The last time we saw Samsung’s foldable onstage, it was, quite literally, shrouded in darkness. The company debuted a prototype of the upcoming device at a developer conference, showing its folding method and little else.
Never mind the fact that 5G is still a ways away in just about every market — Samsung’s taking an educated gamble that some percentage of its early adopting/cost is no object approach will get in early on the next generation of cellular technology.
Google today announced its intention to acquire Alooma, a company that allows enterprises to combine all of their data sources into services like Google’s BigQuery, Amazon’s Redshift, Snowflake and Azure. The promise of Alooma is that handles the data pipelines and manages for its users. In addition to this data integration service, though, Alooma also helps with migrating to the cloud, cleaning up this data and then using it for AI and machine learning use cases.
“Here at Google Cloud, we’re committed to helping enterprise customers easily and securely migrate their data to our platform,” Google VP of engineering Amit Ganesh and Google Cloud Platform director of product management Dominic Preuss write today. “The addition of Alooma, subject to closing conditions, is a natural fit that allows us to offer customers a streamlined, automated migration experience to Google Cloud, and give them access to our full range of database services, from managed open source database offerings to solutions like Cloud Spanner and Cloud Bigtable.”
Before the acquisition, Alooma had raised about $15 million, including an $11.2 million Series A round ed by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Sequoia Capital in early 2016. The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition, but chances are we are talking about a modest price given how much Alooma had previously raised.
Neither Google now Alooma said much about what will happen to the existing products and customers — and whether it will continue to support migrations to Google’s competitors. We’ve reached out to Google and will update this post once we hear more.
Update. Here is Google statement about the future of the platform:
For now, it’s business as usual for Alooma and Google Cloud as we await regulatory approvals and complete the deal. After close, the team will be joining us in our Tel Aviv and Sunnyvale offices, and we will be leveraging the Alooma technology and team to provide our Google Cloud customers with a great data migration service in the future.
Regarding supporting competitors, yes, the existing Alooma product will continue to support other cloud providers. We will only be accepting new customers that are migrating data to Google Cloud Platform, but existing customers will continue to have access to other cloud providers.
So going forward, Alooma will not accept any new customers who want to migrate data to any competitors. That’s not necessarily unsurprising and it’s good to see that Google will continue to support Alooma’s existing users. Those users who use Alooma in combination with AWS, Azure and other non-Google services will likely start looking for other solutions soon, though, as this also means that Google isn’t likely to develop the service for them beyond its current state.
Alooma’s co-founder do stress, though, that “the journey is not over.” “Alooma has always aimed to provide the simplest and most efficient path toward standardizing enterprise data from every source and transforming it into actionable intelligence,” they write. “Joining Google Cloud will bring us one step closer to delivering a full self-service database migration experience bolstered by the power of their cloud technology, including analytics, security, AI, and machine learning.”
This week we’ve got another big name to add to the list. Once again, we’ll be joined by none other than Marc Raibert.
As both founder and CEO for Boston Dynamics, Raibert been a principle force in pushing the limits for cutting edge robots. Developed as a pack robot for military applications, the company’s Big Dog has become both an important piece in the evolution of biologically inspired devices and a major online sensation.
Boston Dynamics has continued to innovate with the humanoid Atlas, wheeled robot Handle and the quadruped Spot. At our event last year, Raibert was joined on stage with the latest iteration of the SpotMini, which the company announced will become its first productized offering.
We’re excited to welcome Raibert — and a special robotic guest — back for this year’s event.
Early Bird tickets are on sale now for $249! Book today and you’ll save $100 before prices go up. You’ll join over 1000 engineers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors for this single-day event at UC Berkeley.
Ant Financial, the financial services behemoth affiliated with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has made its first big move into Europe. It’s acquired London-headquartered payments company WorldFirst in a deal that sources tell us is valued at around $700 million.
(That price would also line up with multiple reports from December claiming the two were in talks for an acquisition of around £550 million, or $717 million at current exchange rates.)
