Here are the top headlines from startup space this week.
Uber to allow users book rides via WhatsApp in India
Ride-hailing platform Uber will soon allow users in India to book a ride via WhatsApp, the company said, announcing a partnership with the Meta Platforms-owned messaging service.
A global first for the ride-hailing giant, users can book an Uber ride by sending a message to the Uber WhatsApp chatbot, instead of downloading the app.
This partnership will allow users to register on Uber, book a ride, and get a trip receipt, all within WhatsApp. This service is currently available for Uber riders in Lucknow as a part of a pilot, a press release said.
PhonePe starts Rs 999 health insurance aimed at young first-time buyers
Digital payments and financial services company PhonePe has introduced a new health insurance plan that starts at Rs 999 to cater to young first-time health insurance buyers.
The plan offers coverage for hospitalisation expenses including in-patient and ICU hospitalisation, daycare procedures, ambulance charges, and Ayush treatment among others, and can be availed across 7,600 hospitals in the country.
After Walmart-backed PhonePe became the largest player on Unified Payments Interface (UPI) with a 47 percent share in monthly payment values, the company has been expanding its ambit of financial services offerings.
CRED to acquire Happay, valuing the platform up to $180M
Kunal Shah’s CRED will acquire Happay in a cash and stock deal, valuing the corporate expense management platform up to $180 million.
Post the acquisition, Happay will operate as a separate entity, and CRED’s leadership team will work closely with it to leverage CRED’s ecosystem, expand product offerings and scale up operations, the company said. CRED also said that all of Happay’s 230 employees will be eligible for benefits extended to CRED’s employees, including its ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) programme.
With the addition of the expense management platform, CRED said it will extend its offerings to the enterprise spends space. The deal will bring synergies between the credit card bill payments platform offered by Cred and Happay’s platform that offers business expenses, travel bookings and payments, the firm added.
upGrad makes first overseas deal, snaps up Australian Global Study Partners
Edtech unicorn upGrad which has been growing through acquisitions and has earmarked an M&A war chest of $250 million, has entered into an acquisition agreement to buy 100 percent of Global Study Partners (GSP), the largest study abroad company in Australia, for AUD 16 million, with a commitment of a further AUD 10 million in future.
This marks the first international acquisition for the Ronnie Screwvala-promoted firm and strengthens its foray into the study abroad space.
GSP founder and chief executive Elaine Starkey said with this deal with upGrad, her existing partner institutions and recruiters worldwide can expect significant growth in quality student enrolments.
Simplilearn announces first ever ESOP buyback worth Rs 48.74 cr
Digital economy skills training platform Simplilearn has announced its first-ever Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP) buyback worth Rs. 48.74 crore.
This event is the first time ESOPs have been bought back by the company. The buyback was undertaken as part of the recent investment by Blackstone earlier this year, the company said in a statement.
The company had offered active employees to liquidate up to 25% of their vested ESOPs as part of this buyback. 65% of the active employees with ESOPs liquidated their options as part of this buyback process. The company also rewarded all these employees with additional new ESOPs, it claimed.
Nykaa plans to open 300 stores to drive offline growth: Report
Nykaa plans to more than triple its brick-and-mortar stores to 300 to significantly increase its offline presence in India, CEO Falguni Nayar told Reuters.
The cosmetics-to-fashion retailer is targeting 100 cities, adding to the 84 retail outlets it already operates in 40 cities.
“The process of store expansion had slowed down due to (COVID-19) pandemic for a year or so,” Nayar said. “But this year we have revived our store rollout.”
Though Nykaa largely operates as an e-commerce platform selling everything from global cosmetic brands to jewellery, Nayar said the physical stores, targeting Indian consumers wanting to buy touch-and-feel products, were a critical part of the business.
Zomato Wings launched to connect investors with restaurants
Online food delivery platform Zomato has announced the launch of Zomato Wings, a platform to connect investors with restaurants.
By curating a set of restaurants and cloud-kitchens that could become rocketships if fuelled with equity capital, the startup aims to build the go-to platform for venture capital firms, angel investors, family offices and others that are looking to make private investments in restaurants and cloud-kitchens, it said in a blogpost.
Zomato said its role would be limited to being a facilitator of fundraising for restaurants. The firm will help restaurants position their story and metrics in the right manner and connect them with the right investors, it added.
Ather Energy to set up second factory in Hosur, expands overall capacity to 400K units
Hero MotoCorp-backed electric two-wheeler maker Ather Energy plans to set up its second manufacturing facility, which once commissioned in 2022 will expand its capacity to 4 lakh vehicles per year from the current 1.2 lakh units.
