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Main article: Matrix Partners China

All topics: 5

Sino-U.S. investment firms are targeting over $4 billion for new funds launched this year

20:50 | 17 August

As limited partners increasingly demand greater exposure to emerging market opportunities, venture capital firms with a focus on Asia are bulking up their funds and chasing deals in an increasingly competitive race to own stakes in the next generation of local startups with global aspirations.

Over the last year, firms including DCM Ventures, GGV CapitalMatrix Partners China, and Qiming Venture Partners have all significantly increased the targets for their new funds. If each firm hits their targets, there’s roughly $4.4 billion in new capital that could be flooding into an already scorching market for investment into Chinese startups, according to SEC filings.

The largest of these new funds, by far, is GGV Capital, which has registered a new $1.8 billion fund with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Qiming Ventures has targeted $900 million for its latest fund, while DCM Ventures and Matrix Partners China are each looking for $750 million for their own new investment vehicles, according to securities filings.

Managing partners at the firms did not respond to a request for comment.

These four firms are among the last standing from the initial flood of U.S.-based venture capital firms that poured into Asia (and China specifically) in the first decade of the new millennium.

While marquee names like Kleiner Perkins, DFJ and others foundered in China, these four firms (along with global venture capital juggernauts like Sequoia Capital and NEA) put down deep roots and notched notable wins with investments in startups like Didi-Chuching, Kuaidi, Meituan-Dianping, Xiaomi, and many many more.

In part, these massive new funds are simply a response to the new world that venture investors find themselves in thanks to the massive amounts of capital raised by SoftBank with its $100 billion Vision Fund, or Sequoia with its $9 billion new investment vehicle.

Firms are also under pressure to raise more capital from limited partners, who want to reduce their exposure and consolidate their own investments around venture firms with track records of success and the ability to deploy capital into larger checks.

Couple those facts with the (still) low cost of capital given where interest rates are, and the sustained growth of technology companies across emerging market geographies, and you have a more willing pool of investors that want to commit more capital to emerging technology ecosystems (this is happening in Latin America too).

But there are also some contours of China’s competitive environment that are pushing these venture capital firms to raise increasingly larger funds.

One is the sheer size of the opportunity that exists for new technology companies in China. As the WeChat messaging service increasingly evolves into a new operating system, there are opportunities to scale quickly with larger infusions of capital to capture the market.

Like their peers in the U.S., Chinese companies are also delaying their public offerings and spending more time to build a better outcome with their IPOs. That’s putting pressure on earlier stage investors to raise capital so they don’t get crowded out in those later stage rounds.

Chinese entrepreneurs are also often putting in their own money to finance companies at the earliest stages, which means startups are more mature when they’re seeking their first round. It’s this phenomenon which leads to the $100 million Series A and B rounds that crop up in the Chinese market more regularly than in the U.S.

 


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New unicorn Klook raises $200M to expand its travel activities platform worldwide

14:57 | 7 August

Klook, a Hong Kong-based startup developing a travel activities platform, has pulled in $200 million in new capital to fuel a major expansion into the U.S. and Europe. A spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the round values the company at more than $1 billion, although the company didn’t provide an exact figure.

Klook sets out to make booking travel activities as easy as arranging flights and hotels. That could mean visits to adventure parks, scuba diving, more localized tours or basics such as train travel, food or airport transfers, all of which can be found, paid for and taken using Klook’s platform. The company claims to offer more than 50,000 activities and services from 5,000 partners in over 200 destinations across the world. The startup claims its platform is on track to gross $1 billion in bookings — which is not take home revenue — for this year.

That booking milestone is “not just a representation of how Klook has grown but also a representation of this space,” Klook co-founder and COO Eric Gnock Fah told TechCrunch in an interview. “A lot of people thought this was a very niche sector, but it is proving to be a very valuable industry [and] we’re glad to be the leader.”

There’s plenty of evidence to support that. Travel giant Booking.com jumped into the space via an acquisition earlier this year, while TripAdvisor and Airbnb are pushing the activities side of their businesses, too. More direct competition to Klook includes Taiwan’s KKday, which is aligned with Japanese travel giant H.I.S., U.S.-based Peek, Culture Trip, GetYourGuide and Headout.

Klook is the best-funded by some mile, having raised plenty of capital over the past year or so. It closed a $30 million Series B in March 2017 before adding a $60 million Series C the following October, and this new round takes it to nearly $300 million to date.

