Asia’s AnyMind pulls in another $8M and expands into outdoor advertising

Asia-focused marketing startup AnyMind Group has landed a further $8 million in funding to close out its Series B round and expand into new verticals.

The company announced a $13.4 million raise back in November, but that has now expanded to $21.4 million thanks to an additional injection from VGI Global Media, a Thailand-based firm that specializes in outdoor media, and Tokyo Century, a financial services firm that has invested in Grab among others. Japanese messaging app Line and Mirai Creation Fund, which is backed by Toyota, are among the original investors in the round, which valued the company at $200 million — though it isn’t clear if that number has increased with this new tranche of investment. The company has now raised close to $36 million to date.

AnyMind, which was formerly known as AdAsia, started out with a focus on internet advertising but it has since expanded to offer HR and marketing services. There are also further vertical expansions following this capital. AnyMind is moving into outdoor advertising in Thailand — through a joint venture with VGI focused on covering commuter routes and public transport — while, also in Thailand, it has acquired YouTube media company Moindy. Both of these moves are likely to come with regional expansions further down the line, according to AnyMind, which has a sizeable office in Thai capital city Bangkok.

Finally, AnyMind is also launching another new service: CastingAsia Creators Network, which is a network of social media influencers to complement its marketing and advertising media units.

Here’s more background on the company from our earlier report on the earlier Series B announcement:

AnyMind was founded in April 2016 by Japanese duo CEO Kosuke Sogo, the former managing director of Japan’s MicroAd in APAC, and COO Otohiko Kozutsumi, who had been with MicroAd Vietnam — and both men are ambitious with their plans to grow.

Indeed, despite being less than three years old, AnyMind says it has been profitable since early 2017. It said total revenue for 2017 was $26 million, up from $12.9 million one year previous. In an interview with TechCrunch, Sogo said he expects revenue for this year to be more than double that of 2017. He added that Southeast Asia, where the firm first set its focus, accounts for the lion’s share of revenue, with its one-year Japan operation pulling the remaining 30 percent.

Today, the company has 12 offices — including a product development center in Vietnam — and its services are present in 11 markets across Asia. It has some 330 staff, up from 90 just 18 months ago, and serves more than 1,000 clients across its three businesses.

Camera maker Insta360 raises $30M as it eyes 2020 IPO

Insta360, one of the pioneers in making 360-degree cameras, just raised $30 million in a Series C+ funding round from Chinese investors, including Everest Venture Capital, MG Holdings and Huajin Capital.

The Shenzhen-based camera maker declined to disclose its latest valuation. It plans to use the fresh proceeds in research and development, marketing and after-sales services in its key international markets, including the United States and Japan, which are the company’s second and third-largest markets behind China.

Some of its past backers include IDG Capital, Qiming Ventures, home appliance maker Suning Holdings Group and file-sharing service Xunlei.

The company started making 360-degree cameras — thus the brand name — in 2014 when founder Liu Jingkang saw a gap in the market for compact, easy-to-use cameras shooting high-definition 360-degree footage. Over the years it has evolved into a four-pronged business covering all sorts of needs: 360-degree cameras for professionals and amateur users creating virtual reality content, action cameras for sports lovers and smartphone accessories for average consumers.

In stark contrast to loss-making GoPro, which Insta360 rivals in the action camera vertical, the Chinese firm has been profitable since 2017 and is planning to file for an initial public offering in China next year, Liu told TechCrunch in an interview. The company declined to provide more details of the planned flotation but said the success of its action camera line has helped it achieve five-times revenue growth in two years and reach profitability.

From professionals to amateurs

Though the VR sector remains in its infant stage, Liu is optimistic that 360 content will become a much sought-after media form in the years to come.

“Many families will be consuming virtual reality content for entertainment in the future, so we have a huge market for 360 content. That’s why we make a 360 camera each year to keep our top-tier position,” said Liu.

insta360

The Insta360 One X / Photo: Insta360

The action-camera market, by comparison, is more mature. Insta360 is riding a larger social trend of live blogging and short-form videos that has generated a huge demand for quality video content. Dozens of camera options, from Snap Spectacles to Tencent’s clone of the Snap glasses, are available to help people churn out content for video-sharing apps, but Liu saw problems in many of these products.

