Uber has launched CNG services in Chittagong, apparently

This just in. Uber has started CNG run auto-rickshaw services in Chittagong. Although there was no official announcement by Uber as of yet, anyone living in Chittagong who uses the app will see a CNG option now available for use. This is only within the Chittagong region, at least for the time being. Making this seem like a test run to see how this works out. 

Read more: Pathao, Uber and the need for greater scrutiny about data gathering activities

Since the start of ride-sharing apps, the thought of bringing auto-rickshaw services into this did cross people’s minds. In India, Ola and Uber have been successfully running it’s auto-rickshaw operations for quite some time now. In Bangladesh, Oi Khali was launched as the first-ever dedicated ride-sharing for CNG run auto-rickshaws.

Read more: Uber in the deep waters of South East Asia

Despite its failure, another similar platform OBHAI has picked up the CNG service and has been running its CNG services along with its regular ride-sharing services. With the launching of Uber’s CNG, Uber is set to become a major contender in CNG run auto-rickshaw sharing.

We’ll bring you more updates as soon as we get an official word from Uber.

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Cookups shuts down its operations for app and food delivery

Acclaimed startup Cookups has announced a shut down of its operations in app and food delivery service. In a Facebook post earlier this evening, Cookups made the announcement, stating lack of sufficient funding as one of the reasons to discontinue.

However, the Cookups Facebook page will stay for their other venture, Cookups Rannaghor. Cookups Rannaghor is a delivery only kitchen serving Bangla cuisine.

Cookups released the following statement today:

Dear Diners,

It is with a very heavy heart that we need to announce that we have decided to discontinue and shut down operations for the Cookups app and food delivery service. Today will be our last day of deliveries. We are very sorry it had to come to this as we were unable to raise sufficient funding to continue. Thank you immensely for being part of that part of our journey and for believing in us and we are grateful for the opportunity we had to bring you delicious food from amazing cooks from around the city. We are however going to use this page for our venture Cookups Rannaghor going forward, which as of now you can order through Uber Eats.

Lots of love,

Team Cookups

-Cookup’s post from its Facebook page

Cookups began its journey in 2016, headed by entrepreneur duo Namira Hossain and Misha Ali. It rose to popularity in the following years as the largest online marketplace in Bangladesh for healthy homemade food.

Pathao fires at least 300 employees in a surprise move

As of 25th June 2019, approximately three hundred of Pathao employees have been dismissed without any warning or notice. Among those three hundred who were dismissed, were top-level employees as well.

Although, there has been no official word on this from the Pathao authorities. The mass dismissal was confirmed from multiple employees that were dismissed.

An internal source from Pathao confirmed that approximately three hundred employees were fired. They were dismissed Tuesday morning, today, unnoticed. Among the dismissed, there was an executive assistant manager and several department heads. Many of them were stationed in different departments of Pathao.

Read more: Pathao and the quest for customer reassurance

The source was only able to give an approximate number. An exact amount is yet to be known.

Read more: How far would a Bangladeshi food joint go to hide the truth?

When contacted the Marketing lead of Pathao, Sayeda Nabila Mahabub, to know about the situation, she was reluctant to discuss this matter over the phone.

Read more: Pathao, Uber and the need for greater scrutiny about data gathering activities

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Pathao CEO Elius and Artist Morshed Mishu make it to Forbes Asia 30 under 30

In a city riddled with road accidents, fire hazards and sudden Nor’westers, Tuesday morning begins with some joyous news. Our very own Pathao’s CEO Hussain M Elius and artist Morshed Mishu from Morshed Mishu’s Illustration, have made it to Forbes Asia 30 under 30.

Hussain M Elius, 29, founded Pathao along with Shifat Adnan, which is now one of the leading ride sharing and logistics platforms in Bangladesh. Forbes listed him in two categories, Consumer Technology and Big Money Startups.

Read more: Pathao and the quest for customer reassurance

Forbes listed 25-year-old Morshed in the category of media, marketing and advertising. This Bangladeshi illustrator is most famous for his “Global Happiness Challenge” series which took the internet by storm at the beginning of 2018. Currently, he is the assistant editor at Unmad magazine.

