During the annual Singles Day shopping event, Xiaomi, a renowned Chinese electronics company, reported exceptional sales across various platforms. From October 23 to November 11, Xiaomi’s sales surpassed 22.4 billion yuan (approximately $3.11 billion) on platforms like Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao, JD.com, Pinduoduo, and Douyin.
Xiaomi’s shares in Hong Kong experienced a brief surge, increasing over 2% on a Monday morning. Meanwhile, shares of Alibaba and JD.com in local markets initially rose but later relinquished their gains.
Both Alibaba and JD.com, for the second consecutive year, chose not to disclose overall sales figures for the Singles Day event. JD.com highlighted reaching new peaks in transaction and order volumes, while Alibaba reported growth in gross merchandise value, order numbers, and merchant participation compared to the previous year.
In terms of brand performance, JD.com reported that Apple products reached a transaction volume of over 10 billion yuan, mirroring the figure from 2021’s Singles Day, though no comparable data for 2022 was provided. Lululemon, a newer entrant in the Chinese market, witnessed a 260% increase in sales on JD.com compared to the previous year.
Alibaba, however, remained relatively reserved about specific sales data for products or brands during the entire festival.
Xiaomi announced its Xiaomi 14 smartphone as the best-selling item on Alibaba’s Tmall from November 4 to 11 and also claimed top positions in various categories of Chinese smartphone sales on different e-commerce platforms.
HSBC analysts, impressed by the Xiaomi 14’s sales, predicted a positive impact on Xiaomi’s earnings and valuation. They increased their shipment forecasts for Xiaomi smartphones by 7% for 2023 to approximately 150 million units and by 6% for 2024 to 160 million units.
Singles Day, which has evolved from a one-day event to a weeks-long shopping extravaganza in China, saw Alibaba reporting sales “in line” with the previous year during the 2022 Covid-19 pandemic, which had recorded about $84.54 billion in gross merchandise value.
Consumer spending in China has been cautious due to uncertainties about future income. A survey by Bain and Company revealed that 77% of Chinese consumers did not intend to increase their spending for this year’s event.
Live streaming and short video platforms like Alibaba’s Taobao and ByteDance’s Douyin continued to grow as significant sales channels. Livestreaming GMV rose by 19% this year, with Tmall dominating the comprehensive e-commerce platforms category with a 60% share, according to Syntun and Morningstar analyst Chelsey Tam. JD.com and Pinduoduo held 28% and 7% shares, respectively.
Kuaishou, another short video and livestreaming app, reported a nearly 50% increase in orders during the Singles Day period.
Further insights into Singles Day results and consumer trends in China are expected in the upcoming earnings calls of major companies like JD.com and Alibaba later this week.
Aleph Alpha, a German startup challenging the Microsoft-backed artificial intelligence firm OpenAI, announced on Monday that it had secured $500 million in funding. This funding round enjoyed support from notable entities such as Bosch, SAP, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
In its second major funding round, Aleph Alpha, known for creating its extensive language models, amassed a notably substantial sum for a series B investment round. This financial backing primarily hails from German companies, with major enterprises like SAP, Schwarz Group (Lidl’s owner), and consulting firm Christ&Company Consulting contributing to this new round. Park Artificial Intelligence and Burda Principal Investments also joined in.
The precise valuation of Aleph Alpha following this funding round was not disclosed.
The newfound resources will be allocated towards research on foundational models, enhancing product capabilities, and the commercialization of its software, as stated in the company’s official announcement on Monday.
Jonas Andrulis, Aleph Alpha’s CEO and founder, expressed, “With this latest investment, we will continue to enhance our capabilities and enable our partners to be at the forefront of this technological development.” He emphasized the company’s commitment to expanding its offerings while preserving customer independence and flexibility concerning infrastructure, cloud compatibility, on-premise support, and hybrid setups.
One of Aleph Alpha’s primary technological objectives is the concept of “data sovereignty,” which asserts that data stored in a specific country should be governed by the laws of that nation. In a European context, this implies that the data fueling AI models should originate in Europe rather than the United States. This notion has gained favor among prominent European politicians and legislators who seek to safeguard their autonomy in matters of data storage and processing.
Andrulis emphasized that Aleph Alpha stands as the “best option” for companies valuing sovereignty as a critical element. Aleph Alpha’s language models can already converse in German, French, Spanish, Italian, and English, drawing from a vast repository of multilingual public documents published by the European Parliament.
This latest funding round underscores the intense activity within the venture capital landscape related to AI. Investors are racing to support companies developing the foundations of highly advanced AI models, often referred to as generative AI, capable of responding to inquiries in a more humanlike manner. OpenAI, backed by Microsoft, secured a staggering $10 billion in funding, while Inflection, an AI startup co-founded by the creators of DeepMind and LinkedIn, raised $1.3 billion.
