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STARTUP DIGEST: UC’s 12-point change plan in response to protests; Meesho records 750% surge in user base during festive sales

STARTUP DIGEST: UC’s 12-point change plan in response to protests; Meesho records 750% surge in user base during festive sales

STARTUP DIGEST: UC’s 12-point change plan in response to protests; Meesho records 750% surge in user base during festive sales
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By CNBC-TV18 Oct 14, 2021 8:01 PM IST (Updated)

Here are the top headlines from the startup space this week.

Urban Company responds to concerns, charts out 12-point change plan

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Following concerns raised by some female beauty service professionals associated with the on-demand at-home services app Urban Company (UC), the startup has now floated an internal memo to introduce a 12-point change agenda, including a reduction in commissions, product costs, penalties and a change to the partner rating systems, sources told CNBC-TV18.
A formal announcement to that effect is likely to be made on October 14 after a group of UC professionals meet with Co-Founder Abhiraj Singh Bhal.
As part of the changed plan, UC will slash commissions on the highest slab of services from 30 percent to 25 percent. "Prices will be increased in some beauty SKUs to maximise partner earnings. Partner blocks, other than rating blocks will be removed from the platform too, which will result in 80 percent of the blocks being done away with," according to the plan.
Sources also added that every partner will now be allowed one cancellation or no-show without penalties each month, plus up to two penalty-free cancellations intimated 12 hours prior to the appointment.
The penalty cap, which is the maximum penalty that can be levied on any partner, will be reduced to Rs 1,500. Customers will be charged a fee for last-minute cancellations, and average ratings will be calculated on 100 jobs instead of 50 jobs.
UC professionals are sent for a five-day refresher training course if their ratings fall below a certain threshold. The duration of that training will reduce from five days to three days.
Moreover, Urban Company has said it will set up a dedicated women's helpline for female partners and sensitise customers towards treating partners with respect and dignity.
The protesting professionals had also alleged that the company was charging high mark-ups on products. However, UC maintains that it has, in fact, been operating at zero profit from the sale of these products and sells them at wholesale prices, pretty much at cost price.
Urban Company will charge professionals for products only after taking their consent. The company has also slashed prices by 10-15 percent in certain high-value categories.
Also, the company will extend vaccination support and reimburse each professional’s vaccination cost until December 31, 2021, and make insurance claims easier.
However, UC's partners, members of the All India Gig Workers Association, told CNBC-TV18 that while the company has taken a big step forward, some other key demands are yet to be met.
Meesho records 750% surge in user base during festive season sales; Myntra clocks 8 mn orders
Social commerce platform, Meesho, has recorded 750 percent growth in users over last year during its flagship festive sale event -- Maha Indian Shopping League.
Nearly 60 percent of the total demand was driven by tier 4+ markets, including remote locations like Khawzhwal and Sopore, the company said in a statement.
Recording over 10X growth in sales over last year, the company also saw seller participation rise by 314 percent during the Maha Indian Shopping League. Ahead of the sale event, Meesho said it onboarded over 100,000 sellers with many new initiatives, including free ad credits and zero return shipping charges on the first 30 orders.
Meanwhile, fashion e-tailer Myntra clocked eight million orders during its eight-day Big Fashion Festival (BFF) across categories, with almost half of the demand coming from small cities. Ethnic and western wear drove the sales.
The company has received orders from five million customers with 58 percent being women buyers, as per Moneycontrol.
The company also announced its next sale, which will happen around Diwali and start on October 16.
OYO appoints paralympian Deepa Malik as independent director
IPO-bound hospitality firm OYO has appointed Paralympian Deepa Malik as an independent director on the company's board.
"We are delighted to welcome Malik to OYO's board of directors. We have been working on making our company and the board more inclusive over the last couple of years. Malik's experience and her passion for travel and adventure would be invaluable for OYO for years to come," OYO Founder and Chairman Ritesh Agarwal said.
Malik joins the board of OYO, that has three other independent directors and one nominee director, besides Chairman Ritesh Agarwal, the statement said.
PM Modi launches new space association ISpA
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Indian Space Association (ISpA) on October 11. The industry association will act as an independent and “single-window” agency for enabling the opening up of the space sector to startups and the private sector, the PM said.
“This is the time for exponential, and not linear innovation. This is possible only when the government plays the role of an enabler, and not the handler. Today, the government is sharing its expertise, and providing launch pads for the private sector. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is being opened for the private sector,” he said.