“[Video-shooting] spectacles, for examples, are quite offensive. Not everyone wants to wear them,” said the founder. “Many cameras do a bad job at video stabilization, so people end up with unusable footage. Lastly, and this is the key issue, users don’t know how to handle their footage.”

To that end, Insta360’s latest answer to documenting sports events and traveling is a camera that can easily be held by hand or slipped into a pocket. Called the One X, the gadget shoots in 5.7K resolution at 30 frames per second, delivering pleasingly smooth stabilization even when thrown around. The camera also comes with a software toolkit that automatically selects and stitches together users’ footage, which makes sharing to TikTok and Instagram a cinch. Check out TechCrunch’s review of One X below:

Insta360 has also been chasing after the masses, and its latest bid is an add-on lens that can instantly turn an iPhone into a 360-degree camera. The idea is that as users get a taste of the basic 360-degree experience, they may want to upgrade to a higher-end model.

“Insta360 has a rare ability to take cutting-edge imaging tech and put it into products that consumers want to use today,” said Gavin Li, senior director at Huajin Capital. “They’re moving faster and innovating more than their competitors, and they’re taking bold new approaches to the defining communication tool of our time: the camera.”

Singapore fintech startup Instarem closes $41M Series C for global growth

Singapore’s Instarem, a fintech startup that helps banks and consumers send money overseas at lower cost, has closed a $41 million Series C financing round to go after global expansion opportunities.

The four-year-old company announced a first close of $20 million last November, and it has now doubled that tally (and a little extra) thanks to an additional capital injection led by Vertex Ventures’ global growth fund and South Korea’ Atinum Investment. Crypto company Ripple, which has partnered with Instarem for its xRapid product, also took part in the round, Instarem CEO Prajit Nanu confirmed to TechCrunch, although he declined to reveal the precise amount invested. More broadly, the round means that Instarem has now raised $59.5 million from investors to date.

The company specializes in moving money between countries in Asia in a similar way to TransferWise although, unlike TransferWise, its focus is on banks as customers rather than purely consumers. Today, it covers 50 countries and it has offices in Singapore, Mumbai, Lithuania, London and Seattle.

Instarem said it plans to spend the money on expansion into Latin America, where it will open a regional office, and double down on Asia by going after money licenses in countries like Japan and Indonesia. The company is also on the cusp of adding prepaid debit card capabilities, which will allow it to issue cards to consumers in 25 countries and more widely offer the option to its banking customers. That’s thanks to a deal with Visa .

Further down the line, the company continues to focus on an exit via IPO in 2021. That’s been a consistent talking point for Nanu, who has been fairly outspoken on his desire to take the company public. That’s included shunning acquisition offers. As TechCrunch revealed last year, Instarem declined a buyout offer from one of Southeast Asia’s tech unicorns. Commenting on the offer, Nanu said it simply “wasn’t the right timing for us.”

Toyota doubles down on Nvidia tech for self-driving cars

Toyota is deepening its relationship with Nvidia as the automaker, and its research arms in Japan and the U.S., ramps up its autonomous vehicle development program.

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang announced Monday during his keynote at the 2019 GPU Technology Conference that Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development — the automaker’s Japan-based research arm — is using the chipmaker’s full end-to-end development and production to develop, train and validate its autonomous vehicle technology. The partnership builds on an ongoing collaboration with Toyota and is based on development between engineering teams from Nvidia, TRI-AD in Japan and Toyota Research Institute in the United States.

This new agreement means Toyota will use Nvidia’s platform for training deep neural networks, testing, validation and eventual deployment for its cars. Toyota is also using Nvidia’s newly released AV simulator Drive Constellation, which is now available to customers. Toyota is the first customer to use Constellation, a cloud based platform that enables autonomous vehicle developers to test their technology in the virtual world. 

In short, Toyota is going to use Nvidia’s technology for the entire workflow or process to develop autonomous vehicles.

“Close collaboration is really our business model,” Danny Shapiro, Nvidia’s senior director of automotive said Monday. “It’s our way of developing jointly and building the Nvidia drivers platform.”

Nvidia and Toyota have been collaborating for several years now. Toyota announced in 2017 it would use Nvidia’s Drive PX supercomputer, a platform with a processor called Xavier, to power the autonomous driving systems inside its future cars.

