Will Amazon postpone Prime Day over coronavirus? By Paul Squire April 3, 2020 11:40AM PST

Amazon will postpone its premier Prime Day shopping event — at least according to one report.

So when is Prime Day? The shopping event will be pushed back until at least August, according to notes from an internal meeting obtained by Reuters. The major shopping event was started in 2015 and generally occurs each July.

The online shopping giant is also expecting to suffer a $100 million loss from extra devices it’ll have to sell at a discount, Reuters reported. The news agency mentioned 5 million extra devices that Amazon would have sold during Prime Day, such as its suite of voice-controlled Echo speakers.

“We probably have to promote sooner, which will be difficult if we’re capacity constrained,” General Counsel David Zapolsky wrote in notes from a daily meeting of Amazon executives.

Amazon declined a request from Digital Trends for comment.

The postponement would mark a major shift by Amazon to address the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Facebook commits $100M to support local news orgs hit by COVID-19 crisis

Facebook announced this morning that it will be offering another $100 million worth of support to local newsrooms that are trying to cover the COVID-19 pandemic, while that same pandemic is dealing a major blow to their bottom lines.

The company says the funding will consist of $25 million in grant funding for local coverage, plus $75 million in marketing for news organizations around the world.

“If people needed more proof that local journalism is a vital public service, they’re getting it now,” said Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president of global news partnerships, in a blog post. “And while almost all businesses are facing adverse financial effects from this crisis, we recognize we’re in a more privileged position than most, and we want to help.”

Earlier this month, Facebook announced an initial $1 million in grants to help fund coverage of the pandemic, which it says today supported 50 newsrooms in the U.S. and Canada. Examples include South Carolina’s Post and Courier (which will use the money to cover the travel costs and remote work necessary expand its coverage into rural areas), the Southeastern Missourian (funding remote work and contingency plans for delivering news to elderly readers) and El Paso Matters (hiring freelance reporters and translators).

This funding comes on top of the $300 million that Facebook committed to local news last year, as well as the $100 million in grants for small businesses impacted by COVID-19 that it announced earlier this month.

How to Choose a Domain Name

This is the web’s most in-depth guide on how to choose a domain name. It’s also the web’s largest resource for blog name generators (to help you brainstorm ideas).
In this post, you’ll learn how to create a large list of domain name candidates, how to check which ones are available, and how to buy the best domain name for your target audience.
Let’s get started.

How to Choose a Domain Name (+ 30 Blog Name Generators!)
Your Domain Name’s One Job
A lot of people think your domain name should be witty. Others think it should be clever or poetic. Or something kooky and cool like… Google, Amazon, or Moz.
Wrong.
Your domain name is a tool. And like every other tool in your toolbox, it has a specific purpose.

If you buy a hammer, its job is to drive nails, and you judge its effectiveness based on its ability to drive a nail.

Your domain name has one job too. When someone visits your website, your domain name must answer the following:

“Is this site for me? Am I in the right place?”
That’s it. That’s its job.
The quicker you can help people figure out whether they’re in the right place, the quicker you will:

Get more traffic;
Keep and convert those visitors into subscribers;
Receive more links and shares from your favorite social media sites;
Rule the (blogging) world.
So how do you help them answer that fundamental question, “Is this for me?”

In a word, clarity.

Clarity is key. Because everything you need to learn about starting a blog and finding the right domain name is going to circle back to these two key elements:

Does it answer the fundamental question, “Is this for me?”
Is it clear?
So what’s the best way to achieve clarity with your domain name?

For starters, you should avoid these five fatal domain name mistakes. (Cue the ominous music.)

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The Five (Potentially) Fatal Mistakes When Choosing Your Domain Name
These mistakes are common, and they’ll definitely erode your chances of success. Avoid them at all costs.

Mistake #1: Being Clever
We celebrate cleverness in many walks of life. Cleverness drives innovation. It solves difficult problems.

