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Booking.com Launches ₹18.5 Crore Fund for Sustainable Travel Startups

Travel platform Booking.com Monday announced a ₹18.5 crore fund for startups offering solutions in sustainable travel and accommodation.

The startups will be selected through its accelerator ‘2020 Booking Booster program’ which will bring together startups, social enterprises, and non-profit organizations to explore solutions to build sustainable accommodation. Participants with innovative products and services, including accommodation, will have a chance to win grants from the company’s ₹18.5 crore fund, Booking.com said.

“With the 2020 Booking Booster programme, we’re excited to be championing innovative solutions that help our accommodation partners adopt sustainable practices. It’s not only what our customers want, but our partners, as well,” said Rob Ransom, V-P of strategy and corporate development at Booking.com.

Booking Booster 2020 will have two complementary 10-day programmes focused on sustainable accommodation in May and September.

Credits: Livemint

Telegram to Capitalise on WhatsApp’s Bad Reputation After Bezos Hack

Taking a dig on WhatsApp for the recent spyware controversy, which also impacted Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in addition to 121 users in India, Telegram founder Pavel Durov has said that such data could have been safe if Bezos and others used the Telegram messaging app instead of Facebook-owned platform.

The WhatsApp spyware used in the hacking of Bezos’ phone is suspected to be the infamous Pegasus software developed by Israel-based NSO Group. The Pegasus spyware recently sparked controversy for snooping on the personal data of around 1400 WhatsApp users globally, including users in India.

While Facebook has recently said that the hack occurred because of a vulnerability in Apple’s iOS operating system, Durov said that WhatsApp’s ‘corrupt video’ vulnerability is present not only on iOS but also on Android and even on Windows devices. “This security fault was not present in other messaging apps on iOS,” Durov added.

Moreover, Facebook had also said that WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption is unhackable. In response, Durov said that WhatsApp uses the words “end-to-end encryption” as some magic incantation that alone is supposed to automatically make all communications secure.

Citing that Telegram used end-to-end encryption earlier than WhatsApp, Durov said in his blog that this technology is not a silver bullet that can guarantee you absolute privacy by itself.

Credits: Inc42

Google Launches Tangi App To Beat TikTok

Chinese short video TikTok has overtaken Instagram in various markets including India and global tech giant Google is looking to replicate the success of TikTok with its new social platform, Tangi. Tangi is an experimental social video sharing app that showcases quick do-it-yourself (DIY) videos that help people learn new things every day.

The app, created by Google’s Area 120 team, is part of an experimental project. The app’s development began in 2019 and Google has partnered with creators to make videos and boost usage and popularity in the launch phase.

“Whether you love crafting, cooking, cosmetics or clothing, Tangi has 60-second videos to help you try something new—and a place to share it back too. You can also share a re-creation of things you tried out with Tangi’s “Try It” feature, which helps build a community between creators and their fans,” Tangi’s team leader, Coco Mao said in a blog post.

While the app is currently only available on the Apple App Store for iOS devices, others can use Tangi through its website. The platform is not accepting any videos currently and only shows content from the creators that Google has partnered with. However, users can join a queue to be notified about new registrations being open.

India’s Food Tech Sector to Reach $8 Billion by 2022

Consumer appetite for food ordering is set to rise with India’s online food ordering market expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 25-30% to touch $7.5- $8 billion by 2022, up from $4 billion, according to a report by Google and Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Increased reach of internet in India’s smallest cities will help consumers discover new platforms, even as online food companies expand their reach to more cities and rope in more restaurants, prompting users of apps to spend more time and money on them.

“Overall online spending in India is rising rapidly and expected to grow at 25% over the next five years to reach over $130 billion,” said Rachit Mathur, managing director and partner, India lead, consumer and retail practice, BCG.

Between 2017 to 2019, the reach of food tech aggregators grew six times.

The time spent exploring and ordering food online has also nearly doubled from 32 minutes in 2017 to 72 minutes per month in 2019.

Credits: Livemint

Startups in the Future Will Be More About AI: Ratan Tata

In the past few months, various stakeholders of the startup ecosystem have publicly spoken about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it will impact the future of the Indian economy. Now, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons, Ratan Tata, has also said that the startup of the future will be more about AI.

Speaking at TiECon Mumbai 2020, Tata said that the leading tech companies have shown the path. “Considering that companies like Amazon and even Google are very [AI] technology-oriented. So I think the startups of the future will be more about AI.”

Tata also advised startups to operate businesses ethically. He said, “When we [Tata] raised money from the international market, we built our case on the stability and maturity of the founders, or the top management.”

Interestingly, Tata is also an investor in AI-based chatbot Niki since the company’s seed round. In 2017, the company raised $2 Mn Series A funding from Tata, SAP and Unilazer Ventures.

At TiECon Mumbai 2020, Ratan Tata also was awarded the lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the Indian startup ecosystem. The award was presented by Infosys cofounder N.R. Narayana Murthy.

This month, even union minister of commerce and industry, Piyush Goyal, noted that the using AI applications and other emerging technologies in different sectors can help India achieve its goal of becoming a $5 Tn economy by 2024.

Credits: Inc42

Tiger Global May Lead $500 Million Funding Round in Dream 11

New York-based Tiger Global Management, one of the most active startup investors in India, is likely to lead a $500 million funding round in fantasy gaming platform Dream11, three people aware of the matter said.

Tiger could spend as much as $200 million to buy new shares as well as shares from Dream11’s early investors Kalaari Capital, Think Investment and private equity firm Multiples at a valuation of $2.5 billion, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.

With this investment, Dream11 will be worth more than double its $1.1 billion valuation in April 2019. The company is working with investment bank Credit Suisse for the fundraising.

