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December 12, 2018
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Ex-Facebook exec Kirthiga Reddy becomes first female investor at SoftBank’s Vision Fund

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Following speculation that SoftBank is hiring a China-based team, so the Japanese investment giant has brought on a first venture partner (and first female) for its $100 billion Vision Fund.

Kirthiga Reddy, a former executive with Facebook, has taken the role and, in doing so, she becomes the first female member of SoftBank’s Vision Fund investment team. She will be based in San Carlos, Silicon Valley.

Reddy spent eight years at Facebook, mostly as managing director for its business in India and Southeast Asia before a two-year stint in the U.S. leading global partnerships.

In her new role, she will work closely with Deep Nishar, senior managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisors who is located in the Bay Area and was previously an exec at Google and LinkedIn . Reddy said her focus will be frontier technologies such as AI, robotics, health, bio engineering, IoT and more. In a comment to Bloomberg, she revealed that she is “actively recruiting” for the firm, especially for female investors.

Kirthiga Reddy [right] is interviewed alongside India Today Group Chief Creative Officer Kalli Purie [left] in 2012 (Photo by Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images)

“I look forward to contributing to their mission to positively shape the future by seeking to back the boldest, most transformative optimistic, and ideas of today. Like in other investment firms, the Venture Partner role enables quick integration of new talent from non-investing backgrounds, which is a perfect fit for me. I look forward to bringing my technical and business expertise – from both enterprise and consumer technology, in developed and emerging markets – to the Vision Fund team,” Reddy wrote in a post on LinkedIn announcing the move.

The Vision Fund has been criticized for an all-male cast of 10 deal-makers. SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son said in September that he has “no prejudice of any kind,” and first-in-command Rajeev Misra has led an effort to hire women for the team.

News Source = techcrunch.com

JioSaavn becomes India’s answer to Spotify and Apple Music

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India finally has its answer to Spotify after Reliance Jio merged its music service with Saavn, the startup it acquired earlier this year.

The deal itself isn’t new — it was announced back in March — but it has reached its logical conclusion after two apps were merged to create a single entity, JioSaavn, which is valued at $1 billion. For the first time, India has a credible rival to global names like Spotify and Apple Music through the combination of a venture capital-funded business — Saavn — and good old-fashioned telecom, JioMusic from Reliance’s disruptive Jio operator brand.

This merger deal comes days after reports suggested that Spotify is preparing to (finally) enter the Indian market, a move that has been in the planning for over a year as we have reported.

That would set up an interesting battle between global names Spotify and Apple and local players JioSaavn and Gaana, a project from media firm Times Internet which is also backed by China’s Tencent.

It isn’t uncommon to see international firms compete in Asia — Walmart and Amazon are the two major e-commerce players while Chinese firms Alibaba and Tencent have busily snapped up stakes in promising internet companies for the past couple of years — but that competition has finally come to the streaming space.

There have certainly been misses over the years.

Early India-based pioneer Dhingana was scooped by Rdio back in 2014 having initial shut down its service due to financial issues. Ultimately, though, Rdio itself went bankrupt and was sold to Pandora, leaving both Rdio and Dhingana in the startup graveyard.

Saavn, the early competitor too Dhingana, seemed destined to a similar fate, at least from the outside. But it hit the big time in 2015 when it raised $100 million from Tiger Global, the New York hedge fund that made ambitious bets on a number of India’s most promising internet firms. That gave it the fuel to reach this merger deal with JioMusic.

Unlike Dhingana’s fire sale, Saavn’s executive team continues on under the JioSaavn banner.

The coming-together is certainly a far more solid outcome than the Rdio deal. JioSaavn has some 45 million songs — including a slate of originals started by Saav — and access to the Jio network, which claims over 250 million subscribers.

JioSaavn is available across iOS, Android, web and Reliance Jio’s own app store

The JioMusic service will be freemium but Jio subscribers will get a 90-day trial of the ad-free ‘Pro’ service. The company maintains five offices — including outposts in Mountain View and New York — with over 200 employees while Reliance has committed to pumping $100 million into the business for “growth and expansion of the platform.”

While it is linked to Reliance and Jio, JioMusic is a private business that counts Reliance as a stakeholder. You’d imagine that remaining private is a major carrot that has kept Saavn founders — Rishi Malhotra, Paramdeep Singh and Vinodh Bhat — part of the business post-merger.

