funding

InMobi’s Glance raises $45M to expand outside of India

Posted by | Apps, Asia, funding, india, InMobi, mithril capital, Mobile, Recent Funding, Samsung, Startups | No Comments

Glance, a subsidiary of Indian mobile ad business firm InMobi, said today it has raised $45 million as it prepares to scale its business outside of India and bulk up its product offerings.

The unnamed maiden financing round for Glance was funded by Mithril Capital, a growth-stage investment firm co-founded by Silicon Valley investors Peter Thiel and Ajay Royan.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Naveen Tewari, founder and CEO of InMobi Group, said the current round has not closed and could bag another $30 million to $55 million in the next two months.

Glance operates an eponymous service that shows media content in local languages on the lock screen of Android-powered smartphones. InMobi has partnered with a number of top smartphone vendors, including Xiaomi, Samsung and Gionee, to integrate Glance into their respective operating systems.

Glance, which was launched in September last year and supports English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, has amassed 50 million monthly active users in India, its primary market. Users are spending an average of 22 minutes with Glance each day, he said.

“All the new smartphone models launched by Samsung, Xiaomi and a handful of other vendors have launched with Glance on them,” Tewari said.

In a statement, Mithril Capital’s Royan said, “We share Glance’s global vision of breaking through the constraints of application architectures and linguistic markets to deliver rich, frictionless, and engaging experiences across a myriad of cultures and languages.” As part of the financing round, he is joining Glance’s board.

Glance does not show traditional ads, something it intends to never change, but shows a certain kind of content to drive engagement for brands.

In the months to come, Glance plans to expand the platform and bring short-form videos (Glance TV), and mini games (Glance Games) to the lock screen. It is also working on a feature dubbed Glance Nearby that will enable brands to court users in their vicinity, and Glance Shopping to explore ways to build commerce around content.

As of today, InMobi Group is not monetizing Glance platform, but plans to explore ways to make money from it early next year, Tewari said.

The 12-year-old firm said it plans to expand footprints of Glance outside of India. The company plans to take Glance to some Southeast Asian markets like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. InMobi’s Tewari said Glance has already started to find users in these markets.

InMobi Group, which had raised $320 million prior to today’s financing round, has been profitable for several years, but the company decided to raise outside funding to accelerate Glance’s growth, Tewari said.

The firm, which has three subsidiaries, including its marquee marketing cloud division, plans to go public in the next few years. But instead of taking the entire group public, Tewari said the firm is thinking of publicly listing each division as they mature. The marketing cloud division, which brings in the vast majority of revenue for the firm, will go public first, he said.

“The IPO plans remain, and we will evaluate them as we go along. The reality, however, is that the market is so big and there is so much room that we can continue to be private for a few more years,” he said.

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Drivetime nabs $11M from Makers Fund, Amazon and Google to build voice-based games for drivers

Posted by | Amazon, Apps, artificial intelligence, drivetime, Entertainment, funding, Gaming, Google, makers fund, Recent Funding, Startups, trivia, Voice interface, voice services | No Comments

Fully autonomous cars may (or may not) be just around the corner, but in the meantime, a startup that’s building in-car apps to help human drivers pass the time when behind the wheel has raised a round of funding.

Drivetime — which makes voice-based trivia quizzes, games and interactive stories that people can play while driving — has raised $11 million in funding led by Makers Fund (a prolific investor in gaming startups), with participation from Amazon (via the Alexa Fund) and Google (via its Assistant investment program).

The startup today has eight “channels” on its platform consisting of games and stories that you can access either within a limited free-to-play tier or via a paid subscription ($9.99 a month or $99.99 a year). The plan is to use the funding to continue expanding that catalog, as well as investing in deeper integrations with its new big-name strategic investors, who themselves have longstanding and deep interests in bringing more voice services and content to the in-car experience.

Co-founder and CEO Niko Vuori told TechCrunch that his ultimate ambition is for Drivetime to become “the Sirius XM of interactive content” for cars, with hundreds of different channels of content.

In keeping with those plans, along with the funding, Drivetime is today announcing a key content deal.

