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Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.
We are days away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event scheduled for June 9 that is bringing together some of the best and brightest minds in transportation. I’ll keep it short and sweet.
If you want to check things out but are short on cash, register and type in “station” for a free pass to the expo and breakout sessions. If you want access to the main stage — where folks like Mate Rimac, Chris Urmson and GM’s Pam Fletcher will be interviewed — then type in “Station50” to buy a full access pass for a 50% discount. Tickets can be accessed here.
Buying a ticket will also give you a months-free subscription to Extra Crunch and access to all the videos of the conference. We have a star-studded group of folks coming from Aurora, AutoX, Gatik, GM, Hyundai, Joby Aviation, Motional, Nuro, Rimac Automobili, Scale AI, Starship Technologies, Toyota Research Institute, WeRide, and Zoox. (to name a handful).
The big micromobility news of the week revolves around Spin, and it’s not about whether or not Ford is spinning out the company; they kept a pretty tight lip on that, but clearly big changes are happening. Co-founder Derrick Ko is stepping down as CEO and moving into an advisory role, along with his other two co-founders Zaizhuang Cheng and Euwyn Poon. In Ko’s place is Ben Bear, who previously served as CBO of Spin.
Along with this news came a flurry of other announcements, but it makes sense to start with Spin’s latest public strategy for winning the e-scooter business. Spin is actively seeking out limited vendor permits with cities. In other words, the company doesn’t want to see its cities messing around with other operators. Spin is seeking exclusive partnerships and is prepared to better itself to get them. It’s positioning itself as the most desirable for cities as it shares even more news…
If Spin wants to have a kind of deal that Lyft-owned CitiBike has with NYC, then it needs to bring more to the table. It’s starting with e-bikes. 5,000 of them, to be specific, in the coming months, starting with Providence, RI in June and spreading outward into a few other mid-tier cities over the summer.
Spin is also flexing its tech that will help make its scooters safe and reliable — just what a city wants in a long-term commitment. This week, it brought its Drover AI-equipped scooters to Milwaukee (with plans to launch in Miami, Seattle and Santa Monica, as well) that are equipped to detect sidewalk and bike lane riding and validate parking. Seattle, Santa Monica and Boise, Idaho will soon be graced by Spin’s new S-200, a three-wheeled adaptive scooter built with Tortoise’s repositioning software that allows a remote operator to move scooters out of gutters or into more dense urban areas.
Berlin-based Tier Mobility, which recently won a London permit, has raised $60 million so it can expand its fleet of vehicles and battery charging networks. Technically, it’s a loan. The asset-backed financing comes from Goldman Sachs.
Lyft has got a new e-bike piloting this month, starting in San Francisco, then Chicago and New York. It’ll be dropping the sleek, white bikes with soft purple LEDs at random around the city for people to test out. TechCrunch’s Brian Heater gave it a spin, and his general consensus was, Yeah, it’s a good bike. Can’t complain.
While Lyft may have anti-theft protection on its e-bikes, the rest of us are not so lucky. According to market research company NPD Group, we saw a 63% YOY growth for bike sales in June. Bike Index, a national bike registry group, tells us that the number of bikes stolen has seen similar increases. The number of bikes reported stolen to the service was a little over 10,000 between April and September, compared to nearly 6,000 during the same period in the previous year. That’s an uptick of nearly 68%. So, when are apartment complexes going to be forced to build bike storage rather than car parks?
If you are going to risk theft and bike around, you’ll want to do it in one of the cities PeopleForBikes just announced are the best for biking.
“Topping this year’s ratings in the United States are Brooklyn, NY; Berkeley, CA and Provincetown, MA (each ranking first in the large, medium and small U.S. city categories, respectively). Top international performers include Canberra and Alice Springs in Australia; Utrecht and Groningen in the Netherlands and Gatineau, Longueuil and Montreal in Canada, all located in the province of Quebec.”
Biking is not all about fun and commuting. For some of us, it’s work. URB-E, the compact container delivery network that wants to replace trucks with small electric bikes, has announced PackItFresh as its final-mile refrigeration provider. PackItFresh’s totes can keep food at safe temperatures for up to 24 hours, yet another reason supermarkets need to be nixing the delivery trucks in favor of these more sustainable alternatives.
— Rebecca Bellan
I hesitate to put this one under deal of the week, because, well, the deal ain’t done. But it is interesting, and this is my show, so here we are. I’m talking about Aurora, the autonomous vehicle company, and a potential merger with a special purpose acquisition company.
Here’s the tl;dr for those who didn’t catch my Friday story. Several sources within the financial sector told me that Aurora is close to finalizing a deal to merge with Reinvent Technology Partners Y, the newest special purpose acquisition company launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson. It appears the valuation is going to be somewhere in the $12 billion neighborhood. The deal is expected to be announced as early as next week. I should add that both Aurora and Reinivent declined to comment.
The Hoffman, Pincus, Thompson trio, who are bullish on a concept that they call “venture capital at scale,” have formed three SPACs, or blank-check companies. Two of those SPACs have announced mergers with private companies. Reinvent Technology Partners announced a deal in February to merge with the electric vertical take off and landing company Joby Aviation, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange later this year. Reinvent Technology Partners Z merged with home insurance startup Hippo.
Is it possible that the deal could fall apart? Sure. But my sources tell me that it has progressed far enough that it would take a significant issue to derail the agreement. One more note: there is the tricky issue of Hoffman and Reinvent’s existing relationship with Aurora. Hoffman is a board member of Aurora and Reinvent is an investor. While Hoffman and Reinvent showing up on two sides of a SPAC deal would be unusual, it is not unprecedented. Connie Loizos’s accompanying article digs into the increasing cases of conflicts of interest popping up in SPAC deals.
