Chinese cab aggregator Didi Chuxing makes second India bet with OYO

… it has received $800 million from investors including SoftBank Vision Fund, along with existing investors Lightspeed India Partners, Sequoia Capital, …

China’s rapidly growing taxi aggregator Didi Chuxing made its second India bet this week, closing a $100 million investment into hotel and hospitality platform OYO. According to sources, this closes the $1 billion fundraising round of OYO’s which has been going on for a while.

This round had been initially announced in September last year, with OYO stating that it has received $800 million from investors including SoftBank Vision Fund, along with existing investors Lightspeed India Partners, Sequoia Capital, and Greenoaks Capital. OYO had also noted that it had commitments for another $200 million from unnamed investors for the round. Now, sources say the round has been closed, with Didi Chuxing’s $100 million investment and another by $100 million invested by Singapore’s taxi aggregator Grab. OYO maintains its $5 billion valuation with the round. The company’s filings with the Registrar of Companies also confirm the investments.

For Didi Chuxing however, the OYO bet is its second among India’s unicorns. Its first investment had come way back in 2015, when it infused an undisclosed sum in taxi aggregator Ola, which has since gone one to expand rapidly, including to several overseas markets.

OYO itself has proved to be one of the few successful Indian startups in overseas markets, with its business growing exponentially in China, Didi Chuxing’s home market. In fact, OYO had partnered with Didi Chuxing when it entered the Chinese market in November 2017 with campaign slogans that read ‘Ride comfortably with Didi, stay comfortably with OYO’. OYO now has a presence in nearly 240 cities in China, operating across 5,000 hotels with several hundreds of thousands of rooms under its badge.

Going forward, sources say that OYO is likely to continue to focus on the Chinese market in an effort to build on its successes so far, with over half of the funds raised in its $1 billion round already committed to boost growth in the Chinese market. OYO has done well its home market of India too, with the firm reporting an over three-fold jump in India revenues for 2017-18. Operating revenue had stood at `416 crore compared to Rs 120 crore in 2016-17.

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China’s tech companies are taking a more American approach to international expansion

Shanghai-based artificial intelligence company Yitu Technology announced this month that is launching its first R&D center outside of China in …

Shanghai-based artificial intelligence company Yitu Technology announced this month that is launching its first R&D center outside of China in Singapore. The move is part of a larger trend among Chinese tech companies hoping to achieve two goals: Access top foreign engineering and scientific talent by setting up R&D centers in key global knowledge hubs, and embed themselves deeper in local ecosystems to spur new long-term growth engines — most notably in Southeast Asia.

The ultimate goal for many of China’s leading tech companies is to become true multinationals. Their strategy is to build a significant presence in their huge home market and then leverage that to branch out internationally. However, they face a steep learning curve: The free-for-all ethos and Darwinian natural selection that guide their modus operandi in China often prove to be counter-productive in smaller, more insulated markets.

Huawei is already an established consumer and telecom equipment multinational, despite pushback from the US, with its products and services deployed in more than 170 countries. In 2018 it beat Apple in full-year smartphone sales for the first time and took second place in the global market, with more than 200 million units shipped. It is unclear to what extent the next wave of Chinese global tech players is learning the lessons from Huawei’s pitfalls, but there’s no doubting their determination to compete with Western counterparts and with one another.

Yitu’s Singapore center will initially employ 30 researchers and engineers, but the team size is expected to grow to around 100 over the next three years. The company, known for its facial recognition software, views the move as more than just a means of churning out new AI solutions for smart buildings and medical diagnostics. It is a bridgehead into the Southeast Asian ecosystem, a means for Yitu to “tap into the potential of Singapore and Southeast Asia as key drivers of global growth,” according to the company.

Examples of Western tech companies becoming multinationals abound. For decades Intel has been operating manufacturing and assembly plants outside of the US for its chips and microprocessors in China, Ireland, Israel, Malaysia, Costa Rica, and Vietnam. Intel hopes Israel-based MobilEye, which it acquired in 2017 for $15.3 billion, will emerge as its global center for AI and computer vision research in the smart mobility sector.

Uber, a privately held unicorn and a more recent participant in the global competition for talent, runs R&D centers in Bengaluru, Ho Chi Minh City, Beijing, and Jakarta. Uber, like Yitu, views its Singapore R&D center as a springboard into high growth regions in Southeast and South Asia.

