You can no longer call an Uber with your Apple Watch

Apple Watch Series 7.

Enlarge / Apple Watch Series 7. (credit: Apple)

Uber has gone the way of Lyft, canceling support for its app on Apple Watches. As spotted by MacRumors Monday, the Uber Apple Watch app is still available but won’t let you hail a ride if installed.

We checked on an Apple Watch Series 7 and got a message reading, “Please switch to the Uber mobile app. We no longer support the Apple Watch app. Sorry for the inconvenience,” followed by a crying-face emoji.

Like Uber’s app for iPhones and iPads, the Apple Watch app let you call a ride from your device, but some features, like Uber Pool, fare splitting, and the ability to contact your driver or share your estimated time of arrival with contacts, were disabled.

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#apple, #apple-watch, #tech, #uber

Uber adjusts third-quarter forecast in light of increased gross bookings

Uber said Tuesday that it could hit one measure of profitability in the third quarter, earlier than expected as the ride-hailing company saw gains in its delivery and mobility businesses. The ride-hailing service told regulators in a filing this morning that it anticipated an increase in gross bookings and stronger adjusted EBITDA in the quarter than it had forecasted for shareholders in its last investor presentation.

The company now anticipates gross bookings for the current quarter to land between $22.8 billion and $23.2 billion, up from an initially-promised $22 billion to $24 billion range. The company’s forecasted adjusted EBITDA, an accommodating method of calculating profit, was also raised to between -$25 million and $25 million in the quarter ending Sept. 30, and improvement from the company’s previous anticipation of a result merely “better than a loss of $100 million.”

“They say that crisis breeds opportunity and that’s certainly been true of Uber during the last 18 months,” CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

Uber is now on track to adjusted EBITDA breakeven in quarter three, CFO Nelson Chai said – an achievement that may seem odd to those unfamiliar with the economics of ride-hailing, which is characterized by perilous unprofitability.

As TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm explains for ExtraCrunch, “adjusted EBITDA” is a way of calculating profit before interest, taxes, depreciation and other costs. Consider, for example, that Uber lost $6.77 billion in 2020 (admittedly an improvement from its previous yearly loss of $8.51 billion). But under adjusted EBIDTA accounting, those numbers dropped to losses of $2.73 billion and $2.53 billion, respectively.

Uber did not provide a full picture of its financials for the third quarter in its recent 8-K filing – that will come when the company reports its performance after the conclusion of Q3. However, it looks like the company may reach positive adjusted EBITDA by the fourth quarter, meeting a long-held promise to investors.

The ride-hailing giant further noted that its fourth quarter adjusted EBITDA is projected to land between $0 and $100 million, compared to the previously anticipated, and more generic expectation of merely “adjusted EBITDA profitability.” Uber cautioned that “significant forecasting uncertainty” may cause it to provide an updated forecast.

Still, for Uber the long march to adjusted profitability appears to finally be in sight. All it took was a global pandemic, layoffs, and far-higher prices for the achievement to be managed.

#automotive, #ride-hailing, #transportation, #uber

Confluent CEO Jay Kreps is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS for a fireside chat

As companies process ever-increasing amounts of data, moving it in real time is a huge challenge for organizations. Confluent is a streaming data platform built on top of the open source Apache Kafka project that’s been designed to process massive numbers of events. To discuss this, and more, Confluent CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps will be joining us at TC Sessions: SaaS on Oct 27th for a fireside chat.

Data is a big part of the story we are telling at the SaaS event, as it has such a critical role in every business. Kreps has said in the past the data streams are at the core of every business, from sales to orders to customer experiences. As he wrote in a company blog post announcing the company’s $250 million Series E in April 2020, Confluent is working to process all of this data in real time — and that was a big reason why investors were willing to pour so much money into the company.

“The reason is simple: though new data technologies come and go, event streaming is emerging as a major new category that is on a path to be as important and foundational in the architecture of a modern digital company as databases have been,” Kreps wrote at the time.

The company’s streaming data platform takes a multi-faceted approach to streaming and builds on the open source Kafka project. While anyone can download and use Kafka, as with many open source projects, companies may lack the resources or expertise to deal with the raw open source code. Many a startup have been built on open source to help simplify whatever the project does, and Confluent and Kafka are no different.

Kreps told us in 2017 that companies using Kafka as a core technology include Netflix, Uber, Cisco and Goldman Sachs. But those companies have the resources to manage complex software like this. Mere mortal companies can pay Confluent to access a managed cloud version or they can manage it themselves and install it in the cloud infrastructure provider of choice.

The project was actually born at LinkedIn in 2011 when their engineers were tasked with building a tool to process the enormous number of events flowing through the platform. The company eventually open sourced the technology it had created and Apache Kafka was born.

Confluent launched in 2014 and raised over $450 million along the way. In its last private round in April 2020, the company scored a $4.5 billion valuation on a $250 million investment. As of today, it has a market cap of over $17 billion.

In addition to our discussion with Kreps, the conference will also include Google’s Javier Soltero, Amplitude’s Olivia Rose, as well as investors Kobie Fuller and Casey Aylward, among others. We hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a thought-provoking lineup.

Buy your pass now to save up to $100 when you book by October 1. We can’t wait to see you in October!

#apache-kafka, #casey-aylward, #cisco, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #computing, #confluent, #developer, #enterprise, #event-streaming, #free-software, #goldman-sachs, #google, #javier-soltero, #jay-kreps, #kobie-fuller, #linkedin, #microsoft, #netflix, #open-source, #saas, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021, #uber

OnLoop launches with $2M to inject some fun into performance reviews

Performance reviews eat up a lot of a manager’s time and are often the most dreaded part of work. OnLoop aims to bring some joy into the process by enabling information-gathering to happen behind the scenes and be easier for hybrid workforces.

The Singapore-based company designed a mobile-first product that consistently gathers employee feedback and goals so that the company has better insights into how both individuals and teams are doing. The feedback is also captured and converted into auto-generated reviews that lay out all of the content collected for managers to then quickly put together a finished product.

The platform was in private beta since January 2021, and after a successful run with 25 companies, OnLoop raised $2 million from Square Peg Capital and Hustle Fund and a group of angel investors including XA Network, BCG’s Aliza Knox, Uber’s Andrew Macdonald, Ready’s Allen Penn, Google’s Bambos Kaisharis, Ripple’s Brooks Entwistle, Robert Hoyt, Nordstar’s Eddie Lee, Nas Academy’s Alex Dwek and hedge fund managers John Candeto and Keshav Lall.

OnLoop co-founder and CEO Projjal Ghatak spent over three years at Uber and said he saw his fair share of productivity tools, but still struggled to develop his own team as tasks and communication were done differently by each employee.

“This is the one problem that companies consistently complain about — not having the right tool to develop teams,” he added.

As someone who began spending more and more time on his phone, Ghatak wanted his product to be mobile-native and eliminate the need for managers to start from scratch on performance reviews each time. Rather than spend days gathering the information, as the name suggests, OnLoop continuously and automatically captures the data and converts it into a well-written summary.

OnLoop app. Image Credits: OnLoop

Having that continuous loop of information is good for morale, he said. He points to data that shows regular self-reflection and feedback increased productivity by 20%, and a Gallup study where only 14% of employees thought their performance reviews inspired them to improve.

“A lot of company culture is set by the leaders, so as they want to drive this culture in their organizations, we are the tool that drives this,” Ghatak said. “Our job is to help educate the teams on how to do that well. We hear time and time again to make it fun and convenient. Teams don’t realize that if you are helping colleagues understand, showing them a light they didn’t have before, it will drive impact.”

The new funding will be mainly invested into product development and R&D, including expanding product, data and engineering teams. The company will also look at its sales and marketing framework. The company currently has 22 employees.

OnLoop was able to convert some of its early adopters into paying customers and is now focusing on figuring out a scalable way to get the product into the hands of more teams.

Piruze Sabuncu, partner at Square Peg Capital, experienced the pain of performance reviews when she was working in Stripe’s Southeast Asia and Hong Kong region. One of the challenges she faced working with regional teams was that an employee’s direct manager could be located elsewhere, yet work closely with a manager in their respective office.

Square Peg itself uses OnLoop, and Sabuncu said she liked that it is mobile-first and was designed in a way that people didn’t open it up and dread using it.

“Who your manager is, is a big question, but it shouldn’t matter,” she added. “It would still be my duty to be capturing and developing the person even if they were not my direct person. Everyone is talking about remote and hybrid work, and it is not going anywhere — it is here to stay. We believe this is a huge opportunity, a $400 billion market to disrupt, and OnLoop is providing better ways to communicate and give feedback.”

 

#apps, #enterprise, #funding, #human-resource-management, #hustle-fund, #labor, #onloop, #piruze-sabuncu, #productivity-tools, #projjal-ghatak, #recent-funding, #square-peg-capital, #startups, #tc, #uber, #workplace

The network effect is anti-competitive

A U.S. federal judge last week struck down Apple rules restricting app developers from selling directly to customers outside the App Store.

Apple’s stock fell 3% on the news, which is being regarded as a win for small and midsize app developers because they’ll be able to build direct billing relationships with their customers. But Apple is just one of many Big Tech companies that dominate their sector.

The larger issue is how this development will impact Amazon, Facebook, Grubhub and other tech giants with online marketplaces that use draconian terms of service to keep their resellers subservient. The skirmish between Apple and small and midsize app developers is just a smaller battle in a much larger war.

App makers pay up to 30% on every sale they make on the Apple App Store. Resellers on Amazon pay a monthly subscription fee, a sales commission of 8% to 15%, fulfillment fees and other miscellaneous charges. Grubhub charges restaurants 15% of every order, a credit card processing fee, an order processing fee and a 10% delivery commission.

Like app developers, online resellers and social media influencers are all falling for the same big lie: that they can build a sustainable business with healthy margins on someone else’s platform. The reality is the App Store, online marketplaces and even social networks that dominate their sectors have the unilateral power to selectively deplatform and squeeze their users, and there’s not much to be done about it.

Healthy competition exists inside the App Store and among marketplace resellers and aspiring social media influencers. But no one seems to be talking about the real elephants in the room, which are the social networks and online marketplace providers themselves. In some respects, they’ve become almost like digital dictators with complete control over their territories.

It’s something every small and midsize business that gets excited about some new online service catering to their industry should be aware of because it directly impacts their ability to grow a stable business. The federal judge’s decision suggests the real goal in digital business is a direct billing relationship with the end user.

On the internet, those who are able to lead a horse to water and make them drink — outside the walled gardens of digital marketplace operators like Uber, Airbnb and Udemy — are the true contenders. In content and e-commerce, this is what most small and midsize companies don’t realize. Your own website or owned media, at a top-level domain that you control, is the only unfettered way to sell direct to end users.

