Asia’s AnyMind pulls in another $8M and expands into outdoor advertising

Asia-focused marketing startup AnyMind Group has landed a further $8 million in funding to close out its Series B round and expand into new verticals.

The company announced a $13.4 million raise back in November, but that has now expanded to $21.4 million thanks to an additional injection from VGI Global Media, a Thailand-based firm that specializes in outdoor media, and Tokyo Century, a financial services firm that has invested in Grab among others. Japanese messaging app Line and Mirai Creation Fund, which is backed by Toyota, are among the original investors in the round, which valued the company at $200 million — though it isn’t clear if that number has increased with this new tranche of investment. The company has now raised close to $36 million to date.

AnyMind, which was formerly known as AdAsia, started out with a focus on internet advertising but it has since expanded to offer HR and marketing services. There are also further vertical expansions following this capital. AnyMind is moving into outdoor advertising in Thailand — through a joint venture with VGI focused on covering commuter routes and public transport — while, also in Thailand, it has acquired YouTube media company Moindy. Both of these moves are likely to come with regional expansions further down the line, according to AnyMind, which has a sizeable office in Thai capital city Bangkok.

Finally, AnyMind is also launching another new service: CastingAsia Creators Network, which is a network of social media influencers to complement its marketing and advertising media units.

Here’s more background on the company from our earlier report on the earlier Series B announcement:

AnyMind was founded in April 2016 by Japanese duo CEO Kosuke Sogo, the former managing director of Japan’s MicroAd in APAC, and COO Otohiko Kozutsumi, who had been with MicroAd Vietnam — and both men are ambitious with their plans to grow.

Indeed, despite being less than three years old, AnyMind says it has been profitable since early 2017. It said total revenue for 2017 was $26 million, up from $12.9 million one year previous. In an interview with TechCrunch, Sogo said he expects revenue for this year to be more than double that of 2017. He added that Southeast Asia, where the firm first set its focus, accounts for the lion’s share of revenue, with its one-year Japan operation pulling the remaining 30 percent.

Today, the company has 12 offices — including a product development center in Vietnam — and its services are present in 11 markets across Asia. It has some 330 staff, up from 90 just 18 months ago, and serves more than 1,000 clients across its three businesses.

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Camera maker Insta360 raises $30M as it eyes 2020 IPO

Insta360, one of the pioneers in making 360-degree cameras, just raised $30 million in a Series C+ funding round from Chinese investors, including Everest Venture Capital, MG Holdings and Huajin Capital.

The Shenzhen-based camera maker declined to disclose its latest valuation. It plans to use the fresh proceeds in research and development, marketing and after-sales services in its key international markets, including the United States and Japan, which are the company’s second and third-largest markets behind China.

Some of its past backers include IDG Capital, Qiming Ventures, home appliance maker Suning Holdings Group and file-sharing service Xunlei.

The company started making 360-degree cameras — thus the brand name — in 2014 when founder Liu Jingkang saw a gap in the market for compact, easy-to-use cameras shooting high-definition 360-degree footage. Over the years it has evolved into a four-pronged business covering all sorts of needs: 360-degree cameras for professionals and amateur users creating virtual reality content, action cameras for sports lovers and smartphone accessories for average consumers.

In stark contrast to loss-making GoPro, which Insta360 rivals in the action camera vertical, the Chinese firm has been profitable since 2017 and is planning to file for an initial public offering in China next year, Liu told TechCrunch in an interview. The company declined to provide more details of the planned flotation but said the success of its action camera line has helped it achieve five-times revenue growth in two years and reach profitability.

From professionals to amateurs

Though the VR sector remains in its infant stage, Liu is optimistic that 360 content will become a much sought-after media form in the years to come.

“Many families will be consuming virtual reality content for entertainment in the future, so we have a huge market for 360 content. That’s why we make a 360 camera each year to keep our top-tier position,” said Liu.

insta360

The Insta360 One X / Photo: Insta360

The action-camera market, by comparison, is more mature. Insta360 is riding a larger social trend of live blogging and short-form videos that has generated a huge demand for quality video content. Dozens of camera options, from Snap Spectacles to Tencent’s clone of the Snap glasses, are available to help people churn out content for video-sharing apps, but Liu saw problems in many of these products.

“[Video-shooting] spectacles, for examples, are quite offensive. Not everyone wants to wear them,” said the founder. “Many cameras do a bad job at video stabilization, so people end up with unusable footage. Lastly, and this is the key issue, users don’t know how to handle their footage.”

To that end, Insta360’s latest answer to documenting sports events and traveling is a camera that can easily be held by hand or slipped into a pocket. Called the One X, the gadget shoots in 5.7K resolution at 30 frames per second, delivering pleasingly smooth stabilization even when thrown around. The camera also comes with a software toolkit that automatically selects and stitches together users’ footage, which makes sharing to TikTok and Instagram a cinch. Check out TechCrunch’s review of One X below:

Insta360 has also been chasing after the masses, and its latest bid is an add-on lens that can instantly turn an iPhone into a 360-degree camera. The idea is that as users get a taste of the basic 360-degree experience, they may want to upgrade to a higher-end model.

“Insta360 has a rare ability to take cutting-edge imaging tech and put it into products that consumers want to use today,” said Gavin Li, senior director at Huajin Capital. “They’re moving faster and innovating more than their competitors, and they’re taking bold new approaches to the defining communication tool of our time: the camera.”

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Singapore fintech startup Instarem closes $41M Series C for global growth

Singapore’s Instarem, a fintech startup that helps banks and consumers send money overseas at lower cost, has closed a $41 million Series C financing round to go after global expansion opportunities.

