JD.com’s drones take flight to Japan in partnership with Rakuten

Chinese e-commerce company JD.com is taking its drone delivery system to Japan.

Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce giant, just announced a partnership with JD that will see its drones and unmanned vehicles become a part of Rakuten’s own unmanned delivery service efforts.

JD has been operating drones in its native China for a number of years, and it has wider expansion plans having recently gained a regional-level operating license. Its other human-less tech includes self-operating trucks, automated warehouses and unmanned stores, and it recently picked Indonesia for its first overseas drone pilot.

Rakuten has been offering drone delivery in Japan since 2016 and unmanned vehicle trials since 2018. It said that working with JD — which claims to have racked up 400,000 minutes of delivery flight time — will “accelerate the development and commercialization” of its human-free last mile delivery efforts.

JD.com’s drones take flight to Japan in partnership with Rakuten

Chinese e-commerce company JD.com is taking its drone delivery system to Japan.

Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce giant, just announced a partnership with JD that will see its drones and unmanned vehicles become a part of Rakuten’s own unmanned delivery service efforts.

JD has been operating drones in its native China for a number of years, and it has wider expansion plans having recently gained a regional-level operating license. Its other human-less tech includes self-operating trucks, automated warehouses and unmanned stores, and it recently picked Indonesia for its first overseas drone pilot.

Rakuten has been offering drone delivery in Japan since 2016 and unmanned vehicle trials since 2018. It said that working with JD — which claims to have racked up 400,000 minutes of delivery flight time — will “accelerate the development and commercialization” of its human-free last mile delivery efforts.

Clutter confirms SoftBank-led $200M investment for its on-demand storage service

There’s plenty of speculation right now around apparently disgruntled investors in SoftBank’s Vision Fund, but the drum continues to beat and the checks continue to be written. The latest deal for the $100 billion mega-fund is Clutter, an on-demand storage company that pulled in $200 million in new financing for growth.

Eagled-eyed viewers will recall that TechCrunch broke news of an impending SoftBank-led round of that size back in January, and now it is official.

The startup is one of a number of companies that provide storage options for consumers who don’t want to part with items but equally don’t have the capacity to keep it where they live. The service is based around an app that is used to summon Clutter staff to pack up, take away, store and (later) return possessions, but it can also be used for regular house moving, too. Competitors in the space include MakeSpaceOmniTroveLivible, and Closetbox.

Joining SoftBank in the deal are existing Clutter investors Sequoia, Atomico, GV, Fifth Wall and Four Rivers who fronted the company’s last round, a $64 million raise nearly two years ago. This new capital means that Clutter has raised $297 million from investors to date.

There’s no confirmation of a valuation for the startup, but our well-placed sources previously told us that this round would value Clutter at between $400 million and $500 million. One thing that is confirmed, however, is that SoftBank’s Justin Wilson will join the board.

The money will go towards expansion in the U.S. as Clutter explained in an announcement, but there are hints that it harbors overseas ambitions, too:

This funding will accelerate the company’s expansion into new markets in 2019, including Philadelphia, Portland and Sacramento. It’s also doubling down in its existing markets in the greater areas of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, San Diego, Orange County and northern New Jersey, as it marches toward a goal of operating in America’s largest 50 cities and expanding internationally.

“We believe that storage is a vast and traditional market with huge potential for disruption, and Clutter’s technology and superior customer proposition will help facilitate future growth in expanding urban communities where space is at a premium,” said SoftBank’s Wilson in a statement.

On-demand logistics startup Lalamove raises $300M for Asia growth and becomes a unicorn

Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based on-demand logistics startup, has closed a $300 million Series D round as it seeks expansion across Asia. In doing so, the company has officially entered the unicorn club.

Founded in 2013 by Stanford graduate Shing Chow, Lalamove provides logistics and delivery services in a similar style to ride-hailing apps like Uber but it is primarily focused on business and corporate customers. That gives it more favorable economics and a more loyal customer base than its consumer-focused peers, who face discount wars to woo fickle consumers.

This new round is split into two, Lalamove said, with Hillhouse Capital leading the ‘D1’ tranche and Sequoia China heading up the ‘D2’ portion. The company didn’t reveal the size of the two pieces of the round. Other investors that took part included new backers Eastern Bell Venture Capital and PV Capital and returning investors ShunWei Capital — the firm founded by Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun — Xiang He Capital and MindWorks Ventures .

The deal takes Lalamove to over $460 million raised to date, and it follows a $100 million Series C that closed in late 2017. Lalamove isn’t disclosing a valuation but Blake Larson, the company’s head of international, told TechCrunch that it has been “past unicorn mark for quite some time [but] we just don’t talk about it.” That figures given the size of the round and the fact that Lalamove was just shy of the $1 billion mark for that Series C.