Mobile app makers on Apple’s App Store, resellers on Amazon and aspiring content creators on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok are all subject to the absolute control of digital titans who are free to govern by their own rules with unchecked power.

For access to online marketplaces and social networks, we got a raw deal. We’re basically plowing their fields like digital sharecroppers. Resellers on Amazon are forced to split their harvest with a landlord who takes a gross percentage with no caps. Amassing followers on TikTok is building an audience that’s locked inside their venue.

These tech giants — all former startups that built their audiences from scratch — are free to impose and selectively enforce oppressive rules. If you’re a small fry, they can prohibit you from asking for your customer’s email address and deplatform you for skimming, but look the other way when Spotify and The New York Times do the same thing. Both were already selling direct and through the App Store prior to Friday’s ruling.

How is that competitive? Even after the ruling, Big Tech still gets to decide who they let violate their terms of service and who they deplatform. It’s not just their audience. It’s their universe, their governance, their rules and their enforcement.

In the 1948 court case United States v. Paramount Pictures, the Supreme Court ruled that film studios couldn’t own their own theaters because that meant they could exclusively control what movies were screened. They stifled competition by controlling what films made it to the marquee, so SCOTUS broke them up.

Today, social networks control what gets seen on their platforms, and with the push of a button, they can give the hook to whoever they want, whenever they want. The big challenge that the internet poses to capitalism is that the network effect is fundamentally anti-competitive. Winner-take-all markets dominated by tech giants look more like government-controlled than free-market economies.

On the one hand, the web gives us access to a global marketplace of buyers and sellers. On the other, a few major providers control the services that most people use to do business, because they don’t have the knowledge or resources to stand up a competitive website. But unless you have your own domain and good search visibility, you’re always in danger of being deplatformed and losing access to your customers or audience members with no practical recourse.

The network effect is such that once an online marketplace becomes dominant, it neutralizes the competitive market, because everyone gravitates to the dominant service to get the best deal. There’s an inherent conflict between the goals of a winner-takes-all tech company and the goals of a free market.

Dominant online marketplaces are only competitive for users. Meanwhile, marketplace providers operate with impunity. If they decide they want to use half-baked AI or offshore contractors to police their terms of service and shore up false positives, there’s no practical way for users to contest. How can Facebook possibly govern nearly 3 billion users judiciously with around 60,000 employees? As we’ve seen, it can’t.

For app makers, online resellers and creators, the only smart option is open source on the open web. Instead of relying on someone else’s audience (or software for that matter), you own your online destination powered by software like WordPress or Discord, and you never have to worry about getting squeezed when the founders go public or their platform gets bought by profit-hungry investment bankers. Only then can you protect your profit margins. And only then are the terms of service the laws of the land.

Politics aside, as former President Donald Trump’s deplatforming demonstrated, if you get kicked off Facebook and Twitter, there’s really nowhere else to go. If they want you out, it’s game over. It’s no coincidence Trump lost his Facebook and Twitter accounts on the same day the Republicans lost the Senate. If the GOP takes back the Senate, watch Trump get his social media accounts back. Social networks ward off regulators by appeasing the legislative majority.

So don’t get too excited about the new Amazon Influencer Program. If you want to build a sustainable digital business, you need an owned media presence powered by software that doesn’t rake commissions, have access to your customer contact information and has an audience that can’t be commandeered with an algorithm tweak.

#airbnb, #amazon, #apple, #apple-app-store, #apple-inc, #column, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #facebook, #online-marketplace, #opinion, #social, #social-media, #social-networks, #tc, #tiktok, #uber

Dutch court finds Uber drivers are employees

Uber has lost another legal challenge in Europe over the employment status of drivers: The Court of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, has ruled that drivers for Uber are employed, rather than self employed contractors.

The court also found drivers are covered by an existing collective labor agreement in the country — which pertains to taxi drivers — meaning Uber faces increased costs to comply with the agreement which sets pay requirements and covers benefits like sick pay. (And it may be liable for paying driver back pay in some cases.)

The court also ordered Uber to pay €50,000 in costs.

The ride hailing giant has some 4,000 drivers working on its platform in the Dutch capital.

The Amsterdam court rejected Uber’s customary defence that it’s just a technology platform that connects passengers with taxi service providers — finding instead that drivers are only self employed ‘on paper’.

The judges highlighted the nature of the service being provided by drivers and the fact Uber exerts controls over how they can work and earn through its app and algorithms.

Europe’s top court already ruled back in 2017 that Uber is a transport provider and must comply with local transport laws — so you’d be forgiven for deja vu.

The Dutch lawsuit was filed by the national trade union center, FNV, last year — with the hearing kicking off at the end of June.

In a statement today, the FNV’s VP, Zakaria Boufangacha, said: “This statement shows what we have been saying for years: Uber is an employer and the drivers are employees, so Uber must adhere to the collective labor agreement for Taxi Transport. It is also a signal to The Hague that these types of constructions are illegal and that the law must therefore be enforced.”

Uber has been contacted for a response to the ruling.

At the time of writing the company had not responded — but, per Reuters, Uber said it intends to appeal and “has no plans to employ drivers in the Netherlands”.

In the UK, Uber lost a string of tribunal rulings over its employment classification over a number of years — going on to lose in front of the UK supreme court this February.

Following that Uber said it would treat drivers in the UK as workers, although disputes remain (such as over its definition of working time). In May, Uber also said it would recognize a UK trade union for the first time.

Elsewhere in Europe, however, the company continues to fight employment lawsuits — and to lobby European Union lawmakers to deregulate platform work…

The EU has said it wants to find a way to improve platform work. However it’s not yet clear what any pan-EU ‘reform’ may look like. 

The Commission has been contacted with questions on its platform work initiative.

“Digital labour platforms are clearly worried, evident through investing heavily on their lobbying power and throwing more resources on the EU level. These companies — including Uber of course — have also recently come together to create a new funding lobby group that specifically targeting to influence policies on platform work,” said Jill Toh, a PhD researcher in data rights at the University of Amsterdam, talking to TechCrunch after the Amsterdam ruling.

“We saw how Uber wielded and amended laws in their Prop 22 campaign in California, and together with other companies in Europe, they’re attempting to do so again. It’s disheartening to see that the Commission in its two consultations on platform worker regulation has only been talking to tech companies and has held no meetings with trade unions or other platform work representatives.”

“All of this is incredibly problematic and concerning especially if the EC consultations result in a directive on platform work. Overall, the wins in the courts are important for workers, but there remains the issue of corporate power and influence in Brussels, as well as the lack of public enforcement to these court decisions,” she added.

#amsterdam, #ec, #europe, #european-union, #gig-economy, #labor, #netherlands, #platform-worker-rights, #tc, #transportation, #uber

The legal world needs to shed its ‘unicorniphobia’

Once upon a time, a successful startup that reached a certain maturity would “go public” — selling securities to ordinary investors, perhaps listing on a national stock exchange and taking on the privileges and obligations of a “public company” under federal securities regulations.

Times have changed. Successful startups today are now able to grow quite large without public capital markets. Not so long ago, a private company valued at more than $1 billion was rare enough to warrant the nickname “unicorn.” Now, over 800 companies qualify.

Legal scholars are worried. A recent wave of academic papers makes the case that because unicorns are not constrained by the institutional and regulatory forces that keep public companies in line, they are especially prone to risky and illegal activities that harm investors, employees, consumers and society at large.

The proposed solution, naturally, is to bring these forces to bear on unicorns. Specifically, scholars are proposing mandatory IPOs, significantly expanded disclosure obligations, regulatory changes designed to dramatically increase secondary-market trading of unicorn shares, expanded whistleblower protections for unicorn employees and stepped-up Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement against large private companies.

This position has also been gaining traction outside the ivory tower. One leader of this intellectual movement was recently appointed director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance. Big changes may be coming soon.

In a new paper titled “Unicorniphobia” (forthcoming in the Harvard Business Law Review), I challenge this suddenly dominant view that unicorns are especially dangerous and should be “tamed” with bold new securities regulations. I raise three main objections.

First, pushing unicorns toward public company status may not help and may actually make problems worse. According to the vast academic literature on “market myopia” or “stock-market short-termism,” it is public company managers who have especially dangerous incentives to take on excessive leverage and risk; to underinvest in compliance; to sacrifice product quality and safety; to slash R&D and other forms of corporate investment; to degrade the environment; and to engage in accounting fraud and other corporate misconduct, among many other things.

The dangerous incentives that produce this parade of horrible outcomes allegedly flow from a constellation of market, institutional, cultural and regulatory features that operate distinctly on public companies, not unicorns, including executive compensation linked to short-term stock performance, pressure to meet quarterly earnings projections (aka “quarterly capitalism”) and the persistent threat (and occasional reality) of a hedge fund activist attack. To the extent this literature is correct, the proposed unicorn reforms would merely amount to forcing companies to shed one set of purportedly dangerous incentives for another.

Second, proponents of new unicorn regulations rely on rhetorical sleight of hand. To show that unicorns pose unique dangers, these advocates rely heavily on anecdotes and case studies of well-known “bad” unicorns, especially the cases of Uber and Theranos, in their papers. Yet the authors make few or no attempts to show how their proposed reforms would have mitigated any significant harm caused by either of these companies — a highly questionable proposition, as I show in great detail in my paper.

Take Theranos, whose founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes is currently facing trial on charges of criminal fraud and, if convicted, faces a possible sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. Would any of the proposed securities regulation reforms have plausibly made a positive difference in this case? Allegations that Holmes and others lied extensively to the media, doctors, patients, regulators, investors, business partners and even their own board of directors make it hard to believe they would have been any more truthful had they been forced to make some additional securities disclosures.

As to the proposal to enhance trading of unicorn shares in order to incentivize short sellers and market analysts to sniff out potential frauds, the fact is that these market players already had the ability and incentive to make these plays against Theranos indirectly by taking a short position in its public company partners like Walgreens, or a long position in its public company competitors, like LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics. They failed to do so. Proposals to expand whistleblower protections and SEC enforcement in this domain seem equally unlikely to have made any difference.

Finally, the proposed reforms risk doing more harm than good. Successful unicorns today benefit not only their investors and managers, but also their employees, consumers and society at large. And they do so precisely because of the features of current regulations that are now up on the regulatory chopping block. Altering this regime as these papers propose would put these benefits in jeopardy and thus may do more harm than good.

Consider one company that recently generated an enormous social benefit: Moderna. Before going public in December 2018, Moderna was a secretive, controversial, overhyped biotech unicorn without a single product on the market (or even in Phase 3 clinical trials), barely any scientific peer-reviewed publications, a history of turnover among high-level scientific personnel, a CEO with a penchant for over-the-top claims about the company’s potential and a toxic work culture.

