Timesdelhi.com

January 17, 2019
Category archive

Facebook

Instamojo raises $7M to help SMEs and ‘micro-entrepreneurs’ in India sell online

in Asia/Bengaluru/Delhi/eCommerce/Economy/Facebook/funding/Fundings & Exits/India/instamojo/Kalaari Capital/King/merchant/online commerce/Paytm/Politics/Southeast Asia/TC by

In India, startups are quietly building the tools and platforms to enable a different kind of gig economy: one that allows ‘micro-entrepreneurs’ to tap growing access to the internet to sell goods and services online.

One such figure helping this burgeoning economy is Instamojo, a seven-year-old Bengaluru-based startup, has pulled in a $7 million Series B as it aims to grow its reach to over one million SMEs and micro-SMEs in India.

Founded in 2012 as a side-project, Instamojo offers independent merchants the means to operate a mobile-optimized storefront, collect payment and even take micro-loans. In an interview with TechCrunch, CEO and co-founder Sampad Swain said the company has some 650,000 merchants, and it is adding a further 1,200 daily. Most of them, he said, tend to earn less than $30,000 in annual sales; with around half sell physical products, such as e-commerce items, and the remainder using Instamojo to invoice for physical services or sell digital items such as courses.

The idea is to tap into those just testing the water of online commerce and give them the tools to ramp up their fledgling enterprise as India’s internet ‘population’ rises past 400 million people.

“A lot of micro-merchants in India are adopting [India’s payment service] UPI through [services like Paytm and PhonePe] but once they become a little more serious, at around 10-20 sales per month, we ask: ‘Can we give you lending, logistics, online store?’” explained Swain, who started the business with co-founders Akash Gehani and Harshad Sharma.

It’s a market that few banks or financial institutions care about because small loans and sales require enormous scale to be relevant to them. But Swain is bullish, and he believes the company will pass one million retailers this year.

The new funding is led by existing investor AnyPay — the Japanese fintech startup — with other returning backers Kalaari Capital, Beenext, and angel investor Rashmi Kwatra joining. Gunosy Capital, the VC arm of Japanese news app Gunosy, joined as a new investor. The deal takes Instamojo to around $9 million from investors to date.

Instamojo collects revenue through a two percent cut on sales, a fee on successful deliveries and commission on its micro-loan product, which essentially gives merchants advanced credit (same day or next-day) on their sales. The loans — which Swain describes as ‘sachet’ lending — are from Instamojo’s recently-established Mojo Capital unit which includes partnerships with 12 financial organizations. In just four months, Instamojo has dished out around $4 million in credit — through 50,000-odd dispersions — and Swain predicts it will scale to a $30 million run rate before the end of this year.

“Even I am surprised!” he said of the rapid uptake.

Instamojo founders [left to right] Akash Gehani, Sampad Swain and Harshad Sharma

Unlike Meesho, a YC-backed micro-entrepreneurship service in India that recently raised $50 million, Instamojo isn’t dominated by e-commerce to friends, family and neighbors. Swain said typical Instamojo sellers look to reach audiences outside of people they know, with platforms like YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and others commonly used to reach audiences. Instamojo’s big selling point is ease of sale; that’s through a unique link that sellers share with customers for the checkout therein bypasses some of the challenges of online payment in India, which include somewhat cumbersome steps for card transactions.

“Sellers just create a link and share it with the customer,” Swain explained. “Essentially they click and check out with debit or credit card or other means. Over the years we realized that’s the best beginning for our business.”

That was Instamojo’s first launch, and since then it has built out online store options to manage inventory and product as well as the recent credit launch. Beyond growing its scale, Swain said the next big focus is on developing a community for merchants, where they can share tips, collaborate and more. He is also aiming to increase the tech team and raise Instamojo’s headcount from 120 right now to around 250 by 2020.

For now, Swain said the company isn’t seeking overseas opportunities, although he did admit that the business could expand to regions like Africa or Southeast Asia. But more immediately, he sees a huge opportunity in India, where believes there are 65 million SMEs, of which 25 million are “micro-merchants,” to tackle initially. The company is planning a Series C round for later this year to finance a deeper push.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Instagram caught selling ads to follower-buying services it banned

in Apps/Delhi/eCommerce/Facebook/India/instagram/mobile/Policy/Politics/Social/spam/TC by

Instagram has been earning money from businesses flooding its social network with spam notifications. Instagram hypocritically continues to sell ad space to services that charge clients for fake followers or that automatically follow/unfollow other people to get them to follow the client back. This is despite Instagram reiterating a ban on these businesses in November and threatening the accounts of people who employ them.