Other deals that got my attention …
Getir, the Istanbul-based grocery delivery app, raised $550m in new funding. This latest injection of capital, which tripled its valuation to $7.5 billion, came just three months after its last financing, the Financial Times reported. The company, which just started to expand outside of Turkey in early 2021, is now planning a U.S. launch this year.
Faction Technology, the Silicon Valley-based startup building three-wheeled electric vehicles for autonomous delivery or human driven jaunts around town, raised $4.3 million in seed funding led by Trucks VC and Fifty Years.
Flink, a Berlin-based on-demand “instant” grocery delivery service built around self-operated dark stores and a smaller assortment (2,400 items) that it says it will deliver in 10 minutes or less, has raised $240 million to expand its business into more cities, and more countries.
FlixMobility, the parent company of the FlixBus coach network and the FlixTrain rail service, has closed more than $650 million in a Series G round of funding that values the Munich-based company at over $3 billion. Jochen Engert, who co-founded and co-leads the company with André Schwämmlein, described the round in a press call that TechCrunch participated in as a “balanced” mix of equity and debt, and said that the plan will be to use the funds to both expand its network in the U.S. market as well as across Europe.
Locus, a startup that uses AI to help businesses map out their logistics, raised $50 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its presence. The new round, a Series C, was led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC. Qualcomm Ventures and existing investors Tiger Global Management and Falcon Edge also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s to-date raise to $79 million. The new round valued the startup, which was founded in India, at about $300 million, said a person familiar with the matter.
Realtime Robotics announced a $31.4 million round. The funding is part of the $11.7 million Series A the company announced all the way back in late 2019. Investors include HAHN Automation, SAIC Capital Management, Soundproof Ventures , Heroic Ventures, SPARX Asset Management, Omron Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Scrum Ventures and Duke Angels.
Roadster, the Palo Alto-based digital platform that gives dealers tools to sell new and used vehicles online has been acquired for $360 million by retail automotive technology company CDK Global Inc. As part of the all-cash deal, Roadster is now a wholly owned subsidiary.
Sennder, a digital freight forwarder that focuses on moving cargo around Europe (and specifically focusing on trucks and “full truck load”, FTL, freight forwarding), has raised $80 million in funding, at a valuation the company confirms is now over $1 billion.
Toyota AI Ventures, Toyota’s standalone venture capital fund, dropped the “AI” and has been reborn as, simply, Toyota Ventures. The firm is commemorating its new identity with a new $300 million fund that will focus on emerging technologies and carbon neutrality. The capital is split into two early-stage funds: the Toyota Ventures Frontier Fund and the Toyota Ventures Climate Fund. The introduction of these two new funds brings Toyota Ventures’ total assets under management to over $500 million.
Trellis Technologies, the insurance technology platform, raised $10 million in Series A funding led by QED Investors with participation from existing investors NYCA Partners and General Catalyst.
VTB, Russia’s second-largest lender, has bought a $75 million minority stake in car-sharing provider Delimobil, Reuters reported.
Waymo has been on my mind lately — and not because of the executive departures that I wrote about last month. No, I’ve been thinking about Waymo and how, or if, it’s been scaling up its Waymo One driverless ride-hailing service, which operates in several Phoenix suburbs. The latest example is that Waymo One can now be accessed and booked through Google Maps.
But what about ridership? The folks at Sensor Tower, the mobile app market intelligence firm, recently shared some numbers that give the tiniest of glimpses into who is at least interested in trying the service.
First, a bit of history. Waymo started an early rider program in April 2017, which allowed vetted members of the public, all of whom signed NDAs, to hail an autonomous Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan. All of these Waymo-branded vans had human safety operators behind the wheel.
In December 2018, the company launched Waymo One, the self-driving car service and accompanying app. Waymo-trained test drivers were still behind the wheel when the ride-hailing service began. Early rider program members were the first to be invited to the service. As these folks were shifted over to the Waymo One service, the NDA was lifted.
The first meaningful signs that Waymo was ready to put people in vehicles without human safety operators popped up in fall 2019. TechCrunch contributor Ed Niedermeyer was among the first (media) to hail a driverless ride. These driverless rides were limited and free. And importantly, still fell under the early rider program, which had that extra NDA protection. Waymo slowly scaled until about 5 to 10% of its total rides in 2020 were fully driverless for its exclusive group of early riders under NDA. Then COVID-19 hit.
In October 2020, the company announced that members of Waymo One — remember this is the sans NDA service — would be able to take family and friends along on their fully driverless rides in the Phoenix area. Existing Waymo One members were given first access to the driverless rides. The company started to welcome more people directly into the service through its app, which is available on Google Play and the App Store.
Waymo said that 100% of its rides would be fully driverless, which it has maintained. Today, anyone can download the app and hail a driverless ride.
OK, back to the numbers. Sensor Tower shared monthly estimates for Waymo’s installs from the U.S. App Store and Google Play. The company said that most of the installs are on iOS, as it looks like the Waymo app only became available on Android in April 2021. This isn’t a ridership number. It does show how interest has grown, and picked up since February 2021.
Hi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner.
Another infrastructure bill was proposed in Washington this week. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure introduced a new bill that would invest $547 billion over the next five years on surface transport. While much of those funds would go toward improving America’s roads, bridges, and passenger rail, the INVEST in America Act would dedicate around $4 billion in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and around $4 billion to invest in zero-emission transit vehicles.
