Southeast Asia-focused Taxi booking app GrabTaxi says it’s about to splash the cash, mostly on new hires.
The Singapore-based company said Wednesday it will spend $100 million over the next five years on a new research and development center in the city-state, with a “significant portion” of that sum going to lure talent.
GrabTaxi, which launched in 2012 and operates in 20 cities across six countries, said in December it secured a $250 million investment from Japanese telecommunications and Internet giant SoftBank.
That brought its total funding nearly $340 million, with its valuation as of December reaching $1 billion, according to data from The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones VentureSource.
Among the new hires GrabTaxi says it has recently made are Kevin Lee, who was head of Asia for U.S. data mining software company Palantir Technologies. Another is Arul Kumaravel, who previously held a senior engineering role Amazon.com.
Earlier today, I wrote:
Uber acted quickly Monday in an attempt to tamp down the latest controversy to hit the company, saying it is offering passengers free rides amid an unfolding siege at a Sydney café after complaints that rates had soared to exorbitant levels.
The reversal came just a short time after the ride-sharing app drew criticism on Twitter for saying it was raising prices to attract more drivers to the city’s central business district, where at least one gunman had taken hostages in a cafe and placed an Islamic flag in the window, sparking concerns a terrorist attack was under way.
The fare uptick was the result of an Uber policy called surge pricing, in which an algorithm charges customers more money during times of high demand — as was apparently the case in Sydney. Some users reported that the minimum fare had skyrocketed to $100 Australian dollars ($82) for a ride.
Click through for more. And for updates about the situation in Sydney, see our live blog.
Meanwhile, I neglected to mention that I recently wrote about Uber’s regulatory issues in Southeast Asia.
McDonald has been traveling in the region for more than 20 years, and has some interesting thoughts on how travel — and travelers — have changed over time.
He talks mainly about Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia, and suggests an intinerary for a one-month tour through the region. His recommendation might surprise you.
I wrote a recent WSJ Digits story about how e-commerce in Southeast Asia is set to boom, according to a UBS report:
Message for Southeast Asia’s brick-and-mortar retailers: E-commerce companies could soon be eating your lunch.
That’s according to a recent study by UBS , which showed the region’s consumers are already flocking to e-commerce sites at the expense of traditional retailers’ platforms.
Internet penetration in the populous region is higher than many assume, and will soon skyrocket thanks to the increasing use of low-cost smartphones and the availability of mobile Web connections, according UBS’s head of research and strategy in Thailand, Raymond Maguire, who authored the report.
The reason I have this special folder on my iPhone: I’ve been researching a story on messaging app makers battling for users here in Southeast Asia.
It ran in the WSJ Asia in print and online Friday.
When Listri Samudra, an equity sales representative in the Indonesian city of Bandung, opens her smartphone to connect with her clients, she has three messaging apps to choose from.
She usually prefers BlackBerry Messenger, which remains highly popular in Indonesia, but also often uses WhatsApp—the company Facebook Inc. recently agreed to buy for $19 billion—or Line, a Japanese app that is rapidly gaining ground in the region.
The crowd of free messaging apps on Ms. Samudra’s phone illustrates why Southeast Asia is shaping up as an important battleground for messaging app makers. The region, in which no clear messaging leader has emerged, is critical, in part, because many of its roughly 600 million people have yet to upgrade from basic cellphones to smartphones.
Click through for a map of the region with estimates of which apps are most popular in countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia.
File under: Another photo to share.
I spotted this HSBC advertisement in a recent issue of The New Yorker.
As you can see, the top line says, “A mall in the Philippines can change the way you look at your financial future.”
The ad goes on to say that “A wealthier middle class in Southeast Asia is buying American,” purchasing “clothing, electronics, and other categories led by Western brands.” Developed markets, like the U.S., are turning from “consumer to producer.”
