Pakistan startup Flashcall ready to mobilize the power of the missed call phenomenon

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Deliberate missed calls are a curious phenomenon particular to several developing nations in Asia as well as across Africa. Where mobile phone connectivity is pricey or unreliable, friends or family members often give each other a short call, which the receiver won’t pick up, to signal something – perhaps a pre-agreed signal for something like I’ve arrived home safely. It’s something that many companies have picked up on too.

In India, a startup called ZipDial saw the potential in missed calls for businesses and grew its marketing platform around these gestural pings. It provides brands with a toll-free number that allows them to communicate with customers via missed calls, sending back SMS to people containing more information. Now a new startup in Pakistan called Flashcall is aiming to do the same thing in its home nation of 130 million mobile subscribers.

Flashcall CEO Jawwad Jafri explains to Tech in Asia that the missed call service started a few months ago with small-scale and very localized beta projects:

“We have done the beta launch in small environments like classrooms to use Flashcall as an instant feedback mechanism and subscription service. Our first beta project was live voting and update subscription for Startup Weekend [Islamabad] in April.”

From marketing to personal banking

Now the team is busy chasing up on leads from companies who want to try this out on a much larger scale. While Jafri can’t name any brands at this stage, he says that Flashcall will soon be put to a number of uses, such as by TV channels to get viewers to rate their shows. Other possible uses include by ecommerce sites for marketing discounts or cash-on-delivery verification, or by banks for a wide array of requested options such as bank account details or payments due. The most obvious case is its usage for simple marketing – people call a brand’s specific toll-free number related to a certain product, and consumers get an SMS with more information about that product in return. It’s rather like the way QR codes or Twitter/Facebook pages are used in many developed nations, but this stripped-down solution works better for countries where people still struggle to get online on their basic phones.

The recent success – or sheer hype – of Yo messaging app prompted Marc Andreessen to compare Yo and missed calls as fascinating and very useful forms of “one-bit communication”:

5/Missed call on mobile phone is used as one-bit comm: “Used in South Asia/Philippines/Africa to communicate pre-agreed messages for free.” — Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) June 19, 2014

7/So the hilarity around Yo includes two problematic biases: Bias that one-bit comm isn’t useful, and bias that all markets are like the US. — Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) June 19, 2014

Despite the rise of messaging apps and the proliferation of cheaper Android phones, the realm of palm-splitting smartphones and stable 3G or 4G is still an aspiration for hundreds of millions of people across emerging nations in Asia.

Just as ZipDial expanded from India to neighboring Sri Lanka, Jafri says that Flashcall will expand its enterprise offerings and analytics “to cater to market dynamics which are different from the South Asian market” – but no particular market has been identified yet.

At this early stage, the startup is using its own cash but has talked with a number of investors, Jafri says.

-Courtesy: Techinasia

Mobile Ad Startup TapSense Announces Support For Wearable Apps, Starting On Pebble

If you’re building apps for the Pebble smartwatch and other wearable gadgets, startupTapSense hopes to bring you into the wonderful world of mobile advertising.

The company announced today that its mobile ad exchange will support wearable apps, beginning with those in the Pebble appstore. You can see a video demo of an ad below.

However, as you watch the demo (as opposed to the mock-up above), you might notice a lack of actual smartwatches. That’s because TapSense isn’t running ads on the Pebble itself. Instead, it’s helping developers target ads at iOS and Android users who own Pebble devices. The company says those ads will link directly to the promoted apps in the Pebble appstore.

In other words, developers will be able to promote their apps through the same sorts of ads used by other mobile developers. TapSense founder and CEO Ash Kumar added that Pebble’s store (where users find apps on their phones, and those apps are then synced with their smartwatches) exemplifies a model where the smartphone becomes the hub for your other wearable devices.

Having that hub is important, he suggested, because “the wearables market will remain fragmented for some time,” without any one device dominating.

To a certain extent, this may be a bit of experiment, allowing TapSense to explore wearables and giving them a leg up when and off the market really takes off. Looking ahead, Kumar said he plans to support other wearable apps in the same way. He started with Pebble because of its reach and the diversity of apps (more than 3,000).

