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Huawei launches its next foldable in China

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Huawei’s first foldable feels like a distant memory. Announced in 2019, the company went back to the drawing board prior to release, as Samsung ran into its own much publicized issues with the innovative form factor.

The Mate X was well-received among journalists — I had the opportunity to spend some time with it at the company’s HQ in China and was impressed with the build quality. But for various reasons, it never made its way outside of China. And there’s some reason to believe that the newly announced X2 will suffer a similar fate.

The new handset has already drawn its share of comparisons to Samsung’s early models — and rightfully so, to be honest. The X2’s form factor appears to share much more in common with the Galaxy Fold from a design standpoint than its own predecessor. And while Samsung’s model got off to a rocky start or two, the company was also the first to get things fairly right after a bit of public trial and error.

And like Samsung, Huawei is leading with improvements to the hinge mechanism as a big selling point here. It’s the sort of meat and potatoes thing that would be glossed over in most other devices, but the hinge has proven one of the major pain points for these devices — and as much as a company might test behind the scenes, there’s no replacing real-world usage.

The primary, foldable display is eight inches, with a 6.45-inch screen on the outside — a bit more than the Galaxy Fold 2, in both cases (at 7.6 and 6.2 inches, respectively). In the rendering, the front screen occupies most of the device, with a bit of a bezel and a camera cut out. There’s 5G on board, too, paired with Huawei’s proprietary Kirin 9000 chip and a 4,400mAh battery.

The system is, of course, missing a pretty significant feature, courtesy of all of those blacklists. The company is pushing the presence of the Android 10-based EMUI 11.0 (Based on Android 10). Likely the device will also feature Huawei’s own HarmonyOS, in lieu of Android. The company’s been building out its operating system in recent years with the understanding that it would likely become a flashpoint in U.S./China tensions.

We have yet to see a full version of the software, but it’s hard to imagine it being as complete or robust as Google’s 12-year-old mobile OS — not to mention Google’s various apps.

The Mate X2 arrives in China on February 25, starting at around $2,800.

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

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Klarna confirms new $31B valuation

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Klarna, the Swedish buy now, pay later behemoth and upstart bank, has raised $1 billion in new funding at a post-money valuation of $31 billion. That sees the company retain the crown as the highest valued private fintech in Europe.

Backers of this round are said to be combination of new and existing investors, while Klarna claims it was 4 times oversubscribed. That’s likely prompted by reports the company is eyeing up a direct public listing and the current appetite for public tech stock in general.

As a reference point, Affirm, which is viewed in the U.S. as one of Klarna’s most direct competitors, recently IPO’d. If you want further data points, read Alex’s Extra Crunch analysis of Klarna, Affirm and AfterPay’s most recent earnings.

In addition to confirming the new fund raise — which had been widely leaked given that there dozens of frenzied investors involved — Klarna is also announcing that the company will pledge 1% of the capital raised to a newly created initiative that focuses on “key sustainability challenges around the world”. The initiative will be formally launched April 22 on World Earth Day.

A very early mover in what is now widely called buy-now-pay-later (BNPL), Klarna has been built on the concept of giving consumers a way to buy things online without having to pay for them upfront, and without resorting to a credit card. It does this both by offering online retailer integrations where Klarna appears as an option at check out, and through its own “shopping mall” app, where users can browse all the stores that let you pay with Klarna.

On the back of this, the company hopes to foster a bigger financial relationship with its users as a fully-fledged challenger bank. It has a range of licensed banking services, such as savings and current accounts, in Sweden and Germany, with more countries to follow.

On the BNPL front, Klarna is active in over 17 countries, and has over 250,000 retail partners including Macys, H&M, IKEA, Expedia Group, Samsung, ASOS, Peloton, Abercrombie & Fitch, Nike and AliExpress.

The fintech has been backed by Sequoia Capital since 2010. More recent investors include Dragoneer, Bestseller Group, Permira, Visa, Atomico, Ant Group, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Silver Lake, HMI Capital, TCV, Northzone, GIC (Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund) and funds and accounts managed by BlackRock.

Meanwhile, Klarna was founded all the way back in 2005 and has a fascinating story from startup to scale-up — a story that almost certainly has a few more twists and turns yet. If you need to catch up, check out this 8,000 word opus on the company for Extra Crunch.

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Axonius nabs $100M at a $1.2B valuation for its asset management cybersecurity platform

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Remote work has become the norm for many businesses in the last year, and today a startup that has built a cybersecurity platform to help manage all the devices connecting to organizations’ wide-ranging networks — while also providing a way for those organizations to take advantage of all the best that the quite fragmented security market has to offer — is announcing a major round of funding and a big boost to its valuation after seeing its annual recurring revenues grow ten-fold over 15 months.

Axonius, which lets organizations manage and track computing-based assets that are connecting to their networks — and then plug that data into some 300 different cybersecurity tools to analyse it — has closed a round of $100 million, a Series D that values the company at over $1 billion ($1.2 billion, to be exact).

“We like to call ourselves the Toyota Camry of cybersecurity,” Axonius co-founder and CEO Dean Sysman told me in an interview last year. “It’s nothing exotic in a world of cutting-edge AI and advanced tech. However it’s a fundamental thing that people are struggling with, and it is what everyone needs. Just like the Camry.” It will be using the funding to continue scaling the company, it said, amid surging demand, with ARR growing to $10 million last year.

This latest round — led by Stripes, with past investors Bessemer Venture Partners (BVP), OpenView, Lightspeed, and Vertex also participating — represents a huge jump for the startup.

