Each year, millions of students in India rush to get an admission in universities abroad. Often they don’t know which program they should focus on, or the college that is right for their skillset and ambition.
Scores of legacy and newfound firms are attempting to offer counselling to these students. But despite India accounting for more students than any other country, most firms aiming to address this challenge are not focused on India, and struggle to understand some unique problems students from the world’s second most populous country face.
An Indian startup that is bridging this gap on Thursday said it has raised $6.5 million in a new financing round as it looks to scale its platform in the world’s second largest internet market.
Leverage Edu said Tomorrow Capital led the Gurgaon-headquartered startup’s Series A financing round. Existing investors Blume Ventures and DSG Consumer Partners also participated in the round.
Akshay Chaturvedi, founder and chief executive of Leverage Edu, told TechCrunch in an interview that he believes that eventually the firm that is going to serve the students best and emerge most successful will be the one that is physically closer to them, and not to the universities.
Chaturvedi, 30, has been experimenting with the right model for his startup for over five years. One of the earliest iterations of Leverage Edu offered mentorship to students and rewarded counselors with points.
Today, the startup offers a broad range of services in addition to offering personalized mentorship. Through its workshops, it helps students find the right college, guides them with complex applications and grade conversions, as well as assists with education loan, VISA, and accommodation. “It’s one digital dashboard. You get everything from flight ticket to local phone number, to education loan in one place,” he said.
“We believe it is inevitable that the next stellar brand in the global cross-border education space will be a home-grown one. We have a great belief in Akshay as a founder – he has a fantastic roadmap for scaling the business and the passion to build a truly global Indian edtech brand – and are excited about working with the Leverage Edu team on this journey,” said Rohini Prakash, chief executive of Tomorrow Capital, in a statement.
Leverage Edu helps students land admission in the most prestigious colleges, but also works with those that didn’t score the most marks and find high-profile colleges.
“Students going to the top colleges is just 10% of the potential audience,” explained Chaturvedi, who spent his teen years attending talks from startup founders and also made money by bringing more people to those talks. “There are many universities that don’t have the best branding. To connect them with students, we have Univalley.com,” he said.
The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to help students find colleges in more geographies including UK and Australia, he said.
“We want to focus on a few things and do them really really well. There is also this myth around foreign education being expensive that we’ve been busting for last four years. 18 months from now, we want to be among the top study abroad companies in India, both by number of students and a roof-hitting NPS – because a happy student is why we are all really motivated everyday to do this!”, he added.
An influential India trader group that represents tens of millions of brick-and-mortar retailers called New Delhi to ban Amazon in the country after a report claimed that the American e-commerce group had given preferential treatment to a small group of sellers in India, publicly misrepresented its ties with those sellers, and used them to circumvent foreign investment rules in the country.
The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) on Wednesday “demanded” serious action from the Indian government against Amazon following revelations made in a Reuters story. “For years, CAIT has been maintaining that Amazon has been circumventing FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] laws of India to conduct unfair and unethical trade,” it said.
Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary General of CAIT, which claims to represent 80 million retailers and 40,000 trade associations in India, said, “It’s an open and shut case that Amazon is wilfully playing with rules. What more we are waiting for. It should be banned in India with immediate effect.”
CAIT has for years expressed concerns over what they allege are unlawful business practices employed by Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart in the country. They say these actions are posing existential threats to small merchants.
India is a key overseas market for Amazon, which has committed to invest over $6.5 billion in its operations in the world’s second largest internet market.
In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company cannot confirm the veracity or otherwise information and claims made in the Reuters story as it has not seen the documents. “The article appears to be based on unsubstantiated, incomplete, and/or factually incorrect information, likely supplied with the intention of creating sensation and discrediting Amazon,” the spokesperson said.
“Amazon remains compliant with all Indian laws. In the last several years, there have been number of changes in regulations governing the marketplaces and Amazon has, on each occasion taken rapid action to ensure compliance. The story therefore seems to have outdated information and does not show any non-compliance. We continue to focus on delivering first class service to India’s consumers, and helping India’s manufacturers and SMB’s reach customers across India and around the world,” it added.
Long-standing laws in India have constrained Amazon and other e-commerce firms to not hold inventory or sell items directly to consumers. To bypass this, the company has operated through a maze of joint ventures with local companies that operate as inventory-holding firms. India got around to fixing this loophole in late 2018.
Citing private company documents, Reuters said that Amazon had exercised significant control over the inventory of some of the biggest sellers. The report claimed that 33 Amazon sellers accounted for about a third of the value of all goods sold on Amazon, and two sellers in which Amazon had an indirect stake accounted for around 35% of the platform’s sales revenue in early 2019.
The new report — and its potential repercussions — is just the latest headache for Amazon in India.
YouTube has a host of big product updates coming this year, and it just detailed a lot of them in a blog post from Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan. Google’s streaming video site plans to expand its TikTok-esque Shorts mobile video creation and consumption tool to the U.S. (it’s currently in beta in India), make YouTube TV a more full-featured in-home cable alternative, add customization and control options to YouTube Kids and more.
Many of the product updates detailed by Mohan are expansions of existing tests and beta features, but there are also entirely new developments that could significantly change how YouTube works for both creators and audiences. YouTube’s focus on monetization and new formats also indicates a desire to keep creators happy, which makes a lot of sense in the context of the platform’s popular new mobile-first competitor TikTok.
Here’s a TL;DR of everything YouTube announced today for its 2021 roadmap:
YouTube has a big year planned, and some of these changes could significantly alter the dynamics of the platform. Making it possible for every creator to turn their channel in a mini shopping channel has a lot of potential to alter what it looks like to build a business on the platform, while YouTube TV’s transformation narrows the gap even further between that service and traditional cable and satellite provider offerings.
