Groupon is currently embroiled in a legal wrangle with Villas International, a small Singapore-based company that brokered between tourist accommodations and group buying companies.
In a series of twists, what began as a SGD 2M (USD 1.6M) lawsuit has now become a SGD 290K counterclaim by the merchant against the world’s largest daily deals site.
Founded by Mira Hamza and Feroz Ghulam, Villas earned a small fee from advertising vacation stays on various daily deals sites. While the business model is straightforward, trouble started a year into operations. In September 2011, they began running into cashflow problems and in subsequent months started defaulting in their payments to villas in Indonesia and Thailand.
Customers began pouring their grievances on at least two threads in TripAdvisor about how they would book a flight to Bali after purchasing a deal, only to realize upon arrival at the hotel that there was no room because they didn’t receive any payments from Villas. Calls to the company were often left unanswered. A Facebook page was even created by troubled customers looking to compare notes.
‘Not our fault’
Mira and Feroz says it wasn’t their fault. In an interview with SGE, they blamed the daily deals sites, claiming they were unable to pay clients because the majority of the sites they dealt with had not paid them despite repeated reminders. Read more
Image: Lindsey Turner
While pervasive and hidden at the same time, unused TV frequency waves, or ‘white spaces’, are being unlocked in Singapore to provide possibly cheaper, more efficient, and ubiquitous wireless Internet access.
Leading this initiative is the Singapore White Spaces Pilot Group, founded by Microsoft, UK wireless service provider Neul, Singapore telco StarHub, and Singapore government research agency I2R. Rival telcos SingTel and M1 are absent from the private-public group.
A pilot trial has been conducted at the Singapore Island Country Club, which is surrounded by hills, a lake, dense vegetation, and tall trees, making it a challenging natural terrain for wireless providers.
White spaces have been supplying an internet connection to members at four club locations and a golf course. The next stage involves facilitating the Internet of Things. That calls for installing sensors to regulate lighting, detecting moisture levels on the greens, tracking golf carts, and gauging the fill level of litter bins. Read more
On TheNextWeb: Norwegian browser software company Opera has opened a regional head office in Singapore today as it seeks to extend its reach in the Asia-Pacific region with a focus on developing its advertising business…
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Just months after launching in Singapore, Uber, an online private car hire service, is kickstarting a major push into Asia. Already, the company has placed job postings seeking general managers, with logistics and community management roles available in certain countries.
At least 7 cities will soon see Uber’s black luxury cars on its roads, and these are: Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangalore, and Auckland.
The general manager will be responsible for developing and growing Uber’s business, requiring him or her to take charge of customer support, local marketing, supply chain management, yield management, social media, and public relations.
While Uber has not officially disclosed its timeline for regional expansion, Taiwanese tech blog Inside noted that the company has already created an Uber Taipei Twitter account. The writer further indicated that Uber has already partnered with at least one local car leasing company, and that it is set to launch in the city in a few weeks. Read more
DealGuru, a Singapore-based e-commerce company backed by Michael Brehm of Rebate Networks, has announced that it is spinning out its food delivery business into a new company called Food Runner.
Led by CEO Lance Frey, who was CFO at DealGuru, Food Runner is managing the Room Service Deliveries brand, which DealGuru acquired last year and merged into its own food delivery service.
DealGuru started out as a daily deals company, then expanded into direct e-commerce in the fashion, electronics, cosmetics and household goods categories. It started operating its food delivery arm in March 2012.
“The (food delivery) business has been growing strongly. We felt it had reached a point where it made sense to operate with the greater flexibility and focus that a separate business provides,” said Lance, who adds that as an independent company, the CEO and management will be able to operate independently and make decisions unencumbered.
Operational in Singapore and Malaysia, Food Runner will be expanding to other parts of Southeast Asia, a food delivery market that Michael Brehm expects will hit USD 390M by 2015.
With over 50,000 registered users and ‘several’ million dollars worth of deliveries made, Food Runner claims to be the largest in Southeast Asia by food sales and revenue.
Assuming that the company is making USD3M in annual deliveries with an average transaction fee of 15 percent, that would work out to an estimated yearly revenue of USD 450k.
Lance, however, disputes the figure, claiming that the company is making more money than the estimate suggests. He is unable to disclose actual figures.
