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This Labor Day, spare a thought for the workers who made your doorstep delivery possible

By Walter Thompson
Arjuna Costa Contributor
Arjuna Costa is a partner at Omidyar Network and early stage investor in Ruma.

A few weeks ago, I bought a used paperback mystery for $3 via a small online bookseller. Intrigued that the book came with free shipping, I dug in a bit and was shocked to see that my little impulse purchase traveled through seven different distribution hubs across five states before it got to me. It was loaded and unloaded onto trucks in Indiana, Illinois, Colorado, Nevada and finally California and handled by an unknown number of logistics workers along the way, many of them in the middle of the night.

The logistics of getting the book to me, and the human toll it takes, are mind boggling, but we have become somewhat inured to them.

COVID-19 lockdowns have put a spotlight on the importance and complexity of supply chain dynamics. In a world shaped by the pandemic, our reliance on e-commerce for everything from PPE to toilet paper to hard-boiled paperback mysteries has exploded. A recent report from Adobe found that total online spending is up 77% year-over-year, accelerating growth by “four to six years.” That growth has a very real human cost, and one that we don’t think about or act on enough as a society.

While people recognize the contributions of frontline workers they can see like doctors and nurses, postal carriers and grocery store workers, there’s an entire hidden infrastructure of logistics workers that keeps the online economy humming. These workers are also on the frontlines, but they are behind the scenes. Most earn minimum wage and work long, grueling, high-stress shifts without strong protections in the event they get sick or injured. The fact is that many corporations haven’t made protections for those workers a priority. That was true before COVID-19, but the pandemic gave the issue a renewed urgency, prompting workers from Amazon, Walmart, Target and FedEx, among others, to organize walkouts. And with unprecedented levels of unemployment, more and more people are going to find jobs in the logistics sector.

This Labor Day, it’s time to think about how corporations can better support and protect this vital but often forgotten segment of the workforce.

Better safety in the warehouse

Imagine there’s a package handler at a major manufacturer named Jack who spends his shifts heaving heavy boxes onto a conveyor belt. It’s an arduous movement that Jack will repeat a few thousand times before he punches out. As a 10-year veteran on the job, Jack has performed this singular task on this same warehouse floor more times than he can count. On this particular night, he’s tired after staying up late playing with his kids, and he slips a disk in his back. Unfortunately, Jack’s plight is all too often a reality for millions of workers today.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5% of warehouse workers in the U.S. experience an injury on the job each year—higher than the national average. After service workers, like firefighters and police, transportation/shipping and manufacturing/production rank second and third as the occupations with the largest number of workplace injuries resulting in days away from work. Jobs that involve heavy lifting, arduous repetition and operating complex machinery come with serious risk.

Injuries can be devastating for workers, both physically and financially. Taking time off work can not only result in lost wages, but also drive people into debt due to health-related expenses, creating health-poverty traps that are difficult to climb out of. Worker injuries are also costly for employers. A study from Liberty Mutual, using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Academy of Social Insurance, found that serious, nonfatal injuries cost $84.04 million a week in the transportation and warehousing industry. It is in corporations’ best interest to prioritize workplace safety.

One challenge is that traditional approaches to workplace safety are slow, inaccurate and costly. Without practical interventions, organizations spend an estimated $2,000+ per worker annually on injury prevention. Within manufacturing and logistics industries, it costs an additional $2,000+ annually for workers’ compensation per full-time employee. Currently, there is no standard solution to preventing workplace injuries while lowering costs, leaving workers like Jack without adequate protections. Fortunately, digital platforms and tools that leverage technological innovation, including sensors and wearables, are advancing new ways to prevent workplace accidents and injuries.