Toyota, and its research arms TRI and Japan-based TRI-AD, are taking a dual approach to autonomy.

Toyota intends to eventually deploy fully autonomous cars that would serve elderly and disabled people under its so-called Chauffeur system. The automaker is also working on “Guardian,” a system for production vehicles that will operate in the background and step in when needed. The driver is always driving, but Guardian is watching, sensing and anticipating problems. 

It’s unclear if Toyota will use Nvidia’s platform for the development of the Guardian system or fully autonomous vehicles.

“Our vision is to enable self-driving vehicles with the ultimate goal of reducing fatalities to zero, enabling smoother transportation, and providing mobility for all,” TRI-AD CEO James Kuffner said in a statement. “Our technology collaboration with Nvidia is important to realizing this vision. We believe large-scale simulation tools for software validation and testing are critical for automated driving systems.”

Toyota is just one of several automotive partnerships Nvidia has locked in since 2015 when it introduced its original architecture for autonomous vehicles, a supercomputer platform called Drive PX. The original platform was designed to process all of the data coming from the vehicle’s cameras and sensors and then use an AI algorithm-based operating system and a cloud-based, high-definition 3D map to help the car understand its environment, know its location, and anticipate potential hazards while driving. 

500 Startups Japan becomes Coral Capital with a new $45M fund

The 500 Startups Japan crew is going independent. The VC firm announced a $30 million fund in 2015, and now the follow up is a new $45 million fund called Coral Capital.

Helmed by James Riney and Yohei Sawayama, just like 500 Startups Japan, Coral will essentially continue the work the U.S. firm made in Japan, where it made more than 40 investments including Kakehashi, satellite startup Infostellar, SmartHR and Pocket Concierge, which was acquired by American Express.

“Coral provides a foundational role within the marine ecosystem, it’s symbolic about how we want to be in the Japanese startup ecosystem,” Riney told TechCrunch in an interview.

LPs in the fund include 500 Startups backers Mizuho Bank, Mitsubishi Estate, and Taizo Son — the brother of SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son and founder of Mistletoe — and Shinsei Bank as well as other undisclosed institutional investors, who Riney said account for nearly half of the LPs. Riney said the fund was closed within two and a half months of fundraising and Coral had to turn some prospective investors away due to the overall interest shown.

Riney said that the scandals around 500 Startups — founding partner Dave McClure resigned in 2017 after admitting he’d been a “creep” around women — “wasn’t really a strong consideration” for starting Coral.

“It’s something we’d been wanting to do for a while,” he explained.

Coral Capital founding partners James Riney and Yohei Sawayama previously led 500 Startups Japan

Riney explained that Coral won’t mix in with 500 Startups Japan investments, and the team will continue to manage that portfolio whilst also running the fund.

Thesis-wise, the plan is to continue on from 500 Startups Japan, that means going after early stage deals across the board. Riney said that over the last four years, he’s seen more founders leave stable jobs and start companies which bodes well for Japan’s startup ecosystem.

“Now you’re seeing people more into their careers who see entrepreneurism as a way to fundamentally change their industry,” he said in an interview. “That bucks the trend of risk aversion in Japan which is commonly the perception.”

He sees the arrival of Coral as an opportunity to continue to push startup culture in Japan, a country well known for massive corporations and company jobs with an absence of early stage capital options for founders.

“There’s a lot of work we can do and the impact we can make in Japan is much higher than in somewhere like Silicon Valley,” Riney said.

“Pretty much every corporate has a startup program, but few of them are strong leads within seed or early stage deals, they tend to feel more comfortable in later stage investments. There have been investors investing on behalf of corporations who got the courage to spin out and go alone… but it is still much much fewer than other countries,” he added.

Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos-backed fund invests in a global geothermal energy project developer

Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the investment firm financed by billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Jack Ma that invests in companies developing technologies to decarbonize society, is investing $12.5 million in a geothermal project development company called Baseload Capital.

Baseload Capital is a project investment firm that provides capital to develop geothermal energy power plants using technology developed by its Swedish parent company, Climeon.

Like the spinoff from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Dandelion Energy, which recently raised $16 million in a new round of financing, Climeon builds standardized machines to tap geothermal energy. But Dandelion is targeting consumers with its technology to provide home heating, while Climeon turns geothermal energy into electricty.