Indian conglomerate Tata Group has reached an agreement to acquire a majority stake in grocery delivery startup BigBasket, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
The salt-to-software giant is buying over 60% stake in BigBasket, valuing the Indian startup between $1.8 billion to $2 billion, the source said, requesting anonymity as the deal is still private. BigBasket has raised more than $750 million prior to the deal with Tata.
Indian news network ET Now reported on Tuesday that the two firms were in advanced talks, signals of which began to emerge in local media two quarters ago. Two BigBasket co-founders and Tata Group did not respond to a request for comment.
Chinese internet giant Alibaba, which owns nearly 30% stake in BigBasket, and a handful of other investors are getting a near complete exit from the startup as part of the deal with Tata Group, the source said. New Delhi introduced restrictions last year that made it difficult for Chinese investors to write checks to Indian firms.
The move comes as Mumbai-headquartered Tata Group, which reported a revenue of $113 billion in 2019 and operates several popular brands such as Jaguar Land Rover and tea maker Tetley, looks to expand to more consumer businesses and works to develop a so-called super app in the world’s second-largest internet market.
Bangalore-headquartered BigBasket, which competes with SoftBank-backed Grofers and Reliance’s JioMart, operates in over two dozen cities in India and turned profitable months into the coronavirus pandemic as sales skyrocketed on the platform.
BigBasket and Grofers’s userbases skyrocketed by as much as 80% last year, analysts at Citi Bank estimated in recent note, adding that JioMart, run by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, had already started to pose serious competition.
In a recent note to clients, Bank of America analysts estimated that the online grocery delivery market could be worth $12 billion in India by 2023.
“Competition is high in the sector with large verticals like BigBasket/Grofers and horizontal like Amazon/Flipkart trying to convert the unorganized market to organized one. Till recently the No 1 player in the space was BigBasket, with it hitting $1 billion annualized GMV & selling over 300,000 orders every day. Reliance Industries also threw its hat with the company launching its JioMart app in May-20 across 200 cites,” they wrote.
The expansion of Reliance Industries, one of India’s largest industrial houses, in e-commerce last year may have prompted Tata Group to accelerate its digital efforts. Ambani raised more than $26 billion for his telecom and retail empires Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail last year from a roster of marquee investors including Facebook and Google.
Tata Group was working to expand to several consumer-facing digital services as early as 2016, but a boardroom coup put all those plans on the back burner, The Information reported in December.
India said on Monday local firms will no longer need license or other permission to collect, generate, store and share geospatial data of the country, bringing sweeping changes to its earlier stance that it admitted hindered innovation.
Until now, New Delhi required Indian firms to seek licenses and additional approvals to create and publish topographical data. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today’s “deregulation” step will help the country become more self-reliant and reach its $5 trillion GDP goal.
“The regulations that apply to geospatial data and maps henceforth stand radically liberalised. The Department of Science and Technology is announcing sweeping changes to India’s mapping policy, specifically for Indian companies. What is readily available globally does not need to be restricted in India and therefore geospatial data that used to be restricted will now be freely available in India,” New Delhi said in a statement.
In its guidelines, New Delhi said local firms will be permitted access to “ground truthing/verification” that includes access to Indian ground stations and augmentation services for real-time positioning. Indian firms will also be provided access to terrestrial mobile mapping survey, street view survey and surveying in Indian territorial waters.
New Delhi said in the guidelines that only Indian firms shall be permitted access to the aforementioned surveys. Google has previously made unsuccessful attempts to launch its Street View service in India. A Google spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company was reviewing the guidelines and had no immediate comment to offer.
“Foreign companies and foreign owned or controlled Indian companies can license from Indian Entities digital Maps/Geospatial Data of spatial accuracy/value finer than the threshold value only for the purpose of serving their customers in India. Access to such Maps/Geospatial Data shall only be made available through APIs that do not allow Maps/Geospatial Data to pass through Licensee Company or its servers. Re-use or resale of such map data by licensees shall be prohibited,” the guidelines added.
Devdatta Tengshe, who works in the GIS space, told TechCrunch that the government’s move today was significant for the local ecosystem including citizens as previous restrictions had created an uncertainty on what precisely was permitted.
“Today’s announcement makes it explicitly clear that Indian entities can perform any location data collection and we can collect data on our own,” he said. “Additionally, the location data from agencies like municipality will be made available to Indian entities.”
Flipkart-backed 25-year-old firm MapMyIndia said today’s move by the government is “historic” as it opens up maps and the geospatial sector and ushers the self-reliance era in “strategic areas of maps to empower all 1.3 billion Indians and give unprecedented opportunities and growth for Indian companies.”
Modi said: “The reforms will unlock tremendous opportunities for our country’s start-ups, private sector, public sector and research institutions to drive innovations and build scalable solutions. India’s farmers will also be benefited by leveraging the potential of geo-spatial & remote sensing data. Democratizing data will enable the rise of new technologies & platforms that will drive efficiencies in agriculture and allied sectors. These reforms demonstrate our commitment to improving ease of doing business in India by deregulation.”
All change in the capital as the Biden administration takes charge, and thankfully without a hitch (or violence) after the attempted insurrection two weeks earlier.
In this week’s Decrypted, we look at the ongoing fallout from the SolarWinds breach and who the incoming president wants to lead the path to recovery. Plus, the news in brief.
