Bullet Message has reached 5 million users barely two weeks

Bullet Message has reached 5 million users barely two weeks after its Aug 20 debut. — Bloomberg

This upstart wants a slice of WeChat’s billion users

Call it David versus Goliath – with emojis.

China’s dominant social network, WeChat, faces an upstart competitor that’s not only found a growing numbers of users, but also funding from investors and support from techies.“

Bullet Message has reached 5 million users barely two weeks after its Aug 20 debut. While that’s a rounding error compared to Tencent Holding Ltd’s WeChat, which passed 1 billion users in March, interest in QuickAs Ltd’s month-old app was enough to rank Bullet above WeChat in Apple Store downloads as of Sept 4.

“A lot of my friends and I feel we’ve been kidnapped by WeChat for too long,” said Hu Yutong, a Tsinghua University student in Beijing who downloaded Bullet on the first day. “We are intrigued by this new service, despite there being flaws.”

WeChat has come to rule China’s smartphone world by becoming a one-stop platform with everything from group-video chatting to electronic payments and food delivery to a ride-hailing service. At the outset, Bullet is focusing on a few things it does well, including a voice-to-text option that its operator claims delivers real-time transcriptions in Mandarin with an accuracy rate of 97%.

QuickAs’s initial funding includes 150mil yuan (RM90.89mil) from Gaorong Capital, Chengwei Capital and smartphone maker Smartisan Technology Co. That’s a far cry from Shenzhen-based Tencent, which has a market capitalisation of US$394bil (RM1.63tril), and has long battled Alibaba Group Holding Ltd for the crown as China’s most-valuable company.

“Bullet Message isn’t posing any real threat to WeChat at this stage,” said Shawn Yang, executive director of Blue Lotus Capital Advisors, a financial consulting company. Still, there are some similarities between Bullet and WeChat in its early days, with the upstart focusing on services that spotlight improved technology, such as voice optimisation“ for transcription and translation.

Tencent has alienated some users by pushing too hard to monetize existing services that have gotten outdated, Yang said. WeChat Moments,“ where users post photos and comments about meals, styles and daily activities, have become less intriguing,“ he said.

That somewhat echoes what’s occurred in the US around Facebook Inc and upstart Snapchat Inc, with the former considered stale among some younger users.

Snapchat has about 200 million users worldwide and Facebook’s WhatsApp message service about 1.5 billion. But both are among the many platforms blocked by China’s Great Firewall – which means less competition for Bullet as well as WeChat.

QuickAs didn’t respond to emailed questions sent by Bloomberg. But co-founder Hao Xijie told Jiemian.com that he doesn’t consider Bullet a direct competitor to WeChat.

Perhaps – but Tencent has taken note. Bullet’s original newsfeed relied on the larger company’s service. But that link was soon taken down.

Bullet’s voice-to-transcription offering – developed by speech-recognition specialist Iflytek Co – is among the most-attractive features. It enables users with regional accents to instantly and fluently communicate in Mandarin without the button-pushing needed on WeChat. Although Mandarin is China’s official language, many of its 1.4 billion people speak regional dialects.

Not all Bullet functions are unique or cutting edge.

The platform has been criticised for the amount of available pornography. Others have expressed concerns over privacy terms and the security of user information, as Bullet allows anonymous participation on group chats.

“1st impression is that it’s full of porn and other stuff that’s blocked/too sensitive for WeChat,” Matthew Brennan at China Channel, a Shenzhen-based marketing agency, wrote in a Twitter message.

“Many social networking apps face similar issues, like Snapchat,” said Blue Lotus’ Yang, “Bullet Message may not be the best alternative, but there might be something similar coming out in the near future, which is what WeChat should be worried about.” – Bloomberg

Source: The Star Online

Alibaba to set up Anti-DDoS

Kuala Lumpur: Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Alibaba Group, is setting up an Anti-DDoS Scrubbing Centre in Malaysia next month to mitigate risks and offer customers the highest level of protection against stronger distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

DDoS attack is an attack in which multiple compromised computer systems attack a target, such as a server, website or other network resource, and cause a denial of service for users of the targeted resource.

Alibaba Cloud in a statement on Friday said the centre will be its latest investment after it officially launched a second availability zone, Availability Zone B, to expand its cloud footprint and bolster cloud capacity, serving increasing customer demand locally and regionally.

“The launch of our Availability Zone B and Anti-DDoS Scrubbing Centre will enable us to offer even greater security and choice for our customers,” Malaysia General Manager Kenny Tan said.

