A California judge just struck down Prop 22: Now what?

Every time you turn around, someone new is winning the war in California around organizing workers in the sharing economy.

Labor struck first when California legislators passed Assembly Bill 5, requiring all independent contractors working for gig economy companies to be reclassified as employees. That was expected to set off a chain reaction in state legislatures nationwide, until two things happened.

First, COVID-19 hit and quickly became all-encompassing, making it virtually impossible for lawmakers and regulators to focus on anything but surviving the pandemic. Second, Uber, Lyft, Instacart and others funded and voters approved Prop 22 in California, striking down AB-5 and returning sharing economy workers to independent contractor status.

On the same day that Prop 22 passed, Democrats captured both chambers of Congress in Washington, but their margins were so slim (50-50 in the Senate and a nine-vote majority in the House), that federal legislative action on the issue was near impossible. Across the country, politicians read the tea leaves of Prop 22 and decided to mainly stay away. That kept the issue at bay during the 2021 state legislative sessions.

But the tide started to turn again this summer. First, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) introduced the PRO Act in February 2021, stating that workers would be reclassified using an ABC test, in addition to rolling back right-to-work laws in states and establishing monetary penalties for companies and executives who violate workers’ rights.

The bill handily passed the House in March, but has since stalled in the Senate, despite receiving a hearing and energetic support by high-profile senators including Bernie Sanders and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The Biden administration’s appointees to the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board are decidedly in favor of full-time-worker status. And now, a California Superior Court judge has ruled Prop 22 unconstitutional, saying it violates the right of the state legislature to pass future laws around worker safety and status.

The sharing economy companies are expected to appeal, and the case could ultimately wind up before the California Supreme Court.

So now what? The courts will ultimately determine the status of sharing economy workers in California, but since the decision will be about the specific legal parameters of California’s referendum process, it won’t determine the issue elsewhere. And despite noise from Washington, Congress isn’t passing the PRO Act any time soon (Democrats may try to include it in the reconciliation for the $3.5 trillion American Families Plan, but the odds of its survival are low). That means the action returns to the states.

New York is the biggest battleground outside of California. Democrats have amassed a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, and New York lacks a referendum vehicle to overturn state law.

Sharing economy workers are the biggest organizing opportunity for private sector unions in decades, and labor will use all of its influence to pass worker classification reform in 2022.

However, Kathy Hochul, New York’s new governor, is a moderate, and state legislators recently abandoned a half-baked plan brokered by gig companies to safeguard independent contractor status, indicating a resolution on the issue will likely take time.

Illinois is fertile ground for worker reclassification, too, but the state remains a question mark.

There’s also a chance of movement in Massachusetts, where gig companies are making a play to establish a ballot initiative very similar to Prop 22. Legislators in Seattle and Pennsylvania have also signaled an interest in exploring the issue.

And just a few months after most state legislative sessions conclude next summer, we’ll hit the midterm elections, which could produce a Republican wave (especially in the House) that would yet again quash the chances of worker classification legislation passing anywhere.

In other words, this is going to ping back and forth for at least the next few years in the courts, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress and federal agencies. If you’re a sharing economy investor and you want this issue resolved once and for all, that peace of mind isn’t coming. And the market, rather than accepting that this will be an unresolved issue for the next few years, will probably overreact to each individual action, whether it’s a lower court ruling or a piece of legislation making its way through a state.

In reality, the answer is the same as it’s always been: trying to shoehorn sharing economy workers into one of two existing categories — 1099 or W-2 — doesn’t work. We still need to recognize that the inherent nature of work has changed over the last decade, and we need to recognize that both parties — the sharing economy companies and the unions — are only looking out for their own interests and coffers at the expense of what’s best for actual workers.

California is not going to resolve this issue. It’s just swung back and forth from one extreme to another. Congress is not going to resolve this issue because it almost never resolves anything.

So the game comes down to states like Illinois, New York and Massachusetts. It comes down to legislators and leaders trying to craft good public policy at the expense of their donors and supporters and Twitter followers — and then it comes down to their colleagues doing the same.

It means sacrificing politics for policy. That almost never happens. And it probably won’t happen here, either. So if you’re trying to game out where this issue is going, accept the uncertainty and expect that a thoughtful, smart resolution — locally or nationally — is unlikely. It’s a dissatisfying conclusion but, sadly, it epitomizes exactly where our politics stand today.

#bernie-sanders, #biden-administration, #california, #column, #congress, #government, #illinois, #labor, #lyft, #national-labor-relations-board, #new-york, #opinion, #policy, #sharing-economy, #tc, #uber, #washington

Co-living startup Habyt closes $24M Series B, merges with Homefully

When WeWork appeared, other entrepreneurs looked at the model and thought that if you could apple co-working to property, then why not apply co-living. Thus, in the US, Common appeared, as did Hmlet in Asia. Imn the EU, Habyt launched, but has already gobbled-up its competitors Quarters, Goliving, and Erasmo’s Room.

It’s now closed a series B round of €20M / $24M, and merged with another competitor, Homefully, founded by Sebastian Wuerz in 2016. The round was backed by HV Capital (formerly Holtzbrink Ventures), Vorwerk Ventures, P101 and Picus Capital.

Founded in 2017 by Luca Bovone, Habyt will now have over 5,000 units across 15 cities and 6 countries. The merged companies will offer fully furnished and serviced living units, coupled with a tech-enabled user-experience and a focus on community, aimed at young professionals between 20 and 35 years old who move jobs and cities fairly frequently.

Luca Bovone, Founder and CEO of Habyt, said: “We have been on an incredible journey in the past year and a half. In spite of less than perfect market conditions we have been able to grow a lot via a very successful M&A strategy that brought us into the position of leaders of our sector in Europe and that still has a lot of potential. This 20M series B round really opens our doors to keep building Habyt both via organic growth and via more M&As. We are now looking at strategic targets in Europe, specifically in France and Italy, and also in other continents, especially in Asia.”

Sebastian Wuerz, Founder of homefully, said: “The coliving market is going through a consolidation phase and Habyt has really seized this opportunity quickly and effectively and is on the best track to become the leader of the sector at a global scale. Joining forces is a crucial step in this direction and I am very excited for the team to be part of this journey.”

Felix Kluehr, Partner at HV said: “We are happy to see that Habyt has emerged as the leading player in the European co-living market and HV is excited to support the team in their ambitious plan to build the leading European coliving company”.

Over an interview, Bovone told me: “It’s like a member’s club. We have a subscription model, where people pay a monthly fee, which is your rent, and then you can, of course, apply for a room somewhere else and know that we have a fairly decent scale across Europe and eventually, also in southern Europe. You are able to move from one place to the other. Our motto is live anywhere.”

He said that the pandemic had meant that people were ditching co-working spaces and “They would prefer to spend 50 to 100 euro more per month on getting better housing where they can work comfortably from home.”

“We are already seeing within our customer base, they want to stay six months in Berlin, three months in Madrid, then move back to Berlin and so on. The traditional housing market just doesn’t allow that to happen. You have contracts with utilities and so on, which you can never break and it’s just an outdated product offering, and we’re trying to tackle that.”

#asia, #berlin, #ceo, #co-living, #economy, #europe, #european-union, #france, #housing, #hv-capital, #italy, #madrid, #partner, #picus-capital, #sharing-economy, #tc, #united-states, #vorwerk-ventures, #wework

Rent the Runway Is Bouncing Back

The pandemic hit the world of clothing rental hard. Now, companies like Rent the Runway say the market is booming like never before.

#consumer-behavior, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #e-commerce, #fashion-and-apparel, #hyman-jennifer, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #rent-the-runway, #sharing-economy, #shopping-and-retail, #united-states

Chasing hype is human nature: The tyranny of startup trends

I think it’s important that we explicitly discuss something that every VC instinctively knows: The hype around a given business or category has become a form of bias for investors and founders when vetting ideas to pursue. At any point in time, you can find FOMO-flavored bad business decisions based on false market signals somewhere in tech. It’s human nature for excitement to be contagious, but treating it as a leading factor when considering a new opportunity is not a good idea.

It’s human nature for excitement to be contagious, but treating it as a leading factor when considering a new opportunity is not a good idea.

Take the 17th century tulip-mania, when, at one point, Dutch speculators drove tulip futures so high that one bulb of a particularly rare species was valued at more than a fully furnished luxury house1. We can look at this and collectively lampoon anyone who could possibly have bought into that absurd trend.

But that’s the rule with mega-hyped markets. The dot-com apocalypse was inevitable in hindsight. So was the consumer lending bubble that set off the global financial crisis. But major market catastrophes aside, newly hyped sectors in tech seem to pop up, like Moore’s Law clockwork, every year or so.

In the last 15 years, giant bonfires of cash have turned to ash financing companies in hyped up sectors like SoLoMo (I bet many people reading this have never even heard of this trend), clean tech, VR gaming, daily deals, crypto (which spawned flashy undercard entries like PotCoin, BurgerKing’s WhopperCoin, and yes, TrumpCoin), the sharing economy, scooters (in which Bird, Lime, Lyft and Uber competed around little more than the color scheme of the otherwise identical Segway Ninebots), and SPACs (through which the aforementioned white-colored scooter company is going public).

Usually, these bubbles start when a breakout company creates a discontinuity in the market — a technology that changes how we live (Apple’s iPhone), or delivers an exceptional solution to a ubiquitous pain point better and more cost effectively than before (Uber’s ride-sharing). Rational speculators look to apply lessons from these breakouts to identify other massive winners. If a few seem to take off, irrational FOMO takes over.

The hype-driven race to the bottom

The hype-driven race to the bottom. Image Credits: Victor Echevarria

What does that look like? Here’s an actual example, per data sourced from PitchBook:

Holidu books $45M after growing its vacation rentals business ~50% YoY during COVID-19

Vacation rental startup Holidu has tucked $45 million in Series D funding into its suitcase — bringing its total raised since being founded back in 2014 to more than $120M.

The latest funding round is led by 83North with participation from existing investors Prime Ventures, EQT ventures, Coparion, Senovo, Kees Koolen, Lios Ventures and Chris Hitchen. Also participating, with both equity and debt, is Claret Capital (formerly Harbert European Growth Capital).

The financing will be ploughed into product development; doubling the size of the tech team; and on building out partnerships to keep expanding supply, Holidu said.

While the global pandemic clearly hasn’t been kind to much of the travel industry, the Munich-headquartered startup has been able to benefit from coronavirus-induced shifts in traveller behavior.