But when it comes to choosing a domain name, cleverness is really the last thing you want. It’s the enemy of clarity.

It’s not a good idea to come up with a pun or some clever play on words for your domain name.

How do you know if you’re being too clever?

Here’s a simple test:

Go around to people who don’t know you, people who may not know anything about your subject, and tell them the domain name.

Then ask them what it means.

If they have to think about it for more than two seconds, you’re dead.

Why?

Because if someone has to think to figure out what your domain name means, most people will say “forget this.” They’ll bounce. On to the next link.

And if they bounce immediately after visiting your site, it’s going to hinder your SEO (search engine optimization) efforts. Google will assume your content isn’t meeting searcher intent, and your posts will rank lower and lower in search results.

Mistake #2: Trying to Brand a New Word
We all would like to birth a brandable domain name, but creating a new word is a big mistake for the vast majority of bloggers. Not everyone, mind you, but most. Branding a new word means building an audience for a domain name you coined out of two different words, which — most likely — only means something to you.

No one knows what the word means when they come to your site. And even if they can figure it out, the extra processing time and thought severely hinders their ability to answer the fundamental question, “Is this for me?”

And how does that impact you again? Tick, tick, tick — and they’re gone.

Not only that, but the potential for misspellings is high when you’re using a brandable name.

For the average blogger, trying to brand a domain name like Google or Yahoo or one of those other big domains with a cool, unique company name is a huge mistake. Why?

Because it typically takes millions of dollars and a top-flight ad agency to pull it off. Or it takes an absolutely astonishing level of influence.

Either way, as a beginning blogger, you’re simply not equipped to succeed at branding a new word.

Mistake #3: Using a Subdomain of a Blogging Platform
This is a common mistake among many new bloggers. They’ll choose a free blogging platform and sport URLs like mydomainname.wordpress.com or mydomainname.blogspot.com.

Once upon a time, it wasn’t a big deal.

Today?

It’s a bad idea for a couple reasons:

You’re setting up your blog on someone else’s turf. If those companies ever change their policies or decide for any reason to take down or freeze your blog (and it has happened), you can’t do a thing about it. You’re screwed.
It signals you’re an amateur. You instantly lose credibility when you have a domain name like that.
Mistake #4: Using Abbreviations
If I were writing a blog about affiliate marketing, I might use PPC or CTR in the domain name. Those words stand for “pay per click” and “click-through rate” respectively. Now, the people who are really into advertising and web analytics all know what those mean, but guess what? A lot of beginners don’t.

This is a case where exclusivity can hurt you.

Sure, it can be attractive when you only want a target audience to have access to your offering. But when you’re talking about building an online audience, the last thing you want to do is eliminate a potentially huge pool of prospective readers simply because they don’t understand the term you’re using for your domain name.

Mistake #5: Using Hyphens
Using hyphens in your domain name is a no-no for several reasons. Let’s say, for example, you’ve got a cooking blog called Make My Cake, but makemycake.com is already taken. So you grab make-my-cake.com. Here’s what happens:

When the person types in “make my cake,” guess what’s going to come up first? Makemycake.com. And you just lost another reader or another sale. Bummer.
People won’t remember to put in the hyphens when typing your domain name, or they’ll use an underscore by mistake, or they’ll mistype and miss a hyphen. Either way, you lose.
Worse still? It’s another one of those things that make you look like an amateur. It’s kind of like wearing a purple hat and feathers to a gathering of potential Nobel laureates. Yes, you can always find someone who’s into that look. But my advice? Don’t do it.
So, those are some common mistakes to avoid when picking a domain name for your new website.

Now let’s move on to the things you should do.

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The Five Best Types of Domain Names for Bloggers
You might be surprised to know there are really only five major categories of good domain names for bloggers.

Once you understand the logic behind each of these categories and how much easier people can find and Google you if you use one of them, the sooner you’ll be on your way to reaping the benefits from choosing a good domain name.

