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.”

America Movil acquires Nextel in Brazil for $905M

Latin America continues to remain a focus for investors that are eyeing up its large population and growth potential. In the latest development, America Movil, the Latin American carrier that is part of the Carlos Slim empire, today announced that it would acquire Nextel in Brazil, owned by NII (formerly Nextel International), for $905 million. NII in turn said that once the deal is closed, it has received approval “to dissolve and wind up NII.”

This is a move to scale up an existing carrier in competition with existing large players like Telefonica (which co-owns Vivo with Portugal Telecom), Telecom Italia and Oi (owned by Telemar). America Movil already has an operation in the country, Claro, which it plans to merge with Nextel to “consolidate its position as one of the leading telecommunication service providers in Brazil, strengthening its mobile network capacity, spectrum portfolio, subscriber base, coverage and quality, particularly in the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the main markets in Brazil.”

America Movil — based out of Mexico — has been on a consolidation spree, swallowing up other smaller holdings in a variety of markets in the region. In January, it acquired Telefonica’s assets in Guatemala and El Salvador respectively for $333 million and $315 million.

The Nextel Brazil deal will include buying a 70 percent stake in the carrier from NII, as well as a remaining 30 percent stake from AI Brazil Holdings BV, NII said today. AI Brazil Holdings is controlled by Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, the company that owns Warner Music, Deezer and a number of other assets and investments. It had reportedly also been interested in increasing its share in the carrier, before agreeing to sell its stake altogether.

The acquisition is the final chapter for the struggling business, which had originally been the international division of Nextel but had spun out as a separate company before Sprint acquired Nextel in the US in 2005. NII’s focus had been mobile carrier operations across a range of developing markets but it struggled and had been through multiple bankruptcy processes.

“The announcement of this transaction marks the culmination of an extensive multi-year process to pursue a strategic path for Nextel Brazil and provides our best opportunity to monetize our remaining operating assets in light of the competitive landscape in Brazil and long-term need to raise significant capital to fund business operations, debt service and capital expenditures necessary to remain competitive in the future,” stated Dan Freiman, NII’s Chief Financial Officer, in a statement. “Management and our Board of Directors believe the transaction is in the best interest of NII’s stockholders.”

The deal represents a final chapter of sorts for the Nextel brand, which had been a trailblazer in the mobile market through its push-to-talk, walkie-talkie-style mobile service. This was was an early mover in the bigger wave of messaging services that competed with basic carrier SMS, and some came to think of it as the first mobile social network. Over time, though, the iDEN digital network that carried the service became outmoded and most carriers that offered iDEN-based services (including Nextel) discontinued them to focus on 3G and subsequent mobile technologies.

More generally, the acquisition underscores how a number of investors, willing to ride the waves of economic and political ups and downs in Latin America, continue to view the growth opportunities in the region.

NII — which is based out of Reston, VA — was traded on Nasdaq and had a market cap as of last market close, of just $322 million. The company currently has 3.3 million subscribers. But while it was reportedly looking for a buyer of the business in Brazil, its last remaining asset, for some time, this final price — at nearly three times its market cap — is a sign of how some might see locked up value in Nextel Brazil that exceeded all that.

Last week, Paypal and Dragoneer collectively committed $850 million towards MercadoLibre, a marketplace in Argentina. The week before that, SoftBank announced that it would set up a new $2 billion fund to invest in tech companies out of the region, and to help existing portfolio companies to expand there. (By coincidence, the SoftBank venture will be led by Marcelo Claure, who is also executive chairman of Sprint, which swallowed up the US part of Nextel years ago and eventually got acquired by SoftBank.)

PayPal to invest $750M, and Dragoneer $100M into MercadoLibre, Argentina’s e-commerce powerhouse

It’s not only SoftBank that’s eyeing up the opportunity to tap into the quickly expanding market for e-commerce in Latin America. MercadoLibre, a marketplace and financial services powerhouse based out of Argentina and serving 18 countries across the region, has announced that PayPal is investing $750 million, and VC Dragoneer another $100 million, as part of a $1.8 billion equity offering to grow its business — specifically to expand the functionality of its e-commerce platform; improve its logistics infrastructure; and invest in financial technologies “that further solidify the company’s position as a powerful provider of inclusive end-to-end financial technology and payments solutions.”

The remaining $1 billion of the equity offering will be offered as common stock, the company said. PayPal and Dragoneer’s investments are contingent on the company raising the remainder publicly, although judging by the company’s track record as a public stock, and the fact that PayPal also announced this news on its own site, it doesn’t appear the parties are in great doubt about the deal’s completion.

MercadoLibre is traded on Nasdaq and currently has a market cap of $21.75 billion.

The investment is both a financial and strategic one for both MercadoLibre and PayPal.

After getting spun out from eBay several years ago, PayPal has been on a mission to diversify its customer base to include a wider variety use cases, and partnerships to power payments for different marketplaces.

“Digital commerce in Latin America is experiencing tremendous growth and MercadoLibre is well-positioned for continued leadership,” said Dan Schulman, President and CEO, PayPal, in a statement. “We’ve been impressed with the digital commerce and payments ecosystem Marcos and his team have built. We see great opportunities to integrate our respective capabilities to create unique and valuable payment experiences for our combined 500 million customers throughout the region and around the world.”

The two have already worked together and the financial commitment PayPal is making here not only will help it reap dividends from MercadoLibre’s business growth, but also ensure that it integrates ever more of its features in prominent ways to drive more transactions on its own rails. And given how payments is actually more localised than many people might assume, it also gives the company a direct pipeline into tracking and catering to consumer and merchant tastes and preferences when it comes to buying and selling goods and related financial services.

“Over the past 20 years, we have heavily invested in developing the preeminent e-commerce and FinTech ecosystem in Latin America,” said Marcos Galperin, CEO of Mercado Libre, in a statement. “We are excited to welcome these investments which will allow us to significantly accelerate our growth. We look forward to accelerating our leadership in ecommerce and payments and foster financial inclusion in Latin America as a result of our alliance with a global leader in the industry such as PayPal.”

