American Express acquires Japan-based restaurant booking service Pocket Concierge

American Express has made an acquisition in Japan after it picked up restaurant booking service Pocket Concierge in an undisclosed deal.

The acquisition was announced in Japanese and in English by James Riney, the head of 500 Startups Japan which invested in Pocket Concierge as one of its first deals in the country.

The service was launched in 2013 to help book quality restaurants, including those that are Michelin-starred and others that have months-long waitlists for reservations. It currently works with 800 restaurants and is available in Japanese, English and Chinese, its closest competitors include OpenTable and local operator TableAll.

American Express said Pocket Concierge will continue as a wholly owned subsidiary. It plans to integrate the business with its card membership services.

Pocket Menu, the parent company, raised a $600,000 seed round, which included 500 Startups and others, before going on to raise an undisclosed Series A and other investments. Founder Kei Tokado is a former chef, and he was joined by co-founder and CFO Tatsuro Koyama in 2015.

“When we were just getting started, we talked about the opportunity for cross-border M&A in Japan. For foreign companies, acquiring locally is a viable way to unlock value in this country. A lot of people rightfully doubted that possibility, as it is so uncommon. Pocket Concierge not only proved that it is possible, but they also found a home at one of the world’s most well-respected companies,” Riney — the 500 Startups lead — wrote.

American Express acquisitions from last year included travel assistant Mezi and U.K-based fintech startup Cake.

President Bolsonaro should boost Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

In late October following a significant victory for Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential elections, the stock market for Latin America’s largest country shot up. Financial markets reacted favorably to the news because Bolsonaro, a free-market proponent, promises to deliver broad economic reforms, fight corruption and work to reshape Brazil through a pro-business agenda. While some have dubbed him as a far-right “Trump of the Tropics” against a backdrop of many Brazilians feeling that government has failed them, the business outlook is extremely positive.

When President-elect Bolsonaro appointed Santander executive Roberto Campos as new head of Brazil’s central bank in mid-November, Brazil’s stock market cheered again with Sao Paulo’s Bovespa stocks surging as much as 2.65 percent on the day news was announced. According to Reuters, “analysts said Bolsonaro, a former army captain and lawmaker who has admitted to having scant knowledge of economics, was assembling an experienced economic team to implement his plans to slash government spending, simplify Brazil’s complex tax system and sell off state-run companies.”

Admittedly, there are some challenges as well. Most notably, pension-system reform tops the list of priorities to get on the right track quickly. A costly pension system is increasing the country’s debt and contributed to Brazil losing its investment-grade credit rating in 2015. According to the new administration, Brazil’s domestic product could grow by 3.5 percent during 2019 if Congress approves pension reform soon. The other issue that’s cropped up to tarnish the glow of Bolsonaro coming into power are suspect payments made to his son that are being examined by COAF, the financial crimes unit.

While the jury is still out on Bolsonaro’s impact on Brazilian society at large after being portrayed as the Brazilian Trump by the opposition party, he’s come across as less authoritarian during his first days in office. Since the election, his tone is calmer and he’s repeatedly said that he plans to govern for all Brazilians, not just those who voted for him. In his first speech as president, he invited his wife to speak first which has never happened before.

Still, according to The New York Times, “some Brazilians remain deeply divided on the new president, a former army captain who has hailed the country’s military dictators and made disparaging remarks about women and minority groups.”

Others have expressed concern about his environment impact with the “an assault on environmental and Amazon protections” through an executive order within hours of taking office earlier this week. However, some major press outlets have been more upbeat: “With his mix of market-friendly economic policies and social conservativism at home, Mr. Bolsonaro plans to align Brazil more closely with developed nations and particularly the U.S.,” according to the Wall Street Journal this week.

Based on his publicly stated plans, here’s why President Bolsonaro will be good for business and how his administration will help build an even stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Brazil:

Bolsonaro’s Ministerial Reform

President Temer leaves office with 29 government ministries. President Bolsonaro plans to reduce the number of ministries to 22, which will reduce spending and make the government smaller and run more efficiently. We expect to see more modern technology implemented to eliminate bureaucratic red tape and government inefficiencies.

