The OpenStack Foundation becomes the Open Infrastructure Foundation

This has been a long time coming, but the OpenStack foundation today announced that it is changing its name to ‘Open Infrastructure Foundation,” starting in 2021.

The announcement, which the foundation made at its virtual developer conference, doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. Over the course of the last few years, the organization started adding new projects that went well beyond the core OpenStack project and renamed its conference to the ‘Open Infrastructure Summit.’ The organization actually filed for the ‘Open Infrastructure Foundation’ trademark back in April.

Image Credits: OpenStack Foundation

After years of hype, the open-source OpenStack project hit a bit of a wall in 2016, as the market started to consolidate. The project itself, which helps enterprises run their private cloud, found its niche in the telecom space, though, and continues to thrive as one of the world’s most active open-source projects. Indeed, I regularly hear from OpenStack vendors that they are now seeing record sales numbers — despite the lack of hype. With the project being stable, though, the Foundation started casting a wider net and added additional projects like the popular Kata Containers runtime and CI/CD platform Zuul.

“We are officially transitioning and becoming the Open Infrastructure Foundation,” long-term OpenStack Foundation executive president Jonathan Bryce told me. “That is something that I think is an awesome step that’s built on the success that our community has spawned both within projects like OpenStack, but also as a movement […], which is [about] how do you give people choice and control as they build out digital infrastructure? And that is, I think, an awesome mission to have. And that’s what we are recognizing and acknowledging and setting up for another decade of doing that together with our great community.”

In many ways, it’s been more of a surprise that the organization waited as long as it did. As the foundation’s COO Mark Collier told me, the team waited because it wanted to sure that it did this right.

“We really just wanted to make sure that all the stuff we learned when we were building the OpenStack community and with the community — that started with a simple idea of ‘open source should be part of cloud, for infrastructure.’ That idea has just spawned so much more open source than we could have imagined. Of course, OpenStack itself has gotten bigger and more diverse than we could have imagined,” Collier said.

As part of today’s announcement, the group is also adding four new members at Platinum tier, its highest membership level: Ant Group, the Alibaba affiliate behind Alipay, embedded systems specialist Wind River, China’s Fiberhome (which was previously a Gold member) and Facebook Connectivity. To become a Platinum member, companies have to contribute $350,000 per year to the foundation and must have at least 2 full-time employees contributing to its projects.

“If you look at those companies that we have as Platinum members, it’s a pretty broad set of organizations,” Bryce noted. “AT&T, the largest carrier in the world. And then you also have a company Ant, who’s the largest payment processor in the world and a massive financial services company overall — over to Ericsson, that does telco, Wind River, that does defense and manufacturing. And I think that speaks to that everybody needs infrastructure. If we build a community — and we successfully structure these communities to write software with a goal of getting all of that software out into production, I think that creates so much value for so many people: for an ecosystem of vendors and for a great group of users and a lot of developers love working in open source because we work with smart people from all over the world.”

The OpenStack Foundation’s existing members are also on board and Bryce and Collier hinted at several new members who will join soon but didn’t quite get everything in place for today’s announcement.

We can probably expect the new foundation to start adding new projects next year, but it’s worth noting that the OpenStack project continues apace. The latest of the project’s bi-annual releases, dubbed ‘Victoria,’ launched last week, with additional Kubernetes integrations, improved support for various accelerators and more. Nothing will really change for the project now that the foundation is changing its name — though it may end up benefitting from a reenergized and more diverse community that will build out projects at its periphery.

Alibaba Group will spend $3.6 billion to take control of Chinese supermarket giant Sun Art

Alibaba Group said today it will spend about $3.6 billion to take a controlling stake in Sun Art, one of China’s largest big-box and supermarket chains. After the transaction is complete, Alibaba Group will own 72% of Sun Art.

As in other countries, COVID-19 lockdowns increased demand for online food orders in China, drawing in shoppers who had still preferred to buy groceries in person. Even though lockdowns have lifted, many have continued to purchase online. Alibaba’s new investment in Sun Art will be made by acquiring 70.94% of equity interest in A-RT Retail Holdings from France-based Auchan Retail International. A-RT Retail holds about 51% of the equity interest in Sun Art.

