient matching service, has raised over $14 million although it has quietened down somewhat lately.  1mg and Netmeds are others that are active in the space in India. To get an edge,  DocPrime has pushed to work closely with China-based Ping An Good Doctor , a fellow Vision Fund company that claims over 30 million monthly active users.

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Mobile social network Path, once a challenger to Facebook, is closing down

It’s that time again, folks, time to say goodbye to a social media service from days past. Following the shuttering of Klout earlier this year , now Path, the one-time rival to Facebook, is closing its doors, according to an announcement made today . The eight-year-old service will close down in one month — October 18 — but it will be removed from the App Store and Google Play on October 1. Any remaining users have until October 18 to download a copy of their data, which can be done  here . It is with deep regret to announce that Path service will be discontinued. It has been a long journey and we sincerely thank each one of you for your years of love and support Path. Please visit here https://t.co/2MFh5A7C23 for more details. pic.twitter.com/rczKgx6ooW — Path (@path) September 17, 2018 Path was founded by former Facebook product manager Dave Morin, and ex-Napster duo Dustin Mierau and Shawn Fanning . The company burst onto the scene in 2010 with a mobile social networking app that was visually pleasing and — importantly — limited to just 50 friends per user. That positioned it as a private alternative to Facebook with some additional design bells and whistles, although the friend restriction was later lifted and then removed altogether. At its peak, the service had around 15 million users and it was once raising money at a valuation of $500 million . Indeed, Google tried to buy it for $100 million when it was just months old. All in all, the startup raised $55 million from investors that included top Silicon Valley names Index, Kleiner Perkins and Redpoint. Facebook ultimately defeated Path, but it stole a number of features from its smaller rival But looks fade, and social media is a tough place when you’re not Facebook, which today has over 1.5 billion active users and aggressively ‘borrowed’ elements from Path’s design back in the day. Path’s road took a turn for the worse and the much-hyped startup lost staff, users and momentum ( and user data )

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The 21-day bitcoin challenge

There is a documentary series currently airing on iQiyi , China’s Netflix equivalent, about a Chinese bitcoin enthusiast who attempts to survive 21 days by merely living on 0.21 bitcoin, or $1,300, without any help or donations. He You Bing is traveling and carrying nothing with her, and she has to retrieve food, housing, and basic necessities all through bitcoin transactions done on her phone. Interestingly, she is also doing this challenge in some of China’s largest cities including Beijing and Shenzhen. Her name is something of a nom de guerre – a nickname, with “You Bing” directly translating to “having a disease,” and the whole name alludes to the girl’s over-enthusiasm for bitcoin. It’s a fascinating time for making this attempt. In the last few weeks, there have been numerous reports of China’s crypto bans – including Beijing and Shenzhen  banning public cryptocurrency-related speeches, events, or activities, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Also included in the purported ban were a number of WeChat media accounts that promoted cryptocurrencies, which have been permanently blocked. Furthermore, Beijing blocked access to the websites of over 120 offshore exchanges in the mainland and banned large crypto purchases through popular Chinese payments platforms Alipay and WeChat transactions. Given the sheer number of these bans, readers who live outside of China may be led to think that there is a bleak outlook for the cryptocurrency environment on mainland China. But He You Bing’s Bitcoin challenge reveals a refreshing perspective on the crypto awareness of people living in these local cities as well as the power of WeChat.  $1,300 may not sound like much for 21 days of travel in the U.S., but in China, where a cheap meal costs just $1, it can go a long way. The real question is, will people accept bitcoin? Finding acceptance with bitcoin Through daily video-log like documentaries, Bing is filmed running around asking different business vendors whether they accept bitcoin. The vendors, varying from small hole-in-the-wall eateries to employees from large chain stores like Uniqlo, express their reactions that are telling of their preconceived notions, or lack thereof, of bitcoin and cryptocurrency.