Had these proposed new securities regulations been in place during Moderna’s “corporate adolescence,” it’s quite plausible that they would have significantly disrupted the company’s development. In fact, Moderna might not have been in a position to develop its highly effective COVID-19 vaccine as rapidly as it did. Our response to the coronavirus pandemic has benefited, in part, from our current approach to securities regulation of unicorns.

The lessons from Moderna also bear on efforts to use securities regulation to combat climate change. According to a recent report, 43 unicorns are operating in “climate tech,” developing products and services designed to mitigate or adapt to global climate change. These companies are risky. Their technologies may fail; most probably will. Some are challenging entrenched incumbents that have powerful incentives to do whatever is necessary to resist the competitive threat. Some may be trying to change well-established consumer preferences and behaviors. And they all face an uncertain regulatory environment, varying widely across and within jurisdictions.

Like other unicorns, they may have highly empowered founder CEOs who are demanding, irresponsible or messianic. They may also have core investors who do not fully understand the science underlying their products, are denied access to basic information and who press the firm to take risks to achieve astronomical results.

And yet, one or more of these companies may represent an important resource for our society in dealing with disruptions from climate change. As policymakers and scholars work out how securities regulation can be used to address climate change, they should not overlook the potentially important role unicorn regulation can play.

#climate-change, #column, #government, #opinion, #policy, #secondary-markets, #theranos, #uber, #unicorns, #venture-capital, #venture-law

Plentywaka founder Onyeka Akumah on African startups and global expansion

Plentywaka wants to change the way Africans move. It’s starting with one of the busiest cities on the continent.

The startup, a ride-share and bus-booking platform, is based in Lagos, the Nigerian city where 20 million people and 45% of the country’s skilled workforce live. The public transportation system strains under the weight of 14 million commuters who use it daily.

Relying on the public bus can be more than unpredictable — it also can be dangerous, according to Onyeka Akumah, co-founder and CEO of Plentywaka. The buses are often old, in disrepair and packed beyond safe limits; traffic congestion turns what should be a 30-minute commute into a three-hour journey.

Plentywaka, a combination of English and Nigerian that means “plenty movement,” was founded in 2019. While it’s still young, the startup has big plans to ameliorate the public transport infrastructure in Africa and beyond.

Plentywaka has two models. “Daily Waka” offers riders in a city fixed daily routes from bus stop to bus stop. Riders can view the schedule of buses, how many seats are available and reserve seats via the app, which tracks the movements of SUVs, minivans, vans and buses driven by gig workers, also known as “heroes.” When the bus arrives, riders can check in with a QR code, and when they hop off, the app automatically charges the rider via a wallet system.

“Travel Waka” is a newer model that offers interstate travel. It basically serves as a booking engine for other bus companies that offer city-to-city services.

In March this year, Plentywaka was accepted into the Techstars Toronto accelerator program, securing funding as it looks toward global expansion across Africa and into Canada. Just this month, the company also announced expansion plans into Ghana via an acquisition of Star Bus.

Akumah talks us through what the TechStars funding means to Plentywaka, the startup landscape in Africa and tips for African startups looking for investors.

The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.

Before founding Plentywaka, you were the CEO of Farmcrowdy, another startup that connected investors to farmers via a digital platform. What was the impetus for starting a second business? Are you a serial entrepreneur, or do you plan on sticking with this one?

I was the CEO of Farmcrowdy until the end of May this year, but I’ve handed it over to my other co-founder who is now the CEO, so I’m fully focused on Plentywaka now. We started Plentywaka in January 2019. I was flying back from Qatar, where I spoke at an event, and landed in Lagos around 8:15 a.m. that day. I had to be at a meeting by 10 a.m., and going through traffic in Lagos is a pain. The state has 20 million people and everybody’s rushing to work, so I had to abandon my car and take two bikes to make that meeting. When that was done, to make another meeting, I had to take a boat ride across the lagoon. I tweeted about it saying, “Today, I have flown, I have used two bikes and now I’m on a boat ride. This is the life of an entrepreneur in Lagos.”

What I wasn’t prepared for was the shock my colleagues gave me when they said we should experiment with taking the bus. I hadn’t taken the bus in about 15 years, and I took that trip and had a panic attack. I never knew how frightened I would be getting on a 30-year-old bus with torn-out parts and worn-out chairs. I literally had to hold one of the doors throughout the trip from falling off. That was the day the concept of Plentywaka started.

#africa, #ec-mobility-software, #lagos, #nigeria, #onyeka-akumah, #plentywaka, #tc, #transportation, #uber

The Station: Lyft, Uber take action in Texas, Van Moof charges up with capital, an eVTOL SPAC deal gets knocked

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello readers: Welcome to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B.

Before you jump into the transportation news of the week, a bit of TechCrunch company news!

Private equity firm Apollo Global Management completed its acquisition of Yahoo (formerly known as Verizon Media Group, itself formerly known as Oath) from Verizon. The deal is worth $5 billion, with $4.25 billion in cash, plus preferred interests of $750 million. Verizon will be retaining 10% of the newly rebranded company. The group, aside from Yahoo properties like Mail, Sports and Finance, includes TechCrunch, AOL, Engadget and interactive media brand, RYOT. All told, the umbrella brand encompasses around 900 million monthly active users globally and is currently the third-largest internet property, per Apollo’s figures.

Looking ahead: be on the lookout for automotive and tech news coming out of IAA Mobility in Munich this week. A bit of news that broke Sunday included Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and autonomous vehicle technology company Argo AI unveiling the first version of the ID Buzz AD. Mercedes also had a busy day in the world of EVs.

As always, you can email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

You might have noticed that the micromobbin’ section wasn’t featured in last week’s newsletter. Well, Rebecca Bellan is making up for that with an extra long write up this week. Take it away Rebecca.

Since Auckland, New Zealand is back in a massive lockdown, the highlight of my week has been getting to write about and, and thus relive, my test of the electric utility bike built by Kiwi company Ubco. If any other electric micro-vehicle companies want to send me a tester and brighten my day, I’m always open.

Tl;dr: the Ubco bike looks like a dirt bike and rides like a moped and absolutely shreds. Pros: Smooth ride, good battery life and can carry a lot of weight and accessories. Cons: A bit on the pricey side, regenerative brakes think they know what’s best for me when I’m speeding downhill and a touchy keyfob.

Last-mile deliveries

If you’re one of those smart lazy people who orders meal kits through the likes of HelloFresh or Blue Apron, you’ve probably interacted with AxleHire without knowing it. That’s about to change.

The last-mile logistics provider announced this week that it would be expanding two pilot programs to bring cool tech to the delivery scene. Over the past year or so, the company’s been partnering with URB-E and using its network of collapsible containers strapped onto e-bikes to make deliveries in NYC, as well as Tortoise’s remotely controlled adorable delivery bots in LA. Now, those programs, which helped AxleHire reduce emissions and beat traffic, are going national.

An Indian empire arises

Ola Electric, the electric scooter manufacturing arm of ride-hailing giant Ola, is in talks to raise between $250 million to $500 million in new financing as it looks to scale its business in the South Asian market.

Falcon Edge Capital, which is potentially leading the round, values the company between $2.75 billion and $3.5 billion, which is up $1 billion from its previous 2019 raise. Side note: Ola, the initial parent firm of Ola Electric, is currently looking to file for an initial public offering.

Big box bike sales

Best Buy has a fresh lineup of electric vehicles that are available online now and coming to select stores in October, including many we’ve written about here, like the Unagi scooter and the new Bird bike. Other top names include Segway-Ninebot, SUPER73 and SWFT.

Speaking of new swag, VAAST Bikes has just revealed the E/1, the latest in the company’s sustainable bike range. The urban e-bike boasts a top notch suspension system that separates pedaling from suspension movement for a more comfortable ride, no matter how much cargo you’re packing. A step-through frame provides a low center of gravity, making it an easy enough bike to mount for riders of all ages and shapes and sizes. The E/1 will be available to purchase in the U.S., U.K. and European markets starting October, and it costs anywhere from $7,499 to $9,999.

Foldable e-bike maker Fiido has raised over $1 million on Indiegogo to fund the production and delivery of its new Fiido X. It’s got a sweet-looking minimalist design with a light and sturdy body, as well as improved pedal-assist and cycling control. Fiido says this bike is the world’s first folding e-bike with a built-in seat pole that transmits battery power. It’s got a 417.6Wh ternary lithium battery, which means when it’s in “moped mode” the range is over 130 kilometers, or around 81 miles. Not bad at all. Price is anywhere from $1,098 to $1,601 at the moment.

Swedish electric motorbike manufacturer Cake also recently released a new super lightweight e-moped that’s built for city utility riding, but can probably handle some off-road fun. The Makka weighs about 132 pounds and comes in two forms: The Makka Range, at $3,500, which is available only in Europe, has a lower maximum speed of 15 miles per hour and a range of up to 35 miles. The Makka Flex, which is available in Europe and the U.S., costs $3,800 and can hit top speeds of 28 miles per hour. The range of this vehicle is slightly less, at 30 miles.

National Drive Electric Week (sans cars)

This is the first National Drive Electric Week that has nothing to do with cars! Fabulous. At this free, two-part expert webinar, a range of experts will talk about how to get moving on two e-wheels and discuss whether or not cars are overrated (they are). Find out how policymakers and advocates are thinking about how we can get electric micromobility and public transit to dominate the roads, rather than cars, even electric ones. The event takes place Saturday, September 25 from 11am to 1pm PST on Zoom. You can register here.

Van Moof’s big raise

VanMoof, the Amsterdam-based startup, raised a $128 million Series C funding round, fund it plans to use in its bid to become the world’s leading e-bike brand. It’s tactic, scale faster than the rest.

Asia-based private equity firm Hillhouse Investment led the round, with Gillian Tans, the former CEO of Booking.com, also participating. Some existing investors also put some more money on the table, such as Norwest Venture Partners, Felix Capital, Balderton Capital and TriplePoint Capital.

The Series C represents a big jump compared to the company’s Series B. Last year, VanMoof raised a $40 million Series B. The startup has raised $182 million in total.

— Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

This week, I want to focus on one deal that appears to be at risk.

Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., an influential shareholder adviser, issued a report this week recommending that investors in Ken Moelis’s Atlas Crest Investment Corp. should vote against a merger with Archer Aviation. The adviser said it would be better for investors if they redeemed their holdings in the blank-check company for cash.

If investors take that advice, it could derail the proposed merger between Atlas Crest and Archer, a startup that is developing vertical take-off and landing electric aircraft. ISS argues that Archer’s legal battle with Wisk Aero puts the company at risk. The firm also points to the falling valuation of the combined company.