He said the new availability zone complements Availability Zone A which was launched last year in heightening cloud security and ensuring business continuity through resilient cloud infrastructure.

“In addition to ensuring high availability and resiliency, Availability Zone B offers payment hardware security modules, elastic computing, database, networking and monitoring services,” he said. – Bernama

Source: Daily Express Online

The next big thing: 10 Malaysian startups to watch in 2018

The ASEAN is not only the world’s seventh-largest economy, but it’s also the fastest-growing internet market, and tech companies in the region are racing to scale.

Malaysia is home to several such companies, thanks to support from government agencies, venture capitalists, and accelerators.

A look at Tech in Asia‘s recent funding reveals growing support for players in niche markets, such as flower delivery and student housing. We looked at 10 companies that completed funding rounds in 2017 and 2018, mostly from seed to series B.

1. Carsome

Carsome co-founders Eric Cheng (L) and Teoh Jiun Ee

Total funding amount: $27.4 million

Lead investors: Burda Principal Investments

Latest funding type: Series B

Competitors: iCar Asia, Carro and Carmudi

Launched in 2015, Carsome is a selling platform that also functions like a broker for cars. Anyone who needs to sell a car can get in touch with the company, which will inspect the vehicle for free and assess its value. The platform assures customers that the pricing is totally transparent and free of hidden charges and markups. To prove this, it allows the seller to log in and view live bidding results.

As a bonus, Carsome handles all paperwork, which it promises to complete within five days.

In 2016, the company expanded operations to Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore. Carsome faces the challenge of differentiation from its competitors, which have raised larger amount of funding.

2. Iflix

Photo credit: Iflix

Total funding amount: $298 million

Lead investors: Hearst Communications, Jungle Ventures, Malaysia’s Catcha Group, Sky, and the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company

Latest funding type: Series D

Competitors: Hooq, Viu, Viki, and Netflix.

Iflix offers video-on-demand (VOD) services in Asia and Africa, where the app is available in 25 countries. The key to achieving this is the app’s availability in 14 languages, including English, Chinese, Burmese, Arabic, and Swahili. Since its founding in 2014, Iflix has managed to ink 230 studio partnerships.

In its latest funding round in 2017, Iflix raised $133 million from 13 investors. While Iflix has found success in partnering with local telecom companies and enabling smartphone downloads, its competitors have emulated this strategy.

This has increased the need for differentiation. In 2017, Iflix joined the live sports streaming business. This year, it announced a free video-streaming service supported by ads.

3. BloomThis

Total funding amount: $800,000

Lead investors: Singapore’s REAPRA and US-based consulting company Venture Builders.

Latest funding type: Seed

Competitors: 50 Gram

Who knew flowers could drive a hot startup? BloomThis is an online shop of “designer flowers and gifts.”

The flowers can be delivered on demand when ordered by 1:00 pm except on Sundays, as the flower supply chain tends to slow down on weekends. BloomThis also offers a weekly subscription service.

In 2017, BloomThis raised seed funding of $600,000 for expansion to Indonesia and Singapore.

4. PurelyB

The PurelyB team

Total funding amount: $800,000

Lead investors: 500 Startups, Brunsfield Ventures

Latest funding type: Equity crowdfunding (pre-series A funding round)

PurelyB is a one-stop portal offering everything women need to know about living healthy lifestyles. It offers articles, recipes, and videos in English and Chinese, and sell health programs complete with meal delivery.

In May 2016, PurelyB launched a marketplace, but it was eventually shut down after eight months after the company made a discovery: users treated it more as a source of product recommendations and went shopping elsewhere.

PurelyB has since narrowed their focus to content, adding a subscription model to the free articles and videos on the website.

In 2017, PurelyB launched an equity crowdfunding campaign, which started with a private round for existing members before being offered to the public. Share price was set a $5.35 (RM23) per unit, and the campaign raised a total of $300,000.

After expansion to Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Singapore, PurelyB plans to enter Dubai and Australia.

5. Supahands

Total funding amount: Undisclosed

Lead investors: Intres Capital Partners, Axiata, 500 Startups

Latest funding type: Seed round

Competitors: Datarama and Jakarta’s Oxide.

Supahands offers to perform tedious and repetitive machine learning, data management, and content moderation tasks for companies. It’s positioned in the space between freelancer marketplaces and BPOs.

One key differentiation point for Supahands is the combination of software and human involvement. Another unique point for Supahands is that it also offers tools for project management, work automation, and autorouting.

