MuseNet, a deep neural network that can generate 4-minute musical compositions with 10 different instruments, and can combine styles from country to Mozart to the Beatles. MuseNet was not explicitly programmed with our understanding of music, but instead discovered patterns of harmony, rhythm, and style by learning to predict the next token in hundreds of thousands of MIDI files. MuseNet uses the same general-purpose unsupervised technology as GPT-2, a large-scale transformer model trained to predict the next token in a sequence, whether audio or text.
Truly amazinghttps://soundcloud.com/openai_audio/chopin-f-minor-etude https://soundcloud.com/openai_audio/jazz-trio
Zoom CEO Eric Yuan cut an unlikely figure as he addressed the cheering throng in the moments before ringing the opening bell at Nasdaq, his bashful grin giving way to a look of focus as he said, “A new game starts today.” Sure, his startup wasn’t as well-known as Lyft and Pinterest, two consumer companies that also just made their IPO debuts. But to anyone familiar with Yuan, the shock wasn’t how he got there. It’s that he was physically present at all.
As the founder of Zoom, which provides video conferencing software over the internet, Yuan practices what he preaches. After Yuan hired hundreds of engineers in his native China, he went three years between in-person visits. When he raised money from top venture capital investors, he showed up just once, to make sure every investor in the room had downloaded the Zoom app. For his IPO road show, Yuan deigned to make the 50-mile trek from his San Jose headquarters to San Francisco for a single investor lunch—and then bolted back to work. Everyone else, money manager big or small, met with him virtually, over Zoom. When Yuan flew to New York for the IPO, it was just his eighth work trip in five years.
“Customers have always said, ‘Eric, we’ll become your very important customer, you’ve got to visit us,’” says Yuan. “I say, ‘Fine, I’m going to visit you, but let’s have a Zoom call first.’” That’s usually enough.
It worked with Wall Street, where demand for Zoom (formally known as Zoom Video Communications) prompted the company to raise its IPO price to $36 per share, valuing the company at $9.2 billion—and making Yuan a new billionaire at age 49. The stock’s 72% first-day pop boosted Zoom’s market cap to $15.9 billion and the net worth of Yuan, who owns 20%, to $3.2 billion. All for video-conferencing tools that didn’t reinvent the wheel, just made it a lot less painful to turn. An engineer-turned-founder who once ran engineering for Cisco’s Webex video-conferencing business, Yuan set out to make tools that work equally well in a board room in Manhattan or from a kitchen table in China. Built in the cloud and priced using a “freemium” model that let anyone host a meeting of 40 minutes or less for free, Zoom now posts numbers that had Aaron Levie, CEO of Box (a customer), tweeting it could start a second business selling its “beautiful” financial numbers as a coffee table book.
Zoom founder Eric Yuan likes to use his video tool’s virtual backgrounds to appear in locations from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to the beach in Santa Barbara, where Zoom maintains a satellite office.
ETHAN PINES FOR FORBES
With annual revenue of $331 million, up 118%, Zoom was the ultra-rare tech unicorn to make its IPO debut with a profit, boasting 50,000 corporate customers, including Samsung, Uber, Walmart and Capital One. Its sudden fame—emanating from its IPO—is a new feel for a company that takes its cues from a CEO who not only shuns the spotlight, but is so frugal he insists on reimbursing Zoom when he gives a friend swag like a Zoom backpack. Beneath the belated buzz: a story of perseverance and better execution, proving that an unexpected challenger can sweep the field, even in a crowded market.
With hypergrowth comes risk, of course, and Zoom still must prove it can continue to best its competitors: massive companies, like Google and Microsoft, that scared off most venture investors in Zoom’s early days eight years ago. Cisco, Yuan’s former employer, may privately rue letting him leave, but it’s not shying away from a fight. And while Zoom has the goodwill of much of the tech community, with partners like Atlassian, LinkedIn and Slack, its inevitable move beyond video means its list of competitors is likely to grow. Ringing the Nasdaq bell checks off one dream for Yuan. There are plenty more to go. “It’s like a marathon,” Yuan says of his ambitions to connect the working world like Facebook did with consumers—which would make Zoom even bigger than Cisco. “You’re only 5 miles ahead of me, that’s okay. I’ll run faster than you, and I’ll still catch up.”
For Yuan’s first entrepreneurial act, he burned down his neighbor’s cottage. The son of mining engineers in China’s eastern Shandong Province, in fourth grade Yuan started collecting construction scraps to recycle their copper for cash. When the young hustler discovered the facility needed only the metal, he tried to burn away the extra material in a chicken shack behind his neighbor’s house. To his horror, firefighters had to come put out the blaze. Yuan says with typical understatement: “My parents were really upset.”
