Why is Uber so far ahead of Lyft, its domestic ride-hailing rival that is suffering from the same economic impacts? It appears that investors are heartened that Uber has closed its Postmates acquisition after both firms danced around each other for some time, leading to all sorts of leaks that wound up being not coming true.
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This explains why Uber investors are excited about Uber’s Postmates buy; what about the smaller company is making Uber shares so buoyant? Let’s take a walk through the numbers this morning.
If we reexamine Uber Eats’ recent growth, contrast it to Ubers Rides’ own growth, mix in Eats’ profitability improvements along with Postmates’ own financial results, we can start to see why public investors might be heartened by the deal.
Afterward, we’ll toss in a note about how Postmates may provide Uber some narrative ammunition heading into earnings. This exercise should be fun, and a good break from our recent IPO coverage. Let’s get into the numbers.
In case you are behind, Uber is buying Postmates for $2.65 billion in an all-cash deal. Uber estimated that it would issue around 84 million shares to pay for the transaction. At its share price as of the time of writing, the deal is worth $2.72 billion at Uber’s newer share price. For reference, that price tag is about 4.8% of Uber’s current-moment market cap.
To understand why Uber would spend nearly 5% of its worth to buy a smaller rival, let’s remind ourselves of the performance of the group that it will plug into, namely Uber Eats.
From Uber’s Q1 2020 financial reporting, the following chart will ground our exploration, showing how Eats has performed in recent quarters:
Via Uber’s financial reporting. Q1 2019 on the left, Q1 2020 on the right.
BMW Group and Mercedes-Benz AG have punted on what was meant to be a long term collaboration to develop next-generation automated driving technology together, less than a year after announcing the agreement.
The German automakers called the break up “mutual and amicable” and have each agreed to concentrate on their existing development paths. Those new paths may include working with new or current partners. The two companies also emphasized that cooperation may be resumed at a later date.
The partnership, which was announced in July 2019, was never meant to be exclusive. Instead, it reflected the increasingly common approach among legacy manufacturers to form loose development agreements in an aim to share the capitally intensive work of developing, testing and validating automated driving technology.
The two companies did have some lofty goals. The partnership aimed to develop driver assistance systems, highly automated driving on highways, and automated parking and launch those technology in series vehicles scheduled for 2024.
It seems that the perceived benefits of working together were overshadowed by reality: creating a shared technology platform was a more complex and expensive task than expected, according to comments from the companies. BMW and Mercedes-Benz AG said they were unable to hold detailed expert discussions and talk to suppliers about technology roadmaps until the contract was signed last year.
“In these talks — and after extensive review — both sides concluded that, in view of the expense involved in creating a shared technology platform, as well as current business and economic conditions, the timing is not right for successful implementation of the cooperation,” the companies said.
BMW and Mercedes have other projects and partners. BMW, for instance, is part of a collaboration with Intel, Mobileye, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ansys. Daimler and Bosch launched a robotaxi pilot project in San Jose last year.
Meanwhile, both companies are still working together in other areas. Five years, BMW and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, joined Audi AG to acquire location and technology platform HERE. That ownership consortium has since grown to include more companies.
And last year, BMW Group and Daimler AG also pooled their mobility services in a joint venture under the umbrella of the NOW family.
Separately, BMW said Friday it will cut 6,000 jobs in an agreement reached with the German Works Council. The cuts, prompted by sluggish sales caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, will be reportedly accomplished through early retirement, non-renewal of temporary contracts, ending redundant positions and not filling vacant positions, Marketwatch reported.
Amazon is ramping up its efforts to tackle counterfeiting on its platform by aiming for the higher end of the fashion market. Today the e-commerce giant announced that it has jointly filed a lawsuit with Italian luxury brand Valentino against Buffalo, New York-based Kaitlyn Pan Group, LLC and New York resident Hao Pan for copying a famous Valentino shoe style — the Garavani Rockstud, pictured above — and subsequently selling those products on Amazon and Kaitlyn Pan’s own site, “in violation of Amazon’s policies and Valentino’s intellectual property rights.”
Amazon said that any proceeds that result from the suit will go straight to Valentino itself. We’ve asked how much the companies are seeking in damages and will update this post with more information as we get it. We are embedding the suit below the article.
Notably, this is the first time that Amazon has teamed up with a luxury brand to go after counterfeiters in the courts, although it has partnered with other brands in the past. As with those previous cases, it’s important for Amazon to work with the brands to show it’s a friend to legitimate commerce by working actively to stop illicit sales.
Alongside that, however, Amazon has been making huge efforts to raise its game in fashion, and so it’s extremely important that it fights against the image that it’s a fertile ground for selling and buying illegal knock-off items of famous brands.
Getting off on the right foot — so to speak — with Valentino is part of that. The Garavani Rockstud (“Garavani” comes from Valentino’s full name, Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani) is one of Valentino’s most iconic styles, with its metallic lines of studs making an appearance on a range of Valentino footwear, including sandals, heels and flats. They were first introduced in 2010 and Valentino has design patents on the style.
Kaitlyn Pan currently sells a number of models that riff on that basic concept. Typically, authentic Valentino Rockstud shoes retail for between $425 and $1,100, while the Pan versions sell for significantly less, around $100.
You can see where the problem lies.
While the shoes are not being sold as Valentino and do not use the Rockstud branding, they could easily be mistaken for them (and may have even been promoted using that keyword when they were still being sold on Amazon):
One thing that isn’t really covered in the Amazon/Valentino suit, but you have to wonder about, is the role that others play in enabling the illicit sales of the items. In the case of Kaitlyn Pan, the site is powered by none other than Shopify, for example.
“The vast majority of sellers in our store are honest entrepreneurs but we do not hesitate to take aggressive action to protect customers, brands and our store from counterfeiters,” said Dharmesh Mehta, vice president, Customer Trust and Partner Support, in a statement. “Amazon and Valentino are holding this company accountable in a court of law and we appreciate Valentino’s collaboration throughout this investigation.”
