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Baidu beats estimates on strong video streaming growth

Baidu beats estimates on strong video streaming growth

August 19, 2019

Chinese technology group Baidu on Monday posted a revenue of 26.33 billion yuan ($3.73 billion) for the quarter that ended in June, beating analysts’ estimates of 25.77 billion yuan ($3.65 billion) as its video streaming service iQiyi continues to see strong growth. The 19-year-old firm’s shares were up more than 9% in extended trading.

The company, which is often called the Google of China, said revenue of its core businesses grew 12% since the same period last year “despite the weak macro environment, our self-directed healthcare initiative, industry-specific policy changes and large influx of ad inventory.”

Net income for the second quarter dropped to 2.41 billion yuan ($344 million), down 62% compared to same period last year, but an improvement from the first quarter of this year when Baidu posted a net loss of 327 million yuan ($46.3 million).

“With Baidu traffic growing robustly and our mobile ecosystem continuing to expand, we are in a good position to focus on capitalizing monetization and ROI improvement opportunities to deliver shareholder value,” Herman Yu, CFO of Baidu, said in a statement.

Today’s results for Baidu, which has been struggling of late, should help calm investors’ worries. In recent years, as users move from desktop to mobile and rivals such as ByteDance win hundreds of millions of users through their mobile apps, many have cast serious doubts on Baidu’s ability to maintain its growth and hold onto its grip on advertising business. (On desktop, Baidu continues to command more than three quarters of the Chinese market share.)

In the quarter that ended in March this year, Baidu posted its first quarterly loss since 2015, the year it went public.

Baidu’s shares were trading at about $114 in extended hours, pushing its market cap to about $40 billion — still less …

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Twitter says accounts linked to China tried to ‘sow political discord’ in Hong Kong

Twitter says accounts linked to China tried to ‘sow political discord’ in Hong Kong

August 19, 2019

Twitter says a significant information operation involving hundreds of accounts linked to China were part of an effort to deliberately “sow political discord” in Hong Kong after weeks of protests in the region.

In a blog post, the social networking site said the 936 accounts it found tried to undermine “the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”

More than a million protesters took to the streets this weekend to demonstrate peacefully against the Chinese government, which took over rule from the British government in 1997. Protests erupted months ago following a bid by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to push through a highly controversial bill that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial. The bill was suspended, effectively killing it from reaching the law books, but protests have continued, pushing back at claims that China is trying to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Although Twitter is banned in China, the social media giant says the latest onslaught of fake accounts is likely “a coordinated state-backed operation.”

“Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests,” the statement said.

Two of the tweets supplied by Twitter

Twitter said many of the accounts are using virtual private networks — or VPNs — which can be used to tunnel through China’s vast domestic censorship system, known as the Great Firewall. The company added that the accounts it is sharing represent the “most active” portions of a wider spam campaign of about 200,000 accounts.

“Covert, manipulative behaviors have no place on our service — they violate the fundamental principles on which our company is built,” said Twitter.

News of the fake accounts comes days after Twitter user @Pinboard warned that …

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Twitter is blocked in China, but its state news agency is buying promoted tweets to portray Hong Kong protestors as violent

Twitter is blocked in China, but its state news agency is buying promoted tweets to portray Hong Kong protestors as violent

August 19, 2019

Twitter is being criticized for running promoted tweets by China’s largest state news agency that paint pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong as violent, even though the rallies, including one that drew an estimated 1.7 million people this weekend, have been described as mostly peaceful by international media.

Promoted tweets from China Xinhua News, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, were spotted and shared by the Twitter account of Pinboard, the bookmarking service founded by Maciej Ceglowski, and other users.

The demonstrations began in March to protest a now-suspended extradition bill, but have grown to encompass other demands including the release of imprisoned protestors, inquiries into police conduct, the resignation of current Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam and a more democratic process for electing Legislative Council members and the Chief Executive.

