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On-demand parking startup SpotHero raises $50 million

By Kirsten Korosec

SpotHero, the Chicago-based company that has developed an on-demand parking app, has raised $50 million in a Series D round led by Macquarie Capital.

Union Grove Venture Partners participated in the round, along with existing investors including Insight Venture Partners, Global Founders Capital, OCA Ventures, AutoTech Ventures and others, according to the company. SpotHero has raised $118 million to date.

The new capital will be used to expand its reach in the 300 U.S. and Canadian cities where it is already operating, build out its digital platform and strengthen partnerships with mobility companies, CEO and co-founder Mark Lawrence told TechCrunch.

SpotHero, which has operations in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and Seattle, initially set out to develop software that connects everyday drivers to parking spots in thousands of garages across North America.

It’s secret sauce is its software, which can sit on top of the 40 or so different point-of-sales systems used by parking garages. This acts as a single protocol, allowing SpotHero to bring some kind of standardization to an otherwise fragmented system. From this single protocol, SpotHero can add in features that will allow for automated parking services such as license plate recognition.

“We’ve built the pipes, so to speak, and this powers out consumer app,” Lawrence said in a recent interview. Now the company is focus is on building out partnerships, features in the software and services, he added.

Capital will also be used to hire talent to support these new endeavors. SpotHero has 210 employees today and is working on hiring 50 more engineers this year.

In the eight years since its founding, SpotHero has expanded beyond its core consumer-focused compentcy. The company has added other services as urban density has increased and on-street parking has become more jumbled and confused thanks to an increase in traffic, ride-hailing and on-demand delivery services that take up valuable curb space. It has locked in more than 900 distribution partnerships and integrations including Google Assistant, for voice-enabled parking and Waze in-app navigation to parking. Other partners include Hertz and car2go for fleet parking, WeWork, for commuter parking and Moovit, for multi-modal parking.

Most recently, SpotHero launched a new service dubbed “SpotHero for Fleets” that targets shared mobility and on-demand services.

The service aims to be a one-stop shop for car-sharing and commercial fleets to handle all that goes into ensuring there is access and the right number of designated parking areas on any given day within SpotHero’s large network of 6,500 garages across 300 cities. That means everything from managing the relationships between garage owners and the fleet companies to proper signage so car-sharing customers can find the vehicles, as well as flexible plans that account for seasonal demands on businesses.

Under the new service, customers are able to source and secure parking inventory in high-traffic areas across multiple cities and pay per use across multiple parking facilities on one invoice to streamline payments. 

The company has signed on car-sharing companies and other commercial fleets, although it’s not naming them yet.

Birth control delivery startup Nurx approaches $300M valuation

By Kate Clark

Nurx, citing 200,000 current patients and a monthly growth rate as high as 20%, has raised $32 million in Series C equity funding in a round co-led by existing investors Kleiner Perkins and Union Square Ventures. The company has also secured $20 million in debt financing, bringing total new capital to $52 million.

The San Francisco-based digital health startup, which seeks to make birth control more accessible and affordable by shipping it direct to consumers, has raised more than $90 million in debt and equity funding to date, with the latest infusion bringing its valuation to nearly $300 million, according to stock authorization filings uncovered by PitchBook. Nurx declined to comment on its valuation.

The goal, Nurx chief executive officer Varsha Rao explains, is to become a telehealth platform focused on all sensitive health needs.

“We see there is a need to help people that may have issues that often carry stigma and judgment by providing a streamlined platform,” Rao tells TechCrunch. “What the company is doing in terms of providing more accessibility from a physical and economic perspective to critical health services is very inspiring for me.”

The fresh bout of funding comes four months after a scathing New York Times report highlighted irresponsible practices at the company, including reshipping returned medications and attempting to revise medical policy on birth control for women over the age of 35.

Nurx’s Rao, who joined from Clover Health just one week before the article was published, says she feels good about how the company has scaled: “I want to make it clear, patient safety was never at risk even then; having said that, we are super committed to always investing in compliance and patient safety and all of the things that are important.”

The business plans to use the funding to double its engineering team and launch additional “sensitive” healthcare services, of which Rao declined to further outline. In addition to shipping birth control D2C, including the pill, shot, ring and patch, Nurx provides emergency contraception, STI and HPV testing and screening kits, and PrEP medication, the once-daily pill that reduces the risk of getting HIV.

The company added STI testing kits to its line up last month and has since performed tests for 1,000 patients, Nurx says.

Nurx’s service is currently live in 26 states and Washington, D.C. The company plans to be accessible to 90% of the U.S. population by the end of the year, with additional launches, including the state of Nebraska, expected this month.

A graduate of Y Combinator, Nurx investors also include Reproductive Health Investors Alliance, Dreamers VC, Lowercase Capital and debt and equity provider Triple Point Capital.

