Paytm’s annual loss doubles to $549M – gpgmail


Running a payments business in India is not cheap. Just ask Paytm . One of India’s largest payment companies reported a net loss of Rs 3959 crore ($549 million) for the financial year that ended in March, up 165% over 1490 crore ($206 million) in the same period last year.

During the same period, the company’s revenue rose to Rs 3232 crore ($448 million), compared to Rs 3052 crore ($423 million) in the year before. The firm’s debt also surged to Rs 695 crore ($96 million), One97 Communications, the parent firm of Paytm, told investors in its annual report.

One97 Communications also runs an e-commerce business, which recently raised money from eBay, and Paytm Money, that runs mutual funds business. On a consolidated basis, the 9-year-old firm reported an annual loss of Rs 4217.20 crore ($584 million), up from Rs 1604.34 crore ($222 million) from the year before.

Indian news outlet BloombergQuint first reported (paywalled) the financial performance of Paytm.

The loss should worry Paytm, whose CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma said in a conference last week that the firm would begin to work on going public in the next 22 to 24 months. The level of competition that Paytm faces today is only about to increase in the coming future, and unlike earlier, the Indian firm is not facing off financially weaker local rivals.

Paytm, which has raised over $2 billion to date from a range of investors including SoftBank, Alibaba, and Berkshire Hathaway, continues to be the largest mobile wallet app provider in India, but increasingly users are moving to government-backed UPI payments infrastructure. In UPI land, Paytm competes with Flipkart’s PhonePe and Google Pay, both of which are heavily-backed.

As of July, both PhonePe and Google Pay commanded a bigger market share across UPI apps than Paytm.

Also in UPI land, you don’t make money on each transaction. So lately, every payments firm in India, including Paytm, has expanded it offering to include financial services such as a credit card, or loan, or insurance.

In many ways, this has created a level playing field for payment firms that did not dominate the wallet business.

In a statement, Paytm said it has been investing $1 billion per year for the last two years to “expand payments ecosystem in our country.” The company plans to invest a further $3 billion in the next two years.

“We believe India is at the inflection point of digital payments and Paytm’s sole focus is towards solving the merchant payments and offering them financial services. We will invest Rs 20,000 crore ($2.7 billion) in the next two years towards achieving this,” a company spokesperson said.

The biggest challenge for Paytm and other UPI payment apps has yet to emerge. Before the end of this year, WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, plans to offer UPI payment option to all its years in the coming month.


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Alibaba’s UCWeb to launch an e-commerce service in India – gpgmail


UCWeb, a subsidiary of Chinese giant Alibaba, plans to launch an e-commerce service in India in the coming months.

In a statement to gpgmail, a UCWeb spokesperson said the firm plans to build an e-commerce service around content platform in India. The spokesperson added that UCWeb has no intention to compete with existing e-commerce businesses in the country, and that Alibaba Group was not overseeing the development of the service.

UCWeb, which is known for its popular mobile browser UC Browser, would leverage its “extensive user communities in India,” to build the e-commerce business, the spokesperson said. “The new service is in line with our strategy to enrich the experience for users and clients alike.”

UC Browser, used by more than 430 million users worldwide, counts India as one of its key markets where it has over 130 million users. According to third-party analytics firm StatCounter, UC Browser commanded over 23% of the mobile browser market share in India, lagging only behind Google Chrome, whose market share has ballooned in recent years to 63%.

UC Browser, has however, remained in the top 15 apps in India based on number of downloads downloads through Google Play Store in last three months, according to app research firm SensorTower. 

In recent years, UCWeb has been working to bulk up UC Browser to expand its offering beyond mobile browsing. Today it works with over 120,000 bloggers and over 700 media outlets to produce content that it then serves to UC Browser users.

UCWeb has launched a number of apps in recent years that are aimed at users who are trying to download videos from the web. Vmate, a UCWeb-owned app that offers similar functionalities, recently secured $100 million commitment from parent firm Alibaba.