And that’s in addition to major infrastructure bills already proposed by President Joe Biden and House Democrats. It’s likely that this bill, should it pass, would be significantly scaled back — just as Congressional Republicans are attempting to do with Biden’s infrastructure plan. You can read more about the bill here.
President Biden has set his sights on battery manufacturing as a way to recover and reuse critical minerals in the EV supply chain. This is after it was reported that he walked back earlier signals that he might support domestic mining for these minerals, like lithium. Instead, it looks like his plan is to push for continued importing of the metals from foreign countries and then to recycle and reuse them at the end of a battery’s life.
This news is a blow to America’s mining industry but sure to be a boost for metal recyclers, like Redwood Materials in Nevada and Canadian company Li-Cycle, which is expanding its operations in the States.
Some of the biggest pushback against mining has come from environmental and conservation groups. A good example is the situation currently unfolding out in Nevada, where a proposed lithium mine may be halted due to the presence of a rare wildflower. Conservation groups want to get protected status for the flower. If they succeed? No more mine.
The final piece of news this week is a recent survey from Pew Research Center which found that 51% of Americans oppose phasing out the production of gas-powered cars and trucks. The report also found that those reported hearing “a lot” about EVs were more likely to seriously consider one for their next vehicle purchase. Also, while Americans are roughly in agreement that EVs are better for the environment, they’re equally in agreement that they’re more costly.
The upshot is that more and more Americans are coming around to the idea of EVs and the question of their benefits (on the environment, for example) is pretty well understood. But policymakers and OEMs clearly still have a ways to go in convincing a huge swathe of Americans to get on board.
— Aria Alamalhodaei
I won’t be providing the looooonnnnggggg roundup of news this week, but here are a few little bits including some hires and other tidbits.
7-Eleven said it plans to install 500 direct-current fast charging ports at 250 locations across North America by the end of 2022. These charging ports will be owned and operated by 7-Eleven, as opposed to fuel at its filling stations, which must be purchased from suppliers.
Baraja, the lidar startup, appointed former Magna and DaimlerChrysler veterans to its executive team, including Paul Eichenberg as chief strategy officer and Jim Kane as vp of automotive engineering.
Brian Heater, hardware editor here at TechCrunch, covered a recent gathering of ride-hailing drivers in Long Island City, Queens. The group protested outside of Uber’s offices ahead of a proposed state bill. The drivers support the proposed bill that would make it easy for gig economy workers in the state to unionize.
Cruise, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Honda, has secured a permit that will allow the company to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel.
The permit, issued by the California Public Utilities Commission as part of its driverless pilot program, is one of several regulatory requirements autonomous vehicle companies must meet before they can deploy commercially. This permit is important — and Cruise is the first to land this particular one — but it does not allow the company to charge passengers for any rides in test AVs.
DeepMap has developed a crowdsourced mapping service called RoadMemory that lets automakers turn data collected from their own fleets of passenger vehicles and trucks into maps. The company says the tool is designed to expand geographic coverage more quickly and support hands-off autonomous driving features everywhere.
Joby Aviation is partnering with REEF Technology, one of the country’s largest parking garage operators, and a real estate acquisition company Neighborhood Property Group to build out its network of vertiports, with an initial focus on Los Angeles, Miami, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Populus, the platform that helps cities manage shared mobility services, streets and curbs, launched a new digital car-sharing parking feature in Oakland. The gist is that this feature helps cities collect data on car-sharing and deploy curbside paying payments. The company launched this particular product in 2018 and has been expanding to different cities.
Starship Technologies, the autonomous sidewalk delivery startup, has hired a new CEO. The company tapped Alastair Westgarth, the former CEO of Alphabet’s Loon, to lead the company as it looks to expand its robotics delivery service. Loon, Alphabet’s experiment to deliver broadband via high-altitude balloons, was shut down for good at the beginning of this year. Prior to working at Loon, Westgarth headed the wireless antennae company Quintel Solutions, was a vice president at telecommunications company Nortel and director of engineering at Bell Mobility.
Yuri Suzuki, a partner at design consultancy firm Pentagram, recently conducted a research project into the crucial role electric car sound has on a user’s safety, enjoyability, communication and brand recognition, out of which he developed a range of car sounds.
Earlier today, TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec reported that the autonomous vehicle startup Aurora is close to finalizing a deal to merge with one of three blank-check companies that have been formed to date by renowned entrepreneurs Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus and a third partner in these deals, Michael Thompson, who long managed special situation funds.
The development is intriguing for a lot of reasons, including because Aurora’s founders are big wheels in their industry (no pun intended), and having already acquired the self-driving unit of Uber in a complicated arrangement, Aurora could, as a publicly traded entity, snap up even more rivals, given it would have a more liquid currency than it does right now.
Possible merits of the deal aside, the deal is also interesting because of Hoffman’s involvement. His venture firm, Greylock, is an investor in Aurora and has been since co-leading its Series A round in 2018, at which point Hoffman joined the board as a director. Now Hoffman’s SPAC is looking to take Aurora public at what we can safely assume is a much, much higher valuation than where it was valued back then. In fact, Korosec reports that one of the sticking points in this new deal is how much the company could conceivably be worth, writing that talk involved a $20 billion valuation at one point and is now closer to $12 billion, with the deal expected to be announced as early as next week.
