TaskRabbit CEO posts statement as its app returns following a cybersecurity breach

After taking them down to investigate what it called a “cybersecurity incident,” TaskRabbit’s website and app are back online. The Ikea-owned platform for on-demand labor also posted an update from its chief executive officer Stacy Brown-Philpot about the incident.

“While our investigation is ongoing, preliminary evidence shows that an unauthorized user gained access to our systems. As a result, certain personally identifiable information may have been compromised,” she wrote.

While Brown-Philpot said that an outside forensics team is currently working to identify what information was compromised and will notify all affected users, she urged the platform’s customers and providers, called “taskers,” to monitor online accounts for suspicious activity and change passwords if they used the same login information on other services.

TaskRabbit will add several new security measures because of the incident. Brown-Philpot said they are working on ways to make their login process more secure, reduce the amount of data retained about customers and taskers and “enhance overall network cyber threat detection technology.”

The company will continue posting updates to a dedicated page on its website, which also includes a FAQ for taskers who were unable to complete jobs while the app was offline. TaskRabbit says people who were forced to reschedule or cancel tasks will be compensated.

TaskRabbit’s app is offline while it investigates a “cybersecurity incident”

TaskRabbit, the on-demand errand service acquired by IKEA last year, announced today that has taken its website and app offline while investigating a “cybersecurity incident.” The company also said that people who use the same password on TaskRabbit as for other services should change them immediately as a precaution.

“We understand how important your personal information is and are working with an outside cybersecurity firm and law enforcement to determine the specifics,” the company said in an announcement posted to their social media profiles.

In response to questions on Twitter, TaskRabbit said tasks that can’t be completed while the app and website are down will be rescheduled.

IKEA bought TaskRabbit for an undisclosed amount last September, but the service continues to operate independently, letting people request “taskers” for help ranging from packing for a move to assembling flat-pack furniture.

TechCrunch has emailed TaskRabbit for more details about the incident.

Ola will add 10,000 electric rickshaws to its India fleet over the next year

Ola announced today that it will add 10,000 electric auto-rickshaws to its fleet in India over the next 12 months. The program, called “Mission: Electric,” is part of its ambitious plan to put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2021. The company launched a trial EV program last year in the city of Nagpur, but has reportedly run into some recent road bumps.

Three-wheel rickshaws are a popular way of making quick trips in many cities and can be hailed through Ola’s app; the company’s electric vehicle trial program in Nagpur, which started in May 2017, already includes rickshaws. As part of “Mission: Electric,” Ola said it will add 10,000 new electric rickshaws across three additional cities this year.

To enable drivers to switch to EVs, Ola’s program also includes infrastructure like rooftop solar panels and charging stations. Last month, however, Factor Daily reported that Ola is scaling back its electric vehicle plans after India’s government appeared to become less enthusiastic about creating an explicit EV policy, despite its previously stated goal of making all new vehicles electric by 2030.

Around the same time, Reuters reported that many Ola drivers participating in its Nagpur trial wanted to switch back to fuel-powered cars because of long waiting times at charging stations and higher operating costs.

An Ola representative told TechCrunch that the company has installed charging dockets at the homes of some drivers so they can save time by swapping out batteries, stating that “with new technologies like battery swapping, the charging experience has been significantly improved.” Ola is currently in discussions with several state and municipal governments about where to launch its electric rickshaw program and is “willing to work with any city committed to sustainable mobility solutions.”

“We have clocked more than four million [electric] kilometers and have learned the ins and outs of vehicles, capabilities and applications. We have learned real-world operating challenges and cost implications of chargers, batteries and solars,” she added. “Deployment of electric vehicles would require support of like-minded partners.”

Tencent and education startup Age of Learning bring popular English-learning app ABCmouse to China

Tencent is teaming up with Los Angeles-based education company Age of Learning to launch an English education program for kids in China. ABCmouse, Age of Learning’s flagship product, has been localized and will be available as a website and an iOS and Android app in China, with Tencent handling product development, marketing, sales and customer support.

The new partnership extends Tencent’s involvement in ed-tech, which already includes a strategic investment in VIPKID, an online video tutoring platform that connects Chinese kids with English teachers and competes with QKids and Dada ABC. ABCmouse, on the other hand, uses videos, books and online activities like games, songs and stories to help kids study English.

