My Interview with Minsi Chung at Covering Business

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.

By Me Yesterday: China’s Renren Invests in U.S. Startup FiscalNote

The story begins:

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.

By Me Today: Facebook Denies ‘Lizard Squad’ Hacking Claim

The story begins:

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.”

By Me Yesterday: The World Leader in Mobile Facebook Access? Indonesia

My WSJ Digits post begins:

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.

Click through for more.

By Me Yesterday: Twitter Buys India-Based Startup ZipDial to Tap Emerging Markets

Our main story at WSJ.com begins:

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.

Click through for more.

My Q&A with Dan Neary, Facebook’s Asia-Pacific VP

It begins:

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.

Click through to read the whole thing.

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.

By Me and a Colleague: BlackBerry Releases High-End ‘Classic’ Smartphone in India

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.

Click through to read the rest.

2 Stories from Last Week: BlackBerry Passport Exclusive and Evernote CEO Interview

Just briefly, two stories I wanted to point out from last week.

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you might have missed ’em.

First, in a Wall Street Journal exclusive, I broke the news Monday that BlackBerry’s new square-shaped smartphone, the Passport, will cost $599:

BlackBerry Ltd. plans to sell its new square-screen smartphone at a lower price than rival products, as the company attempts to regain some of the ground it has lost in the global market.

BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen said in an interview Monday that its Passport smartphone, which will go on sale starting Wednesday, will cost $599 in the U.S. without subsidies. The phone will be priced differently in some other countries based on taxes and tariffs, he noted.

Mr. Chen said that compared with similar smartphones produced by competitors, the Passport should cost in the $700 range. “But I figure that to try to get the market interested, we’re going to start a little lower than that.”

Second, on Wednesday, a colleague and I interviewed Evernote Chief Executive Phil Libin, who talked about a possible IPO and Evernote as an acquisition target:

Note-taking app Evernote Corp. has been approached in the past about a potential acquisition but prefers not to sell itself, and is considering an initial public offering in the next few years, its chief executive said.

“We’ve been approached by lots of companies as an acquisition target and I would never rule anything out, ” Phil Libin told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Wednesday.

He declined to specify the companies but called them “the usual suspects.” “The last thing we’re looking at is to have an exit,” he said. In February, Mr. Libin said a post on the anonymous messaging service Secret alleging that Evernote was about to be purchased was baseless.

Redwood City, Calif.-based Evernote has received several rounds of funding worth more than $250 million from the likes of venture-capital firms Sequoia Capital and Morgenthaler Ventures. Launched in 2008, the company allows users to store and sync text and other content across devices. It recently passed the 100 million-user mark, Mr. Libin said.