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STARTUP DIGEST: Meta lays off over 11,000 employees; Plum Insurance sacks 36; Data Protection Bill in final draft stage & cryptocurrencies fall after FTX-Binance deal

STARTUP DIGEST: Meta lays off over 11,000 employees; Plum Insurance sacks 36; Data Protection Bill in final draft stage & cryptocurrencies fall after FTX-Binance deal

STARTUP DIGEST: Meta lays off over 11,000 employees; Plum Insurance sacks 36; Data Protection Bill in final draft stage & cryptocurrencies fall after FTX-Binance deal
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By Aishwarya Anand  Nov 9, 2022 7:47:23 PM IST (Published)

Here are the top headlines from the startup space.

Meta lays off more than 11,000 employees, extends hiring freeze

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Meta Platforms will let go of more than 11,000 employees, in one of the biggest tech layoffs this year as the Facebook parent battles soaring costs and a weak advertising market.
"I’ve decided to reduce the size of our team by about 13 percent and let more than 11,000 of our talented employees go. We are also taking a number of additional steps to become a leaner and more efficient company by cutting discretionary spending and extending our hiring freeze through Q1," CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Meta employees.
He took accountability for the decisions and for how the firm got to this point.
Laying out the details of the severance package, Meta will pay 16 weeks of base pay plus two additional weeks for every year of service, with no cap and it will pay for all remaining PTO time.
Zuckerberg said everyone impacted will receive their November 15, 2022 vesting and the firm will also cover the cost of healthcare for people and their families for six months.
"We’ll provide three months of career support with an external vendor, including early access to unpublished job leads. For those who were working on a visa, there’s a notice period before termination and some visa grace periods, which means everyone will have time to make plans and work through their immigration status. We have dedicated immigration specialists to help guide you based on what you and your family need," he said.
Plum Insurance lays off 36 employees
Insurtech startup Plum has laid off 36 employees, accounting for around 10 percent of its total workforce of 350. In a statement to CNBC-TV18, co-founders Abhishek Poddar and Saurabh Arora attributed the layoffs to the tough market conditions that have plagued the startup space since earlier this year.
"Care for employees and their families is the ethos on which we have built Plum. However, the world - economic and otherwise - has changed drastically over the past six months and we do need to match the pace and quantum of our investments with the market’s realities," Poddar and Arora said in a statement.
"Doing right by our customers and our shareholders means embracing market conditions and building within the constraints of the new world we operate in, which has led us to take certain hard calls," they added.
The duo added that the of the Sequoia and Tiger Global-backed firm, will extend all possible support to the employees who have been let go, which includes severance pay, healthcare benefits, well-being counselling, Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) vesting and dedicated placement and career support.
SirionLabs acquires Seattle-based Zendoc
AI-powered contract management SaaS firm SirionLabs has acquired Seattle-based contract automation firm Zendoc for an undisclosed amount.
This acquisition will further strengthen the startup’s leadership in the applications of AI in enhancing contract lifecycle management (CLM) as a category, it said in a statement.
Through the Zendoc acquisition, Sirion is also establishing a Center of Excellence (CoE) in Nice, France, the company added. Zendoc’s co-founder and CEO Laurent Lathieyre will assume the role of Sirion’s Head of Post Signature Applications.
“The war for talent is global, and we’re thrilled to be adding such skilled professionals to the Sirion team as well as gaining a foothold in a key region for tech development,” said Ajay Agrawal, co-founder and CEO, Sirion. “Their world-class engineering expertise moves the needle on our data-centric approach to building a better, faster, more powerful CLM platform.”
Data Protection Bill in final draft stage: Sources
The Draft Data Protection Bill is likely to be put up for public consultation by November end or early December, sources told CNBC-TV18.
As per MEITY sources, Draft Bill is likely to remove social media companies from regulatory ambit and is likely to relax data localization, storage and data processing norms.
The Social media companies had expressed concerns on overlapping regulations under Data Protection Law, IT Act, sources added.
Centre had withdrawn the Data Protection Bill from Parliament in August and is unhappy with Joint Parliamentary Committee’s (JPC) proposed 81 amendments.