It has teamed up with the long-running, popular game show Jeopardy to build a trivia channel for the platform, which lets drivers test their own skills and also play against other drivers and people they know. The Jeopardy channel will source content from the TV show’s trove of IP and come with another familiar detail: it will be narrated by Alex Trebek, with a new quiz getting published every weekday for premium users.

That social element of the Jeopardy game is not a coincidence. The San Francisco-based startup is founded by Zynga alums, with Vuori and his co-founders Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson also working together at another startup called Rocket Games since leaving the social games giant and exiting that to gaming giant Penn National for up to $170 million. That track record goes some way to explaining the strong list of investors in the new startup.

“Social and interactive formats are the next frontier in audio entertainment,” said Makers Fund founding partner Jay Chi, in a statement. “Niko, Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson, with a decade-long history of working together and a proven track record in building new platforms, is the best team to bring this idea to life.”

“Gaming and entertainment are among customers’ favorite use cases for Alexa, and we think those categories will only grow in popularity as Alexa is integrated into more vehicles,” said Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon, in a separate statement. “Drivetime stands out for its focus on voice-first games in the car, and we’re excited to work with them to broaden the Alexa Auto experience and help customers make the most of their time behind the wheel.”

In addition to the three investors in this latest round, prior to this Drivetime had raised about $4 million from backers that include Felicis Ventures, Fuel Capital, Webb Investment Network (Maynard Webb’s fund) and Access Ventures.

Vuori declined to say how many installs or active users the app has today — although from the looks of it on AppAnnie, it’s seeing decent if not blockbuster success on iOS and Android so far.

Instead, the company prefers to focus on another stat, its addressable market, which it says is 110 million drivers in North America alone.

Meanwhile, adding a Jeopardy channel is building on what has worked best so far. The most popular category at the moment is trivia, with Tunetime (a “name that tune” game) coming in second and storytelling a third.

Drivetime’s premise is an interesting one. Drivers are a captive audience, but one that has up to now had a relatively limited amount of entertainment created for it, focusing mainly on music and spoken word.

However, the rise of voice-based interfaces and interactivity using natural language — spurred by the rise of personal assistant apps and in-home hubs like Amazon’s Echo — have opened a new opportunity, developing interactive, voice-based content for drivers to engage with more proactively.

You might think that this sounds like a recipe for a car accident. Won’t a driver get too distracted trying to remember the fourth president of the United States, or who was known as the father of the Constitution? (Hint: It’s the same guy.)

Vuori claims it’s actually the reverse: Having an interactive game that requires the driver to speak out loud can focus him or her and keep the driver more alert.

“We are double-dipping in safety,” he said. “On the one hand, we embody the safety aspects of Alertness Maintaining Tasks (AMTs). But we also act as a preventative, meaning that while players engage with Drivetime, they are not engaging with anything else.”

While the content today may serve as a way of keeping drivers from doing things they shouldn’t be doing while in a car, there is another obvious opportunity that might come as drivers become less necessary and will need other things to occupy themselves.

Longer term, the Jeopardy deal could usher in other channels based on popular game shows. Sony Pictures Television Games, which owns the rights to it, also owns Wheel of Fortune and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

“We are thrilled to work with Sony Pictures Television Games to bring Jeopardy, the greatest game show on the planet, to an underserved audience that desperately needs interactive entertainment the most – the 110 million commuters in North America driving to and from work by themselves every day,” said Vuori said in a statement.

Interestingly, despite the growth of “skills” for Alexa or apps for Google Home and other home hubs, and the overall popularity of these as a way of interacting with apps and sourcing information, Vuori says that he hasn’t seen any competition emerge yet from other app developers to build voice-based entertainment for drivers in the way that Drivetime has.

That gives the company ample opportunity to continue picking up new users — and more deals with publishers and content companies looking for more mileage (sorry) for their legacy IP and new business.

“Drivetime is one of the early pioneers in creating safe, stimulating entertainment for drivers in the car,” Ilya Gelfenbeyn, founding lead of the Google Assistant Investments Program, noted in a statement. “More and more people are using their voice to stay productive on the road, asking the Google Assistant on Android and iOS phones to help send text messages, make calls and access entertainment hands free. We share Drivetime’s vision, and look forward to working with their team to make the daily commute more enjoyable.”

