Categories
India Journalism Tech

Cash May Be King in India, but Google Is Prince of Mobile Payments

2019 09 19Google Pay

That’s the headline on my latest story, out today.

It begins:

NEW DELHI–The leading player in the battle for mobile payments in India isn’t either of China’s pioneers, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. or Tencent Holdings Ltd. It isn’t Apple Inc., Visa Inc. or even PayPal Holdings Inc. It’s Google.

The Alphabet Inc. unit has for years tried to diversify its revenues beyond advertising by pushing into new fields like cloud computing and hardware. While its profits remain healthy, it needs new ways to make money as the specter of regulation looms at home and around the globe. Its booming new business in the world’s largest untapped digital market could be the engine of expansion that it has been looking for.

In India today, the company has one of its fastest-growing hits ever with Google Pay, a two-year-old app that millions of consumers are using to spend and transfer tens of billions of dollars.

Resembling a chat app and available in local languages, Google Pay was the most downloaded financial technology app world-wide last year, according to SensorTower, a research and marketing firm for the app industry.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Journalism Tech

Amazon Holds Talks With Indonesian Ride-Hailing Startup Gojek

2019 08 29amazon gojek

That’s the headline on my newest story, out yesterday, a scoop with my colleagues Julie Steinberg and Jon Emont.

It begins:

Amazon.com Inc. and Indonesian ride-hailing startup Gojek Group have held preliminary talks on a partnership, according to people familiar with the matter, which could expand the online retail giant’s services into a populous new market.

The companies have discussed an arrangement by which Amazon would make a sizable investment in Gojek and tap into the Jakarta-based company’s delivery infrastructure in Indonesia, one of the people said.

An Amazon spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on “rumors and speculation.” A spokesman for Gojek didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

There is no guarantee a deal will result.

Click through to read the rest.

The story was followed by Bloomberg and Reuters.

Categories
Journalism Tech

AI Startup Boom Raises Questions of Exaggerated Tech Savvy

engineerai

That’s the headline on my most recent story, which I wrote with my colleague Parmy Olson. It went online yesterday and is in today’s print WSJ.

It begins:

Startup Engineer.ai says it uses artificial-intelligence technology to largely automate the development of mobile apps, but several current and former employees say the company exaggerates its AI capabilities to attract customers and investors.

The competing claims reflect a growing challenge in the tech world of assessing a company’s proficiency in artificial intelligence, which refers to technologies that can allow computers to learn or perform tasks typically requiring human decision makers—in many cases helping companies save money or better target consumers.

Because AI technology is complex and loosely defined, nonexperts can find it hard to discern when it is being deployed. Still, money is flowing into the sector, and many startups can say they use AI as a way to lure investments or corporate clients even when such claims are difficult to vet.

Click through to read the rest.

The story was picked up by popular tech news outlets The Information, The Verge, and The Next Web, and on news forums such as Slashdot and Hacker News

Parmy and I were also on the WSJ Tech News podcast, in which we discussed the story with host
Kim Gittleson. You can listen online here, or in your favorite podcast app.

Categories
India Journalism Tech

The Hottest Phones for the Next Billion Users Aren’t Smartphones

smart feature phones

That’s the headline on my most recent story, which came out Tuesday.

It begins:

NEW DELHI—The hottest phones for the world’s next billion users aren’t made by smartphone leaders Samsung Electronics Co. or Apple Inc. In fact, they aren’t even smartphones.

Millions of first-time internet consumers from the Ivory Coast to India and Indonesia are connecting to the web on a new breed of device that only costs about $25. The gadgets look like the inexpensive Nokia Corp. phones that were big about two decades ago. But these hybrid phones, fueled by inexpensive mobile data, provide some basic apps and internet access in addition to calling and texting.

Smart feature phones, as they are known, are one of the mobile-phone industry’s fastest-growing and least-known segments, providing a simple way for some of the world’s poorest people to enter the internet economy.

While global smartphone sales began sliding last year as markets became saturated, smart feature phone shipments tripled to around 75 million from 2017, according to research firm Counterpoint. Some 84 million are likely to be shipped this year.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Netflix and Amazon Trail a Local Video Rival in India That’s Now Disney-Owned

2019 06 06 hotstar netflix amazon

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Tuesday.

It begins:

NEW DELHI—To win in India, home to many of the world’s next billion internet users, Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are copying the tactics of a video-streaming service built for the local market.

Hotstar dominates the Indian market. Launched four years ago by media conglomerate Star India as a mobile-first streaming platform for watching cricket, movies and TV, it now has 300 million monthly users—roughly 10% more than YouTube, India’s second-biggest video content platform. While only three million users pay for access, that is still more than Amazon has, and more than twice as many as Netflix. Walt Disney Co. now owns Hotstar.

Netflix and Amazon, shut out of China and facing stiff competition in the maturing U.S. market, are adopting the strategies that fueled Hotstar’s success—low prices that the average Indian viewer can afford and loads of local content in multiple Indian languages.