Apple, Microsoft and Google to test new standard for patient access to digital health data

By Darrell Etherington

A newly released data model and draft implementation guide for providing directly to patients digital access to historical health insurance claims data could mean you have better access to this info from the devices you use everyday. Called the CARIN Blue Button API, it’s a new model developed by private sector partners, including consumer organizations, insurance providers, digital health app developers and more. This new draft implementation will be in testing with participating companies beginning this year, including a number of different state-specific BlueCross/BlueShield providers, the State of Washington — and Apple, Google and Microsoft.

The news was announced today at the White House Blue Button Developers Conference in Washington D.C., and builds on the work done last year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to launch Blue Button 2.0, a new standard aimed at providing Medicare beneficiaries in the U.S. access to all of their historical claims information in one place from whichever application they choose to use.

All of the organizations participating in the draft testing process will perform “real-world testing” of the CARIN model developed by the multi-disciplinary working group, with the aim of preparing for a broad product launch of the data standard in 2020.

Seeing Apple, Google and Microsoft on that list along with a significant number of healthcare providers is a good sign; it should mean more data portability and choice when it comes to how you access your own patient information, rather than it being decided on a platform-by-platform basis.

Apple already built a Health Records section into its own native Health app in iOS at the beginning of last year, and while it works with standards sometimes adopted by healthcare providers, it’s far from a universal, truly interoperable healthcare history feature on its own. Apple has been building partnerships with agencies and providers, including Veterans’ Affairs and Aetna, to flesh out its personal health data offering for users, and Microsoft has its own health records offering called HealthVault.

How parking app SpotHero is preparing for an era of driverless cars

By Kirsten Korosec

On-demand parking app SpotHero wants to be ready for the day when autonomous vehicles are ubiquitous. Its strategy: target the human-driven car-sharing fleets today.

The Chicago-based company, which has operations in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and Seattle, has launched a new service dubbed SpotHero for Fleets that targets shared mobility and on-demand services.

The service aims to be a one-stop shop for car-sharing and commercial fleets to handle all that goes into ensuring there is access and the right number of designated parking areas on any given day within SpotHero’s large network of 6,500 garages across 300 cities.

That means everything from managing the relationships between garage owners and the fleet companies to proper signage so car-sharing customers can find the vehicles, as well as flexible plans that account for seasonal demands on businesses.

Under the new service, customers are able to source and secure parking inventory in high-traffic areas across multiple cities and pay per use across multiple parking facilities on one invoice to streamline payments. 

The service also aims to solve the crux of accessing commercial garages, Elan Mosbacher, SpotHero’s head of strategy and operations, said in a recent interview.

“How does a car get in and out of the garage when the driver driving that car isn’t necessarily the one paying for the parking?,” Mosbacher asked rhetorically. The service provides access to gated parking facilities to provide more pickup and drop-off points for shared cars.

The company’s core competency — its bread and butter since launching in 2011 — has been directed at connecting everyday drivers to parking spots in thousands of garages across North America.

That focus has expanded in the past eight years, with the company adding other services as urban density has increased and on-street parking has become more jumbled and confused thanks to an increase in traffic, ride-hailing and on-demand delivery services that take up valuable curb space.

“Our platform has evolved as more trends emerge around everything from connected cars to urban mobility apps to fleets to autonomous vehicles more and more companies are reaching out to us about how to leverage our network and our API to service parking from their interface to their audience of drivers,” said Mosbacher.

For instance, just last month, SpotHero announced it was integrating Waze, the navigation app owned by Google, into its app to help customers find the best and most direct route to their pre-booked parking spot. The company has also partnered with Moovit as well as expanded into the corporate world with firms such as the Associated Press, Caterpillar and US Cellular.

SpotHero could continue to scale up with this consumer-focused business model. However, the company saw two overlapping opportunities that center around car-sharing fleets.

In the past year, SpotHero has been approached by a number of autonomous vehicles companies acknowledging that one day they’re going to have to solve parking, Mosbacher said. But these companies aren’t even ready to launch pilot programs.

The company realized there was a use case and an opportunity today for human-driven car-sharing fleets.

“What we’re doing now is leveraging our network of services, hardware and software to solve a number of business problems around car-sharing fleets we the hope that the technology, infrastructure improves and accelerates to a point when autonomous vehicles are capable of parking using our network,” Mosbacher said.

That opportunity is poised to get a lot wider in the next decade. Deloitte predicts that by 2030 shared vehicles will overtake personally owned vehicles in urban areas. As car-share fleets grow, companies are increasingly tasked with solving for complex parking needs at scale, according to SpotHero.

The company has signed on car-sharing companies and other commercial fleets, although it’s not naming them yet.