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‘Mental fitness’ startup Elevate Labs launches a personalized meditation app called Balance

Posted by | Apps, Elevate Labs, funding, Health, Keesing Media Group, Mobile, Recent Funding, Startups | No Comments

While investors are already writing big checks for meditation startups, Elevate Labs founder and CEO Jesse Pickard said that none of the existing meditation apps can replace the experience of working with a human coach.

“This experience where you have somebody that meets with you is wildly better than any digital product that’s out there,” Pickard said. “The problem is, it’s not affordable to 99% of the planet.”

So Elevate Labs is launching a new mobile app today called Balance, which is designed to replicate the experience of working with a live meditation coach.

“Even with meditation increasingly getting into the mainstream, it’s a fairly difficult practice to adhere to,” Pickard said. “We take away a lot of that indecision and present you with a path that is unique to you … People live all sorts of different lives: Some people care about stress, some people care about sleep, some people care about focus. But when you and I go into any of the other major apps, we’re getting the exact same recording.”

With Balance, on the other hand, you’re not just browsing through a library of prerecorded content. Instead, the app starts out by asking you about your goals, your meditation experience and more. You’ll then get a set of introductory meditations that may look familiar, but Pickard said that each meditation is actually “a combination of dozens and dozens of clips woven together that’s personalized to you.”

For example, I told the app that I already had experience with meditation, and that my top goal was to stay focused. As a result, my first meditation skipped most of the introductory explanations, and the main exercise was designed to help me focus on the sound of my breath.

Pickard said the app will continue to ask you questions about your experience over time, which in turn will lead to more personalization. The meditations are narrated by coach Leah Santa Cruz, who’s also involved in writing the content, and there are other meditation experts on the Balance team.

The app’s initial 10-day course is free. After that, to get access to additional meditations, you’ll need to pay $11.99 per month, $49.99 per year or $199.99 for a lifetime subscription. In addition to the meditations, Balance also includes a guided activity designed to help people sleep.

On top of launching a new app, Elevate Labs is also announcing that it has raised a $7.1 million Series B led by Keesing Media Group, with participation from Oakhouse Partners.

Under its old name MindSnacks, the company built language-learning games before shifting focus to Elevate, a “brain training” app that has supposedly been downloaded 25 million times and won Apple’s App of the Year Award in 2014. Pickard (who, thanks to the magic of Craigslist, was my roommate for about a year when I was first starting at TechCrunch) said that unlike most of the other apps that are marketed as improving your mind, Elevate focuses on trainable skills like reading, writing and math — rather than, say, improving your memory.

“We’ve been extremely careful about [not] venturing into untrainable skills — things like improving your attention span, those activities are not as provenly teachable,” he said.

It’s been a while since the company has raised outside funding — seven years since MindSnacks announced a Series A from Sequoia. Pickard said the company actually raised another bridge round in 2015, then “buckled down for a number of years and really just had to build a business that actually was sustainable.”

Apparently that’s paid off — he said Elevate Labs was cash-flow positive last year. With a total of $17.1 million in funding, the plan now is to continue supporting and growing Elevate while also launching Balance and building a whole line of related apps.

“We think there’s a really huge brand to be built around mental fitness,” Pickard said.

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At-home blood testing startup Baze rakes in $6 million from Nature’s Way

Posted by | Baze, biotech, fda, funding, Gadgets, Health, labcorp, Nature's Way, nutrients, nutrition, Recent Funding, science, Startups, United States, vitamin-d, vitamins | No Comments

By now, the venture world is wary of blood testing startups offering health data from just a few drops of blood. However, Baze, a Swiss-based personal nutrition startup providing blood tests you can do in the convenience of your own home, collects just a smidgen of your sanguine fluid through an MIT manufactured device, which, according to the company, is in accordance with FDA regulations.

The idea is to find out (via your blood sample) which vitamins you’re missing out on and are keeping you from living your best life. That seems to resonate with folks who don’t want to go into the doctor’s office and separately head to their nearest lab for testing.