People who may have booked city breaks or hotels pre-COVID-19 are turning to private holiday accommodation in greater numbers than before — so they can feel safer about going on holiday and perhaps enjoy more space and fresh air than they’ve had at home during coronavirus lockdowns.

Having flexible cancelation options is also now clearly front of mind for travellers — and Holidu credits moving quickly to build in flexible cancellation and payment solutions with helping fuel its growth during the pandemic.

Holidu’s meta search engine compares listings on sites like Airbnb, Booking.com, HomeAway and Vrbo and provides holidaymakers with tools to zoom in on relevant rentals — offering granular filters for property amenities; property type; and distances to the beach/lake etc.

It can also be used to search only for listings with a free cancelation policy.

“We see that many travellers have chosen vacation rentals in rural destinations over hotels or cities,” confirms CEO and co-founder Johannes Siebers. “In spite of this shift in preference, the overall European vacation rental market declined in 2020 due to the strong travel restrictions in many months. Holidu managed to grow against this trend by responding very quickly to the increased demand for domestic lodging and for flexible cancellation options.”

The startup saw year-over-year growth of circa 50% in 2020 — and greater than 2x growth in its contribution margin, per Siebers.

“[That] enabled us to become profitable with our search business,” he adds. “Revenues for 2021 are still difficult to forecast due to the uncertain pandemic and political outlook but we expect a significantly higher growth rate compared to 2020.”

Holidu is active in 21 countries with its search engine — which now combines more than 15M vacation rental offers from over a thousand travel sites and property managers. In July 2020 alone, it said that more than 27M travellers used the product.

Its search engine business has a mixed business model, with Holidu taking a commission per click with a minority of its partners and earning a commission for each booking generated with the majority.

In another strand of its business, under the Bookiply brand, it works directly with property owners to help them maximize bookings via a software-and-service solution — offering to take the digital management strain in exchange for a cut of (successful) bookings.

Back in 2019 it was managing 5,000 properties via Bookiply. Now Siebers says it’s “on track” to grow to more than 10,000 properties by the end of this year.

Bookiply has become the largest supplier of vacation rentals in what it described as “important leisure destinations” such as the Balearic Islands, Canary Islands and Sardinia (which are all very popular holiday destinations with German travellers).

Part of the Series D funding will go on opening more Bookiply offices across Europe so it can grow its service offering for regional vacation rental owners.

The division aims to reach property owners whose properties are not yet online, as well as optimizing digital listings that aren’t doing as well as they might, so having physical service locations is a strategy to help with onboarding owners who may be newbies to digital listing.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Laurel Bowden, partner at 83North said: “Vacation rentals are a very competitive market and Holidu’s growth throughout the pandemic has been highly impressive. We are attracted by their strong operating efficiency and proven ability to grow market by market.”

Last year Holidu was among scores of startups in the travel, accommodation and jobs sectors that signed a letter to the European Commission urging antitrust action against Google.

The coalition accused the tech giant of unfairly leveraging its dominant position in search in order to elbow into other markets via tactics like self-preferencing, warning EU lawmakers that homegrown businesses were at risk without swift enforcement to rein in abusive behaviors.

Although in Holidu’s case it’s managed to grow despite the pandemic — and despite Google.

Asked how much of an ongoing concern Google’s behavior is for the growth of its business, Siebers told TechCrunch: “Given its size and market position, we believe Google carries a special responsibility in the search market. Furthermore, we believe in merit based competition to drive innovation and provide users with the best products. We have joined the letter to the EC as in our view, Google does not fully live up to its responsibilities in all areas of its product.

“The way Google displays specialized search products in many travel verticals does, in our view, not comply with the principle of fair, merit based competition. It gives Google’s own product eyeballs which no other player could attract in the same way.”

“We have not yet seen noticeable changes in Google’s search box integration but we are confident that Google will eventually provide a level playing field. Even if this would take some time and is important, we are not overly worried as we have a very diversified business. Among others, with Bookiply we have a strongly growing offering towards homeowners which is independent of Google’s activities in the market,” he added.

Since the coalition wrote the letter the Commission has unveiled a legislative proposal to apply ex ante regulations to so called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms — a designation that looks highly likely to apply to Google, although the Digital Markets Act (DMA) is still a long way off becoming pan-EU law.

Siebers said Holidu supports this plan for a set of ‘dos and don’ts’ that the most powerful platforms must abide by.

“We are supportive of the commission’s proposal and believe not only the act itself but also enforcement will drive innovation and better products for customers,” he added. “Enabling free and fair competition is a core deliverable for a regulator in a market place and we have high expectations towards the EU in this regard. If we achieve this, I am certain we will  see an  increase in innovation, investments and activities in areas which are currently impacted by gatekeeper’s activities.”

#83north, #airbnb, #booking-holdings, #booking-com, #covid-19, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #fundings-exits, #holidu, #homeaway, #kees-koolen, #laurel-bowden, #munich, #payment-solutions, #prime-ventures, #search, #search-engine, #sharing-economy, #tc, #tourism, #travel, #travel-industry, #travel-sites, #vacation-rental, #vrbo

Grab a group discount and take your team to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Mobility mavens, June 9 will be here before you know it, and that means it’s time to get your strategy ducks in a row for TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. You want to make the most of your time at this one-day virtual intensive featuring interactive presentations with the mobility industry’s top movers, shakers and startup dream makers, amirite?

Take your team to increase your ROI. Right now, you can grab a group discount — at the early bird price — when you buy a block of four or more tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility. Don’t procrastinate. At $70 per pass, you’ll save a couple hundred bucks — but only if you make your purchase by May 5, at 11:59 pm (PT).

Like the old expression says, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. You’ll cover more ground and discover more opportunities with your whole team at your side.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 will feature an incredible lineup of speakers, presentations, fireside chats and breakouts all focused on the current and future state of mobility — like EVs, micromobility and smart cities for starters — and the investment trends that influence them all.

Investors like Clara Brenner (Urban Innovation Fund), Quin Garcia (Autotech Ventures) and Rachel Holt (Construct Capital) — all of whom will grace our virtual stage. They’ll have plenty of insight and advice to share, including the challenges that startup founders will face as they break into the transportation arena.

You’ll hear from CEOs like Starship Technologies’ Ahti Heinla. The company’s been busy testing delivery robots in real-world markets. Don’t miss his discussion touching on challenges ranging from technology to red tape and what it might take to make last-mile robotic delivery a mainstream reality.

Taking your team also makes you a highly efficient networking unit. Find ad hoc opportunities in the virtual platform’s chat feature or use CrunchMatch, our AI-powered platform to zero in on the people best aligned with your business goals. Schedule virtual product demos, pitch investors or recruit new talent.

Here’s what Rachael Wilcox, a creative producer at Volvo Cars, told us about her networking experience at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020.

“I didn’t think I’d network on a virtual platform but, it turns out, it’s a lot easier to network with more people. Folks just felt more comfortable reaching out. I had conversations with people I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise, and that was an unexpected benefit.”

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 take place on June 9, but if you want to take your team — and save 25% in the process — it’s now o’clock. Buy your group discount passes before the early bird price disappears on May 5 at 11:59 pm (PT). Grab your cohort and go!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #bicycle-sharing, #clara-brenner, #crunchmatch, #micromobility, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #scooter-sharing, #sharing-economy, #starship-technologies, #startups, #tc-sessions-mobility-2021, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund

The VC and founder winners in Airbnb’s IPO

After a tumultuous year for the travel industry, Airbnb’s long-awaited IPO filing just dropped. One thing is clear: there is still plenty of juice left in the home-sharing platform, and a smattering of VCs and the company’s founders are positioned to receive some serious returns.

My colleague Alex Wilhelm has an overview article on Airbnb’s financial picture and overall metrics. It’s a mixed bag, but perhaps stronger than might otherwise be expected, given the global collapse of tourism due to the pandemic. Revenues are stabilizing, growth is up and bookings aren’t catastrophic.

So let’s get to the most fun question with these big startup IPO offerings, who made the money?

First and foremost, Airbnb’s founders — Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia — managed to hold together a whopping 41.95% of the company based on data offere in its S-1 filing, with Chesky owning slightly more than his two co-founders.

#airbnb, #finance, #fundings-exits, #sharing-economy, #tc, #tourism, #travel, #travel-industry

5 key innovations taking e-scooters to a half-billion rides in 2021

Four years ago, shared e-scooters didn’t exist. Today, they’re on track to surpass half a billion rides globally by 2021, far outpacing early growth in the carbon-heavy ride-hailing industry founded by Uber in 2009.

That’s a dramatic shift in urban transportation by any measure, and it prompts a simple but important question: How did we get here?

Understanding the key developments that helped advance micromobility over the past several years can give us valuable insights not only into where the industry is headed, but about how we can successfully shape it to meet the needs of hundreds of millions of current and future riders around the world.

From vehicle design and data to safety reporting and infrastructure, these five innovative moments have helped fuel the global growth of shared e-scooters and are helping lead cities into a healthier, more sustainable future.

#1: Shared scooters launched (fall 2017)

The very first fleet of Bird e-scooters was launched in Santa Monica, California in September of 2017. Up until this point, the micromobility industry consisted almost entirely of docked and dockless bike sharing systems that were averaging approximately 35 million trips across the United States every year — more than half of them in New York City alone.

After an encouraging start, shared e-scooter riders in the U.S. took nearly 39 million trips in 2018 and another 86 million the following year. A similar trajectory is being seen across the Atlantic, as nations such as Italy, England and the Ukraine join a rapidly expanding list of countries including Germany, France, Israel, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, Poland and others who have chosen to supplement their urban transportation networks with modern micromobility alternatives.

Shared scooters can now be found in over 200 cities on almost every continent around the world.

#2: First custom-designed shared scooters released (fall 2018)

The first e-scooter programs taught us two things very quickly: There’s high demand for this type of micromobility offering, and custom-designed vehicles are necessary to successfully meet that demand.

The fact is, shared scooters are ridden more frequently, handle more diverse road surfaces and endure more varied weather conditions than privately owned ones. That’s why Bird’s vehicle team unveiled the industry’s first custom-designed e-scooter, the Bird Zero, in October of 2018. Equipped with more battery life, better lighting, enhanced durability and more advanced GPS technology, this was the first in a series of comprehensive vehicle evolutions intended to increase safety, sustainability and lifespan — and it worked. Tens of thousands of these scooters are still in use today, and every month of continued service reduces their already low per-mile lifetime carbon emissions even further.

