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.
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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.
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.
My former Columbia classmate Minsi Chung interviewed me for Covering Business, the Journalism School’s financial reporting-focused site.
You can find the interview here.
We talked about getting exclusives in Southeast Asia, discussed some of my recent stories, touched on wider tech trends and more.
Renren has led a $10 million investment in a Washington, D.C.-based startup that uses big data to forecast legislation, the latest move by the Chinese social network to fund innovative companies that could further the company’s growth.
FiscalNote, founded in 2013, uses data-mining software and artificial intelligence to predict legislators’ votes and the success or failure of bills. Among its clients, the company says, are JP Morgan Chase, software firm VMWare, and ride sharing company Uber, which has faced some notable regulatory hurdles of late.
“I see them as a disruptive company because the space they’re going after is huge,” Renren Chief Executive Joe Chen told The Wall Street Journal. “I think just from a pure business point they’re going to be tremendous going forward,” he said.
Facebook Inc. on Tuesday denied being the victim of a hacking attack and said its site and photo-sharing app Instagram had suffered an outage after it introduced a configuration change.
The disruption “was not the result of a third party attack but instead occurred after we introduced a change that affected our configuration systems,” a Facebook spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal. “We moved quickly to fix the problem, and both services are back to 100% for everyone.”
Indonesia leads the world in terms of the percentage of its Facebook users who access the social network on their mobile devices.
That’s according to research firm eMarketer, which said Thursday that some 92.4% of Facebook users in the country — 62.6 million people — tap into the social network via their phones at least once a month. That’s up from 88.1% last year and 77.7% in 2013.
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Twitter Inc. agreed to buy India-based mobile marketing startup ZipDial for an undisclosed sum in its first acquisition in Asia, as it seeks to tap more offline users in fast-growing emerging markets.
Countries like India, Indonesia and Brazil are key to Twitter as it tries to attract new users and advertising dollars, analysts say. Emerging markets are increasingly becoming an important part of Twitter’s growth strategy as it peaks in developed markets such as the U.S. and the U.K. In the three months ended September, Twitter reached 284 million monthly active users, about 77% of whom came from outside the U.S.
Bangalore-based ZipDial is known for its “missed call” marketing service, which allows consumers to dial a number for a company and hang up before connecting. The company in turn sends them free text messages containing advertisements and other content, like sports scores, without users incurring a charge.
A colleague and I also wrote this primer on ZipDial:
Twitter said Tuesday it is paying an undisclosed sum to acquire ZipDial, a Bangalore, India-based startup known for its success at “missed call” marketing.
Wait, what’s a missed call?
In India, many cost-conscious consumers use missed calls — they dial a number, let it ring, then hang up before connecting — to send a message, like “I’m running late,” to friends and family. A missed call is free, since callers are only charged when the other party answers.
What does ZipDial do?
ZipDial lets companies take advantage of this practice. The startup, which was founded in 2010 and has 56 employees, provides services that allow brands to advertise a number for “missed calls.”
For example, in one campaign for Colgate toothpaste, users could give a missed call to a special number shown on advertising banners in Mumbai, then receive a text message. Consumers would respond to that with their addresses, and then are sent a free sample of toothpaste.
ZipDial’s other clients have included the likes of Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Walt Disney and more.
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Dan Neary oversees Facebook Inc. ’s advertising operations across Asia-Pacific, a fast-growing region that is home to some of the social network’s biggest markets.
Nearly all of Facebook’s revenue—some $3.2 billion as of the third quarter—comes from fees companies pay to show users ads.
As the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company continues to add to its 1.35 billion monthly active users globally, many are coming from emerging Asian countries such as Indonesia and India.
Moreover, such users are accessing the platform not just on PCs, but increasingly on mobile devices, presenting new challenges and opportunities for Facebook and advertisers.
Mr. Neary, a 49-year-old Chicago native who began his career at Kellogg Co. before holding senior positions at Skype and eBay Inc., is tasked with ensuring the company continues to profit in an ever-changing technological environment.
In a recent interview at Facebook’s offices in Singapore, Mr. Neary discussed the shift to mobile, as well as what Facebook’s photo-sharing service Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp can contribute to the company.
Mr. Neary was cautious in addressing Founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg ’s October visit to China and possible expansion there, saying only that having access to the country’s 1.3 billion people is an important part of Facebook’s future growth plan.
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You may recall that some of my similar interviews in the past — part of our “Boss Talk” series — include chats with BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen; Twitter’s vice president of Asia Pacific, the Americas and emerging markets, Shailesh Rao; and Evernote Chief Executive Phil Libin.
A story I wrote with colleague Jai Krishna:
Samsung this week said it would unveil in India a sub-$100 smartphone based on its own operating system, its latest attempt to turn around its declining sales.
That isn’t stopping rival BlackBerry from launching a high-end smartphone in the country, with the Canadian company hoping corporate executives and professionals there will pay a premium for its devices.
BlackBerry on Thursday said it is releasing its new Classic phone for 31,990 rupees ($518), slightly higher than the $449 it costs in the U.S., where it went on sale in December.
The Classic, which comes with a physical QWERTY keyboard and trackpad, reflects the company’s plan to appeal to corporate customers in search of secure services, Sunil Lalvani, managing director at BlackBerry India, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview.
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