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Peak XV's Piyush Gupta leaves firm to start own secondary-focused VC fund | TechCrunch


Piyush Gupta, one of the operating leaders at Peak XV Partners, is leaving the firm at the end of this month to start his own fund, four people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Gupta joined Peak XV (called Sequoia India and SEA then) in 2017, leading the influential venture firm’s strategic development team. Before joining Peak XV, he focused on similar things – mergers, acquisitions, and IPOs – at Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank for more than a decade.

Though Gupta didn’t serve as an investing partner at Peak XV, he played an important role at some of its programs including Pitstop, where investors from across the globe liaison with Peak XV’s portfolio startups each year.

“For early-stage companies, we take a more programmatic approach, such as UpSurge, where we provide a platform for multiple companies to meet with multiple investors over a few days. At later stages, M&A can be a crucible moment in the journey to becoming a large, enduring company,” his bio on Peak XV reads. “Where our job gets incredibly interesting is when we help companies through the journey from pre to post IPO. Going public is an event and a milestone, but the work continues long after that and preparation is key.”

News of Gupta’s departure was relayed by Peak XV Partners to its limited partners at its annual gathering last month, one person familiar with the matter said, where the fund also unveiled plans to launch a perpetual fund that will be bankrolled by its investment partners and extended team.

The two are parting ways on cordial terms, two people familiar with the matter said. Gupta plans to launch a secondary-focused fund and Peak XV intends to work closely with him to facilitate transactions at its portfolio firms.

Peak XV declined to comment and Gupta didn’t respond to a text.

Secondary transactions are on the rise in India. Peak XV itself has seen some exits — Pine Labs, K12 — through secondary transactions in the past two years. The firm’s holding in Mamaearth, Zomato, K12 Techno Services, Go Colors stood at a 10x-plus multiple as of last November, TechCrunch reported at the time.

SentinelOne acquired PingSafe, an early-stage startup in India, earlier this year for more than $100 million, TechCrunch reported earlier. PingSafe, which counted Peak XV’s Surge among its backers, had raised less than $4 million before the acquisition deal.


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India's election overshadowed by the rise of online misinformation | TechCrunch


As India kicks off the world’s biggest election, which starts on April 19 and runs through June 1, the electoral landscape is overshadowed by misinformation.

The country — which has more than 830 million internet users and is home to the largest user base for social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram — is already at the highest risk of misinformation and disinformation, according to the World Economic Forum. AI has complicated the situation further, including deepfakes created with generative AI.

Misinformation is not just a problem for election fairness — it can have deadly effects, including violence on the ground and increase hatred for minorities.

Pratik Sinha, the co-founder of the Indian non-profit fact-checking website Alt News, says there’s been an increase in the deliberate creation of misinformation to polarize society. “Ever since social media has been thriving, there is a new trend where you use misinformation to target communities,” he said.

The country’s vast diversity in language and culture also make it particularly hard for fact-checkers to review and filter out misleading content.

“India is unusual in its size and its history of democracy,” Angie Drobnic Holan, the director of International Fact-Checking Network, told TechCrunch in an interview. “When you have got a lot of misinformation, you have a lot of need for fact-checking, and things that make the Indian environment more complex also are the many languages of India.”

The government has taken steps against the problem, but some critics argue that enforcement is weak, and the Big Tech platforms aren’t helping enough.

In 2022, the Indian government updated its IT intermediary rules to require social media companies to remove misleading content from their platforms within 72 hours of being reported. However, the results are unclear, and some digital advocacy groups, including the Internet Freedom Foundation, have noticed selective enforcement.

“You don’t want to have laws or rules that are so vague, that are so broad that they can be interpreted,” said Prateek Waghre, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation.

Google and Meta have made announcements about limiting misleading content on their platforms during Indian elections, and restricted their AI bots from answering election queries, but have announced no significant product-related changes or stringent actions against fake news. Moreover, just before the Indian election, Meta reportedly cut funding to news organizations for fact-checking on WhatsApp.