Subsequent custom vehicle designs, including the Bird One and Bird Two, have added onto this foundation, introducing industry-first features such as:

  • On-board diagnostic sensors capable of detecting over 200 faults.
  • Vehicle intelligence systems capable of running and reporting millions of autonomous fault checks per day.
  • IP67 or IP68 waterproofing on batteries.
  • 14,000 mile (22,500 km) battery life, resulting in more than 10 years of average everyday use.
  • Mechanical design independently tested to withstand more than 60,000 curbside impacts.

#3: Comprehensive industry safety report released (spring 2019)

Safety has rightly been the most important focus, and the most discussed aspect, of shared micromobility since its inception. It’s why Bird launched the industry’s earliest and most comprehensive free helmets for all riders campaign in January of 2018, along with a host of other safety initiatives.

In April of 2019, these programs culminated in a comprehensive e-scooter safety report. This was the first in-depth look at modern micromobility systems, using accident reports and other data to demonstrate that shared scooters have risks and vulnerabilities similar to bicycles. The report laid the groundwork for cooperative safety measures to be taken by both operators and cities to ensure that not only riders and pedestrians but all road users are protected.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve used the findings contained within the report, along with others that have since echoed its findings, to imagine and develop a series of product innovations that are helping set the standard for e-scooter safety across the industry. These include:

  • Shared micromobility’s first Helmet Selfie feature to promote helmet use.
  • Shared micromobility’s first Warm Up Mode feature to assist new riders.
  • The first and most accurate geofencing for e-scooters to create reduced-speed and no-riding zones.
  • Responsible data-sharing standards and practices to help cities build new infrastructure for bikes and scooters.

#4: Open Mobility Foundation created (summer 2019)

The last bullet above is particularly important. Cities have a crucial role to play in limiting the number of cars on the road and maximizing the amount of infrastructure available for bikes and scooters. It’s a proven strategy to improve the safety of all road users that depends heavily on one critical input: reliable, standardized data.

Since our first launch, Bird has been a strong proponent of responsible data sharing with cities. What was lacking, however, was a unified body to help guide and develop mobility data standards across the micromobility industry.

All of that changed in June of 2019, when cities like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco came together with companies like Bird and Microsoft and a consortium of nonprofit organizations called OASIS to form the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF). As chairperson and general manager of the LADOT Seleta Reynolds wrote in Forbes, the OMF platform “helps us achieve important city goals like increasing safety, equity, and health outcomes, while lowering emissions, and reducing congestion.”

These collaborative efforts to manage micromobility systems using open-source code and shared data standards might seem wonky, but they’ve had some very tangible real-world effects. In Atlanta, shared e-scooter data has been used to quadruple the city’s protected bike lanes by 2021. Santa Monica recently used scooter data to draft and pass an amendment that will add 19 new miles of separated micromobility infrastructure.

#5: UK, NY e-scooter programs approved (spring 2020)

This year’s decisions by the UK and the state of New York to legalize shared e-scooters and launch respective pilot programs may not be an innovation, but it’s a crucial development that will ensure the industry tops 500 million rides in 2021.

From an environmental and urban mobility perspective, London and New York are two of the most important cities in the world. Combined, they’re home to 17 million people and more than 10 million daily car trips. The introduction of e-scooters into these two densely packed and highly mobile cities will have a dramatic impact on daily commuter habits, particularly at a time when public transit ridership is still suffering due to COVID-19. That’s good news for cities, citizens and the environment.

The data that will be gained from such a high volume of micromobility rides won’t just help inform infrastructure improvements in New York and London. It will be added to a growing body of research that’s rapidly influencing micromobility technology and accelerating its adoption around the world.

Looking forward

So what can we learn from all of this? What will the first four years and 500 million rides of the shared e-scooter industry tell us about the future of micromobility?

First, we should expect its growth to continue. Adaptable, environmentally friendly solutions to car congestion and urban pollution were in high demand even before the global spread of the coronavirus in 2020. Now they’re proving themselves to be a necessity. Look for the relationships between cities and operators to strengthen and become more cooperative as scooters transition from a perceived recreational vehicle to an essential part of the urban transportation grid. This will include dramatic, data-informed improvements in protected infrastructure for both cyclists and scooter riders.

Second, we should anticipate that e-scooter technology will continue to develop around two key pillars: safety and sustainability. This applies as much to the form and functionality of the vehicles themselves as it does to the daily operations that manage them. Longer lifespan, improved battery performance, increased durability and enhanced diagnostics will be the benchmarks by which we measure this progress.

Finally, we should anticipate that, as the data from hundreds of millions of annual rides continues to accumulate, our understanding of urban mobility needs will become much clearer and more nuanced. Urban planning decisions will be able to be made based on street and hour-specific needs, identifying potentially dangerous areas and taking low-cost, high-impact actions to remedy them.

If current trends continue, and there’s every reason to believe that they will, the time it takes to add another half-billion e-scooter rides to the global total will very soon shrink from four years to less than one.

#bird, #column, #e-scooters, #electric-scooters, #micromobility, #mobility, #scooter-sharing, #sharing-economy, #startups, #tcuk, #transportation

Merging Airbnb and the traditional hotel model, Mexico City’s Casai raises $23 million to grow in Latin America

With travel and tourism rising across Latin America, Casai, a startup combining Airbnb single unit rentals with hotel room amenities, has raised $23 million to expand its business across Latin America.

The company, which initially was as hit hard by regional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic as other businesses in the hospitality industry has recovered to reach nearly 90 percent of total capacity on the 200 units it manages around Mexico City.

The company was co-founded by chief executive Nico Barawid, a former head of international expansion at Nova Credit and consultant with BCG, and chief operating officer María del Carmen Herrerías Salazar, who previously worked at one of Mexico’s largest hotel operators, Grupo Presidente.

The two met two years ago at a barbecue in Mexico City and began speaking about ways to update the hospitality industry taking the best of Airbnb’s short term rental model of individual units and pairing it with the quality control and standards that guests expect from a hotel chain.

“I wanted to define a product from a consumer angle,” said Barawid. “I wanted this to exist.”

Before the SARS-Cov-2 outbreak Casai’s units were primarily booked through travel partners like HotelTonight or Expedia. Now the company has a direct brisk direct booking business thanks to the work of its chief technology officer, a former engineer at Google named Andres Martinez.

The company’s new financing was led by Andreessen Horowitz and included additional commitments from the firm’s Cultural Leadership Fund, Kaszek Ventures, Monashees Capital, Global Founders Capital, Liquid 2 Ventures, and individual investors including the founders of Nova Credit, Loft, Kavak and Runa.

Casai also managed to nab a debt facility of up to $25 million from TriplePoint Capital, bringing its total cash haul to $48 million in equity and debt.

Image Credit: Casai

The big round is in part thanks to the company’s compelling value proposition, which offers guest not only places to stay equipped with a proprietary smart hardware hub and the Casai app, but also a Google Home, smart lights, and Chromecast-kitted televisions, but also a lounge where guests can stay ahead of their check-in or after check-out.

And while the company’s vision is focused on Latin America now, its management team definitely sees the opportunity to create a global brand and business.

The founding team also includes a chief revenue officer, Alberto Ramos, who worked at McKinsey and a chief growth officer, Daniel Hermann, who previously worked at the travel and lifestyle company, Selina. The head of design, Alexa Backal, used to work at GAIA Design, and its vice president of experience, Cristina Crespo, formerly ran WeWork’s international design studio.

“To successfully execute on this opportunity, a team needs to bring together expertise from consumer technology, design, hospitality, real estate and financial services to develop world-class operations needed to deliver on a first-class experience,” said Angela Strange, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, who’s taking a seat on the Casai board. “It was obvious when I met Nico and Maricarmen that they are operationally laser-focused and have uniquely blended expertise across verticals, with unique views on the consumer experience.”

#airbnb, #andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #angela-strange, #chief-operating-officer, #chief-technology-officer, #engineer, #financial-services, #general-partner, #global-founders-capital, #hoteltonight, #kaszek-ventures, #laser, #latin-america, #liquid-2-ventures, #mckinsey, #mexico, #mexico-city, #monashees-capital, #nova-credit, #real-estate, #runa, #selina, #sharing-economy, #tc, #tourism, #travel, #triplepoint-capital, #vacation-rental, #wework

Berbix raises $9M for its identity verification platform

Berbix, an ID verification startup that was founded by former members of the Airbnb Trust and Safety team, today announced that it has raised a $9 million Series A round led by Mayfield. Existing investors, including Initialized Capital, Y Combinator and Fika Ventures, also participated in this round.

Founded in 2018, Berbix helps companies verify the identity of its users, with an emphasis on the cannabis industry, but it’s clearly not limited to this use case. Integrating the service to help online services scan and validate IDs only takes a few lines of code. In that respect, it’s not that different from payment services like Stripe, for example. Pricing starts at $99 per month with 100 included ID checks. Developers can choose a standard ID check (for $0.99 per check after the basic allotment runs out), as well as additional selfie and optional liveness checks, which ask users to show an emotion or move their head to ensure somebody isn’t simply trying to trick the system with a photo.

While ID verification may not be the first thing you think about in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is actually seeing increasing demand for its solution now that in-person ID verification has become much harder. Berbix CEO and co-founder Steve Kirkham notes that the company now processes the same number of verifications in a day that it used to do monthly only a year ago.

“The inability to conduct traditional identity checks in person has forced organizations to move online for innumerable use cases,” he says in today’s announcement. “One example is the Family Independence Initiative, a nonprofit that trusts and invests in families’ own efforts to escape poverty. Our software has enabled them to eliminate fraudulent applications and focus on the families who have been economically affected by COVID.”

Berbix co-founder Eric Levine tells me the company plans to use the new funding to expand its team, especially the product and sales department. He also noted that the team is investing heavily in localization, as well as the technical foundation of the service. In addition, it’s obviously also investing in new technologies to detect new types of fraud. Scammers never sleep, after all.

#airbnb, #berbix, #fika-ventures, #hospitality-industry, #initialized-capital, #mayfield, #recent-funding, #security, #sharing-economy, #startups, #tc, #tourism, #travel, #vacation-rental, #y-combinator

After early-COVID layoffs, Hipcamp is buying competition, hiring

When shelter-in-place was first announced in the United States, most companies in the travel space saw bookings drop. Some shuttered. Hipcamp, a San Francisco-based startup that provides private land for people who want to go glamping or camping, found itself in a similar spot. (even though its entire sell is about getting you away from crowds).

