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Google Buys Slack-Like Startup Pie, Launches Office for 'Next Billion' in Singapore

The search giant has a new hub to race for the "next billion" users.


As millions become connected across Asia, Google is still grappling for the best way to get these people online and on Google.

The latest strategy: Open an engineering hub in Singapore. That’s what Google announced on Thursday, along with the news that it scooped up the startup Pie, which makes a mobile workplace chat app akin to Slack, to help.

Caesar Sengupta, a Singapore-based Google VP, laid out the hurdles for the Internet across the developing world in Asia: Most computing devices are cheap phones, connections suck and services often aren’t in people’s first languages.

“These aren’t easy problems to fix, but we’d like to do a better job of addressing them,” he wrote. “That’s why we’re building a new engineering team in Singapore — to get closer to the next billion users coming online and to develop products that will work for them.”

Google’s chief rival in this effort is Facebook, which has hit a roadblock in its connectivity initiative in Asia. But Google hasn’t struck a winning tactic either. Interestingly, Sengupta, a trusted deputy of CEO Sundar Pichai, lists his title as VP of the “next billion users team.” Previously, he was identified as head of Android One, the thrifty handset initiative that struggled to get sales traction in some of its markets, particularly India.

Pie, the newest Googlers, had about 10 employees, per LinkedIn, and had raised $2 million in two rounds. We sent a note to Google to see if they would comment on the terms of the deal, but are not holding out hope.

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