Most health professionals would agree it’s important to know if you are getting the right amount of nutrition — Vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide epidemic affecting calcium absorption, hormone regulation, energy levels and muscle weakness. An estimated 74% of the U.S. population does not get the required daily levels of Vitamin D.

“There are definitely widespread deficiencies across the population,” Baze CEO and founder Philipp Schulte tells TechCrunch. “[With the blood test] we see that we can actually close those gaps for the first time ever in the supplement industry.”

While we don’t know exactly how many people have tried out Baze just yet, Schulte says the company has seen 40% month-over-month new subscriber growth.

That has garnered the attention of supplement company Nature’s Way, which has partnered with the company and just added $6 million to the coffers to help Baze ramp up marketing efforts in the U.S.

Screen Shot 2019 08 30 at 2.27.12 PMI had the opportunity to try out the test myself. It’s pretty simple to do. You just open up a little pear-shaped device, pop it on your arm and then press it to engage and get it to start collecting your blood. After it’s done, plop it in the provided medical packaging and ship it off to a Baze-contracted lab.

I will say it is certainly more convenient to just pop on a little device myself — although it might be tricky if you’re at all squeamish, as you’ll see a little bubble where the blood is being sucked from your arm. For anyone who hesitates, it might be easier to just head to a lab and have another human do this for you.

The price is also nice, compared to going to a Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp, which can vary depending on which vitamins you need to test for individually. With Baze it’s just $100 a pop, plus any additional supplements you might want to buy via monthly subscription after you get your results. The first month of supplements is free with your kit.

Baze’s website will show your results within about 12 days (though Schulte tells TechCrunch the company is working on getting your results faster). It does so with a score and then displays a range of various vitamins tested.

I was told that, overall, I was getting the nutrients I require with a score of 74 out of 100. But I’m already pretty good at taking high-quality vitamins. The only thing that really stuck out was my zinc levels, which I was told was way off the charts high after running the test through twice. Though I suspect, as I am not displaying any symptoms of zinc poisoning, this was likely the result of not wiping off my zinc-based sunscreen well enough before the test began.

For those interested in conducting their own at-home test and not afraid to prick themselves in the arm with something that looks like you might have it on hand in the kitchen, you can do so by heading over to Baze and signing up.

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PayPal-backed money lender Tala raises $110M to enter India

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Finance, funding, Mobile, payments, Recent Funding, RPS Ventures, Startups, tala | No Comments

Tala, a Santa Monica, Calif.-headquartered startup that creates a credit profile to provide uncollateralized loans to millions of people in emerging markets, has raised $110 million in a new financing round to enter India’s burgeoning fintech space.

The Series D financing for the five-year-old startup was led by RPS Ventures, with GGV Capital and previous investors IVP, Revolution Growth, Lowercase Capital, Data Collective VC, ThomVest Ventures and PayPal Ventures also participating in the round.

The new round, which takes the startup’s total fundraising to more than $215 million, valued it above $750 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. Tala has also raised an additional $100 million in debt, including a $50 million facility led by Colchis in the last year.

Tala looks at a customer’s texts and calls logs, merchant transactions, overall app usage and other behavioral data through its Android app to build their credit profile. Based on these pieces of information, its machine learning algorithms evaluate the individual risk and provide instant loans in the range of $10 to $500 to customers.

This model is different from how banks and most other online lenders assess a person’s eligibility for a loan. Banks look at a user’s credit score while most online lenders check the financial history.

Tala is also much faster. It approves loans within minutes and disburses the money via mobile payment platforms. The startup has lent over $1 billion to more than 4 million customers to date — up from issuing $300 million in loans to 1.3 million customers last year, Shivani Siroya, founder and CEO of Tala, told TechCrunch in an interview.

The startup, which employs more than 550 people, will use the new capital to enter India, said Siroya, who built Tala after interviewing thousands of small and micro-businesses.

In the run up to launch in India, Tala began a 12-month pilot program in the country last year to conduct user research and understand the market. It has also set up a technology hub in Bangalore, she said.