At Shandong University of Science & Technology, Yuan studied applied mathematics and computer science and then, at age 22, got married while pursuing his Master’s degree. Already convinced he’d start a company someday, and fascinated by entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, he set his sights on the U.S. tech boom. Easier said than done: After U.S. customs asked for an English-language version of his business card, it listed Yuan as a consultant, and he was misunderstood to be a part-time contractor. His visa was denied. For the next year and a half, the now-skeptical immigration services would deny him seven more times. But Yuan refused to give up. “I told myself, okay, great. I’ll do all I can until you tell me that I can never come here anymore. Otherwise, I’m not going to stop.”
In the summer of 1997, Yuan joined two-year-old Webex, based in Milpitas, California. As a young employee, Yuan would routinely code all night on a Friday, then go play a pickup soccer game on no sleep on Saturday afternoon. Riding the exuberance of the dot-com bubble and with video-conferencing tools taking advantage of faster internet speeds, Webex went public in July of 2000 and was acquired by Cisco for $3.2 billion in 2007. Not long after, Cisco tapped Yuan to lead Webex’s engineering group. But by 2010, Yuan was unhappy. The problem, according to Yuan: The service simply wasn’t very good. Each time users logged on to a Webex conference, the company’s systems would have to identify which version of the product (iPhone, Android, PC or Mac) to run, which slowed things down. Too many people on the line would strain the connection, leading to choppy audio and video. And the service lacked modern features like screen-sharing for mobile.
Zoom executives, investors and family wave to employees who joined the Nasdaq IPO ceremony remotely via Zoom video on its April 18, 2019 IPO.
“Someday someone is going to build something on the cloud, and it’s going to kill me,” Yuan told Bill Tai, a venture investor who became one of the first backers of Zoom. After a year of pestering his bosses to let him rebuild Webex, Yuan gave up and decided to leave Cisco in 2011. “Cisco was more focused on social networking, trying to make an enterprise Facebook,” he says. “Cisco made a mistake. Three years after I left, they realized what I said was right.”
The biggest hurdle: convincing his wife, who saw him throwing away a lucrative job managing 800 people. “I told her, ‘I know it’s a long journey and very hard, but if I don’t try it, I’ll regret it.’”
First Yuan asked friends, including fellow investors in a consumer video app called Tango, to write him $250,000 checks so he could pay 30 engineers (some in China) to work on a new idea: create better technology for video communications, then figure out what app to build on top. Mostly because of their faith in Yuan, the investors, including former Webex CEO Subrah Iyar, gave him $3 million for his startup, which was then called Saasbee. “Everyone in venture capital thought it was a terrible idea,” says Jim Scheinman of Maven Ventures, who as one of Zoom’s first backers came up with its current name.
Within months, Yuan realized he wanted to target the video conferencing business again. The VCs had reason to be skeptical. With Microsoft owning Skype, Google in the market via Hangouts and Cisco still leading in market share, video conferencing had entrenched incumbents; there were also multiple startups, including the well-funded BlueJeans Network. “It would require flawless execution to win,” says one investor who passed on Zoom. Even at Qualcomm Ventures, which led Zoom’s $6 million Series A investment in 2013 alongside Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang, there was “lots of internal debate,” says partner Quinn Li.
From rundown offices in Santa Clara, with an oft-broken elevator and a mission-crucial video camera perched atop a cheap fridge, Yuan and the U.S. members of his team quietly worked on their product for nearly two years. When Zoom launched, it had several key differences from the crowd. Its lightweight Web client could figure out almost instantly what kind of device you were using, meaning Zoom didn’t need different versions for Mac or PC. It also provided a software layer that shielded any bugs that might be introduced when a browser like Chrome, Firefox or Safari pushed an update. Zoom could operate even at 40% data loss, so it would still work on a spotty or slow internet connection. And at $9.99 per host per month ($14.99 today), it undercut its rivals. Zoom customer service chief Jim Mercer was then working at competitor GoToMeeting when a colleague opened a Zoom account to see what the hype was about. “One click, we were in, and there were 25 feeds of participants at the same time,” he says. “We were like, ‘What is this voodoo? How are they doing it?’ ”
After raising another $6.5 million from Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures, Zoom raised a $30 million round from Emergence Capital in 2015 (Li, Hong Kong’s richest person, remains a frequent user of the tool, a rep says). Soon after, Zoom began to target larger corporate clients. Yuan stunned partners at Emergence when he showed up for his pitch meeting and promptly insisted every investor download the Zoom app and join him for a live video conference of the presentation, partner Santi Subotovsky says. Yuan shocked them again when, approached by large corporations that year, he warned these potential customers Zoom’s features might not be ready for their business. But after scooping up many of the fast-growing companies in its backyard in Silicon Valley, like Box, Slack and Uber, Zoom broke out of tech in 2016, and now manages accounts such as Gap Inc. and Williams-Sonoma.