At a time when more mature markets like the US and Western Europe are slowing down in their e-commerce growth (while still remaining huge markets in their own right), the opportunity in developing markets like Latin America is a big one.

As SoftBank revealed last week when it unveiled its own $2 billion fund to back tech startups in the region, more than 50 million people in the region are now categorised as “middle class,” with increased disposable income. The region accounts for 10 percent of the world’s population and 8 percent of the world’s GDP, two times the GDP of India and half that of China. There are some 375 million internet users and 250 million smartphone users, putting it ahead of the U.S. in terms of sheer numbers.

Moreover, retail e-commerce has nearly doubled in the last three years, going to $54 billion in 2018 from $29.8 billion in 2015, figures that have definitely fuelled MercadoLibre’s own growth. In 2018, the company sold more than 334 million items, amounting to over $12 billion of gross merchandise volume. Payment transactions on MercadoPago, its payments business unit, increased by 70 percent during 2018, totalling 389 million transactions and $18 billion of total payment volume, the company said.

At the same time, these are nascent numbers: some 400 million people are still without bank accounts or credit histories in the region.

In terms of the other big investor being announced in this round, Dragoneer is a legendary and very experienced investor when it comes to interesting opportunities in e-commerce. The company has stakes in other giant regional e-commerce marketplaces like Alibaba and Flipkart; disruptive ‘gig economy’ leaders like Airbnb, Uber, DoorDash and Instacart, as well as a plethora of other huge startup names like Slack and Snap. It seems MercadoLibre as currently the top bet for not only competing against the likes of Amazon, but a range of smaller local players that are also looking to tap into this quickly expanding economy — in other words, the same opportunity SoftBank is chasing, but from the other end of the field.

“Through its investments in FinTech, logistics, and customer experience, MercadoLibre is solidifying its leading market position in e-commerce and digital payments across Latin America, and we believe we are witnessing a major tipping point in the region,” said Marc Stad, founder and managing partner of Dragoneer Investment Group, in a statement.

“We’ve known Marcos and his team for over a decade and are thrilled to partner with them through this high growth and transformative period.” Goldman Sachs is acting as sole financial advisor to MercadoLibre on the PayPal and Dragoneer investments, and Cleary Gottlieb is serving as MercadoLibre’s legal advisor. Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley are acting as joint bookrunners on the public equity offering.

As a side note, it’s interesting to consider the approach that MercadoLibre is taking with this round. PayPal’s investment is coming in the form of a purchase of common stock, while Dragoneer’s is coming by way of an affiliate that has agreed to purchase $100 million of Series A perpetual convertible preferred stock, with the rest to be raised publicly. When you consider how Lyft, and likely Uber, and many other very highly valued, high-profile scaled startups are likely also to list publicly, this could end up being a route that we see getting used more often when these companies, which are all still operating at a loss and will need to raise capital, might opt to take, too,

Meituan confirms Mobike’s retreat from most overseas markets

TechCrunch reported last Friday that Mobike has scrapped operations across the Asia Pacific region as a key step towards a long-term plan to scale back its international business. On Monday, its parent company Meituan confirmed that the pioneer in China’s bike rental sector will shut down most of its foreign markets.

“Mobike international business is undergoing restructuring, which will result in the closure of most international markets,” Meituan’s chief financial executive Chen Shaohu told analysts on a conference call on Monday.

The decision came as Meituan plans to further narrow the operating loss of Mobike, added the executive. Mobike has lost 4.55 billion yuan ($680 million) since April 4, 2018 when Meituan, the app that aspires to be the “Amazon for services”, bought it out. That compares to the 1.5 billion yuan ($220 million) the bike service generated in revenues over the same period, notes Meituan’s earnings latest report.

Backpedaling from foreign markets is also consistent with Meituan’s long-held strategy to stay focus on China. The Beijing-based firm earns most of its income by ferrying food and providing travel booking services inside its home country, and international expansion never seemed to be on the cards.

“Meituan has no international division of any shape or form and probably doesn’t want one, and when it acquired Mobike, it acquired the international arm,” the Financial Times reported earlier citing sources.

When inquired by TechCrunch on Monday about its international plans for Mobike, Meituan curiously directed us to the bike business. A spokesperson from Mobike confirmed it will shut down “in some markets, particularly in certain Asia countries” but “international operations will continue in North-East Asia, Latin America and Europe.”

“Looking ahead, we are continuing discussions with potential strategic partners to maintain sustainable International business,” the spokesperson added.

Tipsters who told us about Mobike’s withdrawal from APAC found the statement “vague” and saw it as a gesture to placate the public. One needs to also remember that APAC is Mobike’s major foreign market, so a retreat from the region is a telling sign of the bike unit’s global plans, save for Meituan’s ballooning losses that may spur a further rollback of its money-burning, non-core businesses.

While Meituan’s revenues from the fourth quarter almost doubled to 19.8 billion yuan ($2.94 billion), net loss widened to 3.4 billion yuan ($510 million) from 2.2 billion yuan a year ago. Investments in “new initiatives,” which include bike sharing and car-hailing, have “tempered” the firm’s rising profitability. Meanwhile, its core units of food delivery, in-store services like software for restaurant owners, and travel booking earned positive operating profits in 2018.

 

With these numbers, it’s no surprise SoftBank is investing in Latin America

After SoftBank announced its plans to launch a $5 billion innovation fund in Latin America, we reached out to the good folks at the Latin American Venture Capital Association (LAVCA) for some context, and what they told me only validates the reasoning behind SoftBank’s interest in the region. (In 2017, we reported on the growing interest in Latin America.)

Let’s start with some numbers. Venture funding in Latin American startups is up — way up — from previous years. Specifically, LAVCA’s data shows that VC funding more than doubled in 2017 to $1.14 billion compared to $500 million in 2016. While 2018 numbers haven’t been finalized, LAVCA is projecting another record year with venture investments topping $1.5 billion.

If you combine private equity and venture investing, the numbers are even more impressive. LAVCA estimates that PE and VC fundraising together in Latin America in 2017 totaled $4.3 billion, up from $2.3 billion in 2016.1

Julie Ruvolo, director of venture capital for LAVCA, said all this “fits squarely in this larger momentum that’s been building over the last year or two.”

