Indian launch startup Skyroot successfully completes full-duration stage test

Skyroot, the first private Indian company to design, build and test a solid rocket propulsion stage, has reached another key milestone in the development of its Vikram-I launch vehicle: a full-duration test of the rocket’s third stage.

The third stage, dubbed Kalam-100 in homage to Indian rocket scientist and former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, is just one part of the company’s debut rocket. Vikram-I includes three solid fuel stages, plus a liquid-fueled kick stage that’s designed to serve the small satellite launch market. It’s designed to carry up to 480 kilograms to low-inclination orbits, and the company says on its website that it’s designed to be assembled and launched from any launch site within 24 hours.

Vikram-I is one of a trio of rockets Skyroot is currently developing; the other two, Vikram-II and Vikram-III, will be able to carry heavier payloads with multiple orbital insertions, Skyroot says.

The test-firing of the rocket stage took place at a private test range in Nagpur City, India, CEO Pawan Kumar Chandana told TechCrunch in an email. That range belongs to Skyroot investor and industrial explosives, ammunitions and propulsion systems manufacturer Solar Industries India.

The next steps will be test firings for Stage 1 and Stage 2, Chandana said. The company’s existing funding, including an $11 million Series A and a $4.5 million bridge round, will cover most of the costs of testing. Skyroot is in the process of raising a Series B to take the company to “multiple orbital launches,” he said.

All this funding should get Skyroot to a technology demonstration launch by the end of this year, with the company’s first commercial orbital mission early next year. That launch would take off from India’s spaceport on Sriharikota Island, and would make Skyroot the first private Indian company to build and launch private rockets.

Leanplum acquired by Clevertap as retention marketing platforms consolidate

CleverTap, a retention marketing platform which has raised $76.6M to date, is to fully acquire Bulgarian-originated but San Francisco-based Leanplum, a customer engagement platform which has raised $131.2M, for an undisclosed amount. The news was broken by South Eastern European startup news site The Recursive.

Sunil Thomas, CleverTap Cofounder and Executive Chairman said: “Like many private company transactions we are not disclosing the price and terms of the acquisition. This is a cash and stock transaction that is being funded by internal accrual and CleverTap stock.” The deal is expected to close in Q2 of 2022.

The most recent Series D investors in Leanplum included LAUNCHub Ventures, Shasta Ventures, Canaan Partners, and Kleiner Perkins.

This acquisition will give more global reach to CleverTap, with development centers and customer-facing teams across North America, Europe, Latin America, India, South East Asia and the Middle East. The company says it now has a total customer base of 1200 customers.

Thomas added: “Users today demand to be treated as individuals, and this has forced brands to change how they engage with them. CleverTap and Leanplum have both purposely built for a mobile-centric omnichannel world.”

“When we started Leanplum, our vision was to meet customers’ real-time needs at the cutting edge of technology,” said Momchil Kyurkchiev, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Leanplum in a statement. “We have succeeded in that, but as the market has matured, to fully meet the increasing demands put on brands today, we needed to bring in the best analytics, segmentation, and engagement tools, to help our customers build valuable, long-term relationships with their customers. This is why joining forces with CleverTap makes the most sense.”

CleverTap and Leanplum are well known in the retention marketing space but also compete with marketing automation software and that is a crowded category.

The acquisition is a possible sign that this market is consolidating.

India’s Cars24 cuts 600 jobs

Cars24, a marketplace for used cars, has laid off about 600 people just five months after closing a $400 million financing round, the latest Indian unicorn to cut its workforce as it attempts to steer through the gloomy market conditions.

The Cars24 layoff, which represents about 6% of the startup’s workforce, affects staff across multiple divisions, a person familiar with the matter said.

A spokesperson for Cars24, a “Series G” startup valued at $3.3 billion, insisted in a statement that the move was “business as usual.”

Cars24 has raised over $1 billion in debt and equity financing over the years and counts SoftBank, Alpha Wave Global and DST Global among its backers.

A growing number of startups in India — as is the case elsewhere — are streamlining their teams to improve their financials and increase the runway.

Indian edtech Vedantu has let go over 620 people in recent weeks, whereas its chief rival, Unacademy, has fired about 1,000 individuals. Meesho, OkCredit, Trell, Furlenco and Lido have also cut several roles within their firms in recent weeks.

Investors are advising startups to cut their costs and increase the runway by as much as three years, according to several people familiar with the matter. Plenty of funding rounds that were getting finalized a few weeks ago are increasingly being renegotiated or stalled or canned, according to the people.

