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Alibaba goes big on Russia with joint venture focused on gaming, shopping and more – TechCrunch

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Alibaba goes big on Russia with joint venture focused on gaming, shopping and more – TechCrunch

Alibaba is doubling down on Russia after the Chinese e-commerce giant launched a joint venture with one of the country’s leading internet companies.

Russia is said to have over 70 million internet users, around half of its population, with countless more attracted from Russian-speaking neighboring countries. The numbers are projected to rise as, like in many parts of the world, the growth of smartphones brings more people online. Now Alibaba is moving in to ensure it is well placed to take advantage.

Mail.ru, the Russia firm that offers a range of internet services including social media, email and food delivery to 100 million registered users, has teamed up with Alibaba to launch AliExpress Russia, a JV that they hope will function as a “one-stop destination” for communication, social media, shopping and games. Mail.ru backer MegaFon, a telecom firm, and the country’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF (Russian Direct Investment Fund) have also invested undisclosed amounts into the newly-formed organization.

To recap: Alibaba — which launched its AliExpress service in Russia some years ago — will hold 48 percent of the business, with 24 percent for MegaFon, 15 percent for Mail.ru and the remaining 13 percent take by RDIF. In addition, MegaFon has agreed to trade its 10 percent stake in Mail.ru to Alibaba in a transaction that (alone) is likely to be worth north of $500 million.

That figure doesn’t include other investments in the venture.

“The parties will inject capital, strategic assets, leadership, resources and expertise into a joint venture that leverages AliExpress’ existing businesses in Russia,” Alibaba explained on its Alizila blog.

Alibaba looks to have picked its horse in Russia’s internet race: Mail.ru [Image via KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images]

The strategy, it seems, is to pair Mail.ru’s consumer services with AliExpress, Alibaba’s international e-commerce marketplace. That’ll allow Russian consumers to buy from AliExpress merchants in China, but also overseas markets like Southeast Asia, India, Turkey (where Alibaba recently backed an e-commerce firm) and other parts of Europe where it has a presence. Likewise, Russian online sellers will gain access to consumers in those markets. Alibaba’s ‘branded mall’ — TMall — is also a part of the AliExpress Russia offering.

This deal suggests that Alibaba has picked its ‘horse’ in Russia’s internet race, much the same way that it has repeatedly backed Paytm — the company offering payments, e-commerce and digital banking — in India with funding and integrations.

Already, Alibaba said that Russia has been a “vital market for the growth” for its Alipay mobile payment service. It didn’t provide any raw figures to back that up, but you can bet that it will be pushing Alipay hard as it runs AliExpress Russia, alongside Mail.ru’s own offering, which is called Money.Mail.Ru.

“Most Russian consumers are already our users, and this partnership will enable us to significantly increase the access to various segments of the e-commerce offering, including both cross-border and local merchants. The combination of our ecosystems allows us to leverage our distribution through our merchant base and goods as well as product integrations,” said Mail.Ru Group CEO Boris Dobrodeev in a statement.

This is the second strategic alliance that MegaFon has struck this year. It formed a joint venture with Gazprombank in May through a deal that saw it offload five percent of its stake in Mail.ru. MegaFon acquired 15.2 percent of Mail.ru for $740 million in February 2017.

The Russia deal comes a day after Alibaba co-founder and executive chairman Jack Ma — the public face of the company — announced plans to step down over the next year. Current CEO Daniel Zhang will replace him as chairman, meaning that the company will also need to appoint a new CEO.

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Facebook and MIT tap AI to give addresses to people without them

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According to a paper published by the researchers earlier this month, the team trained a deep-learning algorithm to scan satellite images and identify pixels that contain roads. Another algorithm took those pixels and stitched them together into a network of roads which could then be analyzed and split into quadrants. Once everything is laid out, numbers and letters are assigned to the streets, which serve as addresses. The method makes it easy to determine intersections and other nearby locations because it’s easy to relate where different roads are on the grid based on their assigned number and letter.

The project from MIT and Facebook is not the first effort to solve the issue of unaddressed rural lands. Google introduced Open Location Codes to its maps back in 2015 as a way to label otherwise unmarked areas. Another organization, what3words, has split the globe up in a three-by-three meter square grid and applies a randomly generated, unique three-word combination to every space.

The problem with many of these solutions is that assigning addresses is the easy part of the problem. Getting those addresses widely adopted is the challenge, as they have to be accepted by governments and citizens alike. Despite the hurdles, having addresses is necessary for providing essential services like medical care and package deliveries. It also aids in planning and building infrastructure.

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Apple Music is coming to the Amazon Echo – TechCrunch

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Apple Music is coming to the Amazon Echo – TechCrunch

Starting mid-December, Amazon Echo devices will be able to stream songs from Apple Music. A bit of a surprise, perhaps, given that Apple’s been a competitor in the space since launching the HomePod back in 2017.

Amazon’s had its own music service for some time, as well, but the company appears to have given up on the dream of being a serious competitor in the space — for now, at least. Instead, Echo smart speakers offer native support for a decent cross-section of streaming services, including Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio and TuneIn.

The new skill lets users play specifics songs, genres, playlists and the Beats 1 station through the smart speakers. Adding Apple Music will help the popular smart home products tap into a rapidly growing service.

The company cracked 50 million subscribers earlier this year. That’s still well behind the 83 million paid subscribers Spotify announced back in July, but this addition should help give Amazon an added advantage against Google’s Home devices, particularly here in the States, where the bulk of Apple Music subscribers reside.

For Apple’s part, the offering brings Music to much more accessible hardware. The HomePod currently runs $349 — several times the price of the entry-level Echo Dot. The new skill arrives on Echo devices the week of December 17.

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DoJ charges Autonomy founder with fraud over $11BN sale to HP – TechCrunch

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DoJ charges Autonomy founder with fraud over $11BN sale to HP – TechCrunch

U.K. entrepreneur turned billionaire investor Mike Lynch has been charged with fraud in the U.S. over the 2011 sale of his enterprise software company.

Lynch sold Autonomy, the big data company he founded back in 1996, to computer giant HP for around $11 billion some seven years ago.

But within a year around three-quarters of the value of the business had been written off, with HP accusing Autonomy’s management of accounting misrepresentations and disclosure failures.

Lynch has always rejected the allegations, and after HP sought to sue him in U.K. courts he countersued in 2015.

Meanwhile, the U.K.’s own Serious Fraud Office dropped an investigation into the Autonomy sale in 2015 — finding “insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.”

But now the DoJ has filed charges in a San Francisco court, accusing Lynch and other senior Autonomy executives of making false statements that inflated the value of the company.

They face 14 counts of conspiracy and fraud, according to Reuters — a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

We’ve reached out to Lynch’s fund, Invoke Capital, for comment on the latest development.

The BBC has obtained a statement from his lawyers, Chris Morvillo of Clifford Chance and Reid Weingarten of Steptoe & Johnson, which describes the indictment as “a travesty of justice,”

The statement also claims Lynch is being made a scapegoat for HP’s failures, framing the allegations as a business dispute over the application of U.K. accounting standards. 

Two years ago we interviewed Lynch onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt London and he mocked the morass of allegations still swirling around the acquisition as “spin and bullshit.”

Following the latest developments, the BBC reports that Lynch has stepped down as a scientific adviser to the U.K. government.

“Dr. Lynch has decided to resign his membership of the CST [Council for Science and Technology] with immediate effect. We appreciate the valuable contribution he has made to the CST in recent years,” a government spokesperson told it.

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