The famous phrase “software eats the world” was originally coined to describe how technology gradually replaces the old industrial norms of production. But few realized that when Uber started to ‘eat’ the taxi industry it would also be among the first harbingers of a new wave of what it meant to be ‘employed’. As similar ‘gig economy’ platforms start to eat the old relationship between employer and employee — where some semblance of ‘duty of care’ had developed — the gig platforms have yet to develop much caring for the gig-worker. And as these platforms gain power, do they really want this to look like the re-emergence of serfdom? Gig work is coming to an industry near you, whether we like it or not.
Ideally, we need a new model that can deal with income minimums, benefits, insurance, pensions, etc. which responds to the dynamic way the world of work is evolving.
Collective Benefits is a startup aimed at tackling this growing ‘protection gap’ created by the gig economy where so-called ‘self-employed’ workers must often go without basic benefits such as family leave and sick pay, not to mention mental health support and critical injury pay.
The startup has today announced the closing of £3.3 million in Seed led by UK-based Stride.VC, alongside existing investors Delin Ventures, Insurtech Gateway and several angels from executives in Uber, Deliveroo, and Urban.
Collective Benefits has set out to build a tech platform that gives gig workers access to a full range of affordable, portable protections and benefits which they can carry around with them between the platforms they work on.
So instead of your benefits being tied to one employer, as is the current case, they can apply to any gig economy ‘employer’ someone works for.
It’s also working with a number of on-demand service platforms who are giving their workforces access to these benefits. The startup will use the funding to further its growth and offering for gig platforms. A consumer service aimed at freelancers will follow later this year.
Anthony Beilin, CEO and Co-Founder of Collective Benefits said in a statement: “There are six million self-employed workers in the UK, which includes both higher-paid freelancers and gig economy platform workers. Yet, neither group typically has a safety net – no holiday pay, no family leave, no mental health support, not even paid sick days. We are building Collective Benefits so that the gig economy workers are covered by the same protections typically reserved for full-time employees.”
The company provides a benefits platform for both gig economy platforms and self-employed freelancers (such as sick pay, family leave, and mental health support), but the platform is also designed to boost loyalty to the gig platforms amongst the workers, as well as reduce churn and talent acquisition costs.
Fred Destin, partner at Stride.VC Said: “We’re seeing services platforms gain unstoppable momentum in every segment of our lives, from rides to food delivery to freelancing. We need a new playbook. Collective Benefits addresses one of the core challenges in this brave new world of work, using technology to design and deliver a new type of safety net to all the participants in this fast-growing part of our economy.”
Robert Lumley, Director and Co-founder of Insurtech Gateway, said: “The insurance industry faces a massive challenge in keeping up with the extraordinary growth in self-employment. Collective Benefits has created entirely new insurance products for the self-employed not addressed by traditional insurers and accessible through a flexible tech platform that allows them to get the cover they need.”
The fact this startup has appeared just goes to show the market failure today due to the on-rush of new technology sprinting ahead of regulation. Some 96% of UK self-employed have no income protection, while 93% of UK self-employed have no health or critical illness cover. PWC estimates that self-employed will account for 20% of labour force by 2025.
TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 is gearing up to be a lit event. The one-day event, taking place May 14 in San Jose, has just added Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of an automatic repositioning startup for micromobility vehicles. Yes, that means we’ll be having autonomous scooters rolling around onstage. #2020
Tortoise, which recently received approval to deploy its tech in San Jose, is looking to become an operating system of sorts for micromobility vehicles. Just how Android is the operating system for a number of mobile phones, Tortoise wants to be the operating system for micromobility vehicles.
Given the volume of micromobility operators in the space today, Tortoise aims to make it easier for these companies to more strategically deploy their respective vehicles and reposition them when needed. Using autonomous technology in tandem with remote human intervention, Tortoise’s software enables operators to remotely relocate their scooters and bikes to places where riders need them, or, where operators need them to be recharged. On an empty sidewalk, Tortoise may employ autonomous technologies, while it may rely on humans to remotely control the vehicle on a highly trafficked city block.
Before co-founding Tortoise, Shevelenko served as Uber’s director of business development. While at Uber, Shevelenko helped the company expand into new mobility and led the acquisition of JUMP Bikes . Needless to say, Shevelenko is well-versed to talk about the next opportunities in micromobility.
Other speakers at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 include Waymo COO Tekedra Mawakana; Uber’s director of Policy, Cities & Transportation, Shin-pei Tsay; and Argo AI co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky.
Tickets are on sale now for $250 (early-bird status). After April 9, tickets go up, so be sure to get yours before that deadline. If you’re a student, tickets cost just $50.
Early-stage startups in the mobility space can book an exhibitor package for $2,000 and get four tickets and a demo table. Packages allow you to get in front of some of the biggest names in the industry and meet new customers. Book your tickets here.
Weeks after Zomato acquired Uber’s food delivery business in India, its chief local rival is bulking up some ammunition of its own.
Swiggy, India’s largest food delivery startup, announced on Wednesday it has raised $113 million as part of its Series I financing round. Prosus Ventures, the biggest venture capital for food delivery startups, led the round.
Meituan Dianping and Wellington Management Company also participated. The new round values Swiggy at about $3.6 billion, only slightly above its $3.3 billion valuation from the previous round, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The startup has raised about $1.57 billion to date.
Sriharsha Majety, co-founder and chief executive of Swiggy, said the startup will use the fresh capital to invest in “new lines of business” such as cloud kitchens and delivery beyond food items, and get on a “sustainable path to profitability.”
Prosus Ventures, formerly known as Naspers Ventures and Food, first wrote a check to Swiggy three years ago. Since then, it has become its biggest investor — having pumped in more than $700 million alone in the startup’s $1 billion financing round in December 2018.
