February 23, 2018
Category archive


Grab, the Uber rival in Southeast Asia, is now officially also a digital payments company

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Grab is best known for rivaling Uber in Southeast Asia, but today the company took a major step into becoming a fintech player, too.

That’s because the ride-sharing firm, which recently raised $2 billion from SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing, rolled out support for its GrabPay service among third-party merchants for the first time today.

Grab is present in seven markets across Southeast Asia, but the first merchants it is onboarding are street food sellers in Singapore, where the firm is headquartered.

This won’t change the game overnight for the company’s 50 million-plus users, but it is a sign of where Grab is headed since it announced plans to develop a payments platform last year. It takes GrabPay from being merely the system that enables you pay for a taxi using your credit (or pre-bought Grab credit) to one that could be used more widely as a digital payments app.

The process is much like popular payment services like Alipay: users just scan the merchant’s QR code, key in the amount and hit pay. Grab is placing incentives on using GrabPay credits — which will make the service more like wallet — but it also works with credit cards and other payment methods Grab offers locally.

The company is being rather coy on when it will expand the payments feature to new markets, other than that it will happen next year. Nonetheless it will be interesting to observe the impact it has in Singapore, the country of seven million people which exhibits more Western consumer habits than any place in Southeast Asia.

“This is an important part of the journey,” Grab co-founder Hooi Ling Tan told TechCrunch in an interview. “We’ve been talking and executing on our plan but today is a significant milestone for making GrabPay truly a cash replacement.”

“If I leave my wallet at home, I can still pay for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In time I’ll be able to buy goods like hardware or groceries using GrabPay,” Tan added.

There’s a veritable tonne of fintech startups and solutions aimed at digitizing payments already and Singapore, the hub for venture capital and a global financial market, has tended to be a first stop for most. But Tan is adamant that GrabPay has a super power lacking in others: users.

“For merchants in Singapore, the moment they sign up they get access to four million customers,” she said. “Telcos and banks haven’t been able to move to mobile wallets is because it requires them to adopt new customer behavior. [But] we’ve already shifted a significant portion of customer behavior.”

Given that Grab only began accepting payments less than two years ago, its move into payments has been swift since it was announced in July 2016. The firm hired ex-Euronet exec Jason Thompson to lead the GrabPay business, opened R&D centers dedicated to fintech, made an acquisition and added credit facilities and peer-to-peer transfers recently.

“For us to provide better services to a larger portion of Southeast Asia, existing partners we could work with didn’t meet the scale or expectation of what we had,” Tan said of the payment push. “Nine in ten in Southeast Asia don’t have a credit card and 75 percent are unbanked — it’s clearly a big problem and, in our minds, larger than transportation.”

Grab’s move to enable financial inclusion is the opposite of Uber’s recent announcement of an own-branded credit card to its users. Admittedly that’s a move primarily aimed at first-world markets, but it certainly emphasizes Grab’s focus on being local.

It isn’t the first to go down this route by any means, however. Go-Jek, its billion-dollar rival based in Indonesia, introduced its GoPay service in 2016 while India’s Ola, which shares common investors with Grab, has operated standalone service Ola Money since 2015.

Featured Image: Jon Russell/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

News Source = techcrunch.com

New York terror suspect was an Uber driver

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New York terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov was a driver for Uber, the company confirms. He has been accused of driving a truck into a crowd near the World Trade Center in Manhattan on Tuesday, reportedly killing at least eight and injuring 11 more.

“We are horrified by this senseless act of violence. Our hearts are with the victims and their families. We have reached out to law enforcement to provide our full assistance,” said an Uber spokesperson.

Uber said that Saipov has been a driver in New Jersey for the past six months. He’s taken over 1400 trips.

29-year-old Saipov previously passed background checks and was not involved with other known safety incidents. Uber is now in contact with FBI about the incident and has banned the suspect from the Uber app.

This isn’t the first time an Uber driver has been accused of murder. Last year, a Michigan Uber driver allegedly murdered six people and even picked up passengers between shootings.

The latest incident may call into question Uber’s background checks. The company says it checks for criminal records and traffic violations.

Passengers can also rate drivers on a 5-point scale, which is supposed to help the company identify problematic behavior.

Uber says it now has more than two million drivers worldwide.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Tony West leaves Pepsi to become Uber’s new Chief Legal Officer

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When you’re a company facing almost as many federal investigations as a crime syndicate, who better to come in to run your legal team than a former Justice Department official?

That may have been the question new Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi was asking when thinking about who to pick to help navigate his ride-sharing service through the murky legal waters it’s now sailing in.

With Uber the subject of not one, not two, not three, but at least five federal investigations and a whole slew of lawsuits, Tony West, the former general counsel at PepsiCo and a senior Justice Department official in the Obama Administration, has his work cut out for him.

The most valuable privately held company in the United States at the moment is currently under federal investigation for potentially violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; for developing software to spy on drivers for competing ride-sharing services; and for using software to allow its drivers to evade law enforcement in jurisdictions where it was not permitted to operate. Bloomberg News recently reported that the company was also facing probes into price-fixing and its involvement in the potential theft of trade secrets from Alphabet.

That kind of casework would be a mountain for any legal eagle, but West also has to contend with the trade secrets battle between Uber and Alphabet subsidiary Waymo.

In a statement to Uber’s staff obtained by TechCrunch, chief executive Khosrowshahi noted that “finding a strong legal partner has been one of my top priorities.”

Khosrowshahi praised West’s experience heading up an international team of lawyers and wrote that West’s experience as a former federal prosecutor and senior Department of Justice official meant that he was “well equipped to handle the investigations into our past practices.”

