Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

BizCapital, an online lender based in Brazil, has raised $ 12 million from a clutch of investors including the German development finance institution, the corporate venture capital fund of MercadoLibre and existing investors Quona Capital, Monashees, Chromo INvest and 42K Investments.

“This latest round reinforces investors’ confidence in BizCapital’s ability to innovate in the Latin American credit market amid challenging circumstances caused by Covid-19,” said Francisco Ferreira, the company’s chief executive, in a statement. “We have seen four times as many business credit inquiries on our site year over year, and we are ready to serve them.” 

Founded in 2016, the company pitches itself as a fast and reliable way to access financing for working capital. It already has more than 5,000 customers across 1,200 cities in Brazil, according to a statement.

The company said it would use the money to develop new products for Brazilian small and medium-sized businesses and will expand into new distribution channels.

“With this new round of capital, we will continue to widen our product lineup, helping entrepreneurs during the entire lifecycle of their companies,” said Ferreira, in a statement. “There’s never been a more important time for innovation.” 

In a reflection of their American counterparts, Brazil’s venture capital firms had slowed down the pace of their investments, but now it seems like a slew of new deals are coming to market.

The investment reflects the longterm confidence that investors have in the increasingly central position e-commerce and technology-enabled services will have in the future of the Latin American economy.

 

 


TechCrunch

Hooq, a five-year-old on-demand video streaming service that aimed to become “Netflix for Southeast Asia,” has shut down weeks after filing for liquidation and terminated its partnerships with Disney’s Hotstar, ride-hailing giant Grab, and Indonesia’s VideoMax.

Hooq Digital, a joint venture among Singapore telecom group Singtel (majority owner), Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros Entertainment, discontinued the service on Thursday. It had amassed over 80 million subscribers in nearly half of the dozen markets in Asia.

“For the past 5 years, we gave you unbelievable thrills, heartrending drama, roaring laughs, awesome action, and more. Our goal was to bring you the best entertainment from here to Hollywood. Our hearts are full of gratitude for all of you who shared the journey with us,” it says on its website.

Hooq publicly disclosed that it had raised about $ 95 million, but the sum was likely higher. News outlet The Ken analyzed the regulatory filings last month to report that Hooq had raised $ 127.2 million, and its losses in the financial year 2019 had ballooned to $ 220, suggesting that it had received more capital.

The streaming service said last month that it could not receive new funds from new or existing investors.

Homepage of Hooq

The service counted India, where it entered into a partnership with Disney’s Hotstar in 2018 and telecom operators Airtel and Vodafone, as its biggest market. The company also maintained a partnership with ride-hailing giant Grab to supply content in its cab, and VideoMAX in Indonesia.

Hooq brought dozens of D.C. universe titles including “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Wonder Woman” and other popular TV series such as “The Big Bang Theory” to its partners. In India, users began noticing last week that those titles were disappearing from Hotstar.

A spokesperson of Hooq told TechCrunch today that its tie-ups with all its partners including Hotstar have closed. A Hotstar spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Mobile operator Singtel first unveiled Hooq’s liquidation in an exchange filing last month. The Ken reported that the filing left hundreds of employees at Hooq stunned who thought the firm was doing fine financially. Nearly every employee at Hooq has been let go, with select few offered a job at Singtel, according to The Ken.

In an interview with Slator earlier this year, Yvan Hennecart, Head of Localization at HOOQ, said that the company was working to expand its catalog with local content and add 100 original titles in 2020.

“Our focus is mostly on localization of entertainment content; whether it is subtitling or dubbing, we are constantly looking to bring more content to our viewers faster. My role also expands to localization of our platform and any type of collateral information that helps create a unique experience for our users,” he told the outlet.


TechCrunch

Since moving to the United States, I’ve come to appreciate and admire the United States Postal Service as a symbol of American ingenuity and resilience.

Like electricity, telephones and the freeway system, it’s part of our greater story and what binds the United States together. But it’s also something that’s easy to take for granted. USPS delivers 181.9 million pieces of First Class mail each day without charging an arm and a leg to do so. If you have an address, you are being served by the USPS — and no one’s asking you for cash up front.