Importantly, this will open up more partnerships and contracting of tech startups’ solutions. Government contacts for new technology will be used across nearly all the ministries including mobility, transportation, health, finance, management and legal administration – which will have a positive financial impact especially for the rich and booming SaaS market players in Brazil.

Government Company Privatization

Of Brazil’s 418 government-controlled companies, there are 138 of them on the federal level that could be privatized. In comparison to Brazil’s 418, Chile has 25 government-controlled companies, the U.S. has 12, Australia and Japan each have eight, and Switzerland has four. Together, Brazil-owned companies employ more than 800,000 people today, including about 500,000 federal employees. Some of the largest ones include petroleum company Petrobras, electric utilities company EletrobrasBanco do Brasil, Latin America’s largest bank in terms of its assets, and Caixa Economica Federal, the largest 100 percent government-owned financial institution in Latin America.

The process of privatizing companies is known to be cumbersome and inefficient, and the transformation from political appointments to professional management will surge the need for better management tools, especially for enterprise SaaS solutions.

STEAM Education to Boost Brazil’s Tech Talent

Based on Bolsonaro’s original plan to move the oversight of university and post-graduate education from the Education Ministry to the Science and Technology Ministry, it’s clear the new presidential administration is favoring more STEAM courses that are focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.

Previous administrations threw further support behind humanities-focused education programs. Similar STEAM-focused higher education systems from countries such as Singapore and South Korea have helped to generate a bigger pipeline of qualified engineers and technical talent badly needed by Brazilian startups and larger companies doing business in the country. The additional tech talent boost in the country will help Brazil better compete on the global stage.

The Chicago Boys’ “Super” Ministry

The merger of the Ministry of Economy with the Treasury, Planning and Industry and Foreign Trade and Services ministries will create a super ministry to be run by Dr. Paulo Guedes and his team of Chicago Boys. Trained at the Department of Economics in the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger, the Chicago Boys are a group of prominent Chilean economists who are credited with transforming Chile into Latin America’s best performing economies and one of the world’s most business-friendly jurisdictions. Joaquim Levi, the recently appointed chief of BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank), is also a Chicago Boy and a strong believer in venture capital and startups.

Previously, Guedes was a general partner in Bozano Investimentos, a pioneering private equity firm, before accepting the invitation to take the helm of the world’s eighth-largest economy in Brazil. To have a team of economists who deeply understand the importance of rapid-growth companies is good news for Brazil’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This group of 30,000 startup companies are responsible for 50 percent of the job openings in Brazil and they’re growing far faster than the country’s GDP.

Bolsonaro’s Pro-Business Cabinet Appointments

President Bolsonaro has appointed a majority of technical experts to be part of his new cabinet. Eight of them have strong technology backgrounds, and this deeper knowledge of the tech sector will better inform decisions and open the way to more funding for innovation.

One of those appointments, Sergio Moro, is the federal judge for the anti-corruption initiative knows as “Operation Car Wash.” With Moro’s nomination to Chief of the Justice Department and his anticipated fight against corruption could generate economic growth and help reduce unemployment in the country. Bolsonaro’s cabinet is also expected to simplify the crazy and overwhelming tax system. More than 40 different taxes could be whittled down to a dozen, making it easier for entrepreneurs to launch new companies.

In general terms, Brazil and Latin America have long suffered from deep inefficiencies. With Bolsonaro’s administration, there’s new promise that there will be an increase in long-term infrastructure investments, reforms to reduce corruption and bureaucratic red tape, and enthusiasm and support for startup investments in entrepreneurs who will lead the country’s fastest-growing companies and make significant technology advancements to “lift all boats.”

World’s most valuable AI startup SenseTime unveils self-driving center in Japan

The world’s highest-valued artificial intelligence startup SenseTime has set foot in Japan. The Beijing-based firm announced on Friday that it just opened a self-driving facility in Joso, a historic city 50 kilometers away from Tokyo where it plans to conduct R&D and road test driverless vehicles.