The cyberattack against SolarWinds, an ongoing espionage campaign already blamed on Russia, claimed the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as another federal victim this week. The attack also hit cybersecurity company Malwarebytes, the company’s chief executive confirmed. Marcin Kleczynski said in a blog post that attackers gained access to a “limited” number of internal company emails. It was the same attackers as SolarWinds but using a different intrusion route. It’s now the third security company known to have been targeted by the same Russian hackers after a successful intrusion at FireEye and an unsuccessful attempt at CrowdStrike.
Today, I disclosed publicly that @Malwarebytes had been targeted by the same nation state actor that attacked SolarWinds. This attack is much broader than SolarWinds and I expect more companies will come forward soon.
— Marcin Kleczynski (@mkleczynski) January 19, 2021
Indian stock exchanges approved the $3.4 billion deal between retail giants Reliance Retail and Future Group on late Wednesday in yet another setback for Amazon, which has invested over $6.5 billion in the world’s second largest internet market and sought to block the aforementioned deal.
The Bombay Stock Exchange said in a notification that it had spoken with India’s markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), and had no objection or adverse observation on the deal.
Wednesday’s notification is the latest setback for Amazon, which had written to SEBI and Indian antitrust watchdog to block the multi-billion deal between Future Group and Reliance Retail, the two largest retail chains in India. Last year, India’s antitrust group gave a go ahead to the deal to the Indian firms.
“We hereby advise that we have no adverse observations with limited reference to those matters having a bearing on listing/de-listing/continuous listing requirements within the provisions of Listing Agreement, so as to enable the company to file the scheme with Hon’ble NCLT [National Company Law Tribunal],” the notification read. SEBI has advised Future to share various aspects of its ongoing litigation with Amazon to NCLT, whose approval for the deal is pending.
Amazon bought 49% stake in one of Future’s unlisted firms in 2019 in a deal that was valued at over $100 million. As part of the deal, Future could not have sold assets to rivals, Amazon has said in court filings.
Things changed last year after the coronavirus pandemic starved the Indian firm of cash, Future Group chief executive and founder Kishore Biyani said at a recent virtual conference. In August, Future Group said that it had reached an agreement with Ambani’s Reliance Industries, which runs India’s largest retail chain, to sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses for $3.4 billion.
Amazon later protested the deal by reaching an arbitrator in Singapore and asked the court to block the deal between the Indian retail giants. Amazon secured emergency relief from the arbitration court in Singapore in late October that temporarily halted Future Group from going ahead with the sale.
The two estranged partners also fought at the Delhi High Court last year, which in a rare glimmer of hope for the American giant rejected Future’s plea for an ad-interim injunction to restrain Amazon from writing to regulators and other authorities to raise concerns over — and halt — the deal between the two Indian giants.
An Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch that the firm will continue to pursue legal remedies. “The letters issued by BSE & NSE clearly state that the comments of SEBI on the ‘draft scheme of arrangement’ (proposed transaction) are subject to the outcome of the ongoing Arbitration and any other legal proceedings. We will continue to pursue our legal remedies to enforce our rights,” the spokesperson said.
At stake is India’s retail market that is estimated to balloon to $1.3 trillion by 2025, up from $700 billion in 2019, according to consultancy firm BCG and local trade group Retailers’ Association India. Online shopping accounts for about 3% of all retail in India.
In an email to WhatsApp head Will Cathcart, the nation’s IT ministry said the upcoming update to the app’s data-sharing policy has raised “grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens… Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”
“Such a differential treatment is prejudicial to the interests of Indian users and is viewed with serious concern by the government,” the ministry wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by TechCrunch. “The government of India owes a sovereign responsibility to its citizens to ensure that their interests are not compromised and therefore it calls upon WhatsApp to respond to concerns raised in this letter.”
Through an in-app alert earlier this month, WhatsApp had asked users to agree to new terms of conditions that grants the app the consent to share with Facebook some personal data about them, such as their phone number and location. Users were initially provided until February 8 to comply with the new policy if they wished to continue using the service.
“This ‘all-or-nothing’ approach takes away any meaningful choice from Indian users. This approach leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain, which may infringe on their interests in relation to informational privacy and information security,” the ministry said in the email.
The notification from WhatsApp prompted a lot of confusion — and in some cases, anger and frustration — among its users, many of which have explored alternative messaging apps such as Telegram and Signal in recent weeks.
An advertisement from WhatsApp is seen in a newspaper at a stall in New Delhi on January 13, 2021. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP) (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in 2014, has been sharing some limited information about its users with the social giant since 2016 — and for a period allowed users to opt-out of this. Responding to the backlash last week, the Facebook-owned app, which serves more than 2 billion users worldwide, said it was deferring the enforcement of the planned policy to May 15.
WhatsApp also ran front-page ads on several newspapers in India, where it has amassed over 450 million users, last week to explain the changes and debunk some rumors.
New Delhi also shared disappointment with the timing of this update, which to be fair WhatsApp unveiled last year. The ministry said that it was reviewing the Personal Data Protection Bill, a monumental privacy bill that is meant to oversee how data of users are shared with the world.
“Since the Parliament is seized of the issue, making such a momentous change for Indian users at this time puts the cart before the horse. Since the Personal Data Protection Bill strongly follows the principle of ‘purpose limitation,’ these changes may lead to significant implementational challenges for WhatsApp should the Bill become an Act,” the letter said.
On Tuesday, India’s IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also offered a loud advice to Facebook. “Be it WhatsApp, be it Facebook, be it any digital platform. You are free to do business in India but do it in a manner without impinging upon the rights of Indians who operate there.”
Be it WhatsApp, Facebook or any other digital platform they are free to do business in India but it should be done in a manner without impinging upon the rights of Indians who operate it. The sanctity of personal communications needs to be maintained: @rsprasad at #15IDS pic.twitter.com/p33qynU6Ur
— RSPrasad Office (@OfficeOfRSP) January 19, 2021
Once overlooked, agritech startups are beginning to have a moment in India.