As CEO of Shippo, an e-commerce technology platform that helps businesses optimize their shipping, I have a unique vantage point into the USPS and its impact on e-commerce. The USPS has been a key partner since the early days of Shippo in making shipping more accessible for growing businesses. As a result of our work with the USPS, along with several other emerging technologies (like site builders, e-commerce platforms and payment processing), e-commerce is more accessible than ever for small businesses.

And while my opinion on the importance of the USPS is not based on my company’s business relationship with the Postal Service, I want to be upfront about the fact that Shippo generates part of its revenue from the purchase of shipping labels through our platform from the USPS along with several other carriers. If the USPS were to stop operations, it would have an impact on Shippo’s revenue. That said, the negative impact would be far greater for many thousands of small businesses.

I know this because at Shippo, we see firsthand how over 35,000 online businesses operate and how they reach their customers. We see and support everything from what options merchants show their customers at checkout through how they handle returns — and everything in between. And while each and every business is unique with different products, customers operations and strategies, they all need to ship.

In the United States, the majority of this shipping is facilitated by the USPS, especially for small and medium businesses. For context, the USPS handles almost half of the world’s total mail and delivers more than the top private carriers do in aggregate, annually, in just 16 days. And, it does all of this without tax dollars, while offering healthcare and pension benefits to its employees.

As has been the case for many organizations, COVID-19 has significantly impacted the USPS. While e-commerce package shipments continue to rise (+30% since early March based on Shippo data), it has not been enough to overcome the drastic drop in letter mail. With this, I’ve heard opinions of supposed “inefficiency,” calls for privatization, pushes for significant pricing and structural changes, and even indifference to the possibility of the USPS shutting down.

Amid this crisis, we all need the USPS and its vital services now more than ever. In a world with a diminished or dismantled USPS, it won’t be Amazon, other major enterprises, or even Shippo that suffer. If we let the USPS die, we’ll be killing small businesses along with it.

Quite often, opinions on the efficiency (or lack thereof) of the USPS are very narrow in scope. Yes, the USPS could pivot to improve its balance sheet and turn operating losses into profits by axing cumbersome routes, increasing prices and being more selective in who they serve.

However, this omits the bigger picture and the true value of the USPS. What some have dubbed inefficient operations are actually key catalysts to small business growth in the United States. The USPS gives businesses across the country, regardless of size, location or financial resources, the ability to reach their customers.

We shouldn’t evaluate the USPS strictly on balance sheet efficiency, or even as a “public good” in the abstract. We should look at how many thousands of small businesses have been able to get started thanks to the USPS, how hundreds of billions of dollars of commerce is made possible by the USPS annually and how many millions of customers, who otherwise may not have access to goods, have been served by the USPS.

In the U.S., e-commerce accounts for over half a trillion dollars in sales annually, and is growing at double-digit rates each year. When I hear people talk about the growth of e-commerce, Amazon is often the first thing that comes up. What doesn’t shine through as often is the massive growth of small business — which is essential to the health of commerce in general (no one needs a monopoly!). In fact, the SMB segment has been growing steadily alongside Amazon. And with the challenges that traditional businesses face with COVID-19, more small businesses than ever are moving online.

USPS Priority Mail gets packages almost anywhere in the U.S. in two to three days (average transit time is 2.5 days based on Shippo data) and starts at around $ 7 per shipment, with full service: tracking, insurance, free pickups and even free packaging that they will bring to you.

In a time when we as consumers have become accustomed to free and fast shipping on all of our online purchases, the USPS is essential for small businesses to keep up. As consumers we rarely see behind the curtain, so to speak, when we interact with e-commerce businesses. We don’t see the small business owner fulfilling orders out of their home or out of a small storefront, we just see an e-commerce website. Without the USPS’ support, it would be even harder, in some cases near impossible, for small business owners to live up to these sky-high expectations. For context, 89% of U.S.-based SMBs (under $ 10,000 in monthly volume) on the Shippo platform rely on the USPS.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about the USPS’s partnership with Amazon, how it is to blame for the current situation, and how under a private model, things would improve. While we have our own strong opinions on Amazon and its impact on the e-commerce market, Amazon is not the driver of USPS’s challenges. In fact, Amazon is a major contributor in the continued growth of the USPS’s most profitable revenue stream: package delivery.

