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Startup Digest: Licious announces new ESOP plan, Ola elevates Balachandar N, Amazon and Apple handed $225M in Italian antitrust fines

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Here are the top headlines from the startup space.

Startup Digest: Licious announces new ESOP plan, Ola elevates Balachandar N, Amazon and Apple handed $225M in Italian antitrust fines
Here are the top headlines from the startup space.
Licious announces “Everyday Vesting, Anytime Liquidation” ESOP plan
D2C unicorn Licious has announced a new ESOP plan “Everyday Vesting, Anytime Liquidation,” which they will be rolling out next year.
This new plan will enable its employees to have their ESOPs vested daily along with the option of liquidating their ESOPs anytime with no other attached terms and conditions, said the company in a statement.
The fresh meat and seafood brand will also set aside a pool of secondary funds every year, to enable the anytime liquidation. However, this opportunity can be availed once in a year period, as mandated by the company law.
Currently, over 1,000 Licious employees own ESOPs and all new eligible employees will be added to the pool, the firm stated.
Earlier this year, the startup also extended a buyback option of Rs 30 crore which benefitted 600 employees.
Bootstrapped SaaS firm iZooto announces $1.35M ESOP buyback
Marketing platform iZooto has announced a buyback plan for employee stock options plan (ESOPs) worth $1.35 million for its current and former employees.
The buyback is valued at 40 times the issue price. The company said that 40% of iZooto’s employees with vested options will be eligible to participate in this process. The qualifying ESOP holders will be allowed to liquidate up to 25% of their vested units based on a specified scheme, the firm added.
“iZooto’s employees have been the bedrock of our success from the very start. Our profitable growth over the last four years has only been possible because of the dedication, diligence, and passion of our entire team,” Neel Kothari, CEO of iZooto said.
iZooto helps publishers own, engage, and retain their audience. The start-up claims to work with over 1100 publishers across the world to push approximately 200 billion notifications each month.
Ola elevates Balachandar N as Group Chief People Officer
Ride hailing platform Ola has said it has elevated Balachandar N as its Group Chief People Officer.
Balachandar was the acting Group CPO (Chief People Officer) for the past four months.
In an e-mail to employees, Ola founder and CEO Bhavish Aggarwal said: "Bala has been our acting Group CPO for the past four months. Bala has raised the bar on execution in HR. The all-women factory, the scale-up of our sales, ops and GTM (go to market) orgs across our consumer businesses, and an increased pace of hiring across key tech orgs are key contributions of the HR team in the past couple of quarters".
Aggarwal added that the company's headcount has gone up from 4,500 to 8,000 in the last five months, given the growth across all businesses.
Earlier this month, Ola had announced key leadership appointments across its financial services, electric mobility and vehicles sales businesses. PV Harinarayan has joined as Vice President Lending at Ola Financial Services, while V Ramesh has joined as Head of Operations at Ola Futurefactory. Priteesh Mahajan has been named as Head of Two-wheeler Programme Management and Product Planning at Ola Electric.
Over the past few months, Ola has also seen a number of exits of senior executives, including that of Swayam Saurabh (Ola Chief Financial Officer) and Gaurav Porwal (Chief Operating Officer) and Sandeep Chowdhury (General Counsel).
These exits come ahead of Ola's plans to go for an initial public offering (IPO).
Actor Rakul Preet launches Linkedln-like app offering film career options: Report
Bollywood actor Rakul Preet Singh has launched an online platform exclusively for aspiring film talent. With brother Aman Preet Singh, Rakul Preet started a recruitment platform called StarringYou for film aspirants including actors, writers and choreographers, Moneycontrol reported.
“It is tough on the casting directors to go through many auditions, meet them personally, and shortlist the talent. This is a year-long process. Digitising this process can help us find talent required faster,” Rakul Preet said.
The platform has tied up with production houses and casting agencies and all their talent requirements will be routed through StarringYou. Currently, the platform’s partners include Anti Casting, Pooja Entertainment, Hummara Movie, Luv Films, Venkatadri Talkies, Vision Celeb Hub, and Suresh Productions and music labels Just Music and Salim Merchant.