A TechCrunch investigation initially found 17 services selling fake followers or automated notification spam for luring in followers that were openly advertising on Instagram despite blatantly violating the network’s policies. This demonstrates Instagram’s failure to adequately police its app and ad platform. That neglect led to users being distracted by notifications for follows and Likes generated by bots or fake accounts. Instagram raked in revenue from these services while they diluted the quality of Instagram notifications and wasted people’s time.

In response to our investigation, Instagram tells me it’s removed all ads as well as disabled all the Facebook Pages and Instagram accounts of the services we reported were violating its policies. Pages and accounts that themselves weren’t in violation but whose ads were have been banned from advertising on Facebook and Instagram. However, a day later TechCrunch still found ads from two of these services on Instagram, and discovered five more companies paying to promote policy-violating follower growth services.

This raises a big question about whether Instagram properly protects its community from spammers. Why would it take a journalist’s investigation to remove these ads and businesses that brazenly broke Instagram’s rules when the company is supposed to have technical and human moderation systems in place? The Facebook-owned app’s quest to “move fast” to grow its user base and business seems to have raced beyond what its watchdogs could safeguard.

Hunting Spammers

I first began this investigation a month ago after being pestered with Instagram Stories ads by a service called GramGorilla. The slicked-back hipster salesmen boasted how many followers he gained with the service and that I could pay to do the same. The ads linked to the website of a division of Krends Marketing where for $46 to $126 per month, it promised to score me 1000 to 2500 Instagram followers.

Some apps like this sell followers directly, though these are typically fake accounts. They might boost your follower count (unless they’re detected and terminated) but won’t actually engage with your content or help your business, and end up dragging down your metrics so Instagram shows your posts to fewer people. But I discovered that GramGorilla/Krends and the majority of apps selling Instagram audience growth do something even worse.

You give these scammy businesses your Instagram username and password, plus some relevant topics or demographics, and they automatically follow and unfollow, like, and comment on strangers’ Instagram profiles. The goal is to generate notifications those strangers will see in hopes that they’ll get curious or want to reciprocate and so therefore follow you back. By triggering enough of this notification spam, they trick enough strangers to follow you to justify the monthly subscription fee.

That pissed me off. Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks send enough real notifications as is, growth hacking their way to more engagement, ad views, and daily user counts. But at least they have to weigh the risk of annoying you so much that you turn off notifications all together. Services that sell followers don’t care if they pollute Instagram and ruin your experience as long as they make money. They’re classic villains in the ‘tragedy of the commons’ of our attention.

This led me to start cataloging these spam company ads, and I was startled by how many different ones I saw. Soon, Instagram’s ad targeting and retargeting algorithms were backfiring, purposefully feeding me ads for similar companies that also violated Instagram’s policies.

The 17 services selling followers or spam that I originally indexed were Krends Marketing / GramGorilla, SocialUpgrade, MagicSocial, EZ-Grow, Xplod Social, Macurex, GoGrowthly, Instashop / IG Shops, TrendBee, JW Social Media Marketing, YR Charisma, Instagrocery, SocialSensational, SocialFuse, WeGrowSocial, IGWildfire, and GramFlare. TrendBee and GramFlare were found to still be running Instagram ads after the platform said they’ve been banned from doing so. Upon further investigation after Instagram’s supposed crackdown, I discovered five more services sell prohibited growth services: FireSocial, InstaMason/IWentMissing, NexStore2019, InstaGrow, and Servantify.

Knowingly Poisoning The Well

I wanted to find out if these companies were aware that they violate Instagram’s policies and how they justify generating spam. Most hide their contact info and merely provide a customer support email, but eventually I was able to get on the phone with some of the founders.

What we’re doing is obviously against their terms of service” said GoGrowthly’s co-founder who refused to provide their name. “We’re going in and piggybacking off their free platform and not giving them any of the revenue. Instagram doesn’t like us at all. We utilize private proxies depending on clients’ geographic location. That’s sort of our trick to reduce any sort of liability” so clients’ accounts don’t get shut down, they said. “It’s a careful line that we tread with Instagram. Similar to SEO companies and Google, Google wants the best results for customers and customers want the best results for them. There’s a delicate dance” said Macurex founder Gun Hudson.

