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Computer vision startup ViSenze has raised series B round of funding worth $10.5 million, reports Tech in Asia.

The round is led by existing investor Rakuten Ventures, Rakuten’s investment arm. It was also co-led by WI Harper Group, which specializes in cross-border investments between the US and China, and early-stage venture capital firm Enspire Capital.

Oliver Tan, ViSenze co-founder and CEO points out how rare it is these days to raise series B, as not a lot of players in Singapore writes these checks.

Oliver attributes investor interest to the startup’s tech and the traction it has achieved in the last couple of years.

It’s one thing to have cool technology, but you also have to show it translates to a product that solves problems and that clients are willing to pay money for.

What does ViSenze do?

ViSenze builds visual search and image recognition software, specializing in ecommerce and retail applications. Its tech combines computer vision, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to provide image-based search and item recommendations.

The company’s tech is used by ecommerce providers in several markets like Rakuten, Lazada, British fashion marketplace Asos, Indian fashion e-tailer Myntra and Flipkart.

The company says its revenue has grown more than 300% year on year. Oliver declines to provide specifics, but states that search volume increased tenfold in the last year compared to the previous one.

Funding money put to use

The funding will enable ViSenze to build up its research and development team, in order to increase its scale and capacity to deal with global search volumes.

ViSenze is working toward new applications of its technology, including visual recognition search on video – which is in prototype stage for now.

The team will open more international offices. Headquartered in Singapore, it also has an office in San Francisco. It wants to add London, India, and China to that list. “China is a very different market, our strategy is more driven by partnerships, but our long term goal is to build market presence through local tie-up.”

A version of this appeared in Tech in Asia on September 15. Read the full version here

Chinese ecommerce giant, and Alibaba’s biggest rival, JD.com, announced it’s plan to approach drone deliveries, reports Tech in Asia.

The company has begun testing a new unmanned delivery drone that looks more like a small van than a quad-copter. According to JD, the drones are around a meter in length and have six differently sized compartments for carrying packages, making it potentially simpler to pack up and deliver to people’s homes.

How do drone deliveries work?

The bots can navigate intersections by recognizing light colors. When it arrives at their destination building, the customer inside will be notified via the JD app and they can come out, key in a code to unlock the cargo area, and collect their package.

The drones can select their own routes, drive themselves, and are equipped with smart obstacle avoidance technology.

JD states that these drones are the first of its kind to be developed in China, and the company aims to put them into large scale commercial use by next year.

According to JD’s representative, “the road testing with delivery cars is just the tip of the iceberg, the tests are just the first step.”

Apart from innovative delivery drones, JD is also working on a larger drone delivery car, but the company has not elaborated on details. Let’s wait to see how this folds out.

A version of this appeared in Tech in Asia on September 2. Read the full version here

Facebook is trying to make Messenger bots more active, reports Marketing Land.

Facebook has announced that it is restricting how long Messenger bots have to respond to someone before they’re muzzled, but is relaxing its rule forbidding promotional messages. This seems to be Facebook’s way of pressuring companies to make their bots responsive.

A new 24 hour window is the pillar of these changes. Now a Messenger bot will only be able to message someone within 24 hours of that person interacting with the bot.

Messenger bots can now send promotional messages to people, such as “Hey, check out this sale”, but only within the 24 hours restriction.

However, the 24 hour window isn’t fully sealed. A bot will be able to send one follow up message after the window closes. This will reset each time a person interacts with a given Messenger bot, and it will be able to send a ‘template message’, such as sales receipts and flight notifications.

Not all bots will be held to the 24 hour restriction. Messenger bots that sends news, or track personal information will be able to send messages on a regular basis.

Users will have to sign up for subscriptions by messaging the bot, which is required to tell the user how often it will be sending messages. Unlike the non subscription message, subscription messages cannot be promotional.

Messenger bots will have until November this year to modify their bots to comply with Facebook’s new guidelines, and until February 2017 to apply for subscription based messaging access.

This new guideline should streamline the way brands use bots to interact with customers, as well as promote a more effective way of utilizing the technology.

A version of this appeared in Market Land on August 15. Read the full version here.

 

eApeiron is a new startup backed by Kodak that aims to use a tagging system to identify counterfeit products, reports Deal Street Asia. Kodak and Alibaba Group are working with the startup to combat counterfeiting with a technology that places an invisible, digitally traceable marker on products to ensure that they are authentic.

eApeiron, launched in June and is targeting common ecommerce problem, pirated products that mostly occurs in China and Hong Kong. According to a recent report by the Organization For Economic Cooperation and Development, fake products accounted for almost half a trillion in 2013.