Take for example StrongArm, one of Flourish’s portfolio companies. StrongArm has built a technology platform that integrates a new generation of industrial wearables, big data analytics and smart algorithms. It is designed to modernize industry dynamics for workers, employers and workers’ compensation insurers. The company’s GDPR-compliant wearable hardware devices and data platform called FUSE deliver real-time injury prevention feedback and collect data to support precise interventions for overall injury reduction and has reduced injury rates by more than 40% year-over-year for its clients.

StrongArm has also helped keep workers safe during the pandemic by launching a new suite of capabilities on its FUSE platform, including CDC communication, proximity alerts (i.e., notifications to workers within six feet of one another), and exposure analysis (understanding who has interacted with whom, at what time, and for what duration, exposing any potential contact transfer with accuracy). These enhanced capabilities can get workers back to work faster, earning vitally needed income while reducing COVID-19 risk by 95%.

Fetch Robotics is another company using technological innovation and digital platforms to promote worker safety. Fetch makes an Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) that can transport materials within warehouses, factories and distribution centers while also gathering environmental data. This can relieve the burden of heavy lifting from human workers and ensure that conditions, like heat, remain safe in work environments. In June 2020, the company announced that it was launching a disinfecting AMR that can decontaminate spaces larger than 100,000 square feet in 1.5 hours, helping workers stay safe and get back to work quicker amid the spread of the virus.

Employers should do more

In its report titled, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Tech Innovation,” Lux Research found that the outbreak of COVID-19 will likely push corporations with major manufacturing and logistics operations to assess the potential of robotics. More companies will explore how they can automate processes, particularly those that are repeatable and predictable. Findings like these inevitably lead to questions about how increased automation will impact workers — the eternal “will robots take all the jobs?” question. However, we are still a long way away from a world where human workers are obsolete (just ask Elon Musk).

Robots are still not good at picking up small or oddly shaped objects, for instance. For the foreseeable future, corporations will depend on logistics workers and have a responsibility to protect the safety of those workers. It’s not enough to plaster the required OSHA sign on the factory or warehouse floor. Corporations need to do more. Fortunately in this case, the right thing to do is the good thing to do. By embracing technological innovation, promoting worker safety is a win-win.

China’s logistics titan YTO nets close to $1B from Alibaba in overseas push

By Rita Liao

E-commerce has brought in a logistics boom in China over the last decade, transforming small-town delivery businesses into multinational corporations. One leading player, YTO, is gearing up for international expansion after it secured 6.6 billion yuan or $970 million from its long-time ally and client, Alibaba.

20-year-old YTO announced this week it will sell 379 million shares to Alibaba at a price of 17.4 yuan per share, lifting Alibaba’s stakes in YTO from 10.5% to 22.5%. The founding couple of YTO owns a controlling stake of 41% via their wholly-owned firm after the transaction.

The new investment, according to the notice, will allow Alibaba and YTO to deepen collaboration on areas including delivery, air freight, global network and supply chains and digital transformation as part of their ambition to beef up their global reach.

An Alibaba spokesperson said the company is “pleased to further strengthen the strategic partnership with YTO, focused on digitization and globalization to enhance the customer service capabilities.”

YTO, which commands a 14% share of China’s express delivery market, is among the five logistics behemoths that hail from eastern China’s rural county of Tonglu. Along with rivals STO, ZTO, Best Express and Yunda, YTO’s rise is inseparable from Alibaba, which relies on third-party logistics services rather than building its own infrastructure like Amazon and JD.com.

The e-commerce giant has over the years invested various amounts in all five major couriers from Tonglu, a relationship that anchors its logistics arm Cainiao, which matches vendors and express couriers to handle 50 billion parcels a year.

The duo was already partnering on international expansion back in 2018 when a Cainiao-YTO joint venture began building a digital logistics center at Hong Kong International Airport, the world’s busiest cargo airport. State-owned airline China National Aviation Corporation also holds a stake in the joint venture, and the center is due to begin operation as soon as 2023.

As of 2019, YTO had set up 18 entities and 53 service stations worldwide that support its distribution in 150 countries and regions. The overseas push plays into its larger goal to tap the enormous export potential brought by the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s grand plan to build rail lines, telecommunication networks and other forms of infrastructure around the world.

