Aptiv takes its self-driving car ambitions (and tech) to China

Aptiv, the U.S. auto supplier and self-driving software company, is opening an autonomous mobility center in Shanghai to focus on the development and eventual deployment of its technology on public roads.

The expansion marks the fifth market where Aptiv has set up R&D, testing or operational facilities. Aptiv has autonomous driving operations in Boston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Singapore. But China is perhaps its most ambitious endeavor yet.

Aptiv has never had any AV operations in China, but it does have a long history in the country including manufacturing and engineering facilities. The company, in its earlier forms as Delphi and Delco has been in China since 1993 — experience that will be invaluable as it tries to bring its autonomous vehicle efforts into a new market, Aptiv Autonomous Mobility President Karl Iagnemma told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

“The long-term opportunity in China is off the charts,” Iagnemma said, noting a recent McKinsey study that claims the country will host two-thirds of the world’s autonomous driven miles by 2040 and be trillion-dollar mobility service opportunity.

“For Aptiv, it’s always been a question of not ‘if’, but when we’re going to enter the Chinese market,” he added.

Aptiv will have self-driving cars testing on public roads by the second half of 2019.

“Our experience in other markets has shown that in this industry, you learn by doing,” Iagnemma explained.

And it’s remark that Iagnemma can stand by. Iagnemma is the co-founder of self-driving car startup nuTonomy, one of the first to launch a robotaxi service in 2016 in Singapore that the public—along with human safety drivers — could use.

NuTonomy was acquired by Delphi in 2017 for $450 million. NuTonomy became part of Aptiv after its spinoff from Delphi was complete.

Aptiv is also in discussions with potential partners for mapping and commercial deployment of Aptiv’s vehicles in China.

Some of those partnerships will likely mimic the types of relationships Aptiv has created here in the U.S., notably with Lyft . Aptiv’s self-driving vehicles operate on Lyft’s ride-hailing platform in Las Vegas and have provided more than 40,000 paid autonomous rides in Las Vegas via the Lyft app.

Aptiv will also have to create new kinds of partnerships unlike those it has in the U.S. due to restrictions and rules in China around data collection, intellectual property and creating high resolution map data.

Student sues JD.com’s billionaire CEO Richard Liu for alleged rape

A Chinese student has filed a lawsuit against JD.com founder and chief executive Richard Liu, alleging the billionaire businessman raped her in Minnesota back in August, four months after local prosecutors decided not to press charges.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Hennepin County on Tuesday, is seeking damages of more than $50,000. It identifies the student as Jingyao Liu (not related to Richard Liu), an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota.

JD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. Liu has maintained his innocence through his lawyers throughout the investigation. Liu said on social media in December that he had “broken no laws” but felt “extreme self-admonishment and regret” for the pain that his behavior “on that day” brought to his family and wife, who is an internet celebrity known as Sister Milk Tea.

In December, Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman said he was not charging Liu because “there were profound evidentiary problems which would have made it highly unlikely that any criminal charge could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” He further emphasized his decision “had nothing to do with Liu’s status as a wealthy, foreign businessman.”

Liu’s case has drawn widespread interest in China where the tale of Liu’s rags-to-riches has inspired many. If charged and convicted, Liu could face up to 30 years in prison.

JD’s stock immediately tumbled after the student first accused Liu in August over concerns that the case will hamper his ability to run the company, which is the arch-rival to Jack Ma’s Alibaba and faces growing competition from ecommerce upstart Pinduoduo.

The company’s shares have slowly crawled back since December after the Hennepin County Attorney decided not to charge the founder. Nonetheless, JD is coping with sagging morale as large-scale layoffs hit executives and a new pay scheme threatens to depress income among its armies of couriers.

Alibaba will let you find restaurants and order food with voice in a car

Competition in the Chinese internet has for years been about who controls your mobile apps. These days, giants are increasingly turning to offline scenarios, including what’s going on behind the dashboard in your car.

On Tuesday, Alibaba announced at the annual Shanghai Auto Show that it’s developing apps for connected cars that will let drivers find restaurants, queue up and make reservations at restaurants, order food and eventually complete a plethora of other tasks using voice, motion or touch control. Third-party developers are invited to make their in-car apps, which will run on Alibaba’s operating system AliOS.

Rather than working as standalone apps, these in-car services come in the form of “mini apps,” which are smaller than regular ones in exchange for faster access and smaller file sizes, in Alibaba’s all-in-one digital wallet Alipay . Alibaba has other so-called “super apps” in its ecosystem, such as marketplace Taobao and navigation service AutoNavi, but the payments solution clearly makes more economic sense if Alibaba wants people to spend more while sitting in a four-wheeler.

There’s no timeline for when Alibaba will officially roll out in-car mini apps but it’s already planning for a launch, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Making lite apps has been a popular strategy for China’s internet giants operating super apps that host outside apps, or “mini-apps”; that way users rarely need to leave their ecosystems. These lite apps are known to be easier and cheaper to build than a native app, although developers have to make concessions like giving their hosts certain level of access to user data and obeying rules as they would with Apple’s App Store. For in-car services, Alibaba says there will be “specific review criteria for safety and control” tailored to the auto industry.

alios cars alibaba

Photo source: Alibaba

Alibaba’s move is indicative of a heightened competition to control the operating system in next-gen connected cars. For those who wonder whether the ecommerce behemoth will make its own cars given it’s aggressively infiltrated the physical space, like opening its own supermarket chain Hema, the company’s solution to vehicles appears to be on the software front, at least for now.