“Swiggy continues to exhibit strong execution and a steadfast commitment to delivering the best service to consumers and has one of the best operational teams in food delivery globally. We are confident Swiggy will continue on a path to earn a significant place in the daily lives of Indians,” said Larry Illg, chief executive of Prosus Ventures and Food, in a statement.
The Bangalore-headquartered firm, which is operational in 520 cities, said it has witnessed a 2.5x growth in the volume of transactions in the past year. Its restaurant partners base has also grown to 160,000 and more than 10,000 are joining the platform each month.
Some analysts say that it will be very challenging for Swiggy and Zomato, both of which are spending over $20 million a month to win customers, to reach profitability.
Unlike in the developed markets like the U.S., where the order value of each delivery is about $33, in India, a similar item carries the price tag of $4.
Anand Lunia, a VC at India Quotient, said in a recent podcast that the food delivery firms have little choice but to keep subsidizing the cost of food items on their platform as otherwise most of their customers can’t afford to get their lunch and dinner from them.
The exit of Uber from India’s food delivery space has, however, made the market a duopoly play, so investors remain bullish. At stake is a $4.2 billion opportunity, according to research firm Redseer. But Zomato, which raised $150 million earlier this year, and Swiggy have alone picked up more than $2.1 billion from the market already.
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Hello again — or perhaps for the first time. This is Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch and your host here at The Station. This weekly newsletter will also be posted as an article after the weekend — that’s what you’re reading now. To get it first, subscribe for free. Please note that there will not be a newsletter February 22.
It was a drama-filled week with a hearing on the hill in D.C. about autonomous vehicle legislation that got a bit tense at times. Meanwhile, Uber tipped its hat to the past, EV startup Lucid started to lift the veil on its Air vehicle (scroll down for a spy shot!) and micromobility prepared for headwinds in Germany.
Before I ride off into the sunset for my vacation, one reminder for y’all. Don’t forget to reach out and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.
Welcome back to micromobbin’, a regular feature in The Station by reporter Megan Rose Dickey. Before we get into her micromobility insights, a quick note that shared scooters are facing a fight in Germany that has prompted companies to unite over their “shared” cause. (Get it?)
Micromobility vehicles, first legalized in Germany last June, have flooded the marketplace and caused a backlash in cities like Berlin, where at least six apps, including Bird, Circ (now owned by Bird), Lime, Tier, Uber Jump and Voi operate. As the Financial Times first reported, amendments to the country’s Road Traffic Act would give individual cities the power to heavily restrict the areas in which e-scooters can be parked or ban them altogether.
Now back to Dickey’s micromobbin’.
Swiftmile, the startup that wants to become the gas station for electric micromobility vehicles, announced its move into advertising this week. Swiftmile already supplies cities and private operators with docks equipped to park and charge both scooters and e-bikes. Now, the company is starting to integrate digital displays that attach to its charging stations to provide public transit info, traffic alerts and, of course, ads.
“It adds tremendous value because it’s a massive market,” Swiftmile CEO Colin Roche told TechCrunch. “Tons of these corporations want to market to that group but you cannot do that on a scooter, nor should you. So there’s a massive audience that wants to market to that group but also cities like us because we’re bringing order to the chaos.”
Meanwhile, Bird unveiled more details about its loyalty program, called Frequent Flyer. It’s currently in the pilot phase, which means it’s only available in select markets. But the benefits for riding five times in 28 days include no start fees for rides between 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday and the ability to reserve your Bird in advance for up to 30 minutes at no cost.
— Megan Rose Dickey
We don’t just hear things. We see things too. This week in a little bird — the place where we share insider news, not gossip — I’m going to share two spy shots of a production version of Lucid Motors’ upcoming Air electric vehicle. See below.
The photos of the production version of the Lucid Air were taken during an event hosted for some of the vehicle’s first reservation holders. (I wasn’t there, but luckily some readers of The Station were.) By the way, we also hear that reservations are in the “low four figures.”
You’ll notice that the production version of the Air is nearly identical to the beta version. Unfortunately, we don’t see the interior. But reports suggest it falls in the understated luxury category and without giant screens.
Lucid is preparing for one of the more important moments in its history as a company. The production version of Air will be unveiled in April at the New York Auto Show. In the run-up to the auto show, Lucid is revealing more information about the vehicle, including a recent video that suggested the vehicle had a real-world range of more than 400 miles. Lucid has hit that 400-mile range in simulated testing, but how it operates on the roads is what really matters.
What’s impressive, if those numbers bear out, is that it was accomplished with a 110-kWh battery pack. That’s an improvement from back in 2016 when Lucid said it would need a 130-kWh battery pack to achieve that range. In my past conversations with CEO Peter Rawlinson — and one wild ride with him behind the wheel of an early Air prototype in Vegas — it’s clear he is obsessed with battery efficiency. That apparently hasn’t waned.
Car and Driver, which was at this special event, noted in its report that Rawlinson has a goal to get to five miles per kilowatt-hour. Right now, Tesla can lay claim to the most efficient electric vehicle with the upcoming Model Y at a claimed 4.1 miles per kilowatt-hour.
It got a little prickly on Capitol Hill during a House panel hearing this week that aimed to tackle how best to regulate autonomous vehicles. Watch the hearing to see it all unfold. Here’s a handy link to it.
A quick history lesson: The SELF DRIVE ACT was unanimously passed in 2017 by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. AV START, a complementary bill introduced in the Senate, failed to pass because Democrats said it didn’t go far enough to address safety and liability issues.
A bipartisan group revived efforts to come up with legislation that would address Democrat concerns and give auto manufacturers and AV developers greater freedom to deploy vehicles that lack controls like a steering wheel or pedals, which are currently required by federal law.