The Chinese version of ABCmouse includes integration with Tencent’s ubiqutioius messenger and online services platform WeChat, which now has more than one billion users, and its instant messaging service QQ, with 783 million monthly active users. This makes it easier for parents to sign up and pay for ABCmouse, because they can use their WeChat or QQ account and payment information. It also allows families to share kids’ English-learning progress on their news feeds or in chats. For example, Chen says parents can send video or audio recordings of their children practicing English to grandparents, who can then buy gift subscriptions with one click.

Though you probably haven’t heard of it unless you have young kids or work with elementary school-age children, Age of Learning has built a significant presence in online education since it was founded in 2007, thanks mainly to the popularity of ABCmouse in schools, public libraries and Head Start programs. Two years ago, Age of Learning hit unicorn status after raising $150 million at a $1 billion valuation from Iconiq Capital.

Jerry Chen, Age of Learning’s president of Greater China, says there are more than 110 million kids between the ages of three to eight in China and the online English language learning market there is “a several billion dollar market that’s growing rapidly.” He points to a recent study by Chinese research agency Yiou Intelligence that says total spending on online English learning programs for children will be 29.41 billion RMB, or about $4.67 billion, this year, and is projected to reach 79.17 billion, or $12.6 billion, by 2022.

The localization of ABCmouse will extend to the design of its eponymous cartoon rodent, who has a more stylized appearance in China. Lessons include animations featuring an English teacher and students in an international school classroom and begin with listening comprehension and speaking before moving onto phonics, reading and writing. Tencent-Age of Learning products will also include speech recognition tools to help kids hone their English pronunciation.

In an email, Jason Chen, Tencent’s general manager of online education, said that the company “reviewed several companies through an extensive research process, and it became clear that ABCmouse had the most engaging and effective online English self-learning curriculum and content for children. Age of Learning puts learning first, and that commitment to educational excellence made them a perfect fit for our online English language learning business.”


Coinbase unveils fund for early-stage cryptocurrency startups

Coinbase has launched a new fund called Coinbase Ventures to invest in early-stage cryptocurrency and blockchain startups. In a blog post, Coinbase head of corporate and business development Emilie Choi said that the fund’s goal is to strengthen the sector.

“At least in the beginning, our goal is simply helping the most compelling companies in the space flourish,” she wrote. “This means we don’t have the strategic requirement of formalizing partner relationships with such companies, as some corporate venture programs do. Our focus is on building strong relationships and helping spur the development of the ecosystem.”

This includes investing in companies that may potentially compete with Coinbase because “it’s in everyone’s interest to see the ecosystem innovate,” Choi added. She also said the fund will keep an eye on founders who have worked for Coinbase and “enthusiastically invest in ideas from our own alumni network.”

One potential benefit of helping other cryptocurrency and blockchain companies grow is lending more stability to the sector, which is currently under scrutiny by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and considered risky by many investors. In an interview on CNBC’s “Fast Money,” Coinbase chief operating officer Asiff Hirji said that as more mature investors take an interest in cryptocurrency, that will “dampen volatility to some extent.”

There’s been “tremendous take up on the fund, well beyond anything we were expecting,” he added and that it “confirmed what we thought, that there is actually more demand on the investor side than on the trader side.” While Coinbase doesn’t have current plans to add more cryptocurrencies to its exchange, investing in promising startups will help it find promising tokens, Hirji said.

Razer’s gaming ecosystem gets bigger with the launch of its online game store

Razer, known mainly for gaming laptops and peripherals, expanded its ecosystem today with the launch of Razer Game Store, an online game distribution platform. Razer Game Store will compete with Steam and Amazon, but wants to grab the attention of gamers with perks like the chance to earn more credits in Razer’s zSilver loyalty program, plus exclusive discounts on games and Razer hardware.

Razer Game Store is available worldwide, with localized content, payment methods and customer support for the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France. Other countries get access through a global storefront. Games come from Razer’s partners (which include developers Ubisoft, Bethesda, Bandai Namco, Deep Silver and Rockstar) and, like titles purchased through other online stores such as Amazon, Green Man Gaming or Humble Bundle, are delivered via Steam or Uplay product keys.

In the company’s announcement, Razer co-founder and chief executive officer Min-Liang Tan said “As gamers, we know the importance of a good deal and the Razer Game Store delivers that to everyone. We have been delighting gamers with our high-performing peripherals, laptops and software, and we’re now also able to provide the content itself that fuels their passion.”

Launched in 2005 to build gaming peripherals like mouses and keyboards, Razer was backed by investors including Horizons Ventures, Accel Partners and Intel Capital before raising $529 million in its debut on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange last November. The company’s other recent products include the gaming-focused Razer Phone, launched after it acquired smartphone maker Nextbit.

