Uber CTO says competing with Didi is ‘very healthy’ despite their complicated relationship


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Competing with a company that counts you as an investor is hardly conventional — some might call it strange — but for Uber it’s a situation that is not only normal but essential.

That’s according to the ride-hailing giant’s CTO, Thuan Pham, who talked about the complicated rivalry Uber has with China’s Didi Chuxing, which counts each other as investors. Uber famously exited China in 2016 — it has since left Southeast Asia and merged with a rival in Russia, too — and part of that deal saw it take nearly six percent of the Chinese company’s business while Didi got equity in Uber. Yet, years later, the two compete in the growing Latin America market, where Didi is making aggressive moves, and also in Australia.

“If you don’t have competition then you can become complacent because there’s no competition to challenge,” Pham said during an interview at

uber 2

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Razer goes big on payments with Visa prepaid card


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The latest pairing between a tech upstart and a financial titan is a digital prepaid card targeted at Southeast Asia’s 430 million-plus unbanked and underserved population.

On Monday, Razer, the Singapore-based company best known for its gaming laptops and peripherals, announced a partnership with Visa to develop a Visa prepaid solution. The service, which allows unbanked users to top up and cash out easily, will be available as a mini program embedded in Razer Pay, the gaming company’s mobile payments app. That means Razer’s 60 million registered users will be able to pay at any of the 54 million merchant locations around the world that take Visa.

Going virtual is the natural step given the region’s fast-growing digital population, but the pair does not rule out the possibility to introduce a physical prepaid card down the road, Razer’s chief strategy officer Li Meng Lee told TechCrunch over a phone interview.

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Google Cloud launches its second region in Japan


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Google today announced the launch of its Osaka region, its second cloud region in Japan and seventh in Asia Pacific. With this, the company now offers its users a total of twenty regions, all of which feature at least three availability zones.

In Japan, the Osaka region joins Google’s Tokyo region and will offer lower latencies for local customers, Google notes, though Tokyo and Osaka are obviously pretty close, so that’s likely not a big difference. For businesses in Japan, having two geographically separate regions is a major boon as far as being able to add additional redundancies and disaster recovery is concerned, though.

“Two cloud regions in-country provide improved business continuity planning with distributed, secure infrastructure needed to meet IT and business requirements for disaster recovery. Services and support from our robust partner ecosystem in Japan,” Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian writes in today’s announcement.

“We’re looking forward

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Tinder is preparing to launch a lightweight version of its dating app called ‘Tinder Lite’


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Tinder is preparing to launch a version of its popular dating app aimed at users in emerging markets. The app, which will be called “Tinder Lite,” offers a smaller, more lightweight version of the current flagship app, the company says. Smaller app size is a defining characteristic of most of today’s “Lite” apps, which are specifically focused on addressing the unique needs of users in areas where data usage, bandwidth, and storage space is a concern.

Most major tech companies now offer “Lite” apps for the large and rapidly growing online user base coming from these emerging markets — and specifically India, as of late.

For example, Google has a full suite of lightweight “Go”-branded apps like Google Go, Gmail Go, Files Go, YouTube Go, Google Maps Go, and Google Assistant Go. There’s also Facebook Lite, Instagram Lite, Messenger Lite, Twitter Lite, Uber Lite,

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Starbucks CEO says Chinese rival Luckin’s ‘heavy discount’ strategy isn’t sustainable


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A war of words in the coffee world is brewing after the CEO of Starbucks claimed Chinese upstart Luckin can’t last just days after it filed for a U.S IPO.

Kevin Johnson, who leads the American coffee giant, told CNBC that competitors in China including Luckin have adopted a strategy of building market share using “heavy, heavy discounts” that he believes is not sustainable.

“We’re deploying capital and building 600 new stores per year,” he said. We’re “generating the return on invested capital that we believe is sustainable to continue to build new stores at this rate for many years to come.”