There was some level of public agreement between the traditional auto manufacturers and AAJ over the issue of accountability. But there is still a huge divide between organizations like the Consumer Technology Association and safety advocates and trial lawyers over the issue of forced arbitration.
Groups like the American Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers, want to ban forced arbitration in any autonomous vehicle bill.
Meanwhile, CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro submitted testimony that was clearly opposed to limiting the use of arbitration. The CTA argues that arbitration reduces the cost of litigation and provides more timely remedies.
People who were in the room told me they were surprised by how unwavering Shapiro’s comments were, and suggested that it wasn’t in step with how some auto manufacturers view the issue.
Following the hearing, the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committees circulated seven sections to industry groups covering issues such as crash-data sharing and cybersecurity, according to reporting by Bloomberg Government. There was one missing provision. Any guesses? Yup, the provision dealing with forced arbitration. That has caused some Democrats to abandon the bill.
There are two ways for this bill to survive in this congressional session — by unanimous consent, meaning everyone agrees to it, or by being attached to another bill. The first option is highly unlikely. And the second is just as slim, as there are limited opportunities in the Senate to attach self-driving legislation to another bill.
Two items to mention that illustrate how the world of ride hailing continues to evolve.
First up is Uber. The company is piloting a new feature aimed at older adults that will let customers dial a 1-800 number and speak to an actual human being to hail a ride. The pilot is launching in Arizona, followed by other yet unnamed states. Sounds sort of familiar, doesn’t it?
It’s not quite like calling a taxi dispatcher, though. You’ll still need a phone that can receive SMS or text messages to get information on the driver and their ETA.
Now let’s jump over to Nigeria where new regulations in the country’s commercial center of Lagos are creating some chaos.
Lagos has started to restrict where shared motorcycles, called okadas, can operate. That is affecting motorcycle-taxi businesses like ORide, Max .ng and Gokada.
In a statement via email, ORide’s senior director of Operations, Olalere Ridwan, said the rules entail “a ban on commercial motorcycles…in the city’s core commercial and residential areas, including Victoria Island and Lagos Island.”
The motorcycle taxi limitations have also thrown off Lagos’s disorderly transit grid — overloading other mobility modes (such as mini-buses) and forcing more people to pound pavement and red-dirt to get to work, according to reporter Jake Bright.
I wanted to highlight one of our ONMs, otherwise known as original news manufacturers. Ba dum bump.
Freelancer Mark Harris is back with a scoop on Google’s short-lived Bookbot program and how its death sparked a new and still-in-stealth startup called Cartken.
Bookbot was a robot created within Google’s Area 120 incubator for experimental products. The plan was to pilot an autonomous robot in Mountain View that would pick up library books from users and bring them back to the library. Apparently, it was well received. But it was killed off far before its nine-month pilot was slated to end. Bookbot’s demise followed Google’s decision to scale back efforts to compete with Amazon in shopping.
But Bookbot appears to be back, albeit in a slicker form and with a broader use case than a library book shuttle. Engineers working on Bookbot as well as a logistics expert who was once in charge of operations at Google Express left the company to form Cartken in fall 2019.
Check out Harris’ deep dive into Bookbot, Google’s shift away from shopping and Cartken.
You might have heard or read here in this newsletter that TC Sessions: Mobility is returning for a second year on May 14 in San Jose — a day-long event brimming with the best and brightest engineers, policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators, all of whom are vying to be a part of this new age of transportation.
Now here’s my discount deal for you. To get 10% off tickets, including early-bird, use code AUTO. The early-bird sale ends April 9. Early-bird tickets are available now for $250 — that’s $100 savings before prices go up. Students can book a ticket for just $50. Book your tickets today.
So far, we’ve announced:
Expect more announcements each week leading up to the May 14th event.
Bernard Coleman, Uber’s first-ever head of diversity, has left the company, TechCrunch has learned. His last day was Friday, January 17.
“Bernard’s contributions over the years helped make Uber a more inclusive and diverse company and we wish him all the best,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Coleman’s next stop is payroll startup Gusto, where he is leading the employee engagement team within the People Operations organization. Coleman wasn’t necessarily looking for a new job, but the opportunity simply presented itself, he told TechCrunch.
“It’s the place I wanted to go that I didn’t yet know,” he said.
What attracted him to Gusto is the service-oriented nature of the company. Gusto is designed to help small businesses with everything from payroll to benefits to human resources to time-tracking tools.
“This ties back to my campaign days of serving underserved populations,” Coleman, who led Hillary for America’s diversity and human resources initiatives, said. “To have the opportunity to serve them and the opportunity to do it right has a personal alignment to me,”
Coleman should be in good company, as Gusto is the startup Google’s now-former Chief Diversity Officer Danielle Brown joined in April 2019.
“Danielle was a big draw,” Coleman said. “I always wanted to work with her and I’m excited to have this opportunity.”
Coleman joined Uber in January 2017, just a little before former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published her blog post detailing issues of sexual harassment and other workplace issues. A couple of months after joining, Uber released its first diversity report.
Uber, like many other tech companies, is predominantly white (44.7%) and Asian (33%), according to its most recent diversity report. In 2019, Uber was 9.3% black and 8.3% Latinx compared to just 8.1% black and 6.1% Latinx in 2018. Gusto, on the other hand, has not publicly released a diversity report.
When Uber hired Bo Young Lee to serve as its chief diversity officer, it came as a bit of a surprise, since former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his law firm recommended Uber promote Coleman to CDO in light of its sexual harassment investigation. Coleman declined to comment on that specifically but said there are lessons learned from Uber that he can apply to Gusto.
“I think everything is instructive for what you’re trying to do,” he said. “When you compare Uber to Gusto, [Gusto] is much smaller comparatively. I can think about where to plug in and be more impactful at this growth stage. We have the right elements to really do it in a way that has not been done in tech.”