As Bloomberg noted this week, ISS has targeted other SPAC deals involving eVTOL companies. ISS opposed the merger between Reinvent Technology Partners and Joby Aviation. Shareholders ignored ISS and vote to approve the merger. ISS also advised against investing in Qell Acquisition Corp.’s merger with Lililum GmbH. That deal is still pending.

While ISS seems to have a general distaste for eVTOL SPACs, the Archer deal is particularly sticky due to its current legal wrangling with Wisk Aero. For those who haven’t been following: Wisk Aero, the air mobility company born out of a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, filed a lawsuit in April against Archer Aviation alleging patent infringement and trade secret misappropriation.

Archer didn’t scuttle into a corner. The company countersued in a lawsuit seeking $1 billion in damages from Wisk Aero.

Investors won’t be able to take the wait-and-see approach. The vote to approve the SPAC merger will be held long before this legal fight is resolved.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Carsome Group, the Malaysian-based online marketplace for buying and selling used cars, raised $170 million from investors, including from semiconductor maker MediaTek, investment company Catcha Group and Malaysian government fund Penjana Kapital, Forbes reported. The company’s post-funding valuation is $1.3 billion.

Cox Automotive acquired Oklahoma City-based Spiers New Technologies (SNT), a business that provides repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing and repurposing services for EV battery packs. The two companies did not disclose the terms of the deal.

Foretellix, a company that has developed a platform to verify and validate automated driving systems, raised $32 million in a Series B funding round led by MoreTech Ventures, with participation from several strategic investors, including Volvo Group, Nationwide, NI and Japan-Israel Ventures. Previous investors 83North Ventures, Jump Capital, OurCrowd and NextGear also participated. The company, founded in 2018, has raised more than $50 million to date.

Gatik AI, an autonomous vehicle startup focused on middle-mile logistics, announced it’s expanding into Texas — its fourth market — with a fresh bundle of capital. Gatik said it has raised $85 million in a Series B round led by new investor Koch Disruptive Technologies, the venture arm of Koch Industries. Existing investors Innovation Endeavours, Wittington Ventures, FM Capital, Dynamo Ventures, Trucks VC, Intact Ventures and others also participated. Gatik has raised $114.5 million to date.

HAAS Alert, a SaaS company that provides real-time automotive collision prevention for public safety and roadway fleets, raised $5 million in a seed funding round led by R^2 and Blu Ventures and joined by TechNexus, Stacked Capital, Urban Us, Techstars, Ride Ventures and Gramercy Fund. The company says it will use the funds to scale sales and outreach efforts and prioritize R&D with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technology partnerships.

Ideanomics, a fintech and electric mobility firm based in New York, acquired commercial electric vehicle manufacturer Via Motors in an all-stock deal valued at $450 million.

Iconiq Motors, a Chinese electric vehicle firm, is considering going public in the U.S. through a merger with a blank-check company, Bloomberg reported. The startup is working with an adviser on a potential deal that could value the combined company at about $4 billion, according to one source cited by the media outlet.

Kevala, the startup that collects and analyzes energy grid infrastructure data for utility companies, renewable energy providers, EV charging companies, regulators and other energy industry stakeholders, raised $21 million in a Series A round. The company says it will use the funds to grow its team from 60 employees to around 100 by the end of 2021 and increase the deployment of its grid analytics tools.

Sunday, an insurtech startup based in Bangkok, raised a $45 million in a Series B round that included investment from Tencent, SCB 10X, Vertex Growth, Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia & India, Quona Capital, Aflac Ventures and Z Venture Capital. The company says the round was oversubscribed, and that it doubled its revenue growth in 2020.

Yandex, the Russian internet giant that also operates a ride-haling company, acquired Uber’s stake in its Self-Driving Group (SDG), as well as Uber’s indirect interest in Yandex.Eats, Yandex.Lavka and Yandex.Delivery. The total cost of the deal came to $1 billion, giving the Russian company 100% ownership over all four businesses.

Zeekr, the electric vehicle brand by Geely, raised $500 million in its first external funding from a list of investors, including Intel Capital, battery maker CATL and online entertainment firm Bilibili. The round puts Zeekr’s valuation at aboout $9 billion, Reuters reported.

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Welcome back to policy corner! Let’s talk safety. ​​Traffic deaths spiked in the first quarter of this year, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. The agency estimated that there was a 10 percent increase in fatalities from previous projections, finding that 8,730 people died in motor traffic accidents, up from the 7,900 projected. Oddly, deaths spiked even though there was an overall decrease in the number of people on the road.

“We must address the tragic loss of life we saw on the roads in 2020 by taking a transformational and collaborative approach to safety,” NHTSA’s acting administrator, Steven Cliff, said in a statement. “Everyone — including those who design, operate, build and use the road system — shares responsibility for road safety.”

NHTSA is arguably starting to come up against some of the greatest challenges in the agency’s history, as technological development has brought about a greater degree of driving autonomy and driver assistance systems.

The forthcoming investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot could be a watershed moment for ADAS safety standards. If you aren’t caught up: NHTSA opened an investigation into 11 instances of a Tesla crashing into a parked emergency vehicle, and just added another crash to its investigation earlier this week. In an 11-page letter to the electric vehicle maker, NHTSA gave the company until October 22 to provide extensive data on any hardware and software related to Tesla’s Level 2 capabilities (including Autopilot).

The probe comes as more and more groups — including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, as well as the National Traffic Safety Board — call on NHTSA to exercise greater authority over regulating ADAS systems. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this investigation as it unfolds in the coming months.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Notable news and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Motional revealed the first images of its planned robotaxi, a Hyundai all-electric Ioniq 5 SUV that will be the centerpiece of a driverless ride-hailing service the company wants customers to be able to access starting in 2023 through the Lyft app.

The purpose-built vehicle, which will be assembled by Hyundai, is integrated with Motional’s autonomous vehicle technology, including a suite of more than 30 sensors including lidar, radar and cameras that can be seen throughout the interior and exterior. That sensing system provides 360 degrees of vision, and the ability to see up to 300 meters away, according to Motional.

Electric vehicles

ElectraMeccanica Vehicles Corp. unveiled a “cargo” version of its flagship three-wheeled, single-occupant, all-electric SOLO at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in California.

Power Global, a two-year-old startup, wants to disrupt the auto rickshaw market by offering a retrofit kit for diesel-powered vehicles and swappable battery pack to transition the more common lead-acid batteries to lithium-ion.

Rivian announced that the first edition version of its all-electric R1T pickup truck has an official EPA range of 314 miles, while its R1T SUV comes in a skosh higher at 316 miles.

Siemens said it will expand its U.S. manufacturing operations to support electric vehicle infrastructure. Specifically, the company plans to open a third facility to its VersiCharge Level 2 AC series product line of commercial and residential EV chargers. The additional facility, which is expected to come online in early 2022, will allow Siemens to manufacture more than 1 million electric vehicle chargers for the United States over the next four years.

TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher digs into YASA, the British electric motor startup that Mercedes-Benz acquired back in July The company, founded in 2009 after spinning out of Oxford University, developed an ‘axial-flux’ motor. YASA will now develop ultra-high-performance electric motors for Mercedes-Benz’s AMG.EA electric-only platform.

Wallbox, an electric vehicle charging company, has selected Arlington, Texas as the location of its first U.S. manufacturing facility. Production at the 130,000-square-foot plant is expected to start as early as June 2022. Production lines for its AC chargers lines, DC bidirectional charger, and DC fast charger for public use, are anticipated to follow in the first half of 2023. Wallbox said it expects to manufacture a total of 290,000 units annually in this facility by 2027 and reach its full capacity of 500,000 units by 2030.

Gig economy

DoorDash workers in California protested outside of the home of DoorDash CEO Tony Xu in response to a recent California superior court judge ruling calling 2020’s Proposition 22 unconstitutional. Prop 22, which was passed last November in California, would allow app-based companies like DoorDash, Uber and Lyft to continue classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

The group of about 50 DoorDash workers who are affiliated with advocacy groups We Drive Progress and Gig Workers Rising  demanded that DoorDash provide transparency for tips and 120% of minimum wage or around $17 per hour, stop unfair deactivations and provide free personal protective equipment, as well as adequate pay for car and equipment sanitizing.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey gave a coalition of app-based service providers that includes Uber and Lyft the go-ahead to start collecting signatures needed to put a proposed ballot measure before voters that would define drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. Backers of the initiative, which is essentially a MA version of Proposition 22, would need to gather tens of thousands of signatures for the measure to make it to the November 2022 ballot.

Uber and Lyft separately announced plans to cover the legal fees of drivers using their ride-hailing apps who are sued under Texas’s new abortion law.

The new law bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is typically around six weeks, and gives any individual the right to sue anyone who aids or abets an abortion. That means ride-hailing app drivers, who might transport a woman to a clinic, can be sued.

Uber CEO Dara Khoswarshari and Lyft CEO Logan Green both took to Twitter express their opposition to the new law and announce their support to drivers.

“TX SB8 threatens to punish drivers for getting people where they need to go– especially women exercising their right to choose,” Green wrote on Twitter. “@Lyft has created a Driver Legal Defense Fund to cover 100% of legal fees for drivers sued under SB8 while driving on our platform.

Khosrowshahi retweeted Green’s tweet and made the same commitment. “Right on @logangreen – drivers shouldn’t be put at risk for getting people where they want to go. Team @Uber is in too and will cover legal fees in the same way. Thanks for the push.”

Green and Khosrowshahi are among the few CEOs (a list that includes Austin-based Bumble and Dallas-based Match Group) with operations in Texas that have come out in strong opposition to law.

In-car tech

GM announced it will idle nearly all its assembly plants in North America due to the ongoing semiconductor chip shortage. The automaker is making a few strategic exceptions. Production of its profitable full-size SUVs will continue this week at its Arlington Assembly plant in Texas. The Flint Assembly facility, where it makes heavy-duty GMC and Chevy pickup trucks and Bowling Green Assembly in Kentucky, where it makes the Corvette, will also continue.

Misc. stuff

BMW Group has committed to a 50% reduction from 2019 levels in global carbon dioxide emissions during the use-phase of its vehicles by 2030, as well as a 40% reduction in emissions during the life cycle of the vehicle. These goals, including a plan to focus on the principles of a circular economy to achieve a more sustainable vehicle life cycle, will manifest in the company’s Neue Klasse platform, which should be available by 2025.

Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and husband, Chasten, announced they are parents to twins.

Buttigieg tweeted: “Chasten and I are beyond thankful for all the kind wishes since first sharing the news that we’re becoming parents. We are delighted to welcome Penelope Rose and Joseph August Buttigieg to our family.”

