US intelligence warns we need more artificial intelligence to maintain global power

The intelligence community has plenty of threats on its radar: rogue states with nuclear programs, terrorism, and, increasingly, rivalry from China and …

The intelligence community has plenty of threats on its radar: rogue states with nuclear programs, terrorism, and, increasingly, rivalry from China and Russia. To address those myriad challenges, as a new National Intelligence Strategy report makes clear, the United States must foster innovation and strategy that incorporates new technology. Relying on past success is not enough.

As the report notes:

In addition to these familiar threats, our adversaries are increasingly leveraging rapid advances in technology to pose new and evolving threats — particularly in the realm of space, cyberspace, computing, and other emerging, disruptive technologies.


Those are threats that the government cannot afford to ignore. And if we don’t want to be caught playing second fiddle to our adversaries, we must channel good old American ingenuity and treat technological development as a national security priority.

The intelligence community knows this, and as the report puts bluntly:

To continue meeting future challenges, the IC must drive new levels of innovation by proactively developing and rapidly incorporating breakthrough and incremental technologies, ideas, and constructs.


Specifically, it calls for focus on artificial intelligence and automation.

Those are key areas of development where the U.S. is already facing stiff competition.

China, for example, has already made clear its plans to be a leader in new technologies with the Made in China 2025 initiate and its recent landing on the far side of the moon. Although China’s current development has been buttressed with purloined technology, as the Defense Intelligence Agency has warned that a consequence of Beijing’s “multifaceted approach to technology acquisition is a PLA on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapons systems in the world. In some areas, it already leads the world.”

In order to maintain our dominant global position, we should heed these warnings. The U.S. is a force to be reckoned with because, along with our allies, we have dominated cutting edge technology development. Resting on our laurels and finding complacency in our current position leaves us vulnerable — and the world will not wait for Washington to catch up.

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Ripple Partners With Prestigious Chinese University

One of the biggest names in the crypto space is Ripple. The firm … and academic research in blockchain, cryptocurrency and digital payment sectors.

One of the biggest names in the crypto space is Ripple. The firm is well-known for making new connections and partnerships almost on a weekly basis and now they are going to be teaming up with the Institute for Fintech Research, Tsinghua University (THUIFR) in order to launch a new Blockchain Technology Research Scholarship Program (BRSP).

The Main Focus

The THUIFR was established by the Institute for Interdisciplinary Information Sciences, PBC School of Finance, School of Software and Law School at Tsinghua University in 2017.

THUIFR is committed to providing practical guidance and first-class research to the fintech industry in China.

As reported by blokt, the scholarship program on blockchain research will be focusing on the development of blockchain technology as well as global regulatory policies.

For those lucky students inducted into the program, they will be working on leading-edge research on worldwide policies and regulations in relation to blockchain technology. In addition to this, they will also get an opportunity to participate in multiple different events and corporate visits. The scholarship will only be available for top graduate students in China this year.

The Director of International Cooperation and Development, Ivy Gao spoke on the subject saying:

“BRSP aims to help students have a comprehensive view of the latest international regulations on blockchain technology, and most importantly, I believe, this program would greatly help with their future research or career in the field of blockchain technology.”

Ripple Supports

There are several prestigious universities that Ripple are working with from across the globe through its University Blockchain Research Initiative. With this in mind, the San Francisco crypto firm is looking to boost the support of innovation, technical developments and academic research in blockchain, cryptocurrency and digital payment sectors.

One Ripple employee, Emi Yoshikawa, shared the news about the THUIFR partnership through her Twitter profile. She said that Ripple will provide help for developing the next generation of blockchain talent in China. You can see the tweet below:

We @Ripple are excited to work with Tsinghua University Institute for Fintech Research (@THIFR3) and help develop the next generation talent for blockchain in China! #UBRIhttps://t.co/uamSSomaYa

— Emi Yoshikawa (@emy_wng) January 23, 2019

Eric van Miltenburg is the firms SVP of Global Operations. He says that Ripple is impressed with the Tsinghua Universities innovation approach to engage the youth leaders of the in the DLT space. Miltenburg continued saying, “The program’s goal – to provide students with opportunities in blockchain research – closely aligns with that of Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative; we’re thrilled to support THUIFR in this endeavor and look forward to its launch.”

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Ripple Extends Its University Blockchain Research Initiative to Tsinghua University

US-based blockchain company Ripple will support the program. … development in the fields of digital payments, the blockchain, and cryptocurrency.

The Institute for Fintech Research in Tsinghua University (THUIFR) recently announced the launch of the Blockchain Technology Research Scholarship Program (BRSP) for graduate students in China. US-based blockchain company Ripple will support the program. The program will focus on blockchain technology development and international regulatory policies of the sector.

Tsinghua University’s Pro-fintech Approach

The THUIFR was created as a joint effort by PBC School of Finance, Institute for Interdisciplinary Information Sciences, School of Software and Law School at Tsinghua University in 2017, after the Fintech Lab added significant academic and industrial research accomplishments since 2012.