Amazon said that it shut down Kaitlyn Pan’s seller account in September 2019, and it did not specify how many pairs of Pan’s shoes were sold via Amazon before then. As of today, the Pan models are still being sold directly on Kaitlyn Pan Shoes.
And rather audaciously, despite getting forced out of Amazon’s marketplace and being slapped with cease and desist orders from Valentino, Kaitlyn Pan has applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the style.
Valentino, like other expensive luxury brands, regularly gets copied and counterfeited, and that has been the case for decades. But arguably, the rise of e-commerce, where it can be harder to trace sellers and products have a higher chance of being disseminated more widely, has compounded that problem.
So the company has made a more concerted effort to fight back. In the past three years, it’s worked with United States Customs and Border Protection to seize more than 2,000 counterfeit products and work on a surveillance system to detect counterfeit products on sale in the U.S. market, leading to the removal of more than 7,000 listings across multiple marketplaces, 360 websites and more than 1,000 social media accounts.
“The Maison Valentino is one of the main protagonists of International fashion and plays a major role in the luxury division by sustaining Made in Italy,” Valentino said in a statement. “The brand represents in the global market, one of the Italian excellences in the execution of the industrial process in Italy and of the artisanal and handmade workmanship that are entirely produced in the historic Atelier of Piazza Mignanelli in Rome. We consider Made in Italy to be a fundamental value to be fully endorsed, respected and at the forefront of our business and creations. Valentino is an Italian brand operating globally and is a mirror of society. One of our core missions is to safeguard our brand and protect the Valentino Community by celebrating inclusivity and with creativity at the heart of everything we do. We feel this connection with Amazon will highlight the importance also in fashion for greater awareness, knowledge and understanding by shielding the brand online and its resources.”
Amazon’s role in creating an avenue for counterfeit items to be sold has been a problematic one for the company for years. It has invested in building technology to tackle the problem: In 2019, it said that it had invested over $500 million and dedicated 8,000 employees to work on fraud and abuse (which includes IP infringement and counterfeit goods), and it works with law enforcement and collaborates with authorities to build cases against infringing companies and people. But its critics continue to call out the company and its track record, saying it still has not done enough to address the issue — which of course still results in sales, and thus revenues — on its platform.
We’ll update this post as we learn more.
The company, which plans to unveil a production version of the Lucid Air in an online event scheduled for September 9, said construction resumed several weeks ago at its factory Casa Grande, Arizona and is on target to complete phase one this year. Lucid Motors has also restarted vehicle development work, which was briefly delayed due to shelter-in-place orders, at its California facility.
Lucid Motors said Wednesday it will show off more than the vehicle’s final interior and exterior designs during the September 9 event. The company said new details on production specifications, available configurations, and pricing information will also be shared.
“Although we are experiencing an unprecedented time in our history, the determination of this company’s employees in developing a game-changing electric vehicle burns ever more brightly,” Lucid Motors CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson said in a statement.
With COVID-19 closures in the rearview mirror — at least for now — Lucid Motors is focused on expanding its workforce and wrapping up construction as it begins the big job of moving in and setting up production equipment. Major components and equipment for the paint and shell lines are being installed and are coming online in advance of the completion of construction, the company said in an update. Once complete, Lucid will begin producing prototypes at the factory. Those production prototypes, which will roll off the assembly line in 2020, won’t be sold. The first vehicles produced for customers will begin in early 2021, according to Lucid.
The company, which employs more than 1,000 people, has ramped up hiring ahead of the Air’s production debut. More than 160 new employees have been hired in the past three months. Lucid said it plans to add more than 700 employees to its roster by the end of the 2020.
The global reveal as well as the anticipated completion of the first phase of its Arizona factory will be a critical milestone for a company that was founded 11 years ago with a different name and mission. The company, called Atieva at the time, was focused on developing electric car battery technology. It then shifted to producing electric cars and changed its name in 2016 to Lucid Motors.
At the time, Lucid Motors appeared to be on a roll. It had successfully raised money, unveiled the Air, announced plans to build a $700 million factory in Arizona, signed a deal with Samsung SDI to supply it with lithium-ion batteries and moved into spacious new digs. The company suddenly fell silent for nearly a year as it worked to raise the remaining money required to take on the capitally intensive pursuit of building a car factory and producing the Air.
In 2018, Lucid Motors secured $1 billion in funding from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Lucid said at the time that the $1 billion in funding would be used to complete engineering development and testing of the Lucid Air, construct its factory in Arizona, begin the global rollout of its retail strategy starting in North America and enter production.
Headless CMS company Contentful today announced that it has raised an $80 million Series E funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from General Catalyst, Salesforce Ventures and a number of other new and existing investors. With this, the company has now raised a total of $158.3 million and a Contentful spokesperson tells me that it is approaching a $1 billion valuation.
In addition, the company also today announced that it has hired Bridget Perry as its CMO. She previously led Adobe’s marketing efforts across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Currently, 28% of the Fortune 500 use Contentful to manage their content across platforms. The company says it has a total of 2,200 paying customers right now and these include the likes of Spotify, ITV, the British Museum, Telus and Urban Outfitters.
Steve Sloan, the company’s CEO who joined the company late last year, attributes its success to the fact that virtually every business today is in the process of figuring out how to become digital and serve its customers across platforms – and that’s a process that has only been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Ten or fifteen years ago, when these content platforms or content management systems were created, they were a) really built for a web-only world and b) where the website was a complement to some other business,” he said. “Today, the mobile app, the mobile web experience is the front door to every business on the planet. And that’s never been any more clear than in this recent COVID crisis, where we’ve seen many, many businesses — even those that are very traditional businesses — realize that the dominant and, in some cases, only way their customers can interact with them is through that digital experience.”
But as they are looking at their options, many decide that they don’t just want to take an off-the-shelf product, Sloan argues, because it doesn’t allow them to build a differentiated offering.