The business of parking — and its potential to tap fleets of human-driven and someday even driverless vehicles — has attracted venture funds. SpotHero has raised $67.6 million to date.

And there’s good reason investors and parking app companies like SpotHero are jumping in to “solve parking.” A study by Inrix released in 2017 found that, on average, U.S. drivers spend 17 hours per year searching for parking at a cost of $345 per driver in wasted time, fuel and emissions.

Ford-owned Spin is bringing a tougher electric scooter to dozens of cities

By Kirsten Korosec

Spin, the electric scooter company acquired by a Ford subsidiary for around $100 million, is launching a new electric scooter with a sturdier frame, improved braking system, bigger tires and longer-range battery.

In short, this third-generation product is built to handle the kind of abuse that a shared dockless scooter is subjected to on a daily basis. It’s also designed to be more secure. The company has added custom security screws that were developed to thwart vandalism and tampering.

The design improvements should improve the riding experience and, in theory, attract more customers. However, more customers is only one important piece of the scooter game. Gross profit margin is the other.

This third-generation is built to have a longer life, a key factor in improving the unit economics of the dockless scooter business.spin third gen side view

Spin launched a pilot program in June to test the new scooters in Baltimore. The pilot showed “promising results for increasing gross profit margin, while decreasing costs associated with theft and vandalism,” according to the company.

“In our testing of the next edition Spin scooter, we have seen a significant increase in utilization and our customers are taking more rides and traveling longer distances,” co-founder and COO Zaizhuang Cheng said in a statement.

The third-edition Spin scooter has 10-inch tires, a feature meant to better absorb shock from potholes and other rough road conditions. Other features include a wider and longer platform, a battery with 37.5 miles of range and and an upgraded authentication system. The company also revealed a new logo as part of a brand refresh across its scooters, app and website.

spin third gen brakes

 

Spin, which is housed under the automaker’s subsidiary Ford Smart Mobility LLC, will deploy the new scooter next month in Berkeley, Calif., Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. Other U.S. cities will be added in the future.

Spin has been ramping up across the U.S. The company is the exclusive operator in 11 markets and has more than quadrupled the number of dockless scooter markets in which it operates to 47 cities and college campuses.

Its aim is to be in 100 cities and college campuses by the end of the year.

Pinduoduo cements position as China’s second-largest ecommerce player

By Rita Liao

Alibaba and JD.com have been in a war over the Chinese e-commerce space for a decade or so, but a third player called Pinduoduo has managed to shake up the duopoly in recent times. The startup, which was founded in 2015 by an ex-Googler and went public on the Nasdaq last July, has further flexed muscles during the recent “6/18” shopping spree.

According to data provider QuestMobile, Pinduoduo’s daily active users have outnumbered JD’s for at least the past 12 months, and it came out of the mid-year sales festival — first popularized by JD as a counterpart to archrival Alibaba’s “11/11” shopping day — with 135 million DAUs.

JD, in comparison, ended with 88 million DAUs and Alibaba’s Taobao retained its top spot at 299 million. That result further solidified Pinduoduo’s position as China’s second-biggest ecommerce company by number of users.

The boom of Pinduoduo is in part attributable to ties with its investor Tencent — also a backer of JD — which enables it to sell via WeChat’s lite app and tap the giant’s vast social network. Alibaba, on the other hand, has for years been prevented from selling through WeChat.

In terms of sales, Pinduoduo still remains some miles behind JD, which focuses on large-ticket items like home appliances and targets China’s urban, deep-pocketed shoppers. Pinduoduo took a more rural tack and has built a reputation for hawking ultra-cheap goods at small-city consumers.

In 2018, Pinduoduo racked up 471.6 billion yuan ($68.6 billion) in gross merchandise volume, a somewhat problematic term for gauging sales as it totals the value of orders placed, regardless of whether they are actually sold, delivered or returned. (Alibaba stopped revealing GMV a few years ago.) JD’s GMV was almost four times that of Pinduoduo at 1.68 trillion yuan ($243.9 billion) last year.

One has to keep in mind that JD is a 21-year-old firm born out of the PC era, whereas Pinduoduo has been up and running on mobile for less than four years. The startup’s continued growth is undeniable. In a March report, investment bank UBS’s Evidence Lab predicted that Pinduoduo could overtake JD in GMV as early as 2021.

But Pinduoduo’s story is not all roses. Currently trading at $20.54, its stock has plunged about 35 percent since a March high. The online marketplace has also been chided for selling counterfeits and subpar goods, an endemic problem that’s long plagued Chinese e-commerce. This year Pinduoduo was put on the U.S. government’s “notorious” blacklist alongside rival Alibaba for selling fakes, while the company claims it’s actively working to root out problematic listings.