The new facility will come up at Hosur, in Tamil Nadu, to cater to the growing demand for its e-two-wheelers — 450 X and 450 Plus — the company said in a statement. Ather Energy had set up its first manufacturing facility at Hosur earlier this year.
Apart from EV manufacturing, the new manufacturing unit will also focus on lithium-ion batteries, which is a key focus area for Ather Energy, the firm stated.
Bounce launches Infinity E1 starting at Rs 45,099
Electric mobility firm Bounce has launched its maiden consumer e-scooter ‘Infinity E1’ in two options at a starting price of Rs 45,099 (ex-showroom Delhi), heating up the competition in the fast-expanding domestic EV industry.
The scooter with battery and charger is priced at Rs 68,999 (Ex-showroom Delhi) while the one without battery comes with a price tag of Rs 45,099 (Ex-Showroom Delhi) plus subscription to battery-as-a-service. The offer of ‘battery as a service’ option with the e-scooter is a first-of-its-kind initiative in the domestic market, it said.
Customers can pre-book this smart scooter by paying an initial refundable payment of Rs 499, the company said, adding that its e-scooters are FAME II eligible. The company said pre-bookings for its maiden offerings begin from Thursday, while deliveries are expected to start pan-India from the end of March next year through its dealership network and its online platform.
Evenflow ties up with logistics startup Shiprocket
Third-party e-commerce marketplace aggregator Evenflow has partnered with logistics start-up Shiprocket. The partnership is aimed at solving supply chain issues for the sellers that Evenflow acquires, the company said in a statement.
“With this collaboration, we aim to strategically focus on reducing the risks involved in supply chain and work together to drive this common objective,” said Vishesh Khurana, Co-founder, Shiprocket.
Evenflow aggregates third-party sellers on e-commerce platforms like Flipkart and Amazon. It acquires online marketplace sellers in a range of $2,00,000-$1.5 million per brand.
Masayoshi Son says SoftBank biggest foreign investor in India, provided 10% funding of unicorns
SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son on Friday said the Japanese investor has provided 10 percent of the funding of unicorns in India.
While speaking at the Infinity Forum, Son said when he met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Tokyo a few years ago, he gave the commitment of investing $5 billion in India. Over the past 10 years, SoftBank has invested $14 billion, and is the biggest foreign investor in India now, the billionaire investor said at the event.
The investor, which has backed unicorns like Paytm, Ola and Oyo, has invested $3 billion this year alone. “We are the biggest foreign investor into India. Just this year alone we have invested $3 billion in India. We have provided 10 percent of funding of all of the unicorns in India. There is a bright future in India,” Son said.
The Japanese early-stage startup investor put in money in e-commerce unicorns such as Flipkart, Meesho, OfBusiness and Zeta, among others. He also said that the companies in which SoftBank has invested have created 1 million jobs.
Important to balance open internet, regulations, says Google CEO
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said it is important to have a balance between open internet and regulations that can help support the open exchange of ideas and create opportunities.
Speaking at the HT Leadership Summit 2021, Pichai said the tech giant remains committed to playing a strong enabling role in supporting growth of the Indian market through various efforts across cloud, AI and Android.
He added that it’s important to also understand that free and open internet has helped connect the world and create opportunities. He stated that balance is important and as a large company, Google deals with many regulatory systems in different countries.
Asked about opportunities in India, the top executive said it’s heartening to see the number of startups proving themselves on a global stage and unicorns getting created.
“It’s an exciting time in India. We want to help in a few ways. Last year, we committed $10 billion to the India Digitisation Fund and as part of that, we want to support companies in India, solving newer things, we want to provide them with AI and technologies and platforms so that they can scale up their ideas and reach more users,” he said.
Pichai added that the company is investing in foundational infrastructure, and that a lot of its services would allow people to export outside of India.
Parag Agrawal takes over as Twitter CEO
Parag Agrawal, an IIT-Bombay graduate, has stepped into Jack Dorsey’s shoes as the CEO of microblogging site Twitter.
With this, Twitter becomes the sixth major tech company to be led by a person of Indian origin — the others being Alphabet, Microsoft, Adobe, IBM and VMWare.
Agrawal has served as the company’s chief technology officer since 2017, and has been responsible for the company’s technical strategy.
WhatsApp welcomes NPCI move to increase its UPI payment cap to 40 mn users
The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), which operates the country’s retail payment and settlement systems, has approved increasing the user cap for WhatsApp’s payment service from the current 20 million to 40 million.
“We welcome this approval and thank NPCI for the increase in our cap to 40 million,” said Manesh Mahatme , director (payments), WhatsApp India.
