Alibaba in talks to buy Flipkart stake

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group. If the Flipkart-Alibaba deal goes through, it will make Alibaba one of the  three most important investors in India, along with Tiger Global Management and Japan’s SoftBank Group. Photo: Bloomberg

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group. If the Flipkart-Alibaba deal goes through, it will make Alibaba one of the three most important investors in India, along with Tiger Global Management and Japan’s SoftBank Group. Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi/Bengaluru: China’s Alibaba Group, which has backed Paytm and Snapdeal, is looking to increase its footprint in India and is exploring the acquisition of a stake in India’s largest Internet firm Flipkart Ltd, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The talks are at a very initial stage and the likelihood of a deal is a function of Flipkart’s willingness to offer a discount on its current valuation of $15 billion, the three added, asking that they not be named.

Alibaba is also talking to Snapdeal, two of the three said, but it wants a discount on the firm’s current valuation of $6.5 billion.

Spokespersons at Flipkart, Snapdeal and Alibaba did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

There are not too many takers for India’s top e-commerce firms at their current valuations, prompting both Flipkart and Snapdeal (run by Jasper Infotech Pvt. Ltd) to approach Alibaba Group for cash, the three people said. While both have enough cash to fund their current burn rates for 12-15 months, they need to raise money this year in order to refill their fast-emptying vaults, the people added.

Yet, the two most valuable e-commerce companies are fearful of hitting the market currently as investors are increasingly becoming cautious about backing mature Internet firms.

Flipkart’s valuation has soared five times to $15 billion since May 2014 when it raised $210 million from DST Global, Tiger Global Management and others. Snapdeal’s valuation has increased more than 6 times since it raised $100 million the same month. Since then, Flipkart has raised $2.4 billion while Snapdeal has raised more than $1.3 billion.

If the Flipkart-Alibaba deal goes through, it will make Alibaba one of the three most important investors in India, along with Tiger Global Management and Japan’s SoftBank Group.

The proposed deal may also lead to progress towards a long-awaited consolidation of India’s large e-commerce businesses. SoftBank, Alibaba’s largest investor, is also Snapdeal’s biggest backer.

As of 31 December 2015, Alibaba had cash and cash equivalents of $17 billion, according to the company’s quarterly earnings report.

Chinese firms are increasingly taking interest in Indian businesses as valuations stabilize. In January, China’s travel booking giant Ctrip picked up a stake in MakeMyTrip by investing $180 million.

After an unprecedented funding boom for start-ups in 2014 and the first half of 2015, investors have turned cautious because of a mix of global macroeconomic factors such as an economic slowdown in China and an interest rate hike in the US, as well as growing concerns over unproven business models.

Flipkart and Snapdeal, in particular, are facing scrutiny from investors about their ballooning losses and the rapid expansion of Amazon India (Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd), which, in July 2014, promised to invest $2 billion in the country over the following few years.

The three companies are engaged in a high-stakes, three-way war for market share, the outcome of which will help shape the future of India’s entire start-up ecosystem.

Over the course of 2015, Amazon gained market share in India at the expense of both Flipkart and Snapdeal, according to publicly available data and several company executives. Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon India are all private.

With Amazon investing aggressively and showing no signs of cutting back, Flipkart and Snapdeal will have to keep up their spending on discounts, advertising and logistics. For this, they will need to keep topping up their war chests every 10-12 months.

“You will see only a handful of investors, who have the potential to invest, arm-twist even the large unicorns in order to extract stake at cheap valuations,” one of the three people said.

[“source-Livemint”]

Is Ritesh Agarwal ready to grow up?

OYO Rooms founder Ritesh Agarwal. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

OYO Rooms founder Ritesh Agarwal. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

On 24 January, Manoj Thelakkat, a Bengaluru-based recruitment professional, took to social networking platform Facebook to share his experience of being an OYO Rooms customer. The roughly 1,400-word post, headlined ‘The Ordeal called OYO Rooms’, details his frustrating experience of first being denied a pre-paid room at a Mumbai hotel, OYO’s shoddy customer service when contacted for a solution and, ultimately being checked into a room that (going by the photos posted) was uninviting, to put it mildly.

