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Tiger Global and Ant Financial lead $500M investment in China’s shared housing startup Danke – TechCrunch

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A Chinese startup that’s taking a dorm-like approach to urban housing just raised $500 million as its valuation jumped over $2 billion. Danke Apartment, whose name means “eggshell” in Chinese, closed the Series C round led by returning investor Tiger Global Management and newcomer Ant Financial, Alibaba’s e-payment and financial affiliate controlled by Jack Ma.

Four years ago, Beijing-based Danke set out with a mission to provide more affordable housing for young Chinese working in large urban centers. It applies the coworking concept to housing by renting apartments that come renovated and fully furnished, a model not unlike that of WeWork’s WeLive. The idea is by slicing up a flat designed for a family of three to four — the more common type of urban housing in China — into smaller units, young professionals can afford to live in nicer neighborhoods as Danke takes care of hassles like housekeeping and maintenance. To date, the startup has set foot in ten major Chinese cities.

With the new funds, Danke plans to upgrade its data processing system that deals with rental transactions. Housing prices are set by AI-driven algorithms that take into account market forces such as locations rather than rely on the hunches of a real estate agent. The more data it gleans, the smarter the system becomes. That layout is the engine of the startup, which believes an internet platform play is a win-win for both homeowners and tenants because it provides greater transparency and efficiency while allowing the company to scale faster.

“We are focused on business intelligence from day one,” Danke’s angel investor and chairman Derek Shen told TechCrunch in an interview. Shen was the former president of LinkedIn China and was instrumental in helping the professional networking site enter the country. “By doing so we are eliminating the need to set up offline retail outlets and are able to speed up the decision-making process. What landlords normally care is who will be the first to rent out their property. The model is also copiable because it requires less manpower.”

“We’ve proven that the rental housing business can be decentralized and done online,” added Shen.

Photo: Danke Apartment via Weibo

Danke doesn’t just want to digitize the market it’s after. Half of the company’s core members have hailed from Nuomi, the local services startup that Shen founded and was sold to Baidu for $3.2 billion back in 2015. Having worked for a business of which mission was to let users explore and hire offline services from their connected devices, these executives developed a propensity to digitize all business aspects including Danke’s day-to-day operations, a scheme that will also take up some of the new funds. This will allow Danke to “boost operational efficiency and cut costs” as it “actively works with the government to stabilize rental prices in the housing market,” the company says.

The rest of the proceeds will go towards improving the quality of Danke’s apartment amenities and tenant experiences, a segment that Shen believes will see great revenue potential down the road, akin to how WeWork touts software services to enterprises. The money will also enable Danke, which currently zeroes in on office workers and recent college graduates, to explore the emerging housing market for blue-collar workers.

Other investors from the round include new backer Primavera Capital and existing investors CMC Capital, Gaorong Capital and Joy Capital.

China’s rental housing market has boomed in recent years as Beijing pledges to promote affordable apartments in a country where few have the money to buy property. As President Xi Jinping often stresses, “houses are for living in, not for speculation.” As such, investors and entrepreneurs have been piling into the rental flat market, but that fervor has also created unexpected risks.

One much-criticized byproduct is the development of so-called “rental loans.” It goes like this: Housing operators would obtain loans in tenants’ names from banks or other lending institutions allegedly by obscuring relevant details from contracts. So when a tenant signs an agreement that they think binds them to rents, they have in fact agreed to take on loans and their “rent” payments become monthly loan repayments.

Housing operators are keen to embrace such practices for the loans provide working capital for renovation and their pipeline of properties. On the other hand, the capital allows companies like Danke to lower deposits for cash-strapped young tenants. “There’s nothing wrong with the financial instrument itself,” suggested Shen. “The real issue is when the housing operator struggles to repay, so the key is to make sure the business is well-functioning.”

Danke alongside competitors Ziroom and 5I5J has drawn fire for not fully informing tenants when signing contracts. Shen said his company is actively working to increase transparency. “We will make it clear to customers that what they are signing are loans. As long as we give them enough notice, there should be little risk involved.”

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Google just added an insanely useful desktop search shortcut

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Google has quietly rolled out a new search shortcut for desktop users that is deceptively useful during the workday. As of now, users can press a single key on Google’s search results page to pull back open the search field, updating the search term without ever lifting a hand to use the mouse or trackpad.

