Snapdeal Said to Be Seeking Funds, Fuelling Takeover Speculation

Indian online retailer Snapdeal is seeking investment to shore up its finances after unsuccessful talks with Chinese funds and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd as it battles to remain competitive, sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Faced with the prospect of falling cash reserves and little interest from existing investors such as Japan’s SoftBank and US hedge funds, Snapdeal is now increasingly being seen as an acquisition target, they said.

Snapdeal Said to Be Seeking Funds, Fuelling Takeover Speculation

“Snapdeal has been desperately looking to raise money in China for the last few months,” said a source with direct knowledge of Snapdeal’s plans.

“It had multiple rounds of talks with some Chinese funds and was also hoping to get some fresh money from Alibaba. But those talks were not going anywhere and Alibaba made it clear to them they would not write a new cheque for them given the dim outlook for making money any time soon.”

Both Alibaba, which already has a small stake in Snapdeal, and SoftBank declined to comment.
Its unsuccessful negotiations in China and sliding valuations may force loss-making Snapdeal to consider an outright sale, sources said.

Founded in 2010, Snapdeal was valued at $6.5 billion after a fund-raising last year. But valuations of Indian e-commerce firms are believed to have softened since then.

“The industry is up for consolidation and Snapdeal maybe the first one to witness it,” said another source who is aware of the discussions.

“Till what time will Snapdeal continue to survive from savings? … Snapdeal is not pushing for any consolidation but it’s for the investors to take that call. They have an independent way of looking at this.”

Bruised by intensifying competition with bigger rivals Flipkart and Amazon, Snapdeal laid off 600 employees and its founders are foregoing salaries as it cuts costs to try to turn a profit.
Snapdeal, however, stressed that it has no intention of selling the company.

A Snapdeal executive said the board about two weeks ago had approved a plan to turn profitable and identified a “small gap in funding.” Any fundraising would be intended to strengthen its finances ahead of a planned listing, which sources say the company was trying to achieve within two years.

A Snapdeal spokeswoman said the company’s efforts were “focused on driving profitability,” and that it was “well capitalised.”

One of the sources who spoke to Reuters said Alibaba was already in early talks with Softbank, the biggest shareholder in Snapdeal, but was only interested in increasing its investment as long as management control goes to Paytm.

Alibaba is the biggest shareholder in Paytm’s parent One97. It picked up a 36.31 percent stake in Paytm’s e-commerce unit for $177 million earlier this year.

“Alibaba is very keen to invest more in Snapdeal as an entity if the management control goes to Paytm. The proposal has the backing of SoftBank as well, which is also looking to consolidate its investments in one or two large e-commerce companies,” the first person said.

A deal with Alibaba would make Snapdeal more competitive at a time when India’s top e-commerce company Flipkart is seeking to raise up to $1 billion and as Amazon last year pledged to invest more than $5 billion.

Thanks to rapid uptake of wireless high-speed internet, India’s burgeoning middle class is increasingly shopping online, but steep competition among e-tailers has lead to losses across the sector.

Snapdeal has been seen as particularly vulnerable to increasing competition. The company reported a loss of 29.6 billion rupees in the financial year to March 31, 2016, according to regulatory filings.

Father of Xbox Ed Fries Discovers the First Arcade Game Easter Egg

Ed Fries is known to many a video game buff as the one of the main creators of the original Xbox that marked Microsoft’s entry into console gaming. And while he’s been away from the spotlight for some time now, his blog plays host to his findings in an attempt to catalogue and preserve arcade classics from an era that’s forgotten by most.

Father of Xbox Ed Fries Discovers the First Arcade Game Easter Egg

In doing so he has, inadvertently, stumbled upon one of the first Easter eggs in video game history. Easter eggs refer to an unexpected or undocumented feature in a piece of software such as a game, included as a joke or a bonus. And according to Fries, the first one ever from an arcade game called Starship 1.

Fries interviewed Ron Milner — co-inventor of the Atari 2600 who also worked on Starship 1.

“That was the first and only game that I ever programmed and I think it was maybe one of the first games with a backdoor in it. I didn’t tell people about this, even within Atari, for at least 30 years, but I had some code in there that if you did a certain sequence of controls it would say ‘Hi Ron!’ and give you 10 free games,” said Milner to Fries.

What followed next was a painstakingly documented account of Fries trying to prove that this was indeed the case. From examining Star I’s code to obtaining and repairing a Star I arcade cabinet, the outcome was successful. And the process is well worth checking out on Fries’ blog.