On Tuesday, DeHaat, an online platform that offers full-stack agricultural services to farmers, said it has raised $30 million in a new financing round as the Indian firm looks to maintain its accelerated growth despite the pandemic.
Prosus Ventures, formerly known as Naspers Ventures, led Patna and Gurgaon-based startup’s Series C financing round. RTP Global and existing investors Sequoia Capital India, FMO, Omnivore and AgFunder also participated in it, bringing the startup’s to-date raise to over $46 million. (Dexter Capital was the advisor for this funding round.)
One of the biggest challenges farmers in India face is securing agri-input items such as seeds and fertilizers and then finding buyers after producing the yields.
DeHaat, which is Hindi for village, is solving this by bringing brands, institutional financers and buyers to one platform, which is accessible through a helpline and an app in local languages.
Only about a third of the yields Indian farmers produce reaches the big markets, according to industry estimates. It’s traditionally proven immensely difficult for farmers to find buyers for their produce.
The 10-year-old startup has also developed a database of crop tests and uses artificial intelligence to provide farmers with free-of-cost personalized advisory on what they should sow in a season. DeHaat also helps farmers secure working capital through partnership with hundreds of institutional firms.
We wrote about DeHaat last year, when it had raised a $12 million financing round. The past nine months has been the story of its accelerated growth despite the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted lockdowns across the nation for several months.
The startup, which today has presence in eastern part of India — states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal — serves close to 400,000 farmers, up from about 210,000 in April last year, Shashank Kumar, co-founder and chief executive of the startup, told TechCrunch in an interview.
How the startup is tackling these challenges is equally impressive. It works with nearly 1,400 micro-entrepreneurs, up from about 400 last year, in rural areas who distribute agri-input goods to farmers from their regional hubs and then bring back the output to the same hub. “They are the ones responsible for last-mile delivery and aggregation,” he said.
DeHaat has grown on every front, including the revenue it clocks, which is up 3X to 3.5X, he said.
“At the end of March, our daily volume out was around 200 metric tonne. Now it’s over 600 metric tonne. Everyday we aggregate this much from farmers and supply to FMCG players and modern retails. Similarly on the agri-input side — seed, fertilizers, and pesticide — we are processing close to 10,000 orders everyday, compared to about 2,600 in March of last year,” he said.
“Prosus Ventures invests in industries around the world where innovation can significantly address big societal needs,” said Ashutosh Sharma, Head of India Investments at Prosus Ventures, in a statement.
“DeHaat is catering to a massive market in India with the agriculture sector worth more than $350 billion to the country’s economy and consisting of an estimated 140 million+ farmers. Through its end-to-end agricultural services offerings, DeHaat will have a major societal impact in India, improving the earning potential for Indian farmers and overall yield for the sector while also enabling microentrepreneurs all over the country, including in rural areas where there is often less income opportunity,” he added.
The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to expand to more states in India including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra and eventually serve 10 million farmers.
And another area where it intends to focus is hiring top tech talent. The startup has doubled its workforce since the past year, with many high-profile hires from major firms. The startup, which recently made its second acquisition, is also open to exploring more M&A opportunities, said DeHaat’s Kumar.
Around two dozen #agritech startups have raised funds this year (till date)
Farmers Fresh Zone
— Harsh Upadhyay (@upadhyay_harsh1) October 13, 2020
Further reading: Omnivore and Accel recently co-authored a report on India’s agritech landscape.
Darwinbox, which operates a cloud-based human resource management platform, has raised $15 million in a new financing round as the Indian startup looks to further expand in the country and Southeast Asian markets.
The new round — a Series C — for the Hyderabad-headquartered startup was led by Salesforce Ventures, the venture arm of the American enterprise giant. This is Salesforce Ventures’ one of rare investments in India. Existing investors including Lightspeed India and Sequoia Capital India also participated in the round, which brings the five-year old startup’s raise to-date to about $35 million.
Over 500 firms including — Tokopedia, Indorama, JG Summit Group, Zilingo, Zalora, Fave, Adani, Mahindra, Kotak, TVS, National Stock Exchange, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank, Dr.Reddy’s, Nivea, Puma, Swiggy, Bigbasket — use Darwinbox’s HR platform to provide more than a million employees of theirs with a range of features in 60 nations, up from about 200 firms across 50 nations in late 2019, said Chaitanya Peddi, co-founder of Darwinbox, in an interview with TechCrunch.
Peddi said the startup has always looked up to Salesforce for inspiration, and investment from the enterprise giant is “nothing sort of a child receiving validation from their father,” he said.
The fundraise caps the most successful year for the startup that started with uncertainty as the coronavirus spread across Asian nations. The startup initially took a hit as its customers scrambled to navigate through the global pandemic, but the last two quarters have been its best to date, said Peddi.
Overall, the startup’s revenue has ballooned by 300% since September 2019, when it last raised money, he said. “In HR tech and SaaS space, we are now only behind SAP and Oracle in India in terms of revenue,” he said.
Dev Khare, a partner at Lightspeed India, an early backer of the startup, said that Darwinbox has become the preferred human capital management solution for Asian conglomerates, governments, and high-growth businesses and multi-national corporations operating in Asia as they witness digital transformation.
Image Credits: Darwinbox
Darwinbox’s platform is built to take care of the entire “hiring to retiring” cycle needs of employees. It handles onboarding of new hires, keeps a tab on their performance, monitors attrition rate, and provides an ongoing feedback loop.
It also provides its customers with a social network for their employees to remain connected with one another and an AI assistant to apply for a leave or set up meetings with quick voice commands from their phones.
