In This Week’s Newley’s Notes: Singapore’s ‘Smart Nation;’ Trump on India; Conroy on SC Eats; Dog Hug Warnings

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Hi friends,

Thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter where I share my WSJ stories, posts from my blog, and various interesting links.

What I wrote in The Wall Street Journal:

Singapore Is Taking the ‘Smart City’ to a Whole New Level – I’m really proud of this story, which was months in the making.

My colleague Jake Watts and I wrote about the Singapore government’s unprecedented effort to collect data and assist city planners in making the country run more smoothly. There are, as we note, some privacy concerns.

We also worked with colleagues on this interactive feature, which includes three animated videos showing how some of the technologies work. You might recognize the narrator’s voice.

The story has proven quite popular, spending some time among the most-read stories on WSJ.com over the last few days and attracting more than 50 comments on our site. As of this writing it has been liked and shared more than 9,000 times on Facebook, and has garnered more than 100 comments there.

What Donald Trump Said About Indian Call Center Workers – At a rally in Delaware, the Republican front-runner described his experience calling his credit card company in what he said was a quest to investigate outsourcing.

5 items that are worth your time this week:

1) Dogs don’t like being hugged. I really hope this research is off-base, but it makes sense.

2) Speaking of dogs: At a recent Atlanta Braves game, a dog in a hot dog costume ate a hot dog. I love it. (Via Patrick B.)

3) “Why do thieves steal soap?”” An interesting look at the economics of theft, including fencing, market demand and retail value.

4) Improbable quote of the week:

“Now I hear millennials and people of all ages saying Crystal City is so cool,”

Wait, is Crystal City, Virginia becoming…hip?

5) Hunger-inducing quote of the week: Pat Conroy on South Carolina food – among the state’s many wonders:

The subject of food is a serious one the length and breadth of this state. Our barbeque sauce is mustard-based and our peanuts are boiled and served in wet paper bags. An oyster roast in sight of a lowcountry river is an act of priest-like enjoyment and cause for a pagan-like joy. At a Charleston hospital during my Citadel years, I met a leper who told me he contracted leprosy when he killed and ate an armadillo. I’ve no idea if he was telling the truth or not, but I didn’t wish to shake his hand and armadillo meat shall never pass my lips – but that’s the kind of thing that turns up when you’re moseying around South Carolina and you don’t mind talking to strangers.

(Thanks, Miles B.!)

Reader feedback: Regarding the very strange upcoming flick “Swiss Army Man,” which I mentioned last week, Colin C. writes in to say: “I liked Swiss Army Man better when it was called Cast Away and starred Tom Hanks. That movie was delightful.”

Agreed!

Have a great week!

@Newley

P.S. If someone forwarded you this email, you can subscribe here.

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In This Week’s Newley’s Notes: Alibaba in SE Asia; Social VC in Vietnam; ‘Pet Sounds’ Turns 50; Self-Elevating Chopsticks

The latest edition of my email newsletter has gone out to subscribers. It’s pasted in below.

To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox, sign up here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief — and few people unsubscribe!


Hi friends,

Thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter where I share my WSJ stories, posts from my blog, and various interesting links.

I haven’t been as good of late about sending these dispatches out every single week, mostly due to general busyness and travel. But I’m aiming to change that.

What I wrote in The Wall Street Journal:

Alibaba to Invest $1 Billion in E-Commerce Startup Lazada – A huge tech story here in Southeast Asia: The Chinese Web titan is making a big move for Lazada – a company may recall I profiled back in 2014 – in a bet on the growth of e-commerce here.

TLDR: Alibaba wants to expand and grow outside China, and Lazada is a leader in selling stuff online in a part of the world that is populous and primed for growth as more and more people get connected for the first time.

Vietnam: The Challenges of Investing in Social Good – A colleague and I put together this video about a San Francisco-based venture capital firm that’s funding startups in Vietnam. The goal: make money – and improve lives. (You may recognize the narrator’s voice.)

5 items that are worth your time this week:

1) “Trump Can’t Break the Republican Party”. That’s the title of a WSJ op-ed by political analyst and author Michael Barone, who puts The Donald’s rise – and coming fall? – into perspective:

Even if Donald Trump secures the Republican nomination and somehow overcomes current polls to be elected president, there will be few Trump clones among Republicans in Congress and in state and local office.