Not only is this the company’s biggest round to date, but last year’s $58 million Series C — which closed just as the Covid-19 pandemic was kicking off and remote working, to better enforce social distancing, was starting to take off with it — valued the company at just over $302 million, according to PitchBook data. Axonius has now raised around $195 million in funding.

Last week BVP announced a new pair of funds totaling $3.3 billion, with one dedicated to later stage growth rounds: this indicates that this money is already getting put to work. Amit Karp, the BVP partner who sits on Axonius’ board, describes the startup as one of the “fastest-growing companies in BVP history.”

When I last covered Axonius, one of the details that really struck me is that its platform is especially useful in today’s market, not just because of its focus on identifying devices on networks may well — and today genuinely do — extend outside of a traditional “office”, but also because of how it views the cybersecurity industry.

It’s a very fragmented market today, with hundreds of companies all providing useful tools and techniques to safeguard against one threat or another. Axonius essentially accepts that fragmentation and works within it, and it has its job cut out for it. Last year when I covered the company’s funding, it integrated with and ran network assets through 100 different cybersecurity tools; now that number is 300.

The crux of what Axonius provides starts with a very basic but critical issue, which is being able to identify how many devices are actually on a network, where they are, and what they do there. The idea for the company came when Dean Sysman, the CEO who co-founded Axonius with Ofri Shur and Avidor Bartov, was previously working at another firm, the Integrity Project (now a part of Mellanox).

“Every CIO I met I would ask, do you know how many devices you have on your network? And the answer was either ‘I don’t know,’ or big range, which is just another way of saying, ‘I don’t know,’” Sysman told me last year. “It’s not because they’re not doing their jobs but because it’s just a tough problem.”

He said part of the reason is because IP addresses are not precise enough, and de-duplicating and correlating numbers is a gargantuan task, especially in the current climate of people using not just a multitude of work-provided devices, but a number of their own.

Axonius’s algorithms — “a deterministic algorithm that knows and builds a unique set of identifiers that can be based on anything, including timestamp, or cloud information. We try to use every piece of data we can,” said Sysman — are built to bypass some of this.

The resulting information then can used across a number of other pieces of security software to search for inconsistencies in use (bringing in the behavioural aspect of cybersecurity) or other indicators of malicious activity.

The fact of that platform play — and how it can grow with both the range of devices that are added, as well as technology built to counteract increasingly sophisticated threats — is what attracted investors. 

“It’s always exciting to invest in fast-growing, innovative, category-creating companies, but what Axonius has accomplished in such a short time is remarkable,” said Stripes founding partner Ken Fox in a statement. “With its commitment to solving a fundamental challenge with a simple, powerful platform that collects and correlates data from hundreds of products its customers already use, Axonius has built one of the most beloved products in security. We look forward to partnering with the Axonius team as they continue to invest in technical innovation and grow to meet global demand in 2021 and beyond.” Fox will join the Axonius board of directors with this round.

It seems that some of this news leaked out over the weekend. A spokesperson has confirmed it all to us but the “official” announcement will be coming out later today.

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Paytm claims top spot in India’s mobile payments market with 1.2B monthly transactions

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Paytm, India’s most valuable startup, said on Monday it processed 1.2 billion transactions in the month of February, illustrating the level of penetration it has made in one of the world’s fastest-growing payments markets where it competes with Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Flipkart-backed PhonePe.

Paytm said its users made 1.2 billion transactions last month across several payments modes including wallets, plastic cards, internet banking, and UPI. This is the largest volume of transactions reported by any payments firm in India and Paytm claimed that it has consolidated its leadership position.

A Paytm spokesperson told TechCrunch that the startup clocked over 1 billion transactions in the month of January as well. A PhonePe spokesperson told TechCrunch that its app crossed a billion transactions in December, and its last month’s transacting volume was “over a billion” across UPI, wallet, and credit and debit cards.

Paytm’s figure shows how the SoftBank-backed startup has continued to grow despite not being a dominant player in the UPI ecosystem.

A payments railroad built by a coalition of retail banks and backed by the government, UPI has emerged as the most popular way users transact online in recent years though it does not offer any business model.

Last month, UPI services processed 2.29 billion transactions, the governing body NPCI said on Monday. PhonePe and Google Pay are the dominant UPI players in India, commanding over 85% of the person-to-person payments market. PhonePe processed about 970 million UPI transactions in February. (NPCI has said that it will enforce a market share cap on its member firms.)

Unlike Paytm, which leads among wallet players, and PhonePe, Google Pay and relatively new entrant WhatsApp solely operate on UPI.

Paytm has expanded to cater to merchants in recent years as several international firms launched their offerings to solve person-to-person payments in India. The startup claimed that its service dominates in offline merchant payments and is growing 15% month-on-month. The startup, led by Vijay Shekhar Sharma, said it serves over 17 million merchants. PhonePe told TechCrunch it serves over 17.5 million merchants.

Paytm said it has been “the main driving force behind building and expanding digital villages and now empowers over 6 lakh (600,000) villages in India with digital payments.” The startup said over 50% of its merchant partners have an account with Paytm Payments Bank — the startup’s digital bank — and it also commands the market with its digital wealth management service, Paytm Money.

At stake is India’s payments market that is estimated to be worth $1 trillion in the next three years, up from about $200 billion last year, according to Credit Suisse.

“We are humbled by the trust India has shown in us & made Paytm their preferred digital payments & financial service provider. We have consistently maintained industry-leading market share & growing at an impressive rate,” said Narendra Yadav, Vice President of Paytm, in a statement.

“We have been promoting all digital payment methods giving multiple-choices to consumers that have helped us in consolidating our leadership position. In fact, a large percentage of our users who started their digital journey with Paytm, have now adopted & embraced our financial services.”

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