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

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

Coinbase reportedly gets approval from U.S. regulators to start listing tokenized securities

Coinbase reportedly gets approval from U.S. regulators to start listing tokenized securities

Coinbase shared big news Monday that federal regulators are allowing the popular cryptocurrency exchange to proceed with plans to sell cryptocurrency tokens that are deemed securities.

Last month, Coinbase acquired Keystone Capital, a California-based FINRA-registered broker-dealer that operates as an alternative trading system. With the announcement, the SF-based cryptocurrency exchange disclosed that it would still need to get regulatory approval to operate under the Keystone licenses.

Today, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority gave Coinbase just that, Bloomberg reported, approving that deal alongside the acquisitions of Venovate Marketplace and Digital Wealth.

Today’s news opens up the scope of Coinbase’s ambitions to the billions of dollars that have been raised in initial coin offerings over the past several months. With permission to trade tokenized securities, Coinbase users could soon have the ability to move beyond the limited cryptocurrency options currently available to be traded on the site’s central exchange which currently just lists Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Litecoin.

The company announced last week that it was exploring adding five new tokens to its exchange, including Cardano, Basic Attention Token, Stellar Lumens, Zcash and 0x. In a blog post, the company specified that the announcement did not necessarily deem that these tokens were not securities and that classification might vary by jurisdiction.


Source: Tech Crunch

Aiming to make billboard advertising more programmatic, Adquick raises $2.1 million

Aiming to make billboard advertising more programmatic, Adquick raises .1 million

Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Initialized Capital and an investor in Adquick, a new service that’s looking to bring billboard advertising into the internet age, bought his last billboard ad just this year.

For several years, the Reddit founder had turned to outdoor advertising as a tool to troll politicians and advocate for various positions (and celebrate his famous wife). The last political billboard, in 2012, was to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act.

It was also the impetus for his investment in Adquick. “I’d seen pitches from a number of competitors that were all just static websites on top of the single business,” says Ohanian.

What he was looking for, and what he eventually found in Adquick was a company that had managed to map all of the billboard advertising options available in the U.S. and was offering would-be advertisers a way to digitally distribute their ads and book inventory.

“For us the reason why it was such an exciting initial investment was because we saw the opportunity and the talent of the team,” Ohanian says.

Matthew O’Connor, Adquick’s chief executive previously worked at Instacart and it was there that he and his team first learned about dragging traditional businesses into the online world.

“This team had come out of Instacart… they came well recommended by the founders over there,”Ohanian said. “Working with them now I’ve just gotten more and more impressed.”

So impressed, that Ohanian doubled down on his firm’s initial investment into the company with a new $2.1 million round.

There’s an undoubtable opportunity in outdoor advertising. O’Connor estimates that it’s a $33 billion global market with $8 billion spent on outdoor ads in the U.S. alone.

“They are aggregating from hundreds of vendors across the U.S. and they’re making it easy for companies to sell those ads and manage that inventory and bringing a ton of transparency to a system that is mostly phone calls and emails,” Ohanian said. 

Bringing those efficiencies to an old industry can only help what’s been the only non-digital ad channel to actually grow in the U.S. “It’s the oldest channel in the world that’s about to undergo a resurgence,” O’Connor says.

“It’s the last frontier of advertising,” says O’Connor. “This is a real world channel that can have a lot of tailwinds if we can bring these great modern technologies to it which is what we’re doing.”


Source: Tech Crunch

This fan-made Uncharted movie starring Nathan Fillion proves video game movies don’t have to be awful

This fan-made Uncharted movie starring Nathan Fillion proves video game movies don’t have to be awful

It’s not exactly a controversial statement: Movies based on video games are, generally, bad. See Assassins Creed. Or that weird mess that was Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Or that Super Mario movie where Bowser (renamed “President Koopa” for some reason) was basically just a dude with bad hair for half the movie.

Turns out, as this live action fan film based on Naughty Dog’s Uncharted suggests, they can be done right.

This fan-made short is about as unofficial as can be, as noted by a disclaimer that pops up on screen right off the bat.

And yet, it does a better job of capturing the feel of its source material than pretty much any game-based movie before it.

And it stars Nathan Fillion! Captain friggin’ Reynolds himself! Fans have been saying for ages that Nathan Fillion would make for one helluva Nathan Drake, and it seems like the hive mind really nailed that casting.

Is it silly? Sure. Will people who’ve never played the Uncharted series understand what’s going on? Maybe not. But it feels like Uncharted, down to a scene in which I half expected to be asked to mash some invisible X button to ensure Nathan’s punch connected.

Would it work as a feature-length movie? It’s hard to say. But if they found a way to release something like this episodically, I’d tune in. Alas, no word yet on any future plans from the team involved.


Source: Tech Crunch

Putin proposes a joint cybersecurity group with the US to investigate Russian election meddling

Putin proposes a joint cybersecurity group with the US to investigate Russian election meddling

Over the course of Monday’s controversial Helsinki summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed an agenda that would ostensibly see the U.S. and Russia working side by side as allies. The two countries make stranger bedfellows than ever as just days prior, Trump’s own Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials for the infamous 2016 Democratic National Committee hack.

Nonetheless, the Russian president revived talks of a joint group between the U.S. and Russia dedicated to cybersecurity matters. For anyone with the security interests of the U.S. at heart, such a proposal, which Trump endorsed in a tweet one year ago, would truly be a worst-case scenario outcome of the puzzlingly cozy relationship between the two world leaders.