At Phoenix Children’s Hospital, staff attend meetings, host surgical case conferences and work with patients over Zoom. Annoyed with a more complicated predecessor, Phoenix Children’s tested Zoom for nearly four years and now has 464 staffers registered on it. For kids who are facing long stays, the hospital has provided them Zoom accounts and iPads to meet with each other in virtual support groups and help them attend school without immunological risk. “Being out of school for too long, it can lead to them not graduating,” says Rachel Dunagan, an A/V tech at the hospital. “With Zoom, they can be live in the room, interacting with the lesson and their class. It keeps them able to participate. It’s been fantastic so far.”
By the time Sequoia backed Zoom in a $115 million Series D round in early 2017, valuing the company at $1 billion, the famed venture firm had been fighting to get a piece of it for more than two years. “We were going through all the due diligence, and I remember saying there have to be a thousand Eric Yuans in the world, because everyone we spoke to, they knew Eric, big or small,” says Sequoia partner Carl Eschenbach.
Yuan’s secret for being everywhere: Zoom, of course. His habit of taking the most important meetings virtually started because of basketball. A diehard NBA fan since moving to the U.S., first of the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant for his work ethic and then of his local Golden State Warriors, Yuan made a point of attending every one of his three kids’ basketball games and gymnastics meets. One unique Zoom feature is a virtual background the user can change to show a logo or image, disguising where they really are. Last summer, his eldest son, now a graduating high school senior who set the local league record for three-point shots, had a tournament in Los Angeles. “I set the background as the Santa Barbara beach, and they all thought I’m there. After the meeting, I swipe,” revealing a sweaty high-school gym. “And they all say, ‘What?’ ”
Golden State Warriors athlete Andre Iguodala invested in Zoom after meeting Eric Yuan at a Forbes Cloud 100 event.
BESSEMER VENTURE PARTNERS
Yuan’s love of basketball led him to make room for a celebrity investor from his beloved Warriors last year, but it was veteran role player Andre Iguodala, not a flashier star like Steph Curry or Kevin Durant. “We had a great conversation on how my game relates to his business, doing the little things right,” Iguodala says. The feeling, both say, is mutual: respect for a professional who wins by putting team before ego.
Two months before the IPO, Yuan walks through the sales and engineering departments of Zoom’s newer San Jose headquarters. The elevators finally work in this one, but it’s still somewhat dingy, the result of Yuan’s decision to prioritize a space close to the Caltrain and lease it pre-furnished to save on costs. It’s the Chinese New Year, and Yuan hands out little red envelopes to any employee who looks up, calling out most by name. “Don’t open this,” he tells one group with the smirk of a dad teasing his kids. “After we leave, then you open them. It’s a lot of money!” For Zoom’s 1,700 staffers today, many of whom became multimillionaires in Zoom’s IPO, the payoff is a gag: one crisp, “lucky” $2 bill.
Yuan’s public-facing thriftiness serves a secondary message: What matters at Zoom is the product, not the perks. He shares his office with his product chief and old friend Oded Gal, a fellow Webexveteran he hired away from BlueJeans Network three years ago. But you’ll seldom find Yuan there. A few times a year, the CEO takes a temporary desk with a team he wants to focus on by sitting side-by-side, marking his choice with two small family portraits and a stack of books to give out. Yuan’s been with the engineers since Zoom announced a voice product in October, now called Zoom Phone. It’s one of several major product lines Zoom has touted in recent months, alongside an update to its conference room bundle called Zoom Rooms. Though an increasing number of Zoom’s users log in via smartphone–one out of six today, Yuan says–many big firms still depend on hardwired conference rooms. Zoom provides the software; partners like Dell, Logitech and Polycom supply the TVs, cameras and speakers. It’s a move Yuan thinks is strategic to winning over large-size customers whose CEOs spend lots of time in virtual meetings.
A mentor once told Yuan the IPO would be like graduating from high school. “You go celebrate one day, and that’s it,” Yuan says. “You don’t want high school to be the peak of your performance, right?”
Though Zoom isn’t making hardware, its bundle smacks of the stuff sold by Yuan’s ex-employer, Cisco. There’s some irony to that, as last year Cisco shook up its Webex unit—it now looks more like Zoom. It reorganized under a new leader, Microsoft veteran Sri Srinivasan. His mission: revitalize Cisco’s collaboration products, with video conferences one of several factors. And he’s happy to throw some shade. “Zoom is apples and oranges,” Srinivasan says, and offers “fledgling” solutions beyond its core desktop-to-desktop video tools. “They’ve done a pretty good job in their own right, with a bunch of borrowed resources from Webex.”
