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Asia Tech Review: March 11 2019

Welcome back! I'm on a much-needed vacation this week so next week's email might be a little lighter
March 11 · Issue #106 · View online
Asia Tech Review
Welcome back!
I’m on a much-needed vacation this week so next week’s email might be a little lighter than usual.
Once I’m back, though, I will be in Singapore for Money20/20, so if you’re planning to be at the event or in town at that time, let me know. Perhaps we can arrange a small gathering if enough people are interested.
I’m still figuring out the new format – there was no email last week for those who were looking for it – but I hope this week’s offering is more readable. Some people had suggested that the previous issue was too long, truly a first for me!
See you next week!

💰 The Vision Fund marches on 💰
SoftBank’s Vision Fund isn’t was rocked in October when it emerged that Saudi Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, head of key LP PIF, likely ordered the gruesome killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Less than six months later, the fund looks to have navigated the outreach and normal service has resumed.
In fact, the Vision Fund has never moved faster: its last six months have its most brisk period for dealmaking with over 21 investments secured… and March still isn’t done yet.
Data from Crunchbase
Data from Crunchbase
That’s more than the previous year combined and it fueled by an uptick in Asia where the fund has backed Coupang, Tokopedia, OYO and others in massive billion-dollar deals. The most recent came last week when Grab landed a $1.48 billion check, a deal I had reported at the end of last year, at a valuation of $14 billion.
The Vision Fund has been busy building out a team – it is reportedly opening offices across Asia – and SoftBank is working to transition its portfolio over to the fund, too, so this rush of deals is to be expected. But what continues to shock me is the fact that companies will take this money and make light of the fact that this capital – which often goes to subsidies or consumer giveaways – comes from a regime that murders dissenting voices. The success of their companies stands to benefit said regime, too.
I wrote a fair lengthy story on this because I’m disappointed people have stopped asking questions and we’ve come to accept that a big check trumps ethics.
The Khashoggi murder isn’t stopping SoftBank’s Vision Fund
In case you thought any other option wasn’t possible, this week it was reported that a US talent agency returned a $400 million investment over Khashoggi’s murder.
🚲 China's global bike sharing dream is over 🚲
Forget WeChat or Alibaba, bike-sharing apps were once the first time Chinese tech companies had a credit shot at making it overseas.
Back in 2017, they were the big thing in tech. Mobike and Ofo pulled in close to $1 billion each, mostly during 2017, to fuel ambitious international expansions that would take their cheap bikes, which unlocked via an app, across Asia and into the US and Europe.
Those dreams are now in tatters are both Ofo and Mobike are in retreat mode.
As an independent company, Ofo was always likely to suffer as the funding dried up, but Mobike – acquired by delivery giant Meituan for $2.6B last year – seemed like it could at least test the model courtesy of a well-funded parent.
Well, the test looks like it’s over. My TechCrunch colleague Rita Liao reported last week that Mobike has instituted the first step of a major restructuring which will see Mobike’s business limited to China.
Bike-sharing pioneer Mobike is retreating to China
That begins with the laying off of (what is left of) its APAC team. That’ll be followed by the removal of bikes from markets in APAC, as well as those overseas. Mobike has already scaled back in a range of markets in North America, Europe and parts of Asia, too, so these remaining countries were its final stand where it seemed to have a shot at being profitable.
It sure has been a wild ride.
News across the region
What happened in tech news across Asia last week.