After the deal closes, Alibaba will consolidate Sun Art in its financial statements. Sun Art chief executive officer Peter Huang has also been named its new chairman.

Alibaba first invested in Sun Art back in 2017, spending about $2.88 billion to pick up a 36.16% share in the chain, whose brands include RT-Mart, as part of its “New Retail” strategy.

“New Retail” aims to blur the lines between online and offline commerce through steps like turning physical stores in pickup points for online orders, integrating supply chains and enabling shoppers to use the same digital payment methods on its e-commerce platforms and in brick-and-mortar stores.

All of Sun Art’s 484 physical retail locations in China are now integrated into Alibaba’s Taoxianda and Tmall Supermarket platforms for groceries, as well as Ele.me and Cainiao, its on-demand food demand delivery app and logistics businesses, respectively. For customers, this means faster deliveries and larger selections, while giving Alibaba more sources of data it can use to improve its supply chain and business operations.

Other e-commerce companies are taking a similar approach to integrating offline and online grocery shopping, including Alibaba’s main rival JD, which has similar alliances with supermarket group Yonghui and Walmart.

In press statement, Alibaba chairman and chief executive officer Daniel Zhang said, “As the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the digitization of consumer lifestyles and enterprise operations, this commitment to Sun Art serves to strengthen our New Retail vision and serve more consumers with a fully integrated experience.”

Miniso, the Japanese-looking variety store from China, sees shares jump in US IPO

Investors are jumping aboard a value store chain that is bringing Japanese-inspired lifestyle goods to consumers around the world. The company, Miniso, raised $608 million from an initial public offering in New York on Thursday. It debuted at $24.40, above its pricing range of $16.50 to $18.50, and finished the day up 4.4%.

Everything about the seven-year-old firm — from its name, branding, products, to its website — suggests it is Japanese, except in fact it was born and bred in China. It bears a striking similarity to Muji, Uniqlo and dollar store Daiso in many ways, and has been called a copycat of its Japanese lifestyle predecessors.

The company, backed by Tencent and Hillhouse Capital, seems to intentionally, albeit misleadingly, brand itself as Japanese. In its public messaging, such as this press release and its country-specific site, it describes itself as a firm co-founded by Chinese entrepreneur Ye Guofu and Japanese designer Miyake Junya in Tokyo in 2013. But its Japanese origin is nowhere to be seen in its IPO prospectus.

Instead, the document lists the southern Chinese metropolis Guangzhou as the firm’s first base and Ye as the sole founder and current chief executive. All key directors and executives appear to be Chinese.

Branding confusion aside, there’s no denying Miniso has successfully wooed many young, price-sensitive consumers who welcome choice overload. Over 80% of its store visitors in China are under the age of 40. As of June, more than 95% of its products in China were below 50 yuan or $7.08 — thanks to the vicinity of abundant manufacturers — and the firm prides itself on the goal to launch 100 new SKUs every seven days.

Miniso’s revenue reached $1.4 billion in 2019, compared to $17.85 billion for 71-year-old Uniqlo and $4.17 billion for 39-year-old Muji. It recorded a loss of $44 million last year. 

The firm’s retail stores, decorated by its iconic bright red color reminiscent of the Uniqlo brand, span over 80 countries today. 40% of its 4,200 stores are outside of China. Over 90% of its outlets are franchise stores, one reason why it’s able to expand rapidly, but the model also means Miniso has limited control over its large network of third-party operators.

OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei leaves the company to start a new venture

Carl Pei, who co-founded the smartphone giant OnePlus in his 20s, is leaving the company, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Pei played an instrumental role in designing the OnePlus smartphone lineup over the years, including the recently launched OnePlus Nord, which has been the company’s biggest hit to date. Outside Shenzhen, China, where OnePlus is headquartered, Pei has also been the face of the Chinese firm, appearing at trade conferences, interacting with loyal customers, and giving interviews to the media.

In the early years of OnePlus, Pei devised various marketing strategies for best positioning the company’s products and create a hype about them. In 2014 and 2015, when OnePlus struggled with scaling its inventories, the company sold its phones through invites and several other clever marketing techniques including one in which people were required to destroy their current phones to buy a new OnePlus smartphone.