Nikola Corp. reached a new agreement with Bosch for its hydrogen fuel cell modules. The modules will be used to power two of Nikola’s hydrogen-fueled semi-trucks, the short-haul Nikola Tre and Nikola Two sleeper. Bosch invested at least $100 million in the hydrogen truck startup in 2019 but reduced its shares in the company the following year. Bosch also said last year it would supply fuel cells for Nikola’s European operations.

#automotive, #bmw-group, #dara-khoswarshari, #ebikes, #electric-vehicles, #gm, #lyft, #mercedes-benz, #nikola-corp, #pete-buttigieg, #ride-hailing, #rivian, #the-station, #transportation, #uber, #volkswagen, #vw-group, #yandex

Massachussetts AG greenlights Uber, Lyft-backed gig worker ballot initiative

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey gave a coalition of app-based service providers like Uber and Lyft the go-ahead to start collecting signatures needed to put a proposed ballot measure before voters that would define drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Backers of the initiative, which is essentially a MA version of Proposition 22, would need to gather tens of thousands of signatures for the measure to make it to the November 2022 ballot. Despite the fact that last year Healey filed a lawsuit that challenged Uber and Lyft’s classifications of drivers as contractors who are therefore not entitled to benefits like sick leave, overtime or minimum wage, on Wednesday, the AG certified the current measure met constitutional requirements.

The news comes nearly two weeks after a superior court judged ruled California’s Prop 22, which was passed in 2020, unconstitutional. The union-backed Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights urged Healey to reject the measure under the same grounds, and told Reuters that it is considering suing to challenge the measure.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work, the coalition of members including Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart, filed the petition for this ballot initiative last month, a move that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he thinks is “the right move.” The proposed initiative would also allow drivers to earn a minimum of $18 per hour in 2023 before tips and provide those who work for at least 15 hours per week with healthcare stipends. Drivers would also be guaranteed at least 26 cents per mile to cover vehicle upkeep and gas.

The coalition has until December 1 to collect and file 80,239 signatures from voters. If they miss that deadline, they can gather an additional 13,374 signatures by July 6, 2022 to get the initiative on the ballot.

#doordash, #gig-workers, #independent-contractors, #instacart, #lawsuit, #lyft, #massachusetts-attorney-general-maura-healey, #massachussetts, #prop-22, #transportation, #uber

Yandex buys out Uber’s stake in Yandex Self-Driving Group, Eats, Lavka and Delivery for $1B

Russian internet and ride-hail giant Yandex has acquired Uber’s stake in its Self-Driving Group (SDG), as well as Uber’s indirect interest in Yandex.Eats, Yandex.Lavka and Yandex.Delivery. The total cost of the deal came to $1 billion, giving the Russian company 100% ownership over all four businesses.

Yandex SDG is an autonomous technology spinout from MLU B.V., the ride-hailing and food delivery joint venture Yandex formed with Uber in 2018 by merging Yandex.Taxi and Uber’s Russian operations. At the time, Uber had a 36.6% stake in the new company. Last year, when SDG was spun out into a separate business, Uber was left with an 18.2% stake in the company, which has just been bought out by Yandex. Yandex also purchased Uber’s 33.5% collective interest in Yandex’s food delivery service, last-mile logistics service and 15-minute convenience store delivery service.

Back in 2019, Yandex and Uber were reportedly considering an IPO for their JV, which Morgan Stanley estimated to be valued at around $7.7 billion. Yandex says autonomous driving technology is “highly synergistic to the Yandex ecosystem, which includes ride-hailing, e-commerce and food-tech businesses.” It makes sense that the company would want to control all of that potential growth. Uber, which reported a Q2 loss of $509 million before EBITDA this year, might be looking to make a lucrative exit and refocus its priorities closer to home. 

“This acquisition will enable Yandex to further increase its capacity for strategic management and flexibility when it comes to self-driving technology,” a Yandex spokesperson told TechCrunch. “It will unlock further growth potential for both Yandex and Yandex SDG, creating new sources of value for shareholders.”

The acquisitions are part of a larger restructuring of the MLU B.V. and Yandex SDG joint ventures, according to Uber’s SEC filing on Monday. They will happen in two stages. Stage 1, which is expected to close by the end of Q3 this year, will give Yandex a 4.5% interest in the newly restructured MLU, which will focus on mobility businesses like ride-hailing and car-sharing. This gives Yandex a total of 71% ownership in the JV, 2.8% of which is reserved for an employee equity incentive program. Uber’s total 18.2% stake in SDG is also expected to be sold during the first stage.

Stage 2, which is expected to close by the end of this year, includes the demerger of Yandex.Eats, Yandex.Lavka and Yandex.Delivery from MLU and subsequent acquisition of Uber’s interest in these businesses.

Yandex will also receive a two-year American call option to acquire the rest of Uber’s interest in MLU at a more or less fixed price of $1.8 billion, depending on agreed increases over the option period. This number will increase to $2 billion if exercised in 2023. The Russian company will also continue to use the Uber brand exclusively in Russia and other countries until August 2030.

Yandex will also get an extension of the current license for the exclusive right to use the Uber brand in Russia and certain other countries until August 2030, assuming the exercise of the option. Yandex’s stock was up 5.16% on Tuesday at market close.

#autonomous-driving, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #yandex

Prive has raised $1.7 million to build a more configurable e-commerce subscription platform

Prive, a months-old, San Francisco-based startup founded by two former Uber product managers, just raised $1.7 million in pre-seed funding to create what it describes as a far more customizable e-commerce subscriptions platform for D2C brands.

The round was co-led by Patrick Chung and Brandon Farwell at XFund and Ben Ling from Bling Capital, with participation from Defy Partners, Halogen Ventures, and Uber executives.

Founded by Claudia Laurie and Alex Craciun — who both spent two-and-a-half years at Uber and decided, based on their learnings about pricing and incentives, to leave the company earlier this year —  Prive aims to better enable small retailers to compete with behemoths like Amazon.

The broad idea is that by plugging into existing APIs from Shopify and other e-commerce platforms, Prive can form an opinion that it sells to merchants about what customers tend to buy on a recurrent basis. Maybe it sees that people who buy razors also tend to buy toothbrushes on a similar cadence, for example. It passes that information along, then helps the brand create more customized, and flexible, offerings so that their shoppers are presented with items they might, as well as can more easily cancel items

“The market opportunity is huge, and the existing [e-commerce subscription] tools are just scratching the surface,” notes Laurie. Indeed, according to the group eMarketer,  subscription e-commerce sales have grown 41% from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and it foresees that 3% of US retail e-commerce sales will come from subscriptions this year, totaling $27.67 billion. That’s up from $10 billion in just two years’ time.

Of course, a lot has yet to be built, which is where the pre-seed funding comes in. Right now, Prive is a seven-person team with some serious competition, namely from Recharge, a seven-year-old, Santa Monica, Calif.-based subscription e-commerce company that in May raised $277 million in growth capital at a post-money valuation of $2.1 billion. As of that announcement, Recharge had roughly 330 employees and was fueling the subscription service for what it said was 15,000 merchants and 20 million subscribers worldwide.

Other rivals include nine-year-old, Bold Commerce (it has raised $44 million altogether), and 10-year-old, Chargebee, which has raised around $220 million over the years, according to Crunchbase data.

“E-commerce ‘subscription’ is an incredibly hot buzzword,” acknowledges Craciun, but he also thinks the today’s current product offerings are just scratching the service.

Clearly, investors are willing to gamble that he’s right — and that Prive could be the team to prove it.

“Current tools can create more headaches than they actually solve,” says Craciun. “There is a lot of rigidity in today’s subscriptions that makes it very difficult to identify the right recurring mix of offerings. We’re here to break down that mental model.”

#bling-capital, #ecommerce, #saas, #subscriptions, #tc, #uber, #xfund

CryptoPunks blasts past $1 billion in lifetime sales as NFT speculation surges

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review! Last week we dove into Bezos’s Blue Origin suing NASA. This week, I’m writing about the unlikely and triumphant resurgence of the NFT market.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The big thing

If I could, I would probably write about NFTs in this newsletter every week. I generally stop myself from actually doing so because I try my best to make this newsletter a snapshot of what’s important to the entire consumer tech sector, not just my niche interests. That said, I’m giving myself free rein this week.

The NFT market is just so hilariously bizarre and the culture surrounding the NFT world is so web-native, I can’t read about it enough. But in the past several days, the market for digital art on the blockchain has completely defied reason.

Back in April, I wrote about a platform called CryptoPunks that — at that point — had banked more than $200 million in lifetime sales since 2017. The little pop art pixel portraits have taken on a life of their own since then. It was pretty much unthinkable back then but in the past 24 hours alone, the platform did $141 million in sales, a new record. By the time you read this, the NFT platform will have likely passed a mind-boggling $1.1 billion in transaction volume according to crypto tracker CryptoSlam. With 10,000 of these digital characters, to buy a single one will cost you at least $450,000 worth of the Ethereum cryptocurrency. (When I sent out this newsletter yesterday that number was $300k)

It’s not just CryptoPunks either; the entire NFT world has exploded in the past week, with several billions of dollars flowing into projects with drawings of monkeys, penguins, dinosaurs and generative art this month alone. After the NFT rally earlier this year — culminating in Beeple’s $69 million Christie’s sale — began to taper off, many wrote off the NFT explosion as a bizarre accident. What triggered this recent frenzy?

Part of it has been a resurgence of cryptocurrency prices toward all-time-highs and a desire among the crypto rich to diversify their stratospheric assets without converting their wealth to fiat currencies. Dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into an NFT project with fewer stakeholders than the currencies that underlie them can make a lot of sense to those whose wealth is already over-indexed in crypto. But a lot of this money is likely FOMO dollars from investors who are dumping real cash into NFTs, bolstered by moves like Visa’s purchase this week of their own CryptoPunk.

I think it’s pretty fair to say that this growth is unsustainable, but how much further along this market growth gets before the pace of investment slows or collapses is completely unknown. There are no signs of slowing down for now, something that can be awfully exciting — and dangerous — for investors looking for something wild to drop their money into… and wild this market truly is.

Here’s some advice from Figma CEO Dylan Field who sold his alien CryptoPunk earlier this year for 4,200 Eth (worth $13.6 million today).


Image Credits: Kanye West

Other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

OnlyFans suspends its porn ban
In a stunning about-face, OnlyFans declared this week that they won’t be banning “sexually explicit content” from their platform after all, saying in a statement that they had “secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change.”

Kanye gets into the hardware business
Ahead of the drop of his next album, which will definitely be released at some point, rapper Kanye West has shown off a mobile music hardware device called the Stem Player. The $200 pocket-sized device allows users to mix and alter music that has been loaded onto the device. It was developed in partnership with hardware maker Kano.