In 2017, Alibaba rebranded its operating system with a deep focus to put AliOS into car partners. To achieve this goal, Alibaba also set up a joint venture called Banma Network with state-owned automaker SAIC Motor and Dongfeng Peugeot Citroen, which is the French car company’s China venture, that would hawk and integrate AliOS-powered solutions with car clients. As of last August, 700 thousand AliOS-powered SAIC vehicles had been sold.

Alibaba competitors Tencent and Baidu have also driven into the auto field, although through slightly different routes. Baidu began by betting on autonomous driving and built an Android-like developer platform for car manufacturers. While the futuristic plan is far from bearing significant commercial fruit, it’s gained a strong foothold in self-driving with the most mileage driven in Beijing, a pivotal hub to test autonomous cars. Tencent’s car initiatives seem more nebulous. Like Baidu, it’s testing self-driving and like Alibaba, it’s partnered with industry veterans to make cars, but it’s unclear where the advantage lies for the social media and gaming giant in the auto space.

Electric car startup Byton loses co-founder and former CEO, reported $500M Series C to close this summer

The race is on for building and shipping more cost-effective electric cars, but today one of more ambitious startups in the field announced some significant changes that underscore some of the challenges in making that a reality. Byton, the Chinese electric car startup, today announced that Carsten Breitfeld, the former BMW executive and Byton co-founder who had been the CEO and was most recently chairman, has left the company “to start a new adventure within the start-up industry.”

To offset that news, Byton said that it is currently recruiting for a new CTO, will close its Series C funding — a $500 million round, according to this report from January — this summer, and is on track for production of its M-Byte SUV vehicle for Q4 2019. The company recently said that it is looking towards an IPO, with the business currently valued at around $4 billion and counting 50,000 customers, with half in China and half in the US.

“Thanks to our founding team and all employees we’re well on track and looking forward to delivering the M-Byte this year to customers in China, followed by the US and Europe in 2020,” said Byton co-founder and current CEO Dr. Daniel Kirchert. “Carsten helped build a strong BYTON brand and bring in the right people to take our start-up to the next level. Now we are focusing on our main goal to achieve the on-time-start-of-production of the first BYTON series production model in 2019 with our strong team and partners.” There were no comments about IPOs in today’s statement.

It’s not clear who is overseeing the technical aspects of the business in the meantime — it doesn’t appear that there had been an official CTO at the company previously, but before Byton, Breitfeld had been VP of engineering at BMW. Dick Abendroth, another BMW engineering alum, left Byton in October of last year to become CTO of OEM Continental.

Byton was originally started as Future Mobility Corporation as a joint venture between Harmony Auto, Tencent, and Foxconn, who put Breitfeld and Kirchert, pictured below left and right, in place as co-founders and leaders of the business. It has raised about $700 million to date, with the most recent round of $500 million closing in June 2018.

But there have been reports that the company was running out of money since the end of last year, balancing the capital intensiveness of building new vehicle technology and new vehicles as a startup (no small feat considering that its competitors are some of the biggest companies in the world), with the fact that the company now employs some 1,600 people — a good portion of which were cherry picked from existing automotive companies and are therefore expensive.

Byton is not the only electric car company that swerving to try to avoid unexpected roadblocks in its growth. Tesla earlier this year cut its workforce to streamline its own production, and it has been making many sudden decisions on its retail strategy in an effort to cut costs.

For the new generation of vehicles, it’s not just all-electric technology that is tricky to build in a cost-effective and efficient way, but the fact these investments are being balanced against other major initiatives around vehicle software, and in particular autonomous technology.

Many believe that the industry is heading inevitably towards self-driving vehicles, but nright now we’re far from that and the development of the features poses a lot of safety and other hurdles and a completely picture of how it will look is still a moving target. Byton, for its part, is currently working with a third party, Aurora, for self-driving tech for its vehicles.

We have contacted Byton with questions about who is acting as CTO at the company currently, and if it can provide any more details on the Series C or valuation, and we will update this post as we learn more.

JD founder cautions logistics business must tighten belt

Alibaba’s arch-foe JD.com has long prided itself on owning and controlling its logistics services: couriers are treated as in-house staff and paid a basic income. But that will end soon as costs keep piling up for the ecommerce giant.

In an internal letter sent to the staff on Monday, JD founder and chief executive Richard Liu said the company will scrap basic salary for couriers as net loss amounted to 2.8 billion yuan ($420 million) in 2018 at JD’s logistics unit.

“The main reason is we had too few orders externally and too high a cost internally,” said Liu. “You all know that the last two years have been quite difficult for the company. We have been in the loss for more than ten years. If losses continue, JD Logistics only has two years of runway left with its capital raised.”

“I don’t think any of our delivery brothers want the company to go bankrupt,” Liu added.

