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Indian startups diversify their businesses to offset COVID-19 induced losses

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E-commerce giant Flipkart is planning to launch a hyperlocal service that would enable customers to buy items from local stores and have those delivered to them in an hour and a half or less. Yatra, an online travel and hotel ticketing service, is exploring a new business line altogether: Supplying office accessories.

Flipkart and Yatra are not the only firms eyeing new business categories. Dozens of firms in the country have branched out by launching new services in recent weeks, in part to offset the disruption the COVID-19 epidemic has caused to their core offerings.

Swiggy and Zomato, the nation’s largest food delivery startups, began delivering alcohol in select parts of the country last month. The move came weeks after the two firms, both of which are seeing fewer orders and had to let go of hundreds of employees, started accepting orders for grocery items in a move that challenged existing online market leaders BigBasket and Grofers.

Udaan, a business-to-business marketplace, recently started to accept bulk orders from some housing societies and is exploring more opportunities in the business-to-commerce space, the startup told TechCrunch.

These shifts came shortly after New Delhi announced a nationwide lockdown in late March to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown meant that all public places including movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, and public transport were suspended.

Instead of temporarily halting their businesses, as many have done in other markets, scores of startups in India have explored ways to make the most out of the current unfortunate spell.

“This pandemic has given an opportunity to the Indian tech startup ecosystem to have a harder look at the unit-economics of their businesses and become more capital efficient in the shorter and longer-term,” Puneet Kumar, a growth investor in Indian startup ecosystem, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Of the few things most Indian state governments have agreed should remain open include grocery shops, and online delivery services for grocery and food. And that has naturally attracted many firms.

People buy groceries at a supermarket during the first day of the 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Bangalore on March 25, 2020. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

E-commerce firms Snapdeal and DealShare began grocery delivery service in late March. The move was soon followed by social-commerce startup Meesho, fitness startup Curefit, and BharatPe, which is best known for facilitating mobile payments between merchants and users.

Meesho’s attempt is still in the pilot stage, said Vidit Aatrey, the Facebook-backed startup’s co-founder and chief executive. “We started grocery during the lockdown to give some income opportunities to our sellers and so far it has shown good response. So we are continuing the pilot even after lockdown has lifted,” he said.

ClubFactory, best known for selling low-cost beauty items, has also started to deliver grocery products, and so has NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that connects apartment seekers with property owners. And MakeMyTrip, a giant that provides solutions to book flight and hotel tickets, has entered the food delivery market.

Another such giant, BookMyShow, which sells movie tickets, has in recent weeks rushed to support online events, helping comedians and other artists sell tickets online. The Mumbai-headquartered firm plans to make further inroads around this business idea in the coming days.

For some startups, the pandemic has resulted in accelerating the launch of their product cycles. CRED, a Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to help Indians improve their financial behavior by paying their credit card bill on time, launched an instant credit line and apartment rental services.

Kunal Shah, the founder and chief executive of CRED, said the startup “fast-tracked the launch” of these two products as they could prove immensely useful in the current environment.

For a handful of startups, the pandemic has meant accelerated growth. Unacademy, a Facebook-backed online learning startup, has seen its user base and subscribers count surge in recent months and told TechCrunch that it is in the process of more than doubling the number of exam preparation courses it offers on its platform in the next two months.

Since March, the number of users who access the online learning service each day has surged to 700,000. “We have also seen a 200% increase in viewers per week for the free live classes offered on the platform. Additionally there has been a 50% increase in paid subscribers and over 50% increase in average watchtime per day among our subscribers,” a spokesperson said.

As with online learning firms, firms operating on-demand video streaming services have also seen a significant rise in the number of users they serve. Zee5, which has amassed over 80 million users, told TechCrunch last week that in a month it will introduce a new category in its app that would curate short-form videos produced and submitted by users. The firm said the feature would look very similar to TikTok.

The pandemic “has also accelerated the adoption of online services in India across all demographics. Many who would not have considered buying goods and services online are starting to adopt the online platforms for basic necessities at a faster pace,” said venture capitalist Kumar.

“As far as expansion into adjacent categories is concerned, some of this was a natural progression and startups were slowly moving in that direction anyway. The pandemic has forced people to get there faster.”

Roosh, a Mumbai-based game developing firm founded by several industry veterans, launched a new app ahead of schedule that allows social influencers to promote games on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, Deepak Ail, co-founder and chief executive of Roosh, told TechCrunch.

ShareChat, a Twitter-backed social network, recently acquired a startup called Elanic to explore opportunities in social-commerce. OkCredit, a bookkeeping service for merchants, has been exploring ways to allow users to purchase items from neighborhood stores.

And NowFloats, a Mumbai-based SaaS startup that helps businesses and individuals build an online presence without any web developing skills, is on-boarding doctors to help people consult with medical professionals.

Startups are not the only businesses that have scrambled to eye new categories. Established firms such as Carnival Group, which is India’s third-largest multiplex theatre chain, said it is foraying into cloud kitchen business.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has also secured approval from West Bengal to deliver alcohol in the nation’s fourth most populated state. The e-commerce giant is also exploring ways to work with mom and pop stores that dot tens of thousands of cities and towns of India.