A revitalized Cisco—as well as Google, Microsoft and even potentially Apple and Amazon—threatens Zoom just as it did in its early days. While Zoom has claimed to work with at least 90 of the Cloud 100—Forbes’ exclusive ranking of the top private cloud companies—some corporations like Sony have resisted the move to Zoom as too complicated to set up at large scale. At some corporations like GM and Verizon, teams use multiple solutions that don’t include Zoom at all. Others like Ford use Zoom, but only for a handful of people. Even at Qualcomm, which owns a piece of the company, you’ll find Cisco and Microsoft. “People just have a solution they already pay for,” Qualcomm Ventures’ Li says.
Zoom’s virtual backgrounds hide messy offices — allowing users to pick where they seem to appear, from the golf course to the Las Vegas Strip.
As Zoom adds features and larger accounts, with some companies simultaneously hosting thousands of people across multiple chats, the company will need to be careful not to cut corners and damage the product. In January, Zoom suffered a high-profile service outage, which it blamed on Amazon Web Services, but all people saw was that Zoom’s app didn’t work.
“It’s like a restaurant,” Yuan says about a similar glitch with a third-party vendor. “When a customer walks into a restaurant, until they leave, the entire experience needs to be great. You can’t blame anything on anyone else.”
But, of course, it can cut both ways. When Facebook went down in March, the New Zealand House of Representatives streamed its committee meetings over Zoom instead of Facebook Live. And per its regulatory filing with the SEC before going public, Zoom noted more than half of the 500 largest companies in America had at least one paid seat on Zoom, but few had signed large contracts, suggesting an avenue for significant sales down the road.
Then there’s the international market, where Zoom did just 18% of its business in its last fiscal year. Expansion into markets with the most demand for Zoom—the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany and Australia—presents a natural future angle of attack. Zoom is furthest along in Canada and is studying it for its next phase of growth. And after Yuan, ever thrifty, spurned the chance to buy the Zoom.com address in the company’s early days, opting for the cheaper Zoom.us, Zoom quietly acquired it last year for $2 million, a domain that could prove valuable in disassociating the company from the U.S. in touchy overseas markets.
China remains a wild card. Zoom has more than 500 engineers there, rare for a U.S. company. But China is an unproven market for the enterprise business, Yuan says. Still, Zoom’s employee foothold in the country and Yuan’s personal connections would suggest that if any company can make the jump, it would be Zoom—potential privacy concerns aside.
If Zoom hopes to become as big as Cisco someday—the San Jose-based company booked $49 billion in sales last fiscal year, and its stock is trading near a 20-year high, generating a market capitalization of about $250 billion—it will likely need to offer far more than video in the years to come. Voice-only calling was likely just the first in a range of features Zoom could add within communications, such as standalone messaging and file sharing products. One likely area for a bigger push: data. Zoom already connects customers to other services to record and transcribe its conference calls and help sales reps flag phrases or patterns of interaction that might suggest a deal is close, from an ideal time to chat or the duration of a call. Similar tools could help marketers, product developers and customer service reps learn from their Zoom meetings in the future, too. And Zoom has powerful friends for that push, so long as it doesn’t compete too much. Enterprise software leaders Atlassian and Salesforce both have invested directly and others, like LinkedIn, have made it a preferred partner.
In the meantime, don’t expect Yuan to let his newfound billionaire status go to his head. He may drive a Tesla, but only because he sees the company as a lot like Zoom—it’s designed differently and it’s faster under the hood (plus Tesla is a customer, too). Back in his cubicle the Monday after the IPO, he’ll keep trawling the Zoom Twitter account for customer testimonials to retweet. And he’ll expect employees, who turned out around the world for the IPO ceremony to wave to their boss over a live feed in Times Square using—what else?—Zoom to follow his lead. A mentor once told Yuan the IPO would be like graduating from high school. “You go celebrate one day, and that’s it,” Yuan says. “You don’t want high school to be the peak of your performance, right?”
Sopra’s software to facilitate easy roll out of digital wallets
Sopra Banking Software, a subsidiary of Sopra Steria Group, has unveiled a software(its third digital wallet) that will facilitate banks to roll out the market’s digital wallets and assist them with their digital transformation.
Jean-Charles Ricomini, payments expert at Sopra Banking Software, added, “We are supporting our customers with their digital initiatives; today, with initiatives like Secure Element (like the main international wallets provided by GAFA), in the future with other types of initiatives like HCE or QR code. Therefore, we are helping our banking partners in Europe and in Africa to meet their customers’ expectations by simply and effectively rolling out these mobile payment services.”