India pushes ahead with its strict VPN and breach disclosure rules despite concerns

India is pushing ahead with its new cybersecurity rules that will require cloud service providers and VPN operators to maintain names of their customers and their IP addresses despite many players threatening to leave the world’s second largest internet market over the new guidelines.

The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team clarified (PDF) on Wednesday that “virtual private server (VPS) providers, cloud service providers, VPN service providers, virtual asset service providers, virtual asset exchange providers, custodian wallet providers and government organisations” shall follow the directive, called Cyber Security Directions, that requires them to store customers’ names, email addresses, IP addresses, know your customer records, financial transactions for a period of five years.

The new rules, which were unveiled late last month, won’t be applicable to corporate and enterprise VPNs, the government agency clarified.

New Delhi is also not relaxing a new rule that will mandates firms to report incidents of security incidents and data breaches within six hours of noticing such cases.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the junior IT minister of India, told reporters on Wednesday that India was being “very generous” in giving firms six hours of time to report security incidents, pointing to nations such as Indonesia and Singapore that have stricter requirements.

“If you look at precedence all around the world — and understand that cybersecurity is a very complex issue, where situational awareness of multiple incidents allow us to understand the larger force behind it — reporting accurately, on time, and mandatorily is an absolute essential part of the ability of CERT and the government to ensure that the internet is always safe,” he said.

Several VPN providers have expressed worries about India’s new cybersecurity rules. NordVPN, one of the most popular VPN operators, said earlier that it may remove its services from India if “no other options are left.”

Other service providers, including ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN, have also shared their concerns.

On the other hand, many have welcomed some changes. “There has been a lot of pressure on CERT-In with large scale data breaches being reported across India. Most of the breaches were denied by the companies and despite its mandate, CERT-In never acted on these reports,” said Srinivas Kodali, a researcher.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Jungle Ventures closes a $600M fund, bringing its total assets under management to over $1B

Singapore-based venture firm Jungle Ventures is digging deeper into Southeast Asia and India with the close of its fourth fund. Fund IV totals $600 million, with $450 million for new investments and $150 million earmarked for follow-up investments in its portfolio companies. The fund’s close brings Jungle Ventures’ total assets under management to over $1 billion, which it says makes it the first independent, Singapore-headquartered venture firm that invests across Southeast Asia and India to hit this milestone. 

Fund IV’s limited partners are split equally between returning investors and new ones. Returning backers include Temasek, IFC, FMO and DEG, while new LPs include StepStone Group. TechCrunch covered the fund’s first close of $225 million in September 2021.

Jungle Ventures was founded in 2012 by Amit Anand and Anurag Srivastava, launching with a $10 million debut fund. Jungle Ventures has about 60 portfolio companies and says its enterprise value is over $12 billion on $250 million of invested capital, with a loss ratio of less than 5%. 

Some of Jungle Ventures’ most notable investments include unicorns Kredivo, Livspace and Moglix. It looks for companies that can expand between Southeast Asia and India; for example, Livspace was founded in India and now operates in Southeast Asia, too. 

Fund IV will continue Jungle Ventures’ “concentrated portfolio” approach, making a projected 15 to 18 key investments out of India and Southeast Asia. It makes many follow-up investments and has invested about $30 million to $40 million in some companies, across multiple rounds. 

“We’ve been investing with that philosophy since our inception in 2012. It’s driven by two major factors that influenced our thinking. Factor number one is that most founders in this region, are first-time founders, and you need a lot of help and support to give to these founders to help them grow their business, help them grow as a leader as well,” Anand told TechCrunch. “From a founder to becoming a CEO is a very long journey, a very painful journey, and not many people become successful CEOs.” 

He added, “This region has been completely under-penetrated in every sector and we would rather focus our time and energy and our capital on fewer investments an make them larger.” 

Fund IV has already backed Vietnamese digital bank Timo; Singapore back office operating system Sleek; Indian D2C consumer electronics brand Atomberg; Web3.0-based social-crypo-community platform for women Eveworld; and inFeedo, an employee retention SaaS platform. 

“If I take a step back and just think of one singular overarching thesis, I would say we are now very, very inspired by the whole decentralization and equitable internet movement that’s happening around the world, whether it’s concepts like Web 3, whether its concepts like even social commerce, whether it’s the SME technology digitalization,” Anand said. “Essentially, bringing the power of the internet to that smallest participant in the internet economy is what’s the most exciting aspect of this fund.” 