Kumar also said that, as far as he knows, TapSense is the first mobile ad company to build this kind of Pebble support. (I emailed Pebble for confirmation but haven’t heard back.)

And yes, eventually he’d like to run ads within those wearable apps, too, particularly as they provide an opportunity to deliver real-time, relevant advertising that’s much better than “annoying banner ads.”

Virtualizing Wide Area Networks, VeloCloud Rings Up $21 Million

Add networking to the list of technologies that are moving to the cloud. Long the purview of networking giants like Cisco and Juniper, wide area networks can now be delivered as a service thanks to companies like VeloCloud Networks, which has launched from stealth mode with $21 million in financing from some of the venture capital industry’s heaviest hitters.

The Los Altos, Calif.-based company sells services that optimize network usage for businesses. The technology allows mobile users and branch offices to use their networks in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible, according to VeloCloud CEO Sanjay Uppal.

“There are two areas that Moore’s Law has not yet reached… batteries and the wide area network,” Uppal says, referring to the maxim that computing power basically doubles every two years. While private networks cost roughly $200 per megabit per second per month, the cost of internet service is 100 times less expensive, according to Uppal.

“What we’re trying to do is use that Internet that costs $2 per megabit per second along with the private wide area network to expand the choices for the customer,” says Uppal.

It’s a project that VeloCloud has been working on for the past two years. Initially incubated by the networking startup incubator The Fabric, VeloCloud raised a seed round in November 2012, followed by a $5 million commitment from NEA. Venrock came in to lead the $15 million Series B, which closed just over a month before the company’s launch from stealth.

While the thought of a virtualized wide area network might not mean much to most people, the possibility of driving down networking costs is a big draw for big, distributed businesses. VeloCloud already has 20 customers in beta, and these are all large businesses with lots of sites around the country, according to Uppal.

“We use deep packet inspection… We understand each one of the 2,000 applications that are coming from branch officers and assessing which line is best suited to transmit the information,” Uppal says.

For NEA general partner Krishna “Kittu” Kolluri, the virtualization of networking is just another example of an enterprise application winging its way into the cloud.

Just like his portfolio company, Storvisor, is virtualizing storage, VeloCloud is virtualizing the network, says Kolluri. “When I first joined NEA about eight years back, there weren’t a lot of interesting things happening in the security and networking area,” he says. “Now the lines between computing, storage and networking are — if not getting erased — blurring significantly.”

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

 

Learning Platform Declara Raises $9M, Sets Sights On Asia

Declara, a startup that focuses on building tech for personalized learning tools, has raised $9 million from Linden Venture Fund and Singapore-based EDBI. This brings its total Series A funding to $25 million. The company first secured $16 million, led by GSV Capital, in April and it plans to open an office in Singapore as part of its plan to distribute Declara’s platform to Asia.

Declara
Declara’s technology include customized learning tools for individual students by combining semantic search, predictive analytics, and machine learning to build a learning platform that it calls the “Cognitive Graph,” which looks at how users interact with data based on their Internet activity, including searches; interactions on social network; and content that they read. Then the platform creates a “learning map” with personalized course material for each person. It is based in Palo Alto and currently has offices in Boise, Idaho and Mexico.

The company’s platform is currently used by several schools, universities, and organizations to supplement courses. These include Educational Services Australia, which uses Declara to help teachers to learn new skills; Snidicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE), Mexico’s largest teacher union, which is using Declara to help train 1.6 million teachers and administrators; the University of Pennsylvania; and Genentech.

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

ActiveShehri.com – Aims to Help Pakistanis become Better (& Happier) Citizens

Active-Shehri-Citizen
The new social portal, by the citizens for the citizens, wants you to stop blaming the government for everything and help yourselves to make this country a better place to live in.

Uzair Ahmad, the Founder of ActiveShehri.com, is an M.Phil student, a full-time employee and above all a responsible Pakistani citizen. He participated in Code for Pakistan’s Hackathon and built a prototype of ‘Active Shehri (Citizen)’ a portal to facilitate and educate the citizens. The site was officially launched last night, June 9, 2014 and is up and running now.

