Virgin Orbit announces new plans for first Asian spaceport in Oita, Japan

Virgin Orbit may be focusing its production efforts right now on making ventilators to support healthcare workers battling COVID-19, but it’s also still making moves to build out the infrastructure that will underpin its small satellite launch business. To that end, the new space company unveiled a new partnership with Oita Prefecture in Japan to build a new spaceport there from which to launch and land its horizontal take-off launch vehicle carrier aircraft.

Working in collaboration with ANA Holdings and the Space Port Japan Association, Virgin Orbit says it is currently targeting Oita Airport as the site for its next launch site – the first in Asia – with a plan to start flying missions from the new location as early as 2022.

There are still a number of steps that have to take place before the Oita airport becomes official – including performing a technical study in partnership with local government to determine the feasibility of using the proposed site. Already, Oita is home to facilities from a number of corporations including Toshiba, Nippon Steel, Canon, Sony, Daihatsu and more, but this would marks its first entry into the space industry, an area where Oita is hoping to encourage in future.

“We are eager to host the first horizontal takeoff and landing spaceport in Japan. We are also honored to be able to collaborate with brave technology companies solving global-level problems through their small satellites,” said Katsusada Hirose, Governor for the Oita Prefectural Government, in a press release. “We hope to foster a cluster of space industry in our prefecture, starting with our collaboration with Virgin Orbit.”

Virgin Orbit is looking to scale its efforts globally in a number of ways, even as it gears up for a first demonstration launch of its orbital small satellite delivery capabilities sometime later this year. The company announced plans to provide launch services from a forthcoming spaceport facility in Cornwall for the UK market, and it’s also looking at standing up a site in Guam.

The horizontal launch model that Virgin Orbit uses means that it can much more easily leverage traditional airport infrastructure and processes to set up launch sites, and doing so can provide domestic launch capabilities essentially on-demand for countries looking to add small satellite flight to their in-country housed services. That’s a big selling point, and Oita securing should be a considerable win and for Japan as the site of a first Virgin Orbit port across the whole continent.

Luckin Coffee’s board initiates investigation into $300M potential fraud

China-based Luckin Coffee, the fastest growing growing coffee brand in the world, has dazzled VCs, public market investors and frankly us over the years with its dizzyingly high growth, expanding from a handful of stores and delivery kiosks to tens of thousands in a just a few years, quickly outpacing Starbucks’ aggressive expansion in the world’s second largest economy.

All those numbers though may not be what they seem.

In a filing with the SEC this morning, the company’s board announced that it has initiated an internal investigation into the activities of its former COO Jian Liu, who may have inflated revenues by the company by an early estimate of more than $300 million (RMB2.2 billion). Expenses are believed by the board to be similarly inflated. Legal firm Kirkland & Ellis is the board’s counsel in its internal investigation.

Contact details for Jian Liu could not be located.

The alleged fraud is believed to have begun in the second quarter of 2019, although further details will have to come as the company conducts its investigation. The company told investors in its filing that they shouldn’t rely on the company’s recent financial statements, which are now believed to be inaccurate given the surfacing of this information.

Luckin shares, which trade as American Depositary Receipts, are down 70% right now according to Yahoo Finance.

The announcement of the investigation comes just days after the company appointed two new independent directors to its board. Last week, the company announced that Tianruo Pu, a seasoned accounting executive who was CFO of Zhaopin and UTStarcom, and Wai Yuen Chong, a supply chain executive who had stints at Charoen Pokphand Group and Luckin competitor Starbucks, had joined as independent directors and joined the company’s audit committee.

Luckin Coffee debuted in its IPO in May 2019 with a hot $650.8 million offering on Nasdaq, just a few weeks after raising a private round of funding from Blackrock. The company was notorious for both its stratospheric growth and also for its ample losses, with its 2018 numbers (before the alleged fraud detailed by the company) showing $125 million in revenue and $475 million in losses.

Google to shut down its India-focused Q&A app Neighbourly

Google is shutting down Neighbourly, a Q&A social app that it launched in select parts of India two years, the company has informed users.

The app, developed by company’s Next Billion Initiative, aimed to give local communities an outlet to seek answers to practical questions about life, routine and more.