This isn’t the first time a SPAC sponsor has pursued an existing investment as a target. In just one similar case, famed VC Chamath Palihapitiya was an investor in insurance company Clover through his firm Social Capital and as industry watchers will know, one of his blank-check companies merged with Clover last year.
A representative for Palihapitiya declined to disclose to Bloomberg whether or not he sold the stake prior to the SPAC deal, but legally, it doesn’t matter anyway. All a SPAC sponsor need do right now is write a lengthy disclosure when raising a SPAC that ultimately says, ‘Hey, I might use the capital I’m raising for this blank-check company to buy another company where I already have a financial interest, and here’s how that’s going to work.’
The question is whether such rules around potential conflicts — or lack of rules — will continue to exist indefinitely. The SEC is clearly taking a closer look right now at SPACs, and while it offered guidance specifically around conflicts of interest last December, saying that they make the agency a little nervous and could sponsors please disclose as much as possible to everyone involved in a deal, there’s a new administration in Washington and a new agency head in SEC Chief Gary Gensler, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see more being done on this front than we’ve witnessed to date.
There perhaps should be. SPACs already have a lousy reputation because investors lose money on the majority of them, and notwithstanding the esteem of individuals like Hoffman, these obvious conflicts of interest — let’s face it — generally smell bad.
Yes, there’s a strong argument that a SPAC sponsor who has been long involved with a target company knows better the value of that company than anyone else. That inside knowledge cuts both ways, though. The target could be an amazing company that just needs a way to go public more quickly than might be possible with a traditional IPO. Let’s assume for now that Aurora falls into this camp. But the target could also need to bailed out by SPAC sponsors who have a vested interest in the company and know its prospects may dim otherwise.
Do most retail investors know the difference between the two? It’s doubtful, and in this go-go market, they seem bound to get hurt if regulators continue to turn a blind eye to the practice. That’s leaving many industry observers to wonder of the SEC: what’s it waiting for?
As Tesla sales have risen, interest in the company has exploded, prompting investment and interest in the automotive industry, as well as the startup world.
TezLab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, is just one example of the numerous startups that have sprung up in the past few years as electric vehicles have started to make the tiniest of dents in global sales. Now, as Ford, GM, Volvo, Hyundai along with newcomers Rivian, Fisker and others launch electric vehicles into the marketplace, more startups are sure to follow.
Ben Schippers, the co-founder and CEO of TezLab, is one of two early-stage founders who will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to talk about their startups and the opportunities cropping up in this emerging age of EVs. The six-person team behind TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups.
HFC’s engineers, including Schippers, who also co-founded HFC, were attracted to Tesla because of its techcentric approach and one important detail: the Tesla API endpoints are accessible to outsiders. The Tesla API is technically private. But it exists allowing the Tesla’s app to communicate with the cars to do things like read battery charge status and lock doors. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.
Schippers’ experience extends beyond scaling up TezLab. Schippers consults and works with companies focused on technology and human interaction, with a sub-focus in EV.
The list of speakers at our 2021 event is growing by the day and includes Motional’s president and CEO Karl Iagnemma and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, who will discuss the past, present and future of AVs. On the electric front is Mate Rimac, the founder of Rimac Automobili, who will talk about scaling his startup from a one-man enterprise in a garage to more than 1,000 people and contracts with major automakers.
We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel Li, Huan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.
Other guests include, GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.
And we may even have one more surprise — a classic TechCrunch stealth company reveal to close the show.
Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at our virtual door.
Get ready to spend a full day rubbing virtual elbows with the global mobility community’s best and brightest minds and makers. TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place June 9, and we’ve packed the agenda with experts, interviews, demos, panel discussions, breakout sessions and a metric ton of opportunity.
Pro tip: It’s not too late to book a ticket. Grab yours here and save with groups of 4+.
If you’re still on the fence, here are five excellent reasons you should attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2020.
TC Sessions: Mobility represents a broad range of companies and topics within the mobility space.
Want to know what’s happening in self-driving delivery? We’ve got Ahti Heinla (CTO @ Starship), Apeksha Kumavat (Co-Founder @ Gatik), & Amy Jones Satrom (Head of Ops. @ Nuro).
Want to get the low-down on Commuter Cars? We’re talking with Jesse Levinson (Co-Founder & CTO @ Zoox).
Want to see what’s in the future for passenger aircraft? Then you’ll definitely want to watch the session with JoeBen Bevirt (Founder @ Joby Aviation) and Reid Hoffman (Co-Director @ Reinvent Technology Partners)
Mobility is a fast-moving target, and success depends on a company’s or individual’s ability to spot possibilities before they become mainstream. At TC Sessions: Mobility you’ll meet with exhibitors, founders, and leaders to figure out what’s coming next. Here’s what our attendees are saying:
“Attending TC Sessions: Mobility helps us keep an eye on what’s coming around the corner. It uncovers crucial trends so we can identify what we should be thinking about before anyone else.”
— Jeff Johnson, vice president of enterprise sales and solutions at FlashParking.
1 on 1 Global Networking
At TC Sessions: Mobility you can take advantage of CrunchMatch, our free, AI-powered networking platform (think speed dating for techies) makes connecting with like-minded attendees quick and painless — no matter where they’re located. A virtual conference means global participation, and you might just find your next customer, partner, investor or engineer living on a different continent. It takes only one connection to move your business forward.
Early Stage Expo & Pitch
30 early-stage startups will showcase their mobility tech in our virtual expo. Peruse the exhibitors, peek at their pitch decks, schedule a demo, start a conversation and see where it leads. During the show, you can also check out the pitch sessions where startups will present their company to a panel of TechCrunch editors.
TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9 is sure to be a blast and a great opportunity for you to expand your knowledge and network within the mobility industry. Book your tickets today as prices go up at the door.
As the autonomous vehicle industry in the United States marches toward consolidation, a funding spree continues to exhilarate China’s robotaxi industry. Momenta, Pony.ai, WeRide and Didi’s autonomous vehicle arm have all raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year. And 21-year-old search engine giant Baidu competes alongside the startups with a $1.5 billion fund launched in 2017 to help cars go driverless.
Their strategies are similar in some regards and diverge elsewhere. The biggest players have deployed small fleets of robotaxis, manned with safety drivers, onto certain urban roads and are diligently testing driverless vehicles inside pilot zones. Some companies embrace lidar to detect the cars’ surroundings, while others agree with Elon Musk on a vision-only future.
The industry is still years from being truly driverless and operational at scale, so some contestants are seeking easier cases to tackle and monetize first, putting self-driving software inside buses, trucks and tractors that roam inside industrial parks.
Will investors continue to back the lofty dreams and skyrocketing valuations of China’s robotaxi leaders? And how is China’s autonomous driving race playing out differently from that in the U.S.?
We hope to find out at the upcoming TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, where we speak to three female leaders from Chinese autonomous vehicle startups that have an overseas footprint: Jewel Li from AutoX, which is backed by Chinese state-owned automakers Dongfeng Motor and SAIC Motor; Huan Sun from Momenta, which attracted Bosch, Daimler and Toyota in its $500 million round closed in March; and Jennifer Li from WeRide, whose valuation jumped to $3 billion after a financing round in May.
We can’t wait to hear from this panel! Among the growing list of speakers at this year’s event are GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.
Stay tuned for more announcements in these final weeks. Book your general admission pass for $125 today and join this year’s deep dive into the world of all things transportation at TC Sessions: Mobility.
Mighty Networks, a platform designed to give creators and brands a dedicated place to start and grow communities, has closed on $50 million in a Series B funding round led by Owl Ventures.
Ziff Capital Partners and LionTree Partners also participated in the financing, along with existing backers Intel Capital, Marie Forleo, Gretchen Rubin, Dan Rosensweig, Reid Hoffman, BBG Ventures and Lucas Venture Group. The investment brings Palo Alto-based Mighty Networks’ total raised since its 2017 inception to $67 million.
Mighty Networks founder and CEO Gina Bianchini — who started the company with Tim Herby and Thomas Aaron — is no stranger to building nurturing environments for community building. Previously, she was the CEO and co-founder of Ning, where she led the company’s rapid growth to three million Ning Networks created and about 100 million users around the world in three years.
With Mighty Networks, Bianchini’s goal is to build “a creator middle class” founded on community memberships, events and live online courses.
“Basically we have a platform for people to create communities the way that they would create e-commerce stores,” she told TechCrunch. “So what Shopify has done for e-commerce, we’re doing for digital subscriptions and digital payments where the value is around a community that is mastering something interesting or important together, and not just content alone.”
The company’s flagship Business Plan product is aimed at new creators with the goal of giving them an easy way to get started with digital subscriptions, Bianchini said. Established brands, organizations and successful creators use the company’s Mighty Pro plan to get everything Mighty Networks offers on their own branded iOS, iPad and Android apps.
Mighty Networks — which operates as a SaaS business — has seen impressive growth. In 2020, ARR climbed by “2.5x” while annual customer growth climbed by 200%. Customers are defined as paying creators who host their community, courses and events on their own Mighty Network. The company also saw a 400% annual growth in payments, or rather in subscriptions and payments where a creator or brand will sell a membership or an online course.
The pandemic was actually a boon to the business, as well as the fact that it launched live events last year.
“We were able to help many businesses quickly move online — from yoga studios to leadership speakers and consultants — and now that the world is coming back, they’ll be able to use the features that we’ve built into the platform from day one around finding members, events and groups near them, as well as making everything via not just the web but mobile apps,” Bianchini said.
One of the startup’s goals is to help people understand that they don’t need massive amounts of followers (such as 1 million followers on TikTok) to be successful creators. For example, a creator charging 30 people for a subscription that amounts to around $1,000 a year can still pull in $30,000 a year. So while it’s not huge, it’s certainly still substantial — hence the company’s intent to build a “creator middle class.”
Mighty Networks has more than 10,000 paying creators, brands and coaches today. Users include established creators and brands such as YouTube star Adriene Mishler, Xprize and Singularity University founder Peter Diamandis, author Luvvie Ajayi Jones, comedian Amanda Seales, Girlboss founder Sophia Amoruso and brands such as the TED conference and wellness scheduling platform MINDBODY.
“Content alone will kill the creator economy,” Bianchini said. “We can’t build a thriving creator movement on an exhausting, unfair dynamic where content creators rent audiences from big tech platforms, are required to produce a never-ending stream of content and get paid pennies for it, if they get paid at all. Creators need to own their own community on the internet, where members meet each other and get results and transformation.”
Owl Ventures Managing Director Amit Patel said his firm was impressed by Mighty Networks before it even met the company.
“No company in this space has more loyal, passionate believers, and when we saw firsthand that creators could successfully build paid communities and online courses on a Mighty Network with as few as 30 members, we wanted to be a part of unlocking this creator middle class for a million more creators,” Patel said in a written statement.
The company plans to use its new capital on product development across media types, payment options and expansion into new markets.