This isn’t your average multi-hundred million dollar acquisition. The deal was confirmed by WorldFirst in a note to customers while Alibaba, which curiously didn’t put out an official press release, acknowledged the acquisition to us through a spokesperson.
Yet despite a relatively under-the-radar outing, the deal has potentially significant consequences. It not only underscores the strong market connections between China and Europe, but also the margin (and thus strategic) pressures that many smaller remittance companies are under in the wake of larger companies like Amazon building its own money-moving services, as well as competition from local players in Asia.
One of a number of globally active money remittance services, 15-year-old WorldFirst lets businesses and consumers move money between countries at prices that are lower than regular banks.
The company claims to have transferred over £70 billion ($90 billion) for customers since 2004, with more than one million transfers made each year. WorldFirst is a player in the competitive remittance market, in which migrant workers send money home to family, who can make transfers online or in person at WorldFirst outlets.
Ant Financial is best known for its Alipay service, which is China’s dominant mobile payment app with over 550 million registered users. Alibaba owns one-third of Ant, which is valued at as much as $150 billion, and it has been pushing to expand its empire outside of China and beyond Asia Pacific, too.
“Alipay and WorldFirst’s capabilities and international footprints are highly complementary,” WorldFirst co-founder and chief executive Jonathan Quin wrote in an internal memo obtained by TechCrunch.
According to Quin, WorldFirst will retain its brand and become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ant Financial. Many merchants in the UK already accept Alipay, which has expanded to cater for Chinese tourists spending money overseas.
“The tie-up will add WorldFirst’s international online payments and virtual account products to Alipay’s range of technology solutions,” an Ant Financial spokesperson told TechCrunch without disclosing the size of the buyout.
WorldFirst has been financed by private equity investors and, as a private company, it keeps its financial details closely held, but in August 2018 it noted that it had transferred more than $95 billion for some 160,000 customers — businesses and individuals included. A source told us its GMV was around $10 billion a year.
But sources noted that it was under pressure of its own that would have made securing a deal with Ant even more of a priority.
“That whole sector of payments from the West to China sellers for e-commerce is under massive margin pressure from Amazon going direct with its own service, plus new China based entrants PingPong, LianLian and Airwallex,” one executive very close to the remittance space told us. “WorldFirst had recently seen low to declining growth because of this.” Another source said that it had been shopping itself around.
(The Amazon reference is related to Amazon PayCode, a new service it has built with Western Union to let people in markets where Amazon has not launched a local site to pay for goods in local currencies on its platform. The deal was first announced in October last year, and has seen the two companies offering payment alternatives in places like Thailand and Kenya to remove the need to transfer payments in other ways, via Alipay or whatever transfer service a seller or buyer might use.)
The acquisition gives Ant Financial a massive international boost, and for the first time a presence in Europe, but it comes amid some stumbles for the company in its other attempts to expand internationally.
While WorldFirst is based out of the UK, the company last year made a key move to expand its US operations when it was announced in August that it would acquire the retail money transfer business of San Francisco-based startup Wyre, which had built the network on blockchain technology but was selling it to focus on the other side of its business, providing currency exchange APIs to larger B2B customers.
It looked like all systems go for WorldFirst to move deeper in the US after that. But then, the company abruptly announced on February 20 that it planned to close the U.S-based business. The move may have been made to prevent a repeat of that scuppered MoneyGram acquisition.
WorldFirst is closing its business in the U.S. in a move widely seen as a precursor to its acquisition by Ant Financial
Outside of the U.S. and China, Ant Financial has aggressively expanded its presence in Asia through a series of investment deals that have seen it put $200 million into Kakao Pay in Korea, and find similar deals in Southeast Asia. The overall strategy appears to be to replicate the success of Alipay in China, where it offers mobile payments and digital financial services that cover loans, banking and wealth management.