“Everyone knows this is a problem,” said Kodak Chief Executive Officer Jeff Clarke, who cited the complex supply chains at many companies. “If you’re in charge of brand protection or you’re a security officer of a major brand, this means you’ve got a new tool.”

The company is based in Miami and will locate its research, engineering and manufacturing operations within Kodak’s business park in Rochester, New York.

Alibaba is concentrating on cleaning up its image following the string of counterfeit controversy.

The company wants to be seen as a viable partner that can help identify sources of fake goods and play a part in tackling the problem not enabling it by owning a marketplace where cheap knock-offs flourish. Alibaba’s president, Michael Evans will sit on eAperiron’s board.

eApeiron’s tagging system for identifying and tracking products through its supply chain is likely what attracted Alibaba, given the complexity of its supply chain and the need for a unique product signature due to the number of carriers.

The startup currently has 50 employees with plans for a rapid expansion. CEO Charles Fernandez declined to provide a valuation for the company, but he did comment that the use of Alibaba’s multiple platforms will present them with vast opportunities, with predictions of 3x revenue in the next two years.

Alibaba’s on-going battle against counterfeit items and Kodak’s effort to join the startup scene following its bankruptcy in 2012 will surely make interesting partnership.

A version of this appeared in Deal Street Asia on July 18. Read the full version here.

Since Pokémon Go’s surge in popularity in the US following the app’s launch this month, many retailers are now looking to seize marketing opportunities while the app is still trending, reports Reuters.

The app looks like it may be set to challenge young internet companies that specialize in increasing foot traffic for small businesses, and may play a role in major brand marketing.

The game, which requires players to walk around real-life neighborhoods to hunt for virtual Pokémon characters on their smartphones, has more than 65 million users in the US after launching in the first week.

The game is already playing a part in boosting foot traffic for restaurants, coffee shops and small retailers.

A pizza bar in Long Island City in New York claims that its sales jumped 75% over the weekend, by activating a lure model feature that attracts virtual Pokémon characters to the store.

The store manager only paid $10 to have a dozen Pokémon characters placed at the location.

This level of instant effect could become a potential threat for companies like Living Social Inc. and Foursquare, and other companies which have revolutionized online marketing for smaller businesses.

People born in the 1980s and 90s  grew up with Pokémon. It’s approachable and reassuring and that’s why it’s gone from zero to millions of users in just a few days.

The app has a chance to disrupt others as there has not been a geo-location social platform that can lure in so many people at once. With Pokémon Go, it is bypassing a lot of the digital marketing channels that brick and mortar shops have been relying on for the past few years.

Pokémon Go users are spending more time in virtual reality than on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, according to SimilarWeb.

The thing with overnight hype is that it can eventually fizzle out. Retailers should capitalize the Pokémon Go trend before it becomes a phase that nostalgic adults claim they played for a month or so.

A version of this appeared in Reuters on July 13. Read the full version here.

For some store merchants in the US, the new viral game Pokémon Go has literally driven people into stores purely to catch Pikachu or other characters.

The app’s ability to drive real-world foot traffic to certain locations is undeniable, something the majority of advertisements or even online stores cannot do. Some businesses in the US are leveraging a Poké presence to drive offline sales reports TechCrunch.

Pokemon Go

How does it work?

PokéStops and Pokémon Gyms are real-world locations that players visit to acquire collectibles pulled from the location database of Niantic’s original location-based AR game, Ingress. Locations are generated through user submissions, which means that anyone in the user community can apply to be added to the public database, after being vetted by Niantic. Brandon Badger, Niantic Product Manager, comments,

We hope to end up with a model where there could be a cost per-visit type model where large brands and small brands sponsor different elements of the game.

Business savvy store owners are using ‘lures’, an in-game item that turns any existing PokéStops into virtual feeding frenzy for players trying to catch Pokémon. However, this requires a PokéStop to be nearby so businesses are already looking to get Niantic to add one near their locations. As Nintendo has a history of striking offline partnerships, some people are already speculating that McDonalds, or a brand of that scale, would pay to have all their branches turned into Pokémon locations in order to draw in offline traffic.

When Pokémon Go finally comes to Southeast Asia, there will be opportunities for brands to leverage from, or drive offline consumer engagement using online locations. This trend is a chance for stores to convert online viewers into offline visitors.

Pokémon Go really is out to catch them all.

A version of this appeared in Tech Crunch on July 12. Read the full version here.