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Indonesia’s KoinWorks raises $12 million to grow its P2P SME lending platform

KoinWorks, an Indonesian startup that helps small and medium-sized businesses secure financial services through its online peer-to-peer platform, has raised $16.5 million SGD ($12 million USD) in a new funding round as money continues to flow in what has become a hot space for investors.

The Series B round for the three-year-old startup was led by EV Growth and Quona Capital . Existing investors — Mandiri Capital Indonesia, Convergence Ventures, Gunung Sewu, Beeblebrox and Quona Capital — also participated in the round, the startup said in a statement. The new round means KoinWorks has raised more than $28.5 million to date.

SMEs have historically struggled with securing loan and other financial services from banks — creating a big opportunity for middlemen lending platforms. KoinWorks operates an online platform that uses machine learning to provide low interest loans to these small and medium sized enterprises. It identifies the businesses that are eligible to make the return eventually and connects them with lenders.

The platform has amassed more than 300,000 users, it claimed. More than 60% of the lenders are millennials and for 70%, it is their first time investment. Willy Arifin, a founder and CEO of KoinWorks said the startup aims to “democratize finance in Indonesia while fostering financial inclusion.”

Surprisingly, KoinWorks raised a bigger amount — $16.5 million (USD) in its Series A round in the second half of last year. Arifin insisted that the round was intentionally oversubscribed, suggesting that the existing shareholders of the startup were unwilling to overly dilute their stake. The new round “does not reflect the true appetite of investors in KoinWorks,” he added.

KoinWorks competes with a number of local startups including Akseleran, Investree, Reksadana, Amartha, and Modalku. It also fights with Funding Societies, which received $25 million last year to expand its business in several Southeast Asian markets. Soon, it will have a new competitor in Validus Capital, which raised $15 million earlier this year and announced its plan to enter Indonesia this quarter.

The new round comes at a time when Indonesia is pushing strict regulatory changes for peer-to-peer lending businesses in an attempt to ensure that the chaos in China does not seep into Indonesia.




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Cartier, Bulgari and other luxury brands are flocking to WeChat

Not long ago, people in China would need to visit a posh, stylish mall for luxury shopping. That’s rapidly changing as high-end brands race to embrace digital channels, which aren’t just the obvious options of ecommerce platforms or brand-owned sites. In China, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Bulgari and other luxury brands are now connecting and selling to millions of customers through WeChat .

Many know WeChat as China’s largest messaging app, and perhaps how it has over time morphed into an all-in-one ecosystem that lets one chat, run errands, hire services, and shop for an infinite list of things. Now the flurry of different products people find on WeChat may include a $10,000-plus purse.

The trend, according to Pablo Mauron, partner and managing director for China at Digital Luxury Group, a luxury marketing agency, reflects WeChat’s huge potential as an app tailored to transactions and services.

“I think WeChat is finally becoming what it’s supposed to be for luxury brands, which is not just a social media app,” Mauron told TechCrunch over a phone interview. “One [function] could be for customers to buy the product. Another could be for brands to build a loyalty program. Customers can pre-order a product or set up an appointment with the [offline] store.”

Indeed, according to a new report from market research firm Gartner L2, 60% of the fashion luxury brands it surveyed have at least one WeChat store, surging from just 36% in 2018.

Like Facebook, WeChat allows businesses to set up their online shops. The Chinese app now boasts more than 1 billion monthly users, but these people aren’t readily exploitable as customers. WeChat, unlike Alibaba, isn’t a marketplace and does not have a central search engine that indexes all the merchants selling over its platform.

A WeChat store is thus more comparable to a site store — it exists in the online universe but requires a lot of marketing before consumers stumble upon it. People may discover Wechat stores by scanning a QR code at a brick-and-mortar outlet, clicking on an ad embedded in an online article or through a slew of other creative ways that merchants devise.

Loyalty building

Despite the challenges in driving traffic, WeChat stores hold great appeal to brands for they offer a large toolbox for boosting customer loyalty, observed Mauron.

Shoppers can, for instance, talk to shop assistants over WeChat or check their membership status with just a few taps on the screen. It’s the social prowess of WeChat that separates it from entrenched ecommerce candidates like Alibaba and JD.com, which focus more on transactions. In a way, WeChat is not directly taking on Alibaba but playing a complementary role by providing customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities.

louis vuitton china

Screenshot of Louis Vuitton’s WeChat mini app for customers in China

A lot of these service-oriented features are powered by so-called “mini programs,” which are essentially stripped-down versions of native apps that run within a super app such as WeChat. As the Gartner L2 report points out, the rise in WeChat store adoption is linked to the increased use of mini programs by luxury brands.