If he is nominated and defeated by a wide margin, he will not leave behind a Trumpist movement with the popular and intellectual depth of the conservative movement following Goldwater’s defeat 52 years ago—his legacy may be little more than an impulse toward opposition to trade agreements and legalization of illegal immigrants. If he is not nominated and tries to run as an independent, he will not have the support of as significant a third-party apparatus as Theodore Roosevelt did 104 years ago.

2) Here’s the trailer for “Swiss Army Man”, which appears to be a very…odd new film starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Dano looks to be stranded on a desert island, then encounters Radcliffe, whose body is effectively…a Swiss Army knife. I think?

3) Internet access is severely limited in Cuba, and many people turn to couriers who deliver pirated versions of movies, TV and music via USB drives. Their deliveries are known as “el paquete semanal,” or “the weekly package.” Not the first story to be written about this practice, but a pretty detailed account.

4) This week in eating implements innovation: “Gravity Chopsticks” are built so that when you set them down, the business ends are lifted up in the air, and don’t get dirty. There is also a video.

5) Various artists reflect on The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” which was released 50 years ago next month. It is one of my favorite albums of all time.

Have a great week!

@Newley

 

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Michael Barone: ‘Trump Can’t Break the Republican Party’

Michael Barone, in a WSJ op-ed Friday, puts the Trump phenomenon in historical context:

Even if Donald Trump secures the Republican nomination and somehow overcomes current polls to be elected president, there will be few Trump clones among Republicans in Congress and in state and local office.

If he is nominated and defeated by a wide margin, he will not leave behind a Trumpist movement with the popular and intellectual depth of the conservative movement following Goldwater’s defeat 52 years ago—his legacy may be little more than an impulse toward opposition to trade agreements and legalization of illegal immigrants. If he is not nominated and tries to run as an independent, he will not have the support of as significant a third-party apparatus as Theodore Roosevelt did 104 years ago.

As this is written, it seems likely but not certain that Mr. Trump will fall visibly short of the 1,237-delegate majority, and that he will inflict significant damage on the Republican Party by protests or perhaps an independent candidacy. But probably nothing like the serious, though temporary, damage inflicted by that vastly more talented, experienced and intellectually serious disruptive New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt.

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Digital Media Startups Encounter Financial Troubles

Digial media firms have begun grappling with some difficult financial realities.

At NiemanLab, Ken Doctorow surveys the landscape:

At BuzzFeed, a 32 percent miss in 2015 revenue and a halving of its 2016 revenue target, according to the Financial Times.

At Mashable, a massive layoff after the company failed to sell itself.

At Yahoo, an upcoming sale of its news-producing assets, portending great uncertainty for journalists employed there.

At Medium, a new way forward focused more on curation and licensing its platform for publishers and less on original content creation.

The list of cutbacks — at The Huffington Post, at Gawker, at Al Jazeera, at International Business Times, and at Salon among others — keeps growing. And each round poses new questions for a news business struggling to find a way forward in this millennium. After all, even if the old world of news faded (like its readers) into older age, at least we could point to the cohort of digital-native outlets with a bit of optimism.

I feared this day would come — the new digital news companies bumping into a wall.

Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, here’s Shira Ovide’s take at Bloomberg:

Let the events of the past week serve as the 4,271st iteration of the same lesson: Digital media is hard. Every six months or so, companies that seemed to have cracked the formula for success in digital information and entertainment hit a wall. Names like Demand Media, Gawker, Mashable, Upworthy and BuzzFeed figure out how to get people to click, surf and share – and expectations go up. Then because of changes in tastes, technology and advertiser habits, it becomes more difficult to get people to click, surf and share. Business models that had traction for a while stop working as well or can’t live up to high hopes.

Interesting times indeed.

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By Me and a Colleague: Video on Socially Minded Venture Capital Investing in Vietnam

Embedded above on YouTube and on WSJ.com: a video a colleague and I put together profiling a San Francisco-based venture capital firm that invests in Vietnam startups.

Their goal: to make money, and to do social good.

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By Me and a Colleague Wed.: Alibaba to Invest $1 billion in Southeast Asia-Focused E-Commerce Startup Lazada

2016-04-15lazada

The story begins:

Chinese Internet giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., in its biggest overseas acquisition to date, said Tuesday it would pay about $1 billion for a controlling stake in Singapore e-commerce startup Lazada Group, betting on growth in populous Southeast Asia.