Peddi said the startup will deploy the fresh capital to expand to several more countries, especially in more emerging markets in the Middle East Asia and Africa, and broaden its offerings. “We will be leveraging the power of our platform to do a lot more. We are a product-led firm and our focus will remain on innovation in that space,” he said. The startup is also open to exploring opportunities to acquire smaller firms for inorganic growth, he said.
“India is home to one of the world’s youngest population, and by 2050, it is expected to account for over 18% of the global working age population,” said Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chairperson and CEO, Salesforce India, in a statement. “This makes technology platforms like Darwinbox, that focuses on workforces, incredibly important. I’m proud that Salesforce is supporting Darwinbox on their journey as they continue to grow and innovate in this space.”
Alex Kayyal, partner and head of international at Salesforce Ventures, told TechCrunch in an interview that the firm helps its partners in a number of ways, including exposing them to the firm’s customers, executives and their networks, and helping startups scale their business.
“We have one of the most innovative and disruptive customer bases that are looking for cloud solutions and digital transformation. So the opportunity to expose companies like Darwinbox to our customer base is something we get really excited about,” said Kayyal. Salesforce Ventures is exploring more investment opportunities in India, he said.
Five years after its launch, Twitter Moments is growing beyond the American social networking platform.
On Monday, Twitter said it had partnered with Dailyhunt to bring Moments to the Indian social app. Dailyhunt app now has a dedicated tab called ‘Twitter Moments India’ to showcase curated tweets pertaining to news and other events in the world’s second largest internet market.
The partnership will allow Twitter to extend its reach in India, where according to mobile insight firm App Annie (data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch), it had fewer than 75 million monthly active users last month. Dailyhunt, which last month raised $100 million in a round from Google, Microsoft and AlphaWave, in comparison, claims to reach over 285 million users each day.
Unlike Twitter, Dailyhunt is also popular in smaller Indian cities and towns. The Indian social app, which serves users in 14 local languages, termed its partnership with Twitter as its “biggest collaboration” to date.
“At Twitter, we are committed to doing what we can to ensure people can keep up with what the world is talking about at any given time. Moments — a curated set of Tweets about a particular topic — are a powerful way to do so. With this partnership with Dailyhunt, a platform that caters to diverse languages and readers from all parts of India, we are thrilled to extend Twitter Moments to the Dailyhunt app,” said Manish Maheshwari, Managing Director of Twitter India, in a statement.
Umang Bedi, co-founder of Dailyhunt and former head of Facebook India, said, “the past year has shown us the power of public opinion and awareness and it is incumbent upon us to mobilize this discourse by making information more accessible, more reliable, and more engaging. When a trusted partner with our shared vision of enabling consumers to create and share information without barriers validates our platform with their presence, we know we are on the right path.”
Flipkart on Monday launched SuperCoin Pay that its customers will be able to use across thousands of retail stores across the country as Walmart-owned e-commerce giant bets on its loyalty program to win and sustain its user base in the world’s second largest internet market.
The Bangalore-headquartered e-commerce giant said it had partnered with over 5,000 retail outlets including TimesPoints, Peter England, Cafe Coffee Day and Flying Machine across India to give its customers a “greater value and choice” to cash in on their Flipkart loyalty program, called SuperCoin Rewards. Flipkart customers earn these SuperCoins when they make purchases on the e-commerce platform.
Customers will be able to pay up to 100% of the bill value through SuperCoins, Flipkart said, pointing out that traditional loyalty programs have struggled to gain traction because they locked customers to their platform and made it difficult to convert reward points to cash.
Its retail partners operate in a wide-range of categories including fashion, grocery, food and beverages, travel, health and wellness. These retail partners will offer a QR code to make it easier for Flipkart customers to redeem their rewards points.
The move comes as giant e-commerce firms in India aggressively partner with physical and digital stores across the country. Amazon, too, has broadened its offering in recent years to offer coupons and discounts that Amazon Pay customers can redeem when making purchases at Urban Company, Domino’s, BigBazaar, More, Oyo Rooms, Licious, BookMyShow, Swiggy, and RedBus, for instance.
“The lines between online and offline shopping are becoming increasingly blurred, and our intention is to make the consumers’ shopping experience more rewarding, no matter where they shop,” said Prakash Sikaria, Vice President of Growth and Monetization at Flipkart, in a statement.
“Being a part of the SuperCoin programme enables our partners to reap the benefits of Flipkart’s 300 million customer base through a truly integrated rewards initiative,” he added.
Flipkart said customers on its platform have earned over a billion SuperCoin to date.
Previously, we introduced the concept of flexible VC: structures that allow founders to access immediate risk capital while preserving exit and ownership optionality. We list here all the active flexible VCs we have identified, broken into these categories:
These investors are paid back primarily based on a percentage of revenues.
Chattanooga, TN-based Capacity Capital was launched in 2020 with a primary focus on the southeastern U.S. Jonathan Bragdon, its CEO, describes Capacity as “a team of founders-turned-funders making non-dilutive, founder-aligned investments of $50,000-$300,000 in post-startup, post-revenue businesses planning to 2x revenues in 12-24 months. Investments are typically in exchange for a capped, single-digit revenue share and a right to equity under certain circumstances.
If the company sells or raises enough capital, the investment converts into an agreed-upon percentage of equity. If the company grows without raising additional equity funding, founders redeem most of the equity right, based on a pre-agreed return amount. With a portfolio that includes food, tech and services, the fund is industry-agnostic and focused on the overlooked and underrepresented with high-margin business models.”