Now fake news is proliferating on social media. Doctored videos of celebrities asking citizens to vote for a particular political party and fake news about the Model Code of Conduct applied to public programs and private chats were well spread online before the election began.

Hamsini Hariharan, a subject matter expert at the U.K.-based fact-checking startup Logically, told TechCrunch about the trend of “cheapfakes” — content generated with less sophisticated measures of altering images, videos, and audio — being widely shared across social media platforms in India.

Last week, 11 civil society organizations in India, including the nonprofit digital rights groups Internet Freedom Foundation and Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC.in), urged the Indian election commission to hold political candidates and social media platforms accountable for any misuse.

Hariharan underlined that the scale and sophistication of misinformation and disinformation have drastically increased over the last five years since India’s last general election in 2019. The key reasons, she believes, are the increase in internet penetration — it’s grown from 14% in 2014 to around 50% now, according to World Bank data — and the availability of technologies to manipulate audiovisual messages, low media literacy, and the mainstream media losing some of its credibility.

Logically noticed a particular spike in attempts to cast doubt about electronic voting machines. Its fact-checkers saw older claims, particularly videos and text from Supreme Court hearings about voting machines, being circulated without sufficient context. There were even some posts about these machines being banned, faulty or tempered with, along with hashtags such as #BanEVM circulated among Facebook groups with thousands of followers.

Sinha of Alt News agreed that misleading online content has rapidly risen in the country. He noted that social media companies are not helping to limit such content on their platforms.

“Is there a single report that’s been published in four years as to how their fact-checking enterprise is doing? No, nothing, because they know it is not working. If it was working, they would have gone to town with it, but they know it’s not working,” he told TechCrunch.

Holan believes there is much room for product changes that emphasize accuracy and reliability.

“The platforms invested heavily during COVID in trust and safety programs. And since then, there’s clearly been a pullback,” she said.

Meta and X did not answer why there have been no significant product-related updates to restrict misleading content and the amount of investments made for fact-checking in India. However, a Meta spokesperson noted the existence of a WhatsApp tip line, which was launched in late March, and an awareness campaign on Instagram to identify and stop misinformation using the platform’s built-in features.

“We have a multi-pronged approach to tackling misinformation that includes building an industry-leading network of fact-checkers in the country, including training them on tackling AI-generated misinformation,” the Meta spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

X did not answer a detailed questionnaire sent to the generic press email ID but said, “Busy now, please check back later.”




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Meta AI is restricting election-related responses in India | TechCrunch


Last week, Meta started testing its AI chatbot in India across WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger. But with the Indian general elections beginning today, the company is already blocking specific queries in its chatbot.

Meta confirmed that it is restricting certain election-related keywords for AI in the test phase. It also said that it is working to improve the AI response system.

“This is a new technology, and it may not always return the response we intend, which is the same for all generative AI systems. Since we launched, we’ve constantly released updates and improvements to our models, and we’re continuing to work on making them better,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The move makes the social media giant the latest big tech company, proactively curtailing the scope of its generative AI services as it gears up for a major set of elections.

One of the big concerns from critics has been that genAI could provide misleading or outright false information to users, playing an illegal and unwelcome role in the democratic process.

Last month, Google started blocking election-related queries in its Gemini chatbot experience in India and other  markets where elections are taking place this year.

Meta’s approach follows a bigger effort the company has announced around what it allows and does not allow on its platform leading up to elections. It pledged to block political ads in the week leading up to an election in any country, and it is working to identify and disclose when images in ads or other content have been created with AI.

Meta’s handling of genAI queries appears to be based around a blocklist. When you ask Meta AI about specific politicians, candidates, officeholders, and certain other terms, it will redirect you to the Election Commission’s website.

“This question may pertain to a political figure during general elections. Please refer to the link https://elections24.eci.gov.in,” the response says.

Image Credits: Screenshot by TechCrunch

Notably, the company is not strictly blocking responses to questions containing party names. However, if a query includes the names of candidates or other terms, you might see the boilerplate answer cited above.