And the best news? If you follow the formulas outlined here, you’ll almost certainly find a few available domain names your readers will love.

Type #1: Name the Benefit
This type of domain name cuts right to the chase when answering “Is this for me?” because it explains right in the name the benefit you’ll get when you read this site.

Examples of naming the benefit are iwillteachyoutoberich.com, makealivingwriting.com, and teachyourchildtoread.com.

If you see a domain name that explains the benefit of reading the site right in the domain name, you can immediately answer that fundamental question with very little thought.

001 make a living writing
Let’s see. I’m a freelance writer, and I want to make a living by writing. Am I in the right place? No question.

Name the Benefit Template (to Find Your Own Website Name)
I Will Teach You to [achieve result or do activity]
How to [achieve result or do activity]
Examples:

IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com
IWillTeachYouALanguage.com
Type #2: Name the Audience
This type of domain name answers that question by defining the target audience the website is meant to serve.

002 problogger
If you were to visit Problogger as an aspiring blogger, within two seconds of arriving and glancing around, you’re going to say, “Wow, I’d love to be a professional blogger. I need to read this blog.”

So you’ve immediately answered the question, “Is this for me?”

003 couchpotato
And if you’re a TV junkie looking to connect with your tribe and you land on couchpotato.com, you’ll know right away that you’re in the right place because you can read the latest gossip on TV shows and find deals on things like DVD box sets of popular TV series and so on.

The logo says it all.

Name the Audience Template (to Find Your Own Website Name)
[Noun] + only
[Adjective] + [Noun] + only at the end of the phrase
The word “only” creates exclusivity with your audience. It helps to make it feel like a club or private community.

Examples:

SeriousBloggersOnly.com
FarmersOnly.com
Here’s another template to try:

[Adjective] + [Audience Name]
Example:

AFineParent.com
Type #3: Name the Topic
This type of domain names your blog topic.

Examples are lifehacks.org, dailyblogtips.com, nerdfitness.com, and artofmanliness.com. Those domains name what the blogs are about.

Check out nerdfitness.com, for example:

004 nerdfitness
Same thing with artofmanliness.com:

005 art of manliness
When you see that name, you get a sense right away that they’re targeting men who want to learn more about the essence of being a man. The macho stuff. The ways of a gentleman. Just the vintage look and old photos alone convey the story to the target audience.

That’s a very different feel and a different audience than men who might gravitate more to, say, Men’s Health Magazine, which is more focused on men’s fitness and wellbeing — and the cover usually shows a half-naked guy with killer six-pack abs.

Name the Topic Template (to Find Your Own Website Name)
Daily [Topic] tips
[Topic] tips
Examples:

Daily Blog Tips
Weekly Photography Tips
Type #4: Name Yourself
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You use your own name as your domain name. Examples would be StevePavlina.com, MarcAndAngel.com, and JohnChow.com.

Using your own name as your domain can still be a good thing. But — and it’s a big BUT — only if your desire is to turn your name into a brand name. So if your desire is to brand yourself like Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, or one of those celebrities, it can be a good idea to go this route.

But you have to understand that while a website branded with your name can be a blessing, it can also be a curse:

You will never be able to sell the website.
You will be tied to it until the day you die or the blog dies.
No one else will be able to run it. Your audience will be forever bonded to you.
Many bloggers who have successfully branded themselves end up regretting it later. Their blogs feel like a prison cell, with their owners as the sole occupants. The brand is based on their personality and voice, which means it’s a challenge to bring in guest writers and editors.

So let’s break down the pros and cons:

The upside of using your own name is a closer bond with your audience, and you gain more influence as you brand yourself.

The downside is it takes a long time to establish yourself as a recognized authority and build up your personal brand to the level of celebrity status. And while you’re busting your butt trying to brand yourself, your domain name isn’t helping you build your audience any faster because it fails to show any benefit to your readers.

But you want to know the worst thing about using your own name? You can never escape.

