Author: Jon Russell

Uber and Grab are bringing Southeast Asia’s taxi on-demand war to Myanmar

Southeast Asia’s ride-sharing war is spreading to a new frontier after rivals Grab and Uber revealed plans to expand into Myanmar, the country also known as Burma. Singapore-based Grab announced its launch in the country today, its first new market expansion for nearly three years, to take it to seven markets but its U.S. rival wasn’t going to sit in the corner quietly. Digital ink barely dry on Grab’s announcement, Uber revealed that it too is moving into Myanmar’s capital city Yangon, albeit within a more ambiguous timeframe of “soon.” Grab has initially launched its GrabTaxi service that connects licensed taxis with consumers who can...

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Singapore’s Homage, a service for in-home care for the elderly, raises $1.2M

Homage, a Singapore-based startup that connects caregivers with elderly people seeking assistance, has closed a $1.2 million seed round. The money comes from 500 Startups’ Southeast Asia fund, Golden Gate Ventures, and SeedPlus, a fund affiliated with Jungle Ventures. Launched in May 2016, Homage was founded by Gillian Tee, a Singaporean who has spent time working in the U.S. where, among other things, she started Rocketrip, a startup backed by Y Combinator that has raised nearly $20 million. Tee said she decided to return home to Southeast Asia after 15 years overseas because she wanted to be closer to family and saw the potential for startups. “More information [about the tech scene] was flowing into the U.S.. I was very curious and spent a year deciding whether I would come back,” she told TechCrunch in an interview. “It really is the right time because there is almost that tipping point about what it means to start tech companies. It’s a smaller ecosystem for sure, but the potential is enormous.” Tee initially looked into opportunities in healthcare tech and job portals but, after finding both verticals fairly saturated in terms of options, she decided to combine the two and create Homage, which uses the asset light platform model to match supply with demand for care for seniors. Teaming up with healthcare industry exec Lily Phang and former banker Tong Duong, the service went live in Singapore last year....

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Pinterest is now blocked in China

China has blocked one of the few Western social media sites that had remained accessible to its population: Pinterest. The site has followed the example of Facebook, Twitter and many others after the photo sharing site was blocked in China, according to data from censorship monitoring organization GreatFire. GreatFire checks a range of the internet’s top websites for accessibility in China on a regular basis, and its system noted that Pinterest.com has been unavailable in China for the past seven day. The Great Fire Wall, China’s internet censorship system, is prone to glitches and temporary blocks, but the fact that Pinterest has been inaccessible from China for a week now suggests that it has been very deliberately censored. Which brings us to the question of which a site that is famed for sharing images of animals, wedding dresses, recipes and other photos would be targeted by the Chinese government and deemed unfit for purpose in the country. Pinterest is not exactly a mainstream service in the country, a number of clones sprouted up in China when the U.S. service struck out in 2012, but the block is significant as it represents one of the few popular Western social media sites that was freely accessible in China. It’s not exactly clear why the site is being blocked, but it could well be related to timing. ‘Two Sessions,’ the annual gathering of China’s governing classes, is taking...

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World Bank’s IFC investment firm invests $2M in Southeast Asian fund SeedPlus

SeedPlus, the early stage investment firm launched by Singapore-based VC firm Jungle Ventures last year, has snagged a strategic investment from IFC, the investment and asset management firm within the World Bank Group. IFC confirmed today that it has invested $2 million in the SeedPlus fund, the size of which has not been disclosed. The firm is also an LP with Jungle Ventures, which operates a $100 million fund principally targeted at  Series A deals, but now it joining other investors like Accel to take a part of SeedPlus, which, as the name suggests, is focused on stage seed deals in Southeast Asia. The firm takes an operational approach to its portfolio, and its three partners count time spent employed at tech giants like Yahoo, Evernote and Spotify. Its portfolio includes B2B repairs platform Moglix, Mimetic.ai, which manages an AI assistant platform, and mobile security firm AppKnox. “The SeedPlus investment aligns with IFC’s Venture Capital group’s strategy to invest in innovative technology companies across emerging markets. Today, there are several fast-evolving, transformative technologies disrupting key industry sectors, enabling entrepreneurship and innovation to flourish in emerging markets, particularly in Southeast Asia, which we see as a growing market for us this year,” IFC’s head of Asia investments Pravan Malhotra said in a statement. “IFC is a strong investor which has a huge history of supporting entrepreneurism in Asia and a footprint across the global,” Tiang Lim Foo, operating partner at SeedPlus,...