Mahatme added that over the next six months, the messaging app has planned significant investments in payments on WhatsApp across India, — including many more “India-first” — features that will accelerate its growth.
Cryptocurrency exchange Coinstore enters India despite pending curbs on trade
Singapore-based virtual currency exchange Coinstore has begun operations in India at a time when the Indian government is preparing legislation to effectively bar most private cryptocurrencies.
Coinstore has launched its web and app platform and plans branches in Bengaluru, New Delhi and Mumbai, which will act as its base in India for future expansion.
“With nearly a quarter of our total active users coming from India, it made sense for us to expand into the market,” Charles Tan, head of marketing at Coinstore, told Reuters.
Mukesh Ambani bullish on blockchain technology, says it is vital for equitable society
Reliance Industries Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani said that he was a big believer in blockchain technology.
“I believe in blockchain technology and this is different from cryptocurrency,” Ambani said, adding, “Blockchain is very important for a trust-based, equitable society.”
He said this in an interview at the Infinity Forum, hosted by International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA), virtually from the GIFT City.
A bill for regulating cryptocurrency is in the works, and RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das is among those who feel that the blockchain technology underpinning cryptocurrencies could exist on its own, even without the currency.
Sachin Bansal-backed Navi Mutual Fund files for blockchain fund: Report
Amid reports that the government will not be banning cryptocurrencies outright in its proposed Cryptocurrency Bill, but lay down a regulatory framework, Flipkart founder Sachin Bansal-backed Navi Mutual Fund has filed for a blockchain fund.
Navi Blockchain Index Fund of Fund (FoF) will invest in ETF or an index fund that tracks the performance of Indxx Blockchain Index. Indxx is an index provider that develops specialised indices according to Moneycontrol.
Navi MF also filed for Navi World Index FoF, which will invest in units of an international ETF or index fund that tracks the performance of MSCI World Index, the report added.
Musk’s Starlink to apply for India licence by end of January
Starlink, the satellite internet division of billionaire Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX, will apply early next year for a commercial licence in India to provide broadband and other services, its country head said.
“We hope to have applied for a commercial license on or before 31st January 2022 (unless we hit some major roadblock),” Sanjay Bhargava, Starlink Country Director (India) at SpaceX, said in a LinkedIn post.
If the company can roll out its services by April, it aims to have 2,00,000 Starlink devices in India by December 2022, it said in a presentation posted by Bhargava. The company has previously said it expects 80% of these devices to be in rural areas.
The Indian government, last week, advised people against subscribing to Starlink as it does not have a license to operate in the country. It also warned the company, ordering it to refrain from taking bookings and rendering services
Nasscom launches first scale-up report on startup sector
Tech industry body Nasscom has released its first report on scale-ups, to look at the next stage in the lifecycle of startups.
The report has an analysis of about 100 ‘scale-ups’, which include unicorns and startups with over 15 million dollars in revenue. It shows that there has been a fivefold industry average revenue growth of scale-ups from 2016-19 and a fivefold rise in private equity funding from 2010-20.
Moreover, the Indian startup ecosystem is expected to add an additional 250+ scale-ups by 2025 with the time to scale up expected to be shorter.
Hiring activity in India grows 26% in November: Naukri JobSpeak index report
Increased retail fervour, festive hype and the opening up of educational institutes all contributed to the Naukri JobSpeak index recording a 26% year-on-year (growth in November 2021.
The index was trending at 2,173 this November vs. 1,727 in November 20; however, it has come down from 2,523 in October 2021.
The festive season marked a comeback for the retail sector, which showed a 47% YoY growth in November. Another sector which benefited in the season was hospitality/travel (58%). As schools gradually reopen across the country, the education sector (54%) saw a resultant uptick in hiring.
Hiring activity in November has also grown in major job creation sectors – banking/financial services (30%) and IT-software (50%), as compared to November of last year. While the telecom/ISP (91%) industry continued to grow, the index reported a muted growth in medical/ healthcare (3%) and FMCG (6%) sectors.
GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY & STARTUPS NEWS
Didi shares plunge more than 20% on plan to delist from NYSE
Just five months after its debut, ride-hailing giant Didi Global said it plans to withdraw from the New York Stock Exchange and pursue a Hong Kong listing, a stunning reversal as it bends to Chinese regulators angered by its US IPO.
The company’s shares fell 22.17%, losing about $8.4 billion in market value. At their Friday close of $6.07, Didi shares have fallen about 57% since their June 30 IPO price.
“Following careful research, the company will immediately start delisting on the New York stock exchange and start preparations for listing in Hong Kong,” Didi said on its Twitter-like Weibo account.