While I don’t know the exact economics of the deal between the USPS and Amazon, significant discounting for volume and efficiency is common in e-commerce shipping. Part of Amazon’s pricing is a result of it actually being cheaper and easier for the USPS to fulfill Amazon orders, compared to the average shipper. For this process, Amazon delivers shipments to USPS distribution centers in bulk, which significantly cuts costs and logistical challenges for the USPS.

Without the USPS, Amazon would be able to negotiate similar processes and efficiencies with private carriers — small businesses would not. Given the drastic differences in daily operations and infrastructure between the USPS and private carriers, small businesses would see shipping costs increase significantly, in some cases by more than double. On top of this, small businesses would see a new operational burden when it comes to getting their packages into the carriers’ systems in the absence of daily routes by the USPS.

Overall, I would expect to see the level of entrepreneurship in e-commerce slow in the United States without the USPS or with a private version of the USPS that operates with a profit-first mindset. The barriers to entry would be higher, with greater costs and larger infrastructure investments required up-front for new businesses. For Shippo, I’d expect to see a much greater diversity of carriers used by our customers. Our technology that allows businesses to optimize across several carriers would become even more critical for businesses. Though, even with optimization, small businesses would still be the group that suffers the most.

Today, most SMB e-commerce brands, based on Shippo data, spend between 10-15% of their revenue on shipping, which is already a large expense. This could rise well north of 20%, especially when you take into account surcharges and pick-up fees, creating an additional burden for businesses in an already challenging space.

I urge our lawmakers and leaders to see the full picture: that the USPS is a critical service that enables small businesses to survive and thrive in tough times, and gives citizens access to essential services, no matter where they reside.

This also means providing government support — both financially and in spirit — as we all navigate the COVID-19 crisis. This will allow the USPS to continue to serve both small businesses and citizens while protecting and keeping their employees safe — which includes ensuring that they are equipped to handle their front-line duties with proper safety and protective gear.

In the end, if we continue to view the USPS as simply a balance sheet and optimize for profitability in a vacuum, we ultimately stand to lose far more than we gain.


TechCrunch

Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland; it also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7.

Seven is the operative number here, it seems: it’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.

“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”

Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month, or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.

The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

The expansion of Disney+ has been caught a bit in the crossfire of world events. The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming: because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home.

That means huge demand for new services to entertain and distract people who are now sheltering in place. But it has also been putting a huge strain on broadband networks, and to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.

Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.

Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).

With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years. In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.

Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.


TechCrunch

Long and short distance travel have all but stopped for many people at the moment. But looking forward to a time when that may no longer be the case, a company designing flying taxis is today announcing a large round of funding to help continue developing its product.

Lilium, a Munich-based startup that is designing and building vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft with speeds of up to 100 km/h that it plans eventually to run in its own taxi fleet, has closed a funding round of “over” $ 240 million — money that it plans to use to keep developing its aircraft, and to start building manufacturing facilities to produce more of them, for an expected launch date of 2025.

“We’re working to deliver a brand new form of emissions-free transport,” said a spokesperson. “Doing something like that takes significant time and investment, but the outcome is a valuable business and a chance to have a genuinely positive impact on the way we travel.”

This latest investment was an inside round (involving existing, not new, investors) and it closed last month. It was led by Tencent, with participation from other previous backers that included Atomico, Freigeist and LGT. The valuation is not being disclosed, but the company confirms that it is significantly higher than it was in its Series B in 2017. (For some more context, PitchBook estimates that last year the company was valued at around $ 470 million.)

The news today caps off some challenging recent months for the company, even before the Coronavirus took hold of the world and cast a dark shadow on any kind of travel.