At the time of its release, Google told TechCrunch that it believed that an increase in urban migration, short-term leasing and busy lives had changed the dynamic of local communities and made it harder to share information quite so easily.

The app supported voice-based entry for questions and a range of local languages.

In an email, Google said Neighbourly helped users find answers to over a million questions, but it did not get the traction the company was hoping for. The app will shut down on May 12, but users have another six months to download their answers.

“We launched Neighbourly as a Beta app to connect you with your neighbors and make sharing local information more human and helpful. As a community, you’ve come together to celebrate local festivals, shared crucial information during floods, and answered over a million questions,” the company wrote to users.

“But Neighbourly hasn’t grown as we had hoped. In these difficult times, we believe that we can help more people by focusing on other Google apps that are already serving millions of people everyday,” it added, pointing users to explore Google Maps’ Local Guide, which also allows sharing of knowledge with local communities.

The app had such low-traction that third-party intelligence services such as App Annie and Sensor Tower don’t have any substantial data about it. But on Play Store, Neighbourly is listed to have more than 10 million downloads.

More to follow…

Mobile payments firms in India are now scrambling to make money

Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and chief executive of India’s most valuable startup, Paytm, posed an existential question in a recent press conference.

“What do you think of the commercial model for digital mobile payments. How do we make money?” Sharma asked Nandan Nilekani, one of the key architects of the Universal Payments Infrastructure that created a digital payments revolution in the country.

It’s the multi-billion-dollar question that scores of local startups and international giants have been scrambling to answer as many of them aggressively shift their focus to serving merchants and building lending products and other financial services .

New Delhi’s abrupt move to invalidate much of the paper bills in the cash-dominated nation in late 2016 sent hundreds of millions of people to cash machines for months to follow.

For a handful of startups such as Paytm and MobiKwik, this cash crunch meant netting tens of millions of new users in a span of a few months.

India then moved to work with a coalition of banks to develop the payments infrastructure that, unlike Paytm and MobiKwik’s earlier system, did not act as an intermediary “mobile wallet” to serve as an intermediary between users and their banks, but facilitated direct transaction between two users’ bank accounts.

Silicon Valley companies quickly took notice. For years, Google and the likes have attempted to change the purchasing behavior of people in many Asian and African markets, where they have amassed hundreds of millions of users.

In Pakistan, for instance, most people still run errands to neighborhood stores when they want to top up credit to make phone calls and access the internet.

With China keeping its doors largely closed for foreign firms, India, where many American giants have already poured billions of dollars to find their next billion users, it was a no-brainer call.

“Unlike China, we have given equal opportunities to both small and large domestic and foreign companies,” said Dilip Asbe, chief executive of NPCI, the payments body behind UPI.

And thus began the race to participate in the grand Indian experiment. Investors have followed suit as well. Indian fintech startups raised $2.74 billion last year, compared to 3.66 billion that their counterparts in China secured, according to research firm CBInsights.

And that bet in a market with more than half a billion internet users has already started to pay off.

“If you look at UPI as a platform, we have never seen growth of this kind before,” Nikhil Kumar, who volunteered at a nonprofit organization to help develop the payments infrastructure, said in an interview.

In October, just three years after its inception, UPI had amassed 100 million users and processed over a billion transactions. It has sustained its growth since, clocking 1.25 billion transactions in March — despite one of the nation’s largest banks going through a meltdown last month.

“It all comes down to the problem it is solving. If you look at the western markets, digital payments have largely been focused on a person sending money to a merchant. UPI does that, but it also enables peer-to-peer payments and across a wide-range of apps. It’s interoperable,” said Kumar, who is now working at a startup called Setu to develop APIs to help small businesses easily accept digital payments.

Vice-president of Google’s Next Billion Users Caesar Sengupta speaks during the launch of the Google “Tez” mobile app for digital payments in New Delhi on September 18, 2017 (Photo: Getty Images via AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN)

The Google Pay app has amassed over 67 million monthly active users. And the company has found the UPI pipeline so fascinating that it has recommended similar infrastructure to be built in the U.S.

In August, the Federal Reserve proposed to develop a new inter-bank 24×7 real-time gross settlement service that would support faster payments in the country. In November, Google recommended (PDF) that the U.S. Federal Reserve implement a real-time payments platform such as UPI.