ISpA will perform the role of policy advocacy and engage with stakeholders in the space sector, including the government and all its other agencies, NewSpace India and Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre, among others.
ADIF moves CCI against Google Play Store commission
Industry body Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF) has moved the Competition Commission of India (CCI) seeking interim relief against Google’s upcoming Play Store policy changes.
In October 2020, Google had said it was delaying its new policy that would force app developers to only use the Google Billing System (GBS). The policy comes into effect from March 2022 and it will mean that app developers will be dependent on Google’s systems. It would also mean that the 30 percent commission will apply for all transactions on the Google Play Store.
In a statement, ADIF said they have filed a petition before CCI through their lawyers at Sarvada Legal and sought interim relief. According to ADIF, Google’s policy will see developers paying 30 percent fee to the search giant, compared to two percent charged by other payment processing systems. The group says the new policy will have a “destructive effect on the operating margins of a large number of startups and make their business models unfeasible.”
Graphy acquires edtech startup Spayee for $25 mn
Graphy, an Unacademy Group-owned company has acquired edtech platform Spayee for $25 million.
Following the acquisition, Spayee will continue to operate independently, the company said in a statement.
Founded in 2014, Spayee allows content creators to produce customised courses in the form of audio and video tutorials, PDF documents, quizzes, assignments, and live classes.
InMobi to acquire UK-based Appsumer: Report
Adtech firm InMobi has signed a definitive agreement to buy UK-based performance insights platform for mobile app advertisers Appsumer, for an undisclosed amount.
As per The Economic Times, the acquisition of Appsumer extends InMobi’s recent enterprise expansions. Last month, the company launched InMobi Telco to help mobile carriers and handset makers optimise their customer experiences and diversify their revenue streams.
Shumel Lais, Founder and CEO of Appsumer, will join InMobi and continue to lead the division, along with his full team. Appsumer will continue operating independently as a subsidiary within the global InMobi organisational structure, the report added.
Dream11 suspends operations in Karnataka; industry files appeals against online gambling law
Fantasy gaming platform Dream11 has suspended operations in Karnataka after a complaint was registered against its founders claiming it was in violation of a new state gambling law.
Police records on October 9 showed a case has been registered in India's tech capital Bengaluru, in Karnataka, following a complaint by a 42-year-old cab driver who reported it as being operational after a ban on online games involving betting came into force.
A Dream11 spokesperson told Reuters that the company is examining its legal remedies, and added that "we are a responsible, law abiding company and will extend our full cooperation to any authorities."
This comes as All Indian Gaming Federation (AIGF), Mobile Premier League, Games24x7, Gameskraft and Head Digital Works Private Limited have filed writ petitions in the Karnataka High Court against the state’s online gambling law.
All five petitions were filed on October 7. The Karnataka Police (Amendment) Compliance Act, 2021, which was notified on October 5, banned all formats of online gaming that involves an entry fee or registration fee.
Pine Labs enters online payments with Plural
Merchant commerce platform Pine Labs has launched Plural, marking its entry into the online payments space.
Backed by years of strong technological capabilities, the company said it now aims to reinvent the space through a suite of online payment products focused on speed, security, and user experience.
The firm said Plural is expected to disrupt the payments gateway space and make the offline-to-online transition easier for Pine Labs’ merchant base and other online businesses looking to tie up with a company with a good track record in the payments ecosystem.
Plural is aimed at merchants and enterprises looking to set up afresh or augment their existing online commerce business. The company is targeting online stores, big e-commerce companies, large-scale government institutions, and large financial services companies.
Former SBI chief Rajnish Kumar joins BharatPe board as chairman
BharatPe has appointed former SBI boss Rajnish Kumar as chairman of the board.
As per the fintech startup, in his role as BharatPe chairman, Kumar will be involved in formulating the firm’s short-term and long-term strategy, as well as work closely with the board and executives on regulatory matters.
Kumar would also advise and counsel the management on matters around business performance as well as corporate governance, BharatPe said in a statement.
PhonePe continues to lead in UPI Market
Digital payments apps PhonePe and Google Pay have yet again emerged as the market leaders in UPI transactions.
PhonePe continued to lead the stride and recorded 1,653.19 million transactions in September, as per data released by the National Payments Corporation of India. Both the companies have collectively processed 2947.75 million transactions in September.