“We’ve been seeing the continued, and increased, entry of significant global players in the market,” she told Crunchbase News. “Plus, we’ve been seeing an uptick in $100 million-plus rounds, which was a relatively rare thing in Latin America.”

Also unsurprising is the breakdown of where the majority of venture dollars have gone in Latin America. Brazil led the region across all stages of VC investment, capturing 73 percent of VC investment dollars in 2017 and the first half of 2018 (201 startup investments totaling $1.4 billion). Mexico was the second most active market by number of deals (82 startup investments totaling $154 million), but Colombia saw more money invested ($188 million over 23 deals).

Here’s a quick rundown of just some of the bigger deals that took place during that same time frame:

It’s worth noting that fintech is the top sector of VC investment by dollars and number of deals in Latin America. The region also hosts a number of unicorns, including Brazilian ride-hailing startup 99; Colombian last-mile delivery service Rappi; Brazilian learning systems provider Arco Educação; and Brazilian fintech startup Stone Pagamentos.

With all this innovation and investing going on in Latin America, there is clearly large potential. And SoftBank is now poised to capitalize on that.

  1. The fundraising and investment data LAVCA collects is specific to fund managers that have raised capital from third-party institutional investors/limited partners and doesn’t account for other types of private capital investors, like a SoftBank fund or sovereign wealth fund, corporate, etc.

Transportation Weekly: Waymo unleashes laser bear, Bird spreads its wings, Lyft tightens its belt

Welcome back to Transportation Weekly; I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch . This is the fifth edition of our newsletter and we love the reader feedback. Keep it coming.

Never heard of TechCrunch’s Transportation Weekly? Catch up here, here and here. As I’ve written before, consider this a soft launch. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenkorosec to ensure you see it each week. (An email subscription is coming). 

This week, we explore the world of light detection and ranging sensors known as LiDAR, young drivers, trouble in Barcelona, autonomous trucks in California, and China among other things.


ONM …

There are OEMs in the automotive world. And here, (wait for it) there are ONMs — original news manufacturers. (Cymbal clash!) This is where investigative reporting, enterprise pieces and analysis on transportation lives.

This week, we’re going to put our on analysis hats as we explore the world of LiDAR, a sensor that measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. LiDAR is considered by most in the self-driving car industry (Tesla CEO Elon Musk being one exception) a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles.

There are A LOT of companies working on LiDAR. Some counts track upwards of 70. For years now, Velodyne has been the primary supplier of LiDAR sensors to companies developing autonomous vehicles. Waymo, back when it was just the Google self-driving project, even used Velodyne LiDAR sensors until 2012.

Dozens of startups have sprung up with Velodyne in its sights. But now Waymo has changed the storyline.

To catch you up: Waymo announced this week that it will start selling its custom LiDAR sensors — the technology that was at the heart of a trade secrets lawsuit last year against Uber.

Waymo’s entry into the market doesn’t necessarily upend other companies’ plans. Waymo is going to sell its short range LiDAR, called Laser Bear Honeycomb, to companies outside of self-driving cars. It will initially target robotics, security and agricultural technology.

It does put pressure on startups, particularly those with less capital or those targeting the same customer base. Pitchbook ran the numbers for us to determine where the LiDAR industry sits at the moment. There are two stories here: there are a handful of well capitalized startups and we may have reached “peak” LiDAR. Last year, there were 28 VC deals in LiDAR technology valued at $650 million. The number of deals was slightly lower than in 2017, but the values jumped by nearly 34 percent.

The top global VC-backed LiDAR technology companies (by post valuation) are Quanergy, Velodyne (although mostly corporate backed), Aurora (not self-driving company Aurora Innovation), Ouster, and DroneDeploy. The graphic below, also courtesy of Pitchbook, shows the latest figures as of January 31, 2019.

Dig In

Researchers discovered that two popular car alarm systems were vulnerable to a manipulated server-side API that could be abused to take control of an alarm system’s user account and their vehicle.

The companies — Russian alarm maker Pandora and California-based Viper (or Clifford in the U.K.) — have fixed the  security vulnerabilities that allowed researchers to remotely track, hijack and take control of vehicles with the alarms installed. What does this all mean?

Our in-house security expert and reporter Zack Whittaker digs in and gives us a reality check. Follow him @zackwhittaker.

Since the first widely publicized car hack in 2015 proved hijacking and controlling a car was possible, it’s opened the door to understanding the wider threat to modern vehicles.

Most modern cars have internet connectivity, making their baseline surface area of attack far greater than a car that doesn’t. But the effort that goes into remotely controlling a vehicle is difficult and convoluted, and the attack — often done by chaining together a set of different vulnerabilities — can take weeks or even longer to develop.

Keyfob or replay attacks are far more likely than say remote attacks over the internet or cell network. A keyfob sends an “unlock” signal, a device captures that signal and replays it. By replaying it you can unlock the car.

This latest car hack, featuring flawed third-party car alarms, was far easier to exploit, because the alarm systems added a weakness to the vehicles that weren’t there to begin with. Car makers, with vast financial and research resources, do a far greater job at securing their vehicle than the small companies that focus on functionality over security. For now, the bigger risk comes from third parties in the automobile space, but the car makers can’t afford to drop their game either.


A little bird …

We hear a lot. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

blinky-cat-bird

The California Department Motor Vehicles is the government body that regulates autonomous vehicle testing on public roads. The job of enforcement falls to the California Highway Patrol.

In an effort to gauge the need for more robust testing guidelines, the California Highway Patrol decided to hold an event at its headquarters in Sacramento. Eight companies working on autonomous trucking technology were invited. It was supposed to be a large event with local and state politicians in attendance. And it was supposed to validate autonomous trucking as an emerging industry.

There’s just one problem: only one AV trucking company is willing and able to complete this course. We hear that this AV startup actually already went ahead and completed the test course.

The California Highway Patrol has postponed event, for now, presumably until more companies can join.

Got a tip or overheard something in the world of transportation? Email me or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.


Deal of the week

Instead of highlighting one giant deal, let’s step back and take a broader view of mobility this week. The upshot: 2018 saw a decline in total investments in the sector and money moved away from ride-hailing and towards two-wheeled transportation.