In the early days of OnePlus, Pei lived almost exclusively in low-cost hotels in China and India to better understand the market and easily travel to new cities. OnePlus is now one of the most successful premium smartphone makers in India and several other markets.

“We did’t have proper product management. What we lacked in experience, we made up in hours,” he said in an earlier interview. He talked more about the company’s early days and the state of the smartphone market at Disrupt 2019.

Once he publicly asked Samsung to hire him so that he could learn more about overseeing operations and logistics. “So, Samsung, today I have a proposal for you: let me be your intern. Seriously. I would be honored to learn from your team about how you’ve been able to scale, run, and manage your business so successfully,” he wrote on his personal blog.

Pei reached out to Pete Lau in 2012 through social media. The two started OnePlus a year later. “He said, ‘I want to change the world.’ I thought this kid has ambitious thoughts and dreams. I think it comes from the heart and it’s very important. I think he has tenacity,” Lau recalled in an interview in 2015.

Years before they started OnePlus, Pei collaborated with a friend and sold whitelabeled MP3 players in China.

Pei, 31, is not joining Samsung, but has clarity on what he wishes to do next. He is starting his own venture and is in talks with investors to raise capital, according to one of the sources who requested anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the media. Carl did not respond to a request for comment early Monday.

China’s digital yuan tests leap forward in Shenzhen

Shenzhen, known for its maker community and manufacturing resources, is taking the lead in trialing China’s digital yuan.

Last week, the city issued 10 million yuan worth of digital currency to 50,000 randomly selected residents. The government doled out the money through mobile “red envelopes,” a tool designed to digitize the custom of gifting money in red packets and first popularized by WeChat’s e-wallet.

The digital yuan is not to be mistaken as a form of cryptocurrency. Rather, it is issued and managed by the central bank, serving as the statutory, digital version of China’s physical currency and giving Beijing a better grasp of its currency circulation. It’s meant to supplement, not replace, third-party payments apps like WeChat Pay and Alipay in a country where cash is dying out.

For example, the central government may in the future issue subsidies to local offices by sending digital yuan, which can help tackle issues like corruption.

Shenzhen is one of the four Chinese cities to begin internal testing of the digital yuan, announced a government notice in August without going into the specifics. The latest distribution to consumers is seen as the country’s first large-scale, public test of the centrally issued virtual currency.

Nearly 2 million individuals in Shenzhen signed up for the lottery, according to a post from the local government. Winners could redeem the 200 yuan red envelope within the official digital yuan app and spend the virtual money at over 3,000 retail outlets in the city.

As its next step, Shenzhen will launch a (vaguely defined) “fintech innovation platform” through its official digital currency institute, said a new central government document detailing the city’s five-year development measures, including attracting more foreign investment in cutting-edge technologies. The city will also play a key role in furthering the digital yuan’s research and development, application and international collaboration.

In April, the city’s digital currency vehicle launched a wave of recruiting for technical positions like mobile app architects and Android developers.

Shenzhen was established in 1980 as China’s first special economic zones and is now home to tech behemoths like Tencent, Huawei and DJI and innovation hubs like HAX and Trouble Maker. President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit the city this week to commemorate the city’s 40th anniversary.

While the central bank provides logic and infrastructure undergirding the digital yuan, there’s much room for commercial banks and private firms to innovate on the application level. Both ride-hailing platform Didi and JD’s fintech arm have recently unveiled steps to help accelerate the digital yuan’s real-life implementation.

New Chinese browser offers a glimpse beyond the Great Firewall – with caveats

China now has a tool that lets users access YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, and other internet services that have otherwise long been banned in the country.

Called Tuber, the mobile browser recently debuted on China’s third-party Android stores, with an iOS launch in the pipeline. The landing page of the app features a scrolling feed of YouTube videos, with tabs at the bottom that allow users to visit other mainstream Western internet services.

While some celebrate the app as an unprecedented “opening up” of the Chinese internet, others quickly noticed the browser comes with a veil of censorship. YouTube queries for politically sensitive keywords such as “Tiananmen” and “Xi Jinping” returned no results on the app, according to tests done by TechCrunch.