Didi did not elaborate but said in a separate statement it would organize a shareholder vote at an appropriate time and ensure its New York-listed stock would be convertible into “freely tradable shares” on another globally recognized exchange.
Sources told Reuters last month that Chinese regulators had pressed Didi’s top executives to devise a plan to delist from the New York Stock Exchange due to concerns about data security.
Didi’s board convened on Thursday and approved the US delisting and HK listing plans. Didi pushed ahead with a $4.4 billion US initial public offering in June despite being asked to put it on hold while Chinese officials reviewed its data practices.
Southeast Asia’s Grab slumpsonn US debut after record SPAC deal
Shares in Grab, Southeast Asia’s biggest ride-hailing and delivery firm, slid more than 20% in their Nasdaq debut on Thursday following the company’s record $40 billion merger with a blank-check company.
Grab’s shares rose as much as 21% minutes after the listing before retreating to trade 23% lower at $8.51 by 1834 GMT, according to Reuters.
The backdoor listing on Nasdaq marks the high point for the nine-year-old Singapore company that began as a ride-hailing app and now operates across 465 cities in eight countries, offering food deliveries, payments, insurance and investment products.
Grab kicked off the biggest US listing by a Southeast Asian company with a bell-ringing event in Singapore, hosted by Nasdaq and Grab’s executives.
Facebook whistleblower says transparency a must to fix social media ills
A deeper investigation into Facebook’s lack of controls to prevent misinformation and abuse in languages other than English is likely to leave people “even more shocked” about the potential harms caused by the social media firm, whistleblower Frances Haugen told Reuters.
Haugen, a former product manager at Meta Platforms Facebook, spoke at the Reuters Next conference on Friday.
Haugen said the company should be required to disclose which languages are supported by its tech safety systems, otherwise “Facebook will do … the bare minimum to minimize PR risk,” she said.
Internal Facebook documents made public by Haugen have also raised fresh concerns about how it may have failed to take actions to prevent the spread of misleading information.
UK competition regulator tells Facebook owner Meta to sell GIF maker Giphy
Britain’s competition regulator has told Facebook owner Meta Platforms to sell animated images platform Giphy after finding that the acquisition could harm social media users and UK advertisers, dealing a blow to the US-based tech giant.
As per Reuters, the Competition and Markers Authority (CMA) said that the decision was in line with provisional findings that Facebook’s acquisition of Giphy in May last year would reduce competition between social media platforms and in the display advertising market.
Facebook, recently rebranded as Meta Platforms, said it could appeal the CMA’s decision.
Microsoft shareholders back proposal seeking report on harassment
Microsoft Corporation said its shareholders had approved a proposal by Arjuna Capital, which sought a report from the software firm on the effectiveness of its policies to battle sexual harassment in the workplace.
About 80% of the votes that were cast at the company’s annual meeting were in favor of producing such a report, according to Reuters.
Arjuna Capital is a Boston-based investment adviser and frequent filer of shareholder resolutions pressing companies for changes like disclosing more data on pay equity.
Microsoft already internally shares annual data on the volume of sexual harassment concerns raised and the results of the investigations into them. It has now adopted plans to make that data public.
US State Department phones hacked with Israeli company spyware, sources tell Reuters
Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department employees were hacked by an unknown assailant using sophisticated spyware developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, sources told Reuters.
The hacks, which took place in the last several months, hit US officials either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning the East African country.
The intrusions represent the widest known hacks of US officials through NSO technology. Previously, a list of numbers with potential targets including some American officials surfaced in reporting on NSO, but it was not clear whether intrusions were always tried or succeeded.
NSO Group said in a statement on Thursday that it did not have any indication their tools were used but canceled access for the relevant customers and would investigate based on the Reuters inquiry.
Cathie Wood’s ARK buys a million Twitter shares after Dorsey steps down
Cathie Wood’s ARK Investment Management bought more than a million shares of Twitter, a day after Jack Dorsey stepped down as CEO of the social networking site.
ARK acquired 1.1 million Twitter shares worth $48.9 million at Tuesday’s closing price of $43.94, according to the firm’s daily trade report. They had lost 3.4% after opening lower, Reuters reported.
On Monday, after the company named its technology chief Parag Agrawal as CEO, the shares had closed down 2.7%.
Cryptocurrency company CoinShares International has agreed to buy French fintech Napoleon Crypto SAS for around 13.9 million euros ($15.8 million), Reuters reported.
Twitter’s design, engineering heads to step down in management rejig
Twitter’s engineering head Michael Montano and design chief Dantley Davis would step down from their roles by the end of this month, as part of a broader management restructuring at the social networking site, Reuters reported.
