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By Me Monday: How Singapore’s Grab is Battling Uber Here in Southeast Asia

The story begins:

SINGAPORE—Uber Technologies Inc. is locked in major tussles with local rivals in China and India, but a homegrown upstart is also grabbing an advantage in the race for another Asia prize.

A startup called Grab is winning ride-hailing turf in Southeast Asia—home to 600 million people, almost double the population of the U.S. The startup serves more cities in the region than Uber and, according to mobile-app analytics firm App Annie, is beating the world’s most valuable startup in the race for users here.

The region’s ride-hailing market is forecast to grow more than five times to $13.1 billion by 2025 from $2.5 billion last year, according to a recent report on Southeast Asia’s internet economy conducted by Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Singapore state-investment firm Temasek Holdings.

There’s also a video, embedded at the top of the post, in the story, and online here. (You may recognize the narrator’s voice.)

I last wrote about Grab — previously known as GrabTaxi — when they teamed up with fellow ride-sharing firms Lyft and Ola, and when they raised new funds last year.

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.

By Me Last Week: Tech Talent is Returning to India

2016-03-02RETURNEES

I had a story Wednesday on the front page of our Business & Tech section. You can see it in this image, under the headline “India Welcomes Home Tech Talent.”

It’s about Indian-born entreprenuers who are increasingly returning to their home country to build startups.

The piece, available online here, begins:

BANGALORE, India—Last year, Abhinandan Balasubramanian quit his job at a London-based financial-technology company. The startup scene in his native India was booming, and he wanted in.

The 25-year-old Mr. Balasubramanian moved to Mumbai and in December launched his own business there: Altflo, a global online marketplace for assets such as real estate and shares in investment funds.

Basing Altflo in India was an easy decision, Mr. Balasubramanian said. “The cost of scaling the company is much lower in India,” he said. Office space and talent are “multiples cheaper than in the U.K.”

Lured by a flood of venture-capital funding, relatively inexpensive labor and the size of the potential market in the world’s second-most-populous country, entrepreneurs and technology workers with Indian roots have been coming home in increasing numbers.

My Recent A-hed on James McGowan, the Globe-Trotting McDonald’s Obsessive

2016 02 20 ahedNP

Those of you who follow me on Twitter and/or subscribe to my email newsletter know that the week before last, my first A-hed* ran on the front page of The WSJ.

(In the image above, showing the paper, below the fold, it’s on the bottom right.)

The story — accessible to all online here — is about James McGowan, a guy in Bangkok whose passion is traveling the world, sampling and blogging about regional variations of McDonald’s items. It begins:

SINGAPORE—When James McGowan walked into a McDonald’s Corp. restaurant in downtown Singapore one recent evening, he wasn’t interested in a Big Mac. Instead, he placed an order for a limited-edition hamburger with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese, truffle-flavored french fries and a special red velvet McFlurry frozen drink.

On a scale of one to five, “I’ll probably give a 3 for the burger,” said Mr. McGowan, noting that it lacked sufficient onions. “The fries are better than I expected. They might be a 3.5 or 4.”

Mr. McGowan may well be the chain’s toughest customer. For the past four years, the 28-year-old has crisscrossed the globe to indulge his passion: Sampling and blogging about the various national iterations of McDonald’s dishes. Thus far, he says he has visited about 53 countries, penning 340 detailed reviews.

The story generated a lot of traffic on our site, which I expected. But I was not prepared, I must say, for McGowan to become a global sensation.

After our story ran, his quest was picked up by outlets as wide ranging as Business Insider, The Straits Times, the Toronto Sun, TODAY.com, and Slate in French.

Papers in the UK, especially, gobbled up the story: The Independent, The Mirror, and even The Daily Mail wrote about McGowan.

Other corporate and tech-focused stories I’ve written have been picked up far and wide before, but this was the first time a feature of this kind has received so much attention. Fun stuff, indeed.

*A-heds are WSJ the often humorous, off-beat stories that run at the bottom of our front pages. Here’s more on the history of A-heds; there’s even a book about them.

Me on Bernard Leong’s Analyse Asia Podcast

Bernard Leong interviewed me for this week’s episode of his Analyse Asia podcast, which is about tech, business and media in the region.

We discussed three India-related issues I’ve written about for The WSJ (and have mentioned on this blog): Facebook’s Internet.org project, Google’s Android One, and the talent cruch for top startup coders in the country.