The Institute is focused on providing world-class research in the fintech industry, coupled with practical guidance to become a leading platform in the fields of policy advisory, research, and innovation incubation.

With its new scholarship program, the University will admit bright students from China who dedicate themselves to research on blockchain technology and global regulations and policies in the sector. The students will also participate in various events and corporate visits.

Talking about the aims of the program, Director of International Cooperation and Development, THUIFR, Ivy Gao said:

“BRSP aims to help students have a comprehensive view of the latest international regulations on blockchain technology, and most importantly, I believe, this program would greatly help with their future research or career in the field of blockchain technology.”

Ripple’s Initiatives Enter Chinese Universities

Ripple is working on a unique University Blockchain Research Initiative where it reaches out to the leading academic institutions in the world to catalyze and support academic research, innovation and technical development in the fields of digital payments, the blockchain, and cryptocurrency.

Ripple executive for global Ops & Partnerships, Emi Yoshikawa noted on Twitter that the San Francisco-based startup is excited to work with the Chinese university and is looking forward to helping develop blockchain talent in the country.

Ripple’s SVP of Global Operations, Eric van Miltenburg said:

“We are very impressed with THUIFR for taking a unique and innovative approach to engaging China’s young leaders in the blockchain space.”

He also highlighted that the program’s goal would be to help provide students opportunity in the space of blockchain research which will align with the company’s University Blockchain Research Initiative.

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Redpoint China Ventures closes USD400m across two new funds

… help all our portfolio companies succeed through shared with access, insights, and connections,” says Satish Dhamaraj, partner Redpoint Ventures.

Redpoint China Ventures has completed the closing of two new funds totalling USD400 million in committed capital – the USD300 million China II Fund for early-stage investments and the USD100 million Opportunity Fund for growth investments.

Both funds will focus on consumer, enterprise and emerging frontier tech startups based in China.

With offices in Beijing and Shanghai, Redpoint China Ventures leverages its deep local expertise and access to Redpoint’s global network to help entrepreneurs in China build exceptional companies across borders. Redpoint entered the China market in 2005 to invest in China’s growing class of serial entrepreneurs and was an early investor in companies such as CGEN Digital Media (acquired by Focus Media 2007), Qihoo (NYSE IPO 2011), iDreamSky (Nasdaq IPO 2014), and Domob (acquired by Blue Focus 2015). Redpoint China Ventures raised its inaugural USD180 Million China I fund in 2016 and has since grown into a full-function investment, portfolio management and operations team with close to 20 professional staff.

“We are excited to continue helping some of China’s most compelling founders build successful companies with a global viewpoint and customer base,” says David Yuan, founder and managing partner, Redpoint China Ventures. “China has one of the most robust technology startup ecosystems in the world, and we continue to see enormous investment opportunities here. We’re grateful to both returning and new LPs.”

“The US and China are two of the world’s largest markets for technology innovation, and Redpoint has seen first-hand how strong collaboration between our regions can help all our portfolio companies succeed through shared with access, insights, and connections,” says Satish Dhamaraj, partner Redpoint Ventures.

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From getting thrown out of Facebook groups to making Rs 1 Cr per month: how Zefo survived its …

From scepticism about Zefo having no parallels in China and the US, to raising funds from Sequoia Capital and Helion Ventures, the Bengaluru-based …

From scepticism about Zefo having no parallels in China and the US, to raising funds from Sequoia Capital and Helion Ventures, the Bengaluru-based startup has come a long way and now has a presence in six cities.

Zefo
Team Zefo

There is no end to the list of struggles entrepreneurs have to face in the initial years of starting up. Whether it is a B2B model or B2C, customers often exploit them when it comes to payments. Bengaluru-based Zefo, a startup selling refurbished furniture online, learnt this the hard way when it launched in Delhi in 2016.

Zefo Co-founder and CEO Rohit Ramasubramanian remembers a customer who would keep placing orders or come to Zefo’s warehouse and block some products for himself.

“He seemed genuine when he said he was unable to pay in advance. So we offered him cash on delivery. When we delivered the product, he said he would pay the following week. But despite going to him almost every day, we were not able to get our payment. Moreover, his sister threatened to complain of harassment if we went again.”

They asked around and discovered that the man – who had some power with local politicians and the police – often committed such fraud and got away with it. “We finally had to let it go,” admits Rohit. “Now I feel that we were naïve and erred in how we dealt with it.”

This was Zefo’s wakeup call – as entrepreneurs, you have to lose your innocence, learn when to trust and not to trust, and foresee the worst case scenarios. If you are lucky, you could live to tell the tale after four years, as one of the most promising startups in the country.

It was hardly ever easy for team Zefo, even though two of the four co-founders – Rohit and Karan Gupta – had an investment background (having worked at Helion Ventures before). The other two – Himesh Joshi and Arjit Gupta – were with Boston Consulting Group and Flipkart, respectively. All four of them were in their mid-twenties at the time.

