Here are the top headlines from the startup space.
Google and Temasek backed Sharechat trims 20% of its workforce
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ShareChat, a short video-sharing platform backed by Google and Temasek, cut 20 percent of its workforce as several external macro factors are impacting cost and availability of capital and thus the firm needs to prepare to sustain through these headwinds.
“The decision to reduce employee costs was taken after much deliberation and in light of the growing market consensus that investment sentiments will remain very cautious throughout this year,” a ShareChat spokesperson told CNBC-TV18.
It explained that as capital becomes expensive, companies need to prioritise bets and invest in the highest-impact projects only. Over the last six months, the firm has aggressively optimised costs across the board, including marketing and infrastructure, among other cost heads and ramped up our monetisation efforts, according to the firm’s statement.
Sharechat, meanwhile, is doubling down on efforts behind advertising and live-streaming revenues, it said.
Employees impacted by the ShareChat layoff will get the total salary for the notice period, two weeks’ pay as ex gratia for every year served with the company and 100 percent of variable pay till December 2022. Employees who have unused leave balance of up to 45 days can encash it as per their current gross salary, the company confirmed.
Will you practice same regime as in Europe: SC on Google plea on CCI penalty
The Supreme Court has said it could consider sending the application filed by Google back to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT). The tech giant has moved the apex court seeking stay on a Competition Commission of India (CCI) order imposing a Rs 1,337 crore penalty on it.
During the hearing, a bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud asked senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Google's counsel, "will Google practice the same regime in place in India as you have in Europe?"
The Chief Justice added, "Please reflect on this and come back."
Singhvi said when the matter came before the judge he recorded that since there is a hearing in April, there is no need for an interim order. He added that Android is the world's best ecosystem and these directions are extraordinary. He said that directions were that my proprietary software which makes everything is to be shared and the second is side loading.
The bench also added that it would send it back to NCLAT and ask them to deal with the application for stay.
On January 11, the Supreme Court agreed to examine an appeal by Google against a decision by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), declining to stay a Rs 1,337.76 crore penalty imposed on it by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for alleged anti-competitive practices.
Google moved the apex court after the setback at NCLAT, which did not stay the CCI order on abuse of dominant position in multiple markets in the Android mobile device ecosystem case.
Byju’ changes sales strategy, moves to 4-Tier tech-driven sales process
Edtech giant Byju’s has made a key change in its sales strategy, by launching a four-tier tech-driven internal sales (inside sales) process, replacing its direct sales process, that attracted the firm criticism over the years.
The startup said its sales people no longer visit students’ homes to pitch to their parents. Instead, the entire sales workforce now works from inside the office and reaches out virtually to only those whose children have shown a clear interest in subscribing to the platform.
Byju’s said it has also introduced an affordability test for all potential customers, ensuring the child’s family income is at least Rs 25,000 before they can move forward with the purchase.
“BYJU’S is fully committed to a transparent sales mechanism, and our tech-driven, 4-tier approach enhances communication and precludes potential mis-selling. We are constantly striving to improve our customer experience and we believe that this new approach will make the initial stages of the sales process more efficient, clear and empathetic,” said Mrinal Mohit, CEO, BYJU’S India.
Swiggy launches free on-demand ambulance service for delivery executives and their dependents
Swiggy has launched an immediate and free ambulance service for all its active delivery executives and their dependents in the case of emergencies. The food tech giant has partnered with Dial4242 Ambulance Services for this initiative.
“Delivery executives can reach out on the toll-free number: 1800 267 4242. Sometimes, making a call might not be an option, and executives can just tap the SOS button without leaving the partner app in the case of an emergency before, during, or after a delivery. The process will require no documentation; delivery executives only need to confirm their partner ID,” the company said in a statement.
Swiggy has launched this service pan-India after piloting the service in Bangalore, Delhi NCR, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, and Kolkata. In the test runs and the cases raised so far, the service's response time has been an average of 12 minutes, according to the firm.
Lighthouse Canton announces first close of India-focused debt fund at Rs 155 Cr
Singapore-headquartered investment firm Lighthouse Canton has marked the first close of its maiden India-focused venture debt fund at Rs 155.4 crore. The fund, a part of Lighthouse Canton’s regional venture debt strategy, saw participation of onshore and offshore institutions and family offices.