“In my opinion, Starship 1 is the earliest arcade game yet known that clearly meets the definition of an Easter egg and the clever young programmer who put it there, Ron Milner, deserves our recognition and respect. Still, there were more than one hundred arcade video games released before Starship 1. Maybe somewhere deep inside one of them lies another even older Easter egg just waiting to be discovered,” a post from Fries reads.

Study in UGC Approved Universities

Indian system of education has come in for some harsh criticisms in recent times. It definitely has its own set of flaws and shortcomings but there is no denying the fact that Indian standard of education is still better than some of the educational pattern followed around the world. Even in comparison to much advanced West, we are somewhat ahead when it comes to subjects like maths and science. The institutes of higher learning though possess some substantial problem primarily owing to their poor in infrastructure. And when we talk about infrastructure, it is wrong to assume that infrastructure is all about an institute’s building and how majestic or modern it looks from outside.

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Infrastructure in fact is the sum total of an institute’s building and all the facilities it offers that will facilitate hassle free learning. An institute or a university can said to possess good infrastructure if it has state of the art classrooms, modern research labs, well-equipped workshops, good computer facility and most important of them all well-experienced faculty members.

There are some institutes who are found wanting when it comes to their overall infrastructure. The good news is that the overall situation is improving dramatically with authorised organisations and statutory bodies of the government ensuring that the education standards in India are maintained above certain benchmark levels.

University Grants Commission (UGC) is a constitutional organisation in India. In 1956, UGC was set up by the Union of Government. UGC holds the authority to approve the universities in India. It also funds the affiliated universities and colleges. UGC is controlled by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). It is the primary body responsible for monitoring, regulating, maintaining and promoting standards of university education in India.

It is therefore important that you study in  UGC recognized universities in Uttar Pradesh  or any other state.  In fact a degree awarded by an institute or university not recognised by UGC holds no merit in India. The degree for all intents and purposes is worthless and you will not be allowed to sit for any competitive entrance examination in India.

Other important organizations contributing to the development of education system in India are National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

To know whether a particular university is recognised by UGC or not, you can visit its website. UGC’s website will contain all the details and name of universities recognised by it. UGC in order to ensure that everything goes on smoothly and according to plan and students face no hassle or become victims of misinformation have set up regional offices in Hyderabad, Delhi, Guwahati, Bhopal, Kolkata, Pune and Bangalore.

Importance of UGC recognised universities

In order to secure your future and ensure that the degree is worth all the money, time and hard-work you have put in acquiring it, it is important to study in a UGC approved university in UP or for that matter anywhere else in India. Degree in any discipline from a UGC recognised university is a symbol of authenticity and is accepted by all institutes in India. As mentioned above, you will only be eligible to sit for competitive entrance exams in India if you have a valid degree from a UGC recognized institute. Another important thing to note is that UGC recognizes apart from central and state universities, private and deemed universities as well. However, private universities are not allowed to affiliate and start-off any institute/college.

Permira’s Brian Ruder on private equity’s attraction to tech — and where he’s shopping now

For the last couple of years, private equity firms have been buying up public software companies that had fallen out of favor with investors. In fact, many of the top software deals in the U.S. last year were take-private transactions. Just three of them included the visual analytics company Qlik Technologies, which sold to Thomas Bravo; the marketing software company Marketo, acquired by Vista Equity Partners, and the event management company Cvent, also acquired by Vista.

Public tech companies have largely seen their valuations rebound, however. For that reason, a separate opportunity that Brian Ruder, co-head of technology at the global PE firm Permira, expects to see more centers on maturing tech companies that haven’t yet gone public. We talked with Ruder recently to learn more about Permira, and why venture-backed outfits are more interesting than ever to him.

TC: Obviously, it’s not brand new, this trend of PE shops gravitating toward software companies, even if it did seem to become more of a “thing” beginning last year.

BR: Permira has been at it for 30 years. We grew out of being a venture capital firm that backed disruptive, late-stage companies. But we evolved [over the last decade] beyond just buying classically undervalued and under-managed companies and into buying great growth businesses that just need larger and larger pools of capitals. What we’re looking for are companies that have good growth opportunities and to back them aggressively.

I think what’s more new is using operating expertise and a [PE size] capital base to back companies that have been in the VC ecosystem and are looking for an alternative to going public, where you can solve historical shareholder alignment problems without tapping the public market to do that.