The sources added that Draft bill will not seek to regulate devices but will exclude provision for testing and certification of hardware. Draft bill will also seek to ensure that compliances are not onerous for startups.
Razorpay launches new product promising to make loan disbursals easier for non-banks
The business banking platform of Razorpay has launched RazorpayX Digital Lending 2.0, a complete digital lending solution for NBFCs and fintechs in adherence with the new digital lending guidelines issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
The new RazorpayX will help automate direct disbursals and repayments between the borrower’s and the regulated entity’s accounts, making it easier for NBFCs and fintechs to work together.
To help NBFCs and their associated Digital Lending Apps (DLAs) and Loan Service Providers (LSPs), the new platform will provide a full-stack lending suite that enables these lenders to - automate direct money transfers between the lenders' and borrowers' accounts. The company also claims that users can manage multiple fintech partners using a single current account.
PhonePe first player to enable UPI activation with Aadhaar
Leading fintech platform PhonePe announced it has enabled UPI activation using Aadhaar-based OTP authentication.
PhonePe is the first UPI Third Party Application Provider (TPAP) App to roll out the Aadhaar-based UPI onboarding flow that will now enable several crore Indians to become a part of the UPI ecosystem, seamlessly and securely for the first time, the company said in a statement.
Under the previous UPI onboarding flow, a valid debit card was mandatory to set up a user's UPI PIN during the UPI registration process, restricting access for a large number of Indian bank account holders who didn't have a debit card handy.
The addition of Aadhaar onboarding for UPI will do away with this restriction, and allow previously under-served populations to experience the convenience and benefits of digital payments.
Merak Ventures, Huddle launch accelerator programme for climate tech startups
Early-stage venture capital firm Merak Venture and Huddle, an accelerator-led fund, have launched ClimAct, an accelerator program of up to $1.5 million for climate tech startups.
Accel, Matrix Partners, Sequoia Capital,  Aavishkar Capital, Lok Capital, Nexus Venture Partners, and Stellaris Venture Partners have participated as ClimAct’s fund partners, according to the company's statement.
In the statement, the VC firm said selected companies will get a pre-seed capital of $2,00,000 per startup, with a potential follow-on investment of up to $1.5 million post the programme.
The firm said ClimAct’s applications are open from today and the programme's first cohort will conclude in June 2023. Starting in February 2023, the four-month programme aims to accelerate and fund early-stage climate-tech startups in India working in areas such as agriculture-wastage, supply chain efficiency, mobility and transport, climate finance, carbon accounting and sequestration, and digital solutions.
The VC firm also said ClimAct will also provide selected companies with the support of industry veterans, an extended network for pilot opportunities, and customised credits of up to $5,00,000 across technology and business functions to ensure that the focus on sustained decarbonisation of the economy gains momentum.
Amazon India signs MoU with TVS Motor to deploy EVs for deliveries to cut down emissions
Amazon India will deploy a fleet of electric two and three-wheelers manufactured by TVS Motor for last-mile deliveries across the country.
This will be as part of a strategic engagement between the two companies and they would work in tandem to examine the possible use cases of electric vehicles for various Amazon business groups for its network and logistical requirements.
The collaboration is part of Amazon’s commitment to reach net-zero carbon by 2040, and TVS Motor's commitment to bolster the electrification ecosystem in India.
Amazon India aims to induct 10,000 electric vehicles in its fleet by 2025 and the collaboration with TVS is aimed at strengthening its delivery network.
On its part, TVS Motor aims to expand its EV offerings across multiple segments, including commercial mobility.
Slack to store Indian customers' data locally to meet regulations
Enterprise communication service Slack has announced to store Indian customers' data within the country that will make it easier for the companies to comply with corporate or regulatory standards and meet the law of the land.
Rahul Sharma, Country Manager, India, Slack, said that the move will allow customers to choose India as a region where their data is stored for the Plus and Enterprise Grid plans.
"It is a significant investment in infrastructure, security and people to manage the physical infrastructure. This is important for regulated industries like healthcare, financial services, etc., and is also significant for businesses that want to keep their data within the country," Sharma noted.
Slack also released an India-specific report on the impact of the pandemic, the uncertain economic environment, and the burnout experienced by over half of Indian knowledge workers in the last year.
