China’s Didi beefs up its newly-independent car services business with an acquisition

A week after spinning out its driver services business and giving it $1 billion in investment capital, Didi Chuxing has added to it through an acquisition.

Xiaoju Automobile Solutions (XAS), which the Didi spinout is called, announced today it has bought Hiservice, a three-year-old company that provides after-service care for car owners using a digital platform.

The deal was undisclosed, but XAS said that Hiservice will be combined with its maintenance and repair division to form a new unit that’s focused on car-owner services such as maintenance, parts and components. That’ll be called Xiaoju Auto Care (小桔养车) for those of you who are keeping up with the names of these Didi subsidiaries.

That auto care business will be jointly run by Yinbo Yi, who had run Didi’s auto care business, and Hiservice founder Cheng Qian, Didi confirmed. The new business claims 28 physical maintenance centers across seven cities in Asia.

Didi’s move to create XAS, which removes an asset-heavy business from the core Didi books, is seen by many as a sign that the company plans to go public soon. Unsurprisingly, Didi isn’t commenting on that at this point. The company was last valued at $56 billion when it raised a $4 billion round late last year — it has since added a $500 million strategic investment from travel company Booking Holdings.

While it is organizing its China-based business, Didi has also spent this year expanding into new markets. It has launched in Mexico, Australia and Taiwan while it acquired Uber rival 99 in Brazil. It is also edging close to launching a taxi-booking service in Japan via a joint venture with SoftBank.

Fast-growing Chinese media startup ByteDance is raising $2.5B-$3B more

Fast-growing Chinese media startup ByteDance is looking to raise as much as $3 billion to continue growth for its empire of mobile-based entertainment apps, which include news aggregator Toutiao and video platform Tiktok.

The Beijing-based startup is in early-stage talks with investors to raise $2.5 billion to $3 billion, according to a source with knowledge of the plans. That investment round could value ByteDance as high as $75 billion, although the source stressed that the valuation is a target and it might not be reached.

It’s audacious, but if that lofty goal is reached then ByteDance would become the world’s highest-valued startup ahead of the likes of Didi Chuxing ($56 billion) and Uber ($62 billion). Only Ant Financial has raised at a higher valuation, but the company is an affiliate of Alibaba and therefore not your average ‘startup.’

The Wall Street Journal first broke news of the ByteDance investment plan.

But there’s more: Earlier this week, the Financial Times cited sources who indicate that ByteDance is keen to go public in Hong Kong with an IPO slated to happen next year.

ByteDance is best-known for Toutiao, its news aggregator app that claims 120 million daily users, while it also operates a short-video platform called Douyin. The latter is known as TikTok overseas and it counts 500 million active users. TikTok recently merged with Musical.ly, the app that’s popular in the U.S. and was acquired by ByteDance for $1 billion, in an effort aimed at combining both userbases to create an app with global popularity.

The firm also operates international versions of Toutiao, including TopBuzz and NewsRepublic while it is an investor in streaming app Live.me.

The company’s growth has been mercurial but it has also come with problems as the company entered China’s tech spotlight and became a truly mainstream service in China.

ByteDance had its knuckles wrapped by authorities at the beginning of the year after it was deemed to have inadequately policed content on its platform. Then in April, its ‘Neihan Duanzi’ joke app was shuttered following a government order while Toutiao was temporarily removed from app stores. It returns days later after the company had grown its content team to 10,000 staff and admitted that some content it had hosted “did not accord with core socialist values and was not a good guide for public opinion.”

India’s Uber rival Ola is headed to Europe with ride-hailing launch in the UK

The UK is getting a new alternative to Uber after India-based ride-hailing company Ola announced plans to expand to the country, which will become its first market in Europe.

Ola was founded in 2010 and it covers over 110 cities in India where it offers licensed taxis, private hire cars and rickshaws through a network of over one million drivers. The company has raised around $3 billion from investors that include SoftBank, Chinese duo Tencent and Didi Chuxing and DST Global . It was last valued at $7 billion. Ola ventured overseas for the first time when it launched in Australia earlier this year — it is now in seven cities there — and its move into the UK signals a further expansion into Europe.