The moves come just days after co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as chief executive officer and handed over the reins to Chief Technology Officer Parag Agrawal.
Twitter said Agrawal, in his newly assumed role, has decided to reorganise the leadership structure at the company and shift to a general manager model for consumer, revenue and core tech that would oversee all core teams across engineering, product management, design and research.
Product lead Kayvon Beykpour, revenue product lead Bruce Falck and Vice President of Engineering Nick Caldwell will now lead the three units respectively, the company said.
Waymo has tens of thousands people on San Francisco robotaxi waitlist, co-CEO says
Waymo has given hundreds of people robotaxi rides since its test rollout in San Francisco in August, with tens of thousands more residents on a waitlist, the Alphabet company’s co-chief executive said at the Reuters Next conference. Waymo is among a small number of companies around the world that have billions of dollars in financing to develop self-driving cars and trucks.
But progress toward wide-scale service has been slow. San Francisco, a city of nearly 9,00,000 people, is just the second test site for passenger service for Waymo, founded in 2009. The company also has been offering paid rides in driverless minivans outside of Phoenix since October 2020 and hauling freight using autonomous semi-trucks in Texas for several months.
Early next year, Waymo will deliver groceries ordered from one of the Safeway stores in San Francisco to select Waymo and Safeway employees.
Russia files court cases for fines on annual turnover of Google, Meta
Russia’s state communications regulator Roskomnadzor has filed cases against US tech firms Google and Meta that could see fines imposed on their annual turnover in Russia, a Moscow court said.
Roskomnadzor in October threatened both Google and Meta’s Facebook with fines based on a percentage of their annual turnover for a repeated failure to delete content that Moscow deems illegal.
Moscow’s Tagansky District Court said court dates for both companies were set for December 24.
Google has paid more than 32 million rubles in fines this year. Google, Twitter and Meta have significantly reduced the number of posts prohibited by Moscow on their platforms.
Bitcoin falls by a fifth, cryptos see $1 bn worth liquidated
Bitcoin shed a fifth of its value on Saturday as a combination of profit-taking and macro-economic concerns triggered nearly a $1 billion worth of selling across cryptocurrencies.
Bitcoin was 12% down at 0920 GMT at $47,495. It fell as low as $41,967.5 during the session, taking total losses for the day to 22%, as per Reuters.
The broad selloff in cryptocurrencies also saw ether, the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, plunge more than 10%.
Based on cryptocurrency data platform Coingecko, the market capitalisation of the 11,392 coins it tracks dropped nearly 15% to $2.34 trillion. That value had briefly crossed $3 trillion last month, when bitcoin hit a record $69,000.
The plunge follows a volatile week for financial markets. Global equities and benchmark US bond yields tumbled on Friday after data showed US job growth slowed in November and the Omicron variant of the coronavirus kept investors on edge.
China foreign exchange regulator fines Tencent’s Tenpay for misconduct
China’s foreign exchange regulator said it fined Tencent Holding’s Tenpay for violating foreign exchange rules, as authorities step up supervision of the country’s fintech industry, Reuters reported.
The State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) Shenzhen branch fined Tenpay, Tencent’s online payment platform, 2.78 million yuan ($436,000) for misconduct, including conducting foreign exchange business beyond the scope of its registration, according to a statement posted on the regulator’s website.
The FX regulator also gave the company a number of warnings, ordered it to rectify the violations and confiscate illegal gains, the statement said.
Thought Machine hits $1 bn valuation in JPMorgan-backed investment: Report
British fintech startup Thought Machine has raised $200 million in a fresh round of funding that lifts its valuation above the coveted $1 billion mark, according to CNBC.
The cash injection was led by Nyca Partners, a US-based venture capital firm that has previously bet on companies including Affirm and Revolut, with additional backing coming from major lenders including JPMorgan Chase, Standard Chartered and ING.
Existing investors Lloyds Banking Group, Eurazeo, and SEB also increased their holdings.
Trump’s social media venture seeks $1 bn raise, sources tell Reuters
Former US President Donald Trump’s new social media venture is seeking to raise up to $1 billion by selling shares to hedge funds and family offices at several times the valuation it commanded in a deal with a blank-check acquisition firm in October, sources told Reuters.
Trump Media & Technology Group, which has yet to roll out the social media app it says it is developing, already stands to receive $293 million if its deal to list in New York through a merger with blank-check firm Digital World Acquisition Corp is completed.
The deal valued Trump Media at $875 million, including debt. Trump Media is now seeking to raise up to an additional $1 billion at a valuation of close to $3 billion, to reflect Digital World’s share rally after Trump supporters and day traders snapped up the stock.