Starbucks claims 30,000 stores worldwide. It has been in China for 20 years and it is aiming to reach 6,000 stores in the country by 2022. Luckin, fuelled by over $550 million in VC money, has quickly scaled to reach 2,370 locations in under two

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AWS wants a bigger share of Asia following Hong Kong launch


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Amazon’s cloud computing unit is making further inroads into Asia after it opened a data center in Hong Kong this week, adding to the seven existing locations where it currently operates across the Asia Pacific and China.

The new entry will likely give the American giant some leg up in its regional battle with Alibaba’s cloud service, which, according to a new Gartner report, was the biggest cloud infrastructure provider in the Asia Pacific last year. But that won’t be the case with all countries, notably China where the cards are often stacked against foreign players.

Amazon Web Services has been operating in China for quite some time, albeit through rough and roundabout routes. A set of cyber laws enacted by Beijing in mid-2017 required foreign companies to store data locally and outsource their hardware parts to Chinese partners. In response, AWS teamed up with two separate local providers

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Grocery delivery startup Honestbee is running out of money and trying to sell


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Honestbee, the online grocery delivery service in Asia, is nearly out of money and trying to offload its business.

The company has held early conversations with a number of suitors in Asia, including ride-hailing giants Grab and Go-Jek, over the potential acquisition of part, or all, of its business, according to two industry sources with knowledge of the talks.

Founded in 2015, Honestbee works with supermarkets and retailers to deliver goods to customers using its store pickers, delivery fleet and mobile apps. The company is based in Singapore and operates in eight markets across Asia: Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Japan. In some markets it has expanded to food deliveries and, in Singapore, it operates an Alibaba-style online/offline store called Habitat.

The company makes its money by taking a cut of transactions from consumer transactions, while it also monetizes delivery services separately.

Despite looking impressive from

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ShopBack, a cashback startup in Asia Pacific, raises $45M from Rakuten and others


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ShopBack, a Singapore-based startup that offers cashback and consumer rewards in Asia Pacific, has closed a $45 million round led by new investors Rakuten Capital and EV Growth.

Founded in 2014, the startup had been relatively under-the-radar until late 2017 when it announced a $25 million investment that funded expansion into Australia among other things. Now, it is doubling down with this deal which sees participation from another new backer, EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board. Shopback has now raised close to $85 million from investors, which also include Credit Saison Blue Sky, AppWorks, SoftBank Ventures Korea, Singtel Innov8 and Qualgro.

The investment will see Amit Patel, who leads Rakuten-owned cashback service Ebates, and EV Growth managing partner Willson Cuaca, join the board. Cuaca is a familiar face since his East Ventures firm, which launched EV Growth alongside Yahoo Japan Capital and SMDV last year, was

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Travel activities platform Klook raises $225M led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund


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We recently noted that SoftBank’s Vision Fund has stepped up its deal-making in Asia this year, and today it added a new company to its roster: travel services platform Klook.

Hong Kong-based Klook announced today that it has raised a $225 million round led by the Vision Fund with participation from existing investors. The deal — which is described as a “Series D plus” — comes just eight months after Klook announced its $200 million Series D at a valuation of over $1 billion. The company didn’t confirm what its new valuation is, but co-founder and president Eric Gnock Fah (second from right in the photo above) did confirm to TechCrunch that it has increased.

Klook was founded in 2014 and it serves as an activities platform for users who travel overseas. That covers areas like visits to adventure parks, scuba diving, more localized tours or basics such as train

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Uber may have left Southeast Asia but its APAC HQ remains in Singapore


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Uber exited Southeast Asia last year after it sold its local business to Grab but it continues to remain in Singapore, where it has now opened a new regional HQ for Asia Pacific and is hiring for staff.

The company — which is headed for IPO imminently — won’t be restarting its service, however, which puts it in a rather interesting position in Singapore.