JD Logistics became a standalone business in 2017 and subsequently raised billions of dollars from investors. JD still owns an 81.4 percent stake in the logistics arm, which was valued at around $13.5 billion at the time it raised $2.5 billion in February 2018.

Going forward, JD Logistics will continue to pay social insurances on behalf of its couriers, whose income is now based on the number of packages they handle. Liu assured that the old basic pay accounted for just 10 percent of the delivery staff’s total income so his goal is not to cut but boost salary for them, and eventually for JD Logistics as well.

But couriers are feeling the heat. Monthly pay used to average 7,000 yuan ($1,043) to 8,000 yuan, a Shenzhen-based courier told TechCrunch. Under the new scheme, he and his regional colleagues are earning 5,000 yuan to 6,000 yuan. Liu said in the letter that it’s “up to the couriers” to vie for better salaries, but it’s unclear how they can secure more packages in practice. JD said it has no comment on the issues addressed in Liu’s letter.

JD delivery staff are assigned on a regional basis. Assuming the number of parcels that go out of a region stays relatively constant, couriers can’t do much to boost their piecework wage. Already, some couriers have devised cheats that involve mailing parcels to themselves and rejecting them at delivery in order to jack up income, TechCrunch has learned.

JD Logistics

Photo source: JD Logistics via Weibo

China’s express delivery market, like many other fledgling industries, is a relentless race that sees players offer heavily subsidized prices for customers to stay competitive. JD is going against companies like Alibaba that enlist a consortium of third-party contracted couriers rather than hiring their own to keep costs down.

JD’s fourth-quarter cost of revenues grew 20.7 percent to $16.8 billion, mainly driven by expenses related to logistics services alongside its online direct sales business, the company’s earnings report revealed. The Amazon-like service is finding ways to bulk up revenues by opening its logistics service to third-party clients as well as expanding overseas.

“It’s just a matter of time that JD will remove couriers’ minimum income. It can’t increase the price for customers, so it’s passing the cost to the couriers,” said Alex Cheong, founder and chief executive of Web2Ship, a service that enables price comparisons across different express shipping services, told TechCrunch.

“In China, the only thing [courier companies] can play is the volume game. There’s this mentality that as volume goes up, companies will get more efficient, and costs will lower. But growth is actually slowing,” Cheong warned.

The income restructuring at JD’s logistics arm comes amid a widespread layoff across the parent company to remove low-performers, or what Liu labeled as “slackers.” JD is namechecked as one of China’s internet companies working 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week, or “996”, a demanding schedule that has prompted an online protest.

JD denied that it practices the “996” routine though it sees itself as “a competitive workplace that rewards initiative and hard work” which is consistent with its “entrepreneurial roots,” a JD spokesperson told TechCrunch earlier.

The ecommerce titan has long promoted its in-house logistics arm as offering “quality” service, so it remains to see how the removal of basic income will affect couriers’ morale. But one thing is for sure. Under the piece rate system, JD knows its exact labor cost per unit and avoids paying for employees’ idle time.

Smart speakers installed base to top 200 million by year end

Smart speakers’ global installed base is on track to top 200 million by the end of this year, according to a report out today from analysts at Canalys. Specifically, the firm forecasts the installed base will grow by 82.4 percent from 114 million units in 2018 to 207.9 million in 2019. The U.S. will continue to lead in terms of smart speaker adoption, but a good portion of this year’s growth will also come from East Asian markets –  particularly China, the report says.

The firm estimates 166 percent year-over-year growth in the installed base for smart speakers in mainland China this year – going from 22.5 million units in 2018 to 59.9 million in 2019 – to reach 13 percent smart speaker penetration in the region. That’s compared with 46 percent growth in the U.S.

The market for China will also look much different from the U.S., where Amazon and Google today dominate. These companies don’t have a smart speaker presence in China. That means others – like Alibaba’s Tmall Genie, Xiaomi’s Xiao Ai, Baidu’s DuerOS and more – will gain traction instead. Canalys predicts Tmall will lead, with 39 percent of the 2019 smart speaker market share in mainland China, followed by 25 percent for Xiao Ai, 24 percent for DuerOS and 12 percent for all others. (Note that Canalys didn’t break out estimates for Apple HomePod in China, where it launched in January. But given its higher price point, it seems the firm isn’t predicting huge adoption at this time.)

“Local vendors are bullish about China’s smart speaker market, and their aim for this year is to keep growing their respective installed bases in the country by shipping more devices into households,” said Canalys senior analyst Jason Low. “Hardware differentiation is becoming increasingly difficult, and consumers have higher expectations of smart speakers and smart assistants. Vendors will need to focus on marketing the next-generation ‘wow factor’ for their respective smart assistants and voice services to change consumers’ perception and drive greater adoption,” he added.

It’s worth noting, too, that the market for the voice assistants powering these smart speakers is even broader. For instance, Baidu announced in January 2019 that its DuerOS assistant has topped 200 million devices. This device base includes other things like home appliances and set-top boxes, in addition to smart speakers, however. And the worldwide market for voice assistants is on track to reach 8 billion by 2023, up from 2.5 billion in 2018, a report from Juniper Research said.