Ola’s UK service isn’t live right now, but the company said it will begin offering licensed taxi and private hire bookings initially in South Wales and Greater Manchester “soon.” Ola plans to expand that coverage nationwide before the end of this year. That will eventually mean taking on Uber and potentially Taxify another unicorn startup backed by Didi which is looking to relaunch in the UK — in London and other major cities.

So, why the UK?

Ola CEO and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal called the country “a fantastic place to do business” and added that he “look[s] forward to providing a responsible, compelling, new service that can help the country meet its ever demanding mobility needs.”

It’s no secret that Uber has struggled in London, where its gung-ho attitude to business — ‘launch first, apologize later’ — has seen it run into issues with regulators. Uber (just about) won a provisional 15-month transport license earlier this year following an appeal against the city’s transportation regulator, Transport for London (TfL) earlier rejected its application.

The’ New Uber’ — under CEO Dara Khosrowshahi — is trying to right the wrongs of the past, but compliance with regulators takes time and requires wholesale changes to business, operations and company culture.

Ola isn’t commenting directly on its rivalry with Uber — we did ask, but got a predictable “no comment” — but the tone of its announcement today shows it is focused on being a more collaborative player than Uber.

Indeed, there’s been much groundwork. Aggarwal met with regulators in London last year and he said in a statement released today that he plans “continued engagement with policymakers and regulators” as the Ola service expands across the UK.

International expansion is very much part of Ola’s ambition to go public, which Aggarwal recently said could happen in the next three to four years. But Ola isn’t alone in looking overseas. Didi, the firm that defeated Uber in China and has backed Ola, Taxify and many others, has also been busy moving into new markets.

Last year, the firm raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and go overseas and it has come good on that promise by entering MexicoAustralia and Taiwan. It also landed Brazil through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99 and it is preparing to go live in Japan, where it will operate a taxi-booking service through a joint venture with SoftBank.

China’s Didi pumps $1B into its rebranded driver services business

Didi Chuxing is going pedal to the metal for its automobile services business after it announced it will invest $1 billion into the division, which is also getting a rebrand.

The Chinese ride-hailing firm had been tipped to spin out the business and raise $1.5 billion from investors ahead of an IPO, according to a recent Reuters report. The business itself hasn’t spun out, however, but it has been renamed to Xiaoju Automobile Solutions and given more autonomy with the introduction of its own general manager.

The division handles services for registered Didi drivers, such as leasing and purchase financing, insurance, repairs, refueling, car-sharing and more. Essentially, with its huge army of drivers, Didi can get preferential rates from service providers, which means better deals for its drivers. That, in turn, is helpful for recruiting new drivers and growing the business. (Didi claims to support 30 million drivers, but that covers food delivery as well as more basic point-to-point transportation.)

Rather than outsiders — SoftBank had been linked with an investment at a valuation of up to $3 billion — Xiaoju is getting its capital boost direct from Didi. The company said it injected $1 billion to “support its business in providing Didi drivers and the broader car-owner community with convenient, flexible, economical, and reliable one-stop auto services.”

Of course, these factors don’t preclude Didi from spinning the business out in the future and listing it separately to the parent Didi firm. That’s the reasoning Reuters made in its previous story, and it still stands to reason that if Didi is (as widely expected) planning a public listing of its own then it might be keen to break out this asset-heavy part of its business.

Didi didn’t respond to our request for comment on those future plans.

Didi Chuxing’s rebranded Xiaoju driver services division includes a refueling program for its drivers.

The company is saying more about the Xiaoju business itself. It said the services support drivers in over 257 cities through a network of 7,500 partners and distributors. There are some caveats, though: the auto care service is currently limited to seven cities in China.

Didi also went on the record with some financial data. The company claimed that annualized GMV for Xiaoju has jumped from 37 billion RMB ($5.4 billion) in April 2018 to 60 billion RMB ($8.76 billion) as of today. That’s impressive growth of 62 percent, and the forecast is that it will easily pass its previous goal of 90 billion RMB ($13.15 billion) for 2018 before this year is finished.