Thelakkat’s experience isn’t an anomaly. Rather, judging from the even longer comments thread that follows the post, it’s par for the course.

OYO is among India’s celebrated consumer Internet start-up brands. It is owned by Gurgaon-based Oravel Stays Pvt. Ltd. The company aggregates budget hotel rooms and claims to offer a standardized staying experience under its brand across the country. Something like an Airbnb. Its founder, 22-year-old college dropout Ritesh Agarwal, has charmed frontline investors such as Sequoia Capital and SoftBank Corp. into pumping a reported $125 million into the company in less than three years. In August, a CB Insights report for The New York Times put OYO on a list of the next 50 companies tipped to enter the coveted start-up unicorn club.

Unicorn, as we all know, is the universal term used by venture capitalists for start-ups that are valued at a billion dollars or more. In order to get into that club, OYO will have to raise more money. It will also have to convince the next investor that comes calling to write a large cheque at a hefty valuation. Its existing backers will naturally want a more-than-generous premium on the valuation they paid when they bought stakes in the company.

But there’s a small problem. It isn’t much fun being a unicorn in India these days. In fact, it hasn’t been for a good six-eight months. New York hedge fund Tiger Global Management, chief benefactor to the country’s consumer Internet start-ups, is beating a retreat from the market. It has a reported $2 billion-plus invested in start-ups here and most of it locked in three unicorns—e-tailer Flipkart, cab-hailing service Ola and classifieds platform Quikr. The firm is concerned that while a lot of money has gone into India, not much has come back out and it may have a longer wait than anticipated to see any profits.

Unlike Tiger Global, venture capitalists are still interested in Indian start-ups. So are a bunch of strategic investors such as Japan’s SoftBank and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Between them, there’s still a lot of money in the system. However, it isn’t going to be easy to get to them to hand out the greenbacks either. They will wait for the ongoing correction in the two-year fund-raising frenzy to play out and let valuations settle a bit before deploying fresh capital, especially in the later stages.

This is already happening. Mint reported this week that Alibaba is sniffing around for a stake in Flipkart, but is unwilling to pursue a deal at the latter’s current valuation, reported at $15 billion. The Bengaluru-based e-tailer is currently reportedly in the market to raise a massive $1.4 billion funding round. Several folks in the venture capital industry familiar with developments at the company say with Flipkart’s largest investor, Tiger Global, unwilling to participate meaningfully in large funding rounds, the $1.4 billion round is likely to be a down round (where the valuation is lower than the valuation in the last funding round).

The January numbers for venture capital investments are further evidence of the ongoing correction. According to data compiled by VCCEdge, early investors put about $145 million to work at the Series A, B and C stages across 13 deals against $297 million across 27 deals in January last year. That’s a 51% and 52% drop in value and volume terms, respectively. Notably, in each of the three stages, the total value of deals concluded have declined more than 50%.

Of course, it is early days. Venture capitalists are just warming up for a new dealmaking season and the overall numbers may look different at the end of the first quarter. Still, it looks unlikely that fund-raising levels will jump back to the merry days of 2014 and early 2015 any time soon. Investors would first like to see companies, especially the celebrated unicorns where annual cash burn rates range between $30 million and $70 million, bring capital efficiency into their businesses and show a path to profitability.

That’s going to take time. And that spells big problems for companies such as OYO. If the current generation of unicorns is struggling to attract investors, future aspirants such as OYO can ill afford to alienate customers such as Thelakkat on account of misplaced priorities and badly managed businesses.

Are the Ritesh Agarwals out there ready to grow up?

Snigdha Sengupta is a freelance journalist in Mumbai and founder of StartupCentral. She contributes stories on private equity and venture capital toMint.