LivingPackets hopes to nurture a circular economy with its smart parcels

By Devin Coldewey

More than ever before, people are getting life’s essentials delivered — good news for Amazon, but bad news for the environment, which must bear the consequences of the resulting waste. LivingPackets is a Berlin-based startup that aims to replace the familiar cardboard box with an alternative that’s smarter, more secure and possibly the building block of a new circular economy.

The primary product created by LivingPackets is called The Box, and it’s just that: a box. But not just any box. This one is reusable, durable, digitally locked and monitored, with a smartphone’s worth of sensors and gadgets that make it trackable and versatile, and an E-Ink screen so its destination or contents can be updated at will. A prototype shown at CES and a few other locations attracted some interest, but the company is now well into producing V2 of The Box, improved in many ways and ready to be deployed at the scale of hundreds of thousands.

Sure, it costs a lot more than a cardboard box. But once a LivingPackets Box has been used a couple hundred times for returns and local distribution purposes, it breaks even with its paper-based predecessor. Cardboard is cheap to make new, but it doesn’t last long — and that’s not its only problem.

The Box, pictured here with standard cardboard boxes on a conveyor belt, is meant to be compatible with lots of existing intrastructure. Image Credits: LivingPackets 

“If you think about it, online transactions are still risky,” said co-founder Sebastian Rumberg. “The physical transaction and financial transaction don’t happen in parallel: You pay up front, and the seller sends something into the void. You may not receive it, or maybe you do and you say you didn’t, so the company has to claim it with insurers.”

“The logistics system is over-capacity; there’s frustration with DHL and other carriers,” he said. “People in e-commerce and logistics know what they’re missing, what their problems are. Demand has grown, but there’s no innovation.”

And indeed, it does seem strange that although delivery has become much more important to practically everyone over the last decade and especially in recent months, it’s pretty much done the same way it’s been done for a century — except you might get an email when the package arrives. LivingPackets aims to upend this by completely reinventing the package, leaving things like theft, damage and missed connections in the past.

Apps let users track the location and status of their box. Image Credits: LivingPackets

“You’re in full control of everything involved,” he explained. “You know where the parcel is, what’s happening to it. You can look inside. You can say, I’m not at the location for delivery right now, I’m at my office, and just update the address. You don’t need filling material, you don’t need a paper label. You can tell when the seal is broken, when the item is removed.”

It all sounds great, but cardboard is simple and, while limited, proven. Why should anyone switch over to such a fancy device? The business model has to account for this, so it does — and then some.

To begin with, LivingPackets doesn’t actually sell The Box. It provides it to customers and charges per use — “packaging as a service,” as they call it. This prevents the possibility of a business balking at the upfront cost of a few thousand of these.

As a service, it simplifies a lot of existing pain points for merchants, consumers and logistics companies.

For merchants, among other things, tracking and insurance are much simpler. As co-founder Alexander Cotte explained, and as surely many reading this have experienced, it’s practically impossible to know what happened to a missing package, even if it’s something large or expensive. With better tracking, lossage can be mitigated to start, and the question of who’s responsible, where it was taken, and so on can be determined in a straightforward way.

For packaging and delivery companies, the standard form factor with adjustable interior makes these boxes easy to pack and difficult to meddle with or damage — tests with European online retail showed that handling time and costs can be reduced by more than half. LivingPackets also pays for pickup, so delivery companies can recoup costs without changing routes. And generally speaking, more data, more traceability, is a good thing.

For consumers, the most obvious improvement is returns; no need to print a label or for the company to pre-package one, just notify them and the return address appears on the box automatically. In addition there are opportunities once an essentially pre-paid box is in a consumer’s house: for instance, selling or donating an old phone or laptop. LivingPackets will be operating partnerships whereby you can just toss your old gear in the box and it will make its way to the right locations. Or a consumer can hang onto the box until the item they’re selling on eBay is bought and send it that way. Or a neighbor can — and yes, they’re working on the public health side of that, with antibiotic coatings and other protections against spreading COVID-19.

