Thursday, 25 August 2016

Banking on Social Media and Education to Get More Clients

Messaging apps now used in banking.

Ever thought of tweeting for a mobile recharge? Or Facebook-ing for a fund transfer? Banks are making advents in social media banking with an end to easing transactions for customers reports Times of India. 'iMobile SmartKeys,' launched by ICICI Bank last week enables customers to pay bills, transfer funds via chat, messenger, email or games without having to exit their current application in their smartphone.Customers need not switch tabs or applications to access 'iMobile' making for faster transactions.

And the fact that social media banking has its adherents is proved by the user base of "Pockets by ICICI Bank," which lets you transfer money to a friend, buy movie tickets, recharge your mobile via Facebook Messenger , SMS or Gmail. "We have had more than 4 million downloads at ICICI Pockets since our launch last year. One doesn't need to know the account number, bank branch or IFSC code to send money to any contact on social media. How it works is -you send a e-coupon in their name, which they can redeem in 3 days," says Abonty Banerjee, senior general manager & head -Digital Channels, ICICI Bank.

"Once you send the e-coupon via Facebook, email or SMS, they can enter their bank credentials and redeem the coupon. To redeem the coupon, a passcode will be sent to the registered mobile number, which can be shared with the friend to whom the money is being transferred to," adds ICICI Bank's Banerjee. For opening FDs, checking account balance or recharging your prepaid mobile, one can also tweet to ICICI Bank.

Times of India also reports that Every night before going to bed, 22-year-old Tanvi Sharma (name changed), a professional gamer, spends up to an hour on Indian fintech blogs and education platforms learning about new investment tips and how different funds work. Fintech players across sectors, including financial marketplace BankBazaar and SME Lending player Capital Float, are increasing their focus on setting up education platforms and blogs as a long-term user acquisition strategy. They are increasingly focusing on educating users and disseminating information in the areas they specialize in. Online discount brokerage firm Zerodha has set up an education platform.

Search Rankings according to website functionality

After Facebook, google now take up the battle against ad-blockers. Google will now use website functionality as another factor to set its search engine rankings with a change to its algorithm.

Google is set to give lower search rankings to websites that have intrusive pop-up adverts. Google is changing its algorithms which are used to rank search results so that such websites are more likely to get lower placings. This change is due to come into effect on 10 January 2017. Google gets a lot of its revenue from ads on the mobile web and Google may want to give users one less reason to use ad-blockers or search within apps instead.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

On the Blockchain Bandwagon: Digital Settlement Systems

Major banks are developing their own digital equivalents to Bitcoin for their settlement systems.

Santander, BNY Mellon, Deutsche Bank, ICAP and UBS are together developing a digital-only cash system to work on the Utility Settlement Coin (USC) which will be for their institutional clients. It will use blockchain technology used in Bitcoin. Its success will depend on the system being widely adopted by other financial institutions. Other top banks, like Goldman Sachs and Citi, are developing their own digital-only payment systems.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Devanagari gets a Digital Boost

The Hindi Devanagari script gets a digital boost.

Startup Data Xgen Technologies has started a paid email address service in Hindi characters or Devanagari script, and plans to roll out free registration of such IDs on the lines of Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo soon reports Times of India. "A few hundred IDs have been created till now on .bharat domain, which is available in Devanagari script. Anyone interested in Hindi script ID can visit our website and buy email package as per their need," Data Xgen Technologies Founder Ajay Data told PTI.

An email sent from these addresses is supported by leading service providers like Gmail and Microsoft. "Besides communicating in Hindi, people can send emails from addresses created in Hindi script to Gmail, Outlook and some of the other addresses. We wish to start a free email id on .bharat domain soon just like Gmail of India for Hindi domains and soon we will work with government to do that," Data said.

To bring more people on Internet, government is pushing website and email addresses in Hindi or Devanagari scripts. The National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) has asked domain or website name sellers to provide free .bharat (in Devanagari script) to everyone who buys a ".in" domain name. In a meeting held at the ministry of electronics and IT, Google and Microsoft said that their email services accept and can send messages to email addresses created in Hindi or Devanagari script but they do not have immediate plans to provide such email addresses.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Providing Digital Identities to Promote Digital India

Giving digital identities to villagers in remote areas is one to promote involvement in India's digital economy.