“Bookings took a precipitous drop as people sheltered-in-place, and we actually encouraged people to cancel,” founder Alyssa Ravasio said in an interview. The startup conducted a round of layoffs back in April, citing ‘economic uncertainties.’ One employee tells TechCrunch that 60% of the company was laid off in two weeks. Hipcamp did not comment directly on the number of layoffs.

Months later, Hipcamp is in a far better spot. When stay-at-home orders lifted, bookings spiked with people eager to get outside, which the CDC says is a safer activity than being inside a place with less ventilation. Ravasio says that Hipcamp has even brought back some employees it originally laid off. The startup is currently hiring.

Off this new momentum, Hipcamp today announced that it has acquired Australia-based landsharing startup Youcamp, marking its first expansion into an international market. With the new business, Hipcamp will acquire Youcamp’s existing 50,000 listings, bringing its total to 420,000 listings.

Hipcamp declined to disclose the financials of the deal at this time.

Youcamp, founded by James Woodford, was born in New South Wales in 2013. Similar to Hipcamp, Youcamp worked to draw urban-based adults to the great outdoors. For its 7 years as an independent company, Youcamp racked up listings by working directly with private landowners.

Ravasio says she made her first big international bet in Australia partly because of revenue predictability.

“Expanding to the Southern Hemisphere also helps us account for natural seasonality with outdoor recreation. Between the US and Australia, it’s an endless summer,” the founder said.

The entire team at Youcamp will join Hipcamp, adding five to Hipcamp’s staff, bringing its employee base to a total of 35

Along with the acquisition announcement, Hipcamp shared that it is officially launching in Canada . The startup already had a number of Canadian hosts, but it will now increase the total by partnering directly with private landowners.

The company declined to share profitability or growth statistics, but instead pointing to aggregate usage numbers as some sort of cumulative revenue parallel. To date, Hipcamp has helped people spend 2.5 million nights outside across 6,000 hosts in the United States. Australia, and Canada.

In July 2019, Hipcamp got a tranche of new capital from investors, including but not limited to Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark, Slow Ventures, Marcy Ventures (co-founded by Shawn Carter, or Jay-Z) and Dreamers Fund (co-founded by Will Smith). The round valued the startup at $127 million.

Hipcamp, which has been dubbed by the New Yorker the ‘Airbnb of the outdoors’, is more optimistic than it was in March, as shown by this appetite for acquisition. The progress mirrors what we’re seeing out of the actual Airbnb, which has found bookings increasing year over year as people look to stay at properties for local holidays.

#airbnb, #alyssa-ravasio, #andreessen-horowitz, #australia, #canada, #economy, #hipcamp, #san-francisco, #sharing-economy, #shawn-carter, #slow-ventures, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #travel, #united-states, #vacation-rental, #websites, #will-smith

Airbnb declares all parties over indefinitely at its listings

Airbnb has been implementing measures to help limit hosting of unauthorized parties at listings booked through its platform, and today it implemented the strictest of all: A global ban on all parties and events. This includes an occupancy cap of 16 guests max at even the largest of the listings available on its platform, and the ban is “in effect indefinitely until further notice” according to the company.

The company notes that “unauthorized parties” have always been against its rules, even though it previously allowed hosts on its platform to selectively authorize small parties depending on their own assessment of whether they would be okay with that given the size of their house, and the comfort level of the surrounding neighborhood.

In its posted explanation of the rule change, Airbnb cites the global COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing as a contributing factor to updated rules around group gatherings, including removing specific flags encouraging use of listings as party venues from its search tools. Simultaneously, they also added a policy that requires both hosts and guests to follow local health agency guidelines around COVID-19 prevention measures, which the company says amounted to what was “effectively […] a form-fitting, patchwork ban on parties and events.”

Airbnb says that while that seemed to be sufficient at the time to encourage responsible and safe behavior, changing regional guidelines have meant that they’ve seen an increase in some individuals on their platform to turn listings into defect bars and clubs – hence the introduction of this new global ban, which is designed “in the best interest of public health.”

In terms of specifics, the guideline explicitly profits parties on all future bookings, and adds the 16 occupant cap. Airbnb is working on creating some kind of exception process for boutique hotels and other similar properties that make use of its platform for bookings. Meanwhile, Airbnb is working on process for informing guests of the party rules and that they open themselves up to potentially legal action if found to be in violation of the restriction.

Airbnb does not mention recent killings at rentals arranged through its platform, including one in Toronto in February in which three people were killed, and the California shooting last Halloween in which five people died. That incident in October 2019 prompted the ‘party house’ ban that Airbnb then implemented, while the incident from February prompted calls for further action.

#airbnb, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #health, #sharing-economy, #tc, #travel, #vacation-rental

Bird launches navigation app to help riders stay in the right lane

Bird is rolling out a new standalone app, called Bird Maps, in Paris and Tel Aviv that will provide turn-by-turn navigation for riders who want to use bike or micromobility lanes for their entire trip.

The app, which will be available on iOS and Android, was created using navigation software from Trailze, an Israeli startup that has mapped the urban grid with micromobility in mind. Bird has not determined how long it will pilot Bird Maps. The results of the pilot will determine testing in other cities, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Bird Maps prioritizes bike lanes, wide roads or paths with less traffic and offers visual and, more importantly, audio directions to riders. A Bird spokesperson said the company expects the audio feature will be the main method people use in the app. Bird is not testing phone mounts, which would be the only safe way for riders to view the navigation.

“With millions of people embracing shared electric micromobility and cities everywhere committing more resources to the development of bike and micromobility lanes, we wanted to ensure that riders could more easily navigate and utilize city infrastructure,” Patrick Studener, head of Bird EMEA said in a statement. “By working with Trailze to pilot Bird Maps in Paris and Tel Aviv – two cities that have recently committed to and developed additional bike lanes – we are making it easier for riders to feel more comfortable and safe as they move about their cities without relying upon cars and hope to pave the way for increased adoption and usage of clean transportation.”

Making it easier and safer to use scooters will help boost ridership, and as a result, generate more revenue. But it also builds goodwill with cities that have grown weary of scooter, bike-share and ride-hailing companies creating new problems and running afoul of local regulations. If Bird can provide a safe alternative to riding on sidewalks, the scooter company could get a warmer welcome from cities.

Bird and Trailze see more opportunity to find safe pathways for scooters and bikes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related lockdowns, which prompted more than 300 cities to introduce plans to designate some 2,600 additional miles of slow streets and temporary bike lanes.

Bird said this maps app follows other initiatives it has launched that use technology to improve, safety such as Helmet Safety and Warm up mode.

#apps, #bicycle-sharing, #bird, #france, #head, #here, #israel, #micromobility, #navigation-technology, #operating-systems, #paris, #scooter-sharing, #sharing-economy, #tel-aviv, #transportation

Spin scooters head to Europe, starting with Germany

Spin has launched its scooter sharing business to Germany, the first step in the U.S. company’s plans to expand to Europe.

The company, which was acquired by Ford in 2018 for about $100 million, has launched in Cologne and plans to open up in German cities Dortmund and Essen in the coming weeks. Spin said it’s also expanding its footprint in the U.S., starting with Atlanta. Other U.S. cities will follow, Spin said without providing more details. 

Spin’s Europe expansion is part of a trend that was emerging in the beginning of the year before COVID-19 upended the economy. In early 2020, it looked like Europe would become a summertime battleground for e-scooter companies. European and U.S.-based companies, including Lime, Bird, Circ, Swedish startup Voi and German startup Tier, were vying for market share. Voi was in about 40 cities in Europe and Tier had expanded to roughly 56. Amsterdam-based Dott was also in the mix. Spin announced in February plans to expand to Europe.

COVID-19 spread throughout Europe and then North America soon after, putting the brakes on micromobility. The pandemic prompted a number of scooter and bike share companies to pause operations or even pull out of cities altogether.

E-scooter startups are now coming back to Europe, where adoption rates and unit economics have been rosier than in some U.S cities.

Spin is starting with Germany in part because a recent survey conducted by the company and YouGov suggests e-scooters are poised to become a favored mode of transit in the country. Nearly 50% of those surveyed in Germany indicated they are already using or planning to use a solo transportation option for commuting to and from work and for taking trips within their immediate vicinity, Spin said.

“We are seeing heavier adoption of micromobility all around the world especially as the need for people to commute in less crowded conditions increases,” CEO and co-founder Derrick Ko said in a statement.

Spin said it plans to expand beyond Germany. The company has applied for permits in Lyon and Paris in France and submitted a proposal for rental e-scooter pilot in several U.K. cities, including Birmingham, Liverpool, London and Manchester.

Spin continued operating in some U.S. cities where it was allowed and provided free rides for healthcare workers during the pandemic. The company has resumed operations in 14 cities this month. It is now operating in 25 U.S. cities.

“Spin scooters are being used now more than ever as a utility rather than for leisurely activities,” president and co-founder Euwyn Poon said in a statement. “As public transit is cutting services, Spin is stepping in to help.”

Since April, new daily active users have increased an average 34% week over week, according to Poon. Trip duration has also increased 44%, reaching a peak of 24 minutes per trip, in May, Poon added.

 

#amsterdam, #atlanta, #automotive, #bird, #circ, #cologne, #derrick-ko, #dott, #e-scooters, #electric-scooters, #europe, #euwyn-poon, #ford, #france, #germany, #liverpool, #london, #manchester, #micromobility, #north-america, #paris, #sharing-economy, #spin, #tier, #transportation, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #voi, #yougov

Bird shuts down Circ operations in Middle East, scraps as many as 10,000 scooters

Bird has shut down scooter sharing in several cities in the Middle East, an operation that was managed by Circ, the micromobility startup it acquired in January. About 100 Circ employees have been laid off and as many as 10,000 Circ scooters have been sent to a third-party UAE-based company for recycling, according to multiple industry and company sources who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak with the media.

The shutdown — which Bird has couched as “pausing of operations” — comes less than six months after LA-based Bird announced it had acquired its European counterpart and touted plans to expand. Bird’s decision to shut down Circ’s entire Middle East business affects operations in Bahrain, UAE and Qatar.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 Circ scooters have been sent to EnviroServe, a UAE-based company that recycles electronics and other products, multiple sources who asked not to be named told TechCrunch. Almost 1,000 of the Circ scooters were new, according to one source.

Bird said in a statement that it is not leaving the Middle East. Instead, the company said it is “pausing operations” and plans to return to the region in the fall. Bird is still operating its own service in Tel Aviv.