According to new research from EY, mobility investments in 2018 reached $39.1 billion, down from $55.2 billion in the previous year. (The figures EY provided was through November 2018).

Ride-hailing companies raised $7.1 billion in 2018, a 73 percent decline from the previous year when $26.7 billion poured into this sector.

Investors, it seems, are shifting their focus to other business models, notably first and last-mile connectivity. EY estimates $7 billion was invested in two-wheeler mobility companies such as bike-sharing and electric scooters in 2018. The U.S. and China together have contributed to more than 80 percent of overall two-wheeler mobility investments this year alone, according to EY research shared with TechCrunch.

Other deals:


Snapshot

Let’s talk about Generation Z, that group of young people born 1996 to the present, and one startup that is focused on turning that demographic into car owners.

There’s lots of talk and hand wringing about young people choosing not to get a driver’s license, or not buying a vehicle. In the UK, for instance, about 42 percent of young drivers aged 17 to 24, hold a driver’s license. That’s about 2.7 million people, according to the National Travel Survey 2018 (NTS) of the UK government’s department of transport. An additional 2.2 million have a provisional or learner license. Combined, that amounts to about 13 percent of the car driving population of the UK.

In the UK, evidence suggests that a rise in motoring costs have discouraged young people from learning. And there lies one opportunity that a new startup called Driver1 is targeting.

Driver 1 is a car subscription service designed exclusively for first car drivers aged 17 to 24. The company has been in stealth mode for about a year and is just now launching.

“The young driver market is being underserved by the car industry, Driver1 founder Tim Hammond told TechCrunch. “And primarily it’s the financing that’s not available for that age group. It’s also something that’s not really affordable for any of the car subscription models like Fair.com and it’s not suitable for the OEM subscription services either financially or from an age perspective for young drivers.”

The company’s own research has found this group wants a newer car for 12 to 15 months.

“The car is the extension of their device,” Hammond said, noting these drivers don’t want the old junkers. “They want their iPhones and they want the car that goes with it.”

The company is working directly with leasing companies — not dealerships — to provide young drivers with 3 to 5-year-old cars that have lost 60 percent or so of their value. Driver1 is targeting under $120 a month for the customer and has a partnership with remarketing company Manheim, which is owned by Cox Automotive.

The startup is focused on the UK for now and has about 600 members who have reserved their cars for purchase. Driver1 is aiming to capture about 10 percent of the 1 million or so young people in the UK who pass their learners permit each year. The company plans it expand to France and other European countries in the fall.


Tiny but mighty micromobility

Bird Rocking Out GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Ca-caw, ca-caw! That’s the sound of Bird gearing up to launch Bird Platform in New Zealand, Canada and Latin America in the coming weeks. The platform is part of Bird’s mission to bring its scooters across the world “and empower local entrepreneurs in regions where we weren’t planning to launch to run their own electric-scooter sharing program with Bird’s tech and vehicles,” Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden told TechCrunch.

MRD’s two cents: Bird Platform seems like a way for Bird to make extra cash without having to do any of the work i.e. charging the vehicles, maintaining them and working with city officials to get permits. Smart!

Meanwhile, the dolla dolla bills keep pouring into micromobility. European electric scooter startup Voi Technology raised an additional $30 million in capital. That was on top of a $50 million Series A round just three months ago.

Oh, and because micromobility isn’t just for startups, Volkswagen decided to launch a kind of weird-looking electric scooter in Geneva. Because, why not?

Megan Rose Dickey

One more thing …

Lyft is trimming staff to prepare for its IPO. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden learned that the company has laid off about 50 staff in its bike and scooter division. It appears most of these folks are people who joined the Lyft through its acquisition of  electric bike sharing startup Motivate a deal that closed about three months ago.


Notable reads

It’s probably not smart to suggest another newsletter, but if you haven’t checked out Michael Dunne’s  The Chinese Are Coming newsletter, you should. Dunne has a unique perspective on what’s happening in China, particularly as it related to automotive and newer forms of mobility such as ride-hailing. One interesting nugget from his latest edition: there are more than 20 other new electric vehicle makers in China.

“Most will fall away within the next 3 to 4 years as cash runs out,” Dunne predicts.

Other quotable notables:

Here’s a fun read for the week. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney wrote about a YC Combinator startup Jetpack Aviation.The startup has launched pre-orders this week for the moonshot of moonshots, the Speeder, a personal vertical take-off and landing vehicle with a svelte concept design that looks straight out of Star Wars or Halo.


Testing and deployments

Spanish ride-hailing firm Cabify is back operating in Barcelona, Spain despite issuing dire warnings that new regulations issued by local government would crush its business and force it to fire thousands of drivers and leave forever. Turns out forever is one month.

The Catalan Generalitat issued a decree last month imposing a wait time of at least 15 minutes between a booking being made and a passenger being picked up. The policy was made to ensure taxis and ride-hailing firms are not competing for the same passengers, following a series of taxi strikes, which included scenes of violence. Our boots on the ground reporter Natasha Lomas has the whole story.

Sure, Barcelona is just one city. But what happened in Barcelona isn’t an isolated incident. The early struggles between conventional taxis and ride-hailing operations might be over, but that doesn’t mean the matter has been settled altogether.

And it’s not likely to go away. Once, robotaxis actually hit the road en masse — and yes, that’ll be awhile — these same struggles will pop up again.

Other deployments, or, er, retreats ….

Bike share pioneer Mobike retreats to China

On the autonomous vehicle front:

China Post, the official postal service of China, and delivery and logistics companies Deppon Express, will begin autonomous package delivery services in April. The delivery trucks will operate on autonomous driving technologies developed by FABU Technology, an AI company focused on intelligent driving systems.


On our radar

There is a lot of transportation-related activity this month. Come find me.

SXSW in Austin: TechCrunch will be at SXSW. And there is a lot of mobility action here. Aurora CEO and co-founder Chris Urmson was on stage Saturday morning with Malcolm Gladwell. Mayors from a number of U.S. cities as well as companies like Ford and Mercedes are on the scene. Here’s where I’ll be. 