Earlier this month, Pico, a New York startup that helps online creators and media companies make money and manage their customer data, announced that it had launched an upgraded platform and raised $6.5 million in new funding. Essentially, the company is building what it considers to be an operating system for the creator market.
Does the science, technology — and yes, art — of creating new ways to transport people and parcels get your EV motor running? Then join us on June 9 at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021.
We’ll pack the day with interactive presentations and breakout sessions. Explore new tech, find emerging trends, discover what’s catching investor interest — and learn about evolving regulatory issues that affect the way mobility startups engage with cities and towns around the globe.
Buy your pass and take advantage of this extra perk — one free month of access to Extra Crunch, our members-only program featuring exclusive daily articles for founders and startup teams. Can you say value add? Yes, yes you can.
Pro Tip 1: Did you already buy a pass? No worries — we’ll email existing pass holders details on how they can claim their free Extra Crunch membership. All new ticket purchasers will receive information via email immediately after they complete their purchase.
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TechCrunch always delivers the top experts in their field, and this event is no exception. You’ll connect and engage with the mobility movers, shakers, influencers and makers. It’s an opportunity to expand your network, find funding, forge new partnerships and yes, scope out your competition, too.
Here’s a peek at just some of the super speakers who will grace TC Mobility 2021’s virtual stage.
Can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? We tapped three heavy hitters to tackle this hot topic: Tamika L. Butler, a community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer; Remix co-founder and CEO, Tiffany Chu; and Frank Reig, Revel co-founder and CEO.
Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt and Reid Hoffman, a LinkedIn co-founder and an investor who knows a thing or two about SPACs, will share their expertise on building a startup, keeping it secret while raising funds, the future of flight and, of course, SPACs.
What do people say about their Mobility experience? Rachael Wilcox, a creative producer at Volvo Cars — and a serial TC Sessions: Mobility attendee — told us why she makes it a point to attend every year.
“I go to TC Sessions: Mobility to find new and interesting companies, make new business connections and look for startups with investment potential. It’s an opportunity to expand my knowledge and inform my work.”
TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place on June 9. Early-bird savings remain in effect until May 5, at 11:59 pm (PT). Buy your pass now, save money and enjoy one month of free access to Extra Crunch. Yay!
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The race among mobility startups to become profitable by controlling market share has produced a string of bad results for cities and the people living in the them.
City officials and agencies learned from those early deployments of ride-hailing and shared scooter services and have since pushed back with new rules and tighter control over which companies can operate. This correction has prompted established companies to change how they do business and fueled a new crop of startups, all promising a different approach.
But can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?
TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, aims to dig into those questions. Luckily, we have three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility: community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.
Butler, a lawyer and founder and principal of her own consulting company, is well known for work in diversity and inclusion, equity, the built environment, community organizing and leading nonprofits. She was most recently the director of planning in California and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design. She previously served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and was the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Butler also sits on the board of Lacuna Technologies.
Chu is the CEO and co-founder of Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix was recently acquired by Via for $100 million and will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the company. Remix, which was backed by Sequoia Capital, Energy Impact Partners, Y Combinator, and Elemental Excelerator has been recognized as both a 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer and BloombergNEF Pioneer for its work in empowering cities to make transportation decisions with sustainability and equity at the forefront. Chu currently serves as Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and sits on the city’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. Previously, Tiffany was a Fellow at Code for America, the first UX hire at Zipcar and is an alum of Y Combinator. Tiffany has a background in architecture and urban planning from MIT.
Reig is the co-founder and CEO of Revel, a transportation company that got its start launching a shared electric moped service in Brooklyn. The company, which launched in 2018, has since expanded its moped service to Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Washington, D.C., Miami, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The company has since expanded its focus beyond moped and has started to build fast-charging EV Superhubs across New York City and launched an eBike subscription service in four NYC boroughs. Prior to Revel, Reig held senior roles in the energy and corporate sustainability sectors.
The trio will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, as well as investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.
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Before jump into micromobbin’ and the rest, I wanted to point you to another Extra Crunch piece, this time a deep dive into second-life batteries. As Aria Alamalhodaei reports:
The average electric vehicle lithium-ion battery can retain up to 70% of its charging capacity after being removed. The business proposition for second-life batteries is therefore intuitive: Before sending the battery to a recycler, automakers can potentially generate additional revenue by putting it to use in another application or selling it to a third party.
The upshot: automakers are starting to make moves.
Keep an eye out for Extra Crunch stories on the business of hydrogen, software in micromobility and voice in cars.
One last housekeeping item. The folks at Elemental Excelerator are looking to scale more climate technologies and invest in its 10th cohort of companies. If you’re not familiar, Elemental is a commercial catalyst for growth-stage companies in energy, mobility, agriculture, water, the circular economy, and beyond. (TechCrunch just recently wrote about ChargerHelp!, which is going through the Elemental Excelerator incubator)
Btw, my email inbox is always open. Email me at email@example.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.
Transit authorities in New York City and London have remained steadfast in their refusal to announce the winners of their respective e-scooter pilots, which both should have started weeks ago. But a peek at company websites, LinkedIns and job boards reveal who is at least preparing to enter the last two big frontiers of dockless, shared micromobility.
I’m betting on Lime securing both cities, which feels more like an educated guess given the company’s reach. Dott looks like it’ll be opening up in London; Superpedestrian, and maybe Spin, in NYC. Bird and Voi also have job listings in both cities, but the evidence backing concession wins is not conclusive based on listings alone.