Perry also noted that this is something she saw at Adobe, too, as it built its digital experience business. “Leading marketing at Adobe, we used it ourselves,” she said. “And so the challenge that we heard from customers in the market was how complex it was in some cases to implement, to organize around it, to build those experiences fast and see value and impact on the business. And part of that challenge, I think, stemmed from the kind of monolithic, all-in-one type of suite that Adobe offered. Even as a marketer at Adobe, we had challenges with that kind of time to market and agility. And so what’s really interesting to me — and one of the reasons why I joined Contentful — is that Contentful approaches this in a very different way.”
Sloan noted that putting the round together was a bit of an adventure. Contentful’s existing investors approached the company around the holidays because they wanted to make a bigger investment in the company to fuel its long-term growth. But at the time, the company wasn’t ready to raise new capital yet.
“And then in January and February, we had inbound interest from people who weren’t yet investors, who came to us and said, ‘hey, we really want to invest in this company, we’ve seen the trend and we really believe in it.’ So we went back to our insiders and said, ‘hey, we’re going to think about actually moving in our timeline for raising capital,” Sloan told me. “And then, right about that time is when COVID really broke out, particularly in Western Europe in North America.”
That didn’t faze Contentful’s investors, though.
“One of the things that really stood out about our investors — and particularly our lead investor for this round Sapphire — is that when everybody else was really, really frightened, they were really clear about the opportunity, about their belief in the team and about their understanding of the progress we had already made. And they were really unflinching in terms of their support,” Sloan said.
Unsurprisingly, the company plans to use the new funding to expand its go-to-market efforts (that’s why it hired Perry, after all) but Sloan also noted that Contentful plans to invest quite a bit into R&D as well as it looks to help its customers solve more adjacent problems as well.
Belvo, a Latin American fintech startup which launched just 12 months ago, has already snagged funding from two of the biggest names in North and South American venture capital.
The company is aiming to expand the reach of its service that connects mobile applications in Mexico and Colombia to a customer’s banking information and now has some deep-pocketed investors to support its efforts.
If the business model sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Belvo is borrowing a page from the Plaid playbook. It’s a strategy that ultimately netted the U.S. startup and its investors $5.3 billion when it was acquired by Visa in January of this year.
Belvo and its backers, who funneled $10 million into the year-old company, want to replicate Plaid’s success and open up an entire new range of financial services companies in Latin America.
The round was co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek. With the new arsenal of capital complimented by the Founders Fund’s network and Kaszek’s deep knowledge of the Latin American market, Belvo hopes to triple its current team of 25 that is spread across operations in Mexico City and Barcelona.
Since its initial establishment in May 2019, the company has raised a total of $13 million from Y Combinator (W20) along with some of the biggest players in Latin America’s startup scene. Those investors include David Velez, the co-founder of Brazil’s multi-billion dollar lending startup, Nubank; MAYA Capital and Venture Friends.
The company’s co-founders, Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are no stranger to startups themselves. Viguera served as COO at European payments app Verse, and is a former general manager of one of the big European neo-banks, Revolut. Tintoré is a former NASA aerospace engineer, and while working for his Stanford MBA, founded Capella Space, an information collection startup that went on to raise over $50 million.
The company said it aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.
Belvo has built a developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.
Viguera says the capital will be used to open a new office in Sao Paulo, and invest in new product and business development hires. Notably, Belvo is only one year old, having launched in January 2020 and operative in Mexico and Colombia.
Co-founders Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are a former Revolut GM and former NASA aerospace engineer.
Belvo’s latest funding also marks another instance of a U.S.-Latin America investment teamup for a Latin American company.
Nuvocargo, a logistics startup that wants to bolster the Mexico – U.S. trade lane with its freight transportation technology, also recently raised a round co-led by Mexico’s ALLVP and Silicon Valley-based NFX. American investors may be starting to take note of the co-investment opportunity of putting capital into startups serving the Latin American market in partnership with successful new wave domestic funds like Mexico’s ALLVP and Argentina’s Kaszek.
Nuro, the autonomous robotics startup that has raised more than $1 billion from Softbank Vision Fund, Greylock and other investors, said Thursday it will test prescription delivery in Houston through a partnership with CVS Pharmacy. The pilot, which will use a fleet of the startup’s autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles and transition to using its custom-built R2 delivery bots, is slated to begin in June.
The partnership marks Nuro’s expansion beyond groceries and into healthcare. Last month, the startup dipped its autonomous toe in the healthcare field through a program to delivery food and medical supplies at temporary field hospitals in California set up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pilot program centers on one CVS Pharmacy in Bellaire, Texas and will serve customers across three zip codes. Customers who place prescription orders via CVS’ website or pharmacy app will be given the option to choose an autonomous delivery option. These pharmacy customers will also be able add other non-prescription items to their order.
Once the autonomous vehicle arrives, customers will need to confirm their identification to unlock their delivery. Deliveries will be free of charge for CVS Pharmacy customers.
“We are seeing an increased demand for prescription delivery,” Ryan Rumbarger, senior vice
president of store operations at CVS Health, said in a prepared statement. “We want to give our customers more choice in how they can quickly access the medications they need when it’s not convenient for them to visit one of our pharmacy locations.”
Nuro is already operating in the Houston area. Walmart announced in December a pilot program to test autonomous grocery delivery in the Houston market using Nuro’s autonomous vehicles. Under the pilot, Nuro’s vehicles deliver Walmart online grocery orders to a select group of customers who opt into the service in Houston. The autonomous delivery service involves R2, Nuro’s custom-built delivery vehicle that carries products only, with no on-board drivers or passengers, as well as autonomous Toyota Priuses that deliver groceries.
Nuro also partnered with Kroger (Fry’s) in 2018 to test autonomous Prius vehicles and its first-generation custom-built robot known as R1. The R1 autonomous vehicle was operating as a driverless service without a safety driver on board in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. In March 2019, Nuro moved the service with Kroger to Houston, beginning with autonomous Priuses.
