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Asia Tech Review: April 1 2019

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Welcome back, April 1, April's Fools' Day, personally one of my least favourite as a reporter as comp
 
April 1 · Issue #108 · View online
Asia Tech Review
Welcome back,
April 1, April’s Fools’ Day, personally one of my least favourite as a reporter as companies release the HiLaRiOuS prank stories that they’ve spent months working and they think people will love – some even release these deeply unfunny efforts ahead of time. Take Ola, Uber’s rival in India, and its new ‘Restrooms’ service. I don’t want to sound grumpy, but I was happy to hear that Microsoft has banned April 1 jokes this year… still there will no doubt be a deluge of spoofs from Google and others today. It’s funny because the only time we ever cover these efforts with zeal is when they backfire – example, Google’s silly GIF thing a few years ago – that’s the kind of press nobody wants.
On to this week’s update.

💰 Is OMG being sold? 💰
This is not a crypto newsletter, but one of the most interesting stories of the week did come from that world and it dropped very late on Friday. Crypto news site The Block reported that Omise and OMG (its crypto sibling) have been acquired by Thailand-based conglomerate CP for something in the region of $150 billion.
On paper, a very interesting deal.
The Block describes CP as “Thailand’s richest company” but it is really a lot more than that. It’s a hugely powerful corporation that is one of the world’s largest conglomerates. Its assets include 7-Eleven in Thailand (already huge), its own CP Foods brand, KFC, telecom/internet giant True, Thailand’s Tesco Lotus offshoot and much much more. It’s pretty much impossible to go a day without bumping into CP, let alone putting money into its coffers.
Why is CP interested in a payment gateway company and its blockchain based payment system (OMG) which doesn’t even have a product in market right now?
According to The Block and its sources, the reported deal is part of “a concerted effort to take over companies that could use crypto for payments; including a large agricultural division.”
At this point, I should point out that Omise is denying the report.
Also read: An overview of Omise’s response link
Omise
Omise (Payment Gateway) has NOT been acquired by any company.

A recent article published by The Block, made false claims that we were recently acquired by CP Group.

We would like to confirm that this information is false.