The new deal sees existing backers Sequoia China, Matrix Partners, and Goldman Sachs return to put in more capital. They’re joined by first-time investors China’s Boyu Capital, Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV) — which has backed Airbnb among others — and Israel’s OurCrowd, while an undisclosed Asian sovereign wealth fund and unnamed family offices also took part.

Four-year-old Klook has been in expansion mode for the past year, opening offices in London and Amsterdam and growing its headcount to 600 staff across 16 offices, predominantly in Asia. That’s up from 400 people across 13 offices last October.

Now, the company is eying the U.S. and a greater share of Europe. That’s not new, per se, Gnock Fah last year told us that North America was in the roadmap, but now the company has confirmed it’ll open a U.S. office before the end of 2018.

“It’s very likely to be East Coast — New York — where we’d start off in the U.S., but I believe we’ll scale up to have teams on the West Coast and probably mid-West, too,” Gnock Fah said. “We also continue to be expanding in Europe and look for the next location to set up more offices.”

This goal push is two-fold. It’s aimed at tapping into the increased demand for global travel from Asian tourists, and particularly those in China, whilst also bringing Western travelers to Asia where they can tap into Klook’s ecosystem of activities and services.

“This round is really gearing up to global expansion,” Gnock Fah said. “There’s still plenty of growth in Asia but now we will be really accelerating our growth into the U.S. and Europe. We’re really entering the global stage [and attracting an investor like] TCV is a testament to what we’re looking to achieve as a global player.”

The Klook COO also added that the company is seeking to open a new R&D center to supplement its existing tech hub that’s located in Shenzhen. The location for that new office is likely to be in Asia, he added, although its efforts will support the business worldwide.

 


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Evolve Foundation launches a $100 million fund to find startups working to relieve human suffering

01:58 | 4 November

It seems there’s nothing but bad news out there lately, but here’s some good news — the nonprofit Evolve Foundation has raised $100 million for a new fund called the Conscious Accelerator to combat loneliness, purposelessness, fear and anger spreading throughout the world though technology.

Co-founder of Matrix Partners China Bo Shao will lead the fund and will be looking for entrepreneurs focusing on tech that can help people become more present and aware.

“I know a lot of very wealthy people and many are very anxious or depressed,” he told TechCrunch. A lot of this he contributes to the way we use technology, especially social media networks.

“It becomes this anxiety-inducing activity where I have to think about what’s the next post I should write to get most people to like me and comment and forward,” he said. “It seems that post has you trapped. Within 10 minutes, you are wondering how many people liked this, how many commented. It was so addicting.”

Teens are especially prone to this anxiety, he points out. It turns out it’s a real mental health condition known as Social Media Anxiety Disorder (SMAD).

“Social media is the new sugar or the new smoking of this generation,” Shao told TechCrunch.

He quit social media in September of 2013 but tells TechCrunch he’s been on a journey to find ways to improve his life and others for the last 10 years.

His new fund, as laid out in a recent Medium post announcement, seeks to maximize the social good, find solutions to the issues now facing us through technology, not just investing in something with good returns.

Shao plans to use his background as a prominent VC in a multi-billion-dollar firm to find those working on the type of technology to make us less anxious and more centered.

The Conscious Accelerator has already funded a meditation app called Inside Timer. It’s also going to launch a parenting app to help parents raise their children to be resilient in an often confusing world.

He’s also not opposed to funding projects like the one two UC Berkeley students put together to identify Russian and politically toxic Twitter bots — something Twitter has been criticized for not getting a handle on internally.

“The hope is we will attract entrepreneurs who are conscious,” Shao said.

Featured Image: Yann Cœuru/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

 


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Klook raises $30M for its Asia-focused travel activity platform

16:47 | 2 March

Klook, a service for finding and booking travel activities, has closed a $30 million Series B funding round led by Sequoia China. Existing backers Matrix Partners and Welight Capital, a firm founded by former Tencent executives, also took part.

This new money takes Hong Kong-based Klook to $36.5 million from investors to date. Last October, it closed a $5 million Series A round led by Matrix. The startups’ advisors include the managing director of Agoda North Asia and the former vice chairman of the planning and financial department of the China National Tourism Administration.

Unlike regular travel startups, Klook doesn’t manage flights or hotels, it looks after the rest. It was founded in September 2014 as means to helping the increasing number of Asia-to-Asia travelers find activities and things to do while they are overseas. The company said that today its service includes details of 10,000 attractions, tours and general activities spanning 80 cities across Asia. It also gave out some pertinent business data for the first time. Last year, Klook helped users book five million trips — it clarified that the figure refers to two-way trips. We did ask about revenue and other financial details, but for now the company isn’t revealing those.