JD.com’s logistics arm raises a $218 million investment fund

By Catherine Shu

The logistics division of JD.com, Alibaba’s closest e-commerce competitor in China, has raised 1.5 billion yuan (about $218 million) to invest in logistics-related companies and technology. Limited partners in the new fund include JD Logistics and JD.com, as well as undisclosed listed companies and government-led funds, reported Reuters.

JD Logistics, which became a standalone subsidiary in April 2017, has a lot to prove. The unit raised $2.5 billion last year from Hillhouse Capital Group, Sequoia Capital and Tencent, among other investors, in its first major outside funding at a valuation of about $13.5 billion and is also eyeing a potential public offering.

But two months ago, JD.com CEO Richard Liu said in an internal memo that JD Logistics would enact several cost-cutting measures after losing 2.8 billion yuan (about $420 million) last year. These include getting rid of a basic salary for its couriers and instead pay them based on how many packages they deliver. JD.com owns a 81.4 percent stake in the business.

JD Logistics competitors include Alibaba’s Cainiao, which raised undisclosed funding at a reported valuation of $7.7 billion in 2016. Ensuring speedy, cost-efficient deliveries is especially important to JD.com’s business because it carries its own inventory and performs both in-house logistics and service for third parties.

TechCrunch has reached out to JD.com to ask about possible investments. JD Logistics has focused on testing drone deliveries, furthering logistics automation and smart vehicles and backed several companies in Southeast Asia.

Carrefour sale shifts the balance of power in China’s new retail battle

By Jon Russell

Hot on the heels of Amazon’s decision to shutter its local marketplace, Carrefour — another global commerce giant — is switching up its approach to China, and shifting the balance of power between the country’s tech giants.

Carrefour, which is Europe’s largest retailer, sold a majority 80% stake in its China-based business to Chinese retailer Suning, according to an announcement made this weekend. The deal is worth €620 million — that’s RMB 4.8 billion or $705 million — and it is set to close by the end of this year.

Beyond a retail story, the news also has a strong tech angle given the convoluted relationships of the parties that are involved, and it’s a reminder of the power that Chinese tech giants have grown to command.

Ties to Alibaba

Suning has had close links to Alibaba. The e-commerce giant owns a 20% stake in Suning courtesy of a $4.6 billion investment in 2015 and Suning, in turn, invested 14 billion yuan ($2 billion) in Alibaba a deal that kickstarted Alibaba’s ‘new retail’ strategy.

Suning started in 1990 as a home appliance retail store and is now one of China’s largest retailers with an extensive brick-and-mortar reach and an e-commerce share trailing behind Alibaba and JD.com . While it worked closely with Alibaba on merging offline commerce with online a few years back, the pair have gradually distanced themselves from each other in recent times.

Suning last year cashed out and cut its stake in Alibaba from an initial 1.1% to 0.51%. Since the Suning deal, Alibaba has continued to back old-school retail chains that would ramp up its offline operations through mega-deals like the $2.88 billion offer for Sun Art in 2017.

In other words, Alibaba has gone from being an ally to Suning to a potential competitor in the omnichannel commerce space.

The Carrefour deal is tipped to up the arms race as Carrefour China’s retail presence could boost Suning’s offline reach. Carrefour numbers 210 hypermarkets and 24 convenience stores and generated €3.6 billion — RMB 28.5 billion or $4.09 billion — in sales last year. Suning, meanwhile, has over 8,880 stores across 700-plus cities in China.

Alibaba’s Hippofresh store combines online and offline commerce [Image via Alibaba]

Tencent’s attempt

If the sale’s relevance to tech sounds far-fetched, consider that Carrefour China previously had a “strategic partnership” with Tencent, which is, of course, Alibaba’s arch-rival.

Chasing Alibaba’s shadow, Tencent’s retail footprint is most closely associated with its alliance with JD.com — we visited their flagship store last year — but Tencent also ran hybrid stores in partnership with Carrefour in Beijing.

Indeed, the FT reported that Carrefour had tried to sell a minority stake in its China business to Tencent but those talks are now over.

Instead, the Suning deal will give Carrefour “several liquidity windows to sell its remaining 20% stake in Carrefour China,” according to a statement provided to the FT.

That’s the interesting power swing, Carrefour’s allegiance appears to have moved from away Tencent.

It certainly goes against the grain and what you might expect. Tencent and JD.com — its own proxy — have tended to do deals with international retailers.

Walmart sold its China-based business to JD.com as part of its exit from the country in 2016, and Walmart has remained a partner with deals that include leading a $500 million investment in Dada-JD Daojia, an online-to-offline grocery business which is part-owned by JD.com. Other investment-led relationships include an investment in JD.com from Google, which itself has developed partnerships with Tencent.

It is likely too early to know what impact the Carrefour deal will have, but it sure seems significant that the operations will cross a hard line and switch between China’s internet tribes.

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