Canalys’ forecast follows news that smart speakers have hit critical mass in the U.S., where now 41 percent of U.S. consumers now own a voice-activated speaker, up from 21.5 percent in 2017.

While most analysts firms are reporting rapid global growth for smart speakers, their individual forecasts may vary some.

For example, Deloitte estimated the installed base for smart speakers will be even bigger – reaching more than 250 million units by the end of 2019, following 63 percent year-over-year growth. That would make smart speakers the “fastest-growing connected device category worldwide in 2019,” the firm had said, and would see the total market worth $7 billion.

Canalys’ forecast agrees with this prediction, if not the exact numbers. Today, it also adds that smart speakers will top the install base of wearable bands (like smartwatches and fitness trackers) in 2019, and will overtake tablets by 2021.

Match Group restructures exec team with focus on Asia

Tinder parent company Match Group, also the owner of a suite of dating apps including OKCupid, Meetic, Match, PlentyofFish and others, announced this morning plans to restructure its leadership team in order to better focus on the market opportunities for dating apps in Asia. Specifically, the company has appointed three new General Managers in Asia to focus on areas like Japan, Taiwan, India, South Korea, and other parts of Southeast Asia.

The company explains its decision has to do with the potential it sees for growth outside the U.S. and Europe, where there are more than 400 million singles, two-thirds who have not yet tried a dating app.

One of the new GMs is Tokyo-based Junya Ishibashi, who has been CEO of Match Group’s Eureka business in Japan. He now become the General Manager of Match Group for Japan and Taiwan.

Taru Kapoor, who’s based in Delhi, will be GM of Match Group India. And Seoul-based LylaSeo, who previously served as Regional Director of East Asia for Tinder, is now GM of Match Group for South Korea and Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Alexandre Lubot, who has served as both CEO of Meetic and CEO of Match Group EMEA & APAC since 2016 will remain CEO of Match Group EMEA & APAC. He will oversee the brands across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with the three General Managers reporting directly to him.

Meetic, which is Match Group’s European dating app, will now be overseen by Matthieu Jacquier, who has worked as a CPO with the company for a year. Alongside Jacquier, Elisabeth Peyraube will now take on a new role of COO & CFO of Match Group EMEA & APAC.

While Match Group plans for growth across Asia, India has been of particular importance, particularly as rival dating app Bumble entered the country last year, where it tapped actress, celebrity and Bumble investor Priyanka Chopra, to advise its expansion.

Tinder has also tried to cater to its Indian users with the more recent launches of expanded gender options in its app, and the Bumble-like “My Move” feature, which allows the women to chat first.

However, Tinder’s strategy in India needs to differ from here in the U.S. where it’s now promoting the young, carefree, and often less relationship-focused “single lifestyle.” In India (as well as in China and other markets), dating apps today still face challenges due to cultural norms. That’s led to an unbalanced ratio between men and women using the apps in India, a report from The Wall St. Journal found. And when women join, they’re overwhelmed by the attention they receive, as a result.

These issues will require Tinder to adapt everything from its marketing and advertising messages to even its product features in order better cater to its Indian users. And it requires someone who fully understands the market to lead.

“Taru was originally hired to grow Tinder in India, but a little more than a year ago we increased her responsibilities to oversee the growth of other Match Group products in the country,” said Mandy Ginsberg, Match Group CEO, in a statement about the leadership restructuring. “During that time Tinder has become a big brand in India, but Taru also has meaningfully grown OkCupid’s user base in India over the last six months due to her keen understanding of the market and culture. Her success is a template for how we can approach these emerging Asian markets, particularly when we have stellar talent on the ground that understands the cultural, regulatory and market dynamics at play,” she added.

In Korea, Match Group credits Seo with executing Tinder’s first-ever TV ad campaign, which helped increase downloads in Korea 2.5x from 2016 to 2018.

The company also says Ishibashi more than doubled Pairs’ revenue in Japan since its acquisition in 2015.

Both executives will oversee other Match Group brands in their respective markets, as part of their new responsibilities.

Match Group has been growing its footprint in the Asian market for some time. On its Q4 2018 earnings call in February, the company noted it already had teams in around half a dozen key countries throughout Asia focused on its marketing programs and developing the cultural insight it needed to succeed in those regions.

Ginsberg now says she would like to see a quarter of Match Group’s revenue coming from Asia within 5 years.

 

Another day, another U.S. company forced to divest of Chinese investors

Foreign investment scrutiny continues to creep into the startup world via a once obscure U.S. government agency that has new tools and a shift in focus that stands to impact young, high-growth companies in huge ways. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or CFIUS, recently made waves when it forced Chinese investors into two American companies to divest because of national security concerns.

There is much to learn from these developments about how government concerns over foreign investment will affect startups and investors going forward.

It is important to understand how we got here. CFIUS has long had the authority to review investments for national security concerns when the investment delivers “control” of a U.S. entity to a foreign entity — and control is defined broadly to mean the ability to determine important matters of the business. CFIUS is the body that rejected Broadcom’s acquisition of Qualcomm to name one well-known example.

The Treasury Department-led body can tap a few powers if it has concerns about an investment, such as blocking it outright, requiring mitigation measures, or—as we saw recently—forcing a fire sale of assets long after a deal is complete.