The company’s contactless delivery program shuttling medical supplies and food is also continuing. Under that program, which began in late April, Nuro’s R2 bots are used at two events centers — in San Mateo and the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento — that have been turned into temporary healthcare facilities for COVID-19 patients. Nuro is delivering meals and equipment to more than 50 medical staff at both sites every week.
It’s unclear how long the field hospital program will continue. Last week, there were 25 patients across the two sites. The Sleep Train Arena is accepting patients through June 30 via California Office of Emergency Services. The hospital may be converted to a shelter for those affected by fires through the end of this year.
Conservative members of the United Kingdom’s government have pushed Prime Minister Boris Johnson to draw up plans to remove telecom equipment made by the Chinese manufacturer Huawei from the nation’s 5G networks by 2023, according to multiple reports.
The decision by Johnson, who wanted Huawei’s market share in the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure capped at 35 percent, brings the UK back into alignment with the position Australia and the United States have taken on Huawei’s involvement in national communications networks, according to both The Guardian and The Telegraph.
The debate over Huawei’s role in international networking stems from the company’s close ties to the Chinese government and the attendant fears that relying on Huawei telecom equipment could expose the allied nations to potential cybersecurity threats and weaken national security.
Originally, the UK had intended to allow Huawei to maintain a foothold in the nation’s telecom infrastructure in a plan that had received the approval of Britain’s intelligence agencies in January.
“This is very good news and I hope and believe it will be the start of a complete and thorough review of our dangerous dependency on China,” conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told The Guardian when informed of the Prime Minister’s reversal.
As TechCrunch had previously reported, the Australian government and the U.S. both have significant concerns about Huawei’s ability to act independently of the interests of the Chinese national government.
“The fundamental issue is one of trust between nations in cyberspace,” wrote Simeon Gilding, until recently the head of the Australian Signals Directorate’s signals intelligence and offensive cyber missions. “It’s simply not reasonable to expect that Huawei would refuse a direction from the Chinese Communist Party.”
Given the current tensions between the U.S. and China, allies like the UK and Australia would be better served not exposing themselves to any risks from having the foreign telecommunications company’s technology in their networks, some security policy analysts have warned.
“It’s not hard to imagine a time when the U.S. and China end up in some sort of conflict,” Tom Uren of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) told TechCrunch. “If there was a shooting war, it is almost inevitable that the U.S. would ask Australia for assistance and then we’d be in this uncomfortable situation if we had Huawei in our networks that our critical telecommunications networks would literally be run by an adversary we were at war with.”
U.S. officials are bound to be delighted with the decision. They’ve been putting pressure on European countries for months to limit Huawei’s presence in their telecom networks.
“If countries choose to go the Huawei route it could well jeopardize all the information sharing and intelligence sharing we have been talking about, and that could undermine the alliance, or at least our relationship with that country,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, according to a report in The New York Times.
In recent months the U.S. government has stepped up its assault against the technology giant on multiple fronts. Earlier in May, the U.S. issued new restrictions on the use of American software and hardware in certain strategic semiconductor processes. The rules would affect all foundries using U.S. technologies, including those located abroad, some of which are Huawei’s key suppliers.
At a conference earlier this week, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping admitted that while the firm is able to design some semiconductor parts such as integrated circuits (IC), it remains “incapable of doing a lot of other things.”
“Survival is the keyword for us at present,” he said.
Huawei has challenged the ban, saying that it would damage the international technology ecosystem that has developed to manufacture the hardware that powers the entire industry.
“In the long run, [the U.S. ban] will damage the trust and collaboration within the global semiconductor industry which many industries depend on, increasing conflict and loss within these industries.”
There are a number of different technologies both proposed and in development to help smooth the reopening of parts of the economy even as the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic continues. One such tech solution launching today comes from Brian McClendon, co-founder of Keyhole, the company that Google purchased in 2004 that would form the basis of Google Earth and Google Maps. McClendon’s new CVKey Project is a registered nonprofit that is launching with an app for symptom self-assessment that generates a temporary QR code, which will work with participating community facilities as a kind of health “pass” on an opt-in basis.
Ultimately, CVKey Project hopes to launch an entire suite of apps dedicated to making it easier to reopen public spaces safely. Apple and Google recently launched an exposure notification API that would allow CVKey to include those notifications in its apps. CVKey also plans to provide information about facilities open under current government guidelines and their policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.
The core element of CVKey Project’s approach, however, is the use of a QR code generated by its app that essentially acts as a verification that you’re “safe” to enter one of these shared spaces. The system is designed with user privacy in mind, according to McClendon. Any identity or health data exists only on a user’s individual device — no date is ever uploaded to a cloud server or shared without a user’s consent. Information is also provided about what that sharing entails. Users voluntarily offer their health info, and the app never asks for location information. Most of what it does can be done without an internet connection at all, McClendon explains.
When you generate and scan a QR code at a participating location, a simple binary display (based on the location’s policies) indicates whether you’re cleared to pass. The location won’t see any specifics about your health information. The code simply transmits the particulars of shown symptoms (which ones and how recently, for instance), and then that is matched against the public space’s policy. The app then provides a “go”/”no-go” response.
McClendon created CVKey Project with former Google Earth, Google Maps and Uber co-workers Manik Gupt and Waleed Kadous, as well as Dr. Marci Nielsen, a public health specialist with a long history of public and private institution leadership.
The apps created by CVKey Project will be available soon, and the nonprofit is looking for potential partners to participate in its program. Like just about everything else designed to address the COVID-19 crisis, it’s not a simple fix, but it could form part of a larger strategy that provides a path forward for dealing with the pandemic.
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms has agreed to sell 2.32% stake to U.S. equity firm KKR in what is the fifth major deal the top Indian telecom operator has secured in just as many weeks.