The initiative follows its agreement with Japanese auto giant Honda in 2017 to jointly work on autonomous driving technology. SenseTime, which is backed by Alibaba and last valued at more than $4.5 billion, is best known for object recognition technologies that have been deployed in China widely across retail, healthcare and public security. Bloomberg reported this week that the AI upstart is raising $2 billion in fresh funding,

Four-year-old SenseTime isn’t the only Chinese AI company finding opportunities in Japan. China’s biggest search engine provider Baidu is also bringing autonomous vehicles to its neighboring country, a move made possible through a partnership with SoftBank’s smart bus project SB Drive and Chinese automaker King Long.

Japan has in recent years made a big investment push in AI and autonomous driving, which could help it cope with an aging and declining workfoce. The government aims to put driverless cars on Tokyo’s public roads by 2020 when the Olympics takes place. The capital city said it already successfully trialled autonomous taxis last August.

SenseTime’s test park, which is situated near Japan’s famed innovation hub Tsukuba Science City, will be open to local residents who could check out the vehicles slated to transport them in a few years.

“We are glad to have the company setting up an R&D center for autonomous driving in our city,” said Mayor of Joso Takeshi Kandatsu in a statement. “I believe autonomous driving vehicles will bring not only revolutionary changes to our traffic system, but also solutions to regional traffic problems. With the help of SenseTime, I look forward to seeing autonomous cars running on the roads of Joso. We will give full support to make it happen.”

Nissan’s new Leaf e+ is packing more than just 226 miles of range

Electric vehicle competition is heating up and it’s pushing some of the first entrants to add range and other features in hopes of keeping up with automakers that are just bringing EVs to the market.

Nissan has been in this EV game for nearly nine years now. The company has sold more than 380,000 Leaf vehicles globally since the EV first went on sale in 2010. And while it debuted a refreshed version of its all-electric Leaf just 16 months ago, the automaker is back with another Leaf variant that’s packing a lot more range and power, as well as several other new features.

Nissan unveiled this week at CES 2019 the Leaf e+, a version of the Leaf all-electric hatchback with 40 percent more range. The Leaf e+ has a 62 kilowatt-hour battery pack that has a range of 226 miles. That puts the Leaf e+ just under the Chevy Bolt EV, which has a 238-mile range, the upcoming Kia Niro EV with 239 miles and the Tesla Model 3 mid-range variant with 264 miles.

Pricing for the new Leaf e+ hasn’t been announced for the North American or European markets. In Japan, it will start at ¥4,162,320, which is around $38,000.

Consumers might have trouble distinguishing the Leaf and Leaf e+. Other than a 5-millimeter increase in overall height (16-inch wheels), the car’s exterior and interior dimensions are unchanged. The Leaf e+ has a revised front fascia with blue highlights and an “e+” logo plate on the underside of the charge port lid. Inside, drivers might notice the blue contrast stitching on the steering wheels, seats and door trim.

nissan leaf e+

The Leaf e+ is also equipped with advanced driver assistance technology known as ProPILOT and a one-pedal driving mode feature that allows the driver to start, accelerate, decelerate and stop using only the accelerator pedal.

ProPILOT is an in-lane semi-autonomous driving technology that can automatically adjust the distance to the vehicle ahead (some call it adaptive cruise control), using a speed preset by the driver. The system can also help the driver steer and keep the vehicle centered in its lane. ProPILOT Park, which is available only on Japan and EU models, is a system that can provide vehicle acceleration, braking, handling, shift changing and parking brake operation to guide the car into a parking spot.

Leaf e+ models in North American and EU will have a larger full-color 8-inch display, with an updated navigation system that can be linked to a compatible smartphone. This thin film transistor display features smartphone-like operation, including swiping, scrolling and tapping. Applications, maps and firmware are updated over the air, instead of having to manually update by USB or at a Nissan dealership, the company said.

Other new features include “Door-to-Door Navigation,” which syncs the vehicle’s navigation system with a compatible smartphone for driving and walking directions.