“Bird is currently operating in Tel Aviv and we have temporarily paused operations in other parts of the Middle East as they become increasingly hotter at this time of the year,” the company said in an emailed statement. “During this pause, we are taking the opportunity to responsibly recycle parts of the old Circ fleet that were previously used in the region. Following extreme wear and tear, the Circ vehicles no longer met our rigorous quality standards. Selling or re-use of these vehicles would potentially result in safety and reliability issues, which would not have been fair or ethical to the purchasers or potential riders. We look forward to resuming our service throughout more parts of the region later this year.”

TechCrunch learned that several companies, including Berlin-based Tier Mobility, offered to buy the Circ-branded scooters that have been taken off the streets in Dubai and other Middle East cities. Bird declined these offers, according to two sources.

In the past two months, tens of thousands of electric scooters and bikes have been scrapped in the U.S., Canada, Europe and now the Middle East as micromobility companies pull back from markets in an effort to cut costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photos and videos showing piles of scrapped bright red JUMP bikes spread across Twitter last month and sparked widespread criticism and anger among bike advocates, urban planners and industry watchers. The bikes were part of the collateral damage that stemmed from a complex deal between Lime and Uber. Last month, Lime raised $170 million in a funding round led by Uber. As part of the deal, Uber offloaded JUMP, which it had acquired in 2018 for $200 million, to Lime. All 400 JUMP employees were laid off and at least 20,000 bikes and scooters were scrapped in the U.S. alone. Reports of JUMP bikes being pulled off streets and sent for recycling have popped up in Canada as well.

Tier Mobility CEO and co-founder Lawrence Leuschner had offered to buy the JUMP bikes. Tier Mobility also reached out to Bird.

“That has nothing to do with sustainable mobility and it needs to have consequences,” Leuschner said in a recent interview discussing the decision by companies to scrap scooters and bikes. “This is not what the industry should stand for and that’s why I have to speak up.”

Leuschner, who previously founded reBuy, a European market leader in used electronics, has said it is possible to properly and safely refurbish scooters and sell them to consumers. Tier Mobility refurbished and sold its old e-scooters to consumers after it replaced most of its fleet with newer hardware.

Circ burst on the scene in January 2019 with €55 million in Series A funding. The Berlin-based e-scooter startup, which was initially called Flash before it was rebranded, was founded by Delivery Hero and Team Europe founder Lukasz Gadowski.

The company expanded quickly across Europe and eventually into the Middle East. Just six months after it came out of stealth, Circ was in 21 cities across 7 countries — and it expanded even further throughout the rest of the year. But it encountered some of the same setbacks that other scooter-sharing companies faced in 2019. The company laid off staff in November at its regional operations and Berlin headquarters. The reduced headcount was driven by the fluctuation in users across seasons, “operational learnings” and a move to e-scooters with swappable batteries, Gadowski told TechCrunch at the time.

#bird, #circ, #delivery-hero, #dubai, #e-scooters, #electronics, #europe, #flash, #jump-bikes, #lime, #louisiana, #lukasz-gadowski, #market-leader, #micromobility, #middle-east, #scooter, #sharing-economy, #tc, #tier-mobility, #transportation, #uber, #united-arab-emirates, #united-states

Remote operators in Mexico are driving scooters to riders in this Atlanta suburb

In one Atlanta suburb, finding and returning an electric shared scooter will be taken care of by teleoperators some 1,700 miles away in Mexico City.

Riders in the enclave of Peachtree Corners will be able to use an app beginning this week to hail a GoX scooter equipped with tech from teleoperations startup Tortoise. Using the “Hail my Scooter” app developed by GoX, riders can have the scooter cruise on its own to their location. After riders complete trips, the scooters will drive themselves back to a safe parking spot. From here, GoX employees charge and sanitize the scooters and then mark them with a sticker that indicates they have been properly cleaned.

These scooters are not truly autonomous, however. Instead, Tortoise’s teleoperators are able to remotely control the scooters thanks to its operating system and other modifications such as an extra set of wheels that make it easier to maneuver the micromobility devices.

The six-month pilot, which is done in collaboration with GoX, Tortoise and local tech incubator Curiosity Labs, makes this the first fleet of teleoperated electric scooters available for the public in the United States.

GoX-tortoise-scooter

Image Credits: Tortoise

The COVID-19 pandemic, which wiped out public transit and shared micromobility ridership, has made Tortoise co-founder and president Dmitry Shevelenko more convinced and bullish than ever on scooter teleoperations.

“The pressure on unit economics is even greater now than it was pre-COVID,” Shevelenko said. “A use case that we had never really thought about before is the ability to disinfect vehicles throughout the day and that now feels pretty essential.”

The traditional shared scooter business model relies on gig economy workers to pick up and charge the devices. With the constant shuttling, scooters wear out more quickly. And they’re certainly not cleaned after every use.

“An important goal for us was to ensure that residents can enjoy the convenience of using e-scooters, while creating a world first in efficient, organized and advanced micromobility — right here in Peachtree Corners,” said Brian Johnson, city manager of Peachtree Corners.

The pilot also marks a bit of a coup for Tortoise. Peachtree Corners passed an ordinance mandating that all shared micromobility devices must be capable of automated repositioning in an effort to reduce clutter on sidewalks that have plagued other cities with dockless scooters.

“We didn’t even ask for this, it was just the city that did this on their own,” Shevelenko said.

This kind of mandate might become more common as city officials try to control scooter deployments. For instance, King County, which is home to Seattle and Bellevue, specifically called out remote repositioning as a technology that if an operator were deploying it, they would receive more points in their scoring mechanism to determine what companies receive permits.

“So it’s great to see cities embrace this technology right as it matures,” he said.

#apollo, #automotive, #dmitry-shevelenko, #e-scooters, #economy, #micromobility, #scooter, #sharing-economy, #transport, #transportation, #uber

Why micromobility may emerge from the pandemic stronger than before

Since its inception, shared micromobility services have been in a precarious position — one supported by millions of dollars in venture capital. But the COVID-19 pandemic has brought even more turmoil upon an industry that has long struggled with unit economics. It has led to mass layoffs, operation shutdowns across several markets and more consolidation.

Despite the struggles of individual operators, micromobility as technology will come out of this stronger than before, industry analyst Horace Dediu tells TechCrunch.

Dediu, an analyst who coined the term “micromobility” and founded Micromobility Industries, sees the silver lining in the pandemic for micromobility as it relates to the adoption of public transit alternatives. With ongoing concerns about the disease and social distancing, consumers may look to alternative modes of transportation — ones that require fewer interactions with strangers. But simply because a certain technology takes off doesn’t mean the current slate of operators will benefit.

“The companies involved may not survive a crisis,” Dediu says. “We don’t remember the fact there were 3,000 automobile companies in the United States prior to Henry Ford’s Model T. We don’t remember all the electrical suppliers out there and the consolidation that took place in the electrical field with Westinghouse. There’s a lot of historic references we can cite. But the fact of the matter is that up until the crisis there was an over-investment where probably too much capital was allocated to the industry chasing business models which are not sustainable…I think there will be a washout with a kind of consolidation and we’re seeing that already.”

Earlier this month, for example, Uber sold off JUMP to Lime, while simultaneously leading a $170 million investment in the micromobility startup. That funding round brought Lime’s valuation down 79%, to $510 million, according to The Information. Last April, Lime was valued at $2.4 billion.

#bicycle-sharing, #bird, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #extra-crunch, #horace-dediu, #lime, #market-analysis, #micromobility, #scoot, #scooter-sharing, #sharing-economy, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #verified-experts

Uber subsidiary Careem to slash workforce by 31%, suspends bus transport app

Careem, the Dubai-based ride-hailing and delivery company that was acquired by Uber last year, is cutting its workforce by 31% and suspending its mass transportation business due to affects from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The layoffs will affect more than 530 employees. Employees who are laid off will receive at least three months severance pay, one month of equity vesting, and where relevant, extended visa and medical insurance through the end of the year, according to the company’s blog post announcing the reductions.

“We delayed this decision as long as possible so that we could exhaust all other means to secure Careem,” Mudassir Sheikha, the company’s co-founder and CEO, wrote in a blog post Monday.

Careem started in 2012 as a ride-hailing company aiming to compete with Uber rival in the Middle East. In recently years, Careem has diversified its business, expanding into credit transfers, food and package delivery and bus services. Uber bought Careem in March 2019 for $3.1 billion.

Since the COVId-19 pandemic hit, Careem has seen business fall by more than 80%, Sheikha said.

The company made the cuts to preserve the business and its vision to create a consumer-facing “super app” that offers a suite of lifestyle services, including a digital payment platform and last-mile delivery. Those reductions will also affect some previously announced products, namely its mass transportation feature called Careem BUS.

“The economics of the mass transportation business have improved but remain challenging, and at this time, we need to accelerate our investments in deliveries and the Super App,”  We believe Careem BUS is a much-needed offering in some of our core markets, and I predict that the service will reappear on the Careem Super App in the future.” 

The announcement comes just hours after Uber Eats said it will shutter its on-demand food business in several markets, including in the Czech Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Ukraine. Uber Eats said it will transfer its business operations in the in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Careem.

“Consumers and restaurants using the Uber Eats app in the UAE will be transitioned to the Careem  platform in the coming weeks, after which the Uber Eats app will no longer be available,” according to a regulatory filing detailing the operational shifts.

#careem, #carsharing, #companies, #covid, #czech-republic, #dubai, #egypt, #food, #middle-east, #on-demand-food, #romania, #saudi-arabia, #sharing-economy, #tc, #transport, #transportation, #uber, #ukraine, #united-arab-emirates, #uruguay

The Station: Pony.ai turns to delivery, Kodiak cuts, Lime snaps up Boosted’s IP

Hi and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the future (and present) of transportation. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

What you’re reading here is an abbreviated version of The Station. To get the complete newsletter, which comes out every weekend, go here and click The Station.

Here’s a friendly reminder to reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Let’s go.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

There wasn’t a ton of news in micromobility this week, but I came across an interesting read over at City Lab about whether or not cities should financially support micromobility services. Shared bikes and scooters provide transportation options to city-dwellers during a time when some cities are deciding to scale back public transportation operations in order to keep its employees and residents safe.

In Portland, City Lab pointed to how the city agreed to temporarily waive e-scooter fees as long as Spin passed those savings onto riders. Now, Spin rides cost about 50% less in Portland.

But, as the authors write, “While we believe that waiving e-scooter fees and offering public funding may be necessary, we harbor no illusions that it would be easy to do so in the current fiscal environment.”