The multi Token Service Providers (TSP) approach provided by the software aims to assist the banks in setting and managing exchanges. It facilitates the easy roll-out of mobile payment solutions while simultaneously abiding by the international security regulation requirements. The software will enable Sopra as well as Transactis (Sopra’s partner and cards processor) to manage digital wallets from market players.
Boursorama Banque, a Transactis-Sopra Banking Software customer, is currently the only French bank offering three main international mobile wallets.
Aurore Gaspar, Deputy CEO at Boursorama Banque, said, “We are proud to be the first French bank to offer the three main global wallets thanks to the solution rolled out by the processor Transactis and the software vendor Sopra Banking Software. All Boursorama Banque customers can securely pay for their purchases, both in store and online, regardless of their mobile.”
Yirendai, the largest P2P online consumer finance marketplace in China, offers services that are based on technology-driven innovations such as big data powered risk management, data driven customer acquisition and conversion, and anti-fraud technology
More than 54% of loans are facilitated through mobile applications.
In the wake of the regulatory tightening of internet finance, Yirendai ramped up its risk management capabilities
Yiren score, modelled after the FICO score, is compiled by a program constructed like a web crawler
Yirendai is an online consumer finance marketplace founded in March 2012. Technology-driven and user-centric, the platform efficiently matches borrowers with investors. The platform is built on two customer segments: prime borrowers who are credit card holders with a salary income; and investors who are seeking wealth management products. The platform provides borrowers with fast and convenient access to consumer credit at competitive rates, while offering investors easy and quick access to an alternative asset class. Yirendai differentiates itself from other peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms through its risk management systems, customer acquisition, and insurance programs for its borrowers.
Yirendai’s new credit scoring system
In 2017, the company launched Yiren scores, its new credit scoring system, aimed at accurately characterising borrowers’ credit profiles. The Yiren score is modeled after FICO scores in the United States and compiled by a program constructed like a web crawler which gathers available data, such as credit card history or housing allowance tax deductions. Under this new credit scoring system, the platform upgrades its risk grid with five segments and divides potential borrowers into distinctively different credit segments.
The company’s expansion through new channels, products and partners
Regarding customer acquisition, the company is establishing new acquisition channels and introducing new loan products. It utilises online channels, such as search engine marketing, search engine optimisation, partnerships with internet companies and internet traffic acquisition from third-party online loan products marketplaces. Particularly, 54.4% of loans were facilitated through mobile applications in 2017. It also acquires borrowers through referrals from CreditEase’s nationwide service network across over 267 locations in China. In 2017, 27.1% of borrowers were acquired through referrals from CreditEase. The average size of loans sourced through offline channels tend to be larger than that of loans sourced through online channels.
The company partners with China Guangfa Bank to ensure proper custody of investor funds, meaning that loan principal and interest repayments will not cross over with Yirendai’s working capital. Additionally, the company works with People’s Insurance Company of China (PICC) Property and Casualty to provide surety insurance for loans organised through Yirendai Lending. Borrowers pay an insurance premium and lenders receive their principal and expected interest in the event of default.
Increasing its market share of loans
Yirendai hopes to continue increasing their market share and expanding their product offerings to become a more comprehensive financial services platform for borrowers and lenders. The company facilitated loans in an aggregate principal amount of approximately $11.4 billion (RMB 73.9 billion) and served 1,092,938 borrowers and 1,300,398 investors from inception in March 2012 through December 31, 2017. In the first quarter of 2018, loan originations grew 65% year-over-year to $ 1.8 billion (RMB 12 billion), bringing its total outstanding loan balance to $6.8 billion (RMB 44 billion). Yirendai is expanding beyond its P2P roots by creating an online wealth management platform called Yiren Wealth to distribute funds and insurance products online.
Funding Circle (UK)
Funding Circle is a P2P lending platform launched in 2010 which caters solely to small businesses. The company acts as an intermediary between investors and small business in need of funds. The company’s platform conducts credit assessment, facilitates the loans and collects repayments. It seeks to differentiate itself from banks, fintechs and the likes of PayPal by offering longer term loans of up to five years. As of September 2018, around 56,000 small businesses in the UK have borrowed $ 7.17 billion (GBP5.6 billion) through Funding Circle. The company went public on the London Stock Exchange in September, and seeks to expand into the US.
SocietyOne was launched in August 2012. As of 2018, it has become Australia’s first marketplace lender to have $500 million in loan originations for its personal loans, agricultural lending and marketplace business, facilitating loans for 20,000 borrowers. It seeks to attain $1 billion by the end of 2019, breaking even by March 2019 as it sustains its upward momentum, boosted by Australia’s mandatory credit reporting and data sharing in 2019. Over the next five years, it targets a 2%-3% market share of the personal and business loan market, and to grow its customer base to 100,000.
