ByteDance denies it will go public in Hong Kong next quarter

ByteDance has responded to a report in the Financial Times that said the Chinese internet startup plans to go public in Hong Kong as early as the first quarter of next year. “There is absolutely zero truth to the rumors that we plan to list in Hong Kong in Q1,” said a spokesperson for the company, the owner of TikTok.

The Financial Times reported that ByteDance, which was founded in 2012 and is backed by investors including SoftBank, is preparing for a public listing by retaining law firm K&L Gates and hiring a chief legal officer and former U.S. officials to help address concerns by U.S. lawmakers that TikTok can pose “national security risks,” such as being compelled to turn over data from American users to Chinese authorities.

Speculation that ByteDance is gearing up for an IPO started last year when it closed a $3 billion funding round that put its valuation between $75 billion to $78 billion, making it the world’s most valuable startup.

ByteDance’s apps also include Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, news app Toutiao and TopBuzz, a news aggregation app for the U.S. market that the Financial Times reports it is planning to sell as it prepares for an IPO.

In September, Reuters reported that ByteDance had made between $7 billion and $8.4 billion in revenue for the first half of the year and had posted a profit in June.

Tiqets, a platform for booking museums and other attractions, raises $60M led by Airbnb

Airbnb is best known for being the place you go to book a place to stay when travelling that’s not a hotel. Today, it’s making an investment in a startup that points to its bigger interest in being a go-to destination for experiences and all things tourism, too. Tiqets, a startup out of Amsterdam that has built a platform for booking tickets for museums and other attractions, has raised $60 million in a Series C round led by the travel giant to expand its platform and wider business. Tiqets has sold millions of tickets in over 60 countries to date, it says.

The investment also includes backing from previous investors Investion and HPE Growth, and it brings the total raised by Tiqets to $100 million. Luuc Elzinga, the CEO and co-founder of Tiqets, said the startup is not disclosing its valuation but said it was “really happy” with the number.

This is, for now, a financial investment for Airbnb rather than a strategic one. In other words, the two companies have yet to work together, said Elzinga, although that is the hope longer term. “Airbnb will be involved in the business,” he said, “and that’s interesting because we can also learn from how they scaled.”

Scaled is almost an understatement. Starting as a modest marketplace for people to offer spare rooms and sofas to travellers, Airbnb has become one of the outsized guard of startups, raising $4.4 billion in venture funding, valued at $31 billion, and on the road to an IPO in 2020.

While the vast majority of that growth has come by way of people posting and booking accommodation in private homes, Airbnb’s interest in Tiqets underscores how the company is itself extending the revenue it can make per user by building out the longer tail of services it offers to its users beyond booking travel accommodation: current offerings include Experiences (in-city, one-day activities), Adventures (multi-day guided tours), and restaurant listings.

“Travelers are seeking out a diverse range of experiences when they visit a new city, ” said Airbnb Art and Culture Director Philippe Magid, in a statement. “The Tiqets team has effectively used new technology to connect travelers to communities and we are excited to support their work.”

In the wider tourism and travel industry, museums and attractions revenues are estimated to be worth some $160 billion, with ticketing accounting for $60 billion of that.

The gap in the market that Tiqets is targeting is the shift we’ve seen in how and why people — both tourists but also those visiting museums and attractions in their own home towns — purchase tickets to go to these places.

While some are still waiting to line up outside a venue for hours, others are opting to go online to buy in advance and use mobile tickets to speed up the process. Museums and most other attractions are not often the places that come to mind when you think “technology”, and Tiqets comes in and provides a service to them so that they can meet the demands of more digitally-savvy visitors.

Museums and other attractions are now gradually starting to think of how to use this to their advantage.

There was a Very British uproar in the 1980s when London’s Victoria & Albert Museum ran an ad campaign about how it was an “ace caff with a quite nice museum attached.” (It is a beautiful cafeteria.) But nowadays those cafes, and the ever-present gift shops, are some of their biggest revenue spinners, so offering tickets online reduces some of the friction in getting people into venues, and into better moods, to spend more money later. And, if users “check the box,” the venues can also build their marketing databases to boot.

Tiqets, founded in 2014, is still a relatively young business. Elzinga said it works with some 3,000 museum groups and attractions — with its customer list including some of the world’s most-visited institutions, such as the Louvre in Paris.