  • 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (local time) March 9 at the Empire Garage for the Smart Mobility Summit, an annual event put on by Wards Intelligence and C3 Group. The Autonocast, the podcast I co-host with Alex Roy and Ed Niedermeyer, will also be on hand.
  • 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (local time) March 12 at the JW Marriott. The Autonocast and founding general partner of Trucks VC, Reilly Brennan will hold a SXSW podcast panel on automated vehicle terminology and other stuff.
  • 3:30 p.m (local time) over at the Hilton Austin Downtown, I’ll be moderating a panel Re-inventing the Wheel: Own, Rent, Share, Subscribe. Sherrill Kaplan with Zipcar, Amber Quist, with Silvercar and Russell Lemmer with Dealerware will join me on stage.
  • TechCrunch is also hosting a SXSW party from 1 pm to 4 pm Sunday, March 10, 615 Red River St., that will feature musical guest Elderbrook. RSVP here

Nvidia GTC

TechCrunch (including yours truly) will also be at Nvidia’s annual GPU Technology Conference from March 18 to 21 in San Jose.

Self Racing Cars

The annual Self Racing Car event will be held March 23 and March 24 at Thunderhill Raceway near Willows, California.

There is still room for participants to test or demo their autonomous vehicles, drive train innovation, simulation, software, teleoperation, and sensors. Hobbyists are welcome. Sign up to participate or drop them a line at [email protected].

Thanks for reading. There might be content you like or something you hate. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] to share those thoughts, opinions or tips. 

Nos vemos la próxima vez.

SoftBank launches the Innovation Fund, committing $2B to invest in Latin America

While SoftBank continues to make big bets on startups out of its $100-billion Vision Fund, it has also launched another investment vehicle to invest in tech opportunities specifically in Latin America.

Today the group announced the SoftBank Innovation Fund, which is starting out with a $2 billion commitment to invest in tech startups in Central and South America, specifically starting in the countries of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, covering areas like e-commerce, digital financial services, healthcare, mobility and insurance.

Alongside this, it’s establishing a group called the SoftBank Latin America Local Hub, which will partner with companies that are already in SoftBank’s investment portfolio to help them break into the region.

The effort in Latin America is a big win for Marcelo Claure, who has been named CEO of SoftBank Latin America. Claure is already COO of SoftBank Group Corp., as well as CEO of SoftBank Group International and executive chairman of Sprint Corporation — all roles he will continue to keep as he takes on this new challenge.

“Growing up in Latin America I witnessed firsthand the creativity and passion of the people,” said Claure in a statement. “There is so much innovation and disruption taking place in the region, and I believe the business opportunities have never been stronger. The SoftBank Innovation Fund will become a major investor in transformative Latin American companies that are poised to redefine their industries and create new economic opportunities for millions of people.”

This is the first time that SoftBank has created a fund of this kind focused on a single region — although it has spearheaded big bets into specific countries like India in the past — and it appears to the be first time that it has formally established a group to help other portfolio companies expand in a region, although this is likely something that SoftBank would have been doing on an informal basis before now.

News of the this fund had been trickling out for some time, although a report in Bloomberg from January that broke the news had underestimated the amount that SoftBank would invest in it (it predicted $1 billion, while the actual starting amount is $2 billion).

SoftBank says that it has yet to determine where it will establish its HQ for this new effort. I don’t imagine this question will take on the heated race that we saw unfold around Amazon’s HQ2 decision-making process. Likely candidates will probably be cities where SoftBank has already established operations in the region.

Indeed, SoftBank no stranger to investing in Latin America as part of its bigger “BRIC” strategy. As a developing market with a growing middle class (more than 50 million people in the region have entered the middle class generating increased disposable income, SoftBank said), it is one of the fastest-growing regions for tech products and services. SoftBank estimates that the region accounts for 10 percent of the world’s population and 8 percent of the world’s GDP. Notably (given SoftBank’s previous focus on Asia) it points out that this means it has “two times the GDP of India and half that of China.”

So far, SoftBank’s investments in the region have focused on e-commerce and related consumer services. It was one of the early investors in Uber rival 99 in Brazil (which eventually was taken over by Didi, the Chinese transportation giant that SoftBank also partly owns). It has also put at least $100 million into Loggi, another startup out of Brazil that focuses on delivery services. In Mexico, it is also embarking on a joint venture with Didi to establish transportation services there.

It’s likely the strong track record it has had in those investments so far that have led SoftBank to extend its activities there, particularly since it has already established a strong bulkhead in different regions across Asia, including China and India.

“Latin America is on the cusp of becoming one of the most important economic regions in the world, and we anticipate significant growth in the decades ahead,” said Masayoshi Son, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of SBG, in a statement. “SBG plans to invest in entrepreneurs throughout Latin America and use technology to help address the challenges faced by many emerging economies with the goal of improving the lives of millions of Latin Americans. I am grateful to our Chief Operating Officer Marcelo Claure for leading this initiative, in addition to his other responsibilities at SBG.”

As with other SoftBank investments that do not come out of its Vision Fund, the latter will potentially use this as a springboard to get involved as well. “Latin America presents significant opportunities for SoftBank Group, and the Vision Fund will have the ability to co-invest alongside the innovation Fund,” said Rajeev Misra, CEO of SoftBank Investment Advisers, who runs the Vision Fund. “Marcelo and team will offer invaluable expertise to help Latin American companies scale their operations, benefit from the greater SoftBank ecosystem, and grow into global market leaders.” The Vision Fund has come under some scrutiny because of its ties to Saudi money and the controversy surrounding that government’s human rights policies.

For investors like SoftBank, putting a lot of attention on this region makes a lot of sense. Not only does it help diversify by focusing on another (rapidly growing) region, but it gives the group one more way to sweeten the deal to invest in any fast-growing startup, by offering a helping hand in their efforts to expand to other regions by way of their network of contacts and existing services.

In addition to people getting more well off in the region, it has shown other indication of it being a healthy market for tech investment. It has 375 million internet users and 250 smartphone users, putting it ahead of the US in terms of sheer numbers. And retail e-commerce has nearly doubled in the last three years, going to $54 billion in 2018 from $29.8 billion in 2015.