Let me repeat that:

You can NEVER escape a blog you have branded with your own name.

It’s not a “real business.” In other words, you could never sell it to anyone. Because if you sold it and you ever left, it’s worth nothing because the entire thing is tied to you. So consider this carefully before you decide to use your own name.

Name Yourself Template (to Find Your Own Website Name)
Okay, you probably don’t need a template for this one, but here you go:

[yourname.com]
Examples:

StevePavlina.com
PenelopeTrunk.com
KevinJDuncan.com
Type #5: Name Your Pursuit
This domain reverses our philosophy because it names what you are doing as a blogger rather than what the reader is doing or seeking.

For example, Social Media Examiner examines social media. Man vs. Debt is about one man’s (the blogger’s) battle against debt. Foundr tells the stories of founders, entrepreneurs, and business owners. Each one names the topic, but they do so from the blogger’s perspective, not the reader’s perspective.

A second way to use a pursuit domain is to name the mission of your blog. For example, for a blog whose mission is to feed all the hungry children on earth, the domain could be FeedTheChildren.org. That clearly defines the pursuit of the blog.

So when you’re looking to use this topic for your domain name, the secret here is to clearly identify your pursuit or mission in a way that matches your reader’s worldview so that THEY can see themselves in YOUR pursuit.

Name Your Pursuit Template (to Find Your Own Website Name)
[Blogger or audience] vs. [pursuit]
Examples:

ManVsDebt.com
LivingWellSpendingLess.com
Here’s another template option:

[Action] the [object]
Example:

FeedtheChildren.org

Why telehealth can’t significantly flatten the coronavirus curve—yet Eli Cahan@emcahan / 10:07 am PDT • April 4, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
As cases in the United States skyrocket, one of the most foreboding possibilities of COVID-19’s rapid growth is the potential to overwhelm hospital capacity. Hospitals in cities like New York are already underwater, relying on hospital boats (“70,000 ton message[s] of hope and solidarity”) to keep them afloat, and on retired providers as well as prematurely graduated medical students to staff those beds.
In tandem, telehealth has rapidly evolved from a “nice to have” to a “need to have” for U.S. health systems.
Telehealth: from hype to hope to here, overnight
This timing is prescient, as the technologies for telehealth have existed for several decades (at varying levels of sophistication) with modest uptake to-date. From 2005 to 2017, only one out of every 150 doctor visits and one in every 5,000-10,000 specialist visits were conducted via telemedicine.
A major catalyst to uptake was the federal government’s announcement two weeks ago that restrictions on the use of telehealth for Medicare would be temporarily lifted. That policy change included expanding coverage across specialties and settings; waiving co-payments; and loosening HIPAA privacy requirements (such as prohibiting ubiquitous teleconferencing technologies like Apple’s FaceTime).
Accordingly, telehealth—overnight(ish)—is finally mainstream.
At America’s largest health systems, adoption of telehealth has accelerated rapidly: at Massachusetts General Hospital, the weekly number of virtual appointments has multiplied 10-20 times in the past weeks, while at NYU Langone Health, staffing was increased fivefold to handle the rush of new appointments. Teladoc, the U.S.’s largest virtual-care provider, is now reporting over 100,000 appointments weekly.
The diversification of telehealth use cases
The proliferation of telehealth via pioneering health systems has spawned unique use cases rarely seen before in the landscape of U.S. healthcare.
These use cases cut across numerous settings: emergent care, intensive care, triage, and monitoring, to name a few. Outside the hospital setting, domestic initiatives such as Houston’s Project Emergency Telehealth and Navigation (ETHAN) has provided a precedent for the use of telemedicine by paramedics and EMTs in first-response. These sorts of programs have actively been pioneered by startups such as RapidSOS in response to COVID-19.
At the gateway to the hospital (the emergency room), building on work by Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, health systems including Kaiser Permanente, Intermountain Health, and Providence Health have adopted programs for tele-intake to minimize contact between providers and patients under investigation (PUIs) for COVID-19.
Upon admission to the hospital, telehealth is being used for monitoring patient status while also ensuring the safety of health providers. Such technologies are proving exceptionally important given wide-scale shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).
At Washington State’s Providence Regional Medical Center Everett (the site of the first COVID-19 case in America), programs for telemonitoring of ICU patients were built from the ground up in six weeks. Startups like EarlySense are combining multimodal sensors with audiovisual capabilities to enable remote detection and evaluation of clinical deterioration on non-intensive wards.