Replit, a developer platform company, has recently secured a $20 million investment from Craft Ventures. This development is part of Replit’s ongoing efforts to empower developers with generative AI capabilities, paving the way for a future characterized by Artificial Developer Intelligence (ADI).
Remarkably, this $20 million investment does not constitute the typical funding round for a startup. Rather than aiming to raise additional capital, it serves as a liquidity event benefiting some of the company’s long-term employees. Replit, founded in 2016, had previously raised $97 million in its last major funding round in April, which had propelled the company’s valuation to $1.16 billion. In many early-stage startups, initial employees are often granted equity or shares, with these assets typically remaining non-liquid or non-cashable until the company is either acquired or undergoes an initial public offering (IPO). This new $20 million investment presents an opportunity for Replit’s equity-holding employees to cash out their holdings.
This news follows Replit’s recent announcement of its “AI for All” initiative, which integrated the company’s developer AI capabilities for all its users. Replit has developed its own extensive language model (LLM) known as “replit-code,” which assists with code generation. The company is now gearing up to introduce new initiatives aimed at enhancing developers’ productivity by harnessing the power of AI.
Amjad Masad, CEO of Replit, emphasized that their primary focus is not selling AI but rather offering a vision: to make software development more accessible and programming easier for everyone. Replit’s coding LLM technology competes with various rival technologies, including Github Copilot, Amazon CodeWhisperer, and open-source projects like StarCoder and the Code Llama project. What sets Replit apart is its comprehensive platform that allows developers not only to write code but also to deploy and run it in production. Replit further differentiates itself by fine-tuning its models based on its platform’s unique usage data, providing an advantage in delivering a superior product.
Regarding the role of developers in a world where code can be automatically generated, Masad believes that the need for developers will not diminish anytime soon. He advocates for the concept of the “1000x developer,” who can significantly boost their productivity thanks to AI. Learning to code, he argues, still offers an excellent return on investment, as even a basic understanding of coding can be greatly augmented by AI, enabling individuals to create applications and even full-scale businesses more rapidly.
Despite the power of AI-powered code generation tools, Masad stresses the ongoing need for human involvement in application development, emphasizing that learning how to code remains essential to understand and address edge cases.
Replit is preparing for its upcoming Developer Day event on November 14, during which it will reveal its progress and outline its vision for the future. Among the topics to be discussed is the company’s approach to AI agents, a method for automating tasks and extending AI capabilities. Replit refers to its approach as “Artificial Developer Intelligence,” envisioning a future where AI agents work alongside individual engineers as helpful co-workers, aiding in various development tasks. This focus on Artificial Developer Intelligence aligns with Replit’s goal of making programming and software development more accessible and efficient.
In some instances, one must acknowledge that merely being “pretty good” doesn’t suffice. Just ask Spenser Skates and Curtis Liu. Today, these two MIT alumni are recognized as the co-founders of Amplitude, an analytics software company boasting a market capitalization of $1.35 billion and serving over 2,300 corporate clients. A decade ago, their pursuits were vastly different—managing a voice recognition startup named Sonalight.
As Skates, the 35-year-old CEO of Amplitude, describes it, Sonalight was akin to an early version of Apple’s Siri before Siri even existed. In 2011, they established Sonalight, secured a coveted position in Y Combinator’s startup accelerator program, and garnered 500,000 app downloads.
Then came a decision that might appear surprising: they chose to shutter it.
Internally, Skates and Liu recognized that while people initially used the app, they didn’t return to it regularly. “Sonalight was a top-tier idea,” says Skates. “Most ideas are subpar. It was decent, but not the absolute best. It led us to consider seeking a top-tier idea.”
They discovered this idea within their in-house analytics tools, which they’d developed to gain insights into user behavior. “We probably spent about half our time doing that—a somewhat arrogant mistake by engineers, trying to build it,” Skates explains.
However, at Y Combinator, their tools outperformed those used by their peers. Thus, in 2012, Skates and Liu commenced their work on Amplitude, officially launching the analytics platform in 2014 alongside co-founder Jeffrey Wang. By 2021, Amplitude had amassed $336 million in investments, and Skates made the decision to take the company public.
In the following interview, Skates delves into the risks associated with abandoning Sonalight, the process of cultivating exceptional ideas rather than settling for good ones, and why software engineers may not always be the ideal startup founders.
CNBC Make It: What prompted the decision to move on from Sonalight? Did you have concerns about exchanging a decent idea for one that might not work at all?
Skates: When embarking on something new, there is always an element of risk, but the decision wasn’t particularly challenging for us. The key question was: What was the potential success of Sonalight?
At Y Combinator, we had this remarkable, magical demonstration on stage where I placed my phone in my pocket, engaged in a conversation with it, and received responses. This garnered extensive press coverage, a modest amount of seed investment, and around 500,000 downloads. It validated that there was a genuine interest in the product.
