Sequoia reveals first cohort for its ‘Surge’ accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia

Back in January, Sequoia India announced plans for its first early-stage startup accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia, and today the firm revealed the first cohort of 17 startups.

To recap, the program — which is called Surge — gives each startup a $1.5 million check and participation in a four-month program that’s split across India and Singapore, as well as the wider Sequoia global presence in China and San Francisco.

The program kicked off last month, but the startups were only unveiled for the first time today — here they are:

  • Azani Sports: a ‘full stack’ sports clothing startup based in India that sells online and through selected high street retails
  • Bobobox: a capsule hotel company based in Indonesia
  • Bulbul: a live-streaming service with a focus on e-commerce across India
  • DancingMind: a Singapore startup that uses VR to enable remote for stroke victims and patients of debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s
  • Doubtnut: an India-based education startup that uses photos, videos and AI
  • Flynote: a travel booking service with a focus on personalized trips
  • Hippo Video: a platform developing, editing and analyzing marketing and sales videos
  • InterviewBit Academy: a computer science training and development platform in India — that’s not unlike recent Y Combinator graduate Skill-Lync
  • Khatabook: an accounting service for SMEs in India that already claims 120,000 weekly users
  • Qoala: a micro-insurance startup based in Indonesia, which competes with rivals like PasarPolis — which is backed by three of Indonesia’s unicorns
  • ShopUp: a social commerce startup that helps sellers in Bangladesh do business through Facebook — that’s a similar concept to established Indian startups Meesho (another YC alum) and LimeRoad which enable sellers on WhatsApp
  • Skillmatics: a startup headquartered in India that develops learning games for pre-school and primary school kids aged under 10
  • Telio: a b2b commerce platform that aims to digitize the process of brands and wholesalers selling to retailers
  • Uiza: a Singapore-Vietnam startup that lets publishers and companies develop their own video infrastructure independent of platforms like YouTube
  • Vybes: an e-commerce platform for social media influencers that’s based out of Singapore
  • Zenyum: a startup that provides invisible braces for consumers in Southeast Asia at a lower cost than traditional alternatives

There’s one additional startup which is being kept ‘under the radar’ for now, Sequoia said.

Sequoia India managing director Shailendra Singh previously told TechCrunch that Surge would support a ‘curated’ selections of fellow VCs who could invest alongside in the cohort alongside the firm, and Sequoia said that the 17 startups have attracted a total of $36 million in investment. A spokesperson also pointed out that five of the selection have at least one female co-founders, which is almost certainly above average for the region although it is tricky to get reliable data covering India and (in particular) Southeast Asia.

Surge is an interesting effort for Sequoia, which has traditionally played in post-seed and growth stages of the investment cycle. Sequoia closed its most recent fund for India and Southeast Asia at $695 million last year, and it also has access to a globally active ‘growth’ fund that is targeted at $8 billion. Reports have suggested that Surge will get its own sparkling new $200 million fund, which would make a lot of sense given the potential conflict and confusion of investing via its main fund. But the firm is declining to comment on that possibility for now.

One major addition to the program that has been confirmed, however, is Rajan Anandan, the executive who previously ran Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia and is a well-known angel investor. His arrival was announced earlier this month and he will lead the Surge initiative.

His recruitment is a major win for Sequoia, which is betting that Surge’s early stage push will reap it richer dividends in India and Southeast Asia. That part remains to be seen, but certainly, there is a dearth of early-stage programs in both regions compared to other parts of the world.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Amazon China to close local marketplace and place more focus on cross-border

Amazon has finally given up the fight with Chinese online shopping giants to capture the domestic market. On Thursday, the Seattle-based ecommerce company announced it will shut down its marketplace on Amazon.cn, which connects mainland Chinese buyers and sellers, while other units of its local venture will stay intact.

“We are working closely with our sellers to ensure a smooth transition and to continue to deliver the best customer experience possible,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch, adding that this segment of the business will end on July 18.