Operationally, Klook’s team has expanded to reach 200 staff while it has eight offices across Asia. Those local teams work with attraction and tour operators to source activities directly, thereby avoiding the hefty premium of booking through an agent to offer users a competitive price. It has also recently introduced services — such as local transfer options and WiFi device rental — that let users pick up travel essentials from inside the app. Klook co-founder and COO Eric Gnock Fah told TechCrunch in an interview that it would soon add options for restaurants, shopping and more.

“We’re moving towards being an in-destination service platform,” he said.

Beyond expanding into new verticals, which will presumably super charge monetization, Fah said Klook geographical extensions are planned. Klook plans to spend the year growing its reach to remaining major markets in Asia before looking to other parts of the world.

“Over the past few years we’ve basically nailed Asia’s supply chain,” he explained. “We will launch in Australia soon and then go full speed into Europe and North America.”

Those expansions are still designed to service Asia’s tourists — of which China is the dominant market — so it is activities that are suited to travelers from Asia. Initially, at least. But with the Tokyo Olympics on the horizon in 2020 — and the Winter Olympics taking place in Seoul next year — Fah anticipates that the company will need to cater to Western tourists visiting Asia sooner rather than later.

He’s also optimistic that the boom in inbound visitors to Asia will put Klook’s business in a good position.

“Some of the markets were are in are already reaching break even or profitable, so it’s just a case of getting into more markets,” he said. “Our IPO is always in the planning… the timeline we are looking at definitely before 2020. That’s mainly because of the Tokyo Olympics and next year’s Winter Olympics — you can imagine the travel trends over the next few years.”

A public listing might take place in the U.S. or Hong Kong, Fah offered, although those details are far from ironed out at this point. For one thing, he still anticipates that there “is likely to be at least one more round” of private funding before a move to the public markets. Still, with few startups exits in Asia — China aside — it is refreshing to hear a company committing its ambition to paper.

Featured Image: ipopba/iStock/Getty Images

 


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Klook, An App For Booking Travel Activities Across Asia, Raises $5M

14:34 | 16 October

Klook, a Hong Kong-based company that sells travel activities across Asia, has announced a $5 million Series A round led by US-Sino investment fund Matrix Partners. China Growth Capital and Francis Leung, chairman of CVC Capital, also took part.

The company was founded in September 2014 with the idea of helping travelers and tourists find things to do across Asia. Klook raised a $1.5 million seed round in April, and co-founder Eric Gnock Fah told TechCrunch that this round was over-subscribed thanks to impressive growth.

Klook currently includes more than 1,200 activities across 24 destinations in Asia, that’s up from around 1,000 earlier this year. The company claims to have grown its userbase — which it counts as the total reach for its website, mobile apps, WeChat and other touch points — from 200,000 to 500,000 over the same period. It didn’t say how many bookings or customers it has, but that it “serves thousands of travelers a day.”

To offer activities at lower prices than traditional travel firms or tour operators, Klook works directly with attraction managers and owners. That way, it doesn’t involve agents or other aggregators who, once adding in their commission, push prices up for travelers.

Fah said that Greater China accounts for around one-third of its user base, with Southeast Asia also around the same figure. While Asia is a popular destination for tourists worldwide, Klook is particularly focused on unlocking the potential of Asian travelers.

“We’re a pan-Asia platform that serves both Asian destinations and Asian travelers,” he explained to TechCrunch in an interview. “The rising middle class in Asia make lots of inter-regional travel.”

This new funding will go towards growing the destinations and activities on the Klook platform, and further developing its technology. The company also plans to begin spending money on marketing, having relied on partnership deals and word-of-mouth for visibility thus far. Part of that focus will see it open an office in Singapore to increase its focus on Southeast Asia. Klook may also expand its physical presence into other local markets further down the line, Fah said.

The startup is also welcoming a pair of new strategy advisors who could help open doors. Wilfred Fan is managing director of Agoda and head of its business operations in North Asia, while Shuren Hu is a former vice chairman of the planning and financial department of the China National Tourism Administration.

If you’re wondering which cities are hot in Asia — Fah said Hong Kong is Klook’s top choice for visitors, followed by Singapore and Bangkok. You can see what they have on offer at Klook.com, or via its Android and iOS apps.

 


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