China celebrated Lunar New Year last week as hundreds of millions of people travelled to their hometowns. While many had longed to see their separated loved ones, others dreaded the weeklong holiday as relatives awkwardly caught up with them with questions like: “Why are you not married? How much do you earn?”
Luckily, there are ways to survive the festive time in this digital age. Smartphone usage during this period has historically surged. Short video app TikTok’s China version Douyin noticeably took off by acquiring 42 million new users over the first week of last year’s holiday, a report from data analytics firm QuestMobile shows. Tencent’s mobile game blockbuster Honor of Kings similarly gained 76 percent DAUs during that time, according to another QuestMobile report.
People also hid away by immersing themselves in the cinema during the Lunar New Year, a movie-going period akin to the American holiday season. This year, China wrapped up the first six days of the New Year with a record-breaking 5.8 billion ($860 million) yuan box office, according to data collected by Maoyan, Alibaba’s movie ticketing service slated for an initial public offering.
The new benchmark, however, did not reflect an expanding viewership. Rather, it came from price hikes in movie tickets, market research firm EntGroup suggests. On the first day of Year of the Pig, tickets were sold at an average of 45 yuan ($6.65), up from 39 yuan last year. That certainly put some price-sensitive audience off — though not by a huge margin as there wasn’t much to do otherwise. (Shops were closed. Fireworks and firecrackers, which are traditionally set off during the New Year to drive bad spirits away, are also banned in most Chinese cities for safety concerns.) Cinemas across China sold 31.69 million tickets on the first day, a slight decline from last year’s 32.63 million.
Many Chinese companies don’t return to work until this Thursday, so the box office results are still being announced. Investment bank Nomura put the estimated total at 6.2 billion yuan. What’s also noticeable about this year’s film-inspired holiday peak is the fervor that sci-fi The Wandering Earth whipped up.
American audiences may find in the Chinese film elements of Interstellar’s space adventures, but The Wandering Earth will likely resonate better with the Chinese audience. Adapted from the novel of Hugo Award-winning Chinese author Liu Cixin, the film tells the story of the human race seeking a new home as the aging sun is about to devour the earth. A group of Chinese astronauts, scientists and soldiers eventually work out a plan to postpone the apocalypse — a plot deemed to have stoke Chinese viewers’ sense of pride, though the rescue also involves participation from other nations.
The film, featuring convincing special effects, is also widely heralded as the dawn of Chinese-made sci-fi films. The sensation gave rise to a wave of patriotic online reviews like “If you are Chinese, go watch The Wandering Earth” though it’s unclear whether the discourse was genuine or have been manipulated.
Alibaba’s movie powerhouse
This record-smashing holiday has also been a big win for Alibaba, the Chinese internet outfit best known for ecommerce and increasingly cloud computing. Its content production segment Alibaba Pictures has backed five of the movies screened during the holiday, one of which being the blockbuster The Wandering Earth that also counts Tencent as an investor.
Tech giants with online streaming services are on course to upend China’s film and entertainment industry, a sector traditionally controlled by old-school production houses. In its most recent quarter, Alibaba increased its stake to take majority control in Alibaba Pictures, the film production business it acquired in 2014. Tencent and Baidu have also spent big bucks on content creation. While Tencent zooms in on video games and anime, Baidu’s Netflix-style video site iQiyi has received wide acclaim for house-produced dramas like Yanxi Palace, a smash hit drama about backstabbing concubines that was streamed over 15 billion times.
Seeing all the entertainment options on the table, the Chinese government made a pre-emptive move against the private players by introducing a news app designed for propaganda purposes in the weeks leading to the vacation.
“The timing of the publishing of this app might be linked to the upcoming Chinese New Year Festival, which the Chinese Communist Party sees as an opportunity and a necessity to spread their ideology,” Kristin Shi-Kupfer, director of German think tank MERICS, told TechCrunch earlier. “[It] may be hoping that people would use the holiday season to take a closer look, but probably also knowing that most people would rather choose other sources to relax, consume and travel.”