The acquisition of Lazada—which sells everything from rice cookers to smartphones and operates e-commerce platforms throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam—comes as Alibaba has been using its $3.7 billion in free cash flow to expand into e-commerce, logistics and media, as well as entertainment both at home and abroad.

You may recall back in 2014 I wrote about Lazada’s operations in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest market. (I snapped the image above at a Lazada warehouse outside Jakarta.) The nut graf:

Challenges are par for the course at Lazada Indonesia, founded in Jakarta in 2012 and partly funded by Rocket Internet AG, a Berlin-based tech incubator that went public last month. Indonesia’s e-commerce market is still small, and Lazada had to build a lot of what it needed from scratch. But the company is plowing ahead so it can get a head start in the country over international giants like Amazon.com Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and eBay Inc.

Lazada already gets more visitors than any other business-to-consumer site in Indonesia, according to data from research firm SimilarWeb. Lazada’s site saw 6.6 million visitors a month, compared with 3.9 million for Alibaba’s marketplace website AliExpress.com and 2.2 million for eBay, according to the most recent data available from brokerage UBS.

 

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In This Week’s Newley’s Notes: Space Archaeology (!), Notebook Nerdery, Plus-Size Male Models and More

The latest edition of my email newsletter has gone out to subscribers. It’s pasted in below.

To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox, sign up here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief — and few people unsubscribe!


Hi friends,

Thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter where I share my WSJ stories, posts from my blog, and various interesting links.

I’m back after an excellent week off that included seeing friends, lounging on the beach, and reading some fantastic books — real, old-fashioned, paper books! Among them: Jonathan Franzen’s newest novel, “Purity,” which I absolutely loved for its vivid characters and plot lines that span decades.

On to this week’s update:

What I wrote in The Wall Street Journal:

Blackstone to Buy HP Enterprise’s Stake in Mphasis — HP Enterprise stands to make about $825 million on the deal, selling its stake in the Indian outsourcer. Private equity titan Blackstone, meanwhile, is showing their optimism in outsourcing even as the industry faces big challenges.

Singapore’s Garena Raises New Funds, Valuing It at $3.75 Billion — In this exclusive, I wrote about the Southeast Asia-focused online gaming and e-commerce company’s newest fundraising, showing investors’ confidence that it will continue to grow. Click through a video, narrated by yours truly.

Online Auctioning Made Easier With Asia-Based Apps — My colleague and I wrote about the rise of consumer-to-consumer shopping apps, like Singapore’s Carousell and Shopee and Japan’s Mercari. This one also has a video.

5 items that are worth your time this week:

1. Various non-fiction filmmakers tell The Guardian about their favorite documentaries. There are fifty interesting films on this list, many new to me.

2. A graffiti artist in Cairo recently unveiled a fascinating piece that spans dozens of buildings. Very cool.

3. I am a huge notebook nerd, and I enjoyed this roundup of 16 well-known designers displaying photos of their favorite notebooks. (Via the always-fun Notebook Stories blog.)

4. A space archaeologist — yes, you read that right — at the University of Alabama at Birmingham examined high-altitude infrared images, discovering what might be the “holy grail” of Viking landmarks: a second settlement in North America.

5. Quote of the week: “Men want to see normal-looking guys modelling their clothes.” That’s from plus-size male model Zach Miko, the first such model signed to IMG. (Thanks, Anasuya!)

Have a great week!

— @Newley

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By Me and a Colleague Yesterday: Blackstone Buying HP Enterprise’s Stake in Indian Outsourcing Firm Mphasis for $825 million

The story begins:

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. said on Monday it planned to sell its majority stake in Indian outsourcing firm Mphasis Ltd. for about $825 million to Blackstone Group LP, as the U.S. technology company seeks to shore up capital following a recent decline in revenue.

Blackstone will purchase at least 84% of HP Enterprise’s majority stake in Mphasis for 430 rupees ($6.49) a share, showing the private-equity firm’s optimism in Mphasis’s prospects even as the industry faces technological challenges.

Besides buying HP Enterprise’s stake, Blackstone said Indian takeover laws require it to buy 26% of Mphasis’s shares via a mandatory tender offer to the company’s public shareholders. Depending on the demand for that offer, the private-equity firm said it could end up spending as much as $1.1 billion on its investments in Mphasis.