“After just three years, the annual run rate of transactions flowing through UPI is about 19% of India’s Gross Domestic Product, including 800 million monthly transactions valued at approximately $19 billion,” wrote Mark Isakowitz, Google’s vice president of Government Affairs and Public Policy.

Paytm itself has amassed more than 150 million users who use it every year to make transactions. Overall, the platform has 300 million mobile wallet accounts and 55 million bank accounts, said Sharma.

Search for a business model

But despite on-boarding more than a hundred million users on their platform, payment firms are struggling to cut their losses — let alone turn a profit.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate in India without a clear business model.

Mobile payment firms never levied any fee to users as a strategy to expand their reach in the country. A recent directive from the government has now put an end to the cut they were receiving to facilitate UPI transactions between users and merchants.

Google’s Sivanandan urged the local payment bodies to “find ways for payment players to make money” to ensure every stakeholder had incentives to operate.

Paytm, which has raised more than $3 billion to date, reported a loss of $549 million in the financial year ending in March 2019.

The firm, backed by SoftBank and Alibaba, has expanded to several new businesses in recent years, including Paytm Mall, an e-commerce venture, social commerce, financial services arm Paytm Money and a movies and ticketing category.

This year, Paytm has expanded to serve merchants, launching new gadgets such as a stand that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and a battery pack, a portable speaker that provides voice confirmations of transactions and a point-of-sale machine with built-in scanner and printer.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Sharma said these devices are already garnering impressive demand from merchants. The company is offering these gadgets to them as part of a subscription service that helps it establish a steady flow of revenue.

The firm’s Money arm, which offers lending, insurance and investing services, has amassed over 3 million users. The head of Paytm Money, Pravin Jadhav, resigned from the company this week, a person familiar with the matter said. A Paytm spokeswoman declined to comment. (Indian news outlet Entrackr first reported the development.)

Flipkart’s PhonePe, another major player in India’s payments market, today serves more than 175 million users, and over 8 million merchants. Its app serves as a platform for other businesses to reach users, explained Rahul Chari, co-founder and CTO of the firm, in an interview with TechCrunch. The company is currently not taking a cut for the real estate on its app, he added.

But these startups’ expansion into new categories means that they now have to face off even more rivals, and spend more money to gain a foothold. In the social commerce category, for instance, Paytm is competing with Naspers-backed Meesho and a handful of new entrants; and heavily-backed OkCredit and KhataBook today lead the bookkeeping market.

BharatPe, which raised $75 million two months ago, is digitizing mom and pop stores and granting them working capital. And PineLabs, which has already become a unicorn, and MSwipe have flooded the market with their point-of-sale machines.

A vendor holds an Mswipe terminal, operated by M-Swipe Technologies Pvt Ltd., in an arranged photograph at a roadside stall in Bengaluru, India, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“They have no choice. Payment is the gateway to businesses such as e-commerce and lending that you can monetize. In Paytm’s case, their earlier bet was Paytm Mall,” said Jayanth Kolla, founder and chief analyst at research firm Convergence Catalyst.

But Paytm Mall has struggled to compete with giants Amazon India and Walmart’s Flipkart. Last year, Mall pivoted to offline-to-online and online-to-offline models, wherein orders placed by customers are serviced from local stores. The company also secured about $160 million from eBay last year.

An executive who previously worked at Paytm Mall said the venture has struggled to grow because its goal-post has constantly shifted over the years. It has recently started to focus on selling fastags, a system that allows vehicle owners to swiftly pay toll fees. At least two more executives at the firm are on their way out, a person familiar with the matter said.

Kolla said the current dynamics of India’s mobile payments market, where more than 100 firms are chasing the same set of audience, is reminiscent of the telecom market in the country from more than a decade ago.

“When there were just four to five players in the telecom market, the prospect of them becoming profitable was much higher. They were scaling like crazy. They grew with the lowest ARPU in the world (at about $2) and were still profitable.

“But the moment that number grew to more than a dozen overnight, and the new players started offering more affordable plans to subscribers, that’s when profitability started to become elusive,” he said.

