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India’s ride-hailing firm Ola is now in the credit card business, too – TechCrunch

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A day after India’s largest wallet app Paytm entered the credit card business, local ride-hailing giant Ola is following suit. Ola has inked a deal with state-run SBI and Visa to issue as many as 10 million credit cards in the next three and a half years, it said today.

The move will help Visa and SBI (State Bank of India) acquire more customers in India, where most transactions are still bandied out over cash. For Ola, which rivals Uber in India, the foray into credit cards represents a new avenue to monetize its customers, as TechCrunch previously reported.

With about 150 million users availing more than 2 million rides on its platform each day, Ola is sitting on a mountain of data about its users’ financial power and spends. With the card, dubbed Ola Money-SBI Credit Card, the mobility firm is also offering several discounts and savings to retain its loyal customer base.

Ola, which is nearing $6 billion in valuation and counts SoftBank and Naspers among its investors, said it will offer its credit card holders “highest cashback and rewards” in the form of Ola Money that could be redeemed for Ola rides, as well as flight and hotel bookings. There will be 7% percent cashback on cab spends, 5% on flight bookings, 20% on domestic hotel bookings (6% on international hotel bookings), 20% on more than 6,000 restaurants and 1% on all other spends.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Nitin Gupta, CEO of Ola financial services, claimed that the company was offering “five times rewards to customers” in comparison to average credit card companies. “Also, the card is a first of its kind offering that can be managed digitally through the Ola App. We are committed to creating an inclusive ecosystem where mobility and financial services go hand in hand in leading growth and development,” he said. Ola said it has already rolled out the card to some users and will invite other eligible customers to avail it.

“Mobility spends form a significant wallet share for users and we see a huge opportunity to transform their payments experience with this solution. With over 150 million digital-first consumers on our platform, Ola will be a catalyst in driving India’s digital economy with cutting edge payment solutions,” Bhavish Aggarwal, co-founder and CEO of Ola, said in a statement.

Why credit cards?

Ola appears to be following the playbook of Grab and Go-Jek, two ride-hailing services in Southeast Asian markets that have ventured into a number of businesses in recent years. Both Grab and Go-Jek offer loans, remittance and insurance to their riders, while the former also maintains its own virtual credit card. Interestingly, Uber, which also offers a credit card in some markets, has no such play in India.

The move will allow Ola to look beyond ride-hailing and food delivery, two businesses that appear to have hit a saturation point in India, said Satish Meena, an analyst with research firm Forrester.

In recent years, Ola has started to explore financial services. It offers riders “micro-insurance” that covers a range of risks, including loss of baggage and medical expenses. The company said earlier this year, it has sold more than 20 million insurances to customers. Using Ola Money to facilitate cashbacks also underscores Ola’s push to increase the adoption of its mobile wallet, which, according to estimates, lags Paytm and several other wallet and UPI payment apps.

The company has also made a major push in the electric vehicles business, which it spun off as a separate company earlier this year. In March, its EV business raised $300 million from Hyundai and Kia. The company has said that it plans to offer one million EVs by 2022. Its other EV programs include a pledge to add 10,000 rickshaws for use in cities.

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Amazon assembles video streaming apps to fight with Netflix and Disney in India – TechCrunch

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Amazon has launched Prime Video Channels in India, allowing its customers to subscribe to eight streaming services including Discovery+ and Mubi from one hub (Prime Video website or app), the latest in a series of efforts by the U.S. giant to win customers in the South Asian nation.

The new offering makes it easier for users to login and pay for additional streaming services, the company said. To make things more enticing, Amazon said the services are available at discounted prices for the first year. Discovery+ costs $4 per year, Mubi $27, Hoichoi ($8.2), DocuBay $6.8, ErosNow $4, Lionsgate Play $9.5, manoramaMax $9.5, and ShortsTV $4.

The company, which is currently at the centre of several controversies in India, did not share how much of the revenue it is taking from the streaming services and the duration of the partnerships. India is the 12th market where Amazon has launched Prime Video Channels.

Friday’s launch will likely be more beneficial to the third-party streaming services, all of which are struggling to make inroads in India, than Amazon itself. Discovery+ has amassed fewer than 4 monthly active users in India on mobile, Mubi has fewer than 100,000, DocuBay has fewer than 50,000, ErosNow has fewer than half a million, Lionsgate Play and manoramaMax each has fewer than 750,000, according to mobile insight firm App Annie (the data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch).

“With the launch of Prime Video Channels, we now take the next big step in our journey to entertain India by creating a video entertainment marketplace – first of its kind in India – which will not only delight our customers by giving them even more entertainment choices, but also benefit the OTT Channel partners who collaborate with us to leverage Prime Video’s distribution, reach and tech infrastructure,” said Gaurav Gandhi, Country Manager of Amazon Prime Video India, in a statement.

Amazon’s Prime Video, which has amassed over 55 million monthly active users in India, competes with Netflix, Disney’s Hotstar and Times Internet’s MX Player in the country. Both Hotstar and MX Player have established larger reach than Prime Video in India, and Netflix has courted most elite customers in the country.

The e-commerce group, on its part, has attempted to push for more reach by securing some rights to cricket matches — though the vast majority of those rights are still owned by Hotstar — and has also launched a free, ad-supported streaming service.