HP Enterprise said its decision to sell its position in Bangalore, India-based Mphasis aligns with the company’s capital allocation priorities, which it has said include directing investments toward developing new products and services. The company also has said it would pursue more mergers and acquisitions.

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2 Recent Stories: Asia Shopping Apps and Garena Fundraising

A recent week-long vacation combined with subsequent general busyness means I’ve been delayed in pointing out a couple of recent stories.

The first is a story my colleague and I put together on the rise of Asia-focused consumer-to-conumser shopping apps. Think eBay, but for the smartphone age.

The piece begins:

Instead of listening to music or playing videogames during his daily train commute in Singapore, Jay Pang uses the down time for something different: selling rare sets of Legos via his smartphone.

Mr. Pang frequently manages listings for his online business using a new e-commerce app called Shopee. The app was created by a unit of Garena Online, a fast-growing Internet startup in Singapore valued at $2.5 billion. Mr. Pang frequently taps away on his Samsung Galaxy smartphone during his ride, haggling over prices with customers in real time.

The 29-year-old engineer’s on-the-go business offers a look at the changing face of commerce in the era of the smartphone and is a blueprint for how mobile shopping could evolve elsewhere.

Consumers in the U.S. use their mobile devices more for getting directions or listening to music than for making purchases, according to a 2015 survey by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center.

But a handful of Asian startups are starting to change the commercial landscape by offering apps that let individuals buy and sell goods directly from one another more easily than on traditional Web-based sites like eBay. The so-called peer-to-peer commerce market is attracting funding from international investors and some companies have valuations of $1 billion or more despite the global economic slowdown.

There’s also a video, narrated by yours truly, embedded at the top of the post and online here.


The second story, out Thursday, is an exclusive: Singapore-based startup Garena has has raised a new round of funding at a valuation of about $3.75 billion.

The piece begins:

Investors are plowing fresh funds into a fast-growing Internet company focused on populous Southeast Asia despite falling valuations for some less-successful startups in the U.S.

Garena Interactive Holding Ltd. has raised $170 million in fresh capital in a fundraising round led by Malaysia’s state investment arm, Khazanah Nasional Bhd., valuing the Singapore-based online entertainment and e-commerce startup at about $3.75 billion, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Garena has now raised more than $500 million, including a round of fundraising in March 2015 that valued the firm at more than $2.5 billion, the person said. The company didn’t disclose other investors in the new round. Earlier investors include the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, one of Canada’s biggest pension funds, and U.S.-based private-equity fund General Atlantic LLC, though neither participated in the new round.

There’s a video for this one, too, embedded above and online here.

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By Me Last Week: Facebook Asia-Pac VP Dan Neary Talks Growth in the Region

2016-03-20neary

Facebook, as we all know, has a gargantuan user base — some 1.59 billion people, to be exact.

And as its recent earnings show, the company is doing extremely well, raking in more than $1 billion in quarterly profit for the first time.

Last week here in Singapore I spoke with Dan Neary (pictured), Facebook’s Asia-Pacific vice president, about big picture trends in the region.

In short, the company seems to have many reasons to be bullish on continued Asia expansion.

The story begins:

Facebook Inc. is adding users in Asia at a much faster rate than other parts of the world, an executive said, showing the recent controversy over the firm’s free Internet service in India is not deterring the social networking giant’s expansion in this part of the world.

Dan Neary, Facebook’s vice president for Asia Pacific, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Tuesday that some 540 million of Facebook’s 1.59 billion monthly active users were in Asia as of the end of December, up from 449 million a year earlier.

Facebook is adding users in Asia at a rate of about 20% annually compared to 14% globally, he said.

“The potential is greater in Asia-Pacific than it is in any other region because we’ve got two thirds of the world’s population, and it’s all mobile,” Mr. Neary said.

Also, for the first time, Instagram has broken out the number of users in a country outside the U.S.: It has 22 million in Indonesia, up from 11 million a year ago:

Mr. Neary pointed out that the company’s image-sharing platform, Instagram, is popular in many parts of Asia, as is its WhatsApp messaging app. Instagram is making particularly big gains in Indonesia, Mr. Neary said, which is a key global market due to its population of 250 million.

The service now has some 22 million monthly active users, up from 11 million a year earlier, making it one of Instagram’s fastest growing markets. Instagram has not previously broken out its user base by country, though it said in September that more than 75% of its community is outside the U.S.

Again, the full story in online here.

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