Bigbasket gets $32 million funding ahead of India’s online grocery shopping boom

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India’s ecommerce boom is at high velocity, but the nation’s online groceries sector has been a lot slower to take off. But today’s US$32 million funding round for Bigbasket seems to indicate that this niche area is now gaining traction.

Bigbasket’s series B round comes from Helion Ventures and Zodius Capital, reports NextBigWhat. It comes a surprising two-and-a-half years after the startup’s US$10 million round.

Bigbasket currently operates in three Indian cities – Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Mumbai. The new VC money will be used to expand its reach to 10 cities by the end of next year, says CEO VS Sudhakar. The online grocer is handling 5,000 orders per day at present.

The startup is up against local rivals such as Zopnow and Ekstop. However, Zopnow only covers Bangalore, while Ekstop is restricted to Mumbai.

All these startups will get a shock soon when local retail giant Reliance starts its long-anticipated ecommerce business.

With over 700 classes, LessonsGoWhere sets its sights on Singapore’s online-to-offline education market

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The internet provides us with instant knowledge at the click of a button. MOOCs and edutech platforms – from the gamified Duolingo to video-chat lessons that put a virtual teacher in front of you – have taken online learning to the next level, but sometimes a computer or smartphone screen just can’t replace real human interaction.

LessonsGoWhere, which launched out of beta on July 30, offers an online marketplace where teachers and students can list, discover, and book offline lessons in Singapore. The online-to-offline concept isn’t necessarily a new one in the city-state – Learnemy has been offering such a service since 2011 and the now-defunct Kezaar made an attempt in 2012 – but LessonsGoWhere may already be ahead of the competition when it comes to sheer numbers.

A quick perusal of Learnemy’s site reveals approximately 60 teachers offering 10 classes. Another site called Skill Ministry, which Kezaar merged with, has 75 classes.

Ng E-Fei, LessonsGoWhere’s co-founder, tells Tech in Asia that his service already has more than 150 lesson providers offering over 700 different courses. Since the beta version of LessonsGoWhere went live in December 2013, the startup has sold more than S$60,000 (US$48,000) worth of lessons.

“We currently have 685 registered users in our database since we started collecting that data in May […] In July, we had about 293 active users who either signed up for our newsletter, booked a class, or registered interest,” E-Fei says. “We see about 12,000 unique monthly visitors and about 4,200 of them return.

” E-Fei says that the company researched more than 200 lesson categories and subcategories before landing on its current setup: four main categories (baking, cooking, music, and arts) with 17 subcategories (i.e. “arts” offers drawing, painting, calligraphy, etc.). A quick glance at the site shows a huge variety of classes being offered – from capoeira and hip-hop dance to playing the ukelele and making sausages. Listings are free, but LessonsGoWhere takes a 20 percent commission for each lesson booked through the site.

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LessonsGoWhere received S$50,000 (US$40,000) via Singapore’s ACE startup grant (formerly known as the YES! grant) to get the ball rolling late last year. The company’s three co-founders also pumped in S$30,000 (US$24,000) of their own money.

The ACE scheme pays out in three waves, based on achieving milestones. E-Fei says that his startup has completed two of them, and that his short-term goal is to finish the third by mid-to-late September “so as to free up more capital for horizontal expansion in different verticals.”

As for longer-term goals, the co-founder is eyeing overseas expansion.

“We intend to expand the business to Hong Kong, Seoul, and Australia – Perth or Melbourne – by our second year,” E-Fei adds. “While we’ve yet to narrow it down to exactly which city we’ll enter first, we’re working on identifying key partners in those regions, as well as understanding the dynamics of the recreational education industry in those cities.”

Battle of the cabs: Olacabs drives into India’s industrial hub Ahmedabad, days after TaxiForSure

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The race to cover Indian cities with on-demand cab services has entered a new stretch, with the entry of Olacabs into Ahmedabad just 12 days after its competitor TaxiForSure drove into the capital of Gujarat and home of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is the 10th Indian city in which Ola has launched operations since starting out three years ago in Mumbai, while its six-month-younger Bangalore-based competitor is now in five cities.

Ola has raised US$65 million in three rounds of funding, the latest being in June this year, so it has the fuel to speed ahead with its expansion. “We currently have over 12,000 cabs on our platform across these 10 cities and plan to double our capacity in the next one year,” says Anand Subramanian, director of marketing communications, Olacabs. TaxiForSure has a more modest US$14 million in its kitty, but is reported to be in talks to raise funding, and has a similar target of around 25,000 cabs in a year from now.

Gujarat is a leading business hub of the country, and Narendra Modi’s election this year was driven by the so-called Gujarat model of growth. Ahmedabad is often cited for its urban planning, but personal transportation services have been lagging behind other Indian cities. Now that gap will close rapidly. Amdavadis, as the denizens of Ahmedabad are called, enjoy the benefits of competition between taxi aggregators.

Cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore have already seen intense competition, especially since the entry of global operator Uber.

In fact, the entry of Uber has shaken up Indian cab operators like Meru Cab, Mega Cab, and EasyCabs. Just last week, a letter from the Association of Radio Taxis to the Reserve Bank of India complained of illegal credit card transactions on the Uberapp.

The GPS-based hassle-free ordering of Uber also stole the thunder from Ola, which had introduced mobile app-based ordering of taxis in India. The launch of UberX, the smaller car variant of the UberBLACK, has also brought it on par in terms of price.

Now the battle to sign on taxis and drivers is in full swing on these services, none of which keep their own fleets. Hence the race to Ahmedabad, in which TaxiForSure had its nose ahead of Ola. But then again, this race has just begun.

Look out Oculus Rift, China’s rival virtual reality headset goes on sale next month

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ANTVR, the “all-in-one universal virtual reality kit” from Beijing, reached its Kickstarter goal on June 23 and went on to raise over US$260,000.

Tech in Asia spoke to company CTO Jason Zhang on the sidelines of this week’s TechCrunch Beijing conference, who said the device will go on sale in the US in September. A China release is in the works for a later, unspecified date.

The ANTVR itself was on sight for attendants to demo, but the long queue meant each person only got about 30 seconds to test it out – not nearly enough to give a definitive answer to the many controversial claims ANTVR has made in comparison to Oculus Rift, including the ANTVR’s multi-platform capabilities, positional tracking, and latency.

That said, I can testify that the device didn’t really immerse me in the horror game used in the demo. This is largely due to the poor fit – ANTVR was clearly designed for Asian faces with flatter noses. I could see the bottom edge of the screen, and I did noticed some distortion in the periphery.

ANTVR’s biggest selling point is probably the fact that it’s compatible with any game console, including mobile devices. By contrast, Oculus Rift only runs games developed specifically for its platform. A slight latency, discomfort, and mediocre video quality should all be taken into account by prospective buyers who don’t want to shell out the extra 50 bucks for a Rift (note: I’ve never used a Rift, so I can’t make direct comparisons). The ANTVR will retail for US$300.

Oculus Rift, which only sells development kits for now, suspended sales in China last month after customers bought them only to later resell them at a much higher price.

If you want to set up a startup, report suggests you do it in Area 55

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Makati City, home to the startup cluster known as Area 55, is the most economically competitive region in the Philippines. This finding comes courtesy of the Cities and Municipalities Index (CMCI) 2014, which is created by the National Competitiveness Council with support from the United States Agency for International Development. Image courtesy of the Make it Makati Facebook page This is good news for Philippine entrepreneurs, particularly those who already have offices in Area 55.Incubator Kickstart Ventures, Bitcoin umbrella company Satoshi Citadel Industries, and GrabTaxi Philippines are all located in Area 55.

Why does Area 55 kick ass?

The CMCI ranked Makati City as the most economically competitive city with a composite score of 53, besting the next two cities – Cagayan de Oro City and Naga City – by four points. This figure was based on three equally weighted categories, including economic dynamism, government efficiency, and infrastructure, each with its own particular indicators.

Economic dynamism should be of most immediate interest to Philippine entrepreneurs, given that it reflects the overall health of business and employment in an area. It takes into obvious factors, such as the size of the local economy and its growth, along with less obvious factors, such as that area’s capacity to create jobs in the future and the presence of professional development and networking organizations.

For economic dynamism, Makati City earned a sub-score of 17.2, placing it in second place after top scorer Paranaque City and before third place Manila City, all of which are in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The category of government efficiency may strike some as a euphemism, as it could be more accurately titled as government inefficiency – in a place like the Philippines, which is infamous for corruption and red tape, the only real question is the extent of inefficiency.

Makati City, however, fares well in this category, too. Its sub-score of 20.9 is good enough to earn it fourth place behind Naga City, Iloilo City, and Angeles City. This category measures the ease with which a business can operate in a given city in addition to how well the local government supports entrepreneurship.

Reflected in this score is everything from how easy it is to register a business to how well the local government promotes investment, along with the quality of education, healthcare, and security in the area. Local government officials should ideally use this score to improve policy-making.

The infrastructure category is particularly notable because a recent New York Times article singled out the Philippines’ inadequate roads as a major stumbling block to the country’s continued growth. While that argument is no doubt true in principle, the CMCI suggests that Philippine infrastructure is not as universally bad as the article might make it seem.

Makati City, for example, earns a sub-score here of 15, placing it again in fourth – this time behind Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, and Marikina City. This rating measures such things as the quality of the road system, the quality of health and education infrastructure, the annual budget devoted to infrastructure, the availability of basic utilities, and the number of ATMs and public transportation vehicles an area has.