On Friday, KKR announced it will invest $1.5 billion in the top Indian telecom operator, a subsidiary of India’s most valued firm (Reliance Industries), joining fellow American investors Facebook, Silver Lake, Vista Equity Partners, and General Atlantic that have made similar bets on Jio Platforms.
The investment from KKR, which has written checks to about 20 tech companies including ByteDance and GoJek in the past four decades, values Reliance Jio Platforms at $65 billion.
The announcement today further shows the appeal of Jio Platforms, which has raised $10.35 billion in the past month by selling about 17% of its stake, to foreign investors that are looking for a slice of the world’s second-largest internet market.
Ambani, the chairman and managing director of oil-to-telecoms giant Reliance Industries that has poured over $30 billion to build Jio Platforms, said the company was looking forward to leverage “KKR’s global platform, industry knowledge and operational expertise to further grow Jio.”
In recent years, India has emerged as one of the biggest global battlegrounds for Silicon Valley and Chinese firms that are looking to win the nation’s 1.3 billion people, most of whom remain without a smartphone and internet connection.
Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Xiaomi, and TikTok-parent firm ByteDance among several others already count India as one of their most important overseas markets. In the past decade, nearly half a billion Indians came online for the first time, thanks in large part to Reliance Jio, which has amassed over 388 million subscribers.
An advertisement featuring Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan for Reliance Jio (Image: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Launched in the second half of 2016, Reliance Jio upended India’s telecommunications industry with cut-rate data plans and free voice calls, forcing incumbents such as Airtel and Vodafone to significantly revise their prices to sustain customers and many to consolidate and exit the market.
Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, operates the telecom venture, called Jio Infocomm, that has become the top telecom operator in India.
Reliance Jio Platforms also owns a bevy of digital apps and services including music streaming service JioSaavn (which it says it will take public), on-demand live television service and payments service, as well as smartphones, and broadband business.
“Few companies have the potential to transform a country’s digital ecosystem in the way that Jio Platforms is doing in India, and potentially worldwide. Jio Platforms is a true homegrown next generation technology leader in India that is unmatched in its ability to deliver technology solutions and services to a country that is experiencing a digital revolution,” Henry Kravis, co-founder and co-chief executive of KKR, said in a statement.
“We are investing behind Jio Platforms’ impressive momentum, world-class innovation and strong leadership team, and we view this landmark investment as a strong indicator of KKR’s commitment to supporting leading technology companies in India and Asia Pacific,” he added. This is the single-largest investment (in equity terms) made from KKR’s Asia private equity business to date.
The new capital should also help Ambani, India’s richest man, further solidify his last year’s commitment to investors when he pledged to cut Reliance’s net debt of about $21 billion to zero by early 2021 — in part because of the investments it has made to build Jio Platforms. Its core business — oil refining and petrochemicals — has been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Its net profit in the quarter that ended on March 31 fell by 37%.
In the company’s earnings call last month, Ambani said several firms had expressed interest in buying stakes in Jio Platforms in the wake of the deal with Facebook. Recent investments also pave the way for an initial public offering of Jio, which could happen within five years.
Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.
Yesterday afternoon, Vroom, an online car buying service, filed to go public. Based on its SEC filing, Vroom is a highly-successful private company in fundraising terms that has attracted over $700 million during its life as a startup. T. Rowe Price, AutoNation, Durable Capital Partners, General Catalyst and other investors fueled the firm during its youth according to Crunchbase data.
Vroom most recently raised $254 million in December 2019, a Series H round that valued the company at around $1.5 billion. From its mid-2013 Series A to today, Vroom has tried to accelerate from the startup world to the grown-up domain of the public markets. How did it do?
Finding out is our goal this morning. We’re also curious why the firm would pursue an IPO today; public offerings tend to shun volatile, uncertain periods. So let’s dig into the numbers and do a bit of a unicorn check-up.
What does a private, car-focused e-commerce company worth $1.5 billion look like under the hood?
TechCrunch dug into Vroom’s market last year, writing that the company “looks a lot like Carvana and Shift,” and noting that in 2018 the company had “laid off 25-50% of its staff as it exited several markets.” Vroom was therefore a bit early to the waves of unicorn layoffs that we’ve seen in 2020.
I raise the layoffs as they imply that the company might be in reasonable financial shape; what did the cuts buy the company in terms of profitability?
It would be one of the greatest startup investments of all time. Masayoshi Son, riding high in the klieg lights of the 1990s dot-com bubble, invested $20 million dollars into a fledgling Hong Kong-based startup called Alibaba. That $20 million investment into the Chinese e-commerce business would go on to be worth about $120 billion for SoftBank, which still retains more than a quarter ownership stake today.
That early check and the rise, fall, and rise of Son and Alibaba’s Jack Ma helped to cement an intricately connected partnership that has endured decades of ferocious change in the tech industry. Ma joined SoftBank’s board in 2007, and the two have been tech titans together ever since.
So it is notable and worth a minute of reflection that SoftBank announced overnight that Jack Ma would be leaving SoftBank’s board after almost 14 years.
Yet, one can’t help connect the various dots of news that hovers between the two companies and not realize that the partnership that has endured so much is now increasingly fraying, and due to forces far beyond the ken of the two dynamos.
On one hand, there is a pecuniary point: SoftBank has been rapidly selling Alibaba shares the past few years after decades of going long as it attempts to shore up its balance sheet amidst intense financial challenges. According to Bloomberg in March, SoftBank intended to sell $14 billion of its Alibaba shares, and that was after $11 billion in realized returns on Alibaba stock in 2019 from a deal consummated in 2016. It’s just a bit awkward for Ma to be sitting on a board that is actively selling his own legacy.
Yet, there is more here. Jack Ma has become a figure in the fight against COVID-19, and has burnished China’s image (and his own) of responding globally to the crisis. In the process, though, there has been blowback, as concerns about the quality of face masks and other goods have been raised by health authorities.