The Box locks securely but also folds down for storage when empty. Image Credits: LivingPackets

The idea underpinning all this, and which was wrapped up in this company from the start, is that of creating a real circular economy, building decentralized value and reducing waste. Even The Box itself is made of materials that can be reused, should it be damaged, in the creation of its replacement. In addition to the market efficiencies added by turning parcels into traveling IoT devices, reusing the boxes could reduce waste and carbon emissions — once you get past the first hundred uses or so, The Box pays for itself in more ways than one. Early pilots with carriers and retailers in France and Germany have borne this out.

That philosophy is embodied in LivingPackets’ unusual form of funding itself: a combination of bootstrapping and crowdsourced equity.

Cotte and his father founded investment firm the Cotte Group, which provided a good starting point for said bootstrapping, but he noted that every employee is taking a less than competitive wage with the hope that the company’s profit-sharing plan will pan out. Even so, with 95 employees, that amounts to several million a year even by the most conservative estimate — this is no small operation.

CEO Alex Cotte sits with V2 of The Box. Image Credits: LivingPackets

Part of keeping the lights on, then, is the ongoing crowdfunding campaign, which has pulled in somewhere north of €6 million, from individuals contributing as little as €50 or as much as €20,000. This, Cotte said, is largely to finance the cost of production, while he and the founding team essentially funded the R&D period. Half of future profits are earmarked for paying back these contributors multiple times their investment — not exactly the sort of business model you see in Silicon Valley. But that’s kind of the point, they explained.

“Obviously all the people working for us believe deeply in what we’re doing,” Cotte said. “They’re willing to take a step back now to create value together and not just take value out of an existing system. And you need to share the value you create with the people who helped you create it.”

It’s hard to imagine a future where these newfangled boxes replace even a noticeable proportion of the truly astronomical number of cardboard boxes being used every day. But even so, getting them into a few key distribution channels could prove they work as intended — and improvements to the well-oiled machines (and deeply rutted paths) of logistics can spread like wildfire once the innumerable companies the industry touches see there’s a better way.

The aims and means of LivingPackets may be rather utopian, but that could be the moonshot thinking that’s necessary to dislodge the logistics business from its current, decidedly last-century methods.

cargo.one gets $18.6M to take its air freight booking platform over the pond

By Natasha Lomas

Berlin -based cargo.one, which runs a marketplace for booking air freight, has closed an $18.6 million Series A round of funding led by Index Ventures.

Next47 and prior backers Creandum, Lufthansa Cargo and Point Nine Capital also participated in the round, along with a number of angel investors — including Tom Stafford of DST Global and Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas (COO of GoCardless and former Chief Product Officer of Skyscanner).

The August 2017-founded startup says it’s seen bookings rise during the coronavirus crisis travel crunch as airlines seek alternatives to selling seats to passengers.

Over the past 12 months the startup says it’s scaled GMV by 10x and is expecting continued fast-paced growth as COVID-19 accelerates the adoption of digital distribution in air cargo.

The new funding will go on expanding the business, with the team aiming to increase the number of airlines signed up — including beefing up coverage in Europe. cargo.one is also targeting expanding into North America and Asia — planning to triple headcount to 70 staff by the end of the year via an aggressive hiring drive.

Currently it has 12 airlines signed up to use the platform to book in freight shipments, including Lufthansa, All Nippon Airways, Finnair, Etihad, AirBridgeCargo and TAP Air Portugal. It launched the booking product two summers ago, with Lufthansa Cargo as the first airline signed up.