The new feature was ‘announced’ by a small message box desktop users see in the bottom corner of their search results page, as first spied by 9to5Google; it reads, ‘Press / to jump to the search box.’

When you press the ‘/’ button, your cursor moves to the text field at the end of your search query, enabling you to quickly remove and add terms or scroll down through the suggested search queries. The shortcut key only works when you’re on the search results page, not the home page.

This is ultimately a very small change, but one that proves insanely useful when you’re often using Google for work or school. The amount of time saved by avoiding the mouse entirely adds up over time, not to mention getting you to the search results you want faster.

It’s unclear whether the feature is now available for all Google Search users on desktop or if it is rolling out more slowly. Our own test of the new shortcut found that it worked, though we never saw the shortcut notification on the search results page.

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Amazon may start asking even more of its delivery drivers

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Amazon is reportedly set to trial a new home assembly service for larger items, where delivery drivers would also put together furniture, appliances, or other larger items. The move, which is said to be planned for just a handful of markets as the online retail behemoth gauges popularity and feasibility, could make home shopping even easier, though there are concerns that delivery drivers themselves may face impractical expectations.

Online shopping has surged during the pandemic, and Amazon has seen a considerable share of that extra business. Its subscription plan Amazon Prime, for example, surged by 50 million members in the space of a year, bringing the total to 200 million.

The retailer’s ambitions, however, go beyond dropping items off at the doorstep. While you can currently schedule the delivery of a particularly large item, and even have it left in a specific room, Amazon is said to be preparing an even more hands-on service. The assembly option would see the delivery person actually put the item together in the home, Bloomberg reports.

According to people familiar with the plans, they say, Amazon is looking to trial the premium service in Virginia and two other unnamed markets. Unlike Amazon Home Services – which offers recommended local contractors booked through Amazon’s system – assembly and installation of the purchases would be handled by the company’s own delivery staff.

Still, there’d be a limit to what could be offered. Amazon Home Services, for example, includes options for tasks like installing electric car chargers, something which would be beyond the remit of a delivery driver. Instead, it’s suggested, Amazon sees it more around doing basics like putting together sofas and living room furniture, or installing a straightforward appliance like a washing machine or dishwasher.

Amazon has declined to comment on the leak, but according to Bloomberg there’s some consternation among the company’s delivery drivers about just what might be expected of them. The retailer has already faced criticism about working conditions for delivery staff, with accusations of grueling workloads that leave them little time for bathroom breaks. Among the concerns were just how long Amazon managers might allot for assembly and installation, and the safety of spending extended periods inside customers’ homes during the pandemic which has helped make online shopping so popular.

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Dogecoin goes up and Robinhood goes down

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Some things in life you can count on, and it seems like Robinhood crashing just when the finance market is getting interesting is one of them. The popular finance service – which has seen particular success with first-time and novice investors – has been suffering several periods of downtime during volatility in crypto trading, particularly Elon Musk’s favored Dogecoin.

The cryptocurrency has certainly had a bizarre week – and, for that matter, an equally bizarre few months. Initially begun as a joke, the so-called “meme currency” gained traction when Tesla founder Elon Musk began pumping it on his Twitter account.

This past week, meanwhile, DOGE has surged in price. Although individual coins are still worth just a handful of cents, their value has shot up by almost 200-percent. Combined with the ease of entry, it’s left some holders with a huge return on their initial purchases, which were often made when Dogecoin was only a cent or two.

Problem is, you only see those returns when you sell, and that’s been tricky if you opted to purchase via Robinhood. The service has been encountering periods of downtime which just so happened to coincide with some of DOGE’s peaks over the past day or two.

“We’re experiencing intermittent issues with crypto trading due to heightened volumes,” Robinhood has warned on its support site at several points over the past 24 hours. “Because of this, some crypto trades may not execute right now.”

Within the past hour, Robinhood said that it had restored crypto trading “for most customers.” As for those who aren’t in that group, there’s only an apology to tide them over. “To anyone still affected, we’re sorry for the interruption,” the company added. “We’re working to restore service for everyone as soon as possible.

It’s not the first time Robinhood has left investors floundering. During the GameStop stock surge earlier this year, users suddenly found that they were unable to buy the volatile $GME stock. The limits were subsequently extended to other shares, including AMC. Robinhood defended its decision with an explanation of the mechanisms behind trading, but not before the moves caught the attention of lawmakers who have called for an investigation into whether it acted appropriately.

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