EZ-Grow’s co-founder Elon refused to give his last name on the record, but told me “[Clients] always need something new. At first it was follows and likes. Now we even watch Stories for them. Every new feature that Instagram has we take advantage of it to make more visibility for our clients.” He says EZ-Grow spends $500 per day on Instagram ads, which are its core strategy for finding new customers. SocialFuse founder Alexander Heit says his company spends a couple hundred dollars per day on Instagram and Facebook ads, and was worried when Instagram reiterated its ban on his kind of service in November, but says “We thought that we were definitely going to get shut down but nothing has changed on our end.”

Several of the founders tried to defend their notification spam services by saying that at least they weren’t selling fake followers. Lacking any self-awareness, Macurex’s Hudson said “If it’s done the wrong way it can ruin the user experience. There are all sorts of marketers who will market in untasteful or spammy ways. Instagram needs to keep a check on that.” GoGrowthly’s founder actually told me “We’re actually doing good for the community by generating those targeted interactions.” WeGrowSocial’s co-founder Brandon also refused to give his last name, but was willing to rat out his competitor SocialSensational for selling followers.

Only EZ-Grow’s Elon seemed to have a moment of clarity. “Because the targeting goes to the right people . . . and it’s something they would like, it’s not spam” he said before his epiphany. “People can also look at it as spam, maybe.”

Instagram Finally Shuts Down The Spammers

In response to our findings, an Instagram spokesperson provided this lengthy statement confirming it’s shut down the ads and accounts of the violators we discovered, claiming that it works hard to fight spam, and admitting it needs to do better:

“Nobody likes receiving spammy follows, likes and comments. It’s really important to us that the interactions people have on Instagram are genuine, and we’re working hard to keep the community free from spammy behavior. Services that offer to boost an account’s popularity via inauthentic likes, comments and followers, as well as ads that promote these services, aren’t allowed on Instagram. We’ve taken action on the services raised in this article, including removing violating ads, disabling Pages and accounts, and stopping Pages from placing further ads. We have various systems in place that help us catch and remove these types of ads before anyone sees them, but given the number of ads uploaded to our platform every day, there are times when some still manage to slip through. We know we have more to do in this area and we’re committed to improving.”

Instagram tells me it uses machine learning tools to identify accounts that pay third-party apps to boost their popularity and claims to remove inauthentic engagement before it reaches the recipient of the notifications. By nullifying the results of these services, Instagram believes users will have less incentive to use them. It uses automated systems to evaluate the images, captions, and landing pages of all its ads before they run, and sends some to human moderators. It claims this lets it catch most policy-violating ads, and that users can report those it misses.

But these ads and their associated accounts were filled with terms like “get followers”, “boost your Instagram followers”, “real followers”, “grow your engagement”, “get verified”, “engagement automation”, and other terms tightly linked to policy-violating services. That casts doubt on just how hard Instagram was working on this problem. It may have simply relied on cheap and scalable technical approaches to catching services with spam bots or fake accounts instead of properly screening ads or employing sufficient numbers of human moderators to police the network.

That misplaced dependence on AI and other tech solutions appears to be a trend in the industry. When I recently reported that child sexual abuse imagery was easy to find on WhatsApp and Microsoft Bing, both seemed to be understaffing the human moderation team that could have hunted down this illegal content with common sense where complex algorithms failed. As with Instagram, these products have highly profitable parent companies who can afford to pour more dollars in policy enforcement.

Kicking these services off Instagram is an important step, but the company must be more proactive. Social networks and self-serve ad networks have been treated as efficient cash cows for too long. The profits from these products should be reinvested in policing them. Otherwise, crooks will happily fleece users for our money and attention.

To learn more about the future of Instagram, check out this article’s author Josh Constine’s SXSW 2019 keynote with Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger — their first talk together since leaving the company.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook launches its first U.S. podcast with a series focused entrepreneurship

in Advertising Tech/Delhi/Facebook/India/Media/podcast/Politics/Social by

Everyone has to have a podcast, apparently. Even Facebook . The social network this week launched its second-ever original podcast series, and its first one in the U.S. An arm of Facebook’s business operation, the new show “Three and a Half Degrees” will focus on entrepreneurship – specifically the lessons learned, challenges faced, and other insights from successful business leaders.

The name is a reference to how technology has made it easier to connect – today, people are no longer six degrees apart, but only three and a half degrees, the company says.