But just like other AI-powered systems, Meta AI has some inconsistencies. For instance, when TechCrunch asked for information about “Indi Alliance” — a politicial alliance of multiple parties that is fighting against the incumbents Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — it responded with information containing a politician’s name. However, when we asked about that politician in a separate query, the chatbot didn’t respond with any information.

Image credits: Screenshot by TechCrunch

This week, the company rolled out a new Llama-3-powered Meta AI chatbot in more than a dozen countries, including the U.S., but India was missing from the list. Meta said that the chatbot will be in the test phase in the country for now.

“We continue to learn from our users tests in India. As we do with many of our AI products and features, we test them publicly in varying phases and in a limited capacity,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement.

Currently, Meta AI is not blocking queries about elections for U.S.-related terms such as “Tell me about Joe Biden.” We have asked Meta if the company plans to restrict these queries to the U.S. elections or other markets. We will update the story if we hear back.

If you want to talk about your experience with Meta AI you can reach out to Ivan Mehta at [email protected] by email and through this link on Signal.


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Fintech CRED secures in-principle approval for payment aggregator license | TechCrunch


CRED has received the in-principle approval for payment aggregator license in a boost to the Indian fintech startup that could help it better serve its customers and launch new products and experiment with ideas faster.

The Bengaluru-headquartered startup, valued at $6.4 billion, received the in-principle approval from the Reserve Bank of India for the payment aggregator license this week, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

CRED didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The RBI has granted in-principle approval for payment aggregator licenses to several companies, including Reliance Payment and Pine Labs, over the past year. Typically, the central bank takes nine months to a year to issue full approval following the in-principle approval.

Payment aggregators are essential in facilitating online transactions by acting as intermediaries between merchants and customers. The RBI’s approval enables fintech firms to expand their offerings and compete more effectively in the market.

Without a license, fintech startups must rely on third-party payment processors to handle transactions, and these players may not prioritize such mandates. Obtaining a license allows fintech companies to process payments directly, reduce costs, gain greater control over payment flow, and onboard merchants directly. Additionally, payment aggregators with licenses can settle funds directly with merchants.

This is a developing story. More to follow.


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Truecaller launches a web client for its Android users | TechCrunch


Truecaller has launched a web version of its eponymous caller ID application that brings a range of features, including SMS and chat mirroring, call notifications, and number search functionality to the desktop. Initially, the web version, called Truecaller for Web, will only be made available to Android users globally, the company said, but it plans to roll out the support on iOS in the future.

All Truecaller for Android users across the world can now link their devices to the web client on a PC or a Mac through a QR code. At the moment, Truecaller is limiting the number of active web sessions to one and is also automatically signing out users after 30 days of no usage. Users can manually de-link a browser from settings as well. This is akin to linking the web version of a messenger like WhatsApp or Telegram.

Truecaller, which counts India as its biggest market with nearly 259 million users, is quite late in offering the SMS and chat-mirroring feature. Notably, Microsoft provides SMS mirroring for both Android and iPhone users on Windows through its Phone Link functionality. Nonetheless, this functionality could provide its users some convenience in quickly replying to a text or accessing one-time passwords (OTPs) for login.

Truecaller also already offers users the ability to look up a phone number on its website, though with some rate limits. Now users will be able to look up numbers without any such limitations on the web client, the company said. The web client also displays real-time caller ID notifications when a user receives a call.

The company said that there are 80 million people who receive SMS pop-up summary notifications every day. This means that these users haven’t denied Truecaller permission to read SMS. But it’s not clear if these folks are using Truecaller as their primary SMS client.

Over the last few months, Truecaller has focused on introducing more AI-powered features. Last month, it launched a “Max” feature update for Android users to block all calls from unapproved contacts or spam detected by AI. In February, the company also brought call recording and AI-powered transcription features to India after launching the feature in the U.S. last year.

After registering lower revenues for the quarter, the company had a 32% stock dip in October 2023. However, the stock has recovered from the low price of SEK24.47 ($2.32) to trading around SEK31.68 ($3) at the time of writing.

After the publication of the story, Truecaller said that it began rolling out the feature globally and not just in India. The story has been reflected to update that.