Last week, the American giant launched “Smart Stores” that allows shoppers to walk to a participating physical store, scan a QR code, and pick and purchase items through the Amazon app. The firm, which is supplying these mom and pop stores with software and QR code, said more than 10,000 shops are participating in the Smart Stores program.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/06/28/indian-startups-diversify-their-businesses-to-offset-covid-19-induced-losses/

Covid19

Major League Baseball Cancels 2020 All-Star Game Because Of Coronavirus

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Major League Baseball is cancelling this year’s All-Star Game due to concerns over the coronavirus. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who were to host this year’s game, will instead play host to the Midsummer Classic in 2022. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

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Mario Tama/Getty Images

Major League Baseball is cancelling the 2020 All-Star game over concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and restricting on mass gatherings, the league says.

This year’s Mid Summer Classic, planned for July 14, is the first All-Star Game cancelled since World War II. A week of fan activities around the the American and National League exhibition match-up — including the Home Run Derby — will also be put on hold this year.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were set to host for the first time since 1980.

“Once it became clear we were unable to hold this year’s All-Star festivities, we wanted to award the Dodgers with the next available All-Star Game, which is 2022,” said baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr said in a statement.

Cancelling the All-Star game is the latest hit the league has taken since the pandemic began. In March, the league put a stop to spring training, just two weeks shy of what would have been opening day. Disagreements between the player’s union and MLB over money and safety concerns further delayed the league’s shortened 60-game season.

Late last month, both sides agreed to have opening day on July 23 or 24, with players resuming training at the beginning of the month.

MLB recently introduced new rules to stem the spread of the virus among players, including a ban on spitting by players during the game.

First played in 1933, the All-Star Game has a been an annual event, save for 1945 when wartime travel restrictions interfered.

The 2021 edition is set to be played in Atlanta at the Braves’ Truist Park.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/03/887123624/major-league-baseball-cancels-2020-all-star-game-because-of-coronavirus?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=coronavirusliveupdates

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When Your Dad Owns A Pizzeria, The Pandemic Means Learning To Make The Perfect Pie

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Paul and Francesca Montanaro at Katonah Pizza & Pasta in the Bronx borough of New York City. Paul and Francesca Montanaro hide caption

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Paul and Francesca Montanaro

In the middle of March, when the coronavirus forced schools to shutter around the country, Francesca Montanaro, 11, abruptly transferred from fifth grade to “pizza school.”

She started calling into her Zoom English class from a small table squeezed in the back of her father’s pizzeria, Katonah Pizza & Pasta in the Bronx borough of New York City. Surrounded by sacks of flour, she wrote an essay on A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a room filled with the aromas of tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.

And she has also been helping out at the pizzeria: answering phones, assembling cardboard pizza boxes and learning to use the cash register. She’s there at least a few days a week, sometimes for 12-hour stretches.

Both of Francesca’s parents are essential workers. Her father, Paul, has been providing food to walk-in customers, as well as large orders to nurses, police officers and emergency medical services workers. Francesca’s mother, Jessica, is an intensive care unit nurse at Mount Sinai Morningside hospital, which has been inundated with COVID-19 patients. Under normal circumstances, Francesca’s grandparents would provide child care when both her parents are working, but the family doesn’t want to risk them getting exposed to the virus.

Hunker Down Diaries is a new series from Radio Diaries that shares short diaries and conversations between people thrown together by the pandemic. Stories about ordinary life in extraordinary times. To hear more stories from the Hunker Down Diaries series, subscribe to the Radio Diaries podcast.

At the pizzeria, Francesca enjoys joking around with her dad’s co-workers and the customers, but she does admit that being there all day can be a drag.

“Sometimes I feel bored, mostly because there’s nothing really to do there for an 11-year-old like me,” she said. “It’s not like it’s a jungle gym or anything like that. It’s a pizza shop.”

Recently, Francesca sat down with her dad to talk about life during the pandemic. She wanted to know if her being at the pizza shop bothered him.

“Well, to be honest with you, it does stress me out, only because I know for a kid, your patience is what it is, and sometimes I see that you’re bored,” Paul told her. It troubles him to see her cooped up in the shop all day. But, he said, “I want you to also know that you’re very calming and soothing to me. Having you there in my time of stress has calmed me down, because you’re built that way.”

Francesca said she gets frustrated that her dad is often so preoccupied at work, and she sometimes feels lonely.

“The hardest part for me is you’re usually busy. And I feel like some days I could just sit in the back without you even noticing me,” she told him.

Paul said he understood. Being together at the pizza shop hasn’t been exactly quality time for father and daughter. But the pandemic has given them no other option. “It is what it is,” he told her.

One of Francesca’s jobs at the pizzeria is assembling pizza boxes. Paul and Francesca Montanaro hide caption

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Paul and Francesca Montanaro

“I do want you to know that sometimes I feel very guilty that you’re there with me so many hours, because sometimes mommy doesn’t pick you up until 7 o’clock at night or 8 o’clock at night,” he said.