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Shivani Siroya (Tala CEO) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

“The opportunity is very massive in India, so we spent some time customizing our service for the local market,” she said.

According to World Bank, more than 2 billion people globally have limited access to financial services and working capital. For these people, many of whom live in India, securing a small size loan is extremely challenging as they don’t have a credit score.

In recent years, several major digital payment platforms in India, including Paytm and MobiKwik, have started to offer small-sized loans to users. Traditional banks are still lagging to serve this segment, industry executives say. (Outside India, Tala competes with Branch, a five-year-old San Francisco-based startup that has raised more than $170 million to date and earlier this year inked a deal with Visa.)

Tala goes a step further and takes liability for any unpaid returns, Siroya said. More than 90% of Tala users pay back their loan in 20 to 30 days and are recurring customers, she added.

The startup also forwards the positive credit history and rankings to the local credit bureaus to help people secure bigger and long-term loans in the future, she added.

Tala, which charges a one-time fee that is as low as 5% for each loan, relies on referrals, and some marketing through radio and television to acquire new customers. “But a lot of these users come because they heard about us from their friends,” Siryoa said.

As part of the new financing round, Kabir Misra, founding general partner of RPS Ventures, has joined Tala’s board of directors, the startup said.

Tala said it will use a portion of its new fund to expand its footprint and team in its existing markets — East Africa, Mexico and the Philippines — and also build new solutions.

Siroya said the startup has identified some more markets that it wishes to serve. She did not disclose the names, but said she is eyeing more countries in South Asia and Latin America.

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YC-backed Lokal wants to bring local news, classifieds to 900 million Indians in their regional languages

Posted by | Apps, Asia, funding, india, Lokal, Media, Mobile, Y Combinator | No Comments

Each month millions of Indians are coming online for the first time, making India the last great growth market for internet companies worldwide. But winning them presents its own challenges.

These users, most of whom live in small cities and villages in India, can’t speak English. Their interests and needs are different from those of their counterparts in large cities. When they come online, the world wide web that is predominantly focused on the English-speaking masses, suddenly seems tiny, Google executives acknowledged at a media conference last year. According to a KPMG-Google report (PDF) on Indian languages, there will be 536 million non-English speaking users using internet in India by 2021.

Many companies are increasingly adding support for more languages, and Silicon Valley giants such as Google are developing tools to populate the web with content in Indian languages.

But there is still room for others to participate. On Friday, a new startup announced it is also in the race. And it has already received the backing of Y Combinator (YC).

Lokal is a news app that wants to bring local news to hundreds of millions of users in India in their regional languages. The startup, which is currently available in the Telugu language, has already amassed more than two million users, Jani Pasha, co-founder of Lokal, told TechCrunch in an interview.

lokal homescreen

There are tens of thousands of publications in India and several news aggregators that showcase the top stories from the mainstream outlets. But very few today are focusing on local news and delivering it in a language that the masses can understand, Pasha said.

Lokal is building a network of stringers and freelance reporters who produce original reporting around the issues and current affairs of local towns and cities. The app is updated throughout the day with regional news and also includes an “information” stream that shows things like current price of vegetables, upcoming events and contact details for local doctors and police stations.

The platform has grown to cover 18 districts in South India and is slowly ramping up its operations to more corners of the country. The early signs show that people are increasingly finding Lokal useful. “In 11 of the 18 districts we cover, we already have a larger presence and reader base than other media houses,” Pasha said.

Before creating Lokal, Pasha and the other co-founder of the startup, Vipul Chaudhary, attempted to develop a news aggregator app. The app presented news events in a timeline, offering context around each development.

“We made the biggest mistake. We built the product for four to five months without ever consulting with the users. We quickly found that nobody was using it. We went back to the drawing board and started interviewing users to understand what they wanted. How they consumed news, and where they got their news from,” he said.

“One thing we learned was that most of these users in tier 2 and tier 3 India still heavily rely on newspapers. Newspapers still carry a lot of local news and they rely on stringers who produce these news pieces and source them to publications,” he added.

But newspapers have limited pages, and they are slow. So Pasha and the team tried to build a platform that addresses these two things.