The basic purpose of the social startup is to provide an online platform where people can report (personal, community and development) issues related to them and/or their area. Secondly, the portal is planning to create awareness among the citizens on a wide variety of subjects from “The process of applying for a domicile” to things like “How to file an FIR (police report)” so that they don’t have to rely on agents or third parties. Moreover, the site is going to offer a free directory of contact information of concerned authorities and departments so that the people can directly get in touch with them in case a related issue arises.

There was a time when people used to sit together and discuss the problems and issues facing the community or its individuals. Now, with the popularity of internet (and due to some other factors), members of a community are more distant than ever. Active Shehri wants to minimize that distance and unite people back again to combat the societal (and other) problems.” – Uzair Ahmad

Personal issues could include problems like a person not being able to afford to provide education for his children. Now as much as it is the duty of the parents to take care of their child’s needs, it is also the responsibility of the neighbors and the society to help those who are in need. Pakistan is already considered one of the most charitable nations in the world. However, people are more willing to help when they know where their donated money is going to. With Active Shehri the location of the needy would be shared online so that the people in that area who are able and willing to help can get in touch with them. This will help societies and communities to better sustain themselves without any external aid.

The community issues section, encompasses areas like health and sanitation requests, parking problems and appeals, crime reporting. Anyone can report an issue on the behalf of the community and Active Shehri will do its best to forward the application to the concerned authorities and seek its resolution.

Coming to the development issues, this category can include things like an application of appeal about the need of a development project in an area. People can also use the Active Shehri portal to report a developmental project that came to a halt in the middle, like a school that is built and complete but isn’t functional. Once the problem is brought into the notice concerned higher authorities and officials, things are likely get back on track soon.

How is this Going to Work?

Nope, the Active Shehri team doesn’t have a Gennie in a bottle that will magically grant all your wishes and provide all the solutions. The team is composed of regular human beings, like you and I, with a little extra sense of civil responsibility.

The team has been in talks with authorities ( like the Chief of Civil Services Academy as well as other influential bodies) and the media (e.g. local news channel City42) for a while now. Their idea is to form network of people & authorities and involve media bodies to assist the citizens with their problems, make them better aware and more empowered to help themselves and each other. So far the startup is only covering Lahore and its constituencies and sub areas.

The site features cluster reports and textual that show the status and details of issues reported through the portal, including the total issues reported, the ones in progress and the number of successfully completed and resolved reports.

TechJuice thinks that it is about time someone took such a civil initiative. We hope that this project grows and flourishes successfully and wish the Active Shehri team the very best of luck in executing all their plans!

-Courtesy: Techjuice.pk

The 1 Thing That Can Save Your Sinking Startup

Startups are inherently chaotic. Rapid shifts in business models is what differentiates startups from established companies.

Pivots – a term coined by Eric Ries – are the essence of entrepreneurship and the key to startup success. If you can’t pivot — quickly — chances are you will fail.

“Pivoting” is when you change a fundamental part of the business model. It can be as simple as recognizing that your product was priced incorrectly. It can be more complex if you find the your target customer or users need to change or the feature set is wrong or you need to “repackage” a monolithic product into a family of products or you chose the wrong sales channel or your customer acquisition programs were ineffective.

As a founder, you need to prepare yourself to think creatively and independently, because more often than not, conditions on the ground will change so rapidly that your original well-thought-out business model will quickly become irrelevant.

-Courtesy: Entrepreneur.com

 

Logistics Company aCommerce Raises $10.7M Series A To Serve Southeast Asia’s Booming E-Commerce Market

aCommerce, a regional end-to-end e-commerce logistics and service provider for Southeast Asia, has closed a Series A funding round of $10.7 million. According to the company, this is the largest Series A for a Thailand-based startup and one of the largest Series A rounds in Southeast Asia to date.

The funding was organized by founding investor Ardent Capital, and led by Inspire Ventures, a Bangkok-based firm, with participation from NTT DOCOMO; Sumitomo Corporation Equity Asia Limited; Sinar Mas Indonesia; Asia Pacific Digital; Cyberagent Ventures; and JL Capital, as well as angel investors and executive staff.

Paul Srivorakul, regional CEO of aCommerce, explains logistics in Southeast Asia is challenging for vendors because the market is extremely diverse with multiple distribution channels. Low credit card penetration also means customers in up to 90% of local markets prefer cash-on-delivery payments.