Apple settles developer lawsuit
Apple has taken some PR hits in recent years following big and small developers alike complaining about the take-it-or-leave-it terms of the company’s App Store. This week, Apple shared a proposed settlement (which still is pending a judge’s approval) that starts with a $100 million payout and gets more interesting with adjustments to App Store bylines, including the ability of developers to advertise paying for subscriptions directly rather than through the app only.

Twitter starts rolling out ticketed Spaces
Twitter has made a convincing sell for its Clubhouse competitor Spaces, but they’ve also managed to build on the model in recent months, turning its copycat feature into a product that succeeds on its own merits. Its latest effort to allow creators to sell tickets to events is just starting to roll out, the company shared this week.

CA judge strikes down controversial gig economy proposition
Companies like Uber and DoorDash dumped tens of millions of dollars into Prop 22, a law which clawed back a California law that pushed gig economy startups to classify workers as full employees. This week a judge declared the proposition unconstitutional, and though the decision has been stayed on appeal, any adjustment would have major ramifications for those companies’ business in California.


Image of a dollar sign representing the future value of cybersecurity.

Image Credits: guirong hao (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Future tech exits have a lot to live up to
“Inflation may or may not prove transitory when it comes to consumer prices, but startup valuations are definitely rising — and noticeably so — in recent quarters. That’s the obvious takeaway from a recent PitchBook report digging into valuation data from a host of startup funding events in the United States…”

OpenSea UX teardown
“…is the experience of creating and selling an NFT on OpenSea actually any good? That’s what UX analyst Peter Ramsey has been trying to answer by creating and selling NFTs on OpenSea for the last few weeks. And the short answer is: It could be much better...

Are B2B SaaS marketers getting it wrong?
“‘Solutions,’ ‘cutting-edge,’ ‘scalable’ and ‘innovative’ are just a sample of the overused jargon lurking around every corner of the techverse, with SaaS marketers the world over seemingly singing from the same hymn book. Sadly for them, new research has proven that such jargon-heavy copy — along with unclear features and benefits — is deterring customers and cutting down conversions…”


Thanks for reading! And again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

Lucas Matney

#analyst, #app-store, #apple, #bezos, #blockchain, #blockchains, #blue-origin, #california, #ceo, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #distributed-computing, #doordash, #dylan-field, #ethereum, #extra-crunch, #figma, #judge, #kano, #kanye-west, #lucas-matney, #onlyfans, #peter-ramsey, #uber, #united-states

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

It’s time for the VC community to stop overlooking the childcare industry

Square. Uber. Zillow. Airbnb. Besides being some of the biggest technology companies, what else do these titans have in common? They all operate in entrenched, highly fragmented, geographically localized and regulated industries. That means they required a lot of upfront venture capital investment to disrupt their respective markets. And the investment has paid off — these are now some of the most valuable companies in the world.

Venture capital alone hasn’t funded some of the largest companies. One of today’s most successful tech entrepreneurs was funded by massive infusions of investment from the federal government — Elon Musk received $4.9 billion in public subsidies for his companies, including SpaceX and Tesla. Moreover, government investment, via tax credits for electric vehicle purchases, made it more affordable for consumers to buy the green transportation they needed.

But one massive industry has not yet benefited from the large amounts of money that both venture capital and government can provide: Childcare. Families in the United States spend $136 billion on infant and child care every year, and the market is only growing. If you include school-age care and education for all children under 18, that number grows to $212 billion. In investor terms, the TAM (total addressable market) is huge.

To put things in perspective, one new company has raised more funding in 2021 than the entire childcare industry.

So where is the investment? Biden’s current compromise on an infrastructure plan does not include many provisions for childcare. Venture investment in this space is nascent and insufficient. In 2020, only $171 million was invested in care and early childhood education. The funding situation has improved in 2021, with $516 million invested in childcare, but it’s still just a tiny fraction of the $288 billion of venture capital invested so far this year.

To put that in perspective, a single new company has raised more funding in 2021 than the entire childcare industry.

Funding emerging childcare technology may require a lot of upfront capital. For starters, the industry is regulated and safety is and should remain a priority. Caring for and educating young children takes training, skill and love — it cannot be done by a computer.

But there are so many facets of the industry that are ripe for innovation. Parents sometimes take weeks to find a childcare provider that meets their needs. In some markets, there is not nearly enough supply (three children for every licensed slot) to meet the demand. Assessing quality, pricing and availability is challenging, and payments and business operations tools for the nation’s 300,000+ daycares are still often pen, paper and Excel spreadsheet affairs.

This industry just needs patient investors with long-term perspectives.

This is a great time to diversify investment portfolios and support relatively recession-proof companies meaningfully expanding access to childcare. COVID has finally started to bring this largely offline industry online. Parents are now willing to go digital for childcare decisions and providers are adopting new online technologies at a record pace. These tailwinds provide the perfect conditions for startups.

Solving this problem is a huge business opportunity that affects so much else. When the millions of parents with young children can’t find care, they can’t work. We saw this over and over again since the start of the pandemic. The average American family can spend up to 25% of their income on early childhood care, while the average care worker makes approximately $12 an hour.

Unlocking innovation here at scale will require public and private investment. Government shapes and enables markets, from the explosion of technology that followed from Kennedy’s investment in the space race to more recent fundamental investments in wind, solar and electric vehicles. NASA catalyzed dozens of new technologies in the 1960s because it had both a generous budget and the flexibility to work with the best private-sector contractors available to solve specific problems.

The revitalization of the childcare sector would benefit from an ambitious and galvanizing “moonshot” goal, like providing universal, free childcare for all Americans.

By collaborating with flexibility and creativity across the public and private sectors, we can achieve a basic shared goal that other democracies have already fulfilled — the accessible provision of high-quality childcare for all members of society.

#child-care, #column, #corporate-finance, #covid-19, #diversity, #economy, #federal-government, #opinion, #startups, #tc, #tesla, #uber, #venture-capital

California’s gig worker Prop 22 ruled unconstitutional by superior court

In a late Friday night blow to Uber, Lyft and other gig worker-centered companies, a superior court judge ruled that California’s Proposition 22, which was passed in 2020 and designed to overrule the state’s controversial AB-5 law on the employment status of gig workers, violates the state’s constitution.

Frank Roesch, a superior court judge in Alameda County, which encompasses Oakland, Berkeley and much of the East Bay, ruled that the law would limit “the power of a future legislature” to define the employment status of gig workers. The lawsuit was filed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in January, after a similar lawsuit was rebuffed by the California Supreme Court and referred to a lower court.

The court’s decision will almost certainly be appealed and further legal arguments are to be expected.

The superior court’s decision is just the latest in a long line of victories and defeats in the battle between companies that heavily rely on gig workers like Uber and DoorDash, and unions and advocates representing workers. Much of the debate centers on the legal distinction between a freelancer and an employee, and to what extent companies are responsible for the care and benefits of their workers.

Such a distinction is big business: Uber, Lyft and other companies spent more than $200 million collectively to push Prop 22 to victory last year. California voters passed the proposition roughy 59% to 41% in what was widely perceived as a major victory for gig worker platforms.

Such fights are not limited to merely Silicon Valley’s home state, however. Earlier this year in the United Kingdom, Uber lost a legal battle over its employment classification decisions and ultimately reclassified tens of thousands of its drivers as workers, a decision which offered them a range of benefits not previously guaranteed.

#doordash, #employment, #freelancer, #gig-workers, #government, #labor, #policy, #uber

Indian bike taxi service Rapido raises $52 million

Rapido, a bike taxi aggregator in India, said on Monday it has raised $52 million in a new financing round as the six-year-old startup looks to find space in a category dominated by Ola and Uber in the South Asian market.

The six-year-old startup’s new funding — Series C — was financed by Shell Ventures, Yamaha, Kunal Shah of CRED, Amarjit Singh Batra of Spotify India, and Positive Moves Consulting. Existing investors Pawan Munjal of Hero Group, Westbridge, Nexus Venture Partners and Everblue Management also participated in the round, which brings its to-date raise to over $130 million.

Rapido offers its two-wheeler service in about 100 Indian cities. The startup says it has amassed over 15 million customers and 1.5 million driver-partners who it calls captains. In recent years, the startup has also expanded in three-wheeler space, which it says recorded a growth of 4X since last year in 26 cities where it is operational, and hyperlocal delivery.

In a statement, the startup said its platform, which was hit by the coronavirus pandemic that prompted India to enforce lockdown in several states, has already seen an 85% recovery. The startup attributed growth in part to the growing e-commerce and hyperlocal delivery opportunities in India.

“Even though our product and business model are lucrative and have the potential to churn out an exceptional revenue, this fundraising indicates more of the investors’ confidence in us than the need for capital,” said Aravind Sanka, co-founder of Rapido, in a statement.

He said the startup hopes to expand to serve 50 million customers in the next 18 months. The startup plans to also deploy capital to broaden its technology stack — it’s looking to make strategic investments — and hire more people

The growth of Rapido follows a shift in India’s mobility market, where Uber and Ola flooded more than a million cabs in the past decade. In urban cities, two-wheelers and three-wheelers have proven more effective because they can zip through much faster in traffic and are more affordable.

Both Ola and Uber have also expanded to two-wheeler and three-wheeler categories in recent years, inking partnerships with firms such as Vogo and Yulu. Ola has additionally expanded into manufacturing of electric vehicles. On Sunday, it launched its first electric scooter, called Ola S1, that is priced at 99,999 Indian rupees, or $1,350. The electric scooter offers a range of 121 kilometers (75 miles) on a complete charge.

#asia, #india, #kunal-shah, #ola, #shell-ventures, #tc, #transportation, #uber, #yamaha

Regulations can define the best places to build and invest

Market timing  —  how relevant an idea is to the current state and direction of a market  —  is the most important factor in determining the durability of that idea.

Several inputs inform market timing: The skew of consumer preferences in response to a pandemic. The price of goods for a resource that is finite and becoming scarce. The creation of a novel algorithmic or genetic technique that enlarges the potential of what can be streamlined, repaired and built.

But market timing is also defined by a less discussed area that is born not in capital markets but in the public sector  —  the regulatory landscape  —  namely, the decisions of government, the broader legal system and its combined level of scrutiny toward a particular subject.

We can understand the successes and challenges of several valuable companies today based on their combustion with the regulatory landscape.

We can understand the successes and challenges of several valuable companies today based on their combustion with the regulatory landscape, and perhaps also use it as an optic to see what areas represent unique opportunities for new companies to start and scale.

Looking back: The value in regulatory gray areas

“The tech comes in and moves faster than regulatory regimes do, or can control it,” Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick said at The Aspen Institute in 2013.