In an attempt to promote digital literacy among villagers under the Digital India campaign, Hirachuni, a small village, about 23 kms from here in East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand has been identified for the purpose, reports Times of India.

According to the 2011 census, the literacy rate among the male members is high. The village has a population 300 persons in 60 houses and majority of them have access to Internet. Initially, we have identified a small village Hirachuni, near National Highway 33, under Jamshedpur block as majority of the population were literate and have the facility to access Internet, District Public Relation Officer of East Singhbhum Sanjay Kumar said.

Kumar visited the village on Sunday and held meeting with the villagers including present and former gram pradhan, ward members, representative of Pragya Kendra and youths in this regard. He agreed to give a digital identity to each household to promote the Digital India campaign. Details of 47 houses out of the total 60 houses in the village have been gathered to generate a email ID, Whatsapp group of same series such as, he said, adding XYZ represents the name of the concerned person of the house.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Support services in the startup ecosystem get wacky

Startups that support other startup entrepreneurs. Support services in the startup ecosystem get wacky.

Times of India reports that people made and lost money in the 1848 California Gold Rush, but only one man made a fortune that survives to this day. The man was Levi Strauss, and his business was not mining gold, but making hardy clothes for miners – the denim overalls which launched a $60 billion industry and a brand name that still has value. Something similar is happening in Silicon Valley, contends David V Johnson at The Baffler. “Sure, most coders are frenetically chasing down the next Pok√©mon Go – but the real innovation is taking root at the companies exploiting the desperation of tech’s gold hunters,” he writes. And one group that’s poised to make a killing off Silicon Valley insecurities are the nootropicists, the makers of ‘creativity and brain-boosting supplements’ called nootropics. The idea is packaged in a way that would appeal to the tech-savvy coders of the valley. These aren’t just ‘drugs’ or ‘foods’ – they’re ‘brain hacks’.

“Once restricted to shopping ad hoc on Amazon and shadowy websites on the dark web, would-be “psychonauts” can now turn to one-stop shopping at companies such as Nootroo, Trubrain, and Nootrobrain,” writes Johnson. One of the biggest of these ‘brainhack makers’ is Nootrobox, a company with a mission statement that reads “To create a better society through smarter, better brains” Nootrobos was founded by Geoffrey Woo and Michael Brandt, both Stanford alumni, and it’s been funded by A-list Valley luminaries like the legendary VC fir m Andreessen Horowitz and executives Mark Pincus, of gaming company Zynga, and Marissa Mayer, lately of Yahoo! The company sells canisters of ‘supplement stacks’ – the bodybuilding term for synergistic combinations of supplements optimized to produce specific outcomes—for improving cognitive performance. There’s ‘Rise’, which improves ‘memory, stamina and resilience’. ‘Sprint’ – to meet those deadlines, and even chewable caffeine.

Despite a lack of clinical evidence, sales are booming. It sounds like the Valley is looking for western equivalents of the old ayurvedic folk remedies Bramhi, and Sankhpushpi to us, though.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Time for Entrepreneurs to Prioritize their Time

Should entrepreneurs, who have investors in their startups, also themselves be investors in other firms, thereby not giving enough time to their own startup?

Economic Times reports that after the heady flow of capital and the aggressive growth of the last two years, for founders and investors in Indian technology companies 2016 is a year of calibration and introspection. With capital flow slowing and job cuts becoming prevalent across startups, the environment for emerging businesses is undergoing a change. To gauge the pulse of startups in this period of churn and the challenges they face, The Economic Times conducted an exhaustive survey of the most influential entrepreneurs and investors in the country. The first part of the survey's findings, published last week, focused on the Big Picture—will domestic startups be able to triumph over the US giants; when will investor sentiment improve; and despite the doom-and-gloom, is it still a good time to startup.   