In the last few weeks, CFIUS has forced Chinese investors to divest from PatientsLikeMe, a healthcare startup that claims to have millions of data points about diseases, and Grindr, the LGBTQ dating app that collects personal data.

Historically, CFIUS’s focus has been on things like ports, computer systems, and real estate adjacent to military bases, but in recent years its emphasis has included data as a national security threat. The Grindr and PatientsLikeMe actions underscore that CFIUS is more focused than ever on how data can pose a security threat.

For example, the U.S. government’s move against Grindr was reportedly motivated by concerns the Chinese government could blackmail individuals with security clearances or its location data could help unmask intelligence agents.  These developments make CFIUS highly relevant to tech and healthcare startups, which frequently hold valuable data about customers and users.

Last year, Congress expanded CFIUS’s jurisdiction and gave it new tools to scrutinize even minority, non-controlling investments into critical technology companies or those with sensitive personal data of U.S. citizens if the investor receives certain rights, like a board seat.  These might be direct investments into startups by a foreign corporation or individual, or indirect investments into a venture fund by institutional investors like foreign pensions, endowments, or family offices.

Many aspects of the new law have been partially implemented through a pilot program that is impacting foreign investors into venture funds and direct investments into startups. One piece of the law that has not been implemented through the pilot program is the authority of CFIUS to scrutinize certain non-controlling investments into companies that maintain or collect “sensitive personal data of United States citizens that may be exploited in a manner that threatens national security.”

This piece is likely to go into effect in early 2020.

Keep in mind that in the cases of Grindr and PatientsLikeMe, the government relied on its preexisting authority to police investments that delivered control to a foreign person. Due to CFIUS reform, we are likely to see it similarly scrutinize minority, non-controlling investments into companies with sensitive personal data once the authorities are fully in force. Now is the time for investors and startups to go to school on recent cases to understand what is at stake.

Three lessons stand out from the Grindr and PatientsLikeMe actions.

First, CFIUS’s focus has evolved over the years to include control over data-rich companies. That is a trend that is likely to pick up considerably now that Congress has directed the agency to examine some of these deals, even when the investment does not give control to a foreign person.

Second, in both the Grindr and PatientsLikeMe cases, reporting indicates that neither company filed with CFIUS in advance of the transaction, thereby opening both companies up to the deals being unwound. Once CFIUS’s focus on sensitive data expands to non-controlling investments, we can assume CFIUS will not be shy about forcing divestiture for venture-style investments if the parties did not file and get approval for the transaction in advance.

Finally, it is important to understand that while recent newsworthy cases involved China, CFIUS’s jurisdiction applies on a global basis, so its data concerns may port over to investments from other countries as well.  The National Venture Capital Association, where I work, is urging Treasury to use authority it has in the CFIUS reform bill to not apply the expansion to non-controlling investments from friendly countries. This makes perfect sense, since the impetus for CFIUS expansion was largely China, and narrowing the scope of foreign actors will help CFIUS focus on true threats.  However, as long as the pilot rules are in effect—and perhaps longer—the full suite of CFIUS’s authorities apply whether you are from China, Canada, or Chile.

The one constant of the enhanced foreign investment scrutiny we have seen of late is that it is always shifting.  Investors, entrepreneurs, and companies must be on their toes going forward to understand how to raise and deploy capital in innovative American companies.

Ten steps to prepare for an exponential future

If it feels like technological change is happening faster than it used to, that’s because it is.

It took around 12,000 years to move from the agrarian to the industrial revolution but only a couple of hundred years to go from the industrial to the information revolution that’s now propelling us in a short number of decades into the artificial intelligence revolution. Each technological transformation enables the next as the time between these quantum leaps becomes shorter.

That’s why if you are looking backwards to get a sense of how quickly the world around you will change, you won’t realize how quickly our radically different future is approaching. But although this can sometimes feel frightening, there’s a lot we can do now to help make sure we ride this wave of radical change rather than get drowned by it.

Here’s my essential list:

  1. Do what you can to preserve your youth
    Scientists are discovering new ways to slow the biological process of aging. It won’t be too long before doctors start prescribing pills, gene therapies, and other treatments to manage getting old as a partly curable disease. Because most of the terrible afflictions we now fear are correlated with age, medically treating aging will push off the date when we might have otherwise developed cancers, heart disease, dementia, and other killers. To maximally benefit from the new treatments for aging tomorrow, we all, no matter what our current age, need to do what we can to take care of our bodies today. That means exercising around 45 minutes a day, eating a healthy and mostly plant-based diet, trying to sleep at least seven hours a night, avoiding too much sun, not smoking, building and maintaining strong communities and support networks, and living a purposeful life. The healthier you are when the anti-age treatments arrive, the longer you’ll be able to maintain your vitality into your later years.
  2. Quantify and monitor your health
    You can’t monitor what you can’t measure. If you want to maintain optimal health, you need a way to regularly assess if you are on the right track. Monitoring your health through regular broad-spectrum blood and stool tests, constant feedback about your heart rate and sleep patterns from devices like your Apple Watch or Fitbit, having your genome sequenced, getting a full body MRI, and having a regular colonoscopy may seem like overkill to most people. But waiting until you have a symptom to start assessing your health status is like waiting until your car is careening down a hill to check if the brakes are in order. Some smart people worry that this kind of monitoring of “healthy” people will waste money, overwhelm our already overburdened healthcare system, and cause people unnecessary anxiety. But even the healthiest among us are in the early stages of developing one disease or another. Society will inevitably shift from a model of responsive sick care of people already in trouble to the predictive healthcare trying to keep people out of it. Do you want to be a dinosaur-like victim of the old model or a proactive pioneer of the new one?
  3. Freeze your essential biological materials
    Our bodies are a treasure trove of biological materials that could save us in the future, but every morning we still flush gold down the toilet. That gold, our stool, could potentially be frozen so we could repopulate our essential gut bacteria if our microbiome were to take a dangerous hit from antibiotics or illness. Skin cells could be transformed into potentially life-saving stem cells and stored for future use to help rejuvenate various types of aging cells. If our future treatments will be personalized using our own biological materials, but we’ll need to have stored these materials earlier in life to receive the full benefit of these advances. We put money in the bank to ensure our financial security, so why wouldn’t we put some of our biological materials in a bio-bank to have our youngest possible rescue cells waiting for us when we need them and help secure our physiological security?
  4. If you plan on ever having children, freeze your eggs or your sperm
    More people will soon shift from conceiving children through sex to conceiving them through IVF and embryo selection. The preliminary driver of this will be parents’ increasing recognition that they can reduce the roughly 3% chance their future children will be born with dangerous genetic mutations by having their embryos screened in a lab prior to implantation in the mother. This may seem less exciting than making babies in the back seat of a car, but the health and longevity benefits of screening embryos will ultimately overpower conception by sex kind of like how vaccinating our children has (mostly) overpowered the far more natural option of not doing so. If you are likely to conceive via IVF and embryo selection, why not freeze your eggs, sperm, or embryos when you are at your biological peak and when the chance of passing on genetic abnormalities is lower than it may be later in life?
  5. Manage your public identity
    The days of living incognito are over. No matter how aggressively some of us may try to avoid it, our lives leave massive digital footprints that are becoming an essential part of our very identities. The authoritarian government in China is planning to give “social credit“ scores evaluating the digitally monitored behavior of each citizen in a creepy and frightening way. But even in more liberal societies we will all be increasingly judged at work, at home, and in our commercial interactions based on our aggregated digital identities. These identities will be based on what we buy, what we post, what we seek, and how and with whom we interact online. Some societies and individuals are smartly trying to exert a level of control over the collection and use of this personal data, but even this won’t change the new reality that our digital identities will significantly influence what options are available to us in life and represent us after we die. Given this, and perhaps sadly, we all need to protect our privacy but also think of our public selves as brands, managing our digitally recorded activity from early on to present ourselves to the world the way we consciously want the world to know us.
  6. Learn the language of code
    Our lives will be increasingly manipulated by algorithms few of us understand. Most people who were once good at finding their way now just use their GPS-guided smart phones to get where they need to go. As algorithms touching many different aspects of our lives get better, we will increasingly rely on them to make plans, purchasing decisions, and even significant life choices for us. Pretty much every job we might do and many other aspects of our lives will be guided by artificial intelligence and big data analytics. Fully understanding every detail of how each of these algorithms function may be impossible, but we’ll be even more at their mercy if we don’t each acquire at least a rudimentary understanding of what code is and how it works. If you can read one book about code, that’s a start. Learning the fundamental of coding will do even more to help you navigate the fast arriving algorithmic world.
  7. Become multicultural
    Pretty much wherever you were in the 18th century, you needed to understand Europe to operate effectively because European power then defined so many parts of the world. The same was true for understanding United States in the 20th century understanding America was imperative for most people living outside of the United States because US actions influenced so many aspects of their lives. For many people living in 20th century America, understanding the rest of the world was merely interesting. As China rises and Global power decentralizes in the 21st-century, we’ll all need to learn more about China, India, and other new power, population, and culture centers than ever before. This won’t just help you become a more well-rounded person, it will give you a far greater chance of success in most anything you’ll be doing. Although machine translation will make communicating across languages pretty seamless, you’ll need a cultural fluidity and fluency to succeed in the 21st century world. The good news is that people motivated to learn about other groups and societies now have more resources than ever before to do so. If you want to be ready for our multicultural, multinational future, you’d better start doing all you can to learn about other cultures and societies now.
  8. Become an obsessive learner
    Technological change has been a constant throughout human history, but the pace of change is today accelerating far more rapidly than ever before. As innovations across the spectrum of science and technology empower, inspire, and reinforce each other, multiple technological transformations are converging into a revolutionary whole far greater than the sum of its parts. This unprecedented rate of change will mean that much of your knowledge will start becoming obsolete as soon as you acquire it. To keep up in your career and life, you’ll need to dedicate yourself to a lifetime of never ending, aggressive, continuous, and creativity-driven learning. The only skill worth having in an exponential world will be knowing how to learn and a passion for doing it. Call me an old-fashioned futurist, but this learning process must include reading lots of books to help you understand where we have come from and how the disparate pieces of information fit together to create a larger story. This type of knowledge will be an essential foundation of the wisdom we’ll each and all need to navigate our fast-changing world.
  9. Invest in physical community
    We humans are social species. A primary reason we rose to the top of the food chain and built civilization is that our brains are optimized for collaborating with those around us. When we bond with our partners and friends, we realize one of our essential cord needs as humans. That’s why people in solitary confinement tend to go a bit crazy. But although our progression from feeling our sense of connection, belonging, and community has expanded from the level of clan to village to city to country to, in some ways, the world, we are still not virtual beings. We may get a little dopamine hit whenever someone likes our tweet or Facebook post, but most of us still need a connected physical community around us in order to be happy and to realize our best potential. With all of the virtual options that will surround us – chatbots engaging us in witty repartee, virtual assistants managing our schedules, and even friends messaging from faraway lands among them – our virtual future must remain grounded in our physical world. To build your essential community of flesh and blood people, you must invest in deep and meaningful relationships with the people physically around you.
  10.   Don’t get stuck in today The olden days were, at least in most peoples’ minds, always better. We used to have better values, a better work ethic, better communities. We used to walk to school uphill in both directions! But while we do need to hold on to the best of the past, we also need to march boldly into the future. Because the coming world will feel like science fiction, will all need to be like science fiction writers  imagining the world ahead and positioning ourselves to shape it for the better. The technologies of the future will be radically new but we’ll need to draw on the best of our ancient value systems to use them wisely. The exponential future is coming faster than most of us appreciate or are ready for. Like it or not, we are now all futurists.