Nissan Leaf e+ interior

The big story here, of course, is the increased range and power. The Leaf e+ has a new electric powertrain that, combined with the battery, produces 160 kw of power and 340 Nm of torque. This means the Leaf e+ will have the get up and go required for merging and passing slower-moving vehicles on the highway.

Nissan says the Leaf e+ is 13 percent quicker when accelerating from about 50 mph to roughly 74 mph. The top speed has increased by about 10 percent.

The battery pack in the Leaf e+ is almost the same size and configuration as the one in the standard Leaf despite a 25 percent increase in energy density and increase in energy storage capacity.

The Leaf e+ also has a high-speed charging package — for those who want to pay for that feature — that will let drivers charge up to 80 percent of its range in 40 minutes. Based on early testing, Nissan Leaf e+ owners can expect similar charging times when hooked up to a 100 kW charger as current Nissan Leaf owners do with a 50 kW charger, despite a 55 percent larger battery storage capacity, the company said.

The new variant is expected to hit Nissan dealerships in Japan in late January. U.S. sales are expected to begin in the spring of 2019, and European sales will start in mid-2019.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Huawei reportedly punishes staff for New Year’s Eve tweet sent from an iPhone

As predicted, Twitter’s subtle new feature showing which clients tweets are sent from is already embarrassing brands.

Following on from a Korean boyband sponsored by LG and Apple’s own Music staff, Huawei is the latest to be embarrassed after it sent a New Year’s Eve message using an iPhone.

A since-deleted message included the embarrassing tell-tale detail: “Twitter for iPhone” indicating that the Huawei account had tweeted from an iPhone. The tweet was replaced by another sent from Twitter Media Studio client, which is developed for brands and advertisers and isn’t a fierce rival’s smartphone, but the damage was done.

The internet being the internet, the gaffe was noticed and preserved by many keen people who were to point out the contradiction. The mistake also gained lots of attention on Chinese social network Weibo.

Embarrassed by the episode, the Chinese smartphone firm has slapped those responsible with a fine.

That’s according to Reuters, which got its hands on an internal memo which reveals that two employees responsible have had their salaries reduced by 5,000 yuan, that’s around $730. In addition, one of the pair — reportedly Huawei’s digital marketing director — will have their income “frozen” for a year. While we don’t know their full salary packages and a $730 drop may be less than the cost of an iPhone, it is still bound to sting.

Worst of all, perhaps, it seems that they were not directly at fault for the mistake, which Huawei senior VP Chen Lifang said had “caused damage to the Huawei brand.”

The incident, Reuters reports, was due an error by an agency hired by Huawei:

The mistake occurred when outsourced social media handler Sapient experienced “VPN problems” with a desktop computer so used an iPhone with a roaming SIM card in order to send the message on time at midnight, Huawei said in the memo.

The irony here is that Apple’s near-blanket ban on VPN apps means it would probably have been easier to get access to Twitter using an Android phone. Instead, the agency apparently went to the trouble of acquiring a Hong Kong-based SIM card in order to hop over the Great Firewall and send this ultimately ill-fated missive.

It’s fun to joke about consumer companies relying on their archrivals, but the incident comes at a particularly challenging time for Huawei.

The company’s CFO is currently on bail in Canada where she awaits extradition to the U.S. on charges of fraud that could see her jailed for up to 30 years. But its core business is also under pressure.

Huawei may be best-known for its smartphone business, which ranked second in Q3 2018 with 14.6 market share according to IDC, but its telecom equipment unit has always been its biggest seller and now its future is uncertain. Intelligence leaders from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S — the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ — are reported to have agreed to a ban on all equipment from Huawei and fellow Chinese firm ZTE, and that’s something that allies such as Japan appear to be joining in on.

The GPS wars have begun

Where are you? That’s not just a metaphysical question, but increasingly a geopolitical challenge that is putting tech giants like Apple and Alphabet in a tough position.

Countries around the world, including China, Japan, India and the United Kingdom plus the European Union are exploring, testing and deploying satellites to build out their own positioning capabilities.