GMV, in this case, refers to the total value of goods and services crossing the Xiaoju platform. That help gives an idea of how active it is, but it doesn’t translate to revenue or profit/loss for Didi. The company didn’t provide information for either revenue or profitability for Xiaoju.

This year has been a notable one as the company has expanded its horizons for the first time by venturing outside of China.

Last year, Didi raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and move into new markets, and it has come good on that promise by entering MexicoAustralia and Taiwan. It also landed Brazil through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99 and it is preparing to go live in Japan, where it will operate a taxi-booking service through a joint venture with SoftBank.

Beyond that massive $4 billion raise, Didi recently landed a $500 million investment from Booking Holdings that’s aimed at providing strategic alliances between the Didi and the travel giant’s range of services. The company has raised over $17 billion from investors to date and it was last valued at $56 billion.

Grab picks up $2 billion more to fuel growth in post-Uber Southeast Asia

Grab, the ride-hailing service that struck a deal to take Uber out of Southeast Asia, has pulled in $2 billion in new capital as it seeks to go beyond ride-hailing to offer more on-demand services.

The $2 billion figure includes a $1 billion investment from Toyota which was announced in June, and it sees a whole host of institutional investors join the Grab party. Some of those names include OppenheimerFunds, Ping An Capital, Mirae Asset — Naver Asia Growth Fund, Cinda Sino-Rock Investment Management Company, All-Stars Investment, Vulcan Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Macquarie Capital.

The deal values Grab at $11 billion post-money, which is the same as the $10 billion valuation it earned following the Toyota deal. The caliber of investors certainly suggests an IPO is on the cards soon — not that it ever hasn’t been — although the company didn’t comment directly on that when we asked.

This new financing takes Grab to $6 billion from investors. Some of its other notable backers include SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing, which both led a $2 billion round last year which gave Grab the gas to negotiate a deal with Uber that saw the U.S. ride-hailing giant exit Southeast Asia in exchange for a 27.5 percent stake in Grab. From that perspective, the deal was a win-win for both sides.

In this post-Uber world, Grab is transitioning to offer more services beyond just rides. It has long done so, with its own payment service and food deliveries, but it is rolling out a revamped “super app” design that no longer opens to a ride request page and that reflects the changing strategy of the Singapore-based company.

10 July 2018; Tan Hooi Ling, co-Founder, Grab, at a press conference during day one of RISE 2018 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / RISE via Sportsfile

Grab said in a statement today that this new money will go towards that “O2O” [offline-to-online] strategy that turns Grab’s app into a platform that allows traditional, offline services to tap the internet to reach new customers. The trend started out in China, with Alibaba and Tencent among those pushing O2O services, and Grab is determined to be that solution for Southeast Asia’s 650 million consumers.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy with a population of over 260 million, is a key focus for Grab, the company said. The company has been pushed out new financial services in the country, fueled by an acquisition last year, and it claims it is winning “significant market share” with GMV quadrupled in the first half of this year.

With Uber out of the picture, the company’s main rival for the ‘Southeast Asia Super App Crown’ is Go-Jek, the Indonesian on-demand service valued at $5 billion.

Go-Jek has long focused on its home market but this year it unveiled an ambitious plan to expand to three new markets. That kicked off yesterday with a launch in Vietnam, and the company has plans to arrive in Thailand and the Philippines before the end of the year.

Go-Jek has raised over $2 billion and it counts KKR, Warburg Pincus, Google and Chinese duo Tencent and Meituan among its backers.

In Argentina, venture capital surges even as the broader economy stutters

Even as the Argentine government was announcing the biggest slide in the country’s economic output in nearly a decade, technology investors in the nation’s capital are all gearing up for record fundraising years.

Three of the country’s biggest firms (which are still small by international standards) are raising new, exponentially larger, funds in a sign that technology companies are showing promise despite the bleak picture painted by the broader economy in Latin America.