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Facebook Stories, yet another Snapchat clone, is rolling out to users worldwide

Facebook is introducing yet another feature that clones Snapchat Stories to its massive global userbase. Facebook Stories, a feature that puts photos that disappear after 24 hours at the top of the Facebook mobile app, appears to be rolling out to a large number of users across the world. Facebook Stories isn’t available to all users, however. The feature was first tested among users in Ireland in January and its extension this week come hot on the heels of a major Facebook offensive to bake Snapchat’s core features into its main mobile services. Messenger Day was launched inside the Messenger app last week, targeting the app’s one billion-plus monthly users with a feature that frustrated many by sitting right at the top of the app. Having already introduced similar features in WhatsApp in February and Instagram last year, Facebook is applying its Snapchat cloning to its main mobile app, which accounts for most of the 1.7 billion people who use Facebook on mobile each month. Facebook had not responded to our request for comment at the time of writing. We’ll update this post with any additional information or response that we’re given. Facebook stories are stupid. If I wanted to let random people I added in year 8 know what I’m up to,I would have just added them on snapchat — Märiam (@mariamdiabyy) March 15, 2017 you’ve got to be kidding, FACEBOOK STORIES ARE A THING NOW....

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Prominent Twitter accounts compromised after third-party app Twitter Counter hacked

A number of prominent Twitter accounts were hacked to tweet Nazi messages after Twitter Counter, a popular tool for analyzing Twitter followers, was hacked. Official Twitter accounts belonging to Amnesty International, Forbes and other prominent organizations, not to mention many regular users, were accessed to post swastikas and other Nazi-related messages in a move thought to be related to Turkey’s diplomatic spat with the Netherlands and Germany, the Guardian reported. The accounts themselves were not hacked. Instead, the attackers gained access to Twitter Counter’s service which was then used to send the tweets. The messages have since been deleted, but Amnesty was among those to confirm that it had been compromised. Twitter Counter, which is owned by the same parent company as tech blog The Next Web*, confirmed the issue. It said that it had issued a block on the ability to post tweets from its service to nullify the threat. “One thing is important to note — we do not store users’ Twitter account credentials (passwords) nor credit card information,” Twitter Counter CEO Omer Ginor added. In addition to that, Twitter confirmed that it had taken action on its side. “We identified an issue affecting a small number of users. Source was a 3rd party app and it has been resolved. No action needed by users,” the company said in a statement. The incident is a reminder that despite all of the options for securing a Twitter account, apps and services that...

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Burda brings its global investment fund to Southeast Asia

German media giant Hubert Burda is diving into Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem after its investment arm opened an office in Singapore. Burda, founded in 1898, is anchored in print media. Despite publishing more than 250 titles across the world, it has forayed into digital with some success through acquisitions and new business units. Unlike other print giants, its digital businesses account for more than half of its revenue while it has pursued an investment thesis worldwide, which included equity in Etsy. Now it is expanding its presence in Southeast Asia, where it had initially dipped its toes via a series of deals. Burda is an LP in VC funds Golden Gate Ventures, Jungle Ventures and Kejora Ventures, while it has made direct investments in Medical Departures, Thailand-based price comparison site Priza and Vietnamese search service Coc Coc. Burda Principal Investments‘ presence in Asia will be led by Albert Shyy, who has joined the firm from GREE, where he led the Japanese gaming company’s investment arm in Southeast Asia and India. In total, the firm has an initial staff of three based in Singapore. In an interview with TechCrunch, Shyy explained that he is looking to do three to five deals per year, principally around the Series B stage with a minimum check size of around $5 million. The money itself comes from Burda’s global fund, which is not like most others. For a start, Burda is...

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Uber rival Grab expands its engineering team with new offices in India and Vietnam

Grab, the main rival to Uber in Southeast Asia, is expanding its engineering footprint after announcing new development centers in India and Vietnam. The company last month announced plans to open an engineering center in Jakarta, Indonesia, so the addition of bases in Bangalore, India and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, will take it to six R&D locations worldwide. The others are Singapore, Grab’s HQ, Beijing and an office in Seattle which was opened last year. Despite the new office plans, Grab said it will not expand into India. The move is a bid to suck up new talent to fuel its rivalry with Uber in Southeast Asia, a region of over 600 million consumers where the market for on-demand rides is tipped to grow from $2.5 billion in 2015 to $13.1 billion in 2025, according to a report co-authored by Google. “These two [new] locations are growing in terms of local talent and they understand what it is like to live in these parts of the world,” Grab co-founder Hooi Ling Tan told TechCrunch in an interview. “There are a tonne of parallels between India and Southeast Asia, especially around payments.” Tan said Grab is looking to hire around 200 staff in Bangalore, where it will focus on developing its payments service, over the next two years. The other two offices will be focused on more local innovation. In Jakarta, Grab wants to hire 150 people while...

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