From blockbuster bonuses to pink slips: China’s tech industry nurses a hangover
Huawei is suing the US government link
Google employees are said to have discovered the company is still working on that China search engine project, despite past reports to the contrary link
Hundreds of millions of chat logs from Chinese users leaked online – unclear where they came from or how they are being used link
ByteDance is reportedly planning a rival service to Slack link
State-backed startups are challenging leaders in ride-hailing and P2P lending link launched a service on Google’s US shopping site link
Mark Zuckerberg has apparently admitted defeat re China link
💸Deals 💸 Shared housing startup Danke raised $500M from Tiger Global and Ant Financial (link), influencer network Ruhnn – which includes Alibaba among its investors – is going public in the US (link) and China’s YY acquired Bigo to go after overseas streaming audiences link
Politics, pornography and Pakistan: the wild west of India’s WhatsApp groups
YouTube is trying to debunk false information on YouTube through a trial that will initially operate in India link
OYO, known for its budget hotels network, is said to be getting into co-working link
Indian media is finally embracing subscriptions (link)
I wrote about Skill-Lync, an interesting and bootstrapped company helping mechanic engineers get employment and skills (link)
💸Deals 💸 Ola span out its EV business and it raised $56M from investors (link), Ola is apparently raising $300M from Hyundai (link), Tencent is reportedly in talks to lead a $200M investment in TikTok rival ShareChat (link), SoftBank invested $350M into Delhivery (link), Razorpay is reportedly close to raising $75M (link), Delivery Hero invested $50M in Zomato and bought its UAE business for $172M (link), SME Corner raised $12.5M (link) and Dunzo is said to be finalizing a $20M raise (link)
500 Startups Japan becomes Coral Capital with a new $45M fund
💸Deals 💸Sony’s VC arm led a $2.2M deal for Aroma Bit, which develops digital smell sensors that help you ‘see’ smells (link)
Yello Mobile, once Korea's first unicorn, is on the cusp of collapse
Kakao has agreed to limit its carpooling app to four hours per day (link) and also launched an electric bicycle sharing service (link)
Kakao is joined by SoCar, the car sharing service, which has invested in electric bike startup Nine2One (link)
Southeast Asia
Sea is raising up to $1.5B for its Shopee e-commerce business
Further reading: Analysis of Shopee’s potential to be profitable (link) and an interview with the newly-appointed head of Alibaba’s rival Lazada service link
Ride-hailing wars: Grab closed a $1.5B investment from the Vision Fund (link) and Go-Jek added $100M to its ongoing round (aimed at least $2B) (link) and it is said to be in talks with Philippines conglomerate Ayala link
AirAsia announced a fund targeting at $60M to help global companies enter Southeast Asia link
Quest Ventures has a new fund aimed at $50M link
Procter & Gamble committed $8.8M towards new business developments in Singapore, including internal startup funding link
Facebook banned political advertising from overseas ahead of Indonesia’s April 17 Presidential poll link
Singapore is getting driverless electric buses link
💸Deals 💸health platform Halodoc raised $65M from UOB, Singtel and others (link) and luxury fashion platform BlinQ raised $2M link
Outside of Asia Tech
Airbnb, the notorious hotel industry villain that’s reportedly going public soon, acquired last-minute booking service Hotel Tonight link
Sam Altman is stepping down as the CEO of Y Combinator – he’ll instead be its president and there’s no plan to appoint a successor link
SoftBank announced a $5 billion fund for Latin America – SoftBank has committed $2B with more to come from investors link
Photo of the week
It has been a rough ride for Sea since it went public in October 2017
It has been a rough ride for Sea since it went public in October 2017
Closing thought
🇮🇩 RIP Wall Street Journal’s Jakarta bureau 🇮🇩
Stephen Wright
Very sad news. WSJ to close its Jakarta bureau. Part of a Southeast Asia restructuring that withdraws a respected source of business & economic news from the region's largest economy and centralizes operations in the most sterile place, Singapore.
This news speaks volumes about the struggle of traditional media in today’s digital world, and how low Southeast Asia sits on the global priorities list.
Jakarta is one of the world’s largest cities, and the capital of the world’s fourth most populous country which is also the largest economy in Southeast Asia, a region that is showing strong growth signs.
This is also presidential election year in the country.
Yet, the changes will mean that Journal’s team will sit out of Singapore. That’s a big loss to the region, which needs quality reporting on the ground and through local sources and networks.
That's all for now, see you next week!
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