To top that off, the arrival of Reliance Jio, a telecom operator run by India’s richest man, in 2016 in the country with the cheapest tariff plans in the world, upended the market once again, forcing several players to leave the market, or declare bankruptcies, or consolidate.

India’s mobile payments market is now heading to a similar path, said Kolla.

If there were not enough players fighting for a slice of India’s mobile payments market that Credit Suisse estimate could reach $1 trillion by 2023, WhatsApp, the most popular app in the country with more that 400 million users, is set to roll out its mobile payments service in the country in a couple of months.

At the aforementioned press conference, Nilekani advised Sharma and other players to focus on financial services such as lending.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus outbreak that promoted New Delhi to order a three-week lockdown last month is likely going to impact the ability of millions of people to use such services.

“India has more than 100 million microfinance accounts, serviced in cash every week by gig-economy workers, who hawk vegetables on street corners or embroider saris sold in malls, among other things. Three out of four workers make a living by working casually for others or at their family firms and farms. Prolonged shutdowns will impair their ability to repay loans of 2.1 trillion rupees ($28.5 billion), putting the world’s largest microfinance industry at risk,” wrote Bloomberg columnist Andy Mukherjee.

Spotify and Warner Music Group renew their global licensing deal, resolve issue in India

Spotify and Warner Music Group have renewed their global licensing partnership, the two said on Wednesday, confirming that the giant music label’s songs will now be available on the Sweden-headquartered firm’s platform in India.

In a joint statement, the two companies said, “Spotify and Warner Music Group are pleased to announce a renewed global licensing partnership. This expanded deal covers countries where Spotify is available today, as well as additional markets. The two companies look forward to collaborating on impactful global initiatives for Warner artists and songwriters, and working together to grow the music industry over the long term.”

The companies did not share financial terms of the deal.

The move comes months after Spotify signed a licensing agreement with Warner Music Group’s music publish arm Warner Chappell in India to put an end to their months-long legal battle. Warner Chappell, like other publishing companies, represents songwriters, while record labels work with the recording artist and producer.

Warner Music, one of the world’s top three music labels, had sued Spotify days before the music streaming service was to launch in India, one of the world’s biggest entertainment markets. Spotify argued that it was using an Indian rule that permits radio stations to offer songs from Chappell Music.

Today’s announcement will result in thousands of songs from artists such as Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran and Cardi B and bands such as Coldplay and Linkin Park — all of whom are represented by Warner Music — to be available for the first time to Spotify users and subscribers in India. Spotify launched in India early last year.

The unavailability of songs from these popular artists was a major disadvantage for Spotify in India, a very competitive market with dozens of players. Most music streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music, and recent entrant Resso have aggressively priced their premium subscriptions in India, charging less than $2 a month.

According to industry estimates, more than 200 million Indians stream music online. Times Internet-owned Gaana leads the market with over 150 million monthly active users. But very few are willing to pay yet — which explains why Spotify launched a free ad-supported service in India that offers users in the country access to the full catalog.

Bloomberg reported in December that YouTube Music / Premium, had amassed over 800,000 subscribers in India, more than Spotify, which has not disclosed its India figures.

According to research firm Statista, music streaming services in India will clock about $244 million in revenue this year, compared to the much mature U.S. market, where they are estimated to generate $4.5 billion this year.

It hasn’t been easy for Spotify to renew its deals with music labels. According to Financial Times, music labels were negotiating to secure a guaranteed minimum percentage of Spotify’s subscription revenue, “regardless of how much music users consume versus podcasts or other content.”

Grab hires Peter Oey as its chief financial officer

Grab announced today that it has hired Peter Oey as its new chief financial officer. Prior to joining Grab, Oey was the chief financial officer at LegalZoom, an online legal services company based near Los Angeles.

Before that, he served the same role at Mylife.com, an online platform that aggregates information about people based on public records. Oey also held financial leadership positions at Activision for twelve years, including corporate controller.

Grab, whose services include ride-sharing, food delivery and online financial services provider GrabPay, announced in February that it had raised a total of $856 million from Japanese investors Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and TIS INTEC, to grow its financial services and digital payments infrastructure.