A total of 69% the luxury brands in the sample group have at least one mini program. The adoption rate among fashion-focused luxury brands grew from 40% in 2018 to 70% in 2019, while the watch and jewelry category climbed from 36% to 62% over the same time period.

“WeChat is becoming the most appealing option for brands that want to think about CRM, ecommerce strategies or simply other value-added services without having to rely on external partners,” Mauron suggested, referring to Alibaba, JD and others that are traditionally the more popular choices for digital sales.

From social to shopping

While WeChat imposes certain rules on sellers, it’s built a reputation for being more laissez-faire compared to conventional ecommerce companies. For one, WeChat doesn’t (yet) take commissions from ecommerce transactions as online marketplaces normally do. As Mauron noted, “Tencent’s business model is not so much about making money out of the mini program transactions.”

On the other hand, WeChat’s e-wallet WeChat Pay benefits from processing transactions happening inside the chat app where Alibaba’s Alipay isn’t available.

That’s a crucial development because WeChat Pay has been for the most part associated with micropayments, thanks to a series of early campaigns that encouraged people to send cash-filled digital packets to each other, a tradition deep-rooted in a culture of exchanging cash during holidays.

Alipay, by contrast, is more extensively used for online shopping given its ties to Alibaba.

With the rise of mini app-enabled ecommerce, however, people are starting to use WeChat Pay for big-item purchases too.

“This allows WeChat to take market share in online payments. That’s the other big battle, which is between Alipay and WeChat Pay,” said Mauron.

As of January, Alipay had at least 1 billion monthly active users through its own app and mobile wallet partners around the world. WeChat doesn’t break out the user number for its e-wallet but said daily transaction volume passed 1 billion in 2018.




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While people puzzle over WeWork, niche co-working spaces continue gaining traction

This week, a young, New York-based startup called Alma raised $8 million in funding to expand its “co-practicing community of therapists, coaches, and wellness professionals,” which it first launched from a space on Madison Avenue last fall.

As CNN was first to report, the company is charging psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers and acupuncturists $165 per month to become Alma members, which comes with services like billing and scheduling and even a matchmaking service that purports to connect professionals with patients. They also pay an hourly rate to book identically outfitted rooms that can be used interchangeably.

CNN called the company a WeWork for therapists, but Alma and its venture backers are hardly alone in seeing promise in more specialized co-working spaces, which have proliferated as their best-known peer in the co-working craze, WeWork, has itself set up all over the globe. According to one estimate, the number of global coworking spaces, thought to be around 14,000 in 2017, is expected to reach 30,000 by 2022.

One of these outfits — one backed early on by WeWork itself — is The Wing, a nearly three-year-old startup that describes itself as a members-only community full of work and community spaces designed for women. (It dropped its practice of not admitting men as members or guests after a Washington, D.C. man brought a gender-discrimination lawsuit against the firm that sought damages of up to $12 million.) Though the startup has critics who worry that it advances only women who can afford to pay a few hundred dollars per month for a membership, investors have already given it nearly $120 million in funding.

They’re betting that women want to work and share ideas and see powerful female speakers alongside other women who are members. But investors and entrepreneurs are betting on broader trends, too. For one thing, it’s clear that commercial real estate owners need new ways to occupy underutilized space as our lives move increasingly online.

Greater numbers of people are also becoming freelance workers, a trend that shows no signs of stopping. According to the Freelancers Union, 3.7 million more people started freelancing between 2014 and 2018 for an estimated total of 56.7 million America freelancers. That’s a huge segment of the working population.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that Spacious, a three-year-old, New York-based company that turns restaurants into co-working spaces during the afternoon, is backed by some of the best investors in the business, including Baseline Ventures. (Other companies taking advantage of underused space include Breather and Flexe.)

More interesting is a newer trend of spaces built out for specific groups of people. Therapists is just the newest that we’ve heard, but there are plenty of others. L.A. alone is home to Glitch City, a 24-hour co-working space that caters to indie game developers; The Hatchery Press, for writers; and Paragon Spaces, for those working in the cannabis industry. Elsewhere, it’s possible to find with co-working spaces for people in the construction industry, and spaces for tech companies with on-demand workforces, and spaces for people committed to a zero-waste lifestyle.