We, at HiFi, wish these two bright minds of our generation all the best for their future endeavours. Keep making us proud!

Pathao and the quest for customer reassurance

It is always a bit unsettling when dubious activities of leading companies are unveiled. This effect is magnified when company executives take a defensive stance instead of explaining questionable actions and policies. The privacy scandal of Pathao from last November has left its residue in the average person’s mind. The revelation that the Pathao app copies private data from customers’ phones, provoked both the inherent doubt of such technology and newfound suspicion about the company’s motives in people.

The subsequent vague responses from Pathao’s social media page and its Vice President didn’t do much to help the case they were trying to make. Customer feedback amounted to demands of boycotting the product, and it is safe to say Pathao hasn’t really come out of the event with as polished an image as they’d like.

Read more: Pathao goes global as first Bangladeshi startup to expand overseas

One oopsie to the other

The ensuing attempts by Pathao at ameliorating the damage done weren’t exactly astute. The reason the scandal happened in the first place was because Pathao couldn’t respond appropriately to the accuser. It was one person who unearthed the bones in their closet, one person swinging like a pendulum between self-interest and public wellbeing. Pathao pushed him over the edge by threatening with dubious legal action.

This resulted in the guy going public with information that was later corroborated by news portals and security experts. An update was made to the app that allegedly doesn’t steal your data anymore. But if anyone is still using the previous version of the app, we’re afraid your data are still being copied to Pathao servers.

The Bug Bounty Program

It seemed like Pathao would simply wait for the negative attention to die down, as people would resort to the service anyway. But on February 12th, they did something worth noting.

Pathao introduced a bug bounty program, challenging researchers from all over the world to attempt to discover bugs in the app and report them for unspecified rewards that are “not only monetary”, as written in the Medium PathaoEngineering article.

Such programs are always welcome. It’s reassuring to see companies being confident about the integrity of their technology. And such programs are commonplace for many other prominent companies.

What struck me is that in the very first paragraph, the case was made in the context of security breaches in prominent developers and their platforms. I just want to point out that Pathao can’t exactly claim the high ground when the context of the discussion is internet security.

Moreover, the issue we had with Pathao’s security system was never attributed to a bug, a mistake in their algorithm. Their security breach issues were seemingly very deliberate in nature. No one from Pathao stated that copying user data was a mistake or the result of a vulnerability in the system of the app. Attempts were made instead to justify the act. So, my raised eyebrow at this news might not be completely attributable to cynicism.

Not sure how to feel about this

Pathao has had its fair share of blunders. Even today, Pathao riders are more willing to deal with desperate customers directly than use the app as they should. And Pathao hasn’t really done much to mitigate situations like that.

Honestly, the bug bounty program is a good idea.

It can generate some degree of positivity regarding customer feedback, should it succeed. But with this initiative, it feels like Pathao isn’t addressing the right issues. And attention is being diverted from the more pressing complaints people have; complaints that haven’t been probably addressed yet, deliberately or not.

 

A year in review: 5 things that marked the local tech scenario in 2018

2018 has been an eventful year for Bangladesh. And the biggest milestones are from local tech scenario. Both Government and private projects have achieved outstanding feats this year and have made their marks. As we head into 2019, let us take a look at 5 things that have made the news in 2018.

1. Pathao goes global

In early September, Pathao became the first Bangladeshi ride sharing company to go global by launching services in Nepal. Expansion in Nepal was Pathao’s first step in their plan to expand business further.

2. bKash’s app redefines mobile banking

bKash launched its super simple app in 2018. And mobile banking in Bangladesh has never been easier. With its simple and sleek design and user friendly operation, bkash quickly became the go to name for cashless transactions.

3. Bangladesh goes to space

2018 will forever be remembered as the year Bangladesh went to space. The Government launched its first geostationary satellite, Bangabandhu-1. With the launch of its first ever satellite, Bangladesh became a member of the club of the elite nations who have their mark in space.

4. The year of Pathao’s controversial data stealing

Pathao made the news once again in 2018 after it was revealed that they have been breaching user data. Pathao later issued an explanation and went through some major updates to its app but the controversy was never fully cleared.