“I consider it part of our mission to help the businesses we work with learn from one another,” explains David Fischer, Facebook’s VP of Business and Marketing Partnerships. “One way we’re doing this is with the new podcast ‘Three And A Half Degrees: The Power of Connection.’ Through the podcast, we hope to celebrate the journeys of entrepreneurs and business leaders on our platform, and scale their inspiring life lessons and learnings to other entrepreneurs and leaders,” he says.

Facebook today has over 90 million businesses using its platform, so it makes sense that it wants to further establish itself as a place where established businesses can share their knowledge with newcomers. Those smaller businesses could then grow to become a more active part of Facebook’s larger business network, which keeps the cycle – and the ad dollars – flowing.

Fischer will serve as podcast host, and kicks off the first episode with an interview with the creator of TOMS,  Blake Mycoskie, who is introduced on the show to Bryan and Bradford Manning. The Mannings say they were inspired by TOMS to start their own charitable business, Two Blind Brothers. The overall focus for the episode is on brands that prioritize their social mission over profit and growth.

Future episodes will include Monique & Chevalo from Charleston Burger Co. & Chris Kempcziski from McDonald’s (ep 2); Stephanie McMahon from WWE & Gary Vaynerchuk from Vayner Media (ep 3); ictor Lezama from PC Landing Zone & Jake Wood from Team Rubicon (ep 4); Suzanne Gildert from Sanctuary and Kindred AI & Beth Comstock, formerly with GE (ep 5); Antionette Carroll from Creative Reaction Lab & Jonathan Mildenhall from TwentyFirstCenturyBrand (ep 6); Ben Rattray from Change.org & Advisor Chip Conley (ep 7).

This first season includes just these seven episodes and fourteen guests, with new episodes arriving every two weeks.

It’s not a long season, and Facebook hasn’t yet confirmed plans to do another, we understand. That makes the “podcast” a bit more like a marketing initiative rather than a serious attempt at entering the podcasting market.

The podcast is also not monetized. The company has no plans to sell ad space within the podcast, either.

Though this is the first time Facebook has done a podcast in the U.S., it has experimented in this space previously. Last summer, it tried a similar effort in Australia where leading marketers talked about connecting with consumers, in a podcast called Face 2 Face. That one seems to have even more of a tie to Facebook’s own bottom line. (Connect with consumers? Social ads, of course!).

This one is takes a step back from the nitty-gritty of reaching consumers through spending on marketing and ads, but rather on the business leaders themselves.

The vibe of the podcast is one of a highly-produced effort. It doesn’t begin as a sit-down, informal back-and-forth chat, but one where pre-recorded interviews are intercut with host narration and storytelling. It’s not until nearly halfway through before the introduction between Mycskie and the Mannings is made. At that point, it shifts from being a sort of NPR-Lite style effort, and one where you’re listening to a conversation – albeit one with a polished, media-trained exec like Mycskie.

Unfortunately, this more compelling part of the program is far too short, and quickly wrapped up with the host summarizing the learnings.

The new U.S. podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook adds the option to share events to Stories, message friends ‘interested’ in going

in Apps/Delhi/Facebook/India/Politics/Social/TC by

Facebook wants to make it easier for users share events and coordinate with friends before the event’s start. The company this morning said it will test a new feature that lets users share those events they’re interested in attending to their Story, then make plans to meet up with friends who also plan to attend.

The test will involve a new option to “Share to Your Story” that appears when you visit an event’s page on Facebook. If shared, friends will see a tappable sticker within your Story that includes the event details, and lets friends respond that they’re also “interested” right from the Story itself.

Friends can also tap on the sticker in the Story to visit the event page.

In addition, the new feature will offer a list of friends who plan to attend the event, so you can easily create a group chat with those users.

While the feature is available to all in the test markets, it seems particularly targeted towards younger users.

It arrives at a time when Facebook has been losing its younger users at an even faster pace than previously expected. According to a 2018 report from eMarketer, for instance, last year was the first time when less than half of U.S. internet users ages 12 to 17 would use Facebook at least once a month.

Instead, Facebook’s monthly user growth was coming from older demographics, the report said. It predicted Facebook would lose 2 million users age 24 and younger during the year.

Those users would be migrating to other social networks, including Instagram and Snapchat.

A separate report from Pew Research Center released in fall 2018 confirmed this trend, saying that 44 percent of younger users (ages 18 to 29) had deleted the Facebook app from their phone over the past year.

Meanwhile, the younger demographic has begun to organize events on Instagram, a report from The Atlantic recently noted.

