Facebook purges more ‘bad actors’ in Myanmar but it still won’t commit to a local office

As Facebook continues to grasp the severity of the situation in Myanmar, where the UN has concluded that its social network plays “determining role” in inciting genocide, the U.S. tech giant has completed a third sweep in recent months to remove bad actors from its platform.

Facebook said late Tuesday U.S. time that it has removed a total of 135 Facebook accounts, 425 Pages, 17 Groups and an additional 15 Instagram accounts with this latest piece of action.

Facebook has around 20 million users in Myanmar — that’s nearly all of the country’s internet users and nearly 40 percent of the population — and it gave some stats on the reach that it has now nullified:

  • Approximately 2.5 million people followed at least one of these Facebook Pages
  • Approximately 6,400 people belonged to at least one of these Facebook Groups
  • Approximately 1,300 people followed at least one these Instagram accounts

This is Facebook’s third such cull in recent months. Its previous removals impacted some high-profile individuals including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the military-owned Myawady television network were removed from the social network following “evidence [that they] committed or enabled serious human rights abuses in the country.”

What’s notable about this newest action is that the company said it took action because of “the behavior of these actors rather than on the type of content they were posting.”

We’re waiting for further confirmation on exactly what that means, but acting irrespective of posted content would represent an interesting change in its policing, and it could impact Facebook’s efforts in Myanmar — and other areas — going forward.

Nearly everyone who has internet access in Myanmar uses Facebook, giving it an estimated user base of around 20 million. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI / Getty Images

That’s promising but, unfortunately, it appears that Facebook is still reluctant to commit to opening a local office in Myanmar. That’s something that local civic groups on the ground in Myanmar — who have worked with Facebook to improve the situation — have called a key requirement for meaningful progress.

“How many companies have 20 million users in one country but don’t have a single employee, it’s absurd,” Jes Petersen — CEO of accelerator firm Phandeeyar, which is part of the advisory group — told TechCrunch last month. “An office would go a long way to building relationships with stakeholders.”

Facebook declined to comment on the possibility of a Myanmar-based office when we asked.

The company has pledged to increase the number of Burmese translators working on Myanmar-based content to 100 by the end of this year. It has said a number of times that it is working on AI-based solutions, too, but cracks still appear.

Equally, while reaching 100 translators means Facebook has more than doubled its Burmese-compliant content checking contingent, the figure is dwarfed by others. Myanmar’s army reportedly has 700 people working on its own Facebook strategy.

Sources familiar with the company’s thinking told TechCrunch that Facebook is concerned that “there would be real risks involved” if it were to open an office, “including the potential for increased government leverage on content and data requests as well as potential risks to Facebook’s employees.”

That response is backed, according to the sources, by the findings of a BSR report that was released last month.

If this is consistent with the company’s strategy then it is troubling because that doesn’t tell the whole truth of what is a very nuanced issue.

While it is correct that the report did mention the potential risks associated with an office — around both the safety of staff and potential for government pressure — the conclusion wasn’t that Facebook shouldn’t open the office. It was that there are “advantages and disadvantages” to it doing so.

So you could equally argue that it should open an office if you choose to focus the positive argument from the report.

More generally, it is certainly ironic that Facebook is (partially) citing insight from a report that it controversially released on the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections, a move that many took as an effort to bury the findings while the news cycle was focused on a key political moment.

While it may not get the same press attention as Russian-backed U.S. election meddling, the Facebook-Myanmar situation is a key one to watch in 2019. Facebook is the de facto internet in Southeast Asia and other emerging markets so its influence extends beyond anything people in Western markets can begin to imagine.

Tesla’s China factory and the missed growth opportunity

Tesla made its ambition for world domination known when it announced its intention to build a factory in China. The move makes sense — China is the world’s largest automotive market. But it might be shortsighted.

By continuing to go after the higher tiers of an established market, Tesla will engage in a zero-sum game for market share instead of forging a new market of unparalleled size. Competition will be fierce as incumbents, like BMW and Audi, which are determined to hold on to their more profitable customers, respond in kind.