According to NPCI, the digital payments to financial services accounted for a 45 percent share of the volume pie and 47 percent of the value of the United Payments Interface.
JSW Sports partners India Accelerator to mentor sports startups
JSW Sports, which co-owns the Indian Premier League team Delhi Capitals, has partnered with India Accelerator, a business accelerator firm, to mentor startups working in the area of sports, sports data, gaming and e-sports.
The two firms will jointly offer a 16-week long accelerator programme to a cohort of five to seven seed-stage start-ups. The programme will cover areas such as sports data analysis, wearables and performance, e-sports, stadiums and venues, fan engagement followed by support and funding, the company said in a statement.
Tide launches ESOP secondary sale programme post $100 mn+ Series C round
Tide, the UK's leading business financial platform, which began operations in India in 2020, recently launched the secondary sale of employee stock ownership plan (ESOPs) to investors for its employees in India, Bulgaria and the UK.
The announcement follows its recent Series C funding in which the company raised more than $100 million.
Approximately 50 percent of all permanent employees have been allotted ESOPs at various levels across all departments, the company added.
Earlier this year, Tide announced it will create over 1,000 jobs in India in the next five years. These positions will be across a wide variety of roles, including product development, software development, marketing, risk and compliance, and member support.
WeWork India announces company-wide 10-day extended Diwali break
Flexible workspaces operator WeWork has announced a company-wide 10-day extended break for its employees during Diwali.
The company has introduced various people initiatives to enhance its employee experience and overall company culture. This surprise holiday break was announced to help employees celebrate the festival of lights with their family and loved ones and enjoy some much-needed downtime, WeWork said in a statement.
MakeMyTrip partners with travel booking app Hopper
Online travel company MakeMyTrip has entered into a partnership with travel booking app Hopper.
Through this partnership, MakeMyTrip aims to further enhance the flight booking experience by boosting its recently launched Price Lock feature. Hopper's Price Freeze technology will power MakeMyTrip’s recently launched Price Lock feature, enabling customers to lock flight fares up to seven days while they are in the process of firming up their travel plans, the company said in a statement.
With the addition of Hopper’s predictive algorithms and AI-enabled pricing tools, MakeMyTrip will be able to protect travellers against airfare volatility. Hopper is powering this partnership as part of its B2B initiative, Hopper Cloud, the company added.
Facebook to change rules on attacking public figures on its platforms
Facebook will now count activists and journalists as ‘involuntary’ public figures and so increase protections against harassment and bullying targeted at these groups, its global safety chief told Reuters.
The social media company is changing its approach on the harassment of journalists and "human rights defenders," who it says are in the public eye due to their work rather than their public personas.
Facebook's Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis said the company was also expanding the types of attacks that it would not allow on public figures on its sites, as part of an effort to reduce attacks disproportionately faced by women, people of colour and the LGBTQ community.
Facebook will no longer allow severe and unwanted sexualising content, derogatory sexualised photoshopped images or drawings or direct negative attacks on a person's appearance, for example, in comments on a public figure's profile.
Facebook is under wide-ranging scrutiny from global lawmakers and regulators over its content moderation practices and harms linked to its platforms, with internal documents leaked by a whistleblower forming the basis for a US Senate hearing last week.
Irish regulator proposes 36-mn euro Facebook privacy fine
Ireland's Data Protection Commission (DPC) has proposed fining Facebook up to 36 million euros ($42 million) in one of more than a dozen probes it has opened into the social media giant, according to Reuters.
Under European Union 2018 data protection rules, the DPC must now share the preliminary ruling with all concerned EU supervisory authorities and consider their views before making a final verdict.
The complaint, lodged by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems, concerned the lawfulness of Facebook's processing of personal data, specifically around its terms of service.
The DPC proposed a fine of 28-36 million euros for Facebook's failure to provide sufficient information, according to the draft decision, published by Schrems' digital rights group NOYB.
US Senator asks Facebook CEO to retain documents linked to testimony
US Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell has called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to preserve all documents related to a testimony last week from company whistleblower Frances Haugen, as per Reuters.
She asked Facebook to preserve and retain internal Facebook research referenced by Haugen and Facebook’s evaluation of the research; ranking or composition systems; experiments or recommendations to change those ranking systems and the impact of Facebook’s platforms on children and teenagers under the age of 18.