Speaking of Lime, the company rolled out its first e-mopeds in Washington, D.C. and Paris over the past two weeks. This launch makes D.C. the ultimate Lime-stan, being the first city to host all three modes of the company’s transport options which also include e-bikes and e-scooters. City officials and Lime agreed that riders will have to snap a mandatory helmet selfie to be able to take off.
Lime isn’t the only shared micromobility company that’s eyeing expansion. Dutch e-scooter startup Go Sharing is spreading its wings outside the Netherlands with a launch in Vienna, and Berlin-based Tier has acquired Budapest’s app maker Makery. It’s not clear how much Tier paid for the company, but Makery will serve as Tier’s tech hub in Central and Eastern Europe as the company plans expansion later this year.
It seems like the dockless rideshare industry is on its way up, but let us not forget how many stars need to align to make it work. After weeks of delays, U.K.-based Beryl canceled its launch of e-scooters in Staten Island, citing logistical and supply chain issues due to Covid.
China’s Niu appears to be doing well, reporting a surge in electric scooter sales in the first quarter, up 273% to almost 150,000 e-scooters. On Tuesday, Niu launched four new vehicles, including a new electric kick scooter that will be sold in international markets starting at $599.
While we’re discussing sexy new rides, check out Segway’s futuristic-looking e-motorcycle. (No, I didn’t think “sexy” and “Segway” could exist in the same sentence either, yet here we are.)
This particular sports bike is a reminder that the company has branched out into the world of cool electric mobility since its 2015 acquisition by Ninebot. The Apex H2 is definitely not the stuff of mall cops and tour groups. What’s more, the new motorcycle is powered by a combination of hydrogen and electricity — essentially hydrogen stored in tanks will be converted into electricity and then stored in a battery. The only byproduct would be water vapor released from the tailpipe.
Many policy-focused armchair experts have discussed the potential benefits of cities intertwining with micromobility and rideshare companies to encourage a post-Covid public transit recovery. Sydney, Australia might be the first city to give it a shot.
Starting mid-2021, up to 10,000 riders will be able to use their digital Opal Card to pay for an Uber, a fixed fare Ingogo taxi trip or a Lime bike journey. If they catch public transport within an hour of those rides, they’ll get up to a $3 credit on their Opal account.
— Rebecca Bellan
OK, so it’s not a done deal yet, but it has the makings of being so large that I just had to make it ‘deal of the week.’
Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg reported that Southeast Asian ride-hailing and delivery giant Grab Holdings has attracted backing from T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and Temasek Holdings Pte for its planned merger with a blank-check company.
Grab isn’t just a ride-hailing app anymore. It has added all kinds of services to its app such as financial services and food delivery. The value of that app might explain the number of firms that are apparently lining up to join a private investment in public equity offering (PIPE) to support Grab’s combination with Altimeter Growth Corp. BlackRock Inc. is one of those firms that is in talks to participate in the PIPE, which could raise about $4 billion.
The upshot? The deal could value Grab at more than $34 billion. That would make it the biggest SPAC ever.
I’m going to call it. Peak SPAC is here.
Other deals that got my attention this week …
Elior, the corporate catering company has acquired French delivery startup Nestor for an undisclosed amount.
Kavak, the Mexican startup focused on the used car market in Mexico and Argentina, raise a Series D round of $485 million, which now values the company at $4 billion. Kavak is now one of the top five highest-valued startups in Latin America.
Kolonial, a startup based out of Oslo that offers same-day or next-day delivery of food, meal kits and home essentials, has raised €223 million ($265 million) in an equity round of funding. Along with that, the company — profitable as of this year — is rebranding to Oda and plans to use the money (and new name) to expand to more markets, starting first with Finland and then Germany in 2022, Ingrid Lunden reports.
LanzaJet, the company commercializing a process to convert alcohol into jet fuel, gained energy giant Shell as a strategic investor. All Nippon Airways, Suncor Energy, Mitsui and British Airways are also investors. The funding amount wasn’t disclosed. LanzaJet is a spinoff from LanzaTech, one of the last surviving climate tech startups from the first cleantech boom that’s still privately held.
Nuvocargo, a digital logistics platform for cross-border trade, raised a $12 million Series A funding round led by QED Investors and participation from David Velez, Michael Ronen, Raymond Tonsing, FJ Labs and Clocktower. Previous investors NFX and ALLVP also put money into this round.
QuantumScape Corporation said it successfully met the technical milestone that was a condition to close the additional $100 million investment by VW Group. The milestone required Volkswagen to successfully test the latest generation of QuantumScape’s solid-state lithium-metal cells in their labs in Germany. This will be the second and final closing under the May 14, 2020 stock purchase agreement between VW and QuantumScape that provided for a total $200 million investment. (I missed this one last week).
Spinny, the India-based online used car marketplace, raised $65 million in its Series C financing round led by Silicon Valley-headquartered venture firm General Catalyst. Feroz Dewan’s Arena Holdings, Think Investments and existing investors Fundamentum Partnership — backed by tech veterans Nandan Nilekani and Sanjeev Aggarwal — and Elevation Capital participated as well.
Swyft, a company that helps retailers compete with Amazon by offering same-day delivery, raised $17.5 million in a Series A round co-led by Inovia Capital and Forerunner Ventures, with participation from Shopify and existing investors Golden Ventures and Trucks VC.
Some interesting items this week.
Uber announced a $250 million stimulus to try to entice drivers back after the pandemic. As vaccinations increase, so do Uber bookings, but there are not enough drivers to meet demand after many stopped working over the last year. This stimulus will see existing, returning and new drivers receive bonuses.