Number one in digital cash lending in China
Strong loan uptake in 2018
Cooperation with institutional partners
Strong risk and compliance control
Proprietary credit scoring, Yiren Score
Low sales and marketing expenses compared to loan volume
Risk models have not gone through a credit downturn
Yiren Wealth saw a brief funding disruption in the third quarter of 2018
“I needed to come back from the mountains and get a job.”
The Bonx Grip is a hands-free way to communicate with others on your channel
CREDIT: BONX, INC.
That’s how Takahiro Miyasaka, 34, describes the motivation behind his decision to leave the world of snowboarding and enter the corporate world of consulting. While attending the University of Tokyo, Miyasaka lived a life centered around snowboarding, spending every weekend flying from the northern to southern hemispheres in search of snow. But once he married and started a family, he decided he needed a more location-dependent lifestyle.
That’s when he began working in the Tokyo office of Boston Consulting Group, a multinational management consulting firm. There, he met Yuta Narasaki, 31, with whom he founded Bonx, Inc. in November 2014. Their first product is the Bonx Grip, an over-the-ear device that allows groups of up to 10 people to talk to each other hands-free over any distance or range. When one person speaks, the device will automatically broadcast that message to everyone on the line while pausing any audio a user might be playing. Group members connect by putting a shared code into the Bonx phone app, and all conversations can be recorded, which assists in applying audio to any videos shot. It can distinguish between different voices and background noise to ensure ambient sounds aren’t transmitted. There’s no distance limit between units, provided both users have cellular service.
The Bonx Grip allows users to talk freely across any distance, provided they have cellular service.
CREDIT: JOSH DOOLEY/BONX, INC.
Miyasaka realized the need for such a device on a ski weekend in March 2014 in Hakuba, Japan’s central snowy and mountainous region. He had just read a story on Nick Woodman, founder of action camera brand GoPro, and was delighted to meet an American who worked for GoPro while skiing in the woods. They started snowboarding together but quickly became separated in the dense Japanese backcountry. “We were half-panicked not knowing what to do,” says Miyasaka. “We eventually decided to go down to the bottom to see what we could do, only to find him already there, sipping some tea, waiting for us.” That experience led him to realize the need for a quicker and easier way to stay in touch during adventure sports, and development on the Bonx Grip began.
Hakuba is one of Japan’s most famous – and steepest – ski destinations
He was able to take advantage of a government grant program through Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, which provided the necessary start-up funding. He recruited Narasaki, and the two tested various Bluetooth and VoIP systems (which allow for voice communication on internet connections) to determine which would work best for their uses. They tested the systems in the field, intentionally going into areas with weak and unstable network coverage to measure whether they’d work in real-world scenarios. Miyasaka says that their engineer would even snowboard with a laptop in his backpack to allow them to stop and test the equipment mid-run. But after weeks of field testing in which the duo were unable to find one VoIP system that met their needs, they created their own solution, building both hardware and software to allow for them to be tested in tandem.
An early prototype of what would become the Bonx Grip
CREDIT: BONX, INC.
“The prototyping was very difficult with Bonx because we needed to have both hardware and software to see if it worked OK as a product or not,” says Miyasaka. Because sound quality on an audio product can’t be determined at the early stages of prototyping, they had to build several nearly complete units before testing could begin. “We couldn’t tell if the quality was good enough until the very last minute,” he adds. He notes that while the process may seem simple to the end user – just speaking and listening – it was quite difficult on the production side to tell if issues of sound quality were the result of sound processing, transmitting, input or one of several other processes operating at the same time. After spending more than $10 million on research and development, they began product sales in December 2016, though the current version (launched Fall 2017) is the first one behind which they’ve put significant marketing dollars.
The Bonx Grip was intended for sports but has been used for a variety of professional purposes.
CREDIT: JOSH DOOLEY/BONX, INC.
Between Fall 2017 and 2018, they sold more than 10,000 units of the Bonx Grip, many of which were sold at specialty sports stores and ski resorts in Japan. They’ve been used for other applications as well, allowing mountain bikers to communicate on the trails or for coaches to provide advice to rock climbers high above them. However, they’ve found in the last year that the Bonx Grip is useful in non-sport applications, too. Miyasaka says that the product has been purchased by a high-end Italian fashion brand as a replacement to walkie-talkies in their retail stores due to its discreet design. He’s also seen the Bonx Grip used in Japanese emergency rooms to allow surgeons to easily and quickly communicate needs during surgery or to communicate with doctors outside of the operating room. “We were surprised to hear that they are actually wearing Bonx even when they are off-duty so they know what’s going on in the hospital,” he says.