West fills a slot that was vacant since Salle Yoo, the company’s previous legal officer, resigned in early September, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

In the letter to Uber employees, Khosrowshahi praised Yoo for her service:

I want to close by thanking Salle for all of her hard work in helping build Uber into the incredible company that touches so many drivers and riders all over the world. She has been a great partner as I’ve gotten up to speed over the past (almost) two months. I especially appreciate all that Salle is doing to ensure that Tony’s transition is as smooth as possible.

Please join me in congratulating Tony and wishing Salle well in her post-Uber life (I’d imagine a vacation for her is in order!).

News Source = techcrunch.com

Factory operations manager Polymer spins out from Dandelion Chocolate

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Not every startup journey starts as sweetly as the road co-founders Ishita Prasad and Maya Balakrishnan took to launching their new company, Polymer — but then again, not every startup takes its inspiration from a chocolate factory.

Spun out from the wildly successful (and wildly expensive) bean-to-bar San Francisco chocolate factory Dandelion Chocolate, Polymer quietly raised $2 million early this year to marry Prasad’s passion for small-scale (chocolate) manufacturing with her past career as an engineer at Alphabet.

The company was actually born from Dandelion’s own needs, Prasad tells me.

“We started building it last October… and we started building it just for Dandelion,” she said. Polymer has a software that uses iPads and Android phones coupled with proprietary software to monitor compliance and line efficiency in small factories.

Workers take pictures of the settings on their equipment and monitor what they’re putting into the equipment or on the line. That gets uploaded into a centralized database to give employers a snapshot of what’s going on with their equipment and what’s happening on the factory floor. Traditionally that oversight was done manually with pen and paper, says Prasad.

The software also collects data directly from the factory equipment, according to Prasad.

Employees at Dandelion Chocolate along with Polymer co-founders Ishita Prasad and Maya Balakrishnan

These kinds of insights were always available to big manufacturers, but smaller companies, like Dandelion have had to make do, Prasad said… until now.

“Our first initial target market is with the smaller manufacturers who employ up to 500 people,” said Prasad. “They have tracking systems and ERPs that are really expensive.”

Thanks to requirements from the Food and Drug Administration, every small food company needs to track inputs and equipment for tracebacks in the event of a potential recall. Factories want to have the insights anyway, because if there’s a problem on the line, it’s better to be able to identify it quickly and take steps to ensure that more batches aren’t affected by a defective product.

The problem was compelling enough to convince Prasad’s fellow Stanford alumnus and good friend Balakrishnan to give up a job at Goldman Sachs in New York and come out to San Francisco to get Polymer off the ground.

Polymer co-founders Maya Balakrishnan and Ishita Prasad

In the U.S. alone, 85 percent of manufacturers qualify as small businesses, employing between five and 500 people. Prasad estimates that the total is close to 200,000 small businesses in the U.S. that could be customers for the company’s software.

Certainly, the tech-savvy co-founder of Dandelion,Todd Masonis, who previously had started the professional networking company Plaxo, was convinced. He joined Harrison Metal, who led the round, along with other big-time angel investors like Andrew Chen from Uber, Brian Balfour of Reforge, Daniel Lurie and Jonathan Bruck from Pocket; and Bubba Murarka, along with other undisclosed investors.

As for how a chocolate company spun out a polymer, Prasad told me the name was chosen because “we wanted to build a tool to allow manufacturers to view the connections between each part of their factory. Like with polymers, we have created a product where the whole is much more useful than the sum of its individual parts — using our tool allows manufacturers to gain much greater insights into their operations than if they were looking at individual pieces of data.”

Featured Image: Emi Moriya/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-SA 2.0 LICENSE

News Source = techcrunch.com

Uber will now let you add multiple stops to your route

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Uber today is adding a new feature that will solve a challenge almost every rider, at some point, has faced: the difficulty with picking up friends along the route to your destination. That’s because, until now, Uber has only allowed you to request a ride from point A to point B. That now changes with the introduction of an “add-a-stop” feature that allows you to add up to three total stops to your route.

Before, if you wanted to do something similar, you’d have to change your destination mid-trip to include the additional stop or stops, get everyone to meet in one place to catch the Uber, or even order another ride after getting dropped off at your first stop.

With the multi-stop feature, you can instead input your extra stops in advance of requesting your Uber.

To use the new option, you tap “where to?” and then the plus sign “+”. You’ll then enter in the addresses of all your stops, and request your ride. The app will remind you to keep stops to 3 minutes or less, as a courtesy to your driver. That’s a bit longer than the typical wait time, though. Uber typically charges a per-minute wait fee 2 minutes after a driver reaches your location.

Uber tells us the wait time fee will still apply to the first pick up. But if the rider spends more than 3 minutes at the other stops, the price could change from the upfront fare they were quoted before requesting their ride.

You will still be able to make changes to your stops mid-route, Uber also notes. You’ll be able to both add or remove stops in real-time while on the way, and the driver will get the directions updates automatically.

Drivers will also be able to see the full route with all the stops upon picking up the rider. At each stop, the driver will swipe in his or her app to acknowledge that they’ve arrived at the stop before the directions to the next stop are given.

This isn’t the first time Uber has made it easier to ride with friends on its service.

The company has long offered a way to split your Uber fare with other riders, but this assumed you were both jumping in the Uber at the same time. It’s also worth pointing out that Uber rival Lyft introduced adding extra stops in its app last year, which then gave it an advantage for group rides.

Uber’s new multi-stop feature is now live on both iOS and Android to users worldwide, if they have the most recent version of the Uber app. But the update hit international users first, then arrived in the U.S. and Canada. So if you don’t see the new feature yet, you should soon.

Featured Image: Photo by studioEAST/Getty Images/Getty Images

News Source = techcrunch.com

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