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Facebook is hiring a director of human rights policy to work on “conflict prevention” and “peace-building”

Facebook is advertising for a human rights policy director to join its business, located either at its Menlo Park HQ or in Washington DC — with “conflict prevention” and “peace-building” among the listed responsibilities. In the job ad, Facebook writes that as the reach and impact of its various products continues to grow “so does the responsibility we have to respect the individual and human rights of the members of our diverse global community”, saying it’s: … looking for a Director of Human Rights Policy to coordinate our company-wide effort to address human rights abuses, including by both state and non-state actors. This role will be responsible for: (1) Working with product teams to ensure that Facebook is a positive force for human rights and apply the lessons we learn from our investigations, (2) representing Facebook with key stakeholders in civil society, government, international institutions, and industry, (3) driving our investigations into and disruptions of human rights abusers on our platforms, and (4) crafting policies to counteract bad actors and help us ensure that we continue to operate our platforms consistent with human rights principles. Among the minimum requirements for the role, Facebook lists experience “working in developing nations and with governments and civil society organizations around the world”. It adds that “global travel to support our international teams is expected”. The company has faced fierce criticism in recent years over its failure to take greater responsibility for the spread of disinformation and hate speech on its platform. Especially in international markets it has targeted for business growth via its Internet.org initiative which seeks to get more people ‘connected’ to the Internet (and thus to Facebook). More connections means more users for Facebook’s business and growth for its shareholders. But the costs of that growth have been cast into sharp relief over the past several years as the human impact of handing millions of people lacking in digital literacy some very powerful social sharing tools — without a commensurately large investment in local education programs (or even in moderating and policing Facebook’s own platform) — has become all too clear. In Myanmar Facebook’s tools have been used to spread hate and accelerate ethic cleansing and/or the targeting of political critics of authoritarian governments — earning the company widespread condemnation, including a rebuke from the UN  earlier this year  which blamed the platform for accelerating ethnic violence against Myanmar’s Muslim minority. In the Philippines  Facebook also played a pivotal role in the election of president Rodrigo Duterte — who now stands accused of plunging the country into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 80s. While in India the popularity of the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform has been blamed for accelerating the spread of misinformation — leading to mob violence and the deaths of several people . Facebook famously failed even to spot mass manipulation campaigns going on in its own backyard — when in 2016 Kremlin-backed disinformation agents injected masses of anti-Clinton, pro-Trump propaganda into its platform and garnered hundreds of millions of American voters’ eyeballs at a bargain basement price

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Indonesian fintech startup Moka raises $24M led by Sequoia India

Indonesia’s Moka , a startup that helps SMEs and retailers manage payment and other business operations, has pulled in a $24 million Series B round for growth. The investment is led by Sequoia India and Southeast Asia — which recently announced a new $695 million fund — with participation from new backers SoftBank Ventures Korea, EDBI — the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board — and EV Growth, the later stage fund from Moka seed investor East Ventures. Existing investors Mandiri Capital, Convergence and Fenox also put into the round. The deal takes Moka to $27.9 million raised to date, according to data from Crunchbase . Moka was started four years ago primarily as a point-of-sale (POS) terminal with some basic business functionality. Today, it claims to work with 12,500 retailers in Indonesia and its services include sales reports, inventory management, table management, loyalty programs, and more. Its primary areas of focus are retailers in the F&B, apparel and services industries. It charges upwards of IDR 249,000 ($17) per month for its basic service and claims to be close to $1 billion in annual transaction volume from its retail partners. That’s the company’s core offering, a mobile app that turns any Android or iOS device into a point-of-sale terminal, but CEO and co-founder Haryanto Tanjo — who started the firm with CTO Grady Laksmono — said it harbors larger goals. “Our vision is to be a platform, we want to be an ecosystem,” he told TechCrunch in an interview. That’s where much of this new capital will be invested. Tanjo said the company is opening its platform up to third-party providers, who can use it to reach merchants with services such as accounting, payroll, HR and more

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