Using the app also comes with liabilities. Registration requires a Chinese phone number, which is tied to a person’s real identity. The platform could suspend users’ accounts and share their data “with the relevant authorities” if they “actively watch or share” content that breaches the constitution, endangers national security and sovereignty, spreads rumors, disrupts social orders, or violates other local laws, according to the app’s terms of service.

Rather than blocking sites that are beyond the purview of Beijing and tracking individuals using VPNs to circumvent the Great Firewall, China now has an app that gives its people a glimpse into the Western internet — with the caveat that their digital footprint may be under close watch by the authorities.

Much about the app remains unclear, such as its origin and the motive behind it. The operator of the app’s official website (上海丰炫信息技术有限公司) is 70% owned by a subsidiary of Qihoo 360, a Chinese cybersecurity software giant. It remains to be seen whether the app will take off.

This is an updating story.

Hong Kong logistics unicorn Lalamove makes foray into the US

Lalamove, an on-demand logistics service active in China, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, has officially entered the U.S. seven years after launch.

As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps millions of Americans home, Hong Kong-based Lalamove believes it can seize the growing demand for delivery services in the country. It makes its debut in the Dallas Fort-Worth area, a major hub for distribution and logistics in the U.S. In days the service will launch in Chicago and Houston.

The startup was one of the first in Hong Kong to hit the $1 billion unicorn valuation mark alongside its archrival GoGoVan. Its business is multifold and highly localized, but essentially it works as an Uber for businesses and individuals that need to move goods within the city.

In China, where it’s known as Huolala (货拉拉), it primarily serves as a broker between shippers who need to send cargo and a network of truck drivers. In Southeast Asia, the business functions similarly with the addition of food delivery for restaurants, a crowded and cash-burning space. In the U.S., its fleet of sedans, SUVs and pickup trucks are available 24/7, allowing it to target customers spanning catering, retail, e-commerce, manufacturing and construction, with fees starting at $8.90.

“Delivery is essential, especially during the pandemic. But many local businesses don’t have or cannot afford in-house fleets, so we’re excited to work with businesses in the Dallas Fort-Worth area to provide same-day, on-demand delivery services to their customers,” said Blake Larson, international managing director at Lalamove and formerly co-founder of Rocket Internet’s Asia-focused e-hailing startup Easy Taxi.

Like GoGoVan, Lalamove was founded by a Hong Kong entrepreneur who was educated in the U.S. Both companies have scored fundings from heavyweight institutions from China and elsewhere.

Lalamove’s investors included Hillhouse Capital, Sequoia Capital China and Xiaomi founder’s Shunwei Capital. Through a merger with China’s 58 Suyun, GoGoVan counts Tencent, Alibaba, KKR and New Horizon Capital amongst its backers.

The Hong Kong startup’s global expansion comes at a time when TikTok stumbles in the U.S. due to its links to China. In the logistics startup’s case, a Chinese team operates the Chinese division Huolala, while separate international teams manage the overseas segments of Lalamove, TechCrunch understands. The core of TikTok’s challenge in the U.S. is the video app’s dependence on its Chinese parent ByteDance’s technological capabilities.

To date, Lalamove has verified and onboarded more than 500 partner drivers in Dallas Fort-Worth, with plans to add another 500 in the area by the end of this year. It’s also hiring for its regional operational office at a time when the U.S. is struck by widespread virus-induced layoffs, furloughs and slowdown in hiring.

Lalamove claims it has to date matched more than 7 million users with a pool of over 700,000 delivery partners in 22 markets around the world.