In response, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said the company has "absolutely no commercial incentive, no moral incentive, no company-wide incentive to do anything other than to try to give the maximum number of people as much of a positive experience as possible on Facebook."
US becomes largest Bitcoin mining centre after China crackdown
The United States has overtaken China to account for the largest share of the world's Bitcoin mining, data published by Britain's Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance showed.
The figures demonstrate the impact of a crackdown on Bitcoin trading and mining launched by China's State Council, or Cabinet, in late May, which devastated the industry and caused miners to shut up shop or move overseas.
As a result, the United States now accounts for the largest share of mining, some 35.4 percent of the global hash rate as of the end of August, followed by Kazakhstan and Russia, the data showed.
China's share of the power of computers connected to the global Bitcoin network, known as the ‘hash rate,’ had fallen to zero by July from 44 percent in May, and as much as 75 percent in 2019, the data showed.
Crypto analytics firm Elliptic raises $60 mn from SoftBank & others
Cryptocurrency analytics firm Elliptic said on October 11 it had raised $60 million from investors, including SoftBank and Wells Fargo Strategic Capital, Reuters reported.
London-based Elliptic said the Series C round was led by Evolution Equity, with the SoftBank Vision Fund 2 investing for the first time. The other new investors include Japan's SBI Group, Elliptic said in a statement, without disclosing its valuation.
It plans to invest in its global network and team, as well as continuing research and development, the company said.
Binance unit launches $1-bn fund to fast-track blockchain tech adoption
Binance Smart Chain, a unit of crypto exchange Binance, said it had launched a $1-billion fund to help fast-track adoption of digital assets and blockchain technology.
A total of $500 million from the fund will be reserved for investments to help grow decentralised computing, gaming, metaverse, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and blockchain-based financial services, according to Reuters.
Of the remainder, $300 million will be earmarked for a builder programme and $100 million each for liquidity incentives and talent development.
Apple asks judge to pause Epic Games antitrust orders as it appeals ruling
Apple has asked a US federal judge to put on hold orders that could require it to change some of its App Store practices and said that it is also appealing the ruling in an antitrust case brought by ‘Fortnite’ creator Epic Games, according to Reuters.
US district Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in September largely ruled in Apple's favour after a weeks-long trial. But she did require one key concession: Apple starting December 9 could no longer prohibit app developers from including buttons or links in their apps that direct users to means of paying beside Apple's in-app payment system, which charges a commission to developers.
Apple said in its filing that complying with the order could cause it and consumers harm. It said it expects to win an appeal challenging the order and that it wants the legal process, which could last about a year, to play out first.
Epic is separately appealing the judge's finding that Apple has not violated the antitrust law through its payment rules.
Apple likely to cut iPhone 13 production due to chip crunch: Report
Apple is likely to slash production of its iPhone 13 by as many as 10 million units due to the global chip shortage, Bloomberg News reported.
The company was expected to produce 90 million units of the new iPhone models by the end of this year. The report said Apple told its manufacturers that the number of units would be lower because chip suppliers, including Broadcom and Texas Instruments, are struggling to deliver components, the report added.
The chip crunch has put immense pressure on industries from automobiles to electronics, leading many automakers to temporarily suspend production.
Carl Pei's Nothing raises $50 mn, partners with Qualcomm
Technology company Nothing, founded by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, has raised $50 million from strategic and private investors, and has partnered with US chipmaker Qualcomm.
The company launched its first device -- a transparent earbud that comes with active noise cancellation and a retail price of $99 -- in August and sold more than 100,000 of those in the first two months.
A tie-up with Qualcomm, whose chips are present in a range of devices from cars to phones, would help Nothing to build future products.
Twitter debuts new ad features, revamped algorithm ahead of e-commerce push
Twitter has rolled out new ad features and revamped the algorithm that decides which ads users see, as part of an effort to lay the groundwork to launch future e-commerce features, the social networking company told Reuters.
The new features come as Twitter is pushing to grow its performance advertising business, a strategy that aims to quickly generate sales, and constituted just 15 percent of Twitter's business last year. The effort could help Twitter reach its goal of doubling annual revenue by 2023.
The San Francisco-based company is positioning itself to eventually allow brands to sell products through the service by first improving on its ability to show users relevant ads and increasing the likelihood that they will click the ad.
Twitter added that it is working on new tools to let companies run ads to find customers who are more likely to make in-app purchases.
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