Instead, the larger opportunity for any automaker is to grow the overall market by way of disruptive innovation — and not in the Silicon-Valley-hype sense of the term. The architect of disruptive innovation, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, explains that disruption happens at the low end of the market — not the end adorned with high-tech features and flashy designs.

Disruptive innovations succeed by transforming complicated and expensive products into simple and affordable ones, thereby enabling a much larger population to benefit from the offerings. And since they, by their very nature, expand the market, they constitute a wellspring of new growth.

Rather than take a page out of the disruptive playbook, Tesla is engaging in sustaining innovation. The company plans to use the new factory to build Model 3 and Model Y cars. Assuming that Tesla continues with its current positioning, these cars, like Tesla’s other models, will enter an established market to compete along existing measures of performance, like acceleration, style and luxury.

Sustaining innovations are important in that they advance an industry, but they offer little net growth, as not all consumers are able to access them. And because sustaining innovations target an industry’s more profitable consumers, we can expect leading automakers to fight tooth and nail to retain their core customers. Alternatively, a disruptive strategy offers a much easier way to tap into the Chinese market — and it’s already happening right under the noses of Tesla and other leading automakers.

Disruption happens at the low end of the market.

Chinese manufacturers of low-speed electric vehicles (LSEVs) — small vehicles that typically top out around 45 mph, have a limited driving range, and sell for as little as $2,000 — are creating a market where none existed, by primarily selling cars to people in rural China who have never owned one. We call these customers nonconsumers of cars. The measures of performance that matter most to nonconsumers aren’t speed, style or comfort, but rather affordability, accessibility and simplicity. So, as long as LSEVs meet these criteria, nonconsumers will generally be willing to buy them. After all, having a car that can’t travel very far or very fast is much better than the alternatives: bicycles, motorcycles or farm vehicles.

By targeting nonconsumers, LSEV manufacturers have steered clear of direct competition with incumbent automakers — who have at their disposal far more resources, such as capital, factories and relationships with suppliers — and effectively established a foothold that allows them to steadily move upmarket.

Taking the disruptive route has enabled LSEV manufacturers to unleash a new wave of growth that Tesla and other automakers should covet. During the decade that LSEVs have been available in China, sales have soared. According to the International Energy Agency’s “Global EV Outlook 2017” report, between 1.2 million and 1.5 million units were sold in China in 2016 — overshadowing the number of battery and plug-in hybrid electric cars sold globally that same year. Undoubtedly, further growth potential for LSEVs in China is immense — more than half a billion Chinese lived in rural areas in 2016.

Whether LSEV manufacturers manage to profitably march upmarket into higher-performance tiers of the market remains to be seen. What we can say for sure is that there is enormous untapped potential to be discovered — both in China and in other emerging markets.

Ola, Uber’s India rival, invests $100M in scooter rental startup Vogo

We’re familiar with Uber cozying up to scooter startups — it has bought one and invested in another — but over in India, the U.S. firm’s key rival is hatching a major alliance of its own it invested $100 million in scooter rental startup Vogo.

Ola first invested back in August when Vogo raised an undisclosed Series A round from Ola, Matrix Partners and other investors, but now Ola is doubling down with this follow-on deal. It isn’t saying how much equity it has captured with this investment, nor the valuation that it gives Vogo but you can well imagine it is high for a company that has only just done its Series A.

As you’d expect, this is a strategic investment and it’ll mean that Vogo scooters will appear within the Ola app, from where they can be booked by the company’s 150 million registered users, “soon.” Bangalore and Hyderabad are the two cities where Vogo operates, but you’d imagine that it will lean on Ola to expand into other parts of tier-one India where Ola already has a strong presence.

Ola’s money is going directly into supply, with Vogo planning to buy 100,000 more scooters for its platform. The company’s scooters, for those who don’t know them, are unlocked using a one-time password generated from the company’s Android app. Scooters are either dropped off at a designated station, or the rider specifies that they are taking a round trip and then returns it to the station where they started.

Ola CEO and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal — pictured in the top image alongside Vogo CEO and founder Anand Ayyadurai — said he hopes that the deal and integration will improve last-mile transportation options across India.