— Megan Rose Dickey

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

We hear things. But we’re not selfish. Let’s share.

Layoffs are nothing new in this COVID-19 world. More than 260 startups have laid off 25,010 workers, according Layoffs.fyi, a website that is attempting to track cuts in the startup ecosystem amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not all of these layoffs are directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In many cases, the pandemic has merely augmented pre-existing problems. One such example is Kodiak Robotics, an autonomous trucking startup, that laid off 20% of its staff on Wednesday (about 15 of its 85-person staff). The Information was the first to report the layoffs and TechCrunch has since confirmed those numbers. The official line is that Kodiak reduced its headcount due to the dramatic impact COVID-19 has had on the economy. The move was couched as the best way to position Kodiak for the future.

We’ve learned from several people that the company was already facing considerable headwinds on the fundraising front.

Kodiak Robotics came out of stealth in August 2018 with $40 million in a Series A funding round led by Battery Ventures. CRV, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Tusk Ventures also participated in the round. The company likely attracted interest and investment because of its founders. CEO Don Burnette was part of the Google self-driving project before leaving and co-founding Otto in early 2016, along with Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron and Claire Delaunay. Uber then acquired Otto (and its co-founders). Burnette left Uber to launch Kodiak in April 2018 with Paz Eshel, a former venture capitalist and now the startup’s COO.

The pair scaled up quickly. The company, headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., went on a hiring spree in 2019 and opened a new facility in North Texas to support commercial deliveries using its fleet of eight trucks. Autonomous vehicle technology startups are already capitally intensive. But Kodiak was also trying to launch a carrier service — not just developing the self-driving truck stack.

Fundraising efforts started late last year and Kodiak was hoping to raise a $100 million round on a $300 million pre-money valuation, according to two sources. It was suggested that Kodiak already had a lead. However, the company has had trouble closing a Series B round with attractive terms, according to several sources who spoke to TechCrunch on condition of anonymity. When COVID-19 erupted it put more pressure on the startup.

Kodiak is hardly alone. Autonomous vehicle technology startups have had a more tepid reception from investors since spring 2019. It’s still possible to raise funds. But it’s harder now — particularly those seeking larger raises — and the terms are less desirable.

Another autonomous delivery pivot

the station autonomous vehicles1

Pony .ai is the latest autonomous vehicle startup to turn its efforts to delivery — at least temporarily. The company announced this week it will partner with e-commerce platform Yamibuy to provide autonomous last-mile delivery service to customers in Irvine, Calif.

The new delivery service was launched to provide additional capacity to address the surge of online orders triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pony.ai said.

Pony.ai, which recently raised $400 million from Toyota Motor Corporation, has focused on shuttling people, not packages. The company has launched ride-sharing and commuter pilots in Fremont and Irvine, California and Guangzhou, China.

Pony.ai now said it will use its Irvine robotaxi fleet of 10 electric Hyundai Kona vehicles for delivery through at least mid-summer. It’s not clear how, or if, Pony.ai can generate revenue with this new delivery service. The company is in talks with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency that issues AV testing permits, about this issue. The DMV doesn’t allow AV testing fleets to charge money by delivering goods or rides. However, a deployment permit, which Pony.ai has for its Irvine service, does allow for commercial use, just not a delivery fee.

Pronto.ai makes a move

the station semi truck

Pronto.ai, a startup co-founded by controversial star engineer Anthony Levandowski, is not pursuing Level 4 autonomous vehicle technology, Instead, the company is developing an advanced driver assistance system product for trucks called Copilot. Pronto AI was originally called Kache.ai, according to paperwork discovered at the time by TechCrunch, and was registered as a corporation with the California Secretary of State.

The startup has maintained a low profile since August 2019 when Levandowski was indicted by a federal grand jury on theft of trade secrets, forcing him to step down as CEO. Levandowski has since reached a plea deal. Now, it seems that the company is making some moves.

Pronto.ai recently applied for a five-year exemption from the federal government that would let drivers in trucks with Pronto’s CoPilot technology to stay on the road longer than current rules allow. The request to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which was first reported by Freight Waves, would let drivers to drive up to 13 hours within a 15-consecutive hour driving window after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.

Drivers are typically allowed to drive up to 11 hours in a 14-hour window, after being off duty for 10 or more consecutive hours.

Lime swoops up Boosted IP

Boosted, startup behind the Boosted Boards and, more recently, the Boosted Rev electric scooter, would typically fall into micromobbin’. But it deserves it’s own segment this week.

Five weeks ago, Boosted laid off “a significant portion” of its team and began actively seeking a buyer. It seems that a sale never materialized and Lime swooped in and bought up Boosted’s core patents, according to a report from The Verge.  Lime was apparently working on acquiring Boosted’s intellectual property since the end of 2019. The shared scooter company snapped up the IP after a proposed acquisition from Yamaha fell through for Boosted.

Boosted cofounder and former CEO Sanjay Dastoor, who left the board 18 months ago, posted a message to the Boosted subreddit shortly after The Verge story published that suggests Lime’s acquisition was broader than originally thought.

Dastoor wrote that the company is closed and will likely enter into some form of bankruptcy protection. He also wrote that Lime had purchased all the assets and IP of the company and appears to be in possession of everything at Boosted’s headquarters in Mountain View, including access to the building. Here’s one important nugget:

“As far as I can tell, this includes design files, software and code, diagnostics, parts, and test equipment I’m not sure if this includes the responsibility for warranty coverage for boards and scooters sold before. I do know that a handful of former engineers at Boosted, most senior is Michael Hillman who joined as VP Engineering last year, are now at Lime and may be able to help. Regardless of how this is structured, if we want our products to continue being supported, including parts for boards or any software diagnostic tests and debugging, their cooperation and help will be needed.”

He added that some Boosted employees have been trying unsuccessfully to service and send boards back to customers for weeks.

“I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect that those boards should rightfully get back to their owners and should be safe to ride, and I’m trying to find a way to help with this,” Dastoor wrote. “In the meantime, I’d recommend folks who are looking to get in touch more urgently should reach out to Lime directly.”

#anthony-levandowski, #artificial-intelligence, #automotive, #av, #battery-ventures, #bird, #california, #ceo, #china, #claire-delaunay, #coo, #covid-19, #don-burnette, #driver, #emerging-technologies, #federal-government, #fremont, #google, #hyundai, #kirsten-korosec, #kodiak-robotics, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #lime, #lior-ron, #michael-hillman, #otto, #pony, #portland, #self-driving-cars, #sharing-economy, #technology, #toyota-motor-corporation, #transportation, #tusk-ventures, #uber, #unmanned-ground-vehicles

Uber adds retail and personal package delivery services as COVID-19 reshapes its business

Uber is introducing two new types of services, the company announced this week, including Uber Direct and Uber Connect. Direct is a delivery platform for retail items, while Connect is a peer-to-peer package delivery service, for sending goods to family and friends. This marks the most aggressive foray yet for Uber into courier services, after it already introduced grocery items to its Uber Eats platform as the coronavirus pandemic continues to suppress its ride-hailing business.

Uber has already also introduced new extensions of its platform for transporting personal protective equipment to front-line workers, and Eats is also delivering convenience items in some markets in addition to grocery goods. The Direct and Connect services will likewise open in select cities initially, and the service looks very different depending on where it’s in use. IN NYC, for instance, it’s delivering over-the-counter medications in partnership with Cabinet, whereas in Portugal it’s essentially supplementing the public postal service with general mail parcel delivery.

Uber Connect provides same-day, on-contact delivery from one person to another, which Uber positions as a way for people to send care packages, supplies, games and other quarantine daily staples with their friends and family. It’s launching in over 25 cities across Australia, Mexico and the U.S. to start. At heart, Connect isn’t much different from Uber’s basic rider service, but instead of transporting people door-to-door, it’s moving stuff.

Both of these are being introduced today but will evolve over time as Uber sees how usage proceeds, and what people want out of the service. Stepping up on the goods delivery front should also mean bolstering utilization rates for drivers, and continued income in the face of massive decreases in demand for general rider transportation services, even as Uber Eats sees a big usage spike as more people seek direct-to-door food delivery.

#australia, #coronavirus, #courier-services, #covid-19, #food-delivery, #line, #mexico, #online-food-ordering, #operating-systems, #package-delivery, #peer-to-peer, #portugal, #sharing-economy, #software, #tc, #transport, #transportation, #uber, #united-states

Airbnb ups its debt by $1BN amid the coronavirus travel crunch

Airbnb has secured commitments of $1 billion for a syndicated term loan from institutional investors, it said.

The emergency cash injection comes as the coronavirus travel freeze continues to hammer vacation rentals, with holidaymakers locked down at home and global travel banned or heavily discouraged for public health reasons.

Neither the names of the parties to the Airbnb loan nor the terms have been disclosed but Reuters — citing several sources with knowledge of the matter — is reporting that private equity firms Silver Lake, Apollo Global Management, Sixth Street Partners, Oaktree Capital Management and Owl Rock are parties, with Silver Lake reportedly “one of the biggest players”. Though all the firms declined to comment.

Per Reuters’ sources, the loan is for five years — with an interest rate of 750 basis points over the Libor benchmark. The news agency was also told it was sold at a slight discount to the loan’s par value which would see investors earn a rate of around 12%. While the terms of the deal are first lien debt, meaning the listed creditors would be paid first if Airbnb were to default, per Reuters’ sources.

We’ve reached out to Airbnb for comment.

Earlier this month the vacation rentals giant announced an additional $1BN raise in debt and equity from two of the aforementioned private equity firms, Silver Lake and Sixth Street Partners. Though at the time it said the funds would support its ongoing work to invest over the long term — couching the raise as strategic, rather than a bailout in troubled times.

The $1BN term loan looks more clearly targeted at dealing with immediate negative impacts caused by COVID-19. Although, once again, Airbnb’s statement seeks to paint an upbeat picture of travel in a post-pandemic future, without the company being able to specify exactly when such a time might arrive.

“I deeply appreciate the confidence and trust that so many have shown in our company even as every sector in travel is going through the storm of the pandemic. We know travel will return and rather than merely hunkering down, the support we have received will allow Airbnb to continue moving forward as we invest in our community,” said Airbnb co-founder and CEO, Brian Chesky, in a statement. “All of the actions we have taken over the last several weeks assure that Airbnb will emerge from the storm of the pandemic even stronger, regardless of how long the storm lasts.”