Uber is piloting a new feature aimed at older adults that will let customers dial a 1-800 number and speak to an actual human being to hail a ride. The move isn’t just a departure from its app roots. It’s another sign that Uber is trying to transform into a transportation company that serves a larger customer base.
The dial-an-Uber feature was “designed with older adults in mind” though anyone preferring conversational support will benefit from this pilot, the company said. The feature was built based on feedback from older adults who told the company that “live conversations, and simplicity of experience can make a difference for their transportation needs,” according to the ride-hailing company.
After dialing 1-833-USE-UBER, the customer will be paired with a live team member that confirms their trip request, provides an upfront price quote.
There are some important caveats to this feature that could shut out folks who don’t own a cellular phone.
Customers still must have a phone that can receive SMS or text-based mobile phone to receive important messages about the ETA of the ride, driver’s license plate details, and the driver’s name. Users will continue to receive messages before and during your trip, and once it concludes, they’ll receive a trip receipt.
The company will initially launch the phone number 1-833-USE-UBER in Arizona. There is no extra charge for using this service, though Uber noted that carrier message and data rates may apply. Anyone in the state can call the phone number to hail an Uber in the cities where the service is currently available. Users can also ask for specific Uber options such as UberX, Uber Comfort, Uber Black, Black SUV, as well as Uber Assist and WAV, where available.
Uber said it will expand the dial-an-Uber to more states in the coming months.
Uber was also explicit that the 1-800 number is not meant for general customer support inquiries, although certainly it will be used for that purpose.
Uber facilitated 14 million rides a week in India last year, the American ride-hailing firm said as it claimed the tentpole position in the key overseas market.
In a report (PDF) published on the sidelines of its quarterly earnings Thursday afternoon, Uber said that it commanded over 50% of the ride-hailing market in India — among some other regions — and was the category leader.
The publicly listed company cited its internal estimations for the claim, it said. In comparison, Uber handled 11 million rides a week in India in 2018, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.
The revelation is especially interesting, since both Uber and its chief local rival Ola have tended to avoid talks about the number of rides they serve in India.
In a 2018 blog post, Ola revealed that its platform “moves over two million people every day.” A spokesperson for the Indian startup, which like Uber counts SoftBank as an investor, declined to reveal the new figures, but issued a statement in which it identified itself as India’s “largest mobility platform.”
“As India’s largest mobility platform, Ola serves over 200 million customers through a network of 2.5 million driver-partners across a wide range of offerings including two, three and four-wheelers,” the spokesperson said, adding that the ride-hailing firm operates in 250 cities and towns in India.
Last month, Uber sold its food delivery Uber Eats’ India business to local rival Zomato for about $180 million in a move that some analysts said could help the ride-hailing firm better focus on its core business in the country.
An Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company plans to expand from about 50 Indian cities where it currently operates to 200 in the country by the end of the year. It will focus on onboarding two-wheelers and three-wheelers in many of these cities, the firm said.
Uber’s expansion in India comes as Ola is entering one of the American firm’s key territories. Last week, Ola said it will begin operation in London on February 10.
Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.
Yesterday Uber reported its Q4 2019 financial performance. Today, following the news, shares of the ride-hailing giant are up over 9%, pushing Uber’s stock above $40 per share. While Uber’s shares are still under its $45-per-share IPO price, the company’s earnings report appears to indicate that there may be an end in sight for Uber’s infamous losses.
After promising to reach adjusted profitability in 2021, Uber made a better pledge yesterday to generate a loose form of profit in Q4 2020, earlier than it or investors previously anticipated.
This morning, we’re going to quickly skim Uber’s results, unpack the profitability promise to understand if what the company promised today is impressive or not and wrap with a note on cash burn and more traditional profit definitions to frame the news.
If Uber has turned the corner on profitability, the halo effect from the good news could prove a boon to other on-demand companies, especially the private cohort who are struggling to combat a narrative that when it comes to making money, they are all forecast and no follow-through.
When Fair laid off 40% of its staff in October, CEO Scott Painter promised it wasn’t shuttering leasing services to on-demand fleets. But just one week later, Painter was removed as CEO and replaced in the interim with Adam Hieber, a CFA from Fair investor SoftBank. Today, according to two sources, Fair announced at an all-hands meeting that it would end its Fair Go program that helped Uber drivers lease cars on short-term deals. The program will cease in April. Uber now confirms the news to TechCrunch, and now Fair has directly confirmed the news to us as well.
“Due to an unexpected increase in insurance premiums that would have significantly raised prices for Fair’s rideshare drivers, we will wind down our weekly rideshare service over the coming months,” a spokesperson said. “We are working to minimize the disruption for Fair’s rideshare drivers, including notifying these customers of the status of their subscription in the coming weeks. We are working closely with Uber and exploring options with third parties to provide alternative customer mobility options to ensure a seamless transition for them, as well as continuity in Uber’s vehicle supply. We are thankful for our loyal Fair rideshare drivers and are disappointed we can no longer operate the business in a cost-effective way for our customers.”
Uber drivers who want to lease a car for a month or longer can still do so through Fair. The current program that is being wound down allowed Uber drivers to lease for increments of a week at a time. From what we understand, the program comprised as much as half of Fair’s business with Uber at its peak.
Formerly valued at $1.2 billion after raising over $2 billion in equity and debt financing from SoftBank and Lightspeed, Fair laid off 40% of its staff in October. It had bought Uber’s XChange leasing program in early 2018. The deal lets drivers lease an Uber-eligible car with subscriptions to roadside assistance and maintenance for as low as $130 per week with a $500 start fee.
But Uber had sold the leasing program because it was unprofitable and adding to its losses at a tough time for the rideshare giant. As additional fees stacked up, Fair didn’t fare much better operating it.