In the second installment, ET zooms in on what has changed for founders and investors specifically. One factor of friction between founders and venture capital investors, mentioned only behind closed doors, is the growing tribe of entrepreneur-investors. The concern is not over the investments but how much time do the founders allocate to their investee companies. And how do they overcome any possible conflict of interest?   The findings reveal how entrepreneurs are adapting to the changing landscape, how they are reducing spending and the salary expectations of employees. To investors, ET asked how have valuation expectations had changed and what sectors are next on their radar.   

One of the strongest trends to have emerged in the last two years is the rise of entrepreneur-investors. While earlier the main option for entrepreneurs seeking angel funding was groups like Indian Angel Network and Mumbai Angels, now founders such as Snapdeal's Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal and Flipkart's Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal have become the first port of call.   Angel investing has become a cool thing to do especially for Indian technology entrepreneurs. Even the founders of a few seed-funded companies are dabbling in such deals. More than half of the entrepreneurs surveyed by ET have made at least one angel investment. Some founders have built portfolios of dozens of investee-startups and hired professionals to manage their investments. Venture capital firms have started coinvesting with entrepreneur-investors in seed deals. But there is a simmering tension. More than three-quarters of the investors polled believe entrepreneurs should not be angel investors, instead focusing their time and energy on growing their own companies.   

 Now that investors such as New York's Tiger Global Management, Japan's SoftBank Corp and other overseas hedge funds have pulled back in India, venture capital investors are seeing a significant correction in the valuations of their portfolio companies. Many of the investors polled estimate that valuations have dropped by 20-50% across companies. One investor indicated that valuation expectations for consumer Internet companies have fallen by at least 50%, and for software-as-a-service startups by 30%. Mutual funds have started marking down their shares in companies such as Flipkart, India's most valuable Internet firm, by as much as 40%. Recently, budget hotel-rooms aggregator Oyo raised capital from existing investors without any increase to its valuation. 

It was a busy 2015 for venture capitalists as funding hit a peak, with 473 deals registered and total capital invested doubling to $5.4 billion. But the first half of 2016 has been a sobering experience, as the number of VC deals decreased to 183 and the capital invested dropped to $1 billion. It is not surprising that investors are split on whether to get their house in order first or make the best of the decreased valuations. Investors have kept themselves busy this year working with portfolio companies, helping them improve their metrics and in several cases also leading internal funding rounds. Some are also busy figuring which startups will click and which won't before putting their weight behind them. Several are also reserving their corpora for follow-on funding rounds. Several investors who were sitting on the sidelines last year because of the high valuations have become more active this year. Other investors increasingly getting into the Indian market are strategic and corporate venture capital firms.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Foreign HNIs looking for Startup Opportunities that Disrupt in India

Foreign HNIs looking for Startup Opportunities that Disrupt in India.

Funding may be hard to come by from big-name investors for established startups looking for growth capital, but early-stage ventures are finding support from wealthy individuals based overseas — both foreigners and those of Indian origin, reports the Economic Times.   The view of Indian startups from abroad is rosy for these early-stage investors who see a mix of homegrown innovation that addresses local problems, and a big market to boot. Which is why, when Mumbai-based startup Repaireasy was looking for funding, it found support from angel investors not just at home but also as far away as Australia.   "We are very bullish on the Indian startup market and certainly there will be many more deals to come," said Ben James, an Australian who joined forces with compatriot Chris Dorrough to participate in a funding round for Repaireasy, which specialises in fixing electronic gadgets. "The sky is the limit," said James.   James has relocated to India where he has founded a startup specialising in solutions to make roads safer. He invested Rs 60 lakh in a funding round that saw Repaireasy raise about Rs 1.85 crore.   

The Indian Angel Network, the country's largest, estimates that over 20% of investors on its platform are based overseas, and this is only increasing. Foreign-based wealthy individuals are aware that India is one of the vibrant places for innovation, and they want a piece of the action for themselves, said IAN president Padmaja Ruparel.   "The flow of money is a big plus for Indian startups. Additionally, participation by foreigners also helps Indian startup players gain access to their networks abroad," she said. The way they find their way to picking good deals is pretty straightforward. 