Sachin Bansal’s firm fails to secure India bank permit

The Indian central bank has rejected the application of Chaitanya India Fin Credit seeking permission to become a bank in a major setback to Flipkart billionaire Sachin Bansal, who has been looking to take his newer venture, Navi, public.

The Reserve Bank of India on Tuesday rejected four applications including Bansal’s Chaitanya (the micro financing unit of Navi Technologies), saying they were “not found suitable” for running full-fledged banks in the world’s second-most populated market.

Tuesday’s decision is a major blow to Bansal, who has been seeking a banking license for years. A license would have created a pathway for Bansal’s firm, which offers customers insurance and loan products, to improve its financials and launch additional products.

A full-fledged banking license in India would have allowed Navi to accept customer deposits and then use those funds to lend to others. (Else, firms have to look at other banks and funding sources, where it costs them more interest to borrow money.) A license would have also enabled Navi to settle international transactions and launch its own credit cards, a fintech executive who wished to be anonymous explained.

Bansal, who was at a separate presser during this announcement, said Navi will analyze the central bank’s decision and evaluate options. Bansal, who co-founded Flipkart, left the e-commerce giant in 2018 and founded Navi in the same year. He has marketed Navi as a financial company that happens to understand tech.

“We will ask [the] RBI the reason behind this decision. There could be an appeal from us against this decision,” he said, adding that the decision was “not the end of road” for the startup.

Navi, which filed for a $440 million IPO earlier this year, applied for a banking license in early 2020. The startup attempted to put together a funding round at over $4 billion valuation earlier and engaged with a number of investors including SoftBank, but the talks fell following its inability to secure the license, TechCrunch reported earlier.

Local media reports in recent quarters have stated that Navi has been alleged to violate foreign exchange rules, struggled to maintain proper governance within the firm and has not responsibly handled customers’ personal and sensitive data.

The other three firms that did not make the RBI’s cut for universal bank license are UAE Exchange, the Repatriates Cooperative Finance and Development Bank, and a proposal by former Citibank executive Pankaj Vaish. The RBI has been very conservative with issuing banking licenses in the country. In the past 10 years, only a handful of firms including Bandhan and IDFC First.

Daily Crunch: Better.com CEO Vishal Garg says he’s on the hook for $750M SoftBank loan

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PT, subscribe here.

It’s Friday the 13th, and I hope nothing nefarious happened to you today. At least the weekend is here! At the very least, you can catch up on the latest Terraform Labs news — Binance halted Luna and UST trading — and some great podcasts from your favorite TechCrunchers. And make sure to secure your “seat” for our June 1 TechCrunch Live event in Columbus. See you Monday! – Christine

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • If Elon doesn’t buy Twitter, at least Snoop Dogg is ready to pounce: Early this morning, Elon Musk tweeted that his proposed purchase of Twitter was on hold while he figures out the percentage of fake accounts using the social media channel. Though he also tweeted he remains “committed to the acquisition,” I enjoyed seeing Snoop Dogg tweet his desire to maybe take a run at it if Musk does not. His plan for it is not bad, actually.
  • Dining out on Dineout: In some online food ordering M&A news, Swiggy said it was acquiring Dineout, the Indian equivalent of OpenTable. This puts Swiggy squarely into the dining-out sector, dominated for quite some time in the country by Zomato, whose market cap has dropped to about $5 billion. It also represents additional consolidation within a giant market trying to make sense of its pandemic boost.
  • More layoffs: Natasha and Amanda were already busy last week catching up on the myriad tech layoffs, and unfortunately have another list today that includes Section4, Carvana and Latch. Even Meta is not immune.

Startups and VC

  • On the hook: That’s what Better.com CEO Vishal Garg is saying about a $750 million SoftBank loan. By Garg assuming personal responsibility for the loan, he is liable for any losses. However, the company may also be affected because any losses could require him to sell a lot of his Better.com holdings, which could negatively impact shares. Still a mess no matter how you look at it.
  • Dress you up in indie brands: China-based Body404 is betting that the West will embrace the next generation of clothing designers who want to give them something that isn’t just a cheaper runway knockoff. It’s paid off in that the company is now valued at $50 million after raising $50 million in March. Also interesting to note is that customers are not returning the clothes — Body404’s return rate is around 2%, much less than the 10% fashion industry average.
  • Revel with a cause: Frank Reig, who sits at the helm of Revel, a company building fast-charging hubs for electric vehicles, caught up with Rebecca to discuss the company’s shift from moped sharing and the distance Revel has traveled to drive electric vehicle adoption.
  • Watch and get paid: Our attention is valuable and often being pulled in different directions. WeAre8 wants to reward you for doing what DVR has enabled us to skip for many years now — watch ads. The company is led by advertising guru Sue Fennessy, who aims to steer ad funding away from social media giants like Facebook and channel it into a good cause.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Dutch’s $20M Series A deck