Formed in 2014, it has provided services to a medical technology company, music-streaming app, and telecom service provider, among others. Its other clients include Grab and iCarAsia.

Over the past three years, Supahands has enjoyed a compound annual growth rate of 400 percent.

It plans to scale its workforce across ASEAN this year and hopes to begin expansion to India or China. This larger workforce would enable the startup to serve companies across the region with different cultures and languages.

6. HostelHunting

HostelHunting’s co-founders / Photo credit: HostelHunting

Total funding amount: Undisclosed

Lead investors: Hoop Partners, Accord Ventures and KK Fund

Latest funding type: Series A

Competitors: Gomfy, Student.com and XchangeHousing

Operating in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, the platform acts like an Airbnb for student accommodation. HostelHunting takes a service fee for each successful booking.

It’s looking to expand the platform’s operations to other markets in Southeast Asia.

7. Wobb

Photo credit: Wobb

Total funding amount: $398,300

Lead investors: Cradle Fund

Latest funding type: Venture – series unknown

Competitors: Jobstreet, StartupJobs, Maukerja, and TribeHired

Wobb is a recruitment app focused on attracting young professionals. The platform highlights companies’ work cultures vy showing photos of office interiors and featuring current employees. This enables job seekers to assess culture fit with potential employers even before sending in an application.

With a database of more than 60,000 job seekers, Wobb relies on an advertising model. The company said in 2017 that revenue had surpassed $469,000.

After signing up, job seekers receive an invitation to meet Wobb’s founder, Derek Toh, over coffee. Toh used to be a director at recruitment firm Robert Walters in Malaysia before founding Wobb in 2014.

Wobb raised $398,300 (RM1,700,741) in a venture round via the crowdfunding platform pitchIN in 2017. As many as 76 participants made equity investments. RM800,000 came from Cradle Fund, a Malaysian government agency that invests in the early stage of startups.

8. Kaodim

The Kaodim team / Photo credit: Kaodim

Total funding amount: $11.6 million

Lead investors: Square Peg Capital

Latest funding type: Series B

Competitors: ServisHero, FlagAHero

The Kaodim platform matches service seekers with pre-screened and qualified providers. The services it offers range from pest control, plumbing, and photography to catering, cleaning, and fitness coaching.

Within four months of launching, over $10M worth of sales had reportedly been gained through the platform, and more than 20,000 customers had been matched with service providers.

Kaodim charges $1 to $6 (RM3 to MR20) to suppliers when they post proposals and respond to requests. Customers need not pay to use the platform.

In 2017, Kaodim raised $7 million in a series B round.

The company claims to have the highest revenue among service-hiring platforms across Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

9. Jirnexu

The Jirnexu team / Photo credit: Jirnexu

Total funding amount: $17 million

Lead investors: SIG China, SBI Group, Cento Ventures, and Celebes Capital.

Latest funding type: Series B

Competitors: iMoney, MoneySmart

Formerly known as Saving Plus, Jirnexu offers financial institutions a full-stack fintech solution. It began with offering financial comparison websites, but it eventually evolved to a streamlined process that allows customers to select and apply for financial products with ease.

Most of the company’s revenue comes from Malaysia. Jirnexu’s revenue grew by 100 percent from 2016 to 2017, and it expects to report the same this year. But while it almost reached profitability in 2017, it’s focusing on growth strategies like launching products, says CEO and founder Yuen Tuck Siew.

Its series B round in May attracted $11 million.

Jirnexu has an edge in that it deals with both back- and front-end work – it provides information to customers, but it also works with financial institutions.

10. iPrice

Photo credit: iPrice

Total funding amount: $9.8 million

Lead investors: Line Corporation

Latest funding type: Series B

Another price comparison platform, iPrice gathers information on product availability and pricing from various e-commerce websites, like Lazada and Shopee. It also aggregates products from clothing e-tailers such as Zalora and ASOS.

By doing so, it aims to be a one-stop shopping destination for shoppers all over Southeast Asia.

The startup says it’s on track to reach more than 150 million visitors this year. Apart from Malaysia and Indonesia, iPrice operates in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Its series B round this year raised $4 million.

Apart from building a large consumer base and leveraging Southeast Asians’ growing adoption of ecommerce, iPrice has formed B2B partnerships, such as with Samsung in Indonesia and Mediacorp in Singapore.