Following discharge from the emergency room or the inpatient units of the hospital, telescreening tools like TytoCare are enabling physicians to conduct exams and deliver care remotely that previously would have required in-person contact. In the case of discharge from the emergency room—given the volatile clinical course of COVID-19—methods for streamlined and regular check-ins are critical to monitor symptoms and guide the need for more intensive treatment.
Likewise, given recovery from the disease can potentially be tumultuous (especially after ICU care), these technologies are essential for mitigating what has been deemed the “post-hospital syndrome” and ensuring long-term health after discharge from inpatient care.
Here—but there, or everywhere?
While the near-overnight expansion of telehealth in diverse forms is positive news, barriers remain to its widespread dissemination in this country. To move from the prototyping stage at the meccas of modern medicine to a widely useful tool across healthcare settings, telehealth must seek to solve what has been deemed the “last mile problem.”
The last mile refers to the non-technological, practical elements of local care delivery. As with telehealth, when these practical elements of care delivery are inadequately addressed, they inhibit providers from implementing new technologies for patients. In the case of telehealth, the last mile can be grouped into four domains: those related to (a) coverage and reimbursement (b) legal concerns (c) clinical care and (d) social challenges. The federal government’s policy change this month took major steps forward to resolve some legal concerns, including limitation of tort liability and allowing common teleconferencing platforms that may not be strictly HIPAA compliant.
However, considerable obstacles to the uptake of telehealth persist across the other three domains, especially for the 86.5% of Americans not on Medicare. To effectively combat COVID-19, telehealth must also reach these 281 million individuals in the under-resourced nooks and crannies of the U.S. As the virus becomes more pervasive across the country, rural health systems are depending heavily on these technologies to manage the imminent surge of cases.

The essentials to expanding telehealth
In terms of coverage for patients, only 36 states mandated coverage of telehealth services in insurance plans as of April 2019. For those with mandatory coverage, out-of-pocket copays typically ranged $50-80 per appointment. Alternatively, certain plans waived copays, but only following an annual fee for premium services—premiums which may well rise going forward.
All of these costs will hinder the use of telehealth in non-Medicare patients amidst the present outbreak.
While in the past two weeks, some private insurers such as United Healthcare (covering 45 million Americans), Humana (39 million), and Aetna (13 million) waived copays on telehealth services, the privates covering the remaining hundreds of millions of Americans must follow quickly. States can help accelerate this by following the lead of Massachusetts, which last month required all insurers to cover telehealth.

In terms of reimbursement to providers, only 20% of states required payment parity for telehealth to ensure—if telehealth was covered at all—it is remunerated at rates approximating in-person visits for similar diagnoses. This disparity has made adoption of telehealth undesirable and/or untenable for health systems, since the reimbursement rates for telehealth average 20-50% lower than for comparable in-person service.
The challenges to adoption of telehealth are further heightened for independent practices, who must pay subscription fees to use standard telehealth platforms, but simultaneously experience revenue decreases of some 30% upon integrating telehealth. To make adoption of telehealth financially feasible for health systems and individual practices amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, states once again should follow Massachusetts in seizing the opportunity to enforce payment parity by private insurers.