However, after nearly a year of development, it became evident to us that the technology wasn’t advanced enough to deliver an outstanding user experience and encourage sustained engagement. It lacked the necessary utility to become a truly sticky product.
We could have persisted for four or five more years and achieved moderate success as a company, but it wouldn’t have been the breakout, massive success we aspired to. Sonalight was not the most promising endeavor for us; there were more impactful avenues to explore.
Once you resolved to change direction, how did you identify the “best” new idea to focus on?
We spent a month engaging in discussions and exploring various ideas. It’s crucial to locate a problem that aligns with your strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Technically, voice recognition was an incredibly challenging problem to solve. It was a probabilistic issue without a clearly defined correct answer.
Analytics, while considered a challenging problem by the average engineer, was relatively straightforward for us because we specialized in algorithms. Creating a distributed data store was well within our capabilities. It represented a solvable problem with a definitive solution. If we could address it, we knew people would want it. Consequently, we decided to embark on that journey, and it proved significantly easier.
We had developed our internal analytics, and what was intriguing was that many other companies were seeking the same insights we were gaining about the customer journey within Sonalight. That realization was a turning point. We spoke to 30 companies, identified a substantial need, and initiated the process of building Amplitude.
Why did you feel the need to pursue “breakout, massive” success? Was there something wrong with aiming for “good enough”?
[After college], I dedicated a substantial amount of time pondering how I could make a positive impact on the world. I reflected on my abilities and realized that I possessed expertise in software development. Consequently, I decided to determine the most significant way I could apply this expertise.
I spent a year working in finance and high-frequency trading while simultaneously attempting to recruit fellow MIT friends to embark on a startup journey. I reached out to classmates, peers, and other acquaintances. Surprisingly, nobody was eager to start a company.
Engineers, it seems, often express enthusiasm for the idea of founding a startup but rarely take the plunge. Many end up at companies like Google, becoming absorbed in their work and never returning to the entrepreneurial path.
Engineers tend to be risk-averse, pursuing a course only if it offers a clear route to success with interim validation. Conversely, startups and entrepreneurship entail embracing uncertainty and taking on personal risk. There are no supervisors or teachers providing reassurance. It’s either you have something people desire or you don’t. One must possess the determination to persist through the uncertainty and recognize the potential inherent in their pursuits.
Maurice Bachelor is on a mission to reshape public perceptions of AI bots, and he found formidable allies in billionaires Mark Cuban and Michael Rubin.
In a recent episode of ABC’s ‘Shark Tank,’ Bachelor presented his Los Angeles-based venture, Bot-It, alongside Joel Griffith, his co-founder and head of growth. Bot-It is a website and mobile app harnessing AI to streamline online tasks such as appointment scheduling and restaurant reservations.
The platform offers a “pro” subscription, enabling users to gain an edge in sneaker release lotteries and secure concert tickets in a matter of seconds, explained Bachelor, who serves as the company’s lead software engineer. This aspect of their business generated some controversy, as bots have disrupted the consumer experience in various industries, particularly in the domains of sneakers and live events.
Michael Rubin, CEO of sports retailer Fanatics and a guest judge on the show, acknowledged the magnitude of the issue, stating, “We have probably billions of dollars of products that bots try to buy from us each year… Bots come to get everything.”
Kevin O’Leary chimed in, asking, “What does it say about us if we’re supporting this, for those that think you’re cheating?”
In response, Bachelor and Griffith, who sought $150,000 in exchange for a 10% equity stake in their company, contended that their technology actually empowers individuals to outmaneuver cheaters by pitting real people against faceless bot armies.
Griffith emphasized, “We want to help change the perception of bots amongst consumers. Bots aren’t always the bad guy. You can have one, too.”
Rubin resonated with their argument, noting that most of the bots on Fanatics’ platform are large-scale attempts to hoard new products, often with the intent to resell them on third-party platforms at inflated prices. Arming consumers with bots could level the playing field, offering regular people a fair chance to purchase items at reasonable prices.
“I’d rather disrupt myself than have someone else disrupt me,” Rubin remarked.
Cuban was the first investor to make an offer, drawn in by Bot-It’s AI platform that can accomplish tasks rapidly. Cuban offered $150,000 in exchange for a 20% equity stake.
Rubin followed suit, asking Cuban if he’d welcome a partnership, to which Cuban replied, “No, I like this. I want these guys all to myself.” Rubin proposed $50,000 for a 15% share of Bot-It, a higher valuation than Cuban’s offer. O’Leary commented, “It’s a Shark fight. It’s the battle of the billionaires.”
Caught in a dilemma, Bachelor and Griffith urged Cuban and Rubin to make a joint deal. Ultimately, the two billionaires reached an agreement, offering $300,000 for a 30% stake in the company. After some deliberation about the equity share, the Bot-It team accepted the deal.
Bachelor expressed his enthusiasm, saying, “This is the most important day of the Bot-It life. To have both of those Sharks on our team right now is going to take us to the next level.”