Source: Tech in Asia

Xiaomi IPO to make dozens of workers millionaires

Now Xiaomi is the fourth-largest smartphone maker in the world and likely will be valued at more than 200 times that amount. — Bloomberg

Eight years ago, before China’s Xiaomi Corp had sold a single smartphone, 56 of the earliest employees pulled together US$11mil (RM43.74mil) to invest in the startup. Rank-and-file workers dipped into savings and borrowed from parents. One receptionist tapped her dowry.

Today, they’re the Lucky 56. Xiaomi is one of the most successful smartphone makers in the world and it’s prepping a blockbuster initial public offering. Their stake in the company may soon be worth US$1bil (RM3.97bil) to US$3bil (RM11.92bil), depending on the stock sale. That works out to US$36mil (RM143.15mil) each at the midpoint.

The fortuitous decision began with workers like Li Weixing, an ex-Microsoft Corp engineer who was employee No. 12. Back in 2010, staffers were working seven days a week out of a bare-bones Beijing office park to get the unknown mobile phone maker up and running. When word spread that Lei Jun and his co-founders were chipping in their own money for a venture financing round, Li and others wanted to join them.

Li, who helped create Xiaomi’s mobile operating system, had around 500,000 yuan (RM311,843) saved up. “It wasn’t enough to buy a house, so he asked if he could invest in Xiaomi instead,” CEO Lei said in a March interview at Beijing headquarters. “We said, we can’t let only Weixing invest, so we let everyone in.”

Some early Xiaomi employees were already wealthy, including Lei who made his first fortune leading software developer Kingsoft Corp and investing in Chinese startups. But many staffers in those days had to scrape together cash to participate. Li and others preferred investing in an effort they knew rather than the uncertain stock market. Now Li stands to make US$10mil (RM39.76mil) to US$20mil (RM79.53mil), depending on Xiaomi’s IPO value.

It was employee No. 14, a receptionist now working in Xiaomi’s human resources office, who contributed her dowry of around 100,000 yuan (RM62,363) to 200,000 yuan (RM124,727). That stake could be worth between US$1mil (RM3.97mil) and US$8mil (RM31.81mil). Xiaomi declined to make her or other early employees available for interviews. Li declined to comment.

After a first surge of interest, Lei decided to cap rank-and-file investments at about 300,000 yuan (RM187,091) each to limit risk and stop employees from taking out loans to invest. “The interest was overwhelming, but we put a cap on it because we worried, if everyone put in too much money, it would be very bad if the company failed,” said co-founder Li Wanqiang in a March interview.

The group collectively stands to gain as much as US$3bil (RM11.92bil) if Xiaomi floats 15% of the company at a US$100bil (RM397.65bil) valuation when it goes public in Hong Kong later this year, according to calculations based on Xiaomi’s prospectus. A more conservative estimate would yield a US$1.4bil (RM5.56bil) payout for the 56 employees if Xiaomi floats 25% of the company at a US$50bil (RM198.82bil) valuation. (Calculations assume existing shareholders haven’t sold their stakes and the US$11mil (RM43.74mil) from employees was invested during what Xiaomi’s prospectus refers to as Series B-2.) Employees stand to make roughly 200 times their original investment. A greater number of Xiaomi’s workers should be enriched through stock options, which don’t require capital upfront.

Lei and his co-founders put in the heftiest amounts in that round and stand to make far more than the average. Five are poised to become newly-minted billionaires, according to Bloomberg calculations, and Lei’s stake, accumulated over several investment rounds, could be worth US$27bil (RM107.36bil). Investment powerhouses from Qiming Venture Partners to Morningside Group are also expected to reap mega-returns when Xiaomi goes public this year in what may be the biggest IPO since Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s 2014 debut.

None of this was obvious in 2010. Back then, Xiaomi was really just an idea in Lei Jun’s head, said Hans Tung, one of his earliest backers. Lei was a local tech celebrity with 1 million follows on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, but it was far from clear he could compete with Apple Inc, Samsung Electronics Co and Huawei Technologies Co. He would host smoke-and-booze-filled meetings at Beijing hotels, showing up with bags of cell phones and gadgets for his friends to try.

But after Lei lured seven co-founders away from cushy jobs at Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc’s Google in a matter of months, Qiming, where Tung worked at the time, and Morningside decided to bet on him. They led fundraising rounds in late 2010 and early 2011 that valued the company at about US$250mil (RM994.12mil). That’s when employees put in their US$11mil (RM43.74mil) too. Now Xiaomi is the fourth-largest smartphone maker in the world and likely will be valued at more than 200 times that amount.

“Lei Jun is the founder. He could afford all the capital. But why did he share with everyone?” said Morningside co-founder Richard Liu. “He has a vision and he can build up that strong belief and people are willing to take the huge risks.”