[“source-Livemint”]

Quantum Break Developer Registers Trademark for ‘Alan Wake’s Return’

Quantum Break Developer Registers Trademark for 'Alan Wake's Return'

According to the eagle-eyed Internet detectives at popular video game forum, NeoGAF, Remedy Entertainment might be bringing back a well-loved IP. It has registered a trademark for what appears to be sequel to Alan Wake called “Alan Wake’s Return”.

“After seeing this I also discovered that http://alanwakesreturn.com/ was registered last year via the same proxy as other Remedy domains. (although you don’t see Remedy itself in the whois),” wrote a forumgoer under the handle ekim. “edit: it’s worth noting that the trademark was registered via FastTrack so someone was in a hurry?!”

(Also see: Quantum Break for PC Shows the Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few)

This was followed up with another post claiming that a domain, stonecrow.band was registered by Remedy also last year. Alan Wake had Finnish rock band Poets of the Fall featuring in the game as a band named Old Gods of Asgard.

Alan Wake is a horror action game from Remedy that was met with a tepid commercial response (thanks to releasing around the same time as Red Dead Redemption) when it first hit the Xbox 360 in 2010, but picked up steam when it was made available for Windows PCs two years later. The game still has a rabid fanbase and is lauded for its story-telling and presentation.

(Also see: Quantum Break PC Requirements Announced, Free With Xbox One Version)

With Alan Wake and Quantum Break publisher Microsoft playing host to the press with a behind closed doors event on February 25 that’s embargoed until March 1 we might not have to wait too long to find out what’s in store.

Would you play another Alan Wake game? Let us know via the comments.

[“Source-Gadgets”]

Eight Smartphone Features That Deserve an Award

Eight Smartphone Features That Deserve an AwardYearly software refreshes to mobile operating systems like iOS and Android, along with the constant app updates by developers means that there’s barely any time to stop and think about the amazing convenience our phones bring to us today. There aren’t any formal awards for small features in phones that nonetheless make a big impact, so let’s give out some informal awards to some of the greatest features in phones that make these devices so smart.

So, without further ado, here are the picks for software features on smartphones that deserve an award, sorted in the decreasing order of their awesomeness. Some of these features are built directly into the operating systems, and others can be enabled by installing third-party apps.

1) Doze on Android
Android phones have had a spotty record when it comes to battery life, especially the standby times. Over-the-top hardware features can drain even relatively large batteries, while software customisations by phone-makers, and apps that keep sipping power even if you’re not using them, all steadily empty the battery.

Google’s previous attempt at solving this problem, dubbed Project Volta, which rolled out last year withAndroid 5.0 Lollipop, was ineffective because it relied on developers to implement power-saving features in their apps. The results were barely seen, considering the general perception that battery life on Android phones got worse with Android Lollipop, not better.

This year Google has tried again with Android Doze as part of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. This feature wasn’t portrayed as a magic pill that would double up battery life, but rather as something that would prevent wastage of battery when the phone is not in use. The beauty of Doze lies within the implementation of this feature – principally what Doze does is not very different from what Sony had introduced with Stamina mode, or what ‘low-power modes’ on other phones do, which is basically to turn off background app activity. Most of those solutions were too drastic however, and basically turned your smartphone into a featurephone.

android_doze.jpg

The ‘special sauce’ of Doze is its reliance on motion sensors to minimise background app activity. Doze isn’t going to save your battery when you’re on the move, but cuts in when the phone is resting unused, on your table. Doze does allow apps to update themselves at set intervals, but it keeps them from all waking the CPU one by one throughout the day.

In real world scenarios, people with Nexus 5 running Android 6.0 Marshmallow have seen just 2 to 3 percent drop in battery levels, after seven hours of not using the phone. In contrast, a Lollipop phone dropped two to three percent in battery levels every hour, even when the phone was not in use. Doze is seamless, and brings the standby time for your phone to par with what iOS users have experienced for years. You can even make it more aggressive with a simple hack that makes Doze kick-in more quickly.