It’s probably too early to say whether the niche spaces are any more sticky than more general co-working spaces like the fashionable spots that WeWork sells. Having been part of a long-standing, not-for-profit writers’ collective in San Francisco for roughly a decade — and aware that numerous of my former office mates continue to be a part of that community — this editor would guess that they are. They’re also far less scalable, presumably.

But the much bigger question — for WeWork and the growing number of more focused startups to emerge in recent years — is whether enough people can justify the cost of working in their spaces when the economy invariably hits the skids.

It’s easier to imagine this happening with communities of doctors or other professionals who, through sheer dint of working together, can defray their costs and generate more business for themselves. For the rest, only time will tell. Either way, VCs have a lot of money to put to work and plenty are willing to gamble that right now, at least, there are few limits on where the trend can go.




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Google Pay expands its integration with PayPal to online merchants

Google and PayPal have been strategic partners for some time. The companies in 2017 announced that PayPal would become a payment method in Android Pay, the service that later rebranded as Google Pay. Last year, users who added PayPal as a payment method on Google Pay could then pay for services like Gmail, YouTube, Google Play and Google Store purchases via a PayPal option in Google Pay. Now, a similar integration is making its way to online merchants who accept Google Pay on their website or mobile app.

Explains Google, hundreds of millions of customers already have payment methods saved to their Google Account — including, in some cases, PayPal, thanks to the 2018 integration.

With this expanded integration, merchants can opt to enable PayPal as a payment method in their own Google Pay integration — something that’s easily done if Google Pay has already been implemented on their site. All that’s required is only a small code change to the list of allowed payment methods (see below).

At that point forward, any online shopper who wants to check out using Google Pay will have the option of selecting PayPal to make the purchase.

The benefit of this integration for consumers is that they won’t have to sign in to PayPal when they use it through Google Pay, which cuts down the number of steps to take at checkout. That, in turn, can increase conversions. They’ll also have access to PayPal’s Purchase Protection and Return Shipping benefits.

For online merchants who are also PayPal merchants, when a customer selects PayPal through Google Pay, the merchant receives the money in their PayPal Business Account within minutes.

PayPal’s embrace of its one-time competitors like Apple and Google actually began several years ago, and is still gaining ground as the technology platforms better integrate its service.

The company began teaming up with rivals like Visa, MastercardAppleGoogleSamsung and Walmart to help it achieve better traction both at point-of-sale in retail stores and within the popular mobile wallets offered by mobile OS platform makers Apple, Google and Samsung. Today, PayPal lives alongside other payment cards — like credit and debit cards — inside these mobile wallets.

For merchants that want to offer a variety of checkout methods, they can add support for the digital wallet platforms themselves, and PayPal simply comes along for the ride.

The PayPal option for Google Pay works in all 24 countries where customers can link a PayPal account to Google Pay.




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Terry Gou resigns as Foxconn’s chairman to run for president of Taiwan

Terry Gou said at Foxconn’s annual general meeting today that he is leaving the electronics manufacturing giant as he prepares to run for president of Taiwan. Gou, who founded Foxconn (also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.) 45 years ago and is also its biggest shareholder, will remain on the company’s board. Young Liu, the head of Foxconn’s semiconductor business, will succeed him as chairman and the company will also transition to a committee-directed management structure.

Gou first officially announced in April that he plans to resign as chairman to focus on his campaign for the nomination of Taiwan’s opposition party, the Kuomintang. If he succeeds against other KMT candidates, including Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-Yu, Gou will be challenging President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party, for the election next January.

Foxconn (one of Apple’s biggest suppliers) is China’s largest private employer and the Kuomintang supports a closer relationship with the Chinese government, despite its stance that Taiwan is a rogue province. Gou’s ties to the country will be scrutinized during the campaign as he opposes Tsai and the DPP, advocates of Taiwan’s sovereignty. The issue is especially fraught after the recent large-scale demonstrations in Hong Kong against a bill that would have allowed extradition to China.

Last month Gou, who has never held political office before, tried to assuage critics by saying he has no plans to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping after the head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council of the Executive Yuan, Chen Ming-Tung, claimed Gou had said Taiwan was part of China. Gou also said that during a recent meeting with Donald Trump he had asked the president of the United States to work on improving the relationship between all three countries.

Gou’s campaign has also been marred by other controversies, such as when he said “the harem should not meddle in politics” after his wife, Delia Tseng, objected to his candidacy. Gou later apologized for the remark.




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Waymo takes its self-driving car ambitions global in partnership with Renault-Nissan

Waymo has locked in an exclusive partnership with Renault and Nissan to research how commercial autonomous vehicles might work for passengers and packages in France and Japan.