Leading the pack is NXTP Labs, the early stage investor that’s developing a regional network of accelerators and seed investment funds through partnerships that extend from Mexico City to Montevideo and Sao Paulo up to San Francisco. Despite its regional reach, home for NXTP is Buenos Aires and it’s there that the firm began accelerating and investing in early stage companies back in 2011.

NXTP has already had 13 exits, according to Crunchbase, and is perhaps the most mature of the crop of investment firms in the country. It’s also looking to be among the largest as it capitalizes on that track record of exists and a portfolio of investments that has raised follow-on capital of nearly half a billion dollars. 

The firm is currently knocking on doors to raise $120 million, a significant step up from its previous $38.5 million investment vehicle.

NXTP Labs isn’t the only firm based in Argentina that’s looking to significantly expand its capital under management. Jaguar Ventures, a firm that invests in both Argentina and Mexico, and Draper Cygnus, an Argentine-focused, Buenos Aires-based investment firm has already raised roughly $30 million of the $60 million it has targeted for its new fund,

While Cygnus is very much focused on the early-stage Argentine opportunity (which makes sense given the track record of technology companies coming out of the country — and the capital behind the firm) both NXTP and Jaguar have more of a regional perspective. And Jaguar, too, is massively increasing the size of its fund.

While its first fund was only $10 million, the new one will be closer to $60 million, according to one person with knowledge of the firm’s plans.

Behind the surge of confidence in the region’s technology fortunes, despite the economic turmoil that continues to roil the region, is a growing track record of valuable companies — all with a homebase in Latin America’s largest market.

And while Brazil remains the region’s undisputed economic powerhouse, there’re growing numbers of tech giants coming from Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and Chile, investors said.

As Gonzalo Costa, a co-founder of NXTP Labs wrote in an editorial for TechCrunch earlier this week:

For the first time, companies are raising rounds of $100 million plus. 99 (acquired by Didi Chuxing), Nubank and Rappi, have all raised mega rounds in the past two years. Others have raised large rounds, such as Selina and Movile, with $90 million-plus, or Auth0 (part of our portfolio), with $50 million rounds in 2018. But the increase in dollar amounts is not only driven by mega rounds. More than 30 transactions of $3 million or more happened in 2017, which is triple in amount of rounds of that figure when compared to 2016. This shows a market maturity not seen before.

Not only are companies attracting more capital, but entrepreneurs are launching companies across a dizzying array of technology verticals.

These are companies like NubiMetrics, which provides competitive analysis and data for marketplaces like MercadoLibre; or Satellogic, which is developing a network of satellites for earth observation (and raised $27 million last year); or Pago Rural, which provides financing options for farmers in Latin America (and is raising a $20 million round, according to sources).

It’s clear that venture capital and tech in Argentina (and across Latin America) is having a moment. But with a broader base of local capital, it’s possible that this moment could become a movement. And that would have a profound effect on economies around the world.

China’s Didi Chuxing is close to launching a taxi-booking service in Japan

Days after raising $500 million via a strategic investment from travel giant Booking Holdings, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has continued its international push with the launch of a local business in Japan.

Its new Japan-based unit is a joint venture with SoftBank, a longtime Didi investor, which has been in the works since an announcement back in February. Today’s news isn’t that the service is live yet — it isn’t — but rather than the JV has been formally launched.

Didi did say, however, that it plans to launch services for passengers, drivers and taxi operators in Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Tokyo and other major cities from autumn this year. Didi said that its users in China and Hong Kong will be able to use the soon-to-launch Japan service through their regular Didi app — that’s interesting since a ‘roaming’ strategy involving Lyft and others arranged years ago never came to fruition.

And yes, you did read correctly that taxi operators are part of the target audience. That’s because Japan doesn’t allow unlicensed private cars to operate as taxis.