Most high net worth individuals (HNIs) based abroad are finding links with Indian startups and co-investors through former colleagues they have worked with abroad, connections with angel groups based in India, or boutique investment banks.   "Angel investors from Singapore are definitely very active in India. These investors now have more access to deals via angel groups like IAN and platforms like LetsVenture," said Jayesh Parekh, Managing Partner at Singapore-based Jungle Ventures and cofounder of Sony Entertainment in India who is an adviser to Flickbay, a social network for Hindi movie buffs. Flickbay recently raised around Rs 6 crore from Paul Roy, chairman of Dubaibased Riva Digital. Silicon Valley-based Srini Madala who participated in the $1-million deal in driver-hiring platform DriveU along with other Valley-based investors and Unitus Seed Fund said the entrepreneurial energy and ecosystem in India are akin to that in the US.   "DriveU is one of our first investments. I am looking for opportunities that are likely to disrupt the traditional way of doing things, and those that have potential to be replicated in other parts of the world," he said.   

Startups are of the view that investors from abroad are able to provide access to whole new networks which could help raise further funding. "If you are lucky, often these guys have amazing networks and contacts and that will help raise more capital in future rounds," said Rishi Wahi, the cofounder of Repaireasy. Among those benefiting from such a network is shopping personalisation app Hippily. Manish Mahajan, the founder of Singapore-based boutique investment banking firm Mount Nathan Advisors, invested in Hippily last year and was keen to increase his stake in the company. So he roped in five more people, including Google's senior vice-president for ads and commerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy, to help raise $2,50,000.   "Foreign investors help get a lot more global perspectives at a strategic level since some of the foreign markets are much ahead of us," said Hippily CEO Viswanath Ramachandran.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Digital India opening up new sources of income for the innovative

Digital India is opening up new sources of income for the innovative: India's Bounty Hunters.

3 years ago, faced with the challenge of repaying an education loan, then 20-year-old Manish Bhattacharya was desperate to make money, reports Times of India. So, Bhattacharya, a student of computer science, focused all his energies on one thing: bug bounties. Bug bounties are monetary rewards offered by tech firms to geeks who spot bugs, errors and security flaws before malicious hackers spot them. Bhattacharya got his first bounty of $100 in 2013 from Asana, a firm that lets teams track their work, for reporting a minor security glitch. In 2 years, this Bhagalpur lad earned enough to square off his loan and become financially independent.

"My highest reward is $5,000 (about Rs 3.5 lakh) paid by Google," said Bhattacharya, who was rewarded by the technology giant for reporting a remote login vulnerability. Bhattacharya isn't the only desi bug bounty hunter saddling up and scouring cyberspace for flaws and glitches. A report by one of the earliest crowdsourcing companies called Bugcrowd found that 28.2% of the hacker sign-ups worldwide for bug bounty programmes until March were from India. Techies from US (24.4%), the UK (3.9%), Pakistan (3.5%) and Australia (2.4%) came next.

The idea of bug bounties goes back to 1995, when Netscape offered a reward to hackers for spotting bugs in its web browser. Almost all the tech giants such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter and Yahoo! either have their own programmes or work with third-party companies to reward hackers based on the severity of the security flaw reported. Even companies such as General Motors, Khan Academy, Starbucks and United Airlines have bug bounty programmes.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

India's Got Talent ... that startups need to try harder to attract

India's got talent but the startups are having a tougher time attracting and retaining this talent.

ESOPs, an all-time favourite retention instrument among startups and e-commerce firms, are losing their magic to draw top talent according to the Times of India. This is obvious with the chips going down for e-commerce and startups, and valuations hitting a new bottom. According to leading headhunting firms, Heidrick & Struggles, Longhouse Consulting, BTI Consultants India, Hunt Partners India, RGF Executive Search, the supply for talent at the top is drying up by almost 50%. In just a year, it is getting tougher for search firms to attract top talent despite heavier toppings of ESOPs as part of compensation, these firms said.