“Southeast Asia is made up of many different countries, laws, languages, currencies, and complicated geographically, like the Philippines and Indonesia islands. We make it easy for brands and retailers to sell online by providing ‘turnkey’ end-to-end e-commerce services and products across the region, from customs, web development, and digital marketing to local language customer service support, payments, fulfillment, and collection-on-delivery,” he says.

“We also help brands acquire and manage the end customer and provide them with deep data/analytics across the entire customer experience and touch point, i.e. tracking everything from content/marketing all the way to packing orders and collecting payment/delivery.”

Founded in June 2013, aCommerce has four offices with fulfillment centers and over 250 employees in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Their Series A will enable aCommerce to expand its logistics infrastructure, delivery fleet, technology platform, and channel management in each of its current markets and seek partnerships with other logistics and e-commerce companies.

aCommerce will also invest in customs clearance, FDA certification, and local business operating licenses for international companies that want to break into the Southeast Asia market. The company already provides services for brands like cosmetics conglomerate L’Oreal; HP; Line Chat; and Groupon.

Srivorakul compares Southeast Asia’s e-commerce market to China back in 2010, “which means the market is about to explode.”

Despite Internet penetration of about 25% in Southeast Asia and mobile penetration as high as 40% in certain markets, e-commerce is still less than 1% of the total retail market, he says, while advertising is roughly 3% of total ad spending, or $18 billion across the Southeast Asia region. The Southeast Asian e-commerce market was worth about $4.5 billion in 2014 and will grow to about $6 billion in 2015, Srivorakul says.

Alibaba recently invested $249 billion in Singpost, which was formerly the state postal service for Singapore, but has recently repositioned itself as a profit-generating entity with a logistics network that extends across Southeast Asia.

Singpost competes with aCommerce in terms of order fulfillment and delivery, but aCommerce differentiates with services like channel management and Popshop, a platform that sends brands’ products to first- or third-party websites, apps, and marketplaces. It also offers cash-on-delivery in markets that Singpost doesn’t or has low penetration in, like Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, Srivorakul says.

“Singpost has always had more capital than us (i.e. a market cap of $3 billion) so them raising more money isn’t going to change much. It’s all about execution and we think we have the advantage because of our passion, local experience, tech, local teams, and head start.”

Additional competitors include delivery services like DHL. On the other hand, aCommerce see e-commerce companies with their own logistics networks, like Rocket Internet’s Lazada, as a “channel management partner to feed and manage our clients’ brands and products in their Marketplace.”

“I think the market is too small to really take any competitor too seriously because I think it’s still early and we need to work with everyone to grow the market as a whole rather than undercut each other for a small share,” he adds.

Part of the funding will be used to “re-invent the last-mile customer experience for receiving a package and choosing their preferred payment at their doorstep.

Srivorakul says this means aCommerce’s “delivery fleet will function as an extension of our customer service and they will be equipped with smartphones with our software that is connected to our cloud platform to plan their delivery routes, get help from our dispatcher, communicate with the end customer, process cash or credit card payment, and handle questions, returns, or complaints at the door. We have to scale up with technology and physical staff until credit card penetration increases and customers are more comfortable with online transactions in our markets.”

In a statement, Tom Kim, partner and co-founder of Inspire Ventures, said “In just one year, aCommerce has built a stacked team of players from Amazon, Walmart, DHL, eBay, Apple, Oracle, McKinsey, Microsoft, and Rocket Internet and expanded into four robust Southeast Asian markets. With their global experience and local expertise, we are confident in this team’s ability to execute and become the dominant e-commerce solutions provider in the region. E-commerce is growing rapidly, and these guys are well positioned to capitalize on this disruptive global trend.”

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

Singapore’s Fastacash collects an extra $3.5M in funding to help make payments social

fastacash screen

Singapore’s Fastacash collects an extra $3.5M in funding to help make payments social June 6, 2014at 4:52 pmby Josh Horwitz Share 3025450 Fastacash, the Singapore-based payments startup, announced today it raised US$3.5 million in funding from Jagdish Chanrai, principal at the Kewalram Chanrai Group and Golden Orile Investments, along with prior investors Jungle Ventures, Spring SEEDS Capital, and Funding the Future. The round will top up the company’s funding to US$8 million.