Rakul Preet put down the initial investment in the venture. More funds will be raised for the platform, the report added.
DotPe partners with LeadSquared to enhance their merchant onboarding operations
DotPe, which helps businesses with online operations has partnered with LeadSquared to power up their merchant onboarding operations.
LeadSquared, an end-to-end sales execution platform, has helped bring about a 30x increase in weekly customer leads for Gurgaon-based SMB digitalisation startup DotPe, the company said in a statement.
LeadSquared was the tech partner of choice for DotPe’s scalable business requirements, delivering a CRM platform that can help track client conversations, monitor teams, and follow up on potential leads.
Post the integration of LeadSquared, the conversion rate doubled, from 4.6% to 8-10%. Their platform now has marque brands such as The Big Chill Cafe, Taco Bell, Social, and 75 lacs+ other businesses onboard, the firm added.
“Brick and mortar shops find it tough to compete with the big retailers online. The few businesses that went digital with giants such as Amazon lost a lot of their margins. With DotPe, we wanted to ensure that small businesses would enter the e-commerce marketplace conveniently and profitably,” said Aniket Roy, Head of Inside Sales, DotPe.
Cryptocurrencies post inflows in latest week, led by bitcoin -CoinShares
Cyrptocurrency products and funds posted inflows in the latest week, with investors undeterred by the latest price corrections, weekly data from digital asset manager CoinShares showed.
Institutional investors poured in $154 million in the crypto sector in the week ended Nov. 19, with a year-to-date total of $9.2 billion, already exceeding total inflows of $6.7 billion in 2020.
Bitcoin got the lion's share of inflows with $114.4 million, equivalent to 74% of the total. So far this year, total inflows into bitcoin products and funds hit $6.7 billion.
The inflows came despite a 10.4% drop in bitcoin last week. On Monday, bitcoin was down 4.5% at $56,042. The world's largest cryptocurrency hit a record high of $69,000 on November 10.
GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY & STARTUP NEWS
Amazon and Apple handed $225M in Italian antitrust fines
Italy's antitrust authority has fined US tech giants Amazon and Apple a total of more than 200 million euros ($225 million) for alleged anti-competitive cooperation in the sale of Apple and Beats products, Reuters reported.
Contractual provisions of a 2018 agreement between the companies meant only selected resellers were allowed to sell Apple and Beats products on Amazon.it, the competition watchdog said, adding that this was in violation of European Union rules.
The authority imposed a fine of 68.7 million euros on Amazon and 134.5 million euros on Apple, ordering the companies to end the restrictions to give retailers of genuine Apple and Beats products access to Amazon.it in a non-discriminatory manner.
Apple denied any wrongdoing and said it plans to appeal against the fine.
Zoom posts slow Q3 revenue growth due to ease in demand for Video-Conferencing tools
Zoom Video Communication’s third-quarter revenue growth rate slowed to 35% as demand for its video-conferencing tools eased from the pandemic-fueled heights last year.
Revenue was at $1.05 billion in the quarter ended October 31, after rising 54% in the previous quarter and surging 360% a year earlier, as per Reuters. Moreover, stiff competition posed by Cisco's conferencing tool Webex and Microsoft's Teams has made it challenging for Zoom to win over enterprise customers.
Still, Zoom reported an adjusted profit of $1.11 per share, beating Wall Street's estimates $1.09 per share, according to Refinitiv data. The company also forecast current-quarter revenue and earnings above expectations, and raised its full-year revenue estimate to around $4.08 billion from about $4.01 billion earlier.
Facebook Messenger, Instagram to only get end-to-end encryption by 2023
Facebook Messenger and Instagram will only get end-to-end encryption by default in 2023, according to Antigone Davis, Meta’s (formerly Facebook) head of safety.
The earlier timeline for this was 2022 which the company had announced in a blog post back in April this year. WhatsApp, which is also owned by Meta, already has end-to-end encryption by default.