Transportation VCs suggest frayed US-China ties will impact mobility markets

On Tuesday, during TechCrunch’s annual Mobility event, we had the opportunity to interview three investors who spend much of their time focused narrowly on shifts in the transportation industry and we talked with the three — Amy Gu of Hemi Ventures, Reilly Brennan of Trucks VC, and Olaf Sakkers of Maniv Mobility — about a wide range of related issues to get their take. You can check out that interview below; in the meantime, we’re pulling out parts of the conversation that we found particularly interesting:

How the pandemic is affecting fundraising and the trends they’re watching

Olaf Sakkers: In dense cities, no one is taking transit, so you’re seeing a big shift toward micromobility, but in other cities, there’s been a big uptake in car use and secondhand and new-car demand despite of economic impacts. [You’re seeing this] trade-off between us getting out, and more goods and services that are coming to us than before, [including] food and other things. We’re also seeing a lot of geographic and culture variances, but those are things we’re seeing immediately.

Amy Gu: One thing that COVID has changed a lot is healthcare, which has become more important (during the pandemic) but also raised questions about how we make it more mobile. We’ve been looking at telemedicine companies and remote health care.

Is COVID-19 driving people to buy bikes, scooters and used cars instead of renting?

Reilly Brennan: People fell off micromobility platforms not because they didn’t like them, but they liked them so much, they wanted to buy [the scooters and bikes]. The ways a typical dealership makes money with financing, maintenance and service will come to micromobility. There isn’t much of a used market right now for e-bikes and e-scooters because there aren’t many of them, but that ecosystem will become stronger … [you can imagine] buying outright, leasing, subscriptions, wrapping in theft control … all the tricks you’ve seen carmakers bring to car financing, [meaning] not owning or renting but something in-between.

Arm CEO Simon Segars discusses AI, data centers, getting acquired by Nvidia and more

Nvidia is in the process of acquiring chip designer Arm for $40 billion. Coincidentally, both companies are also holding their respective developer conferences this week. After he finished his keynote at the Arm DevSummit, I sat down with Arm CEO Simon Segars to talk about the acquisition and what it means for the company.

Segars noted that the two companies started talking in earnest around May 2020, though at first, only a small group of executives was involved. Nvidia, he said, was really the first suitor to make a real play for the company — with the exception of SoftBank, of course, which took Arm private back in 2016 — and combining the two companies, he believes, simply makes a lot of sense at this point in time.

“They’ve had a meteoric rise. They’ve been building up to that,” Segars said. “So it just made a lot of sense with where they are at, where we are at and thinking about the future of AI and how it’s going to go everywhere and how that necessitates much more sophisticated hardware — and a much more sophisticated software environment on which developers can build products. The combination of the two makes a lot of sense in this moment.”

The data center market, where Nvidia, too, is already a major player, is also an area where Arm has heavily focused in recent years. And while it goes up against the likes of Intel, Segars is optimistic. “We’re not in it to be a bit player,” he said. “Our goal is to get a material market share and I think the proof to the pudding is there.”

He also expects that in a few years, we’ll see Arm-powered servers available on all of the major clouds. Right now, AWS is ahead in this game with its custom-built Gravitron processors. Microsoft and Google do not currently offer Arm-based servers.

“With each passing day, more and more of the software infrastructure that’s required for the cloud is getting ported over and optimized for Arm. So it becomes a more and more compelling proposition for sure,” he said, and cited both performance and energy efficiency as reasons for cloud providers to use Arm chips.

Another interesting aspect of the deal is that we may just see Arm sell some of Nvidia’s IP as well. That would be a big change — and a first — for Nvidia, but Segars believes it makes a lot of sense to do so.

“It may be that there is something in the portfolio of Nvidia that they currently sell as a chip that we may look at and go, ‘you know, what if we package that up as an IP product, without modifying it? There’s a market for that.’ Or it may be that there’s a thing in here where if we take that and combine it with something else that we were doing, we can make a better product or expand the market for the technology. I think it’s going to be more of the latter than it is the former because we design all our products to be delivered as IP.”

And while he acknowledged that Nvidia and Arm still face some regulatory hurdles, he believes the deal will be pro-competitive in the end — and that the regulators will see it the same way.

He does not believe, by the way, that the company will face any issues with Chinese companies not being able to license Arm’s designs because of export restrictions, something a lot of people were worried about when the deal was first announced.

“Export control of a product is all about where was it designed and who designed it,” he said. “And of course, just because your parent company changes, doesn’t change those fundamental properties of the underlying product. So we analyze all our products and look at how much U.S. content is in there, to what extent are our products subject to U.S. export control, U.K. export control, other export control regimes? It’s a full-time piece of work to make sure we stay on top of that.”