"It was already a scramble for talent at the top. Unlike a year ago, it is getting even more difficult to attract top talent in the e-commerce and startup space," said Vikram Chhachhi, a principal at Heidrick & Struggles' Mumbai office. The valuations have become more realistic and caution reigns. "All this is making it more difficult to attract talent. Even the e-commerce companies have become more selective," he added.

Food For Thought in Online Food Delivery

Aggregators need o ensure good, consistent service to the sellers and service providers on their platforms.

Several restaurants are now backing out from food tech and hyper-local delivery platforms such as Swiggy and Shadowfax due to high commissions and patchy delivery services reports Times of India. While some restaurateurs said high commission fee of up to 25% on the price of an order charged by delivery platforms has made it unsustainable, restaurants also blame delayed pickups, shabbily dressed delivery boys and deteriorating standards of food delivery for their exit. "The basic problem with the industry is that they fail to deliver an experience similar to what we give our customers in the restaurant," said Ashutosh Jha, associate vice-president for R&D at TGI Friday's, which closed ties with food delivery players Shadowfax and FastOx.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Online marketplaces getting ideas from offline retail

Online marketplaces getting ideas from offline retail. Online marketplaces are trying out new ideas around commission and credits for sellers to entice consumers online.

E-commerce marketplaces in India are trying out innovative ways to work around curbs on offering discounts as they prepare for the biggest shopping opportunity of the year in the upcoming festive season reports Times of India. Amazon has decided to cut the commission it gets from some large and preferred sellers by 30-50% on the condition that the saving is passed on to consumers, according to executives from four large online sellers. Non-preferred sellers may have to bear the discount entirely, although the online marketplaces will help liquidate their old stock through promotions and prominent displays.

Flipkart and Snapdeal are coming up with a similar strategy, sellers on the two platforms said. They plan to offer credit to sellers, equivalent to the discount offered, a practice that's common in offline trade. A Flipkart spokesperson said the marketplace is focused on ensuring maximum value to consumers by making quality products affordable and accessible. "While we continue to expand the affordability charter through innovative programmes such as no-cost EMI and product-exchange programmes, discounts to consumers are given by sellers and by various brands," the spokesperson said.

Friday, 12 August 2016

India in the mood for startups

India in the mood for startups. 

Economic Times reports that you may think it's not such a great time to be a startup founder. Valuations are sliding, fund-raising is not all that easy, and not too many startups can boast about profits.   But if you listen to what the majority of the most influential people in India's startup sector have to say in a first-of-its-kind survey, there is no better time than now to begin a career in entrepreneurship. 55 per cent of those polled in an ET survey of startup founders and investors believe that now is the ideal time to launch a business, demonstrating widespread underlying optimism about the future of new-economy ventures. "If you're able to deliver margins and traction, there is money available. In fact it reduces the fight for dollars with poor businesses run by savvy founders," said a Gurgaon-based founder.   

The somewhat surprising mood of optimism, and other not so-surprising findings, were gleaned from a survey of India's best-known venture capitalists and founders of companies valued at over $100 million. Those who answered the survey agreed to do so on condition of anonymity, allowing themselves the freedom to express their views candidly. The result is a comprehensive and fascinating snapshot of Startup India. The survey also shed light on what is one of the most hotly-discussed subjects in the startup world, namely the fates of India's largest online retailer Flipkart and the country's biggest cab aggregator Ola vis-a-vis global competition. Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority think that US-based Amazon will be the market leader within two years. Uber, which recently threw in the towel in China by merging with rival Didi Chuxing, is seen by a strong majority as the likely leader in the same time period. "But Uber and Amazon (especially Amazon) have spent years executing well and building better India-specific capabilities," the founder of a Bengaluru-based startup said. "They are both India companies, not US clones."   