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Livestream video shopping app NTWRK raises $50M from Goldman Sachs, Kering – TechCrunch

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NTWRK, a video shopping app that has helped to popularize the idea of livestreamed commerce in the U.S., announced today it has closed on $50 million in new funding led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management and global luxury group Kering, owners of luxury brands Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and others. The company has been working to capitalize on the growing interest in live commerce and creator content, and shifted into live virtual events and festivals as COVID-19 ravaged the U.S. last year. Now it says it will invest in furthering its growth and working to establish a more global footprint.

Other participants in the new round include LionTree Partners and Tenere Capital. They join the company’s prior backers: Main Street Advisors (whose investors include Jimmy Iovine, Drake and LeBron James), Live Nation, Foot Locker and others. Allison Berardo, a vice president within the Growth Equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management, will join NTWRK’s board of directors.

Aimed at a younger crowd of Gen Z and millennial consumers, NTWRK offers tools that allow creators to interact with viewers and sell products in real time, in what’s been called a mix of QVC, Twitter and Twitch. The experience blends commerce with entertainment, as viewers watch and chat with other viewers and hosts in real time, as they shop for streetwear, shoes, collectibles and other items. The company has also created its own exclusive content where it has featured hosts like Billie Eilish, Juice WRLD, DJ Khaled, Odell Beckham Jr., Eddie Huang, Blake Griffin, Alexander Wang, FaZe Clan, Nadeshot, Jonah Hill, Gary Vee, A$AP Ferg, Wu-Tang Clan, Doja Cat and others. (It even invested into FaZe Clan last year, we should note.)

Its business model extends beyond just offering live video shopping that you can tune into at any time, as it also regularly features product drops that work to build up anticipation and excitement. This sort of feature is only now making its way to larger social media platforms, like Instagram, which introduced drops just this spring.

NTWRK has also embraced live events and virtual festivals as another way to engage audiences. Last year, for instance, it ran TRANSFER, which featured 30 brands and artists, panels, interviews, DJ sets and musical performances. It also ran BEYOND THE STREETS, a virtual art fair that attracted over 250,000 attendees. Earlier this year it ran a two-day designer toy and collectibles festival, Unboxed, as the first of a slate of digital events which have subsequently run throughout the year, including Surface Festival, a virtual food festival and a virtual home goods festival. It’s now gearing up for the return of its flagship event, TRANSFER.

Image Credits: NTWRK (opens in a new window)

This summer, NTWRK also embraced the world of digital goods with the launch of NTWRK NFT, its own curated shop for unique crypto art from creators like BADBOI, Imaginary Foundation, MILKMAN, Young & Sick, Fafi, KidEight, MGOGLKTKO and Eddie Gangland.

Livestream shopping is already a popular activity overseas, but is still gaining ground here in the U.S. The company, in announcing its news today, noted that livestream shopping in China reached $150 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $300 billion this year. But in the U.S. it’s expected to reach $11 billion by the end of 2021 and $25 billion by 2025, leaving much room for growth.

“Our vision is to become the biggest, most culturally relevant, livestream shopping marketplace for Gen-Z and Millennial audiences who are obsessed with pop culture,” said NTWRK CEO Aaron Levant, in a statement. “It’s exciting for NTWRK to have Goldman Sachs and Kering sign on for the future of livestream shopping.”

NTWRK had previously raised a $10 million Series A, according to Crunchbase data.

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Google powers up assistive tech in Android with facial gesture-powered shortcuts and switches – TechCrunch

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Making smartphones more accessible is always a good idea, and Google’s latest features bring quick actions and navigation to people whose expressions are their primary means of interacting with the world. Project Activate and Camera Switches let users perform tasks like speaking a custom phrase, or navigating using a switch interface, through facial gestures alone.

The new features rely on the smartphone’s front-facing camera, which can watch the user’s face in real time for one of six expressions: a smile, raised eyebrows, opened mouth, and looking left, right, or up. It relies entirely on local computing and no image data is saved, nor is it doing what is generally understood as “facial recognition” — this type of machine learning can focus specifically on, for example, identifying the eyebrows and sending a signal whenever they move past a certain, customizable threshold.

Each expression can be assigned a different role. Camera Switches integrates with Android’s existing switch compatibility, by which people who use assistive tech like a joystick or blow tube can navigate the phone’s OS. Now that can be done without any peripheral device at all, and users can pick various facial gestures for iterating through selections, confirming a choice, backing out, and so on.

Image Credits: Google

Using Project Activate, expressions can be tied to self-contained actions like speaking a phrase. Many people with disabilities rely on caretakers for a variety of reasons, but one thing you can’t ask a caretaker to do is get your caretaker’s attention! So one useful application might be assigning (say) an extended eyebrow raise to have the device speak the phrase “hey!” or “I need help with something,” or “thanks!”

The gestures can also be used to play an audio file, or text or call a predetermined number. More expressions and more capabilities are on the way, as well as more languages — of course faces don’t have languages, but the app and support documentation do, so Project Activate will start with English-speaking countries and move out from there. Camera Switches, on the other hand, will be available in 80 languages from the start.

Note that these can’t both be used at once, since they both require access to the camera and expression recognition thing. So users should make sure they have a backup method for navigation. Both should run on pretty much any Android phone from the last five years or so.

Lastly, an update to Google’s Lookout app, which reads labels for people with visual impairments, adds the ability to scan and read out handwritten content the way it can with printed things. That’s useful for sticky notes, “gone fishing” type signs on the doors of stores, and things like greeting cards with notes from the sender. The app has seen big increases in usage over the last year so they’re building it out. (Support for identifying euro and Indian rupee banknotes should help fuel that growth too.)

All the new stuff should be available later this week free of charge.

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