Founded by Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth in 2012, Dream11 offers games such as cricket, kabaddi and football, where users can win money from a reward pool, depending on the players they pick and the actual outcome of the game. Its official partners include the International Cricket Council (ICC), the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA).

India Becomes the Second-largest Smartphone Market Ahead of the U.S.

Counterpoint Research published its findings in which it estimates that India has surpassed the U.S. to become the second-largest smartphone market in the world behind China, noting that 158 million units were shipped to the country in 2019 with seven percent year-over-year growth. Analysts believe that this could largely be attributed to the expansion of Chinese manufacturers offering aggressively priced phones coupled with their promotional strategies.

According to the research, 72% of the phones shipped in India were manufactured by Chinese manufacturers namely Xiaomi, Vivo, Realme, and Oppo. These companies increased their market share in the country substantially. India has become the biggest market for Xiaomi ahead of its home market, China, thanks to the strong performance of its Redmi Note series and surge in offline channels. Xiaomi grew five percent overall in 2019 since it is already “serving a much larger installed base in India.”

Realme grew a whopping 255% in 2019 and similarly, the growth of Vivo over the year is estimated to be 76%. However, South Korea-based Samsung had almost the same number of smartphone shipments as compared to the previous year, declining an overall five percent in 2019. Apple saw one of the fastest-growths in Q4 2019 owing to iPhone XR price cuts and the introduction of the iPhone 11 series.

India’s surpassing the U.S. in smartphone shipments could be attributed to its population and an emerging market where a larger number of people can buy smartphones. This has significantly impacted smartphone makers who now design phones keeping India and other growing economies in mind.

Zoomcar Receives $30 Million from Sony Fund, Others in Fresh Round

Self-drive car rental platform Zoomcar has raised $30 million in its ongoing Series D round led by Sony Innovation Fund, and other existing investors, it said on Monday. The Bengaluru-based mobility startup plans to raise another $70 million in the ongoing round.

The Sony Innovation Fund was set up by Japanese technology giant Sony in June 2019 in partnership with Daiwa Capital Holdings to invest in growth-stage technology companies.

Zoomcar plans to deploy the capital for growth, to improve its technology and data science infrastructure, besides upgrading its IoT capability that is currently being used for its subscription service. The startup has been in the market to raise $500 million in the Series D round since April 2019, but cut short the round to $200 million, according to a company statement. Zoomcar was valued at around $170 million when it closed its Series C round in February 2018.

The mobility startup is backed by Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd (M&M), Ford Smart Mobility, Sequoia Capital, and debt investors such as InnoVen Capital and Trifecta Capital. To date, Zoomcar has raised around $130 million, including the current round, from strategic investors.

Swiggy Admits Difference Between Online Food and Restaurant Rates

Food delivery platform Swiggy on Tuesday admitted that food rates on its platform may be higher than those being offered by restaurants in certain cases.

Reacting to a tweet from a Bengaluru man who claimed that prices of food items in Zomato or Swiggy menu are 25-50 percent more than the actual price of the same item at the restaurant, Swiggy said the prices might be different online and offline because of the restaurant’s policies.

“Slowly big discounts are coming down. In fact prices of food items in the Zomato or Swiggy menu are 25 to 50 percent more than the actual price of the same at the restaurant. Delivery charges added. Homemade food will always prevail,” tweeted the user.

Swiggy replied: “We understand your concern, and would like to inform you that we’re trying to maintain transparency in our services and that extends to the pricing on the platform.

“However, the prices might be different online and offline as it is the sole discretion of the restaurant without any added input from our end”.

The user further claimed that he has proof and can share the actual price menu.

“Should send some screenshots of your prices and actual menu pictures? Some prices of food items are more than 50 per ceny in some areas of Bangalore. Where is sole discretion of restaurant in this. Don’t try to fool the consumer,” the user replied.

Swiggy further responded: “We’re working hard to make your ordering experience as seamless as your dine-in experience. To that end, we’ve also looked at pricing, however, that remains to be the restaurant’s right & we do not intervene with the same.

“You may witness discrepancies in the online and offline pricing which remains to be the sole prerogative of the restaurant. Hope to serve you better in the future,” said Swiggy.

PhonePe Converts Next Door Shops Into ATMs

With the aim of supporting India’s digital payments as well as to boost the infrastructure of the cash-driven economy, PhonePe has launched a Unified Payments Interface-based (UPI) PhonePe ATM service.

PhonePe users can send money to merchants using the app to get cash equivalent to the amount. The company claims that around 75K merchants in Delhi NCR have already signed up for this service to help PhonePe users who are short on cash. As part of a pilot project, PhonePe has launched this service in Delhi NCR only, however, the company has plans to provide this facility in other cities as well.

According to the World Bank, India has around 22 ATMs per 100,000 individuals, which is the lowest number amongst all the BRICS countries. However, with a wide network of merchants coupled with the popularity of UPI, the new service might help address this shortage of ATMs in the country. It is also likely to increase the usage of UPI overall if more operators also launch similar services.

As of now, any merchant associated with the company can convert its business into an ATM by signing up on the PhonePe Business application. Additionally, PhonePe has also given the leverage to merchants to enable or disable this service at their will. This will help the merchants turn off the ATM feature when they want to preserve their cash. Additionally, PhonePe has also limited the daily withdrawal limit to only INR 1000 per user.

Recently, UPI has recorded 1.31 Bn transactions in December 2019, which was a 7.37% growth as compared to 1.22 Bn transactions recorded in November 2019. Additionally, the National Payments Corporation of India’s (NPCI) data showed that the value of UPI transactions for December was INR 2.02 Lakh Cr, a 7.07% M-o-M growth against INR 1.89 Lakh Cr in November 2019. PhonePe is the leading UPI app, as per recent estimates.

Credits: Inc42