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Vectorized announces $15.5M investment to build simpler streaming data tool

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Streaming data is not new. Kafka has existed as an open source tool for a decade. Vectorized was founded on the premise that the existing tools were too complex and not designed for today’s streaming requirements. Today the company released its first product, Redpanda, an open source tool designed to make it easier for developers to build streaming data applications.

While it was at it, the startup announced a $15.5 million funding round, which is actually a combination of a previously unannounced $3 million seed round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and a $12.5 million Series A, which was also from Lightspeed with help from Google Ventures.

Redpanda is an open source tool that is delivered as an “intelligent API” to help “turn data streams into products,” company founder and CEO Alexander Gallego explained. It’s built to be a Kafka replacement, while remaining Kafka-compatible to help deal with backwards compatibility.

At the same time, it takes a more modern approach. Gallego points out that teams building data streaming applications have been getting lost in the complexity and he recognized an opportunity to build a company to simplify that.

“People are drowning in complexity today managing Kafka, ZooKeeper (an open source configuration management tool) and the data lake,” he said, adding “We enable new things that couldn’t be done before for several reasons: one is performance, one is simplicity and the other one is this store procedures.”

He says that the key to developer adoption is making the product free through open source, and having Kafka compatibility so that developers don’t feel like they have to just dump existing projects and start from scratch. While the company is launching with an open source tool, it plans to use the funding to build a hosted version of Redpanda to put it within reach of more organizations. “This funding round in particular is to power our cloud,” he said.

Arif Janmohamed, a partner at Lightspeed Ventures who is leading the investment in Vectorized sees a company looking to improve upon an existing technology with a better approach. “With a simple, elegant solution that doesn’t require any changes to an existing application’s code, Vectorized delivers 10x better performance, a much simpler management paradigm, and new functionality that will unleash the next set of real-time applications for the next decade,” Janmohamed said.

The company has 22 employees today with plans to add another 8 in the first half of this year, mostly engineers to help build the hosted version. As a Latino founder, Gallego is acutely aware of the need for a diverse and inclusive workforce. “What I have found is that being a [Latino] CEO, it attracts more people that look like me, and so that’s been a big thing, and it’s made a difference [in attracting diverse candidates],” he said.

One concrete thing he has done is start a scholarship to encourage under represented groups to become developers. “I started a scholarship where we just give money and mentorship to communities of Latino, Black and female developers, or people that want to transition to software engineering,” he said. While he says he does it without strings attached, he does hope that some of these folks could become part of the tech industry eventually, and perhaps even work at his company.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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India’s Paytm turns Android smartphones into POS machines in merchants push

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Paytm said on Tuesday it is turning NFC-enabled Android smartphones into point-of-sale machines, as it looks to win more merchants in one of the world’s largest mobile payments markets.

A Paytm merchant partner will now be able to enable card acceptance feature from their Paytm Business app. Once activated, they will be able to process a transaction by tapping a plastic card to their phone.

Paytm Smart POS supports Visa, Mastercard, and Rupeek, the Indian startup said.

Existing payment devices in the market haven’t proven very successful in reaching small and medium sized businesses in India, most of which remain offline, said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and chief executive of Paytm, at a virtual press conference today.

To win these merchants, Paytm has in recent years rolled out QR codes that work across several payment networks, and launched jukeboxes and other gadgets to make it easier for merchants to accept payments digitally.

With today’s move, said Sharma, “the obligation of buying a POS machine, too, is no longer needed.” The startup said that most new Android smartphone models support the NFC feature.

Paytm also unveiled the newer generation jukebox POS that looks similar to a QR placard. “The reason why merchants haven’t actively adopted many of the existing POS machines is that they are not comfortable with it,” said Dilip Asbe, head of payments body NPCI, at the virtual conference.

The Indian startup, which processed more than 1.2 billion transactions last month, said it will charge a small subscription fee to merchant partners for accessing either of the aforementioned payments services.

The move, which in many ways pits Paytm against Sequoia Capital-backed Pine Labs, a market leader in the POS category but a significantly smaller startup, demonstrates just how aggressively Paytm is expanding its payments platform to go after merchants.

“Just the way, mobile phones saw an evolution from featurephone to smartphone, we believe the merchant PoS market in India is at an inflexion point to evolve from the traditional (aka dumb-PoS) to Smart-PoS. Unlike traditional PoS, which only allows transactions from debit/credit-card, some of the features of a Smart-PoS are: GST compliant bill, scanner/printer, takes all payments including UPI, is Bluetooth enabled and could be customized for different merchants as per their needs. While currently the Fintech companies are offering these devices, we expect banks to catch-up eventually,” wrote analysts at Bank of America in a recent note to clients.

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Taipei-based Influenxio gets $2M from DCM Ventures for its “microinfluencer” marketing platform

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Influencer marketing startup Influenxio's team, with founder and CEO Allan Ko in the center

Influenxio’s team, with founder and chief executive officer Allan Ko in the center

“Microinfluencers” are gaining clout among marketers. Though they may have as little as a thousand followers, microinfluencers tend to focus on specific content and be seen as more engaging and trustworthy by their audience, said Allan Ko, founder and chief executive officer of Influenxio. The Taipei-based startup, which connects brands with Instagram microinfluencers through its online platform, announced today that it has closed $2 million in pre-Series A funding led by DCM Ventures, and is launching a new subscription plan.