Jonathan sometimes refers to their investments as “micro-mezzanine” because “mezz is typically structured as a contractual periodic payment, with some equity-like upside, but subordinate to other debt … so most lenders look at it like equity. But, it is typically shorter term with fewer control mechanisms than equity (i.e., not VC). I wanted [a term for] something similar (between debt and equity) but on an extremely small scale.”
In addition to a fund, the overall Capacity organization provides direct mentorship, consulting and connects founders to a broad network of talent, diverse forms of capital and existing resources focused on the post-startup stage of growth. The founders, LPs and venture partners have a long history in local startup ecosystems in the Southeast including LaunchTN, The Company Lab, CO.STARTERS and several other regional funds and resources.
Greater Colorado Venture Fund (GCVF) is a $17 million seed fund that invests in high-growth startups in rural Colorado using equity and flexible VC structuring.
A typical GCVF flexible VC investment is $100,000-$250,000 for up to 10% ownership, of which 9% is redeemable, with a sub-10% revenue share and 12-month-plus holiday period. GCVF specializes in providing critical support to founders based in small communities, while connecting them to an unfair network well-beyond their small-town headquarters.
GCVF is pioneering the future of venture capital and high-growth startups for all small communities. With Colorado as an ideal pilot community, the GCVF team (which includes Jamie Finney, a co-author of this article) has helped grow multiple staple initiatives in the rural Colorado startup ecosystem, including West Slope Startup Week, Telluride Venture Accelerator, Startup Colorado, Energize Colorado Gap Fund and the Greater Colorado Pitch Series.
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They share their learnings on flexible VC and pioneering rural startup ecosystems on the GCVF blog.
WhatsApp is facing a legal challenge in India, its biggest market, after a petition was filed Thursday before Delhi High Court over the upcoming change in the Facebook-owned app’s data sharing policy.
The petition alleges the new terms that WhatsApp requires its roughly 450 million users in the country to accept is a violation of their fundamental rights to privacy and poses a threat to national security.
Through an in-app alert, WhatsApp has asked users in recent days to agree to new terms of conditions that grants the app the consent to share some personal data about them such as their phone number and location with Facebook.
Users will have to agree to these terms by February 8 if they wish to continue using the app, the alert said. The change has been mischaracterized by many as their personal communication being compromised, which WhatsApp clarified this week was not the case.
The Facebook-owned service, which serves over 2 billion users worldwide, said private conversations between people remain just as private as before. Facebook has also bought front-page newspaper ads in several leading Indian dailies this week to explain the change, which it first outlined last year.
The petitioner said the new terms grant WhatsApp a “360-degree profile into a person’s online activity” without any “government oversight.”
“WhatsApp has made a mockery out of our fundamental right to privacy while discharging a public function in India, besides jeopardizing the National Security of the country by sharing, transmitting and storing the users data in some [other] country and that data, in turn, will be governed by the laws of that foreign country,” the petition, which is expected to be heard Friday, reads.
Several high-profile startup founders and executives in India have also criticized WhatsApp’s new data sharing policy. Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and chief executive of India’s most valuable startup Paytm, accused WhatsApp of operating with double standards, pointing to how the new change was not affecting the app’s users in Europe.
How long we will be taken for granted by such blatant double standards ?
Self claimed ad claiming respect of our privacy v/s actual policy.
For India For Europe pic.twitter.com/bT45XwvsO1
— Vijay Shekhar Sharma (@vijayshekhar) January 13, 2021
The outrage over the new change has resulted in tens of millions of users exploring other communication apps such as Signal and Telegram in recent days. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this week, Signal co-founder and chairman executive Brian Acton said “the smallest of events helped trigger the largest of outcomes. We’re also excited that we are having conversations about online privacy and digital safety and people are turning to Signal as the answer to those questions.”
Google said on Thursday it has pulled some personal loan apps from Play Store in India and was implementing stronger measures to prevent abuse following reports that said several firms were targeting vulnerable borrowers in the country and then going to extreme lengths to recover their money.
The Android-maker said users and government agencies in India recently flagged several personal loan apps and the company reviewed hundreds of them. The review found an identified number of apps violated Play Store’s safety policies and they were immediately removed from the Store.
Google, whose Android operating system powers 98% smartphones in India, said it has asked the developers of the remaining identified apps to demonstrate that their apps are in compliance with applicable local laws and regulations. (In an email reviewed by TechCrunch, Google had asked a developer to provide documentation within five days.)
“Apps that fail to do so will be removed without further notice. In addition, we will continue to assist the law enforcement agencies in their investigation of this issue,” the company said.
Users have identified several lending apps including 10MinuteLoan and Ex-Money in India in recent months that granted small ticket loans (typically in the range of $50 to $200) to people for short tenures without much verification to determine their eligibility and then charged steep processing fees.
To avoid such abuse, Google said Play Store will only allow personal apps that require customers to make their repayment in 60 days or longer.
When borrowers struggled to repay their debt in the short period, collection agents on behalf of some lending apps threatened to embarrass them in front of their friends, colleagues, and family, among other ill tactics. In November, local newspaper Indian Express reported that a 23-year-old man committed suicide after being bullied by a money lending app.
Online loan horror :
Representative of a loan app called " Udhaar Loan " Asking a girl from Tamilnadu to video call her naked , if she fails to pay loan on time .
She attempted suicide today.
— Prashanth Rangaswamy (@itisprashanth) November 8, 2020
“To protect user privacy, developers must only request permissions that are necessary to implement current features or services. They should not use permissions that give access to user or device data for undisclosed, unimplemented, or disallowed features or purposes,” wrote Suzanne Frey, Vice President, Product, Android Security and Privacy, in a blog post.