“cargo.one is a two-sided marketplace, connecting airlines with forwarders of all sizes,” says co-founder and MD Oliver Neumann, discussing the business model. “We receive a commission fee from the airlines for selling their air freight capacities on our platform. For freight forwarders the access to the booking platform is free.”

The platform offers real-time visibility of available air freight across covered airlines and routes — aiming to replace what can be an arduous process of phone and/or email back and forth for its target users (freight forwarding offices).

Airlines set prices for air freight products sold via cargo.one.

“The air cargo market has been stuck in the 90s when compared to the passenger business. The vast majority of air cargo to this day is booked by calling the airlines directly. Many processes are still manual and time-consuming,” says Neumann, who describes the product as “more than just a booking platform”.

“We design, build and maintain custom integrations to our airline partners, creating both the front end for freight forwarders and integrating into the systems of the airlines and helping them improve the back-end infrastructure. That’s why we refer to it as the operating system for air cargo.”

“At cargo.one we are building a 100% digital solution and enable airlines to transform their business digitally. Over the past years, cargo.one has built tailored technical integrations with airline partners that enable them to distribute their capacity online without the need to overhaul their infrastructure,” he adds.

Currently, cargo.one’s platform has some 1.1M+ air freight offers per month, covering 120+ countries and 300 airports globally.

On the customer side it has more than 1,500 freight forwarding offices signed up at this point — which it touts as including “21 of the top 25 companies globally”.

“From January to June 2020, cargo.one saw the number of air cargo search requests by freight forwarders quadruple. In response to increased demand from airlines and freight forwarders, we expect to triple the size of the business by the end of the year,” adds Neumann.

Index’s Martin Mignot and Max Rimpel led the Series A investment in cargo.one.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Mignot, said: “cargo.one has formed close partnerships with major global airlines, who have subsequently seen their cargo business expand significantly. Conversations with dozens of other airlines in the Americas and Asia show the clear need for a simple booking engine for air cargo, and early signs of the far-reaching impact it will have on the airline industry and businesses around the world who rely on it to serve their customers.”

Venture capital has been pouring into the logistics space over the past decade, chasing an increasing number of startups spotting opportunities to apply digital efficiencies to the movement of physical goods — including aiming to replace freight forwarders themselves, in the case of another Berlin logistics startup, FreightHub, which raised a $30M Series B last year for a logistics play that covers sea, air and rail freight.

FedEx is utilizing robotic arms to sort packages at a Memphis facility

By Brian Heater

FedEx has flirted with robotic technologies before, most notably in the case of Roxo. The delivery robot made its debut in New York City last year, only to get the boot from Mayor Bill de Blasio. These days, however, the prospect of increased automation seems all the more pressing, as COVID-19 has left many reconsidering the human element of the supply chain.

The logistics giant reached out to TechCrunch this week to note that it has been using robots in another matter for a few months now. In May, FedEx installed a quartet of robotic arms from Yaskawa America and Plus One, with the express intent of helping sort the massive numbers of parcels that pass through its Memphis facility.

For reasons that should be clear to anyone who follows the category, human workers still play a key role in the process. The company says several members of its Small Package Sort System team — who previously did the sorting themselves — are operating as supervisors for the new robotic employees.

FedEx says it was actively exploring these technologies prior to COVID-10. “While COVID has not directly played a role in accelerating the tech adoption,” the company tells TechCrunch, “it has exponentially increased the amount of e-commerce packages traveling through the Memphis hub, so COVID has validated the need for this technology and its support for our team members working at the Memphis hub.”

The industry has, after all, been moving in this direction for some time. Amazon, which has made massive investments in and acquisitions of several robotics firms, is probably the best existing model for how humans and robotics can work side by side to process massive volumes of parcels. UPS, too, has looked increasingly toward automation. Last year it announced a goal of processing 80% of packages through automated facilities. With a massive ongoing health crisis like COVID-19 posing a risk to workers and customers alike, additional automation seems like a no-brainer for many such outfits.

To date, FedEx says it has not made any investment in robotics companies.