In a statement, Grab said Oey will be based in Singapore and report to co-founder and CEO Anthony Tan. He will also work with Grab president Ming Maa, who took over many responsibilities from Grab’s last CFO, Linda Hoglund, when she left in 2016. Grab said Maa will continue to lead its strategic business planning.

Grab, which acquired Uber’s Southeast Asia business in March 2018, has reportedly been in discussions to merge with merge with rival GoJek.

 

In a press statement, the company said that in 2019, GrabFood’s gross merchandise volume grew by over 400%, while GrabPay increased payment volume by 170%, thanks to strong performance in Indonesia.

Tan said “Last year, we made tremendous progress in growing our food delivery, payments and financial services business. The growth of these businesses give us a good foundation for achieving long-term sustainable growth for our company. I’m excited to welcome Peter to the Grab family where his extensive experience scaling rapidly growing technology companies makes him a valuable addition to our business.”

Grab has raised a total of about $9.9 billion from investors including SoftBank Vision Fund, which invested $1.46 billion into the company last year. Tan told CNBC last November that the company will not go public until its entire business is profitable.

Investors tell Indian startups to ‘prepare for the worst’ as Covid-19 uncertainty continues

Just three months after capping what was the best year for Indian startups, having raised a record $14.5 billion in 2019, they are beginning to struggle to raise new capital as prominent investors urge them to “prepare for the worst”, cut spending and warn that it could be challenging to secure additional money for the next few months.

In an open letter to startup founders in India, ten global and local private equity and venture capitalist firms including Accel, Lightspeed, Sequoia Capital, and Matrix Partners cautioned that the current changes to the macro environment could make it difficult for a startup to close their next fundraising deal.

The firms, which included Kalaari Capital, SAIF Partners, and Nexus Venture Partners — some of the prominent names in India to back early-stage startups — asked founders to be prepared to not see their startups’ jump in the coming rounds and have a 12-18 month runway with what they raise.

“Assumptions from bull market financings or even from a few weeks ago do not apply. Many investors will move away from thinking about ‘growth at all costs’ to ‘reasonable growth with a path to profitability.’ Adjust your business plan and messaging accordingly,” they added.

Signs are beginning to emerge that investors are losing appetite to invest in the current scenario.

Indian startups participated in 79 deals to raise $496 million in March, down from $2.86 billion that they raised across 104 deals in February and $1.24 billion they raised from 93 deals in January this year, research firm Tracxn told TechCrunch. In March last year, Indian startups had raised $2.1 billion across 153 deals, the firm said.

New Delhi ordered a complete nation-wide lockdown for its 1.3 billion people for three weeks earlier this month in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

The lockdown, as you can imagine, has severely disrupted businesses of many startups, several founders told TechCrunch.

Vivekananda Hallekere, co-founder and chief executive of mobility firm Bounce, said he is prepared for a 90-day slowdown in the business.

Founder of a Bangalore-based startup, which was in advanced stages to raise more than $100 million, said investors have called off the deal for now. He requested anonymity.

Deepinder Goyal, co-founder and chief executive of food delivery firm Zomato, said in January the startup would close a round of up to $600 million by the end of the month. Two months later, Zomato has only raised $150 million.

Many startups are already beginning to cut salaries of their employees and let go of some people to survive an environment that aforementioned VC firms have described as “uncharted territory.”

Travel and hotel booking service Ixigo said it had cut the pay of its top management team by 60% and rest of the employees by up to 30%. MakeMyTrip, the giant in this category, also cut salaries of its top management team.

Beauty products and cosmetics retailer Nykaa on Tuesday suspended operations and informed its partners that it would not be able to pay their dues on time.

Investors cautioned startup founders to not take a “wait and watch” approach and assume that there will be a delay in their “receivables,” customers would likely ask for price cuts for services, and contracts would not close at the last minute.

“Through the lockdown most businesses could see revenues going down to almost zero and even post that the recovery curve may be a ‘U’ shaped one vs a ‘V’ shaped one,” they said.

Damon Motorcycles makes acquisition, raises $3M and extends pre-orders

EV startup Damon Motorcycles has acquired the IP of Mission Motors, raised $3 million in funding and announced a special production run of its debut model.