A source tells us Fair Go was profitable. It was an important focus for the company as it retooled its subscription services for traditional drivers. Another source says at one point Fair Go was adding about 250 to 300 car leases per day and had thousands of active leases.
But Fair Go was facing higher insurance rates from carriers, which make sense since Uber drivers can be on the road far, far longer than traditional car owners.
Rather than trying to pass those fees along to drivers — many of whom are already cash-strapped — Fair told employees it would cease to lease to Uber drivers. That’s a respectable choice, since it could have pushed Uber drivers into debt if they didn’t fully comprehend what their total costs would be.
Attempts to reach Fair for comment were complicated by many of its in-house PR team being hit with October’s layoffs. An agency representative provided the statement above after publishing time.
An Uber spokesperson confirmed the shut down of Fair Go and their partnership, telling TechCrunch that “Unlocking options for vehicle access so drivers can earn with Uber remains a top priority. We’re thankful for Fair’s collaboration, and their contributions to our vehicle rental program. We’re continuing to invest in rental partnerships, and building more flexibility beyond hourly, weekly, and monthly options available today.”
Uber tells me it remains committed to offering rental options to drivers through partnerships with Hertz, Avis, ZipCar and Getaround, and they may be able to work with Uber drivers formerly leasing from Fair.
Painter kept a role as chairman of Fair.com when he stepped away from the CEO position at the end of October — a change we are still confirming is in place today. At the time of the layoffs in October, he maintained that the action was proactive, and not in response to SoftBank pressure.
“SoftBank is a big shareholder and supporting my focus, and that is the reality right now,” Painter said at the time. “Leaning on us is not the term,” he added in response to our questions of whether SoftBank pressured it to make these changes. “They are supporting us — there is a big difference,” he stressed.
The CEO change one week later, and today’s news about Fair Go, points to a different unfolding of events that speaks to the pressure SoftBank itself is under.
The news is the latest low point for the SoftBank portfolio in the wake of the WeWork implosion. That’s caused potential repeat LPs for SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund to tighten their purse strings and other late stage investors to focus on sustainable unit economics. Late-stage startups have been left scrambling to cut their burn rates, often through layoffs.
SoftBank’s portfolio, which may have trouble raising on good terms after what many saw as inflated valuations propped up by the megafund, has been hit the hardest. This week TechCrunch broke the news that Flexport was laying off 3% of staff, or 50 employees.
Other SoftBank-funded company layoffs include Zume Pizza (80% of staff laid off), Wag (80%), Getaround (25%), Rappi (6%), and Oyo (5%). There may be more to come: activist investor Elliott Management, which now owns more than $2.5 billion of SoftBank shares, has reportedly been in talks with the company over a range of issues including better corporate governance and more transparency and management around investments.
Updated with confirmation from Fair, and a correction that Uber will continue offering car rentals through partners but not leasing as we originally printed.
The activist investment firm Elliott Management has steadily amassed a $2.5 billion stake in the headline-grabbing, Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank even as a series of missteps battered the company’s share price.
Famous for its investments in companies like Slack and Uber and infamous for betting billions on the co-working real estate marketplace and development company, WeWork, SoftBank presented an enticing target for Elliott’s brand of financial speculation, according to an initial report in The Wall Street Journal.
Those losses sent the stock price tumbling, but despite its troubles, SoftBank still holds a vast stable of portfolio companies. It’s those assets that Elliott Management thinks are appealing enough to carve out some of its $34 billion in assets under management for a minority stake.
“Elliott’s substantial investment in SoftBank Group reflects its strong conviction that the market significantly undervalues SoftBank’s portfolio of assets,” a spokesperson for the firm wrote in an email. “Elliott has engaged privately with SoftBank’s leadership and is working constructively on solutions to help SoftBank materially and sustainably reduce its discount to intrinsic value.”
SoftBank made waves in the technology investment world with its massive $100 billion Vision fund, which was designed to take stakes in emerging technology companies that required lots of cash, but could potentially transform various industries.
The audacious investment strategy was financed by working with sovereign wealth funds like the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (whose principals are linked to a leadership known for ordering the assassination of journalists) and companies like Apple and Microsoft.
Through its limited partners and with its own cash, SoftBank was able to take large equity stakes in companies across a range of different industries. However, it now appears that those large equity stakes will be difficult to maintain or justify.
Over the last year, several of SoftBank’s portfolio companies have run into trouble, and it’s an open question whether any changes Elliott might be able to effect at the top of the organization would have an impact on the performance of the underlying portfolio.
Indeed, given SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son’s 22% ownership stake in the business, any corporate activism that Elliott may initiate or advocate for could have limited results.
There are good businesses in the SoftBank portfolio, and public investors have rushed in to buy the company’s stock on the back of the disclosure of Elliott Management’s investment.
However, the flood of capital that came into the venture market in 2018 seems to have crested, which could leave SoftBank and its new investors soaked.
The name Porsche has been synonymous with gas-powered high-performance sports cars and racing for nearly three quarters of a century. Now, the sports car manufacturer that is owned by Volkswagen Group is trying to build a new legacy, starting with its first all-electric vehicle, the Porsche Taycan.
Porsche has said that the Taycan, which was first unveiled in September, is just the beginning. It has committed to invest more than $6 billion into electric mobility through 2025 — a goal that is already well underway. Porsche spent more than $1 billion developing the Taycan, a cost that included expanding its factory. The company is investing in tech too, including an increased stake in Croatian electric vehicle components and hypercar company Rimac Automobili. Its venture arm took a minority stake in TriEye, an Israeli startup that’s working on a sensor technology to help vehicle driver-assistance and self-driving systems see better in poor weather conditions like dust, fog and rain.
Where is Porsche headed next? TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 will hopefully provide some answers. We’re excited to announce that Klaus Zellmer, the president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, will join us onstage for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 on May 14, 2020 in San Jose, Calif.