“We’re taking our time to get this right and we don’t plan to finish the global rollout of end-to-end encryption by default across all our messaging services until sometime in 2023,” Davis wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.
She added that the company was determined “to protect people’s private communications and keep people safe online.”
The decision to delay the move is because the company wants to ensure that end-to-end encryption does not hamper efforts to stop criminal activity. She also wrote that Meta will “use a combination of non-encrypted data across our apps, account information and reports from users” to help keep users safe and assist authorities.
Facebook Messenger has end-to-end encrypted voice and video calls. There’s also an end-to-end encrypted chat option in Messenger, though it has to be enabled as a ‘Secret Chat’ the individual contact.
US lawmakers call for privacy legislation after Reuters report on Amazon lobbying
Five members of Congress called for federal consumer-privacy legislation after a Reuters report revealed how Amazon has led an under-the-radar campaign to gut privacy protections in 25 states while amassing a valuable trove of personal data on American consumers.
"Amazon shamefully launched a campaign to squash privacy legislation while its devices listen to and watch our lives," US Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who has been involved in bipartisan negotiations on privacy legislation, wrote on Twitter.
"This is now the classic Big Tech move: deploy money and armies of lobbyists to fight meaningful reforms in the shadows but claim to support them publicly,” Blumenthal added.
The revelations underscored the need for bipartisan action on stronger privacy protections, he wrote. No major federal privacy legislation has passed Congress in years because members have been deadlocked on the issue.
Amazon reiterated its statement for the previous Reuters report, saying it prefers federal privacy legislation to a "patchwork" of state regulations. The company said it wants one federal privacy law that "requires transparency about data practices, prohibits the sale of personal data without consent, and ensures that consumers have the right to request access to and deletion of their personal information."
Pokemon Go creator Niantic valued at $9Bn after Coatue's investment
Niantic, the augmented reality (AR) platform behind Pokemon Go, raised $300 million from hedge fund Coatue at a valuation of $9 billion, according to Reuters.
The company, spun off from Google in 2015 and led by former Google executive John Hanke, plans to use the funds to expand its recently launched Lightship platform to help developers with their AR creations and build their visions for "the Real-World Metaverse".
Niantic was valued at nearly $4 billion in early 2019, when it raised $245 million in its Series C round of investments. The company has since then launched its own fund, Niantic Ventures, which will invest and partner with companies focused on AR.
Niantic launched Pikmin Bloom with Nintendo Co last month, an AR-based smartphone app that enables users to see tiny, plant-like creatures. It had partnered with Nintendo for Pokemon Go a few years earlier, the first game that saw a mass market adoption of AR.
Apple critic Tile acquired by Life360 in $205M deal
Tile, a maker of tracking tags that was a vocal critic of Apple, has been acquired by Life360, a location-sharing app maker.
According to Reuters, the deal was valued at $205 million after Tile had raised $141 million in venture capital since its founding in 2012, a return of just 1.45 times invested capital.
Under the deal, the companies said that Tile will continue under its own brand identity under the leadership of Tile CEO CJ Prober, who will also join the Life360 board of directors. The two companies said Tile's team of employees is expected to remain in place.
Tesla details $1Bn costs for new Texas factory, targets year-end completion
Tesla is planning to spend more than $1 billion on its new vehicle factory in Austin, Texas, and plans to complete construction by the end of this year, Reuters reported.
Filings submitted to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) outlined Tesla's spending on various manufacturing capabilities at its Austin factory. The company said it plans to complete construction of its general assembly, paint, casting, stamping and body shop facilities by December 31.
The five facilities would have a combined square footage of nearly 4.3 million (0.4 square kilometer), and cost a combined $1.06 billion.
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has previously said the company plans to start limited production of its Model Y mid-size SUV this year, and high-volume production next year.
Construction for Tesla's new factory, located close to the airport on the eastern outskirts of Austin and projected to cost $1.1 billion, began during the summer of 2020. The company is expected to receive nearly $65 million in local tax rebates for the factory, which Tesla said will create some 10,000 jobs, most of them low skilled.
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