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STARTUP DIGEST: Droom turns unicorn, Ola expands ESOP pool to Rs 3,000 cr

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There were several important developments in the startup space during the day on Wednesday. Here are the top stories from the startup universe:

STARTUP DIGEST: Droom turns unicorn, Ola expands ESOP pool to Rs 3,000 cr
There were several important developments in the startup space during the day on Wednesday. Here are the top stories from the startup universe:
Freshworks, Eka Software founders launch $85 million VC fund
Freshworks founder Girish Mathrubootham and Eka Software founder Manav Garg launch a venture capital fund—Together— with a corpus of $85 million that has seen participation from leading tech entrepreneurs such as Kunal Shah of Cred, Ritesh Arora of BrowserStack and Gaurav Munjal from Unacademy, to back new-age startups that can go global.
"Together is India's first operator-led fund. The fund is not meant to provide money alone," Mathrubootham told CNBC-TV18.
The fund has seen participation from institutional funds, venture capitalists and tech entrepreneurs as well as professionals such as chief marketing officers and chief technology officers.
Together has already invested in seven startups, some of which are in the areas of digital health, fintech SaaS, companies build development tools and API infrastructure etc.
Droom turns unicorn post pre-IPO fundraise
Online automobile marketplace Droom has closed the first round of its up to $200 million pre-IPO funding round. The round has valued the company at $1.2 billion, making it the latest entrant into the unicorn club.
The round was raised from existing and new investors such as 57 Stars and Seven Train Ventures.
Droom, which is the 17th Indian unicorn so far this year, competes with likes of CarDekho, Cars24, Spinny and CarTrade in the used-car retail space. The company will use the funds to grow its presence in Top 100 cities of India and international markets and augment its last-mile delivery service.
Ola expands ESOP pool to Rs 3,000 cr ahead of proposed IPO
Ride-hailing giant Ola has expanded its employee stock option pool to Rs 3,000 crore.
The company is also allocating an additional Rs 400 crore worth of stocks to its employees as it prepares for its IPO.
The allocation rewards Ola’s high-impact employees and will lead to long-term wealth creation for them, the company said.
“Our expanded ESOP programme, along with the fresh stock allocation of Rs400 crore, enables our key talent to participate in the long-term wealth creation opportunities generated by their innovations and the impact they create," said Bhavish Aggarwal, founder, Ola.
Earlier this month, Ola also raised $500 million from private equity giants Warburg Pincus and Temasek.
India-focused messaging startup Gupshup raises $240 M for share buy-back
Messaging startup Gupshup raises $240 million from Tiger Global Management and others to buy back shares ahead of a possible IPO next year.
Gupshup which allows businesses to communicate with customers through existing chat channels like text messaging had raised $100 million in April from Tiger Global and was valued at $1.4 billion.
“As Gupshup has been around for well over a decade, there was even an investor who passed away, making the buyback necessary,” said CEO Beerud Sheth.
The Whole Truth raises $6 million from Sequoia Capital
Health food brand The Whole Truth has raised $6 million in a Series A funding round led by Sequoia Capital India.
The round saw participation from existing investors Matrix Partners India and Sauce.Vc, along with a clutch of marquee angels like Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy, Udaan co-founder Sujeet Kumar and BharatPe co-founders Ashneer Grover and Shashvat Nakrani.
The company said that the fresh capital will be used to hire talent, expand manufacturing capabilities and enter new clean food categories.
The clean-label food brand claims to have grown 12x in the last 18 months.
AR-based social media platform Flam raises $3.5 mn
Flam, an AR-powered social media networking platform has raised a seed funding investment of $3.5 million led by Silicon Valley Quad and Inventus Capital Partners SV.
9Unicorns, Kwaish Ventures and prominent angels also participated in the round.
The seed capital will be used to further fuel growth and engagement on social media features, build a scalable next-gen AR engine, drive AR adoption, and expand to international markets, the company said in a statement.