As president and CEO of PCNA, Zellmer leads the brand’s operations in the United States and Canada. He is also CEO of Porsche Digital, the sports car manufacturer’s digital subsidiary. Zellmer previously served as head of Overseas and Emerging Markets, with responsibility for Australia, Japan and Korea, and as CEO of Porsche Germany.
Zellmer has been with Porsche more than 20 years, an era of huge change at the sports car manufacturer, notably its electric vehicle program. Zellmer will talk about Porsche’s push into electrification, digital services and even flying cars while onstage at TC Sessions: Mobility.
TechCrunch created TC Sessions: Mobility to explore new ideas and startups, dig into the tech and highlight the people driving change in this ever-changing industry. This one-day event is centered around the future of mobility and transportation. We’ve already announced a few of the engineers, investors, founders and technologists who will join us onstage, including Waymo’s Boris Sofman, Ike Robotics co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Trucks VC general partner Reilly Brennan and Shin-pei Tsay, director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber.
Stay tuned to see who we’ll announce next.
Uber Advanced Technologies Group has been issued a permit that would allow the company to put its autonomous vehicles back on public roads in California nearly two years after the company scaled back its testing program following a fatal crash in Arizona that killed a pedestrian.
Uber doesn’t have immediate plans to put its autonomous vehicles on public roads in San Francisco, where it was previously testing. The company says it will notify key local, state and federal stakeholders before it returns to the city.
“San Francisco is a great city to gather key learnings for self-driving technology given its complex and ever-changing environment. While we do not have an update as to exactly when we’ll resume autonomous testing, receiving our testing permit through the California DMV is a critical step towards that end in Uber’s home city,” an Uber spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The permit, which is issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, is the latest step by Uber’s self-driving unit to ramp up a program that appeared destined to end just 18 months ago.
Uber ATG ended all testing on public roads after one of its vehicles struck and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe. Uber ATG was testing its self-driving vehicles in the Phoenix area, Toronto, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. At the time, the company let go all 100 of its self-driving car operators in Pittsburgh and San Francisco and rumors circulated that the company wanted to sell its self-driving unit.
Uber ATG resumed in December 2018 on-road testing of its self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, following the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s decision to authorize the company to put its autonomous vehicles on public roads.
Uber has also started mapping Washington, D.C., ahead of plans to begin testing its self-driving vehicles in the city this year. Initially, there will be three Uber vehicles mapping the area, a company spokesperson said. These vehicles, which will be manually driven and have two trained employees inside, will collect sensor data using a top-mounted sensor wing equipped with cameras and a spinning lidar. The data will be used to build high-definition maps. The data also will be used for Uber’s virtual simulation and test track testing scenarios.
Uber intends to launch autonomous vehicles in Washington, D.C. before the end of 2020.
The first month of the new year saw Africa enter the fray of U.S. politics. The Trump administration announced last week it would halt immigration from Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation with the continent’s largest economy and leading tech sector.
The presidential proclamation stops short of a full travel ban on the country of 200 million, but it suspends immigrant visas for Nigerians seeking citizenship and permanent resident status in the U.S.
The latest regulations are said not to apply to non-immigrant, temporary visas for tourist, business and medical visits.
The new policy follows Trump’s 2017 travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries. The primary reason for the latest restrictions, according to the Department of Homeland Security, was that the countries did not “meet the Department’s stronger security standards.”
Nigeria’s population is roughly 45 percent Muslim and the country has faced problems with terrorism, largely related to Boko Haram in its northeastern territory.
Restricting immigration to the U.S. from Nigeria, in particular, could impact commercial tech relations between the two countries.
Nigeria is the U.S.’s second largest African trading partner and the U.S. is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria.
Increasingly, the nature of the business relationship between the two countries is shifting to tech. Nigeria is steadily becoming Africa’s capital for VC, startups, rising founders and the entry of Silicon Valley companies.
Recent reporting by VC firm Partech shows Nigeria has become the number one country in Africa for venture investment. Much of that funding comes from American sources. The U.S. is arguably Nigeria’s strongest partner on tech and Nigeria, Silicon Valley’s chosen gateway for entering Africa. Examples include Visa’s 2019 investment in Nigerian fintech companies Flutterwave and Interswitch and Facebook and Google’s expansion in Nigeria.
Nigerian entrepreneur Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, who co-founded two tech companies — Flutterwave and Andela — with operations in the U.S. and Lagos, posted his thoughts on the latest restrictions on social media.
“Just had an interesting dinner convo about this visa ban with Nigerian tech professionals in the U.S. Sad… but silver lining is all the amazing and experienced Nigerian talent in U.S. tech companies who will now head on home,” he tweeted.
Notable market moves in African tech last month included an acquisition, global expansion and a couple big raises.
Nigerian digital payments startup Paga acquired Apposit, a software development company based in Ethiopia, for an undisclosed amount.
The Lagos-based venture also announced it would launch its payment products in Mexico this year and in Ethiopia imminently, CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch
The moves come a little over a year after Paga raised a $10 million Series B round and Oviosu announced the company’s intent to expand globally while speaking at Disrupt San Francisco.
Paga will leverage Apposit — which is U.S. incorporated but operates in Addis Ababa — to support that expansion into East Africa and Latin America.
Paga has created a multi-channel network to transfer money, pay bills, and buy goods digitally. The company has 14 million customers in Nigeria who can transfer funds from one of Paga’s 24,411 agents or through the startup’s mobile apps.
With the acquisition, Paga absorbs Apposit’s tech capabilities and team of 63 engineers. The company will direct its boosted capabilities and total workforce of 530 to support its expansion.