Pitch deck cover slide with a cute dog, the word DUTCH, and TechCrunch Pitch Deck Teardown overlaid

Image Credits: Dutch

As CEO and founder of virtual veterinarian care platform Dutch, Joe Spector initially intended to raise a $15 million Series A, but his pitch deck so skillfully blended visuals of lovable pets with market research and traction metrics, he ended up closing a $20 million round.

With flair, Dutch’s deck tells a convincing story of how the company used its seed funding to launch a service within three months, establish a brand identity, build a team, and expand from 12 to 32 states, Haje Jan Kamps writes in the weekly Pitch Deck Teardown.

If you’re working on a pitch deck and are in need of inspiration, start here: All 17 slides are available to TC+ members.

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

Row, row, row your Peloton: That’s right folks, Peloton is trying to end a rough week on a positive note by adding another oar into the competitive rowing machine market. After selling my Peloton bike in 2019, this caught my attention as I discovered a love for rowing. Here’s hoping the price tag is a little bit more friendly to my budget than the bike was.

Zoom gets its customer service day: The video communication giant is acquiring conversational AI company Solvvy in an effort to offer customer service experiences within Zoom’s toolset. Company shares are up on the news, so it seems Zoom chose wisely.

Don’t miss out on these stories:

Indian food delivery giant Swiggy is acquiring Dineout for $200 million

Swiggy has amassed millions of users in India, helping them order food and grocery online in the country. The seven-year-old startup, India’s most valued food tech, is now looking to reach those who go out to eat.

The Bengaluru-headquartered startup said on Friday it has reached a definitive agreement with the Indian conglomerate Times Internet to acquire Dineout, a popular dining out and restaurant tech platform.

Neither of the startups shared the financial terms of the acquisition, but a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch the deal values Dineout at $200 million and it’s an all-equity deal.

Best known for its dining out table reservations and events service, Dineout has built a network of over 50,000 restaurant partners in the country. The startup makes money by selling annual memberships to restaurants and customers and through its billing payments solution.

Dineout’s four founders – Ankit Mehrotra, Nikhil Bakshi, Sahil Jain and Vivek Kapoor – will join Swiggy following the acquisition and the platform will continue to operate as an independent app, the two firms said.

With the acquisition, Swiggy will be able to enter the dining-out business, a category its chief rival, Zomato, has had a play in for several years and was the only differentiating factor for the publicly-listed firm, whose market cap has dropped to about $5 billion in recent days. Swiggy, last valued at $10.7 billion, recently also bought stake in bike and taxi platform Rapido and alongside Zomato backed restaurant management platform UrbanPiper.

“Dineout is a well-loved brand that enjoys loyalty from both consumers and restaurants,” said Sriharsha Majety, co-founder and chief executive of Dineout, in a statement.

“Times Internet and the founding team should be credited for the transformational impact they have brought about in the dining out experience through their products, technology, and vast selection of restaurant partners. The acquisition will allow Swiggy to explore synergies and offer new experiences in a high-use category.”

Dineout was founded in 2012 and was acquired by Times Internet two years later, which has since deployed about $50 million into the startup.

“We are proud of the positive impact that Dineout has created for consumers and restaurants, helping streamline and improve the eating out experience. Swiggy + Dineout is a powerful combination, and we are excited to join forces with Swiggy as we continue to look for ways to delight customers,” said Satyan Gajwani, Vice Chairman of Times Internet, in a statement.

Daily Crunch: Terraform Labs CEO goes public with strategy to re-peg sliding UST stablecoin

To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PT, subscribe here.