That’s made the country a real challenge for Uber, which has held talks with taxi operators, and it also explains why one of the leading ride-hailing service in Japan — JapanTaxi — is backed by the taxi industry. JapanTaxi is even owned by an insider, Ichiro Kawanabe, who runs Japan’s largest taxi operator Nihon Kotsu and heads up the country’s taxi federation.

Working with taxi operators means Didi has a fleet management platform, as above, as part of its Japan-based service.

That concession on working with taxis doesn’t necessarily mean that Didi isn’t focused on widening the market by enabling “ride-sharing” with non-taxi drivers in the future.

Reuters reports that SoftBank supremo Masayoshi Son — one half of the Didi Japan joint venture — made some family scathing comments at an annual event.

“Ride-sharing is prohibited by law in Japan. I can’t believe there is still such a stupid country,” Son is said to have remarked.

Didi, of course, is playing things more cautious as it rides into Japan.

The company said that the country, which is the world’s third-largest market based on taxi ride revenue, “holds great potential as a market for online taxi-hailing.”

“There is earnest demand for more convenient urban and regional transportation services, especially in light of the growing population of senior citizens,” Didi added via a statement.

The Japanese expansion is another example of Didi’s push to internationalize its service beyond China in 2018. Last year, it raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and move into new markets, and this year it has come good on that promise by entering Mexico, Australia and Taiwan. While over in Brazil, it leaped into the market through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99.

The 99 deal was a particularly interesting one since Didi had previously backed the company via an investment. Didi didn’t say much about the mechanics of that strategy, but it has investments in ride-sharing companies worldwide, including Lyft, Grab, Ola, Careem and Taxify, which you’d imagine, like 99, could be converted into full-on acquisitions at some point in moves that would speed up that international expansion.

Travel giant Booking invests $500M in Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing

Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing company, has pulled in some strategic capital after Booking Holdings invested $500 million into its business.

The deal will see Booking Holdings — which was formerly known as Priceline — work closely with Didi to offer its on-demand car services through its Booking.com apps via an integration. Likewise, Didi customers will have the option to book hotels through Booking.com and its sister site Agoda.

The deal isn’t about money. Didi has said publicly that it has multiple billions of US dollars on its balance sheet, thanks to a gigantic $4 billion funding round that closed at the end of 2017 and a history of raising big in recent years.

Instead, the tie-in helps on a strategic level.

Besides Booking.com and Agoda, Booking also operates Kayak, Priceline.com, Rentacars.com and OpenTable, all of which makes it a powerful ally for Didi. That’s particularly important since the Chinese firm is in global expansion mode, having launched services in Mexico, Australia and Taiwan this year. Beyond those three, it acquired local ride-hailing company 99 in Brazil and announced plans to roll into Japan.

Beyond boosting a brand and consumer touchpoints, linking up with travel companies makes sense as ride-hailing goes from simply ride-hailing to become a de facto platform for travel between both longer haul (flights) and short distance (public transport) trips. That explains why Didi has doubled down on dock-less bikes and other transportation modes.

“Building on its leadership and expertise in the global online travel market, Booking is championing a digital revolution of travel experience. We look forward to seamlessly connecting every segment of the journey and improving everyone’s traveling experience through more collaborative innovation with the Booking brands on product, technology and market development,” said Stephen Zhu, VP of strategy for Didi, in a statement.

In other Didi news today, the company is said to be considering a deal to offload its car services business.

Reuters reports that the unit, which was formed in April and consists of Didi’s car rental, sales, maintenance, sharing and gas services businesses, could be spun out in a deal worth $1.5 billion. The thinking is apparently that Didi’s IPO, which is said to be in the planning stages, would run smoother without these asset-heavy businesses involved.

Representatives for Didi declined to comment on the report when we got in touch.

Didi was linked with a 2017 IPO back in 2016 but the company went on record denying those plans. Indeed, there’s plenty of progress since those reports surfaced. Not only did Didi go on to acquire Uber’s China business — that seems like a long time ago — but it has made strategic investments across the world, backing Uber rivals in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and beyond. That’s in addition to its aforementioned expansion plans, which have seen the Didi business roll into four countries outside of China.