A selection of screen captures from the Vogo Android app

“Our investment in Vogo will help build a smart multi-modal network for first-last mile connectivity in the country. Vogo’s automated scooter-sharing platform, backed by Ola’s expertise in this space can help transform our cities. Together, we are thrilled to be at the forefront of India’s rapidly growing micro-mobility market,” he said in a prepared statement.

Ola previously invested in its own bike rental service last year, although that category has struggled in India as Chinese imports like Ofo have fled the country after struggling to develop a sustainable business in the country, and others outside of China. Ola and also Uber have offered motorbike taxis in India since 2016, but scooters offer a more individual approach.

Uber, for its part, doesn’t offer scooters in India at this point. But with India its second-largest market — it has reportedly crossed $1.6 billion in annualized bookings — you’d imagine that it is near the top of the company’s thoughts… although there is the business of that upcoming U.S. IPO to deal with.

Lightspeed is raising its largest China fund yet

Lightspeed China Partners, the China-focused affiliate of Silicon Valley-based Lightspeed Venture Partners, has set a $360 million target for its fourth flagship venture fund, according to a document filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission today.

If the target is reached, the fund will be Lightspeed China’s largest yet, per PitchBook. Lightspeed China’s previous two funds each closed on $260 million. The VC raised $168 million for its debut China-focused fund in 2013.

Lightspeed China is led by David Mi (pictured). Mi, an investor in multiple billion-dollar Chinese companies, was previously the director of corporate development at Google, where he helped lead the search giant’s investment in Baidu. He joined Lightspeed in 2008 and established the firm’s China presence in 2011. Yan Han, a long-time Lightspeed investor and co-founder of the Chinese branch, is also listed on the filing.

Lightspeed China has backed e-commerce platform Pingduoduo and loan provider Rong360, a pair of Chinese “unicorns” that both completed U.S. initial public offerings since 2017. Typically, the firm makes early-stage investments in the internet, mobile and enterprise spaces. 

Earlier this year, Lightspeed Venture Partners filed to raise a record $1.8 billion in new capital commitments. This month, it tacked five new partners onto its consumer and enterprise investment teams, including Slack’s former head of growth and Twitter’s former vice president of global business development.

Lightspeed didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Byju’s targets global expansion for its digital education service after raising $540M

India-based educational startup Byju’s was widely reported to have raised a massive $400 million round and now the company is making things official. The ten-year-old company revealed today it has pulled in a total of $540 million from investors to go after international opportunities.

The round is led by Naspers, the investment firm famous for backing Tencent that also includes educational firms Udemy, Codecademy and Brainly among its portfolio. The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) provided “a significant portion” of the round, according to an announcement which also revealed that the deal included some secondary share sales. A source told TechCrunch that’s from Sequoia India, an early investor which is cashing in a piece of its winnings.

This round takes Byju’s to $775 million from investors to date. Its backers include Tencent, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative — from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife — General Atlantic, IFC, Lightspeed Ventures and Times Internet.

The deal takes the company valuation to nearly $4 billion, a source told TechCrunch. That’s in line with what was reported by India media last week and it represents a major jump on the $800 million valuation that it commanded when it raised money from Tencent in July 2017. It also makes Byju’s India’s fourth highest-valued tech startup behind only Paytm, Ola and OYO.

Founded in 2008 by Byju Raveendran as on offline teaching center, it moved into digital courses as recently as 2015. The company specializes in grades 4-12 educational courses that use a combination of videos and other materials. Besides courses, the service covers exams, free courses and paid-for courses.

Byju’s says that 30 million students have registered for its online educational service Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

It claims to have registered over 30 million students, while more than two million customers have signed up for an annual paid subscription to date. Raveendran told TechCrunch in an interview that there are currently around 1.3 million paying users. He said that the service enjoys a renewal rate of around 80 percent, and that it is adding 1.5-2 million new students per month, some 150,000 of which are part of paying packages.

English learning for kids worldwide

This new money will go towards globalizing the service beyond India with an international English service for children aged 3-8, an entirely new category for the company, set to launch next year.

Raveendran told TechCrunch that the service will target English-speaking markets, as well as other major international countries including India.

“There’s a growing percentage of people wanting to learn English or [in countries where] it is becoming aspirational. Slowly but surely it is happening around the world,” he said in an interview.