The company’s modules — which stand around two meters cubed, produce 150 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to power roughly 250 European households, according to a company spokesperson.

Climeon, which was founded back in 2011, formed Baseload Capital about a year ago to invest in special purpose vehicles to build the power plants that use Climeon’s technology. Baseload takes an equity stake in these companies and provides debt financing for them.

Through its investment into Baseload Capital, Breakthrough Energy Ventures will help finance and develop these small-scale power plants globally (Baseload has already formed special purpose vehicles that are developing projects in Japan).

Climeon and Baseload Capital focus on three primary industries — geothermal, shipping and heavy industry. “We sell our machines to the [maritime industry] where we turn the waste heat from the engines into electricity (Virgin Voyages has bought several systems), to industries such as steel where they also have a lot of waste heat and then to companies that develop and operate geothermal power plants,” a Climeon spokesperson wrote in an email. “This could be a newly formed SPV or an existing energy company. In the U.S., for example, our modules will be used in an existing geothermal site.”

The company’s pitch is that it’s modular units make it easy to scale up or decommission plants. Modules list for EUR350,000 and customers also spend EUR5,000 per-module, per-year on Climeon’s power plant management software.

So far, the company says it has an order backlog of roughly $88 million.

The investment in Baseload Capital is Breakthrough Energy’s second foray into the geothermal industry. Last year, the company backed Fervo Energy, which uses proven technologies to help speed the development of geothermal energy at a cost of 5 to 7 cents per kilowatt hour.

“We believe that a baseload resource such as low temperature geothermal heat power has the potential to transform the energy landscape. Baseload Capital, together with Climeon’s innovative technology, has the potential to deliver GHG-free electricity at large scale, economically and efficiently,” said Carmichael Roberts of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, in a statement.

Revolut CFO resigns following money laundering controversy

This hasn’t been a good week for challenger bank Revolut . The company, which offers digital banking services and is valued at $1.7 billion, confirmed today that embattled CFO Peter O’Higgins has resigned and left the business.

The startup and O’Higgins have been under pressure after a Daily Telegraph report that revealed that Revolt switched off an anti-money laundering system that flags suspect transactions because it was prone to throwing out false positives.

According to the Telegraph, the system was inactive between July-September 2018, which potentially allowed illegal transactions to pass across the banking platform. Revolut did not contact the Financial Conduct Authority to inform the regulator of the lapse, Telegraph reporter James Cook said.

O’Higgins, who joined the company from JP Morgan three years ago, made no mention of the saga in his resignation statement:

Having been at Revolut for almost three years, I am immensely proud to have taken the company from £1m revenue to £50m revenue during this time. However, as Revolut begins to scale globally and applies to become a bank in multiple jurisdictions, the time has come to pass the reigns over to someone who has global retail banking experience at this level. My time at Revolut has been invaluable and I’m so proud of what myself and the team have achieved. There is no doubt in my mind that Revolut will go on to build one of the largest and most trusted financial institutions in the world.

In a separate statement received by TechCrunch, Revolut CEO Nik Storonsky said that O’Higgins had been “absolutely pivotal to our success.”

The resignation caps a terrible few days for Revolut, which was the subject of a report from Wired earlier this week that delved into allegations around its challenging workplace culture and high employee churn rate.

“Former Revolut employees say this high-speed growth has come at a high human cost – with unpaid work, unachievable targets, and high-staff turnover,” wrote guest reporter Emiliano Mellino, citing the experiences of numerous former employees.

Those incidents included prospective staff being told to canvass for new customers as part of the interview process. The candidates were not compensated for their efforts, according to Wired. Revolut later removed the demands from its hiring processes.

Revolut is headquartered in the UK, where it launched its service in the summer of 2015. Today, it claims over four million registered users across Europe — it is available in EEA countries — although it plans to extend its presence to other parts of the world are taking longer than expected.

The company said last year it aims to launch in Singapore and Japan in Q1 of this year — so far neither has happened — while it also harbors North American market plans. Entries to the U.S. and Canada were supposed to happen by the end of 2018, according to an interview with Storonsky at TechCrunch Disrupt in September, but they also appear to have been delayed.