The window certainly seems open for streaming IPOs — Spotify went public this past April through an unconventional listing that valued its business around $30 billion while China’s Tencent Music is in the process of a listing that could raise $1.2 billion and value it around that $30 billion mark, too. JioSaavn might be the next streamer to test the public markets.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Live streaming studio, Culture Genesis, launches its first show, the quiz-based Trivia Mob

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A new generation of entrepreneurs is emerging to refashion the Los Angeles studio system for the digital age forming companies that combining live-streamed video, podcasts, and the newfound social media celebrities to craft entertainment for a new breed of consumer.

Two of those startup founders, longtime Apple executive Cedric Rogers and former developer for VEVO and MLB digital Shaun Newsum, are now pulling the curtains back on the first fruit of their production studio, Culture Genesis, with the launch of TriviaMob — a new quiz show targeting urban audiences.

The two creators envision their company as a combination of 106 & Park and Jeopardy with questions aimed at cultural references for the Highsnobiety and Complex set.

TriviaMob players can win up to $10,000 in cash by competing individually or as part of a group (or “mob”) to win collective prizes by tuning in and competing to shows that stream every Sunday. Each player has 10 seconds to answer 10 questions around art, music, science and history. Players that answer all of the questions correctly will get a share of the $10,000 prize and participants who opt to be part of the “mob” can earn points for sponsored prizes.

For its foray into live-streamed appointment entertainment, Culture Genesis has tapped Melvin Gregg, the influencer and star of Netflix’s American Vandal series along with a host of … well… hosts including former Miss USA contestant, Brittany Lucio; DJ Damage, the co-host of Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs’ flagship show, REVOLT Live; Jessica Flores; and TV host and comedic actress Dariany Santana.

Backed initially by Los Angeles-based accelerator MuckerLab and betaworks latest livecamp program, the two founders see Culture Genesis as tapping into the twin trends of gaming and mobile technology adoption in young African American and Latinx communities. The founders cite statistics indicating that 73 percent of African Americans and 72% of Latinx consumers over 13 years-old identify as gamers.

“We’re building software for an urban, multicultural audience that continues to lead and influence culture — not just in the U.S. but around the world,” said Rogers, in a statement. “We see this influence growing in Hollywood but it’s not happening fast enough in Silicon valley. We want to accelerate this shift.”

While the business model mimics that of HQ Trivia, the once-popular quiz show whose success has waned even as it scored massive gains in venture fundraising — valuing the company at a reported $100 million.

The founders of Culture Genesis see their first product as fundamentally different from HQ. “People want to see things for them by them,” says Rogers. “From our perspective HQ meant nothing to our audience.”

Newsum, the company’s chief technology officer, goes even further. “I think HQ was a prime example of our thesis. HQ from a multicultural perspective — that didn’t appeal to our audience. Part of what we’re doing with Cultural Genesis is bringing that urban understanding.”

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Flipkart CEO Binny Bansal resigns over allegations of ‘serious personal misconduct’

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Flipkart, the India-based e-commerce firm owned by Walmart, has lost its Group CEO Binny Bansal after he resigned from the company following an investigation into “serious personal misconduct.”

Bansal founded Flipkart in 2007 with Sachin Bansal (no relation) and he had served as its CEO since 2016, before going on to become CEO of the Flipkart Group — which spans its core e-commerce, fashion and payments divisions — one year later.

Walmart said in a statement that Bansal denied the allegation and that an investigation into it “did not find evidence to corroborate the complainant’s assertions.” However, the retailer did uncover “other lapses in judgement, particularly a lack of transparency, related to how Binny responded to the situation” which is why it has accepted his resignation.

Walmart, Flipkart and Bansal aren’t providing details on exactly what happened, but Walmart cautioned that “recent events risked becoming a distraction.”

This photo taken on May 9, 2018 shows Walmart CEO Doug McMillon (R) speaking next to Flipkart co-founder and CEO Binny Bansal at an event in Bangalore, as a deal was announced for Walmart to buy a stake in Flipkart (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)

Alongside Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy and Tiger Global’s Lee Fixel, Bansal was widely seen as a key figure in securing the deal that saw Walmart agree to fork out $16 billion for a majority 77 percent stake in Flipkart. The transaction, which closed in August and is the largest in Walmart’s history, cemented Flipkart’s position in India and pitted Walmart against its arch-enemy Amazon for a new battle outside of the U.S.

While Sachin Bansal left the company following the deal, Binny Bansal was expected to stay on and, according to reports, he was viewed as a very key part of the future of the business.

Despite that, Walmart couched the exit as expected.

“Binny has been contemplating a transition for some time and we have been working together on a succession plan, which has now been accelerated,” it said.