“Once again, President Trump mentioned the issue of the so-called interference of Russia [during] the American elections and I had to reiterate things I said several times…,” Putin said in Helsinki.

“Any specific material, if such things arise, we are ready to analyze together. For instance, we can analyze them through the joint working group on cyber security, the establishment of which we discussed during our previous contacts.”

Putin added that Russia favors “continued cooperation in counter-terrorism and maintaining cyber security.”

“The most recent example is their operational cooperation within the recently concluded World Football Cup,” Putin said. “In general, the contacts among the special services should be put to a system-wide basis should be brought to a systemic framework. I reminded President Trump about the suggestion to re-establish the working group on anti-terrorism.”

After a loud bipartisan rebuke followed Trump’s proposal of an “impenetrable [cybersecurity] unit” with Russia last year, the U.S. president walked his comments back a few steps, suggesting that they were hypothetical. Whether it ever materializes or not, the whole idea is a somewhat stunning departure from national security norms and one that would be broadly decried as letting the fox into the henhouse, given that evidence establishing Russia as a cyber adversary of the U.S., both currently and historically, is plentiful.

In 2017, the U.S. intelligence community issued such an assertion in no uncertain terms:

Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.

The report notes that this information is sourced broadly, stating that “insights into Russian efforts—including specific cyber operations—and Russian views of key US players derive from multiple corroborating sources.”

CrowdStrike, the security firm involved in investigating the 2016 DNC hack, uncontroversially included Russia on a list of “notable nation-state adversaries” of the U.S. alongside China, North Korea and Iran.

Just days ago, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats cautioned that “warning lights are blinking red again” when it comes to attacks on federal, state and local U.S. entities. Coats named Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as cyber aggressors against the U.S., adding that “Russia has been the most aggressive foreign actor, no question.”

It’s unclear what, if anything, the U.S. would stand to gain from such an arrangement, though it would stand to lose quite a bit, given the likelihood that Russia’s interest in influencing U.S. elections is ongoing. Putin’s comments in Helsinki indicate the the spirit of such an effort lives on, misguided as it may be.


Source: Tech Crunch

Netflix is falling off a cliff

Netflix is falling off a cliff

Netflix didn’t add as many subscribers as expected by a bunch of people on Wall Street who, on a quarterly basis, govern whether or not it’ll be more valuable than Comcast — and that is probably a bad thing, as it’s one of the primary indicators of its future potential for said finance folk.

While it’s still adding subscribers (a lot of them), it fell below the forecasts it set for itself during the second quarter. That’s shaved off more than $10 billion in its market capitalization this afternoon. This comes amid a spending spree by the company, which is looking to create a ton of original content in order to attract a wider audience and lock them into that Netflix ecosystem. That could include shows like GLOWJessica Jones3% or even feature films. But it’s still a tricky situation because it needs to be able to convert shows from that kind of crazy spend schedule into actual subscribers.

Here’s the main chart for its subscription growth.:

So it’s basically down across the board compared to what it set for itself. And here’s the stock chart:

CEOs and executives will normally say they’re focused on delivering long-term value to shareholders, or some variation of that wording, but Netflix is a company that’s been on an absolute tear over the course of the past year. It’s more than doubled in value, overtaking said previously mentioned cable company and signaling that it, too, could be a media consumption empire that will take a decade to unseat like its predecessor. (Though, to be sure, Comcast is going to bundle in Netflix, so this whole situation is kind of weird.)

Of course, all of this is certainly not great for the company. The obvious case is that Netflix has to attract a good amount of talent, and that means offering generous compensation packages — which can include a lot of stock as part of it. But Netflix is also a company that looks to raise a lot of debt to fund the aforementioned spending spree in order to pick up additional subscribers. That’s going to require some assurance that it’ll be a pretty valuable company in the future (and still around, of course), so it may make those negotiations a little more difficult.

Everything else was pretty much in-line, but in the end, it’s that subscriber number that didn’t go as well as planned.


Source: Tech Crunch

Uber is being investigated for gender discrimination in a federal probe

Uber is being investigated for gender discrimination in a federal probe

As Uber tries to chart a new course, it still can’t manage to outrun news that paints its corporate culture in an ugly light.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, Uber is being investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for gender disparities pertaining to hiring practices and pay. The EEOC probe began in August 2017 and the commission has since been interviewing employees and collecting relevant documents since. The EEOC declined to provide details to TechCrunch due to “confidentiality provisions,” adding that details of an EEOC investigation “[become] public only when the EEOC files a lawsuit, which is typically a last resort.”

An Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company has “proactively made a lot of changes in the last 18 months.” Those changes include creating and enacting a new “salary and equity structure,” reforming the way it conducts performance reviews to emphasize high quality feedback, putting out diversity and inclusion reports and involving more employees in diversity trainings.

Uber put out its first diversity and inclusion report in March 2017 and in April of this year updated those numbers, which demonstrate some movement in the right direction, albeit at a glacial pace. In the latest report, the company noted that it had increased the percentage of women in its workforce from 36.1 to 38 percent, which isn’t exactly progress to write home about.

With new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber is hoping to rewrite its own story, but the company continues to be embroiled in leadership turbulence, like last week’s departure of Chief People Officer Liane Hornsey after an internal investigation into race-based discrimination and last month’s departure of Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John.

It’s worth noting that Uber isn’t being singled out by the EEOC, which has also launched recent investigations into age discrimination at Intel and gendered pay discrepancies at Google. Still, for Uber, no news would be good news — even just for a little while.


Source: Tech Crunch