Finally, in terms of clinical care, issues abound in the minutia of how and where telehealth can be performed. In terms of how telehealth is performed: while these services should integrate with the existing workflows of clinical practice, insurance rules currently hinder this. For example, e-visits and check-ups are only permitted for “existing” patients rather than for new patients presenting with mild symptoms or fleeting concerns, who may not require a full work-up (this is the case even under the recent CMS policy).
Moreover, asynchronous methods such as “store-and-forward” consultations and remote patient monitoring—exactly the sort of efficient and highly-scalable pathways integral to the flexible provision of care to the dispersed masses—are restricted in most states.
Additionally, where telehealth can be conducted is hamstrung by “origination site” policies banning these services in patient homes but for a select few conditions (such as stroke assessment and opiate rehabilitation). Such arbitrary, excessive regulations make the widespread utilization of telehealth unrealistic. Also, state-by-state licensing requirements prevent physicians from providing care across borders (for reasons rooted in nineteenth-century concerns of medical quality gaps between states).

To promote the care of COVID-19 patients in epicenter regions, states should follow the lead of New York and Florida to suspend out-of-state licensing bans, allow license transferability, or at least expedite licensing through “licensure compacts” in allied states.
Finally, in terms of social challenges, considerable access disparities exist between demographic groups. For example, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s 2018 survey, vulnerable populations such as the elderly were 21% less likely to have internet access and almost 50% less likely to conduct videocalls; the poor were 34% less likely to communicate with doctors online; and other demographic minorities (such as Hispanic ethnicity or lower educational attainment) were also less likely to have access to and/or use telehealth technologies.

Since these populations are more likely to face the sorts of comorbid conditions and social determinants of health that heighten mortality from COVID-19—and less likely to have levels of health literacy allowing them to reduce their risk of transmitting infectious diseases like coronavirus—inequalities in telehealth access bear important implications on the country’s ability to flatten the curve of COVID-19.
One of the single best interventions to augment access for these individuals is expanding the scope of practice of non-physician health providers. These providers have their wings clipped by arcane laws fiercely defended by state medical associations that require their “supervision” by physicians for most cases of patient care. This is despite analyses since the 1980s exhibiting the capability for non-physician healthcare providers (such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants) to provide services as high quality as those of physicians.
Liberating various allied health practitioners (including also registered nurses, pharmacists, dentists, paramedics, and social workers) to screen, diagnose, treat, and prescribe with increased autonomy would undergird telehealth’s capabilities as a “force multiplier” in the setting of COVID-19. They can also unleash the potential of startups such as The MAVEN Project which provide platforms for peer-to-peer consults between specialty and generalist health providers in emergency settings.
In geographically dispersed states such as California—where allied health providers are expected to provide half of all primary care appointments by 2030—these policies are especially vital. Bills designed to facilitate these programs like the California Assembly Bill 890 that remains stalled should be endorsed to protect patients across the state from the insidious diffusion of COVID-19.
In summary, the early responses by federal and state agencies to COVID-19 have made progress to promote the uptake of telehealth. However, as the virus expands its siege across the country, more comprehensive solutions are urgently needed to equip the creators, users, and beneficiaries of telehealth with the arsenal they desperately require to vanquish this invisible enemy. Accordingly, pen-and-paper may be the most important technologies for bolstering telehealth today. Letters to senators, in the near-term, may be the most potent ammunition we’ve got.

Mobile payments firms in India are now scrambling to make money After signing up hundreds of millions of users, startups switch to lending and lean on merchants in search of revenues Manish Singh@refsrc / 4:35 pm PDT • April 1, 2020

Yijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and chief executive of India’s most valuable startup, Paytm, posed an existential question in a recent press conference.
“What do you think of the commercial model for digital mobile payments. How do we make money?” Sharma asked Nandan Nilekani, one of the key architects of the Unified Payments Interface that created a digital payments revolution in the country.
It’s the multi-billion-dollar question that scores of local startups and international giants have been scrambling to answer as many of them aggressively shift their focus to serving merchants and building lending products and other financial services .
New Delhi’s abrupt move to invalidate much of the paper bills in the cash-dominated nation in late 2016 sent hundreds of millions of people to cash machines for months to follow.
For a handful of startups such as Paytm and MobiKwik, this cash crunch meant netting tens of millions of new users in a span of a few months.