China’s startup ecosystem is hitting back at demanding working hours

In China, the laws limit work to 44 hours a week and require overtime pay for anything above that. But many aren’t following the rules, and a rare online movement puts a spotlight on extended work hours in China’s booming tech sector. People from all corners of society have rallied in support for improvements to startup working conditions, while some warn of hurdles in a culture ingrained in the belief that more work leads to greater success.

In late March, anonymous activists introduced 996.ICU, a domain name that represents the grueling life of Chinese programmers: who work from 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week with the threat of ending up at ICU, a hospital’s intensive care unit. The site details local labor laws that explicitly prohibit overtime work without pay. The slogan “Developers’ lives matter” appears at the bottom in solemn silence.

A project called 996.ICU soon followed on GitHub, the Microsoft-owned code and tool sharing site. Programmers flocked to air their grievances, compiling a list of Chinese companies that reportedly practice 996 working. Among them were major names like e-commerce leaders Alibaba, JD.com and Pinduoduo, as well as telecoms equipment maker Huawei and Bytedance, the parent company of the red-hot short video app TikTok.

In an email response to TechCrunch, JD claimed it doesn’t force employees to work overtime.

“JD.com is a competitive workplace that rewards initiative and hard work, which is consistent with our entrepreneurial roots. We’re getting back to those roots as we seek, develop and reward staff who share the same hunger and values,” the spokesperson said.

Alibaba declined to comment on the GitHub movement, although founder Jack Ma shared on Weibo Friday his view on the 996 regime.

“No companies should or can force employees into working 996,” wrote Ma. “But young people need to understand that happiness comes from hard work. I don’t defend 996, but I pay my respect to hard workers!”

Bytedance declined to comment on whether its employees work 996. We contacted Huawei but had not heard back from the company at the time of writing.

996.ICU rapidly rocketed to be the most-starred project on GitHub, which claims to be the world’s largest host of source codes. The protest certainly turned heads among tech bosses as China-based users soon noticed a number of browsers owned by companies practicing 996 had restricted access to the webpage.

The 996 dilemma

The 996 list is far from exhaustive as it comprises of voluntary entries from GitHub users. It’s also hard to nail down the average work hours at a firm, especially a behemoth with tens of thousands of employees where policies can differ across departments. For instance, it’s widely acknowledged that developers work longer than their peers in other units. Anecdotally, TechCrunch has heard that bosses in some organizations often find ways to exploit loopholes, such as setting unrealistic KPIs without explicitly writing 996 into employee contracts.

“While our company doesn’t force us into 996, sometimes, poor planning from upper management forces us to work long hours to meet arbitrary management deadlines,” a Beijing-based engineer at a professional networking site told TechCrunch. This person is one of many sources who spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to speak to media.

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BEIJING, CHINA APRIL 25, 2018: Passenger on a train in the Beijing Subway. Donat Sorokin/TASS (Photo by Donat SorokinTASS via Getty Images)

Other companies are more vocal about 996, taking pride in their excessively diligent culture. Youzan, the Tencent-backed, Shopify -like e-commerce solution provider, explicitly demanded staff to live out 996 work styles. Employees subsequently filed complaints in January to local labor authorities, which were said to have launched an investigation into Youzan.

A lot of companies are like Youzan, which equates long hours of work with success. That mindset can easily lure programmers or other staff into accepting extra work time. But employees are hardly the only ones burning out as entrepreneurs are under even greater pressure to grow the business they build from scratch.

“The recent debate over 996 brings to light the intense competition in China’s tech industry. To survive, startups and large companies have no choice but to work extremely hard. Some renown entrepreneurs even work over 100 hours a week,” Jake Xie, vice president of investment at China Growth Capital, an early-stage venture fund, told TechCrunch.