Founded in 2018, Influenxio has now raised over $3 million in total, including from seed investor SparkLabs Taipei. It currently operates in Taiwan and Japan, where it has databases of 100,000 and 250,000 Instagram creators, respectively. So far, over 6,000 brands have registered on Influenxio’s platform, and it has been used to run over 1,000 campaigns.

Influenxio plans to use its new funding for hiring and product development. Influenxio’s new subscription plan is a relatively novel model for the field, so one of the startup’s goals is to prove that it works, Ko told TechCrunch. The company also plans to build out its Japanese platform and expand into more countries.

A screenshot of Influenxio's platform

A screenshot of Influenxio’s platform

Influenxio analyzes past campaigns, performance data and client reviews to improve its algorithms. Since the entire campaign creation process–from finding influencers to paying them–is performed through Influenxio, this allows it to gather a wide range of data to refine its technology, Ko told TechCrunch.

Influencers typically make about $35 to $40 USD for each campaign they participate in, and most of the brands the company works with focus on food (like restaurants), fashion, beauty or lifestyle services.

Before launching Influenxio, Ko spent 15 years working in the digital marketing field, serving as an account manager at Yahoo! and Microsoft, and then head of Hong Kong and Taiwan for Google’s online partnerships group. He wanted to create a startup that would combine what he had learned about digital marketing and make accessible to more businesses.

Large brands have used Influenxio to quickly generate marketing campaigns for special occasions like Mother’s Day or Christmas. For example, one advertiser in Taiwan used Influenxio to hire almost 200 influencers in one week, who were asked to test and post about their products, and some of Influenxio’s highest profile clients include Shiseido, Shopee, iHerb and KKBox.

But the majority of Influenxio’s clients (about 80% to 90%) are small- to medium-sized businesses, and Ko said they usually create multiple campaigns to build brand awareness over time, working with a few influencers a month.

Influenxio’s new subscription plan, which costs less than $100 USD a month and is launching first in Taiwan before rolling out to other markets, was created for them. “The first year we launched the platform, we found small businesses want experts and advice,” said Ko. Many don’t have marketing managers, so Influenxio’s subscription plan automatically matches them with new influencers each month and provides them with analytics so they can see how well campaigns are performing.

Influenxio is among a growing number of startups that are tapping into the “microinfluencer economy,” with others including AspireIQ, Upfluence and Grin.

Ko said Influenxio’s biggest difference is its focus on small businesses, and serving as a one-stop marketplace for influencer campaigns. “The important thing for our platform is that it needs to be very easy and simple,” he added. “We spent a lot of time on the execution and details to make it smoother on the advertiser side. For the influencer side, we try to make it more convenient. For example, the way they receive money, our goal is to also make it easy.”

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Kia’s electric vehicle plans take shape with EV6 teaser, new naming strategy

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Kia started the year by dropping “motor company” from its corporate name and revealing a new logo and slogan as part of Plan S, a strategy to shift its business away from internal combustion engines and towards EVs, mobility services and autonomous vehicle technology.

Now, the South Korean automaker is starting to share more details of the first vehicle that will come out of Plan S. Kia released Tuesday several teaser images of the EV6, its first dedicated battery-electric vehicle built on its new Electric-Global Modular Platform, or E-GMP platform. This platform is shared with Hyundai and is the underlying foundation of the new Hyundai Ioniq 5 compact crossover.

These are teasers and so the vehicle isn’t shown in full. But even with the limited view enough design features are visible to begin to understand what Kia’s design language means for the EV6 and its other future electric vehicles.

The EV6 is a four-door crossover, which isn’t a surprise considering the popularity of such vehicles in the U.S. The low front end moves up into a roofline that is reminiscent of a coupe. The LED headlights have a segmented pattern and the traditional grille found on internal combustion engine vehicles is gone.

Kia teases EV6

Image credits: Kia

The company also revealed a new naming scheme to help consumers easily identify the EVs in its lineup. Kia said its new dedicated battery electric vehicles will all start with the “EV” prefix. A number will follow “EV” to indicate the vehicle’s position the line-up. That puts the EV6 somewhere in the middle of its upcoming lineup.

Kia said the EV6 will make its world premiere during the first quarter of 2021.

“Our aim is to design the physical experience of our brand and to create bold, original and inventive electric vehicles,” Karim Habib, senior vice president and head of Kia Global Design Center, said in a statement.

Kia’s strategy is more ambitious though than creating bold, original and inventive electric vehicles. The company said last year that it wanted to become a pioneer in the age of EVs, a brand beloved by the millennial generation and Z generation and a symbol of challenge and innovation. Kia has placed sales and product goals behind those aspirational objectives, including the launch of 11 EVs by 2025 that will give it a 6.6% global EV market share, selling 500,000 electric vehicles annually by 2026, and offering customized purpose-built electric vehicles for corporate customers.

Image credits: Kia

It’s also putting some capital behind the effort, to the tune of 29 trillion won (US $25 billion) by the end of 2025.  Kia said its targeting a 6% operating profit margin and 10.6% return on equity (ROE) ratio during this time period.

The EV6 is the first product of Plan S, a vehicle that will show investors and consumers if Kia’s grand plans are achievable. In other words, the EV6 is important for Kia.

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