The funding will also be used to develop a tech team comprising Computer Vision, Graphic Engineering, GPS Mapping, Social Media Product, Growth Managers, and 3D Designers to meet the company’s future needs.
Weather startup Skymet raises Rs 12 cr in debt funding
Weather forecasting and agri solutions startup Skymet has raised Rs 12 crore in debt funding from Northern Arc Capital and Caspian Impact Investments.
The company intends to use the funds to bolster its ground observation systems and accurate prediction of floods and cyclones in east India.
Skymet provides weather data services to media houses and also works in the farmers network by offering tech-enabled weather solutions to decrease their risk and in turn increasing their productivity.
The company said it is increasing focus on using the weather forecasting data for farming and is rapidly collaborating with different organizations to supply their needs for weather data so that it can be used for precision farming.
“The size of the weather forecasting industry in India is pegged to be around $100 Mn and has a lot of scope and opportunities which haven’t been exploited yet,” the company said.
Fitness tech startup Insane AI raises $873K seed round
AI-powered fitness training startup Insane AI, has closed $873,000 in seed round led by pi Ventures along with a clutch of angel investors including Anupam Mittal, Founder and CEO, People Group, Sameer Pitalwalla, ex-Culture Machine, Epic Games, Saumil Majumdar, Founder, SportzVillage, Karan Tanna, CEO, GhostKitchens, Arjun Jain, Faculty at IISc, and LetsVenture.
As per the company, Insane AI plans to utilise the funding to invest in product development and innovation, strengthen its tech team, and accelerate growth in the international market.
The startup uses computer vision and artificial intelligence to create home workouts and personalised training plans
LikeMinds launches SaaS Platform to boost creator economy
A mobile-first chat based platform LikeMind has unveiled its SaaS platform for community creator.
The platform has inbuilt tools for member acquisition, onboarding, retention, moderation, monetization, and referrals. The platform drives high engagement and belongingness via chat rooms, events, polls, member directory, and rewards, the company said.
The startup has helped 100+ creators including entertainers, fitness & wellness trainers, domain experts, language instructors, life coaches, financial experts, micro-entrepreneurship coaches, exam prep coaches, it claimed.
CropIn ties up with Tanzania-based food processing company Unyiha Associates.
AI and Data led Agtech company CropIn announced a strategic long-term partnership with Tanzania-based food processing company Unyiha Associates.
As per the company, the partnership aims to enable the digital transformation of the agricultural ecosystem in Tanzania and East Africa.
Through the partnership, CropIn will offer a solutions aiming at the digitization of the Tanzanian agriculture ecosystem value chain to ensure transparency and financial self-sufficiency in the ecosystem.
CropIn will also help Unyiha Associates to enrich the livelihoods of people and communities by delivering sustainable and good quality farm produce to them, the company said in a statement.
Mason launches ModeMagic Partner Program to help SMBs
SaaS startup for e-commerce entrepreneurs and DTC brands Mason announced the launch of ModeMagic Partner Program - an initiative for retailers & merchants in India and across the globe to collaborate with the industry’s leading e-commerce agencies experts & technologies.
With the ModeMagic Partner program, Mason’s clients will more easily identify and collaborate with the right pre-qualified partners across a range of technology and industry solutions, which will ensure that sure that any small-mid scale online store owner can also create delightful shopping experiences for their customers at all times - without the hassle of learning how to code, according to the firm.
Snapdeal’s fashion sales grew 210% in H1 2021
E-commerce company Snapdeal said today that sales in its fashion category have grown by 210 percent in the first six months of 2021 (January-June).
The growth was driven by users replenishing their wardrobe to meet work-from-home clothing needs (“Zoom fashion” that includes mostly waist-up garments such as T-Shirts, shirts and tops). Another factor that drove fashion purchases was the desire to buy new clothes to meet friends and family after a long gap and to meet travel needs, the firm said.
With people continuing to work from home post pandemic-induced lockdowns, Snapdeal has seen volume growth in casual wear including lounge wear (tracks, shorts, t-shirts, tops, dresses etc), athleisure sportswear and masks.