It also partners with some 2,500 travel agencies and portals — Ctrip is another big customer — that integrate with Tiqets’ APIs to upsell customers with tickets to venues after they have booked their trips. Some 35% of its revenues currently come by way of these third-party deals.

Tiqets’ plans for the investment will be to expand its coverage to more attractions, and to extend deeper into smaller towns beyond the big cities where it’s currently most active, specifically building out better self-service technology (not unlike Airbnb’s for hosts) to make it easier to onboard to its platform. It’s now available in 14 languages, so adding more localisation is also on the cards.

One area where Tiqets does not plan to expand is into performance or seated event ticketing a la Ticketmaster or Eventbrite.

“Our focus and opportunity will continue to be museums and attractions,” Elzinga said. Part of the reason for this is that so many of them continue to provide paper-based, kiosk-issued tickets, but also because of the rise of the blockbuster, and the new awareness of public safety in crowded, high profile, iconic tourist spots. “It’s getting more complex, with timed entry and issues like crowd management.”

Longer term, it will be interesting to see how and if Airbnb works more closely with Tiqets. Both are targeting what is a massive opportunity. Travel and tourism are some $8.8 trillion and will account for 10.4% of global GDP in 2019, according to one estimate.

Will the quantum economy change your business?

Google and NASA have demonstrated that quantum computing isn’t just a fancy trick, but almost certainly something actually useful — and they’re already working on commercial applications. What does that mean for existing startups and businesses? Simply put: nothing. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore it forever.

There are three main points that anyone concerned with the possibility of quantum computing affecting their work should understand.

1. It’ll be a long time before anything really practical comes out of quantum computing.

Google showed that quantum computers are not only functional, but apparently scalable. But that doesn’t mean they’re scaling right now. And if they were, it doesn’t mean there’s anything useful you can do with them.

What makes quantum computing effective is that it’s completely different from classical computing — and that also makes creating the software and algorithms that run on it essentially a completely unexplored space.

There are theories, of course, and some elementary work on how to use these things to accomplish practical goals. But we are only just now arriving at the time when such theories can be tested at the most basic levels. The work that needs to happen isn’t so much “bringing to market” as “fundamental understanding.”

Although it’s tempting to equate the beginning of quantum computing to the beginning of digital computing, in reality they are very different. Classical computing, with its 1s and 0s and symbolic logic, actually maps readily on to human thought processes and ways of thinking about information — with a little abstraction, of course.

Quantum computing, on the other hand, is very different from how humans think about and interact with data. It doesn’t make intuitive sense, and not only because we haven’t developed the language for it. Our minds really just don’t work that way!

So although even I can now claim to have operated a quantum computer (technically true), there are remarkably few people in the world who can say they can do so deliberately in pursuit of a specific problem. That means progress will be slow (by tech industry standards) and very limited for years to come as the basics of this science are established and the ideas of code and data that we have held for decades are loosened.

2. Early applications will be incredibly domain-specific and not generalizable.

A common misunderstanding of quantum computing is that it amounts to extremely fast parallel processing. Now, if someone had invented a device that performed supercomputer-like operations faster than any actual supercomputer, that would be an entirely different development and, frankly, a much more useful one. But that isn’t the case.

As an engineer explained to me at Google’s lab, not only are quantum computers good at completely different things, they’re incredibly bad at the things classical computers do well. If you wanted to do arithmetical logic like addition and multiplication, it would be much better and faster to use an abacus.

Part of the excitement around quantum computing is learning which tasks a qubit-based system is actually good at. There are theories, but as mentioned before, they’re untested. It remains to be seen whether a given optimization problem or probability space navigation is really suitable for this type of computer at all.

What they are pretty sure about so far is that there are certain very specific tasks that quantum computers will trivialize — but it isn’t something general like “compression and decompression” or “sorting databases.” It’s things like evaluating a galaxy of molecules in all possible configurations and conformations to isolate high-probability interactions.

As you can imagine, that isn’t very useful for an enterprise security company. On the other hand, it could be utterly transformative for a pharmacology or materials company. Do you run one of those? Then in all likelihood, you are already investing in this kind of research and are well aware of the possibilities quantum brings to the table.

But the point is these applications will not only be very few in number, but difficult to conceptualize, prove, and execute. Unlike something like a machine learning agent, this isn’t a new approach that can easily be tested and iterated — it’s an entirely new discipline which people can only now truly begin to learn.