5. Shohoz raised $15M investment

A year in review: 5 things that marked the local tech scenario in 2018

Another ride sharing app, Shohoz raised a massive $15M investment this year. With this investment Shohoz plans to become a major competitor in the ride sharing market of the country

Pathao, Uber and the need for greater scrutiny about data gathering activities

In November, Pathao was embroiled in controversy after allegations were made against the ride-sharing company for illegal data gathering activities. One month later, the situation remains unclear.

Ashik Ishtiaque Emon, a security researcher, uploaded a viral video explaining how Pathao was misusing user data. According to the video, Pathao forwards sensitive user information to a third-party server in California and this data is updated every time you open the app. Contacts and SMS information are also collected in addition to location data.

Pathao’s response

Pathao later issued a press release clarifying that its data gathering practices were in line with international best practices of similar technology companies. They stated that they did not violate any laws to do so, nor did they plan to. However, in the press release, Pathao also insinuated that the controversy was stirred up by parties jealous of Pathao’s recent success.

Such statements are in poor taste. Even if this is actually the case, such claims are not expected during an official press release of a globally recognized company.

Pathao is correct in saying that companies abroad engage in similar practices. However, this does not excuse the lack of transparency in dealing with consumer data. Security concerns remain since most users do not check user conditions and terms of agreements.

Misuse of user data: An Industry Norm?

Pathao, Uber and the Need for Greater Scrutiny about Data Gathering Activitie

Ride-sharing apps have a history of questionable data gathering practices. In 2017, Uber was investigated by the FBI for using a program to track their rival, Lyft’s activity. According to an expose by the Information, Uber used the program between 2014 and 2016. They tracked how many Lyft drivers were available for new rides and the location. Uber created fake Lyft accounts and used it to trick Lyft into thinking that customers were seeking new rides in various locations around a city. This allowed Uber to see which drivers were nearby and what prices they were offering to customers, further, allowing Uber to undercut them.

The effort was part of a larger international strategy to monitor rivals like Ola in India and Didi Chuxing in China. Such practices were not essentially illegal, as the data was purportedly publicly available. Uber also monitored customers’ location data for up to five minutes after ending their trips. This was rollbacked after another controversy and media attention. Admittedly, laws protecting users do not exist yet and there is a lack of regulation.  However, the callousness with user privacy is not going unnoticed.

While Pathao, of course, is a different company, the fact remains that ridesharing is a very competitive industry. Firms may be tempted to leverage the large data they have access to, to gain an edge over its rivals. Data-brokering is a very lucrative and growing industry.

Vigilance is necessary

According to the BRTA, none of the ridesharing companies currently operating in Bangladesh has successfully complied with the guidelines introduced earlier this year. These include providing SOS services, updated driver data, call center and data center locations to the government.

Modern services such as Facebook and Pathao are here to stay. However, in light of data issues and scrutiny on social media apps, we need to be more vigilant about what kind of data we are sharing with these services, and how this data is being used. Perhaps, measures similar to GDPR may be required in the future for markets like Bangladesh as well.

See our video on how to change your app permissions to protect your data.

Shohoz plans to go big with $15M investment. Can it keep up?

Shohoz rides, the latest addition in the ride-sharing industry of the country, has pulled in $15M worth of investments as a part of its round B investments. Singapore based Golden Gate Ventures led the new investments round. Linear VC of China, 500 Startups and Singapore based angel investor Koh Boon Hwee were also associated with this investment.

With this investment, Shohoz rides becomes one of the heavily invested in businesses in the country and looks steadily set in their goal of expanding their services in the future. Shohoz’s closest rival, Pathao, has also recently raised $10M investment from Indonesian ride sharing giant, Go-Jek.

Steady growth

Shohoz raises $15M
Shohoz started with online bus ticketing

Shohoz has remained a trusted name in online sales for bus tickets since 2014. After its initial success, it soon expanded to selling ferry tickets and very recently, tickets for events and movies. After the ride-sharing industry in the country saw a boom in the latter half of last year, Shohoz started out its ride-sharing services, Shohoz rides, this year in January.