'Value-buying' emerged as a common theme cutting across buyers and categories in the apparel sector. "On an average, the popular price range for a single fashion item on Snapdeal is now anywhere between Rs 300-450, as compared to Rs 450-550 in 2020. In fact, on Snapdeal the purchases within the Rs 450 segment have doubled to 40 per cent in H1 of 2021 as compared to H1 2020," Snapdeal said in a statement.
Bitcoin rises above $40,000
Bitcoin broke above $40,000 on Wednesday and headed for another attempt at breaking from its months long range as short sellers bailed out and traders drew confidence from recent positive comments about the cryptocurrency by high-profile investors.
According a Reuters report, Bitcoin was last up 1.7 percent at $40,149 while rival cryptocurrency ether rose 1 percent to $2,328. Bitcoin is within a small range of rising through its 100-day moving average.
Tango Eye onboards Arindam Chakraborty as CTO
E-surveillance and SOP compliance company Tango Eye has brought on board former vice-president of BNY Mellon Technology, Arindam Chakraborty, as its chief technology officer.
At Tango Eye, Chakraborty will be responsible for managing the technology, delivery, new generation platform and architecture development, and developing short and long-term technology objectives in line with the long-term company strategy, the company said in a statement.
Tango Eye is backed by unicorn retailer Lenskart through their Vision fund and is currently present in 1,000+ stores across India, Singapore, and Europe.
Instagram adds more protections for Teenagers
Social media platform Instagram will now ensure that users under the age of 16 will find their accounts set to private by default. It will also make changes to how advertisers can reach younger audiences and restrict targeting to just three metrics.
For users who are under 16 and already on Instagram with a public account, the platform will not force them to go private. Instead, it will show them a notification highlighting the benefits of a private account and explaining how to change their privacy settings.
Instagram will also stop adults whose activity has been labeled as suspicious from interacting with young people’s accounts, in attempts to keep potential child predators from connecting with younger audiences.
The platform will no longer show young people’s accounts and Reels in the ‘For You’ tab to adults who have been identified as “potentially suspicious.”
Amazon follows Flipkart to SC in anti-trust probe
After Flipkart, Amazon has now filed an appeal in the Supreme Court challenging the July 23 order of the Karnataka High Court which had allowed the Competition Commission of India to probe both the companies over alleged anti-competitive practices.
The Karnataka High Court last week dismissed cases filed by Amazon and Flipkart which sought to quash the CCI investigation on accusations that the companies circumvent Indian law by creating complex business structures.
The companies have denied wrongdoing, but the High Court said "they should not feel shy in facing an inquiry".
Details of Amazon's plea were not immediately clear. As per Reuters, the apex court’s website showed the case listing of an appeal, without giving further details.
Delhi HC pulls up Twitter for non-compliance with IT rules
The Delhi High Court on July 28 pulled up social media giant Twitter over its non-compliance with new Information Technology (IT) rules that came into effect in May this year.
As the new digital rules require social media intermediaries to appoint grievance, compliance, and nodal officers who must be residents of India, the court slammed Twitter over its appointment of “contingent” grievance and compliance officers.
The high court said that the affidavit filed by the microblogging site reveals appointments of the officers are mere “contingent” in nature. Twitter gives the impression that a third-party contractor has been hired for the roles, the court noted.
It also said, “Things were better off with Twitter having appointed an “interim” officer, what does Twitter mean by “contingent”.
As the court held Twitter’s affidavit unacceptable, it said if the social media firm wants to comply with new IT rules, it should do it wholeheartedly.
The court added that Twitter is making so much money from the Indian market and yet it has not complied with IT rules. “We are giving Twitter a long rope, we don’t want third-party contractors,” it said.
The high court came down hard on the social media giant and said, “Why should Twitter not be held to be in contempt of court, IT rules clearly prescribe the officers should be employees? Appointments by Twitter are in the teeth of the rules. There must be some seriousness.”