Walmart reportedly in talks to acquire prescription delivery service PillPack

Walmart is in discussions to acquire medication delivery service PillPack for “under $1 billion,” reports CNBC. CNBC’s sources said the deal isn’t final yet, but talks have been going on for months and Amazon was also a potential suitor for the startup, which delivers medications to tens of thousands of customers in the United States.

Launched in 2013, PillPack has raised $118 million in funding from investors including Accel Partners, Atlas Venture and CRV. PillPack doesn’t just fill prescriptions: it also helps patients manage their medications by sorting pills into packets for individual doses, automatically delivering refills to homes and providing 24/7 customer service, all major selling points for seniors and people with multiple conditions. Last year, PillPack also unveiled prescription management software called PharmacyOS, which it described as “the first backend pharmacy system designed specifically for customers with complex medication regimes.”

Last November, co-founder and chief executive officer T.J. Parker, who trained as a pharmacist, said PillPack would do over $100 million revenue in 2017. It has a loyal customer base, who helped PillPack win a public relations battle in 2016 with Express Scripts, the country’s largest pharmacy-benefits manager. After Express Scripts cut off its partnership with PillPack, claiming that the company needed to be licensed as a mail-order operation instead of a retail pharmacy, PillPack said this would force it stop delivering to a third of its customers. It also accused Express Scripts, which runs its own home delivery service, of trying to block competition. Online outcry by customers, driven by a PillPack campaign, forced Express Scripts to back down.

Both Walmart and PillPack declined to comment on a potential acquisition to CNBC.

Amazon is said to be working on its own prescription delivery service, after launching a line of over-the-counter health products like allergy treatments. If its pharmacy business comes to fruition, that means Amazon will compete even more closely with Walmart, putting increasing pressure on the big-box store chain.

Walmart is also reportedly in talks to acquire health insurer Humana.

COSMIQ maker Deepblu launches a booking platform it calls the “Airbnb of diving”

After it took James Tsuei a month of research and emails to plan a dive in Indonesia, he decided it was time for his startup, Deepblu, to launch a booking platform for divers. Planet Deepblu bills itself as “the Airbnb for diving” and is the latest piece of the diving ecosystem the Taipei-based startup is building.

Based in Taipei and backed by Silverlink Capital, Deepblu was founded in 2015 to bring resources for divers into the mobile, cloud-based era. Its products included a Bluetooth-enabled dive computer called COSMIQ and a social network where users share dive logs. Dive computers are small devices, often worn like wristwatches, that let divers track and calculate important information, such as when they need to take a decompression stop. COSMIQ automates a lot of the process and enables divers to wirelessly sync dive logs to Deepblu’s social network, which the startup claims now has more than 40,000 members, 500 dive shops and 300,000 dive logs.

Deepblu drew on its community for Planet Deepblu, integrating their dive logs, reviews, videos and photos to help users plan diving trips. There are already several dive booking sites out there, but Tsuei, Deepblu’s co-founder and chief executive officer, says they operate more like Agoda or Booking.com, while Planet Deepblu’s Airbnb-like approach means divers can use it to communicate directly with dive operators instead of relying on agencies.

Tsuei claims this can save them up to 25% on the total cost of a trip. By serving as a centralized database for dive planning, Planet Deepblu also wants to save its users time.

Part of Deepblu’s mission is to give scuba diving the same visibility and cultural prominence as golfing by making it more accessible to beginners as well as advanced divers. Though it’s a niche market, diving has a lot of financial potential. Tsuei says there are currently about 6 to 8 million active divers, or people who make three or more diving sessions each year, and dive trips are big investments. Divers spend an average of $1,000 on equipment and certification, and then even more money on dive shops (businesses run by expert divers who provide training and tours), flights and accommodation. For passionate divers, it’s more than just a hobby.

Deepblu CEO James Tsuei

“It’s like golfing,” says Tsuei. “There’s a higher barrier to entry because it takes time and money, but it also becomes part of your lifestyle.” Out of the 40,000 members of Deepblu’s social network, the company says about 40% have uploaded their own dive logs, which is a very high level of engagement for any online community (Deepblu also syncs with Bluetooth-enabled dive computers from major diving gear brands like Scubapro and Tusa or lets members enter data manually).