The writing has been on the wall for some time, though. TechCrunch reported last August that Uber was on a hiring spree in Singapore, and now that has come to fruition with the opening with a new 2,000 sq meter office near the Central Business District in Singapore. That’ll function as the management center for the nine markets that Uber operates in across Asia Pacific, which include Japan, Korea and Australia. India, Uber’s second largest market, is managed separately to the rest of the continent.

Uber’s

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Google reshuffles its leadership in Asia Pacific


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There’s a changing of the guard within Google’s Asia Pacific business. In recent weeks, personnel changes within two of its most important roles show the search giant is entering a new era of management for its fast-growing business across the continent.

Scott Beaumont, a British executive who previously ran Google in China and Korea, stepped into the role of Asia-Pacific president following an announcement made on March 18. Following that, Google revealed today that Rajan Anandan, the executive in charge of Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia, would leave the company. VC firm Sequoia India said that Anandan, who has made a number of angel investments, is joining its ranks to oversee Surge, the early stage accelerator program that it announced in January.

A former consultant with McKinsey in the U.S, Anandan worked for Microsoft and Dell before joining Google in 2011. Under his tenure, the company executed a

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Huawei books $8.8B profit for 2018 as consumer devices become top moneymaker


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Despite an ongoing tussle with the U.S. government, signs look positive for Huawei. The Chinese firm just released its end of year report for 2018 and profit is up 25 percent to 59.3 billion CNY, or $8.84 billion, thanks to its fast-growing smartphone and devices business.

Huawei isn’t a public company but it does release financial reports that are audited by KPMG. The big takeaway from its latest financials is that it has become a hardware company — that’s to say that revenue from consumer devices overtook Huawei’s core telecom business, which involves selling networking gear to carriers.

Overall revenue for 2018 was 721 billion CNY, or $107.4 billion, which represented a 19.5 increase year-on-year.

Huawei said revenue from its consumer business rose by 45 percent to reach 349 billion CNY ($52 billion), with its carrier business dropping 1.3 percent to 294 billion CNY,

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Kong raises $43M Series C for its API platform


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Kong, the open core API management and lifecycle management company previously known as Mashape, today announced that it has raised a $43 million Series C round led by Index Ventures. Previous investors Andreessen Horowitz and Charles River Ventures (CRV), as well as new investors GGV Capital and World Innovation Lab also participated. With this round, Kong has now raised a total of $71 million.

The company’s CEO and co-founder Augusto Marietti tells me that the company plans to use the funds to build out its service control platform. He likened this service to the “nervous system for an organization’s software architecture.”

Right now, Kong is just offering the first pieces of this, though. One area the company plans to especially focus on is security, in addition to its existing management tools, where Kong plans to add more machine learning capabilities over time, too. “It’s obviously a 10-year journey

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Shiok Meats takes the cultured meat revolution to the seafood aisle with plans for cultured shrimp


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Rising consumer interest in alternative proteins and meat replacements has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to companies trying to grow or replace beef or chicken, but few companies have turned their attention to developing seafood alternatives.

Now Shiok Meats is looking to change that. The company has raised pre-seed financing from investors like AIM Partners, Boom Capital, and Bryan Bettencourt and is now part of the recent Y Combinator cohort presenting next week.

Co-founders Sandiya Shriram and Ka Yi Ling are both stem cell scientists working at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research who decided to leave their cushy government posts for life in the fast lane of entrepreneurship. 

The two have set themselves a goal of creating a shrimp substitute that would be similar to what’s typically found in the freezer section of most grocery stores — and a minced shrimp-replacement for use in dumplings.

There’s

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Bike sharing pioneer Mobike is retreating to China


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In a telling sign of the state of bike sharing, Mobike, a once red-hot startup that attracted billions in investment capital, is closing down all international operations and putting its sole focus on China.