On the raise side, San Francisco and Lagos-based fintech startup Flutterwave (previously mentioned) raised a $35 million Series B round and announced a partnership with Worldpay FIS for payments in Africa.
The company will use the funding to expand capabilities to provide more solutions around the broader needs of its clients. Uber, Booking.com and Jumia are among the big names that use Flutterwave to process payments.
Last month, Africa’s logistics startup space gained another multi-million-dollar round with global backing. Kenyan company Sendy, an on-demand platform that connects clients to drivers and vehicles for goods delivery, raised a $20 million Series B led by Atlantica Ventures. Toyota Tsusho Corporation, a trade and investment arm of Japanese automotive company Toyota, also joined the round.
Sendy’s raise came within six months of Nigerian trucking logistics startup Kobo360’s $20 million Series A backed by Goldman Sachs. In November, East African on-demand delivery venture Lori Systems hauled in $30 million supported by Chinese investors.
The company plans to use its raise for new developer hires, to improve the tech of its platform, and toward expansion in West Africa in 2020.
Sendy’s $20 million round also includes an R&D arrangement with Toyota Tsusho Corporation to optimize trucks for the West African market, Sendy CEO Mesh Alloys told TechCrunch.
More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch
African tech around the ‘net
Senior citizens are not early adopters of new technology; many of our 65+ friends and family might not use much tech in the first place. That said, two-thirds of America’s 50 million seniors use the internet and more than 40% own a smartphone, according to a 2017 Pew study.
So where’s the disconnect? Why are modern software companies largely non-compatible with one of the nation’s largest demographics?
The most notorious venture-funded eldertech startups were historically focused on building better healthcare and day-to-day living solutions. Honor built a managed marketplace for in-home care; YC startup GoGoGrandparent is Uber for people who don’t use apps; Umbrella* helps seniors get tasks done around the house.
The concept behind these companies is that daily basics are the root of other problems affecting seniors. If you have any issues with your home or mobility, for example, you end up exposing yourself to scams that frequently plague seniors, as well as health and safety risks. That’s not to mention the financial burden — most retirees have a modest budget or fixed income. Even if a service like TaskRabbit is somehow accessible to a senior, it’s not affordable in the long-term when lifespans and future costs are impossible to predict.
Increasingly, the streets of Karachi and Lahore are being flooded with men riding bikes and wearing green T-shirts, a writer friend recently told me. In a sense, these men represent the emergence of Pakistan’s tech startups.
India now has more than 25,000 startups and raised a record $14.5 billion last year, according to government figures. But not all Asian countries are as large as India or have such a thriving startup ecosystem. Long overdue, things are beginning to change in bordering Pakistan.
Bykea, a three-year-old ride-hailing and delivery service, today has more than 500,000 bikes registered on its platform. It operates in some of Pakistan’s most populated cities, such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, Muneeb Maayr, Bykea founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.
Maayr is one of the most recognized startup founders in Pakistan, and previously worked for Rocket Internet, helping the giant run fashion e-commerce platform Daraz in the country. While leading Daraz, he expanded the platform to cater to categories beyond fashion; Daraz was later sold to Alibaba.
Fintech companies are fundamentally changing how the financial services ecosystem operates, giving consumers powerful tools to help with savings, budgeting, investing, insurance, electronic payments and many other offerings. This industry is growing rapidly, filling gaps where traditional banks and financial institutions have failed to meet customer needs.
Yet progress has been uneven. Notably, consumer fintech adoption in the United States lags well behind much of Europe, where forward-thinking regulation has sparked an outpouring of innovation in digital banking services — as well as the backend infrastructure onto which products are built and operated.
That might seem counterintuitive, as regulation is often blamed for stifling innovation. Instead, European regulators have focused on reducing barriers to fintech growth rather than protecting the status quo. For example, the U.K.’s Open Banking regulation requires the country’s nine big high-street banks to share customer data with authorized fintech providers.
The EU’s PSD2 (Payment Services Directive 2) obliges banks to create application programming interfaces (APIs) and related tools that let customers share data with third parties. This creates standards that level the playing field and nurture fintech innovation. And the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority supports new fintech entrants by running a “sandbox” for software testing that helps speed new products into service.
Regulations, if implemented effectively as demonstrated by those in Europe, will lead to a net positive to consumers. While it is inevitable that regulations will come, if fintech entrepreneurs take the action to engage early and often with regulators, it will ensure that the regulations put in place support innovation and ultimately benefit the consumer.
Government and policy experts are among the most important people in the future of transportation. Any company pursuing the shared scooters and bikes business, ride-hailing, on-demand shuttles and eventually autonomous vehicles has to have someone, or a team of people, who can work with cities.
Enter Shin-pein Tsay, the director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber . TechCrunch is excited to announced that Tsay will join us on stage at TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day conference dedicated to the future of mobility and transportation.
If there’s one person who is at the center of this universe, it’s Tsay. In her current role at Uber, she leads a team of issues experts focused on what Uber calls a “sustainable multi-modal urban future.”
Tsay is also founder. Prior to Uber, she founded a social impact analysis company called Make Public. She was also the deputy executive director of TransitCenter, a national foundation focused on improving urban transportation. She also founded and directed the cities and transportation program under the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
For the past four years, Shin–pei has served as a commissioner for the City of New York Public Design Commission. She is on the board of the national non-profit In Our Backyard.
Stay tuned, we’ll have more speaker announcements in the coming weeks. In case you missed it, TechCrunch has already announced Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Waymo’s head of trucking Boris Sofman and Trucks VC’s Reilly Brennan will be participating in TC Sessions: Mobility.
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Uber Advanced Technologies Group will start mapping Washington, D.C., ahead of plans to begin testing its self-driving vehicles in the city this year.
