Indonesia’s Kargo comes out of stealth with $7.6M from Travis Kalanick, Sequoia and others

Travis Kalanick may be busy cooking up a cloud kitchen business, but that hasn’t stopped the former Uber CEO’s VC fund from making its first investment in Southeast Asia. 10100, the firm that Kalanick launched last year for investments in Asia, just took part in a $7.6 million seed round for Kargo, an early-stage ‘Uber for trucks’ startup that is based in Indonesia and — you guessed it — founded by a former Uber Asia executive.

Kargo takes some of the concepts behind Uber and applies them to trucking and logistics. That’s to say that business customers order trucks using a mobile app or website but the scope is wider, Kargo CEO and co-founder Tiger Fang told TechCrunch.

The goal is to remove middlemen who broker logistics and trucking deals to provide greater transparency, better quality service and improved financials for clients and those operating the services — so cheaper pricing for companies and a larger share of the revenue for those actually out driving. So rather than being subject to closed discussions and chains of brokers, each taking their cut, Kargo wants to offer a direct connection.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Fang said in an interview. “We’ve been looking at what types of problems we can go and solve [since the Uber-Grab deal]… starting another e-commerce startup was probably not the best idea.

“We hope we can lower the price for shippers and raise the earnings from shippers and transporters,” he added. “We think there are hundreds of thousands of smaller companies who all get their hobs from agents and middleman.”

Fang — whose stint at Uber included time in the U.S, launches across Southeast Asia and managing its business in Chengdu, once the company’s busiest city on the planet based on daily trip volume — started Kargo late last year with Yodi Aditya, its CTO, following “months” of research after Uber sold its local business to Grab . They went on to close the financing deal before the end of 2018 and launch in beta early this year.

Operationally, Fang said Kargo is currently piloting with “a couple of big FMG companies” while, on the supply side, it has access to “thousands” of trucks. The initial focus is strictly on FMCG, he added, because each industry and segment requires different types of trucks.

As those figures suggest, Kargo is in its early stages and that makes a $7.6 million seed round pretty notable. Yes, valuations and rounds have been ratcheted up in Southeast Asia, where investors and tech companies see potential as internet access grows among the region’s 600 million-plus consumers, but this is a large check for a venture that is literally just kicking off. But that’s not all, the caliber of the backers is also quite unlike your average seed deal.

Kalanick’s 10100 firm is participating, but the round is led by Sequoia India and Southeast Asia, which announced its new $695 million fund six months ago and has since added an early-stage accelerator program. Other names involved including China’s Zhenfund, Indonesia-focused Intudo Ventures, a personal investment from Patrick Walujo — co-founder of Indonesian hedge fund group North Star — ATM Capital, Innoven Capital and Agaeti Ventures from Indonesian businessman Pandu Sjahrir.

Kalanick is, in many ways, the headline investor given his profile and connections to Fang and others at Kargo. TechCrunch understands that Kalanick agreed to invest last year when he visited Southeast Asia on a trip that combined hiring for his CloudKitchens startup and more generally catching up with the Uber alumni in Asia.

Fang declined to comment on the circumstances, but he said Kalanick “has been a big mentor” to him.

Clearly, a lot of the interest in Kargo stems from the team’s credentials — Fang said a large chunk of Kargo’s 50 person team are ex-Uber Asia — but there are also promising examples of what Kargo is doing in other parts of the world.

China’s two trucking platform unicorns which merged to create Full Truck Alliance Group, a startup reportedly valued at $10 billion that counts Google and SoftBank among its investors, while in India, Blackbuck is reportedly raising at an $800 million valuation. It’s logical, then, that Indonesia — the world’s fourth largest population and Southeast Asia’s largest economy — would also come under the radar, and Fang believes that his team is ideally suited to go after the problem.

The focus is entirely on Indonesia for now, where Fang believes logistics accounts for close to one-quarter of the national $1 trillion GDP, but further down the line he anticipates that there will be expansions across Southeast Asia and potentially beyond.

“We definitely want to build a global company,” he said.

Uber had a tough run in Indonesia. Taxi drivers and those with interests in the industry staged often-violent demonstrations in protest at this ‘foreign’ entrant that posed a threat to their businesses and financial returns. Trucking feels a lot like that with decades of inefficiencies in place, and certain parties profiting from those extended chains of deal-making. Like taxis, those who are being disintermediated aren’t likely to take a threat lying down, so it remains to be seen if Fang, and his fellow ex-Uberites, will run into similar conflict in the future. But Kargo is certainly off to a bright start with plenty of money to go out and test its thesis.

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Tech regulation in Europe will only get tougher

European governments have been bringing the hammer down on tech in recent months, slapping record fines and stiff regulations on the largest imports out of Silicon Valley. Despite pleas from the world’s leading companies and Europe’s eroding trust in government, European citizens’ staunch support for regulation of new technologies points to an operating environment that is only getting tougher.

According to a roughly 25-page report recently published by a research arm out of Spain’s IE University, European citizens remain skeptical of tech disruption and want to handle their operators with kid gloves, even at a cost to the economy.

The survey was led by the IE’s Center for the Governance of Change — an IE-hosted research institution focused on studying “the political, economic, and societal implications of the current technological revolution and advances solutions to overcome its unwanted effects.” The “European Tech Insights 2019” report surveyed roughly 2,600 adults from various demographics across seven countries (France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, and the UK) to gauge ground-level opinions on ongoing tech disruption and how government should deal with it.

The report does its fair share of fear-mongering and some of its major conclusions come across as a bit more “clickbaity” than insightful. However, the survey’s more nuanced data and line of questioning around specific forms of regulation offer detailed insight into how the regulatory backdrop and operating environment for European tech may ultimately evolve.

Distractions

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Streaming site Kanopy exposed viewing habits of users, researcher says

On-demand video streaming site Kanopy has fixed a leaking server that exposed the detailed viewing habits of its users.

Security researcher Justin Paine discovered the leaking Elasticsearch database last week and warned Kanopy of the exposure. The server was secured two days later on March 18, a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are currently investigating the scope and cause as well as reviewing all of our security protocols.”

Kanopy is like Netflix but for classic movies and documentaries. The company partners with libraries and universities across the U.S. by allowing library card holders to access films for free.

In a blog post, Paine said the server contained between 25-40 million daily logs, which he said could have identified all the videos searched for and watched from a user’s IP address.

“Depending on the videos being watched — that potentially could be embarrassing information,” he wrote.

The logs also contained geographical information, timestamps, and device types, he said. He noted that there was no other personally identifiable information — such as usernames and email addresses — attached to the logs. 

According to a report last year, Kanopy has more than 30,000 movies on its platform.

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Media fragmentation is annoying consumers

Deloitte’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications division published its 13th-annual Digital Media Trends survey, focused on identifying changes in the ways US consumers engage with various types of media.

Led by an independent research firm, the survey had roughly 2,000 consumer respondents across demographics – with the report categorizing respondents based on age (Gen-Z: ages 14-21, Millenials: 22-35, Gen-X: 36-52, Boomers: 53-71, and Matures: 72+).

While already accompanied by a succinct 13-page executive summary, the report can largely be summarized in just a couple of sentences: more people are using streaming or alternative media services than ever before, largely due to more user freedom and customization, though the growing quantity and fragmentation of platforms are becoming more frustrating for users to manage.

The survey results directionally echo already well-discussed dynamics, which we’ve previously dug into such as here, here and here. Instead, the most poignant aspects of the report were not the answers or conclusions themselves, but the immense level of support many of them received.

Somewhat interesting:

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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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