“Overtime is a norm at many internet companies. If we don’t work more, we fall behind,” said a founder of a Shenzhen-based mobile game developing startup. Competition is particularly cut-throat in China’s mobile gaming sector, where creativity is in short supply and a popular shortcut to success is knocking off an already viral title. Speed, therefore, is all it matters.

Meanwhile, a high-performing culture brewing in China may neutralize society’s resistance to 996. Driven individuals band together at gyms and yoga studios to sweat off stress. Getting group dinners before returning to work every night becomes essential to one’s social life, especially for those that don’t yet have children.

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Photo source: Jack Ma via Weibo

“There is a belief that more hours equals more learning. I think some percentage of people want to put in more hours, and that percentage is highest for 22 to 30 years old,” a Shanghai-based executive at a tech company that values work-life balance told TechCrunch. “A few people in my team have expressed to us that they feel they cannot grow as fast as their friends who are working at companies that practice 996.”

“If you don’t work 996 when you’re young, when will you?” Wrote 54-year-old Jack Ma in his Weibo post. “To this day, I’m definitely working 12 to 12, let alone 996… Not everyone practicing 996 has the chance to do things that are valuable and meaningful with a sense of achievement. So I think it’s a blessing for the BATs of China to be able to work 996.”

(BAT is short for Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent for their digital dominance in China, akin to FANNG in the west.)

Demanding hours are certainly not unique to the tech industry. Media and literature have long documented the strenuous work conditions in China’s manufacturing sector. Neighboring Japan is plagued by karoshi or “death from overwork” among its salarymen and Korean companies are also known for imposing back-breaking hours on workers, compelling the government to step in.

Attempts to change

Despite those apparent blocks, the anti-996 movement has garnered domestic attention. The trending topic “996ICU gets blocked by large companies” has generated nearly 2,000 posts and 6.3 million views on Weibo. China’s state-run broadcaster CCTV chronicled the incident and accused overtime work of causing “substantial physical and psychological consequences” in employees. Outside China, Python creator Guido van Rossum raised awareness about China’s 996 work routine in a tweet and on a forum.

“Can we do something for 996 programmers in China?” He wrote in a thread viewed 16,700 times.

The 996 campaign that began as a verbal outcry soon led to material acts. Shanghai-based lawyer Katt Gu and startup founder Suji Yan, who say they aren’t involved in the 996.ICU project, put forward an Anti-996 License that would keep companies in violation of domestic or global labor laws from using its open source software.

But some cautioned the restriction may undermine the spirit of open source, which denotes that a piece of software is distributed free and the source code undergirding it is accessible to others so they can study, share and modify the creator’s work.

“I strongly oppose and condemn 996, but at the same time I disagree with adding discretionary clauses to an open source project or using an open source project for the political game,” You Yuxi, creator of open-source project Vue, which was released under the MIT license, said on the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, Weibo. (Gu denies her project has any “political factors.”)

Others take a less aggressive approach, applauding companies that embrace the more humane schedule of “9 am to 5 pm for 5 days a week” via the “995.WLB” GitHub project. (WLB is short for “work-life balance.”) On this list are companies like Douban, the book and film review site famous for its “slow” growth but enduring popularity with China’s self-proclaimed hippies. WeWork, the workplace service provider that bills itself as showing respect for employees’ lives outside work, was also nominated.

While many nominees on the 996 list appear to be commercially successful, others point to a selection bias in the notion that more work bears greater fruit.

“If a company is large enough and are revealed to be practicing 996, the issue gets more attention. Take Youzan and JD for example,” a Shanghai-based developer at an enterprise software startup told TechCrunch.

“Conversely, a lot of companies that do practice 996 but have not been commercially successful are overlooked. There is no sufficient evidence that shows a company’s growth is linked to 996… What bosses should evaluate is productivity, not hours.”

Or, as some may suggest, managers should get better at incentivizing employees rather than blindingly asking for more hours.

“As long as [China’s] economy doesn’t stall, it may be hard to stop 996 from happening. This is not a problem of the individual. It’s an economic problem. What we can do is offering more humane care and inspiring workers to reflect, ‘Am I working at free will and with passion?’ instead of looking at their work hours,” suggested Xie of China Growth Capital.

While a push towards more disciplined work hours may be slow to come, experts have suggested another area where workers can strive for better treatment.

“It seems almost all startups in China underfund the social security or housing fund especially when they are young, that is, before series A or even series B financing,” Benjamin Qiu, partner at law firm Loeb & Loeb LLP, explained to TechCrunch.

“Compared to 996, the employees have an even stronger legal claim on the above since it violates regulations and financially hurts the employee. That said, the official social credit and housing fund requirement in China appears to be an undue burden on the employer compared to the Silicon Valley, but if complied with, it could be understood as an offset of the 996 culture.”

A number of my interviewees spoke on conditions of anonymity, not because their companies promote 996 but, curiously, because their employers don’t want to become ensnarled in the 996 discussions. “We don’t need to tell people we support work-life balance. We show it with action,” said a spokesperson for one company.