The company will release the new services at the beginning of local academic years — which vary worldwide — with the aim of appealing directly to kids. If the youngsters enjoy the app, parents can buy the full experience for them. It’s a logical way to find a global audience — families prepared to spend on English tuition exist worldwide — whilst also expanding into a new customer base that could become users of the core Byju’s service.

While the company has developed the core content aspect of the service, Raveendran said he is on the lookout for acquisitions and partnerships that can add more to the appeal.

“They will all be product-based acquisitions that will be value-adds on top of our core product,” he said. “Over the last 12 months, we’ve scouted for core product acquisitions but went the other way around and decided to build it ourselves.”

Further down the line, Byju’s may develop more localized services in countries where it sees high demand for the children’s product, Raveendran added.

Byju Raveendran started the company ten years ago, but it entered the digital education space in 2015 [Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

Global investor base

That expansion is likely to be influenced by Naspers which has a very global portfolio, including deals in emerging markets like Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Asia. Indeed, the deal sees Russell Dreisenstock — head of international investments for Naspers — join the Byju’s board.

Tencent also has experience and connections, having backed China’s Yuanfudao education platform, which is now reportedly valued around $2.8 billion. Alongside Sequoia — another Byju’s investor — it is also part of VIPKid, a hugely successful platform that connects U.S-based teachers with English language learners in China.

Despite that, Raveendran said those investments are unlikely to be core to this global push.

“We expect [our investors] to help us finding partners through portfolio companies or others [but] there is no significant overlap with what we will do,” he explained.

In the case of VIPKid, he said that if Byju’s “ever decides to do anything in China” then it is likely that it will complement VIPKid’s tutor-led approach to learning rather than take it on directly.

Still, Raveendran expects the global business to become profitable and self-sustaining within the next three years. Already, the India-based business is profitable as of this year, he said, but its appeal has grown globally somewhat even before this new product launch. Overseas is currently 15 percent of revenue, a figure that the CEO puts down to the Indian diaspora globally.

BMW’s premium ride-hailing service is now live in China

BMW has joined a handful of automakers to compete with transportation upstart Didi Chuxing, which bought Uber’s Chinese business in 2016. Last Friday, the German luxury carmaker launched a premium ride-hailing service in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan Province with over 14 million people.

The new offer is part of BMW’s ReachNow carsharing brand that kicked off an electric vehicle rental business with a local partner last December. The new ride-hailing venture manages a crew of trained drivers to chauffer riders in a fleet of 200 BMW 5 Series, out of which half are plug-in-hybrid, according to the company.

“We are excited to offer our new premium ride-hailing service in Chengdu, one of the largest ride-hailing hubs in the world embracing mobility solutions for a sustainable urban future,” said Peter Schwarzenbauer, member of BMW AG’s board of management, in a statement.

ReachNow trips appear to be pricier than those on Didi’s “luxury” feature — which is currently only available in China’s top-tier cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou — that also deploys BMW Series 5 and the likes of Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6. A 23-kilometer ride in Chengdu, for instance, costs 468 yuan or $68 at 3 p.m. on Monday. That’s about $3 per kilometer.

bmw ride hailing china

By comparison, a trip of similar distance in Shenzhen via Didi Luxury costs 210 yuan, or $30, at a rate of $1.3 per kilometer on a Monday afternoon.

didi compared to bmw

BMW’s new move comes shortly after it became the first global carmaker to nab China’s ride-hailing operating license in late November and at a time when the country’s biggest player Didi faces public and government backlashes following two passenger murders.

Following the Didi incidents, Chinese authorities have applied deeper controls over the verification process in both drivers and their vehicles to step up safety for riders, leading to a shortage in both drivers and vehicles for Didi and its ride-hailing peers.

China’s transportation rules stipulate that drivers must hold two certificates — one for themselves and one for their vehicles — to be eligible to take passenger requests on ride-hailing apps. That turned a lot of part-time drivers away as they either don’t want to invest the time and money preparing for exams or scrap their passenger cars after eight years.

To cope with regulatory changes, Didi has introduced training programs to help drivers obtain the desired licenses. The mobility giant has also partnered with carmakers to make “purpose-built” vehicles for on-demand rides, although that process had started before the passenger deaths.

