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Startup Digest: Gupshup acquires AskSid, Microsoft's two startup initiatives in India, Netflix subscribers fall for first time but uptick in India

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Startup Digest: Gupshup acquires AskSid, Microsoft's two startup initiatives in India, Netflix subscribers fall for first time but uptick in India
Gupshup acquires conversational AI provider AskSid
Conversational messaging platform Gupshup has acquired conversational AI provider AskSid to strengthen its AI-powered conversational solutions for e-commerce, retail and consumer goods industries.
Bengaluru-based AskSid's full-stack AI solution including the Retail AI brain, strengthens Gupshup's customer experience (CX) offerings and will help make the entire shopping journey — across pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase phases — fully conversational.
"Conversational commerce is about to transform shopping, both online and offline. Gupshup is building the most comprehensive conversational commerce solution and AskSid's deep-domain AI offering will help us bring even more advanced capabilities to e-commerce and retail businesses worldwide," said Beerud Sheth, Co-founder and CEO, Gupshup.
AskSid is helping many global brands like AkzoNobel, Danone, Wolford, Akris, and Himalaya Wellness deliver impactful shopping experiences to customers through AI-powered conversations, driving faster sales, a statement read.
The tech startup has operations in over 25 countries and supports over 100 languages. By automating 92 percent of support conversations with a self-service model, AskSid customers have reported an average 25 percent reduction in operational expenditure, while boosting order conversion rate by 30 percent, it added.
Rural startup Hesa acquires digital market tech platform GullyBuy
Rural technology startup Hesa has acquired GullyBuy, a digital marketing technology platform, for an undisclosed amount. GullyBuy’s software helps consumers compare local/city merchants to buy products. With this, Hesa will include last-mile sales enablement on its platform more efficiently.
The acquisition of GullyBuy will strengthen Hesa’s presence in rural geographies and empower village-level entrepreneurs (Hesaathis) to manage last-mile e-commerce capabilities. This will ensure a faster, smoother and simplified shopping experience for end-users.
Leveraging technology and its 32,000 and growing on-ground workforce, Hesa connects the rural population for buying, selling, promoting, marketing, services and more. The supply chain and user-friendly application programming interface (API), allow Hesa to create business and employment opportunities in remote areas.
"The IP and software acquisition of GullyBuy will further enable Hesa to execute and manage large-scale operations,” said Vamsi Udayagiri, Founder and CEO, Hesa.
Subscribers fall for first time in a decade but nice uptick in user engagement in India, says Netflix
Content streaming platform Netflix, which reduced its subscription prices in India late last year, is witnessing an uptick in user engagement in the country, as it doubles down on creating more localised content.
In a first-quarter (Q1) earnings call with analysts, Netflix said it has seen nice growth in the country after it announced in December that its mobile-only plan was available at Rs 149 per month, and its entry-level plan at Rs 199 per month.
"The product fit incorporates subscription prices as well as the willingness and ability to pay. So we have seen a nice uptick in engagement in India. We are definitely taking it in the right direction," Netflix co-chief executive officer (CEO), Ted Sarandos said.
According to Netflix's chief operating officer (COO) Greg Peters, the subscribers in India are largely behaving similar to the subscribers they have added over the last 12 months.
"So not a fundamental difference. And really, this was a bet in terms of long-term revenue maximisation, which is sort of how we think about the top level, the valuation model we have for these things," Peters told analysts.
He said that Ted's team "is doing some incredible work on Indian content, and we saw the slate there". "And we're really excited about a bunch of titles that were coming down and thought there was an opportunity to broaden the audience that got to see those titles," he announced.
Netflix said it is making good progress in Asia-Pacific (APAC) - "where we are seeing nice growth in a variety of markets including Japan, India, Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan". The APAC region added 1.09 million paid Netflix members in the region in Q1 2022.
According to Netflix chief Reed Hastings, the company is working on how to monetise sharing of its content. "There are over 100 million households that already are choosing to view Netflix. They love the service. We just got to get paid to some degree for them," he said.