The Lalamove business is anchored in China where it covers over 130 cities with a network of over two million drivers covering vans, cars and motorbikes.

Beyond China, Lalamove is present in its native Hong Kong — where Uber once briefly tried a similar service — Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, where it works with popular chat app Line. All told, it covers 11 cities outside of China and this new capital will go towards expanding that figure with additional city launches in Southeast Asia and entry to India.

“If we do this well, then we are in countries that are more than half the world’s population,” Larsen said in an interview, although he didn’t rule out the potential for Lalamove to expand beyond Asia in the future.

There are also plans to grow the business in mainland China in terms of both geography and new services. Already, Lalamove has begun to offer driver services, starting with financing packages to help drivers with vehicle purchasing, and it is developing dedicated corporate offerings, too.

Lalamove CEO Shing Chow started Lalamove in late 2013, his past roles have included time with Bain & Company, a number of startup ventures — including a Hong Kong-based skin center — and a stint as a professional poker player

Overall, the business claims to have registered 3 million drivers to date and served more than 28 million users across all cities. With its headquarters in Hong Kong, it employs some 4,000 people across its business.

Rival GoGoVan exited through a merger with China-based 58 Suyun in 2017, at a claimed valuation of $1 billion, but Lalamove has remained independent and stuck to its guns. Larson said that already it is profitable in “a significant amount” of cities and typically, he said, the blueprint is to reach profitability within two years of opening a new location.

“The focus has always been on sustainable growth and we’re very strong on the cash flow front,” the former Rocket Internet executive added.

Larson and Lalamove have been very forthcoming in their desire to go public in Hong Kong, noting so publicly as early as 2017 at a TechCrunch China event in Shenzhen. That desire is still evident — “we’re very proud to be from Hong Kong and Hong Kong would be a good place for an IPO,” Larson said this week — but still the company said that it has no particular plan on the cards, despite its consumer-focused peers Uber and Lyft lining up IPOs in the U.S. this year.

“We don’t spend maybe even five minutes a year talking about it,” Larsen told TechCrunch. “The discussion is really ‘Let’s make sure we’re IPO ready’ because sometimes there are macroeconomic conditions you can’t control.”

Clearly, investors are bullish and it is notable that Lalamove’s new round comes at a time when many Chinese companies are downsizing their staff, with the likes of Didi, Meituan and JD.com announcing cuts and refocusing strategies in recent weeks.

“[Lalamove CEO and founder] Shing is a role model for Hong Kong’s new generation of innovative entrepreneurs,” said Sequoia China founder and managing partner Neil Shen. “Raised in Hong Kong and educated at Stanford University, Shing returned and plunged himself in the entrepreneurial wave of ‘Internet Plus,’ becoming a figure of entrepreneurial success.”

Xiaomi’s Mi 9 includes a triple lens rear camera and wireless charging

Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry’s annual shindig, is next week but Xiaomi can’t wait reveal its newest top-end phone. The Chinese company instead picked today to unveil the Mi 9.

Once again Xiaomi’s design ethic closely resembles Apple’s iPhone with a minimal bezel and notch-like front-facing camera but Xiaomi has gone hard on photography with a triple lens camera.

There are two models available with the regular Mi 9 priced from RMB 2999, or $445, and the Mi 9SE priced from RMB 1999, or $300. A premium model, the Transparent Edition, includes beefed-up specs for RMB 2299, $342.

The phone runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipset and the headline feature, or at least the part that Xiaomi is shouting about most, is the triple lens camera array the back of the device. That trio combines a 48-megapixel main camera with a 16-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera and a 12-megapixel telephoto camera, Xiaomi said. The benefits of that lineup is improved wide-angle shots, better quality close-up photography and performance in low-light conditions, according to the company.

The premium Mi 9 model, the Transparent Edition, sports 12GB of RAM and 256GB internal storage and features a transparent back cover

There’s also a ‘supermoon’ mode for taking shots of the moon and presumably other night sky images, while Xiaomi touts an improved night mode and, on the video side, 960fps capture and advanced motion tracking. We haven’t had the chance to test these out, which is worth noting at this point.

Xiaomi also talked up the battery features of the Mi 9, which ships with an impressive 3300mAh battery that features wireless charging support and Qi EPP certification meaning it will work with third-party charging mats. Xiaomi claims that the Mi 9 can charge to 70 percent in 30 minutes, and reach 100 percent in an hour using 27W wired charging.

Alongside the Mi 9, it unveiled its third three wireless charging products — a charging pad (RMB 99, $15), a car charger (RMB 169, $25) and a 10,000mAh wireless power bank (RMB 149, $22.)