But adopting a complex global perspective is a newer phenomenon to Chinese tech giants and unicorns. For a number of years China’s two supreme rulers of the digital space, Alibaba and Tencent, have been investing aggressively in dozens of startups in India, Thailand, and Indonesia. But like their Western counterparts they realize that achieving desired growth goals in global markets requires deeper local presence.

A focus on transactions, such as Alibaba’s 40 percent stake in Indian mobile payments company Paytm and Tencent’s $1.2 billion fundraising round in Indonesia’s motorbike on-demand startup Go-Jek, may not be enough even for these two champions to become long term players in overseas markets.

Alibaba’s move in October 2017 to create an international “academy dedicated to innovation and technological collaboration” dubbed DAMO, standing for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook, was one of the first to signal the departure from a mere transactional approach to foreign markets. By spending $15 billion in 2018-2020 on research laboratories in Beijing, Hangzhou, Moscow, Singapore, Tel Aviv, California, and Washington (state), Alibaba is taking a more refined attitude to its new role as a global player.

In Israel, Alibaba is hiring 40 R&D engineers to develop the company’s next generation of smart retail technologies. The research revolves around some of the most advanced versions of artificial intelligence — automated machine learning (AutoML). Alibaba leased office space in Herzelyia, outside of Tel Aviv, that can accommodate a much larger team, fueling speculation about its greater designs for Israel. Itamar Friedman, the head of Alibaba’s R&D center in Israel, said the operation will also serve as a stepping stone for local startup scouting and research projects in collaboration with academia.

So what does it all mean? American tech companies vying for share in international markets will begin to see Chinese competitors everywhere. They are hyper competitive and Darwinian; they operate differently from you. Expect the unexpected.

Rami Blachman is founder of China Israel Innovation Accelerator (CIIA) in Shanghai and Hangzhou. He is also an advisor for international business development at AgriNation VC. He was previously Partner at Giza Venture Capital in Tel Aviv and Shanghai and led international business development for the financial services arm of Zhejiang Zhongda, a Chinese state-owned conglomerate.

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Startups Weekly: Is Y Combinator’s latest cohort too big?

TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos spoke with Mamoon Hamid and Ilya Fushman, who joined Kleiner Perkins from Social Capital and Index Ventures, …

Greetings from Chittorgarh, one of my stops on a two-week excursion through Goa and Rajasthan, India. I’ve been a little too busy exploring, photographing cows and monkeys and eating a lot of delicious food to keep up with *all* the tech news, but I’ve still got the highlights.

For starters, if you haven’t heard yet, TechCrunch launched Extra Crunch, a paid premium subscription offering full of amazing content. As part of Extra Crunch, we’ll be doing deep dives on select businesses, beginning with Patreon. Read Patreon’s founding story here and learn how two college roommates built the world’s leading creator platform. Plus, we’ve got insights on Patreon’s product, business strategy, competitors and more.

Sign up for Extra Crunch membership here.

On to other news…

Y Combinator’s latest batch of startups is huge

So huge the Silicon Valley accelerator had to move locations and set up two stages at its upcoming demo days (March 18-19) to accommodate the more than 200 startups ready to pitch investors (who will have to hop between stages at the event). There will also be a virtual demo day live-streamed for some investors to watch “because there are so few seats.” Here’s what I’m wondering… At what point is a YC cohort too big? If investors aren’t even able to view all the companies at Demo Day, what exactly is the point? Send me your thoughts.

Deal of the week

Another week, another SoftBank deal. The Vision Fund’s latest bet is autonomous delivery. The Japanese telecom giant has invested $940 million in Nuro, the developer of a custom unmanned vehicle designed for last-mile delivery of local goods and services. The startup, also backed by Greylock and Gaorong Capital, will use the cash to expand its delivery service, add new partners, hire employees and scale up its fleet of self-driving bots. And while we’re on the subject of autonomous, TuSimple, a self-driving truck startup, has raised a $95 million Series D at a unicorn valuation.

Mamoon Hamid and Ilya Fushman

The future of KPCB

TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos spoke with Mamoon Hamid and Ilya Fushman, who joined Kleiner Perkins from Social Capital and Index Ventures, respectively. The pair talked about Kleiner Perkins, touching on people who’ve left the firm, how its decision-making process now works, why there are no senior women in its ranks and what they make of SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets.