TC: You’ve done that with several companies, including LegalZoom, where in 2014 you invested $200 million in the company just before it went public, providing some liquidity to its earlier shareholders. 

BR: LegalZoom had filed to go public and was out on road in the wake of Facebook’s IPO and it pulled [its offering]. But it had great shareholders and an alignment problem, where some investors had already made a great return [on paper] but newer VCs had bought in at a much higher valuation. We were able to come in and invest a lot in the company and [reduce] ownership of its earlier investors down for [a return that made them happy] and get everyone aligned. And the company has grown a lot since then. If it does go public, it will be a much bigger, healthier company.

TC: Could that be this year?

BR: LegalZoom could go public at some point. We’ve grown both its revenue and its profitability significantly. It was a heavily a transaction business, and we saw the opportunity to grow its subscription business as well, and now half its profitability is driven by subscriptions, which we think makes it much more attractive as an IPO candidate in any [type of] market.

TC: How long do you intend to hold on to companies, once you’ve invested?

BR: Five to seven years. The longest ones we’ll hold for a decade or so. If shorter than five years, it’s a good thing.

TC: And you’re looking for . . .

BR: Companies that have market leadership positions in really good growth markets. Companies that have a [developed] product set, whether an enterprise business or consumer business. Companies where we see opportunities to accelerate growth, either via a new model or new geographic market or because we can invest at a different capacity than the company’s previous shareholders could handle.

TC: You reportedly just closed your last fund with $7.5 billion euros; that’s huge considering you’ve raised $30 billion ever in the history of Permira. Has your investor base changed much? Where did all that capital come from?

BR: Our investor base is very global, because we’re very global, with 13 offices — four in Asia, two in the U.S. and seven in Western Europe. More than half of our tech team is based in California.

TC: What size checks are you writing, and how many companies are you looking to acquire each year?

BR: I’d say $200 million at the low end and up to a billion dollars or more on the high end. We will use financial leverage — some degree of debt, somewhere around 2x the amount in buying power. And our target would be to invest in and acquire two to three companies a year.

TC: You have 100 employees across 13 offices looking at deals around the world. How do you winnow down all that feedback so you can make decisions about so few companies?

BR: we organize into three core areas: enterprise software, which is a lot of what we’ve done, including Genesys, a big contact center business that we pulled out of Alcatel; consumer internet and internet subscription, which includes LegalZoom; and niche infrastructure. For example, we think that carrier-neutral data centers is an area that’s defensible and poised for exciting growth.

We’re different from a lot of [PE] firms in that our folks are spending time on what they love as opposed to what happens in the market. Most [competitors] feel like they have to participate in these IB-run sale-side processes, but we’re not interested if it doesn’t fit one of the themes we’re pursuing.

TC: Is it wholly acceptable in the world of PE to switch out management teams? Is it expected?

BR: We’re always backing a management team to pursue a plan that we work out with them. We customize the team jointly with the company up front. Sometimes it’s backing the founder to continue running the tables; sometimes it’s backing a founder who’s ready to make a transition. We typically [buy] a controlling interest in a company, and it’s such a large change in the shareholder base that it usually catalyzes a discussion of what is the right structure of management team over next five years, versus incrementally figuring out what you have and what you need.

TC: Interest rates are rising. What does that mean for your business?

BR: It’s a mixed blessing that could create a pretty interesting environment for PE. With rates going up, the valuations we’ve seen that have been on the rise for the last couple of year could settle down, which would be good for us. Of course, debt will be more expensive, too. For ‘growthier’ folks like us, higher interest rates don’t impact us as much as [firms that rely more heavily] on debt.

TC: Thoughts on our new president?

BR: It’s too early. I keep reminding everyone it’s only been 50 days or so since he took office.

TC: In 2017, do you see Permira taking companies out of the public market or investing in still-private companies or both?

BR: We’ve been very successful taking companies out of the public market, but I don’t think in 2017 that take-privates will take off with a vengeance. Companies are expensive right now compared with historical norms. More likely, late-stage companies will get more interesting. Once a company is in that IPO pipeline and evaluating its options — it’s in those kinds of scenarios that we play really well, and I think that’s an even more exciting opportunity right now.

Kaspersky Lab paid former national security adviser more than $10,000

The plot thickens, but doesn’t it always?