Revolut is generally considered to be the largest challenger bank in Europe, in terms of valuation and registered users, but other rivals include N26, Monzo and Starling. Even Transferwise, the global remittance service, now includes border-less banking features and an accompanying debit card.

Japanese internet giant Recruit has a new $25M blockchain fund

Crypto market prices may be down significantly, but new investors continue to enter the blockchain space. The latest is Recruit Holdings, the $45 billion Japanese internet giant that owns Glassdoor among other things, which quietly launched a $25 million fund.

The fund is based out of Singapore and it closed in November 2018, but its existence was only made public this week following the announcement of its maiden deal, an undisclosed investment in Beam. Recruit has been very vocal about its intention to offer a crypto fund — I interviewed SVP Youngrok Kim at a Coindesk event in Singapore last year — while it has made equity investments in blockchain companies through its central corporate fund, Recruit Strategic Partners (RSP). The current RSP fund is $100 million and it is the company’s sixth.

Now, with the crypto fund, Kim — who operates within both RSP and the new fund — said that Recruit is free to do deals in both tokens and equity and generally dive deeper into blockchain.

“When we had an equity fund we weren’t as flexible as we wanted to be,” Kim told TechCrunch in a phone interview this week. “We weren’t in a position to buy tokens and assets. We will continue to have two vehicles, we will use the crypto fund and the RSP fund in tandem as needed.”

That’s all well and good but, with the bubble popped, the number of ICOs is down but not quite out. The dynamics have certainly changed, with token sales now almost universally conducted privately rather than publicly, and for full-time investors and professionals rather than anyone. Still, Kim still sees ample reasons to operate a token-based fund.

“We still see a lot of ICOs, the relative number is smaller but we still see a good amount of deal flow for token and equity raising. We are positive with the outlook,” he explained. “We’re a strong believer in blockchain and decentralized technology.”

Beyond direct investments, the fund will also invest in other funds as an LP to help spread its reach.

“Our investment area is broad, covering deep tech to the application layer too,” Kim explained. “We’re still conducting research to understand core technology and its potential.

“We’re going to very cautious spending the fund, we seek to discover companies that will have a real impact and society and where we can contribute as Recruit,” he added, claiming that there are a number of upcoming deals in the pipeline.

Recruit came on the radar for many in the U.S. through its acquisition of Glassdoor for $1.2 billion last year, but it is already a major name in digital space in Japan, as a recent Bloomberg profile story explained in some detail.

Founded in 1960, it is listed on the Toyko Stock Exchange and valued at over $45 billion. It isn’t just big in Japan, though, and Recruit has some 45,000 employees across 60 countries worldwide.

Its core services are recruitment and HR, but it also operates in the real estate, travel, dining and other segments. It has a history of acquisitions, some of which have included U.S-based Indeed.com (2012) and  Simply Hired (2016) as well as European services restaurant site Quandoo (2015)hair and beauty service Wahanda (2015) and education technology company Quipper (2015).

Despite that, Kim said that he doesn’t anticipate that Recruit will acquire blockchain companies that the fund invests in because it is still early days for the technology in terms of development, adoption and monetization. But, with the fund, Recruit is determined to keep an eye on developments to ensure it doesn’t miss out on potentially significant innovation.

Recruit isn’t the only corporate to start a crypto token fund. Line, another Japanese company that’s best known for its messaging app, launched a $10 million crypto fund last year while Korean rival Kakao has a blockchain consultancy and it is actively doing deals. Kakao made its first blockchain investment in December when it backed Israeli-based Orbs in an undisclosed deal.

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

Rakuten’s Viber chat app plans to charge to operate chatbots in controversial move

Viber, the messaging app down by Japanese e-commerce firm Rakuten, is poised to implement a controversial new strategy that will see it charge companies that run chatbots on its platform.

The conventional wisdom is to work with content companies to help bring users to messaging platforms and keep them engaged but Viber, which has struggled to keep up with rivals like WhatsApp and Line, is turning that on its head.

Starting April 1, Viber will charge chatbot operators $4,500 per month for the ability to send up to 500,000 messages to users. Those who exceed that range will be eligible to send up to one million messages per month for $6,500. The new fees are being communicated to companies that operate Viber chatbots, but Viber hinted at its new monetization plans in an email to TechCrunch.