Last October, we reported that several sources said that Lilium, which employs 400 people, was looking to raise between $ 400 million and $ 500 million, a round that it had been working on for some months. In the end, the lower amount the company is putting out today is $ 160 million less than the lower end of that range, but from what we’ve been told, this is not far from what the company was actually aiming to raise. Still, that combined with the fact that there are no new investors in the raise might imply some challenges there.

(It is, nevertheless, one of the biggest fundraises to date for a startup in the “flying vehicle” space. (Volocopter, which is also designing a new kind of flying taxi-style vehicle and service, closed a $ 94 million round in February.) Lilium has now raised more than $ 340 million to date.)

“This additional funding underscores the deep confidence our investors have in both our physical product and our business case. We’re very pleased to be able to complete an internal round with them, having benefited greatly from their support and guidance over the past few years,” said Christopher Delbrück, Lilium’s CFO, in a statement. “The new funds will enable us to take big strides towards our shared goal of delivering regional air mobility as early as 2025.”

But raising money has not been the only challenge. At the beginning of this month, the older of Lilium’s two prototypes burst into flames while some maintenance was being carried out. The model was close to being retired, but testing on the second, newer model has nonetheless been paused until the company can determine the cause of the accident with the first aircraft.

“Our second demonstrator aircraft was fortunately undamaged in the fire and will begin flight testing once we’ve understood the cause of the fire in the first aircraft,” a spokesperson said.

The market for aircraft-based taxi services — be they electric, autonomous, or both — is still very nascent. There are no approved aircraft yet on the market (indeed, the regulations for what these would even look like haven’t even been created), and, as a result, there are no services yet in place, either.

But the opportunity of building fast services that could mitigate current traffic congestion, while also reducing carbon emissions, is potentially massive, and so we are seeing a lot of activity and investment from many corners as companies hope their takes on solving that challenge are the ones to hit the mark.

Lilium’s would-be rivals include not just fellow German startup Volocopter, but also Kitty HawkeHang, Joby and Uber, in addition to Blade and Skyryse, air taxi services of sorts that offer more conventional helicopters and other vessels in limited launches for those willing to spend the money.

It’s not clear how much of this will fare in the months and years ahead, in particular at a tricky time for travel and the wider economy. But for now, Lilium’s work so far — it was founded in 2015 by Daniel Wiegand (CEO), Sebastian Born, Matthias Meiner and Patrick Nathen — has been promising enough for its investors to continue backing it for the long haul.

“At Tencent we’re committed to supporting technologies that we believe have the potential to tackle the greatest challenges facing our world,” said David Wallerstein, Chief eXploration Officer at Tencent, in a statement. “Over the last few years we’ve had the opportunity to see the professionalism and dynamism with which Lilium are approaching their mission and we’re honored to be supporting them as they take the next steps on their journey.”


TechCrunch

On-demand video streaming giant Netflix, which is increasingly expanding its footprint in developing markets, now has a new competitor in Indonesia: Gojek.

The Indonesian ride-hailing giant on Thursday launched a video streaming service called GoPlay that features exclusive access to “hundreds of movies and TV shows” as well as snackable short clips. The streaming service is currently available only in Indonesia.

The service, which Gojek began testing with select users in June, focuses on local content, Edy Sulistyo, CEO of GoPlay said. Gojek, which was valued at $ 9.5 billion in its last financing round, said it has partnered with major local production houses such as Base Entertainment, Kalyana Shira Films, and Wahana Kreator for production of original titles. The firm said it has also tied up with some international studios to source foreign content.

“Despite a rise in demand for local content and a growing number of mobile audiences in Indonesia, access has still been limited especially for consumers living outside of urban areas. With GoPlay, we aim to enable all Indonesian consumers to enjoy high-quality on-demand entertainment at their convenience, while providing a platform for local content producers to showcase their creative work,” said Sulistyo in a statement.

Gojek is offering the video streaming service through two aggressively priced monthly plans: IDR 89,000 ($ 6.27), which offers access to the full catalog in HD; and IDR 99,000 ($ 7), which will additionally also provide users with access to GoFood delivery vouchers.