With its ride-sharing services rapidly gaining traction, it does not, however, mean that the platform will move away from its bus ticketing services. “Bus tickets will remain an important part of our business, [there’s] lots of synergy with ride-sharing,” she explained in an interview with Techcrunch. “Dhaka has a super dense population with bad infrastructure. If anything, there’s a better case for ride-sharing than Indonesia. There’s no subway and transport is a horrid nightmare.”

Shohoz started its ride-sharing services by adding motorbikes to its platform. It recently added cars to it and hopes their overall service will ease the traffic situation in the capital city.

Keeping its feet on the ground

Shohoz raises $15M

Despite having shown promising prospects, Shohoz has apparently been taking things slow. It hasn’t yet shown any initiative to grab iOS users in the country but recently underwent a massive rebranding to appeal to new customers. It is unclear if they’re planning to launch an iOS app any soon.

Shohoz plans to tap into the groceries and food delivery market soon. It aims to model itself after the “Super App” style most southeast Asian tech giants usually go for and something Pathao has recently ventured into.

It doesn’t plan to go global anytime soon but is surely set to expand its services outside the capital city of Dhaka, as explained by the CEO in a recent interview.

Is three a crowd?

Shohoz raises $15M

Currently, three ride-sharing platforms, including Shohoz, are doing steady business in Bangladesh.

Pathao has skyrocketed with its constant influx of investment, aggressive market attitude and expansion beyond the country. Uber, although lagging a bit behind in the local market in comparison with Pathao, is on stable grounds. With its UberEats service soon launching in Bangladesh, its competition with Pathao is not dying down any soon either.

Can Shohoz keep up with aggressive Pathao and international giant Uber with its laid back but organised market strategies? So far, they’ve been doing good for themselves. Only time will tell what the future holds for this ride-sharing rising star.

Pathao is going global! Launching services in Nepal on 15 September

Pathao, popular Bangladeshi ridesharing and logistics service, is set to launch its services in Nepal. They confirmed long-standing speculations through social media posts. The startup has also been actively hiring employees in Nepal using online job vacancy platforms like Merojob (as reported by a Nepal based tech news site). This is the first time a locally grown ride-sharing platform is expanding beyond Bangladesh’s borders.

Humble beginnings

Pathao was founded in 2015 by Hussain Elius, Shifat Adnan and Ahmed Fahad. The early days involved bootstrapping from a small office in Banani and being a consumer-facing on-demand delivery service. That expanded to ride sharing and food delivery. Their latest venture goes into cashless payments, demonstrating their aspirations to create a full ecosystem. Launching in Nepal said to be the first stage of Pathao’s planned global expansion.

Nepal ride share
Nepal already has quite a few ride-sharing platforms like Tootle and Sarathi.

“Pathao has built a platform that enables employment for thousands of drivers and a product that millions of customers use in Bangladesh. We are excited to take our Pathao platform internationally – starting with Nepal. We have already started to get riders on board in Nepal, and plan to launch in the next few weeks. The Pathao team is inspired to be #MovingNepal and working closely with the local ecosystem,” said Pathao CEO Hussain M Elius.

Pathao has competition

Nepal already has a few ride-sharing platforms like Tootle, Sarathi etc. However, Pathao believes it will be a strong contender once it gets a foothold in the local market.

“The Pathao team is inspired to be #MovingNepal and working closely with the local ecosystem,” said Pathao CEO Hussain M Elius.

Global investors seem to share this conviction in Pathao’s potential; Pathao is one of the country’s most invested-in startups. In November 2017, Indonesian ride sharing giant, Go-Jek, reportedly invested around US$ 2 million as part of its Series A funding.  This was followed up by raising another round of investment at a valuation of over $100 million in April this year.

“Pathao will be launching its ride-sharing service at first in Kathmandu and gradually move on to its other services like food delivery and cashless payment,” said Sayeda Nabila Mahabub, Lead Marketing Manager of Pathao in a recent conversation with HiFi Public.

Growing fast, moving safely

Pathao is also facing increasing concerns about the safety of the millions of people they are moving. In order to ensure ensure the safety of its riders and passengers, Pathao is running the #MovingSafely campaign. Initiatives include distributing two sets of helmets for its registered riders. Additionally, the ride-sharing service introduced an insurance policy for its users. Pathao is expected to maintain these safety policies in Nepal, as well.