Like BMW, China’s oldfashioned carmakers also have their sights set on the car-hailing market. Among them are Volkswagen’s local partner SAIC Motor and Geely, which is partnering with Daimler to roll out a new ride-hailing venture.

Update: The headline has been corrected.

Nvidia’s limited China connections

Another round of followups on Nvidia, and then some short news analysis.

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at [email protected]) if you like or hate something here.

Nvidia / TSMC questions

Following up on my analyses this week on Nvidia (Part 1, Part 2) , a reader asked in regards to Nvidia’s risk with China tariffs:

but the TSMC impact w.r.t. tariffs doesn’t make sense to me. TSMC is largely not impacted by tariffs and so the supply chain with NVIDIA is also not impacted w.r.t. to TSMC as a supplier. There are many alternate wafer suppliers in Taiwan.

This is a challenging question to definitively answer, since obviously Nvidia doesn’t publicly disclose its supply chain, or more granularly, which factories those supply chain partners utilize for its production. It does, however, list a number of companies in its 10-K form as manufacturing, testing, and packaging partners, including:

To understand how this all fits together, there are essentially three phases for bringing a semiconductor to market:

  1. Design – this is Nvidia’s core specialty
  2. Manufacturing – actually making the chip from silicon and other materials at the precision required for it to be reliable
  3. Testing, packaging and distribution – once chips are made, they need to be tested to prove that manufacturing worked, then packaged properly to protect them and shipped worldwide to wherever they are going to be assembled/integrated

For the highest precision manufacturing required for chips like Nvidia’s, Taiwan, South Korea and the U.S. are the world leaders, with China trying to catch up through programs like Made in China 2025 (which, after caustic pushback from countries around the world, it looks like Beijing is potentially scrapping this week). China is still considered to be one-to-two generations behind in chip manufacturing, though it increasingly owns the low-end of the market.

Where the semiconductor supply chain traditionally gets more entwined with China is around testing and packaging, which are generally considered lower value (albeit critical) tasks that have been increasingly outsourced to the mainland over the years. Taiwan remains the dominant player here as well, with roughly 50% of the global market, but China has been rapidly expanding.

U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods do not apply to Taiwan, and so for the most part, Nvidia’s supply chain should be adept at avoiding most of the brunt of the trade conflict. And while assembly is heavily based in China, electronics assemblers are rapidly adapting their supply chains to mitigate the damage of tariffs by moving factories to Vietnam, India, and elsewhere.

Where it gets tricky is the Chinese market itself, which imports a huge number of semiconductor chips, and represents roughly 20% of Nvidia’s revenues. Even here, many analysts believe that the Chinese will have no choice but to buy Nvidia’s chips, since they are market-leading and substitutes are not easily available.

So the conclusion is that Nvidia likely has maneuvering room in the short-term to weather exogenous trade tariff shocks and mitigate their damage. Medium to long-term though, the company will have to strategically position itself very carefully, since China is quickly becoming a dominant player in exactly the verticals it wants to own (automotive, ML workflows, etc.). In other words, Nvidia needs the Chinese market for growth at the exact moment that door is slamming shut. How it navigates this challenge in the years ahead will determine much of its growth profile in the years ahead.

Rapid fire analysis

Short summaries and analysis of important news stories

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

US intelligence community says quantum computing and AI pose an ’emerging threat’ to national security – Our very own Zack Whittaker talks about future challenges to U.S. national security. These technologies are “dual-use,” which means that they can be used for good purposes (autonomous driving, faster processing) and also for nefarious purposes (breaking encryption, autonomous warfare). Expect huge debates and challenges in the next decade about how to keep these technologies on the safe side.

Saudi Arabia Pumps Up Stock Market After Bad News, Including Khashoggi Murder – A WSJ trio of reporters investigates the Saudi government’s aggressive attempts to shore up the value of its stock exchange. Exchange manipulation is hardly novel, either in traditional markets or in blockchain markets. China has been aggressively doing this in its stock exchanges for years. But it is a reminder that in emerging and new exchanges, much of the price signaling is artificial.