There’s no word on Bansal’s successor at this point. Walmart said that the existing leadership will remain in place — that includes former Tiger Global executive Krishnamurthy as head of Flipkart, Ananth Narayanan as CEO of Myntra and Jabong, its fashion portals, and Sameer Nigam as CEO of its PhonePe unit.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Tiger Global returns with a $3M investment to help restaurants deal with delivery apps

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Tiger Global has returned to backing early-stage Indian startups after it wrote a $3 million check for CheckMate, a U.S.-Indian startup the helps restaurant deals with the pain of multiple food ordering platforms.

The deal is a Series A and it represents the first time that CheckMate has raised outside funding for its business. It is also a return to early-stage investing in India — where CheckMate’s largest office is — for Tiger Global following a period of relative inactivity.

Founded 2.5 years ago initially as a bill-splitting app, CheckMate provides a platform that unifies food and payments to ease the chaos of working with modern consumer platforms. In this current age, restaurants simply must work with platforms like Uber Eats, Postmates, GrubHub, DoorDash and others to get orders, but the services don’t play together, or even with, existing restaurant systems.

That means that each service requires its own tablet for managing orders. On top of that, none integrate with order systems that print receipts for chefs or point-of-sale software. That means that restaurant staff must not only operate a bunch of iPads to handle the orders, but they have to manually enter them into their ordering systems (to ensure the ticket is processed so the order is cooked) then handle point of sale and bank the order for accounts.

That’s a lot of manual hassle and it’s the core issue that CheckMate aims to solve.

It effectively operates like a bridge that connects the various delivery platforms to a restaurant’s management system. It feeds orders from multiple food delivery services into the ordering system automatically, and feed the sales back into the restaurant management system. That helps keep the orders moving quickly, whilst managing account and sales without manual input.

“Online orders are still treated as a stepchild that’s alien to the business,” CheckMate founder and CEO Vishal Agarwal told TechCrunch in an interview. “With our solution, we inject online orders into the true heart and center of these businesses.”

A ‘wall’ of tablets is commonplace in restaurants as food delivery apps become an increasingly important source of orders

Headquartered in New York, where Agarwal is based, CheckMate has rolled out to over 1,000 locations in the U.S. and it counts Five Guys among its customers. The company recently expanded to Australia with its first customers and Agarwal — previously with e-commerce company Choxi.com — said he is looking for further international growth. The plan to get it, however, is by piggybacking the POS systems it supports, including Brink, Toast, and Revel, rather than establishing CheckMate’s own sales team.

That makes a lot of sense since the POS providers have a major incentive for linking their restaurant customers up with CheckMate because it streamlines their operations and makes their life easier. It also helps keep CheckMate lean and mean.

The team itself is already lean and international. While Agarwal, who comes from India, is based in New York, the rest of his 10-person U.S. team is distributed while the operations and tech team of 25 is located in CheckMate’s India-based office.

Since there are no public APIs, CheckMate has built its own platform in conjunction with food delivery services and now Agarwal — who said he has invested his own money in CheckMate — plans to double down on R&D, and in particular more integrations, by using this Series A raise for hiring.

“Technology in the restaurant sector is under-utilized — I was coming from e-commerce background where technology is everywhere,” he explained. “We quickly realized how much resistance to tech there is and we want to make it easy as possible for operators to adopt our product.”

That simplicity also applies to CheckMate’s pricing model which was recently adjusted. Previously, the company charged a setup fee but that has been abolished in favor of two tiers: $85 per restaurant for up to two platforms, and $100 for unlimited platforms per location.

“As restaurants streamline their operations to take advantage of rapidly increasing online orders, we
expect hundreds of thousands of restaurants to benefit from Checkmate’s unique solution,” Tiger Global partner Scott Shleifer said in a prepared statement.

The deal is an interesting one for Tiger Global, the 17-year-old New York investment firm that just closed a new $3.75 billion fund. The firm became well known for writing bold checks that backed ambitious startups in India a couple of years ago before it put the brakes on that strategy.

According to a multitude of media reports, the firm’s management grew concerned that it was overexposed in India, where it had deployed some $2 billion via deals in unicorns like Flipkart and Uber rival Ola. Flipkart’s exit via a majority investment from Walmart, however, made the firm around $3 billion in returns while it also retained a small stake in the business, which is tipped to have its own IPO in the future.

Tiger Global executive Lee Fixel, who spearheaded the India strategy, is said to have spent the last year working closely with Flipkart to realize the deal. Now that it is done, Tiger Global is said to be returning to investment mode in India, according to a recent Economic Times story. That means that CheckMate may be the first of many as the tiger begins roar again.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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