And of course, there is the deepening trade war, not just between the United States and China, but also between Japan and China. Japan’s government is increasingly looking for a way to find a “China exit” and become more self-sufficient in its own supply chains and less financially dependent on Chinese capitalism.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been seeking out avenues of decoupling the U.S. from China. Overnight, the largest chip fab in the world, TSMC, announced that it would no longer accept orders from China’s Huawei following new export controls put in place by the U.S. last week and its announcement of a new, $12 billion chip fab plant in Arizona.
SoftBank itself has gotten caught up in these challenges. As an international conglomerate, and with the Vision Fund itself officially incorporated in Jersey, it has confronted the tightening screws of U.S. regulation of foreign ownership of critical technology companies through mechanisms like CFIUS. Its acquisition of ARM Holdings a few years ago may not have been completed if it had tried today, given the environment in the United Kingdom or the U.S.
So it’s not just about an investor and his entrepreneur breaking some ties after two decades in business together. It’s about the fraying of the very globalization that powered the first wave of tech companies — that a Japanese conglomerate with major interests in the U.S. and Europe could invest in a Hong Kong / China startup and reap huge rewards. That tech world and the divide of the internet and the world’s markets continues unabated.
Apple outlines new safety measures as it reopens stores, Huawei responds to new U.S. chip curbs and Jack Ma departs SoftBank’s board of directors.
Here’s your Daily Crunch for May 18, 2020.
In mid-March, Apple closed all of its stores outside of China “until further notice.” In a statement issued today under the title, “To our Customers,” Retail SVP Deirdre O’Brien offered insight into the company’s plans to reopen locations.
Nearly 100 stores have already resumed services, according to O’Brien. Face covers will be required for both employees and customers alike. In addition, temperature checks are now conducted at the store’s entrance, coupled with posted health questions. Apple has also instituted deeper cleaning on all surfaces, including display products.
Following the U.S. government’s announcement that it would further thwart Huawei’s chip-making capability, the Chinese telecoms equipment giant condemned the new ruling for being “arbitrary and pernicious.” Adding to its woes, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. has stopped taking new orders from the company. (Huawei declined to comment, while TSMC said the report was “purely market rumor.”)
The company did not give a reason for the resignation, but over the past year, Ma has been pulling back from business roles to focus on philanthropy. Last September, he resigned as Alibaba’s chairman, and is also expected to step down from its board at its annual general shareholder’s meeting this year.
Facebook-owned Oculus released a new sales figure as the company reaches the one-year anniversary of the release of the Quest headset. We didn’t get unit sales, but the company did share that it has sold $100 million worth of Quest content in the device’s first year — a number that indicates that although the platform is still nascent, a handful of developers are definitely making it work for them.
Devin Coldewey talks about what’s going to change with coffee shops and co-working spaces, Alex Wilhelm discusses the future of the home office setup and Danny Crichton talks about the revitalization of urban and semi-urban neighborhoods. (Extra Crunch membership required.)
In an internal email, which the Bangalore-headquartered food delivery startup published on its blog, Swiggy co-founder and chief executive Sriharsha Majety said the company’s core food business had been “severely impacted.”
The latest full episode of Equity looks at a funding round for pizza delivery company Slice and the possibility of Uber acquiring Grubhub, while the Monday news roundup takes a deeper look at the financials of the food delivery business. Meanwhile, Original Content is back on a weekly schedule, and we review the new Netflix series “Never Have I Ever.”
Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.
Today we’re digging into SoftBank’s latest earnings slides. Not only do they contain a wealth of updates and other useful information, but some of them are gosh-darn-freaking hilarious. We all deserve a bit of levity after the last few months.
The visual elements we quote below come from SoftBank’s reporting of its own results from its fiscal year ending March 31, 2020. Much of the deck is made up of financial reporting tables and other bits of stuff you don’t want to read. We’ve cut all that out and left the fun parts.
Before we dive in, please note that we are largely giggling at some slide design choices and only somewhat at the results themselves. We are certainly not making fun of people who’ve been impacted by layoffs and other such things that these slides’ results encompass.
But we are going to have some fun with how SoftBank describes how it views the world, because how can we not? Let’s begin.
TechCrunch has a number of folks parsing SoftBank’s deck this morning, looking to do serious work. That’s not our goal. Sure, this post will tell you things like the fact that there are 88 companies in the Vision Fund portfolio, and that when it comes to unrealized gains and losses, the portfolio has seen $13.4 billion in gains and $14.2 billion in losses. $4.9 billion of gains have been realized, mind you, while just $200 million of losses have had the same honor.
And this post will tell you that the “net blended [internal rate of return] for SoftBank Vision Fund investors is -1%.”
Hell, you probably also want to know that Uber was detailed as Vision Fund’s worst-performing public company, generating a $1.46 billion loss for the group. In contrast, Guardant Health is good for a $1.67 billion gain, while 2019 IPO Slack has been good for $605 million in profits. Those were the two best companies in the Vision Fund’s public portfolio.
But what you really want is the good stuff. So, shared by slide number, here you go:
Uber is laying off another 3,000 employees, the Wall Street Journal first reported. Uber is also closing 45 offices, and rethinking its approach in areas like freight and autonomous vehicle technology.
“I knew that I had to make a hard decision, not because we are a public company, or to protect or stock price, or to please our Board or investors,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote to employees today in a memo, viewed by TechCrunch . “I had to make this decision because our very future as an essential service for the cities of the world — our being there for millions of people and businesses who rely on us — demands it. We must establish ourselves as a self-sustaining enterprise that no longer relies on new capital or investors to keep growing, expanding, and innovating.”
As part of the layoffs, Uber is expected to pay up to $145 million to employees via severance and other benefits, and up to $80 million in order to shut down offices, according to a filing with the SEC.
This comes just weeks after Uber laid off 3,700 employees in order to save about $1 billion in costs. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Uber has laid off about 25% of its workforce.
Rides have been hit hard amid the coronavirus. More specifically, rides are down about 80%, according to the company. Food delivery, however, has been hot. In Q1, Uber Eats experienced major growth with gross bookings of $4.68 billion, up 52% from that same quarter one year ago.