“Developers must also only use data for purposes that the user has consented to, and if they later want to use the data for other purposes, they must obtain user permission for the additional uses,” she added.
Thursday’s move comes months after Google stepped up its efforts to crack down on fantasy sports apps in India.
Fresh off the announcement of more than $500 million in new capital across two new funds, Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group has announced that they’re adding Anu Sharma and Daniel Li to the team’s list of Partners.
The firm, which in recent years has paid particularly close attention to enterprise software bets, invests heavily in the early-stage Pacific Northwest startup scene.
Both Li and Sharma are stepping into the Partner role after some time at the firm. Li has been with Madrona for five years while Sharma joined the team in 2020. Prior to joining Madrona, Sharma led product management teams at Amazon Web Services, worked as a software developer at Oracle and had a stint in VC as an associate at SoftBank China & India. Li previously worked at the Boston Consulting Group.
I got the chance to catch up with Li who notes that the promotion won’t necessarily mean a big shift in his day-to-day responsibilities — “At Madrona, you’re not promoted until you’re working in the next role anyway,” he says — but that he appreciates “how much trust the firm places in junior investors.”
Asked about leveling up his venture career during a time when public and private markets seem particularly flush with cash, Li acknowledges some looming challenges.
“On one hand, it’s just been an amazing five years to join venture capital because things have just been up and to the right with lots of things that work; it’s just a super exciting time,” Li says. “On the other hand, from a macro perspective, you know that there’s more capital flowing into VC as an asset class than ever before. And just from that pure macro perspective, you know that that means returns are going to be lower in the next 10 years as valuations are higher.”
Nevertheless, Li is plenty bullish on internet companies claiming larger swaths of the global GDP and hopes to invest specifically in “low code platforms, next-gen productivity, and online communities,” Madrona notes in their announcement, while Sharma plans to continue looking at to “distributed systems, data infrastructure, machine learning, and security.”
TechCrunch recently talked to Li and his Madrona colleague Hope Cochran about some of the top trends in social gaming and how investors were approaching new opportunities across the gaming industry.
Mobile adoption continued to grow in 2020, in part due to the market forces of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to App Annie’s annual “State of Mobile” industry report, mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, consumer spending grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.
Consumers also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone, the report found.
In another shift, app usage in the U.S. surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours on their mobile device.
The increase in time spent is a trend that’s not unique to the U.S., but can be seen across several other countries, including both developing mobile markets like Indonesia, Brazil and India, as well as places like China, Japan, South Korea, the U.K., Germany, France and others.
The trend isn’t isolated to any one demographic, either, but is seen across age groups. In the U.S., for example, Gen Z, millennials and Gen X/Baby Boomers spent 16%, 18% and 30% more time in their most-used apps year-over-year, respectively. However, what those favorite apps looked like was very different.
For Gen Z in the U.S., top apps on Android phones included Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok, Roblox and Spotify.
Millennials favored Discord, LinkedIn, PayPal, Pandora and Amazon Music.
And Gen X/Baby Boomers used Ring, Nextdoor, The Weather Channel, Kindle and ColorNote Notepad Notes.
The pandemic didn’t necessarily change how consumers were using apps in 2020, but rather accelerated mobile adoption by two to three years’ time, the report found.
Investors were also eager to fuel mobile businesses as a result, pouring $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year. According to Crunchbase data, 26% of total global funding dollars in 2020 went to businesses that included a mobile solution.
From 2016 to 2020, global funding to mobile technology companies more than doubled compared with the previous five years, and was led by financial services, transportation, commerce and shopping.
Mobile gaming adoption also continued to grow in 2020. Casual games dominated the market in terms of downloads (78%), but Core games accounted for 66% of games’ consumer spend and 55% of the time spent.
With many stuck inside due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines, mobile games that offered social interaction boomed. Among Us, for example, became a breakout game in several markets in 2020, including the U.S.
Other app categories saw sizable increases over the past year, as well.
Time spent in Finance apps in 2020 was up 45% worldwide, outside of China, and participation in the stock market grew 55% on mobile, thanks to apps like Robinhood in the U.S. and others worldwide, that democratized investing and trading.
TikTok had a big year, too.
The app saw incredible 325% year-over-year growth, despite a ban in India, and ranked in the top five apps by time spent. The average monthly time spent per user also grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed, including 65% in the U.S. and 80% in the U.K., surpassing Facebook. TikTok is now on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021, App Annie forecasts.
Other video services boomed in 2020, thanks to a combination of new market entrants and a lot of time spent at home. Consumers spent 40% more hours streaming on mobile devices, with time spent in streaming apps peaking in the second quarter in the west as the pandemic forced people inside.
YouTube benefitted from this trend, as it became the No. 1 streaming app by time spent among all markets analyzed except China. The time spent in YouTube is up to 6x that of the next closet app at 38 hours per month.
Of course, another big story for 2020 was the rise of e-commerce amid the pandemic. This made the past year the biggest ever for mobile shopping, with an over 30% increase in time spent in Shopping apps, as measured on Android phones outside of China.
Mobile commerce, however, looked less traditional in 2020.
Social shopping was a big trend, with global downloads of Pinterest and Instagram growing 50% and 20% year-over-year, respectively.
Livestreaming shopping grew, too, led by China. Downloads of live shopping TaoBao Live in China, Grip in South Korea and NTWRK in the U.S. grew 100%, 245% and 85%, respectively. NTWRK doubled in size last year, and now others are entering the space as well — including TikTok, to some extent.
The pandemic also prompted increased usage of mobile ordering apps. In the U.S., Argentina, the U.K., Indonesia and Russia, the app grew by 60%, 65%, 70%, 80% and 105%, respectively, in Q4.