Netflix is churning out Indian-language dramas, love stories and thrillers and slashing its monthly rates. Amazon has signed up local stand-up comedians and backed a “Sex and the City” clone about a group of women in Mumbai that is broadcast in three Indian languages.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Modi’s Re-Election Means More Scrutiny for U.S. Tech Giants

2019 05 26modi tech

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Friday. It begins:

NEW DELHI – U.S. technology firms recently facing pushback in India, the world’s biggest untapped digital economy, can expect more scrutiny following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resounding re-election, according to executives and analysts.

They expect Mr. Modi’s government to continue tightening restrictions on American titans such as Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc. and Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp.

U.S. firms have been pouring billions of dollars into the country of 1.3 billion people in part because, unlike China, India has provided a level playing field for foreign firms at a time when hundreds of millions of people are getting online thanks to cheaper mobile data and smartphones.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
India Journalism Tech

SoftBank Doubles Down on Indian Grocery Venture

softbank_grofers

That’s the headline on my newest story, an exclusive out yesterday. It begins:

NEW DELHI–SoftBank Group Corp. is doubling down on its bet on an Indian grocery-delivery startup, in the global investor’s latest foray in the world’s largest untapped tech market.

Grofers India Pvt. said Wednesday that it received just over $200 million in a funding round led by the Vision Fund, which SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son is using to invest in cutting-edge technologies. Tiger Global Management and Sequoia Capital, two other prominent tech investors, also participated in the round, said Grofers, which is based in Gurgaon, India.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Journalism Tech

Uber Partner Picks Up $1.5 Billion From SoftBank

2019 03 08grab

That’s the headline on a story out Wednesday that I wrote with my colleague Saurabh Chaturvedi. It begins:

SINGAPORE—Southeast Asian ride-hailing company Grab Holdings Inc. has raised $1.46 billion in fresh funding from Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp., which it will use to fuel its expansion beyond transportation services.

That brings the total from Grab’s latest fundraising round, over the past year, to more than $4.5 billion, the company said Wednesday. The SoftBank investment is through the conglomerate’s Vision Fund, which has stakes in some of the world’s most valuable tech companies.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
India Journalism Tech

My Latest Page One Story: U.S. Campaign Against Huawei Runs Aground

IMG 1359

That’s the headline on a Page One story I wrote with my colleagues Rajesh Roy and Dustin Volz. It ran online Thursday and in Friday’s paper.

It begins:

Washington has hit an unlikely roadblock in its extraordinary global push to sideline China’s Huawei Technologies Co.: the world’s biggest democracy, India.

Policy makers and telecommunications firms here are so far largely unpersuaded by U.S. warnings that using Huawei’s equipment to upgrade India’s telecom networks presents a major cybersecurity threat, according to more than a dozen government officials and industry executives. Many argue that any such risk is outweighed by Huawei’s cut-rate prices and technological prowess.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
Book Notes Tech

Book Notes: ‘The Upstarts,’ by Brad Stone

the_upstarts_cover

From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited recently after many years.

These posts are meant to help me remember what I’ve learned, and to point out titles I think are worth consulting. They’re neither formal book reviews nor comprehensive book summaries, but I hope you find them useful.

For previous postings, see my Book Notes category.

The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World

Published: 2017
ISBN: 0316388394
Amazon link

Brief Summary

A detailed account of how Uber and Airbnb – two startups that launched around the same time and took advantage of similar new technological trends – upended the taxi and hotel industries.

My Notes

  • This is the second book I’ve read by journalist and author Brad Stone. The first was “The Everything Store,” which I loved and wrote about in an earlier Books Notes entry. That book is the definitive account of how Jeff Bezos made Amazon into a global behemoth.

    “The Upstarts” focuses not on one company, but two: Uber and Airbnb. (I began reading this book in preparation for interviewing Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, last month.)

  • Both Uber and Airbnb benefited from shifting technological trends. As Stone writes, both emerged just as the iPhone and the concept of apps was beginning to take hold; Facebook was growing quickly and encouraging people to “establish their identities online;” Google Maps was emerging and could be integrated by third party apps; and broadband web use was soaring, Stone notes.

  • Both “own little in the way of physical assets.”

  • Founders of both startups lacked lofty ambitions like Google (“organize the world’s information”) or Facebook (“make the world more open and connected”).

    Rather, “Camp, Kalanick and their friends wanted to ride around San Francisco in Style. Chesky and his cohorts were looking for a way to make some extra cash when a conference came to town.”

  • Beyond noting the two startups’ similarities, the book takes a straightforward approach to recounting of how both grew rapidly, encountered challenges, and then overcame them.

    The brash, ambitions, entrepreneurial, math whiz Kalanick was just what Uber needed to grow at a breakneck pace and vanquish rivals. But his personal shortfalls, Stone writes, later got the company into trouble.

    At Airbnb*, Chesky and his co-founders placed an overarching emphasis on the notion of community; they, too, faced some obstacles on their way to success.

    *The original name of the site was Airbedandbreakfast.com, which was later shortened to Airbnb. For some reason I’d always thought the name was “bnb,” for “bed and breakfast,” with an “Air” appended to it.

  • As with “The Everything Store,” which I read to better understand Amazon, I recommend “The Upstarts” if you’d like a better grasp on Uber and Airbnb, and how their early days and culture inform their current activities.