Humble beginnings

Zefo’s first office was a corner of their warehouse on Sarjapur Road in Bengaluru. “For the first couple of weeks, while we waited for the office shell to be put up, we sat on chairs in the open in the warehouse. We were working seven days a week in the first year,” Rohit recounts.

Even today, his fondest memory is of the first few months that the team spent at the warehouse, doing everything from writing code, clicking photographs, packing products, and even delivering them.

The Zefo experience centre in Bengaluru. (Source: Gozefo.com)

In hindsight, Rohit feels that it was the sourcing that gave Zefo a head start. “We went to consumers and manufacturers who wanted to sell their seconds. It was opportunistic sourcing – we got whatever was available, and the refurbishment process followed,” Rohit says.

Growth hacking before marketing

Zefo’s first couple of orders came from friends waiting to grab an Urban Ladder product for cheap. But Zefo’s business model demanded customer acquisition more than retention. So, in the first few months, the four entrepreneurs started reaching out to customers through Facebook pages where people were actively posting about second-hand products for sale.

“We got a lot of traffic through that; many customers from these forums would visit our warehouse and purchase too. In the first two-three months, we managed to get orders worth around Rs 40 lakh,” he shares.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. “We were kicked out of some (Facebook) pages for spamming; they would take down our posts minutes after we posted them,” Rohit laughs. That’s when they started digital marketing in earnest.

Another lesson learnt the hard way

The first big blow to the team, however, was their first return after a product arrived damaged at a customer’s place. “The team was distraught, and two of us went to personally apologise with a gift hamper.” Surprisingly, the customer was way more relaxed than they were. “Eventually, we learnt that it’s just one of the realities of ecommerce, something we needed to solve, and not get emotionally attached to,” Rohit says.

They were fearless after that. “We didn’t have a lot to lose. We just put our heads down and tried to make things happen. Relative scale brings along responsibilities as well, and we’re a lot more realistic today than we were back then,” he says.

The F word

Raising the initial funding round is often a big hurdle for any startup. But for Zefo, raising the first round of investment was relatively easy.

Helion had expressed an interest in investing in our seed round when we were quitting. That is a luxury most entrepreneurs do not have, and we were very lucky to have this option,” Rohit tells YourStory. (Rohit’s immediate boss at the time was leading the investment. Rohit was part of some deal calls but would be asked to drop off when they discussed Zefo.)

After raising seed funding, Zefo dedicated its first year to growing sales (to attract investors) and achieving a great net promoter score (NPS).

Rohit recollects, “At the time, we had very little idea on what was a reasonable target to set. We would look at the previous month, conjure up a growth percentage, and make that the next month’s target, irrespective of external or other internal factors.”

To their credit, the team got to Rs 1 crore in monthly sales in the very first year.

The next round of funding was far more difficult, given that they had to bring investors other than Helion. “Many investors were worried about investing because the business didn’t have a parallel in China or the US. Our business model was perceived as operationally heavy and capital-intensive. So we had the burden to build a proof; we had to get everything right – unit economics, tech, logistics, etc.,” says Rohit.

They did just that. As the team was running close to the edge and could not grow any more without capital, Series A came, with BEENEXT and Sequoia Capital backing Zefo in 2016.

At Zefo, team matters

According to Rohit, the toughest challenge in the first year was hiring. “We could not compromise on our standards in the longer term. We were around 10 people when we started. We mostly hired people we knew, those we trusted, and those who trusted us,” he recollects. Later on, Zefo hired a few people by signing up with LinkedIn and Naukri. The team now has around 200 people.

Tech and logistics were not too hard to figure out in a city like Bengaluru, where talent is abundant. But the quality check department needed a veteran. And they brought one in, all the way from Jodhpur, in July 2015.

Rana Ram, who has worked in quality control for various furniture manufacturers in Jodhpur, was referred to the Zefo team by their mentor Kaustabh Chakraborty, SVP of Category Management at Urban Ladder.

“We invited Rana to Bengaluru for a few days to show him what we do. He went back after three-four days. But he had liked our work, and decided to move to Bengaluru to work with us. He is still our QC head,” Rohit says.

Thriving, not just surviving

Selling furniture online is not an easy game. Still, over the course of time, Zefo dared to expand to five more cities and now provides pre-owned electrical appliances and mobile phones in addition to furniture – around 15,000 products across 14 categories. It also partners with UrbanLadder, Pepperfry, Amazon, and Flipkart for exchange programmes.

More than 50 percent of its procurement comes from single sellers, and they offer the seller the opportunity to receive cash up front.

Today, having raised around $20 million in multiple rounds of funding, Zefo also offers a buy-back guarantee on its products.

Zefo was also recently among the 38 Asian entrepreneurs handpicked for Alibaba’s eFounders fellowship programme. Zefo is on a high, and a hard-earned one at that.


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