China: Mobile butler service Laiye gets funding from Microsoft

General view of Microsoft Corporation headquarters at Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris, France, April 18, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files

US-based international software firm Microsoft is investing in a Chinese mobile butler service Laiye  by  leading its Series A round.

Financial terms of the investment are undisclosed. Existing investors Lightspeed China and Sequoia China participated in the round too. 

Laiyes’ mobile butler service works like Silicon Valley-based Magic allowing users to add all kinds of orders, such as buying coffee, booking a flight or any other type of mission. These orders are executed using both human and automated assistants.

The firm raised $4 million seed round in September 2015.

 

Since assuming the role of CEO, Satya Nadella has been increasing investments into mobile technologies, with AI another focus area. This is evidenced by the launch of an AI-focused fund under Microsoft Ventures.

The investment could see a partnership, with Laiye potentially leveraging on access to Microsofts’ information from assets such as Bing, in addition to serving as a channel for driving the growth of Microsoft software in China.

To date, the startup maintains a workforce of 60 staff, with some coordinating requests too complex for the AI. Users input service requests, which Laiye then sends to relevant providers. Certain tasks can be automated as well.

Currently operating on a freemium model, with apps for WeChat, as well as the iOS and Android platforms, the venture monetises free requests through commissions generated from services booked through its platform.

However, while freemium has become a widely adopted business model that has driven the emergence and contributed to the success of companies like file-sharing service Dropbox, note-taking software Evernote and internet calling service Skype, it is challenging to cover costs using such a business model.

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.