The partial retreat, first reported by Reuters and Bloomberg, is indicative of the relentless ecommerce race in China where Alibaba and JD.com dominate, with newcomer Pinduoduo closing on the incumbents’ heels.

But this is hardly the end of Amazon’s China story. The American giant has over the years attracted waves of cross-border sellers, many of whom have hailed from China’s traditional export industry looking to sell cheaply manufactured goods to consumers around the world for lucrative margins. To date, Chinese export suppliers are able to sell to 12 countries that include India, Japan, Australia, Canada, the United States, and five Western European countries.

Other global ecommerce players also have their eyes set on the massive raft of goods flowing out of China, though each comes with a different geographic focus. Alibaba-backed Lazada, for example, is the bridge between Chinese merchants and Southeast Asian shoppers, while Jumia, which just listed in the U.S., exports from China to Africa.

“The biggest appeal [of exporting through Amazon] is the low costs because we are close to a lot of supply chain resources,” a Shenzhen-based vendor selling water-resistant placemats on Amazon told TechCrunch.

In the meantime, China has developed a big craving for imported goods as middle-class consumers now demand higher quality products. Amazon is in the import business, too, although it lags far behind more entrenched players such as Alibaba, of which Tmall Global takes the lead with 29 percent market share in the cross-border ecommerce space according to data from iResearch, dwarfing Amazon’s 6 percent.

That could change if Amazon finds a prominent local partner. Rumors have swirled for months that Amazon was reportedly in talks to merge its import unit with Kaola, the cross-border shopping business run by Chinese internet giant Netease with a 22.6 percent market share.

Not to be forgotten, Amazon also offers cloud computing services to Chinese enterprises although, in this space, it’s again in a direct face-off with Alibaba Cloud, the dominant player in China. Lastly, China remains the largest market for Kindle, so pivotal that the e-reader launched a localized model just for China.

“Over the past few years, we have been evolving our China online retail business to increasingly emphasize cross-border sales, and in return we’ve seen very strong response from Chinese customers,” said the Amazon spokesperson. “Amazon’s commitment to China remains strong—we have built a solid foundation here in a number of successful businesses and we will continue to invest and grow in China across Amazon Global Store, Global Selling, AWS, Kindle devices and content.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Google Home’s Philips Hue integration can now wake you up gently

Maybe you love the sound of your alarm clock blaring in the morning, heralding a new day full of joy and adventure. More likely, though, you don’t. If you prefer a more gentle wakeup (and have invested in some smart home technology), here’s some good news: Google Home now lets you use your Philips Hue lights to wake you up by slowly changing the light in your room.

Philips first announced this integration at CES earlier this year, with a planned rollout in March. Looks like that took a little while longer, as Google and Philips gently brought this feature to life.

Just like you can use your Home to turn on ‘Gentle Wake,’ which starts changing your lights 30 minutes before your wake-up time to mimic a sunrise, you can also go the opposite way and have the lights mimics sunset as you get read to go to bed. You can either trigger these light changes through an alarm or with a command that starts them immediately.

While the price of white Hue bulbs has come down in recent years, colored hue lights remain rather pricey, with single bulbs going for around $40. If that doesn’t hold you back, though, the Gentle Sleep and Wake features are now available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Singapore and India in English only.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

Google blocks TikTok downloads in India over pornography concerns


Chesnot via Getty Images

Today, Google blocked TikTok downloads from its Google Play store in India, and Apple has been asked to do the same. The move comes after India’s federal government sent a letter to the companies requesting that they abide by a state court’s decision to ban the popular video app. India’s concern is that TikTok encourages pornography and makes child users vulnerable to sexual predators, Reuters reports.

India is one of TikTok’s largest markets. The app has reportedly been downloaded more than 240 million times in India alone, and in a statement, TikTok India says it has more than 120 million monthly active users. Those users will not be impacted by the removal of the app from the Google Play store.