“We provide a comprehensive service model – marketing, order processing and delivery – our value to restaurants is greater, and we are therefore able to earn a multiple of the margin you estimated,” he said.
“As such, the company earns twice the commission revenue in dollars, compared to anyone else – and we mean anyone else – in Southeast Asia.”
Nevertheless, Food Runner is likely to make up only a small chunk of DealGuru’s main business Deal.com.sg, which made USD 40.3M in revenue in 2012. But that leaves it with much room for growth.
Industry insiders dispute the notion that DealGuru is the leading food delivery service in Asia. They brought up FoodPanda, a Rocket Internet venture which is already serving customers in six Southeast Asian countries.
FoodPanda has also been very active lately, acquiring SingaporeDine, a smaller player based in Singapore, as well as partnering with online grocery store RedMart and mobile loyalty card app Perx.
Singapore’s competing doctor booking platforms DocDoc and DoctorPage have become one. The new entity, which takes the name DocDoc, would have dominant market share in Singapore and a presence in South Korea. It plans to expand to 3 new countries by end-2013, although it isn’t ready to disclose which.
Grace Park, co-founder of DocDoc, will serve as CEO. While John Sharp will no longer represent DocDoc as president and CTO, he remains on board as investor and advisor. DoctorPage founders Max-F Scheichenost, Dawn Soo, and Daniel Endres will serve as President, COO, and CIO respectively.
According to Max-F Scheichenost, neither startup was in a distressed position at merger. Rather, it was an opportunity to capitalize on each other’s assets to accelerate growth in Asia.
The companies were founded within months of one another last year. Although they offer similar services on both the web and mobile front, the individual teams have somewhat different backgrounds and experiences. Read more
Indiescapes offers experiences not often found in guide books.
With 52 primary languages, over 1,000 dialects, and 27 currencies, Asia is a potpourri of different cultures, races, and economic environments. While many entrepreneurs find the diversity daunting, online travel startups thrive on it.
Such cultural vibrance positions Asia as an attractive destination for travelers of all stripes, seeking anything from conventional resort stays to meticulously planned city tours to off-the-beaten-track wildlife escapades. This explains the Asia tourism industry’s massive size — which is slated to reach USD 357B by this year, a 64 percent increase from 2009.
While industry competition is brutal, a number of trends are converging to unearth a variation on the conventional travel experience.
Platforms like Vayable, Voyagin, Sidetour, and Singapore-based Indiescapes cater to different sort of traveler: Those who dislike commercialized tours and are seeking something more authentic and in-tune with the locals. Call it travel for millennials. Read more
CD Baby founder Derek Sivers (blog), who sold his company for a reported USD 22M in 2008, has launched a new company called Wood Egg selling startup guides for Asia. The website currently lists 16 e-books for 16 countries, accounting for the major markets in Asia-Pacific.
Available in multiple formats, the e-books are priced at USD 50 and cover a wide range of topics on each country, such as insights on the local market, cultural nuances, admin and operational advice, marketing tips, and more. The guides appear to feature general entrepreneurial advice, rather than specific tips for tech startups. Read more
Design crowdsourcing site 99Designs is continuing its expansion into Asia, following the launch of its localized Hong Kong site with a Singapore one. 99designs.com.sg enables users to transact in the local currency and access support through a local number.
Unlike traditional freelance marketplaces, 99Designs allows customers to launch contests for a variety of design work. They can pick the most suitable design, after which the copyright for the winning work will be transferred to the customer. Clients who are unhappy with the service can opt for a full refund.
The company has hired 3 design consultants from the Philippines to help Asia-Pacific customers with the design briefs and contests. Read more
Aligned to the vision of being a regional event, this year’s Echelon traveled to over 10 countries and saw over 300 submissions from the region. Over 100 were chosen to present at various Echelon Satellites, out of which 10 were shortlisted to vie for the title as the region’s next Most Promising Startup.
Most Promising Startup – Waygo
Faced with this year’s strong line-up, Waygo – a visual translation mobile application, emerged to clinch the title. Waygo is a patent-pending real-time computer vision platform on mobile devices. Its first products are a suite of visual translation apps for users on the go. All that is required is a phone camera to instantly translate text — no internet connection needed. Waygo has currently about 40,000 users and is in talks to work with Lonely Planet and American Airlines. Try the app out yourself using their sample menu.
Waygo – Visual mobile translator