Teens are creating private Instagram accounts for their events. The account will include the date and handles of the organizers, in some cases. If the account follows you, it’s your invite. If you send a follow request and are approved, you’re also invited.

Of course, Instagram wasn’t designed for events the way that Facebook is, but it can be popular because the party account can remain private and anonymous – helpful for staying under the radar of snooping parents, for instance.

With the Stories feature, the company now hopes that a different way to share and track events on Facebook itself will offer a similar ability to rally friends that appeals to younger users.

To use the new feature, you’ll go the Events page, click “Share” below the date and time of the event, then tap “Share to Story.” Friends tap “interested” to say they may attend, and you’ll be able to see these responses. To kick off the group chat, tap on the circle next to the friends in the list.

The test is rolling out now to users in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil, Facebook says.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Startups Weekly: Will Trump ruin the unicorn IPOs of our dreams?

in aurora/BlackRock/Delhi/Facebook/First Round Capital/funding/goodwater capital/India/Insight Venture Partners/Lyft/Magic Leap/money/Mr Jeff/Pinterest/Politics/Postmates/romain dillet/sequoia capital/SoftBank/Startups/U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission/Uber/Valentin Stalf/Venture Capital by

The government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, upping concerns of potentially long-lasting impacts on the U.S. stock market. Private market investors around the country applauded when Uber finally filed documents with the SEC to go public. Others were giddy to hear Lyft, Pinterest, Postmates and Slack (via a direct listing, according to the latest reports) were likely to IPO in 2019, too.

Unfortunately, floats that seemed imminent may not actually surface until the second half of 2019 — that is unless President Donald Trump and other political leaders are able to reach an agreement on the federal budget ASAP.  This week, we explored the government’s shutdown’s connection to tech IPOs, recounted the demise of a well-funded AR project and introduced readers to an AI-enabled self-checkout shopping cart.

1. Postmates gets pre-IPO cash

The company, an early entrant to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, raised what will likely be its last round of private capital. The $100 million cash infusion was led by BlackRock and valued Postmates at $1.85 billion, up from the $1.2 billion valuation it garnered with its unicorn round in 2018.

2. Uber’s IPO may not be as eye-popping as we expected

To be fair, I don’t think many of us really believed the ride-hailing giant could debut with a $120 billion initial market cap. And can speculate on Uber’s valuation for days (the latest reports estimate a $90 billion IPO), but ultimately Wall Street will determine just how high Uber will fly. For now, all we can do is sit and wait for the company to relinquish its S-1 to the masses.

3. Deal of the week

N26, a German fintech startup, raised $300 million in a round led by Insight Venture Partners at a $2.7 billion valuation. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet spoke with co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf about the company’s global investors, financials and what the future holds for N26.

4. On the market

Bird is in the process of raising an additional $300 million on a flat pre-money valuation of $2 billion. The e-scooter startup has already raised a ton of capital in a very short time and a fresh financing would come at a time when many investors are losing faith in scooter startups’ claims to be the solution to the problem of last-mile transportation, as companies in the space display poor unit economics, faulty batteries and a general air of undependability. Plus, Aurora, the developer of a full-stack self-driving software system for automobile manufacturers, is raising at least $500 million in equity funding at more than a $2 billion valuation in a round expected to be led by new investor Sequoia Capital.


Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets


5. A unicorn’s deal downsizes

WeWork, a co-working giant backed with billions, had planned on securing a $16 billion investment from existing backer SoftBank . Well, that’s not exactly what happened. And, oh yeah, they rebranded.

6. A startup collapses

After 20 long years, augmented reality glasses pioneer ODG has been left with just a skeleton crew after acquisition deals from Facebook and Magic Leap fell through. Here’s a story of a startup with $58 million in venture capital backing that failed to deliver on its promises.

7. Data point

Seed activity for U.S. startups has declined for the fourth straight year, as median deal sizes increased at every stage of venture capital.

8. Meanwhile, in startup land…

This week edtech startup Emeritus, a U.S.-Indian company that partners with universities to offer digital courses, landed a $40 million Series C round led by Sequoia India. Badi, which uses an algorithm to help millennials find roommates, brought in a $30 million Series B led by Goodwater Capital. And Mr Jeff, an on-demand laundry service startup, bagged a $12 million Series A.

9. Finally, Meet Caper, the AI self-checkout shopping cart

The startup, which makes a shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper, has revealed a total of $3 million, including a $2.15 million seed round led by First Round Capital .

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.

News Source = techcrunch.com

1 2 3 93
Go to Top