“I will caution that while Eats growth is accelerating, the business today doesn’t come close to covering our expenses,” Khosrowshahi wrote in the memo today. “I have every belief that the moves we are making will get Eats to profitability, just as we did with Rides, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Meanwhile, Uber is in talks to buy GrubHub to beef up its food delivery business, UberEats, according to The WSJ and Bloomberg. Uber first approached Grubhhub earlier this year with an offer, but the two companies are still in talks, according to the WSJ. A Bloomberg report says the deal could be finalized sometime this month. Khosrowshahi. however, did not mention this deal in the memo today.
In an attempt to organize more around its core offering, Uber is shutting down Incubator after less than one year of launch. It’s also shutting down AI Labs and looking into alternatives for Uber Works, a service Uber launched in October to match workers with shifts.
Those not affected in these layoffs are drivers, which are not currently classified as employees but rather independent contractors. Still, many drivers have continued to be vocal amid the coronavirus pandemic, demanding better protections and benefits. Last week, rideshare drivers staged a caravan protest to demand Uber comply with AB pay into the state’s unemployment insurance fund and drop the ballot initiative it proposed along with Lyft and DoorDash that aims to keep gig workers classified as independent contractors.
Peloton bested Wall Street’s high expectations, delivering a huge quarterly earnings report Wednesday that showed revenues climbing 66%. In after-hours trading, the connected fitness company’s stock bounced around rising and dipping below the stock’s previous all-time high.
The company posted total revenues of $524.6 million for the quarter, besting estimates of $488.5 million. The company detailed a loss of $.20 per share. Total members grew from 2.0 million in Q2 to 2.6 million in Q3, a 30% quarter-over-quarter increase. In March, the company announced it was extending the free trial period from 30 to 90 days for digital subscriptions not tied to the company bike or treadmill hardware.
The company sells a connected bike that retails for $2,245 and a treadmill that costs $4,295.
Peloton has proven to be one of the few public stocks to find an opportunity in the COVID-19 pandemic, as user growth surges due to gym closures and shelter-in-place orders. Peloton aimed to seize on the opportunity, boosting sales and marketing expenses by 53%, to $154.8 million in Q3.
The company has been negatively affected as well, being forced to close their showrooms and suspend production of live classes in their dedicated studios. In recent weeks, the company has shifted to at-home exercise classes live-streamed from their instructors’ homes.
For investors, the big question is how much of this growth they’ll be able to hold onto once the pandemic ends. Users with the company’s hardware are obviously much less likely to churn from digital subscriptions, but Wall Street will undoubtedly be watching to see how many of those free trial users convert post-lockdown.
VC fund Runa Capital was launched with $135 million in 2010, and is perhaps best known for its investment into NGINX, which powers many web sites today. In more recent years it has participated or led investments into startups such as Zipdrug ($10.8 million); Rollbar this year ($11 million); and Monedo (for €20 million).
HQ’d in San Francisco, it has now completed the final closing on its $157 million Runa Capital Fund III, which, they say, exceeded its original target of $135 million.
The firm typically invests between $1 million and $10 million in early-stage companies, predominantly Series A rounds, and has a strong interest in cloud infrastructure, open-source software, AI and machine intelligence and B2B SaaS, in markets such as finance, education and healthcare.
Dmitry Chikhachev, co-founder and managing partner of Runa Capital, said in a statement: “We are excited to see many of our portfolio companies’ founders investing in Runa Capital III, along with tech-savvy LPs from all parts of the world, who supported us in all of our funds from day one… We invested in deep tech long before it became the mainstream for venture capital, betting on Nginx in 2011, Wallarm and ID Quantique in 2013, and MariaDB in 2014.”
Going forward the firm says it aims to concentrate much of its firepower in the realm of machine learning and quantum computing.
In addition, Jinal Jhaveri, ex-CEO & founder of SchoolMint, a former portfolio company of Runa Capital which was acquired by Hero K12, has joined the firm as a venture partner.
Runa operates out of its HQ in Palo Alto to its offices throughout Europe. Its newest office opened in Berlin in early 2020, given Runa Capital’s growing German portfolio. German investments have included Berlin-based Smava and Mambu, as well as the recently added Monedo (formerly Kreditech), Vehiculum and N8N (a co-investment with Sequoia Capital) . Other investments made from the third fund include Rollbar, Reelgood, Forest Admin, Uploadcare and Oxygen.
N8N and three other startups were funded through Runa Capital’s recently established seed program that focuses on smaller investments up to $100,000.
As the country wrestles with the COVID-19 epidemic, home health testing, checkups and diagnostics have never been more important and companies like LetsGetChecked are filling a void left in a U.S. healthcare system consumed by the outbreak.
The surge in demand for the company’s services has led to an equal surge in investor interest, and LetsGetChecked is one of many home health and remote diagnostics companies to raise new capital during the pandemic.
The company’s new $71 million financing isn’t just about the services the company can provide during the COVID-19 epidemic. Now that an increasing number of Americans are accessing home health services, they’ll likely continue to use them thanks to their convenience and ease of use, according to LetsGetChecked chief executive, Peter Foley.
“People are very focused on COVID-19. [But] we’re seeing trends of increases in everything else,” said Foley. “This situation has definitely legitimized the space of home diagnostics. We are seeing spikes in those kinds of tests. Everything that needs monitoring we’re seeing spikes in.”
Most consumers are avoiding doctors, hospitals and clinics out of concern over the epidemic and that’s pushing them to use telemedicine and remote testing services, said Foley.
And the company has stepped up to address the coronavirus outbreak itself. The company, which has a manufacturing facility in Queens where it makes its own test kits has been unfazed by the supply chain issues that have hit other companies, said Foley. And LetsGetChecked has a certified lab facility where it can conduct its own tests.
LetsGetChecked at-home Coronavirus test kit.