A Category – II AIF, the fund looks to raise Rs 550 crore, with a greenshoe option of an additional Rs 550 crore. The LC Venture Debt fund will deploy this capital in 35-40 start-ups over the next two years, a statement said.
“In more mature venture ecosystems such as the US and Europe, venture debt has risen to 15-20 percent of the total VC funding, whereas this proportion is less than 2 percent in India. Given the growth of venture ecosystem in India, we see tremendous opportunity for venture debt, and we expect the size of this market to grow 3-4x in the next five years,” said Lighthouse Canton's Global Head of Asset Management, Sanket Sinha.
As of September 2022, Lighthouse Canton was overseeing more than $3 billion worth of assets under management (AUM) and advisory. Some of its bets in India include EV financing platform Revfin, telemedicine startup Redcliffe, women’s footwear brand Monrow, used car leasing service Pumpumpum, and more.
VilCart raises $18M in Series A round to expand operations
VilCart, the rural economy-focused technology startup, has raised $18 million from investors to expand operations. The company raised this amount in a Series A funding round led by Asia Impact SA. Nabventures Fund and Texterity also participated in the round.
With the use of this fund, VilCart aims to expand its operations to the entire South India by 2024. The firm expanded its size to $25 million in FY22, up from $9.6 million in FY21, the statement said.
The startup has established numerous private labels to utilise the established supply chain network and provide quality products to the rural population. Currently, VilCart has reached 85,000 kirana stores in 30,000 villages, covering 29 districts in Karnataka and one each in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Locad gets $11M in Series A round from Reefknot Investments
E-commerce-based logistics startup Locad has raised $11 million in a Series A funding round led by Reefknot Investments, a fund anchored by Temasek and logistics firm Kuehne & Nagel.
The round also saw participation from returning investors Sequoia India and Southeast Asia’s Surge, Febe Ventures, Antler, as well as new investors Access Ventures, JG Summit, and WTI.
The startup will use the fresh capital to expand its supply chain platform. It will also be used towards boosting the company’s product development and talent pool in India and across Asia-Pacific, the company said in a statement.
The firm claims to have served over 200 brands across the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Australia, and shipped more than 2 million transactions.
SheerDrive raises undisclosed capital from JITO Angel Network
SheerDrive, a Mumbai-based Digital AI/ ML pre-owned vehicle platform, has closed its Pre-Series A funding from a clutch of investors at an undisclosed valuation. The funding round was led by JITO Angel Network.
The round also saw participation from angel investor group INSEAD Angels, along with HNIs, and existing investors like Group Landmark - a TGP-invested company, Volrado Venture Fund, and Mr. Prajit Nanu, Co-Founder and CEO at NIUM.
According to the firm, the funds will be utilized in scaling growth and expanding SheerDrive’s footprint in the pre-owned car market in India, as well as further developing the company’s AI/ML-based intelligent VIAR technology platform to its next version of operational capability.
Mumbai Angels back fintech platform BHIVE Alts
BHIVE Alts, a fintech investment platform for fractional ownership of commercial real estate, has raised an undisclosed capital from Mumbai Angels, alongside other investors.
The firm claims to have crossed Rs 100 crore in Assets Under Management (AUM). The startup plans to triple its AUM to Rs 300 crore by 2023-24 and expand its user base to 2 lakh from the current 72,000 with the freshly raised funds.
“Through our unique asset acquisition strategy we were able to bring compelling real estate investment opportunities to our customers. We have been actively pursuing growth in the fractional real estate sector and are delighted to announce the milestone of crossing the Rs 100 Crore mark,” said Shesh Rao Paplikar, CEO and Co-founder BHIVE Alts.
LEAF to raise $25M in funding, set to clock Rs 4000 crore GMV
Lawrencedale Agro Processing India (LEAF), the Nilgiris-headquartered full-stack agri-tech major, has said it will raise $25 million from private equity players. The firm also said it is aiming to clock a GMV (Gross Merchandise Value) of Rs 4,000 crore over the next 2-3 years’ time.