While China Xinhua News has repeatedly described demonstrators as violent, international observers have criticized the Hong Kong police’s use of excessive force against peaceful protestors, including incidents documented in footage verified by Amnesty International.

The irony of China Xinhua News’ tweets is that they let the Chinese Communist Party …

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RedDoorz raises $70M to expand its budget hotel network in Southeast Asia

RedDoorz raises $70M to expand its budget hotel network in Southeast Asia

August 19, 2019

Singapore-based budget hotel booking startup RedDoorz is tiny in comparison to fast-growing giant Oyo. But it is holding its ground and winning the trust of an ever growing number of investors.

On Monday, the four-year-old startup announced it has raised $70 million in Series C round, less than five months after it closed its $45 million Series B. The new round, which is ongoing, was led by Asia Partners and saw participation from new investors Rakuten Capital and Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund.

The startup, which has raised $140 million to date, was seeing “tremendous interest from investors, so it is decided to do a back-to-back rounds,” said Amit Saberwal, founder and CEO of RedDoorz, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Regardless, the new funds will help RedDoorz fight SoftBank-backed Oyo, which is already aggressively expanding to new markets. Oyo currently operates in more than 80 nations.

RedDoorz operates a marketplace of “two-star, three-star and below” budget hotels, selling access to rooms to people. Currently it has 1,400 hotels on its network, said Saberwal.

The startup operates in 80 cities across Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam, and plans to use the new capital to expand its network in its existing markets, said Saberwal. At least for the next one year, RedDoorz has no plans to expand beyond the four markets where it currently operates, he said.

“Anything in the accommodation is our playground. We have all kinds of properties. We have three-star hotels, some hostels, so we will continue to go deeper and wider moving forward,” he said.

More to follow shortly…

http://imwunl.com

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YC-backed Lokal wants to bring local news, classifieds to 900 million Indians in their regional languages

YC-backed Lokal wants to bring local news, classifieds to 900 million Indians in their regional languages

August 16, 2019

Each month millions of Indians are coming online for the first time, making India the last great growth market for internet companies worldwide. But winning them presents its own challenges.

These users, most of whom live in small cities and villages in India, can’t speak English. Their interests and needs are different from those of their counterparts in large cities. When they come online, the world wide web that is predominantly focused on the English-speaking masses, suddenly seems tiny, Google executives acknowledged at a media conference last year. According to a KPMG-Google report (PDF) on Indian languages, there will be 536 million non-English speaking users using internet in India by 2021.

Many companies are increasingly adding support for more languages, and Silicon Valley giants such as Google are developing tools to populate the web with content in Indian languages.

But there is still room for others to participate. On Friday, a new startup announced it is also in the race. And it has already received the backing of Y Combinator (YC).

Lokal is a news app that wants to bring local news to hundreds of millions of users in India in their regional languages. The startup, which is currently available in the Telugu language, has already amassed more than two million users, Jani Pasha, co-founder of Lokal, told TechCrunch in an interview.

There are tens of thousands of publications in India and several news aggregators that showcase the top stories from the mainstream outlets. But very few today are focusing on local news and delivering it in a language that the masses can understand, Pasha said.

Lokal is building a network of stringers and freelance reporters who produce original reporting around the issues and current affairs of local towns and cities. The app is updated throughout the day with regional …

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Transsion’s Future Hub and Kenya’s Wapi Capital partner on Africa fund

Transsion’s Future Hub and Kenya’s Wapi Capital partner on Africa fund

August 16, 2019

Transsion Future Hub, a subsidiary of Chinese mobile-phone and device maker Transsion, is teaming up with Kenya’s Wapi Capital to source and fund early-stage African fintech startups.

Headquartered in Shenzhen, Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa that recently confirmed its imminent IPO. In 2019 it opened and financed Future Hub, an incubator and seed fund for African startups.

Wapi Capital is the venture fund of Kenyan fintech startup Wapi Pay — a Nairobi-based company that facilitates digital payments between African and Asia via mobile money or bank accounts.