TikTok has been a huge success, but like other social media platforms, it’s struggling to curb the spread of toxic content. Earlier this year, the US Federal Trade Commission fined the company $5.7 million over child privacy violations. When TikTok attempted to right those wrongs, it ended up mistakenly deleting users’ accounts. And China has called for short-form video apps like TikTok to be responsible for the content their users upload.

In response to the concerns raised in India, TikTok has removed more than six million videos that violated its terms of use and community guidelines. But as TechCrunch reports, that might do more to show the scope of the problem than it does to prove TikTok has addressed the underlying issue. At this point, it’s unclear if Apple will block TikTok downloads or what the company will have to do to get back in India’s good graces. What we do know is that TikTok, like its peers, will have to find a way to monitor the content it shares.

TikTok India shared the following statement with local press:

“We welcome the decision of the Madras High Court to appoint Arvind Datar as Amicus Curae (independent counsel) to the court. We have faith in the Indian judicial system and we are optimistic about an outcome that would be well received by over 120 million monthly active users in India, who continue using TikTok to showcase their creativity and capture moments that matter in their everyday lives.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source

TikTok downloads ordered to be blocked on iOS and Android in India over porn and other illegal content

TikTok, the user-generated video sharing app from Chinese publisher Bytedance that has been a global runaway success, has stumbled hard in one of the world’s biggest mobile markets, India, over illicit content in its app.

Today, the country’s main digital communications regulator, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, ordered both Apple and Google to remove the app from its app stores, per a request from High Court in Madras after the latter investigated and determined that the app — which has hundreds of millions of users, including minors — was encouraging pornography and other illicit content. (A source in India, however, tells us that the app is still available in both stores currently.)

This is the second time in two months that TikTok’s content has been dinged by regulators, after the app was fined $5.7 million by the FTC in the US over violating child protection policies.

The order in India does not impact the 120 million users in the country who already have the app downloaded, or those on Android who might download it from a source outside of Google’s official Android store. But it’s a strong strike against TikTok that will impede its growth, harm its reputation, and potentially pave the way for further sanctions or fines against the app in India (and elsewhere taking India’s lead).

TikTok has issued no less than three different statements — each subsequently less aggressive — as it scrambles to respond to the order.

“We welcome the decision of the Madras High Court to appoint Arvind Datar as Amicus Curae (independent counsel) to the court,” the statement from TikTok reads. “We have faith in the Indian judicial system and we are optimistic about an outcome that would be well received by over 120 million monthly active users in India, who continue using TikTok to showcase their creativity and capture moments that matter in their everyday lives.”

(A previous version of the statement from TikTok was less ‘welcoming’ of the decision and instead highlighted how TikTok was making increased efforts to police its content without outside involvement. It noted that it had removed more than 6 million videos that violated its terms of use and community guidelines, following a review of content generated by users in India. That alone speaks to the actual size of the problem.)

On top of prohibiting downloads, the High Court also directed the regulator to bar media companies from broadcasting any videos — illicit or otherwise — made with or posted on TikTok. Bytedance has been working to try to appeal the orders, but the Supreme Court, where the appeal was heard, upheld it.

This is not the first time that TikTok has faced government backlash over the content that it hosts on its platform. In the US, two months ago, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that the app violated children’s privacy laws and fined it $5.7 million, and through a forced app updated, required all users to verify that they were over 13, or otherwise be redirected to a more restricted experience. Musically, TikTok’s predecessor, had also faced similar regulatory violations.

More generally the problems that TikTok is facing right now are not unfamiliar ones. Social media apps, relying on user-generated content as both the engine of their growth and the fuel for that engine, have long been problematic when it comes to illicit content. The companies that create and run these apps have argued that they are not responsible for what people produce on the platform, as long as it fits within its terms of use, but that has left a large gap where content is not policed as well as it should be. On the other hand, as these platforms rely on growth and scale for their business models, some have argued that this has made them less inclined to proactively police their platforms to bar the illicit content in the first place.

Additional reporting Rita Liao

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Link to original source