The cash injection will “ensure Airbnb can continue to invest in its company and community of hosts and guests in over 220 countries and regions around the world”, the company added.

In recent weeks Airbnb has faced anger from hosts faced with a wave of coronavirus cancelations and refunds, after it made a policy change last month to allow guests to be refunded in full for bookings over the coronavirus period. It later earmarked $250M to help hosts impacted by COVID-19 cancellations.

Some countries have also banned holiday rentals entirely during the pandemic — including the UK which recently clamped down after hosts had been found advertising ‘isolation retreats’.

There have also been reports of an increase in long term rental properties in some markets, such as London, as professional landlords operating on platforms like Airbnb look for an alternative revenue stream for empty vacation rentals that are now costing them money.

Should such switching take hold in markets where residential tenancy contracts can stretch for five or more years it could put a lasting lock-up on a chunk of properties which vacation rental platforms have been repurposing as moneyspinners up til now.

One thing is clear: The global travel crunch has put a major dent in Airbnb’s IPO hopes. Last September, the company told investors, employees, and the world it would begin to trade publicly in 2020. A couple of months late the coronavirus struck and Airbnb has seen its valuation crash vs a $35BN peak, back in 2019.

Per Reuters, last week’s $1BN bond deal included warrants for the two firms that can be exercised at an $18BN valuation — well below even the $26BN Airbnb cited as an internal valuation in early March.

#airbnb, #brian-chesky, #collaborative-consumption, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #london, #private-equity, #sharing-economy, #tourism, #travel, #vacation-rental

The Station: Starship expands, AutoX opens up shop, and a big moment for ebikes

Hi and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the future (and present) of transportation. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch .

What you’re reading now is a shorter version of the newsletter, which is emailed every weekend. If you want to subscribe, go here and click The Station.

The transportation industry has seen an influx of “disruptors” in the past 15 years, including car sharing and ride-hailing apps and later shared ebikes and scooters. Now autonomous vehicle technology developers and flying car startups are working for that title.

COVID-19 could turn out out to be the transportation disruptor of this new decade. Yes, yes I know — it’s still early days. However, COVID-19 is already changing how we get around. Public transit has taken a hit and shared scooters have been pulled off streets. Meanwhile, ebike sales are booming and some cities are experimenting with how to provide transportation (and even space) that we need to move around without spreading the disease.

Shall we explore further? Read on. Before we dig in, here’s one more friendly reminder to reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Electric bikes are having a moment. While shared micromobility companies have pulled scooters and bikes off streets, there is evidence that private sales are growing. Meanwhile, cities are taking action to make this means of transportation more available.

Here are three examples:

  • New York’s tentative budget agreement reached April 1 includes a provision that would legalize throttle-based bikes and scooters.
  • Lectric eBikes, an Arizona-based startup that launched in May 2019, told TechCrunch it has seen a spike in sales since mid-March. The company was selling an average of 25 bikes a day before COVID-19. By mid-March sales jumped to about 48 bikes a day. The following week, the company averaged daily sales of 55 ebikes. Lectric sold 175 bikes the week of March 7th. A month later, weekly sales hit 440.
  • Portland is trying to make its shared bike system known as Biketown more accessible and a helluva a lot cheaper. The city has reduced pay-as-you-go plans to a $0.10 one-time sign up fee and then $0.01 a minute. Yes, 1 cent a minute.

Autonomous delivery

the station autonomous vehicles1

COVID-19 has put a new focus on autonomous vehicle delivery. There aren’t fleets of delivery bots at the ready, but progress is being made.

Starship Technologies launched this month a robot food delivery service in Tempe, Ariz., as part of its expansion plans following a $40 million funding round announced last August.

Starship Technologies, which was launched in 2014 by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, has been ramping up commercial services in the past year, including a plan to expand to 100 universities by late summer 2021. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing traditional restaurants to close and placing more pressure on gig economy workers, Starship Technologies has an opportunity to accelerate that growth. The company recently launched in Washington D.C, Irvine, Calif., and says it plans to roll out to more cities in the coming weeks.

Nuro’s next milestone

Meanwhile, Nuro has been granted permission to begin driverless testing on California’s public roads. Nuro’s low-speed R2 vehicle isn’t designed for people, only packages.

And it’s well positioned to actually scale commercially in California. Under state law, AV companies can get a separate permit that allows them to operate a ride-hailing service. But they can’t charge a fee.

Nuro can’t charge a delivery fee either. However, it can generate revenue by working with local retailers to launch a commercial delivery business using the autonomous vehicles.

Other autonomous vehicle news

AutoX has opened an 80,000 square-foot Shanghai Robotaxi Operations Center, following a 2019 agreement with municipal authorities to deploy 100 autonomous vehicles in the Jiading District. The vehicles in the fleet were assembled at a factory about 93 miles outside of Shanghai.

AutoX, which is developing a full self-driving stack, has operations in California and China. It has been particularly active in China. The company has been operating a fleet of robotaxis in Shenzhen through a pilot program launched in 2019 with BYD. Earlier this year, it partnered with Fiat Chrysler to roll out a fleet of robotaxis for China and other countries in Asia.

The Shanghai operations center marks an escalation of AutoX’s ambitions. The company plans to unveil a ride-hailing app that will let users in Shanghai request ride from one of vehicles at the new operations center.

Trend Watch

Trend watch is meant to be a bookmark that we can look back on in a few weeks, months or even years and see if it actually caught on.

I’ll mention two this week.

Nauto is an automotive tech startup that combines cameras, motion sensors, GPS and AI algorithms to understand and improve driver behavior. The company’s platform is used in commercial fleets and some fresh data shows an uptick in last-mile driving and more distracted driving.

Nauto’s distribution and last-mile fleets averaged 41 miles driven every active driving hour in March, a 46% increase from the same month last year.

Meanwhile, distracted driving incidents increased. Nauto said that its distribution and last-mile fleets averaged 1.54 distraction events every active driving hour in March compared to 0.98 events per hour in the same month last year.

Now onto cities. Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf launched Saturday the Oakland Slow Streets initiative to help folks maintain physical distancing. The city has shut down down 74 miles of streets to through traffic to give people space to recreate.

Streets are open to local traffic only and residents are able to drive home. Fire, police, deliveries and other essential services won’t impacted by street closures either.

Other cities are experimenting with similar efforts. While streets will likely open back up after the pandemic passes, this could change how people, including planners, business owners and city officials view how we should use streets.

From you

Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared comments from readers about how COVID-19 has affected their business or how they use transportation. This week, I thought I’d share some advice from Laurie Yoler, a new partner at Playground Global, board member of Zoox and adviser to multiple companies. She was an early adviser and former board member at Tesla .

Here’s what she shared.

This is a time of deep reflection. Instead of viewing ‘social distancing’ as a prison, we can focus on the people we care about and reflect on our work and what gives us joy. Look at this time as an opportunity to be compassionate with yourself and the people around you, and pursue your curiosity. That doesn’t mean forcing yourself to complete a list of tasks with urgency and focus, but rather using this time for gentle creative exploration.

If your business needs to rethink its plans or is facing a substantial slowdown, as so many are, remember you can only be effective by focusing on one thing at a time. I have five “F’s” I run through with entrepreneurs I advise. Friends and family first, then physical facilities, in order to ensure business continuity. After that, you can move to finances, cutting costs and creatively thinking about your business model in order to give your company the best chance of survival. Next, it’s about planning for the future. Scenario planning is essential for all critical areas of your business. Ask yourself, “can I use this crisis to make the company stronger?” Lastly, we turn to faith in the world’s scientists and innovators to see us through this difficult time.

Remember, even amid the devastation around us, there is still space for optimism. This could be a catalyst for the sweeping innovation in healthcare and education that we so desperately need. Use this time of stillness to restore yourself. Watch inspirational TED talks, exercise, meditate, and check in with friends and colleagues often.”

— Laurie Yoler

#asia, #av, #bicycles, #board-member, #byd, #california, #car-sharing, #china, #driver, #electric-bicycle, #emerging-technologies, #fiat-chrysler, #healthcare, #kirsten-korosec, #mayor, #nauto, #new-york, #oakland, #playground-global, #portland, #self-driving-car, #shanghai, #sharing-economy, #shenzhen, #starship-technologies, #tc, #techcrunch, #tesla, #zoox

#Hintergrund – Ein Todesstern ist nicht genug


Um Lea-Maria Zimmermann herum, da stehen dutzende gigantische Todessterne aus der bekannten Filmsaga Star Wars, etliche hochpreisige Autos der Luxusmarke Porsche und mehrere megagroße Schaufelradbagger. Viel Platz braucht die sympathische Ruhrgründerin für diese großen Raumschiffe und Fahrzeuge allerdings nicht, denn alle sind komplett aus kleinen Lego-Steinchen. 2013 gründete die gelernte Bankkauffrau und studierte Betriebswirtin gemeinsam mit ihrem Mann Patrick Zimmermann in Castrop-Rauxel Bauduu, einen Vermietservice für Lego-Sets. Inzwischen wirtschaftet das Startup profitabel, macht pro Jahr einen niedrigen bis knapp mittleren sechsstelligen Umsatz und beschäftigt rund 15 Mitarbeiter.

Die Idee hinter Bauduu ist einfach: Gegen eine monatliche Gebühr, und hier geht es bereits bei 4,95 Euro los, können Kunden große und kleine Lego-Sets ausleihen, sie zusammenbauen, damit spielen und wieder an Bauduu zurückschicken. „Die Vorteile liegen auf der Hand: Das Kind kann nach einer Weile ein neues Set bespielen. So kommt keine Langeweile auf. Die Eltern sparen viel Geld, denn Lego ist nicht nur eines der wunderbarsten und kreativsten Spielzeuge dieser Welt, sondern eben auch nicht preiswert“, sagt Zimmermann zur Idee hinter ihrem Unternehmen. Wobei längst nicht nur Kinder von Bauduu begeistert sind. Es gibt auch sehr viele Erwachsene, die beim Verleihdienst Kunden sind.

Rückgabefristen oder Überziehungsgebühren gibt es bei Bauduu nicht. Auch fehlende Steine werden nicht berechnet – zumindest wenn nicht mehr als 30 fehlen. Es gibt aber Bonuspunkte – sprich Rabattpunkte – für vollständig zurückgesendete Sets. Manchmal ist aber auch zu viel in einem zurückgeschickten Set. Hier und da findet sich in einem Karton eine Playmobil-Figur, ein Spielzeugauto oder sogar eine Zahnspange.