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Dailyhunt-parent acquires newsstand app Magzter | TechCrunch


VerSe Innovation, the parent firm of news aggregator app Dailyhunt, has acquired the popular digital newsstand firm Magzter, the two said Thursday.

The Bengaluru-headquartered startup has fully acquired Magzter, a New York-headquartered firm that counted Singapore Press Holdings among its backers. VerSe didn’t disclose the financial terms of the deal.

The acquisition of Magzter, which offers more than 8,500 magazines on its eponymous app, underscores VerSe’s focus on targetting and serving the affluent audience, VerSe co-founder Umang Bedi told TechCrunch in an interview.

Magzter has more than 1 million paying subscribers in India, and 87 million active users globally. The firm, which charges about $20 to $30 yearly to consumers for its all-you-can-consume model, will find a distribution and technology partner in VerSe, helping the U.S. firm reduce its user acquisition cost, Bedi said.

Dailyhunt began evaluating the deal with Magzter last year. The Indian firm plans to launch Dailyhunt Premium this year that will include an ad-free experience as well as Magzter’s catalog. Magzter will continue to operate as a standalone service as well, Bedi said.

This is a developing story. More to follow.


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India scrambles to curb PhonePe and Google's dominance in mobile payments | TechCrunch


The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), the governing body overseeing the country’s widely used Unified Payments Interface (UPI) mobile payment system, is set to engage with various fintech startups this month to develop a strategy to address the growing market dominance of PhonePe and Google Pay in the UPI ecosystem.

NPCI executives plan to meet with representatives from CRED, Flipkart, Fampay and Amazon among other players to discuss their key initiatives aimed at boosting UPI transactions on their respective apps and to understand the assistance they require, people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

UPI, built by a coalition of Indian banks, has become the most popular way Indians transact online, processing over 10 billion transactions monthly.

The new meetings are part of an increasing effort to address concerns raised by lawmakers and industry players regarding the market share concentration of Google Pay and PhonePe, which together account for nearly 86% of UPI transactions by volume, up from 82.5% at the end of December. Walmart owns more than three-fourths of PhonePe.

Paytm, the third-largest UPI player, has seen its market share decline to 9.1% by the end of March, down from 13% at the end of 2023, following a clampdown by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

An overview of India’s UPI ecosystem. (Image: Macquarie)

The conversation follows the central bank expressing “displeasure” to the NPCI over the growing duopoly in the payments space, a person familiar with the matter said. An NPCI spokesperson declined to comment.

In February, a parliamentary panel in India urged the government to support the growth of domestic fintech players that can offer alternatives to the Walmart-backed PhonePe and Google Pay apps.

The NPCI has long advocated for limiting the market share of individual companies participating in the UPI ecosystem to 30%. However, it has extended the deadline for firms to comply with this directive to the end of December 2024. The organization faces a unique challenge in enforcing this directive: It believes that it currently lacks a technical mechanism to do so, TechCrunch previously reported.

The RBI is also weighing an incentive plan to create a more favorable competitive field for emerging UPI players, another person familiar with the matter said. Indian daily Economic Times separately reported Wednesday that the NPCI is encouraging fintech companies to offer incentives to their users, promoting the use of their respective apps for making UPI transactions.


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Indian audio giant boAt says it's investigating suspected customer data breach | TechCrunch


India’s largest audio and wearables brand boAt is investigating a possible data breach after hackers advertised a cache of alleged customer data online.

A sample of alleged customer data was uploaded on a known cybercrime forum, which includes full names, phone numbers, email addresses, mailing addresses and order numbers. A portion of the data that TechCrunch reviewed appears genuine based on checks against exposed phone numbers.

The hacker said the breach happened in March, which led to the compromise of the data of more than 7.5 million customers.

In a statement emailed to TechCrunch, boAt said it was investigating the matter but did not disclose specifics.

“boAt is aware of recent claims regarding a potential data leak involving customer information. We take these claims seriously and have immediately launched a comprehensive investigation. At boAt, safeguarding customer data is our top priority,” the company said.