2) Actionable Notifications for third-party apps in iOS 9
Actionable notifications was a tiny feature addition in iOS 8 that got little attention last year, possibly because it was limited to default apps like iMessage. In iOS 9, Apple thankfully opened this hidden gem to developers using an API, many of whom implemented it within a few months of the iOS 9 release.

(Also see: 15 iOS 9 Features That Make Your iPhone and iPad Better Than Ever)

Imagine this scenario – you’re using your phone and somebody sends you a message on a chat app like WhatsApp. Instead of having to tap on the notification to launch the app, then reply, and finally return to what you’re doing, with actionable notifications, simply pulling down on that notification shade reveals a reply box, where you can just type and hit send. There’s no need to juggle between apps while simultaneously chatting with people and using your phone anymore.

apple_quick_reply.jpg

Actionable notifications are not restricted to just quick replies; app developers can put commonly-used app actions there as well. For example, FB Messenger has the popular ‘thumbs-up’ as an action item when you pull down a chat notification.

3) Multi-user fingerprint Authentication on CoolOS (Android)
With Touch ID in 2013, Apple paved the way for fingerprint scanners to become one of the most convenient hardware features to have in a smartphone. The next year, Android 5.0 Lollipop introduced multi-user mode which, like a computer, would compartmentalise your data to your account. This year, Android may have brought out-of-the-box support for fingerprint scanners with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but it missed the boat on this unbelievably-incredible use case that CoolOS, a customised variant of Android found on Coolpad smartphones finally delivered.

The Coolpad Note 3 is an inexpensive phone with a fingerprint scanner that works well. But more importantly, hidden inside the settings menu is an option to bind a user profile to a fingerprint. Consider this scenario – you as an owner of the device, can tie another user (such as your child perhaps) with their fingerprint.

coolpad_note3_fingerprintapps_ndtv.jpg

When you unlock the phone with your fingerprint, you will get to see your data, but when the other person unlocks the phone using theirs, the OS seamlessly switches to that user’s profile, so you could let your children play games on your phone without worrying about them sending an email to your boss.

Effectively, this becomes the easiest way to allow others to use your phone, without exposing your data (like emails, photos, chats etc). If you don’t want to create separate users, you can also lock individual apps with a fingerprint; much like app-locker apps, but built-in and convenient to use.

4) Google Photos App
Google’s Photos app already deserves a pat on the back for letting people back up as many photos as they want, as long as they’re okay with them being reasonably compressed. This takes a big headache off from manually backing them up, in case you know, your phone is lost, broken, or tampered with.

But there are two beautiful features of this app that make discovering photos extremely simple. First is the Assistant feature, which intelligently creates photo books using the time and location data embedded in your phone, along with algorithms that pick out good photos from the lot. It is fantastic to reminisce over old photos that you probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

google_photos_app.jpg

The next is in Google’s ability to interpret content within photos. The search box in the Photos app is mad accurate! I’ve searched for “Photos of car”, “Photos of dogs”, “Photos of dogs and cars”, “Photos of dogs on the street”, “Photos of cars in Pune”, “Photos of cars in 2013”, and each time, the app served the correct results (with a few forgivable exceptions here and there).

The only thing it can’t automatically tag is people’s names. It is very good at finding similar faces and lets you see all pictures of a specific person, but it doesn’t identify via Google+ what the name of that person is. You can manually fill it in for now, though. Still, Google Photos is a powerful tool to find just the right photo you’re looking for.

5) Google Now on Tap
The highlight feature of the new Android 6.0, Now on Tap deserves an award for being able to understand context within text in any app, automatically showing you relevant results that you otherwise would have had to look up manually. Right now, Now on Tap’s usefulness is hit-or-miss, but it will only get better with time. But when it works, it works!