Starting in September 2019, Transsion Future Hub will work with Wapi Capital to select early-stage African fintech companies for equity-based investments of up to $100,000, Transsion Future Hub Senior Investor Laura Li told TechCrunch via email.

Wapi Capital won’t contribute funds to Future Hub’s Africa investments, but will help determine the viability and scale of the startups, including due diligence and deal flow, according to Wapi Pay co-founder Eddie Ndichu.

Wapi Pay and Transsion Future Hub will consider ventures from all 54 African countries; interested startups can reach out directly to either organization, Ndichu and Li confirmed.

The Wapi Capital fintech partnership is not Transsion’s sole VC activity in Africa. Though an exact fund size hasn’t been disclosed, the Transsion Future Hub will also make startup investments on the continent in adtech, fintech, e-commerce, logistics and media and entertainment, according to Li.

Future Hub’s existing portfolio includes Africa-focused browser company Phoenix, content aggregator Scoop and music service Boomplay.

Wapi Capital adds to the list of African-located and run venture funds — which have been growing in recent years — according to a 2018 study by TechCrunch and Crunchbase. Wapi Capital will …

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Huawei pushes back launch of 5G foldable, the Mate X

Huawei pushes back launch of 5G foldable, the Mate X

August 15, 2019

If you were desperately ripping days off of your calendar until you could get your hands on Huawei’s $2,600 5G foldable, the Mate X — which was originally slated to launch next month — it sounds like you’re going to have to wait a bit longer, per TechRadar which attended a press event at Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters today. 

It reports being told there is no possibility of a September launch. Instead Huawei is now aiming for November. But the company would only profess itself certain its first smartphone that folds out to a (square) tablet will launch before 2020. So it seems Mate X buyers may need to wait until circa Christmas to fondle this foldable.

It’s not clear exactly why the launch is being delayed. But — speculating wildly — we imagine it’s something to do with the fact that the screen, er, folds.

We’ve reached out to Huawei for official comment on the delay.

Huawei’s Mate X date slippage suggests Samsung will still be first to market with its (previously) delayed Galaxy Fold — which was itself delayed after a bunch of review units broke (because, well, did we tell you the screen folds?).

Last we heard, the Galaxy Fold is slated for a September release — Samsung seemingly confident it’s fixed the problem of how to make a foldable phone survive actual use.

Of course survival in the wild very much remains to be seen with any of these foldable. So expect TC’s in house hardware guru, Brian Heater, to put all of these expensively hinged touchscreens through their paces.

Returning to Huawei’s Mate X, potential buyers may not be entirely reassured to learn the company appeared to dangle rather more information about a planned sequel in front of reporters at the press event.

A sequel …

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Oyo to invest $335M in vacation rental business in Europe push

Oyo to invest $335M in vacation rental business in Europe push

August 14, 2019

Indian budget hotel booking startup Oyo will invest €300 million ($335 million) in its vacation home rental business, it said Wednesday, as it looks to expand its footprint in Europe and possibly closely compete with global giant Airbnb, one of its investors.

The Gurgaon-based startup, which acquired Amsterdam-based holiday rental company Leisure in May this year and rebranded it to Oyo Vacation Homes, said it aims to turn Oyo Vacation Homes into the destination for “top-notch” holiday experiences and the “partner of choice” for homeowners.

The new capital will go into “strengthening the relationship with homeowners and enabling them with the resources required to deliver chic hospitality experiences,” and building the largest vacation rental management service business in Europe, managed under OYO Home, Belvilla, Danland and Dancenter brands.

“We are focusing on enhancing our customer proposition to not just families but new age millennials and young executives, traveling for business or leisure, including consumers from newer geographies who travel to Europe from across the world including US, Asia, China and the Middle East,” Tobias Wann, CEO of OYO Vacation Homes, said in a prepared statement.