A law firm in the trenches against media unions – Andrew McCormick writes in the Columbia Journalism Review how law firm Jones Day has taken a leading role in fighting against the unionization of newsrooms. The challenge of course is that the media business remains mired in cutbacks and weak earnings, and so trying to better divide a rapidly shrinking pie doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The future — in my view — is entrepreneurial journalists backed up by platforms like Substack where they set their own voice, tone, publishing calendar, and benefits. Having a close relationship with readers is the only way forward for job security.

At least 15 central banks are serious about getting into digital currency – Mike Orcutt at MIT Technology Review notes that there are a bunch of central banks, including China and Canada. What’s interesting is that the trends backing this up including financial inclusion and “diminishing cash usage.” Even though blockchain is in a nuclear winter following the collapse of crypto prices this year, it is exactly these sorts of projects that could be the way forward for the industry.

What’s next

More semiconductors probably. And Arman and I are side glancing at Yelp these days. Any thoughts? Email me at [email protected].

This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York

China’s BYD further drives into Chile with 100 electric buses

Over the past few years, Chinese automaker giant BYD has been on a partnership spree with cities across China to electrify their public transportation systems, and now it’s extending its footprint across the globe. On Thursday, BYD announced that it has shipped 100 electric buses to Santiago, the capital city of Chile.

The step marks the Chinese firm’s further inroads into the Latin American country where a green car revolution is underway to battle smog. BYD’s first batch of vehicles arrived in Santiago last November and the Warren Buffett-backed carmaker remains as the only electric public bus provider in the country.

Chile is on the map of China’s grand Belt and Road Initiative aiming to turbocharge the world’s less developed regions with infrastructure development and investments. “With the help of ‘One Belt One Road,’ BYD has successfully entered Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Uraguay and other Latin American countries. As the region accelerates its electric revolution, BYD may be able to win more opportunities,” said BYD in a statement.

byd chile 1

President of Chile Mr. Sebastián Piñera rides the BYD electric bus. / Credit: BYD

The 100 buses embarked on a 45-day sea voyage from BYD’s factory in eastern China to land on the roads of Santiago. They sport the Chilean national colors of red and white on the exterior and provide USB charging ports inside to serve a generation who live on their electronic devices.

The fleet arrived through a partnership between BYD and Enel, a European utility juggernaut that claims to make up 40 percent of Chile’s energy sales in 2017. Enel has purchased the fleet from BYD and leased them to local transportation operator Metbus while the Chilean government set the rules and standards for the buses, a BYD spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Local passengers graded BYD’s electric vehicles at 6.3 out of 7, well above the 4.6 average of the Santiago public transportation system, according to a survey jointly produced by Chile’s Ministry of Energy as well as Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications. Respondents cited qualities such as low noise level, air conditioning and USB charging that the buses deliver.

Santiago currently has 7,000 public buses running on the road, among which 400 get replaced every year. A lot of the new ones will be diesel-free as the Chilean government said it aims to increase the total number of electric vehicles by tenfold in 2022.

Jack Dorsey and Twitter ignored opportunity to meet with civic group on Myanmar issues

Responding to criticism from his recent trip to Myanmar, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he’s keen to learn about the country’s racial tension and human rights atrocities, but it has emerged that both he and Twitter’s public policy team ignored an opportunity to connect with a key civic group in the country.

A loose group of six companies in Myanmar has engaged with Facebook in a bid to help improve the situation around usage of its services in the country — often with frustrating results — and key members of that alliance, including Omidyar-backed accelerator firm Phandeeyar, contacted Dorsey via Twitter DM and emailed the company’s public policy contacts when they learned that the CEO was visiting Myanmar.

The plan was to arrange a forum to discuss the social media concerns in Myanmar to help Dorsey gain an understanding of life on the ground in one of the world’s fastest-growing internet markets.

“The Myanmar tech community was all excited, and wondering where he was going,” Jes Kaliebe Petersen, the Phandeeyar CEO, told TechCrunch in an interview. “We wondered: ‘Can we get him in a room, maybe at a public event, and talk about technology in Myanmar or social media, whatever he is happy with?'”