The four-year-old company announced a first close of $20 million last November, and it has now doubled that tally (and a little extra) thanks to an additional capital injection led by Vertex Ventures’ global growth fund and South Korea’ Atinum Investment. Crypto company Ripple, which has partnered with Instarem for its xRapid product, also took part in the round, Instarem CEO Prajit Nanu confirmed to TechCrunch, although he declined to reveal the precise amount invested. More broadly, the round means that Instarem has now raised $59.5 million from investors to date.

The company specializes in moving money between countries in Asia in a similar way to TransferWise although, unlike TransferWise, its focus is on banks as customers rather than purely consumers. Today, it covers 50 countries and it has offices in Singapore, Mumbai, Lithuania, London and Seattle.

Instarem said it plans to spend the money on expansion into Latin America, where it will open a regional office, and double down on Asia by going after money licenses in countries like Japan and Indonesia. The company is also on the cusp of adding prepaid debit card capabilities, which will allow it to issue cards to consumers in 25 countries and more widely offer the option to its banking customers. That’s thanks to a deal with Visa .

Further down the line, the company continues to focus on an exit via IPO in 2021. That’s been a consistent talking point for Nanu, who has been fairly outspoken on his desire to take the company public. That’s included shunning acquisition offers. As TechCrunch revealed last year, Instarem declined a buyout offer from one of Southeast Asia’s tech unicorns. Commenting on the offer, Nanu said it simply “wasn’t the right timing for us.”

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Toyota doubles down on Nvidia tech for self-driving cars

Toyota is deepening its relationship with Nvidia as the automaker, and its research arms in Japan and the U.S., ramps up its autonomous vehicle development program.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang announced Monday during his keynote at the 2019 GPU Technology Conference that Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development — the automaker’s Japan-based research arm — is using the chipmaker’s full end-to-end development and production to develop, train and validate its autonomous vehicle technology. The partnership builds on an ongoing collaboration with Toyota and is based on development between engineering teams from Nvidia, TRI-AD in Japan and Toyota Research Institute in the United States.

This new agreement means Toyota will use Nvidia’s platform for training deep neural networks, testing, validation and eventual deployment for its cars. Toyota is also using Nvidia’s newly released AV simulator Drive Constellation, which is now available to customers. Toyota is the first customer to use Constellation, a cloud based platform that enables autonomous vehicle developers to test their technology in the virtual world. 

In short, Toyota is going to use Nvidia’s technology for the entire workflow or process to develop autonomous vehicles.

“Close collaboration is really our business model,” Danny Shapiro, Nvidia’s senior director of automotive said Monday. “It’s our way of developing jointly and building the Nvidia drivers platform.”

Nvidia and Toyota have been collaborating for several years now. Toyota announced in 2017 it would use Nvidia’s Drive PX supercomputer, a platform with a processor called Xavier, to power the autonomous driving systems inside its future cars.

Toyota, and its research arms TRI and Japan-based TRI-AD, are taking a dual approach to autonomy.

Toyota intends to eventually deploy fully autonomous cars that would serve elderly and disabled people under its so-called Chauffeur system. The automaker is also working on “Guardian,” a system for production vehicles that will operate in the background and step in when needed. The driver is always driving, but Guardian is watching, sensing and anticipating problems. 

It’s unclear if Toyota will use Nvidia’s platform for the development of the Guardian system or fully autonomous vehicles.

“Our vision is to enable self-driving vehicles with the ultimate goal of reducing fatalities to zero, enabling smoother transportation, and providing mobility for all,” TRI-AD CEO James Kuffner said in a statement. “Our technology collaboration with Nvidia is important to realizing this vision. We believe large-scale simulation tools for software validation and testing are critical for automated driving systems.”

Toyota is just one of several automotive partnerships Nvidia has locked in since 2015 when it introduced its original architecture for autonomous vehicles, a supercomputer platform called Drive PX. The original platform was designed to process all of the data coming from the vehicle’s cameras and sensors and then use an AI algorithm-based operating system and a cloud-based, high-definition 3D map to help the car understand its environment, know its location, and anticipate potential hazards while driving. 

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You might have walked right over this bumpy Google Doodle today

Google has celebrated the inventor of something you might walk over every day.
Google has celebrated the inventor of something you might walk over every day.
Image: google

A new Google Doodle might cause you to appreciate what’s under your feet.

In a neat illustration on Monday, the search giant honoured Japanese inventor Seiichi Miyake, who invented tactile paving, used worldwide to make public space more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision.

Miyake’s paving was first created in Japan in 1965, and rolled out in 1967 near the Okayama School for the Blind in Okayama City. It was implemented across Japan, in fact, it was made mandatory in the country’s railway stations. 

Then, it slowly made its way across the globe, built into sidewalks and railway platforms to help people navigate busy urban spaces.

Pedestrians navigate Japan's Kyoto station, which features the mandatory tenji blocks.

Pedestrians navigate Japan’s Kyoto station, which features the mandatory tenji blocks.

Image: getty IMAGES

The patterned “braille blocks” or Tenji blocks as they’re referred to in Japan, consist of two types of raised bumps, which provide different information to pedestrians. 

Circles mean an impending hazard, like the end of a sidewalk or railway platform, and can also indicate a landmark like a bus stop. Straight bars work like a compass pointing people in the right direction safely.

 You might have walked over them today.

Directions right under your feet.

Directions right under your feet.

Image: google

The bumps can be felt through one’s shoes or with a white cane, as shown in the Doodle, or identified by trained guide dogs. Google notes these different means of using the tactile paving with other sketches for the Doodle.

The Doodle also displays the paving’s signature bright yellow colour, which is the main but not only colour used for the paving.

Expect to see the Miyake Doodle at the head of Google on March 18 in Japan, the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., and a few other countries.

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