That’s a massive change for the United States, which for decades has had a practical monopoly on determining the location of objects through its Global Positioning System (GPS), a military service of the Air Force built during the Cold War that has allowed commercial uses since mid-2000 (for a short history of GPS, check out this article, or for the comprehensive history, here’s the book-length treatment).

Owning GPS has a number of advantages, but the first and most important is that global military and commercial users depend on this service of the U.S. government, putting location targeting ultimately at the mercy of the Pentagon. The development of the technology and the deployment of positioning satellites also provides a spillover advantage for the space industry.

Today, the only global alternative to that system is Russia’s GLONASS, which reached full global coverage a couple of years ago following an aggressive program by Russian president Vladimir Putin to rebuild it after it had degraded following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Now, a number of other countries want to reduce their dependency on the U.S. and get those economic benefits. Perhaps no where is that more obvious than with China, which has made building out a global alternative to GPS a top national priority. Its Beidou (北斗 – “Big Dipper”) navigation system has been slowly building up since 2000, mostly focused on providing service in Asia.

Now, though, China hopes to accelerate the launch of Beidou satellites and provide worldwide positioning services. As Financial Times noted a few weeks ago, China has launched 11 satellites in the Beidou constellation just this year — almost half of the entire network, and it hopes to expand by another dozen satellites by 2020. That would make it one of the largest systems in the world when fully deployed.

A Long March-3B carrier rocket carrying the 24th and 25th Beidou navigation satellites takes off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on November 5, 2017 in Xichang, China. Photo by Wang Yulei/CHINA NEWS SERVICE/VCG via Getty Images

China is not just putting satellites into orbit though, but demanding that local smartphone manufacturers include Beidou positioning chips in their devices. Today, devices from a number of major manufacturers, including Huawei and Xiaomi, use the system, along with GPS and Russia’s GLONASS as well.

That puts American smartphone leaders like Alphabet and particularly Apple in a bind. For Apple, which prides itself on providing one unified iPhone device worldwide, the disintegration of the monopoly around GPS presents a quandary: Does it offer a unique device for the Chinese market capable of handling Beidou, or does it add Beidou chips to its phones worldwide and run into trouble with U.S. national security authorities?

The complexity doesn’t stop there. China may be the most aggressive in launching its alternative to GPS and also the most bullish in providing worldwide coverage, but it is not alone in pursuing its own system.

Japan has made launching a space program a national priority to compete with China and rejuvenate its economy, and one critical component of that program is building out a positioning system. The Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (準天頂衛星システム), which has cost ¥120 billion ($1.08 billion) to date, is designed to augment GPS with more coverage of Japan and also trigger an estimated ¥2.4 trillion ($21.58 billion) in economic benefits.

Using this new system comes at a huge cost due to lack of manufacturing scale. As the Nikkei Asian Review noted a few weeks ago, “The high price of receivers is a hurdle, however. Mitsubishi Electric on Thursday began selling receivers accurate to within a few centimeters — at a price of several million yen, or tens of thousands of dollars, apiece.” The additional location accuracy in Japan may well be necessary for autonomous cars, but auto manufactures will need to lower costs quickly if they want to include the technology in their vehicles.

Like Japan, India has similarly pursued a GPS-augmenting system known as IRNSS, and it has now launched seven satellites to increase coverage of the subcontinent. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, which is expected to leave the European Union in March following the referendum over Brexit, will most likely lose access to the EU’s Galileo positioning system, and is planning to launch its own. As for Galileo itself, it is expected to be fully operational in 2019.

In short, the world has moved from one system (GPS) to arguably seven. And while Chinese manufacturers increasingly have GPS, GLONASS and Beidou installed on one chip, that scale may only work in a country the size of China. In Japan, where the smartphone market is saturated and the population is less than a tenth of China, the scale required to lower prices may well be harder to find. It will be even tougher in the United Kingdom, for the same reasons.

Theoretically, one positioning chip could be designed to incorporate all of these different systems, but that might run afoul of U.S. national security laws, particularly in regards to GLONASS and Beidou. Which means that much as the internet is fragmenting into disparate poles, we might soon find that our smartphone positioning chips need to fragment as well in order to handle these local markets. That will ultimately mean higher prices for consumers, and tougher supply chains for manufacturers.