The company which dovetails a wide range of integrated services and products to the agriculture ecosystem, is ramping up its operations and is looking to bring sustainable livelihood improvements to more than 10 million farmers over the next three years.
“We have close to 500 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) and more than a million marginalised farmers using LFN to access a wide range of services – ranging from agriculture inputs, technical advisory services, organised financial services, logistics, finding and transacting with new markets and buyers. Multiple services and products players have already plugged into the LFN ecosystem,” said Palat Vijayaraghavan, Founder & CEO, Lawrencedale Agro Processing India.
The company recently entered into a strategic partnership with HDFC Bank, to offer a wide range of financial services to the marginalised farmers.
OTHER STARTUP NEWS
Paytm Payments Bank gets final RBI nod to operate as Bharat Bill Payment Operating Unit
Paytm Payments has received final approval from the Reserve Bank of India to operate as a Bharat Bill Payment Operating Unit (BBPOU). Under Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS), a BBPOU is allowed to facilitate bill payment services of electricity, phone, DTH, water, gas insurance, loan repayments, FASTag recharge, education fees, credit card bill and municipal taxes.
BBPS is owned by the National Payments Corporation of India. So far, Paytm Payments Bank Ltd (PPBL) has been undertaking this activity under in-principle authorisation from RBI.
"PPBL has got the final approval from RBI to operate as Bharat Bill Payment Operating Unit (BBPOU) under the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007. As an entity under Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS), PPBL has got the final authorization to conduct bill payment and aggregation business as a BBPOU," the company said in a statement.
Piyush Goyal pitches for startup database in country
Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal has called for making a strong database of all startups in the country as it would help both public and private sectors.
He said the database can help the government in its procurement of goods and services. Goyal added that there must be a number of startups having different levels of success and are not there in any database.
"Can we have a robust database of all startups in the country...Let's go for a database ...and make that available for all," he said.
The minister also sought views of the startup community in further reducing compliance burden, and simplification of processes to promote ease of doing business in the country.
Talking about the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC), he said ONDC is a Unified Payments Interface-type protocol that would democratise the e-commerce businesses by onboarding crores of small retailers of the country.
DroneAcharya Aerial Innovations expands operations in South East Asia
DroneAcharya Aerial Innovations Limited, an Indian drone service provider and DGCA - certified drone pilot training organization, has announced that it is commencing operations in Thailand, in association with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT).
The partnership will pave the way for the company into the Southeast Asian market. The primary goal of the collaboration with AIT is to co-develop projects involving Drones and GIS in Thailand and the surrounding countries, a statement said.
While DroneAcharya's initial focus is on the Indian market, the company will also be expanding into other countries, including the Middle East, the United States, Central Asia as well as Southeast Asia. As part of its strategy to expand across Europe and capture the market there, DroneAcharya is introducing a series of training courses centered on drones.
Protean subsidiary receives RBI license to operate as Account Aggregator
Protean eGov Technologies has announced that it has received approval from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for its wholly owned subsidiary to operate as an Account Aggregator (with an NBFC-AA certificate).
In a statement, Suresh Sethi, MD & CEO, Protean eGov Technologies said, “Account Aggregator is a critical step towards enabling data democracy. Protean has been at the forefront of creating Digital Public Infrastructure for India and we are keen to contribute to the Account Aggregator ecosystem in the coming years.”
The company has extensively collaborated with the government over the last 25 years in creating digital public infrastructure and developing innovative citizen centric e-governance solutions. It is actively supporting open digital building blocks for use-cases across sectors like mobility, healthcare, agriculture and education, while extending its service stack to provide a comprehensive set of APIs to enable end-to-end digital on-boarding and data verification capabilities.
IIT & IIM Alumnus launches B2B-tech SaaS platform KlugKlug
KlugKlug, a global decision-making B2B tech SaaS Platform for influencer marketing has been launched in India and global markets by Kalyan Kumar and Vaibhav Gupta.
Kalyan is an IIT graduate and has an extensive background in marketing having previously served in leadership roles, while Vaibhav, a digital-first native, has done various marketing campaigns for several MNCs, he is a graduate of IMS Ghaziabad.