This comes even as the company lost 200,000 subscribers in its first quarter, falling well short of its forecast of adding 2.5 million subscribers. Suspending service in Russia after the Ukraine invasion resulted in the loss of 700,000 members.
Microsoft announces two startup initiatives in India
Microsoft India has announced two new initiatives to help startup entrepreneurs innovate and grow in the country. Under the Microsoft AI Innovate initiative, the company will introduce its second cohort of startups, as well as a new hackathon for startups to provide resources and support to developers for creating digital solutions.
Microsoft AI Innovate's second season is inviting nominations from software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups whose core applications or services are built using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies.
"With a deepened focus on core AI startups in the second season of Microsoft AI Innovate, we are bringing the best of Microsoft's AI capabilities in creating the magic with the power of data and AI," said Sangeeta Bavi, Director, Startup Ecosystem, Microsoft India.
Supported by SaaS Insider, the initiative is designed to help startups scale their operations, drive greater innovation, and build industry expertise. Across the 10 weeks of the programme, startups get to partner closely with Microsoft's engineering and product teams to build their core AI models.
The company said that selected startups will receive OpenAI preview and credits, access to industry and technology deep-dive sessions and AI masterclasses by experts and mentoring by startup founders and industry leaders.
The first cohorts of 16 startups from fintech, manufacturing and logistics sectors graduated last month. Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub is a new digital and truly inclusive platform for startup founders, offering over $300,000 worth of benefits and credits.
T-Hub selects 13 Startups for its development program RubriX
Startup ecosystem builder T-Hub has selected 13 startups for its first product development program RubriX. The program is aimed at bringing a global perspective to product development for early-stage technology startups.
The five-month program will help the startups in designing scalable and sustainable business models, enabling rapid product development and prototyping, leadership training and mentorship.
The startups, by the end of the program, will have their Minimum Viable Product (MVP) ready to market. T-Hub will provide exposure to necessary betas and pilots to these startups, it said in a statement.
BookMyShow makes strategic investment in TribeVibe for majority stake
BookMyShow, an online ticketing and entertainment platform, has made a strategic investment for a majority stake in TribeVibe, a one-stop solution for college festival entertainment. The size of the deal or other financial details were not disclosed.
"'Having worked together as long term partners across formats, BookMyShow’s investment will aid TribeVibe’s growth trajectory with a 4X increase in revenue targeted over the next one year,'' a company statement said.
Through this strategic investment, BookMyShow brings the unaddressed and unorganised market of college entertainment into its fold, targeting students and potential first jobbers at scale, the firm added.
"Through this partnership, we will look to scale TribeVibe using our data analytics and in-depth consumer data as also expand the reach for brand partnerships that will be apt for this young audience cohort,” said Ashish Hemrajani, Founder and CEO, BookMyShow.
PM Modi promotes 'Heal In India', announces introduction of AYUSH Mark & AYUSH Visa
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said, in a bid to promote the traditional medicine industry, India will soon launch 'AYUSH mark' which will provide authenticity to AYUSH products made in India
While promoting the "Heal in India" campaign, he also announced that a special visa category will be created soon for those who want to travel to the country to avail of AYUSH therapies.
PM Modi was speaking after the inauguration of the three-day Global AYUSH Investment and Innovation Summit at Mahatma Mandir in the presence of Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and Director General of the World Health Organization Dr Tredos Ghebreyesus.
"India will soon introduce the AYUSH mark, which will give authenticity to quality AYUSH products of the country. The mark will be given to products vetted using the latest technology. This will give confidence to people of the world that they are purchasing quality AYUSH products,” Modi said.
"Before 2014, the AYUSH sector was less than $3 billion. Today it has also crossed $18 billion," he said. "In India, this is an era of unicorns. In 2022, so far 14 start-ups from India have joined the unicorn club. I am sure unicorns will emerge from our AYUSH startups very soon," PM added.
Eunimart Partners with Flywork.io to empower MSMEs with legal compliance & business expansion
Eunimart, an artificial intelligence e-commerce enabler, has partnered with Flywork.io, a SaaS platform and marketplace for legal services and compliance, to empower MSMEs with legal compliance and business expansion.