On Friday, Mobike laid off its operations teams in APAC, which entailed more than 15 full-time employees and many more contractors and third-party agency staff across Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India and Australia. Those affected were told the company will “ramp down” the regional business without being provided specific reasons for the rollback, five people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

These layoffs are a key step towards the eventual goal of closing Mobike’s international footprint since the Asia Pacific region accounts for the majority of its non-China business. More staff cuts are impending outside Asia that can include Europe and the Americans, according to two sources. Eventually, Mobike will only be operational in its native

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Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal invests $92M in Ola


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The money is starting to flow from India’s largest startup exit. Ola has added a major name to its ongoing financing round after it confirmed that Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal has invested 650 crore INR (around $92 million) into the Indian ride-hailing business.

The deal rumored in January when Paper.vc, an intelligence service that sifts through company filings in India, noticed that Bansal had committed to investing 150 crore. Today, eight-year-old Ola not only confirmed the pairing, but it revealed that the actual size of Bansal’s investment is significantly higher. It represents his most prominent and largest investment to date, and his first major deal since he left Flipkart following its sale to Walmart for $16 billion last year.

TechCrunch understands that Bansal will not take an advisory role nor will he be involved in operations.

The investment is part of an ongoing Series J round of financing

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Gogoprint raises $7.7M to expand its online printing business in Asia Pacific


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Gogoprint, a startup that is aiming to disrupt the traditional printing industry in Southeast Asia, has pulled in a $7.7 million investment as prepares to expand its business in Asia Pacific.

We first profiled Gogoprint in 2016 soon after its launch the previous year, and since then the Bangkok-based company has expanded beyond Thailand and into Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Now, the company is looking to go beyond Southeast Asia and enter Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and other markets over the coming 12 months.

Those moves will be funded by this Series A round, which is led by existing Gogoprint backer OPG (Online Printing Group), an investment firm from Kai Hagenbuch who was an early backer of Brazil-based Printi. Printi previously sold a chunk of its business to printing giant VistaPrint through a 2014 investment and it is generally heralded as a startup success within its space.

Gogoprint

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Facebook is opening its first data center in Asia


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Facebook is opening its first data center in Asia. The company announced today that it is planning an 11-story building in Singapore that will help its services run faster and more efficiently. The development will cost SG$1.4 billion, or around US$1 billion, the company confirmed.

The social networking firm said that it anticipates that the building will be powered 100 percent by renewable energy. It said also that it will utilize a new ‘StatePoint Liquid Cooling’ system technology, which the firm claims minimizes the consumption of water and power.

Facebook said that the project will create hundreds of jobs and “form part of our growing presence in Singapore and across Asia.”

A render of what Facebook anticipates that its data center in Singapore will look like

Asia Pacific accounts for 894 million monthly users, that’s 40 percent of the total user base and it makes it the highest

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Uber is on a hiring spree in Singapore despite ‘exiting’ Southeast Asia


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Uber agreed to sell its Southeast Asia business in March, but it isn’t leaving the region. In fact, the U.S. firm is doubling down with plans to more than double its staff in Singapore.

That’s right. Uber is currently in the midst of a major recruitment drive that will see Singapore, the first city it expanded to in Asia, remain its headquarters for the Asia Pacific region despite its local exit. Unfortunately for customers who miss having a strong alternative to Grab, Uber won’t be bringing its ride-hailing app back in Singapore or anywhere else in Southeast Asia.

Uber’s own job portal lists 19 open roles for Singapore, but the company has contacted headhunting and recruitment firms to help fill as many as 75 vacancies, three sources with knowledge of Uber’s hiring plans told TechCrunch.

The new hires will take Uber’s headcount in Singapore to well over

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AWS opens its first region in India


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AWS logo Amazon Web Services (AWS) today announced the launch of its first region in India. Formally known as the Asia Pacific (Mumbai) region, this new AWS region is the company’s sixth in Asia Pacific. With this, AWS now operates 13 regions, with a total of 35 availability zones. AWS previously announced its plans for opening this new region a year ago. The company says it has more than… Read More