Xiaomi, as ever, offers a range of different options for customers as follows:

  • Mi 9 with 6GB and 128GB for RMB 2999, $445
  • Mi 9 with 8GB and 128GB for RMB 3299, $490
  • Mi 9 with 12GB and 256GB for RMB 3999, $595
  • Mi 9SE with 6GB and 128GB for RMB 1999, $300
  • Mi 9SE with 6GB and 128GB for RMB 2299, $342 (Transparent Edition)

Notably, the Mi 9 goes on sale February 26 — pre-orders open this evening — with the SE version arriving on March 1. As expected, the launch market is China but you can imagine that India — where Xiaomi is among the top players — and other global launches will follow.

Xiaomi said it plans to announce more products on Sunday, the eve of Mobile World Congress. It recently teased a foldable phone so it’ll be interesting to see if it will follow suit and join Samsung, which had its first foldable phone outed by a leak.

 

Coinbase buys blockchain intelligence startup to boost security and new asset discovery

Coinbase, the world’s most valuable crypto company, is gearing up to add more cryptocurrencies to its exchange thanks to its latest acquisition.

We already know the firm wants to a glut of new crypto assets, but today it announced it has snapped up blockchain intelligence startup Neutrino in an undisclosed deal that seemed destined to help further that goal.

Based in Italy, Neutrino helps map blockchain networks, and in particular crypto token transactions, to pull in information and insight. With the rise of thefts, that includes a major focus on services for law enforcement agencies to track stolen digital assets while it also includes tracking ransomware and analyzing ‘darknets.’ Other solutions include tracking services for investment and finance companies to help find rising tokens and assets, an area Coinbase could clearly capitalize on as it goes after security token offerings.

The company and its eight staff will relocate to Coinbase’s London office from where they will continue to service clients whilst becoming part of the Coinbase business. Initially, the startup’s primary remit will be security and theft-prevention but further down the line its smarts and technology will put to discovering and analyzing new asset listings for Coinbase.

“By analyzing data on public blockchains, Neutrino will help us prevent theft of funds from peoples’ accounts, investigate ransomware attacks, and identify bad actors. It will also help us bring more cryptocurrencies and features to more people while helping ensure compliance with local laws and regulations,” Coinbase’s engineering director Varun Srinivasan wrote in a brief blog post announcing the deal.

Srinivasan added that Neutrino’s technology is “the best we’ve encountered in this space.”

Coinbase has raised more than $500 million from investors, including its most recent $300 million Series E round in October that gave it a valuation of $8 billion. The purchase of Neutrino is its eleventh acquisition to date, according to Crunchbase. Most of those deals have tended to be talent-led deals as Coinbase seeks to suck up more expertise and engineering skills to support its growing business.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal invests $92M in Ola

The money is starting to flow from India’s largest startup exit. Ola has added a major name to its ongoing financing round after it confirmed that Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal has invested 650 crore INR (around $92 million) into the Indian ride-hailing business.

The deal rumored in January when Paper.vc, an intelligence service that sifts through company filings in India, noticed that Bansal had committed to investing 150 crore. Today, eight-year-old Ola not only confirmed the pairing, but it revealed that the actual size of Bansal’s investment is significantly higher. It represents his most prominent and largest investment to date, and his first major deal since he left Flipkart following its sale to Walmart for $16 billion last year.

An Ola spokesperson confirmed that Bansal will not take an advisory role nor will he be involved in operations.

The investment is part of an ongoing Series J round of financing that is likely to exceed $1 billion and would value Ola, which competes fiercely with Uber in India, at around $6 billion. Bansal’s commitment comes a month after existing investor Steadview Capital put $75 million towards the round.

Here’s what Bansal — who started Flipkart with co-founder Binny Bansal in 2007 — had to say on the deal:

Ola is one of India’s most promising consumer businesses, that is creating deep impact and lasting value for the ecosystem. On one hand, they have emerged as a global force in the mobility space and on the other, they continue to build deeper for various needs of a billion Indians through their platform, becoming a trusted household name today.

I have known Bhavish as an entrepreneur and as a friend over these years and I have great respect for what he and the team at Ola have built in just 8 years! I am personally thrilled to be part of the Ola journey and I look forward to contributing to their success.

Aggarwal, Ola’s CEO, in turn, lauded Bansal as “an icon of entrepreneurship.”

“His investment is a huge encouragement for all of us at Ola and our mission to serve a billion people,” he said in a statement. “I personally look forward to learning from Sachin’s journey, his mentorship and guidance, as we look to build one of the most impactful global businesses out of India.”

Ola is locked in a dog fight with Uber, which has made India its highest priority market outside of the U.S. Uber started slowly in India, but it is pushing hard in the country having opened a dedicated local R&D center and hired a country management team that operates outside of the rest of its Asia Pacific business.

To battle its U.S. rival, Ola has expanded nationwide to cover over 100 cities and towns. It has also expanded beyond just cars, developed its own mobile money service, invested in other startups and pushed other strategies to appeal to local customers.