Meanwhile, the Centre reiterated in the court that IT rules require the compliance officer and grievance officer to be an employee of the firm. It said that Twitter has admitted that the person appointed as a compliance officer is a contract worker.
“There is abject non-compliance with rules, it has been months, logical consequences must follow,” the Centre said and accused Twitter of repeated non-compliance with rules by using word-play in courts.
GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY & STARTUP NEWS
Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet report combined profits of more than $50 bn
Double-digit growth for Apple in India, says Tim Cook Tech giants Apple; Microsoft and Google owner Alphabet reported combined profits of more than $50 billion in the April-June quarter.
For April, May, and June, Apple recorded revenue of $81.43 billion, up 36 percent year-on-year. According to the company, it made a profit of $21.74 billion in this quarter. The earnings-per-share in this quarter was registered at $1.30.
Apple CEO Tim Cook acknowledged the brand's rapid growth in India and put the country in his list of 'emerging markets'. “We set a new June quarter revenue record of $81.4 billion, up 36 percent from last year, and the vast majority of markets we tracked grew double digits, with especially strong growth in emerging markets, including India, Latin America, and Vietnam,” said Cook.
He added, “Apple is reporting a very strong quarter with double-digit revenue growth across our product and services categories and in every geographic segment.”
Google's earnings improved markedly over the year-ago period, when the pandemic was starting to bite consumer spending and its partner, advertising.
Powered by Google, Alphabet earned $18.53 billion, or $27.26 per share, during the quarter, a nearly threefold increase from last year's earnings of $6.96 billion, or $10.13 per share. Google's advertising revenue soared 69 percent to $50.44 billion.
Meanwhile, Microsoft on Tuesday reported fiscal fourth-quarter profit of $16.5 billion, up 47 percent from the same period last year. Net income of $2.17 per share beat Wall Street expectations. The software maker also topped forecasts by posting revenue of USD 46.2 billion in the quarter that ended on June 30, a 21 per cent increase over the same time last year.
Spotify sees rise of 20% in Q2, 2021
Spotify beat Wall Street estimates for second-quarter revenue on Wednesday, as the music streaming company reported a 20-percent jump in paid subscribers for its premium service driven by demand in Europe and North America.
Revenue rose to EUR 2.33 billion (roughly Rs. 20,460 crores) for the quarter, from EUR 2.15 billion (roughly Rs. 18,875 crores) a year earlier. Analysts were expecting revenue of EUR 2.29 billion (roughly Rs. 20,105 crores), according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Total monthly active users (MAUs) rose 22 percent to 365 million.
Shopify beats revenue expectations on resilient online shopping trend
Canada's e-commerce giant Shopify beat second-quarter revenue expectations on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
"Shopify fired on all cylinders in our second quarter, keeping our merchants well equipped to seize the opportunities presented in a post-pandemic retail era," said Amy Shapero, Shopify's chief financial officer.
US-listed shares of Shopify rose 2 percent in premarket trading. Shopify's value nearly tripled over the last year due to unprecedented growth of the e-commerce sector.
Net income rose to $879.1 million, or $6.90 per share, from about $36 million, or 29 cents per share, a year earlier. The jump in net income was due to the inclusion of $778 million of unrealized gains on its equity investments, Shopify said.
The company's revenue rose 57 percent to $1.12 billion for the quarter ended June 30, compared with analysts' average estimate of $1.05 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Visa-backed payments firm Conductor readies US IPO
Brazilian payments firm Conductor has hired banks for an initial public offering in the United States that could come as early as this year, sources told Reuters.
Conductor, which is backed by venture capital firm Riverwood Capital and payments processor Visa, is a provider of technology for financial services. Its tools allow retailers, banks and financial startups to offer credit cards and payment wallets to their clients, for instance.
Investment banking units of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Bank of America and Credit Suisse will manage the offering.
Conductor has 95 million users and processes $20 billion in payments transactions per year in Latin America, according to the company's website.
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