Much more than chest-thumping

The CMCI is put together for more than just bragging rights. On their official website, the National Competitive Council gives this suggestion:

“For the business community, the Index can serve as a guide in deciding where to locate. Aside from the overall score, data on the different indicators will prove valuable depending on the specific needs of their business.”

Given that Makati City has the highest overall score, along with very high sub-scores across the three categories, the CMCI suggests that aspiring entrepreneurs should carefully consider setting up their offices there. Area 55 evidently has more than just good branding.

Aiming to make biz loans as simple as shopping online, India’s Capital Float raises $1 million

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In what could be a big boost to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and businesses in India, a Bangalore based digital finance startup, Capital Float, has raised US$ 1 million in funding from SAIF Partners.

Started in 2013, Capital Float offers SMEs financial loans on the web. The idea is that getting a loan should be as simple as shopping online. The tech finance startup is the brainchild of two Stanford business management grads, Gaurav Hinduja and Sashank Rishvarsringa.

Capital Float engages with small businesses, ecommerce merchants, manufacturers, and early-stage business-to-business service providers across India. Loans from INR 300,000 to 5 million (US$4,878 to US$81,300) are available for a period of one to 12 months.

Most SMEs and small ventures struggle to raise finance in India for a number of reasons, including insufficient documentation or a lack of guarantors. Since most banks and financial institutions need to comply with the guidelines set by India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, they would not consider disbursing any loans to businesses without proper documents or who don’t meet certain preconditions.

“SMEs have been chronically underserved by the traditional banking system in India, particularly when it comes to working capital,” says Gaurav Hinduja, Capital Float’s co-founder, in the company’s announcement. “By taking a technology-driven approach, we are able to offer such businesses a unique set of cash-flow based lending products in a timely and efficient manner.”

Given the situation with banks and financial institutions, raising or borrowing funds through informal channels like friends, relatives, or even money lenders is quiet a common practice in India. That last option is hugely risky as money lenders charge interest rates that are double or triple the level offered by banks. But some small businesspeople have little choice.

The startup also revealed this week that it has achieved non-banking financial company (NBFC) status in India. Capital Float previously raised US$2 million from Aspada Investment Company two months ago.

WhatsApp, Hike, and Skype could be forced to pay up in India

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Telecom companies in India are in a time warp. They want the Telecom Regulatory of India (TRAI) to bring back the revenue they’re losing out as smartphone users shift en masse to free messaging and calling apps.

“They [telecom service providers] wanted discussion on treatment of OTT (over-the-top) services like WhatsApp, Skype, and others which are actually cutting in to their revenue,” TRAI Secretary Sudhir Gupta said at a seminar this week in New Delhi, reports PTI.

OTT refers to text, audio or video sent over the internet. Since users access these through data plans, they work out much cheaper than sending an SMS or making a phone call. Telecom operators are seeing a spike in data usage, but this comes nowhere near compensating for fewer calls and SMSes. So they want the TRAI to approve a so-called ‘connectivity charge’ for free messaging and other such apps.

For the TRAI to go along with this, it would have to buck a technology trend in which more and more services are moving to the internet. It is difficult even to define what exactly constitutes an OTT. This week Tech in Asia reported how a new, hybrid WAN (wide area network) uses a combination of leased telecom lines and the internet to lower networking costs for large enterprises. To work out how much of this service is OTT will be tricky to say the least.

The other issue is that a multitude of apps piggyback on internet services provided by telecom operators. Will they all have to pay ‘connectivity charges’ in addition to the data usage charges their users pay the telcos? And will the providers of these apps absorb these new charges or pass them on to consumers? In other words, will the millions of users who have come to depend on free apps now have to pay up for them?

The irony is that consumers already have the short end of the stick in their dealings with telecom operators in India. For example, WiFi and 4G services are notorious for luring consumers with attractive Mbps speeds, then providing much slower downloads most of the time because the wireless service providers don’t have the spectrum or bandwidth to serve the number of users they take on board.

This week the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India directed the operators to specify the ‘minimum download speed’ in all its communication to consumers, instead of just tom-toming speeds in ideal conditions. And TRAI wants that minimum download speed to be maintained 80 percent of the usage time. This will be a relief to many who are frustrated by slow speeds after paying up for superfast WiFi or 4G.

Consumers of free messaging apps in India — 50 million of them on WhatsApp and 20 million on Hike at last count — will be hoping that TRAI takes a pro-consumer stand on the telcos’ push for connectivity charges too. The Internet and Mobile Association of India has in fact said TRAI shouldn’t get involved at all. It should be treated as a matter to be sorted out between the telecom operators and OTT service providers.