The leaked data includes references to Shopify. Indian outlet Athenil reported that the alleged hackers claimed the data was obtained by using credentials stolen from boAt’s systems.

boAt, which counts Warburg Pincus and South Lake Investment among its key investors, leads the market of wireless earbuds in India with nearly 34% share, according to data provided by IDC. boAt also dominates India’s wearables market, boasting some 26% of the market share.

In 2022, boAt, which was valued at $300 million in its Series B round of $100 million 2021, filed for its IPO to raise up to $266 million. The brand, however, postponed its public listing plans after seeing a slowdown in the public market.


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Indian ride-hailing giant Ola quits UK, Australia and NZ in international pullback | TechCrunch


Indian ride-hailing giant Ola is shutting down its operations in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, six years after expanding to international markets, as it shifts focus to shoring up its domestic business ahead of an initial public offering.

An Ola spokesperson told TechCrunch that the SoftBank-backed ride-hailing startup sees “immense opportunity for expansion in India,” where it operates in hundreds of cities and offers a range of transportation options, including two-wheelers.

“With this clear focus, we’ve reassessed our priorities and have decided to shut down our overseas ride-hailing business in its current form in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand,” the spokesperson added.

Valued at $7.3 billion in 2021, Ola is among the most high-profile startups in India and is backed by some of the biggest names, including Temasek, Tiger Global and Warburg Pincus. The startup plans to file for an initial public offering after the public listing of Ola Electric, the electric two-wheeler brand in India that spun out of Ola.

Ola Electric is looking to raise $662 million from its IPO in India, according to paperwork it filed late last year.

Ola and Uber, its chief rival in India, slowed their domestic expansion during the pandemic and have since largely focused on improving their unit economics. The two firms have explored merging businesses in recent years, but have been unable to reach an agreement. Both continue to insist publicly that they have no interest in partnering with the rival. (Uber sold its Indian food delivery business to local giant Zomato in early 2020.)

Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi recently told Indian daily Economic Times that the ride-hailing app’s market share has never been higher in the South Asian market.

“While (rival) Ola focuses on other areas … we love the ride-sharing business. We also continue to expand into new categories and are dedicated to sustainability. Some of our competitors are distracted by shiny, new efforts and IPOs; that’s great. I’m undistracted and completely focused on the mobility business here as there’s an enormous amount of upside for us and our positioning has never been better,” the Economic Times quoted Khosrowshahi as saying.


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Avendus, KKR-backed top India venture advisor, in talks to raise $300 million for new fund | TechCrunch


Avendus, India’s leading investment bank for venture deals, is looking to raise about $300 million for its private equity unit, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

The Mumbai-based firm, backed by U.S. private equity giant KKR, has established itself as the top financial advisor in India, working with popular growth-stage startups including Zepto, Lenskart, Xpressbees, CaratLane and Atomberg on their funding rounds last year.

With its third private equity fund, Avendus plans to write larger checks more frequently, one of the sources said. The firm raised its second fund, amounting to around $185 million, in 2021. Its maiden fund was $50 million in size.

The sources requested anonymity to discuss private matters. An Avendus spokesperson declined to comment.

Avendus first gained prominence as India’s startup ecosystem first started to take shape, capitalizing on the fact that many of its well-known rivals — including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan — initially paid less attention to the Indian market. That was partly due to deal sizes in the early days: Typically they were less than $30 million, not substantial enough to generate significant fees, making it less attractive for many banner names to engage.

But as the Indian startup ecosystem flourished in the past decade, becoming the third-largest in the world, it has attracted global giants, including SoftBank, Tiger Global and General Atlantic, as well as sovereign wealth funds like Temasek, GIC, ADIA, Khazanah, PIB and Mubadala, which have collectively poured tens of billions of dollars into startups small and large in India.

Avendus employs more than 150 bankers and was the top financial advisor in India last year. It provided services in over 30 deals, including merger and acquisition transactions, according to Venture Intelligence, a private market insight platform.

In the past decade, similar to financial advisors in other regions, Avendus has diversified its offerings, venturing into wealth management, credit financing and private equity. Last year, the firm also expanded its financial advisory services to the Southeast Asian region.


Software Development in Sri Lanka

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