Pasha tried to replicate it through distributing local news, sourced from stringers, on a WhatsApp group. “That one WhatsApp group quickly became one of many as more and more people kept joining us,” he recalls. And that led to the creation of Lokal.

Along the journey, the team found that classifieds, matrimonial ads and things like birthday wishes are still driving people to newspapers, so Lokal has brought those things to the platform.

Pasha said Lokal will expand to three more states in the coming months. It will also begin to experiment with monetization, though that is not the primary focus currently. “The plan is to eventually bring this to entire India,” he said.

A growing number of startups today are attempting to build solutions for what they call India 2 and India 3 — the users who don’t live in major cities, don’t speak English and are financially not as strong.

ShareChat, a social media platform that serves users in 15 regional languages — but not English — said recently it has raised $100 million in a round led by Twitter. The app serves more than 60 million users each month, a figure it wants to double in the next year.

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Sequoia leads $40M investment in mobile messaging startup Attentive

Posted by | Attentive, Brian Long, funding, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, Recent Funding, sequoia capital, Startups | No Comments

Attentive, a startup helping retailers personalize their mobile messages, is announcing that it has raised $40 million in Series B funding.

The startup was founded by Brian Long and Andrew Jones, who sold their previous startup TapCommerce to Twitter. When they announced Attentive’s $13 million Series A last year, Long told me the startup is all about helping retailers find better ways to communicate with customers, particularly as it’s harder for their individual apps to stand out.

Attentive’s first product allowed for what it calls “two-tap” sign-up, where users can tap on a promotion link from a brand’s website, creating a pre-populated text that opts them in to for SMS messages from that retailer.

Since then, it’s built a broader suite of messaging tools, with support for cart abandonment reminders, A/B testing, subscriber segmentation and other features that allow retailers to get smarter and more targeted in their messaging strategy.

The startup says mobile messages sent through its platform are seeing click-through rates of more than 30%, and that it now works with more than 400 customers, including Sephora, Urban Outfitters, Coach, CB2 and Jack in the Box.

The Series B was led by Sequoia, with participation from new investors IVP and High Alpha, as well as previous backers Bain Capital Ventures, Eniac Ventures and NextView Ventures. The plan for the new funding is to grow the entire team, especially sales and engineering.

“CRM is changing,” Long said in a statement. “Businesses can’t build a relationship with the modern consumer through email alone. Email performance, as measured by how many subscribers click-through on a message, is down 45% over the last five years. Rather than continuing to shout one-way messages at consumers, smart brands will stay relevant by embracing personalized, real-time, two-way communication channels.”

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Aspire raises $32.5M to help SMEs secure fast finance in Southeast Asia

Posted by | alibaba, Apps, Asia, Aspire, Finance, funding, Indonesia, Lazada, MassMutual Ventures, Mobile, Online lending, payments, Singapore, Southeast Asia, Startups, Thailand, Venture Capital, vietnam, Y Combinator | No Comments

Aspire, a Singapore-based startup that helps SMEs secure working capital, has raised $32.5 million in a new financing round to expand its presence in several Southeast Asian markets.

The Series A round for the one-and-a-half-year-old startup was funded by MassMutual Ventures Southeast Asia. Arc Labs and existing investors Y Combinator — Aspire graduated from YC last year — Hummingbird and Picus Capital also participated in the round. Aspire has raised about $41.5 million to date.

Aspire operates a neo-banking-like platform to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) quickly and easily secure working capital of up to about $70,000. AspireAccount, the startup’s flagship product, provides merchants and startups with instant credit limit for daily business expenses, as well as a business-to-business acceptance and other tools to help them manage their cash flow.

Co-founder and CEO Andrea Baronchelli tells TechCrunch that about 1,000 business accounts are opened each month on Aspire and that the company plans to continue focusing on Southeast Asia, where he says there are about 78 million small businesses, leaving plenty of room to scale (applications can be made through Aspire’s mobile app and are reviewed using a proprietary risk assessment engine before getting final approval from a human). Aspire claims it has seen 30% month-over-month growth since it was founded in January 2018 and expects to open more than 100,000 business accounts by next year.

