Travel giant Booking invests $500M in Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing

Travel giant Booking invests 0M in Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing

Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing company, has pulled in some strategic capital after Booking Holdings invested $500 million into its business.

The deal will see Booking Holdings — which was formerly known as Priceline — work closely with Didi to offer its on-demand car services through its Booking.com apps via an integration. Likewise, Didi customers will have the option to book hotels through Booking.com and its sister site Agoda.

The deal isn’t about money. Didi has said publicly that it has multiple billions of US dollars on its balance sheet, thanks to a gigantic $4 billion funding round that closed at the end of 2017 and a history of raising big in recent years.

Instead, the tie-in helps on a strategic level.

Besides Booking.com and Agoda, Booking also operates Kayak, Priceline.com, Rentacars.com and OpenTable, all of which makes it a powerful ally for Didi. That’s particularly important since the Chinese firm is in global expansion mode, having launched services in Mexico, Australia and Taiwan this year. Beyond those three, it acquired local ride-hailing company 99 in Brazil and announced plans to roll into Japan.

Beyond boosting a brand and consumer touchpoints, linking up with travel companies makes sense as ride-hailing goes from simply ride-hailing to become a de facto platform for travel between both longer haul (flights) and short distance (public transport) trips. That explains why Didi has doubled down on dock-less bikes and other transportation modes.

“Building on its leadership and expertise in the global online travel market, Booking is championing a digital revolution of travel experience. We look forward to seamlessly connecting every segment of the journey and improving everyone’s traveling experience through more collaborative innovation with the Booking brands on product, technology and market development,” said Stephen Zhu, VP of strategy for Didi, in a statement.

In other Didi news today, the company is said to be considering a deal to offload its car services business.

Reuters reports that the unit, which was formed in April and consists of Didi’s car rental, sales, maintenance, sharing and gas services businesses, could be spun out in a deal worth $1.5 billion. The thinking is apparently that Didi’s IPO, which is said to be in the planning stages, would run smoother without these asset-heavy businesses involved.

Representatives for Didi declined to comment on the report when we got in touch.

Didi was linked with a 2017 IPO back in 2016 but the company went on record denying those plans. Indeed, there’s plenty of progress since those reports surfaced. Not only did Didi go on to acquire Uber’s China business — that seems like a long time ago — but it has made strategic investments across the world, backing Uber rivals in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and beyond. That’s in addition to its aforementioned expansion plans, which have seen the Didi business roll into four countries outside of China.


Source: Tech Crunch

Mention Me, the referral marketing platform, raises $7M led by Eight Roads Ventures

Mention Me, the referral marketing platform, raises M led by Eight Roads Ventures

Mention Me, the London-headquartered referral marketing platform, has raised $7 million in further funding. The round is led by Eight Roads Ventures and is the first time the five and a half year old company has raised venture capital, having only ever done a small angel round in 2015.

That’s noteworthy given the company’s two founders: Andy Cockburn and Tim Boughton, who met at Homeaway where they were U.K. MD and European CTO respectively before its $3 billion IPO on the Nasdaq.

Counting over 300 customers — including FarFetch, Ovo Energy, Ted Baker and ZipCar — Mention Me offers a marketing platform to make it easy and effective for companies to conduct referral marketing. The platform supports referral programs in 16 languages, but its biggest draw is the ability to A/B test, iterate and measure campaigns so that they work best for the cohort they target.

Another feature that stands out is Mention Me’s refer by name functionality. This sees the marketing platform let you refer customers simply by having enter your full name into the referral box instead of relying on a unique referral code or URL. This, Mention Me co-founder Cockburn says, is designed to mimic the way referrals are naturally made in conversation with friends i.e. ‘go to this store and mention my name’.

“Most businesses are sitting on a huge asset: the trust and good will of their customers,” he says. “If those customers are out telling their friends about the brand and how they feel about it, it should become the most valuable marketing channel the business has. A channel that brings in the best friends of your best customers is close to the holy grail of marketing. And some of the biggest successes of recent years – Uber, AirbnB, Dropbox – have realised this to great effect”.

However, the challenge, argues Cockburn, is that it’s not as easy as just putting a share button on a site. That’s because human psychology kicks in.

“When a brand asks us to share we start to evaluate the impact of that action on our friendships? Will I look good in front of my friend for sharing it? Will they judge me negatively for sharing? The way we solve this problem is by putting all of our resources – our technology and team – to focussing on solving the psychological challenge”.

This includes understanding that people aren’t all the same, hence Mention Me offers segmentation and A/B testing by cohort so that brands can work out which offers and messaging resonate with different customer groups.

“We let people share in the most natural way, in real world conversations, by telling friends to just go to the site and give their name, to make sharing feel natural. And we have a team of referral experts that actively works in partnership with clients to help them solve this challenge,” says Cockburn.

That partnership is reflected in Mention Me’s revenue model, too. Instead of charging a monthly subscription as most SaaS do, after an initial set-up fee, the company gets paid by referral, in the form of commission on a new customer’s first order. This makes it similar to affiliate marketing in the sense that the interests of Mention Me and its customers are aligned.

Meanwhile, the Mention Me founder believes that as marketing continues to evolve over the next five years, trust will be at the heart of its evolution. And when you get trust right, all of the dynamics of a business become easier.