Raising $22.5 million, Liftit looks to expand its logistics services in Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Ecuador

By Jonathan Shieber

The Colombian trucking and logistics services startup Liftit has raised $22.5 million in a new round of funding to capitalize on its newfound traction in markets across Latin America as responses to the COVID-19 epidemic bring changes to the industry across the region.

“We’re focusing on the five countries that we’re already in,” says Liftit chief executive Brian York.

The company recently hired a head of operations for Mexico and a head of operations for Brazil as it looks to double down on its success in both regions.

Funding for the round was led by Cambridge Capital and included investments from the new Latin American focused firm H20 Capital along with AC Ventures, the venture arm of the 2nd largest coca-cola bottler in Latam; 10x Capital, Banyan Tree Ventures, Alpha4 Ventures, the lingerie brand Leonisa; and Mexico’s largest long haul trucking company, Grupo Transportes Monterrey. Individual investor, Jason Radisson the former chief operating officer of the on-demand ride hailing startup 99, also invested.

The new capital comes on top of Liftit’s $14.3 million Series A from some of the region’s top local investors. Firms like Monashees, Jaguar Ventures and NXTP Ventures all joined the International Finance Corp. in financing the company previously and all returned to back the company again with its new funding.

Investors likely responded to the company’s strong performance in its core markets. Already profitable in Chile and Colombia, Liftit expects to reach profitability across all of its operations before the end of the year. That’s despite the global pandemic.

Of the 220 contracts the company had with shippers half of them went to zero and the other half spiked significantly, York said. While Liftit’s major Colombian customer stumbled, new business, like Walmart, saw huge spikes in deliveries and usage.

“Managing truck drivers is incredibly difficult, and trucking, in our opinion, is not on demand,” said York. “At the end of the day the trucking market in all of Latin America is a majority of independent owners. They’re not looking for on-demand work… they’re looking for full time work.”

Less than one percent of the company’s deliveries come from on-demand orders, instead, it’s a service comprised of scheduled shipments with optimized routes and efficiencies that are bringing customers to Liftit’s virtual door. 

“We do scheduled trucking delivery so we integrate with existing systems that shippers have and start planning how many trucks they’re going to need and the routes they’re going to take and … tee it up exactly what is going to happen regardless what the traffic conditions are so we have been able to reduce the delivery times for the trucks,” said York. 

Indian startups diversify their businesses to offset COVID-19 induced losses

By Manish Singh

E-commerce giant Flipkart is planning to launch a hyperlocal service that would enable customers to buy items from local stores and have those delivered to them in an hour and a half or less. Yatra, an online travel and hotel ticketing service, is exploring a new business line altogether: Supplying office accessories.

Flipkart and Yatra are not the only firms eyeing new business categories. Dozens of firms in the country have branched out by launching new services in recent weeks, in part to offset the disruption the COVID-19 epidemic has caused to their core offerings.

Swiggy and Zomato, the nation’s largest food delivery startups, began delivering alcohol in select parts of the country last month. The move came weeks after the two firms, both of which are seeing fewer orders and had to let go hundreds of employees, started accepting orders for grocery items in a move that challenged existing online market leaders BigBasket and Grofers.

Udaan, a business-to-business marketplace, recently started to accept bulk orders from some housing societies and is exploring more opportunities in the business-to-commerce space, the startup told TechCrunch.

These shifts came shortly after New Delhi announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown meant that all public places including movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, and public transport were suspended.

Instead of temporarily halting their businesses altogether, as many have done in other markets, scores of startups in India have explored ways to make the most out of the current unfortunate spell.

“This pandemic has given an opportunity to the Indian tech startup ecosystem to have a harder look at the unit-economics of their businesses and become more capital efficient in the shorter and longer-term,” Puneet Kumar, a growth investor in Indian startup ecosystem, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Of the few things most Indian state governments have agreed should remain open include grocery shops, and online delivery services for grocery and food.