India then moved to work with a coalition of banks to develop the payments infrastructure that, unlike Paytm and MobiKwik’s earlier system, did not act as an intermediary “mobile wallet” to serve as an intermediary between users and their banks, but facilitated direct transaction between two users’ bank accounts.

Silicon Valley companies quickly took notice. For years, Google and the likes have attempted to change the purchasing behavior of people in many Asian and African markets, where they have amassed hundreds of millions of users.

In Pakistan, for instance, most people still run errands to neighborhood stores when they want to top up credit to make phone calls and access the internet.

With China keeping its doors largely closed for foreign firms, India, where many American giants have already poured billions of dollars to find their next billion users, it was a no-brainer call.

“Unlike China, we have given equal opportunities to both small and large domestic and foreign companies,” said Dilip Asbe, chief executive of NPCI, the payments body behind UPI.

And thus began the race to participate in the grand Indian experiment. Investors have followed suit as well. Indian fintech startups raised $2.74 billion last year, compared to 3.66 billion that their counterparts in China secured, according to research firm CBInsights.

And that bet in a market with more than half a billion internet users has already started to pay off.

“If you look at UPI as a platform, we have never seen growth of this kind before,” Nikhil Kumar, who volunteered at a nonprofit organization to help develop the payments infrastructure, said in an interview.

In October, just three years after its inception, UPI had amassed 100 million users and processed over a billion transactions. It has sustained its growth since, clocking 1.25 billion transactions in March — despite one of the nation’s largest banks going through a meltdown last month.

“It all comes down to the problem it is solving. If you look at the western markets, digital payments have largely been focused on a person sending money to a merchant. UPI does that, but it also enables peer-to-peer payments and across a wide-range of apps. It’s interoperable,” said Kumar, who is now working at a startup called Setu to develop APIs to help small businesses easily accept digital payments.

Vice-president of Google’s Next Billion Users Caesar Sengupta speaks during the launch of the Google “Tez” mobile app for digital payments in New Delhi on September 18, 2017 (Photo: Getty Images via AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN)

The Google Pay app has amassed over 67 million monthly active users. And the company has found the UPI pipeline so fascinating that it has recommended similar infrastructure to be built in the U.S.

In August, the Federal Reserve proposed to develop a new inter-bank 24×7 real-time gross settlement service that would support faster payments in the country. In November, Google recommended (PDF) that the U.S. Federal Reserve implement a real-time payments platform such as UPI.

“After just three years, the annual run rate of transactions flowing through UPI is about 19% of India’s Gross Domestic Product, including 800 million monthly transactions valued at approximately $19 billion,” wrote Mark Isakowitz, Google’s vice president of Government Affairs and Public Policy.

Paytm itself has amassed more than 150 million users who use it every year to make transactions. Overall, the platform has 300 million mobile wallet accounts and 55 million bank accounts, said Sharma.

Search for a business model
But despite on-boarding more than a hundred million users, payment firms are struggling to cut their losses — let alone turn a profit.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate in India without a clear business model.

Mobile payment firms never levied any fee to users as a strategy to expand their reach in the country. A recent directive from the government has now put an end to the cut they were receiving to facilitate UPI transactions between users and merchants.

Google’s Sivanandan urged the local payment bodies to “find ways for payment players to make money” to ensure every stakeholder had incentives to operate.

Paytm, which has raised more than $3 billion to date, reported a loss of $549 million in the financial year ending in March 2019.

The firm, backed by SoftBank and Alibaba, has expanded to several new businesses in recent years, including Paytm Mall, an e-commerce venture, social commerce, financial services arm Paytm Money and a movies and ticketing category.