You can play or download the episode above, or click through to listen to it on the podcast’s home page, where you’ll also find the show notes. You can also search your favorite podcast app for Analyse Asia; it’s the most recent show.

Happy listening.

By Me and a Colleague: Facebook’s Internet.org Iniative Faces Pushback

The story, which ran last week online and on the front page of The WSJ‘s global edition, begins:

When Muhammad Maiyagy Gery heard about a new mobile app from Facebook Inc. that provides free Internet access in his native Indonesia, he was excited.

But after testing it, the 24-year-old student from a mining town on the eastern edge of Borneo soon deleted the app, called Internet.org, frustrated that he was unable to access Google.com and some local Indonesian sites.

Mr. Gery said Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg is an “inspiration in the tech world,” but added that the company’s free Internet effort is “inadequate.”

Mr. Gery’s reaction illustrates the unexpected criticism Facebook has encountered to its bold initiative to bring free Internet access to the world’s four billion people who don’t have it, and to increase connectivity among those with limited access. He is one of many users who say a Facebook-led partnership is providing truncated access to websites, thwarting the principles of what is known in the U.S. as net neutrality—the view that Internet providers shouldn’t be able to dictate consumer access to websites.

Embedded above and online here is an accompanying video. (You may recognize the narrator’s voice.)

There’s also a piece called “5 Things to Know about Facebook’s Internet Initiative.”

By Me: Commercial Drone Startups Are Taking Off Here in Asia

The story begins:

Half a dozen men gathered around a workbench in a government building one morning as Tack Wai Wong, an engineering expert clad in a crisp white shirt and gray trousers, took his place at the front of the table.

“Once upon a time all of this was military technology,” said Mr. Wong, 50 years old, as he ran his fingers along the rotors of one of several small unmanned aerial vehicles spread out before him. “Now you can make drones yourself.”

The workshop was aimed at teaching people in this tightly controlled city-state how to fly drones safely—and maybe even hatch ideas for commercial applications.

The U.S. is a hotbed for commercial drone startups, and the Federal Aviation Administration in February proposed long-awaited rules for drones that will likely make their use even more widespread in the country.

But drone startups are increasingly taking flight across Asia. They are using the crafts to locate faulty solar panels in Singapore, prospect land in the Philippines, map plantations in Thailand and more. While companies also use such applications in other parts of the world, entrepreneurs here are working with cooperative governments in some places, taking advantage of lax regulations in others, and providing services that appeal to local markets in new ways.

There’s also a slideshow and, embedded above, a video (narrated by yours truly).

Exclusive by Me and a Colleague Yesterday: GrabTaxi Raises New Funds

The story begins:

More cash is pouring into the increasingly competitive ride-hailing business in Asia, fueling local competitors to global market leader Uber Technologies Inc.

Southeast Asia-focused ride-hailing app GrabTaxi is getting an infusion of over $200 million in fresh capital in its latest fundraising round led by U.S. hedge fund Coatue Management LLC, according to a person familiar with the situation. The investment values the company at over $1.5 billion including the fresh capital from the latest fundraising, according to the person.

Existing investors in the company, including Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. and Tiger Global Management LLC, are also participating in the round, the person said. It is possible that GrabTaxi could increase the size of the round with the inclusion of additional investment in coming weeks, the person said.

GrabTaxi is among a crop of local competitors in Asia that have sprung up to battle with global ride-hailing market leader Uber across the region. Local competitors in Asia include China’s Didi Kuaidi, which is raising $2 billion in funding, India’s Ola and Easy Taxi. Uber itself is raising funds specifically for its China unit.

By My Colleagues and Me Yesterday: How Air Workers are Using Drones and Crowdsourcing Following the Nepal Earthquake

The story begins:

Relief workers in quake-stricken Nepal say they are using drones and crowdsourced maps offered by volunteer groups as they seek to get emergency supplies to stranded survivors.

Indian and Nepalese authorities are using drones to search areas inaccessible by land, while the American Red Cross is among the agencies providing aid workers with maps that have been updated by thousands of Internet users who examine online satellite imagery and other sources.

S.S. Guleria, deputy inspector general of India’s National Disaster Response Force, which has deployed hundreds of search-and-rescue personnel to Nepal, said two unmanned aerial vehicles are being used in operations in Katmandu and its outskirts. Purchased from Mumbai-based drone company ideaForge, they are operated by pilots in a Katmandu control room.

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