The strategic partnership aims to enable brands and businesses with easy access to legal services and advice. Eunimart will play a crucial role in helping businesses unlock global trade, while Flywork.io will use their proprietary platform for legal assistance to businesses to make the right decisions or seek compliance in matters, a statement said.
Small businesses will now be able to manage their entire supply chain, shipping and logistics, marketing and domestic as well as international operations on the Eunimart platform with complete end-to-end legal support at the click of a button.
Indians contribute 80% of Mudrex’s 2400% growth in user base
Global crypto asset management platform Mudrex has witnessed a 2400% increase in the platform’s user base for the first quarter of 2022. With this, the company said it has become the world’s fastest-growing, and largest crypto index investing platform. The firm further added that Indian users contributed the most to this exponential growth with more than 80% of the growth from India.
"India is an important market for us and it has been receptive to all the innovations that Mudrex has ushered in. Hence, the spike in our India user base is exciting news for us. Looking ahead, product development and education will remain at the core of Mudrex’s offerings and we expect to hit one million investors on our platform by early Q4”, said Edul Patel, Co-Founder and CEO, Mudrex.
Ecom Express plans to convert 50% of its vehicle fleet to electric by 2025
Tech-driven logistics firm Ecom Express plans to convert 50% of its vehicle fleet to electric by 2025. The deployment of electric-bikes in Jaipur and Hyderabad to complement its push into electric vehicles, the company said.
Ecom Express already has a fleet of electric 3-wheelers running in Delhi NCR for the last two years in the first-mile delivery space besides successfully conducting trials for the use of e-bikes in the last-mile, it added.
As per the firm, the adoption of electric vehicles is a part of its larger sustainability goal to reduce carbon footprint and continue to be a responsible delivery partner to the e-commerce industry.
Pine Labs announces key appointments to strengthen senior leadership
IPO-bound Pine Labs has brought two new leaders to join its global senior leadership team. The merchant commerce platform has appointed Varun Varma as the head of Strategy and Corporate Development and Jagriti Bhattacharya, who joins as general counsel.
"Today, Pine Labs is in one of its most exciting phases where we are building a complete omnichannel ecosystem for our customers, entering new markets, and forging strategic partnerships to engineer growth outside India. In this purposeful journey, I am delighted to welcome Varun to Pine Labs. His wealth of international experience in payments and fintech will be invaluable to us going forward.
Equally thrilled to have Jagriti accept the role of General Counsel at Pine Labs. Some of the Key Verticals at Pine Labs such as Human Resources, Legal, and Online Payments are headed by women leaders and that says something about our continued commitment to build an Equal Opportunity organisation for all,” said Amrish Rau, CEO, Pine Labs.
Varma is based in Singapore and will be heading strategy and corporate development for Pine Labs. Prior to joining Pine Labs, Varma was leading corporate strategy for PayPal across its international markets, with a focus on fast-growing markets in APAC and LatAm.
Another executive Jagriti Bhattacharya was with the London Stock Exchange Group/Thomson Reuters where she was the Chief Counsel, South Asia. She has also worked with Citibank where she advised on key transactions and supported the launch of innovative financial products in South Asia.
GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY & STARTUP NEWS
Elon Musk willing to invest up to $15 billion of own money to buy Twitter: Report
Elon Musk is willing to invest between $10 billion and $15 billion of his own money to take Twitter Inc private, the New York Post reported. The billionaire, who is Twitter's second-biggest shareholder with a 9.1% stake, is planning to launch a tender offer in about 10 days and has tapped Morgan Stanley to raise another $10 billion in debt, according to the report.
Musk, who is also Tesla Inc's chief executive, may also be willing to borrow against his current stake if necessary, a move that could possibly raise several billion additional dollars, the New York Post reported. The social media company adopted a "poison pill" last week to protect itself from Musk's $43 billion buyout offer.
Google to set up first Africa product development centre in Nairobi
Google is investing in its first-ever Africa product development centre in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, as it positions itself to serve a growing base of internet users on the continent, Reuters reported.