“Customers come to you without you needing to sell to them, they’re generally happier and they stick around longer,” he says. “Over the next couple of years we’ll be building out a Trust Marketing platform to help businesses grow, manage, measure and harness trust. Our ultimate goal is to change how the world does marketing”.


Source: Tech Crunch

Valve temporarily stops adding adult games to Steam

Valve temporarily stops adding adult games to Steam
In recent months, the question of which games should be granted access to Steam — Valve's online marketplace — has become an increasingly heated one. After initially warning developers whose games contained adult or violent subject matter to remove…
Source: Engadget

IBM demands $167 million from Groupon for using its patents

IBM demands 7 million from Groupon for using its patents
IBM and Groupon have been engaged in a legal battle over patents since 2016, with the tech giant accusing the deals website of violating four of its e-commerce IPs without permission. Now, IBM is seeking $167 million from Groupon, telling jurors that…
Source: Engadget

Online learning platform Unacademy gets $21M Series C from Sequoia India, SAIF and Nexus

Online learning platform Unacademy gets M Series C from Sequoia India, SAIF and Nexus

Unacademy founders Roman Saini, Gaurav Munjal and Hemesh Singh

Bangalore-based Unacademy will add more educators to its online learning platform, which claims to be India’s largest, after closing a $21 million Series C. The funding comes from Sequoia India, SAIF Partners and Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from Blume Ventures (all four firms are returning from Unacademy’s Series B last year).

Originally a YouTube channel created in 2010 by Gaurav Munjal, Unacademy was officially launched as a startup in 2015 by founders Munjal, Roman Saini and Hemesh Singh. It has now raised $38.6 million in total.

While Unacademy offers a wide range of courses, its most popular offerings include preparation for important exams in India. Its platform includes two apps: one that lets educators create lessons and another that allows users to access them. Unacademy says it has 10,000 registered educators and three million users. Last month, the startup claims 3,000 educators were active on the platform and lessons were watched more than 40 million times.

Many lessons are available for free, though last year Unacademy launched a paid service called Plus that gives users access to features like private discussion forums and live video classes for a per-course fee. Unacademy claims it has achieved six times growth in monthly revenue since launching Plus. The premium classes also help it differentiate from other online learning platforms like Mrunal, a popular site that provides free test preparation for Indian students.

In addition to bringing on more teachers, Unacademy will use its new funding to expand key categories like pre-med, the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) and the Common Admission Test (CAT), which are required by many post-graduate programs.

In a media statement, SAIF partner Alok Goel said “Unacademy has demonstrated tremendous progress towards their goal of delivering personalized learning by connecting great quality educators and students on their platform. The company has diversified across several new domains and has achieved amazing word of mouth among learners.”


Source: Tech Crunch

ClassPass is headed to Asia via an imminent launch in Singapore

ClassPass is headed to Asia via an imminent launch in Singapore

U.S fitness startup ClassPass is headed to Asia after it announced plans to go live in Singapore, its first city in the continent.

Four-year-old ClassPass allows its users to book fitness classes and packages across a multitude of gyms. The company claims to work with more than 10,000 fitness partners across over 50 cities globally. That’s mostly in the U.S. but it has also forayed into Canada, the UK and Australia and now it is seeking out additional growth opportunities.

The move into Asia has been expected for some time after ClassPass hired a head of international in May. The company told TechCrunch at the time that it would soon arrive in three countries in Asia and Singapore, which has many similarities to the West in terms of economics and culture, is a logical pick as the starting point. Added to that, the country’s sovereign fund, Temasek, led ClassPass’s $70 million Series C funding round last year so you could say that is an extra factor.

The identity of the other two cities remains unclear at this point, but you’d imagine that Hong Kong will be one of them.

ClassPass hasn’t given a specific date for its launch other than it will come to Singapore “in the lead-up to National Day” — that’s August 9. In the meantime, it has opened up a Singapore waitlist which can be found here.

The U.S. startup was the first to pioneer the fitness subscription model but it already has competition in Singapore and other parts of Asia. Singapore’s own GuavaPass operates in 12 countries across Asia and the Middle East, having previously raised $5 million, while another rival called KFit is present in four cities in Southeast Asia.

Actually, the case of KFit shows that fitness subscription is challenging in Asia. KFit raised more than $15 million from investors and scaled to over a dozen cities before it pivoted its business to Groupon-like group deals in a strategy that included the actual purchase of Groupon businesses in Southeast Asia.

The KFit business still operates but it has been scaled back significantly in response to a tough business landscape. ClassPass itself has experienced similar setbacks — including price hikes and a management reshuffle — while it is said to have seen its valuation decline for that Series C round.

With all those factors in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how ClassPass fairs when it does touch down in Asia. 


Source: Tech Crunch

Microsoft Edge iOS beta offers handy visual search tool

Microsoft Edge iOS beta offers handy visual search tool
Today, beta testers of the Microsoft Edge browser on iOS can now try out Visual Search, which parses images taken by your device's camera and delivers links to related information. The Bing-based feature came to early users on Android last month, and…
Source: Engadget

What's on TV: 'Humans,' 'Snowfall' and 'Killjoys'

What's on TV: 'Humans,' 'Snowfall' and 'Killjoys'
This week we have a season finale for AMC's robot series Humans and FX's Pose, as Syfy brings back Wynonna Earp and Killjoys plus FX has a second season of Snowfall. Netflix's latest series features David Spade in Father of the Year, while gamers can…
Source: Engadget