SoftBank Corp shares drop 14% on their first day of trading, but it’s still one of the largest IPOs ever

SoftBank Corp’s initial public offering today started with a bang before trailing off into a whimper, with the stock falling 14.5 percent during its first day of trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The company is the mobile unit of conglomerate SoftBank Group, whose holdings also include Sprint and the $100 billion Vision Fund.

Shares of SoftBank Corp opened at 1,463 yen, below the 1,500 yen the company had set for its IPO price (instead of a range), and closed at 1,282 yen. It offered 160 million shares, or about a third of the total held by parent company SoftBank Group. Despite a bumpy first day of trading, SoftBank Corp raised a total of 2.65 trillion yen (about $23.5 billion), making it Japan’s largest ever IPO and placing it just behind Alibaba’s record-setting $25 billion debut on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014 (SoftBank Group is one of Alibaba’s largest shareholders).

According to Bloomberg, 90 percent of the investors who bought SoftBank Corp shares at the 1,500 opening price were individuals, who the company had targeted in an unusual marketing campaign.

Factors that may have dampened investor enthusiasm about include a network outage earlier this month triggered by a shutdown of Ericsson equipment due to expired software certificates (O2 customers in Great Britain were also affected).

The outage underscored other concerns about SoftBank Corp’s telecommunications infrastructure. According to a Nikkei report published last week, the company has decided to stop using hardware from Huawei Technologies due to security concerns and replace them over the next several years with equipment by Ericsson and Nokia.

While the company says the hardware swap isn’t expected to cost a lot of money, it will also need to deal with more competition next year. SoftBank Corp’s rivals are currently NTT DoCoMo and KDDI, but Rakuten will launch cellular service in October 2019, making it Japan’s fourth mobile network operator.

Furthermore, SoftBank Group also carries massive debt that totaled 18 trillion yen (about $160 billion) as of the end of September, more than six times the amount it earns on an operating basis. This means the Vision Fund is especially reliant on Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, which contributed $48 billion, making it the fund’s largest investor.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, called the Public Investment Fund, is run by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been implicated by Turkish officials and the United State’s Central Intelligence Agency in the planning of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Crown Prince bin Salman has denied involvement in the killing, but the situation still calls into question the future of Saudi Arabia’s involvement with SoftBank, especially since Crown Prince bin Salman said in October that Saudi Arabia plans to invest another $45 billion in the second Vision Fund.

Walmart partners with Rakuten to open its first e-commerce store in Japan

Walmart is continuing its strategy of revamping its businesses in Asia after the U.S. retail giant opened its first e-commerce store in Japan, where it is working with local retail giant Rakuten.

The companies first announced a collaboration in January when they agreed to team up on the launch of an online grocery service in Japan and the sale of e-readers, audiobooks and e-books from Rakuten-owned Kobo in the U.S. That e-grocery service — Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper — rolled out in October, and now the duo have launched the Walmart Rakuten Ichiba Store to help Walmart grab a slice of Japan’s e-commerce market, which is estimated to be worth 16.5 trillion yen ($148 billion) per year.

The store, which sits on Rakuten Ichiba — Japan’s largest e-commerce store — will cover 1,200 “U.S. branded” products that include clothing, outdoor items and kids toys. Walmart will fulfill orders in the U.S. and they will be sent by air to Japan where Rakuten will use its e-commerce smarts to deliver them. There’s no word on how long the process will take, but it will include shipping cost, duties and taxes in the final price.

The move is an interesting one for Walmart, which has struggled in Japan for some time.

Earlier this year, the company was forced to deny rumors that it was in the process of offloading its Seiyu GK unit, a business it acquired in full in 2007 which operates its Japan-based supermarkets. A sale may not be happening (yet) but Walmart has shuttered some 100 Seiyu stores, according to CNBC, which shows that it isn’t performing as expected in the country.