For any further queries please reach us at pr@omise.co
1:32 PM - 30 Mar 2019
I know Omise quite well and, as of yet, I haven’t been able to verify the report based on conversations with the existing team, past team, investors and the startup community in Thailand in general. But, to me, there are some things off.
Omise’s founders don’t need the money – they are already independently wealthy after raising millions for the original gateway business and then via the OMG ICO and (likely) other crypto investments.
Selling to CP ends the project – OMG has taken a lot of heat over the last year for not fulfilling the expectations of its ICO ‘investors.’ That’s pretty common across the board for crypto, where many companies set outlandish/aggressive/naive goals for ventures that, in reality, take years to reach fruition. OMG is a particularly ambitious project that aims to make a payment network that is entirely open and free, so bye-bye Visa etc. 18 months after the ICO, which was also hyped up by the presence of a number of leading crypto figures who are working on the project, there’s precious little to show so selling right now would effectively end OMG’s independence and focus before the team has shipped anything.
CP will kill Omise/OMG entirely – some people pontificated on Twitter that the (so-called) deal is a win for crypto, but I think it is actually the opposite. Yes, CP is working on payments via True and its Ascend business, but the likelihood is that any deal to acquire Omise/OMG would be primary for its assets and not to keep the project going. CP, a virtual monopoly, isn’t exactly an ideal home for a project that wants to develop an open and free payment network.
CP has already had involvement with Omise/OMG, True is one early backer of OMG and, as I understand it, the founding team have held talks with true Dhanin Chearavanont, to the point that he invested in OMG and 'bought’ into the overall concept of crypto thanks to their pitch.
Yes, it makes for an intriguing story – and various members of The Block have argued on Twitter that this deal is happening – but I’m healthily skeptical at this point.
Also read: An overview of Omise’s response link
🚕 Grab Financial may go independent 🚕
A little scoop from me that Grab is holding talks with potential investors that include PayPal and Alibaba’s Ant Financial as it considers a spinout of its financial services business.
The rationale is as you’d expect, Grab is going deeper into financial services – payments, loans, insurance, cross-border remittance, etc – so it is figuring out whether increased independence for Grab Financial might help that push.
I find it fascinating that PayPal, which missed Asia’s payment revolution altogether, and Ant, which is building ecosystems across Asia, might be involved.
PayPal is noticeably increasing its presence in Southeast Asia, I’ve noticed new hires, a greater presence at events and more. Getting on board with Grab, which has e-money licenses in the region’s six largest markets, makes absolute sense for PayPal and I’m sure it can offer Grab help on product or with advice.
Ant, meanwhile, is an even more logical partner. Alibaba has previously held talks about investing in Grab but it never happened. The fintech angle here works better still since it aligns with Ant’s investments in Southeast Asia, where it has done deals in nearly every market.
A spinout could happen in the coming months so we’ll have to wait and see.
China
Huawei tops $100 billion revenue for first time despite political headwinds
Related read: But this UK report is quite scathing on potential Huawei deployments link
A really great read on Meituan and the growth of food delivery in China link
Google is conducting a ‘performance review’ of its Dragonfly project link
The Chinese parent of gay dating app Grindr is apparently selling after pressure from the US government link
Bitmain won’t go public yet after its Hong Kong IPO submission expired link
Regulators want to 'clean up’ online ads in China (link) and to restrict addictive video apps (link)
Something I didn’t know: Chinese newspapers offer censorship services to clients, and it is highly lucrative link
Xiaomi teased another look at its foldable phone prototype link
💸Deals 💸 Baidu’s iQiyi streaming service raised $1.1B through convertible bond sale (link) Airwallex raised $100M at a valuation of over $1B (link) Alibaba acquired productivity company Teambition in an undisclosed deal (link), Alibaba invested $171M in news app Qutoutiao, a Nasdaq listed company backed by Tencent (link), crowdfunding platform Shuidichou raised $74M (link) Google-backed Mobvoi is raising $100M at a $1B valuation ahead of a potential IPO (link) Hong Kong’s Qupital raised $15M for its SME loan service (link), social commerce startup Yunji is raising $200M in a US IPO (link)
India
Ola is raising $500M to offer rental car service
Related read: Ola is distancing itself from SoftBank, which is an existing investor link
PayTM is reportedly raising another $2 billion at a valuation that could reach $18 million link
An insightful look at OYO’s growth in China link (🔒 paywalled) OYO is also said to be going after its first China-based acquisition link
Y Combinator is conducting interviews in India for its accelerator program for the first time link
A look at why WhatsApp is struggling to introduce payments in India link
TikTok now has a safety center in India that covers 10 local languages link
Streaming app Bigo has a lewd side in India link
McKinsey’s new ‘Digital India’ report link
💸Deals 💸 BigBasket is now a unicorn after raising $150M (link), bus aggregator Shuttl raises $7.2M (link), Zomato is reportedly in talks to buy Google-backed Dunzo (link), 'live commerce’ startup Bulbul is reportedly raising $5M (link)
Japan
Rakuten has made a killing from Lyft's IPO
Kaz Hirai, the man who turned Sony around, is retiring link
Meanwhile, Sony is downsizing its mobile division with job cuts expected link
Line has a new co-CEO, also its “chief WOW officer” who is tasked with keeping it nimble and going after financial services link (🔒 paywalled)
Korea
Crypto exchange Bithumb hacked for $13M in what could be an inside job
Southeast Asia
The FT is buying another media startup: Deal Street Asia
Philippines journalist Maria Ressa, a prominent critic of President Duterte, is arrested again link
A look at “buzzers” who spread news and information on social media ahead of Indonesia’s election link
Audio report: Despite concerns, Thailand is working with Huawei on 5G link
Grab’s new Singapore office will house 3,000 staff as headcount looks set to double link
A look at the race to become Indonesia’s top mobile wallet: GoPay and Grab-affiliated OVO link
Apple is reportedly opening two more stores in Singapore link
💸Deals 💸 Student housing startup OxfordCaps raised $8 million (link) loyalty startup Perx raised $5 million (link), Deliveroo is reportedly trying to sell its business in Singapore (link)
Outside of Asia Tech
Apple canceled its wireless charging mat nearly two years after announcing it link
Jumia, which become Africa’s first unicorn, is going public on the NYSE link
Buying a new Apple laptop is still a big risk thanks to its dodgy keyboard link
Photo of the week
A simulation of space debris created when an Indian missile destroyed a satellite last week (via Analytical Graphics)
That's all for now, see you next week!
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