The non-sport applications have been so popular that they’re planning the launch the Bonx Mini this summer. It has a looser fit and, as the name implies, is smaller than the Bonx Grip. It’s intended for everyday use rather than for use during athletic or high-impact activities. They’re also working on a product similar to the Bonx Grip that can be used without cell service to appeal to more American buyers, which Miyasaka hopes will create appeal in the U.S. as it falls behind Japan in terms of cell phone coverage in wilderness areas
Case Study: How Build.com turned to AR to increase customer engagement and sales
Build.com is the largest online-only home improvement retailer. With no brick and mortar locations, the comany wanted to give its customers the ability to “touch and feel” products before making a purchase.
With the launch of Apple’s ARKit for iOS11, Build.com partnered with Prolific Interactive to bridge this gap through a new augmented reality experience, “In-Home Preview.”
It was important that the “In-Home Preview” experience provided practical, usable information for Build.com customers. Each product has incredibly detailed, to-scale 3D models that can be interacted with in their existing environment.
From turning on light fixtures, to adjusting a faucet (tap), customers can understand exactly how the product will function in their space. Users can switch between various finishes of the product, and view related products, directly within “In-Home Preview.”
How they did it
While other home improvement retailers have dabbled in augmented reality, Prolific and Build.com partnered to use ARKit to offer the most precise and accurate modified reality interactions in eCommerce today. By incorporating this experience directly in Build.com’s iOS App, customers are able to easily access the “In-Home Preview” experience from their phones to make informed purchasing decisions even easier. What’s unique about Build.com’s augmented reality feature is that shoppers can interact with the 3D products, such as turning on a faucet and opening the drawer in a vanity. Build.com works to animate all of its 3D models.
Build.com launched the augmented reality tool on its site in 2017 that allows shoppers to view a few dozen of its products to-scale in 3D via their smartphone screens. The AR feature appears to have paid off; After a year of analyzing shopper behavior, the return rate for shoppers that use the augmented reality function is 22 per cent lower than shoppers who didn’t use the tool and bought the same product. Fewer customers are returning a faucet because the way the handle moves or hits their backsplash because customers can interact with AR-enabled products – not just plop and spin – they can ensure that it will function in the space.
Today, there are over 650 products and 1,700 SKUs that has had the augmented reality treatment. Approximately 5,000 shoppers use the feature each month.
Shoppers who use AR are – on average – twice as likely to return to the site or app than non-AR shoppers. What’s more, the average session is nearly one minute longer for AR shoppers than non-AR shoppers.
Finally, the customers using the feature are Build.com’s highest lifetime value customer and have the highest average order value.
Worldwide spending on AR and virtual reality (VR) is set to surge 69 per cent to $20.4bn this year, up from $12.1bn in 2018, according to figures from IDC. As Prolific Interactive CXO Eric Weber explains, retail may very well be the most effective use case of AR at the moment.
“When customers can test out products in context, it increases their confidence in their purchase and greatly increases the likelihood that it fits what they’re looking for” he says. “That has a direct impact on conversion rates, return rates, as well as customer loyalty and retention. Retailers will also be able to sell their higher-priced items that would previously be perceived as too risky to buy online. This isn’t a turnkey kind of thing; It takes clever design to intuitively map interactions on a 2D surface (the device screen) into 3D space.
"There’s an extra level of nuance in designing and testing those kinds of interfaces. There’s also particular expertise required to produce 3D models and textures that are as accurate and convincing as possible within the constraints of the hardware and platform. So even if you’re looking at a platform promising everything out of the box, you will want to put content quality and user experience first, and make sure no corners are cut there.”
Singapore ranked 5th out of six S-E Asian nations in survey
PwC noted Singapore’s strong gains in mobile payment usage, saying it signifies a payoff in efforts by the Government and other mobile payment players. The survey recorded rising mobile payments in other South-east Asian nations, with Vietnam topping the list for growth.ST FILE PHOTO
APR 13, 2019, 5:00 AM SGT
Usage here climbed this year to 46% of those polled, up from 34% last year: PwC
Singapore came in fifth out of six South-east Asian countries for growth in mobile payment use, while Vietnam tops the table both regionally and globally, according to PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey 2019.
Use of mobile payments here climbed 12 percentage points this year to 46 per cent of consumers surveyed, up from 34 per cent last year.
"Since the Government began driving the way for digital payments in late 2017, this signifies a payoff in the efforts by the Government and other mobile payment players," said PwC.
Vietnam’s mobile payment usage growth increased from 37 per cent to 61 per cent, up by 24 percentage points.
Mr Shirish Jain, payments director at Strategy&, said: "Asia remains the powerhouse in leading customer shift to mobile payments, with the report reflecting eight Asian nations in the top 10 and six in South-east Asia."