Baronchelli, who served as a CMO for Alibaba’s Lazada platform for four years, says Aspire launched to close the gap left by the traditional banking industry’s focus on consumer services or businesses that make more than $10 million in revenue a year. As a result, smaller businesses in Southeast Asia, including online vendors and startups, often lack access to credit lines, accounts and other financial services tailored to their needs.

Aspire currently operates in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. The startup said it will use the fresh capital to scale its footprints in those markets. Additionally, Aspire is building a scalable marketplace banking infrastructure that will use third-party financial service providers to “create a unique digital banking experience for its SME customers.”

Baronchelli adds that “the bank of the future will probably be a marketplace,” so Aspire’s goal is to provide a place where SMEs can not only open accounts and credit cards, but also pick from different services like point of sale systems. It is currently in talks with potential partners. The startup is also working on a business credit card that will be linked to each business account by as early as this year.

Southeast Asia’s digital economy is slated to grow more than six-fold to reach more than $200 billion per year, according to a report co-authored by Google. But for many emerging startups and businesses, getting financial services from a bank and securing working capital have become major pain points.

A growing number of startups are beginning to address these SMEs’ needs. In India, for instance, NiYo Bank and Open have amassed millions of businesses through their neo-banking platforms. Both of these startups have raised tens of millions of dollars in recent months. Drip Capital, which helps businesses in developing markets secure working capital, raised $25 million last week.

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What lower Netflix pricing tells us about competing in India

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, Apps, Asia, China, Cred, Disney, Facebook, Finance, FreeCharge, funding, Fundings & Exits, Google India, HBO, Hotstar, iPhone, LinkedIn, Media, Mobile, Netflix, Paytm, Reed Hastings, Satyan Gajwani, SnapDeal, Spotify, Tim Cook, Times Internet, Uber, Vijay Shekhar Sharma | No Comments

At a conference in New Delhi early last year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was confronted with a question that his company has been asked many times over the years. Would he consider lowering the subscription cost in India?

It’s a tactic that most Silicon Valley companies have adapted to in the country over the years. Uber rides aren’t as costly in India as they are elsewhere. Spotify and Apple Music cost less than $2 per month to users in the country. YouTube Premium as well as subscriptions to U.S. news outlets such as WSJ and New York Times are also priced significantly lower compared to the prices they charge in their home turf.

Hastings had also come prepared: He acknowledged that the entertainment viewing industry in India is very different from other parts of the world. To be sure, much of the pay-TV in India is supported by ads and the access fee remains too low ($5). But that was not going to change how Netflix likes to roll, he said.

“We want to be sensitive to great stories and to fund those great stories by investing in local content,” he said. “So yes, our strategy is to build up the local content — and of course we have got the global content — and try to uplevel the industry,” he said, identifying movie-goers who spend about Rs 500 ($7.25) or more on tickets each month as Netflix’s potential customers.

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Indian commuters walking below a poster of “Sacred Games”, an original show produced by Netflix (Image: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

Less than a year and a half later, Netflix has had a change of heart. The company today rolled out a lower-priced subscription plan in India, a first for the company. The monthly plan, which restricts usage of the service to mobile devices only, is priced at Rs 199 ($2.8) — a third of the least expensive plan in the U.S.

At a press conference in New Delhi today, Netflix executives said that the lower-priced subscription tier is aimed at expanding the reach of its service in the country. “We want to really broaden the audience for Netflix, want to make it more accessible, and we knew just how mobile-centric India has been,” said Ajay Arora, Director of Product Innovation at Netflix.

The move comes at a time when Netflix has raised its subscription prices in the U.S. by up to 18% and in the UK by up to 20%.

Netflix’s strategy shift in India illustrates a bigger challenge that Silicon Valley companies have been facing in the country for years. If you want to succeed in the country, either make most of your revenue from ads, or heavily subsidize your costs.

But whether finding users in India is a success is also debatable.