The Vancouver-based venture unveiled the 200 mph Hypersport in January and began taking pre-orders for the e-moto, with a base price of $24,995. Damon has positioned its EV entry as an ultra-fast, smart and safe motorcycle.

In addition to its go-straight-to-jail top-speed, the Hypersport boasts 200 miles of highway range, 147 ft-lbs of torque, charges to 80% in 20 minutes and weighs less than 500 pounds, Damon CEO Jay Giraud told TechCrunch earlier this year.

These features, along with digitally controlled riding-modes, are just part of Damon’s signature. The seed-stage startup has also engineered the cloud-connected Hypersport with proprietary safety and ergonomics technology that provide adjustable riding positions and blind-spot detection.

Damon Motorcycles

Image Credits: Damon Motorcycles

Damon packed a lot into its latest announcement and shared some insight on appealing to the elusive millennial market and weathering the economic tremors of the COVID-19 crisis.

On the acquisition, the startup purchased the IP of Mission Motors, a now defunct San Francisco e-motorcycle venture that powered down in 2015. Though Mission’s EV development outran its capital, the company’s motorcycles achieved a number of performance benchmarks and captured the attention of Jay Leno.

Mission Motors was also one of first e-moto companies to roll into the competition arena, fielding an entry in the famed Isle of Man TT race in 2009.

Damon will draw on Mission’s product and racing tech, including the company’s full stack development for EV drive-trains and battery power.

“There are certain bits of that we’re going to roll into the commercialized Hypersport,” Damon COO Derek Derek Dorresteyn told Techcrunch on a call with CEO Jay Giraud.

“Specifically, we’re using the motor development that they had as a platform to advance our motor design…We’re looking at achieving 12 newton-meters per kilogram of torque output from an electric motor,” Dorresteyn said.

Giraud explained that could translate to Damon producing an electric motorcycle with roughly 160 kilowatts of power, 200 horsepower and 200 ft-lbs of torque. That would outdo one of the fastest production e-motorcycles, Energica’s EGO, with 145 horsepower and 159 ft-lbs of torque.

Energica’s Ego, Image Credits: TechCrunch

On funding, Damon Motors now has $3 million in additional capital, raised at the pre-seed level from undisclosed angel investors.

The startup will use the backing on product development and accelerating time to market, Giraud said.

Damon’s founder also noted that the company was on track to fill its initial target of 1000 pre-orders for both its Hypersport standard and Premiere models. As such, the startup will extend orders on a limited run, $34,995 Hypersport Premiere founder edition in two different color-schemes: Arctic Sun and Midnight Sun.

Damon is highlighting the demographics of those placing deposits on its Hypersport e-motorcycles.

“Half the people ordering are under the age of 40,” said Giraud. “It really speaks to product market fit.”

The ability to draw millennials to motorcycle purchases is significant, given they’ve been the hardest market segment to crack. Young buyers used to be a mainstay of the industry, but the last 10 years have seen sharp declines in motorcycle ownership by everyone under 40, according to Motorcycle Industry Council stats.

Damon believes its proprietary tech and plans for a direct-to-consumer sales and service model can attract affluent younger buyers and the Tesla crowd to its fast and safe motorcycles.

Though TechCrunch hasn’t yet ridden a Hypersport, the two-wheeler’s specs offer unique features compared to any current production gas or electric motorcycle. On safety, Damon’s CoPilot system uses sensors, radar and cameras to track moving objects around the motorcycle and alert riders to danger.

Damon Motorcycles Hypersport Sensors

Image Credits: Damon Motorcycles

The startup’s debut EV also brings smart ergonomics in Damon’s patented Shift system that allows riders to electronically adjust the motorcycle’s windscreen, seat, foot-pegs and handlebars to different riding positions and conditions.

Even with the demand Damon has seen for the Hypersport, it still faces a stagnant motorcycle market that has become crowded with EV competitors.

Harley Davidson introduced its all electric LiveWire in 2019, becoming the first of the big gas manufacturers to offer a street-legal e-moto for sale in the U.S.

Harley’s entry followed several failed electric motorcycle startups — including Mission Motors — and put it in the market with existing EV ventures, such as Italy’s Energica and U.S. startup Zero  — which launched its $19,000, 120 mph SR/F in 2019.