It’s Wednesday, May 11, aka the start of GooglePalooza, which the company insists on referring to as the far less entertaining “Google I/O 2022.” Our “GoogleCrunch team” has prepared a bevy of stories on Google’s hardware and software lineup, including Pixel Watch, Pixel 6A — a tease of the Pixel 7 — and a new tablet. All the details are below in the Big Tech section. – Christine and Haje

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • ‘Stable’ coin: Jacquelyn has all the details about the dramatic fall of Terra USD, a “stablecoin” known as UST, and its founder’s plans for avoiding a UST crash. Jacquie then collected crypto market participants’ thoughts about what UST’s meltdown means for the broader crypto market and other stablecoins.
  • Hits keep coming for crypto: Just kidding; Coinbase’s first-quarter results not only sent its share prices down but informed us that the number of monthly transacting users is expected to continue to fall. What does this mean for crypto? Well, it might have to weather the storm for a while. To make matters worse, Coinbase revealed it had to halt trading in India after some pressure from the Reserve Bank of India.
  • Airbnb plans for a hot house summer: As Jordan reports in a pair of very enjoyable stories today — including a Q&A with Brian Chesky, who believes “a new era of travel is about to begin” — the company is getting its beach bod ready for the summer with some new features, a category search, being able to book two listings in one flow for stays over a week, and AirCover travel insurance for guests.

Startups and VC

Few things blow our minds as much as the sheer scale of Tiger Global — the firm took a battering with $17 billion in losses. Connie reports it has burned through most of its most recent VC fund. Yikes.

As tech reporters, we love the rapid rise and we observe with occasional glee the unscheduled descent of the startups we cover. Natasha and Alex remind us in today’s episode of the Equity podcast that while founders couldn’t have seen a pandemic coming, they should have been better prepared for the world returning to whatever “normal” means. Or, as they put it: Layoffs happen to people, not companies.

Sure, go on, I’ll have another:

Finding your startup’s valuation: 5 factors to consider

6-sided die showing the number 5 On Old Wooden Table

Image Credits: avier Zayas Photography (opens in a new window) / Getty Images (Image has been modified)

In her latest TC+ column, angel investor Marjorie Radlo-Zandi addresses a question that’s on every founder’s mind these days: What is my current valuation?

For early-stage startups, finding that figure requires more art than science, since pre-revenue companies are still gathering data and fine-tuning their products.

“Many traditional valuation methods, such as discounted cash flow, aren’t as useful for valuing early-stage startups,” she writes. “This means investors have to gauge other factors that aren’t so easily measured.”

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

Don’t miss out on these beauties:

Google launches Google Wallet to help you store your credit cards, tickets and more

At its I/O developer conference, Google today launched Google Wallet, a new Android and Wear OS app that will allow users to store things like credit cards, loyalty cards, digital IDs, transit passes, concert tickets, vaccination cards and more.

That’s pretty straightforward, but from here on out, it gets a bit confusing. Google, after all, has long offered the Google Pay app (and yes — a Google Wallet app, too), where you could store your credit cards for online and contactless payments. Back in 2020, Google made some major changes to Google Pay to refocus it more on tracking your spending and sending and receiving money between friends and family members. At that point, Google even wanted to launch its own bank account, in partnership with financial institutions like Citi, that users would manage in Google Pay. That project, dubbed Plex, never saw the light of day and was quickly shelved after the executive behind the project left Google barely six months after the announcement.

Image Credits: Google

Currently, Google Pay is available in 42 markets, Google says. Because in 39 of those markets, Google Pay is still primarily a wallet, those users will simply see the Google Pay app update to the new Google Wallet app. But in the U.S. and Singapore, Google Pay will remain the payments-focused app while the Wallet app will exist in parallel to focus on storing your digital cards. Meanwhile, in India, Google says that “people will continue to use their Google Pay app they are familiar with today.”

Image Credits: Google

“The Google Pay app will be a companion app to the Wallet,” said Arnold Goldberg, the VP and GM of Payments at Google, who joined the company earlier this year after a long stint at PayPal. “Think of [the Google Pay app] as this higher value app that will be a place for you to make payments and manage money, whereas the wallet will really be this container for you to store your payment assets and your non-payment assets.”

Goldberg noted that Google decided to go this route because of the rapid digitization we’ve been seeing during the last two years of the pandemic. “We talk about ten years of change in two years from just a behavior perspective and people almost demanding now digitization versus it being a nice-to-have pre-COVID,” he said. “It’s clarified our focus on what we need to do, as a payments organization — what we need to do as a company — to reimagine not just what we’re doing from a payments perspective online and in-store, but also thinking about what we can enable people to do with their digital wallets.”

"Read