The DMs went unread. In a response to the email, a Twitter staff member told the group that Dorsey was visiting the country strictly on personal time with no plans for business. The Myanmar-based group responded with an offer to set up a remote, phone-based briefing for Twitter’s public policy team with the ultimate goal of getting information to Dorsey and key executives, but that email went unanswered.

When we contacted Twitter, a spokesperson initially pointed us to a tweet from Dorsey in which he said: “I had no conversations with the government or NGOs during my trip.”

However, within two hours of our inquiry, a member of Twitter’s team responded to the group’s email in an effort to restart the conversation and set up a phone meeting in January.

“We’ve been in discussions with the group prior to your outreach,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch in a subsequent email exchange.

That statement is incorrect.

Still, on the bright side, it appears that the group may get an opportunity to brief Twitter on its concerns on social media usage in the country after all.

The micro-blogging service isn’t as well-used in Myanmar as Facebook, which has some 20 million monthly users and is practically the de facto internet, but there have been concerns in Myanmar. For one thing, there was been the development of a somewhat sinister bot army in Myanmar and other parts of Southeast Asia, while it remains a key platform for influencers and thought-leaders.

“[Dorsey is] the head of a social media company and, given the massive issues here in Myanmar, I think it’s irresponsible of him to not address that,” Petersen told TechCrunch.

“Twitter isn’t as widely used as Facebook but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have concerns happening with it,” he added. “As we’d tell Facebook or any large tech company with a prominent presence in Myanmar, it’s important to spend time on the ground like they’d do in any other market where they have a substantial presence.”

The UN has concluded that Facebook plays a “determining” role in accelerating ethnic violence in Myanmar. While Facebook has tried to address the issues, it hasn’t committed to opening an office in the country and it released a key report on the situation on the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections, a strategy that appeared designed to deflect attention from the findings. All of which suggests that it isn’t really serious about Myanmar.

LemonBox, which brings US vitamins to Chinese consumers, raises $2M

LemonBox, a Chinese e-commerce startup that imports vitamins and health products from the US, has raised $2 million to develop its business.

The company graduated from Y Combinator’s most recent program in the U.S. and, fuelled by the demo day, it has pulled in the new capital from 10 investors which include Partech, Tekton Ventures, Cathexis Ventures, Scrum Ventures and 122 West Ventures.

LemonBox started when co-founder and CEO Derek Weng, a former employee at Walmart in the U.S, saw an opportunity to organize the common practice of bringing health products back in China. Any Mainland Chinese person who has lived or even just visited the U.S. will be familiar with such requests from family and friends, and LemonBox aims to make it possible for anyone in China to get U.S-quality products without relying on a mule.

The service is primarily a WeChat app — which taps into China’s ubiquitous messaging platform — and a website, although Weng told TechCrunch in an interview this week that the company is contemplating a standalone app of its own. The benefit of that, beyond a potentially more engaging customer experience, could be to broaden LemonBox’s product selection and use data to offer a more customized selection of products. Related to that, LemonBox said it hopes to work with health and fitness-related services in the future to gather data, with permission, to help refine the personal approach.

LemonBox’s team has now grown to 20 people, with 12 full-time staff and 8 interns, and Weng said that the new funding will also go towards increased marketing, improvements to the WeChat app and upgrading the company’s supply chain. Business, he added, is growing at 35 percent per week as LemonBox has adopted a personal approach to its packaging, much like Amazon-owned PillPack.

“This is the first time people in China have ever seen this level of customization for their vitamins,” Weng told TechCrunch.

Members of the LemonBox team with Qi Lu, who heads up Y Combinator’s China business

Qi Lu, the former Microsoft and Baidu executive who leads YC’s new China unit, said he is “bullish” about the business.

“What LemonBox offers resonates with me and is serving a clear China market needs. Personally, I travel a lot between China and the U.S, and I often was asked by my relatives to help purchase and carry them similar products like vitamins,” he said in a prepared statement.

“More importantly, what LemonBox can do is to build an initial core user base and a growing brand. Over time, by serving their users well, it can reach and engage more users who want to better take care of their broader nutrition needs, use more data and take advantage of increasingly stronger AI technologies to customers and personalize, and become an essential service for more and more users and customers in China,” Lu added.