Flipkart’s exit money may be moving back into the ecosystem, but the company is running without the two men who founded it. Sachin Bansal left around the time of the deal while Binny Bansal (the two are not related) resigned following an incident of “serious personal misconduct” just months after the Walmart acquisition was finalized.

Binny has set up a fund — expect to see more Walmart capital flowing back into Indian startups — but his newest project is a venture aimed at helping India’s most promising founders to scale their businesses.

Australia’s government and political parties hit by cyber attack from ‘sophisticated state actor’

The Australia government suffered a cyber attack that it suspects is the work of a “sophisticated state actor,” according to the country’s Prime Minister.

PM Scott Morrison said today the computer network of the country’s parliament, and those belonging to Liberal, Labor and Nationals parties, were targeted by an attack which took place a few weeks ago, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. Australia is months away federal elections which will take place in May.

Morrison said there is “no evidence of any electoral interference.”

“We have put in place a number of measures to ensure the integrity of our electoral system,” he said, adding that security services “acted decisively to confront it.”

There is apparently no indication that data was accessed following the attack.

Where exactly it originated from remains unclear.

Sources told SMH that the sophistication of the attack was “unprecedented,” but nobody in the government is naming suspects. Reportedly, the incident sports “the digital fingerprints of China” but there remains the possibility that the attack was framed to look like it originated from China.

The incident recalls the hacking of the Democrat Party around the U.S. Presidential election in 2016. The attackers, who are widely suspected to be linked to the Russian government, accessed are to have accessed 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments from DNC email accounts, John Podesta, who was the campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton.

Australia itself has a history of parliamentary hacks. The national government was attacked in 2015 by a “foreign government” (later named as China) that reportedly used computers at the Bureau of Meteorology as its entry point. The incident is said to have given China the records of 14 million federal employees.

Razer is closing its game store after less than a year

Razer is one of the dominant brands in gaming when it comes to buying equipment to play, but one of its biggest efforts to own a larger slice of digital spending hasn’t gone according to plan. After less than a year, the company announced that it will close its digital game store at the end of this month “as part of realignment plans.”

The Razer Game Store launched worldwide in April 2018 with the aim of taking a slice of a game sales business that is dominated by Steam. Razer’s offering tied into its gamer credit (virtual currency) strategy to incentivize its customers to buy hardware and digital content with the promise of discounts. The company didn’t comment on why the store is closing, but you’d imagine that it didn’t go as well as Razer had hoped.

It sure takes a lot to bite into digital game sales, but the rewards are potentially lucrative.

Steam made $4.7 billion in 2017 (we don’t yet know its total for 2018) and Epic Games, buoyed by the runaway success of Fortnite, banked a $3 billion profit last year across its entire business, sources previously told TechCrunch.

Amazon-owned Twitch — which dominates the live-streaming space — has its own store, while Epic launched a very competitive offering at end of 2018. The Epic Games Store, though, is fairly sparsely populated at this point. It is a long-term project, but the fact that even a company of the size and influence of Epic needs time goes to show the struggle that any new entrant will face.

The Razer Game Store will close down on February 28

The Razer Game Store will close its doors at 1am PST February 28. All purchased games will continue to work and pre-ordered titles will ship as planned, according to Razer. Discount vouchers must be used before that date, however.

In a Q&A accompanying the announcement, Razer said it would “continue bringing games to gamers via other services.”

“We will be investing in other ways to deliver great content and introduce game promotions through Razer Gold, our virtual credits system,” the company said, perhaps hinting at tie-ins with other game stores in the future.

Razer went public with an IPO in Hong Kong in 2017.

Samsung is preparing to launch a sports smartwatch and AirPods-like earbuds

Samsung’s newest product launch happens next week, but already the Korean tech giant has revealed its entire upcoming range of wearable devices that will seemingly be unveiled alongside the Galaxy S10.

That’s because the company’s Galaxy Wearable’s app was uploaded today with support for a range of unreleased products which include wireless earbuds, a sports-focused smartwatch, and a new fitness band.

First reported by The Verge — and originally noticed by @SamCentralTech on Twitter — the new wearables include a Galaxy Sport smartwatch, fitness bands Galaxy Fit and Galaxy Fit e, Galaxy Buds, Samsung’s take on Apple’s AirPods. The devices have all been teased in various leaks in recent weeks but this confirmation from the Samsung app, deliberate or inadvertent, appears to all but confirm their impending arrival.

That said, we really can’t tell too much about the respective devices based on the app, which just shows basic renders of each device.

Still, that might just be enough of a tease to general a little more interest in what promises to be Samsung’s biggest consumer launch event of the year.

The Samsung unveiling comes days before Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry’s biggest event of the year, kicks off — so expect to see new product launches coming thick and fast over the coming weeks.