This year, Paytm has expanded to serve merchants, launching new gadgets such as a stand that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and a battery pack, a portable speaker that provides voice confirmations of transactions and a point-of-sale machine with built-in scanner and printer.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Sharma said these devices are already garnering impressive demand from merchants. The company is offering these gadgets to them as part of a subscription service that helps it establish a steady flow of revenue.

The firm’s Money arm, which offers lending, insurance and investing services, has amassed over 3 million users. The head of Paytm Money, Pravin Jadhav, resigned from the company this week, a person familiar with the matter said. A Paytm spokeswoman declined to comment. (Indian news outlet Entrackr first reported the development.)

Flipkart’s PhonePe, another major player in India’s payments market, today serves more than 175 million users, and over 8 million merchants. Its app serves as a platform for other businesses to reach users, explained Rahul Chari, co-founder and CTO of the firm, in an interview with TechCrunch. The company is currently not taking a cut for the real estate on its app, he added.

But these startups’ expansion into new categories means that they now have to face off even more rivals, and spend more money to gain a foothold. In the social commerce category, for instance, Paytm is competing with Naspers-backed Meesho and a handful of new entrants; and heavily-backed OkCredit and KhataBook today lead the bookkeeping market.

BharatPe, which raised $75 million two months ago, is digitizing mom and pop stores and granting them working capital. And PineLabs, which has already become a unicorn, and MSwipe have flooded the market with their point-of-sale machines.

A vendor holds an Mswipe terminal, operated by M-Swipe Technologies Pvt Ltd., in an arranged photograph at a roadside stall in Bengaluru, India, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“They have no choice. Payment is the gateway to businesses such as e-commerce and lending that you can monetize. In Paytm’s case, their earlier bet was Paytm Mall,” said Jayanth Kolla, founder and chief analyst at research firm Convergence Catalyst.

But Paytm Mall has struggled to compete with giants Amazon India and Walmart’s Flipkart. Last year, Mall pivoted to offline-to-online and online-to-offline models, wherein orders placed by customers are serviced from local stores. The company also secured about $160 million from eBay last year.

An executive who previously worked at Paytm Mall said the venture has struggled to grow because its goal-post has constantly shifted over the years. It has recently started to focus on selling fastags, a system that allows vehicle owners to swiftly pay toll fees. At least two more executives at the firm are on their way out, a person familiar with the matter said.

Kolla said the current dynamics of India’s mobile payments market, where more than 100 firms are chasing the same set of audience, is reminiscent of the telecom market in the country from more than a decade ago.

“When there were just four to five players in the telecom market, the prospect of them becoming profitable was much higher. They were scaling like crazy. They grew with the lowest ARPU in the world (at about $2) and were still profitable.

“But the moment that number grew to more than a dozen overnight, and the new players started offering more affordable plans to subscribers, that’s when profitability started to become elusive,” he said.

To top that off, the arrival of Reliance Jio, a telecom operator run by India’s richest man, in 2016 in the country with the cheapest tariff plans in the world, upended the market once again, forcing several players to leave the market, or declare bankruptcies, or consolidate.

India’s mobile payments market is now heading to a similar path, said Kolla.

If there were not enough players fighting for a slice of India’s mobile payments market that Credit Suisse estimate could reach $1 trillion by 2023, WhatsApp, the most popular app in the country with more that 400 million users, is set to roll out its mobile payments service in the country in a couple of months.

At the aforementioned press conference, Nilekani advised Sharma and other players to focus on financial services such as lending.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus outbreak that promoted New Delhi to order a three-week lockdown last month is likely going to impact the ability of millions of people to use such services.

“India has more than 100 million microfinance accounts, serviced in cash every week by gig-economy workers, who hawk vegetables on street corners or embroider saris sold in malls, among other things. Three out of four workers make a living by working casually for others or at their family firms and farms. Prolonged shutdowns will impair their ability to repay loans of 2.1 trillion rupees ($28.5 billion), putting the world’s largest microfinance industry at risk,” wrote Bloomberg columnist Andy Mukherjee.