For service providers, one of Planet Deepblu’s value propositions is reaching younger divers. Although scuba divers are passionate about what they do, Tsuei says that in many key markets, including the Caribbean, divers are aging into their sixties, but their kids aren’t following them into the sport. Instead, younger people are turning to surfing and extreme sports. Emerging markets like China and Southeast Asia, however, are seeing an increase in young divers.

Planet Deepblu can help dive shops around the world reach them (about 60% of its users come from in the United States or Taiwan, but 20% are based in China and the rest are mainly in Korea, Southeast Asia and Europe). Part of Deepblu’s future plans include creating a “LinkedIn for Divers,” with features like verified profiles for people who upload a copy of their license, which can help freelance professional divers find more clients.

Alibaba to buy all remaining outstanding shares of local delivery service Ele.me

As expected since February, Alibaba will buy all outstanding shares of Ele.me that it doesn’t already own. Best-known for food deliveries, Ele.me claims to be China’s biggest online delivery and local services platform. In an announcement, Alibaba said the deal values Ele.me at $9.5 billion. Alibaba, which first invested in Ele.me two years ago, and its affiliate Ant Small and Micro Financial Services Group currently hold about 43% of the company’s outstanding voting shares.

This is the latest in a string of investments and acquisitions by Alibaba to expand its physical retail presence as part of its so-called “new retail” strategy to combine e-commerce and offline retail. The company’s goal is to make it easier for users to move (and spend money) between brick-and-mortar stores and Alibaba businesses like Tmall and Taobao. For example, they may view products at pop-up stores and then order them on their smartphones for almost-immediate home delivery.

Ele.me, which will continue to operate under its own brand, is at its heart a logistics technology company. Founded in 2008, it utilizes its logistics system to provide services like Fengniao, an express courier for local deliveries. After the deal is finalized, Alibaba said that founder and chief executive officer Zhang Zhuhao (also known as Mark Zhang) will become chairman of Ele.me and special advisor to Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang on its new retail strategy. Wang Lei, currently vice president of Alibaba Group, will take over as Ele.me’s CEO.

In a press release, Zhang said “Under the leadership of its founder and management team, Ele.me has achieved leading market share in China’s online food delivery and local services sector. Our shared belief that New Retail will create more value for customers and merchants has brought us together. Looking forward, Ele.me can leverage Alibaba’s infrastructure in commerce and
find new synergies with Alibaba’s diverse businesses to add further momentum to the New Retail initiative.”

Bloomberg reported at the end of February that Alibaba planned to buy the rest of Ele.me’s shares from its other investors, including Baidu.

The deal deepens Alibaba’s competition with Tencent, in particular its own local services and delivery platform, Meituan Dianping, which was formed by a merger in 2015. Alibaba previously owned shares in Meituan Dianping, thanks to its investment in Meituan, but began offloading them soon after the merger with Dianping.

In a statement, Alibaba said Ele.me complements its affiliate Koubei, a platform that gives restaurants and stores a way to go online and reach more local customers.

“By combining Ele.me’s online home delivery services with Koubei’s consumer acquisition and engagement capability for a range of restaurants and service establishments, Alibaba will be able to offer an integrated experiences to customers both online and offline,” said the company.

SoftBank Group and Saudi Arabia plan to spend $200 billion building the world’s biggest solar power plant

SoftBank Group Corp., known for splashy deals involving billions of dollars (see: its Vision Fund and investments in Uber and Didi), has signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia to build a $200 billion solar power plant. Expected to reach its full capacity of 200 gigawatts by 2030, the development will be the largest of its kind in the world by far.

According to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the Saudi Arabian project is about 100 times larger than the next biggest proposed development, the 2 gigawatt Solar Choice Bulli Creek PV in Australia, which is expected to be completed by 2023.

During an event with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in New York City on Tuesday (pictured above), Son said the project will create 100,000 jobs, triple Saudi Arabia’s electricity generation capacity and save $40 billion in power costs. Saudi Arabia is the largest crude exporter in the world, but the kingdom is currently trying to diversify its economy beyond oil. Last month, the government awarded ACWA Power a $302 million deal to build Saudi Arabia’s first utility-scale renewable energy plant.

After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdowns, clean energy projects became one of Son’s passions, with SoftBank also investing in wind and solar energy projects in Mongolia and the Asia Super Grid, an extremely ambitious renewable transmission energy project spanning several Asian countries.

SoftBank’s other deals in Saudi Arabia include a $93 billion tech investment fund that was announced in May 2017, with backing by the Vision Fund and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.