Even though the situation isn’t ideal, Paul said, for his part, he loves seeing Francesca at the pizzeria. “I’ve seen you learning the register, and you know how to handle money now,” he said. And he recalled with pride the day Francesca made her first pizza.

“You made the perfect pie,” he said. “It was perfectly round. I couldn’t believe the amazing crust you made. Even my pizza guy was like, ‘Oh, my God, she is a natural!’ “

Francesca had one final question: “Do you think you’d want me to take over the pizza shop and run the business?”

“I wouldn’t want you to do what I do,” Paul said. It’s not an easy business, he said. He encouraged Francesca to model herself after her mother’s path into nursing. “Whereas I can feed people, mommy can save lives,” he said. “And not to say that I’m not intelligent, but I see how you are and I see what you can be, and I know that that would be a lot more than what I’ve been in my life and am. And I think you’re going to use that brain and do much better things than what I do.”

Francesca is hoping to become a nurse or a psychologist. In the meantime, she’s spending her summer scooping Italian ice at the pizzeria.

This story was produced by Sarah Kate Kramer of Radio Diaries, with help from Joe Richman and Nellie Gilles. The editors were Deborah George and Ben Shapiro. Thanks to Jessica Deahl and Andrea Hsu of NPR.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/03/886033575/when-your-dad-owns-a-pizzeria-the-pandemic-means-learning-to-make-the-perfect-pi?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=coronavirusliveupdates

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Celebrity MasterChef review – anyone for a giant lasagne?

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Celebrity MasterChef review – anyone for a giant lasagne?



3 /
5 stars

3 out of 5 stars.

The sight of pop stars cooking for London Underground staff and panicking about pasta is a window into pre-pandemic life … shattered only by the screeches of Gregg Wallace






Overdoing it … John Torode and Gregg Wallace.

So, here we are, heading into the semi-finals already. Twenty more-or-less recognisable names and faces have become four, and by the end of the end of the night the remaining quartet of contestants on this new series of Celebrity MasterChef (BBC One) will – courtesy of a nail-biting double bill – have been reduced to a mere brace of rivals.

Still standing at the beginning of the stretch are comedian Judi Love, footballer-turned-pundit John Barnes, Apprentice star and quintessential salesman Thomas Skinner, and Rak-Su recording artist and sweet summer child Myles Stephenson, who is younger than most of the tins in my store cupboard.

This time they had to knock up identical dishes while communicating only verbally, through a wall – Myles’s conscientiousness combining with teammate Thomas’s confidence, Judi’s instinct dovetailing with John’s big-picture practicality – before cooking a two-course lunch for 100-plus London Underground workers, including a meat-free option. Judi and John plump for a vegetarian lasagne. Gregg Wallace, who seems only to have got louder as his co-presenter John Torode has got older and has developed communication skills more closely resembling those of a normal human adult, is concerned. “INDUSTRIAL-sized BÉCHAMEL!” he cries. “Takes. A fair. Bit of COOKING LET ME TELL YOU!!!!” Come, friendly bombs…

Everything turns out fine. An elusive tinned custard stash is found, curries are flavourful, ginger syrup sponges declared both gingery and syrupy, and no one forgets to season everything they say with a generous handful of otiose adverbs. Things are crisped off, fried off and plated up until it’s time for Gregggg to shout his charmless verdicts at John T again. “THERE’S CUMIN IN THERE!” he bellows like a man who’s never come across food or spice before, let alone in harmonious conjunction. “THAT’S A PROPER PUNCH!” If only, Gregggg. If only.

In the second instalment, our contestants must feed last year’s champion Greg Rutherford and two runners-up: Dom from Gogglebox, fruitier than the rum-soaked raisins Judi plans to add to her apple tart, and Vicky Pattison, funnier than everyone put together. “Stop bitching,” she tells Rutherford as he notes that Thomas’s toffee sauce has set solid on their plates, “and have a slice of your sauce.”

Masterchef – Celebrity or otherwise – is such a strange beast. Parts of it are so slow. Introductions, descriptions of what’s going to happen (“Each team … is going to be cooking … a dish” intones the voiceover in an attempt to build tension where none can ever exist), and recaps of what has already happened are interspersed with spots of action in which the chefs actually get around to cooking something. Here contestants must also deflect the random bursts of belligerence from Gregggg and depressive contempt from Torode. (“The problem with classics,” he says sadly when Thomas puts forward a final menu of fish and chips, “is that there’s nowhere to hide.”).

Still, it was lovely to see everyone enjoying themselves before lockdown. And lovely too to escape into a world where noodle thickness is everything and the greatest challenge before you is to ensure those pig cheek pieces are going to cut sufficiently through the richness of your carbonara-with-double-cream (oh Myles, you beautiful, blessed infant fool! The middle-aged gut is a travesty inconceivable to you!).

I shall not reveal the winners here – only that justice was but partially done, a bit like John’s scallops. But I’ll be back for the final, with my heart in my mouth and ear defenders on my head, ready to pick out the morsels of pleasure from the broth of tension, motiveless aggression and boredom in which they are served. UnACCOUNTably MOREish.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2020/jul/03/celebrity-masterchef-review

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