Right now, the company is offering both a serological test (sourced from a Korean lab and awaiting approval by the FDA) and a PCR test (from ThermoFisher) for SARS-CoV-2 and is looking to expand the scope of its tests. The LetsGetChecked tests include a rapid (antibody) serology test for results within 15 minutes, followed by a PCR-based test which requires a swab sample to be collected from a patient and later processed within the LetsGetChecked high complexity CLIA lab in Monrovia, Calif., the company said. Initially the testing was for first responders and those most at risk from the disease, but the population that the company is testing is expanding as the spread of the virus slows.
“We were fortunate enough to be in a position where we could help people now,” says Foley.
LetsGetChecked isn’t the only startup at work developing and distributing home testing services for the coronavirus. Everlywell and Scanwell Health are two other startups that have been developing and selling home test kits as well.
LetsGetChecked began fundraising four months ago, and even then, in the days before COVID-19 hit American shores, the environment for raising capital had tightened, Foley said.
In the days before the disease reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. LetsGetChecked was pitching its ability to test at-home or through partner retailers for cancer screening, sexual health, fertility and pharmacogenomic testing.
Users can buy tests and collect samples at home before sending them to LetsGetChecked’s facility. The company connects its customers to board-certified physicians to discuss abnormal results and determine a course of action for treatment
The company’s initial pitch and the promise of a vast remote diagnostics market was enough to convince Illumina Ventures, which co-led the round with HLM Venture Partners. Other new investors included Deerfield, CommonFund Capital, and Angeles Investment Advisors. Previous investors Transformation Capital, Optum Vnetures, and Qiming Venture Partners USA also participated.
For Illumina Ventures, the LetsGetChecked remote testing service can serve as a channel for some of the tests under development at the firm’s other healthcare portfolio companies, according to Nick Naclerio, a founding partner at Illumina Ventures and a new director on the LetsGetChecked board.
“A lot of companies developing cutting edge new tests have challenges building a channel into the broader market,” said Naclerio. “Here is a company going after building the kind of future, patient-initiated testing channel that the world needs and is probably synergistic with some of the companies that are doing next generation testing.”
Those would be companies like Serimmune, which is developing tests to map the human immune system, or Genome Medical, which applies the latest understanding of the human genome to treatments for patients. The firm also has investments in cancer screening companies like Grail, which is aiming to provide an early detection diagnostic for cancer.
Naclerio also sees a dramatic shift in consumer behavior on the horizon in the post-COVID-19 world.
“COVID presents a tremendous need for at-home infectious disease testing or at-work infectious disease testing,” he said. “This is breaking down a lot of the barriers that have historically slowed the adoption of telehealth… It creates an opportunity for LetsGetChecked even once we get over the peak of the curve. There’s going to be a lasting impact.”
Careem, the Dubai-based ride-hailing and delivery company that was acquired by Uber last year, is cutting its workforce by 31% and suspending its mass transportation business due to affects from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The layoffs will affect more than 530 employees. Employees who are laid off will receive at least three months severance pay, one month of equity vesting, and where relevant, extended visa and medical insurance through the end of the year, according to the company’s blog post announcing the reductions.
“We delayed this decision as long as possible so that we could exhaust all other means to secure Careem,” Mudassir Sheikha, the company’s co-founder and CEO, wrote in a blog post Monday.
Careem started in 2012 as a ride-hailing company aiming to compete with Uber rival in the Middle East. In recently years, Careem has diversified its business, expanding into credit transfers, food and package delivery and bus services. Uber bought Careem in March 2019 for $3.1 billion.
Since the COVId-19 pandemic hit, Careem has seen business fall by more than 80%, Sheikha said.
The company made the cuts to preserve the business and its vision to create a consumer-facing “super app” that offers a suite of lifestyle services, including a digital payment platform and last-mile delivery. Those reductions will also affect some previously announced products, namely its mass transportation feature called Careem BUS.
“The economics of the mass transportation business have improved but remain challenging, and at this time, we need to accelerate our investments in deliveries and the Super App,” We believe Careem BUS is a much-needed offering in some of our core markets, and I predict that the service will reappear on the Careem Super App in the future.”
The announcement comes just hours after Uber Eats said it will shutter its on-demand food business in several markets, including in the Czech Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Ukraine. Uber Eats said it will transfer its business operations in the in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Careem.
“Consumers and restaurants using the Uber Eats app in the UAE will be transitioned to the Careem platform in the coming weeks, after which the Uber Eats app will no longer be available,” according to a regulatory filing detailing the operational shifts.
Nvidia today announced its plans to acquire Cumulus Networks, an open-source centric company that specializes in helping enterprises optimize their data center networking stack. Cumulus offers both its own Linux distribution for network switches, as well as tools for managing network operations. With Cumulus Express, the company also offers a hardware solution in the form of its own data center switch.
The two companies did not announce the price of the acquisition, but chances are we are talking about a considerable amount, given that Cumulus had raised $134 million since it was founded in 2010.
Mountain View-based Cumulus already had a previous partnership with Mellanox, which Nvidia acquired for $6.9 billion. That acquisition closed only a few days ago. As Mellanox’s Amit Katz notes in today’s announcement, the two companies first met in 2013 and they formed a first official partnership in 2016. Cumulus, it’s worth noting, was also an early player in the OpenStack ecosystem.
Having both Cumulus and Mellanox in its stable will give Nvidia virtually all of the tools it needs to help enterprises and cloud providers build out their high-performance computing and AI workloads in their data centers. While you may mostly think about Nvidia because of its graphics cards, the company has a sizable data center group, which delivered close to $1 billion in revenue in the last quarter, up 43 percent from a year ago. In comparison, Nvidia’s revenue from gaming was just under $1.5 billion.
“With Cumulus, NVIDIA can innovate and optimize across the entire networking stack from chips and systems to software including analytics like Cumulus NetQ, delivering great performance and value to customers,” writes Katz. “This open networking platform is extensible and allows enterprise and cloud-scale data centers full control over their operations.”