The brash statement downplayed that the regulatory landscape had, in fact, driven a number of pivotal outcomes for the company up to that event. It changed its name from UberCab to Uber after receiving a cease-and-desist order in its first market, California. Several early employees left because of the startup’s regulatory challenges and iconoclastic ethos. It shut down its taxi service in New York after just a month of operations, and then in early 2013 received its lifeline in the city after being approved through a pilot program.

Fast forward to the present, and Uber has a market cap of about $82 billion, with the ousted Kalanick having a personal net worth in the neighborhood of $2.8 billion.

Still, even at its scale, many of its most important questions on growth centered around how favorably the regulatory landscape would treat its category. Most recently, this came with the U.K. Supreme Court ruling that Uber drivers could not be classified as independent contractors.

The regulatory fabric has had similar leverage over other sharing-economy companies. In October 2014, for example, Airbnb’s business model became viable in San Francisco when Mayor Ed Lee legalized short-term rentals. In November 2015, Proposition F in the city aimed to restrict short-term rentals like Airbnb, and the startup spent millions in advertisements to mobilize voters in opposition.

Airbnb’s current market cap stands at $92 billion, and its CEO, Brian Chesky, has an estimated net worth over $11 billion. Like Uber, its regulatory tribulations continue, most recently being fined and judged to owe $9.6 million to the city of Paris.

The stories of these two companies and others in the sharing economy space demonstrate the value that the regulatory fabric can add or subtract from a company’s wealth, but also underscore the value  —  for founding teams, early employees, investors and customers  —  of navigating the gray areas.

Looking around: The data economy

The present regulatory fabric has precipitated market timing for ideas in a number of categories. Solutions that enable data privacy, like BigID, and ones that embed data privacy into larger customer value propositions, like Blotout, are on streamlined growth tailwinds from the GDPR in Europe and their inspired analogs in the U.S.

#airbnb, #column, #ec-column, #ec-enterprise-health, #ec-fintech, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #policy, #regulatory-compliance, #tc, #uber

Extra Crunch roundup: Influencer marketing, China’s tech clampdown, drafting growth teams

Before you hire a marketing consultant who doesn’t understand your products or commit to a CMO who has several years of experience — but none in your sector — consider influencer marketing.

If the phrase evokes images of celebrities hawking hard seltzer, think again: An influencer can be as humble as an enthusiastic Reddit user who manages your Telegram channel.

According to Uber growth marketing manager Jonathan Martinez:

“ … You don’t need to find influencers with millions of followers. Instead, lean toward microinfluencers for testing, which will bring cost efficiency and the ability to sponsor a diverse range of people.”

If your startup has a clear brand pitch, “an enticing offer” and “clear next steps,” you’re ready to reach out to influencers, he says.

In a guest post, Martinez explains how to structure offers that will maximize conversions and keep your representatives motivated to promote your products and services.


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Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


An illustration of Julian Shapiro

Image Credits: Julian Shapiro

This morning, we published an interview with growth expert Julian Shapiro, a founder and angel investor who also advises startups on the best way to present themselves.

Marketing is data-driven, but good storytelling is an art, says Shapiro.

To connect with consumers on an emotional level, “you need a mix of goodwill, what-we-stand-for ideology, social prestige and customer delight — among other affinity-building ingredients.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week!

Walter Thompson

Senior Editor, TechCrunch

@yourprotagonist

Everyone wants to fund the next Coinbase

“In celebration of Coinbase’s earnings report today, investors poured a mountain of cash into one of the company’s global competitors,” Alex Wilhelm writes in The Exchange.

Rolling up his sleeves, he dug into numbers from Coinbase, FalconX and FTX to give readers some perspective on the state of cryptocurrency exchanges.

How to hire and structure a growth team

colorful blocks with people icons over wooden table

Image Credits: tomertu (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Companies that have reached $5 million to $10 million in annual revenue are more likely to assemble growth teams; it’s a smart investment for any startup that’s achieved product-market fit.

It can also be potentially disruptive: Early marketing and product managers may feel sidelined by new cross-functional teams that suddenly take a leadership role.

In a detailed walkthrough, senior director of growth at OpenView Sam Richard explains the core players needed to build a growth team and how to integrate them into the organization smoothly, and shares some useful experiments to run.

“Don’t expect a single hire to scratch the growth itch for you,” Richard warns.

“A brilliant hire is going to come up with ideas, but will absolutely need a team to support them, turn them into experiments and then make them a reality.”

Indiegogo’s CEO on how crowdfunding navigated the pandemic

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

In an interview with Brian Heater, Indiegogo CEO Andy Yang spoke about how the pandemic has impacted the crowdfunding platform, the challenges of stepping into the role after the previous CEO departed, and how the company reached profitability.

The company wasn’t profitable when you joined?

We weren’t profitable. I joined and then we cut to profitability, or at least kind of a neutral state, and with any kind of change in leadership, some tenured folks opted out, and we basically became a new team overnight to kind of re-found the company, and we’ve been slowly adding people over the last couple years, but always with that eye on profitability and controlling our own destiny.

Kickstarter’s CEO on the future of crowdfunding

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Last week, Kickstarter announced that people have backed more than 200,000 projects with $6 billion in pledges since the company launched in 2009. Just 15 months ago, it crossed the $5 billion threshold.

Brian Heater spoke to CEO Aziz Hasan, who took over in 2019, about last year’s substantial of layoffs, the pandemic’s long-term impact on crowdfunding, and how he’s working to build a more resilient company:

I think for us some of the most important things are to really just understand how we’re operating the business, making sure that we are sufficient in the buffer that we have for the business to make sure that we’re operating in a way that we can feel confident that the team is going to have some stability, that they’re going to have this resilience.

Craft your pitch deck around ‘that one thing that can really hook an investor’

We frequently run articles with advice for founders who are working on pitch decks. It’s a fundamental step in every startup’s journey, and there are myriad ways to approach the task.

Michelle Davey of telehealth staffing and services company Wheel and Jordan Nof of Tusk Venture Partners appeared on Extra Crunch Live recently to analyze Wheel’s Series A pitch.

Nof said entrepreneurs should candidly explain to potential investors what they’ll need to believe to back their startup.

” … It takes a lot of guesswork out of the equation for the investor and it reorients them to focus on the right problem set that you’re solving,” he said.

“You get this one shot to kind of influence what they think they need to believe to get an investment here … if you don’t do that … we could get pretty off base.”

Online retailers: Stop trying to beat Amazon

Image of a shop owner taking a photograph of a pair of shoes before mailing to represent how small businesses can compete with Amazon.

Image Credits: TravelCouples (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Going up against global e-commerce behemoth Amazon might seem futile, but smaller players can leverage value adds that give them a leg up when it comes to ensuring a loyal customer base, says Kenny Small, vice president SAP and Enterprise at Qualitest Group.

“The reality is that Amazon’s true unique selling proposition is its distribution network,” he writes in a guest post. “Online retailers will not be able to compete on this point because Amazon’s distribution network is so fast.

“Instead, it’s important to focus on areas where they can excel — without having to become a third-party seller on Amazon’s platform.”

The China tech crackdown continues

Edtech and fintech have been in the Chinese Communist Party crosshairs in recent weeks — now, chat apps and gaming are among the targets.

Beijing filed a civil suit against Tencent over claims that its WeChat Youth Mode flouts laws protecting minors, and state media criticized the gaming industry as the digital equivalent of passing out drugs to kids, Alex Wilhelm writes in The Exchange.

He writes that the “news appears to indicate that we should expect more of the same as we’ve seen in recent months from the Chinese government: More complaints about the impact of ‘excessive’ capital in its industries, more tumbling share prices and more held IPOs.”

5 ways AI can help mitigate the global shipping crisis

Robot arm holding a cardboard box

Image Credits: Yuichiro Chino (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In an increasingly on-demand world, shipping delays and disruptions are a major roadblock to customer happiness.

AI can help, says Ahmer Inam, chief artificial intelligence officer at Pactera EDGE, who offers five strategies for using AI that can help startups understand supply chain disruptions and prepare for a Plan B.

“While AI won’t protect startups, manufacturers and retailers from these types of disruptions in the future, it can help them sense, anticipate, reroute and respond to them more effectively.”

#amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #coinbase, #crowdfunding, #ec-roundup, #extra-crunch-roundup, #indiegogo, #influencer-marketing, #kickstarter, #startups, #tc, #uber

Product School raises $25M in growth equity to scale its product training platform

Traditional MBA programs can be costly, lengthy, and often lack the application of real world skills. Meanwhile, big global brands and companies who need Product Managers to grow their businesses can’t sit around waiting for people to graduate. And the EdTech space hasn’t traditionally catered for this sector.

This is perhaps why Product School, says it has secured $25 million in growth equity investment from growth fund Leeds Illuminate (subject to regulatory approval) to accelerate its product and partnerships with client companies.

The growth funding for the company comes after bootstrapping since 2014, in large part because product managers (PMs) no longer just inside tech companies but have become sought after across almost virtually all industries.

Product School provides certificates for individuals as well as team training, and says it has experienced and upwelling of business since Covid switched so many companies into Digital ones. It also now counts Google, Facebook, Netflix, Airbnb, PayPal, Uber, and Amazon amongst its customers.

“Product managers have an outsized role in driving digital transformation and innovation across all sectors,” said Susan Cates, Managing Partner of Leeds Illuminate. “Having built the largest community of PM’s in the world validates Product School’s certification as the industry standard for the market and positions the company at the forefront of upskilling top-notch talent for global organizations.”

Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia, CEO and Founder of Product School, who started the company after moving from Spain, said: “There has never been a better time in history to build digital products and Product School is excited to unlock value for product teams across the globe to help define the future. Our company was founded on the basis that traditional degrees and MBA programs simply don’t equip PMs with the real-world skills they require on the job.”

Product school has also produced the The Product BookThe Proddy Awards and ProductCon.

It’s main competitor is MindTheProduct community and training platform, which has also boostrapped.

#airbnb, #amazon, #articles, #brand, #business, #europe, #facebook, #google, #leeds-illuminate, #management, #managing-partner, #paypal, #product-management, #product-manager, #product-marketing, #spain, #tc, #uber

Felt raised $4.5 million to get you to ‘think in maps’

From vaccine distribution plans to fire trackers to bar crawls for your best friend’s birthday, maps help people visualize space and express impact. And Felt, a new Oakland-based startup co-founded by Sam Hashemi and Can Duruk, is on a mission to make the medium more mainstream.

Felt is a collaborative software company that wants to make it easier for people to build maps on the internet. It announced today that it has raised $4.5 million led by Bain Capital Ventures, with participation from Designer Fund, Allison Pickens, Akshay Kothari (COO of Notion), Dylan Field (CEO of Figma) John Lily (former CEO of Firefox), Julia and Kevin Hartz, and Keval Desai.