Partnering with Rakuten, the $10 billion e-commerce giant that also covers financial services, travel, mobile and more, is a smart way to take a bite out of Japan’s online market with risk or exposure. Though it does have its limits. Amazon, Walmart’s big domestic rival, is taking on Rakuten directly, by contrast, and seeing some success albeit at a high cost of investment.

The partnership approach isn’t new for Walmart in Asia.

The partner of choice in China is JD.com, second to Alibaba, which acquired Walmart’s floundering Yihaodian marketplace in 2016. As part of that deal, Walmart became a retailer inside Yihaodian thus leveraging JD’s platform and logistics know-how to generate sales in China.

That relationship was deepened this year when Walmart co-led a $500 million in a grocery delivery service that’s part-owned by JD– yep right, another case of online grocery in tandem with e-commerce.

Elsewhere, Walmart decided to enter India this year when it scooped up local Amazon rival Flipkart for $16 billion, a record deal for the U.S. firm.

Salesforce doubles down on Japan with dedicated $100M fund

It’s been a good week for Japanese startups. Fresh from Google making a rare investment in the country when it backed AI startup Abeja, so Salesforce — another U.S. tech titan — has announced a $100 million fund for enterprise startups in Japan.

The Japan Trailblazer Fund is Salesforce Venture’s first local fund in Asia. The firm’s VC arm has backed 40 startups in Japan since 2011, that’s a fractional of its portfolio of over 275 startups. While, at $100 million, the Japan fund is also a small part of the overall investment thesis which has seen Salesforce Ventures plow over $1 billion into companies worldwide.

Nevertheless, the dedicated focus on Japan is positive news for the country, which has struggled to attract overseas investors despite running the world’s third-largest economy based on GDP. For Salesforce, Japan’s public cloud services market is expected to increase more than two-fold to reach $13 billion by 2022, according to figures from IDC.

Salesforce Ventures’ existing portfolio includes startups like accounting service Freee, which raised $60 million in August, and contact management business Sansan, which this week closed $26.5 million for expansion into Southeast Asia.

WeChat e-wallet teams up with Line to target Japan’s 7M Chinese tourists

China’s biggest chat app WeChat is set to make its payments service more ubiquitous in Japan, a popular outbound desitnation for Chinese tourists.

On Tuesday, the Tencent-run messenger unveils a partnership with Japan’s Line chat app on mobile payments. The tie-up allows Japanese brick-and-mortar merchants with a Line Pay terminal to process WeChat Pay transactions directly. Instead of going through the hassle of currency swaps, a Chinese customer can simply summon the WeChat app and pay by scanning a QR code the retailer presents.

The fresh alliance is hot on the heels of a similar gesture from Tencent’s most serious rival, Alibaba. In September, the Chinese ecommerce giant’s payments affiliate Alipay teamed up with Yahoo Japan in an effort to grab Chinese outbound travelers.

Tencent did not provide information on the number of potential Japanese retailers reached through the scheme when inquired by TechCrunch . But the firm says its setup with Line Pay allows small and medium-sized businesses to adopt mobile payments at relatively low costs because it doesn’t require merchants to purchase QR code scanners.

Both WeChat Pay and Alipay have already been going it alone in Japan over the past few years. WeChat Pay, for instance, claims that it scored a six-fold increase in the number of transactions in Japan between June 2017 and 2018.

On the other hand, having an ally with an extensive local reach can help Alibaba and Tencent capitalize on a wave of increasingly sophisticated Chinese tourists.

The partnership with Line “significantly boosts WeChat Pay’s penetration among small and medium-sized retailers and its application in more daily scenarios, rather than serving Chinese people only at traditional tourism hotspots,” says a Tencent spokesperson. “This strategy is in line with an upgraded demand from Chinese people to travel like locals.”

Japan’s appeal to Chinese people is on the rise. During China’s weeklong “Golden Week” national holiday in October, Japan leapfrogged Thailand for the first time to become the most popular destination for Chinese tourists, according to a report from Chinese online travel agency Ctrip. In 2017, the Japan National Tourism Organization recorded a total of 7.36 million Chinese tourists, who made up more than a quarter of all visitors to Japan that year.