Facebook almost bought Unity

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg considered a multi-billion-dollar purchase of Unity, a game development platform. This is according to a new book coming out next week, “The History of the Future,” by Blake Harris, which digs deep into the founding story of Oculus and the drama surrounding the Facebook acquisition, subsequent lawsuits and personal politics of founder Palmer Luckey. Here’s more on the acquisition-that-could-have-been from TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney.

Venture capital funds

Indonesia-focused Intudo Ventures raised a new $50 million fund this week to invest in the world’s fourth most populated country; InReach Ventures, the “AI-powered” European VC, closed a new €53 million early-stage vehicle; and btov Partners closed an €80 million fund aimed at industrial tech startups.

Xiaomi-backed electric toothbrush startup Soocas raises $30M

Startup cash

Jobvite raises $200M+ and acquires three recruitment startups to expand its platform play

Opendoor files to raise another $200M

DriveNets emerges from stealth with $110M for its cloud-based alternative to network routers

Figma gets $40M Series C to put design tools in the cloud

Xiaomi-backed electric toothbrush Soocas raises $30 million Series C

Malt raises $28.6 million for its freelancer platform

Elevate Security announces $8M Series A to alter employee security behavior

Massless raises $2M to build an Apple Pencil for virtual reality

Subscription scooters

Just when you thought the scooter boom and the subscription-boom wouldn’t intersect, Grover arrived to prove you wrong. The startup is launching an e-scooter monthly subscription service in Germany. Their big idea is that instead of purchasing an e-scooter outright, GroverGo customers can enjoy unlimited e-scooter rides without the upfront costs or commitment of owning an e-scooter.

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and General Catalyst’s Niko Bonatsos chat startups.

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.

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Uber keeps burning through money and its sales growth slows as it prepares for IPO

Uber Technologies Inc., the ride-hailing giant that’s preparing for an initial public offering this year, released its fourth-quarter financial results Friday, …

Like many other unicorns — that is, privately held start-ups with a value of $1 billion or more — San Francisco-based Uber is emphasizing growth over profits. The company is investing aggressively in food delivery, logistics, electric bikes and self-driving cars. Last year, Uber bought Jump Bikes to help with its new mobility efforts, and it has a $1-billion budget for such projects this year.

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Who are the next wave of startups worth more than $1 billion

CB Insights used a variety of data — including financial health and the strength and size of the market a company serves — to identify 50 startups that …

SAN FRANCISCO — Technology startups worth $1 billion, once as rare as unicorns, are now plentiful enough and old enough that there is a new generation behind them — one that looks very different.

Silicon Valley’s current crop of highly valued tech startups, which include now-household names like Uber and Airbnb, all benefited from the spread of smartphones and cheap cloud computing.

Many of these companies built global empires by simply taking existing businesses — like taxis, food delivery and hotels — and making them mobile. Some of the startups became giants: Uber, for instance, may reach a $120 billion valuation this year.

But as those companies have matured and prepare to go public, the easy opportunities for disrupting old-line industries are drying up.

Now, many of the up-and-coming startups that may become the next unicorns have names like Benchling and Blend. And they largely focus on software for specific industries like farms, banks and life sciences companies.

That is according to an analysis for The New York Times by CB Insights, a firm that tracks venture capital and startups.

CB Insights used a variety of data — including financial health and the strength and size of the market a company serves — to identify 50 startups that may be on a path to achieving a $1 billion valuation, though there is no guarantee they will get there.

Software startups may seem boring. But many of them are growing fast because industries like agriculture require more software tools as they adapt to the tech era, said Jason Green, an investor at Emergence, a venture capital firm that invests in cloud software companies.

“Maybe it’s not as sexy as the companies in the first wave,” said Kirsten Green, a venture capitalist at Forerunner Ventures. “A lot of those industries are big giant industries that we need in our lives and in business, and they need to be modernized.”

Other potential unicorns, such as Checkr and Earnin, are building businesses off the last generation of unicorns by offering services to them. CB Insights also pinpointed three startups that are popular with millennial women — Glossier, Zola and Faire — as unicorn candidates.

Some of these companies may reach the $1 billion threshold quickly, as unicorn startups are created more quickly than ever, said Anand Sanwal, chief executive of CB Insights.