“Bots can be published for free; however, to ensure the highest discoverability and quality of content for bots, we will be introducing a commercial commitment in the coming months. A key aim with this move is to ensure that users are presented with a steady stream of highly relevant and relatable content and a commercial commitment is one key tool for ensuring a quality experience for users,” Debbi Dougherty, head of B2B Marketing & Communications for Viber, explained.

This is a risky strategy that is likely alienate companies that operate chatbots on Viber as well a brands who bought into a bot strategy.

These costs have come out of the blue, much to the surprise of startups that spent time developing chatbots for the Viber platform.

“For an early stage startup, this isn’t going to work,” Edmundas Balčikonis, co-founder of Eddy Travels — a travel concierge service that took part in Techstars’ Toronto program — told TechCrunch by phone.

Balčikonis said his startup was attracted to the Viber platform because it provided all the necessary documentation and APIs to build a chatbot up front and in public. Having spent eight months developing its Viber bot, Eddy Travels plans to double down on its efforts with Facebook Messenger and Telegram where its bot-based service runs without charge and has seen multiples more users and engagement.

“Viber encouraged us to built the bot, but never discussed the price and there’s no price in the website documentation,” he said. “Messenger is showing way more traction for us… we didn’t get any significant engagement on Viber.”

Indeed, the strategy seems to be quite the opposite that Viber needs to take if it is to gain marketshare from the chat app leaders. WhatsApp — the world’s largest messaging service with over 1.6 billion monthly active users — doesn’t currently support chatbots, but instead of playing to its strengths, Viber is trying to squeeze additional revenue here under the cloak of “a quality user experience.”

Times are already hard though at Viber. TechCrunch spoke to six chatbot startups who develop a range of services for customers, including banks, insurance companies and media, but we found that none run any projects on Viber. Each said their desire to work on the Viber platform would diminish further if they were forced to pay for the privilege.

The Viber service is popular in pockets of the world, including the Philippines, Myanmar and some Eastern European markets. Current CEO Djamel Agaoua, a seasoned advertising executive, promised to work on the revenue and business model when he took the helm in 2017. Under his leadership, Viber has pushed its communities chat feature for brands and tried to tap into e-commerce, but little is known of how that has progressed.

Rakuten’s recent 2018 financial report was released this month and it made scant reference to Viber, other than to note that the service and Rakuten Mobile, the company’s MVNO offering in Japan, had “substantially increased revenue thanks to their full-scale aggressive sales activities.”

No raw figures were provided but Rakuten’s ‘Internet Services’ division, which houses Viber and Rakuten Mobile, saw its annual revenue increase by 15.9 percent to 788.4 billion JPY. That’s around $7.1 billion and it sounds impressive, but the bulk of that revenue is from Rakuten Mobile, which has teamed up with traditional operator KDDI to take a crack at Japan’s mobile market.

What we know about Viber is that it has increased its content monetization — which included advertising, sponsored stickers and more — and that now accounts for the bulk of its revenue having surpassing income from Viber VoIP calling packages.

But, again, there’s no raw revenue data here. Rakuten also no longer provides active user information for Viber, which it said said has registered over one billion users since its creation in 2011. That’s not an informative statistic.

Things seem to be so bad that Viber doesn’t even provide an active user number to advertisers, according to a pitch deck seen by TechCrunch. The data shown includes a selection of actions that Viber claims happen per minute, including 1.2 million logins, but there’s no headline monthly active user statistic. Barcelona, which counts Rakuten as a sponsor, and Coke are among the brands that use Viber.

Now the service’s content monetization push has extended into chatbots, but the obvious risk is that companies and brands will simply go elsewhere where, frankly, they already have a larger and more captive audience.

Rakuten bought Viber for $900 million in January 2014, just one month before Facebook forked out $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp. The Viber deal seemed prescient. Sure it didn’t have the same scale as WhatsApp but it was comparable — 300 million registered compared to WhatsApp’s 450 million active — and teaming with a major internet company would bring a larger budget and opportunities.

The sad reality of today, however, is WhatsApp has grown into one of the world’s most important social services but Viber has floundered. Policies that are as short-sighted as monetizing chatbots will ensure Viber continues to be an also-ran. That surely wasn’t how Rakuten envisaged its acquisition progressing.

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

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

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

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

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