(Also see: Hands on With Now on Tap – Android 6.0’s Best Feature Has Apps Dancing to Its Tunes)

So the next time you and a buddy are texting about which movie to watch, or which restaurant to catch up at, a simple press and hold of the home button makes Google go through the text on the screen, and serve the same knowledge cards you’re used to seeing on Google search results. If you’re talking about movies, you’ll see IMDB ratings, an option to quickly play trailers on YouTube, and even app-integration to book tickets. If you’re talking about places to eat, it’ll show their distance from your current location and a button to call the restaurant.

now_on_tap_ndtv_2.jpg

Tapping any word in the Chrome browser also shows up the search results as a card below. Now on Tap has huge potential and this feature is award-worthy indeed!

6) These (Really) Smart Calling Apps
There are some great innovations that make calling (which yes, people still use their phones for) much easier. Let’s start with TrueDialer – other than populating crowdsourced names on unknown phone numbers in your call list, it has also recently introduced a status feature.

This lets you know if the person you’re trying to call is available for conversation. The status is decided depending upon if they’re already on another call, or if their calendar has them marked as busy at the time, or their phone profile is set to ‘no interruptions’.

The app can let you know when this status changes, so you can get in touch at a more appropriate time. Its usefulness is limited by the fact that the people you’re calling also need to use Truedialer, butApple has a patent for a similar sounding system. If Apple or Google were to implement it in the dialers of tomorrow then it could really improve the way we communicate.

truedialler_app.jpg

Another app that deserves praise is an Android app called SpeakerPhone Ex, and its Windows Phone equivalent, Lumia Gestures. The app uses the proximity sensor to switch between the speakerphone and the earpiece, and it’s an incredibly convenient tweak that makes using the phone much easier.

7) Apple’s Continuity on iOS and OS X
Taking advantage of the tight control over their software ecosystem, Apple’s Continuity has enabled features that Android hasn’t been able to replicate. Continuity gives you the ability to make and receive your iPhone calls and SMS on a Mac, iPad or iPod Touch, the use of iPhone’s WiFi hotspot in a single click, wirelessly transferring files from one Apple device to another (AirDrop) and restoring the state of apps from one device to another (Handoff).

(Also see: How to Make and Answer Calls, Send and Receive SMS From Your iPad, Mac)

apple_continuity.jpg

Someone told me he gets poor connectivity at his home, so the ability to take calls on his Mac or iPad while his iPhone rests in another room (which has better reception) is a boon. Instant Hotspot also saves you the step of turning it on in Settings on your phone, before you can use a Wi-Fi Hotspot. Handoff is useful too, provided you’re using apps that support it (such as Safari or Mail). There are also a reasonable number of third-party apps that support it too, but most people said Handoff was second of the least useful new feature to them, after AirDrop.

8) Third Party App Integration with Cortana on Windows Phone
Cortana was a few years late to the party after Siri and Google Now opened up the possibility of controlling your phone using your voice. But it has one trick up its sleeve that the latter two haven’t been able to crack yet – third-party app integration. What this means is developers can create commands that Cortana will parse, so that you can also perform actions within apps using the voice assistant. So, you can ask the Wikipedia app to search something within it directly, or say, ask the Dictionary.com’s app for the word of the day, all with your voice.

meet_cortana.jpg

At the moment, Google Now supports a few third-party apps like WhatsApp so you can say “Send a WhatsApp message to…”, but it isn’t open to just about anybody. Siri on the other hand can launch third-party apps when asked, and actions are limited to the built-in apps like Apple Music – so you can say “Play the best hits from the last decade” to Siri and it will start playing.

These were some of the features that blew my mind. What features have brought you such happiness? Sound off in the comments below.

Rohan Naravane heads the Content & Product at PriceBaba. He’s usually found rambling mostly about tech on Twitter @r0han.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV Gadgets is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV Gadgets and NDTV Gadgets does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

[“Source-Gadgets”]