Funding rounds of $100 million or more — a once eye-popping sum of capital — have become common. Today, there are 315 unicorns, compared with 131 in 2015.

“If you are one of those high-momentum companies, investors are going to be beating down your door because there is so much interest in investing in the next big winner,” Sanwal said.

Here is a look at some of the up-and-comers.

***

Zola: In 2013, when Shan-Lyn Ma’s friends began getting married, she noticed that most digital tools for wedding planning were outdated, poorly designed or cost money.

So Ma — who previously worked at a site that held flash sales for designer merchandise, Gilt Groupe — started Zola, which offers a streamlined place to create free wedding registries.

Zola now sells 70,000 gift items in its registry. It has also developed tools like online guest lists and RSVP tracking, all designed to lure more couples to its registry product. The site has been a hit with millennials, allowing the company to raise $140 million in funding and reach a valuation of $600 million.

Zola is one of three companies on the list of potential next unicorns that have been fueled by millennials’ spending. Glossier, a beauty products company in New York, and Faire, an online marketplace for local boutiques and vendors to buy and sell wholesale items, have also grown by largely catering to a youthful audience.

Max Rhodes, who founded Faire in 2017, said millennial women are driving a resurgence of local boutiques. These shoppers “don’t want to drive out to the strip mall and buy the most stuff that’s made as cheaply as possible,” he said. “They want unique products that have a story behind them.”

***

Benchling: In 2012, Sajith Wickramasekara founded Benchling. His goal: to solve some of the personal frustrations he had with the outdated technology tools that he used in the molecular biology labs of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when he was a student.

Benchling, based in San Francisco, began providing software that allows lab scientists to replace their paper notebooks with searchable records stored in the cloud. That way, scientists could more easily use the records to collaborate with one another, Wickramasekara figured. Younger researchers were also increasingly asking for such tools.

“Software has touched a lot of different sectors of the economy, but it has not kept up in the field of science,” said Kaiser Mulla-Feroze, Benchling’s chief marketing officer.

Today, 140,000 scientists use Benchling’s software, including academics at MIT and Harvard University who use a free version as well as such paying customers as Pfizer and Regeneron.

Benchling charges smaller companies $15,000 a year, while large customers that use more advanced features pay millions of dollars a year, Mulla-Feroze said.

Benchling has raised nearly $30 million in funding. Last year, the startup tripled its revenue and number of customers, Mulla-Feroze said.

The company is representative of a new class of software startups as different industries adopt more technology. Green, the venture capitalist, said it has become clear that software aimed at niche sectors offers larger opportunities than previously expected.

“Health care, automotive, retail, consumer packaged goods, advanced manufacturing companies — they’re all trying to figure out how technology helps reduce costs or how technology is going to help them build their next business model,” said Sanwal of CB Insights.

Other fast-growing startups that fit this description include Farmers Business Network, which was founded in 2014 by Charles Baron, a former Google program manager, and Amol Deshpande, a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist.

The company charges farmers $700 a year to share and analyze data about their farms, buy supplies and sell crops. Baron said the startup counts 7,700 farms as customers and has raised nearly $200 million in funding.

A company like Farmers Business Network would not have been possible 10 years ago, before the proliferation of cloud computing and the “digitization” of farming processes, Baron added. Now, farms produce a lot of data, which Farmers Business Network is helping them to process and use to make decisions.

“Agriculture is going through a digital revolution,” he said.

***

Checkr: The rise of companies like Uber and Airbnb has created its own mini-economy of startups.

One of those is Checkr, which was founded in 2014 by Daniel Yanisse and Jonathan Perichon, who worked as software engineers at Deliv, a delivery startup. Both had become frustrated at the slow-moving background checks for the delivery drivers they wanted to hire for Deliv, so they created their own business to expedite the process.

Now, Checkr works with Uber, Lyft and Instacart. It has also added other types of customers like the insurance company Allstate.

Checkr is selling “picks and shovels” to the gig economy, said Rich Wong, a partner at Accel Partners, a venture firm that invested in the startup.

Another potential unicorn that serves gig economy workers is Earnin, founded in 2012 and based in Palo Alto, Calif. Earnin, which makes an app that provides free cash advances to workers, has a partnership with Uber that lets its drivers cash out immediately after a ride.

Ram Palaniappan, Earnin’s founder, said the app has been downloaded more than 1 million times and its users open the app 25 times a month on average.