Another statistic which reflects the more-or-less sunny mood is the number who believe that a pickup in investor sentiment is in the offing. Some 56 per cent are convinced that investors will open their wallets much more liberally within a year. While about one in ten think that the glory days of investors splashing cash are over forever, one-third of those who participated in the survey expect that a return to the good times will take at least a year. Besides, over three-quarters of the respondents are of the view that up to three startup unicorns will hit the market with an initial share sale by 2020. "There will be a sentiment challenge for 12 months, but the sectors from which great companies come out will change," said Abhishek Goyal, cofounder of startup research firm Tracxn. "But all large companies will survive and give good returns to their investors."

Biyani Betting his Future with Alibaba rather than Amazon

Biyani Betting his Future with Alibaba rather than Amazon.

Kishore Biyani's recent partnership with Paytm for selling Big Bazaar products on the latter's site is part of his broader strategy to build an alliance with Alibaba, Paytm's largest shareholder, reports Times of India. Alibaba plans to debut its business-to-consumer (B2C) site Tmall in India in 6 months and one of the options being considered is morphing the Paytm marketplace into Tmall, said two people aware of the matter. Biyani's Future Group will be a key seller on Alibaba's B2C platform, they said. They added that Biyani has ended Future Group's exclusive selling arrangement with Amazon that was forged in October 2014.

Future Group is India's biggest retailer and home to chains such as Big Bazaar, Easyday and Central. "India is an important emerging market with great potential and we are absolutely committed to developing this market for the long term. But we do not in principle discuss market speculations about our business plans in the media," an Alibaba spokesperson said. The Alibaba spokesperson was responding to ET's query on plans to convert Paytm's marketplace into Tmall and having Future Group as a prominent seller. Future Group said it wouldn't respond to market speculation. A Paytm spokesperson said Alibaba would be best placed to respond on questions about its plans for India.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

HR AI in the Digital Economy: How to keep your boss happy

Recent news that India's Infosys has developed a predictive algorithmic tools that can help it control attrition, even while it prepares to roll out several HR initiatives such as its iCount app which will have a feedback feature. These tools will help Infosys look at which staff are most likely to leave the company and who are likely to rise to higher management. Will AI in HR help in fostering the team spirit?

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Controlling Content on Social Media Platforms

Facebook needs ad revenue and ad blockers are a headache for the bottom line. It's a cat and mouse game between social media companies and ad blockers. The tech giants want more control over what is displayed on their platforms and not leave it to third parties.

FB is blocking ad blockers on the desktop version of its service, saying well-made, relevant ads can be "useful." reports the Time of India. At the same time, the world's biggest social media company says it is giving users easier ways to decide what types of ads they want to see -- unless, of course, the answer is "none."

Ad blockers filter out ads by refusing to display page images and other elements that originated with a known ad server. But Facebook has found a way around this. Beginning Tuesday, the desktop version of Facebook will show users ads even if they have ad blockers installed. The changes don't affect the mobile Facebook app, which brings in the bulk of the company's advertising revenue. As with most new Facebook features, the changes are being rolled out to users over time, so some people might see it before others.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

AI Ideation

News in the media is that another AI system is being set up as a hedge fund. Machine learning at financial markets is a fast growing sport. Finance computing is increasingly taking into account more complex factors that affect markets. AI systems will soon be able to develop investment strategies going beyond simple algorithms. A number of startups are applying AI to financial trading.

Soon AI systems will be able to develop ideas of their own.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Monday, 8 August 2016

Screening Back to the Future

The first home TVs that came out in the 50s and 60s had curved screens. Then came the age of flat screen TVs. Then smartphones came on the scene with flat screens. Now curved screen smartphones are in vogue. Screens for consumer viewing are turning full circle.

Times of India reports that South Korean giant Samsung may embrace curved screens in a big way. The company has hinted that it may completely ditch flat-screen models in the future Galaxy S devices. In an interview, Samsung Mobile chief Dong-jin Koh told Korea Herald website, "Samsung has considered that it would make the edge display as the identity of the Galaxy S smartphone lineup if the company can provide consumers differentiated user experience through software and user-friendly functions (for the curved screen)." If Koh's statement is any indication, we might see next year's edition of Galaxy S (likely to be called Galaxy S8) sport dual-curved screen.