Similarly, there is a big opportunity ahead with some 400 million people still without bank accounts or credit histories; and 79 percent of population living in urban areas but without great access to public transport. Healthcare has also been an area of underinvestment up to now, opening the door to building and expanding medical, wellness and other related solutions.

To be clear, there are already a ton of companies in the region, and so this is as much about getting closer to them, and helping them grow with funding, as it is about bringing in startups from outside the region to tap these opportunities. SoftBank hopes that by setting out its stall in the heart of it, it will have a shot at profiting from both.

Global smartphone growth stalled in Q4, up just 1.2% for the full year: Gartner

Gartner’s smartphone marketshare data for the just gone holiday quarter highlights the challenge for device makers going into the world’s biggest mobile trade show which kicks off in Barcelona next week: The analyst’s data shows global smartphone sales stalled in Q4 2018, with growth of just 0.1 per cent over 2017’s holiday quarter, and 408.4 million units shipped.

tl;dr: high end handset buyers decided not to bother upgrading their shiny slabs of touch-sensitive glass.

Gartner says Apple recorded its worst quarterly decline (11.8 per cent) since Q1 2016, though the iPhone maker retained its second place position with 15.8 per cent marketshare behind market leader Samsung (17.3 per cent). Last month the company warned investors to expect reduced revenue for its fiscal Q1 — and went on to report iPhone sales down 15 per cent year over year.

The South Korean mobile maker also lost share year over year (declining around 5 per cent), with Gartner noting that high end devices such as the Galaxy S9, S9+ and Note9 struggled to drive growth, even as Chinese rivals ate into its mid-tier share.

Huawei was one of the Android rivals causing a headache for Samsung. It bucked the declining share trend of major vendors to close the gap on Apple from its third placed slot — selling more than 60 million smartphones in the holiday quarter and expanding its share from 10.8 per cent in Q4 2017 to 14.8 per cent.

Gartner has dubbed 2018 “the year of Huawei”, saying it achieved the top growth of the top five global smartphone vendors and grew throughout the year.

This growth was not just in Huawei “strongholds” of China and Europe but also in Asia/Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East, via continued investment in those regions, the analyst noted. While its expanded mid-tier Honor series helped the company exploit growth opportunities in the second half of the year “especially in emerging markets”.

By contrast Apple’s double-digit decline made it the worst performer of the holiday quarter among the top five global smartphone vendors, with Gartner saying iPhone demand weakened in most regions, except North America and mature Asia/Pacific.

It said iPhone sales declined most in Greater China, where it found Apple’s market share dropped to 8.8 percent in Q4 (down from 14.6 percent in the corresponding quarter of 2017). For 2018 as a whole iPhone sales were down 2.7 percent, to just over 209 million units, it added.

“Apple has to deal not only with buyers delaying upgrades as they wait for more innovative smartphones. It also continues to face compelling high-price and midprice smartphone alternatives from Chinese vendors. Both these challenges limit Apple’s unit sales growth prospects,” said Gartner’s Anshul Gupta, senior research director, in a statement.

“Demand for entry-level and midprice smartphones remained strong across markets, but demand for high-end smartphones continued to slow in the fourth quarter of 2018. Slowing incremental innovation at the high end, coupled with price increases, deterred replacement decisions for high-end smartphones,” he added.

Further down the smartphone leaderboard, Chinese OEM, Oppo, grew its global smartphone market share in Q4 to bump Chinese upstart, Xiaomi, and bag fourth place — taking 7.7 per cent vs Xiaomi’s 6.8 per cent for the holiday quarter.

The latter had a generally flat Q4, with just a slight decline in units shipped, according to Gartner’s data — underlining Xiaomi’s motivations for teasing a dual folding smartphone.

Because, well, with eye-catching innovation stalled among the usual suspects (who’re nontheless raising high end handset prices), there’s at least an opportunity for buccaneering underdogs to smash through, grab attention and poach bored consumers.

Or that’s the theory. Consumer interest in ‘foldables’ very much remains to be tested.

In 2018 as a whole, the analyst says global sales of smartphones to end users grew by 1.2 percent year over year, with 1.6 billion units shipped.

The worst declines of the year were in North America, mature Asia/Pacific and Greater China (6.8 percent, 3.4 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively), it added.

“In mature markets, demand for smartphones largely relies on the appeal of flagship smartphones from the top three brands — Samsung, Apple and Huawei — and two of them recorded declines in 2018,” noted Gupta.

Overall, smartphone market leader Samsung took 19.0 percent marketshare in 2018, down from 20.9 per cent in 2017; second placed Apple took 13.4 per cent (down from 14.0 per cent in 2017); third placed Huawei took 13.0 per cent (up from 9.8 per cent the year before); while Xiaomi, in fourth, took a 7.9 per cent share (up from 5.8 per cent); and Oppo came in fifth with 7.6 per cent (up from 7.3 per cent).

GoTrendier raises $3.5 million to take on Spanish-language fashion marketplaces

Thanks to environmentally conscious young buyers, throwaway culture is dying not only in the U.S., but also in Latin America — and startups are poised to jump in with services to help people recycle used clothing.

GoTrendier, a peer-to-peer fashion marketplace operative in Mexico and Colombia, has raised $3.5 million USD to do just that. And investors are eyeing the startup as the digital fashion marketplace growth leader in Spanish-speaking countries. 

GoTrendier, founded by Belén Cabido, is a platform that lets users buy and sell secondhand clothing. Cabido tells me that the new capital will enable GoTrendier to expand deeper into Mexico and Colombia, and launch in a new country: Chile. 

GoTrendier enables users to buy and sell used items through the GoTrendier site and app. The platform categorizes users as either salespeople or buyers. Salespeople create their own stores by uploading photos of garments along with a description and sale price. Buyers browse the platform for deals and once a buyer bites, the seller is given a prepaid shipping label. 

Sound familiar? Businesses like Poshmark and GoTrendier have no actual inventory, which allows the companies to take on less of a risk by having smaller overhead costs. In turn, the company acts as more of a social community for fashion exchanges.