Then there’s a call to action for the reader to speak with an HSBC Premier adviser about taking advantage of such opportunities “before they emerge.” (The photo above is also featured on the home page of the HSBC U.S. site.)
The message to the consumer seems to be: We can help high net worth investors in the U.S. and elsewhere make money as middle class consumers in Southeast Asia get richer and increasingly buy Western products.
I haven’t researched this specific consumer trend, but I find the concept — as well as the overall ad and its placement — interesting.
And there’s historical element worth noting.
This is a high-end service offered by a bank founded by a Scottish man in Hong Kong in 1865, the year the U.S. Civil War ended.
Back then, in the 19th century, the U.S. was an emerging market, selling goods to developed economies in Europe.
Food for thought. A lot can change in 147 years.
Cambodia watchers might like to have a look.
I wanted to point out a few stories ahead of President Obama’s upcoming Southeast Asia trip.
Obama will be Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia from Saturday November 17 through Tuesday November 20.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok provides details on Obama’s itinerary:
In Thailand, he will meet with Prime Minister Yingluck to mark 180 years of diplomatic relations and reaffirm the strength of our alliance. In Burma, the President will meet with President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi and speak to civil society to encourage Burma’s ongoing democratic transition. In Cambodia, the President will attend the East Asia Summit and meet with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The Bangkok Post says:
Despite the 12-hour time difference between Washington DC and Bangkok, US President Barack Obama will not even set foot in his hotel until after the day’s business here is finished.
The US president will arrive on Sunday afternoon at Don Mueang airport and travel directly to the Grand Palace where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be waiting for him, a city police source said.
They will travel on to Siriraj Hospital where they will have an audience with His Majesty the King, the source added.
Mr Obama would then travel to Government House to have dinner with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, said the source, adding that after the dinner, he would have a meeting with about 600 US embassy staff at Chulalongkorn University’s sports complex.
At the end of the day, Mr Obama would check in at the Four Seasons Hotel on Ratchaprasong Road.
Obama will speak at Yangon University on Monday, according to the The New York Times.
The scars of military rule run deep at Yangon University — decrepit buildings, broken sidewalks and mold everywhere. But with plans for President Obama to visit on Monday, hundreds of workers have converged in an urgent effort to spruce up the campus. Mr. Obama’s trip to Myanmar will be the first by an American president, and the authorities are creating something of a Potemkin campus to greet him.
Meanwhile, and an op-ed in today’s Times by Bill Richardson and Mickey Bergman surveys political reforms in Myanmar:
After meeting with an array of leaders in Myanmar, we believe that Thein Sein is committed to transitioning to democracy. But the jury is still out on whether the reform effort will succeed. This is not a revolution like we’ve seen in Middle East countries during the last two years. This is a calculated and contained process — a reform movement from within. On the one hand, it has to be slow and deliberate to allow for governing capacity to be built, as well as to prevent those who prefer the status quo from blocking change, and to keep oligarchs from seizing control and plundering Myanmar’s abundant natural resources. On the other hand, it does need to move quickly so that the population will feel the benefits of reform. Success will rely heavily on full engagement and investment from abroad.
And Lewis M. Simons writes in an op-ed about Obama’s “Asian-style diplomacy”:
As President Obama heads to Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos this week and next, intent on reversing China’s drive to tighten its grasp on Southeast Asia, he is exercising an uncannily Asian-style diplomacy.
By moving calmly into China’s backyard, without threats or in-your-face muscularity, he is proving himself adept at playing by Asian rules. How subtle of him. And smart.
On the subject of Cambodia and Hun Sen, Mark McDonald writes in the IHT:
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will visit Southeast Asia this week, promoting American commercial interests in Singapore, reinforcing the U.S. military alliance with Thailand and putting the presidential imprimatur on democratic reforms in Myanmar.
But their stop in Cambodia for a regional summit meeting next week will be diplomatically stickier: Photo opportunities with Hun Sen, the authoritarian prime minister of Cambodia, will be hard to avoid.