New documents have emerged detailing former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn’s financial ties to Russian companies, including the U.S. subsidiary of Russian cybersecurity group Kaspersky Lab.

One invoice form dating back to 2015 shows payments to Flynn made by three Russian entities: $33,750 from state-sponsored news source RT TV, $11,250 from Volga-Dnepr Airlines and $11,250 from Kaspersky Government Security Solutions, Inc.

According to its website, the U.S. arm of Kaspersky Lab “designs, implements and delivers holistic cybersecurity services and solutions for the U.S. government, U.S. government contractors and the U.S. National Critical Infrastructure sector.”

In response to the revelation, Kaspersky Lab stated that it paid Flynn the amount as a speaker fee for his appearance at the Government Cybersecurity Forum in 2015. As Business Insider reports, the event’s other keynote speaker, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul did not receive a payment to speak at the event.

Kaspersky is one of the most prominent names in cybersecurity, but the firm has faced scrutiny in the past over founder Eugene Kaspersky’s speculated ties to Russian intelligence agencies. According to the company, Kaspersky Lab “has no ties to any government, but the company is proud to collaborate with the authorities of many countries, as well as international law enforcement agencies in the fight against cybercrime.”

The documents were published today by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, accompanied by a letter from ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.

“I cannot recall any time in our nation’s history when the President selected as his National Security Advisor someone who violated the Constitution by accepting tens of thousands of dollars from an agent of a global adversary that attacked our democracy,” he wrote.

As a result of his involvement with Russia, Flynn’s remarkably brief 24 days in Trump’s cabinet have already come to a close, but Flynn could still face consequences from rules designed to prevent retired officers from receiving payments from foreign governments.

How To Optimize Company Growth In 2017

If you’re an ambitious business owner who wants your business to succeed this year, there’s no time to waste. Instead, start the planning process now so you can keep your company on the fast track to perpetual growth. Below you will find just three of many techniques you can use to make company growth happen:

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1. Utilize Business Consulting Services.

One great way to get your company growing this year is through the use of business consulting services. These services will empower you to have professionals carefully examine your organizational practices and make informed suggestions regarding how to optimize key factors such as daily operations and employee retention. Companies such as KeyGroup Consulting can offer a wide range of business-building services, including executive coaching assistance. If you want to learn more about the company right now, click here.

2. Optimize Your Online Presence.

Another strategy you can use to make outstanding growth happen in 2017 is optimizing your online presence. This technique is empowering because it will enable you to connect and convert people who haven’t been exposed to your brand through traditional advertising modalities such as brochures and print ads. Digital specialists can typically implement a wide range of cutting edge, customized marketing strategies to ensure that your target market becomes increasingly familiar with your product or service line. Some of the services a digital team might offer include:

• social media optimization
• search engine optimization
• web design and development
• responsive web design
• online reputation management
• content marketing

3. Enhance Your Meetings.

Many business owners don’t realize how important their meetings are. Meetings play an integral role in pushing your organization forward because they keep everyone on one accord regarding the current goals of the company and which strategies are being implemented to realize those objectives. Also note that meetings are a time during which everyone can discuss any questions or concerns they have regarding issues pertaining to daily operations, inter-office conflict, scheduling, etc. As such, you want your meetings to be as impeccable as possible. Luckily, there are hundreds of strategies you can deploy to make your meetings more effective. One of them is optimizing your presentations through the use of PowerPoint services. These services can help make your presentations more interactive and engaging.

Put The Growth Process In Motion Now!

There are numerous strategies you can implement to make your organization more successful in 2017. Three of them include utilizing business consulting services, optimizing your online presence, and enhancing your meetings. Start implementing some or all of the techniques listed above to begin seeing results!

Atom Bank raises $102M at $320M valuation for a mobile-only bank for millennials

Atom Bank, a startup out of the U.K. that has built a mobile-only bank targeting consumers between the ages of 18 and 34, has raised another £83 million ($102 million) in funding led by BBVA, the Spanish bank and owner of Simple in the U.S. The funding gives Atom a post-money valuation of £261 million ($320 million), TechCrunch has confirmed with the company. BBVA also led Atom’s previous $128 million round in November 2015.

The plan is to use the funding to continue building out its customer base and services, as well as provide capital for lending: Atom officially launched in April 2016 and customers access the services via iPhone and Android apps. Today it offers mortgages, Fixed Saver accounts and secured loans for small and medium-sized businesses.