This exclusive partnership has a deadline — the public announcement says it will last for “an initial period.” Waymo nor the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance provided details on when it might end.

For now, research is the basis of the partnership. The companies plan to research commercial, legal and regulatory issues. However, Waymo CEO John Krafcik, and by extension the company, sees this as an opening to deploy commercial services in these two countries, and possibly China and other countries.

“This is an ideal opportunity for Waymo to bring our autonomous technology to a global stage, with an innovative partner,” Krafcik said in a statement. “With the Alliance’s international reach and scale, our Waymo Driver can deliver transformational mobility solutions to safely serve riders and commercial deliveries in France, Japan, and other countries.”

Renault and Nissan plan to create joint venture Alliance-focused companies in France and Japan dedicated to autonomous vehicle mobility services.

The announcement follows a recent spate of alliances, failed deals and partnerships between a number of autonomous vehicle companies, suppliers and automakers.

In May, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles withdrew its proposal to merge with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, a 50-50 tie-up that was touted as a way to reduce costs and put more capital towards bringing next-generation technologies like self-driving cars to market.

While that merger fizzled, a deal that had been in the works between Fiat Chrysler and self-driving car startup Aurora became public. That announcement was quickly followed by a Financial Times article that reported VW had ended its partnership with Aurora.

All the while, negotiations between VW and Ford-backed Argo AI continue.




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Still in stealth mode, Duffel raises $21.5m in Series A from Benchmark for its travel platform

Ten months ago London startup Duffel hinted that it would be “a new way to book travel online, aiming at the booking experience ‘end to end’”, and announced a healthy $4.7M funding round, but not much else.

Today it goes further, announcing a $21.5m in Series A funding from US VC giant Benchmark, which also backed Snap, Twitter and Uber. Benchmark is joined by Blossom Capital and Index Ventures, who participated in Duffel’s $4.7m seed round last year.

With this news, we at least get a little more detail. It will be a B2B offering, allowing individual travel agents to large online travel management companies and tour operators to offer a “seamless travel experience” to their end customers, making the booking experience simpler, faster and cheaper.

Is this a new Sabre? Steve Domin, co-founder and CEO of Duffel, hints that it might be along those lines: “The travel industry is underpinned by archaic software and processes that are fundamentally prohibitive for the modern day traveler. We are reinventing the underwiring between online agents and the providers – airlines, hotels, transport operators – in much the same way that the payments world is changing for merchants, because of tools like Adyen and Stripe.”

In other words, Duffel appears to be building a new software stack for travel, in the same way that challenger banks started from scratch to make themselves more agile than the laggard, incumbent banks.

Duffel was one of the Y Combinator S18 cohort and has put together a team drawn from their alumni companies including GoCardless, Gitlab and Turo. It plans to launch this Autumn.

Chetan Puttagunta, general partner at Benchmark, said: “We have been watching Duffel from a distance and we are incredibly excited by the possibility it has to create something valuable for customers and travel providers alike. Duffel is focused on providing a better booking experience by building a platform that is easy to use with deep functionality.”

Ophelia Brown, founder of Blossom Capital, said: “Duffel has been clear on its vision to improve the travel experience for everyone from day one. This is a great example of the way that European founders are becoming more ambitious than ever before.”

The market is waiting with baited-breath to find out if Duffel’s stellar fund-raising capabilities can eventually match the claims made for the product.




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Sprint is the latest telecom to offer a tracking device that uses LTE

Following in the footsteps of AT&T and Verizon*, Sprint is now offering an LTE tracker. The matchbook-sized device, simply called Tracker, provides real-time location tracking on Safe + Found app.

Sprint Tracker

Sprint’s new Tracker

The Tracker competes with Tile, but instead of Bluetooth, Sprint’s device uses 4G LTE, GPS and Wi-Fi location services, so it can be used to track things, people or pets that might travel a significant distance away, compared to a range of 100 ft to 300 ft for Tile (depending on the version). The Tracker is manufactured by Coolpad and users need to pay $2.50 per month for 24 months to cover the cost of the device, plus an additional $5 per month to connect it.

AT&T and Verizon both launched LTE trackers over the past year and Apple is also rumored to be working on a tracking device that connects to iPhones, based on an asset package for pairing devices by proximity spotted in the first beta of iOS 13 by 9to5Mac.

*Disclosure: TechCrunch is part of Verizon Media, a subsidiary of Verizon Communications.