Initially, there will be three Uber vehicles mapping the area, a company spokesperson said. These vehicles, which will be manually driven and have two trained employees inside, will collect sensor data using a top-mounted sensor wing equipped with cameras and a spinning lidar. The data will be used to build high-definition maps. The data will also be used for Uber’s virtual simulation and test track testing scenarios.
Uber intends to launch autonomous vehicles in Washington, D.C. before the end of 2020.
At least one other company is already testing self-driving cars in Washington, D.C. Ford announced in October 2018 plans to test its autonomous vehicles in Washington, D.C. Argo AI is developing the virtual driver system and high-definition maps designed for Ford’s self-driving vehicles.
Argo, which is backed by Ford and Volkswagen, started mapping the city in 2018. Testing was expected to begin in the first quarter of 2019.
Uber ATG has kept a low profile ever since one of its human-supervised test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona in March 2018. The company halted its entire autonomous vehicle operation immediately following the incident.
Nine months later, Uber ATG resumed on-road testing of its self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, following a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation decision to authorize the company to put its autonomous vehicles on public roads. The company hasn’t resumed testing in other markets such as San Francisco.
Uber is collecting data and mapping in three other cities in Dallas, San Francisco and Toronto. In those cities, just like in Washington, D.C., Uber manually drives its test vehicles.
Uber spun out the self-driving car business in April 2019 after closing $1 billion in funding from Toyota, auto-parts maker Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. The deal valued Uber ATG at $7.25 billion, at the time of the announcement. Under the deal, Toyota and Denso are providing $667 million, with the Vision Fund throwing in the remaining $333 million.
Bounce, a Bangalore-based startup that operates over 20,000 electric and gasoline dockless bikes and scooters in nearly three dozen cities in India, said today it has raised $105 million in a new funding round as it explores sustainable ways to expand within the nation and build its own electric vehicles.
The new financing round, Series D, was co-led by existing investors Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital and Accel Partners, said the startup. The new round valued Bounce at a little over $500 million, up from about $200 million in June last year, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
Bounce, formerly known as Metro Bikes, allows customers to rent a scooter and pay as low as 1 Indian rupee (0.15 cents) for the first kilometer of the ride. The startup, which clocks 120,000 rides each day, allows users to leave the vehicle in any nearby docking station or partnered mom-and-pop store after the ride.
Bounce earlier deployed its own operations team in each city and flooded the market with its scooters, but in recent weeks it has started to explore a new strategy, said co-founder and chief executive Vivekananda Hallekere in an interview with TechCrunch.
“We realized that it was not the most efficient move to expand Bounce’s network on our own,” he said. The startup now works with mom-and-pop stores and local merchants in each city and they run their own operations.
Millions of mom-and-pop stores dot cities, towns and villages in India. In recent years, scores of startups and companies have started to work with them to address the last mile challenge. Amazon said earlier this month that it has partnered with over 20,000 mom-and-pop stores in the nation to use them to store and deliver packages.
To date, Bounce has replicated this model in six cities in India (including Vijayawada and Mangalore) and has partnered with over 250,000 shops and merchants. “We launch in the cities with our own vehicles, but overtime, these micro-entrepreneurs deploy their own bikes and scooters. They are still using our app, and are part of the Bounce platform, but they don’t have to be locked into our scooter ecosystem,” he explained.
The shift in strategy comes as Bounce looks to cut expenses and find a sustainable way to expand. “Otherwise, I would need a billion dollar of debt to launch a million vehicles in India,” he said. “We wanted a model that is scalable and profitable, and helps us create the most impact.”
Bounce is part of a small group of startups that is attempting to address a market that cab-hailing services Uber and Ola have been unable to tackle. The startup competes with Vogo, which is backed by Ola, and Yulu, which maintains a partnership with Uber.
Riding these bikes is more affordable than hailing a cab, and also two wheels are much faster in crowded traffic of urban cities than four. These bikes have also proven useful in other ways. Hallekere said female passengers access more than 30% of rides on Bounce — a figure that beats the industry estimates, because women feel much more safer with bikes, he said. “They don’t have to worry about how they would commute back from work,” he said.
Bounce is also working on building its own ecosystem of electric vehicles. The startup said it has already built a scooter with metal chassis that can survive for at least 200,000 kilometers. The idea is to build electric scooters that work best for shared mobility, something Hallekere said the ecosystem is currently missing.
“In our tests, we found that even if you threw this bike from the first floor of a building, nothing happens to it. It is also more tech-enabled, so it can tell when the second seat of the bike is in use and can bill users accordingly, for instance,” he explained. The startup plans to deploy these vehicles in the coming months.
Kabir Narang, a partner at B Capital, told TechCrunch in an interview that he sees great potential in the shared mobility future in India, and Bounce team’s passion and commitment to solving these challenges made it easy for them to place their “long-term” bet on the startup.
Electric scooter operator Skip is gearing up to appeal San Francisco’s decision to not grant it a permit to operate in the city. When the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced the permit grantees in September, it came as a surprise to Skip, which had previously received a permit to operate as part of the city’s pilot program.
Ahead of the appeal hearing last Thursday, TechCrunch caught up with Skip CEO Sanjay Dastoor to learn about the company’s game plan and why he thinks it can prevail in a battle that other electric scooter providers have lost.
Prior to the city’s decision last year to grant permits to Lime, Uber’s JUMP, Bird’s Scoot and Ford’s Spin, Skip was one of only two companies operating shared electric scooter services in San Francisco. Leading up to the new permitting application process, Skip said it had been working to ensure its electronic locks would be fully integrated by the beginning of the new permit period, Dastoor told TechCrunch. The company did this with guidance from the SFMTA, so when Skip was denied a permit, the team was caught off guard.
“It was a huge surprise,” Dastoor said. “We found out basically the same time as the press did that we didn’t get that permit, so it was pretty surprising to all of us.”