OYO, which claims to be the world’s third-biggest and fastest-growing hotel chain, operates more than 23,000 hotels and 125,000 vacation homes, with more than 1 million rooms in more than 80 countries, the company said. It claimed that Oyo Vacation Homes has “doubled its growth” since the acquisition of Leisure in May.

Leisure (or @Leisure, as it is officially branded) sees traffic and business from some 2.8 million travelers annually from across 118 countries. Its European footprint covers some 115,000 homes, and some 300,000 rooms globally. Europe’s vacation rental market will be worth some $18.6 billion this year, according to estimates, growing at between 4% and 8% annually.

Oyo, which is increasingly expanding its …

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Xiaomi tops Indian smartphone market for eighth straight quarter

Xiaomi tops Indian smartphone market for eighth straight quarter

August 13, 2019

Xiaomi has now been India’s top smartphone seller for eight straight quarters. The company has become a constant headache for Samsung in the world’s second largest smartphone market as sales have slowed pretty much everywhere else in the world.

The Chinese electronics giant shipped 10.4 million handsets in the quarter that ended in June, commanding 28.3% of the market, research firm IDC reported Tuesday. Its closest rival, Samsung — which once held the top spot in India — shipped 9.3 million handsets in the nation during the same period, settling for a 25.3% market share.

Overall, 36.9 million handsets were shipped in India during the second quarter of this year, up 9.9% from the same period last year, IDC reported. This was the highest volume of handsets ever shipped in India for Q2, the research firm said.

As smartphone shipments slow or decline in most of the world, India has emerged as an outlier that continues to show strong momentum as tens of millions of people purchase their first handset in the country each quarter.

Research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch that there are about 450 million smartphone users in India, up from about 350 million late last year and 300 million in late 2017. This growth has made India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, the fastest growing market worldwide.

Globally, meanwhile, smartphone shipments declined by 2.3% year-over-year in Q2 2019, according to IDC.

Chinese phone makers Vivo and Oppo, both of which spent lavishly in marketing during the recent local favorite cricket season in India, also expanded their base in the country. Vivo had 15.1% of the local market share, up from 12.6% in Q2 2018, while Oppo’s share grew from 7.6% to 9.7% during the same period. The market share of Realme, which has …

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China’s largest Q&A platform, Zhihu, raises $434 million from investors including Kuaishou, Baidu and Tencent

China’s largest Q&A platform, Zhihu, raises $434 million from investors including Kuaishou, Baidu and Tencent

August 13, 2019

Zhihu, the largest question and answer platform in China, has raised a $434 million Series F. This is not only the company’s biggest round since it launched in 2011, but also one of the largest secured over the past two years by a Chinese internet culture and entertainment company, said China Renaissance, which served as the funding’s financial advisor.

The Series F was led by Beijing Kuaishou, the video and live-streaming app, with participation from Baidu . Existing investors Tencent and CapitalToday also returned for the round, which Zhihu will use for technology and product development. Baidu told Bloomberg that it will add 100 million Zhihu posts to its main app.

While Zhihu has downplayed reports that it is planning an IPO, it embarked on plans to hire a CFO and restructure last year.

Zhihu users tend to be educated with relatively high incomes and the platform has developed a reputation for hosting experts and organizations that are knowledgeable in tech, marketing and professional services like education. Like Quora and other Q&A platforms, Zhihu lets users post and answer text-based questions. But it also has other features, including discussion forums, a publishing platform and live videos for brands and companies to answer questions in real time. Instead of making its streaming video feature, called Zhihu Live, open to all users, it is available only to experts and organizations, differentiating it from other streaming apps like Douyin, the domestic version of TikTok (ByteDance is an investor in Zhihu but did not participate in this round).

In a post about the round on his Zhihu page, founder and CEO Victor Zhou wrote the company plans to keep up with rapid changes in China’s media and internet landscape. “Over the past 8 years, users have gone from expecting simple entertainment to …

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