The study found that stability, salary and having a good manager are the top three factors for Indian knowledge workers when it comes to choosing the company they work for.
A very high proportion of Indian knowledge workers (81 percent) also said they want more meaning from their job, or to feel like they're having an impact.
Agnikul Cosmos successfully test-fires 3D-printed rocket engine
Rocket manufacturing startup, Agnikul Cosmos said that it successfully test fired a second stage semi-cryogenic engine.
According to Agnikul Cosmos, the single piece, fully 3D printed, second stage rocket engine powered by semi-cryogenic fuel Agnilet was test fired at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), part of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
Agnibaan is a two stage rocket with 100 kg payload capacity to orbits around 700 km high (low Earth orbits) and enables plug-and-play configuration. The company recently opened its first 3D printed rocket engine factory located at the IIT Madras Research Park. The factory has been designed keeping in mind the ability to produce two rocket engines per week for its rocket Agnibaan.
MyGate ties up with Acko and Urban Company
MyGate, a community management platform, has entered into strategic partnerships with D2C insurance brand Acko and home services marketplace Urban Company to offer their respective services.
As part of the deal, Acko and Urban Company will infuse capital into MyGate to acquire a small minority stake, a statement said.
Both companies will also work closely with MyGate on product development, technology, and seamless user experience to create unique offerings for residential societies, it added.
Lending startup ftcash gets NBFC licence from RBI
Lending startup ftcash said it has received licence from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to set up a non-banking financial company. Ftcash aims to disburse loans worth Rs 100 crore in the current fiscal, according to a statement.
"We have over 60,000 merchants in our network currently and have disbursed over Rs 600 crore worth of loans till now. We expect the disbursals to grow by three times by 2023," Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Chandak said.
He said nearly 80 percent of the total MSMEs in India lack access to lending.
Pocket FM eyes $100M annual revenue run rate by Sept 2023
Audio content app Pocket FM expects to reach an annual revenue run rate (ARR) of $100 million by September 2023.
This implies that the company will be able to achieve at least $100 revenue by September 2024 if its growth remains consistent, the company said in a statement.
"As we successfully discovered the content monetisation model in the audio space, our revenue has grown 10 times to $25 million ARR in just 12 months. With the continued momentum and expected growth targets, we foresee another 4X growth in our revenue during our fifth year of operations, thus entering into the USD 100 million ARR club within five years of our operations," Pocket FM Co-founder and CEO Rohan Nayak said.
Three-fourths of pre-festive D2C sales came from Tier 2, 3 cities: GoKwik
Ecommerce enabler GoKwik has announced that over 77% of the total orders placed on the its network came from tier 2 and 3 cities in the pre-festive sale period between July and September.
As per a statement, the D2C brands on the platform also posted a 29.4% growth in gross merchandise value (GMV) in this period compared to the previous quarter despite concerns over macroeconomic slowdown and rising inflation.
The firm added that the conversion rate for brands was as high as 33% similar to previous quarters, despite 20% higher order volume in the pre-festive sale period. Cash on Delivery (COD) remained the most preferred mode of payment with a 30% jump in GMV from COD orders in the pre-festive period compared to previous quarter.
Medikabazaar appoints new CHRO and COO
B2B online medical marketplace Medikabazaar has made two senior appointments. The firm has appointed Sandeep Gandhi and Manish Gahlaut as the chief human resources and chief operations officers, respectively.
The appointment takes place at a time when Medikabazaar is seeking to further strengthen its leadership in healthcare supply chain, grow in the emerging market segment, aid in institutional linkage, and create new strategic partnerships globally, a statement said.
"Medikabazaar has been on an unprecedented fast development path in the last few years, having reported over 11x growth in the last three years. To accelerate the business momentum and reach ambitious growth targets, we have been building up the workforce strength, market presence, and technological capabilities. We are working to assemble a potent multinational leadership team to help us achieve our global ambitions. Sandeep and Manish are well-suited to lead Medikabazaar not just in India but throughout Asia and beyond. Together, they have done some commendable work and managed to transform businesses,” said Vivek Tiwari, CEO, Medikabazaar.