The platform provides the most exhaustive and dependable global influencer intelligence, exploration, and information for social media such as Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, with in excess of 252+ million influencers' Profile Insights, and a data platform utilizing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technologies guaranteeing 85% precision. KlugKlug can address the Influencer Marketing needs for 230+ countries, a statement said.
HempStreet along with MGC Pharma to launch COVID-19 mouth spray
New Delhi-based cannabis-focused healthtech startup HempStreet has launched ‘ArtemiC,’ a nutraceutical mouth spray to reportedly speed up recovery for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms.
ArtemiC has been launched in collaboration with UK-based MGC Pharma, a company with which HempStreet announced a partnership earlier this year.
“HempStreet, through its collaboration with MGC Pharma, aims to create and bring to market phytopharma products to tackle mass ailments. With ArtemiC, the companies expect to reduce the symptoms of long COVID-19, which still affects more than 15 million people in India,” the company stated.
HempStreet recently partnered with the Amrita School of Ayurveda to receive clinically supported solutions to aid in their fight against mass ailments. Additionally, the company also expanded its product portfolio and launched Sarpagandha Vati recently to help treat Hypertension and Insomnia through ayurvedic formulations.
GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY & STARTUP NEWS
Tencent fired more than 100 employees over corruption in 2022
Tencent has it fired more than 100 employees for violating law and company policies in 2022, citing reasons including suspected bribery and embezzlement.
As per news agency Reuters, in a statement on its social network WeChat, the Shenzhen-based company said incidents spanned more than 70 cases across business lines as varied as video games, livestreaming and advertising, and that it had reported more than 10 people to law enforcement authorities.
The disclosure comes after Tencent's founder Pony Ma in a townhall last month said serious "corruption" issues had been discovered within the company and mismanagement was draining the company's vitality.
Meta, Microsoft vacating offices in Seattle amid remote work, layoffs
As office rentals drop significantly in the city of San Francisco amid remote work and massive layoffs, Meta (formerly Facebook) and Microsoft are now vacating office buildings in Seattle and Bellevue in Washington State.
The Seattle Times reported that Meta is reviewing "leases for Seattle-area office buildings." Facebook has confirmed plans to sublease its offices in downtown Seattle and in the Spring District in Bellevue.
Microsoft also confirmed that it won't renew its lease at the 26-story City Center Plaza in Bellevue when that lease ends in June 2024, the report mentioned.
The ongoing work-from-home and layoffs have cut into demand for office space in Seattle and other tech cities in the US.
In November, Meta announced layoffs of 726 Seattle-area workers. A Meta spokesperson said that given the economic climate, it is trying to be financially prudent."
China lifts 18-month ban on new Didi users as tech crackdown wanes
China's Didi Global has been given the green light from domestic regulators to resume new user registrations for its core ride-hailing services effective from Monday, signalling its 1-1/2-year long regulatory-driven revamp is ending.
Didi has been awaiting approval to resume new user registrations and downloads of its 25 banned apps in China as a key step to return to normal business since its regulatory troubles started in mid-2021.
News agency Reuters reported on Friday, citing sources, that Chinese authorities were set to allow Didi to resume new user registrations and downloads of its apps at home as soon as this week.
"Our company has earnestly cooperated with the country's cybersecurity review, seriously dealt with the security problems found in the review and carried out comprehensive rectifications for more than one year," it said in a statement.
Didi would also take effective measures to ensure platform safety and data security, and safeguard national cyberspace security, it added in the statement.
Twitter's laid-off workers cannot pursue claims via class-action lawsuit, rules judge
Twitter has secured a ruling allowing the social media company to force several laid-off workers suing over their termination to pursue their claims via individual arbitration than a class-action lawsuit.
US District Judge James Donato on Friday ruled that five former Twitter employees pursuing a proposed class action accusing the company of failing to give adequate notice before laying them off after its acquisition by Elon Musk must pursue their claims in private arbitration.
Donato granted Twitter's request to force the five ex-employees to pursue their claims individually, citing agreements they signed with the company.
Twitter laid off roughly 3,700 employees in early November in a cost-cutting measure by Musk, and hundreds more subsequently resigned.
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