Fastacash lets people send money to friends and family over popular social networks. A user who might want to send US$20 to a relative, for example, might log into Fastacash’s mobile app, input the sum of money to send, and then direct the cash to Aunt Susie’s Facebook. The next time Aunt Susie checks Facebook Messenger, she’ll receive a link that takes her either to her own Fastacash app or a web app, through which she accepts the transfer.

Fastacash provides accounts both to consumers, who might use it to pay for last night’s drinks, or companies, who might use it to give coupons to customers. Virtual goods, music, and images can also be transferred through Fastacash.

The company also revealed it formed strategic partners with a number of payment providers around the world, including Skrill, India’s Oxigen, Russia’s Mobi.Dengi, Kenya’s Imperial Bank, and Vietnam’s Techom Bank.

The social payments space – and the payments industry in general – remains crowded with young startups, none of whom have emerged as a globally dominant player. Venmo once looked to be at the forefront of a then-nascent wave of mobile payment startups, but it’s been relatively quiet following its acquisition by Braintree in 2012. Square also has its own person-to-person payments feature, though that company appears to be facing some growth hurdles. Old standbys like Google and Paypal also have their hats in the ring. Fastacash appears to bet that remaining platform agnostic, useful for brands, and relatively low-fi (you’re basically just sending out a link) will help win over users.

-Courtesy: Techinasia

Domestic helper marketplace Cabara gets $50,000 seed funding, preps Middle East expansion

cabara website

Is there demand for an online marketplace for domestic helpers in Indonesia? Cabara thinks so. The team has received a fresh US$50,000 of seed funding from Abu Dhabi-based Bin Awas General Services to continue developing the business in Indonesia.

Cabara plans to use the money for web development, mobile app creation, strengthening the team, and to enter the Middle Eastern market – starting with Abu Dhabi.

Co-founder Faisal Rizal says that since its inception in October 2011, Cabara has sent out 1,350 helpers to domestic and overseas households. Bin Awas itself is a job recruitment service that wants to strengthen its offerings in the domestic helper sector with the Cabara platform in Indonesia and the Middle East markets.

Cabara is one of the startups that competed at Startup Arena Jakarta in 2012. Most of Cabara’s business is done offline at the moment, but the team plans to revive its online platform soon.

There are 53 million domestic workers around the world, with about 41 percent of them working in the Asia-Pacific region. Asia’s domestic workers, mostly women, tend to come from countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

-Courtesy: Techinasia

Filipinos living overseas now have a more convenient way to pay for their families’ education back home

PhilSmile

Philippine education payment startup PhilSmile announced it received an undisclosed amount of seed funding from international airtime remittance service TransferTo CEO and founder Eric Barbier.

Soft-launched in February, PhilSmile taps on a potentially huge market – overseas Filipino workers – for an educational payment system. The service lets individuals abroad pay for their children’s or relatives’ school fees, with the choice of making a one-time total payment or breaking the cost into multiple payments.

By partnering with Philippine schools and universities, it offers direct-to-school payments and removes the need for third-party platforms in settling school fees. By allowing users to pay the fees in small amounts on a weekly basis, people can more easily save up for their families’ education. PhilSmile CEO Camille Krejci explains:

“The weekly payment works as stairway steps, where overseas Filipinos can pay a small amount at a time. It’s especially useful when their contract ends before the next school year. They can contribute when they earn well overseas and avoid gaps.”

Following this funding, PhilSmile is set to expand its network of partners and clients. It aims to grow its partner schools in the Philippines while also building partner merchants and payment platforms in different countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, the US, the UK and Dubai. To do this, it will tap on TransferTo’s network of participating merchants which currently has a distribution network of more than 200,000 points of sale.

It also aims to grow its customer base through various community-driven activities, such as financial literacy and self-empowerment workshops overseas and in the Philippines.

In 2013, Filipinos living overseas sent a total of US$25.1 billion in remittances to their families. From this number, according data gathered by PhilSmile, five percent – or about US$1.3 billion – was spent on education.

-Courtesy: Techinasia