The millions will be used to help Felt grow its fully distributed six-person team to bring on more front-end, back-end and product engineers, as well as product and brand designers. Along with the financing, the company announced it is launching a private beta to better understand what early adopters it attracts, and how those users engage with the platform.

Felt allows users to build a map with data sets integrated into it. A user can open a map of California, for example, and then turn to Felt’s data library to add information about bits like wildfires and smoke patterns. The map’s power grows as more integrations are used to build out its background; using the prior anecdote, for example, the wildfire map integrated with census data could allow decision makers to see how many businesses could be impacted by incoming smoke.

Over time, Felt users will be able to see other user-generated maps and team projects on the interface — which they can then copy to add their own flair, or leave comments to support the community.

While consumers will eventually be able to access a free tier, the big test for Felt is if it can find a customer base that is willing to pay, and consistently use mapping software in meaningful ways. The company is in a unique spot. It’s not a GPS service, so it won’t serve the consumer who only turns to maps for directions. Instead, its build-a-map service is better suited for companies that already use it in their day-to-day.

Felt is meant to be a continuation of the collaborative software movement underscored by everyday tools like Google Docs and top companies like Notion and Figma, as well as a sequel to Hashemi’s previous company, Remix. Recently bought by Via for $100 million, Remix is a city transportation planning startup born out of Code for America Hackathon. As Hashemi spent nearly seven years building Remix, he was introduced to the inadequacies of map-making, namely that there are many use cases for maps but not many people who have the skill set to create a professional product. He hopes Felt will take mapping beyond city planning and into a variety of industries, from education to science to media.

“We really want to be much more aspirational in what we’re trying to accomplish and go much more broader [so it] results in a totally different kind of company,” Hashemi said. Perhaps its biggest competitor is ESRI’s GIS, a mapping software tool founded in 1969 and still used by hundreds of thousands of companies today.

Climate change could be a catalyst that brings more customers into the collaborative mapping space. Duruk, who built products at Uber and VGS, spoke about the importance of crisis response after last year’s wildfires and the resulting eerie orange sky in the Bay Area.

“Everyone in the Bay Area would wake up, go to the air quality map, weather map and the fire map,” Duruk said. “Everyone was trying to do something with maps, but only a few companies in the world had the resources to build something….it was broken.” Felt wants to go broad in its integrations, but did confirm that climate data will be a priority.

The challenge with building a powerful, creative tool is that there is a chance for people to misuse maps for abuse or targeting, Duruk said. Felt is thinking about ways to build in accountability and systematic processes to limit bad actors from using mapping information in the wrong way.

In the meantime, though, the early-stage startup is focusing on expression as a key way to understand its own product’s bounds. With millions more, Felt is aiming at increasing the capability of people by growing the map-ability of the world.

#bain-capital-ventures, #felt, #gps, #map, #recent-funding, #remix, #startups, #tc, #uber, #via

Uber asked contractor to allow video surveillance in employee homes, bedrooms

Uber asked contractor to allow video surveillance in employee homes, bedrooms

Enlarge (credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

For years, employers have used surveillance to keep tabs on their employees on the job. Cameras have watched as workers moved cash in and out of registers, GPS has reported on the movements of employees driving company vehicles, and software has been monitoring people’s work email.

Now, with more work being done remotely, many of those same surveillance tools are entering people’s homes. A marketing company in Minnesota forced employees to install software that would record videos of employee’s screens and even cut their hours if they took a bathroom break that was too long. A New York e-commerce company told employees that they would have to install monitoring software on their personal computers that would log keystrokes and mouse movements—and they’d have to install an app on their phones that would track their movements throughout the workday.

The situation isn’t limited to the US, either. One multinational company appears to be testing the boundaries of what’s an acceptable level of surveillance for remote workers. Teleperformance, one of the world’s largest call center companies, is reportedly requiring some employees to consent to video monitoring in their homes. Employees in Colombia told NBC News that their new contract granted the company the right to use AI-powered cameras to observe and record their workspaces. The contract also requires employees to share biometric data like fingerprints and photos of themselves, and workers have to agree to share data and images that may include children under 18.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#civil-rights, #employees, #policy, #privacy, #surveillance, #uber

Moove raises $23M to create flexible options for drivers to own cars in Africa

Africa is home to more than a billion people where a majority have limited or no access to vehicle financing. In fact, the continent has the lowest per capita vehicle ownership in the world. In 2019, Africa had fewer than 900,000 new vehicle sales. The U.S. sold more than 17 million new cars that same year.

In Nigeria, owning a car is a luxury very few people can afford. It is a similar case across Africa where car owners often recycle used cars between themselves because of the difficulty of accessing new ones. Moove, an African mobility company with a fintech play, wants to change that and is raising $23 million in Series A to scale rapidly across the continent.

Moove was founded by Ladi Delano and Jide Odunsi in 2019. In an interview with TechCrunch, Delano said he and Odunsi, whilst trying to figure out the problems to solve in Nigeria after years of running successful businesses, were left startled by the figures highlighted above: Less than a million new cars sold in an entire continent and over 17 million in the U.S. alone.

“It became clear to us that people aren’t buying cars in Africa because there’s no access to finance. When you look anywhere else in the world, you have financing in most parts of the developed world when you try to buy a car. It’s that way in the UK, or Europe and the US. And that’s what’s driving mobility drive and vehicle sales,” Delano said during the interview.

The founders saw it as a huge task to address this deficit and figured that deploying an asset financing model was the go-to approach. Moove says it is democratizing vehicle ownership by employing a revenue-based vehicle financing model. However, this applies to only a subset of the driving population across the continent: mobility entrepreneurs.  

Why mobility entrepreneurs instead of the overall populace? Delano tells TechCrunch that inasmuch as Moove is changing how people have access to new cars in Africa, he wants the company to solve some of the unemployment problems facing the continent, even more so in Nigeria.

So instead of providing the service for individuals from all spheres of life who cannot guarantee a payback, why not target mobility entrepreneurs who would use the opportunity to work and, in turn, generate income to pay back.

Mobility entrepreneurs include drivers who work in the mobility space (car-hailing, ride-hailing, bus-hailing, among others). Although they make up a small part of Africans who need Moove’s services, Delano says the market for mobility entrepreneurs is enormous.

Moove is Uber’s exclusive car financing and vehicle supply partner in sub-Saharan AfricaThe company embeds its alternative credit-scoring technology, allowing access to proprietary performance and revenue analytics to underwrite loans. It provides loans to these drivers by selling them new vehicles and financing up to 95% of the purchase within five days of sign up. They can choose to pay back their loans over 24, 36, or 48 months, using a percentage of the weekly revenue generated while driving on Uber.

Moove’s loan repayment process is more suitable to drivers than what traditionally exists in the market. Nigerian banks, for instance, are known to collect a 10-50% deposit from drivers; Moove says it charges 5%. The net effective annual interest rate also differs significantly. Nigerian banks charge between 20 to 25%; however, Moove runs on an 8-13% rate.

Also, when you consider the tenure of a vehicle financing loan, Nigerian banks rarely give a repayment duration of more than two years. Moove’s maximum duration is four years. In the long run, Delano says the company wants to extend the repayment duration to five years, a span with more parity to the West.

That said, Moove is looking to add financing to other vehicle classes and types in the coming months, including buses and trucks.

Though Moove was founded in 2019, it didn’t fully launch until June 2020. In a full year of operation, Moove has scaled aggressively. With headquarters in the Netherlands, the company counts Lagos, Accra, Johannesburg as cities where it operates. Moove has over 19,000 drivers using its platform, while up to 13,000 are on its waitlist. Moove-financed cars have also completed over 850,000 Uber trips, and Delano says the company has grown 60% month-on-month since last year.

Moove raised a $5.5 million seed round last year. The majority of the funding came from the founders and Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, c-founder of Andela and Flutterwave, and a key partner at the company. In addition to its $23 million Series A, Moove also revealed that it raised $40 million in debt financing, bringing Moove’s total funding to $68.5 million.

Speedinvest and Left Lane Capital led the Series A round. Other investors like DCM, Clocktower Technology Ventures, thelatest.ventures, LocalGlobe, Tekton, FJ Labs, Palm Drive Capital, Kora Capital, KAAF Investments, Class 5 Global, and Victoria van Lennep, co-founder of Lendable, Verod,  Kepple Africa Ventures, and one of Moove’s existing lenders, Emso Asset Management, also joined the round. Moove’s investment is the first for many of its U.S. backers in this round.

“With Ladi and Jide at the helm of a world-class team, and their unique approach to vehicle financing, Moove has quickly established itself as one of the most exciting tech companies in Africa,” said the general partner at Speedinvest, Stefan Klestil. “The company’s expansion to three cities in under 12 months demonstrates the huge demand for vehicle financing in Africa, where just five percent of new cars are purchased with financing, compared to 92 percent in Europe.”

Delano and Odunsi are British-born Nigerians educated at the London School of Economics, Oxford University, and MIT. Delano has always been an entrepreneur. Odunsi, on the other hand, was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and a management consultant at McKinsey.

Both reconnected years after (since parting ways in their teens) to run a venture studio called Grace Lake Partners with thick they have built three non-tech successful businesses in Africa in the past decade. Moove is their first tech business, and Delano calls it the fastest-growing he has ever run.

The Series A funding will allow Moove to grow and expand into new markets. It gives the company ammunition to develop and launch new products and services geared towards gaining more share in a competitive market where Nigeria’s Autochek and South Africa’s FlexClub are making significant strides.

Delano believes what gives Moove an edge over other companies is its trademark of getting drivers to access new cars instead of used ones. He also adds that the company is moving towards creating electric and hybrid vehicle fleets. He cites helping mobility entrepreneurs who need to have fuel-efficient cars and climate change as reasons for creating this new product line.

But how will EVs be affordable for the average Uber driver in Africa? Delano argues that with Moove’s strong bargaining power with its OEM partners and the debt financing raised, Moove can buy new EV cars and resell them at a lower price to thousands of drivers. The aim is to ensure that at least 60% of the vehicles it finances are electric or hybrid in the coming years. The company is also trying to drive gender inclusion by increasing the number of female drivers using its platform to 50%.

One interesting bit in Moove’s imminent plans is creating wallets for drivers who do not have bank accounts to make and accept payments. The feature is live only in Ghana and will be coming to other markets in no distant time.

“Moove’s technology is fundamentally changing access to mobility and empowering thousands to earn a new source of income,” said managing partner at Left Lane Capital, Dan Ahrens. “As we look ahead, the potential for that technology and the Moove team to expand even further is very exciting. They have the opportunity to become a full-service mobility fintech and expand their offerings to insurance and other financial services.”

#africa, #finance, #funding, #ghana, #nigeria, #south-africa, #tc, #uber