"Vietnam, with its relatively low penetration in 2018, has registered the highest growth as mobile platforms demonstrate a significant increase in convenience over traditional means of commerce."
"This contrasts with Singapore, which also shows strong gains. However, the sophisticated and established traditional ecosystem, as well as abundant and potentially confusing number of choices in mobile payments, can also slow down adoption," he added.
Mr Jain said this finding was a timely confluence of four principal factors: The stages of economic growth cycles driving affluence and disposable income; the availability of platforms that address local demographic needs, including support for cash-on-delivery; the lower cost for retailers and providers; and a marked increase in convenience.
The survey – which had 21,480 respondents from 27 territories – also recorded increases in mobile payments in other South-east Asian nations. Usage rose by 19 percentage points in Thailand, 17 percentage points in Malaysia, 14 percentage points in the Philippines and nine percentage points in Indonesia.
The survey also said Asian consumers are more socially engaged online than those in Europe and the Americas.
Respondents in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam led the pack globally in making purchases directly through posts on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Globally, only 21 per cent of respondents made purchases directly through social media.
Mr Charles Loh, South-east Asia consumer and industrial products consulting leader at PwC, said: "Social media platforms are already mature in South-east Asia. The trend in online shopping, moving forward, is the consolidation of e-commerce players with fewer big players providing that gateway. There seems to be a consolidator present in every market."
Indian information technology (IT) outsourcing and consulting giant Wipro Ltd. [NYSE:WIT] is investigating reports that its own IT systems have been hacked and are being used to launch attacks against some of the company’s customers, multiple sources tell KrebsOnSecurity. Wipro has refused to respond to questions about the alleged incident.
Earlier this month, KrebsOnSecurity heard independently from two trusted sources that Wipro — India’s third-largest IT outsourcing company — was dealing with a multi-month intrusion from an assumed state-sponsored attacker.
Both sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wipro’s systems were seen being used as jumping-off points for digital fishing expeditions targeting at least a dozen Wipro customer systems.
The security experts said Wipro’s customers traced malicious and suspicious network reconnaissance activity back to partner systems that were communicating directly with Wipro’s network.
On April 9, KrebsOnSecurity reached out to Wipro for comment. That prompted an email on Apr. 10 from Vipin Nair, Wipro’s head of communications. Nair said he was traveling and needed a few days to gather more information before offering an official response.
On Friday, Apr. 12, Nair sent a statement that acknowledged none of the questions Wipro was asked about an alleged security incident involving attacks against its own customers.
“Wipro has a multilayer security system,” the company wrote. “The company has robust internal processes and a system of advanced security technology in place to detect phishing attempts and protect itself from such attacks. We constantly monitor our entire infrastructure at heightened level of alertness to deal with any potential cyber threat.”
Wipro has not responded to multiple additional requests for comment. Since then, two more sources with knowledge of the investigation have come forward to confirm the outlines of the incident described above.
One source familiar with the forensic investigation at a Wipro customer said it appears at least 11 other companies were attacked, as evidenced from file folders found on the intruders’ back-end infrastructure that were named after various Wipro clients. That source declined to name the other clients.
The other source said Wipro is now in the process of building out a new private email network because the intruders were thought to have compromised Wipro’s corporate email system for some time. The source also said Wipro is now telling concerned clients about specific “indicators of compromise,” telltale clues about tactics, tools and procedures used by the bad guys that might signify an attempted or successful intrusion.
Wipro says it has more than 170,000 employees helping clients across six continents with Fortune 500 customers in healthcare, banking, communications and other industries. In March 2018, Wipro said it passed the $8 billion mark in annual IT services revenue.
The apparent breach comes amid shifting fortunes at Wipro. On March 5, the State of Nebraska abruptly canceled a contract with Wipro after spending $6 million with the company. In September 2018, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services issued a cease-and-desist letter to Wipro, ordering it to stop work on the upgrade to the state’s Medicaid enrollment system, and to vacate its state offices. Wipro is now suing Nebraska, saying its project was on schedule and on budget.
Another curious, if only coincidental, development: On April 4, 2019, the government of India sold “enemy” shares in Wipro worth approximately $166 million. According to this article in The Business Standard, enemy shares are so called because they were originally held by people who migrated to Pakistan or China and are not Indian citizens any longer.
“A total of 44.4 million shares, which were held by the Custodian of Enemy Property for India, were sold at Rs 259 apiece on the Bombay Stock Exchange,” The Business Standard reported. “The buyers were state-owned Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), New India Assurance and General Insurance Corporation. LIC”
Wipro is expected to announce its fourth-quarter earnings report on Tuesday, April 16 (PDF).
Update, April 16, 9:11 a.m. ET: Wipro just confirmed to the India Times that it discovered an intrusion and has hired an outside security firm to investigate.