Business apps, like Zoom and Google Meet among others, grew 275% in Q4, for example, as remote work and sometimes school, continued.
The analysis additionally included lists of the top apps by downloads, spending and monthly active users (MAUs).
Although TikTok had been topping year-end charts, Facebook continued to beat it in terms of MAUs. Facebook-owned apps controlled the top charts by MAUs, with Facebook at No. 1 followed by WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.
TikTok, however, had more downloads than Facebook and ranked No. 2 by consumer spending, behind Tinder.
The full report is available only as an online interactive experience this year, not a download. The report largely uses data from both the iOS App Store and Google Play, except where otherwise noted.
Amazon on Wednesday launched Amazon Academy, a service that will aim to help students in India prepare for entry into the nation’s prestigious engineering college. The e-commerce giant is the latest entrant to this market, where scores of startups and institutes have launched digital offering to serve students.
The e-commerce giant said Amazon Academy will help students with in-depth knowledge and practice routines required for the Joint Entrance Examinations (JEE) through curated learning material, live lectures and comprehensive assessments in Math, Physics and Chemistry.
Amazon began testing Amazon Academy, previously known as JEE Ready, in India in mid-2019. Amazon Academy, available to download from Google Play Store and App Store, is free and will remain so for the “next few months,” the company said.
“Amazon Academy aims to bring high quality, affordable education to all, starting with those preparing for engineering entrance examinations. Our mission is to help students achieve their outcomes while also empowering educators and content partners reach millions of students. Our primary focus has been on content quality, deep learning analytics and student experience. This launch will help engineering aspirants prepare better and achieve the winning edge in JEE,” said Amol Gurwara, Director, Education at Amazon India, in a statement.
More to follow…
Bloomberg reports that the Bangalore-based startup has agreed to buy Aakash Educational Services, which owns and operates more than 200 physical tutoring centres across the country aimed at students preparing to qualify for top engineering and medical colleges.
According to the publication, Byju’s will pay $1 billion to buy Aakash Educational Services, which serves more than 250,000 students. A Byju’s spokesperson declined to comment.
Byju’s has raised over $800 million in the past two years, and more than doubled its valuation to over $11 billion. The startup, like several other edtech firms, attracted tens of millions of students to its platform last year after the pandemic prompted New Delhi to shut down schools nationwide.
Byju’s prepares students pursuing undergraduate and graduate-level courses, and in recent years has also expanded its catalog to serve all school-going students. Tutors on Byju’s app tackle complex subjects using real-life objects such as pizza and cake. The startup, which turned profitable in late 2019, serves over 70 million students.
In an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt last year, Byju’s co-founder and chief executive Byju Raveendran said the startup, which acquired a coding platform aimed at young students called WhiteHat Jr for $300 million last year, was open to more merger and acquisition opportunities.
The startup is backed by several high-profile investors, including Bond, which was co-founded by Mary Meeker. Bond expects Byju’s to be worth over $30 billion within three years, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch earlier.
WhatsApp has enjoyed unrivaled reach in India for years. By mid-2019, the Facebook-owned app had amassed over 400 million users in the country. Its closest app rival at the time was YouTube, which, according to the company’s own statement and data from mobile insight firm App Annie, had about 260 million users in India then.
Things have changed dramatically since.
In the month of December, YouTube had 425 million monthly active users on Android phones and tablets in India, according to App Annie, the data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. In comparison, WhatsApp had 422 million monthly active users on Android in India last month.
Factoring in the traction both these apps have garnered on iOS devices, WhatsApp still assumes a lead in India with 459 million active users1, but YouTube is not too far behind with 452 million users.
With China keeping its doors closed to U.S. tech giants, India emerged as the top market for Silicon Valley and Chinese companies looking to continue their growth in the last decade. India had about 50 million internet users in 2010, but it ended the decade with more than 600 million. Google and Facebook played their part to make this happen.
In the last four years, both Google and Facebook have invested in ways to bring the internet to people who are offline in India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people. Google kickstarted a project to bring Wi-Fi to 400 railway stations in the country and planned to extend this program to other public places. Facebook launched Free Basics in India, and then — after the program was banned in the country — it launched Express Wi-Fi.
Both Google and Facebook have scaled down on their connectivity efforts in recent years after India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, took it upon himself to bring the country online. After he succeeded, both the companies bought multibillion-dollar stakes in his firm, Jio Platforms, which has amassed over 400 million subscribers.
Jio Platforms’ cut-rate mobile data tariff has allowed hundreds of millions of people in India, where much of the online user base was previously too conscious about how much data they spent on the internet, to consume, worry-free, hours of content on YouTube and other video platforms in recent years.
The new figures shared with TechCrunch illustrate a number of other findings about the Indian market. Even as WhatsApp’s growth has slowed2 in India, it continues to enjoy an unprecedented loyalty among its users.
More than 95% of WhatsApp’s monthly active users in India use the app each day, and nearly its entire user base checks the app at least once a week. In comparison, three-fourths of YouTube’s monthly active users in India are also its daily active users.
The data also showed that Google’s eponymous app as well as Chrome — both of which, like YouTube, ship pre-installed3 on most Android smartphones — has also surpassed over 400 million monthly active users in India in recent months. Facebook’s app, in comparison, had about 325 million monthly active users in India last month.
When asked for comment, a Google spokesperson pointed TechCrunch to a report from Comscore last year, which estimated that YouTube had about 325 million monthly unique users in India in May 2020.
A separate report by research firm Media Partners Asia on Monday estimated that YouTube commanded 43% of the revenue generated in the online video market in India last year (about $1.4 billion). Disney+ Hotstar assumed 16% of the market, while Netflix had 14%.