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Also in this letter:
🚨 Explainer: What is Pegasus?
📱 YouTube buys video shopping app
🚀 Bezos blasts off
Swiggy’s raises $1.25 billion to push beyond food delivery
Food delivery app Swiggy has raised $1.25 billion from SoftBank Vision Fund and existing investors, days after archrival Zomato launched its domestic IPO, which coincidentally also looked to raise $1.25 billion (Rs 9,375 crore). The issue was subscribed more than 40 times over.
Swiggy’s fundraising, which values the Bengaluru-based startup at $5.5 billion, was done in two tranches:
■ $800 million came from investors led by Falcon Edge, Amansa Capital, Think Investments, Carmignac and Goldman Sachs, which the company’s co-founder had disclosed in an internal email to employees in April.
■ $450 million was from SoftBank Vision Fund 2, a deal we first reported in April.
SoftBank’s food delivery bet: This was SoftBank’s first investment in India’s food delivery sector after more than three years of flirting with both Swiggy and Zomato. Last week, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) approved SoftBank Vision Fund 2’s request to invest in Swiggy.
What probably tilted SoftBank towards Swiggy were its grocery ambitions, sources told us. “We’ve always viewed Swiggy not as a food delivery company but as the last-mile convenience and logistics player with an unparalleled competitive advantage,” said Sumer Juneja, partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers.
Beyond food delivery: Swiggy will use the funds to aggressively invest in businesses other than food deliveries, especially its hyperlocal grocery service Instamart, cofounder Sriharsha Majety told us.
About a quarter of Swiggy’s revenue comes from such businesses. Apart from Instamart, it runs a subscription-based morning essentials delivery business called Supr Daily, and a pick-up and drop service for all types of parcels, called Genie.
Covid impact: The first wave of Covid-19 had hit the company’s food delivery business hard but it has bounced back since then. The food delivery business is now 30% larger in terms of value than it was before the pandemic, Majety said.
Competition for essentials: Earlier this month, Zomato had sought approval from India’s competition watchdog to acquire a 9.3% stake in online grocery Grofers for a primary investment of Rs 741 crore.
Tata Digital-owned BigBasket meanwhile is planning to bring back express deliveries — typically within an hour — after years of experiments in this vertical. Other players with deep pockets such as Amazon India, Walmart’s Flipkart and Reliance’s Jiomart are also building their grocery businesses.
Amazon is also dabbling with food delivery in India, having entered the space last year, but the service is still restricted to certain pockets in Bengaluru.
ETtech explainer: What is Pegasus?
On Monday, an investigation by an international media consortium revealed that more than 50,000 phone numbers across the world have been targeted for hacking using a piece of software called Pegasus. On the list were 300 verified phone numbers in India, including those of two serving ministers, three opposition leaders, a sitting judge, more than 40 journalists, and scores of activists and business persons.
But what is Pegasus, who is it for, how does it infect devices, and what can it do?
What is it?
Pegasus is a piece of spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli company, which markets it as a tool to conduct surveillance of criminals and terrorists.
- Spyware is any malicious software designed to enter your computer device, gather your data, and forward it to a third-party without your consent.
Pegasus isn’t any ordinary spyware, though — it’s perhaps the most powerful spyware even created. Designed to infiltrate smartphones, it can infect both Androids and iPhones and turn them into 24-hour surveillance tools.
It is intended for targeted spying and not mass surveillance.
NSO Group only sells Pegasus to governments. A single license, which can be used to infect many smartphones, can cost up to Rs 70 lakh.
According to a 2016 price list, NSO Group charged its customers $650,000 to infiltrate 10 devices, plus an installation fee of $500,000.
How does it work?
Pegasus exploits undiscovered vulnerabilities, or bugs, in Android and iOS. This means a phone could be infected even if it has the latest security patches installed.
The earliest known version of Pegasus, from 2016, infected phones through “spear-phishing” – that is, sending messages or emails with a malicious link. It thus depended on the target clicking the link — a requirement that was done away with in subsequent versions.
By 2019, the software could infiltrate a device with a simple missed call on WhatsApp. It would even delete the record of this missed call, making it impossible for the user to know they had been targeted. In May that year, WhatsApp said Pegasus had exploited a bug in its code to infect more than 1,400 Androids and iPhones this way, including those of government officials, journalists and human rights activists. It soon fixed the bug.
Pegasus also exploits bugs in Apple’s iMessage software, giving it backdoor access to hundreds of millions of iPhones.
If that isn’t frightening enough, get this: Pegasus can also be installed over a wireless transceiver (radio transmitter and receiver) located near a target.
What can it do?
Once installed on a phone, Pegasus can intercept and steal more or less any information on it, including SMS messages, address books, call history, calendars, emails and browsing histories.
It can use your phone’s microphone to record calls and other conversations, secretly film you with its camera, or track you with GPS.