In order to make money, Poshmark takes a flat commission of $2.95 for sales under $15. For anything more than that, the seller keeps 80 percent of their sale and Poshmark takes a 20 percent commission. Poshmark also owes its success to the socially connected shopping experience it created and the audience building features available to sellers — as detailed in this Harvard Business School study. GoTrendier has a similar commission pricing strategy, taking 20 percent off plus an additional nine pesos (about 48 cents in U.S. currency) for all purchases. The service also takes advantage of social media and sharing features to help connect and engage its fashion-loving community. 

But these companies are also largely venture-backed. In the case of GoTrendier, the round gave shareholder entry to Ataria, a Peruvian fund that invests in early-stage tech companies with high earning potential. Existing investors Banco Sabadell and IGNIA reinforced their position, along with Barcelona-based investors Antai Venture Builder, Bonsai Venture Capital and Pedralbes Partners.

GoTrendier amassed a user base of 1.3 million buyers and sellers throughout its four years of existence. The service operates in Mexico and Colombia, and will use its newest capital to launch in Chile — another market Cabido says is experiencing high demand for a secondhand fashion buying and selling service.

Online marketplace companies are growing in Latin America as smartphone adoption and digital banking services multiply in the region. But international expansion has proven to be an issue. Enjoei, a similar fashion marketplace that owns the market share in Brazil, had a botched attempt at expanding to Argentina due to Portugese-Spanish language barriers and eventually determined that Brazil was a large enough market in which to build its business — thus carving out an opportunity for companies like GoTrendier that offer the same services to dominate the surrounding Spanish-speaking markets in Latin America.

Many have remarked that Latin America’s tech scene is filled with copycats — or companies that emulate the business models of American or European startups and bring the same service to their home market. In order to secure bigger foreign investment checks, founders from growing tech regions like Latin America certainly must invent proprietary technologies. Yet there’s still value — and capital — in so-called copycat businesses. Why? Because the users are there and in some cases it’s just easier to start up.

According to investor Sergio Pérez of Sabadell Venture Capital, “The volume of the market for buying and selling second-hand clothes in the world was 360 million transactions in 2017 and is expected to reach 400 million in 2022.” A 2018 report from ThredUp also claimed that the size of the global secondhand market is set to hit $41 billion by 2022. The “throwaway” culture is disappearing thanks to environmentally conscious millennial buyers. As designer Stella McCartney famously said, “The future of fashion is circular – it will be restorative and regenerative by design and the clothes we love never end up as waste.” By buying on GoTrendier, the company claims its users have been able to save USD $12 million and have avoided more than 1,000 tons of CO2 emissions.

Founders building companies in Latin America aren’t necessarily as capital-hungry as Silicon Valley-based founders, (where a Series A can now equate to $68 million, apparently). Cabido tells me her company is able to fulfill operations and marketing needs with a lean staff of 30, noting that there’s a lot of natural demand for buying and selling used clothing in these regions, thus creating organic growth for her business. She wasn’t looking to raise capital, but investors had their eye on her. “[Investors] saw the tension of the marketplace, and we demonstrated that GoTrendier’s user base could be bigger and bigger,” she says. With sights set on new markets like Chile and Peru, Cabido decided to move forward and close the round.  

Poshmark, which benefits from indirect and same-side network effects, has raised $153 million to date from investors like Temasek Holdings, GGV and Menlo Ventures. Just like GoTrendier, Poshmark’s Series A was also a $3.5 million round.

Who’s to say that that amount of capital can’t boost a network effects growth model in Latin America too? The users are certainly waiting. 

GoEuro rebrands as Omio to take its travel aggregator business global

European multimodal travel booking platform GoEuro has announced a change of name and destination: Its new ambition is to go global, scaling beyond its regional grounding to tackle the challenge of intercity travel internationally — hence needing a more expansive brand name.

The name it’s chosen is Omio, pronounced with the stress on the ‘me’ sound in the middle of the word.

GoEuro unveiled a new brand identity late last year — which it says now was preparing the ground for this full rebranding.

So why Omio? CEO and founder Naren Shaam tells TechCrunch the new name was chosen to be memorable, lighthearted and neutral. A word that travels inoffensively across languages was also clearly essential.

“It took a while — probably eight months — to do the search on the name,” he says. “The hard thing about the name is a few criteria we had. One was that it had to be short, easy to remember, and four letter names are just non-existent now.

“It had to be lighthearted because travel inherently comes with a lot of stress to consumers… Every time you book travel it’s a lot of anxiety and then relief after you book it etc. So we want to change that behavior to customers; saying we will take care of your journey.”

The multimodal travel startup, which was founded back in 2012, also says it’s happy to have been able to retain a ghost of its old brand — thanks to the double ‘o’ in both names — which it intends to suggestively stand in for the beginning and end of a journey.

In Europe the travel aggregator tool that’s been known since launch as GoEuro — and soon, within a matter of weeks, Omio, everywhere it operates — has some 27 million monthly users tapping into the convenience of a platform that knits together train travel, bus trips, flights and most recently ferries to offer the most comprehensive coverage available of longer distance travel options in the region.

Europe is heavily networked for transport, with multiple intercity travel options to choose from. But it is also massively fragmented across a huge mix of providers (and languages) making it challenging for travellers to navigate, compare and book across so many potential options.

Taming this complexity via a multimodal search and comparison tool that now also integrates booking for most ground-based travel options (and some flights) on one platform has been GoEuro’s mission to-date. And now it’s Omio’s tackle globally.

“Global transport is not on a single product. What we bring is way more than just air, in terms of all ground transportation,” says Shaam. “So for me the problem of how do I get from Kyoto to Tokyo, or Rio to Sao Paulo. Or somewhere in Southeast Asia in Thailand is still a global problem. And it’s not yet solved. And so for us it’s the right time to evolve the brand… It’s definitely time to step out and say we want to build a global brand. We want to be that transport product across the world where we can serve all transport globally.”

While GoEuro is in some senses a quintessentially European business — Shaam says he “couldn’t have imagined” building a multimodal transport platform out of the US, for instance, where travel is so dominated by airlines and cars — he suggests that sets the business up to tackle similar complexity elsewhere.