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Tile finds another $45M to expand its item-tracking devices and platform

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, Bessemer Venture Partners, Bluetooth, Bryant Stibel, ceo, Cloud, Comcast, Francisco Partners, funding, Gadgets, ggv capital, Google, hardware, partner, Qualcomm, Recent Funding, semiconductor, spokesperson, Startups, switzerland, TC, technology, telecommunications, tile, United States | No Comments

Tile — the company that makes popular square-shaped tags and other technology to help people keep track of physical belongings like keys and bags — has made more recent moves to link up with chipmakers, helping it expand to wireless headsets and other electronic and other connected items as part of a wider smart home strategy. Now, Tile is announcing a round of funding of $45 million to double down on those strategies and fulfill a plan to have its technology in millions of devices by the end of this year.

The growth equity is being led by Francisco Partners, with participation from previous investors GGV Capital and Bessemer Venture Partners and new backers Bryant Stibel and SVB Financial Group.

CJ Prober — who joined as CEO last year in part to develop Tile’s newer areas of business — said in an interview that the funding will help the startup be more aggressive in doubling down on these new opportunities.

“We’re seeing great business momentum, with the first embedded partner products from our strategic initiatives coming out this year,” he said. It now has partnerships with five semiconductor companies, including Qualcomm and most recently Nordic, which they integrate Tile functionality on to their hardware, he added. “All this is now paying off with great momentum.”

Prober would not comment on the company’s valuation with this round, except to say that it was definitely an up round. A spokesperson described the Series C as having “opened” with this $45 million commitment, which implies that there may be more funding coming, but Tile has declined to specify any more detail on this front. The startup had previously raised rounds in stages — as you can see by this timeline in PitchBook. For some more context, Tile’s last noted valuation (also in PitchBook) was around $166 million, but that was now more than two years ago, before the various initiatives and other changes at the company.

Tile is not disclosing any metrics on its market share or how many of its devices are now in use, but it typically is rated as the largest of a crowded market for item-tracking devices (with others in the space including TrackR (Adero), Chipolo, and more).

But it notes that its European business (a relatively new area of focus for Tile) has grown by 160% in the last quarter. That’s coming from a small base, though: Prober confirmed that the U.S. is still by far its biggest market in terms of sales and users.

And it also had a strong Prime Day on Amazon this year, doubling its unit sales (but didn’t provide hard numbers for comparison). It said it has exceeded projections for sign-ups for its Premium tier, which provides free battery replacements, 30-day location history, smart alerts (prompting you, for example, when you’ve left your keys somewhere), customer support and more for $30 for the year, or $3 per month.

The company has been planting a lot of seeds, and some of them have yet to sprout. Last year, Tile announced that it would take an investment from Comcast to help it develop new products for its wider connected consumer strategy.

Prober, however, described this as still in the “roadmapping phase” and would not get into specifics except to say that there are a number of different initiatives in the works. There also was a partnership with Google unveiled at the most recent I/O that will see its home devices also being able to be tracked by the Tile platform.

I asked Prober if he worries ultimately about whether large tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and the rest — which all want to “own” connected home customers and the ecosystem of hardware and services that they may use — are seen as opportunities or threats for Tile, given that it’s piggy backing on their platforms and devices. His and the company’s fundamental feeling — one that should be supported in the spirit of competition and consumer choice — is that having a cross-platform option is the way to go.

“Our customers have different devices, products from different companies and it’s our job to ensure that Tile works well across all of those,” he said. “We see ourselves a little bit like Switzerland, which is also something that our customers and partners appreciate.”

While we’re seeing a surge of new communications technologies and protocols — 5G being perhaps the one we are hearing about most at the moment — Tile is sticking to Bluetooth for now.

“We love what Bluetooth enables for our customers in terms of the form factor, the cost and profile of the device and the power consumption,” said Prober. “We’re constantly evaluating different alternatives, and if there is an alternative we would consider that, but in our view that doesn’t exist right now.”

It’s a choice that its investors are also supporting.

“Tile pioneered the smart location category,” said Andrew Kowal, partner with Francisco Partners, in a statement. “With Bluetooth technology projected to be included in nearly 30 billion devices shipping in the next five years, Tile is poised to deliver an embedded finding solution for a rapidly expanding market. We are extremely excited to be partnering with Tile as the company enters the next chapter of its growth story.”

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