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Meet Hatch Baby’s portable, WiFi-enabled sleep device Rest+

Menlo Park-based Hatch Baby has prided itself on introducing “smart” nursery devices — including Grow, a changing pad with a built-in scale and Rest, a device doubling as a sound machine and night light.

Now, the company is introducing an updated version of Rest with Rest+ as part of an effort to help further establish Hatch Baby in the family sleep space.

The Rest+ device will still have the sound machine, night light and a “time to rise” feature found in the original. But, with feedback from many customers and Amazon reviews, Hatch Baby has now included the addition of an audio monitor and a clock.

The audio monitor is essential for letting parents check in on baby while they sleep without going into the room and potentially waking the baby up.

The clock is also a fantastic addition, in my opinion, especially for those with toddlers who can read numbers. These little people are big enough to get out of their beds but not mature enough to know moms and dads need to sleep at 4 a.m. Often advice passed from parent to parent is to put a clock in the baby room and tell kids not to come out until it shows a certain number.

It also helps establish healthy sleep habits in little ones. Most toddlers (ages one to 3) need about 12 to 14 hours of sleep in a day, spread out between nighttime and naps, according to the National Sleep Foundation. However, as any parent knows, the older a baby gets, the harder it is to get them to want to go to bed.

Rest+ features include:

  • Audio monitor: Parents can now check in on their child in their room without the risk of disrupting their little one’s sleep right from their phone — no extra gadgets necessary.
  • Sound machine: Parents can choose from a range of sound options, from white noise to soft lullabies. They can simply crank up the volume remotely when the dog barks or the neighbors throw a party.
  • Night light: This feature, which stays cool to the touch, provides soft and soothing
    lighting for midnight feeding sessions or bright and reassuring light when the dark feels scary for older kids. Parents and kids can choose from a rainbow of colors to make it their own, but the optional patented toddler-lock setting makes sure that parents are the only ones in control when needed.
  • Time-to-Rise: Green means go! This feature enables parents to teach toddlers and
    preschoolers to stay in bed until it’s time to rise once the light changes color (and enjoy those extra minutes of sleep).
  • Clock: Rest+ features an easy-to-read clock so that parents can stay on track with their busy schedules and can help teach children to read numbers.

Any one of these features could cost parents a good amount of dough when purchased separately. A Phillips Avent audio monitor runs just under $100 on Amazon, for example. However, Rest+ is just $80 (slightly more than the original $60 price tag for the Rest device), for all five features.

Something else that may make the Rest+ attractive to parents — it is WiFi-enabled and portable so you can take it with you when you travel.

Whipping a sound machine, nightlight, audio monitor and clock all into one portable, WiFi-enabled device can also save precious space in the nursery and makes this a must-have item for many parents hoping for just a little bit more sleep.

Hatch Baby co-founder Ann Crady Weiss tells TechCrunch the Rest+ will only be available on the Hatch Baby site and is part of a plan to launch a full line of products aimed at getting parents — and their children — more precious sleep. Though she wouldn’t say what the company was working on next, she did mention we’d hear something about it in the coming months. So stay tuned!




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Shyp is preparing for a comeback under new management

Fifteen months after shutting down, Shyp is getting ready to launch again. The startup tweeted today that “We are back! We’re hard at work to rebuild an unparalleled shipping experience. Before we begin operations again, we’d love to hear your feedback in this quick survey. We look forward to working with you and can’t wait to change the future of shipping!”

Most of the survey questions focus on online shopping returns, asking how easy or difficult it was to package the product for return, print the prepaid label, purchase postage or ship the product. The last question offers a hint about what direction the rebooted Shyp might take, asking “When returning a product, how likely would you be to use a service that picked up and shipped the product instead of having to ship it yourself?”

Shyp’s website doesn’t say when it will be back or what services it will offer, but it does mention that Shyp restarted in January 2019 under new management and backed by angel investors “with plans to disrupt the industry with what it does best: cutting-edge technology and a superior customer experience.”

Once one of the hottest on-demand startups, Shyp shut down in March 2018 after missing targets to expand to cities outside of San Francisco. When it first launched in 2014, Shyp initially offered on-demand service for almost anything customers wanted shipped, charging $5 plus postage to pick up, package and bring the item to a shipping company. Eventually it introduced a pricing tier in 2016 as it tried to find new approaches to its business model, before closing down two years later.

If the new Shyp does focus on making online returns easier, it will be bringing back one of its most popular services. The company expanded into online returns in 2015 after noticing that many customers used the app to return products they had purchased online.

TechCrunch has emailed Shyp for more information.




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