By the end of this decade, the continent will host 800 million internet users, the California-based firm said, and a third of the world's youth population, making it an attractive investment destination.
Google is hiring engineers, product managers, user experience designers and researchers to staff the new centre, said Suzanne Frey, vice president for products, and Nitin Gajria, the head of Google Africa, in a joint blog post.
The company is investing $1 billion in various projects on the continent over five years, its CEO Sundar Pichai said last October, to help economies accelerate their digital transformation. It has already opened an artificial intelligence centre in Accra, Ghana, focusing on innovations that can be applied to various challenges.
Microsoft has also been investing in technology development hubs in Kenya and Nigeria, investing $100 million and hiring hundreds of engineers in both countries.
YouTube blocks account of Hong Kong's sole leadership candidate
YouTube has blocked the account of Hong Kong's sole leadership candidate John Lee on Wednesday as part of US sanctions against the city's former No. 2 official who said the move will not affect his bid to lead the financial hub for the next five years.
Alphabet, which owns YouTube, said it had taken down Lee's campaign account to comply with US sanction laws as Hong Kong's former No. 2 official prepares for a leadership election on May 8.
Separately, Facebook owner Meta Platforms said that while Lee can keep "demonetized presences" on Facebook and Instagram, it had taken steps to prevent the use of payments services. Lee's Facebook page was still visible on Wednesday, according to a Reuters report.
Lee, a former deputy commissioner of police and security secretary, was sanctioned along with other Hong Kong and Chinese officials for what Washington described as their role in curbing the city’s freedoms under a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on the city in 2020.
"Those so-called sanctions on me are unreasonable, are bullying, are intentionally pressuring, trying to force me to be hesitant. But as I’ve repeatedly stressed, this unreasonable behaviour will only make me convinced that I’m doing the right thing," Lee said at a media briefing. "With regards to some (social) media (platforms) which I will have no access to, I feel disappointed but this will not affect my election effort."
Vietnam plans 24-hour take-down law for "illegal" social media content, sources tell Reuters
Vietnam is preparing new rules requiring social media firms to take down content it deems illegal within 24 hours, sources told Reuters. The planned amendments to current law will cement Vietnam, a $1 billion market for Facebook, as one of the world's most stringent regimes for social media firms and will strengthen the ruling Communist Party's hand as it cracks down on "anti-state" activity.
The 24-hour time frame to take down "illegal content and services" will not have a grace period, while active "illegal live streams" must be blocked within three hours, the people said. Companies that do not meet the deadlines could see their platforms banned in the country, they added.
Social media companies have also been told content that harms national security must be taken down immediately, according to two of the people and a third source. Currently, social media platforms often have a few days to handle requests from the Vietnamese government, the sources said. The amendments, which have not been made public, are expected to be signed by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh next month and enforced from July, five people said.
TikTok, which is owned by China's ByteDance, will continue to comply with applicable local laws to ensure TikTok remains a safe space for creative expression, its Vietnam representative Nguyen Lam Thanh told Reuters, adding it would take down content that breaks platform guidelines. Indonesia's government is also preparing to impose a similar 24-hour time frame for government requests, sources have told Reuters.
Just Eat Takeaway.com considering a full or partial sale of Grubhub: Report
European food delivery giant Just Eat Takeaway.com said it’s considering a sale of Grubhub, its US arm, after facing pressure from investors to explore strategic deals, CNBC reported.
Just Eat Takeaway.com’s board “confirms its alignment with shareholders in wanting to both create and realise value from the Company’s highly attractive portfolio of assets,” the company said.
"As such, management is currently, together with its advisers, actively exploring the introduction of a strategic partner into and/or the partial or full sale of Grubhub."
Just Eat Takeaway.com said it couldn’t guarantee such a sale will be agreed, or when it might happen. “Further announcements will be made as and when appropriate,” it said.
The company has faced growing calls from prominent shareholders to divest its Grubhub division. Just Eat Takeaway.com completed its acquisition of the US food ordering platform for $7.3 billion barely a year ago, pipping Uber and Germany’s Delivery Hero to a deal after a heated takeover battle.
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