Brief history of Pegasus
2016: Researchers at Canadian cybersecurity organisation The Citizen Lab first encountered Pegasus on a smartphone of human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor.
September 2018: The Citizen Lab published a report that identified 45 countries in which Pegasus was being used. As with the latest revelations, the list included India.
October 2019: WhatsApp revealed that journalists and human rights activists in India had been targets of surveillance by operators using Pegasus.
July 2021: The Pegasus Project, an international investigative journalism effort, revealed that various governments used the software to spy on government officials, opposition politicians, journalists, activists and many others. It said the Indian government used it to spy on around 300 people between 2017 and 2019.
Tweet of the day
YouTube buys video shopping app Simsim
Google’s YouTube has agreed to buy video shopping app Simsim as it looks to help users find and buy products from Indian retailers. Simsim counts Shunwei Capital and Accel Partners among its investors and has raised around $16 million so far.
YouTube Shopping pilot: Gautam Anand, vice president for YouTube Asia Pacific, said the app will continue to operate independently and there will be no immediate changes.
YouTube has been beta-testing a new integrated shopping experience in the US that lets viewers buy products they see in videos from trusted creators. It’s possible that this purchase could enable YouTube to launch such a feature in India.
Google had announced a $10 billion India Digitisation fund last July, through which it has invested $4.5 billion in Jio Platforms. It has also picked up stakes in InMobi’s mobile-first content platform Glance, which owns short video platform Roposo, and VerSe Innovation, the parent company of news aggregator Dailyhunt and short-video platform Josh.
Meanwhile, health and wellness platform HealthifyMe has landed $75 million in a Series C funding round led by impact investor Leapfrog, leading US-based venture capital investor Vinod Khosla, and Elm, Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund. This takes HealthifyMe’s total fundraising to over $100 million.
Where will the money go? It will be used to boost technological capabilities, hire senior talent, and expand into new geographies such as Southeast Asia and North America, the company said. The startup is also scouting acquisitions to grow its business.
Other key deals:
■ Julia Computing, cofounded by Viral Shah, who is best known for co-creating the Julia programming language, has secured $24 million in Series A round led by Dorilton Ventures, with participation from Menlo Ventures, General Catalyst, and HighSage Ventures. The money will be used to further develop and advance its secure, high-performance JuliaHub cloud platform, and to grow the Julia ecosystem. Former Snowflake CEO Bob Muglia will join the startup’s board.
■ Vegrow, a business-to-business agritech platform for fruits and vegetables, has raised $13 million in a Series A funding round co-led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Elevation Capital. Vegrow’s platform helps from farm discovery, produce quality profiling, market intelligence to smart matchmaking between farm-level inventory and customer requirements.
■ Mesh, a people management platform, has picked up $5 million (about Rs 37.4 crore) in funding led by Sequoia India’s Surge and participation from RTP Global, Y Combinator Continuity and Emles Venture Partners. Started in March last year, Mesh makes it easier for employees to track their daily and weekly tasks, manage long-terms goals, and get timely feedback from managers. Some of its clients include Cred, ShareChat, Gradeup, CleverTap and Grant Thornton.
After Branson, Bezos flies to edge of space
L-R: Mark Bezos, Jeff Bezos, Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk. Source: Blue Origin
Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, flew to the edge of space earlier today on the first manned flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. This was nine days after fellow billionaire and rival Richard Branson flew to the edge of space on board his Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane.
- Bezos’s journey coincides with the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon.
Richest, oldest, youngest passengers: Bezos was accompanied by his brother Mark Bezos and 82-year-old aeronautics legend Wally Funk, who became the oldest person ever to fly to the edge of space. The fourth passenger, an 18-year-old Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, is the youngest.
A slice of luck: Daemen was actually scheduled for a later flight, since he was the runner-up in a public charity auction. However, he was bumped to today’s flight after the anonymous auction winner had to pull out due to “scheduling conflicts”.
The unnamed winner had won the auction in May with a bid of $28 million. Daemen’s father Joes Daemen, who heads an investment management firm, had placed a bid of $27 million.
Apple delays back-to-office plan
Apple is delaying the return of employees of its offices by at least a month to October, because of rising Covid cases across the world, reports Bloomberg.
Initial plan: In June, Apple chief executive Tim Cook had told employees in an internal company-wide memo to return to the office for three days a week starting early September.
This drew intense opposition from some employees, who wrote to Cook and Apple’s leadership team seeking a more flexible approach. However, the company didn’t back down. Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s SVP of retail and people, said that “in-person collaboration is essential to our culture and our future”.
What now? Apple employees will now be given at least a month’s notice before being asked to return to office, Bloomberg reported.
Today’s ETtech Top 5 was written by Vikas SN in Bengaluru and Zaheer Merchant in Mumbai.