Silicon Valley is known for its secret millionaires who were early joiners at companies like Facebook Inc. Among the more famous examples is Bonnie Brown, the massage therapist who bargained for stock options to accompany the US$450 (RM1,789) a week she was making at her part-time job at Google. She retired a millionaire after five years at the company.

In China, such riches are virtually unknown. “These employees already had enough risk working for a small, untested startup and it showed this great enthusiasm,” said Tung. “They turned out to be right.” — Bloomberg

Source: The Star Online

Alibaba buys $9.5b food-delivery startup

An Ele.me deliveryman on his electric scooter. Photo credit: Alibaba

Jack Ma just ordered some Chinese takeaway – he’s bought food-delivery startup Ele.me in a multibillion-dollar deal.

Ma’s Alibaba announced this morning that it’s taking “full ownership” of Ele.me – which means “Hungry?” in Chinese – by topping up the stake it had in the startup after earlier investments. The buyout figure isn’t disclosed, but the online shopping giant says Ele.me is now valued at US$9.5 billion, up from the US$5.5 billion it was pegged at last year.

Ele.me’s blue-and-white delivery personnel and their electric scooters are a common sight across China. The service gets 9 to 10 million orders each day, which its riders dash to collect and deliver from around 1.3 million participating stores, including major chains like KFC and Starbucks. Its app claims to have 260 million users.

Food fight

Even before today’s deal, Alibaba and Ele.me have been working closely together, with the startup’s foodie offerings available from within Alibaba’s spin-off Alipay mobile wallet app, which has 450 million users.

China’s booming food-delivery market was worth US$31.9 billion in 2017, up 23 percent from the year before.

Alibaba’s Ele.me is locked in a fierce battle for all that takeout food, with archrival Tencent backing two different apps, Meituan and Dianping. Those three apps dominate the market.

Source: Tech in Asia

Grab launches a bike-sharing service in Southeast Asia

After much speculation, Southeast Asian Uber rival Grab has jumped into the bike-sharing space after it launched a service in Singapore.

GrabCycle Beta will offer services from a range of services, including bike-sharing services oBike — which includes Grab as an investor — GBikes and Anywheel, plus electric scooter rental Popscoot. The project is the first to launch under GrabVentures, Grab’s new “innovation arm” which is focused on projects in verticals beyond taxi rides such as payments and transportation.

The project ties into Grab’s payment efforts because GrabPay credits, its virtual currency, are used to pay to rent a cycle.

While dock-less bikes have their fans for making access to bikes easier, they have also adopted criticism for large cycle ‘dumps’ which have become commonplace across China. Grab is looking to mitigate that concern by partnering with Singapore island resort Sentosa, which will feature dedicated parking stations for bikes. The company plans to add other partners to help avoid “polluting public spaces” with cycles.

“In Singapore, approximately one in five car commutes are three kilometers and under. There is huge potential to convert this segment of commuters into bike-sharing users, in support of the country’s car-lite ambition,” Grab wrote in an announcement that was distributed to press today.

In adopting a marketplace-style model from the get-go, Grab is avoiding the issues that Didi — a Grab investor — encountered in China when it invested in bike-sharing company Ofo. As demand for bike-sharing rocketed, Ofo found itself becoming a potential threat to Didi. Throw in some internal politics between investor and investee, and Didi moved to counter the younger company by introducing a marketplace that served bikes of its own, alongside those from Ofo and Bluegogo.

The move was essentially aimed at relegating Ofo to a feature within Didi’s app in a bid to remove the need for consumers — and potential Didi customers — to install Ofo’s own app. That’s important because Mobike, an Ofo rival, has moved into taxi services and there is the potential for Ofo to do the same at some point.

Back to Southeast Asia, Grab’s service is initially operational in Singapore, where the firm is headquartered, but there is the potential to expand it to other markets in Southeast Asia, a spokesperson confirmed. Right now, the core Grab service is present in eight countries across the region with 86 million downloads and 2.6 million drivers.

Rumors persist that Grab is on the brink of agreeing to a deal that will see it acquire Uber’s Southeast Asia business in exchange for equity, according to Bloomberg. Any such deal would make it the dominant player across the region bar Indonesia, where local unicorn Go-Jek remains top of the pile.

Uber has moved into bike-sharing in the U.S. but it has not done the same in Southeast Asia despite its head of the region admitting to TechCrunch that the company is studying space.

Source: TechCrunch