On top of strong competition in the e-moto space, there’s a growing uncertainty on the buying appetite for motorcycles of any kind that could exist for the remainder of 2020, and potentially beyond, given the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world.

As of this week, Harley Davidson had halted all motorcycle production due the coronavirus and Energica confirmed to TechCrunch it had shutdown all operations per a decree of the Italian government.

Zero Motorcycles — located in Scott’s Valley, California — is still producing motorcycles “following the standard health orders of the CDC”, according to a company spokesperson.

Damon’s leadership believes the company can power through whatever lies ahead. The company has a global supply-chain across Europe, Asia and North America, but builds its battery packs and assembles its motorcycles in Canada .

“There are real challenges to get anyone to do anything today. We don’t expect that to be true forever,” COO Derek Dorresteyn said of supply-chain and meeting production demand. 

CEO Jay Giraud believes the current situation with COVID-19 will likely create an economic slump that could drag on longer than the 2008 Great Recession.

On how Damon Motorcycles will manage, “Like every core startup in the world, we’re gonna have to raise a lot of money no matter what. But we’re in a good place right now,” he said.

Disney+ to launch in India on April 3

Disney said on Tuesday that it will launch its streaming service, Disney+, in India on April 3. The service, available globally in about a dozen markets, will launch in India on Hotstar, one of the most popular on-demand streaming services in the country that is also owned by Disney.

The company said it is raising the yearly subscription price of the combined entity, Disney+Hotstar, to Rs 1,499 ($20), up from  Rs 999 ($13.2). TechCrunch reported last year that Disney+ will launch in India in 2020 and will increase its subscription cost.

Hotstar, which claimed to have amassed 300 million monthly active users during the cricket season in India last year, would continue to offer an ad-supported service that it will offer to users without a charge. But it is increasing the cost of all its premium tiers.

The $20 yearly subscription tier will offer over 100 series and 250 superhero and animated titles, including Disney+ Originals and shows from HBO, Fox, and Showtime, the company said.

More to follow…

Xiaomi reports Q4 revenue jump, beats estimates

Xiaomi ended 2019 on a high, reporting a 27.1% year-over-year jump in the fourth-quarter revenue aided by overseas expansion, beating analysts’ estimation. 

The Chinese giant said sales in the fourth quarter jumped to 56.5 billion yuan ($8 billion), up from 44.42 billion yuan in the same quarter a year before.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, Xiaomi’s net profit was RMB 2.3 billion ($320 million), up 26.5% YoY. Refinitiv I/B/E/S had estimated Xiaomi’s Q4 2019 revenue to be $7.83 billion and the net income at $264 million, it told TechCrunch. 

Xiaomi said its cash reserves had improved and it planned to continue to invest in international regions such as India, its biggest overseas market. Xiaomi executives said on a conference call with reporters that they hope that the 21-day lockdown imposed by New Delhi earlier this month to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, which has put an absolute halt to purchase of non-essential goods, would “show signs of recovery” in two to three months.

The company said overseas demand for its products will “undoubtedly” be affected by the coronavirus outbreak, but it currently believes the impact is manageable. It cautioned, however, that its advertisement business could be potentially impacted if its customers decrease their budgets. Xiaomi said its production was already up to 80% of its capacity.

Xiaomi said the gross profit margin from the smartphone business, its biggest revenue source, had increased from 6.1% in Q4 2018 to 7.8% in Q4 2019. The company’s Android-based MIUI operating system now has 309.6 million monthly active users, up from 292 million in September last year. Of the 309.6 million MIUI users, 109 million live in mainland China, it said.

“Despite headwinds from the Sino-US trade war and global economic downturn, Xiaomi stood out in 2019 with a commendable set of results as our revenue exceeded RMB200 billion for the first time,” said Lei Jun, Xiaomi founder and chief executive.

“While the entire world is still under the dark shadows of COVID-19, we have maintained our keen focus on efficiency to tide over this economic ‘black swan’ with everyone. At Xiaomi, we firmly believe that our long-term business success is underpinned by technological innovations, and to that effect, we plan to invest RMB50.0 billion in the next five years, as we relentlessly focus on technological innovation and user experience to grow our loyal Mi Fan base,” he added.

More to follow…