Putting in the hard graft of negotiating partnerships and nailing technical integrations with multiple transport providers, large and tiny, also isn’t the sort of tech business prone to fast-following platform clones. So Omio suggests competition at a global scale will most likely be piecemeal, from multiple regional players.

“When I look beyond Europe the problem that I experienced in Europe in 2010 [which inspired me to set up GoEuro] is definitely a problem I experience still globally,” he says. “So when we can figure out how to bring 100,000 remote train and bus stations plugged into a uniform, normalized product and then give a single-click mobile ticket that works everywhere why not actually solve this problem globally?”

That translates into having “the engineering and the product and the means” to scale what GoEuro has done for travel in Europe internationally, moving to other continents with their own blend and mix of transport options and challenges.

Shaam notes that Omio employs more than 200 engineers within a company that has a staff of 300 — emphasizing also that the partnerships plus all the engineering that sits behind the aggregator’s front end take a lot of resource to maintain.

“I agree it is such a European startup. And it has served us well to get 27M monthly users traveling across Europe. Last year alone we served something like eight million unique routes. So the density of routes that we have is great. We already have global users; we have users from 100+ countries,” he says, adding: “If you look at Europe, European companies are starting to go on the global stage more and more now.

“You can see Spotify being one of the largest global tech companies coming out of Europe. You’ve seen some in the fintech space. Industries where there’s heavy fragmentation in Europe allow us to build global products because Europe is a great product market.”

GoEuro — now Omio — founder and CEO, Naren Shaam

On the international expansion horizon, Omio says its considering expanding into South America, Asia and the U.S. Although Shaam says no decisions have yet been taken as to the regions and markets it might move into first.

He also readily accepts the goal of building a global travel aggregator is a long term mission, with the partnerships, engineering and legacy technology integrations that will have to underpin the expansion all requiring time (and money) to work through.

There’s also no suggestion that Omio intends to offer a more lightweight transport proposition as a strategy to elbow its way into new markets, either.

“If we go into the U.S. the goal is not to just offer another airline product,” he says. “There’s enough websites out there that do exactly that. So we will offer something different. And our competition will also be regional companies that offer something similar in each market.”

In a year’s time, Shaam says he hopes to have further deepened the platform’s coverage and usage in Europe — noting there are more transport dots to connect in markets including Portugal, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, plus parts of Eastern Europe (as well as “very heavily fragmented” bus providers in Spain and Italy).

By then he says he also wants to have “a clear answer to what are the two next big continents we want to expand into and have people that are ready to do that”.

So connecting the dots of intercity travel is very evidently a far slower-paced business than heavily VC-backed innercity transport plays — which have attracted multiple billions in funding in very short order thanks to fast usage velocity and revenue growth vs GoEuro’s modest (by contrast) ~$300M.

Nonetheless Shaam is convinced the intercity opportunity is still “a big market”. Perhaps not as massive as micromobility, ride-hailing and so on but still big and relatively under-invested, as he sees it.

So how will GoEuro as Omio approach scaling a travel business that is, necessarily, so very grounded in fixed and non-uniform transport infrastructure? He suggests the business will be able to draw on what is already years of experience integrating with transport providers of various types and sizes to support the new global push.

It’s developed what he describes as an “a la carte” menu of products for different sized travel providers — arguing this established menu of tools will help scale into new markets in fresh geographies, even while conceding there are other aspects of the business that will not be so easily replicable.

“Over time we built a lot of tooling that adapts to the different types of suppliers. So, for example, if you’re a large state-owned operator… that has very different systems built for decades basically vs a tiny bus company that runs from Naples to Positano that nobody even knows the name of or no technology it stands on we have different products that we offer to each of them.

“We have all the tooling built out so it’s basically ‘plug and play’ for us to do. So this thing doesn’t change. That’s portable.”

What will be new for Omio is international product market fit, with Shaam saying, for example, that it won’t necessarily be able to rely on the same sort of network effects it sees in Europe that help drive usage.

He also notes mobile penetration rates will differ — again requiring a different approach to serving customer needs in new regions such as Latin America.

“It’s not quick,” he concedes. “That’s why we’d rather launch now because I can’t tell you that in three months we’ll have had four more continents covered, right. This is a long term play but we’ve raised enough capital to make sure we’re here for that long term journey.”

“We have a name that people know and we can build technology,” he adds, expanding on what Omio can bring to the table as it tries to sell its platform to travel providers everywhere. “We’ve worked with 800+ suppliers. So from a commercial standpoint, people know who we are and how much scale we can bring in terms of their fixed cost businesses — so we can sell a lot of tickets for all of them. We can bring international tourists from a global audience. And we can really fill up seats. So people know that you put your supply on our product and we instantly scale because the existing demand is just so large.”

The Berlin-based startup closed a $150M funding round last fall so it’s not short of immediate resources to support the new hires it’ll be looking to add to start building out its global roadmap.

Shaam also notes it brought in more Asian capital with its last round, which he says he hopes will help “with this globalization capital”. Most of the investors it added then are also geared towards longer term returns vs traditional VC, he adds.

Omio is not currently in the process of raising another funding round, according to Shaam, though he confirms it does plan to raise more in future as it works towards the global vision of a single platform to help travellers move all over the world.

“The amount of capital that’s gone into intercity transport is tiny compared to innercity transport,” he notes. “That means that if you’re still going after a global problem that we want to solve that means that we need to raise capital at some point in the future. For now we’re just very comfortable with what we have but it doesn’t mean that we’ll stop.”

One potential future market Omio is likely to approach only very cautiously is China.

A b2c partnership with local travel booking platform Qunar, which GoEuro inked back in 2017, to link Chinese consumers with European travel opportunities, means Omio has a commercial reason to be sensitive of any moves into that market.

The complexity and challenge of going into China as an outsider is of course another major reason to go slow.

“I want to say very carefully that China is a market we need a lot more time to understand before we go into, as I think there’s enough lessons learned from all the tech companies from the West,” says Shaam readily. “It’s not going to be a rushed decision. So in that case the partnership with have with Qunar — I don’t see any changes in the near term because going into China is a big step for us. And it’s not an easy decision anyway.”