The announcement of this £83 million comes a couple of weeks after it was reported that musician Will.i.am — a tech enthusiast who has dabbled in his own startups and using newer innovations to build his audience — was inking a deal to act as a consultant and board advisor to the company in exchange for shares. That same report, from Sky News, noted that Atom was raising close to £100 million.

A spokesperson for the company would not confirm if Will.i.am is involved with the company, but the company does say that it is due to announce more funding soon, so it may be that Will.i.am will be named along with that second wave of funds.

BBVA led the round with a £29.4 million investment, and it says that this investment will help it maintain a 29.5 percent share of the startup post-money. In its last round, Atom was valued at £152.5 million (just over $200 million), so this is a significant up-round. The startup has now raised £219 million to date ($268 million).

The fact that BBVA’s stake is just under 30 percent is notable: Under U.K. law, if a company takes a 30 percent or higher share, it triggers a regulatory requirement for that shareholder to make a mandatory takeover offer.

It remains an interesting time in British banking, and BBVA remaining in the picture and close to a tipping point in its share underscores the fact that we may see more changes ahead.

Fintech has been one of the strongest tech verticals in this country, and a number of startups have tapped into that wave and its popularity to provide products that use new channels like mobile and the internet to cut down the costs of offering service. Atom even courts early users by calling them “founders” in its promotional materials.

 Atom is not alone: Others in the banking sector include Monzo (which the other week raised its own large round of funding), Starling and Tandem.

But they all feasibly have an opportunity: The U.K. public has long been a receptive market for savings and other financial products, and that’s given rise to a number of competitors like Metro Bank to challenge incumbents (Atom’s CEO, Mark Mullen, was the CEO of another “challenger,” online-only banking effort, First Direct).

Atom is not disclosing any metrics about its usage, but it appears to be still on the early and small side. The company tells us that it now has 14,000 but is growing fast. For some context, there are 66 million people living in the U.K. today, and although Atom targets a particular demographic, it doesn’t restrict its services to that age group.

In any case, the focus today seems more on laying the foundations for its capitalization so that it can push more to build its customer base in the future.

“We are very pleased with the response we have had from investors,” said Anthony Thomson, the founder and chairman of Atom who previously founded another disruptive player in U.K. banking, Metro Bank. “Our customers benefit from the backing of highly reputable investors who are supportive of what we are doing. This is a great vote of confidence in our growth prospects and plans for the future. With the work we have done so far we are just beginning to see how transformational our new approach to banking can be. There is so much more to come from Atom in the coming months and years.”

Others participating in this round include previous backers Woodford Investment Management, Toscafund Asset Management and other unnamed investors.

Former Uber software engineer alleges sexism from female manager

Another day, another allegation against Uber. Keala Lusk, a former Uber software engineer, just posted to Medium her story of sexism, disrespect and condescending behavior at the hands of a female manager at Uber.

In her post, Lusk summarizes an email she sent to Uber’s HR department about her manager. The TL;DR was that Lusk’s manager allegedly refused to accept any feedback, and implied that the reason Lusk was not progressing in her career was because she wore tank tops.

“I was shocked and suddenly painfully aware of my body and appearance in a way that I’ve never been at work,” Lusk wrote. “It made me feel humiliated, as if I shouldn’t be wearing anything to show my arms or skin. How could she say this? I have never faced discrimination because of what I was wearing (which was a black tank top from DefCon) and was at a complete loss for words. I didn’t know what to say. She kept going with, “Maybe he doesn’t want that around his team. Try wearing longer sleeve shirts for a few months and see how that goes. It might help you transfer to their team.”

In response to this specific allegation, an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch, “We take any and all allegations of this nature very seriously and have forwarded this to Attorney General Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran to include in their investigation.”

This comes shortly after Susan Fowler alleged sexual harassment at Uber, which Lusk said is not uncommon at Uber.

“In my time there, I saw malicious fights for power, interns repeatedly putting in over 100 hours a week but only getting paid for 40, discrimination against women, and prejudice against the transgender community,” she wrote.

A difference in Lusk’s story is that, instead of the sexism coming from a man, she says it came from a female engineering manager. Lusk says she reported it to Uber’s human resources department to no avail, which is similar to what Fowler described in her post.

Like other stories Lusk has heard, she wrote that nothing changed, even “after multiple meetings with my manager and HR” and that “it was simply brushed aside and swept under the carpet of collective Uber suffering.”