Cryptocurrencies fall after FTX-Binance turmoil spooks investors
Cryptocurrencies saw a second day of sharp declines on Wednesday, as investors continued to fret about the stability of the sector and the financial health of major exchange FTX despite plans for a rescue deal from bigger rival Binance.
Crypto giant Binance signed a nonbinding agreement on Tuesday to buy FTX's non-US unit to help cover a "liquidity crunch" at the rival exchange.
The proposed deal between high-profile rivals followed week-long speculation about FTX's financial health that snowballed into $6 billion of withdrawals in the 72 hours before Tuesday's deal, raising questions about the solvency of one of the world's largest crypto exchanges.
FTX and Binance did not disclose the terms of their agreement, and markets face fresh uncertainty over whether it will proceed.
Bitcoin, the biggest cryptocurrency by market value, was down 5.3% on the day at $17,559 at 1107 GMT, after a 10% plunge on Tuesday that marked its worst day since mid-August. Ether, the next largest, extended losses on Wednesday to hit its lowest since July.
Meta misses deadline to pursue appeals against Facebook, Instagram ban in Russia: Report
US social media giant Meta has missed the deadline to launch a fresh appeal against Russia's block of Facebook and Instagram in the country, the RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing a court official.
RIA reported Meta did not file a cassation appeal, meaning the company has now lost the opportunity to launch further judicial challenges, including in Russia's supreme court, against Russia's decision to ban the social media platforms.
Russia banned Facebook and Instagram as "extremist" in March as Moscow imposed sweeping restrictions on freedom of speech at home following its invasion of Ukraine. Meta lost an initial appeal in June against it being labelled "extremist" in a court system which almost always sides with state prosecutors.
Elon Musk's net worth slips below $200Bn as Tesla shares waver
Elon Musk's net worth dropped below $200 billion as investors dumped Tesla shares on fears the top executive and largest shareholder of the world's most valuable electric-vehicle maker is more preoccupied with Twitter.
Musk now has a net worth of $194.8 billion, according to Forbes, with a big share of that coming from his nearly 15% stake in Tesla, which has a market value of $622 billion.
The company has lost nearly half its market value and his net worth has dropped by $70 billion since he bid for Twitter in April.
Twitter to introduce 'Official' label for some verified accounts
Billionaire Elon Musk's social media platform Twitter will introduce an "Official" label for select verified accounts including major media outlets and governments when it launches its new $8 premium subscription product, its early stage products executive Esther Crawford said.
Crawford also confirmed that the revamped Twitter Blue subscription product, which will allow paid users to carry blue check marks on their accounts, will not actually verify users' identities.
The lack of ID verification is likely to raise concerns about the possibility of people impersonating public figures. Already, such concerns have caused Twitter to hold off on launching the new version of Twitter Blue until after the US midterm elections on Tuesday, tweeted Yoel Roth, Twitter's head of safety and integrity.
Fake accounts for government officials are a recurring issue for Twitter globally, according to sources familiar with the matter and researchers.
Not all Twitter accounts that were previously verified with a blue check mark will get the "Official" label and the label is not available for purchase, Crawford said.
Accounts that will receive the official label include governments, commercial companies, business partners, major media outlets, publishers and some other public figures, she tweeted.
Microsoft's $69Bn Activision bid faces EU antitrust probe
Microsoft may have to offer concessions to address EU antitrust concerns about its $69 billion bid for "Call of Duty" maker Activision Blizzard after regulators opened a full-scale investigation on Tuesday and warned about the impact of the deal.
The US software company, which announced the deal in January, is betting Activision's stable of games will help it compete better with leaders Tencent and Sony with the latter critical of the deal.
"The Commission's preliminary investigation shows that the transaction may significantly reduce competition on the markets for the distribution of console and PC video games, including multigame subscription services and/or cloud game streaming services, and for PC operating systems," the European Commission said in a statement.
"The preliminary investigation suggests that Microsoft may have the ability, as well as a potential economic incentive, to engage in foreclosure strategies vis-à-vis Microsoft's rival distributors of console video games," it added.
Microsoft said it would work with the EU antitrust watchdog to address valid marketplace concerns.
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