“We want to create a safe ecosystem to solve everyday problems, starting with traffic and transportation,” said Kishwar Hashemee, Vice President of  Pathao, about its expansion in Nepal.

Pathao will have a soft launch in Kathmandu on 15th September. They will go into full operational capacity from 1st October 2018.

Uber in the deep waters of South East Asia

It’s no secret that Uber has been the pioneer for ride-sharing apps. In Bangladesh, Uber’s biggest competitor for ride-sharing is Pathao. Uber might have started back in 2009, but its competitors weren’t too late to start. In its markets, Uber has to compete with companies such as Lyft, Didi Chuxing, Ola, and Grab.

It’s all over the news if you haven’t noticed it. Uber just sold its massive market in South East Asia to Grab; a local ride-sharing app. Why on God’s green earth would a Fortune 500 company sell to a “puny” South East Asian company?

Models stand beside Grab cars during the launch of the ride hailing-firm’s services in the country, in Phnom Penh on December 19, 2017. Southeast Asia’s top ride-hailing firm Grab launched services in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on December 19, as it looks to lock down regional domination against main rival Uber. /AFP PHOTO/Charly TWO

Grab isn’t as mature as Uber. It’s journey started three years after Uber in 2012 when Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling, two Harvard classmates decided to enter the massive market of ride sharing in Malaysia; Anthony quitting his position as head of marketing in Tan Cheng Motors, a family-owned business and Ling quitting her job as a consultant in McKinsey & Company. Eventually it moved to Singapore, Phillipines and Thailand and today, the app has 3.5 million daily rides.

One would think that Grab, acquiring Uber’s market, would create a monopoly in South East Asian market for Grab; But Go-Jek, the fastest growing start-up in South Asia from Indonesia, decided to penetrate the market by expanding into three more countries as the CEO, Nadiem Makarim thinks that it’s a great opportunity as there are fewer players within the landscape. Planning to expand into three more countries, an internal e-mail from Go-Jek specified that it aimed to set up it’s operations within Philippines within this year.

People may not have noticed it, but Uber is in deep waters for the worst of reasons. Last year, Uber sustained a $1.5 billion loss. Ironically so, because no other startup in history has raised more capital, operated globally and reached quite a lofty valuation as Uber.

Amidst a hailstorm of controversy, Uber’s former CEO resigned and was replaced with Dara Khosrowshahi. Dara understood that the Uber’s biggest market had little room for expansion, thanks to other services such as Lyft and Grab. Right after taking up the throne, Dara mentioned that the market in South East Asia might not see a better future, at least for the next six months.

Selling businesses in markets isn’t new for Uber. Back in 2016, Uber sold a majority of its operations in China to Didi, the latter acquiring a market of around $35 billion dollars. Why and how is this relevant? Sure, Pathao isn’t going to eat up the ride-sharing market in Bangladesh anytime soon. In fact, Uber’s bike ride sharing service, Uber Moto, caught up quite early. But Pathao is expanding to regions Uber Moto still hasn’t moved into. It’s fairly easy to say that micro-management isn’t Uber’s strong suit, and local startups are taking advantage of it. As a result, ride-sharing services around the world are currently engulfed in wonderful, chaotic anarchy, with an aim for national domination.

It is expected that after this move, Uber is trying to concentrate in its North American market – aptly so, as Dara previously worked for Expedia Inc., another company based in the US. But the market in the US isn’t settling down anytime soon, as Lyft’s plans for expansion is in order as well.

Uber is doing pretty good where it matters, and it’s nice to see that the new CEO acknowledges that holding its ground is more important than aggressive expansion. But innovation is what keeps tech companies alive, and while Uber might have plans like autonomous driving, those plans took a hit as the autonomous Uber project was recently banned in Arizona following a fatal crash.

One good thing Uber still has are its investors who are sure of its success even after the monumental losses suffered in last year’s third-quarter. With it, Uber still has funds to pull itself up. What the world waits to see is how they plan to navigate themselves out of the way of the graveyard of tech startups.