On the sidelines of a company event on Thursday, Huaiyuan Yang, Vice President of UCWeb Global Business, told news agency PTI that the firm would partner with existing players for its upcoming e-commerce service. Alibaba owns about 30% of payments firm Paytm.

“We have Alibaba’s e-commerce gene in us. We are actually trying to start innovative business model related to e-commerce,” he told PTI.


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India’s GoWork raises $53M in debt financing to expand its co-working spaces business – gpgmail


GoWork, a Gurgaon-based startup that runs a co-working spaces business in India, said on Tuesday it has raised $53 million in a debt round to scale its business in the country as competition in the market, including from recent entrant Oyo Rooms, intensifies.

The debt round for the two-year-old startup — not to be confused with an Indonesian startup with the same name that operates in the same space — was financed by a private fund managed by BlackRock’s Private Credit team and CLSA Capital Partners’ Special Situations Group, the startup said. Prior to today’s announcement, GoWork had raised an undisclosed amount from Nimitaya fund, a spokesperson told gpgmail.

Sudeep Singh, CEO of GoWork, said the startup will use the fresh capital, which will flow for the next two years, to expand its footprints in the country. GoWork plans to establish 50 centers across several major Indian cities by 2025, up from two it currently runs in Gurgaon.

In the immediate quarters, it plans to expand its accommodation capacity to 25,000 people, up from 12,000 currently. GoWork counts corporates such as Paytm Mall, CoverFox, and Impactify Consulting among its clients.

In addition to fast Wi-Fi, shuttle service, parking facility, cafe, and food court services it currently offers, the startup plans to include additional add-ons such as pet care facility and brewery in the coming months.

In a statement, Neeraj Seth, BlackRock’s Head of Asian Credit, said, “GoWork is taking the brick and mortar aspect of the co-working concept further, as well as consistent measures to enable young businesses to reach their highest potential. We look forward to GoWork offering optimal operational efficiency for all start-ups as well as corporates.”

India’s co-working space, still a relatively new business category locally, is worth $390 million — a fraction of the $30 billion office and commercial real estate business.

GoWork competes with a number of firms including hotel lodging startup Oyo, which last month entered the co-working spaces business with the launch of Oyo Workspaces. For the expansion, it acquired local player Innov8 for a sum of about $30 million to immediately establish presence in 10 cities in India with more than 20 centers. 91Springboard, Awfis, GoHive, and the global giant WeWork are also competing for a slice of the $390 million market.


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The scientist behind Juul launches a Juul alternative for China – gpgmail


The chemist who helped create the magic sauce behind Juul, Xing Chenyue, unveiled the product of her new startup Myst Labs this week after two years of development: electronic cigarette alternatives designed for China’s 350 million smokers, the world’s biggest smoking population.

This new contender makes for a potentially heated battlefield given that Juul will reportedly enter China soon. gpgmail has reached out to Juul about its expansion, but has not heard back at the time of writing.

Pax Labs — the company that spun out Juul in 2017 — was a 20-person team when Xing joined as one of its first scientists in 2013. During her nearly three-year post at what would become America’s largest vaping company, Xing helped invent nicotine salts, the compounds that made Juul an instant hit. The patented technology inspired a raft of followers because it allows high levels of nicotine to be inhaled more easily and with less irritation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Xing left Juul when the company made a foray into marijuana vaporizers, a move that didn’t particularly interest the scientist, a non-smoker whose ambition is to “help smokers meet their nicotine needs whilst reducing the harmful substances they consume,” Xing told gpgmail in a phone interview.

Myst says it spends about 20% of its money raised on research and development. / Photo: Myst Labs

The China-born scientist took up a project management role at publicly-traded pharmaceutical company Dermia before eventually returning to cigarettes research by starting Myst Labs, which she co-founded in 2017 with Thomas Yao, a venture capitalist she had met over a decade ago at Fudan University in Shanghai.