Bevor die Lego-Sets wieder auf die Reise zum nächsten Kunden gehen, erfolgt ein Reinigungsprozess – samt Desinfektion. An diesem Punkt und auch bei der Sortierung von gebrauchten Sets, die das Unternehmen immer wieder ankauft, kooperiert Bauduu mit Behindertenwerkstätten in der Region. Mehrere Behinderte arbeiten zudem direkt bei Bauduu. Für diese richtete Zimmermann einen sogenannten Snoezel-Raum ein, der den Mitarbeitern bei der mentalen Beruhigung helfen soll.

Das junge Unternehmen residiert auf knapp 500 Quadratmetern mitten in Castrop-Rauxel. „Ein Vorzeigebüro ist es nicht, es ist nicht schick und auch nicht stylish“, sagt die Ruhrpreneurin zum Firmensitz und spielt damit auf die extrem stylische Bürokultur in Berlin an. „Es ist alles ein bisschen zusammengewürfelt aus dem, was gerade da war.“ Hier wird klar, dass Zimmermann Controllerin und Buchhalterin ist. – Was passt, denn aufs Geld mussten die Bauduu-Macher immer gut achten.

Den Start ins Lego-Geschäft ermöglichten ein Kredit der Sparkasse sowie eine Mikromezzanin-Finanzierung durch die NRW.BANK. Alles in allem ging es dabei um gerade einmal 150 000 Euro. „Ich weiß noch, wie wir damals eine Finanzierung gesucht haben; keine Bank in der Region war in der Lage, uns zu helfen. Nur die Sparkasse in Recklinghausen hatte eine eigene Abteilung für Existenzgründer“, blickt Zimmermann zurück. Da das Konzept von Bauduu bisher aufgegangen ist, konnten die Jungunternehmer den Kredit inzwischen komplett zurückzahlen. „Sonst haben wir keine Töpfe mehr offen, alles gut“, lautet das offene und glückliche Fazit der Gründerin. Und dann lacht sie: „Wir haben Bauduu mit gerade einmal 150000 Euro aufgebaut. Das bringt so manch ein Startup in Berlin in ein paar Monaten durch.“

Bauduu wandelte sich in den vergangenen Jahren aber auch; es gibt inzwischen mehrere Einnahmequellen, und nicht mehr nur der Verleih von Plastiksteinen spült Geld in die Kasse. Das Unternehmen verkauft mittlerweile auch gebrauchte Lego-Sets und Einzelsteine, allerdings nicht auf der eigenen Internetplattform, sondern über spezialisierte Lego-Marktplätze wie Brick Owl. Alles in allem türmen sich bei Bauduu inzwischen 350000 Lego-Steine. Die Idee für ihr Startup kam Zimmermann, während sie vor einigen Jahren Weihnachtsgeschenke wegräumte: „Der Playmobil-Zoo wurde einmal aufgebaut und stand danach unbenutzt im Kinderzimmer, wurde irgendwann in einer Spielkiste verstaut und im ganzen restlichen Jahr vielleicht noch zweimal aufgebaut.“ Kurz darauf entdeckte ihr Sohn Tizian Lego für sich. Mit seiner wachsenden Begeisterung stiegen auch die Kosten. Denn gerade große Lego-Sets sind teuer, richtig teuer. Ein Lego-Todesstern, der aus mehreren tausend Steinen besteht, kostet 499,99 Euro. Aber auch ganz normale Lego-Bausets kommen locker auf 50, 80 oder 100 Euro. Und am Ende verstauben viele dieser teuren Sets im Kinderzimmer. So auch bei den Zimmermanns. „Und nach Tizians viertem Geburtstag entschieden wir daher, dass sich etwas ändern muss. Wir setzten Bauduu in die Tat um“, erinnert sich Lea-Maria. Planung und Umsetzung des Konzepts dauerten knapp drei Monate. Ehemann Patrick programmierte den Onlineshop – fertig war der Testballon. Hilfreich war dabei, dass die Zimmermanns, die früher beide bei E.ON gearbeitet haben, vor Bauduu schon gemeinsam eine Internetagentur gegründet hatten. „Daher konnten wir unser Projekt auch schnell umsetzen“, sagt die Seriengründerin, die gemeinsam mit ihrer Schwester inzwischen auch noch eine Immobilienfirma aus der Taufe gehoben hat.

Mit ganz wenigen Lego-Sets ging Bauduu Ende 2013 – aus dem privaten Arbeitszimmer heraus – an den Start. Sohn Tizian half auch bei der Namensfindung für das Unternehmen: „Wenn mein Sohn keine Lust mehr hatte zu bauen, sagte er immer: ‚Bau du!‘“ So kam es zur Marke Bauduu. Vorher stand der Name Legothek zur Debatte; der hätte aber für rechtliche Probleme mit dem Steinchen-Konzerngesorgt. „Zu Beginn haben wir 60 bis 80 Sets auf unserer Webseite angeboten, hatten aber nur 15 oder 20 gekauft“, erzählt Zimmermann etwas kleinlaut. „Wenn dann ein Kunde eines bestellt hat, das wir nicht auf Lager hatten, haben wir es im Spielzeughandel gekauft.“ Das erste Set, das verliehen wurde, war ein Raumschiff aus der Star-Wars-Reihe von Lego, der schwarz-graue „Sith FuryClass Interceptor“. Das Modell hat inzwischen einen Ehrenplatz auf dem Schreibtisch von Patrick Zimmermann.

In den ersten Monaten nach dem Start ging es bei Bauduu kaum voran: Werbung bei Google brachte nicht den gewünschten Erfolg und war viel zu teuer. Und kaum ein potenzieller Kunde suchte im Internet nach einem Verleihdienst für Lego. Wie andere Firmen, die ein komplett neues Geschäftsmodell etablieren wollen, setzen die Lego-Fans auf Pressearbeit. Die Ruhr Nachrichten berichteten kurz nach dem Start über das Unternehmen, und auch der WDR, das ZDF und die BILD entdeckten das umtriebige Startup. „In den ersten fünf Jahren wurde im Ruhrgebiet, egal welches Medium, nicht annähernd so viel über uns geschrieben wie in Berliner Zeitungen im ersten Jahr“, sagt Zimmermann leicht frustriert.

Nach vorn brachte Bauduu schließlich die Teilnahme an der ZDF-Sendung „Kampf der Startups“ im Jahre 2013. Unternehmer und Skateboard-Legende Titus Dittmann wusch Zimmermann in der Show gehörig den Kopf. Das junge Unternehmen beschäftigte damals einfach viel zu viele Mitarbeiter, und die Personalkosten waren enorm. So hoch, dass man damit über kurz oder lang vor die Wand gefahren wäre. Zum Glück nahm sich die Gründerin die Kritik zu Herzen, stellt Bauduu personell anders auf und sicherte damit den Fortbestand der jungen Firma. – Vor allem zur Freude von Sohn Tizian, der das Unternehmen später einmal übernehmen möchte.

Der inzwischen Zehnjährige spielt schon jetzt eine große Rolle bei Bauduu. Einmal in der Woche macht der Nachwuchs seine Hausaufgaben an einem Schreibtisch im Familienunternehmen. Zudem sucht er die Sets aus, die für den Verleih angekauft werden sollen. Und auch am Wochenende, wenn die Eltern arbeiten, ist Tizian fast immer dabei. Zum Glück steht im Büro verdammt viel Lego herum. Gearbeitet wird bei den Zimmermanns generell viel und vor allem sehr, sehr gerne. Mit drei Unternehmen, bei denen Bauduu-Macherin Zimmermann engagiert ist, bleibt ohnehin nicht viel Freizeit. „Dafür muss man einfach der Typ sein; wenn man dies nicht ist, dann wäre es falsch, ein Unternehmen zu gründen.“ Zimmermanns Vater, der jahrelang Führungskraft bei E.ON war, lebte es ihr genauso vor. Auf der Schnellwahl taste am Telefon der Familie war früher Papas Sekretärin. „Mit der habe ich immer mehr telefoniert als mit meinem Vater.“ Der letzte Urlaub der Lego-Familie ist Jahre her. „Ich könnte mich aber auch nicht zweimal im Jahr 14 Tage an den Strand legen“, sagt die Ruhrpreneuerin ganz gelassen. Dafür genießt sie die Freiheiten, die das Unternehmertum mit sich bringt. Im Sommer arbeitet Zimmermann gerne auch mal aus dem eigenen Garten heraus. Die Familie – zu der noch ein Hund gehört – wohnt in Pöppinghausen in einer alten Schule. Dort ist es so ländlich, dass morgens schon mal ein Reh im Garten steht.

Und wenn es tatsächlich mal vorkommen sollte – wie neulich –, dass an einem Wochenende wirklich rein gar nichts Berufliches zu tun ist, findet Zimmermann schon eine Beschäftigung: „Wir sind dann vor lauter Verzweiflung in den Comicladen nach Dortmund gefahren; wir beide lesen gerne Comics, und ich habe mir zwei SuicideSquad-Comics gekauft.“ Danach hat sie aber wahrscheinlich sofort wieder darüber nachgedacht, welches Projekt sie als nächstes angeht. Und davon gibt es einige – etwa ein Kochbuch für Analphabeten. Auch mit ihrem Vater möchte sie gerne ein Buch schreiben. Thema: Qualitäts- und Kommunikationsspiele mit Lego-Steinen. In einigen Jahren dann will sie auch in Startups investieren. Gerade dies wäre wünschenswert: Es gibt nämlich nicht nur viel zu wenige Gründerinnen im Ruhrgebiet, sondern auch viel zu wenige Investorinnen.

Ein Auszug aus dem großen Startup-Buch “Wann endlich grasen Einhörner an der Emscher“. #EmscherEinhörner

Themenschwerpunkt Ruhrgebiet

#Ruhrgebiet: Gemeinsam mit dem ruhr:HUB berichtet deutsche-startups.de regelmäßig über die Startup-Szene im Ruhrgebiet. Mit hunderten Startups, zahlreichen Gründerzentren und -initativen, diversen Investoren sowie dutzenden Startup-Events bietet das Ruhrgebiet ein spannendes Ökosystem für Digital-Gründer – mehr im Startup Guide Ruhrgebiet. Das Buch “Wann endlich grasen Einhörner an der Emscher” wiederum erzählt die spannendsten Startup- und Grown-Geschichten aus dem Ruhrgebiet.

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): Bauduu

#aktuell, #bauduu, #castrop-rauxel, #femalefounders, #grunderin, #reloaded, #sharing-economy