GoPlay will compete with a range of streaming services such as Netflix, iFlix, and Hooq. Netflix last year began testing a low-cost mobile-only plan in some developing markets including Indonesia to boost its presence in those nations. The global giant eventually launched the affordable tier in India earlier this year. A Netflix spokesperson told TechCrunch this week that it currently has no plans to expand the low-cost tier to other markets.

Like many other major firms in Southeast Asia, Gojek is increasingly bulking up its ride-sharing platform to enter additional categories. Today, it offers an online payments service and a gaming platform. The firm began working on its video streaming service last year after it set up an in-house content studio.

Grab, Gojek’s arch rival in Southeast Asian markets, and India’s Ola, have also expanded their offerings in recent years. While Grab, like Gojek, offers everything including a video streaming service, Ola launched a credit card in May.

Grab has a partnership with Hooq for its video streaming service. In the run up to GoPlay’s launch, Hooq CEO Peter Bithos told TechCrunch in an interview that Gojek lacks the reach Hooq maintains in Southeast Asian markets. “Gojek hasn’t been able to get to anything like the scale or reach that we’ve got,” he said.

About 125 million people in Indonesia, or half of the nation’s population, is currently online. Sulistyo said Gojek sees a lot of potential for GoPlay’s growth in the country.

Indonesia has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in Asia in recent years. According to a study conducted by Google and Singapore’s Temasek, Indonesia’s internet economy is estimated to be worth $ 100 billion by 2025.


TechCrunch

As Facebook prepares to launch its new cryptocurrency Libra in 2020, it’s putting the pieces in place to help it run. In one of the latest developments, it has acquired Servicefriend, a startup that built bots — chat clients for messaging apps based on artificial intelligence — to help customer service teams, TechCrunch has confirmed.

The news was first reported in Israel, where Servicefriend is based, after one of its investors, Roberto Singler, alerted local publication The Marker about the deal. We reached out to Ido Arad, one of the co-founders of the company, who referred our questions to a team at Facebook. Facebook then confirmed the acquisition with an Apple-like non-specific statement:

“We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Several people, including Arad, his co-founder Shahar Ben Ami, and at least one other indicate that they now work at Facebook within the Calibra digital wallet group on their LinkedIn profiles. Their jobs at the social network started this month, meaning this acquisition closed in recent weeks. (Several others indicate that they are still at Servicefriend, meaning they too may have likely made the move as well.)

Although Facebook isn’t specifying what they will be working on, the most obvious area will be in building a bot — or more likely, a network of bots — for the customer service layer for the Calibra digital wallet that Facebook is developing.

Facebook’s plan is to build a range of financial services for people to use Calibra to pay out and receive Libra — for example, to send money to contacts, pay bills, top up their phones, buy things and more.

It remains to be seen just how much people will trust Facebook as a provider of all these. So that is where having “human” and accessible customer service experience will be essential.

“We are here for you,” Calibra notes on its welcome page, where it promises 24-7 support in WhatsApp and Messenger for its users.

Screenshot 2019 09 21 at 23.25.18

Servicefriend has worked on Facebook’s platform in the past: specifically it built “hybrid” bots for Messenger for companies to use to complement teams of humans, to better scale their services on messaging platforms. In one Messenger bot that Servicefriend built for Globe Telecom in the Philippines, it noted that the hybrid bot was able to bring the “agent hours” down to under 20 hours for each 1,000 customer interactions.

Bots have been a relatively problematic area for Facebook. The company launched a personal assistant called M in 2015, and then bots that let users talk to businesses in 2016 on Messenger, with quite some fanfare, although the reality was that nothing really worked as well as promised, and in some cases worked significantly worse than whatever services they aimed to replace.

While AI-based assistants such as Alexa have become synonymous with how a computer can carry on a conversation and provide information to humans, the consensus around bots these days is that the most workable way forward is to build services that complement, rather than completely replace, teams.

For Facebook, getting its customer service on Calibra right can help it build and expand its credibility (note: another area where Servicefriend has build services is in using customer service as a marketing channel). Getting it wrong could mean issues not just with customers, but with partners and possibly regulators.


TechCrunch

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