Apple CEO Tim Cook hinted heavily at the autonomous future of its Apple car, during an interview on the “Sway” podcast with Kara Swisher.
Aurora CEO Chris Urmson, who is the new chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global AV Council, led a discussion with industry and government leaders about the benefits of self-driving trucking – safety, service, and sustainability – and how self-driving will change our workforce. Urmson later shared his views in a post on LinkedIn. Uber CEO and Aurora Board member Dara Khosrowshahi was the previous chair of this council.
Verizon and Honda announced a partnership on Thursday to test 5G and mobile edge computing to make driving safer. We’re a long way away from even having a viable 5G network, let alone cars that can operate on it. But eventually, they hope to apply this kind of tech to self-driving vehicles. Side note: This isn’t Verizon’s first 5G-meets-MEC-and-vehicle rodeo. The company has been testing at Mcity since 2019. Last November, Renovo Auto (which Verizon is backing) released a video demonstrating how 5G and MEC coupled with its automotive data platform indexes and filters Advanced Driver Assistance System vehicle-data in near-real time. The tests were also conducted at Mcity.
GM is adding an electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck to its lineup, as the automaker pushes to deliver more than 1 million electric vehicles globally by 2025. The Chevrolet Silverado electric full-size pickup will be based on the automaker’s Ultium battery platform and GM estimates the range will be more than 400 miles on a full charge. GM is targeting both the consumer and commercial market with this new electric pickup.
Polestar set a “moonshot goal” to create the first climate-neutral car by 2030. It’s a goal that won’t achieved by widely practiced offsetting measures, such as planting trees. Instead, Polestar aims to rethink every piece of the supply chain, from materials sourcing through to manufacturing, and even by making the vehicle more energy efficient.
Wildcat Discovery Technologies, a technology company developing new battery materials, has gained Peter Lamp, general manager of the battery cell technology group at BMW AG, as a board member.
Wisk Aero, the air mobility company borne out of a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, filed a lawsuit against Archer Aviation alleging patent infringement and trade secret misappropriation.
GM confirmed that its idling more plants and extending shutdowns at other facilities in North America due to a continued shortage of semiconductor chips that are used to control myriad operations in vehicles, including the infotainment, power steering and brake systems. Eight assembly plants are affected by the temporary closures.
Of course, GM is hardly the only automaker to be impacted by the global chip shortage. Competitor Ford has also had to temporarily pause production at some factories, while other automakers such as Subaru and Stellantis (the automaker formed by the 2021 merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe PSA).
The TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event will be virtual again. But that hasn’t stopped us from putting together a stellar list of participants. We just starting to announce who will be on our virtual stage June 9.
Here’s one biggie: we’re bringing Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt and famed investor and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman together on stage. If my recent interview with those two provides an indication of what’s to come, it should be eye opening.
Bevirt and Hoffman will discuss building a startup — and keeping it secret while raising funds — the future of flight and, of course, SPACs. If you recall, Joby announced in February that it would become a publicly traded company through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company formed by Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus.
“We approach it (SPACs) as venture capital at scale,” Hoffman told TechCrunch in a February interview. So it’s not a ‘this-year thing,’ it’s a next three years, next five years, next 10 years.”
And yes, Hoffman believes SPACs are here to stay. Although we plan to check in on his stance in June. “I think that it’s valuable to the market and valuable to society to have multiple, different paths by which companies can go public,” Hoffman said.
Other guests to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, includes investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, as well as Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.
Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Bevirt has spent more than a decade developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft — an effort that was largely shrouded in secrecy until January 2020 when the company announced a $590 million Series C round of funding that was led by Toyota Motor Corporation. (that round later expanded to $620M).
The buzzy announcements continued with Joby’s acquisition of Uber Elevate and then culminated in February with its bid to become a publicly traded company through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company from well-known investor and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus.
Joby is just getting started. The company plans to use capital generated via its public listing to fund the launch of passenger service, which is expected to begin in 2024. And Joby still must complete certification of its aircraft and develop manufacturing facilities, but it is already on its way to achieving both. The company is also planning to begin construction on a 450,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, designed in conjunction with Toyota, later this year.
The upshot: Bevirt has a lot to share. That’s why we’re excited to announced that Bevirt and Hoffman will will join us on our virtual stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The virtual event, which features the best and brightest minds in the world of mobility, will be held on June 9. Bevirt and Hoffman will discuss building a startup — and keeping it secret while raising funds — the future of flight and of course, SPACs.
The pair will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far, includes investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital as well as Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.
“We approach it (SPACs) as venture capital at scale,” Hoffman told TechCrunch in a February interview. So it’s not a ‘this year thing,’ it’s a next three years, next five years, next 10 years.”
And yes, Hoffman believes SPACs are here to stay. Although we plan to check in on his stance in June. “I think that it’s valuable to the market and valuable to society have multiple, different paths, by which companies can go public,” Hoffman said.
As for Bevirt, the move to go public marks Joby’s readiness to be more open with the rest of the world.
“We think that this is a really exciting moment, where we stand on the threshold of really redefining mobility,” Bevirt said in a previous interview. “And we really want to bring the world along on our exciting journey. Previously, only a very exclusive set of investors has had access to be part of our journey, and it’s really exciting for us to be able to share that more broadly.”
We can’t wait to hear from Bevirt and Hoffman at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9. Make sure to grab your Early Bird pass before May 6 to save $!00 on tickets and join the fun!