Here are some excerpts from our 30-minute conversation:

TechCrunch: Walk me through how that deal came about? What was the timeline for you?

Simon Segars: I think probably around May, June time was when it really kicked off. We started having some early discussions. And then, as these things progress, you suddenly kind of hit the ‘Okay, now let’s go.’ We signed a sort of first agreement to actually go into due diligence and then it really took off. It went from a few meetings, a bit of negotiation, to suddenly heads down and a broader set of people — but still a relatively small number of people involved, answering questions. We started doing due diligence documents, just the mountain of stuff that you go through and you end up with a document. [Segars shows a print-out of the contract, which is about the size of two phone books.]

You must have had suitors before this. What made you decide to go ahead with this deal this time around?

Well, to be honest, in Arm’s history, there’s been a lot of rumors about people wanting to acquire Arm, but really until SoftBank in 2016, nobody ever got serious. I can’t think of a case where somebody actually said, ‘come on, we want to try and negotiate a deal here.’ And so it’s been four years under SoftBank’s ownership and that’s been really good because we’ve been able to do what we said we were going to do around investing much more aggressively in the technology. We’ve had a relationship with Nvidia for a long time. [Rene Haas, Arm’s president of its Intellectual Property Group, who previously worked at Nvidia] has had a relationship with [Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang] for a long time. They’ve had a meteoric rise. They’ve been building up to that. So it just made a lot of sense with where they are at, where we are at and thinking about the future of AI and how it’s going to go everywhere and how that necessitates much more sophisticated hardware — and a much more sophisticated software environment on which developers can build products. The combination of the two makes a lot of sense in this moment.

How does it change the trajectory you were on before for Arm?

This new Southeast Asian fund has its eye on Chinese cross-border firms

As U.S.-China relations remain tense, Southeast Asia becomes the darling for investors and tech companies from both sides as they seek overseas expansion. Behemoths like Google, Facebook, Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance have elbowed into the region. Some set up shop, while others formed alliances and took stakes in local startups.

Now five prominent investors originating from the region are ready to claim their slice of the market. Singapore-based Altara Ventures debuted this week with a goal to raise over $100 million for its first fund focused on early-stage tech startups in Southeast Asia, with an eye on those with ties to China.

The financial vehicle was co-founded by Dave Ng, former head of Eight Roads Ventures, the investment arm of Fidelity International, along with four other general partners. They are Koh Boon Hwee, former chairman of DBS Group and Singapore Telecommunications; Tan Chow Boon and Seow Kiat Wang, who, along with Hwee, co-founded Omni Industries (bought by Celestica) and later managed private equity investments together; and Gavin Teo, a former product manager at Xbox and Zynga and a colleague of Ng at B Capital, a fund started by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

Altara derives from the English word “altitude” and the Bahasa word “nusantara”, the historical designation for maritime Southeast Asia, a coinage that captures the firm’s ambition to back early-stage startups concurrent with the region’s technological advancement. The firm considers sectors ranging from fintech, consumer, enterprise software, logistics, healthcare through to education.

What happened in the Chinese internet realm has become a source of inspiration for entrepreneurs in its neighboring countries, and ideas flow from China into Southeast Asia in various ways.

“The first is around Chinese founders bringing their expertise from what they have done and gained in China to Southeast Asia as a new market. This could be totally new startups that they cofound with Southeast Asian entrepreneurs, and together they tackle whitespace opportunities here,” Ng explained to TechCrunch.

“We have also seen Chinese entrepreneurs who were first posted to the Southeast Asian region under tech giants such as Alibaba and Lazada, Ant Financials and etc coming out to start up on their own.”

The second type is what particularly interests Altara, for Ng believed the fund can “back and contribute our experience, expertise and network in Southeast Asia to them.”

What’s more, the investor is bullish on the future of the Southeast Asian tech industry as the U.S. and China enter “a phase of bifurcation.”

“We think Southeast Asia will benefit from its position as the connector of East and West. Over the next 10 to 20 years, we will see more talent and capital coming into the region.”