As Myst began to take form, Juul was on course to reach its whopping $38 billion valuation even while it was under fire for luring teenagers into vaping. Meanwhile in China, vaping had just begun to catch on. Research from Soochow Securities (in Chinese) shows that China, despite being the world’s biggest producer of vaping devices, accounts for merely 6% of the world’s e-cig market. Xing wanted to seize the opportunity and this time, she’s in control over what comes out of the lab.

“We certainly want to reach the same level of society-wide impact in China as Juul does in the U.S. We hope Myst can leave a positive mark on Chinese smokers,” said Xing. “Myst can slowly transform the way people smoke and gradually reduce the level of their nicotine intake.”

Myst’s first product, dubbed the P1 series, is a 399 yuan ($58) flash-drive-shaped device that comes with a nicotine level of 3% or 5% and sports a retractable cigarette holder for hygiene and a “click” sound that mimics a lighter. Myst will ship in China through online and offline channels and said it plans to sell in international markets down the road. Its price point is comparable to Juul’s pricing in the U.S.

Myst does not market itself as a smoking cessation tool because to do so would require approval from China’s drug regulator. Rather, the startup bills itself as a “new type of cigarette substitute for adult smokers.” It has avoided using images of young, cool-looking models, the style of campaigns that backfired on Juul. To verify customers’ age, Myst applies facial recognition, an increasingly ubiquitous technology in China where people scan their face to pay for things or access certain entertainment services such as video games and live videos.

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Myst says its products are priced and marketed to target ‘adult smokers,’ not young people. / Photo: Myst Labs

That positioning also allows the company to potentially evade stepping on the toes of China’s powerful cigarette monopoly, which provides the government with handsome sums of tax revenues.

From Silicon Valley to Shenzhen

Myst deploys about half of its 20-person team to conduct research and development in Silicon Valley. The rest of the company mainly works out of Shenzhen, the electronics manufacturing hub that also produces the majority of the world’s vaporizers.

“We are combining Silicon Valley research and China’s supply chain, a strategy that sets us apart from most vaporizers on the market,” Yao, who heads up business development at Myst, told gpgmail.

He compared China’s vaping craze to what happened to smartphones between 2010 and 2011 when copycats of incumbents crowded the market in a gold rush. Countless knockoffs of Juul and other established brands now flood the market. Companies with various degrees of development capabilities have also mushroomed — at least 20 Chinese e-cig startups have received venture investment in the last seven months.

As with the smartphone market that’s now dominated by a small rank of players, Yao believed the bad apples in vaping will eventually be weeded out. “This [counterfaiting] happens whenever China experiences a technological breakthrough. Chinese brands get eliminated at a rate to which no other country can compare. Perhaps a lot of [e-cig] companies will go out of business by the end of this year.” A sector reshuffle will result in part from government regulation, which can arrive in China anytime soon.

myst 5

Myst co-founder Thomas Yao introduced his co-founder and the company’s chief scientist Xing Chenyue, a former scientist at Juul. / Photo: Myst Labs

Xing believes Myst’s edge lies in the quality of its products. According to Yao, the company spends about 20% of the money raised on R&D.

Yao declined to disclose how much the company has banked but said it has sufficient funds in the coffer and that “money isn’t an issue” because he has personally invested in Myst. Yao had previously picked some winners by backing mobility unicorn Lime and India’s wallet leader Paytm in their early days.

The co-founder has also brought to the table key personnel for the business, including Myst’s chief executive officer Daniel Chen, who previously managed Hong Kong-listed robotics firm Super Robotics; chief operation officer Martin Liu, former CEO of Blackberry China; head of product Yingqun Cao, a former product manager at Google Home and Juul; and lastly head of design Jiandong Hao, previously a design director at global design firm IDEO.

The pool of talent is reflective of Myst’s vision to digitize smoking, which can manifest in the form of a connected vaporizer that tracks users’ health conditions just like a smart wristband does. Myst’s current generation of products does not yet enable the futuristic scenario, but Yao maintained that digitization is key to smoking.

“For smokers, vaporizers could become the second most used electronic devices after smartphones,” he said.


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