People buy groceries at a supermarket during the first day of the 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Bangalore on March 25, 2020. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

E-commerce firms Snapdeal and DealShare began grocery delivery service in late March. The move was soon followed by social-commerce startup Meesho, fitness startup Curefit, and BharatPe, which is best known for facilitating mobile payments between merchants and users.

Meesho’s attempt is still in the pilot stage, said Vidit Aatrey, the Facebook-backed startup’s co-founder and chief executive. “We started grocery during the lockdown to give some income opportunities to our sellers and so far it has shown good response. So we are continuing the pilot even after lockdown has lifted,” he said.

ClubFactory, best known for selling low-cost beauty items, has also started to deliver grocery products, and so has NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that connects apartment seekers with property owners. And MakeMyTrip, a giant that provides solutions to book flight and hotel tickets, has entered the food delivery market.

Another such giant, BookMyShow, which sells movie tickets, has in recent weeks rushed to support online events, helping comedians and other artists sell tickets online. The Mumbai-headquartered firm plans to make further inroads around this business idea in the coming days.

For some startups, the pandemic has resulted in accelerating the launch of their product cycles. CRED, a Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to help Indians improve their financial behavior by paying their credit card bill on time, launched an instant credit line and apartment rental services.

Kunal Shah, the founder and chief executive of CRED, said the startup “fast-tracked the launch” of these two products as they could prove immensely useful in the current environment.

For a handful of startups, the pandemic has meant accelerated growth. Unacademy, a Facebook-backed online learning startup, has seen its user base and subscribers count surge in recent months and told TechCrunch that it is in the process of more than doubling the number of exam preparation courses it offers on its platform in the next two months.

Since March, the number of users who access the online learning service each day has surged to 700,000. “We have also seen a 200% increase in viewers per week for the free live classes offered on the platform. Additionally there has been a 50% increase in paid subscribers and over 50% increase in average watchtime per day among our subscribers,” a spokesperson said.

As with online learning firms, firms operating on-demand video streaming services have also seen a significant rise in the number of users they serve. Zee5, which has amassed over 80 million users, told TechCrunch last week that in a month it will introduce a new category in its app that would curate short-form videos produced and submitted by users. The firm said the feature would look very similar to TikTok.

The pandemic “has also accelerated the adoption of online services in India across all demographics. Many who would not have considered buying goods and services online are starting to adopt the online platforms for basic necessities at a faster pace,” said venture capitalist Kumar.

“As far as expansion into adjacent categories is concerned, some of this was a natural progression and startups were slowly moving in that direction anyway. The pandemic has forced people to get there faster.”

Roosh, a Mumbai-based game developing firm founded by several industry veterans, launched a new app ahead of schedule that allows social influencers to promote games on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, Deepak Ail, co-founder and chief executive of Roosh, told TechCrunch.

ShareChat, a Twitter-backed social network, recently acquired a startup called Elanic to explore opportunities in social-commerce. OkCredit, a bookkeeping service for merchants, has been exploring ways to allow users to purchase items from neighborhood stores.

And NowFloats, a Mumbai-based SaaS startup that helps businesses and individuals build an online presence without any web developing skills, is on-boarding doctors to help people consult with medical professionals.

Startups are not the only businesses that have scrambled to eye new categories. Established firms such as Carnival Group, which is India’s third-largest multiplex theatre chain, said it is foraying into cloud kitchen business.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has also secured approval from West Bengal to deliver alcohol in the nation’s fourth most populated state. The e-commerce giant is also exploring ways to work with mom and pop stores that dot tens of thousands of cities and towns of India.

Last week, the American giant launched “Smart Stores” that allows shoppers to walk to a participating physical store, scan a QR code, and pick and purchase items through the Amazon app. The firm, which is supplying these mom and pop stores with software and QR code, said more than 10,000 shops are participating in the Smart Stores program.

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